RV Care … A Side Trip to Yuma

yuma1 yumaWe’d planned an overnight stop in Yuma, Arizona to have Island Girl washed and waxed for a very cheap rate that we found out about on the Wheeling It blog.

And we were very satisfied with the service provided by Robert’s RV Wash, Wax & Carpet Cleaning.  Not quite like a wax job we’d do ourselves (we are persnickety) but certainly very well worth the price they charge.  There are multiple companies doing the mobile wash and wax that you can find either online or in the “White Sheet”, a little pamphlet listing all manner of local services.10627998-LThe going rate seems to be $1 a foot for a wash and another $2 a foot for a hand wax. This is less than a third of what we’ve seen in other parts of the country.  All 39′ of Island Girl got scrubbed and waxed for a mere $125!  She looks wonderful.yuma  002

But right before we left Quartzsite, we had an unwelcome surprise.  As mentioned in the last post, our most expensive purchase by far was a SeeLevel Gauge, an external tank sensor and monitor to measure our fresh water supply and gray and black water volume in the holding tanks more precisely, specifically when we are boondocking as here in the desert.

quartzsite  048Ok for the “newbies”, boondocking essentially means you are self-reliant, with no electric, water nor sewer connections and likely in a remote location.  So if you plan to boondock for more than a few days, it’s important to manage your electric and water usage.  RVs have tank level monitors that provide information on current tank volume of the fresh water, grey water (sink and shower), and black (toilet) holding tanks.

Unfortunately the original sensors, which live inside the tank, often stop working due to gunk buildup. This is a VERY common problem, even in newer RVs.  Island Girl is a 2004 model we bought in 2011 and her tank level monitors have never worked properly.   Even after multiple cleanings with commercial cleaner and various other products and combinations of products including Borax, Calgon, Dawn, and even a trip with ice cubes in the black tank we were unable to get them to work.

Thus the expensive purchase.  But we apparently didn’t do enough research, a caution to all.  The SeeLevel Gauges claim on their website that “with nothing inside the tank all the usual problems of corrosion and clogging are eliminated”.   And the day they were installed, it seemed that they were.  Not so much.

12065721271543272128johnny_automatic_NPS_map_pictographs_part_69.svg.medA couple of days later, after we dumped, the readings remained at full.  Ugh!  When we called the installer, he said that on older coaches there is sometimes enough buildup inside the tank walls to prevent their externally mounted sensors from reading properly.  Surprise!  So now we were stuck with these non working sensors.   With the advice that we should clean the inside of the tanks.  Nice.

Okay, now that I’ve totally bored those who are not interested in RV holding tanks, here comes the somewhat happy, though expensive ending.

We contacted a company that pressure cleans the insides of RV tanks, Royal Flush in Yuma with a one day advance notice to see if they were available to clean our tanks.  Hector got a good vibe from the lady on the phone who said they were available and that “her boys would stay until the job was done”.quartzsite  123 (1)

And they did.  As it turns out, the three guys who came out are grandfather, father and son.  They had to get creative due to some challenges caused by the design of the plumbing in our coach, but they stayed until those monitors worked.  And they were friendly and nice and courteous.  And funny too.

And we thought that calling them “my boys” was just an expression, but the lady answering the phones was grandma.  It’s wonderful to see a family working so well together.

$200 more dollars later, we finally have working sensors.

A learning for owners of older motorhomes considering external sensors.  They don’t always work and you may wind up having to pay for a professional cleaning if you get them.  And we didn’t appreciate that there was no mention of this possibility at time of purchase.

yuma  001The good news is Island Girl is sparkly and clean, and we can tell by 5% increments how full each of our tanks is.  And thanks to this being Yuma, the winter home of a zillion RVers and lots of companies to service them, our total expense to wash, wax the outside and clean her tanks was still less than the exorbitant prices some folks wind up paying for just washing and waxing their RV’s elsewhere.

~ Brenda

Tips for Quartzsite Newbies

quartzsite  004When we arrived in Quartzsite (the “Q”), we really weren’t sure what to expect and went in search of information about basic services.  And we found the ladies at the Chamber of Commerce at 101 W Main Street, across from the Post Office, very helpful, they answered all of our questions, gave us a business directory and a directory of vendors for the various shows, as well as some other event and tourist information.quartzsite  003

For those that prefer to get their information in advance, I compiled a short list of various services that we used and were satisfied with below:

Grocery Stores – The Roadrunner Market and The Quartzsite General Store both on Main Street offered produce, meats, a limited wine and beer selection and other basic foods but the Roadrunner Market was larger and had by far the best selection.

If you need a full grocery store, there’s an Albertsons at 840 East Hobson Way in Blythe, about 20 miles west, just across the California state line.  There is a border patrol checkpoint on the way there and back, and, although we sailed through, we noticed traffic held up on the opposite side so be prepared for a possible delay.

Mail –There is a Post Office at 80 W Main Street, however, my understanding is that the lines can be quite long.

Ironwood Outpost at 225 N Central Boulevard will receive Fedex and UPS packages.  We left our name and phone and they called to notify us when they received our package. They charge a $5.00 fee, but we thought it was worth it to avoid long lines, especially since we only had one delivery while in Quartzsite.  This company provides other services as well.

Laundry Main Street Laundromat and Showers at 205 East Main Street is a huge laundromat– they have Wi-Fi and a restaurant (didn’t try this one) next door.   They also offer showers, including towel, bath mat, soap and shampoo for $6.00, though we didn’t try those out. 

quartzsite  126quartzsite  124 (1)Bars/Restaurants with TVs – Hector needed a place to watch the Denver Broncos playoff game, and we went to The Quartzsite Yacht Club, 1070 W. Main Street, a place with a very colorful history.  A yacht club many miles from the nearest water.  Funny.

We were not thrilled with our food choices, but it has a large bar, lots of TV’s (some of which are dedicated to off-track betting), and is seemingly very popular with locals.  Another (smaller) place that has TV’s and supposedly good food (per one of the town cops) is The Grubstake on Central Boulevard.

Trash and Recycling –  The Refuse Transfer Station on Central Boulevard on the left hand side headed north of Quartzsite a bit past the Fire Station.  It’s free but open limited hours (7:30 to 2:30) Sunday through Wednesday only so plan accordingly.quartzsite  132quartzsite  128

Holding Tank Dump Station, Potable Water Tank Fill and Propane The RV Pit Stop at 425 North Central Road.  They have a filter attached to their fresh water fill.  They also offer reverse osmosis water for drinking water refills as well as ice though we didn’t use those services.  A very convenient and well organized all in one set up.  You drive from station to station.

quartzsite  123 (2)Campsite selection.  Full hook ups or boondocking?  The “Q” has several commercial campgrounds with hook ups.  Most looked ok if simple, but frankly the desert called to us so we didn’t look into the campgrounds in town.  

mapcBureau of Land Management (BLM) allows dispersed camping on various public land areas nearby.   So, how did we choose which BLM area to stay in?  The BLM web site nicely identifies where all the camping areas are on the map, and we read RV reviews, but the descriptions were pretty basic so we couldn’t really tell which one offered what. Two things stood out on many of the reviews – there’s lots of dust and highway noise can be a problem.

There are several free BLM areas (14 day max stay within any 28 day period).  These have no services, pack it in/ pack it out. And a Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) for $40 for 14 nights or $180 for seven months. Cheap! Staying in the LTVA includes access to potable water and a dump site and there are dumpsters and some vault toilets throughout the areas but the places are still basically open desert.

North of town are Hi Jolly BLM (5.5 miles) and Plomosa Road BLM (10 miles).  East is Scaddan Wash (3.5 miles), West is Dome Rock Mountain (3.5 miles), South is RoadRunner (5 miles) and the La Posa LTVA  (2 miles) which is broken up into several areas.  La Posa West and North are right near town and La Posa Tyson Wash and La Posa South (where the dump and potable water are located) are a bit further south.

Choosing a spot depends on your priorities.

Traffic noise carries quite easily across the desert, so if you really want to avoid it plan to drive somewhere as far from I-10 as you can.  Perhaps La Posa South, Hi Jolly or Plomosa Road.quartzsite  007

Dust is mostly created by traffic, so to get away from it you should park away from the access roads towards the back of the area you select.

quartzsite  016If access to the shows in town are a priority La Posa West is right by the show (walking distance), but you are pretty packed in.

Privacy or Party?  If you want some privacy you might try the Dome Rock Mountain area.  This is hillier terrain so the flat places suitable for camping are fewer and more spaced out.

We drove around several dirt roads looking for our specific campsite and ultimately found a cozy one, a little close to the dirt access road so we got a bit of ATV traffic zooming through but not much other traffic.  You could hear I-10 traffic in the distance but not too disturbing.  

quartzsite  011This did mean driving Island Girl SLOWLY down an uneven dirt road.  And several of the roads were clearly not suitable for larger RVs so scouting is a must.

We really liked our spot with vegetation on both sides and our very own Saguaro and we even entertained a couple of times.quartzsite  012

Some other BLM areas seemed flatter and less interesting to us, but campsite access seemed easier and lots of groups were gathered in the flatter areas. So if you want a place to arrange multiple rigs in a giant circle and have a giant fire ring, there is plenty of open flat space to choose from.  Some groups place the rigs in a circle, others prefer a rectangle, many are just sort of scattered across the land.
quartzsite  125 (1)

quartzsite  049Campsite Services – One nice thing about having such a density of RVs is that they provide business opportunities for service providers. There are several mobile RV repair guys in town, and apparently you can also have water delivered and your tanks pumped out at your site as well (for a fee of course).

So all in all Quartzsite is a great place for boondocking with lots of moral and technical support available for newbies.  We weren’t sure what to expect.  But we sure had a wonderful time and learned a lot about boondocking during our Quartzsite experience.

~ Brendaquartzsite  117

The Merchants in the Desert

quartzsite  075quartzsite  082We have arrived.

Quartzsite is a tiny town of 3,500 year round residents located between Phoenix and Los Angeles, 20 miles from the California border.  quartzsite  093

It was once a gathering place for pioneers traveling to the gold fields of California as well as other travelers and then agates, limonite cubes, gold and quartz were found nearby, so the town itself became a destination for the “rock hounds”.quartzsite  133quartzsite  081

And nowadays, between November and March each year, known as the season, snowbirds, rock hounds and others converge here to escape the harsh winters elsewhere and to shop at various indoor and outdoor swap meets that began 40 years ago.quartzsite  095

The majority of these swap meets take place during January and February when thousands of merchants also come here to sell their wares.quartzsite  103

quartzsite  024We are here in January and during our ten day stay there are eight of these events in town, including “world famous” gem and mineral shows and the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV show.  January is known here as “the largest gathering of RVers in the world”.

The little white dots are RVs

The little white dots are RVs

quartzsite  007Many of the RVers come to stay in the desert, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands as far as the eye can see.  There are five BLM areas here.  With free camping for fourteen days in one 28 day period.  And there is also a Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) that charges $40 for two weeks and $180 for seven months.

quartzsite  060quartzsite  026“Boondocking”.   No electric, no water, no sewer.  Just open land, pick your spot and set up camp. Beautiful sunsets almost every day.  And lots of stars at night.

We are joined by RVers of all stripes; the ATV crowd with their desert toys, the hippies and ex-hippies, the young, the old and the oldest – quite a few of those rocking their mobility scooters and walkers down the dirt and gravel. Hector says of this latter group  – “I admire them, they are still after it”.

And all of those merchants.  We are all here.  quartzsite  037

quartzsite  001So people plan massive get-togethers; members of clubs, small groups of friends, people with common interests, you name it.  They lay claim to an area of land and circle their wagons.quartzsite  008quartzsite  005

quartzsite  009quartzsite  010Others, like us, find a cozy little spot somewhere as far from the crowds as possible.  A place to escape from the crowds and enjoy the desert.  “Our” own little spot, with “gardens” on both sides and a great fire ring.quartzsite  011quartzsite  012

quartzsite  070And we have our very own Saguaro, which now has a circle of white rocks around it that Hector “created”.  And we also “enhanced” the fire ring with additional pinkish/brownish rocks. This rock thing is contagious.

The Travelocity Gnome … campsite protector !

The Travelocity Gnome … campsite protector !


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quartzsite  015quartzsite  063And with so many people around it’s a pretty sure bet that you’ll make some new friends.  RVers form strong communities, and it’s really evident here.   This is a great place to connect with old friends and to make new friends.  And we did both.  Including meeting some fellow bloggers that we’ve gotten to know over time on the internet.

First, we got together with Amanda and Tim, who write the blog Watsons Wander that we’ve been reading for quite awhile.  We figured out they were staying at the same BLM area, Dome Rock, as we were and invited them over for happy hour.  They have a beautiful Airstream that they’ve renovated and polished (I miss Luna … our first RV, also an Airstream).

It’s great to see younger people like Amanda and Tim make the choice to travel while working, they are smart to do that early in their lives, and we admire them for it.  Oh, and their blog is great as well.quartzsite  108quartzsite  035

quartzsite  025Of course, we head to the shows to shop on various days while we’re here.  There is lots to choose from;, some low quality old stuff, even stuff covered with dust.  But as they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.  There’s lots of cheap new stuff made in China. And nice vintage stuff and some fun buys.  Something for everyone.

On the high end, there are beautiful gemstones and jewelry and multi-million dollar RVs.  Like I said something for everyone.  For the RVers, there’s a big white tent which houses most of the RV show.  But there are lots and lots of other vendors at other shows in several locations throughout the town.  Rows and rows of vendor stalls all over town.

In spite of attempts at restraint we made quite a few purchases including:

Best bargain – three kitchen knives professionally sharpened for $8

Most fun buy – a metal roadrunner sculpture for $20

Most impulsive buy – a knife with etched petroglyphs on an elk antler handle and a triple flow obsidian blade – this is our official “rock” memento from the “Q” -$45

Biggest buy – A See Level II tank sensor system to monitor holding tank levels. $385 installed – ouch!  

Hector dreaming of installing our new Oxygenics shower head

Hector dreaming of installing our new Oxygenics shower head

Terry, the guy who fixed the boo boo Hector made installing the shower head

Terry, the guy who fixed the boo boo Hector made installing the shower head

Contrary to what some may think, many RV products are not available here and some items are actually more expensive here than online.  Shoppers beware and do your research before making your purchases.

Aside from the buying, for me it’s always fun to see the amazing product sales pitches, these are a reminder of another time.

The whole thing has an air of “only in America”.  And it’s kind of hypnotizing.

quartzsite  056quartzsite  050

And there are lots of interesting characters here.   A historic character is Hadji Ali, who quickly got nicknamed Hi Jolly, a camel driver from Jordan who became a legend around these parts.

quartzsite  052

He came to Arizona in 1856 as the lead camel driver during testing by the U.S. Army for possible use of camels for transporting of supplies across the desert during the Civil War.  About 80 camels were brought to the area and apparently did very well, but this particular strategy ultimately was abandoned.quartzsite  054quartzsite  057

Mr. Ali served for over 30 years in the army, became a U.S. citizen and married a woman from Tucson.  He moved to Quartzsite where he mined and did some work for the U.S. government.  He died here in 1902.

In 1935, a monument was dedicated to him and the Camel Corps at his gravesite, which is now the most visited location in Quartzsite.  As well as the inspiration for naming many town businesses, who use the “Americanized” version of his name,  Hi Jolly.quartzsite  134

And, speaking of characters, there is also a bookstore in town whose owner Paul wears nothing but a sock on his naughty bits on warm days (almost every day).  Reader’s Oasis Books is actually a fine bookstore and an interesting place to visit.

quartzsite  066quartzsite  040We found a few other characters prospecting just across from our campsite; searching for gold.  I don’t think they were finding much, but they seemed to be having fun looking.  I guess it’s the thrill of the search.

Other local characters showed off their classic cars at a local “auto show” in a Shell gas station in town on Saturday night.   Hanging out talking cars and engines and stuff like that for a few hours.

Okay it was no Barrett-Jackson but good community fun (50 cent hot dogs!).

quartzsite  115

The Wheelin It folks.  Nina is on the left, Paul far right. The tall one is Mike from Bear Tracks Blog

quartzsite  111Later in the week, we met Nina and Paul.  Nina writes the blog Wheeling It, by far the best RV blog we’ve read. We’ve been reading it for years and it is a great resource for us and all RVers.   Nina and Paul have a LOT of followers on their blog and arranged the meet and greet to create an opportunity for all of the people that reached out to them in Quartzsite to meet them and each other.

Tim and Amanda were there

Tim and Amanda were there

We had a great time meeting Nina and Paul and some of their many fans, including Mike and Linda, another adventurous couple who write another fun blog that we’ve been reading for awhile, Bear Tracks Blog.

That's W for Watson

That’s W for Watson

Mike and Linda from Bear Tracks

Mike and Linda from Bear Tracks Blog in the center

One night, we joined George, the owner of RV Driving School and my RV driving instructor from last year, and his wife, Valerie at one of their campfire gatherings.  So nice to connect with them again.

quartzsite  119quartzsite  121We ended the week with a potluck dinner with Amanda, Tim, Nina and Paul (Paul is the OTHER Cuban-American full time RVer, I wonder if there is a third out there somewhere) and their sweet dog Polly.   Good food, great conversation, lots of laughs, another big campfire, oh and yes a little rum.quartzsite  132

quartzsite  116Quartzsite may not be for everyone, it can be dusty, crowded and dizzying.  But it’s one of those “you should do it at least once” kinds of events for RVers.  And who knows, the lure of the desert, the rocks, the shopping and, especially, good friends may bring you back again and again.quartzsite  109

As we publish this blog we’ve left Quartzsite.  We had a blast at the “Q” and were sad to leave, knowing that we might never stay at “our” campsite in Quartzsite again.  Or maybe we will.

~ Brendaquartzsite  110

Circling Phoenix

Phoenix  052As much as we’ve traveled, we hadn’t realized how enormous the city of Phoenix is.  It’s the fifth largest city in the U.S. and per the Phoenix Business Journal “the Phoenix metro area’s population surpassed 4.3 million in 2011”.  More than one person we met compared it to Los Angeles minus the ocean.

Phoenix  001So the campground that we chose to stay in, McDowell Mountain Regional Park, although quite pretty turned out not to have been the best choice in terms of getting around this huge and extremely spread out metropolitan area.  On the plus side, it was located in a large county park with lots of trails.Phoenix  002

But our priority was to visit family and friends, so first things first.  Our first visit was to Jon, Hector’s cousin son, who lives in Scottsdale.  And Scottsdale just happened to be the closest town to Fountain Hills where we stayed.

We met in the very trendy Old Scottsdale for some food and drinks.  This area has lots of great restaurants and nightclubs.  And Jon took us to one of those “secret” bars that is not recognizable from the front, this one was accessed through an unmarked door in an alley.  The place had a great mix of people and cool music.  But I cannot divulge its location.

1553243_10201980928497611_358732582_oPhoenix  051The next day there was a Denver Broncos game, and Jon invited us over to his place to watch the game.  So we spent a nice afternoon watching the game in good company.  And, as an added bonus, the Broncos won!

Once again, we really enjoyed spending quality time with one of our family’s younger generation and are really impressed, though not surprised.

In between visits, we hiked and biked a little around the campground.  While with Hector, Angel got a thorn from a cholla cactus in her paw.  Those thorns can be extremely hard to remove, but Hector was able to get it out incurring only slight pain himself. But it served as a reminder to carry a comb and tweezers in the desert.

Phoenix  007Next we visited Hector’s ex-boss and friend, Simon and his wife Janet at their lovely home in Litchfield, a suburb west Phoenix,  very, very far from our campground.  They moved back to the Phoenix area recently from New Jersey and are enjoying the weather tremendously as evidenced by their fabulous yard complete with pool, outdoor barbecue and wood-fired pizza oven.Phoenix  013Phoenix  008

We took Angel who got to run around the house with their two pups.  Dinner included a couple of different pizzas from the wood-fired oven, delicious!Phoenix  011

Phoenix  044Phoenix  017We’d reserved one day for a drive around the area and chose the Apache Trail for our journey.   The trail was originally used by Apache Indians and was later built up as a road to get building materials through the Superstition Mountains to the Roosevelt Dam, which was completed in 1911.Phoenix  039

Phoenix  021The Apache Trail begins on the east side of Phoenix and continues to the town of Globe, covering 48 miles of road, mostly unpaved.  It crosses through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest through mountains covered by desert plants.   The beautiful drive also passes by three man-made lakes.  We stopped at Canyon Lake, a beautiful little spot.Phoenix  022Phoenix  040

Phoenix  023We also stopped at the small town of Tortilla Flat, described as “an authentic remnant of an Old West town”, with a population of six.  It was a stagecoach stop starting in 1904 and still serves as a stop for many of those traveling across the Apache Trail.

And we were happy to become one of those travelers, stopping for a late lunch at the Superstition Saloon and Rest Area.  The place had lots of character, with dollar bills lining the walls, real saddles as bar stools …

and the cutest bathrooms ever!

The unpaved part of the road becomes quite steep and narrow at points, but the views of the cliffs and rocks are well worth it.  Not recommended for RV’s though.Phoenix  041Phoenix  045

Towards the end of the drive we reached Theodore Roosevelt Dam, built of bricks, and still the world’s largest masonry dam at almost 300 feet tall.  An impressive sight.Phoenix  046

Once we passed the dam, the sun started to set and the moon was rising, a pretty sight just a couple of days before the full moon.  But since it was getting dark, we decided to head back on the highway, which was a looong drive.

Phoenix  048

We passed through Miami, Arizona. A faded copper boomtown.

The Apache Trail was truly a stunning place though, and very much worth the long drive.
Phoenix  047

Phoenix  049On our last afternoon in the Phoenix area, I visited my friend Marisol.  We met in Tempe and had a wonderful Lebanese dinner together, catching up on many events that have taken place since we last got together.  So much so, that the restaurant started to turn off the lights while we were there 🙂

Phoenix  053All too soon, it was time to move on, as we were on a bit of a schedule headed to the big RV show in Quartzsite, Arizona.  And as our visit to Phoenix ended, we realized that we never actually set foot inside the actual city limits of Phoenix.  But we really enjoyed circling the town.

~ BrendaPhoenix  050


Cool Cars

cool cars  037Our plan for Phoenix included visits to several people and other activities as time allowed.

cool cars  001cool cars  052But, coincidentally, we arrived in the area at the same time as “The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auction”, produced by Barrett-Jackson, “the world’s leading collector car auction and automotive lifestyle events”.  In addition, our RV campground was in Fountain Hills, very close to the location of the event, Scottsdale.cool cars  007cool cars  017

So we decided to go to the show on its first day, which was also the least expensive option as it was prior to the start of the actual auction.cool cars  028

The locale was just massive, and for us to have been able to see all of the cars would have required at least an entire day.  cool cars  003cool cars  046cool cars  002

cool cars  006But Hector and I spent a few hours there and focused on the classic collector cars in the main tent area. Even though there were several tents we never even entered, we still saw a dizzying array of autos.cool cars  045

Although I don’t know a lot about collector cars, I do know what I like.  I like antique cars, and I liked a lot of the cars we saw. There were some truly artistic people designing automobiles in the United States years ago.  They paid such attention to little details, many of which are still standouts.cool cars  035

The colors were truly amazing, the brightest colors I’d ever seen on autos.  And, of course, all of the cars had tons of clear coats applied on top of the paint to make them ultra-shiny.

cool cars  054


cool cars  026There were tons of people cruising through the show, but Hector still managed to get some cool photographs.  One really fun area was full of old automotive memorabilia.

Since I am a simple girl at heart, I selected a simple white little roundish number as my favorite.  cool cars  018But there were some bright colored beauties that could have won me over as well.

cool cars  010


cool cars  034

cool cars  036This was definitely a spontaneous choice by us, and not something we expected to do, but we figured we might never coincide with The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auction again.  And it was a really fun afternoon.

~ Brendacool cars  011

Earthy Sedona

sedona  014sedona  009Sedona is a unique place, when we visited several years ago we really loved the look of and the new-agey feel of the place.  Sedona offers luminous shamanic healing, detoxification, past life regression, spirit guide readings, spiritual hypnosis, to balance your aura and chakra system, reactivate your meridian lines and energy points, access your subconscious blocks, and a host of other metaphysical and spiritual services.  What’s not to like?sedona  016

But Hector and I opted for a cost-free option; hiking to some of the vortexes.  What exactly is a vortex?

sedona  047sedona  008sedona  003According to the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, the scientific definition is “an area of enhanced energy flow” which is either “flowing upward out of the earth” or “flowing inward toward the earth”.  The New Age community defines the vortexes as “energy centers” with “remarkable spiritual powers”.

The term was first used to describe Sedona’s four popular meditation sites – Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Airport Mesa and Boynton Canyon. This energy “resonates within a person,” and may offer “spiritual awareness as well as healing experiences”.sedona  041

A few years ago while hiking to the Cathedral Rock vortex, located by Oak Creek at a place called Buddha Beach, Hector definitely felt the energy.  Which is funny, because he is definitely the more skeptical of the two of us.

This time I was intent on visiting several vortexes.  And we started by going to Cathedral Rock / Buddha Beach once again.  On the way there, literally in Oak Creek, there is an amazing view of Cathedral Rock that Hector wanted to photograph.sedona  011

sedona  012This meant wading through extremely cold water twice, which the intrepid photographer did.  To quote some folks picnicking nearby, “hard core”.  As for me, after crossing over one pretty shallow place, I decided to dry out my hiking shoes while sitting across from the rocks where Hector was taking photographs.

sedona  015sedona  017After some photography, we walked over to Buddha Beach to once again see the largest number of cairns we’ve ever seen in our lives.  There were tons of cairns on the ground but more daring folks built cairns on tree branches and other less stable areas.  You must see it to believe it.


sedona  020

And guess what, this time I got a huge surge of energy and joy.  It was pretty cool.  And Hector:  nada.  Interesting.sedona  027

sedona  028In between vortex hiking, we stopped in at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, set in (literally) the Mystic Hills.  Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a sculptress, student of Frank Lloyd Wright, philanthropist and devout Catholic conceived the idea of the church, which was originally going to be built above the Danube River in Budapest.  Because of World War II, she had to give up on those plans.

Years later, after falling in love with Sedona, she re-focused on building the church here.  It was completed in 1956 and less than a year later received the American Institute of Architects National Award for religious structures in 1956.

sedona  029The exterior is striking, looking like it was carved into two rocks, with a large cross as its prominent feature.  The interior is very simple, but looks out onto beautiful Sedona.  The church welcomes travelers from all faiths.sedona  030

sedona  004sedona  006Moving on to more vortexes.  Next we headed to Boynton Canyon.  It was a fairly easy hike, and we took Angel along.  Once near the vortex, you begin to see cairns that people have assembled.  And as we walked to the site, Hector once again had a very strong reaction.  Me:  nada.  Angel:  nada.  Oh, well.sedona  007

sedona  037sedona  034Then we hiked on Airport Mesa.  This was a relatively flat hike with a short climb at the end.  Here the vortex energy is supposed to be around the entire trail.  I felt a little bit of an energy surge.  Hector:  nada, Angel:  a little.sedona  005sedona  038sedona  036sedona  035sedona  039

sedona  040The last vortex we visited was Bell Rock, which is supposed to have very strong upflow energy.  We again had Angel with us, so we hiked around the bottom of the rock, because the climb to the top is very steep.  But the vortex is supposed to be felt throughout the rock.  This time – Hector:  nada, Me:  nada, Angel:  well she walked over four miles, which for her age and after two ACL surgeries is pretty great.

sedona  031sedona  052But later that day we went on another hike, this time, not to a vortex, but to a very cool place called Devil’s Bridge.  We’d hiked over four miles around Bell Rock that morning, and took a midday break.  We started our second hike quite late, around 4, but it was supposed to be a short, though rather steep, hike.sedona  053sedona  054

But we hadn’t read enough about the trail and it turned out that the last portion of the road to the trailhead only allowed high clearance vehicles.  So we had to walk about a mile to the trailhead.  It was  getting pretty late, but now I got a surge of energy and started climbing the trail pretty effortlessly.  At the top, there are a few short but steep climbs, and after two of these, I realized it was 5 p.m.

Hector was wisely saying we should turn around and not risk a tricky descent in the dark.  Even though I had one headlamp, I agreed with him.  So we headed back down while the sun was going down and reached the main road before dark.

Walking down the road at dusk was actually very cool, there was no one else around, we were surrounded by forest and it was really quiet.  And our eyes adapted to the darkness slowly, so I didn’t have to use my headlamp until the very end.

Sometimes it’s just about the journey and not the destination.

~ Brendasedona  055

Missions of Southern Arizona

Missions  002Missions  024Beginning in the 16th century, Spain established missions throughout New Spain, in an area known today as Mexico and the Southwest United States.  This was part of their effort to colonize the region.  These religious outposts didn’t necessarily have a church, but were settlements to establish Spanish presence and convert the Native Americans.Missions  005Missions  025

Many of the remaining missions and remains of missions are some of the oldest structures in this part of the country and represent an important part of the history of the area.Missions  006

The church at Mission San Xavier del Bac is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.  The Baroque church is called the White Dove of the Desert. Missions  007

Missions  010As we approached the mission, I found it to be somewhat ostentatious because of the stark contrast between it and the surrounding area.  Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered many beautiful details in its exterior.

Missions  018The interior, thought to have been decorated by artists from Queretero, Mexico is also quite striking.

Missions  035Missions  023Missions  004Missions  022This mission was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino. Father Kino, who was born in Italy and joined the Jesuit order in his 20s, went to Mexico at the age of 36 and was “assigned” to the Pima, or O’odham as they called themselves.  He gained the respect of these Native Americans due to his lack of dogmatism and helping them by introducing wheat, livestock and fruit trees into their existing farming practices.

In 1756, a small church was built at the mission.  Then the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain around 1767 for political reasons, and Franciscans were sent to the missions to replace them.  A Franciscan missionary hired an architect and started construction of the existing church in 1783. Many of the O’odham helped in the construction and the church was  completed in 1797.

After Mexico gained independence, Spain withdrew all of its aid to the missions.   The Spanish Franciscans began to leave the mission then, and the last Franciscan left in 1837, almost ten years after Mexico ordered Spanish born residents to leave the country.  In 1854, the mission became part of the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase and four years later, became part of the Santa Fe diocese.Missions  014

The diocese began repairs on the mission, but an earthquake damaged the structure.  After further repairs were made, the Franciscans returned to the mission in 1913.  The church façade was restored in 1953, and the mission became a National Historic Landmark in 1963.Missions  026Missions  019

Located in the Wa:k village of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation, about nine miles south of Tucson, the church holds regular services and is the parish church for the Native Americans in this area.

Native Americans were selling fry bread just outside the church by the parking lot and of course we had to try some before leaving the area.  We had the fry bread with cinnamon, it was delicious!

Missions  029Missions  030We then continued driving south about 45 miles to the oldest mission in Arizona, Mission San Jose de Tumacacori.

On the way to Tumacacori, we made a brief stop at the village of Tubac, which features over 100 shops and world class galleries.  A very scenic spot.

Missions  033Missions  031Mission San Jose de Tumacacori was also founded by Jesuit Eusebio Francisco Kino, who apparently really got around, in 1691 in a Pima settlement on the east bank of the Santa Cruz River, 18 miles north of present day Nogales.  The mission was moved once after a Pima revolt to its present location.

Missions  036Missions  034A small, modest church was built there in 1757.  Then, in the early 1800s, the Franciscans began to build a large church, one that would match the Baroque glory of San Xavier del Bac.  They had a master mason leading a crew of Indian and Spanish laborers, but didn’t have enough funds to complete it, leaving one bell tower unfinished.   After Mexican independence, and the departure of many of the Spanish born Franciscans, only some native born priests remained.Missions  044Missions  037

In 1848, after an increase in Apache attacks and also after aid from Mexico was cut due to war, the last residents abandoned the mission.  In 1853, the mission became part of the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase.Missions  041

We took a self-guided walk around the grounds.   The original roof of the church was destroyed, and the interior was subjected to weather and souvenir hunters for many years, so there is very little of the interior remaining.   There is now a replacement roof, but the structure has not been restored.

Missions  028The interior has a nave, altar, remains of a choir loft, a baptistery, sacristy and sanctuary.  Then behind the church are the remains of a granary, mortuary chapel, cemetery and lime kiln.

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There is also a reconstructed O’odham house and a mission orchard that has been planted in accordance with the time period when the mission was active.

Missions  049We finished our walk and headed back to Tucson.  Since we were coming from the South, we had to cross yet another immigration checkpoint.  Once again we put on our “game faces” and got ready to answer the question “What country are you citizens of?” with “U.S.”.  Once again, we passed the test.

~ Brenda

Pima Air and Space Museum

F4 Phantom in USAF Thunderbirds markings

McDonnell Douglas F4E Phantom II in USAF Thunderbirds markings

Airplane geek alert!!  Tucson is home to the Pima Air Museum.  This is one of the largest private aviation museums with over 300 planes on over 80 acres and in several enclosed hangars.  Brenda was having a hard time containing her excitement at being dragged to yet another aviation museum. 🙂

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They have an extensive collection of military aircraft organized by the branch of the service and the theaters of operation.  Docents are stationed throughout, almost always older gentlemen with obviously personal connections to the artifacts on display.

A docent will drive you around the outdoor exhibits in a tram with a narration of the alphabet soup of naand a tidbit of history along the way.

Boeing B17G Flying Fortress

Boeing B17G Flying Fortress

Boeing B - 29 Superfortress

Boeing B29 Superfortress

Boeing B52

Boeing B52G Stratofortress

pima  002 (1)There are lots of rare and unique planes in the collection.  Including the oldest B52 still in existence and only the third ever built.  This B52A is also interesting in that it was the launch platform for the X-15 spaceplane flights.  Each flight is marked on the side of the fuselage. Way cool.

Boeing B52A Stratofortress

Boeing B52A Stratofortress – with X-15 launch cradle under right wing

Convair B36J Peacemaker.  The last of the piston engine bombers.

Convair B36J Peacemaker. The last of the piston engine bombers.

Lockheed SR71A Blackbird

Lockheed SR71A Blackbird

Convair B58A Hustler

Convair B58A Hustler

Fighters galore – with examples of both “good guy” and “bad guy” contemporaries.
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Grumman F14A Tomcat

Grumman F14A Tomcat


Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG-21 Fishbed

McDonnell Douglas F/A18A Hornet

McDonnell Douglas F/A18A Hornet

North American F86H Sabre

North American F86H Sabre

Grumman TAF-9J Cougar

Grumman TAF-9J Cougar

Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG-15 Fagot

Northrop T38 Talon – a favorite of NASA astronauts

Choppers as well.Pima  032

Some oddball stuff …

This museum is adjacent to 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as the “Boneyard.”.  Thousands of planes are stored at this facility taking advantage of the dry desert climate.  Bus tours are given daily but were sold out the day we were there.  Next time …

There are some commercial airliners in both civilian and military versions …

Boeing VC137B in "Jackie Kennedy" paint scheme

Boeing VC137B in “Jackie Kennedy” paint scheme

Boeing VC118A Liftmaster.  This one served as Air Force One for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson

Boeing VC118A Liftmaster. This one served as Air Force One for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and was the last propeller plane used for that purpose

Lockheed C121A Constellation.  This "Connie" was assigned to President Dwight Eisenhower

Lockheed C121A Constellation. This “Connie” was Air Force 1 for President Dwight Eisenhower

Lockheed L-049 Constellation in TWA colors

Lockheed L-049 Constellation in TWA colors

North American P51 Mustang

North American P51D Mustang

These are only a few examples of the amazing collection.  A great place to spend the day for anyone with a love of airplanes.  Wear comfy shoes!

~ Hector

Raptors and Monsters and Snakes – Oh My!

Tucson  073Tucson  059It seemed as if everyone that had ever been to Tucson and everyone that lives in Tucson recommended that we visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  The Desert Museum is actually a combination of a zoo, a natural history museum, an aquarium and a botanical garden.Tucson  061Tucson  065

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We were especially interested in seeing the raptor free flight presentations where multiple handlers get the birds to fly outdoors in nature but up close to the guests.  There are two a day, and we caught all of one and most of the other – they were amazing.

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It was the New Years holiday week so the museum was packed, in fact, one of the  ladies working at the gift shop told us this was the largest crowd she’d seen – yikes!  Fortunately, the only place where it felt super crowded was actually the raptor free flight, as people were packed into two specific areas.  Even so, the way this demonstration was set up, each bird flies back and forth and perches on different trees all around various spots where the crowd is gathered, and so everyone has an opportunity to get multiple good views of each bird – well done!

Tucson  042The Desert Museum is the only zoological park that features plants and animals from one region, the Sonoran Desert, demonstrating their interdependence.   Since a large part of the desert is in Mexico, the museum collaborates with organizations in Mexico to provide educational programs and conduct research.  This place is awesome!Tucson  097

Beep Beep

Beep Beep

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The museum also has lots of very knowledgable docents spread out throughout the exhibits.  All docents complete a rigorous 15 week training, and they are very friendly and informative.

One of our favorite exhibits at the museum was the hummingbird aviary; I never knew there were so many types of hummingbirds! Another was the desert loop trail, which has lots of agaves and palo verde trees, and coyotes and other animals in their natural settings.

Tucson  055And my favorite animal from the desert loop trail was the javelina (pronounced as if in Spanish havelina).  Javelinas are peccaries and they are members of the same suborder as pigs, Suina.  They have tiny dainty legs and big eyelashes and are truly adorable.  We keep hoping to see them in the wild since they are not aggressive.

Tucson  067Tucson  051 (1)Last, but not least, we saw an interesting presentation about gila monsters and rattlesnakes.  Both animals were brought out and placed on a table while the presenters provided fun, interesting and scary facts about them.

Since the audience included kids, part of the presentations was a bit basic, but it was cool to see these very dangerous animals up close.

Tucson  108One basic thing I learned was how to spell gila monster – I always thought it was helimonster!  Ok, the rattlesnake was cool but I found the little gila monster – named Diablo – pretty cute.

We also learned that about 3/4 of the incidents of people getting bitten by gila monsters or rattlesnakes are caused by the person wanting to interact with the animal.  What???!!!  And the three most common characteristics of the majority of those unfortunate people are:  1.Male 2.Young and 3.Intoxicated.  Gila monsters are actually shy and slow moving, but, if threatened, they will clamp on very tight, and, what probably makes them so scary, they have to chew in order to release their venom.  That’s one way to sober up!

Tucson  002 (1)Unbelievably, after about seven hours at the museum we still missed quite a few exhibits.  So, along with tons of others, I highly recommend a visit, but do plan to get there early and stay late!

Update:  We’re currently in Phoenix, having visited Sedona after Tucson, but are catching up on the blog and two more posts on Tucson area visits are coming up – lots to see there!

~ Brenda

Tucson and the Sentinels of the Desert

Tucson  043Tucson  030As we arrived in Tucson and headed towards our RV Campground, we found ourselves surrounded by mountains covered by saguaro cacti.  It was an astounding sight.  This area is part of the Sonoran Desert, and near the north eastern most habitat of the saguaro (they only grow in Arizona, California, and parts of Mexico).  As a result, if you arrive from the east as we did, you don’t see any along the way until you arrive and then they are everywhere!Tucson  003Tucson  002

The ranger at Saguaro National Park, which is actually two parks, one to the east and one to the west of Tucson, informed us that there are about 1.8 million Saguaros within its borders.  And I’m sure we’re looking at thousands at one time.Tucson  004

We found the area so fascinating that we decided to extend our stay, it’s so nice to have that flexibility.  Originally, we were planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Sedona, but we changed our reservation to stay in Tucson until after the New Year.Tucson  005

Tucson  006Tucson  009We drove into the city a couple of times.  There is lots of interesting mural art in Tucson, which we love.  One mural, which spells out the word Tucson, is a recent work that was a collaboration of six artists (one for each letter).  Each artist has strong ties to the city and incorporated political or cultural messages into their art.

Tucson  017Tucson  018Tucson  019We also visited the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block.  Our favorite exhibits were the Western Art permanent exhibit and a temporary exhibition by wildlife artist Bob Kuhn. Another favorite was the Historic Block, five properties built between the mid 1800s and the early 1900s, that along with the museum, are located in what was once the Presidio of San Agustin del Tucson, established by the Spanish army in 1775.

One of these houses displays “El Nacimiento” a massive Mexican nativity scene that combines the Christmas story of the bible with scenes from traditional Mexican village life and more, created by Maria Luisa in memory of her mother.  It’s by far the most intricate nativity scene I’ve seen.  The art museum is small but worth a visit.Tucson  022

We spent Christmas in Tucson, and Hector cooked another wonderful meal.  Our families usually have Christmas Eve dinner, but when not with family, we prefer Christmas dinner.  It was kind of a quiet day with no friends nor family nearby, but it was also very relaxing.Tucson  021

Tucson  023Our RV park was adjacent to Tucson Mountain Park and had several trails leading out of it, so were able to hike and mountain bike from the park.  We also had a very nice view of the sunset over the mountains right out our front window.  And I saw my first road runner – on two different days, hanging around the campsites, and Hector got a few photos of him.Tucson  024Tucson  025Tucson  011Tucson  026

The day after Christmas, we had Ingrid and Al over for dinner.  Ingrid and I “met” each other through our blogs – but the story has one more layer.  Back on Prince Edward Island in Canada, Hector and I had dinner with fulltimers and bloggers, Mona Liza and her husband Steve after Mona Liza and I also “met” though our respective blogs.  Mona Liza wrote a really cute blog post about our get together, and Ingrid, who follows her blog, linked to our blog.  When I noticed Ingrid’s comments on our blog, I linked to her blog and that is how we “met”.   We live in interesting times.

Anyhow, we all had a great time together, kind of a progressive dinner, with happy hour and the entrée in Island Girl, and then wonderful homemade desserts (yes that was plural) in Ingrid and Al’s fifth wheel.  A little wine was consumed as well 🙂

Continuing on the social circuit, a few days later we had a great dinner at Jean and Jerry’s.  Jean and Jerry are friends of Scott and Mary, friends of ours from Denver.  When Scott and Mary realized we were going to stay in Tucson, they introduced us via e-mail.

Tucson  027Tucson  031We had such a wonderful time with Jean and Jerry that we went hiking together the next day.  The hike was on the Yetman Trail, which goes through a lovely valley and over a pass.  It’s about six miles one-way, and, since we were able to park one car at each end of the trail, we only had to hike in one direction.  This allowed us to take our time, and for Jean and Jerry to share their vast knowledge about the plants and other features of the valley along the way.

Tucson  041Tucson  045Among those tidbits was the fact that many of the saguaro are able to survive only when they grow under nurse trees.  These nurse trees are frequently palo verde and mesquite.  The saguaros are slow growers, at fifteen years they’re only about twelve inches tall, so the nurse trees provide protection from extreme sunlight, winter cold and small animals.  But many saguaros don’t make it.  Tucson  037Tucson  035Tucson  032

Tucson  048Tucson  036And there is a strong connection, which began with Native Americans, between the people here and the saguaro cacti.  In fact, while we were on the trail, Jean made it a point to surround one little one with branches to protect it from the cold.Tucson  039

Tucson  033Tucson  034Of course, there are a lot of other spiny, thorny cacti in the desert and we learned about them as well.    We heard that some people go out into the desert “with a plastic comb and a pair of tweezers” – tweezers are not good for pulling certain thorns out and combs are said to do the trick.  I, for one, did not intend to find out.Tucson  044Tucson  047

Still, it’s hard to imagine how animals survive in this harsh environment, but they do.  As evidenced by some birds nests we discovered in the cacti during our hike.  All in all it was a great hike with great people.Tucson  038Tucson  050Tucson  102Tucson  049

Tucson  104Tucson  101Tucson  099We returned to Saguaro National Park a couple of times.  Saguaro East-Rincon Mountain District was established first and has the oldest saguaro forest and some of the biggest saguaros.  However, there are less total saguaros in this park than in the Saguaro West-Tucson Mountain District.  The reason is that the east side of the park is about 1,000 feet higher altitude than the west, and so many more saguaros are killed by frost.  In fact, that is one of the reasons that the Saguaro West park was established – in order to protect a larger area of saguaros.Tucson  111Tucson  110

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Tucson  117One afternoon, we hiked up to Signal Peak, a popular sunset watching spot for locals.  The trail continued past the sunset watching spot and we followed it into a more remote desert area surrounded by mountains to watch the sunset.Tucson  116Tucson  118

Meanwhile, I’d done research on things to do on New Year’s Eve.  We wanted to celebrate our amazing year in style.  So I found a very interesting venue called the Whistle Stop Depot.  The Whistle Stop Depot was a 5,200 square foot warehouse that was refurbished with materials handcrafted from reclaimed, recycled and salvaged materials.

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This venue was hosting a salsa dance party with a nine piece band that included some of the best musicians from various local Latin bands who would be playing together for the first time.  This sounded perfect, and indeed it was, we danced the night away to great music in a beautiful space.Tucson  114Tucson  115

Now back to the saguaros – they are the largest cacti in North America, and can live to 175-200 years old and 70 feet tall.  They often outlive their nurse trees.  The saguaros branches or arms, if they grow at all, start to grow only after they reach 75 years.Tucson  088

As I looked out over the saguaro “forest” on the mountain, they looked like sentinels of the desert.  They really do resemble people sometimes, with diverse shapes and sizes.  And with their “arms” waving in all directions.

Some, which are extremely rare, produce a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.  I think they are very intriguing.

And they frame the lovely city of Tucson very nicely.

~ BrendaTucson  113

2013 … A Dream Year

angel  004What a year!  We traveled a total of 9,448 miles in Island Girl, from Florida to Maine to Canada, then south and west reaching Arizona by the end of the year.  We visited 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces.  In October we reached a couple of milestones:  one year of fulltiming and one year of blogging.

Whew!  Here’s a month-by-month recap of our dream year:

January – visited with friends and family in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

February – stepped back into nature at Everglades National Park.

March – a nice long stay in Funky Key West for ocean fun and an awesome air show.

April – a busy month: first north and west to the Gulf Coast of Florida for more family time, then back east to the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, north to St. Augustine, and north again to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, and finally to Atlanta to see old friends.

May – visited the Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Washington, D.C., then ended the month in New York City and upstate New York where we visited more family and friends.