Friday, July 13, 2012

SAYING GOOD-BYE TO MY DAD, BILL BROWN – 12/13/1925 TO 7/07/2012

Bill Brown in cap

A big factor in our recent decision to buy a home base in Diamond Springs, California, was its proximity to my parents, both 86 years old.  After my Dad suffered a stroke three years ago, his health slowly declined, particularly during the past few months.  With the help of hospice, we (my mother, two sisters, and I) were able to keep him comfortable at home, and he passed away in his own bed, as he wished, on July 7. 

One of the biggest accomplishments of my life was a joint venture with my dad: building a houseboat designed to live aboard fulltime.  Daddy had learned carpentry and building from his father in law, sharpening his skills over the years with DIY projects.  I remember him improving every home we lived in as I grew up, always with creativity and attention to detail.  Once he retired, he extensively remodeled two cabins in the California foothills. 

When I approached him about building the houseboat, he listened and considered carefully (as he always did), then agreed.  Little did we know what was to come!  We figured it would take 3 months – instead, it took a year, working long weekends during Sacramento’s blazing summer heat and windy, rainy winter.  It was both a great learning experience and a great bonding experience, and I will always admire (and appreciate) the patience he brought to the task.  We launched on the Sacramento River with a sense of both relief and accomplishment, and it was my cozy home for nine fun years (and where I lived when I met Odel).

Now is a time to be with family.  Scoopy, our motorhome, is in storage while we focus on pulling together furnishings for our new home base and adjusting to the new normal.  Our fulltiming days are over, but our traveling days are not.  As for this blog?  Time will tell whether I pick up the blogging habit again when we resume traveling.  It has been a fun, interesting, rewarding pastime, but not one I will continue when we are stationary.  Thanks for traveling along with us over the years, and happy trails.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The idea of full time travel came to Odel and me in October of 2002, while we were visiting southern Arizona.  We’d never had an RV, but in light of Odel’s planned March 2003 retirement, we were considering alternatives to staying in our house in Sacramento.

Within 3 months, we gave ourselves a cram course on RV’s, made a quick decision, and bought our first (and, so far, only) RV.  On April 1, 2003, we took off.  Everything we owned was in the motorhome or in the Jeep behind us.  Inspired by a whim, this abrupt life change was just right for us.

We’ve never known when we would transition out of fulltiming, or why.  A couple of weeks ago, my sister Sydney let us know that a mobile home with a fantastic lake view was for sale in Lake Oaks, the mobile home park where they live, a lovely spot in Diamond Springs, California.  She suggested we consider buying it as a home base, close to them, to our parents, and to Rosanna and Auntie Carol.  Our immediate response was “no way, we are not ready”.  A week later, after a little daydreaming, thought and conversation, we figured it was worth investigating.

We left Boise last Tuesday, and today we a signed contract on our new home base… though NOT the mobile home with a beautiful view that enticed us to drive 600 miles back to California!  

We looked at half a dozen mobile homes for sale in Lake Oaks, and were surprised to find that other features beat out a fabulous lake view:  a big, FLAT lot (unusual in this hilly, forested park) with a graveled side yard perfectly suited to a kitchen garden; a huge combination living room, dining room, and appealing (large) kitchen; a neighbor on just one side; a low maintenance front yard with huge trees and dappled shade; a flat, covered carport large enough for two cars; lots of privacy; easy proximity to the lake, the lake trail, and the clubhouse (where Odel and Frank can hone their skills on the pool table, or Odel can join the poker players).  Another plus: the park has RV storage for $30 a month, and we can walk past Scoopy daily as we circumnavigate the lakeside trail.

The walls are freshly painted, the carpeting brand new.  The effect is light, bright, clean and airy, ready to move in.  It felt great the minute we walked through the door.  We made an offer, they countered, and for $40,000, we have a home base.  The site rental is less than what we budget for campground fees; the entire house cost a fraction of the price of our motorhome when we bought it 10 years ago.  I can’t quite wrap my head around that.  

Escrow will close in about a month, just in time for us to head to Colorado to meet friends from Texas in July. Until then, we’re making lists, budgets, and trying to figure how where we’re gonna get some furniture. :)

Two weeks ago, in Idaho, we had no inkling we would soon be home owners.  Today, we’re celebrating this unexpected turn of events.  Hooray for the inspiring whim!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


BASE Jumpers in Twin FallsOur summer travels have gotten off to a slow start, thanks to a few mechanical problems.  Our blowout on the way to Twin Falls was certainly the most bothersome (read: scary) of these, but not the most costly! 

As we left Wells, Nevada, on our way to Twin Falls, we noticed that our air tanks (for our air suspension  brakes) were losing air whenever we stopped and turned off the engine – we could hear it escaping near the back of the motorhome.  Of course, the tanks were losing air as we drove, too – but our compressor was able to keep up with the loss when the engine was running.  We’ve experienced this same problem in years past, and knew it was likely to be a faulty ride height adjuster valve. 

Though it was safe to drive, we didn’t want to tackle any mountain passes (especially the downhill slopes!) until we had it repaired.  That meant a detour in our plans and, instead of heading to Missoula, Montana, from Twin Falls, we diverted towards the Cummins repair facility in Boise, Idaho. 

Since we left Twin Falls on Saturday and didn’t have an appointment in Boise until Tuesday, we stopped along the way in tiny Glenns Ferry, where the Snake River posed a significant obstacle to travelers on the Oregon Trail at Three Island Crossing.  Being a weekend, the pretty campground at the Three Island Crossing state park was completely full, as was the campground at Carmela winery, next door to the state park.  Lucky for us, we settled in at RV Camp and Cabins (click here to read our review), a comfortable little campground that participates in Passport America. 

Three Island Crossing of the Snake RiverBesides visiting the Three Island Crossing Interpretive Center and catching up on our laundry, we tackled yet another minor problem, our Brake Buddy.  After over nine years of excellent service, this little auxiliary braking system needed a new 12 v. plug.  Odel took care of that problem, and when we left Glenns Ferry on Monday, the Jeep and its braking system seemed back to normal.

Our campsite on Monday night was the parking lot of the Cummins repair facility just off the interstate south of Boise – where we were happy to have a 50 amp electric hookup to deal with the 85 degree sunshine!  Scoopy was into the repair bay at 8 am on Tuesday, with a diagnosis around 10:30: new ride height valve needed; radiator steam cleaning recommended; update of our EMC (engine monitoring computer?) software recommended.  We said yes to everything and pulled out of the repair lot around 2 pm, $500+ lighter and ready to roll!

Map Boise to MissoulaFrom time to time, readers or email correspondents ask about budgeting for fulltime RV travel.  My opinion?  The budget item most likely to be underfunded is the kitty for RV repairs.  Things break down all the time!  It might be mechanical (like the ride height valve), a broken slide mechanism, wind/hail damage, or an air conditioner that poops out on the hottest day of summer.  Minor things (the step cover motor quit working several years ago; we never DID fix that) or major things (replace the U joints; repair the refrigerator).  There is always something that needs attention;  we’re happy when the “something” doesn’t keep us from moving.  :)

So here we are in Boise, staying once again at Hi Valley RV Park, where we first stayed last September (click here to read our updated review).  We’ve enjoyed a few of the brewpubs in town, and today we visited the educational World Center for Birds of Prey (where they raise the California Condors that are released near the Grand Canyon).  Odel fit in a round of golf, and we’ll stay long enough to visit Boise’s downtown farmer’s market on Saturday.  Sunday, with all systems now functioning, we’re heading off into the mountains of central Idaho, the Sawtooths and the Bitterroots, through Stanley and Salmon, then north to Missoula.  Now, that sounds like summer!

Monday, May 14, 2012


Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls, IdahoThanks to everyone for your thoughts on what happened to cause our tire to blow.  We think it likely that the steering locked for some reason, with the tires a couple degrees off of straight… but the idea of the brake calipers sticking on the front left wheel makes sense, too.  We probably won’t ever know for sure, but the symptom (pulling to the left) was very obvious – so we feel pretty confident that we will know if it happens again.

Once we got the new tires, all was well in Twin Falls.  Before we arrived, Boomer friends Becky and Lonnie let us know that they live in Twin Falls when they aren’t traveling (Becky has lived here her whole life!), that they were in town, and would be happy to show us the highlights.

We took them up on their offer, meeting for lunch at a comfortable, friendly restaurant, Elevation 486, on the edge of Twin Falls finest tourist attraction, the Snake River Canyon.  Because it was windy and cold (though deceptively sunny), we got a table inside, next to a window looking out at a large patio, the empty tables and chairs, and beyond to the fabulous view.  This place must be jammed on a warm day! 

Golf courses on both sides of Snake River CanyonFortified by a good meal (Odel and I were able to stick to our vegan commitment with delicious tomato soup and a salad), we headed off to hit the scenic highlights of the canyon, Shoshone Falls and Twin Falls (which is now one lone fall).  Shoshone Falls (top photo) looked spectacular to us, but apparently it paled beside the thunderous, record-setting volume last year, when none of the rock beneath the falls was visible – can you imagine?? 

There are walkways along much of the canyon rim, and we spent plenty of time peering down to the river and the golf courses spread out below.  Our day of sightseeing ended with an abundance of wine and conversation (both excellent) at Becky and Lonnie’s beautiful home – thanks so much for your time, friends.

If you have ever traveled through Twin Falls, you likely have traversed the Perrine Bridge, crossing the Snake River Canyon.  The canyon is breathtaking, the bridge is lovely and graceful, and it is an internationally renowned mecca for BASE (Building, Antenna, Span, Earth) jumpers – thrill seekers who jump from fixed points wearing a parachute.  The Perrine Bridge is one of the few places in the world where BASE jumping is legal, and it is a huge draw for jumpers from other countries (and the US, of course).  Here is a fascinating web page about BASE jumping from the Perrine Bridge – all kinds of information I never would have thought about while watching these daredevils.

Perrine Bridge.  Click to enlarge.  Notice the vehicle traffic on the bridge and the chute of the jumper below it, just about in the center of the photo.

This group of BASE jumpers from Australia were preparing their chutes at the Visitor Center.  You can see the top of the bridge in the background.

Jumper near center of photo Base Jumpers preparing their chutes

On Friday, we headed over to the Visitor Information Center adjacent to the bridge to watch jumpers prepare their parachutes and jump.  A group of half a dozen Australians planned to spend the day jumping; when we were here 5 or so years ago, we talked with a couple Brits who had come to spend their week long vacation jumping.  It is very difficult to capture a BASE jumper’s descent with my little pocket camera, but here is a link to a 10 minute video on You Tube that shows a jump in the first 30 seconds (I haven’t watched the entire video yet – saving bandwidth until we are using someone else's WiFi!).

If you are passing through Twin Falls in an RV, you can stay at the Visitors Center parking lot for one overnight, long enough to explore the canyon and watch the BASE jumpers.  We chose Rock Creek Park (click here to read our review) as our base camp, and recommend it if you plan to stay a few days.  There’s more to Twin Falls than first meets the eye.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Each morning when I awake, my thoughts turn to my plans for the day.  Maybe we’re moving to a new spot, or have a hike planned.  Maybe we’re meeting friends.  Food always plays a big part.  Are we eating at home?  What am I cooking?  Do we need groceries?  

Whether we already have plans or they are being formulated as I turn over to peek out at the weather, I always have some expectation for the day, my Plan A.  Sometimes flexible; sometimes not so much.

On Wednesday, leaving Wells, we had a relaxing Plan A: a short (well under 150 miles) drive north to Twin Falls, ending at a previously researched campground that sounded very appealing.  Phone a couple of friends in town and arrange a meet-up once we arrive, then kick back and relax.

Of course, our blowout was not part of Plan A!  When it happened, and particularly when we learned that it would take the tow truck an hour to an hour and a half to reach us, we did what nine years of fulltiming has taught us to do: let go of Plan A, the sooner the better!

Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls, IdahoOver our years of travel, due to breakdowns (yikes, everything in the freezer has thawed out!), illness of people (sorry, but I really can’t leave the motorhome this morning) or pets, or weather (OMG, what just blew by the window???), we have had to throw Plan A out the window many times.  Eventually, it dawned on us: no matter how our day existed in our imaginations, holding on to that plot line in the face of a new reality simply adds stress to the current, unexpected situation.  The sooner we let go of Plan A, the easier it is to find the solution to a challenge – and maybe enjoy (or at least somewhat appreciate!) whatever this unscheduled, unimagined new reality has in store.

For me, it is usually NOT fun to have a problem throw a wrench into my Plan A – yet my enjoyment of fulltiming has a lot to do with encountering the unexpected, the serendipitous, the unknown.  Throwing away our travel plans because we lucked into the most fabulous site in the campground (with the great view and no mosquitos) or found an unexpected gem of a town, is easy.  The trick is in learning to throw away Plan A when the unexpected and unwelcome strikes. 

Funny thing about Wednesday… we left Wells as planned, and we ended up in Twin Falls as planned.  There was a lot of “the unexpected” in between!  :)  Letting go of Plan A made the in-between experience much less stress-filled.  It’s a lesson I need to keep in mind.

On a completely different subject:  judging from the number of comments left on my blog, most of you readers are interested in FOOD.  I don’t do much baking, but recently came across a recipe (pulled out of a magazine, and I don’t know which one) that has got me firing up the oven once a week: Banana Oat Breakfast Cookies.  No dairy, no eggs.  Ingredients healthy for diabetics and for those trying to keep cholesterol down.  Big, chewy, moist and yummy.  And very filling. 

One cookie (they are big, and around 200-250 calories each) makes a good breakfast for those who don’t like a big breakfast, or for breakfast as you are heading out the door.  Great to take along on a hike or a long day of sightseeing when you’re not sure where/when you might catch a bite to eat.  It’s a keeper.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


A bit desolateHighway 93 runs north from Wells, NV to Twin Falls, ID.  It is mostly two lanes, with not much in the way of shoulders – just gravel that slopes rather steeply away from the roadbed.  Every so often there is a gravel pullout on the side of the road, but nothing very big… certainly not very accommodating for a large motorhome towing a vehicle.

As we left our overnight spot in Wells this morning, Odel noticed that the motorhome was pulling to the left, and more than “just a little”.  After some discussion, we decided to pull over and do a walk around of the rig… except that there was no safe place to pull over.  In fact, there was no unsafe place to pull over.  No place to pull over period!

We had around 120 miles to our destination in Twin Falls, so did all that we could do – kept on going, nervously.  Oh, how I longed for one of the many large, lovely rest stops we had visited along I-80 yesterday!

Check this out!Forth-eight miles from Wells, our Pressure Pro tire pressure monitoring system began screeching its alarm: low air in the front left tire of the Jeep, 26 pounds.  No place to pull over, of course.  Within 15 seconds, the air pressure was down to double-ought: two big zeros on the display.  Our first blowout.

We were climbing the slope of yet another small mountain range.  All Odel could do was slow down (though of course we both freaking out verbally – I’m sure I said something like “Wah, wah, wah!!!)). 

As we neared the top of the summit, guess what?  A large (sloping, of course) gravel pullout!   We were so shaken that I don’t know if we drove a 1/4 mile or a 1/2 mile after the blowout, but we were SO GRATEFUL to have found a place to get off the road.

The tire was in shreds, but the wheel was still undamaged.  Hurray for Pressure Pro!  Without the warning, who knows how much damage we would have done as we continued on to Twin Falls?

In spite of our problem, we had points in our favor.  First, a pullout, so we were safely off the road.  And not just a pullout – a pullout at the top of a summit where were could use our cell phones and WiFi (we had just driven through many miles of little to NO cell service in the valleys below).  What great good fortune.

Adios, friend Jules.It was almost comedic trying to describe our location to the service rep at Coach Net, our emergency roadside service provider.  She had a hard time understanding that there was no “nearest intersection” and no “street address”, that the “nearest community” was 18 miles away and consisted solely of casinos and motels.  The best I could provide was “a gravel pullout alongside highway 93, 18 miles south of the Idaho/Nevada border, surrounded by miles and miles of desolate scrub”.  If there was a community in the area, WE were it, a community of 2 named Brokedown! 

Thanks to our wonderful Garmin NUVI GPS, I was able to provide our GPS coordinates, our distance from Wells (south of us), our distance from the state line (north of us), and our distance to Twin Falls, all with the simple touch of a button (I could have provided the elevation, too, but she didn’t need it).

Next, I pulled up Google on my computer (hurray for our Verizon aircard!) and found the Les Schwab tire store in Twin Falls, Idaho.  A quick phone call confirmed that we could be towed there, and elicited the name of a good local towing company with a flatbed truck.  I called Coach-Net back with our destination address, the tow company suggestion, and things got underway. 

Rock Creek CampgroundOne and 1/2 hours later, the tow truck arrived, Jules was loaded, and we took off to meet again at Les Schwab.  Too bad for us, we lost an hour when we crossed into Idaho and the Mountain Time Zone – but Jules had two new-to-us (good, used) tires mounted and we were back on the road before too long.  Just two and a half miles to our goal, Rock Creek Park, where we are now comfortably situated, looking out on lovely green lawns and Rock Creek.  I am unwinding with a margarita while Odel went off to try to solve another (thankfully minor) Jeep problem.

The big question: what the heck happened?  We had four brand-spanking-new tires on the Jeep, just purchased in Sacramento.  We ALWAYS (and this morning was no different) check to make sure the Jeep tires are rolling (not sliding) and the brake lights are working before we pull out for the day’s drive.

Rock CreekWe noticed the motorhome pulling to the left as we left Wells (a big clue, since that problem was solved once we detached the Jeep), but the tire didn’t blow out until 45 miles later!  The left front tire was totally ruined, but the right front tire was ALMOST usable, just moderate damage (it did need replacement), and the back tires are fine. 

If it was a brake problem (brakes locked for some reason), wouldn’t both tires (or all four) have similar damage from being dragged?  Since they didn’t, does that imply that the front left tire sustained major damage later in the trip – a nail or other major puncture?  Yet the “pulling to the left” symptom was evident almost from the start, 45 miles before the tire failure.  It’s a mystery, probably not to be solved by us non-mechanics.

So we lost a day, and paid out $190 for a couple of good used tires.  Coach-Net picked up the $260 bill for the tow.  The weather is great, the margarita now gone (but another is not far away), and all is well in our world once again.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Road constructionIt’s a long uphill haul from the Sacramento Valley to the top of Donner Summit on Interstate 80.  While Odel jockeyed for position with the slow-moving semi’s and their heavy loads, I watched the outside temperature slide from 77 degrees when we began our climb (around 10 am) to 63 degrees as we reached the summit (around 11:30 am). 

Of course, while the higher altitude meant a steady drop in outside temperature, the long, sometimes steep grades meant that the engine temperature was relentlessly climbing.  Add in the numerous construction zones and we were very happy to cross the summit and head down the other side.  Good practice for our visit to the mountains of Colorado later this summer!

Soon after we descended from the summit, we passed Truckee and crossed the California/Nevada state line, where the trees thinned and the arid bones of Nevada’s landscape were revealed.  We negotiated the heavy traffic and construction zones through Reno and Sparks, took a brief break for lunch at a vista point (can’t believe what passes for a “vista” in that part of Nevada!) along I-80, and kept rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ to our destination for the night, Rye Patch State Recreation Area. 

We first discovered Rye Patch (run by the Nevada State Parks) 4 years ago – a wonderful oasis in an otherwise rather bleak landscape.  (Click here to read our review from 2008, updated to reflect a fee increase from $10 to $14.)  Lots of green trees, a large lake impounded by Rye Patch Dam, and very friendly park rangers make this stop a winner with us, even though there are no campsite hookups. 

Our overflow site at Rye PatchThis time, instead of unhooking the Jeep and backing in to one of the campsites, we parked in the huge graveled “overflow” area just west of the dam.  We had the whole place to ourselves, with a view of the lake, the campground, and the arid mountains to the east – quite a nice change from our month-long stay in the close quarters of Cal Expo.

Speaking of Cal Expo, I updated our review from November of 2011 to reflect a couple welcome improvements: the WiFi now extends to all the sites, including those on “the slab”, where we stay; and four or five of the usually vacant sites in the gravel lot were made available for camper or visitor parking, a reasonable solution to our often-voiced complaint about lack of tow and towed vehicle parking. 

All in all, it was a good travel day after sitting for 30 days in one spot.  :)

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Five busy weeks in the Sacramento area, and the only photos I have taken are of food!  That’s what happens when we spend time with my family and friends – food talk, cooking, eating… and discussing what we’re planning to eat at our next meal.   Boy, did we have fun!

While in Tucson in March, I stopped in at Native Seed/SEARCH – and began an unintentional love affair with heirloom beans (dried).  Yum, yum – so much variety of color, texture, shape and taste.  I picked up an inspiring cookbook while there, Heirloom Beans, which introduced me to Rancho Gordo, a source for heirloom beans in Napa, California.  A visit to Rancho Gordo’s retail shop immediately went on my “to-do while in Sacramento” list… and I placed an order with them for twelve different kinds of beans, to be sent to my sister Sydney’s house in advance of our arrival in her neighborhood.

Bean tub at Rancho Gordo Beans in Roz hand

I love the sign in this tub of dried “touching beans”:
”Go Ahead – You Know You Want To”.

Rosanna couldn’t resist reaching into the tub, and neither could I.  What a fun idea!

At the same time Odel and I were sampling new (to us) bean varieties in Arizona, Sydney (a vegetarian, along with my BIL Frank) had picked up a copy of The China Study and found the information presented there compelling.  By the time we hit Sacramento, emails were whirling between me, Sydney, and our cousin Rosanna, a long-time vegetarian, about beans, veganism, and all related topics.  And my 12 pounds of heirloom beans had arrived from Rancho Gordo.

So we planned an event.

Six cooks in our family – my younger sister Nancy, my older sister Sydney, BIL Frank, cousin Rosanna, Auntie Carol (Rosanna’s mom), and I – each chose one kind of bean and took it home.  We picked a later date to convene at Rosanna’s new home (she and Auntie Carol just moved up to Placerville from Sunizona, Arizona) with our cooked beans. 


Clockwise from upper left: Good Mother Stallard Bean and Barley Stew; Black Beans in Red Velvet Mole on Mashed Sweet Potatoes; Louisiana Red Beans and Rice (using Lila beans); Christmas Lima Beans and New Potatoes in Miso Bagna Cauda; Black Bean “burgers” with Salsa (using Ojo de Cabra beans); Cannellini Beans with Broccoli Rabe on Garlic Toast.

On the chosen day, we each arrived with our beans.  In preparation, we had each set aside enough plain cooked beans that all of us could taste each bean “unadorned”; the rest of each bean type was prepared as a vegan dish.  Following the wine tasting example (and with both wine and beer at hand), each cook introduced their chosen bean while we passed the unadorned sample for poking, prodding, admiring and tasting.  And of course, I had prepared a note sheet for all participants.  :)  Each bean was discussed in its turn, copious notes taken, opinions exchanged.

Lunch in NapaThen we got down to the real event: tasting the dishes.  I’ll tell you, this group can COOK!  What a blast – and what a fun, fun way to discover new beans and recipes.

With so many vegetarians in our family, with my newfound obsession with beans, and with lots of discussion amongst us about The China Study, Forks Over Knives, and The Engine 2 Diet, even Odel’s interest was piqued.   (By the way, if you are interested in “the other side of the story”, this witty, thorough and well-written blog is an interesting read.)  We both would like to reduce our cholesterol and our weight, so we’ve decided to explore a “plant-strong, whole foods” menu for four weeks, beginning when we head off for our summer travels on Monday. 

It is difficult to imagine that Odel and I would give up our omnivore ways permanently (though I must say that the “pink slime” story was extremely unappetizing!), but we both enjoy food adventures.  Eating “plant-strong, whole foods” (the Engine 2 Diet’s description of a no-animal-products diet that includes minimal amounts of processed foods) has introduced all sorts of new foods and recipes into our lives (and mouths).  I’m interested to learn what changes (if any) we see in ourselves after a month without meat or dairy… or store-bought cookies!  Meanwhile, we’re finishing off the lamb chops, steaks, and Italian sausage pasta sauce still stashed in our freezer.  :)

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Mt. Humphreys, heading north on I-17We have returned to our ex-hometown of Sacramento, California, in springtime each of the 9 years we have been traveling.  (Today begins Year 10 – Happy Anniversary to us!)  Each year, we’ve arrived a bit earlier… and this year we planned our earliest arrival yet, April 2nd.  Once that date was set, the speed and direction of our travels fell in place.  Leaving Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood (click here to read our review), we knew we needed to cover 900+ miles in 8 days – no big deal. 

Our plan?  From Dead Horse Ranch State Park, head up I-17 to Flagstaff, hang a left, and land in Williams, Arizona (motto: Gateway to the Grand Canyon) for three nights (to include a day trip to the Canyon); Williams to the Elks Lodge in Needles for an overnight stay; Needles to Mojave for the night, then on to the Escapee park in Coarsegold, California for two nights – with potential for a day trip into Yosemite National Park if weather cooperated.  A short drive from Coarsegold to the Sacramento area would be the final leg.

OK and LB at CanyonRV travel is very weather dependent!  This time of year, in the southwest, wind is not infrequent… big wind.  We kept a close eye on the weather as we headed north and west.

Our drive to Williams from Cottonwood was short and enjoyable.  After spending the winter in the arid southwest, we felt elated as we headed into the forests of Arizona’s higher elevations.  Snow on top of Mt. Humphreys!  On I-40, we turned west, dropped a little in elevation, and settled in to a site at Canyon Gateway RV Park (review to come later) for three nights… which turned out to be one night too long.  :)

We had beautiful weather for our drive, and more of the same on Tuesday – so we headed off in the Jeep to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  In prior visits, we have camped (with Scoopy) at the south rim; this time, we opted for the day trip, since it is both easier and cheaper to visit by car.  Fabulous day – cool sunshine, manageable crowds.  We walked and walked and walked, ogling the canyon and enjoying major people-watching. 

OK with Elk at Grand CanyonAt one point, sitting on a bench along the Timeline trail, three elk came grazing up the hill behind us, completely unfazed by the pedestrian traffic.  Clots of camera-toting tourists formed, snapped their photos, then moved on… and we got a huge kick out of their guesses concerning the nature of these animals.  "Llamas?  Alpacas?  “Moose, look, moose!”  Deer?  Relaxing on the bench, Odel played senior ranger, providing animal identification to those who asked. 

My favorite “mind’s eye” snapshot?  A skinny, twenty-something male, smoking a cigarette, creeping slowly towards one of the big animals, taking photos with his iPad (or maybe a video?).  Such a funny juxtaposition of nature and technology!

On Wednesday?  Nothing much.  If we hadn’t already paid for three nights in Williams, we would have moved on.  A hike I thought we would like was still under snow… I should have started our taxes, but couldn’t get motivated.  Ho, hum… :)

Time to check on the weather again.  The report?  Needles, our next stop – and only 175 miles away – was considerably hotter.  While we enjoyed cool sunshine at Arizona’s higher elevations, California’s low Mojave desert was hot; the forecast for Needles on Thursday was pushing 90 degrees.  Ugh.  What a place to spend the afternoon!

Saturate Before UsingDriving through southern California’s desert areas on I-40 is one of my least favorite routes.  It probably was interesting the first time we did it, maybe even the second and third.  Now, though, it is a long, usually hot, slog.  Heading west, I-40 dips down from a couple thousand feet above sea level at Kingman, Arizona, to a couple hundred feet above sea level at Needles, on the Colorado River, then climbs up and down the arid mountain ranges that march across the landscape.  Tiny towns, deserted service stations, closed rest stops (not all, thankfully), wild tire skid marks cutting across lanes… lots of scrub, plenty of heat.

Where I-40 ends at I-15 in Barstow, we pick up highway 58, even more boring.  Four Corners, Boron, Mojave… flat, pale, scrubby.  At last, 58 begins climbing up to Tehachapi through a pass populated with giant windmills – a clue to high profile vehicles drivers that this isn’t a good place to travel during a wind storm.

To avoid the heat of Needles, we decided to stay in the upper elevations as long as possible.  On Thursday, we drove a mere 100 miles, from Williams to Blake Ranch RV Park (review to come later) a dozen miles short of Kingman, AZ.  We’d have a longer drive on Friday, but better weather for any sightseeing we could dig up on Thursday afternoon.

And we found some GREAT sightseeing near Kingman!

Heading west on I-40 From Route 66 towards Oatman

With such a short drive, we were set up in our new site by noon.  We headed back out on I-40 and into Kingman, Arizona, taking the turnoff onto old Route 66, once THE route to L.A. from the east.  After a quick lunch stop, we were on that famous road, heading up over Sitgreaves Pass towards the revitalized mining ghost town of Oatman. 

The drive was FANTASTIC!  Twisting, turning, climbing and descending.  The interesting sights we discovered along the way piqued my curiosity, and I found a great website detailing this stretch of Route 66 when we returned home – I especially enjoyed the part about Model T’s backing up the slope, and about the Shaffer Fish Bowl (I climbed those steps and photographed the bowl).  Oatman, our goal, was not of much interest to either of us – too touristy – but we were happy that it had drawn us into this lovely, historic drive.

Shaffer Fish Bowl
View from the fish bowl.
Above: I climbed the cliff side steps to the Shaffer Fish Bowl, captured from a seep from the rocks.

Below: the “ghost town” of Oatman had too many tourists and shops for us.
Above:  the view from the fish bowl ledge.

Below: The Garmin’s route map of the road to Oatman – very accurate!
Too many tourists for us! Twists and Turns

Early Friday morning, we pulled out of Blake Ranch RV Park and headed west again, planning a drive of almost 300 miles to Mojave, California.  The forecast was great (though a little warm): sunny and calm.  But a change was coming, with high wind warnings posted for all the passes in southern California, including the wind tunnel of Tehachapi Pass.

When we hit Mojave at 2 pm, we just rolled on through, and ended up posting our highest one-day mileage record, 375 miles.   We took advantage of the calm winds to climb Tehachapi pass, roll down through Bakersfield, and continue on to the big, flat parking lot at the Elks Lodge in Wasco.   The entire, boring Mojave desert drive was behind us and we had just a short hop up to our next stop.  Yippee!

Half Dome in snowAnd now, we’re safely settled at the beautiful Park of the Sierras, the Escapee RV park in Coarsegold, California (review to come later).  Our drive from Wasco to Coarsegold was wonderfully uneventful; by the time the forecast wind and rain hit us, we’d finished setting up camp and taken a short walk.

I was up early this morning to check the Yosemite webcams, wondering whether we should venture up Highway 41 to the national park.  Ha, ha, ha!  Yes, the road is open (chains required)… but I don’t think we have the right clothing for the park today (photo from the Sentinel Dome webcam).

Tomorrow, we’re off on the last leg of our winter travels, back to visit family and friends in Sacramento.  Maybe we can slip back down to Yosemite before we head out for our summer travels.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Red Rocks 1Saturday dawned cool and sunny, perfect for our planned day trip to Sedona, 20 miles away.  We packed our lunch, grabbed our maps and were out the door at 9 am.

The small city of Sedona is nestled in one of the beauty spots of North America – my opinion, and the opinion of hundreds of thousands of people who come to gaze upon it… including hordes who wanted to gaze upon it on Saturday.

Like many beautiful places, Sedona suffers from its popularity.  Strip malls (albeit far more attractive than most) and traffic line its approaches; the town center was a stressful knot of stop-and-go traffic and tourists.  We weren’t interested in browsing or shopping, so passing through town was simply a practice in patience.

Approaching from the west, our first stop was the Boynton Canyon trailhead.  Gaping at the enormous, stunning, red rock formations as we approached the parking area, we looked forward to enjoying this popular trail, leading to one of Sedona’s famous vortices.  From both the written trail description and the number of cars in the parking lot at 10 am, we knew we wouldn’t be alone.  What we didn’t know – unfortunately - is that half a mile or more of the trail runs directly adjacent to a luxury resort that spreads across the bottom of the narrow canyon. 

Less than a quarter mile into the hike, the trail enters a designated wilderness area (always a good sign, in my mind – no powered vehicles or bikes allowed).  Shortly after signing the wilderness register, the trail approached the edge of the resort – and for the next 1/2 mile or more, we were serenaded by the sounds of leaf blowers, cars, and a chain saw doing its thing.  Even after we left the resort behind, the sounds of gas powered engines followed us up the narrow canyon.  What a shame!

Red Rocks 3 Red Rocks 4

The scenery, though was just what we hoped: glorious!  Both of the photos above were taken along the trail, along with dozens more – it was difficult to keep the camera in my pocket.  So, though I wouldn’t hike this particular trail again, we did enjoy the views and the weather.  No vortex effects to report.  :)

Oak Creek Canyon switchbacksPart two of our planned excursion was a drive up beautiful Oak Creek Canyon to the switchbacks 14 miles north of Sedona.  There is only one way to access the canyon from the south, and that is right through the knot of congestion in the heart of Sedona.  We worked our way through town, and joined the other drivers heading up the canyon on a beautiful day in a beautiful area, windows down, sunroof open.

What a drive!  The canyon is narrow, as is the two lane, winding road.  Oak Creek boiled with muddy snowmelt from the recent storm.  At times, rocky cliffs crowd the roadside; everywhere, high, carved, brightly colored rock walls vie for attention.  Per posted signs, vehicles over 50 feet long are prohibited on the switchbacks on highway 89A.  Though we did see a tour bus descending, there is NO way we would use this route to travel in the motorhome from Sedona to Flagstaff!

Back home, I found many interesting comments about huitlacoche (aka corn smut or Raven’s excrement) – blogs about food always seem to touch a chord.  The biggest surprise came from Judy (Travels with Emma): “I think I would have liked to try one of those quesadillas.”  I don’t think of Judy as a very adventurous eater, but her comment and a recent blog post indicate otherwise; she tried grits! 

Both grits and polenta are made of ground corn.  Polenta is a favorite of ours (grits, not so much) and Judy’s post reminded me to include a recipe I discovered the other night, Enrico’s Easy Polenta – baked in the oven! 

Cooking boiling cornmeal on a stovetop can be hazardous; the thickened mass looks like lava as hot bubbles form and burst.  Stand back!  Polenta can be cooked in the microwave, but I’ve ended up with a massive mess when I used too small a bowl. Cooked in the oven?  Trouble- and mess-free! 

I used the creamy polenta in its traditional role – in place of pasta, topped with a tomato-fennel sauce.  Next morning, I cubed the now-firm leftover polenta, fried it in olive oil, put it on top of a pile of savory beans and topped it off with mildly spiced guacamole.  Yum!

Friday, March 23, 2012


Heading down to Camp VerdeWe just returned from a failed attempt to visit Tuzigoot National Monument on foot from the trails at Dead Horse Ranch State Park (click here to read our review).  10,300 steps, and we turned back without success.  :)

BUT – the sunshine was warm on our shoulders and bare legs (yep, we dug out shorts), a light breeze was blowing, the temperature was 70 degrees.  The cottonwood trees show a hit of green and birds were serenading us, so it wasn’t all bad.  :)

Quite a bit of snow fell in the high country before we left Congress on Wednesday morning.  We took the longer, more big-rig friendly route from Congress to Cottonwood: south towards Phoenix, east on highway 74 to Interstate 17, north to highway 260 which runs northwest to Cottonwood.  As we climbed up over 5,000 feet on the interstate, a thin layer of snow covered the slopes – and here at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, the surrounding peaks still show signs of the recent storm.  It was a lovely drive.

Site 70 at Dead Horse RanchSpring break!  We forgot all about it until we pulled into the state park, but were quickly reminded by the kids tearing around the campground on bicycles and on foot.  The campground has been full all week, with lots of activity today as the weekenders are arriving.  This is a huge park, with miles of trails, adjacent to the Verde River (which is actually WET, rather than the usual dry Arizona riverbed).  Plenty of trails for hiking, a lagoon for fishing, a tent campground loop separate from the RV loops; I can see why this park is so popular.

After a morning hike yesterday, we hopped into the car and headed up to Jerome, a copper mining town very reminiscent of Bisbee (though larger and busier).  Phelps Dodge ran the mines in Jerome (like they did in Bisbee – and maybe Ajo?).  Jerome clings to the steep side of Cleopatra hill; driving is a challenge. 

The population of Jerome dropped from 15,000 to 50 after the mine closed in 1953.  Like Bisbee, Jerome was saved by hippies and artists who moved in and eventually created an atmosphere appealing to tourists.  Now, Jerome boasts numerous restaurants, shops, and wine tasting rooms.  The streets were packed with tourists when we visited mid-week.

Jerome on Cleopatra Hill Front of Jerome Grand Hotel
Above: Looking at Jerome from below.  The big building at the top is the Jerome Grand Hotel.

Below: a funny intersection in Jerome as we walked up to the historic hotel.
Above: the Jerome Grand Hotel up close and personal. 

Below: Looking down on Jerome from the hotel’s vantage point.
Funny Jerome Intersection Looking down on Jerome

After a couple of hours exploring this quirky town on foot, we were ready to sit down to a meal.  The campground host back at Dead Horse Ranch had recommended 15.Quince (pronounced keen-say, the Spanish word for fifteen) for “Mexican food with a twist”, so that is where we settled.

Quince Restaurant The restaurant was small, busy and bright, with a polished, stamped metal ceiling.  Color and art everywhere your eye rested, and I got a huge kick out of the TV: the Food Network was on (Paula Deen), rather than ESPN!

Odel ordered “Braised pork with black beans and green rice”; I ordered quesadillas.  Filling choices were the usual, plus something very unusual: huitlacoche, a corn fungus considered a delicacy in Mexico.  That’s what I picked.
Carnitas for Odel Quesadillas

Awesome!  Both servings were so large that we knew immediately we were looking at both lunch and dinner, and so yummy that we were happy to have the leftovers.  I had heard of huitlacoche before, but had never had it in such quantity.  The fungus is chopped, the slowly sautéed until it becomes a savory, oily paste, quite rich tasting.  In this dish, the paste had been mixed with soft, sautéed chile peppers and onions – awesome is the best description.  Too bad huitlacoche isn’t more readily available in the U.S.; I’d love to get my hands on some.

Tuzigoot from the Verde floodplain Tuzigoot and the mountains

Tuzigoot in the distance, from the trail.

Standing on top of the ruins.

4:56 pm: It’s now later afternoon and – guess what – we made it to Tuzigoot National Monument, via car.  From the hilltop ruin, it was easy to see the trail we had walked this morning, and to see where we turned around – about half a mile short of the trail up the hillside.  It is an interesting site, beautiful in a spare way.  We weren’t going to leave without a visit.

Tomorrow?  We plan to revisit Sedona, to hike to one of the vortices for which it is famous.  Red rocks, here we come.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Cranberry Choc Chip CookiesBack when we were in Tucson and I had a cold, I didn’t feel like planning meals or shopping for food.  Lucky us, I had the simple ingredients on hand to make an extremely easy “comfort food” soup that I had never tried before: New England Sweet Potato Soup.  I’d saved the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens “Ultimate Slow Cooker” magazine back in 2008 (!), and finally decided to buy the sweet potatoes when I realized I had all the other ingredients on hand. 

This is the perfect recipe for when you don’t have the time or energy for anything complex – just load the ingredients in the crockpot, come back 5-6 hours later (say, after a nice nap), mash, season and serve.  I topped it with chopped green onions and coarsely chopped, roasted pecans.  Vegetarian as I made it (with milk); vegan if you leave the milk out (soy or almond milk would be a good substitute); for omnivores if you add the optional crumbled bacon topping.  Odel particularly liked this soup (probably due to the unusual sweetness).  Next time, I plan to serve it with a moist, chewy bran muffin with cranberries or raisins.  Great, easy, and somewhat unusual meal for a cold day!

Red Scarlett Runner Beans in Tomato Fennel sauceOmnivore, vegetarian, vegan… there has been a good deal of talk about the options around our house lately.  Back when Bill Clinton lost 20+ pounds after reading The China Study and switching to a (mostly) vegan diet, Odel and I talked a little about cutting meat out of our diet.  Nah, never went anywhere with that – but I did cut back on the amount of meat we eat.  Odel filled in with KFC or a hot dog whenever his carnivore gene objected.

Recently, The China Study surfaced in our conversation again, and with more force when we read an email from my sister Sydney, a vegetarian who recently bought the book and wrote: “It is a REAL EYE OPENER!!!!! You should really get it.”

It is difficult for me to imagine Odel and I becoming vegans, but I do plan to read the book.  In the meantime, I’m fascinated with the cookbook and heirloom beans I bought when we were in Tucson, at Native Seeds/SEARCH.  If anything could replace meat in our diet, it would be beans.  Both Odel and I love them, and their meaty texture and flavor – along with a dollop of olive oil (or bacon fat – he, he) – provides a lot of the texture and richness that we appreciate in meat dishes.  Plus, they are a natural for the crockpot, one of the few kitchen appliances that earned a ride along when we hit the road.

Giant Red Scarlett Runner BeanDuring our two days of snowy/rainy/cold weather, quite a bit of cooking took place in our little kitchen.  Homemade cookies, a dinner of Red Scarlett Runner Beans in Tomato Sauce on Creamy Polenta, and my other new favorite, Wilted Kale with Beans and Squash (supposed to be Cranberry Beans and Delicata Squash, but I had Anasazi Beans and Butternut Squash – so that’s what I made).  Like the New England Sweet Potato Soup, this is recipe has a surprising (and intriguing) sweetness.  Totally vegan… but we accompanied it with organic, all beef, bratwurst that we picked up at the Tucson farmers’ market just before we left town.  Omnivores.

Our current food philosophy?  Light on meat (and more of it comes from farmers/ranchers at the farmer’s markets), even lighter on dairy (Odel doesn’t like cheese; I buy milk about once every three months; and our freezer can’t keep ice cream frozen).  Heavy on plant foods: grains, beans, vegetables and fruit, purchased as close to our current location as possible (farmers’ markets whenever possible; foods in season and not from the southern hemisphere as the next best thing).  Guess you’d call us omnivores with a locavore bent.  :)

The number one thing we could do to improve our diet is to cut out crackers, chips, and store-bought cookies. We both love salty, crunchy snacks; processed snacks and baked goods are our biggest downfall – along with overindulgence in general!

Pasta sauce and sauteed vegiesThis morning, before Odel headed off to the golf course (yes, our warm sunshine has returned), he made a batch of his fantastic pasta sauce (with meat), which we’ll put in the freezer to reheat and enjoy on whole wheat pasta (which we both prefer) as we continue to travel north over the next few weeks.  (I might try adapting that recipe one of these days, replacing the Italian sausage with small beans; beans and pasta have a long and honorable partnership.) 

When his cooking was done, I put Lima Beans with Smoked Turkey in the crockpot for tonight’s dinner: beans, lots of vegies (added kale this time, and replaced celery – which I didn’t have – with a bulb of fennel, which I did).  A little meat, a lot of vegetables.

We may not eat “right”, but we sure do eat “good”.  :)