Happy New Year! Steve and I hope that you had a wonderful holiday season, and we are sending our very best wishes to you for a happy, healthy and joy-filled 2024. We’re glad to have you join us for our Epic RV Adventure in the Great Southwest! This post is packed full of photos from our recent stays in the region, and I’m also sharing another of the RV modifications we made to Irving (our RV) to help us live comfortably in 24 feet of linear space on the longest trip we’ve made thus far (164 consecutive nights).
First, a map update for those following our journey. Our last blog post brought us to the Phoenix area where we will be spending the next two months. To make it more clear where we are in this part of the world, I’ll share a blow-up version of the map for this area only until we start making our way back to Pennsylvania in early March.
(FYI, I’m using Loose Leaf Tea Market - another woman-owned business - as a central location in Phoenix. I discovered this gem when we visited the area a few years ago, and it’s my go-to place for high-quality, loose-leaf tea blends. The owner, Kita Centella, is an Herbalist and has a genuine passion for sharing the healing power of plants. I love what she does with her Instagram account @LooseLeafTeaMarket. If you’re a fellow tea drinker or interested in how plants can support your journey to better health, follow the shop on Instagram or subscribe to her website for great info, recipes and more!)
My last post ended just after we arrived at Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, AZ. We loved camping at the base of the iconic Superstition Mountains. The park offered lots of hiking trails which we all thoroughly enjoyed, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and photo ops galore!
In the morning, we enjoyed our morning beverages and watched the skies come alive as the sun rose behind the iconic peak of the Superstition Mountains right from our site.
In the evening, the sunsets in the opposite direction were spectacular. This photo was taken when a storm system was rolling in, and boy, was it a doozy!
If the conditions were right, moments before sunset the mountains lit up with light with refracted sunlight for about two minutes of pure magic!
The weather during the day for the our first two days at Lost Dutchman was quite pleasant, and we spent a considerable amount of time hiking. The state park borders the Tonto National Forest, and the scenery here is spectacular. Here are a few photos from our hikes:
We were only at Lost Dutchman for five nights, and during that time there was a LOT of rain - so much so that there were flash flood warnings and puddles on some of the trails. You read right: puddles … in the desert … outside of monsoon season! Daytime temperatures, when it wasn’t raining, ranged from relatively comfortable (as in relative to winter temps back in PA) to pleasantly warm, but we quickly learned that the moment the sun sets in the Southwest desert, an invisible switch gets flipped and the temperature instantly drops about 15-20 degrees. Without the humidity in the air that we’re accustomed to, we were surprised to realize how cold 35-45 degrees feels in the desert! With the early sunsets and chilly evenings, we found ourselves settling into the comfort of our heated motorhome on most evenings, where we played Rummy, Canasta and Scattegories, planned menus and shopping lists, and dreamed about future RV adventures.
Another surprise at Lost Dutchman was the fact that the loop on which our site was located did not have a bathhouse. Irving has a bathroom and we have holding tanks, of course … but (BIG BUT!) one of the modifications we made to Irving over the summer was to build shelves in what used to be our shower to accommodate my printer, a laundry hamper, dog grooming supplies, paper products, and more.
The shelving system is one of the modifications that has really served us well on this trip. Steve designed it using PVC uprights, and we cut the wood shelves from salvaged pieces of an old cabinet that suffered water damage when our basement flooded during COVID. We discovered that we can use the superfluous cargo netting that came with our hitch-mounted cargo rack to secure everything on the shelves for travel. We bought a pack of $12 hooks to secure the cargo netting, drilled breathing holes in a lidded IKEA container we weren’t using for our laundry hamper, and even dressed up the particle board shelves by taping the edges with some artsy duct tape leftover from the days when our kiddos were teenagers (who remembers the duct tape everything craze?). Viola! - we had a not-very-fancy but oh-so-serviceable storage solution for not a lot of money.
We made the decision to swap out our shower for storage with confidence, because:
1 - Irving’s shower is teeny-tiny; I have showered there only twice and Steve has always opted to use the bathhouse.
2 - Irving’s tankless hot water system is finicky about water pressure, and many campgrounds don’t have adequate water pressure to take a comfortable shower anyway.
3 - The state of the bathhouses as reported by camper reviews factors heavily into my campground selection process (as in, if the bathhouses are not reported as clean, we pick another campground).
4 - We have an outdoor shower to use in a pinch (like, a really, really absolutely necessary pinch).
Because we both prefer to use bathhouses where we have space to move, the trade-off didn’t seem a big deal. So imagine our surprise when - on our first morning at Lost Dutchman - we discovered that our campground loop was not equipped with a bathhouse, a fact that I overlooked when we hastily rescheduled our dates and our site location at this park. It was a nearly .75 mile walk to the bathhouse via paved roads, with an option in daylight hours to traverse a hilly and sandy .3 mile trail instead. Considering the essential shower flip-flops and puddles on the trail, we opted for the longer walk and logged some extra steps between the raindrops during our stay.
We left Lost Dutchman in the clouds (literally, see photo above), and spent a few nights boondocking in the driveway at our daughter’s house in Phoenix, where I took a shower sans flip flops and loved every minute of it! Faye and Zach moved from the East Coast to Phoenix several years ago, and so we were really looking forward to spending the holiday with them for the first time in way too long. But this would be our first Christmas without our two youngest children, who both live in Philadelphia. We always miss our oldest daughter, of course, who cancer took from us way too young, so this mixed sense of elation and sadness that surrounds the holiday season for me is not new. But, late on Christmas Eve, we got the absolute best Christmas surprise ever when Stevie and their partner, Jules, showed up at Faye’s! We expected to spend time with them during our stay in Tuscon, but they secretly made plans to arrive early to surprise us. (It’s rare that my children are able to pull one over on me, but I’m so, so glad they did!) We had a wonderful day together on Christmas, and then Stevie and Jules headed off for a tent camping tour north of Phoenix and into Utah before joining us as previously planned in Tuscon.
As we continued our journey, we camped for several days at Picacho Peak State Park south of Phoenix before heading to Catalina State Park in the Oro Valley, just north of the city of Tucson. Both campgrounds were beautiful, and I’m glad we included them as part of our Epic RV Adventure in the Great Southwest.
At Picacho Peak, we had several sunny days and enjoyed long walks with the pups. I learned that Picacho Peak is the site of the furthestmost western battle of the Civil War. (A history buff I am not, but I never realized the Civil War ventured this far West. Did you?)
We went on a hike partway up to the peak, until it became too steep to traverse safely with the dogs. I also spent several evenings with my digital SLR camera attempting to capture some sunset magic. On my first evening out and about with my camera, I didn’t get the best sunset photos but I caught a spectacular moonrise over the campground! This photo was taken with a prolonged shutter release shortly after the Winter Solstice, so the moon was huge and bright, and the clouds made for a spectacular event!
I don’t know about you, but when I think of Southwest Desert sunsets, I always picture a huge saguaro cactus plant silhouetted in front a magnificent desert sky. On our hikes, I scoped out places where I might capture that magic, and my quest proved fruitful! I captured these photos with my digital camera on the night before we left for Tuscon.
A few minutes later, my camera captured this image.
And a few minutes after that, this one.
I’m not sure which I like better, but I’m leaning toward the second one. What do you think? I feel like this scene will become the basis for a series of mugs and bowls when I get back to my studio.
We stayed at Catalina State Park for a week, and Stevie and Jules joined us there as previously planned for part of our stay. The sunset put on an incredible display for them the day they arrived, reflecting off the clouds and painting the mountain range a gorgeous rose/purple.
The kids went on another overnight backpacking trip into the Santa Catalina Mountains on their second and third days in the area, and then spent their final night tent camping with us before returning to their respective work schedules.
The panorama photo above is the view from the back side of our campsite at Catalina. The lighting here in the Southwest region makes the image look fake, but it’s just as I took it with my iPhone (pinky promise!).
Our days and nights at Catalina were adventurous. The coyotes yipped and sang every night in a cacophany of chatter unlike anything I’ve ever heard! On one of our walks, we had a close-ish encounter with a couple of coyotes, but we were forewarned by a considerate oncoming driver who was concerned for our pups. We gave the coyotes plenty of time to leave the area, and then found a place nearby to view the area in question to gauge whether they had indeed left. We didn’t see them, but as a precaution we removed Oakley’s muzzle so she could defend herself, found some sticks to use to defend our babies if necessary, and then I carried Bandit as we walked quickly through the area, my heart racing as we faked a confidence we didn’t feel in the least!
On another walk, we found ourselves within about 100 feet of a squadron of javelinas, which look sort of like small-ish wild pigs. Hikers warned us that javelinas can’t differentiate between a coyote and a domesticated dog; since coyotes prey on javalinas, they have been known to attack dogs. This particular squadron had a tiny piglet with them as well as an adolescent to defend, so again we kept our dogs close and quiet, gave the javelinas plenty of room to leave the area, and then made a wide detour to safely navigate around these not-so-adorable animals. (Okay, the little piglet may have bordered on adorable, especially as he waddled across the path on his tiny little legs. I failed to get a photo … sorry!)
I encountered a fellow potter on the Romeo Ruins trail as he and his grandchildren were scouring for pot shards on the site of an old Hohokam village. We enjoyed the nature trail and the birding trails at Catalina as well. Here are some photos from our hikes at Catalina:
The Tuscon area is a bit greener than the Phoenix area. I’m no expert, but I feel like the park is home to some of the healthiest saguaro cacti I have ever seen! Aren’t they magnificent?
And my record of Catalina State Park wouldn’t be complete without a few sunset photos, so here you go:
The first three of these were taken with my digital camera, the last two with my iPhone. The Southwest skies at sunset are amazing. Each night, Mother Nature paints a new and totally unique masterpiece right before your eyes, and each is magnificent!
It was shortly before we left Catalina that we discovered another BIG BUT (as in a REALLY, REALLY, REALLY BIG BUT) relevant to our bathroom shelving modification. Steve started feeling a bit off, then developed a tightness in his chest, and within a day we realized he had somehow contracted COVID. Because of the timing, we feel like he must have picked it up in the bathhouse. Irving is small, our propane (for heat) was low, and it was too cold to ventilate adequately so, within a couple of days, I had the sniffles too. So now we’re both isolating in Irving, in yet another scenario we did not anticipate when we sacrificed our shower for shelving. We’re making do, and with the exception of sponge baths, I have to say that a campground has proven to be a really great place to isolate during COVID.
We moved north to Usery Mountain Park in the midst of all of this, ordering curbside pick-up groceries en route. We aren’t up to taking long hikes yet, but what we’ve seen of this park has left me breathless, particularly the diversity in the plant life. I did manage a few sunset photos with my iPhone.
I promise I’ll get out there with my camera before we leave to get more photos to share with you in my next blog post. (That will take place right after my negative COVID test and a long, hot shower, because … priorities!)
We’re definitely on the mend. Yesterday, I spent a few hours sitting outside at the park’s nature center using the public wifi, and in the evening I had energy leftover to prepare a frozen grouper filet in a Thai coconut curry sauce with fresh snap peas, carrots and leeks. It was delicious, and it felt so good to prepare a real meal. I do love to cook (and eat) good food, even on the road.
Temperatures are still pretty nippy at night, sometimes dipping below freezing and necessitating disconnection from the water supply. Storms have yielded sleet and hail at Catalina State Park, a dusting of snow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, and snow flurries here at Usery Mountain. Still, when the sun shines during the day, it’s relatively pleasant.
Next up is White Tank Mountain Regional Park, just west of Phoenix. I am looking forward to feeling better, resuming our hikes, and star gazing upon what I’ve been told are crystal clear night skies. I’ll share images I plan to take of that phenomenon in the next blog update.
Until then, we’re so thrilled to have you along as we continue our Epic RV Adventure in the Great Southwest! Thanks for coming along for the ride!
Susan & Steve