March 2023 — Arizona has received a glorious deluge of rain and snow this winter, and the rivers, streams and lakes are flowing fast and filling up quickly. Yay!
As if in celebration of this divine gift of a long drink for a thirsty land, many parts of the desert are now ablaze in shades of yellow as Arizona’s wild Mexican gold poppies pop their heads out of the ground and point their smiling faces towards the sun.
But where is the best place to see wildflowers — especially poppies! — in Arizona this spring?
We had a roundabout opportunity to see the poppies when special friends of ours invited us to their winter digs in Apache Junction which is home to Lost Dutchman State Park, a gorgeous spot known for its springtime wildflower display.
The official reason for our visit was to get some troubleshooting help on our Onan 4000 gas generator which has been giving us all kinds of grief since our first night in the trailer last year.
So, what better way to make our sour generator “lemons” into sweet wildflower “lemonade” than to get the machine repaired and upgraded and then go play in the flowers?! (We’ll share the details about the generator, its repair and upgrade in another post).
But first, we had to get there — and on our way we saw the remnants of the recent March blizzard that had buried parts of northern Arizona in several feet of snow!
US-87 north of Strawberry still had plenty of snow on the ground.
As we drove into Apache Junction, the roads were still wet from yet another dose of life-giving rain, and the Superstitions rose up under stormy skies in the distance.
The Supestition Mountains — where we hoped to see wildflowers — looked impressive and imposing as we approached after a rain storm.
At a stop light in the middle of town, at the intersection of Meridian and Brown, we glanced to the right and our jaws dropped at the sight of a vast field of yellow and orange daisies. We quickly parked and jumped out of the truck to take pics.
What was this place and how did these flowers get here?
It turned out that this huge field is owned by a local farmer who works his land with vintage 1960s tractors and farm equipment. He planted this field of daisies and it attracts visitors from far and wide every spring when the field erupts in vibrant color.
A large back yard in Apache Junction is filled with yellow and orange daisies.
As gorgeous as that field was, we wanted to see true wildflowers. So, as soon as the generator repair was completed, we did a hike in Lost Dutchman State Park. Unfortunately, the famous yellow poppies weren’t blooming where we hiked.
We did find one small collection of poppies, though, and it was lovely. But it wasn’t quite what we had in mind.
The poppies weren’t in their full glory at Lost Dutchman State Park just yet, but we did find a small patch.
Even so, the Superstitions are glorious, and we got some satisfying pics of chain-link cholla cactus against the rugged mountain backdrop. But we were still in search of desert gold!
A chain link cholla cactus in the Superstition Mountains..
Here’s a book about finding and photographing Arizona wildflowers that we just love:
We decided to take a drive on the Bush Highway, one of Central Arizona’s most scenic drives (blog post HERE).
The Bush Highway winds up and down and around the steep, rugged and gorgeous Sonoran Desert terrain, passing by lovely Saguaro Lake on its way.
We turned off at the Butcher Jones Recreation Area where there’s a small beach, and as cold and forbidding as the stormy and snowy mountain passes had been on our way here, this place was teeming with summertime beach activity.
Saguaro Lake, a man-made lake on the Salt River, is lined with saguaro cactus!
People in bathing suits were drifting around on stand-up paddle boards and kayaks, and families were gathered around coolers on beach blankets and in camp chairs.
It was Spring Break and everyone was whooping it up!!
The Butcher Jones Recreation Area was hopping with happy spring breakers playing on the water.
But we were still on the hunt for massive blooms of poppies. Down at our feet we saw a beautiful bouquet of flowers poking up out of the gravel and sand.
A natural bouquet of wildflowers blooms in the sand.
Another pocket of poppies was in full glory near the shore of the lake.
We weren’t the only photographers to grab a pic of these poppies!
All of this was fantastic, and the excitement of the Spring Breakers was contagious, but we still weren’t seeing the poppy photo ops we’d hoped for.
We got back in the truck and drove another few miles north on the Bush Highway.
Suddenly, there it was, all around us, about halfway between the lake and US-87.
The hillsides on either side of the highway were bursting with color, blanketed in vivid yellow poppies!
The desert comes alive.
On either side of the road as far as the eye could see, drivers had parked their cars on the dirt shoulder and people were getting out for a closer look at the spectacle.
Everyone was grinning, cell phone or camera in hand, and excited exclamations and comments filled the air. We all stared at the magnificent scenery in awe.
“I’ve never seen anything like this!”
“Can you believe it?”
Even though these poppies aren’t the kind that Dorothy walked through in the Wizard of Oz, I kept thinking of that refrain, “Poppies…poppies…poppies!”
We tip-toed between the flowers and found a dirt wash we could walk and were soon immersed in pretty yellow poppies.
Stop and smell the flowers!
We’ve only seen vast fields of wildflowers where the flowers go on far into the distance a few times, by the side of I-40 in North Carolina (blog posts HERE), by a forest road near Cody Wyoming (see HERE) and at Cedar Breaks in Utah (HERE).
But this display was the biggest and boldest we’d ever seen. Fields of gold…and popping poppies!
On the Bush Highway, between US-87 and Saguaro Lake, there is stretch of about a mile or two where the rolling hills are covered in poppies right now.
We thought that these were Arizona poppies. After all, they were blooming in Arizona! But Arizona poppies bloom in July and this was mid-March.
Once we were back in our trailer that evening, we poked around online and discovered that these stunning flowers were Mexican Gold Poppies a subspecies of poppy closely related to the California Poppy (which is California’s state flower!).
Back in 1816, German physician and naturalist Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz (1793 – 1831) discovered the poppy genus in the San Francisco area.
Poppies love dry desert soil and they bloom profusely when they get a long drink during the wintertime. They are sun worshippers too, opening up in bright sunlight and closing their petals tightly when the skies are overcast or gray (and at dawn and dusk which makes them hard to capture in a photo with a sunrise or sunset!).
On the fringes of the rolling hills of brilliant yellow, we found a few poppies standing side by side with other flowers.
And, of course, in other places in the desert, especially along the highways, we found lots of other beautiful wildflowers too.
If you visit the Sonoran Desert between late February and early April, you can catch these delightful flowers brightening up the landscape. These pics were taken just a few days ago on March 17, 2023, so if you are there now, be sure to take a drive to see this extraordinary display.
There are wild horses roaming in the area too, another special treat!
The Wild Horses of the Salt River are a beloved herd.
February 2023 – Back in mid-November we spent the better part of a week at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in central Arizona and used it as a home base to visit Tuzigoot, Clarkdale and the Arizona Copper Museum. We’d known about this state park for many years but this was our first time visiting. What a delightful stay we had!
DEAD HORSE RANCH STATE PARK – LAGOONS and TRAILS
The first thing we noticed after we got our campsite set up was the trio of beautiful lagoons that are the centerpiece of the park.
Autumn splendor at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in central Arizona.
The name “Dead Horse Ranch State Park” seems strange, but it has a fun origin.
In the late 1940s the Ireys family of Minnesota was looking for a ranch to buy in the southwest, and they visited several prospective properties. At one of them the kids noticed a dead horse. After two days of driving all over the dirt roads of Arizona ranch hunting, the dad asked the kids which one they liked best. “The one with the dead horse!” was the reply!
The Ireys named their ranch, “Dead Horse Ranch” and they lived and worked on the property until the 1970s. When Arizona acquired the ranch, the Ireys made retaining the name one of the conditions of the sale. Dead Horse Ranch State Park officially opened on June 1, 1977.
The lagoons are a highlight at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
Many people think that the desert regions in Arizona don’t have four seasons. However, that’s not entirely true, despite winters being warmer than elsewhere!
There is a distinct Fall season, complete with brilliant autumn colors, that arrives about a month or two later than the northern states, and Spring brings lots of wildflowers. Summer is, well, a lot like being in an oven!
Under the golden arches.
We found some wonderful hiking trails that meandered under the canopy of trees that grow alongside the Verde River. Buddy loved exploring these trails ahead of us and then dashing back to tell us what he’d found!
“You wouldn’t believe what’s up there!”
TUZIGOOT NATIONAL MONUMENT
As comfortable as we were in our spacious campsite inside Dead Horse Ranch State Park, we ventured beyond the park’s borders a few times too.
Tuzigoot National Monument, a site of ancient Indian ruins that were built by the Sinagua people in between 1050 and 1380 AD, is quite close by.
The ruins consist of a series of rooms defined by stone walls that were built onto a hillside.
Tuzigoot National Monument is a 110 room ancient Indian ruin.
It is believed there were 87 first story rooms and 23 second story rooms in this community and that it housed about 225 people. The rooms were terraced and entry and exit from each room was through the roof.
Tuzigoot’s rooms are all adjacent. It is thought the residents climbed in and out of each room by a hole in the roof!
A paved path took us to the top of the hill where there were 360 degree panoramic views, and we could look down at the rooms of the ruins below us.
The hill that Tuzigoot is built on has panoramic views that go on forever.
Heading back down to a lower level, we were able to go inside a room that had been reconstructed with posts and beams to show what it was like when these rooms were occupied and were enclosed with full height walls and ceilings.
A reconstructed room interior.
Mark noticed a mortar and pestle up on a ledge.
This mortar and pestle were originally found at the site.
As with most Indian ruins in Arizona, lots of incredible artifacts have been found in these ruins. A museum on site houses a large collection of pottery that has been carefully pieced back together again. What a treasure trove of handiwork made by the ancients!
Pottery found in the Tuzigoot ruins are on display in the museum.
CLARKDALE and COPPER MINING
On another day we took a drive over to the village of Clarkdale. We’d bypassed this town of about 4,200 people dozens of times over the years and never stopped in to see what was there. It is tucked away off the main highway but has a delightful main street and downtown area.
Despite its small size, it is home to one of Arizona’s most famous museums: The Arizona Copper Art Museum which is housed in the old high school building.
The old Clarkdale High School is now the Arizona Copper Art Musuem.
In years past, Arizona school kids learned about the “5 C’s” that made their state special: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate.
The Arizona Copper Art Museum celebrates the first C and is situated in the heart of the old Verde Mining District where the twin mining camps of Jerome and Clarkdale grew up around the United Verde Mine which was owned by William A. Clark.
Copper was a huge industry in the Verde Valley at the turn of the last century as it is elsewhere in Arizona today.
The United Verde Mine and Clarkdale mining camp were just one part of William Clark’s extraordinary holdings. He was a man of vision, energy and drive, and it seems no project was too big or difficult for him to take on.
Besides the copper mine and mining camps he’d built in the Verde Valley, he owned three mines and two banks in Montana, controlled several newspapers in Montana and Utah and owned a sugar plantation in California!
Before he built the United Verde Mine in Jerome, the copper vein there was considered too remote to ever be profitable. However, William Clark managed to make $60 million from his mine! Yet getting the ore out of the ground was just part of the challenge. He also needed to build a railroad to get the ore from the mine in Jerome to the smelter in Clarkdale and from there out to the world. So he built a railroad.
Needing a place to service his trains, he bought a ranch in Nevada and brought in employees to live and work there. That little train maintenance camp and yard is now the city of Las Vegas…in Clark County, Nevada!
And if all that weren’t enough, he then became a US Senator for Montana.
William Clark was a busy and massively successful man. We kinda like the quieter life!
We had fun roaming around the outside of the museum where we found a large bell, a barrel of monkeys and a huge chess board.
The museum wasn’t open yet, however, so we decided to return to explore the inside of the museum another time.
Who are these guys??
Buddy ponders his next move.
Clarkdale has a pretty park shaded by several huge trees, and these trees were all in the peak of fall color. Every time the wind blew, a flurry of vibrant yellow leaves would flutter to the ground. A blanket of yellow leaves surrounded the base of each tree.
Golden leaves were falling everywhere, leaving a thick blanket of yellow on the ground.
Down one street we discovered Saint Cecilia’s Mission Catholic Church, and we learned later that mass is held here in Latin! If you are visiting the area and want to experience a Latin mass, Saint Cecilia’s is the place to go!
Saint Cecilia’s Mission holds mass in Latin!
Down another street we came across a vintage gas station that is still intact and is a wonderful throwback to earlier times.
Clarkdale’s old gas station evokes an earlier era.
An old gas pump served many customers over the years.
An old gas pump.
A woman came over to chat with us, and we found out she owns a 50% share of this gas station. She told us it was originally built in 1942 and it served gas right up until 2014.
At that time the government gave all gas stations an ultimatum: upgrade the underground tanks or they’ll be removed (for free). The station had been struggling against more modern competition out on the highway, so they opted to have the tanks removed.
Even though gas is no longer sold there, the original gas price sign was still advertising some very appealing prices!
Old gas prices!
VERDE CANYON RAILROAD
Automobiles weren’t the only way to get around back in the day or even now. The Verde Canyon Railroad takes tourists out along William Clark’s original train tracks that he’d built to transport copper ore from his mine.
The Verde Canyon Railroad is a very popular train excursion that goes through some red rock scenery as it chugs through the Verde Valley, and they have lots of different specialty rides, from starlight rides to chocolate, wine and beer rides to fall color and spring flower rides and a magical ride at Christmas.
Again, we have wanted to do this train ride for a while, but they don’t allow pets, so this particular trip wasn’t the right time.
The Verde Canyon Railway takes tourists on the tracks that were built to haul copper ore.
But we still got a train ride (of sorts)! In the heart of Clarkdale stands an antique train car that is now home to Violette’s Bakery. Violette specializes in French pastries along with specialty coffees, as well as yummy breakfasts and lunches. We stepped right up to the train car window and put in an order!
Violette’s Bakery is in an antique train car.
Buddy was delighted to order puppaccino. It totally made up for him not being allowed on the Verde Canyon train!
Buddy orders his favorite treat.
We really enjoyed our few hours in Clarkdale and will get back another time to see the Copper Art Museum and take the Verde Canyon Railroad ride.
In the meantime, Dead Horse Ranch State Park was calling us back with its its lovely campground and beautiful lagoons wearing their Fall finest.
Fall color at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
View from the water’s edge at the lagoon.
We enjoyed our stay at Dead Horse Ranch State Park — and we’ll be back!
It didn’t take us long after we returned from our summer travels to get the itch to run off in our RV again. So, before the holidays, we packed it up and headed to Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona, to do some winter camping, and on the way back we stopped at a longtime favorite, Roosevelt Lake.
Catalina State Park is nestled up against the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains and is loaded with beautiful, classic Sonoran Desert scenery. Saguaro cacti stand sentinel throughout the park, watching over the arid landscape with arms held high, and waving to each other on the hillsides.
The Santa Catalina mountains light up at the end of the day.
A pink blush of sunset settles over Catalina State Park.
The campsites at Catalina State Park are suitable for RVs of any length and have water and electric hookups at each site. This is an extremely popular campground in the cold months, and reservations book up months in advance.
We managed to snag a site in December for 5 nights, and we were very glad we did because the place was booked solid from January through March!
This is a campground we knew and loved from before we began living in an RV full-time. Back in 2006, we took our popup tent trailer there for Thanksgiving, and we fondly remember putting a shallow pan of water at the edge of our campsite under a bush and watching cardinals, roadrunners and a chipmunk stop by for a drink.
One day, as we enjoyed some late afternoon refreshments, Mark put down the jar of shelled peanuts he was munching from, and that brazen little chipmunk came over and helped himself to a few!
That memorable campsite was in a back corner of “A Loop.” This year we got a space in the middle of “B Loop” which was just as lovely but not as conducive to luring animals in for a visit.
All the campsites in Catalina State Park are roomy and have plenty of space between neighbors.
Our site in “B Loop” at Catalina State Park.
As soon as we got set up, we hit trails and paths that surround the campground, happily snapping pics here and there.
A barrel cactus listens to a saguaro.
The Santa Catalina mountains tower over the campground and are wonderfully jagged. Buddy was much more interested in what was going at ground level, however.
“Those mountains are pretty, but what’s back here?”
We went back to that same spot on the trail for more pics late in the afternoon and the mountains were glowing.
The afternoon glow was magical.
There are a lot of popular hikes in these mountains, but we decided to head up the less visited 50 Year Trail which starts near the campground. Buddy was our Trail Scout, of course.
“I’ll show you the way!”
The trail climbs steadily for quite some time, offering wonderful saguaro-filled views of the mountains across the valley.
This saguaro has a great view!
We turned a corner on the trail, and suddenly a saguaro cast a long shadow in front of us and held us up.
“This is a hold up. Put ’em up, Cowboy!”
One morning we woke up to a dusting of snow in the mountains.
A thin veil of white blanketed the mountain tops.
Stormy skies and a touch of snow at Catalina State Park.
At sunset the mountain peaks turned pink.
We will definitely take our trailer to Catalina State Park again!
Catalina State Park is a great spot for a winter retreat.
On our way home we stopped at Roosevelt Lake, a fabulous recreation area we enjoyed for weeks at a time back when we were full-time RVers.
Roosevelt Lake was formed by a dam on the Salt River that was constructed between 1905 and 1911 (Arizona became a state in 1912). A pretty suspension bridge marks the spot.
The bridge at Roosevelt Dam.
Roosevelt Lake is a big lake, some 12 miles long and 1 to 2 miles wide. The drive alongside it is one of our favorites.
There are several wonderful dry camping campgrounds along the south side of the lake. Cholla Bay and Windy Hill are the two largest, and we always end up at Windy Hill.
Windy Hill Campground has 9 campground loops that offer fantastic first-come first-serve campsites that are either near the water and boat ramp or up on a bluff overlooking the lake from a distance and are very spacious.
Unfortunately, only 3 of the 9 loops are open nowadays. Years ago, we remember times when 5 of the 9 loops were open. But now those additional two loops are open only for overflow camping a few times a year on holiday weekends. We’ve never seen the other 4 loops open.
A great blue heron fishes for dinner at Roosevelt Lake.
Sadly, whereas Catalina State Park books up months in advance, the campgrounds at Roosevelt Lake stand vacant.
During our stay at Windy Hill Campground, out of 351 total campsites less than 25 were occupied. About 8 or so of those campsites were occupied by work camping volunteers.
All the rest of the campsites were empty.
The campsites at Windy Hill Campground on Roosevelt Lake are spacious and are equipped with shaded picnic ramadas and campfires rings. There are bathroom buildings with flush toilets and showers, and there are water spigots in every campground loop. All the campsites are lovely!
Up until a few years ago, camping at Roosevelt Lake cost $6 per night and just $3 per night for seniors, an unbelievable bargain. With prices like that, lots of senior winter RVers would spend a few weeks at the lake because it was gorgeous and dirt cheap.
When we arrived this year, we discovered the camping rate had jumped to $50 per night for a “double” site and $25 per night for a “single” site. With the senior 50% discount, it was now $25 or $12.50 per night in “double” and “single” campsites respectively.
Oddly, despite the price differences between “double” and “single” sites, the campsites are generally all the same size as far as an RV and tow vehicle or toad are concerned! The sites are plenty long enough for big RVs and are well spaced out in most of the loops.
However, “double” sites have two picnic tables instead of one and they are usually located in a more desirable spot, for instance at the end of a row of campsites.
Whereas everyone used to camp in the so-called “double” sites in the old days, now no one camps in them because they aren’t worth paying double the price of a single site, especially for working age people who would have to pay $50 a night!
Red rocks on the far shore light up at dusk.
Fishermen drifting by at dawn!
It was quite shocking to go from a super popular campground where people book months in advance to an equally beautiful (if not more beautiful) campground where nobody goes and we had our entire campground loop to ourselves.
Ironically, the new rate of $25/night for a dry camping site at Roosevelt Lake–which is 50 miles from the closest city and 100 miles from either Phoenix or Tucson–is now the same as for a campsite with both water and electric hookups in Catalina State Park’s “A Loop” which is just minutes from downtown Tucson.
No wonder Catalina is packed and Roosevelt Lake is vacant! But it’s a shame because Roosevelt Lake is a fantastic place.
Mist and fog swirled around Four Peaks in the early morning hours.
Unfortunately, the US Forest Service, which operates the campgrounds at Roosevelt Lake, has decided that because so few people are camping at Roosevelt Lake these days, they must remove some of the campground loops all together.
That deconstruction is currently underway. Some of the campsites at Windy Hill Campground with the most spectacular lake views are already dismantled: picnic tables gone, campfire rings removed, and gravel camping pads overrun with thigh high weeds. They will soon remove the posts with the campsite numbers on them and, as one volunteer told me, they’re encouraging these entire campground loops to “go wild.”
Tall weeds, picnic table and campfire ring gone…picnic shade ramada and campsite number post soon to go! But what a beautiful view this Windy Hill campsite once had!!
Hopefully that trend will not continue. However, a few years ago we watched the Forest Service remove an entire campground on the north side of the lake…
One positive sign is that they are building an RV dump station at Windy Hill Campground, so now you will be able to dump onsite before you leave, a big plus.
Whatever the USFS decides to do in the long run, Roosevelt Lake is a gorgeous place to take your RV and is well worth a visit. The ancient Indian cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument are right across the street too. As always, we loved our stay.
Roosevelt Lake is also an awesome place for a work camping gig. The volunteers do all kinds of work for the Forest Service besides campground hosting. So, if you don’t want to be a campground host there are other options, and you’ll still get a fabulous campsite in one of the scenic campground loops that is closed to visitors.
If you can work the Grapevine Group Campground a few miles away from Windy Hill Campground, you’ll get a fabulous campsite and have very little work to do since almost no groups ever camp there. I chatted with a very happy volunteer who had been doing just that for a few winters!
There are pretty hiking trails that wind along the edges of the Windy Hill Campground loops, criss-crossing here and there, and Buddy just loved scampering down those trails, his nose following the enticing scents of rabbits and ground squirrels.
As we got ready to go home, I asked him if he’d enjoyed our little winter vacation RV trip. Absolutely — he was ready to go again!
“Did you have fun?”“Oh, YES!”
We made another pit stop in the mountains as we towed our rolling home back to the homestead. The dusting of snow in Tucson had left a nice thick blanket of snow higher up in the mountains.
And a warm welcome all of our new subscribers — we’re so glad you’re here!
I took a blogging vacation starting in early November, and over the winter it morphed into a full fledged Blogging Sabbatical.
Holy smokes! I had no idea when I signed off on my last post about vacationing in Hawaii that it would be June before I got back to my keyboard to put together a new blog post for you.
Another gorgeous Arizona sunset.
Many people have contacted me to find out if we had fallen off the planet and to ask if we were okay.
I can’t thank you all enough for the incredible warmth, affection and concern expressed in those emails and messages.
We were both blown away by how much this blog has meant to some of you, how much it has inspired you and how much you missed it.
Saguaro cactus at dawn.
The funny thing is I think the personality on our blog that everyone missed the most was Buddy.
He continues to be a true delight every single day, and one of the most common phrases we say to each other is, “What an amazing dog!”
While I relaxed and recharged and enjoyed my blogging vacation, I suspect Buddy missed his celebrity status. He kept nudging me when a really great photo of him turned up on our cameras. “Write something!” he’d say.
Actually, Mark began saying that a few months ago too. “You could write about this,” he’d say. Or “Your readers would love to hear about that,” or “Just write something short so they know we haven’t perished out here!”
He even threatened to start his own blog at one point. But blogging is a ton of work and he was having way too much fun processing his many beautiful photos (which takes many hours too!).
Every photo in this post is his, by the way, because I let my cameras gather dust while I took many long deep breaths and waited for inspiration to strike.
We met some interesting folks during our time off. They came from all walks of life. And some walked on all fours.
Arizona is a very diverse state with several different major ecosystems ranging from low desert studded with saguaro cactus to high desert filled with ponderosa pine trees. And over the last eight months we’ve seen a lot of it.
When the pandemic hit and everyone stayed home for a month or two, we did too.
Fortunately, Arizona was one of the least restrictive states. Employees were laid off or had to work from home, and all but “essential” businesses were shuttered for a month or so, but we weren’t prevented from going outside and no one was forced to wear a mask or risk a fine if they didn’t, as was the case in other places.
Life for us didn’t really change, and we lived pretty much as we always do.
Buddy’s private digs (for naps with dad).
The major change we experienced was the shortage of goods at the store and the shock of seeing places like downtown Mesa completely devoid of people and all the storefronts closed.
However, once we got home to our trailer after running errands, life was the same as always.
I gave Mark a macro lens for Christmas, and when the wildflowers began to bloom and the bees started to do their thing, he had a ball taking flower and insect shots with it. What fabulous photos he took of dew on the flower petals and pollen caked onto bees’ legs.
Loaded with pollen!
I’ve seen many thoughts expressed online about RVing as it relates to pandemics and situations where you want to keep a little distance from your friends and neighbors for a while.
One couple who had been RVing full-time for three years decided that now was the time to buy some land rather than be forced to rely on campgrounds or dispersed campsites that might close. At one point Campendium.com had a notice on their home page that 42% of the RV campsites they have listed on their website were closed.
Other folks trapped at home seemed to feel that traveling in an RV would be the ideal way to have some fun while practicing social distancing. They seemed to long for a life on wheels.
The leaders of the RV industry at Thor and Camping World have been reporting that they are seeing the RV market exploding lately.
How exciting that RV sales are up!
For those that are curious about what we’ve witnessed as full-time boondockers living through a pandemic and an accompanying economic shutdown, our experience over the last few months falls somewhere in between “RVing is ideal for pandemics” and “An RV is not at all the place to be during a pandemic situation.”
Getting away from it all on public land was a little harder than normal because once all the RV parks and public campgrounds had closed, everyone who wanted to run off in an RV for a while ended up boondocking.
People who ordinarily would have been going to work while their kids were in school suddenly took off in their RV to “work from home” with their kids and dogs in tow, and they headed out to the boondocks because that’s all that was available.
What a fabulous idea and great way to bond as a family.
However, it was not the isolated experience people usually think of with RV boondicking. At one point we were surrounded by a big group of families and friends from Gunnison, Colorado, as they escaped the more severe outbreak of the disease in Colorado to spend a few weeks in Arizona where there were far fewer cases.
A heron rests by the shore
Also, since an RV has limited holding tank capacity and boondockers have to to remain on the move (there are 14 day stay limits in most places), we had to make periodic trips to some very busy RV dump stations. What a shock it was to find that some RV dump stations were closed!
In addition, in a world where other people’s bodily fluids had suddenly become absolutely terrifying, RV dump stations took on a whole new look.
But as I said, in most respects our lives over the last few months have been pretty much the same as they always have been. And when Spring arrived it was beautiful.
In one campsite we had a cardinal as a neighbor. He sang and sang, and even though he never attracted a mate during our stay, he did develop quite a relationship with his reflection in our truck mirror. For hours on end we would see him hanging on for dear life with his toes as he pecked away at the mirror.
This guy was a hoot. He pecked at his reflection in the mirror for hours!
Buddy worked on his hunting skills and blossomed from the last phases of puppyhood into A Very Responsible Adult Dog. Hunting lizards is now his all-day-long passion. He even catches one every so often!
I hope you have stayed well and have navigated these recent months with spirit. As I’ve always said, there’s a beautiful world out there, and it is still beautiful and it is still out there today.
2020 has been epic for the entire world so far, and along with everyone else, our little family has had some extraordinary, life affirming and life altering experiences that I will write about someday.
March 2019 – Our new little RZR adventure buggy has been giving us loads of fun in the Arizona desert, introducing us to lots of pretty places and even taking us there in the pre-dawn hours so we can catch the sunrise as it happens.
From lakes to streams to riverbeds and washes we’ve been seeing lots of new and beautiful places.
Ticket to great rides.
Desert meets water.
Where the Agua Fria River (“Cold Water River”) became a manmade lake.
The triple towing is working out well, and we’ll have an article on that soon as we gather more photos. It is quite a train!
It’s not fully hitched up in this pic, but this is The Train!
Arizona has seen some crazy weather this winter with a huge snowstorm blowing through last week. Before the snow arrived we caught a glimpse of the full moon balanced on a cactus.
A cactus catches the full moon as it sets.
But dark clouds and a rainbow in the distance signaled the storm that was to come. That evening’s sunset was out of this world!
Rainbow and storm clouds over Pleasant Harbor.
A wild sunset before the storm.
The next morning there was snow on the mountains. Kids in the Phoenix schools had enough snow to make snowballs, and the mountains looked a lot more like Montana than Arizona!
Is this the Arizona desert or somewhere far north?
Snow on the mountains behind Scorpion Bay Marina
Lots of rain and a little snowmelt up north made the water level in Lake Pleasant begin to rise. What a surprise it was when we headed down one road and found the tide coming in!
The lake got so full it began to cover the roads!
One sunny warm day we took the RZR down Castle Hot Springs Road. This is a dirt road that goes off into remote parts of the Sonoran Desert between northwestern Phoenix and Wickenburg.
A spur off of Castle Hot Springs Road
This road can be driven with a regular passenger car, but it was especially fun in the open air RZR. The road heads past some beautiful craggy mountainsides that are covered with saguaro cacti. Just magnificent!
Beautiful desert scenery
Wild burros live out this way, and we saw a small group watching us closely when we hiked into the brush a ways.
They wandered around but kept an eye on us as we approached them.
They weren’t sure what to make of Buddy, but when they’d decided he was close enough one gave chase and he ran as fast as his little legs could carry him.
Buddy loves to be chased and he was grinning ear to ear.
15 years ago, before we started RVing full-time we drove this same road in a car and stopped at the boarded up Castle Hot Springs resort to look around.
Castle Hot Springs first opened in 1896 for city folk and out of state visitors who wanted a genuine taste of the Sonoran Desert in a very remote setting. It was a high end resort and the owners had planted rows of Mexican palm trees all around it.
Castle Hot Springs Road was under water in places, but it wasn’t too deep.
When we visited all those years ago the resort had been closed for quite some time. The palm trees were still tall and healthy and standing in rows, but the buildings were a little worse for wear. It seemed such a shame that a beautiful property like that would be left to disintegrate in the hot Arizona sun.
Well, much to our surprise, someone has bought it and is doing an unbelievable renovation. The whole thing is now enclosed behind a solid rock wall and an elegant front gate.
Castle Hot Springs has been purchased and is in the last stages of an enormous renovation.
Castle Hot Springs was first opened in 1896
There is a lush green lawn and we could see the main lodge in the distance. It was a little funny to be blocked from accessing the building, because we had wandered all over the property before and remembered that yellow building well.
Lush green lawns and elegant buildings.
The palm trees look fantastic and there is a sparkling swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs and colorful umbrellas. Amazing!
The rows of palm trees were as beautiful as ever.
There’s a gorgeous pool back there.
A guard at the gate told us the property was purchased by the owner of Sun State Equipment, a construction equipment rental company. Just the right folks to buy a property that needed an overhaul!
And the price per night to stay here… Well… For the budget conscious there are rooms in the less fancy dwellings for $800 a night. If you aren’t so concerned about expenses, the upscale rooms go for $1,200 a night.
Rooms are $800 to $1,200 a night, meals, guided hikes and other activities included.
The old barn is being turned into a restaurant. Construction on that hasn’t really started, but when it opens it will be open to the public. So, if you have a RZR (yes!) or if you don’t mind a long bumpy ride on a dirt road, you’ll be able to get a taste of the good life in the restaurant!
Of course, some guests come in by helicopter.
We got so busy in our conversation with the guard that we didn’t notice Buddy had already found his own way in. He stood on the other side of the gate staring at us as if to say, “What are you waiting for? Come on in!”
“Never mind that guard. Let’s check out the resort!”
Unfortunately, without a room reservation we couldn’t get past the gate. So we jumped back in the RZR and continued on.
As we rode along we noticed a huge wash alongside the road. Curious, we just had to get out and explore. There was a trickle of water running in the middle of the wash and we saw some little footprints in the mud.
We traipsed down this wash for a while.
Footprints from something that is probably very cute!
We loved the patterns the mud made as it flowed over the pebbles. It looked a lot like chocolate covered nuts of some kind!
Mud…or chocolate covered nuts?
Back at Lake Pleasant we caught a few beautiful sunsets. The sky and water were filled with pastel shades.
We captured a few sunrises too, and they were worth getting out of bed and going hiking for!
Mark sets up a photo while Buddy looks back at me.
Definitely worth rising early and hiking in the dark!
Our campsite looks a bit different now with our new addition!
We had decided to triple tow the RZR on a small 5′ x 10′ utility trailer behind our fifth wheel trailer, and we were very uncertain how this arrangement would work out.
So, we were absolutely thrilled when we did our first 125 mile trip across the north edge of Phoenix, including a stop at an RV dump station in a fairly tight gas station, and found it went really smoothly!
The little RZR is our ticket to new thrills!
A new perspective.
Our biggest concern had been how this train of truck + 5th wheel trailer + utility trailer would handle in tight spaces. We do a lot more U-turns in our traveling lifestyle than we’d care to admit, and being able to reverse direction without becoming a bull in a china shop is important!
It turns out that because the utility trailer is really narrow — five feet wide as compared to the fifth wheel’s eight foot width — its wheels take a wider turning arc than those on the fifth wheel. What a surprise!
When we were maneuvering in the tight spaces of the gas station to get to the RV dump on the side, we inadvertently rolled the fifth wheel’s tires over a curb.
We expected to feel a second thump-bump of the utility trailer’s wheels going over the curb too, but when we watched the trailer behind us, it scooted smartly around the corner and stayed in the road the whole time with a few inches to spare.
Mark loves old windmills so we always stop to get pics of them!
Once we got our train detached and set up in a campsite, we started taking the RZR out on excursions. What a blast that little buggy is!
We have camped at Roosevelt Lake many times over the years, and have always wondered what lay in the distant mountains and valleys around the lake. Now we could get on the trails and find out.
Where the desert meets the water at Roosevelt Lake.
A ribbon of road…
There are quite a few dirt roads and 4×4 trails that head off into the hills, and we explored a lot of them.
Some we could have driven in the truck, and some we could have mountain biked, but most would have been impossible for either our truck or bikes.
Late afternoon glow on the saguaro cacti high above the lake.
After a little off-road riding it’s nice to stretch the ol’ legs on a hike!
Cactus and red rocks. What a combo!
It was satisfying to go down roads we couldn’t have accessed without the RZR. That is why we bought it, after all!
In a few places we came to trailheads. Some were sections of the cross-state Arizona Trail. It was neat to be able to hop out of the RZR and go do a couple miles of hiking without seeing a soul around.
Even though it was late January to early February, some of the higher elevation hillsides were covered with desert poppies. We also saw a few lupine blooming here and there! I don’t quite understand why the desert poppies would bloom at high elevations in January and at lower elevations in March, but Nature has its mysteries.
We were very surprised to find some higher elevation hillsides covered with desert poppies.
There were lupine too!
Some trails just petered out after a while, but one day we traveled deep into Tonto National Forest on a series of trails that seemed to go on forever. We passed a homestead and crossed quite a few cattle boundaries, opening cattle gates to let ourselves through and closing them behind us as instructed by signs on the gates.
In a few spots we saw cows and calves. We weren’t too excited about them, but Buddy perked right up and watched them closely.
At one point we looked up on a berm and there was a wild horse staring at us. Buddy dashed up the berm to touch noses with it and then he bolted back down again.
“Hey little fella, come back here!” Buddy ran back down the hill after saying hello to the wild horse.
They had the familiar fuzzy faces that the wild horses of this area have, and they had no shoes on their feet.
Their unusual calmness in our presence made us wonder if someone had been feeding them or working with them in some way. Their manes and tails weren’t covered with burrs the way many wild horses are, and they seemed to be well fed, no doubt due to the lush green grasses covering all the hillsides!
Classic — A wild horse standing between a saguaro cactus and an old cactus skeleton.
How cool to head into the National Forest and come across these special horses!
His friend struck a pose too…
We had a blast every time we went out for a ride. It seems that this RZR thing is going to be a lot of fun!
Room to roam.
What a view!
The funny thing, though, is that sometimes the most dramatic and beautiful things in life are those things that come to you on their own rather than you hunting them down in a RZR!
One day we went to the nearby town of Globe to do laundry and other errands. We decided not to pack our cameras because, well, what is there to take photos of on errand day at the laundromat? Besides, it was pouring pitchforks and we knew we were in for an all-day rain.
On our way back we noticed the sun peaking out of the clouds once in a while. Then suddenly we saw the most enormous rainbow crossing the entire hilly desert landscape alongside the truck.
OMG! Why didn’t we have our cameras?
It was a 30 mile drive to get back to the campground, and the rainbow followed us the entire way, its little pot of gold moving across the desert right below it just as fast as we were driving. At times there was a double rainbow!
We couldn’t believe we were seeing this stunning spectacle with no way to photograph it, but we resigned ourselves to just enjoying the rainbow out the window and imagining the photos we would have taken in this spot and in that spot.
The shock, though, was that the rainbow was visible and with us for the entire 30 mile drive until we pulled into the campground.
Unfortunately, by the time we got back to our campsite, the rainbow was gone. We began unloading the truck, excited but dejected that we had missed this incredible rainbow photo-op.
Suddenly, as we made yet another trip out to the truck to bring in more stuff, we looked up and saw the rainblow forming in the distance. We both dove for our cameras and began snapping like mad. The rainbow’s colors intensified until we were both exclaiming that we had never seen a rainbow so bright!
The colors were so vivid that they reflected across the water even though the surface of the lake was slightly ruffled by a soft breeze.
We ran along the shoreline trying to find the best vantage point, and the rainbow just kept on glowing. We were astonished and elated.
That night the rain came down in buckets on our trailer. We woke the next morning to black clouds and more rain. No problem. Mark baked banana bread and life was good and toasty warm.
Late that afternoon the skies cleared and the sun came out for a little while. And then we had a repeat of the day before as a rainbow formed in the distance.
A rainbow peeks out from beneath the storm clouds in the distance.
The sun played hide-and-seek with the clouds, and the land brightened and darkened as the clouds frothed overhead.
The sun lit the foreground for a moment.
A dark shadow formed in the sky but the rainbow was still visible underneath. How wonderful!
A distinct shadow appeared in the sky above the rainbow.
What a thrill this was, and what a great surprise.
The days of rain eventually stopped, and although that was the end of the rainbows, the churning skies gave us some fabulous clouds that produced brilliant sunsets over the next few days.
A glorious Arizona sunset.
Then one morning the sky was perfectly clear as the sun crested the horizon, and with that the celestial show was over for a while.
A new day begins.
We never know what to expect when we get up each day. Sometimes we go looking for adventure — and the RZR is proving to be a great way to get there — but sometimes the adventure finds us!
April 2018 – A few weeks ago we had the extraordinary experience of creating a video with a professional video production crew for Camping World as part of their new YouTube campaign, “RVing is for Everyone.”
We spent an exhilarating three days with the Isaac Aaron Media crew shooting for Camping World.
The casting call came out of the blue, and we weren’t sure what to expect.
It turned out to be three very thrilling, very long and very full days of quasi-acting and interviews that resulted in a beautiful and inspiring five and a half minute video that captures the spirit of our RV life perfectly. The video is included at the end of this article.
The video crew, Isaac Aaron Media, was a team of five who flew out from North Carolina to join us in Arizona. We suggested a few places where we could film in the Phoenix area, and they took it from there to decide on the camping locations and tourist attractions for filming.
Isaac Aaron led the team filming us
Isaac Aaron and his wife Jessica Piche are the founders and owners of Isaac Aaron Media. Their skilled camera crew were videographers Justin, Byron and Ben.
These guys know quite a bit about the RVing life. Isaac and Jessica own a motorhome, and Justin renovated and lived in a vintage travel trailer for over a year.
“Rolling!” Justin renovated and lived in a vintage travel trailer.
Byron was seeing the West in depth for the first time and loving every minute of it. He handled all the mobile video work during the shoot, carrying a camera on a cool gimbal system and walking around (often backward!) to give the video movement.
But when the video crew arrived, it was clear that the scenery would work really well for the images they wanted of us enjoying the RV life.
As soon as the crew unloaded their gear at our campsite, Byron headed out to the big grassy area behind our trailer and on down to the lake to begin getting scenery shots.
Byron filmed the pretty scenery at Canyon Lake Marina and RV Park.
The crew told us to just “do whatever you always do.” We had been playing with our new puppy, Buddy, in the grass, so we continued doing that. Suddenly, there were three cameras on us from different angles, and the video shoot had begun.
The entire video was unscripted. However, the director, Jessica, had a clear idea in her mind of what the team was creating. She asked us to walk over to a picnic table and sit down and admire the view as the crew filmed us.
She wanted the video to be authentic, and I had explained to her that we are photographers and that what we do in our RV life is take photos all day every day. She was fine with that. So, as the crew shot video of us, we took still images of everything around us!
I put Buddy up on a rock to get a photo of him with Canyon Lake in the background. As I clicked off a series of images, the video cameras rolled. Afterwards, when Jessica was going through the video footage, she emailed me with wonder, “How did you get Buddy to stay still on the rock like that?” I don’t know. I just put him there, said “Stay!” and he stared back at me while I took his portrait!
Buddy happily poses for me on a rock.
As we were goofing off by the shore, Mark got the idea to lure the resident flock of ducks over to us. These ducks know human actions well, so even though he didn’t have any bread for them, when he tossed a few pebbles in the water they came right over. And the video cameras rolled!
To show the nuts and bolts of the RV life, the crew wanted a few sequences of us breaking down and/or setting up camp. So, they asked us to pack up the trailer and do all the things involved in getting hitched up just like we normally do.
Cameras were on both of us as we folded up our camping chairs, and then cameras were on me as I washed the dishes and packed up the interior and cameras were on Mark as he mounted the bikes on the bike rack and put away the patio mat.
The video crew shot scenes of us packing up our rig.
The Apache Trail (Route 88 from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake), is one of the most stunning scenic drives in Arizona, and the plan was to capture images of us towing the trailer on this incredible winding road between Canyon Lake and Lost Dutchman State Park.
Until Mark and I drove the Apache Trail out to Canyon Lake a few days prior to the camera crew’s arrival, none of us had realized that the entire road was under construction, complete with cones in the road and big machinery working. Much of the road had been stripped of asphalt and was dirt too!
We would never advise driving a big rig on the Apache Trail without scouting it first, even when it is paved and free of construction crews, because there are tight switchbacks and lots of 15 mph turns with sheer drop-offs and no guard rail. Fortunately, Mark and I both know the road very well because we used to race our bicycles on it years ago!
We hopped in the truck to begin towing our trailer and suddenly discovered there was a video camera hanging from our rearview mirror! Any swearing at the challenging road conditions or crazy drivers would be caught on film (ahem, some of it may have been!).
We got in our truck to find a video camera mounted on our rear view mirror!
The video crew had hired a photography location scout, Alan Benoit, to help them with finding locations to shoot and to give them advice on where the best turnouts would be along the Apache Trail so they could to set up their cameras to capture our rig driving by. He gave them all kinds of pointers and also drove ahead of us in his own car so he could open up a gap in front of us and ensure there would be no cars ahead of us as the video cameras rolled.
The video team fanned out to different locations along the route to catch us at various bends and curves in the road, and we got a kick out of seeing them as we drove past.
Byron gets a shot of us rolling by in our rig.
The Apache Trail between Lost Dutchman and Canyon Lake is about 11 miles long, so we pulled over a few times to allow the video crew to drive ahead and get set up in new positions to wait for us. We had radios for communication between all the vehicles because there isn’t any cell service out there!
Once the video crew had captured a bunch of scenes of us driving, including going under one of the trestle bridges on the route, we unhitched and dropped the trailer off in a pullout so we could all drive back to Tortilla Flat for lunch. Tortilla Flat is a very popular restaurant offering both indoor and outdoor seating and live music most afternoons.
We check the menus at Tortilla Flat, a fun western themed restaurant on the Apache Trail.
Tortilla Flat has a funky vibe and there’s an old toilet seat hanging up on the porch where you can get a framed selfie.
We were filmed boarding the Dolly Steamboat before our memorable cruise on Canyon Lake.
Once all the passengers were aboard the boat, the video crew filmed us walking down the dock and giving our tickets to the captain. I’m not sure what the other passengers thought as they watched us do the ticket buying scene a couple of times. Fortunately, it was a quiet Sunday afternoon and no one was in a rush.
I suspect most folks thought it was a bit of a hoot to have a professional camera crew aboard, and there were smiles of recognition, probably from RVers camping in the area, when we explained it was a video shoot for Camping World.
Byron films us greeting Captain Jasion and giving hime our tickets.
The video team had brought a drone, and they flew it from the deck of the Dolly Steamboat. While everyone on the boat oohed and aahhed at the stunning desert canyon views around us, the drone flew higher and higher above us. Then, after having it zoom around the lake, the crew brought it back to the boat. Jessica reached out to grab it out of the air as it hovered above the deck.
Jessica caught the drone after it circled the Dolly Steamboat from high above the lake.
We had had quite a day, and we were all totally pooped as we drove our trailer on the last stretch of the Apache Trail to Lost Dutchman Campground. We all hit the sack early.
Phew! It’s hard work being a movie star!
Before sunrise the next morning, Buddy suddenly sat up and gave a muffled woof when he heard activity right outside our trailer. We opened the blinds to see the video crew moving around in the pitch dark with headlamps on their heads. They were setting up a timelapse video of our rig silhouetted against the sunrise that would soon begin.
We quickly got dressed and ran outside with our own cameras to capture the pretty pink sky as it slowly began to brighten.
We were all very fortunate that Mother Nature gave us such a beautiful light show and that no one had stayed in the campsite next to ours. This gave the crew plenty of room for their gear and an unobstructed view of our trailer. We stayed at Lost Dutchman for the next three nights after that, and not only was there never as nice a sunrise again but we had neighbors in that campsite every night!
The video crew was at our campsite setting up a time lapse video before sunrise.
After bolting some breakfast, we were off to the Superstition Mountain Museum for more filming. The museum docent gave the crew pointers on what the highlights were and where the best photo ops might be as we strolled the grounds to view the artifacts from the historic gold mining days.
At Superstition Mountain Museum the video crew got tips on where the best photo ops would be.
Making a video involves a lot of waiting around while the crew sets up and breaks down their video gear, and there’s also a lot of repeated movements as each scene is shot a few times. It is trying for people, but is potentially even more challenging for puppies.
Buddy was only four months old and we had had him for only five weeks, but he had been amazing so far. No matter where we asked him to walk or sit, he went along with the flow. Best of all, the guys in the crew loved him, and he quickly became the star of the show.
Isaac gets a close-up of Buddy.
The Superstition Mountain Museum is a treasure trove of history, and we walked and walked and walked all around the extensive grounds for several hours. Cameras were on us at all times.
As we’d gaze at something or pass through a doorway, we’d suddenly be asked, “Could you do that again?” Some scenes were set up more deliberately, and we had to wait for those classic commands: “Rolling… Action!” The first few times we started on “Rolling!” rather than “Action!” Such rookies!!
We spoke from the heart, and she let us go on at length on some topics when we had a lot to say.
The team checked the cameras and lighting before Jessica interviewed us at the Superstition Mountain Museum.
Of course, there was room for bloopers too, and we fell into the same funny trap that several other couples had.
The theme of the Camping World video series is “RVing is for Everyone,” but when asked about our RV experiences, we naturally talked about them in terms of being full-time RVers, not seasonal RVers or vacationers. So, at one point, after describing the wonders and thrills of downsizing out of our house and running away to live in an RV, Mark blurted out, “Of course, it’s not for everyone!”
Isaac chuckled and said, “We’ve heard that before, and what you probably mean is that full-time RVing isn’t for everyone!”
We had lunch all together at the western themed Mammoth Steakhouse & Saloon at Goldfield Ghost Town next door and then went back to our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park where the video crew got set up for us to do some hiking.
There was a nice hiking trail that led towards the Superstition Mountains right from the back of our campsite, so once the camera gear was ready, off we went with Buddy bounding along while the video cameras rolled!
We hiked the trail behind our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park.
After our hike, when we came back to the campsite we suddenly noticed the Red Baron bi-plane soaring overhead doing somersaults in the sky. What a perfect photo op, and how typical of our lifestyle that something unexpected and fun zoomed into our lives at just the right moment. Mark and I simultaneously swung our cameras towards the sky.
The Red Baron is a popular ride in the Scottsdale/Mesa area, and Mark got this beautiful shot.
We love shooting shoulder to shoulder because we always get different images. Here’s mine.
Gradually the shadows got longer and then the sky began to get orange. Everyone lined up to get a photo of the sunset around a gangly saguaro cactus that was in a campsite across the street.
Back at our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park we all got ready for a sunset shot.
As the sun went down the cameras went up.
An orange glow around a saguaro cactus in the next campsite.
We had all been up since before dawn, and now it was dark again. The video crew left and we crashed in our camper, totally exhausted!
The next morning we all met at Goldfield Ghost Town about a mile away from Lost Dutchman State Park. This tourist attraction is very similar to the Superstition Mountain Museum with lots of paths that wander between antique buildings from the gold mining days.
Bright and early the next morning, we all gathered at Goldfield Ghost Town for another day of shooting.
There is a little train that circles the property that was definitely worth a quick video clip.
Ben caught the train on video just as it came around the bend and tooted its horn.
Goldfield Ghost Town is full of fabulous photo ops, and Mark and I had fun just roaming around taking photos. Shooting high or shooting low our creative juices flowed. And the camera crew was there to catch it all.
I set up my own shot while the video crew takes theirs!
Mark got a photo of the front of the jail, and we laughed as we read the jailhouse rules posted out front, joking that they sounded a bit like the rules for video actors:
No Complaining, No Profanity, No Loud Talk, Two Visits to the Outhouse Daily, Meals—Beans, Bread and Water.
Well, our meals at the area restaurants had actually been quite delicious!!
These rules applied to more than just the jail house!
Mark took a quick trip to the outhouse and Buddy peaked through the outhouse window. They didn’t know that the video cameras were on them even then!
The video crew caught this moment too.
Goldfield Ghost Town has a Bordello on the second floor of one building, and there’s a neat metal winding staircase leading up to it. The video crew loved that staircase, and we walked up and down it quite a few times as the cameras rolled. Buddy negotiated the stairs really well, and Mark and I got lots of great pics from the top.
We wound up and down the staircase to the Bordello on the second floor several times!
The view from the top of the stairs was pretty great!
It was hot and dry walking around Goldfield, and at one point we snuck Buddy off to a spigot on the side of a building to get a sip of water. He was such a little trooper though. A quick rest in the shade and he was as good as new again and ready for more filming by an antique tractor.
Being filmed from sunrise onward wore us all down, but some shade and a drink revived us.
We had fun playing tourist, and the video crew didn’t miss a moment.
After quite a few hours of shooting we all took a break and then reconvened at our Lost Dutchman campsite once again. Soon, it was time for our main interview which became the voiceover narrative for most of the video.
The Superstition Mountains were lit up behind our campsite in glorious fashion, but getting our faces lit without us being blinded by the sun and without my head casting a shadow across Mark’s face proved tricky. We messed with the chairs and the foil reflector quite a bit and finally got everything set up just right.
Back at our campsite the crew worked hard to get the best lighting possible for our final interview when the Superstitions lit up at the golden hour before sunset.
The questions were excellent, and we had a chance to express a little of our philosophy of how important it is to pay attention to your dreams, to nurture them and to fulfill them. Mark signed off with a fantastic quote, and when we were finally silent, a hush fell on everyone.
Speaking about the importance of pursuing your dreams and making them come true had swept us all into a spell. We feel so fortunate to live this way, and I suspect the crew was lost in thought pondering their own dreams too.
Coming back to reality, they asked us for one more quickie shot. The sun was setting fast, but we hopped on our bikes for a final scene of us riding around the campground loop.
At last we all gathered at the back of our trailer so I could capture an image of us all together saying that famous Hollywood line: “That’s a wrap!”
“And that’s a wrap!”
DELETED SCENES – Oh yes, there were quite a few!
Of course, no movie would be complete with our a track of deleted scenes. After three full days of three or four cameras going most of the time, the video crew had hours and hours of video to sift through. Most of it had to end up on the editing room floor, of course, because the final video would be less than six minutes long.
One of the more unusual deleted scenes was at the Superstition Mountain Museum chapel where we discovered a statue of Elvis inside!
We walked in the chapel to find Elvis, but the scene didn’t make the cut.
We spent several hours on the last day doing a detailed tour of our rig. We showed every corner of our little abode and explained how and why we set it up as we have and why we chose this particular floorplan as our rolling home ten years ago.
We’ve decorated the walls with post cards from some of the National Parks and National Monuments we’ve visited, and the only original piece of furniture we still have is the dining table. So, there was a lot to talk about and see.
The best part of this RV interior sequence was when one of the guys asked Mark offhand what he would normally be doing “right about now” when we started showing off the kitchen. “I’d be getting a beer!” He joked. They said he should go ahead and do just that!
So, they did a full sequence of him reaching into the fridge and pulling out a beer, then reaching into the freezer for a chilled pint glass, and then pouring himself an ice cold yummy beer. He hammed it up a bit and it was very cute.
We did a detailed tour of our rig, and Mark had fun doing several takes of getting a beer from the fridge!
At Goldfield Ghost town there are several souvenir shops, and we went to two of them and picked out and purchased some goodies. Jessica suggested we buy some salsa, so we set up a scene where we scanned the shelves for locally made salsas and then chose one. The idea was that we would take the salsa back to the trailer later and do a scene where we were eating chips with it.
We ran out of time before we could shoot the scene of us eating the salsa in the trailer, but we sure did enjoy it a few days later!
We were filmed buying salsa at a tourist shop with plans to film us enjoying it later.
We also did a scene where we looked over some handmade soaps and picked out a bar of soap to purchase. Again, the whole sequence involved admiring and the picking out the soap and then, in a different scene, going to the register and paying for it.
The clerk was very cooperative, and the other tourists waited patiently outside the store for us to finish since there was barely enough room for us and a few cameras. In fact, for some of it the cameras were outside the store and shooting in.
During our interview later we talked about how in the full-time RV life you have to be selective about buying souvenirs and make sure they are consumable or else you’ll end up with a rig full of stuff!
We also chose a homemade soap as a consumable souvenir to take home.
There was also a scene where I showed some of the articles I’ve written in the RVing and sailing industry magazines and talked about how important writing and photography have become in our day-to-day lives. This has been a totally unexpected dream-come-true since we began traveling nearly 11 years ago.
But there were only so many seconds of footage that could be included!
I talked a little about how fulfilling it has been to write for the RVing and sailing magazines, including my back page Trailer Life column.
After the whole video shoot was over, the crew went on to make some other videos in Arizona while we collapsed in our trailer and reflected with awe on what had just happened to us.
What a totally cool and special experience it was to be movie stars for three days!
Thank you, Camping World, for this unique opportunity, and kudos to Isaac Aaron Media for producing a beautifully crafted video.
Although we are full-timers — which is not for everyone — RVing definitely IS for everyone. We loved weekends in our popup tent trailer years ago as much as we love full-timing in our fiver now.
March 2018 – As we started the first few weeks of the Chinese Year of the Dog, we realized that it really is a dog’s life out here in our cozy little RV.
It’s a dog’s life in our little RV.
The best part about it is there’s always an endless range of possibilities waiting for us just outside our RV window.
What do you want to do today?
And for folks like us whose home address is a campsite, there’s nothing like camping out on a lake!
Buddy loves exploring the shores of Lake Pleasant.
There’s always something going on out there on the lake, whether it’s people fishing from their boats, or folks out sailing, or pretty ducks floating by.
Mark took some old bread down to the shore to feed the ducks. Buddy was fascinated and watched intently.
Mark and Buddy feed the ducks.
Since we took Buddy under our wings, we have discovered that he is quite the socialite. Where we kinda stick to ourselves and lead quiet lives, Buddy likes to be the life of the party. He happily trots from RV door to RV door to find out just where the party is.
Buddy is at home on the fifth wheel steps.But this isn’t our fifth wheel!
As one glorious lakeside day rolled into the next one, we were blessed with many magical moments. One of the first was when we woke up to see fog and snow on the distant mountains. This isn’t very common in the Arizona desert, but it is truly magical when it happens.
Fog and mist swirl around the distant mountains.
Snow in the mountains!
Another morning we suddenly noticed a hot air balloon drifting over the lake. What a fun surprise!
On a cold morning we noticed a hot air balloon sailing over the lake.
Flying with the birds.
In no time the balloon was flying right overhead, the flame easily visible above the basket. On the side of the balloon were the words, “God bless.”
Up, up and away!
And then, in the blink of an eye, the magical moment had passed and the balloon disappeared in the distance.
The balloon slipped from view.
One afternoon I returned from a little hike with Buddy to find a crowd of people staring at the dock. A bald eagle had just landed on the dock and was making short work of a fish he held down with his feet.
A bald eagle stands over its catch.
I was floored at how big the eagle was. He dwarfed the nearby mallard ducks and seagulls. He was also very calm as he quietly tore the fish apart.
Fresh fish. Yum!
I figured there was no way I could get back to our buggy and get my camera out in time, but I ran with Buddy and grabbed the camera with the big lens on it that was sitting on the table. I noticed it was Mark’s camera, but heck, he wasn’t here. No problem!
Just then, Mark opened the door. I shoved the camera into his hands and said, “Bald eagle! Quick! Run!” and pointed at the dock.
He took off like greased lightning while I hunted around for my camera and got my big 150-600 mm lens loaded onto it. Then Buddy and I took off for the dock too.
Even though quite a few minutes had passed, the eagle was still happily munching away on his fish. Some opportunistic seagulls were milling around nearby hoping for tidbits.
Both Mark and I were able to fire off some wonderful shots of this gorgeous bird as he finished his meal.
He needed to wipe his beak — which he did right before flying off.
Then he wiped his beak on the wooden dock and pumped his wings hard to fly up in the air. Looking at the photos later, I just loved the puffy pantaloons on his legs.
And then off he went. It had been another truly magical moment that soared into our lives and then flew away and into our memory.
One morning I woke up early and lazily raised the blinds to see what was going on in the world. To my astonishment, a fabulous orange full moon was in the midst of setting. It was another incredible OMG moment that I wanted desperately to catch on camera.
I tore through my clothes trying to find pants and a jacket and shoes as well as a camera with a long lens and a tripod to mount it on.
Our sweet puppy Buddy is not a morning person at all, but he watched me in amazement from his cozy spot under the blankets as I threw things all over the place in a total panic.
To get the biggest possible orb in the sky, I grabbed my beautiful brand new Nikon D500 that Mark had given me a few weeks prior for my birthday, and I attached my mammoth 150-600 mm lens to it. Being a crop-sensor camera, this effectively gave me a 900 mm lens.
But unfortunately I hadn’t memorized all the buttons on my new camera yet, and as I stood outside shivering in icy blasts of wind, I couldn’t remember how to get the settings I wanted.
The moon set right before dawn.
As the moon dropped steadily out of the sky and slipped behind a saguaro cactus, framing a fabulous image I desperately wanted to capture, I chastised myself for not having taken the time yet to study this miraculous piece of gear.
Mark heard all the commotion and suddenly appeared at my side in his skivvies and bare feet as the bitter wind whipped across the lake. He gave me one of those “are you kidding?” and “tsk tsk” kind of looks and calmly showed me the buttons I’d been looking for.
We both got a good laugh, but we couldn’t wait to get another chance for better pics when the moon set at the end of the day. We would be prepared this time!
The moon set behind a saguaro cactus…
So, late in the afternoon we watched for the moon to rise which happened right as the sun was setting. (For those who haven’t studied the night sky, that’s how full moons work: they shine all night long, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise).
At dusk a full moon suddenly rises behind a ridge.
It rose across the lake, casting a beautiful shaft of orange light across the water and the docks where a man was peacefully fishing. It was another magical moment.
Fishing by the light of the moon.
The next morning we set the alarm so we wouldn’t miss the setting of the moon. This time we were completely prepared with all our gear laid out, including our Hoodman loupes, so we could see exactly what our pics looked like, and our remote shutter releases to help the cameras stay perfectly still as we took each photo.
The moon set about an hour later than it had the morning before, so the sky was lighter, and the moon’s path was quite a ways left of where it had been. We moved our positions so we could line the moon up with a different saguaro cactus. Then, slowly but surely, the moon sank behind the cactus and we each got some very satisfying shots.
The moon sets behind a saguaro cactus.
It’s hard to describe the beauty of our RV lifestyle, because the most wondrous part is when beautiful surprises come to us unexpectedly. We couldn’t script happier days than these very special ones that were filled with such magical moments.
February 2018 – Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, Arizona, just east of Phoenix, is one of our favorite RV campgrounds. Back when we first started RVing with our popup tent trailer, we visited Lost Dutchman State Park frequently.
The Superstition Mountains are the centerpiece of Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona
We recently returned and were blown away once again by the beauty of this State Park and campground that is smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, tucked up against the stunning Superstition Mountains.
Lost Dutchman State Park has beautiful RV campsites.
Not only are the campsites spacious and often positioned with a great view of the Superstitions, but there are hiking trails leading out from each of the campground loops that invite you into the desert. On one afternoon we were greeted by a pair of horseback riders as we hiked.
Horses pass us on the hiking trail.
The sunrises and sunsets are colorful and dramatic, and we enjoyed walking the campground loop in the early morning and early evening light.
Sunrise at Lost Dutchman State Park.
Mountain bikers enjoy the trails at Lost Dutchman.
For a change of pace from the hiking, mountain biking and desert scenery inside Lost Dutchman State Park, there are two popular tourist attractions just outside the gate: Superstition Mountain Museum and Goldfield Ghost Town.
The Superstition Mountain Museum has lots of buildings and artifacts from the early gold mining days of the mid-1800s and tells the story of Jacob Waltz, “the Dutchman” (actually German) who made a big gold strike in the Superstition Mountains but took the details of its whereabouts to his grave.
The Chapel at the Superstition Mountain Museum.
I loved climbing into the stagecoach!
Buddy wanted to see the view from the stage coach window.
There is a saloon and a jail and lots of gold mining equipment too.
Buddy couldn’t go into the saloon because he’s underage.
The Superstition Mountain Museum is a non-profit organization that works to preserve the history of the Superstition mountains. Just a mile or so away Goldfield Ghost Town brings history to life with a replica of a gold mining town, complete with a brothel, bank and apothecary shop.
Goldfield Ghost Town has lots of boutique shops and gold mining artifacts.
Goldfield Ghost Town
Goldfield Ghost Town
Between the buildings at Goldfield Ghost Town we caught glimpses of the Superstition Mountains.
There are lots of things to do at Goldfield Ghost Town, including taking a gold mine tour. There are also various rides and guided tours that go out into the desert both by jeep and on horseback.
There are rides available by jeep, on horseback and by narrow guage railway train.
Horses rest between rides.
There’s also a narrow guage railroad train ride around the property. As I looked down the tracks to see if a train was coming I saw a hobo and his dog walking towards me on the tracks!
There was even an old outhouse with a moon shaped window.
No ghost town is complete without an outhouse!
A certain someone decided to check out the facilities and then peeked out the window.
A couple dressed in period outfits sang old folk songs by the side of the dirt road.
A deceased fiddle player accompanied them in a nearby boutique shop!
The music never dies.
There were lots of fun photo ops at both the Superstition Mountain Museum and Goldfield Ghost Town.
For RVers staying at Lost Dutchman State Park who appreciate a yummy cuppa joe and a muffin in the morning, there’s a terrific espresso coffee shop and bakery at Goldfield Ghost Town.
As we approached the door one morning, someone yelled from the deck, “Hey Mark and Emily!” It turned out our dog-loving friends Dick & Katie–who we hadn’t seen in two years–had noticed Buddy trotting up to the coffee shop and instantly recognized him from his pics on this blog. “I know that dog,” Katie said to Dick. Then they followed his leash up to our faces and recognized us too!
Buddy was sniffing around at the pet store recently and found some Buddy Biscuits!
Lost Dutchman State Park is the only public government-run campground in the greater Phoenix area that has a dry camping loop with big-rig friendly non-hookup sites. The terrific benefit for winter RVers is that even though all the dry camping sites can be reserved in advance, the hookup sites are much more popular and get booked up before the dry sites do.
So, unlike other campgrounds in the area, it is possible to stay at Lost Dutchman in a beautiful campsite without reserving a campsite months in advance. If you decide to stay there at the very last minute, there is an overflow area in a paved parking lot too, so you most likely won’t be turned away.
Hiking at Lost Dutchman is a real treat.
Golden hour in the Superstitions.
For photography buffs, the Superstitions light up with a beautiful golden glow in the late afternoon just before sunset.
Sunrise is also very lovely at Lost Dutchman, with pink and orange skies framing the silhouette of the Superstition Mountains.
Here are some books about the mystery of the Lost Dutchman and a hiking guide to the Superstition Mountains:
February 2018 – One of the most enjoyable ways to experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona is to take a boat ride on one of the lakes around Phoenix. Years ago we rode on the Desert Belle on Saguaro Lake and absolutely loved it. This past week we took a ride on the Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake.
Dolly Steamboat floats through the Sonoran Desert on Canyon Lake in Arizona.
While we were camped in our RV on Canyon Lake, our new puppy Buddy loved going down on the beach, especially during our early morning photo sessions. He liked to show us how fast he could zip between the legs of our tripods.
Buddy shows us his slalom skills.
When he wasn’t busy doing that, he was sprinting across the lakeside lawn carrying his favorite pink rope toy.
Canyon Lake Marina & Campground has a big open grassy area that’s great for playing fetch.
Late one afternoon while he was down on the beach playing with the waves, he noticed an inflatable boat that had been pulled up on the beach. Hmmmm… a boat ride might be pretty fun!
A little sailor dog is born.
While we were out walking the next morning I was busy snapping pics of our shadows on the ground when we looked up and noticed the Dolly Steamboat moored at the dock.
The Dolly Steamboat was patiently waiting to take her first group of passengers out for a nature tour on Canyon Lake.
Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake
Dolly Steamboat rests at dawn.
A steamboat ride definitely seemed like it would be a lot of fun to do together.
What would the pup think of a boat ride?!
Canyon Lake is a beautiful big, blue lake in the middle of the desert, and we had been getting lots of photos of it from the shore as we drove up and down the Apache Trail. But seeing a lake from the shore isn’t the same as seeing it from the water.
Canyon Lake is a big blue expanse of water in the middle of the desert.
We talked about doing a boat ride on the Dolly Steamboat over dinner.
And Buddy slept on the idea too.
He slept right through the enormous rising full moon!
He’s a very quiet little pooch, but he does know how to express himself and let us know what he wants.
“I’ve been really really good for days. Can I go on that boat ride now?”
The next day we went to stand in line at the Dolly Steamboat dock. A group of kids in front of us eagerly waited for Dolly to come in from her last excursion.
Kids wait for the Dolly Steamboat to arrive at the dock.
Finally, she appeared, and we made our way down the dock and onto the boat.
There she is!
Mark and Buddy walk down the dock.
Captain Jason was very friendly.
Seen from our truck window on the Apache Trail (Route 88), Canyon Lake doesn’t look all that big. But to our surprise, we traveled three miles into the hinterlands, winding our way through fabulous rock canyons that were studded with saguaro cactus.
Canyon Lake turns out to be a lot bigger than it seems from the Apache Trail.
The Dolly Steamboat heads into the canyon where it will disappear from view.
There is seating out on deck, and we found a seat at a table to take in the view.
There are wonderful seats on the deck that offer a great view.
While we marveled at the scenery, Buddy enjoyed the new smells.
Buddy tests the air with his nose.
We were startled at how rugged and dramatic the rock canyons were. As music by Enya played softly over the loudspeaker, we floated past exquisite desert landscapes.
The Captain was hoping to spot some big horn sheep, which are a fairly common sighting on this tour, but the herd was somewhere else that afternoon.
It didn’t matter, though, the scenery was so stunning.
The rocky canyon is extremely craggy and rugged with saguaro cacti poking up all over the place.
There were always more views around the next bend. There are two free boat-in campgrounds too!
The Dolly Steamboat has indoor seating down below, as well as snacks and goodies for sale.
If it’s too hot on deck, there’s a cool spot in the cabin with big picture windows.
But Buddy’s favorite spot was a place in the shade up on deck where he got a dog’s eye view.
Buddy found a cool spot of his own down a narrow passageway on deck.
Finally, after about an hour and a half of gliding through the desert on glassy water, it was time to head back in to shore.
If you are traveling through the eastern side of Phoenix, Arizona, and have an afternoon or evening to spare, take a ride on the Dolly Steamboat. They have starlit dinner cruises too!
This simple little boat ride is a definite “must do” if you like the desert and want a scenic outing.
Note: The Apache Trail (Route 88 from Apache Junction to the Roosevelt Dam) is one of the most famous and popular scenic drives in central Arizona. It is full of hairpin turns and sweeping views, and there are serious drop-offs too! If taking your rig, scout with your tow vehicle or toad first. As of February 2018, the 18 mile paved portion is under construction for it’s entire length, and the winter traffic is significant, so allow plenty of time for delays — or wait until next year!