RV Camping in the Arizona Woods – Coconino National Forest

June 2019 – Arizona is one of America’s most beautiful and varied states, but lots of people think of it as a place that has only cactus and dry desert landscapes. The surprising thing is that Arizona is home to several radically different types of ecosystems that vary by altitude, and lately we’ve been enjoying some wonderful forest camping in the pines at a cool 7,500′ elevation.

Happy RV campers in the forest-min

We’ve been enjoying warm days and cool nights in the forests of northern Arizona.

Deep in the ponderosa pine woods of Coconino National Forest we’ve been getting out on small two track trails to see what we can find.

RZR ride on a trail in the forest-min

Our RZR took us on some cool two-track dirt roads.

While most of the scenery is just woodsy landscapes filled with pine trees, one day we came across a small stream.

Polaris RZR on the trail in the forest-min

What a neat surprise it was to find a small stream!

It was early morning, and as we followed the streambed we saw some fantastic mirror-like reflections in the almost-still water. In an instant we parked the RZR and began exploring on foot.

Beautiful stream in the woods-min

The reflections in the glassy water were very pretty.

Forest stream in the woods-min

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Reflections in a forest stream-min

I just loved this rock and its mirror image!

Puppy wades into a forest stream-min

Buddy marched right into the reflections.

Stream reflections-min

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After a nice stream-side stroll, we got back in the RZR to explore some more trails and then got out on foot again to hike in the woods and soak in the peace and solitude.

All of a sudden, we saw a wooden cross near a tree. As we came closer we noticed a big pile of stones in front of it.

Was someone buried out here?

Grave in the woods-min

Is that a grave? Yikes! Whose??!!!

The wooden cross was well constructed. When we bent down to get a better look at it, we noticed it had a dog collar wrapped tightly around it. We could see the word “Good” hand-written in pen on the visible part of the collar. Maybe it said “Good Dog” on it?

Carved into the varnished wood was the name, “Mause” (perhaps an “r” was under the collar?). The words “Bird dog” and “Companion” had been carved on it too. On either side of the cross were the dates 11/04 and 04/18. He’d lived to be about 13 1/2 years old.

You could tell just how much this dog was loved by the care with which his owner had buried him. There were flowers placed under the cross. We wondered why this particular spot had been chosen and if it had a special meaning to the owner or the dog, or both.

Grave marker cross in the woods-min

Beloved bird dog “Mause” lies here.

We left the dog to rest in peace but returned to the little stream a few more times during our stay in the woods. Buddy just loved it there, and he’d run in crazy circles between the two of us to let us know just how great he thought this place was.

Perhaps that bird dog had loved the spot near the tree in the woods just as much as Buddy loved this little stream.

Puppy plays on the rocks in a forest stream-min

Buddy loved coming to this stream.

Puppy poses on a rock in a forest stream-min

In between poses, Buddy ran in happy circles between us.

These were lazy, happy days for the three of us, and Mark and I both took endless photos of our playful puppy as he posed and pranced along the stream.

Taking pics of puppy in the forest-min

Mark caught me taking Buddy’s pic…

Pretty puppy poses by a stream in the woods-min

And here’s the pic I took!

Puppy in the forest-min

At home in the woods.

Puppy poses on a rock in a stream-min

Posing one way…

A puppy poses on a rock in a stream-min

…and then the other!

We planned for this year to be our test-run with the new RZR to see if it was fun enough to bring along in our future travels. Even though the triple towing is a bit of a hassle (but, really, would maneuvering a 44′ to 47′ toy hauler be any easier?) we’re finding that our little 4×4 buggy is taking us places we would never get to otherwise.

Polaris RZR adventure on a forest trail-min

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Forest reflections in the early morning-min

A beautiful place for reflection.

Other years we have traveled through five states by June. But covering shorter distances and staying for longer in each place has given us wonderful rewards this year.

Early morning by a forest stream-min

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Sunburst between the trees in the forest-min

The morning sun twinkles between the trees.

Sunrise in the forest-min

Dawn light.

Fifth wheel RV in the forest at sunset-min

Sometimes it’s nice just to relax in the forest and get away from it all!

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RV Refrigerator Management Tip – Winning the Turf Wars!

June 2019 – One of the biggest surprises for us when we began our search for a new fifth wheel RV to be our full-time home was the gargantuan sizes of modern day RV refrigerators. When we last searched for a full-time fifth wheel in 2007-08, most upscale rigs had a modest 10 cubic foot refrigerator in the base model.

In those days, many of the manufacturers of higher quality rigs offered an upgrade to a 12 or 14 cubic foot fridge. Also, a lot of the entry level units being built back then by those same (now non-existent) manufacturers had an 8 cubic foot fridge with an upgrade to a 10 footer available.

Our Hitchhiker was a “budget” model that we bought right off the back lot at the factory, so we ended up with the smaller 8 cubic foot fridge.

Fifth wheel RV kitchen with 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator

Our 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel has an 8 cubic foot refrigerator. This now “tiny” fridge has served us well since we moved into it in 2008.

This was an upgrade for us anyway. Our first year of full-timing in 2007 was spent in a 27′ travel trailer that had a 6 cubic foot fridge. So, moving to a bigger fridge in 2008 was terrific.

The 8 cubic foot model has been fine for us ever since then, although our ears do sometimes perk up when we hear the turf wars breaking out between the veggies and the beer.

Neither the beer nor the veggies has emerged a consistent winner over the years, but we have found a way to keep the battles from spreading onto every shelf in the fridge.

Even though most owners of late model higher end RVs have either a residential 110 volt a/c refrigerator or an 18 cubic foot two-way “RV refrigerator” that runs on either propane or household 110v electricity, modest sized RV fridges still appear in many smaller RVs and truck campers. So, I thought I’d share our tactic for keeping those big unwieldy bags of vegetables under control.

RV refrigerator 8 cubic foot size-min

RV two-way propane/electric refrigerators do best when stuffed full.
There’s actually lots of room for goodies even in this small model.
This isn’t even full!

I like to buy all the veggies we’ll be eating for the next week or so at once and then cut them up and store them in a single container all together. I cut them in large chunks and then layer them into the container so they are nicely mixed rather than segregated.

I’ve found about six to nine veggies will fill a half-gallon size plastic tub. I have a taller thinner size container with a snap-on top that disappears inconspicuously into a corner of the fridge. I mix up the types of vegetables I put in it with each supermarket run.

Fresh veegetables ready to be cut and stored in an RV refrigerator-min

All these colorful fresh veggies used to take up a lot of room in the fridge. Their plastic bags were everywhere!

Sure, this method means that we eat the same basic veggie mix until it’s all gone, but I love being able to grab the veggie bin and whip up something without having to take each individual vegetable out of the fridge, get it out of its plastic bag, and chop off what I need for that meal.

If I want the veggies diced smaller, I just grab the chunks I want from the bin and cut them into smaller pieces.

Vegetables cut and stored for RV refrigerator-min

All those veggies fit in this small half-gallon snap-top container!

The veggies seem to last quite well in this snap-top tub, usually a week to ten days. Starting with super fresh veggies helps.

We have our own favorite vegetables, but depending on what is popular in your RV, any or all of these work well:

  • Bell peppers (pretty colors)
  • Zucchini and/or summer squash
  • Broccoli and/or cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Snap peas
  • Baby carrots
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Red onion
Veggie storage in 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator-min

The veggie container is tucked away in a corner!

Things we do with them (sometimes diced smaller) have included:

  • Served raw with a veggie dip made from plain yogurt and a ranch style powdered dressing mix
  • Served on a bed of spinach and/or romaine lettuce as a salad
  • Stir-fried in olive oil in a skillet
  • Cooked in a covered, salted skillet on medium heat with a splash of water thrown in one minute before serving for quick steaming
  • Steamed/boiled in a pot
  • Lined up on a skewer and grilled on our BBQ grill (best if segregated due to different cooking times)
  • Tossed into an omelet with meat and cheese
  • Rolled into a tortilla and microwaved with leftover steak/burgers/chicken topped with a little cheese
Vegetable stir-fry in an RV-min

There are lots of ways to make veggies yummy.

I’ve managed quite a few small refrigerators over the years as I’ve lived on various sailboats and in RVs.

For sailors who come across this article, the best way I found to deal with the big, deep, dark refrigerators on older boats that require a veritable deep dive — feet in the air — to be able to reach the bottom is to put everything in large tupperware containers, segrating the meat, veggies, cheeses and even the condiments. This way, it’s easy to find the items you want because you are handling only a few big containers that are well labeled rather than digging around for that small jar of mustard you know is buried at the bottom in the wet mess somewhere.

Likewise with the tiny 3.5 cubic foot under-counter RV fridge that we had on our sailboat in Mexico. The plastic tubs were smaller and didn’t have covers (so the contents could mound up above the sides a bit as necessary), but the important items were grouped together into two or three bins, and when mealtime prep began, all the bins were taken out of the fridge at once and laid out so it was easy to locate the individual bits and pieces.

One of the unfortunate side effects of RV manufacturers moving towards ever larger refrigerators is that they cost a lot in terms of usable space in the kitchen. An 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator is 36″ wide while an 8 or 10 cubic foot RV refrigerator is only 24″ wide.

I measured out the 12″ we would have lost if our Hitchhiker fifth wheel had been built to accommodate an 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator the way all modern larger fifth wheels are built nowadays. We would have lost an important section of counter space, an upper cabinet that houses three shelves and a lower cabinet that contains a drawer and two shelves underneath. That is a lot of nicely partitioned storage to give up!

RV refrigerator 8 cubic foot size

Modern higher end RVs have 18 cubic foot propane/electric refrigerators that eat up other kitchen counter and cabinet space.

RV refrigerators don’t get the Energy Star rating that many residential refrigerators do. They are inefficient and they operate best when they are packed to the gills with lots of cold stuff inside.

After we do a big shopping spree, we usually have two levels of goodies on every shelf and all the cold stuff is squeezed in pretty tight. As the days go on it loosens up a bit.

Given the RV propane refrigerator quirk of needing a very full fridge to operate well, I can’t imagine having enough cold food to keep an 18 cubic foot refrigerator continuously stuffed in a household with just two people. We would have to chill 24-packs of beer and multiple gallons of fresh water. Frankly, I think I’d be chilling our canned goods too!

That is all fine and dandy, but where space is at a premium — especially in the tiny living quarters of a toy hauler — it seems silly to give up precious cabinets and counter space to have a fridge that is difficult for two people to keep properly stocked (to overflowing) all the time.

Not only does it take a lot of propane to run an RV fridge when shorepower isn’t available, but RV refrigerators are expected to fail after about 8 years. We replaced our RV fridge under warranty right at the 8 year mark when it died unexpectedly.

An 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator costs somewhere around $4,000 whereas our little 8 cubic footer was just $1,500 or so in 2015. We didn’t have to pay out of pocket for it because we had an excellent RV extended warranty.

However, built into the cost of any extended RV warranty is the cost of replacing the major appliances, including the RV refrigerator. So, the price of an extended warranty for an RV with an 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator is going to be a whole lot more than the price of an extended warranty for an RV with an 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator.

The bottom line that isn’t so obvious on the RV showroom floor is that RVers get hit with the exorbitant cost of replacing a huge two-way propane/electric RV fridge either way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if RVers were given a choice on a $100k (or more) RV to have a more modest sized RV fridge?

Of course, an 18 cubic foot residential 110 volt refrigerator is a fraction of the cost of an equivalent propane/electric RV refrigerator, along the lines of $2,000 versus $4,000, but powering such a beast without shorepower is a big ol’ can of worms unto itself. This is likely the reason why the National Sales Director at one of the major mass market RV manufacturers told us “The industry is getting away from residential refrigerators and going with the new 18 cubic foot RV refrigerators instead.”

Ironically, requesting a 10 cubic foot RV refrigerator from the custom manufacturers was met with the head scratching concern that their units are built to a certain very high standard and a modest RV refrigerator is not really up to that standard. In the end, they would prefer not to have their name on a fifth wheel roaming around the country sporting a smaller RV fridge. Undoubtedly, that issue could be pressed, but our initial request was not met with the expected enthusiasm of, “Oh, of course we can do that. We’d be glad to!”

Now, these are all very personal preferences, and there’s no right or wrong way to live the RV lifestyle. Our RV search has been an interesting journey through the maze of the modern day fifth wheel market, and this crazy refrigerator issue has been just one odd stumbling block in the whole process.

I just finished writing a detailed article for Trailer Life magazine about what we’ve learned and seen in our search. The article will be appearing in the September 2019 issue. If you subscribe to Trailer Life, keep an eye out for it!

In the meantime, give the veggie pre-prep idea a try. I like handling our veggies this way so much that I’d probably do it no matter how big a fridge we had, whether in a rolling home or in a stick-built house!

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Broken Arrow Trail in Sedona, AZ – What a Hike!

May 2019 – One of the most popular trails in Sedona, Arizona, is the Broken Arrow Trail. There are actually two trails called Broken Arrow that run more or less parallel to each other: a narrow path for hikers and mountain bikers and a wide 4×4 jeep road for motorized vehicles.

Broken Arrow Trail Hike and Jeep tour in Sedona Arizona-min

Broken Arrow Trail in Sedona, Arizona, is great for hiking, biking, horseback riding and motorized buggies too!

We set out early in the morning and the light was beautifully filtered through the trees.

Early morning light hiking Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona-min

Shafts of light fill our view in the early morning.

Lovely wildflowers were blooming.

Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona early morning puppy hike in wildflowers-min

Buddy pauses in the wildflowers

Wildflower in Sedona Arizona-min

Such a rich color, and so delicate too!

After a brief section going through the woods and climbing a little, the views began to open up in spectacular fashion.

Hiking Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona_-min

A short climb through the woods brought us to some breathtaking views.

Hike Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona-min

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The hiking trail and the jeep road criss-cross every so often, and when we climbed up on a plateau we could see a side-by-side down below.

UTV on Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona Views-min

Which is more fun, a buggy ride or a hike? Undoubtedly best to do both!

But at this early hour the hiking trail was quiet and we enjoyed the wonderful peace and serenity of being by ourselves in the woods greeted by happily chirping birds as we walked.

Hiking Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona-min

Peace.

Sedona’s hiking trails are incredible because you never have to walk very far to get an eye-popping view, and this trail was full of them.

Views on hiking Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona-min

Views, views, views!

hiking Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona Views-min

I’m not sure if Buddy was more captivated by the views or the lizards!

Puppy hiking Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona-min

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The rising sun warmed the rocks and we breathed deeply in the soft air. Sedona is beloved by everyone who goes there, and mystics and psychics have been drawn to it for a long time. They feel a spiritual power in the red rocks, and no wonder. It is easy to feel a deep connection to life and nature while soaking in these sublime views.

View on Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona-min

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Posing puppy Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona_-min

Does our little companion feel the power of the vortex?

Dramatic red rocks Broken Arrow Trail hike Sedona Arizona-min

Nature’s skyscrapers!

As the morning progressed we saw a few mountain bikers go by.

Mountain bike on Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona_-min

We shared our hike with a few cyclists. It’s a memorable trail no matter how you do it!

Broken Arrow is one of the top jeep destinations in the Sedona area, and before long the first Pink Jeep Tour of the day showed up.

Pink Jeep Tour Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona-min

A Pink Jeep rolled into view.

The drivers love to give the passengers a few thrills along the way, and we watched several pink jeeps come out of the woods and then climb over the wide rocks at crazy angles. The passengers whooped and hollered the whole while.

One driver yelled to his passengers, “It’s my first day. I don’t really know what I’m doing!” as he swerved all over the place on the flat rocks.

Pink Jeep Tour Sedona Arizona-min

The drivers are all great entertainers and they love to give their passengers a thrill.

Pink Jeep Tour Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona-min

What a fun way to experience the Broken Arrow Trail!

Of course, there are stunning red rock hikes all over several western states, but what impresses me about Sedona is how the residential communities and the hiking trails have somehow managed to blend into each other without one treading on the other too much.

View from hiking trail Sedona Arizona-min

Even with homes so close to the trails, we found each hike to be a total immersion in nature.

There are multi-million dollar homes tucked right up against the trails and some trailheads are down neighborhood roads. Those lucky folks can walk out their back door onto a world class hiking trail every morning. Yet while you’re on the trail, the busy world falls away, especially if you join the rising sun and commune with the waking animals at an early hour!

Unusual plant Sedona Arizona-min

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You could spend many months in the Sedona area and hike three to five miles every day and still not tick all the trails off your list. We loved our stay this year and were fortunate that the spring of 2019 was a cool one in Arizona so we could relish this gorgeous landscape a little longer than normal!

In the Light Broken Arrow Trail Sedona Arizona-min

Broken Arrow is a gorgeous trail. But, then, every trail in Sedona is gorgeous!

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Finding a Fifth Wheel Trailer or Toy Hauler to be a Full-time Home!

May 2019 – We’ve been on the hunt for a new fifth wheel trailer to replace our current one as our full-time home for a few years now, and in the last week or so we’ve been closing in on what we want.

Search for a new fifth wheel trailer RV-min

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It’s been a long and wild ride, but I know a lot of our readers have been going through the same roller coaster of emotions — from elation to frustration — in the search for an RV, so I thought I’d share a little about what we’ve seen and been thinking about in our own quest.

Banana bread served in an RV-min

An RV home can be very warm and inviting and cozy.
Warm banana bread in on a cold morning…what could be better?

We love our life on the road and we have a cozy home, but our zippy and fun RZR out back has sent us on a wild goose chase for a way to bring it along and still enjoy all the comforts of home. Triple towing is a tricky business, so buying a toyhauler seemed like the obvious solution at first and our search began there.

Luxe Fifth wheel toyhauler from The RV Factory-min

The Luxe toyhauler is very high end.

We started our search without a budget in mind. We wanted to see what was available regardless of price, so we visited The RV Factory where the semi-custom Luxe trailers are built.

These trailers have 3.25″ wide walls with graphite infused styrofoam insulation, and they feature 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5″ wheels and disc brakes along with gorgeous cabinetry and top of the line everything.

Luxe RV fifth wheel toy hauler frame with disc brakes-min

Disc brakes are standard on the Luxe

These are such high end trailers that all the drawers have dovetail joints.

Dovetaile joints on drawers in Luxe Fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min

Dovetail joints on the drawers…sweet!

The interior of the finished toy hauler they had on display at the factory was bright white and sumptuous. During our visit, we ended up chatting with a Luxe owner at the factory who was getting a few minor repairs taken care of. He’d owned his trailer for six months and was very happy with it. We just weren’t sure we wanted to tow a trailer this heavy.

We submitted our ideal toy hauler floorplan to both New Horizons and Space Craft (we also submitted it to Featherlite which we discovered is no longer building toy haulers). Both companies expressed concern that our truck, even with its dual rear wheels and 4.10 rear end, might not be able to tow one of their trailers if it exceeded 40 or 41 feet in length.

Our design was likely in the 42 to 43 foot range, but despite several phone calls and one two hour long in-person meeting, we never got far enough in our discussion with either manufacturer for them to put the design in their CAD software and draw it out.

This made us look more closely at the mass market toy haulers which are all in the 42 to 45 range. They are a bit lighter than the high end rigs, if less durable, of course.

White interior Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min (1)

Clean and crisp white Luxe toy hauler interior

Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV White interior-min (1)

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By far, the most ruggedly built trailer for its weight that we saw was the Aluminum Toyhauler Company fifth wheel trailer. These folks come to the toyhauler market from the stackable race car end of the trailer world. The ATC fifth wheel toy hauler has a truly massive cargo carrying capacity, but it lacks some of the other toy hauler features most RVers take for granted. When we visited the factory in September 2018, the ramp door didn’t convert to a patio. It may now.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer-min

Aluminum Toyhauler Company (ATC) makes a rugged but lightweight rig

The ATC is purpose built for outdoor enthusiasts who expect their equipment to hold up under harsh conditions. All the interior cabinetry is aluminum and custom made in-house, and the whole trailer can be power washed inside and out. There are no slideouts but future models may include them. They have a basic open box model that you can modify to your own needs, and they’ll install a garage wall if you’d prefer an enclosed garage.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer interior-min

ATC prides itself on having no wood in the rig — that way nothing can rot, no matter how wet ‘n wild it gets!

Another interesting tour was the Sundowner factory tour at their plant in Oklahoma.

These aluminum trailers are also really well built although they are using Lippert axles in the current builds (they used Dexter until a few years ago). Coming to the toyhauler industry from the horse trailer world, they are designed around a gooseneck hitch. The beauty of the gooseneck hitch is that the bed of your truck doesn’t have a big ol’ fifth wheel hitch hogging up all the space when you’re driving around unhitched.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV-min

Sundowner makes beautiful gooseneck hitch toy haulers

Sundowner builds its own entry doors and ramp door, and like ATC, their ramp door didn’t convert to a patio at the time of our visit. But it may at a later date.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Garage-min

Looking into the garage of a Sundowner toy hauler

When a trailer is designed to use a gooseneck hitch, the height of the trailer is kept quite low. The Sundowners are around 11′ tall as compared to 13′ 6″ for most conventional mass market toyhaulers. This makes them more aerodynamic but also means the bedrooms are not standing height. They are more like the bedrooms in a truck camper.

Gooseneck trailers are designed this way because the arm of the gooseneck hitch is quite long, and the higher the trailer roof is, the longer this lever arm becomes and the more the roofline will sway from side to side as the trailer goes down the road, putting all kinds of lateral stresses on the frame.

Sundowner does a lot of custom and semi-custom work, and they will happily design a trailer that is 13′ 6″ tall and has standing height in the bedroom, but that is not typical of their designs.

One interesting thing with both the ATC and Sundowner trailers is that because they are coming from the stackable car trailer and horse trailer markets, their trailers sit quite low to the ground and the ramp doors have a shallow angle. This is great if you are driving your muscle car or sports car into the garage because the back end of the car won’t drag as you drive in. But it is less important for the folks with a rock climbing RZR that can drive up onto anything.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Interior-min

The cabinetry and finish work in the Sundowner is top notch and many different woods and fabric are available.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Bedroom-min

The gooseneck hitch means the ceiling is low in the bedroom, but that
doesn’t mean it can’t be romantic!

We also visited several mass market trailer factories in Indiana. At the time we were most interested in the Keystone Raptor and KZ Venom. We saw a beautiful Keystone Raptor 421CK at a dealership in Wyoming prior to going to Indiana. It was the first toy hauler we had ever walked into and said, “Wow. We could live in this!” However, the garage was only 11′ long and we’d decided we needed at least 12′ to fit our RZR and bicycles.

KZ RV Fifth wheel frame with flooring installed-min

A KZ fifth wheel gets its flooring

The thing about toyhauler garages is that the patio doors and railings take up anywhere from 8″ to 16″ at the back of the garage when they are folded up against the closed ramp door. Also, there is a slope at the back of the garage floor that is about a foot long. It is there to extend the ramp angle of the ramp door so the ramp angle isn’t too steep. These two things combined can eat into the garage length by quite a bit. The 13′ garage might may have only 10′ 8″ of flat floor space, and that was typically what I saw with my tape measure in the various garages we looked at.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer under construction-min

KZ fifth wheel walls and front cap get started

Also, if there is a side patio and some of it is built onto the garage sidewall, the garage will lose about 8″ of width where the side patio folds into the trailer.

Likewise, if there is a 2nd bath or half bath in the garage or living area, some of the garage floor space or living area floor space will be lost to the bathroom.

It makes a big difference in the livability and usability of both the garage and living space if the door to that half bath opens into the living area or into the garage. Whichever way it is, you don’t want to block the bathroom when you’re parked!

Some Heartland Road Warriors now have a moveable partition around the half bath that becomes a wall when you’re parked but folds out of the way when you need the extra inches for your toys.

KZ Durango. You don’t realize how huge the openings are for the slideouts til you see it like this!

Most toy haulers have a loft area above the garage that runs the full width of the trailer along the wall that separates the garage from the living area. It’s worth some thought to decide if you’d prefer the loft area to open into the garage or into the living space. It may also be possible to modify the loft wall on one side or the other post-purchase so you have access from both sides.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer being built at the factory-min

The sidewalls of the main part of the trailer are quite minimal!

We also visited the Highlander RV plant which is the Open Range toy hauler brand.

Highlander Open Range fifth wheel toyhauler RV-min

The Highlander toy hauler from Open Range

Open Range is owned by Jayco which is owned by Thor. The Highlander toy haulers come in at a lower price point than most. Jayco is known for employing Amish people on the assembly lilnes, and they really do. We saw their buggies in the parking lot and driving around the area.

Highlander Open Range Toyhaulers with Amish buggy in Indiana-min

Lots of Amish people work on the RV assembly lines

Amish buggy in Shipshewana Indiana-min

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From what we saw, all fifth wheel trailers and toy haulers are in a very similar way that aims towards a specific price point. I don’t know that there is much quality difference from one mass market brand to the next since it seems the same overall manufacturing methods and materials are used in all the brands. Certain features are given different names in the marketing literature to distinguish each brand, but it often boils down to the same basic things.

I was astonished when our guide pulled out an 8′ wide roll of a material that looked like aluminum foil and said it gave their trailer an extra R-14 of insulation throughout. All I could think is that there are aspects of RV manufacturing that are pure smoke and mirrors, and to me this was one of them.

This metal foil has been used to produce great insulating R factors in certain scenarios, but it has to have at least two inches of air on either side of it, among other things, for the insulating properties to work. When it is installed in such a way that is is flush up against the other layers of material in the wall or ceiling, that big R-factor vanishes.

Hydraulic lilnes for auto-leveling and slide-out mechanisms on fifth wheel trailer-min

“So, which hydraulic line goes to the curbside slideout? ’cause I think it’s leaking!”
Not all of what we saw inspired confidence.

Some of what we saw made it obvious why customers often have so many problems with their RVs, but our visit to the MORryde plant was an immersion in quality, much like our factory tours at Trojan Battery and B&W Hitches in the past. They had a cool toy hauler out front with their logo on it that was used for trade shows.

MORryde trade show toy hauler-min

The MORryde tradeshow toyhauler

On the Independent Suspension assembly line, MORryde’s signature RV product, we saw axles marked “NH” and “DRV” for New Horizons and DRV. Those trailer brands offer the Independent Suspension as an option. How cool is that?!

fifrh wheel ready for MORryde IS upgrade at the factory-min

An unpainted DRV waits for a MORryde Independent Suspension upgrade.

We had been visiting dealerships on a regular basis for several years prior to our Elkhart visit, and we continued to look at toy haulers after we finished our factory tours in Indiana. Road Warrior (Thor/Heartland) was a brand we looked into, and the 427, which is now the 4275, was a possibility in part because of the side patio and MORryde ramp door.

Unfortunately, my favorite floorplans were the older Road Warrior 427s that had a big sliding glass door going out to the side patio and a tiny fireplace/entertainment system that didn’t block the door. As the model years went by for the 427, the door with the big view onto the patio got smaller and the fireplace and TV got bigger.

Grand Design Momentum 399TH Toyhauler slide patio-min

The Grand Design Momentum 399TH has a nice big sliding glass door heading out to the side patio.

One thing that is very enticing about a toy hauler is the ability to put a workbench in the garage. Most bigger toy haulers nowadays have a 2nd bathroom with the door going into the garage, which limits the wall space for putting in a workbench if you are toting a big RZR.

Fuzion Toy Hauler Fifth wheel garage-min

Will a small 30″ workbench fit between the two doors in this Fuzion 429?

At first, the idea of two bathrooms didn’t excite us because it is a mammoth waste of space for a couple. But then we realized that with a 2nd bathroom you get double the black tank capacity because most designers place a black tank below each toilet to let gravity do its magic of filling the tank as the toilet is used. Some of them drain the little half-bath vanity sink into the rear black tank too.

It is my understanding that the DRV Fullhouse uses a macerator on the toilets to pump the fluids from both toilets to a single black tank, so adding a 2nd bathroom doesn’t double the black tank capacity in those trailers.

The more we did our own soul searching about what we really wanted in our new trailer, the more we realized that we couldn’t go backwards when it came to tank capacities. Our current Hitchhiker has 70 gallons of fresh water, 78 gallons of gray split between two tanks (50 for the shower and vanity and 28 for the kitchen sink) and 50 gallons of black.

Reducing any of these numbers would impact the way we live since we rarely get water or sewer hookups. Unfortunately, although most toy haulers offer over 100 gallons of fresh water, which is awesome, many have a bit less than 50 for the black tank unless they have a 2nd bathroom.

So the decision for us became a trade-off between living space (giving up part of the living area and/or garage to accommodate a second bathroom) and black tank capacity. Argh! Big black tanks do exist. The Arctic Fox 35-5Z has 65 gallons of black tank capacity with just one toilet.

The Keystone Raptor 421CK floorplan that we loved (except for the 11′ garage) was replaced with the Raptor 423 which has a 13′ garage. But it has just a 44 gallon black tank which contributed to taking it out of the running. Also, the designers took 2′ out of the bedroom to increase the garage length from 11 to 13 feet, and they turned the bed so it was “north/south” or parallel to the driving direction instead of being perpendicular to it.

Trailer designers are constrained in overall square footage for their designs by the RVIA (RV Industry Association). This group increases the maximum allowable square footage a little bit now and then, but for right now the limit is 430 square feet.

This seems to be a bit of an arbitrary number, but it is an important one. When you see very long trailers with very shallow and short slide-outs, it may be due to this maximum square footage. Turning a perpendicular bed that’s partly in a slide-out into a “north/south” bed that’s parallel to the curb with no slideout eliminates a few square feet. The designer can then use those square feet somewhere else in the trailer, like lengthening the garage.

We spent a lot of time lying on these “north/south” beds and opening and closing the small wardrobes in the driver’s side slideouts. This type of bedroom was not as appealing as the perpendicular bed with the big closet in the front cap, but it is the predominant design these days, probably due to the square footage constraint.

Grand Design Momentum Toyhauler Bedroom-min

Many toy haulers have a “north/south” bedroom where the bed runs parallel to the road rather than perpendicular. You can walk around a queen but a king goes almost to the curbside wall.

The biggest challenge in our search is that most dealers stock only a few toy haulers of whatever brands they carry. So there were several floorplans we wanted to see that we still haven’t seen, even after two years of traveling around and a visit to the factories in Elkhart Indiana. The KZ Venom 4012TK is an open floorplan U-kitchen design much like the Raptor 421CK/423 that I’d love to see. Maybe someday!

I’d also like to see a DRV Fullhouse, specifically the LX450. Until we began our search, I didn’t realize that even though DRV is not an independent company any more, they still allow some customizations to be made to their trailers. Working with a good dealer — we heard that Rolling Retreats in Oklahoma was outstanding — you can ask for all kinds of customized things and some might be granted.

I was very surprised when I found out that the factory would be willing to remove the 2nd bathroom and the dinette cabinetry in the Fullhouse LX450. I had other ideas for those spaces that would work better for us. But I have yet to see a Fullhouse toy hauler in person — they always seem to be at least 400 miles away and never in the direction we’re headed. And ordering any trailer without seeing something pretty similar in person first makes me uneasy.

The other thing that made the search particular frustrating is that all the folks selling toyhaulers also had regular fivers on their lots. So, although we couldn’t see the KZ Venom toy hauler we wanted to see, the dealer had the KZ Durango Gold 380FL available. We walked inside and instantly fell in love with the huge rear bedroom with its 2nd entry door on the driver’s side. This didn’t help our search for a toy hauler!

Where Raptors were sold we often saw Montanas, which are also Keystone products, and Mark fell in love wih the storage space in the massive pullout shelf under the raised living room in the Montana 3790/91. This was yet another reminder that If you don’t have a 13′ dedicated garage and you’re willing to go up to 40′ or longer in a trailer, you can get a really spacious rig!

And where Momentums were sold, Grand Design Solitudes were also on display. We both fell totally in love with the massive bedroom and walkin closet of the Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The twin vanity sinks and gargantuan closet were wonderful, and the big bright windows opposite the bed along and the window over the bed’s headboard were fabulous.

I’d never been in a fifth wheel where I felt I could spend happy daytime hours in the bedroom, but in that rig I surely could.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Fifth wheel trailer RV bedroom-min

The Grand Design Solitude 373FB has a gorgeous bedroom suite with an enormous bathroom and walk-in closet

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Bedroom-min

Good morning sunshine — the Grand Design Solitude 373FB bedroom has a wall of windows!

So, the toy hauler idea went out the window because we began to think we’d triple tow with something like this beautiful Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The only problem is that it is 41′ 4″ long and that would put us over the limit for triple towing in every state except for South Dakota where the limit is 75 feet!

Back to the drawing board we went where we revamped our search to be for smaller trailers. Suddenly, at long last, we were able to see an Arctic Fox 35-5Z after wanting to see one for a long time. This is a really well made trailer built on Northwood Manufacturing’s own in-house constructed frame with a traditional floorplan.

The great thing about Northwood Manufacturing / Arctic Fox is that they are the only trailer manufacturer left that offers a long list of options. All the others pump out identical trailers one after another except for a very few items the customer can choose such as dual pane windows, an onboard generator and exterior paint.

Arctic Fox 35-SZ fifth wheel trailer RV living room-min

The Arctic Fox 35-SZ is built on a custom in-house frame and offers lots of choices for options

At Arctic Fox you can choose to have either one air conditioner or two. You can get an electric fireplace under the TV or you can have wooden cabinets in that space instead. You can opt for a 10 cubic foot propane/electric RV fridge, which gives you an extra foot of counter space and upper and lower cabinetry to boot, or a 12 cubic foot RV fridge or an enormous 18 cubic foot RV fridge. You can also get a residential 110v AC electric fridge.

This is awesome because there are some RVers, like ourselves, who would prefer to have more cabinet and counter space and let the veggies and beer fight it out for themselves in a smaller 10 cubic foot fridge.

Also, since we dry camp all the time, we power our 8 cubic foot fridge with propane 24/7. When we’re not using propane for heat and are just using propane to power the refrigerator, the hot water heater and the stove, we go through a 30 lb. (7 gallon) tank of propane every three weeks. In our experience, it is not always so easy to find places to fill our propane tanks, especially in certain parts of the country.

If we were to go from our current 8 cubic foot refrigerator to an 18 cubic foot fridge, we would more than double the amount of propane our fridge uses. We would probably go through that same 7 gallon tank of propane in about 9-12 days instead of 21 days. If the trailer’s LP tank compartment allows 5″ of extra height, then we might be able to switch to using the taller 40 lb. (10 gallon) tanks instead and we might make the propane last a little longer. But those big tanks are unwieldy to carry around.

Lastly, RV propane refrigerators are expected to last only about 8 to 10 years. A replacement 8 cubic foot fridge is around $1,400. A replacement 18 cubic foot fridge is $3,700. That’s a huge difference!

Even if you have an extended RV warranty (which is an excellent idea – here’s why), the warranty contract will cost a lot more to purchase if your rig has a big expensive refrigerator in it than it would if the fridge were a smaller cheaper model. After all, the warranty company has to calculate their potential costs if things in your rig (like the refrigerator) fail.

KZ allowed buyers to order trailers with smaller RV fridges and opt out of the electric fireplace until last fall, and that is one of the reasons we were so interested in the KZ trailers.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB fifth wheel trailer-min

Many Grand Design Solitude trailers have a TV that lowers into a cabinet revealing a nice big window behind (on the right in this pic). This is fantastic for folks who don’t watch TV during the daytime.

Perhaps the biggest thing for us, though, is the tank capacities. Small tank capacities certainly rule out a lot of brands! The Grand Design trailers have excellent tank capacities, especially the toy haulers with a 2nd bathroom where you can get as much as 157 gallons of fresh, 106 of gray and 106 of black. Wow!!

Double vanity sink in bathroom of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

No more lines for brushing teeth!

So, last week we were back to looking at toy haulers. We went to a dealership where we saw a Fuzion 429 which had a very cool walk-through kitchen layout with the sink set on an outside corner with long counters running along either side. There was tons of cabinet space and it had and an interesting country style decorative motif.

But the slide-outs were so shallow we would be challenged to replace the furniture if we ever wanted to because the fronts of the theater seats and sofa were all set on rollers to roll in and out with the slide room. The fronts of replacement furniture could be set on casters, perhaps, but it might look a little funny.

I’m not keen on being married to an RVs furniture just because it is on rollers.

One thing I’ve noticed with most of the Thomas Payne theater seats is that if I sit with my back touching the backrest, my feet can’t reach the ground. They’re about 2″ short. This is really uncomfortable! I’m 5’4″ but have fairly long legs for my height, so I imagine that most women would be in the same position. So, for me, replacing the furniture at some point is a likely scenario.

We prowled around other toy haulers, and as I stood in the kitchen of one and thought about where I’d put my dishware (I’d already resigned myself to storing pantry goods in the 18 cubic foot fridge because that’s where the bulk of the kitchen shelving was), I realized there was no cabinet in the kitchen for plates or glassware. Those would have to go in a drawer in the kitchen island or in a cabinet outside of the kitchen area.

A similar thing had happened when I stood in the kitchen of another toy hauler a few months earlier and opened the slim upper cabinet door above the sink. The shelf in there was big enough for just one coffee mug — as long as it didn’t have a handle — and no more.

Space is at such a premium in a toy hauler that the designers have to be super creative to make a living area that has both comfortable seating and sufficient usable storage.

Ironcially, Mark had skimmed through Craigslist before this last dealership trip, and he found a 2011 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America for sale. We walked inside it and knew we’d found our rig. It was just like the one we’d lived in for the last 12 years but with some important differences!

Woo Hoo!!

This Hitchhiker had factory installed 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5 inch wheels and disc brakes. This was huge!

Every new trailer we’d looked at so far, including most of the toy haulers, would require an upgrade to disc brakes and in many cases an upgrade to bigger axles too, and none but the highest end manufacturers offered those things as a factory installed option. Almost all the trailers had tandem or triple 7k lb. axles and 16″ wheels. Many were Dexter brand, which is terrific, but the cargo carrying capacities were really skimpy almost across the board.

One lovely 38′ fifth wheel had a mere 1,800 lbs of cargo carrying capacity. This would have to include fresh water, solar and battery add-ons and all of our belongings. Several toy haulers had just over 3,000 lbs. of cargo carrying capacity which leaves little room for food, clothes, lilnens, appliances and kitchenware once the 1,200 lb. toy is loaded and the 850 lbs. of fresh water and 450 lbs of fuel are put in the tanks (water is 8.3 lbs per gallon).

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV Living Room-min

Hitchhiker Discover America – Looks familiar!

Besides the big axles, this old Hitchhiker’s 17.5″ wheels were a massive plus too. Bigger tires on fifth wheels are much less prone to problems caused by grinding the tread into the ground when making tight turns. Blow-outs are all too common with fifth wheel trailers, and although bad tires are often to blame, it’s also possible that the steel belts eventually fall apart under the twisting lateral loads induced by tight turns.

How funny this was, though. We’d come full circle and were right back where we’d started trailer-wise, more or less.

It was only after we began making calls to line up folks to replace the stained carpets and do a detailed cleaning so we could get our soon-to-be new-to-us home back on its wheels as soon as possible after the closing that we realized the handyman projects on an 8 year old trailer were feeling more like work than like fun!

That wasn’t what we wanted!

Totally stressed out, we walked away from the deal at the last minute. We felt better immediately.

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV-min

There are some incredible deals to be found on the used market for highly regarded brands of yesteryear.
But buying used has its challenges too.

This whole process can be both exhilarating and depressing. Just like buying a sailboat or a house.

Our offer for our cruising sailboat Groovy was the 5th offer we put in on a boat over the course of a year. One deal went so far south we had to get the California Boating and Waterways agency involved. On another deal we paid $1,300 to get the boat surveyed (like a house inspection), and backed out when we got it hauled out of the water and saw the forest of seaweed growing on the hull.

But our persistence and careful approach paid off. In the end, Groovy was a much newer, cleaner and far cheaper boat than any of the others we’d made offers on!

In the RV industry there are very few structurally well built and cleverly designed new trailers out there, and going with a used one that was well built and beautifully crafted in its day years ago opens a whole new can of worms. For those who love renovating, it’s a great way to go. But not everyone does.

On our way home we decided to take one more look at some new fifth wheels just to change our mindset, so we pulled into a dealership and asked to see a line of trailers we hadn’t seen before.

Lo and behold, the first rig we walked into was fantastic. Holy cow! It had almost everything we wanted and the few things it didn’t have were upgrades that would be fun and exciting to do. Who woulda thunk?!

Home sweet home

Home sweet home.

Is our search over? We don’t know, but we’ve got a hunch it is. We’re giving this latest idea a few weeks to simmer and we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, have faith that your ship — or RV — will come in. It’s out there somewhere. It just takes a ton of online research, dozens of walks through dealership lots and, more than anything, some heartfelt soul searching to find it.

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Triple-Tow or Toyhauler? How to Haul a RZR in the Full-time RV Life!
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Hiking the “Pig Trails” in Sedona, AZ – Breathtaking! (oink oink!)

May 2019 – The hiking trails in the area around Sedona, Arizona, are so spectacular that they are worth many return visits. The thing is, the trails never look the same because the views and the air and the feeling change as the weather changes.

Sedona Arizona Pig Trail Hikes in red rocks on an RV trip-min

The hikes in Sedona’s red rocks are glorious in any weather.
Here dark clouds loom over the views from the “Pig Trails” hikes.

We decided to explore the trail system that is known collectively as the Broken Arrow system, and specifically within that system we wanted to see what could be seen from the various Pig Trails.

The what?

Well, whoever named these hikes must have seen a lot of javelina rooting around here, because quite a few hikes have pig-related names.

Javelina (pronounced “have-a-leena” despite being spelled a bit like the Greek throwing spear) are not pigs at all, but they have a piggish look about them from snout to tail.

They eat prickly pear cactus pads (ouch!) and leave very fibrous poops behind.

Dead tree and red rocks in Sedona Arizona-min

A dead tree and dark skies — what a delicious morning on the trail in Sedona!

So, the trails we wandered around on had names like “Pig Tail Trail,” “Hog Wash,” “Peccary,” and “Hog Heaven.” How funny!

We got started on our hike a little before 6:00 in the morning on a blustery and overcast day, and the trail was damp from rainfall the night before. We breathed deeply in the crisp fresh air.

I especially loved the smell of the wet creosote bushes. It is a pungent smell that somehow evokes the essence of the southwestern desert for me. That unique creosote smell is especially thick in the Phoenix area during “Monsoon Season” in the summertime.

Buddy didn’t say anything about the smell of the wet creosote leaves, but he barreled around the corners in sheer delight.

Puppy runs on hiking trail-min

Buddy flies around a corner to tell me what’s up ahead!

There was a little archway between the trees on the trail, and we took some fun pics of each other with the red rock spires in the distance.

On the hiking trail in Sedona Arizona-min

Two Happy hikers.

Another happy hiker!

The gloomy clouds made the views particularly dramatic, and with each turn in the trail we got a different glimpse of the distant spires in a natural frame.

Sedona Arizona red rock pinnacles with storm clouds-min

Distant red rock spires framed by dark clouds and darker hills.

As an aside, we just saw the article I wrote that offers a few of our photography tips in the June 2019 issue of Trailer Life Magazine, and it is truly eye-popping.

The editors kindly set aside six full pages for the article — all without ads — and called it, “Shoot to Thrill.” How perfect!

Some of our favorite pics appear in the article along with some notes about things we think about when we take photos in our travels.

I don’t know if they’ll eventually post the article on their website or not, but for those who subscribe to the magazine, please keep an eye out for it! The article talks about framing, among many other things that are all very straight forwar, even with a smartphone camera, and we used an example of the framing technique from Arches National Park since we hadn’t yet taken these photos in Sedona!

Red rock pinnacles with storm clouds Sedona Arizona-min

We kept seeing these cool framed images as we hiked.

Sedona Arizona red rock spire-min

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As we rounded a bend, the trees that had been partially blocking our view disappeared and our jaws dropped as we looked out at the fabulous stormy sky hovering over the red rock peaks.

Sedona Arizona red rock view with stormy sky and puppy-min

Wow!

Sedona Arizona red rock view-min

Will the storm clouds break?

Suddenly, we heard a clap of thunder in the distance. Uh oh! That was it for hiking! We hightailed it outta there and ran for the safety of a coffee shop in town where we enjoyed a latte and a muffin while it rained.

Storm clouds over Sedona Arizona-min

The storm clouds got darker and then thunder sent us scurrying off the trail!

Storm clouds continued to swirl around the Sedona area and dump rain now and then for a few days. One afternoon we saw the most amazing cloud form over our rig.

Fifth wheel RV under storm clouds in Arizona-min

What a cloud!

Then the sun set in brilliant color right over some blooming cactus flowers.

Cactus flowers at sunset-min

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Sunset with cactus flowers Sedona Arizona-min

Cactus flowers give the sunset a nod.

While the skies did the wild thing above us, we spotted some spring wildflowers blooming at our feet. Beautiful!

Pretty wildflowers Sedona Arizona-min

More pretty wildflowers.

Red cactus flowers-min

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When we were out and about around town we saw some gorgeous views as the skies slowly cleared. That’s the unusual thing about this area: even driving around town you’ll see awe-inspiring views!

Red rock views Courthouse Butte Sedona Arizona-min

As the storms began to give way, we saw some gorgeous view around town.

We decided to check out the pig-related hiking trails once again on another morning, and this time, as day dawned out on the trail, there was sun in the sky.

What a difference that made. The subtle coloration on the distant peaks became washed out and the sky was a beautiful blue but not too exciting, so our focus shifted a bit.

We quickly teached the point where we had turned around before and kept going to see what was ahead.

Puppy playing in the red rocks-min

We hit the Pig Trails on a sunny day and the features that captivated us were completely different!

We came to an open area in the trail where we could prowl around on huge wide flat rocks. Buddy sat down to take it all in and wait to find out what was next on our hiking agenda.

Puppy in the red rocks of Sedona Arizona-min

Buddy takes a break and enjoys the view.

The rain had created puddles in places where there probably aren’t any most of the time. There was a narrow ribbon of a stream flowing along a crevice in the rocks.

Sedona Arizona hikes are great for photography-min

Our focus shifted from the distant views to the trickle of water and puddles near our feet!

Mark spotted me with my reflection, and after yelling to me to stand still so he could get a pic, we both started to look around for reflection images. You have to get low for these. Buddy is already low, so he helped out in the search.

Red rock reflections in Sedona Arizona hike-min

Seeing my reflection, Mark gave us both an idea to look for other reflections in a cluster of small puddles!

Photo op in Sedona Arizona on Hog Heaven trail-min

Buddy kept an eye out for lizards while we scouted for reflection images!

Wow, what fantastic reflections we found! For my birthday a few months ago, Mark had given me a Nikon 12-24mm wide angle lens, and this jewel of a lens creates jewel-like images!

Red rock reflections Hog Heaven hiking trail Sedona Arizona-min

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Reflected Red Rocks in Sedona Arizona on Hog Heaven hike-min

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Of course, sometimes just as I get a cool shot lined up it gets photo-bombed by our four-legged friend.

Red Rocks in Sedona Arizona on Hog Heaven hike-min

Oops! Photo bomb!

The little puddles made some beautiful images and an hour quickly passed while we crawled around on our hands and knees peering at the distant red rocks with our faces and cameras just above the water.

Puppy leaps across the red rocks-min

We loved crawling around these shallow puddles, and so did our furry friend.

Puddle reflections in Sedona Arizona on Hog Heaven trail-min

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Interestingly, we ended up on this trail a few days later and the puddles were all but gone!

Mountain bikers love riding the trails in the Broken Arrow system, no doubt because they are very challenging! In some sections you ride on an exposed sandstone ledge — not for the faint of heart!

Fortunately, we had hit the trail so early in the morning that we didn’t see a soul until the final few hundred yards when a mountain biker approached.

Mountain biker in Sedona Arizona-min

At the very end of our hike we saw the first person on the trail — a mountain biker!

We’ve begun to realize that if you are lucky enough to get to Sedona, Arizona, whether with an RV or without one, you can’t go wrong on any of the hiking trails.

Some trails have funny piggy names while others are named for features in the landscape, but either way, they are all fabulous and they are all worth doing!

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Americas Mailbox – Mail Forwarding & So Much More in South Dakota!

Full-time RVers and other long term travelers enjoy incredible freedom in a wonderfully independent lifestyle, but we still need to get our mail every once in a while! Fortunately, there are mail forwarding services of all kinds in several states.

Surprisingly, each mail forwarding service is a little different in what they offer their customers. Some simply collect your mail and then send it to wherever you are when you ask them to while others offer additional services from assisting with vehicle registration to offering a place to stay while you establish residency in the state.

If you’re researching the many mail forwarding options out there, here are some of the things we’ve learned about mail forwarding during our dozen years of full-time RVing. Looking back over those twelve years of travel adventures, we estimate that we’ve received around 120 shipments of snail mail containing about 3,500 pieces of mail. Yikes!

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding for Full-time RVers and RV travelers

Americas Mailbox provides mail forwarding, vehicle registration and domicile assistance for full-time travelers

Even though most modern communication is done online or over the phone, when you become a full-time RVer or full-time traveler you’ll probably still want to have a way to receive your mail, whether it’s financial documents, old fashioned birthday cards or magazines.

Selecting a domicile state can be quite easy, and the requirements for establishing residency can be quite minimal. However, it is worth noting that if at some point in time you are called upon to prove in court that your chosen state is your true domicile rather than a different state where you might have more ties, you may face an uphill battle if you own large assets like real estate and/or spend a lot of time in a state that isn’t your chosen domicile state.

License plate map of USA wall art-min

America by license plate — on the wall at Americas Mailbox!

There are lots of resources to help with your domicile state decision, including our blog post on the subject here which is the third article in our three part series on full-time RVing here, here and here.

Choosing a state to be your legal domicile is just the first part of the process, however. The second part is selecting a company that will assist you with establishing residency in the state and forward your snail mail to you on the road.

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

Americas Mailbox is right off of Exit 41 on I-90 – Easy!

The three most popular domicile states for full-time travelers are South Dakota, Florida and Texas, and each state is home to several mail forwarding service companies:

We joined the mail forwarding service Americas Mailbox, located in Box Elder, a suburb of Rapid City, South Dakota, last year, and we have been very pleased with their service. During this past year we have relied on Americas Mailbox to deliver our mail in eleven different states, and we’ve also received their assistance in registering and paying South Dakota sales tax on two new vehicles, our street legal Polaris RZR and the utility trailer it rides on (we triple tow).

Every Long Journey Begins with a Single Step-min

A sweet reminder on the wall at Americas Mailbox.

Some mail forwarding services do all their work over the phone and online, and it is possible to become a resident of South Dakota without physically meeting the people who run the mail forwarding service you choose.

However, Americas Mailbox is very serious about their role in assisting customers with establishing their residency and other things that require staying in South Dakota for a while, and they have not only built an RV park on their property, providing both full hookup, electric only and dry camping campsites, but they have also built several hotel rooms in their main building for customers who don’t arrive in an RV.

We spent several days in the Americas Mailbox RV park on two separate occasions last spring and summer, and we set up camp alongside lots of other Americas Mailbox customers in the dry camping area.

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Box Elder South Dakota-min

We joined the group lined up in the dry camping part of the Americas Mailbox RV Park.

It was a lot of fun because most of the customers were brand new full-timers who were just getting their wheels rolling, and their enthusiasm and excitement about their new lifestyle was palpable.

Some RVers were doing their mandatory single overnight stay to establish South Dakota residency, and others were staying for 30 days to comply with the concealed carry requirements in South Dakota. In addition, many folks were establishing relationships with professionals in the Rapid City area, from estate planning attorneys and accountants to doctors and dentists and insurance agents.

RV Park Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

We had fun chatting with other full-timers who were staying at the RV park. Many were just starting their adventures!

When we first walked in the Americas Mailbox headquarters building, we were taken aback when we heard a voice say, “Welcome home!” Wow! We were soon shaking hands with the General Manager and being introduced to members of the staff.

Welcome Home to Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

What a surprise to hear “Welcome Home!” as we walked in!
“Travel” is the theme and there’s even a compass rose on the floor!

It really did feel like coming home. All the customers in the room were living the same crazy full-time RV lifestyle as we are, and most were setting up new Americas Mailbox accounts.

There was a flurry of activity all around us. An inviting living room-like waiting area was on one side and a long service counter for staff to work with customers was in front of us. We quickly felt ourselves swept up in a surprising sense of community and homey warmth.

Americas Mailbox was founded by Don and Barbara Humes after they had traveled full-time in their RV for a few years in the early 2000s.

Prior to opening Americas Mailbox, Don and Barbara studied the entire country to determine which state and which county within that state would be the most favorable for full-time travelers to use as a legal domicile.

Welcome Home Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding for Full-time RVers and RV travelers-min

Americas Mailbox founder, Don Humes (right), is a full-time RVer who understands the needs of folks living a footloose and fancy free life on the road.

They settled on Pennington County in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota near the fabulous tourist destinations of Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, Sturgis, the town of Custer and Custer State Park, all places that RVers love to visit.

Rapid City is the county seat of Pennington County, and Americas Mailbox purchased a fantastic piece of property in Box Elder just outside of Rapid City, located right off of Exit 41 on I-90, an easy place to find and a convenient place to stay for a while to get your legal and financial affairs in order in your new home state.

Waiting room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

The waiting area is like a living room — very inviting.

Americas Mailbox now has a big staff not only up front serving customers who walk in and call in, but also in the offices behind the reception counter where the envelope scanning and vehicle registration work happens and also in the mail sorting room out back where truckloads of mail arrive and are sorted into thousands of customer mail boxes each day.

In addition to providing step-by-step paperwork for changing your legal address to be an Americas Mailbox address, there are step-by-step instructions for registering out of state licensed vehicles, registering new vehicles, obtaining a driver’s license, registering to vote, and obtaining a concealed carry permit. Americas Mailbox also provides a reference list for professionals of all kinds in the area.

Waiting area Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

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Out behind the main building with its hustle and bustle of mail sorting, vehicle registrations and assorted paperwork going on in the Americas Mailbox offices, the on-site RV park had lovely views of farm fields and was very peaceful. Additional long pull-through campsites were nearing completion during our stay and could easily accommodate our rig. At the far end foundations for future cabins had been poured as well.

Pull-through campsite at Americas Mailbox RV Park Box Elder South Dakota-min

The campsites out back are very nice!

One thing we loved is that Don and Barbara live in their motorhome on-site. Not only do they talk the talk about full-time RVing, but they walk the walk too!

Also, they are so committed to keeping in close touch with their customers and helping them with any issues they might have that Don gives out his personal cell phone number.

The hotel rooms Americas Mailbox were full during our visit, so Don showed us their beautiful hotel suite that just happened to be vacant. It was an elegantly furnished one bedroom condo with a beautiful kitchen. Nice!

Hotel room kitchen Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

The hotel suite would be a comfy place to stay while doing business in Rapid City!

Hotel room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

Want to get it all done without driving your RV to South Dakota? Stay in a beautifully appointed suite on-site!

Hotel room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

A nice and homey place to relax — but there are more basic hotel rooms available too

One of the reasons Americas Mailbox was so incredibly busy during our visit was because another mail forwarding company in South Dakota had just gone out of business without giving any advance notice to its customers. People were flocking to Americas Mailbox and other South Dakota mail forwarding companies to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. Chaos ensued at all the South Dakota mail forwarding facilities for several months!

This unfortunate scenario brings me to some of the things we think are worth considering before choosing a mail forwarding service:

Long Term Stability of the Company

Your life will quickly turn upside down if your mail forwarding company goes out of business unexpectedly. It seems like it should be easy to switch to a new company. All you have to do is let everyone know your new address. However, there’s a bit more to it.

Most companies require you to keep a balance of cash in their possession to cover future postage expenses they incur on your behalf, and that money may not be refunded to you if they go out of business unexpectedly. They may also never send you the mail they’re keeping in their possession on the day they shutter the business. In addition, any monthly or annual dues you may have paid up front may not be refunded.

This may not sound like much but could add up to a loss of a few hundred dollars on top of the frantic search for a new mail forwarding servicing and letting all your contacts know about your address change.

Most aggravating is that you may not be able to forward your mail to a new mailing address using the US Postal Service change of address form (PS Form 3575).

When you move from one home to another you can fill out the US Postal Service Form 3575 to forward you mail from your old address to your new one. However, your PMB (Personal Mail Box) at your mail forwarding company’s street address is not distinguished by the US Postal Service as unique from all the other PMBs at that address. Obviously, you can fill out and submit the form and hope for the best, but the Postal Service may not acknowledge the address change and may be inconsistent about forwarding your mail to your new address if they even do it at all.

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The offices and waiting area at Americas Mailbox are trimmed with all kinds of fun travel themed decorations.

It is impossible to know for sure if a company will last a long time, and I remember vividly how shocked the engineering community in Massachusetts was when Digital Equipment Corporation went from being a major employer with campuses all over the state to vanishing into thin air over the course of two very short years.

Some mail forwarding companies have seen several changes of ownership and management in recent years, and with each change there are staff, policy and procedural changes that affect the customers, whether they are explicitly notified about what’s going on or not.

In general, though, if the mail forwarding company has been around a long time, has a lot of customers, and treats those customers well, it is likely it will survive. Don and Barbara have many long term plans for Americas Mailbox and theirs is a family operation with plans in place for the company to outlast them.

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How Fast Will They Ship Your Mail?

Every mail forwarding company has a different policy for how quickly they commit to packaging up your mail and sending it to you after you make your request for them to do so.

Some companies require that you notify them by 5:00 p.m. the night before it is shipped out. If you are in an earlier time zone or don’t think to make the call before 5:00 pm their time, your mail won’t be packaged up until the day after that! That is, a mail shipment request made at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday won’t be packaged up and sent until Thursday. This means your mail probably won’t arrive until the following Monday because of the intervening weekend unless you are in a neighboring state.

If they receive your request after 5:00 p.m. on Friday, then your mail will not be shipped until the following Tuesday, four days later! If you are in a distant state, it may not reach you until the following Friday, a week after you requested it! This is very frustrating and very inconvenient.

Americas Mailbox has a really rapid response time and will get your mail off to you first thing in the morning as long as you request it by midnight the night before and it is a weekday. Requests made at any time during the weekend up until midnight Sunday night will go out Monday morning.

For us, that is a huge advantage. Lots of full-time RVers plan their travels in advance, so that kind of instantaneous response isn’t important, but we regularly extend or cut short our stays depending on whims like changes in the weather. So, if we suddenly decide early one morning that we want to take off in a few days, it is critically important that we be able to get our mail packaged up and sent out as quickly as possible.

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Some America’s Mailbox customers are international travelers.

Virtual Mail – What Do You See and Not See on the Envelope?

Many companies offer a “virtual mail service” where they scan every envelope you receive and either post the images online or email them to you for you to view. You can then instruct them to open the envelope and scan the contents or shred it or just hang onto it until you request your next shipment of mail.

We have found this to be very useful, but the quality of the scanned images can vary a lot, and poorly scanned envelopes are useless. The most important piece of information for us is the return address, of course, so we can see who the piece of mail is from! You’d be surprised, but sometimes scanned envelopes show only YOUR name and address.

It sounds silly, but you need to be able to read the full name and full address of whoever sent the piece of mail or you’ll be left scratching your head. Obviously, if the image is blurry or cuts off the company name (you’d be amazed how often that can happen) or if the image is of your own name and address instead of the return address of the sender, then the image is useless.

We chatted with the gal doing the scanning at Americas Mailbox and watched the meticulous care she takes with each envelope to make sure the scanned image is not only readable but is of the correct address — the return address (not OUR address).

Americas Mailbox outsources the software that manages the scanned envelope images and we’ve found it works very well.

One thing that is especially helpful with their software is that they clear out all the images of the scanned envelopes once they are sent to us. That way we can distinguish between the mail that is waiting for us in South Dakota and the mail that we have received. You see, if all the images are left in the database and you receive regular mail from certain entities, it can be very confusing to look at a scanned envelope and determine whether it has already been forwarded to you or not, especially if it was scanned right around the time you ordered a mail shipment.

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Ins and Outs of General Delivery

When mail is sent to an RV park it is a pretty straight forward process if the park regularly receives mail on behalf of its customers. But sending mail to General Delivery at a post office can be tricky. For starters, it must be addressed very simply (no street address is included), and the software has to make sure no street address is inadvertently inserted (bad software can do that!).

General Delivery mail is addressed as follows (USPS explanation/example is here):

Your Name
GENERAL DELIVERY
City, State Zip-9999

If a street address is included, all hell breaks loose. Literally. It can cost days in delivery time.

We prefer to use small town post offices instead of big city post offices for general delivery because they have less volume and fewer employees.

We like to call the small town post office directly ahead of time to find out if they accept General Delivery. The USPS website lists whether each post office accepts General Delivery mail, but in a few cases we’ve found that the website says they do when they actually don’t. Disastrous!

We also like talking to the folks at the post office because we can let them know our package is coming and approximately when we’ll be in to pick it up. Post offices are supposed to keep General Delivery mail on hand for 30 days, but we had one post office return it to the sender after 24 hours. Of course, the contents of that package were very important time sensitive financial documents, and at the time we were total full-timing newbies who had been out on the road for all of a week!

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Despite being on the outer edge of Rapid City, the area right around Americas Mailbox is wonderfully rural.

Addressing Mishaps Caused by Auto-Fill !

Another thing to watch for is the “Bill To” versus the “Ship To” addresses when you order something online.

Lots of websites have Auto-Fill, and they’ll very helpfully fill in all kinds of info for you. Unfortunately, the next thing you know, you’ve sent a huge package to your mail forwarding address that you wanted to go to the address of the friend you’re currently visiting. Not only will your receipt of the item be delayed by a bunch of days but you’ll have to pay to ship that heavy package twice, once to your mail forwarding company and then again to your friend or some other destination you’re headed to!

Don told us a hilarious story along those lines. Americas Mailbox goes out of its way to accommodate any and all packages that are sent to them, even when they are a bit unwieldy. One day they received several mammoth crates from Harley Davidson that turned out to be all the pieces for a big beautiful motorcycle.

Curious what they were supposed to do with it, they called the customer the crates were addressed to and asked if he’d just ordered a motorcycle from Harley Davidson. “Yeah, I did. How did you know?” the confused customer asked. “Well, we’ve got all the crates right here at Americas Mailbox!”

Of course, the customer meant to have those boxes shipped directly to wherever he was in the world at the time, but he had mistakenly given his Americas Mailbox address as the “Ship To” address.

Shipping crates is outside the norm for Americas Mailbox, but they hired a qualified shipping company to pick up the crates and get them to the address where their customer was staying.

As a side note, many companies charge a small fee for oversized packages they receive because they require extra time and space to handle. Americas Mailbox charges a dollar or more for oversized packages depending on the size.

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We had some wonderful stormy days during our stay at Americas Mailbox.

What Happens to Improperly Addressed Mail?

Despite your best efforts, some entities won’t address your mail correctly no matter how often and how nicely you tell them what it is.

Most addresses in this country don’t include a PMB number, and some folks just leave it off. The correct address must include your PMB number, preferably on the same line as the street address, and it may be written as “123 Main Street PMB 789” or “123 Main Street #789.”

In our experience, an awful lot of entities leave off the PMB number all together. By leaving off the PMB number, the address they send our mail to is simply the street address of the mail forwarding company itself, leaving your piece of mail lost in a sea of thousands of people who share the same address.

When this incorrectly addressed piece of mail arrives at the mail forwarding company, the mail sorters have to figure out who it’s for and what the PMB number is so they can put it in the right box. The bigger mail forwarding companies use super fast mail sorting machines as well as people reading the addresses, and an incomplete address gums up the production in a massive way.

Some companies have a policy in place to set the piece of mail aside and then later look up the name of the person to find out which PMB they have, write it on the envelope and then carry all the mis-addressed envelopes to the appropriate PMB files.

However, some companies simply mark the envelope “RTS” (“Return to Sender”) and put it in their outgoing mail for USPS to pick up because it is too time consuming for them to go through all the wrongly addressed mail and look up all the PMB numbers.

Americas Mailbox has a tiered strategy. First, they look up the customer name (hopefully your name is unique!) and hand-write the PMB number on the envelope and put it in your box. They’ll call you if they have questions (i.e., “Are you the John Smith that is expecting a package from Amazon?”). Last of all, they’ll write “RTS” on it and put it back in the mail for USPS to return it to the sender.

Be sure to find out from your prospective mail forwarding company exactly what their policy is for mail that arrives without your PMB number, because it is guaranteed that at least one piece of mail for you will arrive that way someday.

Also, take the time to triple check with anyone sending you either important documents, a check, or a time sensitive piece of mail that the address they put on the envelope for you is 100% correct.

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Vehicle Registration and Sales Tax

Americas Mailbox dots every “i” and crosses every “t” when it comes to registering your vehicles and paying any sales tax that is due.

We were floored by the degree of detail and the number of documents necessary to get our RZR and our utility trailer registered, licensed and on the road: Power of Attorney for Americas Mailbox to do the legwork registering the vehicles, images of front and back of our licenses, fronts and backs of the titles, bills of sale, money orders for the sales tax, and a few other goodies.

Americas Mailbox provides a detailed checklist of the documents you must gather, and of course some might have to be notarized. If you don’t have a scanner, you can just take a good quality photo of each document and attach all the photos to your email correspondence with Americas Mailbox to verify you have all the right pieces in place before you mail the package of documents to them.

Another thing to watch for when you buy a vehicle is whether the community you are making your purchase in will impose a local tax on the purchase. Maricopa County in Arizona (Phoenix area) is notorious for dealerships charging tax on all vehicle purchases made by out of state buyers.

So, while you may think you will be paying only the South Dakota sales tax on your purchase, you may find yourself staring at a document at the dealership that requires you to pay a tax to Arizona too. I’m not sure if there are other places in America where this happens, but double check with the person who will be writing up the final sales receipts and taking your check before you finalize your purchase.

Owner-Americas-Mailbox-Mail-Forwarding-Service-for-full-time-RV-travelers-Rapid-City-South-Dakota

On Mother’s Day Don brought roses to all the women on his staff. Now that’s class!

Final Thoughts

There are all kinds of mail forwarding services available, and they range from bare bones to full service. You may need just mail forwarding, or you may want to have someone handle the vehicle registration and lines at the DMV, and/or you may want to have a sense of “home” with an RV park where you can stay each time you return home to take care of life’s legal and financial technicalities.

We’ve found that Americas Mailbox is a wonderful full service operation, and what’s more, we love the Black Hills and being “residents” of this part of South Dakota.

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Top Sedona AZ Hikes: Little Horse to Chicken Point + Templeton Trail (Cathedral Rock)!

May 2019 – Sedona, Arizona, is a hiking and biking paradise, and during our stay we set our alarm for an early hour on many mornings so we could hit the hiking trails before the crowds.

The National Forest surrounding the Sedona area is filled with a fabulous network of trails, and each morning we started at a different trailhead to explore and experience the beauty for a few hours.

Best Sedona Arizona Hikes Little Horse Trail Cathedral Rock Trail-min

Two great hikes in Sedona Arizona:
Little Horse to Chicken Point and Templeton Trail around Cathedral Rock.

The Little Horse trailhead lies a few miles south of downtown Sedona and made a wonderful jumping off point to get into the incredible red rock views, but we weren’t sure at first if this trail would look its best as the sun rose.

Little Horse Trail Sedona Arizona Hike-min

An early morning hike on Sedona’s Little Horse Trail

The trail wandered east through scrubby woods for a while and the red rock formations ahead of us were backlit as the sun rose, so it seemed we wouldn’t get the spectacular images that Sedona is famous for.

However, the red rock slabs and sand under foot made a great canvas for playing shadow puppets once the sun rose a little way. We looked down off a ledge and saw a cartoon caricature of ourselves!

Playing with shadows during a red rock hike in Sedona Arizona

Who’s that down there?!

Cactus flowers were blooming everywhere. Most were pink or yellow, but as we turned a corner we found a gorgeous clump of red ones.

Red cactus flowers Little Horse Trail Sedona Arizona Hike-min

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Above them rose an equally stunning clump of red rock spires!

Cactus flowers on Little Horse Trail Sedona Arizona Hike to Chicken Point Overlook-min

A beautiful bouquet of red cactus flowers
against a regal red rock backdrop

The Little Horse trail goes to the Chicken Point Overllook, and when the trail opened up at this glorious spot it seemed like the views went on forever.

View from Chicken Point Overlook Sedona Arizona Hike-min

View from Chicken Point Overlook

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Chicken Point is the glorious highlight of several trails

Chicken Point Overlook is one of the most popular destinations in the Sedona area, but for 20 minutes we had the whole place entirely to ourselves because it was still very early in the morning. We wandered all around the massive red rock slabs taking photos.

Patterns in the rocks Chicken Point Overlook Sedona Arizona Hike-min

Without a soul in sight we lined up all kinds of interesting images

Suddenly, as I lined up a shot, a pink jeep on the first Pink Jeep Tour of the day on the Broken Arrow Trail appeared out of nowhere. The driver backed the jeep up to a precipice and teased the passengers in the far back seat who were perched right over the edge.

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The first Pink Jeep tour of the day rolls into view.

Within minutes two more pink Jeeps were parked nearby and the place was crawling with excited tourists.

On another morning we set out on the Cathedral Rock trail in the early morning hours. This trail climbs up a series of stair steps from the Cathedral Rock trailhead and delivers you to the base of Cathedral Rock where there is a fabulous view of Nature’s wondrous cathedral and of the surrounding landscapes as well. At this point the trail intersects with the Templeton Trail.

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A beautiful day dawns

Again, our early start put us on the trail two hours before anyone else, and when we arrived at the wide “slickrock” slabs in front of Cathedral Rock we had acres and acres of red rock playground to ourselves.

When I saw the sun beginning to light up the spires on Cathedral Rock I frantically hunted around for a beautiful foreground to go with it. I couldn’t find anything handy right away, but then I noticed Buddy sitting right in front of me, perched perfectly still as he watched Mark in the distance. Nice!

Puppy in front of Cathedral Rock Sedona Arizona Templeton Hike

Puppy Chow made a lovely foreground when the sun suddenly lit up Cathedral Rock

As the sun glowed on Cathedral Rock I continued hunting and finally stumbled on a gorgeous bed of delicate lavender flowers.

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The air was very chilly, and balloon enthusiasts in the distance were taking advantage of the cool air to fly their balloons. One rose over the landscape. What a wonderful way to enjoy Sedona’s incomparable views by floating just slightly above the land in silence except for the occasional noise of the heater to heat the air in the balloon.

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A balloon soars on the morning thermals in the distance

We followed the Templeton Trail to the east around the base of Cathedral Rock. The trail took us into the woods where we had lovely views through the trees.

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Morning light on the Templeton Trail

After about a mile and a half we turned around. Now the red rock landscape was bathed in beautiful bright sunshine and the air was delightfully warm.

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Slilckrock section of Templeton Trail Hike to Cathedral Rock in Sedona Arizona-min

The Templeton Trail goes along a ribbon of flat sandstone at the bottom of Cathedral Rock.

Templeton Trail is a super popular mountain biking trail, and we rode it a few years ago. It is a challenging trail with lots of rocky obstacles, but the slickrock portion that goes around the base of Cathedral Rock is flat and smooth and fun.

We still hadn’t seen a soul on the trail, either hiking or on mountain bikes, even after two hours of hiking. We rounded a bend and Cathedral Rock soared back into view.

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Cathedral Rock.

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Approaching Nature’s stunning cathedral

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What a place to hike!

An evening primrose in the shadow of a tree at Mark’s feet caught his eye, and a lovely blue flower dancing before the red rock cathedral caught mine.

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Four white hearts with a pretty yellow center

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Flowers bask in the sun in front of the cathedral

The patterns in the red rock slabs were wonderful. In some places the rock was stained with white and in others there were interesting cracks and crevices.

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There are very cool patterns on the ground.

When we got back to the intersection of Templeton Trail and Cathedral Rock Trail we finally heard some distant voices. Hikers were coming up the trail from the trailhead parking lot.

When we met up with them they said they were going to head west on Templeton trail where it goes around the other side of Cathedral Rock and down towards Oak Creek. We’ll have to go that way next time!

Cathedral Rock Trail Sedona Arizona hike-min

We loved this hike and will do it again heading the other way!

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Wildflowers lined the trail

We roamed around some more and found some wonderful puddles reflecting the beauty of Sedona.

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Mirror image in a puddle

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We just love these kinds of reflections

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Sedona, Arizona, is a nature lover’s paradise! If you haven’t been there, put it on your itinerary. If you have been there, then you know it’s worth many return trips!

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Brins Mesa Trail & Unexpected Delights in Sedona Arizona!

April 2019 – We’ve visited Sedona, Arizona, many times, not only as full-time RVers but also before we started this crazy lifestyle, back when we were living a workaday life and looking for a getaway vacation. The scenery around Sedona is absolutely stunning, and we are always thrilled by the beauty.

RV camping and hiking Brin Mesa Trail in Sedona Arizona

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Sedona is an outdoor lovers paradise, and whether hiking, mountain biking or off-road Jeep/ATV riding is your thing, there are hundreds of breathtaking trails crisscrossing the Coconino National Forest all around town.

Somehow, though, in all our visits to Sedona, we’ve never done many of the “signature” hikes. So on this trip we decided to check out Brins Mesa Trail, a top rated beauty that appears in many Sedona hiking trail lists.

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Buddy sniffs the start of the Brins Mesa Trail

Twenty years ago, Sedona was a small town, but today it is not only a huge sprawling community but it plays host to gazillions of tourists all year long. April is one of the most popular months to visit, so we knew that if we wanted to have any kind of solitude on the trail, we’d have to be up at the crack of dawn.

The air was cool when we started, and we were glad we always carry light wind breakers in our truck, because the heat wave that had swept the area lately had left us so hot the night before, it never occurred to us that it might be chilly at 6:00 a.m. when we started hiking. So, we’d arrived in shorts!

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What a glorious start. The air was wonderfully crisp and clear — and cool!

Brins Mesa Trail is 3.6 miles long and goes between the Brins Mesa Trailhead at the northwest end and the Jordan Road Trailhead at the southeast end.

There are three trails that originate at Jordan Road Trailhead: Brins Mesa Trail, Cibola Pass Trail and Jim Thompson Trail. Brins Mesa Trail intersects with other trails along its route, so you can hike for miles and miles if you like.

Our plan was to hike out a ways from the Jordan Road Trailhead and then turn around and hike back. We hadn’t thought much about where the turnaround point would be and we hadn’t read about the trail, so we had no idea what to expect.

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We hit the trail at 6:05 a.m.

Ours was the first vehicle in the parking lot, and we had Brins Mesa Trail to ourselves. To our surprise, a runner passed us almost as soon as we started, but he quickly vanished ahead of us, and the only sounds we heard after that were chirping birds.

Buddy was in heaven and he ran in happy circles around us.

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Buddy waits for us partway up a series of red rock stairs

The sun began to light the sky behind the craggy red cliffs on our right, and we climbed up a series of natural red rock stairs. The scenery was lovely.

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Buddy checks in with Mark about the route.

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This way.

At our feet we noticed little bouquets of flowers perched here and there as if Mother Nature had set out vases along the trail.

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Wildflowers were blooming in delightful little bouquets along the trail.

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Mother Nature had taken some time to get her flower arranging just right.

A thorny cactus had a single flower on the end of one branch.

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A single cactus flower.

The trail opened up on the left side to a fabulous red rock mound that begged to be explored. We wandered around for quite some time, admiring the wide flat swoopy rocks that looked a little like dough overflowing a pan, and we poked our noses into the woods here and there too.

Suddenly, we realized we’d lost track of the trail. We conferred with each other and with Buddy about where we were and where the trail had disappeared to.

Buddy is a good listener, but when it comes to route finding, he’s top notch and we find it’s best if we do the listening!

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Buddy listens well, but we listen to him too!

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Buddy explains to Mark which way the route goes.

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“Hey you guys, it’s this way”

As we backtracked to the main trail, the sun crested the distant peaks and swept across the rocks all around us, transforming them from cool shade to warm sun in an instant. Mark caught a starburst through a hole in the branch of a dead tree.

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A ray of golden sun.

Sunshine warmed the trail ahead of us and lit the distant peaks.

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Sunshine warms Brins Mesa Trail

We decided we’d gone far enough, even though it was just 1.2 miles or so, and we started back down to the trailhead. We knew there were some great 360 degree views somewhere, but the day was heating up and we weren’t sure how much further we had to go to see them.

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As we hiked back, we met five or six couples coming up the trail from the trailhead, and we discovered from one couple who does this hike often that if we’d gone just another quarter mile we would have seen the fabulous views. Oh well — next time (and maybe we’ll do it in the afternoon when the cliffs to the east aren’t backlit)!

When we got back to the parking lot it was around 8:00 a.m. there were only two or three parking spaces left. We were glad we’d gone early. What a lovely morning walk that was!

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This visit to Sedona was also the first time we’d had our off-road buggy to take us on motor vehicle-friendly trails to remote spots.

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The sun sets in splendor after a fun day of RZR riding.

We bought the RZR and began triple-towing with it hitched behind our fifth wheel because we wanted to get further into remote areas that we couldn’t easily reach by mountain bike or with our truck. And sure enough, it took us to a hidden jewel on this trip to Sedona.

We took the RZR on a joy ride through some rather boring flat countryside and rode it to the end of a road where a sign stopped us: “No motorized vehicles beyond this point.” We noticed the trail continued, though, so we hopped out and hiked a little further on a woodsy trail.

As we turned a corner, we suddenly heard the trickle of water ahead of us, and then we found ourselves in the middle of a little desert oasis!

Reflections in the water Sedona Arizona-min

Buddy admires the colorful reflections in a surprise little watering hole.

Water reflections Sedona Arizona-min

Glassy water reflects the red rocks.

We arrived at the golden hour in the late afternoon when the red rock cliffs, blue sky and green trees were reflecting in the mirror-like water. Our jaws dropped. What a fabulous surprise!

Water reflections Sedona Arizona-min

We were astonished by this fun little discovery.

Reflections at Sediba Arizona-min

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Water reflections Sedona Arizona-min

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Sedona has quite a few creeks and springs, and there are beautiful hikes to reach them. We loved hiking the West Fork Trail and doing The Crack at Wet Beaver Creek hike. Both hikes led to gorgeous oases in the red rock desert.

Sedona Arizona water reflections-min

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Sedona Arizona reflections in the water-min

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The afternoon was downright summery with a high temp in the high 80s, and that water in front of us was just too tempting not to jump in! Mark took off his shirt and tip-toed in. “Brrrr!” He shouted as he splashed his hands in the water. “It’s COLD!”

But it didn’t take long for his legs to numb up so he could go in the rest of the way!

Swimming hole Sedona Arizona-min

“Come on in, the water’s fine!”

Swimming at Sedona Arizona-min

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I finally put down my camera and joined him!

Buddy waded along the edges of the water, got a big drink, and then leapt back on the rocky shore to chase lizards.

The heat wave in the Sedona area brought fabulous stormy skies each afternoon with Arizona-monsoon-like clouds. The sunsets were just divine.

Sunset on a dirt road in Sedona Arizona-min

A classic Arizona sunset over a lonely stretch of road.

We had planned to stick around the area for two weeks or so, but the heat was getting intense and the winds began to pick, making the dust fly. So, our planned list of things to do in Sedona will probably have to be shelved until our next visit!

RV camping Sedona Arizona-min

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Spring Has Sprung! – Sweet Days at Roosevelt Lake, Arizona

April 2019 – The travel stories on this blog often present the fantastic new discoveries we’ve made in our travels, but sometimes our life on the road progresses uneventfully. And so it has these past weeks.

Revisiting and staying in a place we know know and love, we’ve found that each day has slipped into the next without fanfare or breathtaking thrills. Life has been moving at a sweet and gentle pace!

Sunset in eastern Arizona-min

Sunset in eastern Arizona.

RV fifth wheel trailer under the stars-min

Camping under the stars.

After exploring a little bit of eastern Arizona, we made our way to Roosevelt Lake where Spring was in full bloom.

Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Roosevelt Lake

The water level in the lake had been at 49% when we’d visited in January, and was shockingly low. Many former coves and bays had been filled with trees.

Now the lake had swollen to 84% of full volume and showed few signs of slowing down. Lots of hiking trails and dirt roads we’d explored in January were now under 20′ of water!

Arizona Roosevelt Lake-min

Swollen banks and submerged trees!

Roosevelt Lake is the first lake in the chain of dammed lakes in the Salt River as it flows downstream, so this fast rise in the lake’s water level was due to rain and snow-melt upstream rather than the simple opening of floodgates in a dam. How wonderful to see the desert get such a nice big drink from Mother Nature!

Yellow wildflowers at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Yellow flowers dance above the shores of Roosevelt Lake

Yellow, pink and purple wildflowers were in bloom in every nook and cranny of the desert. They craned their faces towards the sun. Some of the cactus varieties had begun to bloom too. Their flowers were big and vibrant, bursting out of the nasty thorny cactus arms in a gorgeous display. It was as if Nature were saying through these blossoms, “Never judge a book by its cover!”

Cactus flowers in Arizona Spring-min

The prickliest cactus bear the most beautiful flowers.

Cactus flowers in Spring in Arizona-min

For the 50 weeks a year that these flowers aren’t blooming you’d never guess what those other 2 weeks are like!

We took our new little RZR out on the roads through the desert to see if we could find more flowers. It wasn’t hard!

Polaris RZR with lupine wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Every now and then we’d get a whiff of a flowery fragrance wafting through the air. Buddy rode with his nose twitching eagerly.

Puppy sniffs the breeze in Polaris RZR-min

Buddy sniffs the air as we drive in the RZR.

For some reason some of the best wildflower displays seem to be along the edges of big paved roads and surrounding parking lots. We found some glorious bunches of flowers in and around Tonto National Monument.

Wildflowers in Arizona spring-min

The wildflowers were most plentiful along the paved highways!

Wildflowers in Arizona-min

And around Tonto National Monument too!

A few years ago we’d visited the Boyce Thompson Arboretum which specializes in Sonoran Desert plants, but the flowers blooming in the parking lot had soaked up all our energy and after two hours of roaming around the parking lot and filling our cameras with photos we’d had almost no energy left to see whatever was on display inside the Arboretum!

So it was here. Tonto National Monument has a delightful picnic area that is rarely used, but the wildflowers around the artfully situated picnic ramadas are lovely!

Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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We couldn’t get over the rise in the lake’s water level, and we wandered down to the water’s edge many times to monitor its progress as it rose each day. Sunny hot days soon gave way to blustery cold days. The waves took on a menacing look and the patterns in the sky were beautiful as the dark clouds raced across the heavens.

Waves at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Wind whipped the waves on the shore.

Curvy tree trunk and swirling cloud-min

An unusual curvy cloud and tree trunk.

Polaris RZR

Storm clouds by the shore.

Every single boat ramp around the lake was open, something we haven’t seen in years, and along with that, many campground loops near the boat ramps that had been closed for a long time were now open as well.

The flip side of that, though, was that one of the lowest lying boat ramps — the one that never has to close, even when the lake level drops super low — was almost completely submerged.

Submerged dock and boat ramp at Roosevelt Lake-min

Not only did you have to walk uphill onto the floating dock, the entire boat ramp was under water (left),
all the way up to the tippy top!

Mark drove the RZR through the water at the top of the boat ramp and had fun making waves.

Polaris RZR driving through water in Arizona-min

Mark had fun splashing in the water at the top of the boat ramp.

Polaris RZR leaves a wake in the water at an Arizona boat ramp-min

Weeee!

As Easter Weekend approached, more and more people came out to enjoy the lake. Hundreds of boats filled the parking lots and fishermen were eagerly casting.

Fishing at Roosevelt Lake-min

The anglers were out in droves, both on shore and in fishing boats.

Buddy’s favorite part of these peaceful days was lizard hunting. His preferred method of going after these lightning fast creatures is to leap in the air and pounce. We spent many happy hours watching him and trying to catch him in the act on our cameras. But it’s not so easy!

Puppy jumping in the lupine in Arizona-min

Leaping for lizards!

Puppy jumping in the wildflowers in Arizona-min

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While he chased the lizards and occasional jack rabbits we savored the brilliant colors of spring.

Pink Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Delicate wildflower in Arizona-min

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Arizona wildflowers

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Pink and yellow wildflowers in Arizona-min

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One evening the sky gave us an especially dramatic sunset. Above the horizon a huge cloud swirled and rolled over and around itself like a ball of pink cotton candy in the sky.

Sunset at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Cotton candy!

Sunset across the lake brought some lovely reflections.

Sunset over Four Peaks Arizona-min

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And a full moon rose over the desert.

Full moonrise at dusk in Arizona-min

Full moon rising

Sometimes the best times in our travels are the quiet languid days when we slow down and bask in a beloved place once again!

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Black Hills Back Country Byway – Spring Flowers in Arizona!

April 2019 – After our quick trip to southeastern Utah to photograph the red rocks and fantastic rock formations, we took our RV back down south to eastern Arizona. Leaving Utah’s chilly late winter air behind us, we found Spring was in full bloom in the Arizona desert.

RV Camping in eastern Arizona

Exploring Arizona’s Black Hills National Back Country Byway.


The most extraordinary display of wildflowers covered the hillsides at the base of the Salt River Canyon, and we can’t recommend highly enough making a trek there to see the flowing blankets of yellow poppies and purple lupine that ripple between the towering canyon walls at the peak of spring.

Unfortunately, now that we drive The Train, we weren’t able to stop and savor the views. The pullouts are plenty big enough for a rig like ours if it’s the only thing parked there, but each one was filled with cars and happily gawking tourists who were gazing at the wonder.

Next time!

Wildflowers and puppy with mountains in Arizona-min

Buddy romps in a blanket of wildflowers.

But once we set up camp, our RZR got us out into the desert and we saw some beautiful wildflowers.

Mountains with wildflowers as far as the eye can see in Arizona-min

Spring flowers! (Sneeze!)

One day we decided to take the RZR on the Black Hills National Back Country Byway, a dirt road that was first built by settlers in the 1800s as a route connecting the flat farmlands around Safford with the mining communities in the hills around Morenci.

Black Hills Back Country Byway Plaque-min

There are picnic areas and plaques explaining the local history along the Black Hills Back Country Byway.
After Buddy was done reading the plaque, he rested in the cool shade below it.

This dirt road is about 21 miles long and it winds up into the junipers and back down into the desert on its journey.

RZR on Black Hills Back Country Byway Arizona-min

Black Hills Back Country Byway

Black Hills Back Country Byway in Arizona

Arizona’s Black Hills Back Country Byway

The views were very nice, but what caught our attention were the many different kinds of wildflowers tucked into nooks and crannies here and there.

Lavender wildflowers Arizona-min

Delicate and sweet.

Bud and flower in Arizona-min

Before and After (if you can believe it!).

Arizona wildflowers-min

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Purple Arizona wildflower-min

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Big pink flowers in Arizona-min

These things are huge and were in bloom all over the place.

From tiny purple flowers wriggling in the breeze to pretty yellow poppies dancing in the sunlight, we saw all kinds of flowers brightening this otherwise relatively drab landscape.

Yellow desert poppies in Arizona-min

Yellow desert poppies.

Fuzzy leaves with Arizona wildflowers-min

Fuzzy leaves and pretty blossoms.

Purple Arizona wildflowers-min

So cheery!

Wildflowers in Arizona-min

Little pink stars.

Desert daisies in Arizona-min

Desert daisies.

White dandelions in Arizona-min

Surely in the dandelion family!

The fun thing about doing this drive with the RZR is it was easy to hop in and out of it every few miles to poke around and take pics. It was a balmy Thursday, and in our three hours on the road (we go slowly!) we saw only one other vehicle, a motorcycle.

Puppy sniffs wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Buddy sniffed the flowers now and then, but he was more interested in the little critters that make this area home. We had seen two red-headed bugs with antennae flying while linked together. It was spring, and they were doing what the birds and the bees tend to do in springtime!

Then I noticed a patch of purple flowers that was loaded with these red headed bugs!

Bug in the wildflowers in Arizona-min

A bush full of purple flowers was also full of red-headed bugs!

Buddy has discovered the joys of lizard hunting, and he chased quite a few on our excursion. He loves the chase, and on rare occasions he actually catches up to one too. They’re clever though, and they play dead to make him stop chasing!

Lizard with colorful belly Arizona-min

A lizard plays dead at Buddy’s feet.

Lizard in Arizona-min

Buddy found this guy who was actually already quite dead and stiff!

There are several picnic areas along this route with views that look out into the hills. These rest areas have picnic tables and ramadas covered with copper roofs and lots of information about the history of the area.

Black Hills Back Country Byway Phelps Dodge Copper Mine Overlook-min

Black Hills Back Country Byway at the Phelps Dodge Copper Mine Overlook

One of the most amazing views is of the Phelps Dodge copper mine in Clifton-Morenci. This is one of the largest copper mines in the world and has been extracting copper from the hills for almost 150 years.

Phelps Dodge copper mine in Clifton-Morenci Arizona-min

The Phelps Dodge copper mine in Morenci Arizona has been extracting copper since 1872.

Arizona schoolkids learn that Arizona is known for the five C’s – Cattle, Copper, Cotton, Climate and Citrus. We saw two of the C’s together while driving the Black Hills Back Country Byway!

Cow and Copper Mine in Arizona-min

Two of Arizona’s “Five C’s” in one photo – Cattle and Copper!

At the mine overlook there were several big boulders with copper embedded in them along with detailed descriptions of how the copper is extracted.

Copper in a boulder-min

Copper waiting to be extracted. It looks a little like lichen!

It was fun at another point on this drive to see tall red penstemon flowers against the backdrop of a boulder filled with lichen.

Penstemon and lichen_-min

Pensetemon flowers with a lichen covered boulder in the background.

Another thing Arizona is known for is sunsets. The word doesn’t start with a C, but reliably dramatic sunsets definitely make Arizona a very a special place!

Gorgeous Arizona sunset-min

The sunsets in Arizona are hard to beat!

Sunset at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Lakeside sunset overlooking Four Peaks.

Flower Power in Arizona-min

Flower Power!

As we’ve continued experimenting with triple towing, we’ve learned a few more things in recent weeks. One of the attractions of a toy hauler is the very cool back patio deck most have, and I’ve been drawn to several units that had side patios too.

Well, one afternoon I looked at our utility trailer and realized it would make a wonderful little raised patio!

If the rig is positioned right, the whole rear wall of the trailer can shade the patio, and by being up off the ground you don’t get that bitter cold breeze from under the trailer that you do when you hang out on camp chairs at ground level.

RV triple tow utility trailer patio deck-min

The utility trailer makes a nifty raised patio!

Triple tow patio deck-min

A nice spot to share a sundowner… at the risk of someone saying:
“You know you’re a redneck when your back patio is a trailer!”

Another thing we’ve learned is that when you make a super tight turn, depending on the design of the utility trailer, it may be possible for a front corner of the utility trailer to make contact with the back of the fifth wheel trailer.

So, if you are getting set up to triple tow, you might consider taking your rig to a huge and vacant parking lot to try a few slow sharp u-turns to see just how tightly your rig can turn before contact is made between the two trailers.

RV camping in the Arizona desert at sunset

Sunset in Arizona

Arizona is a beautiful state and we’re looking forward to watching Springtime continue to unfold here.

Puppy silhouette at sunset-min

A yawn at sunset.

Arizona starry sky-min

“Blue moon…You saw me standing alone…”

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