Saturday, March 28, 2009

Don't drink the water

I always drink the tap water, wherever we are parked. I haven't been worried about its safety and it usually tastes just fine, or at least OK. I hate to pay to drink a glass of water. I usually fill a bottle to take with us, wherever we go in the truck. All of this was true until now.

My first clue should have been the prevalence of water-filling stations. Since we have come to southern Arizona, we have seen small kiosks selling water—not in bottles, but from a spigot so people can fill their own bottles. And we always see people using these kiosks. One RV park, the one we stayed in at Yuma, even had these kiosks located around the park.

Our next clue should have been the stacks of salt at the entrance to each grocery store we entered—salt for water softeners. That usually means people don't like the way the water tastes.

Still, we were drinking the tap water until we came here. The monument gets is water from the City of Coolidge. Not only does it taste awful, it even smells bad. After one week, we bought some water at the store—at 89 cents a gallon. When we discovered we could refill those bottles at 15 cents a gallon at the far end of town or 25 cents a gallon closer to our RV, we bought a total of four gallon bottles and we use the purchased water for drinking, coffee, to mix our orange juice and to make ice cubes. We are aware of the bad taste even in ice cubes in a glass with bourbon. That tells you how awful the water is.

Here John is filling our bottles.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

This week at Casa Grande

Tuesday evening most of the volunteer couples here at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument gathered for a pot luck meal and brats on the grill. Almost everyone in the group has done a lot of RVing, so we had a great time sharing stories.

We spent a lot of time this week working on our tour presentations for next winter. While we have all the materials available, we want to get the basics of our talks together. We can refine them over the rest of the year. Dave, the ranger in charge of interpretation, has to approve what we will present, so we will email our drafts to him as we complete them.

Wednesday morning John and I worked with a group of Native American 4th grade students from the St. Peter's Mission School on a tour of the monument. The 15 students arrived with two adult chaperones. One is a snowbird from Wisconsin who volunteers one day a week at the reservation school. "I've had a great life and I want to give back," he told me. We're not sure who the other chaperone was. Since neither of those adults was prepared to lead the tour and educational program, John and I got our first taste of being interpreters here. On the whole it was a positive experience. John felt it was a real honor to help these Indian children learn more about their heritage. As he showed them through the museum, they saw items that they have seen their grandparents use in their homes. I came away saying it was a good experience, but it made leading tours for adults look like a piece of cake.

The students had been equipped with cameras to use for the class project; in addition, several brought their own cameras. Of course, they took lots of pictures. When I asked to take their picture, they took mine, as well. In the museum, their favorite photo subject was this cash donation bowl.

After the children and their leaders left, John showed me a dove's nest in the crook of a tree in the outdoor classroom. I had spent over 30 minutes there with my group of young people, but had not seen the dove and her babies. She was so protective of her babies, she let me get quite close to take pictures. When I returned later, she had flown away, probably to get food. Here are the babies waiting for mama to return.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Arizona Sunsets

I love sunsets (and sunrises) and Arizona is certainly the place to see them. Here is a slideshow of some we have seen the past two months.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Our first one week+ at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument has been busy and very good. We can hear white tailed doves cooing from before dawn till dark. What a soothing sound! There are round-tailed ground squirrels everywhere, but I haven’t been able to get any photos of them. We also have seen several roadrunners (or one roadrunner several times.) But I didn’t have the camera out then.

The roof over the ruins has a resident pair of great horned owls. I don’t think I have seen these owls before, but now I go check on them every day. They have a nest and we wait to see if any of the babies survive. This is the best photo I have been able to get so far of one of the owls.

We have a great RV site here on the grounds.

In addition to a full-hookup site, they have provided two clothes washers and two dryers. This is a real perk for volunteers and only the third time it has been available to us while volunteering. It saves us at least $10 a week in laundromat expense, as well as the time to drive somewhere to do our wash. We are maybe 50 steps away from the washers.

Looking the other direction from the same spot, this is our view of the Casa Grand Ruins.

National Monuments are smaller than National Parks. The staff here is small and almost like a family. Already we have met almost everyone that works here. Today, as I did our wash, I talked with two members of the maintenance staff and the monument superintendent. Everyone has welcomed us here and treats us like we belong. It is the friendliest place we have ever volunteered.

A major way that volunteers help at Casa Grande is by leading guided tours of the ruins. We have a lot of research to do before we can give these tours. They don’t give a script of what they want us to say. They want each volunteer to develop their own theme and do their own research so they know that the information they are discussing is correct. That will take a lot of work, so we won’t be giving any tours this month. We will work on our tours over the summer and fall, before we (hopefully) return next winter. We do answer questions from visitors and rove around the ruins to keep an eye on things and be available to visitors. Also, we have both been trained to help in the bookstore.

The cacti are beginning to bloom here. This is a beautiful prickly pear cactus.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

First Day at Casa Grande

Today we drove 11 miles from the RV park in Florence to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, where we will spend the next month. It was an easy move, except for the cats. I won't go into detail, but if you are interested in what it can be like to travel with our cats, check out this blog from August 2006.

After setting up our trailer, we checked in and spent several hours meeting other volunteers and the staff and going on several tours so we can learn about the ruins and the Hohokam, the prehistoric people who built the "Great House" Casa Grande.

This is Casa Grande and the roof that protects it.

We are going to enjoy our time here, I think. Everyone is friendly and we are beginning to learn enough to be impressed with the people who constructed the buildings preserved in this monument. In addition, we saw our first Great Horned Owls, which live in the roof over Casa Grande, as well as a roadrunner, a lizard and lots of doves.

It's been a long day and we are tired. We know we have a lot to learn. But it is good to be here.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Busy Week

        It's been quite a week.  Our time at Organ Pipe included spending some good times getting to know Bert and Audrey Epp from Manitoba.  They had been our neighbors at Gilbert Ray and then arrived at Organ Pipe two days after we did.  We had a good time visiting with them.  Then Saturday we spent time talking about volunteering at Organ Pipe with David and Jo-Anna Kikel.  We met them last year while staying at the Kamper Corral in Klamath, CA.  They have been volunteering at Organ Pipe since December.


On Monday we left Organ Pipe for Yuma.  We had planned to check out the weather there and see what we thought of the Escapees co-op park.  Last fall we fell in love with the Escapees park in Benson, except that the winter nights there are often near or below freezing.  We would like to winter somewhere warmer than that.  Yuma seems to be the warmest place in Arizona. 


When we began calling about a place to stay in Yuma, we found many places were full.  The Escapees park doesn't take reservations and they even had folks in dry camping, waiting for a hookup site.  We finally called the Cocopah Golf and RV Resort and found a place—at $43 a night—whoa!  After spending eight nights at Organ Pipe for a total of $48, that was really high.


After two days in Yuma, we decided it really wasn't a place we were interested in spending a lot of time.  After a good visit with Bruce and Nancy Butler, full-time RVers we met several times while visiting eastern Canada and the Maritime Provinces two years ago, we turned around and came east to Desert Gardens RV Oasis in Florence.  We stayed here a year ago and really enjoy the park.  The sites are very large and the park isn't crowded.  It is surrounded by a cactus forest and they have a great trail, about 2 ½ miles long around the perimeter, where we enjoy running.


Saturday we visited the Coolidge Cotton Days nearby, as I described in yesterday's post.  After lunch we went to Casa Grande National Monument to apply for a volunteer position next winter.  We learned they are short staffed and could use some help for a month.  Today we worked out arrangements to volunteer there till early April.  That will give us and them a chance to see if that will be a good place for us to spend next winter.  This flexibility and uncommitted time come from living on the road and not being controlled by a vacation itinerary that tells us what we have to do each day and week.


Learning about the Hohokam Indians and the ruins at Casa Grande will be a great challenge.  We learn so much as volunteers.  It helps keep us sharp and expands our minds.  It also helps financially—a month in RV parks and state and national parks costs somewhere between $450 and $600 or more, so we really save money by donating our time.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Cotton Days

We discovered that this weekend the nearby town of Coolidge, AZ, is celebrating Cotton Days. There was a parade at 10 am, followed by a cotton bale race, a beer garden and a motorcycle ride to the nearby Casa Grande National Monument. We really enjoy attending local festivals, so we made it a point to be in Coolide about 10. The parade consisted mainly of units from local businesses, from the Liberty Tax Service and Quizno's to a towing service, as well as elected officials and large tractors. After the parade we walked down to the city center where the festival was being held. The carnival included these dragons that twirl around like the old Tilt-a-Whirl did in our childhood.
We are in southern Arizona and there is a stong influence from Mexico. This booth sold little girl's dresses and little boy's serapes, as well as items for adults.

We ate lunch at Ofelia's. Here is John about to eat one of the Indian taco's on fry bread that we purchased. The bread looked much like a sopapilla before they topped it with fried hamburger, lettuce and cheese. We added a red hot sauce that was full of the seeds from hot chillis. We could really feel the heat and enjoyed the meal.
The cotton bale race paired two teams of two persons each, rolling these rectacular cotton bales down the street. The winner of each heat then took on another team, until the winner was declared.
We had a good morning. After lunch we drove to the Casa Grande National Monument to apply for a volunteer position for next winter. We discovered they where two couples short for the rest of this winter and are discussing with them the possibility we could work there for a month and discussing between ourselves whether that is what we want to do. Stay turned for further developments.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

We had never seen this before

At most campgrounds we see 5th wheels and motor homes, with a few travel trailers thrown in. At places like Organ Pipe, we also see pickup campers and small vans. But we also encountered two unique units. As we were running, we passed what looked like a gypsy wagon, then in the next row we saw a sheepherder’s wagon. We ran by our trailer to get the camera, then back to take pictures.

The gypsy wagon was made by a father who was camping with his son. He designed and built it to hold his family and also to carry his motorcycle as they travel. His wife is attending college and asked the father and son to leave for a while so she could get more work done. They spent a week at Organ Pipe. We enjoyed talking to them.

The sheepherder’s wagon also was handmade. It’s somewhat like a folding tent trailer. The owner is making plans to build another one that is easier to set up.