Thursday, January 28, 2010

Full-timing For One Year

One year ago today we watched our furniture, books, dishes and kitchen ware taken off to storage. After a quick vacuum and photos of the empty rooms,

we climbed into our truck and pulled our 36-foot Montana fifth-wheel trailer to Chatfield State Park, about 11 miles west of our house.

Now we have been on the road fulltime for a year. And we love it!

Our empty house finally rented May 1 and we have a two-year lease on it. We are grateful for that lease and for our son who takes care of the property. We hope it stays rented for a really long time

We really haven’t put on a lot of miles—we have only pulled the RV about 4,200 miles in that time. We’ve spent time in Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Montana and passed through New Mexico, Wyoming and Nevada. We also spent one night in Idaho. It looks like Arizona is our favorite state. We have been here for five and one-half months, last winter-spring and from mid-October to now. For six and one-half months we have volunteered. Right now, we think that was too much work in one year, so after we finish our volunteer assignment at Casa Grande Ruins we are planning to drive along the southern US border to the East Coast, then up the coast to visit our son and his wife and our two granddaughters in Massachusetts.

We’ve made a lot of changes in our small, movable home: new leather recliners, new flooring,

a combination computer desk/table.

Several times a week we look at each other and say—isn’t this wonderful? We don’t need any more space than this. We’re so glad we are full-timers. We think our two feline companions agree. It has been a good year for PC and Partner, too.

Friday, January 22, 2010

This Has Been Amazing

Just after lunch today, we saw a rainbow.

But that didn't mean the rain was over. About 20 minutes ago, it was raining hard and the television weather gurus say it won't clear out until tomorrow morning. But it was good to see the sun and the rainbow, even if the ground had puddles--or maybe even lakes--everywhere.

We went for our morning run in the rain. We learned how to keep on going in the rain during the two months we spent last spring at Gnat Creek Hatchery in western Oregon. There is rained all but about six days of our two-month stay.

After the run, we were able to go on a volunteer-only tour of the Great House at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Until 1973 the public was allowed to walk through the ruins here. After then, it was closed to public traffic, both to protect the ruins and out of concern for the safety of the public. But the Cultural Resources Staff (read archaeologists) offered to take the new volunteers on a tour today. It was wet and cold, but we did it.

This is Laura, one of the Cultural Resources staff members.

This is what we saw from the inside of the room on the north end of the ruins. The large hole near the ceiling is believed to have been used to observe the setting sun on the summer solstice.

This row of holes shows where the beams were inserted for the ceiling of the second story of the building.

Later in the morning, after we returned to our trailer, I took a picture of the raindrops falling in the pool at the edge of our concrete pad. It is really wet here! We will be glad when the sun returns and we snowbirds can go back to hiking or playing golf.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rain in the Desert

Here we are in the desert. Last year Coolidge, the town where Casa Grand Ruins National Monument is located, received only 3.97 inches of rain. A week ago, no rain had falled in 2010. That has changed this week. Here is a picture of the Great House this morning.

That really is a great big puddle of water reflecting an image of the 700-year-old ruins. In the past week we have received 1.27 inches of rain, 0.48 inches last night. From about 11 to 11:30 pm it rained hard and the wind blew. For that half hour it kept me awake. I am sure it rained for longer than that, but it wasn't loud enough to keep me from sleeping.

If you are watching the national weather you know California is expecting lots of rain in the next few days. Those storms head straight from southern California to Arizona. They expect 1-2 feet of snow in the northern mountains, several inches of rain in Phoenix. We are south of Phoenix and we probably won't get that much rain. But is will still be significant.

You really should drive only 5 mph when you go into the maintenance compound here.

I hope the workers don't want to eat lunch at this picnic table tomorrow.

We have lived most of our life in Colorado. When a big snow storm is coming, the TV newscasts cover it ad nauseum That is what we are seeing here, as they warn of flooding and possible power outages. Local fire stations and other locations in the Phoenix area have brought in piles of sand so residents can fill sand bags to protect their homes and businesses. That is different from worrying about slippery roads and heavy snow.

We lead tours here at the Ruins and talk about the years when heavy rain deepened the river channels and other years when there was drought. Southern Arizona has had several years of drought. This week, at least, there are heavy rains. We are learning what it is like to live in a new environment. "Turn around, Don't Drown" is the slogan for avoiding flooded areas on the road. We've seen the signs. Maybe this week we see what they are talking about.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I know. I know. I have already told you about our Christmas, the one with no decorations. And I know Christmas really happened almost three weeks ago. When we were opening gifts at our son's house on Christmas day, one gift for us was a picture. Well, yesterday the item pictured in that box arrived. Here you see the package just after we wrestled it out of the 18-wheeled delivery truck onto the rails of our pickup. We were dismayed with how big it was.

We drove--very slowly--the 3/10 mile from the parking lot in front of the visitor center to our RV. As we drove into the volunteer housing compound, it was no surprise that we caught the attention of two couples sitting outside. (Did I mention that yesterday was the warmest day in several weeks?) We were grateful when the two men came to help us unload. Here are Don and Joe helping John removed the packaging.

We then removed our old dining room table from the RV. Here, John is using it to unwrap part of our gift.

What do we have? you ask? It is a combination computer desk/dining table, built for us by Focal Wood Products of Nappanee, Indiana. Click on the link to see the fine furniture them build for RVs. Here it is, set up in our RV. We still have a shelf to install in the open area and doors that close off that open area. You can see the table extended with a leaf for use at dinner time. When we remove the leaf, it only extends about 18 inches from the desk. We are so delighted with our gift. It was worth the wait.

There was one more special thing that happened yesterday. After hours and hours of research last spring and summer and more hours of writing, yesterday I gave my first guided interpretive tour at Casa Grand Ruins! John will give his first tour on Sunday.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Archaeology Today

My old idea of how archaeologists do fieldwork included digging with a trowel, cleaning away the last bits of dirt with a small paint brush and sifting the dirt through a fine mesh screen. They may very well still do that, but they also work on a much larger scale. An archaeology firm is doing some fill work within the mud-walled complex around Casa Grande. Look at the tools they are using!

They began the work days--or weeks--before we arrived on Monday. Today the theory is that keeping artifacts in their original place and covering them back up with dirt is the best way to take care of them and the site. Here they aren't actually burying the ancient community, but they are filling in between the buildings with sterile soil. This helps stabilize the building walls, as well as correcting the slope of the surface where visitors walk to enable the periodic rains to run off without doing damage to the site. Apparently the first step in the work was a detailed survey to determine how much dirt to fill in at each point in the complex. We aren't sure what everything will look like until the work is complete.

One of the archaeologists on the crew is also a flintknapper. That is the ancient process of making stone tools. I had never watched anyone flintknap before. Alan was so excited about both the various stones he has to be made into tools and the process itself. It was hard not to get excited, just listening to him.

First he showed us several different pieces of stone, from Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Australia and other places. Some of the stone he collected himself, such as while working on a pipeline project in Wyoming. Others he bought at the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

Here he is holding a hammer stone in his right hand and a fairly large piece of stone from Knife River in his left.

He worked on this stone for over 30 minutes. At his feet you can see some other stones he could work with, as well as some of his tools, which are either pieces of stone or of the antlers of deer and elk.

He chipped away at the stone, removing both large and small pieces of rock. He uses his knee as a work surface.

Finally, from a piece of stone slightly smaller than his fist, this is the spear point he made. Isn't that incredible?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Why Do We Do This?

Monday we were up early, left VDO in Mesa by 7:30 am to drive to Casa Grande Ruins in Coolidge, where we will be volunteers for the next three months. We arrived by 8:30, spent the next couple of hours getting set up--after we parked the rig with an audience of 6 to 8 men volunteers and paid staff at the monument. Here we have free laundry, so I did four loads of wash. Then, at 3 pm we met with the volunteer coordinator, chief of interpretation and head ranger, as well as another new volunteer couple, for two hours of orientation. You better believe we were exhausted when we returned to our trailer at 5 pm. Tuesday we went to work at 8:30 and were there till 5 pm. Now we are off for four days.

It is always this way when we start a new volunteer assignment. Long hours and stress when we arrive. When we haven't been working for several months, the 7- to 8-hour days are hard to adjust to. So, why do we do it?

First and foremost, I think we volunteer because we want and need the challenge, the stimulation, the chance to learn new things and use our minds. Travel is interesting, but we don't want to travel all the time. We are living on the road because we found being retired and staying in one place all the time (our stick house) was boring. So we don't want to stay in one place for a long time on the road and be bored. Volunteering helps us to not be bored. In some volunteer positions we learn new skills. Sometimes we learn about new areas of the country and we are able to stay long enough to begin to understand how the locals live. When we volunteer in interpretation for the National Park Service, we learn lots of information.

Neither of us has ever been interested in Native Americans. But studying the Hohokam culture in southern Arizona has been fascinating and we have developed so much admiration for what those people accomplished here. The study we did to prepare our interpretative tours has challenged our minds and our views of prehistoric peoples. That is wonderful!

It also is good to be able to give back to our community and our country. For so many years we have enjoyed our state and national parks and they are so short of funds that it is difficult for them to stay open without volunteers. We are glad we can help out.

It is also nice that volunteering pays for our RV site. That means a savings of $20 to $30 a day. So we are helping to keep old age at bay while we save money.

Friday, January 01, 2010

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

What a wonderful way to begin the new year! Today we hiked 6 miles at San Tan Mountain Regional Park, south of Mesa. We shared the trail with folks on bikes

and others on horses.

This is the first time we have celebrated New Year’s Day with a hike. Most years in the past we would have had to ski, snowshoe or snowmobile to enjoy the outdoors. And it is one of the reasons we are glad we changed our lifestyle last year, one of the benefits of being in Arizona, not Colorado, in winter.

A year ago we were packing boxes and sorting our belongings, deciding what to put in storage, what to sell and what to give away. We look back and have no regrets about deciding to become full-time RVers. At the same time, we knew there would be trade-offs.

This was our first Christmas with no decorations, no Christmas tree. We didn’t host the Christmas dinner. That had its sad or difficult side. On the other hand, it was a quiet, unstressed Christmas. No hurry. We were able to focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas. And we enjoyed a full day with our son Eric and his family on Christmas day without a lot of work to do.

Christmas wasn’t quite what we would like. And being on the road all the time means we lose out on a lot of family time. But when we think of winters past, with three to five months in our Colorado house, spending most of the time indoors and living in a rut, we don’t regret what we are doing a bit.