Monday, January 31, 2011

Quartzsite #2

Shopping is a really big part of the Quartzsite experience. The Big Tent has about 300 vendors inside and lots more nearby. This was our first view of the tent, seen as we drove across that crowded US 95 bridge.

And this is a view of the inside of the tent.

Several booths advertised that they would help you obtain a concealed weapons permit.

People interested in this kind of recreation might find it difficult to conceal that weapon.

And maybe we would prefer that the chunky dunkers conceal something else.

It seems everyone who owned a dog brought it along on their shopping expeditions.

This little fellow (or girl) was served a spoonful of its owner's ice cream just before I clicked the shutter.

I can't imagine sharing my RV with this dog.

This is only one of many places of shop for rocks and gems. They are pretty, but I don't know where I would put them in our trailer.

This was a popular spot. Who do you suppose picks the patrons up from day care?

The person up in this ultra-light or hang glider was taking pictures of the whole scene. That is how they got the picture of the whole Montana circle that I posted before we went to Q.

I may be a University of Colorado alum (the Colorado buffaloes) but I don't think I could get this mascot in the door of the RV.

I told John I didn't care for his new haircut.

We stopped by the Oasis Books shop since we had heard about the Naked Bookseller. I even think we had seen a story about him, maybe on CBS's 60 Minutes. This is what we saw.

We're glad we drove to the western edge of Arizona to see what the Q experience is all about. But we don't think we'll go there again. As those of you who know us fairly well are aware, spending long hours sitting around talking to our friends or watching a campfire are not things we enjoy. And I think we've seen as many swap-meet booths as we need for the rest of this year. We'll leave those activities to others. But it was interesting.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quartzsite #1

Last Monday we drove to Quartzsite, AZ, to explore what an article in Highways magazine called "The Greatest Show on Dirt." Thousands of RVers spend part of January and/or February in the Arizona desert around Quartzsite and attend the Sports, Vacation and RV Show and a number of rock and gem shows. We wanted to get an idea of why they go there.

This blog post is a basic orientation to the Quartzsite experience. For anyone who has already been there, you might want to wait for a second post about shopping and interesting sights in town.

As we drove west on I-10, we saw lots of RVs headed east.We guess they were leaving "Q", as it is called.

But as we drove down the hill into town, we could see that not everyone had left. Almost all of the white rectangles you see in this photo are roofs of RVs. There are a LOT of them there.

We drove around town, looking for the Big Tent, where most of the vendors are selling their wares. The traffic on the roads made us glad we weren't pulling our trailer. This shows you the southbound lanes of US 95 where it crosses I-10. That is what traffic looked like almost everywhere in town.

There are a number of RV parks in town, but most RVers "boondock" on BLM land, meaning they camp with no hook-ups. They fill their water tank and depend on their generators for electrical power. Some people choose to pull off right next to the highway. Why?

Others are a little further from the traffic.

Many people come to spend time with friends, family, or other people who own the same brand of RVs. This is a group of Alpine Coach owners.

They were parked near the circle of Montana 5th-wheel owners. Since we, too, own a Montana, we had to check out this group.

Central to each group at Q is the evening campfire.

With so many people camped in the desert, there are some necessary services that are provided by local merchants. The Pit Stop is one place RVs can fill up with water and propane and dump their holding tanks.

Here are some RVs lined up to use the dump station.

And here is one of the places RVs can come to for a water fill-up.

For those who don't want to drive into town to dump, this truck will come and pump out the sewage.

We stayed in a motel in nearby Blythe, CA, rather than camping with the Montana owners or other friends. But that didn't mean we couldn't get together with friends. We met Ron and Barbara at Sweet Darlene's for lunch on Tuesday. We didn't miss out totally on socializing. They had been at Q for 10 days, parked with a group of friends and Barbara's sister. Since they have been full-timing for years, we always learn a lot from them and enjoy sharing experiences.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Anniversary...and Many More

This week two years ago, we were packing boxes, selling my car, selling and giving away furniture. It was a very busy week. In fact, the previous 8 to 10 weeks had been very busy as we prepared to empty our house and go on the road full time. On January 29, 2009, we watched the moving company load up all of the furniture and boxes of stuff that we weren’t ready to give up and take them to storage. Then we left an empty house with a “For Rent” sign in the window and drove off with our 5th-wheel trailer. We were now full-timers. And we have never looked back once, except to say, “Why did we put so much in storage?”

Last summer, as I blogged then, we de-stuffed a lot of furniture, most of it to our son and his family. We emptied two of the five storage crates. Now we’re trying to figure out where we can find a place to have those three crates delivered, then sort through them and get rid of almost all of it. We obviously can’t do it at the state park we usually stay in while we are in the Denver area.

We really are as happy as clams, living in a 335-sq-ft house. We have everything we need—comfortable recliners, a nice kitchen, a comfortable bed, a desk/dining table, TV, internet access, two computers. John says there is nothing he misses about living in a stick house. Everything he wants or needs in life is no more than 6 to 10 steps away. I do miss a few things—the dishwasher, a garbage disposal, and letting the water run the whole time I take a shower. But that is all.

Living in our RV, the neighborhood keeps changing. We have been in the Arizona desert, deep in south Texas near the Gulf Coast, among the cypress and live oak in Louisiana and overlooking Mobile Bay. Later it was a lake in Georgia and the Atlantic coast. Upstate New York and Massachusetts came next. Did I mention the Great Lakes—Erie, Michigan and Superior? And of course the plains of North Dakota and the mountains of Colorado. All of that was just last year!

Our house may be small, but our living room really includes all of outdoors, wherever we are parked. We can travel when we want, rest and just live life when we want, and volunteer when we want.

We do miss family and being part of the regular events of their lives—especially seeing our grandchildren in sports and school activities. But we saw our Colorado family five different times last year and our Massachusetts family once, as well as John’s two sisters.

All of this explains why we are happy to be celebrating two years of living on the road full time. And we plan to keep it up for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Plans for This Week

Tomorrow morning we are jumping in the car and driving west on I-10 to Quartzsite so we can see why more than a million people visit the area each winter. Last year it is estimated that 150,000 people attended the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show. We will check out the Big Tent, 55,000 square feet with 300 vendors inside. We guess it will be a mega version of the Mesa Swap Meet.

We live in a Montana 5th-wheel trailer. We won't be taking it to Quartzsite, but many other Montana owners do go in theirs. This is a picture of the Montana Circle at Quartzsite this year.

Pretty impressive, isn't it? Instead, we will be staying in a motel in nearby Blythe, CA, for two nights. We really aren't in to large groups of people or gatherings oriented mainly to socializing, but every RVer we know who has been there says , "You have to go there at least once."

In a few days, I will share our photos and impressions with you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Saguaros and Horses

Monday we hiked the San Tan Trail at San Tan Regional Park, north of Coolidge. The desert there is full of Saguaro cactus, my absolute favorite. Some of them are very tall and others have many arms.

When a Saguaro dies, the green flesh falls off and only the skeleton is left. These come in all shapes and sizes.

This cactus appears to be dying and you can see the skeleton appearing at the bottom, while the upper part appears healthy.

For some reason, some Saguaros become crested and, instead of growing tall and sprouting arms, they grow these ornate tops. This is the first one we have seen in the wild. The Saguaro National Park web site says scientists don't know if the crest is caused by genetics or frost damage or something else.

This is a Teddy Bear Cholla cactus. The park also has lots of Hanging Fruit or Jumping Cholla, so called because the fruit sticks to the hide or clothes of those passing by so it can be transported to other areas to seed a new plant. In this photo, John is pointing to all the Teddy Bear pieces that have fallen, just waiting for someone or something to brush against them and carry them somewhere else. Don't be fooled by the name Teddy Bear; these plants are not soft and cuddly.

This Barrel Cactus looks like it is growing right out of a pile of rocks.

The parking lot at San Tan Mountain was full of horse trailers. The park has lots of equestrians.

These two cowboys stopped for a few minutes to talk. They are from Montana. The fellow bringing up the rear was on his first visit to the Arizona desert in winter. The younger man--probably the son--moved here a year ago when he married a woman from the Valley of the Sun. He makes furniture out of Saguaro ribs, as well as out of old barn wood. We enjoyed our conversation with them.

The San Tan Trail is rated "moderate in difficulty with a few challenging areas such as a 200+ yard section of wash." This sandy wash was difficult to walk in.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Volunteer Duties

We've now spent two weeks volunteering at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. We work three eight-hour days each week and our basic assignment is to lead tours of the monument. But this year, we are helping with various administrative tasks. I am working on publicity for the Third Annual American Indian Fest that will be held here February 12 and 13. With my degree and background in journalism, that is right up my alley. John has been using the internet to update email mailing lists and helped prepare the weekly bank deposit, as well as "other duties as assigned."

Two of the days we work, three other volunteers are also leading tours, so these additional duties are a good alternative to roving and the boredom of waiting in the break room for our tour time. Roving means walking around the public areas, making ourselves available to answer questions and explain the ruins, as well as watching for visitor actions that might damage the ruins. We both enjoy doing that, but the public area of the monument isn't all that large and doesn't really lend itself to five or six hours of roving. The new duties challenge us to learn a new computer system and I am enjoying updating my journalism skills.

The opportunity to talk with the visitors is one of the delights of volunteering in the parks. On one of John's tours yesterday, he had a group of 17 inner-city college students from Philadelphia. He learned they were on a tent-camping trip through the Southwest and none of them had camped before. Later he met a couple from Scotland who were making their first trip to the U.S. They shared the impressions of our country (very positive) and asked lots of questions.

This weekend, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., all national parks are offering free admission to visitors. That may have been the reason we had so many visitors yesterday. That is a good thing. But, when two staff members are out sick, it may be a not-so-good thing. We certainly were busy! Except for a short break for lunch and one hour to give a tour, I spent the full day staffing the front desk for the bookstore. Because of the extra visitors and the 15% discount offered on all sales, I think it was a record day. At the very least, it was busiest day have spent there.

When the park closed at 5, we were certainly ready to come back to our RV, pour a cocktail and put up our feet.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

King Cotton

Arizona is one of 14 major cotton-producing states in our country, all in the south. World-wide, we use more cotton than any other fiber and cotton is a leading cash crop in the U.S. The plant grows in warm climates and most of the world's cotton is grown in the US, the Soviet Union, the Peoples Republic of China and India, as well as Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey.

Many people are familiar with cotton farming, but since we have lived most of our lives in the cooler climes near mile-high Denver, we weren't familiar with how it is grown or harvested. The Ancestral Sonoran Desert people who lived at Casa Grande Ruins raised cotton, increasing our curiosity about this crop. This year Arizona cotton farmers have a bumper crop and we wondered about the harvest, so when the Pinal County Historical Museum in Florence announced a program on growing and harvesting the crop, we knew we wanted to attend.

In mid-October we had seen cotton fields where the leaves were still green. You could see the cotton bolls, but it wasn't ready for harvest.

By early November the plants had turned brown and looked very dry and the cotton bolls really stood out.

Forrest Dougherty, an 83-year-old Irish storyteller who was born on the family cotton farm in Gilbert, Arizona, kept us entertained for an hour Sunday afternoon.

It was standing room only be the time he began telling us about growing up on a cotton farm.

Forrest was named after a Yaqui Indian who was a a foreman on his dad's farm. He told us that by the age of eight, he was helping with the planting and harvest. He explained that in this state they planted the seed in March 14, three days before St. Patrick's Day (remember, he is Irish).

In case you are like me and have rarely, if ever, seen a cotton plant close up, this is what it looks like.

This is a machine (don't know what it is called) that harvests the cotton.

After harvest, the cotton is piled at the side of the field in what Forrest called modules. Over the coming months, the modules are picked up one at a time by very large trucks and taken to the cotton gin.

At the front of the room you can see Forrest and his daughter, Suzie, who helped with his visual aides.

We learned that all parts of the cotton plant are useful. The fiber or lint is used in making cloth; linters--the short fuzz on the seed--provide cellulose for making plastics, explosives and other products. Linters also are used in high quality paper products and processed into batting. The cottons seed is separated into oil, meal and hulls for use in food for humans, livestock and poultry, as well as fertilizer. Even the stalks and leaves are plowed under to enrich the soil.

This year, at least, the economic picture for Arizona cotton farmers is excellent, especially since the harvest is so large. (I don't know if that is true in other states.) Because of bad weather conditions in cotton-growing countries around the world, there is a shortage of the fiber and cotton prices are very high, so Arizona farmers are having a good year.

Forrest is a great entertainer, beginning his presentation with a Yaqui Indian prayer in honor of his namesake, and ending by twirling his cotton rope lasso while singing a song

I had a chance to talk to Forrest before we left the museum.

The program went extremely well Sunday. There was seating for maybe 75 people and possible 200 crowded in to hear the presentation. Who was happiest that it went so well, and that it was over? That would be Chris Reid, who operates the museum each day--and gave us the great tour last week. She arranged for the cotton program.