Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Finding a West Texas Home for Miss Mosey

Since the 24th of November, 2019 we have been in San Angelo and will be for the foreseeable future. Family circumstances are such that our presence is needed to oversee some things that are in the works.

Which brings us to our experiences in finding a place to park Miss Mosey for the duration. Normally for stays here in San Angelo of 2 weeks or less we simply park in the parking lot of Rio Concho Manor (where Frank’s Dad lives) next to the power pole which has 2-30 amp connections. This is great as it only costs $5.00 per day and we can combine the 2-30 amps connections and make a hookup which satisfies our power hungry Miss Mosey. But, and this is a major but, even with extreme tank management and showers in Dad’s apartment, a 2 week stay is the limit for our waste tank capacity. We know we are going to be here for at least 2 months, maybe more, so full hookups are in order.

That began our search for an RV park where we could stay as long as we needed to. We drove out to the San Angelo State Park and spoke with one of the Rangers about extended stays. They told us we could stay for a month, but then we would have to leave for 25 hours and we could stay another month. Well, over and over we examined their website with a fine (really fine) tooth comb and we could not figure out how to make a reservation for any stay long than 2 weeks. So all we had to go on was the word of a young Ranger who may or may not be there when we tried to extend our stay. Hmm. I could see a problem happening here.

So I started visiting the various campgrounds in San Angelo. KOA (no monthly spaces available), Spring Park Marina and RV Park (only 2 sites available crammed in amongst other RVers), Huling Mobile Home Park (kinda seedy), Cactus Lane RV and Mobile Home Park (No vancancies),  Tucked Away RV Park (No vanancies), and we are seeing a pattern here.

Energy Services contracting is going strong in here in West Texas. Wind turbine farms, gas pipelines, solar panel fields, and even road construction. All of these require workers and a bunch of workers live in RVs and need a place to park them. Good for the RV Parks, but bad for us. There are a few more RV Parks in the San Angelo area, but even with our flexible standards, we didn’t want to even consider them. The other thing we discovered, the rates at most of the RV parks were close to the same.

Having discovered that monthly rates amongst the choices didn’t vary much, we contacted the owners of Concho Pearl RV Estates (the name is much fancier than the park, but friendlier owners you will not find) whom we knew from previous stays in their park. They said they were full also, but would call back to see if there was something they could do. Sure enough, later that day, they got in touch with us and said we could come on in. There had been some workers moving out and we could stay as long as we needed to.

As with all the long term RV Parks in San Angelo this one too, is filled with construction and energy workers. Which makes for an experience opposite that of what we are used to. It is quiet during the days and deserted on the weekends. The workers are gone all day long and they go home (where ever that might be) on the weekends. Normally RV Parks are bustling with activities during those times. During the week, after work, there is some socializing, but these guys are tired and dirty. All they want to do is get cleaned up, eat and go to bed.

We are not in this picture, but we are the only motorhome in the park.

Until next time, when we talk more about the family matters keeping us here in San Angelo.

Obligatory cat picture follows:

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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Big Bend National Park

Rio Grande Village Campground 12-9 to 12-16-2020

We did manage to sneak off from Dad’s for a few days and visit Big Bend National Park. That's the good news. The bad news is we both were under the weather the whole time. I hate it when you go someplace special and you’re not well enough to really enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t sit around and mope about it. We still got out and did stuff, but we didn’t do any long hikes. Just being in Big Bend NP was awesome enough.

We had spent Thanksgiving with Dad getting his paperwork under control and making sure he was ok, health wise. Our plan was to spend 10 days in the park, then mosey back to Dad’s for Christmas. Then in late January end up in Red Bay, AL for some Miss Mosey upgrades and touch ups. That would put us in Orange Park in mid February where we would take care of some needed projects at the home base.

We headed south out of San Angelo on US67 then connected with Interstate 10 ending up at Walmart in Ft. Stockton, TX to replenish our supplies. At our ultimate destination there is only a small camp store (with minimal supplies) near Rio Grande Village where we will be dry camping for 10 days. This is our last chance to stock up for that time period.

As an added bonus, there is a huge gravel lot behind the Ft. Stockton Walmart. We decided to make camp here for the night.

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The next morning we drove down US385 which runs from Ft. Stockton to the Persimmon Gap entrance of Big Bend NP. Along the way we stop to stretch our legs at a rest area we have used before for overnight stays.

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While out walking around, EJ found some artwork left behind by some hardy souled bicyclist no doubt.

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When we arrive at the entrance to Big Bend, the guard station is deserted. Alright, we’ll just stop at the Persimmon Gap visitor center. Oops, can’t to that either. It’s closed. A sign on the door says we need to check in at Panther Junction visitor center.

After showing our reservations to the Ranger at Panther Junction, we continue our journey to Rio Grande Village Campground. But along the way we spy a coyote lurking in the bushes giving us the “stink eye”.(More on the coyote later)

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Once we pass through the tunnel, we are greeted with this view. Oh my! A whole 10 days of scenes like this coming up!

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We get settled into our spot and Gabby has already made herself at home.

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We had a very large campsite and it was level. Plus it was raised, so when they flood the fields to irrigate, it will stay nice and dry. The red arrow marks our spot.

Rio Grande Village Map

A new addition since last time we were here are bear boxes. Folks in soft sided campers and tents make good use of these. The camp hosts were pretty strict about enforcing the rules, which we appreciated. Even I got chastised for letting our old arthritic cat (Maggie) walk around without a leash. I was much more diligent about evading detection after that.

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One day driving around, it looked like the clouds were eating the mountains.

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We made drive up to Chisos Basin, which has the only restaurant and lodge in the park. After we ate lunch, EJ wanted to pay some bills (personal responsibilities never go away) so we got out the laptop and connected to one of the few cell signals in the park. And it was windy and it was cold, but she persevered and accomplished her goal.

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Here you can see the Chisos Basin restaurant up the hill from the visitor center parking lot.

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One day we took a walk along the Rio Grande River headed east from the campground. Along the way ( on the US side ) we were approached by an old cowboy-ish looking Mexican. He wanted us to pay him to sing. We opted to decline since we had already heard him singing as we walked up the trail.

EJ was a little skeptical about my choice of a trail as we walked along the continually shrinking path.

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Another day we drove over to Castolon to see the visitor center and store. It is a 56 mile trip one way from where we are camped. I tell you, this park is huge!. Boy were we surprised when we showed up. When we quizzed the ranger on duty, she told of a fire that had gotten out of control and had burned down the old historic buildings. It appears that across the Rio Grande River, piles of trash were being burned when they shouldn’t have been. It was too windy. The ashes jumped the river and caught the under brush on fire on the US side . Unfortunately it reached Castolon and burnt the store, the ranger station and the old bathrooms.

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Since we had driven as far as Castolon, we went ahead and drove on to Santa Elena Canyon. This time though, the river was high. This meant to get to the Santa Elena trail we would have to wade through mud and water if we wanted to hike it. We decided maybe next time.

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On the way back to Miss Mosey that evening, we spotted the coyote again. We had seen him almost every time we drove along this part of the road. This time though, as we slowed down to take pictures he (or she) ran out to snap at our tires. Guess he (or she) felt pretty strongly about guarding this section of the road.

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One day that we were feeling particularly wimpy, (we had been battling colds all week) we took a short hike on the nature loop close to where we were camped. We didn’t realize we would have to cross a swamp as part of the hike.

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Fortunately they had thought to built a bridge over it.

Along the way we also encounter an entrepreneur’s offering along the trail. Hiking sticks, beer can coozies, and wire trinkets are for sale. Along with a message that the proceeds go to the education of the children across the border. Whether or not they do go to the children, it tugs at the old heart strings.

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At the highest point of the nature loop, you can see Boquillas in the distance. (look for tiny blue buildings) That is the only Mexican town near Big Bend NP. There is even an official border crossing that serves the town and a passport is required if you travel over and want to get back in the USA. The only way to cross the border is to wade the Rio Grande River or hire a boat to take you across. Once you cross into Mexico it is still about a mile walk into town. Alternatively, you can pay for a mule ride or pickup truck ride into town.

The town has no external electric distribution system serving it. In 2015 the Mexican government funded the installation of solar power for the town and the electric lines to supply it to households and businesses in the town. The town has enough battery power to last two days without sunshine. But thanks to solar power, restaurants have refrigerators now and you can get cold cervezas.

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Every day we would stop by the Rio Grande Village Store to use the internet to check on Dad. We discovered a new feature on our phones that allow us to make phone calls over wifi. How cool is that!! Especially since in this part of the park there is no cell service. Each time we went to the store there would be a cluster of 5 to 10 people hanging around outside where the wifi signal was strongest. Invariably someone would ask us if we were getting a cell signal since they saw us talking on the cell phone.

Then on December 17th when we tried to make daily contact with Dad he wouldn’t answer the phone. We even tried calling Dads friend, Joe Farley, and he wouldn’t answer either. By now we were starting to get worried. Finally just after the noon hour, Joe called us to let us know Dad was back in the hospital.

EJ and I made a quick decision to leave 3 days early and head straight back to San Angelo. The cats settled in as we hit the road.

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By 6:45pm we were back at Rio Concho Manor in San Angelo, Texas hooked up to the power pole and on our way to see Dad at the hospital.

But, more on that next.



Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Public Lands

Northern New Mexico, 10-18-19

Who would want to camp like this…..

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when there are so many better places to camp in your rig?

Back in August I talked about the trouble we had been having finding “good” places to boondock, or dry camp. Looking back over the summer and early fall our luck has improved. We’ve continued to explore and have found some wonderful places to settle for a few days or even a few weeks. As much as we hope to find that ideal boondocking or Public Land spot that is just off the paved road that no else knows about, they are either very rare or don’t exist.

Being realistic though, we like to find a spot with a view. Being surrounded by trees is nice, but after looking at tree trunks for a few days, they all begin to look the same and bring on a claustrophobic feeling as well. We like an open spot with mountains or water or some spectacular terrain in sight. Some of these are several miles from pavement and that means Miss Mosey is going to get dirty. But the views and solitude are worth it.

Gas pipeline right of way outside of Mancos, CO. National Forest dispersed camping.

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National Forest dispersed camping alongside the Dolores River between Rico and Telluride, CO.

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National Forest campground alongside the Rio Grande River

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Palisade NF campground near Wagon Wheel Gap, CO

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Mosca, CO Wildlife Management Area

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Highway Springs National Forest campground near South Fork, CO.

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Dispersed camping near Lizard Head Pass, CO.

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Not only do locations like these soothe our souls, but Gabby prefers them too.

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Noises in the bushes will keep her entranced for hours. But then after an afternoon of being in hunting mode, a nap is in order.

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We have to admit, Colorado is probably our favorite state for getting away from it all. There is so much wide open space and magnificent beauty. It’s  also a great place to indulge our hobby, Geocaching.  Below is EJ entering our geoname in a cache we found in the mountains.

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So long until next time!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Arghh!! It’s open enrollment time again!

White Rock RV Park, White Rock, NM, 10-17-19

I am very proud of EJ today. It’s only been 2 days since open enrollment started (for us old folks on Medicare open enrollment ends December 7). She declared that we were gonna get this done and out of the way so we don’t have to worry about it any more. We are excellent procrastinators and waiting until the very end to accomplish something is not uncommon.

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One of the reasons for leading with the “Arghh” in the title is the mandate that we must carry Medicare Part D insurance for drugs or risk being monetarily penalized for the rest of our lives. Fortunately, EJ and I only have one prescription drug each that we require. And we can buy those drugs from Walmart with out using any insurance for far less than the price of the required policy.

And not only that, Humana sent us an email stating that if we wanted to keep our equivalent drug plan for 2020 it would cost each of us over an extra $30 a month. We prefer to stick with Humana because they are partnered with Walmart. And almost any where you go there is a Walmart nearby. Plus, it is so easy to transfer a prescription from one Walmart to another which is great for full time RVers.

So we started crunching numbers to try and understand which drug plan would be best and cheapest for us. Humanas’ price for a 2020 plan equivalent to what we have in 2019 is $58 per month. That’s $696 a year for each of us!! We can walk down to Walmart and buy four 90 day supplies for our prescriptions (with out insurance) for $40 per year each. That means we are throwing $656 down the drain.

Obviously we have to make a change. We can’t change the law and we don’t want to be penalized by opting out of the drug insurance plan all together. We continue digging and find that Humana has a “Walmart Value Rx plan for only $13.20 per month each. So instead of paying $696 for drugs that only cost us $40, we will pay $158.40 for those $40 worth of drugs, or a savings of $537.60 per year. It’s sad that we have to pay 4 times what the drugs actually cost, but in the end I guess we are subsidizing those in less fortunate circumstances.

For those interested, Walmart has a list of drugs and their prices for a 30 day and a 90 day supply is located HERE. Compare this to the price of your drug insurance, you might be surprised.

Next we tackled our supplemental health insurance. Since Medicare only covers 80% of your medical bill, we needed something to cover the other 20%.  We’ve been with Florida Blue since I turned 65 and they have worked out well for us as we travel. This year I have had more medical attention than I like, and no matter where we were, Florida Blue has handled it. So even though they raised their prices by about $15 a month we decided to stick with them for another year. We use their Plan F.

This all took the better part of the day. But it’s over with now for another year and kudos to my dear wife for making sure we did this instead of procrastinating.

Obligatory cat picture follows:

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Miss Maggie Gives Us a Scare

Aspen Ridge RV Park, 9-27 to 10-1-19, South Fork, CO

Miss Maggie, as you may know, is our elder rescue cat. She joined our family in September of 2016 after we found her in a Priest River, Idaho animal shelter. We thought she looked so old and frail that she wouldn’t last through the winter. We decided that we wanted to make her last days as comfortable as possible so the decision was made to take her home with us.

Well, it wasn’t quite that straightforward as we Putnam’s never seem to make a snap decision about important things. We actually left her overnight while we talked about having her join our family. And it got cold that night so we worried about whether the shelter would keep her inside or would she be cold, would she make it and so on.

Three years later, she is still a part of our nomadic little group. Oh she still has her health problems that we deal with. In her previous life she had some trauma with her hips and now her mobility is limited. But she has learned that if she squawks loud enough we will help her up into a chair or down as the case may be. We travel with a ramp that we set up at the foot of our bed so she can walk up to go to sleep, or walk down for a late night snack.

She weighs about 5 pounds and never seems to gain any weight even though she has a voracious appetite. One of the medical problems she has is megacolon. This is a condition where the large intestine gets, well larger in diameter, and the bowel muscles get weak making it hard to go to the bathroom. The vet has prescribed lactulose which has really helped.

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Naturally when anything changes with her eating and bathroom habits we go on high alert. In the past, she has been to the vets several times to get, as we call it, “roto-rooted” to get her go to the bathroom( that’s Frank’s way of saying she received an enema) . This hasn’t happened in over two years so the Lactulose is working really well.

One day in late September she stopped eating altogether. She acted like she wanted to eat, but when she would get to her food bowl she would start making gagging noises. We tried all her favorite foods and got the same results.

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We steeled ourselves for the worst (thinking this may be the end) and made an appointment at the vet in Monte Vista, CO. This is the same vet office we took Gabby to a year ago when she had the “Gabby Bot” experience.

The vets there are kind and gentle and spend as much time with you as you want, while answering your questions and concerns. We insisted on all kinds of tests which all came back fine. There was no infection, her bloodwork was fine, all indications pointed to a healthy kitty. So why wouldn’t she eat. The vet ended up rehydrating Miss Maggie, and giving her an appetite enhancer. We asked for and received some special food that tasted extra delicious hoping that would help.

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After paying a hefty bill, we returned back to the RV and opened up a can of the special food. And she gobbled it up.

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The next day, I got the old off brand cat food (Paws) out of the refrigerator and put it in her bowl. When I set it on the floor she walked up to it and started gagging again, but didn’t eat any of it. I replaced it with some canned Friskies and she gobbled it down. Hmpf!! Could all of this been because of a can of “bad” cat food? The only difference is this time she only sniffed it and the previous time she actually ate it.

Life in Miss Mosey is back to normal again and so is Miss Maggie. Basking in the sun is always good.

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Musings about Camping

Railroad Grade Road (FS-568) Dispersed Camping near Mancos, CO – 8-18 to 8-24-19

This year has seen our camping costs run the gamut from $50/night to free. As you know from following our blog we try to stay away from destination style campgrounds. However due to circumstances we may find ourselves near a popular town because we need to dump, fill and do laundry or because we are exploring boondocking possibilities and need a base to operate from.

Due to the huge number of recreational vehicles being sold, 483,000 in 2018 and 504,000 in 2017, campgrounds are in high demand. This means that it is nearly impossible to find campground availability on weekends when making short term plans. Many campers are now making weekend reservations up to a year in advance to secure a spot. Life changes, who can plan that far ahead?

Another thing that exacerbates the problem of lack of availability is that the penalty for not showing up for a weekend reservation in a federal campground is often only $9, or the service charge for the reservation service. Often we will travel through a Forest Service campground on the weekends only to find several spaces empty. But you cannot occupy these spaces because they have been reserved.

In a perverse way this works out to our advantage because we don’t like crowds anyway so dealing with fully booked campgrounds forces us to seek out lesser known towns and campsites that are away from popular spots. This means several things: 1) you have to look at camp sites more than 2 hours away from a major metropolitan area to minimize the “weekender onslaught”; 2) you have to seek out less popular areas; 3) you have to visit areas in the off season; 4) you have to travel far to get beyond the “comfort zone of most RVers” which will also mean fewer camping opportunities and fewer camping services.

We’ve been experimenting with fine tuning our techniques this year. We have imposed a limitation on ourselves to not be more than a 3 day drive from San Angelo, Texas for family reasons which makes this challenging.

Our first major stay was in Cloudcroft, NM. We found a nice National Forest Campground with paved sites that did not accept reservations. But it was only 1.5 hours from Las Cruces/El Paso and it was too close to Texas. Anyone in Texas seeking cooler weather was coming to Cloudcroft. On the weekends, the campground was overrun by folks from Las Cruces/El Paso. Unfortunately the camp hosts were instructed to not make waves which meant that many of the campground rules were ignored. For example, sites were limited to one camping unit and one vehicle. On weekends no attempt was made to enforce this rule. As a result the noise and amount of people created quite a disturbance.

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The site you see was a double site meaning 2 cars and two camping units or tents were what was expected to be on this site. There ended up being 5 cars and 6 tents, squalling kids and partying going on well after the 10pm quiet hour. We were formerly in the empty site next to them, but when it became apparent the rules were not going to be enforced we moved.

So that is where we learned our lesson about being too close to major population centers.

While there we talked to several full time or near full time RVers. Red River, NM was mentioned as a possible destination. It seemed to fit the criteria. Over 3 hours from the nearest major population center, no discernible popular activities and cool temperatures.

What we didn’t realize we had to take into consideration was the proximity to Texas. Once again, it appeared that every Texan that had wheels was in Red River. Also the town had no uniqueness, no soul. It existed solely to serve the tourists. Obviously it was successful in that endeavor.

We chose to stay in another National Forest Campground where we found once again that rules were the merest suggestion and not subject to any enforcement. We had what we thought was a secluded site flanked on 2 sides by single unit campsites. Then this happened right next to us.

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This is a small single family site. The occupants are squeezing in 3 cars, one travel trailer, 4 tents, 3 shelters, 8 adults and 3 screaming kids. The two cars are partially blocking the interior road. The camp host is at a remote location and comes by once a day to collect money from the iron ranger. Apparently he too, had been instructed to not make waves about the rules.

For RVers like us that seek out nature and peacefulness, it appears that National Forest Campgrounds may not be the answer. Usually they are peaceful and quiet Monday through Thursday, but come the weekend they more resemble a wild animal zoo.

So, what are a couple of campers to do? In our search for tranquility, we have stayed at several lessor known commercial parks. While they are pleasant, and not horribly overpriced, they lack personality. We still want the mountains, forests and views.

We had been reading a lot about boondocking up around Silverton, CO. That’s in the mountains, right? Plenty of camping opportunities in the wilderness right? We picked a spot in Durango (after being turned down by two other campgrounds because they were booked). It was fifty bucks a night for a site with the utilities installed backwards. We had to park with our front windshield pushed up to a tree so we could connect to the hookups. But we had air conditioning and since it was hot we were gonna use the heck out of that electricity. The only reason we were staying in Durango was so we could scout out some off the grid camping spots near Silverton or Ouray to spend a few weeks at cooler altitudes.

Boy were we shocked. All of the spots we checked were either to dangerous to take Miss Mosey, or packed like a commercial campground on a 4th of July weekend. Any place accessible by Miss Mosey looked like this.

Silverton Boondocking

What’s is the point of going boondocking if your neighbor is 10 feet away from you. Free camping is nice, but at what sacrifice? So, disappointed, we returned to Durango.

We know that in the summer, you have to find a spot at 9,000 feet or above to have cool daytime temperatures. We weren’t ready to go all the way to Telluride, so we picked  a spot near Mancos, CO but it was only at 8,000 feet. We ended up in a spot with a great view and no neighbors.

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Because of the lack of elevation, it gets a little too warm during the day. Our solar system is handling 95% of our electrical needs and it is so peaceful here. However, because of the low to mid 80 degree daytime temperatures, we will soon be moving to either higher elevations or somewhere with an electrical hookup. Oh and one more thing, you can actually see the Milky Way from here.

So what have we learned from all this? If we are honest, a lot of camping is hit or miss. Social media has ruined a lot of boondocking spots. Everybody wants to brag about the great spot they found and where it is. And so they become crowded. Also the shear number of RVers out there are competing for a limited number of spots. Think of Musical Chairs on steroids.

Sometimes you have to suffer a lot of thorns to find the rose. We continue to learn and adapt about how to find wonderful places to camp while trying to avoid the crowds. More remote spots seem to help. Our style of RVing, “winging” it is becoming more and more difficult. But if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, right?


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ice!

Show Low, AZ, Elks Lodge #2090 - May 24 to 27, 2019

ice cubes

Ice, the elixir of life. The substance, the glue that pulls together an excellent adult libation. Warm bourbon and soda? Nope! Warm gin and tonic? Nope again! Ice is a staple of life, an absolute requirement.

In our refrigerator, a residential model, we have a spot for an ice maker, but they are problematic and  takes up a lot of room. So instead, we buy our ice, as it is readily available at almost every filling station and certainly every grocery store across the country. Plus , a bag of ice doesn’t have any delicate parts to break like an ice maker.

For the two of us a bag of ice will last about 2 weeks and cost between $2 and $2.50 per bag or about 5 bucks a month.

Uh oh! Looks like the ice situation is getting critical.

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Fortunately we have reserves.

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All is good, the adult beverages shall not go unchilled this evening. Once again, all is calm in Miss Mosey.