Author Archives: Steve

Shifting Gears

coconino national forest campsite

As I begin the entry, the words that first come to mind are “This Is It”. It’s Friday morning of Memorial Day Weekend. I’m watching the sunrise through the pines. The only sounds to be heard (other than the whistling of the tea kettle and the tap-tap-tap of Dottie’s toenails on the floor) have been a pack of coyotes in the distance and the first calls of early rising birds. We’re “dispersed camping” in the Coconino National Forest, south of Flagstaff, and things couldn’t get much more perfect for us. red flowerOur food stores and fresh water tank are full, our waste tanks aren’t. We have good cell phone coverage, the satellite internet receiver found its signal quicker than usual, and we even pick up the NBC station out of Phoenix. Although we are surrounded by trees, we have enough sky for adequate solar gain to recharge the battery bank. This is exactly what we had fantasies of when we set the rig up. We haven’t spent nearly enough time living this way.

One of the challenges of our annual pilgrimage to Seacliff is that it puts us on the road over Memorial Day Weekend, one of the biggest camping periods of the year, so we end up competing with everyone else. Each year we stress about available space, up until the time that we actually find a place to be. We may have stumbled upon the answer to this recurring problem. Of course, we’ll see how the rest of the weekend progresses. Maybe next time we’ll plan to spend a week. The sense of peace and quiet are in sharp contrast from the past couple of nights, spent in parking lots along the interstate as well as the perpetual cacophony that we’ll be in the midst of soon enough.

yellow-headed blackbirdNot only are we experiencing a change of place, but a change of season. Back in South Central Texas, bird migration has peaked, wildflowers are well past their prime, and summer has arrived, regardless of what the calendar says. Here, it is early spring. It snowed last week. The wildflowers are just coming on, and we’ve caught up with the migrating birds.

Now, a little about the past week…

We’ve found it to be something of a universal truth that the longer you stay in one place, the more stuff you tend to accumulate, and the more stuff tends to get spread out. Having been in our “big house” for almost 8 months, even though we made a conscious choice to reduce our support of the Texas economy, that truth became evident. Preparing for departure is always a challenge, especially when someone else is going to stay in your home during your absence. The process of moving out seemed to drag on for an eternity…and we really were not satisfied with the way we left things when we finally said “enough!” and hit the road.

yellow flowerOur choice to be nomadic has many wonderful things about it, but it is not without challenges: walking away from gardens that you’ve spent hours, days, weeks, even months to establish and nurture, and tried (many times in vain) to protect from the voracious appetites of the omnipresent Hill Country white-tailed deer (and more recently, armadillos), “unplugging” from a network of people that you’ve worked hard to connect with (fortunately, Facebook will help maintain some contact as we wander), or (internet junkies that we are) trading a stable fiber-optic-as-fast-as-we’re-willing-to-pay-for-connection for one that costs half again as much for about 1/5 the bandwidth and speed, latency, and a “Fair Access Policy” that limits our daily usage to about 375 Mb per day.

Each season, we’re finding it more difficult to untangle the knots that bind us to “home”. On our first morning out, Laura had the urge to turn around and go back. After seeing five “life birds”, that urge seemed to fade. We spent two lovely days at South LLano River State Park, watching birds and playing in the river. Daytime highs were nearly 100 and we had to run the AC 2 out of 3 nights to be cool enough to sleep.

Prairie Dog Fork of the Red RiverAfter an overnight stop at Waylon Jennings Memorial RV Park in Littlefield, Texas we continued on to explore Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the “Grand Canyon of Texas”. A lovely park, but the Grand Canyon it isn’t. We did get great views of Mississippi Kites, Black-Headed Grosbeaks,and Bullocks Orioles. Our plan was to just spend one night, but due to forecasted high winds we decided to layover one more night. That didn’t work out quite as expected; we ended up being evacuated a few hours later due to a wildfire that was racing towards the park. At last report, the fire was still burning and the park was still closed. The evacuation center directed us to the local Walmart for the night. In the morning, we took the opportunity to pick up a few things we had on our shopping list before heading for Interstate 40. Unfortunately, the winds that were supposed to abate did not. The crosswinds were strong enough that there were times I was not willing to go more than 50mph. Fire at Palo Duro CanyonFortunately, we drove out of them as we traded Texas in for New Mexico. Wednesday night we slept in the parking lot of the Sky City Casino Hotel before making our way to the little piece of heaven we’re currently enjoying.

Despite the loveliness here, we are already making plans to move on. Maybe we’re just a little gun-shy after our Palo Duro Canyon experience but the winds are back up and we don’t feel safe staying in a national forest filled with holiday campers committed to the notion of campfires despite red flag warnings. Pulling a trailer in those same winds doesn’t seem like a good idea either, particularly on the interstate. It’s a dilemma.

Life at the Lake

We’re in the middle of a little “staycation” right now and it seemed like the perfect time to post to our pathetically out-of-date blog. As the role of Facebook has expanded in the time since we sold the house and set out on our short-circuited journey, we’ve found even less motivation to post here, but there is a place for communication beyond the sound bite character limits of status updates and comments.

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In less than a month, we’ll be trading in life at our comfortable, incredibly cute, perpetually improving “big house” for the next adventure in our “little house” (the one that has wheels): a couple of weeks of sightseeing as we travel west, then three incredibly full months on the beach, enjoying our role as grandparents and camp hosts, visiting friends and family, and occasionally indulging in burritos carnitas from Taqueria Vallarta. After our time is up at Seacliff, we’re hoping to set out farther north, catching up with Bob and Helen in Cottage Grove, Oregon, stopping for a bit at Flathead Lake, Montana, continuing on to explore a route across the northern tier of states to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a bit of fall color and to visit family before the weather shifts and drives us south again.

Hi Mom!Being retired and having a house within walking distance to the campground, it might seem a little ridiculous to invest the effort and expense to move the trailer down to the lake shore. It is a change of head space, as well as a different habitat. While we’re in the “big house” life takes on the focus of “normal” life: paying bills, household maintenance and projects, cooking and cleaning (okay, not so much cleaning), counting birds at the feeders, etc, etc, etc. No complaints, just acknowledgment. Visiting the campground for a few days instead of walking through it (as we do most mornings) is about shifting gears. While Laura’s calendar was clear, we hoped to have a chance to come down for three or four nights before the holiday weekend crowds descended. As fate would have it, we happened to be hanging out watching a pair of Cooper’s hawk building a nest when the folks who were in our favorite site packed up and pulled out, so we were able to walk up to the gatehouse and snag it on Monday. Woo Hoo!

Dottie floating on Canyon LakeWe’ve been blessed this week with an opportunity to revisit the Canyon Lake that we fell in love with three years ago. The first time it was late May so we’re about a month earlier this time, but with temperatures reaching into the 90’s each day and water temperatures in the 70’s, and constant winds between 10 and 20 mph, it’s close enough. Perfect for afternoons spent on a floaty thing in the water.

For the first couple of days, the campground seemed pretty empty. Folks here will come in and rent the non-reservation sites as far ahead as they can in order to have them for prime weekends, even though in many cases they don’t use them except for a few days. We paid for two days at first, leaving the option open to extend or bail out, depending on conditions.

We’ve met new friends; Forest and Jan, who know Laura’s dad because he performed their daughter’s wedding in Michigan, Bill and Vickie who live in the U.P. of Michigan (we’re hoping to visit them next fall!), Captain Steveand reconnected with Amy and Richard who we met in the campground last year while we were out walking dogs. They joined us for Thanksgiving dinner and now we’re looking forward to Easter dinner with them. Interestingly, I’ve found that I am more social in campgrounds than I am at home.

The weekend has come, the campground is as full as it gets, and we haven’t found motivation to leave. The first time we were here, we fantasized about having a pontoon boat to get out on the lake. This time, our humble pontoon is moored a few campsites away.

The day we arrived in this spot in 2008, Laura made a proclamation that is as true today as it was then: “I LOVE it here, I feel like I’m on vacation!”