Drone Pilots: Beware of Bird Strikes!

Just a quick warning, with photos.

Last week, I did a few photo missions with my Mavic Pro flying camera. For two of the msisions, I launched from an open area at the far east side of the Tyson Wells complex in Quartzsite, just south of Keuhn Road.

I’m in the habit of using the Return-to-Home feature of my Mavic to get it back to its launch point quickly and efficiently. In all honesty, I’m awed by its ability to land exactly on its takeoff spot nearly every single time. I like to watch, with my finger poised over the pause button on the control (just in case), as it comes to the right coordinates far overhead, turns to the direction in which it took off, and descends to the spot.

On one of the three missions I flew from that spot, a small flock of pigeons flew right past the Mavic. I watched in shock and a bit of horror as the five or six birds swooped around my fragile aircraft. I felt relief as the Mavic continued its descent unharmed, but the whole thing repeated itself when another flock — or the same flock? — swooped past. Again, the Mavic was unharmed.

I happened to have the video camera going when this was happening. Here are two screen grabs, one from each flight, that show the closest encounter. The first one was definitely closer.

Near Miss
This reminds me of a scene from The Birds.

Near Miss
The bird is a bit farther off in this one. Can you see it?

Of course, the camera can’t capture action in a direction it isn’t pointing. For all I know they could have come closer behind the camera.

While this is all kind of cool in a weird sort of way, it wouldn’t have been so cool if one of those birds clipped a rotor. The Mavic has four independently powered rotors. If any one of them was destroyed, I’d have to think the whole thing would immediately go out of balance and crash. This is one good reason why we don’t fly drones over crowds of people. Even though the Mavic weighs in at less than 2 pounds, having one crash onto your head from 150 feet would definitely cause some injuries.

Honestly, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened yet. A matter of time?

Snowbirding 2017: Fossil Shopping at Desert Gardens

Too beautiful to pass up.

I’m camped out in the desert south of Ehrenberg, AZ these days with friends. On Friday, I went into nearby Quartzsite with my friend Rebecca. She wanted to meet up with her friend John, a jewelry maker who sells raw rocks, gems, cabs, and jewelry at the Desert Gardens rock show in the southwest corner of town.

I’d only been to Desert Gardens a few times and every time there had been just a handful of scattered vendors on the dusty flat show grounds. Nothing to impress me. But Friday was different. The official show had begun and all vendors were present and accounted for. It was a rockhound’s paradise, with all kinds of rocks, gems, and minerals on display and for sale.

John’s booth had a nice mixture of things. His jewelry is exquisite. He has a real eye for design and there were more than a few pieces I would have bought if I had the money — they were not cheap — and someplace to wear them.

While he and Rebecca chatted, I wandered through the show with Penny, stopping here and there to look at things that interested me. While I do think a lot of the raw, unprocessed rocks are interesting, they don’t interest me nearly as much as pieces that have been cut and polished. There was plenty of that to see, too.

But what really interested me were the fossils. My wasband had collected two that we displayed in our old living room. I’d left them behind — after all, he’d bought them, not me — and I can’t say I really missed them. They were interesting, but not worth lugging up to Washington. One was a flat rock with the skeletal remains of a fossilized fish. Someone had “enhanced” the fossil, making it easier to see. The other was a large ammonite — a nautilus-shaped creature — that stood upright like a carved rock paperweight. I always worried that it would fall over and break the glass-topped coffee table.

I need to stress here that although I think fossils are interesting, I’d don’t have any overwhelming desires to own them. At least I didn’t. Until Friday.

That’s when I saw fossils presented in a new way in a shed turned into a fossil shop at Desert Gardens.

First was the ammonite. Each one had been cleanly cut in half vertically to show the inside, which had been polished. The colors and textures and patterns were amazing. And I found it incredibly appealing to have both halves of the fossil — not just one. There were dozens of them at the shop in a wide range of sizes and prices, ranging from $5 all the way up to more than $100. I wanted one that would fit inside my little curio cabinet at home. Here’s the one I wound up buying later in the day.

Ammonite-Inside
Here’s the inside of the ammonite fossil I bought.

Ammonite-Outside
And here’s the outside of the same fossil, which was also polished.

Next were the fossilized leaves. There were a handful that caught my eye and were within my price range for what was, effectively, a rock. As the guy who owned the booth told me, the rocks are nodules that they heat and then thrown in a freezer. The sudden change of temperature causes them to split, revealing any fossils inside. He saw the ones I was looking at and then said, “Did you see these over here?” I hadn’t. They were magnificent, but also a bit more money than I wanted to spend on a rock. Still one of them, an annularia, was just too beautiful to pass up. I asked him for his best price and he knocked $10 off. I bought it.

Annularia Fossil
The annularia fossil I bought. It’s about seven hinches long.

They wrapped everything up in paper and even put the annularia in a box. I took them out when I got back to my camper just to photograph them. Then I stowed them away in the wine box I’ve been using to store acquisitions during my travels. I’m looking forward to unpacking that box and putting my finds on display at home.

If you’re in Arizona or southern California, I highly recommend Desert Gardens from now until about mid-January as a place to find rocks, minerals, and fossils. Later in the month, half the vendors go south to Tucson, leaving the show in Quartzsite a bit sparse. They return in February for a while, but I really think the best time to shop for rocks in Quartzsite is now. Get on over there and see what treasures you can find.

Snowbirding 2016: Back to the Backwaters

I return to the backwaters to share a different campsite with friends.

Posts in the Snowbirding 2016 Series:
Introduction
The Colorado River Backwaters
Quartzsite
Wickenburg
Phoenix
Home
Back to the Backwaters
Return to Wickenburg
Valley of Fire
Death Valley
– Back to Work

My alarm went off at 3:10 AM on Wednesday morning. Although I’d gotten only about 2-1/2 hours sleep, I jumped out of bed. I’d set the alarm with a minimum amount of extra time. I needed to be on the road in my Jeep by 3:30. Penny looked at me as if wondering why I’d turned the light on to make one of my bathroom trips. But when she saw me getting dressed, she jumped out of bed, knowing something was up.

My bags were already packed. I’d slipped my small wheelie bag into my large wheelie bag so there was just one bag to check at Alaska Air. It doesn’t matter as far as cost goes — I’m an Alaska Air MVP member so I get two bags checked for free. It was more a matter of waiting for luggage in Phoenix. And the simple fact that I didn’t have enough things to take with me to fill both bags but wanted both with me.

The last thing I packed was the ribs. I’d wrapped them in foil and plastic the night before and had put them in the fridge. They were still warm when I pulled them out and put them in the big wheelie bag, along with the ketchup squeeze bottle I’d filled with my honey barbecue sauce. As I zipped the bag around them, I wondered what the TSA would make of them and hoped they’d be neat about opening up the wrapping.

I’d left the Jeep out overnight, not wanting to deal with the garage door in the morning. (No, I still don’t have automatic garage door openers; it’s on my list.) I started it up and set the heat to high when I brought down the first load of luggage. It was 27°F out and the snow crunched under my shoes. I made a second trip to bring down Penny’s travel bag and the garbage and locked up. My house sitter would not be back for a few days. Then I loaded up the Jeep, got Penny cozy on the passenger seat, and got on my way.

It was 3:35.

Getting to Phoenix

My road was still mostly covered with snow and ice, but my Jeep with its new tires doesn’t care. The rest of the roads were clear. I made it to the airport by 4:10, parked in short-term parking, went in to check my bag, and then came back out to move the car to General Aviation parking, which I’d arranged for a few days before. Then Penny and I walked back to the main terminal, enjoying the quiet of the cloud-covered predawn hour. By 4:45, we were through security and I was sitting in the waiting area with Penny in her travel bag at my feet.

It was an uneventful flight to Seattle. It usually is. The total distance is only about 90 air miles and the flight is usually less than 30 minutes long. Driving there, however, would take about 3 hours. I believe time is money and take the plane whenever possible.

At SeaTac, we had a very tight connection. I let Penny walk on her leash from the plane to almost the next gate. Then back in her bag for boarding. They had already boarded the flight and we were the last to get on. Twenty minutes later, we were airborne.

And twenty minutes after that, I was asleep.

I only slept for about an hour, but it was long enough to miss the food and beverage service. I didn’t know that, so after I woke up, I was waiting patiently for the cart with my credit card out for a cheese platter. When the cart came, however, it was a beverage cart and the flight attendant asked, “Do you want anything else to drink?”

Anything else? I wondered to myself. That’s when I realized I’d missed breakfast. I must have been sleeping pretty soundly.

Our flight arrived a full 30 minutes early. Alaska Air does that a lot. It was 10:30 when we rolled into the gate.

Cheryl or Mike or both were picking me up. I’d told them to get to the airport at 11:30 so they didn’t have to wait for me to get my bags and walk Penny. But by 10:45 I had them and Penny had already visited the doggie area. I texted them and Cheryl hopped in the car to get me. I waited outside in the cool shade, munching on an apple muffin I’d bought inside while other people came and went.

When Cheryl arrived, I tossed my big bag into the trunk with Penny’s travel bag and climbed in. Penny settled down on a pillow in the back seat. Cheryl had some errands to run and so did I. I needed to pick up my camera at Tempe Camera. They’d checked it out completely, found nothing wrong with it, and had cleaned it for me. I needed it for my upcoming trip to Valley of Fire and Death Valley. I’d planned on driving out to get it after picking up my truck, but Cheryl didn’t mind taking me on her way to do her things. So we stopped there before heading out to Ray Road near I-10 to visit a lighting store, a Bed Bath and Beyond, and a Home Depot. I treated her for lunch at Wildflower Bakery, where we ate outside and I began soaking up the sun in earnest.

Afterwards, we went back to her house where my truck waited. I had a choice to make: spend the night with her and Mike or head out to Quartzsite to retrieve the Mobile Mansion and join my friends at the backwaters. It was nearly 3 PM and the RV dealer in Quartzsite closed at 5. It would be tight. I decided to go for it; I figured I could always spend a night in one of the few motels out there if I couldn’t get the Mobile Mansion. So I thanked Cheryl, said goodbye, loaded up the truck, and headed out.

Getting to Camp

Google put me on southwest Phoenix back roads to wind my way north and west toward I-10. We finally got on the freeway at 3:30 — just a bit too late to use the HOV lanes — and we headed west. Soon the scant city traffic was behind us and we were cutting through open desert at 75 mph. The kayaks on the roof shook a bit, but didn’t shift.

I pulled into the RV dealer’s lot at 4:50 PM. The owner/manager remembered me and commented on how I’d just made it. I paid the bill — which was about $200 less than I expected — and took the truck out back to hook up the trailer. That’s when I realized that the hitch pin — a metal rod with a cotter pin at one end — was missing. I did a search, then went back inside to see where it might be. But it was gone. While I fumed a bit, they came up with another pin that would do the job. I finished hooking up the RV, stowed the landing gear, and headed out.

My friends were waiting for me at a new campsite about seven miles south of I-10. This one was right at an inlet between the Colorado River and one of the backwater canals. They’d voiced some doubt about whether there was room for my big rig to turn around and park and I admit I was a bit stressed by that. But when I arrived, I saw that there was plenty of room. In fact, they’d saved me the best spot, right in the corner of the campsite where my big back window would look out over the Colorado River and I could look up the backwaters from the window at my desk. With some guidance from Steve, I backed the Mobile Mansion in. Then I set about disconnecting the trailer and setting up camp.

Mobile Mansion Parking
This photo, shot from the levee road after I unhooked the Mobile Mansion and took down the kayaks, shows most of our camp. I think I got the best spot.

That’s when we discovered that one of the bolts securing part of the landing gear raising/lowering mechanism had sheered off. It must have happened back at the dealer, when I raised the landing gear. Steve was able to extract a small portion of the bolt that remained so we could match its size. But we had no replacement bolt.

No problem. I left the rig attached to my truck for the night. We’d get the bolt at Ehrenberg or Blythe in the morning.

A campfire was already going. I poured myself a Makers Mark on the rocks and joined my friends.

Life at the Backwaters

Sunrise
Arizona treated me to a beautiful sunrise my first morning at camp. This was the view out the window at my desk.

In the morning, we drank coffee around the campfire. There were five of us at this camp: Janet and Steve, who I’d stayed with at the previous camp, and Karen and Steve, who were friends of Janet’s that she’d camped with the year before. Janet and Steve had their small travel trailer, a horse trailer with three horses, and two dogs. Karen and Steve had their larger travel trailer and two cats. We all had boats: two pontoon rowboats, a peddle boat, and two kayaks. As you might imagine, it was quite a setup.

After breakfast that first day, Steve and I went in search of a bolt for my landing gear. We tried the little store in Ehrenberg first, since it was closest. They had a lot of random hardware there, but no appropriately sized bolts. So we went to the excellent Ace Hardware store in Blythe, about 7 miles away. The two of us put on our readers and studied nuts and bolts until we found three possible matches. I bought them all. We stopped back in Ehrenberg to fill water jugs and a water bladder before heading back to camp.

It took just a few minutes to fix the landing gear. Steve did it, cramming his body into the front compartment, which couldn’t be opened more than a third of the way because of the truck bumper and the angle I’d parked at. A short time later, the landing gear legs were down, the trailer was disconnected, and I had full use of my truck again.

I went back into Blythe to do some grocery shopping and buy myself some lunch at a chicken place. When I got back, I saw that a fifth wheel toy hauler had moved into the campsite across the inlet from us. I heard the steady hum of a generator running. This was my introduction to Generator Man. I wrote about his idiotic and inconsiderate behavior in another blog post, so I won’t rant about him again here.

We had dinner together that evening around the campfire. We ate the ribs I’d made in Washington and had packed into my luggage for the trip back to Arizona. They were fully cooked and just needed to be brushed with barbecue sauce and heated up over a fire. We used a separate campfire at Janet and Steve’s place for that. Janet made fire-roasted corn on the cob and Karen made beans to go with them. It was an excellent meal, if I do say so myself.

The generator was still going when I went to bed. Fortunately, I couldn’t hear it inside the Mobile Mansion.

Life at the campsite quickly got into a routine. Coffee and breakfast around a campfire near Karen and Steve’s trailer in the morning. I made muffins one morning and Pillsbury cinnamon rolls another morning, but we usually all took care of our own meal. We’d break up and do our own thing in the middle of the day. In late afternoon, Janet and Karen’s Steve usually went fishing — and they always came back with a few fish. Then we’d get together for dinner around the campfire in the evening, usually playing music to drown out the sound of Generator Man’s noise.

RV Light Bulbs
Examples of the old (top) and new (bottom) light bulbs. The new ones will last 10 years, are super bright, and use a fraction of the power

I went in to Quartzsite twice with Janet. The first time, I picked up another 20 or so LED light bulbs for my RV. I’d experimented with them the previous month and liked the extra brightness and power saving. The bulbs were pricey — about $5 each — but their benefits and long lives made them worth it. With them installed on all of the fixtures I used regularly, I cut my evening and morning power consumption so much that I only had to run my generator twice for a total of maybe two hours the whole time I was there. My water pump is now, by far, my biggest consumer of battery power.

The second time we piggybacked a Quartzsite trip on the back of a Blythe trip. Janet’s single RV battery had gone bad and needed replacement. She was also having trouble with the charge controller for her solar panel. So we made a few stops in Blythe to pick up odds and ends for both of us before going to Solar Bill’s in Quartzsite. I looked into a solar + battery setup for the fuel tank and pump on the back of my truck. I no longer need it on my truck so I plan to move it onto its own utility trailer when I get home. Ideally, a solar panel would keep a battery charged to run the pump. Bill showed me a solution that would only cost about $250 to set up: 40 watt solar panel, charge controller, and 2 reconditioned golf cart batteries. I told him I’d have to give it some thought, mostly because I’m not ready to set it up just yet.

Ghost RV Park
Here’s one of the shots I took when I paddled across the river to the RV park there. They had their own backwater that I wanted to explore, but I got too late a start that day. You can see my kayak parked at the boat ramp.

One afternoon, when the river was running high and fast, I paddled a kayak across to check out the campground on the California side. It was a hard paddle, requiring me to point the kayak nose upriver from where I wanted to end up. I don’t think my friends expected me to make it, but I did. On the other side, I found an RV park full of RVs but with few people. Apparently, people park their rigs there and come use them once in a while. All of the full hookup spots were reserved on an annual basis by Canadians, none of whom were there. The onsite store had very little to offer in the way of groceries. It was all kind of sad, like an RV ghost town. I took a few pictures and paddled back, missing the inlet by about 100 feet. After a rest along the rocky levee — where Penny jumped in — I paddled upstream and slipped into the inlet. Nice upper body workout.

Sandy Hill
The sand looked a wee bit too deep on these hills to take my truck up, so Penny and I walked.

Another afternoon, I decided to take my truck up onto the top of the cliff just east of our site. Most of my friends didn’t think I’d make it — they’d been up there with the horses before my arrival and said it was too sandy — but Karen’s Steve claimed to have seen another pickup up there. I figured it was worth a shot. The access road started out very steep and rocky — a very doable hill climb for a 4WD truck with off-road tires on it. Once up the first climb, a narrow road wound around on top of hard hills covered with loose volcanic rock. Deep sand had blown over it in patches, but they weren’t big enough to stop a truck moving fast enough, so I made sure I moved quickly through them. Finally, however, I faced a sandy hill with two two-track trails climbing up it. The sand looked deep and while my truck is properly equipped for off-road travel, it’s heavy and I didn’t want it to sink into the sand. So I parked and walked with Penny up one of the hills, mostly to check it out. When I got to the top, I realized I was at my destination and didn’t bother retrieving the truck. Penny and I spent about 20 minutes up there, checking out the views and taking photos. It was nice up there, away from Generator Man, where the only sound was the wind.

Campsite View
This shot offers a great view of our campsite, as well as the one across the inlet and the campground across the river. Although the Arizona side is all BLM desert, the California side has lots of farming for quite a few miles.

Fishermen and Photobombs
Janet and Karen’s Steve show off the fish we caught while Karen and Janet’s Steve photobomb them.

I went fishing one afternoon with Janet and Karen’s Steve. I don’t think they expected me to catch anything — I didn’t either, in all honesty — because they suggested I bring my own truck to the fishing hole in case I got bored. I surprised all of us by hooking a decent sized redear sunfish (or orange ear, as Janet and Steve call them) not long after Janet hooked a large mouth bass. Janet caught a slightly larger orange ear after that but Steve brought in the main catch just as the sun was setting: a very large bass. He cleaned all the fish for us later on and took his bass away; Janet, Steve, and I feasted on the remaining fish a few days later.

Penny on a Kayak
Here’s Penny, demonstrating one of the reasons I sometimes call her “adventure dog.”

On Sunday, after Karen and Steve left for their next destination, Janet’s Steve dropped Janet, Penny, and me off with our boats about five miles upriver from our camp. We launched and headed downstream, stopping at one of the backwaters on the California side along the way. The river was moving at about three miles an hour, so there wasn’t much work in the paddling. I was wearing shorts again that day and left my white legs atop the kayak to get some sun on them. Although my formerly year-round tan has faded considerably, I don’t get sunburned like I used to. It was nice to get out for a good long paddle. It took about two hours to get back.

Steve watched the second half of the Super Bowl at a sport bar in Ehrenberg that he said was surprisingly good, although not particularly busy. I stayed in the Mobile Mansion — mostly to escape the sound of Generator Man — and read, following the Super Bowl action on Twitter and participating in NPR’s #SuperBowlHaiku meme. We’d tried during the day to pick up CBS on one of my two televisions as well as Janet’s but couldn’t get any channels at all. (I guess Generator Man has a satellite dish over there, too.) I fell asleep earlier than usual — the sun might not burn me, but it apparently sucks the life out of me: I’m always exhausted after a day in the sun.

Janet on her horse
Here’s a shot of Janet on her horse during our Monday afternoon ride.

On Monday afternoon, we took the horses for a short ride back up to the top of the cliff. They put me on Flipper again and the steep climb was a bit much for her. I suspect I might be the last adult to ride her. At least I hope so. She’s getting a bit too old for such strenuous work.

Breaking Camp

By that time, we’d all decided to leave on Tuesday. Janet would be showing her artwork at Gold Rush Days in Wickenburg. I’d be spending some more time with my friends in Wickenburg. And Steve would be bringing the horses to where I was staying; there was a nice horse corral in the backyard.

So we spent some of Monday afternoon breaking camp. I put the kayaks back on top of the truck, put away my generator, and stowed most of my loose items. Steve cleaned, deflated, and broke down the pontoon boats and put their frames atop Janet’s van. Later, we had fish for dinner with salad and rice, eating in the Mobile Mansion to get away from Generator Man’s drone. We played Exploding Kittens a few times and I actually won once. I gave Janet the game to play with other friends and sent Steve home with the remains of a bottle of Honey Jim Beam, which was too damn sweet for my taste.

In the morning, there was no campfire. Janet was the first to pull out. I finished packing up, cleaned the inside of the Mobile Mansion, and closed everything up. Steve guided me to hook up the trailer. I made a wide U-turn in the campsite and pulled out, leaving him to pack up the horses.

I made just two stops before I left the area. First stop was the convenience store in Ehrenberg where I dumped the Mobile Mansion’s tanks, topped off the fresh water supply, and filled my four 6-gallon jugs with fresh water. I also bought one of their excellent Mexican iced fruit pops on the way out. Second stop was the post office to pick up a temporary license plate the car dealer had sent me to replace the expired one.

I was on I-10 heading east by 11 AM.

Snowbirding 2016: Quartzsite

Camp in the desert, walk around dusty market stalls, buy cheap stuff you likely don’t need, soak up the sun, watch amazing sunrises/sunsets, repeat.

Posts in the Snowbirding 2016 Series:
Introduction
The Colorado River Backwaters
Quartzsite
Wickenburg
Phoenix
Home
Back to the Backwaters
Return to Wickenburg
Valley of Fire
Death Valley
– Back to Work

Quartzsite, AZ, is a special place — special in its oddity. It’s a small town on I-10 about 18 miles east of the Colorado River. With a total area of about 36 square miles, the 2010 census counted 3,677 people. Those are “permanent” residents, of course. During the month of January, some estimates say the population swells to about 100,000.

Quartzsite from the Air
A broad look at Quartzsite from the air in January 2008.

You read that right. 100,000 people in a town where less than 4,000 normally live.

Where do those people stay, you might wonder? The answer is obvious if you drive down I-10 through the area in January: in RVs parked in a handful of RV parks but mostly all over the desert on the BLM land that surrounds the town.

Circle the Wagons!A closeup looking almost straight down at groups of RVs.

The desert around Quartzsite is relatively flat with a rocky surface that makes it easy to drive through. Over time, “roads” have been made through the area that lead to suitable campsites. RVers — mostly retirees in big motorhomes or dragging giant fifth wheel trailers like mine — gather in clusters for miles in every direction. This is pretty amazing from the air — indeed, I took a French photographer out over the town back in 2008 and he sent me a handful of the resulting photos for my blog.

Why do they come? That’s a pretty good question. I think there are a few reasons:

  • It’s a cheap place to stay. Camping on BLM land is usually free for up to two weeks, although Quartzsite has a handful of “long term” areas where you can stay longer for a $40 fee. (Of course, there are so many RVs out there in the free area that it’s unlikely a BLM ranger is actually keeping track of the length of your stay.) Retirees — and a lot of other people I know, including me — like free. Keep in mind that to get this free camping with a certain level of comfort, you need an RV that’s fully contained with water, power, propane, and sewer holding tanks. That can be a huge investment. You can haul in water and propane, have a solar panel and/or generator for power, and minimize use of your plumbing. I talk a little about what it’s like to camp off the grid in the previous post of this series, “The Colorado River Backwaters.”
  • Other snowbirds go there. If there’s one thing I noticed about snowbirders it’s that they like to gather in popular places. Often Quartzsite is the meetup location of snowbirds from all over the west to see each other annually.
  • There are “shows.” The entire town is like a giant flea market with all kinds of merchandise for sale, usually cheap. But among those ragtag markets are also scheduled events like those at Tyson Wells: a gem and mineral show, an art show, a classic car show. The big show in January, which lasts 10 days and gives RVers a good excuse to come is the big RV show. Indeed, I bought the Mobile Mansion in Quartzsite back in 2010.

I’ve written extensively about Quartzsite throughout this blog since I’ve been going there even longer than I’ve been blogging. Search for “Quartzsite” to see what else I’ve written.

I should point out that Quartzsite has changed dramatically since I began going there in the early 2000s. There used to be more, better, bigger shows — Cloud’s Jamboree and The Main Event come to mind. Prices for goods and services were lower and the whopping 10.1% sales tax wasn’t looming large in every transaction. There didn’t seem to be as much junk. While back in the mid 2000s, there was plenty to do and see on the north side of the freeway, these days it’s a collection of seasonal RV dealers and clusters of booths resembling yard sales more than cohesive shops or show booths.

Friends of mine who have been selling their artwork or other merchandise at shows in Quartzsite since the 1990s tell me that the main reason for the change is greed — the town’s primary source of revenue is sales tax collected during the winter months from tourists. Little by little, good shows have died off to be replaced by seasonal RV sales lots. The town collects huge sums of money from the sale of these high-ticket items. God knows what they do with it. Off-season, the town is pretty much a shithole (if you’d pardon the expression) with a pair of truck stops and a handful of fast food joints the only reason to stop there. Year after year, the roads remain in poor condition and the lots where the shows are held are as dusty and dirty as ever. And traffic in the middle of January? Don’t get me started.

At least it was warm and sunny.

Getting to Quartzsite

Understand that I didn’t need to stay in Quartzsite to visit the shows and buy the odds and ends I wound up buying. We were camped out in the backwaters of the Colorado River, which was about a 30- to 40-minute drive from there. But my friend Janet is an artist and she was booked to show/sell her work at Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama. She’d park her little RV in her booth space — as most other vendors did — where she’d have a full hookup and be able to keep an eye on things for the 10 days of the show. This show runs the same time as the big RV show and is right across the street, so it has the potential for the most visitors and best sales.

Her husband, Steve, wanted to be close but had the horses with him. He decided to relocate to the BLM land east of town where he could set up camp for free. I didn’t want to stay out at the backwaters by myself, so I’d camp out with Steve and the horses. Janet left on Wednesday; we’d leave on Thursday.

I’d packed up the Mobile Mansion on Wednesday afternoon, leaving just a handful of things outside to put away in the morning. I’d also hooked up the truck so I was all ready to move out. My goal was to stop and get the Mobile Mansion washed, dump the holding tanks, and replenish my on-board fresh water supply on my way to Quartzsite. So on Thursday morning at about 8 AM, after making coffee for myself and Steve, I finished packing up, closed up the RV slides, and headed out.

Moving Out at Dawn
Here’s my rig, ready to move out just after dawn on Thursday morning.

Steve remained behind to get the horses on board his trailer, gather up his fencing, and pack up. He’d meet me in Quartzsite at Tyson Wells.

The Mobile Mansion was filthy. Not only had it gathered dirt and dust on the 2 years it had been in almost constant use on my property, but it had an extraordinary amount of road dirt on its bottom half — especially in front — from my long drive down to Arizona from Washington. I’d spotted a truck wash at the Ehrenberg exit of I-10 when I’d come into camp on January 2 and had walked over to ask if they did RVs. I got a quote of about $45 to wash the entire rig — $55 if I wanted my truck washed, too. It was too good a deal to pass up. The trick was to get there early enough in the day that I didn’t have to wait behind someone else.

RV Wash
Here’s my truck and the Mobile Mansion getting washed at a truck wash.

I was the first one there at 8:15 AM that morning. I pulled in, put Penny on a leash, and walked over to the Flying J truck stop next door, leaving my rig in the hands of two young guys.

Someone on Twitter asked if “they use Mexicans to wash trucks.” I replied that I believed the guy doing the work was the actual owner. He was a heavyset man in his late 20s who looked to be of hispanic heritage. But he spoke English with no accent and was extremely polite. His co-worker was a young, thin black guy of about the same age with the same excruciating politeness. I don’t think I’ve ever been addressed as “ma’am” so many times in such a short period of time.

The Flying J had a Cinnabon kiosk inside. I like Cinnabon, but I don’t like the fact that they’re usually smothered in sticky, super-sugary icing. I asked at the counter and learned that if I waited until a fresh batch came out of the oven, I could get them with the icing on the side. So that’s what I did. Seven minutes after arriving, I walked out with four steaming hot cinnamon buns in a box. I’d add a bit of icing to one and enjoy it in the sunshine while waiting for my rig to be washed, then have the others for dessert or breakfast over the next two days.

The truck and trailer took about a half hour to wash. They came out great. I paid the bill and included a $10 tip and headed out again.

Our next stop was across the freeway at the convenience store “mall” where we’d been buying lottery tickets and filling water jugs. They had a dump station there where I could dump my holding tanks and fill my water tank. It took a bit of piloting to get my big rig into position, and even then I barely had enough sewer hose to reach the dump. But once I was set up, the job went quickly.

When I was finished and all the hoses had been stowed, I got on I-10 and headed east. It wasn’t a long drive, although traffic at the first Quartzsite exit was already starting to build at 10 AM. I headed east along the frontage road and turned into the parking lot on the west side of the Tyson Wells show grounds. Fortunately, the parking lot was mostly empty. I was able to turn the rig around (without backing up!) and park it in a large RV spot facing the exit. I locked up, put Penny back on a leash, and headed into the show grounds.

Tyson Wells has one show after another starting in December. So although the big Sell-A-Rama wasn’t due to start until the next day, there were already plenty of vendors set up on the east end of the show grounds. I found Janet’s booth, where Steve was already helping her set up. They’d found some almost new carpeting dumped in a dry wash nearby and had scavenged a few very large pieces in excellent shape to use for the booth floor. (Janet had other carpeting she normally used, but this new stuff was not only nicer, but it matched her booth walls.) We worked together for a while and then Penny and I wandered off to get a bite to eat, returning with some fresh fry bread drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

My Snowbird Stay in Quartzsite

It was mid afternoon before Steve was ready to move on. Penny and I waited for him to pass us in the parking lot with his truck and horse trailer, then pulled in behind him. We continued east on the frontage road for about a mile or two, then turned right onto one of the “roads” out into the desert. We headed almost due south along a pretty easy-to-follow roadway, crossing a few shallow dry washes along the way. On either side of us were hundreds of RVs, already parked and set up — hundreds more would arrive over the next few days. Our goal was to be as far away from these clusters of RVs as possible. We knew from experience that too many these people liked to run their generators for hours on end, especially in the evening, and we simply didn’t want to listen to them. Besides, Steve wanted to set up the horses as far as he could from people who might bother them. The farther we went, the less likely people would come out our way.

This has always been my goal when camping out at Quartzsite — even the few times I did it with my wasband. It amazes me that so many people would be satisfied living in crowded communities nearly right on top of the noisy freeway when they could drive a half mile farther into the desert for quiet and privacy. But it’s a good thing they do. That means fewer people out where we want to be.

Steve picked a place and parked. I parked nearby, checked the level, put down two leveling blocks, and parked the Mobile Mansion’s driver side tires on them. Then I went about setting up camp.

Quartzsite Campsite
Setting up camp consisted of putting up my wind ribbon, setting out a mat, and taking out my barbecue grill.

I’ll be honest — I wasn’t interested in doing too much unpacking. The trouble with living on the fringe is that there are fewer people out there to keep an eye on things. Our closest neighbors were what Janet refers to as “rainbow kids”: young, hippie-like people living out in the desert. Apparently some of them aren’t adverse to appropriating things they find in unattended camps. We made friends with our local rainbow kids right away, but Steve still didn’t trust them. And he didn’t want to leave the horses alone. So for the next few days, one of us would be in camp almost all the time.

Broken Part
Finding a replacement for this part would have been difficult anywhere else. But in Quartzsite, I had it replaced within an hour of finding it broken.

Real Women Drive Real Trucks
I’ve been buying custom license plate frames from the same booth in Quartzsite for years. This one is (obviously) for my truck.

Wok Man
With just two items on his menu — fried rice or fried noodles — the Wok Man makes good, fresh food in a screened-in wok.

I discovered almost immediately that the plastic do-dad that holds the RV door open when parked had snapped off, likely in transit put possibly during the RV wash. Anywhere else, this would have been a royal pain in the butt, but in Quartzsite during January, it wasn’t a big deal because of all the RV parts dealers there. I set off with Penny to get that part replaced, pick up a license plate frame I’d ordered the previous week, grab some lunch, and get the water jugs filled at Janet’s campsite for the horses. Along the way, I found an RV windshield repair guy set up in a motorhome alongside the road and had a chip in the truck’s windshield repaired before it could crack.

And that’s the thing I like about Quartzsite — if you know the place well enough, you can find just about anything you need, normally at a fair price. (Okay, maybe not food.) And you can walk from place to place. I left my truck at the chip repair person’s spot and walked to get the license plate frame, replacement part, and lunch. When I walked back, the truck was done. During the winter season, it’s a lot like a little city full of goods and services.

In the evening, it got very dark out our way — so dark that Janet had trouble finding us when she came to join us for dinner. We didn’t have firewood, so we couldn’t have a campfire. The magic of the backwaters was clearly absent in Quartzsite.

I should mention here that Quartzsite treated us to amazing sunsets and sunrises nearly every day. In the beginning, I took photos. But by the end of my stay, I didn’t even bother.

Sunset Sunrise
A beautiful sunset on Thursday was followed by a beautiful sunrise on Friday. And so on.

On Friday, I went to see the Tyson Wells show, with every intention of checking out the RV show in and around the huge tent. I bought a few things I wanted or needed — bungee balls, disposable gloves, carabiners, small tools, Dremel bits, kitchen gadgets, etc., etc. There’s no shortage of this stuff in Quartzsite and it’s all cheap, mostly because it’s all made-in-China grade. Most of the vendors who sell this kind of stuff also give away DC flashlights that you can keep in your car’s power port to charge and have handy when you need it. I managed to collect three of them and gave one to Steve.

Mortar and Pestle
I bought this marble mortar and pestle from a rock shop for only $6.

One of the better buys was a marble mortar and pestle. I thought I’d brought the one from my Arizona home, but I can’t find it in any of my boxes so I likely left it behind. The one I bought from a rock shop is the perfect size for grinding nuts or spices and was on sale for only $6. How can you beat that?

I visited Janet in her booth. She’d been pretty busy and expected to get a lot busier the next day. The booth looked great, as usual, and she had lots of beautiful original art to share including her matted and embellished framed paintings on feathers, spirit feathers, and canvas artwork. She really does beautiful work.

Janet's Booth at Tyson Wells
Janet’s booth at Tyson Wells.

I was a bit disappointed when I went over to the RV show and discovered that it didn’t open until the next day: Saturday. I dreaded dealing with the weekend crowds and planned to return on Monday.

I got back into the truck and went across the freeway to the north side of town. I was hoping to find some other small shows there, but most of what I found was just plain junk. I did notice a lot of RV dealers, though, and figured I’d start visiting them the next day. Although the Mobile Mansion has not been sold, I’m already thinking about its replacement and wanted to get a good idea of what was out there.

Before heading back, I did check out an area of shops on the far west side of town, on the north side of the freeway. One of the shops specialized in flags and wind streamers, but also had an amazing selection of brand new, colorful neon signs.

Years ago, when I lived in New Jersey, my future wasband bought me a neon sign as a gift and it hung in our living room. It was big and orange and said “Live Entertainment.” I later got a second sign but never got a power supply for it. When we moved, we packed up the signs. But we never unpacked them in Arizona and, to my knowledge, they remained packed in the garage when I moved out in May 2013. I simply did not like either sign enough to take it with me to my new home.

Cocktails Neon Sign
How could I resist? Here’s what my new sign looked like set up in the Mobile Mansion briefly before I packed it away to keep it safe until we got home.

But I still love neon, so when I saw the Cocktails sign, I had to have it. The price was fair and the owner of the shop accepted credit cards. I almost bought a second sign — it said “Ford Tough” and had the Ford logo and I thought it would be fun to hang in the garage — but despite a bunch of bargaining, I just couldn’t justify the additional expenditure. Besides, I didn’t want anyone to think I was Ford brand loyal. I’m not. So I left with just one sign.

But the shop is open through February….

On Saturday, I went RV shopping. I stopped at several dealers, looked at several RVs, and wasn’t struck by anything of interest. I spoke to several managers about them buying my RV or me leaving it on consignment for a few weeks but no one was offering any deals worth considering. They were there to sell their inventory, not add to it or sell mine. I understood that and despite one really insulting offer, generally respected it.

Lunch
Sinfully good.

I made one more stop before heading back: the smoked turkey leg booth near the RV show. I bought a turkey leg for later and a fully dressed baked potato with smoked brisket on top for lunch. Yum.

I got back to the campsite by noon so Steve could spend the day helping Janet in her booth. It was a dull afternoon. I regretted doing all my maintenance chores at my last campsite — they would have helped kill time while I horse-sat in Quartzsite.

On Sunday, I didn’t know what to do. I’d seen everything in Quartzsite that I wanted to see except the RV show. But it was Sunday and it would be crowded and I hate crowds.

But maybe if I went early enough?

I left the campsite at 9 AM and headed straight to the RV show. I got a good parking spot out on the road and bee-lined it to the big tent. Things were just opening up and there was no crowd. I bought a breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, and machaca, and walked the perimeter of the tent while I was eating it.

There was quite a bit to see, but not much of it was of any interest to me. I did get a good demo of LED lighting that would likely save a lot of power (and spare me the use of a generator) and see an interesting tool that precisely calculated angles for wood cuts. I also saw some motorcycle bumper lifts that would make it possible to take along my motorcycle on future RV trips — if I was willing to spend $4K on the hardware and installation.

Inside the tent was disappointing, as usual. Too many vendors selling blenders and cookware and microfiber cleaning cloths. Too many booths for back pain and “natural remedies.” I think a quarter of the booths were for RV parks or related time-shares. Anything available inside that was also available outside the tent cost 25% to 50% more and that was 25% or 50% more than you could get it across the street at Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama.

Two things of interest:

  • Amazon’s Camperforce program, which gives seasonal warehouse jobs with full hookup RV sites to full-time RVers. This program would actually be perfect for me, keeping me busy for November and most of December while earning some money and meeting people. Trouble is, the closest location is in Texas and I really have no desire to go to Texas with the Mobile Mansion.
  • Little Red Campfire
    A portable fire pit might make a good centerpiece for my patio table.

    Camco’s Little Red Campfire is a propane fire pit that can be packed into a can. While it might be fun for camping, what interested me is its potential use for adding a propane fire pit to the table on my deck. They were selling for just $75, which turned out to be a very good price.

I goofed off a bit more, visited Janet, bought some dates and other odds and ends, and headed back to camp to give Steve a chance to get out.

Marshmallows by Rake
Turns out that a collapsible RV rake makes a good tool for roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Later that evening, I cooked up some pork tenderloins on my barbecue grill and Janet brought over a salad. We had a campfire with some pallet wood I’d found and brought back to camp. We made s’mores for dessert, using a rake to hold the marshmallows over the fire.

Ending My Trip

By Sunday afternoon, I felt pretty much done with Quartzsite. Trouble was, I was waiting for a package to be delivered to Ehrenberg’s post office for me. The post office would be closed on Monday for Martin Luther King Day. That meant I was stuck in Quartzsite until I could get it, assemble the roof rack for my kayaks (which is what was in the package), and pack up. I was looking at another two full days in Quartzsite.

Unless I could get the package earlier.

On Monday, I went into Ehrenberg to get fuel for my truck, then to Blythe to do some food shopping and pick up hay for Steve’s horses. I worked the phones. I discovered that my package was at the UPS office in Blythe and I made arrangements to pick it up that day. The automated system assured me that the Blythe UPS office would be open from 9 AM to 5 PM.

It wasn’t. It was open from 9 AM to 10 AM, but although I’d arrived before 10 AM, a sign on the door said that due to staffing problems it wouldn’t be open until 3:30 that afternoon.

I was livid. I was looking at a building with a full parking lot and a locked front door. That locked door is the only thing that prevented me from leaving Quartzsite a full day early.

And, for some reason, I was very anxious to leave.

I can make a long story longer or shorter. Let’s take shorter: A UPS truck came into the lot and I flagged down the driver before he could leave. I told him my situation and he very kindly went inside to find my package. It took him a full 15 minutes. Turns out, the office is so small that it’s staffed by the drivers. When the drivers go out to deliver, the office closes for the day.

Small towns, huh?

I had my package, the hay, some groceries, a full tank of diesel, and five bales of alfalfa by 1 PM.

I stopped at the Tyson wells and bought 8 LED bulbs for the Mobile Mansion. I planned to put them into the fixtures I used most. If they’d been cheaper, I would have replaced every single bulb. But those eight bulbs cost $89 and I really thought that was enough to spend on lightbulbs that day.

I also stopped at the RV show and picked up the fire pit. That’s when I learned that they were about 40% cheaper than list price because they were refurbished. Didn’t bother me. The one I bought looked good as new.

By 3 PM, I was back at camp, starting to assemble my new roof rack.

That’s when Steve asked me if I wanted to go for a horseback ride. You see, he was trying to work with one of the horses and the other two were going nuts about being left behind. He figured he may as well saddle another one, put a pack on a third to keep her busy, and go out for a ride.

So we rode off into the desert, heading west toward town. I rode Cerro, Janet’s horse. He’s a gaited horse with a very smooth trot. (I still think Flipper has a better lope.) We made our way past campsites, across shallow washes, and eventually to Route 95, which we crossed when there was a gap in the traffic. Then west a bit south of the big RV Show tent until we got to Tyson Wash. We followed that north, crossed the road that ran past Tyson Wells, and rode right into the Tyson Wells parking lot. Since we’d gone that far, we went all the way — to Janet’s booth, where we dismounted and tied the horses up to her van. We turned a lot of heads, but not as many as you might think. After visiting briefly with Janet, we mounted up, leaving poor Janet to clean up the poop two of the horses had considerately left behind. Then we retraced our steps all the way back to our camp. I didn’t have my tracking app running, but I figure we rode a total of about 4 miles and were out for two hours.

By then, it was too late to finish mounting the roof racks.

We made steaks over the fire for dinner. Janet had bought mesquite charcoal. I’d bought dessert, but forgot to serve it. We sat around a campfire afterward and talked about my plans for the next few weeks.

On Tuesday, I finished assembling the rack and started loading the kayaks. (I should mention that I bought the roof rack because I was tired of lugging the kayaks in and out of the Mobile Mansion for transit.) Steve helped, but I think I can do it alone. (I hope so!)

While I was working, two retirees from a big camp that had set up near the rainbow kids (remember them?) came by looking for four folding chairs that had disappeared overnight. They claimed that the kids had been very rude to them before moving their site away. I told them it was likely because they didn’t expect so many RVs — there had to be at least 6 big rigs — to park so close to them and run their generators so much. The two old guys got a bit testy with me, telling me that they’d been camping in that spot for 15 years — as if that mattered. The desert is huge, I reminded them. Most people camp this far out because they don’t want to be close to others. They told me that they suspected the kids had come back during the night to steal the chairs. I told them I didn’t know anything about it but pointed vaguely out into the desert where Steve had told me they’d moved. The last time I saw the old guys, they were wandering around out there.

Snowbirds
Steve took this photo of me and Penny on the steps of the Mobile Mansion that last morning in Quartzsite.

I made a bunch of phone calls to arrange for the Mobile Mansion’s landing gear control card to be replaced. I’d wanted it done near Phoenix, but I wound up making an appointment in Quartzsite. That actually worked out much better for me, since they’d let me park it there until I returned in February, saving me the bother of worrying about parking until then.

By about noon, I was ready to go. I hooked up the Mobile Mansion and pulled out. Just two stops before I left Quartzsite: a dump station to dump all of the RV’s tanks and the RV repair place on the other end of town. Traffic was horrendous. At one point, stuck in traffic on a highway overpass, a man stuck in traffic going the opposite direction gave me the thumbs up and said, “Nice rig.”

Nice Rig
Nice rig, eh? You betcha!

I flashed my own thumbs up back at him and called out, “Thanks!”

By 2 PM, Penny and I were headed east on I-10 with the Mobile Mansion left behind. We’d be at our next destination within 90 minutes.

A[nother] Trip to Quartzsite

A quick trip to Quartzsite — perhaps my last ever.

I flew to Quartzsite, AZ on Tuesday with Penny the Tiny Dog. I wanted to visit one of my favorite weird desert destinations one more time before I move north to my new home in Washington State.

Quartzsite, in case you don’t know, is a tiny community in the desert right on I-10 a bit east of the California border. During the summer months, it has a population of about 3,600 people. In the winter, especially during the big RV show week in January, the area population grows to at least 50,000. Most of the winter visitors are RVers who live in trailers and motorhomes out in the desert on BLM land. They come there for the warm climate, but also for the continuous string of shows and swap meets in the area.

I’ve been going to Quartzsite for years. I really like going for a few days and staying in an RV out in the desert, but it was often difficult to arrange, given my soon-to-be ex-husband’s schedule. I bought my fifth wheel RV (the “Mobile Mansion“) there back in 2010 and that was the last time we stayed there overnight. Almost every year I managed to get at least one visit in. Last year, I visited for the day; my friend Janet was living there, selling her artwork at one of the Tyson Wells shows.

This year, a Twitter friend was staying in the area and I used that as an excuse to go out there during the RV show week. (I don’t know why I need an excuse these days; my life is finally my own to do as I please. But old habits die hard.) I didn’t feel like driving — it’s about 100 miles each way. So I went out to the airport, dragged the helicopter out, preflighted, fired it up, and took off with Penny on board in the passenger seat beside me.

It was an uneventful flight. A typically perfect Arizona winter day with temperatures forecasted to get into the high 70s, no wind, and no clouds. I had a bit of a problem with my door on takeoff — I’d lifted off with the door unlatched — and had to land in the desert about 4 miles west of town to close it properly. But then we were on our way, zipping across the desert about 500 feet up at 120 knots ground speed. Foreflight on my iPad told me we’d get there at 9:23 AM.

My landing zone (LZ) was a crapshoot. I honestly didn’t know for sure where I’d land. Quartzsite is surrounded by BLM land and I am allowed to land there, provided I don’t have paying passengers on board. But I wanted to get as close to Tyson Wells and the RV show across the street as possible. I thought I might try an empty lot south of I-10, but when I got near there, I saw a few trailers parked nearby and a man walking across the lot. Too much going on. So instead, I found a nice LZ a bit south of there. It was probably about a half mile from the traffic light just east of Tyson Wells.

Quartzsite Helicopter Parking

I shut down, put Penny on her leash, and locked up the helicopter. We walked over to the RV show. It was still early — only about 9:30 AM — and things were just waking up. That’s one of the things I like about getting to Quartzsite early; you get a real feel for the “behind the scenes” life of the vendors. Along the way, I got a text from my friend Jim in Idaho and decided to give him a call. We chatted while I walked around outside the big RV show tent.

By the time we finished, I was in the vendor area nearby, just outside a pet supply booth. I made my first purchase of the day: a new harness/collar for Penny. Finally she can stop wearing that kitten collar!

Artisan Village
One of the weirder vendor RVs at Tyson Wells.

We walked Tyson Wells next. The show was not nearly as big as it had been in past years — hell, Quartzsite has come a long way down since its glory years. There was still plenty to see and buy, including the usual collection of junk of interest to RVers. There were also quite a few bible and prayer booths. As I walked past one of them, a guy outside asked me if I wanted to participate in a “bible survey.” I said, “You don’t want to hear what I have to say,” and laughed as I walked away.

I looked at jewelry. I’m still trying to replace a pair of earrings I aways wore that my husband gave me. I simply can’t bear to look at them anymore. But I didn’t see anything better than the pair I’d already bought that were slightly too big for everyday use.

Forkman
Wouldn’t this be a great way for a caterer to display his business cards at events?

I bought a business card stand made out of flatware for a friend of mine who owns a catering company. I figured it would be a neat thing to put out at events to display his business cards.

I also bought an excellent, right-out-of-the-oven cinnamon roll without all that icky icing Cinnabon uses. Delicious!

In the meantime, Penny was trying to say hello to all the other dogs she saw — and there were a lot of them. Sadly, a lot of the smaller dogs were confined in dog strollers — if you can believe that — or being carried. Why won’t people let their dogs be dogs?

Finished with Tyson Wells, we walked back to the RV show. I wanted to buy a sign.

Last year, when I’d gone to the show, I’d bought five wooden signs designed to hang one under the other. The top one said “Mobile Mansion” and the bottom ones each had names: “Maria,” “Mike,” “Charlie,” and “Alex.” You see, my husband was supposed to join me on the road in the RV and I thought it would be fun to have these signs hanging outside to show who was in residence. It’s an RVer thing. I had them with me in Washington last summer and was having a sign stand made so I could hang them outside the RV. Of course, when my husband told me he wanted a divorce, I sent the “Mike” and “Charlie” signs back to him. Although I aways hoped I could get Charlie back, it doesn’t seem as if my husband will give him up. But I do have Penny so I wanted to have a sign made for her. I’ll hang the remaining signs when I go back to Washington and set up the RV again.

I found the wooden sign guy and placed my order. I paid him $15 and he told me to be back in an hour.

I put Penny in my tote bag with her head popping out. I didn’t want to carry her, but I knew that walking her though the big tent on a leash was not a wise idea. With her safely tucked away under my arm, we went inside.

Teeth Whitening at Quartzsite
For some reason, I found the teeth whitening booth disturbing.

Plug and Play Solar
Someone’s version of my husband’s idea: plug and play solar.

Inside the tent was a zoo: crazy crowded. Vendors were selling RV timeshares and providing travel information about various destinations. They were selling cooking appliances and utensils. They were offering massages and pain relief and teeth whitening. They were selling solar panels — including the “Plug and Play” systems my soon-to-be ex-husband had wanted to design but never moved forward on. They were selling clothes and cell phone cases and solutions to clean RVs. The whole place reeked of RV septic system fluid — like someone had dumped a case of the stuff on the floor. It was crowded with retirees shuffling from one booth to the next, making unexpected stops. I was very glad Penny was safely tucked away — she would have either been trampled or her leash would have tripped an old guy.

I looked at a cell phone case, but left without one when I realized they wanted $19.95 for the same thing I could buy at Tyson Wells for $6.

Turkey Leg
Smoked turkey legs, anyone?

Loaded Baked Potato
I call this lunch.

We exited back into the fresh air on the west side of the tent, right outside the smoked turkey leg booth. I took Penny out of the bag, set her on the ground, and got on line. My husband never left Quartzsite without a smoked turkey leg — he loved them. In fact, last year when I went without him, I brought a few back for him. I liked them, too, of course, although it was too much food for lunch. So I ordered one wrapped to go (which I’d eat for dinner over the next two days — they really are huge) and got a fully loaded smoked baked potato for lunch. Penny and I retreated back toward the outside of the tent, where we sat on a flattened cardboard box to eat in the sun. By this time, I’d stripped off most of my layers of clothing and was very comfortable in a tank top and jeans. (Yes, in January.)

Penny's Sign
The style and color of the sign is different, but last year’s sign man wasn’t around. The “Maria” and “Alex” signs are in my RV.

With lunch finished, we walked around the outside of the RV show tent again, eventually winding up at the sign guy. The sign was ready, although he had run out of the spray stuff he uses to protect it. I told him I didn’t want to wait for his companion to arrive with some, confirmed that the paint was dry, and stuffed it in my bag of goodies.

We were done and it was time to go home.

Dog Ice Cream Cone
How cool is this? An ice cream cone for dogs! It was about 3-4 inches total, including the ice cream on top.

I did want ice cream, but I didn’t want to wait on the very long line for the ice cream vendor outside the big tent. And I certainly wasn’t going to pay the other guy on the way out of the area $7 for an ice cream cone. But we did find an ice cream place not far from the corner with the traffic light. I got a huge 2-1/2 scoop serving on a waffle cone. And when they saw that I was with a dog, they gave me a tiny vanilla cone just for her.

We walked back to the helicopter. I did a quick preflight, added a half quart of oil — which I managed to spill quite a bit of — and climbed on board. A while later, we were airborne over the town. I managed to take one photo of the RV show and Tyson Wells area before turning east toward Wickenburg.

Aerial Quartzsite

We were back on the ground at Wickenburg Airport 40 minutes later.

It had been a nice day out — and possibly the last time I’d ever go to Quartzsite. I’d miss it.

The “Perfect” RV

The search is ended, the RV has been purchased.

Yesterday, after five months of checking out possibilities, I purchased my fourth RV. It’s 2010 Keystone Montana Mountaineer, Hickory Edition, model 324RLQ. (The name is almost as long as the titles of some of my books.)

What Came Before

To understand what I wanted in an RV, it’s interesting to note what came before it. For years, we camped in tents on the ground. But as many readers will probably confirm, you reach a certain age when sleeping on the ground — even on an air mattress — takes away much of the pleasures of camping out. So about 10 years ago, we decided we needed something to “camp” in that allowed us to sleep off the ground.

I bought a used 1984 Coleman pop-up camper. The previous owner was meticulous with maintenance and the damn thing was in near perfect condition. The model was so old that it still had real canvas sides. It had two beds: a queen and a single, a table that could make another bed, a two-burner stove, and a microscopic sink. That’s it. We used it primarily on our Howard Mesa property, where we kept it parked and closed up. We’d go up there for a weekend, open it up, and camp out. It was perfect for summer days and nights. But it eventually fell into disuse. We left it at Howard Mesa as spare living space in case anyone came up there to visit with us. Years later, I “sold” it on Craig’s List for $1.

My TrailerBut then we got the horses and decided we wanted to be able to go camping with them. So I bought a 35-foot horse trailer with living quarters. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, the trailer has stalls for the horses in back — mine held three. It also had a sort of closet for storing saddles and other tack. The other half of its length was dedicated to living space for people. It had a queen sized bed, sofa, sink, two-burner stove, good-sized refrigerator, and full (although tiny) bathroom. All this stuff was crammed into a very small space. We added a screened-in room to expand our living space. This photo shows what it looked like parked on our Howard Mesa property with the screen room attached. I lived in this space every other week in the summer of 2004 when I flew at the Grand Canyon. Sadly, we rarely used the camper as it was designed — to take our horses camping with us.

My TrailerIn 2006, I sold the horse trailer and purchased a Starcraft Antiqua hybrid camper. To me, this was the best of both worlds: a hard-sided camper with the usual amenities (kitchen, bathroom, dining area, sitting area, bedroom) plus the outdoorsy feeling of tent camping. I bought this primarily because I thought we were going to go “on the road” with the helicopter in the summer of 2007. I’d do cherry drying and rides at events, Mike would help and do some of his work via “telecommute.” But Mike had a job change and cherry drying did not materialize that year. I subsequently took this camper to Washington State for cherry drying in the summers of 2008 and 2009 and wound up living in it for 4 months one year and 3 months the next.

The best way to determine whether an RV is right for you is it live in it. After a total of nearly 8 months living in this space, I was convinced that it was not right for me. It was time to stop screwing around and buy the “perfect” RV.

What is the “Perfect” RV?

You notice that I keep putting the word perfect in quotes? I’m doing that for two reasons:

  • You might argue that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” RV. I might have to agree with you. RVs are designed for groups of people, not individuals. That means no RV will have a “perfect” feature set.
  • What you want or need in an RV is not the same as what I want or need. So what you might consider the “perfect” RV might not look anything like what I think is the “perfect” RV.

Once you decide what kind of RV you want — pop-up camper, pull trailer, toy hauler, fifth wheel, motorhome, etc. — there are three main considerations:

Mountaineer 324RLQ Floor planFloor plan. The layout of the RV is likely to determine what amenities it has. If you’ve never shopped for an RV — or haven’t done it lately — you will be amazed at what they can cram into a space. For example, the RV I selected is 36 feet long and 8 feet wide. Yet it has a private bedroom, private bathroom, kitchen, dining area, living area with sofa and recliners, and desk. In many cases, it does this with slide outs. You drive along, park, and push a button to expand your living space.

KitchenBeing the picky person I am, certain elements of the floor plan were very important to me. I wanted to be able to access the refrigerator and bathroom without having to expand all the slides. For example, suppose I’m cruising down the road in the middle of nowhere and need/want a cold drink. I can pull over, climb into the RV, and grab one out of the fridge. And even take a leak in a bathroom I know is clean. I also wanted what’s called a “side aisle bath” — a bathroom with all components in the same little room. Other floor plans actually put the bathroom sink in the bedroom. I didn’t want that. And finally, I wanted working space that wasn’t the same place I ate. That means I needed a desk or space for a desk. An RV with a good desk is hard to find and I was perfectly willing to pull out a recliner or even a sofa to put in my own desk. But the model I wound up with actually had a good, usable desk and even had drawers (see photo below). So as far as floor plan is concerned, what I bought is pretty darn close to “perfect” — for me.

BedroomFeatures and Amenities. Every RV manufacturer and design has its own set of features and amenities. For example, a toy hauler includes a garage-like space in the back. A family model RV might include a separate bedroom — and even an additional half bathroom! — with bunks for the kids. Many luxury RVs have surround sound entertainment systems with wide screen televisions that rise out of a panel or fill an entire wall space. Some units have electric fireplaces. You can find kitchens with two refrigerators and bathrooms with bathtubs. Dining can be in a booth or table and chairs. Sofas can become second beds. Bedrooms can have televisions, closets can be cedar-lined, cabinets can have washer/dryer hookups. The list goes on and on. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you walk into an RV with yet another feature you didn’t think you’d ever see in an RV.

Desk and TelevisionFor us, less was more — on the inside, anyway. All the RV dealers in the world can assure us that an electric fireplace is a good feature because it gives off heat using the campground’s electricity rather than onboard propane. I can remind them all that we do a lot of off-the-grid camping where there is no campground electricity. A fireplace was a feature we simply didn’t want — yet it appeared in more than half the RVs we looked at! I was extremely pleased, therefore, when we found the unit I’d buy and saw that instead of a fireplace (see photo of typical configuration), there was an empty cabinet.

I did want lots of cabinet space, a dining table with chairs instead of booth, and a sofa or a pair of recliners. I wanted lots of big windows — and I’m thrilled that my desk has windows on two walls rather than just one — and I wanted all the windows to open. I wanted “day/night” shades on all the windows; I hope I never have to deal with a cheap metal venetian blind again.

Control PanelOn the outside, however, I wanted some of the newer modern features that were not available in the 2009 model I almost bought. At the top of the list was an electric awning — something I could roll out or back in with the push of a button. (If you’d manually rolled in an awning in your pajamas in the middle of the night when the wind kicked up as many times as I have, you’d understand why.) A remote control to deploy the slide outs was also useful when setting up the RV by myself, as I’m likely to do this summer. Ditto for electric stabilizer jacks and “landing gear.” And it seemed to make a lot more sense to have all hookups (except electricity) and sewer dump/flush controls in one place rather than scattered all over the side of the RV. These features were the primary reason I went with the 2010 model rather than the 2009 (which actually had more cabinet space in the kitchen).

But there are a few things I wanted that I didn’t get. A window in the kitchen, for example. The floor plan didn’t make that possible, but there are plenty of other windows. A night table — even a tiny shelf! — beside the bed. There is none in this floor plan because the bedroom is relatively small. (How much time do you really spend in the bedroom anyway?) Heck, I can’t think of anything else. In this model, I even got the file drawer I wanted at the desk!

Living AreaQuality and Price. Quality and price really do go hand in hand. You get what you pay for. A low-end fifth wheel that you might be able to pick up for $25K is simply not going to be as sturdy or well-built as a top-of-the-line fifth wheel that’ll cost you nearly $100K.

Where you’ll see differences in quality are in the walls, floors, cabinets, furniture, and fixtures. A cheap RV’s walls will be covered with inferior wall covering that’s likely to shrink in hot weather (as it did in my Starcraft) and show the staples that hold it together. The cabinets will be some kind of processed wood that’s light weight and easily broken. There might be fewer plastic light fixtures than you need for good illumination. Kitchen and bathroom fixtures will be plastic; countertops will be a formica laminate. Things will break quickly and often, especially if you’re careless. Of course, if you only use the thing a week or two a year, this shouldn’t be an issue. But if you plan to spend several months a year actually living in it, quality becomes important.

Steps to BedroomIn my case, I wanted good quality but knew I couldn’t afford — or, more accurately, were not willing to spend enough for — the best. So the very first part of my search was to determine which brands were below my quality needs or above my budget. This should be the first step in anyone’s search for an RV; you can waste a huge amount of time looking at units that simply won’t work for you because of insufficient quality or expensive price. I also cut from the mix any manufacturer what was in bankruptcy or had gone out of the business. 2008/09 killed a lot of them. That limited us to about ten different brands by three different manufacturers. Mountaineer is a mid-range Keystone product. Montana by Keystone is one step above it and I could have made that step if I found one I liked. Heartland’s Big Horn and Big Country were also in the running.

My Perfect RV

Easy ChairsThe Mountaineer I bought won on all three factors:

  • It had a floor plan that worked for me, given that when my husband joined me on the road with our dog, we’d need lots of space to be comfortable long-term.
  • It had a list of features and amenities that were in line with what I wanted and needed in an RV.
  • Its quality was acceptable while its price was within my budget.

I also got a smoking deal on the unit. Keep in mind that I had a quote in hand for a new 2009 model on a lot in Surprise, AZ. I didn’t like the salesguy there — he’d made the fatal error of talking down to me. (Tip for salesmen: never tell a woman shopping alone that she should go home and talk to her husband about a purchase decision.) Mike and I were ready to climb into the car and work him over on price, but I didn’t really want to give him my business at all.

BedroomI started calling some of the RV dealers I’d met with over the past few months — I kept all their cards — to see if they had the same model available. One, in Quartzsite, said he had a 2010. I told him I’d consider driving out to take a look if we could agree to a price over the phone. I told him about the 2009 I were prepared to buy. He asked me to make an offer. I did. He came back with a slightly higher offer that was still below retail. We were there by 2 pm and I had all the papers signed by 4:30 PM.

(Another tip for salesmen: Make sure all prospective customers get your card. You never know when one will call back and you’ll get the sale.)

Is a 2010 Keystone Montana Mountaineer, Hickory Edition, model 324RLQ the perfect RV? For us, it’s about as perfect as I’ll get right now. But for you? The answer isn’t that easy. If you want your perfect RV, you’ll have to do your homework to find it.

Aerial Photos from Quartzsite

Just a few shots taken by a French photographer.

Back in January, I wrote a blog post called “Over Quartzsite.” In it, I told the story of a photo shoot over Quartzsite, AZ.

The post was remarkable in that it got a comment from someone who had heard about my overflight from one of the folks on the ground that day. It’s always rewarding when I write about one of my experiences and someone who was there from a different point of view comments on it.

Anyway, I didn’t hear anything from the photographer after the flight. Until today. He e-mailed me:

My story about QZ was published last week in France, six pages in a weekly.

I attached few of the aerial shots. Photos 1 & 2 were published.

For your private record you can post it but don’t give them away.

Also, I did again overnight park my camper outside a motel.
On Superbowl Sunday, I drove to Blythe and book a room to watch the game.

Good flights in your lovely state.

Attached to the message were five images that he took that day.

I asked his permission to reproduce low-res versions of the images here. He graciously said yes. If you read French, you can find his article at http://www.vsd.fr/contenu-editorial/photo-story/l-oeil-de-vsd/
58-arizona-les-papys-font-de-la-transhumance
. All of the aerial photos were taken from my helicopter.

Here are the three I like best.

Quartzsite FisheyeThis photo shows a super wide angle view of Quartzsite from the south, right around sunset. No, we weren’t high enough to see the curvature of the earth — that’s the effect of the photographer’s wide-angle lens. (Apparently, I’m not the only one who likes fisheye lenses.) In the foreground is the big tent for the RV show. This is the biggest week in Quartzsite. This, by the way, is what he refers to as Photo 2. I think it’s the best of the bunch.

Quartzsite from the AirThis shot was taken from the east side of town looking west, not long before sunset. The main road you see is I-10; it’s in the other shot, too. All those white specks are RVs — people dry camping out in the desert on BLM land.

Circle the Wagons!I love this shot. It shows a typical area of RV campers. Makes you think of old westerns, doesn’t it? Circle the wagons, boys! We must have spent 20 minutes circling this huge parking lot — I think he took dozens of photos. I think I like this shot because it makes you feel as if the same pattern of circled RVs exists infinitely in this area.