Snowbirding 2016: Introduction

I officially become a snowbird.

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

If you’re not familiar with the term snowbird, it refers to a person, normally retired, who migrates seasonally to more appealing weather. Usually, the person lives in a northern climate and migrates south for the winter, like a bird might. Occasionally, the person lives in a warm climate and migrates north for the summer. I have friends in Arizona who do that. And then there’s a whole separate class of snowbirds who live full-time in RVs and travel around the country for the best weather and activities and places they like.

When I lived in Arizona — which has brutally hot summers — I was fortunate to have summer work that took me north to cooler climates. Now that I live in Washington, I’m fortunate to have free time and late winter work that makes it possible to go south to warmer climates.

I’m not retired — not yet, anyway. I feel semi-retired and often tell people I am. Most snowbirds are retired because usually you need to be retired from a job to have the freedom to travel seasonally. When I wrote books for a living, I could have had the same lifestyle, but I chose to stick with the man I thought was my life partner; unfortunately, he valued a steady paycheck over a flexible lifestyle. Fortunately, I don’t have him holding me back anymore.

I did some traveling to Arizona last year. I house/dog-sat for some friends in Wickenburg while they were away and turned my visit into an extended stay. It was nice getting back into the sun and seeing old friends. But I had a lot of work ahead of me at home — I’d started construction work on my living space that winter and was eager to finish up and move in. So my visit was short — about two weeks? — and I didn’t really get the snowbird experience.

This year is different. When I’d had enough of this winter’s extraordinarily generous snowfall and began really craving sunshine, I consulted a mostly empty calendar and started thinking of the invitations that were trickling in from points south. I had at least three potential destinations:

  • Some very good friends in Wickenburg (northwest of Phoenix, where I used to live) told me that I was welcome to stay in their guest house “as long as I liked.” While I didn’t think they meant the two months that I was interested in, I knew I’d be able to stay there at least a week. I looked forward to seeing them and visiting with other friends in town.
  • Some other friends were staying in their RV in the Quartzite area. My friend is an artist and shows her work there. But before the show, they camp out in the Colorado River backwaters south of Ehrenberg, AZ where they relax and fish and have campfires at night. This year, they’d have three horses with them.
  • For the fourth year in a row, I got a frost control contract in California’s central valley. The contract normally runs from the end of February to the end of April. Although I’m not required to stay with the helicopter at my base there — they pay a generous call-out fee that covers the cost of me flying down from Washington when needed — I really like the area. I also get a great deal on an RV parking spot at the airport where the helicopter is based. I have friends there and even learned to fly a gyro with one of them back in 2014. It’s a great third destination.

I had other invitations to visit friends down south, too. A friend of mine in Salt Lake City invited me to spend New Year’s Eve with her and her son. Other friends with a new home south of Phoenix had a guest house bedroom waiting for me. I even had an invitation to spend some time with a friend in Tucson, if I decided to go that far.

What made traveling south for the winter a lot easier was having a place to live when I wasn’t a guest at a friend’s home: my unsold Mobile Mansion.

The Long Drive
The long drive. I had overnight stops in Pasco, WA; La Grande, OR; Boise, ID; and Las Vegas, NV.

So on December 29, I got the Mobile Mansion off the sale lot in East Wenatchee where it was waiting for a buyer, hooked it up to my truck, and headed south, leaving my home, chickens, and barn cat(s), in the capable hands of my house-sitter and her doberman.

Along the way, I got delayed due to truck mechanical problems that eventually killed my truck, bought a new used truck that puts all my past trucks to shame, and kept on going. I missed out on the New Year’s Eve celebration in Salt Lake, drove through an area of severe cold (like -19°F) that turned the wine and champagne stored aboard the Mobile Mansion to slush, spent my first night in the Mobile Mansion at an RV park in Las Vegas (of all places), and rolled into my friend’s Colorado River campsite in time for lunch on January 2.

Sam's Town
I bet you didn’t know they had RV parks in Las Vegas.

And I’ve been having a ball ever since.

I’m going to do my best to blog about each of the stages of my snowbirding experience. I don’t expect it to be what anyone might consider typical.

2 thoughts on “Snowbirding 2016: Introduction

  1. Glad you made it. That is one big load to pull. My wife asked if you have a reversing camera on the RV? (She has numerous gifts, reversing long trailers is not one of them).
    Perhaps you try to avoid reversing, America has lots of space…
    You mention an extremely low temperature of -19F. Was that south of Salt Lake? Why so cold there?
    I have talked to truckers in Whitehorse (Yukon) who dread the real cold in winter. They said that if the engine fails a driver needs help, -pronto. They sometimes get down to the -40’s. Brrrr.

    • No, I don’t have a backup camera on the RV. As you suggested, I try hard not to back up. I use a set of four orange traffic cones as visual guides when I have to back it into a parking space. It’s very difficult, especially with an audience. And when you have a rig so big and you’re a woman driving it alone, you get quite an audience sometimes.

      That low temperature was in north eastern Nevada. I drove down from Twin Falls, Idaho, to Las Vegas on Route 93. (You can see it on Google Maps if you look.) It was bitter cold from Twin Falls on New Year’s morning to Ely, NV. Just a cold spell. The weather in this country has been REALLY weird this year.

      I was actually a bit worried about the diesel fuel gelling up, but the new used truck performed admirably.

What do you think?