29 Months Fulltiming: May 2017 Report

A couple of nights ago I pounded out a post to start catching us up.  At that point we were 24 days behind on the blog.  With this monthly report we are down to only 13, woot!

The Distance: 998 miles as we worked our way west from Phoenix through Yuma into Southern California, and then up the coast to just north of San Francisco.  Our 2017 total is 3,853, all but a handful of that occurring during the last three months.  I suspect we are on track for a 15,000 mile year.  photo May 2017 route_zpsos93ssb2.jpg

The Places:  We left Phoenix bound for Yuma, and stopped there for eight days getting dental work done in Los Algodones.  From there it was on to Coronado, CA and the Navy’s campground at Fiddler Cove.  We then moved north to Ventura, staying at another Navy camp on Point Mugu, and included a day trip to the Channel Islands National Park.  While there we were able to meet up with Dad and Stopmom Marcia again when they rolled into town for a couple of nights camping on the Channel Islands.  Then it was on to Monterrey, broken up by a one night stop over at Camp San Luis Obispo,  Finally, we continued north beyond San Francisco before stopping at Travis Air Force Base’s Family Campground.  We used that as a jumping off point for a trip back to South Florida.

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Channel Islands National Park

We spent 23 days in military campgrounds and 8 in a private RV resort.  We enjoyed full hook ups, sometimes even with cable or usable wifi, for 30 days, and dry camped for one. Other than the tax payer subsidized rate at the five different military facilities, we also used one of our Air Force Frequent Camper certificates for a free night at Travis AFB, and were discounted four nights in Yuma due to our Passport America membership.

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Fiddler’s Cove Marina, Coronado, CA

The Budget:  May was a budgetary disaster for us, but we knew that going into it.  We ended up 139% over budget!  The vast majority of that was because of our dental work in Mexico, but we also had to get a partial brake job for Loki (pads and rotors on the front axle.)  This puts us over for the year, but we are still confident we can make it up the majority of that with rational expenditures in June and July.  Once we are out of California we hope the less rigid regulations will allow us to participate in a few markets to help pad the budget as well.

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Using YouTube videos I am able to stay one lesson ahead for the cat’s Jiu Jutsu training.  Once our budget is under control, we will be able to afford a real instructor.

The Drama and the Improvements:  Loki’s brakes started squealing and grinding about when we arrived at Travis AFB, so we had pads and rotors replaced on the front axle at the base Firestone center.  As for drama: the softball incidents at Travis are about the only thing I can think of.

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Looking forward to market opportunities after California to sell Rosemarie’s creations.

Here are our monthly reports for the year so far:

And here are our 2016 and 2015 annual summaries, each of which have embedded links to the individual monthly reports from those years.

Starting a lengthy (for us) stay at Travis Air Force Base Family Camp

During our meet up with Jennifer and Dees near Monterrey, they prompted us to get busy reserving something for the coming weekend; we had completely forgotten about Memorial Day!  We were particularly constrained as our next stop was to be the San Francisco Bay Area in order to visit family, and we already had flight reservations out of SFO to return to South Florida for a couple of days to attend Rose’s dad’s 70th birthday party.  It’s bad enough heading to the Bay Area as an RVer: quite expensive and limited site options, but doing so on a three day summer weekend makes it even tougher.  A couple phone calls ruled out the few Passport-America options, and there are only two military facilities in the region, one of which has but six sites, and they were full.  photo 60b83381-5e56-450e-8fb4-a9f894b76637_zpsngle6q3x.jpg

The other, Travis Air Force Base, like many Air Force Family Campgrounds, does not allow reservations within thirty days of arrival.  So it would be first come first serve in a park that was reportedly filling up fast.  Nothing for it but to try, so we made loose dry camping back up plans and headed north on a Tuesday morning, hoping that an early weekday arrival would mean there was something still available.

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Passing through the heart of California win country on the way to Travis AFB

Sure enough, a spot was opening up just as we got into town, the only catch: it was in the “no pets allowed” section of the park.  Travis set aside roughly 1/3 of the campground as a pet-free area, and they included cats, not just dogs, in the ban.  The good news was that they had an opening coming up the next day in the pet area that would get us all the way through the Memorial Day weekend, which we locked in.  And so for on day we did not have a cat, and then suddenly we did.

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Forgot to get a picture of our “no pets” zone site, but here is our second, kitty legal spot #24.

Travis’ Family Camp is a full hook up place at a great $23 a night rate.  After paying $35, $30, and $32 in Coronado, Point Mugu, and Monterrey respectively, it was nice to be back down in what we think of as the traditional military price range.  Plus, being an Air Force Family Camp, we were able to use one of our Air Force Frequent Camper coupons for a free night.  Given our loose travel plans for June, it might be a while before we would have access to another commissary, so we definitely stocked up here.  photo Wine garden_zpsypmfwtwe.jpg

During our first few days at Travis we made the 40 minute drive down to sister Dolores’ place twice to visit with her, Josh, and niece Tamiry.  Now four years old, Tamiry is a lot more communicative than during our last trip west, and we loved hanging out with her watching movies (as she gave away every upcoming plot point) and going to the local park pool to swim.  Dolores, Josh and Tamiry flew to Florida several days in advance of our trip, so we were left with quite time in Fairfield awaiting our own trip.  What to do?  photo Tamiry and us_zpsq0ywaekq.jpg

The last three military campgrounds at which we stayed had the advantage of a fantastic seaside location, which goes a long way towards explaining their price.  But what Travis has is proximity to the true heart of California wine country: the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.  Given the strained status of our budget following our Mexican dental visit, we decided to limit ourselves to one day of wine tasting, and to stick to the more affordable places.  photo Wine mangels_zps9puynwkz.jpg

Since the Suisun Valley was just a couple of miles from base, we started there, visiting six tasting rooms, and purchasing a flight in five of them (the first one was just too expensive for our blood.)  They all had a pretty similar business plan: charge a nominal fee for a flight, the cost of which could be put towards the purchase of any bottle, and waived all together if you joined their members club.  This all but guarantees you will buy at least one bottle, and we were not the exception.  photo Wine rack_zpsc8udkfld.jpg

We ended up with five bottles for the day, and can say that our favorite was the Viognere from Mangels Vineyard, unusual since we were unfamiliar with the varietal and usually prefer reds.  In terms of bang for your buck, you can’t go wrong with the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative, which currently has three vineyards offering tastings, with the entire line from all of them available to try for only $10.  We also enjoyed the ambiance and offerings at Wooden Valley Winery.  photo Wine five bottles_zpsyj40uvrs.jpg

Our impending trip to South Florida involved several moving pieces that were as yet unresolved upon our arrival a Travis earlier in the week: we still needed a place to store Serenity, off airport long term parking for Loki (SFO charges $25 a day!) and a cat sitter for Pad Kee Meow.  The former was turning out to be tougher than I expected since the base storage was completely full.  We eventually resolved this by moving to one of the six dry camping spots within the Family Camp since none of the hook up site were available for the full period of our trip.  In order to do that, however, we needed to get a waiver to the “three day maximum stay in dry camp” policy at Travis.  Fortunately we got approval, and then it was just down to the cat.

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Our dry camping site, one of six in the campground

Walking around the camp I ran into Steve, a volunteer on site, and figured he would be about the best person to put the word out regarding our need.  He immediately went to talk to his wife, Cindy, who is apparently a barely recovered cat addict, perhaps still in withdrawal and missing having such furballs around.  We worked out a deal, and Pad Kee Meow had a personal feeder, walker, brusher, and human to shower her with attention during our absence.  Thanks again, Cindy!  photo 1188_zps67yqoe0w.jpg

We moved into dry camp the day before our flight, set for an evening of final preparations and relaxation before the storm of a big family gathering in Florida.  If only.  We were jolted out of our peaceful state of mind by the loud smack of something hitting either the back or roof of our rig.  Upon investigation, we found a softball next to our rear, and observed several more easily clearing the fence behind us and landing among the dry camped RVs and a few adjacent hook up sites.  Let the drama commence!

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The Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative vineyards

Three players were having a go at batting practice, with one of them smacking every other ball over the fence.  After a couple of minutes of yelling and waiving we managed to get one of them to come talk to us in an attempt to negotiate and end to the bombardment.  They were having none of it: as far as they were concerned, if we parked in the (designated, assigned) RV spots near the fence then we took our chances.  One of the other campers lost his cool in a fairly extravagant manner, while the rest of us continued the conversation, but it became clear that the batters either didn’t care, or even held us in utter contempt.  I believe “look how these people live!” was one of his lines during talks with a resident officer.  Apparently in his eyes we were dirty, homeless, trailer-bound scavengers wandering the planet.  Eventually base security showed up and shut them down for that evening, but it was to be a short term solution.  photo Wine Rose and grapes_zpsetelqgub.jpg

I can sympathize: the field is one of the three officially designated base softball fields, but this was, we would learn, far from the first incident, with several of the campers having been led to believe that it would be closed until a permanent solution could be worked out.  Oh well.  Hopefully we would return from Florida to find an undamaged rig.  photo Flower_zps3rtc99ji.jpg

Monterrey and Carmel Valley

We have once again fallen a bit behind on the blog, roughly three weeks it appears, so it’s time for a flurry of catch up posts!  After our fantastic stay at Port Mugu near Ventura, we continued north towards the San Francisco Bay area, but there was no way we would pass up Monterrey and Carmel Valley.  We loved our last stop in Monterrey in 2015, and hold the Carmel Valley vineyards in high regard.

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Obligatory cute cat photo to start things off right.

We broke up the trip with a one day stop at San Luis Obispo Army Reserve Base, a small campground on a small base, but for a great price with decent facilities.  During our one night stay we enjoyed full hook ups for $23, along with clean facilities.  Pad Kee Meow was particularly happy with the proliferation of ground squirrels in the vicinity of our rig.

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Our spot at San Luis Obispo Army base.  PKM loved the ground rodent holes.

We pushed on to the Navy facility at Monterrey Pines, situated on a very nice golf course.  At $32 a night it is a bit pricey for a military campground, but given the area, that amount for a full hook up site is still a bargain.  It is a small campground, and some of the sites are awkardly situated, but consiering the cost of other local options, we can’t complain.

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Our next site at Monterrey Pines.

Pollen driven allergies in this section of California are beginning to take a toll on Rosemarie, so we scaled back our aggressive plans for the region and just relaxed a bit.  Of course, there was no way we were going to forgo a trip to nearby Carmel Valley and the profusion of wine tasting rooms there.

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Heller Estate tasting room.  Always a pleasure.

Our timing was fortuitous; our day trip to the valley coincided with the weekly farmers market, and we indulged in two hand made dips and chips as well as to die for sausage links from Cowboy Sausage.   We distinctly remembered his offerings from our trip in 2015, when he had been set up on Heller Estate’s property.

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A new find for us, Cowgirl Winery was excellent.  As I am writing this entry Rose and I are finishing a bottle of their excellent Pinot Noir.

After the market, it was on to the tasting rooms, starting with our near annual pilgrimage to Heller Estate.  This time we limited ourselves to an excellent Chardonnay even though that is not a grape we usually choose.  We hit a couple more nearby places after that; Carmel Valley is fantastic because you don’t have to drive between the tasting places, they are all situated within a short walking distance.

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Mark Bunter, owner of Bunter Springs.  I told you Rose would make you look good, Mark,

We particularly enjoyed Cowgirl Winery’s Pinot Noir.  The overall sit down experience for their flight tasting was quite nice, and the prices were right for our retired budget.  We finished the afternoon with a stop in Bunter Springs for a thoroughly enjoyable flight from this small vinyard, and enjoyed chatting with the owner as well.

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Our booty from one day.

On our last full day we managed to meet up with our friends Jennifer and Dees of Nealys on Wheels, fellow full time RVers whom we last saw in the Florida Keys during our stay at Curry Hammock State Park.  So here we are on the other side of the country, but our travel schedules aligned just enough for a day, allowing us to share a couple of pints at a British-styled pub half way between our respective campgrounds.  We convinced fellow RVillagers Terry and Melanee, neighbors in the Monterrey Campground to join us.

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Jennifer, Rose, Melanee, Terry, Jack and Dees.

English Ales Brewery Pub was literally the only non-chain place with decent ratings we could find near Marina, CA.  I enjoyed the Dragon Slayer IPA, but heard nothing but positive reports about the Bad Bobby and a couple of others, plus the fish and chips were up to standard.

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Excellent brews all around.

Four days in Monterrey, and we never actually visited the city!  Ah well, we exceeded our allowance on wine and treats, so heading into town would have only pushed us that much further over budget.  Next trip we will spend more time near the Monterrey Marina and shore.

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Garden art at Heller Estate.

But for now it is on to the San Francisco Bay Area to meet up with Rosemarie’s sister Dolores, Josh, and our niece Tamiry.  photo IMG_5495_zps91ukihcd.jpg

Point Mugu, Ventura CA, and the Channel Islands National Park

As alluded to in our route planning for this year, one of our general goals is to visit the places we missed in 2015 due to our mechanical challenges that first year of full-timing.  Specifically, we cut short most of our southern and central California plans in order to get The Big Kahuna into a shop in northern CA, so this year we wanted to spend a good amount of time in the lower half of CA, and especially in the various National Parks throughout the state.

First on that list by virtue of its southern-most location: Channel Islands National Park, off the coast of Ventura, a short hop north of Los Angeles.  The big challenge is getting there, by which I mean braving the… intense southern California traffic through San Diego, San Clemente, and Los Angeles as well as the twisty turny roads along the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu.  We spent a lot of time travelling 20 to 30 mph along the I-5 in clobbered 12 lane traffic despite our Sunday morning departure, but we eventually made it safely to the Point Mugu Naval Air Station.  photo IMG_5176_zps07rnaudy.jpg

This is, as are many Navy owned campgrounds, prime real estate with spectacular views.  It is also, like many Navy owned campgrounds, questionably maintained.  For $30 a night we got a full hook up site (#151) that, though a little tight, was pretty nice, located within a stone’s throw of Mugu Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean.  We loved the location and the amenities (free laundry and a small commissary) but would have like to have seen a better maintained park; the power junction boxes, for example, looked like an electrical fire waiting to happen.  Likewise, the “rules” for the park residents were more like general recommendations.  E.g., a neighbor pulled in behind us and didn’t bat an eye, much less discuss with us, his encroachment on our assigned area to position his satellite TV antenna.

But all things considered, we loved it and would come back again, especially considering how convenient the location was to the Channel Islands National Park ferry harbor in Ventura.  The park consists of five islands, and after a bit of research and rate comparison, we chose to lock in a day trip to Santa Cruz, the largest and second closest to Ventura option.  This would allow a short one hour ferry crossing and nearly six hours of exploration and day hiking.

We did not regret this choice.  We made the 25 minute drive up to Island Packer’s parking lot to catch our 9:00 am ferry departure.  We had half an hour to explore the official National Park visitor center, and then off we went, plowing through notably rough, six to seven foot seas.  I have never in my life gotten seasick, but have great sympathy for those that do: so damn it parents of teens that obviously look ill, follow the repeated guidance from the crew and get your kid to the back railing so we don’t have to watch him lose it all over the tables and benches inside the ferry!

We had an unexpected bonus during the transit as we pulled up half way there to watch the repeated breaching of a hump back whale!  Fantastic.  Rosemarie and I have taken whale watching tours in San Diego, Hawaii, and Maine, and this was the closest we have gotten to one of the behemoths, and it was not even part of the expected experience!

We docked at Scorpion Bay, listened to the very brief orientation from the park ranger, and headed out for a 5 mile hike to Potato Harbor with a side trip to Cavern Point on the return leg.  Having done our research, we were first on the trail and encountered not a single other person until the turn around point of the hike.  But along the way we had such glorious experiences, starting with the family of three Island Foxes cavorting in the lower tent campground unconcerned with us human interlopers.  photo IMG_5270_zpsxohgg88k.jpg

The various subspecies of Island Foxes (Urocyon littoralis) are related to mainland grey foxes, but significantly smaller due to insular dwarfism, essentially an environmental outcome of limited food, range, and resources.  An Island Fox usually weighs less than five pounds.  To put that in perspective, our cat is three times as big as one of these things!

During our six hours on the island we observed about seven foxes, one of which led us along the trail to Potato Harbor for nearly a mile and a half.  When it paused to hunt, we paused to watch, usually within 30 feet of our location.  During one exciting event, it successfully chomped on a few large insects in the bushes while we stood and took picture less than five feet away!

The views along this day hike were spectacular, especially the rugged coastline that recalled images of Hawaii and the Galapagos islands.  The sheer number of pelicans, which we would later learn were most likely breed and raise on nearby Anacapa island, along with the large and aggressive crows were a wonder to watch.  At one point, as we collapsed on the rocky beach after our hike, a crow passed but 20 feet over head with a nearly 2 foot snake in its beak!  I have know idea whether the bird killed it or found it dead; either way, very entertaining.  photo IMG_5359_zpsujlnc35u.jpg

We boarded the ferry for the far less rough crossing back to Ventura; smaller waves and following seas made for a gentler transit.  Along the way the captain and naturalist tried to find us another whale, but were confounded by what we suspect was a very shy Minke.  Ah well, it had been a great day, so what more could we expect?  photo IMG_5342_zpso6u54pck.jpg

And then lightening struck: much closer to shore than you normally find them, a hump back was engaged in cooperative feeding with a large pod of common dolphins, sea lions, and opportunistically feeding pelicans, shearwaters, and gulls.  Alerted by the multitude of aggressive diving birds, the captain steered towards the activity.  There we observed in awe as the whale and dolphins herded the schools of sardines and anchovies into tight bait balls, culminating in repeated open mouthed breaches of the whale as he swallowed untold number of the fish.  photo IMG_5206_zpsthfcwzcr.jpg

It was extraordinary, especially as we were able to observe it within a couple of hundred yards.   I can’t believe our greatest whale watching event occurred on a trip where we had no expectations of even seeing a whale.  We forgot to even try to take still photos, having only captured the moments on video.  Check out a very short clip on our instagram page.

Upon arrival back at the Ventura harbor, we were met by dad and Marcia, who had completely altered their central California national park exploration due to collapsing weather in the Saguaro and Kings Canyon area.  With late snows interfering with their plans, they left the fifth wheel inland and drove to the coast with the intention of camping for a couple of nights in the Channel Islands.  We hosted them for a night at Point Mugu before they rose early for their ferry crossing.  We look forward to hearing about their experience there and seeing their pictures as well.  photo FullSizeRender 4_zpsgooayyvp.jpg

We finally make it to California! Five days relaxing and recuperating in Coronado

After our eight days stint in Yuma getting dental work done across the border in Mexico, we were going a bit stir crazy to get on our way.  So the morning after the final stage in which our permanent crowns were attached, we made the long push to San Diego.  More specifically, we passed through San Diego to the Navy RV Campground on Coronado, just across the bay.  photo Fiddlers Cove Marina_zpskpqmrrtw.jpg

If you recall our original route planning for this year’s journey, we anticipated getting to southern California in mid April.  But passport delays, dental work, and our leisurely pace across the south, especially as we lingered in San Antonio and Tucson, put us roughly three weeks behind schedule.  Fortunately, this doesn’t matter at all; we always looked at that original route plan as very loose, something from which to deviate as other options were exposed along the way.

So we are in California now, and near a major tourist destination at that, so the prices dictate our selections more than ever.  At Fiddler’s Cover Marina and RV Park we had a full hook up, pull through site in a fantastic location, right on the San Diego Bay and just over the bridge from the Gaslamp Quarter.  At $35 a night ($40 for the bay front, water view sites), this is the most expensive military campground at which we have stayed, but compared to the state park just up the road (Silver Strand) it was a decent deal.  That park offered water and electric only, parking lot style sites for $50 a night, $65 for beach front.

I’m not gonna lie this park had some issues: it was one of the more dog noisy places we have stayed, with apparently little effort made to enforce excess barking problems.  There were a lot of families with young kids in the park, which comes with the expected noise level.  And finally, since the place is not located on a gated base but rather an off base annex, there were some security issues that you would not normally see at military campgrounds, i.e., homeless people entering the facility to use the bathrooms and shower houses, etc.  Still a good price for the location, and the staff was quite helpful and efficient.  photo Gaslamp Quarter_zpsegkagwfx.jpg

While there we took a day to wander around San Diego’s Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter.  As cities go, we have really enjoyed our two visits to San Diego.  We had a slice at a local pizzaria and enjoyed the pedestrian friendly areas, but we didn’t bother to cross the bridge and spend much time in the big city this time.

 

Mostly we stayed in Coronado, The Strand, and Imperial Beach (at the other end of the strand.)  In our travels one of the things we are big on is indulging in the local delicacies and food traditions of each region we visit.  Gulf shrimp and oysters in the Florida panhandle, crawfish, boudin and cracklins in Louisiana, BBQ in Texas, lobster and cherry stones in Maine, elk in Colorado, you get the idea.

A bit of googling revealed that if there is any one food specifically associated with San Diego, it is the fish taco.  Armed with that knowledge, we selected one of the top rated places in Coronado, Miguel’s Cocina, for an early afternoon meal.  We ordered way too much, but I thoroughly enjoyed the lightly battered fried fish tacos topped with cabbage, Rosemarie preferred the more traditional carne asada version, and we both agreed that we should have tried the grilled swordfish or seared tuna taco option.  Mixed with local craft beer and sangria, this was a fantastic meal.

While there we too advantage of the various military bases in the vicinity to stock up at the very large commissary and exchange over the bridge at the San Diego Naval Base.  It is tough city-type driving to get there, but once secure on the facility we had great and wide ranging options for our culinary needs.  While the RV campground quality and prices are the main benefit to base camping, access to the base facilities is a close second.

Our biggest disappointment was our inability to get into a single craft or farmers market while there.  Had we been successful we might have extended our stay.  In some cases the markets excluded anything but produce, in others the paperwork and licensing requirements were excessive, and in several cases the managers just didn’t respond to emails or texts.  After looking into other areas, we are starting to think that California may be a wash for us entirely, but there are plenty more states in our 2017 route, so we remain optimistic on this front.

I-8 to Yuma: Eight day stay for extensive dental work in Mexico

We just finished getting a bunch of dental work done in Mexico.  A big percentage of western RVers, people living near the western end of the Mexico border, and I suppose, Canadians will probably understand that without explanation.  For the rest: there are border towns in Mexico that contain a lot of dentists and other specialists whose clientele is almost exclusively US and Canadian medical tourists.  These organizations charge 25% to 35% of US costs.  The dentists are generally well educated, are often US ADA certified, and come with a plethora of patient reviews on the traditional English language sites plus RV discussion forums.  photo FullSizeRender 3_zpsuzsctp6n.jpg

Based on reviews and qualifications, we selected Bernal Dental Group, a three doctor outfit in Los Algodones with very high ratings in the places I checked.  Their office manager responded rapidly, spoke and wrote in fluent English, and got us same time appointments for the day after our arrival.  We found the office bright, very clean, and almost absurdly modern.  There were still labels on some of the brand new gear in the actual exam and treatment rooms, and even all the fluorescent lighting had been replaced with LEDs.  Both Drs Aldo and Carlos were professional and detailed, and also spoke excellent English, which came in quite handy when explaining the extensive treatment plans they proposed for both of us.

A little background: For years our regular dentists in Miami Beach were generally keeping an eye on some things that maybe should be done in the near term, but were not too worrisome with regular check ups.  After we retired, lost dental insurance, and began full time RVing, our next dental visit was more than a year later on a discount “Groupon” deal for a cleaning and exam, where they not only upsold us on some immediate treatment, but also presented us with a $10,000 work proposal between the two of us.  This seemed very sketchy at the time, and we took a pass, vowing to get a second opinion.

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Flash forward one year to the present day.  Here in Los Algodones we had X-rays, a dental exam, and a cleaning for $100 each.  And then Drs Aldo and Carlos proposed that we receive roughly twice as much work as the Groupon dentist, though even then our bill would be about one third the cost of the US proposal.  So what gives with these rapidly rising dental work proposals?  Here is my loose hypothesis:

  • Our long term dentists could afford to just keep an eye on things because we both had a solid track record of returning to his office every six months for a cleaning and exam.  He didn’t feel the need to do fillings or redo crowns until they presented more obvious decay.  I think Rosemarie’s doc might have expressed a bit more “sooner rather than later” urgency for her work, but there you have it.
  • The Groupon dentist had none of these luxuries; we had never been to his office, he knew it had been a full year since our last cleaning and exam, and for all he knew we wouldn’t see him or any other dentists for years.  Add to that more than a year’s worth of additional decay and you can more easily justify his proposal for four build up and crowns (replacements for existing ones) plus two fillings between us.
  • The Mexican dentists had the same situation as the Groupon guy, but on top of that they seem to have a different philosophy with regard to dental work, particularly old (15 to 35 years in our case) metal fillings and crowns.  That philosophy can best be summed up as “replace them all!”  So on top of the four crown replacements and two fillings between the two of us, they proposed an additional four crowns and dozen fillings!

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Now, I know this seems insanely exaggerated and unnecessary.  I think those are the words I used when presented with just my proposed treatment.  Discussing it in more detail with both dentists, we started to understand this key difference between our US dentists and the Mexican counterparts: they don’t trust old metal fillings, and really emphasize the aesthetics of tooth matching, white resin composite fillings and porcelain crowns.  Whereas our Miami Beach dentists, and perhaps any regular treating dentist, would just keep an eye on any hinted flaw development, the Mexican dentist says why not just replace it with a new filling while the cavity is still so shallow, and make your smile better in the process?  I want to emphasize that this is just my interpretation based on a very limited data set.  But the work proposed was still way more than we were prepared to take on this visit, so with some prodding we got our docs to established a prioritization for our proposed plans.  We wanted to do the most crucial stuff now, and hopefully return six months or more later, for another stage.

So two days after our exams I had my lower right crown replaced and a couple of new small cavities filled, and three old fillings replaced.  Rosemarie had a root canal (her most urgent crown having deteriorated even further since the Groupon exam), two crown replacements, and a filling, all from one quadrant of her mouth.  We had to wait over the weekend to give the lab techs time to construct and deliver the finished crowns made from the molds, so start to finish, exam to final stage, took seven days.  With better planning it probably could have been done in three or four.  photo FullSizeRender 4_zpseamgobwh.jpg

The entire cost of both our procedures: $1,710.  We had already payed the $100 each for the exam, cleaning, and x-rays.  Using the Groupon dentist’s pricing for crowns and fillings, and a bit of internet sleuthing for molar root canal rates, we estimate that this work would have cost us $6,880 in the US.  This put us at the lower end of the rough estimate we had heard about tourist dental work in Los Algodones.

Today, a few hours after getting our final adjustments and crowns cemented in, we are quite happy with the entire process.  We will reassess as time goes by, and suspect our next exam and cleaning will be six months down the road in the US, but we are already talking about coming back inside a year to do another stage of the proposed work.  We hope the exam doesn’t again show a whole new set of things that need to be done.

During our stay in Yuma we parked at the Blue Sky RV Resort.  They gave us the Passport America rate of $25.50 for half our stay and some sort of “other discounted rate” of $32 for the remaining days.  The park is very modern with new amenities, and the camp hosts are very helpful and nice.  We had a minor problem with the cable TV going out and a half day of pool closure, but we would endorse this place for your Yuma/Los Algondoles stay.  Well maintained, clean and modern facilities, heck even the wifi worked find from our spot, though the seasonal emptiness of the park probably helped with that.  If you want something even closer to the Andrade border crossing, there were a couple of cost competitive options over the California border that looked nice during our drive by, but our park in the Yuma foothills put us closer to the city amenities of Yuma and worked well for us.   photo IMG_5007_zpsa84oeioc.jpg

28 Months Fulltiming: April 2017 Report

Putting out the April report only a week into May?  We’ve come along way from being five weeks or so behind  back in March.

The Distance: 1,793 miles as we crossed the majority of the country from Pensacola to Phoenix.  Our biggest month so far this year, and one of our longer ones for our overall fulltime RV adventure.  We had several significantly bigger mileage months in 2015 when we were running wildly around the country, but only one month in 2016 exceed this month’s total: back in October when we sprinted home from Minnesota to Florida we did 1825 miles.  Our 2017 total is 2,855 miles.

The Places:  We finally left Florida and stopped for one night at Farr Equestrian Center in Louisiana, and then another one night stop at a Cracker Barrel in Texas before pushing on to Fort Sam Houston in San Anotonio.  We lingered their for eight days and then stopped into Balmorhea State Park, a place we had missed in 2015 due to mechanical difficulties with the old bus.  There we ran into Dad and Marcia, neither of us having planned it at all!  Then it was on to Davis-Monthan AFB Family Camp in Tucson, AZ after a one night Walmart stop in Las Cruces.  We would end up staying there for 12 days, broken up by a two day stay in nearby Gilbert Ray County Park and one night in the hotel Radisson in Phoenix to catch Rosemarie’s morning flight.  Serenity stayed behind in Tucson getting the windshield repaired.  While I held down the fort back at Davis-Monthan, Rosemarie spent five days in Orlando for the big family trip to Disney World’s series of parks.

We spent 20 days in military campgrounds, 6 in public campgrounds (3 state, 3 county), 2 in parking lots, 1 night in a hotel (though Rosie did five more during the Orlando trip,) and for the second month in a row only 1 night in a private RV park.  We had utility connections of some sort for 27 days (usually full hook up, but 4 with power and water only, and 2 with just 30 amp power) and dry camped for 2 nights.   We had the traditional military subsidized rate at for the 20 nights at Fort Sam and Davis-Monthan, one free night at Davis-Monthan by using one of our Air Force Frequent Camper certificates, obviously camped for free at Cracker Barrel and Walmart, paid for the hotel night with points, but received no discount for the seven days at the county, state, and private parks.

The Budget:  We really turned it around this month after our budget blowing March. Despite a huge expenditure on gas ($610 just for Serenity’s four full tank fill ups) as we sprinted across the country, we still ended up nearly 15% under budget, which means we are back under for the year so far as well.

We were able to keep this otherwise big budget month on track because of our participation in seven market events, six of which gave as satisfying boost.  Much like we did back in November and December, we let the markets have a major impact on our schedule and route, lingering in San Antonio to do two, and choosing to stay in Tucson for a weekend full of events rather than move up the road to Phoenix.  This has put us in a good position leading into May, the first week of which entails significant dental work in Mexico.  While the costs of that may be only 25% of what you would pay in the states, it will still be a budget buster, so we are happy to have a small buffer to take into next month.

The Drama and the Improvements:  We finally paused long enough for our insurance company to arrange replacement of the passenger side windshield, which is a big deal both in terms of having a clear view and in reducing the wind noise since part of the gasket had failed.  We had a bit of drama in San Antonio when unexpected wind gusting collapsed our awning and broke one of the supporting struts.  I was able to get that fixed on the cheap by purchasing the $21 part and installing it myself.  We have a tear at one section of the awning that still needs to be addressed, and one of the lower mounting brackets has a crack and should be repaired as well.  Hopefully we can knock that out in May.

Here are our monthly reports for the year so far:

And here are our 2016 and 2015 annual summaries, each of which have embedded links to the individual monthly reports from those years.

Jack and Rose Split Up!

Well, just for a week and only so Rose can attend the big family event at Disney World in Orlando while I hold down the fort in Arizona.  When last we posted, we had not decided how we would handle the last week of April:  Should we transition our rig two hours up the road to Phoenix since Rose would be flying out and back from there?  Or should I just drop her off in Phoenix and return to Tucson?  In the end, the market availability in Tucson versus getting shut out in Phoenix made our decision easy.  photo GR 2_zps95i6jhk9.jpg

We started off, however, with a two day stay at Gilbert Ray County Park near the Saguaro National Park boundary.  This is a truly beautiful section of the Sonoran high desert, and a place we loved during our 2015 circuit of the west.  We would have spent more of our Tucson time here this year except that, as mentioned last post, this was a working port visit, and the things we needed to do benefited from both the central location and the full hook ups at Davis Monthan AFB.  But feeling like we had marked off quite a few items from the ever evolving “to do” list, we rewarded ourselves with a couple of nights of isolation at Gilbert Ray.  photo GR 5_zpsrdepw33n.jpg

Two years ago the park astounded us with how much vibrant life exists in this type of desert, and this visit did not disappoint.  The sheer beauty of your surroundings goes a long way towards compensating for some of the limitations; the place just isn’t for every RVer.  They don’t take reservations, have a seven day stay limit, no water or sewage connections just 30 amp electricity, and it is cash or check, no credit cards accepted.  photo GR 3_zpscmutaqsl.jpg

We don’t mind any of that: First come first serve suits our lack of a fixed schedule, we rarely stay in places more than a week, we don’t mind using our stored house water and dump stations, and at $20 a night cash/check only is hardly a major sticking point.  And since our last visit two years ago the park has added a modern flush toilet facility, which is a big improvement over chemical pit toilets.

During our stay we solidified plans for the rest of the week.  The fantastic folks at Windshields of Arizona were scheduled to replace Serenity’s windshield Tuesday morning, but were fine with us leaving the rig there one night.  This meant we could drop off the motorhome, drive Loki up to Phoenix, stay in a local hotel (on points of course!) that night, drop Rose at the airport the next morning and then I would drive back to Tucson and pick up Serenity.  From there it was back to Davis-Monthan’s family camp to prepare for a series of markets I would do alone.

Of the five markets that would work for me in terms of timing, we were approved to participate in three.  So after a couple of days of free and easy geographic batchelorhood, I headed to the Tucson Botanical Gardens for the first event late Friday afternoon.  It was a nice location in a walled garden setting under a pavilion, so no tent required which made the set up that much easier.  Despite the walls the wind picked up dramatically and made things a bit more stressful.

The good side was we saw a steady stream of people coming in for the last night of the Botanical Gardens’ Frida Kahlo celebration, and most of them appeared to have a bit of disposable income.  The bad side is they didn’t use it.  Sure, we cleared the table fee and a bit, but it was a pretty disappointing evening, definitely in our bottom 20 or even 10% of market experiences to date.

Somewhat irritated I packed up and drove home hoping for a better Saturday, in which I would have two markets to attend.  Early the next morning I headed to Rincon Valley for a more traditional market outside of a large barn structure.  The wind was quite heavy, to the point that I took the shade top off of our pop up awning and just used the frame to hold some of our displays.  It seemed like we had a slower through put than the Botanical Gardens event, but those that came, they came to buy.  We ended up with a noticeably better result, and cash in hand I raced back to our campground to knock out a couple of chores before heading south to the evening event at Desert Diamond Casino.

 photo Market 2 Rincon Valley_zpsqflnnhat.jpg

Rincon Valley Market: we were next to the ducks.  The vendor sold clean out of duck, turkey, and Asian quail eggs within two hours.

Now this was my kind of event!  All the vendors were situated within the plaza of a large casino complex with a steady stream of patrons visiting or staying the night passing through our vending area.  There were a handful of food trucks, always a favorite for me, and live music.  The wind remained a factor, and I elected to just put the tent frame up, which was find since I was located under a decent shade tree.  The only downside was how close I was to the live music and their speakers, which heavily limited my ability to interact with potential buyers.  We got them to make an adjustment to the speaker position and volume, and in the end made a solid profit, turning the three event weekend from disappointing to quite successful.

Meanwhile Rosemarie spent the weekend at Disney World.  Now, I know what you are thinking: I really got the raw end of that deal, stuck with working three market events while she was in “the happiest place on earth.” No. What she had was a family gathering in the Florida summer with eight children under the age of eight!  I will take my alone time in Tucson, thank you very much.  No seriously, this was a big deal, Titi Linda wanted to have all of her grandchildren together at Disney just one time, and the family made it happen, with her husband Jayson and all three of her sons doing what it took to take time off from work and get their respective families on board for a three day extravaganza through the various Disney properties.

 photo Dis 7_zpsssvddbum.jpg

Rosemarie and an agile Muwin

Rosemarie was able to contribute as the only adult Florida resident (which meant a hefty savings for her ticket and five of the kids) and a gifted adult entry from one of her friends (thanks Bertha!), while Jayson covered everything else on his dime and through the generous donations made to their Go Fund Me account.

 photo Dis 8_zpshtmglhtn.jpg

Amy and Jude, who is explaining one of the finer points about a nearby… thing.

Then end result was a close knit family of 17 spending three days giving their children their first exposure to The Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.  While some of those younguns might be too little to hold those memories, I know the adults will forever.

Sunday morning, still reeling a bit from three markets in less than 36 hours, I prepped Serenity for the road and hooked up Loki for the two hour drive to Phoenix.  Once there I I got the rig situated at the only RV site I could find in the entire city or Glendale (at least the only one for someone under 55) and then picked up an exhausted Rosemarie from Phoenix airport.  We chose to stay in Glendale as that is where Rosemarie’s long time friend Brenda lives, whom we had not seen since our last visit to Arizona in 2015.

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Grandchild Nasir, telling that flirtatious fish to pump her brakes.

We went straight from the airport to her apartment, where she cooked Puerto Rican style rice and pork chops while enthusiastically catching us up on her life for the last year or two.  Stuffed to the nines, we retired for the evening at Triple T Mobile Home Resort.  I am not gonna lie: this place was overpriced and poorly managed.  Though we had full hook ups for the $35 a night cost, management did not answer phones, return calls after messages, or even show up on time for their posted business hours, and even then it was one of the more disorganized front offices I have dealt with.

The upside is it was positioned right for a one night stay, and the handful of residents I met were extremely helpful.  From the moment I pulled in after office hours, two helpful men directed me to the site where “they always put the overnighters, just check in with them in the morning” to the next day when I had accidentally killed Loki’s battery, people just helped me there.  When a young women, maybe 22, with a good number of tats and wearing carefully adorned basketball attire insists that she be the one to push the car while I sat inside and steered, well, I could either be happy for the help or take some sort of age related offense.  I went with the former, so thanks Ashley and company for the help.  photo GR 4_zpsftnqeele.jpg

That’s April.  I should mention that just before Rose left for Disney her passport came in, so we are ready to get this show on the road and sprint to Yuma and Los Algodonas for our dental work.  More on that coming up!

Through New Mexico into Arizona: First Week in Tucson

After our three day stay at Balmorhea State Park, we picked up the pace and sprinted to the West Texas border and into New Mexico.  I-10 in Texas is 880 miles long, so it is almost a relief to finally cross into a new state.  We pulled over just across the New Mexico line to eat lunch and do a bit of research via Gas Buddy on where exactly to fuel up and finalize where we would stay the night.  Unlike many a day during our first year fulltiming, it was nice to pull into a rest area for something mundane rather than due to mechanical problems.  photo NM rest stop_zpsiutyuhwl.jpg

Knowing we would have a tight budget this month, we decided to save a few bucks with a one night parking lot stay at a Walmart in Las Cruces before continuing on to Arizona. We had just topped off the gas so had plenty to spare for the big generator, allowing us to run the AC until the cool desert evening made things comfortable.  photo Arizona sign_zpslstklxgy.jpg

The next morning we pushed deep into Arizona, stopping at Davis-Monthan AFB’s Agave Gulch Family Campground in Tucson.  The RV park here is another great deal: $20 a night for full 50 amp hook ups with sewage, free park wide wife (better than “RV Park average” but still slow or unavailable at times), very well maintained facilities and all the amenities that a big military base provides.  We also used one of our free night certificates from the Air Force Frequent Camper Program we had purchased late last year.  photo DM AFB site_zpsfxpo9ncp.jpg

The scenery is about as nice as you can make a desert military base, with extra care having gone into the landscaping, and the interesting view of the aircraft bone yard nearby.  Hundreds of retired military planes stripped of components, windows and entry points covered in plastic, slowly degrading in the hot desert air, surrounded by cactus and other desert flora.

 photo Cactus 2_zps06oef33y.jpg

The length of our Tucson stay would be largely dependent on our ability to gain vendor access to the local farmer and artisan markets.  After our success in San Antonio we had finally found enough forward planning space to seek events along our route.  While still in Texas we submitted email and online application requests to three different market managers, but did were not accepted in time to participate in anything the weekend of our arrival.  We made the best of it and scoped out one of those events on Easter morning to get a feel how we might do there.  photo Easter market_zps7v4vteym.jpg

We finally received approval for a couple of markets the following weekend, and had to make a tough decision about whether to linger in Tucson a full week.  Since we were still waiting on Rosemarie’s passport and she would be flying out of Phoenix a few days after that market weekend, we chose to extend.  photo Tucson hills_zpskszpwhvx.jpg

While killing time there we took advantage of all the great outdoor hiking and cultural activities.  Haha, just kidding, Tucson in late April is freaking hot!  The sun just blazing down on you all day, temps in the 90s with limited shade, so we just tried to keep cool while turning our stay here into a “working port” rather than a “liberty port.”

Rosemarie did a thorough cleaning of Serenity’s interior, reorganized all of our jewelry displays and finished items, and spent the rest of her waking hours creating a a slew of knew offerings.  I repaired part of our damaged awning, changed the water filter, cleared a clogged line, started the insurance claim process to replace our cracked windshield, fixed our leaking potable water hose, finally installed our new shower head, cleaned our AC inlet filters, did our taxes (on the last day, of course) caught up the blog, cleaned out the heating vents, and bathed the cat.  Yeah I know how they are supposed to be a self cleaning item, but our odd kitty loves to roll in the sand.

Late on Friday afternoon we headed south towards Ranch Sahuarita for the early evening market run by Food In Root.  We met with manager Tim who got us set up on the manicured lawn of the resort.  Along with roughly 20 vendors we had a small but steady stream of potential buyers, and ended up doing quite well.  I have developed a loose “profit margin happiness scale” ranging from depressed and on up through disappointed, grudgingly satisfied, content, happy, excited, to ecstatic.  This one cleared happy by a comfortable margin.  We spoke with Tim about other markets his organization runs, and we have the option of coming back next weekend for a couple of those events.  I plan on being in Phoenix then, but if we don’t get accepted at markets there I might just back track while Rosemarie is out of town.  photo IMG_20170421_174359_zpswjtip2sr.jpg

That same Friday Rosemarie came down with some sort of bug resulting in cold sweats, shivers, general discomfort and the like.  She soldiered on through the evening market, but the next morning was in no condition for that day’s event.  Not a problem; she had prepped everything, it was all loaded and ready in Loki, and I had done one event without her in Key West last year.  So early Saturday I headed north to Sabino Canyon to participate in the market at Three Canyon Beer and Wine Garden run by Art Lounge Productions.

Market Manager Janna settled us in and assigned us a spot in between a baked goods chef and an organic tea vendor.  It started extremely slow, and more than an hour in to the four hour event I was not sure we would even clear the $25 table fee.  Fortunately we had a last hour rush that saw me still selling things 20 minutes after the market technically ended, so we ended up nicely into a “content” result for the day.

That’s our eight day stay at Davis-Monthan AFB.  The remaining week of April is still mostly in the TBD category: the only things we know for certain is our shift over to the wonderful Gilbert Ray County Park just outside Saguaro National Park and Tuesday appointment to get our windshield fixed.  After that I know we will be driving up to Phoenix for Rosemarie’s Wednesday morning flight, but whether I stay there or return to Tucson while she is in Florida will, as I mentioned earlier, depend on what markets, if any, we get accepted to in Phoenix.  photo Cactus 3_zps8cyy0wju.jpg

Are you quicker on the uptake than I am? A surprise in Balmorhea State Park, TX

After extending our stay in San Antonio far longer than we anticipated, we resolved to push west hard, all the way to Balmorhea State Park.  This would be a 375 mile jaunt; at least six hours of drive time given our 68 mph comfortable interstate speed.  This is significantly longer than our preferred 250 mile, four hour drive.  photo Marcia sign_zpsmzs4nzu7.jpg

It’s worth a separate post to talk about why we don’t travel like young people in cars doing 10 or 12 hours or even pushing through the night.  The short answer is that driving a big RV is far more tiring.  Our’s weighs more than ten tons, is two feet wider than a car, with Loki in tow is about 50 feet long, takes a lot longer than a car to stop, wallows sickly, and has such a massive sail area that gusts of wind really shove us around.  And the cat gets sick.  photo Marcia turtle_zpszp5xbdm5.jpg

Anyway, having put ourselves in the mindset to make an extended drive, we left mid to late morning, took a half hour break at a rest stop to make lunch, and arrived at the park in the early evening.  But all that was preceded by a couple of odd phone calls with the park staff and reservation desk.  I had made reservations for a two night stay starting Monday.  Once we realized that the weekend markets in San Antonio would be all day affairs, we decided to slide the reservation back a day to arrive on Tuesday.  photo Marcia cool pool_zpsvn3d1r4y.jpg

So I called and the park office asked if I wanted to slide both my reservations?  What? They indicated I had two spots secured.  Confused I told them I only needed one and to please cancel the second, assuming it had been a case of internet lag causing me to hit the enter key on the final acceptance page of the online reservation system more than once.  photo Marcia fish_zpsp1xuyw5t.jpg

We arrived at the park after the office was closed, but found our name on the check in list with a site assignment, maneuvered through the park counting down the numbers, only to see a women in an electric green shirt waving us around and directing us to pull wide to the right and come at the spot form the other side.  Park host no doubt.  Energetic woman, grey hair in a short bob.  Looked familiar.  Looked like this:  photo Dad amp Marcia_zpsgd2nbbfe.jpg

Yep, stepmom Marcia was waving us in, Dad a few steps behind looking on.  This was totally unplanned by either of us.  We had both selected the same Texas state park for a brief stopover during our westward trips, and had even initially reserved the exact same days.  Since I am a “junior” with the same first middle and last name as Dad, when I called to slide mine back, they assumed the two reservations were both mine, and I ended up cancelling one of them.  photo Stream_zpswjv87wnv.jpg

When they arrived (a day before us since I had pushed ours back a day) they sorta figured it out, but weren’t a hundred percent sure it was me rather than someone else with the same first and rare last name.  In any case, it worked out great: having resolved to try a bit harder to RV together this year, we managed to spend a day in a campground together without even trying.

Balmorhea State Park was on our intended visit list in 2015 before our first significant roadside breakdown in Big Bend National Park altered our plans.  This was a great make up opportunity, positioned close enough to I-10 to be convenient for our westward sprint.  The park itself is fantastic: Built by the CCC in the 1930s, it is a smallish, 44 acre park centered on a major natural freshwater spring that they converted into a huge free flowing pool before the water continues on to irrigation fields.  photo Marcia pool_zpsb4elzjdb.jpg

In addition to the fantastic clear, chlorine free swimming and diving, the grounds are teaming with interesting and in some cases rare animal life.  Roadrunners all over the place in the morning, some small quail like species everywhere, more rabbits than you thought possible in such a small area, pupfish and headwater catfish in the pool and streams, large soft shell mud turtles, coot, etc etc.  You could spend all day wandering the grounds, especially near the cienegas, or desert wetlands, and not get bored.

Pad Kee Meow was particularly taken with this park since the rabbits seemed to have so little self preservation instinct; like with the ground squirrels in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, had it not been for her harness and leash there would have been a rabbit bloodbath at our campsite.  Between the rabbits, the only slightly more careful road runners, and the slew of small wrens nesting in the eaves of our shade structure, kitty was in alert mode and begging to be outside as much as we would let her.

We enjoyed our second day so much we extended for another, which is sort of an unofficial rule we have developed for travel this year: if its a destination, stay at least three days, preferably even longer.  In 2015 we did a lot of two day stops, and it is really difficult to enjoy even a limited geographic area at that pace.  This year we are doing a lot more “sprint and stop” stuff, i.e., running hard with single day stops until we get to a nice place, then stopping for a week or so.  Once we get to the West Coast, we will have to reassess the travel pattern since there are a LOT of places we want to visit.

After a relaxing third day at Balmorhea, we got back on the road and continued our sprint west, aiming for Tucson.  And thanks to Marcia for the first four pictures in this post, as well as this one: