The BIG Tent, Flea Markets, & Gold

Quartzite, AZ – January, 2016 We have read about Quartzite for years so there was no question we were going to be there our first January out west. For anyone unfamiliar with Quartzite it is a small town in the desert that isn’t much more than a pitstop on the interstate during the summer. The surrounding desert offers tons of free and cheap boondocking so in the winter it is a haven for full-timers and snowbirds.

Every January for 9 days an RV show takes place there. There is a huge tent with exhibitors set up in and around it. During this time the number of visitors really spikes and there are thousands of RV’s parked in the desert in every direction. Here is a pic taken from above our campsite. If you zoom in you will see tons of white specs, each a camper, and the spot where they get really dense is near town. This is one of the less popular sides of town and the hills hide some of the more packed camping areas. Take my word for it, there are a lot of us.

Since Quartzite is not a very photogenic place I am going to throw in random pictures of the only cute things that were in abundance, puppy dogs.

We arrived the Thursday before the show started which also happened to be my 46th birthday. After we set up we drove in to town to have a look around and we stopped by one of the many flea markets to stretch our legs. This particular one happened to be primarily devoted to rock enthusiasts (not the music, the mineral kind). Quartzite also hosts a huge rock and gem show earlier in the month.

I had been fighting a cold ever since the last day of our cruise so there weren’t going to be any wild celebrations for this birthday but I did request takeout pizza for dinner. Jim and I stopped by Silly Al’s Pizza and had a couple beers while we waited for them to make our pizza. Given the size of their crowd we were surprised when our pizza was ready in less than 2 beers. We took it home and had a fabulous dinner.

Friday we headed to town after lunch to check out another huge flea market. This one was near the big tent so it had a lot of RV related items among the standard t-shirt, jewelry, and knickknacks for sale. I managed to spend a whole $1.50.

Saturday, the day of the big show, finally arrived. We got there at 9 just as the show opened which was good because we navigated the tent pretty well to start with but by the time we left a couple hours later it was getting crowded and hard to move. I have to admit that as hard as we tried to keep our expectations low, we did end up slightly disappointed by the show.

We had put off buying the few RV related items we did want until after the show thinking we might find them there so we wouldn’t have to order them. We did not. Jim was hoping to see a solar dealer that has had a booth there before and held seminars but they didn’t participate this year. He didn’t find what he wanted for the price he wanted to pay at any of the other dealers or the stores in town that offer solar.

In the days when I was collecting things and had a house to decorate, I would have loved their flea markets. We visited the ones on Main Street away from the big tent on Sunday and they had some really great old stuff, signs, and the like. But we aren’t allowing ourselves to buy anything that is not absolutely necessary. We are still culling through all the stuff we haul around and thought we couldn’t live without and donating more stuff every month or so.

The Quartzite gathering is as much about getting together with other RVers as it is about the show and flea markets. There are many groups that meet there in the desert; families, clubs, and friends.  They host get togethers all week long and I’m sure we could have joined a party or two but I didn’t feel like being very social with my cold.

We did love our free campsite at Dome Rock. We found a great spot and didn’t have any close neighbors. There are four wheel roads and ATV trails into the surrounding hills that could have kept us busy hiking for a week. We hiked up and around the nearest hill and found a mine shaft. It was a pretty solid looking tunnel that went straight in to the hill about 80 feet. Jim had brought a flashlight and insisted on checking it out.

There were also people panning for gold around us. One afternoon there was a group of men near our camp with metal detectors. They were running shovelfuls of dirt through a dry sleuth. Jim engaged them in a conversation and it turned out one of them was a well-known expert in the field of metal detecting and gold mining. He generously offered Jim some tips about his own equipment and some information on the process they were using to mine for gold in the wash.

Jim got his metal detector out and enjoyed a few hours of detecting and digging in a nearby wash. No gold yet!

Owl Canyon

Bakersfield to Barstow, CA – Nov. 2015 We decided to head into the desert and south to escape the cool Pacific breezes. We had reservations in Palm Springs and had 5 days to make a 6 hour trip. The short route to our next destination would have taken us right by LA so we chose a route that would take us away from major traffic and only added an hour of driving time.

Our first stop was near Bakersfield. We chose to stay at the Orange Grove RV Resort ($36 per night full hookups). We loved our stay here so much we extended it to 3 nights. Something about living amid trees loaded with big orange balls just makes you smile.

They also had Wi-Fi so strong we could watch internet TV on it, a really nice workout room we took advantage of a couple times, and great laundry facilities we were in need of.

Bakersfield was very convenient and had just about everything you could want in retail. We had a return we’d been holding on to and needed to get back to Camping World. It was time to stock up on groceries. Our recyclables were piling up and I wanted to recoup my deposits at a recycling center. You know, boring life stuff. And it was all very conveniently done in Bakersfield.

Next we headed to Barstow. I read a blog by Wheelingit about Owl Canyon Campground outside Barstow that sounded like a great place to spend a couple days. It’s a BLM campground with no hookups for $6 per night, first come first served. The road in was a bit rougher than described but it has probably gone downhill since they visited. It was completely passable though, just very wash board.

We got there early on a Friday and had our choice of spaces. Three large groups of tenters showed up later; a group of geology students from the San Diego State College, a Boy Scout troop, and a group of teenagers with no apparent affiliations. The campground was far from crowded though and all the kids were well behaved.

We were pumped to do some hiking on Saturday but unfortunately Jim woke up not feeling very well. When he said he was going back to bed at 9 am I loaded my backback with camera equipment and a bottle of water and headed out to hike the Owl Canyon Trail solo. The sign at the trailhead said it was 2 miles to the end and moderately strenuous. With so many people in the campground I expected it would be a popular trail but surprisingly I didn’t see another soul the whole time.

I don’t hike alone very often but this seemed relatively low risk. I was a little apprehensive about rattlesnakes and did consider whether there was any other wildlife I should be worried about disturbing. The first mile was pretty easy with only small obstacles, a rise of a few feet or the necessity to scramble up a side ridge.

I came across a cave about a mile in. It appeared to go a ways in but honestly I was too chicken to get any closer than this imagining what might be in there. Poking around in dark spaces is Jim’s area of expertise.

After the first mile there were some larger hurdles to overcome. I was pleased to conquer a vertical challenge taller than I am. Thankfully it was narrow enough to wedge myself in as I took advantage of the only foothold and hauled my bag of bones over the top. A couple more large rocks to scale and ridges with inclines higher than I was completely comfortable with that had loose shifting pebbles, then the trail got easy again.

I was determined after all I had overcome to make it to the end. I realized between climbing and stopping to take pictures that I was not making very good time. I hoped Jim wouldn’t worry but I didn’t have a cell signal to text him so I put my camera away and made a beeline for the end of the trail.

I was only 1/8th mile from the end when I saw it, the one thing that could prevent me from accomplishing my goal. A huge brown tarantula was in the middle of the trail. I quickly retreated several feet, he advanced. I nervously got my camera out and mounted a small ridge beside him to get the proof of my encounter.

I could have followed that ridge past him and continued but then I wouldn’t know where he was when I came back by. No, I was decidedly over this hike. I put my back pack on and hustled out of there now on the lookout for rattlesnakes and fuzzy brown spiders. I refused to take my camera out and snapped only a couple shots with my phone on the way out while still in motion.

It was difficult to climb back into that crevice and reach for that solitary foothold on the way back knowing what else might be in there with me. But I did it! I had planned to take a picture of that obstacle on my way out but that thought was nowhere in my head after my decent. I wanted to get as far away from the overhanging rocks and dark recesses as I could and back to the open trail.

I found Jim enjoying the sun in camp and feeling much better. After a light lunch we drove the loop road through Rainbow Basin Natural Area.

All in all, this was a pretty great place to kill some time.

A Cautionary Tale

Pismo Beach, CA November, 2015  We were so excited to find this awesome boondocking spot and I couldn’t wait to share it but first I have to admit some of the difficulties we encountered.

Just south of Pismo Beach, California, is the Oceana Dunes State Recreation Area. Jim found it while looking at a satellite view of the area surrounding the relatively expensive campground we were at in Pismo Beach. It sounded familiar to me and I realized a friend had sent me info on it several years ago.

We drove the beach one morning and it looked like a great spot. You can camp anywhere on the beach that you want after the first mile marker and the fee is $10 per night. It was only a few miles from our campground at Pismo Coastal Village where we had a midweek special of $40 PN for full hookups.

We were cautious so we drove over and checked it out again before moving our rig over on a Thursday morning. We drove to mile marker 4 (which is actually only 2 1/2 miles from the Pier Avenue access) and found a great spot. We made a U turn so our door would face away from the blowing wind and sand and got stuck mid turn. It was ridiculous how fast we got mired down in the loose sand!

We grabbed our travel shovel and several small pieces of plywood and started digging ourselves out. But I don’t think we ever would have gotten out of that first predicament on our own. Thankfully we didn’t have to as an awesome couple that was familiar with the area soon stopped, pulled out a tow rope, and started helping. Over an hour later we had disconnected the 5th wheel and reconnected at a 90 degree angle, another local good samaritan had stopped with a longer shovel, and we finally got out of our original dilemma. We gave huge thank yous all around and cash to anyone that would accept it.

We still had to do a U turn though to get into a good position to camp for the weekend and so we would be pointed toward the exit when it was time to leave. I’ll be darned if we didn’t get stuck again mid turn despite being on the more hard packed “road.” We were within sight of the original couple that had helped us. They were hooked up and getting ready to leave. It was embarrassing! Some other guys in 4 wheel drive trucks with big knobby tires stopped. We weren’t too far gone this time and they quickly pulled us out of that mess and gave us some more pointers about driving in California sand. I insisted they take some beer money.

The short story is that wet sand is our friend on this beach. Also we had to let our tire pressure down to 38 pounds despite what we had read to the contrary. I think the weight of our rig had a lot to do with it as she’s on the heavy side (don’t tell her I said so). After paying people to help us we figure the cost of camping here was $21 per night for our 5 night stay.

Although we had the best time camping here, I can only cautiously recommend it. People were getting stuck all the time! But others were always offering to pull them out. It was a real affirmation of the human spirit.

We spent a total of 9 days in the area and really enjoyed our visit. While at Pismo Coastal Village we walked to the pier every day where there is free fishing without a license.

We also walked to the Monarch Butterfly Grove where butterflies come to spend the winter.

And we enjoyed a visit to the Dinosaur Caves area in Shell Beach a few miles north.

But once we moved to Oceana Dunes we just settled in and didn’t get out much.

We walked the beach for miles. Jim surf fished. We had a campfire every evening. And we people watched. It was a bit loud on the weekend with tons of 4 wheelers and such. But we just sat in our chairs and watched the parade of people and machines with the ocean as its backdrop.

On our last night a couple pulled in next to us in a motorhome and promptly got stuck. They asked Jim’s advice and he said something like “looks like you’re home, come join us at our fire when you get set up.” So they did. We enjoyed visiting with them and the next morning we helped tow them back to the firmer sand before going on our way.

We had wondered all week if we were going to have any trouble getting out. It was like a small cloud hanging over the otherwise perfect days. We had aired our tires back up for a trip to the store and at first we tried getting out without letting the air out. But we finally had to air down. After that, a little digging, and the placement of plywood where necessary we were gratefully on our way.

Oregon Coast

Seaside to Coos Bay, Oregon – October, 2015 Barely more than a month after leaving the Atlantic Ocean we arrived at the Pacific. We don’t have any desire to travel that far, that fast very often but it was nice to know we could and it was still a pretty relaxing journey.

We were excited to see as much of the pacific coast as we could while it was still warm enough to enjoy. We had driven down the Washington coast and stopped at Astoria, Oregon one long weekend 8 years before. For this reason and because a friend recommended the town we started this journey in the town of Seaside, Oregon and spent the next 2 weeks traveling about 300 miles down highway 101 in Oregon.

The coast was amazing. Every curve brought another spectacular view. There are constant opportunities to stop and stroll another beach. Here are some of the highlights from north to south.

Seaside is a fun town and our favorite stop was at the Seaside Aquarium. It has a pool full of seals and you can buy anchovies to feed them. They are smart little buggers and when they see you approach with food, the whole lot of ’em put on quite a show trying to get your attention so you will throw them a snack. They are absolutely adorable!

We enjoyed a drive out to Cape Meares and a visit to Oceanside. In Oceanside a portion of beach is inaccessible during high tide so they have built a tunnel to it. It is awesome to come out of the dark tunnel and see the pretty, secluded beach.

Depoe Bay is known for gray whale sightings. We didn’t see any whales from town so we stopped at several other places they are often seen. We finally spotted some from Otter Crest Wayside Park. We saw a half dozen at a time and they kept popping up all over the place so I’m curious how many there actually were. Unfortunately the overlook was 500 feet above the water and it was impossible to catch a good pic of them.

They were amazing to see though and it was hard to tear ourselves away. But we finally did to visit nearby Devil’s Punchbowl State park. Very Cool!

And the views there were amazing.

Newport was a great little town. Their historic bayfront was pretty cool. They have a large population of sea lions that were quite amusing to watch and would have been more so if the smell (I presume theirs) was not so atrocious.

Cape Perpetua had Thor’s well and several blowholes. It was an awesome display of the ocean’s power.

Shores Acres State Park had a beautiful beach but the highlight was the formal gardens.

We stayed in 5 different campsites but the 2 most notable were boondocking in Chinook Winds Casino parking lot which is right next to the prettiest beach.

And our last camp in Oregon which was one of our favorite boondocks to date. There is free camping all along Bastendorf Beach Road which is more suitable for small rigs. But at the end of the road is a large parking lot with plenty of room. The county does have an RV park also but just ignore that and keep going. The area probably gets crowded in the summer but in October, even on a weekend, there were less than 10 rigs with plenty of room to spread out. An awesome beach was a short walk away but right in front of the parking lot is this view of the mouth of Coos Bay.

A few of our other favorite things about Oregon were the number of very cool old bridges.

I found Oregon’s birds funnier than your average birds.

And no sales tax!!

Heaven

Cheyenne to Flaming Gorge NRA, Wyoming – September, 2015 Jim appeared mildly alarmed when I looked at him one afternoon and stated “I want to be more adventurous in our sleeping arrangements.”  Relief registered on his face as I went on to explain I thought we should be more daring in choosing boondocks. We were about to make our way across Wyoming and I had my eye on a couple of free camping arrangements. The weather was perfect for boondocking and Jim was agreeable.

Our first destination was Cheyenne. We expected to get there around lunch and needed a place to leave the trailer while we explored the town, then we planned to move on first thing the next morning. I saw Sierra Trading Post listed under overnight camping on my Allstays app. It looked great and a heck of a lot better than a Walmart. When we arrived we discovered it had a huge empty lot for RVs. The employees were also incredibly friendly and the store was pretty great too. They sell sporting goods and apparently do a huge amount of business online. The further you went into the store the bigger the discounts got.

I wanted to check out Cheyenne’s free botanical gardens. What we found was a lovely park that included walking trails, a lake, and the gardens. A big part of the gardens were closed for construction but what was left was very nice. My favorite part was the children’s garden. It was beautiful and extremely well planned and appealed to the child in each of us.

We returned to our home in the parking lot. We were joined by a motor home and a semi later that evening. It did turn out to be one of the louder places we have slept. Semi-trucks carrying goods to and from Sierra’s warehouse drove right by our rig all night long. But this minor inconvenience was worth the savings.

Our next stop was Flaming Gorge Reservoir. We aimed for a dispersed camping area on the west side of the lake called Buckboard South. I had reviewed the satellite image and thought it looked pretty safe. We actually did have some close calls on the road in and could have found a better route to our campsite if we had scouted it better, but it all worked out. We had a great spot right by the water with this view.

Which got even better at sunset.

We didn’t see another sole the whole first day. The next day we went for a walk and discovered a neighbor just a half mile from us. While kayaking we discovered there were about a dozen campers on the peninsula. The best campsights were at the very end but they also had the nearest neighbors. I liked our private site back in the cove.

We finally got our replacement solar panels installed. While working on the roof we discovered we had an audience, this pronghorn.

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We also saw about a million rabbits. They looked like a cottontail but were as big as jackrabbits.

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But the best part about this boondock in the middle of nowhere was the night sky. I woke up at 2 am one morning and stepped outside. It was amazing! I had been dying to play with the settings on my new camera so I dragged it and a tripod outside for about an hour. Jim was sound asleep and every time a fish jumped behind me I just about had a heart attack. I have a lot to learn about night photography. I believe a bit of beginner’s luck was involved when I captured a shooting star directly over my rig.

Not 20 minutes after I got back to my warm bed I heard a lot of scuffling noises outside. The next morning we discovered coyote tracks around camp and their hairs on our grill. Glad I didn’t run into them while I was out there!

Getting High in Colorado

Durango, Colorado – June 2015 There is only one direct route from Delta to Durango Colorado but the road is a doosey. It has three very high mountain passes over 10,000 feet in elevation. This section of Highway 550 is part of the San Juan Skyway and the portion between Ouray and Silverton is known as the Million Dollar Highway. We actually considered the 8 hour alternative route since we did not have a good time the last time we drove this way because it rained cats and dogs and even hailed for a while. We weren’t sure we wanted to try it with the 5th wheel. But everything we read said to take it slow and it would be fine, so we chose a Monday morning with little chance of rain and off we went.

I’m very glad we did. It was an easy 3 hour drive. For me at least! Jim had to deal with the 7 percent grades up and down and back up again. And the 10 mph hairpin curves! The sign in this picture says it all.

I had a lovely ride with spectacular scenery. I love tunnels. The second one was interesting with a waterfall cascading over it.

Jim had to keep his eyes on the blacktop. There was no room for error. There are places where there is no guardrail, no shoulder, just a drop of thousands of feet next to the road. We will take this route again but try to avoid rain and we wouldn’t even consider it if snow or ice were a possibility. I understand they try to keep it open year round for those souls braver than us.

Durango was another town we had fond memories of from our family road trip 15 years ago. This might have had something to do with the fact that our family of 3 spent that 10 day vacation in a small tent and Durango was the one place that we splurged on a hotel room. I really didn’t remember much about Durango except wishing we could stay longer.

It is definitely worth a visit. The downtown has a ton of beautiful historic buildings and is still bustling. It has great shops (including five recreational marijuana dispensaries for anyone interested). We don’t have many reasons to shop these days but enjoyed walking down Main Street a few times and were entertained by the wares offered by the stores, the variety of people, and the pets. This town is very dog friendly and although we do not currently own a dog, we still love interacting with four legged furry friends.

Durango is very walkable with a 7 mile riverwalk called the Animas River Trail. It is paved and has many pedestrian bridges making it easy for locals and tourists to walk or bike to where they want to be. It goes through many parks and has lots of art and sculptures along it.

In addition to walking much of the riverwalk during our visit, we spent one morning hiking the first couple miles of the Colorado Trail which begins in Durango and travels 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains to Denver. We also drove 8 miles up Junction Creek Road to the Animas Overlook. There is a 2/3 mile paved path there with several picnic tables, grills, and beautiful views of the river valley below. It’s a great spot for a picnic. Jim cooked us an amazing lunch with hot sausages, potatoes, and green beans.

During our week in Durango we stayed the first couple days at the National Forest Service’s Junction Creek Campground. We were lucky to find an amazing site in the pines for 2 nights for $20 per night with the assistance of the most helpful campground host we have ever met. The campground does take reservations, which I would recommend, and has electric sites for $24. However, we found out we were going to have company for the weekend so we chose to splurge on a full hookup site at Alpen Rose RV Park ($45 per night) so we would have better access to town, cell service, and a pool. Of course, as soon as we moved it got rainy and cold so we never did get to use the pool. The park was really nice though and they had the most reliable wifi we have found of any park since we started full timing.

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah – May 2015 A fellow camper told me about a boondocking area outside Goblin Valley State Park. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and most of the people there were packing up. There are tons of trails here where people can ride ATVs and dirt bikes. Most of the campers that I’ve seen come and go this week had one of these large toys. It has been a great location, totally free, and mostly quiet. Right outside my front door are white sandstone monoliths which I’ve climbed several times during my visit. Here is a view of my campsite from the road to the state park. You may have to zoom in where the arrow points to see the campers. There are many other possible campsites in the area down dozens of dirt roads but I was happy with this big gravel parking lot just off the paved road.

The obvious draw here is Goblin Valley State Park. It was a very short drive from the visitor center to the end of the road and a scenic overlook. And I thought “is this what I paid $10 to see?” But a walk down in to the valley full of strange looking hoodoos changed my perspective. It really is a fascinating place. It is also impossible to give it justice in photographs but here’s my best effort.

It is easy to let your imagination run wild in this place and see the forms of fanciful castles, goblins, dragons, and other whimsical creatures in the strange landscape around you.

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I enjoyed a great hike nearby, my favorite so far this year. Wild Horse Canyon is next door to the state park and impossible to miss if you are visiting Goblin Valley. There is no fee to visit. It is a very popular hike of a slot canyon because it is accessible to all skill levels. It doesn’t require any special climbing abilities to traverse. It’s about a half mile down a wash where you have to climb a bit to get around an obstacle, and then you are at the beginning of the canyon which is about 3 miles long. Sometimes it gets a little tight in the canyon. This is a pic of one such place. That skinny sandy path scattered with rocks is what you have to walk on and sometimes you have to lean hard left or right to squeeze through.

Even on a Tuesday afternoon with rain threatening this place was crowded. I saw at least 30 other hikers and often had to wait for a group to pass before making my way down a narrow section. This would have normally diminished my enjoyment of the hike. But this particular hike was well worth battling the hordes. This hike is often hiked with nearby Little Bell Canyon for an 8 mile roundtrip.

I first planned to stay at this camp for a week. But there was zero cell service for a 20 mile radius of my camp and I had a couple business transactions in the works that I really needed to be reachable for so I decided to leave after 3 days. The night before I planned to leave a group of a dozen campers pulled in about 5pm. They circled their wagons at one end of the parking lot. Not a single camper had solar panels. I fell asleep to the drone of their generators thankful I was packing it in in the morning.