Georgia

Macon to High Falls State Park, GA – March, 2016 We planned a visit to Georgia’s High Falls State Park with two objectives. Most importantly, we wanted to see our eldest daughter who lives in Atlanta. And if we happened to make it to Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival, well, that would be cool too. High Falls SP is smack dab between Atlanta and Macon.

We arrived on a Thursday and were immediately blown away by the falls. I expected there to be some falls we would need to hike some distance to. No, the falls are right next to the state park’s office and straddled by the road. They begin with the spillway from a dam that creates an adorable little lake.

But they continue for some ways. Here is the view downriver from the other side of the bridge.

We hoped to attend the Cherry Blossom Festival’s parade on Saturday afternoon but the weather forecast was looking dismal so we decided to visit Macon on Friday, even though there were no festival events that day. We hoped to see a city in bloom. We found a lovely little city with many beautiful churches.

It also had amazing old homes.

Not many people can get away with a cannon for a yard ornament but they pull it off because a cannonball actually went through the house during the civil war.

We did find a city in bloom.

Unfortunately, the Yoshina cherry trees that the city is famous for were not yet in bloom. We were told it would likely be another week or two before they were. Next time we are in the vicinity in late March or Early April we will check that they are in bloom and then spend a few days exploring Macon at its pinkest.

We had a wonderful weekend at the state park and lured our daughter and her boyfriend out to camp on Sunday with the promise of a large breakfast over the fire and plenty of fresh air and hiking.

Near the campground is an old mill that was converted to an old power station. Now it’s just a cool, abandoned building.

We drove up to the dam then walked down the other side of the river, opposite the campground. They have great trails along the river with lots of great spots to enjoy the falls that just keep going and going.

Then you can return through the woods for a little variation. Check out this very crooked tree.

We decided we could do with a little more walking to work off that big breakfast so we drove 9 miles to Indian Springs State Park. It has some great buildings built by the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corp, in the 30’s. This is the back of what is now the museum. I love the rock used.

The spring is under a dome inside this springhouse.

We thought we might walk around the lake but instead found this.

Apparently they drained the lake to repair the dam’s valve; glad we didn’t choose to camp here. The park does have a nice little falls near the entrance.

Indian Springs was an OK place to kill an hour and worth seeing but High Falls definitely stole the show. There is a private and free nature center with trails and animal exhibits between the two state parks called Dauset Trails. We didn’t have time to visit this trip but it got rave reviews and we’ll definitely check it out next time we are in the area.

High Falls has two campgrounds, one near the lake and the one we stayed in near the river. It was $32 per day for a water and electric site. It was a well-cared for campground with the friendliest campground hosts. They welcomed us the first day and they delivered the firewood we bought to our site and refused to even let us help them unload it. We will definitely return.

St. Patrick’s Celebration

Savannah, GA – March, 2016 I knew about where we were going to be for St. Patrick’s Day well in advance. So I did a little web surfing and discovered correctly that Savannah has one of the biggest celebrations in the country. I also read on some random website that supposedly compiles info on celebrations all over the country that Savannah’s parade would be the Saturday before St. Pat’s Day. It wasn’t out of our way at all so without any further investigation I made a reservation at the same campground we stayed at when we visited Savannah last fall.

Only a few days before we were to arrive, Jim was looking at the city’s website and informed me the parade would actually be on the 17th and the major festival would start that day and continue through the next weekend. There was to be a smaller festival the Saturday we would be there, the Tara Feis Irish Celebration. We could have extended our stay if we really wanted to but we didn’t feel like hanging out in the area that long. We decided instead to make the most of what Irish we could find downtown on Saturday.

The last time we visited we spent 30 minutes hopelessly driving around trying to find a parking spot that would fit our monster truck. This time we knew to head straight to the Civic Center where they charged us $5 to park each time. They also allow RV’s to park there. It was then just an easy half mile walk to the riverfront. The city has a free bus route downtown but it is so walkable we have yet to use it. It’s comforting to know that if you walk till you drop, you can get a ride back to the car without too much hassle.

The city has many fountains and they are all green in readiness for the big day.

We walked along the riverfront enjoying the fountains.

We also like the WWII Memorial “A World Apart”.

We enjoyed lunch at Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub. Jim ordered the Irish Sausage Rolls. I ordered the Irish Sampler with beef stew, corned beef and cabbage, and shepherd’s pie. Then we shared everything. It was all good but the shepherd’s pie was the best part.

We walked off the rather heavy lunch strolling along the riverfront. We did a little shopping and enjoyed all the great old buildings.

In this city even an old brick wall is far from ordinary.

We finally arrived at Emmet Park where the Irish celebration was being held. There were some food vendors, which we obviously had no interest in at that point. This is a family friendly event, so there were tons of adorable wee ones. There were two stages of entertainment and we really enjoyed both acts we saw.

First was a local dance company that taught Irish dancing. Here is the older group with their colorful outfits.

They were really good but of course the next group that included the three year olds stole the show.

On the main stage was a very entertaining group of musicians. They took turns performing and one singer was very good at including a little Irish history in his act and getting the crowd to participate. It was a lot of fun and we enjoyed it immensely.

We walked back through the city enjoying the parks and more green fountains.

There were lots of people dressed up for the occasion and I wish I was more brazen (or cunning) at photographing strangers. Here was one guy I doubted would mind.

Between the food, the walk, and the heat (not complaining, we love heat) we were about as worn out as these guys looked by midafternoon and ready to go home.

We had another great time in Savannah and will definitely be back. Guess where we hope to be next St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll try to get it right next time.

The Sunshine State

Destin to Jacksonville, Florida – March, 2016 We were excited to get to Florida and the beaches we love. Our first choice would have been to stay in Pensacola where we have visited many times. But it was spring break season and our campground of choice was booked solid. We were actually quite lucky to get a site for two nights at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin ($37 p/n full hookups).

What a beautiful place. We had never visited Destin before but we will be back. The beach was just stunning! It didn’t hurt that on the day of our arrival the water was as smooth as glass and you could see way out into it.

I couldn’t wait to take my camera out the next day and try to capture the beauty. But the next morning the wind whipped up and the remainder of our stay the surf was rough. It was still pretty but just not the same.

The beach was about a half mile walk from our campsite down a long, twisty boardwalk.

The park’s section of the beach was not very crowded but if you walked in either direction you would come to more developed sections of the beach and the spring break crowds. Some kids feeding the sea gulls made them much more cooperative photo subjects than usual.

There were lots of cute little lizards. This one was quite colorful.

When we first arrived I was a little put off by the number of large bees buzzing around. But they never bothered us and I finally became obsessed with getting a picture of one. They really do not make very good models. But out of about 50 shots I finally got one where the little bugger is more than just a blur. He didn’t pose in front a very attractive background though.

This furry little fellow was obviously very used to being fed. He was sitting on our steps the first day when we returned from the beach. Another time he was making himself at home in our chair.

Jim was sitting outside our last afternoon and I heard him intermittently talking to someone. I thought he was chatting up the neighbor and I guess he was. Mr. Squirrel kept coming closer and closer to him the more he talked and seemed happy to have his picture taken.

We would have loved to stay longer but there were no sites available so we decided instead to head to the Atlantic. That was too far to drive in one day so we stopped outside Tallahassee. We stayed at Ingram’s Marina and Campground on the banks of Lake Talquin.

As are most marina campgrounds we’ve visited, this one was a bit rustic and disorganized. But you get what you pay for and this was a steal at $13 for water and electric Passport America. Our site was level enough we didn’t have to unhook the truck, which was great as we planned to stay one night and get on the road early the next day.

We walked around the area and visited the lake in several spots. The guy that checked us in said if we went out on the lake we’d see plenty of alligators along the shoreline once we got away from the marina. I’m still very much on the fence about kayaking in gator infested waters but I will probably get over that the more time we spend in the south. I did enjoy spotting this cute little fellow near the boat docks.

He was no more than 2 feet long and he stayed there the whole afternoon.

Next up was Jacksonville. Someone I had met somewhere in our travels said the Jacksonville City Campground was one of their favorite places to stay so I made a reservation based on that with very little research. I later realized there are two city campgrounds and I believe she was referring to the other one.

We did enjoy our stay at Huguenot City Park ($22 p/n no hookups) so it worked out for the best. Here is our site which backed up to the St. John’s River.

It was cool to look up and see these huge ships glide past. That path brought us to a fairly deserted beach.

The beach was much wider than this at low tide and almost nonexistent at high tide. Across the river you can see the Mayport Naval Air Station. They flew helicopters over the park all day and as late as 10 pm one night. It was a little loud but the lady at check-in remarked that the number of flights had been unusually high that week.

It was about a mile from our campsite to the end of the peninsula and a beach on the Atlantic. You could drive out onto the beach and many day visitors came out with their families. It was a nice destination to walk to but didn’t have anything on our private section of beach a few feet from our door.

On one of our morning walks we could clearly hear reveille being played over the air station’s loudspeakers followed by the national anthem. At the same time we looked up and spotted a bald eagle of all things on a nearby platform. Of course, it was the one walk I didn’t take my camera on and he was a pretty good distance away.

That’s ok, this bird was begging to be famous.

Across the road from the campground was the entrance to the Kingsley Plantation. It was built in 1897 and is the oldest surviving plantation house in the state.

It was a very interesting place to walk around with tons of information, mostly on slavery. Here are the remains of the slave quarters.

Another interesting place in Jacksonville was Fort Caroline. It was a 20 mile drive from camp. It is a re-creation of a fort built by the French in the 1600’s.

They built it to one third the scale that they estimate the original was. There is lots of great history here about the colonization of Florida, the struggles of those colonists, and about the battles that took place here.

Both the Kingsley Plantation and Fort Caroline are part of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve which has a lot more to offer including tons of trails. The entire preserve is free to the public. We will definitely visit more of it when we pass this way again.

Sunny And 75

It’s a holiday when we’re together, I wannna stay with you forever. Somewhere, somewhere sunny and 75…” Joe Nichols

Riviera to South Padre Island, TX – January/February 2016 We had two weeks of pretty perfect south Texas weather. All but a couple days were sunny and mid 70’s. Better yet the nights were mild and rarely got below 50.

We arrived at Seawind Campground on the banks of Baffin Bay exhausted from three long days of driving. We were greeted by a warm wind and flowering trees. Seawind is right next to the bay with only a public park separating it from the water. We had a good view of the bay from our site although we were separated from it by a tall chain link fence.

We were soon walking along the shore enjoying the balmy afternoon. When we awoke the next day to a 65 degree morning we couldn’t even wait for daylight to get moving and put in a couple miles.

We were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise. The park has a long fishing pier and a little strip of beach that disappears when the tide is high.

After two nights and one full day of rest we were ready to move on to our original destination. Our plan was to stay just north of Brownsville for a few nights at Palmdale RV Resort while we explored the area and decided where we wanted to spend the time we had. We really enjoyed this park. It was friendly and had a great heated pool.

It was only 26 miles to South Padre Island so we considered staying there and driving to the island a few times. The reality was that the drive took forever with all the speed zones. We drove out first thing to check out the available campgrounds and knew we didn’t want to make that drive more than necessary.

We decided to move to the county’s Isla Blanca Park for the few days that promised the best weather. They have sites from $30-40. We were surprised to find a premium beachside site available and gratefully accepted it. It had full hookups and included cable.

Our only concern about this park was that several reviews mentioned an odor. We checked it out on our first visit only briefly and agreed there was a slight odor we could live with. After getting set up we took a stroll around the park and quickly found the smell we had read about.

On the bay side of the park is a fenced in area where I presume they treat the sewer. It reeked and we walked quickly away and avoided that side of the park the remainder of our stay. If we had gotten one of the sites on that side of the park we would have complained about the odor too. Actually we would have moved, to the mainland if necessary. It was nasty!

But on our side of the park the world was lovely. The ocean breezes smelled sweet, the sun shone, the beach was a short walk away, and it went on for miles. There was no end to the beachcombing that could be done here.

On the very southernmost point of the island, inside the park, is this beautiful memorial to all the seamen that have sailed out of this port and never returned.

Jim finally succumbed to the call of his rod and reel. There was a long jetty at the end of the beach that was said to have good fishing.

He set off to the end of the jetty the first morning. He returned a couple hours later having enjoyed his outing but with only one fish story to share.

He hadn’t gotten a single nibble and the other fishermen didn’t appear to be having any luck either. However at one point several of them started catching pufferfish. Since the spines of the puffer are poisonous he was entertained watching them try to get them off their lines and return them to the water without getting stuck.

Just north of town is an area where you can drive on the beach. We loaded up our chairs and a cooler and headed there in the afternoon. We pulled out onto the beach and soon staked out a great spot. It was a gorgeous 75 degree afternoon. The wind was a bit chilly but I planted our chairs beside the truck and it blocked most of it.

It was a fun beach with people driving by and a couple kite surfers floating by. This sand surfer had a very interesting homemade, wind powered contraption.

We had a great afternoon and managed to get a little sun.

The next day we put our kayaks in on the west side of the island in the Laguna Madre, a coastal lagoon. The weather was warm again without a cloud in the sky. We paddled up wind for a mile or so then let the wind blow us back past our put in. The water was surprisingly clear and despite paddling quite a ways from shore I don’t think it was ever over our heads. Jim saw a ray and a few fish jumped around us.

On Monday the weather was expected to be rainy and cold on the island but only 26 miles inland it reached over 80 degrees. We moved back to Palmdale first thing that morning before the rain came. It was a good deal at only $23 PN for full hookups with Passport America. The residents were entertaining and we had a fabulous afternoon visiting with them around the pool.

We explored the Brownsville area. Other than pretty decent shopping options I wasn’t terribly impressed. We drove out to the Brazos Island State Park which is the southernmost beach in Texas. It goes all the way to the Mexican border at the mouth of the Rio Grande River. It was a pretty and fairly deserted beach you can drive on. We chose to walk the beach as the tide was coming in and it was pretty narrow in places.

Since we eventually have to make our way north we decided to spend a few more days at Seawind, another great deal at $18 PN Passport America. It is only 8 miles off the highway and we really liked it there. We enjoyed more long walks along the shore. There were lots of birds.

None particularly special but entertaining none the less.

We had lots of colorful visitors to the fence outside our kitchen window. They would not come around when we were outside so I finally shot some through the glass.


We had a lovely two weeks in southern Texas. Almost every person we met exclaimed about the great weather they are having this year. Apparently the last couple years weren’t this pleasant. We are grateful to be living the way we are so we can just move when the weather doesn’t suit us.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Ajo, AZ – January, 2016 Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was the last item on my list of must see places in Arizona for this go around. I wanted to see it primarily because my father said my late mother had loved it there. It isn’t really on the way to anywhere and I was tempted to save it for another visit. I am so glad we did not as we enjoyed the area immensely. We decided to spend two nights and one full day exploring there.

We started the day visiting the town of Ajo. I wasn’t expecting much of the town so I was pleasantly surprised. It was a rather large mining town until the mine shut down in the 1980’s. What remains is a town of around 1,800 people and some rather impressive buildings. This was their school during the town’s heyday. It has since been renovated to house artists.

They also have a town plaza, some pretty churches, and lots of cute homes. The town has an obvious artistic bent. We spent a pleasant couple of hours walking the town and then driving a scenic loop around it. It was a lovely drive, but all the drives in the area are scenic. We just love the craggily mountains here.

After a morning exploring Ajo we returned home for lunch and then made the 25 mile drive south to Organ Pipe. The afternoon was a perfect 75 degrees and sunny.

We checked out the visitor center first then made a short drive to the head of the Desert View Trail. We wanted to stretch our legs and this trail was a nice 1 and a quarter miles up and over a hill. It had some nice views and the largest concentration of Organ Pipe Cacti we saw all day.

After our walk we didn’t mind getting back in the truck again. This is a very large park so the choice was primarily which scenic drive did we want to make. Since it was already 1 pm we chose the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop. It was a good choice. The views were spectacular, especially during the trip in.

We stopped about halfway at the Arch Canyon viewpoint.

We decided to take the Arch Canyon Trail which was said to have good views of the arch and was supposed to be 1.2 miles out and back. It turns out the best views of the arch were from the trailhead and at 0.6 miles when you’d expect to be at the end of the trail it was really just the beginning of a climb up the rocks that appeared to promise a good view of the back of the arch but never delivered.

You could see a tantalizing small part of the arch and it seemed certain that if you climbed higher the view would appear. Just a little farther we told ourselves, as soon as we get to the other side of this boulder it will materialize. We climbed another half mile and the view never improved. We finally turned around. It is a great hike, and even a fun climb, as long as you don’t expect anything more.

It was a long and rewarding day. This area could easily keep us entertained for a week or more when we return some day.

We boondocked outside Why, Arizona, at Gunsight Wash BLM area which I found on freecamping.net. It is free with a 14 day stay limit. We pulled in on a Monday afternoon and saw around two dozen rigs while we were there. They were fairly spread out. We found a place pretty far in with a lot of space between us and our nearest neighbors.

There are supposedly two roads into the area but really there are a hundred paths in and around the small shrubs that cover the area and it is impossible to tell which is the main one. We broke the handle on our dump tank while maneuvering through one tight spot. It’s not too bad just a little confusing but if you have a large motorhome, or a new rig you don’t want to scratch, I’d recommend staying near the entrance.

We awoke to a cacophony of coyotes each morning. And they continued to serenade us throughout our morning coffee. Other than that the area was incredibly quiet and had the most amazing sunsets!

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!

Train Museum

Menifee, CA January, 2016 We chose a Thousand Trails campground an hour outside LA to stay at before and after our cruise to Mexico and to leave our fifth wheel during our 7 day absence. We made a 14 day reservation at Wilderness Lakes RV Resort. They let us stay in an electric only site the whole time without having to move to storage and it only cost us $3 per day.

We really liked this campground. There are canals running through it and they attract a lot of really interesting birds. Not so many that you have to watch where you step but enough that it makes every outing rather interesting wondering what strange fowl you might run across. It was also a bit out of town so you could strike out in any direction and have a pleasant walk along a country road.

The park had good amenities; putt putt, basketball and pickleball courts, game rooms. It was too cold for us to visit their pool or hot tub but stronger souls were using them. We did make use of their very nice pool hall. They also have a dynamite fitness room which we took advantage of a few times (trying to get ahead of all those calories we knew were waiting for us on the cruise).

We managed to fritter away 5 whole days here before we left with little to show for it. We did a lot of walking, we packed, and we shopped a little. The most interesting thing we did was visit the Orange Empire Railway Museum 11 miles north of our campground in Perris.

Jim is a railroad nut so when I read about this museum that was nearby and, better yet, FREE, it was a must see. It turned out to be a very good decision.

The museum consists of many barns full of machinery on 90 acres. It was rather deserted when we arrived on a Friday morning. We stepped into the gift shop and were informed that a docent had just started a tour and if we walked out to the back barns we might catch up with it. We did and we were led by a very informative tour guide for the next hour. We shared the tour with two families, each with small children, which made the morning even more entertaining.

We visited 5 of the barns. They have an amazing collection of both trains and streetcars. Many are fabulously original and others have been painstakingly restored.

Here is an electric locomotive that hauled freight in southern California until electrified freight service was converted to diesel in 1965.

This 1881 steam locomotive was part of a collection owned by Ward Kimball, a Disney animator. He named it Emma Nevada after a famous opera star from the late 1800s.

This is the inside of a mail car. All the work of a post office took place right inside the car as it made its rounds.

Here is a streetcar I believe operated in Santa Monica.

And my favorite, one of the last streetcar designs before most cities were converted to other types of public transit.

The docent had to unlock each barn for us so a self-guided tour seemed to be out of the question. I got the impression that on the weekends the barns are unlocked and you can wander at your own pace. They also offer train and trolley rides on the weekends and pull out a different one of several trains each time. They charge $12 per adult to ride these trains all day. I understand they generally operate 2 streetcars on a half mile loop and one train on a standard gauge 1.5 mile loop.

It made for a very interesting day and we would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

Cruizin’

Los Angeles, CA – January, 2016 So here we are outside LA. Some may wonder why we went from San Diego to Yuma then back to Los Angeles so here is the explanation.

One of our dream scenarios for living on the road involved hanging out in cruise ports and being ready to jump on a cruise ship with hardly a moment’s notice in order to get that dream vacation for a song! That’s not exactly how it panned out, but there is always next year!

I started pricing cruises from southern California in the middle of November. I watched many sailings come and go on the websites and all the available cabins disappeared around $500 per person. Many promotional offers also came and went. The one that held the most appeal for us was the unlimited drink package.

Since the last time we cruised (2010) many cruise lines have started offering beverage packages that include all you can drink for one low price. This is sometimes offered for free as an inducement to book a cruise. I was waiting for the price of one trip to go down but the free drink package was taken off the table. I called Norwegian Cruise Lines and was informed that this promotion was generally only offered on cruises booked 30 days in advance.

So I started looking at cruises sailing in early January. This is when we decided instead of hanging out in SoCal waiting for our cruise to leave we would drive a few hours over Yuma way and take care of those errands across the border (dentist, prescriptions, glasses).

I finally booked a 7 day cruise from LA sailing on January 3rd. I made the leap on black Friday and got both the unlimited drink package and specialty meals package, gratis. We ended up spending $1709. We prepaid all our gratuities so we could conceivably walk off the ship without owing them a single penny. Here is how it broke down:

$1098     Cabin with porthole at $549 pp

$188     Tips on the beverages/$161 and meals/$27 (they were free but you still have to tip the waiters and bar staff)

$189    prepaid service charges (they charge you $13.50 pp/per day to tip everyone else)

$234    Port fees and taxes

If you happened to have read my post on Budgeting and Such you are probably saying “wait a sec, where’d they scrape up $1700 to go on vacation?!?” Well, here’s the best part. We budget $20 per day for campground fees. As an additional inducement for us to stay under this budget, I have planned all year to do something special with whatever we had left over. After guestimating our lot rent through our one year anniversary, I expect to be $1300 under budget.

I had hoped to find a cruise for under this amount (which I almost did if it weren’t for those pesky tips) but decided to go for it anyway and squeeze the remaining cost from my grocery and entertainment budgets for January (and February if necessary). We’re going to need to diet for 6 weeks after the cruise anyway!

We got a very nice surprise a couple days before we sailed, an email that said we could upgrade to a balcony room for $100 per person. I called them immediately and took them up on this. Balconies make a cruise so much more enjoyable. I’ll happily sacrifice another $200 from somewhere in our budget for that luxury.

The cruise turned out awesome! Not having to worry about a bar bill when we disembarked made it a lot more relaxing.  Plus, we were free to try some cocktails we wouldn’t have otherwise. The food was amazing! I wouldn’t have normally paid to visit the specialty restaurants since they generally charge at least $20 pp but we got 4 meals free and it really added to the variety of food and our enjoyment of the cruise.

Cabo San Lucas was our first and favorite stop. Here is the entrance to the harbor with their famous arch all the way to the left and the town on the right.

We arrived in port at noon and since they have no pier we had to wait our turn for a tender to take us to shore. We finally arrived about 1:30. We walked about a mile to a great beach.

It was right in town but just about perfect. The water was surprisingly clear. Part of the beach was very crowded but a short walk got us away from the crowds and we enjoyed a couple hours of swimming and sunning before taking a water taxi back to where we could catch a tender to the ship.

Mazatlan was pretty great also. They had a pier so we were able to get off the ship almost as soon as we docked. We walked straight to the historic district and explored it and its very large market all morning. They have the most stunning cathedral.

This city has done a great job of making visitors feel welcome. The expats have formed a volunteer group of tourist aides. They wear blue shirts and introduce themselves as soon as you get off the ship. They are located throughout the city and offer assistance often and are never far away if you have a question or problem. We have never felt safer or more welcome in a foreign city.

Puerto Vallarta was our final stop. We got off early again but they don’t really have much of interest within walking distance of the pier. It’s a 7 mile trip to downtown and the nearest beach. So we went back to the ship and after lunch we asked a taxi to take us to the downtown beach. They dropped us in the shopping district and it was an easy walk to the beach.

The beach was nice but the waves on this particular day were pretty fierce. So we commandeered lounge chairs at a beach restaurant, ordered some drinks, and spent a couple hours enjoying the sun.

The entertainment on board was exceptional. They had comedians, a magician, acrobats of the cirque du solei type, variety shows. Every night had top notch entertainment. Each show lasted about an hour and they had two shows a night at 7 and 9.

No blog about a cruise would be complete without a shot of the local wildlife.

We had a wonderful time and we felt our money was well spent.

Tamale Festival

Yuma, AZ – December, 2015 When we started this adventure we thought we’d take part in a lot of local festivals during our travels. The reality is that unless you plan your trip around such events you are likely to find that most occasions are usually next week, or last! Every now and then we get lucky though. When we realized we were in the Yuma area just in time for their Tamale Festival we were determined to go.

The Tamale Festival is in the town of Somerton just south of Yuma. It is a benefit for the Arizona State University Alumni Association and the proceeds are used to fund scholarships. Neither of us had much experience with tamales before and we enjoyed trying something new.

You purchase tickets for $2 a piece which you then use to buy food. Individual tamales cost 1 ticket or you could buy a combo plate which included 2 tamales and 2 sides for 3 tickets ($6). We bought $20 worth of tickets, not realizing how filling tamales are and ended up giving some tickets away on our way out.  Great food, good bands, and $3 beers!  We would definitely attend again.

We moved to a campground just south of Yuma to be nearer the festival. KOFA Ko-op, an Escapees park, was a short drive to Somerton and reasonably priced. We originally planned to stay 2 nights in a full hookup site for $20 per night plus electric. But when we realized we could stay a week for only $100 we decided to go that route. We loved our spacious site just across the street from the pool and the laundry. At the end of our stay the electric bill was just $25.

We enjoyed this campground and agree that it is one of the quietest we have ever visited. Honestly the only night it got slightly rowdy was Sunday night. I was ready for a good night’s sleep by 9 pm. Apparently this was the same time the weekly ice cream social let out. Everyone was either hopped up on sugar or they were serving more than ice cream over there. They exited the activities building near our site and hung out in the street for a while visiting.

We liked the Yuma area and can certainly understand the appeal for the many snowbirds that winter there. The price of food and necessities seemed particularly reasonable in this area. We got the cheapest diesel we have found all year, $1.85 per gallon. This was more than 50 cents less than any gas we found in California before or following our visit to Yuma.

Yuma has a neat old downtown area with some great flea market/antique stores. We were lucky enough to stumble upon their weekly farmers market on a Tuesday morning. I got a huge bag of fruits and vegetables for only $4. They also have great parks and trails along the Colorado River which flows by the downtown area.

The Yuma Swap Meet was another fun place we visited. It didn’t look like much when we walked up but they only charged $1 each admission and the parking was free so we thought what the heck. It turned out it was much larger than it looked and had a good variety of vendors, from clothing to tools to your standard garage sale type booths. There did seem to be an unreasonably large number of vendors selling women’s under things. Next time I need some socks I would definitely consider heading that way.

My favorite booth was selling these great metal sculptures. The sweet lady in pink was life sized.

Christmas happened to fall during our stay in Yuma. We had pretty much boycotted the event this year other than sending a package to our only granddaughter. We agreed not to buy each other anything. The last thing we needed to do was spend money that wasn’t in our budget on frivolous things we didn’t need and didn’t have space for anyway.

Our one concession was going out to eat on Christmas Eve at Lin’s Grand Buffet. I’ve been craving Chinese food for a while and no matter how many dishes I made at home I couldn’t squelch it. Lin’s turned out to be a very good choice and is among the best Chinese buffets we’ve ever been to. Merry Christmas to us!!!

American Girl Mine Boondocking

Ogilby, CA – December 2015 We spent the week at a great boondock location that was conveniently located for our brief visit to Mexico I wrote about last. Ogilby is a town that is no more. It was at the intersection of Ogilby Road and some railroad tracks. All that is left now is some graves and a foundation, a school perhaps. It is 6 miles north of I-8, 13 miles from the Algodones border crossing, and 17 miles from Yuma.

There are lots of boondocking options in the area but we chose to make the second right after the railroad tracks onto American Girl Mine Road and preferred it to the other places we saw that week. It was free to stay with a limit of 14 days. There is a fenced area with a water truck a short ways down and we turned left just after it and then went across a large dip. We found a great spot where a previous inhabitant had practiced some rock art.

The area wasn’t crowded at all. There were about a dozen or so rigs there that week and plenty of space for us to spread out. The road is well maintained and was graded or watered almost every day we were there. Even though the American Girl Mine appears to be active we only saw 2 mine trucks on the road during our stay. The wind blew all week from the north and I was grateful we had chosen to park north of the road as it looked like the campers on the south side of the road had to deal with a lot of dust every time a vehicle went by.

We arrived during a dust storm and were not looking forward to getting engulfed in sand while setting up. Thankfully when we got to our turnoff the nearby mountains blocked the wind. It was even pleasant enough to take a walk after lunch while the wide open spaces to the south were still getting slammed by winds the rest of the day.

There was so much to see and explore here. Many of the hills are actually piles of tailings, leftovers from the mining operations. There was also some abandoned equipment around. This was what was left of a chute used to load ore into trucks at some point.

Up Ogilby road a few miles is the Tumco ghost town which we visited twice. The first time we went late in the afternoon and walked the 1.5 mile loop trail barely making it back to the truck before dark. There are numbered markers on the trail but they were out of brochures so we could only guess what they meant. But most were obvious; graves, a well, the remains of a building.

The next time we went earlier in the day and headed in to the hills past the town to explore. We found this mine shaft all blocked up for our safety. Darn!

And lots of cool old mine equipment.

Tumco was a pretty big operation at one point.

Just past the spot where we camped American Girl Mine Road goes to the right and if you take the left fork you are on a road designated number 710. We took this road a couple miles past the fork until it got too rough for our truck to continue and there we discovered a huge abandoned pit mine.

Jim did some research and we believe it was the Obregon mine and town. We didn’t find any relics of the town or the mining operation here but it was fun to walk to the bottom of the mine. It was less than a mile to the bottom but I swear it was 3 miles out. Even though we were there at noon the sun was so far in the southern sky that the light never did reach the bottom of the pit so it was tough to get a good picture.

We stopped and explored several areas along the road on our way back from the pit mine. There are many holes in the sides of the hills and you can’t help but wonder if they are mine shafts. Most aren’t. One such indentation we went to look at turned out to be nothing but on our way back to the truck we stumbled upon the only open mine shaft we found all week.

We poked our heads in and noticed it was very warm inside and there was a faint odor. Jim ventured in about 10 feet, far enough to poke his head around a corner to try and see the end. He had only his cell phone flashlight and could see about 20 feet with no end in sight. He heard some noises (animals, ghosts, his imagination?!) and finally hustled back to the entrance, none too soon for my liking.

We also discovered this awesome rock along the same road.

Jim is very interested in rock hounding and metal detecting and this is the perfect area for both. He has a very nice metal detector he is still getting used to so he got it out during our stay and practiced with it. Mostly he found pop tops and old cans. We also picked up small rocks we found on our jaunts and tried to identify them on the internet. We could easily spend a month in this spot next time we are in the area just poking around every corner of these hills, looking in every hole, and inspecting rocks.