Saturday, April 30, 2022

Hanging Out in Ironwood Picnic Area in Tucson Mountain Park

Day 11

November 24: Checkout time from Gilbert Ray Campground is 11:00 am. We needed to wait until 2:00 pm to check back into the Lazydays KOA only 30 minutes away. 

We decided to wait at the Ironwood Picnic Area before we left Tucson Mountain Park.

We turned right on Hal Gras Road to enter the picnic area. We stopped at the second turnout with a private ramada covered picnic table. 

The area was immaculate and inviting with it's natural desert terrain and plants. With a grill, trash can and a restroom down the road it was a great spot for a family picnic.

A private site at Ironwood Picnic Area in Tucson Mountain Park.

We didn't have a picnic, but we enjoyed sitting in the sunshine to read and absorb the quiet atmosphere. Like Gilbert Ray, a Cactus Wren came by to check us out.

A Cactus Wren visits us at Ironwood Picnic Area.

While Wayne read, I took a short trail into the desert. It was a nice way to see nature up close and enjoy our wait-time in a pleasant way. An added bonus, if you are an astronomy buff the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association sponsors free dark sky star parties here. -- Margy

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Snowbird RV Adventure: Lazydays to Patagonia Lake

Days 12-20

Another private patio grass site at Lazydays.
November 24-28: After hanging out reading in the sunshine at the Ironwood Picnic Area, we checked back into the Tucson Lazydays KOA for the Thanksgiving holiday. Our RV oven is so small cooking even a turkey leg wasn't possible. We opted to grill steak on our BBQ with baked potatoes and all the trimmings, then eat outside at our picnic table.

Being together is what's important. Wayne and I are so thankful to be able to enjoy life together.

November 29 - December 3: The week after Thanksgiving we drove 75 miles south to Patagonia Lake State Park. This is our favourite Arizona State Park, so we come here more than once during each annual Snowbird Adventure. 

There are several ways to get here from Tucson. We like Interstate 19 to the Ruby Road exit and across to Highway 82. We've gone through Nogales, but traffic can be challenging.

Patagonia Lake is popular for boating, birding and camping. Sites fill up fast, especially on weekends from October to June. There are 105 campsites with picnic tables, fire rings or grills, electric and water hookups, and a free dump station. There are also 12 boat-in only spots. You can make reservations online a year in advance.

We like the east campground best. This time we were in Site #17. It's two-tiered with parking on the upper level and the table and fire ring below near the lake shore.

Site #17 with our Sunseeker above and a large area below.

Patagonia Lake attracts a wide variety of birds. There are two major bird watching areas. The easiest to reach is the bird watching trail at the east end of the campground. There's even a viewing area with seating and feeders to attract birds. The other is the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area at the entrance to the park. 

Bird viewing area, Great-tailed Grackle and doves.

The highlight of Patagonia is the lake itself. It attracts birds, wildlife and humans alike.

In an arid locale, Patagonia Lake is an oasis.

With a large body of water, Patagonia lake attracts boaters. The west side allows some high speed operations, but the east side is limited to protect bird nesting areas.

Reflections at the Patagonia Marina.

The park has a boat launch, marina and store to serve boaters and campers. You can rent pontoon boats by the hour or day to enjoy some of the boat-in only areas and campsites.

Now you can see why Patagonia Lake State Park is our favourite Southern Arizona RV camping destination. Do you have any favourites to share? -- Wayne and Margy

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Snowbird RV Adventure: Patagonia Lake to Fort Huachuca

Days 21-23

December 4-6: We left Patagonia Lake State Park and headed north, then east, then south again to U.S. Army Fort Huachuca. We originally wanted to spend three nights at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, but they don't take reservations. Searching for an alternative, we discovered Apache Flats RV Resort at Fort Huachuca near Sierra Vista.

Wayne is retired military so we can stay at RV parks on bases. They are always a good choice for location, quality and reasonable cost.

It was only 55 miles away so we were there in about an hour. We'd hoped to have lunch at The Steak Out restaurant in Sonoita, but they changed their hours. Maybe another trip!

First we went to the Commissary to stock up on food for the next week of travel. Then we walked over to the Exchange for a few items.

We were assigned #25 of the 56 sites. They are nice sized with full hookups and mesquite trees for shade. We didn't use the restrooms or showers, but did use the laundry.

The park is surrounded by desert. It's quiet except for a distant bugle playing reveille at 6:00 a.m.

There are walking trails from the park. We especially enjoyed the Heritage Park trail with plant identification signs. There were other signs of importance and we made sure not to stray off the designated trails!

We missed the summer blooms that come with the monsoon season, but there were still lots of beautiful desert plants to enjoy. We've been good about walking for exercise each evening before dinner.

Fort Huachuca has a long history. It was set up as a cavalry camp in 1877 to protect settlers and travelers. In 1882 it was made a permanent Army fort to protect the border region. From 1913 to 1933, the 10th Cavalry of African-American "Buffalo Soldiers" became the garrison regiment.

After World War II the base was briefly closed, but reopened in 1950 as a national defense asset. Today the focus is on technology, communications and intelligence.

A warm November evening at Fort Huachuca.

Now that we know about Apache Flats RV Resort at Fort Huachuca we will be returning. If you are active duty or retired military or Department of Defense you can make a reservation at this popular destination up to 90 days in advance. -- Wayne and Margy

Are you eligible to stay in RV parks and Family Camps on military bases? If so, what are some of your favourite ones? 

Our list includes Whidbey Island's Cliffside RV Park, Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Holiday Park FamCamp, and Port Hueneme's Fairways RV Resort. Now we will add Fort Huachuca's Apache Flat's RV Resort to that illustrious list.
-- Margy

Sunday, April 24, 2022

End Part I of Our Southern Arizona Snowbird RV Adventure

Days 24-36

December 7: We ended the first part of our 2021-22 Snowbird RV Adventure in Southern Arizona before Christmas. That way we could be back with our good friend in Bellingham and take care of some end of the year business. 

 We like breaking up our RV adventures this way rather than staying on the road for a lengthy period of time.

On the way north from Fort Huachuca we stopped at Watson Chevrolet to have the chasis of our Sunseeker Class C motorhome serviced. Even though we haven't driven many miles, it's been two years.

In the service bay at Watson Chevrolet in Tucson.

At first we weren't sure they had a service bay large enough for us, but we shouldn't have worried. It's a big dealership with the largest service area I've ever seen. They even had a lift big enough for us.

Catalina State Park

Large and private Site #A-45 at Catalina State Park.

December 7-10: Catalina State Park is only ten miles from downtown Tucson and avery popular park for day and overnight use. Reservations for campsites must be made well in advance for the peak winter season.

Catalina has many walking, hiking and riding trails to enjoy. There's even a horse camping area with stables. We met Samson on one of our trail walks. He knew lots of tricks to use for children's parties. 

Picacho Peak State Park

December 11-13: Our next stop was Picacho Peak State Park, 36 miles to the northwest. On the way we stopped at a Fry's grocery store to pick up the last of our provisions. 

Site #A-13 at Picacho Peak.

These last two campsites gave us lots of privacy and space to relax, read, BBQ and end the day with a campfire. In college I studied the Civil War period of American history. I remember Picacho Peak as one of the western-most locations for a battle. 

On one of our walks, we discovered the location where they used to conduct annual reenactments. That would have been fun to see.

Budget cuts and Covid put an end to them. Here's a video from 2001.

December 14-19We spent the last week of our adventure at Lazydays before putting the RV into their storage area. Having our RV pre-positioned in Arizona makes our winter sun-seeking adventures easier and more enjoyable. 

Do you travel by RV? How do you handle your trips?

Friday, April 22, 2022

Snowbird RV Adventure Part 2: Snowy Bellingham to Lazydays and Ft. Huachuca

Days 1-10

December 19-January 1
We returned to Bellingham to spend the holidays with our good friend. While there, two things made us change our plans. A snowstorm followed by freezing temperatures kept us condo-bound. The other was surging Omicron cases. RV travel is an enjoyable way to self-isolate.

Wayne modified our airlines and rental car reservations from the 23rd to the 2nd. I reserved RV parks and campgrounds for the three extra weeks. In a few hours we were ready to go.

January 2: We were worried about flight cancellations with the holiday rush and Covid staffing issues. We were lucky our direct Allegiant flight from Bellingham to Mesa was only delayed. With a late arrival, we spent the night at the nearby Holiday Inn. We don't have a toad (a towed vehicle) for our RV so we kept the rental car for five days. It's more economical than an extra car to store with our RV.

Tucson Lazydays KOA RV Resort

January 3-6: If you follow my blog you've read about Lazydays before. We discovered this destination back in 2020 at the end of Part 2 of our 2019-2020 Snowbird RV Adventure. In February 2020, we left our RV here planning to return in April to finish the third part of our trip. That didn't happen due to Covid and it took until November to return.

Sunseekers sunseeking at Tucson Lazydays KOA Resort

Since then, we've kept our rig here when we aren't traveling around the southwest. It's much easier than driving back and forth from Washington State each time. We also like Lazydays because of their resort atmosphere and friendly staff.

Ft. Huachuca Apache Flats RV Resort

January 7-11: After a relaxing for a week at Lazydays we drove 70 miles south of Tucson to Ft. Huachuca Army Base near Sierra Vista. We discovered Apache Flats RV Resort last November. Wayne's retired Air Force status allows us to use military campgrounds, and they are always the best. The only down side is an early reveille bugle call each morning.

The park is only about half full. With a reservation, we got a pull-through end spot with extra space and privacy.

Site #10 in Apache Flats at Ft. Huachuca.

Like many places, Covid restrictions have places like museums and libraries closed. We'll be back in April so we'll have another chance to learn more about the history of Ft. Huachuca. We did enjoy the sun and daytime warmth for reading and desert walks. Nights got pretty cold, but our propane heater kept us toasty.

A stormy Arizona sunset on our last night.

Wayne and I hope you will follow along on Part 2 of our 2021-22 Snowbird RV Adventure. While many of our  stops will be familiar favourites, we have a few new ones to add to the mix. -- Wayne and Margy

Over the years we've stayed at a number of military campgrounds in western states. All of them have been excellent places to stay in an RV. Services always include water, power and sewer in most of the sites. Each park has it's 0wn special qualities like: Cliffside RV Park on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station (to the right), camping in the forest at Holiday Park FamCamp at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and now Apache Flats.

Snowbird RV Adventure: Benson to Patagonia Lake and Kartchner Caverns

Days 16-21

January 17-19: Before we left Butterfield RV Resort in Benson we filled our onboard propane tank. Days have been warm, but nights get quite cool this time of year. We need propane as the heat source and electricity (AC or DC) to run the fan to pump the hot air.

The first stop on our way to Patagonia Lake State Park was the small town of Patagonia. We've been through it many times, but this was our first time to stop.

Google maps on our iPhone or iPad help us plan our routes and stops. 

First we went to the Wagon Wheel Saloon for a takeout burger lunch. Then we walked to Gathering Grounds for bakery breakfast and dessert treats to take with us to the campground. Patagonia has excellent parallel street parking with lots of space for cars and RVs.

This portion of our Snowbird RV Adventure had three destinations with a total of 138 driving miles.

Patagonia Lake State Park

Patagonia Lake State Park is one of our favourite southern Arizona destinations. The lake is a huge attraction for boaters. It's also a huge attraction for birds and bird watchers.

Site #19 in Patagonia Lake's East Campground.

Each trip in southern Arizona we try to fit in a three night stop here. We prefer the east campground with lakeside options and less congestion. 

A bird feeding and watching station on the trail.

You can read more about our previous visits to the park by clicking the links below:

Kartchner Caverns State Park

January 20-22: We made a detour on our way from Patagonia Lake to grocery shop again on base at Ft. Huachuca. It was 12 miles out of our way but we wanted to shop where masks are required in buildings and vaccinations are required for military personnel.

From there it was only 21 miles north on Highway 90 to our camping destination at Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Site #32 at Kartchner Caverns with mountain views.

Like most Arizona State parks, campsites have both electric and water hookups. Sewer services are provided at dump stations.

Kartchner Caverns Visitor Center cave display.

In addition to being a desert camping destination, Kartchner has a series of underground caverns that can be visited on tours. With my fear of heights and our desire to stay socially distanced we didn't take a tour, but we did visit the extensive exhibits at the visitor's center.

The park has hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty for visitors to explore the desert floor and nearby hills.

We stayed for three nights and thoroughly enjoyed the park. So much so, we will return next year in November and February. 

Reservations can be made a year in advance for Arizona State Parks. If you're like us and prefer knowing where you will stay, AZ State Parks are an excellent choice.

Campgrounds in many Arizona State Parks were improved during the Covid years including repaving. When we pulled into our site at Kartchner Caverns it looked flat, but a test with our leveling device showed we were significantly nose down.

RV systems are somewhat tolerant of being slightly out of level, but extreme conditions can cause strain on slideouts and running refrigerators, especially in propane mode. 

We have a set of Stackers blocks. They are easy to store in our small RV. We found we needed more so bought a second set of 10 for future conditions that call for a higher correction.

How do you handle RV leveling? -- Wayne and Margy

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Snowbird RV Adventure: Fort Huachuca to Butterfield RV Resort in Benson

Days 11-15

January 12: We left Apache Flats RV Resort right at 11:00 checkout. On the way out, we went to the base's commissary to purchase groceries for the following week. During the Omicron surge, weekly shopping is our most vulnerable activity. The base has a mandatory mask rule which makes us feel more secure.

The 34 mile drive north to Butterfield RV Resort in Benson was quick using Highway 90. Just north of Whetstone there's a border inspection station, but fortunately it wasn't backed up.

Google maps on my iPad is how we get around and monitor traffic. It's a lot easier than the old way using paper maps and gas station directions.

I made a reservation at Butterfield in late December and still got a prime pull-through full hook-up spot.

Site #67 at Butterfield RV Resort with pine trees for shade.

January 13-16: The Butterfield RV Resort is one block off Benson's main street. The park has a mix of patrons. Some sites are primarily used by short-term RVers like us, others are seasonal (winter) long-term RVers, and at the rear of the resort there are park model homes for a few full-time residents and vacation homes for others.

Typical resort amenities include: daily activities, store, laundry, dog parks, clubhouse, swimming pool, spa, fitness center and pickleball court. Catering to many long-term residents they also have a wood shop, golf putting and driving areas, a ham radio shack, and most interesting to us, an observatory with a 20" Mead telescope.

We had an informative evening with Observatory Tom who led us through the night sky. During the winter season, nightly sessions are offered for a limited number of participants.

The observatory with a rotating dome and 20" Mead telescope.

We don't have a toad (towed vehicle), so walking is how we get around. Being close to town, we could walk to restaurants and stores. For now, we only picked up dinner from Magaly's Mexican Restaurant, and breakfast from Wendy's to eat at the RV. We'll return when it's Covid safer to enjoy the many cafes Benson has to offer. Safeway, ACE Hardware and Walmart are also within walking distance for resupply needs.

What are some the amenities you look for in a campground or RV park? -- Margy

A big part of RVing is sitting outdoors in fresh air and sunshine. We've traded our simple folding camp chairs for larger cloth padded chairs. We want to keep them safe and dry when not in use in camp.

When set up, our bed slideout serves as a roof over our collapsed chairs. For windy conditions, strong twine holds them in place. In rain, a large trash bag covers them for moisture control. This way we have dry seats ready for relaxing and reading the following day.