Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reflections on Yuma, Arizona

Blue skies over Yuma
So we’ve been in Yuma a week now, and what do I think of the place. Jon loves it and would like to settle here, but the jury is still out for me.

Yuma is sprawled out all over the place. The RV park we’re at is way out in the middle of somewhere, not too far from the Fortuna Road exit off Interstate 8. 32nd Street is the closest major street for us. Flat fields growing veggies or citrus trees are interspersed with snowbird RV parks and strip malls. While downtown Yuma is probably about 10 miles away, there’s a Walmart superstore within two miles. Going a mile in the other direction is one of the best supermarkets I’ve been in in a long time. There also are some chain stores, banks and chain restaurants.

Food is expensive here. A gallon of milk costs about 40 cents more than we paid at Winco in Kennewick; whole grain breads that we like are about $5 a loaf. A package of frozen chicken breasts costs $3 a bag more than in Kennewick for the same brand. Even the fresh veggies are more expensive.

There are dollar stores all over the place, but a couple of them (Family Dollar and Dollar General) charge more than a dollar for many items. Only a true Dollar Store and a 99-cent store keep everything to that price, though the 99-cent store does charge more for a gallon of milk, but is still cheaper than the supermarket.

I am having problems finding my way around Yuma due to their weird street naming practice. Numbered streets are both streets and avenues; 32nd street becomes South Frontage Road just south of Walmart. Plus north and south Frontage roads are not just one street. Oh, no! They intersect each other.

Yuma is not a good city to ride motor scooters in. Traffic moves too fast for me, though I can keep up with the traffic if I go 55 mph, which I don’t mind doing for short stretches, just not for miles at a time. We really haven’t seen that many other scooter riders, and I’m wondering if this is why. The traffic doesn’t seem to bother Jon, who rides his scooter a lot more than I do mine.

Air pollution is minimal, which is very nice. Skies are really blue and you can see the mountains surrounding this big valley that Yuma sits in.

We originally intended to stay here a month, but may be staying a lot longer, due to unforeseen circumstances. Maybe I will learn to like it better, though my preference is still for a place that has green trees (forests are more like it) and lots of water, like in oceans.






Tuesday, January 21, 2014

We're in Yuma!

Vegetable fields coming into Yuma.
We arrived in Yuma early this afternoon after a leisurely 80-mile drive from Quartzsite where we’d spent the last week. After a few weeks of sagebrush and cactus, it was quite pleasant to see flat fields, neatly-tilled rows growing fresh vegetables. They even have grass here! And we have an RV site that is asphalt and not gravel. We plan to spend at least a month here, exploring the area and maybe making a couple of day trips to Mexico, which is just a few miles away.

In the if-anything-can-go-wrong-it-will-happen-to-us department, we apparently averted one disaster. When we arrived in Quartzsite, we had one of our propane tanks refilled. Don’t ask me how this happened, but the attendant managed to stuff 8.4 gallons of propane in a tank that holds only seven gallons, and probably only needed four gallons, the amount we’ve been using each week. The propane went off in the middle of the night, leaving us to freeze in the cool desert nights. OK, so we didn’t freeze, but if we hadn’t had the electric blanket on, we might have. Jon got up in the wee hours and switched tanks so we could have heat.

Chester takes up scooter riding.
When we got to Yuma today, we needed to get the second tank filled. Jon told the attendant what happened with the first tank, and he said we were lucky the tank didn’t go boom! in the middle of the night. He was concerned enough with the threat of explosion that he put on protective gear before draining off the excess propane. And he told us
to never put more than 6.8 gallons in the tank at one time.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Quartzsite RV show

Quartzsite RV show
What’s billed as the largest RV show in the world opened today at Quartzsite, Arizona, where we’re now staying. Of course, we had to go.

We were disappointed in the recreational vehicles they had for sale, and  couldn’t find a couple of models we were curious to see. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there; this is a big show and I couldn’t find a map which showed where everything was located. Plus, Jon with a bad knee and me with a bad foot just didn’t have the energy to walk through the entire exhibition.

There didn’t seem to be too many people looking at the RVs themselves. Most of the action seemed to be taking place in a 90,000-square foot tent which was mainly for RV accessories and other gadgets we supposedly can’t live without.

I was intrigued by a wire whisk that you pushed a button and it turned skim milk into thick foam in 30 seconds. The kid manning the booth wasn’t that excited about it and failed to convince me to buy one, even though he kept telling me how handy he found it in the kitchen. Just looking at the kid, I felt his cooking experience was limited to using the microwave. I really liked the gadget, however, just not $25 worth.

This annual show is supposed to draw upwards of one million visitors in its eight-day run.  If the number of people on hand for opening day was any indication, this just could happen. Traffic was a mess; it was the first time I’d ever been in stop-and-go traffic on my scooter. It wasn’t particularly a lot of fun.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Camping" in RV parks

Harris Beach campsite
Expensive does not necessarily mean good when it comes to RV parks. In fact, we have enjoyed our stays more in older, less expensive RV parks.

Probably, the nicest site we had was at Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon. It cost $22 per night, with a roomy site surrounded by shrubbery for privacy. You could even see the ocean when you stood on the top step into the trailer.

The most expensive site was a Thousand Trails park just south of Newport. It cost just over $40 for a night, but it was late and we didn’t care what the cost was. We were given their longest pull-through site but the trailer and pickup still hung out at both ends. Plus, the trailer separated the picnic table from the fire pit. Not that we used either one.

We also liked a small, older park in Needles, California, that bordered the Colorado River, which was smooth as glass when I walked Chester down there the next morning.

We even tried boondocking (dry camping in a self-contained rig) a couple of times. Both times were free. Once in the Spirit Mountain Casino RV lot and another time at a Flying J truck stop in California that allowed Good Sam members to overnight free. We quite enjoyed Spirit Mountain, but the truck stop was pretty miserable. We gave up trying to sleep about 4 a.m., walked across the grounds to a restaurant for breakfast, then pulled out.

Walmart is the most popular place for boondocking, but I've met people who've overnighted in a McDonald's parking lot after it was closed. We considered boondocking on BLM land here in Quartzsite, but decided we didn't want to give up the electric blanket since desert nights are still cold.

I’m also finding that all sites within a specific RV park are not created equal. Some have picnic tables, others don’t. Some are on level ground, others slant down a hill.

We’re also finding that the staff at all the parks are really super, and go out of their way to make sure we have a pleasant stay. Because of this, we would return to most of the ones we’ve stayed at so far.

I have been amazed at how easy it is to tell regular snowbirds from newbies, like us. Regular snowbirds wear shorts and t-shirts while we're still bundled up in jeans and heavy sweatshirts. Regular snowbirds put indoor-outdoor carpeting around their RV to cover the gravel and also tote along regular patio furniture. And regular snowbirds have special cafeteria trays, about double the size of the food trays we used in grade school, to eat off of at potlucks; we showed up with paper plates.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Keeping connected on the road

Keeping connected is costly.
Communication is always important and more so when you are traveling. You need to keep in touch with family and friends back home as well as what is happening in the rest of the world.

Modern technology obviously makes this easier for us than the pioneers who crossed the continent in the 19th century.

Today, we have cell phones and wireless internet service, but all technology is not considered equal.

We have already established we need a cell phone service that works out in the boonies, though what we have works great in larger towns.

Internet service also is a must for today’s travelers. I’d looked into mobile hotspot before we left home, but couldn’t decide on a provider. Some of the RV parks we’ve stayed at have provided free internet service. Yea!

Then we hit Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The park here has an arrangement with an ISP which charges significantly for time, though the price does drop to an attractive rate if you sign up for a year. I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for the week we would be here. A disaster. I spent an hour of cell phone time (not insignificant since we pay by the minute) with their techies trying to get signed up. The rate they wanted to charge was higher than posted and as quoted by one technician. During this process, their website noted my account had expired two hours before I signed up and they wanted another payment to reactivate it. Then it said my credit card was rejected – I called the bank and was told the charge had never been submitted; I told the bank to deny the charge if it should come through. It took another two phone calls the next day to get the account closed.

We then headed to the local Verizon store to get their jetpack, since this seemed to be the hotspot carrier of choice with other RVers. If this is the best, then I shudder to think about the worst. We have our own network, which is not always accessible. Pages are slow to load, especially if the battery is low, and makes dial-up look like a speed demon. When the battery is freshly charged, it works well, but one bar down and you can forget about internet service. The battery is supposed to stay charged for two days, but goes down in minutes.

We are looking at this as back-up service when parks don’t offer internet, but it seems like a high price to stay. We are supposed to get internet service whenever a cell phone signal is available. I have found the reception depends on where in the trailer the device is located. Service seems to be better when it sits to the left of my laptop; nada if it is on the right. Go figure.

Monday, January 6, 2014

RV frustrated yet?

Arizona between my feet
Are we frustrated yet?

You betcha!,

The latest frustration is probably insignificant when compared to everything that has gone wrong so far, but it is indeed frustrating.

When we left Needles, California, Monday morning, we paid $4.29 for a gallon of gas, and thought it was a bargain, since most other places wanted $4.39. Twenty miles later we were in Arizona where the first gas station was selling gas for $3.13 per gallon.

Gas prices have been all over, from a low of $3.09  to the high in Needles. I budgeted $5 a gallon.

Gosh! RV ever learning things!

Ten days into our excellent adventure, we have learned a lot of things. Unfortunately, some of this newfound knowledge was learned the hard way.

Here’s a few of the things we/I learned:

You can never find a cop when you need one.
  1. We sat on the shoulder of a cold, wet and dark I-84 for two hours waiting for the Good Sam rescuer. Not once did a cop stop to see what was going on.
  2. We were driving south on Highway 99 out of Sacramento, when we observed a semi driving erratically, going off onto the shoulder and then over to the other side, crossing into the second lane when cars were trying to pass the truck by in that lane. Jon called 911 to report this. Ten miles later, the semi was so far over into the other lane he missed hitting a travel trailer by several inches. Jon called 911 again and was told a cop had been dispatched. Since the semi’s license plate was dirty, the dispatcher told Jon to pass the semi and describe the tractor. This was scary indeed.
  3. We had a problem with the trailer a few miles out of Boron, California (home of the 20 Mule Team Museum), and parked in a wide spot off the road for the two hours it took for Jon to jerryrig a repair. No cop stopped to see what was going on.
California’s bottle deposit law sucks.

California charges a 5-cent deposit per soda can or water bottle. In Oregon, you can get your deposit back at the grocery store when you return the container, but this isn’t how it works in California. You have to take a minimum of 10 pounds of cans (no squashed ones, please) to a recycling center where they pay you 40 cents a pound. Since it takes an average of 22 cans to make a pound, the state makes 70 cents on every pound of cans you turn in.

Don’t complain about the number of tools and parts Jon brought along.

Before we left home, I complained to Jon about the excessive amount of tools and parts he was bringing along. I won’t do this again. Given the number of problems we’ve had, those tools have come in handy.

Reliable cell phone service is a must.

We don’t use cell phones enough to justify going with a monthly plan from a major provider, so we use a pay-by-the-minute plan with an unknown provider. This worked really well in Kennewick and big towns we’ve gone through on the way, but not in smaller towns, though, fortunately, we were able to get service both times when we sat on the side of the road. We need something that is reliable almost 24/7, so one of us will probably be switching over to T-mobile soon. We took a road trip in 2006 and I remember being surprised to get cell service from T-mobile out in the middle of nowhere in Nevada.
A Mohave rest area

Don’t turn on the water pump when you’re hooked up to an RV park’s water system.

If you do, you’re probably going to blow out the outside water system and flood your bedroom. I learned this the hard way. Nuff said.

You never know who your neighbors will be.

The RV park where we spent New Years hosted breakfast on New Year’s Day. Imagine my surprise when the couple I was sitting with turned out to be from Hermiston Oregon, less than a 30-minute drive from Kennewick. They’ve been fulltime RVers since 2005.

You can never be too prepared.

We thought we were prepared for our new lifestyle, but obviously we weren’t, or we wouldn’t be having all the problems we’ve had.  It is not much consolation when experienced RVers tell us our problems are par for the course with newbies and that ours aren’t as bad as the problems they had starting out.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The view between my feet

The view between my feet

So far into our trip, I have looked at my feet almost as much as I have the scenery in Oregon and California. I have the snack bag and the garbage bag, as well as my purse and coat, on the floor where my feet should be. When it gets too cramped down there, I rest my feet on the dashboard.

Not a happy camper
While this is uncomfortable, I console myself by noting how much better off I am than Chester. Jon has the backseat so packed with boxes of tools and parts, helmets and assorted other mechanical things, there is barely room for Chester to ride. He normally likes to sleep stretched out, but now he has to sleep curled up in a ball. To add insult to injury, a couple of times the boxes have come loose and buried him in the back seat.