Author Archives: mbnorthrup

Campground Review: Willow Wind RV Park, Hurricane Utah

Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Willow Wind RV Park
  • Dates of stay: May 22 – June 4, 2021
  • Location: 80 South 1150 West, Hurricane, Utah 84737
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $52.83 / night (with Good Sam discount)
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: NO
  • Cell reception: ATT adequate
  • Website:
  • Pros: nice amenities and sites, good location
  • Cons: moderately pricey

Full Review

This is our second stay here at Willow Wind. The first review can be found here.

This park is in a great location, right in the small town of Hurricane, UT and near Zion National Park. With its shady sites and beautifully kept amenities, it’s a little oasis spot. The campground is moderately large, with 185 sites plus tent camping area and three teepees for rent.

Our back-in concrete space (#178) was solid, reasonably level and not difficult to get into. There is an intrusive concrete ditch in the road right in front of the office which is a bit annoying, but can be avoided after getting the rig parked by using the other entrance/exit.  The site was just barely long enough to park our rig plus all vehicles. We’re in a newer site, which meant less shade and grass, but it was satellite friendly.

50 amp electric, water and sewer connections worked fine, although we did experience one day of water outage due to some repair work. The staff provided ample notice, so we were able to fill our tank. A water main break occurred during our last stay too, so I don’t know if this is a regular thing, or if we just got lucky!

The provided cable TV worked perfectly, with 40+ clear channels. We were given a code for the free wifi, which worked beautifully. I was able to work, zoom, and even do limited streaming on my ipad. The wifi would momentarily drop from time to time, but overall it was much better quality than I’ve typically found.

It should be noted that this is one of the few campgrounds that does NOT accept mail. Campers are directed to forward mail to general delivery at the nearby post office and pick it up there. FedEx and UPS will deliver directly to your site, so long as the site number noted on the address. I didn’t try to have anything delivered.

The park landscaping and amenities are immaculately kept. The clubhouse is beautiful with lounge space downstairs and an upstairs loft with pool table. There are two bathhouses, one a traditional type, and the other (nearest the office) has individual bathroom units equipped with shower, toilet and sink. I love those, it’s like showering in a home bathroom. All were bright, tiled, modern, and climate controlled. There are two coin laundry facilities and a fitness room equipped with weight machine, recumbent bicycle, elliptical and a treadmill.

The cost was on par with similar campgrounds at a bit over $50/night, up a few dollars from our last stay. Being in town, Walmart, shopping, restaurants, and a movie theater are located conveniently nearby. Zion is only about a half hour away and Bryce Canyon National Park is within day trip distance, about 2.5 hours away. If you’re into ATV-ing, there are miles of trails within 30 minutes. Jeff tells me that several world class mountain bike trails are within 30-45 minutes drive away.

Bottom Line: Great sites, beautifully-maintained grounds and amenities, at a decent price.

Zion National Park / Bryce Canyon National Park

This is our second visit to beautiful southwest Utah. You can read about our first experiences here.

Our friend Pat joined us for part of our two-week stay here. It gave Jeff a buddy to do some of the more extreme adventures with! Together, they hiked the Narrows — a wading adventure up a narrow slot canyon. They also hiked up Angels Landing, a wild and steep climb up chain-assisted rock scrambles to a knife-edge fin of rock. Yet another day they rented a Razr and took off 4 by 4-ing on the trails. They had a ball!

Together we took a day trip to Bryce Canyon and walked one of my favorite hikes of all time. Descending 320 feet down Queen’s Garden trail takes you through a veritable forest of sandstone hoodoos. Turning onto Navajo trail, you wind along the canyon floor under trees and sandstone cliffs. Then you begin climbing up a slot canyon — Wall Street — and huff and puff up a steep series of short switchbacks to the top. The hike isn’t all that long, about 4 miles as a loop, but the scenery is nothing short of amazing. It’s definitely on my “top five hikes of all time” list.

Zion is a beautiful place to visit, but trying to access the popular canyon drive during COVID was a frustrating mess. Access is permitted only by shuttle, and during our first week here, a very limited number of shuttle tickets were made available the day prior, at 5 pm, on the website. You’d log on and frantically click on time slots, while the website bogged down and kicked you out due to the overload of folks all trying to make reservations at the same time. In 5 minutes, all of the tickets would be gone. Through persistence, we were able to procure tickets, but not always on the day or time desired. By Friday, the park unexpectedly dropped the reserved shuttle ticket requirement, with no warning. With the Memorial Holiday crowds all queuing for overpacked shuttles — I’m not sure which system was worse! This park is definitely a victim of its own popularity at times.

During the second week of our stay, the weather turned unseasonably hot, with temperatures reaching and exceeding 100 degrees. We had already seen many of the things in the area that we had wished to, so mostly hunkered inside and out of the intense sun. It wasn’t supposed to be this hot, but we’ve found in our travels that the weather never seems to be “average!” It gave us a chance to catch the movie “Dream Horse” at the local theater. A fun, feel-good movie — and such a pleasure to be able to enjoy a movie day again!

Next up we are headed toward the Utah mountains and — hopefully — cooler weather!

Campground Review: Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort

Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: April 22 – May 22, 2021
  • Location: 2711 W. Windmill Lane, Las Vegas, NV 89123
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $41.39 / night plus electric (monthly rate)
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception: ATT good
  • Website:
  • Pros: Great location and amenities, moderate price
  • Cons: none

Full Review

There’s no place like Las Vegas! Although I find staying ON the Las Vegas strip to be wearying, staying just off strip in this lovely RV resort proved delightful. Oasis RV resort is located just a few miles south of the Strip — too far to comfortably walk, but only a short drive away. It proved to be a peaceful haven away from the frenetic Strip activity.

Oasis is a fully-featured resort, with a plethora of amenities including a pool, hot tub (closed for COVID during our stay), putting golf course, store, fitness center, restaurant, dog runs, bath houses and laundry facilities. The grounds are attractively and immaculately landscaped.

We opted for a “big rig” site, which was essentially two regular sites in length. The paved pull through site was fully long enough for our bus and vehicles. The big rig sites are limited and popular, so book early if you need one of those. We saw a few of our “sister” Entegra rigs, in fact at one point there were three of us side by side!

The normal sites are half this length. Depending on your rig size, the regular sites could find the back of your rig just inches from the back of your neighbor’s. We had friends stay in a regular site, and they weren’t happy with such close proximity. 

Our full hook ups worked perfectly. The sewer line was a bit of a run, but it was (mostly) downhill. The site included a robust cable TV package, over the air channels were abundant, and our site was satellite friendly for Direct TV use. We did not lack for entertainment options. Being inside a large city, our ATT signal was strong, and the campground wifi was quite usable.

We were so busy having Las Vegas fun, we didn’t utilize many of the park amenities, such as the onsite restaurant or pool. The bath houses offered spacious individual bathroom units (unisex), 6 bathrooms per bath house. I did find the water temperature to be variable at times, but otherwise they were clean, modern, and functional.

This is a very large and busy campground. There seemed to be a steady stream of RVs in and out daily. I observed some obvious long term RVs, but the majority appear to be vacationers hopping in and out of Vegas for a few days to a few weeks. Daily rates are pricey for big rig sites ($90-ish), but the monthly rate brought the daily cost down to a reasonable $42/night. The monthly rate does not include metered electric which, for our stay, added up to a whopping $244! Granted, it was getting hot and we ran the AC quite a bit, but that was the highest electric bill we’ve seen at a campground. Still, the electric only brought our nightly rate up to about $50/night which isn’t bad, all things considered.

During our last trip to Vegas, we stayed at another RV resort that was quite a distance off strip. Staying closer to the heart of the entertainment district was much more convenient. There are also grocery stores, restaurants, an outlet mall, and other shopping options conveniently located within 10 minutes or so.

Bottom Line: Great resort in the heart of Vegas. We’ve already made reservations for our return next year.

Las Vegas Wrap Up 2021

We’ve finished our Las Vegas adventure for 2021 and have moved on! It’s always surprising how quickly a month can fly by.

Upon arrival from Sedona, we spent a week having fun with our Tucson friends, Johnny and Patti. Shortly after they left, I flew to Indiana for a week to surprise my Mom and Dad for Mother’s day. Toward the end of our stay, our friend Patrick flew out from Tennessee to join our adventures for a bit, and travel with us on the next leg of our journey to Southwest Utah.

We visited Death Valley National Park, and toured / hiked the Red Rock National Conservation Area. While making the Red Rock Scenic drive we encountered a rare and unexpected snowstorm in the desert! I was just glad we had finished our hike by then! We played antique games at the Pinball Hall of Fame. We walked and gawked the Strip, but gambled at locals casinos. Mostly I played blackjack, but we did spend some time dabbling at the craps tables. Club Fortune in Henderson is a great little locals spot that offers $1 craps, which is about my speed! I do feel that I got my gaming fix that will last me a good while.

One thing that we usually enjoy while in Vegas is going to shows. Unfortunately, due to COVID, few shows were running. We are planning to visit again next year, and will hopefully be able to enjoy a variety of shows then.

During our visit, we watched as COVID restrictions shifted considerably. Early on, masking and social distancing were required, and venues were capacity restricted. As the CDC mask guidance changed for vaccinated folks, local requirements changed quickly. Masks flew off, capacity restrictions disappeared, and — for the most part — life appeared to return to pre-COVID norms. It was both exciting and disorienting.

The weather is definitely heating up, so time to move on! Las Vegas — a great place to visit …. but I wouldn’t want to live there …..

Happy Memorial Day everyone! Here’s to a summer of travel adventures!

Best Day Ever

We don’t like to think of our parents getting older. Heck, we don’t like to think of ourselves getting older! But then something happens that drives home the fact that the aging process is inexorable.

My parents are amazing. Both turn 90 this year and still live independently in their own home. My mom has had a few health issues and is a bit more frail, but my dad has remained strong and incredibly capable for his age. Until a few weeks ago, when he suffered a mild stroke. Thankfully, the effects were mild, and he is already improving with therapy. We have every expectation that he will fully recover in fairly short order. But, it reminds us that life is uncertain.

So, my siblings and I plotted together as we are wont to do. We were unable to be all together during the holidays due to COVID, but now we are all vaccinated. It is much safer to travel and to gather. We hatched a plan to surprise our parents for Mother’s Day! Last Saturday, I flew in from Las Vegas and my sister caught a connecting flight from Montana. We met at the airport and drove to our brother’s place for the night.

My in-town sister picked up our parents and brought them to our brother’s house for what was expected to be a routine, low-key Mother’s Day dinner. My sister and I lurked around the family room corner, nonchalantly waiting for them to notice us!

The big reveal was all we had hoped for. We hugged. We cried a little. We giggled about how hard it was to keep the big secret. (They really had no idea!) It was the first time my nuclear family had been physically together since Christmas 2019. What an incredible blessing.

Best. Day. Ever.

Casino Action

If you aren’t into playing casino games, then you can just ignore this entire post! But, if you’ve been following us for very long, you’ll know that I do like a good game of blackjack.

What you may not know is that not all blackjack games (tables) are created equal. There’s a wide variation in table minimum bets, of course, anywhere from $1 to $100 per hand. Whether you are a low roller or a high roller, you pick the table minimum that suits your comfort level and budget. But, even more important than the dollar amount are the table rules. Those rules make an enormous difference in the house edge, that is, the casino’s statistical winning advantage.

First, I look for the cheapest table that offers a 3:2 blackjack win payout. Tables that offer a blackjack 6:5 return or (horrors!) 1:1 return, tip the odds significantly more in the casino’s favor. Other rule variations include the ability (or not) to double down on any two cards, re-split aces, late surrender, and whether the dealer stands on a soft 17. You can play blackjack games with one deck, two decks, up to 8 decks. The dealer may manually shuffle the cards, or use a continuous shuffle machine. All of these factors affect the house edge and your odds of winning — or at least, slowing your losses! The tables I play typically have a house edge of around 0.5%, which means that for every $100 I play, theoretically I would lose only 50 cents. (The house edge for penny slots runs 10-12%, so you see why I don’t play the slot machines.)

The house edge holds true only over very long periods of time. In the short term, anything can happen. I’ve had great winning streaks and I’ve had terrible losing streaks. But, over a long time of playing, I’ve pretty much broken even playing blackjack. Slot machines, on the other hand, are just gadgets that eat my money.

If you are at all interested in learning to play, I highly recommend downloading one or two of the free blackjack trainer apps. They drill on basic strategy, which is really helpful if you ever decide to play at an actual blackjack table. Another resource is the Wizard of Odds website that has more information than you ever wanted/needed to know about the game!

So why do I like playing blackjack? It’s just fun! Unlike playing slots, I have decisions to make and strategy to follow, so it’s not mindless. I enjoy the interaction with the dealer and other players. I just like playing the game. At least, as long as I’m not losing a whole lot! That’s why I only play $5 (or less) tables with really good rules. I can usually play a good long time without losing my shirt in the process.

While in Vegas, our favorite blackjack spot is Ellis Island Casino, just off the strip. It’s a small-ish casino with a locals vibe and free parking. It is smoke-free, which I particularly appreciate. They currently offer one table of $5 blackjack with very good rules. During these COVID times, the seats at the table are limited to 3 (instead of the usual 6), so I usually have to wait a while for a spot. But once at the table, I’ll play a few hours, enjoy some free adult beverages, and usually get comped at the end with a few bucks for the casino’s café. So far on this trip I’m up $150. Hopefully I won’t give it all back before I leave.

But even if I do, it’s still all good!

Death Valley National Park

As a former runner, Death Valley for me is always associated with the extreme Badwater ultramarathon. Billed as the toughest footrace on earth, the race begins at the Badwater basin, the lowest point in North America at 280 feet below sea level. Oh yeah, it’s in JULY in freakin’ DEATH VALLEY. Daytime temperatures at that time of year average 110 degrees F! If that’s not bad enough, the race covers a whopping 135 miles, ending at Mt Whitney in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The course goes over 3 mountain ranges in the process, ascending a cumulative 14,600 feet.

I’ve long been fascinated by endurance events, especially extreme one like this. I’ve read several books on the topic, and a personal acquaintance of mine (Bob Becker) completed a Badwater Double a few years ago. That’s the even more insane unofficial “round trip” event whereby one completes the official event, climbs to the highest point in the continental US atop Mt Whitney (14,505 feet), and hoofs it back to the Badwater basin starting point! That’s a round trip distance of 292 miles! And did I mention that he was the oldest person to have done so at the time at age 70? Just incredible.

After reading about the various way points and locations within Death Valley National Park, it was exciting to me to actually see them in person. Places with names like Badwater, and Stovepipe Wells, and the Devil’s Golf Course. I was interested to see just how remote they are. Because of its location in one of the driest places on earth, I did not realize that there was actual water at Badwater. Hydraulic pressure from the surrounding mountains forces mineral-laden water to the surface at this lowest spot. Evaporation creates large salt flats, but there are always puddles, even in the extreme heat. The mules of early explorers refused to drink the “bad” water, hence the name.

One of the advantages of having a 4-wheel drive truck is the ability to take some of the “off highway” roads. By driving just outside the Park we were able to pick up the one-way, 26 mile long Titus Canyon Road. The road took us through the desert flat, up and over Red Pass. The scenery was spectacular, and the road was only scary in a few places! (A high clearance vehicle was definitely required at times) Coming out of the pass, we encountered Leadville ghost town with its closed mine and few defunct structures. Before reaching the Death Valley floor, the road snaked through Titus Canyon. The walls of the canyon seemed just wide enough for our vehicle in places, and towered above us. We had hiked through slot canyons before, but driving through one was a completely different experience! The entire drive took several hours, but it was entirely worth it.

Death Valley …. another Passport stamp and another National Park checked off our list!

It’s Vegas, Baby!

Coming from the serenity of the Grand Canyon, the contrast couldn’t be greater. The Grand Canyon was all about majestic natural wonder. Vegas is the king of kitschy architecture and excessive partying. From the darkest of night skies to the brightest of lights. What a difference a week makes!

After months of social distancing, walking the crowded Vegas strip seems almost claustrophobic. I’m not worried about COVID at this point, being fully vaccinated, but the sheer press of bodies seems unnatural. According to local news media, Vegas tourism is almost back to pre-pandemic levels and based upon my observations — I can believe it! It’s good for the local economy, but it is quite a re-adjustment for me. The hotels, restaurants and casinos are still requiring masking and social distancing but the sidewalks of the Strip …. not so much.

I do like Vegas, though — as long as I’m not staying right on the Vegas Strip. I can take the Strip’s over-the-top-ness only for a few hours before I need a break from the overstimulation. By staying off-strip in quieter environs, I can meter the experience into smaller doses. We are parked at the very lovely Oasis RV Park, conveniently located just south of the Strip. This is a true resort, with many amenities. It is a great location to park for a month!

Our stay overlaps a week with a couple of our Tucson friends, Johnny and Patti. We knew we would meet up here, and just happened to end up only a few sites away in this very large RV park! Jeff has his mountain bike buddy for a few days more, and we’re having fun experiencing Vegas together, playing cards, and just socializing.

A month in Vegas. What could possibly go wrong?

Campground Review: Trailer Village RV Park, Grand Canyon National Park

Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Trailer Village RV Park
  • Dates of stay: April 15-21, 2021
  • Location: Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim
  • Type of campground: National Park (run by private concession)
  • Cost: $65/night
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: unknown
  • Accepts mail / packages: did not ask
  • Cell reception: none
  • Website:
  • Pros: You’re in the National Park!
  • Cons: pay showers, sloped sites

Full Review

The Grand Canyon South Rim complex includes two campgrounds: Mather Campground and Trailer Village. Mather Campground has no RV hookups and is operated by the National Park Service. Trailer Village offers full hookup sites and is operated by Delaware Parks and Resorts, an authorized concessionaire. This is the first time we have ever been able to camp within a national park! Normally, we’re too big to get in anywhere. But Trailer Village offers big-rig capable sites AND full hookups to boot!

We had seen some worrisome reviews claiming that navigating big rigs into the campground would be problematic (low hanging branches, etc), but we had no problems whatsoever. Our angled pull-through site was paved and more than long enough for the bus. (We had parking room for the truck next to the motorhome) The full hookup utilities (50/30 amp electric, water, sewer) worked flawlessly. We even had cable TV! Our site was open and satellite friendly, so no issues with our DirectTV.

We had essentially zero AT&T cell service, though. Our WeBoost antenna managed to pull in a slow data trickle, enough to receive texts, but not send a text back or make a phone call. For cell service, you have to drive over to the Village area or the Visitor Center. There, we had 4 bars of service.

Just a couple of potential negatives to note. Our site was fairly level front to back, but was sloped to the left. We were able to manually adjust to an acceptable degree, but could not completely get to level. The other item to note is there are no showers within the campground, at all. There are restrooms — old school, but clean and serviceable. For showers, there is a camper services building located between the two campgrounds. That building was closed completely during our stay due to Covid, but normally showers are available ($2.50 for 5 minutes) as well as coin laundry facilities. Since we had full hookups, it was no problem to simply use our own shower and laundry equipment. In normal times, shuttle buses can take you directly from the campground all around the South Rim complex, but most routes were not running during our stay.

But these are minor inconveniences. From the campground, you can hop on paved trails and walk or bike one short mile to the Visitor Center and the Rim Trail. Elk wandered by our rig, calmly grazing on grasses between campers. Infinite stars shone in the night sky.


Bottom Line: A unicorn! Big rig capable, full hookup campground inside a national park!

Grand Canyon National Park

One of the great blessings of this nomadic lifestyle is the ability to see and explore some of the truly iconic landscapes of our marvelous country. Every time I explore one of these wonders, I give thanks that our nation had the foresight to set aside and protect these special places.

The Grand Canyon is one of those iconic places. I’ve seen photographs since I was a child, but photos simply can’t convey the scope and scale of the enormous multi-colored ravine. This park also gave us two notable firsts: the first time we drove our big rig into a national park, and the first time we were able to actually camp in a national park campground! Typically, parks can’t accommodate a rig of our size.

I’ll do a full review separately, but the Trailer Village RV park on the South Rim was simply fantastic. We had seen troublesome reviews complaining of narrow roads, and low hanging branches, but we had no trouble navigating into our site. We had full hookups with 50 amp electric and, surprisingly, cable TV! We didn’t have any kind of cell phone coverage, but that’s a small price to pay for camping next to one of the world’s great wonders. As a bonus, several elk frequently roamed the area, grazing unconcerned next to campers. The night sky blazed bright with a zillion stars. You just don’t get that in your typical RV resort!

Due to COVID, some of the services weren’t available, such as most of the shuttle buses. However, the area is well-connected with a network of roads and bicycle paths, so getting around was a breeze. We were camped just a mile from the Visitor Center and the rim trail. Strolling the rim trail was almost a spiritual experience — I felt like an insignificant speck next to the enormous canyon.

During our week here, Jeff embarked on a long-planned backpacking adventure into the canyon. He hiked down Bright Angel trail and pitched his tent for two nights at the Indian Gardens campground, about 2/3 of the way down. There was a bit of a hiccup with our ancient backpacking tent. Although we checked to make sure all of the pieces were there, we didn’t actually set up the tent. When he arrived, he found the rain fly to be a fused mess after years in storage. He painstakingly peeled it apart (more or less), only to have one of the main poles snap when he attempted to erect the tent. Ever the Eagle Scout, he found a sturdy forked stick, lashed it to the tent, and managed to secure the jury-rigged pole into place. It worked!

The second day, he hiked down to the Colorado River and back, and viewed the sunset from Plateau Point. The following morning, he packed up and headed up. Mindful of the significant elevation gain (and on tired legs), he started off intentionally slowly and conservatively. Four groups passed him by initially, but as he went up, he picked up steam and ultimately passed them all! (They nicknamed him the Tortoise.) He was tired, but in good shape, and happy to have had the experience.

The South Rim is an expansive complex of visitor center, hotels, campgrounds, service buildings and shops. There is even a surprisingly well-stocked grocery store. A week wasn’t enough to see and do it all.

Definitely a place to return to.