Author Archives: mbnorthrup

Hitting the Sedona Trails

The scenery around the Sedona area is simply mind-blowing – Jeff calls it nonstop “eye candy”.  The deep-green vegetation against bright red sandstone formations is spectacularly beautiful. And there’s no better way to see the beauty than by hitting the extensive trail system.

Many of the trails are multi-use, that is, open to hikers, bikers and equestrians. In fact, we hiked some of the same trails that Jeff loves to bike on, just so I could see what he sees. There are all levels of trails from easy to double-black-diamond. None of the trails have extreme elevation changes, although there are stretches of rather steep up and down. The more advanced trails have some narrow and gnarly trails with steep drop offs that aren’t for the faint of heart. But there are ample moderate trails that take you into the heart of the red rock formations. While hiking, I had to stop frequently, just to take it all in. Magnificent!

Sedona also boasts a number of four-wheel drive trails. We rented a Razr two-seater one day and took it for a spin. Jeff has immortalized the day in one of his you-tube videos. The video doesn’t really show how steep some of the sections are! It was definitely more interesting and more technically challenging to drive here than in New Hampshire (where we last rented a 4-wheel machine).  The weather at this time of year is glorious – sunny and crisp.

We have a four-wheel-drive F-150 truck for a reason, so took the truck out on some of the mellower OHV trails. Near our Clarksdale RV park lies the Coconino National Forest with its network of trails. We saw a number of boondocker RVs, taking advantage of free BLM land camping. The forest also hosts amenities such as a large model airplane airfield. We watched one Sunday morning as enthusiasts piloted enormous remote-control airplanes through aerial dives, spins and stalls. One hobbyist piloted his aircraft using virtual reality glasses. I guess he was getting the cockpit view through a camera mounted at the front of his plane. I’ve never seen anything like that!

Farther up the trails, we encountered a First Peoples historic site, the Honanki Cliff Dwellings. A short trail took us by ruins of dwellings built on the ground against the cliff, taking advantage of rocky overhangs. We could also see some well-preserved petroglyphs.

The Sedona area is beautiful and interesting, no matter whether you bike, hike, or drive!

Campground Review: Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale, AZ

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 023.jpgCampground Review Summary

    • Name: Rain Spirt RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: March 17 – April 14, 2020
  • Location: 551 South Broadway, Clarkdale AZ 86324
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $19.33/night (monthly rate)
  • Additional fees: electric
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception: ATT not so good
  • Website: https://rainspiritrvresort.com
  • Pros: Central location, very affordable, nice and new
  • Cons: none

Full Review

Rain Spirit RV resort didn’t even exist during our last visit, 3 years ago. We stayed nearby at a Thousand Trails facility, and weren’t all that thrilled with it. We thought we might stay at the only campground inside Sedona, but the big rig spots there are extremely limited and anything in Sedona is expensive. We were very happy to find this brand spankin’ new RV park located in the nearby town of Clarkdale.

This RV park is just perfect. Their big rig sites are level, solid, long, and easy to get into. It’s just laid out well. The FHU utilities work perfectly — the sewer is even a downhill run! There’s no cable TV, but you can get a number of over-the-air channels. All of the sites are satellite-friendly. The park itself is located in a lovely setting with hills all around you.

For a small park (53 sites), the amenities are quite nice. There’s a pool, hot tub, small work out room, coin laundry facility, and small lounge with lending book/DVD library. The bath house consists of six spacious individual bathroom units (toilet, sink, shower), which I very much prefer over “dormitory style” bath facilities. They are clean and beautiful.

The only possible negative is the poor internet connectivity in the area. Our ATT hotspot slowed to a crawl, especially in the evenings. The free campground wifi was no better. It’s not a reflection on the park, the data signal just isn’t robust here. Phone and text was fine, email was slow, and something like zoom was completely out of the question.

The park is conveniently located near a number of attractions: Tuzigoot National Monument and Verde Valley railroad is just up the road. Old Town Cottonwood is less than 2 miles. Sedona is a half hour away. You can drive to Jerome in about 15 minutes. Cottonwood can meet all of your shopping needs including grocery, Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

This park is also extremely affordable. Our month-long stay on a big-rig site ran us $540 plus electric. Shorter stays are pricier, but even a month isn’t long enough to explore all this area has to offer.

We’ve already booked our month for next year!

Bottom Line: Great little park, inexpensive and in a great location.

The Power of Science

I’m a scientist and have seen many marvels in my lifetime, but one of the greatest has to be last year’s development of the COVID vaccine. I’m not going to get into the politics – I have good friends that are choosing not to be vaccinated at this time and I respect their position. This is a free country and people have the right to choose or refuse medical treatment according to their individual circumstances.

But, to us …. It’s freakin’ miraculous. Normally, vaccines take YEARS to be developed. The fact that several vaccines were developed AND tested AND scaled up for mass production within a single year is simply unprecedented. It’s not just the vaccine itself, it’s producing all of the ancillary equipment needed for mass distribution, and setting up the logistics for mass vaccination. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime.

Jeff and I intended to get the vaccination from the outset. As healthy under-65-ers, we expected to wait quite some time before we were eligible. But as States began prioritizing by age, our opportunity arose sooner than expected. As moving targets, a two-dose regimen posed some logistical issues for us, but we solved that by scheduling both doses in Phoenix. The vaccination registration website was clunky and overburdened, but we managed to secure appointments on the same day, if not at the same mass vaccination site.

For our first dose, we drove up from Tucson. The drive-through vaccination process was actually inspiring. The entire process was quick and efficient as we were ushered through multiple lanes and checkpoints by friendly volunteers. Jeff received his jab, waited the required 15 minutes, and we drove away, heading to a second vaccination site for my turn. It took longer to drive to the second location than it did for me to receive my shot. Easy-peasy!

For our second dose, we drove down from Sedona. As before, our return appointments were at two different locations (and no, they wouldn’t just give me the shot at the first location because of the way they allocated doses, believe me, we tried!). My original site had closed, so I was booked into a new location. This one was less than efficient, and we spent well over an hour waiting in line. But, we got-er-done!

It’s such a relief.

Finally, I can see an eventual end to pandemic restrictions. I’m tired of a wearing stupid mask everywhere. I want to go to the theater and out to dinner. I want to go on a cruise. I want to play cards, and bingo, and socialize in the campgrounds we visit. I want to hug my loved ones and not worry, just a bit, that I might pass along a potentially deadly disease. I want my normal life back.

We’re getting there!

Internet Woes

It was all so simple in our former sticks-and-bricks house. We had a lovely DSL line running into our home, feeding a constant, consistent broadband data pipeline. We could game. We could stream. It was heavenly, and we took it so for granted.

Then we went on the road full-time. We have a decent set up for data and several options. Our primary internet data connection is through an AT&T hotspot with an unlimited data plan. Since we live inside a metal box (think Faraday cage), we installed a WeBoost  4G-X cell signal enhancer antenna system which boosts our cell signal and re-broadcasts it inside our motorhome. Most campgrounds also offer wifi. It sounds good, right?

In reality, our connectivity is highly variable. It all depends on the cell signal strength where we are sitting, and the number of folks trying to connect. In a major city, our signal is usually fairly robust. But, we typically don’t camp inside a major city – we are at a campground somewhere on the fringe of civilization. As a result, our cell signal is not so robust. Even with a strong signal, 4G data speed is limited. Slow uploads. Laggy web pages. Don’t even THINK about streaming. One must exercise a great deal of patience.

But wait, there’s the campground wifi! That works, right?

In reality, not so much. In all of our travels, I’ve encountered very few campground wifi systems that are any better than our mobile hotspot. I have run across one or two that had a very good signal, even streaming-worthy. But that is the rare exception. Most of the time, it is fair useless.

We make do. Some areas are better than others. Now that the COVID restrictions are easing, we can once again haunt Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts and take advantage of their wifi for uploading/downloading larger files. It works.

But, the problem is, I’m spoiled right now. At our Tucson winter home, we subscribed to broadband internet and experienced the glory of 40 Mbs download speed and 5 Mbs upload speed. Video streaming!! Both of us at once!! Fast file uploads! Crystal-clear Zoom calls! It was heaven.

Now we’re back on the road, and back to low-speed and unreliable data streams. <Heavy sigh>

I guess we’ll just have to enjoy the great outdoors!

Settled in Sedona

After 4 months stationary, I must admit that I felt a bit of moving-day performance anxiety. This was the longest period our bus had ever just sat in place. We started packing up the day before our move, to ensure we had plenty of time to complete all of the break-camp steps. Happily, everything worked as designed. The jacks went up (although a bit squeakier than usual), the slides went in, and new slide toppers retracted uneventfully. We checked and double checked each other, just to be sure we hadn’t forgotten anything after so long!

We left a day earlier than we had originally planned in order to change out our four drive-axle tires. They were the last of the original Goodyear tires, and at 5 years old were due for replacement. We bid goodbye to our Tucson friends and headed out early to the tire shop for new Michelins. We had figured on spending the day getting this done, but were finished around noon. We called our Sedona-area campground and were able to check in a day early! All in all, our travel day went quite uneventfully — which is the way I like it!

We’re settled in at a brand-new campground in the small town of Clarksdale, about 30 minutes from Sedona. Rain Spirit RV resort didn’t even exist when we were here three years ago. It’s relatively small, with about 65 RV sites, and only a dozen or so big-rig capable sites. But the sites are solid, level and open, and the facilities are beautiful. There is a pool and hot tub, a small exercise room, and a small lounge with a lending book and DVD library. The individual bathroom units are tiled, clean, spacious and comfortable. It’s a fantastic little RV park, and super affordable. It’s also in a very pretty setting, with a view of hills all around. The only negative is the internet signal quality in the area. After months of high-speed internet, it is tough to adjust to a minimal bandwidth again!

Cottonwood’s “Old Town” is just a couple of miles up the road with its shops and restaurants. We’ve already found a couple of new favorite eateries. Hog Wild BBQ has some of the best ribs we’ve ever had. And Mai Thai on Main makes some absolutely fantastic curry. It’s a great home for a month!

And of course, there’s nearby Sedona! Our very first day here, Jeff called me mid-bike-ride. He said, “I forgot how just how beautiful it is here. Please, can we come back here next year?!”

You bet!

Campground Review: Rincon Country West RV Park, Tucson, AZ

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 074.jpg

Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Rincon Country West RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: Nov 17, 2020 – Mar 17, 2021
  • Location: 4555 S. Mission Rd, Tucson AZ 85746
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent / 55 plus
  • Cost: $34/night (seasonal)
  • Additional fees: electricity, high speed internet
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception: ATT good
  • Website: rinconcountry.com
  • Pros: Great amenities and location, nice people
  • Cons: sites can be tight and difficult to maneuver

Full Review

This RV park is typical of 55 plus adult seasonal communities — a large park (more than 1000 sites) with a mix of permanent park models and RV sites. We picked this park for its amenities and location. And the amenities are almost to numerous to list. There are the usual outdoor pickleball courts, shuffleboard, basketball court, bocce ball, horse shoes, tennis, a large pool and two hot tubs. There is an extensive recreation complex with hobby rooms (woodworking, sewing, lapidary, stained glass, ceramics/pottery, ham radio, billiards, card rooms), a library, rec hall and large auditorium. There are are two exercise rooms. There are several pet play areas. There is even an onsite beauty salon! In normal years, the staffed activity office plans a plethora of concerts, activities and mixers as well as help to coordinate the 100 plus clubs and hobby groups. But …. COVID. This year just about everything was cancelled and the indoor facilities closed. It was very sad, because the facilities are absolutely beautiful. Fortunately the laundry and bath house facilities remained open. (The clean, modern bath houses include individual bathroom units with toilet, sink and shower.) A few organized activities, such as frequent food trucks and a weekly Farmer’s Market, were still available.
The only complaint I have about the place is the site layout. It’s understandable that sites are created with park models in mind, rather than RV units, but it makes navigating into the site quite a challenge for a big rig. The layout is different than anyplace else I’ve seen, with a concrete patio placed in the middle of your site. You have a narrow slice on one side to park your rig and a narrow slice on the other side to park your toad. There are palm trees, light poles and sewer outlet obstacles. When the park is full, you are really boxed in! Smaller rigs didn’t have a problem, but it felt really tight for us. Since we plan to return next year, we identified and reserved a site that will be much easier to maneuver into. Otherwise, our site worked just fine. It was reasonably level, hard-packed gravel. We had the usual full hookups (50 amp electric) and a robust cable TV package provided. The free wifi was essentially useless, so we opted to subscribe to a local high speed internet provider through the park phone line system. I got pretty spoiled having high speed internet for a change! Our ATT signal was fine, being in a large-ish city. Getting mail and packages was very convenient here. The onsite mail room provides all seasonal residents with a personal mailbox and accepts USPS packages. Other shippers (Amazon, UPS, FedEx) deliver directly to your site! The RV park is located right next to the Loop, a 100 plus mile paved bicycle trail that is known as one of the best recreational trails in the country. Mountain bike trails are accessible just across the road. Tucson is a moderate size city with lots of activities and amenities. Shopping of all kinds is nearby. It’s an awesome location that draws an active crowd due to its proximity to the trails. Our RV site averaged about $34/night over 4 months. Electricity was extra (metered) and we opted for the luxury of high speed internet. When you added that in, our cost ran about $40/night. It was definitely more expensive than last winter season’s Florida stay (which included electricity and high speed internet). But, we really like this area and the folks here, so it is entirely worth it. In fact, we may winter here for the rest of our RV life. Bottom Line: Great park, awesome people, and it will only get better when COVID restrictions are lifted. We’ll return in November!

Tucson Wrap-up

Once again, the winter season has flown by! Tomorrow we head out on our 2021 West Coast loop! Although many venues here were COVID-closed, we did manage to get out and do some sightseeing. I’ll share some of the highlights.

We visited several interesting museums during our stay. I already wrote about our visit to Biosphere 2. Another unique display was at the Titan Missile Museum, located just south of here. A guided tour takes you through an honest-to-gosh missile silo, complete with a (non functional) missile. The tour guide explains the detailed shift change procedures, life while stationed in the silo, and the sequence of events required for a launch. Jeff even got to push the launch button! It’s not a long tour, about 45 minutes, but it is quite interesting.

We also toured the Pima Air and Space Museum. There’s not many “Space” exhibits, but there are hangers and acres of airplanes of all types and vintages. It included everything from small kit-built hobby planes to a Presidential 747. There were commercial and military aircraft of every era. During non-COVID times, there are docents and guided tours, including a tour of the enormous airplane “boneyard”. We just wandered around and looked at a whole lot of planes. If you are an airplane buff, you’ll be in heaven! I got airplane overload after a while.

Organ Pipe National Monument lies a couple of hours southwest of Tucson, adjoining the Mexico border. The distinctive organ pipe cactus is abundant in Mexico, but only grows in the US in this area. The park has several hiking trails and scenic drives. A downloadable nature guide allows for an informative, self-paced driving tour of this beautiful area.

Of course, the Seguaro National Park is right here in Tucson. We did a fair bit of hiking in the park, as well as in nearby Sabino Canyon Recreational Area. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the desert environment, but I’m warming up to it after this winter’s experience. The environment seemed rather brown and dead when we arrived, but a few winter rainstorms caused the area to green and even bloom. The rains caused seasonal waterfalls to flow, which was quite exciting! Seeing water flow in the normally dry desert seems almost miraculous.

Of course, the best part of our stay has been meeting some fantastic people and making new, great friends. We have exciting plans for this year, but we’ll be back in November to rejoin our friends and continue exploring the Tucson area.

Circle of Friends

2020 was a tough year. When we arrived at our Tucson winter season spot last November, I was despondent. Activities were cancelled, we knew no one here, and I was dreading the prospect of months of lonely isolation. Fortunately, our experience here was MUCH better than I ever could have expected!

Our current location here in Tucson seems to attract a much more active crowd than last year’s location in Florida. The very first day here, Jeff met another avid mountain biker. That contact led to our participation in a small “12 beers of Rincon” gathering and the opportunity to meet and forge connections with a new group of great friends.

That little group became our “quaranteam” for this Covid season, satisfying the need for human connection that we all craved. We have found kindred spirits here. Jeff has mountain biking buddies. We’ve done several spectacular hikes with one couple. We’ve experienced a couple of great day-long motorcycle rides with another small group. We’ve enjoyed outings to a local dining/entertainment venue. We regularly meet for “happy hour” to share beverages, snacks, conversation and lots of laughter. The ladies (crafters all) have conducted crafting sessions and classes. I taught a Swedish weaving class, learned how to make chenille pot holders, and we mandala’d rocks. We admire each other’s creations. We giggle and support one another in group text. These folks are interesting, funny, kind, and generous. We’ve become our own little family.

Their camaraderie saved my sanity, and restored my spirits. What an unexpected blessing in this crazy pandemic year!

As we approach the end of the season here, we are all making plans for next year. The park offers returning campers the option to select and reserve sites before opening reservations to the public. As we jockeyed for proximity to one other, I felt as though I were in middle school comparing schedules with classmates — “What site did you get? When will you be back?”

Our time here is winding down, but we look forward to our return in November ….. to see our friends.

2021 Planning

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, everyone!

Being the advance planners that we are, we now have almost all of our 2021 reservations completed. 2020 was a year of having to be flexible …. hopefully 2021 will go more according to plan! This is officially our second “West Coast” loop and we’ve planned a route that includes a combination of favorite spots and new locations.

We’re starting off in Sedona. Our last visit was just too short, so we’re staying a full month this time. There’s plenty there to keep us busy! From Sedona, we’re heading up to the Grand Canyon, our first visit there in the rig. Jeff has an overnight hike planned, down into the Canyon. After that, we’re off to Utah for a couple of weeks at Hurricane (a favorite place) and a month near Park City (new to us). The Park City area offers downhill mountain biking and a ton of hiking opportunities.

From Utah, we’re scooting up to Kalispell, Montana for a three week stay near my sister. My siblings and parents are flying in for a week, which will be our first time all together since the stupid pandemic began. Family vacations are the BEST!

After Montana, we head back to a familiar campground for a month-long stay in northwest Washington State. Originally we had booked an Alaska cruise out of Vancouver during this time, but …. that’s not gonna happen. As of this writing, Canada has closed its waters to cruise ships until Feb 2022, effectively killing the 2021 Alaska cruise season. We’ll just shift our Alaska cruise plans to 2022 and enjoy beautiful Washington!

Next up, we are spending a couple of weeks next to Olympic National Park. We took a day trip there last time, and want to explore that area more thoroughly. It offers a unique and beautiful temperate rain-forest ecosystem. After that, we head south to Eugene, Oregon (a favorite place) and then west to Bend, Oregon (a new spot). From there, it’s on to Reno / Lake Tahoe for a couple of weeks. We have been to Reno before, but it’s been many years.

From Reno, we head to one of my very favorite RV Parks – The Vines in Paso Robles, CA. That is the only campground restroom I’ve ever seen that boasts chandeliers!! We are booked for a couple of weeks, but will only be physically present for a few days, because we are flying back east for a wedding!

Yes, our son is getting married to his longtime girlfriend on October 23! I couldn’t be happier or more excited! Their wedding will take place at Fontana Village, in North Carolina just south of the Great Smokies National Park. It’s a lovely little spot for a destination wedding and a place that holds fond memories of family vacations there. It’s will be a small group — essentially just her family and ours. What a blessing — looking forward to it so much!

After the wedding, we’re off to Palm Springs for a couple of weeks, will make a brief stop in Quartzite, and then head back to our winter season home here in Tucson. But wait, there’s more! As soon as we settle the bus into its winter site, we’ll be flying out to Florida for a 12 night Southern Caribbean cruise! (Assuming, of course, that cruising is back to normal by then!)

2020 was a very challenging year. 2021 is getting off to a slow start, but here’s hoping for a year of smooth and enjoyable travel ……

Biosphere 2

Despite Covid, we are managing to get out and do a few field trips during our winter here. One was to visit Biosphere 2, located an hour or so north of us. I have long wanted to visit the site — I remember hearing about it back in the 90’s. As a lifetime sci-fi geek, the concept excited me.

Biosphere 2 was originally intended to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space. It was named Biosphere 2 because Earth itself is the original biosphere. The habitat was built to house eight human volunteers (biospherians) for a two-year mission. The facility includes a fog desert, rainforest, ocean with coral reef, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, agricultural area and human living quarters. Power is supplied by onsite power generators and an extensive air conditioning / heating system is built under and around it. The volunteers would grow their own food, conduct experiments, care for farm animals, and maintain the facility in a completely enclosed and self-contained environment.

Covid precautions required us to pre-book our timed ticket. We downloaded their app, which led us through a one-way self-guided tour of much of the facility. There were only a couple of other visitors present, which made social distancing easy!

The careful thought that went into the facility was evident as we wandered through the surprisingly spacious facility. The variety of species present was fascinating, as was the overall design. I could only imagine what it must have been like for the biospherians to live in this — their entire world for two years.

The two-year experiment was launched with much fanfare in September 1991. The project was ultimately plagued by problems: depleting oxygen levels, die-off of species, overgrowth of others (like cockroaches, yuck!), difficulty growing enough calories for the biospherians, and politics among the project leaders. With low oxygen and insufficient calories, the biospherians became tired and cranky. About 18 months in, concerned for the volunteers’ health, the project leaders decided to pump supplemental oxygen into the habitat. Touted as “entirely enclosed”, lack of transparency with the media about this decision caused the experiment to come under heavy criticism. Nevertheless, the two year experiment was completed. Ultimately, power struggles within the company resulted in the facility’s sale and now it is owned and operated by the University of Arizona as an environmental research facility. For more about the history and Biosphere 2 story, a new documentary (Spaceship Earth) is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. The documentary goes into much more detail about the origin of the concept and includes footage and interviews from the original participants.

I found the whole Biosphere 2 concept to be completely fascinating. The sci-fi geek in me would love to be part of that kind of experiment — for maybe a week or two. Not two years, though! Maybe a Biosphere 2 camp for grownups?

Why not?