We’ve been camping for the last week or so. Found some beautiful forests in Northern Arizona and haven’t been able to pull ourselves away. It’s been pretty quiet up here; a few birds singing in the sunshine, the wind blowing through the trees and occasionally a distant howl from coyotes in the evenings.
With this peaceful quiet also comes privacy, so we’ve finally been able to use our solar shower. It’s just a bladder that holds water with a hose and nozzle, the water gets warm after sitting in the sun. We placed the shower out in the sun for a few hours the first time and were so amazed at how warm the water actually got. The shower works fairly well, gets the job done at least. We’ve been able to take showers about every other day or so now, well, as long as we have enough water.
Water has become our biggest commodity. We started this trip with a 5 gallon jug and 2 one gallon jugs. This sounds like a lot, but when Jeff and I can go through a gallon or more in a day just for drinking. And we also have to consider water for our pets, cooking, dishes and then showering if necessary, water runs out fast. Thankfully, the cost for re-filling hasn’t been too bad: usually $0.25/gallon or $1.00/5 gallon. After this recent camping trip we decided to purchase another big jug for more back up water, especially now we are using the shower. So, we bought a 7 gallon jug and now have the ability to carry about 14 gallons with us.
We’re still being very frugal with our money and being choosy on how we spend it. Gas is a must, we can’t get out of spending money for gas but we do look for cheaper fueling stations and conserve our gas by driving a little slower. Food and any extra spending however, we have a strict budget. Jeff calculates our money and budget almost daily just to make sure we’re on track. Currently we have allotted $14/day for food and extras. To keep track of this we have decided to pull out $100 from the ATM every Sunday and only use that cash. We can get groceries for the week, eat from that food and usually still have money left over for a little splurging like a soda when its hot or maybe even an ice-cream. We generally just eat food from the groceries we buy but have had days that we just couldn’t resist splurging a little more.
Neither of us are couponers, although it may be something we should do. We do however always scour the grocery store for their markdown bins before we get the full price items. We’ve purchase whole bags of apples, zucchini and bell peppers for $0.99/bag just because they were a little wrinkled. Just recently we received a bag of free fresh picked apricots from a lady Jeff chatted with while filling up our water. I don’t think she realized how much it really meant to us. Fresh fruit can get expensive and those apricots have lasted us a good week or so. (Plus they’re delicious!)
This journey we’ve been on has really shown us how to conserve more. It has taught us to use every last drop, every last crumb and to appreciate what we have right in front of us. I could say they may come out of this adventure of ours a little smarter.
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We leave Tucson on Friday morning headed to Kearney, Az for a quick visit with Jeff’s cousin Kami. We chatted for awhile, caught up on things and watched her happy little boy play around the park. Jeff and I were headed to the White Mountain area after our visit, and planned on finding some camping somewhere between Show-Low and Pine-Top. His cousin said we’d be going over a big ‘divide’ or pass on our way and it was a heck of a road. We assured her Vanna was a beast!
Now, I’m not usually one to fall for superstitions or the likes there of but we did happen to leave on Friday the 13th. Vanna did pretty good going through the divide we were warned about. (which had 10% grades!) But after the divide, things got a little hairy. It started with the van acting as if wasn’t shifting and slowly losing power. We had stopped to get gas and as Jeff was taking the gas cap off the tank, gas shot out! After fueling up, we tried to continue on down the road, however Vanna had other ideas for us. The van continued to lose power,then would completely die. We were able to get the van to start back up each time and make it a little farther, eventually landing at an auto parts store. Jeff came back out with a fuel filter hoping that would be all we needed. The owner at the auto parts store sent us to a Jiffy Lube in town to have them change the filter since we didn’t have all of the necessary tools with us in the van.
We left the Jiffy Lube with our fingers crossed. Vanna made it down the road, through the stop light and then she lost power and died again. We knew then it was going to an expensive fix. We took it into the Big-O in town for diagnostics, they told us the fuel pump needed replaced but they couldn’t get to it until the next day. Waiting another day is fine when you really have no timeframe to be anywhere. But when your van is your home and your van is broken, you have to hope the van makes it somewhere for sleep and back for your appointment to get fixed in the morning. Thankfully Vanna made it safely back to the Big-O the next day. Now two hours later, $700, and a brand new fuel pump we were ready to get back on the road again!
While we were waiting there in Globe, Az for our van to get fixed we received an email back from an old friend of Jeff’s wanting to meet up in Phoenix while we were still in Arizona. They hadn’t seen each other for about ten years, so we decided to drive back that direction. His email had indicated they (he and other friends) were going to a bar about 7 o’clock for a grand opening and we should meet there, gave us the address and said see you later. Now, by the time our van was fixed and we made it to Phoenix, we still had a good 5 or so hours to kill before 7 and not wanting to spend too much money since we just dropped a ton on the van, we were stumped on what to do for the day. Phoenix was very warm that day, 100 degrees, so doing something inside sounded nice but we didn’t want to leave the dog and bird in the van without A/C. We ended up driving around most of the day, which meant we were wasting more gas. Jeff stopped to fuel up at some point in our day and all I hear is curse words coming from around the side of the van. As he was filling the tank, gas just poured out from the top. He crawled under the van thinking maybe just a clip or something didn’t get tightened enough, but couldn’t really tell what it was. Maybe the gas leakage was just a coinsidance and it won’t happen again. At this point we’ve been in the heat all day and now we get to smell gas while we’re driving, we’re both thinking that this bar’s grand opening better be stellar. We found a park to hang out at until it was time to meet up with his friend, so we get cleaned up and drive over to the address he provided to us. Jeff pulled up the emails when we pulled up and as he was re-reading them, he hands me our phone saying ‘just read the first sentance and look at when he sent it’. His friend had sent us the email on Friday the 13th, and said they were about to head down to the bar in a bit. We didn’t get the message until Saturday, so naturally just thought he meant Saturday evening they were going. So, here we were sitting in a parking lot at a bar waiting to meet his friend that wasn’t going to be there. We wasted gas driving all day, exhausted ourselves in the heat, and got headaches from the smell of leaking gas. Frustrated at our ignorance, we decided to just head towards the mountains for some camping.
We landed in Payson, Az that night and in the morning Jeff re-fueled before we ventured on into unknown land. I again heard curse words coming from the side of the van and knew this time something was for sure wrong. Gas was pouring out again, so we decided we probably should take the van back to the Big-O in Globe for inspection. However, since it was Sunday we thought it wouldn’t hurt to get a little camping in before we took it back. We spent a day and a half in the forest before venturing back down to Globe on Tuesday. The same guy who fixed Vanna before helped us again and about an hour later came back to let us know a gasket had fallen completely down. He replaced our fuel pump entirely and sent us on our way..
The big test was getting gas, we needed to make sure everything was in good working order before we left Globe again. Jeff pulls into one gas station, the pump works however gas shoots back out. Hmm, well how about another pump? Same situation on another pump, so we went back to the Big-O. Bewildered at first by what we were saying, the mechanic got under our van. An anti-sifening valve was to blame for our troubles. He told us to go get gas again and we left crossing our fingers. We pulled into a different gas station this time, however now the pump declines our card. The bank had put a hold on the card since we were in a different state and had those few quick swipes before when we tried to get gas and it shot out. Frustrated, Jeff tried clearing the situation as he had this same discussion with the bank when we paid for the van to be fixed on Saturday. After about thirty minutes on the phone and numerous attempts to use our card, the situation was finally cleared. We pumped gas, filled all the way and just watched for a couple minutes. No pouring of gas, just a lingering smell from before. We were so excited! Jeff and I made a quick stop at a grocery store and we’re back on the road again!
We’ve been at Jeff’s sister’s house in Tucson, Az visiting for the last few weeks and just recently got back on the road. Words cannot express how grateful we are to the kindness and hospitality we received from his sister’s family. Pam and Tyson opened their home and shared their busy lives with us without even batting an eye. Tyson just finished medical school and is in his first year of residency, the girls still in school for the year with different schedules and Pam just announced she was pregnant again (with twins!!). So, even with all the hustle and bustle in the house, they never hesitated once to let us in.
We enjoyed every moment with them too. They made sure we tried slushees at Eegees and ice-cream at Sullivan’s, and finally tried In-and-Out too. We spent many nights watching movies or nature documentaries with everyone, which the girls would snuggle up with us. (I definitely got my share of Disney and Pixar movies for awhile!) Jeff and I would leave for day trips or even for a couple nights and would be greeted with the joyous screams of our nieces upon our return. We helped with dinner and sometimes with homework. I did crafts with the girls and decorated a cardboard car too. We all had a lot of fun! The time we didn’t spend with the family was spent exploring areas around Tucson. Jeff and I walked around Sabino Canyon twice, the first time we went a little too late in the day and it was way too hot for hiking. We hiked at Sweetwater trail and walked around Sweetwater Wetlands. Spent a night at Mt. Lemmon on two separate occasions and hiked a nice staircase like trail at Saguaro National Park a couple times.
We really enjoyed our time in Tucson, playing in the sun, exploring and most of all being with family.
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We recently spent a few days birding in the Patagonia and Sierra Vista areas. A friend of Jeff’s sister’s had recommended the areas to us, saying it would make for a long day of birding but we made it into 2.5 days. We left bright and early the first morning and headed towards Patagonia, which is south of Tucson and just north of Mexico. We were just certain we would find some incredible birds since we were driving so closely to the border. Of course we stopped numerous times along side the road to snap photos of birds that may or may not be something we’ve seen before on our way to our first birding hot spot.
Paton Center for Hummingbirds is where we found ourselves first. It was a cute little place nestled in the outskirts of Patagonia dedicated to the education and conservation of Hummingbirds. Trees, flowers, a garden and of course over a dozen of various bird feeders surrounded the tiny home on the lot. A big canopy is set up in the back with benches and chairs which are centered within the feeders for the perfect view of the hundreds of species of birds known to frequent there. Jeff and I found a bench and sat there enjoying the birds for at least an 1.5 hours. We saw a variety of birds while we were there including: Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Inca Doves, Broad-billed Hummingbird and various woodpeckers.
Right down the road from the Hummingbird Center was the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, however it was closed that day due to high winds. We were able to drive up along the dirt road that takes you to the preserve and found Vermilion Flycatchers fluttering in and out of the brush above the creek. We also ran into some other birders whom pointed out a pair of nested Thick-billed Kingbirds. (I doubt we would have seen the birds had they not pointed them out.) After talking a bit with them, they were able to point us to the right direction of the bird we were looking for, the Elegant Trogon. We stayed in Sierra Vista that night ready to get a good nights sleep before another big day of birding.
The birders we met the day before had told us we would be able to find the Trogon at the Huachuca Canyon, which is located in Fort Huachuca. As Fort Huachuca is an military base, we had to sign in and get visitor passes. I thought it was kind of fun to go birding on a base. We finally found our way to the canyon after getting a little lost, and sure enough it was a place for birders! Trucks, cars and bicycles were lined up and down the bumpy dirt road with people clutching their binoculars or cameras. We stopped and asked a couple of people about the Trogon, all stating they were there, just needed to listen for them. As we continued driving down the road and farther into the canyon, we suddenly stop at the sound of birds. Jeff and I were instantly in overload with the many varieties of birds we were seeing and new ones too. We saw birds such as: Painted Redstarts, Red-faced Warblers, Bridled Titmouse, Grey Hawk and Zone-tailed Hawk. After pulling ourselves away and continuing with our search for our Trogon, we finally hear a male calling. He called over and over again at the point we were able to find him, however he was was not impressed with us so we didn’t get the best of views. We got word from some more fellow birders that down at the end would be where we’d find our bird. We made our way down to end of the road, Jeff went one way and I the other to look at different birds until he tells me to come quick. He had spotted a hummingbird on her nest. We kept our distance and watched her settle onto her little eggs, it was such a sweet thing to watch.
Jeff and I sat, waiting patiently and listening to the wind blow through the leaves of the giant sycamore trees at the end of the road, another male Trogon flew in and started calling. We sat there and watched him fly from branch to branch calling away to his mate. Not too long after a female Trogon silently flies in to his calls landing on each branch he just had. They finally met up with each other off into the distance and we could no longer hear his calls. By the end of our birding at Huachuca Canyon we had seen about 4 Trogons and heard a couple others calling. We ended up counting and had seen just over 20 new species of birds by time we were headed back to Tucson. We also met some genuinely nice people, Jeff and I really enjoyed their conversations. Lots of fun!!
Jeff and I have been on the road and exploring for almost 7 weeks now. We have seen some impressive land and have met some wonderful people. Our travels have taken us through some parts of Utah, into Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. Staying warm this spring was our goal as winters in Idaho tend to be quite chilly. We’ve done pretty well so far staying warm, some days even too warm but we’ve also had a handful of days where we’ve got a chance to experience stormy weather in a new area too.
We’ve seen several beaches so far, both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. It’s unreal how different each beach can be, how soft or coarse the sand is, or even how the colors vary. Marsh lands, swamps, bayous, long rivers and even desert have been our back drops as we cruise the open road. We have seen the oil country in Texas, the French Quarter of New Orleans, the famous ‘red dirt’ roads, the swamps of the South and tasted the salty winds of Florida.
We also have gone camping a couple times, but not like how were use to in Idaho. One night while camped in Florida, we discussed our adventures and where we were going. While we’ve enjoyed every second of the trip, we had decided the East Coast really wasn’t an area we wanted to continue to explore at this time. This decision wasn’t because we didn’t like the weather, the areas we explored or the people, because everything was beautiful and everyone we met was unbelievably nice. The one thing that sticks in the back of our heads while we’ve been exploring is a possibility for relocation. So we’ve made the decision to continue our travels more West as this better suits us. Staying a little South though was still in our plan during this time of year, but we decided to head back to the West.
Arizona is where we are currently, visiting Jeff’s sister and her little growing family in Tucson. We’ve been here just about two weeks and will continue to stay in Arizona for a couple more. There is so much to see here, Jeff and I have been taking off for a day or more to explore other areas and towns. Arizona has some great places for hiking and we’ve really enjoyed our time birding here too. It’s Spring, so the weather has been really nice and so far not as hot as we’ve heard it can get. This is an area I could see us relocating, or even wintering in. This of course would be something we’d discuss later on, after all of our adventures are done. We will soon be leaving Tucson to go off onto the White Mountain area, then Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon before we go onto California.