After we left the magnificence of Big Bend, TX, we aimed to spend time in New Mexico. We soon learned though, that NM was experiencing winter storms, icy roads, and temperatures that were too risky for our camper to withstand. Ever heard of someone whose black (sewer) tank froze? It doesn’t sound like the most appealing accident to experience! Luckily, we have tanks that are insulated and also heated so we can stay in some lower temps. But why would we want to?! After 2 winters in Michigan, we have had enough cold weather
Arizona appeared to have nicer weather, so we just drove through New Mexico and headed for Roper Lake, which is northeast of Tucson. When we got there, we were informed we couldn’t stay longer than one night–they were completely booked for weeks! Frantically, we called around to other parks in the vicinity that were below $50 a night. Booked. All the state and county parks were taken by snowbirds and weekend warriors out celebrating the new year’s week. Of course, it’s totally our fault. We are bad planners, and assumed we’d be able to find *some* spot. After all, we had had no trouble being spontaneous at all since beginning our trip. What we didn’t’ realize is that a lot of people spend winters in Arizona. The stressful moment of finding a spot was especially frustrating because it was overcast, cold, and windy–hardly a snowbird’s paradise. But we lucked out. Most people wintering in Arizona are in search of full hookups–sewer, water, electric. There was a county park that gave us hope with their “no reservations, first come” policy listed on their website so we risked it and drove over to Tucson. We were completely thrilled when we pulled in. It was only $20 a night! And we had electric hookups, too. Water was available but not at each site, which isn’t a problem. The best part–the massive saguaro cacti everywhere. Oh, and the views. And the small number of people there in the park.
Gilbert Ray is a county park that is just a few miles outside Saguaro National Park. We went in a couple of times to go hiking and for Emery to get her Junior Ranger badge. I kid you not, she completed the workbook in the car on the way from the visitor center to the hiking trail!
We loved the desert sunsets and the mountain views. Learning about the amazing saguaro cactuses firsthand was such a cool experience I didn’t even plan for. Saguaro are very slow growing cactus. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall. When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds! Nuts.
Since we could only stay a week in Gilbert Ray, we decided to head toward Phoenix. The nearest campground with available spots was Lost Dutchman State Park in Mesa. We called, grabbed a spot for $20 a night and headed that direction. When we arrived we discovered the site had no hookups, and that it was *really* cold at night. No hookups isn’t a problem when it’s nice weather since we have solar. But we discovered at this point that using the heater that came with our camper takes a lot of energy and it really isn’t efficient. So, Scott ran over to the nearest home improvement store to grab a propane heater we could tote around and use when we needed it. Big Buddy saved us this time around!
To be honest, the week at Lost Dutchman was kind of a downer. Being cold sucks, it just does, especially when you have a portable home that can take you where it is warm. For some reason we just assumed since all these Arizona parks were so popular during winter that we would encounter pleasant weather. And while it was warmer than the last 2 winters we experienced in Michigan, 25 degrees just isn’t that fun in a camper even if you have full hookups and electric heaters blasting. We tried to make the best of the week and went hiking/sightseeing a few times. But we weren’t sad to leave after a week. It sure was gorgeous, though! I’d love to come back in the spring sometime.
A nearby hiking spot in Tonto National Forest allowed for beautiful views all around us.
Next time….our travels to San Diego, CA!