Friday, December 10, 2021

A Northern Migration

"Trouble with a long journey like this is that you end up just talking to yourself a lot, which gets terribly boring because half the time you know what you’re going to say next."

            ~ Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Brookings, Oregon:  After spending the last three winters in warm sunshine states, it feels a little backwards to be driving north at the beginning of December.  Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that we will be spending Christmas with family, I'm just not overly excited about returning to the wet and cold. 

It took me three driving days and 2 rest days to make the 1,174 mile drive back to Oregon.  Most of the drive was thankfully uneventful.  There wasn't a whole lot to see the first day along the I-10 from Phoenix to Palm Springs other than the slow moving post-Thanksgiving traffic and too many semi trucks pulling my trailer off course.  I call this the truck-suck, that annoying airflow phenomenon when passing trucks and buses pull our trailer in towards them.  Most of the day's drive looked like this...

A whole lot of truck-suck today

I pulled into Sam's Family Spa & Hot Water Resort in Desert Hot Springs, CA around 4pm and was assigned spot #302 way in the back overflow lot which was fairly empty.

Sam's Family Spa is a place I've been curious about because it is mentioned by so many other full-time RV families as a good place to spend the winter months.  The park has family friendly hot spring pools on site and very reasonable monthly rates.



I stayed two nights at Sam's to test out their hot springs and I'd say my initial impression of the place is mixed.  While the pools and facilities were very clean and well cared for, it was also very busy.  It seemed like a place where locals were also visiting during the day.  There were several big families running around the pools and playing music on the evening that I arrived.  It didn't appear to be a very relaxing time to visit so I stayed away the first night.  The pictures above were taken the next morning right when the pools opened.  Within a half hour they were full of families again and I cut my soaking time short after about an hour.  

The RV park itself was interesting.  Half of the property is taken up by a mobile home park and there is also a motel and cabins to rent.  Everything appeared to be older but clean.  The staff I interacted with was friendly.  Will I return to Sam's in the future to give it another chance? Maybe. 

My second day of driving was just plain long and dull.  Breaking the 3/3/3 RV driving rules, I drove the 526 miles from Desert Hot Springs up to Petaluma, CA in one day.  For those that don't know, those rules are: drive no more than 300 miles in a day, stop and stretch your legs at least every 3 hours, arrive at your destination by 3pm.  Well, I didn't do any of that.  I only made one stop for gas and lunch about halfway into the drive at Harris Ranch.


If you are making the marathon drive up I-5 in California Harris Ranch is a great place to stop for a break.  They have parking available for all sizes of rigs, a gas station, hotel, restaurant, space to walk the dogs, picnic tables, and decent BBQ made on-site for take away.

Doggy approved BBQ break

By the time I got to San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA I was pretty tired of driving.  Unfortunately, I also discovered a water leak coming from one of the main water pump lines while setting up.  I tried everything I could think of to stop the hose connection from leaking, but eventually after a spew of expletives and several bruises to my elbows trying to reach the pump in its teeny tiny holding space, I admitted defeat for the night and went to bed.

The main reason I had decided to stay in Petaluma for two nights was that I wanted to drive over and visit Napa for the first time.  This ended up being more of a drive-by than a real visit since much of my day was taken up searching around hardware stores for a solution to my water pump issue.

First a stop at Model Bakery for their famous english muffins

"The Original" 

Some Christmas gift shopping at Oxbow Market

Fun market, but I thought it would be bigger

The Château at Domaine Carneros

View from the Château

I think I got just enough of a taste of the Napa area to confirm that I need to come back and spend more time exploring in the future.  So much to see and do here.  So many fun things to eat and drink.  I'd really like to come back.

The last of my three long driving days took me 342 miles up Hwy 101, through the towering redwood trees, and back to the windswept coastlines of Oregon again.  I pulled into Harris Beach State Park just before sunset.


The ORV in Harris Beach site A21 with a peek-a-boo ocean view through the trees

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Campground Review – McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Fountain Hills, AZ

This is a gorgeous regional park with mountain biking and hiking at your doorstep and stunning views over the Sonoran Desert.  Just north and east of Phoenix, AZ.

Link to the campground:  McDowell Mountain Regional Park

The sites:  We absolutely adore the sites at McDowell Mountain. Huge separation from the neighbors and great sunset views from most every site. My favorites are 57, 60, 64, and 68.  All of these are on the outside of the south loop.

Our ORV in beautiful site #57

Sunset views from site #68

The facilities:  Water and electric sites only.  There is a handy dump station near the entrance of the campground.  Bathrooms here are spotless and the showers are individual use with hot water and good water pressure. 

A few things to do:

Are dogs allowed:  Yes!  Dogs are allowed on leash in the campground and on trails.  Just remember to protect your dog's paws from hot pavement and sharp cactus spikes, and please, please pick up after them so that the rules are not eventually changed for all of us.
 


Good to know:  Getting a spot at McDowell Mountain during the winter, pretty much any time between November and February can be difficult.  It is an extremely popular place and the sites I mentioned above are usually taken up months in advance.  My advice is if you think you want to go for anything more than a couple of days, don't wait to book.  The website booking window opens six months in advance and most of the outside loop sites will be full within hours.

Hope to see you there!
~Kim & Jason

  

Friday, December 3, 2021

Lunch and a Movie

Fountain Hills, Arizona:  I woke up to moody skies over the Sonoran Desert this morning.  It's the first threat of rain we have had since getting here at the end of October.

What to do on a rainy day in Arizona?  Now that I'm officially triple-vaxxed (uugh!) a movie and some tasty food sounded pretty good to me.  I decided to drive over and try out RoadHouse Cinemas in Scottsdale.  The website says they have an early bird special going on where all shows before noon are only $5.  

Looks like no rain over in Scottsdale today

It's about a 25 minute drive to get from the campground at McDowell over to the RoadHouse Cinemas.  Located in a fairly average shopping strip next to a Target, the theater tries to give off a ‘western’ vibe with western-style decor and country western music playing in the bar and lobby - not my favorite but I can live with it.  It's a combination restaurant, sports bar, ice cream shop, and movie theater all in one.  What I really like is that the restaurant and full bar menu can be delivered to your theater seat and enjoyed while watching a film.

My super comfy recliner seat

I opted for the Ghostbuster burger and a local Scottsdale Blonde Ale

Both came quickly and were very good even though the photo wasn't

Everything in the theater appeared to be super clean, and the food service was fast and polite.  I really miss having regular nights out at the movies during these two pandemic years.  One of my first jobs in high school was working as a projectionist at my local movie theater back in high school.  I think it was probably the best job I ever had.  Do you remember that scene in American Beauty where Kevin Spacey talks about his first job flipping burgers being the best time of his life?  I think it's something like that.

I went to see the new Ghostbusters film today.  Here's an interesting note - Ghostbusters II was one of the films I remember screening back in high school.  I liked that they used all the original cinematic background score in this film.  I brought back good memories.   

I love going to the movies

All in all, it was a good afternoon and I will definitely keep RoadHouse Cinemas and their excellent $5 movie deal in mind when we are back visiting the area again next year.


P.S The new movie was great!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Desert Botanical Gardens

Fountain Hills, Arizona:  One of my favorite places to visit when we are staying near Phoenix is the Desert Botanical Gardens just south of Scottsdale.

I spent several hours on a Monday morning wandering around the five unique trail systems within the garden, breathing in the sweet dusty scent of arid plant life, and marveling at the abundance that can be found in the desert. For someone who spent her entire life in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, the desert can sometimes feel like exploring on a new planet.






The surprise of the day was discovering the botanical garden staff busy setting up for the Chihuly in the Desert exhibition that opens in two weeks.  Several large-scale installations are already in place around the garden and it was a treat to get to see some of them early.  I think they will be all lit up at night when the exhibit opens.  That would be cool to see.





One of the highlights of my day was trying to get photos of these big, beautiful monarch butterflies working over a huge bush of tiny purple flowers.  I just love getting to see butterflies in the winter months.



I decided to take a break after a long morning of marveling at the monarchs and took a seat on the patio at Gertrude’s which is located just inside the garden entrance.  It's a nice spot to get out of the sun and soak up the pretty garden atmosphere.  


Gertrude's is popular and known for its seasonal farm to table food featuring local Arizona growers and producers.  While there were a lot of tasty looking things on the menu I would have liked to try, today I just wanted a drink and a break from the sun.  I settled on the house-made lemonade with fresh herbs and berries.

Cheers!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Back Again - McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Fountain Hills, Arizona:  Our daily life has been trucking along here at McDowell Mountain despite being in round four of the virus-that-shall-not-be-named. Today I thought I would just share a few pictures from what has become one of our all-time favorite RV destinations after three years of living on the road.

This is the third winter in a row that we have come to this little regional park northeast of Phoenix.  So far, the weather has been just outstanding. Warm sunny days with a little breeze. In my opinion, November is the nicest month to be in this part of Arizona. Last year we were here in December and that felt too late. It was much cooler after the sun went down that time of year and I really missed walking the dogs just before sunset and warm evening happy hours sitting outside of the camper - my favorite time of the day here.



By far the best thing about this park is watching all the critters and birdlife that visit my campsite each day. I did notice that there seemed to be less birds around when we first showed up at the end of October, but slowly things are picking up as the birds make their way back down from the North.


Mountain biking is another big draw that keeps bringing us back to this area.  Last year we purchased a Trek Marlin hard tail bike for me, and this year Jason got a new Giant Stance.  We've been having a blast cruising around on the more than 40 miles of mountain biking trails in the park.

Easy to follow signage along the trails


Honestly, this place should be on any trail rider's bucket list.  The rides here are just awesome! Hard packed desert dirt that goes meandering through tall saguaros and cactus gardens.  The uphill sections are usually gentle and riding back down is super fun with flowing and swooping runs and expansive views out over the Sonoran Desert.

Testing out Jason's new bike on Granite trail

Jackass Junction, a rest stop where several main trails come together

This guy has been on the roof for every visit but his clothing changes regularly

Made us laugh

Sun going down - time to go home


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➤  Return to McDowell Mountain