We'll skip over our New Mexico experience after escaping Texas (for the moment) and come back to it when we leave Arizona, as we'll be hitting some New Mexico destinations on our way back East.
Arizona was our next state to visit, because family was involved. Our first stop in Arizona was EXACTLY one of the reasons why we decided to RV in order to see this great country. Just about 50 miles into Arizona at Exit 322 is something that had been advertised for the past couple of hours on billboards along I-10. Literally dozens of billboards reminding us to stop in to see what “The THING” really is. It's one of those weird, wacky roadside attractions you can't really bypass in good conscience. So we pulled off at Exit 322 to discover just what was so darned strange about “The Thing”. Come to find out, it's a very entertaining 20-30 minute stroll through a museum that a very inventive mind has put together, suggesting that aliens from outer space came down to Earth millions of years ago and tamed the dinosaurs. They then stayed around in two warring factions; one bad and one good, who aligned themselves with the forces of good and evil on Earth. It ends with a display case inhabited by something that looks like an alien (apparently unearthed in a cave about 50 miles from the museum), but it could just as easily be a large, creatively carved piece of cottonwood.
My brother Doug has lived in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert for more than 15 years now, so we camped out at Blue Star at Lost Dutchman RV Park in Apache Junction, AZ, just about a 25 minute drive to Doug's house. It's an interesting park; it's been here a while so the amenities are a bit dated, and the spots are configured differently than what we're used to. There's a narrow, 4-foot strip of concrete pad in the middle of the site, then you back in your motor home to the right of the pad on gravel, while your toad is parked on the left side of the pad. The pad is used for your chairs, grill and various and sundry other things you might have brought with you. Our 37.5' 36LA BARELY fit in site #62 assigned to us. The site is about 38.5' long, so we have a 6” clearance for the back and front of our unit. There are longer sites, but they're in the middle area usually reserved for snowbirds, or other sites on the right hand side that could take a 45' motor home.
The other strange thing is that their office closes at 5 pm. Not so unusual there, but what IS unusual is that they don't have an after hours board to direct you to your site if you show up at 5:30. Fortunately, the after hours emergency line got us in touch with their maintenance guy, who helped us find AND back into our site.
Met one other Tiffin owner here, and by coincidence he has a 36LA , too!
Our visit with my brother Doug was great. He and his wife Tracey have a beautiful home nestled in a nice subdivision. Grass areas in the front and back yards are well-manicured by their long-time landscaper, Carmelo, and Doug has created a wonderful place in the back yard to chill out with a fire pit and Tiki bar to go along with the usual pool necessary in Arizona. It had been a couple of years since I had last seen Doug, back when we were helping our Dad move out of his apartment to his senior living facility.
Doug and his sister-in-law Tam returned the favor and visited us the next day so they could see what RV living was all about. Doug had earlier expressed his reservations about our decision to retire early and do the RV thing, but he seemed suitably impressed with our 36LA.
Following the visits, we had a couple of days to goof off, so we decided to try a bit of hiking, something we had been unable to do based on our health problems early on in the trip out West. So, a late morning visit to Camelback Mountain was in the cards. We knew we weren't in shape to make one of the summits, but we made the effort to climb as high as we could safely do. I was able to make it a bit higher than Barbara did (she wanted me to go farther up), but was only able to get to the highest point between the two peaks. Still, it was a great hike, and the views were just awesome.
While we were coming down, we were held by park rangers and fire personnel to allow a helicopter to land, for the purposes of dropping off men and equipment in order to effect a rescue of an 11 year-old boy who had fallen and injured himself. Apparently, this happens all too often on the mountain. After a 20 minute wait, we were allowed to finish our descent.
On our way back to the RV park, we decided to see what all the fuss was about regarding In and Out Burgers. We had never tried them, as they are not in the Georgia area as yet, but many folks who have tried them had raved about them to us, including my brother, Doug. There was an In and Out on the route back, and we were hungry from the hike, so it seemed like a good idea to give it a go.
It was – disappointing.
Look, we come from an area where Five Guys burger places are plentiful, and had one right down the street from the apartment in which we lived. You can't beat their fries, especially when reheated the next day because they give you so damned many in that bag of theirs. In addition, their patties are bigger, juicier and they really know how to cook their bacon crispy. In and Out was nothing like Five Guys. Not impressed at all.
Moving day brought us halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, to a beautiful place called Picacho Peak RV Resort. It is situated right next door to the state park by the same name (we tried to get in but it was booked solid) and was right at the base of Picacho Peak, a 3,400 foot peak all by itself in the middle of nowhere. Absolutely stunning sunsets and wake up views as you look at this mountain each day.
It's also right next door to the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch, a nice little tourist trap that allows you to feed deer, goats, chickens, rabbits, ducks, lorikeets, and even stingrays. If you've got kids, this is a great stopover for a couple of hours. Barbara was able to become one with the lorikeets while feeding them nectar in a small cup.
Another day was spent in Tombstone, about 90 minutes south of Picacho Peak. The show that was put on recreating the Gunfight at the OK Corral was over-acted and campy, but pure fun to watch, especially with the audience participating in loud choruses of boos for the bad guys and cheers for the good guys. One of the things you have to plan for in Arizona is the change in elevation. Tombstone was a few thousand feet higher than our spot in Picacho Peak, and it was a good thing we checked the weather and temperature there before heading out. It was a full 15 degrees cooler in Tombstone, and would have been uncomfortable without the heavier jackets we brought.
Before leaving Arizona, a very nice Sunday afternoon and evening back in Tempe presented itself in a meet and greet scheduled by our favorite RV couple, Marc and Julie Bennett, also known as RV Love. They had been very helpful in answering some questions we had before deciding on full-time RVing, and we always wanted to camp with them at some time once we hit the road. While we didn't have the time to share a campground, we were able to spend some quality time with them and some of their other friends who attended. They are every bit as warm and personable as they seem in their videos and over email. We vowed to meet up at a later date.
Unfortunately, our Arizona adventure came to an end without any golf being played, but it was time to start heading back East. But first, New Mexico beckons . . .
Our first 2 weeks in Texas were great. Got reacquainted with some long-time friends in Dallas and Houston and found a promising place to return to another time in Port Aransas outside of Corpus Christi. Seemed like a nice place but the weather didn't cooperate.
Now it was on to the Big Bend area, where some prime Texas golf had been planned for quite a while. I had read about a really nice (and really expensive) golf course as part of the Maverick RV Ranch down in Lajitas, Texas. It's in a very remote area along the upper reaches of the Rio Grande River, literally a stone's throw across from the Mexican border.
But first we had to get there.
Leaving San Antonio after a 2 day visit, we head as far west as we've ever been in the RV to Ft. Stockton, TX. It's going to be our jumping off point to the Big Bend area. We stay at a nice, no-frills park called Hilltop RV. $27 a night if you pay cash. Taz is beginning to have some reservations about staying in Texas, as there are very few grassy areas at many RV parks out here, and she likes to do her business on grass – not gravel; but she muddles through, even as I have to spend extra time outside with her in order to make sure she is emptied at the proper times during the day and night.
We head south the next day towards Lajitas, passing through the small town of Alpine – which will fit prominently in our future dealings with Texas. It's about a 3-hour drive in the RV, only hitting a couple of steep inclines on the way out of Alpine. The rest is very desolate and fairly flat – and very beautiful in places. Two notable places along the way are the Kokernot Mesa and Cathedral Mountain, about as majestic a set of views as we have seen on this trip so far.
Arriving at Maverick RV Resort, we do the obligatory check-in, finding out they do something we hadn't yet seen in RV living – back-in and pull-in opposing sites. Actually not a bad way to maximize your social space by putting your utilities up against one neighbor, and opening up the other side to enjoy a larger area to meet your other neighbors.
You're surrounded by a beautiful set of very colorful mountains on one side, and prairie on the other. They're trying to make something of a destination down there in Lajitas, and they're marginally successful with golf, zip lines, shooting, riding, a spa and some shops, but it all seems a bit too contrived at times. And expensive. But if you like to hike, ride a bike or kayak down the Rio Grande, this could be a nice place for you. Not so much for us as yet.
I golfed early on, and Black Jack's Crossing was everything I had hoped for. It's a long course from the black tees at 7413 yds, and even a bit long for those who usually play from the whites at 6858 yds (they don't have white tees there, but maroon for the “average” golfer. I played from the gold tees (senior) which brings it down to a manageable 6111 yds in length, and avoids many areas of carry that I would never have cleared with my limited tee game. Beautiful undulating greens kept in championship shape with just enough sand guarding the greens to make it worth your while to be accurate. Even though I didn't play my best it took a 10 on the final par 5 18th hole to finish with a crowd-leasing 113 for the round. Still, it's a great course and one I would return to someday, if it wasn't located in Lajitas, Texas.
Barbara had been fighting a medical problem for the past few days, and it wasn't getting better, so the next day we head to Alpine (almost 2 hours away) to what looked to be the nearest competent medical facility (there is nothing but a nurse practitioner in Lajitas, who wasn't going to be taking calls for the next week). After picking up her prescription and heading back another 2 hours, we hoped she was on the mend, but the prescription knocked her for a loop. Two days later, I develop flu-like syndromes (obviously picked up in my visit to the clinic in Alpine) and I'm down for the count. As bad as Barbara felt, she was the healthiest of the two of us and was assigned Taz duties. We extended our stay in Lajitas to recover from each of our maladies, but as was detailed in our earlier post, Taz became sick and died. Having had enough of what was turning out to be a cursed place called Lajitas, we head north to drop Taz off in Alpine to be cremated and to grieve. This was on a Sunday.
Hoping to pick up Taz's remains on Tuesday morning after the promised 10 am time frame, we drive the hour down to Alpine (we were back at Ft. Stockton at Hilltop RV) only to find out Taz would not be ready until after 4 pm that day. With nothing to do in Alpine, we head back to our RV with plans to pick her up the next day. HOWEVER, a winter storm was coming into the area the next day! Thought we'd have to stay TWO days because of the roads and delays, but the folks in Alpine were able to get Taz taken care of mid-day Wednesday. WE still had to endure the 2 inches of snow, two days of below freezing temperatures and two nights of turtling in our 36LA to conserve heat, but on Thursday morning we FINALLY headed westbound on I-10 for a relatively short 360-mile drive towards Deming, NM, where we planned to spend the next week resting, recovering and getting our physical and emotional strength back.
But the great state of Texas wasn't through with us just yet. For the entire drive we were hit with 15-20 mph winds and up to 32 mph gusts, coming in mainly from the front but occasionally from the drivers quarter, slowing us down and absolutely killing our gas mileage. After 6 hours of fighting this I was wiped out, but at the 5 hour mark we FINALLY entered The Land of Enchantment for the first time.
The upshot of this past 5 weeks is that we love Texans; but we're not enamored of the state itself. So except for a speed-run back east once we experience New Mexico and Arizona, it will be off our list of places to visit for a long, long time.
Saturday night at around 10 PM, we lost the light of our lives. Our beloved fur baby, a German Shepherd / Yellow Lab mix we had named Taz, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge unexpectedly. And all too soon.
It was about 8 years ago, when Taz was only about 2, that she entered our lives. Our daughter's boyfriend was trying to take care of three dogs; 2 males and 1 female. The female (Taz) kept going into heat as no one had bothered to have her spayed, and the two males would attack each other when she went into heat, so our daughter volunteered to mind Taz. It was thought to be a temporary situation. But as time went on and she went into heat two more times (this time at OUR house), Barbara stepped in and told our daughter that we were going to pay for Taz to be spayed, and that she was now our dog.
We named her Taz because she was a bit excitable at the time, being cooped up in our daughter's room a good portion of the day. She wasn't naturally excitable, but you could sure get her going if you wanted to!
Taz was the original cuddle bug. She had to be in contact with one, or both of us at all times. If I was sitting in my recliner watching TV, she was pressed up against my side. In bed, she staked out her spot between the two of us, either above the covers or under them if she was cold. If friends came to visit, she was either laying on their feet or leaning up against them on the couch, making sure they got the full Taz experience.
Once we started RV-ing, she would stake out her spot at Barbara's feet, looking out her doggie window as the world went by; only lifting her head when I would occasionally stray onto some rumble strips (as if to say, “Hey Dad, you wanna keep it between the lines?”), or if (Heaven forbid!) Barbara left her seat to get us something to eat or drink.
Taz was not very good with other dogs. This is not to say she was mean or anything; she just didn't know how to do anything calmly and got too excited to meet new friends, usually turning them off. We were really hoping her time on the road would have allowed her to get better at that. She was also extraordinarily patient around kids, especially our 3 year-old grandson Jace.
Taz was full of love, adoration, laughter and life. She had a huge soul, and you could see it in her eyes.
Saturday morning in Lajitas, Texas began as any other, with one exception. I was sick with the flu, so Barbara had Taz duty during the day. As Taz was taking her usual time to find just the right spot to do her business, she apparently spotted something on the road beside our campsite. Could have been some bone from someone's trash, or maybe even a scorpion that got Taz's attention; we'll never know. She lunged for it, crunched it up and swallowed it before Barbara could do anything about it. For the rest of the day Taz was fine, until 5 o'clock rolled around and she began to get lethargic. She wouldn't eat, even when her favorite (cheese) was offered. Not a whine or a peep out of her. Laying on her side around 8, she pooped on the floor (something she would NEVER do), and she couldn't get up on her feet.
We found a vet nearby in Terlingua who thought she might have suffered a stroke and gave her something to increase the oxygen in her system (don't get me started on vet services in the Big Bend area of Texas), and we brought Taz back to the RV. Carrying her up the 5 stairs, she immediately collapsed on the floor. We cuddled with her while her breathing became more labored and wrapped her in a blanket to keep her warm; but we knew we were losing her. And still not one noise out of her throughout the night of moving her back and forth in the Mini and in and out of the RV. She pooped again while lying on her side, and there was blood in her stool. Our sweet baby was dying. She rolled over to try to get into a more comfortable position, and as I helped her, Taz let out this long, plaintive wail – her first sound of the long ordeal. Her tongue stayed out, her breathing stopped. Our Taz was gone.
At first I thought she was in pain at the very end, and maybe she was. But maybe – just maybe – it was that giant soul of hers leaving her earthly body to begin her journey over the Rainbow Bridge.
I don't know if there is a Heaven. I do know that if there is, Taz is waiting for Barbara and me to join her there.
There's a quiet in the RV now. Too quiet, in fact. We don't have to worry about a giant tail sweeping a drink around the floor or off of a table. There's no race to see who gets to the door first, whether Taz needed to go out or if I just had something to do outside of the RV. We have room to stretch out now without 70 lbs of dog jumping up on us. We don't feel guilty leaving the RV without being able to take her for her much anticipated rides in the Mini.
Will we ever get another dog? It's too soon to tell. The pain is certainly too raw right now to consider that right now. We're not as young as we used to be, but given our family histories we certainly have plenty of time if we chose to do so, but an RV isn't the same as a house. It can be a cruel environment to bring a strange pet into, and we'll always try to do right by our pets. Time will tell.
For now, we'll grieve and celebrate the life of a magnificent soul – Taz.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.