Friday, April 13, 2018

Campground Review: Disbursed Camping along Thumb Butte Loop, Prescott National Forest

The most prominent feature southwest of the town of Prescott, AZ (Pop: 42,513) within the Prescott National Forest is Thumb Butte, a mountaintop that kind of looks like a thumb I guess.  Thumb Butte Loop is a forest road that winds around the Butte in a large circle and there are 21 disbursed camping sites along it.

A distant view of Thumb Butte - Prescott National Forest

Driving up the Loop many of the sites were either occupied or had a "placeholder" tent or vehicle in them meant to reserve the site for future occupation and use.

A camper left in a campsite to reserve it.

Thumb Butte Loop's road quality varied from hard packed gravel/dirt to really pot holed barely drive able at more than 5 mph.

A "good" portion of Thumb Butte Loop

Because Prescott National Forest is a "Wildland-urban-interface" (WUI) campers are limited to only a seven day stay vs. the normal 14 day limit in most National Forest.  A ranger who stopped by my campsite said the WUI designation is because Prescott is a fairly large town compared to the small towns that usually abut National Forests.

Here's the data sheet on Thumb Butte Loop:

Hookups:                                             None (dry camping)                                                   
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                 
Water Access:                                     No                                                      
Fresh Water:                                        No                                          
Trash Service:                                      No (pack in / pack out)                                              
Toilets:                                                 No                                          
Showers:                                             No                                                      
Dump station:                                      No                                          
WiFi:                                                    No                                                      
Level sites:                                          Yes                                                     
Laundry:                                              No                                                                  
Store:                                                   No                                                                              
Pool:                                                    No                                                      
Shade:                                                 Yes                                         
Verizon reception:                               4G, 3 bars                                           
Internet reception:                               3 Bars                         
Cost:                                                    Free for up to 7 days

The sites along the Loop, which are designated by metal poles the Forest Service has put up, vary quite a bit in size and big rig accessibility.  Not that the Mini really qualifies as a "big rig" but the first two sites I tried to squeeze into didn't fit very well but I finally found a suitable campsite at pole 9.

Campsite 9 -- even among the tall pines solar was adequate.
Forest Service campsite marker pole.

On the way up the Loop you drive past what look like campsites that even contain stone fire rings but lack a campsite pole like the one in the above snap.  If you attempt to camp in them rangers will evict you and, depending on if it's the weekend or not, you may have a problem finding a legit unoccupied campsite so be forewarned.

I did most of my walking along the Loop as it's relatively traffic free at least during the weekdays.  There were some paths through the pine trees that in some cases were a little challenging, especially since you're at 6400 foot altitude.

Hiking path through the pines.

Unlike some of my recent Arizona camping experiences the section of Prescott National Forest that Thumb Butte Loop runs through was virtually litter-free.  As you can tell from the photos the weather was sunny and low-80's during the day and high-50's at night -- perfect camping weather!

By early April the temperatures in southern Arizona start hitting the 90's, making boondocking without AC challenging, at least during the day.  A good way to beat the heat is to gain altitude at camping areas like that along 6400 foot Thumb Butte Loop and I hope to be back again next April!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Battle of Thumb Butte

When you boondock for an extended period of time your RV, being stationary for a long period, can become the target of small gray furred hitchhikers.  Back when I was still in the Tank a field mouse had invaded it's interior spaces and it took me 4 days to trap it.  So, after I moved north from the BLM land I had been on for 14 days to the Prescott National Forest outside of Prescott, AZ (review coming) you can imagine my dismay when the first night camping I heard the pitter patter of little feet inside the Mini's lower cabinets.  I've unfortunately become adept at identifying the sound of a field mouse within an RV so I knew I had to get to Walmart and buy a mouse trap -- by now you'd think I'd be carrying a supply!

Mouse traps have changed in design since back in my day.  (Build a better mouse trap?)  The ones I got from Walmart looked roughly the same as the old days but had the addition of a yellow plastic pressure plate that, when depressed by the animal going for the bait, releases the spring loaded bar that zaps the mouse.

Put the bait on the back of the pressure plate, mouse steps on it, blamo!

I was successful using crunchy peanut butter as bait against the Tank's mouse so I went that route again and upped my game by pushing a half a walnut into the peanut butter to make it more irresistible.  Since I heard the mouse scampering all over in the Mini's lower cabinets I placed the baited trap into a bottom drawer and waited in anticipation to hear the tell tale snap that would announce my hitchhiker was no longer of this world.  I finally got tired and went to bed having not heard anything from the trap drawer however once in bed I heard the mouse running around for most of the night.

Getting up the next morning to silence (mice are nocturnal so I'm sure it was sleeping) I opened the trap drawer AND...

Licked clean!

the trap was completely clean of bait, including walnut, and was still set!  Round one to Mickey!  Having almost taken my finger off several times due to the hair trigger nature of the pressure plate the only thing I could theorize was that the mouse had approached from the side of the trap, completely missing the pressure plate and enjoying his free meal at my expense -- it didn't even leave a tip!

I re-baited the trap and put it back in the drawer thinking how lucky the mouse had been to unwittingly approach the trap from the side and assuring myself it couldn't do that twice.  About 3 am that morning I was awoken by the trap going off and thought my problem was taken care of.  I was too lazy to get up and check the trap figuring it'd wait until the morning but instead experiencing silence a bunch of thumping started coming from the trap drawer.  The mouse was still very much alive and seemingly dragging the trap around the drawer bumping into barbecue utensils I had stored in it.  I reluctantly got up, turned on the interior lights, armed myself with a steak knife and opened the drawer.  Instead of finding a partially trapped mouse it's fur was stuck in the trap and, upon seeing me it clanged the trap against a barbecue spatula got free and turned into a gray blur jumping out of the drawer into the back of the cabinets.  This guy was good!  Mickey takes round 2!

The next morning I re-baited the trap for the third time ( running low on walnuts) and, to speed up this story, Mickey's luck ran out.  This time he must have stepped squarely on the pressure plate and it looked like a very clean kill, ending things without too much suffering.  I have a picture of his demise but as this is a family blog I'll refrain from including it in this posting.

Thus the three day Battle of Thumb Butte (where the battle took place) came to a conclusion.  I'm now carrying a trap as part of the Mini's standard load out although I know I'll never be able to keep walnuts in stock because I'll eat them myself.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Campground Review: North Little Grand Canyon Road, BLM Land off Table Mesa Road New River, AZ

Trying to maintain my "Goldilocks" camping environment (not too hot, not too cold) I drifted about 30 miles north of Phoenix along I-17 to BLM land off of Table Mesa Road.  North Little Grand Canyon "Road" turns north off Table Mesa.  I put road in parenthesis because it's really a rock-strewn one lane clay path that leads past several obvious camping sites before it turns into a off-road vehicle only path.

There's a hiking trail called Black Canyon trail just to keep it confusing.

Having boondocked on BLM land for a number of years I've learned (the hard way) not to blindly drive down one lane dirt paths so I parked the pickup and Mini at a wide open area about a quarter of a mile into North Little Grand Canyon Road to search on foot for a good campsite.  Right before the spot where the road becomes too tough for bigger RV's was a really nice site with great views -- and it was vacant!  I almost ran back to the Mini fearing someone else would drive by me and take it, but I got there first.

The Mini's desert campsite.

Here's the data sheet on North Little Grand Canyon Road:

Hookups:                                             None (Dry camping)                                                  
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                             
Water Access:                                     No                                                                  
Fresh Water:                                        No                                                      
Trash Service:                                      No (Pack in, pack out)                                               
Toilets:                                                 No                                          
Showers:                                             No                                                                              
Dump station:                                      No                                          
WiFi:                                                    No                                          
Level sites:                                          Yes                                         
Laundry:                                              No                                                      
Store:                                                   No (Walmart 11 miles away)                                     
Pool:                                                    No                                                      
Shade:                                                 No                                          
Verizon reception:                               4G, 3 bars                               
Internet reception:                               3 bars
Cost:                                                    Free for up to 14 days

The temperatures were probably a little on the cool side for the second half of March, mid-70's in the day and high-40's at night, which meant pretty optimal.  My campsite had really great 360 degree vistas of the mountains and what I assume was North Little Grand Canyon.

The view from my lawn chair.  Note one of the few trees in the area.

While you can appreciate the natural beauty of the area from the photos, what you can't see is the litter that folks have decided to deposit in the area.  Every day when I did my walks I'd take a plastic Walmart bag and pick up beer cans and empty plastic water bottles until the bag was full but I'm afraid I didn't make much of a dent.  It's just really disheartening that people do this.  I don't know if it would help if Arizona instituted a 10 cent can deposit like in some other states but certain areas I've camped in this year are in real trouble.

There's an official shooting range about a mile and a half from where I camped so there is fairly steady gunfire on the weekends and occasionally during weekdays so if that would bother your camping experience be forewarned, it doesn't really bother me.  Also, on the other side of the canyon is a working mine but it hardly makes any sound at all although there is some truck traffic on Table Mesa Road during the day.

First time I've camped with a mine in the area.

Some one who had previously camped at my site had an artistic bent:

It's about 3 ft in diameter.  The green is beer bottle glass.

I've always enjoyed my times camping on BLM land and, to be honest, I liked my experience AT MY SITE along North Little Grand Canyon Road after I cleared my area of litter.  Whoever gets it after I leave will have the nicest campsite in the area, hopefully they'll read this review and fill some Walmart bags of their own.  As to returning I'll really have to think about it next year, the litter is kind of depressing and diminishes the camping experience.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

March Madness

My college basketball team - Michigan State - qualified for the NCAA Tournament so with two possible games over the weekend to watch I elected to move 20 miles north of Gunsite Wash to a RV park in the small town of Ajo, AZ so I'd have hookups.  Shadow Ridge RV park is a nice little stop right along AZ Hwy 85 which runs through Ajo with about 120 closely packed sites.

Shadow Ridge RV Resort's office.

Here's the Shadow Ridge data sheet:
Hookups:                                             30, 50 amp, Water, sewer                                          
Fire ring:                                              No                                                                  
Water Access:                                     No                                                                  
Fresh Water:                                       Yes                                                     
Trash Service:                                     Yes                                                     
Toilets:                                                Yes                                                     
Showers:                                             Yes                                                     
Dump station:                                     Yes                                         
WiFi:                                                   Yes                                         
Level sites:                                          Yes                                         
Laundry:                                             Yes                                                     
Store:                                                   No (Mini-mart next door)                                          
Pool:                                                    No                                          
Shade:                                                 No                                          
Verizon reception:                              4G, 5 bars                                           
Internet reception                                5 bars
Cost:                                                    $12/day 1, $24/day thereafter with Passport America

Passport America is a RV discount card that a lot of RV parks honor.  Arizona RV Parks accepting Passport America .  As a member of Escapees RV Club I qualified for an extra 3 months on the annual card cost of $44.  Using it at Shadow Ridge netted me back $24 on savings from my stay so you can see that if you spend any time at all at RV parks getting a Passport America card is a no-brainer.

I did a couple loads of laundry in their spotless laundry room.

The staff at Shadow Ridge were really friendly and helpful, the only ding I'd give the park is the smallish size of the sites.

The Mini with the pickup attached JUST fits into site 20.

I don't usually stay in RV parks, preferring to either boondock or stay at State and National parks but with my team's participation in Madness I jumped at the chance to get a good spot with hookups to watch.  Shadow Ridge was a lucky find.  I'd return.  Go Green!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

When you're camped out in Gunsite Wash you're about 20 miles north of the visitor center for the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  I traveled to the center and the adjacent campground one day for a day trip.

Just 20 miles south on Hwy 85 from Gunsite Wash.

The Organ Pipe cactus, a distinct looking plant, only grows within the 570 square miles of the national monument, thus it's name.  That's one on the right side of the sign above.

The entrance to the Kris Eggle Visitor Center at Organ Pipe.

I really drove down to the visitor center because the campground is near it and I wanted to evaluate it as a possible site for staying at next year, but first I toured the visitor center and it's exhibits.

One of the cactus exhibits inside the visitor center.

It only takes a few minutes to walk thru the internal displays at the visitor center but there's a nice outdoor nature trail outside that is cool to walk.

One of the stops along the visitor center nature trail, the sign explains the view.

At the rear of the center the nature trail ends with a neat little pond housing some type of small endangered fish that is indigenous to the National Monument.  It was constructed by some middle school kids from nearby Ajo, AZ.

The pond housing tiny little endangered fish.

About a mile away from the visitor center is the Twin Peaks campground where you can dry camp (no hookups) for $9 a night if you have a US Senior Pass.

The Twin Peaks campground entrance.

The campground consists of 128 camp sites with four restroom facilities.  There are no hookups but I did notice a cell phone charging area up near the campground office.

Campsites among the Organ Pipe cactus (and Saguaro).

Not sure what type this one is but the flowers were pretty.

I spent an enjoyable and educational morning at the Organ Pipe National Monument.  Next year when I return to Gunsite Wash to camp I will probably add a few days at the Twin Peaks campground so I can hike the monument.  You really can't go wrong choosing where to camp in this part of Arizona!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Campground Review: Gunsite Wash Why, AZ

After paying for two weeks stay at the Escapees North Ranch facility I was ready for some free boondocking which Arizona is renowned for.  Three miles south of the tiny Arizona town of Why in the Sonora Desert on the west side of Arizona Hwy 85 lay Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administered land called Gunsite Wash.  You can camp for free at Gunsite Wash for up to 14 consecutive days after which you have to relocate at least 25 miles away.

This message board greets you at the entrance to Gunsite Wash.

If you decide to try camping at Gunsite Wash DO NOT use a Google Maps search of "Gunsite Wash",  the app will direct you down an extremely narrow bush lined two track path that it wants you to travel on for 5 miles!  I trusted my gut and immediately turned back to Hwy 85 rather than try to tow the Mini down Google's dubious trail.  The western turn in for the Wash is just past mile marker 55 immediately after you cross a small bridge.

A typical campsite at Gunsite Wash, note the stone fire ring.

Here's the Gunsite Wash data sheet:

Hookups:                                             None (Dry camping.)                                                 
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                             
Water Access:                                     No                                                                  
Fresh Water:                                        No                                                      
Trash Service:                                      No (Pack in/pack out)                                                
Toilets:                                                 No                                                      
Showers:                                             No                                                                  
Dump station:                                      No                                                                  
WiFi:                                                    No                                                      
Level sites:                                          Yes                                                     
Laundry:                                              No                                                                  
Store:                                                   No (Convenience store in Why)                                
Pool:                                                    No                                                      
Shade:                                                 No                                          
Verizon reception:                               4G,  4 bars                                          
Internet reception                                4 bars
Cost:                                                    Free for up to 14 days

The weather during my stay at the Wash (I'm going to stay for another week) has been near perfect with days in the high 70's and nights in the mid-40's.  One thing I like about Gunsite Wash when I compare it to Craggy Wash is the multitude of trails through Gunsite that are perfect for me to get in my daily three mile hike (Gotta get my steps in!).

A path I walk daily while at Gunsite Wash.

One of the things you notice while camped at the Wash is how quiet it is.  The Mini's camp site is far enough away from Hwy 85 that there is no ambient noise whatsoever.

The Mini set up in the Sonora Desert at Gunsite Wash.

Gunsite Wash is about 20 miles north of the international border and there are signs reminding you of that fact at the entrance to the Wash.

There was a strong Border Patrol presence in the Wash area and along Hwy 85.

With fellow RV'ers within a couple hundred yards of the Mini's campsite I never felt at all uneasy even given the warning signs and I never saw anything or anyone suspicious during my daily walk although three Border Patrol SUV's raced through the Wash one day heading west, I don't know what they were after.

After almost five years of full-time RV life my list of great camp areas I want to return to on an annual basis is getting pretty long.  I'll publish it in a post one of these days but I'll definitely be adding Gunsite Wash to it with a note that the first 14 days of March is the time to experience great camping weather!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Back at North Ranch

February in central Arizona this year had been 10 to 15 degrees below average with nighttime temperatures getting into the low 30's almost every night.  The Mini has an excellent heating system but it chews through the propane pretty quickly and, if boon-docked without hook-ups, really draws the house battery down in no time.  I have a small propane canister fueled heater but it doesn't have a thermostat -- it's either on full or off depending on when I turn the knob so it's useless for warming the Mini at night, although in the morning it quickly heats the inside of the Mini to comfortable temperatures.  So, rather than trying to "tough it out" through the cold spell I drove over to the Escapee's North Ranch RV facility near Congress, AZ.  I reviewed North Ranch previously here:  North Ranch Review .

The office at North Ranch.

With the hookups at my campsite at North Ranch I was able to run my electric space heater, which has a thermostat, at night and it managed to at least keep the Mini in the 50's through the night.

A flock of sparrows live in that cactus and serenaded me throughout the day.

I spent two weeks at North Ranch at a cost of $17.50 a day with my Escapee membership which is an outstanding value for full hookups in Arizona's busy season.  Today is the last of my 14 days here so it's moving day tomorrow.  Heading south tomorrow (hopefully for warmer climes) I'm planning to hit an Anytime Fitness in Buckeye for a workout, stock up the Mini at a near by Walmart then head south of Phoenix to more BLM land at a place called Gunsite Wash, where I've never camped so I'm looking forward to that.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Will you still need me, will you still read me, when I'm...

64.  Yup, I completed my 63rd transit around the big yellow ball yesterday.  People when talking about how old they are always seem to say "It's hard to believe but..." I believe it though!  As a birthday present to myself I lost 15 pounds after I ballooned to 183 lbs after the holidays (I'm 5'9") and 168 feels and looks a LOT better.  I never pass up an occasion to grill up a good birthday meal:

Medium rare NY strip, baker and salad with blue cheese!

It was a great birthday repast!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Craggy Casualty

When you camp at Craggy Wash you are essentially camping on rocks.  Mostly gravel sized stones with an occasional larger rock thrown into the mix.  Readers of the blog know that I no longer have solar panels attached to the roof of my RV (the Mini) instead I deploy them on the ground outside the Mini, adjusting them occasionally to insure they stay perpendicular to the sun for optimal efficiency.  The "Solar Suitcase" I bought from Renogy, a California solar company, has produced well but, frankly, the built-in stand has been a disappointment and proven much too fragile for RV use where the suitcase gets deployed and redeployed frequently.  The weakness of the stand contributed to an unfortunate loss of my solar charge controller when wind blew the suitcase over and caused the controller, which is attached to the back of one of the suitcase's solar panels, to shatter against a particularly sharp-edged rock.

The KIA Solar Charge Controller post-accident.

I'm glad now I didn't make the decision to upgrade the controller to a much more expensive MPPT controller because I'm pretty sure that one would have bit the dust too.  As it is the one PWM controller in the picture above can be replaced for under $30 off Amazon.  You can get upwards of $200 really quickly if shopping for a MPPT controller (they're more efficient in the way they control charging) so I guess I partially dodged a bullet.

Guess I'll head to Amazon and get the order started.  I really need to design a tube stand for the suitcase like I made for the stand-alone panel - it won't be as pretty but it would be a hell of a lot stronger!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Return to Craggy Wash

Leaving the Quartzsite area after my two week stay was up I decided to return to the BLM land at Craggy Wash, just north of Lake Havasu City, AZ.  I reviewed the camp area here:  Craggy Wash Review . 

14 day free camping!

I like camping at Craggy Wash for a number of reasons:  It's removed pretty far away from Highway 95 so there's no road noise to speak of, there's an Anytime Fitness gym in Lake Havasu City and there's a Walmart Super-center two miles away.  Also there's great Verizon reception at the Wash.

The Mini's campsite in Craggy Wash.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to stay my entire 14 days, the weather is perfect - high 70's during the day and mid-50's at night for sleeping.

More Craggy Wash scenery.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 29, 2018

The 2018 Quartzsite RV Show

I waited until this year's RV show was more than half done before attending with the purpose of avoiding possibly flu infected crowds, the show opened on Saturday and I went on Wednesday.

Guess which insurance company is a big sponsor?

First on my agenda was getting something for breakfast, a breakfast burrito jumped out at me:

About a pound's worth of burrito.

After eating 75% of my burrito (it was too big) I made a quick swing through the Big Tent where crowds are usually shoulder to shoulder in the aisles, this year, at least when I went, not so much.

Plenty of room in the Big Tent.

There are hundreds of different style RV's to walk through at the show, many are gigantic compared to the Mini (and cost many 10's of thousands more).

Big Fifth Wheels available for walk through at the show.

My favorite part of the show is outside the Big Tent north across Kuehn Street from the tent and all the model RV's.  That's where the stalls with every possible RV part or gadget is for sale.

If you can't find it in the stalls, they don't make it!

The good news (for me) is that it's been five days since I attended the show and so far I feel fine!  Knock on wood, maybe I dodged the virus?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Week in the Desert

Today starts the second of my planned two week boondock on the BLM's Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) south of Quartzsite.  The RV show started last Saturday and runs to this coming Saturday.  There's already been a noticeable reduction in RV density since just before the show.

Packed RV's on the LTVA south of Quartzsite.

The typical camper here buys a two week stay from the BLM ranger office for $40 and it appears many of them come in a week to 10 days prior to the show and then leave just after the first couple days of the show when their two weeks is up.  If you ever decide to camp in the LTVA during the show make sure you stay on the west side of Old Yuma Road which cuts the BLM land north to south.  Old Yuma Road is a dirt road that runs up to the show area and thus is extremely heavily traveled during the show's nine days.  Dusty is not an adequate describer of Old Yuma Road but since the prevailing winds are out of the west or northwest, if you are camped one the west side of the road you avoid most, but not quite all the dust thrown up by atv's.

Dust on the truck even though I'm on the clean side of the road.

After a week out here I'm pretty satisfied with the Mini's solar setup and how it's working and powering my laptop, Dish receiver, all my electronics and the Mini's lights and water pump.  I adjust the two sets of solar panels maybe two or three times a day to keep them angled to the sun but that's not really a big deal.

An optimist's sign along Old Yuma Road.

Thanks for reading!