[SBs Ron and Pam Varga (Muskegon SBs) have left The Jungle of Michigan in favor of the more temperate climes of Arid-Zona. They will update us periodically of their adventures along the way. SB SM]
It’s time to head south! We are as prepared as our limited knowledge and experience can be. We are heading to Tucson AZ, about 2,000 miles south west of our home in Muskegon MI. We will leave on Monday Nov. 1 and arrive on Saturday Nov. 6. Our plan is to stay at motels at least for the first 2 days because of the convenience and the probability of colder temperatures found along the northern half of the trip. After that we will decide whether to stay at a campground or motel depending on what is available.
We can travel farther/faster staying in motels, because we won’t be encumbered by even a minimal setup and tear down at a campground. We know that as the days and miles roll by we will get more fatigued so it is important to get as far as we can while we are fresh. We have friends who are true-blue campers who have all over the USA with their three boys and continue to camp in retirement. Last year they were gone for 4 months as they pulled their camper (smaller than ours) all the way to Alaska. They don’t do motels, but instead take advantage of the parking lots of Walmart and Cracker Barrel that allow overnight stays.
There are lots of free camping opportunities out there, but they don’t offer water, electric, and sewer. This style of camping is called boon-docking. Our friends carry their own water in the fresh water tanks, and have 2 batteries and 2 solar panels that supply minimal power. They stay occasionally at a campground or RV park at the end of the trip, but enroute it’s just gas and tolls. By contrast, we are glampers. Comfort ranks high on our priority scale. Our boon-docker friends might ridicule us, but we always have a plan. Now, it’s time to execute ours.
November 1 is a cool 40 degree morning with grey overcast skies. I prefer driving on cloudy days. It’s easier on the eyes and keeps the cabin of the truck from getting so hot you need air conditioning or an open window. 8:30 AM. … off we go. We are familiar with the first leg of the trip, down and around the southern tip of Lake Michigan and west through Indiana and into the sprawl of Chicago. It’s not a pleasant drive, because it is busy with heavy truck traffic. After an hour or two, I began to feel comfortable, although it is always unnerving when a big rig passes. There is this odd vacuum effect that pulls you toward a passing semi. It feels like feet. but it probably is just a few inches, just one more thing to watch out for. Just past Joliet we turn SW down 55 toward Springfield IL.
Our first stop is Jacksonville IL, just past Springfield. The first leg was 395 miles in about 7.5 hours. We chose Jacksonville, because it is near the 400 mile mark, a distance that pushes our comfort zone. We stay at a Super 8 motel, not the best but certainly not the worst. The prime reason for choosing a motel is ease of parking. I want to park in a secure area that is easy to get in and out of. I study the satellite views in Google maps to check out each location’s parking layout. If it has one entrance in and out and requires some sort of backing gymnastics, then it is tossed. My next set of parameters are price and access to restaurants within walking distance.
We park right across from our room where I can keep watch. I have read horror stories of thefts and vandalism of traveling campers. Easy prey. I check on the camper every hour until turning in for the night. At 1:30 in the morning a car alarm went off. I throw off the covers and am at the window like the dad in “‘Twas the night before Christmas.” It isn’t my truck sounding the alarm, but unfortunately the stimulous is enough to pump enough adrenaline that the rest of the night was sleepless. I had 4 hours to stare at the ceiling.
We are up before dawn. We shower and have breakfast and are back on the road by 7:15. This morning we are heading to Hamilton MO, about 215 miles away. Hamilton MO is the birthplace of James Cash Penney who went on to build JC Penney. That, however, is not our reason for going to Hamilton. The town is home to the Missouri Star Quilt company. My wife is a lifelong, avid quilter, and Missouri Star is one of her favorite places for patterns, fabrics, and supplies, a must-see for us. What this company has done for a little town of 1800 people is impressive. They have taken over 70% of the storefronts in the one street business district, and it is buzzing with like-minded quilters. They provide the locals with steady employment and business opportunities that keep the town alive.
We planned be there for several hours, but after 1 1/2 hours we were done. We have lunch at a Subway and are back on the road by 12:30. We are ahead of schedule and decide to push our next stop further down the road, stopping in El Dorado KS, jus outside Wichita. We have traveled about 450 miles, a new record, woohoo! The long day and the restless night has left me exhausted, and I can’t wait to crawl into bed. The thieves and bandits can have their way with us. I don’t care.
Our next stop was planned to be Liberal KS, but Pam checks the weather forecast and there is a possibility of snow, se decide on a more southerly route through Oklahoma City, then into the panhandle of Texas.
A side note about the scenery, it’s not much to write home about. Upon entering Kansas we saw some beautiful rolling hills covered in tall golden grass. A coyote scampered out of the grass and across the highway in front of us. Not too many miles earlier we saw the remains of a coyote not successful in its crossing. After Kansas City it became downright ugly- flat, dry, and full of scrub brush. That will be our scenery for the next couple of days.
After a good night’s rest we head out around 8 AM. The weather remains pretty much the same, overcast and temps in the low 40s with an occasional drizzle. The miles and the minutes drone on. Thankfully, we have some audio books that helped pass the time. I notice that my attention does get divided while listening to an audio book. I constantly remind myself to be aware of my surroundings and especially to keep an eye on the side view mirror for the next semi sneaking up on me.
350 miles and 7 hours later we arrive in Shamrock, Texas, a small town just off historic Route 66. In downtown Shamrock there is a monument with a piece of the Blarney Stone set into it. I never bother to research how and why it got there, or what the Irish connection is. Shamrock is just the town on the route with a motel. We stay at a Sleep Inn this time which is a step up from the previous nights. The only downside to the location is that only fast food restaurants are available.
We slept well and had a good breakfast. We pull out around 8:30, frost on the windshield. We can’t shake the cold air. We head towards Amarillo and drive through heavy fog for an hour. I’m not comfortable not being able to see more than a couple hundred feet in front or behind. The fog eventually lifts, and we are driving in sunlight. Amarillo is a good-sized city with all the usual highway overpasses, underpasses, cloverleafs, ramps and construction zones. I was not paying attention and came up over a rise to a line of vehicles. At first I saw no red brake lights, but suddenly the car in front of me put on his brakes and I realize nobody is moving. I hit the brakes hard enough to lock the tires on the truck and probably the tires on the trailer (they are electronically connected to the truck’s braking system). We leave a little rubber on the road, but stop in time without losing control.
Whew! The traffic jam lasts long enough for my heart to settle back into the place it belongs. We leave Amarillo and head to New Mexico, crossing into the Mountain Time Zone. We pick up another hour.
The drive through Texas and into New Mexico is flat, dry, and scrubby. Somewhere, maybe midway across the country, truck traffic lessens, but does not disappear. What increases, astounding us, are endless loaded with double-stacked containers. The trains often parallel the highway for up to a couple hundred yards. We came upon one such train and slowly passed it, taking nearly a half hour. These trains don’t chug, chug, chug down the tracks, they fly! After I passed one train, it slowly passed me, and I was going about 65mph. Pam counts the cars- 233 with 5 engines, 3 in the front and 2 in the middle. I do a search to get sizes and that train was an incredible 2.25 miles long! Incredible. Imagine the weight!
We arrive in Roswell, NM in the early afternoon, a 300 mile day. We find a nice little RV park and set up for the night. After unhooking, we drive into town to buy groceries and to check out Roswell, quite the place! Alien sightings are good for business. There is a large shopping sprawl and every chain motel, fast food, gas station and convenience store possible. Good for them.
We have a “home” cooked meal for the first time and that felt good. Our next leg of the trip will be only 250 miles so there is no hurry to get up early, but it is impossible to stay awake past 9 PM. No staying up and scanning the skies for passing UFOs.
There is frost on the windshield again! Will it ever warm up? We get hooked up and back on the road. Today, we are heading to Deming, NM. The scenery remains the same. But an hour into the drive things change. We are some mountains and start climbing. The road is a series of curves as it passes through small towns like Picacho and Ruidoso. We see an elevation marker, we are 7,000’ above sea level. We descend from the mountains and, in the distance, we see what we think is White Sands National Park. Next to the park is Holloman AFB and the White Sands Missile Range. There are signs along the highway warning of delays of up to an hour. I guess when they are firing the missiles they don’t want to take out a passing Snowbird by mistake. There are also signs instructing us what to do if a sand storm comes along. Not really comforting.
It is early afternoon when we pull into our next campground. We set up and unhook. We drive into town to explore. It is so enjoyable to drive without 3 plus tons on your back and a view in the rear view mirror. There isn’t anything special about Deming … just another stop, our last one. We can’t wait to put this leg of the trip to rest.
The final leg, the home stretch. Today, we will go only 200 miles, a walk in the park. We leave Deming, heading toward Tucson. In the distance is another string of mountains that we will have to climb over. We cross the border into Arizona into yet another time change. Even though Arizona and New Mexico are in the same zone, AZ does not recognize Daylight Savings Time, but remain on Standard time. Coincidentally, that night is the night to turn the clocks back an hour to Standard time. Our “smart” devices keep up with the changes, a good thing because these travelers are a bit brain weary.
The drive through the mountains is beautiful again. I’m an ex-Green Mountain boy, and I love being surrounded by undulating landscapes. Ever since leaving Kansas and entering Texas we have had sunny days, and the temperatures climbed from the 40s through the 70s. Today they are in the 80s.
Our home away from home is on the southeast side of Tucson. We get there before noon, thanks to the time change. This resort is unbelievable. We pass through a gated entrance with a security guard who directs us to the registration building. We drive down a paved road lined with palm trees and saguaro cactus. It is well maintained and quite beautiful. We register and are escorted to our site. We have reserved a pull-thru site, because my backing skills are horrible. The site is long and narrow and all gravel/pea stone, no grass anywhere. All the sites are like that and that’s ok. We are in an area that is set aside for transients, people staying anywhere from overnight to several months.
There are other sections of the resort dedicated to people rent their spots year-round and leave their campers on site and drive or fly to their permanent home. Others have a park model home, a smaller version of a mobile home. Although it can be moved, it is a pretty permanent structure. Many have an addition to increase square footage. There are hundreds of these here. The place is huge.
Within an hour we are all set up. Time to unwind. They say that it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey. Not in this case. We were going from point A to point B, and we wanted to get there as quickly as possible. Maybe the trip back home in the Spring will be about the journey. There might not be the urgency to get back home and return to our “normal” life. That is months from now. For now it’s time to sit in the sun, relax, and be glad that for tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, we don’t need to be anywhere.