Posted by: Juniper Road | February 27, 2013

Balance is the Key

We are officially carrying the snowbird label as a result of our actions as of late. That being: our boondocking in the desert a few miles from Mexico, keeping watch on the surrounding changing weather trends, and thinking about our eventual return to society. With our trip’s end possibly in sight it’s not as though we will never have fun again, because fun is the backbone of our existence.

This adventurous family came to visit us! And one of them made the very best pancakes ever!

Talk about fun, we just spent the last few days with my high school friend Susan and her family. Twenty-three years passed since the graduating class lock-in at John Glenn Junior High. That was the official last time we shared the same GPS coordinates, and I brazenly solicited her family to meet us in the beautiful Sonoran Desert. My argument was this: it’s the most beautiful, green, full of life and songbirds desert I’ve ever seen, and the amount of Saguaro cactus provides the appearance of people standing in a packed arena when the sun is just right. We are nearby, and they should step into this world of natural beauty with us for a night or two. It may be unlike anything they have ever done as a family before, with the potential of creating memories that last a lifetime. The night sky here defines immaculate. There was much more “fluff” (intentionally leaving out the javalinas), but these were the key notes. So they rented an RV for the first time came for a visit !!!

Upon their arrival we continued to have a nightly campfire in our heart-shaped fire pit, but Cassie and I had the company of chatty young girls that served endless s’mores. Our days were filled with group meals, trying to harness the wind for a mini kite festival, treasure hunts, avoiding cholla cactus, multiple hikes, teepee building, afternoon s’mores, and GPS geocache games. I briefly opened up our RV unit as a hot chocolate store, and we took pretty rocks for payments. We are now rich! … and our campfire ring has a sparkly-rock-dazzled appearance. Indeed a good time was had by all. Their dad Jeff, whom must be well versed in the etiquette of afternoon tea parties and hair ribbons, enjoyed a little “bro-time” with yours truly off-trail. He and I conducted a four hour round trip hike to the top of Black Mountain and back, completely worthy of a “fist-pump”. Old friends, young friends, and new friends. Friends are good. Without friends and family, life is pretty lonely, and when these three young ladies left all we heard was the wind. Their visit went fast and was akin to being in a field of green when all of the sudden you’re surrounded by several beautiful, colorful, swirling and dipping butterflies that fly away on the wind just as quickly as they appeared. Where they come from and where they go is unknown, however, the few moments you’re graced with their company is something sweet.

Their rented RV and views of camp.

If not for our close-by road friends, Greg and Kathy, we would’ve been in dire straits. We’ve also enjoyed them as neighbors over the last week, and they played a big part in some of the family oriented festivities. Everyone being from Minnesota, our road and high school friends gave me the feeling of having a family reunion in my perceived perfect situation.

Gratuitous shots of our sweet, bossy dog.

There has always been an open invitation for our peoples to make a visit. Just get here and we’ll take care of the thinking from there. A list of brave folks that I can count on one hand have actually made the trip. By doing so, they have concreted themselves into the foundation of some of our best memories to date. If any of y’all need some extra pressure to make it happen, now is the time. Send a note and we will bombard you with a list of reasons to come now, or maybe to our new residence that is looming in the future.

Desert art

The time we’ve spent traveling, exploring, and dreaming has been immeasurable (much like the cuteness of our dog). These special times have given us a deep look into ourselves and has provided a sharp image of where we see ourselves a few chapters ahead in the story of our life. We miss being part of a community, better yet, a smaller team that strives to meet a series of common goals and the feel good feeling of successes. Work ethic all by itself is something we feel compelled to exercise, making us ready to resume occupations and the associated commitments. Chickens, we still want chickens, and life on the road makes this extra difficult. A better connection, or spirituality, of food independence is calling to us. A garden, canning, the sport of bow-hunting, manageable livestock and a community where neighbors share what they have excess of is where we’re headed. if its not quite happening when we get there, maybe the missing ingredient will be us.

Our year on the road was just that, and the end is on the horizon. It had to be done and there are zero regrets. Everything has a cycle. Trees can only grow so tall, a caterpillar grows wings, winter becomes summer, tall mountains weather and crumble, rest is a strong component to proper training enabling the attainment of lofty goals, and balance is at the heart of it all.

Posted by: Juniper Road | February 22, 2013

Rich in Friends

Out here in the desert, we continue to be surrounded by cactus, mountains, and natural beauty — and, more recently – friends! We met Kathy and Greg last summer on our first volunteer project in Montana. Outgoing, adventurous and welcoming, we hoped to see them again one day. After their summer adventures ended, we stayed in touch when they returned to their home in Minnesota. Now on their first snowbird trip, we planned to cross paths in New Mexico, but they were driven west by the cold temperatures there, and came to us instead!

We scoped out a great boondock spot for them within site of our unit and celebrated their arrival with a happy hour reunion in this beautiful place. Since their previous night had been 19 degrees (!) and involved a frozen water pipe, the chilly-but-comfortable evening temps here near Ajo were a perfect antidote. With years of travel stories to share, as well as some delicious homemade guacamole, there is never a dull moment around a campfire with these two! The next day started with a short hike and ended with a chili dinner made over our heart shaped fire ring (courtesy of Kris). It seemed like a fitting first day of desert life. And Kris had the vision to see that spreading the coals out in the fire ring would make a beautiful end to Valentine’s Day.


Hot coals in our custom fire ring

A day’s outing to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was one of the highlights of our time together.  About thirty  miles south of where we are staying, it’s the only place in the US to find the Organ Pipe Cactus.  Lucky for us, their range spreads north to Ajo, so we’ve been camping with the giant, many-armed cactus for a while now.  The park has a drive through three desert biospheres, including canyons and high mountains, with information about the cultural history, plant life and geology along the way.  We had some fantastic views, a tasty picnic lunch under a roof of Ocotillo cactus branches, and learned (among other things) about the hardy pack rats that build nests from thorny cactus joints. That’s one way to discourage visitors.


Clever shelters from local materials. And a sneak-dog photo bomb!


An Organ Pipe on the edge of Diablo Wash and an endless view.


The Ajo Mountain’s highest point.


Clear skies in between desert rain.

So we’ve been short on adventure but long on fun and friendship for the last week. We’ve been swapping music and movies, enjoying the hummingbirds that found us almost as soon as we hung Kathy’s feeder, and keeping company with the perfect javelina skull that Kris found close to camp. Days were sunny and peaceful with companionable silence or happy laughter (except for the day-long driving rainstorm that drove us all inside!). Throw in some world-class bloody Mary’s (the first I have ever liked) and sunsets, and I think we’ve officially become desert rats.

Posted by: Juniper Road | February 13, 2013

Communing With the Cacti

We’ve decided this is one of our favorite boondocking spots of our trip, so we’re sticking around a little longer to enjoy it a little more. Plus, we’re waiting for New Mexico, our next destination, to warm up, and so far it has stubbornly refused to do so. That means more time visiting with the cacti and the surprising variety of life out here. And we’ve squeezed in a few social activities too.

It’s hard to get tired of the imposing Saguaros that grow here like grass, or more accurately, trees. The landscape is full of the tall spires, filling the valleys and marching up hillsides. They are a big part of what makes the Sonoran desert unique — in fact, in the US, they are really only found in southern Arizona. (Being large and thickly covered in thorns, no one has been able to boss those that expanded into neighboring California back across the state line, but the heart of their habitat is here.) Like snowflakes, only sturdy and thorny, they all seem different from one another — no arms, lots of little tiny arms, big curvy arms, arms upon arms — it’s all here. Birds and other desert critters love them, as every cactus seems to have at least one hole for a nest or burrow.

Hanging chain cholla, the many-armed Organ Pipe cactus, a barrel cactus

This place is actually very green, at least at this time of year. The Saguaros are surrounded by mesquite, palo verde, creosote, and several other types of cactus — ocotillo, cholla, organ pipe, barrel, and even a few prickly pear closer to town. And it’s absolutely full of birds – we see and hear ravens, hawks, mourning doves, gilded flickers, owls, chickadees, and the loud chug-chug-chug of cactus wrens. Juniper scares up mice, chipmunks, squirrels, jackrabbits, and once — antelopes; some nights we hear packs of coyotes on the prowl. There are also javelinas here — large, brutish animals sort of like wild pigs with tusks. We haven’t seen any yet, but we’ve heard reports and have seen tracks. I had no idea there would be this much life in what is really a harsh environment, even now in the more moderate days of winter.

Kris with the sharp Ocotillo

Several cold nights and even chilly days have reminded us that winter isn’t over, even here near Ajo, the town “where summer goes for winter”. After one cloudy, gray day that included light rain, we woke to a hard frost outside and frozen condensation on our windows inside. Thick blankets and a bed-hogging dog kept us comfortable enough, but the icy windows were not something we expected in this very southern location. Remember that old folk song “Oh Susanna” and the line “the sun’s so hot, I froze to death” – that makes total sense here.

Golden from the setting sun

We’ve been enjoying the cold evenings with DVDs from RedBox — a total novelty for us. Our on-board movie collection long ago exhausted, being close enough to a town with easy movie rental seems insignificant, but it’s been a real treat for us. In fact, it turns out the best way for us to rent and return movies is on bike! The RedBox is a fun, challenging-enough-to-be-interesting six mile mountain bike ride away. With rolling desert hills and curvy dirt roads, ending in a screaming fast downhill, it’s become our standard afternoon outing, and even starting the return trip going back up the big hill isn’t so bad since it gives a great view over the whole town below. My limited mountain bike skills have definitely improved on this trip — I even pedaled past Kris going up one of the roller coaster hills. Yes, he wasn’t racing, and yes, he was setting a good pace for me, but still, I passed him. Uphill. I think I’m going to put that on my resume.

We’ve also spent some time in town – after our friendly reception, Kris decided to submit some of his art to the public show. The show’s theme was “Red” in honor of Valentine’s Day, and he set to work that evening and the next morning creating pieces for the show. He reclaimed material from the desert around us and made two interesting, unique pieces (and of course, I am not at all biased) of painted metal debris with found-wood framing. Creative, huh? We went to the show opening and milled around the packed reception, enjoying the variety of art on display and the active community that pulls it all together. No one bought his art the moment the show opened, as I had expected, but then again, I didn’t see any purchases at all. Well, except for the cute little pair of red clay and silver earrings that I’m now wearing.

A visit to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning was a little disappointing, only because the selection was more limited than I expected given the large, active CSA in Ajo. But I did get some fresh mustard greens and decided against the enormous, organic head of curly endive, although I’m sure it would have been delicious. We spent a few hours walking Juniper through downtown, admiring the churches, the historic school turned condos, and the murals on the local newspaper building. Then it was back to our temporary desert home for more quality time with the cacti.

Our unit in the distance on a cloudy day

Posted by: Juniper Road | February 6, 2013

The Sonoran Desert

We are happily boondocking on cactus-covered BLM land outside of Ajo, Arizona. We are surrounded by statuesque Saguaros and mountain views, and while the sun does get hot even in winter, the shade is cool and it’s easy to stay comfortable. Ajo is a tiny town originally supported by a giant copper mine. The mine is no longer active, but the town hangs on with retirees, snowbirds, an active artist’s community, and border patrol employees. It has rough edges, but a lovely town square and friendly people like the ones we met at the post office, historical museum, and town art gallery.

We came here to join our “road friends” Tim, Amanda, Brian and Leigh. They all arrived first and were kind enough to scope out a camp spot for us, just up the narrow dirt road from their homes on wheels. We are getting spoiled by having fun neighbors — we had a great few days of happy hours, hikes, and a perfect fireside potluck dinner. For a different perspective, Leigh and Amanda both have great blog posts about our adventures, plus they both take excellent pictures.

Our group hike up Camelback Mountain was quite a trek. In addition to the pleasure of the hike itself, we were in search of a geocache hidden at the top, which is marked by a huge cross erected in memory of the original owner of the mine. We started off crossing near part of the mine – this side of town is marked by enormous tailings piles several stories high, and we were near what seemed to be a smaller flat-topped hill of what the mine calls “overburden”. The ground is covered with rock fragments in bold colors of red, amber, yellow and gold. It’s pretty, but hard to forget it’s the result of serious industrial production.

As for our destination, we can see the cross from our camp, and knew it would be a steep hike, but the loose rock and cactus forests added a whole new dimension. No grabbing the nearest branch if your feet start to slip! And reaching the summit requires crossing a couple of sheer rocky knobs that weren’t very hiker-friendly. But we made it! And the views were worth every step, and every embedded cactus thorn. (Good thing Tim was carrying a multi-tool with pliers – his services were required by more than one of us — including me!– to extract nasty Jumping Cholla thorns. No permanent damage though.) Finding the actual geocache was a mini-adventure in itself, since there were steep drop offs in almost all directions at the base of the cross. Amanda came through, searching it out at the base of a prickly bush on the edge of a rocky shelf.

Back to camp down the slip-sliding loose rock, in time to clean up and finish our dishes for potluck: spring rolls with peanut sauce, seasoned rice with veggies, and lentil “meatloaf”. Yeah, this group can cook! Well, at least the ladies…the guys were drinking beer and swapping stories. With our friends leaving over the next two days, it sadly was our last group gathering for a while as everyone follows their own road ahead.

Left to our own devices again, Kris and I explored the BLM area on bike and with Juniper, who manages to find rabbits to chase everywhere we go. There are lots of surprises here – dry washes, several types of huge cacti, and even a working windmill. There’s also a lot of rusting metal and broken glass unfortunately, tucked in among the cactus. And maybe wild camels??

An afternoon in town for errands gave us a chance to get to know the place a little bit. We’ve mastered the water dispensers that are the only source of drinking water in these desert areas, so we could fill our seven gallon jug that supplements our drinking water (it’s five gallons for $1 here) and our solar shower. Picking up our general delivery mail meant time in the post office full of people who greeted each other by name. We strolled around the town plaza and stopped in to see a juried art show of local artists – good stuff! A friendly conversation there turned into an invitation to the opening of a new show in a few days, and a chance for Kris to submit his own art if he wanted to. We love small towns. A visit to the local historical society museum was filled with pioneer artifacts – including a jar of human teeth extracted in the early part of the last century, yuck! — and a fantastic volunteer who made the mining life come alive as he described how the copper, silver and gold were extracted from the ground under his feet during his lifetime in Ajo. Did I mention we love small towns?

So we’re moving a short distance to a new camp spot with a new view and a no other rigs in site, and staying on for a few more days to enjoy this place and the people in it.

Posted by: Juniper Road | January 31, 2013

Quality Time in the Desert

As our friends rolled out of camp, and our adventures in Mexico came to an end, we looked at each other with our clean, sparkly teeth and decided to do a bit of exploring.

Since Yuma is actually one of the largest producers of green, leafy vegetables in the county (thanks to the mighty Colorado that is diverted to irrigate this desert valley), we thought the Saturday farmer’s market would be a great place to start. With long shopping lists in hand, we went there with Tim and Amanda on their last morning in Yuma. We were all surprised to see a short row of maybe a dozen vendors, and only a few with produce. Although our high hopes for eggs, cheese, hummus and more were dashed, it turned out to be small but mighty. Huge, fresh heads of lettuce, broccoli, cabbage and more, plus lemons the size of my hand, avocados, chard, fresh roasted peppers and more. The prices were great, and Amanda and I both left with bags of produce. Not a bad way to start the day.

After a cold snap that lasted several days and included pouring rain, lots of wind and clouds, and one evening’s strange, violent micro-storm with the highest winds we’ve ever experienced in the RV (I had moments when I thought we might actually flip over!), the sun and warm temps returned and we ventured out into the desert for entertainment.

An expedition to the Imperial Sand Dunes was a great stop. It’s where the desert scenes with Jabba the Hut from Return of the Jedi were filmed. Popular with off road vehicles, there are miles of giant rolling dunes with nothing else in sight. Super cool. And Juniper thought so too – the first thing she did was take off running. And running. And running. She made her way back eventually so we could take a few pictures. We all played on the dunes for a while, watched some dune buggies barrel over the ridge, and imagined hover crafts racing by, then headed home while the sun set over the distant mountains. It was a fun side trip and if it were closer to camp we’d go every day to play and get J-D super tired.

Next up was a bike trip to the abandoned mining town of Tumco, further north in the same valley we are camped in, at the base of the Muchacho Mountains. First discovered by Spanish explorers, gold was mined here on and off for centuries. By the 1890s, the town was booming with 500+ people and about 30 buildings and tents (including a school and church.) The mill processed 160 tons of ore a day…and today there’s almost nothing left. The rusting hulks of huge cyanide vats remain on one hill, and a few crumbling foundations and timber footings are visible, but all the buildings have melted into the desert. It must have been a wild and tough place to live under the burning desert sun.

We zoomed back to our camp on the slightly downhill route to enjoy the comforts of home – a hot (though brief!) solar shower and Dutch oven dinner of cowboy roast turkey on a chilly evening under a clear, starry sky.

We head east tomorrow for another meet up with our nomad friends, this time near Ajo, AZ. We don’t expect to have internet access and no doubt we’ll be suffering withdrawal…we’ll see how long we can take it.

Posted by: Juniper Road | January 28, 2013

Way Down Here, You Need a Reason to Move

Our latest base camp boondocking on BLM land near the Muchacho mountain range of SoCal has us positioned very close to Mexico, and the border town of  Los Algodones. True, it’s not a legitimate and quaint visit within another country that can only come with several days in a small village, but it was an adventure any way you look at it. Unplanned and spontaneous, we conducted a reconnaissance group probe with our current neighbors the Watsons and the Weitzels (see Cassie’s last post).

Day one, was a blur of street vender people yelling offers and services at you, while others tried to physically place jewelry on your wrist or souvenir items in your hands. At first it’s a cultural experience, but after a few minutes it begins to spoil and sour into some type of assault. Gee-whiz, how many times do I need to say no? It’s just part of the deal with visiting, and best to expect and anticipate that this is how it is, look past it, and enjoy yourself.

Sights of food vendors, sounds of live music, glossy painted artworks, colorful ponchos and blankets, cheap jewelry, expensive cheap jewelry, stained glass, metal sculptures, cowboy belts with assorted buckles, leather holsters, sunglasses, wallets and purses, pottery, and the list goes on. It’s Mexico, and its what I expected… but a little dirtier. I thought this well traveled border town would simply resemble an outlet mall, but it doesn’t.

Boom bam, in and out. A few city blocks were explored, and we headed back to the border. Everyone slips though without incident but me. Maybe I appear “game” for a little “twenty questions.” Maybe I’m so innocent in appearance that Border Patrol feels zero threat to practice interrogation skills? I don’t get it. I should have rehearsed. Why ask me what I was doing there, what the heck, what does everyone else do? Is it not obvious? Why did four people go through the line next to me and I’m still standing here? I was “minding my own business” may not be the best answer. Whatever…I wasn’t doin’ nothin’!

Day two, Cassie and I head back across the border. We were completely lured in by the value of dentistry. If complex and technical work is to be done in the states it will be costly, but in the border town of Algodones there will be major savings. Our needs were routine maintenance in the form of a cleaning, and current plans regarding insurance are out of pocket for any medical, with a heavy deductible for anything serious or major. We made an appointment and shopped to kill time.

Our first visit primarily stuck to the main streets, sidewalks, and alleyways, but our second day was an enlightenment. Deeper within the cityscape were more cozy shops with a nicer assortment of goods, and way less pressure than the guys on the street give you. We found the opportunity to just relax and look without the constant yelling of goods and services. Lucky for us we are traveling, on a budget, and with no real storage opportunity for all the wonderful things we don’t need. Although, something to remember our trip many years in the future would be special. Coming across something nice about the time the appointment was on deck gave us that walk-a-way-from-it situation, and time to think about the hand woven wool tapestries we both liked.

Back at the selected dentist office (selected from the top reviews of other RVers), we sat in the waiting room for another thirty minutes before the hygienist/doctor was ready for us. Kinda silly to wait that long if we had an appointment, right? However, a professional standard cleaning like you would receive anywhere in the US was thirty dollars per person. I was waiting for my wife to scream from the next room. I halfway expected to fight my way through a strange building to avoid kidnapping. I was watching from the corner of my eye to defend myself against a hypodermic needle heading my direction. But none of those scenarios happened. In the waiting room I sat among grandmas and grandpas who indicated it wasn’t their first time at the clinic as we talked about fire trucks, bicycles, and milking cows. It was a perfectly satisfactory experience. Even if I live in a dreamy town like Christmas, Michigan, and the cost for dentistry is  lesser than or equal to a trip to Mexico, I’m going. There is free beer and shots of tequila right around the corner from the dentist I have in mind.

We next hit the street and headed back to our tapestry amigo and owner of Oaxaca Arts. From Oaxaca (wah-ha-kha), he spent time with us, providing details of the looming process from sheep to the store. His cousin did this step in the process, his aunt conducts dying techniques, this person spins the wool into useable form, and as a loom artist himself he picks and chooses with confidence many detailed and unique pieces to have on display. In a town loaded with cliche’ souvenirs, Cassie and I were looking at some quality art. The handwoven wool we had our eyes on was beautiful utility art that can be used as a table runner, wall hanging, or floor accent. Everything is negotiable, however the care and attention received in a non-pressure manner we were given made me feel like a jerk asking if this was the best price. Despite seeming like a good deal to begin with, I asked – this kind gentlemen didn’t budge on value, and we took the deal. Before, during, and after purchase gave us a warm happy feeling that lingers still.

Skipping towards the border and headed for home, we rationalized that our purchase came from Cassie’s mom as a Christmas/Birthday present from my mother-in-law. Yes! We win!! It’s so beautiful and with the details of our lovely afternoon, she’d totally approve. A rain had started while getting our teeth cleaned, street vendors were packing up, and when we saw the border crossing our hearts sank. It seemed like everyone wanted to leave at the same time. The line was at least an hour, probably more… perfect excuse to have a margarita! Drinks, food, and live music was meant to be. This fully completed our Mexico experience in the most proper manner.

Happy as clams, we left the restaurant and got into the shortest line at the border ever seen, and witnessed a posse of border agents take down of a 4’10” woman vendor. We found that display of security pretty depressing. Then it was twenty questions for Kris again. Why didn’t I practice this? When asked if I declare anything, I respond with “nothing but a full stomach”… Crap! Smugglers put all kinds of stuff in their bodies all the time, I don’t believe what’s coming out of my mouth! Do I even think before I speak? Then, “where do you live”… Crap! My license says SD, before the trip it was VA, now it’s with our dog in the desert… What exactly does that question mean?!?! My “What were you doing in Mexico” answer was “Snowbirding”. Crap! That was another perfect opportunity to pull me aside. Somehow I’m allowed to pass, but seemingly acted as if I was hoping for the special room treatment in order to create an interesting blog post, which didn’t happen, but this will do. Back from Mexico, day two. Would it push my luck to try again?

Posted by: Juniper Road | January 26, 2013

Hanging Out and Day Tripping

We are enjoying a new boondock spot outside of Yuma, Arizona with great weather, desert solitude and mountain views. And by desert solitude I mean quiet, natural, wide open spaces with few others in sight, not actual solitude, because we are here with friends! We caught up with Tim and Amanda from Watsons Wander (who we had such a great time with at Lake Mead back in November), and joined them here with their friends and fellow full-timers Leigh and Brian. We knew we were among good people when Brian stopped by as we set up camp, introduced himself, and offered to pick up supplies, refill water, and get rid of our trash on his trip to town! Yes, they are that nice.

Brain and Kris on a foggy morning. That’s Brain and Leigh’s shiny Airstream in the distance.

We’ve got our rigs stretched out in a long row, perfect for both privacy and visiting. We gathered for an impromptu happy hour at Leigh and Brian’s the day we arrived, and we were happy to be part of such a friendly, smart and funny group. Juniper threatened to ruin the moment when she acted like her usual difficult self with Curtis, Brian and Leigh’s dog. But Curtis shook it off, Juniper was grounded, and we had a happy evening. Our full social calendar this week included a morning outdoor yoga class, evening horseshoes, and a bring-your-plate group dinner. How lucky are we?

Leigh and Amanda after our yoga class with a mountain view

One of the highlights was an afternoon spent in Los Algodones, Mexico. It’s a small town directly across the border from Yuma, AZ and about a ten minute drive from where we’re camped. After reading about it on the internets, I was hesitant but interested – Mexico certainly has some trouble spots and gets lots of bad press. But Los Algodones is known for medical tourism and has a reputation for being safe and friendly. It turns out our friends were interested in visiting too, and so we went together – the perfect solution.

We piled into Brian’s truck, along with Tim and Amanda (unfortunately, Leigh had to work and skip the trip) and headed to the border. We parked and walked across – bienvenidos a Mexico! Easy. This tiny town of about five square blocks is packed full of dentists, pharmacies and eye doctors, as well as street vendors selling jewelry, leather bags, metal sculptures and the usual tourist-trap hats, t shirts, sunglasses and more. There are some lovely handcrafted items tucked in the chaos if you’re willing to search a bit deeper. But first you have to get used to the constant push of sellers in your face and trying to push goods into your hands. It’s annoying, but part of the experience.

Tim and Amanda wanted to check out the discounts on prescription eyeglasses and I was interested in checking out the discounts at the pharmacies. People come here by the tens of thousands from the US and Canada for both of those things, as well as dental work ranging from a basic cleaning to implants or full dentures. When I first heard that, I was skeptical of all of it, and even a bit put off. But the more research I did, the more reasonable it seemed. And to see it for myself banished the last of my doubts. The pharmacy I used was bright, clean and modern. I was able to fill my routine prescriptions in minutes, for about 25% of what it cost me in the US. Sealed, new packages by the same US manufacturer I am used to. In a year with only bare bones health insurance, this was a huge savings, and made me entirely regret seeking out health care in Desert Hot Springs, which was a waste of time and money. No wonder so many come here – for informed consumers needing non-narcotic meds, the savings are undeniable and hard to pass up if you’re on a tight budget or a fixed income. As for Tim, he ended up with prescription sunglasses he’s happy with, although the savings were not as significant.

But it is different – in my case, the pharmacy was attached to the liquor store, which also sold the vanilla extract. A little strange, a lot convenient. And the liquor store serves samples, mostly tequila. And the nicest jewelry store in town hands out free beers to browsing customers. Maybe that’s a good business strategy, I don’t know. But the shop owners and clerks were all friendly and spoke English to us Spanish-challenged tourists.

Kris and I picked out some rum and flavored tequila to take home, for 40-60% off of US prices, although that varies by state. And if the bracelets I bought are real silver, then we got a deal for the ages. But they are still pretty. We declared it all as we went through customs at the end of the afternoon, only Kris must have seemed suspicious, because the four of us made it through while he was still being questioned and the package of rum inspected. It was almost funny except for the heavily armed border patrol part. Oh well, they let him pass and we all shared a laugh.

And we were all back to camp in time for socializing and horseshoes!

Posted by: Juniper Road | January 22, 2013

My Faith Restored

We left Desert Hot Springs several days ago, headed back to Quartzsite, AZ, and none too soon. Despite the many amenities we had during our month long stay in DHS, I was more than ready to leave. As the new year progressed, I discovered I was having a crisis of confidence – faith that this trip would end well, that things would work out, that we’d find a place to call home after a year of traveling. It wasn’t rational to feel that way, but I couldn’t talk myself out of it. I worried. It got worse by degrees, and by the end of our stay, I was convinced we’d be homeless and unemployed for a long time.

Maybe it was feeling crowded in an RV park after months of boondocking (the folks who moved in right next door despite multiple open sites all in a row nearby, and then packed their space with three vehicles, a futon, a dog pen, toys and more didn’t help); maybe it was the somewhat depressing town of DHS itself; or the high winds and freezing nights; maybe the area is a negative energy vortex and I needed another visit to the Integratron; or maybe simply being stationary in an urban area. Some of the reason is that it’s time for us to be part of something again – our volunteer activities helped fill any growing voids earlier in our journey. A frustrating search for routine medical care that came dispensed with an attitude, a high price tag, and a certain level of incompetence didn’t help. All that said, we stayed in a fine place and met many delightful people there – some we’ll stay in touch with and hope to see again. We also had some fantastic days hiking, and of course, a great visit with Kris’s mom. And yet, I was in a funk.

Visits to Palm Springs helped – a bright, happy town at the foot of gorgeous mountains. Late in our stay, we visited the art museum and had a wonderful evening experiencing the glassworks exhibit, creative and unexpected objects (like a bubble wrap chair) inspired by Brazil, and some surprising modern pieces that were hard to tear ourselves away from. Even stopping in town to pick up dog food was nice, since the mountain view was incredible. (We ran all of our errands there after learning DHS was not particularly safe at night.) But it was time to go. One last soak in the mineral pools, one last hot shower, and I was happy to pack up my hair dryer for new horizons.

And of all places, dry, dusty, strange Quartzsite was the right place to be. Three hours east, full of sunshine and tens of thousands more RVs than when we were here a month ago, my spirits lifted as we parked in the desert just east of town, drinking in the wide open spaces. We spent our first day biking through parts of town we missed on our first visit, marveling at the traffic jams and the number of people milling around the many new tent neighborhoods with even more stuff for sale. (In comparison, this was nearly a ghost town in December.) We thought so before, but with at least ten times as many vendors, it’s clear that you can find anything in Quartzsite. We admired the metal sculptures, bought some socks, and browsed the antiques, books, knives, rocks, beads, jewelry, junk, kitchen gadgets, RV accessories, and more.

On the second morning, with the sun shining again, we biked in for more touring – there’s just too much to see in one day. While Kris found a patch representing his old Army unit, we chatted with the vendor, Jim. Friendly, funny, and full of positive energy, Jim seemed genuinely interested and we ended up sharing our story of a year on the road. He was thrilled for us, and brimming with confidence that good things lie ahead – exactly what I needed to hear. A thirty minute conversation about life, decisions, and priorities – by the end, he invited us to stay with him at his home in Idaho if we were ever in the area. People amaze me. At a time when my optimism was so shaky, his kindness and encouragement was a great gift. And the gifts continued – we stopped in at the nearby Flatlander’s where we had found our horseshoe set the month before. Unprompted, the owner Larry was all smiles and good wishes, sharing his own positive energy, confidence in the future, and even advice for keeping negative people out of your life.

In an hour — in dry, dusty, strange Quartzsite — strangers had welcomed us, listened thoughtfully, encouraged us, shared ideas and experiences, and even opened their homes to us. We’ve long known that the people we’ve met this year have been the best part of the journey, and here was even more proof. How can I doubt what lies ahead? It was a remarkable morning. My optimism was back, my faith restored.

Posted by: Juniper Road | January 19, 2013

Thankful for the Time We Have

Months ago the plan was made that my mom would visit us located in a snow-bird heaven of warmth, essentially extracting her from the harshness of a full-on Minnesota winter. Two nights before her arrival we slept with windows open and felt dehydrated after an hour walk in the desert. As our excitement levels increased and her flight approached closer, the wind began to blow and the temperature dropped. Our mastermind plan unfolded with a few key objectives left out, and it felt as though my sweet mother brought Minnesota with her to sunny Palm Springs California.

We simply exercised a family tradition of making the best of what you have. Within a few hours of her landing, we were fed and relaxing neck deep in hot mineral pools. I’d say we were coping. A meal, a soak, and a walk in the desert adjacent our resort was spot on. I enjoyed listening to her marvel at the geology beneath our feet, as Cassie and I are always commenting and discussing the many beautiful rocks we find strewn about.

Despite a chill in the air, the next morning brought sunshine and a clear turquoise colored sky. We embarked on a mission to explore the Saturday morning market. It’s always fun to look and demonstrate our discipline of not buying “stuff”. Cassie and I have broken the bonds of our consumerism culture and enjoy the thrill of being surrounded by gadgets, clothes, jewelry, hats, games, art, equipment, beauty products, for hours on end and not succumbing to a single purchase. My mom was bitten by the bug however, and strolled out of a booth with a couple of beautiful shirts to remind her of of the trip. We did secure some fresh produce, but food is classified by our standards as something other than stuff, not to mention nourishing.

After recharging our batteries from the miles walked at the market, we boogied out the door before the sun went down to visit a nearby oasis located on the San Andreas fault zone. A protected preserve area, it allows folks who visit a glimpse at what a real deal oasis in the desert looks and feels like. I’m sure a common expression would be that it’s beautiful, no matter who you talk to, and no doubt as a result of the life giving qualities.

Another trip to the pool, a duck feeding session, and “epic nachos” followed by some good old fashioned television watching wrapped up our Saturday night. A good visit can be assessed on how fast time flies by, and we canceled plans to ride the cable car tram due to weather and diminishing schedule. Our Sunday morning plans turned towards a visit to Joshua Tree National Park.

Up and out that morning, with Juniper along for the ride, we headed down the road. A quick stop at one of the visitors centers to stamp our book and grab a map that brought us all into a strange and different world with building size rock formations and Dr. Suess-like Joshua trees. The phrase “wow” was used over and over like a new language. Like most national parks, there is a great deal that can be view from the road, however we just had to go deeper.

The sun was warm, and the shade was freezing! After a picnic lunch, we embarked on a circular mile long hike. It was amazing.  Hard to explain, pictures don’t do it justice, and it’s verifiably unlike anywhere else. With a martian landscape and views that provide a backdrop sixty miles away, we were all smiles. Everyone realized pretty quick that our decision to skip the cable ride to colder elevation was a good idea, and again our public lands impress. We chose to exit through a second visitor’s center to see if the park stamp was different, and it was, and were also afforded the opportunity to see a coyote. I had gone on and on about how we can hear them singing at night in the desert, and when they failed to perform, I was so glad our special visitor had a chance to see one moving along in its natural environment, looking strong and healthy. The drive home followed the setting sun and gave us an hour long view of a colorful and dynamic, ever-changing sky. Tortellini and sautéed zucchini was quickly served gourmet style before sleep washed over us.

Time then began to accelerate. My mom’s flight was early the next morning. It’s a pleasure to see someone you love, and painful to say goodbye, especially when they are headed back to a seemingly cold and dark landscape. All things must pass, and it’s noticeable days are getting longer as the world tilts back to warm days of summer. Big hugs and kisses, love you!

Posted by: Juniper Road | January 10, 2013

Great Views And Paw Problems

We got our lazy bones moving this week and finally made it to the nearby Whitewater Nature Preserve. In a string of cool, cloudy, and/or very windy days, we were there on a perfect sunny, summer-like day. The preserve is a large property between two mountain ranges, and cut through by the year-round Whitewater river. It seems to be almost where green, forested mountains meet the dry desert range. It was a perfect place to spend a day, and well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in this part of southern California. With leashed dogs welcome, Juniper came along too!

After visiting with the huge, tasty-looking trout that swim peacefully through the crystal clear ponds next to the ranger station (no fishing allowed!), we set off on the 3.5 mile Canyon Loop trail. The hike started off with some splashing in the cool waters of the river, shockingly clear and fast moving, a nice break from the desert sun. Then we headed up the many switchbacks, each one bringing better views of the canyon and surrounding ridges. We even were (briefly) on the Pacific Crest Trail, the 2600+ mile trail that runs from Mexico to Canada, which was pretty exciting in a geeky hiker kind of way.

Once on top of the ridge, the landscape changed and the rolling hills to the west were scalloped with green canyons and more vegetation than we usually see. Something about the wide open view and the sloping valleys made it seem like a mountain lion was sure to lope by, if we just watched the right places. While it is mountain lion territory, one would certainly hear us coming and make itself scarce long before we would see it. Bear and bighorn sheep are common too, but we didn’t see any critters except birds.

And it was just as well we didn’t see any critters, because halfway down the ridge back to the canyon floor, Juniper had a problem with one of her back paws. She was frantic, and we had to wrestle with our wriggling dog to try to hold her still enough to figure out what was wrong. Whining, panting desperately, she wouldn’t stand up. It was a stressful time for all of us – we spent 20 minutes searching for a thorn or bite or some other issue with her paw or leg. No luck. Her breathing had calmed a bit, so we decided to head the rest of the way down, back to the river, which might help wash out whatever the problem was. Juniper got the royal treatment–a ride down on Kris’s shoulders. Believe it or not, she relaxed immediately up there, and it was uneventful the rest of the way down. The cool river water helped too, and after more searching for the problem but no finding, she surprised us by being ready to walk again. She’s been fine ever since, and we never did find a thorn or anything else. One of the many days when we wish she could talk!

Other recent highlights include a low-key celebration of Kris’s birthday (which included birthday wishes over the grocery store speaker system and a cake smuggled into our tiny fridge), a fabulous care package from my mom which erased any post-holiday blues that might have threatened, and the start of our search for volunteer opportunities in New Mexico, our next destination. Although we’re getting antsy to be out in the wilderness again, we are here for another week, and we have company coming!

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