Gulf Islands National Seashore, Okaloosa Area, Fort Walton Beach, FL, 3/1/12

Friday, March 27, 2015

February and March
Snowbirding Locations

I've been snowbirding for almost 2 months now; at my mid-point. I left Fall City the first week of February, a month later than planned (after recovering from the flu, a reaction to the shingles vaccine, and the Seahawk's Superbowl loss).

I migrated down I-5, overnighting in Canyonville, OR and Gustine, CA before landing in Southern California.  The next couple of days was a whirlwind and a joy as I hopped from Tustin, Anaheim, Murietta, and Cathedral City to visit, breakfast, laugh, have dinner, get hugs, do technology, watch softball, and just have fun spending time with friends and family. Then I was off for some serious snowbirding in the desert southwest.

Ehrenberg sunset on Valentine's Day.   XXOXOO for John :)  

First, I spent almost 3 weeks in the back country of Ehrenberg, AZ (BLM land). Here I got to see a few good vandwelling friends again, and meet some new folks too. But, mostly I just enjoyed the quiet and warmth of the desert. The closest camp to mine was about 50 yards, the furthest about 300.

Sunset through a dust storm, Ehrenberg, AZ (end of February)  

After Ehrenberg, I made a quick trip further south to Los Algodones, MX for some cheap meds and vanilla extract.  There was a storm brewing and I didn't want to be caught in the desert back country, so decided to spend the night at Yuma's Mittry Lake (BLM land) until the roads dried up.  I really enjoyed the dramatic skies and wildlife. But, it rained very little.

Great White Egrets roosting below my campsite at Mittry Lake.
Not a great photo, but a great memory.  By sundown, the snags were
full of about 20 egrets.   (3/1/15)  

My friend Sunny was in Apache Junction, AZ again this year; so, I was glad to meet up with her for a few days. We toured Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West and drove The Apache Trail. I highly recommend both activities.

The entrance area to Taliesin West gives a sense of the
architect's aesthetic throughout the complex. (3/4/15)  

Spire designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as
part of a proposed state capitol complex
designed in the 1950's.  (3/4/15)  

Last rays of sunlight on the Superstition Mountains,
as taken from the Goldfield Ghost Town. (3/4/15)  

Canyon Lake on The Apache Trail.  (3/5/15)  

Tortilla Flat, AZ Saloon on The Apache Trail.  Here you have a
seat at the bar in a real saddle (Sunny) or ride bare back on a
carved horse''s butt (Suanne).  (3/5/15)

Layers in the rock as seen on The Apache Trail. Amazing!  (3/5/15)  

Some dirt road sections of The Apache Trail in the distance, with
ocotillo ready to burst into bloom in the foreground.  (3/5/15)

The dam on Theodore Roosevelt Lake.  The Apache Trail. (3/5/15)  

From there, I went to the Cave Creek Ranger District Office for Tonto National Forest and inquired about dispersed camping. The ranger eagerly pointed out various options, including one that didn't require a permit (free) -- Mesquite Campground – that's the option I chose. The drive to the campground was beautiful among rock formations and saguaro cacti, partially paved and partially a graded dirt road. I selected a small campsite right next to the Verde River, in the middle of a Mesquite forest. After 10 days of soaking in this beauty, I decided to meet up with some friends again.

Campsites at the Mesquite Campground had fire rings and tables.
Here I'm relaxing while viewing the fast-flowing
and muddy Verde River. (3/7/15)  
A few days later, they turned down the water flow from the reservoir up river.
You can see on the trees below how high the water was, and it's still muddy.   

Soon the river was down to a trickle, and clear.  (3/13/15)  

Saguaro Cactus Forest across Horseshoe Reseviour, about
2 miles upstream (by road) from my campsite.  (3/13/15)  
At sunset a storm rolled through, making the scene look
more like Halloween than Spring time.  (3/13/15)  

Once I got back onto the Internet, I found that my friends were going to move to cooler weather in a few days. So, rather than back track and spend time in 90 degree heat, I spent a few nights at Agua Fria National Monument (BLM land). Here it was cooler and on the way to the Prescott National Forest location where I'd hoped to meet up with folks.

Leaving Agua Fria as storm clouds were gathering.  (3/18/15)  

With another storm brewing, I didn't want to be stuck in the back country of Agua Fria until it dried out. So, I decided to see if I could find my friends in the Prescott NF before the roads became impassable. Based on directions from a couple of years ago, I found them just after they had arrived themselves. Good thing; it poured that night and into the next day.

A look down the road from my current camp site in the
Prescott National Forest.  (3/22/15)   
Now, after 10 days, I'm loving the weather – 70's during the day and low 40's at night. It's a juniper forest, with prickly pear cacti, grasses, and other plants that I can't identify. My friends have camped here before and tell me we'll have a wild flower bloom next month. Already I've noticed some color – purples, yellows, and the reds/oranges of the Indian Paintbrush. It's here that I'm writing this blog.

Preview of some wildflowers.  Dainty yellow things next
to my camp.  (3/22/15)  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Preparing to Snowbird

About 9 months ago I decided that I would try being a snowbird next winter. And now, it's almost time to fly south.  In the process of preparing, I've found that I need to change some of what I bring and how I pack.

When it comes to traveling, I've thought of my Prius like a backpack. I figured if thru-hikers can go long distances, for months at a time with only what's on their back, I certainly can live out of my Prius long term.  Over the past 5 years of travel, my Prius has performed admirably as both my backpack and hard-sided tent.

My Prius in the desert SW last winter, in travel mode.
Photo taken by Bob Wells, January 2014 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

But, being a snowbird is different. I'll be staying in the same locale for months at a time; only going into town every 10 days for supplies, laundry and to dump garbage. Being a snowbird is more analogous to staying in a campground than being a thru-hiker. So, I began to re-think my preparations for this coming snowbird season.

Some options I considered includes using our 20' Class C, getting a used van, or buying a solar panel system with house batteries. As a snowbird camper, I will live without hook ups (water, electricity, sewer). I want to do that as simply, frugally and comfortably as possible.

I decided against the Class C for being too big, consuming too much gas, and having too many large items that I don't use (frig/freezer, microwave, tanks, oven, forced-air heater, etc.). I also decided against buying a van until I know if being a snowbird is a good fit for me, as well as for when I can save enough for something very reliable. Similarly, for the same reasons, I will wait to purchase a full-blown solar panel/battery system. But, until then, I will to try a combination of other methods to both conserve and supply my electrical needs.

My computing needs are my greatest draw on electricity. Since my laptop was ready to be replaced, I chose to get a tablet with a keyboard* to conserve energy. My other electronics include a smart phone* and data hotspot*. For lighting I use (mostly) rechargeable batteries. My methods for both cooking and keeping produce cool do not use electricity

So, with my minimal needs for electricity, I'm taking a multi-faceted approach. First, I got a small 7w solar panel*. I'm hoping it will keep my smart phone, hot spot and some AA batteries charged. Second, I purchased a battery jump starter* with a 12v port for recharging my electronics. Not only can this item provide a jump start, but also has other built in functions – inverter for 120v, LED worklight, and an air compressor – all of which I've no plans to use, but nice to have just in case. My third power source is my trusty Prius. When recharging my electronics in the past, my Prius' engine runs for about 5 minutes every half hour to maintain it's own battery. To save gas this winter, I'll keep the Prius off for as long as possible while recharging electronics. I'll monitor the Prius' accessory battery with a low-voltage alarm and start the car to recharge when it gets low.

I've always said that I live out of my Prius, not in it. While being a snowbird, that will be more true than ever. The desert back country will be my front yard, back yard and home for four months. So, I wanted my snowbird camp to have a few more niceties than when I'm traveling like a thru-hiker. I'm bringing a 4x6' mat*, an umbrella* for shade, and a collapsible camp kitchen* table. Finally, I've added a small pop up tent* for bathroom and storage. A big factor for all these homey extras is that they can be put away fast and easy when the desert winds blow. After adding a camp chair I'll be ready to kick back and enjoy!

In this photo I'm using the camp kitchen and umbrella that I'll be bringing
to snowbird.  Camping with family, using our old teardrop trailer in 2009. 

In the desert, water is a big deal. I need at least one gallon per day. If I only go into town every 10 days, then that's 10 gallons to have on hand. But, I've only carried a maximum of four gallons in the past. And, with all of the additional stuff I'm bringing to set up camp, I certainly did not have any additional room for six more jugs. For this challenge, I turned again to a backpacking solution. I got four 10-liter bladders* that lay flat when empty. Problem solved.

I'm also changing where I pack supplies and gear in my car. In the past I've camped in bear country. So, I've kept anything that smells (food, water, toiletries) in my front passenger seat to easily transfer into a bear box. But, bears don't live in the desert SW; so, instead I focused on function and moved my food under the hatch with my cooking gear. Also, I'm not storing kitchen and food items in duffle bags, as usual; instead I put them in a couple of plastic storage boxes* that will also serve as work surfaces when moved outside. The new large items (umbrella, table, jump starter) will travel in the front passenger seat area.

Other needs, like cooking, bathroom, sleeping, and safety will be solved the same way as when I'm traveling.

Bed setup in the Prius.  In preparation for my first test
trip in October 2009.  Bed setup remains the same.

The Prius may not be the best vehicle for boondocking long term, but I trust that it will continue to serve me well during this winter's snowbird test.

* Links provided to items similar to what I will be using.  Not to be considered an endorsement.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Frugal, Happy Living

Once again I'm preparing to head out. This winter I'm going to try sticking to a single locale in the desert southwest, snowbird style. Hopefully the weather will cooperate with many sunny days. Unfortunately, John remains unconvinced that traveling to warmer climes is preferable to staying at our PNW house. So, once again, I'm going solo.  

Mid-Day shade, Ehrenberg, AZ, January 2014  
I seriously considered taking our Class C RV, but have settled on living out of my Prius again. The Class C is too big for just me. And, I so enjoy the minimal, frugal living experience in the hybrid hatchback. But, since I will probably be staying put for months at a time, I will bring a few more amenities to make living outside more homey – rug, small kitchen table, shade umbrella, bathroom tent – assuming everything will store well in the Prius when the winds kick up. I also got a small solar panel system to help keep my tablet and phone charged.

Morning view, Cottonwood, AZ, March 2014  
Not only am I looking forward to living simply in nature's back country, but I'm also looking forward to spending time with friends who enjoy doing the same. Yearly we gather for the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, AZ.

The still at sunrise, RTR in Quartzsite, AZ, January 2014  
The RTR's host, Bob Wells is currently featured in the documentary “Without Bound: Perspectives on Mobile Living.” The producer is Michael Tubbs, videographer and adjunct professor at a Texas State University. Click here for the trailer; but, if you have time, please watch the 50-minute feature below. The film is well done and does an excellent job exploring the motives and passions of those who choose to live frugally in nature. You'll hear the word “freedom” a lot.  

Also, click here to read Bob's blog regarding the documentary for extra insights about the lifestyle.

Some of the people in the documentary have a website or blog:
   - Bob Wells -
   - Randy Vining -
   - Josh and Meisha Manwaring -
   - Steve Ballee' -

I call most folks in this documentary like-minded friends … most of whom I look forward to seeing in a little more than a month.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Back Again, Debriefing

I arrived back at my Fall City home on April 1st, in time to do taxes and celebrate Easter with the grandkids. 

Grandson Lane showing off his bag of Easter Eggs after the hunt.  4/20/14 

Grandpa (John) and Grandson Luke planting pumpkin seeds
for their Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns.  4/20/14 
With those two events in the past, now is the time to wrap up my Jan-Feb-Mar travel blogs.  I left the Florida Keys on March 16, taking I-10 west until I veered north at Phoenix to spend a bit of time with friends in the Prescott National Forest.  Then I had a short visit with a couple of my other brothers in Orange County before going north on I-5 toward Washington State. 

Last few nights in the Keys were spent on the dock while brother Gary
tried to catch another shark.  3/10/14 

Folks launched lanterns from the dock ... 

The gentle breeze carried them
over the water ... 

until they were just a
small point in the black sky.

On my westward drive on I-10, I spent a day in southwest Louisiana to
explore the Creole Nature Trail, a loop within the "Louisiana Outback,"
south of Lake Charles to the Gulf of Mexico. 3/19/14 

I find that my travels often have a theme or purpose.  Sometimes I know what those are prior to leaving.  This time I didn't.  This time I discovered them in the midst of my travels.  One discovery was that I want to be a snowbird, spending winters in the dry heat of the desert southwest (vs. the warm humidity of Florida).  And an unexpected purpose was to reconnect with each of my 4 brothers -- Ray in CA in January; Gary in FL in early March; and Glen & Kyle in SoCal in late March -- what a nice treat!
I joined some of my friends in the Prescott National Forest
near Cottonwood.  3/23/14 

I was weary from driving; camping in nature feeds my soul.  3/23/14 
A couple of sub-themes popped up too.  One was tornadoes -- advisories, watches, and warnings -- in SW Louisiana, in the Keys, on I-75 in western Florida, and finally on I-5 in northern California (west of Chico).  Twice I saw wall clouds (FL Keys & CA); both times I was in awe; neither time did I see any rotation. 

Another sub-theme is that I re-learned that I can have a first experience only once.  In 2012 I did a slow mosey along the Gulf Coast.  I was amazed at the flora and fauna of the wet lands -- swamps, everglades, bayous -- really taking it all in, really loving it.  I so wanted to re-live that adventure, exploring the Creole Trail in Louisiana and the Loop Road in Big Cypress National Preserve.  Although I enjoyed retracing my steps, I didn't experience that same sense of discovery.  And that's OK as it was still very beautiful and amazing; and I've many other places I can go to for the first time; discovery is fun!

Here are some photos from 2012 of places which I got to re-experience in 2014: 

Ferry on the Creole Nature Trail takes you across the
Calcisieu River.  2/19/12 

Spider webs decorated with morning dew at the
SW Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex Visitor Center
(on the Creole Nature Trail)  2/22/12 

First wild alligator I ever saw on the Pintail Wildlife Drive in the
Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge
(on the Creole Nature Trail) 2/22/12 

Blue Angel's jet on display at the rest stop in Milton, FL.
The home of the Blue Angels is in neighboring Pensacola, FL.  2/29/12 

View from my campsite in the Apalachicola National Forest south of
Tallahassee, FL (tornado watch while there in 2012)  3/1/12 

Ochopee Post Office is the smallest in the US. On US-41 (Tamiami Trail)
that goes through Big Cypress National Preserve and borders
Everglades National Park.   3/7/12 

Alligator warming up in the morning sun, Loop Road,
Big Cypress National Preserve.  3/9/12 

Great White Egret as seen from the Loop Road in
Big Cypress National Preserve.  3/9/12 

Canoeing through the mangrove tunnels,
Big Cypress National Preserve.   3/10/12 

Now, I'm in Washington for the bulk of the Spring, Summer and Fall, hoping to have friends and family visit, do some local camping, and take an RV vacation with hubby. 

Our Bing Cherry Tree was in bloom when I got back to Fall City.  4/14/14 

And April is when I remember my daughter's
birthday.  I feel especially close to her
on my road trips ... she was a traveler
 and a lover of nature too.    4/11/14

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Colorful Plants on the Keys

Palms, mangroves, many trees, bushes and grasses are plentiful on the keys.  It's very lush.

A tangle of mangrove roots. These amazing trees come in red, black and
white varieties.   3/7/14 at Crane Point Museum and Nature Center

If I were a botanist, I'd study mangroves -- how they
propagate, help to create land, deal with salt water, are
protective nurseries for young sea life, and so much more. 
3/7/14 at Crane Point. 
 But, every once in a while a spot of color will catch my eye. 

While at Bahia Honda State Park, I went into the butterfly garden. 
I spotted the Zebra Long-Wing Butterflies (pictured above) and the
bright orange Gulf Fritillary, too.  3/5/14 

The Butterfly Garden. 
While mostly green, I found a few bits of color. 
3/5/14 at Bahia Honda SP. 
Very tiny orange petals/leaves.  Do you know what it is? 
3/5/14 at Bahia Honda SP. 

Small, but the butterflies like it. 
I think it's called a Bay Bean or Seaside Bean.
3/5/14 Bahia Honda SP. 

Another small flower that attracted the butterflies. 
What is it?  3/5/14 at Bahia Honda SP. 
A little daisy? 
3/5/14 at Bahia Honda. 

At Crane Point we saw this large bush.  The sign 
said it was Sea Lavender.  3/7/14  

The Sea Lavender's little white flowers were 
very fragrant.  3/7/14 

Also at Crane Point we saw this little flower that the 
Zebra Long-Wing Butterflies were enjoying. 
Do you know what it is?  3/7/14 

Seed pods of the Blackbead tree with bright pink arils. 
The black seeds are used to make jewelry, thus its name. 
3/7/14 at Crane Point.

The copper-color bark of the Gumbo Limbo tree.
3/7/14 at Crane Point.

I have a few more days here in the Keys; so, don't be surprised if I update this particular blog with more spots of plant-life color!