Lakewood, NM to Grand Canyon, AZ

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - We left The Ranch SKP Co-Op this morning and headed for Hollomon Air Force Base. At the Social Hour yesterday evening, everyone sang Happy Trails to us as is the custom for anyone departing the RV park. On our way to Alamogordo, NM, we went through the Sacramento Mountains at Cloudcroft, NM. The 5,000 foot climb from Artesia to Cloudcroft was gradual and easy but the descent into Alamogordo was 16 miles of 7% grade. I followed the advice of those that had done this before and geared down to second gear and kept my speed within 35-40 mph with occasional help from the brakes. During the descent, we had a great view of White Sands National Monument.

We arrived at the Air Force Base FamCamp to a full house. So, we are parked in the overflow area, an empty field beside the park. Since we have no hookups, I filled the fresh water tank with a couple of jugs of water.

Since we were unable to get a site with hookups, we planned to stay only one day so, as soon as we were set up, we drove a few miles down the road to White Sands National Monument. White Sands is 275 square miles of sand dunes but, unlike most sand dunes which are made of quartz grains, the dunes of White Sands are made of gypsum which give them their beautiful white color.

Thursday, April 24, 2008 - We we ready to leave this morning and made one last trip to the Commissary to pick up a few items. When we got in the truck to return to the RV, the truck would not start. Completely dead! Not even lights on the instrument panel. A nice young airman stationed here on the base tried to give us a jump start but his little car could not supply enough cranking amps to start my diesel. So he gave us (and our groceries) a ride to our RV.

I considered replacing the batteries but they were only 7 months old and I was concerned that there might be other problems. And when you are 2000 miles from home, you can't call friends or relatives to help out. After making arrangements with the campground host to stay another day, I had my truck towed to a local Chevrolet dealer. After several dianostic tests, it was determined that the batteries were the problem. Why did those batteries last only 7 months? Hmmmmm.

After arriving back at the RV, I decided to take these batteries to Wal-Mart where I had purchased them (actually, I purchased them at the Wal-Mart in Virginia Beach). The nice young lady had to test them first and the test machine said they were good! What??!! So I take the batteries back to the Chevrolet dealer and his machine indicated that they were good! We scratched our heads and he decided to test them again and the machine said they were bad. The test was repeated several more times and each test said the batteries were bad. Back to Wal-Mart. Her machine said they were good. After talking to the automotive manager, I recieved replacement batteries. I could not get a refund - only replacement batteries. I guess I should have jumped in a cab at the Chevrolet dealer, carrying 100 pounds of batteries, returned them to Wal-Mart and brought the new batteries back to the Chevrolet dealer for installation. I think not! So I now have an extra set of batteries to carry around.

Several campers left today so we were able to move to a full hookup site. I am glad we did because we can close the windows and use the air conditioner. Although there was a nice breeze today and the temperature was cool last night, there is so much dust in the air. Until we moved to a full hookup site this afternoon, Carol had the windows open and the wind deposited a fine layer of all that dust on every horizontal surface in the RV. Yuk! So we broke out the vacuum and a damp cloth and went to work.

Friday, April 25, 2008 - It was a short drive to the Escapees RV Park in Deming, NM and we arrived shortly after noon. We only plan to stay one night so we didn't bother to unhook. The park is one huge gravel parking lot and the individual sites are marked only by the location of the power pedestals. This rig was parked 3 sites down from us and illustrates how far you can take this RV thing if you have an unlimited supply of cash. We stopped here at Deming only because I didn't want to drive from Alamogordo to Tucson (328 miles) in one day. With over 4 years into our retirement, we are beginning to slow down and get out of vacation mode. So far, each leg of this trip has averaged about 180 miles which is just right for us.

Saturday, April 26, 2008 - Agave Gulch FamCamp, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, AZ. It is easy to see why this park received the Campers Choice Award for 2007 Best Military Campground. The landscaping is the most beautiful of any military RV Park that I have visited. In a desert motif, cactus gardens are planted in much of the common areas. These gardens are healthy and well-maintained. We signed up to stay for a week.

Sunday, April 27 2008 - This morning we visited Saguaro National Park which is noted for its Saguaro cactus. Unless you want to do some serious hiking, the park consists of an 8 mile driving loop. The bicyclist love this place. Mostly men, they are all dressed up in their Spandex outfits. The best way to visit these desert environments it to hike or cycle early in the morning or late afternoon. This avoids the oppressive heat of the day and the chances of viewing wildlife are better.

Around noon, we headed for Mt.Lemmon, a nearby peak at 9,200 feet altitude. Just 20 miles from downtown Tucson (as the crow flies), the Santa Catalina Mountains are located to the east and northeast and the highest peak is Mt. Lemmon. The trip provides an escape from the heat of the desert floor. While the temperature at Tucson was in the mid 90's, it was 60 degrees at 9.000 feet. There were even patches of snow in the shadows.

Monday, April 28 2008 - This morning we visited Sabino Canyon in the foothils of the Santa Catalina Mountains. You can take a tram or hike one of the many trails. We opted to hike because the tram ride was an abbreviated version of the original due to damage caused by floods in 2006. You don't find out about these things until after you have paid your fee and entered the park. Since I have the Senior Pass, I didn't have to pay the entry fee but what about those that did?

We took a 3-mile hike, some of it through some pretty rugged terrain which included a section along the river to Sabino Dam which was built during the Great Depression. As you can see from this photo, the small reservoir behind the dam has silted up and the dam no longer serves any useful purpose. The prettiest areas were much further up the canyon and, since the tram no longer goes up into that section, we did not see those areas.

The next major attraction for us is the Grand Canyon which is a 2 day drive from here. Last night I checked the weather for the South Rim and the forecast for this week calls for freezing low temperatures with a low of 15 degrees forecast for Thursday night. It had better warm up by next week or we will have to delay our trip. Although my RV is equipped to handle freezing weather (enclosed underbelly, tank heating pads). I prefer not to camp in freezing weather.

Wednesday, April 30 2008 - Beware of Beaudry RV! We have been chillin' for the past few days and decided to check out the newest RVs. Arizona, like Florida, is RV country. Friends of ours turned us on to the Hitchhiker Discovery (now the Discover America) and nearby Beaudry RV is the local dealer, We had heard some nasty things about both their sales and service but, hey, we just wanted to look around.

Before they would show me any RVs, I had to fill out a questionaire listing, among other things, the amount I intended to spend. Having no idea what the Discover America cost, I gave them a figure of $55,000. Since that was far below the price of the Discover America, they insisted on showing me the Montanas and the Hitchhiker II LS. I told the salesman that theses were not the RVs that I wanted to see, but he insisted and I played along. Then I finally got to see the Discover America (I felt honored) and discovered that the list price was $82,000.

My wife and I really liked this model, the 348SB, but there was no way I was going to pay that price. By now, there are two salesmen - the rookie and his mentor. They say, "Let's go back to the office and see what we can come up with." Now remember, I told them my limit was $55,000. After some discussion, he offers me $14,000 for my 2004 Cedar Creek fifthwheel and the price for the Hitchhiker remains at $82,000. I tell him, "Thanks, but we are so far apart on price that any further negotiations would be pointless." Then they bring in a third salesman, the sales manager. Well, 2 hours later, hungry and dog tired, with 3 salesmen working on us non stop, they brought their price down to $70,000. By now I have had all the negotiating practice that I need and I drew the line when they asked for my credit card to show that my negotiations were in good faith. I made them a final offer of $55,000 and the sales manager appeared insulted and I finally bid them goodbye. I would have paid $55,000 for that $82,000 RV - we really did like it.

I should have left after I saw the Discover America but a friend of mine got his Hitchhiker Discovery for over 30% off list price (not at Beaudry) so I though I would give it a shot. But those Beaudry guys are good - they could sell ice water to Eskimos. In fact, some unsuspecting folks have been talked into buying an RV they really didn't want.

Friday, May 2, 2008 - The RV that we liked so much at Beaudry RV had a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 15,600 pounds, much higher than the tow rating of our current truck. So, naturally, we had to go shopping for a bigger truck. Here again, we just wanted to look around so we stopped in at Tuscon Dodge. Like Beaudry RV, they "captured" us for a couple of hours and insisted on doing an appraisal of my truck since it would be traded in if I decided to buy another one. They had a huge selection of trucks on their lot and we quickly found a couple that met my specifications. I zeroed in on one and the saleman said "Let's go back to the office and see what we can come up with." (where did I hear that before?) So we sat down and he offers me an insulting trade-in amount for my truck. I had already gone to Kelly Blue Book online and got the trade-in amount so I had a pretty good idea what it was worth. And my truck is in pretty good shape with a nice bedcover and nerf bars. Then he offers a paltry discount off the sticker price of the Dodge. Since Dodge is offering a $4,500 rebate, I guess Tucson Dodge feels that they don't have to add too much to that. So he offers his Dodge for $33,000 plus my trade-in which they value at $10,000. I offer $20,000 plus my trade-in. Hey, we are only $13,000 apart! After an hour of the back-and-forth-to-the-boss routine so typical of car salesmen, I get the price down to $25,000 plus trade-in. But that is not low enough for me, so I am out of there. I would have closed the deal if he had come down to $23,000 plus trade-in.

As we leave, I am wondering if I am being a little too greedy and unreasonable in my negotiations. When I returned to the campground, I see a Dodge just like the one I wanted, except that it is a 2007 model with 4 wheel drive. So I go over and talk to this guy and he tells me that he got his truck for $13,000 off the sticker price from a dealer in Idaho. Wow, that's a better deal than I was trying to get. We will be in Missoula, Montana in June which is less that 2 hours from this dealer. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 5, 2008 - The route between Phoenix and Cottonwood contained some long stretches of 7% grades. Without an exhaust brake on my engine, I have to gear down into second gear and that allows me to use minimum braking to keep my speed down. But I can only go about 35 mph so it takes a while to descend those grades.

We are camped at Dead Horse Ranch State Park near Cottonwood, Arizona, which is mid way between Tucson and the Grand Canyon, Although this park is only 2 miles from downtown, it is completely isolated by the surrounding hills which block the view of the nearby development.

Tueday, May 6, 2008 - We stopped at Cottonwood because Carol wanted to visit Sedona, Arizona which is about 20 miles away. Sedona is known for its stunning red sandstone formations. The gorgeous scenery continued from Sedona to Flagstaff as the highway rose several thousand feet via a series of switchbacks to a scenic overlook at the summit that looked back down Oak Creek Canyon. One of the neat places along Oak Creek Canyon is Slide Rock State Park where Oak Creek flows over smooth sandstone and visitors may slide down a slick natural water chute or wade and sun along the creek.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008 - It was a long hard climb out of Cottonwood to Flagstaff, a gain of almost 4000 feet in elevation. As we left Flagstaff, we passed Humphreys Peak which soars to an altitude of 12,500 feet. What makes this mountain so unusual is that it is isolated and not part of a mountain range with neighboring peaks of similar elevation.

We arrived at Grand Canyon and found a site at the Desert View Campground nestled in among the juniper trees. The only site that was long enough for our RV was available. Actually, there were a few other sites that I think we could have squeezed into but the campground advertises a maximum length of 30 feet and our site was an easy back-in with plenty of room to park the truck. Desert View is at the eastern entrance to the Grand Canyon and, although it has no hookups, we like it because it is quite and the juniper trees provide a degree of privacy. The main part of the park is 25 miles west and that is where the majority of the tourists gather. Few of them make it to Desert View.

Thursday, May 8, 2008 - We got up at 4:45 AM to watch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. It gets pretty chilly at 7000 feet early in the morning. It is just about impossible to capture the grandeur and scope of the Grand Canyon with a camera. You gotta be here to feel the full impact of the view.

Later in the morning, we drove down to the main section of the park and rode the shuttle bus out to Hopi Point for additional views of the canyon. The section of the park near the south entrance is so commercialized but, apparently, that is what most visitors prefer. After a picnic lunch we headed back to the peace and solitude of Desert View.

Grand Canyon, AZ to Caldwell, ID