Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lime-orange Margarita (a.k.a. “Tooth-ache Margarita”)


The other day Betsy and I went for Mexican food at Las Casuelas Nuevas – a restaurant our friend Valerie highly recommended.  She did not steer us wrong as the food was great, wonderful atmosphere (in fact one of the prettiest Mexican restaurants around), and deliciously refreshing house margaritas.  One margarita for lunch was enough, but it left a taste in my mouth for one in the evening.  So when five o’clock rolled around…out popped the tequila and the limes.

I first came up with this recipe years ago after a routine visit to the dentist yielded devastating news.  O.K., so I am being a little dramatic but the dentist told me that an old cavity I had from childhood needed to be replaced.  Ugh, I HATE shots…and in my mouth?  I stopped at the liquor store on the way home, bought a bottle of tequila, and came up with this soothing remedy for the pain I knew was coming later.

This recipe makes one serving so you may want to save yourself some work and double it from the get-go.

Ingredients

¼             cup triple sec
⅓             cup tequila
½             cup lime juice
⅓             cup orange juice
⅓             cup simple syrup (or 3 tablespoons agave nectar)

Directions

Combine all ingredients and serve over ice in a glass with a salted rim.



Monday, January 28, 2013

Adios Arizona, Hello California

It’s hard to believe we have spent two and a half months in Arizona.  The two months we spent in Tucson were the longest we have “lived” in one place for the nearly two years we have been full-time RV’ers.  Time flew by.

After our brief stay in Quartzsite (with our new, yet light weight, treasures on board) we headed west to the Golden State where we will spend the next few months.  First up….Palm Desert.  I get the impression California thinks it is its own country as we were stopped by the stoic Border Patrol.  They asked if everyone on board was a U.S. citizen at which point Spirit sat up and said “no, I am from Indiana.” She's not very good with geography.


Next up, the citrus gestapo.  Do not try to take citrus picked fresh from a tree in Arizona into California.  It must be grown in Mexico, sprayed with chemicals, ripened with ethylene gas, and bought in a grocery store in order for you to bring it into the state.  We were busted!  So much for orange peel shrimp for dinner.


Palm Desert (and the neighboring towns of Palm Springs, Indio, Cathedral City, and Rancho Mirage) is a snow birders hub.  Our friend Valerie (who we met in Tucson at the dog park, of course) sung the praises of Emerald Desert RV Resort so we booked a week.  The park is definitely a “RV resort” with loads of amenities that can keep anyone busy all day…there are the pools, tennis courts, on-site golf…and plenty of activities…the walking club, quilting workshops, book clubs…and happy hours, muffins and mimosas, and bark and wine.  Mimosas and muffins caught our attention so one morning we wandered over and enjoyed the good spread of fresh pastries, breads, fruit, and cheese. 

Our first couple of days in the Golden State had turned an ugly shade of gray.  Now I am skeptical about the ad that claims Palm Springs has 350 days of sunshine a year.  When the clouds finally parted we hitched up Spirit and headed out to see what the weekend markets were all about.  First up was the Palm Springs Open Air Market at the Spa Casino.  This was a nice outdoor market with a mix of prepared foods, fresh produce, jewelry, crafts, and more and we enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine.  I could not resist buying some dried fruit.


Next, we hit the famed downtown strip – Palm Canyon Drive – to find Marilyn Monroe. The 26-foot tall “Forever Marilyn” sculpture takes a prominent position among the chic boutiques and restaurants downtown.  The statue represents one of the most famous movie images of Marilyn taken from the film “The Seven Year Itch.”  The statue was constructed by Seward Johnson (heir to the Johnson and Johnson Company) and  first debuted on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  It is only fitting that she is on display in Palm Springs as it was here that she was "discovered" at the age of 22 at Charlie Farrell's Racquet Club.  Many famous photos of her were taken in Palm Springs and she was a regular visitor.


The next day, we went to the College of the Desert Street Fair.  This fair is much larger with over 300 vendors that run the gamut of everything you need and don’t need.  We opted for lunch and that was it....enough shopping for a while.




Sunday, January 27, 2013

RV Park Review: Holiday Palms RV Park (Quartzsite, Arizona)

Holiday Palms RV Park website

Overall:  4/10
We came to Quartzsite in late January for the annual RV show and did not want to boondock.  Since we booked late, we were limited as to what parks had availability (but I don’t think any RV parks around here are stellar).  This park is 90% permanent trailers with transitional spots (pull-thrus) in the front and the back (back-ins). There are many amenities but the sites are close and there is lots of road noise..

Site: 13
Sites are full-hookup/cable/wifi.  50/30/20 amp worked well.  Sewer and water were well placed.  Sites are gravel and the roads are paved with enough room to maneuver our 40’ motorhome.  All sites are level.  Each site has a picnic table and there is a community fire pit.  Our site was located up front close to the road so there was lots of noise from the road.

Amenities:
Amenities include a recreation room, laundry, mail room, pool/spa, and a great library that has a great selection of well-organized books and games.  The park advertises for lots of activities (cards, potlucks, arts and crafts, exercise classes, etc.) but we did not participate in any.  There is a super nice car wash (and oil change) with a pressure washer and scrub brush.

Verizon cell service is good and our hot-spot worked o.k.  The park’s wifi was not good and very frustrating.  It was spotty, slow, and often I could not even connect.  Cable had 17 channels.

Facilities:   
The buildings are old but clean.  Bathrooms and showers are clean and a code is required to enter.   
Sites are very close together and two RV’s with slide outs can pass sugar through the window!

Location:
The park is located in the heart of Quartzsite.  A half mile walk through the wash will take you to the RV show so you don’t have to get in the traffic mess.  Also within a half mile is a grocery/gas stations/restaurants/etc.

Spirit’s Two Cents:
Not a great site for dogs.  The dog walk area is gravel right next to the road.  There is a very poor, make-shift off-leash dog park that is a 5 minutes’ walk down in the wash.  It's also very small surrounded by chicken wire.  

The Ugly Truth:
Road noise is rather prevalent as you are sandwiched between a major road and interstate.  The park is mostly permanent trailers and we prefer to stay in parks amongst RV’ers that travel.

If you are coming to Quartzite for the annual RV show and gathering this park is in a good location for walking to all activities.

Office/mail room/recreation hall

Pretty sad excuse for a dog walk and right next to the road...although they did supply bags.
Off-leash dog park was equally pathetic.
The pool/spa
laundry
pool hall
The library was a lending library and not a book exchange.  
"Junior" and the desert boats getting a bath

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Our Pilgrimage to the RV Mecca - Quartzsite, AZ


For you blog readers that are non-RV’ers (or RV newbies) let me introduce you to the RV Mecca that is Quartzsite, Arizona.   Every year thousands (and I mean like 750,000 – 1,000,000 according to the Arizona Highway Department) RV’s converge on the desert town for the annual RV show.  The show includes hundreds of vendors selling everything from RV parts and accessories to wood carvings and jewelry.  There is no shortage of stuff you can buy…rocks, tools, scarfs, flags, whirly gigs, beer can art…and yes…even RV’s.  Kind of ironic that us RV’ers that have no more space for anything are at the largest desert flea market in the world.  Didn’t we get rid of all our worldly possessions so we could RV and now we are loading back up on crap that we don’t need?  O.K., so I really did need a new vegetable peeler, bungee cord and bag of ranch flavored corn nuts.
Do you need a new awning....
or a woven basket...
or a "Woody" golf cart to drive around the campground....
or a potato sack?
There are gems everywhere for sale.
The gathering history dates back to 1984 when the QuartzsiteRV Show (officially known as the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show) opened for the first time.  The show was quite small with only 60 exhibitors and a small tent but the show was very popular and has blossomed since.  The town’s website boasts that they are the “Rock Capital of the World” which seems fitting for the copious number of large gem shows and stores that attract tourists.  All this activity (which only takes place in the few bearable winter months) is the reason the city attracts as estimated two million visitors a year. A far cry from the 3,000 or so resident population.


We wondered why the camel seemed to be the unofficial mascot of Quartzsite and did some digging.  It turns out that Quartzsite is the burial place of Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali) who was an Ottoman citizen who took part in the experimental U.S. Camel Corps as a camel driver.  The “what-kind-of-corps” you ask?  You know that failed mid-1800’s attempt by the U.S. Army to incorporate camels into their military might.  Long story short – the camels unpleasant disposition and the dislike of them by military horses cut short their service to the country. 


This beauty is made of tire rims...but she is not for sale.
We were amazed at the number of RV’s everywhere and in every size, type, shape, color, from home-made to million dollar Prevosts.  Most people boondock in the desert (which means they find an open spot and park) there are no hookups, no cable TV, no clubhouse with pool, no nothing but a lot of RV camaraderie.   Being Quartzsite virgins we opted to stay in an RV park with the creature comforts of hookups, cable, clubhouse, etc.
There are so many RV's that sometimes you can't tell what is for sale or privately owned.
After strolling through the vendors for a couple of hours we were saturated.  It was time for a taco and to wander through the RV sales section.  We are not in the market for a new RV (right Betsy?) but it is always fun to look.  Besides, we are trying to find one for Betsy’s brother Mark so he can travel with us in his off-season.  Mark what do you think of this one?


The next morning we were looking to continue our adventure so we decided to go to La Mesa RV to look at RV's and to enjoy the added benefit of a free pancake breakfast.  Our friends Gail and Matt (from Retired Voyagers blog) told us about the Readers Oasis Bookstore (a.k.a. The Naked Bookseller) in town which is famous for the owner who wears only a g-string.  But we decided not to go book shopping from a naked man after a big breakfast of pancakes.


RV’ers start your engines and make your pilgrimage!  With this experience under our belts, we are off to Palm Desert, California.


Friday, January 25, 2013

RV Park Review: McDowell Mountain Regional Park (Fountain Hills, AZ)

McDowell Mountain Regional Park (Fountain Hils, AZ) website

Overall:  7/10
The greatest feature about this park was the space at each site and between them.  Sites have large patios with open vistas of the desert.  We stayed at the park so we could see two attractions in the Scottsdale area – Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home) and the Musical Instrument Museum.  The attractions were 35-45 minutes away but well worth the drive and we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the park when we returned.

The park's rating of 7 reflects the fact that there really were not any amenities to speak of, no sewer hook-up or cable.  So take the rating with a grain of salt - we would definitely return.


Site: 78
50/30/20 amp worked well and there is a water spigot.  There is no sewer.  Our site was level but not all are (it seems to be the pull-thrus that were not level).  Sites and patios are gravel and the roads are paved and wide.  There is a picnic table and fire pit at each site.

Verizon cell service and our "hot-spot" worked great. We teetered on 4G.

Amenities:
There are really no amenities to speak of.  There is a small playground and a nature center with exhibits, gift shop, and a few snacks for sale.

Facilities:   
In our loop, there were two older bathhouses (with shower and flush toilets).  They are older but still very clean (each loop has a newer bathhouse but I did not go in).  Showers are free but the bathhouses did not seem to be heated.  

Location:
The park is located about 8-10 miles from the nearest town (Fountain Hills) with amenities.  It’s remote location is peaceful and the surrounding mountain views are great.  If you like hiking/mountain biking in the desert, this place is for you.  The remote location allows you to enjoy the beautiful starlit and moonlit nights since there is very little artificial light.  

Spirit’s Two Cents:
Great hiking/biking trails that leave right from the campground.  Dogs are supposed to be on-leash but we saw many that were off-leash.  With big patios, a dog has lots of room to roam and there are great smells from the jack rabbits and Gamble's quail that are commonly seen.

The Ugly Truth:
There really are none -what you see is what you get.


Great spacing between sites. 
Bathrooms
We were treated to some great sunrises and sunsets.



Finally, Spirit found a stick in the desert. 
Happy dog when she is on a trail.




Thursday, January 24, 2013

Time to Weigh In

You didn't think I was talking about weighing ourselves, did you?

On our way from Scottsdale to Quartzsite, we took a detour and went to the Escapees Park North Ranch in Congress in order to have our coach weighed.  The total weight and side-to-side balance of weight is very important to the safe handling of the coach, prevent damage to the chassis, and determine correct tire pressure.  We have been to CAT truck scales before and have always been safely underweight on the front and back axles.  These scales are fairly inexpensive (about $10) and convenient but do not provide the weight of each tire (unless you are willing to spend a bit of time maneuvering your big machine around the scales and make burly truckers mad). 

The Escapees SmartWeight was super easy and, though we had to drive a little out of our way, we are glad to know we are safely underweight and had pretty good side-to-side balance of weight.  Betsy blames one side weighing more due to me sitting on that side but I blame it on where she placed her super-sized bottle of vodka!  

The process only takes about 20 minutes and costs $55 to weigh the motorhome and towed car.  Our friends Lindy and Mike were there to greet us and nicely watched Spirit as we went through the process.  A slight shift of some of our stuff and a little less tire pressure is all we need to adjust.  Thank goodness I don't have to get rid of my Cuisinart stand mixer or new popover pan.  The vodka will disappear on its own.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Wonderful Note in the Desert - The Musical Instrument Museum


If you are anywhere remotely near Scottsdale (or even two states away), you have to go the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM).  And I’m serious!  The museum is a truly eclectic collection of every kind of musical instrument from around the world.  Plan on spending the better part of the day there as you will be immersed with music from around the globe and learn how the energy of music shapes and defines cultures.  Music has been called the language of the soul and instruments are responsible for awakening that soul.

The museum officially opened in 2010 and was the brainchild of Robert J. Ulrich (former CEO and chairman emeritus of Target Corporation) and friend Marc Felix.  After visiting the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, Belgium, they wanted to bring the splendor of musical instruments home to the United States.  So they set out to create a museum that uses state-of-the-art audiovisual technology to display the sounds of every musical instrument and musical genre of every country from the far corners of the world.  That concept may sound boring, but it is definitely not.

The museum brings static instruments to life by using wireless headsets to play loops of streamed music.  This effect immerses you in the sound of the instruments and transitions you from one exhibit to another.  Flat panel screens show videos displaying how instruments are played, constructed, and used. 

 There are numerous galleries, including the "Artists Gallery" where individuals, their instruments, and musical contributions are highlighted.  Many of the artists donated instruments and other memorabilia to the museum.

Taylor Swift is a recent addition to the gallery.
One of my favorites John Denver gave the story behind some of his most famous songs - including
"This Old Guitar" which was written about a guitar that was lost and later found.
Of course, Elvis is featured in this gallery.  The last guitar he played was a C.F. Martin guitar that underwent serious
renovation before being put in the museum.  We visited the Martin Guitar Factory two years ago and have an appreciation for that detailed handy work.
These instruments from the Philipenes are
made of wicker.
Instruments are made out of just about every material imaginable.  In addition to the typical construction, materials of metal and wood, there are....gas cans, bones, cowhide, snake skin,

These are called "Afri-cans" named
after their country of origin.


Drums made from turtle shells.
And yes, playing water glasses is music; therefore, these are instruments. See mom and dad, I told you I had musical talent.  Only mine were beer glasses!
The galleries that fill the upstairs of this 200,000 square-foot complex represent five geographical regions around the world.  

Having visited Africa many times, we know how important music is to their culture.
The distinctive sound of the steel drum or "pan" is one of our favorites.  Maybe because it conjures up images of white sandy beaches and fruity drinks and a whimsical melody of Jimmy Buffet.
Slit drums common in the Oceanic countries.  They are solid pieces of wood hollowed out and struck with a wooden mallet on the side to make a distinctive sound.  Traditionally, slit drums were used to call islanders to church. 
My blog can not do this museum justice.  Betsy ranks it in her top five all-time best museums.  So there!  Now start booking your trip Scottsdale and enjoy the sounds of the world.

More photos....



The museum is modern , engaging, and entertaining. 
A pictorial explanation of how a piano comes together.
The Mechanical Music Gallery features a myriad of instruments that play themselves  (i.e.,calliopes)
A gigantic slit drum.  I really want one.

The Conservation Laboratory where restoration work is done.
The famous Fender "Stratocaster" Eric Clapton edition.
Hip hop was certainly included in the museum.
The "Voodoo Guitar" -  A Fender Telecaster that was found after Hurricane Katrina and rebuilt by Don Moser  as a "tribute to southern folk culture and African-influenced spirituality."

And now we are off to Quartzsite, Arizona for three days to attend what is dubbed the "largest gathering of RV'ers in the world." Oh Lord, what have we gotten ourselves into?