Sunday, November 27, 2011

Guests, Critters, Travels, and Finding My Groove

Brian and Deena

My New Mexico friend Brian "Many Wheels" Kemsley has been planning to take his 30-year-old Honda Gold Wing with his dog Deena in his sidecar to Mexico for some time. The idea is to relax and explore for the winter. However, numerous mechanical issues have come up.

Deena on her feet, instead of in the sidecar

Brian, Deena, and our friend Jon made it as far as Why, Arizona, to visit Steve and me, but oil was spewing onto Brian's foot, and he discovered he needs to do more work on the bike. So the guys visited us for a few days, took a day trip down to Rocky Point in Jon's van, and then left Brian's rig here. Brian reappeared yesterday with his own van and trailer to retrieve his bike. It was nice to see Jon and so much of Brian lately!

Steve and Jon in front of a cooking fire

We did a little outdoor cooking while the guys were here, and spent lots of time in front of the fire, talking about everything under the sun.

A passerby

As you might be able to tell from the pictures, Steve's place here at Coyote Howls is right on the fence that separates the RV park from the Tohono O'odham Reservation. It's a great location, because we have neighbors only on two sides, not in front or back of us, and we are more apt to see wildlife here than in some other parts of the park. The other day we saw a palomino mustang or Indian horse trot by. We're much more likely to see wild burros, rabbits, hawks and snakes, so this was a treat.

Sonja up on the cabinet that separates the living room and bedroom

Speaking of animals, Sonja did surprisingly well with having a canine guest. She and Deena were very aware of each other's presence and there were some minor confrontations, but no actual fights. They were really both quite civilized and mostly gave each other space.

Besides having travelers visit us, we've been doing some traveling ourselves. Last week, before the guys arrived, I made a solo trip in the Guppy up to Phoenix to do some thrift store shopping. I found lots of good eBay inventory--over 30 scarves, about 20 shirts and blouses, and some vintage household and collectible items. I stayed two nights at a couple of Walmart parking lots near Glendale and shopped at about 25 thrift stores. It was the first overnight traveling I'd done by myself since arriving in New Mexico this summer and since having my knee surgery, and it was great to feel so independent. However, I quickly got tired of Phoenix traffic and noise and was happy to return to the quiet of Why and to Steve's companionship.

A couple of scarves that I'm listing on eBay, and you can find them right here

The day before Thanksgiving, Steve and I headed to Tucson to spend Thanksgiving with some of his family. His sister Mary and Aunt Jean live there, and a cousin and his family were visiting from California. It was a great time! Very relaxing and enjoyable to meet more of Steve's family. On Thanksgiving, while watching parades and football on TV in Mary's living room, I ironed and photographed the scarves I'd bought in Phoenix. Later we had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at Black Angus.

Tucson Mountain Park

We've been to Tucson several times in the month since we arrived here in Why. Each time we travel through Tucson Mountain Park on the west side of Tucson, and it is some of the most beautiful desert I've ever seen. So thick with saguaro cactus, it's like a forest!

Botany that I can understand

I'm really coming to appreciate the desert. When I was younger, the wide open spaces of the West seemed boring to me. I didn't have the discernment to notice gradual changes in vegetation and terrain that I now appreciate as I travel or even sit in one place. I picked up an amusing 1941 book at the Ajo Library the other day and I'm enjoying learning more about what I see.

I'm also relaxing into a routine, between travels and company. I've been listing a lot of eBay auctions, and today I rooted out my mosaic tools and started breaking some of the plates I'd picked up in Phoenix. I'm cooking slow food and taking life as it comes, and that feels great.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Life Off the Grid

A bank of batteries we use to store solar power

When I was traveling earlier this year in the Guppy, looking for a warmer, healthier place to live where my arthritis wouldn't hurt as bad as it did in the Pacific Northwest, I mostly camped at places where I could hook up to electricity. Once in a while, I'd overnight at a Walmart, casino or truckstop, but then I really only ran the houselights and didn't attempt to really "boondock," where you live off the grid for some time.

I had done some reading about how to boondock, but I lacked confidence. For one thing, I was traveling alone, and it didn't seem like a good idea for me to go out and stay in remote places by myself. For another, I didn't really understand how to work anything except the house lights.

Early in my travels, when I tried to turn on the inverter, it screamed like a cat you'd just stepped on, which apparently meant it wasn't getting any juice. Later on, when I got new batteries and a new alternator, the inverter worked fine and I finally learned that I could plug in my computer or charge my phone or run a little fan--but this was late in my travels. Probably 6000 miles into them.

When Steve asked me to join him in Arizona this winter, living in his 5th wheel at Coyote Howls, a primitive RV park, he warned me that in some ways it would be like camping and that I may not like it. However, so far, I am enjoying it just fine. And it's been very valuable for me to see how a person actually lives off the grid. It's giving me a lot more confidence about my future travels in the Guppy.

Steve's 5th wheel, bike and trucks

I don't know any technical jargon. I tried to learn some from books, but it was all way over my head. I'm smart, but in an artsy literary way, not scientificky or mathy. (See, I like making up words.)

Anyway, what I do understand is, we use solar power. We are currently using four solar panels and four batteries. Steve used to use just two batteries, but with me and my computer here, now we have four. Basically, for every two or three hours of sunshine, we get an hour of being able to use the computer or DVD player or vacuum cleaner or whatever inside the 5th wheel.

Solar panels on the ground and on top of the 5th wheel

Usually there is plenty of sunshine in the Sonoran Desert. Occasionally we get a cloudy or rainy day, and then we may have to choose between getting online or watching a DVD that night. But that's okay--Coyote Howls has a clubhouse that has regular 110v power (ooh, that's pretty technical for me!) and we can take our computers up there if we want.

When we want to use electricity for anything besides lights in the 5th wheel, we go outside and turn on the inverter. Then we go back outside and turn it off when we're done.

The inverter where we turn the electricity on and off

There are some things you can't do with solar power, regardless of how much sunshine you are getting. We can't run an air conditioner, but that's fine. This time of the year, it's temperate enough to not need one during the daytime, and it's downright chilly at night. I also cannot use my waffle iron (it's in the Guppy for when I go camping someplace where I hook up to electricity), my sewing machine, my iron, my toaster, or basically anything that has a heating element.

For sewing and ironing, I can go up to the clubhouse, and I do. I iron there pretty frequently because I sell vintage scarves and Western wear on eBay, and I need those things to look good before I photograph them.

For making toast, we have a primitive toaster made out of an old coffee can that we use on the propane stove. We use propane for refrigeration, cooking and heating. The original propane furnace that came with Steve's 1978 Holiday Rambler 5th wheel no longer works, but he installed a propane wall heater that keeps the living room, bedroom and kitchen warm. Also the fridge in Steve's rig doesn't work and needs either replacement or a very expensive repair, so we use the fridge in the Guppy. This requires a little walking back and forth before and after cooking, but it's not a big deal.

The kitchen, looking into the bathroom

We can also heat water using a propane water heater, but currently we're not doing that. We take showers in one of several community bathrooms here at Coyote Howls, and we just heat up a little water on the stove to do dishes. We will start using hot water and taking showers here in the 5th wheel later this winter, when it gets colder and it becomes unpleasant to go use the showers in an unheated community bathroom. But for now, not having hot water in the RV is no big deal.

The living room, with the bedroom up the stairs

Living in this campground is not exactly "boondocking," because we do have a water hook-up instead of having to use water from the 5th wheel's tank. However, we buy drinking and cooking water rather than using the water that comes from the hose. They've upgraded the water treatment here in Why, but there are still very old pipes, so the water doesn't taste good.

We don't, however, have sewage at individual campsites here. So we use a Blueboy, which is a portable sewage tank. Every week, Steve empties the blackwater into the Blueboy, which he hooks onto the back of his truck and empties at one of the campground's dump stations.

Steve and the Blueboy

We have a very large lot here at Coyote Howls--larger than any city or suburban lot where I've ever lived in the past. The Guppy sits across the lot from Steve's still-unnamed 5th wheel, and I've been slowly emptying it out and putting some of my vintage fabric and art supplies in the shed. Soon I'll be able to use the Guppy as my eBay reconnaissance vehicle, taking it for trips to Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott or wherever to buy new inventory. I plan to get to Phoenix later this week.

The Guppy, parked across the yard from the 5th wheel

I also plan to use the Guppy to go camping and exploring. We're going to take it down to Rocky Point in Mexico and spend some time camping on the beach. I may also head to Quartzite later this winter to meet up with some VanDweller friends and then head further west to Palm Springs to do some upscale eBay shopping there.

In between trips, I'll be using the Guppy as my eBay office and art studio. Steve has an extra solar panel in the shed that I can use to keep the Guppy's house battery always charged enough to use the inverter to power my computer. And the solar panel is small enough that I can take it along and use it on my various trips. So I will finally get out and do some real boondocking with the Guppy this winter.

So that's essentially what it's like to live off the grid. We have to be conscious of our use of electricity, but it's really not a big deal. I don't feel the least bit deprived in any respect. In fact, we were in Ajo for a monthly fair at the downtown Plaza on Saturday and I had my blood pressure checked by a nurse from the local clinic, and my BP is the lowest it has been in many years. I'm feeling very relaxed and happy with the slow pace of things here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My First Blog Post from Why, Arizona

Steve paints skulls and hangs them on his walls

Wow, I am so far behind on blogging. Or I guess I would be if I had publication deadlines, which I don't. But I have tried to blog every week or two since I left Eugene, Oregon, on February 14th of this year.

The last few weeks were harried--well, harried for a marginally employed, basically lazy, gimpy old gal like me. I gave notice on my apartment in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and needed to be out by the end of October. Steve and I decided to head up to visit friends in Santa Fe and Taos before leaving the state, so we went on vacation the week before I planned to vacate my apartment.

We visited Steve's friends (and now they're mine, too!) Dusty and Arnold, who have homes both in Santa Fe and Ajo, Arizona, which is the town of 4000 people that's 10 miles from Why. They'll be heading to Ajo after Thanksgiving to spend the winter, so I already have friends here.

We also got to see Conrad and Susan De Jong. Conrad was my favorite undergraduate music professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in the mid-70s. We had a delightful lunch with the De Jongs at the O'Keeffe Cafe which, unfortunately, was going out of business a few days after our fabulous meal there. It was very fun to catch up a little bit on the many years since I'd seen Conrad and to meet his wife, whom I just missed meeting when I was an undergrad--she started teaching at the college right after I graduated. They have very active lives (tennis for him, dressage for her) and are a great example of how to live happy and healthy.

Bridget (right) and me at lunch in Taos

We spent one day driving up to Taos to meet Bridget Boyle, a friend I've known online for several years, initially through and more recently through FaceBook and our respective blogs. Bridget and her husband are retired school teachers from Southern California who now own a ranch outside of Guadalupita. They are growing organic vegetables and trying to keep their small herd of cattle out of the crops. Always an adventure to read Bridget's blog! And it was a pleasure to finally meet her in person.

Fabrics from a collection of Andean art

We did a few touristy things on our trip...visited the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, looked at Indian jewelry at the Santa Fe Plaza, saw the Kit Carson House in Taos and the Taos Pueblo. But really the best part of the trip was the people and also the beautiful drive between Santa Fe and Taos, where we saw some nice fall colors along the Rio Grande.

Fall colors along the Rio Grande north of Santa Fe

It was very relaxing and rejuvenating to go up north for a few days, and I came back feeling ready to really get some work done--which was great, because I had a lot of work to do! I had one more mosaic project to do for La Paloma Hot Springs & Spa before leaving TorC, plus I had to pack up The Guppy and clean the apartment. Fortunately one of the La Paloma housekeepers came over for a few hours and cleaned all the major surfaces for me, leaving me with only the smaller jobs such as cleaning the oven.

We left TorC last Wednesday morning, drove to Tucson to spend the night at Steve's sister Mary's place, and then drove the rest of the way to Why the following day. I didn't see much of Tucson--we mostly just ran a few errands while we were there--and, again, the best part of traveling was meeting Mary, who made me feel very welcome.

When we arrived at Coyote Howls, I was a little freaked. It appeared to be a big flat spot with just a scattering of mostly older RVs. After I'd been here a little while, it still looked like a big flat spot with a scattering of old RVs, but by then I'd also found out how quiet, relaxing and beautiful it is here. The night sky is amazing--I have never seen so many stars in my entire life. The sunrises and sunsets are wonderful, too. I woke up one morning to see a wild burro walking past, and I hear coyotes playing at night.

Burro on the road that goes by my new home
(Roxanne! I need a clever caption here!)

Since arriving here last week, I've been pretty busy getting acclimated. First we did some cleaning because Steve's 32-foot 5th wheel (which doesn't have a name!) had been closed up for six months or so, and a pack rat had been in here. Then I started fitting my clothes and other possessions into Steve's place. Now I'm back working on my eBay business, which I'd shut down for a few days during the transition here, and I'm getting acquainted with neighbors and with the amenities in Ajo. Today I am taking the bus from Coyote Howls to the Ajo Library for a drawing class that will run every Wednesday afternoon for six weeks. I will be in town all afternoon (the bus only runs out to Why three times a day), so I'll arrange to get a P.O. box and take time for coffee at the Oasis Cafe, which is on the beautiful little plaza in Ajo.

Looking across Ajo Plaza from the Oasis Cafe towards the library

Life is very relaxing here. I've started work on some multimedia art pieces that I've had in mind to work on for a long time. I'm reading a lot. I spend time cooking slow food such as chili from scratch, including soaking and cooking the beans. Sometimes I sit and do very little at all. I think it's going to be a great winter.

Sunrise as seen from my front door