It is with a little mixed emotion that we start out on the last leg of our first year living full-time in Wanda, our RV. When we get back to Aztec we will have been out for a week shy of six months. We are headed back a little early to take care of some things at home, body work done on the car, get the slide fixed, doctors, dentist, a good haircut, and most importantly the holidays with Shannon’s family, before we start out again, headed east. I’m sure the time will fly before we’re back on the road, but now that we’ve got our wanderlust firmly established we’ll see how we do plunking down in one place for six weeks.
One of the best things about our first loop on the road was getting to spend time with my family. With the exception of my niece Elizabeth, whose family was just transferred to New Jersey, we have been able to visit with every sibling and every niece and nephew, and even better, we have been able to host most of them in our home. I love the fact that when we have our house with us we are not dependent on other people to provide food, shelter and entertainment.
Before our life in Wanda we used to break the drive from Aztec to my sister’s home in Ojai, California into two short days. After we slowed down and went full-time, we talked about what it would be like to take more than a week to do the same trek across the dessert Southwest.
Travelling west to east, our first stop was in Victorville, just 2.5 hours out of Ojai. To me, Victorville has always been mile upon mile of tract housing separated only by acre upon acre of strip malls. I know that we are a nation of consumers, but I don’t understand how we can support this massive retail presence. Victorville is also the place where we get off of Interstate 15 and turn onto Pearblossom Highway (or the other way around) for the back-road journey to Ojai. Other than that, I never really paid much attention.
In the middle of this urban sprawl in the California dessert is Mojave Narrows Regional Park, one of the most beautiful parks we’ve stayed in this year, and also Trip Advisor’s #2 thing to do in Victorville. The park is huge, but the RV camping area has only about 30 spaces with full hookups. The rest is vast open green space, two lakes, playgrounds, and an equine area with access to trails. On the weekend there were only 4-5 other rigs in the campground and a few people fishing. On Thursday and Monday we were the only ones there. Really nice.
Our next stop, another 2.5 hours down the road, was Needles, California, at the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert and on the border between California and Arizona. We stopped for two nights at Fender’s River Motel and RV Resort. The name may be from the people who own it or from the Route 66 theme that abounds along this stretch of Interstate 40. This is a small Passport America Park, and the spaces are closer than anything we have yet experienced, but we are parked facing the Colorado River, Arizona, and cheap gas, and there is a large grassy area in front of the rig with good afternoon shade. The people here, both the staff and the other travelers, are extremely friendly, and although we prefer to be further away from our neighbors, this is ok for the short term, sort of like living in an apartment instead of a house!
The other thing of interest here is that we seem to be caught in the snowbird migration pattern. Traditionally, the temperatures in Yuma, Arizona drop from the hundreds to the eighties over Halloween, so the first week in November there is a movement from north to south, and as some people evacuate for southern Arizona, the people who like to winter here are arriving. It seems that many of them return year after year, and there is a party atmosphere in the evenings as people gather at each other’s rigs and get reacquainted.
The third stop on our southwest dessert trek is the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams, Arizona, another 3.5 hours down Interstate 40 toward New Mexico, and an over 3000 foot elevation climb into thin air and winter temps. In spite of the fact that this place is big and mostly paved, it is very nice, and we see how the other half lives, as there are lots of 40+ foot diesel pushers here, presumably part of that aforementioned southbound migration. The park is walking distance from Safeway, Grand Canyon Brewery, downtown Williams and all of the Route 66 visuals, as well as backing up to the railroad tracks. We would stay here again, even though this resort lacks the more primitive, remote ambiance we have come to prefer. And the Passport America discount makes it affordable.
Our last stop was going to be at Red Rock Park at Church Rock outside of Gallup, a bit of personal nostalgia since this was the first place we stayed in Wanda outside of home and family driveways. This park is also beautiful, in the middle of some of the most dramatic scenery that the dessert southwest is known for. But instead, we decided to shorten our route one hour by taking beautiful hwy 60 north through the Navajo Reservation and more stunning scenery. This was a long day driving for us but we have been putting off the pause in the adventure and decided to just push through and get home.
One of the frequent discussions Shannon and I have as we are going down the road is the “If I Had a Million Dollars” game. I am happy to report that after living in Wanda for over a year, while there are things we would upgrade if we had that kind of resources, we would not change the size of our RV, the kind of places we like to stay, or the way we like to travel. I am grateful for all of the planning and research we did before we purchased Wanda and set out on our full-time adventure. Looks like we got it right the first time!