We drove across the border into Arizona on the first of December and headed straight to one of our favorite spots in Tucson.
We’ve been camping at Gilbert Ray on the west side of the city for the past seven years. I really appreciate that over the years nothing has changed. The sites still all have electric hook-ups, a metal picnic table, and 360-degree desert views for only $20/night. They also still offer no reservations, no showers, enforce a seven-day limit, and only have a small number of sites suitable for larger RVs. All these things combined mean that we’ve never had a problem getting a site even during the busiest times of the year.
Aside from the campground itself, what we really love about staying at Gilbert Ray is the location. While a far-ish drive into the city (30-45 minutes depending on where you want to go and how many traffic lights you have to stop at), if you want nature and hiking, you simply can’t beat this campground. Located inside the Tucson Mountain Park with its many, many trails there is no shortage of places to hike or bike.
The western division of Saguaro National Park is also right next door along with the excellent Tucson Desert Museum. We skipped the latter this time around because we’ve been there twice already and didn’t want to use our one free weekend day for anything but hiking. Speaking of hiking, can I just say how amazing it was to be out there hiking in the desert again!
With very little daylight at this time of year after Tim finishes work, we didn’t hike every day, but we did manage to repeat some of our favorite hikes, like the Brown Mountain Loop and Wassan Peak, in addition to some random wanderings on various trails. I suppose the good thing about the early darkness is that an after-work hike almost always turns into a great way to watch the sunset.
After a blissful week at Gilbert Ray, we headed north to Phoenix where we had a two-week reservation at McDowell Mountain Park. Since we had reserved only a few weeks prior we had to move sites once, but it was only three days after we arrived which left a full 11 days in one site.
We had been looking forward to spending most afternoons hiking and biking on the extensive trail network that winds around the campground. But as sometimes happens, things didn’t work out as planned. First, there was the dreaded darkness to deal with. With only 1 hour of daylight after Tim finished work, we had to be ready to go as soon as he shut the computer, and even then we could only go so far before being forced to turn around. We do have some lights for our bikes, but not enough that we feel okay about riding on trails lined with spiny cactus in the dark!
Aside from dealing with the December dark period, we also got really busy with social outings, running around town doing errands of all kinds, fulfilling yearly doctor’s appointments…and we bought a truck. The first few are all normal stuff that happens whenever we are in Phoenix. In addition to stocking up on food for the next few weeks (months?) in less populated areas, there was also Christmas shopping to be done, packages to be mailed and laundry to wash. And since McDowell is on the far northern edge of the city, most of those errands required at least a 40 minutes drive. Even the closest laundromat is 35 minutes away.
And then there was the new truck. We did not plan to buy a new truck while in Phoenix. But we also didn’t plan to not buy a new truck. The truck conversation has been going on for a few years. Our Tundra was a 2008 with 190,000 miles on it. It has been an amazing truck in every way. Over the past eight years, it has faithfully taken us 115,000 miles with no mechanical breakdowns or issues. But as the truck got older we worried about what would happen if we started to have issues. Did we want to deal with getting things fixed in unfamiliar places, or getting stuck in the middle of nowhere? No and no. Also, sometimes you just want to get a new truck :)
In short, Tim has been casually looking at trucks for a while and when he saw one at a dealership in Phoenix that met all our requirements (and then some) it felt like it was meant to be. Just like that, we were the proud owners of a 2015 F250 Platinum.
Our first impressions are that it’s a big truck! Measuring 4-inches taller and 1.5-feet longer than the Tundra, there has been a bit of an adjustment needed when it comes to parking. Fortunately, in all other respects is a really easy truck to drive, and as a short person, I feel like I have better visibility in this truck as compared to the Tundra. Not only is the truck bigger, but it’s got the ability to tow more weight which means we no longer have to constantly worry about how much every little thing we put in the Airstream or truck weighs.
Moving and organizing our stuff in the new truck was fairly straightforward We had a great set-up in the back of the Tundra with a two-level storage solution on one side and a sliding bike mount on the other which we were able to replicate in the Ford.
We still need to modify the roof rack to better carry our kayaks because the one already installed on the cap wasn’t quite long enough for our 15-foot kayaks. Tim ordered another rack for the top of the truck cab so the kayaks can sit more in the middle of the truck and get strapped down in both the front and back. We have all the parts, but the final install is yet to happen.
As far as towing performance goes, so far we’ve only towed from Phoenix to Quartzsite on a flat interstate so there’s not much to report. I will say that within the first few minutes Tim said, “It doesn’t even feel like there’s anything back there” in reference to our 7,000lb trailer. Seems like a good sign. He also mentioned that overall it felt more stable when towing and the braking was easier.
Speaking of towing, we left Phoenix the weekend before Christmas and made our way to some BLM land just south of Quartzsite on the edge of the KOFA national wildlife refuge. We’ve stayed here many times before, usually right around Christmas and New Years. It’s a familiar place with plenty of space for friends and spectacular views in every direction.
Our Christmas gathering was a low key affair. We had a small group of four RVs and eight friends. It was a chilly, damp week so we spent most of our time huddled around a little buddy heater inside a tent, or stuffed inside the biggest RV in the group – a 32-foot motorhome. Fortunately for all of us, this motorhome belongs to our friends who also have a tiki bar in their rig. Yeah, we have cool friends.
The Sunday before NYE our whole gang moved north to a patch of BLM land on Plumosa Rd. for the Xscapers NYE bash. The scene was a bit different from our previous holiday gathering with approximately 200 RVs in attendance. It was a park yourself kind of event spread out over a large open space which allowed people to choose a spot off on their own, or to gather in close groups. We ended up on the edge of the group, near the main gathering area, but not too near, with an open view of the mountains to the east.
There’s no doubt that the Xscapers are a party hard kind of group. While they claim to be a group for “working age RVers” there seems to be very little work happening and as a result, you could find a party to attend every night if you wanted to, plus any number of daytime activities to join. We managed to create a nice balance of social and downtime in the days before New Year’s while trying to save our party energy for the big night.
To no one’s surprise, the Xscapers went all out for the New Yera’s event with the unveiling of a new off-grid party trailer (outfitted with 12 lithium batteries, a ridiculous amount of solar panels, and a fold-out stage), a DJ who played into the night, and a giant bonfire at midnight.
That evening as we sat around reminiscing with friends we realized this was our 8th year celebrating NYE on the road. As usual, we are thankful for the year that has passed and the year to come. Happy 2020 everyone! I’ll be back at the end of the month with another update.