December 27, 2015


 “Man is a complex being:  he makes deserts bloom—and lakes die.”  Gil Stern

Carol writes:  Some of our best tips about things to see and do come from fellow RVers in our campground homes.  One of our fellow campers suggested that we take a short day trip to a little town called Oatman, Arizona, up in the hills a little ways from our campground.  Oatman was founded in 1906 as a gold mining town along what was to become famous Route 66.

In Oatman, the gold boom played out for about 35 years and then the mines closed.  The sole reason for the town’s existence today is the tourist trade which in turn is attracted to that locale because of its adorable, friendly, photogenic burros. 

In the mining days the burros were used for hauling ore, water and supplies, but when mining operations ceased, the burros were released into the surrounding hills where they thrived and multiplied.  Burros were everywhere!  All traffic yielded to burros!  Petting these creatures was irresistible!

Yeah, it was worth a trip to Oatman to mingle with the burros…

After luxuriating in a bit of resort lifestyle in Las Vegas, our next temporary home was in PAHRUMPH, NEVADA, where we parked for a week in a quaint family-owned campground on the grounds of Pahrumph Valley Winery.

Somehow the present owners have found a way to make grapes grow in the desert.  The campground amenities included an elegant restaurant with a gourmet menu and, just around the corner, a gift shop/wine-tasting room that offered complimentary tasting (!) of some of their award-winning wines.

Naturally, we tasted…

treated ourselves to a gourmet meal…

and replenished our wine stash.

Some clever marketing going on at Pahrumph Valley Winery! 

Turned out there was a whole lot more to do in the great outdoors nearby…


When we talked to the park ranger at the Lake Mead Visitor Center, she highly recommended doing the bike trail to—  

The trail was along an historic railroad bed that was used during the building of Hoover Dam back in the 1930s.  The neat part of the ride was going through a series of 5 railroad tunnels

along the shore of majestic Lake Mead.

Hoover Dam was just as spectacular as we had remembered from previous trips—a true engineering marvel. 

However, the sight of the shoreline “bathtub ring” that  illustrates how much the water has dropped over the years at Lake Mead was sobering.  Water conservation efforts in this part of our country must be a serious way of life.

Biking to Hoover Dam along an historic railroad trail was a superb bike ride all the way around!


Another one of our enjoyable day trips was to Ash Meadows NWR, the largest remaining oasis in the Mojave Desert, where the natural warm springs provide a haven for two dozen species of plant and animal life found nowhere else on the planet.  We took a walk along a nature trail next to our picnic site

and had a fortuitous sighting of the rare 1-inch blue pupfish.  We had noticed very small fish swimming in this still, clear, spring-fed, idyllic pond.

It was only when the fish turned sideways to the sun that we observed the brilliant blue color and knew we had seen a rare desert pupfish.

 (photo courtesy of an informational sign)

It was well worth the trip to Ash Meadows NWR for the neat experience of hiking along the boardwalks of a very special wildlife refuge of incredible natural beauty.


I had never thought much about how dates grow.  I buy them in a bag at the supermarket and love using them in sweet breads and hot oatmeal.  So, a trip to an actual date farm out in the middle of the Mojave Desert on the flanks of Death Valley sparked our interest. 

The entrance to China Ranch Date Farm was an interesting one—down a dry, steep, narrow road,

ending in the oasis below where we found acres and acres of date palms.

This date farm was started by a curious little girl named Viola Modine, who sent away for seeds from a mail order catalog around 1920.  Nearly a century later, voila!  The present-day farm includes several China Ranch hybrids in addition to varieties from Morocco, Algeria, and Iraq.  

Now… what was underneath those white canvas bags handing from the trees?

Ingenious…clusters of ripening dates protected from birds!

The date palm orchard quickly became a photographic delight under the brilliant blue sky of a warm day in late Fall.

Al couldn’t resist climbing a nearby hill

and shooting back on the orchard.

After a picnic lunch including a shared date shake (yum!), we couldn’t resist a gift shop purchase of a date nut loaf and a bag of freshly picked honey dates.  The first morning we had fresh, delicious China Ranch dates in our oatmeal, I couldn’t help but look back with fond memories of our visit.

What a pleasant few weeks we had enjoyed in the impressive Mojave Desert.  We honestly felt we had purged our bodies of any Las Vegas vices.  Now we were poised for a 9-day visit to a long-anticipated destination—Death Valley National Park.  We hoped this would be one of the highlights of our first year on the road.  Would the memories of our last stay at Death Valley in 1989 prove be accurate ones?

“We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.”  Margaret Mead

December 21, 2015


“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”  Abraham Lincoln


Carol writes:  There are two reasons the desert exerts its draw on many people.  There are the so-called “desert rats,” a term of endearment that I use to refer to many of the folks we have met who live year-round in the desert, some of them full-time RVers who prefer the desert lifestyle and are not bothered at all by summer’s extreme temperatures.  We actually met and enjoyed talks with some of these desert lovers in the Mojave Valley at a little friendly, family-run campground several miles outside of Laughlin, Nevada.

Many of the desert rats we met in our campground live in their travel trailers or motorhomes year-round.  One man told me that they have seen summer temperatures get up to 125 degrees and that for the most part they hunker down inside on those days because the heat really is quite dangerous.  If that is the case, I am not exactly sure what the draw is.  Do the pleasant winter days balance out the scorching days of summer?  One resident boasted to me that in summer he puts up an outdoor pool (one of those portable kiddie models a few feet tall), and even has a canvas awning above it to keep the water from getting too hot for safety.  What???  I noticed that many of the people in this park were Canadians, spending every day of their allowed 6 months per year in the U.S.  Now… it does make sense wanting to escape a Canadian winter!

As soon as we were treated to a few days of calm winds, I took time to enjoy some ‘winter heat’ and catch up on my latest quilting project.

The second reason so many visitors like to come to the desert is for the world-class gambling in southern Nevada.  Laughlin, what I call a mini-mini-Las Vegas, was not far from our campground in the Mojave Valley, so naturally we had to check out a few of its local casinos.

One of the nicest was the Native American-owned Avi Resort and Casino.

Internet photo
Beautifully situated like a shining white mirage along the Colorado River, my experience at Avi reinforced my hypothesis that Native-owned casinos have much “friendlier” slots than the big corporation ones on the Las Vegas Strip.


In a future blog devoted to daily life on the road, I will discuss finances a bit. For now I will say that up to this point most of our campground selections have been quite reasonable in terms of cost.  However, when we decided to spend a couple of weeks in Las Vegas, we knew cheap campgrounds would not even be an option.  So, we splurged a bit and decided to stay in what our campground reference called a 10+/10/10—guide talk for a campground that is superb in all respects.  The LVM Resort really was deluxe! 

Many of the sites were privately owned and upscaled with outdoor built-ins with seating areas, large beachy umbrellas, grills, sinks, ovens, water features, etc. 

Internet photo
We stayed in a privately owned campsite.  Ours was one of the few sites in which the owners decided to stay natural with grass, shrubs, and flower containers everywhere!  We had a very private mini backyard.

Anyone who knows us well will attest to the fact that we are not big gamblers—no table games, no sports betting, no high-stakes slots—only penny slots for us.  The main attraction for us in Las Vegas has always been the chance to soak up the glitzy atmosphere of its many world-class casinos. 

By NO means is this pic meant to express a political opinion of any kind; this landmark on the Strip was simply stunning in the setting sun.

No other place on Earth creates the illusion of the streets of New York,



or ancient Rome

better than Las Vegas.  It is all done with lights, paint, decorations, and illusion.  Many years ago I remember seeing the fake INDOOR “scattered clouds sky” for the first time in Las Vegas and was impressed as heck by the way the sky appeared to move as we strolled “St Mark’s Square in Venice.” 

Las Vegas decorations are always spectacular—especially the jewel-like chandeliers and moving suspended umbrellas of the Wynn,

and, my all-time favorite—the priceless Chihuly glass ceiling in the lobby of the Bellagio.

As luck would have it, several years back Al had become Facebook friends with one of his former students.  Since graduation day, Dustin has worked his way up the managerial ladder at some of the major casinos on the Strip, and so we took him up on the offer to look him up if we were ever in Las Vegas.  Dustin graciously invited us to his new house for a leisurely lunch and tour of his home, including some of his Star Trek memorabilia.  Thank you, Dustin, for a delightful afternoon!

We are fortunate that in any given place our new lifestyle allows us to take time to mix the glitz with Nature.  Laughlin and Las Vegas certainly had plenty of glamour, but in the coming weeks we were also able to savor getting back to Nature, and the desert offered us plenty of opportunity.  Some of our most fun-filled days of new discoveries in the desert were soon to come.

 “The desert, when the sun comes up…I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the Earth began.”  Tom Hanks