Tag Archives: scenic views

Bat Central: Carlsbad Caverns

We left Tucson in mid March and headed back to our hometown in Georgia for the birth of our granddaughter.  On the way, we tried to take the time to visit some great places.  Our last stop in New Mexico was Carlsbad Caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in southeastern New Mexico. The primary attraction of the park is the show cave, Carlsbad Cavern, oh, and the bats.

Personally, I’m not a fan of caves.  I have claustrophobia and the thought of being hundreds of feet below ground makes my teeth hurt.

But Dave wanted to see this particular cavern because he had heard so much about it.  And we certainly couldn’t just drive right by without taking a look.

The entrance includes a large visitor center building that contains a cafeteria, interesting museum, gift shop, and two elevators that can take you down to the caverns below. 

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It is at this point that you have to make the big decision.  Do you want to hike down into the cavern on your own, or take the easy way out and grab the elevator?

We chose to hike down.  After all, how difficult could it be?  The ranger said that it would take several hours to hike the four mile path down into the caverns.  We would end up being 75 stories below ground.

At the entrance to the cave is a huge amphitheater, created for crowds to watch the evening show of up to 300,000 Mexican Free-tail bats as they emerge from the cave in a huge cloud of blackness.

Yes, seriously.  There were bats.

The path zig-zags down into the darkness below.  Ready for our new adventure, we started the hike.  Carlsbad Cavern is the fifth largest cavern in North America and the twenty-eighth largest in the world.  And as long as the bats minded their own businesses, we would be perfectly happy to take in the views!

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As we descended into the cave, it was amazing to look up at the pathway that we had already traveled.  The descent is steep, and honestly if you have bad knees, I wouldn’t recommend it.

It is a steady downward descent for 75 stories.  Craziness.

This passageway continues into narrower tunnels where the first extensive collections of stalagmites and stalactites are found, including named features such as Devils Spring, Queen’s Chamber, Kings Palace and the Boneyard.

Note that I am now carrying my jacket.  It is surprisingly humid in the caves.  I believe it was around 90%.  And warm.

The surroundings become steadily more scenic, with small side-caves filled with intricate rock forms.

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We stopped often to take photos and small breaks from the walk down. Unlike many caverns that I have visited, Carlsbad was not brightly lit with different colors.  They maintained the natural look with low lighting.

The lighting was just enough to enjoy the amazing scenery.  Once reaching the bottom of the shaft, you enter the huge Big Room.  It is here that you can further explore, visit an underground gift shop, and then make the next big decision.

Do you want to climb all the way back out or take the elevator up?

We chose the elevator.  You can feel free to call me a wimp.  LOL!  As for the caverns themselves, I highly recommend a visit!  Amazing rock formations, lots of history, and tons of bats!  You can’t go wrong there!

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A visit to White Sands National Monument

Well, lets backtrack a bit.  I want to tell you a bit about the sites that we were able to visit on our way from Tucson to Atlanta.  We took about three weeks to cross the country, which gave us time to do a few tourist things.  Our first major stop was the little town of Alamogordo, NM and White Sands National Monument.

Crossing into New Mexico from Arizona, we were not sure what to expect.  Arizona had been a big surprise.  Where we had expected nothing but desert, we found mountains, forests and amazing things to see and do.  New Mexico just might surprise us too!

White Sands National Monument is a unique experience.  There’s really no other place like it on the planet.  It’s the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, with miles and miles of stunning white landscape.

Surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides, the basin of white sand dunes is roughly 275 square miles.

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Driving into the park, you follow a road that increasing becomes packed sand.  With the constant movement of the dunes, this roadway needs to be plowed daily and driving along it, reminds me of a freshly plowed snow covered road.

Gypsum rarely occurs as sand because it is water-soluble. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it to the sea. Because this particular basin has no outlet to the sea, it traps dissolved gypsum from the surrounding mountains.  As the water sinks into the ground, it leaves crystals of gypsum.

It is hard in photos to give perspective of the size of this place.  In the photo above, Dave and I are standing on a dune looking down at our car below.

An interesting note:  White Sands National Monument is surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range, a military testing area for the U.S. Army.  Most of the dune field lies within that missile range. The world’s first atomic bomb was detonated at the Trinity test site in the missile range, just 65 miles north of White Sands National Monument in 1945.

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Because the park lies completely within the White Sands Missile Range, both the park and U.S. Route 70 between Las Cruces, New Mexico and Alamogordo are subject to closure for safety reasons when tests are conducted on the missile range.

Miles and miles of white sand.  But unlike actual quartz based sand crystals, gypsum does not get hot under the summer sun.  In fact, the dunes are great for downhill sledding along with hiking.  Just be sure that you follow the signs and bring plenty of water.

The desert can be a beautiful, yet deadly place.

High in the clouds: Cloudcroft, NM

Now lets take a look at where all that gypsum comes from!  Just a short drive in the other direction from Alamogordo, high up in the mountain range is the town of Cloudcroft.  Located at 8,600 feet above sea level, Cloudcroft is one the highest towns in the US.

Following the winding road to the top takes about 30 minutes, with lots of places to pull over and enjoy the vistas.  In the photo above, you can see White Sands National Monument in the distance.  The rock that Dave has his foot on is gypsum.  Here is where White Sands begins.

Back in the early 1900’s, Cloudcroft was a major tourist destination.  Due to the altitude, it was the perfect place to get away from the desert heat.  A rail line was created to bring those tourist up from Alamogordo.

Climbing from the valley into the mountains required numerous trestles, switchbacks and grades as steep as 6.4 percent.

With the arrival of US Route 82 to Cloudcroft around 1945, traffic on the railroad line diminished. Southern Pacific discontinued passenger service in 1938, and freight service in 1947; abandonment of the line came soon after in 1948.

The only evidence of the railroad line today is the remains of the trestle over Mexican Canyon, as seen above.

Our visit to New Mexico had just begun.  Our next stop along the way east would be Carlsbad Caverns.  We heard they had bats.  Can’t miss that!

Stay tuned!

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The Science of Tucson

We are currently on our way back across the country to spend a bit of time with my daughter and her family in Atlanta.  In the meantime, I wanted to finish up talking about the Tucson area with one final post.

There is so much to see and do in this beautiful area of the country.   Earlier we covered the amazing Biosphere 2.  This week I wanted to talk a little about Pima Air and Space Museum, the huge aircraft boneyard, Titan Missile Museum and the amazing Kitt Peak National Observatory.  All are within a short driving distance of downtown Tucson!

Kitt Peak National Observatory

For those that love the science of observing the stars or those that just love a fantastic scenic view, a drive to Kitt Peak National Observatory is something you should not miss!

Kitt Peak Observatory includes 24 optical and two radio telescopes, and is the largest, most diverse group of astronomical instruments in the world.  It sits at 6875 feet above sea level overlooking the beautiful Sonoran Desert.

And talk about an amazing view!  The drive from Tucson is a little over an hour and the road up the mountain includes lots of switchbacks and a bit of steepness.  But it is very worth the drive.

Kitt Peak was chosen because of it’s high percentage of clear weather, low levels of humidity, and the fact that there is very little light pollution in the area.  A perfect place for an observatory!

One of the most interesting structures was the McMath-Pierce telescope.  It includes a tower nearly 100 feet high, and a shaft that slants two hundred feet into the ground.  The purpose?  McMath-Pierce telescope is used to study the sun!

The McMath-Pierce is used to study the structure of sunspots, as well as sunspot spectra. A sunspot is a temporary cool region in the sun’s photosphere.   This telescope makes it possible to look directly at the sun.

Kitt Peak is also famous for hosting the first telescope used to search for near-Earth asteroids, and calculating the probability of an impact with planet Earth.

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Local Secrets of Tucson

Yesterday, we left Tucson and are currently heading east towards Atlanta.  We plan on making a slow trek back.  Our daughter is due to have our first grandchild soon and we would love to be there for that.

It was an unplanned exit, as we had intended on staying in Tucson until April 1.  Unfortunately, our job there did not work out.  I will go into it more at a later date.  Things are too fresh right now and Dave and I are planning on decompressing a bit as we head back across the country.

In the meantime, I would love to share with you a few of the local secrets of Tucson.  We truly loved the area, and will go back one day.   Arizona was home to us.

Unique Local Food of Tucson

As with most southwestern towns, Tucson has a large abundance of Mexican restaurants.  We tried as many as we could while we were in the area.  All were good and each had their own unique flair.

Guadalajara Restaurant offered the unique aspect of making your salsa for you at your table.  Not only was it fun to watch, but your salsa was made to our own specifications.

Want it extra hot?  No problem!

We loved the mariachi band, the festive atmosphere and of course the food!

Sonoran Hotdogs

Our coworkers, Rob and Connie from Circle Pines, spend their winters in Tucson.  They told us not to miss the Sonoran Hotdogs.  In fact, they made a point to take us out to their favorite place to get them.

The best thing about work camping is making lifelong friends.

So, what is a Sonoran hotdog?

It starts with a hotdog wrapped in bacon and grilled until it’s crispy. It is then stuffed into a hand made split-top roll called a bolillo (pronouced boh-lee-yoh). It is topped with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, grilled and raw onions, mayonnaise, mustard and jalapeño salsa.

It is literally heaven in a bun.

El Güero Canelo, is perhaps the most famous maker of Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson.  Seriously, if you are in the Tucson area, don’t miss out on Sonoran Hotdogs!

Want pizza?  Grimaldi’s is a great place for just that.  Huge is the word.  And tasty too.

Raspados

And finally, we need to get dessert, right?

Raspados is the Mexican version of “scraped ice” or snow cones.  They are made with layers of shaved ice, homemade syrups, fruits, candies , ice cream, and sweetened condensed milk.  While standard flavors like strawberry, banana, plum and pineapple are popular, there are also exotic combinations such as the chamoyada with lime, tamarind candy and spicy chamoy sauce.

Don’t leave Tucson without trying one.  They are amazing!

Sentinel Peak (Also known as “A Mountain”)

From downtown Tucson, you can see the big white “A” on Sentinel Peak located just southwest of the city.  The A is a 160 ft. tall structure made from basalt rock, constructed in the early 1900’s by students from the University of Arizona.

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The secret is that you can actually drive up this mountain, see the A up close and personal and look down at amazing views of downtown Tucson!

The perfect time to check this view out is either a sunrise or a sunset.  Since we don’t love getting up early, we hit it one evening during an amazing sunset.

Touching the A is considered good luck.  So naturally, we did.

And then we enjoyed the sunset over Tucson.  Sentinel Peak was surprisingly busy for the sunset viewing.  Apparently, this is not such a secret after all…

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Mt. Lemmon and life in Tucson

Well, its been a couple of weeks since my last update and life in Tucson is a bit cold (especially at night) and a bit frustrating at times, but I have to say it is a beautiful area to live this time of year.

We really love the fact that we can step right outside our door and pick fresh oranges every day for orange juice.  We are definitely getting our share of vitamin C.

As for the work thing.  Well, it could be better.  I’ve written about work camping before- The Good, the bad and the ugly.   We came to this campground to work in the kitchen.  We thought it would be a nice break from working guest services; a job that we have consistently been doing for the past few years.

However, it seems that working in the kitchen, at least at this campground was not working for us.  We asked to be moved back to customer service and they moved us to the front office a little over a week ago.

So, with that said, we are making the best of our stay here and enjoying the area.  And looking forward to our move onto the next part of the country.  LOL!

Tucson has some pretty amazing sunsets.  This photo was taken from our doorway.   I have to say that it truly is a beautiful place to live.

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This past week, we decided to take advantage of our couple days off and take a drive up to the top of Mt. Lemmon.  From the campground, we can see it rising above the city of Tucson.  This time of year, you can see the snow at the summit.

We wanted to touch some snow.   So off we went.

Mt Lemmon Scenic Byway is the only paved road that leads to the top of Mt. Lemmon and the Santa Catalina Range. It is said to be one of the most scenic drives in southeast Arizona.

Because the road starts in the Lower Sonoran desert and climbs to high forests, it offers the biological equivalent of driving from the deserts of Mexico to the forests of Canada in a short stretch of 27 miles.

Here at the base of the mountain, we were surrounded by Saguaro cactus and desert scenery.  It would change pretty quickly.

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A Review of 2016 on the Road

We left Atlanta in April of 2015 for a life on the road.  Over the past nearly 2 years, we have enjoyed lots of great sights, met lots of fun people and experienced living in a 400 square foot “tiny home” with 2 dogs and one bathroom.

And this is just the beginning!

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Santa Fe, NM

We get asked a lot if we will ever settle down again in a regular home.  At this point in time, we have no plans for that.  We have absolutely no regrets.  We love our new roaming lifestyle and the fact that as we work-camp across the country, we get to actually experience each area as the locals do.

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Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX

With the year 2017 on the horizon, I wanted to do a review of the past year on the road along with some of the trials and tribulations that went along with it.

Many ask about our financials, so I will go into that a bit, along with a few things we have learned and experienced as we traveled this year.

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Total Mileage this year

We began our year working in St. Petersburg, FL at the St. Petersburg KOA.  Our job ended there near the end of March.  Our next job would begin around May 1 in Williams, AZ, but we needed to make an extended stop in Atlanta due to health issues with our dog, Ralph.

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Our route took us to Orlando, a short pit stop in our favorite campground on Tybee Island, then onto Atlanta for a total of 633 miles.

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route to williams

We then traveled westward through Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and finally Williams, AZ, right near the Grand Canyon.  This was a total of  1,798 miles.

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Our job in Williams ended on October 31 and our job in Tucson began on November 15.  We took the long way with a detour through Laughlin, NV and Lake Havasu City, AZ, adding another     520 miles.

Grand total miles on the coach for 2016 was 2,951 miles.

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Only in Arizona- The Tumbleweed Christmas Tree!

Yes, at first glance it looks like a normal Christmas tree in the center of town.  But Chandler, Arizona creates something unique and beautiful each year.  Something that you can find nowhere else in the country…

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This beautiful tree is made up of thousands of tumbleweeds!

Yes, thousands of them!  It takes around 1,000 of these tumbling dead bushes to create the massive 30″ tall tree each year.

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Local tradition holds that Chandler’s Tumbleweed Tree was the brainchild of Earle Barnum.  He came up with the idea for the tumbleweed tree after seeing a tree built with local pine boughs in his hometown in Indiana.

How do they make a Tumbleweed Tree?

Starting in the fall, the tumbleweeds are gathered and then placed around a chicken wire frame.  They are then sprayed with flame retardant white paint, sprinkled with over 65 pounds of glitter, and strung with lights.

This wonderfully unique tradition has been carried on for over 60 years in the town of Chandler.

Of course, once we heard about it, we had to see it!

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There was lots to see and do in the town area surrounding the Tumbleweed Tree including great little shops and restaurants.  Naturally, we had to try out one of the restaurants.

The sacrifices we make for this website.  LOL!

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We decided to check out Crust Restaurant, a local Italian eatery.  From inside, we could watch the tree as darkness began to fall and the lights were lit.

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We had some amazing pasta dishes at Crust.  We enjoyed a fresh board of Tomato, Basil and Parmesan Bruschetta, along with our main course of Grandma’s Pasta- a yummy mix of pasta, meatballs, sausage, ricotta and marinara!

Definitely worth a return visit!

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And as darkness fell, the Tumbleweed Tree grew even more beautiful!

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We really enjoyed the lights in the square.

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After all, it is pretty hard to decorate an RV.   The lights in the streets were amazing.

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This is our second Christmas living full time in our coach.  And one of the things I love about that is that we can experience Christmas just a bit differently each year.

Last year, we were on the beaches of Florida, and this year we are enjoying a Tumbleweed Christmas tree!

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And back at the campground, the doggies are settling in just fine.  Faith and Ralph have decided that the campground was pretty nice about supplying them with an official “doggie sidewalk”.

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We brought a few more of the old traditions back to our coach including whipping up a big batch of Old Fashioned Potato Candy.  (You can find the full recipe on my other website, Suzy’s Sitcom).

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Faith and Ralph (and both of us) wish you all an amazing, happy and healthy holiday season!

Next week, I plan on doing a review of our past year on the road!  Stay tuned!

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A visit to Saguaro National Park

First things first: it’s pronounced “suh-wahr-oh.”  Do you know how many years I have mispronounced this cactus?  Yep, I am ridiculously southern and can’t seem to shake it.

Anyway, we decided to make the short drive out to Saguaro National Park to see what all the fuss was about.

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And there you have it.  Cactus as far as you can see.

Since 1933 this extraordinary giant cactus has been protected within Saguaro National Park. There are two sections of the park, one on the west side of Tucson and one on the east side.  Our visit this week was to the west.

The Sonoran Desert is one of the hottest and driest regions on the continent. In the summer, it is common for the temperatures to climb over 100 degrees and it gets less than 12 inches of rain in a typical year.

With that in mind, it was surprisingly lush and beautiful!

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The plants and animals are able to survive this environment with adaptations specially designed for desert survival.  At first glance, desert life seems rather unfriendly.

Talk about a bunch of defense mechanisms!  It would not be a great thing to trip and fall while hiking around this part of the country!

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But in an extreme environment such as this, I imagine a great defense is necessary.

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Even the local wildlife is extreme.  The Sonoran Desert is home to 18 species of rattlesnakes.  There are also poisonous Gila Monsters,  and Coyotes, and Javelinas.

Not a lot of friendly in this part of the country, that’s for sure.

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The star of the show is the Saguaro Cactus.  It is not only the state symbol of Arizona, but a universally recognized image of the Southwest!

It is the largest and slowest growing of all cacti.  The shorter ones to the left of me in the photo above are about 75 years old.  The one to the right of me could be as old as 200 years.

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These amazing cacti can weigh up to 8 tons, partly because of the large amount of water the stems can hold. Giant saguaro cacti, unique to the Sonoran Desert, sometimes reach a height of 50 feet.

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A little break from the real world at Lake Havasu

Our contract at the Williams Circle Pines KOA ended on Oct 31, and our new job at the KOA in Tucson began on Nov 15.  That gave us about 2 weeks to take a break as we make our way down to Tucson.

Bet you wondered what happened to us.  I’m a bit behind on my posting!

Over the summer, many of our guests had come from southern Nevada, Laughlin and Lake Havasu.  They had come to Williams to get a break from the heat as that area of the country sees triple digits all summer.  We decided that we would check out that area of the country in a round about way to Tucson.

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Our first stop was the Laughlin Avi Casino KOA in Laughlin, Nevada.   Laughlin is located on the southernmost tip of Nevada along the Colorado river where Nevada, California and Arizona meet.   The town is known as a fun casino town.

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It is about a half day drive from Williams.  And all down hill.  We went from over 7000 feet above sea level in Williams to about 500 feet above sea level in Laughlin.

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While we missed the heat of the summer, it was still nice and warm there.  I enjoyed sitting under the palm trees and working on my laptop in my beautiful new back yard.

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On our second day there, we took the London Bridge Jet Boat tour down the Colorado River from Laughlin to the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City.

This is a great way to see the area from the water.  The trip takes about 2 hours to get to Lake Havasu City, you get a 2 hour break there to check out the bridge and grab a lunch, and then take the 2 hour ride back up the river.

And best of all, it was very affordable at about $70 a person.

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We really enjoyed the boat tour and our tour guide was incredibly informative.  Check out the green tint of the water behind Dave.  It was really that green!  Apparently from minerals in the water.

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Leaving Circle Pines and heading to new Adventures!

We have been on the road now about a year and a half.  And the adventure has just begun.  Selling the house and nearly everything that we owned was difficult.  Leaving our friends and family behind was too.   But I have to tell you that we have absolutely no regrets.

Life on the road is everything we thought it would be.

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We often are asked how we can support ourselves on the road and I have to say that fortunately for us, we are able to handle most of our bills with income from my websites.

However, we do need a buffer.  And that is where KOA has come in.  We are doing seasonal work at various campgrounds in order to supplement our income while we see the country.

Last week we left Circle Pines KOA in Williams, AZ and I have to say that it was a sad farewell.  We not only loved this surprisingly beautiful area of the country, but made a bunch of new friends in the process that we definitely will miss.

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And we absolutely loved working for Bruce and Lori.  They made campground work an adventure.

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Our cool shady spot underneath the tall pines is now just a memory.  I would have loved to stay through the winter, but our coach does not love cold weather.  So it is onto to warmer regions.

We are currently at Lake Havasu for a brief vacation and then moving onto our winter job in Tucson, AZ.

But as I like to do, I’ve created a video of our memories from this beautiful campground on the high plains of Arizona.

Next week as a final chapter, I will be posting the top 10 Things to do in Williams, AZ.

Want more videos?

If you would like to see a bit about the parts of the country that we have visited so far, you can see our other videos here:

Our Season working at the St. Petersburg KOA

A Compilation Video of our Summer at Bar Harbor!

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