Three birthdays and fourteen pesos

Can you believe that our girl Mara Layne turned SEVEN?! It seems like just yesterday that she was two years old, sucking her thumb, and being bossy. She has stopped sucking her thumb since then.

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She did all the regular birthday stuff, including the traditional Toys R Us trip and dinner of her choosing (Olive Garden). Wesson gave her this dress for her birthday. He said she needed a really nice dress to wear. Sweet boy!

Happy Birthday, sass monster. You make the days brighter!

Right after Miss Mara turned seven we got sick of playing in the cold and moved our spoiled butts to Palm Desert. Palm Springs Thousand Trails is there, and in true Thousand Trails fashion the campground is irritating in it’s own unique ways. The front office troll likes to torture people over their mail, and the palm trees, although great to look at, make getting into and out of your site almost impossible. Add the skinniest sites ever seen to the list and the warm weather is just barely worth the visit. We like the area, though, so that helps.

Everybody ended up with a cold just before we arrived. Everyone else got better within a day or two but Wesson decided to be an overachiever and turned his into bronchitis and an ear infection. We got to go to urgent care in California! How fun! After some heavy duty antibiotics and a few days of staying out of the dirt he was as good as new, just in time to turn NINE!!!

On our regularly scheduled birthday visit to Toys R Us we discovered that they were closing! *sob* Gone are the days of the traditional toy store. So sad! I can’t say that I haven’t contributed to it’s downfall, what with most of my purchases coming from the overlords at Amazon.com. We finished the day at Red Robin. He gets a free kids meal there every year and, like his mother, is all about the freebies.

Happy birthday, buddy! May all your dreams come true!

Wesson got a new scooter in that same week. It wasn’t really a birthday gift, more of a replacement for the one he had beat into the ground. When I went to toss the old one in the trash Justin stopped me and suggested we put it out by the dumpster in case someone wanted it. It was still ride-able, just not in great shape. Boy, am I glad I listened to him. No sooner was it out there that an inebriated lady and her male companion stumbled by. She immediately grabbed the scooter and tried to ride away, losing a chunky heeled shoe in the process. Then, her man friend decided to fold it up for easy carrying, couldn’t figure out how to do it, and ended up riding it home. It was such a sight that neither one of us could actually laugh. Best decision ever!

The morning of March 15th started like any other. Wesson ventured outside at about 10am and came running in with an unfamiliar bike headlight that he’d found back by our bicycles. It was puzzling but no one actually gave it much thought. A few hours later when Justin went out back to do something he started screaming several expletives. There, at the bike rack, where his big ol’ expensive top of the line Trek bicycle should have been was a pile of cut locking cables and a patch of dirt. Someone had STOLEN his bike in the night and left their own headlamp behind in the process. They also cut both ends off the cable which made no sense but maybe bike thieves aren’t the brightest crayons.

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Within the next few hours he was able to get a police report done and a claim in to the insurance company. The locking cable people even mailed me a new one, even though I’m not sure it will matter. By the next day he had a deposit in the bank account for the full value of his bicycle and all the accessories/upgrades at retail prices! So, if anyone is looking for a moderately used black Cannondale with pink brake cables, I’ll leave it unlocked tonight. Just make it look like a pro job, please.

A few days later Wesson started looking funny around his mouth. He’s had really badly chapped lips before because when he gets to chewing at them he won’t quit. This time, though, his cheek started getting red and the whole thing just kept getting worse. By bedtime on the 21st it was hot and nasty. We were supposed to be moving the next day so we made the decision to run him out to the emergency room right then instead of waiting until the next day. After he and I had been in the ER waiting room for about an hour and a half, I tried to leave with him, resigning to bring him back tomorrow because it was already 11pm. A different triage nurse than the first took one look at his swollen, red face and basically said no, you’re not leaving with that kid. She out mommed me, people. This is, apparently, what a staph infection in your face looks like.

Two antibiotics later we were touring California looking for a pharmacy that would take our veterans administration insurance. Wesson was thrilled to be running around CVS at 2am and shockingly he never once fell asleep during this whole adventure. We did not move the next day.

When we finally DID move, it was to a place called Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field.

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The campground itself is tucked away between the airstrip and the firing range. This place doesn’t really have any claim to fame, necessarily. They do, however, have a lot of arsenic in their water. A reverse osmosis system was set up at each campsite to make sure we didn’t let the government poison us with anything but propaganda.

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The water was pretty fantastic, actually. This weekend the air force academy was in town to do some jumping so we got to watch the instructors out jumping for fun. They were doing some formations and at one point two guys came down with a giant American flag strung between them. It was quite a show! The F-16’s from nearby Luke Air Force Base were also conducting some training and would come in extra low and fast all day long with their roaring afterburners. I was also told that we had just missed the munitions training that made all the campground gravel jump up a few inches.

Nearby the community fire pit was a “bathroom” although I got the feeling as I was using it that it may have been a joke.

Our next adventure involved a week in Phoenix. Now, last time we were there we stayed at WestWorld in their parking lot for about a million dollars. This time around we were taking advantage of the Trails Collection with Thousand Trails. Basically, for an extra $200 per year you get access to about 35 more campgrounds within the system. We’ve used it a few times so far and with the exception of one hiccup (looking at you, Sherwood Forest) it’s been well worth the fee. We stayed at Monte Vista Resort right across from the pool.

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Our site was between two houses and had it’s own grapefruit trees. I ate at least one oroblanco grapefruit every single day (sometimes three).

There were always little quail roaming about the site. The poor timid little things didn’t want you to even LOOK at them, though, and it took me several days to even get a photo. We had great neighbors too! The elderly couple next door had one of their sons and his wife visiting and they had the cutest little Brittany Spaniel puppy! The kids were smitten. Everyone we met was more than kind, even the staff. The place is fantastically immaculate and they pick up your trash at your site – a miracle in itself! If you have a chance to stay here book as many weeks as you can.

As soon as we landed in Mesa we got ourselves together to go out for dinner with Justin’s cousin Micah and their Aunt Brenda and Uncle Dana. It was Dana’s birthday! When Dana and Brenda showed up to the restaurant we were sporting our birthday hats and a ridiculously giant birthday balloon.

We had lots of fun and stayed waaay too long, so long that I started feeling bad for the waitress, although after a certain point we weren’t bothering her just taking up her space. We made sure to tip her well, though, and when we left, we left our party hats stacked up on the table. As we were standing around outside still chatting away and taking photos we spotted the kitchen staff through the windows. THEY WERE WEARING OUR HATS! Our waitress had one on too! She finally spotted us and looked almost mortified but laughing hysterically. We all thought it was hilarious and awesome, of course.

The next day when I finally made it to a grocery store I discovered that their specific brand of Kroger was called Fry’s and IT HAD A BAR INSIDE OF THE STORE.

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Why can’t Kroger roll this out all over the place, huh?! Everybody needs a bar inside their grocery store! Just getting milk? Have an IPA first. Running in for diapers? Get a glass of wine, you deserve it.

We used the next weekend to go bowling with Micah and he kicked our butts. We have only been bowling with the kids twice before this, and they did ok with the bumpers in place. Justin and I should have opted for bumpers too, I think.

Easter also happened to… happen, while were here. Good guy EB left us all too much candy and a few toys.

And then we went SWIMMING!

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The pool is actually two pools separated by a really awesome waterfall that I never documented.

On our way out of Arizon we stopped at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for a night. Our original plans were to head straight back to Holloman Air Force Base but we were off on the distance and it ended up being quite a bit farther than we usually plan for in a day. Check your route with your actual GPS, ok?

Davis-Monthan is where they have the plane grave yard!

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They need at least ten days notice to run background checks for tours of the boneyard. As much as I would have loved to do that, if you’ve paid any attention to our mildly interesting lives you’d know that we don’t plan for diddly squat. Our journey changes by the literal minute because of who we are as people: flighty, fidgety, and a touch legitimately crazy. This next paragraph will prove it.

Our next stop was another famcamp in El Paso that’s associated with Fort Bliss. While we were there we loaded up into the truck to go to the base museum as always and then suddenly we went to Mexico. It wasn’t really planned for? I mean, I had our passports so I had definitely considered it while I was getting ready to leave but it was a toss up until we actually crossed the border. Mostly we just wanted to use those passports we went through the effort of obtaining before our full-time nonsense began and just have the little mental everything-trophy that said we’d been out of the country.

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So we crossed the border. We made our way to a pretty good sized park that was supposed to have a history museum. The museum was going through a remodel as it turns out, so that was a no. Instead, we found a spot with a scary looking playground and let the kids out to run around.

It’s worth noting that the dirt in this park was at least 25% confetti, no joke. We tried to go to a big art installation down the road, and I think this is when we started to actually look around at the ‘roughness’ of the area.

We resolved, instead, to find a bathroom and then begin the process of heading back to the United States because the line for the border was a little lengthy. We stopped at that same park again when we spotted what appeared to be a public restroom. Except… an aggresive lady was charging people 5 pesos each to use the restroom. I paid her two US dollars to let us all pee, and wished those dollars good luck, not expecting change. She handed me four pre-measured strips of toilet paper. Just as I was about to go she gave me 14 pesos back! So not only did we get a ‘souvenir’ but we had a somewhat pleasant interaction in a foreign language. Ok, my Spanish sucks and I wasn’t paying attention so I almost went to the men’s room but Justin had his shit together. Later I discovered that she shorted me two pesos. I call that a tax for dealing with my dumb, needy, American keester.

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After we had safely made it back to the United States I posted about our field trip on Facebook, because of course I would. Every sane person on our friends list, border patrol agent included, pointed out that we’d gone to one of the most dangerous places in the entire world.

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Literally. The WORLD considers Juarez to be one of the MOST DANGEROUS PLACES. This is where I laugh to keep from crying. In the end, though, we survived it; “it” being our blatant stupidity and lack of googling.

And also the Mexico.

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Cows are no help in times of crisis

There are few constants in our lifestyle, and really that’s part of the draw. We move, we travel, we explore, we end up lost but always find our way back to the sanctity of our rig (wherever it may be). On February 7th, this way of meandering just about brought this grand experiment to an end.

During the week prior to our entrance into Arizona, Justin had been plotting. He desperately wanted to hit a new trail of some sort. He always wants to go out exploring on his bicycle, find fun trails, and maybe try to throw himself over the handlebars.  I think if he were able, he’d be GO! GO! GO! on that bike 24/7. He totes mountain bike wheels with him as we travel (they lay across the bed on moving days, so glamorous) and really he had only used them once – in Michigan. Imagine his excitement when he found a trail that intrigued him that was on an actual mountain! Dreams come true! Pining over the planned excursion had him just about bursting with energy. All the plans and pining would prove to be almost pointless.

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I don’t think I mentioned it yet but we were staying about 20 minutes from Tombstone, Arizona at one of the Encore parks. We stopped there last year for a hot minute and stayed at a resort park with an observatory that shall not be named. This visit we did not see a lady wearing a towel on her head, smoking a Pall Mall, fighting a cat on a leash. I know, disappointing. I did, however, have a run-in with a guy who followed me around after I accidentally went into the men’s room when I thought it was the laundry room even though it was clearly marked and I’m apparently blind. All I wanted to do was leave packages of new, giant underwear on the laundry table so they’d find a new home. Anyway…

He set out that day at noonish, maybe later, and called me at 1:30pm to let me know he was there and ready to ride. The kids and I continued with our day indoors. We were not as motivated as the mountain biker and were content to be truck-less and lazy. About 4:45pm the phone rang.

“It’s gonna be a while.” Justin said. This golden trail on the mountain – this bicycling ADVENTURE – was, apparently, not well defined. Only small parts of it were even ride-able. Of the 25 miles he was supposed to traverse, he’d done about 15. Too far to turn back and really fighting the clock and the sunset to get through the last ten. I did as much pep-talking as I could and told him to scoot.

About fifteen minutes after that, I got another call. “I really just don’t know where I am.” Hmm, no. We talked about what to do, what he could do, and what could possibly be done from where I was. Some people will tell you to stay put if you’re lost, because then there’s a better chance of someone finding you. He was not prepared to spend the night on a mountain, though. Ultimately, I vehemently encouraged him to keep moving, keep heading down the wash he had found, and he’d be clear eventually. It was his only hope of not spending the night in the trees. He did not sound encouraged but promised to keep going. He said he was going to send me photos of where he was currently so if it became an issue there’d be a place to start. This was a TERRIBLE idea. Cell service was spotty and this killed his phone immediately. Now, he’s stuck on a mountain with no map, no phone, and 45 minutes before real darkness was to set in. There are no streetlights in real nature, people.

I messaged a friend who I knew had been rescued at one point, half-jokingly but totally not: “How much does it cost to rescue a mountain biker who got lost in the woods?” She called me immediately. After we talked about it, she convinced me to figure it out NOW while there was still daylight to be had. She reasoned that if we were to wait until it was already dark that the search and rescue team would just wait until morning.

While I was calling about ten different numbers trying to figure out who does what, Justin was plodding along. He was now CARRYING his bike along the craggy terrain, literally slicing all of his exposed skin to shreds in the brush. He said at one point he seriously considered leaving that not-so-cheap bright orange Trek bicycle laying against a tree because although it only weighs a few pounds, a few awkward pounds get heavy when you have to heave it through the brush. He didn’t think he’d make it off the mountain before dark if he had to carry it.  Really think about this. He’s now in survival mode. Would you be strong enough to leave behind one of your prized possessions – and your mode of transportation – for the sake of survival? About that time he ran into a herd of cows. What?! Who leaves their cows on a mountain?

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It’d be a shame if I RAN YOU OVER

These were not savior cows, they were jerky cows who initially refused to get out of the way no matter how much prodding and yelling was had, then stampeded by him in a violent fashion. Thanks for nothing, Elsie and friends.

Meanwhile I had finally gotten someones cell phone number who then gave me the non-emergency number for the sheriff’s department I needed. Name, phone number, description of the person and his belongings, address… “Wait, you’re from Michigan? WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING OUT THERE?” As I tried to explain it, he sighed. They’d start moving people.

Ten minutes later another Deputy called me instead of Justin by accident. Not the vote of confidence I needed but it was a productive conversation. We discussed clues Justin had given me as to his whereabouts and possible outcomes to the many scenarios. He told me he’d call when they figured out anything at all. The Deputy pinged Justin’s phone right after this and found him in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere near a trail, or road, or known areas. SOMEwhere, but also nowhere. Memories of speaking to a park ranger last year about how they had to call in the Navy to rescue someone from the volcanic fields in northern New Mexico rattled around in my head.

As darkness set in outside there was literally nothing to do but wait.

Right before it became so dark outside you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, Justin miraculously made it out of the mountains of his own volition. He was still desperately lost. At least he wouldn’t get eaten by a mountain lion? As soon as he hit the small dirt road he took off like a lightning bolt in a random direction. No map, remember? He found houses that were away from the road, not something you really want to ride up on in the dark. He stopped at every house and yelled to them that he needed help, but he never saw any movement. Finally, after miles, he came across a ghost town. No, really. It was on a road called Ghost Town Road (that’s how you know it’s authentic). As he sat there and pondered in what direction to ride or what to do in general he saw headlights. Could it be?! YES! People! He flagged down two gentlemen in a truck who just happened to be headed through that area and were eager to help a lost soul. They were able to plug in his phone and get it working again. As soon as the phone turned on, it was the deputy calling.

“Where the hell are you?” Once they determined he was alive and well they started a deputy his way. The two dudes in the truck had to go but would be back that way in a few. When the truck pulled away and took it’s warmth with it, Justin realized just how cold the desert can be. Up until that point he’d be running on adrenaline and his motivation to get home. When the guys rolled by again, they found him to be a shivering mess. Thank you to the kind souls who wrapped him in a tarp and a jacket so that the Sheriff’s department wouldn’t have to bring me a popsicle.

Bedtime came in the camper for the two young adventurers. I hadn’t expressly discussed the happenings with them, as I really didn’t have any answers, and at that point I didn’t know if he was going to be home that night or if he’d be hardcore camping. They knew, though. The camper isn’t big and the story wasn’t hard to piece together from my phone calls. Mara had a fit first. Daddy was never gone at bedtime. He hadn’t missed a bedtime in years. To their credit they just can’t remember when Daddy worked every single night and Mommy successfully put them to bed without issue.

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NOT useful, google!

Suddenly, my phone lit up like Christmas! Text messages! And they were all from Justin! It was all those photos he was trying to send me earlier.

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There was a selfie in there, but I decided to forgive him.

He must be back in cell phone range! And then the phone rang! HOORAY, HE’S ALIVE! A very brief “I’m good, a deputy is coming to get me” and I reassured the kids that Daddy would be home to smooch their little cheeks soon enough.

Nine hours after he had left, Justin climbed through the door, covered in cuts from head to toe, on the edge of exhaustion. He was home.

Damages were insignificant. Other than the many new scars he obtained he cracked his phone screen when the bike mount broke and shot it into the dirt. His Garmin watch said about 6,000 calories had been burned. Not the best fitness plan! In the days afterward I’d think of things he should take with him next time, like a battery bank or an emergency blanket. He stopped me at one point and said “No, you don’t understand. There won’t be a “next time.” It’s hard to admit your faults. Lessons were learned that day.

Neither of us breathed a word of the incident to anyone for over a week. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was just too scary to think about all the what-if’s. I haven’t had to worry about him so much lately since he’s not with the police department anymore or out in that other desert with the Marines. I’m out of practice.

We’re eternally grateful for those two guys in a truck, and the Sheriff’s department who ultimately came to rescue him from nowhere, and even Alisa who told me to get my shit together while the day was young.

Those cows, though…

Take it Easy

As we were looking at the map on the way out of Grand Canyon country we discovered that we could totally do an entire week of Junior Ranger programs without any deviation from our route! I hear you chanting “ROAD-SCHOOL! ROAD-SCHOOL!” *crowd goes mild* I know, I was totally excited too! The girl child managed to snake a sweet, pink Junior Ranger vest from us at Grand Canyon. They didn’t have a green one in Wesson’s size but we found them at our next stop: Walnut Canyon National Monument.

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This woman was from a remote pueblo in New Mexico

This was a neat place that I’d never heard of, and the Rangers were so excited about the canyon that it was hard not to be excited with them. The Ranger pictured above talked about a rock slide they’d had like it was Christmas morning. They had a great facility that talked about the natives and showed their way of life in what visually looked like a really rough place to live. They also had a fourth grade program with the local schools in which the students wrote and illustrated books about the people and area. It was a really neat idea, something that I’m making a mental note of for later.

This was a pretty busy day as far as travel days go. We had one more stop to make before we made it to our campground. To the children’s horror we sang Eagles songs most of the way there.

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♫ Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona ♫

Aww yes! We stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona! Some nice people took our photo, and in turn we took one for someone else, and so on, and so on. It’s was like a steady stream of tourists who needed another body.

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Not to spoil the illusion but this was literally just a wall made to look like a building. To their credit it’s a darn good looking wall. They even have a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford painted in the window like a reflection. The town is pretty desolate beyond this corner. Yet another victim of the freeway bypassing the state route.

Our chosen campground was supposed to be called Sun Valley RV Resort. Sounds fancy, right? The correct analogy for this situation would be a McDonalds salad. “Oh, hey, I’ll just have a salad, those are good for you.” Except it’s a McDonalds salad with brown lettuce and old tomatoes, part of a glove, ranch dressing from last year, and chicken nuggets made from pink slime. When we arrived it was ten feet from the freeway, absolutely no cell service, and the actual name was ROOT 66. Just like that, spelled wrong, with it’s sensory assaulting capital letters and all. It was also situated around an abandoned-looking hourly motel. We ended up back-tracking a few miles to sleep in the parking lot of a Hopi Indian truck stop. It was the correct choice.

Side note: Not having cell service is an automatic deal breaker for us. We don’t ever put ourselves in a situation where we can’t dial 911. We’ve turned around at better campgrounds in the name of safety. It could have been gorgeous there, we still would not have stayed.

Well rested and thankful for the ability to boondock, we set out the next morning to visit Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.

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This was another one of those places that photographs could never fully represent. The petrified wood sparkled and the desert had so many different colors. The layers were so defined yet blended together; painted indeed. Just looking at the landscape you could tell where there had been water and what had stuck up beyond the ocean.

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There were multiple visitor centers within the parks. The first one we visited had an awesome museum full of fossils and full skeletons, giant logs of sparkly petrified wood (polished and natural). They had a great Junior Ranger workbook. It was a real challenge for the kids and they definitely earned their badges that day.

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Right.. Left.. Oh well.

This is the part in the story where we look back and have many regrets. Just before we got to New Mexico – and I mean JUST before, we could see the welcome sign – the truck overheated. Overheated is not a strong enough word to describe what had happened, and we’d discover that much later. We barely made it off the freeway to a truck stop. Justin discovered that most of the coolant was missing from the truck, along with the cap from the reservoir. We thought that maybe he’d forgotten to put it back on and the antifreeze had evaporated. We sat for about 45 minutes letting everything cool then forced our way the 20 miles to Wal-Mart to get some distilled water to mix with the half gallon of antifreeze we had with us. We puttered along at 45mph on the freeway, stopping every few miles to let the engine cool. We ate dinner at Wal-Mart, and we still don’t have a table.

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Mmmm, cart burgers

Then, when the engine was cool enough, Justin added coolant and distilled water. It seemed as if our truck troubles were over and we went on ahead to our next campground: Dancing Eagle Casino. This was not just a parking lot at a casino, this was a parking lot at a casino with a FULL HOOK UP for $10/night! And a grocery store within walking distance! And a gas station across the street! And a Post Office! It was basically a town within a parking lot. We ended up being here for four days while we explored the area. Justin went exploring on his bicycle one evening, got trapped by vicious dogs along Route 66, and we had to go rescue him. He was not happy about getting his kicks that day.

I wish that I could tell you that the truck story was over and done with. Unfortunately it was going to get much, much worse. Another tale for another day, though.

Life is Grand

Happy May Day! When you and I last chatted, friends, we were at Hole in the Wall campground in the Mojave Nature Preserve griping about the camper and it’s bent axle and wonky fridge and busted tires and dead battery. I just haven’t felt like writing lately. We’ve had such a challenging month between camper problems, truck implosion, wicked storms, and our first pukey sickness on our journey that I felt like everything I’d have to say would be fraught with disdain for life in general. Think happy thoughts, right? I feel like I’m back in my comfy hand-basket now and ready to talk! Let’s do it!

We wandered around Hole in the Wall before we beat feet out of there. Justin even harassed the camp host into opening the visitors center so we could stamp our National Parks passport.

We found a shop to look at the camper once we got to Arizona. We determined that the only thing we’d ruin by continuing was part of the tread on whatever tire was on the bent axle, and we could get the beast back to Michigan to do the work ourselves. Good enough for me! We ended up spending a few days in Topock, Arizona while this was happening. Our campground was just off Route 66, and we were finally able to get our kicks.

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This also afforded us a trip to Nevada! It was like, right there. To get the state sticker on the camper we need to actually do something in the state. We found a casino over the border with a big arcade for the midgets, and Justin and I took turns winning and then immediately losing. *womp womp*

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I never saw any burros 😦

Our next hop, skip and jump was to Bedrock. I wish that I was joking, but it’s my own fault. We needed a cheap campground near the Grand Canyon and they fit the bill. It needs A LOT of love.

At least there was no awkward staring.

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Oh yeah.

BUT, we got to see THIS:

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L-O-V-E

There are no photos that could ever really project the actual feeling of being perched on the edge of the world. All of the colors and the depth, layer after layer of history laying at your feet. If only those rocks could talk.

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The kids got to complete the Junior Ranger program while we were there. (This started a six day quest to complete as many Junior Ranger programs as we could get our hands on. We’ll talk more about that later.)

The park rangers were awesome, by the way. They were genuinely happy to talk to the little buggers and had great tidbits for them. Wesson asked this one about the California Condors and got a whole rescue story.

I managed to FALL DOWN at the TOP OF GRAND CANYON. *dry heave* I skinned both my knees because it was either let go of my camera, watch it topple over the rail, and save myself, or hang onto my camera and give back some skin. I can grow new knees and dignity. I texted my mother after it happened because she had very specifically told me NOT to fall while I was there. She suggested that Justin be in charge of the kids for the rest of the day.

When it came to lunch time we had kind of resigned to the fact that we’d have to go home to eat because we had neglected to pack a lunch like we usually do in these situations. Mara being deathly allergic to peanuts makes eating at random places a safety issue. On the off chance we’d get lucky I went into the cafeteria and asked if my peanut free kid could eat there. Not only was I met with an enthusiastic yes, the kitchen manager came out to talk to me about it. He waited around until Mara picked what she wanted and then cooked it himself! He even made a point to tell us that he’d rechecked all of the ingredients in every single thing and wore new gloves. I can’t tell you how much this means when you have a kid who’s life depends on it. It also allowed us to stay at the park that day and explore that much more. I am forever grateful to them for allowing us that small sliver of normalcy and safety.

We are driving through Ohio at this very moment. ” What about Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, you slacker?” Man, have I got some stories for you. Until tomorrow…

All Sunshine Makes a Desert

PHOENIX!!! We parked our booties at West World right next to the polo fields. West World is a large event complex that’s owned by the city of Scottsdale. They host horse shows, polo tournaments, and other great big things. Guess what had just wrapped up before we got there! No, that wasn’t happening. That either. You know what, let me just tell you: BARRETT JACKSON! The auction with all the fanciest cars in the world had just ended on the 22nd (darn) and most of the cars had not been shipped yet so the view to the right was the coolest.

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Nevermind the glorious mountains

All week long we watched them load up the most incredible cars that we’ll probably never see again. Check out this coke truck, complete with glass bottles:

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One of the other RV’s about three spots down had Evel Knievel’s F150 parked next to it. It was purchased from Barrett Jackson back in 2011 and the owner brought it there to show it off while he undoubtedly looked around for more treasures.

We also saw lots and lots of airplanes go by while we were there as we were super close to the airport. On the first day some fighter jets flew overhead doing aileron rolls. Later in the week there was a red biplane that circled the area for a good hour.

Justin’s cousin Micah lives in downtown Phoenix so we were able to spend a really good amount of time with him that week. We all went to the Capitol museum together on Saturday.

On our way back to the truck we passed through a ton of memorials in the park across the road. The USS Arizona was one of them of course, and this one caught my eye:

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a memorial specific to Enduring Freedom. The memories of war efforts of the early 2000’s are especially poignant. Justin is still suffering the ill-effects of  his participation, some of which will never go away. Thankfully all of the men and women in his unit came home with him from both deployments. Even so, I’m appreciative that in a little park in Arizona people can pause a moment and show some gratitude for the ones who passed before us in the name of justice for all.

We also hung out with Justin’s Uncle Dana and Aunt Brenda that weekend! They are extremely knowledgeable in minerals, shells, and fossils. Their home houses many excellent examples of all of the above. We had fun ogling their collection! Uncle Dana was able to identify some things we’d collected and been hauling around in a bucket, some of which we’ve had since last July. They also took us all out to dinner at great place called A&M Pizza in Florence, AZ. The proprietors picked this location out in the middle of nowhere-ish in honor of their Grandfather who was from Florence, Italy. Delicious pizza and great company made for an excellent day!

What else happened that week? I let life get the best of me and yelled at a lady who let her dog pee on the water spigot next to our camper. She told me that she had no control over where her LEASHED dog went. I won’t go any further into the details of that “conversation” but I will say that everyone should take a valuable lesson away from this: if your water source is near the ground, it has pee on it.

The rest of our time in Scottsdale was spent relaxing, washing the camper and truck (it was caked in cow poop from who knows where), visiting the local science center, and being stuck in traffic over and over again. I cannot tell you how many red lights were ran or how many people tried to run us off of the road in Phoenix, mostly because there were too many to count. “Too many to count” is such a lame phrase. Everything can be counted, Lori, get your act together. Just know that the shoddy drivers were ubiquitous and we were not amused. *sigh*

The good outweighed the minor troubles, though. Family visits are the best and the mountains and weather made for a gorgeous week.

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Pro-tip for everyone lucky enough to live in a state with prevalent 7-Elevens: They sell these little books for $5 and they contain twenty coupons, each good for a small Slurpee. A 25 cent Slurpee makes everyone’s day!

Our next stop after Phoenix was nowhere. I mean, it was somewhere, technically California, but it was really nowhere. We ended up parked in the desert two miles from the Mexican/US border, with the freeway in the distance, on a Bureau of Land Management site called Pilot Knob. At least I think we were on it.

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We just kind of picked a spot to the side of a road that wasn’t on the map and set up camp. We have a generator and a large water tank so we’re mostly prepared for boondocking. We could probably last quite a while if we used paper plates and never took a shower. One night was all that we needed at that point, although, I would not mind going back there again for a few days. The kids had a blast running around in the wide open space, collecting small rocks, and drawing in the dirt but NOT TURNING OVER ANY LARGER ROCKS, FOR THE LOVE OF SNAKES. Once night took hold we stepped outside. The sky was phenomenal! I almost wish we had let the kids stay up late to see it. Almost. Also worth noting: the Mexican border was lit up like Christmas.

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Don’t tell me what to say, google!

In the next installment of “This is Our Life” we continue on over to San Diego County! Stay tuned!

Open range and hot dogs

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more clearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting who can annoy himself about the future?” – Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

Ok, so we aren’t riding pack mules, but we are moving enough to feel the ups and downs of the earth. I wish that I could properly convey to you the barrel-chested deep breath feeling that is driving across an open plain or through a mountain range or down in a valley with nowhere to really go and nothing to be. I’ll keep working on it.

Gosh, after reading this whole thing I’ve determined that I’m a whiner today. Or maybe it was just a meh patch of travel. I’m dedicated to writing it all down, though. Brace yourself.

Our detour to gallivant around White Sands put us past our soft limit on driving time for the day. When we got to this sign for Hidden Valley Ranch RV Resort it was already starting to get dark.

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Yeah, about that… The road turned out to be a very bumpy seven miles of dirt road, washed out in some places, running through open range. Open range is land where cattle roam freely without fences or cares. There were a few by the road but none who wanted to make friends with the truck.

Upon arriving at the gate after our seven mile adventure we discovered two giant signs that said “ADULTS ONLY PARK.” Aw, hell. The sun had set and the light was all but gone. Even though it was after office hours a nice woman got us into our assigned site. I couldn’t remember if I had talked about having kids with us when I had made the reservation so I just plain old didn’t mention them. I surmised that we’d just be eating dinner and going to bed, leaving early the next morning, so we’d not be making a whole lot of noise which is 90% of the complaint about families in parks. Then, Wesson tripped, hit his face on the CORNER of the wall with all of his body weight, and wailed for like 45 minutes.

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OUCH!

Poor buddy! I tried to tell him that he could have come up with a less painful way to blow our cover.

The next morning I paid the front office on our way out and the woman working said they happily accept families short term and they should probably take the signs down. *phew*

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The park has been there in the middle of nowhere since the 60’s. The fantastic panoramic view by itself was enough to make us want to come back. The sign was right, totally worth it.

Once we made the seven mile trek back to somewhat civilization we headed west yet again. Today’s destination was Tombstone, Arizona! The park du jour was Butterfield RV Resort and Observatory. Sounds cool, right? This is going to be a really complain-y paragraph. I’ll speed through it and get it out of my system. *BIG BREATH IN* The observatory was open, but only for a few minutes at 7pm sharp, and only for 16 predesignated people to look through. The spaces were tiny and they had miniature picnic tables (no joke). The price was RIDICULOUS!!! The office staff told me that they would never answer the phone or help anyone 15 minutes before closing. There were very loud trains and helicopters every twenty or so minutes ALL NIGHT LONG! *GASP* PHEW! I think that was it.

I didn’t bother with any photos. That’s fairly significant as I just had to dump 6,000 photos off my phone because I take a photo of everything. They deserved none.

Backtracking a second: After we had gotten parked in the… park we headed out to Tombstone. It was exactly as you’d picture it: Horse-drawn Wells Fargo stagecoaches, Men in long dusters and cowboy hats, and lots of historical markers.

Except for one obnoxious bunch of drunks in a saloon (still, how perfect) it was a great little town. After wandering around we drove down to the Tombstone Brewery and sampled a few things before heading back to the house where I proceeded to not sleep (see the aforementioned long-winded complaint).

Lunch the next day was at a rest area. Does everyone cook their hot dogs on the ground? No? Someday I’ll graduate to a table.

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This was our last day of serious driving for an entire week. FINALLY!

Scottsdale became our home for seven sleeps. That week would provide lots of fun, family, and a bit of frustration. It doesn’t deserve to be attached to this grouser of a post, though. I’m going to drink some tea, maybe some bourbon, and come back with less grumble in my fingers.

Have an adventure this weekend, would you?

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

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