RV travel days bring exhilaration at the adventure ahead, but they can be bittersweet when we have to say goodbye to loved ones we enjoyed spending time with.
Typically, we start prepping for a travel day the night before by packing nonessentials, such as family photos and kitchen items we won’t need the next morning. I like to clean the trailer before a move as well so that we arrive at a new spot with a fresh start.
On the morning of a travel day, I make sandwiches and pack snacks and water for our journey. This accomplishes two things: It prevents us from eating unsatisfying truck stop food, and it ensures I have something gluten-free to eat. Then, we get busy securing everything for transit. Bob handles the electronics and outside preparations while I oversee the interior.
Safeguarding Items for Travel
Once I get everything put away from out in the open, I follow a checklist to ensure I don’t forget anything. It includes securing doors, ensuring windows are closed and shades are up throughout the trailer, installing spring bars to keep items in the pantry and refrigerator from shifting, and things like that. The final steps are retracting the four slideouts, stowing our stairs, and locking the trailer door.
After that, I help Bob finish any outside preparations. He’s in charge of taking down the kingpin stabilizer, disconnecting the electric, water, and sewer if we had full hookups, stowing all our hoses, and packing the electric bikes in the back of the truck cab.
Hooking Up the Truck to the Trailer
Then, we work together to go through our checklist to hook up the truck to the trailer. This involves a number of steps that need to be done in a precise order to prevent a potential disaster down the road. The steps include raising the back and middle trailer stabilizers, adjusting the trailer height to align with the hitch in the bed of the truck, backing up and coupling the truck to the trailer, removing tire chocks, and doing our all-important walkaround.
When those tasks are done, we’re ready to go. If we didn’t have sewer hookups at the stop we’re leaving, we head to a dump station to empty our holding tanks before moving on to the next destination. That’s another involved process that needs to be done in a certain order to prevent a messy situation.
Hitting the Road
We usually have a fuel stop picked out that we navigate to as we burn through our 32-gallon tank of diesel pretty fast, getting only about 8 miles per gallon fuel efficiency while towing. We have to stop every two to three hours. But that works out well, because we usually need to stretch our legs and find a restroom after that much time has passed.
One of us drives, and the other navigates. If we’re not on an interstate that has definite clearance for semi-trucks, we usually navigate on both of our phones using two different apps. Google Maps provides lane guidance and the fastest route. Co-Pilot directs us on roads that have enough clearance for our 13-foot, 3-inch height.
At our fuel stop, we gas up where the trucks do because of our height and length. Plus, we can get diesel exhaust fluid (DEF, which our truck requires) at the pump that way, and we have a truck fuel discount card. Sometimes, we get coffee at our stop, but we usually opt for the food we brought with us in the truck.
With our bladders empty and our fuel tank topped, we hit the road again to complete the journey to our destination.
Parking the Rig
Upon arrival, we assess our parking spot and determine the best way to get our rig situated in it. We’ve gotten faster at this the longer we’ve been on the road. We park the rig, sometimes having to add levelers under the tires on one side or the other to make the trailer level side to side.
The trailer itself is rigged with an automatic leveler to get it level front to back. Its leveler also handles side to side, but if one side starts off lower than the other, the rig sometimes raises the tires completely off the ground, which is not a good idea.
With the coach in the position we want it, we run through another checklist to unhook it from Gulliver.
When that’s all done, we can finally start setting everything up for the week or however long we plan to stay in that spot. Bob again handles the electric and water outside, and sewer if we have full hookups. I busy myself inside opening the slides, putting our normal things out where they go, setting up my office for the week, hanging pictures on the walls, and removing the spring bars from the pantry and refrigerator.
Once Bob’s done outside, he sets up the internet, TV, and his computer. If we’re in a cold place, he also sets up our portable propane heater.
It takes us about 1.5 hours to get ready to travel and about an hour to set up at our new destination. After that, we’re home and can relax in celebration of a job well done — or go exploring. After all, adventure awaits.
When leaving on an RV journey, it’s vital to know the condition of your rig. If anything’s in need of repair before you depart, it will more than likely be in need of greater repair if not addressed before hitting the road. This is a lesson we learned early on, and it has certainly helped us keep tabs on our rig and fix issues before they ballooned.
The TV antenna on our roof is an excellent example. Unfortunately, when we left Louisiana in haste to stay ahead of unpleasant weather, we failed to notice our leaning antenna. We did observe that the antenna direction controller inside the trailer didn’t stop like it should have, but we didn’t look further into it. From outside, we could see that the antenna faced the proper direction, so we considered it good to go.
Looking back at pictures from right before we left, however, the issue was apparent. And it likely wouldn’t have been the big problem it became the following morning had we addressed it right then.
Thankfully, we spotted it before we completely lost the antenna off our roof. If that had happened, it would have left a gaping hole for rain to get into and cause all kinds of damage.
Electric Cord Cover
We don’t only walk around the trailer before setting out on a trip, but we also check things every time we stop at a gas station or rest area, just as truckers do. At one fuel stop, we discovered our electric cord cover had completely blown off our rig somewhere between upper-state New York and Massachusetts. We ensured the security of our electric cord, which was all we could do, and continued on our way. We ordered a replacement cover delivered to our next destination.
Our walkarounds have also led to the discovery of protruding and missing screws on the skirting around the trailer. Sometimes, retightening is enough to keep the screws in place. Other times, that fix is a short-term solution that has to be reinforced with tape. When tape fails, we have to completely replace screws with nuts and bolts to keep the screws from drilling their way out.
Why do screws protrude? Every time we drive the trailer anywhere, it experiences an earthquake that shakes and rattles everything in and attached to it. The vibrations of tires hitting the road — especially bumpy roads — is enough to slowly push screws out of their tightened positions.
Brake Cable Connector
Another walkaround saved us from losing our emergency brake cable on the trailer. One end of the cable is secured to the underside of the trailer overhanging the truck. The other end attaches around the fifth-wheel hitch in the bed of the truck so that if the trailer becomes disconnected, the trailer brakes will be applied.
Once again, protruding screws allowed excess movement of the brake cable connector attachment on the trailer. We spotted the issue and were able to fix it with larger screws.
Tonneau Cover Clips
When not towing, we cover the bed of our truck with a Tonneau cover. When we are towing, the cover folds four times to expose the hitch in the truck bed. The cover came with straps to secure it open, but they were made with subpar quality. In other words, they really didn’t hold the cover in place to keep it from flipping closed.
We replaced the original straps with some Velcro straps that wrapped around U brackets, but the new straps gave out during travel. When stopped at a Cabela’s parking lot for an overnight stay, we headed into the store on a mission to find a replacement for the Velcro straps.
We rigged a solution with straps that attach to a locking carabiner clip, and we added some pyramid-shape hardware to the truck cover to secure the clips in place. We haven’t had any trouble since.
As you can imagine, a walkround won’t reveal troublesome noises on a rig. Having bought new shoes for Tagalong in Tennessee, we were fortunate to be backing up the trailer in a Walmart parking lot before heading north to our next destination. I say fortunate because if we hadn’t been backing up, I wouldn’t have been outside the truck to help Bob and heard an awful grinding noise on our rig, indicating something clearly wasn’t right.
Bob thought maybe the brakes were at fault. We switched places so he could hear the noise. Megan helped us pinpoint its side of origin, and we quickly homed in on the problem: Part of our trailer skirting was rubbing against the new front, driver-side tire.
“Did Discount Tire do something wrong when installing the new tires?” we wondered. Perhaps the tech had jacked up the rig in the wrong place. Whatever the cause, we clearly had an issue that needed addressing before our 600-mile journey.
Upon closer examination, we learned some screws were missing to attach the skirting to the trailer frame. We always travel with lots of tools, so Bob quickly remedied the situation, securing the piece to the frame and away from the tire so we could get on our way.
We thanked God for watching out for us. If we hadn’t been trying to back up in a parking lot, we wouldn’t have discovered the issue until much more damage had been done to our new tires.
Pre-travel walkarounds have saved us from many incidents that could have inflicted serious damage to our rig, our truck, and even ourselves. The importance of that practice cannot be understated.
En route from northeastern Louisiana to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to visit our daughter, Megan, a loud, fast beeping like the dreaded kitchen smoke alarm sounded in the truck. I glanced at our tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and saw 25 flashing with the words “low pressure,” indicating only 25 psi in the driver-side rear trailer tire. Then the number 17 appeared with the words “fast leakage.”
I told Bob we needed to pull over. He carefully got us to the shoulder of Interstate 20, and we both got out to assess the situation and our options. Bob heard the sound of rushing air as he approached the tire but didn’t see any damage to the tire itself. It seemed the stem might be at fault.
We checked Google Maps and saw a truck stop about a mile away. We didn’t want to risk attempting to change the driver-side tire on the freeway. Plus, we were parked on a slant, which meant jacking up the driver side would be precarious. So, we nursed the trailer to the truck stop and were able to change the tire there.
We had purchased a 3-pound air compressor before leaving the Mesa, Arizona, area. That made it easy to inflate the spare tire to the proper pressure.
About an hour and a half after the low-pressure alarm, we were back on the road, thankful for our TPMS. Had it not alerted us, we wouldn’t have known about the tire until we made our next stop. And by then, it could have shredded and caused serious damage to our trailer. That’s why a TPMS is one of our must-have RV gadgets.
Something Doesn’t Look Right
The tire incident was our second delay of the day. The first happened east of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when we prepared to leave the rest area where we had spent the night. I double-checked the TV antenna from the bedroom, something I’ve been doing since a roof incident last year, and it kept spinning. It should have reached a stop point.
I went outside to examine the antenna externally and noticed it appeared to be leaning outward. As I stepped farther back, the issue became apparent: The antenna had pulled up from our roof, probably the result of hitting low-hanging branches somewhere along our journey — yet again.
Bob gathered some tools, and we ascended the trailer ladder to repair the problem. (It’s a good thing I had cleaned the ladder after our Polly encounter in Texas.) We peeled off the previous layer of self-leveling caulk and removed the screws from the antenna unit. Then, Bob put a layer of caulk under the unit to seal it back down. I had to go inside the trailer and move the knob that controls the antenna’s direction to get it to align properly.
With the antenna unit back in place, Bob put in new screws to hold it tighter and resealed the top with a good wide layer of anti-leveling caulk. Then we had to kill some time to let it dry before relinquishing it to the wind.
This event confirmed the importance of doing a walkaround before leaving for anywhere. It also reminded us that it’s never a good idea to rush. Like the last roof mishap, this one occurred when we were trying to stay ahead of a rainstorm. Deja vu.
The French Influence
Prior to these two incidents, we enjoyed a visit to Paris — Texas, that is — complete with a stop at Texas’s Eiffel Tower. We also spent a week in a beautiful state park in northeastern Louisiana right along Bayou Macon, which, as it turns out, is an attractive black bear habitat. In fact, we encountered some signs that made us stand up and take notice. But we didn’t see any bears — or alligators, which are also known to be in the area.
While in the vicinity, we ventured into the town of Delhi to visit Louisiana’s oldest drugstore, which dates back to 1873 and still features a soda fountain. No trip there would be complete without a milkshake. The joint also serves po-boys, burgers, and other Southern specialties.
Gulliver Gets His ID
We successfully made it to Megan and Sydney’s, where our mail and Amazon packages awaited. Opening them was like Christmas morning. Our best gift? Gulliver got new license plates that make him official.
You’ve no doubt heard the saying that “everything’s bigger in Texas.” We certainly found the state campgrounds to be bigger and more expansive and found the night skies bigger and the stars brighter. We also saw a 20-foot-wide British bowler hat statue, and brother Tom and his wife Molly saw a 30-foot eyeball.
Besides big things, the Lone Star State is known for the yellow rose, BBQ, longhorns, the Alamo, and live music — and armadillos.
Inspired by Molly, who makes a point to explore each area she and Tom stay in before moving on, we determined to have a Texas experience that didn’t center on an attacking bird. Since we camped equidistant from Fort Worth and Dallas for two weeks, we wandered into both cities.
In Search of the Yellow Rose
We visited the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, where beautiful tulips in every color proudly stood on display for passersby, and Japanese maples stood sentry over walkways. Other flowers abounded as well, signifying spring had indeed arrived.
After surveying the 66 acres of perennials, we spread a blanket and reclined on a grassy amphitheater overlooking a lake to enjoy a brass band concert. We watched sailboats drift this way and that, carried by the wind. Although we didn’t see the famous yellow rose, we left satisfied and grateful that we had gotten out and explored on a beautiful spring day.
An Old Western Adventure
Eager for an authentic Texas experience — especially after getting cowboy boots for my birthday, which we celebrated in the state by eating BBQ — we ventured to Fort Worth. Our mission: to witness the daily longhorn cattle drive up close and personal, a unique sight to behold. The cattle moved slowly, their heads swaying with the weight of their horns, some of which stretched more than 8 feet from side to side.
After the cattle drive, we followed our ears to a live music venue playing country tunes.
Before completing our Fort Worth excursion, we traveled downtown to the Fort Worth Water Gardens, where we marveled at the architecture before us. The design that went into the three water features was nothing short of amazing. Tom, Bob, and I carefully walked down the rail-less steps to the active pool while the water rushing between steps played tricks on our eyes. After recovering at the bottom, we worked our way back up and out — an easier feat than the descent.
Having participated in Texas BBQ, flowers, longhorns, and live music, we only had one thing left to complete our Texas experience, as we were too far away to “remember the Alamo.”
So, we went on a nightly armadillo hunt in our campground, anxious to get a glimpse of the creature we kept hearing rustling leaves and bushes and racing for safety when we shined our flashlights in its direction. This continued evening after evening while we sat around a fire at Tom and Molly’s campsite. And the creature continually evaded us.
After relocating to another Texas state park northeast of Dallas, we heard a familiar rustling in the bushes one evening while sitting at a picnic table. We had seen white-tailed deer in the area, so we thought that might be the source of the noise. But, as the scurrying continued, we weren’t convinced.
We got closer to the noise and spotted what we had been looking for: An armadillo crouched, hoping we’d keep our distance. We chased it a little, never intending to catch it, and then lost sight of it.
Those creatures are fast. They can actually run up to 30 mph — 5 mph faster than our electric bikes can go.
We returned to what we had been doing before the disruption. After 10 minutes or so, we heard some more rustling. So we got up again, and the armadillo ran across the street, letting us get evidence of our sighting and making our Texas experience complete.
Ah, spring. Warmer weather, budding trees and flowers, and chirping birds greet us every morning. It’s peaceful and serene with new life abounding all around us. Well, almost.
One bird greets us with a tap, tap, tap on our windows at 7 every morning. We found the gesture cute the first couple of days. But it quickly became annoying. We thought we had left the eerie experiences behind in New Mexico, along with the dirt, dust, and wind — but maybe not.
A day after settling into our new, green location near Dallas, Texas, a female cardinal perched on a branch on a mountain cedar tree directly behind our rig. We marveled at how close we could get to her, as she couldn’t see us behind our dark-tinted privacy glass. The male cardinal fluttered off, but Polly (as we named her) lingered, posing for pictures and alighting on our built-in trailer ladder that leads to the roof.
Then, she started flying at and pecking at our back window. Silly bird. Maybe she was saying, “Hi! May I come in? I want to be your friend.” Or maybe it was more like, “Hey! You’re crowding my turf.” Maybe she was upset that Mr. Cardinal left her.
Whatever the cause, this pecking behavior continued daily. You would think the bird’s beak would hurt, that she’d wise up, and that she would have given up after a day or two, but no.
We tried to outsmart Polly by hanging a couple of shiny kitchen utensils to encourage her not to stay. She thought they were cool. Polly likes shiny things.
We tried putting paper up in our back window to break up the reflection she must see. That didn’t deter her either.
She’s like the feisty, aggressive female cardinal in New York that bit the same Audubon scientist eight years in a row when he and his team performed their annual capture and banding. She doesn’t give up.
I’ve stared at the tree Polly usually launches from, peering to find her nest — but to no avail. She must feel threatened. It’s springtime in Texas. Mr. Cardinal has only returned rarely and briefly, from what we’ve seen. Maybe Polly’s upset at him and taking it out on us. Maybe she’s simply going after the bird she sees in the reflection of our windows.
Whatever the reason, Polly has morphed into Birdbrain in our view, and we’ll be happy when she no longer considers us a threat. That may not be until we move on to our next destination.
Desperate for relief from the daily tapping noise, we visited the local Dollar Tree store and purchased three pinwheels. We secured two to our back ladder and put the third in a tree on the south side of our rig. How did she respond? She perched on our ladder just beneath the two pinwheels.
Battle of the Wills
I lowered the highest pinwheel to kind of block the step Polly normally sits on, and that succeeded in keeping her away from our back window.
So, you can imagine how flabbergasted I felt the next morning when I heard her tapping on our window again shortly after 7. Just as I had hoped, our back-ladder boobytraps kept her away from the back window. But I kept hearing her tapping.
Polly decided to alight right next to the pinwheel in the tree on the south side of our trailer. Remember how I said she likes shiny things? She used that branch as her launching point to fly at the window behind our TV. And then she kept trying to land atop another window, hanging onto the ¼-inch glass for dear life — thankfully without causing any damage.
We may have finally found what she’s so angry about. It appears she had begun a nest right near our concrete pad. No one had occupied this campsite for a long time as the campground had been closed for restoration after flooding.
Whether that was truly her nest or not, Polly has a vendetta against us. Somehow we’ll have to coexist until we’re ready to leave this place for our next destination — because we’re not leaving on her account, and she’s clearly not leaving on ours.
Aliens, boonies, and winds … oh my! The Carlsbad, New Mexico, area is known for Carlsbad Caverns, its close proximity to the Guadalupe Mountains and Roswell, and the wind.
We thought we had experienced the most extreme weather we’d face in our travels when we survived a major windstorm in the area. But, the following weekend, the forecast called for gales of 30 to 55 mph with gusts up to 75 mph.
Battening Down the Hatches
Our rig wasn’t built to be lived in with the slideouts closed. In fact, when the four slides are in, we can only get to two rooms: the bedroom and the bathroom (the most important rooms on a long journey). Because of the severe weekend weather, we closed all the slides to give Tagalong the best chance to handle the storm unaffected.
Saturday, we ventured into town, a nice reprieve after a busy work week and a welcome break from the wind. Upon return to the trailer, we hunkered down in the bedroom for the evening.
The winds continued to roar the next morning, and our tummies grumbled. Eventually, we had to get into our kitchen to get some food. But that required opening our dining room slide. Bob figured out an app on his phone would allow him to close the dining room slide with us in it — even though we’d be cut off from the bathroom. But the winds were too great to keep the slide open.
We locked ourselves in the kitchen and living area, fed our bellies, and rode out the storm, enjoying the adventure as if we were kids in a self-made fort. It gave us a good taste of what Tagalong normally experiences when we travel down the highways: lots of rattling and shaking.
By Monday morning, the winds finally subsided, and we emerged whole — as did Gulliver and Tagalong.
When boondocking, you have to be self-reliant, and that includes filling your rig with freshwater and emptying the black (toilet) water. Bob’s brother, Tom, let us borrow his macerator and portable black tank for the latter process, which turned out to be a two-person job. Tom ran the macerator attached to Tagalong, and Bob monitored the waste level in a portable black tank situated in Gulliver’s bed.
A loud vibrating sound emanated inside and outside the trailer for about five minutes while the macerator chopped our sewage into tiny particles and propelled it through a hose into the carrying tank. The transfer successful, Bob drove to the nearest established campground and paid a fee to dump the contents of the portable tank into the dump station there.
The fee also covered the purchase of freshwater. Bob filled a couple of portable bladders with a total of 37 gallons of water to refill our depleted resource. Once he returned, Bob hooked up a pump to Tagalong’s water inlet and force-fed the water into the tank, a process that took about 20 minutes — but meant we could continue to shower and wash dishes.
Third Time’s a Charm
We couldn’t pass on the opportunity to visit Carlsbad Caverns while in the area. Unfortunately for us, many other people had that same idea, as we quickly discovered. After two failed attempts to arrive at the national park early enough to be counted among the day’s 1,000 permitted cavern visitors, we got smart.
We rose early, dressed in layers, packed chairs and blankets, and headed to the park — about an hour and a half before its scheduled opening. A long line of visitors greeted us, and we settled in for the wait with hopes that we had arrived early enough to get in this time.
After about an hour, a park worker made her way down the line, taking a count of how many tickets people intended to purchase. Fifteen minutes or so later, two rangers greeted each visitor and handed out time slot markers to go down and see the caverns. We made the cut!
When our scheduled time came, we took an elevator 750 feet below ground for a self-guided tour. The elevator doors opened to an expansive, dark cavern. Our eyes adjusted, and we followed the 1.25-mile trail around the Big Room, in awe of the beautiful formations surrounding us.
We felt like we had walked into the belly of an alien’s nest. Either we spent too much time in southern New Mexico, or we’ve seen too many science-fiction movies. Regardless, we plan to visit Carlsbad Caverns again when we have more time to spend there.
Howling winds gusting 25 to 35 mph shook us awake at the wee hours of the morning. We knew they had been predicted for New Mexico’s High Plains, but we’d hoped we’d be able to sleep through them.
Gulliver stood protector, but his girth couldn’t keep the southwesterly air currents from blasting at Tagalong and rattling the covers over his slideouts. After tossing and turning for about an hour, I got up to move to the couch, thinking it would be quieter out of the direct line of the wind. But the banging of a kitchen vent made the alternative noise in the bedroom seem quiet.
Bob got up with me, and we decided our best course of action would be to close all three of our slides facing the south. But that meant first moving things out of the way to make room for the slides to come into the coach. That plan of attack succeeded in quieting the tempest, giving us some respite.
The morning light brought continued winds and a forecast of gusts up to 40 to 50 mph. Keeping the bedroom slide closed to allow Bob to make up for lost sleep, I opened our kitchen slide so I could access my office. And I opened the office slide about halfway. This staggered slideout approach seemed to take away the brunt of the wind force on us and the accompanying noise.
We had experienced considerable wind in Yuma, too, but we didn’t mind it there. We had a tight, yet perfect, fit right next to my parents’ house, which largely protected us from the gales. The winds there paled in comparison to those we had experienced in South Dakota last year.
But these New Mexico winds rivaled South Dakota’s. Around 5 p.m., they finally subsided.
The fact that we were boondocking in New Mexico added another element to the situation, making Gulliver and Tagalong our only shelter from the storm. Neither Tagalong nor Gulliver endured any damage, but they were worn out after the long battle.
Thankfully, we weren’t alone in our wind encounter. When we said goodbye to my parents and Yuma, we traveled 2.5 hours and joined Bob’s brother, Tom, and his wife Molly to travel east together. They’ve been full-time RVing for more than two years and have a lot more boondocking experience than we do.
Because of our inexperience, we stocked up on groceries as if we wouldn’t see a supermarket for a month or longer. We didn’t even shop like that when we bought groceries for a two-week camping vacation for our family of seven.
To be fair, though, we had been unsuccessful last year in finding certain items across the country that we normally purchase, so we amassed some of those things. Then, we had to cram all our purchases into every nook and cranny we could find.
Also in anticipation of boondocking, Bob converted our showerhead to a more water-efficient one. And, he upgraded our living room TV after a flying keyboard rendered the original one unwatchable. Yes, there is a story there.
We have a computer that connects to our TV to give us a big screen for research and video games. For the computer, we have a wireless keyboard. A ledge sits directly in front of our TV. When Bob went to put the keyboard on that ledge, the keyboard slipped out of his hands, and the corner of the keyboard hit the TV pretty hard, permanently damaging the picture.
This incident turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we were able to replace the TV with a more energy-efficient, less expensive model — another boon for boondocking.
1 Bird, 2 Rest Areas
On the way to our destination near Carlsbad, we spent a night at a beautiful rest area near Deming, New Mexico, that featured overnight campsites with pavilions, picnic tables, sewer hookups, a shared water spigot, and expansive views — all for free!
Back on the road the next morning, we took time to stop at another rest area known for its recycled roadrunner sculpture, made out of old bike tires, shoes, electronics, and even crutches. The bird stands 20 feet tall and stretches 40 feet wide. You can’t even tell it’s made of recycled materials until you get close.
After driving through desert landscapes, rock formations, nothingness, and mountains, we stopped at yet another New Mexico rest area. And at this one, a live roadrunner posed for pictures. How fitting that the roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico.
Anywhere we visit offers sights to see, so we try to take advantage of those opportunities whenever we can. Our stay in Yuma was no exception. From its mountains to its history to its close proximity to the Mexico border, the “Gateway to the Great Southwest” has much to offer. Here’s a look at some of the most visited attractions we enjoyed:
Located on the border of California, the Yuma Territorial Prison is the oldest in the state of Arizona, dating back to 1875. The first inmates built the facility, some of which is still standing today. You can walk through a sally port to enter the prison museum, tour the cell blocks, peek into the hospital, and even enter a cell in the newest yard, opened in 1900. You can also climb a guard tower that overlooks the Colorado River.
One of the biggest highlights is the Dark Cell, aptly named for its dungeon-like atmosphere. This served as the cell for solitary confinement, although multiple inmates shared it at the same time more than once.
After 33 years in operation, the prison closed — but not for good. It actually served as the city high school between 1910 and 1914, after the area high school burned. I don’t want to give away all the interesting details of this unique state park. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in Yuma.
An International Adventure
We may not have been able to take a cruise for a year, but that didn’t stop us from leaving the U.S. for a short excursion. Not only does Yuma border California, but it’s also close to Mexico — specifically Los Algodones, Baja California, a popular destination for dental work and eyecare. So close that you actually have to drive through the tip of southeast California to get there.
Having no medical or dental insurance for 10 months, we were in need of teeth cleanings. So, we left Gulliver and Tagalong behind and ventured to the border with my dad, parked on the U.S. side, and walked across to Mexico. Only 400 meters in, we arrived at Castle Dental, where we had scheduled appointments.
I’ve never had such a smooth, painless teeth cleaning. Nor have my teeth ever looked as clean after. Bob and I both got exams and X-rays — not the super uncomfortable kind where you have to bite down on what feels like a strong piece of plastic sticking up in the roof of your mouth. No, the dentist held something up to the roofs of our mouths, nodded to his assistant, and a picture of our teeth showed up on the computer screen in front of our chairs. Technology at its finest.
Two cleanings, two exams, and two sets of X-rays — all for the reasonable price of $60. You can’t beat that.
Bob also ordered a backup pair of glasses from another shop in Los Algodones, Castle Optical. He and Dad ventured back down to Mexico the following day to pick up the glasses, and Dad got his teeth cleaned. He left just as amazed as us at the quality of work.
My parents have a view of the Gila Mountains from their house. Part of that view includes the well-traveled Telegraph Pass Trail, a 5.3-mile path that leads to a peak dotted by communication towers.
In November, Dad started hiking this trail three times a week and was eager to share the experience with someone. I’ve always liked the great outdoors and physical activity, so I jumped at the chance.
The trail starts off easy enough. We faced a few rolling hills for the first 1.5 miles or so on the way from the car to a utility gate. And that’s where the real climb starts. It’s paved all the way up from that point, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy climb. Far from it.
Clad with a Camelbak hydration pack, I was determined to make it all the way up without taking a break. I figured if I sat down, I might not want to get up again. I knew slow and steady wins the race. If I’d just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I’d make it to the pinnacle.
The closer we got to the top of the trail, the steeper it grew. I finally succumbed and took a sit-down break. I hadn’t done anything this strenuous in quite some time. After about a 10-minute breather, we set out again and didn’t stop until we topped the peak … well, almost.
The first communication tower we came to wasn’t at the very top. After we sat there long enough for me to inhale a snack, we continued northward on the path to all of the towers, which meant more climbing. Upon finally reaching the true apex, we enjoyed a respite and the view of the valley below.
Rested, we slowly made our descent. About halfway down the really steep part, my legs felt like Jello. I had to sit. When we restarted our decline, my thighs voiced their disapproval, but I pushed on. Part of the way, I zig-zagged to lessen the stress on my ailing muscles.
Before long, our hiking boots transitioned from concrete to rocky terrain, and we arrived at the utility gate. The hardest part behind us, I forgot we still had another 1.5 miles to go over some rises and dips. We trekked on, and I’m happy to say we made it.
The activity may have adversely affected my walking ability for a few days, but I’m thankful I got to share the experience with my dad.
After four restful months in the Phoenix area, downtime together gave way to busy-ness. We crossed a number of things off our to-do list and hit the road, thankful for the time we had with family and with our friends at the Commemorative Air Force — and appreciative of the many beautiful sunsets we got to see.
While stationary, we took advantage of having the same address for more than a few weeks and ordered additional supplies from Amazon, as well as picking some up from local stores. As a result, we faced the challenge of finding homes for all of our new additions, lengthening the process of packing and getting everything ready for travel. We somehow managed to squeeze everything in.
Last year, we did a lot of moochdocking. This year, we plan to do more boondocking. In preparation, we bought and installed two more Renogy 160-watt solar panels to increase our power supply. To support the added intake, we swapped our two Renogy 12-volt, 100-amp lithium iron batteries for three BigBattery 12-volt, 170-amp lithium iron phosphate batteries. The advantage of our new ones is more amp hours, and they won’t charge if the temperature is below freezing.
The compressor on the dorm fridge in our outdoor kitchen died, and we decided not to replace it. Instead, we chose to use the space differently. We ordered some plastic drawers to organize our paper plates and plastic utensils, and we bought an AC/DC cooler to use in place of a refrigerator. This gives us more flexibility for keeping food and drinks cold during travel and excursions.
Addressing Maintenance Issues
We also took care of a number of things that needed attention inside and outside our coach. We resealed a mirror on our closet door, cleaned our windows and screens, touched up blemishes in our wooden furniture, and resealed holes under our rig, replacing temporary duct tape fixes with long-lasting, waterproof Gorilla Glue tape.
Gulliver enjoyed some spa treatment: a fuel filter replacement and some grease added to the trailer hitch. He’s still in need of a wash before our big journey begins.
Tying Up Loose Ends
One of my goals before leaving the Valley of the Sun was to secure a job. God provided me with six freelance clients, all of which have been keeping me quite busy and contributing much-needed income to replenish our depleted savings.
In addition, I accepted an offer to become the full-time blog managing editor for a California-based tech company and am looking forward to that. Bob is taking good care of me to make sure I can keep up with all of my jobs. And, to make it easier to do my work, my dad helped create a makeshift keyboard tray on top of my desk drawer to reduce strain on my shoulders and neck.
We’ve traded views of the Superstition Mountains for looks at the Gila Mountains in Yuma, Arizona, as we gear up for this year’s cross-country trek. We’re enjoying spending time with my parents, who moved back to Arizona after we visited them in South Dakota last year.
While I work, Bob has ample opportunity to address other things on Tagalong. For example, he’s rigging up piping for a new propane heater we picked up that won’t need to draw electricity while we’re boondocking.
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It’s typical when you start anything new to make some mistakes as you get the hang of it. Although we had been camping with our family for years with a pop-up trailer and then a travel trailer, we still had a lot to learn about camping with a fifth wheel and a dually truck. Here are some of the biggest mistakes we’ve made thus far.
You may have seen those truck tailgates that dip down in the center to allow a fifth wheel hitch to slide right over without contact. We don’t have one of those. We stuck with a traditional tailgate to keep anything in our truck bed secure under our Tonneau cover.
The very first time we took our fifth wheel out for a test run, we got set up and disconnected from the truck just fine. But, we kept the truck bed underneath the hitch while Bob worked on the electrical connection. With his job complete, he closed the tailgate and went to drive the truck away from the trailer.
BAM! The whole trailer shook. I emerged from inside it to see what had happened … and discovered our dented tailgate. Closing the tailgate before driving away from the trailer put the tailgate in the direct line of the kingpin. A crash was inevitable — and expensive to fix.
We ordered a new tailgate from Amazon, painted to match the color of our truck. The first one we received arrived dented. So, we ordered another one. As you can imagine, our Amazon driver wasn’t too happy with us. The second one arrived intact, and Bob replaced it on Gulliver. Now we always follow a checklist when hooking up to and unhooking from Tagalong.
Although the control panel in our trailer shows gauges for two gray tanks, we thought one valve controlled emptying both of them. And every time we opened the cap to drain our sewer, meaning both black and gray tanks, we’d get some leakage.
We had a mobile RV repair tech come out to our rig for an evaluation, and he suggested we get a see-through attachment with a built-in valve that we could connect to our sewer pipe to help us see if leakage continued. We tried that for about a week and, sure enough, leakage continued.
So, we had the mobile RV tech come back out to replace the leaky gray valve. He and a partner showed up and completed the job and gave us the $350 bill. Before they left, he informed us we have two gray tanks and showed us the location of the valve for the second one.
Most likely, we threw $350 down the toilet (pun intended) because the second gray valve had been open the whole time. And that was the real cause of the leakage.
While en route to a beautiful campground on the Mississippi River on the Minnesota/Wisconsin line, we encountered quite a few low-hanging branches. Bob did a great job slowing down and maneuvering to one side of the road or the other to avoid as many of them as possible, and we successfully made it to our campsite.
Upon examination of the roof after arrival, Bob noticed a ruffle in the rubber membrane of our roof covering. Upon closer examination, he discovered our TV antenna had been pulled up from the roof, a screw in the corner protruding. And this snag on the TV antenna had pulled the rubber membrane partially out from under the nose cap of the trailer.
When we had packed up at our previous site to head to this one, I checked the TV antenna from inside but, unfortunately, didn’t turn it all the way to the proper direction so that it wouldn’t catch on tree branches. The way it was positioned left it prime for snagging any low-hanging branches we encountered.
With rain in the forecast, we had to scramble to fix the issue to avoid leakage inside the trailer. So, we bought some specialized roofing tape and self-leveling roofing sealant, and Bob pulled the membrane back into place as best as possible and resealed the popped-up screw on the antenna enclosure. This turned out to be a cheaper fix, and we’ve had no trouble since.
Now, we always make sure we follow our checklist, and I double-check that the antenna is facing the right direction for travel before we go anywhere.
If you’d like to learn about more of our mistakes, you might enjoy:
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This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.