Arizona Part I: Kartchner Caverns State Park

The task of securing reservations at a campground in Arizona, any campground in any part of the state, turned out to be a miserable chore instead of a routine procedure.  Mike’s job is to find our campgrounds and make our reservations. My job is to figure out what to do in the places where we land. He started looking at campground options during the first part of our stay in Santa Fe, which was during the Christmas holidays. We were hoping to start our “month” in Arizona around the end of January/beginning of February. After he spent his first entire day doing internet research he was discouraged. After the second full day on his iPad he was frustrated. At the end of the third full day devoted to the effort, I started avoiding him. He wasn’t in a good mood, and I didn’t blame him one bit. The problem was that there are only a few truly warm and pleasant places in the United States during the month of February: Texas (not an option), Florida (been there, done that), California (not convenient to our intended route at the moment), and Arizona. All of the snowbirds that do not travel to South Texas or Florida for the winter come to Arizona. The place was booked. 100% occupancy.

By some miracle he finally found a campground near Phoenix with available spots, so he picked up the phone to call and make a reservation for us. I was home at the time, so I heard one half of the conversation as it unfolded. On my end I heard Mike tell the person who answered the phone that he wanted to make a reservation for us for two weeks. Then I heard him say he was 54 and his wife was younger. Then I heard him politely thank the person on the line and hang up. The campgrounds that did have open spots were 55+ communities, and we weren’t old enough! Go figure.

You might be thinking “how could finding a place to camp possibly be so hard”? Valid question. Maybe I should provide a quick explanation of our personal theories related to campground selection. As we have ambled through The Lower 48 in 48 Tour, we have had a general direction in which we want to travel, but the plans have been void of any specific route or detailed itinerary. The basic approach has been North in the summers, South in the winters  – from East to West. Just that simple. We learned early in the adventure not to have too many expectations. We don’t typically choose our subsequent locations until a week or two prior to travel days. The size of our rig dictates that we stay in locations accessible to interstate highways, or large state highways that are convenient to big rig traffic. We also take things like campground amenities and price into consideration when selecting our next sites. The agenda for selecting locations goes something like this: We look at map and determine the general direction in which we want to move, usually somewhere in the area of about 3 -4 hours from our current location. Then Mike consults a website called www.allstays.com which shows a map with all campgrounds in our targeted area. He reviews those options and comes up with something that checks the most boxes on our list of requirements. After he finds some viable options, he consults another website called www.rvparkreviews.com and learns what other guests have to say about the options he has identified. Some parks stay on the list, and others are eliminated due to negative reviews. If a place looks clean, safe, convenient and affordable, then we make a reservation.   He doesn’t like to make reservations too far in advance because things like weather and other stuff could alter our travel plans at the last minute. We don’t want to be bound to a rigid schedule when staying flexible would be more prudent.

As a general rule, we like to park our rig about two weeks in one place and use our Honda to explore the area. This way we can relax and see our surroundings without feeling like we are on a whirlwind race. We can also go about our ‘real life’ stuff like computer time, bill paying, general correspondence, laundry, showering, routine errands and cooking/cleaning without paying too much attention to the logistics of those responsibilities. To make this scenario most convenient, we like to have full hook-ups. This translates to 50 AMPS of power, a water connection and a sewer connection. With a set up like that we don’t have any worries. We can go about our daily routines without analyzing exactly how and when the business of regular life gets accomplished.

If we only have 30 AMPS of power, I have to run our generator to do laundry – or go to a laundromat. We also can’t run all of our electrical appliances at the same time. So, for example, we have to turn off the baseboard heat to run the microwave. Or we can only run 1 of the 3 air conditioners we have. Or I have to wait to run the hair dryer until the coffee machine is turned off. Small considerations, but you still have to think about what is happening in your surroundings before you turn on any switches. Some campgrounds don’t allow generators, so the only choice is to wash our clothes in a coin operated machine. This chore then has to be scheduled, I have to load all of our dirty clothes into the car, and go hang out at a washateria for a couple of hours until I can replenish our closets with a clean wardrobe. This takes much more time and effort (and money) than does my standard approach of running one load of laundry in the morning as I make our bed, drink my coffee, and look at my computer. If we do run the generator and turn on the A/C or wash clothes at home, we are using some diesel from our tank, so that is a little bit of extra money out of the pocket.

If we don’t have a sewer connection, we have to be conservative with the water that we use. Any water from showers, teeth brushing, dish washing, etc. goes to our grey water storage tank. The faster it fills up, the more often we have to move the rig to a dump station to empty it out. It doesn’t matter if we are moving the Monaco an eighth of a mile or 800 miles, we still have to complete the same routine before we travel. I am notorious among my friends for taking super duper long showers, so if we don’t have a sewer connection I usually just shower in the campground bath house. Sometimes that is no big deal, sometimes that is really gross.

Without a sewer connection I also pay attention to our meal preparations. In these cases I try to cook meals that won’t require washing lots of pots, pans and dishes. I love to cook and it is more fun when my menu options aren’t limited to what the clean up will look like when we are finished with our breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another consideration would be that I’m reluctant to boil pasta or potatoes because I don’t want to pour the extra water down the drain as the food gets strained in the colander. Of course a multitude of meals can be prepared without including pasta or boiled potatoes in the list of ingredients, but my point is that cooking becomes a strategic process instead of a creative one.

If we don’t have a water connection, we use the water from our storage tank. More conservation and consideration of logistics. You see where I’m going with this? We are on a four – year trip. The reason it is enjoyable is because we are taking our home, and all the comforts of it, along with us as we go. I can live in a luxurious setting with all the bells and whistles for 48 months with no problem. I’m not too keen on camping for an indefinite period. Eating on paper plates and collecting quarters for the washing machine gets old after a short time, if you ask me.

So back to our dilemma of finding somewhere to stay in Arizona. The state parks there are nice, but they do not generally have sewer hook-ups. This is why they were off the list at the beginning of Mike’s research. We were mainly looking at private campgrounds in our exhaustive search. It was now obvious that if we were going to spend any time in the 48th state that entered the union, our travel scenario was about to become a little less convenient. We weren’t going to have full hook-ups and we were probably going to be moving at intervals more frequent than two weeks. I was willing to agree to anything because it was becoming very painful to see Mike spend so much time seeking out destinations for us. I wanted him to start enjoying Santa Fe like I was. He had spent enough time staring at his tablet screen and coming up empty handed.

After we had a new plan for our time in The Grand Canyon State, we found somewhere to stay fairly easily. Kartchner Canverns State Park was just outside of Benson, about 50 miles east of Tucson. Its location in the southern part of Arizona meant that at least we were going somewhere warm. We had been in the thick of snow and ice since the beginning of November and we were done with winter. One morning while in Santa Fe my house shoes were frozen to the floor – no kidding. I was willing to camp for all the time we needed, as long as I didn’t have to wear 13 layers of clothes when I got dressed in the morning. Mike made reservations to stay there from a Monday to a Sunday after we left Lake Caballo. He promised I would like it when we arrived, and I did.

The campground turned out to be very beautiful. The spots were spacious. The campground was quiet and peaceful. We were out from town so the sky was bright at night without light pollution. The roads were paved so we could walk the dogs conveniently when needed. There were also trails so we could go on nice daily hikes. The weather was warm during the day so we were able to spend lots of time outside in the fresh air. The Caverns were a real thing too… so we were able to take a guided tour of “The Big Room” in a live cave. I was a little reluctant to buy our tickets for the tour because I’ve got a huge case of claustrophobia, but I’m glad I did because the 1.5-hour experiential science lesson was very interesting. (No photos allowed inside the cave, so you will just have to trust me on this). Best of all, the bath house was gleaming, so walking to the showers every morning was no big thing.

During our short stay we spent most of our time enjoying the warm natural beauty of our environment. However, we did take one daytrip to Tucson and another daytrip to Tombstone and Bisbee. We were conservative with our water, but didn’t let it bother us because we understood we had no alternative. If we were going to be in Arizona at the same time as every other retired person from “up north” we might as well get used to a new routine for a while. It wasn’t so bad after all.

There were so many stickers on the trails at Kartchner Caverns State Park, we had to buy the dogs some hiking boots. Otherwise they would not have been able to come with us when we explored the area.

There were so many stickers on the trails at Kartchner Caverns State Park, we had to buy the dogs some hiking boots. Otherwise they would not have been able to come with us when we explored the area.

One of the hiking trails at the state park.

One of the hiking trails at the state park.

Tombstone was a fun stop. The atmosphere was just like I expected.

Tombstone was a fun stop. The atmosphere was just like I expected.

Visiting Tombstone really was like stepping back into the heart of the Wild West.

Visiting Tombstone really was like stepping back into the heart of the Wild West.

The historic courthouse in Tombstone.

The historic courthouse in Tombstone.

We spotted this rig pulling a camper in Tombstone. Then we saw it again at a campground in Tucson. We've never seen a set up like that. I guess it is kind of the nomad's version of a mother-in-law suite.

We spotted this rig pulling a camper in Tombstone. Then we saw it again at a campground in Tucson. We’ve never seen a set up like that. I guess it is kind of the nomad’s version of a mother-in-law suite.

Gearing up for a reenactment of the shoot out at the O.K. Corral.

Gearing up for a reenactment of the shoot- out at the O.K. Corral.

Bisbee is quite literally a vertical town. To get from one street to the next, you must climb steps. Many steps.

Bisbee is quite literally a vertical town. To get from one street to the next, you must climb steps. Many steps.

Downtown Bisbee had all kinds of cute shops and artist galleries, but it turns out they are mostly only open Thursday through Sunday. We saved some money since we were there on a day earlier in the week and could only window shop.

Downtown Bisbee had all kinds of cute shops and artist galleries, but it turns out they are mostly only open Thursday through Sunday. We saved some money since we were there on a day earlier in the week and could only window shop.

Bisbee is an historic copper mining town.

Bisbee is an historic copper mining town.

The road to Bisbee. One moment we were driving through a brown desolate desert, and the next minute we were climbing through mountains speckled with green foliage.

The road to Bisbee. One moment we were driving through a brown desolate desert, and the next minute we were climbing through mountains speckled with green foliage.

Sunrise from spot #42.

Sunrise from spot #42.

The natural setting of this park was really beautiful.

The natural setting of this park was really beautiful.

A view of the Dragoon Mountains from our campground. Sounds scary to me.

A view of the Dragoon Mountains from our campground. Sounds scary to me.

Most state parks have a very inefficient reservation system that allows guests to reserve a specific spot in a campground, as opposed to making a general reservation and getting an assigned spot upon arrival. We wanted to stay seven days at this campground. When Mike made the reservation there were plenty of spots available, but no one spot was available for the full stretch of time. We were able to stay five nights in #42, but had to move our rig to a new spot for the last two nights. It was a total pain, but we played the game to stay in nice locations.

Most state parks have a very inefficient reservation system that allows guests to reserve a specific spot in a campground, as opposed to making a general reservation and getting an assigned spot upon arrival. We wanted to stay seven days at this campground. When Mike made the reservation there were plenty of spots available, but no one spot was available for the full stretch of time. We were able to stay five nights in #42, but had to move our rig to a new spot for the last two nights. It was a total pain, but we played the game to stay in a nice location.

Our second spot at the park, Number 3.

Our second spot at the park, Number 3.

A few of southern Arizona from a hilltop at the state park.

A view of southern Arizona from a hilltop at the state park.

We found a cairn at the top of the mountain we climbed at the state park. I love it when we stumble upon these!

We found a cairn at the top of the mountain we climbed at the state park. I love it when we stumble upon these!

We only had water and electric connections at Kartchner Caverns State Park - no sewer connection. I used the campground bath house for my showers in order to limit the water that was funneled into our grey water tank. Lucky for me, the facilities were very clean.

We only had water and electric connections at Kartchner Caverns State Park – no sewer connection. I used the campground bath house for my showers in order to limit the water that was funneled into our grey water tank. Lucky for me, the facilities were very clean.

Selfie from the mountain top.

Selfie from the mountain top.

 

 

 

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