(Almost) wordless Friday

This is a nearly wordless post for two reasons: I kind of forgot it was Friday and that I was due to put up a post, and at 7pm, it’s practically our bedtime! 🙂  Our week was a bit hectic, because we worked the weekend, as well as Tuesday and Thursday, which were student days at the festival.  Work continues to be confounding, but we are focusing on getting out into the world every week for some hiking to balance out our lives. Also, I am starting to plan our leisurely route over to our summer gig in Rock Creek near Mammoth Lakes, and I do love me some travel planning.  (A quick aside: Rock Creek has something like 20 feet of snow already, and more just keeps coming.  It seems that we may have a later start there this year, because the road won’t be open til almost June!)

Please enjoy our outing on old Route 60 in Superior, the “million dollar, convict highway” built by prison labor in the 1920s.  A modern, less twisty and steep version was built in the 1950s, and now the abandoned road is a walking path.  It was just the thing this week, for great scenery with very, very little effort.

Old bridge; new bridge:

Pretty wimpy guardrails:

There’s a wrecked 1930s car down in this chasm:

Arizona is nothing but a giant ode to the wonders of sedimentary deposits:

The end! The tunnel looked tiny from far away, but it’s huge with a human for scale!:

Staying sane

Last week, I promised that I would write more about working at the festival, and I have to admit that it’s not a very appealing subject. Because I am mostly working with people in the halfway house program, I’m experiencing a very different festival than I might if I were working for a craftsperson. A few of the people from the halfway house are there as an interim step after being homeless or in prison, but the vast majority are there to get sober, and their lives are just a series of god-awful events. One guy just got out of prison after a 12 year stint. One woman lost her business, her house and her husband due to drinking. Another guy grew up on the Hopi Reservation, and can’t live there without drinking. He left his family behind to try and escape the early death that befell so many of his family members.  A guy in JJ’s kitchen was fired this weekend when his meth pipe fell out of his pants and onto the floor.

The craziest part has been the realization of what values I hold, which I thought were universal, but most certainly are not. For example, I assume that everyone can read, and that they went to high school. One of my co-workers needs help to read the contents of the boxes in the refrigerator, and many of the folks I work with never finished high school. I’m slowly starting to feel like some kind of bourgeoisie jerk, who actually had it all, and never knew it.  The hardest thing is keeping up my value system in the face of a million coworkers who just don’t care.  I am seen as really anal and weird for wanting to do things right, and as I am asked.  I’m counting down the days we have left to work, and trying not to suck up too much of the negativity.

After 3 days of working in Crazyland, (weekend + President’s Day!) we needed some fun. On the day that we ran all our errands in town, we went out for tacos and ice cream. I loved Mucha Lucha taco shop, decorated in a Mexican wrestling motif, and for the yummiest food we’ve had in a long time. We also stopped for shaved snow, a fluffy style of ice milk that’s huge in Asian teahouses.

You could come here every day for a month and not get a repeat!

I was also seriously craving some quiet after living in the middle of constantly running generators and barking dogs. Superior, AZ is about 20 miles east of us, and surrounded by lots of mountains sprinkled with hiking trails. When we were there a few weeks ago, we picked up a map that shows lots of these hidden gems. There’s practically nothing online about many of these hikes, so we picked a likely candidate and headed for the GPS coordinates.

(Sorry that the next set of pictures is mostly the JJ show.  He’s awfully cute, and I’m just not a selfie sort of girl.)

Scenic Route 60 through the mountains:

Apache Leap trail is more like a rock hop up a small stream, ending in high bluffs overlooking the town. We saw exactly zero other people on the trail. It was just right in terms of solitude, views, and quiet.

Just that morning, I commented to JJ that I really would like to transport to the resort for a day and take a walk up to the secret ponds (which don’t exist, wink wink) above the resort.  This hike had a surprise lake that totally reminded me of what I was craving!

Drunk with (solar) power

We’ve always known that we wanted more solar panels on our roof, but we just hadn’t gotten around to doing it, even after almost 3 years as full-time RVers.  This winter was the first time that we were on the road rather than in an RV park with power, and we really started to feel the limitations of our small system.  The problem wasn’t so much that we wanted to be able to use a ton of power, but rather that we had too little up top to recoup what we were losing.  One little panel is ok for long summer days, but with only a few good hours of charging near the winter solstice, we needed more capabilities.

On Monday, we drove back to Yuma, AZ, and spent the night in the parking lot of Starlight Solar, so as to be ready for our early morning Tuesday appointment.  Our appointment started with the owner and 2 techs up on our roof with cardboard cutouts the size of the panels that needed to find a home.  Our roof is tiny and cluttered with skylights, but they found a good layout that allowed us to keep our old panel, too.  By then end of the day, we had a system with 5 times as much solar generating power as our old one.  It will be awesome to always have enough to run lights and charge our electronics, even on cloudy stretches in the winter!


I know that I said last time that I would wait to assess our work situation until we had the first weekend under our belt, but I’m still not sure what to make of the whole thing.  JJ and I are both working in festival kitchens, where the majority of other workers are kids from ROTC, or part of a local halfway house program. A few folks are downright crazy, but for the most part, I like a lot of my co-workers.

JJ and I were both thrown in our areas a bit haphazardly, and only given snippets of instructions on what we were doing.  He is baking pizzas, and I am making taco salads and filling drink orders for the cash handlers who interface with the public.  They are definitely “hurry-up-and-wait” sorts of jobs, where you have an enormous rush when a show ends at a stage near your area, and then long lulls where there’s no business.

The days are long, starting at 8am, and generally finishing around 6:45 or 7pm.  We are on our feet, on concrete, the whole time, and for the first time in my life, I’m having foot and back pain from the standing.  I think the problem might be from just being in one spot for hours on end, rather than walking and moving. That first weekend was really tough, and we were ready for 5 days off!  This upcoming weekend is 3 days long, including President’s Day, and hopefully, we’ll be more comfortable with our duties so they feel easier. More on all that next week.


I just wanted to give a huge shout out to Amazon, for a really useful invention: the locker pickup.  When you check out and choose your shipping address, you now have the option to pick up from a Amazon locker.  Since we don’t have an address for a couple months, it’s a really handy way to get deliveries.  When you item is ready for pickup, you get an email with a barcode in it.  You locate the lockers (tucked into the side of a strip mall in our case), scan the barcode from your phone screen, and a door pops open to reveal your prize!  This a perfect solution for full-time RVers!

Until next week!

Our Firsteval!

I’ve been to exactly one Renaissance Festival in my life, and it was at least 20 years ago in Southern Ohio.  I remember the elaborate costumes, the great performances, and spectacles in every direction.  When we signed up to work at the Arizona Festival for February and March, I didn’t really know what to expect from an experience working in the back. And even after being here for a week, I still feel just the same!

This festival is HUGE–attendance can often top 15,000 on a nice day. In addition to the festival grounds being gigantic, there’s acres and acres of land surrounding the “village” for camping, parking, and elephant storage.  (More on that last bit later.)  The parts that the public sees are just the tip of the iceberg, and every area is a completely different, with different festival folks living in different areas.

We are in the main campground, which is just a large field with no defined sites, and no water or electrical hookups. Most of our neighbors work for the craftspeople who sell things here, and they travel a circuit with their employer, staying about 2-3 months at each festival before moving to the next.  A lot of the full-timers are in travel trailers or RVs, but a decent amount are tent camping.  We’ve also seen just about every possible funky mobile home possibility, from a homemade truck camper that looks like a pirate ship, to a mutant hybrid of a trailer with a truck topper welded onto the top for a second story loft.  There are port-o-potties and dumpsters throughout the campground, a drinking water spigot close by, and a small showerhouse on the far side of the festival.

The festival is arranged in a circle, so the crafters can have their RV and living area behind their shop. These sites have electric hookups, but apparently not sewer, because I see that most of them have arranged for a port-o-potty to be set up on their site.  The craftspeople must have ongoing contracts with the festival, because they have gorgeous storefronts customized to what they are selling, rather than cookie cutter boxes like at an art festival.

Finally, there is the coveted full-hookup area, and that’s where the festival puts up the acts who are paid to perform on the many stages at the festival: acrobats, comedians, magicians, and one guy who apparently does musical whip cracking.

We had orientation last Saturday for our department, Food and Beverage.  We are working for the festival itself,  but we are in the minority when it comes to the demographics for our department.  See, the festival needs to hire about a million weekend-only employees to handle food service, and it seems that about 99% of the manpower is supplied by some unique temporary agencies: The Junior ROTC, and residents of an enormous drug and alcohol rehab residence in Phoenix.  I’m trying to keep a positive perspective, but I’m a little concerned about working with people like the woman who snapped at me to leave her alone and stop asking personal questions when  I inquired if she had even worked at the festival before.  Or the guy who really needed a bath.

We met our kitchen managers, and toured the facilities.  We are working in the oldest, smallest, tightest kitchen complex which is also the first food place you come to as you enter the festival, and therefore the busiest.  Day one training was a bit haphazard, but as far as I can tell, I will be working the soup and bread bowl area, and JJ will be making pizzas.  We’re in different kitchens, but just a few doors down from one another.  My manger seems like tyrant and a stickler for detail, but in a good, kindly way.  He promised to try to get us breaks before we pass out from the heat, as has happened in past years.  Any other opinions about the job would just be conjecture until we work it for a weekend.  Opening day is tomorrow, and I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit of dread, but hoping for the best.

Our respective locations:

We’ve gotten out and explored around us, and there’s lots to do in the this area to keep us busy on our 5-day “weekends”.  We hiked up in the Superstition Mountains, and visited the mining town of Superior, AZ .

Hieroglyphic Canyon featured a spring fed waterfall and pictographs:

Superior, AZ:

Little Soupy is most pleased, as we can let her run around outside.  She loves the green grass that’s everywhere, and has a fine time chasing lizards and sniffing in ground squirrel holes.  The only downside is the cholla cactus that leaves little segments all over the ground underneath it.  Soup came home with a couple feet stuck good with the spines, but as soon as we pulled them out, she was begging to go out again.

The one part that I do really like is walks around the festival loop. It’s good people watching, there’s often folks rehearsing their acts, and lots of activities going on. The “village” is still getting readied, and many shops have scaffolding up for painting. I also feel like I see something interesting every time I’m out. A couple days ago, I stopped dead in my tracks, not comprehending what I was seeing out in the field. I thought for sure that it was a life-sized elephant statue, and then it moved! There is a petting zoo and animal rides here, so I can see elephants, camels, llamas, horses, goats, sheep and yaks on my route.

Box office:

The Royal Stables:

Pray for us, and we’ll let you know how it goes!

Silence cannot be photographed

JJ and I were craving a bit more solitude before we reported to work again, and Soupy demanded room to run.  We headed southwest from Tucson, to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, where we hit just the right time of year to be absolutely alone.  Hunting is allowed on the refuge, but the season had just ended before we arrived.  It’s not prime birding season, or time for spring flowers.  We got all set up, settled down outside, and just gaped at each other in amazement; it was totally silent.  On the day we arrived, there wasn’t even a whisper of a breeze, and we could hear the blood pumping through our ears.

It’s the kind of place where there’s not too much to do, and we were fine with that.  We went on walks on the roads that wind through the refuge, got educated at the visitor center, and went on a few short hikes.  We watched the sun change colors on the Baboquivari mountains, far across the valley to the west of us. For the Tohono O’odham, the highest peak in the range is the center of the universe and also the home of the creator, I’itoli.  The grassland area where we were camped was both a link to time immemorial, as a homeland for antelope and deer that have been there forever, and a reminder of the very recent past, with invasive mesquite trees planted by the cattle ranchers of the 1800s.

That sort of landscape is not for everyone, but it definitely served the purpose we wanted.  We slept great in the dark silence, saw a million stars, and felt safe letting little Soupy run free until the coyotes started to howl at dusk.  The pictures that I have seem dusty and dull, but it was a great stop for all the things that you just can’t capture in a photo.

Baboquivari Peak, tall in the center:

Wetlands trail through an important riparian habitat:

Arivaca Creek Trail led past the homestead of Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce, author of “A Beautiful, Cruel Country”:

Next up: we move to our spring job at the Arizona Renaissance Festival, in Gold Canyon, AZ. And boy, will we have some stories for you!

Tucson Mountain Park photo essay

After a thrilling week of Mexican dental work and Yuma guard dog attacks, we were ready for a week of very low key adventures, rest and recuperation.  We toyed around with the idea of Joshua Tree National Park, but with temperatures between 25 and 40 everyday, it just didn’t sound like all that much fun. Anza-Borrego State Park was only going to be a few degrees higher, and so many other places just seemed like too much work.  When a week of vacation seems like excessive effort, you know it’s time to slow down and really take some time to recover.  And that, friends, is how we find ourselves again in Tucson, after only a 4 week hiatus.

Tucson is nominally on the way back to Phoenix, our February destination, and it’s the location of one of our favorite campgrounds ever: Gilbert Ray. This campground is just lovely, with tons of greenery, mountain views, and hiking trails all around.  As a financial incentive, with electric hookups only, it is also really cheap.  Plus, we could pop in on Ann and Nathan, and just generally veg the heck out.

We didn’t do much at all this week, and barely got into the car.  Besides a hike with Ann and Nathan, we just walked the trails around the campground, slept in, played board games, and started to feel more human again.  This was just what we needed, and we feel ready for a bit more adventure before we report to orientation at the Renaissance Festival on 2/4.

Some of the mountains have almost Sedona-like colors:

Cheery teddy bear cholla:

View from the top of Brown Mountain:

When saguaro do meth:

Hiking to Bowen Stone house ruins:

With Ann and Nathan:

Somebody got new boots!:

Fishhook barrel:

Next up is a short stay in Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, a huge grasslands area with nothing prickly.  I would say it’s for us, but 99% of the reason we’re going is so that little Soupy can run free without getting anything ouchy in her paws!

Yuma, AZ: no thank you

I appreciate that not all cities can be the civic equivalent to a beauty queen, but some get such the short end of the pretty stick that it’s hard not to feel sorry for them.  Yuma, AZ, is near the top of my list of places that just don’t seem to have any draw and that I’d prefer to avoid.  So why, then, did the intrepid travelers spend the better part of 10 days there?! Well, that all boils down to teeth and torrential rain.

A few weeks ago, JJ mentioned that one of his fillings wasn’t feeling so hot.  It was actually the best time for a minor dental issue, because our friends Dave and Max were headed to Yuma in order to go to the booming Mexican dental town of Los Algodones.  We decided to join in on their adventure, camping out in the parking lot of a casino two miles from the border.  Even with the interludes of dental care, it was good to see them and enjoy their company.

We were all ready to make a loop through sunny Southern California, when I started looking at the weather.  While “Pineapple Express” sounds like a good time, it actually means lots and lots of rain and snow for the Pacific coast, and I saw nothing but precipitation for the next week.  And also high wind and flood warnings, and other good reasons not to hang out boondocking in the desert. So we aborted travel plans, and plunked down at one of our membership parks in Yuma.

And then something happened that really cemented my dislike for Yuma.  I went out for a long walk on the rural roads around the RV Park.  I had watched a group of bicyclists head out earlier that morning, and I figured that it was a safe area for me to be out.  As I passed a large ranch complex with a huge perimeter fence, I heard tons of barking.  And then, a pack of at least 6 big dogs ran out the open gate, crossed the road to me, and surrounded me.  I fought every urge to scream and run, and just pulled my hands up near my chest and talked quietly.  Even now, I’m feeling my pulse speed up, just thinking about it again, and it was one of the few times I was truly scared that I might die.  One of the German shepherds circled around behind me, and bit me in the calf.  It speaks to my adrenaline that I didn’t even feel it, but just kept talking low and backing up.  They stayed in place, I kept moving back, and eventually, I was far enough away to turn and walk fast and call JJ to get the hell in the car and start driving, and I would explain later.

He got me back to the park and Animal Control came out.  The officer took a statement and asked if I could identify which dog.  But, there were multiple German shepherds, and I can’t.  So, the best he could do was go over to the ranch, confirm all the dogs were current on their rabies vaccines, and issue a citation of $50 per loose dog. The one lucky part is that the bite was only a couple puncture wounds, and I had a stash of antibiotics for just such an occasion.  The worst part of the whole thing is that I feel really scared to be out alone now.  I appreciate that I could buy any number of products like a mace spray, or other deterrent, but none of those would have been effective in this particular scenario.  I need to use my sociologist brain to remember that nothing like that has even happened to me before, and instead focus on the million times I’ve walked alone with no problems.  It’s going to be some time before I feel calm again.

I once read a book whose formula really beat me down.  (World Without End by Ken Follett) At every turn, the protagonists could either experience situation A or situation B.  And I quickly realized the pattern, where each and every time, the bad option would happen to them.  I don’t mean to say that I have a Truman show disorder, but I’m starting to feel like maybe Ken Follett is writing my life, too.  Last year was really tough for me, including a lot of things that happened, both personal and public, that I never even mentioned here.  I keep trying to see the good, but I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit defeated, and ready for a new story line.  Thanks for listening to a departure from the usual travelogue, and I sure could use some good thoughts sent my way.


We did get out and do a few things that were pleasant.  Telegraph Pass is a super steep hike up a service road that leads to commanding views and an array of communication towers.

At the top is a registry book left by the “Mystery Hiker”, who says he’s been to the top over 1000 times:

This might be one of my favorite pictures of JJ, ever:

We also visited Imperial Dam Wildlife Refuge, where the Colorado River provides a home for tons of wintering birds:

Painted Desert Trail:

Next up: somewhere that is not Yuma.