Thursday, January 18, 2018

Getting Dental Work Done in Los Algodones Mexico

Before I get to our time in Los Algodones, I need to mention our time in Casa Grande. We had driven through the Casa Grande area several times over the past few years but have never stopped to take in the area. This year we decided to spend a couple of days while waiting for my dental appointment on the 16th. We had two sets of friends staying at Palm Creek Golf & RV Park so we looked into their “first-timers special” in hopes of staying there during our visit. But at almost $60 a night it was over what we were willing to spend. Instead we opted for High Chaparral a few miles outside of town. At $15/night (Passport America) this fit our needs perfectly. Our friends Steve and Dianne had recently stayed here and highly recommended it.
The park itself has almost 200 sites that are closely packed but still far enough apart that you don’t feel too crowded. They have a pool, hot tub and a couple of pickleball courts. The park allows you to wash your rig at your site so that it is what I did for a few hours the first two mornings before it got too hot. Daytime temperatures were in the mid 70’s, something we have not experienced in quite a while!

The first afternoon we were there we met up with Nancy and Greg both former co-workers of Barb’s back in Minnesota. We met them at we are now calling “Our New Favorite Bar”. After reading Steve and Dianne’s blog post of their stay in the area we just knew that we had to visit The Thirsty Donkey. It is unlike any bar we have visited in that it is a self-serve bar with 40 taps lining the walls.

A few of the many self serve taps
How does it work? Well, you give them your driver’s license, they scan it and return it to you with a wrist band with a proximity sensor on it. You are then free to get beer from any one of the taps along the wall. When you find a beer you want to try you hold your wrist band to the tap, it turns green and you pour your beer. As you get more beer, it tells you the total ounces that you have poured so far. When you are done, you give your wrist band back to the server who scans it and give you an itemized listing of each of the beers/ounces you had. Very cool! The beers probably range anywhere from .20-40 an ounce. It is a great way to sample a bunch of different beers at your own pace without having to wait for someone to wait on you. We had a great time visiting and catching up and made plans to see them on Sunday as well.

The next day we traveled over to Palm Creek to visit with Dave and Diane who we had met in Quartzsite a couple years ago. We were totally unprepared for what we encountered when we got there. We knew their site number and just thought we would drive around until we saw their rig. When we got there we knew we were in trouble. There are over 2,000 sites covering a multitude number of blocks! We were driving pretty much aimlessly when this guy pulls up to us on his bike and asks us if we are lost….. it is Dave! As we follow him back to his rig it is obvious that we would have never found them! As we see Dave turn into his site on his bike we look out the window and who do we see standing outside her rig? Nancy! Out of 2,000 sites, they are basically neighbors. Barb gets out and I pull into Dave’s site.
Dave and Diane are very active with biking, golfing and pickleball so they are really getting the most out of the amenities of the park and have planned a 4 month stay this year. We visited for about 3 hours before making our way back home. Palm Creek is a great park for those who take advantage of everything they have to offer and is more affordable with their monthly (~$900-$1,000) or multi-month (~$800) rates……Someday maybe but right now we just would not get our monies worth out of it. Casa Grande is a great little town and we could definitely see ourselves spending more time there.
Diane and Dave outside their rig
Sunday we traveled back over to Palm Creek to watch the Vikings game with Greg and Nancy. The first half of the game was great and the Vikings dominated Saints. The 2nd half a totally different Vikings team came out of the field and it looked like they were going to implode in typical Vikings fashion. For those of you who are lifelong Vikings fans you know what I mean. What happened at the end of that game is still a shock, I just sat there staring at the television unable to process what actually happened!
Nancy, all ready for the Viking's game!
The next morning we packed up and drove the three hours to Yuma. Our only reason for coming here was to go to the dentist and pick up a few prescriptions. We pulled into the Quechan Casino which has a section of their parking lot where they allow RV’er and truckers to stay during their visit. No hookups, no organization, just a large dirt parking lot where you can park.  Some are there for just one night while others look like they have been there a little while. Although a little noisier than an RV park, it is a great spot to spend a few days for free. We planned on staying for….. well, we really didn’t know. We had set aside up to 5 days but it all depended on exactly what I needed done for dental work.
The next morning we jumped in the truck and drove 2-3 miles down the road to the border parking area. For $6/day you can park in a secured area for the day. There is free parking along the road a mile or so before the parking area as well for those who want to walk a little bit.
Headed through the turnstiles! 
There are so many dental options in Los Algodones it is mind-boggling when trying to decide which ones are reputable and reliable. We (by "we" I mean Barb) did a lot of research online. Blogs, articles, reviews.... and we decided on Sani Dental. We have friends who have used Bernal Dental several times and are very happy. Since we were happy with Sani the first time, we went back there again.
We had made an appointment with our anticipated arrival date more than a month ago and changed the appointment twice as our arrival date changed. On the appointed day we arrived at Sani Dental 40 minutes prior to my 9:30 appointment. As it turns out they could not find me but got me in right away. In fact, I got in before the guy who was there for his 9:00 appointment.  So far so good!
Waiting patiently!
One of the many doors 
The first step was a consultation where they explained everything that was going to happen today. Next up was x-rays ($60). I was escorted into a room with a stand up x-ray machine where I was asked to stand in a certain position and bite down on a mouthpiece and hold still. The machine then spun around my head while I stood still and within a minute I was done.
Next up I was taken to a room where they went over the results and gave me recommendations. In my case the recommendations was 2 crowns and a filling for which they quoted me a little over $1,000. When I told them I wanted metal/porcelain instead of full porcelain crowns and to take off the cleaning (I get those for free with our preventative insurance) the total went down to $465 for everything.
Once that was worked out I was taken back up front where I was asked to put down a deposit. They take cash, check or a credit card (4% fee). While I was paying for my dental work I overheard another customer ask if they covered hotel fees which apparently they do and she got $360 off her bill. I am not sure if they do this for all hotels or just certain ones. 
A short time later they called me in for the work. The dentist herself spoke very little English but the assistant spoke it fluently. An hour and a half of drilling, impressions and whatever else they do I was out of there with two temporary crowns and told to come back the next day at 11:00.
From there we went to El' Paraiso where we had tacos and beer. The beer was good, the tacos were  just okay. 

These two were dancing to a little Elvis music
Then it was onto the pharmacy and liquor store. At the pharmacy we got Z-packs ($3.99), 800mg Ibuprofen ($3.99), 100 ct Amoxicillin ($5.99) and Mucinex ($8.00). At the liquor store we each got a bottle of Tequila as that is about the only thing it is worth buying down here.
We were back at the rig exactly 4 hours from when we left it.  

My next appointment was the following day at 11:00. We arrived at 10:15 hoping to get in early. I sat in the waiting room while Barb went and wandered the streets of Mexico. That is one nice thing about Los Algodones, you feel safe walking the streets. The vendors are assertive trying to get you to look at their goods but not overly aggressive. You get used to it and mostly just ignore them. We did not feel nearly as comfortable when we visited Nogales last year. Barb was back with her treasures before I was called in for my appointment. She had bought two blankets and one table cloth. She got the blankets for $7 each (she had talked them down from $15). The table cloth started out at $25 and she got it for $18).
Many of the vendors have the same thing
One of the many corridors with vendors and goods

This place was filled with stained glass
At 11:00 they called me in for my appointment. I was greeted by the same dentist and assistant as the day before. I was not sure what they were going to do and did not know what to expect. The first thing the dentist did was pop out both my temporary crowns and then I think she tested the new crowns for fit. She then put the temps back in  said to come back the next day at 9:00 for the final crown fitting and the filling. We were back in the truck and headed back to the rig by noon. 
The final day we arrived 15 minutes early for my appointment. When I was called in they fitted the crowns, did some grinding to touch them up and send them out to be polished. While we waited for that they worked on my filling then cemented the permanent crowns in place. They followed that up with more x-rays for their warranty record. The crowns and filling have a 2 year warranty if anything happens to them.  We were out of there and headed back to the truck in about and on the road headed to Quartzsite by noon.

Overall I was very satisfied with the work done here and saved over $2,000.  Time will tell how it stands up compared to a dentist in the U.S. but I have not had any issues with the work I had done a few years ago so we are hoping for the same.

We hurried back to the casino where we packed up and drove the 82 miles to Quartzsite where a whole new adventure awaits us!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Boondocking at Tucson's Snyder Hills BLM

A coyote pauses at the edge of the road and waits for me to pass before he saunters across and into the drainage on the other side. It is good to be back in Arizona. Our eventual destination is Quartzsite or “Q” by those who have been there a time or two. But right now we are on the southern edge of Tucson. This is the third time we have stayed at the Snyder Hills BLM Area (32.156941, -111.116493) in the almost 4 years we have been on the road. We originally found this site on Free Campsites.Net where it get mostly favorable reviews. I don’t know how to accurately describe Snyder Hills. There are good parts and bad parts, I guess that is true with almost everywhere we go but the degree of good parts and bad parts tends to vary.
An over head shot of the area
Our rig is in the top center
Plenty of room in this area for another rig or two
The good parts is that it is free, it is warm and it is centrally located to almost anything you need to get to in the Tucson area. The bad part is that not everyone takes care of the area like they could. There are a variety of rigs, campers and tents in the area and although it has a 14 day limit, I don’t think that is enforced very strictly. There is one porta potty but it is obvious that not all bother walking that far to use it. Some would probably never stay here for those reasons or fearing that someone might steal something in the middle of the night but we have never had a problem. People here tend to leave each other to themselves so are fine staying here a few nights.
Here are a few shots of the more "interesting" set ups:
Tent/trailer combo, we never saw the tenant
This trailer had a wood burning stove!
We do take precautions like we do anywhere we boondock in remote areas. We park the truck right outside my side of the bedroom window so I can see or hear anything during the night. I have a flashlight on the shelf above my head should I feel the need to shine the light out the window. I keep the truck keys there as well. Why you ask? Do you ever lay in bed and wonder: “Did I lock the truck?” A quick push of the button on the remote answers that. It also turns the lights on momentarily and lets anyone in the area know you are awake and aware.  The remote also has the panic button on it if the need ever arises. It never has but it is nice to know it is right there.

We have never felt unsafe anywhere we have parked….wait I take that back. A year or so ago we parked in a Walmart parking lot and went into the rig for the night. As it got dark the parking lot got crowded and it became obvious we were in the wrong area. So we packed up and moved (to another Walmart just down the road). But other than that we have always felt pretty safe.
For those visiting the area for the first time, there is plenty to do in the area. Top of our list is Saguaro National Park and The Desert Museum. We attended both of those on previous visits and will do it again when we are in the area. Old Tucson Studios where  movies like 3:10 to Yuma, The Outlaw Jose Wales and Rio Bravo were filmed, Pima Air Museum for those who love air craft history and miles and miles of outstanding hiking trails also await those visiting this area.

There were two other bonuses for us stopping at Snyder Hills. The first is that it is near our 2nd favorite donut shop (Queen Donuts) we have discovered so far. The criteria for what makes our favorite donut shop list is quite simple; they have to have buttermilk donuts and they have to be good and this one fits the bill. Our favorite donut shop is in Henderson, NV (Friendly Donuts). The second bonus for stopping here is that Red and Pam were at Diamond J’s just a few miles down the road! They too are slowly make their way to “Q” so it was nice to cross paths with them for a couple of days. Barb and Pam went shopping a couple of times, we did happy hour one night but unfortunately Red had a nasty cold so we were not able to get together as much as we would have liked.

The other nice thing about spending a few days here is that we can get caught up on some of the things you just cannot do in a lot of the smaller towns or more remote areas we stop. We stocked up on groceries, beer and booze for one. It was during one of these outings that Barb and I had what I would call an interesting incident. Barb on the other hand would call it scary. We were just finishing up our grocery shopping and heading to the registers when we hear someone yell “Call the police!” A few seconds later “I am not kidding, call the police”. Then this guy walks within 10 feet of us gets on his knees, puts his hands behind his back and again yells, “Call the police”. You can imagine, he started to gather quite a crowd. Curious on lookers were staying a safe distance back, some continued to shop while others gathered up their small children, abandoned their carts and scurried for the door.

Since we were done shopping I skirted the man and went to a register as far away as we could, got in line and kept an eye on him. He continued to yell. This went on for a few minutes. Pretty soon the guy gets up and is walking towards us. Barb gets this panicked look on her face and slowly edges further into the checkout line. The guy walks by and continues to yell. This goes on for too long, (seemed like 10 minutes). The guy walks up one side of the registers then down the other side sometimes yelling, sometimes silent. A stream of employees are following him, a couple of them on the phone (with the police I hope). Then the guys breaks into a run and sprints out the door. While Barb waited in line I went out to see where he went and see him running towards a Planet Fitness and disappears from view. Sirens are approaching but it appears the immediate area is safe so I go back inside and we pay for our groceries. As we are driving away we see the guy in the parking lot of the Planet Fitness on his knees, hands behind his back surrounded by squad cars. Scary, but you also cannot help but feel sorry for someone who is so racked with torment that that is what their life is like…..

I also spent 3 hours at a Discount Tire store getting the tires rotated and balanced. This may seem like an extraordinarily long time and you would be right. It started out as an hour and a half, rotated, balanced and down the road until I got to my next stop and inspected the tires. One of the tire pressure monitors was missing! So back I went. The tech remembers putting them on the running board of the truck so he would remember to put it back on that tire…..gone. Luckily they were really good about it and gave me $50 out of the register to buy a new one. 

Although we did not do a lot of "touristy" things during this visit, we did get a lot done and enjoyed our time here. Next up our first visit to Casa Grande! 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Two Top 10's in 2 Days!

First off, an adventure that made our top 10 adventure list.

We had been to several caves and caverns in the past year and thought we had seen some pretty cool stuff but nothing prepared us for what we saw at Carlsbad Caverns. Everybody we talked to says Carlsbad is really cool, but “cool” is relative. We had been to Kartchner Caverns, it was cool. We had been to Wind Cave, it was cool, but nothing prepared us for what we saw at Carlsbad, it was beyond cool!
All of our other underground tours had been guided. Carlsbad has a self-guided tour. Kartchner does not allow cameras, Wind Cave does not allow tripods. Carlsbad allows both. And bonus… it is free! So camera and tripod in hand we headed to take the self-guided tour. We were expecting a line of tourists shuffling along like lemmings while listening to screaming kids, what we got was the total opposite. Although there were other people there, we were pretty much by ourselves the entire tour. Every once in a while someone would pass us as we were taking our time taking pictures but even the kids that passed us were quiet as church mice.

The self-guided tour starts at the Natural Entrance just outside the Visitors Center. This trail is 1.25 miles and goes down 80 stories. You then get to the Big Room which is another 1.25 mile trail that is fairly level. Although the Big Room was the most spectacular, I would recommend walking the whole thing. Some people opted to take the elevator down and walk the whole thing up. I would not recommend that, those that passed us were huffing and puffing the whole way up.
The Natural Entrance

The path leading down to the entrance
We had googled how to take pictures in a cave before we arrived but those settings did not work out for me. Instead most of the pictures that turned out had exposures of up to 5 seconds. Thank goodness for the tripod! Here are some of the better ones that Barb and I took……

 What you don’t get from the pictures is a perspective of how big some of these formations are. They are huge. Some of the columns are 20 or more feet. If you look closely at this picture you can see me standing in the shadows and get an idea of how big some of them are.

Our journey up here was quite the adventure. If you are traveling up here from Big Bend National Park to Carldbad DO NOT take U.S. 285 between Pecos and the caverns! We have not been on a road this rough since leaving Alaska. The section between Pecos and Carlsbad is not only rough but it also takes you through some of the dirtiest oil field country that we have ever seen.

Our next adventure took us to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and it made our top 10 accomplishment list....  The Guadalupe Peak Trail, the highest point in Texas! Our friends Steve and Debbie are on a quest to hike the highpoints in each of the states they visit. They have seen some great sights and been on some great hikes. I don’t know for sure but I think this might have been our first “high point” hike but it will not be our last! And bonus, Steve and Debbie have not done this one so we have one up on them!!!!

It is described as a strenuous 8.5 mile round trip hike that climbs 3,000 feet. Allow 6-8 hours for the hike and be prepared with plenty of water, sun protection and food.

We thought this peak was our goal....we were sadly mistaken, this peak hides another peak even further away....

The first 1 1/2 miles are the most strenuous with a lot of stairs and switchbacks taking you up a steep grade. Combine this with the fact that our lungs and legs usually fight us the first 1/2 hour of any hike we do we thought we made a bad decision fairly early in the hike.

But we trudged on switchback after switchback watching the rig getting further and further away. We started out on the sunny side of the mountain and quickly took off our jackets but once we reached the shady side of the mountain the wind picked up and the jackets came back on. We kept our pace fairly slow taking short breaks at the end of each of the switchbacks. Those were our goals, get to the next switchback.....

Up and up we go.......

Once we got around the first mountain we our real destination!

All was going well until we were about 2/3's of the way up and I noticed Barb was slowing down and lagging behind. I stopped and waited for her, when she caught up she looked like she had been crying as her eyes were all watery. I asked her if she was alright and she said her eyes were acting funny, that she could see fine looking straight ahead but if she looked to the side it was like she was in the matrix. We had both been drinking plenty of water but we took a break, had a bite to eat, more water and carried on.
Almost there!
Her eyes continued to bother her but she refused to turn around and powered through. Before we knew it, we were at the top! It took us 3 hours and 20 minutes from the parking lot to the peak. We had climbed just over 3,000 feet and were now at 8,751 in elevation!

Look at Barb's hair, it was windy up there!

You can see forever! That is El Capitan right in front.
To the West


There were two other couples up there, one from Alaska who were on a several month road trip and another young couple from Vermont who were heading west to hike the Pacific Coast Trail.  We ate lunch and talked with the other couples for about 30 minutes and headed back down the trail.

Much easier, much faster but you use different muscles going downhill so whole new aches and pains. Luckily, the rest at the top was just what Barb needed and her eyes were fine on the way down. 2 hours and 10 minutes later we found ourselves in the parking lot where we stumbled to the rig and took off our boots.
Headed back down......

Our rig is waaaaaay down there in the center to the right of the wash
We were sore and tired but very glad that we stuck it out and made it to the top!  
Our travel plans over the next month are forever changing and evolving. Our tentative plans from here are to head to Tucson (1/7) Casa Grande (1/11), then on to Organ Pipe (1/14), Yuma (1/16) and finally Quartzsite (1/20). If we are going to be in your area, send us a note maybe we can get together for a beer!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Frosty Trip Down to Big Bend National Park

Well, we did not ring in the New Year as anticipated….. We had the best laid plans of visiting friends on their ranch outside of Water Valley Texas. Barb and I were really looking forward to seeing Kim and Breanne along with another friend of ours from Minnesota who was going to be down there at the same time doing a little hunting.
We had staged ourselves back in Junction Texas at the city park for a couple days in anticipation of heading a couple hours further north to Water Valley. The more time we spend in Junction the more we like it. It is what small towns should be like, kinda Mayberryesk… Everybody knows everybody and even if they don’t, they are very friendly. The City Park allows 3 days of free camping, provide a water spigot with a hose, the bathrooms are not locked and there is no graffiti to be seen.
Great free site!

View from across the river

Daisy did some tree climbing!
Although it was overcast and cold, we enjoyed our 3 days there reading and taking the dogs for long walks. My only complaint is that the donut store was closed on Saturday. What donut store is closed on Saturday?!?! And to top it all off it was my birthday and I wanted a birthday donut! Oh well, Barb made a great breakfast of French toast roll ups that were better than any donut I would have gotten anyway.

I guess if I had another complaint it would be the Verizon service in the area. We had to go park outside the library to snag their free Wi-Fi. It was here that our travel plans changed. We had been somewhat out of touch so we were planning our travel route and checking the weather in Water Valley. When Barb said the highs were going to be in the 20’s and a low of 14 over the next couple days I was sure she had looked up Water Valley Wisconsin and not Water Valley Texas…. But a quick double check confirmed that it was indeed the Texas forecast. One thing we learned in South Dakota this fall is that the pipes in our rig tend to freeze up in the teens.
Frustrated, disappointed and depressed we canceled our Water Valley trip and headed southwest towards Big Bend. It was foggy and misting along the way and we watched the temperature plummet over the next couple of hours 32 turned into 30 then 28…. Ice was forming on our antenna and the front of the rig. By the time we got to Fort Junction it was 26 and getting slippery so we decided we better stop for the night.
Our front cap was a sheet of ice at the end of the day
We rang in the New Year at the Roadrunner RV Park. At $15 a night for full hookups (Passport America) this park might be overpriced. It is pretty run down and crowded but served the purpose for an overnight. Actually, we did not even try to ring in the New Year, we were fast asleep when we were startled awake by a loud boom, followed by another and another….. a quick glance at the clock showed it was 12:04 am and someone was lighting off fireworks. Barb and I mumbled a happy new year to each other and fell back asleep.
Despite our best efforts we did not avoid the cold, we woke up to snow on the ground and temps in the low 20’s. But at least we had not froze up. Taking advantage of the hookups we had a lazy morning before hitting the road and heading south.
A frosty morning at Road Runner.....
So what is our New Year’s resolutions? Actually, we did not make any. We have goals for the year but no resolutions. We would like to get the concrete pad and all the underground electrical/plumbing done for our build site. Anything beyond that would be a bonus. In the short term, we have put ourselves on a diet. A monetary diet that is.... we have been spending way too much over the past couple of months and need to start saving some money. So when you see us eating ramen noodles for dinner, you will know why. Actually, this birthday was kind of a milestone for me. Turning 55 I finally get to start collecting my pension! That will go a long way to helping us get where we need to be to continue to work on our house.
New Years Day we carried on south towards Big Bend. It was cold, the lowest we saw was 14 but the roads were in good driving condition. The cold air mixed with moisture in the air made for some spectacular scenery.

There were old telegraph lines along the road
We did not have any reservations and had no idea where we were going to stay. We hoped to find a spot in the dispersed camping area in Big Bend, if that did not work out we had the names of a couple other parks in the area. Once we arrived at the park we stopped by the Panther Junction Visitors Center. All the dispersed sites that could accommodate our rig were taken but there were plenty of dry camping sites at the Rio Grande Village Campground. We went down there and set up an hour later. (There are not a lot of big rig friendly sites in the campground.)
Site #42
Big Bend National Park can be broken into three regions; the desert, the river and the mountains. We spent most of our time exploring the river and mountain regions. The Rio Grande River borders the park and is of course the border to Mexico as well. Mexicans  regularly cross over the river and attempt to sell their wares. They will set up their trinkets in remote areas frequented by park visitors in the hopes of selling to them. This one we ran across was set up at an overlook. It is actually illegal to purchase these items. The items appeared to be unattended but we soon saw a gentleman emerge from the brush as we were looking at his items.
The Rio Grande with Mexico right on the other side. 
 The drive up in the mountain area was even more beautiful with the frost and colder weather......

The plateau on the other side is in Mexico
There were two hikes we were interested in taking if we had the opportunity. We just did not know which one we were going to do. Our first choice was Lost Mine and the other was The Window. Both are about 40 minutes from our site but only 10 minutes from each other. As we arrived at the parking area for the Lost Mine hike we saw that all the parking spots were taken so our decision was made for us and off to The Window trail we went. 

At 5.2 miles this trail descends down a wooded wash with great views of the mountains on either side. It ends at a pour off with expansive views of the surrounding landscape. It is a pretty easy hike and a nice way to get back into hiking shape as have several aggressive hikes planned in the coming weeks. 

We saw no lions or bears but we did see some wildlife!

The Window

View of the valley from The Window
Next up we head to New Mexico and Carlsbad Caverns!