Tour de Phoenix Part 1 and the Accidental Rally

Another Sonoran sunset

After Picacho Peak we headed up the road about 2 hours to one of our very favorite campgrounds: McDowell Mountain Regional Park. There’s something special about this place that’s hard to pin down. Is it the solitude? The wide open campsites? The just-right distance from the unobstructed 360-degree mountain views? The feeling that, somehow, you’re living in an upscale neighborhood, given the generally nicer rigs that stay here? It’s all of these things. We would probably live here, if they’d let us. But given our late Irma Pivot we could only snag a weeklong stay, and considered ourselves lucky at that.

All that said, we probably got the least-desirable site in the park. It was close to the entrance, so we frequently heard the camp hosts roaring around the loops in their little utility cart. It was relatively close to two other campsites, unlike the rest of the loops where sites were 100′ apart or more. And the dumpster was visible (and audible) from our site. So, not ideal, but the worst site in the best place is still better than a good site almost anywhere else.

Worst site in the best place, but no complaints!

It was a pretty chill week. In the nearby town of Fountain Hills we got haircuts and did the usual cycle of laundry and grocery shopping. We jumped on the local trails a few times and reacquainted ourselves with the local jackrabbits and coyotes.

Yet another trail selfie! (“Four Peaks” mountain range in the background)

Along the way we reconnoitered a few RV parks in Mesa for next winter’s consideration. Our general conclusion is that these places are packed like sardines, with mostly “park model” full time residents. While they have lots of amenities, like a pool, exercise classes, and even a bar/restaurant; and can be a relative bargain when booked for the whole season, they are not our cup of tea. Plus, they tend to book up to renewing residents a year in advance, so we’ve probably already missed that window for next year. Still, they are an option if we ever decide to stop park-hopping.

I also took care of a little repair job that cropped up. After showering I run the bathroom vent fan to clear out the steam. We had noticed that after running the fan, a foul odor presented itself under the kitchen sink. After scratching my head for a minute and looking around the sink plumbing, I discovered that Lance had installed a “cheater vent” on the sink drain pipe instead of running a line to the roof vent pipe. This is legit and makes sense for this application, however the part that they used is a cheapo that is destined to fail sooner rather than later. Essentially it’s just a flimsy plastic flap. It’s approved for RVs, but not for houses. I purchased a proper Air Admittance Valve which has a much more robust design, unscrewed the old part, screwed in the new part, and the problem was solved.

Vent Chek – bad, Sure-Vent – good

We said goodby to McDowell after a week and drove to our next stop, Cave Creek Regional Park up against hills on the north side of Phoenix, a new park for us. It had good reviews, but we didn’t really know what to expect. Once again, it was probably one of the worst sites in a park that didn’t quite measure up to McDowell Mountain. Again, booking late meant that this was the last site available, so I still considered ourselves lucky.

The issues were largely temporary. First, and unbeknownst to me, a rodeo was situated just outside the park property, and on the day we arrived a “mutton busting” event and other children’s rodeo happenings were being organized. This meant intermittent yelling from the wranglers of “Heeyah! Heeyah! YAH! HEEYAH!” and “HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY!”. I guess this is what you need to do to get the attention of livestock, but it proved wearing.

Also, barnyard aromas wafted our way, along with an abundance of flies to complete the picture. This was Saturday, and by Sunday evening all of this activity had wound down (except for some remnant mooing, odors and flies), so really it wasn’t bad. But it was sort of a rough start.

Sunset over the rodeo

Issue number two was the The Village, which was an odd sort of little parking-lot loop next to our loop. Why it is called The Village or who Mayor Mannie is (see below), I don’t know, but it had a slightly rebellious vibe, apparently attractive to rowdy families who liked to pump music out of their rigs. The good news is our site wasn’t in The Village, just next to it. But this is one reason people turn to boondocking.

Welcome to the Village

Lastly, it was a holiday weekend. So all of those occasional campers who see this as their one chance to head out into the country and blow off some steam take advantage of the opportunity. I can relate to this, having once been a working stiff, so I try to just roll with it. But come Tuesday it was much more peaceful.

All this notwithstanding, we had a good time here. Right after checking in there was a talk in the visitor center on hummingbirds, and we learned some new facts about these amazing creatures, like how their wings are hinged at the shoulder so they can move in a figure eight pattern; that their heart rate is up to 1200 beats per minute; at night they go into a coma-like torpor to preserve energy; and they fly across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop (obviously) when migrating. No wonder people find them fascinating.

All about hummers

We also took a few hikes. A walk of just a few miles gave grand views of the Desert Foothills and Scottsdale.

Go-John Trail

Maureen also took the short Clay Mine Trail to meet up with a ranger who explained the history behind the mine. In short, some prospectors went digging for gold in these hills, but didn’t find any. What was later found was a type of clay that was mixed with water, bottled and sold as a snake oil elixir. It didn’t have any known medicinal properties, but nonetheless turned out to be an effective treatment for dysentery, as a sort of early version of Kaopectate. Apparently it sold quite well, so it turned out to be a gold mine, just not literally.

The Clay Mine

This week we also met up with our friends Dick and Marcia from back home in Beverly Shores. They made us a tasty lunch at their lovely home, and then we took a walk through nearby¬†George ‘Doc’ Cavalliere Park.

A hike with Dick and Marcia

In terms of $/sq ft this has to be one of the most lavishly appointed little parks I’ve seen, including hiking trails festooned with fascinating original outdoor sculpture (Cor-Ten steel depictions of enlarged desert plant seeds)…

Cor-Ten plant seed

…and refuse containers with a message

In Scottsdale it’s not “dog poop”


What’s not recycled goes in the landfill, just so you know

…making explicit that trash ends up somewhere, so please be thoughtful about recycling. I’m cool with this message. Anyway, it’s clear that Scottsdale is not short on cash.

Dick and Marcia also had been kind enough to accept delivery of our mail, which had been forwarded from our Indiana home to Livingston, TX – home of the terrific Escapees mail scanning/forwarding service – and then bundled up and delivered to us when we are ready. So we finally got to go through Christmas cards and a few magazines that had stacked up.

Christmas in January

The next day we drove up to Prescott to visit with our high school stage crew teacher, “Ma” Lamon. It was great catching up with her, reminiscing, and seeing her lovely home. She was a big influence on both Maureen’s life and mine, giving us one of our first chances to take responsibility and shine. It’s been forty years, but we just wanted to say thanks.

View from “Ma” Lamon’s house

Prescott itself is an interesting town, bustling with a mix of hip eateries and boutiques and authentic Western history. And the drive back to Cave Creek along AZ-93 has stunning views of the Prescott National Forest and more history, from abandoned gold mines to the more recent tragedy of the Yarnell Fire.

Prescott: hip and historic at the same time

After a week in Cave Creek we headed further west to one of our old haunts, White Tank Mountain Regional Park. Like the rest of our itinerary, we had booked this reservation last September. Little did we know that last March, this park had been selected by the organizers of the Lance Owners of America (the extremely valuable and active owner support group for Lance owners) for a weekend rally of Lance owners the very week we were scheduled to be there. Bonus!

Our White Tank site

A few weeks ago I had overheard someone talk about last year’s Lance “Rally In The Valley” (as it’s come to be called), and decided to look on the website for when/where this year’s event was going to be. When I found out that we had coincidentally booked the same place for the same weekend, I was thrilled. We were lucky to have been able to reserve a site, since nearly every other one had been gobbled up by Lance owners by last June.

Lances started streaming in on Tuesday, and by Thursday 50 Lances of all shapes and sizes dominated both the family campground (where we were staying – with hookups) and the group camp (dry camping).

YOU get a Lance! and YOU get a Lance! and YOU get a Lance!

The organized events consisted of morning coffees and evening happy hours, potlucks and bonfires. Mixed in informally we would wander around the loops and get to know each other, and learn about all the modifications others had made to their rigs. It was a Lanceapalooza!

Happy hour potluck

It was the first rally we’d been to, and even though it was accidental, we loved it. Most of the other rallyers were from Southern California (Lance’s home is Lancaster, CA), so many of the attendees knew each other from previous rallies. But everyone was open and willing to share. By the time we left we felt like we had made some new friends. Plus the next time I post a question or read a post on the LOA forums, I’ll be able to put a face with the name. We hope to rally with these folks again in some future year.

Bonfire with our new Lance friends

So that wraps up the first part of our Tour de Phoenix. We’ll be bouncing around the area for the next several weeks, grateful that this is, as the Chicago Tribune has called it, The Land Winter Has Largely Forgotten.