From the Cold Forest to the Hot Desert

I woke up before dawn yesterday morning, cold. It had gotten down to 35ºF overnight. It was 50º inside the van, but I still woke up from being cold. I can’t even blame Lister for this one. The previous evening I’d turned my propane heater on low as soon as the sun went down, then ran it until I went to sleep. This is my standard operating procedure in winter. Early October is just too soon to start it.

When I arrived in Kaibab National Forest just under two weeks ago, it was still shorts and t-shirt weather. It’s amazing how quickly it cooled off here. There weren’t even any foliage color changes to warn me this was coming, because it’s a pine forest. I don’t deal well with the cold. Although I was on day 13 of the 14 I’m allowed, I decided to take advantage of a slow time at work to pack up and begin the last leg of my trek to Quartzsite for the winter.

Destination: Prescott

My goal for the day was Prescott. There used to be a stage rally here, but it doesn’t seem to have run in several years, and the website is very out of date. Depending on the time of year it may run in the future, I’d consider volunteering for ham radio duties like I used to do in the northeast.

The driving was easy. There’s always the occasional tailgater, but Arizona has so many long, flat, straight passing zones that they can get around me fairly easily. The next thing I knew, two hours had gone by, and I was in Prescott before lunchtime. I got somewhat more reasonably priced gas, then picked up a few things at Walmart. This one strangely doesn’t appear on any of my overnight parking apps, regardless of whether overnight parking is allowed or not. I saw a number of vans and RVs here, but at this time of day there’s no telling whether they were here for the night, or just picking up supplies like me. Walmart is an evil corporation, but even if I can’t stay overnight, they always have plenty of parking for my van and trailer. That’s important, because not everywhere does (I’m looking at you, Santa Fe).

Lister had been quiet the entire ride, only getting mouthy when we stopped. I wasn’t about to let him roam around a Walmart parking lot. Considering how early in the day it was, I decided to skip my potential overnight stop at a nearby Cracker Barrel and press on toward Quartzsite. I didn’t need to make the entire trip in one day, but I had enough daylight to get there if all went well. Plus, Lister wouldn’t have any more travel days for a while. We’d write off one day, and then he could explore outside as much as he wanted.

Destination: Unknown

There are plenty of National Forests and BLM land along the way, so at any time I could’ve pulled down a dirt road and hunkered down for the night. But the recent rain had left muddy patches on a lot of these roads, so I chose not to. As soon as we started moving again, Lister got quiet, and remained that way for the rest of the drive.

Just past the town of Yarnell, Highway 89 divided, and my southbound side became a single lane desperately clinging to the side of a cliff. The northbound side, far below me, was new construction with two lanes and a much easier path. What is now the southbound side must’ve been the original road for both directions. The speed limit went down to 30 and I didn’t want to go any faster, with all the tight twists and turns along the side of the cliff. Since this section was originally designed for two-way traffic but one-way now, I was able to use the full width of the lane to straighten out the curves a bit. It was the same idea as the racing line around a track, except at the speed limit or less, and without running over any curbs. It still gave us a smoother ride, plus it was kind of fun to do this in my van instead of my motorcycle for once. It’s no track day, but I’ll take it.

Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, I was instantly out of the mountains and BAM, on a 65 mph straightaway across the desert for as far as I could see. There was no transition through foothills, just a tight twisty road suddenly changing into this. I don’t recall ever seeing such a profound change in conditions like this in such a short space.

Even I had no trouble maintaining 65 on these flat straight roads, so I ate up the miles. I was also continually descending to lower altitudes. I dropped below 3,000 feet elevation for the first time since I reached Sisters, Oregon back at the end of June.

Highway 89 led to 71, which led to US 60, all of which were pretty much in a straight line southwest. While Route 66 gets all the hype, it was interesting to see a similar decay as I passed through towns along Route 60. The RV parks are going strong thanks to the snowbirds, but the towns themselves are rather run down, a shadow of their former selves. The cause is the same — Interstate 10 came along and pulled away the travelers these towns used to rely on.

Destination: Quartzsite

The miles passed by so quickly with such easy driving, and a quiet cat, that the next thing I knew, I was approaching I-10. The first Quartzsite exit was just 11 miles down. It made no sense to not go all the way at this point.

So far, Quartzsite is a shell of itself during the winter. Daily high temperatures have dropped down to the 90s, with 80s expected this weekend. That’s when I’d planned to arrive, so I have a couple of hot days to get through before then. As a result, the countless vendors and tents along Kuehn Street don’t even exist at this point. What few have already arrived are still setting up, and not making fast progress in the daytime heat that still lingers. I’ll take a bike ride around town soon and see the current state of things in more detail.

I didn’t need Google Maps to tell me to turn left down US 95, then left into the La Posa South LTVA where I spent last winter. Some hearty souls are already here, including a few rigs I recognize. I drove back to the spot where I spent last winter. It appeared completely empty until I spotted a tent in a clump of bushes, no doubt trying to escape the sun. Other than that, Everything was as we’d left it. Darryl and Marilyn’s rocks around their camp were still there, though now occupied by a Ford Transit Connect. Our camp’s fire ring was still there. Even a couple of rocks I’d used to support my flagpole were exactly where I left them months ago. But I didn’t park in exactly the same place. I detached my trailer, turned around, and parked alongside it so I could string up my shade cloth between them — probably the most important use I’ve made of it so far, given the heat.

I’ve mentioned before that I missed the Arizona sunsets. As the sun sank in the western sky, I pulled up a chair to enjoy it. This was a nightly activity for our entire camp last year. Right now it’s just Lister and me, so we enjoyed it together. Unlike my last campsite, it didn’t cool off very much after sundown. In fact, I left the windows cracked open and the roof fan on overnight to keep me cool. It didn’t drop out of the 70s overnight — quite a change from 35º the previous night!

I don’t really have a plan from here. Friends who are traveling to Quartzsite now know where I am, and where to find me when they get here. I know one or two people already here and will look them up. I’m not ready to try for Arizona residency yet. My electronic titles in Florida aren’t showing up in my online account the way they should. I haven’t been able to reach a human, likely due to the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. On top of that, though technically I need an LTVA permit to camp here after September 15, the physical permits haven’t even been printed yet. They’re letting us camp without them for now, and expect us to come to buy them as soon as they’re available. Without the permit, I have no proof of spending an extended length of time in Arizona, which I need to become a resident. So with problems in both states, I’m just stuck for a while. My current registrations expire at the end of December, so hopefully, I’ll get them resolved before then.

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