Monday, February 2, 2015

Intro to Snowbirding in Southern Arizona

Snowbirding = Flying South for the Winter

Roper Lake State Park and Mount Graham.
This photo show the campground cabins along the lake.

Sunrise over Roper Lake, Arizona

I've read quite a few blogs about "Snowbirding" in ArizonaSouthern California, and Mexico.  I follow a few blogs and learn when and where folks "full time" in their RVs. Living in Durango, Colorado is awesome, but for the winters, I plan to be a snowbird, and needed to scout some ideas.

Cherry Baby and Saturn with morning rainbow. 
In January I met up with some friends for a few weeks of camping in Southeast Arizona.  This is their second year of retirement, they spent last winter in and around Southwest New Mexico and Southeast Arizona. The names of the locations they explored in 2014 really intrigued me; Bisbee, Tombstone, the Chiricahua Mountains, Cochese Stronghold.  And as this is the first year of my extended travel with part-time retirement, I decided to rendezvous with them at Roper Lake State Park.

My friends have a classic 12 foot camper and tow it with their Toyota Tacoma.  A sweet set up.  Our rendezvous location was Safford, AZ, Roper Lake State Park. With a clearing storm coming through, the sunset and sunrise were photographically inspiring.  The campground was quiet and in the Gila loop I paid $15. for the night; no hookups, but water spigots and hot showers too.  Roper Lake has three loops for camping and can supply up 30-50amp service.  The campground even has a hot tub!  What a deal.  Here's a map of the State Park.
My friends' rig, sunrise at Roper Lake State Park

Day One: Durango to Bluff, UT (121 miles)

Day Two: Bluff to Holbrook, AZ (200 miles)

Day Three: Holbrook to Safford, AZ (215 miles)

I was solo, and often am, so the third day was kinda long for me, as the travel from Show Low to Globe was through the mountains, the Apache Reservation.  There were lots of hills with signs suggesting that vehicles towing trailers check their brakes for the downhill.  I certainly followed those suggestions, and stopped when I felt a bit overwhelmed by the drive, rested.

On this trip I learned that I can tow for 250 miles per day,  I prefer just around 200 miles.

I'm a newbie at towing my camper, took driving lessons and have been on many familiar roads, but when the travel includes mountains, and unfamiliar routes, I see I need to take my time.

Destination, Gila Box Riparian Area.  Safford, AZ

The reason for meeting friends at Roper Lake was our plan to caravan to Gila Box Riparian Area, northeast of Safford, and just about 20 miles from Roper.

Gila Box, BLM site. 
Outside of Safford, Arizona
The first thing I learned while towing my rig to the Gila was that the campground hosts, Walt and Kathy, were going to be fast friends.  They met us at the entrance and escorted us up and down the tight curves to the campground.  The road is narrow, well paved, but there are a few blind curves so Walt and Kathy made sure no other vehicles were coming at us.  

Walt, collecting the trash left behind.  
On my last day, Walt and Kathy escorted
me out of the Gila and gave me walkie talkies
for the drive to town.

The Beauty of the Gila Box

The Gila River, near the "take out".
Gila River, the beach.  I sat here many times with my sketchbook, camera
and reading material. 

Barrel Cactus galore.

Prickly Pear Cactus right next to my campsite

Home-sweet-home for 12 days
I settled in to Site #9, and set up my camper to catch the morning sun and southern exposure, my friends at Site 10. A 30 watt solar panel proved perfect for two weeks of "dry camping".   One of the main reasons I chose a travel trailer is to unhook and be free to explore with my jeep.  My "clunker" mountain bike serves me for daily trips to the loo, and to exercise and enjoy the land.  As you can see, I like a "gravity" chair and folding table end table at camp.  At $2.50 per night (with America the Beautiful Pass) the Gila was the best bargain for front country camping.  We had the campground to ourselves, with spacious sites, great views and the river flowing nearby.  And having Walt and Kathy, Jim and Marianne (BLM Volunteers) onsite sure helped me to feel safe and comfy.
The campsites at Gila included sweet light, covered picnic
tables and fire rings.

Part II. Geo Cache, ATV tour and New Friends