Saguaro to Nogales

It’s been something of a frenzy around here lately as we rush to tie up the final loose ends in preparation to cross back into Mexico.

Having lived in Mexico for the past 3.5 years, we have a good idea what we can and can’t get in Mexico, how long shipping takes (and how much it costs), and what kind of work can be done south of the border.

No matter where we’ve lived, food items are always something we adjust to. Getting set on a certain breakfast or snack food can cost you if it’s not something the locals eat. Luckily, we’ve got our favorite Mexican food items that we know we can get in any decent sized town in Mexico at a reasonable price.

Hearty canned foods are not one of those things. So, we’ll make sure our dinette seat compartments are well stocked with stews and quick dinners-in-a-can. And Cheerios.

We also know that RV supply stores will be next to impossible to find. So I’d like to finagle a new city water inlet.

And oil changes are expensive and generally not up to par with even a quick Jiffy Lube oil change. I don’t know how many times I’ve practically had to beg the guy to drain the oil completely and fill it with new oil. Most mechanics we’ve had in Mexico just can’t bring themselves to do it. “The oil looks fine,” they say. “No hay problema.” They just want to top it off with new oil, even if the old oil’s been circulating for some 5,000 miles and literally looks like tar. If you’re lucky enough to live in a big city, they’ll change the oil (maybe lose a bolt or two in the process (this has happened to us)) and charge the equivalent of $100. If you’re lucky, they’ll actually change the oil filter too, but that’ll cost you.

There’s also some hardware odds an ends we’ll need to get. This is all in Tucson, not counting getting our Mexican auto/RV insurance and a few last minute things at Walmart in Nogales (Arizona).

Most of that will happen tomorrow, on our final full day in the States for a while. We’ll be on the road for a few days before reaching San Carlos where the plan is to slow things down and stay a few weeks. We’re looking forward to it.

Today, however, is a fun day. One last day of exploration before hitting the road again. After all the fun they had working towards their Junior Ranger badges at Joshua Tree National Park, they’re beyond excited to do the same here at Saguaro National Park.

But first, a little bit of independent school time and working on finishing their Junior Ranger requirements while Lori and I enjoy some coffee and our last hour at Gilbert Ray.

Riley wasn’t so keen to work on the Junior Ranger book, so it was Noe, and Noe alone, who earned his badge this morning. He worked very hard and was very excited to become a Junior Ranger. Today, both boys will get another chance to earn yet a second badge.

The visitor center was pretty packed, but there were only five of us who stayed for the introductory movie they have in the theater there. It was an interesting enough video, but the best part was at the end when the screen went up to reveal a field of Saguaros through floor-to-ceiling windows.

With the formalities out of the way, it’s time to hit the trail.

Suffice it to say that today’s adventure wasn’t as mind-blowing as the boys’ time at Joshua Tree. Seeing thousands of Saguaros is impressive and all, but the park lacks the spectacular scenery that Joshua Tree has in spades.

It doesn’t help that we’ve lived in the Baja desert for the past 18 months. So none of this is particularly novel.

And it also didn’t help that both boys got their fingers filled with tiny little needles when they decided it might be a good idea to pick up these guys.

That was only about 15 minutes into our little hike. We had planned to do a much bigger hike, but after that, we made the hike a two-mile loop and headed back to the RV.

After mommy worked her magic on the afflicted fingers, we buckled up and headed to the next hike. But parking proved a bit more challenging than we had hoped. And the rest of the big attractions of the park seemed to be at the end of narrow dirt tracks. The boys seemed to be content to move on, so we called it a day.

There was another reason why the boys might not have been too heart broken to continue on. We were headed to our very first KOA, our pitstop for our last night in Tucson.

I’ve never in my life stayed at a KOA. Lori’s never been to a KOA. It’s all been a foreign world to us. Until today. We had a hunch things might be a little different here. At least we hoped so…considering the price (twice as much as our previous night).

If you ask me, $72/night is an obscene amount of money to spend on an RV site, even one that bills itself as a resort—especially when you consider the fact that you’re basically supplying everything but utilities and a flat piece of ground.

It’s not like location is a factor either. Somehow this place manages to be both as scenic as an industrial park and convenient to nothing.

But, it does have two pools, an overpriced restaurant, and a playground, and offers an interesting glimpse into the lives of the upper crust of RVers. We were also able to justify the expense knowing that tomorrow night we we’ll be sleeping in a parking lot near the Mexican border.

When we pulled in, we wondered what we had signed up for. But it ended up being a fun and interesting experience—one we knew we wouldn’t be repeating any time soon in Mexico.

The boys even came away from the experience with some new friends, which made the stay worthwhile.

The next morning, we packed up the RV, bid adieu to Lazy Days KOA and began our marathon day of getting stuff done and getting to the border.

First stop, tire alignment. After an exhaustive search calling around to what must have been every alignment shop in Tucson, we found the one place that would accommodate our home on wheels—Purcell Tire. If you’ve got an RV and need tire work done in Tucson, this is the place to go, apparently.

A stack of American magazines on a coffee table means we won’t be hearing from the boys for a while, no matter the topic.

Noe had a lot of questions after making his way through nearly every 2023 issue of Petersen’s Hunting Magazine.

I thought for sure that between our heavy load, increasing the tire pressure 20psi, and Arizona’s evil I-10 that surely our tire alignment would need some serious adjustment. So, when I got back the post-report I wasn’t exactly thrilled to read that the wheels only required minor alignment correction—especially considering the price tag. Oh well, at least we know all six tires will wear properly moving forward…until we hit our first massive Mexican pothole.

Next up, the only oil change place in Greater Tucson that would even take a crack at our vehicle. Lori called around to I don’t know how many places who all said no, then passed the buck to some other poor sap who in turn passed the buck to some other place. Eventually, we landed on the Jiffy Lube on E. Valencia Road. They had recently serviced another Class C and seemed pretty confident that ours would fit.

When we got there, we eyed the bay opening and weren’t so sure. Still, the manager felt confident he could get us in. Now why on earth he would trust a stranger to be able to pull this thing in unscathed is beyond me. I guess he figured that was my problem, not his.

Time to pull in the side mirrors and suck it in.

Mind you, in addition to the Winnie’s 8-foot width, it’s got two exhaust pipes that extend out. Oh, and did I mention I had to back it out of there too? With my side mirrors folded in. But in the end, we managed. And now we should be good to go for a while.

In terms of our two other To Do projects on the RV, I successfully tracked down a new city water inlet and was able to install it amongst Gilbert Ray’s rugged beauty and numerous desert rats and coyotes. We have water hookups again and no leaks!

Unfortunately, our quest to get the RV microwave fixed was not so successful. We had a heck of a time finding an RV repair shop that worked on microwaves. We thought we had, only to find out in a second call that, nope, they don’t.

Even though I’m convinced it just needs the fuse replaced, the RV people keep telling us to toss it and just buy a new one. The American way, I guess.

Think we’ll take our chances and wait until Mexico where either I can take a crack at it myself or find someone who’s more than willing to do so for a reasonable fee.

Finally, with all the big things off the list, we roll out of town, bound for the border. But not before one quick stop.

San Xavier del Bac Mission is right off the main freeway towards Mexico. Noe loves this stuff, and Riley likes what Noe likes (usually), so it was an easy decision.

Founded in the 17th century, with some parts of the structure surviving from the late 1700s, the mission is one of the more evocative and striking we’ve seen in the U.S.

We would have liked to have taken the boys to the Titan Missile Museum and Pima Air & Space Museum, but simply ran out of time. Have to leave something for next time.

Guess we’re headed to Nogales!

There aren’t a lot of options in Nogales, Arizona to park an RV before crossing the border. That is, unless you want to boondock in a parking lot somewhere, which is what we planned to do. Lori had heard that Walmart was a popular choice, and we were headed there anyway.

But first, we needed to swing by the Sanborn’s office at the Holiday Inn Express to get ourselves some Mexican auto insurance. I had been thinking we’d keep things flexible and pay by the month, but their annual rate was too good to pass up (equivalent to several months free). Given that we’re planning on doing this for at least the next 9 months in Mexico, the annual plan seemed like the obvious choice. The friendly agent had waited and closed late for us, but the commission off of a 12-month RV policy made it worth her while, I think.

I wasn’t feeling great about staying in the Walmart parking lot. The hotel parking lot near the Sanborn’s seemed like it might be a better bet. We asked the night manager before we left and he didn’t have a problem with it.

Turns out it was a good call. There were several “No Overnight Parking” signs posted around the Walmart parking lot. Still, we ended up spending way more time than I’d like to at the Walmart and didn’t leave until well after dark.

Night had fallen, but we were hoping to hit one last all-American fast-food joint before leaving the U.S. for a while. It appeared that Panda Express was the only non-Mexican food joint for miles. Not exactly what we had in mind, but the boys were super excited and we weren’t complaining. Particularly since it’s so hard to find anything like that in Mexico.

When we got back to the hotel parking lot, there was a car that immediately turned on its headlights and began to follow us. I started to think this was a bad idea. We tried not to be too paranoid about it, but couldn’t help it. After we got the boys situated, Lori read her messages on the phone. They were from the people coming a bit later to buy Riley’s old carseat, and they were already here. Mystery solved.

There’s been a lot of coming and going in the parking lot since then—shuttles dropping off guests and workings changing shifts. And the wind is blowing between 20 and 30 mph, rocking the coach from side to side. We’ll see if we actually get any sleep tonight.

Tomorrow, Mexico!

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