Tucson Days

There were a handful of places we were eying for our four days in Tucson. When we left Oregon, we thought we’d figure it out once we got closer. After all, it’s March…

Driving through the Mojave, Lori thought she might call ahead to see about rates and get some more information. Our #1 pick was county-owned Gilbert Ray Campground, just outside of Saguaro National Park. We quickly discovered that it can only be booked online. Once we got reception, Lori checked it out and realized that, out of 130 sites, there was only availability for two of the four nights we planned to stay.

Apparently, there are a lot of folks who have off midweek, have an RV, and want to stay at a county park outside of Tucson. They even have a two-week limit on stays, so it wasn’t like a bunch of retirees were camped out for the season.

We were shocked.

Our second choice, a KOA of all places, was twice the price. Maybe for one night, but not for all four.

Which brought us to our third choice, which didn’t look all that bad. It just didn’t look all that inspiring, sitting next to the highway in a more industrial part of town.

But it was available for our first night in Tucson, so we thought we’d give it a try.

Prince of Tucson

Prince of Tucson RV Park has a pool, a game room, and is about as quiet as they come, despite being nearly filled to capacity.

We could tell a lot of the people here were either long-term seasonal or full-timers, which was a whole new experience for us. But everyone was surprisingly friendly, particularly to the kids, and seemed to welcome the liveliness the boys undoubtedly bring to any occasion.

Here on our “shake down” drive so far, I’ve got two main repairs to do before we get to Mexico.

I’ve been having an issue with the city water inlet that seems to have hit a breaking point…literally. The connection was never great to begin with. After connecting the hose and turning on the water, I’ve needed to wiggle it a bit to get it keep it from leaking.

I tried turning down our water regulator from 40psi to 25psi, but no luck. The morning we left Joshua Tree (the last time we had hookups), I noticed that the connection had gone from a slow to steady leak, leaving a pretty good pool of water.

Fortunately, it should be an easy part to replace here in Tucson. It would be impossible to find in Mexico, I gather. For the time being, we’re running off of our fresh water tank and pump. After pulling through into our spot, Noe helped me fill the tank so we were ready for action.

All the RV parks and campgrounds we’ve stayed at so far have had free hot showers, which has been a surprisingly nice added bonus. Now that we’re not hooked up to water, that should help even more.

The other thing we need to get repaired is our microwave. The fuse blew in the Redwoods on our very first morning. Bad latch connection, perhaps? We’re hoping we can find a technician here in town to look at it. But that’s less of a concern for me. Once we get to Mexico, we’ll be in the land of appliance repair people. But it would be nice to get it sorted before then.

The weather’s been really nice since we arrived in Arizona. But once the boys saw that the club house had toys, that’s the only place they wanted to be.

With a nice, flat gravel surface, I thought I’d try something new. I’ve noticed we get a fair amount of rockin’ and rollin’ when the boys are up in their bunks, particularly on gravel. I read somewhere that jack stands can help with that and I just so happen to have a set of four stack jacks. We’ll see if they make any difference.

It’s been over a decade since I was last in Tucson, but I haven’t forgotten the sunsets. Some pretty amazing ones in these parts. Something we’ve definitely missed from Baja.

Sabino Canyon

Back some 12 or 13 years ago, we had some close friends who lived in Tucson who loved to take visitors to Sabino Canyon for a walk or hike. I figured it would be something the boys would enjoy doing, but didn’t count on how difficult it might be logistically with the RV.

Google maps isn’t much help in terms of where to park or how to access the parking lot for Sabino Canyon. So we figured we’d just wing it. What’s the worst that could happen?

When we arrived, I was shocked to find a packed parking lot. This, mind you, was mid-morning on a Monday in March. There was an overflow lot a mile up the road, so Lori wasn’t too crazy about that. We thought we might have to walk back along the road, but turns out there’s a cut-over trail that joins the main canyon trail a mile in. And there was plenty of room for RVs at the overflow lot.

If you happen to visit Sabino Canyon in a big rig, the overflow lot is marked as “Southern Arizona Rescue Association” on Google Maps.

30 minutes into our hike, we were starting to wonder where were all the people? After all, the main lot was nearly full (and it’s a big lot, too). It didn’t take long to figure it out once this thing zoomed past.

Sabino Canyon is a pretty deep canyon. The Sabino Canyon Crawler takes you seven miles into it and back out about an hour, making nine stops along the way. It sounded cool, but you had to book in advance and that didn’t work for us. With the boys, we’re content on hiking a couple miles in, seeing what we can see, and calling it a day.

Noe’s favorite part about the whole hike might have been “panning for gold” on the banks of this stream. There were bits of fools gold littering the sand, but he was convinced he’d strike the motherlode.

A nice 3-mile hike on a beautiful day among many friendly cactus. The best part is, since we didn’t take the Crawler, we had the canyon to ourselves, more or less.

Backup Camera Project

A quick note on my backup camera installation from late last month, since there’s a good view of the rear of the coach here.

I wasn’t sure how I wanted to proceed with running the wires from the camera to the head unit in the dash, some 22 feet away. Even Youtube and online forums don’t provide a lot of good ideas for doing this.

The easiest route is to just buy a wireless unit. As I previously said, I didn’t want to do that because of issues that they have with interference and reception, but more so, because I didn’t want to have a bunch of screens cluttering up the dash. I already have the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) display, and I was replacing the stock stereo with one with navigation and bluetooth. So wired was the best route for us.

I knew I wanted to mount the camera right below the center brake light, but didn’t feel comfortable drilling any big holes into the coach. The walls are foam core and not hollow, so the wires would have had to be routed inside the coach and up to the front. That didn’t seem ideal either.

I came up with the idea of running the wire through PVC conduit just behind the ladder and down to the trailer hitch connections. From there I was able to zip tie the line along the hitch wire harness all the way to the kick panel next to the driver’s seat, which gave me easy access into the cab. Then it was up into the dash.

Took some dry weather and a day to do, but I’ve been really happy with the results. The camera works perfectly and makes parking and maneuvering much easier.

Tucson Hop Shop

As our border crossing date nears, we wanted to squeeze in one last American brewpub. Tucson has a number of these, but the Tucson Hop Shop seemed to have something the others didn’t: parking options for the RV. We were able to park right on the street out front. The beer and wood fire pizza were excellent, and we had never seen so many kids at a place like this. Or as many bikes. Plenty to love in Tucson, but we’re looking forward to getting south.

We spent our first two nights at Prince of Tucson, moving the vehicle to a different spot on the second because ours was no longer available. It was really nice having a block of time and a full day in between where we didn’t have a lot planned (and weren’t on the road). I managed to cross a few small projects off the list, Lori got to catch up on some work, and the boys got to squeeze in some school.

Gilbert Ray Campground

We managed to get a reservation for one night at Gilbert Ray Campground on our third of four nights in Tucson. Not ideal, but better than not getting to stay there at all. We had read so many great things about it, and it’s proximity to Saguaro National Park was ideal since that was what we planned to do during our stay there.

Best of all, we caught one of the best sunsets of the trip so far.

We can see why people love Gilbert Ray so much. It’s a very picturesque and extremely well maintained desert oasis. We enjoyed seeing the mix of people and vehicles, beyond the typical retiree Class A and fifth wheels that are so common down here in Arizona. Everything from young families in camper vans, vintage trucks hauling vintage trailers, beefy overland vehicles making their way to South America and everything in between.

We noticed something strange when we arrived at Gilbert Ray. Everyone seemed to have the hoods of their vehicles propped open. My first thought was that it had something to do with heat, but that made no sense here in March. I asked Lori about it and she remembered reading something about critter issues.

We asked around and sure enough desert rats will take up residence in any dark, cool space they can find. In an RV campground, that means engine compartments. Those staying here a couple of weeks go to great lengths to avoid this from happening, including elaborate light setups illuminating their engine compartment at night. We hoped one night wouldn’t be enough to attract the area’s tiny residents, but opted to leave the hood propped just in case.

In the end, it looked like we managed to avoid any encounters like that with desert rats. But we did get to listen to the coyotes at sunset just a few hundred meters from the campground, which was a cool experience.

While the boys were finishing up their dinner, I couldn’t help sneaking up to the top of the RV to catch the after-sunset light show. Pretty incredible.

After the boys were sound asleep, Lori and I snuck up here with a night cap, but by then, the wind was whipping and it was too cold for comfort. We settled for a quick walk around our loop instead.

Tomorrow, Saguaro National Park.

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