Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Another Retirement Option and a Hike in the Superstition Mountains…

After looking at a couple of retirement communities I felt we should take a look at something I felt might be a more likely option in our short term future. Although I know we will eventually end back in a sticks and bricks house I really don’t see us stopping RV’ing anytime soon. What I see s a transitional phase where we would acquire a small home as a base, keep an RV and travel seasonally.  With this in mind we went to visit Gold Canyon, Arizona to Superstition Views, a Cal-Am resort.

What appealed to me here were the casita models similar to ones we looked at when we were staying in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas at Bentson Palms. We drove over to the Cal-Am resort and checked in with the sales office. They had three basic models with varying floor plans available to look at. The smallest was 12 feet wide, the middle, another one 14 feet wide and the largest one was 16 feet wide resulting in casitas ranging form the low 600 square feet to just under 900 square feet of living space.

The smallest place we saw at Robson Ranch was over 1,200 square feet so we were curious what we would think about these smaller casitas. Along the tour we felt the smallest one was just a bit too small despite having a floor plan that made it appear much larger inside. We could live in a unit this  small but really liked the other two larger casita better than the smallest one.

We happily discovered this trip that we had very similar likes and dislikes about our future living arrangements. We do have some differences but nothing too earth shattering. The biggest difference we have is that I see no need for a second bedroom whereas Sharon would like one. I figure that since these casitas allow for an RV pad alongside the casitas, this would provide us guest accommodations when needed.  Sharon also preferred the plan with a laundry room rather than a closet for stackable washer/dryers. She seemed very happy with the plentiful resort amenities although they were on a smaller scale than those at Robson Ranch.

The least expensive were the smallest units starting right at $90,000 and the largest one was just over $100,000 so there would be no reason in my opinion to settle for the smallest one. We would need an additional $10,000  for the full hookup RV pad.  We would also upgrade the basic flooring and kitchen options to our tastes and add the optional deck.After a quick tally we found it would be pretty easy to move into a place at this resort for $150,000 or so. Now the downside would be the "lifestyle fee" (they don’t call it an HOA) as they are pricey at just over $500 per month with the likelihood of increasing about $24 per month at each anniversary until year five.However when considering all you get and the fact that you have no real estate taxes it really isn’t all that bad. If a buyer purchases an already built casita, this lifestyle fee is waived for two years whereas a custom built casita has a one year waive of the fee.

The biggest wow factor for us in this area out were the stunning views to be had by spending the additional money for the outside staircase for access to the roof as a patio deck. With the views of the Superstition Mountains I could see us spending a lot of time on that patio for sure…

  

After our complimentary lunch and tour we noticed  while driving back a small pull out along the road that appeared to be a parking lot for a trail. We stopped and sure enough found a nice series of trails that traversed some small hills with those same fabulous views of the Superstition Mountains. There was a lot of color on the trail as many flowers were blooming giving a beautiful contrast to the saguaros and other cacti as well as the beautiful reddish brown hue of the rocks. We did a short loop of less than two miles and wished we had found this trail system earlier..

We have come to the end of our stay here in Mesa and will leave today for Casa Grande. Yes it is only about 50 miles but that is the way I prefer to travel when we can. I am looking forward to Spring and resuming our life on the road again!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Visit to Hohokam Stadium and a few Breweries and a Mild Rant…

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To pick up where we left off, here in Mesa, Az, we had one more social gathering to attend at one of the breweries in the little town of Chandler that was on my list to visit, the San Tan Brewery. Here we met Jeri and Terri (Just Wanderin’), Jim and Sandie (Where are the Dixon’s) and Paul and Marsha (Where’s Weaver) for a real late lunch or an early dinner. Of course we had a blast and no lies were told by anyone… I know because I was there and I must say there IPA was very, very good!

Another day there was a convention called Airpex which is the Arizona Federation of Stamp Clubs and was advertised as an “Attic Appraisal” where one could bring stamps and have them appraised. One thing I couldn’t part with when we sold our sticks and bricks home was my childhood stamp collection so out of curiosity I wanted to take my collection over to this Mesa Convention Center event to have them looked over.

I was charged $5 bucks entry even though the web site said it was free to attend. I asked about that and of course they said someone was supposed to have that changed … Strike 1… Once I entered I went to the “Attic Appraisal” table where a fairly pompous and self righteous fellow deigned to spend less than 2 minutes flipping pages in my collection (of which I have well over 100,000 stamps) stating rather flippantly that it wasn't’ worth much of anything.

 

I asked about my mint World War II German stamps and he had little to say.  When pressed  he said I should talk to someone at table 40… who said I should to talk with someone else… and finally the fellow who was knowledgeable about German stamps said it wasn’t anything notable. Again, when pressed he said my collection might be worth $20.00. These so called experts said my collection was worth less than the unused postage I have in the collection. In other words I could lick stamps, throw the rest away and get at least $50.00 for the collection. What a waste of time this was as it seemed to me these “appraisers” were not there to help anyone but merely looking for the occasional rare find to perhaps “steal” from someone's collection… Oh well, live and learn!

 

So the day wouldn't be a total loss we decided to go to Hohokam and Fitch Parks (both baseball fields and spring training facilities) in the City of Mesa.  This day at Hohokam Park, the spring training home of the Oakland A's, there was an open house event of sorts. Hohokam Park (pronounced HO-HO-COM) takes its name from some of the earliest residents of the “Valley of the Sun”: the Hohokam Indians. Since the event was free we checked it out and found mostly a venue geared to children but there was a nice live band and they had balloon rides (we just missed doing that).

 

Hohokam Stadium and Breweries 031As we were leaving we saw Bert Campaneris and Furguson Jenkins signing gear as a fundraiser for Breast Cancer. Sharon stopped and chatted with Bert to thank them as a breast cancer survivor for their charity work. It was fun and to cap off the day we drove over to Tempe for a visit to Sleepy Dog Brewery  where I had previously purchased a Groupon deal. We enjoyed some frosty beverages and took home a few bombers (as per the Groupon ). Their beer was not nearly as good as San Tan or Four Peaks but we will surely enjoy the bombers we brought home nonetheless.

Well it looks like we leave here on Wednesday and I just booked us into a Passport America stay at Las Colinas RV Park near Casa Grande and Eloy Arizona where we will likely stay 3 or 4 days before moving on over to Tucson… We both hope to see you on down the road…

Friday, February 20, 2015

Socializing with Bloggers and other RV friends…

As our month stay is about to come to an end at Sun Life RV Park we have been out and about visiting with some of the RV’ers we met over the years who happen to also be in the area. Our first social event was a small get together with a group of bloggers we camped with at Quartzite, Arizona this year. We met Toni and Doug (Palamine), Jeri and Terri (Just Wanderin’) and Jim and Sandie (Where are the Dixon’s) at the #1 Eastern Super Buffet for dinner. It was fun chatting with kindred souls and catching up with each others activities since we last saw each other.

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Our next socializing event was at the invitation of Chappy Trails bloggers Bobbie and Jim Chapman who recently purchased a small condo in Sun City. They hosted a gathering of bloggers and RV friends for lunch and to see their new digs. Check out their blog as they are excited about this new chapter in their lives. They will still be RV’ing to Colorado in the summers so they haven’t hung up their keys yet. As a bonus good friends Bernie and Dodo (RV’ers) showed up at the gala and we were excited to see them as well. We have happily now seen them in four states which has been great… It was also a treat to meet other folks with similar interests at the Chapman’s condo and Jim's Brats were excellent!

imageAnother social event occurred last night or rather I should say social events! First we were invited over to fellow RV’ers and RVillage acquaintances to a happy hour at their site Sun Life RV Park. At this gathering were Donna and Mike (Flying the Koop) and another couple we just met Cheri and and Brett who I contacted on RVIllage to see if they would like to meet up. We all had a great time chatting but Sharon and I had to leave early to meet for dinner with some other friends.

imageWe arranged to meet at a restaurant called TQLA (a play on Tequila no doubt and they actually have chilled tequila on tap!)  We were excited to see our friends Rob and Cheryl who we met many years ago before RV’ing. We first met this great couple at Campbell University in Buies Creek North Carolina as their daughter Lauren and our daughter Katie were teammates on Campbell’s collegiate Division I fast pitch softball team. Over the four years our daughters played softball we traveled from Texas and they from Arizona to North Carolina to watch as many games as we could. We became good friends and every time we are anywhere near Phoenix we look them up to reconnect and every time we reconnect it is like we just saw them yesterday. It was great fun seeing them again.

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Whew… that is a lot of socializing but we are not done yet as we plan to meet up again with Jim and Sandie, Jeri and Terri, and Toni and Doug at the San Tan Brewery today.  As an added treat we will see Paul and Marsha of the blog Where’s Weaver and after Paul recently installed some stabilizers on their rig they will probably be ready to visit the brewery.

Other than all the socializing we were able to sneak in a round of disc golf at a nearby park. It had been a while since we played so it was fun to get back out on the course. We also have been brushing up our skills by playing Pickleball (a still new to us sport) which we are enjoying immensely… and of course there is always happy hour listening to live music by the pool at Mesa Regal RV Resort… Life is good!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sharon’s Thoughts on Our Scottsdale AZ Mayo Visit…

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2011-11-04 Mayo Clinic 004During our four years of fulltime RVing we have found the Mayo Clinics as a wonderful, convenient place to go for our yearly physicals. John first thought of it the first year when we found ourselves due for care near Jacksonville Florida and urged me to call to see if they accepted our insurance. Much to our amazement we were accepted as patients and were mailed some health forms to fill out prior to our first visit. The clinic in Jacksonville impressed us beyond belief. It was a very welcoming atmosphere where money or fees were never once mentioned. All we received upon check in was our “itinerary” which outlined our scheduled visits, directions on where and when to show up and instructions for preparations needed for each visit.

Sax at the Mayo…

This fourth year we are in Mesa and visited the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic for our yearly physicals. One month ahead we called to make an appointment and both were happily scheduled with the very same primary consultation doctors we saw when we visited here two years ago. This time John wanted blood work, full body mole/cancer screening and a physical. I wanted the same as well as my yearly mammogram and gynecological visit. John’s itinerary had him finishing everything in two days and mine took four days. The first day we both saw the dermatologist as this department is usually very busy and the wanted us to have the first available appointment should any return visit be necessary. John passed this visit with flying colors whereas I had a suspicious area on my nose requiring biopsy for a possible basal cell carcinoma (thus I have had to wear a Band-Aid on my nose for two weeks). This biopsy was done on the spot and I was told to wait 7 to 10 days for results. If further treatment was necessary I would be called for scheduling the day the results would be ready. Thankfully the specimen was benign and we are both good to go for another year.

Two of the days our appointments required our being there morning and afternoon. One of the days we packed a lunch to enjoy on the beautiful campus surrounding the clinic. We also enjoyed walking the interpretive desert nature trail on campus most of the days we were there. Also between appointments on the lower level we were treated to a jazz duo or some mellow piano music while awaiting appointments. What a treat that was as John loves jazz and the saxophone!

As with all our other visits no money was ever asked for. We will be billed our copayment in a month or two after our insurance pays. Often this total is under $100.00 which is less than half as much as we would pay had we returned to our doctors back in College Station because at home we have a copay for each doctor whereas at the Mayo Clinic there is only one copayment. We have never been made to wait more than 10 minutes in any waiting area at the clinic and the compassionate, efficiency of the clinic is comforting especially with both of us being cancer survivors. These visits are always a little nerve wracking (for me especially) and we really appreciate how quickly results are given. Most results are received the very same day which is wonderful. Thank you Mayo Clinics, both in Arizona and Florida for the excellent care extended to us. They make this chore an easy one, so much so that in our future when we “settle down”, I for one, want to be near a Mayo Clinic.

Monday, February 16, 2015

One Possible Exit Strategy to Fulltiming…

As we near the end of our fourth year fulltime Rving we are always on the hunt for where we might want to settle down once we give up the full timing gig that we are so enjoying. With that in mind one of the states we have grown quite fond of is Arizona. I have always been a desert person and feel the most beautiful desert in the United States is the Sonoran Desert found throughout the state of Arizona.

We really have no idea what we want to do as an exit strategy but one possible scenario is living in an active adult community. We do know that whatever we do after RV’ing we plan to remain very active. It made sense that since we are in the middle of one of the retirement meccas (the other being Florida) we thought we might explore some of the retirement communities nearby. Besides our legs needed some recuperating from the grueling hike up Camelback Mountain.

After an online search we found the Robson Community web site. They have several retirement communities in the USA and since they have one in west Phoenix (near Goodyear) and one in nearby (more remote) Eloy, Arizona we decided to check these two places out. As an extra bonus they both offer a free lunch along with the tour of their resorts and because they are both a good hour drive each way we felt the free lunch sort of paid for our gas there and back.

The first one we visited is called Pebble Creek which is an extremely large retirement community. We were told they have nearly 6,000 homes built and that nearly 60% of the resident’s that live there are permanent residents. This would be a factor if we planned to make it our permanent home.

The second one we visited was near Casa Grande in the smaller town of Eloy, Arizona. This is a much newer and more remote retirement community and as a result the residents are mostly seasonal. Even when fully built it will have only 4,000 homes but my guess is that would take another 20 or more years as this area is more rural and thus will appeal to fewer people.

At Pebble Creek, residents enjoy world class amenities including a 40,000 square-foot Country Club. There are two championship golf courses along with activity and craft spaces that will have something to offer to just about anyone's desires. Add their resort outdoor pool and spa, indoor lap pool, state-of-the-art fitness center, outdoor courts for tennis, pickleball and even a softball field all located on the premises there really isn’t anything we could think of lacking at this large community. Visits to the nearby White Tank Mountains with their local hiking and biking clubs, allow plenty to do outside the community as well.

Amenities in Robson Ranch are comparable but on a smaller and slightly less grandiose manner. They too have a golf course, resort style indoor and outdoor pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, pickleball and tennis courts, a softball field, along with a recently opened creative arts center and clubhouse. In fact the day we scheduled our tour at the Ranch they were hosting the grand opening of the creative arts center and clubhouse.  Our sales agent, Steve Jones, gave us tickets to a 50’s tribute (the 56 band) band playing that afternoon. They had the best bass guitarist I had ever seen. That kid was so energetic and fun to watch… As the Old Fat Man says we had too much fun! Steve was a great host and understood our motivation for visiting.  He gave a very thorough tour without any heavy sales pressure which made the visit all the more enjoyable.

Robson Ranch AZ 010Robson Ranch AZ 061Robson Ranch AZ 063

Our thoughts were that although Pebble Creek is more elegant and closer to big city amenities it is also maybe a bit too large for our tastes and it is priced on the upper end of what I plan to spend on our next home. Robson Ranch is considerably newer with fewer people. This is both good and bad… good in that we could get to know the residents better and bad in that we may encounter fewer people with similar likes and dislikes. We do both like the more rural setting that Robson Ranch had to offer and their homes were more within our price range. If interested in this Resort we would highly recommend you visit with him.

Having lived in 440 square feet for the past four years most of the homes in both communities are simply too large for our future needs. Both of these locations have recently begun to build what they call Lock and Leave Villas. They are designed more for seasonal residents and are much smaller. Our favorite units were of the villa type and our very favorite was one of the villas that was less than 1300 square feet (still a large place to us now). HOA fees are higher for the villa (about $375 per month) but included hazard insurance, exterior room and paint and landscaping making it easy to leave the area during the very hot summers for an escape to the cooler mountains.

While we are not ready to quit RV’ing anytime soon this was certainly enlightening as we toured what could be our future home…

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Camelback Mountain an Urban Hike…

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Sharon’s next to the last Mayo appointment was scheduled early one morning at the Mayo facility in North Phoenix. After her appointment it was still early in the day and with temperatures reaching into the 80’s over the last week I thought this might be a good time to do an urban hike I had briefly read about at Camelback Mountain.

Camelback Mountain is the one of the iconic mountains that defines Phoenix, the nation's fifth largest metroplex. I had read that this was a rather short hike but had a lot of elevation gain so getting an early start would help us beat the heat of the day. Also due to this trail’s popularity scoring a parking spot can be tricky especially on weekends but luckily our trip was on a weekday.

We made our way to the Echo Canyon Recreation Area at Camelback Mountain where the trailhead begins and even though we had arrived about 10:00 am the parking lot was almost full. We lathered up with sunscreen and packed our water before walking over to the informational plaquards near the restrooms.

Camelback Mountain is in close proximity to all of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona. All along its foothills the city emerges as there are many luxury homes and resorts complete with their requisite golf courses. Yet here in the middle of Phoenix is this great venue for urban hiking.

Reading the plaquards we learned that Camelback Mountain is at an elevation of 2,704 feet. We also learned that the Echo Canyon Trail (our hike) would be 2.4 miles round trip with the trail described as an extremely strenuous hike of 1.2 miles to the summit. We didn’t care much for the words "extremely strenuous" but  since this trail does ascend 1,280 ft, over that 1.2 mile hike… we knew there had to be some serious climbing!

Not to be deterred we set out for the trail. The trail started out ascending through some spectacular red sandstone formations and after 1/4 a mile we came to a small rise where some more information plaques described what we could see on the horizon. This overlook marked the beginning of the harder part of the trail as the next 3/8 of a mile became a constant climb up railroad ties serving as a stairway over a rocky (yet slippery) trail.

Next we came to the first real steep section which had a hand rail to assist in climbing this very steep and slippery section of the trail. Once we climbed this part we felt that we might have gotten ourselves onto a pretty mean trail. Then we walked on a rocky trail a bit further where we encountered another less intense section of steep trail with a hand rail.

The remaining Echo Canyon trail consisted of lots of loose rock as well as large rocks that required scrambling over in order to find a route up. The reward, though, were the incredible views of the metroplex below. The steep terrain and rock scrambling taxed our legs significantly. Fortunately we found several good places to stop for water and a chance to rest the weary legs. There really was not much hiking over the last half of the trail as we were basically ascending a constant rock scramble until we summited. 

The summit offered 360 views of Phoenix so we stopped and rested while looking down the mountainside to the urban sprawl below us. There was a low brown cloud blanketing the urban sprawl since winter is the time that many valley towns and cities have a layer of pollution hanging low due to inversions in the area.

After hydrating and resting a bit we started our rock scramble back down the mountain being very careful with our steps going down as gravity was as much our enemy in descent as it was our friend. The steeper parts of trail had an additional hazard as we descended in the form of small particles of very slippery, pulverized granite distracting us from enjoying much of the view down. Slipping and sliding and scrambling our way down we eventually made our way back to he parking lot several hours later. Our legs were a fatigued with that feeling of legs like Jell-O which we knew would take a while to subside after this grueling hike.

CAMELBACK MT 2

This hike is not for the faint of heart and is definitely a tough workout. However we rated  this as a great hike because of  the combination of a great workout along with beautiful views. I read later that the Cholla Trail coming in on the other side of Camelback Mountain is a bit longer but a whole lot less crowded. Had I done more research we probably would have taken that trail to the summit instead. Nevertheless I can count this as another fun mountain climb to be scratched off the old bucket list…