Pleasing start to Phoenix slow season

RV park street lines with tall, tall palm trees
If one must have trees at every site, palms are a safe bet.

Spring and early summer in Phoenix are great! Most of the snowbirds are long gone by mid-March, and the rest fly the coop shortly thereafter. And it’s not  even hot yet!

Since it’s the shoulder season, all the big discount programs, like Passport America and Escapees, are in full effect, and some resorts even have their own half-price specials.

So we pampered ourselves with fitness rooms, spas and swimming pools while waiting for parts and service appointments at National Indoor RV Centers. Sadly, our issues and their schedule and parts delays trapped us in Phoenix until mid July, when the first monsoons hit. 

Campfire scene with antique wooden wagon and stack of firewood. Wooden chairs circle the area.
Rustic campfire areas staged with antique wagons at Black Canyon Ranch RV Resort, on the outskirts of Phoenix.
rods and slats of metal crafted rocker in the shape of a sitting man and woman
Surprising treasures found while on walks around the park.
A fouri-station exercise machine for total body workouts
Our favorite fitness rooms contained a four-station machine like this one at Countryside. Mesa Spirit had two, but they locked up the best one for summer. The smaller fitness room they keep open is a little claustrophobic.
Day Trip!

Driving adventures included a day trip to Tortilla Flats, where all the saddled bar stools were already full, and the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River. Pavement ended and the road became rough and narrow after the town of Tortilla Flats, but we pulled off to get out of the way for a big rig diesel pusher with a driver who braved the switchbacks, tall rock walls and steep drop offs. The motor home was all settled into the campground a couple of hours later, when us slow pokes arrived up at the lake.

A metal sculpture of a buzzard with the blue sky seen through the circle cut out for its eyeball
Blue-eyed carrion sits atop a metal sculptures in Tortilla Flats.
Clefts and shadows make the tall rocky wall seem like it has a face.
Do you see the face?
A replica of an old west town, with fake wooden storefronts, benches and things. A bathtub with a sign about how what Earp bathed there, and a fake human hanging from a noose above the walkway.
The town of Tortilla Flats. Not much to it, but there’s lots to look at, just the same. The hanging dummy was a little disconcerting, though.
Hobby Shops
A log cabin camper ont he back of a pickup truck. It features crossed miner's picks next to the door and hand-crafted tin light sconces, a tie water jug, and signs, one is hazardous materials, and the other is avoid reality at all costs
Arriving at Hobby Bench to buy a new toy, we find this miner’s log cabin in the parking lot.

We discovered some new-to-us hobby shops we never knew about during our last visits, and naturally we had to buy some new toys! Then we discovered a dirt track at Towerpoint (see Where We Stayed below). It was awesome fun for us beginners, and we had it all to ourselves each time we went to play! By this time in our adventure, days were getting pretty hot, but the nighttime lights were out around the track and adjoining doggie park. We stopped by the office and the clerk assured us she’d write up a work order, but lights remained out for the last week of our stay. How disappointing. I’m not sure we will ever return to that park, even though we had so much fun racing. If only we were early risers.

The hobby shops we enjoyed visiting were two Hobby Bench locations, Viper Hobbies and Hobby Action, which also has two locations. We found the people at Hobby Bench the most helpful, so that is where we purchased our first RC cars. Then we re-discovered an old favorite, Duncan’s RC, where we bought bigger and better cars. Move over foamies, Stu’s hangars must make way for a little garage space. Either that, or our cars will live on the couch!

Dinner and a movie!
Bowl full of veggies and a glass of water
Veggie de-lite at the Tempe Marketplace Mad Greens.

Mad Greens and Yogi’s Grill were two other casual restaurants we tried before indulging in classic movies at Harkins Theaters. Mad Greens and a host of other options lined the sidewalk into the Tempe Marketplace theater, and Yogi’s was steps from  the Norterra theater, which is very close to NIRVC. Both restaurants offered fast and healthy meals for as little as $10 per person, plus tips. Harkins Tuesday Night Classics included American Graffiti, which was fun to see again after so many years. They also have special events, like a Doctor Who classic followed by an interview with 84-year-old Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor. But the hype about their Cinema Capri is just that. After reading about the Cinema Capri experience on their website, I expected posh surroundings and real recliners, not the springy, regular-size chairs with no foot rests. But there were fancy gold draperies, and the audio was so awesome, my fourth row, center seat made it better than iMax. It just sucked me right into the action on my solo viewing of Solo!

Craft Beers and Other Good Eats

Lucky us! Craft beers aren’t that hard to find in Phoenix. Craft Beer Hop Stop, near NIRVC, was the best bet. Other dependable locations for craft beers were Total Wine and More and Fry’s Marketplace (don’t buy their branded bakery products if you are vegan, or check label first to make sure there is no L-cysteine).

Good eats were mostly homemade, but we did discover the Wildflower Bread Company, with several locations in the greater Phoenix area. We enjoyed lunch at two, one near National Indoor RV Centers, and one just south of Mesa on Baseline Road. Both were excellent. Stu and I enjoyed the hot Portobello picnic sandwiches, and the other menu items we enjoyed include a salmon Alfredo for him, and the V12 Kale salad sans Feta for me. I subbed the mediterranean dressing for a low-fat and spicy vegan option. We also stocked a freezer-load of their breads, since we are not always close to such natural, simply made fare.

yellow coaster with State 48 Brewery name on itdark brew help up to lightState 48 Brewing Company was another new discovery for us. We were between stores when we saw it on the map and investigated to find they actually brew on site and had porters and stouts on tap. The brews were fantastic! We rated them on Untappd.

They had a veggie burger and fish and chips on the menu, so we were hooked! We just had to relax our standards regarding nutrition labels and such. 

plates of fish and chips and veggie burger with sweet potato fries

The first couple swallows were hard for almost totally vegan Alicia, who wondered if the bun had L-cycteine as well as the obviously shiny egg wash on top. And Stu found the fish was slightly over-cooked and oily. He didn’t care for the shoestring fries either, or the 1/8-cup coleslaw portion.

While in the big city, we also like to visit our favorite buffets, the food bars at Whole Foods. Sadly, the two we partook of were disappointing. After Yelping about old and dried up foods at the swanky Scottsdale location, the company HQ sent us a $20 voucher, so we skipped across town and tried another. While the foods weren’t all dried out and old-looking this time, the only hot food options for vegans were roasted potatoes, roasted vegetables and brown rice. Surprisingly, even the black bean dish had chicken broth in it. Maybe since we eat seafood once in a blue moon, we should relax our almost-veganism? Nah…

giant bronze rabbit statue seems to be holding up a paw to whisper a secret to a woman standing next to it in a yellow summer dress
Bronze Jack rabbits populate public spaces in beautiful downtown Tempe, near a Pita Pit.

We revisited another favorite, Organ Stop Pizza, where the crust stays crispy until the last leisurely bite. We enjoy sharing a carafe of wine with our pizza, and we usually grab glasses of water, as well, so we can sit through at least three sets of organ music. They also have pasta, a salad bar and ice-cream. Tips for a visit include arriving early, about 30 minutes before they open. Take turns walking around the building to see one of the bellows. When inside, have one person order while the other grabs seats. We like going upstairs. The best seats would be over the dining room entrance, but the sides are good as well. If stairs are not an option, anywhere semi-close to the stage would be nice. Like a theater, front row seats are problematic. There are request cards on either side of the stage, so request some favorites or write things like birthdays and anniversaries for the organist to announce. To look at some of the songs they do, check out the CDs for sale on their website gift shop. Eventually, we’d like to see each of the organists perform. So far, we’ve seen Charlie Balogh perform several times, and this year we were lucky enough to experience Brett Valiant, who not only pulled out all the stops, he even greeted people outside after his sets.

Other favorites we revisited were the Pita Pit in Tempe, and  The Good Apple, in Apache Junction. They have an amazing bulk herbs and foods selection. Did you know there is such a thing as marshmallow root? Seriously, there is, and it’s good for a sore throat. We just had to Google it after seeing it there. We bought a few items, wanted even more, and then we enjoyed falling off the vegan wagon for one of their fat-free, soft-serve frozen yogurt cones.

Where We Stayed

motorhome and car with palm trees in backgroundWith Passport America discounts, we stayed at Countryside and Golden Sun, two Encore RV Resorts, and for the third resort, Mesa Spirit, the phone clerk asked us why we didn’t just join Thousand Trails so we could stay at these Encore resorts for “free.” Well, we kept him on the phone well past our check-out time while we learned about the program, but no resort police ever came around to kick us out. He offered us back the $187 we’d already paid for a week at one of the parks. We did the math, and decided for at least this year, we’d probably spend that much at Phoenix parks anyway. And we were right! That service appointment turned into several, which trapped us well into the hot season.

We went out and bought some pink and blue pool noodles and a couple of RC cars, determined to enjoy the periods of waiting. The encore parks were nice, even though there weren’t many planned activities for those who like group entertainments. Each resort had hot tubs, swimming pools and air-conditioned fitness rooms, though we liked the exercise options at Countryside and Mesa Spirit best. Well, until the best of two fitness rooms shut down for the summer at Mesa Spirit.

Between Encore resort stays, we had to spend one week outside the Thousand Trails program, so we tried Towerpoint, a Mesa Cal-Am resort, which is half price in the off-season. It was very nice, but a party crowd was in full control. Loud soft rock music could be heard two blocks away at night, when we’d walk over to soak in the pool and hot tub, and the heated pool was almost always full with half a dozen boisterous people and their ice chests. Maybe they were so loud because the music was? A resort employee would come by and turn the radio down about 10 p.m.

One lucky night we almost had the pool to ourselves and floated while we watched Casablanca on the outside TV, volume all the way up, in hopes of hearing it over the music. “Play it again Sam,” not that we could understand the overlapping audio. We memorized the script long ago. This time the employee turned all the volumes down and then changed the channel to American Idol, after first asking if we were watching it? Politely, we answered  not, just in case she wanted to watch something. She left after changing the channel. Slightly irked, we skedaddled shortly thereafter.

The Cal-Am resort did still have a slate of activities for those who wished to do fitness training, outdoor movie nights and other things.

exercise machines, one with out of order signFinally, after our third two-week stint at Mesa Spirit, we were within six days of what was hopefully our last repair appointment, so we elected to move across town to Pueblo el Mirage, near the western exit routes. The fitness room looked spectacular, until the first day we worked out. The air conditioning was functioning at half-capacity, so it was more than 80 degrees in there. Also, the cable-and-pulley exercise machines were inadequate. The seats were not fully adjustable for people of all heights and sizes, so some exercises were painful to perform. Attachments were also missing, so one had to piece things together for a work-around. But there was definitely not a shortage of cycles, ellipticals, treadmills and weights. There were also some balls, mats and bands. So, where there’s a will, there’s a way, if you’ll excuse the cliché. The pool looked fantastic, but the little waterfall wasn’t operating, and the daily monsoon weather kept messing up swim times. The resort is spectacular and meant for fit, health and active seniors. And, just like most of the 55+ resorts, the only grab bars available are in the one handicap shower and toilet stall. The massive and well-organized library is located upstairs. There is a smaller, less organized library room downstairs.

Here’s a map of our Phoenix favs!

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