Autumn begins in earnest. Nights become crisp. Days shorten and cool. And of course the 10th month of the year is named after beer!
Since Zoey’s last update, we are happy to report that she is loving the desert environment at Red Rock Canyon Campground and getting along great with the BLM folks and the wildlife. She has made friends with Terrance (the Tarantula), Cal (the Coyote), Leroy (the Lizard), Ramon (the Kangaroo Rat), Beatrice and Bernie (the Bunnies), Harry (the Hummingbird), Ralph (the Raven), Fred (the Falcon), and Jacques and Jollie (the Jackrabbits). Zoey has talked us into leaving a bowl of water out for these guys in exchange for their help in talking Alvin, Simon, and Theodore (the 3 chipmunk-esque ground squirrels) into relocating from our basement back to their home. Well, ok, truth be told, Dave crawled under the RV and sealed the seams with duct tape to prevent the terrible trio from nesting under our home or eating our wiring.
So our week last Monday began with a double shift! (Gasp!) We are “retired” now, so it’s not exactly what you think if you haven’t yet joined the movement. On this particular Monday, we woke to an amazing sunrise on the Red Cliffs complete with a double rainbow! After a few sprinkles of much needed rain, or more like a couple drops, we began our rounds.
On this morning, Zoey decides to sleep in so she will be fresh for the first big presidential debate later in the evening. After rounds, where we mark off vehicle plates on an old fashion clipboard with pencil and black magic marker on yellow receipts, we return to our rig for coffee and if the sun is out make shade with our awning. Zoey usually joins us on the patio to sun bathe a bit.
Around nine am we fire up the “Beast!” She is a beauty of a golf cart, complete with government license plates, big off road tires, and a dump truck back! On the rare occasion she starts right up she purrs but most of the time she is a little slow to get rolling, requiring about a minute with foot on the gas to coil the cycle before she bursts to her maximum speed of 5 miles per hour in two seconds and almost always gives us whiplash.
Volunteering with the United States Federal Government is exciting. We share a government issued Chevy 2500 HD pickup with our fellow camp hosts for early morning money drops and evening patrols. It can also be slow when it comes to background check processing and reimbursements. Even as we type this we are waiting for the propane service to hook us up, but when you live for free in a place where other folks can only stay two weeks a month, you can’t really complain. So back to our “Monday morning:”
We usually start with the RV cul de sac restrooms. Amy sweeps, while Dave ensures the doors stay propped open and unlocks the toilet paper steel lock (yes folks, people do try and steal government TP!) Dave uses a pine sol spray can for the pit toilets while Amy refreshes the fragrant dryer sheets (a touch she has added to Red Rock campground!) Amy mops while Dave checks picnic tables, fire rings, and BBQ grills. It’s a comical routine that comes with big cheers for the beast when she starts right up, and loud boos when a camper misses the target or the inside of a vault toilet requires some of Bob’s special Kerosene-based lubricant to help everything travel with gravity. Sometimes we find a “99-cent bag of nasty” so we always glove up. On the days the group campsites are open we have a couple more bathrooms to clean for the boy scouts, church groups, or NOLS folks, but we don’t mind since they are friendly and help with service projects when they are here. Typically, morning rounds are over in under an hour and we then enjoy a late breakfast. Yes, “retired” life is wonderful.
At eleven in the morning we go out again to see who is staying for an extra night. The campground works off an honor system with an Iron Ranger at the Information/Check-In Kiosk. A camper has until 11am to renew for another night if they want the same site. The 20 or so sites originally built have picnic tables on cement pads with metal shade structures that are about twelve feet by twelve feet. These sites are highly sought after as folks can hang hammocks under the pavilions, so by noon when we finish our shift they are usually always filled. The 30 or so additional sites are split between walk-ins with tent pads, metal picnic tables, and BBQ grills and drive in ones on the upper loop that also have fire pits. Folks with Class C RVs and Sprinter-type vans generally gravitate toward these spots. Most of the folks who visit Red Rock Campground are tourists from Europe or South America or Rock Climbing folks from around the states and Canada. There is the occasional family on tour or a local escaping the bright lights of Vegas; although we can’t see the Strip Lights, we can see the Luxor’s beam shining high in the night sky over a ridge just beyond our campsite. And if we look north above the mountains we can see stars and a dark sky.
Amy jokes about issuing the white “violator” tickets. She enjoys patrolling on the “Beast” in her reflective shades looking for more than two vehicles per site and speeders (the posted speed limit in camp is 5mph.) She looks bad ass as a Ranger Aid, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers that do patrol the camp in full body armor and machine guns always check in with her. On one occasion so far she has also called in a 700 on the federal two-way radio (albeit only for a delivery of tables and chairs at the BLM Fire Station on top of the hill)!
We are having fun with this gig and on our three-hour breaks from noon to 3pm we usually go run, hike, visit the nature center, or shop. We only have two double shifts a week and for October they are on Tuesday and Wednesdays. This particular Monday we were covering for Bob and Kathy, our fellow camp hosts and neighbors, so they could do laundry and other errands.
At 3pm, we flip our signs to “On Duty” and usually read on our patio, walk Zoey and sometimes take the “Beast” out to clean picnic tables and grills. Around 5pm we do an evening patrol where we document all new comers to the campground and make sure rules are being followed (i.e. tents are only allowed on designated sand pads since this is a National Conservation Area). Usually before 6pm we begin preparing dinner and occasionally will have to answer some questions from tourists on our patio. Sometimes we go out on a patrol before we get off shift at 8pm. On this particular Monday we got to watch the Donald versus Hillary (even though we have no cell service, our rabbit ears picks up a dozen local Vegas TV stations.) After the debate Dave headed out to literally put out some fires, as the ban was still in effect, and afterwards we listened to the end of the Monday Night Football game on the radio. We are usually in bed reading or watching PBS by 9pm with lights out most nights by 10pm, which is when quiet hours for camp begin. So that’s pretty much a “day in the life” of our new work camping life.
As September ended, the Southern Nevada fire ban on Federal Public land was lifted so folks around camp became a lot happier and complained less. The rest of last week, we “worked” half days with just a 5 hour shift in either the morning or evening, leaving us time to explore new areas like Red Springs and complete a circumvention of Kraft Mountain, where we saw our first desert tortoise! We even began our rock climbing endeavors with a scramble up the Calico Hills!
On Thursday evening we took a trip to the Bad Beat Brewery in Henderson with Team RWB Las Vegas for a fun night of Trivia! Special thanks to Anne Marie and Travis for the ride! It was also great to reconnect with former Carbondale, Illinois Chapter Captain Ryan, who in 2014 set up the most epic crossing of the Mississippi River for Old Glory.
Our weekends are mellow out here. We are only “on duty” for 5 hours a day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with usually some combination of an evening followed by a morning. The nice part is on our days off, we always get 27 hours to explore! Friday, we did a nice run-hike and had a mellow evening with some delicious steaks Amy prepared. Saturday morning Amy got to watch her alma mater, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, put a hurt on the University of Texas Longhorns.
After an afternoon searching for pine nuts around Wilson and Rainbow Mountains in Oak Creek, we dressed up for an evening at the Red Rock Casino where we tried a couple new places. We watched a bit of the Clemson versus Louisville game and had a $5 bucket of Buds before we did Tapas at a couple very nicely done restaurants. Our Uber home cost less than ten bucks and we learned that Steve Wynn claims to have the world’s safest resort at Encore (complete with a military-grade Crisis Response Team).
Sunday morning, Dave woke up early with a bit of a hangover, so he decided to sweat it out by running back to the casino to get the car while Amy slept in with Zoey. Our NFL teams were playing at 10am so we had to rally. Instead of a morning doing laundry, we dropped it off with the laundry attendant on Rainbow Road and headed to the Strip to pretend to be tourists for the morning. Dave’s Jets lost to the Seahawks but Amy’s Texans won even without JJ! Due to a little side trip where we crashed the pool at Ceasar’s Palace we got back to camp just in time for our 3pm shift and it was a crazy evening, weather wise!
Later that night, a storm over the West caused a shift in the winds to come in over the mountains from the North, producing gusts over 60mph! Our RV shook as we huddled in bed with Zoey and watched the “Thomas Crown Affair” and “Best in Show.” It wasn’t a great night of sleep, and we awoke to tents displaced into the desert, garbage blown everywhere, and a ton of dust outside, but the wind had subsided leaving record low temperatures despite the sunny day.
It was our first entire day off from volunteering so we packed up Zoey in her pink jacket and bundled up for a trip to Mount Charleston and the mountains! When we arrived in the little village at the base of the mountain, the aspen were so golden we had to wear shades. Zoey was so happy to eat grass and sniff the new smells! We sipped coffee and shared a breakfast burrito at the lodge before a hike up Mary Jane Falls. We saw what Dave thought was a cloud of smoke up high on the mountain. It turned out to be a wildfire that the National Forrest Service was managing with US Fish and Game Fire Services, but we didn’t know it at the time.
Monday night we broke even by winning $50 on Penny Slots and proceeded to lose it all on the New York Football Giants, who played one of the worst games we’ve ever watched. John Gruden did, however, have the line of the night about Eli Manning when he announced that “he hasn’t run the ball in 6 years!” Geez.
With the fire ban now lifted, Dave has been working hard cleaning up the fire pits, so on Tuesday he was a dusty mess by the time the day ended. Amy had gone out to Trader Joes on our break and cooked two delicious homemade pizzas with red sauce made from scratch! The Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella was our favorite and paired nicely with the some Two Buck Chuck Merlot during the Vice Presidential debate!
Yesterday Amy joined in on the fire pit cleaning festivites while Zoey napped. When we got off shift we went over to our fellow camp hosts Bob and Kathy’s RV to watch Survivor. It’s nice to have good neighbors and we enjoy our time visiting with them.
So this sums up a typical week in the desert for us as camp hosts at Red Rock Campground. Even though we aren’t fully “retired”, we are enjoying a break from traditional life as we kick up our feet a bit and relax. Sunrise and sunset bring incredible colors to the sandstone and we are lucky to live here!…..