Finding community in the Arizona desert

April 13, 2018

by Steve

We've been on the road for 20 months now. That's around 600 nights, in 63 locations in 23 different states. When we started this adventure, we were thinking that this would be a good way to find where we wanted to live next. We could pick out a few places and then spend a month or more in each one to find out how we like it. That was the original idea. That idea has kind of been abandoned in favor of just traveling to places that we want to see, and staying however long we feel like.

One of the things that we try to do is to "follow the weather," avoiding extreme cold (like snow) and extreme heat (like 90+ degrees) and extreme humidity (like Florida in the summer). There are plenty of places to go during the summer, but fewer in the winter, so we tend to do the "snowbird" thing each winter and head to Florida, Texas, or Arizona. Our first winter (2016-17) we spent in Florida.

With sunsets like this, we pretty much fell in love with the white sand beaches of the Florida panhandle. But we didn't stay in one spot. We were in 14 different locations in Florida from the panhandle to the keys. At this point in our journey, we were averaging about 7 days per location, with several locations where we stayed for 2 weeks, and a few where we stayed for a month.

With that much moving around, you don't tend to make friends with your neighbors. A lot depends on the type of park you are in - if there are a lot of people coming and going, you don't really meet and get to know very many people. And we are usually spending our time sight-seeing whatever there is to see in the area.

We decided to spend the winter of 2017-18 in Arizona. We opted to stay in Tuscon, not wanting to be in the busyness of Phoenix, but still wanting to be in a larger city so that there are more things to see and do. Plus we have friends in Tucson whom we have not been able to see very much over the years. This would be a good way to reconnect. So, while we were in the area in May to have some repairs done on the coach, we took a look at 10 or so RV parks, from small to large.

We ended up choosing Rincon Country West, a fairly large park at 1100 sites. Like many of the parks in the area, it is made up of about half RV sites and half "park models." A park model is technically an RV, but it looks much more like a tiny house or a small mobile home. Once set up on its site, it rarely moves. At 400 - 500 square feet, they provide more space than an RV and are ideal for people who want an inexpensive winter home.

We chose this park for a couple reasons. We did use a spreadsheet to rate each park on 8 or 10 factors, with a weighted scoring system. But the main reason for settling here for the winter was the abundance of things to do within the park, especially the jewelry/lapidary shop for Jane. There's also a pottery studio, a wood-shop, pool hall, and a nice pool and spa. Plus the people in the park seemed quite friendly when we visited.

We thought that the friendliness we experienced during our one-day visit in May might have been due to the fact that by May, the snowbirds have mostly all left, and the small number of year-round residents that were left were just happy to see a couple of new faces around the place. Well, it turns out that this park is really a very friendly park, which we discovered when we arrived in late October for the winter season. It seemed that everyone we met was inviting us to join in various activities and clubs, from choir to wood-shop to Habitat for Humanity to hiking club and more.

I (Steve) joined the Pickleball club, the choir, the wood-shop, and did a little with the Habitat for Humanity group. Jane got busy in the jewelry/lapidary shop and the sewing room, with periodic forays into water aerobics and the surprisingly good library. We had both wanted to try our hand at the pottery wheel in the pottery/ceramics studio, but as it turns out we got too busy in other activities. So we'll have to come back next year to work on that.

But it was the friends that we made in the park that really will bring us back. The folks on our street, "A" street, immediately welcomed us to their daily 4 pm happy hour celebration, and included us as if we had been coming there for years, as some of them had. 

[Jane's note: Yes, 4 p.m. I guess in a park for 55 and older, life is too short to wait until 5.]

The "A-street gang" includes people who live in other areas of the park, not just "A" street. Some have been coming to this park for 8 years or more, and others have just come for a month or so this year. We come from differing socio-economic status and different political views. We come from different countries. Those differences don't matter. What we have in common - no longer working, living in an RV full-time or just for the winter, and a desire to share a few good laughs - are enough. We're here for a season, or two, or a few, so we enjoy life and each other's company. Whether just having drinks together, or Taco Tuesday, or Steak Saturday, or silly games, it's all done for fun.

And when March and April come around, and people start to leave, it's a bit sad. In one sense we really did not want to leave. But Tucson gets way too hot in the summer to stay. And we'll be back in the fall, as will many of our friends, and some new friends for sure.

So it was the activities and clubs of this park that enticed us to spend the winter here. But it's the friends that we made that will have us coming back.

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