Jun 8, 2023 | Destinations, Stories

Our First Year of Airstreaming

Dianne and Jeff Lapierre hiking at Kershaw-Ryan State Park

By Dianne & Jeff Lapierre, BRN 23101

A Surprise Call: Airstream Arrival

The phone call came a few days before Christmas while visiting family in Eastern Canada. Call display read Traveland. My heart skipped a beat. Good news or not so good news? Nervously, I answered the call.

For the past few years, Jeff and I have been planning our Airstream retirement. Avid hikers, kayakers and tent campers, we decided that it was time to get up off the ground and plan for a bit more comfort for our retirement adventures. After much research and deliberation, we landed on a 2022 23’ Flying Cloud FB (we started considering a Basecamp, then worked our way up through Bambi and Caravel before deciding on the smallest of the “big” Airstreams). We placed our order in May 2021 and began the patient wait – the dealer advising us of a wait time of up to 12 months!

At the time, 12 months worked for our retirement plans – Jeff was contemplating retirement in the summer of 2021, but I was holding off until spring of 2023. Changes in our lives drove my decision to retire a year early – February 2022.

I hung up the phone and ran to tell Jeff – our Airstream would be arriving January 2022. Time to start trip planning!

Beginning Our Airstreaming Journey

So begins the story of our first year of Airstreaming. Jeff and I have a habit of jumping into things with both feet. We do our research and then we are in – ALL in! Airstreaming would be no different. Now that we were both retired, we wanted to travel almost full time. We agreed we would plan for two years of travel and then see how we felt about staying on the road. No big decisions about our Vancouver condo until then.

With many ideas about where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see – a combination of visiting family and friends with national, provincial and state parks in our sites. We decided Arizona would be the target destination for the first “big trip”. We’d leave home on March 15 and return sometime mid-May. An avid planner in all parts of our life, I started enthusiastically planning routes, booking campgrounds and Harvest Host locations. RVLife Trip Wizard replaced work tools on my computer, and I learned a lot about how to use the tool as well as working through the type of trip we wanted to take. (Get out of the cold, wet Pacific Northwest as quickly as possible, try some Harvest Hosts and boondocking and pick some key destinations based on research and the many YouTube Airstreamers we followed).

We worked our way down through Washington and Oregon full-hookup campgrounds before heading into our first Harvest Host – Moonbeam Farm in Corning, California. I had no idea there were over 200 varieties of lavender or that loofahs actually came from plants! Our host was fantastic – a great tour of the farm and lots of great items in the gift shop – Christmas shopping for 2022 had now begun.

Idle Hour Winery

Harvest Hosts in California

Two more nights of Harvest Hosts followed: Twisted Oak Winery in Vallecito, California and Idle Hour Winery in Oakhurst, California. Both great experiences enjoying the wine, food and natural surroundings of the areas.

Staying for three nights with no hookups, we quickly realized relying on our single factory installed 90W solar panel was not enough to power what we wanted to use, particularly the 12V electric only refrigerator that is now standard with new Airstreams. The fridge/freezer combination is great – large and effective – but a bit of a power hog when off grid. We had purchased a low-cost generator for “emergencies” (thank goodness!) but realized it was MUCH noisier than expected and HEAVY. More research and planning with a decision to upgrade to lithium batteries along our route.

Oakhurst is close to Yosemite National Park. While we didn’t stay at the park, we enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and the challenging mountain roads with their magnificent views. I was grateful we chose a smaller, easier-to-tow Airstream and that we had the double axles for those mountains.

Lookout at Joshua Tree National Park

Next stop: Joshua Tree

After an overnight at an RV park in Boron, California (the home of Borax mining, the 20 Mule Team Borax Museum and some of the best Mexican food we’ve had), our next stop was the first of our longer stays – Joshua Tree National Park. We booked into the closest RV park with hookups: Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground. In the middle of the desert and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Land, this park was a small oasis of water and vegetation. A great jumping off point for our days hiking and exploring the national park. For anyone planning to visit multiple national parks in a year, the annual America the Beautiful Park pass is a great idea. We also purchased our National Parks Passport Book here, got our inaugural stamp, and started our parks door decal collection.
Joshua Tree NP has been on our bucket list for years and it did not disappoint. Breathtaking views, interesting and challenging hikes, incredible rock formations and unique vegetation, especially the Joshua Trees and Cholla cactus were even more amazing than we expected. We highly recommend a visit.

East to Arizona

On to Quartzsite, Arizona. Quartzsite is well-known in the RV boondocking community as the place to be in January and February when this small town’s population swells to over 1 million people. Snowbirds fill the campgrounds and boondockers flock to the surrounding BLM lands, enjoying community and the annual gem and mineral shows. We knew we were missing the big show in late March.

We originally planned to boondock here, but our battery and solar challenges weren’t resolved so we found a seasonal campground with space available and stayed for a week, exploring the Sonoran Desert at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and other local trails including Palm Canyon. Another highlight was exploring the Castle Dome Mining Museum and Town in nearby Yuma. The town was an active community until the late 70s and has been preserved in various time periods. We plan to return to Quartzsite in peak season someday.

Fishing at Lake Pleasant State Park

Time for some fishing! Jeff is an avid fisherman so no trip, even to the desert, is complete without finding a few fishing spots. Arizona did not disappoint. Lake Pleasant Regional Park, northwest of Phoenix, was the first stop of the fishing leg of the journey. Like most lakes in Arizona, Lake Pleasant is a reservoir created in 1927, the largest agricultural dam project in the world at the time. Our spacious site had stunning views of the lake and surrounding desert, visits from wild burros and great fishing. Another highly recommended destination.

Trying to beat the heat

Next: resolve off-grid challenges with a trip into Glendale, Arizona to upgrade to lithium batteries. We found a Battleborn battery dealer with stock – Southwest RV. The owner and his son were great to work with and had us converted and set up in a few hours. We spent a few (100 degree F) days in an urban, seasonal campground in Phoenix enjoying the swimming pool, laundry facilities and recreation hall. Laundry done, Airstream clean and restocked and battery upgrade complete, we now thought we were ready for a week of off-grid camping at Roosevelt Lake, northeast of Phoenix.

Cholla Campground at Lake Roosevelt is another beautiful reservoir oasis in the desert. No hookups but water available, warm clean showers and dark night skies for star gazing. Windy weather made fishing from the inflatable Zodiac a bit challenging, but a great boat ramp provided easy access to the water. Reservoir water is COLD for swimming and a welcome respite from the intense mid-April Arizona daytime heat.

Campsite at Roosevelt Lake

While the new lithium batteries meant no worries about draining them, we quickly realized our rooftop solar panel was not enough to keep up with our power demands (that darn fridge!) so out came the noisy generator each morning and evening.
Luckily, there were very few other campers at this time of year, so we weren’t disturbing anyone but ourselves.
More research and shopping ahead.

Fool Hollow Lake & Catalina State Park

Next stop was our third and final fishing destination: Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area in Show Low, Arizona (southeast of Flagstaff). Higher elevation meant we saw trees for the first time in many weeks. Spacious, well-maintained campsites (thanks to State Park Camp Hosts) and another great fishing reservoir lake. With full hookups, we could enjoy the shady campsite. It was here that we met other Airstreamers for the first time – two Globetrotters and a Basecamp were enjoying the park, too, and we shared some great stories and got some tips.

By the way, our two 14-year-old cats travel with us and have taken to the Airstream and some outdoor harness time remarkably well.

Gina, one of our two traveling cats

On to Tucson and our final stop before starting the return journey: Catalina State Park. This was another “bucket list” destination for me after seeing a few YouTube Airstreamers share their adventures. Another park that did not disappoint. The park entrance is off the highway on the outskirts of Tucson and across the street from a large shopping plaza. Yet the moment you enter the park, the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains dominate the desert landscape. Three campgrounds to choose from and many hiking and birding trails to explore. The proximity to the city means a vibrant volunteer community of locals who support campers and day trippers with guided hikes, birding tours and educational exhibitions. We ended up extending our stay by a few days as we were enjoying the experience so much. Close encounters with road runners, tarantula hawks and rattlesnakes added to the desert adventure.

Equipment upgrades & new hobbies

The quick drive to Tucson for some shopping to resolve our off-grid challenges. A portable solar panel we purchased at the Airstream Life Store there has been a game changer. With an additional 170 watts that can follow the sun all day, we can now fully charge the lithium batteries without the generator (at least in the sunny desert). Cheryl Toth and Rich Luhr who own and run the store (and publish Airstream Life) are a wealth of Airstream knowledge and fellow Airstreamers. Their products are tested by them personally and designed to work explicitly with Airstreams.

Cheryl (“Tothie”) is also an avid birder and helped us select a set of binoculars to assist in our new hobby. She also recommended the Sweetwater Wetlands – a desert water project that has become habitat for many species of native birds and waterfowl. We were excited to try out the new binoculars spotting many new (to us) species.

Time to turn north and begin the journey back to BC. I intentionally did not refer to this as the journey “home.” Our Airstream feels like home now – in my mind the very best part of RV life.
Another Harvest Host, this time a golf club in Wickenburg, Arizona. A round of golf for Jeff and a lovely dinner for both of us followed by a great night’s sleep alone in their parking lot.

On to the second national park of this trip: Boulder Lake Campground in Lake Mead, Nevada. The first test of the portable solar panel/lithium battery combination. Looking back, Boulder Lake was one of the most beautiful campsites of the trip. I suspect this campground was once quite close to the Lake Mead shore, but now about a mile of desert stands between the campground and the water’s edge thanks to the dramatic drop in the water levels. We highly recommend the off-grid NP campground with spacious sites overlooking the water and not the private full hook campground nearby.

If you can be self-contained, the sites and views of the NP campground (as well as the price!) are far superior to the crowded experience next door. Our portable solar panel did the trick and we enjoyed several days of off-grid camping with full battery power.

Another highlight of this park is the former Boulder City to Boulder Dam railway now converted to a hiking trail. The hike took us through several original railway tunnels along the way with interpretive signs explaining the building of the dam.
Having the America the Beautiful pass meant we could easily come into and out of the park, visiting nearby Boulder City for shopping, diesel and restaurants.

Lake Mead Campsite View

Another highlight of this park is the former Boulder City to Boulder Dam railway now converted to a hiking trail. The hike took us through several original railway tunnels along the way with interpretive signs explaining the building of the dam.
Having the America the Beautiful pass meant we could easily come into and out of the park, visiting nearby Boulder City for shopping, diesel and restaurants.

4,000 miles later

Kershaw-Ryan State Park in Caliente, Nevada was our last multi-night stop on the way back and a real hidden gem. This no-reservation park has 16 full hookup spots in the middle of a canyon about 3 hours northeast of Las Vegas. Spectacular scenery on some challenging hikes, fascinating lizards and great dark sky stargazing.

The drive through northern Nevada into Idaho brought us back to the challenges and winter driving (even in mid-May), the importance of flexibility in travel plans and a great appreciation for having our home anywhere we are. Our trip was delayed by a cabbage truck fire that closed the highway. While sitting there for several hours, a high elevation snowstorm hit us. Having everything we needed right behind us helped pass the time until the wreckage was moved to the side of the road and traffic began to slowly move again.

Snowstorm in mid-May

We made our way through Nevada, the beautiful mountains of Oregon and back through Washington over the next few days. We know we’ll be back through there in the future and we’ll save those stories and pictures for another time.
After 4,000 miles, six states, 57 nights and 27 stops along the way, we made it back to our Vancouver condo for a two-week stay to catch up with friends and prepare for the next adventure – our cross country trip along the Trans Canada to Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.

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Airstream Club International

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