Oct 27, 2023 – Catalina SP, Tucson, AZ
We got moving in the morning, dumping our waste water and filling our fresh water tank in preparation for five successive days of “dry camping”, which means without access to electrical hookups or water spigots. Then we headed the half mile to the group campsites where a whole lot of Winnebago EKKOs like ours would gather in a rally for fun activities and to compare notes and modifications to our campers.
The volunteer organizers were all set up. They collected the $10/day fees that would cover costs for the event and directed us to parking spots that were delineated in one of two large gravel lots. They arranged us in a huge circle facing toward the center of the lots. We learned that the response to the event was larger than expected and that, altogether, there would be 96 EKKOs attending the rally! We set up our EKKO, which meant simply parking and taking our bikes off of the bike rack, and began introducing ourselves to other participants.
It’s a widely varied group, skewed toward seniors, but with lots of middle aged folks as well. As expected, with campers designed to sleep only two people, we saw only one young child. Peoples’ backgrounds varied all over the map. Bill recognized a couple of the “star” owners who regularly posted tips and modifications to campers on the very active owner’s Facebook page. The Facebook page really is extremely helpful.
The afternoon activity mainly amounted to unorganized hiking and bike riding on the large trail systems in and near the park. Bill rode one of the trails toward the mountains. While the campground is surrounded by small, thorny trees, the trail quickly led into the foothills of the mountain which is mainly populated with saguaro cacti. Many of them are huge! It is quite beautiful. It’s not surprising to see them here since the two-part Saguaro National Park, which we visited on our “Tin Tent Tour”, is on both sides of Tucson.
Everyone gathered that evening for pizza dinner and beer that was paid for by the rally followed by a welcome session. The pizza was good including the gluten free one they provided, but the service was really slow. That’s because the food truck pizzeria folks were overwhelmed by the number of people to be served compounded by the owner’s partner quitting the day before. He ended up with two helpers hired just that day. Ouch!
After Dinner Presentation Crowd
There are Nearly 200 of Us
Moonrise Over Rally Campground
Altogether, a good day and a promising start to the rally!
Oct 28, 2023 – Catalina SP, Tucson, AZ
The day started with a Java Jumpstart which was coffee and announcements in one of the two pavilions available to us. That was followed by a presentation by the owner of a prominent camper van outfitter. Upgrading the suspension systems, installing lift kits and fitting larger tires is a favorite thing for these campers that are designed to roam in places usually inaccessible to campers and motorhomes. The upgrades can get fairly exotic, costing many thousands of dollars. The presenter was very knowledgeable and really neat, stating near the outset, that most of the upgrades are really unnecessary. The stock camper is really very capable and that the upgrades actually get installed because they “look really cool”.
We took a bike ride shopping trip to a WalMart just a couple of miles away. Following the road out of the park, we turned onto a bike trail system that had a branch that lead under the highway and along the edge of a very large shopping center. We filled our bike bags and Bill’s backpack with groceries and headed back. Not a bad way to shop!
Some of the EKKO RVs at Rally
More of the 96 EKKOs at Rally
That afternoon there was a “Mod Tour” where some participants, including us, volunteered to show off our camper modifications. We put things away and made a sign that told people where they could find all the details about our mods on our website. Things started slowly, and we didn’t count, but a lot of people came through during the three-hour tour session. We took the opportunity to visit select campers as well and got some good ideas.
In Front of WAWA with Jim Who Drove His EKKO from Fairbanks
This is How Some People Camp
That evening there was a camper Halloween decoration and costume contest. Although our participation was minimal, people did some really cool decorations and showed up with a few great costumes.
Way Out Glasses Had Multiple Light Patterns
Several Inflatable Costumes were On Hand
Does Ketchup and Mustard Capture Personalities
Some People Went All Out on Halloween Decor
Dinner was a Mexican food truck that, again, was largely overwhelmed by the large number of people. The food was good, the line was long but the conversations with those waiting in line was interesting.
Finally, they gave out silent auction door prizes for which we’d all deposited the tickets we’d been given upon our arrival. Some of the prizes were pretty big but we didn’t win anything. We’ll say that was fine because most of the prizes weren’t things we needed.
Oct 29, 2023 – Catalina SP, Tucson, AZ
Morning jumpstart was mostly a discussion lead by James, who, along with his wife, Stephanie, own the first EKKO ever produced. He is highly regarded as a lead advisor about and modifier of EKKOs. He led a discussion about many things EKKO but started off with a game, “Never have I ever …”. Who will admit to making dumb mistakes while out camping in their EKKOs. It was very funny as people, beginning with James, admitted those errors and found they were almost never alone in having made them.
Later, Sandy and I drove WAWA out of the park to do some shopping, searching out the best nearby places to play pickleball. Since there was good phone connectivity in the shopping center we also parked for a while to do some online stuff and to make some phone calls.
Back at the campground we rode our bikes along some of the trails. Again, they were pretty. Also, a couple of bicycle sellers were on hand to show their wares and to let us do test rides on them. That got lots of people interested in comparing bikes so we and others brought ours out so people could compare and test ride. More than half of us do carry bikes and it is interesting that the majority are ebikes. They come in many varieties including road bikes, mountain bikes, fat tire cruisers like ours and even lightweight, folding trikes.
Biking on Park Trail
Saguaro Cactus and Mesquite Define this Landscape
Sandy Admires Saguaro’s Size
That evening we gathered for a catered Mexican buffet that was both delivered on time and delicious. Following that was a story telling session where people shared their camping experiences. In many regards it was an expansion of the morning’s “Never have I ever …” session and it too got lots of laughs. Turns out we all screw up. It’s just that some of us do it more spectacularly than others.
Oct 30, 2023 – Catalina SP, Tucson, AZ
A highlight, today, was a talk and demonstration about falconry. Nearby Saguaro National Park has a program that works with other programs seeking to prevent extinction of, especially, birds of prey. One of their rangers is very active in the program. After a very good talk on how the program works and why it is important, he brought out a Harris hawk that he works with.
Ranger with Falcon on His Glove
Harris Hawk One of Many Kinds of Raptors Used for Falconry
Flying to Pick Up Treat on Ground
Wild birds who were injured and are being rehabilitated are sometimes used for falconry and nearly any predator species can be used for the sport. However, this particular bird was bred in captivity and will never be set free in the wild. Nevertheless, the bird’s instincts still cause it to want to hunt and it does so during its every-other-day exercise sessions. It is trained to respond to a special whistle to return to its handler’s glove for a treat.
Santa Catalina Mountains Always in Background
Trail rides on bikes, socializing with other owners and checking out others campers filled out the afternoon. That evening we had a covered dish dinner with lots of good food.
Oct 31, 2023 – Catalina SP, Tucson, AZ
We had two talks this morning. The first was on personal safety for the traveler. The speaker was excellent. He was a professional on the subject, master of multiple fighting disciplines and a firearms instructor. However, his personal safety emphasis was always on prevention. A fight or theft avoided is a fight or theft won was his motto.
So he spoke about and demonstrated techniques to be situationally aware and to avoid or diffuse possible threatening situations. In addition, he talked about ways to secure belongings, especially in the environments we campers may find ourselves.
The second talk was a demonstration on how to change a tire, not a trivial matter on even a small motorhome like ours. It was during that talk that Bill realized that we needed more tools. They went on the list!
By this time the rally was effectively over and, although our group campsite was still reserved, many of the participants left during the afternoon. We decided to stay to share a final evening meal and fellowship with others who remained. We also reserved an additional night in the regular park campground so we’d have time to visit some of the local sights.
In the evening we gathered under a pavilion to eat our dinners and then sat around a campfire to exchange stories.
Both of us really appreciated the efforts made by the organizing volunteers who put this event together. It was well planned and executed and far exceeded our expectations! It was so nice to meet other EKKO owners and the weather was spectacular.
Nov 1, 2023 – Catalina SP, Tucson, AZ
After saying our goodbyes to most of the remaining campers we struck out to drive to Mt Lemmon. The Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson have been the background scene in the Catalina SP where the rally took place. Surrounded by the Coronado National Forest, the Santa Catalinas are one of what are referred to as the Sky Islands. These are isolated mountain ranges that stretch through southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico.
Mt Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalinas and there’s a road, variously known as Sky Island Scenic Byway, Mt Lemmon Hwy and N General Hitchcock Hwy, that leads 26 miles to near the peak. It was a 50 mile drive from our campground but well worth our time.
Looking over Flat Urban Sprawl at Foot of Mountain
Said to be the biological equivalent of driving from the deserts of Mexico to the forests of Canada, it is fascinating to see the changes in landscape and plants during the drive. But you have to pay attention while you’re driving because this mountain road is very curvy. And you have to be careful of cyclists because the road is a favorite training course for many serious cyclists in the area.
Tiny Thimble Peak in Distance
Hoodo-Like Formations Everywhere
Beginning at about 2,500 feet elevation, the main plants you see are almost all mesquite. Then, as you climb you begin to see a wide variety of cactus mixed in. Pretty soon you’re in very rocky territory where there is little vegetation but spectacular gorges and rocky peaks. And it’s amazing to see how huge the flat stretches are at the foot of the mountain. There are lots of pull offs along the way where you can gaze out and take lots of photos as well as picnic areas and campgrounds.
Road Winds up Mt Lemmon
Bridge over Gap in Mountain
At about 6,000 feet elevation there is a large pull off. There are walkways and relatively level areas where you can walk out on the rocks for magnificent views. It’s also a popular place for rock climbers. We saw a couple of groups learning to rappel and to perform mountain rescue operations.
Quite a View from Windy Knob Overlook
We Loved the View from Here
Group Preparing to Rappel Over the Side
Just Another Hoodo
The views begin to disappear just a mile or so further because conifers take over the landscape. The area is still heavily forested even though a major forest fire killed many trees in the area a few years ago.
Finally you hit the high point of the road at the 8,000 elevation mark. There, the small unincorporated community of Summerhaven is home to the southernmost alpine ski area in the US. Of course there are also the usual rental properties, shops and restaurants. We stopped in the general store to purchase some of the store’s popular fudge. (Good stuff!)
Back at Catalina SP we checked into our new campsite and found that several other people from the rally had also gotten sites there. So, that evening, we all gathered at our camper for adult beverages, snacks and talk. The session went way past our supper time and we finally made due with a popcorn supper.
Sunset in Catalina SP
Just another great day in the desert!
Nov 2, 2023 – Catalina SP, Tucson, AZ
It was time for us to do laundry and we found a decent laundromat a few miles up the road. Afterwards we picked up a few groceries and stopped at the coolest thrift shop we’d ever seen. Named the Golden Goose Thrift Shop, it had a remarkable, often upscale variety of things for sale we’d ever encountered. The 501(c)(3) organization is almost completely volunteer operated and has raised many millions of dollars to donate to several outreach organizations in Southern Arizona.
That evening we hosted a two other EKKOers, Bud and Jim for a ham stir fry.