We are finally settling into our new home base for the next two months. We’re volunteering as camp hosts at Fool Hollow Lake State Park in Show Low, Arizona, a cool, summer getaway in the White Mountains. We’re at 6300 feet elevation, 180 miles north of Phoenix and 60 miles west of the Arizona/New Mexico state line. According to the signage along a nearby hiking trail, this area has the largest contiguous stand of Ponderosa Pines in the world.
Our campsite is actually in one of the camping loops, a first for us. In all of our previous hosting jobs, our site has been in a separate area, or with the other hosts. Here, there are campsites on both sides of us, and, even though they are at least 100 yards away, and on the other side of pine trees and junipers, we can hear people’s conversations and smell their evening fires.
We’re in the Cinnamon Teal loop, on a bluff about a hundred feet above the east side of Fool Hollow Lake. We are surrounded by pines and junipers, with a peek of the rock wall on the opposite side of the lake, but we’re too high up and set back to see the water. Our site is about a hundred yards away from the very tasteful bathroom building, and across the road from the only dumpster in the loop, so there is a lot of passing traffic.
But it’s a lovely site. It’s a double space, intended for two sets of campers, so we have two fire pits, a really large area of dirt and gravel that’s ringed with the natural grasses, rocks and random poppings of wildflowers, and enough trees to provide afternoon shade on the cement patio area. The dogs can use the full length of their twelve-foot cables to sniff, and explore, and lie down, without reaching any passing dogs. And there is plenty of room for our motorhome and car, a visitor’s vehicle, and our golf cart. And even on a full-house weekend, it’s still pretty quiet.
In exchange for our full hookup site, we are the Rover Hosts, filling in where the other hosts need extra help, and on their days off. Because we are not the official hosts for any particular loop, we don’t have an official Camp Host sign at our spot, and I am glad, because campers don’t knock on our door with questions.
We work four hours a day, five days a week, with Fridays and Saturdays off, cleaning bathrooms and campsites, and driving around in our cart to be a presence in the campground. The work is simple, but physical: spraying and wiping all of the bathroom surfaces, sweeping and mopping the floors, shoveling ash and coals from the fire pits, carrying buckets of burned firewood, raking the gravel around the sites, picking up litter, and leaf-blowing the tiniest bits of debris off the driveways.
The first few days were very hard for my body. I haven’t been this physical in months, and the altitude challenged my asthma. I’m now using a daily Advair Diskus inhaler, so I’m not coughing at the slightest exertion. And I am building up my endurance, and stamina, and awareness.
When we were in Phoenix, I started using the Health app on my iPhone to count my steps. I tracked less than 900 most days, because of all the driving and sitting I did with clients, and because of the sun and the heat, and not wanting to walk around the campground neighborhood.
But here, in the mountains, I am actively watching the numbers increase. I take many short walks with the dogs, following the dirt paths to the sidewalks, around the camp loop, and back to our site. We’ve explored the fishing piers and boat ramps to find the best place to put the kayak in. And during our working hours I walk many times around the bathroom buildings, up and down the campsites, and on and off the trails. Most days I’m averaging 5000 steps. And, as I acclimate more to the altitude, I’m sure those numbers will rise.
Especially now that I have finally embraced being here. For the first week, I was so aware of the dry air and the struggle to breathe, that I kept wishing we were at the ocean. But now that I’m breathing better, I’m happy to accept that, if I can’t be at the ocean, this is a pretty darn nice alternative.
Yes, the air is very dry, but it is clean, and clear, and cool. And there are so many trees, and a big blue sky, and there is almost always a breeze or big winds. And the lake is a beautiful body of water. There are all kinds of tree birds, and birds of prey, herons, cormorants, and waterfowl. And the hummingbirds have found Marika’s feeders.
So far, the highs have been in the 70’s, so I can sit outside in my chair with a book, or at the picnic table with my laptop, or inside, with the windows open, with good wifi reception and Apple TV. And at night the temperature dips into the 30’s and 40’s so I can sleep under a blanket with the windows open. And there so many places to walk.
When I walk with Mabel and Cody, we stop often, because Mabel has found something good to smell. Cody is more interested in tracking the squirrels and the rabbits that we call jackalopes because they are as big as dogs. For much of our walk I am standing midway between them with both arms and leashes extended in a tee, Mabel sniffing something good at one end and Cody waiting at the ready on the other.
One afternoon last week I took Cody for a solo walk, so that we could walk longer and further. We started in our usual direction around the camp loop, then turned onto the dirt path that led to the next camp loop where I found a shortcut through a campsite over to the boat ramp and down to the lake trail. The trail was shaded by so many tall green pines, and the slight wind caused the lake water to lap on the shore like mini waves. It smelled sweet and piney, and we were the only ones on the trail. A pair of osprey circled over the water, looking for fish, and I could see the families of Canada Geese eating along the far shoreline. I sat on every bench we passed to take in the different views.
And again I embraced a little deeper, the gifts of being here. To be able to do good work, connect with people we might not otherwise meet, and share the beauty of this special place. And I realized that, after an intense month of working with clients and big city things, this is a time for me to focus on me, in my body, moving, and breathing, and building my strength and stamina. And reconnecting with what sparks my heart.
Yesterday I took myself over to the stairs that lead down to the lake so that I could get better cell reception to call a friend. It was breezy and late in the afternoon, so everything was in the shade, and cool. Even though I had a sweatshirt on, I chose to stay in the sun to make my phone call. So I sat on the stairs, remembering the Winnie the Pooh-ism: “Halfway down the stairs is a stair where I sit.” And the light on the trees and the water made every leaf and branch pop, and the blue in the sky matched the blue in the water, and I held my iPhone in landscape mode, snapping the shutter as I moved the trees and the water within the frame.
And then I called my friend, and shared how I was finally appreciating this new place, that we are so glad that we are here for two months, and not just one. That we saw a pair of female elk on our drive out of the campground the day before. And, that, for the first time, we’ve programmed the GPS Home button to take us back to camp.
When I got back to the RV it was close to dark, so we took the dogs for a quick walk around, then we all sat outside, the dogs cabled and lying down, Marika and I in our camp chairs, watching the sky fill with stars. The almost-half moon had a bright white rim around it, like the sugary rind on a piece of fruit slice candy. Marika pointed to the very top of a nearby pine tree where a Great Horned Owl stood, then flew off. Later, in bed, we opened the window to listen for his call.