By the Time We Got to Phoenix
Nothing was supposed to happen in Phoenix. Like the guy in the Jimmy Webb song, we were driving past Los Angeles through Phoenix on our way to our next destination, just not as quickly as the guy in the song. And we weren’t leaving anyone behind, at least not permanently.
We planned to stop just outside Phoenix overnight to avoid a long drive from Buckskin Mountain to the Casa Grande Ruins in Coolidge Arizona. We reserved a pull-thru site so we wouldn’t have to unhitch the car. All we had to do was connect the hookups and the satellite dish, and then stay out of the heat in our camper. We just hadn’t counted on that heatwave following us to Phoenix!
A Serendipitous Dip in the Pool
RVs are like solar-powered ovens. Even the best air-conditioner can’t defeat an RV’s ability to capture and amplify the pounding rays of the sun on a hot day in the desert. The best you can hope for is to lower the outside temperature by about 20 degrees. When it’s 116 degrees outside, you just don’t want to be in your camper.
Fortunately, the place we were staying was Destiny Phoenix West, an RV “Resort” that features many amenities, including a heated pool and spa.
Plus, late Spring and Summer are off-season for many parks in southern Arizona, so the price was low and there weren’t many other campers. In case you’re not familiar with RV Parks or campgrounds that cater to RVs, it’s not unusual to find a swimming pool, but they’re usually fairly small and not all that attractive.
This one was definitely an exception. Not only was the pool quite large, it was beautifully decorated with large desert plants like saguaros, pear cacti, palm trees and succulents. So, given the heat, and the allure of water that was considerably cooler than the air, we decided to do something we almost never do… we both went for a swim!
“… Had So Many Children, She Didn’t Know What to Do!”
It looked like we might have the pool to ourselves, but it wasn’t long before we were joined by a woman and two children. The kids were laughing and squirting water at each other at the far side of the pool, and the woman cautioned them not to bother other people in the pool. She came over to greet us and asked how long we planned to stay at the park. We assured her we weren’t “snow birds,” it was just an overnight for us, and we got into a conversation. We like to talk to people we meet as we travel, and find they often have interesting stories to tell. But we weren’t expecting someone straight out of Mother Goose! It turned out that the children in the pool were two of her foster children, the last two of fifty-three children she has fostered over the years. She and the two kids lived at the RV park year-round in a trailer with three air conditioners.
She told us about her four “biologicals,” and the ten children she had adopted out of the fifty-three she had foster parented. Her husband was a civilian arms instructor at a nearby military base, and traveled a lot, but she had always wanted to be able to stay at home, and found that she enjoyed raising children. Becoming a foster parent afforded her an income that enabled her to stay home, and she was particularly drawn to caring for children with special needs, as she felt they were more in need of a committed parent.
From the start, the words poured out of her in a stream of consciousness, as though she were starved for someone to tell her life story to. What amazed us, aside from her story itself, was that she apparently fostered all these children while living in an RV park or a mobile home. She seemed to genuinely care about the well-being of all her children. From her telling, it wasn’t always easy – no surprise, given the number 53! – but the two kids we met seemed happy, well cared for, and sociable, so she must have been doing something right.
As our fingers began to shrivel up like raisins, it was time for us all to go back to our campers, so we said our goodbyes and wished our new acquaintances good luck.
Roadside America in the Southwest
Whenever you drive across America, especially when you can avoid the interstates, you’re bound to encounter some quirky sights. On the way to Phoenix, we passed through Quartzsite, a place that seems to hold a special attraction for “rock hounds” and RVers, probably because of all the “free camping” locations around town.
We stayed in Quartzsite on a previous trip, albeit at an RV park with hookups, but this time we were just passing through, and saw a rather unique sign for an RV repair service. When we were leaving the Phoenix area the next morning, we found what looked like an abandoned horse racing stadium just outside Goodyear Arizona, sporting a “For Sale” sign along I-10.
A quick search for abandoned raceways near Phoenix turned up the answer. Known as the Phoenix Trotting Park, it was the brainchild of a renowned New York horse racing financier. It opened in 1964, with final construction costs more than triple the original estimate. The venue, 20 miles outside Phoenix was difficult to get to due to lack of roads in the area at that time.
The extreme heat of the desert made it unpleasant for anyone who did attend, plus, it was prone to flash floods! Whadda ya expect from a guy from Noo Yawk?? The Trotting Park lasted only two and a half seasons, then closed its doors forever, except for a single appearance in a 1998 Charlie Sheen movie where they staged an explosion that incinerated hundreds of indigenous birds and injured scores more.
After 50 years of private or corporate ownership, the Park was put up for sale in 2015, but whoever buys it will have their work cut out to spruce the place up!
“Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination” – Emerson
We weren’t expecting anything from an overnight stop outside Phoenix other than a place to pause between destinations. We hadn’t planned on the heat getting us out of our camper, nor the extraordinary encounter with the foster mom of fifty three kids, nor the site of another Charlie Sheen debacle.
But that’s one of the benefits of traveling the roads of America by RV… as Forest Gump might say, “you just never know what you’re gonna get.” This is an incredibly big, fascinating country – its people, its places and its surprises, which can turn up where you least expect them.
As Cookie likes to say, “Hit the Road, Jack!“