Summer Camp for Old People

Our friend, Dave Hanley (also from Steamboat Springs), told us a couple of years ago, before we joined him and Gail here at Desert Trails RV Park last year, that being here is just like a summer camp for old people.  We had no idea what he meant by that.  As it turns out, there is so much to do here, there is TOO MUCH to do here.

As a kid, I went to summer camp every year from sixth grade through being a counselor for a couple of years.  I LOVED summer camp!  I learned how to sail, shoot a rifle, did horseback riding and canoeing.  We went on overnights and weeklong canoeing or horseback trips.  The exposure to all of those things (and more) triggered my love of camping.  When Dave said it was like summer camp, I knew I wanted to try Desert Trails.

Desert Trails is not really unusual among Snowbird RV parks, at least as far as the activities calendar.  Some RV parks even hire a Recreation Director to make sure all activities are scheduled correctly, details are taken care of, and that they come off smoothly.  Some parks have more to do and some have less.  Some have very sophisticated to-of-the-line equipment and others cobble together whatever they can find.  Desert Trails falls somewhere in the middle.  What Desert Trails does have is a very giving Snowbird community that wants to share.  Classes and activities are mostly run by volunteers using their own resources and knowledge to teach others what they know.

Last year we spent a lot of time discovering Tucson and the surrounding area.  I have talked about the Passport Coupon Book before so I won’t go into it here, except to recommend it to first-timers spending the winter in Tucson.  This winter we have taken a different approach on how we spend our time.  We are taking advantage of all the things there are for us to do right here in the park, with a few excursions thrown in.

Too many things to do…

Just like summer camp, we start the week with what we fondly call the Donut Meeting.  On Monday mornings, we are bribed to attend the weekly information session in the rec hall by the promise of donuts.  This is where we learn about any information the office would like us to know (weed spraying, rent increases, trash and mail schedules, etc.).  We also meet any new people who have come in over the past week, their names and where they are from.  (It helps to break the ice and make them feel welcome. It’s a great marketing tool! Desert Trails has a reputation for being very friendly and inclusive.)  Activities for the week (especially the new ones and those that have changes) are promoted.  If EVERY activity were discussed, the meeting would take hours!  There is also a printed calendar (that could never be complete because there are too many regular activities that everyone knows about and there wouldn’t be room for the new stuff) that I keep on the wall of the RV.

Monthly calendar of events (with about 1/2 of what is really offered).

When we first landed here in the park, we participated in almost every group activity offered.  It was a great way to meet people and start some new friendships.  Within about two months, however, we realized we were exhausted and what we really wanted to do was hang out at the RV and relax.  Retirement is not supposed to be like work.  This year we have taken a whole different approach to how we spend our time.

Pine Needle baskets

This past summer I learned to make pine needle baskets, something I have been wanting to do for years.  With all the pine needles available in campgrounds all over the west (and east, but we haven’t been there), it seemed like a fun activity to pursue. It has now become my obsession.

One of my first baskets. The weaving in the center is called tenerife. I was also learning how to add beads to a basket and how to do the diamond stitch at the top.

We collected needles at Echo Lake in northern California and in a campground in Show Low, AZ.  I now have a great supply of materials to keep me going.  Our son sent a huge box of pine needles from North Carolina for Christmas that should take me about a year to sort, wash and bundle.  They are much finer needles than the ones found here in the west, and a different color and smell.  And my friend, Susan, sent me a whole long tube of Long Leaf Pine needles (about 16-18 inches long) from Florida.

Pine needles collected in Show Low, AZ, right at our campsite. I was just about to wash them.

My obsession is taking up most of my time in the evenings, and some part of every day is devoted to something related to pine needles.  I am constantly on the hunt for examples of pine needle creations on Pinterest.  I took a gourding class to learn how to prepare gourds to accept pine needle edging.  (Probably won’t be my thing.)  Then I took a clay class so I could make ceramic centers for my baskets.  (I probably won’t make any more centers, but I really enjoyed the class.)  Open pottery making is available every Tuesday afternoon, so I may keep making things out of clay, but probably not for pine needles.

These are not my creations but I thought they were cute. My centers were off to be fired.

Twice a year the park offers an opportunity for residents to have a craft show.  In December Cooper and I signed up for a table, Cooper for his burrito sauce, and I wanted to show my baskets (but not sell them) to see if anyone would be interested in taking a class.  I got two pages of names for those were interested.  Who woulda thunk?  The class is scheduled and I have a wait list for a second class.


Before Desert Trails, I had never done yoga.  Now I am sorry.  I am doing easy yoga two days a week and can’t tell you how much more flexible and healthy I feel.  Parts of my body that haven’t worked for years are beginning to work again.  With all of the issues with my feet and ankles, my balance is still a challenge (at least on one leg at a time) but even that is getting somewhat better.  Doing yoga with a bunch of other “old” people is not nearly as intimidating as it would have been with Lycra-wearing lithe young things.  One of the benefits of being in a community of retired people… we’re all in the same boat.


The park is named for the many hiking trails that emanate from park.  They wander out into the desert and are used not only by the hikers but by the mountain bikers here in the park.  The “back 40” connects to Tucson Mountain Park (with more trails) and on to Saguaro National Park.  Although I don’t hike with the hiking group, which goes on much more strenuous hikes all over the Tucson area, these trails are great for getting out in the flora and fauna of the area.  I usually go out in the morning, turn on a podcast (Things You Should Know is a favorite), and walk for about an hour.  The time goes so fast.

Memorial Labyrinth

A labyrinth out in the desert that a woman made to memorialize her husband. I stumbled on it one day while out on a walk.


When we came last year, Desert Trails didn’t have a book club, although there is a really great lending library in the park, so I knew there are lots of readers.  I suggested we start one and we did.  Twice a month we meet for a “happy-hour book club” meeting, at 4:00 pm, with snacks and drinks.  The group has grown from about 10 last year to 24 at the last meeting.  One meeting a month we discuss books we have been enjoying outside of the group, and the other meeting is to discuss a book we all read together.  At the moment it is all women in the group.  It might be too intimidating for a man to join at this point.

The library that inspired the book club. Lots of retired teachers here in the park have joined to group.

Photo club

Every Friday afternoon the Desert Trails photo club meets.  There are many very skilled photographers (both amateur and professional) willing to share what they know and teach the rest of us.  We choose 5-6 topics a year to take pictures of throughout the year, with the ultimate goal of displaying them in the “Gallery” building.  Topics this year include transportation, Southwest architecture and churches, national parks and monuments (so we could shoot all last summer), “what is it”, and “punched up”.    Wherever I go, I have my phone (my only camera), and am constantly aware of those topics, looking for opportunities to shoot. We turn in 5 photos for each topic and a panel of judges chooses the best ones (two per member in each category) to display on the boards. The club takes field trips throughout the winter, mostly based around the themes, which are really fun.  We get to places we might never have known about if not for the field trips.  This past week we went to a movie set (Gammon’s Gulch) that was privately built to be used often over the past 43 years for old westerns and movies that need an Old West town.

A couple of the buildings “Jay” built for his movie set. It has been used in many old westerns although I hadn’t heard of most of them.  John Wayne, Sam Elliot, Barbara Streisand (don’t ask about her!) and many others have been in movies filmed there.  Jay is constantly improving, building, and maintaining the set, even though he is 70 years old. He started on the set 43 years ago and rents it to movie producers. Man, has he got stories to tell!

At the end of the season (the first week in March), there is an open house for everyone in the park to see what we have been doing and vote on their favorites.  I never in a million years thought I would be a photographer, but it has become another one of my passions.  I won’t ever be a professional, but I sure do see things from a different perspective now that I am taking photos.

Last year’s Hometown board. I won a blue ribbon for my photo of downtown Steamboat. Also note the bear leaning over the fence. That was a cub that was looking into our living room window in Steamboat.

Happy hours

Throughout the park, most every afternoon about 4:00 pm, there are scattered gatherings of people having happy hour.  These can involve alcohol and snacks but doesn’t have to.  It is more of a chance to get together with different people and share information, tell stories, and talk about RV stuff.  Need a dentist in Mexico (where dental work is great and really inexpensive)?  Having an issue with your wifi?  Want to know some great places to visit or where to get the best Sonora Dog (a Tucson specialty hot dog – look it up)?  Somebody at happy hour can help you out.  And the great thing is, it really is only an hour.  Happy HOUR.  For much of the winter the sun goes down around 5-ish, so it gets chilly.  Evening activities (bingo, horse-racing, game night, and live music events) usually start around 7:00 pm, so everyone has to get home to eat before heading out again.  Sometimes we go to the evening activities, and sometimes we don’t, mostly don’t.

This is just a sampling of the things Cooper and I have chosen to do here in the park. Just like I did at summer camp, I have found the things I like best to do and am sticking with those.  And there is always the option of doing nothing.