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January in Palm Springs. Letting it sink in.

As we move along in nearly 9 months of full-time RV travel, Mitch and I are often asked whether we have made progress in one of our key missions of the trip: finding another place to live that is warmer and cheaper than New England. With palm trees. Within commuting distance of a major airport for Mitch’s work and our continued wanderlust. Big enough community to keep it entertaining and convenient. Far enough away from a big city so that we can afford a big backyard space with a pool. Proximity to skiing is a plus.

As a matter of fact, we have narrowed down our choices somewhat! Here’s a little recap of our favorite and not-so-favorites.

Keep in mind, we can do our jobs from anywhere, which makes us incredibly lucky and enables us to even ponder where in the world we want to live. Another caveat: I’m writing with a broad brush about our concerns of hot, nice, affordable, how rainy, etc., without writing a book about the subtleties. Sometimes you just fall in love with a place (or not) and you just can’t put your finger on why.

New Mexico is a New No! Santa Fe was way too cold for us. It’s a charming little town, but it’s up on the Colorado Plateau at 7000′ elevation — we didn’t know that. That gives its sky a lovely deep blue. And makes it really, really too cold. Even in April when we were there. It snows there. And it’s a pretty small town. Not for us. ABQ is right out for the same cool weather as Santa Fe.

Florida has some great points — sandal weather nearly all winter. We have friends and family there. Killer, gorgeous beaches. Dolphins! Manatees! (Read about our experience with manatees by clicking here.) 

Homosassa Springs State Park is one of the only places in the world where you can  swim with manatees.

Florida means manatees! Photo courtesy Homosassa Springs State Park.

But its green tropical flora and fauna comes at a price: regular rain, clouds, and humidity. It may be shorts weather in the Keys almost all winter, but in other parts of the state, in November, December, January, and February, we have seen disappointing cold, overcast weather. The heat combined with humidity is not comfortable in June, July or August, when the clouds build up daily into thunderstorms.

“It clears up almost every day,” people say. Well, yes, but it rains and is cloudy almost every day. And that interrupts our outdoor, active plans on any given day. And the no see-ums — those little invisible bugs with teeth like barracudas? Um, I can see-um just fine because they often attack in thick GIANT CLOUDS in the undeveloped natural areas that we typically like to visit like beaches, state parks, and wildlife refuges.

Moreover, Florida’s average age is higher than any other state in the US. This is where we learned what “Silver Alerts” are — we had only heard of “Amber Alerts,” where little kids go missing. In Florida, it’s old folks. They leave for the Country Buffet in their Buick and forget where they are.

Where more younger people tend to congregate, like in Miami or the Keys, we really like it, but the cost of property and the cost of living is over-the-top expensive. So we’re leaning away from Florida. But we’ll be back to the Keys for 7 weeks in the fall. So we like it enough for long visits!

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Where the sun shines: This map of effective sunshine available for solar power in the US shows in red where the sun shines the most. To sun-lovers like us, that light color over Florida and Texas is disappointing.

In spite of the fact that we have friends and family in Texas — and we made new great friends (Padiers, I’m talking to you!) — the Lone Star State is rather down on our list, as is the entire Gulf Coast, mostly for reasons of weather, like Florida. And culture. Texas knows why. Even Austin was a bit disappointing after all we’d heard. The traffic there was about as bad as it gets (hello, Atlanta), even the week after the South By Southwest Music Fest had cleared out. (Read my post about quirky-cool Austin.)

Even so, we plan to go back and visit Austin and San Antonio again next spring, and to see Big Bend National Park, which we hear is phenomenal and remote. Big Bend is located in the western elbow of Texas on the sunshine map — bonus!

The weather in Texas really tried our patience. That Gulf Coast and Texas rain followed us around the whole month of February and March. And they were still officially experiencing drought somehow! I wore my ski parka and my fur hat to Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama! Gah! As Mitch says, “Desapunte.” (Click here to read about our not-desapunte Mardi Gras experience and see the fur hat.)

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This map of precipitation in the US shows why the west is mostly an arid desert and the east is green.

Arizona has its merits, but only Tucson made the grade for us. Phoenix is often smoggy and lacks personality, no offense to Phoenix. We have friends in Phoenix, some of whom like it, and some who actually told us, “Don’t move to Phoenix.”

But Tucson has that old town frontier feeling and is just gorgeous. We didn’t have enough time in Tucson because we didn’t know how appealing we would find it. So we will be back to explore Tucson again next winter. The only thing missing is serious skiing.

Tucson! Pretty scenery. Great friends live there. And because saguaro and sunshine make me smile.

Tucson! Pretty scenery. Great friends live there. And because saguaro and sunshine make me smile.

And we like Las Vegas, Nevada. A lot. Still. Especially me. It’s my home state. Once Nevada, always Nevada. Yes, I know, the Strip is loud and dirty and crowded and touristy and expensive. But so is the French Quarter in New Orleans and everyone loves that! It’s fun! But the Strip is only one part of Vegas. The rest of the region is really beautiful and has so much to do! It has everything we want. And it’s income tax free. And everyone would come to visit. So there’s that.

Vegas. Yes, Vegas!

Vegas. Yes, Las Vegas! This is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area right next to Las Vegas.

And San Diego has almost everything we want, except we would have to figure out which inland town to live in. That is no small feat. The coastline (and all of California’s coastline) has a cold and wet foggy marine layer of atmosphere, like San Francisco and London. It dissipates most afternoons, or as you move east away from the coast; even a few miles inland it’s quite hot and desert-y, just the way we like it. But we didn’t really get to visit inland much. So… next year. Some people in San Diego said we should check out Palm Springs. We already have! So we came full circle.

Which brings me to…Palm Springs. California has an expensive cost of living, but groceries and services in Palm Springs were really less expensive than we were used to in Boston. Even the housing is not unreasonable. We both like Palm Springs. It’s a town with manicured landscaping, flowers, and beautiful vistas of palm trees and blue mountains. And it’s HOT. WE LIKE HOT. We like it in the dry sauna at 180F. We have both been to very, very hot desert-y places in the summertime and LIKED IT! WE LIKES IT! Our Precious. We could live on Venus and like it for the two minutes it would take our skin to fry off.

Here are some pictures from our two visits to Palm Springs, since our full-time adventures began, that explain why we love Palm Springs.

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The mountains and the sunsets. Our rig, the Love Shack, parked at her spot at Lake Cahuilla State Park Campground in La Quinta, CA.

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We aren’t very interested in golf, but the manicured golf courses with mountainous backdrops are beautiful. The Humana Challenge PGA Tour at PGA West, a golf course and exclusive neighborhood in La Quinta, CA, near Palm Springs. It’s still “winter” in this January image, when the grass is brown for about a month because it’s dry.

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It’s just, it’s just…wouldn’t you want to look at this kind of view every day? This was the incredible view from our patio at the Westin Mission Hills Resort in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs, CA. Mitch had some frequent-traveler points to use, so we got to stay at this beautiful place for a few days. It was a little vacation away from our rather vacation-y life.

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It’s lush and fragrant. Bushes of thyme, the herb, adorn the Westin Mission Hills Resort in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs. It smelled divine, and it grows everywhere in Palm Springs in big, bushy, heavenly bunches. (The landscaping here is irrigated.)

We have friends in Palm Springs. Wyatt Smith and Claudine Thomson-Tenwolde (left) are friends of Val's from school in Sparks, Nevada.

We have friends in Palm Springs. Wyatt and Claudine (left) were friends and classmates with Val in Sparks, Nevada.

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It’s geologically interesting. A docent at Thousand Palms Oasis near Palm Springs shows us about where the San Andreas fault line is. It isn’t visible. It’s far underground. We went on a little sortie hoping to see something awesome and scary and this is what we found. Not that earthquakes are a great thing about the Palm Springs area, no. But it’s just a cool thing to be able to learn about.

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Palm Springs has cool day trips like Joshua Tree National Park. The entrances to Joshua Tree National Park are less than an hour from Palm Springs. One could spend weekends there for years and not see it all. The day we went in January was overcast, but the region gets only about 10 days of rain per year, for a total of 5.8 inches of annual precipitation.

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Joshua Tree National Park near the west entrance. This trip was Jan. 29, 2015.

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An overcast day in Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park. Clouds! Poor Palm Springs! Close the schools!

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We can have adventures. Val climbing up rocks in Hidden Valley at JTNP. Climbing back down, my new phone (which didn’t have a cover) fell out of my pocket and down through a deep crevice. I thought it was lost forever! But I managed to squeeze into the crack at the bottom and retrieve it. The screen was intact with just a few scratches. Whew!

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Cool, old, and twisted. The tree is, too. Both are very nice to look at, too, eh? 🙂 Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree NP

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So many cool things to see. Val at Skull Rock, Joshua Tree NP

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U2 Joshua Tree pose. We have no pride. And no shame. We are nothing if not cheesy goofballs.

I didn’t include pictures of the shopping, the numerous al fresco bars and restaurants, the flowers that are everywhere all year long — and need I mention the Coachella Music and Arts Fest? If I need to mention it, you haven’t read my post about it! Palm Springs is the bomb!

We haven’t made any decisions yet, but Tucson, Vegas, Palm Springs, and north inland San Diego are higher on our list now than they were when we started. We still have a lot of California to see this summer, but stay tuned for more on where we might want to live someday. Mitch and I can definitely see picking a spot to make our home base in a few years. If we do buy a sticks & bricks home, we like the idea of keeping the RV in storage so we can hit the road often and stay in cool places like the Keys that are expensive to live in.

For now, home is where we park the RV.

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Next post:
The Perfect Day in San Francisco

Read about our adventures from the beginning.

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