Jim Kurtz and Tina Ellis are American nomads. It didn’t happen overnight. About six years ago they sold their long-term home in Encinitas, California to move to Oregon. The idea was to start a vineyard and the new house stood on acres outside of Ashland. Retired as a Financial Consultant, Jim began sourcing grapes from neighbors. Tina, an artist’s rep, began making her own mosaics, but the open road called. Within a few years they ditched it all to become nomads in the desert.
Tamarask trees’ roots go deep to soak up water and Palo Verdes fill with yellow flowers in the Southern California desert spring. Ocotillo, with their long spikey branches, are frilled with red flowers at their tips then too. That’s what the desert was full of when I found Jim and Tina star-gazing outside of Borrego Hot Springs, a few hours east of San Diego. They were about to celebrate their first year as nomads in the desert: Dog, truck and fifth wheel. After exploring the U.S. for months, they’d set up camp for the winter at a plush RV Park. Their 5th wheel (a trailer home attached to the bed of a truck) is about 55 feet long. They chose it because, as Jim says, “There’s no feeling like the steering wheel is in the living room.”
It’s hard to call their mobile home a trailer. It’s palatial with pop-out sides that create an open kitchen, dining and living room. The bedroom holds a king-sized bed and every nook has hidden storage. Jim installed heavy 12 Volt batteries at 150 lbs. each. As they criss-crossed the U.S. they could ‘boondock’ anyplace they chose for up to 10 days with plenty of power and a hundred gallons of water. Jim found out that ‘we don’t use that much.’
During the first few months on the road, Jim kept up his financial consulting practice but eventually enlisted the help of a firm associate and weaned away his clients. Now he’s completely retired. Tina keeps her creative and business talents honed, creating jewelry at the kitchen table. She builds tiny mosaics, using reflective glass in jewel tones, painstakingly gluing them into sterling silver settings. The pieces are irresistible, selling themselves as she wears them in town or by referral.
At the Road Runner complex and RV Park they walk the perimeter with their dog, Ginger, and easily meet others doing the same. There’s a clubhouse where weekly wine tastings and BBQ’s dinners are set up, a pool, dog run, and doctor’s office where a nurse practitioner attends 3 to 4 days a week. On the other side of the Par 3 golf course, a few streets are filled with small houses. Most, built in the 1970’s, have three garages – two for cars and another for the golf cart. Purchasing a house in Road Runner complex runs about 19 thousand dollars. Jim quips, “You could pay for it with a credit card!” The demand is tempered by the $1,000 per month fee, paid year round for utilities, grounds upkeep, etc.
In the trailer section the best spaces book three years in advance and run about $60 a night. Short term visitors pay $100. Jim and Tina found that the best spots are on the perimeter where you can back in with one side facing the greens. The center section, ‘pull throughs,’ are in the middle with less privacy.
The complex owners enlist the help of volunteer camp-hosts, usually a couple, who work three, eight-hour days each week. They collect the garbage, help new arrivals back in, host weekly wine tastings and hot dog roasts. One couple, who had been long-term camp hosts, stopped returning. The wife had died and her husband said that he wasn’t coming back, but changed his mind after the owners invited him to return with free rent. He’s been there ever since. These are good people who share a real sense of community.
Spring was a comfy time to visit, however, summer in Borrego Springs means scorching heat. Jim says, “105 degrees isn’t a big deal but 110 to 115? That’s toasty.” For residents the summertime strategy is to go out before 10 am or after 2 pm. For others it means spending the hottest months of the year elsewhere. Good planning is important anytime Jim and Tina pack up and take to the road with their 5th Wheel. Routes from coast to desert mean getting over the mountains and north of the town of Julian, on Highway 79, there’s a graceful rise that’s relatively easy to drive. On twisting roads the trailer tends to swing over the middle line. While Tina likes the challenge, they carefully plan their routes.
This summer Jim and Tina are no longer nomads in the desert. They’ve taken to the foothills of the Canadian Rockies until the fall weather drives them back south.
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