Friday, August 1, 2014

How we Retired at 58

Written by Philip Gardner

I don't know about you but just the thought of retiring early from my stressful job, getting rid of all the "things" that tied me down and heading out on the highway of adventure in an RV was a dream come true.  My wife and I wanted to see the country close up and personal.  We wanted, in a word, freedom,  freedom from stress, from stagnation, from the same old routines.  We were both 58 years young and both ready for something new and exciting. 

Of the two of us, my wife, Deb, is a researcher.  Once our dream of fulltime RVing started, she was on the internet studying everything she could find about the lifestyle.  Over the years we had had many dreams.  Many involved us moving to foreign countries like France, Mexico or Ecuador.  We even started learning Spanish at one point.  But each time we balanced the scales on these dreams, we found something that just wouldn't let us get past it.  We were real close to heading down to Merida, Mexico in the Yucatan peninsula to look at these beautiful colonial homes but my horrible aptitude for Spanish and Merida's super high humidity killed that one.  France, Deb just couldn't see those French folks warming up to her.  When it comes right down to it, there's just no place like the good ole USA.  As long as we stayed out of New Jersey, we figured most folks could understand us with our southern drawls and we could probably understand them.  I'm just kidding about New Jersey, it's just hard to understand them.  Although our dollars may not be all that colorful, at least we know how much change we ought to get back.  A huge advantage of staying right in this, our, country is that we know how far we have to go to get somewhere, in miles.  I would need a calculator anywhere else to convert kilometers into miles and liters into gallons, and pesos into dollars and for Pete sake, "let's just stay home".  You can sort of see how our dreaming was going.  So we were real excited and had no reservations when we finally decided to RV around the country.  Life was looking up.

For two memorable years we traveled around the country.  We saw parts of the country we had never seen before.  We met super friendly people from everywhere and from all walks of life.  We made some lifelong friends during that time.  We had our dog, Hanni, with us and we were as close as two people and a dog could be, literally and figuratively.  It is funny to consider how much space we lived in before and how little we have now living in our RV.  Being totally honest, the amount of living space we now have is totally adequate and very comfortable.  I am absolutely amazed that we ever lived in as large of a house as we had in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  A huge part of my "non-working" free time was spent "working" on that large house and yard.  We must have been crazy.

After that second year of traveling the roads, my lovely wife started making some overtures and I sensed a change was coming.  We had joined an RV club called Escapees and had attended one of their major rallies in Wyoming.  There we first heard about the Escapees Co-Op RV Resorts.  It was relatively cheap to have your own site but it involved pitching in and helping out around the park in order to keep the monthly maintenance fee at a minimum.  We were fine financially and I had not worried about that at all but the economy is a fragile thing and it's always possible for bad things to happen.  Looking back on it, I think part of the appeal to her was having her own space to grow plants and some nearby friends.  I can say that at the time, I did not fully appreciate the strength of her new direction.  All I knew was that she wanted to visit one of the Co-Ops in Coarsegold, California to see what it was all about.  Before we even got there she already had all the pertinent information and was probably considering it seriously.  Me, I was just along for the ride.  That is just the way she is and we compromised as was our custom, if you know what I mean.

Site at Park of the Sierras'
 Located about forty miles from Yosemite National Park, The Park of the Sierras' is in Coarsegold.  It is as stated a Co-Op Escapees Resort.  It is scenic with gentle hills, towering trees, huge RV sites, nice people and an affordable buy-in and monthly maintenance fee.   Its proximity to Yosemite was also very appealing.  A huge disadvantage to me was the lack of tennis courts and a pool.  The prior Winter I had really gotten back into playing tennis.  Both Deb and I had changed our lifestyle and adopted a much healthier vegan diet.  We had both dropped 30 pounds and wanted to keep up the exercise and diet regiment.  The lifestyle we observed at Park of the Sierras' would have been a little more sedate than what I personally was seeking.  Their activities centered around their large clubhouse and involved play cards, bingo and pool.  We were also noticeably younger than the members there.  They were awfully nice, however, and were quick to tell us about another Co-Op they thought would better match our needs.  They said it was more expensive but had lots of amenities and activities.  Of course my wife immediately began researching it and two days later we set off for Jojoba Hills which is between Los Angeles and San Diego. 

Overview of Jojoba Hills
During the drive, Deb would read aloud descriptions of the resort from bloggers who had visited.    I think she read every word she could find about Jojoba Hills. This basically means, I heard every word written about Jojoba Hills.  She was getting higher and higher on Jojoba the closer we got.  I can probably boast that we were unofficial experts on Jojoba Hills before we even arrived.  I am pretty sure that Deb had already made up her mind to purchase a membership before we ever arrived.  Me, it did sound really good. 

Jojoba Hills doesn't really take reservations since sites are all assigned to members.  But they do let you know that a site is available before you make the trek to the resort.  The members there place their sites in a pool for visitor rentals and depending on the time of year, there may be upward of 20 sites in that pool.  As it turned out, the resort was experiencing something that had never happened before.  There were sites available for membership without an active waiting list.  I guess the primary reason for this was the economy and downturn in the housing market.  There was a waitlist but, lucky for us, the people on it were not ready to make the move. 

Companion Casita at Yuma Palms RV Resort
Alright, how do I do this justice?  We had seen some really spectacular resorts during our travels, five star ones.  We had toured some of these resorts and were amazed at the high cost of ownership.  The basic sell was typically the extraordinary amenities and activities.  In Yuma we had stayed at the Yuma Palms and boy was it nice.  For a cool hundred thousand you could get a narrow site there and pay another $400 or more in monthly maintenance fees.  For another hundred thousand you could then build a companion Casita to expand your living area.  We loved all the facilities and the countless activities.  I had gotten back into tennis, played volleyball, learned to throw pottery on the wheel, enjoyed weekly burger bashes and pancake breakfasts and even gone to noteworthy concerts right in the resort.  It was actually appealing except when you consider that it was in Yuma, Arizona where the Summers are just too hot to live.  You would only be able to use it for half the year.  Also, it was in Yuma, not exactly the most scenic place in the world and not close to anything except Mexico.  It was these experiences that served as our basis for evaluating Jojoba Hills along with our own vision of what we were seeking.

My first impression of Jojoba Hills was that it was really far from the city of Temecula, California.  We drove out about fourteen miles from the interstate on a winding Hwy 79.  It seemed like a long way out there.  The first night we had to stay in their boondock lot with no hookups since we arrived after their office had closed.  This area is outside the real resort sites next to the office and storage area.  It is not bad but certainly not what dreams are made of.  The next day, we met the friendly staff and were escorted to what would become our home site.  A fellow named Dave escorted us to our site and against resort policy helped me guide our 5th wheel back into the site once he realized I was the worlds worst backer.  I liked him immediately and he and his wife Jan have become excellent friends. 

We stayed on site 511 on Roadrunner Way.  It was a basic site that had minimal improvements.  The resort encourages all visitors to take a guided tour but we did not wait.  We were all over the resort, checking it out.  Two days after we arrived we did get the official tour from Brian, a retired Chicago police officer.  He was about our age and we really enjoyed getting to know him.  He made fun of our southern drawls and we felt right at home.  What we saw was a well maintained resort.  Every facility and amenity was in excellent condition.  Believe me when I tell you that many of the RV parks where we had stayed were run down, or falling down.  There was none of that at Jojoba Hills.  Everything was in pristine condition.  Oh the sites, huge, they were at least 3 times the size of any other resort we had visited except for the other co-op in Coarsegold.  Typically you find yourself crammed in next to the RVs on either side of you.  Amenities, I will not even go into all of them because there are just too many of them.  I highly recommend that you visit their website,, and explore things for yourself.  The other really great thing about this resort was the friendly attitude of every single person we encountered.  We got hugs, smiles, handshakes and conversation.  The members did not know us but seemed sincerely interested in getting to know us, wow!  There were also a huge number of activities every day.  You could play all sorts of games, bingo, pool, tennis, pickleball, putt putt, swimming, shoot air guns, fly remote controlled airplanes, workout in the exercise room, take craft and art classes and the list just goes on and on.  There is no way you could get bored here unless you wanted to.

So after all that, we committed and became proud members of Jojoba Hills SKP Resort.  We had our choice of a couple of sites but decided to stick with 511, the one we were on, and not just because I didn't want to back that huge 5th wheel into another site.  I am including some photos of how the site appeared when we first arrived along with others showing the progression of improvements we made. 

The resort has the policy that allows existing members to get on a wish list for other sites.  Our site was certainly not one of the best sites.  In fact, many other members had started on this site and moved to other sites as they became available.  We looked.  We just didn't find anything we liked better.  We would loved to have found a site that had already been fixed up.  It would have saved us a lot of expense.  I would say that during our initial few months we considered maybe six other sites that became available.  Each time, we found some reason to stay put and we are happy we did.  

The Basic site has full hookups, a concrete pad and a shed. 
We began by creating a privacy screen, expanding the pad with pavers, adding a walkway and laying down river stone
After that we add a metal awning to provide needed shade during the hot summer months
Deborah did amazing things with the outside living and dining areas where we spend much of our time.

We have a constant stream of friends dropping by and a comfortable place to sit and chat or entertain.

Our investment in our site improvements was in the neighborhood of $10,000.  The membership, which we will recoup when we decide to leave, was just over $30,000.  Going forward, our monthly expenses includes a maintenance fee of $253 which covers the super nice staff, cable TV and water.  We budget an average of $100 a month for electricity and $50 for propane.  Of course we have all the other living expenses like groceries, fuel, clothing and entertainment but we can control a lot of that.

A waiting list is maintained of RVers wanting to become members.  There are only 280 sites and they are in high demand.  We were extremely lucky that when we joined, the folks on the waiting list were not ready to make the move, probably because of the housing market and their inability to sell their homes.  Prior to that, I had heard that some of the other members had to wait as long as two years before a membership became available.  I am not surprised by that.  After seeing the resort and becoming a member, I am surprised that people aren't beating down the gate to become members. Assuming you can afford the modest cost for membership, the monthly expenses are so low.  I always thought it would cost a lot more here in southern California.  It is a wonderful place to live. The weather is outstanding.  We are close to all of southern California, including San Diego and Los Angeles.  We have every convenience imaginable fourteen miles away in Temecula.  There are over 40 wineries within a thirty minute drive.  There are casinos, theaters, shopping, golf courses and great restaurants all close by.  The best word that describes this resort is, "unbelievable". I urge everyone to check out the website,, if you are considering a home base from which to live life to the fullest.  Being here allows us to stay retired, stay active and stay happy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Slow Down and Smell the Roses

What will we do when we are ready to slow down a bit?

by Sharon and Bill Whitaker – Site 306, SKP# 91484

When my husband, Bill, and I retired in 2000 we had no idea that by 2003 we would  set out on the great adventure called fulltime Rving.  Even though we had been stationed in several different cities during his 22 years in the Navy, we longed to see the many parts of the country that had eluded us, so we bought a 21 ft Itasca on a Toyota chassis and set off. The beauty we saw and the terrific people we met soon convinced us that this is what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. 

We rented our home and set off.  By 2006 we had sold the home and had traded motor homes twice, ending up with our current 39 ft. Fleetwood Discovery.  We had covered about half the US and several Canadian Provinces and felt we would never be ready to totally settle down and stay in one place year around again.

However, after 4 years on the road, we looked ahead to the day when we would want (or need) to slow down a bit and spend the winters in one place.  As Thousand Trails members we could spend most of the winter in one park – except that we had to leave the park for a week every three weeks and that was often inconvenient, especially when it interfered with one of Bill's ski trips.

Looking ahead we realized there were several options for the time when we no longer wanted to deal with this.  Whatever option we chose would have to meet certain criteria.  It would have to:
    • Be located in a warm climate
    • Be close enough to San Diego so Bill could go skiing with his ski buddies
    • Have larger than normal sites – we didn't want to share our neighbors TV
    • Have lots of activities to keep us busy
    • Allow us to do some landscaping
    • Have reasonable original cost and ongoing fees
    • Allow the residents a great deal of say in how the park was run
    • The most important of all – be made up of friendly people
We could rent a space in a nice park for the winter which would not lock us into the same place every year. However, in places we checked out, the sites were small, rents could go up at the whim of management, we could do no landscaping and residents had no say whatsoever in how the park was run.  Paying rent, to us, has always seemed like throwing money away.  We decided this was not our best option.

Purchasing land and installing RV hook ups was another option, but locations where it's allowed really didn't appeal to us.  There would be no maintenance fees, however we would have to pay property taxes and insurance.  As we traveled we would worry about things going wrong. We could personalize the property to our needs, however should we change our minds, we would have to sell the property ourselves, possibly loosing money.  This idea also went to the bottom of our list of options.

We could purchase a space in one of the parks such as Outdoor Resorts which would be expensive, both in the initial cost and monthly maintenance fees.  Though we could do some landscaping, the sites were small and again, should we change our minds, we would be responsible for selling the lot and improvements.  We would also be property owners, possibly endangering our South Dakota residency status.  On the positive side however, there were lots of activities and the residents seemed to be friendly. This remained an option.

Or we could buy into an SKP Co-Op.  Some wonderful Escapee friends took us to Jojoba Hills SKP Resort in Aguanga, California (17 miles east of I-15 from Temecula) .  The first thing we noticed was the size of the sites, they were huge ( 50' X 70') and each had an 8' X 12' storage shed!  We were immediately impressed with the facilities - there were tennis courts, pool and spas, a craft room, a sewing room, wood shop, metal shop, a great library, pool room  and that was just the start.   There were activities galore. Whatever your interest, you could just about count on there being a group devoted to that interest.  Being a gated community, we wouldn't worry so much about things going wrong while we travelled.  The maintenance fees appeared to be reasonable and the park was run by the membership through an elected Board of Directors.

The final item was the way ownership works.  Once we bought in, if we change our minds we could release our share of the co-op membership back to the resort and get our full membership investment back.  At the end of our residence, our only outlay would be our monthly maintenance fees and utilities. Then we met some of the friendly residents and that finalized our decision, Jojoba Hills it would be.

We put our name on the waiting list and two and a half years later got the all important phone call that a site was available.  We have never been welcomed as warmly as we were at Jojoba Hills.  Our neighbors all offered help and advice when we wanted to landscape our site and told us about the best businesses in the area.  We were welcomed into the existing activities with open arms and asked to serve on advisory committees or volunteer for one of the many groups that help maintain the resort. There was even a group that played our favorite RV game, Jokers and Pegs, weekly!

We found there was something here for everyone from playing pickleball to quilting and card playing.  There were pot lucks, ice cream socials, special interest groups that got together to share ideas and there were great holiday celebrations. 

I was thrilled to find that there was both a photography group and a writers group that meet frequently.  Bill immediately began to work with the landscape committee helping maintain the resorts plants and trees and he learned to play pickleball.  It didn't take long to realize that we would have to work awfully hard at being bored here!

Jojoba Hills was, and is, a community, much like small towns in the 50s were.  Neighbors look after each other and we don't worry about locking the car at night.  Should I forget and leave my detergent in the laundry room, I know it will be there when I go back.  There is a pride of ownership we hadn't seen in years.  For example, you never see a piece of paper on the ground, people always pick up after their dogs, and you often see walkers stopping to pull some weeds.

If you are ever in the Southern California area, stop by for a tour or stay a while.  We would love to be able to share this wonderful place with more Escapees.

Keeping the Dream Alive

Article and photos by Ron Dingee #59338

Back in the early 1980's an amorphous group of full-time and part-time RV'ers became bound together with a single dream: to have their own RV home base in southern California to which they could return from their travels to rest and relax, become reunited with old friends, drain and fill their tanks, and plan their next adventure. Their numbers fluctuated from time to time, but under the direction of a few key people, they set out to fulfill their dream.

For a few years they searched and searched for just the right place, but it wasn't easy. At one point they purchased some property and sunk a well while working to gain community support for their dream. But, even after wining and dining their neighbors, they couldn't get approval to do what they wanted. They sold that property and continued to search until they came across a likely place on the western edge of the thriving metropolis of Aguanga, CA. It's claim to fame was one bar, one restaurant, one post office, one general store, and one real estate office. But, the area was within a reasonable drive to I-10 and I-8 going east to west; and I-15, I-5, and I-215 going north to south.... and it was reasonably cheap.

The property was the possession of an attorney in financial straits and, at one time in its history, it had been
the Lazy K campground, a run down place with eighteen sites and occasional, barely useable hook-ups. At that time it was occupied by vagrants and drug users. The property was pretty raw, semi-desert with a lower plateau where the old campground was located going straight up to a rock and boulder laden hilltop. But, they had a dream and dreams are not to be denied. On November 7, 1989, the papers were signed and the property now belonged to the RVers.

Construction Begins

It took them over eighteen months and a large chunk of money to acquire the permits from Riverside county before they could start construction. It took nearly four years to get all the permits they needed. The permits alone cost them $250,000. What they didn't know was that this particular property was also the rare home to the rarely seen Kangaroo Rat, but for $273,000 the county became less worried about the tiny rodent.

It was agonizing for them to have to wait to start construction of the main RV site area up on the hill, but the time was used to clean up the mess that had been left behind. Documents show that over 1,000 large lawn and garden bags were filled with just trash. Over time, the founders were able to restore to some degree of efficiency, the water, electric, and septic systems that had been left behind. They were able to make repairs to a couple of buildings on the site, clear large areas of overgrowth, hire a project engineer /contractor... and their numbers grew.

 You must remember, these founders were not spring chickens. They were mostly retired RV'ers who had already had full careers. One couple was actually in their mid-80's and one was disabled. They were former teachers, nurses, accountants, hairdressers, housekeepers, clerks, salesmen, and retired military and police. Few had skills that translated to this mammoth task: to convert this raw, semi-desert land into 280 RV sites, each with full hookups, an 8' x 12' storage shed, and a poured concrete pad.

Early on, the custom of an ice cream social in the evenings was started. This became a time to relax, cool off, and share the experiences of the day. They also started the custom of meeting every morning over a "burn barrel" to make plans for the day. Once the work started up on the hill, another custom was started: the delivery of coffee and cookies at about ten in the morning. It was often said, "I never worked so hard in my life for just two cookies."

Over the next few years, these retired RV'ers, carved out, with nothing more than sweat and a dream, what today is known as the Jojoba Hills SKP Resort. (Oh yes, a few bull dozers, back hoes, trucks, and a ton of dynamite also helped.)

Working Groups

They organized themselves into groups. There were the Rockettes. These were the women who lined the
25,000 feet of drainage ditches, pathways, culverts and storm drains with rock and cement. They even had to scrounge to find the rock or break up old concrete to use. There were the Ubangees. This was a group of men and women who built and poured the concrete pads for the 280 8'x30' patios, 8'x12'storage sheds and other facilities. The name came from, "You bangee here and I'll bangee there". Another group was called the Wampum Makers. This was the group whose responsibility was to raise the money to cover the many extras that were needed. They raised over $10,000 dollars which was used for the tables and chairs in the new clubhouse and other necessities.

Monumental Completion

Jojoba Hills is the home of an extremely unique flood control system. There are six ponds that interconnect with runs and waterfalls. During the rainy season, the water levels are lowered to handle the huge run-off which is all planned to protect the neighbors. Over the years, these ponds, with fish and turtles, have become places of beauty and stop over areas for migrating birds.

By the time the 280 sites on the hill were ready for occupancy, this author found the following statistics:
  • 120,000 sq. ft of concrete had been poured
  • One million cubic yards of earth had been moved
  • Five miles of road were cleared
  • Thirty five miles of trenches had been dug
  • Two and a half miles of storm drains were installed
  • Three wells had been dug
  • Four water storage tanks had been installed
  • A complete water system was made operable
  • Seventeen septic tanks had been installed with leach fields
  • Electric and phone service to all sites was connected
  • 14000 sq. ft. clubhouse with pool, hot tubs, library, exercise room, billiard room, and mailroom was built
  • 16,000 gallons of coffee were served
  • 35,000 cookies delivered
  • and a total of 292,500 hours of volunteer work had been accomplished.
Today, although the major work is done, many of the customs started back then still continue. Monday through Friday, cookies and coffee are delivered to every work site. Our volunteers still work for two cookies a day. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they have ice cream socials. And, every Monday morning, members meet at the pool to plan the work for the week.

Year of Jubilee

This year, 2014, is the year of the Resort's "Year of Jubilee". Festivities have been planned all year long to celebrate the 25 years that have passed since the property was purchased in 1989. A geologist from San Diego has given lectures on the geology of the area and a local historian has given lectures on the local history. Plans have been made for a chili and corn bread cook-off and an old fashioned hoe down with music, games and food. (I'm told that a dunk tank has been planned for the Board of Directors.) A special area has been prepared to honor the founders (Founders' Park). The year of celebration will conclude with a dinner on November 7th where all the founders, living and departed, will be honored.

Built and Maintained by Volunteers

Jojoba Hills, with the help of a dedicated staff, is still managed and maintained by volunteers and provides a place for active adults (over 55) to ply their many skills and interests. It is financially secure and serves as an RV home base for 283 Escapee Memberships. The Resort offers more amenities and activities than anyone can imagine at a cost of only $253/month with a membership buy-in that is returned after you decide to leave and another SKP assumes your membership.

 But, the work isn't completely done. Jojoba Hills is still growing. Just within the past couple of years, an air gun range has been modernized, a brand new arts and crafts center has been developed with plans for a new glass and pottery area, and the tennis court was resurfaced and lined for four Pickleball courts.

Active Adults Gather Each Morning to Compete in Pickleball
 Personal Experience
I have been a member at Jojoba Hills for 14 years. I must tell you that in doing the research for this article, I have gone through six large books of pictures starting from day one, read several newspaper articles, and interviewed some of the founders. I have become awe struck at what they accomplished. I cannot imagine what it took to give me, and the current members, the fantastic life we have here today. One comment was made by all of the founders: "When we needed something, it miraculously arrived."

If I had come by this property back then, I would have driven right by, but then again, that's why I am writing this article instead of out repairing the roads today.

Unfortunately, the number of founders is dwindling, but it is making room for a new, vibrant, ambitious group of active adult RV'ers who are also dedicated to keeping the dream alive.

* * * * *

Visit Jojoba Hills RV Resort's website for complete information about the resort.