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.

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