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With the kind of January that Albertans endured this year, it’s easy to understand why RVers dream about becoming snowbirds -packing up their units, locking their doors and heading south to escape Old Man Winter.

Alan and Ruth Walker of Medicine Hat are living that dream. They’ve parked their motorhome in an RV park in Casa Grande, Arizona, which is centrally located between Arizona’s largest cities, Phoenix and Tucson. They will stay until April, when the weather is sure to be a lot better back in Alberta!

The Walkers aren’t alone. Ruth says winter visitors from October through April swell Casa Grande’s permanent population of about 45,000 by another 10,000. And that’s only one community in the Grand Canyon State that becomes home to tens of thousands of snowbirds from across Canada and the northern U.S. each winter.

“We like Casa Grande because it’s a smaller city that has lots of amenities, but without the traffic and bustle of the larger centres,” says Ruth. “The city is home to a new shopping complex with all the variety one could want, plus there are restaurants, movie theatres and services.”

The Walkers actually discovered Casa Grande while exploring Arizona several years ago, but for a variety of reasons they spent the last two winters on Vancouver Island to experience what Canada’s best winter climate had to offer. This year, they headed back to Casa Grande to reconnect with friends and acquaintances from earlier trips.

“The main attraction for wintering here is the sun, for sure” says Ruth. “Casa Grande boasts over 330 days of sunshine a year. Being in the desert, temperatures can get pretty cool at night but then warm up nicely during the day.” Average temperatures from January to March range from lows of 2 to 7 degrees Celsius to highs of 19 to 25. Most days are calm -a bonus if you come from southern Alberta.

There’s no shortage of things to do, says Ruth. “We keep up with many of our usual activities including morning walks and exercise, hobbies like reading, writing, and computer interests and so on. We also go biking and hiking and do a lot outdoors.”

Arizona also boasts plenty of tourist attractions and activities. There are historical sites and museums as well as natural attractions -not the least of which is the Grand Canyon! The Walkers also have found that agricultural tours are interesting. They recently went to a cotton farm where they were able to be “cotton-pickers.” They’ve also toured an olive farm and a dairy operation.

“We enjoy day trips to other communities in the Phoenix area, such as Sedona, Tucson, Green Valley and Tombstone to name a few,” says Ruth. “They’re great for sightseeing, shopping, visiting friends and so on.” The Walkers aren’t golfers, but for snowbirds who are there’s no shortage of golf courses throughout the area, many of them spectacular and very good value.

There are plenty of RV parks in the area too, but the one the Walkers are in has a number of advantages in their view. Called Fiesta Grande, it’s a large and well-established park that features spacious individual sites with full services. It’s on the main east/west thoroughfare of Casa Grande, so there are plenty of shops, restaurants and services within walking distance.

“Fiesta Grande is also pet friendly, with designated sections of the park for those with pets,” says Ruth. RVers can get several TV channels -including the major networks -with their antenna alone. But cable service is available for a fee if desired, as is telephone service. Complimentary wi-fiis available at several hot spots around the park to keep up with family and friends via the Internet. There are two laundry facilities, mail service and a library. Propane delivery is available three times per week.

“This park has something for everyone,” says Ruth when asked about sports and social activities at Fiesta Grande. “There are two swimming pools, a fitness room complete with a Wii video game console, mini-golf and driving range. Then there are organized activities and classes for things like hiking, biking, softball and dancing. For recreation, folks enjoy shuffleboard, billiards, table tennis and horseshoes. Hobby enthusiasts spend time quilting, knitting, woodcarving, beading and painting, stamping and card making, drama and more.”

A large clubhouse is the hub of the social activities for residents. It hosts things ranging from food events and weekly bingo to dances and more. As well, an activities director arranges trips ranging from dinner theatre excursions to NHL hockey games featuring the Phoenix Coyotes and Canadian teams.

Ruth says that costs at Fiesta Grande are in the “upper mid-range compared to other RV parks in the area.” But even then, their site costs just over $1,500.00 US for 90 days, plus power -not bad considering all of the services and activities.

When you consider the warm climate, sunny days, plenty to do and a social network that continues to grow every trip, little wonder the Walkers love living the snowbird dream!

By Hank Goertzen, Freelance February 10, 2011
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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