Tag Archives: New Mexico

Caterwauling

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It was our very first evening at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM, using our brand new New Mexico State Parks annual camping passes. On our way to the shower house, I saw a cat sitting on a rock just outside the campground.

Silhouette of Cat Under Orange Sunset

Is that a cat? I asked, pointing, and The Man confirmed that it was.

It must belong to a camper, I said. My friend Coyote Sue travels with her cat who is allowed to leave the RV and explore the area, so I assumed the cat I saw was a traveling pet.

The Man said he thought the cat had once been a pet who had gotten away from its people and now lived wild in the park.

I didn’t give the cat much thought until we got back to our campsite and The Man suggested we put away the dishes, pots, and utensils we’d left out to dry after washing up after dinner. He said he didn’t want critters scampering over our clean dishware, and he mentioned the cat. I was still convinced the cat belonged to someone camping, so I didn’t think we needed to worry about it sullying our cooking gear. I did think we might need to be concerned about mice or raccoons, so I helped put things away.

We hung out in my van until the sun set, then The Man went off to his minivan to go to bed. He muttered something about the cat as he was getting into his rig, but I didn’t know what he was talking about until i went outside to brush my teeth. From out of the darkness, I heard not just a dainty meow, but loud feline moaning. The cat was close and it was loud. Its call sounded something like this: mmmmROWRrrrr! Of course, it didn’t make this sound once, but several times in succession.mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!

I looked around on our campsite and out in the darkness saw two glowing green eyes. The situation freaked me out. This cat sound was creepy, and the creature was close. What if it were rabid? What if it decided to attack me? I took a step toward the eyes to find out if the cat would move, and it dashed deeper into the darkness. I felt better when the cat showed fear, but I wasn’t pleased when it continued to moan just out of my sight. I stood in the doorway of my van and brushed my teeth really quick. I was glad when my teeth were clean, and I could go inside the van and shut the door behind me.

In the morning we found no sign of the cat. There was no indication it had climbed up on our picnic table or tried to gain access to our cooler or any of our kitchen tubs. We didn’t see or hear the cat at all during the day, but shortly after dark we heard it again. mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!

We thought it was checking our area for food scraps or begging for a handout. The Man thought other campers probably fed it. Between meeting our own needs and caring for Jerico the dog, we had just about all the responsibilities we could handle. Neither of us suggested we try to take in a stray cat.

The cat must have been discouraged by our lack of food offerings, or maybe it was opposed to the three dogs (and their people) that camped next door to us for nearly a week. In any case, it didn’t come around every night. We heard it a few nights during our two-week stay, but it was not a permanent fixture in our area.

The weather was awful on our last night at Rockhound State Park. The wind blew relentlessly all day, and by three o’clock in the afternoon (before we could even begin to prepare dinner), snow began to fall. Around 5pm, The Man braved the elements to cook four grilled cheese sandwiches on our Coleman stove that sat on the picnic table. I was grateful to have something rather than nothing in my belly, but it wasn’t the dinner I’d been hoping for. I wasn’t happy with the cold or the snow, and I was glad to settle down under my blankets when The Man said he was ready to go to his own bed.

Just like the narrator in “The Night Before Christmas,” I had settled down for “for a long winter’s nap” when something disturbed my slumber. I don’t know what time it was when The Man threw open my van’s side door, but i was in a deep sleep when it happened. His voice woke me right up when he asked loudly, Are you ok?

I sat up, was blinded by the light of his headlamp, and asked, What’s happening?

He continued to ask if I was ok. I’m sure my eyes were huge with surprise and confusion.

Once I stopped asking him what was happening, I began to assure him I was ok. Why did he think something was wrong?

He said he’d heard me making strange noises. He said he though I was having a heart attack or otherwise dying.

I was dreaming, I told him as I woke up a little more and remembered. My dream wasn’t scary, so I don’t think I would have been screaming or making other noises of distress. I wondered what kind of noises I could have been making that were loud enough for him to hear but not loud enough to wake me up.

You were in your van and you heard me making noises while I was in my van? I asked him. He said yes, which seemed unlikely to me, but I didn’t want to argue. I only wanted to go back to sleep. I assured him I was fine, and he went back to his minivan, leaving me to snuggle under my blankets once again.

In the morning light, The Man admitted that maybe it wasn’t me he had heard in the night. Maybe it was the cat he’d heard.

It didn’t sound like the cat normally sounds, he explained. Maybe the cat was upset about the weather, The Man conjectured. Maybe the cat was vocally protesting the cold and the snow. I thought a protesting feline was a likely cause of noise loud enough to disturb The Man while he inside his van. I doubted he would be able to hear any noise less than screaming coming from my van when he was inside his.

We packed up our gear and loaded both vans that morning. By afternoon, we were at a new state park where no half-wild felines caterwauled in the night.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-art-backlight-backlit-219958/.

Ladies’ Underwear

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I was in a coffee shop/café in a small New Mexico town. The place was more café than coffee shop. A waitress met me at the door, menu in hand. I told her I’d be there a while writing and asked if I should sit somewhere out of the way. She said I could sit wherever I wanted, so I chose a spot away from the entrance but near an electrical outlet. The waitress left me with a menu and said she’d be back soon.

I’d never been to this establishment before and (wrongly) assumed I could order a muffin or a glass of iced tea a the counter, then blend in with the other folks drinking coffee and doing whatever work people do in coffee shops. When I walked in around 8:30 on that Monday morning, only one other table was occupied. During the three hours I was there, only a few other customers came in. There’s no blending in when business is so slow.

I ordered a small house blend coffee, which I didn’t really want and shouldn’t have had, but it was the least expensive item on the beverage menu. I also ordered a cinnamon roll, which I’m not usually into, but I’d read online raves about this shop’s variation on the treat.

The waitress asked if I wanted cream in my coffee, and I said yes. She was gone before I could ask for sugar too. I figured there must be sugar packets in the little basket on the table.

Once I got my laptop set up, I looked around the place. There were many arrangements of faded fake flowers, and the titles and covers on the books on the shelves (for sale or only for in-store skimming, I do not know) hinted at religious content. The music drifting softly through the place was of a very calm religious nature. The rendition of “I Saw the Light” playing on the stereo was not the thank God a higher being has saved me from my wicked, wicked self Hank Williams version. I imagine the light this calm chorus saw was a faintly flickering candle barely needed to illuminate the way to the heavenly afterlife the mild singers were sure to find at the end of their gentle lives. Then a woman (the baker?) came from the kitchen and into the dining area. She was wearing the simple, modest dress and white bun covering bonnet that said Mennonite to me. Oh boy. I’d wandered into quite a religious establishment.

The waitress (dressed in a secular pair of jeans and a dark t-shirt) came back to my table bearing a mug of coffee and a cinnamon roll on a disposable plate. I asked her if the shop had WiFi, and (thankfully) she said yes. She was off getting the password for me when I realized there was no sugar in the basket on the table. Drats! What was a sugar fiend like me to do?

I looked down at the large cinnamon roll in front of me. It was topped with pecans and caramel, and I imagined it would be quite sweet. Upon experimentation, I realized if I took a drink of coffee immediately after biting into the roll, I didn’t need even a grain of sugar in my coffee

The cinnamon roll was delicious. Most cinnamon rolls seem to be made with a slightly sweet bread, which I don’t enjoy very much. The base of this roll was more like a sweet biscuit. So yummy!

While I was studying the menu, setting up my laptop, asking about WiFi, waiting for, and then enjoying my treat, a party of three ate breakfast at a table in the front of the café. An elderly couple was visiting with a younger man. I wasn’t eavesdropping carefully on their conversation, but the old people were talking loudly enough for me to pick up a thing or two.

It sounded as if the couple had recently gone somewhere cold on vacation or for a weekend getaway. There was mention of snow, cold temperatures, and a snowmobile.

I had me some ladies’ underwear, the old man said in a voice that boomed through the building.

My eavesdropping ears perked up. This information might be the most interesting ever conveyed in this small-town Christian coffee shop.

My hopes of overhearing a tale of elder cross-dressing kink was dashed when the woman immediately corrected him, saying,Silk underwear! You had silk underwear!

I suppose the man wore a pair of long silk underwear meant to provide warmth during his venture into the winter wonderland. He probably thought about women’s underwear commonly being made of silk and somewhere in his brain silk long johns got tangled into ladies’ underwear. I quickly realized the conversation was not of much interest to me as it was primarily about staying warm in the cold outdoors. Sigh.

Oh well. At leas the cinnamon roll and coffee were delicious.



What You Can Learn from My Land-Buying Mistakes

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If you keep up with my blog, you know that recently my partner and I bought some land in Southern New Mexico. We didn’t do our homework until it was too late. After we bought the land, we realized we weren’t allowed to live in the land in a van, RV, school bus, or any other temporary dwelling. Today I’ll share what I learned from the experience so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.

In several vandwelling/nomad groups I’m in on Facebook, people often bring up the idea of buying a small piece of inexpensive land in a rural location and using this as a home base. It seems they think, as my partner and I did, that property owners can pretty much do whatever they want on their own land. This is not always the case! Before you buy any land to use as a place to park your van or RV, do your research.

If you’re looking at ads for land online, read the whole thing very carefully and be sure to scrutinize the fine print. When my partner’s sister looked at online ads for land in the county where we were, she found several that were aimed at snowbirds who wanted a place to park an RV for the winter. Near the bottom ad, she found information on the limits placed on parking an RV within the county. If you only want to park your van or RV on a piece of property for 245 days a year (or whatever the actual limit is), great! However, if you want to leave an RV on the land year round while you go off exploring in a smaller rig, you need to know about these sorts of time limits.

The same sister told us that years ago, she and her partner were considering purchasing land in a remote area of Wyoming or Montana. There was lots of land available, but upon close scrutiny, she found the parcels had to either be left empty or a house had to be built there within a specified time period. If you have no plans to build a house, be sure you’re not buying land where building a conventional dwelling it the only way you’ll be allowed to live on your property.

Don’t automatically trust what the person you’re buying land from tells you can be done on the property. While I don’t think the woman we bought land from way trying to mislead us, I’m not so sure about the guy who sold the land to her.  She said she asked him if she was allowed to camp on the property and he told her doing so would be no problem. While she only camped on the land a week or two at a time once or twice a year, keeping her within the limits of the of the county ordinance that says an RV can be on undeveloped property for 30 days out of a year, she was breaking the subdivision covenant which says a temporary dwelling on the property can only be utilized while a house is being built. Maybe the guy who sold her the land wasn’t exactly lying. Maybe he’d been misinformed or assumed. In any case, don’t assume what you are told about a piece of property is true. 

Talk to a realtor if possible. I suspect realtors are held to higher ethical standards because they are professionals. I also suspect realtors are better informed than your average Joe trying to sell off some property. On the other hand, realtors are people too. Some of are unethical. Some are lazy. Some are misinformed. So while I might use a realtor as a source of information, I would use that information as a starting point for my own research. I wouldn’t unquestioningly believe everything that came out of a realtor’s mouth.

Speaking of realtor’s, a former realtor gave me some after-the-fact advice in a Facebook group. She said,


you definitely always want to check restrictions both on the deed and county/city. Also make sure you have legal access to the property. And don’t just go by looks. It may look like there’s a nice access road only to find out that’s not actual[ly] yours legally to use. And as mentioned above make sure there’s no zoning restrictions that would prevent what you want to do.

Doing an internet search on the particular area or subdivision you are interested in can alert you to any controversy surrounding the use of the land. What are landowners complaining about? Do their complaints relate to what you want to do with the land you purchase? Complaints don’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy land, but learning about controversy may allow you to go into a deal with your eyes wide open.

Talk to county officials (or folks who work their offices) who can tell you about ordinances, subdivision covenants, and land use restrictions. If you don’t know who to talk to, try the county recorder’s office, the county clerk, the county assessor’s office, or the office of county planning and development. If you call the wrong office, the person you talk to can point you in the right direction.

When you talk to the appropriate county worker or official, explain what you want to do on your land. Be clear and honest. I know sometimes we vandwellers and nomads have to be vague about how we live our lives because bureaucracy is not set up to accommodate people like us. However, I can assure you that it’s NO FUN to buy a piece of land and find out later that you can’t do with it what you intended to. I believe it’s better to find out before you plunk down your money that you’re not allowed to do what you have in mind with the property you are about to buy.

You may have better luck finding a place to accommodate you if you primarily want to own a piece of land to use as your permanent address, but not to live on for several months out of the year. Maybe your plan is to visit the land once or twice a year and live out of your van there for a week or two while you relax or do repairs and maintenance on your rig. This plan may go over better in a rural area than would a scheme to park on old RV or school bus there for long periods of time. I suspect the reason the woman we bought the land from got away with camping there over the course of several years was because she didn’t go there often and when she did, she didn’t stay long.

The bottom line is, know what you’re getting into before you lay your money down. We were lucky; when we realized we couldn’t do what we wanted with the land, the seller returned our money, and we transferred the land back to her. Most people who find out they can’t do what they want on their land will not be able to report this sort of happy ending.

Changes in My Life (and What You Can Learn from My Land-Buying Mistakes)

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Blue sky and wispy grey clouds over sandy land dotted with scrubby bushes.
This is the land The Man and I bought in Southern New Mexico.

The last time I posted an update on my life, it was about how The Man and I were buying land in Southern New Mexico. Well, that was fun while it lasted.

We found the land on a Saturday afternoon in the beginning in February. In reality, The Man did all the work. He used printouts of maps of the area provided online by the county as well as the Google Earth app to find our approximate spot. We knew our lot was the fifth one from the corner, and we knew each lot was just over 100 feet wide, so we used a long tape measure to figure out just where our driveway should go.

The wind was blowing, as we’d been warned it would. This was no little breeze but a strong New Mexico wind. With the wind came dust, and we were out in it with nothing but our vans for protection.

We had a big cabin-style tent we’d used for two summers when we worked in the mountains of California. The Man started setting it up, but before he could stake it down, the wind caught it and blew it around. The Man said the tent was not going to work. We agreed we needed a place for storage as well as somewhere to get out of the wind and dust in order to cook. We drove the 15 miles to Wal-Mart determined to buy a tent.

There was quite a bit of choice on the tent aisle at Wal-Mart. We immediately eliminated anything too small to use as both a storage shed and a kitchen. We also eliminated anything that did not allow The Man to stand upright inside. Next, we eliminated any cabin-style tents because The Man did not think that design would survive the wind.

A large dome tent set against blue sky and grey clouds.
Biosphere 3 before The Man reinforced it by tying the poles together where they crossed and using the rope as extra guy lines.

The tent we bought had no rain fly. Instead, tent material zips down over mesh panels. Essentially there are windows in the ceiling that can be unzipped and opened for ventilation or zipped closed to keep out the elements. At first The Man was worried about the lack of rainfly, but later realized it was a good design for windy conditions. If there had been a rainfly, wind would have gotten up under it, creating stress on the whole structure.

The tent is big and similar to a geodesic dome. I named it Biosphere 3.

The tent has ten poles to give strength to the structure. The poles cross at points around the tent, increasing stability. The poles are color coded and have to be added in a specific order. It is a base camp tent, something to be set up then left alone for a week or two. In other words, it is a real pain in the ass to pitch this tent!

The tent came with regular metal stakes. The Man said those stakes weren’t going to hold against the New Mexico wind. We’d bought earth auger type stakes when we bought the tent, but we found those stakes didn’t work in the sandy soil where we were. (They weren’t worth a damn, The Man says.) We had a few large tent spikes Auntie M had given us before we left Arizona, so we used all we had to hold down the tent. The Man thought the tent needed even more stability, so we drove back to Wal-Mart to get more tent spikes and rope.

The Man ended up tying rope around each point where poles crossed. He then used that rope as a guy line which he staked using a tent spike. These extra guy lines gave added stability to the tent.

On Monday we went to the county building to transfer the land into our names and pay the taxes on it. The Man asked one of the county workers about any restrictions on the land. She directed us to a website where she said we could find subdivision covenants for the subdivision where our land was located.

Yep, our land was in a subdivision even though in reality we were in the middle of the desert with no neighbors and no amenities. The last three roads we took to our place were unpaved. There were no electric lines anywhere near us. We had no running water, no well. We had no mailbox, and I was confident there was no home delivery of mail. Our nearest neighbor was no closer than a quarter mile away, and we were pretty sure no one was actually living in that house. To say we were living in a subdivision was comical, except it was true.

Our plan was never to build a house. The Man and I thought building a house would be too much work. We really only wanted to be on the land six or seven months out of the year, in the winter. We wanted to buy an inexpensive travel trailer or fifth wheel or even an old school bus and leave it on our property while we were off earning money in the summer. We planned to stay in whatever dwelling we had during the mild New Mexico winters.

On Wednesday I went to the library to work on my blog while The Man went to the lapidary shop to cut stones. When he came to pick me up around noon, he said we should look at our subdivision covenants. We found the PDF file with the covenants for our subdivision, but that’s where the searching began.

The county worker had warned us that the covenants for the different blocks of the subdivision were not in any particular order. It looked like money had been spent to scan the pages and get them online, but no one had been paid to organize the pages beforehand. We had to wade through over 160 pages of documents before we found the covenants for our area.

The covenants were very specific. House could be no smaller than 600 square feet. Houses could be no more than one story. Garages could only hold two cars. No signs could be placed in the front yard except for “for sale” signs of specific dimensions. So many rules! Near the bottom of the page of the covenants pertaining to our land, we found the rule that would change our lives.

No temporary dwellings (“no trailers, no tents, no shacks,” the document specified) and no “privies” were allowed on the land, except during the construction of a house. Any house under construction had to be completed within six months. We were not allowed to do what we wanted to do on our land.

When we explained the situation to friends and family, several said, But if there’s nobody out there, can’t you get away with it? Who’s going to complain?

The problem was, we didn’t know who might complain or when. We did not want to pull a camper or a bus out there and then have to move it a month or six months or a year later. We did not want to live our lives wondering if today would be the day the sheriff showed up to kick us off our land. We were looking for stability, not uncertainty.

(Before we left town, The Man met a fellow who’d parked an RV on his own piece of property. After living there for three years, someone from the county showed up and told him he was in violation. He couldn’t get the trailer off the land within the allotted time, so he ended up spending eight nights in jail. When he got out of jail, he had to scrap the RV because he couldn’t afford to park it anywhere else.)

We were devastated. We felt as if our new life had been ripped away from us. Even if we wanted to build a house, there was no way we could afford to complete a 600 square foot dwelling within six months. We’d need permits and materials. We’d have to dig a well. We’d have to put in a septic system. We’d have to pay to have electrical lines run out to land.

What are we going to do? we asked each other.

The Man insisted we had to call the woman we’d bought the land from and let her know the situation in hopes of getting our money back. My Southern upbringing had me cringing at the idea, but The Man insisted. You call her, I told him, so he did.

As soon as The Man explained the situation, she offered to return our money. I have your money right here, she said. I haven’t spent any of it yet.

Getting the money back was a relief, but we still didn’t know where we were going to live.

The Man’s sister suggested we find a piece of property that wasn’t part of a subdivision. Maybe we could do what we wanted to do on a piece of unrestricted land.

The sister (who is a wizard at finding things online), quickly found ads for land for sale in our area. She gave The Man a phone number to call. He ended up having a long conversation with a realtor who shared some very interesting information.The county has a human population of 24,078 and over 90,000 subdivision lots. Most of those lots (90%, I would guess)  are empty. The Chihuahuan Desert is not for everyone, the realtor said when The Man asked why so few people are living on the land they own in these subdivisions.

The realtor then told The Man that an ordinance that applies to all property in the county limits the time an RV can park on undeveloped land to 30 days out of a year. If land is developed with electricity and septic, an RV can park on it less than 300 days a year. (The number of days was around 250, but I don’t remember the particulars.) When The Man asked why the county would not let people live in an RV on their own land year round, the realtor said county officials think such living arrangements would be bad for the economy.

At that point, we gave up on the whole county. We decided to each buy a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and stay in state parks in the southern part of the state until it was warm enough to go to Northern New Mexico where local government believes letting people live simply on their own land is good for the economy.

The land as we left it, after The Man had cleared an area for the tent and our vans.

On Wednesday I’ll share with you what I learned from this land-buying fiasco so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

I took the first two photos in this post. The Man took the last one.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

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Sign reads Oliver Lee State Park Self Pay Station.

It’s been well over a year since I spent a night at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park near Alamogordo, NM. It was autumn of 2017 when I stayed at the park, and I was sad because The Man and I were in one of our off-again phases. This post will not be the most in-depth of my reports on a New Mexico state park, but I’ll tell you about the basics.

I’d left the primitive camping area at Brantley Lake State park with a final destination of Truth or Consequences, NM. I decided I’d visit White Sands National Monument on my way since I’d never been there before and always heard it was a magnificent place. My New Mexico State Parks Pass was firmly attached to my windshield, so I could camp in any developed site in any New Mexico state park with no out of pocket expense.

Chihuahuan Desert scene with blue sky and whispy white clouds, rugged mountains, and desert plants.
View of mountains surrounding Oliver Lee Memorial State Park with the visitors center visible on the middle of the left side.

I knew Oliver Lee Memorial State Park was a bit out of my way, but I didn’t realize it was quite so far out of my way. I didn’t mind the extra miles I drove to get to the park since my pass got me in at no additional cost. Also, I like to see new places and was enjoying my tour of New Mexico state parks. However, if I didn’t have the annual camping pass, I wouldn’t necessarily to go out of my way to spend one night at the Oliver Lee campground.

I arrived at the state park late in the afternoon, after eating at an Asian buffet in the White Sands Mall in Alamogordo. I drove the 17 miles not really sure where I was going but following the instructions of the Google Maps lady who lived in my phone. I didn’t realize until the next morning that to get to the park, I passed the turn off onto Highway 70, the road that would take me to White Sands National Monument. I typically hate backtracking, but I didn’t stress out too much about it since doing so allowed me to visit a new-to-me state park.

Campsite post in foreground has number 32 on it. Mountain and blue sky in background.
Site #32 Can you see the moon to the right of the mountain?

When I arrived at the campground, I drove around the two loops looking for a developed site with no hookups. I settled on site #32.

I knew I should go to the visitors center and learn something about the area, but I just felt blah. I really only wanted to stay close to my van and digest all the food I’d stuffed down my gullet at the Asian buffet.

I did hang out at the van for a while, then decided I should go for at least a short walk. When I’d arrived at the campground, I saw a sign pointing to Frenchy’s cabin. I wondered who Frenchy was and why s/he had a cabin in the park. I decided to walk over there and investigate.

The remains of Frenchy’s cabin. If I remember correctly, the rock wall is original, but the brick wall has been rebuilt where Frency’s house once stood.

According to a New Mexico website,

In the mid-1880s, a Frenchman named Francois-Jean “Frenchy” Rochas started homesteading at the mouth of Dog Canyon. He built a rock cabin…

Frenchy mysteriously met his end just after Christmas in 1894, when he was found dead in his cabin, a bullet in his chest. Although the local authorities determined it was suicide, historians believe it was more likely that someone murdered him in a dispute.

It sounds like the first chapter of a Tony Hillerman novel or a Western movie starring Clint Eastwood!

After I checked out the remains of Frenchy’s cabin, I took a walk to visit the shower house. I found the facilities clean and well maintained. After using the flush toilet and washing my hands, I went over to one of the showers and turned on the water to determine if it would get hot enough for my comfort. Yet again, I found a New Mexico state park with no hot water in the shower house. While there was NO WAY I was going to take a cold shower, I wasn’t too sad because I was headed to the hot, hot water in the bathhouses in Truth or Consequences.

You may be wondering who in the heck Oliver Lee was. According to the aforementioned New Mexico website,


Oliver Milton Lee, [was] a famous local rancher, who raised both cattle and horses, and was instrumental in the founding of Alamogordo and Otero County. Lee established his ranch south of Dog Canyon in 1893 and lived there until 1907…

During this period, Lee was involved in a controversy involving the disappearance of prominent New Mexico Lawyer, Albert Fountain, and his eight-year old son, Henry. The bodies were never found, the case against Lee and others was circumstantial, Lee was acquitted, although the mystery remains.

Oh boy! Sounds like another Tony Hillerman/Clint Eastwood plot. I guess the wild, wild West was no joke!

Apparently Oliver Lee built a ranch house too and folks can visit it, but only with a guided tour. You can call the park (575-437-8284) to find out when you can take the tour.

Blue sky and mountains and tiny half moon.

Those are the Sacramento Mountains you see in all the photos. They look pretty rugged, don’t you think?

After I determined I would not be taking a cold New Mexico state park shower, I went back to my van and hung out until it was time for bed. I wanted to get to bed early so I could wake up before the sun and head out to White Sands National Monument. Before bed, I decided I should visit the restrooms. Luckily I grabbed my Luci light because it was DARK out there. Some of the RVs had lights on their campsite, but there were no streetlights lighting the way to the restroom. I actually appreciated the lack of light pollution so I could get a good luck at the night sky.

I did go to bed early and I did wake up before the sun. Before I hit the road, I was rewarded with the beautiful beginnings of a sunrise coming over the mountains in the east. Oliver Lee Memorial State Park was a lovely place to wake up.

Brilliant wide yellow swath of sunrise over silhouette of mountains
Sunrise over Oliver Lee State Park.

I took all the photos in this post.


Campground Mystery

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The Man and I arrived at Bluewater Lake State Park late on a Saturday morning. We were going to stay there for a while using my New Mexico State Parks Pass.

We drove through all the campground loops looking for the right spot for us. We were disappointed to see most sites did not have any shade covers. Although it was late September and the temperatures were mild, we didn’t want the sun beating down on us for hours a day.

Sky is blue with puffy white clouds. Bluewater Lake is in the foreground.
Bluewater Lake, New Mexico

We finally found a suitable site in the Canyonside Campground. While there was no metal shade cover on the site, a tree growing next to the picnic table offered some relief from the afternoon sun. Unfortunately, an older couple was already camped on the site next door.

Usually we wouldn’t camp so close to other people, especially when there were plenty of empty spaces throughout the park. However, we’d been through all the developed camping areas, and the site with the tree was the best spot we found in regards to shade, flatness, and proximity to restrooms, so we took it.

The folks next door had a popup camper set up on the asphalt parking spur. Our van was on our site’s asphalt parking spur. We parked with our side doors facing our picnic table. Basically our van had its back to the site next door, offering us and our neighbors some privacy.

Dam at Bluewater Lake State Park
The dam at Bluewater Lake

Early Sunday afternoon, the people next door were still there but where obviously packing up. The Man and I took Jerico the dog for a walk. We went to a lookout area and saw the dam and the lake. It was a beautiful day.

When we got back to our campsite, Jerico made a beeline to a large rock just off the asphalt in front of the van.The rock was definitely on our campsite, and I’d leaned my two folding tables against it when I’d taken them out of the van to give us a little more elbow room. Why in the world would the dog be interested in that rock?

I’ll tell you why: a hamburger. An unwrapped, homemade 3/4 of a hamburger complete with bun was lying on the ground right up against the side of that rock. Jerico was immediately trying to munch it down. While The Man does sometimes give Jerico small bites of people food, he doesn’t let the pup ground score items of unknown origin.

We ushered Jerico away from the burger, picked it up and deposited in the trash, all the while wondering where it had come from. It certainly hadn’t been there the night before, so it hadn’t been left behind by the last people who camped on the site. I would have seen it when I leaned the tables against the rock, and had the hamburger been there the entire time, Lord knows Jerico would have tried to get at it at some point in the last 24 hours.

Someone came onto our campsite while we were gone and put that hamburger there, I whispered to The Man.

Who would do that? he asked. And why?

He suggested maybe someone was eating the hamburger while walking on the road that looped through the camping area. The person had enough of the hamburger and instead of carrying it back to their own camp or depositing it in one of the nearby trashcans, the person randomly tossed the hamburger and it landed next to the rock on our site.

This idea was no less absurd than the thought of someone tiptoeing onto our site while we were away and gently placing 3/4 of a hamburger next to the rock. In the first place, who’s going to toss a large portion of a hamburger into a camping area, even it it’s mostly empty? Secondly there was another campsite between us and the road. The hypothetical person munching a hamburger while walking through the campground would have to be a champion in hamburger distance tossing to have gotten that hamburger across the vacant campsite and onto ours. Of course, the person would also have to be a champion in hamburger precision tossing to get it so close to that rock. The hamburger was lying there so neatly when Jerico found it, the buns still lined up precisely. That burger had been placed, not tossed.

This led us back to the question of who would do such a thing. I cast a suspicious eye on the couple in the popup camper. Was the hamburger some sort of weird retaliation for parking next to them when so much of the campground was empty? Of course, I didn’t walk over and question them–I’m much too Southern for such a thing.

Let’s suppose someone did carefully place the remains of the hamburger next to the rock. Who does such a thing and why? If they had a leftover hamburger and thought it would be a nice treat for Jerico, why not come over and offer it? I don’t think it’s a good idea to give food to dogs (or kids) without getting approval from the responsible adult first. What if the dog (or kid) can’t have certain foods because of allergies or other health concerns? What if the responsible adult doesn’t think it’s a good idea to let the dog (or kid) eat food provided by strangers?

If someone wanted to give the remains of the burger to Jerico but had to get if off their campsite immediately, while we were away, why not put it on a napkin or paper plate and leave it with a note on our picnic table? Why leave a well-meant offering on the ground beside a rock?

Some people would say I’m making much ado about nothing, but this is the sort of little mystery my mind keeps going back to. Who did it? Why? Why did this seem like a good idea to someone? Was it an accident or on purpose? Why on our campsite? Was it some kind of prank? Was it a harmless gesture or did someone have nefarious intentions?

I have no hope of learning the truth. I’ll take these questions to my grave.

Elder

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It’s not much of a story, really. The Man and I picked up an elderly Native man in Gallup, NM and gave him a ride downtown. It was a small kindness.

We’d left Flagstaff early, before the sun came up. We’d had coffee, but no breakfast. Somewhere after Winslow I announced I’d be pulling into the first Taco Bell we came to. The Man was agreeable. We both like the potato, egg, and cheese Fiesta Potato grilled breakfast burrito Taco Bell sells in the morning. It’s a lot of breakfast for a buck.

Close-up Photo of People Holding Usa FlagletsI think the Taco Bell was off the first eastbound I-40 exit to Gallup. I took the exit, and soon we saw the sign proclaiming the town “The Most Patriotic Small Town in America.”

What does that even mean? we wondered. Who decides such things?

After doing a little research, I found out the distinction was based on a contest sponsored by Rand McNally in 2013-2014. Ken Riege nominated Gallup in that category and did a lot of work to help the town win the honor. You can read the whole story of the contest on the I Am New Mexico website.

We saw the elderly hitchhiker just after we saw the sign. He was obviously Native, with short hair and clean clothes. I though about stopping to give him a ride, but we were only going to the Taco Bell, which wasn’t even half a mile past where he was standing. I hoped some other driver would stop for him and take him where he needed to go.

We had quite an experience at Taco Bell. None of the “open” signs were lit. Was the dining room open? Was the Black And White Photo Of Clocksdrive-thru open? Why was there only one car in the parking lot? Why was caution tape crossing each of the dining room windows? What time was it? Had we experienced a time change when we entered New Mexico? Wasn’t the time in New Mexico an hour ahead of the time in Arizona? It was past 7 am in Arizona and New Mexico, so the Taco Bell dining room should have been open.

Just go through the drive-thru, The Man suggested.

I wanted to order inside for several reasons. I wanted to use the restroom and add ice to my water bottle. I wanted to eat in peace, without Jerico the dog sad-eyeing my breakfast and silently begging for a bite. Also, since the window on the driver’s side of my van doesn’t go down, a trip through a drive-thru is a major hassle. I have to open my door and usually put the van in park and get most of the way out to pay for my purchase and receive my food. It’s a real pain in the neck. But I didn’t know what else to do because the dining room did not appear to be open.

Turns out, we had simply stopped at the slowest Taco Bell I’ve ever seen. There were no customers inside, making it look like the place wasn’t even opened. (The caution tape on the windows was actually part of the Halloween decorations.) No other customers were ahead of us in the drive-thru, and none pulled up behind us. I’m pretty sure the one car in the parking lot belonged to the one worker who took our order, prepared our food, bagged it, handed it to me, took my money, and made change. I guess while Gallup, NM is a hotbed of patriotism, it’s not a hotbed of Taco Bell action, at least not for Saturday morning breakfast.

Once we had our food, I drove around the front of the restaurant and parked on the side of the building. I pointed the nose of the van so the sun wouldn’t be in our faces, and we ended up looking toward the interstate. I could see the hitchhiker was still standing on the side of the road.

No one’s picked up that old man, I said.

We finished our breakfast, and I told The Man that we should go pick up the hitchhiker and drive him wherever he needed to go. We weren’t in any hurry, and The Man and I both think it’s important to help people when we can. The Man agreed that we should help the hitchhiker.

I said I was going into the Taco Bell to use the restroom and put ice in my water bottle. When I come back, we’ll go get that man, I said.

When I returned to the van, The Man was gone. At first I thought maybe he had gone into the Taco Bell to use the restroom too, but when I looked out the windshield, I saw him and the hitchhiker walking on the side of the road, heading towards me. The Man had gone to talk to the hitchhiker to make sure he seemed safe and to find out where he needed to go. By bringing the hitchhiker back to the van, he also saved me from having to make a U-turn and find a place to pull off the road where we could safely load the fellow into the van.

The Man ushered the hitchhiker into the front seat, and he and Jerico sat in the back. I asked the hitchhiker where he needed to go and he said, Just downtown.

I told him I wasn’t familiar with Gallup, and he pointed down the street that ran in front of the Taco Bell, in the direction away from the interstate. No problem, I told him, then proceeded to back the van over one of the parking lot barriers. The van was fine (it’s a beast, after all), and if the hitchhiker was worried about my driving abilities, he didn’t let on. I guess hitchhikers take what they can get.

Route 66 Printed on RoadAs I was driving, I realized we were on Historic U.S. Highway 66 (Route 66). According to the Legends of America website,

Known by several names throughout the years including the “Mother Road,” “Main Street of America,” and the “Will Rogers Highway,” Route 66 served travelers for more than 50 years, before totally succumbing to the “new and improved” interstate system.

Established in 1926, road signs began to be erected the following year, but, it would be several years before the 2,448 mile highway would be continuously paved from Chicago to Los Angeles.

I have a mild fascination with Route 66 and fantasize about driving at least the Arizona portion of it, so I was glad for the historic detour we were on.

It didn’t take us very long to get downtown. It was fun to see a part of Gallup I’d never seen before. (I’ve been through Gallup a few times, but never hung out there and hadn’t spent any time away from the I-40 corridor.) The downtown area looked cute, and I saw a sign for the Rex Museum, a place I’d like to visit. (The Rex Museum’s website says,

Once a brothel and later a grocery, the museum building houses exhibits detailing a wide swath of local history, exploring the culture of the area’s earliest inhabitants, mining and railroad activities through to present-day Gallup.)

The hitchhiker didn’t seem to want to talk much. I made some chitchat, and he gave brief answers to my questions, but I think we had some cultural differences regarding small talk. He did tell me where he wanted to get out, and I was able to pull into an empty parking space so he could safely climb from the van. He thanked us politely and we went our separate ways.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-people-holding-usa-flaglets-1449057/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-photo-of-clocks-707676/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/drive-empty-highway-lane-210112/.

And Everything Changes Again

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The zia is the official symbol of the Land of Enchantment.

The Man and I have been talking about buying land in New Mexico since the day we met. (Literally.) It looks as if it’s finally going to happen.

A friend of ours has owned land in southern New Mexico for over a decade. The land is isolated, and our friend is in her mid-70s, so her kids really don’t want her out there alone. She made us a good deal on the half acre, and we plan to be out there early next month.

At first I thought we should haul the fifth wheel out there with us, but then we started thinking about costs. The fifth wheel would need new tires, and The Man said the bearings would need to be repacked (whatever that means). We were going to have to ask a friend with an old truck that can pull a fifth wheel to haul ours, which would mean paying for his gas as well as our own and offering him a couple hundred bucks for his trouble. I quickly realized we were better off selling the fifth wheel and living in our vans on the property for the next couple months, then building some simple living spaces in the fall.

We reached similar conclusions about the solar set-up and the storage shed. Potential buyers of the fifth wheel would want electricity and a place to store their extra things. The place would be easier to sell with the amenities. Besides, where would we store the six solar panels (and three deep-cycle batteries) while we were away from the land in the summer? How would we fit the shed’s metal panels in my van (in addition to all my belongings) to transport them to our new place? It made more sense to leave those things behind and use the money we got from the sale to buy new things. I’m looking forward to a solar set-up on my van (!!!) and a new shed on the property.

I’m also looking forward to saving a lot of money in New Mexico. Gone will be the days of rent. Sure, the $550 I pay to stay in the desert RV park is nominal, but $550 is $550. I’d rather not pay it if I don’t have to. Taxes on the land are cheap, so I’ll be saving most of that yearly expenditure.

We haven’t looked into car insurance yet, but we suspect it’s going to be a lot less expensive than what we’ve been paying in Arizona. A close friend told me her insurance rates dropped dramatically when she left Arizona and changed her domicile to New Mexico.

Perhaps most importantly, we’re only going to be about 15 miles from a town with a real supermarket. Where we are now, we can drive 10 miles to a town with a small grocery store, or we can drive more than 85 miles to a city with real supermarkets. The store in the small town charges two to three times more than the city supermarkets charge. In our new place, a 15 mile drive will take us to affordable food and inexpensive ice and a public library and three thrift stores and a big hardware store and and and…

This is one of those saguaros I will miss.

Of course, New Mexico is where The Man and I want to be. I’ve grown to appreciate Arizona, and I’ve grown to love the Sonoran Desert (those saguaros!), but I’ll be super happy to be in New Mexico again, to have a yellow license plate, to experience the Land of Enchantment morning, noon, and night.

I took the photos in this post.

New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass

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The New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass, is a great deal for anyone who wants to spend more than month exploring the state and staying in the campgrounds of its state parks. The Man and I both bought New Mexico State Parks annual camping passes in the fall of 2017 and camped at several of the state parks campgrounds separately and together.

I’ll tell you everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass (abbreviated to NMSPACP in the rest of this article) so you can decide if it’s right for you.

As of late November 2018 when I’m writing this article, the fees, permits, and rentals page  of the New Mexico State Parks website gives the following price breakdown for the pass:

Sunset in the day use area at Brantley Lake State Park.

New Mexico Resident (Proof of New Mexico I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $180

New Mexico Resident *Senior, 62+ (Proof of Age and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $100

New Mexico Resident *Disabled (Proof of disability required.) $100

Out-of-State Resident (Proof of I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $225

If you lose your annual camping permit, no problem! You can get a replacement for only $10.

If you are a resident of New Mexico with a disability, there are several things you can use to prove  your disability to the satisfaction of the folks at the New Mexico State Parks. See the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page to find out what documents you need to get your reduced-rate permit.

Primitive camping at Brantley Lake State Park

Permits for seniors and folks with disabilities can only be purchased at the New Mexico State Parks’ Santa Fe Office, located at 1220 S St Francis Drive #215 or at any  New Mexico State Park Visitor Center. The passes for New Mexico residents and out-of-state residents can also be purchased online. I purchased my pass in person at the visitor center at Leasburg Dam State Park, so I don’t know if there are any extra charges for buying the pass online.

If you have a NMSPACP, you can camp in any primitive camping area (usual cost: $8 per night) or on any developed camping area with no hookups (usual cost: $10 per night) in a New Mexico state park for no additional charge. According to the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page,

Primitive campsites offer no special facilities except a cleared area for camping. Sites may include trash cans, chemical toilets or parking.

Primitive camping also offer no designated sites. You’re basically boondocking when you camp in a primitive area at a New Mexico State Park.

I’ve camped in primitive camping areas at Caballo Lake State Park, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, and Brantley Lake State Park. In both of those parks, primitive camping was lakeside. I also witnessed primitive camping next to the lake at Bluewater Lake State Park. Although the primitive areas offer few or no amenities, campers are welcome to venture into other areas of the park and use the water spigots, restrooms, showers, and dumpsters if such facilities are available. (To find out what amenities are at each park, take a look at the printable New Mexico State Parks brochure.)

The developed camping areas typically offer a fire ring and a picnic table. Sometimes the developed areas offer

This is what the developed campsites look like at Brantley Lake State Park. Beware: At this park, ALL developed sites have electric hookups, so if you plan to stay in the campground, you’re going to have to pony up $4 a night, even if you have the NMSPP.

shade covers too.These campsites tend to be in campgrounds, closer to toilets (either flush or pit, depending on where you are) and sources of potable water. I’ve stayed on developed sites at Brantley Lake State Park, Percha Dam State Park, Elephant Butte State Park, Rockhound State Park, Leasburg Dam State Park, and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. The Man spent some nights at City of Rocks State Park; while I have visited that park during the day (and think it’s a gorgeous place), I’ve never had the pleasure of camping there.

Your NMSPACP does NOT provide for free electric or sewage hookups. If you have the annual camping permit and want an electric hookup, it will cost you an additional $4 per night. A sewage hookup if you have an annual camping permit will also cost an additional $4 per night. If you have the annual camping permit and you want both an electric and sewage hookup, that will set you back $8 per night. New Mexico State Parks do not charge for water hookups where they are available.

According to the New Mexico State Parks page devoted to camping,

Sunset over Oliver Lee State Park.

Campers may reside in a park for a maximum of 14 days during a 20 day period. Campers shall completely remove camping equipment and gear from the park for 7 calendar days during the 20 day period.

Here’s what that means if you have a NMSPACP. You can stay in any New Mexico State Park for up to 14 days, then you have to leave that park. However, you can go directly to another New Mexico State park and stay there (for free if you camp in a primitive area or on a developed site with no hookups) for seven days, then turn around and go back to the park you left a week ago.

If you wanted to save money on gas, you could stay in an area where there are state parks not too far from each other (such as Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Caballo Lake State Park, and Percha Dam State Park or Rockhound State Park, Pancho Villa State Park, and City of Rocks State Park) and go in a circuit from one to another, staying two weeks at each.

This was my view of Caballo Lake when I stayed in the primitive camping area of the state park.

The NMSPACP is good for only one vehicle per site. I called the New Mexico State Parks main office to make sure I understood this point correctly. I was hoping that even though The Man and I have separate vehicles, we could share one pass. No go! However, when we were camping together at Leasburg Dam State Park, there was only one developed campsite with no hookups available, and we were allowed to have both of our rigs on the site with no problem. (Note: I had a Chevy G20 and the man had a Honda Odyssey, so both rigs fit easily on the site, facilitating our sharing of the space.)

I bought my NMSPACP early in November 2017. When I bought it, the park ranger gave me a sticker to attach on my windshield. This sticker showed that I was a pass holder and it gave the expiration date of my pass. At the time I purchased my pass, there was space for the month and the year the pass expired. (The passes may be configured differently, depending on when you read this post.) My pass said it expired 11-18 (November 2018). I didn’t think to ask at the time, so I again called the New Mexico State Parks main office to find out if that pass expired on the first day of the month noted on it, or the last day. The answer: the last day! So even though I’d bought my pass early in November 2017, it was good through the last day of the month in 2018.

The campground at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM.

I think that’s everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass. If you have questions on topics I didn’t cover, I strongly encourage you to call the New Mexico State Parks main office at 505-476-3355. I’ve called the office several times with questions and the woman who answered the phone was always exceptionally pleasant and helpful. Talking to her was always a joy.

The information included in this post is subject to change, especially the information on prices. Blaize Sun is not responsible if the information she gave you is no longer applicable when you read this post; this information is a starting point. Everything was correct to the best of her knowledge when the post was written. You are strongly urged to call the New Mexico State Parks office or check internet sources for updated information.

So much cool at City of Rocks State Park.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Hitchhikers in Black

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Our jobs on the mountain ended, and The Man and I left California. We weren’t quite sure what our next move should be, so as we’ve done in past times of indecision, we headed to New Mexico. My New Mexico State Parks Pass was still valid, so we decided to spend some time at Bluewater Lake State Park between Grants and Gallup.

We arrived at Bluewater Lake early on Saturday afternoon. We drove through the different camping areas until we found a fairly flat campsite with a tree big enough to provide some shade. We spent the afternoon relaxing. Later in the day we set up our stove and had dinner before the sun set.

The next morning The Man decided he wanted coffee. He didn’t just want a cup of coffee; he wanted to buy ground coffee and sugar and creamer so he could make himself a cup every morning. We used Google Maps and found a grocery store called John Brooks 24 miles away in Milan. I climbed into the drivers seat and The Man rode shotgun for our little road trip.

It was before 8am when we set out. I slowly drove the van past the houses just outside the park, then picked up speed as I got closer to Interstate 40. As I approached the eastbound onramp, I saw three people standing on the side of the road just past the entrance.

The first thing I noticed was that all three of them were dressed in black. Gang members, a judgmental little voice in my head whispered.

The second thing I noticed was that they were all Native Americans. Call it white guilt if you want, but I particularly try to help people of color. Sure, I try to help everyone who needs a hand, but I feel I have a particular responsibility to help folks whose ancestors were oppressed by my ancestors.

Should we stop? I asked The Man as we approached.

He thought about it. No.

You don’t think we should stop? I asked in surprise.

The Man helps people too. He believes in helping people. I’m not sure why he said no. Maybe it was because there were three hitchhikers and my van only has two seats. Realistically, where would we put them? Maybe it was because three dudes in black standing on an onramp seemed a little sketchy.

I drove past the people, and after The Man got a good look at them, he said I should stop.

I pulled onto the shoulder of the onramp, and The Man got out of the van to talk to the people. Turns out there Group of People on Eventwere two men and a woman. They were Native, as I originally thought, and they were certainly dressed in black. While they may or may not have had gang affiliation, they were not on gang business that Sunday morning. They were on ROCK business, as in rock-n-roll. They were trying to get to Albuquerque for that night’s Ozzy Osbourne farewell concert.

The Man ushered the woman into the passenger seat and got in the back of the van with the two men. The Man sat on the bed, and the young men sat on the floor. Of course Jerico the dog barked at them, thinking they were new friends who obviously should be playing ball with him.

The woman was probably in her early 20. I apologized to her that we were only going about twenty miles down the road, but she seemed grateful for even the short ride. She was pretty excited about the concert, even though she had school the next day.

What are you studying? I asked her.

She was studying welding. Once she received her certificate, she was going travel. She wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. She thought she’d go to Alaska too. She’d heard there were lots of welding jobs in Alaska. She’d heard welder’s helpers—the people who handed tools and swept up—earned $16 an hour there.

I asked her where she’d grown up. I was making chit chat, but I was curious too.

She’d grown up in New Mexico and Arizona. Her dad’s family was from Arizona and her Mom’s family was from New Mexico. Her dad’s family was more traditional, more conservative she told me. In Arizona you had to do things a certain way. In New Mexico it didn’t matter so much how you did things, as long as you got things done. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to carrying out a religious ceremony or cooking stew, but my experience of New Mexico being peopled with laid back folks seemed to be in line with what she’d grown up with there.

As we approached exit 79, I was glad to see both a Love’s travel center and a Petro truck stop right off the interstate. There would be a lot more traffic there than the Ozzy fans would have found at the end of the onramp where we’d picked them up. I don’t have a lot of hitchhiking experience, but I suspected the trio would have better luck getting a ride if they were able to approach drivers and politely ask for what they needed. If three young people in black by the side of the road made me and The Man hesitate, the average driver was not going to stop for them. However, if a driver could talk to the Ozzy pilgrims and realize they were harmless, well, that would certainly increase their chances of getting a ride.

I asked the group if they preferred to be dropped at the Love’s or the Petro, and they opted for the Petro. I pulled into the truck stop’s parking lot, and they got out of the van amid thanks and good cheer.

I hope they made it to the Ozzy show and had a rockin’ good time. I only regret that financial considerations kept me from driving them all the way to Albuquerque.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-people-on-event-1047443/.