Monthly Archives: June 2017

Heavenly Father

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When I worked in the National Forest parking lot, I often overheard visitors saying strange things.

One day a car pulled into the parking lot with three people inside. A young man in a green t-shirt was driving. A woman of middle age sat in the backseat. A very old, rather feeble-looking man occupied the passenger seat. I wondered idly about the relationships of those three people. A mother, son, and grandfather?Was the young man the son of the old man, the product of his late middle age? Maybe they weren’t related at all. Maybe they were friends or business associates.

The old man wanted to use his Golden Age pass to pay the parking fee. I explained I couldn’t accept the Golden Age pass in lieu of the $5. I could tell he wasn’t happy about the situation, but he didn’t argue. The young man drove the car off to find a spot to park.

Later, as I sat in my chair between approaching new arrivals, I heard a woman’s voice from behind me.

I’ve been thinking about it, she said. The Heavenly Father is a record keeper. First day…Second day…

What in the world is she talking about? I wondered. Is she talking to me?

I looked over and saw the young man in the green t-shirt. Next to him stood the middle-age woman. She was the person I’d heard talking.

I took this photo of the iron ranger the old man was using as a writing surface.

The very old man was standing close to the iron ranger. He had a small piece of paper or perhaps a tiny notebook on the flat top of the iron ranger, and he seemed to be writing something. Perhpas this note-taking was something he did often?

Even a heathen like me could figure out the woman meant God when she said Heavenly Father. But record keeperFirst daySecond day? I assume she was referring to the Book of Genesis where a list is given of what God created on each day of the week. Was she equating the old man and his note-taking to Ulmighty God? (Also, if God is an all-powerful being, would he really have to keep records? Wouldn’t he just know what he created and when? Is it even possible for God to forget?)

I thought what the woman had said was interesting (and weird), so as soon as they walked off, I wrote down her words verbatim. When The Lady of the House visited me at my campground, she saw the piece of paper upon which I’d written the words. What’s this? she asked.

I told her the story of the very old man and the young man in the green t-shirt and the middle-aged woman who said the words.

Mormons, The Lady said.

What? I asked, confused. What did Mormons have to do with anything?

Mormons call God “Heavenly Father,” she said. The Lady has two best friends who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so she is my go-to for all questions related to the religion.

I had no idea, I said.

Yep, she said. If you hear people refere to the Heavenly Father, they’re probably Momons.

She’d just cleared up part of the mystery. Even though I’d already been pretty sure the Heavenly Father was God, it was good to have confirmation. But why was the old man taking notes? To assist a failing memory? Was he planning to write a book?

I have a theory that if a person lives long enough, all questions will be answered, but I’ll probably die before I understand what was going on with those three people that day in the parking lot. I doubt those mysteries will ever be revealed.

 

Penguins

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Between Socorro and Truth or Consequences, NM lies the small town of San Antonio. If a driver exits I-25 at San Antonio and takes Highway 1 running parallel to the interstate, one will pass through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosque),

A bosque (/ˈbskɛ/BOHS-ke) is a gallery forest found along the riparianflood plains of stream and river banks in the southwestern United States. It derives its name from the Spanish word for woodlands.

In the predominantly arid or semi-arid southwestern United States, the bosque is an oasis-like ribbon of green vegetation, often canopied, that only exists near rivers, streams, or other water courses. The most notable bosque is the 200-mile (320 km)-long ecosystem along the middle Rio Grande in New Mexico that extends from Santa Fe south past Socorro including the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

I took Highway 1 once and stopped at the Refuge’s visitor center. It had a clean women’s restroom (I can’t vouch for the men’s room), a gift shop, and exhibits aimed mostly at kids.

I can’t remember why I went up to the information desk, but a very nice lady was working there. While we chatted, a man–another visitor–joined us. The info woman showed us on a map where to find the scenic-loop drive good for bird watching. I decided to skip the scenic loop drive. The $5 entrance fee didn’t seem worth it because it was almost dark, I’m not a birder, and I was the only person in the van. Better to have a scenic-loop companion and get our money’s worth.

Before I could say thank you and walk off, the nice information desk woman mentioned the penguins that come to the Bosque.

Penguins? I asked.

Penguins? the tourist man next to me echoed my confusion.

Penguins, The information woman said firmly.

How do they get here? either the man or I asked.

Have you ever seen a penguin? the information woman asked.

I thought about it. On TV, I said. Then I thought about it more. I’d seen penguins at an aquarium once. That was real life, albeit through glass. The penguins swam around a huge tank. One wall was glass so visitors could watch them diving and paddling.

I considered what I knew about penguins. They didn’t fly, right? They couldn’t possibly fly to New Mexico, right? They lived where it was cold, right? Southern New Mexico–even Southern New Mexico in winter–couldn’t be nearly cold enough for penguins, right?

All of those penguin thoughts flashed through my mind. Maybe everything I thought I knew about penguins was wrong. Maybe they did fly to New Mexico and hang out at the Bosque del Apache.

The information woman was still talking, but the tourist man interrupted to ask again, Penguins?

Penguins? the information woman asked as she realized her mistake. Did I say “penguins”? I meant pelicans.

I knew she was embarrasses, and I felt bad for her. She’s seemed so sure, but she’d been so wrong.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

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One day when I was in the computer lab, The Man and Jerico walked over to Wal-Mart. Once they got there, The Man needed a place to leave Jerico while he went inside to do his shopping. He attached Jerico’s leash to a tree and told the fellow in the RV parked nearby that he’d be back for the dog shortly. That’s how The Man met Mike.

I met Mike a few days later when The Man and I returned to the Wal-Mart. Mike seemed like a nice guy, but he was one of those talkers who seldom quiets long enough for anyone else to squeeze in a word or two. He was in his late 50s, maybe early 60s, and chain smoked while he talked. As far as we could tell, he stayed in the driver’s seat of his old, battered motorhome all day and watched the world of the Wal-Mart parking lot unfold.

On a subsequent visit, Mike told The Man he was waiting to be able to go back to Elephant Butte Lake State Park. The park allows campers to stay for 14 days, after which they must leave for at least a week. Mike was waiting out the time he couldn’t be at the park.

Mike had a New Mexico State Parks Pass. For $180 a year, New Mexico residents can buy this pass allowing them free developed (non-electric/no sewer) camping at any New Mexico state park. (The cost of the pass for residents of other states is $225.) The pass is good for 12 months from the month of purchase. (Learn more about the New Mexico State Parks Pass and/or order one here: https://newmexicostateparks.reserveamerica.com/showPage.do?name=common&commonPath=/htm/NM_AnnualPasses.html.)

Pass holders can stay at any New Mexico state park for up to two weeks before they have to leave, but they can go directly from one state park to another. I asked Mike if he ever went to nearby Caballo Lake State Park (15 miles from the Wal-Mart) or Percha Dam State Park (23 miles from the Wal-Mart). He said because of his motorhome’s poor gas milage, he couldn’t afford to drive to these parks. Instead, he sat at Wal-Mart in the days between his weeks at Elephant Butte Lake.

A couple days before he was to go to Elephant Butte Lake, Mike invited us to visit him there. He actually had two pass cards, one for his motorhome and one for a passenger vehicle. The second pass would go to his buddy who shared the campsite with him, but the buddy wouldn’t be in town for a few more weeks. In the meantime, we could use it to get into the park.

Mike really wanted us to camp on his site with him for two weeks. We considered the option, but ultimately decided not to take him up on his offer. The Man really didn’t want to pack up his entire camp, nor did he want to leave all his belongings unattened on BLM land for one night, much less for two weeks. I know Mike was disappointed when we showed up and said we were only going to stay a few hours. We could tell he was a really lonley guy. We hoped he thought our short visit was better than no visit at all.

According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_Butte_Reservoir),

Elephant Butte Reservoir is a reservoir on the Rio Grande in the U.S. state of New Mexico, 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Truth or Consequences. This reservoir is the 84th largest man-made lake in the United States and the largest in New Mexico by total surface area…The reservoir is also part of the largest state park in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park.[1]

The name “Elephant Butte” refers to a volcanic core similar to Devils Tower in Wyoming. It is now an island in the lake. The butte was said to have the shape of an elephant lying on its side.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park offers primitive (dry) camping on the shores of the lake, as well as developed camping with and without electric and sewer hookups. The sites in developed areas include a covered picnic table, and drinkable water is available throughout the park. (To learn more about the park, go here: http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/ElephantButteLakeActivities.html.)

There are multiple restrooms in the park, some with pit toilets, some with traditional flush toilets. In addition to restrooms, there are shower houses throughout the park. The way things are set up, I don’t think anyone would notice (or care) if someone from the primitive camping area used the facilities when necessary.

After visiting with Mike and some other Elephant Butte Lake campers for a couple of hours, I drove the van over to the nearest open showerhouse. (Our visit was in February 2017, before all the showerhouses were open for the busy summer season.) The Man went to the men’s side of the building, and I went to the women’s.

It was a standard New Mexico state park shower. I had to push a button on the wall to make the water flow. After a few minutes, the water stopped flowing, and I had to push the button again. The water was warm but never got hot. I was chilly the entire time I was in there.

It wasn’t a great shower, but it was a free shower, and to this van dweller, a free shower means a lot.

Panoramic view of Elephant Butte Lake

I took the photos in this post.

Purple Mountains (A New Mexico Story)

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It was my first time in New Mexico.

I was in an AmeriCorps program in Texas. I was offered the opportunity to go to New Mexico on Memorial Day weekend to work on a trail building project in the Gila National Forest. I was excited to go, to visit a new state, to get out of the Texas heat.

Our caravan made it as far as Las Cruces on the first day of our trip. I grew up in the flatlands of the Deep South, so this trip to New Mexico was one of my first experiences with mountains. Oh how I loved them! I’d barely been able to take my eyes off them since they’d come into view.

The plan was to spend the night at a state park outside Las Cruces. We arrived in the late evening, not very long before sunset. We began the business of settting up our tents.

At 29, I was the oldest person in my AmeriCorps program. (How impossibly young 29 seems now!) I was even older than the AmeriCorps boss on the trip, who was only 23. The other AmeriCorps folks on the trip ranged in age from 16(!) to  early 20s. Also, I really only knew two other people in the group, two guys who, like me, worked in the building program. The other people in our AmeriCorps group did trail building and maintence, and I hadn’t mingled much with any of them.

During my struggle with my tent, I glanced over at the mountains. They were purple, really purple, just like in the song! They were part of one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever seen.

I started jumping up and down. I was literally jumping up and down and shouting, The purple mountains majesty! The purple mountains majesty!

I’d been hearing and singing “America the Beautiful” for 20+ years, and I’ll be damned if I had any idea what “purple mountain majesties” was all about. How could mountains be purple? Here was my answer! Now I understood. These were the purple mountains majesties.

I looked over. It seemed as if all the young people had stopped assembling their tents and were staring at me. Who is this old woman, I imagined them thinking, jumping up and down and yelling about purple mountains?

I stopped jumping and shouting and went back to pitching my tent. I was a little embarrassed at my outburst, but mostly I felt grateful to have seen those purple mountains.

I first tell in love with New Mexico that evening, and I’ve been in love with the state ever since.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of those purple mountains near Las Cruces, but I did take this photo of Taos County mountains.

The Water Knife (A Book Review)

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The Water Knife
I first heard of the novel The Water Knife (set in the American Southwest, primarily in Phoenix, AZ from a blurb in Sunset magazine (http://www.sunset.com/). The description intrigued me, and I wanted to read the book. Thanks to a kind BookMooch (http://bookmooch.com/) member, I had my chance.

In author Paolo Bacigalupi’s Phoenix, water is precious and scarce, and society is divided according to who has it and who doesn’t. The rich have water, of course, The rich live in lavish “arcologies” where all waste water is sceientifically filtered clean and reused. The rich have plenty of water to drink, can bathe whenever they want, have their clothes cleaned regularly, and even use flush toilets. The poor have limited water resources. The poor live in squats built from salvaged materials or abandoned houses; neither type of housing has running water. The poor buy their water one gallon at a time from pumps with fluctuating prices. The poor are dusty dirty because they can rarely shower or wash their clothes. Needless to say, there are no flush toilets for the Phoenix poor.

Not every place in this distopia Southwest has the water problems Phoenix does. Things are much worse in Texas, and refugees have poured into Arizona via New Mexico. The good people of New Mexico wanted nothing to do with Texas regugees and sent them on their way, sometimes violently. Life isn’t so hard in California and Nevada, and those states want to keep it that way by limiting who crosses their borders to use their limited resources. In this world, coyotes still guide people across borders, but the borders crossed are into states with water.

The most important thing in this world are water rights, and the water knife of the title makes sure his boss gets the water rights she needs to stay wealthy and priviliged.

There’s a lot of dark action in this book: shooting, torture, murder, death. Young women (called “bangbang girls,” usually Texans) sell their bodies for money and, hopefully, the chance to wash their panties in the sink while the rich man sleeps. A man who controls a neighborhood and demands a percentage of the money the area residents earn uses hyenas as part of his enforcement plan. Dams are blown up and precious water is diverted. People are tortured for answers. This book is so dark, in fact, that I put it aside for four months after reading the first nine chapters. The book was good, but it had me on edge, knowing all the characters were facing terrible fates. When I picked it up the second time, I must have been in a better state of mind, because I was able to enjoy the story without letting the violence get to me.

The action of the novel just keeps coming. I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing what would happen next or who would doublecross whom. I did, however, figure out the story’s key mystery long before the characters did. (Of course, I had a big picture view the characters were lacking.)

I also enjoyed the characters. I was pleased to see two of the three main characters through whose eyes the story is told are women. The women aren’t damsels-in-distress women either, but strong, ass-kicking, gonna do what has to be done women. Even though the book is primarily an action/adventure/mystery story, there is also character development, which I appreciated.

The social problems the book examines are not easy to look at. What happenes when modern life as we know it breaks down? What happens when one of humankind’s most basic, most necessary resources becomes so scare people are willing to kill for it? What happens when the environment changes to the point people may no longer be able to survive on the surface of the earth? The Water Knife raises these questions and offers only bleak answers.

Still, I’m glad I read this novel. It was difficult to get through some parts of it, but those hard parts really made the story ring true. It’s a good book, but maybe not for readers who can’t handle the dark side of humanity.

Amazon Associates

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Since October 2016, the Rubber Tramp Artist has participated in the Amazon associates program.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure
Here’s how it works. Say I’m writing a blog post about The Princess Bride. I get information from Amazon that allows me to put an image of the book’s cover in my post. Nifty! I now have a nice image related to my topic to go along with my text. However, the image isn’t just a nice picture; it’s also a link to the book on Amazon’s page. If a reader clicks on the image, the link will take him/her directly to Amazon’s website. At that point, any qualifying items placed in the reader’s shopping cart within 24 hours of their arrival at Amazon via my Associates link will earn me advertising fees.

Of course, Amazon is not just about books. I could also write about the movie The Princess Bride and get information from Amazon to put an image of the DVD cover in my post. That image is also a link to the DVD’s Amazon page. Clicking on the image of the DVD on my page will take my reader to The Princess Bride DVD Amazon page. From there, if my reader puts a DVD of The Princess Bride or any other item in his or her cart within 24 hours and purchases those items before the shopping cart expires (usually after 90 days), I will get an advertising fee.

The Princess Bride

Here’s another scenario: Say a reader wants to buy something from Amazon I’ve never even mentioned on the blog. The reader can go to my blog first and click through my site to get to Amazon. A reder can do this in a couple of ways.

The first way is to find the Amazon.com link in the column to the right of the main body of the post. The words “Just click here!” are in orange; that’s my link to Amazon. That link will take readers to Amazon and get me credit for items placed in their carts within 24 hours and purchased (usually) within 90 days.

If that link is too hard to find or too small on a cell phone, there’s another way to do it. On the top of every page of this blog, there’s a link for the page about my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. Go to that page. The image of the cover of my book is a link to Amazon. Click on the image of the cover of my book, and you’ll go to Amazon.com. Once a reader has gone to Amazon via either of these methods, s/he can shop for any item. Any item s/he puts in her/his cart in the next 24 hours and purchases within 90 days (usually) will earn me an advertising fee.

Going through the Rubber Tramp Artist blog to shop on Amazon costs the reader/shopper nothing extra. Amazon pays the advertising fee, not the reader/shopper.

Every month, I receive a list of items folks who clicked through my blog purchased from Amazon, but there’s absolutely no names linked to these purchases. I’ll never know who bought what items.

Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
Of course, I’m not encouraging folks to buy things they don’t want or need. However, by going through my blog to make Amazon purchases, readers can help me earn a little money to keep me on the road.

I appreciate everything folks have done to help me since I’ve started this blog. Thanks for every donation, every necklace and collage and hat that’s been bought from me, and every Amazon purchase that’s originated from this blog. Also, a big THANKS to my computer guy who set things up so I could participate in the Amazon Associates program.

 

Brantley Lake State Park

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After a long, hot day in the city of Carlsbad, NM, The Man said he really needed a shower.

Isn’t there a state park around here? he asked.

I got on FreeCampsites.net (https://freecampsites.net/) and had a look. Although staying at state parks isn’t free, it’s often cheap, so parks with campgrounds are sometimes listed on the Free Campsites website. The closest state park that showed up in the search engine was at Brantley Lake.

I don’t remember why we didn’t look for a community or rec center with a swimming pool, as those are often good places to shower for a couple of bucks. In any case, we were soon making the 20-mile drive to the state park.

When we pulled up to the entrance to the park, I read the information board, trying to figure out where we should go. It looked like the price for primitive camping was $8 and the price for developed camping was $14. I was sure the Free Campsites page said the cost of camping in the developed area was $10 Where was the $10 option?

While I was trying to figure things out, a truck pulled over behind us. The Man backed out of its way, but it didn’t go around us and into the park as we’d expected. The truck had some sort of official looking emblem on the door, and the driver looked at me expectantly.

Go talk to him, The Man urged.

Turns out, the man in the truck was the camp host at Limestone Campground, the park’s developed area.

I confirmed that the primitive camping area had no showers. There aren’t even porta-potties down there, the camp host said. I realized later I should have asked if we were allowed to camp in the primitive area but take showers in the developed campground, but it didn’t cross my mind at the time.

At other New Mexico state parks I’ve been to (Caballo Lake, Elephant Butte Lake), primitive camping costs $8, a developed campsite with no electricity costs $10, and a campsite with electricity costs $14. I was confused when I got to Limestone Campground in Brantley Lake State Park because I couldn’t find the $10 non-electric campsites. It finally dawned on me that there was no $10 option there because all sites offered electricity. As I thought more about New Mexico state parks where I’ve stayed before, I remembered Percha Dam campground offered no primitive camping. All sites at that campground were considered “developed,” and I had to pay $10 per night when I stayed there. I learned a lesson at Brantley Lake: Every state park in New Mexico is different, and I need to do a bit more research than FreeCampsites.net to find out if a particular park offers the kind of camping I want.

Brantley Lake is beautiful and large. According to http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/spd/brantleylakestatepark.html, it is the southernmost lake in New Mexico. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brantley_Lake_State_Park) says the lake is

a man-made reservoir created when Brantley Dam was built across the Pecos River in the 1980s… It has a surface area of approximately 4,000 acres (16 km2), but that varies due to the inconsistent flow of the Pecos River and the arid climate in which the lake is located.

Brantley Lake is beautiful and large. This photo shows only a small portion of it.

The Limestone Campground is divided into two sections: one has sites that can be reserved and the other has sites that are nonreservable. We pulled into the section for folks without reservations and found several empty sites to choose from. We were visiting on a Thursday in early May, and there was plenty of room. However, if I wanted to stay at Limestone Campground on a summer weekend and I hadn’t reserved a spot, I would be sure to arrive early in the day to secure a site.

Apparently, campsites have a bar-b-que grill too. I guess I didn’t notice the one on our site.

Each site in the nonreserveable part of the campground has a flat area for parking a camper and/or a vehicle and a covered picnic table. Each site has an electrical box too, but since we didn’t need to plug in anything, we didn’t even look at the box. We took a spot next to a trail leading to the lake, but we were too tired to walk down there.

Like the rest of the campground, the women’s restroom/shower house was very clean. A woman was leaving the shower house as I arrived, and no one else came in, so I had the place to myself. I had a couple beefs about the shower, complaints I’ve also had at the other two state parks in New Mexico (Percha Dam and Elephant Butte Lake) where I’ve showered.

First, I had to press a button to start the water flow. The water ran a few minutes (3? 5?) then shut off automatically. I understand managers of state parks wanting showers to shut off automatically to cut down on pranksters or just plain forgetful people leaving the water running and flooding the place or wasting resources. However, having the water shut off during my shower harshes my mellow. Certainly, it’s not a huge problem, as I can simply reach out and push the button again, but I’d prefer a continuous water flow while I’m washing up.

The trail leading to the lake,

The second complaint is more difficult for me to shrug off. The water in New Mexico state park showers never gets hot. Yes, the water is warm. Yes, a warm shower is better (to me) than a cold one. Yes, hot water uses precious resources and opens the park to a lawsuit if someone scalds him or herself. I understand all these factors, but I love me a hot hot shower, and I can’t seem to get one at a New Mexico state park.

Of course, I was happy to get clean, even if I got a little chilly in the process. To this van dweller, a shower is always a luxury. However, I’d rather take a hot shower for $3 at a rec center instead of my paying my half of $14 or even $10 to take a warm shower at a state park.

I took all the photos in this post.