Category Archives: Places I’ve Been

Gone

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We were camping alone a river, or maybe it was a stream or a creek. I’ve been unclear on the difference for years. According to http://www.differencebetween.net/science/nature/difference-between-river-and-creek/,

1. A river is usually bigger than a creek although there are instances that the word creek is used for a larger body of water, depending on the place or country where it is located.
2. Rivers flow in channels and have branches or tributaries while creeks do not.
3. Rivers, especially the very large ones, are important sources of power supply while creeks do not have enough power to be tapped for this purpose.
4. Rivers are a good means of transporting large and heavy objects like logs downstream while creeks are shallow and are too small to allow this.
5. A creek can be formed by water from the sea while a river usually flows out to the sea.

Anyway, we were camping on the bank of a flowing body of water.

This is the flowing body of water next to where we were camping.

Of course, Jerico had his ball. The Man had been tossing it in the direction opposite from the water. The highway was opposite the water, but our campsite was below the road, and there was a driveway area serving as a barrier too. The Man was being careful where he tossed the ball in order to keep Jerico safely in camp.

After he chased and retrieved the ball for a while, Jerico got tired and decided to take a rest on the ground between where The Man and I were sitting. He dropped the ball on the ground there too.

Jerico rested for a while, then got up again and started exploring our campsite. Sometimes when we are out in nature, Jerico can forget about the ball for a while and do regular dog things like sniffing rocks and grass and peeing on trees.

I got up from my chair and went into the van to dig my camera out of my bag. Camera in hand, I walked along the edge of the water, taking photos for future blog posts. As I walked around, I noticed Jerico’s ball was no longer on the ground between the chairs. I figured he had it in his mouth at the moment since sometimes he carries it as he runs around.

I looked over and saw Jerico standing in high green grass at the edge of the water where it makes a turn as it rushes on. The river was still really high from winter snowmelt and spring rain, and it was moving fast. I wouldn’t have felt safe wading out to the middle. Jerico was standing on the edge, looking towards where the water disappeared around the bend. He had a look of concern on his face and no ball in his mouth.

The bend in the river down which Jerico must have watched his ball disappear.

I quickly scanned the area where I’d last seen the ball. Nothing. I looked on the ground all around the camping area. No ball.

I looked over at Jerico. He was looking at me. He glanced back at the water rushing by. He still looked concerned. He also seemed about ready to spring into the current.

I understood in a flash of insight. Jerico had brought the ball over to the water. For some reason only he will ever know (or maybe by accident), he dropped the ball in and watched it float away. Now he was about to jump in after it!

Jerico! No! I called sternly. He looked at me, then back at the water.

I knew if he jumped in, at best we’d have to deal with a cold, wet dog. At worst…well, I didn’t even want to think about it.

Without taking my eyes off the dog, I explained to The Man what I thought had happened. He dropped the ball in the river, I said. He’s about to jump in after it.

Jerico! Come here! The Man commanded.

Jerico looked at The Man, then back at the water. He stared at the water longingly, then slunk over to where The Man and I were.

I thought maybe I was wrong about the ball floating away and maybe it would turn up, but it didn’t. I searched under the bed, hoping a ball had rolled among the plastic tubs and tool boxes stored there, but I didn’t find one. Jerico had to spend the next couple days being a regular dog and not a ball fiend, although he did bring out his stuffed monkey, and we did toss that around a bit for him. I felt a little sorry for him, but the silence of him not bossy barking to get us to throw the ball was a relief. Besides, I didn’t drop the ball in the river; that mistake was on him.

Jerico and his monkey. He loves the monkey, but not nearly as much as he loves the ball.

 

 

 

Free Camping Along the Rio Hondo

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The best free camping in the Taos, New Mexico area is tucked between the Rio Hondo and the Ski Valley Road.

Turn east at the stop light locals call “the Old Blinking Light.” Follow Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco. Pass the Taos Cow (http://www.taoscow.com/) on the right or stop for coffee, sandwiches, or locally made ice cream. Right past Francesca’s Clothing Boutique, follow the road as it curves to the left. Pass the Holy Trinity Catholic Church (http://www.visitseco.com/arroyo_seco_catholic_church.php), then the road will curve to the right. After the post office, the road straightens out. When the choice becomes left, right, or off the mountain, go right. When you start seeing water flowing on the right, you’ll know you’re close.

There are three official campgrounds along the Rio Hondo: Lower Hondo, Cuchilla de Medio, and Italianos. Lower Hondo and Italianos have pit toilets, but I’m not sure about Cuchilla de Medio. When we stayed at Italianos Campground in June 2017, the inside of the toilet was filthy, and no toilet paper was provided. All of thes campgrounds are free, but offer no amenities other than pit toilets and the occassional picnic table. There are no trashcans and no water other than what’s in the river/stream/creek. The stay limit is 14 days within a 45 day period. The camping spots aren’t designated, so don’t look for numbered poles or timbers separating campsites. Just find a place to snug in a vehicle and/or a tent or a camper and leave the roadway open.

Campers who don’t need the pit toilets don’t need to limit themselves to the signed campgrounds. There are camping spots all along the water. Look for driveways going off into the trees and firerings constructed from stones by previous campers.

It’s amazing to me that I can be up in the desert, surrounded by sage and precious little shade, then drive 15 miles and find myself surrounded by tall pines and cottonwoods. Even on the hottest summer day, the Rio Hondo is icy cold. When I’m hot, I tell myself I”m going to strip down to my underwear and stretch out in the water, but in reality, I’ve only ever managed to go in ankle deep. In less than thirty seconds, my bones ache from the cold water, and the rest of me feels cool and refreshed. If I get hot again while I’m there, my feet go back in.

On Saturday afternoon in June, The Man and I were looking for a camping spot along the Rio Hondo. As we drove up toward the Ski Valley, we saw spot after spot taken both in the official campgrounds and in the boondocking areas. I was beginning to lose hope when we saw a poorly maintained dirt driveway leading down to the river. I pulled the van off the road, and we peered through the trees. No one was down there!

I slowly nosed the van down the rutted, potholed driveway. At the bottom of the driveway, we found two stone firerings and a nice, flat area to park the van. We had our own lovely, secluded waterfront campsite.

I took all these photos of the Rio Hondo and my feet in the Rio Hondo.

 

 

Wild Magnolias

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My friends and I were on an epic road trip to see Lou partway home.

Lou was in her car heading to Ohio to decide on her next move. Shortly before we left town, a friend of a friend said he wanted to go to the Midwest too, so Lou had agreed to take him on as a passenger.

Sheff and I and his dog Wednesday were in his car. Sheff did all the driving because I didn’t know how. I read aloud an article about glaciers to keep us both awake during the hottest part of the day.

Our first stop was in New Orleans, where we spent a few days crashing at the home of our sweet friend Kel. If she was surprised by a virtual stranger among us, she didn’t let it interfere with her hospitality.

It was the same with my former neighbor when the four of us went to her apartment for Cajun cooking. Of course, the neighbor had never met any of these friends, so she didn’t know who was close and whom I barely knew.

Our next stop was Mississippi. We spent a night at a state park. As was our habit, we didnt set up tents. Instead, we lay our sleeping bags on tarps and looked up at the stars until we fell asleep. It rained a little in the early morning, and, wanting to stay dry, I scrunched myself into the tiny back seat of Sheff’s compact car.  When I woke up again, the rain had stopped, but my muscles were kinked, and I felt grumpy and disoriented. Sheff handed me a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and suggested I wash my face with it.

Nothing’s so bad that Dr. Bronner’s peppermint and a clean face can’t help, he told me. He was right. It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten. Dr. Bronner and his peppermint soap have cheered me many times.

We drove for a couple more hours, then stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. The interior of the restaurant was clean and cool, and the food was delicious. Still, I felt sad because I knew when the meal was over, I’d say good-bye to Lou. I had no idea when–or if–I’d see her again.

We parted ways in the parking lot amidst hugs and tears. I didn’t think even Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap could mend the hole in my heart my friend’s absence was already causing.

Sheff and I journeyed on to the De Soto National Forest for a couple days of camping. I’d never been there before. I don’t think Sheff had either.

I wasn’t much of a hiker and backcountry camper (I’m still not), but I was basically along for the ride and willing to join in on whatever Sheff wanted to do. I followed him out into the forest, even though I was wearing a tiny dress and inappropriate shoes.

During our second day of camping, Sheff went on a long hike with his dog, and I chose to stay behind with the tent. Our whole time in the forest seems like a dream now, so many years later. Brief memories of the time flash through my mind when I try to remember those days.

Flash! I’m sitting against a tree, writing in my journal when an armadillo comes crashing into our camp. While we are surprised to see each other, the critter doesn’t seem scared of me and ambles away.

Flash! I’ve taken off my clothes, and I’m stretched out in a shallow, muddy, barely flowing body of water. The cool water feels good on my sweaty skin, but I worry someone will come along and see my nakedness. I slip my dress over my head and go back to camp.

Flash! Sheff is back and making dinner. I’m impressed by the way he can cook on his tiny backpacking stove.

Flash! It’s dark, and we’re all in the tent. Sheff’s in his sleeping bag, and I’m in mine. Wednesday the dog wiggles between us at some time in the night, and I wake to find she’s pushed me until I’m up against the tent’s side wall. Her dirty paws have left sand in my sleeping bag.

What I remember most about the camping trip are the magnolia trees growing wild in the forest. Before that day, I’d only seen magnolias growing in cities and towns. I’d assumed people had planted them. It had never occurred to me that magnolias would grow wild, that magnolias could be a natural part of a forest environment.

Those magnolias are growing just to grow, I marveled. No one planted them here.

I couldn’t stop looking at thse trees, thinking about them. They weren’t there to please people. Those magnolias belonged to themselves and were growing for themselves.

After all these years, I still think of those trees out in the Mississippi forest, growing just to grow.

 

 

The Last Rest Area in New Mexico

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The Man and I were in Las Vegas, NM, and we decided to go to Trinidad, CO. We got on I-25 and headed north.

It was late afternoon by the time we got started, and I was tired of driving well outside of Raton. I knew we had the Raton Pass ahead of us, and I didn’t want to make that mountain crossing in the dark. I’d looked at the map before we left Las Vegas and seen the last rest area in New Mexico on I-25 was less than twenty miles south of Raton. I needed to pee anyway, so I decided to stop at the rest area and check it out.

I knew there was a Wal-Mart in Raton, and we could probably park there overnight. However, I wanted to cook dinner, and I always feel weird cooking in the parking lots of stores. Even if we decided not to spend the night at the rest area, we could certainly cook dinner there. No one tends to blink an eye at people having a picnic at a rest stop.

I pulled into the reast area on the east side of the highway and found a spot to park. I walked briskly to the toilets while The Man took the dog out. The restroom was really clean, with flush toilets and sinks complete with running water for hand washing.

When I went back outside and had a better look around, I realized everything in the rest area was really clean. There was no litter on the ground and no graffitti.

In addition to the building housing the restrooms, there are several covered picnic table there.  The picnic pavillions have low stone walls to block the wind and there are many trees throughout the rest stop, making the area pretty and providing shade.

As I looked around, I saw The Man and the dog in a flat, treeless area at the back of the rest area, so I walked out to meet them. Beyond the flat area were train tracks. As we stood there, we heard a train a comin’. It got closer, and I saw it was an Amtrack.

It’s a people train! I exclaimed. I stood tall and waved vigorously as the train passed. I couldn’t tell if anyone waved back–or if indeed there were passengers on the train–but I had a great time waving and imagining  passengers wondering who I was and why I was there.

We walked back to prepare our dinner of eggs and cheese and onions and zucchini on tortillas. We decided to cook next to the van instead of hauling all our supplies and equipmemt down to one of the picnic pavillions. In minutes, we had a table and our stove set up, and onions were sizzling in our cast iron skillet.

After eating and doing my share of the cleanup, I didn’t want to drive anymore. Let’s stay here tonight, I suggested, and The Man agreed.

While the rest area is developed and well-lit, it seemed better than a Wal-Mart parking lot. Maybe the trees helped. Maybe it wasn’t quite so hot because there wasn’t so much asphalt. Maybe I was just dog tired. In any case, I slept well, despite the idling big rigs parked rigth behind us and the comings and goings of drivers who needed to stretch their legs or take a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

In the morning, I snapped a few photos. I’ve noticed there’s often at least one historic marker at New Mexico rest areas. This stop has a marker with information abouth the nearby Clifton House site. According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifton_House_Site),

The Clifton House was an important overnight stage stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. It was located in Colfax County, New Mexico about six miles south of Raton, New Mexico, on the Canadian River. The site is located at mile marker 344 of U.S. Route 64, just off of exit 446 on Interstate 25.

Tom Stockton, a rancher, built the Clifton House in 1867,[2] using furniture, glass, and shingles that were brought overland from Dodge City, Kansas.

The Clifton House was a stop on the Barlow and Sanderson Stage Line

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Otero, two miles to the north in March 1879, and stage service on the Santa Fe Trail ceased. The Clifton House was quickly abandoned, and the building was destroyed by an arsonist in 1885.

The other side of the marker shows a “Points of Interest” map of the area, and I saw we were quite close to the mountain branch of the Santa Fe  Trail. Neat!

When I finished taking photos, I found The Man and the dog were ready to go. I climbed into the driver’s seat, and we headed to Raton in search of coffee.

Read about the Raton Pass Scenic Overlook here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/05/30/raton-pass-scenic-overlook/.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

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.

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.