Category Archives: Places I’ve Been

Free Camping in the Carson National Forest Near Tres Piedras, New Mexico

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I camped near these rocks in September 2021.

I’ve camped off of Forest Road 64J near the Tres Piedras rocks several times, first in late August 2020, again in early May 2021, and on two occasions in September 2021. Before I camped there, The Man and I visited a few times to hike around the rocks and get some time away from home during the pandemic locked down spring and summer of 2020.

This camping spot is about 40 miles from Taos, NM and just outside the community of Tres Piedras. Don’t get too excited about the town of Tres Piedras because it’s tiny. There’s a post office, a meeting place for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Chili Line Depot which offers food and lodging. There’s no fuel for vehicles for sale in Tres Piedras, and if you’re looking for a major supply run, you’ll wan to go to Taos or Antonito, Colorado (31 miles away).

What Tres Piedras does have is a National Forest Service ranger station, cool giant rocks that folks who know what they’re doing can climb, and free camping.

The free camping area is off Highway 64. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll pass the ranger station, then look for a sign on the right that say “64J National Forest.” The next road on the right (a dirt road) is the one you want to turn onto. f you’re coming from the west, directly across from the road you want to turn down is a brown sign that reads “Carson National Forest Information Visitors Welcome Ahead.” The sign is quite weathered. One way to know you’re on the right road once you turn is the ginormous green water tank. If you’re coming from the east, you can definitely see it before you turn.

About that sign that says “Visitors Welcome…” As of September 2021, the visitor center at the ranger station was still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were several bulletin boards outside the ranger station offering lots of information about the surrounding area, but I couldn’t pick up a map or say hi to a ranger while I was there.

Some of the plants growing in the area.

There is a trail that goes from the side of the ranger station and crosses road 64J and picks up on the other side. I walked the trail from the ranger station to 64J once during my evening constitutional. It was not very exciting. The most exciting thing I saw while walking the trail were some animal (cow?) bones. I did not take the trail after it crossed 64J, so I don[‘t know what it’s like over there.

Once you turn onto road 64J, find a flat and empty dirt spot off the road and among the pine trees to camp on. There are spots to pull over all along the road. If you go all the way to the end before the road splits, you will see a couple of sites with picnic tales and three or four fire pits constructed from rocks. These are sort of designated camping spots, but everything is quite informal back there.

64J is a pretty good dirt road. The last time I was on it, there were some ruts and wash boarding, but I was able to easily navigate it in my Toyota Sienna minivan.

If you make a very sharp left turn onto the less defined road right before you come to where the road Ts, you can follow it back and find places to camp right next to big rock formations. Picturesque! While these rock formations are big and cool, when you see these, you haven’t really seen anything yet.

If you take either of the more well-defined roads to the left at the T, you will find more places to camp, and before too long come to the Tres Piedras rocks. Calling them “rocks” is something of a misnomer. These are not just a few little rocks or even some boulders. This is a massive rock formation. Rock climbers climb these rocks. They are very, very big!

Jerico and I contemplate the Tres Piedras rocks, summer 2020.

The access to the rock formation is on private property. I’m unclear as to how the far the private land extends, but the land owner allows folks on the private land in order to get to the rocks. However, there’s a fence, so you’re not going to be able to drive your rig right up to the rocks to camp or for a photo opp. Park or camp elsewhere and walk through the access gate to get to the rocks.

This area of Carson National Forest is grazing land for cattle. When The Man and I spent a week right off road 64J in the travel trailer in late August of 2020, there were cows all over the place. If you see cows here or on any public land, don’t harass them. The cows have every right to be there. In fact, the cows are the paying customers, as someone has bought a permit from the forest service to graze them there. Also, you don’t want to get between a mamma and her calf. Cows are typically calm and docile, but they’re also big and protective of their young. If you don’t hassle the cattle, they’ll likely leave you alone.

I’ve seen wildlife in the area too. Peregrine falcons nest in the crevices of the rock formation during some parts of the year, and The Man and I saw some flying around the first time we visited. In the camping area where the fire pits and picnic tables are, I’ve seen woodpeckers and robins and bluebirds and bluejays and other birds I couldn’t identify. Although I’ve heard coyotes yip and howl in the distance, I haven’t seen any while camping near Tres Piedras. While I was writing the rough draft of this post from the comfy warmth of my bed, I saw something in my peripheral vision. I looked out of the van’s side window and I saw two deer off in the distance walking among the trees.

Travel trailer camping in the vicinity of the Tres Piedras rocks.

I’ve never known the camping area to be crowded. (Of course “crowded” is a subjective idea. My “not crowded” might be your “too much.”) Even on Labor Day weekend of 2020, the place was mellow. There tends to be a mix of folks sleeping in tents, vans and minivans, small motorhomes, and pull-behind travel trailers. I’ve not seen any really big Class A motorhomes or 5th wheels parked nearby.

I think it’s not crowded because it’s quite a ways from Taos, where most of the action in the area is. Also, I’ve noticed campers tend to gravitate to water, and there’s no stream or lake near the Tres Piedras rocks. That’s ok with me. I’d rather have peaceful bliss with few neighbors over a crowded body of water any day (or-especially-night).

My cell phone signal (provided by Verizon) was weak in the area and sometimes disappeared entirely. When I tried to have a voice conversation, I could hear the person on the other end fine, but after a few minutes, she said my voice was breaking up. Outgoing texts were sometimes delayed, but eventually went thought. Internet access was best in the early morning. I didn’t try to stream anything.

Other than a few picnic tables and fire pits, camping in this part of the Carson National Forest is a true boondocking experience. There are no hookups and no toilets. There’s no running water, no drinking water, and no showers. There are no trash cans, so prepare to pack out all your trash.

Camping area with picnic table sand fire pits.

On 64J road, you may find yourself–like I did the morning I wrote the first draft of this post–alone with the breeze, the trees, the gentle tapping of a woodpecker, and deer in the distance.

I took the photos in this post.

My Recent Travels

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My first camping spot at the start of my adventure. This photo was taken on the Ski Valley Road between Taos and the Taos Ski Valley.

I recently spent three weeks on the road traveling in New Mexico and Colorado.

I went from Taos to Taos Ski Valley to Tres Piedras, all in New Mexico. Then I went to Colorado, where I visited the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Crestone, and Alamosa. Back in the Land of Enchantment, I camped in the Carson National Forest near Tres Piedras for three days. Next I visited museums, thrift stores, and a friend in Santa Fe. From the capital city, I went to Moriarty, the three sites of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, the Very Large Array, the Box Recreation Area near Socorro, the Catwalk National Recreation Area, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. I also shopped in nine thrift stores in four towns.

Along the way, I mostly camped for free. I only paid for a campsite once, when I stayed at the Piñon Flats Campground in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Otherwise, I spent my nights boondocking at no cost.

In the next few weeks, I’ll share with you where I went, what I learned, what I saw, and where I stayed. Stay tuned for all this great new content.

I had a terrific time during my three weeks of travel. It was fun to be back on the road. However, I am glad to be at my home base, settling in for the winter. It also feels good to write blog posts again. I hope you will enjoy hearing about my adventures as much as I enjoyed living them.

Footprints in the sand at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado.

I took the photos in this post.

The Land of Broken Dreams

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I live in a harsh land, closer to nature than I ever dreamed possible when I lived in cities. All around me is evidence of people who came out here with big dreams only to abandon them. Why did they leave? I’ll never know for sure, but I can enumerate the ways the harshness of this place could discourage a homesteader. Today I’ll tell you about the conditions here and show you photos of what has been left behind.

I’m going to leave this brokedown palace on my hands and my knees…

While spring is mellow of temperature, when days warm, the wind comes. Growing up in the Deep South, winds weren’t even a concern unless they belonged to a hurricane. I thought I knew winds from my time in the Midwest, but the winds of the plains (if not those of a tornado) are nothing next to the winds of New Mexico.

Before I moved permanently to Northern New Mexico but after I had spent months here over several years, my memory of the winds had them starting in the afternoon and blowing strong and hard for a few hours, slowing down substantially by sunset. This may be a false memory, because that’s not how the wind is blowing these days. Now the wind starts at 10 or 11 in the morning and blows relentlessly until sometimes 9 or 10 at night. Last week, the wind was blowing at 8am.

A spiritual friend who lives around here once told me that the wind blows one’s aura and makes it bumpy or jagged instead of smooth She might be on to something. After hours of constant, strong blowing of the wind I feel off, not quite myself, agitated. The sound alone is enough to put me on edge; the constant rocking of the trailer destroys my mental equilibrium. There’s something about wondering if the roof will be peeled off or if the entire trailer is going to flip that harshes my mellow.

This abandoned shipping container has whimsical paintings on all four sides.

The hours of moving air (and its sound and the way it moves the trailer) would be bad enough, but with the wind comes dust. During times of strongest wind, we must leave the doors and windows closed lest the dust come in and cover everything we own. Sometimes dust devils blow across our property and slam into our trailer. Sometimes the short dust storm takes us by surprise, and we can’t get a door or window closed before it hits, leading to dust on the floor, dust on the clean dishes in the drying rack, dust on the blankets lying on the bed. I now have a small knowledge of what people in the 1930s experienced during the Dust Bowl in the United States.

The upside of the wind is that it pushes away the no-see-ums. Some folks call these insects from the Ceratopogonidae family sage gnats, some call them biting midges, but let’s just call them hell. The first three summers I spent in the area I encountered none of these bugs and no mosquitoes either. I thought I had discovered a magical land with no bugs. The Man independently arrived at the same conclusion. We were fools.

What was happening (I’m pretty sure, but I have not consulted an entomologist) is that the area was so deep in drought, no bugs were hatching. The eggs were out there, waiting for enough moisture to make life viable.

Burnt car

The drought had broken by the time The Man and I returned in 2017. Those no-see-um suckers were everywhere. We fought them for a couple of months. Spoiler alert: we found nothing to deter them, not DEET, not the $15 bottle of natural insect repellent I bought at the herb store after the lady working there told me the concoction would protect me. In the later part of June, we ran away to work in California to in order to escape the beasts.

One problem with the no-see-ums is that you don’t know when they’re biting you. They are super tiny (hence their name) and (like chiggers) their bite causes no immediate pain. Hours after being outside, one feels an itch and knows it has begun.

There are a lot of abandoned vehicles in my neighborhood.

I grew up with Southern mosquitoes. I’ve suffered countless mosquito bites in my lifetime. For me, a mosquito bite usually itches for about 20 minutes or half an hour, then the itch and the red welt is gone. The no-see-um bites itch intermittently for days. There is swelling and redness at the site of the bite, and the itching can come at any time. The no-see-um bits have more in common with chigger bites than those from mosquitoes.

Last year was a wet one. The area got a lot of snow in the winter and spring (the last snow at our place was in May), and once the snow ended, the rains came. All the moisture led to a long season of no-see-ums. Even people who’ve lived here all their lives said they’d never seen a no-see-um season quite so bad go on for quite so long.

We all fall down.

This year has been dryer, but the no-see-ums are out, and they seem worse than last year. The mesh of our screens is not fine enough to keep the little boogers out, but they weren’t coming in through the screen last year. This year we’re not so lucky, although I’m not sure why they’re coming in this way now. These days we long for the wind to blow and keep the little insects away.

The no-see-ums seem to like to bite The Man more than they like to bite me, and he has a worse reaction to the bites. It’s not unusual for his bites to itch so badly that he scratches them raw and bloody. Mine don’t itch quite so badly, but they tend to stay red and swollen for days after the attack.

The opposite of vanlife.

When you live out here, at certain times of the year you dare not go outside without suiting up. Going out in shorts and a tank top during no-see-um days is looking for trouble. I put on long pants, a long sleeved shirt, socks, and shoes before going outside. The Man does the same and adds a bug deterrent mesh over his face. Still, the bugs can fly up a sleeve or a pant leg and leave bites in places I don’t know how an insect could reach.

If a person survives the wind and the dust and the bugs, there are a few months available for tranquil productivity. I suspect most of the homesteading progress occurs in the summer when days are long, mornings are sunny, nights are cool, and an afternoon wet monsoon offers the opportunity for a siesta.

Unfortunately, summers are short around here. My first summer in the area, when I was homeless and sleeping outside, my local friends started worrying in August about how I would live during the coming winter. I’m from the South where life is just getting comfortable in October. When I lived in the Midwest, no one expected snow before Halloween. In northern New Mexico, people told me snow could fly any time after Labor Day.

I didn’t peek here either, but I could tell this fifth wheel is deserted.

This past winter, the first snow fell in October, before Halloween. That made for a long enough winter. I can’t imagine if the snow had started early in September. Old timers have told us this past winter was a mild one, although it seemed plenty cold to me. People who’ve lived here for decades talk of winters with lows of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. People tell us of snow falling and piling up through the season, only melting in spring.

The door of this mud structure is open to the elements. No one seems to live in the fifth wheel either.

This past winter, we went through multiple cycles of snow/freeze/melt which led to the dreaded mud. I’ve written about the mud out here before, but let me say again, it’s no joke. Driving anywhere off our land was an exercise in slip sliding away and the possibility of getting stuck. Almost everyone living around us got stuck in the mud at lease once, even the folks with 4x4s.

If the weather don’t get you, the hauling water will. The water table is deep here. It would cost thousands of dollars to dig a well so most people don’t. There is a community well that folks can buy into. The price per gallon is good, but the liquid still has to be hauled. People need trucks for hauling water and a big container too. We have a 50 gallon container for hauling water. A 100 or 250 gallon container would be better. Homesteaders also need a big container to put the hauled water in. All those containers are expensive, especially ones that are made from food-grade materials.

I don’t know if this trailer was vandalized or decorated.

I’ve heard that when it snowed more here, people with big cisterns could collect enough snow melt to basically get through the summer. The cisterns were topped off by the abundant water from the summer monsoon rains.When I first came here, I met an elderly woman who had been living off snow melt and rainwater for years, but she was having a hard time because of the drought. I don’t know if the weather has been wet enough lately for folks to collect water like they once did.

Want to grow food? Good luck! The soil is basically pure clay out here. The soil will have to be enriched if anything is going to grow. Raised beds or container gardening would probably be a better idea. Most of the water needed for irrigation will have to be hauled. Finally, the growing season is short around here with last frost in May and first frost in September.

All this is not to complain but to say it can be a hard life out here, especially for folks without piles of money. Some people make it and some people give up. Of course, some people get old or sick and leave because they can’t live such a rough life anymore. Some people are carried away by death.

I walk through this land of broken dreams and wonder where the people went. When they left, did they think they’d be back in a week or a month, in the spring, next year? When they left, did they know they’d never be back? Why didn’t they sell or give away the trailer, the propane tanks, the land? Why leave it all behind to rust and rot?

I wonder what my dreams will look like when I’m gone. Will they seem broken too, or will what I leave behind look like success?

I took the photos in this post. If you want to see more of my photography, follow me on Instagram @rubbertrampartist.

Chicago and Cloud Gate

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I once had to catch a bus in Chicago. There were many hours between the time the first ride deposited us in the Windy City and when we had to board the bus. Instead of sitting and waiting, my traveling companion suggested we explore downtown.

I’d been to Chicago before. Once I flew into Chicago (which airport, I don’t remember), then traveled on public transportation to the bus station where I caught a bus that took me to a small town in Wisconsin. At least twice I traveled by train to Chicago and caught a connecting train for the next leg of my journey at Union Station.

I’m not one of those people who leaves the train or bus station or airport for a bit of fun before I make my connection. I’m one of those people who fears missing my connection. I’m one who sits. I’m one who waits.

I once sat for three or four hours in the packed downtown Las Vegas, NV Greyhound station because I was afraid of losing my place on a probably overbooked bus. I could have stored my bag and walked outside to see the sights, but I didn’t. I waited in the crowded waiting room so I was sure to make it home as planned.

Even more unbelievable, I once spent an entire eight hour layover in the Hong Kong airport because I was scared to venture out and find public transit in a strange land. I was worried about all of the many things that could have gone wrong if I had left the security of the transportation hub. I was afraid of a disaster that would have made me miss my connecting flight.

However, this time in Chicago my traveling companion insisted we venture out and look around. He was not one to sit and wait. Luckily, we had access to luggage lockers, so we were able to secure our big backpacks rather than haul them around with us.

We walked toward the water, and by water I mean Lake Michigan. I’d seen Lake Michigan before, when I’d visited my college boyfriend’s hometown of Milwaukee. I vaguely remembered the hugeness of the Lake.

As we walked down the urban sidewalks, we saw many panhandlers standing back against the buildings. They were mostly older Black people, and they had a panhandling technique I’d never encountered before. Instead of muttering Spare some change? Spare some change? or asking for a dollar to catch the bus or get something to eat, they simply shook the cups they held. The cups obviously already had some coins in them; I could hear the coins clinking against each other. I guess words are unnecessary when everyone already knows the script.

Before we made it to the Lake, we saw the huge reflective sculpture in Millennium Park. I’d seen the object in movies. It often turns up when filmmakers want to distinguish an anonymous big city as specifically Chicago. I don’t remember trying to find the sculpture; I think we just happened upon it nestled among the skyscrapers of downtown.

According to the Choose Chicago website, Cloud Gate (also known as The Bean)

is one of the world’s largest permanent outdoor art installations…

The exterior of The Bean is made entirely of stainless steel. It was created using computer technology to precisely cut 168 massive steel plates, which were then fitted together and welded shut for a completely seamless finish…

[It is] is 33 feet high, 42 feet wide, and 66 feet long. It weighs about 110 tons — roughly the same as 15 adult elephants.

Cloud Gate was designed by Anish Kapoor. According to his biography on the Artnet website, Kapoor

is regarded as one of the most prominent British-Indian sculptors of his generation…

Kapoor is well known for his intense, almost spiritual, outdoor and indoor site-specific works in which he marries a Modernist sense of pure materiality with a fascination for the manipulation of form and the perception of space. Kapoor, who was born in Bombay and moved to London in the 1970s to study art, first worked on abstract and organic sculptures using fundamental natural materials such as granite, limestone, marble, pigment, and plaster.

Anish Kapoor’s webpage about Cloud Gate features preliminary sketches for the sculpture, plans for construction, and a photo of it being built. The webpage says

Cloud Gate is a single object of around 25×15×12m. It is made of polished stainless steel and is seamless. Cloud Gate draws in the sky and the surrounding buildings. In a vertical city, this is a horizontal object. Seamless form confuses scale.

I was a lucky photographer on the day of our visit to Millennium Park. There were clouds in the Chicago sky, and they were reflected in the shiny surface of Cloud Gate. We were also fortunate to arrive early in the morning, before crowds surrounded the sculpture. I was able to get some nice photos without too many people in the frame.

I recently came across the article “Every U.S. State’s Most Overrated & Underrated Attraction” by Lissa Poirot. Cloud Gate (AKA The Bean) was named the most overrated attraction in the entire state of Illinois! Zach S. (whoever he is) calls it

…a blob-shaped mirror that vaguely resembles a bean.

He goes on to say,

It is as unremarkable as it sounds.

Oh Zach S., I beg to differ! Yes, Cloud Gate is rather blob shaped, and it is certainly mirrored. As to whether or not it looks like a bean…Who cares? “The Bean” is only a nickname anyway. I suspect the artist was not necessarily trying to convey the idea of a bean when he created the piece.

Where I really disagree with Zach S. is his assertion that Cloud Gate is “unremarkable.” I think Cloud Gate is quite remarkable. I like its size and its heft. Cloud Gate takes up space, yet its reflective surface brings the sky down closer to human level. The reflective surface also draws people to the sculpture, including me and my traveling companion.

What’s that over there? we wondered.

Let’s go see it, we said as we went closer.

I don’t remember what day of the week we wondered into Millennium Park and discovered Cloud Gate, but as the day progressed, more people arrived. By the time we left the area, crowds had come and gone, all looking at the art piece and taking photos too.

My favorite part of my experience with Cloud Gate was playing with the reflective surface. Like a funhouse mirror, Cloud Gate shows visitors a view of themselves that’s not quite true. I moved closer, then backed up to see how my figure changed with distance. The changes made me contemplate who I was, really.

Lake Michigan (Chicago)…bigger than I remembered

After spending some time with Cloud Gate, we walked down to the water and looked out at Lake Michigan. It was as big as I remembered…bigger, maybe.

We sat on the grass and contemplated the water. It was nice to rest for a while before we got up again and walked to a new adventure.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of Chicago. To me it seems to lack the charm of San Francisco with its bright murals and Painted Ladies Victorian houses or the gritty but captivating street culture of New York City. Maybe I’ve never been to the right places in Chicago, never seen what it has to offer me. In any case, I really enjoyed seeing Cloud Gate, Millennium Park, and Lake Michigan. I don’t care if it’s more a touristy area and less what locals think of as the real Chicago. I don’t care if locals think it’s overrated. I don’t care what Zach S. thinks. I think Cloud Gate is really cool.

Lake Michigan with ship and Ferris Wheel (Chicago)

I took the photos in this post.

The Jolly Green Giant

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I don’t think we knew the Jolly Green Giant was there. We certainly didn’t go to Blue Earth, Minnesota to see the Jolly Green Giant. I think we went to Blue Earth, MN for the free camping.

According to Wikipedia,

Blue Earth is a city in Faribault County, Minnesota, at the confluence of the east and west branches of the Blue Earth River. The population was 3,353 at the 2010 census[5] Interstate Highway 90 is centered on Blue Earth, as the east and west construction teams met here in 1978. As a tribute, there is a golden stripe of concrete on the interstate near Blue Earth.

At the time, there was also free camping at the Faribault County Fairgrounds in Blue Earth. It was a good deal. There was potable water on site. There were restrooms on site too, with flush toilets and hot showers. There were also a limited number of campsites with electrical hookups. All of these amenities were put to use by participants of the county fair and other big events, but when nothing was happening at the Fairgrounds, the county said, Come on over and camp for free!

Many small communities throughout the Midwest offer free camping in town or county parks, or at least they did a decade ago. I guess the town and county leaders figured they had more to gain than to lose. People staying in a small town would probably buy some supplies from the local businesses. Food, ice, propane, maybe gas for the rig would all add up to a tidy bundle of money for the stores in a town. If campers stuck around for a few days or a week, they might even shop more than once. Why not let them stay on land that would otherwise be empty?

We did our part for the economy of Blue Earth, Minnesota at the Wal-Mart (which I read somewhere online isn’t a Wal-Mart any more). I don’t remember what we bought, but I’m pretty sure ice was on the list. It was summer after all, and even though we’d thought it would be cool in the northern state of Minnesota, the air was hot and humid.

At the time, we typically slept in our van in Wal-Mart parking lots. I remember the Wal-Mart in Blue Earth had signs in the parking lot basically saying, You can’t park here overnight. Go park for free at the fairgrounds right over there!

After we procured our supplies, I drove the van over to the Faribault County Fairgrounds. I believe that’s when we saw the Jolly Green Giant statue towering above everything else.

He’s life-size, I marveled.

Jolly Green Giant (Blue Earth, MN) I had forgotten how short his toga is.

I’m not sure a mythical creature who’s never been truly alive can actually be life-size, but according to Roadside America, he’s

55.5 feet tall [about five stories]…[and] [h]is six-foot-long feet fill size 78 shoes.

The Roadside America post also gives the history of how the Green Giant ended up in blue Earth.

The Giant has stood in Blue Earth since 1979 due to the efforts of radio station owner Paul Hedberg…The entire project was funded by Blue Earth businesses, with Hedberg himself kicking in the largest amount…Creative Displays, fiberglass statue manufacturing forerunner of F.A.S.T. Corp., built the Giant in the summer of 1978…on July 6, 1979, the Jolly Green Giant was bolted to his eight-foot-high base, complete with a staircase so that visitors could pose for snapshots between his legs.

After finding a place to park in the sparsely populated camping area at the Fairgrounds and checking out the facilities (Look Pa! a gen-u-ine flush toilet!), we walked over to visit the Jolly Green Giant.

There was a Jolly Green Giant museum near the statue, but it was closed for the day. The Jolly Green Giant himself was always available to receive visitors and pose for photos, however, and I stared up at him in wonder. Did I mention that the statue is really tall?

As the Roadside America article mentioned, there are steps up to the platform the Green Giant stands on. Visitors can climb the stairs and stand between the Giant’s big feet. We each took our turn climbing up for a photo opp with the Giant. At the time, I hardly ever brought out my camera to document our activities, but I was so impressed with the Giant that I dug out my camera that day and photographed the big guy in all his green glory.

Outside the museum there were wooden cutouts of Little Green Sprout and farmers with a sort of lust for vegetables painted all over their faces. I took some photos of those folks too.

According to the Little Green Sprout’s Organics webpage,

Since 1972, Little Green Sprout has been an enthusiastic apprentice to the Green Giant. Little Green Sprout is an adventurous eater who loves to try new things and is always working on nurturing his healthy eating habits.

You can also view a timeline of Sprout’s history on the aforementioned webpage.

Little Green Sprout (Blue Earth, MN)

After looking around and taking some photos, we wandered back to our campsite and had dinner. I have no recollection of what was on the menu, but I doubt we ate any Green Giant vegetables

I’d hoped to hang around in Blue Earth for a few days. Camping was free, after all. (I think people were invited to camp at the Fairgrounds at no cost for two or three nights; after that campers were asked to pay a few bucks for each additional night they stayed.) Also, who could argue with free flush toilets and free hot showers? I really did want to visit the Jolly Green Giant Museum, and it would have been fun to check out what else Blue Earth had going on.

Alas, we packed up the next afternoon and headed out. We never stayed in one place for very long in those days. We were constantly on the move then, constantly looking for something we never did find.

If you want to visit the Jolly Green Giant, the aformentioned Roadside America article offers great directions.

If you are interested in camping at the Faribault County Fairgrounds, the City of Blue Earth website gives the following information:

The campground has 4 tent sites and 9 electrical sites with full hookups. There is a fee of $20.00 per night for the electrical sites and $10.00 per night for the tent sites. The City allows a maximum of five consecutive nights of camping at the campground unless prior arrangements have been made. There is a $5.00 charge for waste tank dumping. A payment box is located at the site for your convenience.

If you have any questions about camping at the Fairgrounds, you can Contact the Blue Earth City Hall at (507) 526-7336.

I took the photos in this post.

Southern Colorado Lake

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On trips to Colorado, I’ve seen a lake on Highway 159 between Costilla, NM and San Luis, CO. There are no signs at the entrances on Highway 159 naming the lake, but from my research on Google Maps, it appears to be Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir. The area around the reservoir is Sanchez Stabilization Park; it’s also a Colorado State Wildlife Area.

According to Wikipedia,

Sanchez Reservoir lies in far south-central Colorado, west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Costilla County. Its inflows include Ventero Creek and the Sanchez Canal, a diversion canal that takes water from Culebra Creek and two other creeks…The reservoir’s earthen dam was built in 1912.

I took this photo of Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir in March of 2020.

Brown signs labeled “Recreation Area” on either side of the highway are the only indication that the lake is on public land and not private property.

There are no signs about camping, nothing to say camping is either allowed or prohibited in the area. I’ve been of the mind that if there’s no sign explicitly prohibiting camping or overnight parking, then it must be allowed. (I find this way of thinking particularly acceptable in the U. S. Southwest. Results may vary in other areas.)

I took this photo of Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir in the spring of 2017, probably in May.

According to the Colorado Birding Trail website, I was right about camping at Sanchez Stabilization Park. That website says primitive camping is allowed in the Park.

I’ve seen people seemingly camping at Sanchez Stabilization Park in truck campers and small-to-medium pull-behind campers. I’ve typically seen the area more crowded in the summer, but have noticed campers there in all seasons.

The aforementioned birding website also says,

Sanchez Reservoir is among the largest in the San Luis Valley, as well as among the most productive. The southern end can be frustrating to scan; most of the birds are usually on the north end.

The folks at the Colorado Birding Trail say the Reservoir is owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and is open all year. The recreation area does not provide accommodations to folks with disabilities, but for birders, some viewing is possible from one’s vehicle.

According to Uncover Colorado

Colorado has 350 State Wildlife Areas, covering more than 684,000 acres. With a valid fishing or hunting license you can access the properties for recreation, including hunting, fishing, hiking and wildlife observation.

I take that to mean that in order to camp at Sanchez Stabilization Park, you need a valid Colorado fishing or hunting license. However, I’ve never seen any notice of such a requirement on site.

According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Website, a Colorado annual fishing license for a nonresident over the age of 16 costs $97.97. A one-day Colorado fishing license for a nonresident older than 16 runs $16.94, while a five-day Colorado fishing license for a nonresident over 16 costs $32.14. If you’re a Colorado resident over the age of 16, an annual fishing license costs $35.17. A one-day fishing license for Colorado residents over 16 costs $13.90. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says you can purchase a fishing license in person at hundreds of retailers​ or at a CPW location. You can buy a license by phone by calling toll free 1-800-244-5613​​, or you can buy a fishing license online​.

If you’d rather pay for a hunting license, a nonresident small game one-day license costs $16.75 and an annual nonresident small game license will set you back $82.78. For Colorado residents, a small game one-day license costs $13.90 and an annual small game license runs $30.11. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says you can buy a hunting license in person at hundreds of retailers​ or at a CPW location.  You can buy a license by phone by calling toll free 1-800-244-5613​​, or you can ​​​buy a license online​.

As I was researching this post, I found some references to a Wildlife or Habitat Stamp. At first it seemed that a camper only needed a Wildlife/Habitat Stamp in order to spend time in a Colorado State Wildlife Area such as Sanchez Stabilization Park. However, in a May 5, 2020 Hiking Bob column by Bob Falcone in the Colorado Springs Indy, I learned

…in an effort to make sure everyone pays equally to use SWAs, CPW will be requiring all users to purchase a hunting or fishing license, effective July 1 [2020].

Hiking Bob goes on to say

The least expensive option for Colorado residents would be to purchase a single day fishing license, for $13.90 per day, and the required Habitat Stamp for $10.13 per year. A yearly fishing license can be purchased for $35.17, however senior citizens (over age 65) can get the annual license for $9.85 and are also exempt from the Habitat Stamp requirement.

There are two entrances to Sanchez Stabilization Park from Highway 159. You can take each entrance to several parts of the recreation area. The dirt road leads to the pit toilet restroom at the front of the area, to the tree-lined dirt road where the picnic tables sit in the middle of the recreation area, or to a series of dirt roads that go around the lake.

Pit toilet restroom at Sanchez Stabilization Park near Highway 159. The entrance to the toilet is on the other side.

When I’ve looked in at the pit toilet restroom on a couple of occasions, I’ve always found it fairly clean. Someone is sweeping out the building housing the toilet. There’s usually graffiti on the walls, which is typical in a building that’s probably not attended daily. I must admit, I’ve never lifted the toilet’s lid to find out if anyone is scrubbing down the risers or wiping the seat and lid. While I have seen toilet paper in the restroom, I suggest travelers stay prepared by carrying their own stash of TP.

If the toilet ever gets a thorough scrubbing, whoever does the cleaning must truck in water or haul some from the lake, because there’s no faucet or spigot on site. Again, I suggest preparation if you plan to spend time Sanchez Stabilization Park. Plan to carry in your own water for drinking and washing. I don’t know what might be running off into the lake water, so I don’t know if it’s suitable for washing dishes or the human body. I certainly would not drink it.

While there are no signs saying not to eat fish caught in the Reservoir, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife webpage about Sanchez Reservoir SWA says

Anglers should take note of [the] warning issued by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment regarding mercury levels in fish caught in this reservoir.

Another view of Sanchez Reservoir State Wildlife Area. Photo taken March 18, 2020.

(When I clicked on the link in the above quote on the website, I was taken to an empty link, so I don’t know exactly what the warning says. You can get more information about the Health Department warning in particular or Sanchez Reservoir in general by calling the area Colorado Parks and Wildlife office in Monte Vista at (719) 587-6900.)

These picnic tables at Sanchez Stabilization Park are built to last and resist theft. The benches don’t look comfortable, however.

There are about a half dozen picnic tables in the part of the recreation area between the restroom and the lake. There are stone fire rings near some of the picnic tables,and I’ve never seen signs prohibiting campfires. If you decide to build a fire in this recreation area (or anywhere!), make sure there is no fire ban in effect and please follow Smokey Bear’s Campfire Safety Rules.

There is a line of trees between the picnic tables and the dirt road running behind the picnic area. The trees provide a little shade. Whenever I’ve stopped at Sanchez SWA, I’ve always parked near one of the trees and escaped the sun.

I have seen people camped on the beach next to the lake. After reviewing my photos of the lake, I see that the only trees in the area are the ones near the picnic tables. People camping on the beach don’t have the benefit of the shade trees provide. I bet it gets hot out on that beach in the summer.

This photo was taken from the opposite side of Sanchez Reservoir and shows the line of trees near the picnic tables. I believe this photos was taken in September 2019.

I’m not sure how soft or wet or loose the sand on the beach is. I would be very careful about driving a car on the sand, much less a motorhome. If I were going to pull a rig onto the sand, I would be careful about that too. Before I drove my rig out there, I would walk over the area that sparked my interest and survey the conditions in order to determine if my rig could handle the terrain.

I usually park in the shade of these trees.

Since I haven’t spent a lot of time at Sanchez Stabilization Park and haven’t spent the night there, I’m not sure if bugs are bad out there. They may be worse in the summer (as bugs tend to be). Again, I suggest visitors arrive prepared to keep bugs away.

The lack of signs also mean there’s no indication of how long one is allowed to stay at the reservoir. I looked online, but could find no rules on camping limits at State Wildlife Areas. The upper limit of staying on public land is usually 14 days, so I wouldn’t plan to stay for more than two weeks at Sanchez Stabilization Park.

I don’t know if I would buy a fishing license and Habitat Stamp for the sole purpose of camping at this reservoir. If I liked to fish and didn’t mind throwing back what I caught, it might be nice to spend a week or two here fishing a little and enjoying the peace and quiet.

There’s another way to access Sanchez Reservoir. The Colorado Birding Trail website gives the following directions:

From the intersection of CO 159 and CO 142 in San Luis, head east on the continuation of CO 142 (CR P.6) about three miles to CR 21 and turn right (south). From here it is about five miles south to the SWA.

I took all the photos in this post.

The Old Vehicles of San Luis, Colorado

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While I’m on a San Luis, Colorado kick, I want to share with you one more aspect of the town that I enjoy. I’ve encountered many old vehicles in the oldest town in Colorado. I would not call myself a car (or truck ) aficionado, but I do feel a certain pleasure in my heart and soul when I see a vintage vehicle, especially if the paint is peeling and rust is moving in for the takeover. Add in an old license plate, and I’m in nostalgia heaven, even if the vehicle is from a time before I was born.

There’s a tow yard near a parking lot just off the main drag in San Luis. I’ve never seen another human in that tow yard, but it is a source of lots of great old vehicles. The first one that caught my eye was this fantastic truck and camper combo.

Can you imagine the adventures this duo has been on? It makes me think of the epic road trip John Steinbeck took with his standard poodle pal and chronicled in his book Travels with Charley: In Search of America. If I had piles of money, I would buy the truck and camper, have them both refurbished, and take them out on some adventures of my own. Here are some of the details from the truck and camper.

Another vehicle I like looking at is this old tow truck. I wonder if this truck towed any of the other vehicles into the yard.

Old tow truck. You can see the truck and camper combo in the background on the left.

Here are some photos showing details of the tow truck. The door is my favorite detail.

Here are a couple of other old vehicles I saw in and around the tow yard. I love the funky paint job on that Ford tailgate.

The last time I visited San Luis, I took a turn down a side street and found a cool yard. Don’t worry; I didn’t trespass. I just peeked through the fence.

When I looked through the spokes of the wheel mounted to the gate, I saw the car in the photo below. I don’t know the make and model. Any ideas?

Then I walked over a few feet and looked through the slats in the fence and saw the car in the photo below.

You can see the Sierras y Colores mural in the background. That mural was painted by Carlos Sandoval.

It looks like something Starsky or Hutch would have driven in the early 70s. Any idea of its make and model?

This concludes our tour of San Luis’ vintage vehicles. I took all the photos in this post. If you like these photos and would like to see more that I took, please follow Rubber Tramp Artist on Instagram.

San Luis, Colorado

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I’d been to and through San Luis, CO a few times, but I’d never before stopped the vehicle and walked around taking photos. This time was different. This time I stopped, even though I was tired and hungry. This time I walked up and down the main drag (Main Street/ Highway 159) and took some photos. Today I’ll share my mini adventure with you.

According to Wikipedia,

The Town of San Luis is a statutory town that is the county seat and the most populous town of Costilla County, Colorado, United States…[7]The population was 629 at the 2010 census.[8]

The big claim to fame of San Luis is that it’s the oldest town in Colorado. This fact is proclaimed right on the town’s welcome signs.

The San Luis town website has a section about the town’s history. The website explains,

San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado, was established on April 5, 1851…Hispanic settlers from the Taos Valley established several small villages along the Rio Culebra in the San Luis Valley and officially took possession of this portion of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant on April 5, 1851. Settlers built a church in the central village of La Plaza Medio and dedicated it on the Feast of Saint Louis, June 21, 1851.The village was renamed San Luis de la Culebra in honor of its patron saint. San Luis remained part of the Territory of New Mexico until 1861 when the Territory of Colorado was established. Today, San Luis is the oldest continuously inhabited town in the state of Colorado.

San Luis is home to the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross. The Catholic Travel Guide website says the Shrine

is located on a mesa in the center of San Luis. Dedicated in 1990, the Shrine was built as an act of faith and love for the parishioners of the Sangre de Cristo Parish. It is a place of prayer and solace open to members of all faiths and people of good will.

That’s the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross on top of the mesa. I took the photo from the south side of San Luis.

I did not visit the Shrine on the day I stopped in San Luis to take photos. I do hope to visit the Shrine someday. I’m sure such a visit would lead to bloggable moments, and I’d certainly share my experience there with you.

For such a small town, San Luis has a lot of murals. Many of the buildings on the main street have murals painted on their sides. I parked next to a mural called Mexica Tiahui. (I found out when researching this post that the building I parked next to houses San Luis’ town hall/court/police station/visitor center.)

According to the Waymarking.com listing for this piece of art, the mural was completed in 2018 and was

[d]esigned and painted by local students…and explores the students reclaiming their indigenous heritage.

The aforementioned website goes on to say,

Mexica Tiahui! I’ve always known the spirited sentiment to mean “Mexican (Indigenous) Moving/Go Forward!” It is used as a positive exclamation mostly by Chicanah (Chican@) people in the United States who are using “Mexica” as an identity point in reclaiming their Indigenous self. [There’s quite about more information about the term “Mexica Tiahui!” is the long description on the Waymarking.com page.]

This large mural features the students of San Luis (who were the designers and artists), Spanish explorers/conquerors, the Catholic Church, and Aztec monuments and peoples.

Waymarking.com also lists the mural Sierras y Colores (“mountain range and colors”) by Carlos Sandoval. The website says,

This mural on the side of the Full Circle building explores the history and cultures of the San Luis valley. A woman is carrying a basket of vegetables grown in the area, early settlers are remembered, The Spanish Conquistadors and Christianity (in the form of Christ and Catholicism), Ute Indian on a pony, the San Luis People’s Ditch (early community irrigation), a ranch hand branding a cow, and a resident with a dead deer on the back of the saddle.

Another mural I encountered was on the deserted Custom Cycles shop. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information about the artist.

There were other murals in San Luis I couldn’t find any information about online.

I also liked looking at the old buildings lining Main Street in San Luis, like the one housing the R&R Market.

According to the Colorado Preservation, Inc. webpage about the R&R Market, it

is the oldest continuously operated business in the State of Colorado, dating from its establishment in 1857 in the town of San Luis by Costilla County pioneer Dario Gallegos. The building was partially rebuilt after fires in 1895 and 1947…

The building housing R&R Market was originally constructed of adobe bricks and has subsequently been modified with a combination of concrete block, plaster and stucco construction. The ground floor is the market and the upstairs includes rental units which were once part of a hotel. The original mercantile business was opened…in May, 1857, in a building 20 feet wide by 40 feet long, made of 25-inch adobe walls, with a foundation of rock with mud mortar. Today the building is a beautiful two-story log and stucco building in the Territorial Adobe style…

On the day in March 2020 I visited San Luis, I really wanted to stop in at the R&R Market to look for postcards, but the threat of COVID-19 kept me out. I hope one day I can go into the market and find postcards celebrating San Luis’ oldest town status.

My favorite part of this building is those script letters! I could find nothing online about this building or the company it housed.

In addition to the town’s murals and old buildings, I enjoyed looking at the old signs in San Luis.

Finally, I liked the old payphones still standing in San Luis.

There’s a cultural center I didn’t visit because of the threat of COVID-19. Maybe next time, when I go to see the Shrine. I’ll try to pick up some postcards then too. Hopefully I can go back before too long.

I took the photos in this post.

Fort Garland, Colorado

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In the days immediately before we began our strict social distancing in March 2020, The Man got a job in southern Colorado. He was hired as a part of a very small crew remodeling a house. I drove him out there, and when the work week was over, the boss drove him all the way home. When he wasn’t working, he got to stay in a small camper on the property.

I had been so busy helping The Man get ready for his time away from home, I forgot to pack a snack for myself. By the time I got to Fort Garland, it was lunchtime and I was hungry, so I pulled into one of the town’s gas stations.

According to Wikipedia,

Fort Garland is a census-designated place (CDP) in Costilla County, Colorado, United States. The population was 433 at the 2010 census.[3][4]

The town is called Fort Garland because there’s actually a fort there! The Museums of the San Luis Valley website offers some information about the fort.

Established in 1858 in southern Colorado, Fort Garland, with its garrison of over 100 men, served to protect the earliest settlers in the San Luis Valley…Fort Garland was built after Fort Massachusetts proved vulnerable.  The Capote band of Utes occupied the southern end of the valley at the time of the first contact. 

(If you want to know more about the history of the fort, read “The Story of Fort Garland: 1858 – 1883.”)

The actual fort in Fort Garland is now a history museum. The aforementioned Museums of the San Luis Valley website says,

…you are invited to walk the parade ground of the fort and tour the adobe buildings, which feature a re-creation of the commandant’s quarters during Kit Carson’s time.  Rich in military history, Fort Garland also highlights the folk art and culture of the Hispanic community in southern Colorado. 

Admission to the Fort Garland Museum is $5 for adults, $4.50 for people 65 years old and older, $3.50 for youth 6 to 16, and FREE for anyone under the age of 6. Admission is also FREE to History Colorado members.

The Fort Garland Museum’s regular hours of operation are as follows:

March 1st – October 31st, 9:00 – 5:00pm daily 
November 1st – December 31st, 10:00-4:00 Wednesday – Saturday
January 1st – February 28th – CLOSED

If you want to call the museum ahead of time to make sure it is open before you head out that way, the phone number is 719-379-3512.

I did not visit the Fort Garland museum the day I passed through the area. For one thing, I did not really want to lay down $5 to look at military history, although I probably would have enjoyed learning about the “folk art and culture of the Hispanic community in southern Colorado.” Secondly, I was pretty tired of driving and really wanted to get home to rest. Third, Jerico the dog was with me, and I didn’t think it was fair to leave him in the truck while I took my good, sweet time enjoying a museum. Finally, although I (obviously) wasn’t totally practicing physical distancing at the time, I knew the less contact I had with (possibly COVID-19 infected) strangers, the better off I was. So I skipped the museum, although I do wish now I had stopped long enough to take a photo of the exterior or the sign or something.

I also skipped the post office. I really wanted to stop in to buy a roll of postcard stamps, but…COVID-19. The number of COVID-19 cases was already quite high in Colorado by then, so I decided I was better off not going into the very small post office. I did take a photo of the mural painted on the outside of the post office.

“Los Caminos Antiguos” mural on the north outer wall of the Fort Garland post office.

According to Waymarking.com,

Los Caminos Antiguos (“The Ancient Roads”) from the Rio Grande to Fort Garland is the best route to follow through the region of the upper Rio Grande – the northern outpost of sixteenth century Spanish territorial expansion.

“I bet the altitude isn’t the only thing high around here,” I joked on Instagram.

I could find no indication of who painted the mural or when.

I did go into one of the gas stations to use the restroom and buy some snacks. None of the workers at the gas station were wearing masks, but of course this was in the days when the CDC was still saying we didn’t have to bother with masks unless we knew we were sick. I tried to avoid the other customers in the convenience store, and I only talked to the clerk as much as I had to in order to complete my purchase.

My snacks were tasty, but they did leave me feeling a little queasy.

There’s not much more I can tell you about Fort Garland, CO. After eating my snacks and taking a few photos, I started the truck and headed home.

I took the photos in this post.

Statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in Front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, NM

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During our early March 2020 trip to Santa Fe, we walked from the Plaza to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (more commonly known as Saint Francis Cathedral). One of the things we saw at the Cathedral was the 7 and 1/2-foot-tall statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.

Statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I grew up Catholic, so I had heard of Kateri Tekakwitha before viewing the statute in Santa Fe. For everyone who doesn’t know, she was the first Native American canonized as a saint. According to Catholic Online,

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. She was born in 1656, in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon [in what is now central New York state]…

The website says her mother was Algonquin and her father was Mohawk and gives more details about her religious life.

At age 19, Kateri Tekakwitha converted to Catholicism, taking a vow of chastity and pledging to marry only Jesus Christ. Her decision was very unpopular [among her community]…to avoid persecution, she traveled to a Christian native community south of Montreal.

Kateri was very devout and was known for her steadfast devotion…just five years after her conversion to Catholicism, she became ill and passed away at age 24, on April 17, 1680.

Her name, Kateri, is the Mohawk form of Catherine, which she took from St. Catherine of Siena.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21, 2012. She is the patroness of ecology and the environment, people in exile and Native Americans.

Her feastday is July 14.

Wikipedia tells us the bronze statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in front of Saint Francis Cathedral was created by

Estella Loretto, a sculptor from the nearby Jemez Pueblo, and installed in August 2003.[3] A plaque noting Kateri’s canonization was added in October 2012.

According the to the sculptor’s website,

Estella Loretto is currently the only Native American woman working in monumental bronze sculpting. She is recognized internationally as one of the finest sculptors living today…She has studied and trained with mentors including her mother, her grandmother, and most notably with Native American sculptor Allen Houser-Haozous.

Estella was commissioned by Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan to create a monumental bronze statue of Saint Kateri, which has welcomed visitors at the entrance to Saint Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, NM, since 2003.

The 2012 article “Long Journey to Sainthood” by Staci Matlock in the Santa Fe New Mexican explains the look of Loretto’s Kateri sculpture.

While other statues and paintings of Kateri show her in traditional Mohawk dress with two braids, Loretto envisioned her more in Pueblo style. In her statue, Kateri has loose flowing hair, kind eyes and is holding four feathers with a rosary. “She’s in Pueblo country,” Loretto said when the statue was unveiled in 2003. “I’m an artist. I have to do her the way she comes to me.”

I’d often wondered why this station of Saint Kateri looked so different from other images I’d seen of her. Now I know!

I enjoyed visiting this statue and taking some photos of it. I hope if you ever travel to Santa Fe, you too can spend some time here.

I took the photos in this post.