Tag Archives: New Mexico

Campground Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dam at Bluewater Lake State Park
The dam at Bluewater Lake

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

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

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

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

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

Who would do that? he asked. And why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Everything Changes Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is one of those saguaros I will miss.

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

I took the photos in this post.

New Mexico State Parks Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primitive camping at Brantley Lake State Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset over Oliver Lee State Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The campground at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM.

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

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

So much cool at City of Rocks State Park.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Hitchhikers in Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He thought about it. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you studying? I asked her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

French Fries

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We were four dirty traveling kids heading from Santa Nella, CA to Oklahoma City, OK. They were a Native American family; I don’t know where they were coming from or where they were headed. We met one night at a McDonald’s on Indian Land in New Mexico.

I was with Mr. Carolina, The Okie, and Lil C. Mr. Carolina had met the two young men at a truck stop in Santa Nella. They’d gotten stuck at the truck stop when the cheap bicycles they’d bought to travel across California began to fall apart. They were trying to get to Oklahoma City, then on to Kansas City, MO in time to see Lil C’s mom on her birthday. I’d agreed to rescue them from their truck stop purgatory, but the four of us traveled together through seven states before our time as companions was over.

Mr. Carolina and I had stopped at the same McDonald’s right off I-40 late one night on our way to California. We’d been with Sweet L and Robbie and the couple who had whisper fights several times a day. We’d taken that particular exit because the atlas showed a rest area there. We found the rest area, but a locked gate kept us out. We were all tired, so I pulled the van into the parking lot of the 24-hour gas station/convenience store/fast food emporium. The kids melted into the darkness to find bushes to sleep under, and I spent an uninterrupted night in my van.

Now we were back at that McDonald’s off the 40. The gate to the rest area was still locked, but more than a month later, the late autumn air was quite cooler. We’d all be sleeping in my van tonight, me in my bed; Mr. Carolina on the floor between the back passenger seats, his feet brushing the doghouse in the front; The Okie in one of the back passenger seats; and Lil C in the front passenger seat. It was crowded (more for the boys than for me), but it was worth it for everyone to stay warm.

Before we slept, we went into McDonald’s.

We had a few bucks, enough for each of us to get a McDouble, which only cost a dollar at the time. I don’t remember if we discussed French fries, if one of the boys asked for fries and I had to say we couldn’t afford them or if I silently longed for their greasy saltiness. I envied the other people in the restaurant who had fries, but I didn’t complain about what we lacked. The Universe gave us what we needed, and if The Universe wasn’t offering fries this night, we must not need them.

After being handed our tray of food, the boys and I sat at a table in the middle of the dining room. Our last bath had happened at least a week before, a soapless affair in a natural hot spring. We certainly didn’t look clean. We were probably a little too loud, a little too boisterous, but I tried to keep all of our cursing to a minimum. Even trying our best to appear normal, I’m sure we stuck out.

The Native American family sat one table closer to the counter. They were quiet and conservatively dressed. Maybe they were from Acoma Pueblo. Maybe they were Diné. The adults (parents? grandparents?) were probably in their early 50s; the two boys with them looked to be young teenagers. Each of them had a wrapped sandwich and in the middle of the table sat two large cartons of French fries.

The woman spoke softly to the boys. I wouldn’t have known she was speaking if I hadn’t seen her lips move. One of the boys nodded, picked up one of the cartons of fries, stood up, and carried the potatoes over to our table. His family wanted us to have these, he told us quietly as he gently placed the fries on the tray that still sat in the middle of our table.

We were joyously rambunctious with our thanks. Those French fries made us the happiest people in the room.

I manifested those fries! I thought. The Universe sent them to us because I wanted them so badly!

If the potatoes were a gift from The Universe, it was working through a kind woman who decided to share her family’s small abundance with four dirty traveling kids who couldn’t scrape together even a dollar to buy their own small bag of fries.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-wood-pattern-lunch-141787/.

Creative Nomad (An Interview with Sue Soaring Sun)

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I met Sue Soaring Sun in December of 2014. She’d seen me repeatedly at the coffeeshop in the small Southwest town where we were both wintering and intoduced herself. An hour later when we ran into each other again in the thrift store, she told me about Bob Wells’ Cheap RV Living website. I soon learned about the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and decided to attend. I guess you could call Sue my rubber tramp fairy godmother because she introduced me to vandwelling as a way of life and not just something I had to do because I had few options.

Sue is also my Sun sisiter, a fellow artist and blogger, a writer of fabulous letters, and a dear friend. She is the proprieter of Sun Gallery at 407-1/2 N Broadway in Truth or Consequences, NM. Sun Gallery is a folk art and antiques gallery which features Sue’s paintings, collages, and mosaic work.

We were in different states when I started this interview series, so I sent her questions via email. Today you’re in for a treat because you get to read her answers.

You’re not a vandweller, but you do live nomadically. How long have you been on the road?
I’ve been living and traveling in an RV more often than not since February 14, 2011.

What sort of rig do you live and travel in?
I have had Brownie, a 1984 20-foot Lazy Daze mini-motorhome, for about 14 months.

I know you’ve had other rigs.  What were they and why did you decide against them?
I’ve had a couple of Toyota Dolphin 22-foot mini-motorhomes, and they were great for when I travel solo, which is most of the time. Sometimes, though, I travel with my boyfriend, and I wanted something that would work for two. We tried a Class A for a while, but found it was way too much for either of us to want to drive, so we parked it and used it as a part-time urban home base. Last year I found the Lazy Daze which has a lot more power and is about a foot taller and wider than the Dolphin coach. Even though it’s shorter, it’s a bit more spacious. Now I’m selling the Class A. I no longer want to use it as a home base. I have an art gallery that serves that function. So I’m staying in the Lazy Daze all the time, except for if I happen to housesit or stay in a vacation rental.

What are your three favorite things about your current rig?  What would you change about it if you could?

This is how Sue has been decorating the inside of her rig to make Brownie less brown. She gave me permission to use this photo of hers.


*I love the big back windows, and my floorplan has the dinette right there. I can back up to a beautiful lake or river or other view and watch birds and other wildlife from the comfort of my table, drinking coffee and wearing my cozy slippers.

*It has more power and feels more solid than my past mini-mohos. I can pass other vehicles if necessary.

*It is very cool looking. Shagalicious, baby.

What I’d change…it is very brown inside, hence the name Brownie. I am slowly replacing brownness with color and creativity. Also, Brownie takes a lot of gas. I have to budget more carefully than I used to.

I took this photo of the RTArt Camp banner that Sue and I painted together.

How does living nomadically enhance your life as an artist?
Whoo-boy! Living nomadically goes hand-in-hand with my creativity. I’m sure when I’m old and can no longer travel, I will still make art. But so much of what I do now is inspired by what I see and the experiences I have along the road. Traveling has brought me in touch with so many other artists, and now, since the first RTArt Camp at this year’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), we have even started an intentional community for nomadic artists. Imagine that! I could not have predicted all that would come out of a simple idea of wanting to do art with other people while at the RTR. When I spend time camping with other artists, I am inspired. After our recent Rubber Tramp Art Community gathering, I stopped at a beautiful free boondocking site and spent five days doing nothing but paint, eat and sleep.

Does living nomadically make your life more challenging in any ways?
Yes. I have struggled in my new rig to deal with temperature extremes. This summer, I found myself unexpectedly staying in Truth or Consequences, NM, and I could not find any good way to keep my cat and myself cool in the RV. Fortunately, a friend who goes away for the summer let me stay at her house. Next summer, I will probably seek a higher elevation, as I had wanted to this year. I gradually solved my problems with cold last winter, but it took a while.

Also, it can be very inconvenient and expensive when I have to go stay somewhere else if my rig is in the shop.

Do you mostly boondock on free public land?
Yes.  I also stay behind my art gallery, in a parking lot. I can hook up to electricity there.

I took this photo of this free riverfront boondocking area where Sue and I camped together.

Under what circumstances do you pay for a campsite?
I sometimes pay for a campsite or an RV park site when I have a lot of things I’d like to get done…shower, laundry, dumping the tanks, etc.  I’ve also stayed at campgrounds when my boyfriend and I are traveling together in parts of the country where you usually need reservations, such as our recent trip to Florida. And occasionally I have friends who want to go stay at a campground, and I tag along for the fun.

Do you do much stealth parking in cities?
My Lazy Daze is built on a Chevy G30 van chassis, but it doesn’t look like a van! It’s built out into a motorhome. So no, I can’t get away with it.

Do you travel with everything you own?
No.  I rent commercial space that I use as an art gallery and studio. I keep most of my art supplies there, as well as off-season clothing and things that I only use occasionally.

Sonja Begonia in Brownie’s big back window. Photo used with Sue’s permission.

You share your rig with a cat companion. Has she been on the road with you her whole life?  If not, how did you help her transition to life on the road?
Sonja Begonia was about a year old when I got her in 2008, and I went on the road in 2011. She also has some attitude, so I could not get her leash-trained before starting to travel, as I’d hoped, nor since. At first, for her own safety, I had to keep her in a kennel while traveling because otherwise she would try to get out of the RV when we stopped, and many stops are not a safe place for a pet to get out. Now I just start the engine and she gets in her co-pilot seat.

What’s the best part of living nomadically?
I love driving six miles from my art gallery and boondocking on the bank of the Rio Grande. Or, when I’m on the road, finding an unexpected fantastic view. It’s being free to change my scenery, and to be immersed in it. I keep my gallery open very part-timey and give myself lots of time to travel and create.

Do you miss anything about living in a sticks-n-bricks?
Gardening. I like centering myself by digging in dirt. So, at my gallery, for one or two months out of the year, I create fairy gardens for sale. I am also going to get myself a dashboard/cab plant once the 100+ degree weather has passed this summer.

I don’t miss any other thing, not one. I get to experience sticks-n-bricks living occasionally, and it always confirms for me that I prefer to live nomadically.

Rockhound State Park (NM)

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I’d been hearing about  Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM ever since I’d started hanging around rock people in Taos. It was a state park, they’d tell me with wonder in their voices, where you could mine for New Mexico minerals. Maybe I’m just a Negative Nelly, but I doubted there would be many shiny rocks left in the park after thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of visitors had already taken home all they wanted.

I finally got to visit Rockhound State Park in December 2017. I was heading west from Truth or Consequences, NM, and I had a state parks pass, so I decided to spend the night in the park’s campground. I arrived late in the day, so I didn’t stop at the visitor center. I didn’t go to the visitor center the next day either. I can’t remember exactly why. I remember I was sad because of recent relationship troubles, so I guess I was content to stay close to my van home.

When I pulled into the campground late on a Sunday afternoon, most of the developed campsites without electricity were occupied. I didn’t want to pay an additional $4 for electricity I didn’t need, so I was happy to get what seemed to be the last available basic developed site. My site was close to the day use parking area and the adjacent trail. My site was also within walking distance of a clean pit toilet. I was grateful to have a flat spot to park my van.

This photo shows the view of the campground from the beginning of the Jasper Trail. I was camped next to the first ramada on the left in the foreground of the photo.

The campsites are quite close together in the area where I found my spot. During my first evening there, I very clearly heard my next door neighbor’s side of a phone conversation. He was sitting outside near his large rig, but I could hear him so easily, he might as well have been sitting at my picnic table. By the sound of his accent, he was from Wisconsin or Minnesota, and he wasn’t too impressed with the campground we were in. He and his wife preferred Oliver Lee State Park, he told the person on the other end of his conversation. I would have preferred silence, but I guess we were both destined to be dissatisfied that night.

I drove around the campground while looking for a site, but once I found my place, I didn’t venture away from my loop. I just didn’t feel motivated to walk around the campground. I suppose I wanted to stay close to the security of my cozy home. I certainly didn’t want to experience yet another cold New Mexico state park shower, so I didn’t seek out the bathhouse.

The loud Midwesterner and his lady left in the morning and I had a few hours of quiet early in the day. I cooked some breakfast, then tidied the van. I planned to leave the next day, and I wanted to be rested upon departure.

In the afternoon I decided to go for a walk on the nearby Jasper Trail. The trail started just across the pavement from my van, so I didn’t have far to go to get to it. I wasn’t so interested in the trail itself, but I did feel like I needed some exercise. I wanted to stretch my legs and get my blood circulating.

I walked for maybe half an hour. I saw scrubby bushes, cacti, and some rock formations, but no cool shiny rocks. I wasn’t really looking for shiny rocks, and I didn’t get off the trail, so I’m not really surprised that I didn’t find anything I wanted to load into the van. I’m sure a lot of people had walked that trail before me and any nice rocks were long gone from the immediate vicinity.

This photo shows a view of the jagged rocks I saw from the Jasper Trail.

The State Parks website says of Rockhound State Park,

Located on the rugged west slope of the Little Florida Mountains, Rockhound State Park is a favorite for “rockhounds” because of the abundant agates and quartz crystals found there.

I suspect folks who are interested in collecting rock specimens in the park know where to look to increase their chances of finding what they want. Perhaps the workers at the visitor center advise rockhounds on where to dig for the minerals they seek.

Not long after I returned to my camp, a loud, slightly dilapidated, medium-size motor home pulled into the campground. I noticed it right away. It circled the campground, then chose the site right next to mine. To be fair, the site right next to mine may have been the only available one in the place.

After the loud conversation from next door the night before, I was hoping for a quiet evening. Unfortunately, the man who disembarked from the noisy moter home was not a quiet man. Fortunately (for me at least), he latched onto the couple on the other side of him. The man was loud and animated and quite possibly on meth. There was just something about him that made me want to avoid eye contact.

The motorhome man built a campfire and convinced his other neighbors to sit around it with him. I avoided eye contact with all of them by keeping my head down while I cooked dinner. When my meal was ready, I ate it in my van. Once the dishes were washed, I got in my van and locked the doors. At some point the newcomer settled down and went into his own rig, where he was quiet enough not to disturb me for the rest of the night.

I was out of the campground the next morning before check-out time. I had a list of thrift stores I wanted to visit before I left Deming, and I was on a schedule, so my time of lingering was over. The motorhome man didn’t bother me, for which I was thankful.

I would stay at Rockhound State Park again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay there. It was a fine campground, but not spectacular in any way I noticed.

I took all the photos in this post.

Primitive Camping at Brantley Lake State Park

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I’d gotten a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass. It was The Man’s idea. I’d thought about getting the pass before, but The Man said this winter we could each get one and spend the season in New Mexico State Parks. He’d wrap stones with copper wire to make pendants, and I could write.

We met up at Leasburg Dam State Park after a month apart and stayed there a couple of nights. The Man thought he might be able to make some money in Carlsbad or Roswell, so we took off to that part of the state, planning to camp at Brantley Lake State Park.

Brantley Lake is between Carlsbad and Roswell, off of Highway 285. It’s closer to Carlsbad (about 12 miles) and is about 70 miles from Roswell. We’d stayed in the park’s Limestone Campground once before, when we’d been in the area the previous spring, after our visit to Carlsbad Caverns.

I remembered two important things about the park.

#1 All of the sites in Limestone Campground have electricity, so they all cost $14 per night instead of the regular $10 per night of the developed, non-electric sites covered by our camping passes. If we wanted to stay in the campground, we’d have to pay an extra $4 per night for our site.

New Mexico & Arizona State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide
#2 The park offers primitive camping. I remembered the camp host taling about the primitive camping when we’d been there in the spring, and I confirmed primitive camping with my guidebook, New Mexico and Arizona State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Don and Barbara Laine. Primitive camping only costs $8 per night and is covered by our passes.

It was dark when we pulled into Brantley Lake State Park, but we followed the signs to Rocky Bay, the primitive camping area. We parked our vans in a spot just off the road and a short walk from the lake. That’s where we settled in for the night.

In the morning, we got a better lay of the land. The primitive camping area has no designated camping spots, but

I parked that close to the water.

there were several flat areas next to the water where people had obviously camped before. During the days before and after Thanksgiving, there weren’t many primitive campers, so there was plenty of room for everyone to spread out. (We could see our nearest neighbors on both sides, but all we heard of them was the enthusiastic drumming of the people to our right. The sound was quite faint, merely background noise, which was good because the drumming went on well after dark and started again between 4:30 and 5 in the morning.)

Like most primitive camping I’ve encountered, this area had not amenities. It was a leave no trace kind of place where campers must pack out what they’ve packed in. However, the trash doesn’t have to be packed out very far. There are several dumpsters in Limestone Campground, and no one complained about us throwing several bags of trash into one. I suppose they’d rather have the trash from the primitive camping area deposited into the dumpsters rather than having it left behind to be blown into the water.

Day use area at sunset

While there are no restrooms in the primitive camping area (not even portable toilets, the camp host had said to me in the spring), we made ourselves at home in the restrooms in the day use area and the campground. Again, no one seemed to mind. The day use area was closer to where we camped, so we used the restrooms there more frequently than we used the ones in the campground.  The restrooms in the day use area seemed to be unlocked 24 hours a day and had flush toilets and sinks with running water, but no showers.

The showers are in Limestone Campground, and The Man and I utilized them twice during our stay of a little over a week. Nobody challenged our use of them. I think anyone in the park (probably even folks doing day use) could have a shower with no questions asked.

The Man says he had two great showers with plenty of hot water in the men’s shower house. Of course, having to press the button repeatedly so the water would flow was a little annoying, but that’s the way it works in New Mexico state parks. Overall, he enjoyed his shower experience.

Me? Not so much.

I like a hot shower, but the water in the stall I picked the first time was barely warm. I chose a different stall for my second shower, but the water was no warmer. I thought maybe the problem the first time was that because the shower head was so high and I’m so short, maybe the water cooled by the time it hit me. I brought a cup with me the second time, and even when I put the cup right up to the shower head, the water that filled it was barely warm.

Why did I have a cup in the shower with me? Because the shower head was mounted so high and because the water came out of it in a diffused spray, it had been impossible for me to rinse the soap from my privates during my first cleansing episode. The second time I brought a cup so I could rinse.

By the time I finished my first shower, I was literally sobbing. I was so cold, and I couldn’t rinse, and my whole life seemed like a rotten mess. I was a little more stoic the second time because I knew I wasn’t going to get a piping hot shower, and I had my cup, so I could rinse. I was in and out in a flash. Wash and rinse my hair–wash and rinse my pits–wash and rinse my privates–done!

Everything else about the primitive camping experience was fine, except for the number of flies that invaded my

The vegetation of the area

van each day. It’s nature though–there’s going to be bugs! The Man thought the area was ugly, and he said he could smell the stench of refinery and lake pollution, and I believe the word shithole was spoken. I thought the area was pretty enough, in its own way. Shade trees would have been nice, but the fall temperatures were cool enough not to desperately need shade. (I wouldn’t want to camp out there in the summer with no shade.) Also, it being New Mexico, the wind was quite strong on some days. Anyone planning to set up any sort of tent out there should weigh it down well.

I enjoyed my time in the Brantley Lake State Park primitive camping area. We had plenty of privacy and weren’t bothered by any other campers. It was cool (literally and figuratively) to park near the water, and I saw a roadrunner and a great blue heron quite close to our campsite. Also, you can’t beat a New Mexico sunset, especially over the water.

New Mexico sunset over the water

I took the photos in this post. The book cover is an Amazon link. If you click on it, I get a small advertising fee on any item you put in your cart and purchase during that shopping session.

 

 

Little Free Library (Family Practice Associates of Taos)

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Like the Little Free Libray at the Youth & Family Center and the one on the Mesa, the third Little Free Library I discovered inTaos County was a complete surprise.

I needed to use an ATM, and there was only one in Taos that partnered with my credit union. I could use that particular ATM and not pay a fee, so that’s the one I headed to. Unfortunatly, there was a problem with my withdrawal, so I had to pull into a parking space to call my credit union. While I was dialing the number, I noticed what appeared to be a Little Free Library across the way, in front of the building housing Family Practice Associates of Taos. When I finished my call, I walked over to investigate. Yep, it was a Little Free Library.

Unlike the other two Little Free Libraries I found in Taos, this one was not made from a a re-purposed newspaper vending machine. This Little Free Library was built from wood and had a door that opened and a glass window in the door. While I really appreciate the fact that the other Little Free Libraries are making use of something that was probably otherwise headed to the landfill, I also appreciate the beauty of the library near Family Practice Associates of Taos. I think the color scheme of the library is lovely, as are the two decorative birds above the door. If there were a contest going on, this library would win my vote for prettiest in Taos.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter what a Little Free Library looks like. What matters is that people can get free reading material out of a Little Free Library. What matters is that a Little Free Library is a gift economy. What mattters is Little Free Libraries build communities. Of course, being pretty doesn’t hurt.

I didn’t leave any books in this Little Free Library, and I didn’t take any either. I had plenty of books to read and my van was full to bursting with all my stuff and The Man’s too. I simply took a few photos and left the Little Free Library as I found it.

I took all the photos in this post.