Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Just a sliver of a moon

This is better

Last night's campsite was more or less a quarry. It had no view, except of each other. I found this place today thanks to an RV that happened to be pulling out of a side road. Hurray for luck!

The 2-year itch?

Fellow van dwellers and I were talking yesterday about this nomadic life we live. The prevailing opinion is that most of us spend the first year or so on the road traveling all over, seeing what there is to see, learning which places we like. 

Then we're likely to establish a circuit of favorite places, with less travel and longer stays in one spot. "I could see spending November and December in Yuma and then January through March at Slab City."

However, after a couple of years on the road, some van dwellers start yearning for a place to settle. Sometimes they just want a small patch where they can live in the van but grow some vegetables, have an outhouse, a shower, a more functional kitchen... sort of the simplified, eco-friendly, Walden-esque homesteading life. Some, though, are ready to ditch the van and build a cabin.

I've been at this for only eight months. When I committed to living in a van, I knew there was always a possibility that I might find someplace I'd really love to make home. But I don't see it happening yet. In a couple of years? I don't know. I've done the living-in-one-spot thing. I've done the homeowner thing. It's not a Holy Grail for me. Being an introvert, I tend to live inside my head. That's the place I really need to settle.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

See you later, New Mexico

I'm back in Arizona, a few miles southwest of Sedona. This particular campsite is functional but not scenic. I'll explore around some more, down washboard roads on BLM land, to find something that just screams "Sedona!" Without tourists. Oh, wait, am I technically a tourist? Oh no!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Local cuisine

Red chili and green chili are staples of New Mexican food. So I had to try these chips. I saw no green chili version. I think they're best if savored one chip at a time. The resealable bag probably means you're not supposed to eat them all at one sitting.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bad boondocking etiquette

Let's say you pull into a boondocking area about the size four city blocks, and there's already someone camped there. Someone you don't know. (Me.) The proper thing to do is find a spot for yourself that grants the first camper reasonable privacy. A hundred yards or so away.

What you don't do is pull up just on the other side of a tree, like this guy in the black pickup did. It's sort of like sitting right next to a stranger on an empty bus. Intrusive. Kind of creepy.

High-altitude aerobic workout

The people who built the Gila Cliff Dwellings were tough. Hauling building materials up the side of a cliff? On their backs? Over and over? Wow. And they didn't have steps and bridges built by the National Park Service.

Being the soft, lazy guy that I am, and not really acclimated to the altitude, the hike up carrying only a camera had me wishing for an elevator. And the hike down had my left knee whimpering. Wuss.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Another day, another spot

I have a few more days of my New Mexico wandering, then I'll meet up with some other van dwellers and stay put for a while.

Today I'm at Caballo Lake State Park, just a few miles south of Elephant Butte Lake. There's a nice "primitive" camping area here, too, away from the RVs and boaters. The weather is excellent. Shows what coming down a couple of thousand feet in elevation can do.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Things that go ploink in the night

I was reading some Elmore Leonard last night when something went ploink, like water dripping into a shallow pan in a kitchen sink. Only I don't have a sink.

About twenty seconds later, another ploink. What could be dripping? Gas? I don't smell it.


Coolant? Nah, not at the back of the van with the nose pointed slightly down.




Ah-ha! On the shelf next to me was a Coke Zero can I'd crushed a little as a reminder it's empty. Something about the way I'd crushed it, and the changing temperature, created tension that was trying to uncrush the can.

Yay, physics.

I stomped the can flat. No more ploinking. Back to my book.

Could'a, would'a

I like campsites like this and wish I could have stayed there. But the gate to it was locked because the road up is still too soft from the spring melt.

See then flee

I did sort of a check-it-out-for-future-reference-and-warmer-weather expedition from Coyote Creek, to Cimarron Canyon, to Taos and back to my general purpose New Mexico base camp, Albuquerque.

It was good that I started early, and that it was an off-season weekday. The highway from Coyote Creek to Angel Fire was very narrow, shoulderless and twisty. I don't know what I would have done if I'd encountered someone coming the other way, since driving into a tree or off a cliff would not have been acceptable. To me. It was pretty, though. And this is what it looks like at the 8,200' summit, once you break out of the canyon and there's a place to pull over:

Wheeler and/or Pueblo Peak(s), I think

Angel Fire is a ski and golf resort town. Today it was too warm for one, too cold and windy for the other. Not my kind of place anyway.

Eagle Nest Lake State Park, north of Angel Fire, is just a reservoir, a boat ramp, and parking spots for boat haulers and RVs surrounded by grassland. Like so many lakes in the drought-plagued west, the water level was way down, despite the spring thaw. But if you want to boat and fish, it's there for you.

Eagle Nest Lake

Turn east at Eagle Nest and you enter Cimarron Canyon. It's very dramatic. It will be even more appealing when the trees leaf out. (See, I'm here too early.) There are two disadvantages for my style of camping, though. The tightness of the canyon and the canopy of trees severely limit solar access. And there's no cell signal. I think I could adapt for a short stay.

Cimarron Canyon

As for Taos? It didn't really do anything for me. Maybe if it had been the '80s. However, the drive over the pass was pretty. Conversely, the drive from Taos to Santa Fe wasn't enjoyable at all. Are we there yet?

This all sounds negative, right? But it's part of the grand exploration. I had to go see for myself, knowing beforehand that some places won't appeal to me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

All to myself

Today I'm at Coyote Creek State Park near Guadalupita, NM. (Get out Google Maps to find that tiny village.) It seems the Tuesday after Easter isn't a big park-going day. It's just me and some critters.

Literature says Coyote Creek is one of the most highly stocked streams in the state. I saw no fish. Or coyotes. Only some beaver dams.

Too bad the willows are still bare. The cottonwoods and scrub oak, too. This is what I get for not waiting until summer. But by then I'd have to share the place with anglers and RVers.

Speaking of sharing, I wouldn't want to share this trail with a bear.


When it was in the 80s and 90s in March at Slab City, I thought, “Okay, it will be less like summer farther north and/or at higher altitudes. I can leave the desert because it’s spring now, which means balmy weather in most places.”

I’d forgotten that spring in the mountains only means that it’s not cripplingly cold most of the day, that the snow is melting. It doesn’t stop freezing at night until about Memorial Day. I’m in the mountains too early for my tastes. Besides, the weather map shows I’m sitting in the middle of several more days of wet weather. Whine.

Because I’m a spoiled wimp, my tour of northern New Mexico campgrounds will be cut short for now and pushed back a couple of months. I’ll be backtracking a little, like to 5,000 feet instead of 8,000. The mountains will still be here in June. Or July. If they aren’t, then we all have bigger problems.

Good morning

Onion rings in the wild

The trick is luring them into the batter

Monday, April 21, 2014

The real thing

When I think about camping in the mountains, this is the type of place I envision. Drive up a steep one-and-a-half-lane road to a small lake, at about 8,000 feet, with snowcapped mountains in the near background. And 3G cell service.

Morphy Lake, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico

Viva la otra Las Vegas

Long ago, I was driving on I-40 in New Mexico when I spotted an exit sign for Las Vegas. I naturally assumed it meant there was an alternate route to the Las Vegas. It was years later when I discovered there was a different Las Vegas. Oh.

Among other things, parts of "No Country for Old Men" were shot here. This is the hotel (which was supposed to be in the Texas border town of Eagle Pass) where Anton Chigurh came gunning for Llewelyn Moss.

After "visiting" Las Vegas via Google Street View (and finding other film locations there) I added the city to my list of possible places to relocate. I even found a house I imagined owning, just a block from the hotel.

In the historic district, an easy walk to shopping and the college area, no yard to take care of... We know how that turned out.

Off to northeastern New Mexico

After seeking temporary refuge from real or imagined flash flooding, I figured I might as well head to Albuquerque, where there are more things to do on a rainy day. It was also a good hub from which to reevaluate my plans.

I studied my maps. I read up on the various New Mexico state parks, looked at where I'd been and where I haven't been yet, consulted the weather forecasts, and decided to head to the east side of the Sangre de Critso mountains. First stop, Villanueva State Park.

The park is tucked in a narrow canyon, next to the Pecos river. There are two levels. The lower one is lined with cottonwoods and many families enjoying their Easter weekend. 

The other level is up a steep, narrow road that discourages large RVs, but not the Rolling Steel Tent. The lack of tall trees means nothing blocking my solar panel. The view is also better. An added bonus is no danger of flooding. A few thunderstorms passed through, but I was safely above the river,

The one drawback—one that's common in the mountains—is zero cell signal. A day without Internet? Oh no!

Easy shopping

Because I was an inattentive blockhead again, I left my doormat at a campground. Not a big tragedy, easy to replace. I'd bought it at Home Depot or Lowe's for, like, $9.00. I just needed to be in a town large enough to have one of the home improvement centers.

Las Lunas, south of Albuquerque,  happened to be such a place. And, whadda ya know, Home Depot and Lowe's are right next to each other. With connected parking lots. Home Depot was first, but they didn't have the simple, very functional, doormat I wanted. But Lowe's did. That was easy.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Illegal alien wolves

The mountains of western New Mexico are elk hunting country. There are elk crossing signs on the highways, guys in RealTree camo (all the time), signs for taxidermists, hunting lodges, and all that. It's a sport, a business, a way of life.

There was a large handmade sign near Reserve, NM, saying, “ATTENTION HUNTERS! OUR ELK ARE BEING KILLED BY MEXICAN WOLVES!” (Sorry, I didn't get a photo.)

Well, first of all, they aren’t your elk. You don’t own them. They belong to nature. 

Secondly, animals have no nationality. They don’t know about borders. They don’t have passports. They don’t sing anthems and wave flags. Wolves’ country is wherever there’s game.

Thirdly, wolves eat elk and whatever else they can catch. That’s what they do. And elk run from wolves. That’s what they do. That’s how nature works. They’d been doing that for thousands of years before humans and hunters arrived in their world. Hunters are the interlopers, not the wolves. Maybe the wolves should put up a sign that humans are killing their elk. And wolves.

Is there a Plan B?

Apache Creek is a free campground run by the Forest Service. It’s at the intersection of highways 12 and 32, a few miles from Reserve, New Mexico, in the Gila National Forest. It’s a nice place that had been recommended by my new pal, Warren. It was a holiday weekend, so I wasn’t surprised there were a couple of RVs and a few tent campers already there.

Friday had been overcast and gloomy. Eh, can’t have sunshine every day. But it started to sprinkle about the time the sun was setting. Hmmm. Rain, in the mouth of a canyon, near a creek… Thoughts of flash flooding came to mind. 

I noticed that the tent campers and all but one of the RVs had left. Was it because they’d planned on leaving anyway? Was it because camping in the rain is no fun? Or did they know to get the hell out before there’s flooding?

Better safe than sorry, right? But where could I go? I needed a place to spend the night where flooding wasn’t an issue. And if I was going to be cooped up in the Rolling Steel Tent, it would be nice to have cell service so I could get on the net, check the forecast, entertain myself. I consulted the map and the closest sure thing was Socorro, a hundred miles away. (Show Low, AZ, might have been closer, but the route was through the mountains. If I need to drive in the dark, in the rain, straighter roads get my vote.) This is the downside of being out where civilization is sparse. Oh well.

The rain increased. There have been thunder showers this morning with more predicted. It’s good that I’m not up in the mountains. But now what? Time to adapt.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pie. And the sky.

Not the most attractive peach pie I've ever had, but right up there in taste.

Down the road, part of the Very Large Array. Yay, science!


I gave Warren a ride from Glenwood, NM, to Alma, just a few miles down the road.
"I've been coming up this way for over 35 years."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Extended forecast: disagreement

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is next on my agenda. It's not on the way to anywhere, though. Two hours up a winding mountain road. That's a long way to drive just to look around. I'd like to camp nearby, if the weather is conducive. There's a hot spring, too.

I checked the forecast and here's what I got:


Weather Channel

National Weather Service

Nights in the 40s is totally doable, even pleasant. But in the 30s? No. Don't wanna do that, even if the difference is mostly psychological. Do I trust the two optimistic forecasts or go with the pessimistic one?

Fortunately (or unfortunately), there's the actual recorded weather from the past 24 hours:

Twenty-five degrees? How could the forecasts be so far off? Time to formulate a different plan.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Change of pace

After passing through a couple dozen Border Patrol checkpoints the past few months, tonight I experienced my very first sobriety checkpoint. A sheriff's deputy checked my license and chatted a bit while the two cars ahead of me got some serious scrutiny.

"South Dakota, huh? What brings you down here?"

"It's cold up there."

He nodded and waved me on.

Sometimes life is too simple

I e-file my taxes. Rather, my tax guy e-files for me. He sends me a form, I print it out, sign it, then either fax it back to him or scan it and email it back to him.

The thing is, since I sold the house I no longer have a printer or scanner. And I’d tossed the fax machine long before. So now I need to find a FedEx Office, Staples, Office Depot, Office Max or whatever. The small towns I’m near don’t have those, though. They somehow manage without.

So it’s off to the big city of Las Cruces so I can make Uncle Sam and Aunt Carolina happy.

Meet the neighbors

Monday, April 14, 2014

Split personality park

As you can see, City of Rocks State Park is a one of those patches of large volcanic boulders. Cool looking, fun to climb around on, protection from the wind. That should be enough. 

But somewhere along the way they noticed it gets really dark here at night, which is great for looking at stars. So they installed a telescope, have programs about the night sky, and they’ve given all the campsite names of heavenly bodies. I’m in Corona Australis. A.k.a. number 12. Or, as I like to call it, Vanhenge.

Rocks… Stars… Rocks… Stars… Eh, why not both. Oh, and native peoples, too.

There’s a problem, though, with my timing. There’s a full moon, so the star gazing will be no better than if I were in a city. But there's that eclipse thing tonight.

This is not the next Rolling Steel Tent

Not necessary for camping near the Mexican border

My observation

When did this become the hot spring tour?

I posted a while back about my visit to a hot spring in Tonopah, AZ. 

Then I posted the other day about the hot springs in Truth or Consequences, NM.

Well, on the way to City of Rocks State Park (the one in New Mexico, not Idaho) I saw a sign for Faywood Hot Springs. With camping. Woo, another hot spring! I had to check it out. 

$18.75 got me a tent campsite and all the soaking I cared to do. And I care to do a lot. 

They have public pools, private pools, three temperatures of water, cottages, RV hookups and, when the new building is finished, massages. Yes!

After City of Rocks I’ll be going to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. And Gila Hot Springs, of course. I will be very relaxed. And clean.