Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Macrophotography morning

When there isn't a big vista to shoot, get close instead.

A pig in a poke

When the forecast for freezing nighttime temperatures made it clear it was time to split from Heron Lake, Lesa and I sat down to figure out where to go. We wanted to keep staying at state parks (hurray for the annual pass), so where was one in the Goldilocks Zone—not too cold, not too hot? Also, not too far.

Manzano Mountains State Park looked like it could be just right. It was hard to tell, though, because the online information was sparse. It's a small park. What if all the campsites are full? And there was an alert about some parts being closed for a tree thinning operation. (Insert whining, buzzing chainsaw noises.) But, being the bold adventure seekers we are (just ones who don't want to freeze or roast if we don't have to), we packed up and hit the road south.

South from I-25 we broke out of the mountainous region and into grasslands. Surprisingly, I like grasslands. Driving through them, anyway. Not so much staying in them. And it was very windy. "The park is Manzano Mountains," I thought as I drove. "It better not be false advertising." But then the land started to roll and grass gave way to junipers, scrub oaks and pines. Good.

There were several empty campsites, with plenty of room between them. Lesa managed to snag a huge corner lot.

There are shelters, patios, tables, barbecues and fire rings. Some sites have electricity, for an extra $4.00 a day. The restrooms are closed, though. A couple of chemical toilets are there instead. A very pleasant campground. And the weather is almost as if we custom ordered it. Our gamble has paid off.

I broke into a big grin as we approached the park. Ah, a cell tower just a mile from the gate. Five bars of 4G service. Now, if only there were showers, I'd be in paradise.

Happy happy joy joy. Lots of cellular, no rain.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A moment of semi-clarity

A break in the storm at Heron Lake

Long time, no see

Moriarity, New Mexico

Gonna cut this visit short

I like the scenery and facilities at Heron Lake State Park, but not so much the weather. The nights are going to get seriously cold. Depending on the source, the forecast is for overnight temperatures in the high twenties, or just enough above freezing to have rain instead of snow. I don't need this. I'm heading to lower elevations and latitudes.

Some would say, "Oh, you're heading toward Albuquerque. You could be there for the balloon fiesta!"

And I would reply, "No, I'm circumventing Albuquerque because of the balloon fiesta. Too many people. Too much traffic. Besides, I've done the balloon thing before."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's one of those play inside days

Unlike yesterday's quickly passing thunderstorm, it looks like today's rain will be hanging around a while. Good thing I have excellent Internet access here.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Putting all that aside

I know you might be surprised to learn I'm not perfect. I have biases against big RVs. Mostly because I'm a bit of a jerk.

I curse at big RVs on the road. I occasionally give them the finger. However, I have never (yet) put sugar in their gas tanks or set one on fire. So my hatred has limits.

I've avoided camping near them, though. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement. I don't have to listen to their generators and they don't have to be offended by the sight of my low-budget home.

But I'm not 100 percent biased or 100 percent jerk. And I'm not always biased and a jerk at the same time. So once in a while I'll gladly van dwell among the folks who would exclude me from their private RV parks. This week is one of those times.

We're at Heron Lake State Park, near Los Ojos/Tierra Amarilla/Chama, New Mexico. We checked out several of the park's campgrounds and ended up preferring a couple of sites in a campground intended for big RVs. It's off-season, so there were plenty of sites available. And few neighbors.

There are electrical and water hookups (which we don't need) and the sites are roomy (to make room for big RVs). The sites are also further apart, with more vegetation between them. Because big RVs deserve that and the peons don't. There are some pull-through sites open, which makes things very easy for Lesa and her trailer (even though she knows how to back in.) Lesa's site even has a shelter and concrete patio.

My back-in site across the way is more humble, but spacious enough for four vans. Or a 36-foot fifth-wheel trailer with slide-outs, a heavy-duty dually diesel pickup to haul it, a boat and a pair of OHVs.

However, there's no view of the lake. That's just as well, since the water level is down about 75 percent. "Oh, look, extra shore!"

We'll spend a few days here. It's nice. It has me mellowed out enough to not want to slash RV tires.

Finding your space

My traveling companion, Lesa, had been living only in her van, like me. It wasn't working very well for her. Now she also has a tiny travel trailer, a 13-foot Scamp. She has spent the past couple of weeks redistributing her possessions and supplies between the two, settling in. The trailer is now her living space, her home, and the van is now for storage. And for towing, of course.

An unexpected thing has happened, one that runs counter to the way most people live. Now that she has twice the space, she has been getting rid of things. Minimizing. Well, by building-dweller standards, minimizing further.

"I don't know why I've been holding onto this."

"I don't really need this."

"I should give this to someone else."

One of her guidelines is that the Scamp should contain only the things she uses daily. Another is that it should contain only things that make her happy. It's her version of the William Morris philosophy:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful,
or believe to be beautiful.

Meanwhile, I was evaluating my own setup, my living space, my stuff. After a year on the road, after several purgings, after seeing how I actually live, what I actually need, I think I've got it where I want it. I have food, clothing and shelter. And transportation. And electricity. And a laptop. I'm contented. And contentment is the core of happiness.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Water and trees

High in the Jemez Mountains

Lesa and I were discussing which New Mexico state park we'd go to next. I'm glad she mentioned Fenton Lake. The drive up into the Jemez Mountains was gorgeous. I wish I'd come here sooner.

The lake is small and the campsites aren't actually by the lake, but it's beautiful and quiet. There is no "primitive" camping area, but the numbered sites aren't crammed together, like some places. Unlike Bluewater Lake, there was no shower.

Even though it's at 7,900 feet, daytime temperatures were in the 70s with high 40s at night. (Well, there was a hail storm yesterday.)

A nice hiking trail takes you through a meadow, along the creek and past a beaver dam.

There was a hunting and fishing expo scheduled for the weekend, so we took off. The drive to Espa├Ála was excellent, too, with a surprising range of scenery. I'll be back.

Pet sharing

Lesa was given a Yorkie mix. His name is Ozzie. I don't know if he was named for Ozzie Nelson, Ozzie Davis or Ozzie Osbourn. He comes to my van once or twice a day to see if I have a snack, or to just hang out.

Spence Hot Spring

The village of Jemez Springs, New Mexico has a commercial hot spring. But up the road a way, on National Forest land, is a free, in-nature hot spring: Spence Hot Spring.

Between mile marker 24 and 25, in the east side of Highway 4, is a triangular parking lot. From there you hike down to the bottom of the canyon on a user-friendly gravel and dirt train. After crossing a bridge over the stream, the trail becomes a mix of footpath, rocks and wet patches where water seeps from higher up. That hike is higher up than the walk down.

The spring itself is surrounded by large boulders. It helps to have some goat DNA, or at least a walking stick. An old fart like me was able to make it.

There are two pools. The lower one is probably a bit cooler than the upper one, but both were only about body temperature when I was there in late September. The view is great, though.

For hotter water, you can crawl into a small two-person cave that's the source for the pools. It's very much like a steam bath in there. A fellow who was there when I was said he came up one winter and a guy crawled out of the cave, claiming to have spent the night in it. That's one way to stay warm.

As far as a rating goes, it wasn't worth the hike. The water temperature, and algae on some of the rocks, sort of killed it for me. Maybe the water is hotter other times of the year. I can understand how body temperature water might be acceptable in cold weather. How about a score of 3.5? Pretty place, though. But watch for poison ivy.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What if the horses lead themselves to water?

And you don't try to make them drink?

Attack of the faux-squitoes

I was alarmed the first night at Bluewater Lake when it looked like swarms of mosquitoes had invaded my van. It turned out they were a harmless insect that only looked a lot like mosquitoes. But even though they didn't bite, they were annoying, flying around my eyes and nose. They also coated the ceiling of the Rolling Steel Tent, attracted by the light from my laptop.

I'd spray insecticide and hundreds would fall to the floor, only to be replaced by hundreds more. I closed the doors and windows, but it got stuffy.

Well, if they're attracted to light, I reasoned, I'll put one of my battery powered touch lights over on the dash, out of my way. Let them do their buggy thing over there instead of in my face. That worked. But when I'd turn the light off to go to sleep, the bugs were still in the van.

"What if you put the light outside?" suggested Lesa.

"Good idea! I could put it on the roof where the light can't shine into the van, and just keep it on all night."

And so I did. And so it worked. Another victory for the large human brain.

When it's good to be wrong

The forecast for the past three days had been for a good chance of thunderstorms, overcast and drizzle. We just got fluffy clouds instead. (Insert mock disappointment.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Texting while showering?

Or is it karaoke in the spotlight?

Checking the GPS while being bombarded by photons?

Giving a speech while your rocket hat blasts off?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bluewater Lake State Park, New Mexico

Bluewater Lake State Park, south of I-40 between Gallup and Grants, is another of New Mexico's water-centric parks. It's the usual mix of RV and tent sites, tables and fire rings, boat ramps, a playground, vault toilets and dumpsters scattered about, plus showers and an RV dump station. There is also a day use area with shelters.

The numbered sites are on a hillside, among trees, with views of the lake. Nice, with shorter walks to the showers and toilets, but crowded during peek times.

We chose the "primitive" area along the shore. No amenities other than greater privacy and the ability to orient the vans in whatever way is most advantageous. Going with the primitive area also saves the small hassle of filling out a pay station slip. Just pick out a spot to call home. And since we have New Mexico State Park annual passes, and we aren't using electric hookups, there's nothing more to pay.

If you come in via highway 612 instead of 412 there are additional boondocking areas on the south side of the lake. But no toilets or dumpsters.

One of the best features is excellent Verizon service. There are cell towers just down the road. No AT&T signal, though.

It has been quiet the past two days—not even much boat noise—but we'll see what the weekend brings.

Pictographs by primitive people

One doesn't pay to enter a state park, hike along a rocky lake shore, and just happen to have spray paint.

"Golly, how'd this Krylon get in my pocket? I thought it was a can of beer. Well, guess I gotta use it."

But maybe I just don't understand. Perhaps the modern redneck skate punk shaman prayerfully enters a trance (aided by pharmaceuticals rather than peyote), travels deep into the spirit world to find his hair band totem, and leaves his sacred markings to instruct and bring good fortune to his tribe members. I'm sure that's it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hello again, New Mexico

If you camp in the "primitive" area of Bluewater Lake State Park (instead of one of the nice RV slots overlooking the lake), there's a chance horses will come visit. One of them used Lesa's trailer as a scratching post.

Canyon de Chelly from the top

It was a bit drizzly as we pulled out of Spider Rock Campground this morning. We had lucked out yesterday with perfect weather for our jeep tour of Canyon de Chelly. We pulled off at one of the view points overlooking the canyon. It's what visitors see unless they hire a Navajo guide to accompany them down into the canyon. It's still a sublime view.

At Sliding House, our guide, Howard, brought us small white peaches freshly picked from his friend's orchard (arrow). By special arrangement, people can camp at this spot. That would be something.


Howard runs Spider Rock Campground by Canyon de Chelly. He also guides jeep and hiking tours of the canyon.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The "Alice's Restaurant" moment

According to the song, Arlo Guthrie and friends got in trouble for improperly disposing of their trash. They were incriminated by a name on an envelope found at the bottom of "half a ton of garbage."

Well, properly disposing of trash is one of the problems of van dwelling. You'd think people would generally support one's efforts to not leave garbage out in nature. That's rarely the case. They don't want our trash taking up space in their dumpsters. That's why more and more of them are locked. So we sometimes need to sneak our trash into whatever bins we can find.

A 13-gallon Hefty BlackOut trash bag with Clean Breeze Odor Block—the manly choice

Which brings us back to Alice's Restaurant. I was tying off a bag of trash when I saw some of my junk mail among the wrappers, used paper towels, banana peels and such. I know the likelihood of someone searching my illicit debris looking for incriminating evidence is very small. But I still get a twinge. There might be a hardass Officer Obie out there willing to track me down to South Dakota, and beyond.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

More work

Even though we relocated to the forest, work continues on Lesa's travel trailer. Today I installed a piece of floor. Not flooring. Floor. As in the thing that keeps you from standing on the ground. The previous bozo who replaced the rotting floor couldn't (or wouldn't) figure out how to cut the plywood to fit the "entry." So I installed some brackets, a threshold, and cut a patch.

Now the floor goes all the way to the door. What a concept.

When I first saw Lesa's Scamp it was filled with loose panels and boxes of stuff. It was very unimpressive. But now it's starting to look cozy. We'll get the beast in shape yet.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I swear it's not my fault—again

I missed out on my chance to see Yosemite in all it's glory. This is tragic.

On the edge

Good morning from the Mogollon Rim, the escarpment running through central Arizona, defining the edge of the Colorado Plateau. I'm at about 7,500 feet elevation and enjoying the crisp, dry autumn-like day.

There's a free Forest Service dry camping area along FR171, about half way between Payson and Heber (two city names that might confuse Utah residents). It has roomy designated campsites that aren't too crowded together. There's the usual 14-day limit. The best views, though, are from the picnic areas on the way there.