3-18-2014 Albuquerque to Chaco Canyon and on to Farmington

Current (March 23): boondocking near Virgin, UT  Clear, Breezy, and 73 degrees F at 7PM

Chaco Canyon_053We have laughed at ourselves a bit, wondering why we felt so compelled to barrel west from Florida.  This morning, looking at our calendar and the map, it was obvious that we could have lingered a bit more.  Now we will do the lingering, now that we are back West, and close enough to home that we can get there easily. 

Chaco Canyon_001Although our next major stop will be Page, Arizona, around 444 miles, there is no need to speed our way west.  Instead we will travel the side roads, avoiding the interstate once again.  This morning dawned a bit less windy than the day before, but we were still happy to stay away from the high speeds required on the interstate and ambled north from our camp at Kirtland AFB toward Highway 550 and Farmington.

Not far from Albuquerque is the small roadside town of Bernalillo, lying low along the Rio Grande.  Once an historic route, marking the pathway of Coronado as he searched for the “cities of gold”, I-25 now bypasses the community at breakneck pace.  On another trip perhaps, it might have been fun to explore a bit, with a charming small town atmosphere that seemed to be strong and healthy. We did see a large sign for the Visitor Center at a local café that was encouraging. It was early morning, and we had barely started, so stopping just wasn’t in the cards this time.

Chaco Canyon_080Not long ago I read a great book, “House of Rain, Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest”, by Craig Childs.  Somehow in all my reading about the southwest and its culture, I had missed this author. Since then I have sucked up as many of his titles as I can fit on the Kindle, he is a great writer, especially for long winter nights when I am tucked away at home dreaming of canyon travels. This book is Craig’s own well informed hypothesis about what may have happened to the Anasazi Cultures, and Chaco Culture specifically. I read the book last year, wondering then why I had never managed to get to Chaco, in spite of traveling extensively in other parts of the Colorado Plateau and hunting down ancient kivas, pictographs, petroglyphs,and granaries in untold canyons.

Once again, the spontaneous choice of route led us to another treasure.  Looking on the map, I saw with astonishment that Chaco Culture National Historic Park was just a short jaunt from the highway.  Well, I suppose 21 miles each way, with several of those miles being dirt road isn’t exactly short, but is definitely short when compared to the distance from home and the fact that we might never travel this way again.

Chaco Canyon_039There is a small campground at Chaco Culture NHP, but the last four miles of the road are especially rough, and there was no way we would take the MoHo there.  We did see a few small van type campers, and one adventurous owner of a 24 foot View tipping and bouncing and bumping along on the way back out.  Nah…we were content to drive in with the Tracker and enjoy the park for a day trip. 

Of course, after being there, I realized that a day trip is only one way to experience Chaco, and a much better experience, a deeper immersion into the archaeological wonder that is there would take days or weeks.  I would love to camp there in a tent and experience the night sky, wander where the ancients wandered, and try to feel the place more deeply than I could in a single afternoon.

map to chacoChaco Canyon_014We turned from Highway 550 at the well signed marker for the park, traveled 6 miles on paved road before finding a large level gravel parking area where we felt it would be safe to leave the MoHo.  Since the park is surrounded by the Navajo reservation, there is no camping anywhere off the highway.  When you reach the parking lot area, turn right, (west), and the road is paved for another 4 miles before continuing west with  8.5 miles of reasonably smooth dirt (not washboard gravel) road.  The last 4 miles are not easy.  Even in the baby car the road was rough, going through a couple of washes that would be impassable if there had been rain.

Chaco Canyon_027Once at the park boundary, however, the road is paved, with a 9 mile loop road that meanders past several of the ruins.  As usual, we stopped at the visitor center, checked out the movie, the displays, and the maps and embarked on the loop road. I learned at the Visitor Center, that Chaco Culture is one of only 21 World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO in the United States.  It is interesting to go to the World Heritage Site website and read about how and why places are chosen.  Of the 21 sites in the United States, 8 are cultural sites and 13 are natural sites, with only one natural site, The Everglades, listed as a World Heritage Site in danger.

Chaco Canyon_055There are Anasazi ruins throughout the southwest, I have visited many, but nothing quite prepared me for the power and immensity of Chaco Canyon.  From the mid 800’s to the 1100’s, Chaco was the center of trade and commerce that extended throughout the southwest.  The artifacts excavated at Chaco in the early part of this century are still being deciphered, but include shells from the Pacific, great macaw feather capes from Mexico, gorgeous black on white pottery, and great stores of turquoise.Chaco Canyon_057

What is left today are the remains of several huge Great Houses, some with as many as 600 rooms, up to three stories high, exhibiting magnificent architectural detail and construction.  In addition, the ruins suggest a deep understanding of astronomy.  Over 400 miles of prehistoric roadway that connect the Great Houses to outlying communities are known.  It was Craig Child’s story of his journey along one of these ancient roads the I most enjoyed.

Chaco Canyon_063As with archeology in all places, the theories are simply educated guesses as to the reasons that Chaco bloomed, how it was used, why it was left behind.  The Hopi, the Pueblo Culture, the Navajo all claim Chaco is part of their ancestry, and their stories handed down through the centuries include stories of what Chaco was for their people.

Walking through the intricate maze of rooms, and standing at the edge of the Great Kiva’s, it was easy to imagine being in Chaco at the height of its glory.  Some suggest that very few people actually lived in the Great Houses, and that they were used for temporary housing for people from many cultures gathering for ceremony and trade.

Time seemed to stop as we walked the trails, read the signs, looked for petroglyphs on the canyon walls.  Our visit to Bandelier the previous day had been only a tiny taste of what Chaco was.  I had skipped Chaco in the past, thinking, oh..the rock isn’t red there, the canyons look boring, that part of New Mexico is dull…and all sorts of other reasons for not going out of my way to find Chaco Canyon.

One of the most delightful aspects of visiting Chaco, was the Pueblo Bonito trail, where we were able to wander through the rooms and corridors, amazed at the intricacy of the masonry walls and their incredible beauty after 1,000 years.

As evening approached, and we finally forced ourselves to leave, both of us were so happy that we hadn’t let that dirt road warning keep us from coming to this magical place.

Chaco Canyon_052Initially I called several campgrounds in the vicinity of Farmington, our destination for the night, including one in the town of Bloomfield, one in Aztec, and Mom and Pop’s RV in Farmington.  It was a Tuesday, it was windy, and yet it seems that at least one of those campgrounds would answer the phone or return my message.  By the time we got to Farmington, it was getting close to dark, and I still had no word as to availability, so we looked at each other and said, “Is there a WalMart in Farmington?”

Chaco Canyon_078Sure enough with a look at AllStays.com, we found an “ask to park” Walmart symbol and it was right on our route.  Before long we were settled in among a few other RV’s and several big rigs taking a break for a night’s rest at the back of the parking lot.  Happy for a place to be, we even put out the slide without any problems and settled in just in time for nightfall.

These are the original logs, preserved in the dry desert air for more than a millennium.

Not long after we were settled in, I got a message from Pop, from Mom and Pop’s RV campground in Farmington, saying he had a pull through spot waiting for us and that they had been out to dinner.  I called him back and he was extremely nice, even after I told him I wouldn’t need the space and was parked at WalMart.  His parting words were, “That is great, just so you are safe and not having to drive when you are worn out.” Pretty nice RV park owner, I would say, and if I am through Farmington again, I’ll definitely check his place out.

We laughed about how good it felt to simply park and sleep, how quiet and safe it seemed, how the noise from the idling big rigs seemed to be low enough to not trouble us.  The low temperature for the night was to be between 15 and 20 degrees, but that never actually materialized, and we barely dropped below freezing.

I slept like a rock, falling asleep with images and dreams of what Chaco must have been like 1,000 years ago.


Tucumcari Tonight

Current Location: Kirtland AFB FamCamp Albuquerque, NM clear full moon tonight and 32 degrees F before tomorrow’s high of 70F

As we drove the last miles through Texas, ever watchful of the stormy skies, it was with a bit of relief that we felt the landscape begin the gentle rise into New Mexico.  The predicted winds were pushing us from behind, not unmanageable or difficult and when we reached the New Mexico visitor center at the state line, the skies were deep blue.Tucumcari visit-019

While Mo walked Abby in the dusty brown grass, I gathered an armload of maps and brochures about visiting New Mexico.  I had picked Tucumcari as a spot on the map that happened to be in the right location with a Passport America park, with no clue of its cultural attractions.  What a surprise to read all the glossy brochures and find out that we had a lot to see and do in Tucumcari.  I was especially excited to realize that we were on a well preserved stretch of Highway 66, known by some as the “Mother Road.”

Tucumcari visit-015Tucumcari visit-017Tucumcari visit-014We read about the Route 66 Photo Museum, the famous murals of Tucumcari, the old time diners and motel fronts, lit up with neon after dark.  Exiting the interstate east of town, we followed the empty dusty route of the old highway.  I reminisced about my own connections to Highway 66 as a kid in the San Gabriel Valley.  Huntington Drive was just a mile or so from where I lived, Route 66, and as a ten year old I would look down that highway and daydream about how far I could travel on that road.

Tucumcari visit-021Route 66 was established in 1926,and for the next 50 years became part of the American dream of automobile travel. The lore of the Mother Road is buried deep in the psyche of every motorcyclist that I know, along with Highway 49 and Highway 1 in California and the road to Sturgis in South Dakota. If you are a biker, I’ll bet you know about Tucumcari.Tucumcari visit-064

The reality of the town was a bit of a shock after the glossy descriptions in the brochures.  Somehow I was imagining a Disneyesque version of the old diners, with black and white checkered floors and red plastic chairs.  I especially looked forward to a real milkshake.  Instead, every single diner was closed.  Not one place in town was open for a meal, much less a real milkshake.  The streets were very nearly empty.  The old motels were mostly empty.Tucumcari visit-056

Our campground was a bit dicey, at least at first it seemed so.  Our biker dude manager showed us to the dusty site, and made sure that we had the phone number to call security if we needed it. The small office was so thick with cigarette smoke that I could barely stand to be in there for the few minutes it took to verify our reservation.  Cash only, and no receipt.  For a flat $20 we were extremely happy to have a place to settle in for the evening, and we even had working television!Tucumcari visit-010

Once settled, with the winds and dust rising dramatically, we followed the Mural Map to find some of the most amazing and artistic murals I have ever seen.  Most of them were painted by Doug and Sharon Quarles, two artists who were once part of the city and who left in 2009.  The murals were fantastic, but the town was incredibly sad.

Tucumcari visit-039As we drove around finding the murals, I kept feeling as though I had fallen into a Doomsday movie where the world has ended and no one is left.  Tumbleweeds in the old movie theater entrance and boarded up windows everywhere we turned were haunting.  We drove street after street, with row after row of dilapidated houses, not a sign of a well kept neighborhood anywhere.Tucumcari visit-061

It was the emptiness of the streets that was so haunting.  The old depot building had been remodeled, and was listed as a joint project of the city of Tucumcari and the Youth Conservation Corps, but we couldn’t find out anything about its history.

Tucumcari visit-045Nothing, and I mean not a thing was open.  The Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center was closed, the History Museum was closed, the Depot was closed, and as I said, the few small diners and all three of the ice cream shops were closed.  Remember, this was on a sunny Saturday afternoon! 

Tucumcari visit-042Tucumcari visit-044A friend of mine mentioned on Facebook how much she loved Tucumcari, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a different place in the summertime and all the closures were simply seasonal. 

Tucumcari visit-047Once back home, with the winds howling at over 45 miles per hour and the wild dust of the high prairies swirling around and making visibility very low, we decided that driving back down Main Street after dark to see the neon wasn’t in the cards.  Maybe Tucumcari on a hot summer night when riding a motorcycle is a whole different experience.  I probably won’t ever find out.Tucumcari visit-080

In spite of the winds, we slept well, and woke to gorgeous sunny skies and temperatures in the low 30’s, no frost.  We took our time leaving, and wound our way out of town on the old Route 66 road that parallels the interstate for most of the way.  The road was a bit rough, and at one point it passed under the freeway through a narrow passage so filled with tumbleweeds that we had to get out and rake them out of the way. Historic Route 55 needs a bit of care

A few miles west of Tucumcari we drove through the old ghost towns of Montoya, Newkirk, and Cuervo. As I walked the old streets of these towns I kept wondering if I was seeing a vision of what our civilization was going to look like someday.  Would all our towns and cities turn to this?  These small communities once had thriving businesses, motels and as stations and restaurants, all supported by the travelers on the highway. 

Tucumcari visit-099Highway 66 for decades served thousands of people migrating west during the Dust Bowl days of the 30’s, and later families traveling by car on long vacations interspersed with motel stays and picnics.  Interstate 40 changed everything.  Travelers went farther and faster, and the new highway bypassed many of the small towns along the way.  What is left are Love’s and Pilot’s and Flying J’s and generic restaurants with cardboard food. A way of life is gone.Tucumcari visit-100

After wandering the old ghost towns a bit, we entered the modern world once again on I-40 west.  The road was smooth, the truck traffic heavy, the pace at 70mph plus.  Climbing inexorably toward the Rockies the elevation rose and suddenly we were blinded by something white and fluffy along the road.Tucumcari visit-117

Have we been in the South that long?  Mo at first thought there had been some kind of debris blown around and couldn’t figure it out.  Oh.  snow.  It was snow.  I had seen the snow on the radar last night and as we were buffeted about by the winds, I had been happy to be far away from the snow.  I guess were weren’t as far away as I thought.  This afternoon the temperature was 39 degrees in the brilliant sunshine.Tucumcari visit-120

Once down the hill into the broad valley of Albuquerque, the temperatures rose to the mid-60’s again, and the snow was a light dusting on the distant mountains.  We settled into Kirtland AFB Family Camp without any difficulty, even though the camp office is closed until Monday morning.  Instructions on the office door were clear and found a great site in the newer part of the camp with full hookups.Tucumcari visit-124

We will stay here for a couple of days, doing some exploring north of town, and visiting with friends before continuing west.  Sunny skies, warm days and cold nights, no rain and no snow are on the radar for the time being, so we are  in luck.


1-8-2014 Diving into Texas

Current Location Balmorhea State Park, Texas Currently 40F  Predicted High today 65F

009Old Town Mesilla at the square

Yes, I did mean to say “diving” not driving, although the last couple of days we have been driving along at a nice pace. I’ll explain the diving part later. We took two days to travel about 510 miles from Tucson to Balmorhea, Texas.  Nice to have the luxury of our own home with us and the time to go at a reasonable pace.  When daughter Deb moved to Texas  I helped her drive the rental truck and we drove from LaQuinta, CA, to Van Horn, Texas in one day, almost 900 miles!  Ack!!

The I-10 route from Tucson to Las Cruces is fairly straightforward and not all that exciting.  I am sure there would be great things to find in the mountains north of the highway, but we are on a mission to get to Texas and Florida, so those little side trips are not tempting us.  We arrived in Las Cruces around 3 with a reserved spot at the Coachlight RV Park, advertised to be within walking distance to old Mesilla and a Passport America Park with a good rate at $18.65 for our overnight stop with hookups and sewer, good WiFi, but no cable. It wasn’t the finest of RV parks, but decent enough for an overnight.  If you want something fancy and aren’t worried about the expense, try the Hacienda RV Resort, where Mo and I stayed on our first trip through when the MoHo was just a few days old and we didn’t have Passport America.

006Walking distance is relative, however, with over a mile each way not something we particularly wanted to do after a day of driving to go get supper!  Instead we unhooked the baby car and drove down the road to Old Mesilla to walk around the square a bit.  I remembered a little place on the square that had all sorts of salsa and chili stuff, so added a bit of green chili to my goodie stash.  The square was fairly quiet, with the Christmas holiday behind us and not many folks out and about on a weekday afternoon.

007I won’t rewrite what has been written so well about the history of Old Mesilla, but if you are interested in reading about one of the oldest settlements in New Mexico, explore this link.

When we were here in 2007, we did eat dinner at La Posta, a very historic restaurant with very good Mexican food.  This time, however, we opted for a less pretentious little restaurant recommended by several locals we spoke with, Andele’s, just on the edge of Old Mesilla.  The atmosphere was generic at best, but the food was great and the salsa bar was fun too.  We ate early, but by the time we left there was a good sized waiting line at the door, so the popularity of the place was evident. I had what they called traditional Mexican tacos, and the fixings arrived on a plate with some warm fresh corn tortillas to go with.  With six different kinds of salsa at the salsa bar and some grilled onions, my meal was incredibly tasty, and was enough to feed us a second night with more left over for snacks.

original Mexican tacos at Alvardo'sWith a location along the interstate between El Paso and Tucson, the city of Las Cruces might be easy to bypass.  It is a nice medium sized city with a great University and a dry climate.  I guess that is what has caused the population to increase so dramatically in the last decade or so.  The shopkeepers all said it was retirees from the north and from California who were buying up the land, building new housing developments and still not adding much to the economy. 

I was lucky to see Las Cruces from a completely different perspective back in 2002 when I had the opportunity to spend six weeks here for some advanced soils training.  My work with soils was about the landscape, how different kinds of soils are distributed and what makes those differences.  One of the major factors that affect soil development is the geomorphology, the shape and age of the landscape where the soil is located. 

As head of the National Cooperative Soil Survey, NRCS is committed to keeping its scientists well trained, and the Soil Science Institute is held every few years at different locations in the country.  If you are lucky, you get to go and if you are especially lucky you get to go to Institute here in Las Cruces where one of the most incredible geomorphic studies of the landscape exists.  The Desert Project is a sort of bible of western geomorphology, and that man you see in the photo with the white hat and gloves is one of the authors.

01-07-2014 Old MesillaI spent several weeks in the company of soil scientists from all over the country learning from the best.  It was a highlight of my career and I count several friends among some of those I met at Institute.  I also saw Las Cruces and the surrounding area in much more depth than would happen any other way.  Las Cruces is about so much, but most of all it is about the Rio Grand River.  We studied the ancestral terraces of this once mighty river, visited the farms and orchards, wandered the wild spaces of the Jornada del Muerto, where some of the best rangeland studies are conducted, and spent a day studying the geomorphology of the White Sands not far away.

1Las Cruces is about the River, about cotton and peppers and some of the most extensive pecan orchards in the US.  It is about hot sun and no shade, about wind and dust much of the time.  It is about good restaurants and the smell of chilis roasting in September.  It is about the Organ Mountains and Dripping Springs, the place to go if you need to get out of all that gravelly dusty alluvium and find some real rocks.P1010086

We saw none of this soul of Las Cruces as we passed by on I-10, but I remembered it well.  I enjoyed having an excuse to go back and look at the several hundred photos I took during Institute where I celebrated a birthday in Old Mesilla and planned for my new life in Klamath Falls.  When I came to Institute, I had just been promoted to project leader for the Klamath Falls soil survey, had moved there and bought a house but didn’t take possession of the house until I returned six weeks later from Institute.  It was one of the biggest turning points in my entire life.  Daughter Melody and her husband and kids now live in that little house that I bought before I drove down to Las Cruces. 

to Texas_006Yesterday, Mo and I left early in the morning with another reasonable driving day to Texas.  Much of the route from El Paso is quite near the Mexican border, and as we passed through the city, we could see the dilapidated houses of Juarez across the river.  Once east of El Paso, however, the landscape opened up again and the distant mountain ranges of West Texas beckoned.

Juarez from the interstate through El Paso notice where the fence just stopsWe were still undecided where to spend our next two nights when we stopped in Van Horn for gas.  With the cold weather recently, we had decided that Fort Davis State park was too high and cold and thought that staying at Balmorhea State Park, just 4 miles south of the interstate, would be a better idea.  Lower elevation, a bit warmer, and hookups. 

Stopping at a rest area just a short way from Van Horn, Mo discovered to her dismay, that the electrical connection to the Tracker had come loose and the cord was dragging on the highway, destroying the connection tips.  Lucky for us, we were only a few miles from town, and we backtracked to an auto parts store in Van Horn where Mo got the parts.  With a bunch of fiddling, she still couldn’t get the turn signals to work, so with only 72 miles to Balmorhea, and the evening approaching, we made the decision to just drive with running lights and settle into the Balmorhea.

the rest of the campground is emptyOnce there, I walked up to the office which was closing, so we were told to just find a place and pay in the morning.  I walked back to the rig, carefully avoiding the large curb, and caught my foot right on a big chunk of asphalt that was this side of the curb.  Bam.  Hence the diving into Texas.  I dove into the ground, missing the curb I think, and didn’t break anything.  My hip hurt like heck, but not enough to be broken and I am sitting and walking around so I am pretty sure I am fine.  I do get tired of these dives, however.  I used to leap boulders when I was doing soil survey, so being such a giant klutz is pretty embarrassing.

settled in for the evening at Balmorhea State ParkSettled in, Mo  figured out that a fuse was blown when the “hot” terminal of the connector was dragging on the ground when it came loose. She replaced the fuses,  and everything worked just fine. We ate our yummy leftovers from Andele’s. Looking at the maps, we decided that it would be very easy to just stay here one night and tomorrow drive the 34 miles south to Fort Davis and then 3 miles out of town to Davis Mountains State Park.  We really don’t mind overnighter’s at all, since setting up is fairly quick and very easy.  Especially since the alternative would mean staying here two nights and driving into the Davis Mountains tomorrow and then having to backtrack again.  I dislike backtracking more than I dislike setting up!

Hip stuff woke me up at 3 and I couldn’t sleep, so it has been a good time to write, to read blogs, and to look at old photos of my days in Las Cruces so many years ago.  Tomorrow the Davis Mountains!diving into Texas

Texas to Las Cruces, New Mexico

A day later and the story is similar, at least for the moment. Driving west on a 2 lane Texas road with very little traffic. We took a side route off I-10 to get away from the big trucks and the wind, driving north on Texas 54, the “Texas Mountain Highway”, which is the main route north from the Interstate to the Guadalupe Mountains and Guadalupe Mountain National Park. It’s also the route to Carlsbad Caverns.

Yesterday we decided to pull off the highway in early afternoon so that we could get some groceries and set up before dark with a bit of relaxing time. Couldn’t make it all the way to Las Cruces so figured we could stop halfway at the only town of any real size between San Antonio and El Paso, Fort Stockton.

Fort Stockton didn’t have much to speak of, except the visitor center was actually open and also built from the large lovely limestone blocks that are used throughout this part of Texas. The proprietor there was a very old man who was very kind and helpful and gave us RV park lists, maps, and a great brochure on the Texas Mountain Country. Seems as though we unexpectedly were on the edge of another interesting area of Texas, one that will need further exploration another time.

But in the mean time, the important thing was food and rest, so we decided on a funky park south of town called Parkview RV. From the highway it looked really terrible, and yet once set up and inside our rig, it wasn’t so bad. First thing to notice was all the telephone poles and wires. Most parks now have underground utilities, so it was strange to see all these ugly things everywhere. The bathrooms looked as though they were made of old cardboard, and the spaces were just gravel and weedy grass full of burrs and stickers, another thing that has been a real pain in texas, the goathead burrs.

But the park had the fastest wifi I have had in some time, cable tv which we seem to never manage to watch, but always think we want it, power, water that tasted good, and sewer, which we ended up not using anyway. Our tanks are still only less than 1/2 full after 4 days now, including our boondocking night, and we haven’t emptied them yet. Lots more storage space for water of all types in this rig.

Haven’t had a pizza since we left a month ago, and pizza is one of the favorites around here, so we bought DeGiornio’s rising crust and decided to give the new oven a try for something more complicated than baking a potato. Worked great after I got the hang of the warm up cycle, and it’s really nice to have a real oven to cook with. Took a little bit of time to fiddle with things and get more settled in for the evening, went for a walk with the dog, and took some photos of the sunset before settling in to write and upload photos and watch a little bit of news.

Walking through the park I got to do one of my favorite things which is looking in people’s windows at dusk while they are doing life. Crazy thing, I know, but I love it. So walking by an older rig I saw a sweet older couple all cuddled up on their sofa watching TV. They waved and smiled and I waved back thinking, ahh, the rv life, not a bad way to retire if you have someone who loves to do it with you and who cares about you as well. They seemed so contented in their cozy little space, and so friendly with the windows all open.
The night was cold but not as cold as some have been on the trip, but the insulation in the back of this rig isn’t enough to keep it warm in the bedroom portion and I kept waking up with a cold head. Guess I have to get an old lady nightcap or something, because I couldn’t sleep. I’d get all hot under the covers, and whatever I stuck out would get all freezing. Finally got up at some ungodly hour and turned the heat up, but still couldn’t get my head warm. Then Teddy decided it was time to play and visit and work on his security issues, stepping on our heads and crawling around yowling for a few hours. I kept wondering why I wanted to find him anyway. He seems a bit traumatized and sleeps hidden all day in whatever space he can find and then wanders around from window to window for a good portion of the night. Hopefully after a bit he will settle down again, but at the moment he has found the space under the sofa between the wall of the slideout to hide and is sleeping there soundly and won’t budge. I decided I needed to harass him all day and keep him awake, so I closed up his cage where he usually hides, but he seems to have found another hiding place after all. Think I’ll go bug him soon.

Morning came, still dark at 7am because we are so close to the time change boundary into mountain time and I got up and made coffee and started planning the day. Heading for Las Cruces now and there is a great park that we hope to stay right within walking distance of Old Mesilla, the historic part of Las Cruces.

The drive west from Fort Stockton has been wonderful in the way driving in the open desert can be wonderful. There were lots of mountains, shadowed desert kinds of mountains, all along the interstate and then when we headed north it was really dramatic for a time. The landscape changes a lot, but it’s fun to be back in an area that I was in 5 years ago when I went to the Soil Science Geomorphic Institute in Las Cruces. Once again I have some familiarity with the landscape, the vegetation, the natural story of this place and that feels good. I’m looking forward to seeing the Rio Grand valley again, and the Organ Mountains. As I remember in this part of the country, once again the sky is perfectly clear and blue and the sun is still straight up, not a shadow anywhere is the white hot light. And it’s December. Highway 54 was a great way to get north and now on 62/180 going west we have skipped all the boring interstate stuff and truck traffic, and even though there is an occasional car and truck, it’s still relaxing and fun to do. Probably adds about 30 miles to the distance to El Paso, but well worth it.

Mo filled up the rig for the first time and the numbers don’t look that great. At first it looked like 8 mpg but hopefully that figure is skewed by the fact that we ran the generator quite a bit the night we were boondocking. We will fill up again all the way the next time we get gas and hope that the numbers go up somewhere in the vicinity of 10 mpg at least. The Baby MoHo got about 10mpg when she was towing the baby car, but that was 10,000 pounds and a ford 350 and this is 14,000 pounds and a Ford 450. I guess we will see how that one goes. Both of the engines are V-10’s, and never seem to be short on power in any situation, so that’s a good thing. Not like some of those old motorhomes that you see lugging down on the hills. Will have to wait for the western mountains I guess to see how she does on a really steep pass.

Flagstaff to Albuquerque

We are on I-40 again, approaching the New Mexico border. I should have known that Mo and I couldn’t get through the desert without doing a side trip or two. At Holbrook, we took off on the old Route 66 to go to the Painted Desert. The most amazing thing we found unexpectedly was Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company.


It was amazing, with a huge lot filled with logs of every shape and size, and inside the shop aisles upon aisles of petrified wood, jewelry, huge tables made of stone and amethyst geodes, and even a pond and a waterfall. On the walls up high were all sorts of Route 66 memorabilia, photos, old license plates, coke bottles. The place was just too much fun. We bought some “mother road” refrigerator magnets, a book about the Petrified Wood national park, and an ironwood road runner for Mo’s collection.

Continuing into the park, we ambled along the quiet roads completely enjoying the silence, the distant views, and all the shapes and colors off the old betonite clay deposits that were a major factor in the process of petrification. Since silica is the main mineral that transforms the wood to stone, a good source of silica is needed in the waters that buy the wood to preserve it. Ahaha, volcanic ash! Huge piles of ash from all the volcanic activity in Triassic times 225 M years ago. The piles of ash, full of silica, helped create the stone. Then the ash weathers to heavy clay after millions of years, gets colored by iron and manganese and creates tourist opportunities for people like me and Mo.

It really was a great little park, though, with nice trails and beautiful views. Another nice part was that they allowed dogs on the trails which doesn’t often happen in a national park, so of course Abby got her morning walk.


It was a nice side trip and now we are back headed east. Last night was really comfortable after we settled in, even though it got down to 20 degrees. We were warm and cozy with the little electric heater that we use so we can save on propane. It’s also much quieter than the big heater.

We just crossed into New Mexico, and there is pink rock and golden mesas topped with dark green juniper. I am always amazed at how the landscape changes so much at state boundaries. This one is a great example. We moved from the huge flat plains of Arizona where you can see for 120 miles to the mesas and arroyos of New Mexico in just a couple of miles. Georgia O’Keefe country, pink and gold and juniper green.

Evening in Albuquerque. We settled in to our campground in plenty of time for daylight setup which was really great after our experience last night! Funny thing that the rv campground is right next to a Camping World which any RV’r knows is like REI for hikers. Super fun. So we shopped there a bit and I found the perfect chili pepper lights for the awning. I love the stupid little light thing, and Mo said, “no flamingos, but I suppose I could tolerate chili peppers”. So I have been hunting chili peppers. Of course, I probably won’t put them up until we are going to be somewhere longer than a single night, but you wait, pictures will be forthcoming.

We unhooked the baby car and headed downtown to the “Old Town” of Albuquerque, settled in 1705, just a young baby city compared to 400 year old Santa Fe, but still old by US western standards. It had a real pasea and town square, which Moana really loved. That was her favorite part of traveling in mexico and we enjoyed this one as well. Not as big as the square in Santa Fe, but still fun, although pretty quiet since it was a Monday night. There are Christmas lights going up and the luminaries everywhere which is so enchanting in New Mexico nighttime.

The restaurant was in an historic home. http://www.churchstreetcafe.com/

Lots of history here and really great service and good food. The waiter brought me exactly what I wanted, in pieces ala carte instead of those groups of things that are always way too big. I had some kind of Spanish chili relleno that was different, and sopapillas with green chili soup. Perfect. Oh yes, the marguerita was perfect as well.