Today was the second travel day in a row which is hard on old people. We cleaned up our power hookup and I put away our satellite dish and we vamoosed from Deming, following I-10 west. Deming and most of the territory between there and Benson, AZ, is over 4000′ elevation and we drove all day into a big headwind so our fuel economy was poor. There is stunning desert scenery all the way. There are some kind of yellow flowers that covered big sections of the terrain on both sides of the highway.
Many hours later, we pulled into Tucson where we continued to the north part of town before exiting the freeway. We then took a miserable route over city streets that have malicious, vengeful traffic signals that were almost universally either yellow or red as we approached. It took 40 minutes to travel 15 miles despite posted speed limits of 45, 50 and 55 mph. Afternoon traffic here can be a nightmare.
We finally emerged from the hellish Tucson metro and continued north until we got to the dogpatch of Catalina. There we turned into the Wishing Well RV Park, the same spot where we spent Xmas 2016. The park is a funky little joint but we like it. It is outside the Tucson metro, they have full hookups and wifi, Trader Joe’s is nearby and, best of all, it’s cheap.
There’s a picture of some desert flowers in action if you click here
Today was another travel day on our now-accelerated trip back to our house in San Diego. We were originally going to travel west paralleling I-40 but the weather is currently crummy with low temperatures, ice and snow. We have taken a safer alternate route by dropping south through New Mexico. We left Truth or Consequences this morning headed south on I-25 until we came to Hatch where we turned off the interstate and took NM-26 all the way to Deming, NM.
The first 50 miles of the drive passes across many canyons and much uphill and downhill driving was required. Not too far southwest of Hatch the road flattens out and runs down the wide valley between stunning mountains on both sides. Lotsa snow in those hills. Recent rains have energized the plants in these wide open spaces and everyplace it is possible for plants to live is emerald green. Flowers of many colors cover entire mesas. The drive from T or C to Deming was very scenic.
We checked into the Rancho Lobo RV Park about 10 miles from Deming. We were here in January and not much has changed. Full hookups, frail wifi, inexpensive. Everything we need for a one-night stay. We didn’t even disconnect the Barbarian Invader from Charlotte’s fifth wheel hitch because we won’t be leaving the park before we depart for Tucson tomorrow.
There are colorful cactus wrens and large roadrunners lurking about the RV park. There are also some big, healthy-looking hawks and fat bunnies fiddling about. The vistas are very long and the horizons are dotted with substantial mountains. This would be a good place to sit on a windless, warm day and smoke a joint. Ooops! Did I write that?
There are some pix. Click here
Today we had the day free for a little desert exploring. The weather also cooperated by covering us with fast-moving cloud formations with some intermittent rain. We think that the desert is at its most vibrant when it either raining or rain has just passed. Our trailer park, Monticello RV Park, is located about 5 miles north of the town of Elephant Butte and 10 miles north of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
We found a local road south toward the towns, avoiding the mundane, high-speed I-25. The road parallels I-25 but offers much better views of the surrounding tortured landscape. We could sometimes see the Rio Grande to the east. Continuing through the rain to Truth or Consequences, we pulled off for fuel. We did not have a map so right after fueling up, we drove back over the same route to Elephant Butte, where we stopped for pretty good food at Hodge’s Corner Restaurant. Service was great, my chicken fried steak and eggs get a B, Peggy’s lunch buffet selection turned out well for her and the bill was $20.
Based on poor navigational advice from me, Peggy then drove us back to T or C so we could find a visitor information center downtown. The main drag through town passes through some blocks of old, early 20th century buildings that are cute. We spotted a sign for the visitor info center with an arrow pointing down an alley but investigation on foot revealed only an alley. Then I strolled a block up the street and gazed upon the local Chamber of Commerce building another block down a side street. We went down there and found they were closed. Only then did eagle-eyed Peggy notice the adjacent building with a big flappy sign with “information” inscribed thereupon.
We popped in and hobnobbed liberally with the info center volunteer. He also supplied us with maps of the local area. In the back of the info center is something called Spaceport where folks can board tour buses and be taken to nearby SpaceX facilities. The volunteer said many rich folks have coughed up a quarter million dollars each for a future ride into space. So far, nobody has ridden anywhere but Richard Branson says it is coming. Let’s hope his space ventures have a better record than his airline.
Due to navigational error, we then backtracked again toward the town of Elephant Butte but turned off instead to see the actual Elephant Butte itself. Elephant Butte is a big mountain, no…butte, sticking up out of Elephant Butte Lake which is held back by the Elephant Butte Dam. Almost all of the stuff with “Elephant Butte” in its name is all encompassed by Elephant Butte State Park.
Elephant Butte itself (not the park or the lake or the dam or the town) is an impressive mass and the views of the Butte and surrounding lake are stunning. Jagged ridges and mountains surround the area except to the southeast where there is slightly inclined plain all the way to the Gulf of Mexico 4500′ below. As the fast-moving storm clouds passed over us, the light on the surrounding terrain changed rapidly and it was great to watch. We also seem to be here for the blooming of many types of desert flowers and they put on a colorful show for us.
We drove north along the west shore of Elephant Butte Lake on our return trip to our RV park. The road passes over low ridges and down through eroded canyons of the creeks that feed the Rio Grande / Elephant Butte Lake to our east. We could hear lots of birds and spotted some jackrabbits and cottontails. We also found a hawk’s nest with both mom and dad home. This area is scenically superb and the food we had today was tasty, as well. We may have to come back here on our next pass.
See the Butte and other stuff. Clickhere
Today was a travel day. We put all our stuff away in the trailer, hooked up and reluctantly departed from Santa Fe. We jumped onto I-25 southbound and headed toward Albuquerque. Traffic wasn’t too bad in Albuquerque and we passed right through and continued south on I-25.
We mostly passed through arid sage scrub land but always just to our left was the Rio Grande creeping along toward El Paso and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. About a half hour south of Albuquerque we started getting warm in the cab and decided to turn on the air conditioning. Unfortunately for us, the mechanics in Santa Fe apparently fouled up when dealing with the AC during the engine replacement and it now doesn’t work. I tried to call the service manager at Capitol Ford in Santa Fe to see if he could work something out with Kearney Ford in San Diego so I could go there when I arrive in Southern California but, despite two attempts to contact him, he did not call back.
Today is our last day in Santa Fe for this particular tour. Peggy and I agree that Santa Fe has some extraordinary attributes. The city itself is very attractive. The air is crystal-clear. The light during the day changes dramatically. The surrounding mountains are magnificent. The visibility is unlimited almost all the time. Surrounding areas like Taos, Grand Canyon of the Rio Grande, Jemez Valley, Valles Caldera and Bandelier National Monument are all stunning. There are many museums and snazzy shops with unique items for sale. The Plaza area downtown is gorgeous. When we dined out, the food was good and reasonably priced. When rain or snow rolls through, they come and go quickly and are visually glorious. The folks we met were friendly.
Driving on the roads in town can be challenging for the uninitiated. Nothing runs straight and some roads actually go in a circle. Visitors are urged to acquire a map.
We spent the day getting ready for travel because we are headed across a massive desert. We went to Trader Joe’s and fattened up our supplies. We bought fuel. I think we are ready to go after being here for 12 days. We will miss this place, though.
See the sunset. Click here
We have done much sightseeing in the countryside around Santa Fe in the last week. I prefer to wander into places we have not seen before but Peggy had the choice today and we went to Old Town Santa Fe so she could go shopping. I am a poor shopper unless in a hardware store but Peggy is a journeyperson shopper.
We found a cheap parking place behind the Cathedral and moseyed over to Palace Avenue near the square. There are lots of Native American jewelry, upscale clothing and home decoration type stores here and Peggy managed to amble in to most of them. Fortunately for me, downtown Santa Fe stores have an abundance of both outdoor and indoor seating opportunities, saving me the misery of prolonged standing and looking bored.
Peggy picked up some nice gift items and a hat that looks great on her. I enjoyed my chance to check out all the nifty architecture in the area although I did note the buildings are universally out-of-plumb, not level nor square and lots of them have doors that are suitably sized for Hobbits, single file. Also, it must be springtime in Santa Fe because lots of flowers are popping up in all the planters and little weed patches and even in cracks in the sidewalks near the plaza. Most of the big hardwood trees downtown are also flowering, making the place kind of magical. The birds certainly find it comfortable because there are a lot of them around. Folks do their shopping here with their dogs and I find that delightful. It is nice in Old Town.
After less than $100, we departed and rewarded ourselves for our successful shopping mission by going to a place called either Posa’s or El Merendero Tamale Factory and Restaurant on Rodeo Road. We had an assortment of enchiladas and tamales with rice and beans and very hot tortillas including drinks for less than $30. The food was terrific. We even had enough tortillas to haul some home.
I snapped a few pix downtown. If you want to see some of them, click here
We awoke this morning to stunning views of the mountains encircling Santa Fe. All the mountains are now white due to last night’s storm. After breakfast, we went to Capitol Ford to pick up our truck after the week-long period required to replace the engine which failed due to a seized lifter. $21,650 bit the dust. We also returned our old person torturing Camry to the rental agency and another $200 went away. Other than buying a new car or a house, I don’t recall ever spending more in such a short period of time.
On the way back to our RV park, we stopped by a place called La Puerta where they have an imaginative collection of large yard art. There was a big cast roadrunner killing a snake and a colorful hummingbird and other neat stuff. Working in metal must be practiced by lots of folks in our hood because our RV park owner also fancies himself an artist and he seems to be right. He has installed many metal sculptures around the park and they are good.
We arrived back at the trailer just in time to find out the Trumpcare bill had been pulled because nobody liked it. Maybe government by the people does work. It only took a few minutes for us to figure out we did not wish to spend the day in the trailer so we decided to take Charlotte, with her new motor, out for a spin.
This time we made a small loop through the country south and east of Santa Fe. South of town there is mostly junipers and sage scrub with southwestern style houses scattered through the brush. The roads (NM-14 and CR-42) offer great views both ways of canyons, rock ledges and distant mountains, some of them covered with snow. The air is pristine. Not long after passing through the tiny town of Galisteo, we picked up US-285 north and then turned north on I-25. We pulled off at the ramp for Pecos, NM, where we found there is something called Pecos National Historical Park. Curiosity got the better of us and we had to go look.
Pecos NHP is composed of some ancient adobe and stone masonry buildings that are in pretty good shape. The best part about the site is the terrific view of the mountains behind the big brown ruins unless you are an archaeologist. We spotted a couple mountain bluebirds here exhibiting some amazing colors. The park was closing not long after we arrived so we exited after about half an hour and retraced our route back into the town of Pecos.
The town sits beside the East Pecos River and above the town the river passes through some beautiful gorges through the surrounding pinon forest. There is a nice masonry Catholic church in town and Peg had me pull over so she could scope it out. The church appears to be the nicest building in town. A Civil War battle called Glorieta Pass happened nearby. The Confederacy lost this one and shortly thereafter abandoned New Mexico altogether. We finally turned back toward Santa Fe on I-25 which passes through some steep, rocky canyons on the way to town. This is a very pretty part of the world. The sunsets are tip-top, too.
We took some pictures while on our spin today. You can see some of them if you click here
This morning the weather changed from mostly clear skies with occasional puffy clouds that have been the norm for the last seven days. Today the wind started to blow early in the day and by about mid-afternoon the breeze had turned into a torrent, zinging by our trailer at around 55 knots. Considerable trailer wobbling was experienced. The spectacular cloud formations raced by our trailer.
The wind raised considerable dust here around Santa Fe such that our usual visibility was reduced from about 20 miles to about 1/2 a mile. The wind also ushered in a big front of dark gray clouds that initially only dropped rain but by about nightfall, the rain had turned to snow. The mountains that surround Santa Fe turned from green and gray to bright white as snow rapidly accumulated. There was a brief, stunning sunset before the sky went dark as snow closed out the views.
We lurked in the trailer all day because Capitol Ford called us this morning indicating our truck was nearing completion of its engine replacement and soon the cab would be reinstalled on the frame. The service manager indicated that they needed to drive the truck around before returning it in order to ascertain everything was okay before turning it over. They finally called about 4:30 PM to tell us the truck was ready. Our miserable Camry rental car we have used for the last week had a return limit of 4:00 PM without paying for another day so, considering the time, we elected to get our truck back tomorrow.
Weather reports for the local area indicated it will freeze tonight so I spent some time this afternoon draining our exterior water lines, regulators and filter and stowing them, choosing to use the heated on-board tanks for our domestic water requirements. I hate it when ambient temperatures freeze my outdoor equipment, bursting the hoses and filter container. No danger of that when they are indoors.
You can see some Santa Fe sky action if you click here
There is an absolutely spectacular drive near Santa Fe that can match the beautiful Highway 12 loop in Colorado and today we took that drive. From a route standpoint, from our RV park near Santa Fe, this drive follows I-25 south to US-550 northbound to NM-4 east to NM-502 to US-285 back to Santa Fe.
The first 25 miles or so are through sagebrush scrub to Santa Ana pueblo but as soon as we turned north on 550 the road started to climb and the vegetation changed with it. We emerged from the sage scrub and passed initially into mixed juniper, hardwood and pine forest. Once we reached San Ysidro we turned east on NM-4 and the road continued climbing. Soon we arrived in the Jemez Valley which is absolutely gorgeous with magnificent canyon walls, a substantial stream on the valley floor and hardwood and fruit trees in colorful bloom. In Jemez Springs, we came across an old ruin from a church structure built in 1621. Maybe due to the arid climate here, the ruin is in great shape, considering its age and the fact the building blocks are made of mud. The ruins are extensive with tower structures still extending about 30′ into the air.
Above Jemez Springs, Peggy and I found a federal picnic ground at a place called Battleship Rock where we pulled off for lunch. There is a creek running below an enormous bare rock pinnacle here and the picnic ground was beautiful. There were lots of birds.
From Jemez Springs, the upward slope of the road increases through alpine pine forest as it approaches the Valles Caldera, an enormous ancient volcano that collapsed into itself leaving a circular plain surrounded by mountains. The elevation is over 8000′ at the caldera floor and hiking here is a bit wheezy. The scenery is amazing and the air, what there is of it, is absolutely clear. Snow covered ridges surround the caldera. At one of our roadside stops, I observed the activities of a tiny black vole who emerged from beneath a patch of snow and scurried around the surface of the snow before disappearing into the brush nearby. He was a cute little tiny guy.
We headed down a poorly-graded 2 mile dirt road to the visitor center of Valles Caldera National Preserve and went in for a sniff. There were numerous Rangers inside the visitor center firmly explaining how smart they were but unable to explain why the access road was so cratered. Regardless of the Rangers’ I.Q., the terrain in the caldera is unique and beautiful and worth the long drive to get here.
We continued uphill on the road until passing over the east edge of the caldera at around 9200′ and soon passed the boundary into Bandelier National Monument. We visited Bandelier last weekend but had not driven through the scenically stunning upper sections above the turnoff to the radiation capital of Los Alamos and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. From Bandelier, we drove down to NM-502 and US-285 back to Santa Fe. Along the way we spotted a large coyote who was hunting for tasty critters in the forest alongside the road. He was impressive.
Today’s drive was a long one. It took us more than six hours but we pulled off the road many times for ogling purposes. The total mileage must exceed 150 but almost every bit is amazingly beautiful and I cannot adequately express how gorgeous the terrain is in this part of the country. If we stay in Santa Fe past the time required to fix our truck, I would love to take our uncomfortable rental car around the loop another time.
We took some pix along the way and you can see some of them if you click here
Today we went on a replacement trip into Old Santa Fe. Last Friday we were on our way there when our beloved truck started making an expensive noise so all plans were null and void. Now that we have a rental car, we headed into town for a second try. Interestingly, the Toyota Camry we rented is an uncomfortable tiny little squirt but is ideally suited for driving on Old Santa Fe’s skinny and sometimes one-way single-lane roads.
We started out by finding a parking place behind Cathedral Basilica St. Francis of Assisi where the diocese only charges $5 to park. The lot’s a few blocks away from Santa Fe’s downtown plaza so we got to check out the southwestern style of building architecture that surrounds the plaza. The style is interesting but sort of scary. Not a single building we saw had a level parapet wall, plumb building walls or a square door frame to enclose the tiny doors into the shops. Taken as a whole, the downtown area is very attractive but the buildings would not be safe in any locale with earthquakes. The windows in all the buildings are quite small. Most are surrounded by adobe walls covered with a clay wash (the newer structures use cement plaster).
After a stroll of a few blocks, we popped into the New Mexico Museum of Art which is kitty-corner from the town’s main plaza. The museum is in a very attractive building but, unfortunately, it is puny. It also follows the southwestern architectural style with tiny or no windows so it was dark as a tomb inside. In addition to being small with only about 3 dozen pieces of modern art, the second floor was closed so the exhibit space we could visit was even smaller. It costs non-residents $12 a head to get in but, due to the scarce exhibits, we were on our way back out in about 45 minutes. They have some nice stuff; just not very much of it.
We strolled a bit further until we came upon the Thunderbird Bar & Grill where we ducked in for a couple pints of porter. The joint is on the second floor overlooking the plaza and offers great views of a big piece of the Old Santa Fe area. After quaffing our tasty beverages, we wandered down into the plaza and found a nice bench where we could sit and watch the vendors, tourists and locals do their things. We noted they even have a downtown multi-level parking structure almost completely concealed within southwestern adobe-looking walls.
We finally got off the bench and took another short walk to the Cathedral to take a peek inside. The outside looks pretty plain but the building has a gorgeous interior. We lingered there for a bit before heading back to our rental car and taking a circuitous but very interesting drive through the Canyon Road neighborhood where there are many galleries and art shops with great stuff visible from the road. We went up the good sections 3 times. It is a wonderland of snazzy outdoor sculpture. Old Santa Fe is a great, albeit touristy, area filled with museums, shops, public exhibits and scores of small vendors. I am surprised I found it so interesting.
For some pix, click here