The New Mexico Conspiracy: exposing the lies

Where: a few weeks of vacation before we start our summer job. Current stop: New Mexico

New Mexico has been on my radar for years as a place I really wanted to explore in depth, because I just kept seeing awesome places to go all over the state.  But, over and over, folks who were actually from the state seem to try to discourage visitors.  First, I worked with a guy at Amazon in Texas who warned me away from the area where he had grown up– Las Cruces, NM– because it was such an armpit.  And when we were getting our repair work done recently, (in Las Cruces, by the way) the owner asked where we were headed to wait for our parts to arrive.  When we mentioned the critically acclaimed Oliver Lee State Park, only 50 miles east, he said, “Hmmm….never been there.”  And we talked with a guy today at another wonderful campground where we are staying, with only 3 of the 55 sites filled, who was warned away from the area this time of year because “it’s just too busy.”  Here’s my take on the whole mess: Like some kind of state-level Da Vinci Code, New Mexico is so dang great that everyone wants to keep it their personal secret!

Our week at Oliver Lee State Park was amazing.  It was always quiet and never filled up, even over the Easter weekend, which is practically a Christmas miracle in this part of the world.  The best part is its central location to about a million fun things to do; so many things that we didn’t even do half of what we were interested in seeing!

There is a wonderful hiking trail that leaves from the campground, and leads through scenic Dog Canyon.  We did it part way once and about 3/4 through another day.  Didn’t quite have the stamina to do the full 10.5 miles!

We loved our daytrip into the Sacramento mountains, the range that’s right behind the campground.  Cloudcroft, NM, at 8700 feet, was a cool vacation from the heat of the high desert.  Plus, we ate some of the best BBQ we’ve ever had, and enjoyed a hike in the pines along a former railroad that led to a wooden train trestle.

The otherworldly White Sands National Monument was a really unique Parks experience, especially because we got there early enough to beat the crowds, and took the backcountry hike that snakes through brilliant white sand dunes.  We felt like we were on another planet, and had a blast playing in the fluffy sand.

The wind carves beautiful shapes:

The wind also eats vegetation that can’t move along with the dunes:

The hike was just a little bit too long.  With no reference points to follow, we didn’t know how much longer we had to go, and I got very very tired of going up dunes! :

We even went on a farm tour at a Pistachio farm…and ate our body weight in the free samples.

In order to be closer to the repair place in Las Cruces (whenever our parts come in) we relocated to a lovely campground in the shadow of the gorgeous Organ Mountains, I mean a terrible, horrible no-good campground near Las Cruces.  Now that I’m in on the secret of yicky New Mexico, I guess I’m honor-bound to guard it, too.  I mean, look at what a god-forsaken place we’re in now:

From the Sonoran to the Chihuahuan (Desert hopping)

Where: enjoying a month or so of travels between our spring job and our summer job. Current stop = New Mexico

For those of you keeping track, the intrepid travelers haven’t exactly done a whole heck of a lot of traveling lately.  We rolled into Arizona in the beginning of November, and have been bopping around the state since then, doing some sightseeing between a winter and spring job.  We pored over our maps as we decided how we could best spend a couple weeks before we head for California, and decided to try out some areas we have never been, hence, New Mexico!  So, this week is the round up and photo extravaganza of the end of our time in Arizona, and the start of a New Mexico jaunt.

We had a great weekend in Tucson, running all over with Ann and Nathan.  We went to the Miniatures Museum, which was awesome.  It ran the gamut from historical pieces to current art pieces, to mass produced scenes like those Hallmark Christmas villages.  For a ode to small things, it was a very big place, and we had to give up after a couple hours when our eyes got tired of looking!

Ann, Nathan and JJ play Godzilla over the unassuming holiday village:

These mini-dolls had heads made out of a grain of wheat:

Portrait of me and JJ:

Should we ever overhaul the RV bathroom, I’m thinking rococo:

With our most excellent weekend concierges, we also feasted at a gluten-free restaurant, ate gobs of ice cream, went swimming, and saw a comedy play at the local theater.  It was a lot to fit into a couple days, but it was great to spend time with friends.

As a backdrop, our campground, Gilbert Ray, was perfect as always.  The light dances on the mountains there, and the saguaro were just beginning to bud.

On Monday, we headed east, to Las Cruces, NM, to see a repair shop about our leveling system. While our RV was in the shop, we took Soupy to a sleepy picnic area at the base of the Organ Mountains outside of town, where we could let her run around with no one else around. The appointment did not give a conclusive answer to our problem, so the tech sent us out with some tweaks, and asked us to observe the outcome. We will head back in next week after some parts are in, and get the final fix.

Las Cruces hometown favorite: Caliche’s Custard.  I tried a green chile sundae.  Yum!

To stay close to the repair shop, we only traveled about 70 miles away, to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, near Alamogordo, NM. It’s a lovely small state park at the base of the Sacramento Mountains, and a smart stop for the Easter holiday, as most of the sites are first some, first serve. We plunked down in a site with great mountain views, and have been busy doing touristy things nearby. There’s about a million activities within an hour’s drive, and the hardest part is choosing which we want to do with just a week here. It’s so nice to have these kinds of conundrums!

Next week I will have stories of mountaintop BBQ, pistachio farms, white sand dunes, and mountain hikes.  Yippee!

Desert Hikes Picture Post: vacation commences!

Where: enjoying a month or so of travels between our spring job and our summer job. Current stop = Tucson, AZ.

I’m so happy to report that we made it through our 8 week work gig with the Renaissance Festival in Gold Canyon, AZ.  It was not at all what we expected, and neither of us was very happy with our jobs.  But, I know that the worst jobs make the best stories later, and this experience will be the basis of plenty of crazy tales to tell around the table this summer.  We lived, we made money, and we’re so ready to enjoy some travels before we start work again in May.

During our last week leading up the the final Ren Fest weekend, we made the most of our time, and got all ready for traveling.  One thing we continually do is refine our belongings, purging things we haven’t touched in a while.  Even though we share a closet the size of a wardrobe, both of us always have items to give to Goodwill.  It feels nice to have only items that we love and wear.

Last Friday was deliciously cool, only in the mid 60s, and with plenty of clouds.  After suffering through temps in the 90s for a couple weeks, it was perfect hiking weather.  We packed a picnic lunch and drove into the mountains to Saguaro Lake.   A hiking trail winds along the reservoir, and the wildflowers and cactus were blooming in full force.  It was a great escape from the city, and so pleasant to see water!

On Monday, we left the festival first thing in the morning, and headed to an Escapees park in the south end of the Phoenix area.  These parks are great places for us to get cheap full hookups after extended dry camping, so that we can wash and wax the RV, and sanitize our fresh water system.  The car and RV were both looking really rough after living in a dusty field for 2 months, but are shiny, gorgeous creatures now!

Our route back to Rock Creek Lakes Resort, our summer job, is going to be a bit circuitous.  We are starting in Tucson, to see our friends Ann and Nathan, and then continuing on to Las Cruces, NM for some RV work.  We’ll take a big loop to some cool places in NM and UT, and finally get to Bishop, CA in mid-May.  If there’s some kind of melting miracle at the resort, and the snow recedes a bit, we’ll only be a few days drive from the resort.  And if it’s going to be snowy til June, we can just extend our tour and hit more places.

In Tucson, we’re staying at one of our favorite campgrounds ever, Gilbert Ray.  Soupy hates it because she has to go out on her harness, and there’s lots of loud kids riding scooters in the street.  She tolerates the melee for the opportunity to go outside, but she would much rather be someplace she can run free.  (Soon, my love, soon!)

Today we hiked at Sweetwater Preserve, one of our favorites with views over the city, and of all the surrounding mountain ranges.

I most wanted to see a blooming Santa Rita prickly pear, with a raucous combo of purple pads and bright yellow flowers.  I found one, but it was a little too early for the blooms.

This weekend will be a farewell bacchanalia to Tucson and to Ann and Nathan, as we go out for eating adventures and do some fun touristy things, too.  I love vacation time!

Last weekend for the spring job

Where: Working at the Arizona Renaissance Festival….final weekend!

It was only recently that I learned about the perimeter trail, a walking path that follows the edge of the fence of the whole Renaissance property. The 400-some acres are all fenced in, and surrounded by state trust lands that sometimes host cattle, and mostly are just a huge expanse of greenery. While the interior of the festival is all bustle and crowded, I rarely see other people when I’m on this trail. The path dips through washes filled with trees and birds, and winds through flat bajada covered with cactus. It’s as close as I can be to wilderness without leaving home, and I love my early morning walks for decompressing and enjoying nature. Everything is starting to put on a flowery show, and it’s fun to see who’s started blooming since the last time I was out.

The past weekend as kitchen manager at the Ren Fest went a lot better. None of the employees was on drugs, nobody passed out, and I was finally given an assistant manager to help me out. And to be fair, I have to report that in addition to finally getting a raise, I also got retroactive pay for the prior weeks when I was the manager. This is still not a job to which I would ever return, but at least I had a weekend that was not completely bad for once.

The most exciting thing I have to report is that JJ finished redoing our roof. He spent about 70 hours on it over the last month, and he’s really pleased with the result, and with the fact that it won’t need to be done again for at least 10 years. I’m pleased that we saved about $3000 that the factory charges to tackle the project!

From left to right: old caulking, stripped to the metal, and new caulking:

The second most exciting thing is that we finally did something fun, and went to see one of the shows at the festival. One of the performance troupes has a member that is retiring, and a new actor to take his place. The show they perform is very demanding, with lots of physical comedy and precise timing demands. This week, they put on a dress rehearsal with the new guy, and invited workers to come to the show. We loved the act, and also the elaborate stage, complete with a mudpit for that slapstick humor!

When we talk next time, we’ll be off work for at least a month!

Penultimate week

Where: Working at the Arizona Renaissance Festival, with only 9 days to go!

“Hitch itch” Def: the urge to travel, to move, to experience new things, esp. after being stationary for a time; a frustrating feeling that bubbles up during long periods of work and manifests in excessive route planning and possibility gathering; also see: Rayn and JJ right now.

I started out on this mobile life for so many reasons, and a big one is certainly my pure enjoyment of movement.  There’s so dang much to see in this country, and even in every state, that we could probably devote a year to each one and have a plethora of wonderful sights to take in. For the part of the year where we’re moving, we’ve hit on just the right combo: we generally try to choose locations where we can be in one place for about a week, surrounded by options for hiking and beauty.  We have our comfortable house with us wherever we go, and the leisurely pace means that we don’t feel rushed or pressured to do too much and burn out. It’s a perfect life, as far as I’m concerned.

That desire for action and change means that I have a lot of trouble with the periods of time where we need to stay put for work.  The Eastern Sierra never feels that way, because there, we are surrounded by so very many options within a 2 hour drive of our job.  Even after 2 summers there, I have a list of 30 hiking trails we’ve never done, and new places to explore so close to home.  But the past couple months, in Tucson and East Phoenix, have been harder.  Of course, I love the ability to get out in the short days of winter and enjoy the sun, but they just aren’t the areas where I’m happy for months on end.  As the time to get on the road gets closer (9 days, 9 days!) I’m getting more and more perky, and ready for adventure. The current plan includes a sidetrip to get our pesky, problematic leveling system repaired.  The best shop for it is in Las Cruces, NM, so we built it into our meandering loop back to the resort.  The rough trajectory is a few days at an RV park to wash and wax and sanitize our fresh water system, down to Tucson to see Ann and Nathan, over to Las Cruces, and then start heading north and west, probably through the bottom of Utah. There’s so many options, and my head is absolutely filled with delightful possibilities.


A major reason for this immobile angst is this job.  Although I was told that my job as a kitchen manager would be for only one day, the promised replacement did not show up last weekend, so it was the Rayn show again. And oy vey, what a weekend!  I sent one of my employees home with what I thought was heat exhaustion, but it turned out that he was actually on meth, the other assistant manager quit mid-day, and I had to call the medics when another employee had a seizure.  The icing on the cake was when I picked up my paycheck, and expected to see a raise for accepting these new duties.  Except, I didn’t get one. I don’t care enough about the pay difference for the final 2 weekends to go in and complain about it, but it was really a slap in the face after a grueling couple of days.


I don’t have much fun to report this week, because it was getting-stuff-done time for us.  JJ is more than halfway finished with his roof recaulking process, and we also started the stocking up process before we spend 6 weeks away from civilization.  Important items that are hard to find in small town America: Soupy’s cat food, Costco coffee, Trader Joe’s chocolate, and thai curry paste, to name a few.  We’re spending more now, but we will be happy campers where we’re faced with “grocery stores” that are really just minimarts with a few tired vegetables and some brown bananas.  You just can’t have both city conveniences and remote locations, which is ok with us.


Soupy provided a few days of entertainment when she trotted into the RV with an enormous lizard in her mouth.  This thing was seriously huge, and seemed to be quite dead, hanging limp in her mouth.  However, when I screamed a la Janet Leigh in Psycho, the damned thing sprang back into life and ran for its life, lodging itself somewhere up front in the cab. I said a few choice words and immediately headed outside, perfectly happy to let JJ be the man in the situation. He tore the front apart, removing plastic parts where the sucker could be hiding, and even with Soupy’s help (sniffing vigorously), the lizard was nowhere.  “Well,” he said optimistically, “maybe it ran out when I opened the door!”  We didn’t see any sign of it for the next 24 hours, until he opened the driver’s door again and the beast bolted off.  In other words, I slept with a lizard in my house overnight.  EEEEEEK!

Glorious sunsets this week.

Spring sprang and dang! it’s hot

Where: working at the Arizona Renaissance Festival til 4/2 or until we can’t take the heat

I have an offer for all my Ohio peeps: how about a weather transfer?  The temperatures have been hitting 90 on a regular basis, and at night, only getting down to about 63.  We would be willing to part with 30 degrees and send it your way!  We try to frontload our day and get as much done in the morning as possible, and then the afternoon is for lazing. We perk up again when the sun sets, and only go to bed when we can get in the inside temp under 80.  A bit of relief is in sight next week, with Tuesday onward supposed to be cooler.  We are laughing about the fact that we will be facing snow at the resort in May…our seasons are so reversed!

Our “pool”:

Soupy is not a swimmer, but she enjoys it too:


I am either a glutton for punishment, or interested in trying new things (and these two things can be awfully similar sometimes!) so I accepted a new position at the RenFest as an assistant kitchen manager.  Last Saturday, the first day of the job, was fine.  I mostly spent my time getting people on 15 minute and lunch breaks, and passing out and collecting lunch vouchers.  I helped with some paperwork and inventory at the end of the day, and all was well with the world.  The next day, the manager got sick and went home, so I was put in charge of the place in her absence.  I’m glad that I’m a curious person who likes to know how systems work, because if I had not paid attention the day before, I would have no idea what I was doing!  Thankfully, I recalled just enough to limp through.  And besides the two employees who got in a fight, and the two customers at our booth who passed out from heat exhaustion, I suppose it was a fairly successful day.  The best news is that they rounded up a new manager, experienced with this fair, and I will be helping her rather than muddling along by myself.

For a nice outing, we headed east, into the mountains for some cooler temperatures and scenic hiking.  On Route 60, east of Phoenix, is a string of old mining towns, some touristy and bustling, and some with more abandoned buildings than people.  We stopped in Globe to try out the trails of Round Mountain Park.  For a small town park, it was fantastic!  The wildflowers are blooming, the sun was a bit cooler at a higher elevation, and there was almost no one else around.  Enjoy the (as usual) JJ-centric pictures of the desert beauty!

The cactus are getting buds, too:

The view from the top of Round Mountain, over Globe, AZ:

This is my favorite one.  So ethereal:


JJ has been working his little heart out on the huge project of redoing all the caulking on the roof.  He’s devoting 2 days each week to the job, and making pretty good headway.  At first, it seemed that it would be helpful for me to get up there too, and share the work.  But, after I gouged the paint several times and finally threw the scraper in frustration, we decided that it was better off as a one-man-job.  So, JJ spends his time up on the roof, and I do all the other chores for the day in order to let him rest when he’s done.  We’re spending a lot of time at home, but it will be worth it to have the whole project done.  We can leave on 4/3, and we want to be ready for travel!  Only 3 weekends and 6 days of work to go!


I have a funny, vague memory of going along with my sister when she took her cat to the vet.  I was probably about 8 or 9, and the cat was probably getting spayed.  The only thing I remember for sure was the conversation the vet had with my sister when she was ready to take the cat home.  “She’s going to be a bit lethargic for a while.”  “A bit what?”, my sister asked.  “Lethargic.”  My sister nodded sagely, but as soon as we got to the car, she immediately asked “What the heck does lethargic mean?!”  We looked it up when we got home (because you know, pre-smart phone era!), and lo and behold, the cat was indeed acting sluggish, inactive, slow, torpid….and yes, lethargic!

We, friends, without the spaying part, are feeling just like that cat.  We could attribute it to the recent explosion of all things green around us, and the accompanying pollen that fills the air.  It could be the sudden arrival of summer, with temperatures in the high 80s.   It could even be the fact that we are really over the novelty of living in the midst of 20 generators that run from before we get up until after we go to bed. Regardless, we are feeling very tired all the time, and not much like exploring our world.  This is really just a very lengthy lead-up to say: not much to tell you about, and not many pictures of what we didn’t do. 😦

Our one fun outing was to a Riparian Preserve in Gilbert AZ.  The city recycles 100% of its waste water, and the ponds are a huge draw for migrating birds.  There are walking paths that wind throughout the pools, and even though we’re not birders, we enjoyed seeing the variety of birds, from ducks to shorebirds to songbirds.  We even saw a pair of horseback riders!

JJ, at least, has good reason to be so tuckered, because he’s embarked on a grand plan to finish re-caulking the roof before we are finished with the festival on 4/2.  It’s a tedious job, starting with scraping off all the old caulking, cleaning the bare aluminum with acetone, and then applying the new caulking. The good news is that the job should last about 10 years, so he won’t have to do it again for a very long time!

He does have an assistant, but she’s really not very reliable, often stopping for sunning breaks.

We have just 8 more days of work left, the next four weekends.  In my spare time, I’m going to plan out a lovely route for our slow meander to our summer job, including a few repairs and also some gorgeous natural areas for some restorative relaxation!