Organ Mountains National Monument

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

We always feel fortunate when a repair stop coincides with a lovely place to be for a spell. We’ve spent the past week at Aguirre Spring Campground, in the Organ Mountains, just east of Las Cruces, NM. This state continues to enthrall us, and we’ve been busy enjoying the scenes of one of the newest National Monuments (only declared in 2014). There’s two hiking trails that leave right from the campground, and tons more on the western slope of the mountains. I felt a bit like I did when I got to the Sierras, and I just couldn’t stop taking pictures. The low humidity produces ultra-blue skies, and the mountains are steep and stark contrasts against the azure.

Claret Cup cactus:

Apache Plume bush:

Gorgeous views from the campground:

Now, we can’t just hike all the time without some serious sustenance. So, we took a day trip to Hatch, NM to visit Sparky’s, a restaurant that we discovered last spring. It’s known for killer green chile cheeseburgers, which are a super big deal in these parts. The recipe is bun, burger, american cheese, and chopped, roasted green chiles–anything else is overkill. We had delicious burgers, and rounded off our meal with shakes–mine was a Sassy Strawberry, made with red chile powder!

On the topic of food, we really enjoyed our visit to the Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market. It was multiple blocks long, and filled with not only local produce, but also well done jewelry, pottery, and gluten free baked goods! I also experienced a first since we’ve been on the road and found rhubarb in the grocery. My folks grow it, and I’ve really missed that taste of spring since we left Ohio. It was fresh and perfect, and just like home.

This area is steeped in history, too. We walked through Mesilla, which was a really big deal in the 1800s, as the crossroads of the Butterfield Stage Line and the Santa Fe Trail, and also the Capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona for a year during the Civil War. I mostly just enjoyed the pretty buildings.

Today we checked out the western side of the mountains and hiked to ruins from the early 1900s. The high canyons were home to a TB sanatorium and a hotel that afforded visitors a respite from the heat down below.

Pray for no rockfalls!:

Great views from the trail:

I also talked with the resort this week, and got some great news about our summer job.  Although the Sierras were hammered with snow this winter, the road up to the resort is going to be plowed soon, and friends of the owners are going to come up with heavy equipment to help dig out the parking lot.  So, at a minimum, we will be able to drive the car up to work for a few weeks, even if we can’t get the RV there.  I found an Instagram picture of someone who was just outside the resort recently, and their photo of the pay phone shows how much snow is still up there…I’d say about 5-6 feet!

The plan is to have our final repair visit tomorrow, and then start heading north.  We have a lot of miles to cover (and trails to hike and pictures to take) before we land in Bishop, CA around Mother’s Day!

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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!