Double Digits Down: A 10-Month Report on the Ups & Downs of Camper Life

Howdy. It’s the 14th of the month and you know what that means…blog time!

As of today, it’s been 10 months of camper life. Lots of things are happening, and lots of other things are becoming clearer with more time on the road.

A while back, I went on a frenzy of following other full-time campers’ blogs and got obsessed with virtually relating to others living a similar lifestyle. But now it’s newsfeed overload to the point of making life on the road feel way too ordinary and uninteresting. Pretty much everyone says the same cliche things and comes to the same lame and nostalgic conclusions. My perspective feels different, and I can no longer relate. I haven’t exactly figured out why or how to put it in words. So for now, I’m another cog in the wheel. Let’s keep turning the wheel ’til I figure it out.

Places We Were: Month #9

Last month began by wrapping up our time in Santa Barbara, which has still been one of my very favorite places of the entire trip. I loved the size of the town…not overwhelming but still plenty of stuff to do. The weather rocked and the area offered so many of the things that I love to do on a regular basis: kayaking, hiking, biking, beach, museums, breweries, vineyards, etc. If it weren’t so damn expensive to live in a place like that, I could totally plop down in SB for a while. But maybe that’s not a deal breaker after all, so who knows.

Then we moved onto Lake Isabella, which started out as a total bust. We couldn’t access the Sequoia National Forest because of snowed in roads, which was basically the whole point of moving here. Kayaking was also a bust, and the tiny towns of a couple thousand people each offered little-to-nothing to do. But after wallowing in some self-pity, we made the most of it and embraced the dramatic scenery in full-force.

Finally, we moved to Oceano, California in the San Luis Obispo area. This stay is still in progress, and while the initial reaction was not so great, this area is really starting to grow on me. The campground itself is claustrophobic and overpriced. But we’re right next to the sand dunes with the ocean on the other side, there are fresh farm stands on non-trafficy roads, and lots of local theater stuff nearby.


Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Santa Barbara, California: Home on the Road #37

  • Highlights: Santa Ynez breweries nearby, cute Danish town of Solvang, getting an Easter visit from our friend and her baby in Illinois, visiting an ostrich farm, self-guided mission tour, biking to the beach, chill breweries, quirky shops, uncrowded hikes, incredible flowers and succulents
  • Lowlights: Camping 30+ minutes away from town, weird lake regulations that prohibited SUPing, campground laundry facilities broken & useless, loud and annoying Easter campground crowds

And now…some photos to go with those words:


Lake Isabella, California: Home on the Road #38

  • Highlights: Amazing scenery in every form, fast and free campground WiFi, getting to use the snowshoes that we’ve been toting around in the RV, driving a BOAT, beating (barely) my husband in golf on our first game on an actual course, the surprisingly well-preserved Silver City ghost town in Bodfish
  • Lowlights: Didn’t get to see any sequoia trees, didn’t get to kayak, small towns didn’t have anything to do, realizing how badly out of biking shape I am on moderate hills, hikes that were ended abruptly due to impassable waters

Here are some of my favorite photos…


Oceana, California: Home on the Road #39 (in progress)

  • Highlights: Sand dunes right behind our campground to play on, SLEDDING IN SAND, lots of local theater stuff nearby, Bishop’s Peak hike, horseback riding on the beach (June was the most chill horse ever), wandering around San Luis Obsipo, our wedding anniversary is tomorrow!

  • Lowlights: Probably THE most claustrophobic campground we’ve ever stayed in + the most expensive one = worst combination EVER, 20+ mile winds every day


Realizations & Ramblings from Month #9

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me during the past month on the road.

  • I’m sick of other campers. I feel like puking every time I read another full-time RVers blog about how “fun” it is to meet other people on the road. This will likely be the thing that drives me away from this lifestyle. Or maybe my niche is how to travel/RV full-time with an introverted/anti-social personality. But who’d read that, right?! Everyone wants to romanticize this lifestyle, and that goes against the grain. Still, I stand firm on my belief that there are many other (and better) benefits to travel besides meeting people (how about. trying new things, learning about yourself, disconnecting from the bullshit, or figuring out the type of place you’d be happy in someday?) To me, these things are far more valuable than mindless and repetitive chit-chat with annoying strangers I’ll never see again. I’d welcome another scheduled meetup like we did in Yuma with Sara & Mike, but those positive encounters seem very few and far between. If it sounds like life on the road is making me jaded, that’s because it is. However, jaded is part of my natural state of mind wherever I’m at. Hmmm maybe I should buy a piece of jade jewelry. That’d be pretty.

  • On that note, we are semi-seriously talking about buying a piece of property “somewhere” that’s sorta kinda in the middle of nowhere to put the RV on it and get it all hooked up to water/electric/sewer. With a possible consideration of building our own house on it in the future. My husband is more gung-ho on this idea than I am because I get caught up in the logistics and commitment. But I’m still way interested in this idea over “giving up” and just getting a lame apartment in a suburb. The big question though is “where”?

  • I stumbled across a travel log that I wrote from a trip to Montana/Wyoming/South Dakota trip in April 2013. My writing was 100% better and more interesting. These days, I just rush through this blog to say I did it and to help myself remember things. It feels more like an obligation than a pleasure, which is sad and pathetic. I’m also so burnt out with writing 8-10 hours for work every day that I have nothing else interesting to say at the end of the day. Poor me, boo freaking hoo. Anyway, everything I read myself write these days is disappointing, and I should do better.
  • I’m learning about plants! I’m tired of going on hikes and not knowing what I’m looking at, so I bought a textbook. Plants are hard…but I’m trying.

  • Last month we killed a TON of bugs in the RV. It got to a point of keeping a personal tally to see who killed more at the end of the day. I remember getting up to 6 on one particularly crappy day.
  • It was really easy for me to get used to having less stuff in the beginning when we had a tiny pop-up camper. But these days, it’s been harder to resist buying more stuff since we have more room in the RV. Especially when Amazon delivers right to your RV park. RESIST THE STUFF…resist!
  • I don’t have popular goals like climbing Everest or hiking the PCT. Those are someone else’s goals, not mine. I should probably put more thought into what mine actually are though.
  • I made my first cupcakes in the tiny RV convection oven/microwave! After three batches and two semi-failed attempts, I found that the magic recipe was 350-degrees at 23 minutes.

  • Flavored whiskey is wonderful. Honey and apple…yum.
  • Longer days of sunlight are equally wonderful.
  • I have a hard time respecting full-time RVers with Amazon charity links and who regularly ask strangers for money to support their lifestyle. I built my own freelance writing business on my own from the ground up 4+ years ago. I didn’t get lucky. I figured it out and bust my ass every day. You should too.
  • I totally don’t understand the point of Instagram. I only care to comment on this because I’ve recently been hired to do “community management” for a client, which basically entails just liking and commenting on behalf of the brand on Instagram. I’ve used Facebook as my one and only social media outlet since the beginning of time because the format and features make sense to me. But I can’t wrap my head around why anyone would use Instagram. Can anyone shed some light on this for me? As a professional writer who values content and context, I can’t see any value in sterile and staged photos followed by generic comments with zero substance. I understand that the average person can’t manage to read more than a couple-word caption on a photo. But for me, a picture doesn’t equal 1,000 words. It equals a picture. And as someone who gets paid by the word, each and every one of them matters. Maybe I’m just outdated and one of those rare non-visual learners. Help a 33-year-old out?

Looking Ahead to Month #10

As month #10 continues, we’ll be in Oceano for a bit more and celebrating our two-year wedding anniversary here! We don’t put a whole lot of stock in that court-issued piece of paper, but we made a random pact to celebrate wedding anniversaries at the beach, so here we are. Certainly could we worse! Next, we’re headed up to Fresno and Gilroy to experience some of the lesser-famous parts of Cali.

Hopefully reading this month’s post wasn’t a total downer. There are still plenty of things that I enjoy about camper life, like the easy access to nature and having new places to explore. Yet other parts are wearing me down, and I’m sure that’s bleeding through in my monthly reports. I’m still searching for my voice in all of this to express how my RV experience differs from the “masses”. If it comes to me anytime soon, you’ll be the first to know.

9 Months Later…Yup, We’re Still on the Road!

Howdy, and thanks for keeping up with my journey over the last NINE MONTHS! Month #9 has been entirely spent in SoCal, and yes, there’s been plenty of sunshine and lovely weather.

I’ve been practicing driving our new RV because I’ll be damned if we’ll turn into that stereotypical old couple where the guy drives everywhere while his lady passively sits in the passenger seat. As a self-sufficient and stubborn feminist, I’m determined to learn every little thing about how this baby works.

Work has been going well – not overwhelmed, but certainly not underwhelmed either. Here’s a typical work day scene in the RV: back-to-back laptops in the dinette-turned-office, old college t-shirt, messy hair, cucumber & cheese snack plate.

During month #9, we wrapped up “home on the road #34” in San Diego. Before hitting the road again, we hit up a driving range…

…checked out Old Town San Diego with its historic park and festive nightlife scene…
…squeezed in some stand-up paddleboarding in Mission Bay in absolutely perfect wind/weather conditions……spent some time at the dog-friendly portion of the beach at Imperial Beach……and felt bummed to leave the San Diego area because it was pretty much ideal in every way.

As we transitioned from San Diego to our next destination, Banning, we also embarked on our first DIY project for the new RV. Now that I have my sewing machine with me in the RV, I’ve been dying to start a new craft project. I kinda missed doing projects since hitting the road, but with all this newfound space and storage, I figured that now’s the time to get back into it.

The curtains aren’t gorgeous by any means, and certainly not perfect. But they’re homemade and a hell of a lot easier to operate than those cheap and impossible blinds.

Read all about it: Our First DIY RV Project: Homemade Curtains


Places We Were in Month #8

After San Diego, we relocated to Banning, California. We originally tried (very hard) to stay at a campground in Palm Springs and found it impossible due to high nightly rates, pit bull bans, 55+ restrictions, and lack of internet reception. There really is nothing to do in Banning, but it provided a somewhat conveniently home base for the places we wanted to visit in the region: Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs, Salton Sea, Slab City, Idyllwild, etc.

Then came the Los Angeles area. We stayed near Simi Valley and hit up everywhere from Burbank to Malibu, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and so on. Most recently, we’ve plopped down in Santa Barbara and are just getting settled into this new area.


Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Banning, California: Home on the Road #35

  • Highlights: Chill campground, cable TV hookup that allowed us to binge on Forensic Files, local brewery called Brew Revolution with lightning fast Wi-Fi, hiking a tiny part of the PCT, seeing gnomes in Idyllwild, amazing wildflowers, hiking through an oasis, epic found art at Slab City, hitting up a local bouldering gym
  • Lowlights: Abysmal service at Gastronome (a gnome-themed restaurant in Idyllwild), crazy high winds like all the time, being discouraged by the Palm Springs visitors center that there is “nothing” to do in town with a dog

And now…a slew of photos to go with those words! I was lucky enough to access some lightning-fast Wi-Fi at a couple breweries and cafes, so photos are aplenty in this blog post.


Los Angeles Area (Tapo Canyon) California: Home on the Road #36

  • Highlights: My parents flying out to visit us for a long weekend, doing all the Hollywood touristy stuff for the first time, archery at our campground, meeting up with my longest client of 4+ years and founder of Inside Philanthropy in the hippie mountain town of Topanga.
  • Lowlights: Not much to do outdoors or otherwise near the tiny Tapo Canyon Regional Park, crazy flying insects started coming in our camper and continue to do so – I have no idea what they are

Cue the mass of Los Angeles photos! Tapo Canyon felt like a million miles away from Los Angeles, but it’s only actually about 45.

I loved giving my parents the “grand tour” of our new home. Anyone want to book a tour in advance with me – spots are (not actually at all) filling up fast.I’m learning all about movie sets and whatnot on the Warner Brothers film studio tour here.Oh Rodeo Drive…how I cannot afford thee! Archery randomly happened at our campground Saturday morning…why not?! It’s pretty fun actually, and I’d love to pick up a bow more often. Paramount Ranch was a pretty cool place to walk around to see where some western movies and shows were filmed. I’ve gotten more into westerns after living in the west. There was a wedding happening here the day we stopped by. Malibu was gorgeous, as expected. We took a tour of the Adamson House and saw the most intricate and beautiful tile decor all throughout the historic home…totally worth the $7.Here’s a panoramic scene of the goings-on at Venice Beach on a Sunday afternoon.
Hollywood was essential to visit, but alas, it was time to move on. But not before Monkey posed with her favorite Walk of Fame star. She has no idea who The Monkees are, but neither do any of the other young whipper-snappers walking by. So, she gets a pass.

I’m actually going to save Home on the Road #37 for next month since we’ve only been here a couple days and haven’t experience enough of the area to really write about it yet. So far, our regional park campground is pretty sweet and we’ve got lots of fun things planned around work for the next week and a half.


Realizations & Ramblings from Month #8

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #8 on the road.

  • Less wasted time walking back and forth to the bathroom and to do dishes has meant less time to listen to podcasts. I’ve had to find other times of day to satisfy my podcast obsession, like while doing push-ups and squats in the RV. I plowed through all the episodes of S-Town last month.
  • I love working outside. Bright sunshine makes my laptop die at times, but I will continue forcing it out into the outdoors whenever possible.

Trying to navigate super-sharp shells and dead fish parts to take a dip in Salton Sea. OUCH!

  • We’re still working on training strategies to get Monkey not to pull so badly on the leash. It really makes hiking miserable, and we’ve tried all sorts of leashes and tactics. We’re trying a Halti harness/easy-walk type thing right now. Lately, we’ve been using tiny pieces of cheese as training treats and walking in front of her to stop her from passing us. Anyone else have an obsessive leash puller on their hands?
  • Camping with (what we at least think is) a pit bull in California continues to be a huge challenge. This state has a stereotype of being full of liberal and inclusive hippies, but clearly that mindset doesn’t apply to dogs. My latest strategy for campground booking is to answer the question “What breed of dog are you bringing?” is “She’s a rescue dog, so a mix.” After all, we don’t honestly know what she is besides a “mix”, and everyone loves rescue dogs, right? This strategy has worked a couple times for me already actually for upcoming stays.

  • Staying in a small town with not much to do (like Banning) really takes the pressure off of daily travel planning. Sometimes it’s nice not having so many options so that you can just be lazy instead of feeling obligated to see and do everything you’re “supposed” to.
  • It’s totally possible to feel stuck in a rut even when you’re moving to a new place every two weeks. Finding joy in the little things is a challenge no matter where you are or what you’re living in.

  • Sweetwater Regional Park campground outside of San Diego was one of my all-time favorite campgrounds so far. I love the onsite trails for running, the green space between sites, and the chill atmosphere. Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara is right up there too, especially since it has disc golf and a place to kayak.
  • I am STILL struggling with how to dress myself in the west/in the desert. When I go out for the day, I always end up either sweating through my shirt with pit stains or shivering cold and miserable. To remedy this, I’ve started packing a tote bag with multiple outfit changes anytime I leave the RV. It’s overkill, but I’m determined to understand how people in this part of the world dress themselves.

Looking Ahead to Month #9

As the next month on the road begins, we’ll be in Santa Barbara for a little while longer. So I’ll have more updates about SB next month. After this, we’re heading to Kernville and then to San Luis Obispo – staying on the outskirts of both towns to explore the regions. Our pace has settled into at least two weeks per place, which seems to be working well right now.

Life feels comfortable, which is something that’s easy to take for granted but I keep reminding myself not to. Being able to get to know the various personalities of California continues to be fascinating, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of this massive state. Thanks for following along 🙂

Catch up with the journey:

We Upgraded! How Our New RV is Making Life More Awesome…and Complicated

This is the major announcement that I alluded to in my last blog post!

Ten days ago, we went from living in this 2002 Starcraft pop-up camper for the past 7 months…To this 2017 Fleetwood Flair Class A motorhome! Talk about an upgrade, right?!

At noon on a Thursday, we packed everything into our little pop-up and headed over to RV World in Yuma, where we finally decided to “go big or go home.”
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and I lost a ton of sleep getting to this point. But now, I couldn’t be more excited for my new home. Although camper life just got a whole lot more awesome, it’s also gotten way more complicated.

I’ll touch on some of the reasons why in between a series of photos to share some views of my new home!

Why it was time for an upgrade:

  • Canvas walls and a recently busted heater/AC made it hard to travel places with less-than-pleasant weather
  • Tired of walking across a campground in the middle of night to go to the bathroom after having one too many beers
  • Doing dishes was a huge hassle
  • Doing well financially
  • Enjoying the lifestyle, but getting fed-up with little logistics
  • Next to nothing for storage
  • Craving a little more personal space between the 3 of us
  • Yuma is a snowbird mecca with a good selection of RVs to choose from
  • If we didn’t do it now, we probably wouldn’t for a very long time, if ever

Favorite features of the new camper:

  • Toilet and shower
  • Cupboard and drawer space
  • TV and chairs to swivel back to watch it
  • Lots of windows to let natural light inside
  • Comfy bed
  • Enough room for 2-person yoga inside
  • Separation between work space and chill-out space
  • Leather sofa
  • Bunk beds so Monkey can have her own space and one for storage

What I’ll miss about the old camper:

  • All the memories made in it during the last 7 months on the road and shorter trips before that
  • How the whole thing shook when it was windy
  • A bed that was surprisingly comfy
  • How easy it was get around with
  • How cheap it was to buy and maintain

Why life just got more complicated:

  • Had to drive to Georgia (still our “official” state of residence) – the exact opposite of where we are trying to go – to take care of licensing/registration and a slew of other issues
  • The new RV is a gas-guzzler and didn’t make financial sense to quickly drive across the country and back when you do the math. So we had to leave it behind out west in storage, all alone and confused, until we took care of multiple logistical nightmares.
  • Decided to clean out and eliminate the Georgia storage unit once and for all – trying to sell and donate most things and keep a few to take back
  • Selling stuff via Craigslist/Facebook groups/Nextdoor is a nightmare. I’ve had 3 sale days so far…2 good and one terrible. It’s exhausting, and people are flaky idiots. I’m currently sitting on a storage unit hallway floor, taking a packing break and waiting on buyers as I finish this post – which was originally supposed to have a way more positive tone than it’s turning out. But we have an RV – yay!
  • An insane number of trip to Goodwill to drop off donations
  • Those “few” things to take back won’t fit solely in the Jeep to get back so we have to rent a small Uhaul to tow behind it back to Arizona.
  • My Jeep’s registration expires and August and I’m sure as hell not coming back to Georgia to take care of it. You can do it by mail, but you have to have a Georgia emissions test done first. I can do that now and still have it valid for August by-mail renewal; however, the Jeep has a check-engine light on due to an ongoing sensor problem so it won’t pass emissions. See the web I’m tangled in? That’s in the process of getting fixed now.
  • Oh and the Jeep needs and oil change before it goes back across the country too.
  • We also need to get a tow bar installed on the Jeep to hook it up to the RV
  • Other things I’m too scatterbrained to think of at the moment

Monkey’s take on all of this:

  • Little Monkey isn’t sure what to make of all this change yet and she hasn’t taken to our camper quite like we have yet. She seems to be very thrown off by all the space that she now has and by the fact that her new home “moves” from time to time. And now we’re moving from place to place all across the country, so it may take her extra time to adjust. But she’s a resilient pup and a true adventurer, so I’m not too worried 🙂

Since we’ve only gotten to spend three whole days in our new home, we’ve still got a lot of things to figure out about it. First and foremost, how to handle the sewage system. Yuck.

Where we plan to take the new camper next:

  • Eventually we WILL get out of Yuma…EVENTUALLY. It’s become our accidental second home that we are looking forward to leaving. I actually have some ideas for a short story about being stuck in Yuma, based on true events but much more dramatic.
  • From Yuma, the plan is still to head to Southern California and slowly, but surely, work our way up the west coast. I am so physically and mentally exhausted with the logistical nightmares and can’t wait for this next chapter to begin.

Here are a few more photos, just because I uploaded them and ran out of topics. Below is the only moment when our two campers met each other. We had to move everything out of one and into the other one in the RV dealership’s parking lot before the sun went down.
Fuel costs are a serious concern. But alas, this is a camper for short drives and long stays, not long drives and short stays.
Stashing stuff away in cupboards and drawers felt stupidly exciting to me. Life just feels more manageable when things are organized and not creating clutter that echoes the clutter in your mind.
Although I’m hard-core missing our new home right now while we’re all the way across the country without it, it’s ours and will be forever…until plans may take another sharp turn WAY down the road.

With the good and the bad, I welcome the next phase of life on the road. Despite all the hassles it has sparked, I’m totally ready for whatever happens next. I just keep trying to remind myself about how awesome it’ll be when we’re reunited with our camper again and back to our new-normal lifestyle. West Coast, here we come (well, soon anyway)!

A Day of Love, Hallmark Cards & Our 7 Month Camper-aversary

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
7 months on the road,
Yep, it’s really true.

Happy camper-aversary to us, and happy Valentine’s Day to everyone else!

Places We’ve Been: Month #7

Month #7 kicked off by leaving the crowded Vegas campground and opting something totally different – boondocking in Mojave National Preserve. Our original plan was to head to Palm Springs, California after that, but persistent and heavy rains scared us away and drove us to Yuma, Arizona instead. We stayed in Yuma quite a while trying to get everything lined up for a trip to Mexico. Then we crossed the border into Baja California for a true non-working vacation (finally!) and back to Yuma to finish off the month.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Mojave National Preserve, California: Home on the Road #30

  • Highlights: Boondocking next to a canyon far from civilization, amazing Hole in the Wall canyon right behind our camper, pleasantly disconnected from technology, the stars at night, seeing Monkey overcome a really challenging climb

  • Lowlights: No heat on 30-degree nights with canvas walls

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #31

  • Highlights: Decent weekly rate, sunny and warm, met fellow (young!) long-term RVers Sara and Mike (check out Sara’s blog), Imperial Sand Dunes, yoga at the Yuma prison guard tower (every Monday evening at 5:30), date festival and Mardi Gras festival downtown, 80-degree weather

  • Lowlights: Very crowded campsites, way too many overly-friendly snowbirds in a constant need of chatting, high winds, not enough hiking/biking trails

Baja California (Ensenada & San Felipe): Home on the Road #32 and #33

I wrote an entire post devoted to our six days in Mexico. Check it out here: Road Tripping to Mexico in the Age of Trump…with a Dog

  • Highlights: Easy border crossing, incredible ocean and mountain views, perfect 70-degree weather, the beaches, cheap food and beer, the vineyard region, taking an actual vacation and not working for a few days

  • Lowlights: Lots of planning & logistics to get down there, loose dogs everywhere, potholes on roads, pushy sales vendors, everyone wants a tip, expensive gas and tolls

Thoughts & Ramblings: Month #7

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #7 on the road.

  • We started doing circuits of push-ups, squats, and crunches around Christmas and increasing the number of each by 5 every 3rd day. We’ve actually been keeping up with this INSIDE the camper on cold days, which is an amusing sight to see.
  • It’s really hard to find campgrounds in the Yuma area for people under 55 years old, that allow dogs over 20 pounds, and that don’t require you to be self-contained (have your own bathroom). What’s up with the snowbirds and all their rules?
  • We celebrated Monkey’s 3rd birthday in the camper! I can’t believe she’s only been with us a year. I can’t imagine this camper life without her.

  • We don’t fit in with or particularity enjoy the prevailing camping culture or demographic. I’d love to go off-the-grid like so many other vanlifers, but we haven’t made the big investment in solar panels, generators, etc. yet. However, I can’t stand traditional RV parks much longer, so something’s gotta give.

Sometimes I feel like we don’t allow room for enough spontaneity in our busy camper life schedule. But an example of something awesome we stumbled across was a wood craft festival in Yuma. Made me really miss crafting, and my husband even found his mom a birthday gift here.

 

Although the southwest has been MUCH less rainy than the east coast, rain is still brutal when your camper sinks into a mud pit.

  • On a whim, I joined a Facebook group called Make Money and RV. We actually met up with a couple living a similar lifestyle to us on the road in Yuma and it was really fun to swap stories and tips.
  • I have been considering taking virtual guitar lessons via Skype from another couple I met through a Facebook group called Make Money and RV. I’m stuck in a practice rut and totally plateaued in terms of getting any better. I haven’t pulled the trigger on committing to lessons yet because I’m worried that my internet situation changes every week or two and often sucks.
  • Dates are a big deal around Yuma. We went to a date farm and a date festival. I thought I hated dates after being force-fed raisins as a child.
  • Good craft beer is hard to find in Arizona liquor stores. However, liquor is plentiful and cheap. One day, I bought a bottle of Three Olives s’mores vodka for $2.99. However, it was disgusting…lesson learned.
  • I’ve been wanting to read a textbook-style book on how to identify plants while hiking. I’ve found some paperbacks on Amazon, but no good Kindle options. Suggestions welcome if you have any recommendations.
  • However, I have been neglecting reading books in general and watching too much TV. I’ve started getting back into the whole reading thing with some short stories on Kindle, like The Fluted Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and The Plagiarist by Hugh Howey.
  • Mexico made me feel pretty ignorant with my sub-par bilingual skills.
  • I’m at an age where I feel age-blind. People who are anywhere between 20 and into their 40’s all feel like they’re my age.
  • Here are some photos with captions!

Date farm!

Abandoned mine shacks in the Mojave desert.

Most interesting yoga destination in a long time: historic prison guard tower in Yuma.

Muggins Mountains: destination for a rugged BLM hike

Looking Ahead to Month #8

It wasn’t until we had a few days off to really disconnect from routine in Mexico that we started seriously considering our next phase in this camper journey. I’m not going to say any more just yet, but I will be sharing a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT very soon to kick off month #8!

Catch up with the journey:

Road Tripping to Mexico in the Age of Trump…with a Dog

You’re going to Mexico?! But why? That can’t be safe. Have you even been watching the news lately? What if the wall is built while you’re down there?

A lot of eyebrows are raised and questions come up these days when you say you’re planning to take a road trip to Mexico…especially with a non-white husband and a black pit bull in tow. Mexican travel has become synonymous with “not safe,” and of course, there is some truth behind that. But really, how safe is America right now? Should we all hole up in our houses and hide until the world magically becomes free of violence, prejudice, and bigotry? That’s not how I want to live my life.

Mexico is a large and diverse place, and it’s ignorant to casually lump it all into the category of “unsafe” and “just don’t go there.” Sure, the current political situation we’re in could change things in the future, but for now my advice is to do your research, don’t be an idiot, and you’ll be fine.

For example, we decided to leave our camper back in the U.S. at our current campground for safety and ease of driving/parking, opting for an AirBnB and motel in Baja California instead. In retrospect, we probably should have taken our camper because there were lots of great places to camp, like vineyards and beaches. Next time!

Prior to leaving for Mexico, we’d been camped out in Yuma, Arizona for a couple weeks near the U.S./Mexico border. Being THISCLOSE to Mexico, it seemed silly to not take out travels south of the border…as long as we did our research and could get all of our ducks in a row. And my, how many ducks there were.

We’ve been switching locations from city to city and state to state for over six months. And by now, it pretty much comes as second nature. We typically plan our route a few days before moving locations, but not much before that. You’d drive yourself crazy doing this type of trip if you planned out every little itinerary detail way in advance. But with international travel, things are a bit different.

As a chronic list-maker, I jotted down a list of we’d need to take care of before making the trip. But it was all really contingent upon one thing: an international travel certificate for Monkey. Basically, this is a dog passport, and we’ve heard that you need one if you hope to cross the border and get back in to the U.S. again later. Sure, we could board her and just go ourselves. But where’s the fun in that, and how many dogs get to be international travelers after all?

We looked into getting a “dog passport” back in Vegas when we updated Monkey on her shots. But then learned that you have to get the certificate within 10 days of travel, and we weren’t ready to leave just yet. Waiting actually turned out to be a good thing because our camper route diverted from rainy Southern California to sunny and windy Yuma, Arizona. Since this is a border town, the vets here are more than familiar with what international travel certificates are and are certified to give them.

We combined our health certificate visit to a Yuma vet with a dental cleaning and a heartworm test. The cost of the certificate was $40, which I’ve read is pretty standard for these things. It’s just a silly half-sheet of pink paper with a few pieces of information like her breed, weight, which shots she’s had, and a doctor signature. It took a lot of hassle and research to get this one little piece of paper, but we finally had it. And that meant that our other plans could go into motion.

In addition to the “dog passport,” these were the other things on my pre-Mexico to-do list:

  • Research places to visit (settled on Ensenada and San Felipe in Baja California)
  • Research border crossing wait times (chose Algodones)
  • Find camper storage (safer to leave it behind to avoid theft and damage from crappy roads)
  • Find dog-friendly places to stay (doing one AirBnB and planned on campground cabin, which ultimately failed so we found a motel instead)
  • Get Mexican car insurance (went with ABA Seguros)
  • Get visas for us (got at the border, we parked and agent took us inside a building to fill out forms)
  • Figure out if cell phones/internet will work (AT&T worked amazingly, better LTE than in parts of Arizona)
  • Stock up on drinking water (got a big jug for the jeep and filled up all our Camelbacks and water bottles)
  • Get cash and currency exchange (took out a couple hundred bucks in cash and used ATMs in Mexico)
  • Inform bank and credit card companies about travel dates (super easy to do online)
  • Print out copies of passports, driver’s license and car insurance (our campground office let us use their printer)

So lately, I’ve only been writing camper life updates once per month, but I thought the jaunt to Mexico deserved a post all its own.

  1. Because it’s the first time we’ve gone international on this trip
  2. Because there are way too many misconceptions about traveling to Mexico
  3. Because there were a lot of logistics to figure out that may help someone else to do this

So here’s a rundown of how this mini vacation to Baja California played out. I jotted down a few notes throughout each day. It actually felt like a vacation too because we fully took days off work like normal people do when they travel!

Day 1 (Ensenada)

  • Monkey woke us up early as usual, which was good today so we could get an early start on the border crossing.
  • Drove to the Andrade Port of Entry and the border town of Los Algodones. There were literally only two cars ahead of us in line. The agent asked if we had our international permits yet and we didn’t. So he showed us where to park and led us to a tiny building to fill out the paperwork. It was free for seven days of travel but would have been $25 for up to six months. The agents didn’t care about Monkey at all or even ask to see her paperwork. All they were interested in was the addresses we were staying at in Mexico.

  • Algodones is packed with medical, dental, and optometry clinics. This is where all the snowbirds walk over to get their cheap healthcare.
  • Drove through farms and pretty decent roads, but people love to pass you and trucks get over in the shoulder lane to be passed.
  • Gas is expensive and so are tolls. Some tolls are about $4USD which is worse than Chicago.
  • Very mountainous and lovely views before passing the vineyard region on the way. We’ll be back!

  • We totally could have camped in Ensenada because there are RV parks, some right by the ocean. Maybe next time.
  • Walked around the marina area and got Mexican seafood lunch in the touristy area because it was a no-brainer and were offered free beer.

  • Our AirBnB is up in the hills, and my, these hills are steep. I kept calling and messaging our host because we couldn’t find his house and he wasn’t responding. Was starting to worry I’d been scammed but then we got out and walked and found a picture on the listing that looked like a house we were by so I just yelled in if anyone was home. Finally got in and it’s a nice little house with a fenced-in back yard and our own bedroom and bathroom inside.

  • Walked around downtown to see the touristy shops and ignored all the vendors relentlessly beckoning us inside. Overall, the people seem nice though and the streets are clean. Walked along the waterfront again.

  • Stopped by San Miguel beach, which is a surfing beach. Walked along the shore and watched the surfers, totaling wanting to try it but feeling particularly lame and uncoordinated.

  • On our AirBnB host’s recommendation, we hit up Agua Mala Brewery for happy hour. How can you go wrong with $1.50USD craft beers? We had my ideal setup at this place: outside table to watch the sunset over the ocean, decent cheap beer, dog-friendly, corner spot where Monkey could chill out, unique and delicious appetizers, big table to play cards. The parking guy was insistent on a tip, which was awkward. But we got six beers and three appetizers for $25USD, which would be a steal in the U.S.
  • We’d been told by other campers that there are so many stray dogs in Mexico as a blanket statement. I’ve only seen a few strays, but leash laws nonexistent so owners just let their dogs out and about. Monkey is so high-energy around other dogs that this is insanely stressful. People here seem to think about their dogs differently than I do. Most of them seem to live outside in the front yard and serve as guards rather than household pets. Monkey doesn’t bark, but the barking and lunging from these front-yard dogs when we go for walks is intense. Other than that, the streets around where we are staying feel very safe and quiet.

 

Day 2 (Ensenada)

  • Slept in a bit and had some leftover granola bars for breakfast
  • Drove to El Salto to hike to the waterfalls – about 30 minutes away – paid a guy 60 pesos to get in – 4 loose dogs made getting out of the Jeep super stressful
  • Easy dirt trail for a while then very rocky about a mile in. I heard and saw waterfalls in the distance but steep drop-offs. Apparently, this is a big rappelling area, but we have no rappelling equipment and a dog that probably wouldn’t enjoy rappelling too much. So we crossed the river at the shallowest part for better views, snapped some pics, and did our sets of push-ups, crunches, and squats – the daily circuits we’ve been keeping up since Christmas.

  • Drove to La Bufadora and unnecessarily paid $5USD for parking. Parking attendants in orange vests flag you in and make it seem like you have to park here but don’t. If you parked back up the road a bit, you could have avoided the fee and the hard sell. These are the kind of things that you just can’t know until you’ve been here or have been told by someone who has.
  • Lots of shops lining the street with tons of vendors selling purses, blankets, shirts, and trinkets. Didn’t buy anything but 2 overpriced beers.

  • La Bufadora is kind of like a geyser, but not exactly. Waves crash up on the rocks and enter up the middle of them to make a big splash on the top. We got splashed a couple times, but each time the waves hit with a different level of intensity.
  • The roads here are riddled with potholes but paved pretty much everywhere. The shops and vendor carts on one street totally reminded me of the street I lived on for 6+ years in Chicago, Western Avenue. Here’s an example of one of the crappier roads. They are NOT all like this. Still, it’s good to have a Jeep.

  • Found a chill lounging beach just off the side of the road – free parking area and a couple nasty port-a-potties. Not exactly bikini weather but felt great in leggings and a long-sleeved shirt. Not crowded, but still plenty of loose dogs running around and up to Monkey to cause chaos. Watched the waves, wrote in my journal, meditated for a bit.

  • Got a nagging headache which was weird because I never get non-hangover headaches, so we chilled out back at our AirBnB for a bit before heading out to dinner.
  • Got brews and dinner at Wendlandt Brewery in downtown Ensenada – standard types of beer and pretty much like Aqua Mala. But dogs are welcome at tables inside, dimly lit, got busy around 7pm, veggie pizza was awesome.

 

Day 3 (Ensenada)

  • Found a better street to walk Monkey in the mornings without so many barking dogs – fancy houses up here in the hills

  • Spent the morning catching up with this blog post, downloading photos on the AirBnB’s Wi-Fi, and researching dog-friendly wineries in Ensenada’s vineyard region.
  • Tried to take a shower and discovered the house had no water.
  • Encountered an electric company guy at the house who told us, in a totally unrelated matter, he was shutting off the electricity because the owner didn’t pay the bill.
  • Freaked out over the last 2 bullet points for a while and finally got in touch with our host who vowed to fix the situation of no electricity and no water
  • Headed out to the Ruta del Vino, about 30 minutes outside of Ensenada to check out some wineries.
  • Winery #1: Corona de Valle – very attentive waiter who described the wines and the history of winemaking in the region, beautiful outside seating area, dog-friendly, walked among the vineyard rows with Monkey but could have rented bikes too, best wines of the day & bought a bottle to take home, had lunch here.

  • Winery #2: Xecue Vineyard – older owner guy was very friendly and told us about how his wife and he started the place, showed us a magazine they were featured on, wines pretty good and also did a tasting here, lovely outside space overlooking the hills, dog-friendly.

  • Winery #3: Sol y Barro – This was a backup stop since the place we originally tried to go to was closed for the day. It was about 4:45 and a slow day in the region so places seemed to be closing early. This place doesn’t grow their own grapes, but it does make their own wine. Tasting was in a dark adobe building, felt rushed for them to close, no nice outside seating area to chill out at, pretty unique wines though.

  • All 3 were incredibly chill places where we were the only people there for at least part of the time. I hope they get business at other times for their own sake. But it was super peaceful to have these beautiful spaces all to ourselves and personalized attention.
  • Came home to find working electricity…yay!
  • Water? Not so much.

 

Day 4 (Ensenada)

  • Squeezed in a quick morning shower with a little hot water that was trickling in…yay!
  • Took a local breakfast recommendation from our host, Birrieria la Guadalajara, only to discover it was disappointingly meat-heavy. Still, it was a nice local spot and reasonably priced.
  • Tried to visit several museums and failed at all of them because they were closed on Saturday, not open until later, or under construction.
  • Went for a hike at Canon de Dona Petra instead, an old park that wasn’t too maintained but had some peaceful trails with a cross at the top of a series of hills to climb.

  • Discovered the most amazing business model EVER: Baja Brews. It had multiple local craft breweries setting up stands alongside restaurants on a cliff side with views of the crashing waves. Definitely hung out here for a few hours.
  • Just a few days off work really helped me keep up with my personal writing, photos, reading, journaling, etc. I really need to do this more often, not just for international travel, for my mental wellbeing. 
  • Left Monkey behind at the AirBnB for a bit to enjoy a nice seafood dinner at Mahi Mahi – tons of kids and it felt like Chuck E. Cheese – decent seafood but nearly U.S. prices
  • Watched a random semi-truck parade for Carnival on the sidewalk after we finished up with dinner
  • Returned to our AirBnB to find Monkey safe and sound but a rave going on – fortunately, the music died down before 10pm so we didn’t have to get ugly

Day 5 (San Felipe)

  • Why does this dog wake us up before 5am – doesn’t she know it’s vacation?!
  • Drove to San Felipe – no one on the roads – very mountainous and rural – lots of potholes – one security checkpoint that we had to open the back of the Jeep for inspection
  • Discovered that La Palapa RV camp actually does NOT have cabins to stay in overnight even though it was confirmed to me via Facebook message beforehand – clearly a language mishap
  • Walked into El Capitan, a nearby motel, instead and found a clean room a block from the beach – our first option would have been 400 pesos and this was 630 pesos but no problemo
  • Walked around Malecon (the boardwalk) in San Felipe and climbed the stairs to the top of a shrine for views of the lighthouse and beach
  • Opened up the bottle of wine we bought at the Ensenada vineyards and thoroughly enjoyed it at the beach – no silly rules about booze and dogs here!
  • Watched Mexican music videos about farm animals
  • We don’t really care about football but still watched our most recent hometown, Atlanta, lose to the Patriots at Agave bar – womp womp
  • Had chile relleno, my long-time favorite Mexican dish for dinner at BajaMar

Day 6 (San Felipe)

  • Started the day with yoga at the beach – a bit chilly but peaceful AF

  • Did a couple hours of work in the motel and had the best shower I’ve had in like a month – had to come to Mexico to get it
  • Grabbed our last Mexican seafood lunch on the boardwalk and spent the afternoon at the beach relaxing, reading, and trying not to inhale the nasty smells of dead fish washed up on shore
  • Thought we were being thrifty by spending the very last of our pesos and dollars but then panicked when we realized we didn’t have any toll money. We hit tolls on some drives, but coincidentally not this one after all. In retrospect, traveling with no money of any currency was irresponsible. We finally found an ATM in Mexicali and I wasted about $25USD for no reason on the endeavor. But, lesson learned.
  • Ultimately, it was 4 or so hours to Los Algodones border crossing, which was a total non-event. We returned out travel permit to a little office at the border and the line to get through never stopped moving. We weren’t hassled about anything, and the agent didn’t even acknowledge that there was a dog in the car let alone view her international travel certificate that we’d worked so hard to get.

Ultimately, the biggest stresses on this trip weren’t drug violence, theft, or getting back into the country. It wasn’t the language barrier with our sub-par Spanglish, gas shortages, or animosity towards Americans.

Instead, the only things that stressed me out was managing loose dogs with Monkey in tow and being hassled by vendors to buy things and tip everyone. That’s it. Those two things are mildly annoying to me, but totally manageable in the scheme of things.

Things are a mess in America right now, so I encourage you to get out of it and not be afraid. Do your research, don’t be an idiot, and get out while the gettin’s good.

El fin.

5 Months on the Road: Wait No More, Your Full-Time Camper Life Update Is Here

December greetings from warm and sunny Tucson, Arizona!

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Month #5 has been a continuation of our journey in the West and Southwest, and I’m definitely still loving the region. We finished up our stay in Salt Lake City, spent a couple weeks in Moab, and a couple days at the Grand Canyon before showing up here.

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We had to adjust our plans a bit due to cold and single-digit temperatures. Being in Tucson right now wasn’t the original plan, but I’m loving the 70-80-degrees and sunshine, so the switch-up was a success. These “snowbirds” really know how to live life right.

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Another interesting development is that we bought a GoPro as a holiday gift to ourselves. So we’ve been experimenting with the different mounts and putting it on our heads, chests, windshield, and even the dog to capture videos of our adventures. I even wore it on a horse!

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Places We’ve Been: Month #5

Here’s a quick rundown of how those places played out.

Moab, Utah: Home on the Road #24

  • Highlights: The otherworldly arches at Arches National Park and canyons at Canyonlands, horseback riding on Sassy (and she was!), mountain biking on the Bar M trails, slacklining festival on Thanksgiving, great campground Wi-Fi and scenery, nice community rec center in town to lift weights and swim laps, scenic winery next to a western film museum, Corona Arch as an uncrowded alternative to Delicate Arch, small-town Christmas festival

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  • Lowlights: Restaurants are way too busy, and un-fun, mediocre local brewery, consistently cold nights in the 20s, hilly bike trails too hard to bike with Monkey’s trailer, getting a flat jeep tire on the side of the road

Grand Canyon, Arizona: Home on the Road #25

  • Highlights: Dog-friendly hiking trails around the rim, shopping for family Christmas gifts and finally finding some, a weekend that didn’t up feeling as cold as we expected, beautiful art gallery at Kolb Studio

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  • Lowlights: Very icy sidewalks and trails that made hiking with Monkey really hard, being underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon (who’da thought that was possible?!) because of all the other amazing canyons we’ve been seeing

Tucson, Arizona: Home on the Road #26

  • Highlights: The amazing Saguaro cactus(!!!), Arizona Sonora Desert Museum that we could have spent several days at, private campground bathrooms (no sharing!), salsa dancing class for a different kind of Friday night out even though it was HARD, great bike trail right behind our campground, bringing home a little cactus to decorate the camper, discovering Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant, days warm enough to do yoga and work outside (or until my laptop overheats and powers down)

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  • Lowlights: Many parks (including Saguaro National Park) not being dog-friendly for hikes, crowded campground with sketchy WiFi, Monkey getting cacti stuck in her paws on trails

Random Ramblings: Month #5

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #5 on the road.

  • Moab was the first place that really made me question why we keep moving on and don’t just stay put for a while. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise in every sense of the word, and we would have been perfectly happy there for a while. In the end, the only reason we left after two weeks was because of the cold temperatures rolling in that would have made outdoor activities pretty miserable going forward.

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  • I have a t-shirt that’s probably a decade old with Grover from Sesame Street on it that says, “Anywhere I am is here. Anywhere I’m not is there. I still wear this shirt occasionally and it reminds me of the old saying that wherever you go, there you are. No matter how what city or state we’re in or how long we’ve traveled, the same things still make me happy, annoyed, anxious, excited, frustrated, etc. Many years ago, I saw a shrink (hey, Tony Soprano did it, so why can’t I?). At that time in my life, all I wanted to do was move far away and start over. I wanted to get out of my rut, leave everything behind, and find out if the grass was greener somewhere else. I remember said shrink telling me some version of “wherever you go, there you are.” He suggested that I’d still have the same personality/issues when I woke up to different scenery. It all sounds pretty obvious when I think of it now, but it was a novel idea that had never occurred to me back then. And it still rings true today.

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  • Division of labor makes camper chores manageable, and yes there are camper chores! Fortunately, we are both reasonable people who understand what sharing responsibilities means. For example, I take care of putting together (i.e. not cooking) breakfast and lunch, while my husband cooks dinner. He does the grocery shopping, and I do the laundry. And we take turns with doing dishes and dog walks. This goes for travel research too. He’s better at big-picture planning, and I’m better at figuring out daily details. So we tend to stick to what we’re each good at to avoid duplicating efforts and getting at each other’s throats. Been working pretty well for 5 months!

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  • Constantly looking for things to do is exhausting, but it does keep us on our toes. Ultimately, I keep coming down to the same research topics no matter where we are, which reiterates the point that wherever you go, there you are. Here are some of the things on that never-ending research list: hiking trails, yoga, comedy shows, local theater, bar trivia, breweries/wineries/distilleries, community rec center, dance classes, festivals, dog parks, cafes to work at, driving range, bike trails, fun neighborhoods, concerts.

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  • I really thought I’d have more free time while traveling like this but I really don’t. Between 50+ hour work weeks and squeezing in time to explore new places, there’s really nothing left. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted and just want to zone out watch The Sopranos in bed. Times that I draw in my sketchbook, do personal writing (like this) that’s not for money, and play guitar are few and far between. I thought I’d be trying to learn more new songs on guitar by now, but I’m stuck on the same old ones and not getting any better.

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  • I prefer non-standard holidays to tradition. We celebrated Thanksgiving by going to a slacklining festival across a canyon in Moab. Admittedly, it would have been nice to see my parents and grandma back in Illinois. But doing the same thing every year out of nostalgia or sentimentality doesn’t appeal to me, and unfortunately, that’s what traditional holidays are all about for most people.

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  • Monkey did great in a totally free-range, open-play environment the last time we “practice boarded” her in Moab. I think she’ll do great at the pet resort in Phoenix while we’re back in Illinois for Christmas. It’ll be weird without her, but I’m feeling much more confident about leaving her for five days.

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  • We’ve run into a few more campgrounds with breed restrictions. I’m looking at you, Las Vegas. I won’t get on a soapbox for very long, but these pit bull bans are absolutely ridiculous and unfounded. I wouldn’t want to give my money to these types of discriminatory business owners even if they’d take it.
  • The dry weather of the west makes my hair so much more manageable and easy to take care of. No more Midwest/East Coast-style frizzy tangles!

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  • I had to repair a button on a shirt the other day and it made me how much I miss sewing and crafting in general. My sewing machine is sadly sitting in a storage unit in Atlanta collecting dust 🙁
  • I also realized I miss swimming laps. I’m not a great swimmer by any means, but it’s great exercise and really helps relax my muscles and clear my head. I found community rec centers in both Salt Lake City and Moab with public lap swim hours and only a $6-7 daily fee. Also a great way to lift weights and work these noodle arms. I’ll be looking for cheap rec centers like this in future places we go too.

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Looking Ahead to Month #6

Month #6 will be an interesting one because it’s smack dab in the middle of holiday season. This will be a nice taste of what’s it’s like to be traveling full-time during a very busy and traditional time of year.

We’ll be relocating to Phoenix soon for a short stay before flying out to Central Illinois to celebrate Christmas with my family. The plan for New Year’s Eve is Las Vegas, so that should be a fun way to kick off 2017. And after that, on to California!

If you made it this far, congrats and thanks for reading! Although I’ve still only been getting around to it once a month, it’s still nice for me to take a moment to reflect upon where we’ve been and where I’m at personally in relation to that. Cheers!

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Related:

What to Do When Your Dog Is More Social Than You Are (And Other Pet Parent Pet Peeves)

We recently celebrated our six-month anniversary of having Monkey in our lives. We adopted her in February in Atlanta and have since taken her on a whirlwind nomadic journey through North Carolina, Virginia, DC, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia.

Related: One Month on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update

All in all, she’s been a real trooper, and I totally acknowledge the fact that not every dog could handle traveling this way – settling into long Jeep rides, and living in a pop-up camper every day. I have to remind myself of all that when she pulls ridiculously on the leash, lunges at squirrels, wants to eat everything off the ground, and wakes me up daily by at least 6 am.

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A girl after my own heart…LOVES the beach!

But my biggest annoyances of pet parenthood these days have nothing to do with her. Instead, they have everything to do with the strangers who become obsessed with her while out and about. You see, Monkey is a very social dog. However, I am not the most social human. She wants to meet everyone, while I’d rather spend my time with the people I care about and view everyone else from a comfortable distance.

It’s impossible to walk down a city street, a hiking trail, through a park, or anywhere else for that matter without getting hassled. It’s absolutely exhausting.

“PUPPPYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I can hear the squeals of annoying excitement in my sleep with visions of outstretched hands and nowhere to run or hide. She’s an estimated 2 ½ years old, by the way. But Monkey has this puppy face that just can’t seem to be ignored. Forget everything you know about the unfair stereotypes of pit bulls. This lab/pit bull mix’s puppy-esque face belongs on a bag of dog food.

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The issue of dog-walking harassment is something that NO ONE is talking about, and I don’t understand why.

Dog owners: do you have this problem? Do you legitimately enjoy and embrace it? Do you avoid it somehow? Do you have a coping strategy that I’m not privy to?

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic by throwing the word “harassment” around, but when I can’t get a moment of peace during a simple walk, I sure as hell feel harassed. And it has nothing to do with me, personally. It happens to Monkey whether I’m walking her, my husband is walking her, or we’re both walking her together.

Some days I just think we should have adopted an ugly dog!

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Admittedly, it’s hard to ignore a dog dressed in a cooling vest and boots But how else do you cool down a black dog on 100-degree days?!

Now before you get too quick to pass judgment, remember that we are living a very public life these days with no private shelter to seek retreat beyond a pop-up camper in very crowded summer campgrounds. Therefore, the sheer number of constant and unnecessary social interactions on a daily basis is astronomical compared to the average dog and dog parent. I doubt this would be getting to me nearly as much if I just stayed in a house all day and walked Monkey in circles around the same neighborhood.

But like I was saying, just because you have a dog doesn’t mean that you’re social 24/7, that you want to engage in a conversation, or that you want to be bothered. I don’t know why people can’t understand this simple fact. If I see a cute dog or kid, I may make a quiet side comment to whoever I’m with. But I have enough self-control to leave the individual or family in charge of that cuteness remain in peace and simply go about their day.

Am I alone in this? Why doesn’t anyone else understand how real this struggle is?!

So clearly, the unwanted socialization is my #1 pet parent pet peeve of the moment, but the past six months have supplied me with quite a few more. I don’t have another antisocial pet parent to vent to, so it’s all going right here…right now.

These are some of my other pet parent pet peeves that don’t seem to bother Monkey at all but drive me up the freaking wall.

Idiots who approach your dog without addressing you first

Hello, I’m up here.

I’d rather you not come over to bother me at all, but if you must, address me as a person first. Say hi and ask if you can pet my dog. It’s as simple as that. What if the dog you randomly started petting is sick, has fleas, or has a tendency to bite strangers? Never forget there’s human on the other end of this leash and that that human might have something to say about you groping its furry friend with permission.

Idiots’ kids who run up to pet your dog without asking permission

This largely plays into my last point, but is a more serious one because it involves small humans with questionable experience and judgment. Seriously parents, keep an eye on your kids and don’t let them run up to strange dogs. It’s not safe, and it’s just training them for bad manners.

Idiots who let their dogs off-leash in on-leash places

There are plenty of places that you can let your dog run around off-leash. Monkey, for one, loves to be off leash and run free, and I think it’s good for her. I recognize that Monkey needs and wants social time, and that’s why I take her to off-leash dog parks where she can run, play, and be as social as she likes.

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However, there’s a time and place for that, namely dog parks, secluded trails, and your own backyard.

Don’t let your dog off leash in the middle of a town or in a public park with “leash your dog” signs around every bend. Although you may trust your dog unconditionally, not everybody does, and you’re stressing the rest of us out.

The worst is when I have to deal with your off-leash dog lunging and barking at my on-leash dog while you’re lolly-gagging behind without a care in the world. It’s not fair to me to have to pry a strange dog I don’t know away from my own and put us all at risk. Not to mention, many people are allergic to dogs and an off-leash interaction could send them into a dangerous reaction that’s on your hands.

Oh and for god’s sake, pick up the poo!

Idiots who won’t leave your dog alone when you’re in a hurry

This pet peeve plays into my biggest overall point, which is unwanted social interactions. But this is the worst when you’re just trying to give your dog a quick pee break before you rush out the door for something important. If anyone has some response lines or keywords that have gotten you out of dog social situations, I’d love to hear them. I keep coming up short to spout out something witty and effective.

Idiots who interrupt you at dinner to fawn over your dog

Can’t you see I’m chewing? Or in the midst of conversation? Seriously, don’t use my cute dog as an excuse for your poor manners.

Idiots who give unsolicited dog advice  

Now this is something that has happened far less frequently in my experience thus far, but something that really sticks with you after it happens. You don’t like my dog’s collar, harness, toy, etc.? Well who asked you and named you “dog expert of all the world?”

Being the recipient of rude and unwelcome dog advice happened to me at a wonderfully chill brewery in Asheville in front of friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was totally embarrassing and unnecessary, and it bothered me for a while even though I knew I was in the right. Unless you see an animal being abused, neglected, or put in danger, keep your training and gear opinions to yourself unless you’re asked for them, and just use them for your own dog.

A Dog-Friendly Conclusion

Now I realize that the tone of this long-winded blog post is on par with “get off my lawn” crankiness. But I seriously feel like these are big issues that no one is talking about.

Before adopting Monkey, I had learned all about caring for dogs from volunteering at shelters, fostering a dog, and dog-sitting for many different types of dogs through my side business. But something I wasn’t’ prepared for and that I never even expected was the human/social aspect of dog caregiving.

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It’s not fair to say that if you’re a dog lover you’re outgoing 24/7, and if you’re a cat lover you’re a homebody. I’m neither of those, yet Monkey is a happy, healthy, and fun-loving pup who’s well taken care of and has a life of adventure.

I’ve heard from friends who are parents that this sort of thing only gets worse when you have kids, and if I do someday, I’m sure my list of pet peeves will be even longer then! So please, next time you see a dog (or a kid, for that matter), think about how your words and actions may affect the person you’re randomly approaching and choose them wisely.

Rant over.

One Month on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update

As you can hear from the crickets chirping in my blog (*chirp chirp, chirp chirp*), I haven’t had much time for personal writing lately. But today marks one month of living the nomad life, so I thought it was high time for an update. This certainly isn’t the longest we’ve been on the road – the trips to Mondakoming (Montana-South Dakota-Wyoming), the Northeast, and New Mexico have all been longer.

Yet this one feels a bit different because it has no end date, there’s nowhere to go home to, and the journey is just getting started.

From July 14th: Final Days in Atlanta…Next Up: Full-Time Camper Life!

We’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things so far, but I’ve often struggled to keep my head above water with the constant planning, excess of work projects, and little hassles along the way. Clearly, I haven’t been blogging, but I have been updating my friends and family weekly home-on-the-road posts via Facebook and using an app called Track My Tour to waypoint the places we’ve been with photos and quick captions.

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It’s hard to lump a month’s worth of happenings into one little page, but here’s an attempt of sorts. I’m not feeling particularly witty or insightful right now, but I just need to take a moment to reflect and get a few things out on the page.

So to simplify matters, in text and in my own head, I’ll kick this blog post off with a few lists.

Places We’ve Been So Far: Month #1

  • Asheville, NC: Home on the road #1
    • Favorite parts = hiking, scenery, breweries, catching up with old friends, kayaking
  • Richmond, VA: Home on the road #2
    • Favorite parts = Best campground fitness center and free breakfast EVER, historic stuff
  • Alexandria, VA: Home on the road #3
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront walks, switching it up with a hotel stay during a work conference
  • Washington, DC: Day trips
    • Favorite parts = Monuments at night tour, Natural History Museum, catching up with old friends
  • Annapolis, MD: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront area, ice cream, dressing Monkey up in cooling gear
  • Milton, Delaware: Home on the road #4
    • Favorite parts = Secluded beach 10 minutes away, learning that Monkey can swim, every brewery except Dogfish Head, SUP in the ocean
  • Lancaster, PA: Home on the road #5
    • Favorite parts = Gnome-themed campground, Gnome Countryside tour with Rich Humphreys, Amish déjà vu
  • Hershey, PA: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Free chocolate tour, milkshakes
  • Coopers Rock, WV: Home on the road #6
    • Favorite parts = Hiking every day, playing guitar outside at the campsite, Rattlesnake trail at Coopers Rock, Lakeside crab restaurant
  • Seneca Rocks, WV: Home on the road #7
    • Favorite parts = Totally unplugging due to no phone or internet, bouldering the peaks

Biggest Challenges So Far: Month #1

However, it’s not all been fun and games. If you’re my Facebook friends, those are the photos you’ve been seeing. But there’s a darker side to live on the road that doesn’t get shared.

  • Ant infestation in the camper
  • Nowhere close by/secluded to pee in the middle of the night after too many beers
  • Constantly bothered by annoying strangers wanting to meet Monkey (more on this to follow)
  • 100+ degree temperatures
  • Campgrounds next to landfills
  • Flying insects of all kinds
  • Dirty, public laundry facilities
  • Finding dog-friendly restaurants and attractions
  • Feeling overloaded with work
  • Listening to Christian music in campground bathrooms
  • Infection that landed me in urgent care
  • Too rainy, hot, rocky, etc. to start my days with yoga
  • General crankiness due to all of the above

Realizations Thus Far: Month #1

Admittedly, I haven’t taken much time until now to reflect on my situation and how it’s been impacting me personally. Now it’s all coming at once and hard to take in. Yet taking myself out of my comfort zone and adopting a nomadic life has definitely made me realize a few things about myself.

  • I can tolerate and enjoy high heat much more than most people
  • I can totally maintain a full-time freelance writing job on the road. Business is great!
  • Having people around makes me feel exhausted, annoyed, and drained.
  • The strangers obsessed with Monkey are really wearing me down
  • My feet smell awful, especially after wearing hiking sandals
  • Having my favorite jewelry and toiletries in campgrounds makes me feel normal
  • I will never have a good hair day with all this humidity
  • Figuring out how to play new guitar songs is really hard

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Ramblings: Month #1

One thing that is really getting to me one month in is my annoyance with strangers on the road so far. I was introverted as a kid, went through an extroverted phase in college and my 20s, and have more or less returned to my introverted roots. I’m okay with that. I can “turn it on” and be social pretty darn well when I need to. But I rarely want to, and after it’s over, I feel like I’ve figuratively checked a box for the day and am happy it’s all over.

Dog owners, serious question here: how do you walk down the street in peace?

We literally can’t walk down a street/trail for five minutes without someone exclaiming “PUPPPPYYYYYY!” (she’s about 2 ½, by the way) and rushing over to maul her. Sure, she’s cute, but there’s tons of cute dogs out and about.

I want to get her a t-shirt that says, “I’m social 24/7, but my parents aren’t. Please admire me from afar.” But a t-shirt would only attract more attention, and Monkey LOVES attention and petting from anyone and everyone.

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However, I can’t be social all the time, and these constant conversations are draining. So seriously, guys. Does anyone else have this problem? Do you enjoy and embrace the random interactions? If not, how do you cope with them? It’s basically impossible to avoid them while living in public places. I’m working on a separate blog post all about this rant, so stay tuned.

So many travelers go on and on about how meeting people on the road is the best part about traveling, but I disagree. Extroverted travel is just one way to travel, and not necessarily the best way for everyone. I loved catching up with my old friend and his wife and baby in Asheville and my old coworker and her husband in DC. Not to mention meeting Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at Gnome Countryside was definitely a highlight of my trip so far. But beyond these low-key, pre-planned social get-togethers, I crave time to myself more than anything else.

For the past month, my days have been jam-packed with work projects, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Sure, this is always a “good problem” to have as a freelancer, but sometimes it’s exhausting and just becomes too much.

Besides the workload, we are in a constant state of planning, which also becomes exhausting after a while – always looking for the next campground, the next dog-friendly brewery, and the next museum to take turns going into while the other one hikes around with Monkey. To solve this, we set aside some time to book our next several campgrounds so that piece of the puzzle is taken care of for a while.

Looking Ahead to Month #2

We’re spending a bit more time in West Virginia and then heading into Kentucky next. My birthday, the big 33, is coming right around the corner and we’re meeting up with my parents for a little on-the-road celebration. My birthday’s on a Wednesday, so I’m hoping to take the day off work and do some climbing at the Red River Gorge.

From there, the plan is to head to the coast of Virginia and start traveling south. I’m not entirely sure where we’ll land at the close of month #2, but despite my rare divulgence of frustrations and rants, I’m still definitely excited to see what the next 30 days bring.

Four Legs That Can’t Pedal: Adventures in Biking with a Dog

There are a two types of dog owners: ones that take their dogs with them on adventures and ones that leave their dogs behind. Now I’m not hating on those that hire dog sitters when they go out of town, because these are the folks that helped me build my side gig and make a few extra thousand dollars here and there.

But when we adopted Monkey, I knew that I wanted her to be as much a part of our travel adventures as humanly and canine-ly possible. That’s why when we recently took a trip to New Mexico and planned to put some serious miles on the bikes, I knew it was time to invest in some new equipment.

Just a few days before leaving Atlanta, we Amazon Primed a red-colored, medium sized Solvit HoundAbout Pet Bicycle Trailer to our apartment. We tried to coax Monkey inside it in the living room with toys and treats, but she was just not having it. After a while, we gave her a little push to see if she’d get used to it. But it was immediately clear that either she was too big or the trailer was too small, because it was so cramped in there that she could barely sit down. It was great quality, but just too small for a 43-pound dog.

We promptly returned the trailer with no remaining days to spare before hitting the road on an epic five-week camping trip. Fortunately these days, you don’t have to stay in one place to receive packages, and we arranged to have a larger bike trailer shipped to a UPS store in Albuquerque.

This new blue Solvit HoundAbout Pet Bicycle Trailer was a size large with a lightweight aluminum frame. The product description said it would be suitable for a pet up to 110 pounds, but I’m not sure how the heck that would work. For 43-pound Monkey, this was much better though.

ABQ Ride 1The trailer folds down for storage and the wheels come off and stow inside. It’s actually pretty easy put together after you’ve done it a couple times, and there are mesh screens to boost air flow. It came with a black cushion pad, but I whipped out my sewing machine and made her a cushier one to entice her to ride a bit more. She loves soft things.

Admittedly, the first ride or two had their challenges. I had to pick her up to get her inside the trailer the first couple times, but these days she just walks right in on her own and plops down. Whew! ABQ Ride 2Our very first ride was on the Paseo del Bosque Trail in Albuquerque, which is a multi-use 16-mile paved trail goes from the north to the south edges of the metro area through the Rio Grande’s cottonwood forest. There are lots of access points with free parking listed on the City of ABQ’s website.

ABQ Ride 5

This was an amazing trail for a first dog trailer ride because it was flat, smooth, wide, and not too crowded. With the equipment we have, the trailer only connects well to my bike, so we switch bikes halfway through the ride to break up the labor. This also gives Monkey a break to get out and stretch her legs.
ABQ Ride 3On this particular day, it was lovely weather in the low-70s, and we cranked out a total of about 26 miles round-trip. Afterwards, we let Monkey hike around a bit on a nature trail and then got drive-in milkshakes at Sonic. It was just too-conveniently located right off the trail and too tempting to just gain back the calories we’d just burned. Ice cream and fro yo are my ultimate junk food weakness.ABQ Ride 4 She was a real trooper on this ride, and I felt better about bringing her along than leaving her along in a strange campsite to fend for herself. I don’t believe in keeping dogs in cages at home, especially if they’ve already put in plenty of cage time in a shelter. But I hope the pretty scenery whipping by and the fresh air flowing in are fun for her inside that trailer…especially when we pass by other dogs huffing and puffing by with jealous looks on their faces.
ABQ Ride 6

The next time we broke out the bike trailer on the New Mexico adventure was in Santa Fe, on the Santa Fe Rail Trail. This trail posed a different kind of challenge because it was not paved and quite hilly.

Santa Fe ride 1This 17-mile trail follows the old Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway line from the Railyard park in Santa Fe to the tracks, Highway 285, El Dorado, Lamy. There’s a little bit of everything along this ride in urban, suburban and rural surroundings. Santa Fe ride 2Where we started near our (highly recommended) campground, Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground, we encountered hilly, red-dirt terrain in the countryside with yucca and green junipers growing nearby. A 43-pound dog in a trailer feels incredibly heavy after lugging it up and down hills and over rocks with a pretty standard hybrid bike.Santa Fe ride 3But after a grueling while of this, the dirt suddenly transformed into pavement, and we were smooth-sailing again down the trail. Those first few pedals after the dirt felt like flying!
Santa Fe ride 4We took our mid-bike pit stop at Second Street Brewery, which unfortunately wasn’t really all that dog-friendly and had some questionable happy hour rules. But a cold brew after that challenging ride tasted delicious nonetheless. A local commuter train called the Rail Runner ran alongside the bike trail and the brewery, which we checked out while giving Monkey a bike break.Santa Fe ride 5The sun was starting to set by the time we made it back to the Jeep, which was perfect timing to collapse the trailer and hit up a local grocery store to cook dinner. The sunsets here really are pretty amazing.Santa Fe ride 6

Another bike trip we did in Santa Fe was to the Santa Fe Railyard. This was a shorter and more paved ride we did, with the intent of sightseeing and walking around a bit more with Monkey. From what I’d read about this neighborhood, I was surprised to see it not crowded and quite a few of the shops actually out of business and moved out. But it’s still a really walkable area, and I think Monkey enjoyed a little more time out and about.

Santa Fe Railyard

Since returning back home to Atlanta, we’ve taken out the bike trailer a few more times, and these days Monkey’s a pro at riding in style. We took her on a ride on the Big Creek Greenway between Roswell and Alpharetta, Georgia a couple weeks ago, which was super chill. This is mostly a 12-foot wide paved path that runs through the deciduous woods along Big Creek. But there are also dirt mountain biking trails nearby on the east side of the creek. Monkey and I haven’t been adventurous enough to try those out with the trailer just yet.

Another local spot we biked on the 4th of July to “celebrate our independence from motor vehicles” was the Silver Comet Trail. This trail picks up about 13 miles northwest of Atlanta and extends for a whopping 61.5 miles and ends at the Georgia/Alabama state line. And it doesn’t stop there! Once you cross over into Alabama, you can keep going to Anniston, Alabama for a total of 94.5 miles if you start in Smyrna.

But we took it easy clocked in at just over a leisurely 20 miles to get some fresh air and exercise. This is another wonderfully paved and shaded trail that you can squeeze into a morning ride, even when the day’s high temperatures are going to be 100 degrees.

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I have this bad habit of never taking photos or writing about the places I’m living in, which is unfortunate and something I want to work on. I lived in Chicago for over 6 years and now Atlanta for 1.5 years and haven’t written or photographed much of anything in either city. When I’m traveling, everything seems more blog-worthy and photo-worthy, but these places have treated me well too, and I apologize deeply to them for leaving them out of the mix. Perhaps someday I’ll visit them in the future when I’m living somewhere else and then they’ll make the cut.

Unfortunately, there’s not room in the Jeep or camper to bring the bikes and Monkey’s trailer on our next big adventure, which kicks off in just eight days. This is mostly because it’s summer and we’ll be focusing on water sports instead, like kayaking and SUP. Sadly, a tiny pop-up camper only has a limited amount of room for sporting goods storage, so choices must be made. But come fall, I’m hoping to retrieve the bike gear and introduce Monkey to some new trails that we can explore together on wheels.

IMG_3529 (1)Final Closing Tips for Dog Biking

  • Try before you buy (companies often claim trailers are rated for way more poundage of dog than actually comfortable)
  • Pick a trailer with good pockets for her water bowl, treats, and poop bags
  • Make the trailer as cozy as possible with a soft pillow and favorite toys
  • Be patient, but not afraid to shove her in after a fair number of tries
  • Start with short rides and build up to longer ones
  • Stick to paved trails, at least at first
  • Don’t put a dog in a trailer when it’s crazy hot outside
  • If biking in a pair, let the bike with the dog go first to set the pace and so she can see the other person behind her and feel more comfortable
  • Allow time for stretching and walking breaks
  • Adjust your biking expectations and be prepared to ride slower and not as far with a trailer
  • Scope out dog-friendly breweries to celebrate the end of your ride together!

3 Unforgettable Hiking Trips near Las Cruces: Southwest Road Trip Series

While spending a month in New Mexico, my husband, new pup, and I set up camp in three different “home bases” to explore the surrounding areas: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces. I didn’t know much about Las Cruces before I spent a week here, but it ended up being one of the memorable parts of the entire trip. This was largely because of the unique hiking spots we got to explore that were nothing short of fascinating.

One thing that I’ll always associate with Las Cruces is the crazy high wind. Pretty much every day we were here, there were sustained 30 mph winds with 50 mph gusts that were relentless. Other things I’ll always remember about this place include finding my birthstone in the wild, hiking through a sandstorm, and learning how resilient my pup, Monkey, really is.

So for the next contribution to this Southwest Road Trip Series, these were my three most unforgettable hiking trips in the Las Cruces area.

 

1. Kilbourne Hole – Mining for Peridot Gemstones

The first hike that we went on in the Las Cruces area didn’t end up involving much actual hiking at all. Instead, it was a treasure hunt!

Kilbourne Hole is a place that you won’t find in average New Mexico guidebooks, and we only learned about it while reading about gemstones native to this region. I was skeptical about finding gemstones out in the wild, untouched by human existence in this day and age. But treasure hunts like this don’t happen every day, so we had to give it a try.

It took about an hour and a half to reach Kilbourne Hole from our campground in Las Cruces via intense off-road-style dirt paths that brought the Jeep’s speed down to about 20 mph. Pretty close to the Mexico border, this place really is in the middle of nowhere, and the 45-minutes of rocky dirt trail to get here was an adventure in itself.

IMG_4793Kilbourne Hole is a maar (i.e. a pit/depression caused by a volcanic explosion) in Doña Ana County and a remnant of a volcanic explosion that dates back an estimated 100,000 years. Today it’s a National Natural Landmark on BLM land and known for the unique minerals that surfaced after the eruption. The crater measures just 1.7 miles long by over a mile across, but it’s hundreds of feet deep.

IMG_4794Although I was skeptical about actually finding rocks worth anything, only a few minutes passed before we started seeing green and yellow gems glimmering in the sunlight. This area is open to the public and there are no regulations about removing any rocks from the site as long as you can maneuver the crazy roads to take them back to wherever you came from. IMG_2471Along the road to get here and at the crater site, I never saw a single other person or car. The only signs of life out here were a few stray cows and a desert flower or two.

After parking the car, we descended into the deep gorge pit and braced ourselves for the crazy wind blowing in all directions. This area can only be described as desolate. In fact, the landscape makes you feel like you’re in a cartoon: the same scene over and over again to mock you and make you question reality. IMG_4812But what was really fun about this adventure for me is that we actually found my August birthstone here, peridot! Some of the stones were scattered loosely, likely someone else’s scraps from a previous collection. But others were hidden deep inside unassuming dark rocks strewn about and required a good smash to reveal the shiny stuff inside. IMG_2973We brought a couple handfuls of peridot-encrusted rocks back home with us and have begun to separate the gems from the rock parts. It’s tedious, but how fun would it be to create a piece of jewelry someday with my birthstone gem that I “mined” for along the U.S.-Mexico border! IMG_2975

Science nerds out there can read more about the crustal and mantle (peridotite/olivine-bearing) xenoliths on the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources landmark page. There’s also a 7.57-mile hike that you can do around the volcanic maar sink hole that takes about 3.5 hours and takes you to different parts of the crater that has other types of rock to check out.

 

2. White Sands National Monument – A Surreal Sandstorm

When I was 15 years old and had my learner’s permit from driver’s ed, my parents and I went on a trip to the Grand Canyon. To my delight, they let me get some of my driving hours in on straight and boring roads in the Arizona desert. Little did I know that my parents set me up to drive in my very first sandstorm with plenty of those little white crosses lined along the highway to serve as reminders of the sandstorms that have come before.

The day we hiked White Sands National Monument maybe didn’t constitute a full-blown sandstorm like that one, but the powerful winds sure did make for an interesting day in the desert.

Oddly, we had to pass through border patrol just to reach the national park, which the park staff blamed on anti-drug trafficking efforts. However, the roads were paved, which was a nice change after the insanely bumpy ride to Kilbourne Hole. The visitor center and gift shop had lots of fun souvenirs if you need to stock up on friends & family gifts, so they’re worth a quick stop on your way in.

IMG_4828Hiking the white sands of New Mexico really is unlike hiking anywhere else. It’s vast, desolate, windswept, and mysterious. And since the dunes are formed by gypsum, the sand is surprisingly cool-to-the-touch, even on scorching hot days.
IMG_2493These dunes in the Tularosa Basin were explored by Native Americans, exploited by Spanish explorers in pursuit of resources, and used by the U.S. military for missile testing. They’ve really been through a lot but are in amazingly preserved condition. IMG_2509As we set on out the Alkali Flat Trail, we only encountered one other couple that was moving markedly slower than we were across the dunes. This trail is just under five miles, but surprisingly strenuous with the steep dune climbs and high winds.

It’s best climbed barefoot, and lots of water is an obvious must. I heard that you can actually rent out sandboards and sleds to glide down the dunes, which would have been a blast but we didn’t have time to try it after the hike and before the sun set. IMG_4924There’s no shade or water along this trail, or anywhere out in the dunes, but thankfully there are helpful little orange and white posts to let you know you’re on the right path. Reduced visibility and getting lost are total possibilities out here, especially in the high-winds of the spring season.IMG_4918About halfway through the hike, you’ll reach the flat section that has a really creepy vibe to it. The Alkali Flat is the dry lake-bed of Lake Otero, which filled the bottom of the Tularosa Basin during the last ice age and covered a massive1,600 square miles. IMG_4969Although she was just as covered in sand from head to toe as we were, Monkey was a really trooper and truly seemed to really enjoy the soft, cool texture for the most part. When overly excited, she “twirls” and “dances,” which escalates to the highest degree on sandy beaches and even dunes like these.IMG_4957

 

3. Organ Mountains – Baylor Pass Trail

Several years ago when I first started freelance writing full-time, I wrote some advocacy articles for the petition site, Force Change. I learned about the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico while doing some trip research and wrote a petition to Preserve Beautiful Desert Mountain Range as a National Monument back in 2013. A little over a year later, President Obama signed a presidential proclamation that the five mountain ranges above the Chihuahuan Desert would finally have National Monument status, and therefore federal protection and managed preservation.

Well, I finally got to visit these mountains for myself and venture out on a hike that started with this ominous warning sign. One afternoon after working a half-day back at the campground in Las Cruces, we set out on the Baylor Pass Trail, which is about six miles long.

P1060708The Organ Mountains are full of Native American, New Mexican, and American history that includes Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave, pictographs & petroglyphs, Apollo Space Mission training sites, and WWII aerial targets. Their towering peaks are even more ominous that that warning sign and create an eerie presence in the sunset.
P1060711From the trailhead, it felt like a long hike just to get to the base of the mountains, and it was a steady, moderate climb from there. I saw quite a few wildflowers and mysterious yellow berries in the shrubs along this trail, which took my mind off the rising temperatures and bright sun beating down.
P1060725This is when Monkey really proved her resilience here because I’m pretty sure she got a spider bite and was a real champ about it. She’s a very quiet dog that rarely makes a sound at anything, but I heard a tiny yelp and saw her frantically pawing at herself and starting to roll around on the ground. Then I noticed a spider on her paw and brushed it off. I can’t be sure that the spider caused the ruckus, but there was no other explanation in sight.

Monkey’s hiking pace slowed dramatically, and she would periodically sit down mid-stride, which I’ve never seen her do before. She also seemed to be limping, which was especially concerning because we still had about 1.5 miles to get back to the car. I was starting to prepare myself to carry this 44-pound pup the rest of the way and start searching for nearby animal hospitals as soon as I had internet reception again.

But somehow, she just slowly got over whatever was bothering her and got back to her old self again by the end of the hike. I was really proud of my little Monkey for being so tough and keeping up with us on all these hikes. Her life has changed so dramatically since she was picked up as a stray and lived in county animal control cage, and I can only hope that she’s enjoying all of these new adventures as much as we are.

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Well, since this wraps up my posts about my three home bases in New Mexico, my next ones will be about getting off the beaten path, doing some biking, sampling brews at local breweries, and random musings on traveling with a dog. There’s plenty more New Mexico adventures to come, which I’d better wrap up soon because the next big trip is right around the corner!

***This article was also featured as a guest post on Southwest Discoveries. Check out Hiking in New Mexico – 3 unforgettable trips to take