It’s Been 11 Months on the Road…Will We Make it a Year?

Ummm….yeah. So that was a silly question, but perhaps I had you fooled.

In all seriousness, we have no intention of switching up our lifestyle anytime soon because frankly, no better-sounding lifestyle has presented itself. When it does, that’ll be the day we stop moving from place to place every couple weeks.

I left off last month right before our two-year “marriage anniversary” in Oceano, California. It was a pretty sweet anniversary actually. We took off after half a day of work, soaked in some hot springs, hiked to some beach caves, destroyed some sushi for dinner, and watched an in-jeep movie at an old-timey drive-in theater. Good stuff.

As you might have noticed, we’ve been zig-zagging across the state of California from the coast to inland and back again. This past month started right by the beach in Oceano, then went inland to Frenso and back out again towards the coast to Gilroy.


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

Oceano, California: Home on the Road #39, Continued

  • Highlights: An ultra-random and low-key beach anniversary, more time at the sand dunes, retro dinner inside a renovated train car, kayaking/SUPing Lake Lopez
  • Lowlights: A painfully hot and thorny hike around Lake Lopez, thorns that can penetrate hiking boots/socks/skin

Chief looks good at vineyards

Touring a luffa (AKA loofah) farm…who knew they grew in greenhouses and not in the sea?!

Private hot springs…ahhh. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Beach.

At the bottom of a very steep hike down by Avila Beach

Avila sea caves…crazy impressive and worth the ultra-steep hike

Rock ‘n’ Roll Diner in Oceano…in a train car!

Kayaking with the Monk on Lake Lopez

Ouch. No way I’m getting all those thorns out. Hiking socks = trash.


Fresno, California: Home on the Road #40 

  • Highlights: Finding fun indoor things to do because it was consistently 100+ degrees (bowling, billiards, arcade games, movies, climbing gym), good campground Wi-Fi, cheap campground, farm tour at Naylor Organic Farms and learning all about nectarines & apricots, lots of dog-friendly places, FINALLY hiked among the giant sequoia trees, washed the RV ourselves in the campsite and saved $100+
  • Lowlights: The fact that it was consistently 100+ degrees, homeless people pushing carts everywhere around our campground, hard to find farms open to the public and that give tours, the epic frustrations of trying to sew a dress

How is this even possible?

Indoor activity #1

Indoor activity #2

Indoor activity #3

Kind of obsessed with fancy, flavored, locally-grown olive oil right now

Blueberry farm, The Berry Lady – too busy to give us a tour but now I know what blueberries look like in a field

Farmer Naylor teaching us about nectarines

Feeling pretty pleased about this apricot

Kings River Winery

Farm things, continued…

The giant sequoia stumps left behind from the massive logging operations of the late-1800s/early-1900s. So sad for the fallen. So happy a few of them still remain.

Hiked out to the Boole Tree…makes me feel so small

Rub-a-dub-dub


Gilroy, California: Home on the Road #41, In Progress

  • Highlights: The smell of garlic in the air (because I actually like garlic), local farm stands everywhere to buy fresh produce, biking and scenic drive in Monterery, seeing my husband’s childhood home and schools in the Cupertino area, seeing seals, watching the Golden State Warriors win the finals at a walking-distance winery by our campground with the owners and their family cooking us dinner, comfortable weather
  • Lowlights: No garlic farms to visit even though this is the garlic capital of the world, super cramped campsites with no personal space

Visiting the one and only real garlic-themed attraction in town, a shop called Garlic World

Garlic ice cream…this exists and it’s not as terrible as you’d expect.

Scenes around Monterey #1

Scenes around Monterey #2

Scenes around Monterey #3


This Month’s Realizations & Ramblings from Month

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

  • We are making use of the breadmaker we resurrected out of storage! Don’t worry that isn’t mold…it’s olive bread and it was delicious.

  • I’ve also resurrected my shaker and love of bartending. Using some mint leaves from a plant I’ve been growing and some agave nectar here. Anyone have any recommended cocktail recipes to share? I’m always up for new booze challenges.

  • I can’t believe it’s mid-June, but that may be due to the fact that I never really felt the impact of the seasons for the first time in life. We were in Tucson in December, for example, where it was in the 70s. But unlike a lot of people (husband included), I don’t really miss the seasons because I love warm weather. But I’m just taking note that time passes by a bit differently when seasons aren’t a factor.
  • Some of the burnt sequoia trees look like artistic sculptures that belong in front of libraries and museums.

  • Claustrophobic campgrounds are really getting to me and feel like living in a shantytown. Full-time RVers who don’t work internet-heavy, full-time jobs can boondock in remote and beautiful places. But our situation usually plants us down in RV parks, and you never really known what you’re going to get until you show up. The close quarters are not fun at all and I spend a fair amount of time developing strategies to avoid neighbors. We are definitely overdue for a boondocking experience like we had in the Mojave Desert…hopefully soon.

Close quarters = no bueno

  • We bought a new board game called Ticket to Ride – it’s super fun and travel-themed!
  • Sewing is so freaking hard. I found a pattern idea in a blog titled “The Easiest DIY Maxi Dress Ever,” which was supposed to take one hour to make. It took me four. After much cursing and a couple of those cocktails referenced above, I did it. It sure isn’t perfect, but IT IS DONE. And I’m pretty happy with it.

  • Here’s the finished dress! Whew.

  • Work is still as busy as ever for us both, but we do our best to squeeze in one fun activity per day somewhere in every 8-10 hour workday.
  • The new RV (we’ve had it nearly 4 months…when will I stop calling it “new”?) makes me feel like I don’t always have to be on. I can be sick, lazy, or sad in here and that’s just fine.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’ll be in Gilroy for a little while longer and then moving on to Oakland. After that we’re headed to Napa Valley. From there it’s all unknown, so I guess we’d better figure that out sometime soon. If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Toot-a-loo!

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.

Two Months on the Road! A Full-Time Camper Life Update

Two months down…??? to go!

Two months ago, we drove out of Atlanta with the Jeep and pop-up camper filled to capacity and have been touring the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states ever since. On or around the 14th of each month, I’m aiming to write a quick update about where we’ve been, where we’re headed, and things I’m learning along the way.

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Related: 

Places We’ve Been: Month #2

We slowed down our pace a bit and have been spending a week in each place to better accommodate our work schedules and see more in each place.

  • New River Gorge, West Virginia: Home on the road #8
    • Favorite Parts: Hiking around the gorge and bridge with beautiful views, coal mine & ghost town hikes

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  • Red River Gorge, Kentucky: Home on the road #9
    • Favorite Parts: Turning 33, meeting up with my parents, rock climbing and lazy floating on my birthday

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  • Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia: Home on the road #10
    • Favorite Parts: Easy access to kayaking & SUPing, playing horseshoes, decorating for fall

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  • Roanoke, Virginia: Home on the road #11
    • Favorite Parts: Staying in a hotel (Labor Day camping is for amateurs), solo museum outings, Black Dog Salvage

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  • Virginia Beach, Virginia: Home on the road #12
    • Favorite Parts: Camping right next to the beach, beach yoga/running/swimming, meeting up with my buddy Dwight

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  • Surf City, North Carolina: Home on the road #13:
    • Favorite Parts: Still here, but so far it’s been surviving a crazy storm with flooding (bit of a rough start)

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Biggest Challenges: Month #2

A lot of the challenges that were really getting to me in month #1 have mellowed out as I’ve settled into a better routine. Overall, the weather has been more pleasant in month #2 and our campgrounds have been pretty accommodating.

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The single biggest challenge I’ve felt this month is finding good internet for working. We’ve had to upgrade our data plans to make up for crappy service at campsites and have even had to move sites within campgrounds for better reception. These distractions cut into my productivity and make it more difficult to enjoy the other aspects of camping life.

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The other big challenge that comes to mind is mold/mildew. After some rainy days in West Virginia, it started growing on our camper canvas above the two beds. We didn’t discover it until we were in the Middle of Nowhere, Kentucky where cleaning supplies were very sparse. Vinegar ended up working pretty well until we got to a bigger store and picked up some mildew spray. Fortunately, no one got sick.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #2

Over the course of the month, I jotted down random thoughts as they came to me. Here’s what my month #2 list looks like:

  • I’m getting better at doing yoga in weird places and feeling better physically and mentally because of it.
  • I’m getting more tolerant of bugs and getting better at ending their lives when necessary.
  • Monkey needs social time even when I don’t. We met her perfect playmate at Arrowhead Bike Farm in Fayetteville, WV – a hound named Hank.

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  • Keeping the inside of a camper clean is hard, especially when you’re camping in mud or sand. We are constantly sweeping the floor with a tiny broom and dust pan.
  • I really crave my end-of-the-day beer or mug of wine
  • I don’t necessary identify with West Virginia culture, but the uncrowded/outdoorsy vibe really resonated with me.

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  • Having our own downloaded TV shows to watch separately makes for easy and refreshing solo time. I’m currently watching Girls, Scandal, and Wentworth solo.
  • We did an “art in the park” day that involved drawing in sketchbooks and painting on watercolor postcards. I want more of these days.

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  • It’s possible to keep up many favorite hobbies even without an apartment.
  • When one person in your travel party isn’t coping well, the other needs to pick up the slack. Take turns with negativity.

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  • Inspired by scary campfire stories, I wrote a short fiction ghost story. Once I fix it up a bit, I’ll plan to share it here and perhaps write a few more too!
  • Once a month, it’s nice to treat ourselves to a hotel to switch up the routine. The Sleep in in Roanoke over Labor Day weekend to avoid crowds and the hurricane was really fun.
  • I love living by a beach.
  • Inspired by the beach I’m trying to start meditating again. I’m trying out guided meditations on this app, Meditation Studio by Gaiam.
  • I’m getting tired of wearing these same clothes and can’t wait to toss/donate them at the end of the season.
  • I have made more income so far this year than ever before in life!

Looking Ahead to Month #3

If you take a quick look at a map, you’ll see that we’ve made a big loop and seem to be circling back. But don’t be fooled because this trip is nowhere close to done!

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After stops in North Carolina and South Carolina, we are heading back to Atlanta for a few days. Here we’ll revisit that packed 10′ x 12′ storage unit and swap out water sports gear for biking gear, and summer clothes for fall and winter clothes. This will wrap up our tour of the Eastern U.S., and from here, we drive west!

For many years, we’ve wanted to go to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, and this is the year we’re finally going to do it! So we’ll be putting in long hours in the car to breeze through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas to get to the festival in time. Month #3 will be incredibly different from months #1 and #2 because it begins our journey of the west. I can’t wait, and as always thanks for reading and staying in touch!

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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