Our Last Full Month of Full-Time RVing: Winding Down Life on the Road (Month 37)

Did you just do a double-take when you read “our last full month in the title? Well, it’s not a click-bait gimmick or an April fool’s joke. That would be weird and totally unnecessary. But it is totally true because…

WE’RE BUYING A HOUSE IN NEW MEXICO!!!

My days of full-time RV life are numbered (literally 12 left), and I’m a messy mix of emotions over it. We’re beyond ready for a next phase, a new adventure, and something totally different to throw ourselves into. At the same time, it’s pretty terrifying for a lifelong renter and RVer to make as big of a commitment as her first real adult house and transition away from something that has come to define her for over three years now.

More on the house situation in a bit, but before I get ahead of myself, here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Bernalillo, New Mexico: Home on the Road #124

After the Great Summer Midwest Road Trip, we made a plan to stay in Bernalillo for really one reason: to house shop in Placitas nearby. We stayed at a historic site campground 10 minutes away from where we had focused our real estate search so that we could really start diving into our post-RV life phase. Ironically, we actually put a bid on our house the very day we rolled into town, which was our three-year anniversary of RV life. So, with that out of the way, we used the next two weeks to pretend like we were locals and scope out the things we’d do regularly in our future home region.

  • Highlights: Swimming laps at the Rio Rancho Aquatic Center, Climbing at Stone Age Climbing Gym (which we learned is opening up a second location even closer to our house!), beautiful storms for monsoon season, painted kiva at the Coronado Historic Site, Bosque Trail for biking in ABQ, Indian vegan food at Annapurna, finding dog-friendly indoor things to do (antique store, book store), mountain biking and hiking in the forest that’s practically in our new backyard, comedy shows and bowling at the nearby Santa Ana Casino, frequenting our new local brewery (Bosque Brewing)
  • Lowlights: Multiple trips to the laundromat (but I’ll have my own washer & dryer soon!), super hot and steamy days, public showers, second-guessing the whole house commitment thing and being all wishy-washy

Winslow, Arizona: Home on the Road #125

*Well I’m standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona*

Yep, I did that. And I also learned to crappily play the song on guitar and even more crappily sing along to get into the local vibe. We camped nearby at Homolovi State Park, which was all 100-degree days but had peaceful desert scenery that made up for it, for me at least.

  • Highlights: Walking around ancient Hopi structures, local history museum in Winslow, playing guitar outside where no one could hear/judge me, checking out the famous Meteor Crater landmark
  • Lowlights: Over 100 degrees every day, public bathrooms full of crickets, only safe time of day to go running was insanely early in the morning

California Summer Road Trip: Home on the Road #126

As one last big hoorah, we’re in the midst of our second summer road trip to see family and friends – this time to the Bay Area of California. From Winslow, we embarked upon three days of grueling RV driving in the hottest temperatures I’ve ever experience in my life, with overnight stays in Needles and Bakersfield.

  • Highlights: Bragging rights of being in one of the three hottest places in the world at that time (others were Saudi Arabia and Algeria), oddly feeling like I was on another planet when it was pitch dark and still 107 degrees for Monkey’s bedtime walk, having 2 working air conditioners in the RV, takeout pizza in Needles, Temblor Brewing and sushi night out in Bakersfield
  • Lowlights: 117 degrees actual temperature – enough said (went down a degree before I could capture the pic below), Camper rattles and shakes so much that I’m pretty sure it’s going to collapse in on itself before we close on this house, not being able to really work in the RV because of how insane it drives, Jeep air conditioning that still doesn’t work well, how shaking and miserable Monkey is while riding in the RV so long

Bay Area Days (so far)

The Bay Area is a pretty terrible place to try to go camping; there’s really no way around it. You’re either paying insanely high prices, packed in like sardines into a parking lot, or sitting through traffic no matter what. In the past while visiting the husband’s family, we’ve stayed at two different campgrounds in Napa and a state park near Oakland. To try something different this time just for the heck of it, we’re giving the Alameda County Fairgrounds a try in Pleasanton. It’s cheap for the area but little more than a parking lot with sewer hookups and about 10 inches between you and your neighbor. It’s the kind of place that makes me ready to be done with camper life, which I guess is a good thing since it is almost done. No complaints about the food or friendly company though 🙂

  • Highlights: Golf driving range nearby, temperatures in the 60s that feel downright cold in the evenings, fast and free Wi-Fi, meeting up with a few local friends, learning the art of acrylic paint pouring with the sis-in-law, easy routes so I could rock 5.10ds at the Diablo Rock Climbing Gym, biking across the Bay Bridge
  • Lowlights: How dumbly sore my right bicep and left rib get after hitting just a couple golf balls, back into the 100s again, lots of not dog-friendly activities to work around, always traffic

Paintings, not food


Looking Ahead to Next Month

Okay, so back to the house.

Where in New Mexico, you ask? Well, I’m glad you did, hypothetical question-asker.

Our soon-to-be home is in a magical land called Placitas, an incorporated village of less than 5,000 people between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It’s in the mountains and where the desert meets the forest, with a couple acres of our very own land and plenty of wide-open spaces all around. It feels rugged and remote, while still being within 30 minutes of the ABQ airport and 45 minutes from all the quirky artsy stuff in Santa Fe.

Sneak peek at my soon-to-be, very own backyard

The house itself is in great condition but a bit older, so we’ve already started a long list of YouTube-fueled DIY upgrades to make it our own and help fill the void of not traveling full-time. I’ve gotten mixed reactions from people I’ve told so far about the house news, but mostly positive and encouraging.

Folks who know me well aren’t surprised by my choice to try living in New Mexico out of all the places we’ve temporarily lived in over the last few years. Yet others are disappointed that I didn’t pick a place closer to them or that I’ll be giving up a lifestyle I’ve been so “lucky” to pursue for something more ordinary. First of all, luck has nothing to do with it since I’ve busted my ass to build a profitable career from the ground up that I can do anywhere. While I wouldn’t trade my full-time RV experiences for anything, the RV lifestyle is over-rated and over-romanticized by sexy Instagrammers and delusional types with their heads in the clouds. I’ve tried to provide balanced coverage of what it’s really like out here on the road, but honestly, it’s mostly just working at a makeshift desk in the passenger seat of the RV while staring at the back of other campers, with a few fun things squeezed in between that are photo-worthy. I’m sure that shifting to a lifestyle with a stable home base will be a shock to my system, but it’s not the end of adventure – it’s the start of a new one – one of getting to know the Southwest like a local, traveling internationally, and having a more well-balanced life with hobbies and learning new skills.

My post next month will be all about this transition since about half of it will be on the road and the other part moving into a non-wheeled home. So, Month #38 will be my last “home on the road” series post, a monthly tradition of sorts I’ve managed to keep up with since July 2016 for some reason. But don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll come up with something else to endlessly blabber on about to fill the void!

Have a wonderful month, my dear blog-reader, wherever you are.


Catch up with the journey:

Anniversary Edition: Three Years of Full-Time RV Life!

Today officially marks three full years being a nomad! After this long on the road, I barely remember what it’s like to not live in a camper. I’m not sure what people are supposed do with their time if they aren’t in a constant state of figuring out where to sleep, looking up what to do in a new temporary home, or driving a glorious monstrosity down the highway. It’s been a wild ride of ups and downs, and while I wouldn’t trade the last three years for anything, we’re also looking at this milestone as turning point.

To round out year #3, it’s been a long, weird month that has been lots of fun at times and downright miserable at others. Month #36 featured our annual summer jaunt to the Midwest and back, without the RV and just with the Jeep and tent. With a gas-guzzler that gets less than 7mpg, you don’t jet across the country and back for just a few weeks – you just don’t do it.

This past month, I got to bridesmaid in a good friend’s wedding, see a bunch of old friends that I love, and spend time with my family for an “early birthday” visit. Meanwhile, I’ve also been sweating, itching, and wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life while being stuck in a 95-degree tent where sleeping is impossible, menaced by biting insects, feeling nastier after using campground bathrooms than before using them, and complaining a lot. As you can tell 🙂

More on that in a bit, but first, here’s a little three-year RV life reflection to kick things off:

SOME FAVORITE HOMES ON THE ROAD THAT COME TO MIND

  • Boise, Idaho
  • San Luis Obispo, California
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada
  • Wenatchee, Washington
  • New River Gorge, West Virginia
  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • June Lake, California
  • Cedar City, Utah
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Cortez, Colorado
  • June Lake, California
  • Marfa, Texas
  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Bend, Oregon
  • San Diego, California

THE THINGS I’M SO OVER WITH ABOUT RV LIFE

  • Calling incompetent old-timers to make campground reservations every week in the most inefficient way possible
  • Campground pit bull discrimination
  • Hauling laundry across campgrounds, only to pay for laundry machines that don’t work
  • The lack of personal space, privacy, peace, and quiet
  • Other campers – whoever says that meeting people in campgrounds is the best thing about RVing either hasn’t been full-timing very long or is way more extroverted than me
  • Trying to drown out the husband’s work phone calls to focus on my own work in a tiny space when noise-cancelling headphones just don’t cut it
  • Loose dogs in campgrounds despite supposedly enforced leash rules
  • No room to work on crafts or do hobbies
  • Being unable to wash my hair and shave my legs in the same shower due to the lack of hot water in an RV shower
  • Hassles of trying to find RV storage and dog boarding in a new place every time we want to catch an international flight
  • Researching new places every week so that travel planning feels like a burden instead of an adventure
  • Questionable internet reception = questionable work productivity
  • Being generally cranky because my heart just isn’t into this like it was in the beginning

THE THINGS I’LL TOTALLY MISS ABOUT RV LIFE WHEN IT’S OVER

  • Waking up to new scenes and landscapes each week
  • Having access to new trails and outdoor experiences on a regular basis
  • How much money I’ve been able to save over the past 3 years by doing RV life instead of paying rent or a mortgage
  • The general concept of living a non-standard, un-boring life
  • Following the good weather with the seasons
  • How easy it is to live a minimalist lifestyle in an RV with very little stuff to weigh me down

And now, here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Durango, Colorado: Home on the Road #121

Before hitting the road for the Midwest, we stayed in Durango for a week. We’d visited this outdoorsy Colorado town once before a couple years ago and knew we’d like it here. It was beyond easy to get active here, and it’s a place we’d probably look to plop down at for a while if it weren’t so expensive and far away from an airport for international trips.

  • Highlights: Animas City Mountain hike, biking the Animas River Trail, beers at Animas Brewing, probably many more things that have the name Animas, getting back on the rock wall for some climbing 
  • Lowlights: Crappy cell reception AND campground Wi-Fi for working, more campground laundry machines that don’t work, long hours working in advance of the Midwest road trip

Journey to the Midwest: Part of Home on the Road #122

After a week in Durango, we set out for the Midwest on a day that started off all bundled up at 35 degrees. Little did we know (well, we really did know because we obsessively check weather) that we’d soon be living in 100-degree temperatures with high humidity with no easy access to cool off for the foreseeable future. The Jeep’s air conditioning has been on the fritz and tends to completely die on the absolute hottest days after you’ve been driving for 8+ hours.

The idea of camping every night along the way and knocking out a few new states to camp in sounded good in theory. But in reality, some of these days were especially rough for trying to get work done, keeping Monkey from overheating and burning her paws, dodging mosquitoes, and basically not strangling each other.

  • Highlights: Colorado sand dunes, dinner meet-up with our good friend in the Denver area, Grateful Gnome Brewery in Denver, exploring the cute Colorado town of Golden, saying I’ve camped in Nebraska for the first time ever, walking up and down the Indiana sand dunes
  • Lowlights: Insane heat and humidity, insane bugs, trying to sleep in a tent next to a train, disgusting bathrooms that even challenge my low standards, trying to work on a laptop in the passenger seat without puking

Chicago and Arthur, Illinois: Part of Home on the Road #122

Chicago was a whirlwind visit filled with good beer, great friends, and a cozy place to stay with some awesome buddies who set us up with an actual bed and the best shower ever. There was lots of eating and drinking while catching up with old friends and my sixth bridesmaiding experience in a suburban wedding. From there, we headed a few hours south to spend time with my family for an early birthday trip. I can’t claim another year around the sun for another month and a half, but isn’t making what’s supposed to be a single celebratory day into an entire season of celebration what being an only child is all about?!

  • Highlights: Staying with good friends that are dog parents to Monkey’s favorite friend, brewery meet-up with favorite folks at Great Central Brewing, experiencing the chaos of the Montrose Dog Beach with Monkey, catching up with my girls from freshman year of college over dinner, not falling off an electric scooter and busting my head open, getting to be an indoor bridesmaid in the A/C instead of sweating and getting soaked at an outdoor wedding, wedding reception open bar (enough said), having my parents take care of me like I’m 15 years old again (they’re the best), spending time with my grandma
  • Lowlights: Chicago traffic, non-stop heat and humidity, freak (Monkey-caused) rope burn accident that ripped apart my ankles, trying to hike in Illinois and remembering why people don’t hike in Illinois  

Journey Back from the Midwest: Part of Home on the Road #122

After a few days staying at my parents’ house, we hit the road for the westward journey back to our home on wheels, but not before making a bunch of tent-camping stops along the way. To knock a few more states off our list, our route back to Colorado included campgrounds in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas. Some of these overnight adventures surprisingly sucked (hey there, Tennessee!), while others were surprisingly pleasant (oh hi, Kansas!).

  • Highlights: Saying I’ve now camped in Missouri/Arkansas/Kansas for the first time, surprisingly fun mini-golf and good Indian food in Branson, sunsets, a little magical time to read a book, swimming in a lake, second visit to the Hopping Gnome Brewery in Wichita, Boot Hill Museum with a dinner show and gunfight in Dodge City, reaffirming that I oddly now enjoy water parks in my mid-30s
  • Lowlights: Not being able to work in the passenger seat due to a busted cable and having to frantically find a new power adaptor on the road, insane bugs, insane heat and humidity, tough working conditions, stupidly being surprised by the tough working conditions even though we’ve done this sort of thing countless times before

Bloomfield/Aztec, New Mexico: Home on the Road #123

Our original plan was to camp for two more nights in Colorado, but we’d had enough of the tent life and decided to power through nearly 13 hours of driving instead to get back to our comfy, cozy RV back in Durango. It was a grueling day, but after it, my RV bed and memory foam pillow had never felt better. We found a campground near Aztec Ruins National Monument that could take us in at the last minute and finally settled back into that New Mexico life.

  • Highlights: Exploring the Native American ruins and kivas with low crowds, getting caught up with post-trip laundry/groceries/cleaning, checking out a new part of New Mexico we hadn’t been in before
  • Lowlights: Super hot but it’s okay because we’re back in the RV with A/C, meh pizza takeout for dinner, dead Jeep battery (Chief was clearly exhausted and needed a break after this road trip)


Looking Ahead to Next Month

As you might assess from my current lists of “loves” and “hates” about RV life at the top of this post, this three-year milestone is making me more and more ready for a next phase as the days go by. Full-time camping has been an adventure for sure, but there are lots of ways to have adventures, and I’m curious to explore what those are all about too.

Just today, we got back into the Placitas, New Mexico area, where we are interested in scoping out houses that are not on wheels. We have a couple weeks here to dive back into the local real estate scene before hitting the road again – this time westward to California to put in a friends and family visit on the husband’s side of things. Staying put never seems easy for us, but honestly, that will never change whether we are full-time RVers or just occasional RVers in the future.

Thanks for following along for the past three years, my friends! Life on the road can get a bit isolating at times, so having people to share my journey with, even if it’s just through the internet, has helped me feel more connected to the rest of the world at times. Three years is a milestone, but it’s also a turning point towards something that may be entirely different, and hopefully just as exciting.


Catch up with the journey:

From the Islands to the Desert: Hawaii, New Mexico & Colorado for RV Life Month #35

Unlike every other month over the last couple years, this one didn’t start out in an RV. Instead I woke up in a tent on a beach in Hawaii. I won’ lie…it was a pretty awesome way to kick off month #35 of life on the road, as well as our anniversary and the husband’s birthday.

However, we did Hawaii a bit differently than the average tourist. Instead of going the insanely priced, all-inclusive resort on Waikiki Beach route, which really isn’t out style, we camped in a tent for five nights and treated ourselves to a cabin for two nights. Then after a refreshing non-working vacation, we checked into Santa Fe, New Mexico for a whole three weeks, an area we’ve really enjoyed in the past and may be enjoying even more of in the future.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Oahu Hawaii: Home on the Road #118 (part 1)

Our few days in Oahu were filled with a mix of touristy things and trying to get off-the beaten path as much as possible. We hit a couple of the famous must-dos, but ditched the super-popular hikes for more chill ones that were just as scenic. Definitely one of the best parts was falling asleep and waking up to the sounds of ocean waves just a short distance from our little blue tent on the beach.

  • Highlights: Successful beach camping (it’s not easy to find good camping on Oahu!), learning how to use outdoor showers, poke bowls, having scenic Ka’Ena Point  all to ourselves, non-stop entertainment at the Polynesian Cultural Center, surprising the husband with a birthday luau, delicious chikoo boba tea in Honolulu’s Chinatown, random Hawaiian diner food, all the beautiful plants, wonderfully warm weather, Dole Pineapple Plantation for touristy indulgence, getting daily updates about Monkey from our dog sitter back in Albuquerque 
  • Lowlights: Other people’s loud late-night parties at the campground because we’re old and tired, remembering how awful air travel is and wondering why the hell one of my post-RV life goals is to travel more internationally, rain and humidity, the trafficky and stressful Waikiki Beach area, missing Monkey and knowing how much she’d love these sandy beaches

Big Island, Hawaii: Home on the Road #118 (part 2)

While Oahu was definitely nice to visit, the Big Island was more our style. It was a bit more laid-back, less-touristy, more outdoorsy, and had plenty of wide-open spaces. To go “all out” for our anniversary, we booked a stay in a cabin at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and let the tent dry out from the recent rain showers.

  • Highlights: Rainbow Falls and checking out Hilo, a real bed after all those tent nights, anniversary dinner with a view of volcanoes at the national park’s Rim Restaurant, tasty Korean and Thai food, black sand beaches, checking out a real estate open house and legitimately considering buying it, the self-guided tour at Pu’uhouna o Honaunau National Historic Park, swimming in the warm ocean water, snagging a free trial day at a Planet Fitness to do some yoga and get a much-needed shower, free coffee samples from Kona coffee farms, that got me through the jet lag phase, delicious honey and macadamia nuts from Paradise Meadows farm, public beach camping that wasn’t as loud as I expected, lava rocks galore, shave ice with ice cream underneath, the mostly-outdoor Kona airport that puts all other airports to shame, seeing a rainbow just before we flew home, getting updates that Monkey is doing amazing at the dog sitter and playing well with as many as 8 (!) dogs at a time in a backyard 
  • Lowlights: Bummer there’s no lava flowing, lots of national park trails closed after the 2018 earthquake and volcano damage, struggling to find a shower when you need one (thanks for the free trial day, Planet Fitness!), never could find rental snorkel equipment when we wanted it (should have brought our own, I guess), more getting rained on, disappointing service at the Kona Brewing Company

Santa Fe, New Mexico: Home on the Road #119

After flying back to Albuquerque (with a brief layover in Phoenix), we collected our little Monkey from the dog sitter’s place, headed straight to a self-serve dog wash to scrub away all that stranger-dog grime, and collected our RV from the storage lot. That same arrival day, we made the short journey up to Santa Fe, a destination we’d settled on plopping down at for three straight weeks. Not only were we feeling exhausted with all the moving around, but the corridor between ABQ and Santa Fe has emerged as real possibility for post-RV life.

  • Highlights: Meeting up with awesome fellow full-time RVers Jamie and Ross for African fusion dinner, experiencing the bizarre world of Meow Wolf, drinking at a couple local breweries, house shopping in nearby Placitas and Eldorado at Santa Fe, checking out some remote national historic sites, dry and warm weather for the most part, super-chill vibe over Memorial Day, hikes and trail runs nearby, Shakespeare performance in the botanical garden, quirky Currents New Media art show, best community center I’ve ever been to (Lap pool swimming and ice skating in one afternoon? Sign me up!), hanging out with alpacas at Blue Mesa Alpaca Ranch
  • Lowlights: Literally having snow here the day after getting home from Hawaii, waking up to 34 degrees in a tin box with no insulation in late-May, crazy winds for biking, trying to navigate the strange world of real estate and having our first-ever offer rejected, post-vacation laundry chaos, ran out of time to mountain bike and rock climb

Pagosa Springs, Colorado: Home on the Road #120

It’s been a long time since we’ve set up camp in Colorado, and there are still lots of this state I’m dying to see. We’ve somewhat put off Colorado because we’re pretty confident that we’ll plop down in the Mountain West eventually, which means that Colorado destinations will be right in our backyard. But for now, we’re checking out the small resort town of Pagosa Springs, which is beautiful, peaceful, and has just enough to see and do without being overwhelming for a week-long stay.

  • Highlights: Easy access to hiking and mountain biking trails in the San Juan National Forest, hopping back on the mountain bike again, cute downtown area to walk around, hot springs even though our days here topped 85 degrees, lots of sunshine, snow-capped mountains in June, cutting out of Friday work early here soon to go for a long mountain hike followed by hot springs and dinner as rewards
  • Lowlights: Having to pay for electric meter usage at a weekly RV site for the first time ever (WTF?), the exhausting annoyance of trying to communicate with inept campground workers to make future reservation, lots and lots of hours working ahead in advance of the upcoming Illinois trip, crappy Verizon reception, lugging huge laundry bags across a campground only to pay high prices for machines that don’t work


Looking Ahead to Next Month

From here, we’re heading to Durango…a Colorado spot we’ve day-tripped to in the past but never spent a whole week in before. Then, this upcoming month will be our annual RV-free summer road trip to Illinois and back for a friend’s wedding that I’m bridesmaiding in, to squeeze in some Chicago meetups with old buds, and to put in an early birthday visit with my family. Like last summer, we’ll be tent-camping between Colorado and Illinois to check out some new parts of states we never spend much time in across Middle America.

When we get back to the West, property-hunting mode starts all over again. I’m perpetually torn about the concept of buying land and a house, because on one hand, commitment freaks me out, it’s all a big money suck, and I don’t want to lose this grasp I have on the minimalism lifestyle. Then on the other hand, I’m beyond ready for a next life phase after nearly three years of RVing, I don’t have much more energy for more full-time travel right now, and I despise the idea of settling for a crowded apartment environment as our next move. Full-time RV life has somewhat come to define me at this point, but I can only do the same thing for so long before becoming restless and wanting to experience something else, and that time has come.

We’ve put an insane amount of time, thought, debate, and conversation into where this next phase should begin, and at least right now, the stars are aligning over Placitas, New Mexico. The St. George, Utah area, the previously-agreed-upon promised land, proved to be far less affordable than expected for the type of property we’d be happy in, and somehow, we’ve gotten pretty picky with what we’re looking for.

These are my top priorities:

  • Over an acre for good neighbor distance
  • Scenic landscapes and views
  • Separate offices for work
  • Tons of windows and natural light
  • Solar panels if possible
  • Backyard with a fence for Monkey to play in
  • Outdoor space for growing plants and food
  • A place for my gnomes to come out of storage
  • Deck or patio to hang outside in my very own space
  • Laundry machines that actually work
  • Separate area for crafts and hobbies
  • No HOA or overbearing rules
  • Onsite camper parking
  • Able to put a little hiking trail in/around the property
  • Remote location but not totally inaccessible
  • Decent airport distance for international travel
  • Not insanely priced

That’s not too much to ask, right?! 🙂

I’ve learned that I care more about the outside than the inside of a house, and the husband’s list looks a bit different than mine, but we’re mostly on the same page. We went out on a limb and actually put a low-ball offer on a house and it fell through…live and learn. When it comes to “adulting” with things like real estate, I still feel like I’m 15 years old. But I’m learning along the way slowly and in no huge rush until this magical “home off the road” decides to emerge from the universe and present itself.

Until then, you can find me feeding alpacas in my dreams.

Next month will be my “three-year anniversary (eeek!) of full-time camper life” post, so tune back in on the 14th for some more rambling if you’re game. Thanks for reading along!


Catch up with the journey:

One Last Sweep Through the South: Month #34 of RV Life

We sought out springtime in the South in hopes of less rain than last spring in the Pacific Northwest. It’s kind of crazy how much more the weather impacts life in a camper compared to being in an apartment somewhere. The number of rainy days has been fewer in the South, but the storms have been bigger. We’ve escaped the tornadoes and hail you may have heard about in the news, but we’ve still had our fair share of thunderstorms knocking out power and scaring the daylights out of poor Monkey.

Month #34 kicked off with a Gulf Coast bike trip and then moved at record speed through northern Texas and Oklahoma. We’ve since made it back to our familiar home base of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with an island vacation just around the corner.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Biloxi, Pensacola, Orange Beach & New Orleans: Home on the Road #113

We called it our “MissFloBamaIana bike trip,” but unfortunately, not a whole lot of biking actually happened. The goal was 100 miles over the course of a long weekend, but we didn’t even reach half of that goal. This was because of the high 20+ mph winds, time-consuming bike repairs, thunderstorms, and the time constraints of scheduling in a social visit. But we still managed to tent-camp in four states in four days, thereby checking a few more places off our “full-time RV life map.”

  • Highlights: White sand Biloxi beaches, visiting my aunt and her husband in Orange Beach, delicious seafood, not getting sick after tent-camping, Gulf Island forts, walking around Pensacola
  • Lowlights: Consoling a dog terrified of storms, broken spoke, rain and mud, insane winds, no time to party in New Orleans, so much driving

Shreveport, Louisiana Area: Home on the Road # 114

Our stay in the Shreveport area was a short one – just a couple days for the purpose of visiting our favorite nonprofit sanctuary, Chimp Haven. It wasn’t a scheduled tour day at Chimp Haven, but as occasional donors, the staff let us drop by anyway to bring in some donation items and see a few chimps.

  • Highlights: Seeing some fun research-retired chimps being well cared for, mountain biking trails around the sanctuary where you could hear the chimps hootin’ & hollerin’, a surprisingly decent campground in Greenwood at a TA travel center, being invited by the campground long-termers to their Easter lunch
  • Lowlights: No time to actually check out anything in Shreveport, terribly maintained roads to get here in an RV that’s already insanely bumpy on the smoothest of roads

Tyler, Texas: Home on the Road #115

Tyler State Park was a lot like our stay in Huntsville State Park, and Texas’ state parks are by far the best things about Texas. Right from our spacious campsite, it was easy to get to mountain biking trails, trail runs, quiet paths for long dog walks, and a lake for boating. Lately I find myself much happier staying out in the boonies in a place like this and only going to town about once a week.

  • Highlights: Continuing to get a little better at mountain biking, peaceful campsite, magical time to hang out outdoors, eating dinner on a stand-up paddleboard without toppling over, working on a craft project for Mother’s/Father’s Day, the beautiful rose garden in town, True Vine Brewing’s super-sweet outdoor space
  • Lowlights: More thunderstorms, lots of mud

Roadside Stop: Argyle Texas

With the take-down, setup, gas/propane stops, slow driving speed, etc., RV driving days always take more time than you’d think. Finding a place to park this monstrosity often prevents us from making too many stops along the way on moving days, but we made an exception in Argyle, Texas.

I first heard about Gnome Cones in 2017, an all-natural snow cone stand in a Texas town of 4,000+ people. I finally got to experience the world’s only gnome-shaped snow cones for myself along this drive, and it was nothing short of incredible.

The shack is super-cute, the flavors are creative (I chose Troll’s Blood, which was a mix of cherry, strawberry, and coconut), the onsite gnome collection is pretty impressive, and they’re damn delicious too. I bought a keychain and t-shirt as souvenirs and arbitrarily joined their Gnome Cones club in hopes of making it back here someday for round two.

Transition Week Stop 1: Lake Murray, Oklahoma

Transition week, collectively Home on the Road #116, was a whirlwind week of state park stays in three states. This was an intentional plan to break up the long drive from Tyler, Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first stop was Lake Murray State Park, which was our first-ever time camping in Oklahoma.

  • Highlights: Peaceful site with no neighbors, nice weather to work outside, adding the Oklahoma sticker to our RV life map, getting in a good run
  • Lowlights: Not enough time to take the boats out on the nice lake, not much in the way of hiking trails

Transition Week Stop 2: Copper Breaks State Park, Texas

Our second stop for transition week was Copper Breaks for a three-night stay to get substantial work done and spend some time on the trails. This was an awesome place to mountain bike and also see colorful wildflowers, with some landscapes that surprised me that they were in Texas.

  • Highlights: Nice hiking and mountain biking trails at the park, red rock landscapes, quiet campsite, amazingly colorful wildflowers
  • Lowlights: More storms to scare Monkey, Jeep tire issue that actually required a service from Quanah to come out to us, mounting fuel costs

Transition Week Stop 3: Caprocks Canyons State Park, Texas

The third stop on this very mobile week was Caprock Canyons, which was our last stay in Texas for probably a long while. I loved the scenery here for this one-night stay but never ended seeing any of the resident buffalo that are supposed to be roaming around the park.

  • Highlights: Red rock landscapes along a nearly 7-mile hike on the rim trail, watching the resident prairie dogs peek their heads up from dirt mounts and confuse the heck out of Monkey, sweet potato pancakes for breakfast
  • Lowlights: Where are the buffalo?!

Transition Week Stop 4: Sumner Lake State Park, New Mexico

To round out this multi-stop journey, we camped in a new part of a familiar state. New Mexico is certainly not known for its abundant water sources, but there are a surprising number of nice lakes here for chill boating activities. Sumner Lake State Park took me by surprise with how nice the campsites here, how blue the lake was, and the stunning lightning show under the desert stars.

  • Highlights: Cute outdoor casitas at each campsite that were perfect for working, campsite views of the lake, chill vibe, feeling at home back in the desert, fun lightning in the distance
  • Lowlights: Not enough time to get the boats out, not much in the way of hiking trails

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Home on the Road # 117

Albuquerque has become a familiar home base for us. This was our first destination for the 5-week camper life trial in 2016, it’s where we set out from for last year’s Christmas trip, and it’s now where we plopped down to fly out to Hawaii for an anniversary vacation. We’ve stayed at a different campground each time – this time north of the city more in the Rio Rancho/Bernalillo area.

  • Highlights: Discovering our new favorite “promised land” of Placitas between ABQ and Santa Fe that is more like where we would want to find a future house than anywhere else we’ve seen lately, a great mix of sunshine and storms, finding a local at-home dog sitter nearby via Rover to take care of Monkey while we’re in Hawaii, securing RV storage during our trip, chill hike in the Cibola National Forest, good times at the casino bowling alley, authentic New Mexican cuisine of sopapillas with green chile 
  • Lowlights: Almost getting screwed out of an RV storage space because campground owners are unreliable, hassles with campground mail delivery, not enough time to do more city things in ABQ with work and packing


Looking Ahead to Next Month

I’m sharing this monthly update a little early because TOMORROW, we fly out to Hawaii! It’ll be my first time in the islands, and we’re taking our tent gear for a more rugged and local experience vs. the going the popular all-inclusive resort route that’s not so much our style.

We’ll be spending a week on Oahu and the Big Island and renting a car on each one so we can check out whatever island life has to offer at our own pace. It’ll be a much-needed week of not working and celebrating our anniversary and the husband’s birthday in the mid-May beach tradition that we’ve kept up with over the last four years.

When our time in Hawaii sadly comes to an end, the almost the entire rest of month #35 will be spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The corridor between Albuquerque and Santa Fe has quickly jumped to the top of our potential plop-down list after discovering a disappointing lack of good housing options in Southwestern Utah. Post-vacation, we’ll be slowing down the pace of camper life to scope out the scene and take a breath of fresh air.

Until then, aloha!


Catch up with the journey:

The Cross-Country Christmas Journey from the Southwest & Back: 2.5 Years of Nomad Life

Although I grew up in the Midwest, I have little desire to be back there except for visits to family and friends. This means that every Christmas involves a cross-country journey and doing my best to avoid snow, ice, traffic, and delays.

These days, we opt to drive instead of fly for this particular journey so that Monkey can join us for Christmas and because well, air travel just sucks. It’s a Jeep-only endeavor since the RV is a gas-guzzler, but fortunately, we found a departure campground with onsite storage to simplify the logistics. This year’s Christmas journey began in Albuquerque, New Mexico, made a stop in Atlanta, Georgia and then finally onto the town I grew up in, Arthur, Illinois.

On the eastbound journey, we broke up the drives with overnight hotel stays in Henryetta, Oklahoma and Tupelo, Mississippi, visits to Fort Smith National Historic Site and Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Arkansas, visits to Civil War battlefields in Mississippi, and breweries in Little Rock and Birmingham. Our stay in Georgia revolved around the husband’s business meetings, a company Christmas dinner, and getting an emissions test done in the Jeep so we don’t have to worry about that nonsense until August 2020.

It was Christmas traditions as usual at my parents’ place, with way too many amazing gifts and delicious things to eat. We tried to offset the impending fatness by running on their treadmill in the garage every morning. We spent a full week here in the house where I went to high school from and were able to get some much-needed downtime. I squeezed in work with every spare moment that didn’t feel like it was infringing upon the festive spirit.

I typically feel like I’m usually the one who makes the effort to visit people, but as an added bonus this year, everyone seemed to come to us! We had two sets of friends passing through Arthur who were awesome enough to stop by and say hello to break up their drives through the frigid corn fields. A few days later, a friend from high school came over to see us as well and scarf down some Mexican food to break up all the meals filled with casseroles and pies.

After spending a full week in Arthur, it was time to head back; however, all of the national monuments we’d planned to visit on the return journey were closed due to this idiotic government shutdown. So, we powered through Missouri and Oklahoma and stayed overnight in hotels in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Tucumcari, New Mexico along the way.

Central and southern New Mexico don’t typically get much snow, but the universe wasn’t smiling in our favor this year. The final leg of our return journey was riddled with icy roads and traffic accidents, and we were greeted by a busted pipe system and no running water when we got back to our home on wheels.

Now that we’re 2.5 years into this lifestyle and back at it again, here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Christmas Trip (Albuquerque, New Mexico > Atlanta, Georgia > Arthur, Illinois): Home on the Road #102

  • Highlights:
    • Being able to keep up with my work and even get ahead a bit over the holidays.
    • Good times with my parents, grandma, extended family, friends traveling through, an old high school friend, and my epic collection of Cabbage Patches that live at my parents’ house.
    • Pretending like I’m a teenager again by having all of my meals cooked for me and laundry done for me
    • Seeing tidbits of random towns in random states
  • Lowlights:
    • So many long hours in the Jeep
    • Treacherous roads in New Mexico to get back
    • Frozen pipe parts = no running water
    • The government shutdown = no visits to national parks/monuments

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Home on the Road #103

Tired of all the camper drama that comes with cold and snow, we booked a campsite in Las Cruces in search of warmth and sunshine. But wouldn’t you know it, it snowed right here barely north of the Mexico border. Regardless, this was a fun place to ring in the new year and transition back into camper life after the holidays.

  • Highlights:
    • New Year’s Eve Chili Drop festival downtown – we made it out until midnight!
    • A healthy Monkey report from her annual vet appointment and dental cleaning
    • Still the best campground bathrooms/showers I’ve ever experienced at Sunny Acres RV Park
  • Lowlights:
    • Why is everything in the RV breaking?!
    • Not nearly as warm or snow-free as it’s supposed to be here
    • Back to the grind with all work and not-so-much play

Marfa, Texas: Home on the Road #104

In 2.5 years of full-time RV life, would you believe that we’ve never camped in Texas? Sure, we’ve camped in Texas pre-camper-life in a tent and stayed in Texas hotels while making cross-country Christmas road trips. But our stay in Marfa finally warranted the adding of the Texas sticker to our RV travel map. I’d heard of Marfa’s mysterious lights and weird artist community, and I watched the one and only season of I Love Dick. This was our first time experiencing Marfa for ourselves though.

  • Highlights:
    • Checking out minimalist, abstract, modern, and just plain random art in the middle of the desert (a Prada store that never opens?!)
    • Scenic and secluded hike at Davis Mountains State Park nearby
    • Warmer days in the 50s and 60s
    • Slow pace of life and some rare downtime
    • Looking through telescopes at a “star party” at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis
    • Tent camping for the weekend at Big Bend Ranch State Park, an excellent Big Bend National Park alternative (I’ll kick off with this in next month’s post)
  • Lowlights:
    • Never-ending camper repairs, especially the plumbing system
    • The “donations suggested” campground washer/dryer machines that took 4+ hours to do one load of laundry
    • Strong and never-ending West Texas winds
    • Shops, galleries, and restaurants often closed and only seem to open when they want to
    • Not a good time to visit Big Bend National Park with the shutdown so skipped it



This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Working in certain hotels on the Christmas journey really made me miss having a real desk and chair to put in my 8+ hours per day. Pictured here: LaQuinta in Dunwoody, Georgia.

  • For a while there, winter camping was further driving me towards calling this lifestyle quits in 2019. Winter or not, we’re working towards a plan to plop down by the end of summer in the Southwest. Therefore, 2 1/2 years of camper life = six months left of camper life (approximately). There is an end on the horizon, which is pretty unsettling but also pretty exciting to enter a new phase in a new place.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

Month #31 is looking like a whole lot of Texas, including some new parts of Texas that I have yet to see. From Marfa, we’re heading to the Del Rio and plopping down there for a couple weeks. After that, it’s on to San Antonio, which will be our home base for a full month. We’ve never actually reserved a campsite for an entire month before! It’s usually cheaper to do that, but we typically have a harder time staying in one place than paying weekly rates. However, we won’t exactly be IN San Antonio all that time.

Not a campsite. This is a Dan Flavin art exhibit in Marfa.

I’ve been frustrated with putting off international travel just because of the logistics of camper life, so just before Christmas, we did something spontaneous and booked a flight to Japan! It seems like all we ever do is travel plan, so our Japan itinerary is still wide open. However, we’ll be there for a week, flying into and out of Tokyo, and looking to take trains to other places like Osaka, Kyoto, snow monkeys, etc. Please send any tips or suggestions my way. Thanks to my friends who have already offered great tips!

Custom Jeep decals with our silhouettes and favorite landscapes!

Then the non-camper living continues even after Japan for me. Towards the end of the month, I’ll be heading to Vegas for a weekend girls trip with some favorite ladies from college. So while month #31 is going to be all about Texas and trip preparations, month #32 is going entirely out of my normal routine. Bring it.


Catch up with the journey:

Picking Up the Pace of Southwest Adventure: Month 29 of Nomadic Life

It’s holiday season, which means chaos and cold, even for your favorite nomad out on the road. Since traveling full-time, the Southwest has carved out a soft spot in my heart. But over the past month, we’ve been moving through it at record speed.

We’ve been in search of warmth and off-the-beaten-path places that we might not make it back to anytime soon. We’ve also been in search of change and something to drive us towards decisiveness to start a post-camper-life phase of life next year. On top of all that, this time of year is always insanely stressful for me with work thanks to everybody and his brother having last-minute projects and year-end deadlines.

But first, it’s a race towards Christmas, which will once again take us “a long way away from home” to Georgia, Illinois, and everywhere in between. I’m exhausted and burnt out at the moment, so hopefully the change of scenery and schedule will help rather than hurt.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road. Oh yeah, the husband recently pointed out that apparently, I don’t know how to count. So, I’ve adjusted the “home on the road” numbers and just reached the big #100 in Gallup!

Lee Vining, California: Home on the Road #95

When I think back upon our extended weekend in Lee Vining, one word comes to mind: freezing. We’d driven through this tiny town of approximately 222 people once before while spending three weeks in nearby June Lake. However, this time, we dry-camped in a forest service campground with no hookups to revisit the area while passing through.

This part of the Eastern Sierras is a favorite place of the husband, who’s a big fan of snow-capped mountains, green forests, and skiing nearby. There’s no denying it’s stunning, but we’ll get to my all-time favorite landscape a little further down.

  • Highlights: Making it through Tioga Pass before it closed for the winter, the most peaceful campground nestled among the trees, walking again among the tufas of Mono Lake, revisiting our favorite June Lake Brewing and its Hawaiian food truck
  • Lowlights: Further realizing how miserable I am when I don’t have a warm place to escape to

Tonopah, Nevada: Home on the Road #96

For Thanksgiving, many people have traditions of traveling to see family, going shopping, and eating turkey. Our Thanksgiving tradition involves none of those things. Instead, we aim to find remote destinations that no one goes to in order to escape crowds, traffic, and consumerism. This year’s Thanksgiving destination was Tonopah, Nevada, a place where we hoped to learn a bit more about this mysterious state outside of the usual trappings of Vegas and Reno.

The town itself is a bit run-down and dusty, but it has a quirky charm to it that really can’t be beat. I mean, seriously, where else can you find a creepy Clown Motel, haunted cemetery, and spray-painted cars upturned in the dirt all within a few miles of each other?

  • Highlights: Exploring mining history areas that were dog-friendly, discovering that casino campgrounds really can be alright, getting spooked by haunted attractions in town, walking through a car graveyard not unlike Amarillo’s famous Cadillac Ranch, delicious pesto tortellini for Thanksgiving dinner and craft time with clay and construction paper in the RV
  • Lowlights: More freezing cold days (a big theme of this month), the only brewery in town had not-so-great service and no vegetarian options (but the beer was pretty good)

Mesquite, Nevada: Home on the Road # 97

In search of a little more warmth and to check out another random Nevada town we’d never been to, we booked a spot at another casino campground in Mesquite. Casino campgrounds seem to be the norm in Nevada, go figure. However, the route for getting here was a big part of the intrigue. You see, we took a drive down the Extraterrestrial Highway (Nevada State Route 395) in search of aliens, UFOs, and anything else on the paranormal spectrum.

But upon reaching Mesquite, an entirely different type of invasion actually occurred. Much to my surprise, my best friend conspired with my husband to book a spontaneous flight to Vegas and then drive to Mesquite just to see me. I had literally just taken my last bite of Saturday morning pancakes and was two seconds away from hopping in the shower when I stuttered, “Um…what is Michelle doing outside the camper right now?” It was baffling and amazing at the same time.

  • Highlights: Stocking up on alien souvenirs and a grilled cheese sandwich at the Extraterrestrial Highway pit-stop of Little A’Le’Inn, getting a surprise visit from my best friend and spending the day in the desert and later on the Vegas Strip with her, biking around Mesquite to check out the town, ending our stay at the hot tub at the Casablanca Casino & Resort
  • Lowlights: Only having a weekend to check out this new part of Nevada, having to say goodbye to my favorite lady and send her back to a blizzard in Illinois

Kanab, Utah: Home on the Road #98

If I had to pick a place to live based upon landscape alone, I’d pick Southern Utah. Ever since my previous visits to Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and Kodachrome, there’s been something magical that draws me to the impressive red rock formations of this area. We stayed in the nearby town of Cedar City for a couple weeks last year and made Kanab our destination this time. Aside from having our first snow of the season, Kanab welcomed me with views I never got tired of, uncrowded trails, and non-annoying people.

  • Highlights: Best landscape views ever, awesome BLM hiking that’s dog-friendly and uncrowded at this time of year, seeing snow on the red rocks, touring the dog and potbellied pig areas of the Best Friends animal shelter facilities, getting into the Christmas spirit with a local musical production, slot canyons you can walk right into, going to my first-ever real estate open house (maybe SoUT will be in the future plans?)
  • Lowlights: Trying to work while wrapped in a sleeping bag/countless layers/hand warmers/etc. when our propane heater broke once again, almost getting stuck in the sandy backroads

Monument Valley, Arizona: Home on the Road #99

Our stay in Monument Valley was short – just an extended weekend. But we packed a lot into it and saw Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley National Tribal Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Sites, and the Chaco Culture National Historic Park. This circuit encompassed Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico and was a bit of a three-day whirlwind.

  • Highlights: Seeing incredible rock formations with hardly anyone else around, epic photos of light snow on the formations, learning about Navajo history, receiving a beautiful turquoise and silver Kokopelli necklace as an early Christmas gift
  • Lowlights: Having the Jeep’s battery die and failing to successfully charge it with our solar system battery or push it to the front of the RV for a jump (had to ask a neighbor for help…ugh), lots of time driving and passengering in the RV, stray dogs everywhere and lots of dead dogs on the sides of roads

Gallup, New Mexico: Home on the Road #100

Our last pre-Christmas journey on this road-trip-called-life was Gallup, New Mexico. We’d been to Gallup before and honestly weren’t all that in love with it. But it was the next logical place to stop before starting to head east. Plus, we wanted to check out the Red Rock Park and see a different side of town.

  • Highlights: Scenic hike up the Pyramid Trail and hike to Church rock, quiet campground and no neighbors for few work distractions, surprisingly decent Wi-Fi, the best public laundromat experience I’ve had in a long time
  • Lowlights: More stray dogs everywhere, work stress galore, immune system shutting down, all the prickly thorns that get in Monkey’s feet from the desert shrubs (she got carried for almost a whole minute before squirming her way down), no time or inspiration to do anything in town



This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • You always have to pay attention to tunnels when you’re driving a home on wheels. Our RV is about 12 feet tall. This tunnel was 13 feet and three inches. The one after this was only 10+ feet on the sides but taller in the middle. Spoiler alert: we made it through.

  • Maybe it’s a sign of getting old, but my body is having serious trouble adjusting to the cold. However, I’m sure it would be more manageable if I had a comfortable place to wake up and come home to instead of an un-insulated tin box with a chronically broken propane heater. The circuit board gets flooded, no matter what, every time it rains, which kills it and only a $100 replacement gets the back heat on again. This is a shot I took on a morning when I woke up to 31 degrees inside the RV. Warming measures we’ve taken include 1 space heater (2 blow a fuse), covers for the roof vents, carpeted floor mats, and complaining a lot.

  • Then there are days like this…pretty, but no thanks.

  • I’m not a fan of snow, but if I have to see it, I prefer it to be lightly coating some glorious red rocks in Utah.

  • These are Thanksgiving crafts we made to celebrate the holiday out in the middle of nowhere in Nevada over copious amounts of wine. Because we’re like five.

  • Picking up non-space-consuming souvenirs from super-random places is a favorite pastime of mine. This license plate now lives on the front of the Jeep (that’s legal, right?), I can never have enough fun tank-tops, who wouldn’t want to drink out of an alien shot glass, and my insanely large souvenir patch collection continues to grow.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

From here, we embark upon our big Christmas journey back east and sans RV. It never makes sense to schlep this gas-guzzler across the country for just a short amount of time, so we’re sticking it in storage and heading eastbound in just the Jeep.

We shifted over to Albuquerque to make the transition because we found a campground with onsite monthly storage, which makes everything easier. The RV sofa is already piled with crap to pack, yet my packing list has a confusing number items yet to be checked off. Well, you know what I’ll be doing for the rest of the day. Until next month, signing off and happy holidays to all!


Catch up with the journey:

Month #3 on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update!

Today marks three months of life on the road…and finishing month #3 strong in this tiny camper home with the spouse and pup!

Unlike lots of other solo travelers and couples doing the full-time travel thing that I keep up with, my blog here is just a hobby and a personal outlet. Although a monthly update is about all I can manage with my work my schedule, it’s still something I’m holding myself accountable to on the 14th of each month. And BTW, work is going great…never a dull moment!

Places We’ve Been: Month #3

Month #3 marked a huge transition for this camper journey and a big move from the east to the west. After spending time just along the East Coast so far, we made a quick stop back where it all began (Atlanta) to swap out gear from the storage unit and put in some social visits. Now we’ve moved on to the West/Southwest and will be here for the foreseeable future!

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

  • Charlotte, North Carolina: Home on the Road #14
    • Highlights: Last kayaking & SUPing of the season at Lake Wylie, discovering Lucky Dog Bark & Brew (off-leash dog park + craft beer bar!), campfire storytelling
    • Lowlights: Police shooting riots downtown

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  • Atlanta, Georgia: Home on the Road #15
    • Highlights: Taco dinner & great conversation with my BFF, hiking up & camping at Stone Mountain, stocking up on Indian sweets for Navratri
    • Lowlights: Navigating all the excess stuff in our storage unit and wondering why we kept it

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  • Morrilton, Arkansas & Amarillo, Texas: “Passing Through” Homes on the Road #16 & 17
    • Highlights: Hotel stays to treat ourselves after 8+ hours of driving per day, nice trail behind the Amarillo hotel, soup on the side of the road, free Wi-Fi and breakfast!
    • Lowlights: Getting nauseous trying to work on a laptop in the passenger seat

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  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: Home on the Road #18
    • Highlights: Finally checked out the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, new alpaca sweater and hats, scenic dog park, started biking again – feels great to be back on a bike!
    • Lowlights: Weather prevented the balloons from launching on the one and only morning we had in ABQ, no dogs allowed at the festival

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  • Cortez, Colorado: Home on the Road #19
    • Highlights: 2 weeks in one place, Mesa Verde, Canyons of the Ancients, Southwest hikes & landscapes, very comfortable town with pretty much everything I want, went to yoga and belly dancing (first ever!) classes, got a good haircut, fall festival in Dolores, boarded Monkey at doggie day care for the first time and that went ok
    • Lowlights: Low of 27-degrees at night with no good camper insulation, annoying locals, not many dog-friendly businesses

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Realizations & Ramblings: Month #3

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #3 on the road.

  • The East Coast was nice but isn’t long-term for me. I felt ready to leave it and head west.
  • Weather really affects my mood, motivation, and how I spend my days while living outdoors – Cortez has been full of sunshine 🙂
  • Clotheslines are incredibly useful in a campsite – especially if you’re by a beach or doing water sports and trying to avoid a mildew infestation.

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  • I love camping next to trails and have been trying to get into trail running, slowly but surely.
  • Despite all the new environments, I haven’t really gotten sick on this trip so far. Yay! But my immune system gets run down every once in a while with symptoms of a headache and a sore throat. Fortunately, it’s been going away within a day.
  • Bag salads with toppings and dressings are my favorite semi-healthy lunch.

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  • This lifestyle reinforces my lack of attachment to places.
  • The social interactions that every other travel blogger talks about being the “best part of travel” still mean very little to me. Random encounters bring me anxiety, annoyance, and disinterest. Perhaps it’s a phase. Or maybe just me getting older and working/living remotely for so long. Either way, I’m cool with it. And I feel like someone needs to share the perspective of how introverted long-term travel can be just as fulfilling, if not more.
  • Hotel stays are a fun occasional treat – especially after long driving days.

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  • We played a fun storytelling game one night that was really fun. It goes like this: Tear up pieces of paper and on each one, write (a) characters, (b) characters’ goals, and (c) an obstacle to characters’ goals. Randomly draw one piece from each category pile. Grab a small notebook and Person #1 writes one page to start the story. Person #2 only gets to read the very last sentence of what Person #1 wrote and then keeps the story going with one more page. Go back and forth 3 times and then read your story aloud at the campfire. Our story involved a park ranger who dreamed of making the best grilled cheese sandwich ever but had debilitating social anxiety.

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  • For the first time on this trip, we stayed somewhere more than a week: Cortez. We really need more than a week to get beyond the tourist highlights and get into a good work groove to discover local stuff. It’s nice to get to a point of comfort in a new place where I can do normal things like get a haircut, go to a yoga class, and try belly dancing for the first time (hip scarves are hot).
  • Small decorations for fall make the camper feel more festive for the season.

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  • I enjoy the hassle-free lifestyle of small towns but the anonymity of larger cities.
  • Playing disc golf with a dog is impossible – never again!
  • I have no idea how to dress for fall. Living most of my life in Illinois, hot summer basically turned into cold winter before I had a chance to think about fall clothes. I went shopping for some layered outdoor wear, but I still struggle with what to put on myself when it’s in the 60’s. I’m open to advice on this one!

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  • Desert landscapes make me feel peaceful.
  • Chief Surfs with Manatees, my Jeep, hit 88,888 miles (now over 91K) and is still going strong!

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Looking Ahead to Month #4

Month #4 will continue our exploration of the West in Colorado and Utah. We’re skipping the familiar parts of Colorado that we already know and sticking to the southwestern part of the state between Cortez and Grand Junction.

Other than an epic canyoneering trip in Zion a few years ago, Utah will be totally new to me. So I’m definitely looking forward to checking out Salt Lake City, Moab, Arches, and all the amazing landscapes here. I recently upgraded my iPhone to the 7+ so I’m also planning to snap some awesome photos to share!

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Halloween is also coming up, which is my favorite holiday of all time. So we’re planning to celebrate with a pumpkin patch visit, perhaps some cheap & easy costumes, and plenty of pumpkin-flavored desserts and beer!

Thanks for following our adventures and definitely looking forward to what month #4 brings!

 

Related:

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.

IMG_3534 (1)

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!

Drinking Beer in New Mexico & the Tragic Decline of Brewery Blogging

Back in 2012 when I started this blog, local craft breweries were still something of an anomaly. Coincidentally, this is also when I really started to travel and get into beer culture. Four years ago, it was incredibly exciting to stumble upon a brew house in a warehouse district, along the railroad tracks, or on Main Street downtown. But that’s when breweries were relatively few and far between in general, and definitely still new to me.

I celebrated each brewery with a strict attention to detail, with a trusty notebook in hand and a camera-toting boyfriend in the other. I used to write about each and every individual brewery I visited, noting the ambiance, the service, and casually rating my favorite and least favorite flavors.

Reminisce with me for a moment…

Fast forward to mid-2016, when every small town on the map has it’s own brewery and every big city has about a dozen. I certainly don’t love beer any less than I did four years ago, but the suddenly overcrowded marketplace has made that initial excitement wear off a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I still incorporate breweries into my travels and plan to check out at least one in each new place I visit. But I just can’t muster up the energy to write about each and every one of them anymore. It’s a daunting task that I’m just not up for…or getting paid for! So just like every other random craft beer fan out there, these days I simply plop down, pick my poison, and leave it at that.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit over-dramatic. I still do jot down travel notes and try to snap a photo of brew houses I visit after hikes or for an afternoon break. But after days of writing full-time for my day job, I just can’t bring myself to write more, especially about an ever-growing niche that I no longer have hope of conquering.

Then again, to bring things back into perspective…IT’S JUST BEER FOR GOD’S SAKE!

When I recently spent a month in New Mexico, not surprisingly, I visited lots of breweries to scope out the local beer scene. In no particular order, these are some of the breweries I managed to document in some way and little bits and pieces of the things I can remember about them.

Santa Fe Brewing Company, Santa Fe

This was a post-hiking brewery stop after checking out La Tienda Trails. We actually only got about 1.8 miles into the hike before a work emergency came up and we had to turn back for the laptops in the car.

Santa Fe Brewing Company 1But fortunately, all the emergency required was a little attention and an internet connection. And Santa Fe Brewing Company was right around the corner. Santa Fe Brewing Company 3They had an insane number of beers on tap, but a terrible organization system for samplers. The reason I have so many photos of this place is because I actually had to compare and match up a photo of the beer listing board inside with faded abbreviations under tiny glasses, making about four trips back and forth from the bar to the patio.

But with 13 tiny beers in front of me, how seriously irritated could I really be? Santa Fe Brewing Company 4

Second Street Brewery, Santa Fe

This was a post-biking brewery stop in Santa Fe after pedaling along the hilly, dirt roads of the Santa Fe Rail Trail. This wasn’t one of my favorite breweries because of the questionable and inconsistent rules. Apparently, I’m getting a bit crotchety in my old age.

Their large patio was not dog-friendly, but we read online that people have brought dogs to the tiny smoker’s area and didn’t get bothered, so that’s what we did. The brewery advertised happy hour specials but they didn’t honor them for the beers we picked, and they couldn’t justify their sizing and pricing. Oh well, you can’t win every time.
Second Street Brewery Santa Fe 1

Spotted Dog Brewing, Mesilla

This was a great little brewery we visited after walking around Old Town Mesilla. There were lots of cute shops and historic buildings here, and the brewery was in walking distance from all that.

Here we powered up the laptops and cranked out a bit of writing over a sampler to finish off the day in an awesome way. As any good gnome collector will tell you, these little guys love gnome-sized beer and make the very best drinking companions.

Spotted Dog Brewing Mesilla

Red Door Brewery, Albuquerque

They really did have a red door! This was one of the first breweries we went to in Albuquerque after hiking the Sandia Mountains. I remember liking this place because it had a little outdoor patio that was completely empty and super chill. After sharing a sampler of 10 tiny beers, I grabbed our growlers from the jeep and got one filled up with the wit and the small one with the scotch ale.

Red Door Brewery ABQ 1

Sometimes I forget to snap a shot or two of the brewery I’m at to help me remember it, or I’m just not in that mindset at the time. Unfortunately, this was the case with three breweries in the Albuquerque area: Canteen BreweryMarble Brewery, and Turtle Mountain Brewing Company.

Canteen was a frustrating experience because Monkey was acting like a total nut-bag and stressed us out to an extreme degree. I barely even remember what the beers were because of that, but Canteen did have a nice side patio and an attentive server.

Marble Brewery had an amazing set-up but an awful smell. The city was doing sewer work just outside the brewery in the street, and some people nearby actually complained about getting sprayed by sewer stuff. If that wouldn’t have been doing on, this Albuquerque spot would have rocked. We stopped by after a DIY Breaking Bad tour around town. There were a couple food trucks with tacos out front and a stage with a band playing music despite the crowd avoiding the outdoor space due to smells and sprays.

Turtle Mountain Brewing Company is in a fast-growing suburb of ABQ called Rio Rancho. I didn’t get any pics of this place either for some reason, but we went here after biking about 26 miles on a very nicely paved trail along the Rio Grande. Like several other breweries we went to, this was a place that has a dog-friendly patio but no service out there. I actually prefer this arrangement because I don’t have to wait on a server to come out, allowing me to just walk my own two feet inside and up to the bar when I need something.

Taos Mesa Brewing, Taos

Hands down, this brewery had the best outdoor scene ever. The ski resort town was experiencing crazy high winds the day we visited, but that didn’t stop us from sitting outside to enjoy the mountain scenery.

Taos Mesa Brewing 1We stopped by after hiking at Rio Grande Del Norte and having a picnic lunch on BLM land near the parking lot. The brewery had stages both inside and outside and clearly hosts a lot of events and concerts. However, the taste of the beer paled in comparison to the views of the mountains. The beers were mediocre at best, with standard flavors and nothing truly interesting. But those views though! Taos Mesa Brewing 2

Pecan Grill & Brewery, Las Cruces

This was a rare find that we stumbled across after taking a wrong turn following a hike in the Organ Mountains. I was actually on the hunt for a PetCo because Monkey was (gasp!) nearly out of food. I had seen the Pecan Grill and Brewery come up in a Yelp list a few days before, so we stopped in to try it to make the wrong turn worthwhile.

I was hesitant at first because it seemed like it would have more of a restaurant vibe, which often means that the beer takes a back seat in quality. However, this place pleasantly surprised me more than pretty much anywhere else on this trip. They had happy hour specials that they honored the price on, cheap appetizer specials that were quite tasty, and a laid-back environment where I got a little writing done. Our server did a killer job too.

Pecan Grill Las Cruces

High Desert Brewing, Las Cruces

Another Las Cruces brewery we visited was High Desert, which was our destination after hunting for peridot gemstones at Kilbourne Hole. Some of these New Mexico breweries serve food, while others are drinks-only. We try to save money by making our own food in the camper, but making beer from the road isn’t really all the feasible. However, at this place, we splurged and split a couple appetizers to go along with the sampler.

It was an awesome environment, despite Monkey being super-restless after a long and bumpy car ride. The patio was cozy and closed in, which provided some shelter from the crazy high winds that I’ll always remember about Las Cruces.

High Desert Brewing Las Cruces

Don Quixote Distillery & Winery, Jaconita

But of course, there are many other things to drink besides beer…namely wine and spirits. This was a stop on the way back from Chimayo, which is a Catholic pilgrimage site in the middle of nowhere.

Don Quixote Distillery & Winery 1We arrived to Don Quixote a few minutes before it opened and downed cans of soup and beans in the car while we waited. The bartender/sole staff worker was the most unfriendly host I’ve encountered in a tasting room. We were the only ones there, but she talked on her phone the entire time and seemed genuinely annoyed by having to serve us (paid) samples. Don Quixote Distillery & Winery 2I remember really liking the lavender and juniper gin, which was a surprise because I’ve never been a gin drinker. The flavors were intensely good though. I also remember liking the rose-infused wine. However, I didn’t buy anything except the tasting, mostly because of the service.

Breweries and Dogs

Although I may have started off writing this a bit disenchanted with the ever-expanding craft brewery scene, I still believe there are new experiences to discover at each one. Lately, my brewery experiences can be best defined as dog experiences too.

We’ve been slowly but surely training our newly adopted lab/pit, Monkey, to become the ultimate brewery companion. Breweries and dogs seem to go hand-in-hand, and I’ve always wanted a chill and friendly pup by my side while I sip my brews on a patio.

Before visiting any given brewery, I’ve gotten really good at one particular phone call that goes something like this:

Brewery Person: Hi, XYZ Brewing Company, how can I help you?

Me: Hi, do you have a patio that allows dogs?

(response #1) – Yep, sure do.

(response #2) – Nope, sorry, only service dogs.

(response #3) – You wanna do WHAT?!

Santa Fe Brewing Company 5On dog-friendly patios, Monkey is getting better at the fine art of hanging out, usually equipped with a comfy pad, bone, and travel water bowl.

But of course, sometimes she likes to do this and sit like people, which is a bit awkward.
Red Door Brewery ABQ 2Then other times, she does this and sleeps all cute-like and curled up under the table. And I forgive her for all wrongdoings.Second Street Brewery Santa Fe 2Perhaps one of these days I’ll manage to secure a writing gig that pays me to write about and review breweries. Then, without a doubt, I’d be all over this scene as if I’d never lost a beat since 2012. I’ve already started to break into the wine scene with a steady gig at The Grapevine Magazine, so perhaps craft beer writing could be in my future as well.

But until then, I’ll just jot down a sentence or two at the end of the day, snap a picture if I think of it, and not stress out over missed writing opportunities. After all, quality beer is best enjoyed with a chill state of mind, right?

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.

P1060757

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