Labor Day is winding down. After our morning walk we head back to the van and I enjoy a second mug of coffee. The boys are napping. A car parks behind the van and I see a gal get out. She comes up to the van saying something on the order of “Youhooo! Hello. Are you there?” I reluctantly put down my current read, Look Alive Twenty-Five by Janet Evanovich, and poke my head through the curtains on the side doors.
Standing way too close to the van is a young woman with a few tattoos and a couple of missing teeth. Other than that she is fairly neat and clean. “Yes?” I reply, unable to keep the suspicion out of my voice.
“Oh, I’m just wondering if you have a plug for an air mattress, she asks. I can’t find mine.” I tell her I do not, and she whirls around and walks to the back of the van and over to her little white car and drives off.
I watch as she drives north toward the upper half of the campground. Odd. She didn’t ask any other campers if they had a plug. I ponder this for a moment and think to myself that perhaps I was just targeted, possibly for a theft, otherwise why would she not ask others if they have a plug? Takes cajones for someone to try something like that in broad daylight, but that’s our world today, no?
It’s time to begin thinking of a plan for the last week or so of our summer adventure. The thought of getting back to Q so early is both daunting and exciting. The temps are still triple digits there, UGH, but I am excited to get settled in and begin the projects I have planned to try and make our winter home beautiful and cozy on a shoe string. And we do have an evaporative cooler. 🙂
Dealing with the temperature is an integral part (or maybe an annoyance) of van life, but you gotta bend with the way the wind blows. It’s been an amazing summer exploring New Mexico State Parks. We’ve been blessed with so many wonderful sights, animals, and interesting people. We’ve stayed engaged and entertained by nature. Can’t beat that!
Late afternoon, August 31st, a SUV pulls into the campsite just to the north of us. An older lady gets out and bustles around getting her camp set up. She notices me sitting outside reading while The Chiweenie Brothers play nearby and she walks over.
She very politely asks if I would help her plug her extension cord into the electrical box at her campsite, explaining that her hands are too weak to get the plug pushed in. Of course I’ll help! We walk over to her camp.
Meet Sylvia Lee
Sylvia is from Phoenix and is on her way to Minnesota to visit friends, then she will cross the middle of the US and head eastward to South Carolina to visit family. She travels in her SUV, a Toyota Forerunner she calls 4titude setting up a tent and sleeping on a pad on the ground. Or on a picnic table if conditions aren’t good!
She actually has two tents. A small one for if she gets to her destination too late in the afternoon, and a “mansion” of a tent if she has more time to set up and plans on a longer stay. I begin to ache just thinking about sleeping on the ground, pad or not. I am in awe.
She didn’t even bother with either tent last night, she just slept on the ground. The next day we visit more, and I learn more about this amazing woman.
Sylvia was a nurse. After her children started school she went back to school and got her degree. She is 78 years young (and incredibly tough from my viewpoint!)
She says she has always enjoyed camping and once she retired she began her long trips in earnest. Currently she is cutting back some as she is fostering several cats and must provide care for them while she is gone on her journeys, so she won’t be doing any more long trips. She sounds a bit wistful as she tells me this.
Sylvia is a volunteer at the Boyce-Thompson Aboretum near Superior, Arizona (we toured their beautiful gardens last spring) where she leads a history walk the first weekend of each month. I must say, she is dedicated. That’s a 200 mile round trip … and she’s been doing this since 2005!
Sylvia has her own blog, Lee’s Rambles, writing about her camping trips, outdoor experiences, tent camping, and light hiking. You can get an invite to her blog by emailing her at email@example.com.
She is also an author having researched and written a book for Boyce-Thompson called The Abundant Arboretum. Talented woman, Sylvia.
I admire this woman so much; she does’t let much of anything slow her down. She is knowledgeable and interesting to talk to. We have tentative plans to do a little camping together next season or maybe sooner. I hope it works out.
August 25, 2019. We motor back east on I-40 and take the Bluewater State Park exit for the Stoneridge side. The road in is narrow and in places winding and then becomes a steep grade down onto the flatter area near the lake. I stop at the pay station and grab a tag, but don’t fill it out. I’ll do that once we find a spot to call our own.
ALL the electric sites are taken. The park is actually pretty full so I haven’t a clue what the ranger thinks all-but-empty means, but we do find a spot. Not ideal but it will do: Squished in between two other long-termers (full two week stay) with no shade. On the bright side, the Stoneridge side is beautiful. It’s a big park with lots of spaces and sections. Vault toilets, gravelled parking spots, picnic tables, fire rings, water spigots strategically located throughout.
After a couple of days the same ranger I spoke with at Las Tsusa stops by and tells me there will be spaces being vacated at the electrical sites later in the day. We take a lot of walks scoping it all out and eventually a space opens up and I grab it. There is a tree we can park beside, but it’s not even close to the table, but that’s okay. We need electricity.
Jockeying MissAdventure around to maximize shade, I get her settled in and immediately get my extension cord out and plugged in. The laptop gets fed, and she sips on that juice for over an hour. In the meantime I am getting potatoes cooking in the IP and digging out every thing that needs charged: The Kindle, my phone, my tablet, the stun gun, my camera’s battery. The two small battery packs I carry are lined up in line to have their turn at sustenance.
Amazing how we take our power sources for granted until they aren’t available when we need them. So thankful to have this electricity (at only $4 per day) I unpack my ac/dc fan and get it whirling the warming air out of the van. Next is a long walk for The Chiweenie Brothers.
Bluewater, Stoneridge side has paved roads throughout and makes for a good walking surface of considerable length for long, leisurely walks. The Boys and I indulge.
Lots happens during our almost two week stay here. One night around 2 a.m. a loud exsplosion jolts us awake. It’s one of those things you aren’t sure what you have heard or if it even happened until you see vehicles rushing past with lights flashing. Never did find out what that was.
One afternoon rescue personnel came flying into the park quite near our campsite, and parked near the trail that runs along the canyon in the photo above. Someone had fallen along the trail (or off the trail!) and had to be rescued.
On a lazy afternoon sitting outside in the shade I spot movement out of the corner of my eye. It’s been a VERY busy and crowded weekend here, Labor Day, but many have left this morning. This guy becomes bold and is staring intently at a big diesel pusher. He eventually turns around, trotting back the way he came, taking a right at the stop sign, but I fear he has his sights on their dog and will probably come back.
I tell the camp hosts. They say they will tell the ranger. They come back later and tell me there is nothing they can do. I tell them I know that, but maybe they would like to warn the residents so they can keep an eye on their dogs. They don’t. Certainly not like Arizona where coyotes in the neighborhood are a big deal.
We spend the rest of our time here enjoying long, lazy days, cool nights, long walks and enjoy the heck out of having electricity.
The day before we leave, a group of wild horses come into the park. I was hoping to see them as they have signs posted not to approach or try to pet the wild horses. A group of four including the stallion, two mares, and foal!
Three weeks into August. The days are very warm, but the nights at least are cooling down in the higher elevations of New Mexico.
After a night in yet another BLM-behind-a-gate camp The Chiweenie Brothers and I are up early as usual. In happy antiacipation of our next destination The Chinweenie Brothers are tethered outside while I make coffee and get their breakfast. “No walk this morning boys,” I tell them, You’ll get your exercise once we get to Bluewater. Scoot over to that tree for your morning business, and I’ll be right back with food.”
With the Boys devouring their soaked kibble and raw hamburger meal, I grab my coffee and walk around the area looking for anything that may have escaped our garbage bag and pick up a few items left by others who have come this way. Our motto has always been and always will be ‘leave your camp as clean or cleaner than you find it’.
We’re soon back out on the highway heading back toward Grants where we will pick up I-40 and head west to Trudeau where our mail should be waiting. I spy a sign for Bluewater State Park —— division, but Trudeau is farther up the road. I’m a little puzzled because Bluewater, on the map, looks to be closer to Trudeau. Oh well, on the Trudeau to get the mail then we’ll figure it out.
Before long we’re at the exit for Trudeau and a sign that says Bluewater Lake Stata Park, Las Tsusa. Oh, nice! There’s two sections of this state park. We’ll be able to get well into September between two weeks at each side. Loving these cooler nights!!
Mail in hand, I search for a grocery store. Finding a small mom and pop, I dash inside and pick up a couple of things that I can’t get at Dollar General for Family Dollar. Oh my word, the prices are outrageous. What in the world do local people do? Probably the same thing I am doing, buying only the essentials and only those that can’t be purchased elsewhere. Grants is 20 miles back if memory serves, and Gallup is 30 miles farther west.
Back in MissAdventure I back out onto the highway and we are headed north to Bluewater. It’s a nice 11 mile drive.
As we pull into the this state park I can’t believe my eyes. The lake, a pretty blue color (With a name like Bluewater, I didn’t expect it to be any other color. Ha!), is the only thing beautiful about this park.
There are two vault toilets, one here on the flat, one higher up on the knoll. Picnic tables are metal and rusted, none looking very level. Fire pits are circled with rocks. Here and there broken glass can be found, and there’s very little shade. NO WATER AND NO GARBAGE. Dirt roads, no pavement anywhere.
A small travel trailer and a tent are parked along the shore of the lake; other than that there is no one here, except for a white pickup which turns out to be the ranger. I ask him about this area, He must read my mind from the look on my face because the first thing he does is tell me there is another section to the lake.
I remember the freeway sign back by Grants. I tell him that I was looking for an electric hookup as my solar setup isn’t working. He assures me the other part of Bluewater has electric and is all but empty since school started. I ask about the country road that looks like it might take one back to the other side without going back out on the freeway, but he says it’s not a good road and is about an hour and a half drive even though it’s the shorter route. Back to the freeway takes about 20 minutes.
Because we need to spread out our travel a bit more—Quartzsite in August/September is still broiling—I decide we can at least stay one night here. The phone can be charged with my backpacker’s solar unit, and that’s the most important thing. I have a couple of movies downloaded from Netflix that can be watched offline, and my Kindle for reading so we’re good for another day.
We take some long walks, biding our time, and get a great night’s sleep. This side of Bluewater may be lacking in amenities, but it is long on quiet.
The Boys are anxious to get moving, and we head out early.
On the way back out to the freeway I spot these wild horses on the other side of the highway. Beautiful animals!!
Thanks for joining us! See you on the other side of the lake! Hugs, Shawna
It’s about 20 miles from El Malpais to El Morro. It’s a nice drive along Hwy 53, two-lanes with not much traffic. We climb a little in elevation and get into some timber. I make a mental note to look for an entry onto BLM land here, and almost as soon as we are in the timber we are heading back down out of it. Dang!
El Morro, famous as a wayside and the Blue Pool that provided water to travelers in the 1800s and prior, is an interesting place. Travelers left messages for others on the sandstone cliffs known as Inscription Rock inscribing said messages or just a “I was here” with whatever was available to them: a knife, a stick, perhaps an eating utensil.
Talking with the friendly staff in the visitor’s center I find The Chiweenie Brothers are welcome to take the walking tour with me. Come on Boys let’s check this out!
An easy interesting walk, a walk around the rock would be nice, but it’s getting hot. We continue the loop that takes us back to the visitor’s center. The Boys eagerly jump into the back and slurp up fresh water. “Refreshed guys? Let’s go check out the campground!”
El Morro National Monument has a small free campground with water, a vault toilet, tables, and fire rings. The few choice shaded spots are all occupied. We try staying a bit in one of the sunnier spots but after just a few minutes it is apparent that it will be too hot to stay here long enough for the sun to get low enough to make it bearable.
Sadly, we will not be making the walk around El Morro’s perimeter, and we head back out to Hwy 53 and search for a spot back where the pine trees and juniper make an appearance. Fortunately we find a lovely well-shaded spot to park for the rest of the day and stay the night here. It’s quiet and peaceful behind a closed gate.
August 23rd — It’s our Vanniversary!! We’ve been traveling for two years, and what a wonderful two years it has been! So many beautiful places, so many wonderful experiences. And a big THANK YOU to all of you have come along for the ride. Yes, this is my personal journal of our adventures, but how nice to have you all come along with us. Again, THANK YOU! Hugs, Shawna
August 22, 2019. There is not a single soul here except The Chiweenie Brothers and me. I park MissAdventure get The Boys leashed and we head out to walk the trail as far out as we can get before this lovely clear blue cloudless day begins to heat up.
The lava caves remind me of the areas around Burney CA in Shasta County and Modoc County. In an effort to keep white nose-syndrome that affects bats from spreading or being introduced into the caves—which are accessible if one wants to enter them—there is a shoe cleaning station at the beginning of the trail.
There are many caves in this area, and The Chiweenie Brothers and I enjoy our early morning walk although we didn’t make the full loop. I’d say we walked two miles in before it started heating up to a point where I was feeling decidely uncomfortable and we forego seeing the crater that is farther out.
Interesting area to explore! It’s early enough that we can travel on Hwy 53 to El Morro. See you there! Hugs, Shawna
Told by the camp hosts, a sweet couple from Georgia, that we can stay as long as we like, reluctantly we have to say goodbye. The solar is acting up again and I need to keep the laptop charged.
After spending a night lower down the mountain in a boondocking site about a couple miles from Rio De Las Vacas we head on down the mountain and hit the library before heading back onto Hwy 550 and head toward Albuquerque.
At Rio Rancho I spy Whataburger. My favorite burger of all time. I cannot resist and we stop.
Driving through Albuquerque on I-40 is a bit unsettling; I haven’t driven on freeway going through a big city for quite a while and I white-knuckle it all the way through.
Our goal is El Malpais National Monument. Driving through Grants I spot a laundromat and pull in. Hefting the laundry bag up a little higher on my hip I trudge into the building grateful it is cooler inside and get the washing machines going. While my clothes do the hokey pokey I go back out in the very warm sunshine and walk The Chiweenie Brothers until I think it’s time to to remove the clothes from the machine.
Turns out to be good timing. I remove the clean clothes and put them in the dryer. Not going to air dry this time around as I plan on staying at the Joe Skeen Campground tonight. It’s a free campground I am told, but if it’s privately owned wouldn’t feel comfortable hanging the wash outside.
As I close the door on the dryer I attempt to put my coins in. It won’t take them and I glance at the LED and it looks funny. Staring at it a few seconds I realize it says free. Really? Can’t be. But it is. Free today! How nice! The load begins to tumble, and it’s back out to get The Chiweenie Brothers out of the van as we wait for the load to finish.
Once the clothes are dried we catch Hwy 53 toward El Malpais looking for the campground. I don’t find it so we continue on. Finding the road into Malpais I discover we must walk to see any of the caves. It’s too hot for that, so back out on the highway we go and begin looking for a place to stay. BLM land abounds here behind fences. Gates allow entry with signs asking to keep them closed.
Driving down the volcanic rock road in search of a spot to park for the night the road begins to look a bit sketchy. I turn around and find a spot behind a big juniper tree. This will do, we aren’t even going to set up camp it’s just a place to park for some shut eye. There’s a few cow pats around. That explains keeping the gates closed!
Moring comes early. It’s get dressed, walk The Chiweenie Brothers a bit, then jump in the driver’s seat. We head back to El Malpais National Monument and take a nice long walk.
The steady climb up Hwy 126 takes us up to over 7000 feet so it’s nice and cool compared to the valley below. The Chiweenie Brothers, heads out the window, give our new temporary home the once over.
I back in, then begin getting The Boys’ cabled run set up. I like them to have as much freedom as possible and the 25ft coated cable allows them some wandering room while still being in compliance with the ‘dogs must be leashed rule’. Once the cable is looped around two trees and secured I get the two wiggle worms on their leashes and the leashes attached to the cable. I begin setting up camp.
This camp ground consists of a small loop that contains 15 or so campsites. There is a vault toilet and water. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, and paved parking. We get lucky 13, a nice shaded site in the afternoon.
The water pump also serves as a good upper body workout device!
The campground loop itself serves well as a good cardio walk as it is not level, but there is also a trail that goes back into the forest. Wildflowers are abloom, too.
The view out our backdoors
The Boys spend time digging for squirrels and chasing lizards,
and these cute little golden mantle squirrels abound!
We thoroughly enjoy our almost two weeks here in the mountains near Cuba NM.
Last night’s temps in Farmington NM made it all the way down to 70. A hot and sticky night. We’re outta here!
Still heading east we get very close to the beautiful little town of Aztec again. If I had known at this point that my photos of the Aztec Ruins were gone forever I would have gone back and taken the tour again. But I didn’t know, and we continue on oblivious to what we are letting go.
At Bloomfield we catch Hwy 550 heading south. It’s a long, hot drive. I don’t run the air conditioner in the van. Sounds stupid, I know, but it seems to make the oppressive heat even worse when we stop so I keep it off.
There isn’t much out along this piece of New Mexico, but there are gas stations and a few tiny towns. The Chaco Canyon and more ruins are along this stretch of highway, BUT, as much as I would like to take that in I am not wanting to bump along 20 miles of washboard dirt road to get there in this heat. Another time—in the dead of winter—would be good time to see it.
550 goes from blah flat desert with nothing but greasewood to these interesting sandstone bluffs and rock formations. What starts out as a boring, hot drive, turns into an interesting hot drive. It actually goes back and forth between the two landscapes.
We eventually make it to Cuba. Not THAT Cuba. Cuba, New Mexico, a tiny little town with all the basics: Family Dollar, gas stations, a grocer, laundromat, AND a small library. I get the chores done.
A search on freecampsites.net yields a review of Hwy 126 to Fenton Lake State Park, the place we are looking for. It’s a shortcut that takes 70 miles off the trip to the park. The reviewer says the last six miles are rugged. Slow and steady would make six miles okay, but I also ask the tattooed, earring wearing clerk at Family Dollar about this Hwy 126. Is it good road? “Sure is, as far I know. Good road all the way, but it climbs and is a twisty turny mountain road,” he says. We can deal with that!!
Supplied up, things on ice, and plenty of gas in MissAdventure we head back to the beginning of Hwy 126. That clerk wasn’t kidding. The road begins to climb almost immediately and we are soon twisting and turning our way into heavy timber. The air is getting cooler. Oh my, I love this!!
About 18 miles in, and this is just a guess, we come to the dirt part of the road. There is a sign that says ’26 miles of dirt road, not maintained’. WHAT??? That reviewer on freecampsites must have made a typo, or was being a smart alec. Six miles is one thing, 26 is another. Ain’t happening.
I get the van turned around just in time to get out of the way of a small white car barreling down the dirt road enveloped in a cloud of dust. Some days I am just so happy with the decisions I make, and I pat myself on the back to just saying NO to this road.
We explore a few of the roads leading back into the National Forest where we could easily boondock, but nothing appeals to me. I am tired from the drive in the heat along Hwy 550. I remember a Forest Service campground back a ways, and I decide to check into that.
The Rio De las Vacas campground in the Santa Fe National Forest is $5 per night with senior pass. We pull into a spot that will give us afternoon shade and set up camp. It’s a wonderful 78 degrees here, and here we will stay at least through the weekend.
Cruising along the all-but-deserted two-lane Highway 160 after our stop at Four Corners we catch Hwy 64 heading back east. The windows are down and we enjoy the fresh air. We are back in New Mexico. Shiprock juts up on the horizon.
I begin photographing waaaay before we even get close, but it’s just so fascinating. Me, who finds faces and animals in rocks everywhere, just can’t “see” the ship in this rock pushing up out of the ground around it. Someone did, though, and I continue to stop and snap photos.
As we get closer the haze lessens. I kind of get the sense of the sails on a ship. Read about this interesting rock, it’s formation history and Indian legends HERE
Thunderheads form quickly in the Southwest.
Finally getting enough of this huge outcropping of rock, we head into the town of Shiprock. Located along the San Juan River there is some farming going on here, and once out of town and heading on to Farmington, I again stop to photograph rock. I love the way the verdant green of the cottonwood trees contrasts with the buffy brown of these sandstone cliffs.
It’s warming right up and we spend some time along the highway in the shade of the cottonwoods. I take The Boys for a walk in the abundant shade even though it’s along the highway. There’s a wide band of dirt and plenty of room to park.
Our next destination is over 100 miles away, and I do not want to begin that journey so late in the day, so we continue on to Farmington about a 40 mile drive.
It’s sweltering here, and road work on the main drag is in full swing. I am ready to call it a day. We find Walmart and a spot with some decent shade and wait for evening. Hopefully when the sun gets lower in the sky it will give a bit more relief from the heat.
I am not anticipating a cool night and good sleep, but am grateful for the shade we do have. With the doors open and the fan going it’s tolerable. It’s time like these, in a public place, that my lace curtains on the side doors do what I meant for them to do —- keep us out of the public eye, but I can see out and some air can get in.