Caballo Lake State Park

I noticed that a Thanksgiving Airstream Rally was being held at Caballo (CAH-BY-OH) Lake State Park while perusing the latest Blue Beret (Airstream club) magazine. We decided that a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving plus meeting some people from New Mexico would be fun and a good way to learn more about the area. I emailed one of the co-hosts and they replied that they would love to have us.

Furthermore, because it was an Airstream “Buddy” Rally (all makes of RV’s are welcome) we were able to invite our new friends Michael Fullerton and Denise Wilder.

In the end, we were very happy we decided to join the rally!

Everybody welcomed us warmly. The kindness and hospitality we were shown was overwhelming. We learned where to go in New Mexico and Arizona, what roads to travel, and which roads to avoid. We received invitations to park Shiny at people’s houses.

Regrettably, I missed pictures of a few people. Co-hosts John & Silvia Blan, Carolyn & Howard Efner, and Neill Freeman’s wife, Nita.

The rally was held at the RV group area of Riverside Campground, one of the several campgrounds that make up Caballo Lake State Park. There was a shelter with 18 picnic tables. All twelve RVs in our group parked around or near the shelter.

And the turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, my oh my. More than 50 lbs of turkey were cooked. Two turkeys were roasted and one was smoked. There was a cornucopia of side dishes and deserts. Everybody contributed a little something.

Friday and Saturday night we had leftovers, there were morning pancakes and home baked sweet treats.  We ate well, very well.

Susan and I drove over to another part of the park and walked along the Rio Grande for a mile or so ending up in a pecan orchard. The tress were loaded with pecans and they were falling to the ground. It was just about harvest time I think.

Pecan Orchard

The river was not so grand as this part of the country is experiencing drought conditions. I find it hard to believe that any water is left to flow down along the Texas/Mexican border. Susan did take some nice pictures on our walk though.

Caballo Lake State Park is about 15 miles south of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and encompasses a large area above and below Caballo Dam. The dam was built in the late 1930’s and works together with Elephant Butte Dam 25 miles upstream on the Rio Grande River. Together they regulate the release of water in the lower Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.

Caballo Dam
Caballo Dam, picture gleaned from the Internet

There are several campgrounds with developed sites and an almost unlimited number of primitive and undeveloped areas to set up camp, some of them with beautiful views of the lake and mountains.

By the way, did you know that Truth Or Consequences was named after the 1950’s TV show? Read all about it here.

Full Moon at Caballo Lake State Park
Full Moon at Caballo Lake State Park

We took a day trip to Lake Valley Ghost Town with it’s abandoned Bridal Chamber Silver Mine and to Hatch, NM which is said to be the Chile Pepper Capital of the World. Those deserve blog posts all to themselves!

Click on the picture below for more pictures of Caballo, NM.

Caballo Lake State Park

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

Susie and Larry

We were at Oliver Lee from November 14 – 19. It is located in Alamagordo, New Mexico. The park is named after a rancher known for his ‘violent political rivalries between the predominantly Republican early settlers of southern New Mexico and the Democrat newcomers from Texas’ (from park flier). Who knows what the truth of the matter is, but I am sure that he was a real rough and ready frontiersman. Oliver Lee was born is 1865 and died in 1941.  There was a man named Frenchy who lived in the area and who built these long rock walls along the canyon to keep the cattle out of the creek. Unfortunately, he met an early end either by self inflicted gun shot wound or possibly he was murdered because he wouldn’t sell his land to Oliver Lee.

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I loved this park and the surrounding land. In front of us was the Tularosa Basin which spread out flat for hundreds of miles. Behind us was Dog Canyon which shot up from the basin. I could just look out at the basin and feel my own self stretching out and all of my old, unneeded energies just streaming away and being absorbed by the plains. The canyon was quiet and steep and signs of its wildness were every where. Evidence of spring floods lined the canyon and massive root systems of large trees were exposed. I could see how deep the roots needed to grow in order  to survive in such arid conditions. The canyon also revealed strata of geologic history as I could see layers stacked upon layers of different types of rocks laid down over the millennia. Mother Earth was very dynamic and present for me there in Dog Canyon. I almost always take her for granted. I hope to keep this awareness alive in my mind from now on. But how? Maybe this blog post will remind me.

We went on lots of long hikes and then had alternate days of groaning about sore muscles. But, secretly, we felt proud to be able to still take on rugged terrain and to feel ourselves getting stronger.

 

White Sands National Monument  was nearby, so we headed over there one day. We might as well have headed to the moon! What an unusual landscape! It is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. It felt like being outside on a bright winter day in the snow except that it seemed even brighter than that and the gypsum created an odd crunching sensation when you walked. We saw signs that indicated that somedays the park was closed due to missile testing. We were also instructed not to pick up any objects on the dunes! Lots of people were sledding there. I tried to with a plastic sheet but to no avail. I have forbidden Larry from posting a video of my attempt!

As always on this trip, part of my heart is with friends and family at home. I have had fun making Connor his Christmas stocking. I had to improvise with materials that I bought at Walmart since it was the only shop in town. I made friends with the clerk there who was also a grandmother. Even though I don’t speak much Spanish and she didn’t speak much English, I got the supplies I needed and shared photos with a gal who loves her grandkids.

Making stocking

Here is a drumming meditation to the spirit of this lovely place. Enjoy! Click Here

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Must Have Gadget #10 TPMS

I’ve been meaning to finish this blog post I started months ago about our Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). It saved us from almost certain damage to Shiny.

After our tire debacle at Letchworth, and the fact that we are going to be spending months at a time traveling, we decided to purchase a TPMS. After much research, mostly on AirForums, I went with the TST system. I called them up and talked to a service representative. I can’t remember his name but he was very helpful. I wanted to talk to them because I had questions and I wanted an extra sensor for Shiny’s spare tire.

They sent me what I needed, including a little booster that attaches to the battery on Shiny. The booster is needed so that the monitor, which is in the cab of the truck, will read the sensors that are all the way in the back of 27 foot Shiny.

 

I will admit there was a little bit of a learning curve programming the sensor code into the monitor. But I got-ur-done.

There is some argument that you should not use the sensors on rubber valve stems because the weight of them will cause the valve stems to fail. The representative from TST assured me that would not be a problem. Still, the valve stems are one of the things I check when I do my Shiny walk around at almost every stop. When it comes time to replace Shiny’s tires I’ll have steel valve stems installed.

Driving down the road in Virginia, after the blizzard, the low pressure alarm went off. We could see on the TST monitor that it was the tire we had had repaired back at Letchworth. I suspected immediately that the tire plug had started to leak.

We made it to Gene & Chris Bowlen’s house in Port Republic, VA and filled up the tires using the Viar.  Actually, Sue did the honors. 🙂

 

Now fast forward to somewhere in Mississippi when the alarm goes off again. I pulled off into a safe area to add air to the tire again. I am convinced that right there the TPMS saved us an expensive repair to Shiny. Tires blowing out on an RV are notorious for causing expensive damage. Below are a couple examples of Airstream damage from tire blowouts I gleaned from Airforums.

 

Not good.

We watched the air pressure on that tire and sure enough it kept loosing air, faster each time. We ended up buying a new tire in New Iberia, Louisiana. The staple that punctured the tire back at Letchworth cost us $175.

The TPMS was crucial again after Susan flew home from Austin and I drove from Texas to Ohio by myself with a grinding noise coming from one of Shiny’s wheels. The TPMS also monitors the temperature of the wheel. If the grinding noise was going to develop into a catastrophe the wheel would have gotten very hot and I could have found a place to pull over. It didn’t and I had an uneventful trip to the Mothership for the repair, which turned out to be a brake problem.

So if you own and use an RV, I’d recommend having some sort of TPMS.

 

Valley of Fires Recreation Area

The Valley Of Fires Recreation Area, in Carrizozo, NM, sits on a knoll in the middle of the Malpais (mal-pie-eese) Lava Flow. Malpais is Spanish for badlands. The Malpais Lava Flow is between 5 and 6 thousand years old. In earth years that is  relatively new.   The lava did not come from a traditional volcano in this case, but from a vent in the earth which is called Little Black Peak.

On the left hand satellite picture below, which I gleaned from the New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources website, you can see Little Black Peak circled. If you look closely you can also see Route 380 going straight through the flow and just below that, on the right hand side, the knoll where Valley Of Fires Recreation Area sits.

The picture on the right is a satellite view of the complete flow which I found via a Goggle search.  The dark area is the old lava. Amazing isn’t it?

The recreation area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). All sites have sensational views of the lava flow. The tent sites are actually in the lava flow!

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There are clean, well maintained showers and bathrooms and a nice Visitors Center. There is a hiking trail of about 3/4 of a mile that meanders through the lava field. You are allowed to go off trail but we were warned the lava is brutal on your shoes so we didn’t do too much of that.

We witnessed a most breathtaking sight here at Valley Of Fires. The New Mexico mountains were experiencing a good dose of snow. To the north and east of us you could see a distinct line of snow clouds. The pictures above show the 9600 foot Carrizo Peak. The picture does not do the whole scene justice but on the left is the peak on a clear day and on the right you can see the snow line coming up over and enveloping the peak. The clouds stopped there and never got any closer to us. It was a spectacular show by Mother Nature.

One day we took a scenic drive up into the mountains to the ski resort town of Ruidoso. As well as skiing, Ruidoso is known for Ruidoso Downs, a horse racing track. The Billy The Kid Byway, a scenic trail through the Lincoln National Forest, runs through the town. Smokey Bear was born and is buried in nearby Capitan, New Mexico.

IMG_3066 Along the way we had a nice lunch at the Pickled Cowboy in Alto, known for their deluxe ruebens. The higher we went up in altitude the deeper the snow. Mr. Ed, our pick up truck, was covered with salt when we got back.

As usual, we were regaled with beautiful plants, animals, and interesting scenery, including a 400 year old Juniper tree. We saw our first Western Bluebird here.

At the Valley Of Fires Visitors Center I noticed a pamphlet for a ghost town about 15 miles away called White Oaks. So we drove out there only to find not a ghost town but a small town full of artists. Seeing a ghost town would have to wait.

One more wonderful thing happened to us at Valley of Fires. We met fellow New Englanders, Michael Fullerton and Denise Wilder from Cabot, Vermont. Michael came armed with a guitar and Denise, blindfolded, can find her way around knitting needles. I needn’t say more.

I’m not sure who is following who but we’ve been camping together for 2 or 3 weeks and plan on one more move to Silver City before we go our separate ways. We’ve only known Micheal and Denise for a few weeks but consider them friends now.

Larry and Michael

And speaking of new friends, Caballo Lake State Park supplied us with many more but that story will have to wait!

Bottomless Lake State Park

Blue LakeIt was hard to believe that this very blue lake was in the middle of a bone dry desert! I just love the idea that, unbeknownst to me, deep under that very dry desert, there are deep aquifers carrying water from mountains far in the distance to this little series of lakes. It’s kind of like life, right? There are those time when everything seems dry and barren when, lo and beyond, things just beyond our ken are rising up bringing us sustenance.

Journey of water

High View 2.jpgWe had a great time at Bottomless Lake State Park in Roswell, New Mexico. There were lots of birds, thanks to the water, and many interesting sights (as long as I took the time to pay attention!) It’s so interesting to me that when we first get to a place, I am all ‘eyes’. Everything is fresh and new. Then, before you know it, everything is just blah, blah, blah. Then I have to hit my own reset button and stay present. Again and again.

You’ve got to be tough to survive in the desert. The plants and animals have evolved to meet the environment’s exacting standards. Hats off to the goat head burr which has adapted itself to cling to every possible surface in order that its seed might be spread. It is the size of a pebble. We don’t know exactly why it has to inflict such pain when stepped upon. But, in honor of that function, Larry has renamed the scourges, ‘dickheads’.

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We were told that the park is so popular for day trips in the summer that cars line up for a mile along the entrance. When one car leaves, another enters. There is a swimming area, many picnic tables with shade and a playground. Luckily, we were there in the off season so I did not have to fight off any kids to get a turn on the jungle gym.

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There were  great night skies full of stars but we did not encounter any aliens even though we were right in Roswell. Too bad!

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Here is a link to a drumming audio tape that I made for you on the banks of the lake. Enjoy! Click here

Selfie lake

Oasis State Park

From the start, our plan was to buy a New Mexico State Park pass and spend the bulk of the winter here. As you can see below (pine trees on the map) there are lots of state parks in the Land of Enchantment to choose from.

New Mexico State Park Map

New Mexico has a slick program. For non-residents it costs $225 for an annual state park pass. The state parks in New Mexico cost $14 per day for a site with electricity and water. With the pass it costs $4 for a site with water and electricity. After 23 days the pass has paid for itself. You get a camp site with electricity, water, clean bathrooms and showers for $4 per day. How can you beat that? Well we inadvertently did! Just by chance we bought our pass at Oasis State Park on November 1st. It is good until the end of November 2019. That’s 13 months of state park camping in New Mexico.

Life is good.

One more thing about New Mexico State Parks. Sue and I hate to commit ourselves to be in any one spot, so we seldom make reservations. We like the option of changing our minds. In New Mexico a percentage of the camping sites are Walk-Ins. (first come first serve). We avoid arriving on weekends. We have yet to be skunked.

Oasis State Park in Portales, NM was really nothing more than a fishing hole in the middle of the desert. There was a man made pond that was kept stocked with a variety of fish. While we were there it was stocked with rainbow trout. Earlier in the year it was stocked with catfish.

There were park benches all around the edges of the pond where people sat and fished. There was a kids fishing clinic the weekend we were there that was very well attended. They set up six stations. Each station was teaching a different skill to the kids. I sat in on two clinics, fishing poles and filleting a fish. I thought the fishing clinic was a great idea.

Despite not having a fishing pole and a “do not drink the water because of nitrates” alert we had a good time here. Scaled quail and rabbits rambled through our site daily. Sand Cranes and Snow Geese flew over head. Coyotes howled at night and we had spectacular night skies.

One day we took a side trip to Blackwater Draw National Historic Site, an archaeology excavation site where they have found the bones of bison, mammoths, saber-tooth tigers and is the site of the oldest hand dug wells in the New World.

Blackwater Draw Unfortunately the site was closed. However, on the way back some rain squalls came through and I took this picture of a rainbow over Shiny.

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The other notable side trip we took from Oasis was to Grulla National Wildlife Refuge. It is a migratory stopover for sandhill cranes. We saw thousands of cranes but we could not get close to them.

We waited around Oasis until the day before the midterm elections hoping my absentee ballot would show up. But alas it never did.

UPDATE: I finally received my ballots on December 7th. Almost 2 months after they were sent. Both were addressed correctly.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

 

We headed south and west from Kansas, through Oklahoma and into Texas. We saw bill board after bill board advertising a free 72 ounce steak to whomever could eat the whole thing in one sitting. We didn’t give it a try but we did see this Texas sized sign!

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We visited Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which is the second largest canyon, at 129 miles long, in the the country. It’s pretty amazing to drive through miles of flat land and then come upon this big hole in the ground. It’s like it appeared out of nowhere!

Shiny

Even though it is much, much smaller than #1 (The Grand Canyon), we loved the color and light of this place. Every hike offered a different view of the red, brown and orange landscape. The energy was big, strong and soothing which served as a perfect antidote for much of the news that we have been reading.

 

 

Down in the canyon, we didn’t get any cell phone service, so we drove up ‘out of the hole’ to keep in touch with family and friends. Most importantly, we needed to hear how Connor was doing on his first week in day care! We think he had fun.

Connor day care

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We also had to keep “leaving the hole” to call our mail service in Livingston, Texas for Larry’s absentee ballot. Ginny, our town clerk back in Brookfield, had to send out a 2nd ballot since the first one did not show up. Some how between our mail forwarding service and the USPS, the ballot was nowhere to be found. To this day Larry has not seen either one. Alas!

Swope Park

Sue and I want to give Swope Park a mention. Swope Park is a fairly good size county park located 5 miles from the entrance to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.

swope-park

It has 5 RV sites with electricity and water for $15 per day with clean, well maintained showers and bathrooms, multiple fields for baseball, a deluxe Frisbee golf course and a section to honor our veterans.

We have been amazed at the size of the county parks in the midwest and by the amount of community involvement that surrounds them. Everyday there were people in the park. After school, kids were screaming and playing in the playground. In the mornings, Grammys pushed toddlers in strollers. Every evening at dusk, a dad caught softballs pitched by his teenaged daughter. People of various sexual orientation and national origins walked the frisbee golf course. We could hear the occasional ‘ka-chang’ as the frisbee hit the chains.

County employees were in and out often and local law enforcement made regular passes through so we felt very safe. Everybody we encountered was friendly and helpful. We met a retired ranger from Tallgrass Prairie who was working at the park when the buffalo arrived in 2009.  He was very interesting to talk to. He told us how difficult it was to get the buffalo herd started and where the best hikes were at the preserve.

We used Swope Park as are home base as we explored Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

Don’t worry Dick and Winnie, I did not let Susan get any closer to those beasts. 🙂

We also explored the surrounding area. Council Grove, Kansas is home to the Custer Elm which was interesting to me at least. I at first thought “how do they know this” but the retired ranger told me it was true.

Our time at Swope Park was lots of fun and we would definitely come back.

 

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

SignI told Larry, when we were in Iowa City, that I wanted to go the Tallgrass Prairie. I don’t know why. It just called to my imagination. Boy oh boy, did we like this place! Tallgrass Prairie is a gem in our book. This preserve was established in 1996 as a result of much collaboration and compromise between local ranchers and the Forest Service, according to our Ranger and Wikipedia.

“Legislation introduced in 1991 called for the creation of the Preserve, but local interests objected to the condition that the National Park Service would own it all. From 1991-1994, U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker convened a group of stakeholders, many with opposing views, to seek agreement on the formula for a tallgrass prairie park. The group began work in January 1992, and a different model for a national park emerged; it would be a public/private partnership, managed by the National Park Service, but the land privately owned.” – Wikipedia

It was wonderful to think that people with such opposing views and interests could come together and create such a gift.

Tall grassSo, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is what remains of the original tallgrass prairie, of which less than 4% remains today. The other 96% got tilled into farm lands and now feeds our country. This little parcel of land is intact today thanks to our friend, limestone! This area was saved from the plow due to the large deposits of limestone and flint which made it too difficult to plow. The prairie is in a section of Kansas called Flint Country.

The preserve has miles of walking trails and we enjoyed hiking on terrain that was very different from our home in New England. We had a lot of fun spying the magnificent Bison. We made sure to stay the recommended 100 yards away from them. They are the largest land mammal in North America. I did not know that!

WarningBuffalo musclesField of BuffaloWe highly recommend that you add this Preserve to your bucket list. We greatly enjoyed our stay in Cottonwood Falls, but that, my friends, is another post!

Till next time, stay curious!

Arbor Day – Wyuka Cemetery Nebraska City, Nebraska

 

IMG_0075We stumbled across a unique cemetery and learned about Arbor Day because we failed to follow one of our golden rules. You might be wondering what was the golden rule we broke. It is “never go to a walk-in campground (one where you expect to find first come first serve camping spots) on a Friday or Saturday”. We arrived at Waubonsie State Park on a Friday after leaving a deserted Pine Lake State Park only to find the whole campground taken over by a renaissance reenactment group. So we drove over the flooded Missouri River into Nebraska to find a very clean, modern, and reasonably priced Victorian Acres RV Park which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If we hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t have taken the time to go to the cemetery.

What is Arbor Day? It’s a day set aside to plant trees and it was officially started in Nebraska City, Nebraska in 1872.  If your interested, you can read about J. Morgan Sterling, the man who is known as the founder of Arbor Day here.

So, now for the segue between Arbor Day and Wyuka Cemetery. After the declaration of Arbor Day, it became popular to have a headstone with an arbor motif. They must have been pretty scandalous at the time.  I think you’ll agree they are unique!

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Those logs and stumps are made from stone!

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IMG_0061There were other headstone that were not a part of the Arbor Day theme but were poignant none the less. It’s always sobering to see the number of children and young people who died.

IMG_0072Larry found this cemetery thanks to a free app and computer program called Roadside America. Here is a link to the program