Back to the Mountains

After a month in north Texas during the dog days I headed back where I know I belong —the mountains. My last trip to the east coast was less than stellar and after a week of swelter in G’Vine I was ready to amscray. Ironically, the day I left Impact Guns shipped my new pistol so it’ll have to just collect dust at the FFL until I return in October. At least I’d completed the course, qualification and application to carry license, which should be back by then too.

Leaving Texas is always hard. Because it’s so damn ugly and boring until you get to New Mexico. A full day drive across west Texas took me to Clayton and a past its prime campground. Is was good enuf for the night. On a side note, the MORryde suspension upgrade definitely improves the ride down the road, especially in my truck. Interesting…

Raton Pass Video A relatively short day drive to Alamosa, Colorado was lengthened by a truck moving van fire on Raton Pass. Full stop for 45 minutes but it could’ve been worse as it occurred just before the road narrowed to one lane and no shoulder. Thankfully looked like no injuries either.

After setting up camp I made an appointment for the morning to get the truck’s oil changed and then found a couple breweries in town. Square Peg Brewerks poured me a decent First Cut farmhouse ale and excellent MFU pale ale, but I wasn’t really feeling the vibe there so I went next door to San Luis Valley Brewing Co. I tasted their Valle Caliente because I love hatch chilies. Good but needed to be colder. The Sinner and the Saint Mexican lager seemed to fit me (not the Mexican part, lol) and went well with the BBQ pork tacos I had for dinner. SLVBC made me wish I hadn’t already reserved a site in Pagosa Springs for tomorrow. It’s my latest favorite brewery!

After a late start in Alamosa I dropped Synko off in a dirt lot and took the truck in for the oil change. A quick hour later and a stop at Locavores for a locally sourced sandwich and I was on my way to Pagosa Springs. Was nice to get up into the mountains again after crossing the wide San Luis Valley. I like Pagosa Springs. Cool town.

At Pagosa Springs Brewing Co I ran into Ron & Blanch, a couple I’d met a year ago here. A cool, interesting couple who run a hunting lodge in Charma, NM. We shared our common political persuasions and disdain for how our country has overacted to Covid. Twice this year I’ve come across people I’ve met on previous trips. And in both cases neither of us is from where we run into each other. I think that’s pretty cool!

Ended the day at the campground community center where a local band was playing country western music. On a nice Colorado evening, it worked just fine! A glass of rye accented the music!

A couple hour drive took me to Silverton, one of my favorite places. It’s just such a cool setting at 9300 feet. One road in town is paved, the others are well-maintained dirt/gravel. I love the valley setting surrounded by high mountains. Silverton is a Mecca of off highway vehicle riding. Gotta do that sometime when I’ve got company.

As small as it is, Silverton has two breweries. Golden Block Brewery was closed because they’d run out of food. I recall from last year they have great pizza so I was kinds bummed. A block down the street Avalanche Brewing Company was in their new location. They used to be on Blair Street (aka Hooker Row) and I liked that location better. Not because of the hookers . I had the Sultan IPA, which was just ok. The pizza was also just ok. I was amped up for a pie from Golden Block.

The next day I drove some of the forest service roads and kicked around town, enjoying the 70s drop into the mid 60s. Feasted on an elk burger and dinner salad at Handlebars Saloon and then wrapped up the day watching the RNC on TV. Good stuff.

In the morning I was heading over the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray. I’ll pick up there in the next post.

To the Bears Ears

Finally back on the road my primary destination this summer is the East Coast — by way of the Southwest. I’m picking Julie up at Las Vegas airport the last week of May and then we’re going up to Pahrump to visit Pam & Billy.

But first I planned to visit a few places I’ve missed so far.

The first hurdle is to get through North Texas. It’s such a beatdown drive with simply nothing to see. I do like Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas panhandle but for a stupid reason state parks were still closed due to the Corona virus farce. So I spent the first two nights in unremarkable Lubbock and North Albuquerque KOAs.

Day 3 took me to a Harvest Hosts location—Mancos Brewery, where I stayed last year. It’s a cool spot in a sleepy Colorado mountain town but, of course, they could only sell food and beer to go thanks to the Corona virus farce. Still, good food and a free night with a solid view is a deal.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
After watching church Sunday morning I drove to Monument Valley Utah and pitched camp early, throwing a rack of baby backs on the grill. The lazy afternoon included visit from a small herd of sheep and then ended with a beautiful sunset across the mesa.

My layover day gave me the opportunity to visit a couple areas I’ve missed in past trips: Bears Ears National Monument and Natural Bridges NM. Like other massive national monuments, Bears Ears is managed by the Bureau of Land Management while Natural Bridges is part of the National Park System. The entire area with its bluffs, monoliths, arches and bridges is beautifully raw, bold and intimidating. I love it!

Bears Ears is named after an Indian legend:

One of the more popular Navajo stories is that of Changing-Bear-Maiden, who was very beautiful and desired by many men. She would have nothing to do with them. However, Coyote, the trickster, persuaded Changing-Bear-Maiden to marry him in spite of her brothers’ warning that the union would bring evil.

Changing-Bear-Maiden began to change and by winter’s end her transformation into a mischievous bear was complete. Realizing that the only way to save her was to change her into another form, her brother killed Changing-Bear-Maiden, cutting off her ears and throwing them away. They became the buttes seen today.

Ok then.

The area includes Monument Valley and is quite remote. I was impressed that the campground had reliable power and good water. And while I know it defies physics, cell and internet coverage seems to vary with the wind, of which there was plenty. Another interesting feature is the Moki Dugout, a two-mile section of steep, narrow gravel road between two paved state highways. It ascends/descends an abrupt cliff face so I guess would be pretty expensive to widen and pave. It’s kinda cool… Anyway, check the photos below for this period of the trip. They don’t do the landscape justice but you’ll get an idea of why I travel. And with that, and a thin layer of dust throughout my rig, I continued on toward the north rim of our Grand Canyon. Stay tuned!

Past Houses Farms & Fields

Pahrump was fun! Julie & I had a blast hanging with Pam & Billy, enjoying the company of their family and each other. Can’t say we really did a helluva lot but they were good times! A few days were stupidly hot but the week ended in beautiful weather. All-in-all, we had a great time!

Julie and I headed out from Lakeside Casino RV Park Monday late morning and an hourish later I dropped her off at McCarran airport to catch her flight back to DFW. I kept rolling, planning to spend the night in Flagstaff. Anxious Arizona changed that plan, as they had enacted a statewide nighttime curfew. With no place to hang for a brew or dinner I just kept heading east until I reached curfew time near Petrified Forest National Park.

The Great State of New Mexico’s Roads
The Great State of New Mexico’s Roads

That couple-hour mileage gain put me ahead of schedule for the next day and my original plan to reach Las Vegas, NM was completed by about 1pm so I just kept going eastbound and down, bouncing across northeast New Mexico, a corner of Oklahoma and into Kansas.

 

The unremarkable stretch of southwest Kansas into Dodge City rolled slowly by. I noticed all the grain silos were on the west side of the highway. When I mentioned this Shelley suggested it was because railway tracks were on the west side; finally made more sense than mere coincidence. After a long drive of 12.5 hours I backed into a mediocre site at the Dodge City KOA. It was good enuf for a quick overnight.

Wednesday was truly a day spent “rolling past houses, farms and fields” as I crossed Kansas on US400. Good road overall and got pretty nice winding through a few hills as I neared Missouri. With rain clouds in my mirror I pulled into the heavily wooded Springfield KOA and let them deliver a pretty decent pizza to my site. Early morning storms threatened to throw tree branches onto my rig but the ones that did fall thankfully missed me.

My eastward trek contributed through the Ozarks into western Kentucky and the pretty Kentucky and Bartley Lakes region. I overnighted at at campground I had stayed at before on the east shore of Lake Bartley. Synko got a bath but my clothes did not, as Kentucky apparently is one of the states that overreacted to corona; the campground laundry facility was closed. In the end that gained me about $25 as I griped that they had not informed me of the loss of that amenity. (I also griped about the narrow site they gave me and the flaky power that they had to fix. Management was good to honor my request and I’ll return to that nice campground,)

After a short 90 minute drive Saturday into Nashville I settled into the KOA resort near Opryland where Shelley & Brett joined me in the site next to mine. And that’s where the trip currently finds me this beautiful Sunday morning. Church online is on in 30 so I’ll sign off here and pick up in a week or so after we’ve searched out a distillery or two! Cheers!

The Final Stretch

Wrapping up summer . . .

After a two-year hiatus I returned to Beaver Creek, my stomping grounds of several of the past nine summers. Met up with Shelley & Brett and just lazed around for a few days. We also met with our friend Dennis (from Puerto Rico days) and his bride in Breckenridge on Saturday. Sunday brought sailing on Lake Dillion. Or not.

We had a 18 footer rented for two hours at the Frisco Dillon Marina but by the time we crawled through ridiculous holiday weekend traffic at the marina and I dropped S&B off to check out the boat while I parked, we were 40 minutes into the rental period before I found a parking spot 3/4 mile away. I opted to just hang in Frisco and prep for the evening’s fantasy football draft. Didn’t make sense to delay them getting out on the water. I was fine with it.

Monday was recharge & refuel day. Synko was parked in the Elk lot at Beaver Creek Resort. Very cool benefit—free, pretty secure parking, albeit without power. I hung out in Synko for an hour or so to let the generator bring my house batteries up to 12.5 volts. The solar panel just wasn’t keeping up and I’m still not sure why. Anyway, that earned me a trip to Eagle to fuel up at Costco, saving 39 cents a gallon on diesel. Savings which I used at one of my favorite breweries: Bonfire. Great place, great always-changing brews, great people.

The final stretch—perhaps “slog” is a better term—back to north Texas took me first 20 miles outta the way to Gypsum, CO for wheel bearing repacks and suspension lubing on Synko. She already has more than 10,000 miles on her and I’m pretty diligent about trailer wheels & tires. Bearings, suspension and brakes were all in good shape; the wheel bearing grease was more than ready to be changed but I caught it in time. After the upcoming trip to Orlando later this month I’ll likely replace her tires, too.

The relatively short & easy drive Thursday to Leadville landed me at the RV park/parking lot in town. I really just wanted a place to watch the NFL kickoff game! So I pulled into the weary & weathered parking-lot-called-rv-park—but within walking distance to Periodic Brewing and with clear skies to the Dish satellites. Turned out to be a poorly played game.

Since it was only a couple hours out of the way home I visited Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. Cool place. I like how the two creeks that run down each side of the dunes carry sand to the lower valley where predominant winds carry the sand grains back to the dunes. Interesting cycle of generating and regenerating the massive dunes.

A few hours later I arrived in Raton, New Mexico and debated just continuing toward home but decided to hang in the utility KOA for the night and set up a 500 mile drive to Brushy Creek Vineyards in Alvord, a Harvest Hosts location. Brushy Creek is a cool little Texas winery with, perhaps, the best Texas wines I’ve had. Turned out to be a great stopover with the Texas/LSU game playing on the outside TV.

And with that, my summer 2019 trip came to an end with an hour-long drive in the morning to arrive at 121 Community Church, just in time for the 9:15 service. Trip summary:

  • Racked up a total of 9897miles
  • Synko hung with me for 7864 miles (79%); lots of non-towing driving in Yellowstone, Ouray, British Columbia)
  • Drove a total of 286 hours
  • Traveled through 9 states and 2 Canadian provinces
  • Crossed the Continental Divide countless times
  • Visited 6 National Parks, 6 National Monuments and 5 Canadian National Parks
  • Lost track of which time zone I was in three times
  • Saw innumerable bison; lots of elk; a couple moose; several bighorn sheep, mountain  goats, pronghorns, eagles; and an otter. And wolves across the Lamar Valley, which were there but couldn’t be seen with the naked eye.
  • Stayed in 45 different campsites, one motel and one condo  over 97 days
  • Averaged 11.6 MPG in fuel consumption (I was averaging 11.8 until the last day of the trip when I had persistent cross winds from Raton, NM to Alvord, TX). Overall, happy with the fuel economy given all the mountain driving.
  • Got oil service and new tires for truck; repacked Synko’s wheel bearings.
  • Used about 50 pounds of propane for cooking & cooling.

I’m now back at the Vineyards in Grapevine, adjusting to the slow-to-end Texas summer. Turned on the air conditioners for the first time this summer!…

Thanks again for your prayers for safe travels and to the Good Lord for looking out for me and blessing me with incredible weather, sights and an always-renewed appreciation for His beautiful creation. I’m ridiculously blessed.

Early Summer Route
Late Summer Route
Initially Intended Route

New Mexico Redo

The five hour drive from Caprock Canyons to Villanueva State Park in New Mexico was easy and uneventful. As I neared the park, I had to use both lanes of the small winding road to avoid overhanging tree limbs but the campground in the narrow canyon was rewarding. I backed into a site on the Pecos River next to friendly camp hosts. Really cool little state park. As a side note, I let my newly installed inverter handle the power chores for the day and night, and it performed great. So cool to run the necessities of life (Keurig and TV) on just batteries.

Friday I made the short 90 minute drive to Santa Fe and checked into an in-town RV Park, as the nearby state parks on the road to Ski Santa Fe were booked for the weekend. Had lunner at Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery, perhaps the least compelling meal I’ve ever had in a town of outstanding restaurants. I was underimpressed by the food and the two brews. But Saturday morning brought a new day and I thoroughly enjoyed my chile rellano at Cafe Pasqual’s. No trip to Santa Fe is complete without breakfast here! They assemble all-organic ingredients into simple wonderful food. It’s a favorite spot.

After my late breakfast I wandered the farmers market at the rail yards and chilled for a bit at Second Street Brewing, chatting with locals and a couple headed to Alabama for a RV rally. Laid low in the afternoon, flipping between the NCAA Super Regionals and Rangers’ games, and the Adrian Beltre number retirement ceremony. So cool that Tommy Lasorda attended!

Sunday started with camp church on TV followed by a visit to REI to replace my lost Keen sandals, a drive up the mountain, a couple creative margaritas in town at La Fonda & Coyote Cantina, and then more college ball on the tube. The wind drove me inside: rats, I like watching sports outside at a campsite.

Off to Taos Monday midday… The drive to Taos was great once I cleared the traffic clutter of Santa Fe and its outlying towns. Enjoyed following the Rio Grande River upstream as it tumbled down the canyon. And then the road crested the upper mesa, dropping into Taos. After setting up camp I headed over to Taos Mesa Brewing on the north end of town. Very brutál place—my first favorite brewery of the trip! Enjoyed music, a sampling of their tasty brews—Solstice Pale Ale, Kachina Peak Pale Ale, Jonesy’s Cross Eye Rye IPA, and Hop Kof IPA—along with the 70 degree patio with views of the snow-capped mountains. Dinner from my campsite grill: pork loin, new potatoes & coleslaw.

Wednesday’s drive to Eagle Nest was another short one, up Taos Canyon alongside the river and green meadows and then over the hill into high elevation Moreno Valley. Snagged a great $10 campsite at the state park on the lake. No utilities, but I’m getting pretty confident with my new inverter so I still had the comforts (necessities) of glamping. Enchanted Circle Brewery in Angel Fire served up a good gyro washed down with their tasty Bodacious Brown Ale and Fly Dawg IPA. That filled me up so I put chicken thighs back in the reefer to brine: I’d smoke ’em Thursday.

Thursday came and went without smoking the chicken. The wind just wouldn’t let up and I knew it was a losing prop to try to keep the smoker lit in 25 knot winds. But I achieved halfway decent smokin’ success Friday at my riverside campsite in Red River. I think my smoker runs a bit hot because I checked the thighs an hour earlier than what I thought would be my cook time and caught them just before they went over the overcook cliff (as opposed to an overlook cliff).

While watching the US Open on the outside TV next to the river, I noticed a duck float by in the quick current. I’ve never seen a duck just ride the current and I’m pretty sure the smile on his bill meant he was simply going for a joy ride! 🦆

Saturday went for a hike and then stopped by Red River Brewing for lunch and a couple brews and to watch the Michigan/Texas Tech CWS game. The popular brewery restaurant makes a very good Back 40 Farmhouse Ale and Catskinner IPA. Watched the 3rd round of the US Open back at camp, then turned in when it got cold & rainy.

Sunday morning I attended camp church and afterward wandered around town, through the town’s annual arts festival, just enjoying the beautiful day. In the morning I’ll be heading out to Pagosa Springs. My third visit to New Mexico this year was great. New Mexico hasn’t grown old on me but it’s time to move on!

New Mexico

The Caverns

Shortly after driving east from Texas into New Mexico (still not sure how that works) I arrived at Carlsbad Caverns National Monument. I hauled the 5th wheel up the 7-mile curvy access road, hoping there’d be RV parking (’cause ya never really know). There was.

The caverns are phenomenal : deep, huge, interesting, beautiful in their boldness. You get to walk throughout them and at a constant temperature of 56 degrees with 90% humidity I didn’t know whether to be cold or sweat. So I did both. And I got me another check in the box for a long-awaited National Park visit.

White Skies, White Sands, White Knuckles

Tuesday morning I’d planned an early departure, as I’d seen that strong winds were in the forecast for later in the day. But thunderstorms moving through delayed me an hour or so. I headed northeast through Carlsbad & Artesia and then west into the southern end of the Rocky Mountains. I guess the scenery on the east side of the crest was pretty but the clouds were so dense I could only see about 200 feet in front of me. Occasionally I’d even glance at my nav screen to see which way the mountain road was turning… Once I reached the summit and headed down the west side the skies turned party cloudy. It was a nice drive but I cudda lived without the dense clouds.

With the clear skies came some wind. Windy but manageable with sand blowing across the road and tumbleweeds attacking from the south. Even though by now the skies were ugly for dirt in them, I visited White Sands National Monument. I was thinking the scenic road wouldn’t be worth driving with all the dust but the ranger lady convinced me it still would be worth seeing. And it was! Very cool that I was there on a day the dunes were rearranging themselves. And another check in the National Parks box.

Leaving White Sands, the drive just sucked! 40+ MPH winds with gusts to 50ish. My rig handled things well but I was both hands on the wheel and turned off my audio book so I could concentrate better. When I pulled into Las Cruces, NM for fuel I had to really lay into the drivers’ door to open it against the wind. An hour or so later I had originally planned to overnight at St. Clair Winery in Deming but the wind was dying down and I could see clear skies to the west. So I continued another hour through the rain to Lordsburg, NM where I checked into an aged KOA for the night. While the drive covered some nice ground, I cudda also lived without the high winds.

NM in the Rearview

In the morning I rechecked the weather forecast. More strong winds were predicted beginning at 9am. So I hit the road at 7:50 heading northwest, away from the second wave of this miserable wind storm. In an hour I was crossing into Arizona with New Mexico behind me, for now.

Four Corners Area

With the splendor of southern Utah in my mirrors I headed south to the Four Corners region. Snow flurries met me near Monticello but didn’t slow progress to the geo-marker that defines the intersection of four States. The monument is kinda kitschy but I wanted to get that check in the box. I would not advise driving more than 30 minutes out of your way to see this. The Navajo taco I had there filled my gut. I was glad it stayed there…

My plan was to overnight at the nearby Teec Nos Pos Trading Post but given it looked like I’d be the only RV in their parking lot, across from an interesting looking bar in the middle of nowhere, I opted to drive into Cortez where there was a legit campground—and people.

In the morning I headed over to Mesa Verde National Park, unhitched the fiver in the visitor center parking lot and headed up onto the Mesa to see the Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings. Gettin’ culture be ‘portant dontcha think?!

After driving, some hiking & picture taking I recoupled my home to the truck and headed a short eight miles to the Mansco Brewing Company, where I’d spend the night as a Harvest Hosts member.

HH is a member network of breweries, wineries, farms, museums and golf courses where RVers can stay free overnight (with an annual $70 fee). It’s a great gig, as you get to meet cool people and not spend much on campsites. To my delight, Mancos Brewing crafts excellent beers and serves up excellent food. Score! (Plus, my rig parked right in front was good advertising for Grand Design RVs!) I liked every beer I had at Mancos: the Dizzy Blonde pale ale, Desert Drifter rye ale, Mancos sh’Ale dark ale, Extra Dizzy IPA, and their Cherry Stout.

And with that, the Four Corners was history. After camp church I headed downhill to Albuquerque and then to Ruidoso for a couple days to visit friends before turning east and into the flats of North Texas. Leave a light on… I’m slowly headed home—for a little while!

Southwest Spring Summary

An alliteration of S’s for my spring in the southwest: stunning, superior, scenic, sensational, spectacular, striking, splendid.

From the boldness of Big Bend to the uplifted canyons of Utah to the fun of spring training and a week visiting Pam & Billy, this was an awesome six weeks! Checkout my posts for this phenomenal Southwest trip.

Trip stats:

  • Racked up a total of 5752 miles
  • The trailer hung with me for 3956 miles (69%); lots of non-towing driving in Big Bend, Death Valley, Bryce, Canyonlands)
  • Drove a total of 151 hours
  • Traveled through 7 states
  • Stayed in 21 different campsites over 44 days
  • Averaged 12 MPG in fuel consumption (that’s as good as I got last summer towing a traditional trailer that was 5 thousand pounds lighter; I’m very pleased!)
  • Used 90-100 pounds of propane for cooking, cooling, and lots of heating

I’m now back at the Vineyards Campground on Lake Grapevine until mid-May when I take off for the Rockies for the entire summer!

I appreciate God giving me this awesome opportunity and for looking over me while I traveled this region of our great land. And thanks for your prayers for safety. Love y’all. God’s best,

Mark