Arizona Part II: Tucson

You might remember we had a little mishap when we arrived in Santa Fe. It had been a long day of travel and we pulled into Santa Fe Skies RV Park right around dusk. We have a general routine when we arrive at a new campground and it goes something like this: We temporarily park the rig near the registration desk. Mike unhooks the Honda from the Monaco as I go in to get us registered. After we find out what site we are in, either someone from the park, or I lead us to our assigned location. Most of the time the campgrounds have a staff member that will lead us through the park from a golf cart. They show us exactly where to go and help us get situated – making sure we fit and everything is working properly for us. At times in the past I have considered this overkill, but now I have a new perspective and realize these businesses offer excellent customer service.

In Santa Fe, we were on our own. The tattooed girl at the desk wearing nothing but a spaghetti strap tank top in 30 degree weather told me our site number, handed me a map of the campground and highlighted a route that showed us how to get there. I was a little confused by her instructions and was having some difficulty interpreting the map because there was snow on the ground. Everything at ground level was white, so it was not abundantly clear where the actual roads were located. I asked Mike if we should make a trial run in the Honda just to make sure we knew where were going. He said no.

Note to self: “Dina, you are an intelligent and capable woman. If you are in charge of leading your husband in the Monaco through a campground to a particular spot, listen to your instincts. You don’t need permission to make a preliminary run and confirm the best route. If he says no… tell him to wait right there while you get in the Honda and do the recon yourself”. Next time I’ll know better.

Unfortunately, I pretended he was the boss of me and we headed out with me in the lead – looking at the map in total confusion. I came to a fork in the road and guessed right when I should have gone left. I immediately realized I was taking us into a pull-through spot on the far edge of the campground, instead of keeping us on the actual road. I stopped when I realized what I had done, but he was too close behind me and there was no reversing by this time. Remember, the sun was setting and the shadows were causing melting snow to turn into ice. The little Honda with the non-snow tires labored a bit to get through. My heart was pounding. I made my way back to the main road and stopped after I was a good distance ahead of him. Then I waited until my worst fear came true with the sound of a piercing CRACK and an earsplitting scraping sound. The Monaco had slid on the ice like I had, and in order to avoid careening off into an adjacent spot that was occupied by an airstream and a truck, Mike slid into a brick retaining wall on the sloped site. A utility door on the driver’s side had a long deep gash in it, and a plastic cap that covered an extra sewer hose compartment had snapped off – lying in shattered pieces on the ground. Mike got out and looked at the damage, said nothing, got back into the rig and proceeded to follow me. I tried not to throw up.

We got parked and hooked up in silence. As I have said in a previous post, we acted like mature adults and avoided the blame game. The damage was already done, there was no going back. After we both had some time to cool down, I took responsibility for misreading the map and he said it was his fault because he guided the rig toward the retaining wall when it started sliding – trying to avoid the airstream. A few days later he contacted our insurance company and located a repair shop in Tucson. We lined up a reservation to bring it in and get the scratch repaired.

Fast forward a few weeks and now we were in Tucson ready to move out of our house and into a hotel while the Monaco was in the shop. In addition to the Santa Fe scratch repairs he also wanted to have some other work done. The body shop was tasked with a few touch-up projects. This motor coach had never been parked in a storage facility so some sun damage had faded the paint on sections at the top toward the front, back, and along our side awning casings. Also, while driving from Indiana to Ohio last fall, we had to pass an 18-wheeler that was zig -zagging his way down the highway. Whether he was on the phone, eating lunch or falling asleep I do not know, but he could not manage to keep his truck in one lane. It turns out that when we passed him, the rear of his rig fishtailed into the back end of our passenger side and left a long shallow scratch. We didn’t feel anything at the time and didn’t notice it until we were setting up at our next location. Finally, we misjudged a U-turn when exiting a small campground in West Virginia and put a small scratch in another utility door on the driver’s side. Since the Lazy Day’s Body Shop was already planning to tackle scratches and paint repair, Mike had them fix everything at once. Our rig was also scheduled to spend some time with the mechanics at Lazy Days as Mike also ordered service to the Aqua Hot system. Lastly, he wanted to have the chassis lubed and the tires rotated.

We were due to meet the insurance representative and the body shop manager at 8:00 AM on a Monday morning, so we left Kartchner Caverns State Park on Sunday and drove to the parking lot of the Lazy Days sales office. Our plan was to camp there in the parking lot so we would be ready to exit the rig first thing on Monday. After a fitful night’s sleep, we got up at dawn and prepared to temporarily move out of our home. Lots of logistics were involved with that endeavor. We had been camping with no sewer connection for the past week, so I had several tote bags full of laundry, towels, and sheets that needed to see a washing machine. I decided to forego packing any suitcases and just load the dirty clothes in the car – we would wash and wear what was in them until we got back to our normal environment. I packed all of the toiletries we would need, and locked my good jewelry in the safe. Then I gathered our electronics: ipad, laptop, chargers, batteries, our hotspot, my kindle, etc. The dogs had their own bag of food, toys, meds, leashes, bowls, brushes, and anything else they might need. Mike was busy loading the contents of our fridge and freezer into two coolers. The rig would have no power, and the propane would be turned off. We had to clear out our cold and frozen groceries or they would be rotten by the time we got back and operating like normal. All this stuff had to fit inside the Honda with enough room for the dogs to fit in the back too! The Beverly Hillbillies had nothing on us!

We had the car loaded by the time the insurance guy arrived. Mike made the necessary arrangements with him and the shop guy. He moved the Monaco to the service area and I followed in the Honda to pick him up when the paperwork was finished. He squeezed into the section of the front seat that was not filled with other stuff, and we left Lazy Days to drive to a FedEx facility at the Tucson Airport to pick up our mail that I had had forwarded to us. Then we consulted google and found a laundry mat in town. I have neglected to say until now that this particular Monday was also our 13th wedding anniversary, so we were really celebrating in high style this year!

After spending a couple of hours at a washateria with a handful of homeless meth addicts, our laundry was done and we were hoping we could check into the Airport La Quinta where we had reservations. Not all hotels allow dogs as guests, and most that do usually put some sort of weight restriction on allowable canines – 25 pounds seems to be a popular cutoff. I don’t get that – a dog is a dog if you ask me. The town was also packed to the gills with the world’s largest Gem Show, so hotel rooms were hard to come by. The La Quinta had space available and management was not averse to the 150 pounds between Piper and Cessna. Not the most plush option, but we took what we could get.

We spent the rest of our week waiting on the shop to give us updates on the rig, trying to keep the frozen food in the cooler frozen (which, it turns out, was not possible), and taking daytrips to get ourselves out of our dreary hotel room. We visited the Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, The Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum, Tubac/ Tumacacori/ Mission San Xavier del Bac, and downtown. We also had to eat out a lot because there was no kitchen in our hotel room. One bright spot at meal time was Whataburger! I went down the street one evening and brought us a little taste of home back to the hotel. We were real fancy and ate al fresco by the pool. It was the best burger I’ve ever had!

A shot of the interior of Parish restaurant in Tucson. We wanted some Cajun food on our anniversary.

A shot of the interior of Parish restaurant in Tucson. We wanted some Cajun food on our anniversary. After we checked into the hotel, took a nap on the lumpy bed, showered, and walked the dogs, it was still early enough to make an effort to celebrate thirteen years like regular folks would do.

More ruins from Tumacacori.

Ruins from Tumacacori National Park.

Tumacacori National Historical Park.

Tumacacori National Historical Park.

The original altar of the mission church San Jose de Tumacacori.

The original altar of the mission church San Jose de Tumacacori.

Mission San Xavier del Bac was constructed between 1783 and 1797. It is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States and hosts approximately 200,000 visitors each year.

Mission San Xavier del Bac was constructed between 1783 and 1797. It is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States and hosts approximately 200,000 visitors each year.

Many pilgrims come to pray to San Xavier at the mission.

Many pilgrims come to pray to San Xavier at the mission.

My three candles burning at the feet of St. Anthony at Mission San Xavier del Bac.

My three candles burning at the feet of St. Anthony at Mission San Xavier del Bac.

The Apse (curved wall) in the Chancel (front part of church from where the service is conducted) of Mission San Xavier del Bac.

The Apse (curved wall) in the Chancel (front part of the church from where the service is conducted) of Mission San Xavier del Bac. I visited as a tourist one afternoon, and then returned to celebrate mass with the congregation on Saturday afternoon.

The west side of the Interior at San Xavier Mission del Bac.

The west side of the Interior at San Xavier Mission del Bac.

Inside the Mortuary Chapel at Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Inside the Mortuary Chapel at Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Fishhook Barrel Cactus

Fishhook Barrel Cactus.

When Piper needed a break from all of us in the hotel room, he retreated to the farthest corner of the room and tried to barricade himself behind the curtains.

When Piper needed a break from all of us in the hotel room, he retreated to the farthest corner of the room and tried to barricade himself behind the curtains.

The Saguaro National Park from the Visitor's Center. We were happy our National Park Pass got us in for free.

The Saguaro National Park from the Visitor’s Center. We were happy our National Park Pass got us in for free.

The Saguaro says "Welcome to our National Park"!

The Saguaro says “Welcome to our National Park”!

Tucson is a big military town with Davis-Monthan AFB and an Air National Guard facility at the airport. Mike had lots of fun watching the jets in the skies above us.

Tucson is a big military town with Davis-Monthan AFB and an Air National Guard facility at the airport. Mike had lots of fun watching the jets in the skies above us.

Mike took advantage of the heated pool at the La Quinta. I didn't pack a suitcase, or shorts, or flip flops... so I didn't enjoy the perk as much as he did.

Mike took advantage of the heated pool at the La Quinta. I didn’t pack a suitcase, or shorts, or flip flops… so I didn’t enjoy the perk as much as he did.

Sabino Canyon on a crisp clear day.

Sabino Canyon on a crisp clear day.

Water in Sabino Canyon.

Water in Sabino Canyon.

Sabino Canyon.

Sabino Canyon.

Saguaro selfie.

Saguaro selfie.

Sabino Canyon, looking up from where the tram dropped us off at the end of the road.

Sabino Canyon, looking up from where the tram dropped us off at the end of the road.

The think this Saguaro in Sabino Canyon was the largest one we saw while visiting the area.

We think this Saguaro in Sabino Canyon was the largest one we saw while visiting the area.

A volunteer with an owl at the Arizona Desert Museum.

A volunteer with an owl at the Arizona Desert Museum.

The coati is a member of the raccoon family.

The coati is a member of the raccoon family.

Mountain Lion at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Mountain Lion at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona Part I: Kartchner Caverns State Park

The task of securing reservations at a campground in Arizona, any campground in any part of the state, turned out to be a miserable chore instead of a routine procedure.  Mike’s job is to find our campgrounds and make our reservations. My job is to figure out what to do in the places where we land. He started looking at campground options during the first part of our stay in Santa Fe, which was during the Christmas holidays. We were hoping to start our “month” in Arizona around the end of January/beginning of February. After he spent his first entire day doing internet research he was discouraged. After the second full day on his iPad he was frustrated. At the end of the third full day devoted to the effort, I started avoiding him. He wasn’t in a good mood, and I didn’t blame him one bit. The problem was that there are only a few truly warm and pleasant places in the United States during the month of February: Texas (not an option), Florida (been there, done that), California (not convenient to our intended route at the moment), and Arizona. All of the snowbirds that do not travel to South Texas or Florida for the winter come to Arizona. The place was booked. 100% occupancy.

By some miracle he finally found a campground near Phoenix with available spots, so he picked up the phone to call and make a reservation for us. I was home at the time, so I heard one half of the conversation as it unfolded. On my end I heard Mike tell the person who answered the phone that he wanted to make a reservation for us for two weeks. Then I heard him say he was 54 and his wife was younger. Then I heard him politely thank the person on the line and hang up. The campgrounds that did have open spots were 55+ communities, and we weren’t old enough! Go figure.

You might be thinking “how could finding a place to camp possibly be so hard”? Valid question. Maybe I should provide a quick explanation of our personal theories related to campground selection. As we have ambled through The Lower 48 in 48 Tour, we have had a general direction in which we want to travel, but the plans have been void of any specific route or detailed itinerary. The basic approach has been North in the summers, South in the winters  – from East to West. Just that simple. We learned early in the adventure not to have too many expectations. We don’t typically choose our subsequent locations until a week or two prior to travel days. The size of our rig dictates that we stay in locations accessible to interstate highways, or large state highways that are convenient to big rig traffic. We also take things like campground amenities and price into consideration when selecting our next sites. The agenda for selecting locations goes something like this: We look at map and determine the general direction in which we want to move, usually somewhere in the area of about 3 -4 hours from our current location. Then Mike consults a website called www.allstays.com which shows a map with all campgrounds in our targeted area. He reviews those options and comes up with something that checks the most boxes on our list of requirements. After he finds some viable options, he consults another website called www.rvparkreviews.com and learns what other guests have to say about the options he has identified. Some parks stay on the list, and others are eliminated due to negative reviews. If a place looks clean, safe, convenient and affordable, then we make a reservation.   He doesn’t like to make reservations too far in advance because things like weather and other stuff could alter our travel plans at the last minute. We don’t want to be bound to a rigid schedule when staying flexible would be more prudent.

As a general rule, we like to park our rig about two weeks in one place and use our Honda to explore the area. This way we can relax and see our surroundings without feeling like we are on a whirlwind race. We can also go about our ‘real life’ stuff like computer time, bill paying, general correspondence, laundry, showering, routine errands and cooking/cleaning without paying too much attention to the logistics of those responsibilities. To make this scenario most convenient, we like to have full hook-ups. This translates to 50 AMPS of power, a water connection and a sewer connection. With a set up like that we don’t have any worries. We can go about our daily routines without analyzing exactly how and when the business of regular life gets accomplished.

If we only have 30 AMPS of power, I have to run our generator to do laundry – or go to a laundromat. We also can’t run all of our electrical appliances at the same time. So, for example, we have to turn off the baseboard heat to run the microwave. Or we can only run 1 of the 3 air conditioners we have. Or I have to wait to run the hair dryer until the coffee machine is turned off. Small considerations, but you still have to think about what is happening in your surroundings before you turn on any switches. Some campgrounds don’t allow generators, so the only choice is to wash our clothes in a coin operated machine. This chore then has to be scheduled, I have to load all of our dirty clothes into the car, and go hang out at a washateria for a couple of hours until I can replenish our closets with a clean wardrobe. This takes much more time and effort (and money) than does my standard approach of running one load of laundry in the morning as I make our bed, drink my coffee, and look at my computer. If we do run the generator and turn on the A/C or wash clothes at home, we are using some diesel from our tank, so that is a little bit of extra money out of the pocket.

If we don’t have a sewer connection, we have to be conservative with the water that we use. Any water from showers, teeth brushing, dish washing, etc. goes to our grey water storage tank. The faster it fills up, the more often we have to move the rig to a dump station to empty it out. It doesn’t matter if we are moving the Monaco an eighth of a mile or 800 miles, we still have to complete the same routine before we travel. I am notorious among my friends for taking super duper long showers, so if we don’t have a sewer connection I usually just shower in the campground bath house. Sometimes that is no big deal, sometimes that is really gross.

Without a sewer connection I also pay attention to our meal preparations. In these cases I try to cook meals that won’t require washing lots of pots, pans and dishes. I love to cook and it is more fun when my menu options aren’t limited to what the clean up will look like when we are finished with our breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another consideration would be that I’m reluctant to boil pasta or potatoes because I don’t want to pour the extra water down the drain as the food gets strained in the colander. Of course a multitude of meals can be prepared without including pasta or boiled potatoes in the list of ingredients, but my point is that cooking becomes a strategic process instead of a creative one.

If we don’t have a water connection, we use the water from our storage tank. More conservation and consideration of logistics. You see where I’m going with this? We are on a four – year trip. The reason it is enjoyable is because we are taking our home, and all the comforts of it, along with us as we go. I can live in a luxurious setting with all the bells and whistles for 48 months with no problem. I’m not too keen on camping for an indefinite period. Eating on paper plates and collecting quarters for the washing machine gets old after a short time, if you ask me.

So back to our dilemma of finding somewhere to stay in Arizona. The state parks there are nice, but they do not generally have sewer hook-ups. This is why they were off the list at the beginning of Mike’s research. We were mainly looking at private campgrounds in our exhaustive search. It was now obvious that if we were going to spend any time in the 48th state that entered the union, our travel scenario was about to become a little less convenient. We weren’t going to have full hook-ups and we were probably going to be moving at intervals more frequent than two weeks. I was willing to agree to anything because it was becoming very painful to see Mike spend so much time seeking out destinations for us. I wanted him to start enjoying Santa Fe like I was. He had spent enough time staring at his tablet screen and coming up empty handed.

After we had a new plan for our time in The Grand Canyon State, we found somewhere to stay fairly easily. Kartchner Canverns State Park was just outside of Benson, about 50 miles east of Tucson. Its location in the southern part of Arizona meant that at least we were going somewhere warm. We had been in the thick of snow and ice since the beginning of November and we were done with winter. One morning while in Santa Fe my house shoes were frozen to the floor – no kidding. I was willing to camp for all the time we needed, as long as I didn’t have to wear 13 layers of clothes when I got dressed in the morning. Mike made reservations to stay there from a Monday to a Sunday after we left Lake Caballo. He promised I would like it when we arrived, and I did.

The campground turned out to be very beautiful. The spots were spacious. The campground was quiet and peaceful. We were out from town so the sky was bright at night without light pollution. The roads were paved so we could walk the dogs conveniently when needed. There were also trails so we could go on nice daily hikes. The weather was warm during the day so we were able to spend lots of time outside in the fresh air. The Caverns were a real thing too… so we were able to take a guided tour of “The Big Room” in a live cave. I was a little reluctant to buy our tickets for the tour because I’ve got a huge case of claustrophobia, but I’m glad I did because the 1.5-hour experiential science lesson was very interesting. (No photos allowed inside the cave, so you will just have to trust me on this). Best of all, the bath house was gleaming, so walking to the showers every morning was no big thing.

During our short stay we spent most of our time enjoying the warm natural beauty of our environment. However, we did take one daytrip to Tucson and another daytrip to Tombstone and Bisbee. We were conservative with our water, but didn’t let it bother us because we understood we had no alternative. If we were going to be in Arizona at the same time as every other retired person from “up north” we might as well get used to a new routine for a while. It wasn’t so bad after all.

There were so many stickers on the trails at Kartchner Caverns State Park, we had to buy the dogs some hiking boots. Otherwise they would not have been able to come with us when we explored the area.

There were so many stickers on the trails at Kartchner Caverns State Park, we had to buy the dogs some hiking boots. Otherwise they would not have been able to come with us when we explored the area.

One of the hiking trails at the state park.

One of the hiking trails at the state park.

Tombstone was a fun stop. The atmosphere was just like I expected.

Tombstone was a fun stop. The atmosphere was just like I expected.

Visiting Tombstone really was like stepping back into the heart of the Wild West.

Visiting Tombstone really was like stepping back into the heart of the Wild West.

The historic courthouse in Tombstone.

The historic courthouse in Tombstone.

We spotted this rig pulling a camper in Tombstone. Then we saw it again at a campground in Tucson. We've never seen a set up like that. I guess it is kind of the nomad's version of a mother-in-law suite.

We spotted this rig pulling a camper in Tombstone. Then we saw it again at a campground in Tucson. We’ve never seen a set up like that. I guess it is kind of the nomad’s version of a mother-in-law suite.

Gearing up for a reenactment of the shoot out at the O.K. Corral.

Gearing up for a reenactment of the shoot- out at the O.K. Corral.

Bisbee is quite literally a vertical town. To get from one street to the next, you must climb steps. Many steps.

Bisbee is quite literally a vertical town. To get from one street to the next, you must climb steps. Many steps.

Downtown Bisbee had all kinds of cute shops and artist galleries, but it turns out they are mostly only open Thursday through Sunday. We saved some money since we were there on a day earlier in the week and could only window shop.

Downtown Bisbee had all kinds of cute shops and artist galleries, but it turns out they are mostly only open Thursday through Sunday. We saved some money since we were there on a day earlier in the week and could only window shop.

Bisbee is an historic copper mining town.

Bisbee is an historic copper mining town.

The road to Bisbee. One moment we were driving through a brown desolate desert, and the next minute we were climbing through mountains speckled with green foliage.

The road to Bisbee. One moment we were driving through a brown desolate desert, and the next minute we were climbing through mountains speckled with green foliage.

Sunrise from spot #42.

Sunrise from spot #42.

The natural setting of this park was really beautiful.

The natural setting of this park was really beautiful.

A view of the Dragoon Mountains from our campground. Sounds scary to me.

A view of the Dragoon Mountains from our campground. Sounds scary to me.

Most state parks have a very inefficient reservation system that allows guests to reserve a specific spot in a campground, as opposed to making a general reservation and getting an assigned spot upon arrival. We wanted to stay seven days at this campground. When Mike made the reservation there were plenty of spots available, but no one spot was available for the full stretch of time. We were able to stay five nights in #42, but had to move our rig to a new spot for the last two nights. It was a total pain, but we played the game to stay in nice locations.

Most state parks have a very inefficient reservation system that allows guests to reserve a specific spot in a campground, as opposed to making a general reservation and getting an assigned spot upon arrival. We wanted to stay seven days at this campground. When Mike made the reservation there were plenty of spots available, but no one spot was available for the full stretch of time. We were able to stay five nights in #42, but had to move our rig to a new spot for the last two nights. It was a total pain, but we played the game to stay in a nice location.

Our second spot at the park, Number 3.

Our second spot at the park, Number 3.

A few of southern Arizona from a hilltop at the state park.

A view of southern Arizona from a hilltop at the state park.

We found a cairn at the top of the mountain we climbed at the state park. I love it when we stumble upon these!

We found a cairn at the top of the mountain we climbed at the state park. I love it when we stumble upon these!

We only had water and electric connections at Kartchner Caverns State Park - no sewer connection. I used the campground bath house for my showers in order to limit the water that was funneled into our grey water tank. Lucky for me, the facilities were very clean.

We only had water and electric connections at Kartchner Caverns State Park – no sewer connection. I used the campground bath house for my showers in order to limit the water that was funneled into our grey water tank. Lucky for me, the facilities were very clean.

Selfie from the mountain top.

Selfie from the mountain top.

 

 

 

New Mexico Part II: Caballo Lake

We had already spent a full month in New Mexico when we departed Santa Fe, but we decided to make one more stop as we traveled south. Our ultimate plan was continue down I-25 until it intersected with I-10, then head west and begin our Arizona month near Tucson. Caballo Lake State Park was about 1/2 the distance to that goal: about three hours from Santa Fe and the same distance again to Tucson. We weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere in particular, other than a destination that was a little warmer. We had been in the thick of snow and ice since the beginning of November and winter wasn’t looking like it was going to let up anytime soon. We planned to tackle Utah after Arizona, and we didn’t want to venture that far north again until at least late March. Since it was only mid-January, it wasn’t going to hurt anything to spend six more nights in The Land of Enchantment. After all, the weather was warmer in the southern part of the state, Mike would have a lake to fish on, and there were seven full-hookup spots for $18 per night – as long as they weren’t all taken. Reservations were not an option for the targeted spots at the state park, they were only available on a first-come first-served basis. We made a bet that at least one of those spots would be available on a Tuesday and took our chances.

The drive was easy and our hunch was correct; the campground was wide open when we arrived. We selected spot No. 5 because it was the easiest one to enter and exit in the Monaco. We were set up in no time and I was looking forward to the next few days. The lack of campers made our spot very private and quiet. The lake offered a great view for us to enjoy, and I was guessing that the night skies were going to provide for some great star gazing. Since we were basically in the middle of no where, light pollution did not seem like it would be a problem. The temperatures were only in the sixties, so we immediately set up the grill and loaded it up with ribs and potatoes. The only drawback was that there was no grass anywhere. The dogs kept looking at us like “where the hell are we supposed to pee”?

The closest town to our campsite was Truth or Consequences which was about 20 minutes to our north. The town of about 6,000 sits on the Rio Grande River, but was a little underwhelming overall. One interesting thing is that it had hot springs in the area, and there were about ten different spas in town where people could go to soak. Another neat thing was that the Spaceport America complex was located about 30 miles to the east of town. I did go soak in a hot spring tub one day, but for some reason we did not get over to see the Spaceport America outfit. I’m not sure why we didn’t… Mike would have really liked to see that.

The weather was very agreeable each of the six days we were camped at Lake Caballo, which meant we could have the windows open during the day and a campfire roaring at night. Heaven. The Australian Open was also on television that week, so we spent lots of hours sitting outside in front of the tv watching tennis and reading our books. Mike was also super happy because he got to go fishing each day. He only caught one fish that was not worth keeping, but he enjoyed his time by the water none-the-less.

Our one and only daytrip was to Las Cruces and Hatch, both to the south of us on I-25. We accidentally stumbled upon a Saturday Market in downtown Las Cruces, which was a real treat! In Hatch, we had world famous chili cheeseburgers at Sparky’s. They were so good they made the food page of this blog! We also drove over to Elephant Butte State Park one morning. That state park was larger than the one where we were camped and a little closer to T or C – on the north side of town. We walked the dogs on a good walk but didn’t find any grass there either. The highlight of that outing was the quail we spotted running through the desert.

Even though we only made two stops in New Mexico, we both still felt like it was a state we knew well.  The area is very familiar to Mike (and consequently myself). The reason is because he had been coming to New Mexico annually since he was about twelve to go hunting on public lands in many of the national forests located there. The state has a lottery. People submit their applications for hunting permits and are chosen at random each year. Every year his dad submitted applications for himself, and his two sons. Most years they were awarded a license and went on camping/hunting expeditions in the Gila or Lincoln National Forests in search of mule deer. In case you do not know… venison is a good thing to have in one’s freezer. The meat is healthy and yummy to this Texas girl. Most years his mom went too. When Mike and I were first dating, he asked me to go. I said yes and joined in the family tradition. The excursion was always an intense trip. When I learned that my mother-in-law didn’t go EVERY year, I happily scaled myself back to about every third year.

So a month amidst the culture, history, architecture and subdued glitz of Santa Fe, contrasted with a few nights in a rural community next to the Rio Grande, provided us a thorough understanding of New Mexico. With some background knowledge from our previous travels, we confidently scratched The Land of Enchantment off the list of Lower 48 and didn’t look back as we headed to Arizona.

Our spot at Caballo Lake State Park - Number 5.

Our spot at Caballo Lake State Park – Number 5.

The view from my bedroom window. There were only seven spots in our section of the campground. Another couple arrived for the weekend, but we had the place to ourselves other than that.

The view from my bedroom window. There were only seven spots in our section of the campground. Another couple arrived for the weekend, but we had the place to ourselves other than that.

The wind was totally still the first day we arrived, so this was our first view of the lake. We were impressed!

The wind was totally still the first day we arrived, so this was our first view of the lake. We were impressed!

Red rocks at sunset.

Red rocks at sunset.

I've never seen so many solar panels as we did in New Mexico. This Walmart parking lot had all of its spaces covered. Shade for the customers and power for the building. I like it!

I’ve never seen so many solar panels as we did in New Mexico. This Walmart parking lot had all of its spaces covered. Shade for the customers and power for the building. I like it!

Mike didn't catch any keepers in Lake Caballo, but he did snag this 20-lb Buffalo - similar to a Carp. It is mostly a bow fishing target.

Mike didn’t catch any keepers in Lake Caballo, but he did snag this 20-lb Buffalo – similar to a Carp. It is mostly a bow fishing target.

The closest town to Lake Caballo was Truth or Consequences (the locals call it T or C). It was originally named Hot Springs because of all the natural hot springs in the area. In 1950, as a publicity stunt, it changed its name to the name of a popular NBC radio show at the request of the show's host, Ralph Edwards. The city has voted three more times to keep T or C as its name.

The closest town to Lake Caballo was Truth or Consequences (the locals call it T or C). It was originally named Hot Springs because of all the natural hot springs in the area. In 1950, as a publicity stunt, it changed its name to the name of a popular NBC radio show at the request of the show’s host, Ralph Edwards. The city has voted three more times to keep T or C as its name.

The mountains across the lake from us turned all kinds of colors depending on the weather and the time of day.

The mountains across the lake from us turned all kinds of colors depending on the weather and the time of day.

We drove about an hour south on I-25 to Las Cruces to see what their downtown looked like. When we arrived we were excited to find out we were in time for the weekly Saturday Market. The streets are closed to vehicle traffic and vendors set up tents with all handcrafted art, food and other treats. A couple of weeks later, I learned that Mike had secretly bought me a beautiful necklace for my anniversary present!

We drove about an hour south on I-25 to Las Cruces to see what their downtown looked like. When we arrived we were excited to find out we were in time for the weekly Saturday Market. The streets are closed to vehicle traffic and vendors set up tents with all handcrafted art, food and other treats. A couple of weeks later, I learned that Mike had secretly bought me a beautiful necklace for my anniversary present!

Downtown Las Cruces had many pretty restored buildings like the Rio Grande Theater.

Downtown Las Cruces had many pretty restored buildings like the Rio Grande Theater.

The reviews said to expect a wait in line if we wanted to eat at Sparky's in Hatch. Since they recently won First Place in the People's Choice Category at the New Mexico State Fair for their world famous Green Chili Cheeseburger, we didn't mind. It was totally worth it.

The reviews said to expect a wait in line if we wanted to eat at Sparky’s in Hatch. Since they recently won First Place in the People’s Choice Category at the New Mexico State Fair for their world famous Green Chili Cheeseburger, we didn’t mind. It was totally worth it.

The owners of Sparky's love to collect signs and other statues from iconic food establishments. I thought I'd sit with The Colonel a bit while we waited in line.

The owners of Sparky’s love to collect signs and other statues from iconic food establishments. I thought I’d sit with The Colonel a bit while we waited in line.

Inside Sparky's.

Inside Sparky’s.

Full moon over the lake on a clear night.

Full moon over the lake on a clear night.

You have to look very closely, but there is a dove and a quail in this picture. Mike was about to hyperventilate.

You have to look very closely, but there is a dove and a quail in this picture. Mike was about to hyperventilate.

New Mexico Part I: Santa Fe – Second Half

The second half of our Santa Fe stay was more of “the usual” mixed with a bit of abnormal. I continued to fall in love with the area and never stopped telling Mike “I could live here if something happened to you”. In fact I uttered that sentence to him so many times that I finally had to add a clarification that went something like “Now, I don’t really WANT anything to happen to you, I love you very much and I like sharing my world with you… it is just that IF something happened I could see myself coming here to start fresh. But don’t worry, I’m not plotting to poison you or anything…”. Evidently I am not the only person who has developed a deep love affair with Santa Fe. I learned from a local that “they don’t call it the Land of Entrapment for nothing”!

For Christmas Mike gave me a gift certificate to the famous Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Spa  (one of the reasons I don’t really WANT anything to happen to him), and I redeemed it as soon as I could get a reservation. I booked myself the Nippon Nirvana package that included a private hot tub, a facial (which I upgraded to 80 minutes), a face and scalp treatment, and a foot treatment. Nirvana, I’ll say! On the day of my appointment I arrived early so I would have time to sit in the sauna and envelope myself in the serene environment. When it was time for the services of my package to begin, the soak in the hot tub was first on the list. A nice spa lady led me outside and up some steps into an open-air room that had solid walls on three sides for privacy. The fourth wall was an airy fence that opened out onto a pristine view of an eerily quiet snow laden mountain side. The setting could not have been more ideal. The spa lady told me I had the tub reserved for 50-minutes and they would call me over an intercom when it was time to make my way back to the spa lobby. The water was steaming hot and a light snow was floating around me so that I sort of felt like I could be the character in a fairy-tale. When she left me in my ‘room’ she gave me a key and told me to lock the door behind me if I had to leave for any reason. I never left, so I never locked the door.

I spent the first portion of my time floating in the warm water and trying to memorize everything about the experience. As I was concentrating on “being in the moment” and wishing I had brought my phone with me to take a few pictures, the door to my room flew open and in dashed a lady slightly older than myself. She was obviously also a spa guest because she wore a cotton kimono similar to the one for which I myself had traded my driver’s license. She was very nice and it was sadly obvious she had spent a lot of money on face and body work. The doctors had done better on her boobs and tummy than they had on her face, in my opinion. I knew this because as she was complaining about being late, she shed her robe and took off her panties before slinking into the warm water. I kept thinking to myself: didn’t they say this part of the package was a PRIVATE tub? Oh well, I had never been there before and I didn’t want to act like a prima donna, so I went with it. What does one do when they meet a stranger for the first time and both people are naked? Well, just go through basics of polite conversation, I guess. I learned she had grown up in Italy and France as a child, had lived in eastern locations such as Singapore and Australia, and now spent her time in the States with houses in Del Rey Beach, Florida and Hilton Head, South Carolina. Although I’ve not had any plastic surgery, I have been to Australia, France, and Hilton Head… so we had that in common. We talked about how we loved Santa Fe, and how we would love to have a home in the area. Now Mike and I don’t even have ONE home, much less two or three – but I acted like the respectable Texas woman I am and rose to her level. She also told me that she had been shopping for a hat in a store near the plaza when she watched a customer purchase a $30,000 straw cowboy hat. At that time, I neglected to tell her that I had probably NOT been shopping inside that same store. Anyway, more time passed and she finally jumped out of the hot tub, grabbed her robe and ran off to the massage she had scheduled. The poor lady never knew she was in the wrong place, and she would probably never dream she would be the subject of a section in my blog! I still had about fifteen minutes of my soak left after her departure, so I went back to focusing on the solitude and flawless surroundings until the voice on the intercom came through to tell me my time was up.

The rest of my day at Ten Thousand Waves was just as I expected. The face, neck, face, foot treatments were wonderful – aside from the fact that the aesthetician talked a lot too much. Never-the-less I felt beautiful after I emerged. I concluded my spa day with a wonderful late lunch at the resort’s only restaurant before making the drive back home… wishing once again that I lived in the area so I would qualify for the local’s discount.

Another notable thing that happened during the second half of our stay in Santa Fe was that we had a visitor! My friend Amy made the 5-hour drive down from Denver to spend a couple of days hanging out! We offered our sofa bed for sleeping purposes, but she opted to stay in the quaint Hotel Chamayo just off the plaza in Santa Fe. It was a charming establishment and I would recommend it to anyone. She and I shopped and ate until there was nothing left in the area to taste, and nothing left in the universe to talk about. Well, not really – since we are of the female gender and have been friends since our teens – but the point it that it was a great visit.

We have invited countless friends and family to visit us during our tour and three entities have taken us up on the offer: My cousin Kevin and his wife Claire met us in Morgantown, West Virginia to attend a Texas Longhorns football game (they also traveled to meet us for the day in Princeton, NJ); Mike’s parents came to Rapid City, SD; and Amy came to Santa Fe! Gold Stars all around for the people who love us!

As usual, I will let the pictures below tell you the rest of the story about our final days in Santa Fe. However, the final “interesting” occurrence deserves a few paragraphs designated to something that has not happened to us yet on the tour (and hopefully will not happen again before we sell this Monaco).

The weather wasn’t GREAT every day we were in the New Mexico Capital, and although we were always able to get out and about in the city, daytrips to the north into the mountainous areas were often bypassed because of icy roads. We have a little Honda CRV with baby tires and zero horsepower… so when the roads were iffy, we chose to stay close to home. A day finally came where the skies cleared and the temperatures were warmish. We quickly decided to get in our car and drive to somewhere north of us. Our final decision was to visit Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument. We spent a wonderful day driving and exploring to our hearts content. As the early afternoon approached, we looked at each other and at the same time decided to head back home where we could build a campfire and enjoy a sunset from OUTSIDE our rig – for a change.

Upon arriving back to the campground, we built a campfire and decided to fry some potatoes and grill some burgers after the sun went down. We were enjoying a glass of wine and admiring the sunset when some new campers arrived. Seems the management had assigned them a spot near us at #26. Usually when new campers arrive there is a bit of commotion as everyone gets settled. Understandable, of course. Then things get back to normal and everyone minds their own business. In this instance, we had a new Lexus SUV (looked it up: just under $89K – loaded), pulling a new little camper (about 15-20 feet max) trying to park their toys in a PULL-THROUGH spot somewhere near us. I do not say ‘somewhere near us’ in jest. After about 15 minutes of maneuvering, I could not even tell which site they were actually trying to conquer.

Mike is the driver in our family (y’all all know I don’t even know how to START the engine of the Monaco, right? Well, I don’t. Never will. Don’t try to talk me into it). When he and I are having trouble, the last thing he wants is a stranger coming up and offering assistance. So we abided by our own personal family rule and let the new campers languish in their own family misery without posing an interference. We were completely embarrassed for them and we didn’t want to make it worse for us. At one point I did get up from the campfire to take a look. My deduction upon returning to our quaint patio was that the poor man was not the outdoorsy type. He had obviously not even owned a boat before, or he would certainly be able to back up his little camper. To make matters worse, the skinny wife with the perfect bouffant hair and designer exercise/camping clothes, was trying to direct the retired nimrod into their PULL-THROUGH spot. (in case you don’t get the nuance… there  is no need to back into a pull-through spot. there, I said it). Their conversation went something like this “NOOOO, GO THE OTHER WAY. OH MY GOD, TURN THE OTHER DIRECTION! NOW LOOK AT WHERE YOU ARE”. My advice to the bouffant lady… your poor husband is clueless. He obviously just retired and is trying to live some sort of post-career fantasy where y’all get back to the basics and live like the ‘normal’ people. For Heaven’s sake woman, take it easy on the duffus, he has no idea what he is doing!

More yelling, more embarrassment, and soon the SUV and camper were lined up with NOTHING that made any sense. It was getting dark around that time, so I decided I would go inside and prep our potatoes for the fryer. Home grilled hamburgers and fresh made fries – a wonderful end to  perfect day. Just as I rose from my chair, I heard the newly retired man’s camper hit and knock over a metal chair behind him. The bouffant lady really let him have it with an extra loud “OH MY GOD, YOU HIT…”. I was shaking my head in pity as I entered the inside of the rig. Then I heard a HUGE LOUD crash, boom, bang, SPLASH. I looked out the window in time to see the $80+K Lexus SUV crashed into our site with a 6-foot tall fountain of water spewing out of the water connection of the spot next to us. My first thought: They are gonna flood our site and we will be slugging through mud for the rest of our stay! After that, I wondered if anyone was hurt. I ran out the front door on the way to the office just in time to see Mike running to the front of our patio – facial expressions full of images related to shock, awe, and WTF???

I booked it to the office to tell them to turn off the water, someone had just crashed into our site. Then I ran back to our spot. As I approached, I noticed the dude has also taken out the electrical box in the site next to us. Water + electricity = not a good mix. I turned around and ran back to the office to tell them to shut off the electricity too. Looks like dinner was going to be postponed a bit. After I voiced the appropriate emergency messages to management, I was walking back toward the chaos (sucking air because I have not run that hard in EVER) when the stupid driver was walking toward the office. Don’t worry sir, the owner will meet you at  your wreckage. I could only imagine how mortified he must have been, so I tried to make it better. Him: “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done”. Me: “oh well, don’t worry, I caused my husband to wreck our coach when we arrived here. Well, not quite like that… Well, actually, it was nothing like that. But anyway, what happened”? Him: “I got out of the car while it was still in drive”. His answer had me thinking he should possibly think of another story before he told anyone else.

I felt so sorry for him until he kept talking. He willfully admitted to anyone who would listen that he did not know how to back up with a trailer in tow. Turns out that this was only the second time he had ever taken out the camper. When they tried a trip the first time he demolished a fence at the last campground. DUDE. Practice backing up in a parking lot until you get a handle on this retirement fantasy of yours.

So we postponed our dinner because we didn’t have electricity to heat the fry daddy anyway, and besides, there was too much excitement happening around us to concentrate on a meal. We did, however, enjoy a couple of more glasses of wine, and snap a few shots with our cameras.  In the end, the water was turned back on, the electricity was reestablished, and the car was removed from our patio. We did finally eat a little later than expected while we thanked our lucky stars (and divine intervention) that our vehicles were not wrecked and our dogs were not killed (we had JUST moved them from the spot where the SUV landed about 20 minutes prior to the excitement).

The last abnormal thing that happened during our stay in Santa Fe was that my dear friend, Patty, died of a quick and surprising bout with the dreaded cancer. I flew back to Houston for 40 hours to attend her funeral. Although the reason for my return to the homeland was heartbreaking, it was good to see many of the friends that I cherish so deeply. Bittersweet. Life goes on, but it sure sucks when your loved ones are not in the picture any longer.

Sandia Mountain (out the window at my desk), with clouds above and below.

Sandia Mountain (out the window at my desk), with clouds above and below.

I sensed I was in for something special as I made my way up the walkway to the entrance of Ten Thousand Waves.

I sensed I was in for something special as I made my way up the walkway to the entrance of Ten Thousand Waves.

The spa at Ten Thousand Waves was glorious, and I think the snow made the setting that much more spectacular.

The spa at Ten Thousand Waves was glorious, and I think the snow made the setting that much more spectacular.

My view during lunch at Izanami, the restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Spa.

My view during lunch at Izanami, the restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Spa.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains never looked the same twice.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains never looked the same twice.

Our campground was full of art.

Our campground was full of art.

A trail from downtown Santa Fe leads to the top of a hill where Fort Marcy was located in the mid-1800's. It was built when the United States declared war on the Republic of Mexico after a dispute arose over the location of the southern border of the newly annexed State of Texas.

A trail from downtown Santa Fe leads to the top of a hill where Fort Marcy was located in the mid-1800’s. It was built when the United States declared war on the Republic of Mexico after a dispute arose over the location of the southern border of the newly annexed State of Texas.

mary shrine

Solar panels are everywhere in New Mexico. These were next to the dog park at our campground.

Solar panels are everywhere in New Mexico. These were next to the dog park at our campground.

Dina and Amy selfie over a glass of wine at the Inn of the Anasazi.

Dina and Amy selfie over a glass of wine at the Inn of the Anasazi.

When my friend Amy was visiting me, the three of us went on a night time excursion with an outfit called Astronomy Adventures. We followed detailed driving instructions to a plot of land off of Highway 14 where there was very little light pollution after dark. Our guide, Peter, educated us with an Astronomy 101 lesson and we got to look through a large telescope to see things like planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. It was COLD outside, so we kept warm by going inside a small shed with a space heater. The lights were red so that our eyes could stay adjusted to the dark. It was a very educational evening, and the three of us felt like we had just attended a college level lecture when it was all over. The good news was that there was no test at the end.

When my friend Amy was visiting me, the three of us went on a night time excursion with an outfit called Astronomy Adventures. We followed detailed driving instructions to a plot of land off of Highway 14 where there was very little light pollution after dark. Our guide, Peter, educated us with an Astronomy 101 lesson and we got to look through a large telescope to see things like planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. It was COLD outside, so we kept warm by going inside a small shed with a space heater. The lights were red so that our eyes could stay adjusted to the dark. It was a very educational evening, and the three of us felt like we had just attended a college level lecture when it was all over. The good news was that there was no test at the end.

The road into Los Alamos hugs the side of a canyon as drivers ascend.

The road into Los Alamos hugs the side of a canyon as drivers ascend.

We arrived in Los Alamos at the same time this Piper landed on the runway. I expected to see cars traveling beside us on the main road into town, so I was surprised to see an airplane out my window instead.

We arrived in Los Alamos at the same time this Piper landed on the runway. I expected to see cars traveling beside us on the main road into town, so I was surprised to see an airplane out my window instead.

We have explored a multitude of downtowns since we started our tour. This is the first time we have ever encountered a screen on Main Street that features images from the Mars Rover.

We have explored a multitude of downtowns since we started our tour. This is the first time we have ever encountered a screen on Main Street that features images from the Mars Rover.

 A view from Los Alamos.

A view from Los Alamos.

A view of Frijoles Canyon at Bandelier National Monument.

A view of Frijoles Canyon at Bandelier National Monument.

Tuff is compacted volcanic ash that was formed from two massive volcanic explosions that occurred over a million years ago!

Tuff is compacted volcanic ash that was formed from two massive volcanic explosions that occurred over a million years ago!

The road out of Bandelier.

The road out of Bandelier.

Infrastructure from an ancient Pueblo community.

Infrastructure from an ancient Pueblo community.

The view from inside one of the dwellings of the Ancient Puebloans.

The view from inside one of the dwellings of the Ancient Puebloans.

Ancestral Pueblo condo.

Ancestral Pueblo condo.

Can you spot the petroglyph on the side of the rock? Ancient Indian graffiti.

Can you spot the petroglyph on the side of the rock? Ancient Indian graffiti.

The adobe houses in Santa Fe and Los Alamos look pretty much the same as they looked for this ancient civilization from around 1150 CE.

The adobe houses in Santa Fe and Los Alamos look pretty much the same as they looked for this ancient civilization from around 1150 CE.

No dogs allowed on the paths at Bandelier National Monument - mainly because of the deer and other natural wildlife that hang out next to the trail.

No dogs allowed on the paths at Bandelier National Monument – mainly because of the deer and other natural wildlife that hang out next to the trail.

If you retire and want to do something crazy like buy a new toy and start camping... I suggest you practice driving in a parking lot until you know how to back up and stuff.

If you retire and want to do something crazy like buy a new toy and start camping… I suggest you practice driving in a parking lot until you know how to back up and stuff.

A front view of our spot so you can get a perspective of exactly where they plowed into us. (And how lucky we are that they did not hit our car, our rig, or our dogs)!

A front view of our spot so you can get a perspective of exactly where they plowed into us. (And how lucky we are that they did not hit our car, our rig, or our dogs)!

What do you do after a moron camper crashes his car and trailer into your site? Try to enjoy the campfire you had already built while watching the commotion happening 10-feet away. (And take lots of pictures, even though that must have been totally embarrassing for the numnut and his wife).

What do you do after a moron camper crashes his car and trailer into your site? Try to enjoy the campfire you had already built while watching the commotion happening 10-feet away. (And take lots of pictures, even though that must have been totally embarrassing for the numnut and his wife).

The campground owners had to get creative when they extracted the camper and Lexus from our patio. First they had to disconnect the camper, lift it, and turn it 90 degrees away from our site. Then they hooked the camper up to one of their trucks and moved it to a spot on the other side of the park. Then they had to lift the back end of the Lexus and turn the vehicle 90 degrees to get it off the boulder it landed on after it crashed into the water faucet and electrical box. I was amazed that the engine started and he was able to drive it away instead of it being towed.

The campground owners had to get creative when they extracted the camper and Lexus from our patio. First they had to disconnect the camper, lift it, and turn it 90 degrees away from our site. Then they hooked the camper up to one of their trucks and moved it to a spot on the other side of the park. Then they had to lift the back end of the Lexus and turn the vehicle 90 degrees to get it off the boulder it landed on after it crashed into the water faucet and electrical box. I was amazed that the engine started and he was able to drive it away instead of it being towed.

Drinking coffee with my buddy Jerry, the maintenance man at Santa Fe Skies RV Park. We bonded early during our stay. You might remember we arrived in Santa Fe a day early in order to beat a forecasted snowstorm. When the skies cleared, I was out trying to clear our cement patio and the campground owner saw me. He immediately asked Jerry to come over and help me. Jerry had a homemade contraption that he used to melt the ice from the patio (it was a propane tank hooked to a torch). He would light the torch and melt the ice with the heat of the flame, and then I would sweep away the water. We had the entire space cleared after about an hour. As we were finishing he paid me the highest compliment: "you're a hard worker". We were fast friends from that point forward!

Drinking coffee with my buddy Jerry, the maintenance man at Santa Fe Skies RV Park. We bonded early during our stay. You might remember we arrived in Santa Fe a day early in order to beat a forecasted snowstorm. When the skies cleared, I was out trying to clear our cement patio and the campground owner saw me. He immediately asked Jerry to come over and help me. Jerry had a homemade contraption that he used to melt the ice from the patio (it was a propane tank hooked to a torch). He would light the torch and melt the ice with the heat of the flame, and then I would sweep away the water. We had the entire space cleared after about an hour. As we were finishing he paid me the highest compliment: “you’re a hard worker”. We were fast friends from that point forward!

My sweet friend Becky who has hosted me both times I have had to return to Houston for funerals. She and her husband Dan have always been able to shed some bright light on those sad occasions.

My sweet friend Becky who has hosted me both times I have had to return to Houston for funerals. She and her husband Dan have always been able to shed some bright light on those sad occasions.

We all wanted to spend a little more time comforting each other after our friend Patty's funeral, so we went to the club where we play tennis and toasted her with a glass of wine.

We all wanted to spend a little more time comforting each other after our friend Patty’s funeral, so we went to the club where we play tennis and toasted her with a glass of wine.

Another giant and brilliant sculpture outside the Museum of International Folk Art.

Another giant and brilliant sculpture outside the Museum of International Folk Art.

A beautiful sculpture outside of the Museum of International Folk Art.

A beautiful sculpture outside of the Museum of International Folk Art.

 

 

 

 

New Mexico Part I: Santa Fe – First Half

When we looked at our future route and determined we could be in Santa Fe for the Christmas holidays, I suggested to Mike that we make reservations in the Land of Enchantment’s Capital City for a whole month! Why not? So we did. It has been great!

We found a campground on the south side of town called Santa Fe Skies. We are a 20-minute drive into downtown, but Santa Fe is actually a small town (with a population of only 70,000 within the city limits and 150,000 in the county), so the route is no problem at all. We are situated up on a shallow ridge with beautiful views of the skies in all directions and the city lights at night.

Since there is so much to do and see here, I decided to break this blog post into two parts. I still have over fifty photos to share in this first half, so I think it will be less of a burden to the nice folks that visit this blog if I don’t overwhelm them with more tidbits than I’ve already chosen to share. The following pictures start when we arrived on December 14th and go through the weekend of January 3rd. I’ll post the second half after we leave here on January 18th. It is cold here, but we aren’t buried in snow or anything like that. I think I tell Mike that I could live here about three times each day. He just nods and smiles. They don’t call this place “The Land of Entrapment” for nothing!

We had a fairly long day of travel getting from Colorado Springs to Santa Fe. We had originally planned to break up the trip, and boondock in a Walmart parking lot in Trinidad. However, the weather forecast was calling for a snowstorm so we drove the route in one day. After we checked into our campground I was in charge of leading us to our spot #26. I read the map wrong and led Mike through a tight space with a retaining wall. The muddy ground caused him to slide at the wrong minute, and now the side of the rig was scratched. Yuck. (The good news is that we both acted like mature adults, avoided the blame game and got past it).

We had a fairly long day of travel getting from Colorado Springs to Santa Fe. We had originally planned to break up the trip, and boondock in a Walmart parking lot in Trinidad at the half-way point. It would have been a good opportunity to make the drive(s) short and stress-free, plus we could help our rental average by paying no fees one night. However, the forecast was calling for a snowstorm so we drove the route in one day so we could get situated before the weather turned bad. After we checked into our campground I was in charge of leading us to our spot #26. I read the map wrong and led Mike through a tight space with a retaining wall. The muddy ground caused him to slide at the wrong minute, and the side of the rig was scratched. Yuck. (The good news is that we both acted like mature adults, avoided the blame game and got past it).

The back of our spot #26.

The back of our spot #26.

The view out my kitchen window.

The view out my kitchen window.

The exterior of the famous Loretto Chapel near the Santa Fe Plaza. It was once a Catholic Church, and is now a museum and wedding chapel.

The exterior of the famous Loretto Chapel near the Santa Fe Plaza. It was once a Catholic Church, and is now a museum and wedding chapel.

We were lucky to attend an intimate Christmas concert one evening inside the Loretto Chapel. The Santa Fe Pro Musica Baroque Ensemble performed a collection of music by Handel, Vivaldi and Bach.

We were lucky to attend an intimate Christmas concert one evening inside the Loretto Chapel. The Santa Fe Pro Musica Baroque Ensemble performed a collection of music by Handel, Vivaldi and Bach.

The Miraculous Stair, a helix-shaped staircase mysteriously built by someone the Sisters of Loretto believed to be St. Joseph. The banister was a later addition.

The Miraculous Stair, a helix-shaped staircase mysteriously built by someone the Sisters of Loretto believed to be St. Joseph. The banister was a later addition.

I loved this tree outside of Loretto Chapel, adorned with hundreds of rosaries.

I loved this tree outside of Loretto Chapel, adorned with hundreds of rosaries.

I bought a Christmas ornament from the vendors at the Palace of the Governors across from the Plaza.

I bought a Christmas ornament from the vendors at the Palace of the Governors across from the Plaza.

Some public art in downtown Santa Fe.

Some public art in downtown Santa Fe.

Ristras

Ristras

Saint Francis Cathedral.

Saint Francis Cathedral.

Inside the basilica of Santa Fe.

Inside the Cathedral.

The Lensic Theater in downtown is beautiful!

The Lensic Theater in downtown is beautiful!

Mike's birthday was on December 18th. I ordered a cake for him from a local place called Cake Odyssey. I was beyond pleased when I picked it up... and it tasted delicious too.

Mike’s birthday was on December 18th. I ordered a cake for him from a local place called Cake Odyssey. I was beyond pleased when I picked it up… and it tasted delicious too.

The bar at the Palace in downtown Santa Fe.

The bar at the Palace in downtown Santa Fe. Everything was red. The furniture, the walls, the lights. Red. We did a pub crawl on Mike’s birthday and ended up here eating hamburgers after we had visited Coyote Café and The Agave inside the Eldorado Hotel.

I went to a performance called A Celtic Christmas at the historic Scottish Rite Masonic Hall. The show started with Christmas carols by bagpipe. There were also irish dancers, fiddle players, and other musicians.

I went to a performance called A Celtic Christmas at the historic Scottish Rite Masonic Hall. The show started with Christmas carols by bagpipe. There were also Irish dancers, fiddle players, and other musicians.

The exterior of the Masonic Temple.

The exterior of the Masonic Temple.

A view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from our campground at sunset. Many say they are called "blood of Christ" because of the red color they turn when the sun sets opposite them.

A view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from our campground at sunset. Many say they are called “blood of Christ” because of the red color they turn when the sun sets opposite them.

A typical sunrise view from my office window. Good Morning!

A typical sunrise view from my office window. Good Morning!

We took the train into downtown on Christmas eve. It was so convenient and we didn't have to worry about parking or crazy drivers!

There is a RailRunner Station about 1/2 mile from our campground. We took the train into downtown on Christmas eve. It was so convenient and we didn’t have to worry about parking or crazy drivers!

The Farolito Walk along Canyon Road on Christmas Eve is a Santa Fe tradition. Its a big deal!

The Farolito Walk along Canyon Road on Christmas Eve is a Santa Fe tradition. Its a big deal!

We stopped to have a drink and take a selfie during the Farolito Walk.

We stopped to have a drink and take a selfie during the Farolito Walk.

The almost full moon and the luminaries atop a building on Canyon Road on Christmas Eve.

The almost full moon and the luminaries atop a building on Canyon Road on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning at Camp Martin.

Christmas morning at Camp Martin.

The Christmas altar at our neighborhood church Santa Maria de la Paz.

The Christmas altar at our neighborhood church Santa Maria de la Paz.

I had originally wanted to have a nice Christmas dinner at a fancy restaurant somewhere, but when I started investigating our options it became clear we were going to spend a minimum of $250 if we made an attempt to book a table somewhere. We opted to save that money and distribute it among several restaurants on multiple meals during our stay. Instead, we had home-made roasted duck, potatoes, dressing, gravy, horseradish spinach salad and cranberry salad. I was not displeased with our decision to change our plans.

I had originally wanted to have a nice Christmas dinner at a fancy restaurant, but when I started investigating our options it became clear we were going to spend a minimum of $250 if we made an attempt to book a table somewhere. We opted to save that money and distribute it among several restaurants on multiple meals during our stay. Instead, I fixed roasted duck, potatoes, dressing, gravy, horseradish spinach salad and cranberry salad. I was not displeased with our decision to change our plans.

Mike's view from his seat on the couch.

Mike’s view from his seat on the couch.

A blizzard came through during the first few days of our stay, so we waited it out inside the Monaco... except when the dogs insisted we visit the dog park.

A blizzard came through during the first few days of our stay, so we waited it out inside the Monaco… except when the dogs insisted we visit the dog park.

Just us on a leisurely walk to get some fresh air and clear our heads.

Just us on a leisurely walk to get some fresh air and clear our heads.

We found a great walking trail located a short drive from our campground.

We found a great walking trail located a short drive from our campground.

Cactus on the trail.

Cactus on the trail.

Two snuggling bears on Canyon Road.

Two snuggling bears on Canyon Road.

Frozen fog.

Frozen fog.

Another view from the walking path we found.

Another view from the walking path we found.

The view never disappoints.

The view never disappoints.

We also attended a performance by the Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos in the St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

We also attended a performance by the Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in the St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

The Santa Fe Plaza all decked out for the holidays.

The Santa Fe Plaza all decked out for the holidays.

During a brief weather window when the snow melted, the sun appeared, and the temperature reached into the high 30's... you can bet we headed outside for a campfire!

During a brief weather window when the snow melted, the sun appeared, and the temperature reached into the high 30’s… you can bet we headed outside for a campfire!

The Santa Fe Farmer's Market is open all year on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. I bought some delicious chocolate mousse from one vendor and some amazing green chili cheese bread from the Intergalactic Bread vendor's booth.

The Santa Fe Farmer’s Market is open all year on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. I bought some delicious chocolate mousse from one vendor and some amazing green chili cheese bread from the Intergalactic Bread vendor’s booth. It was out of this world!

The San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe is regarded as the oldest church in the United States. It was built around 1610, and had been rebuilt and restored several times over the last 400 years.

The San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe is regarded as the oldest church in the United States. It was built around 1610, and has been rebuilt and restored several times over the last 400 years.

The beautiful altar inside the San Miguel Chapel.

The beautiful altar inside the San Miguel Chapel.

Sunset over our campground. Every night is different, yet no less spectacular.

Sunset over our campground. Every night is different, yet no less spectacular.

The Martin Martian from Madrid (New Mexico).

The Martin Martian from Madrid (New Mexico).

Mike playing along with me at Connie's photo park in Madrid (the oldest town in New Mexico).

Mike playing along with me at Connie’s photo park in Madrid (the oldest town in New Mexico).

Cessna LOVES a road trip. She sits in the back and watches the views pass by outside the window with a big grin on her face.

Cessna LOVES a road trip. She sits in the back and watches the views pass by outside the window with a big grin on her face.

We took the Scenic Highway 14 drive to Albuquerque and the vistas were very beautiful.

We took the Scenic Highway 14 drive to Albuquerque and the vistas were very beautiful.

The spires of San Felipe de Neri Church on the Plaza in Old Town Albuquerque.

The spires of San Felipe de Neri Church on the Plaza in Old Town Albuquerque.

The altar inside the church that was founded in 1706.

The altar inside the church that was founded in 1706.

Cute Christmas mariachis on a restaurant roof top in Old Town Albuquerque.

Cute Christmas mariachis on a restaurant roof top in Old Town Albuquerque.

Old Town Albuquerque.

Old Town Albuquerque.

After we left Old Town, we drove over to central - which is also the original Route 66. It was a Sunday afternoon and the only other people we saw along the street were homeless people.

After we left Old Town, we drove over to Central Ave., which is also the original Route 66. It was a Sunday afternoon and the only other people we saw along the street were homeless people.

Can you read the titles on the books in this sign? Gone with the Gin, Tequila Mockingbird, A Midsummer Night's Drink, Lord of the Onion Rings, Partying 101. Hahahaha.

Can you read the titles on the books in this sign? Gone with the Gin, Tequila Mockingbird, A Midsummer Night’s Drink, Lord of the Onion Rings, Partying 101. Hahahaha.

 A gorgeous marble building in downtown Albuquirky.

A gorgeous marble building in downtown Albuquirky.

A view of the Mountains along 1-25 as we drove back to camp from Albuquerque.

A view of the mountains along I-25 as we drove back to camp from Albuquerque.

Colorado Part III: Colorado Springs

You already know I lobbied Mike to stay as close to Denver metro as possible during our month-turned-six-week-stay in Colorado. Two of my closest friends from high school both live in Aurora, and I had plans to drive back for two separate Christmas celebrations on December 1st and 11th. Our third stop was at Garden of the Gods RV Resort in Colorado Springs, a 1-hour 11 minute drive back to my girlies. We were at this location for two weeks and enjoyed every minute of it. The location was incredible. We were within walking distance to Manitou Springs, Garden of the Gods, Red Rocks Open Space AND Old Colorado City. Our specific site was pretty cramped, but the park was well-maintained and we had a front-row view of Pike’s Peak every time we walked to the dog park.

I returned to Denver on the first day we were there to “officially” kick-off the Christmas season with high tea at the Brown Hotel. Mike was so glad I had other girls to join for that experience. He was happy to stay home with the dogs and finish his post-travel coach cleaning chores. My last trip back to Denver was toward the end of our stay when I got to attend a martini and gift exchange party hosted by Amy and Janet at Amy’s house. We had a slumber party, and I drove back home the next morning. Our time during the middle of my two excursions was spent hiking, enjoying the natural attractions of our area, and handling the traditional tasks of Christmas such as getting our cards out, finishing our shopping, shipping our packages, decorating our coach, and stuff like that. Normal life stuff.

We were surrounded by so much beauty on this stop, that I have a bunch of pictures to share. I will let their captions fill out the rest of the story from Colorado Springs.

A view from the windshield on our short drive south along I-25 to Colorado Springs. We were thankful for the sunshine and dry skies on a travel day.

A view from the windshield on our short drive south along I-25 from Larkspur to Colorado Springs. We were thankful for the sunshine and dry skies on a travel day.

 

The first day we were in "the Springs", I turned around and drove back to the Denver metro to join my girlfriends at the historic Brown Hotel for traditional high tea.

The first day we were in “the Springs”, I turned around and drove back to the Denver metro to join my girlfriends at the historic Brown Hotel for traditional high tea.

One of the reasons we made our last Colorado stop in Colorado Springs was so I would be in driving distance to come back and participate in more Christmas cheer during the season.

One of the reasons we made our last Colorado stop in Colorado Springs was so I would be in driving distance to come back and participate in more Christmas cheer during the season.

A herd of deer lived in the neighborhood between our campground and Garden of the Gods Park. We would walk about 1/2 mile to get to the park trails, and the mulees were scattered about every yard (front and back).

A herd of deer lived in the neighborhood between our campground and Garden of the Gods Park. We would walk about 1/2 mile to get to the park trails, and the mulees were scattered about every yard (front and back).

Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods Park.

Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods Park.

We were a short drive down the road from several DDD spots at this stop. Front Range BBQ is one of those restaurants and they featured live music on Wednesday nights. The food was yummy and the music was classic rock with a funkadelic hillbilly twist. Like Pink Floyd at the County Fair Pie Contest. Lots of fun!

We were a short drive down the road from several DDD spots at this stop. Front Range BBQ is one of those restaurants and they featured live music on Wednesday nights. The food was yummy and the music was classic rock with a funkadelic hillbilly twist. Like Pink Floyd at the County Fair Pie Contest. Lots of fun!

Pike's Peak in its morning glory from our campground.

Pike’s Peak in its morning glory from our campground.

buck

A buck in the ‘hood.

A selfie from one of our daily walks with Pike's Peak in the background. The Utes called it Tava (Sun).

A selfie from one of our daily walks with Pike’s Peak in the background. The Utes called it Tava (Sun).

One of the neighborhood does posing for her photo shoot.

One of the neighborhood does posing for her photo shoot.

A selfie on the COG Railway - waiting to depart the station.

A selfie on the COG Railway – waiting to depart the station.

A way station along the COG Railway - almost to the top. Back in the day people used to live there!

A way station along the COG Railway – almost to the top. Back in the day people used to live there!

Katharine Lee Bates was a 33-year old English Professor from Wellesley College when she traveled by train to Colorado Springs to teach a short summer school session at Colorado College. After being inspired by sights she enjoyed on the way to Colorado and all the way up to the top of Pike's Peak, she wrote a poem called "Pike's Peak". It was published two years later in The Congregationalist to commemorate July 4th. At that time is was retitled "America". Church organist and Choir Master Samuel A. Ward put it to music in 1910... and now we all know the words by heart. (And if you are like me, it makes you cry every time you hear it)!

Katharine Lee Bates was a 33-year old English Professor from Wellesley College when she traveled by train to Colorado Springs to teach a short summer school session at Colorado College. After being inspired by sights she enjoyed on the way to Colorado and all the way up to the top of Pike’s Peak, she wrote a poem called “Pike’s Peak”. It was published two years later in The Congregationalist to commemorate July 4th. At that time it was retitled “America”. Church organist and Choir Master Samuel A. Ward put it to music in 1910… and now we all know the words by heart. (And if you are like me, it makes you cry every time you hear it)!

A selfie atop a fourteener. In mountaineer terminology that is a mountain that meets or exceeds an elevation of 14,000 feet (4,270 m) above mean sea level. Colorado has the majority of fourteeners in the contiguous United States with 53. California is next with 12. Washington has 2. Climbing all of Colorado's fourteeners is a popular pastime among peak baggers. We are not peak baggers.

A selfie atop a fourteener. In mountaineer terminology that is a mountain that meets or exceeds an elevation of 14,000 feet (4,270 m) above mean sea level. Colorado has the majority of fourteeners in the contiguous United States with 53. California is next with 12. Washington has 2. Climbing all of Colorado’s fourteeners is a popular pastime among peak baggers. We are not peak baggers.

rocky mountains

We are lucky the weather was so clear on the day we went up to Pike’s Peak. We tried not to focus on the fact that the temperature was a balmy 12 degrees.

Our train at the top of the mountain.

Our train at the top of the mountain.

It looks like this photo could have been taken from an airplane, right?

It looks like this photo could have been taken from an airplane, right?

Another gorgeous view from the top of Tava.

Another gorgeous view from the top of Tava.

If you look out the window from this shot inside the COG on the way down, you can see the road that cars travel to get to the top. If you search www.youtube.com for "Pike's Peak Hill Climb 2013" you can see some crazy video of a race down the mountain at insane speeds. (There is also video of a car flying OFF the road and flipping down the mountain side - which is why I'm glad we took the train instead of the car the day we went up).

If you look out the window from this shot inside the COG on the way down, you can see the road that cars travel to get to the top. If you search www.youtube.com for “Pike’s Peak Hill Climb 2013” you can see some crazy video of a race down the mountain at insane speeds. (There is also video of a car flying OFF the road and flipping down the mountain side – which is why I’m glad we took the train instead of the car the day we went up).

Can you spot the three big horn sheep keeping an eye on the COG during our descent?

Can you spot the three big horn sheep keeping an eye on the COG during our descent?

Garden of the Gods.

Garden of the Gods.

Our frequent hikes in Garden of the Gods park never got boring.

Our frequent hikes in Garden of the Gods park never got boring.

Although the address of our campground was Colorado Springs, we were actually right on the boundary of the quirky town of Manitou Springs. The downtown area has about eight different public fountains dispensing mineral water that is reputed to have healing effects for those that drink them.

Although the address of our campground was Colorado Springs, we were actually right on the boundary of the quirky town of Manitou Springs. The downtown area has about eight different public fountains dispensing mineral water that is reputed to have healing effects for those that drink from them.

One day we decided to hike the Manitou Incline "just for the fun of it". This is from the parking lot.

One day we decided to hike the Manitou Incline “just for the fun of it”. This is from the parking lot.

We were not dissuaded when we reached the starting point, even though the sign said the top was 2775 steps and almost one mile above us.

We were not dissuaded when we reached the starting point, even though the sign said the top was 2775 steps and almost one mile above us.

I quickly learned one general rule of the climbing experience. Don't look up. Very disheartening. At the half-way point I couldn't even see the top.

I quickly learned one general rule of the climbing experience. Don’t look up. Very disheartening. At the half-way point I couldn’t even see the top.

The skinny girl behind me was sucking air too. That made me happy. I was overjoyed when I saw her actually sit down for a minute. Then she passed me.

The skinny girl behind me was sucking air too. That made me happy. I was overjoyed when I saw her actually sit down for a minute. Then she passed me.

steps on way up

Mike spent most of his time encouraging me with positive words and waiting for me to catch up to him.

We had hiking boots, but no cleats. The trail was totally icy in shady spots. I won't lie, I was nervous.

We had hiking boots, but no cleats. The trail was totally icy in shady spots. I won’t lie, I was nervous.

We made it to the top.

We made it to the top.

One of the views from the top of the incline. Our campground is somewhere there in the near distance.

One of the views from the top of the incline. Our campground is somewhere there in the near distance.

A surprise Christmas tree at the top of the incline made me smile in between inhaling big gulps of thin air.

A surprise Christmas tree at the top of the incline made me smile in between inhaling big gulps of thin air.

The incline steps are intended to be one-way... up. However, lots of kamikaze fitness freaks were climbing up them and then running back down to repeat the process again. We chose to obey the rules and follow the designated trail back down to the bottom. I was encouraged in the beginning.

The incline steps are intended to be one-way… up. However, lots of kamikaze fitness freaks were climbing up them and then running back down to repeat the process again. We chose to obey the rules and follow the designated trail back down to the bottom. I was encouraged in the beginning.

It turned out that the trail down the mountain was mostly shaded and completely covered with slippery icy. It took us longer to get down than it did to get up!

It turned out that the trail down the mountain was mostly shaded and completely covered with slippery icy. It took us longer to get down than it did to get up!

Yes, we did have a couple of martinis when we got home that night. And yes, they did go straight to my head!

Yes, we did have a couple of martinis when we got home that night. And yes, they did go straight to my head!

A full-size gingerbread house inside the Broadmoor Hotel.

A full-size gingerbread house inside the Broadmoor Hotel.

We decided to go see the historic Broadmoor Hotel at night because we knew the lights would be fabulous. We were right.

We decided to go see the historic Broadmoor Hotel at night because we knew the lights would be fabulous. We were right.

A selfie after drinks and dinner at The Broadmoor.

A selfie after drinks and dinner at The Broadmoor.

Our campground was also close to Old Colorado City, a National Historic District established in 1859. I really enjoyed finishing up my Christmas shopping in such a quaint area.

Our campground was also close to Old Colorado City, a National Historic District established in 1859. I really enjoyed finishing up my Christmas shopping in such a quaint area.

Another amazing earth scene from Garden of the Gods.

Another amazing earth scene from Garden of the Gods.

The weather was pretty great during our entire stay on this stop. It only snowed at the very end, and just lightly after it was all over.

The weather was pretty great during our entire stay on this stop. It only snowed at the very end, and just lightly after it was all over.

The Monaco is all decked out for the holidays.

The Monaco is all decked out for the holidays.

Colorado Part II: Larkspur

If this blog post needed a sub-title, I think it would be “The B Word”.

Our reservation at Cherry Creek State Park was due to be over on Tuesday, November 17th, and we had stayed as long as the park would allow us. We had been watching the weather, and a big winter storm (some weather people on TV even used the B word) was coming toward the Denver area on our travel day.  We went to the campground office to ask a few questions. We wanted to know if the storm did come and the roads were thick with snow, would they still force us to leave because we had been there for the maximum number of days (even though the park was not full and there were empty spaces). The answer was yes, we had to go – no matter what.

Instead of taking any stupid chances, we decided to leave a day early and go to our next scheduled stop at a Jellystone Campground in Larkspur – just off of I-25. We had picked another campground that was only 30 minutes down the road for the second phase of our Colorado visit. I have a childhood friend that lives only a few miles from the Larkspur campground; and we were still within driving distance to Denver – which was convenient because we planned to go back to Aurora on Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with our friends Janet, Amy, Blaine and Sammy. You might be able to tell, my motivations in Colorado shifted from travel warrior to stocking up on as much ‘friend’ time as possible.

We pulled out of Cherry Creek around 9:30 on Monday morning and made the quick trip down I-25 to our next stop. The skies were blue when we left, so our timing was great… ahead of the blizzard. The Jellystone Campground is built up the side of a large ‘hill’ adjacent to the highway. All of the camping sites are stacked above the others as you make your way to the top. The camp “ranger” led us to our spot which was carved into the landscape about half- way up the incline. Mike had to pull past the spot and then back into it. The skies were still clear at this point, but the roads were icy from the last snow they had received. I was directing Mike into our spot from outside the rig. I was watching the front tires as he was backing into the spot when the front driver’s side tire started sliding backward with no traction. YIKES! I was a little frazzled, but he backed it in just fine on the first try. It turns out that we got there just in the nick of time. As soon as we were all set up, the snow came and did not stop until 16″ later.

We spent our first full day in Larkspur trying to stay warm and watching all drivers who tried to leave spend subsequent hours digging their vehicles out of ditches. Piper and Cessna were elated with what the weather Gods delivered in the form of white powder. We were a little less thrilled with the situation. It suddenly became clear that the campground maintenance crew was not going to plow our road. Mike borrowed a snow shovel from the office and spent several hours each day trying to clear a path for us so it would be clear when the time came to move the rig. We were keeping an eye on the weather and it was supposed to stay cold for several days. Our road was like one giant ice chute down to flat ground at the bottom. We started wondering how we were going to drive the Monaco down the slick strip of road when the time came to leave. We have seen snow on our adventure before, but not like this.

We had planned to stay at Jellystone for two weeks, but we were anxious to get to a spot down on the flat portion of the campground. If the weather turned bad again, we would have a better chance of maneuvering the Monaco with less ice beneath us and less of a steep grade in front of us. Mike went to the office and negotiated to move us to another spot at the conclusion of our first week. When the time came, he backed the rig down the hill and moved us into a better location… closer to the highway and train track so we could hear all the super loud traffic with no problem at all!

Even though this location caused lots of stress for us, it worked out just fine. I was able to spend one afternoon with my friend Tammy, which was a wonderful treat. We also got to spend Thanksgiving at the Stern’s house AND make our way to a Nuggets vs. Spurs basketball game on the Friday after turkey day. (And we got some good pictures out of the deal)!

Our first spot at Jellystone.

Our first spot at Jellystone before the winter storm.

As soon as we were parked and situated, the blizzard commenced.

As soon as we were parked and situated, the blizzard commenced.

The same view out of my office window - post blizzard.

The same view out of my office window – post blizzard.

We measured about 16".

We measured about 16″.

Our snow covered roof.

Our snow covered roof.

After it snows Mike has to get up on the roof and shovel the surface. I always feel guilty in the cozy warmth while I listen to him work above me.

After it snows Mike has to get up on the roof and shovel the surface. I always feel guilty in the cozy warmth while I listen to him work above me.

This section of the campground was closed for the winter and the blanket of snow made the road look so magical.

This section of the campground was closed for the winter and the blanket of snow made the road look so magical.

Mike's view from the top of the Monaco.

Mike’s view from the top of the Monaco.

Mike shoveled snow for three days - trying to get our car out and trying to clear a path for us to move the coach when the time came.

Mike shoveled snow for three days – trying to get our car out and trying to clear a path for us to move the coach when the time came.

After three days of Mike shoveling a path out for us, the campground finally showed up with a tractor. Thank you for the wonderful customer service... not.

After three days of Mike shoveling a path out for us, the campground finally showed up with a tractor. Thank you for the wonderful customer service… not.

Piper is Mike's dog. Cessna is my dog. We all love each other equally, but those are the facts. Mike was worried Piper would be cold when we went to the dog park when the temperatures were below 10 degrees. That is why the pup in this photo is wearing a shirt that says "In dog beers, I've only had one". I'm not sure he was any warmer, but he was the most stylish pooch inside the fence.

Piper is Mike’s dog. Cessna is my dog. We all love each other equally, but those are the facts. Mike was worried Piper would be cold when we went to the dog park when the temperature was below 10 degrees. That is why the pup in this photo is wearing a shirt that says “In dog beers, I’ve only had one”. I’m not sure he was any warmer, but he was the most stylish pooch inside the fence.

Snowy sunrise.

Snowy sunrise.

The view from our bedroom window (from our first spot at Jellystone).

The view from our bedroom window (from our first spot at Jellystone).

Our campground had three authentic tee pees guests could rent for camping.

Our campground had three authentic tee pees guests could rent for camping.

When it gets really cold, the latch on our door freezes. We keep my hair dryer in the co-captain's chair so we can heat the latch in order to get OUT!

When it gets really cold, the latch on our door freezes. We keep my hair dryer in the co-captain’s chair so we can heat the latch in order to get OUT!

A couple of mule deer exploring the road of our campground.

A couple of mule deer exploring the road of our campground.

The campground staff never completely plowed the road up to our first spot, so when we moved to a lower site for our second week, Mike had to back down the icy road.

The campground staff never completely plowed the road up to our first spot, so when we moved to a lower site for our second week, Mike had to back down the icy road.

Our second spot at Jellystone.

Our second spot at Jellystone.

Interstate 25 was super close to our second spot at this campground. This is the view from my office window.

Interstate 25 was super close to our second spot at this campground. This is the view from my office window.

There was a great self-service dog wash in Castle Rock. I took the dogs over for a bath before we were all scheduled to stay as guests at our friend's house over thanksgiving. Two cats had free range of the entire facility. Poor Piper was a mess!

There was a great self-service dog wash in Castle Rock. I took the dogs over for a bath before we were all scheduled to stay as guests at our friend’s house over thanksgiving. Two cats had free range of the entire facility. Poor Piper was a mess!

In between our coach and the loud interstate highway was an active rail line. Trains whizzed past us at all hours of the day and night. They frequently blew the horn as they approach our campground - even at 3:30 AM. Ear plugs didn't work because they didn't eliminate the vibration of the bed and pillows.

In between our coach and the loud interstate highway was an active rail line. Trains whizzed past us at all hours of the day and night. They frequently blew the horn as they approach our campground – even at 3:30 AM. Ear plugs didn’t work because they didn’t eliminate the vibration of the bed and pillows.

Our first thanksgiving in three years that included humans other than the two of us!

Our first thanksgiving in three years that included humans other than the two of us!

All of us at the basketball game. Sam took the picture!

All of us at the basketball game. Sam took the picture!

Colorado Part I: Aurora

I was very excited to start our time in Colorful Colorado. We have lots of friends in Colorado and I was looking forward to visiting with people we actually knew and had relationships with. This American Adventure has been a really fun trip, but Mike and I have been fairly isolated from any sort of regular social life. Most of the time, the only person we know in our environment is each other. I was giddy with the anticipation of interacting with new people! If truth be told, Mike was probably MORE excited than I was because it meant he was going to get a break from me and my constant jabbering. Someone else could listen to me for a change! He is the strong silent type. Man of few words. All that stuff. Me; well I’m talkative. Lively. Some would say to the point on the scale where it tips to obnoxious. Maybe. Probably. Let’s just agree that it is not impossible that Mike was, in fact, MORE EXCITED than I was to see my friends.

Two of the friends I was looking forward to seeing were Amy and Janet. The three of us went to High School together at Westlake in Austin, Texas. Janet and I were roommates in college at UT, and we also moved to Lake Tahoe for two consecutive summers after we turned 21 – to deal black jack at Harrah’s Casino on the South Shore. Amy and Janet had both moved to Denver for various reasons back in the ’90’s.

I took a little detour from The Lower 48 in 48 Tour back in August, and flew to Denver for a girls weekend with those two. While I was in Denver for my quick visit, I started looking around for possible RV parks we could stay in when it came time to spend our month in Colorado. It turns out that there are very few options for RV parks in the Denver metro area. I was getting worried until I found Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora. We three chickies drove out to take a look and it turned out to be a very nice campground. When I returned from the girl’s trip, Mike and I immediately reserved a spot at Cherry Creek to make sure we had a place to stay before the park became totally booked during the time we wanted to be there. Occupancy rates run high at that park, and we felt lucky to get a two-week reservation in one of the only two loops open during the winter season.

We said goodbye to Ogallala, NE on November 3rd and drove 3 1/2 hours west and south into Colorado, and finally Denver. We stopped for diesel at a truck stop on the outskirts of town, and then made our way to the park. Our spot was a pull-through with full hook-ups on a concrete pad with a nice gravel patio and thick grass all around us. We would have happily stayed in the same spot for 6 weeks, but they have a strict 14-day-stay-within-a-45-day-window policy, so we were only there for two quick weeks.

We didn’t engage in too many tourist activities like we normally would do in a town like Denver. We mostly just traded dinner parties at each other’s homes, went to the movies or shopping, and met for lunches, dinners, and happy hours. I did take a solo-road trip west on I-70 across the Rockies to see one of my mom’s dear friends who lives in Grand Junction. While I was out socializing with all my friends, Mike enjoyed fishing for trout in the lake at the park where we were camped.

Our drive on I-76 from western Nebraska to Denver, Colorado. The Rocky Mountains were just starting to come into view way out in the distance.

Our drive on I-76 from western Nebraska to Denver, Colorado. The Rocky Mountains were just starting to come into view way out in the distance.

Spot #9 at Cherry Creek State Park.

Spot #9 at Cherry Creek State Park.

The state park was covered in Magpies. They are from the Crow family, but they are much prettier with their white, black and teal color scheme.

The state park was covered in Magpies. They are from the Crow family, but they are much prettier with their white, black and teal color scheme.

Selfie at Nine Mile Station. Heading into downtown for lunch with the gang.

Selfie at Nine Mile Station. Heading into downtown for lunch with the gang.

Public art in downtown Denver's 16th Street Mall.

Public art in downtown Denver’s 16th Street Mall.

A tex-mex lunch selfie, I'm sure the blur has nothing at all to do with the number of margaritas consumed at the table!

A tex-mex lunch selfie, I’m sure the blur has nothing at all to do with the number of margaritas consumed at the table!

Union Station in downtown Denver was recently completely renovated. Now, in addition to a train, bus and light rail station, it houses restaurants, shops, bars and a hotel!

Union Station in downtown Denver was recently completely renovated. Now, in addition to a train, bus and light rail station, it houses restaurants, shops, bars and a hotel!

Inside Union Station. The doors behind the arches on the top two floors are individual hotel rooms.

Inside Union Station. The doors behind the arches on the top two floors are individual hotel rooms.

The tame mule deer at Cherry Creek State Park. This was taken with NO zoom from our bikes. We were that close, and they did not care one bit.

The tame mule deer at Cherry Creek State Park. This was taken with NO zoom from our bikes. We were that close, and they did not care one bit.

Part of the lake at Cherry Creek State Park.

Part of the lake at Cherry Creek State Park.

Our campground was just north of Centennial Airport in Denver. Mike had lots of fun watching the plans pass over us on final.

Our campground was just north of Centennial Airport in Denver. Mike had lots of fun watching the planes pass over us on final.

More trout for our freezer!

More trout for our freezer!

We were happy to host a couple of dinner parties from our first Colorado camping spot. Mike served us up some fresh fried trout when the Sterns visited.

We were happy to host a couple of dinner parties from our first Colorado camping spot. Mike served us up some fresh fried trout when the Sterns visited.

Broncos game on tv, some fishing, a campfire, a pan-fried trout dinner, and games like Taboo and Scattergories makes for a blurry selfie at the end of the evening.

Broncos game on tv, some fishing, a campfire, a pan-fried trout dinner, and games like Taboo and Scattergories makes for a blurry selfie at the end of the evening.

A scene from one of our walks at Cherry Creek State Park.

A scene from one of our walks at Cherry Creek State Park.

The views from the campground of the Rockies in the distance made for a wonderful backdrop on our walks through the park.

The views from the campground of the Rockies in the distance made for a wonderful backdrop on our walks through the park.

We had a heavy-duty fire pit at our spot. It came in handy as the night time temperatures started dipping with the passing days of November.

We had a heavy-duty fire pit at our spot. It came in handy as the night time temperatures started dipping with the passing days of November.

Mike's typical happy hour view.

Mike’s typical happy hour view.

Our first significant snow of the upcoming winter season.

Our first significant snow of the upcoming winter season.

It was super convenient to have the Nine Mile Light Rail Station so close to the state park. Mike and I took a quick 20-minute bike ride on paths through the park until we ended up at the rail station. Then, we boarded the train and took it into downtown to meet our friends for lunch. On another day, Mike dropped me off at the station and I made a solo trip back to downtown for another lunch date. $6 for no traffic or parking hassles was totally worth it!

It was super convenient to have the Nine Mile Light Rail Station so close to the state park. Mike and I took a quick 20-minute bike ride on paths through the park until we ended up at the rail station. Then, we boarded the train and took it into downtown to meet our friends for lunch. On another day, Mike dropped me off at the station and I made a solo trip back to downtown for another lunch date. $6 for no traffic or parking hassles was totally worth it!

The view from my friend Janet's office. Denver is booming right now, in case you didn't notice all of the cranes dotting the skyline.

The view from my friend Janet’s office. Denver is booming right now, in case you didn’t notice all of the cranes dotting the skyline.

Water skiers on the Cherry Creek Reservoir. I wonder how cold the water was!

Water skiers on the Cherry Creek Reservoir. I wonder how cold the water was!

Friday happy hour sunset from a dive bar near the state park called Emerald Isle. Excellent martinis!

Friday happy hour sunset from a dive bar near the state park called Emerald Isle. Excellent martinis!

When we met at summer camp around the age of 14/15, we did not need cheaters to read!

When we met at summer camp around the age of 14/15, we did not need cheaters to read!

Piper was very bothered by the mule deer wandering by our camp site. The deer could have cared less about the frenzied dogs.

Piper was very bothered by the mule deer wandering by our camp site. The deer could have cared less about the frenzied dogs.

I took advantage of two back-to-back good weather days to drive west on I-70 across the Rockies to Grand Junction. One of my mom's closest friends, Sugar, lives there and I wanted to see her. I made the drive over on a Saturday morning, had a great visit, and returned back to Denver on Sunday afternoon. Mike stayed at the park with the dogs while I was gone.

I took advantage of two back-to-back good weather days to drive west on I-70 across the Rockies to Grand Junction. One of my mom’s closest friends, Sugar, lives there and I wanted to see her. I made the drive over on a Saturday morning, had a great visit, and returned back to Denver on Sunday afternoon. Mike stayed at the park with the dogs while I was gone.

I couldn't help but take some photos of the beautiful scenery on my Rocky Mountain road trip.

I couldn’t help but take some photos of the beautiful scenery on my Rocky Mountain road trip.

More beautiful vistas through the windshield.

More beautiful vistas through the windshield.

Sugar's dog Dixie. (I forgot to get a picture of the humans, but I did not forget a snapshot of the dog)!.

Sugar’s dog Dixie. (I forgot to get a picture of the humans, but I did not forget a snapshot of the dog)!

Colorado National Monument just before sunset.

Colorado National Monument just before sunset.

Another shot from Colorado National Monument.

Another shot from Colorado National Monument.

The changing colors of the rocks in the mountains made the drive so pretty!

The changing colors of the rocks in the mountains made the drive so pretty!

The favorite part of my Rocky Mountain Road trip was the time I spent driving through the White River National Forest. Spectacular scenery!

The favorite part of my Rocky Mountain Road trip was the time I spent driving through the White River National Forest. Spectacular scenery!

We spotted a coyote meandering through the campground as we pulled out of Cherry Creek State Park.

We spotted a coyote meandering through the campground as we pulled out of Cherry Creek State Park.

The reason(s) I wanted to stick so close to the Denver area during our time in Colorado.

The reason(s) I wanted to stick so close to the Denver area during our time in Colorado.

 

Nebraska Part II: Ogallala

We weren’t too strategic as we decided on our second stop in Nebraska. We knew we would be heading to Denver after we left the Cornhusker State, so we looked at a map and tried to locate something of interest somewhere in the middle between Ashland and Denver. Mike honed in on Lake McConaughy on the far western side of the state, slightly north of I-80 (which was the route we would be traveling to Denver). We were so impressed with Mahoney State Park, we wanted to stay in another Nebraska State Park if we could. Mike located a campground with full hook-ups on the lakeshore, but the Parks Department turned off the water to the park after the first freeze of the season, and we were due to arrive after that cold spell. I wasn’t interested in camping without a water hook-up. We have a 100-gallon fresh water storage tank in the Monaco, so we could have managed fine for several days. However, I opted for the convenience factor of parking once with full working water, sewer and electricity… and drive the car to the lake when we wanted to go. We settled for a Plan B and paid for two weeks at a tiny privately owned campground called Country View RV Park in the nearest town of Ogallala . It was just south of town on I-80 by the Tractor store and Walmart. The price was inexpensive and we were only six miles from the lake. All in all, it wasn’t a glamorous place to stay, but it was convenient and had everything we needed.

Ogallala is named for a band of Dakota Sioux and located on the Union Pacific Railroad. In its day, it was a lusty cowtown of the Old West. The Texas Trail went through this town. As did the Pony Express. Its geographic location made Ogallala the gateway to the northern plains in the late 1800’s. An influx of cattlemen who came to town to negotiate prices of Longhorns created a need for saloons, stores and  hotels. An enormous cattle yard on the south side of town usually held 10 to 12 herds , each of 2,500 head – while they waited for their new owners. As a matter of fact, the little town still smelled strongly of cattle all these years later. It is obvious why the title of “Cowboy Capital” has been bestowed on Ogallala.

We spent two weeks here in cowboy land. There was heavy traffic on the road in front of our campground, but it was mainly comprised of trucks hauling harvested produce or tractors and other farm equipment. Mike fished at the big lake and at another small lake in the middle of town. He brought home fresh trout, crappie and bass each time he went out. I didn’t do too much from this stop – just the usual cooking, reading, walking, cleaning, blogging and campfireing . It was a relaxing second stop in Nebraska.

This bronze statue is called The Trail Boss. It is a tribute to the courageous men who came up the Texas Trail and recognizes the roll the trail drives played in establishing the beef cattle industry in the northern plains.

This bronze statue is called The Trail Boss. It is a tribute to the courageous men who came up the Texas Trail and recognizes the roll the trail drives played in establishing the beef cattle industry in the northern plains.

We would like to honor the City of Ogallala with an award from The Lower 48 in 48 Tour. Wackiest Water Tower. The municipal water tower had the picture of an alien painted on four sides. At night it had flashing red and white lights around the base the container - about the bottom of the blue stripe. There was also a flashing red light on the top of the Tower. It lit up at dusk each night. (I looked online and learned that it is actually painted to be a UFO, those are port holes the aliens are peering out of. The lights are landing lights for the space ship. Of course).

We would like to honor the City of Ogallala with an award from The Lower 48 in 48 Tour. Wackiest Water Tower. The municipal water tower had the picture of an alien painted on four sides. At night it had flashing red and white lights around the base of the container – about the bottom of the blue stripe. There was also a flashing red light on the top of the tower. It lit up at dusk each night. (I looked online and learned that it is actually painted to be a UFO, those are port holes the aliens are peering out of. The lights are landing lights for the space ship. Of course).

Mike spotted this little critter watching him fish one afternoon. Not sure, but I think its a weasel.

Mike spotted this little critter watching him fish one afternoon. Not sure, but I think its a weasel.

This hawk escorted us on an afternoon walk one day.

This hawk escorted us on an afternoon walk one day.

You can see why the two weeks in Ogallala were low key. We were in the middle of nowhere.

You can see why the two weeks in Ogallala were low key. We were in the middle of nowhere.

Doing some recon for a possible pheasant hunting expedition. Mike ultimately vetoed his idea because it is really necessary to have a few people and some dogs to be successful at pheasant hunting. Cessna is scared of guns, so we weren't going to be using our own canines...

Doing some recon for a possible pheasant hunting expedition. Mike ultimately vetoed his idea because it is really necessary to have a few people and some dogs to be successful at pheasant hunting. Cessna is scared of guns, so we weren’t going to be using our own canines…

The types of fish that can be caught in Lake McConaughy.

The types of fish that can be caught in Lake McConaughy.

Our campground was adjacent to a FedEx transfer lot, so the view wasn't spectacular... until it came time to watch the sunset. We were able to enjoy several warm bright sunsets from this part of Nebraska.

Our campground was adjacent to a FedEx transfer lot, so the view wasn’t spectacular… until it came time to watch the sunset. We were able to enjoy several warm bright sunsets from this part of Nebraska.

Piper inspecting his human's daily catch.

Piper inspecting his human’s daily catch.

Each time Mike went fishing from this stop, his bucket looked like this when he got home.

Each time Mike went fishing from this stop, his bucket looked like this when he got home.

Lake McConaughy (Big Mac) is one of Nebraska's top outdoor vacation destinations. With 35,000 surface acres and 105 miles of shoreline, it is the state's biggest playground offering year-round fun. Fishing is the primary drawing cards, but other entertainment options include sailing, camping, windsurfing, scuba diving, water skiing and picnicking.

Lake McConaughy (Big Mac) is one of Nebraska’s top outdoor vacation destinations. With 35,000 surface acres and 105 miles of shoreline, it is the state’s biggest playground offering year-round fun. Fishing is the primary drawing card, but other entertainment options include sailing, camping, windsurfing, scuba diving, water skiing and picnicking.

Lake Ogallala is also called The Little Lake. It is on the other side of the dam, and was created when fill dirt was taken to build the dam.

Lake Ogallala is also called The Little Lake. It is on the other side of the dam, and was created when fill dirt was taken to build the dam.

The road from in town out to the lake.

The road from town out to the lake.

Seems like we sure go to a lot of trouble to cook dinner outside, but it is more fun that way!

Seems like we sure go to a lot of trouble to cook dinner outside, but it is more fun that way!

There were no walking paths or sidewalks anywhere near out campground. As a result, we loaded the dogs in the car and took them to a paved trail in town every day to get their exercise. From one end to the other and back was just about 3 miles. This was the view during our daily trek.

There were no walking paths or sidewalks anywhere near our campground. As a result, we loaded the dogs in the car and took them to a paved trail in town every day to get their exercise. From one end to the other and back was just about 3 miles. This was the view during our daily trek.

Ogallala is home to the Wild West Soap Box Derby Track. I'm not sure, but I doubt there are too many of these in the USA.

Ogallala is home to the Wild West Soap Box Derby Track. I’m not sure, but I doubt there are too many of these in the USA.

Our spot - number 9.

Our spot – number 9.

This glider was hanging out in the skies over Ogallala on the day we arrived.

This glider was hanging out in the skies over Ogallala on the day we arrived.

Our last Nebraska campfire.

Our last Nebraska campfire.

 

 

Nebraska Part I: Ashland

We haven’t planned our route and schedule too far in advance during The Lower 48 in 48 Tour, but we do generally have a reservation at ‘the next’ campground when we pull out on travel days. That wasn’t the case when we left South Dakota, though. Mike had his heart set on staying at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park on I-80, directly in the middle between Omaha and Lincoln. The only problem was that all the reservable full hook- up sites were booked. The park also had three full hook-up spots (water, sewer and 30 amp) that were available on a first come, first served basis. Mike was hoping our travel angels would be looking out for us and one of the three spots would come available when we needed it. I was skeptical. I’m a professional organizer, for heaven’s sake. I need a plan. I typically enjoy a confirmation number too.

We left Mitchell, SD around 10 AM and drove east on I-90, around Sioux Falls, south on I-29 past Sioux City (which was completely under construction), around Omaha and then west on I-80. When we reached the exit just before the state park, we stopped for fuel and Mike called to see if one of the spots was open. No openings.

Plan B was a KOA about 3 miles from the Flying J Fuel Station. We drove the Monaco to that campground and asked if they had a spot that might be available for a time span of 2-days to 2 weeks. They loved me at the check-in counter. I convinced them to move some reservations around so that the spot they gave us would be available if we needed it. Then I asked them to hold it open for two weeks until we came up with a plan. I must be some sort of smooth talker, because they agreed.

The KOA was awful and expensive. The spaces were very tight and there was no place to walk the dogs. I guess their location means they can charge anything they want, because the place was full by the time we were on our prior-to-bed-dog-walk. Most of the campers were just in for an overnight stay while on a bigger trip.

The next morning we drove over to the State Park around 9AM. We went to the main office and asked if any of the three magic spots were available. The ladies said that they were occupied at the moment, but one camper was due to leave that day. The only caveat was that the camper had the option of extending their stay (up to two weeks within a 30-day period), and they didn’t have to make a move until check-out at 2PM. We would be first in line to get the spot if they left, but if WE left the office and someone else came in for that spot… it would go to them. We had to physically wait there in the office if we were going to be ‘first in line’. I convinced Mike to drive down to spot #46 and just ask the people if they were indeed planning on leaving that day. The answer was yes!

I left Mike at the state park’s main office and I drove back to our spot at KOA to get the coach ready to move again. We had paid for two nights, but we just decided to take the loss on the second night. He waited for a couple of hours. The people left, he paid for us to stay two weeks, and called me to come get him. I brought him back to the KOA and we moved the rig 6 miles down the highway to the spot Mike was hoping for.

I’d like to say we got all settled in and enjoyed the next two weeks exploring the area, but I can’t. Yet.

The first priority was finding a place to stay in this part of Nebraska for two weeks. Once that was settled, Mike had another objective. He needed to get the Monaco’s engine serviced and our generator had stopped working. The Cummins shop in Omaha had a Coach Care unit. While he was waiting in the state park office, he called Cummins and scheduled an appointment for us at 8am the next morning. As we moved the rig to spot #46, it was hard to relax because the next morning would start our third travel day in a row. We had a couple of martinis and went to bed extra early.

The next morning he started the engine in the dark at 6:30 AM. He pulled out of the park while the dogs and I followed behind him in the Honda. The plan was to drop the rig at the shop, then go have breakfast and explore around Omaha while they serviced the engine. We would pick up the coach later in the afternoon to go back to the state park and get settled once and for all. The first part of the plan went great. We had a big breakfast at a Cracker Barrel down the road, then we drove to downtown Omaha and walked the dogs around the city. After we had wasted as much time as we could stand, we drove back to Cummins.

The shop manager greeted us with some not-so-great news. The engine was fine, but they  needed to replace a stater and control board on the generator. Our bill was going to total around $3,000 and the job wasn’t going to be finished before the end of the day. New decision. Do we drive the coach back to the park and do this all over again the next day? Or do we hook-up to the water and electricity in the Cummins parking lot and wait it out on site. We decided to camp at Cummins until the generator was fixed. We drove the Honda back to the park, covered the stuff we left with a tarp (in case of rain), told the camp host about our dilemma and then returned to the shop for a night of camping with the mechanics.

The following day turned into another waiting game. The control panel issue was fixed, but now the generator needed a new belt. The long story short is that we spend two-nights and three full days at Cummins. We finally made it back to #46 by Friday evening. We were tired and ready to get busy relaxing!

In retrospect, we should have driven directly to Cummins when we left South Dakota. We did not know they had free hook-ups for customers, or that might have factored into our logistics. We could have dealt with the generator repairs, and then taken our chances on a spot at Mahoney. However, we had such tunnel vision for one of the three magic spots, we couldn’t think of anything else until we got that issue settled. If our coveted spot in the Little Creek Campground section had been any less spacious and pretty, I might have had regrets. In the end, we had a wonderful stay in Ashland, NE, and the cluster of getting there was all worth it.

The Omaha KOA was really more of a glorified RV parking lot than it was a campground.

The Omaha KOA was really more of a glorified RV parking lot than it was a campground.

We had to keep our fingers crossed and jump through some hoops to secure this spot at Mahoney State Park for two weeks, but it was all worth it.

We had to keep our fingers crossed and jump through some hoops to secure this spot at Mahoney State Park for two weeks, but it was all worth it. The park is an outdoor wonderland, featuring an aquatic center, tennis courts, disc golf, a driving range, a fishing lake, paddle boats, horse back riding, hiking trails, volleyball courts, miniature golf, an observation tower, a conservatory and a restaurant. They also have an ice rink and toboggan runs in the winter.

The very first night we stayed in the state park, it was basically empty aside from us and the camp host. The deer roamed throughout the area during the evening before sunset. This picture was taken from our dining room window.

The very first night we stayed in the state park, it was basically empty aside from us and the camp host. The deer roamed throughout the area during the evening before sunset. This picture was taken from our dining room window.

Checking the Monaco in at Cummins. The morning errand that turned into a 2-day waiting game.

Checking the Monaco in at Cummins. The morning errand that turned into a 3-day waiting game.

The Cummins Coach Care facility had four hook-up spots with water and 50amp power. We stared at concrete for two days while our spot waited for us back at Mahoney State Park.

The Cummins Coach Care facility had four hook-up spots with water and 50amp power. We stared at concrete for two days while our green and roomy spot waited for us back at Mahoney State Park.

I didn't know Omaha had a canal running through its downtown until we stumbled upon it. Lots of nice public art in the area too.

I didn’t know Omaha had a canal running through its downtown until we stumbled upon it. Lots of nice public art in the area too.

We found a pleasant walking path in the 31-acre Heartland of America Park near the Old Market Entertainment District in downtown.

We found a pleasant walking path in the 31-acre Heartland of America Park near the Old Market Entertainment District in downtown.

The fountain in Heartland of America Park sprays water 400-feet into the air and has a light show at night. It is considered one of the tallest shooting fountains in the world.

The fountain in Heartland of America Park sprays water 400-feet into the air and has a light show at night. It is considered one of the tallest shooting fountains in the world.

A cool baseball sculpture in the middle of the city where they play the College World Series every year.

A cool baseball sculpture in the middle of the city where they play the College World Series every year.

At the end of the 1800's, Omaha was thriving as a great railroad center. Its location provided a connecting point between the country's established eastern side and the wide-open west. The Old Market Area in downtown was a busy commercial area filled with produce dealers, buyers and transporters.

At the end of the 1800’s, Omaha was thriving as a great railroad center. Its location provided a connecting point between the country’s established eastern side and the wide-open west. The Old Market Area in downtown was a busy commercial area filled with produce dealers, buyers and transporters.

June of 2015 was the 65th year for the College World Series to be played in Omaha.

June of 2015 was the 65th year for the College World Series to be played in Omaha.

While we were in Omaha, we treated ourselves to lunch at a Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives place called Brewburgers. Since we were waiting for news on our generator repair, I drove over and placed an order for take-away. Mike ordered a West Texas Burger and it was ginormous. Local lore says that the Reuben Sandwich was created in Omaha, so I went with local tradition and ordered one of those. We were stuffed at the end, but at least it made waiting in the Cummins Driver's Lounge a little more bearable.

While we were in Omaha, we treated ourselves to lunch at a Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives place called Brewburgers. Since we were waiting for news on our generator repair, I drove over and placed an order for take-away. Mike ordered a West Texas Burger and it was ginormous. Local lore says that the Reuben Sandwich was created in Omaha, so I went with local tradition and ordered one of those. We were stuffed at the end, but at least it made waiting in the Cummins Driver’s Lounge a little more bearable.

Our lonely spot #46, waiting for the Monaco to return.

Our lonely spot #46, waiting for the Monaco to return.

The paved walking trail through Eugene T. Mahoney State Park was really pretty.

The paved walking trail through Eugene T. Mahoney State Park was really pretty.

Morning coffee and computer time.

Morning coffee and computer time.

The entrance to the Holy Family Shrine is highlighted by perennials, displaying colors symbolic of a pilgrimage with the Holy Spirit.

The entrance to the Holy Family Shrine is highlighted by perennials, displaying colors symbolic of a pilgrimage with the Holy Spirit.

The Mission of the Holy Family Shrine, as a Catholic Chapel on the Highway, is to be a gateway to heaven for pilgrims and travelers to experience the healing presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that awakens them to God's will in their journey through life.

The Mission of the Holy Family Shrine, as a Catholic Chapel on the Highway, is to be a gateway to heaven for pilgrims and travelers to experience the healing presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that awakens them to God’s will in their journey through life.

An estimated 25,000 people visit the Shrine each year to pray, meditate, have meetings, or stroll the grounds in tranquil peace. Mass is offered Saturdays at 10AM.

An estimated 25,000 people visit the Shrine each year to pray, meditate, have meetings, or stroll the grounds in tranquil peace. Mass is offered Saturdays at 10AM.

The view from inside the Shrine is glorious at it sits high up on a bluff and looks down on the rolling countryside in all directions.

The view from inside the Shrine is glorious as it sits high up on a bluff and looks down on the rolling countryside in all directions.

I tried to go to mass on Saturday at 10, but the morning I got there they were having a special pilgrimage walk and confessions. Mass was to follow around noon. I wasn't signed up for the event that was already in progress when I arrived, so I missed out. I was so bummed!

I tried to go to mass on Saturday at 10, but the morning I got there, they were having a special pilgrimage walk and confessions. Mass was to follow around noon. I wasn’t signed up for the event that was already in progress when I arrived, so I missed out. I was so bummed!

One of the 57 cabins at Mahoney State Park. Most are two bedroom. A few are four bedroom, and a handful are six bedroom. They all come with linens, tableware, basic cookware, A/C and heat, fireplace, satellite TV, refrigerator, range, outdoor deck and grill.

One of the 57 cabins at Mahoney State Park. Most are two bedroom. A few are four bedroom, and a handful are six bedroom. They all come with linens, tableware, basic cookware, A/C and heat, fireplace, satellite TV, refrigerator, range, outdoor deck and grill.

The 70-foot tower at the state park offered panoramic views of the area. I'm afraid of heights, so I didn't make it all the way to the top. Mike did.

The 70-foot tower at the state park offered panoramic views of the area. I’m afraid of heights, so I didn’t make it all the way to the top. Mike did.

My view from the tower climb.

My view from the tower climb.

Mike's view of the tower climb. I almost made it, but no one was going to pay me money for making it to the top platform, so I chicken'd out and turned back down.

Mike’s view of the tower climb. I almost made it, but no one was going to pay me money for making it to the top platform, so I chicken’d out and turned back down.

An air boat on the Platte River.

An air boat on the Platte River.

Mike was born in Lincoln so when we drove over to explore, I insisted on finding the hospital where he was born. He refused to take a photo in front of the building. My in-laws don't even believe it was the same hospital... said it looks totally different (53 years later).

Mike was born in Lincoln so when we drove over to explore, I insisted on finding the hospital where he was born. He refused to take a photo in front of the building. My in-laws don’t even believe it was the same hospital… said it looks totally different (53 years later).

A beautiful church across the street from the Nebraska State Capitol.

A beautiful church across the street from the Nebraska State Capitol.

The Nebraska State Capitol. Constructed between 1922 and 1932, it is home to the only non-partisan one-house legislature in the United States.

The Nebraska State Capitol. Constructed between 1922 and 1932, it is home to the only non-partisan one-house legislature in the United States.

We enjoyed lunch on an outside patio in Lincoln's Historic Haymarket District.

We enjoyed lunch on an outside patio in Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket District.

I thought this sculpture in Lincoln looked so friendly!

I thought this sculpture in Lincoln looked so friendly!

Geese. I wonder how many pictures of geese Mike has taken since February of 2013...

Geese. I wonder how many pictures of geese Mike has taken since February of 2013…

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium boasts the world's largest indoor desert, nocturnal exhibit and America's largest indoor rainforest. I went by myself on a beautiful afternoon. It was a lovely facility, although it seemed like two-thirds of it was under construction at the time I was there.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium boasts the world’s largest indoor desert, nocturnal exhibit and America’s largest indoor rainforest. I went by myself on a beautiful afternoon. It was a lovely facility, although it seemed like two-thirds of it was under construction at the time I was there.

Inside the Omaha Zoo's rainforest exhibit.

Inside the Omaha Zoo’s rainforest exhibit.

At least I got to see my favorite animal, the sloth. It is understandable he was asleep...

At least I got to see my favorite animal, the sloth. It is understandable that the laziest animal in the rain forest was asleep…

The butterfly garden at the zoo was very lush.

The butterfly garden at the zoo was very lush.

Pumpkins carved with all sorts of animal designs lined the sidewalks at the Zoo.

Pumpkins carved with all sorts of animal designs lined the sidewalks at the Zoo.

The Cathedral of Saint Cecilia in Omaha is located on the highest hill in the city and can be seen for miles around. Begun in 1905 and consecrated in 1959, the historic Cathedral was designed by renowned architect, Thomas Rogers Kimball. Like 60,000 other visitors each year, I stopped in for some quiet time and to light some candles.

The Cathedral of Saint Cecilia in Omaha is located on the highest hill in the city and can be seen for miles around. Begun in 1905 and consecrated in 1959, the historic Cathedral was designed by renowned architect, Thomas Rogers Kimball. Like 60,000 other visitors each year, I stopped in for some quiet time and to light some candles.

The altar inside Saint Cecilia Cathedral.

The altar inside Saint Cecilia Cathedral.

The Lodge at Mahoney State Park has 40 guest rooms, a restaurant, a gift shop and a bar.

The Lodge at Mahoney State Park has 40 guest rooms, a restaurant, a gift shop and a bar.

The view from the Lodge at Mahoney State Park. The guests on the back side of the building can see the Platte River off in the distance.

The view from the Lodge at Mahoney State Park. The guests on the back side of the building can see the Platte River off in the distance.

The Strategic Air and Space Museum is located right next door to the state park. The permanent exhibits include a huge collection of famous aircraft, missiles and spacecraft. Local Omaha pride abounds in the exhibits featuring Clayton Anderson: Heartland Astronaut and the Martin Bomber Plant, the largest and most historically significant structure on Offutt Air Force Base in nearby Bellevue, NE.

The Strategic Air and Space Museum is located right next door to the state park. The permanent exhibits include a huge collection of famous aircraft, missiles and spacecraft. Local Omaha pride abounds in the exhibits featuring Clayton Anderson: Heartland Astronaut and the Martin Bomber Plant, the largest and most historically significant structure on Offutt Air Force Base in nearby Bellevue, NE.

This exhibit at the Strategic Air and Space Museum was called Tie Towers. This sculpture was designed and constructed in the months following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers. It is a memorial to lives lost that day. 1,452 neckties are hung from a steel wire frame, representing the number of lives lost in the collapse of the North Tower. The artist is Gregory J. Laasko. He works as an artist in the Omaha area, and has also served in the U.S. Army and the Nebraska National Guard, completing two tours of duty in Iraq.

This exhibit at the Strategic Air and Space Museum was called Tie Towers. This sculpture was designed and constructed in the months following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers. It is a memorial to lives lost that day. 1,452 neckties are hung from a steel wire frame, representing the number of lives lost in the collapse of the North Tower. The artist is Gregory J. Laasko. He works as an artist in the Omaha area, and has also served in the U.S. Army and the Nebraska National Guard, completing two tours of duty in Iraq.

In addition to the SR-71 (which they first put into place when building the museum, and then construction the glass atrium walls around it), the facility displays a B-1, B-52, B-36, MiG-21, FB-111, Vulcan, and Apollo 009.

In addition to the SR-71 (which they first put into place when building the museum, and then constructed the glass atrium walls around it), the facility displays a B-1, B-52, B-36, MiG-21, FB-111, Vulcan, and Apollo 009.

Mike, Cessna and Piper collaborated on one of the pumpkins we decorated as part of the state park's Halloween Festival which took place on the second Saturday we were there. I can't stand Donald Trump, and wanted no part of the Trumpkin... so I carved my own separate pumpkin.

Mike, Cessna and Piper collaborated on one of the pumpkins we decorated as part of the state park’s Halloween Festival which took place on the second Saturday we were there. I can’t stand Donald Trump, and wanted no part of the Trumpkin… so I carved my own separate pumpkin.

Fall colors.

Fall colors.

I went on a horse trail ride at the state park one gorgeous Friday afternoon. Mike wasn't interested so he stayed at the camp with the dogs. My horse was Scout, the brown and white horse on the right side of the photo. He had allergies, so he sneezed and coughed through the entire outing. Poor baby.

I went on a horse trail ride at the state park one gorgeous Friday afternoon. Mike wasn’t interested so he stayed at the camp with the dogs. My horse was Scout, the brown and white horse on the far right side of the photo. He had allergies, so he sneezed and coughed through the entire outing. Poor baby.

A drive-through Wildlife Safari was located down the road from the state park. The 50-acre elk exhibit was pretty active during our late afternoon visit.

A drive-through Wildlife Safari was located down the road from the state park. The 50-acre elk exhibit was pretty active during our late afternoon visit.

All God's creatures: deer, turkey and squirrels.

All God’s creatures: deer, turkey and squirrels.

All of the other bison we have seen during the Lower 48 in 48 Tour have been in state or national parks. These were in an outdoor zoo. I was trying to get a picture of the white one in the back. White buffalo were considered sacred by the Indians.

Most of the other bison we have seen during the Lower 48 in 48 Tour have been in state or national parks. These were in an outdoor zoo. I was trying to get a picture of the white one in the back. White buffalo were considered sacred by the Indians.

Two eagles had their own "tent" at the wildlife safari. I'm guessing they were injured and unable to thrive in the wild.

Two eagles had their own “tent” at the wildlife safari. I’m guessing they were injured and unable to thrive in the wild.

At selfie at Round the Bend Steakhouse, Home of the Testical Festival! Really.

A selfie at Round the Bend Steakhouse, Home of the Testical Festival! Really.

If we were going to eat dinner at the Home of the Testical Festival... we certainly had to order beef fries as an appetizer.

If we were going to eat dinner at the Home of the Testical Festival… we certainly had to order beef fries as an appetizer.

Just so you know we didn't make this up.

Just so you know we didn’t make this up.

Our nod to the site decorating contest.

Our nod to the site decorating contest.

These campers put a little more effort into their campsite decorations.

These campers put a little more effort into their campsite decorations than we did.

I never found out which campers won the site decorating contest, but I think the decision would have been a difficult one to come by.

I never found out which campers won the site decorating contest, but I think the decision would have been a difficult one to come by.

The Halloween festivities at the state park also included a pumpkin carving contest.

The Halloween festivities at the state park also included a pumpkin carving contest.

The park staff had a tram operating all day that Saturday. They circled both campgrounds at the park so campers could see all of the decorations.

The park staff had a tram operating all day that Saturday. They circled both campgrounds at the park so campers could see all of the decorations.

After a campground clears out on a Sunday afternoon, we usually walk through and look for firewood that campers have left behind. When we find some we scrounge it up and bring it back to our campsite. We got really lucky at one spot... I think these campers left behind an entire tree. There was so much wood, Mike had to walk back to our campsite and drive the Honda over to transport our bounty. For the record, I still haven't completely decided if I think this practice is morally ethical or not. Should we take the wood because someone left it to share, or should we leave it where it is so the next campers that check into that spot have a good surprise? It is most convenient to think that the folks that left it behind wanted to share it with the people that find it first!

After a campground clears out on a Sunday afternoon, we usually walk through and look for firewood that campers have left behind. When we find some we scrounge it up and bring it back to our campsite. We got really lucky at one spot… I think these campers left behind an entire tree. There was so much wood, Mike had to walk back to our campsite and drive the Honda over to transport our bounty.

They stocked the Lake at the state park with trout on the last full day we were there. Mike was there waiting. He had his limit of 5 in no time after that.

They stocked the Lake at the state park with trout on the last full day we were there. Mike was there waiting. He had his limit of 5 in no time after that.

Some local turkeys checking out our campsite as we prepared to depart.

Some local turkeys checking out our campsite as we prepared to depart.