Winter Is Coming So Why Aren’t We Moving?

So far our return visit to Leasburg Dam State Park has been nice. The afternoon temperatures have been in the low-to-mid 70s with clear blue skies and very low humidity. It gets pretty windy starting about lunchtime and stays that way until a couple of hours after sundown, but there’s not a lot of dust blowing around, so it’s okay.

I go hiking every day on the trails here in the park which lead down to the Rio Grande river and then to an overlook near the Leasburg Dam. Since we were here last month, a flock of ducks has moved in on the river, presumably on their migration route. We’ve also seen rabbits and roadrunners in our campsite.

On Wednesday we drove into Las Cruces to do some grocery shopping. We ate lunch at Chipotle, then we hit Walmart and Sprouts. While at Walmart we picked up a small runner rug for the RV to help insulate the floor a little bit on those cold mornings (keep reading to find out why!). After we finished shopping, we stopped at Starbucks to treat ourselves to some coffee and some wi-fi.

Wednesday night we finally had a campfire after more than two months on the road. We had bought a bag of marshmallows weeks ago and it had been taking up space in our pantry bin, so I was glad to finally get to open it. We like campfires but neither of us like the smell that gets into our clothes from the smoke. We had to close all the windows on the RV because the smoke was being drawn inside the rig. But it was still a nice touch of “atmosphere” for the campsite.

Our first campfire marshmallows since hitting the road

While we enjoyed the campfire, I set up my GoPro on a tripod in a nearby empty campsite and programmed it to record a timelapse of the stars. I’m still learning how to do timelapses with this camera, especially the night lapses of the stars. I attached a power stick to the camera so the battery would last longer. I started shooting at 6:45 PM, and when I went to retrieve the camera at about 12:30 AM, there was about 7% battery remaining. If you know anything about shooting timelapse at night, you’ll understand when I say that 5 hours and 45 minutes of shooting yielded a video that lasts just over 21 seconds. It didn’t turn out quite as well as I hoped it would but it’s okay. Here’s a look at the raw, unedited version–you have to watch it in full screen view on a larger screen to really see the stars.

Yesterday (Thursday) we drove to Hatch to pick up our mail which had been forwarded from our mail service in Livingston, Texas. Since Hatch is the chili capital of the world, we just had to make a quick stop at one of the local chili roasters to check out their wares. We got a jar of homemade salsa, and jar of pickled peppers, and a small bag of dried mango coated with chili spice (not made locally). We enjoyed chatting with the local folks while we were there–well worth the stop!

Checking out the goods at Hot Damn Chile in Hatch, NM

So life is pretty normal, just enjoying the sunshine and the surroundings.

But things are about to change.

Our plan has always been to follow the weather, chasing 70° as they say. But sometimes life throws you a curveball.

Andy has a several prescriptions that he takes, one of which he orders through Humana’s mail order service so he can get a 90-day supply at a time. When it came time to reorder, he went to their website and clicked on the button that said something like “one-click order”. He said he thought it would take him to a form he could fill out to give them an address–guess he’s not familiar with “one-click” ordering. And unfortunately, he had never given them our new Livingston address.

So as soon as he placed the order, he got confirmation that the prescription would be shipped, but it was going to our old address in Tupelo.

That wasn’t good.

He called Humana to see if he could get the address changed for the shipment. Well, of course that led to a two-hour conversation. Since the new address is in Texas, that means he’s in a different plan market, so they had to set him up on a new Medicare Part D plan. The monthly premium didn’t change, it just took a lot of time on the phone. At the end of the conversation, he asked them if they could change the address on the outgoing shipment, and they assured him that they would.

Yeah……right.

The shipment went to Tupelo first, and then it was forwarded to our address in Livingston. That took over a week. Once it got to Livingston, we had to put in a request to have it forwarded to the local post office here in Radium Springs, NM, general delivery. It was mailed out on Wednesday, and is expected to arrive here in Radium Springs sometime next Tuesday.

Fortunately he has plenty of medication to last until the new shipment arrives. But it does present us with a chilly dilemma.

Weather forecast is chilly!

There’s a cold front moving this way and the temperatures are going to drop significantly over the weekend. Nighttime temperatures will be well below freezing on Monday and Tuesday. Under normal circumstances, we would be pulling up stakes today and moving toward Arizona, but we need to stick around here and wait for Andy’s prescription to arrive.

We’ve never camped in the RV in temperatures below freezing, but we’re making preparations. The rig does have an onboard propane furnace. Since we’re hooked up to electricity here, we’ll also be using our electric heater. Yesterday, we unpacked some of our winter clothes from the storage bins in the Tacoma, and we’ve got plenty of blankets in the rig.

At night, we’ll unhook the water hose from the outside faucet and drain it so it doesn’t freeze and burst. We’ll use our onboard water tank instead. The rig also has tank heaters that should keep the black and gray tanks from freezing up overnight.

We’ll also see about hanging an extra blanket from the over-cab storage platform to block off the cab portion of the RV since a lot of cold air comes in that way.

Ironically, the temperatures are supposed to go back up into the 60’s once we get past Tuesday, so if we don’t freeze to death over the weekend, we may wind up staying here for the full two weeks, through the following Saturday night. The price is right ($4/night) and we save fuel by not moving, but that savings can be wiped out if we’re using a lot of propane to run the furnace.

We shall see!

Anyway, life is good! We’re happy, healthy and enjoying every day to the fullest!

Goodbye to the Best Campsite Ever (So Far)

Yesterday was moving day. We had stayed at Elephant Butte Lake State Park for 14 nights, which is the limit here in New Mexico. After 14 nights you have to leave the park for at least 6 nights before you can return for overnight camping.

We can understand why they have the 14 day limit, because if they didn’t, we would have stayed there indefinitely. There were so many things we loved about it:

Sunrise at Elephant Butte Lake SP from Site #79 at Lions Beach

  • We had the best campsite in the park. Not just our opinion, we were told that by multiple people who were hoping to snag the spot before we beat them to it. Site #79 in the Lions Beach campground is first come first serve and sits at the end of the loop on a bluff so there’s no one on your left side, giving you an unobstructed view of the lake. There’s a ramada with a picnic table as well as a fire ring.
  • The sunrises and sunsets were epic, especially since we had such an open vista to the east. Almost every morning I had to step outside in my PJs and slippers to gawk at the sky.
  • We had a covey of quail that came by to visit several times a day. There were cottontails and jackrabbits living in the bushes around us. We saw roadrunners and squirrels in the campground. The wildlife was so much fun to watch.
  • There was plenty of space to walk and hike, including both marked trails through the high desert as well as the beach and dry lake bed. The lake (actually a reservoir) is currently very low so there is a lot of exposed lake bed with other-worldly rock formations that makes very interesting hiking and photography opportunities.
  • The bathroom and shower facilities were a little dated, but they kept them clean and serviced. The water in the showers was always plenty warm, and on cold mornings they had the heat running in the buildings which made showering much more pleasant. They also have vault toilets scattered throughout the park, and by using those occasionally we were able to go longer between trips to the dump station to empty our black tank.
  • The nearby town of Truth or Consequences is convenient for grocery and supply shopping, and also has some interesting and quirky places to visit. The Walmart isn’t huge but it had just about everything we needed, and it also has covered parking with solar panels on the roof. McDonald’s is right across the street from Walmart, and they have super-fast wi-fi. We referred to it as an “adult” McDonald’s because there’s no PlayPlace, no garish colors, and we rarely saw a child in there. We enjoyed a visit to the Geronimo Springs Museum, followed by lunch at the Passion Pie Cafe, both in historic downtown T or C.
  • Although we were in a developed campsite, this park has an abundance of area for dispersed camping. We saw everything from tents to big Class A motorhomes parked off-road in desert clearings, on the beach or on the dry lake bed. Even without hookups, their campsites were awesome and made us want to try some boondocking for a few days.

Hiking over terrain that is normally under water

Just a word of caution if you’re ever considering staying here–the campsites in the Quail Run and Desert Cove loops are not very level, and some of them are on such a slant that they’re almost impossible to use. We had to cancel our original reservation in Quail Run for that reason. Stick to Lions Beach and you’ll be fine.

So to put it succinctly, we LOVED our stay at Elephant Butte Lake and were sad to leave. As we were breaking camp yesterday, a couple from Quebec, Canada stopped by to visit. They were so nice and interesting to talk to. And yes, they left their folding chairs in the campsite to stake their claim so that they could move their RV in there as soon as we pulled out. 🙂

We had to make a decision about where to go next. The weather forecast for this part of New Mexico is still showing mild temperatures for the next two weeks with highs in the 70’s this week and in the 60’s next week, and still nothing below freezing at night. So we decided to squeeze out even more value from our annual pass and stay in another state park.

We decided to go back south toward Las Cruces where it’s slightly lower in elevation and therefore slightly warmer. We considered Caballo Lake SP or returning to Percha Dam SP, but in the end decided to pay a return visit to Leasburg Dam SP in Radium Springs where we stayed in early October. I checked online and there were no sites available for reservation, so we decided to take a chance on getting a first come first serve site, preferably with electricity.

So yesterday we left Elephant Butte around 1:30 and made the 90-minute drive to Leasburg Dam after dumping the tanks and stopping for gas. And we must be living right because after entering the park, we found a beautiful spot with electricity within sight of the spot where we parked in October. It’s perfectly level, has a ramada with picnic table and fire ring, and is nice and quiet. We were set up by 4:00 PM and ready to enjoy the evening.

Setting up in site #11 at Leasburg Dam SP

You might ask, “What if there had not been a site available?”. We were prepared to turn around and go back north to Caballo Lake or Percha Dam where they have more capacity. We could have even spent the night boondocking at a rest stop on the side of I-25. But in our admittedly limited experience with the New Mexico state parks, we’re finding that there are always people checking out of their campsites on a daily basis, especially after the weekend is over. So there’s usually availability after 2:00 PM, even if it might not be the most desirable site in the park.

We paid for five nights here in Leasburg, and unless the weather takes a bad turn, we will probably extend our stay to the 14-day limit. This allows us to save money on camping fees since we’re only paying $4/night, but just as importantly, it saves us money on gas since we won’t be moving the rig so much.

It’s also nice to be closer to Las Cruces for awhile where the shopping is better. We need to make a run to Sprouts to pick up some bulk items like raw cashews and red lentils. Also, Andy is having a craving for Chipotle, so we’ll have lunch there one day.

One of the downsides to this lifestyle is, of course, being away from family for an extended length of time. This weekend my parents and all my brothers and their wives got together at Smith Lake, Alabama to enjoy some quality time together at a beautiful “cabin” (really a large, beautifully decorated house). We had planned to be there as well, thinking that our house would take a couple of months to sell, but as you know, it sold within 24 hours of putting it on the market, and we hit the road earlier than anticipated. My youngest brother posted a lot of pictures and videos from the weekend, and I was so happy to see everyone having a great time, especially my aging parents, but I sure did miss getting to be there myself.

It’s one of those trade-offs that you have to make to live this lifestyle.

So our plans for the next day or so include a grocery run to Las Cruces. We also need to drive to Hatch to pick up our mail which was forwarded from our mail service in Livingston, Texas over the weekend. I plan to do a lot of hiking around here, and we’ll also do some sightseeing–there are some old “ghost towns” and historical places that we want to see.

And that’s what’s going on with us right now. Still trying to adjust to the time change, and so are the cats–they still want to be fed on solar time, so for the past two days they’ve made me get up around 5:00. Bad cats!! 🙂

Kitties don’t know SQUAT about time changes. This was 5:15 AM.

Be sure to subscribe to get all of our future blog posts. Between posts, you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads!

Expense Report for September-October 2018

Happy Halloween!

This is the report that several people have requested, and which we had always planned to include on the blog. Today we’re going to talk about what it costs us to live this lifestyle.

First, a couple of caveats. Every RVer is different–different rig, different diet, different interests–so our expenses are unique to us. Also, I’m not going to share every single personal expense that we incur each month, but only the ones that are directly related to our RV life in some way.

Now, a quick recap of where we’ve been for the last two months, as this directly impacts how we spent our money.

On September 1, we pulled in to the Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park in Livingston, Texas, where we spent the entire month. The RV did not move except for one day when we had to drive it into town to get it inspected in order to have it registered in Texas. We paid the monthly rate of $340 for the RV site, rather than the nightly rate, plus a separate charge for electricity which was metered at the site.

Parked in site #60 at Escapees Rainbow’s End

We left Livingston on October 1 and headed to New Mexico, which meant we drove a lot more miles, using more fuel, in both the RV and the truck. Since we’ve been in New Mexico, we’ve moved around several times, mostly staying at state parks. We bought the annual pass for $225 which allows us to stay in any state park campsite for free, plus $4/night if we have electrical hookups which we always opt for if they are available.

That said, here’s how the expenses stacked up.

Camping fees + Electricity

September: $439 (1 location for the entire month)

October: $323 (7 different locations, but primarily in state parks at $4/night.) We bought the $225 annual pass for the New Mexico State Parks which is actually good for 13 months. For purposes of this monthly expense report, we’re pro-rating that cost over 13 months.

Staking our claim to Site #79, best site in the campground.

Fuel for the RV

September: $61 (Drove 302 miles, 7.5 MPG including 10-12 hours of generator use the night before we arrived in Livingston.)

October: $452 (Drove 1,335 miles, 8.3 MPG)

Fuel for the Truck

September: $159 (20.1 MPG)

October: $245 (21.5 MPG)

groceries

September: $444

October: $499

Interesting note: We’re paying less for groceries on the road than we did in our sticks-and-bricks home for a couple of reasons. First, Mississippi charges sales tax on groceries where Texas and New Mexico do not, so that’s a 7.5% savings right off the bat. Second, since we have a lot less storage space, we are a lot more careful about planning our meals and avoiding waste. We primarily eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we buy a lot of fresh produce and whole grains, along with wine/beer. We buy very little processed foods in boxes and cans (although we do buy canned beans and tomatoes), and we’ve recently developed a dangerous addiction to the $.50 mini-pies at Walmart!

Typical lunch–homemade hummus with raw veggies for dipping

dining out

September: $217

October: $194

These numbers include coffees and snacks that we buy when we’re really there just to use the wi-fi. 🙂

Black bean veggie burger at Phoenix Saloon in New Braunfels

household / furnishings

September: $72

October: $52

These numbers include things like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, small household items for the kitchen, etc.

petcare

September: $73

October: $45

These numbers include cat food, litter, treats and the occasional toy for our two kitties, Maggie and Molly. Will also include vet visits when needed.

verizon cellphone / internet

September: $245

October: $245

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them last fall. We both have the iPhone 8+ which we use for internet access as well as hotspot wi-fi for the laptop and the Roku. We are on the unlimited data plan which gets throttled before we get through the month. Once the phones are paid off next fall, the monthly charge should drop significantly unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

September: $0

October: $12

We did not need to have any mail forwarded to us in September because we were staying at the Escapees park in Livingston where our mail service is located, and we could just pick up our mail daily. In October we had one batch of mail forwarded to us in Albuquerque that also included our absentee ballots for the November election, for which there was an extra $10 handling charge.

Main post office in Albuquerque

Laundry

September: $25

October: $7

We had to do laundry more often in September due to the high humidity in Texas–our clothes got smellier faster, and so did the laundry bag. Here in the cooler, drier climate of New Mexico, we can go longer between laundry days.

attractions / entertainment

September: $80

October: $84

These numbers include our subscriptions to Netflix, Audible, and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited book plan, as well as entrance fees to places we visit.

memberships

September: $0

October: $60 (annual renewal for Costco membership)

Equipment for RV

September: $77 (water hose/nozzle, roll of reflectix, 6-gallon fresh water jug)

October: $207 (new surge protector to replace one that got fried in a thunderstorm, two vent covers for the roof, extra set of leveling blocks, and other miscellaneous items)

Installing covers over our vents and fan

RV Maintenance & REpairs

September: $4

October: $46 (kit to repair leaky toilet, new gasket seal for bathroom roof vent)

truck maintenance & repairs

September: $12 (plate holder for Texas tag on the front bumper)

October: $0

Vehicle insurance

September: $97

October: $97

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV and $40/mo for the truck.

VEhicle License and registration

September: $39

October $39

Of course we paid the annual license and registration up front in September but for expense tracking purposes, I’m prorating it across the year. It’s $22/mo for the RV and $17/mo for the truck.

Summary

So those are our RV living expenses for the last two months:

September Total: $2,043

October Total: $2,605

It obviously makes a huge difference whether you’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. We’re in the process of planning our itinerary for November, and it will likely include more time in New Mexico state parks at $4/night, and then our first forays into dry camping or boondocking as we head toward the warmer weather in the Arizona desert.

We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. So if you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you get all our updates. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads.

 

Creativity On the Road

It’s hard not to feel inspired when you’re living in a beautiful spot with free-spirited, like-minded people around you. Both Andy and I have hobbies and creative interests that we hope to actively pursue even while we’re living in a small space and moving from spot to spot.

Andy has been making silver and stone jewelry for over twenty years, selling it online and in local markets and festivals. When we were in our sticks-and-bricks home, he had a separate workshop that was his man-cave and sanctuary, and he had a large collection of tools and equipment to support his craft.

When we decided to downsize to the RV, the toughest decision he had to make was whether or not he could walk away from his workshop and his creative outlet. In the end, he figured out a way to bring his studio with him, albeit in a much scaled-down version. He decided to concentrate on filigree, a specific style of jewelry that he’s very good at making, and he kept only the tools and supplies needed for that type of work.

This past weekend was the first time he set up his portable studio in a campsite and started making a new jewelry piece. These first few attempts will be a lot of trial and error, figuring out if he can actually work outdoors with his pared-down collection of tools and equipment. He’s already figured out that he needs a larger torch head to get hotter temperatures, and he can’t find his copper tongs that he needs for the pickle process (he can explain this better than I can).

But it’s good to see him with his magnifier visor on again, doing what he loves and does so well.

My creative outlet is photography, and most of the time I’ve been content with shooting photos with my iPhone to share on social media and this blog. But I do have some serious photography equipment, including a Nikon D700 full-frame camera with some great lenses, and I enjoy doing some more serious shooting when I’m in an environment that inspires me. I also enjoy playing around with various photo-editing software to enhance the shots or to alter them creatively.

Yesterday at sundown, we went down to the beach and set up the camera with my large wide-angle lens to try and capture the sunset. There weren’t a lot of clouds, so there wasn’t much drama or vivid colors, but I was still able to concentrate on composition, as well as remembering how to adjust the settings on the camera.

I edited a few of the photos this morning and posted them on my Flickr page, and also updated my photography blog, The Zen of Zann, if you would like to check those out.

On Saturday we did some local sight-seeing. First we visited the Geronimo Springs Museum in Truth or Consequences. They have quite a collection of stuff for a small-town museum, including prehistoric mastodon and woolly mammoth skulls that were discovered in the area. They have one room dedicated to the story of how the town got its name (I’ll let you Google it if you’re interested), another dedicated to the Elephant Butte Dam, and they have a lot of Native American pottery and artifacts on display. We spent about an hour and a half enjoying learning about the area.

After we left the museum, we walked up the street to a local cafe we had read about online where it gets rave reviews. The place is called Passion Pie Cafe, and they are especially known for their desserts, some of which are vegan. It’s a small, eclectic place where the owner is the head cook. They have a lot of veggie options on the menu, so we enjoyed a healthy lunch–that is until we indulged in dessert! By the time we left, we were stuffed and happy!

Otherwise we’ve just been enjoying the scenery, the wildlife, the beautiful weather, our own cooking, and peaceful sleeping. We’ll be at this campsite through Saturday night, and then we’ll head to our next destination, wherever that may be.

I’ve received some more questions from readers of this blog and will be answering them in future posts. If you have questions about our full-time RV life, feel free to leave them in the comments and we’ll add them to the list.

Question and Answer Time

We received some questions from one of our blog readers, my friend Sara, regarding our transition to full-time RV life. Thanks for the questions, Sara!

We’ll each provide our own thoughts and perspective on each of the questions so this blog post won’t be so slanted toward my own ideas! 🙂

Question: What do you guys miss about brick and mortar life?

Andy: Probably the biggest thing I miss is my shop, my man-cave, my jewelry studio. It was my sanctuary.

Suzanne: Being the geek that I am, I miss having 24/7 high-speed broadband internet connectivity. So far we’ve had very good Verizon service everywhere we’ve been, and we do have the “unlimited” data plan, but I always wind up being throttled before the month is over. We can use our phones as hotspots for just about everything we want to do (i.e. streaming YouTube videos to the Roku attached to our television), but some things still require wi-fi (i.e. downloading and applying updates to Windows 10 on my laptop). I miss having that ready access to fast internet whenever I want it!

Question: Anything you gave away that you regret?

Andy: I don’t regret getting rid of anything that we got rid of, but I wish we could have sold some of the stuff that we just wound up donating.

Suzanne: The only thing that I’ve been able to think of is a little fabric-covered dense foam cube-shaped footstool/ottoman. It would have been perfect to put at the foot of the bed at night to make it easier for the cats (and us!) to get in and out of that high bed. I don’t remember where I got the last one, and I’ll probably never see another like it again.

Question: Any plans to go overseas?

Andy: No, unless we take a cruise or something.

Suzanne: Not in the RV, but I would definitely like to visit Italy and Greece. It’s on my bucket list.

Question: What’s surprised you two the most about this whole process? What hasn’t?

Andy: I was most surprised at how tired I would get driving the RV for long distances, and how stressful it would be dealing with heavy traffic. I was not surprised at all at how much I enjoy being out in nature surrounded by the beautiful scenery.

Suzanne: The most surprising thing for me by far was how fast the house sold. We were expecting to be in Tupelo probably through Thanksgiving, but we had a contract on the house in less than 24 hours after listing, and the closing went off without a hitch. We really had to scramble to get everything ready to move into the RV before we closed. But I have not been surprised by how easy it is for the two of us and the two cats to coexist in such a small space. We had a year to test it out and develop our routines, so it’s been a very easy transition to small-space living.

Thanks again to Sara for the questions. If you have anything you want to ask us about our life on the road or our transition from sticks-and-bricks life, be sure to leave a comment and we’ll try to answer your question in a future post.

You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads.

Going There Vs. Being There

When we first announced our plans to sell everything we owned, live in an RV and travel full-time, the question most people asked first was “Where are you going?” And that’s a fair question, since we did say that we were going to travel.

But as we settle into this lifestyle, we’re finding that “going” somewhere isn’t nearly as important as simply “being” somewhere. When you find yourself in a place that nourishes your soul and satisfies your senses, you can feel yourself settling down and losing that urge to move on. It’s enough to just “be” there for awhile, until circumstances change and it’s time to “go”. The “going” part can be stressful, expensive and time-consuming; but the “being” part can settle the nerves and make the passage of time seem almost irrelevant.

That’s exactly how we feel about our current location in Elephant Butte Lake State Park near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. After arriving on Sunday and spending the first 24 hours moving between campsites, we’ve spent the last three days falling in love with this place. And right now there’s no place we would rather “be”.

Maggie loves basking in the sun and watching the wildlife

And that is in spite of the rain that fell all day on Tuesday. I did manage to go for an hour-long walk on Tuesday morning while there was just a light mist, After my walk, we drove down to Hatch (the Chile Capital of the World) to do some banking at Wells Fargo. On the drive down there the rain really started to fall, and it continued throughout the afternoon and evening, limiting our activities to watching DVDs and cooking.

Wednesday morning’s sunrise was beautiful with low clouds hugging the mountaintops over the lake. After a leisurely morning, a hot shower and a good lunch, I unpacked my “real” camera, my Nikon 700 full-frame DSLR and my 28-300mm lens, and we set out for a hike down to the beach, which is actually the dry lake bed where the reservoir has receded due to the drought.

One of my goals for this whole lifestyle change was to have the time to renew my passion for photography. I’ve never found anything that inspires my creativity like the landscape and geography of the American Southwest. But first I have to reacquaint myself with the basic controls and functionalities of this camera. I’ve gotten so used to shooting only with my iPhone, just pointing and clicking the button, although I do try to be mindful of composition and exposure even when using the phone. It’s going to take a little while to remember how to use the DSLR which has an almost infinite combination of settings that control how the image is captured.

We hiked and walked for about an hour and a half, much of the time in loose sand, so we got quite a workout. After we returned to the RV, I spent some time editing a few of the images which I’ll be sharing on my newly revived photography blog, “the Zen of Zann“, as well as on my Flickr site. Feel free to  follow these links and subscribe to either or both of these sites if you’re interested in photography.

Shooting on the beach (photo credit goes to Andy)

Wednesday evening I tried a new Instant Pot recipe that I had stashed away in my Evernote recipe files. I’m always looking for ways to simplify cooking in the RV so we don’t use so many pots and so much water. I found this recipe for Instant Pot spaghetti where everything is cooked in one pot, it’s fast, and it uses a lot less water than is typically used to boil pasta. Here’s a link to the original recipe from the “I Heart Naptime” blog. Since we don’t eat meat, I substituted Gardein Meatless Crumbles and diced mushrooms for the ground beef, and I also added some green bell pepper. This recipe was super-easy, it was delicious, and there were plenty of leftovers for a couple more meals. It would make a great potluck dish as well!

Today was a beautiful, cloudless (mostly) day, so we spent a lot of time outdoors. I took a long walk this morning before lunch. After lunch we drove in to Truth or Consequences (“T or C”, as it’s known around here)  so we could hang out at McDonald’s for awhile to get some high-speed wi-fi. I needed to download and install some Windows 10 updates on my laptop and we both needed to install updates on our iPhones and Andy’s iPad. This McDonald’s has great wi-fi, and it was nice to be able to keep our devices safe and functioning well.

There is fall color even in the desert

As a side note, we’ve been getting excellent Verizon service everywhere we’ve been in New Mexico, so our hotspots on our phones have been more than sufficient for our typical video streaming and internet browsing needs. But sometimes you just need wi-fi to download those large files that OS updates require, so we’ll continue to seek out McDonald’s, Starbucks and local libraries when necessary.

Tomorrow (Friday) we’ll have to make a quick trip over to the dump station to empty our tanks, and then Andy is going to try doing a little silversmithing if it doesn’t suddenly turn windy. I’m going to spend some more time on my photography. I did shoot a timelapse of the eastern sky at sundown this evening, but the cloud cover to the west hid the setting sun most of the time so I didn’t get the drama I was hoping for. But I have nine more evenings to try it again!

So, as you can tell, we are just enjoying “being” here without worrying about where we’re “going” next. This will be our fifth night, and since we’re limited to a two-week stay by park regulations, we’ll try to make the most of the next nine days in this beautiful spot. The weather forecast couldn’t be better, we have the perfect campsite, and there’s no reason for us to be “going” anywhere.

Campsite Roulette in Elephant Butte Lake SP New Mexico

As I mentioned in our last post, we decided to leave Percha Dam State Park on Sunday because they did not have a dump station, and we made reservations for a 10-night stay in Elephant Butte Lake State Park. New Mexico uses an online reservation service, so in addition to the $4/night for the site, there was a $12 “transaction fee”, which made the total $52–still not bad for 10 nights. Based on the photo of the site alone, we selected site #42 which overlooked the reservoir.

Okay, so that was a rookie mistake.

The drive from Percha Dam SP to Elephant Butte Lake SP only took about 35 minutes, so it wasn’t a bad drive.  We arrived around 2:30 PM on Sunday afternoon and found our campsite in the Quail Run Loop of the park. It did indeed have a good view of the lake through the windshield. However, it also sloped downward at such at angle that there was no way we could get the RV level. We stacked the leveling blocks up to three-high under the front wheels, and it was still sloping downward.

Now, the nice thing about New Mexico state parks is that they set aside at least half of their campsites to be first-come first-served, and these campsites are every bit as nice as the reservation-only sites. We noticed that the campsite just across the road on the uphill side, site #32, was open and it was first-come first served. It appeared to be much more level than our reserved site. So we decided to move to #32 for at least one night until we could get our bearings.

View from Site #32. Just in front of us is Site #43, next to our original Ste #42.

The first-come first-served sites must be paid for by cash or check when you get to the campground. You pick up a pay envelope from the self-serve pay station located in the campground, fill out the triplicate form indicating how many nights you’ll be in the site, and provide your annual pass number if you have one (we do.) You tear off the white and yellow copies and stick those on the windshield of your vehicles, and the pink copy is actually the envelope where you insert your money. You insert the envelope in the pay station deposit box and you’re set. And they DO come around every morning to check to make sure you’ve paid.

So we paid $4 for site #32 and moved in. This site wasn’t quite as level as it appeared, but it was more a problem with the side-to-side leaning than the front-to-back incline. We made it work with the handy leveling blocks but decided that we would look around a little bit more to see if there was a site we liked better. We checked the Desert Cove Loop next door as well as the rest of Quail Run Loop and made note of several sites that looked promising, some of which required a reservation.

In the meantime, I went online and cancelled our original reservation for the downhill slide (Site #42). The cancellation cost us another $12 transaction fee, a $5 cancellation fee, and $4 forfeiture of the first night’s stay for a total of $21.

Cha-ching!

After getting a good night’s sleep in site #32, I had my breakfast and then went for a walk. I decided to check out another camping area just up the park road called Lions Beach. There are three loops in this area. Loops A and C are reservation only, and Loop B is first-come, first-served.  I walked through Loop B and found some amazing campsites. Lions Beach is on a hill that overlooks the reservoir, and the loops are terraced with A being the highest and C being the lowest in elevation. Because of the terracing, every site has a great view. All of the sites looked very level, and even though they are a little close together, each site has a ramada with a picnic table and a fire ring.

There were a couple of available sites in the middle of the loop, and campers in a few other sites were making preparations to leave. When I got back from my walk, Andy was just finishing his breakfast, so when he was done we got in the truck and drove back to Lions Beach so I could let him check out what I had found.

And that’s when it happened. The stars aligned, the Universe smiled, and all our collected good karma came home to roost.

At the very end of the loop, the corner site #79 was being vacated. The site sits on a bluff with over 180° of open viewing of the reservoir and surrounding park area, without having to look at another RV. The previous occupants of the site were in the process of hitching their huge fifth-wheel trailer to their truck and unhooking their utilities.

We knew we would have to move fast if we wanted to snag this spot. We couldn’t be the only ones interested in it. So we drove back to our campsite and waited a few minutes until we saw the fifth-wheel come driving up the road to the dump station, and then we pounced!

We grabbed our lawn chairs and put them in the truck and we drove back over to Lions Beach to site #79, where we found that no one else had yet claimed it. On the way, we had stopped at the pay station and picked up the permit envelope, so I filled it out and stuck the white copy on the truck window, hung the yellow copy on the site number post, and we left the truck and lawn chairs and walked back to our RV at site #32. However, I didn’t yet pay for the site until we were sure that the RV would be level and that the electric and water worked fine. But the important thing was that we had staked our claim.

Staking our claim to Site #79, best site in the campground.

We moved the RV to site #79 after making a stop at the dump station to empty one night’s worth of….well, you know. Andy backed the RV into our new site, and found that it was perfectly level with no leveling blocks needed. Hallelujah!! The utilities all checked out, and we quickly settled in. We decided to go ahead and pay for seven nights ($28), after which we’ll pay for another six. New Mexico state parks limit you to 14 days, after which you must leave the park for at least six days before you can return.

We could not believe our luck! Two people have already stopped by and told us they had been waiting for this site, and that it’s the best site in the park. We totally agree!! You can do all the research and preparation you want, but sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time and be willing to make changes on the fly.

We’ve learned our lesson about New Mexico State Parks. From now on we’ll plan to arrive on Sunday through Thursday and look for a first-come first-served site, rather than paying the transaction fees to make online reservations.

After we settled in and had lunch, we drove in to Truth or Consequences and dropped off our absentee ballots at the post office for the November election. Then we went to Walmart to pick up a few groceries. This Walmart has covered parking with solar panels on roofs, which we found interesting. While shopping in the store we met a very nice, talkative gentleman named Rick who gave us the scoop on things to see and some of the history of the area. We will definitely check out some of his suggestions while we’re here.

Moonrise over the reservoir as seen from our front porch

After dinner we sat outside and watched a beautiful sunset. This park is full of jackrabbits, quail, squirrels and doves, as well as many other bird species. The rabbits and quail are so cute, they come very close to the campsites and are easy to spot. The cats are enjoying watching them through the screens as well.

Sunset from our front porch

Today is supposed to be rainy and cooler so we’ll probably stay in. The rest of the week is supposed to be clear and warmer, which will be really nice.

We feel so fortunate and blessed to be on this journey, living this lifestyle!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads for updates between the blog posts!

Percha Dam State Park – Almost Perfect

When selecting a camping spot, we have a few basic requirements. We want a spot that’s generally level. We want a spot where we’re not looking into our neighbor’s windows from our dining table. We want peace and quiet, with some interesting scenery and nice places to walk or hike. We want some shade when it’s warm outside. We want reliable 30-amp electrical service and clean water (although soon we’ll be trying some boondocking). And if we’re going to stay in the same spot for more than a night or two, we want either a sewer connection or an on-site dump station.

Percha Dam State Park checked all the boxes except for that last one.

We arrived here on Friday just after 4:00 PM and parked in campsite #15 which we reserved online. It is almost perfectly level so we only had to use one leveling block under each of our front tires.

Each of the campsites here are pull-throughs, so that the driver’s side of the RV is facing the road and the passenger side is facing your picnic table, which sits under a ramada. Therefore, you would have to look out your windshield to see the backside of the next RV. The campsites are a little close together, and if you had a big Class A or fifth wheel, it might be a tight fit. But our little 24′ Class C fits just fine.

Site #15 at Percha Dam State Park in New Mexico

For the most part, the campground has been very quiet and peaceful. The people next to us have several dogs, and occasionally one of them will bark, but they are good about calming the dog down so that the noise doesn’t last long.

Hiking along the Rio Grande river near the campground

The park is located on the Rio Grande river at the foot of the Percha Dam. There is a hiking trail that follows the river and leads past a pecan orchard. Right now the river is low, and you can actually walk out into the middle of it on exposed rocks and sand, right in front of the dam. There is a sign on the dam that cautions you to move out of the way quickly if the siren sounds, indicating that the floodgates are about to open.

Percha Dam on the Rio Grande river

Currently there is a huge flock of sandhill cranes in the area, feeding in the agricultural fields behind our campsite. At first we thought they were geese as they flew overhead in V-formation, but Andy checked with the park ranger and got the scoop. These birds migrate to this area every winter, especially to the nearby Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, in November there is an entire weekend festival dedicated to the cranes, and bird-watchers from around the world visit the area to study and enjoy these cranes and other wildlife in the area.

Since our campground is situated along the Rio Grande river, there are plenty of shade trees around. Each campsite has a picnic table under a ramada, but we also have several large trees which provide shade. The high yesterday was about 75° with sunny skies, so we never had to run the air conditioner.

Standing in the middle of the Rio Grande, watching cranes fly over

The electrical service and water here have been reliable and consistent.

But…..

and this is a big “but”……

This campsite does not include a sewer hookup, and there is no dump station in this park. The nearest dump station is at the nearby Caballo Lake State Park, about 3-4 miles away. Yesterday (Saturday) we took a quick drive over there in the truck to scope it out.

Since we have the annual pass to the NM State Parks, there would be no fee for us to use their dump station. We drove around the park and scoped out the campsites, and found several that were pretty good, some even with a view of the Caballo Lake from a bluff. We pretty much decided that since our reservation at Percha Dam SP was up today that we would just drive over to Caballo Lake SP, dump our tanks, and then just move into a first-come first-served site in that park.

However, last night I was checking availability at all the nearby state parks (there are a lot in this area), and found a nice one further north at Elephant Butte Lake State Park which happens to be available for reservation for the next ten days, through the end of the month. The reservation website has photos of the campsites, and if the photo is accurate, the lake is visible from the site. And there is a nearby dump station so we can dump our tanks as needed without driving miles out of the way. With our annual pass, we get the campsite with electricity and water for $4/night. Awesome!!

So we decided to go ahead and make a reservation for the Elephant Butte Lake State Park, and that’s where we’ll be for the next ten days. From what I understand, the water levels in the lake are very low due to the ongoing drought, but it’s still a large lake and I think we’ll enjoy it anyway. There are a lot of other things to do in the area as well, so we’ll be able to do some more sight-seeing.

We’re keeping an eye on the weather–right now it’s pretty much perfect with daytime highs in the 60’s and 70’s, and nighttime lows in the 50’s. We’re at about 4100′ altitude, so by the time November rolls around, it should start getting much cooler, especially at night. That’s when it will be time to start heading toward the Arizona desert for the winter.

So today is a travel day. Check-out time here is 2:00 PM, and it should take us just over an hour to get to our new location at Elephant Butte Lake SP. It’s near the town of Truth or Consequences (I love that name!) where there is a Walmart for grocery shopping, a McDonald’s for wi-fi, and a well-rated coffee shop that even serves vegan desserts. What more could you ask for?

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads for updates between the blog posts!

Turning 60 in Albuquerque and Santa Fe NM

When we first began talking seriously about becoming full-time RVers, I set a couple of personal goals. I wanted to be on the road full-time by the time I reached 60, and I wanted to spend my 60th birthday in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Both of those goals were accomplished as of Wednesday!

We left the Leasburg Dam State Park on Tuesday morning around 10:30 after stopping to dump the tanks. We drove north on I-25 toward Albuquerque, stopping for lunch at a rest stop near Fort Craig. The rest stop itself wasn’t much to look at, but it just happened to be near a historic site on the El Camino Real trail (for my friends in Mississippi, the El Camino Real is similar to the old historic Natchez Trace). There was a huge metal and glass sculpture standing on a small hill out in the desert, so in spite of the cold wind, I just had to hike out to see it.

Camino de Sueños (Road of Dreams) by Greg E. Reiche, 2005

The sculpture is made of metal and turquoise-colored glass. Based on its orientation, I would assume that both the sunrise and the sunset would shine through the glass, giving it a beautiful glow. Unfortunately we were there in the middle of an overcast day, so I have no way of verifying that.

We arrived at our destination, Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post in Albuquerque, just after 4:00 PM. It was cold, overcast and windy, and the site wasn’t exactly level, but we got set up as quickly as possible and hunkered down inside the RV.  We turned on our little electric space heater (why run our propane furnace when we’re already paying for electricity, right?), and we were able to stay toasty warm.

On Wednesday, I hit the big 6-0, and we made a day-trip to Santa Fe to celebrate. Our birthday celebrations tend to be pretty low-key by most standards–I was just happy to get to view the beautiful scenery on the hour-long drive north.

Our first stop in Santa Fe was lunch at a vegetarian restaurant that I found on the Happy Cow app. It’s called Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe, and it specializes in South Indian vegetarian and vegan dishes, along with vegan desserts. It’s located in a little strip center and doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this place was packed for lunch.

Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe in Santa Fe, NM

The inside of the cafe was very colorful and comfortable, as well as being a great place for people-watching. Their clientele is very diverse and obviously very loyal, so we saw some interesting characters while we dined there.

Inside Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe in Santa Fe, NM, just before the crowd arrived

I had a sampler platter of Indian dishes for lunch that was very tasty. Andy had the Mediterranean platter that included hummus and falafel, and declared it was some of the best he had ever tasted. For dessert, we split a slice of their homemade vegan coconut pie–this was not a cream pie, it was pure coconut and was delicious!

Vegan coconut pie at Annapurna’s

After lunch we drove into Old Town Santa Fe to do a little exploring and sight-seeing. Of course we visited the Palace of Governors where the Native Americans sell their jewelry on the sidewalk. Our first visit here was about 20 years ago when Andy was just getting started with his silversmithing hobby, and it was one of the sources of his inspiration. Now 20 years later, he was able to discuss techniques and materials with the artists as we admired their handiwork.

Andy (@silverlap) admiring a heavy copper bracelet with the artist

We walked around downtown a little longer, visiting the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and more of the little shops. NOTE #1: Living in a small RV helps remove the temptation to spend money on needless “stuff” because there’s nowhere to put it!

Inside the Cathedral of St. Francis

For our final stop, we went to Starbucks so I could get my free birthday drink, and also  so that we could use their wi-fi to run back-ups on our iPhones and download updates to some of the software on my laptop. Well, that didn’t work out so well. We used the Starbucks app to find the nearest location, but when we arrived there we found that it only had outdoor seating. Nice concept, but it was very cool and windy, so we decided to try another location.

We got to the second location which was right back downtown where we had started from. When we went to the counter to order, we were told that they don’t honor the Starbucks rewards because they aren’t a regular licensed Starbucks, but are more like the Starbucks in the Barnes and Nobles stores. We went ahead and ordered anyway, but I missed out on my free drink. And their wi-fi was pitifully slow, so we were there for a couple of hours before all my downloads finished. NOTE #2: Living on the road makes you really appreciate high-speed internet, if you can find it.

But I really enjoyed my day in Santa Fe, especially getting to chat with Mom and Dad by phone while at Starbucks.

Yesterday (Thursday) was busy also, but it was mostly errands and chores. After a late breakfast, we did three loads of laundry here at the RV park. While the clothes were tumbling, I enjoyed checking out the vintage trailers and Hudson automobiles that they have on-site here at the RV Park. These trailers are actually available for rent here at the park, and are so cute.

Vintage trailers and Hudson automobiles here at Enchanted Trails RV Park

After lunch we drove in to Albuquerque, and first visited the post office to pick up our first packet of forwarded mail from our Escapees mail service in Livingston, Texas. It was mostly junk mail, but it did include our absentee ballots for the upcoming election, so we’ll be voting in the next couple of days. NOTE #3: It’s easy to get your mail on the road if you have a good mail forwarding service.

Main post office in Albuquerque

After picking up our mail we went to Walmart for grocery shopping, and then to Costco for a few other things, primarily the cats’ dry food. Our last stop was at Camping World to get an extra set of leveling blocks and a couple of maintenance items for Lizzy.  After returning to the rig and putting the groceries away, Andy whipped up one of his huge chopped salads to last us for the next few days. We ate leftovers for dinner and then I turned in about 7:30–I was so tired! NOTE #4–You do tend to get tired more easily at higher altitudes when you’re used to living near sea level.

So today, we’ll be leaving Albuquerque and heading back south. Our destination today is Percha Dam State Park where we have reservations for two nights. I doubt we’ll stay there any longer than that, as we’re leaning toward trying to get into one of the other state parks in the area that have nicer facilities, where we can hopefully snag a first-come, first-served spot near the water. We’ll see how that goes.

Life is good, we’re happy and healthy, and we’re loving New Mexico.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at Instagram/JustCallUsNomads for updates between our blog posts!

Fort Selden and White Sands

Yesterday (Sunday) we spent most of the day exploring some of the sights around our campground near Las Cruces, New Mexico. It was a beautiful, partly cloudy day with high temperatures in the low 70’s–perfect for getting outside in the sun and fresh air.

After having breakfast and cleaning up the dishes, we took the short drive of less than two miles over to the Fort Selden Historic Site. The fort was established in 1865 to provide protection from Native American raids and general lawlessness in the area. About 1800 soldiers served at Fort Selden during its years of operation, until it was officially closed in January 1891. I found it ironic that more soldiers died at the fort at the hands of other soldiers or local outlaws than from the Native Americans.

Fort Selden Historic Site, Radium Springs, NM

The structures at the fort were built primarily of adobe and wood, although the jail was constructed of stone. When the fort was finally abandoned, most of the wood from the roofs and door/window frames was removed for re-use, leaving only the adobe material in place. Over the years, the wind and rain have relentlessly eroded the adobe walls until just enough remains to fuel the imagination as to what the fort must have looked like.

Andy sitting outside what was once the fort jail

There is a nice Visitor Center at the entrance to the site, and there is a $5/person entry fee. The tour starts with a short 9-minute video that gives the history of the fort, and then there is a small museum with exhibits describing what life was like for the men, women and children who occupied the fort during its time of operation.

After touring the museum, we went outside where we followed a numbered, self-guided tour of the fort ruins. It was pretty small as forts go, so the tour didn’t take that long to complete. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit of information we discovered during our visit was that General Douglas MacArthur lived at Fort Selden for several years as a small child when his father, Captain Arthur MacArthur, was posted there.

Douglas MacArthur and his family lived at the fort when he was a child

We finished the tour shortly before noon and returned to the rig for a quick lunch. As soon as the lunch dishes were done, we headed out on our next adventure of the day.

We drove for just a little over an hour to visit White Sands National Monument, between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, NM. Interestingly, the Monument is located within the boundaries of the White Sands Missile Range, and several times a week the Monument, along with Highway 70, is closed for several hours for missile testing. Fortunately, we timed our visit pretty well so we didn’t get turned away.

The White Sands dunefield covers 275 square miles, and is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Gypsum is the material used to make drywall and plaster. The National Monument preserves more than half of the dunefield, its water supply, and the plants and animals that live there.

White Sands National Monument Visitor Center

We started our tour at the Visitor’s Center where I purchased a National Parks passport book so I can start collecting the stamps from parks that we’ll be visiting on our travels. There was a small museum that we browsed through until time to enter the theater to view a short film about the dunefield and its inhabitants. After the film was over we strolled through the gift shop, but didn’t buy anything (typical gift shop junk, although there were some cool t-shirts).

From that point, it was a driving tour through the dunes, with numerous pull-offs for hiking, picnicking, sledding, or just wandering around. There was a fee station at the entrance (I believe it was $30/vehicle, but we used Andy’s lifetime senior pass that he paid $10 for, and got in free).

The outer perimeter of the dunefield has more vegetation

Our first stop was a hiking trail near the edge of the dune field where there is more vegetation and animal life. The trail was a 1-mile loop over the dunes and was marked with tall blue poles along with interpretive signs. It was so interesting to see how the sands are continually shifting, because some of the signposts were already starting to get buried. I’m sure it’s a constant maintenance task to keep the trails well-marked when the landscape keeps shifting.

Andy checking out one of the interpretive signs in the dunes

After completing the hike, we drove further into the dunes to where there was almost no vegetation. About that same time, the sun started to come out from behind the clouds, and the dunes just lit up in this brilliant white against the blue sky. It was gorgeous!

Heart of the Dunes

We got out of the truck a couple more times to walk on the sand and to watch some of the young people sliding down the dunes on the round sleds that they sold in the gift shop. The kids were having a blast! We also saw a lot of photographers setting up for some sunset pictures, and there was also a group of women who were obviously models being photographed on top of one of the dunes–I mean, who else would be on top of a sand dune in a long, flowing red dress?

The sand itself is extremely soft, almost like talcum and not like the gritty sand on the beach. Also, it tends to hold water, so it was cool to walk on even when the sun was shining on it, and it’s still moist just under the surface.

Andy on the dunes

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the White Sands National Monument, and highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area. We got back to the rig a little after 5:00, cooked and ate dinner, and called it an early evening.

Today is our last full day here in Leasburg Dam State Park. The weather has turned much cooler due to a cold front that’s moving through most of the country right now. We’ve spent a good portion of the day getting things ready to travel tomorrow–dumping the tanks, checking the tire pressure and fluid levels, charging up the walkie-talkies, for instance. I also reorganized the attic (the storage area over the cab) to make better use of the space.

We plan to pull out of here around 10:00 AM tomorrow morning to drive to Albuquerque. Travel days are not my favorite, but it will be fun to see some new scenery and check out Santa Fe for my birthday on Wednesday.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram for updates between the blog posts! And if you have any questions about our life on the road, please leave a comment and we’ll try to answer in a future post!