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!

Toilet Surgery, Rain and Birthday Shopping

I am pleased to report that our toilet repair project was successful! Andy had done a lot of research by watching YouTube videos and even contacting the manufacturer to make sure he was clear on how to go about removing the toilet, replacing the seals and then reattaching everything. And all that research paid off with a relatively painless process.

The one thing we were most worried about was how bad it would smell in the RV while the drain pipe was open. Actually there was little to no smell at all (we did dump the tanks first, and also added a deodorizing packet to the tank). The worst thing that happened was when we turned the water back on–we had a leak where the water line attached to the back of the toilet. The connection was supposed to be “finger tight”, but obviously that wasn’t tight enough and it required more tightening with pliers. We think that this connector was the source of our slow leak all along rather than the seals, but it was good to go ahead and do a complete maintenance job anyway on such an important piece of equipment.

If anyone is interested in seeing how the project went, we recorded most of it on the GoPro and posted it to our YouTube channel:

We had hoped to do some sight-seeing on Friday but it rained almost the entire day with only a slight pause in the afternoon, just enough time for a short walk to get some fresh air. We spent the day reading, editing the video above, housecleaning–all those normal little chores you do on a cool, rainy day.

A rainy, cloudy day at our campground

Yesterday (Saturday) it was time to go to town for groceries and supplies, as well as some birthday shopping. My 60th birthday is coming up next week, and I wanted (actually needed) a new pair of hiking shoes, as well as some long-sleeved pullover shirts for cooler weather. The forecast is calling for a big drop in temperatures on Monday, and I wanted to be ready.

So we drove into Las Cruces, and first went to Jason’s Deli for lunch. I like Jason’s because they have good meatless options on their menu, and Andy likes Jason’s because they have free ice cream for dessert. Next we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods where I picked out a pair of hiking shoes and some warm socks. Perhaps “picked out” is too strong a term–it was actually the only pair they had in my size. No problem, I liked them anyway.

Birthday gifts from the hubby–new warm clothes!

Next stop was Walmart where we did most of our grocery shopping. I also picked up three long-sleeve pullover shirts there to complete my birthday shopping. Last stop was Sprouts for some red lentils from their bulk bins. And to my delight, they also had just put out their stock of cinnamon gummy bears for the holidays–my favorite!

Even though we ate lunch at Jason’s, we still eat almost all our meals at home in the RV, and cook almost everything from scratch. Last night I used both of our Instant Pots to cook dinner, making brown rice in the 3-quart Mini Duo and red lentil curry in the 6-quart Duo. We had enough leftover for two more meals, so half went in the fridge for our next travel day, and half went in the freezer. Having leftovers in the refrigerator takes a lot of the pressure off when we pull into a new campground after a long day of driving.

Two Instant Pots for a rice and curry dinner

Today the weather is supposed to be pretty nice, so we’re hoping to do a little sightseeing. Tomorrow a cold front will arrive, dropping the temperatures by almost 25°.  The high today (Sunday) is forecast at 72°, by Tuesday the forecast high is 48°.

Now you know why I wanted those warmer shoes and shirts!

We only have two more nights here at Leasburg Dam State Park. Tuesday we will be driving north to Albuquerque where we will stay for three nights at the Enchanted Trails RV Park. While there, we will be able to pick up our mail which has been forwarded to us from our mailbox in Livingston, Texas. The mail pouch will include our absentee ballots so we can vote in the mid-term elections.

And that’s what’s going on in our lives right now. The kitties are doing fine, we’re healthy and happy, and we’re loving our new lifestyle on the road.

Stay tuned for more updates as we get ready to move to our next destination! You can also follow us on Instagram @JustCallUsNomads!

Cookies, Toilets and Travel Plans

Today marks one week that we’ve been camped here at Leasburg Dam State Park, and honestly, I wish we could stay here indefinitely. Unfortunately, they have a fourteen-day limit, after which you must be out of the park for at least six days before you can come back. Besides, I want to visit Santa Fe on my birthday (October 17), and right now we’re about four hours away.

Beauty in the desert

So yesterday (Wednesday) I spent some time in the morning making travel plans for next week. In one of the thousands of full-time RV-related YouTube videos that we watched over the past year, I remember one full-timer talking about “research fatigue”, referring to the effort and time required to plan ahead for that next camping spot. So many things to consider–distance, price, weather, accessibility, surroundings, safety–it’s definitely a time commitment but it’s an important part of this lifestyle.

We have memberships in several RV organizations that offer discounts at campgrounds and RV parks. I was able to get us three nights at a nice RV park in Albuquerque for next week, using our Passport America discount of 50% for the first two nights, and our Good Sam discount of 10% for the third night. Albuquerque is only about an hour’s drive from Santa Fe, but it’s lower in elevation than Santa Fe so it won’t be quite as cold at night. We’ll do a day-trip to Santa Fe for my birthday, and while we’re in Albuquerque we’ll be able to make a Costco run, do laundry, and pick up our mail which I’ll have forwarded to us from our mail service in Livingston, Texas.

After our three nights in Albuquerque, we’re going to head south again to another NM State Park. I made reservations for two nights (Friday and Saturday) since the parks tend to get a little more full on the weekends. If we like the park, we’ll try to get into one of the first-come, first-served sites to extend our stay.

Our favorite hiking trail here in Leasburg State Park

Yesterday was pretty laid back. We did a little hiking in the morning while the temperatures were in the high 50’s and low 60’s. After lunch we drove to the little local post office in Radium Springs to pick up the toilet repair kit that we ordered from Amazon. Later, since I had some bananas that were getting pretty ripe, I decided to bake some vegan cookies in our convection microwave. I used to make these all the time in our stix-and-brix house, but had not tried them in the RV. They actually came out just as good as before! Here’s the recipe:

Base:

1 very ripe banana, smashed until liquid-y

1 cup oats (Quick oats are best, but Old Fashioned work too)

Add-ins:

Chopped walnuts

Craisins (or raisins)

Maple syrup to taste

Peanut butter (or PB2 powder)

Chocolate chips

I don’t use all the add-ins at the same time, that’s just a list of the ones I’ve used in the past. You can add whatever you like. Stir it all together and then drop by large spoonfuls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. These cookies will not rise or spread, so shape them in the size you want, and don’t make them too thick. Bake at 350° (325° in our RV convection oven) for 20-25 minutes, until they get brown and crispy on the edges.

They are best when they’re warm, right from the oven, but they keep well in an airtight container for several days.

Vegan banana oatmeal cookies baked in our convection microwave

Today won’t be nearly as pleasant as freshly baked cookies. Today, Andy will be pulling out the toilet to replace the seals using the kit that we ordered from Amazon. In an RV, the toilet sits on top of a short pipe that allows all your “deposits” to simply fall straight down into the black tank along with some water when you flush the toilet. When Andy removes the toilet, there will just be an open pipe to that lovely black tank until he gets the toilet re-installed. Of course, we will empty the black tank before he starts on the project, but that won’t eliminate all the smell. We’re going to do everything possible to make sure this project goes smoothly and as quickly as possible this afternoon to minimize the time that the pipe is open. Wish us luck!

We’re planning to do some more sight-seeing in the area this weekend. There’s an abandoned fort just down the road from us that we want to visit. We’ll see what the weather looks like over the next few days before we finalize our plans. We’ll also make another trip to Las Cruces for groceries–we eat a lot of fresh greens, so we have to shop a little more often than we’d like to.

And that’s life here in the RV for now!

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