Currently at Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, New Mexico:
Oh, my, where to begin…
When we last left you in our previous blog post, we had just pulled out of Livingston, Texas in our new-to-us rig, on our way west toward Yuma, Arizona. Our goal was to keep our travel days at around 200 miles, arriving at each destination around 2:00 or 3:00 PM. Our first night was in Schulenburg, Texas.
We left Schulenburg on Sunday morning after getting a good night’s rest. Since we’re traveling with the cats in the truck, we had decided that the best course of action for our lunches on the road was to just pack a picnic meal that we could eat in the truck. Before we left Livingston, I had made a big batch of Thai pasta salad which we had for lunch on Saturday and Sunday while parked in a gas station parking lot. But getting in and out of those gas stations was proving to be very stressful for two newbies not used to pulling or backing up a big trailer. At one gas station we barely clipped a post–nothing major except for the impact it had on my heart rate.
We arrived at our next destination around 2:30 PM on Sunday afternoon–Above & Beyond River Resort, formerly known as South Llano Riverside RV Park, in Junction, Texas. Since we were finding it too scary to try and get gas at most gas stations, once we got parked in our site we went ahead and unhitched the rig even though we were only staying there overnight. Once unhitched, we were able to drive the truck to the lowest-priced gas station and refuel. Another advantage of being unhitched is that we were able to use the auto-level system to perfectly level the rig.
Our campsite at Above & Beyond was in a scenic spot next to the Llano River. Unfortunately there are no windows on the side of the rig that faced the river, but we were still able to walk down to the riverside to get a good view as the sun went down. Once again we got a great night’s sleep.
On Monday morning, we left Junction around 10:00 AM and got back on I-10 West. By now we had decided that we would only travel each day as far as we could go on about a half tank of gas, which was still around 200 miles. And I also started researching ahead of time to find out where the rest stops and picnic areas were located on I-10 so we could plan our stops in advance. On that day, we stopped for lunch at a rest stop where we had overnight oats with peanut butter tortilla wraps, while the kitties had their usual food and water in the back floorboard.
Speaking of the kitties, they are doing better each drive day. They do NOT like being confined, and Maggie especially is very vocal which can drive us crazy. So we’ve started letting them out of their crate once we’re out of any traffic congestion and back on the highway. Molly will almost immediately crawl under the back of the driver’s seat where she hides away for the ride. Maggie, on the other hand, likes to ride in my lap for awhile, and then after lunch she usually hangs out in the back seat, lying in her crate with the door open. We have a small litter box for them in the back floorboard which, believe it or not, they have actually used at times when we’re stopped.
On Monday afternoon we arrived at Fort Stockton RV Park around 2:30. We had a pull-through site again, so still no backing up required. We unhitched the rig and leveled her up, and then hooked up the electricity and water, but not the cable TV. We found that we didn’t have enough sewer hose to reach the connection on the ground. If we had parked where the hose would reach, the rig would have been sticking out into the road behind us, so we decided to just wait until we got ready to leave when we could either move the rig temporarily in the site, or just stop by the dump station on the way out.
We booked two nights in this park so that we could have a day off from the stress of towing. On Tuesday we drove to Walmart to pick up a few supplies and to get gas for the next drive. It was nice to have a day off from towing the rig so we could just relax a little bit. The park where we stayed is a former KOA, so it has good bones–large sites with full hookups, a small cafe, showers, laundry, and a small selection of RV supplies available for purchase.
So yesterday (Wednesday), it was time to leave Fort Stockton. On our trip plan, we found that there were very few options for a place to stay overnight within our desired radius of 175-225 miles. The only thing we could find was a vacant lot behind a Shell gas station in Fort Hancock, Texas. It was listed on FreeCampsites.net, and when we checked the satellite view on Google Maps, it looked like there would be plenty of room for us to get the rig in there and turn it around without any backing up required. So that was the plan for the day.
But plans have a funny way of going awry….
About 8:30 in the morning we started the process of getting ready to leave. Andy checked all the tires and found that one of the trailer tires was low again. It’s the same tire that the inspector had pointed out prior to our purchase, so we knew that it had a problem of some sort. We called a local tire shop and they said they could handle our rig, so we made plans to stop by their shop on our way out of Fort Stockton.
We got the slides in, got hitched up, disconnected the electricity and water, and then Andy backed the rig up a little bit so we could reach the sewer connection. But when he went to hook up the hose to the ground, he found he was missing an elbow connector that he needed. It wasn’t in the storage bay where he thought he had left it. We walked over to the office to see if they had one for purchase, but they didn’t have the correct one for our hose. We walked back to the rig and had just about decided to wait on dumping the tanks until we could get to an RV parts supplier, when I decided to check the bay once more…and I found the connector stashed away behind the surge protector that he had placed in the bay when he unhooked the electrical cord. Crisis averted, tanks got dumped, and we were on our way.
We headed straight to Oasis Truck Tire Repair in Fort Stockton, where they jacked up the rig, pulled off the tire and inspected it. They found a piece of metal in the tire, probably a nail, that had been in there for awhile. They were able to repair the tire and put it back on the rig, and $20 later we were on our way down I-10 West.
The skies were sunny, but there was a vicious headwind of about 25 MPH with gusts up to 35 MPH, which we had to fight for the entire drive. It was disheartening to watch the gas gauge start to creep downward faster than usual. Since we had a late start due to the tire repair, we didn’t make it that far before it was time to pull into a safety rest area to have lunch (PB&J sandwiches with chips, and some mango chunks).
After leaving the rest area, we made it about another 30 miles down the road when we noticed that the high winds were playing havoc with some of the things in the bed of the truck. We were afraid that we were going to lose a few things, so I checked the internet and found a Valero station ahead that had a large parking area for big rigs, and we pulled off there to let Andy tie down some of the things in the truck bed that were coming loose.
While we were there, we noticed that some of the fuel lanes that the big rigs used also had regular gas pumps in addition to the usual diesel pumps–SCORE!! We had only gone about 65 miles at that point, but with the strong headwinds, we decided to top off the tank while we were at a place that made it easy. When I checked the mileage at that point, we were getting about 6.5 MPG.
Back onto I-10 and back into the wind, we continued west until we got to our planned destination, the vacant lot behind the Shell station in Fort Hancock (we had called ahead to verify that they did indeed allow overnight parking). But when we pulled in and checked it out, it just seemed a little sketchy, with windblown trash all over the ground. Neither of us were all that enthusiastic about overnighting there, even if it was free.
We had caught a fleeting glance of a billboard for a new casino that advertised themselves as “RV Friendly”, so I tried to get on the internet to look them up. But there was absolutely no service in that area, so I couldn’t get any information online. So I walked into the Shell station and asked the attendant if she knew anything about the casino. She said it was on the other side of El Paso…not on our route.
Fortunately, the Shell station DID have a nice pull-through gas pump where we could gas up the truck without unhitching; so while we were doing that, we made the decision to just get back on the road and keep going to Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, NM. That was our destination for the following day, and it showed on the trip planner to be a 145-mile drive, so we decided we would just bite the bullet and keep going. It also helped that we were crossing into Mountain Standard Time, so we were gaining an hour.
After gassing up the truck (6.67 MPG on that last leg), we got back on I-10. While Andy drove, I waited until we got back into an area where we had cell signal, and then I pulled up the route on Google Maps–and I didn’t like what I saw. The route showed us going through some parts of El Paso where we would have to make several right- and left-hand turns on city streets, and I wanted to let Andy see what we were getting into.
We pulled over at the next rest stop, which was very busy, so we could review the route ahead. Andy was pretty stressed about what was coming up, but since we didn’t have any good options, we decided to move on. And just to make it a little tougher, we got stuck behind a big rig in the rest stop parking lot that didn’t look like it was going to be moving anytime soon, so Andy had to back out of our parking space so we could continue.
If you haven’t caught on by now, backing up is STRESSFUL right now for us!!
While we were getting closer to El Paso, I noticed that Google Maps showed an alternate route, using the bypass around the city. It would take a little bit longer, but there were far fewer turns on city streets. Andy decided that he wanted to take that route, so that’s what we did.
It started out easy enough, with the bypass loop going through Fort Bliss–lots of empty land where they hold training exercises. But soon we got past the easy part and found ourselves facing a steep uphill climb over a mountain. Our poor Alberta (our Ford F-250) got all the way down in second gear as we ascended, and every time we went around a curve there was more uphill ahead of us. Andy was literally talking to the truck, begging her to keep going, while we had the flashers turned on.
We finally reached the summit and then made it safely down the other side of the mountain before merging back onto I-10. Almost immediately we had to exit the interstate onto the service road so we could make a right turn at the red light. As it happened, there was an 18-wheeler right in front of us in the right turn lane, so we were able to watch how he handled the maneuver before it was our turn to go. Since we were turning onto a three-lane street, we had plenty of room and breathed a sigh of relief.
After a mile or so of smooth sailing, we suddenly ran into road construction, and all traffic was merged into a single lane with concrete barriers on one side and orange barrels on the other. This went on for about five miles, with Andy white-knuckling the steering wheel to keep everything in a straight line. We finally came out the construction zone, and made it to our turnoff onto Highway 9 west to Columbus, NM.
Only 59 miles to go….due west, right into the setting sun.
If you’ve never driven in the southwest in the late evening when you’re facing the sun, you have no idea how terrifying it can be. On the one hand, we were trying to make it to the state park before it got dark, but on the other hand it was really hard to see how to drive. If there had been a decent place to pull over, we might have done so, but this was a two-lane road with hardly any shoulder at all. So we slowed way down and kept going with our hands shading our eyes as much as possible.
We made it to Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, NM around 6:00 PM, just as the final glow of sunset was disappearing and the stars were coming out. In the New Mexico state park system, at least half their sites are first come first served, so you just show up and pick out a spot where you’ll fit. Fortunately, this is our third time to stay in this park, so we were familiar with the layout and knew where we wanted to be. The tricky part was finding a site where the electricity pole wasn’t beyond the reach of our cord.
We drove around in the dark for a few minutes, checking out a couple of sites, trying to decide if there would be room to open our slides near the trees or the fence, or if the utility hookups were optimally located. Finally another friendly RVer who had seen us driving around came out to invite us to camp near his rig. He said he and his wife were pulling out in the morning and we were welcome to grab their site after they left. We parked across the roadway from them and just did a minimal setup in the dark–left the rig hitched up, made sure we were level enough to extend the slides, plugged up the electrical cord and turned on the water pump, and then settled in for the evening. We had some good leftovers in the fridge, so I didn’t cook anything. Then we both got a great night’s sleep.
This morning dawned clear and cold, about 32°, with a thick layer of frost on the truck and the top of the rig. When the sun rose a little after 7:00 AM, the air started to warm up, and by lunchtime we had the windows open in the rig, enjoying the blue skies and light breezes. It’s absolutely beautiful here today, and we’re so glad to be back in the desert.
The primary reason we wanted to visit this park on our way back to Yuma was so that we could get a replacement windshield sticker for our annual pass to the New Mexico State Parks. We paid $225 for the annual pass in November, and it includes a sticker for both the vehicle and the RV. Since we traded in our Tacoma and sold our Class C motorhome, we no longer had our stickers, but I still had the receipt from when we purchased the pass. This pass is like gold–it lets you stay in any NM State Park for up to 13 months for free if you’re dry camping, or for $4/night if you use electricity and water.
So this morning, I went to the office to purchase the replacement stickers. I showed them the receipt from the old permit, and the volunteer who was helping me started filling out the form for the replacement. Since she had never done one before, she had a question so she called the ranger. He came over to help her and asked me if I had the old sticker. I told him “No”, and that the couple who had sold us the annual pass at Rockhound State Park had specifically told us that all we needed was the receipt if we traded rigs. We had scraped those stickers off the vehicles when we got rid of them, and they came off in little tiny, gummy pieces, nothing that you could read or recognize.
Anyway, they made me sign an affidavit stating that we had sold our previous vehicle/rig, and then they gave me the replacement stickers for $10. So just a word of advice for anyone who has a New Mexico State Park annual pass and you’re thinking of trading rigs….save your receipt and every little scraping from your old sticker, just in case!
So what’s next?
We plan to stay here at Pancho Villa for at least three full days, pulling out on Sunday unless we decide to extend our stay. It’s very tempting to stay here longer! Before we leave, we plan to go across the border into Palomas to have lunch at the Pink Store and maybe pick up a few pastries. We also need to make a run to Deming to Walmart to pick up a few supplies. When we leave, we’ll be headed to Yuma, and if we stick to our plan of about 200 miles per day, it will take us three days and two nights to get there. Not sure where we’re going to stay on those nights, but we’ll figure something out.
So yes, right now, we have a love/hate relationship with our new rig. We love the interior space, the big windows, the fireplace, the pantry, the storage, the larger holding tanks, the recliners, the auto-leveling system, the ducted A/C and furnace, the larger refrigerator, and the walk-around queen-size bed.
What we don’t like is the incredible stress that we both feel when towing this rig. I must say that Andy is doing a superb job (at least when going forward! 😉 ), and he’s being very careful to keep us all safe. But he had to double up on his blood pressure meds yesterday, it was that crazy. Until we get more comfortable with handling this rig in tight quarters like gas stations and city traffic, we’ll be placing a lot of limitations on where we can go with her, and that takes a lot of the fun out of this lifestyle.
I know, I know, it’s just going to take time and practice. We’ll get there. I do enjoy getting to ride together in the same vehicle on travel days, and it helps that I can check our route and navigation while he’s driving so we can avoid, as much as possible, getting into situations that might be hazardous to our sanity, not to mention the rig.
So that’s where we are at the moment. We’re parked in a beautiful area on a beautiful day, with the windows open and the sun setting, and the stress melting away for now.
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