Museum, Enchilada Fries and We Go Solar

We’re down to our last few days here in New Mexico and we’re trying to make the most of them before we pull up stakes and head to Arizona for the winter.

Another beautiful sunrise at Pancho Villa State Park

On Wednesday morning we visited the Columbus Depot Museum which is housed in the old train depot and operated by the Columbus Historical Society. The building itself is worth seeing with the old original floors and windows. They have one room dedicated to the Pancho Villa raid from March 9, 1916, including a diorama that shows how the town was laid out at the time, as well as one of Pancho’s sombreros, the door of the bank vault with a bullet hole in it, and lots of other memorabilia.

A second room is dedicated to railroad memorabilia, as Columbus was originally a railroad town where trains would move soldiers to/from Camp Furlong, ore from the mines in Arizona, and passengers headed west from El Paso. The third room contains a lot of antique household and business items from the early 1900’s.

Inside the Train Room in the Columbus Depot Museum

There’s a small gift shop just inside the entrance that sells trinkets and books. Outside the building there is an old fire engine, some more old farm equipment, and a gazebo that is a recreation of the reviewing stand where General Pershing stood to review the troops as they marched back into the US after chasing Villa’s army through northern Mexico after the raid.

The gentleman who was working in the museum that morning was quite a crusty character. He’s a volunteer, so he gets a free RV spot behind the museum (there’s a second volunteer and they trade shifts). He had his dog with him at his desk, and seeing as how we were the only ones that visited the museum that morning, he was ready to talk…and talk….and talk. He was pretty entertaining, especially later when we could overhear his phone conversation with someone regarding current events….let’s just say he was colorful. 🙂

After touring the museum, we walked across the street and had lunch at the Borderland Cafe so we could contribute to the local economy. This is a popular spot with the locals, as evidenced by the number of people that stopped in for lunch wearing construction vests or cowboy hats and boots. They offered a few veggie options–I got the veg-wich which was a sandwich made with hummus and veggies. Andy got the veggie pizza which was very good. One of their specialties is their enchilada fries–french fries covered with green Hatch chile sauce and Menonite cheese. We split an order of those.

Enchilada fries at the Borderland Cafe in Columbus NM

Yesterday (Thursday) we had to say “See you down the road!” to our new friend, fellow nomad and guitarist-extraordinaire Gary Piazza, who had reached the 14-day stay limit here in the park. He’s moving to nearby Rockhound State Park for a few days before heading to Payson, Arizona where he has a gig waiting. Safe travels, Gary!!

We spent yesterday afternoon hanging out at the local library/computer center, using their speedy wi-fi to do some research on boondocking spots in Arizona and planning our travels for the next week or so.

And speaking of boondocking….

We are about to embark on a whole new chapter in our RV living experience. To date, we have only boondocked twice that I remember. The first time was in a Walmart parking lot in Chattanooga, TN in September 2017 when we were on our way to our first RV rally in Sevierville, TN. The second time was the first night after we hit the road back in August, when we stayed at a Harvest Host location, Landry Vineyards in Monroe, LA.

In each of those cases we didn’t have to be too concerned about how much water, tank capacity or battery power we used because we were only off-grid for one night before getting back to hook-ups. But our plans for the next few months are to spend quite a bit of time off-grid, camping for free on BLM land primarily, so we’ll need to learn to camp differently and more conservatively.

For electric power, we do have a generator that uses gas from the fuel tank on the RV. The generator can charge the house batteries as well as provide power for energy hogs like the microwave and the air conditioner. But we would like to limit the use of the generator as much as possible to conserve gasoline and lower our fuel costs.

And since we are going to be spending a large portion of our time in the Southwest where the sun shines almost every day, it just made sense to invest in a solar system.

Kodiak portable solar generator and panels

After doing a lot of research over the past year, we settled on a solar kit that includes the Kodiak portable solar generator, three 100-watt solar panels, cables, and three outdoor lights. We ordered it yesterday from Earthtech Products and made arrangements to have it shipped to a friend’s house in Phoenix where we’ll pick it up when it arrives in a few weeks (thanks, Nicki and Avery!!).

The Kodiak is a 90 amp-hour lithium battery. The unit has multiple plugs which can be used to keep all our devices charged. In fact, there’s even a 30-amp plug where we could plug the RV directly into the unit to run small things like lights and fans if our house batteries should fail.

If you’re interested in the system, here’s a link Earthtech’s website where you can get the specs.

The cost? Total was $2215, including a car charger which will charge the Kodiak from the alternator while we’re driving the RV.

So yes, this is an investment, not just an expense. The solar panels will allow us to keep our house batteries charged so we can stay off-grid longer, and the Kodiak will provide a secondary power source when we need extra charging power for phones, laptop, Kindles, walkie-talkies, cameras…all that electronic gear.

We do have a couple of maintenance items in the RV that need to be addressed. The light fixture over the kitchen sink appears to have a faulty switch…it keeps dimming and brightening intermittently. Also we have some weather stripping on the passenger-side over-cab area that has come loose and needs to be replaced. Handy Andy will be taking care of these items soon.

Today we’re going to make one last trip across the border to have lunch in Palomas and, yes, visit the bakery again. Tomorrow we’ll drive to Deming to pick up our latest mail packet from our mail service in Livingston, TX, get some groceries, do a little sight-seeing and visit a local coffee shop that looks interesting.

And then on Sunday, we break camp and head west.

Life is good in the Borderlands!

We hope you’re enjoying the blog! Be sure to subscribe to get notifications of new posts when they are published. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to see what we’re doing between blog posts.

Stay safe, follow your dreams, and live every day as if it’s your last!!

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.

Gut-Check Tour – Day 15

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Saturday, April 21, 2018 – The Woods RV Park & Campground, Montgomery, Alabama

This was another one of those days when you just know that you’re where you’re supposed to be at just the right time.

We started the morning with some coffee and refrigerator oats, then we both got showers in the rig. For some reason, this morning it dawned on me just how bad it might be if one of the cats jumped up on the kitchen or bathroom sink and bumped the water faucet while we were gone. The holding tank would quickly fill up and start flooding the RV, and no one would be here to stop it. I mentioned it to Andy, so before we left to go sight-seeing, he turned off the water at the faucet outside. This will now become SOP (standard operating procedure).

Our first stop on our tour today was the Rosa Parks Museum and Library, but first we had to find a parking place. The only public parking we saw that wasn’t metered was a lot that charged $10 for the day. It was covered parking, so we took it, as it was almost directly across the street from the museum.

The Rosa Parks Museum and Library is part of Troy University and is located on the very corner where Rosa was arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus to a white person. There are two main parts to the museum, but we only toured one, the main exhibit dealing with her arrest and the resulting bus boycott (we also toured a temporary exhibit of artwork while we waited for the main tour to start at 11 AM).

The tour was more of an “experience” than anything else. It started with a short movie that introduced the social reality of 1955 Montgomery, setting the stage for what happened. The movie was shown in a small room on three overhead screens. The walls of the room were covered with pictures and descriptions of the main characters in the boycott.

As soon as the movie ended, two double doors opened to the next room and we walked through to find a reproduction of the bus that Rosa was riding. They had it set up so it seemed as though we were standing on the sidewalk looking into the windows of the bus. Inside the bus, the scenes were projected (like a movie through the bus windows) showing Rosa entering the bus and getting seated, then the bus pulled to the next stop and more people boarded, looking for seats. Another stop later, white people were grumbling to the driver because they were having to stand, and then the driver stopped and told Rosa and the three other black people in her row to move.

It was a powerful experience because of not only the truth of the story itself, but also the way it was presented. It really put us right in the scene, as if we were witnessing it as it happened. The scene continued until Rosa was arrested and led off the bus, and then we moved to the next exhibit that replicated the Holt church where mass meetings were held to organize the boycott. They had actual recordings of the speakers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the congregation singing in the meetings–very powerful.

From there we moved into the next room where they presented the timeline of the boycotts and how they worked. They talked about the car pools, about how the white employers would provide transportation for their black maids and employees, and how the white power structure tried everything in their power to break the boycott.

I learned so much that I didn’t know about this particular part of the Civil Rights movement, and the day was just getting started!

We left the museum about 12:30 PM, and my plan was to go to Touch of Soul Cafe for lunch, but we found it closed (even though their website said they were open on Saturday). Right next door was the D’Roads Cafe, which I had read good things about, so we decided to go there. From the outside, it looks like a decrepit storefront, but inside it’s beautiful. There were just a few other people there, and the waitress told us  we could sit anywhere. Our only complaint was that it was really cold, so Andy had to go back to the truck to get his jacket.

The server showed us the day’s menu written on a small whiteboard (it changes daily based on what’s in season). It all looked and sounded good but wasn’t vegan, but at the bottom of the board was written “Vegan, vegetarian and paleo options available.” I asked the server about those options and she said she would have the chef come out to discuss them with us.

The chef came to our table a few minutes later. She was a short Latina (Cuban?) woman wearing a tan drivers hat, and she was so helpful. She talked about the different vegetables she could prepare. We asked her if she could fix fried sweet plantains, and she smiled a huge smile and said “Of course!”. Then she asked if we were picky eaters, and we said “No, as long as it’s not meat.” She said, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna fix you something beautiful!”

And she did! A little later the server came back with two plates of different vegetables, seasoned slightly spicy, with lots of onion. There was also a small cornbread-type bun, split almost like a pita pocket, that was stuffed with fresh spinach–it was scrumptious. And a little later, the chef came out with the fried plantains, done perfectly.

After our meal, she came back and talked with us for a bit about our RV life, and how she also wants to travel by RV after her daughter gets out of school in a few years. She gave us her business card and told us to keep in touch. Janett Malparlida, thanks again for a wonderful experience at D’Road Cafe!

After lunch, our next stop was the Freedom Rides Museum, located in the old Greyhound Bus station a few blocks away. When we entered the museum, we were greeted immediately by the receptionist, who told us that there two actual Freedom Riders visiting today. She introduced us to Al and Kredelle Petway, brother and sister, who were part of the Freedom Riders movement in 1961. They were in town because Kredelle is participating in a panel discussion about the Freedom Riders tonight, so they had stopped by the museum to visit.

It just so happened that a small group of students and their teacher from Georgia also showed up at the museum at the same time, so they set up an impromptu question-and-answer session where we could all learn about their experiences. Al and Kredelle, along with their father, didn’t ride a bus (I mistakenly thought the Freedom Riders were all on buses). They actually flew on a commercial flight from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested upon arrival (other Freedom Riders also took trains).

I knew vaguely about the bus bombing, and about the mob violence in Anniston, Birmingham and Montgomery when the buses would pull in. But I didn’t realize that Jackson became the focus of the movement when it became apparent that it was too dangerous for all of them to try to continue to New Orleans. Over 300 people were arrested and held in Jackson jails and Parchman Penitentiary. Their treatment was horrendous. It sickens me to think about it.

We felt so fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to meet Al and Kredelle. They were so gracious and generous with their stories and experiences, and the young students especially were enthralled. I know I’ll never be the same because of today.

After we left the museum we walked around downtown some more, looking at the architecture. There are some beautiful old buildings in Montgomery, including the First Baptist Church and the First Presbyterian Church buildings. There’s a wonderful fountain in a traffic circle from where you can see the State Capitol building up the street.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of downtown Montgomery, but we started feeling a few sprinkles and decided we had better get back to the RV since we had left windows and vents open. We got home and set up our lawn chairs on our “porch” and enjoyed the afternoon–I eventually came inside and took a short nap.

We ate leftover Spaghetti Puttanesca for dinner, did a little route planning for tomorrow and called it a night.

I checked my work schedule for next week, and sure enough, Julie has me booked up with travel on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so there won’t be any re-entry recovery time. It’s going to be a huge shock to the system, going back to work next week. 😦