Goodbye to the Best Campsite Ever (So Far)

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

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

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

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

Hiking over terrain that is normally under water

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

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

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

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

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

Setting up in site #11 at Leasburg Dam SP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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!

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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?

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