Our First Sub-Freezing Night In Our RV

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Low this morning was 22.5° outside while it was 69.2° inside!

The cold arctic blast that is sweeping through the country made its way into south-central New Mexico yesterday (Monday), as forecasted. We made a trip into Las Cruces after lunch yesterday to pick up some groceries. When we left the campground, it was sunny to partly cloudy and in the mid-50’s. It was about 70° inside the RV just from the sunshine coming  in through the windows. But as we made the 20-minute drive south to Las Cruces, we could see dark clouds and precipitation over the mountaintops.

We stopped first at Sam’s Club, where we encountered a cold wind when we stepped out of the truck. Next, we went to Walmart and while we were checking out, Andy overheard someone talking about it snowing outside. When we went back to the truck, I did actually see one single snowflake fall, but it was definitely cold, cloudy and windy. We made a final stop at Sprouts, and then headed back to the campground.

When we got back in the RV, we found the temperature had dropped to 55° inside. Maggie had burrowed down under the comforter on the bed, and Molly was curled up in her fabric-and-foam “hidey-hole”. We turned on the electric heater to warm things up, put away the groceries and set about preparing the RV for the cold night ahead.

The arctic express on radar this morning. The blue dot is where we are.

The forecast was calling for a hard freeze with a low temperature around 23°. We had already dumped the black and grey tanks before we went to town, and Andy had also filled up our fresh water tank which holds 50 gallons. So to complete our preparations for the cold night ahead, we took the following steps:

  • Unhooked our water hose from the spigot at the site and drained it.
  • Turned on the water pump so we would use water directly from our fresh water tank.
  • Turned on the tank heaters for the black and grey tanks to keep them from freezing (these are small heating pads that are attached to the bottom of the tanks). The fresh water tank is actually under one of the dinette seats so it’s pretty safe from freezing.
  • Closed the privacy curtain to the attic space over the cab to avoid heating it.
  • Hung Andy’s t-shirt quilt over the opening to the cab area to keep the cold air out. Also placed our laundry bag and throw pillows on the floor where the blanket didn’t quite reach to block more cold air.
  • Left some of the cabinets and drawers slightly open to allow warm air to reach the plumbing lines.
  • Ran our small electric heater near the front of the RV.
  • Ran the onboard propane furnace, setting the thermostat to keep it between 60° and 65°.
  • I wore a pair of light flannel pajamas instead of my usual tank top, and we had plenty of blankets on the bed.

Using blankets, curtains, pillows and dirty laundry to keep out cold air

The only area that we need to work on in the future is the entry door. A lot of cold air gets in here around that door, so we need to come up with a way to hang a blanket or something over the door when we need it.

This morning when I got up about 5:45 AM, it was 23.9° outside and 62.7° inside the RV–perfect!! I cranked up the furnace a little higher, and over the next hour, the temperature outside continued to fall another degree or so, while the RV got pretty toasty, getting up to 74° before the furnace cycled off. The thermostat isn’t digital, it’s one of those old-school types with the sliding lever that goes from “cooler” to “warmer” and you have to just guess where to put it. I think we pretty much have it figured out now.

So we had plenty of heat, plenty of water, and we’re all snug and safe this morning!

As I mentioned in our last post, we didn’t move to warmer weather because we were waiting for Andy’s prescription to arrive in the mail. The tracking information on the USPS website said that it was due to arrive here in Radium Springs today (Tuesday), so we pre-paid our campsite through tonight. However, our mail actually arrived on Saturday, so technically we could have already been gone if we had chosen to move on. Since we’re only paying $4/night for this campsite, we wouldn’t have forfeited that much money. But since we’re allowed to stay here a total of 14 nights, and the forecast is for warmer temperatures later this week, we decided to stick it out and test out the cold-weather systems on the rig. We had never used the tank warmers and had not used the furnace much at all. It looks like everything passed with flying colors!

The forecast shows two more nights of sub-freezing temperatures with highs in the 50’s before warming to the 60’s on Saturday. The thing about being in the desert–when the temperature is in the 50’s and it’s sunny and there’s no wind, it’s totally comfortable if you’re hiking or sitting in the sun. So we’ll continue to enjoy the beautiful sunny days, and we’ll rely on our RV systems to keep us warm at night.

We’re already making plans for next week, as our 14 days will be up on Sunday.  We’ll be headed west to Arizona for warmer weather, but our plans are to spend a lot of time boondocking or dry-camping, which is something we have limited experience with. So stay tuned to see where we go next! You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to keep up with us between blog posts.

Happy travels!!

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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Settling In to Full Time RV Life

It’s been just over six weeks since we moved into our RV, Lizzy, full time after selling our house and almost all our possessions. Those six weeks have not been without challenges, but we’re starting to get into a groove now as we settle into our new lifestyle.

The weather here in New Mexico has been interesting. We arrived just at the tail end of a warm spell, so the first few days we used the air conditioner. Then on Sunday we had a severe thunderstorm roll through with high winds and heavy rain. We got an emergency alert on our phones that indicated we could also see hail, but fortunately we were spared from that. And after the storm ended, we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow!

Double rainbow after the storm

Yesterday was overcast and drizzly, and this morning we woke to a dense fog. But by 10:00, the fog lifted and the beautiful blue skies have returned. With the rainy front that moved through, the temperatures have cooled considerably, and we haven’t used the air conditioner in several days, relying on the breeze only.

Here’s a little timelapse that I shot from the roof of Lizzy this morning as the fog lifted.

Speaking of breeze, Andy was able to install two vent covers on the roof just before the storm hit on Sunday. The covers allow us to keep the vents open and the fan running even when it’s raining so we don’t have to close everything up and run the air conditioner. The vents do have original covers that tilt up, but those can get damaged or even ripped off in a high wind, so these new covers that we installed will protect the original tilted cover from the wind. Confusing, I know….

Installing covers over our vents and fan

On Saturday we did some hiking on some of the trails here in the park that meander down along the Rio Grande River and over to the Leasburg Dam. The trail along the river was nice and serene, but the dam was a bit of a disappointment. There really isn’t any water to speak of behind the dam, at least on the day we were there. The dam was built in 1908 to divert water from the Rio Grande into the surrounding agricultural fields of the Upper Masilla Valley. It’s just over 11 feet high, and was the first dam completed on the Rio Grande Project by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (it was originally 10 feet high but was raised by 1.25 feet in 1919).

Hiking along the Rio Grande river on the Mogollon Trail

Rio Grande River below Leasburg Dam

Yesterday (Monday) was an errands day. The first order of business was to locate some repair parts for the toilet, which appears to have a slow leak. Andy tried for over an hour to talk to someone by telephone in the parts department at Camping World in Anthony, Texas to see if they had the parts in stock. They took his number and said they would call back, but after waiting for a half hour we decided to just make the 45 minute drive and ask them in person.

When we got there, they only had one guy working in the parts department, and he was slammed. When we finally got to the front of the line, he was able to identify the parts we needed, but then told us they were out of stock. He was kind enough to call another RV dealer just across the freeway, and they said they could have the part by the next day. But since we didn’t want to make another trip to Anthony, we just decided to order it from Amazon and have it shipped to us here in Radium Springs. Free shipping, and it will be here tomorrow (Wednesday).

Retailers, this is why Amazon is winning.

After we left Camping World, we headed back north to Las Cruces for the rest of our errands. First we had lunch at Chipotle (our original plan was to eat at a local Mexican restaurant that was supposed to be really good, but they were closed for some reason). Then we tried to go by the bank, but they were closed for Columbus Day.

Next stop was Home Depot so we could pick up some plumber’s grease for the toilet repair. From there we went to Walmart for groceries and supplies (cat treats!!). And our last stop was Sprouts for some good fresh greens, since Walmart didn’t have any decent romaine or kale. After all that, we headed home to the RV, put up the groceries and enjoyed the rest of our evening. Oh, have I mentioned that we have developed a serious addiction to those 50¢ pies at Walmart??

Most of our grocery haul.

Today we’ll need to unhook Lizzy and drive her over to the dump station here in the park to dump the tanks. We’re using the campground showers instead of the one in the RV so we can go longer between dumping, and there are also vault toilets close by that we can use to extend the time between dumps. It’s a bit of a hassle to have to unhook and move Lizzy, but it’s worth it to have our own kitchen and bathroom facilities available.

So I know it sounds kind of boring, but we are not on vacation. We are just living our normal everyday lives, just like people in sticks and bricks houses. But our view from our windows is amazing, and when we get tired of it, we’ll just move. We just paid for five more nights here at $4/night, and will probably tack on a few more days after that.

Plans for the next few days include toilet repairs and some sightseeing, so stay tuned! Be sure to follow us on Instagram as well for more of a real-time look at what we’re up to!

New Mexico – I’m In My Happy Place

Good Friday morning from Leasburg Dam State Park in Radium Springs, New Mexico, about 15 miles north of Las Cruces. I just spent an hour sitting in my lawn chair in my pajamas and slippers, sipping my coffee and watching the sunrise. I’m in my happy place!

My view at sunrise

But getting here was a little bit stressful. We left the Alley Oop RV Park in Iraan on Wednesday morning about 11:00, on our way to Van Horn, Texas. Our route from the park back to I-10 took us through an active oil field where we could see the pumping units bobbing up and down. There was also a large wind farm with lines of huge wind turbines along the mountaintops. Most of them weren’t turning however, which we continue to puzzle about.

We got to Van Horn about 4:30 and checked in to the Desert Willow RV Park. With our Passport American membership, the nightly rate was $13.50, and that included electricity, water, sewer, fast wi-fi, and cable TV (which we did not use). The park also had laundry facilities and nice showers (we didn’t use either but they looked nice). The staff was friendly and laid back, and we were able to choose any open spot that we wanted.

Desert Willow RV Park in Van Horn, TX

It was pretty warm but it was breezy, so not too uncomfortable outside. Inside, we ran the air conditioner. As the sun was going down a small thunderstorm came through, and then later we got more rain. At one point there was a lot of lightning and our power went off for just a second and then came back on. Didn’t think anything about it.

Desert Willow campground–great for overnighting

The next morning (yesterday) when Andy was disconnecting all the hookups for us to leave, he found that the 30 amp electric plug from the RV had partially melted and stuck to the heavy duty surge protector that we use when connecting to shore power. He had to use a pry bar to get the plug out of the surge protector. We’re thinking that the electrical surge from the lightning strike caused the damage, and the surge protector did its job to keep the RV safe. The RV plug appeared to still be intact, with just a little of the rubber missing, but the surge protector seemed to be toasted, so we discarded it and decided to get a new one when we went through El Paso.

The drive through El Paso was extremely stressful for Andy in the RV as there was a lot–a LOT–of road construction and heavy traffic. He did a great job of keeping it between the lines. We stopped at Camping World on the north side of El Paso and picked up a new surge protector, along with two vent covers to allow us to have the roof vents open when it’s raining.

Camping World of El Paso

In Las Cruces we stopped at Walmart to pick up a few groceries and a New Mexico atlas by Delorme. The atlas has detailed maps showing where the public lands are, as well as elevations, so we can plan out our boondocking locations. Getting off the freeway and into Walmart was another stressful excursion, but we made it fine. While we were inside Walmart we left the generator running with the air conditioner on, so the kitties were comfortable.

We got to our current campsite in the Leasburg Dam State Park about 4:30 MDT and settled in to site #17. We have electric and water hookups, but no sewer (there is a dump station). The site is gravel with a level concrete pad for the RV, and there is a picnic table covered by a pavilion. The park has nice showers and restrooms, hiking trails and a visitors center. There’s also great cellphone coverage with 4 bars of Verizon LTE.

Parked at our site #17 with covered picnic table

I cooked some pasta and meatballs for dinner, then we took a sunset walk to an overlook where we could see the water. The dam doesn’t look too impressive right now as the water is pretty low. I’ll try to talk to the rangers today to see what the dam status is (LOL).

After our walk, we settled in to our lawn chairs to watch the stars come out. There were so many stars! It’s been years since we’ve been in a place where we could see the Milky Way, much less satellites traveling across the star field. The temperature was perfect, there were no bugs, the humidity was just over 20%–I had found my happy place!!

Our campsite at sundown

For the first time since we moved in here full-time, we were able to go to bed without the noisy air conditioner running, using only the vent fans. This morning when I woke up at 5AM (we changed time zones yesterday and my body thought it was 6AM), it was 57° outside and 59° inside the rig. It’s supposed to get up into the high 80’s today so eventually we’ll turn the A/C back on, but this morning is wonderful!

Today we’ll do some exploring around the park. I’m hoping to get my camera out and do some photography. It is supposed to get windy this afternoon, hopefully it won’t stir up so much dust that we can’t enjoy being outside.

Not sure where we’re going next, we’ll decide that today.

Stay tuned to find out!

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