Monthly Archives: March 2018

Moving Days


Every couple of weeks or so, we pack up our worldly goods and head to a new area. Do you ever wonder what that involves? If you’re interested, here’s the basic step by step process.

Prepping for the road

  • First thing: isolate cat in front section of bus. We can’t move slides unless we know where he is! He can’t hide anywhere dangerous in the front half of the bus. We bring his litter box up front so he has everything he needs.
  • Prep the outside:  Pack up any patio items (chairs, grill, etc) and stow in basement. Bring in awnings, if extended.
  • Load bikes:  Take backflip truck topper off pickup truck bed. Load both bicycles onto carriers on top of truck. Extend Load-All ramp and prep for motorcycle loading. Engage truck parking brake. Drive motorcycle up ramp into wheel chock. Secure with straps. Put motorcycle into “tow” mode. Stow ramp. Load Backflip cover and secure for travel. Release parking brake.
  • Prep bus holding tanks: Fill fresh water tank (if dry camping), unhook and stow fresh water hose. Turn on water pump. Empty and flush black water tank, using separate water hose. Empty gray water tank. Rinse and stow sewer hose and fittings. Unhook and stow fresh water pressure regulator.
  • Prep interior:  Pack/stow any loose items. Shake out and stow throw rugs. Retract and latch “L” sofa section and kitchen drawer extension. Push in dinette table and lock it. Sweep the floor. Lock shower doors. Lock refrigerator & freezer doors. Stow satellite dish. Turn off heating/cooling systems and water heater (gas / electric). Turn captains chairs to front. Take out trash. Check that all drawers and cabinets are firmly closed and latched.
  • Bring in slides:  Start bus engine to air up airbags, raise leveling jacks, turn engine off. Check for obstructions, then carefully retract rear slides and front slides, keeping eyes on cat. (After the slides are in, he can go hide under the bed if he wants.)
  • Final prep for moving:  Unplug and stow 50 amp electrical cable and surge protector. Set generator to “auto on” mode. Walk around bus to ensure everything loaded and secure. Lock all basement doors. Verify satellite dish stowed. Plug in toad brake remote indicator at bus dash.
  • Hook up toad: Start bus, warm up engine, pull out of site and drive to spot suitable for truck hookup (level, straight). Drive truck to bus, line up. Extend blue-ox tow bar arms and secure to truck. Put truck in 4 wheel down tow mode. (That’s really important!) Pull bus forward to fully extend and lock tow arms. Finish hook up:  safety cables, air line, electrical line, dead man switch. Push programmed button (3) to set truck interior brake position for air brake system. Verify truck is in tow mode.
  • Final walk around, hop in, and drive!

Driving to destination

  • Plot route to destination on RV GPS (also usually on my iPhone as a double check).
  • Depending on distance, plan ahead for suitable rest stops and/or truck stop for diesel fill up. Rule of thumb is drive no more than 300 miles in a day, and stop halfway for a break and lunch. We like to arrive at our campground by mid-afternoon.

Arrival at new destination

  • Stop at office to check in. Pay fees and receive directions to campsite.
  • Unhook toad:  Take out of tow mode. Unhook all lines/connections and stow parts in bin. Put cover on tow bar.
  • Drive motorhome to new site, maneuver into optimal position, making sure bus wheels are straight. I usually guide Jeff using hand signals, although sometimes the hand signals are creative, and possibly less than complimentary.  It depend on how tight and challenging the space is! Park truck at site.
  • Isolate cat to front section of bus.
  • Check electric pedestal with surge protector. If operational, hook up 50 amp cable. Hook up water pressure regulator, inline water filter and freshwater hose. Turn off water pump, turn on water supply. Hook up sewer hose.
  • Extend slides, keeping eyes on cat. He’s getting pretty used to all of this by now, so he’s usually chill. Deploy leveling jacks. Unplug and stow remote toad brake indicator.
  • Extend L sofa and kitchen drawer extension. Turn around captains chairs. Turn on water heater and heat / AC. Lay out throw rugs. Unlock fridge and shower doors. Deploy satellite dish. Re-program main TV for local over the air digital channels.
  • Choose motorcycle unloading area. Unload backflip cover, set aside. Extend LoadAll ramp. Unstrap motorcycle and carefully back down ramp, drive to site. Retract ramp and stow wheel chock. Install backflip truck bed cover. Drive truck back to site.
  • Unload bicycles. Cover motorcycle and  cover / secure bicycles.
  • Open a bottle of wine!

As you can see, moving day is quite involved! It typically takes us two hours to pack up completely and get on the road. You can’t rush the process or risk missing something important. We are usually on the road by 9 or 10. By the time we reach our destination, check in, hook up and unload — it is a tiring all-day affair.

That is why we are finding ourselves staying longer at each destination. Doing this once or twice a month isn’t bad, doing it every few days would be entirely too much like work!

Sedona Summary

IMG_3700Sedona is an unusual, magical place. Its red rock buttes and spires emerge unexpectedly from the surrounding desert, casting a rosy glow over the landscape. I can see why the area has been viewed as sacred by peoples for many thousands of years.

We happened to arrive here during college spring break season, which made the area unexpectedly busy. The town of Sedona is divided into two sections: the original “Uptown” Sedona and the sprawling, newer West Sedona. Uptown Sedona reminds me of Gatlinburg, with its shops full of souvenirs, T-shirts and jerky.  However, Sedona offers a new age twist with a number of crystal shops and places to get psychic readings or aura photos. (As opposed to Gatlinburg’s moonshine breweries?!) Both get quite crowded during high season, and that’s what we hit. We also got hit by 15+% tax when we ate one lunch downtown! There’s a county tax, city tax and a health fee (?). Definitely a tourist town with tourist town prices. But fun to explore nonetheless.

IMG_3707The best way to see the area’s beauty is to get out on trails and hike or bike. There are a variety of trails of all levels (easy to difficult), and many of the most interesting and beautiful vantage points can be reached with just a moderate hike. One such point is devil’s bridge, a natural sandstone arch that the brave can cross. I wasn’t that brave. I clutched firm rock from a safe distance away and watched as the courageous waited in line to venture out on what appeared to be a VERY thin bridge hundreds of feet up in the air, in order to get that great Facebook photo. I am told that the bridge was wider than it looked, but I will take their word for it!

Other trails lead to the Sedona energy vortexes, four purported energy centers spaced around Sedona city.  A vortex is said to be an area of particularly strong subtle energy, that works on your body’s energy field to uplift and energize. People travel from all over the world to visit and experience these vortexes (properly, vortices, but that’s not how people say it here). We visited all four during our stay. Each vortex was placed in an area of unusual beauty. One can’t help but feel grounded and peaceful in such surroundings, out in nature, drinking in the beauty, soaking up the sunlight. And maybe, that’s the point.

IMG_3712The area is also known for the extensive network of mountain biking trails. According to Jeff, it is sweet single track through hard pack clay and slick rock. He liked that most of the trails could be done in loops (rather than out and back) and he never felt truly isolated anywhere (unlike the Big Bend area). He is so busy having fun that he is a couple of months behind in his mountain bike trail reviews!

thumbnail_IMG_3301As we found in New Mexico, ancient peoples left their marks on the landscape here in the form of cliff and hilltop dwellings and petroglyphs. Interesting historical sites in this area include Montezuma Castle (cliff dwellings), Tuzigoot historical monument (ancient hilltop village), and Palatki Heritage site (cliff dwellings and petroglyphs). All are unique, but the Palatki site’s petroglyphs were especially interesting in that they showed a continuous record of rock art spanning back more than 10,000 years. It is always fascinating to learn about the interweaving of ancient cultures. And all of the sites are covered by our National Park pass!

Our exploration of the area isn’t complete without sampling the local cuisine and wineries. The Verde Valley area (where we camped) is known as Arizona wine country with a dozen or so vineyards. We visited several, but our favorite was Alcantara Vineyards, the first and oldest in the area, with over 13,000 vines and 12 varietals. The sociable lady pouring our wine tasting also happened to be a knowledgeable mountain biker and she and Jeff launched into a discussion comparing trail systems from here to Vancouver. Their super Tuscan blend and Merlot were particularly tasty and a bottle of each now resides in our bus. Not for long, though.

Our favorite eatery was a small, family owned diner known as Pepe’s Café. It’s got all of the attributes of the best kind of diner – quick service, good food, and inexpensive. A full dinner plate of home made goodness runs about $8. We went there twice.

Our fun here was enhanced by the fact that Jeff’s brother was able to fly out and join us. Sedona is a place we’ll definitely come back to – and stay longer. Tomorrow, we pack up and head off to Las Vegas as our westward track continues!

Campground Review: Verde Valley RV Resort, Cottonwood, AZ

IMG_3306Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Verde Valley RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: March 12 – 24, 2018
  • Location: 6400 E Thousand Trails Road, Cottonwood, AZ 86326
  • Type of campground: Thousand Trails / Encore
  • Cost: $42.26/night (retail cost) for FHU pull through site (30 amp)
  • Additional fees: $4/day resort fee included in above
  • Stay limit: varies – see full review below
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes, for $2 handling fee
  • Cell reception: ATT OK, not great
  • Website:
  • Pros: Nice amenities, large resort
  • Cons: membership park, very tight sites, 50 amp sites limited

Full Review

Sedona Arizona has been on both our bucket lists, so it was a mandatory stop in our first year itinerary. However, as I attempted to book a site several months ago, I found that everyone in the world had the same plan! I just didn’t realize that March was such a peak season. (Spring break, duh!) There is only one RV park within the town of Sedona, and we discovered that it books more than a year in advance. I tried every park in the vicinity and Verde Valley RV Resort was literally the ONLY park with availability within 30 miles for our dates. As it was, I wanted 14 days and only could get 12. I took it!

Verde Valley RV Resort is located near the town of Cottonwood, about a half hour drive to Sedona. The park property is ginormous, with four different clusters of RV sites (Sections A, B/C, H and M) and more than 300 sites. Although it is primarily a membership park (Thousand Trails / Encore), they do make some “retail rate” sites available and we were able to snag one.

IMG_3307Upon arrival, we checked in at the security gate and were shown three site possibilities on a map. Basically, it is a “find your own site” kind of park, so we unhooked our toad and drove around to pick the site that was most suitable for our big rig. One of the three sites was already taken, one site had a soft and rutted surface, and the third had a solid and reasonably level gravel surface, so we quickly nabbed that one before someone else could. The sites were arranged head to toe, which put the utilities between every two sites. The problem was that our travel trailer neighbor actually overlapped the electrical boxes by a few inches, narrowing our site. We put the bus as far over as we could without parking on the grass. Fully extended, our slide missed theirs by inches. That is about as tight as it gets. The patio side was ample, but sloped, so we stepped out onto un-level ground. We fit here, but just barely width-wise. Lengthwise, there was enough space to park the truck behind and the motorcycle in front. It was just a bummer that my only view out the dinette window was another trailer’s slide.

The other challenge was 50 amp availability – not. We were only able to get a 30 amp site, which in cool weather was not an issue, since we didn’t need to run all three air conditioner units at any time. I put the water heater and bus heating system on diesel/gas only, and 30 amp worked fine for everything else. And had we actually snagged a 50 amp site, there would have been a surcharge. Water and sewer hookups were fine. Being situated in a valley, we weren’t able to pull many TV stations over the air, so relied on satellite TV during our stay. ATT cell phone coverage was just OK, and data / internet was slow. The campground offered wifi at the lodges, but I didn’t try that.

There are quite a few nice amenities in this park. Since it’s so large, there is a network of hiking trails connecting the various sections. The resort has two lodges for activities, a pool, spa, pool table, pet area, ball fields, shuffleboard, pickleball court, mini golf, dump station, administrative office and store.  Bath houses were clean and well maintained. No trash pickup, but dumpsters were conveniently located. We were here during spring break time, and saw families enjoying the various amenities. Organized activities were scheduled throughout the week, but as usual, we were typically out and exploring during the activity times. We were in “B” section, and at night it was very quiet.

I’ve been researching Thousand Trails membership options for quite some time and this was my first stay at a TT park. There are a myriad of memberships but they basically fall into 3 types:

  • Annual Zone membership: Ranges from $500-700 per year, allows “free” camping at the TT network of resorts, with caveats. You can only book 90 days in advance, can stay 14 days, then have to leave for 7 days before entering another TT  park. It’s a year by year commitment.
  • Elite/Platinum membership:  Substantial initial buy in ($5-8K) with annual dues in $600 range. Allows “free” camping in the network, longer advance booking window, can stay 21 days, and go park to park without  mandatory time out. You are locked in for some period of time.
  • Full time site – Some rigs are obviously permanently located here with additions such as storage sheds, concrete pads and decks. I have no idea what that costs.

There are a hundred variations of these contracts, depending upon when it was issued and whether you buy new or second-hand. There are “add on” memberships that allows access to other campground networks. It’s very complicated and can be confusing.

I can see how this kind of membership could be extremely cost effective. If you have a smaller rig, you want to stay in those parks, and you don’t mind the stay limitations,  you can lower your average cost per night considerably.

However for us, it’s just not going to work. Here’s why:

  • The TT network is limited, and clustered in certain regions. The parks aren’t necessarily where we want/need to stay.
  • We like to plan and book farther ahead than the memberships allow.  We also sometimes want to stay longer than 2 or 3 weeks, and like to have that option.
  • Not all parks can accommodate a rig our size, and even those that do have limited big rig sites. We barely shoehorned into the site we had here.
  • 50 amp sites are limited. A 30 amp site would not work for us anywhere that the weather is hot.
  • The big kicker – everyone finds their own site upon arrival, first come, first serve. Even if we book ahead, there’s no guarantee we’ll find a suitable spot when we arrive, because anyone can park anywhere they want, whether they need a large site or not. With a conventional campground, you can reserve a space that specifically fits our needs. With TT, you take your chances.

So, nope. Not for us, at least not now. We may pay more, but at least we know we’ll have a suitable site at the end of the day, where we choose, as long as we want.

Bottom Line: Tight 30 amp site aside, it was a decent campground with some nice amenities, not too far from the activities of Sedona.


Sky Islands, Ren Faire and NASCAR

IMG_3670The term “sky island” is something I’ve learned while traveling out here in the desert southwest. It’s not the floating islands seen on the planet Pandora, but it’s still cool nonetheless. A sky island is an isolated mountaintop ecosystem, surrounded by a radically different lowland environment. The valley floor by Tucson is nothing but desert, but travel up into the mountains and you find broad pine forests and a cool, damp environment you’d expect to find in a much more northern latitude. It’s made possible by the mountain elevation that cools the air and snatches moisture from the clouds.

We drove the motorcycle up to one such sky island outside of Tucson when we traveled to the ski resort area of Mount Lemmon. It was 80 degrees in the valley, and 54 degrees at the 8000 feet mountain top, with many patches of snow still evident. It was a spectacular drive, twisting and winding up the mountainside. We stopped for lunch at the Sawmill Run Restaurant. I had one of the specials, the duck Reuben sandwich which offered a duck breast pastrami twist on the usual sandwich. It was richly delicious, served with sweet potato tater tots.

IMG_3300We also visited the Phoenix Renaissance Faire, one of the largest and longest running faires in the country. I’m a big Ren-faire fan, attending the Florida version annually for more than 20 years. I was excited to find a faire near our travels! Unlike the Florida faire, the Arizona faire has a dedicated venue with permanent building structures. It was truly like visiting a (sort-of) medieval village. The 30 acre site was definitely one of the largest Ren-faires I’ve ever been to. It was also hugely popular, with looooong lines at opening. There were 13 stages with almost continuous entertainment, jousting, a petting farm, falconry demonstrations, and a ton of street entertainers. Did I say it was huge? There is simply no way to see everything in one day. My favorite act was “Hey Nunnie Nunnie”, two “nuns” with silly songs and lots of  (gentle) religion humor. I loved it and thought they were hysterical. [What do you call a nun who lives upstairs?  Nun of the above! What do you call a priest in nun’s clothing?   A Transistor!] Another fun act was the Cirque de Sewer which featured cute trained rats and cats. Anyone who can train cats to do anything reliably is pretty cool in my book.

I’ve been to the Ren-Faire and my Spring is complete.

IMG_3677The main reason we visited the Phoenix area was to attend a NASCAR race at the Phoenix ISM Speedway. Jeff bought tickets several months ago, so we arranged our travels around the ticket schedule. It’s not my special thing, but it’s always interesting to be part of the racing experience. The ticket included a pre-race concert by country singer Jana Kramer. I didn’t recognize the name, but I had heard one or two of her songs.

It was quite a busy weekend – Saturday being the Ren-Faire and Sunday, the race. Monday meant packing up and heading to our next spot near Sedona!


Campground Review: KOA Picacho / Tucson NW, Picacho, AZ

IMG_3294Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Picacho / Tucson NW KOA
  • Dates of stay: March 6 – 12, 2018
  • Location: 18428 S Picacho Hwy, Picacho, AZ 85141 (Exit 212, I-10)
  • Type of campground: KOA
  • Cost:  $42/night, with KOA card discount for FHU pull through
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: Campground season Oct 1 – June 1
  • Accepts mail / packages: did not ask
  • Cell reception: ATT good
  • Website:
  • Pros: close to interstate, large pull through sites, friendly staff, decent restaurant
  • Cons: It’s a drive to either Phoenix or Tucson

Full Review

We originally intended to stay in Phoenix. But as we searched for a suitable campground, we came up empty handed. There seem to be a million campground listings in Phoenix, however, many are mobile home parks with a few RV sites sandwiched in, unsuitable for big rigs like ours. Others were in bad neighborhoods or had terrible reviews. The few that looked good for us were booked up, since this is high season. So we ended up half-way between Phoenix and Tucson at this very nice KOA. As a result, both Phoenix and Tucson were accessible within an hour or so drive, but nothing we wanted to do was close by.

The campground is located right off of I-10, which makes traffic noise noticeable, but not intrusive. The campground is open seasonally only, from Oct to June each year. This prevents the “permanent resident” issue that I see at many campgrounds these days.

IMG_3293Our long pull through site was the usual full hook up site with 50/30 amp electric, water and sewer. We found the water pressure to be quite high and had to adjust our water pressure regulator way down. The sewer connection was raised about 6 inches off the ground, which made it a bit more work to empty our tanks. But the roads and sites are firmly-packed gravel and nicely wide. The site was also equipped with a picnic table and fire ring, giving us the opportunity to enjoy a campfire for the first time in months. (Cold weather and/or fire bans inhibited our campfire enjoyment for quite some time).

We managed to park the rig so that the trunk of our single shade tree was precisely where our satellite dish needed to aim. However, we were able to reach more than 20 over the air Phoenix channels, so doing without satellite TV for a few days was no great hardship. Had we planned to stay for several weeks, we may have gone to the trouble of re-positioning. Our AT&T coverage was excellent, and our associated internet access worked fine. The campground offered a hotspot near the office, but we didn’t need that.

IMG_3295The campground is equipped with a heated pool, laundry facility, bath house, playground, and lounge area. It also boasts a seasonal onsite steak house which is quite the local favorite. We ate there one evening and thought it was decent food at a moderate price. And you can’t beat the convenience! The restaurant is only open for a few months: Dec 1 to about May. A few weekly scheduled events includes potlucks and karaoke night, but the timing didn’t work out for us to be able to participate.

Bottom Line: Nice KOA that is convenient to I-10, great for a stop if you’re passing through. Not as convenient if you want to be close to the amenities and attractions of Phoenix or Tucson.

Saguaro Cactus and Desert Museum

Back in Las Cruces, springtime was just a promise. Plump buds were poised at the tips of branches, but the landscape was still brown and barren. Here in the Arizona valley near Tucson, spring has fully arrived and the desert is (comparatively) lushly green. The evenings are still cool, but the daytime temperatures are summer-warm. At present, we are parked between the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, which gives us access to both. Near Tucson is Saguaro National Park, one of our first stops.

28870568_10213163677780339_7674374622510317568_nThe saguaro cactus is an iconic symbol for the desert southwest. However, I learned that I have mis-pronounced the word my entire life. The proper pronunciation is “su-WAR-o” (no “g” sound). The cactus is long lived, up to 400 years, and can grow to 4 stories in height. Slow growing, it typically doesn’t bud its first arm until age 75 or so. Saguaro National Park is unusual in that it exists in two halves (East and West) with the city of Tucson smack in the middle. Together, the two sections preserve nearly 143 square miles of dense saguaro cactus stands. Looking out over the expanse of cacti, the saguaro appear like a vast congregation of people raising their arms to the sun. The park includes driving loops, nature trails, and visitor centers with descriptive films. I love our national park pass! It makes it so easy to visit these wonderful places.


Also located near Tucson, just past the entrance to the Saguaro National Park West, is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum is listed as one of the top attractions in the area and for good reason. It is part zoo, part desert botanical garden, and entirely entertaining. Entry is about $25 per person. We wandered around for at least 4 hours and could have spent longer there.

IMG_3250Growing up in the Midwest and then living so long in Florida, I knew very little about the desert. After spending time in several desert areas, I have learned that there are very different desert ecosystems with completely different plant and animal life. The museum does a fantastic job explaining and providing examples of the four different desert ecologies in the US. Of course, the animal exhibits are always engaging. It’s the kind of place that you want to take kids, with tons of hands-on activities.


Cliff Dwellings, Market and Restaurants

This post wraps up the highlights of our time in Las Cruces, except for any mountain bike trail reviews. This is a diverse area with so many fun things to do and see!

If you’re up for a long day trip, go to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Located in the Gila National Forest, it’s a little over 3 hours drive from Las Cruces, and about 45 miles north of Silver City. The drive takes you from the desert floor up through twisty/windy mountain roads into high pine forests. Part of the trip includes traveling the Trail of the Mountain Spirits scenic byway, which is incredibly beautiful. We enjoyed the long day trip on the motorcycle.

IMG_3659The cliff dwellings are homes that were built into several large caves, halfway up a cliff face. Archeologists say that the structures were built by Puebloan people between AD 1276 and 1287. They farmed the fertile Gila River valley and hunted area game. During a time of many migrations, they moved on around 1300, however others used and lived in the structures after that time period. The caves are accessed by a steep 1 mile (round trip) loop trail that takes you up and through the largest caves. The cave roofs are stained by years of camp fires and 700 year old corn cobs still litter the floor of storage bins. It’s literally a walk through time. Cost is $5, free with the National Park Pass.

001Closer to home, Las Cruces hosts a downtown Farmers Market every Saturday morning. It literally takes over 7 blocks of Main Street and is home to a multitude of vendors including fresh produce, arts/crafts, food items and household goods. One of the vendors makes THE very best kettle corn that Jeff and I ever tasted. I watched as the owner made batch after batch as quickly as possible, never quite catching up to the long line of people patiently waiting for the sweet/salty goodness. I’m serious. Best. Kettlecorn. Ever. And Jeff is a popcorn expert, so that’s saying something! A huge overflowing bag of still-warm goodness cost only $7. We went twice.

We don’t go out to eat a lot, but it’s always nice to sample the regional cuisine. La Posta Restaurant in nearby historic Mesilla serves New Mexico cuisine in a 1840’s historic pueblo building. The portions were massive, prepare to take home a doggie bag!  Sparky’s is a burger joint located in nearby Hatch NM, the chili capital of the world. Sparky’s is like a kitschy fast food burger joint – you order at the counter and take your tray to any table. But they serve their “world famous green chili cheese burger” to a constant stream of people eager to have it. Jeff found it to be a bit on the spicy side, but I thought it was just right!

And, then, you have to celebrate the little holidays. It just so happened that we visited the Heart of the Desert pistachio farm on Feb 26, National Pistachio Day. The following day, Feb 27, was National Pancake day. Naturally, we had to celebrate that at IHOP with a free pancake short stack. It’s only patriotic to celebrate national holidays, right?

Good-by Las Cruces, you were fantastic! We’ll be back ……

Hot Springs and Wineries

Our adventures aren’t just about the physical exertion of biking and hiking. We also like to relax and shop from time to time! The Las Cruces area offers opportunities for all of that.

80 miles north of Las Cruces is the small town of Truth or Consequences. Originally named Hot Springs, the town changed its name in 1950 to the name of the popular radio show. As a publicity stunt, the host of the radio show announced he would air the program’s 10th anniversary episode from the first town that changed its name. Hot Springs became T or C (as it’s commonly known around here) and remains named thusly, long after the show has become defunct. The hot spring still exists, as do a dozen or so resorts that offer soaks in piped-in mineral rich hot water.

072We paid a visit to the Riverbend Hot Springs Resort, the only resort that had pools outside along the Rio Grande River. Their pools are arranged in a cascading series, each at different temperatures as the hot spring water flows down toward the river. You could hop into different pools, depending on the temperature you preferred. We purchased a 2 hour pass ($12 per hour per person) and soaked until we were limp. The crystal clear hot water contrasting with the cool air temperature was incredibly relaxing.

We also made a quick stop in T or C’s Geronimo Springs Museum. Larger that it appears at first glance, it houses an eclectic mix of minerals, prehistoric pottery, regional artifacts, a miner’s log cabin reconstruction, and town history displays. They have a lot of interesting information packed in there! $5 per person.

This area of New Mexico is littered with vineyards/wineries and nut orchards (pistachio and pecan). We visited a number of them including the Heart of the Desert farm that was both a pistachio farm AND a vineyard. As we learned during their free 1:30 pm farm tour, this area of New Mexico has a climate similar to the area of Turkey where pistachios originated. I learned that there are male and female pistachio trees, and pollination is solely wind-borne – no bee intermediary! If the winds aren’t right, pods will develop but un-pollinated pods will have no nuts (seeds). We were able to see their production and packaging operation, followed by free pistachio and wine tastings. It would be fascinating to be there during harvest season during which they literally shake the nuts off of the trees.

IMG_3241Another interesting vineyard stop was the Dos Viejos Winery near Alamogordo. It appeared deserted at first with a “for sale” sign in front, but we stopped in anyway and it turned out to be open. We were the sole customers in the wine tasting room. The vineyard was established by two partners (Dos Viejos means two old guys) and did a good business until one of the partners injured his foot severely, putting him out of commission. Shortly after, the other partner developed pancreatic cancer and died within 6 months. A historic cold freeze five years ago killed most of their vines and they have tried three times to replant, unsuccessfully. The owner is hoping that a young vintner will purchase the property and revitalize the business. Meanwhile, they are selling out their stock, all of which are well-aged, silky smooth vintages at least 10 years old. We tasted some delightful wines including their brandy-fortified dessert wine that rivals a good vintage ruby port. We departed with a bottle of the dessert wine and their last bottle of 2006 Sangiovese. I hope that this vineyard will see better times in the future.

White Sands and Petroglyphs

IMG_3640White Sands National Monument lies east of the city of Las Cruces, NM. You might ask – what is the difference between a national monument and a national park? I was curious, anyway! After Googling, I found that national parks are areas set apart by Congress for the use of the people of the United States generally, because of some outstanding scenic feature or natural phenomena. National monuments, on the other hand, are areas reserved by the National Government because they contain objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest and are typically established by presidential proclamation. So, now you know! Park or monument, it is covered by our national park annual pass, one of the best bargains on the planet!

IMG_3644White Sands was established to protect and preserve the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Giant deposits of gypsum in the surrounding mountains are washed down by rain and snowmelt into low spots that act as evaporation ponds, allowing the gypsum to crystallize. During the dry season, winds break down the crystals into fine powder, blowing and forming the giant field of blindingly-white dunes. Water just under the ground surface actually helps to glue the gypsum down and prevent it from just blowing completely away.

IMG_3642The site is only partially paved; unpaved roads into the dune section are kept open only by constant plowing. Driving through this area is surreal, giving the momentary impression of a giant snowfield. One of the favorite visitor activities is sledding down the dunes, just like down banks of snow! Photos can’t really capture the perspective of the dunes that rise over 30 feet in height. The park also offers a nature trail and a boardwalk with interpretive signage. It’s a completely unique place to visit and well worth a stop.

Farther up the road past the town of Alamogordo is the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that manages the site: “The basaltic ridge rising above the Three Rivers Valley contains over 21,000 petroglyphs, including masks, sunbursts, wildlife, handprints, and geometric designs. The number and concentration of petroglyphs make this one of the largest and most interesting rock art sites in the Southwest.” You access the petroglyphs by a half mile rugged trail up the ridge.076I have never seen such a concentration of ancient rock art – it was a veritable graffiti wall of petroglyphs!  I’ve included just a few examples here. Researchers never know exactly what they mean, but it is always fun to speculate and imagine life as it existed  hundreds of years ago.