Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Mexico

Alamogordo is 20 miles north of Oliver Lee State Park. Located a few miles off US 54, it is the gateway to the west and an early chapter in America's dust bowl story.

Oliver Lee was a rancher whose lands were changed by overgrazing and drought. It's difficult to imagine large herds of cattle having enough to eat on this barren wasteland, not even 50 miles away from White Sands.

The park is nearly empty on week days, even with the beautiful fall weather, with temperatures in the low eighties. The visitor center had some cool artifacts and offered tours of the historical ranch house on weekends. We signed up for a tour right away.  Since we were staying for a few days, we also signed up for a hike lead by Ranger Charles, which ended with a glorious sunset view.

Joy took a quick trip into Alamogordo for groceries and laundry and found a very clean local laundromat. Just across the parking lot were two of her favorites - a thrift store and a hardware store with a large selection of chachkies.

Wash time flew by.  We thought that the only available grocery store was a Walmart super center. Yuk!  We later learned there was another grocery store in Alamogordo that is super clean, has some organics, and carpet. We later learned to love Lowes' grocery store chain.

Joy got what we needed and left quickly, picking up drive thru food on the way home. Drive thru food has become a delicacy in our new life. Rarely do we spend money on unsubstantial products that imitate food, but sometimes you just gotta do it!

That evening's sunset hike was led by Ranger Charles, a man who loves the area.  He was a well informed presenter whose sense of humor was infectious. As we neared the end of the hike, the sun created long shadows on a stone foundation from yesteryear. As we parted ways, we thanked Charles and looked forward to our next day exploring on our own.

The next day there was a slight chance of rain. We went to the visitor center to obtain maps and begin our hike up the mountain. Ranger Charles was there and we excitedly talked to him about the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge and our new position at Bosque Del Apache. He was very supportive and excited for us.

We asked about his position at Oliver Lee. He told us he'd been there for years and luckily was able to keep his job as he was undergoing cancer treatment. His cancer was terminal and his supervisor had maintained his position so he could keep his health insurance. We were moved by Ranger Charles' strength and saddened by the fact that his life would be cut so short.  We allowed him to really touch us and we carried his story with us, not just up the mountain but on the road, as well.

We left the visitor center in a somber mood but motivated. Joy is not a hiker, does not exercise and only enjoys playing games or taking leisurely walks. Kathy lets Joy lead the way on hikes so that the pace will be doable for her.

The first half mile is a 800' elevation change so it was a slow go. The single track was smooth stone in some places and slippery when wet. We made it to the top with just one break and were rewarded with an amazing view.

As we reached the first plateau, the winds shifted and the clouds began to roll in. We walked on until we entered the National Forest, leaving the state park behind. We had been told the river that ran below us had a hot spring about a mile and a half ahead and we were determined to find it. The desert blooms called and the rain began to fall. We were uncertain how long the rain would last so we decided to turn back. The hot springs would be there another day.

As we descended. we met a few young people on the trail. They obviously walked with purpose and confidence and at a much quicker pace than either of us. We stepped aside and let them pass since, as we feared, the smooth rock sections of the trail were slippery due to the rain.  We made it home safely and we were filled with pride and gratitude.

We chatted with our neighbors and ended the evening at their RV having a beer and some snacks. They were Canadians on vacation who were heading to Arizona. They had spent the day at White Sands and highly recommended the attraction, as well as the Worlds Largest Pistachio just north of Alamogordo. The nut was located at a pistachio farm which had a large shop that sold wine, nuts, and other goodies to tourists.

The next morning a storm rolled in and blanketed the mountains in white fog. We left as it cleared - heading to parts of New Mexico unknown.

We decided to head towards our new refuge so our next stop was near the Three Rivers petroglyphs. We found a campground right behind a store on the corner. A small red school was on the edge of the property. Obviously, someone had been working to restore it. The store and campground owner was friendly, as were her dogs. She had two unleashed dogs back in the campground area so Frances was a barking maniac. Keila wasn't too thrilled about a large male circling the RV either. At least we didn't have any neighbors, as the only other RV in the park looked abandoned. We worried about snakes, coyotes and loose dogs whenever we were outside, which was even scarier after dark.

The next morning, we drove down the dirt road toward the BLM Three River Petroglyphs site. On our way, we found a small church and stopped to explore.  The building had obviously been used for worship for centuries. We continued on our trek, drove another mile or two and found the petroglyph site.  It was amazing! It was a large stand of rocks - like a mountain that collapsed on itself in the middle of the desert. Each separate rock held a secret message from man long ago. Kathy found her new tattoo here - a circle with a cross inside and dots framing the entire circle. This will represent New Mexico as her Tlingit raven tattoo represents her adventures in Alaska.

As we departed, we decided we could do a drive through our soon-to-be new home since we were early.  We stopped on our way to Elephant Butte, which is just a few hours south of the refuge and where we'd planned on staying until our report date.

We'd studied up on the area and learned about green chile burgers and the battles that had occurred between two restaurants, the Owl Bar and the Buckhorn, in downtown San Antonio. New Mexico. We decided to try the Buckhorn first. It was the best green chile burger we had ever eaten. We drove the seven miles south to the refuge and stopped at the visitor center. We were welcomed by the current volunteers, who pulled some strings so that we could go ahead and stay, even though we were a few days early.  We were shown to our site, which would be our home for the next four months. That was it. We had arrived at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Entering California through the produce inspection station was not the greatest greeting, but a few miles down the road we were properly welcomed to the state by the Redwood National Forest and its Trees of Mystery, a tourist attraction which offers a view of the giant trees from above.
 After camping under and between these coniferous giants we decided we would not miss the opportunity no matter the weather.

A 1/4 mile hike in the rain allowed us to bond in our plans for our forthcoming weekend wedding.  Especially after standing under the cathedral of redwoods. During the SkyTram ride the forest encompassed us and the heights were hidden by the moisture and the greenness around us.Departing the forest through the lakes area, we got glimpses of the California drought. Water  levels were low on lake after lake.

The docks were high above the current water levels.  Obvious signs of previous fires and the potential for future fires reminded us that we were headed toward Placerville and the current El Dorado County wildfires.  They were nearly 80% contained during our September visit.

special touches for us
Our friends Melanie and Dara's had relocated to the area after leaving the hustle and bustle life of New York State.  Their Placerville area home offered a relaxing country atmosphere and wooded acreage. This fall their home had been threatened by the wildfires but luckily the winds had changed direction.  As we drove through downtown, we noticed the incident command center and the notes of appreciation to all the firefighters, EMS, police, pilots, etc who have helped fight the wildfires and save acres of land, property and even lives.

It was nice seeing friends we hadn't seen in several years. They were so willing to help us make arrangements for our wedding.  We introduced their two dogs to our two dogs and they all got on fabulously.  We were a little worried as Frances feels threatened as acts aggressive when on leash and their dogs had some aggressive episodes with each other.  The four of them fell into their roles and there were only a few occasions when one mom or the other had to tell the kids whose boss.
Friday was dress shopping and license day,  during our Washington visit, Kathy's mom had commented that a print dress wasn't for a wedding.  I went out looking for another dress but didn't find one. I was frustrated and decided to show the dress to Kathy. She liked the nod to the dress I was wearing on our first meeting.  Decision made.  The Michael Kors navy and tan dress purchased in Washington would be my wedding dress.

Saturday was tourist time. Kathy had never walked a corn maze or selected a pumpkin still on the vine. I felt like a kid wanting to run in the fields.  Instead I walked hand in hand with the woman I love.  Later our hosts drove through the southern part of the county to another vineyard for wine tastings.  That evening they created a wonderful homemade dinner that we all enjoyed.

We were showed up a day early for our visit and weekend wedding.  Melanie and Dara our witnesses and hosts had arranged that another friend Rhonda officiate our service.  Rhonda was so excited she decorated the guest apartment with rose petals, wine, and champagne.  We loved all the romance!

Thanks for officiating Rhonda
Sunday, our wedding day, it rained. According to tradition, this is a good thing.  We had to relocate the ceremony because we had chosen a nice spot outside to exchange our vows.  Instead vows were exchanged inside in front of a fire.  Tears ran down both of our cheeks as we shared our own words of love with each other.  The dogs ours and Dara's and Melainie's got involved in the ceremony too.  Each one walked through the living room during the ceremony.  Frances walked between us just before the legal pronouncements but we were finally and legally wed.  The afternoon turned out beautiful so our celebration dinner was eaten al fresco in downtown Placerville. Even our dinner was provided by our hosts.

After our honeymoon weekend, Monday was a great day to visit San Francisco.  We drove in and then walked the waterfront area.  Watching ships enter the port under the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing Alcatraz Island while eating hot clam chowder from sourdough bread bowls is the ultimate tourist image.  We were them!  After playing antique games and walking the length of an early atomic sub we needed a rest from the pavement.  We took a trolley to Haight Ashbury
and on to Castro for lunch.

Melanie our personal tour guide or friend just along for the honeymoon.
The trolley car we rode was one from the era that my parents Ed and Ruth had met.
Both of them drove streetcar in Minneapolis MN during the early forties.  They met during shift change. Ed was holding up Ruth's timely departure by standing in the aisle of the car and counting his shifts worth of nickels from the meter box.  Ruth told him he needed to get off so she could keep her schedule.  When he refused, she flung his stacks of nickels down the aisle and told him he could ride along with her and gather them back up. He rode with her for most of her shift.  After she apologized, they carried on like best friends teasing and flirting with each other.  They were married a year or so later.

The Women's Building
Dresses from the first lesbian wedding
In Castro we walked through the GLBT Museum, a simple but important museum.  It addressed the L in GLBTQQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning).  It was interesting thinking about the important women who can before the three of us who helped pave the way so we could feel free and safe.  Free to be jovial and buoyant and safe so others wouldn't bully us for being ourselves.

 We headed back "home" and found the best Mexican restaurant in the state of California.  Of course it was called Abuleta's, and yes grandma was doing the cooking.  When we go back to California we are going there.

Dara and Melanie our besties and hosts
We allowed ourselves, one more relaxing day as we looked at property in the neighborhood. I enjoyed the weather and Kathy enjoyed the people.  This is an area we may consider revisiting for residency after our nationwide tour. The prices are reasonable and you can still own enough acreage for privacy and yet have neighbors that do not blatantly despise our "life choices."

At an apple festival, tastings were appreciated: Yummy apple fritters.   Then we drove down a road through a vineyard with Concord grapes hanging on the the vine.  It opened to a huge field of pumpkins and beyond a corn field.

We left California via the road to Reno.  We really had no idea Lake Tahoe was in California let alone so beautiful.  A total tourist community, Lake Tahoe was beautiful and accommodating.  We only stopped for groceries before crossing into Nevada but given the opportunity we want to go back for a real visit.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Back to Texas... But Not For Long

New Mexico 

We crossed into New Mexico in the warmth of mid October, inching closer to our winter home, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  We watched the US Border Patrol float quietly above the warm desert and mountains - in an unmanned blimp drone.

We parked in the Deming, NM Walmart parking lot - one of three RVs seeking refuge on the asphalt campground that night.  Compared to other Walmart's we'd stayed at, it was relatively quiet but we still heard traffic noise all night long.  Walmart lots offer a free overnight stay option on those days that we just need to stop and sleep.  Otherwise, we prefer city, county or state parks as our stopping points.

The next day we decided it was still too early to arrive at the refuge, as we were not expected until October 26th.  Instead, we decided to go to El Paso, Texas.

Rio Grande River isn't very grand after use for irrigation

Haze and smog from the cities

Texas. Again.

Returning to Texas allowed us to do two things.  First, we'd be able to find someone to work on the Jeep, which needed the front end rebuilt to rid it of the "wobble of death" we'd been experiencing since buying it.  Second, Kathy had reconnected with her favorite high school band director, and mentor, on Facebook who now lived and taught in El Paso.  She hadn't seen him since 10th grade! He knew we were headed to town and arrangements were made to visit over dinner.

We decided to stay a few days and located Arvey Park,
Our ride for a few days
an Escapees park on the outskirts of town. Escapees is an RV club that offers many benefits, including discounted stays at affiliated parks.  We paid $15.00 a night which was a steal, even if the park  was run down and occupied by full timers, almost like a mobile home park.  This one was nothing fancy but very practical.  

After researching automotive repair reviews, we found Jerry's Automotive and spoke to Jerry, who actually understood what "death wobble" was.  He said they had just rebuilt his son's Jeep for the same problem and were very successful.  When we told him we lived in the RV and that the Jeep was our only mode of transportation while in town, he offered to lend us a car, for free, while we waited for the Jeep to be repaired.

After completing the paperwork, Jerry walked us out of the shop and towards our ride for the next few days - a vintage 1988-ish 4-door sedan that reminded us both of our high school days.  The car was relatively clean and ran like a charm.  We drove it up to Fort Bliss and through Franklin Pass towards the Franklin Mountain State Park.  The park sits above the city and has great hiking trails if you are well prepared for the desert heat, even in the late fall.  The view of the city as well as Ciudad Juarez is spectacular from the mountain.  

While at the park, Jerry called with an estimate and we were approved for a 1 year interest free credit card to allow us to pay for the repairs.  Things continued to go well for us and we were grateful.  We returned to the RV to walk the dogs and then headed north again through rush hour traffic.  Traffic patterns of those going home after work have a certain rhythm. Revving engines and tired frustrated drivers are typically not a good mix. It was some of the worst traffic we'd driven in since hitting the road.  We refused to participate in the surrounding insanity and simply let the mania around us occur as we drifted with the flow.    

We met Mr. Quintanilla, Kathy's high school band teacher, for Mexican food.  Mr. Q had quite a story about his life after leaving Killeen High School.  We found out he had applied and was accepted into a PhD program at the University of North Texas.  At the time, his only mode of transportation was a motorcycle.  He left early in the morning on his way to the final interview, hit a deer and sustained substantial injuries.  After months of recovery, he never reconnected with the university and the opportunity was gone.  In response, he recommitted himself to high school music programs - eventually making his way to El Paso.  Our dinner meeting was too short and ended with an invitation to watch Mr. Q's current marching band practice the next morning.  Sadly, we declined as we were heading back out on the road the next day.

After picking up the Jeep the next morning and returning our hoochy ride, we we headed north back into New Mexico on the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains through Fort Bliss.  The area is very active with war games and we watched them along the highway for miles as we traveled to our winter home.