Guadalupe Mountains National Park — unexpected

My day trip to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park didn’t turn out as expected but the unexpected was worth the trip. I usually have two goals in mind when exploring new places on day trips — someplace my dog will enjoy and someplace where I can get some great photo ops. Studying my maps a few weeks ago, I noticed that, although in Texas and not my home state of New Mexico, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park was only 75 miles from me.

The unexpected included the spectacular scenery but also a few negatives so be prepared if you take the trip. There is a large visitor’s center but dogs are not allowed and I wasn’t willing to leave mine in the car so I passed on the visitor’s center. Sometimes if I carry him in his sling, people will let me slide but not this time. And since he has medical issues, I didn’t want to leave him tied up outside while waiting for me.

My biggest disappointment was that there are no driving tours through the park. The only way to access the park other than the camping area and the visitor’s center is by walk-in hiking. And no dogs are allowed on the trails! Bummer. We did spend some time exploring the campground area, checking out potential tent sites for future use and there is one paved walking trail by the visitor’s center that does allow canines.

From the website: Opportunities for pets are limited. Leashed pets may walk on the short Pine Springs Campground connector trail or along the Pinery Trail from the visitor center to the Butterfield Stage Station.

The morning in July when we were there we saw numerous hikers and backpackers getting ready to hit the trails from the parking lot. There was also a large bus full of teens and their chaperones. I’m not too fond of hiking with crowds but I’m sure if you go far enough, it starts to thin out. The tent camping areas were about half full and the parking lot with RVs was also about half full.

The park ranger standing outside the visitor’s center did tell me about some photography worthy scenery about four miles farther down the road but we decided to save that drive for another time. There are bathroom buildings that are accessible from the parking lots at the Pine Springs Visitor’s Center and campground. If you do decide to hike into the park, be sure to read all the information first and be prepared for changeable weather.

Roswell Beyond the UFOs — Nature Areas Near Roswell

Thousands upon thousands of fans and the curious descend upon Roswell every July for the Alienfest. You will also find the International UFO Museum and various trading posts busy with tourists throughout the year. But did you know that there are two large nature spots just a few miles outside of Roswell?

Bottomless Lakes State Park is 14 miles southeast of Roswell and has stayed open for camping and swimming throughout COVID restrictions. Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge, home of the annual Dragonfly Festival, is just 7 miles northeast of Roswell.

I visited Bottomless Lakes for a day trip in June 2021 and Bitter Lake in August 2021. There is a large visitor’s center at Bitter Lake that is currently closed but the hiking trails and driving tour are both open. Fall and winter is the time to see all the migrating birds, including thousands of Sandhill Cranes, but I was still fortunate to be able to photograph several species, including stilts and a heron.

At Bottomless Lakes, I drove through the campground, parked at the picnic area and walked down to the largest swimming lake, chatted with the workamper couple who mans the little visitor’s center, and took the scenic drive around the park. There are numerous smaller lakes along the route and several primitive camping spots (non-reservable).

Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge is free and is open during daylight hours. Bottomless Lakes State Park has a $5 fee for day use and a separate fee for camping. Annual passes are also available for purchase.

I’ll let the photos tell the story.

Bottomless Lakes State Park:

Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge:

No Names But Lots of Smiles — 5 days on the road

Most of my people interactions are very superficial. The southwest state I moved to recently is new to me. My son and his family are 3,700 miles away. I don’t have any close friends since I retired and left my home state. So when I meet people, we chat about things we might have in common — our dogs or our RV lifestyle or retirement or the weather — but then we move on and I rarely come across the same people again.

But that’s not to discount the meaningful lives of the people I meet or their importance in the grand scheme of things. Our encounters might be just in the moment but I like to think that they are going on to brighten other people’s lives day after day. With that in mind, I’d like to reflect back on some of the chats with new acquaintances I had this past week. I will not identify any of these people by name or distinguishing details to protect their privacy but I will remember kindnesses and connections in the five days I was on the road.

My dog, cat, and I set out on a short jaunt around the state in the motor home on Monday Morning, June 7. There were a few places I had been wanting to spend time visiting and taking photos, rather than just driving past, and this was the perfect opportunity. First stop was Pistachio Land, a tourist stop in Alamogordo with an extra large pistachio monument featured in the selfies of anyone who has visited. I knew right away that I wouldn’t be able to take a photo of myself and get the whole pistachio in the picture. There was a group of three ladies taking pictures right when I walked up and one of them offered to take my picture. She got it perfect the first time but took two to be sure. I thanked her and then they were gone. It sure was a good picture.

Check in at Alamagordo KOA was a pleasure and I actually went back to their little store and souvenir shop twice. Although the conversation in these circumstances is usually very casual, it’s nice to be able to have a conversation with someone if you’re like me and live alone most of the time. I do remember kindnesses for sure.

Staff, paid employees, and volunteers at National Parks meet tons of new people on a daily basis and get asked the same annoying questions day after day but the ones I interacted with in three different places this week were all nothing but polite and conversational and made me feel like I was the first one they’d ever helped or answered questions for.

First was White Sands National Park, although not new in location, newly designated as a National Park as of December 20, 2019. Pleasant interactions started with the ranger counting heads as we went into the store to the cashier who helped me with purchases to the ranger who checked my America The Beautiful Pass as I entered the car tour on Dune Drive, answering questions that I had and smiling the whole time.

Then, I ran into the same couple on two different mini-hikes. We smiled and said hello and they laughed both times because I was carrying my little dog in his carry-on sling and they thought that was pretty cute. I came across a younger couple wanting to take a photo among the dunes and as I walked by, I asked if I could take the photo for them. I used several different compositions on their phone app and I hope they found one or two they like.

I drove in to the state park I’d booked for two nights and parked the motor home by the campground host, knocked on the door and waited. The first thing the gentleman that came out asked was, “Are you Tina?” Well, yes I am. I guess I was the only guest checking in that day. He was congenial, answered my questions, and left me to go get set up. As I was driving to my spot, I passed a small camper van, a few empty spaces, two older class A motorhomes, a few more empty spaces then my spot.

I had barely gotten my electricity hooked up and the AC on when the person in the van came running over, anxious to talk to me. This person was new to living full time in state parks and had a lot of questions. Of course, I was only too eager to tell my story and answer the questions I was able to answer. As we talked we discovered that there are advantages and disadvantages to both the van life and the class C life but this camper was eager to find out if upgrading to something like mine was the way to go.

Back on the road two days later and I took the opportunity to drive through a National Wildlife Refuge that I had only driven by in the past. Driving a 24′ motor home for 12 miles through a non-paved refuge may not have been the smartest thing I’ve ever done but visiting the little gift shop at the end of the tour was certainly worthwhile. The young volunteer tried to answer my questions and got really animated when we started talking about some of the larger animals he’s spotted at the refuge, including cougars, coyotes, and elk. I bought a small birding book that I didn’t even need but I like to support these kind of nonprofits.

I was returning to a small RV Park for the night that I’d stayed at two years previously. They are well-known to birders and photographers being so close to the refuge. The elderly caretaker was chatty and full of information, and had grown up just down the road. We sat out in the evening watching the hummingbirds and I got to hear some interesting tales. One of the guests who I also met this same evening is a bird photographer (his card says he has a PhD but I didn’t ask in what) and we talked for a few minutes about cameras and birds and fun places to explore.

Finally, on our way home the next day, I stopped at Valley of Fires National Recreation Area and found a suitable place to park the motor home. At 11:00 in the morning, it was already getting quite hot but I wasn’t sure when or if I’d ever be back and was determined to take at least a few photos. And again, I met a volunteer at a park facility gift shop with another new story. This gentleman graciously answered all my questions and we talked for a few minutes as I browsed the books and merchandise. He and his wife had two homes, one in the Santa Cruz area of California and one in New Mexico. He said they’d recently sold the California home and now live full time in New Mexico and love it. I said, me too!

I probably won’t recognize any of these people if I run into them again in the future in a different setting. I didn’t get names from most of them and they didn’t get mine. But as I was driving the last 100 miles before returning home, I reflected that I’d not only met my goal of taking photos at more than five places I’d been wanting to visit but I’d been able to smile and chat with a handful of strangers along the way every single day on my trip.

Opinion — A Class C RV really was my best buy

Why I chose what I did when making my RV decision

Okay, so everyone’s situation is different but in my humble opinion my Class C was definitely the best way to go based on what I’ve seen around me in my travels. Here’s why.

First, my experience with camping and RVing:

  • Went with parents in popups and trailers
  • Started taking my son tent camping in the late 80s
  • Took my dogs tent camping in the 2000s
  • Bought a truck, added a shell, put mattress inside, in 2014 
  • Bought a motor home in 2016
  • Went full time in 2018
  • Bought a travel trailer, which is stationary, in 2020
How we used to camp

I’d never camped anywhere but state parks, state and county beaches, or national parks until I got my motor home in 2016. At that time, I became exposed to private RV parks like Thousand Trials and KOA. Between 2018 and 2021, I have reviewed over 75 RV parks in 16 states. So, needless to say, I’ve seen quite a bit along the way.

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed. Let me set the scene up for you. I park my motor home, if I’m staying longer than a few days I might check to see how level the fridge is. Otherwise, I don’t bother with blocks. I go outside and plug the 30 amp in, then come back in and turn on the AC, if weather requires. Now, basically, I can leave it if I want to wait to dump my tanks and if I want to use my own fresh water supply. Usually, though, I’ll go ahead and hook up the sewer hose so I can leave the gray tank open and I hook up the water hose so my water pump doesn’t have to work. I don’t have any slides to contend with (more on this later).  Total time — about 6 minutes.

Then, someone in a travel trailer or 5th wheel will come in and park near me sometime later that afternoon. They start setting up. 30, 40, or 60 minutes later, they are still outside doing stuff. WTF. How long does it take? I guess it takes awhile. You have to park, unhook your truck, lower the stabilizers, set blocks everywhere, level, chock, open slides, etc., etc. Whew! People are going to argue with me but I have seen this time and time again every time I’m traveling. Maybe you are the exception and that’s great.

Then there’s the slides. My motor home doesn’t have slides. I can use the bathroom while stopping to fill my gas tank. How convenient is that? In my travel trailer, I can’t even go through the front door once the slides are closed. One time, when leaving for an extended trip, I was all closed up and forgot to put the Swiffer away. Nowhere to put it once all the slides were in. I ended up taking it with me in the motor home for 2 months. 

This morning, I witnessed an elderly gentleman in a popup camper getting ready to leave for the day. It literally took him 45 minutes to unhook, pack up, close everything up, hook up his truck, and start to pull out. Then, he left to go use the RV park bathroom before hitting the road because his rig was already all closed up. And he pulled in last night way after me. That’s at least 90 minutes of setting up and taking down for about 7 or 8 hours of sleep. Is it worth it?

Many Class B motor homes, unless they are B+, have wet baths. That means that you squeeze in to a tiny space to use the toilet and when you want to take a shower, the toilet takes one with you. I even saw a few older models (Rialto) where the shower/toilet combo slides out to use and then slides back in. Not for me. I like having my full size dry bath and I like being able to use it whether I’ve got power for a slide or not.

I’ve given up a bit of inside space by not having a slide but did you know that the same size motor homes that have bedroom slides actually have a lot less outside storage? That’s because my bed is a platform bed and the outside storage is underneath. If you check the numbers, you will see that there’s a lot more cubic square feet of storage in my slide-less model at 24’. Something to think about, for sure.

Besides the fact that I didn’t want to pull a trailer because I have a severe fear of the trailer starting to sway and pulling the truck off the road, I had my pets to consider. In a trailer or 5th wheel, you have to crate everybody and put them in the truck every time you drive. When I first went full time, I not only had a cat and two dogs, but I also had a parrot. With the Class C, I can just jump in the driver’s seat and drive off after attaching the dogs to their seat belts. No discombobulating the cat or the bird. Which reminds me, if you have slides, you also have to be very aware of where your cat is at all times.

And here’s the difference between a motor home with a small car vs a truck pulling a trailer. First, I prefer to drive a small car around town or to take day long sightseeing jaunts. It’s just easier for me than a big truck. When a motor home pulls a car, the motor home is the bigger object and the car just follows. It doesn’t try to fight with the RV or sway back and forth. When a truck pulls a trailer, the trailer is bigger. If it gets out of control due to high winds or a bad road, it will take the truck with it. Once again, people will argue with my reasoning but for a single elderly woman traveling alone, I had to make the safest choices for me. My MH Ford F-450 with cruise control is a real dream to drive long distances and I don’t even know the car is behind me unless I check the mirror.

Motor home and tow car

I didn’t consider a Class A the year I bought because, from what I read, they weren’t as safe in front end collisions as a Class C. Later, I was glad for my choice because chassis service is also easier to find usually. Mine is just a regular Ford truck with a house plopped on the back. It’s the same truck that is used for commercial delivery vans.

I didn’t consider a Class B because most of them were almost the same size as what I bought (22’ to 24’) and the cost for a new one was literally two times more. The reason is the way they are built. I didn’t want to spend way over $100,000 for something that was smaller, where we’d be squished together as we traveled the USA. At the time, I had a 60 pound dog, in addition to all my other animals.

My situation in 2018:

  • Full time with no house or storage unit so I needed plenty of storage area
  • Traveling alone so needed to feel safe and able to do everything myself
  • Pets that needed consideration
  • Comfortable with a kitchen and full bath, as well as a queen size bed (for sharing with the animals, of course)
  • Able to use everything without opening slides or unhooking vehicles
  • Had to fit in my driveway for two years before I sold my house (I didn’t want to pay for storage)

And my final choice, a brand new 2016 24’ Class C. One year later, I got a 2014 Nissan Versa set up as a tow car.

When making the momentous decision to purchase or finance your RV, make sure you consider all the situations and circumstances you will be facing so you can make the best decision for you.

Enjoying the life

How Many States Have You Visited?

Sightseeing In Twelve States – Reviews & Photos

I’m currently working on a new photo and descriptive text book subtitled 33 Cities Across the USA in an RV.

I’ve always been a traveler, starting with the Air Force life until I was in high school, then following graduation, I set out on my own. Although I moved a lot, it was mostly between two states, Oregon and California. I took a few trips to Mexico and Florida during that time. Then, I retired, sold my house and set out in my motor home and really let loose.

All along, I’d been planning to write reviews of the places I stayed and how amenable they were to travelers with pets. That blog is called Animals Aboard and has about 68 reviews of RV Parks, state parks, and even a little boon docking (camping without hookups). When I realized that I’d seen a number of sites and taken dozens of photos that weren’t RV park related, I began my sightseeing blog.

This new book will be an update of the sightseeing blog, full of descriptions, reviews, and photos of places you can see while on the road, with or without a recreational vehicle. In fact, some of the places were more easily accessible for me after I got a small tow car and I include information in the descriptions about parking availability, no matter how you are traveling.

My plans last year had been to add six new states, the mountain states, but, of course, that didn’t work out. Not in the original plans was settling down but that’s exactly what I did, acquiring a full time RV lot in New Mexico. I still have plans to add reviews and photos to both blogs though. Fingers crossed, I will be able to do my mountain states this year. Toying with the idea of heading to Florida next year. But as we all know, things can change. That’s what makes life interesting.

Look for Sightseeing In Twelve States on Amazon Kindle this spring.

From wandering vagabond to esoteric hermit — Crossing things off my bucket list in 2018 and 2019 and now I’m not

My lifestyle really changed in the spring of 2020. Before March 23, I was a carefree soul who traveled full time. I had my dogs and my cat and my motorhome and no particular place to be. In 2018 and 2019, we had racked up 16 states, over 60 rv park reviews, and over 30 sightseeing spots reviewed and photographed for posterity. (If you are interested in all my reviews and photographs, you can start here: animalsaboard.com).

I joked that I was a professional sightseer and I really enjoyed that moniker. There weren’t too many places along our way that I couldn’t enjoy without the dogs and the few places I did want to explore without them, (such as museums and live shows), I found it easy enough to leave them tucked in to their special spots in the motor home with their favorite toys for a few hours.

What was great about 2019 was a difference in me from 2018. In 2018, I was new to cross-country motorhome travel and was still learning a lot. I was able to overcome some fears and take some chances but mostly I played it safe. In 2019, now that I was more comfortable, I took the dogs and explored places that were a little more off the beaten track or just places I wanted to see that I had bypassed the previous trek across the US.

I was able to cross off the following from my initial bucket list when I first set off in June 2018. I know that pride is one of the seven deadly sins but I was really proud of myself for doing these things that had been on my mind for years previous. I would have to say, and I speak for the dogs too, that we enjoyed every single minute and never had any regrets.

  • Route 66 and the requisite trading post stores along the route — we traveled either the original route or a nearby highway from Southern California to Oklahoma City. I got some great photos at really iconic places I had been wanting to see in person, including the Giganticus Headicus and the corner in Winslow. I also bought a kachina doll, a serape, some leather boots, and sent several gifts home to friends and the folks.
  • The Gulf — I remember the very first day the dogs walked down the boardwalk and saw the Gulf Ocean for the first time. We were in Galveston. I spent a glorious 2 weeks playing in the warm sand and taking long walks along pristine pocket beaches. I also made a good new friend there that I’m still in contact with on Facebook.
  • The Louisiana Bayou — Besides the food, one of my favorite authors sets all her books in this area in cute little made up towns like Sinful, Louisiana and Mudbug. My only regret is that I booked RV Resorts instead of state parks most of the time and who knows if I’ll ever be back down that way. But what we did do was pretty memorable. The huge historical plantation Rosedown gave me many exquisite photo ops and memories. Another memorable day was the boardwalk hike among the alligators at Percy Quinn State Park in Southern Mississippi.
  • Myrtle Beach — I had been telling people I would go to Myrtle Beach one day for probably ten years. And we finally made it. I booked a rather older historical rv park right on the beach in the north area and I’m glad I was here and not at one of the more pristine fancy parks. We spent three great weeks exploring on foot, walking on the beach every day, or in the rental car, driving to sites and I took in a few shows without the dogs. This was my first exposure to “snow birds.” I got to know my next door neighbors, who had a house in Massachusetts and spent October through April every year in this RV Park.

There were several things I did in 2019 that I’m so glad I didn’t pass up. It started off with spending my birthday in a place that had fond memories from my childhood and then I got to see my neighborhood in New Mexico from the 1960s.

  • Calico Ghost Town — I had been here just passing through with a relative in the 90s and had always wanted to come back. Being able to spend a week in this quaint, Knotts Berry Farm vibe place was a memory I’ll cherish for a long time. And in the 1960s, my family had lived just down the road in Apple Valley. The best thing about Calico Ghost Town? All the attractions are dog-friendly.
  • Petrified Forest — I believe I was only about 5 or 6 the last time I had been here. It seems that when traveling from Southern California through to Oklahoma, which I was doing to visit my son, and planning stops every 200 or 300 miles, I kept missing this stop. So this time, I deliberately planned a stop with 4 days at the nearby KOA (Kampgrounds of America). We took a driving tour of the whole park and I checked out both visitor’s centers and gift shops while the dogs waited for me.
  • Roswell International UFO Museum — I found out later that the museum is actually dog-friendly but it was probably better for my crew to wait for me in the motor home in the parking lot. I’d been wanting to stop here for a long time and I wasn’t disappointed.

Unfortunately, some of 2019 didn’t turn out the way I’d envisioned. One place that is still on my bucket list is the Thumb of Michigan (again a place-setting for one of my favorite authors). I made travel arrangements from Oklahoma City all the way north and east, ending with 4 weeks at Lake Huron in two separate state parks. Then, disaster struck. I ended up staying in Oklahoma for tooth surgery and spent the rest of the summer recuperating. I had to cancel all travel plans for up north.

I did spend 2 months in Branson, Missouri, another bucket list place, that fall. Again, I wasn’t disappointed. We had some great adventures and memories while there. Then, it was time to start heading to my winter digs again. I was sad about not seeing Michigan but was headed to a restorative month back at the Gulf Coast through Thanksgiving and then on to my winter spot in Southeastern Texas.

By winter 2019, I already had plans and reservations through spring and summer 2020. And by April 2020, I was on the phone and email cancelling everything. My plan had been to spend two months visiting my elderly folks in Northern California, including getting to celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday in April. Then, at the end of May, I had plans to attend my first ever large RV Rally in Wyoming, with over 1000 people expected. I was going to spend the rest of the summer of 2020 exploring the Rocky Mountain states, which would all be new to me.

Instead, I spent from December 2019 to July 2020 in the same place in Texas, about an hour northeast of Houston. I finally left at the end of July and spent a month back in Oklahoma City to visit my son. From there, I thought maybe it would be safe to start traveling back to California. I was getting worried that I wouldn’t see my dad at all before it was too late. His health was really frail throughout 2020.

Traveling is still not advised so again cancelled plans to see my dad. In the meantime, I ended up at the top of a waiting list for a co-op RV site in New Mexico so I decided to pack in the traveling lifestyle for awhile. I moved to New Mexico at the beginning of September 2020 and bought a larger travel trailer to live in. My motor home is still in storage waiting for the day I can take her out again and get back to seeing this great country of ours. But for now, I must entertain myself with internet adventures, some writing projects, and my arts and crafts.