Southern New Mexico, Then to Texas

From Albuquerque we headed south on I-25 to Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte Lake State Park.  I didn’t get to leave until mid-afternoon, after finishing my realignment job at Statkus Engine.  It’s a good 150 miles to Elephant Butte, and I was stopping in Socorro to do laundry.  We got to T or C just after dark, so I just popped in to the Walmart right off I-25 and parked for the night.  My New Mexico State Parks annual pass had expired and I needed to buy a new one, which I could do at the park entrance in the morning.  It’s really the best deal in the country.  Out-of-state residents pay $225 for the pass (NM residents pay even less), which cuts $10 off of the nightly the rate.  Developed sites are $10, so they become free; electric sites, normally $14, are $4 with the pass.  Can’t beat it with a stick!  It would pay for itself before I left the state, and I knew we would be traveling to NM again in 2014.

Anyway, I wanted to get to Elephant Butte as soon as possible.  Christine and Carol were there and our friend Roxanne was there, but planned to leave within a day or so.  I had last camped with Roxi in the Coconino NF near Flagstaff, when she and Annie were there in the Duck and hadn’t seen her for a year.  So we headed over to the main part of the park and met up with the gals at the Desert Cove Campground.  The next day, Saturday, Christine drove us to Truth or Consequences to the farmer’s market.  Carol had a booth set up to sell the napkin sets and potholders that she makes.  Afterwards we met at the Passion Pie Cafe for breakfast with Roxi and Sue.  Sue is in the Women Go Solo Yahoo group that we are all on, but I hadn’t met her yet.  Great coffee, great breakfast, and great gabbing.  Always fun to hang with the gal pals.

Carol at TorC farmer's market

Carol at TorC farmer’s market

Just a few yards over from the Passion Pie stood this piece of street art.  Truth or Consequences is a funky town.

Street Art

Street Art in T or C

On Monday we moved over to the South Monticello Point campground (nicknamed “SoMoPo” by Roxi), on the far north part of the park.  The sites are nicer, a little bit further apart and with a view of (what’s left of) the lake.  Andy arrived from Bisbee that afternoon, then Chris arrived on Tuesday.  He had gotten a draw for an elk hunt in the Jemez, then spent some additional time in Santa Fe, so I hadn’t seen him in 3 weeks.  We all got sites together on one loop of the campground (it’s not as packed as the campgrounds closer to town.)

All of us at South Monticello Campground

All of us at South Monticello Campground (Chris, me, Christine (with Roxi’s “Spud”) and Andy behind the bushes on the right)

Nice sites at SoMoPo

Nice sites at SoMoPo

Carol had stayed back at the Lion’s Beach campground, closer to town.  But she came by for a lady’s luncheon that Christine had arranged to welcome Andy.  This is (l-r) Chris, Andy, me and Carol.  Roxi must have been taking the picture. (I stole it from Christine’s Facebook page. Actually, I just noticed it has Good Luck Duck in the corner, so she had gotten it from Roxi.)

Lady's Lunch

Lady’s Lunch

Anyway, around this time I was having trouble with my TV reception.  It had worked fine in Albuquerque.  But the TV towers for all of central NM are on Sandia Peak, right above the casino.  Getting reception there is easy.  Chris brought the TV from his RV over to see if it was a TV thing, but no, didn’t work.  Next, I took a long cable wire and ran it directly off the top of my antenna, in through the window, and to the TV.  That worked.  So, it was a wire problem.  Turns out the connection going into the RV at the base of the antenna was fried.  I guess I had been picking up channels from the TV itself, without the roof antenna.  I hopped on the scooter and cruised into T or C, got new connections and tools and replaced the fried pieces.  Easy-peasy.

Saturday we all (Andy, Roxanne and I) piled into Christine’s RV and headed to town for the farmer’s market and then met Sue at the Passion Pie Cafe again.

Passion Pie Gals

Passion Pie Gals (Sue, me, Chris, Roxi and Andy)

On the 30th Riley and I moved down to Caballo Lake State Park, which was almost full.  (I guess there was some flooding near T or C and it flowed down to Caballo, but not into Elephant Butte Lake.)

Caballo Lake

Caballo Lake

Chris stayed a couple extra days at South Monticello.  He had just bought a new kayak in Elephant Butte and wanted to spend time on the lake fishing with it. Christine and Andy would follow in a few days.  Roxi was heading northwest to her property.  She had just bought a parcel of land with an unfinished cabin on it.  She’d been planning to visit it and start making plans, but had stayed several extra days in the T or C area with us.  I was glad to be able to spend some time hanging out with her.

Last year I spent time with my buds at the Riverside campground below the dam, so this time I wanted to spend time up at the main campground. The Caballo sites are OK, but they have a very nice enclosure for the picnic table, with a carport!

Caballo has a little carport for your scooter!

Caballo site with a parking spot for my scooter!

There is really nothing near Caballo.   I was having a new iPad delivered to the park, then planned to move along to Leasburg Dam State Park, just north of Las Cruces.  Christine and Andy had spend a few days at Caballo, but had moved on to Deming and we planned to meet up again at Leasburg.  Chris was going to head back north on the way to Phoenix for Thanksgiving.  Before leaving, Chris and I worked on practicing loading and unloading my scooter.  He spotted me while I worked the scooter several times, eventually I got better at it. Now I can load it as well as unload it by myself (as long as I’m on flat ground).  I really wanted to be able to put it on and off by myself.  I came close to dropping it at Sandia when loading it by myself and sometimes it scares me.  So practicing with Chris was important for me.

On the 5th Riley and I headed down I-25, stopping in Hatch for a few groceries, then to Leasburg.  They have a lovely Visitor Center building:

New Mexico architecture at Leasburg Dam State Park Visitor Center

New Mexico architecture at Leasburg Dam State Park Visitor Center

Which is more handsome?  Riley or the door?

Nice door at the Leasburg Visitor Center

Nice door at the Leasburg Visitor Center

I scooted in to Las Cruces on Wednesday for the mid-week farmer’s market.  It’s good – a couple of blocks downtown, a mix of food and crafts.  On Saturday Christine, Andy and I went downtown to the farmer’s market, which is just huge on Saturdays.  Then it’s about 8 blocks long, plenty of food, and a LOT of arts and crafts.  After the market we went to the theater to see “Gravity” in 3D.  Great movie, especially in 3D.

Downtown Las Cruces with Christine and Edna, and Andy with Nell and Riley

Downtown Las Cruces with Christine and Edna, and Andy with Nell and Riley

Leasburg site (and another scooter-port)

Leasburg site and sunset (and another scooter-port)

White Sands National Monument is not far from Las Cruces, so on Tuesday 11/12 we packed our lunches, piled in Christine’s Toyota, and headed over.  The visitor center is right at the entrance, so we checked that out.  We each wanted a t-shirt, and when we decided to buy the same shirt, we had to dork it up and put them on for a picture.

At White Sands

At White Sands

Here is where we stopped for lunch.

Lunch Spot

Lunch Spot

It was nice to have one more outing with the girls before leaving. When we got back to the park I got busy packing up, since we were heading back to Texas in the morning. I was able to load the scooter by myself, no one else was around.  Yay!  The next morning I dumped the tanks on the way out and headed south to pick up I-10 to cross west Texas.  We made it to Fort Stockton by late afternoon, so just pulled into a corner of the Walmart parking lot for the night.  Close to the highway, but quiet.  That’s a good overnight spot!  The 2-day trip was pretty uneventful and I stopped near the end for an oil change and inspection.  Back in Denver in July, when I registered my new rig, I found out it would have to be inspected within 3 days of entering Texas.  So got it done and out of the way.  All told, I was on the road for just over 10 months and 6,800 miles.  I can’t even count all the new friends I made.  What a great trip!

Yosemite National Park, Day 1

Well, I’m seriously behind again.  I just spent a month camping without internet access in New Mexico (at Hyde Memorial State Park near Santa Fe, then El Vado and Heron Lake State Parks in north-central NM) and in Colorado, boondocking near La Manga Pass on Hwy 17.  I could only get online for an hour or 2 when running errands in Santa Fe with Chris, or hiking to a mountain ridge, or driving to the Chama Visitor Center to use their WiFi.  Of all the things I needed to do online when I had the connection (email, banking, campsite research, finding propane, etc.), blogging was lower on my priority list.  Sorry!

I’ve been going through the pictures I took at Yosemite National Park and it’s been a major task to single out a limited number of pictures from the 500+ that I took.  One thing that I hadn’t expected is how the beauty is all around you in Yosemite Valley.  It’s not a park where you have a spot in the campground and drive or hike to the viewpoints.  Half Dome is right above the campground and viewable from all over.  You see Yosemite Fall almost anywhere.  It’s a short, skinny valley with steep walls all around, so the views are always there, wherever you are standing, unless blocked by the tall trees.  Like Bryce Canyon NP and Zion NP, I was taking pictures non-stop.

As I mentioned previously, I stopped at the Escapee park in Coarsegold the day before my 3-day reservation in Yosemite (April 28-30).  It’s located off Highway 41, just south of the Yosemite entrance near Wawona.  I needed to do laundry and the Escapee co-op parks usually have clean, reasonably priced laundry facilities.  Also, I wanted to be sure to have a cable connection or TV signal to watch the NASCAR race that night.  While there I got to meet Lorna, a Lazy Daze owner, former travel blogger and the organizer of the annual Lazy Daze ladies get together (Ladeze GTG).  She isn’t full-timing right now and is enjoying living at the Coarsegold park. Such a neat lady, and it’s always great to meet folks I know from blogs or the Lazy Daze board.  Coarsegold is a nice park with lots of hills and trees.  The sites aren’t lined up like sardines.  I could see myself in a park like that after stopping full-time traveling.

SKP Park Coarsegold

SKP Park Coarsegold

My original plan was to visit Yosemite in mid-May.  Bob Wells had given me a lot of good advice back at the RTR in January, including when to visit for good waterfalls and wildflowers, photography tips, etc., but that I had to book ASAP.  The campgrounds book up within hours of the reservation system opening, and reservations for mid-May had opened on January 15th.  I was able to get 3 nights, May 21-23, but had to book 3 different campsites.  I would have to move each day, but that didn’t matter as long as I had 3 nights in Yosemite Valley.  Back when I was at Lake Isabella it got hot pretty quickly and I decided to check on Yosemite.  The weather was forecast to be unseasonable warm there, too. (Unseasonably warm in Yosemite meant high in the high 70’s and lows in the low 40’s – dee-lightful!)   And, I had read that the rivers and streams were really flowing due to early snow-melt.  I decided to change my reservations to April 28-30.  I expected we would have good weather and low crowds since school wouldn’t be out yet.  It cost about $30 to change the reservations, but worth it.

So, I left Coarsegold and headed up highway 41 to Yosemite’s south entrance.  One of the main things I wanted to do in Yosemite was visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Mariposa Grove Trail

Mariposa Grove Trail

Unfortunately, I couldn’t park nearby.  They had everyone park 8 miles away at Wawona and take a shuttle to the grove.  Riley had to stay in the RV, since dogs aren’t allowed on trails or buses.  The size of the trees are mind-boggling.  It’s a nice area, with a paved trail and informational sources.  And, of course, very shady and cool.  Back at the rig, we headed on up Hwy 41 and enjoyed a really pretty drive to Yosemite Valley.  Friends Steve and Barb Smith back in Texas are from California and told me to be sure to stop for the Tunnel View, that it was outstanding.  After about an hour we got to the long tunnel. Immediately at the end are parking lots on each side of the road for the viewpoint.  I pulled in to the lot on the right side of the road. That was the wrong side, as I found out later the lot on the left side of the road has the RV parking.(Just an FYI for RV’ers.)  Fortunately I am short enough at 22′, and was able (barely) to park in a regular spot.

Tunnel View

Tunnel View. Not great lighting at 3PM. I would visit this site the next day at sunset for better pictures.

It is a spectacular view, with Bridalveil Fall gushing and highly visible, El Capitan on the left, and Half Dome to the back.  Then, the drive to the campground is lovely, cruising along the valley among all the trees in the picture above.  You can’t even tell there is a road down there, it’s hidden in the forest.  When we got to the campsite I got parked and noticed there was a seasonal stream winding along the back boundary of the campground, right behind our site.  It was a great site, very shady with flowering dogwoods.  I could hear the Merced River rushing behind the campground – it was probably just a hundred yards or so behind my site.

Campsite at Yosemite

Campsite at Yosemite

By the time I got parked and set up it was about 4:00.  I took Riley for a walk around the campground and along the Merced River.  It was so late in the day there wasn’t really time to do much, but I decided to hop on the Yosemite free shuttle and ride it around to get familiar with the valley.  There is a stop right at the campground entrance.  I got off at Yosemite Village to visit the general store, then at Yosemite Fall.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Fall

I hopped back on the shuttle and rode around a bit more, getting back to the campsite before dark.  (Note for Yosemite visitors: the shuttle drivers have great little fold out maps of the valley, shuttle stops, and general info.  Ask for one if you don’t see them on the shelf next to the door.)

I have about 45 or so photos of our time at Yosemite, so am dividing into 3 posts for the 3 days of our visit.  Will post day 2 soon.

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Changing Plans and Big Trees

When I left off we were about to leave the Lake Isabella and Kern River area to head towards Yosemite National Park.  Prior to that I was camped with Chris in the wilderness of Mohave National Preserve near Goffs, CA and Lake Mohave near Bullhead City, AZ.  I had a great time but my plans were to head back to California and ease my way up to Yosemite as the weather warmed.  Last fall I had decided on a big trip this year:

I decided to do another trip for 2013, starting in Quartzsite in January.  Then, when the weather warms will go into California where I will (hopefully) visit Yosemite, Sequoias, and the Redwoods.  Also, will visit the Oregon coast and Crater Lake, Washington state, Seattle and Vancouver, and Glacier National Park.

But, I realized a couple of months ago that those plans were a bit too grand.  I would not be able to see all those things in one year.  At least I wouldn’t be able to do it properly.  So, I trimmed it back to Yosemite, San Francisco, and Redwoods in California in the spring, and the Oregon Coast, Portland and Crater Lake during the summer in Oregon.  After my visit with Chris at Mohave my solo travel at Isabella wasn’t as enjoyable.  And I realized that 4-5 months of travel through CA and OR wouldn’t be either if Chris wasn’t there.  So, I decided to just do the things that were reasonably close – Sequoia/Kings Canyon/Yosemite National Parks and San Francisco.  Then I would find a scenic route back to New Mexico by mid-June to meet Chris and then take off for a fun summer/fall of travel.  To paraphrase Billy Crystal at the end of When Harry Met Sally – When you realize you want to spend the rest of your road trip with someone, you want the rest of your road trip to start as soon as possible.  🙂

So, picking up where I left off, we left Lake Isabella on 4/25 and headed down the Kern River canyon to Bakersfield on Hwy 178.  That is one white-knuckle ride in an RV.  Very skinny road with twisty turns and steep grades.  Luckily there were plenty of pull-offs for me to let the faster cars go by.  I ran some errands in Bakersfield, then headed up Hwy 99 to Tulare.  I had a Passport America (50% off) RV park lined up just 30 miles up the road in Kingsburg, close to Sequoia/Kings Canyon NPs.  But, I was renting a car for the sightseeing and I needed to arrive by mid-morning to get the car and have all day for the drive.  So, Tulare was a good, close spot for the night that would let me do just a short hop to the RV park the next morning.  I had reserved a compact car, but they only had an Altima or a mini-van.  I was happy to take the Altima, as that’s the car I own back in TX.  It’s a comfortable ride.

Shady spot at Viking RV Park in Kingsburg and the rental car

Shady spot at Viking RV Park in Kingsburg and the rental car

So, Enterprise picked me up at the RV park, I got the car, loaded up, and headed off through Visalia to Sequoia NP.  I had originally thought of driving the RV and camping in one of the campgrounds in the park.  But, part of the General’s Highway road that leads into the park has a 22 foot vehicle limit.  My motorhome is exactly 22 feet, but it sounded too close for comfort.  I looked at a bit of the road on Google Maps Street View and decided No Way!  Very skinny and twisty-turny.  I was very glad to drive it in in the rental car.  Also, the elevation gain from the Foothills visitor center to the main part of the park is 5,000 feet.  Not fun (to me) in a big, heavy motorhome.

Anyway, we headed out Hwy 198 to Visalia and through Three Rivers, where it starts getting very scenic.  As I was passing through Three Rivers I saw the Google Street View car parked next to the road near a cafe.  Normally I’m enough of a nerd to think that’s cool and want to go back and take a picture, but I had a limited amount of time already with too much to see and do.  So, I kept on, stopping at the Foothills Visitor Center.  I had heard there was a construction spot that only allowed cars through at the top of the hour and half past.  I got the general area of the stop from the Ranger and headed up the road.  I stopped to take a picture of Moro Rock.

Moro Rock

Moro Rock

Down in the valley next to the road was a creek and little tumbling waterfalls. During the snow melt, there are a lot of raging rivers and seasonal streams in the Sierras.

Moro Stream

I just love a pretty forest stream

We stopped at a picnic area for lunch, then got back on the road, getting to the construction spot just as they were allowing the cars to go.  Great timing!  With my one day trip I didn’t have a half hour to lose sitting and waiting for the next passage.

The Giant Forest Museum was still closed for the winter season, so I just headed on to the General Sherman Tree.  It is the largest tree in the world by volume.  There are taller trees, and ones bigger around, but this one is both tall and wide.  It is one massive tree.

From the trail above the General Sherman tree.

From the trail above the General Sherman tree.  It’s the tree in the center with the railing around it.

General Sherman Tree

General Sherman Tree

We stopped at the Lodgepole Visitor Center, then enjoyed the lovely drive on the Generals Highway to the Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park.

View of the Sierra-Nevada Wilderness Peaks along the Generals Highway

View of the Sierra-Nevada Wilderness peaks along the Generals Highway

General Grant Tree

General Grant Tree

I thought this was cool:

Inside a Fallen Tree

Inside a Fallen Tree

About the Fallen Tree

About the Fallen Tree

By this time it was 5:30 and I wanted to be back to Kingsburg before dark, so I had a bit of time left to drive part of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.  They had just opened the road for the season, so I was lucky to be able to drive it.  I got to Junction View (where the Middle Fork and South Fork of the Kings River are viewable) about the time I needed to turn around and head back home.

Junction View site

Junction View site.  River on the left, that’s the road on the right.

Yeah, I was there too.  I wasn't allowed on the trails or by the big trees, but I still like a good car ride.

Yeah, I was there too. I wasn’t allowed on the trails or near the big trees, but I still like a good car ride.

On the way back we headed out Hwy 180, which goes toward Fresno and made a nice loop drive for us.  The parks could be traveled in an RV just from Hwy 180 in, to the Giant Forest Museum, and back to 180 to avoid the 22 foot vehicle limit on the south part of the park.  Hwy 180 is a much easier drive.  I decided I wanted to do the full loop and so got the car.  (Just FYI for anyone that plans to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon.)

Next up was Yosemite.  I would spend Saturday night (4/27) at the Escapees RV park in Coarsegold. It’s just south of the park and would be a good overnight spot before my reservations for 4/28-30 in Yosemite.  I’m still going through all the pictures I took of Yosemite, but will post about that soon.

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