Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings

We had a blast in Silver City–great burritos, good coffee, and funky vibes! Yesterday, we headed up to Gila (pronounced Hee-la) Wilderness and National Monument. When the NPS site says”Half the fun is getting here,” be warned! Tim is going to write a post on Gila, so I’ll let him tell the story! Here’s some photos to whet your appetites:

We are now in Albuquerque, heading up to Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument. Ranger is taking a break in the parking lot with a friend:
Talk soon!! 

Two weeks on the road

Above photo from a great little coffee shop here in Silver City, NM

Today I am using Tim’s computer. Most of our blog posts are written on my iPad when we have enough wireless to upload photos. I love the iPad, but it makes writing text a little more challenging. We are spending today in Silver City, a small town near the Gila Mountains. It is refreshing to have reliable internet, good coffee, showers, and laundry.

We left Tampa two weeks ago yesterday. We have already learned a lot about ourselves and each other. Yesterday was a “treat” day, where we eat out and spend less time in and around the van. We are staying at a campground with laundry and showers. You don’t realize how much you love a hot shower until you don’t have access to one. Our solar shower is great, but it is not the same. It is also nice to empty our laundry bag and have fresh, clean-smelling clothes. We have tried to have one of these “treat” days once a week, which has helped us with maintaining a sense of normalcy and appreciation for things that we have taken for granted for a very long time.
Last night, in accordance with our treat day, we had New Mexican enchiladas at a local place in town. Both of us were feeling a little down. We talked it out, and our general ennui had to do with a few things:

  1. Transitioning from full-time work to living in the van. We are so happy that we can have this adventure, but it is necessary to establish a new routine. We were both accustomed to going into work, seeing our friends/co-workers, patients, students, and so on. There is a certain kind of loss that is both exciting and sad.
  2. Loneliness. We spend all of our time with each other and we get along very well. Many people exclaimed that they could never live in a van with their spouse, but we were not really worried about it. However, we do not go our separate ways throughout the day, like we do in Tampa. We don’t come home and say, “Guess what happened?” because we already know! We were there together. What a gift, but also can be isolating.
  3. Fatigue. Overall, it can be tiring to unpack and pack the van, search for things at the bottom of boxes, scour maps, and hike in high altitude. We go to bed early and wake early. I really enjoy this aspect, but by the end of the day, we are tired and can be less patient with ourselves.

It felt good to talk about these things with each other, instead of feeling guilty, frustrated, or just trying to ignore these feelings. We came to the realization that these feelings accompany any significant change, whether it be a new job, a move, or so on. It’s normal. We also confirmed that we want to focus on this amazing opportunity and to do so, we need to be focused on the present. Instead of worrying about what will happen this fall, we need to appreciate that it’s May 23. 

We are committed to reading more, writing more, walking more, and experiencing more. After dinner, we decided to buy a six-pack of beer and bring it back to our little campsite. We had seen a few younger guys setting up lightweight backpacking tents earlier in the day, and we wanted to invite them to have a drink with us. It was a good idea. They are all hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), which is a 3,100 mile hike from Mexico to Canada. The entire hike will take them roughly 4.5-5 months to complete, with an average hike of about 30 miles per day. It is the lesser known of the three major long trails, which also include the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Two of the guys, who are originally from California and Germany, have already hiked the AT and PCT. The third, B., works in New York City in finance and is taking the time off for his first long trail. It is pretty amazing to think of the mental and physical fortitude necessary to complete these hikes. We were happy to share our drinks with them and tell our stories. We went to bed feeling rejuvenated and excited for our trip, and hopeful that they will have a great experience on the trail.

While we were at our previous site in the Organ Mountains, a couple with three small girls in the adjacent campsite started a conversation with us. We ended up talking for awhile around the campfire–A. is from Texas, spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, flies planes, and completed an arctic survival course. B. is from New Mexico, told us about a few places we should go while visiting the area. The three girls were excited to tour Ranger and were fascinated with the solar shower.

We have only been on the road for two weeks, but we have been so fortunate to see amazing natural beauty. We have also experienced the generosity and care of many people along the way, from Dallas to Artesia to Silver City. Sometimes you have to reach out beyond your comfort zone and talk to people you don’t know. Safety is paramount, but most people are wanting to connect. We get our energy from nature, but also from each other.

Today has been a great day. 

White Sands and Organ Mountains

We went to White Sands on Saturday. Ranger was a champ, but he stops where the pavement stops. He has a raised suspension and larger-than-the-average Eurovan tires; however, make no mistake, he is not an off-road vehicle. Driving on the sand was like driving across a million cattle guards (ask Tim how much he loves cattle guards). 

The dunes were incredible. You can take organized hikes or just wander, as we did. It’s a very harsh, beautiful environment. Below are some photos of our experience. 

We hopped back in the van and drove to the Organ Mountains and Aguirre Springs Campground. It was a very steep and winding road, but Ranger dug deep into his suitcase of courage and made it. It was a really pretty setting and we were able to hike right from the campground. 

We are heading to Silver City, NM for a couple of days before we visit Gila Cliff Dwellings

Happy Monday! Have a good week. 

P.S. Sill no word from Sig. 😢🐾

Cloudcroft, NM

After our stay in Artesia, we headed north to Cloudcroft. We stayed in the National Forest at Upper Karr Canyon Campground. It is run by the Forest Service and we had the place nearly to ourselves all three nights:

It is a beautiful place with lots of hiking and history. Below is the Mexican Trestle Bridge. Can you imagine riding a train on those rails?! 😱

We took the steep (4000 ft) descent into Alamogordo and White Sands. It was difficult to say goodbye to Cloudcroft. So beautiful and chilly (50s in the day and 30s at night). We are staying on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands for the next two nights. We have a great site and will write an upcoming post on White Sands and the Organ Mountains. 

Also: Sig, a furry friend to many, is currently MIA. Please keep your fingers crossed that he returns home to Tim K. soon. Thank you. 🐾

Artesia, New Mexico

On Tuesday, after we explored Carlsbad Caverns, we drove north to Artesia, NM. We went to Henry’s Barbeque on Tuesday evening for dinner and on Wednesday morning for breakfast! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. It hit the spot! 

One thing we learned very quickly was that Artesia loves its high school sports, especially the football team. Bulldog pride was everywhere!

We also enjoyed two visits to a local coffee shop in town, Jahva House, for great coffee and sandwiches. On Wednesday morning, we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Tom Archibald. We had a great conversation and learned a lot about Artesia. He wrote us the following message and originally wanted to post to our blog comments, but it seemed to post on Instagram instead. I have copied his comments below for our parents to see, as per his request:

“Hey, Alison and Tim, I enjoyed meeting you at my ‘office’ in the local coffee shop–the JAHVA house. You two are a delightful couple. Thanks for taking my advice and going to see a non-typical high school football field right here in small town Artesia, NM. On Friday nights during football season it will be packed with thousands of folks dressed in orange cheering the winningest team in the State and the most State Championships in the USA. Some colleges would be glad to have such a facility.”

“Now, a word for your parents who no doubt read this blog. Parents, you have some great 30+ young adults. I can report to you that they are apparently having a great time and look darn good for being ‘campers.’ In Artesia, NM they were in the highly Conservative part of NM which provides 1/2 the state budget from our oil and gas production. There are hundreds of oil wells within 50 miles of this town. Soon, they will be headed up to Santa Fe, our most Liberal city. Politics aside, they will ‘blend’ well in any environment. Don’t question me! I am 81 years old and they related to me!” 

Thank you for your kindness and advice, Tom! When we left the Jahva House, we had to stop by the Bulldog Bowl, per Tom’s recommendation. What a facility! See for yourself:

We then drove up to Cloudcroft and found our campsite in the spectacular US Forest Service. We set up camp at nearly 9500 ft and went for a short hike before making dinner. We hunkered down for the evening under wool blankets and sleeping bags, keeping toasty warm despite the 30 degree temperatures. This morning, we did a seven-mile hike on the Rim Trail before heading into town for internet and coffee. 

If you are on Instagram, Tim can be found on @rangervw and I post on @offcape

Miss you all! 

Texas and southern New Mexico

We spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It was beautiful–remote, rugged, and very windy. On Saturday, we set up our campsite and went for a short hike. On Sunday, we opted for the 8.4 mile hike to the highest point in Texas–Guadalupe Peak. It was strenuous (2,900 ft elevation gain, which is a lot for people living at 48 feet above sea level in Tampa). We reached the top and enjoyed the views of the fossilized marine reef below. 

When we reached the bottom, we set up our solar shower and privacy tent:

We are staying at remote places where showers and toilets are not always available. This site had toilets, sinks, and water spigots, but did not have showers. We decided to invest in a privacy tent and solar shower. The tent is about seven feet tall (see above) and the solar shower is a 5 gallon bag with a hose. You place the bag in the sun and it will heat up. A hot shower after a long hike felt incredible. 

Yesterday we did a shorter hike at McKittrick Canyon. It was neat to see flowing water and the former seabed. 

However, it was very hot and very windy (gusts between 20-30 mph). We were both very tired and ready to relax for the rest of the day. It was a good reminder for us to slow down a bit. The desert is unforgiving and indifferent to human needs. 

We left Guadalupe Mountains this morning for Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is in New Mexico. Wow, what a park! So fascinating. The elevator to the cavern was closed, so we took the 1 mile Natural Entrance to the Big Room. This hike was steep and in dim light. It was refreshingly cool (the caverns are 56 degrees year-round). The calcified limestone creates columns and spires that were hard to photograph but simply amazing. It is a must-see if you are in southern New Mexico. We had never seen anything like these caverns. 

We then drove to Artesia, New Mexico, where we are enjoying a little civilized life at a coffee shop. We will spend the night in Artesia and head to Cloudcroft, New Mexico for a few nights. It is a very different environment at 8,663 ft. Recent daytime temperatures have been in the 50s. Luckily, we have brought gear to get us through the high temperatures in the desert and lower temperatures in the mountains. 

A few of the things we learned in our first week:

  • Go slow. We spent most of our afternoons resting, which is what we needed to become accustomed to the altitude and heat. I pushed myself a little too much yesterday and I regretted it. We exercise regularly at home, but this is a different kind of exercise. 
  • On that note, we need more calories. We spend a lot of energy hiking, finding and hauling water, and completing daily tasks. We were eating our usual plant-based lighter diet and it wasn’t cutting it. We are stocking up tonight with calorie-dense foods (like Damien N’s full-fat Greek yogurt, yum).
  • We can’t see and do everything, and that’s okay. We are doing a lot more just to have daily needs met (food, water, sleep) and getting to and from places, and that takes energy. 

We really enjoyed our time in Texas. It is an interesting and complex state. We are psyched to be in New Mexico and plan to be traveling the state for the next 3-4 weeks. We are excited to have you along! We will update as we have wifi. Thank you all for your support, and Ranger says hello! May he keep running strong! 👍🏻🚐

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to our moms; we love you so much and honor you today. Also, we celebrate the wonderful women in our lives–aunts, grandmothers, sisters, friends–thank you for your love.

Photo: Sunrise over the park this morning, complete with the morning star (Mercury). 

Dallas to Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Hi everyone! We have made it to our first National Park! On Wednesday we drove from Alexandria, LA to Dallas. We were so fortunate to stay with our friends Mike and Rachel and their kids, Connor and Natalie. We had a blast! The kids were enamored with Ranger and his contents, especially the solar lanterns and our collapsible camp chairs and table. Natalie pretended she was at the Olive Garden, complete with a hanging solar lantern and a headlamp for good measure. She also paid tribute to our furry friend, Sig:

We are so grateful for Mike and Rachel’s hospitality. We had a great time and were lucky to have a tour of Dallas. A highlight was Half-Price Books. What an amazing store!

We left Dallas yesterday and stopped at Abilene to see Abilene Christian University, alma mater of our friends Matt and Carolyn. It was very pretty and had very cool sculptures and buildings. 

We ate some burritos and pressed on to Midland, which is a large oil field area. We settled in for the night and got a good night’s rest. 

We drove today to Guadalupe National Park, which is fairly remote and beautiful. We snagged a tent site and are set up for three days. We are excited to sleep in our tent and cook dinner tonight. Below is a photo from my chair:

We are grateful for a safe journey, friends, our van, the stunning NPS system, and your well-wishes!

Heading west

We have arrived safely in Dallas. We are so grateful for an uneventful ride across the South. Since leaving Tampa on Monday, we have driven over a thousand miles. We saw three new-to-us states on Tuesday:

We left Pensacola in the morning and drove to Baton Rouge. Naturally, we stopped for beignets and coffee at Coffee Call. I thought they would be more like donuts, but was surprised to find that they were big pillows of fried dough. Wow! We wanted to get out of the van and walk for a bit, so we went over to LSU. It is a beautiful campus with lots of live oaks and green space. It was a nice break from driving. We then drove two hours to Alexandria, Louisiana. We are not big fried food people, but when in Rome…

The po-boys were great–not too greasy with really tender Gulf shrimp. Stuffed and sleepy, we watched a downloaded Chef’s Table on the iPad and enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

This morning, we woke up and drove out of Louisiana. I was surprised by Louisiana; I’m not sure I knew what I was expecting, but it is so green and pretty. At noon, we entered the great state of Texas!

We stopped briefly for lunch and pressed on to Dallas. We are going to stay with friends for the next two nights. It is nice to see friendly faces when traveling. 

A couple of notes on things that have been very helpful during the past couple of days:

1. All-Stays app. It has been well worth the small cost. The app provides extensive information on gas stations, showers, places to sleep, and more. 

2. Walmart. I have to admit, I am not a big fan of Walmart for several reasons. However, I am grateful that Walmart (and Cabela’s) allows free overnight parking with security. If you are traveling in a van, it is a great choice. Hotel rooms and RV parks are cost prohibitive on a kind trip like ours, but we also do not want to compromise our safety. We have purchased food (and a tire!) to show our thanks. 

3. Our National Geographic atlas. This adventure edition provides incredibly comprehensive maps on each state (and Canada), along with BLM and Forest Service sites. We do not use our phones all the time when driving to avoid using tons of data. This atlas has been fun and an essential so far. 

4. Our YETI cooler. We eat breakfast and lunch on the road (usually peanut butter sandwiches, hummus wraps, and other simple fare). The YETI still has solid ice three days after I packed it, and allows us to keep produce and refrigerated items cold for days without electricity. We were on the fence about buying one, but we are already glad that we did! 

Thanks for following along. We are grateful for all the check-ins and support. Also, a very happy 36th wedding anniversary to my wonderful parents! We love you!!! 

En Marche!

We left Tampa yesterday around noon. It was a little sad. We looked everywhere for Sig right before we left, but he was off having his own adventures. Tim K. will be caring for him over the summer, so we know Sig is in good hands.

Our drive was uneventful. We drove about 450 miles and pulled into our first stop for the night. In less scenic areas, we will be using Walmart’s generous overnight parking policy to sleep in the van (not all Walmarts offer this, so you may want to check on the All-Stays app first). Overnight security, well-lit lots, and bathrooms. When we got out of the van before we went to sleep, we noticed that one of the back tires look flat. We filled it with air and since it was 9:30 at night, we decided to wait until the morning. Most Walmarts have an auto center where they can also do tire repairs. We slept fairly well (leaf blowing and sweeping notwithstanding) and woke up this morning to this:

Ah, well. The tire center opened at 7am, and we were fortunate that they had our tire in stock (we had sidewall damage and had to buy a new tire). Joyce took care of us and we are back on the road in about an hour.

Thank you, Joyce! You are a boss and told us lots of good information about tires and how to properly use a jack on this particular van.

We are now using wifi at Starbucks, drinking good coffee, and plan to drive through Alabama, Mississippi and stop in Alexandria, Louisiana.