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Travels With Vidya

Sharing My Summer of Travels in 2018

This is just a little diary of my travels around the USA in 2018. I had hand-written it in my notebook, but decided to try using a speech-to-text app just to see if it could transcribe. And it did! Here it is:

Deming, New Mexico April 15, 2018

After six months of living in Apache Junction, Arizona, Sammy (my dog) and I headed east toward New Mexico traveling over US 60 and US 70 through Safford Arizona, and then across the New Mexico border. First, we cruised down a long straight-away to Lordsburg, and then another hour to Deming, New Mexico. Arriving at the little Vineyard RV park, we found a space and went to raise up the top on my Hi-Lo trailer.

Arghh! It wouldn't raise. My suspicion was the battery but I was under the impression that connecting to shore power would override the battery. It didn't take long to discover that theory was flawed.

What to do? what to do? Being exhausted from the traveling, I knew I wasn't up for lots of effort. But no matter how things transpired, I knew I had a mattress and camping equipment in the Suburban. But what a hassle it would be to have to unload everything and reload it all in the morning -- and still not have fixed the main issue. I took the easy way out and called AAA road service. I would never, ever travel anywhere without having the security of the AAA card.

After an hour, the AAA truck arrives. The solution was so simple that I could slapped my forehead. He attached jumper cables to the trailer battery and the top slid right up! Yay! Except I realized if I had known, I could've jumped the battery myself without calling AAA.

Even though past 8 PM, I grabbed the weak battery and went off to Walmart to get a new one. Upon returning, I went directly to bed as I was too tired to do anything else. In the morning, battery replacement worked like a charm.

April 16, 2018 Alamogordo New Mexico

Every two weeks on Sunday is the conference call with friends in the New Humanity training. Thus, it was after noon before I packed everything up and headed out. Rolling down I25, after an hour I passed through Las Cruces New Mexico and then headed North towards White Sands National Monument.

Since there are so many miles between towns in the desert, I always find it fascinating to observe how cities get situated. First criteria is always a river running through town. In many cases, cities butt right up against mountain walls. Las Cruces was no different. You drive down down into a valley such that you're surrounded by hills and mountains.

Then north on US Route 70 with no way out of the valley, except over the mountain pass. Up, up and up we went until topping out with a magnificent view of the Tularosa basin for 100 miles north and east. This enormous flat area was selected for missile proving grounds 'way back in the early part of the 20th century, and is still used for that purpose to this day.

Sixty miles north is Alamogordo New Mexico, But on the way is the White Sands National Monument, which is just what it sounds like -- vast acres of white sand! Walking through the area feels just like walking in a winter wonderland, except it was 80 degrees.

Today was all about getting to Alamogordo and the Boothill RV park. We pulled into the park around 3 PM and I found an RV already parked in the spot I had reserved.

No problem. The people at RV parks tend to be really friendly and the driver here was no exception. Simply a misunderstanding. He had every intention of moving on, anyways. A little earlier turned out to be just fine. I was all set up and taking it easy by 5 PM.

Alamogordo April 17 to April 30, 2018

Alamogordo has a number of interesting attractions which is why I wanted to visit. Not to mention the temperature was cooler than Phoenix, being 4000 feet in elevation but not as cold as Denver still is, in April.

First things first -- parks for walking Sammy. Then finding the grocery stores. The city park must've been a half a mile long but only a couple hundred feet wide with toy train tracks along the whole way. Works for me!

Big cities like Phoenix or Denver have good grocery stores, like Sprouts, Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Most smaller towns and cities don't offer such. Albertson's or Walmart is about it. Fortunately the Albertson's in Alamogordo was large and new and had good healthy food selections.

Cloudcroft

Having bicycled through New Mexico in the late 1990s, I remember Cloudcroft. Heading east on US 82 in Alamogordo, you go up through the town of High Rolls where the desert turns into grassland and trees. And then up to 8000 feet to the lakes, rivers, and pine forests. Back in 1997, in February, with the temperatures in the 60s, I figured I'd bike up to Cloudcroft and be back down in the next valley by dark. Would that it had worked out that way! By dark, I hadn't even made it to Cloudcroft. Just a couple miles from the top, I pulled into a National Forest dirt road and set up my tent. That night, the temperature went down to zero Fahrenheit -- probably the coldest night of my entire bike journey. I awoke to a wet tent from condensation.

Packing up was not easy but after rolling through Cloudcroft and back down, I found that the temperatures climbed back into the 60s. That was my memory of Cloudcroft. Today, driving up to Cloudcroft I turned off onto that national Forest Road, and looked around trying to guess where I encamped 21 years before. It was a lovely area really, except when it is freezing.

Just as you top out in Cloudcroft proper is the Trestle Recreation Area, aptly named due to the tall and long (but rickety) railroad trestle bridge (still existing.)

The recreation area is small but has a little trail through the forest with views of the vast valley floor below. Signage reveals how they constructed the railroad up the side of a mountain, which was pretty fascinating, I thought.

Cloudcroft itself isn't much to speak of, being a typical tourist town with typical expensive tourist shops. But it sits on a lovely setting. Tall Ponderosa Pines create mountain sceneries as good as any in the West. Plus you find lots of places to camp if you're okay hanging out at 8000 feet.

I'm not. So after a picnic lunch at the local wayside, I headed back down the mountain, the way I came.

Ruidoso, New Mexico

Just north of Alamogordo is the little town of Tularosa New Mexico. Here US 70 splits from US 54 and heads up toward another mountain town -- Ruidoso New Mexico. Traveling route 70 reveals quite a contrast in cultures. On the trip up to Ruidoso, you pass through the Mescalaro Indian Reservation where people are respectful of the land and keep things natural.

But once you get past Mescalero, here comes Ruidoso. Situated in the midst of mountain beauty is a tourist town to beat all tourist towns. Narrow curvy streets are populated with colorful displays of tourist chitz. Mansions and ski areas reminded me of Aspen Colorado.

Of course, tourist towns don't exist for no reason. People come to the area attracted by its natural beauty. And driving out the other side of town, natural beauty is evident if you don't mind all the Keep Out and No Trespassing signs.

Once on the eastern side of town, you pass the airport and go down the hill to an interesting old-time fort called Fort Stanton. Built back in the middle of the 19th century, it reminded me more of an old-time college town than a military fort. Larger buildings surrounded a quadrangle with historical signs at each building. This turned out to be a delightful afternoon stroll. Without the old cannons on the lawn, you wouldn't think it military at all.

Bypassing Ruidoso on the way back, we happened to find a multitude of RV parks. But it's not likely I'll be staying in Ruidoso as it is higher elevation even than Cloudcroft.

May 1 to June 2, 2018 Colorado

To get from Southern New Mexico to Colorado, the usual route is to go up I25, taking you right through the center of Albuquerque and then up the mountain past the Indian reservations and casinos to Santa Fe. And then you go past Pecos Valley to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

It's an exhausting drive but being in Alamogordo it looked like taking US 54 North was perhaps a better route.

This road goes north through Carrizozo (really!) and thence through vast miles of open range, until passing Interstate 40. And then you go a short hop that takes you to Las Vegas. Even though rolling through miles and miles of treeless prairie deserts with nary a gas station for 100 miles (and no signs to that effect) it still was easier and more pleasant than having to face the trials on I25.

I 25 from Las Vegas to Raton New Mexico

From Las Vegas to the Colorado border is miles and miles (and miles) of flat prairiegrass. The scenery is great if you like looking at grass. Thus, it's always a relief when Raton rolls into view at the end of the day. The Willow Springs RV park is a good place to stay. And first thing in the morning, you head up Raton pass.

I end up traveling all over the US from east to west, from Pennsylvania to Arizona. And Raton pass is the only pass I have to go over. It's always something to look forward to. NOT! My GMC suburban hauls my trailer over the 9000 feet at a good 25 mph. And what a relief when the top is passed -- which is the border between New Mexico and Colorado.

Down we go to Trinidad and then roll up I25 past the congested Colorado cities. First Pueblo, then Colorado Springs and over Monument Hill, down to Castle Rock followed by my "favorite" -- Denver. In my opinion, I25 is the worst road to travel in the country. I25 is full of potholes, narrowness, speeders, and congestion. What fun! I haven't yet passed Denver at any time of the day when there hasn't been a traffic jam.

Compare this to Phoenix -- a much bigger city whose roads are actually pleasant to drive on (except, of course, for rush-hour.)

Getting north of Denver is always a relief although the traffic continues heavily all the way to Fort Collins where it drops off dramatically. (Mostly because there's nothing there between Fort Collins and Cheyenne.)

But I was heading for Berthoud, CO just past Longmont. At Rennie and Kirsten's place, I parked the trailer for two solid weeks while they went to Hawaii and I got to house sit for a while. I hadn't lived in a house for some time. I do not like being closed in by four white walls. In my trailer especially with the windows open, I feel like I'm outside. I experience all the weather conditions and sleep with open windows. Great!

While I was sleeping in the house one night, it rained a cloudburst. But I never even knew it until stepping outside in the morning.

And really when I'm sleeping in a big empty house at night, it's a little scary. Maybe it's something left over from childhood but I have always been uncomfortable sleeping in a big house all by myself. But I've never felt this way in my trailer, no matter where I was. Go figure!

Sleeping inside also revealed to me that I have some sleep apnea where I don't get enough air when sleeping. Opening the windows solved that issue. There's always enough moving air at night in my trailer.

That's why I was so glad when Rennie and Kirsten returned from Hawaii. I felt like coming home when moving back into the trailer.

I can honestly say that living in my trailer is the best place I have ever lived. That might explain why it's been two years now.

Berthoud is a bedroom town for the bigger cities of Boulder and Longmont to the south and Loveland to the north. It's a pleasant suburban community with several grassy parks for walking Sammy. To me, the grassy parks are the main attraction. That's the first thing that Sammy and I do when coming to a new town. We find the parks.

The town park at the center of Berthoud has large sculptures of what you'd expect in a western town. Cowboys, elks, horses -- but also a fat walrus. Never did get a good explanation for that one.

Over on the south side of town just below the miles of suburban dwellings is a walkway around a marsh. Such a pleasant place to be in the spring and fall. As everywhere in the West, temperatures can be extreme during the summertime. On the front range above Denver is not a whole lot of RV parks. Frankly, the gentry there would prefer not to look at trailers and campers. Thus the ones that are there tend to be full of permanent residents with no vacancies.

But a spot is always available if you know the secret. It's called the Boulder County Fairgrounds RV park which is only first-come first-served. Getting there on Sunday evening, you always find a spot but there is a 14 day limit per year. This is good enough to visit friends for a little while.

For me, summertime means traveling across the US to visit family in the East. My preference is to travel on weekends and park in the campgrounds and work during the week. That's because I need Wi-Fi and Internet.

Having gone across the US a number of times, I know just where the best places are to spend the night or the week. Vacationers driving a fancy RV the size of a bus probably don't care that RV parks would charge $40 or $50 a night but I care. A lot. That's why I stay in RV parks that are relatively inexpensive.

Corps of Engineers campgrounds are the name of the game. These parks are federal, meaning the senior passcard gets you in at half price. I like to pick the ones where I end up paying about $8 a night. Here's my route across the US with places to stay:

From Denver you go up interstate 76 past Sterling to get on I 80, near Julesburg, CO. Why Interstate 80? It's a lot more scenic, by far, than I70. You follow the Oregon Trail along the Platte River so you are always driving along a tree-lined route, such that you can forget you're crossing the Great Plains. On the first night, I stayed in Elm Creek, Nebraska. Just off the highway is a park that is basically a big parking lot but with electric and water, which is fine for an overnight stay. From there, only a few hundred miles later you come to Des Moines's Iowa. You wouldn't think of this as a vacation spot, would you? Maybe not, but you would be wrong.

Just north of the highway is Saylorsville Lake. Surrounding the lake are a number of excellent campgrounds, where you find green grass, hardwood trees and first-class facilities. I like to stay at Cherry Glen campground where we pay $9 a night. Hiking trails and bike trails abound. Plus, there's lots of recreational sites around the lake.

Sometimes, I stay in the campground right in front of the dam but I kind of feel anxious being in front of such a huge dam.

When ready to leave Iowa, you continue East on I80, eventually passing the Iowa 80 truck stop near the state border, which is billed as the largest truckstop in the world. Here I usually leave I80 and head south toward I70. Otherwise you have to drive through Chicago and that I won't do.

Crossing the Mississippi here, you're on I74 that takes you into Illinois. I've always liked I74. Getting away from all the trucks on I80 may have something to do with it. Or perhaps just driving through Illinois where you finally have eastern scenery after having been in the West so long. (Iowa is mostly cornfields along I80.)

For me, it's usually Friday afternoon when I leave Des Moines around noon. From there, it's only 300 miles to the East Galesburg RV park which is just off the highway. It used to be a KOA park but now is much less expensive than any KOA. I used to stop at WestLake Recreational Area on I280 between I 80 and I74. But I make more miles if I stay in East Galesburg.

Saturday then becomes a drive down I74 in Illinois past Bloomington and Urbana-Champaign. I like to make it to Indiana on a Saturday night and I almost do, except that there is a fine campground in Danville Illinois right at the border. It's called the Kickapoo State Park. Highly recommended.

Sunday is a drive across Indiana on I 74 to Indianapolis where driving east means getting onto I70. Watch out for I70 between Indianapolis and Ohio. Potholes and road bumps are everywhere but the worst is the bridge transitions where the asphalt ends as you cross the bridge and starts up again on the other side. The transitions are bumps -- large bumps. Car suspensions really take a hit. On the way back west, I take the back roads to avoid I70 in East Indiana.

Next, you go across Ohio and around Columbus. Here I can go one of two ways. One is due east on I70 continuing into Pennsylvania where my family lives in north-central Pennsylvania. Or I can go north on I270 to hit I80 in Youngstown Ohio.

Actually, I did the I70 route only once. Bad choice. Roads in Pennsylvania are really narrow and winding -- even the expressways. Plus they are up-and-down, up-and-down. Better by far is going up by I270 in Ohio. I like to catch I90 near Erie, PA. Then go across I68 in New York State over to Corning New York where I can head down to Mansfield Pennsylvania.

On the way back West, I like to go back the same route as far as West Iowa. Then head North onto I29 past Sioux City and then over to Yankton South Dakota.

Yankton has a really fine campground. In fact, it may be the best I've ever seen. The Cottonwood Campground in the Lewis and Clark Recreational Area is just fantastic, with great scenery. It's in the trees, by the lake with huge, grassy parks.

Weekends, however, are really jammed with RVs. That's why I appreciate that I usually stay Sunday eve to Friday afternoon.

On Friday, it's back West on I 90 across South Dakota. Perhaps you think of South Dakota as flat, dusty and barren. This was my imagination as I headed north up US 81 toward I 90. But I got a good surprise. South Dakota is actually quite scenic, if you like rolling grasslands.

Even in August, the grass is still green. But who wants to drive several hundred miles of road with billboards every 100 yards? It's possible that Wall Drug has more billboards on highways in the US than any other company. And there are still vast acreages of cornfields until you cross the Missouri River at Chamberlain.

After Chamberlain on the Missouri River, you head across western South Dakota, straight for the Black Hills, which have always been a fascinating place to me. However, if you're just cruising by on the expressway, the scenery isn't all that great. Too many towns. But soon, you cross the border into Wyoming. And soon after that is the turn off for Devils Tower.

More later.