Perched High on a Ridge

Highway 441 was still closed due to the big storm and the late Spring snowfall. Our next stop was Asheville, NC so to get there we had to drive a bit north and cross the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at a lower elevation. This was probably just as well. I am not sure about pulling a trailer over the top of the mountains.

It was a lovely day for a drive and you couldn’t beat the scenery.

We were staying at the Campfire Lodgings RV Park which was just outside Weaverville and a few miles north of Asheville. The campground is situated high on a mountain with an outstanding view of the valley below. A river runs through the valley and it couldn’t be much more beautiful.

The road leading up the mountain was a bit treacherous. As with so many of our arrivals, it was perhaps more excitement than we needed. The steep incline twisted and turned and, for the millionth time, I wondered how a Class A would ever make it.

This concern was echoed as Jim worked to back in to our site. The ground across the road dropped off precipitously and it was quite a trick to jockey the trailer into the site. We got settled and enjoyed a quiet evening in camp.

The caretaker at the campground was an extremely friendly and gregarious young fellow. He was very helpful. We would see him frequently during the next two days. He was obviously a devout Christian. I say obviously because his t-shirts invariably had a religious message. His standard farewell was, “Have a Blessed Day.” It was a little awkward for two reasons. The first was that we wanted to be cordial, but we were uncomfortable responding in kind. We solved that by saying, “Thank you, and you, too.” The other reason was we had begun watching The Handmaid’s Tale and it was frighteningly reminiscent of that disturbing dystopia.

Having had such a glorious hike in Elkmont, we were anxious to get back on the trail again. If I had thought Ashville would give us easy access to the eastern side of the Great Smoky Mountains as well as a neat town to explore, I was a little misguided. The National Park was a distance away. Not insurmountable, but farther than we wanted to drive round trip for a hike.

After a bit of research, we decided to hike the Craven Gap Trail. It was only half an hour away and had some decent reviews. The GPS took us on a wild ride to the trail. We drove up Webb Cove Road, a twisty-turny adventure ride up the side of a mountain. I have no idea how people drive this road in the dark or inclement weather. It was a white knuckle drive for me.

Sadly, a bologna sandwich is just not that satisfying after dining on pate. The trail was fine, but it was nothing close to the glorious Cucumber Gap Trail. We hiked for a good long while through the woods. Trees obscured the views of mountains and ridges. We stopped for lunch at the turnaround point and hiked back.

We spent the balance of the afternoon at the trailer. After all of our tick adventures, I had made another vet appointment for Dakota to get a Lyme test. There was no way I was taking my beautiful puppy to the vet in his current dirty condition. Since the shower plumbing was leaking I finally decided to wash him in the shower using buckets of water. As always Dakota was patient with the strange behavior of his human. He patiently stood and waited as I hauled buckets of water to we him, soaped him all over and then hauled more water to rinse him. Once it was over, it was easy to see how happy he was to be clean and even more beautiful than before.

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When we had woken that morning, we saw the site next to us was now occupied. Late the night before a somewhat dubious looking trailer and red pickup truck had arrived. I am ashamed to say we were a bit sniffy about it. We would never get to a campground late at night. We disparaged their ancient trailer and truck. We were not very nice.

Of course, we met the occupants and they were completely charming. They were two women in their late 20’s, early 30’s. They were taking a year off to travel the country. One had sold her house and together they had bought the old trailer and ripped it apart and re-built it. They gave us a tour of their 23’ trailer and the job they had done. I couldn’t have re-wired a trailer, ripped out the shower or built a platform bed. They had done a lot of work on the old pickup, too. In fact, they arrived so late because something had happened to the brake pads. I could not begin to fix brake pads. These women had moxie.

IMG_3478They were having a grand time and we shared our respective plans and adventures. One of them asked if I had read The Longest Road—about a man with an Airstream. I said I hadn’t and she offered to lend it to me. The book is by Philip Caputo and it turns out he lives in Norfolk right near us in CT. He decides to drive from Key West to the Arctic Circle and does so in an old vintage Airstream. I returned the book to them when we left and downloaded it to my Kindle so I could finish it. Not unlike Travels With Charley, the similarities in our experiences were striking.

Our second day in Ashville was dedicated to a walking tour of the city. Touristing with a dog means walking tours so we hit the Visitors Center first and got a map. It was a sunny day and perfect for sightseeing. We strolled around. Having been beautified, Dakota garnered much attention and pats. I was excited to visit Malaprops. It had been many years since I visited this independent. It was satisfying to poke around the bookshelves.

We stumbled upon Pete’s Pies. They touted their dog-friendly courtyard dining area and that was enough for us. It was a very delightful courtyard. I ordered a Ploughman’s Special. It was enormous. Dakota helped me with the apple slices and I had enough to take with for a lunch again the next day. Jim had a Shepherd’s Pie.

We had a vet appointment up in Weaverville at 1:30 so we hustled back to the truck. The Appalachian Animal Hospital had good ratings on-line. The building which housed the clinic looked brand new. I walked in with Dakota and was ushered to a small room. It was nice not to have to deal with other animals.

After a brief wait, a technician came in and asked why we were there. She was in her 20’s and very friendly. She had another young woman with her who was interning at the clinic. The vet came in and rather than look at Dakota on an exam table, joined him on the floor. She gave him a thorough check up. At one point Dakota was a little nippy and they got him a “party hat.” It was a very simple nylon muzzle with a velcro close. He didn’t seem to mind it at all. I love that they made it a positive experience. How could we mind a “party hat?” They drew blood for the tests which happily came back negative. Dr. Sheldon gave Dakota a clean bill of health especially for a dog his age.

It was once again a relief to know that our lifestyle of traveling and hiking, changing venue often was not having an adverse affect on Dakota’s health. In fact he had lost yet more weight and was now down to 26.5 lbs. That was just about three pounds of lost weight. I sure wish I had dropped 10% of my body weight on our trip.

We had one last night in Asheville. We enjoyed a fire in our fire ring and savored the lovely night air. The visit was too short, but we had enjoyed it.

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain Dog Meets Sitting Bull

Once again we retraced our route along Route 70 through Roswell and then south to Carlsbad. We again left the green Rio Hondo valley and descended to the flat dry desert. Despite our earlier negative experience with a KOA, we were booked to stay three days at the KOA in Carlsbad. This resort boasted of tremendous reviews and they were accurate. This was an extremely well-maintained park with very nice bath facilities and a spotless laundry. They even offered trailer delivery of their own tasty barbecue!

 

IMG_0744The back of the menu for their barbecue offered ideas of things to do in the area. Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area was one idea which drew our attention. It said they had great facilities and were dog-friendly. We’re up for any place receptive to our four-legged roommate. The next morning we packed a picnic and headed out.

We turned off the main highway to Carlsbad and drove for miles through the desert. Along each side of the road, hills of jagged rock erupted from the desert floor. The rock was variously colored shades of tan and brown with streaks of red or white rock breaking the monotone. There was almost no traffic, just an occasional passing truck. Periodically we passed oil derricks and other signs of energy harvesting. There were no houses except for one clump of three at about the halfway point.

Our highway terminated at the park. High mountains surrounded the parking lot and picnic area. The park was created in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps--another tremendous gift to posterity grown from the roots of the Depression. The picnic shelters were constructed of local rock and looked like they could withstand the winds forever. The wind was blowing with some strength so it was a good bet they had been tested. Signage on the wall of the comfort station warned against the usual perils of rattlesnakes and added warnings and combat strategies against mountain lion attacks. That was sure to keep me looking over my shoulder even as I scanned the trail ahead.

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The falls of Sitting Bull are reached by a short trail. They stand 130’ tall and the water cascades into a swimming hole. Despite the March date the day was hot and there were quite a few children frolicking in the water.  Rather than swim, we opted to head out on the more challenging system of trails which run through the park.

We climbed a trail which wound up a mountain next to the falls and, as we progressed, we encountered fewer and fewer people. The terrain was beautiful. Tan and sand colored rocks were punctuated with scrub, bushes and twisted trees. Life was hard in this country, but abundant. We passed wild flowers and cactus in bloom.

Our trail headed across the valley floor and then snaked up the side of one of the big hills or tiny mountains depending upon your perspective. It was warm and the sun was strong, but the wind whisked away any drop of sweat. It was work climbing and stepping on the rocky trail, but it was very beautiful. We stopped periodically to just look around and marvel at the contours of the land and the play of the sun and clouds across the hills.

Dakota was proving yet again he is Mountain Dog. He was smiling and leaping over rocks like a young dog. He was number two in line and I was the caboose. Following Jim inspired him and I could keep an eye on him. We stopped frequently for water breaks. He insists on wearing that fur coat every day and it had to be pretty warm on a day like this. We forded several streams and Dakota got thoroughly muddy. He could be counted on to wade through the deepest muddiest mud.

We ate our sandwiches sitting on big rocks looking out across the valleys. The warm wind was whipping past us and the clouds flew overhead. It was an amazing scene and we could see the trail threading across the top of yet another ridge which would have an equally breathtaking view.

We wanted to go on forever. There was a big network of trails to be discovered and it was calling to us, but we also knew we had to make it back. No one was going to come carry us home. Hiking over rough terrain is much more demanding than a nice level walk. Reluctantly, we turned and headed back.

The return drive was equally striking. We reached the KOA in late afternoon and it was good to take advantage of their facilities and enjoy a nice long hot shower. We had ordered their barbecue for dinner. It was delivered to our trailer promptly at 7. It was pretty darn good barbeque and a treat not to have to cook. Pulled pork for me, ribs for Jim and coleslaw, potato salad with Texas toast on the side. It was good.

The KOA is situated next to Brantley Lake State Park.  Brantley Lake was yet another manmade lake created in the 1980’s when a dam was erected across our old friend, the Pecos River. This area is where the Pecos River gets its start. The lake’s size and shape shifts constantly depending upon the flow of the river and the current climate conditions. We had opted not to stay at the state park and were curious to see what we might be missing.

Surrounded by desert, the lake seems an incongruous mirage. It is popular for boating and fishing, but while the lake is stocked with many kinds of fish and is considered a destination fishing spot, high levels of DDT prevent the fish from being eaten.

The campground is fairly small and sits on a bluff overlooking the lake. As always in this part of the world, the wind blew ferociously and the sun was merciless and hot. We walked on a rocky nature trail which encircled the camp ground. It was not a tremendously inviting setting. The bathhouse fan was really noisy and could be heard through much of the campground.

 

 

We were pretty glad we had chosen to stay at the amenity-rich KOA. Let it be hot and dusty; we had a nice shower facility.

We were pretty glad we had chosen to stay at the amenity-rich KOA. Let it be hot and dusty; we had a nice shower facility.

 

Finding Our Better Place

We re-traced our path back to Ruidoso. Earlier I had called a few RV parks. Many of them were closed for winter, but Circle B, purported to be the largest, was open for business. A gruff voice told us to drive on over. Circle B was in Ruidoso Downs just across from the racetrack and the Billy the Kid Casino.IMG_0413 Despite how that might sound, it was still rural and the hills were covered in trees; pines, mesquite and juniper.

The proprietors of Circle B were Rip and Judy Van Winkle. How can you not like a guy called Rip Van Winkle? Gee, wonder how he got that nickname… Rip was somewhere in his 70’s. It was hard to tell. He had a wiry frame and weathered visage. He sported a billed cap declaring himself a Navy veteran. Vietnam perhaps? Affixed to his cap was a button, “I’m a deplorable…”

We got a site high on the hill at the back of the park with mountains on all sides. The sound of the road was distant. The air was cool and we were transcendently happy to be away from the heat and dust and to be perched on the hillside.

Ruidoso is a tourist area. A place for Texans and other New Mexicans to escape the desert heat in summer and the best southern NM ski destination in winter. It boasts the aforementioned race track and also features several casinos some of which are on the nearby Mescalero Apache Reservation. There are shops and galleries and all the accoutrements of a tourist area. Rip had given us a very helpful visitor guide from the previous summer’s season which became our bible.

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Rip had suggested we drive the Billy the Kid Byway and see the old western town of Lincoln. The Billy the Kid Byway is a somewhat triangularly shaped route which begins in Ruidoso, continues along Route 70 following the Rio Hondo to Hondo where it takes a left onto Route 380. We were just under way when we spotted an historical marker. We pulled over to take a look. The John H. Tunstall Murder Site, now who was that? It was an appetizing teaser to all that we were about to see and learn.

The road runs through lovely valleys flanked by brown hills spotted with cottonwood trees, pines and brush. It is incredibly pretty and the constant fluctuations of the hills make for successively remarkable views. We traveled past ranches and horse farms and reached the town of Lincoln.

Lincoln was the original seat of Lincoln County, once the largest county in the country. It is known as the best preserved western town and also was one of the most violent. Back in the mid-1800’s one sheriff alone covered the entire county which meant there was essentially no law. This lawlessness gave rise to the Lincoln County War from 1878-1881.

Sparked by the murder of John Tunstall, a wealthy British man who had arrived in town to establish a store to compete with the monopolistic Murphy/Dolan store, the two factions burst into conflict over control of the town. Gunfights, murder and assassination marked the next years as outlaw groups battled each other. Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, the Regulators—these are some of the infamous names from the period.

The main street of old Lincoln town is bounded on each end by museums. To the east is the Anderson-Freeman and on the west end is the Courthouse Museum.

The Anderson-Freeman is not a large museum, but it has a beautifully curated collection. Moving through the circuit of rooms, the first holds a collection of apache clothing and weapons. There are beaded shirts, moccasins and quivers with arrows and bows. The beaded apache mocassins and clothing were incredibly exciting to see. I could not imagine creating that embellishment with the tools they had at hand.

There is an exhibit on Buffalo Soldiers from nearby Fort Stanton with photos, artifacts, weapons, uniform items and a tent. The next room has a replica of a contemporary store complete with cash register.

The final room is dedicated to the Lincoln County War with representations of the key figures, archival photos, weapons and letters. One of these key figures, of course, was Billy the Kid. Was he simply a ruffian or popular hero? In this geographical area, he is considered a popular hero, but I must confess, he seemed more outlaw than hero. There is an excellent twenty-minute video documenting the events which led to the Lincoln County War and ties it all together.

After our visit to that museum, we gathered Dakota from the truck and strolled the main street. Along the street were many well-preserved buildings including the Tunstall store, the old hotel and dwellings of key figures. It was all so well-preserved. Closing your eyes, you could imagine yourself back in a time when gunshots rang out all too frequently in the dusty street.

We took turns visiting the Courthouse Museum—one of us waiting with The Dude outside. This was once the Murphy/Dolan store known as “The House.” The store had a monopoly on commerce in Lincoln until John Tunstall turned up. After the hostilities ended, Murphy died, the store went out of business and was re-purposed to become the courthouse—an ironic transformation given its history.

The museum featured more exhibits on the town, an old stagecoach and a chronological retrospective of the Sheriffs of Lincoln County. The second floor was preserved as the courthouse. Here Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to hang to death. A large hole in the plaster wall at the foot of the stairway is purported to be the bullet hole from Billy’s pistol as he made his successful escape.

When we finished with Lincoln, we were hungry and literally down to our last dollar bill. The next stop on the Billy the Kid Byway was Capitan, home to Smokey Bear. We all remember Smokey (the) Bear and the “Only you can prevent forest fires” campaign. Seeing this country and the history of devastating fires, it is easy to comprehend the seriousness of fire danger. Smokey, of course, was rescued in 1950 in the wake of the disastrous Los Tablos and Capitan Gap fires. He was found clinging to a tree. We stopped at a marker for the Capitan Gap and Smokey Bear to consider the ravages of fire.

Fortunately, Capitan had a bank and a cash machine and, reinforced with greenbacks, we headed to the Oso Grill for some lunch. This welcoming corner restaurant had an excellent chef. I ordered a Green Chile Corn Pancake with Red Beans for lunch and it was one of those meals which will live in my memory for a long time. I will be trying to recreate it when we get home.

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After our delightful meal, we headed to the Smokey Bear Historical Park. Having had a photo-op with Smokey en-route to Capitan, we skipped the park. It was not dog-friendly and we didn’t want to put Dakota back in the truck alone.

The last leg of the Billy the Kid Byway triangle was Route 48 leading from Capitan to Ruidoso. We motored past more ranches, hills studded with trees, and then we hit a terrifying vastness of burned and gutted trees and barren scorched earth. We had caught the edge of the devastation from the Little Bear Fire in 2012. The fire began in early June and was almost contained when the winds came up. It raged out of control and wasn’t contained for another three weeks. Altogether it scorched more than 44,000 acres and destroyed almost 250 homes. I can’t quite imagine how terrifying it would be to have this fire as a neighbor for three weeks.  Smokey Bear is still a much-needed reminder.

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Wednesday was what we call a home maintenance day. We visited the ranger station to get some hiking information. Due to the Little Bear fire not all of the local trails are open. We also hit the grocery store and the car wash. The big event Wednesday was finding our own Smokey Bear.

Not surprisingly, there were bears everywhere on signs and as statues decorating stores, motels—pretty much everything. Jim and I lusted after our own bear. We wanted to take Smokey home with us. Many of the figures were sort of tacky, but we found the perfect spot. “Grizzly’s” offered hand-crafted bears and other sculptures created with chain saws. We met Bob, the artist, and found our perfect Smokey. He will ride along with us as our new, 4th roommate.

Thursday we were ready to hike and headed out to an area called Cedar Creek Trail System in the Smokey Bear Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest. The Lincoln National Forest is enormous. It covers more than 1.1 million acres and was named for our 16th president. It includes four separate mountain ranges. If you drive through southeastern New Mexico, you encounter the Lincoln National Forest over and over again.

Ruidoso lies at an elevation of 6400 feet. We were slowly getting used to the height, but our hike would take us up over the mountains as high as 7400 feet. The trail was extremely well-maintained and the weather perfect with sunny skies, a reasonable wind and a temperature just about 70 degrees. We were bushed after our arduous hike, but it was excellent.

Watching the news the night before, the weatherman had warned of an impending storm. High winds and a cold front were predicted to sweep through the area. After our hike, we headed to the trailer for lunch and a rest. Suddenly, the sun and the mountains disappeared. The wind blew furiously and a dense fog of dust and moisture engulfed the world. It was truly unsettling.

Despite the ominous weather, we headed out to visit the Hubbard Museum of the American West.  Everyone else seemed to take this storm as a normal occurrence so we did our best to ignore it.

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This museum is housed in what once was a giant skating rink.   Almost all of the museum features the private collection of Anne Stradling. This is an extensive collection of Native American artifacts and art. The museum also featured historical photos of Ruidoso and the Old West.

For us, the high point of the museum was the collection of various buggies, carts and stagecoaches including a Conestoga Wagon in amazing condition. Like seeing the town of Lincoln, these artifacts fired our imagination.

The wind blew strongly all through the night. Friday the wind was still raging. We had intended to go for another hike, but the strong gusts of wind made it seem much nicer to hole up in the trailer and putter on office projects, knitting and other tasks.

Earlier in the week, I had found a veterinary practice in town which had good reviews. Dakota needed some routine tests and it seemed like a check up after two months on the road would be a wise undertaking. I was really curious to know if he had lost any weight with all of our activity.

Ruidoso Animal Clinic was a sunny, wooden-beamed building and the staff were very proficient and friendly. Sitting in the waiting area, we fell into conversation with a man holding his chihuahua on his lap. The dog had a leather collar decorated with three silver conchs. The man was there to get an anti-rattlesnake venom shot for the dog. He explained they rode out on the mountains and he wanted his dog safe. He and his wife had moved to Ruidoso thirty years before. His face was deeply etched with lines and it was easy to believe he had been riding the hills for so long.

Dakota got a thorough checkup and was pronounced “a healthy dog for one his age.” He got all of his tests, which were negative, had a pedicure and was weighed. Our svelte boy had dropped from his November weight of 29 lbs 4 ozs to 27 lbs 6 ozs. It felt incredibly good to know he was tolerating the stress and change of travel.

Needless to say, we really loved our five days in Ruidoso. It was beautiful and engaging. Our friend from the vet had arrived thirty years ago and opted to stay. It was tempting to consider doing the same, but we had already extended our stay once and it was time to head down to Carlsbad.

Las Cruces to Roswell: Alien Territory

Las CrucesIt was tough leaving Franklin Mountains. It is always bittersweet leaving a place which we have enjoyed. We headed north towards Las Cruces on Interstate 10 and then banked northeast onto Highway 70.

Highway 70 gave us a good ride. We passed the area around Bataan MarchFort Bliss and the White Sands Missile Range. We were puzzled to see hundreds of people out walking the desert. It was quite hot and we were both curious what they were up to and happy we weren’t out hiking in the hot sun. We found out later on the news that it was 75th Anniversary of the Bataan Death March. They were out marching for charity over 26 miles of hot sand. They even had a survivor of the march on hand although he didn’t march.

We next skirted the blazing white sands of the White Sands National Monument. This is the world’s largest gypsum sand dune. I think it was enough for me to see the glistening sands from the cool window of our truck cab.

pistachio nutOur road continued to a range of low mountains which marked Almagordo. The brown hills rose high above the sandy Tularosa Basin marked with scrub and mesquite. The road turned northward and we passed shops and stands selling pistachios. One shop featured the world’s largest pistachio nut sculpture. It would have been nice to stop, but for some reason these guys don’t think about 48’ trucks and trailers when they plan their parking lots. I don’t know why because the roads are full of rv’s. You just don’t want to get caught in a parking lot with no space to turn around or pull through.

The next major attraction on our drive was a charming looking town called Tularosa, the City of Roses. The main street featured some historic old buildings many of which now sported shops and cafes. If I worked or lived near Almagordo, this might be where I would choose to live. It had a good feeling to it. We were now thinking seriously about lunch and looking for a place to pull into.

Just outside town, a Subway sandwich shop sat next to a large empty parking lot. We pulled over and went in to order. We were finishing up our sandwiches when a big Fifth Wheel pulled in right next to us. We all commented on how thoughtful the Subway was to leave us a nice big parking space.

Past Tularosa the road began to climb. The country became hilly and soon trees appeared. The thermostat on the truck descended to a more comfortable range. We entered the Mescalero Apache reservation. My first reservation! It was a relief to see green hills after so much tan and brown. Modest homes lined the roads along with the reservation headquarters. We had been seeing billboards advertising the Inn of the Mountain Gods Casino since before we hit El Paso and now we found out that it belonged to this reservation and tribe.

Next Highway 70 lead us through Ruidoso and Ruiddoso Downs. These twin towns were full of hotels, rv resorts and more casinos. Ruidoso Downs featured a race track and the Billy the Kid Casino. During the summer season quarter horse and thoroughbred races attracted gamblers and tourists. There were also signs advertising Ski Apache, also owned by the Mescalero Apaches, and the town did have a look which was half western desert town and half ski resort—an interesting, but pleasing combination.

Highway 70 now turned eastward turned eastward following the Rio Hondo which wound through a lovely valley. We passed the towns of Hondo and Tinnie. Ranches spread across the valley with horses and cattle. The air was fresh with the scent of the pines on the hillsides. It was a very enjoyable drive.

The road descended out of the valley to high desert plains and the temperature climbed. We pulled off the road at a rest stop. Signage announced that we were in the Atlas Missile Range. It directed us to look for silos and one sat just a short way from the road.

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The dry and dusty road continued across flat desert plains. Our drive continued through the town and county seat of Roswell. Billboards sporting aliens sprouted from the desert. In Roswell we motored past the UFO Museum.  We were in alien territory, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why any alien would choose this barren, arid and hot place to visit.

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