This morning, we were contacted by Kathi & Randy. They attended our 2014 Fall Rally in Goshen, Indiana and our 2016 Boondocking Rally in Tallahassee, Florida.
They are also on a western path and would be stopping in Van Horn this evening. So, we made plans to get together for dinner and game night. Linda had planned to make a pot of chili, so we invited them over rather than going out.
Providing a meal on a travel day for people we know that are coming into the area has been a bit of an RV-Dreams Family tradition over the years.
So, Linda did some laundry here at the Desert Willow RV Park, and then she got a pot of chili going while I worked on some website stuff and watched college basketball.
Kathi & Randy were going to be staying at the Oasis RV Park, the other Passport America park in Van Horn, and the one Kathi referred to as the Pepto Bismol Pink park. They have stayed there before and she calls it their "cult favorite".
After waking up to the below freezing temperatures, the sun warmed things up fairly quickly and it actually got hot in our rig in the afternoon, a welcome heat.
We had a wonderful evening talking with Kathi & Randy, enjoying some chili, and playing cards. Euchre was the game of choice tonight, and Linda and Randy partnered up to pull out a close two out of three win. We had only spent time with them in the past in group settings, and it's always great to get to know folks better in these one-on-one situations. Thanks for reaching out Kathi & Randy and thanks for the venison! The conversation flowed well and we look forward to the next time we meet.
Well, today, December 10, was Linda's birthday and it was also a travel day. We would be going through El Paso, one of her least favorite cities to travel through, and we didn't have big birthday plans. But in three of the last four years on her birthday we've been on a Caribbean cruise, in Costa Rica, and in the Galapagos Islands, so I got a pass this time.
The sunrise this morning was gorgeous, but the view was marred by so many telephone and electric poles/lines, I didn't bother to take a photo.
I let Linda sleep as long as she wanted, and she eventually crawled out of bed around 9:45. We would be getting a late start today, but we were crossing into the Mountain time zone and gaining an hour, so no worries.
The plan today was to travel into New Mexico and stay at the Leasburg Dam State Park just north of Las Cruces. They have a few non-reservable sites, and I tried to call the park twice to talk to them about the size of those sites and how many might be available - no answer.
Now, we love New Mexico State Parks and their nightly rate of $14 for electric and water hook-ups. But, like most state park systems these days, they use the ReserveAmerica reservation system which I hate for a variety of reasons. I checked the availability of reservable sites and was surprised to find a very limited selection. I probably should have gone ahead and reserved one, but we decided to wing it.
Before I could contact our friends Ron & Donna in Las Cruces to see about getting together, Donna contacted us. I mentioned we were staying at the state park, and she said to call them when we arrived. I thought it would be a nice birthday surprise for Linda, so I didn't tell her.
While Linda got the inside of the rig ready to go, I took the truck to fill up with diesel. I went to the nearby Pilot because we have a Flying J/Pilot rewards card, but the diesel at the Valero next door was eleven cents cheaper per gallon even with my Pilot discount. And for the first time in a very long time, we were seeing diesel at over $3 per gallon.
Back at the RV park, I hadn't hooked us up to the sewer, so I got out the hose and dumped the tanks. Linda was ready to go, and we finally pulled out right at noon. But within just a few miles on I-10 we were in the Mountain time zone, so we adjusted the clocks in our vehicles.
Van Horn is on the western edge of Culberson County, Texas next to the Hudspeth County line. Hudspeth County and El Paso County are the two most western counties in the state and they are the only two counties in Texas on Mountain time.
We were cruising along at our normal interstate speed of around 62 mph and though the speed limit was 80, we really didn't see that many vehicles zooming past us at that upper limit. Then, there was an SUV in the middle of the highway with lights flashing. The officer was trying to get everyone to slow down and move into the right lane where another officer up ahead was making everyone exit the interstate. Apparently, there was an accident and the interstate was shut down in both directions.
Later, we learned that the highway closing was due to an RV fire although we never could find anything in the way of details. Reports said a propane tank exploded, but my guess would be the fire started long before a propane tank exploded. The reports didn't say if it was a motorhome or a trailer or if anyone was injured. We certainly hope everyone is okay, and we further hope it didn't involve anyone we know.
We exited at Fort Hancock, and I just followed all the trucks and other traffic through the little town until the road dead-ended at TX Hwy 20. Traffic was backed up, so we had time to check directions and saw that Hwy 20 continued toward El Paso and there were a couple of places we could return to the interstate.
We followed everyone else, and it looked like people were turning to go back to I-10 in the little town of Tornillo. However, it also looked like traffic was still backed up. Rather than following the trucks who we know were in communication, we continued on Hwy 20 where there was no traffic. A few miles down the road, we saw a detour sign and another sign that said "bridge under construction" along with a low clearance warning. Sheesh.
So, we took the detour which led to a highway. I said to Linda on the walkie-talkie "I wonder if I should take a right or follow the signs back to I-10". She said "If you take a right, you'll be in Mexico". Well allrighty then.
It turned out the detour was actually a good way to get back to the interstate. Whew. Well, that took some time.
We eventually got to El Paso where we were trying a new route around the city. The prior times we had been through El Paso, we remembered a lot of construction, confusing signs, and exit ramps that were too short allowing traffic to back up onto the interstate. We purposely decided to attack El Paso on a Sunday to perhaps alleviate some of those issues.
There is a loop - HWy 375 - that goes around the city to the north. However, following that loop all the way around to I-10 to continue on requires going over the Franklin Mountains with some fairly long, steep grades going up on the east side and back down on the west side. Doing some research, we found other RVers were exiting the loop before going over the mountains and continuing farther north before cutting back over on New Mexico Hwy 404.
I'm going to do a separate post with more details on that route. Linda, for one, was very happy with it, but there are a couple tricky parts.
Back on I-10 heading toward Las Cruces, the road was wonderful. A group of motorcycles going at very high speed startled us as they went around, but otherwise that part of the trip was great .... until I completely lost sight of what I was doing and inexplicably stayed on I-10 when I was supposed to bear right onto I-25 North. Sheesh.
So, like we teach folks in our seminars, I didn't panic and just continued to the next exit where we got off, made a couple of turns and got back on I-10 to reconnect with I-25. From there, it was once again an easy drive to our exit to get to Leasburg Dam State Park.
Or so we thought. After just a couple of miles on I-25, traffic slowed once again, and I exclaimed into the walkie-talkie "You've got to be kidding me".
There were emergency vehicles on both sides of the highway, and another one coming up behind us. The right lane was still open and, as we squeezed around, we saw all the motorcycles that passed us earlier on the shoulder. There didn't appear to be any other vehicles involved. We needed to keep moving, and I only got a glimpse of someone on a stretcher. We don't know what happened, but it appeared one of the motorcycles may have wiped out. Again, we hope everyone is okay.
Finally, we pulled up to the office around 3:00 after about 10 - 15 extra miles of detours and various delays. Inside there was a park ranger and two workampers.
I asked about camping and they said they only had one site available for one night. The non-reservable sites were full and they said we probably wouldn't fit anyway. They recommended getting online as soon as possible to see if there were other sites available and to book with the understanding we would have to move.
"You can't just book it here in the office for us?" was my question. Nope. Reservations have to be made online (so ReserveAmerica can get their $12 reservation fee) even if you are standing right there. Grrrr.
In the past, in other state park systems, we've had to pay ReserveAmerica's fee even if we are just walking in and getting a non-reservable site that's not even on their system. I've written my share of letters about ReserveAmerica getting paid when they do nothing.
Also, we couldn't pay for tonight in the office, either. We had to get a permit and deposit the funds in the pipe vault near the entrance. Every state park system is different, and we forget the nuances when we haven't been in one for a while.
The ranger was trying to sell us on the New Mexico Parks Annual Camping Permit. For a non-resident it's $225. Yeah, I don't think so. It basically gets you $10 off every night of camping, so it takes about 23 days of camping each year in New Mexico to pay for it.
Though we enjoy the New Mexico State Parks, we won't be doing three weeks of camping in the next year and, besides, the regular rate is only $14 - a real bargain. And that's been the rate for years. We paid only $14 for our first visit to the New Mexico State Parks back in the summer of 2007.
The guys in the office were helpful, and we appreciated their efforts. After expressing my disgust with ReserveAmerica and apologetically declining an annual pass, we proceeded to our campsite.
Rather than driving the Jeep around the loop to check out the site like we usually do, we didn't have a choice of sites so we just went on. Linda went ahead and I heard on the walkie-talkie "Follow me" when actually she said "Don't follow me!" Oops. Too late. I had to back out of the little mini-loop.
Finally, we made it to our site - Site 22 - which is a gravel pull-through that has a concrete pad for the fifth wheel itself and a covered picnic table. A few sites have 50-amp electric, but this one only has 30 plus a water hook-up.
As soon as I finished hooking up the utilities, Ron & Donna pulled in. They took a chance we would be in and settled not knowing about our travel delays. Of course, that's not unusual for them as you'll see later.
Linda finished up getting the inside ready and came out for her surprise visit. They also brought a birthday cake.
Donna & Ron attended our 2013 RV-Dreams Rally, but before that we had met them a couple of times before.
Funny story. The first time we met was back in 2009 when we were traveling from the west back to a Rally we were were having in Texas. Most of the time, we don't broadcast where we are going to be staying until we get there - it's just a safety precaution.
But having followed us for a little while, Donna knew our travel habits including the distance we prefer to travel and our usual camping fee budget. She surmised that we would likely be stopping in Las Cruces at a Passport America park. So, they drove through the RV park where she guessed we might be staying. Sure enough, her hypothesis was correct.
Now, we have visitors that have just shown up our campsite from time to time, but that was the first time anyone guessed where we were going to be and showed up before we had posted it. So, they are affectionately known to us as "The Stalkers". Others have admitted to sort of being stalkers, but Ron & Donna were the first. And we always enjoy their company.
But before I could relax with them, I had to get online. Fortunately, there were two sites available for a few nights. I booked Site 23 right behind us for four additional nights, and then I walked the payment for tonight to the payment pipe.
Now, after quite the day of unexpected events, we could finally relax.
The camphost delivered some firewood, and I got a fire started while Linda set up some chairs. We sat around the fire, ....
and got caught up. Donna & Ron are still working, and there may be some big changes in their future. They aren't ready to full-time just yet, but they have a fifth wheel, and it's still something they think about.
Linda heated up last night's chili, and we had dinner around the fire. Eventually, it was time for cake. Donna brought a "question mark" candle, so we lit it for Linda.
Linda turned 54 today, so we are the same age again until my birthday in July. In fact, she has to ask me how old I am to know how old she is.
We're so glad Ron & Donna were able to come and help make Linda's birthday special. It was great seeing them again, and tonight was probably the only night they could have made it.
Our friends departed with the usual hugs and handshakes, and we settled in for another chilly night. Our forecast is for highs in the low 60s and lows in the low 30s the next few days.
I have my sights set on some hiking in the Organ Mountains - Desert Peaks National Monument and visiting the White Sands National Monument as well. Of course we'll be reporting on those in the coming days. Until next time.