A Gold Mine, Literally and Figuratively

We routed through Cañon City, Colorado because there were quite a few things listed there on our “To Do” travel document.  When we arrived at the RV Park, they gave us a “Checklist for Adventure” containing 25 activities that were local or nearby. There was some over-lap with my list but not total.  It seemed the Cañon City area was a relative gold mine of things to do!

We experienced eight of the 25 activities on the RV park list and this is my fourth (and last) blog from the Cañon City area!

Number 24 on their list was “Cripple Creek – Gold Rush Town.”  We set out on a beautiful sixty minute mountain drive to Cripple Creek. Our priorities were the train, the gold mine and the wandering donkeys.

We arrived at the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad for a 45 minute journey through a gold mine landscape.   

They have four historic locomotives, three were built in Europe and one in Pennsylvania.  Two were used in mining operations in Mexico, one was used on a South African sugar plantation and one’s previous use is unknown.  Yet, they all ended up in Cripple Creek, Colorado.  

During the gold rush days, there were 500 mines within 12 square miles.

The remnants are everywhere.

The former owner of this cabin, Bob Womack, struck gold after many years of trying.  He celebrated with drink and gaming and sold his stake for a few hundred dollars.  He lost out on millions of dollars of gold.  Such foolishness.

The locomotive operated was coal fired so we had a breeze of coal dust throughout. 

After our train ride we went to the Mollie Kathleen Mine for a tour.  Mollie Kathleen filed her mine claim circa 1890 and the good old boys objected.  Women weren’t allowed to file mine claims!  Her husband, a mine lawyer, smoothed things along and she ran a very successful mine.

Today that mine has been turned into a tour, descending 1000 feet in these very small elevator cages.  Notice the sign.   It is apparent we have been spending time with our seven year old grandson when I see I am including a reference to farting.

Gold in this area isn’t found or retrieved along rivers and streams.  Only one percent of gold worldwide is found in nuggets, and 99% of those are less than a pinhead in size.  

The mines here are looking for seams containing the gold within the rock.  Once identified, the rock is exploded apart and taken to the surface for processing. In this picture the dark purple seam is the gold.

Our excellent guide showed us how, over many years, the process became more efficient and safe. Most of the innovations were made by the minors themselves, rather than engineers or management. 

One worker who didn’t work out as a mine worker was Jack Dempsey.  He may have had the ability to become Heavy Weight Champion of the World but he couldn’t cut it in the mines as a hand mucker (that person who moves out the heavy rocks after an explosion).  

One of the efficiency steps was to take donkeys into the mine to do the heavy ore carrying.  At some point President Teddy Roosevelt was shown the mine and the donkeys and he determined that this was no life for a living creature.  He mandated that they be taken above ground for at least one hour a day. (My feelings about Teddy Roosevelt get complicated the more I learn about him – but for this moment in time, I appreciate him.)

The mine owners determined that using of donkeys under those conditions was not longer efficient and they developed a rail system.  The donkeys were taken to the surface and let loose to fend for themselves.

Magnesium sulphate, more commonly known as Epsom salts, are common in the shafts.

The system of sounds, still used all over the world, was developed in the Colorado gold mines.

Gold mining has changed over the years and is now done above ground. The current mine in Cripple Creek, operated by Newmont, is huge.   It is one of the largest gold mines in North America and it is believed that only a quarter of the gold has been retrieved.  Silver and platinum are also mined.  

This region of Colorado is the fifth largest mining district in the world.

Once we were done learning about the mines we turned back towards town and had a view from above. Cripple Creek, population about 1000, seems to have a lot of infrastructure.

It seemed odd to see such a large crane in the middle of town!   We were told a new parking garage and casino-hotel was being built.  Casino’s are the second business in Cripple Creek!

We walked around town a bit looking for a quiet (non Casino) place for dinner and for the resident donkeys which roam the streets from May to October.  These are believed to be descendants of the mining donkeys. They are penned and cared for during the winter months.

In our only real disappointment of the entire Cañon City area, we did not see the donkeys.  This was the best we could manage.

We had a bonus event at the Butte Theater, put on by the Thin Air Theater Company.  We saw a wonderful production of Gentlemen Prefer Blonds.  It was outstanding, especially considering it is a small town company!

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Cañon City: Opposite Ends of the Street

The Holy Cross Abbey and the Colorado Territorial Prison are on opposite ends of the Royal Gorge Boulevard in Cañon City.   We went to the Abbey first.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Benedictine monks were the originators and caretakers of the Holy Cross Abbey which began in 1924.  It had three purposes:  to serve as a Boy’s School, a Boys camp, and a Seminary for young men desiring to pursue a life dedicated to God.

The building was completed in 1926.  Despite using prison labor for construction, there were significant cost overruns and other Benedictine Abbeys helped out financially.

The first floor, where the highest ranking monks and public rooms were located, is still viewable by self guided tour.

Because this was primarily a teaching facility, the chapel is not elaborate.

The Abbey school operated from 1926 to 1985 and included boarders and day students.  Capacity was 250 students and it operated at, or near, capacity for most of those years.

From 1985 to 2005 the Abbey still served as a monastery.   We were told that the upper floors never had heat.

The campus was sold to an investment company in 2007 for $11 million and operates as a special events center for weddings, meetings, retreats etc.   The Sister’s House (you know those nuns who did a lot of the work) is available on Airbnb.

There are vineyards on the grounds and we went to the Abbey Winery.   For $8 they offer samples of 13 wines.   We only chose to sample six because we already know we are wine simpletons and only like the sweet stuff!

We did buy a few bottles.

Did you notice in the Abbey description that prisoners were used to build the abbey?  That was a theme we saw over and over in Cañon City and you may have picked up on it in our previous blogs.   

The Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility was built (by its own prisoners) in 1871 as part of the federal system.  “Old Max” was deeded to Colorado when it became a state in 1876.  (Did you know Colorado is called the Centennial State?)

When it was the state’s maximum security prison, it held up to 2000 prisoners.  Now it is a medium security prison and is currently holding 1100.  This prison also holds those suffering with dementia and other long term medical conditions.

In addition, we were told it serves as an intake center for all prisoner’s who are then dispersed throughout the state.

This picture shows the older section of the prison and the old deputy warden’s house.

The Prison Museum is housed in the former Women’s Prison, adjacent to Old Max.  While walking around outside we could hear announcements and instructions being given in the  main prison.  The woman’s prison was built in 1935 and do you think they used labor next door?  They seemed to be used everywhere else!

This is the gas chamber that was used at Old Max.  

There is quite the list of notorious prisoners, riots and wardens attached to Old Max and many of their stories are highlighted within the former cells.

This is what a woman prisoner’s cell would have looked like in the early days.  The prisoner’s sewed their own uniforms.

A cell in the later days looked more like this.

There are many displays of contraband weapons and items confiscated from prisoners but I thought this one was bittersweet – a chess set made of toilet paper.  Hard to see how that could have been dangerous to guards or fellow prisoners….

Given the number of times we read or heard “prisoners were used in building this…” throughout Cañon City, we had visions of chain gangs utilized throughout the area.   Given that background, I thought the cell highlighting current educational opportunities and work opportunities through Colorado Correctional Industries was especially interesting.

Almost all prisoners are employed in some capacity.  Old Max was the facility that began making Colorado license plates over one hundred years ago and they still make two million annually.

A side note:  Colorado’s white mountains on the green background license plate design is seventy years old and they claim it is the second oldest still in use in the U.S.   Ten minutes of research seemed to give the oldest design award to Deleware but I wouldn’t bet my house on it.  I also found that Idaho was the first state to put a slogan on their license plate:  Famous Potatoes, in 1928.   This feels like a rabbit hole I could fall into and I’m not willing to go there.

Besides license plates, Colorado Correctional Industries “employees” also make furniture, highway signs, flags, trash dumpsters and tables for state parks, and single and double beds.  They run a dairy farm, pig farm, green house, and do other agricultural farming.   They have a print shop, a metal shop, a sewing shop, an automotive shop and also build Old Max Chopper Motorcycles.   They run dog training programs and Colorado’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.  It seems far more promising than being free labor for Cañon City’s elite.    

Prison museums are always sobering, but I’m glad this visit included something positive!

Now, what are they ever going to do with this guy?!?

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Cañon City: Down the Arkansas River

After seeing the gorge from on high, our next plan was to travel through it by rail and by raft. 

The Royal Gorge is eight miles long and the first recorded Europeans that saw the gorge was in 1806. By 1878 the gorge was the focus of a bitter battle between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The company that built a rail line through the gorge would benefit from the mining industry so prevalent in the area. The gorge is narrow and not large enough for two lines. That battle was eventually won by the Denver and Rio Grande.

Many years later, it is the Royal Gorge Route that operates the line through the gorge.

We look for these old trains when we travel and always enjoy them.

We had seats in the dome car that included a variety of lunch options.  We had excellent burgers with fresh potato chips.

We rode out from Cañon City and then through the gorge next to the Arkansas River. This river begins in Colorado and makes its way through Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas before joining the Mississippi River.   We had never heard of the Arkansas River before….but we aren’t as familiar with rivers that go east as we are with those that go west.

Aside from the natural beauty, we saw remnants of an abandoned water pipeline that follows the train route on the south side of the river for eight miles.   It carried Cañon City’s water supply for 70 years.

It was built by territorial prisoners and we were told 96 of them died in the process.  The pipeline was made of redwood and wrapped like barrels.

This was the caretaker’s cottage, about midway through the gorge.  We were told he walked the entire pipeline everyday to do inspections.

Overtime, some sections had been reinforced with concrete.

The obvious question to me was why? Since the river flowed the same route, why go to the trouble to make an adjacent pipeline? The answer had something to do with the high alkaline levels in the river and running the water through the pipeline solved that problem.

In the winter of 1974, the pipeline froze and Cañon City was without water for three weeks.  They sought a different solution for their water needs after that.

There are colorful yurts and airstreams rentals available along the river.

We saw the bridge from the train.

It rained during much of our train ride and we sympathized with the rafters.  We were rafting the next day and hoped for better weather!

At the end of our ten mile journey, the train reversed and went back the same way, just in reverse. With the gradual decline in grade, the engine was now our brake.

The next day we had perfect weather for an afternoon raft trip! We traversed the very same route we had the day before but this time on the water.

We were in a raft with a family of four and our guide Brian.   He told us that this river is in the top three for number of rafters in the US.  


In the background you can see the bridge and the gondolas crossing the gorge.    Also in this picture you can see a person in a blue kayak.  He was the company photographer and the action shots are his. Unfortunately these are just pictures of pictures so don’t show his true talent.

Our guide, Brian, kept us busy with instructions to stroke Forward 2, or Back 1.    We went over class 2, class 3 and class 4 rapids at 900 CFS (cubic feet per second).  They run the river when the CFS is between 200 and 3400.

It was plenty of fun at 900 CFS! I can’t imagine 3400!

Randy is in blue in the front and I am immediately behind him.   He was supposed to shield me from more water than he did!  We were all wet in the end but it was a marvelous afternoon.  

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Cañon City: The Views From On High

We found ways to experience the views from on high in Cañon City, Colorado!

We traveled the Skyline Road, a  2.6 mile single lane road sitting atop a razor edge mountain top above Cañon City.

We enjoyed the novelty of this one way road, without guardrails, with non existent shoulders, and a view that drops to the depths on at least one and sometimes both sides.  It is not a road for the timid!

Skyline Road was built in 1905 by sixty inmates at the nearby territorial prison.  Sentences were reduced by 10 days for each month a prisoner worked on the road.

This dinosaur display sits where ankylosaurus footprints were found in 1999. 

The tracks are just to the left of the bone in the middle! There are a series along the wall.

We also saw the views from on high at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.  The bridge was built by 80 men over seven months in 1929 as a tourism site. 

Businessman and bridge builder Lon Piper saw the Royal Gorge in 1928 and had a vision for tourists to enjoy the views from the middle of the gorge, not just on either side.  The Royal Gorge bridge was the world’s highest suspension bridge for over 70 years and is still America’s highest suspension bridge, 

The bridge’s length is 1,260 feet with a width of 18 feet.

There are 2,100 strands in each cable and 4100 cables, weighing 300 tons.

There are 1,292 planks on the bridge deck and 250 are replaced annually.

Standing on the bridge you are 956 feet above the Arkansas River.   We could see the train tracks and the rafts – both of which we will be enjoying later in the week!

There is much to do in the park including activities and amusements for kids, adults and very adventurous adults.  We were just adults.  

When Randy asked me if I wanted to ride the zip line chairs across the gorge, I said I could be talked into it.  I don’t think he expected that answer but ultimately, we decided against it.

We saw the resident big horn sheep a few times.

We watched a short movie on the history of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park in the theater.  

A 2013 forest fire destroyed nearly all park building and facilities on both sides of the gorge.  The bridge survived nearly unscathed.  One hundred planks were burned and most of those were repurposed for the walls of the new visitor center.   Demoltion and rebuild began almost immediately and the park reopened 14 months later.

After walking across the gorge on the bridge, we rode back across on the gondola.  

The views from on high are stunning!

We weren’t quite so high on the classic Royal Gorge Zip Lines but high enough for my purposes.   We rode 9 lines and hiked 3/4 of a mile in between.  

We chose not to take our camera or phones and to rely on their photographer.  We then chose not to purchase their photos and thus, we give them some free advertising to use them.  The company did great so we don’t mind advertising for them.

I didn’t usually take time to enjoy the views from on high while zipping, being focused on the landing site and the guide’s instructions to brake.  

Randy enjoyed the zip lines more than I did but I enjoy most museums more than he does so that is fair.

Cañon City has been awesome so far! Looking forward to more!

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Randy’s Gadgets Save the Day

Our summer RV trip began in Flagstaff.  It is only two hours from home but now that we are sporadic RVers, we have learned to make our first stop close by. That way we can go back for forgotten items or get parts for whatever broke while not in use.

We have stayed in Flagstaff a couple times and not been impressed with any of the parks.  This time we stayed at the Flagstaff KOA and it is a relative winner.   We were pleased with our site.

We set up and were feeling good about having what we needed and everything working.  We were even regretting not going a little further down the road.

What’s that you say?  Nice site but where is the truck??

So, Randy is a gadget guy – just in case you didn’t know.   He has apps on his phone to monitor our solar power, our home heating and air conditioning, our irrigation system and our water use.    (I have been known to roll my eyes a bit – especially when the water use app was new and he asked me if I got up during the night to use the restroom.)

However, at this moment in time ….Alert, alert, alert!!  The water use app was warning that we had used a gallon a minute for the last two hours.  That is bad on so many levels!!! As far as we knew there should have been no water being used.

The irrigation system app said irrigation was not operating but that was the only water that could have been running.  For the first time ever, we had done what thousands of people do all over Sun City Grand when leaving for months at a time – we turned off the water to the house.

Randy called two friends and asked them to go over and see if they could find a leak as soon as possible.  Most of the people in our neighborhood are gone for the summer, and we didn’t have contact info for those we knew were still around.

Randy headed home.  While he was enroute, our friends found the flood near the irrigation valve box.  They turned off all water to our lot to stop the massive leak.

Randy made it home a couple hours later and he and our neighbor did a temporary repair. It required new parts and turning the water back on to the house.  Hopefully all will be well while we are gone.   Our neighbor will keep an eye on it while Randy monitors his phone apps.  He drove back to Flagstaff that evening. That camp close to home idea worked again.

The next day we headed to Durango, Colorado.  We vacationed near there a couple years ago and enjoyed the primary attraction – The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway.  I wrote about its history and our trip on the railway.  Click the link to read it. Plan B:  Colorado!

This time we opted for a history tour of downtown Durango.   We learned about the mines, the immigrants, the sporting women and those that tried to make Durango a reputable city.

This is the Slater Hotel, named for one of its two developers.  They had a falling out and Slater built a second hotel immediately next door- the shorter part on the left.  Over time the hotels were joined as one and operate under the Slater name.  It is reportedly haunted.

“Reportedly haunted” is a theme in downtown Durango!  We didn’t take the ghost tour but got quite a few mentions anyway.

This historic eating and drinking establishment maintains a shrine for its resident ghost at the top center section of the bar.

A former resident of Durango is Jack Dempsey.  He lived in the area in the early 1900s and went on to be Heavy Weight Champion of the World in 1919. This is our tour guide in front of the Dempsey mural.

We learned about the tunnel system underneath the current sidewalks.  Walkways and a variety of businesses (some more legal than others) operated in the depths.  The covers used to have glass inserts.  The color shining through the glass indicated whether the business below was operating.

We ate lunch at the Olde Tymers Cafe, formerly the S. G. Wall Drugstore.  The interior decor features some old time shelving, bottles, and supplies.

For dessert we went to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.  The business started at this site in Durango in 1981 and is now international.

Our campsite in Durango was at the Oasis RV Resort.  We recommend it.  

There was a gathering of Vintage look trailers and we enjoyed them.  Most were red, and many appeared to be owned by solo women travelers.

Next, we traveled a few hours east to Alamosa, Colorado and the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park. The dunes are the tallest in North America at 750 feet and extend 30 miles in length.

The sand deposits came from nearby mountain erosion and were brought to the site by water passage from the east and prevailing winds from the southwest.  It is believed the dunes formed over 400,000 years ago.   

The dunes are in constant motion between the prevailing winds and storm winds that come through mountain passes to the east.  They form “chinese wall” features.

The area is huge.  We walked from the parking lot to the dune site that was most accessible.   

We were impressed by those hiking to the top but did not aspire to that level of greatness.  Although, I bet the view was stunning!   

We enjoyed watching those who had sand boards or sleds have their few seconds of fun before lugging the boards back up the hill again.

Stop number three was in the books.  Next up is Canon City, Colorado and another old steam train!

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A New Home for the Rocking Chairs

Two backstories preface this post: First, I was miserable in the Phoenix heat last summer and started scheming to never do it again. My first idea was to buy some land near Flagstaff and put our trailer on it like a summer cabin. That didn’t work because of zoning restrictions. The RV parks that are open for seasonal rentals have long waitlists and just weren’t very appealing. I started working with a realtor to consider buying an actual cabin, but Randy was not enthusiastic. He didn’t want two homes to maintain, especially one that involved winter at 7000 feet.

There was White Mountain Vacation Village with RV Lots for sale in Show Low, in the White Mountains, about three hours east of Phoenix, but Randy thought that was too far for quick trips.   The best plan seemed to just be gone in the summer as much as we could, either in the trailer or by renting a hotel, home or cabin short term.  

Second story: My parents bought these two rocking chairs for about $25 in Panama in the late 1970s. Randy and I acquired them about fifteen years ago and they were among the few things that transitioned from the house into the trailer when we started full time RVing.

in 2017, one of them got crunched by the RV slide after rocking and rolling on a Nevada road trip. We took it to Boise and Randy and our friend Darrell repaired it.   The chairs were a bit of a pain, always having to velcro them down to anchors in the carpet when we traveled, but it wasn’t a big deal.   You know…family heirlooms and all.

Then we got the new floor in the trailer. It is nice. I like it a lot but there was no way to anchor down the rocking chairs.

This is what I did to protect the chairs and the back window: Exercise pad down first and then the chairs nested together with blankets and bungee cords….not quick or fun.

The extra work got me thinking about a stationary sleeper sofa instead.  An easy idea but a challenging feat as we had space limitations and a very narrow entry door, eliminating almost all household and most RV models.   

I found a sleeper sofa online that would work.  It was on clearance through Camping World and wasn’t available anywhere in Arizona.  I couldn’t order it to be delivered to home because we weren’t there.  I found one in Albuquerque and bought it without ever seeing or sitting on the sofa when they agreed to hold it until we came through Albuquerque three weeks later.


We got the sofa about a week before the end of our trip so it wasn’t a huge deal to have it and the chairs. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the rocking chairs once we got them home…but they were going.  

We tried putting the rocking chairs in the crew cab but they wouldn’t fit.    

We couldn’t fit them safely in the back of the truck with the hitch and all that other stuff.

So,  they stayed on our bed until we needed in it.   It worked – short term.

We enjoyed our trip very much but were ready to go home.  Randy would have driven straight there if I had suggested it but we had one last stop on the itinerary.  It was Show Low, in the White Mountains, about three hours east of Phoenix.   Ding, ding, ding, ding….

I had wanted to drive to Show Low just to look at White Mountain Vacation Village but with COVID we didn’t do it.   I wanted to see if we would be interested in pursuing an RV lot there. If so we needed to be prepared because they came up for sale very infrequently.

The White Mountains are forested beauty at 6500 feet and a stark contrast to the desert we live in.  The population swells in the summer as people like me escape the heat.   We liked the area very much and spent a day exploring several RV and park model communities. All of a sudden we weren’t just looking at potential RV lots, we were looking at park model “cabins” and Randy was fully on board.  The contrast between our two best choices were stark: leasing or owning the land, and partial or full year access.

Within 24 hours we had purchased a fully furnished 2005 park model on a lot we own in White Mountain Vacation Village, in Show Low, in the White Mountains, about three hours east of Phoenix.    We have year round access just in case we are interested in experiencing cold and snow for a few days.

The previous owners moved to a larger place within the village and are very willing to help us learn about the cabin and the area.

It has been fun to plan cabin modifications but, given everything else we have planned for the summer, it may be awhile.

The nicest feature is this great deck but the whole thing is turn-key ready. Maintenance is minimal. We have a wooded corner lot with lots of aspens.

The storage shed comes complete with tools and electricity.

The biggest hurdle to buying our “cabin” was deciding if it made any sense to do so while we still have the trailer or whether we were ready to be done RVing.  In the end we decided to try and have it all.  We plan to keep the trailer for a year or two or three but we can sense the end coming.   In the meantime, we’ll enjoy our cabin knowing that our time there will grow in coming years.

It is just 3 hours up the road….and a very pretty road it is transitioning from city, to desert, to forest.

And when we get there…….we’ll find our cabin and our chairs. We bought a cabin for our chairs! They look very nice in their new home.

There is one other aspect to this story. Randy and I are usually very low key about celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. We usually go out to eat, or do a special activity, but we aren’t big with gifts. But, we committed to purchase the cabin on our 41st anniversary. Randy says he bought me a cabin. I say I bought him a deck. Happy Anniversary to us!

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Handy Randy – Volume 432

Those of you who have been following this blog for awhile know that Randy is able to fix most things in the trailer. In fact, he thinks the ability to troubleshoot and fix things should be qualifications for owning an RV.   He gets frustrated when he has to hodgepodge things together if our location limits supplies but he usually gets it done.

On this trip he had to figure out why we had gouges in our brand new floor  The answer was two metal protrusions barely sticking through on our kitchen slide-out.   We’ll get the planks replaced after we are sure it is no longer an issue when we take another trip later this summer.

The next Handy Randy project was figuring out what was going on with our SplendideWasher Dryer Combo.  We had poor drying, flashing light sequences, and even obnoxious noises when it wasn’t in use! We resorted to turning the electricity off at the breaker box.

We’d never had this much drama with the unit before but we had seen poor drying and lesser light sequences. I did the intensive cleaning procedure that had always worked before without good result. Randy repeated it when he found a modified version online.  Again, no change.

While living on the road, having that washer-dryer in the trailer was required as far as I was concerned.  But now that we are part timers,  I was already thinking about whether we would replace it at a cost of around $1500. Given 2020, it may not be possible to get one.  Like everything in an RV, the machines are much more expensive than home units.

Handy Randy kept digging around thinking he might get by with just replacing the electronics.  He finally found someone describing a solidified lint mass way down in the bowels of the machine that caused similar symptoms. 

So,  he took the dang thing out of the closet (after removing the closet door) and took it apart.

Sure enough, he found this disgusting mat of lint the size of a dead rat.  No wonder the machine was acting crazy.  We have no answer as to why this bizarre behavior wasn’t demonstrated when we last time used the trailer but was now. Perhaps being idle for awhile allowed that lint to settle and solidify.


Even though he was able to fix the combo unit this time, it was enough work that he didn’t want to do it again.   He believed a contributing factor to the problem was restricted air flow at the vent because of the placement of the original hole.

Way back in 2015 we had the washer-dryer combo installed at a Good Sam Rally.  At that time Randy had been uncertain about cutting holes in the side of the trailer without knowing for sure what he was doing.

Unfortunately that hole was about eight inches off the optimal venting site requiring this adaption. It worked, mostly, but lint build up has always been an issue.

Randy decided to cut a new hole to vent more directly.  He was glad to find the needed parts in this small New Mexico town.

All done! The left vent is capped and no longer functional. The one on the right is open and works great! The washer-dryer combo and I are happy again. It was another successful Handy Randy repair! Well done husband!

When the work was done we visited the Mineral Museum at New Mexico Tech in Socorro.  We were impressed with the breadth and depth of their displays focusing not only on New Mexico and Western minerals and gems but it also included specimens from around the world.

Minerals and gem stones is not a world we live in, but we were impressed.  If you do live in that world, you’d probably love it!

We routed through Socorro to go to the Very Large Array, about an hour west.  Unfortunately it was still COVID closed and we only saw the array from the road.  Another time….

We had one final stop in New Mexico –  but just for lunch and pie.  Pie Town had been on our “to do” list for years but we just hadn’t been through on Highway 60.

After COVID, It felt so very strange to be in a small cafe with other people, especially when lots of people came in to purchase pies.   Pie Town has some history as the restaurant has been operating since 1927.

New Mexico burgers (with chilis of course) were very good and we left with small Key Lime and Southern Peach pies.   We won’t go out of our way but if we find ourselves on Highway 60 again, we’d stop for pie, just like everyone else.

After almost six weeks on the road, we came back into Arizona.  We had a great trip but were very ready to be home.  Along the way Randy came to the understanding that he really didn’t want to go full time again.

We had one more stop that was important to me.  Randy would have been happy to skip it but it turned out to be a big deal. It will be a little while before I write about it because some things need to settle out, but a big thing is coming in the next blog.

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Commemorating the Bad Boy

Our next stop was Lake Sumner State Park near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

As we turned off the highway we saw an interesting collection of memorials.  We found that Ramond Samora has been placing memorials here since 2011.  There are memorials to a number of veteran’s groups, military branches, and to those still missing in action.

We parked the trailer in a very large site that had a covered picnic table area designed for shade and wind break.

We sat there every day watching the storms as they rolled through.

Our site had easy access to our own little arm of the lake.

We finally got to use our inflatable paddle boards on a morning that was sunny and almost warm enough before it got windy.  I have had the yellow paddle board for years and loved it.  When we decided to buy a second paddle board this winter we opted to buy me a new one and Randy take the yellow one because it was a bit big for me to manhandle. My new board is smaller and lighter.

We explored other areas of the park that surround much of the lake.

Randy tried to see how this contraption might have worked carrying people or gear across the river. From this side it was clear enough – gravity works. He never did figure out how it would return but it likely hasn’t been used for years so some parts may be missing.

A little further on we saw our SECOND rattlesnake in just a few months.  I had never seen even one despite our hiking all over the west for years. Now we have seen two… I’m not liking this trend!  Unlike last time, Randy stayed well back as this snake was poised to strike.   I’m glad we have a camera that zooms in.

We also explored the town of Fort Sumner.  Two of the historical sites we hoped to see were closed but we did have Billy the Kid options.  He’s the bad boy the town commemorates for tourism and we originally felt kind of strange about it.

We stopped at the Billy the Kid Museum and began with a 47 minute American Experience video about his life. He began as Henry, a fatherless boy born in the east. He moved west with his mother and she filed a homestead claim. She remarried and died while Henry was still a teenager. Henry drifted, getting in and out of trouble in New Mexico and Arizona territories.

Over time, Henry became William and formed a gang. Locals saw this gang as helping them against the rich land grabbers and welcomed them into their communities. The violence ramped up and William was dubbed “Billy the Kid” by a journalist.

Billy was once offered a pardon by the New Mexico territory governor for his testimony, which he gave, but the governor later reneged. 

Billy was convicted in Masilla, New Mexico but escaped before being hanged. He killed two deputies in the process.  This picture is of the former courthouse where that trial took place.

Instead of escaping to Mexico, he returned to Fort Sumner – possibly because of a young lady.    He was found out, killed and buried in the Fort Sumner cemetery.

His story is long and detailed and this recap is not intended to be thorough.  Billy the Kid died young and was a notorious killer in the wild west. However, it is easy to see that he had things happen to him along the way that influenced his path.   After we learned a bit about him, we were somewhat more sympathetic.

There is an area in the museum that shows posters of many movies featuring Billy the Kid. This one caught my eye: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. I haven’t looked yet to see if it is on Netflix.

The museum has all things Billy the Kid, but also shows some things around life and times in New Mexico.

Our next stop was the Fort Sumner Cemetery where Billy the Kid is only one of two famous occupants.

Billy the Kid’s original gravestone (front right) was stolen twice and recovered years later.  It is now under lock and key within the caged gravesite.  The large white stone commemorates Billy and two of his gang friends who are buried with him.

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell is also buried in the Fort Sumner Cemetery.  He was once the largest landowner in the United States with massive holdings of 1,700,000 acres.  (The dispersal of this land in a variety of grants was ultimately decided by the United States Supreme Court.)

Lucien Maxwell died in 1875 and son Peter Maxwell took over operations of the large estate.  Billy the Kid was tracked down and killed in Peter’s home at midnight on July 14, 1881.  It was suggested that Peter gave him up to Sheriff Pat Garrett because Peter didn’t approve of Billy’s relationship with his younger sister.  So much speculation!

We decided to finish our Billy the Kid morning with lunch.  Randy opted for the World Famous Billy the Kid Burger!

Our stay at Lake Sumner State Park was right up there with Las Cruces as one of our favorite stops on the itinerary. We’re happy enough that there are two things we missed as an excuse to go back.

During our stay we commented several times about the vultures always circling around. Two of them sat for a picture. They aren’t exactly beautiful!

But this boy is! We saw him as we were driving out – one last gift from Lake Sumner State Park. Thanks to our birding friend Mark, we know “he” is a Western Tanager.

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Something is Missing

Do you see this map?   Once we added Texas, it just looked like something was missing.   Yes, that Oklahoma shape just looks so white. Oh, the silly things that motivate!

From previous trip planning I knew there was an Oklahoma State Park on the very tip of the Oklahoma panhandle.  It was about six hours out of our way but we decided that, if I could get reservations, we’d go get that Oklahoma sticker.

Sure enough, reservations were available, and we were off to Oklahoma!

We went through Boise City – just not the Boise we know so well.

We arrived at Black Mesa State Park!    

Before we were done getting settled we saw wild turkeys. We saw them regularly for two days!

The rangers at the park were very pleasant and helpful. They commiserated with us about this very strange set up for “pull through” sites. There were four sites one right after another along the narrow road. The only way to really pull through is if you were the only ones there. Imagine sites numbered 1-4. Number 1 was there when we arrived and we were number 3. Driver number 2 did a great job getting in. Driver number 4 had it easy as he was behind us. Everyone cooperated and it worked!

The next morning we decided to take a bike ride around the lake.   We didn’t get very far as I was having a lot of trouble with my bike – more than just operator error.

We went back to camp and Randy worked on it. He decided that it really needs a visit to a bike shop.   We spent that afternoon researching electric bikes and trying to decide on whether to purchase one bike or two.   (The next day we decided not to get any and just get mine repaired.)

The highest point in Oklahoma, Black Mesa at 4973 feet was 15 miles away. There is a hike…we just weren’t motivated to do it.

We did do the Vista Trail hike at the park.  We saw a collection of petrified wood.

We enjoyed several varieties of wild flowers.

On a cloudy day you can see forever in Oklahoma.  

When it was time to go, Randy had to hook up at an angle.  To my surprise, but not his, he was able to pull out fairly easily.

Then we were off again, through Texas one more time, and back to New Mexico.

Oklahoma added!
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Several Days in Guadalupe

When we went to Big Bend we made the decision that, since it was an hour away, we were going to spend one very long day and call that good.  Our stay “near” Guadalupe Mountains National Park was that same hour away, but we went three times.  All I can say is it was easier to enjoy hiking and exploring because it was cooler!

We didn’t know why Guadalupe Mountains was special.   We didn’t even know how to say the name Guadalupe – was it Guada-loop or Guadalu-pay?   I heard one ranger say Guadalu-pay so that is that. 

So, why is it special?  Guadalupe Mountains are the world’s premier example of a fossil reef from the Permian era, 260 – 270 million years ago.   A vast sea covered what is now New Mexico and west Texas.  When the sea evaporated, lifeforms were buried in sediment.  Millions of years later continental lift exposed the reef. Geologists come from around the world to study and explore this area.  That is as scientific as I’m going to get.

Much of the park is designated wilderness, accessible only by trail.  There are four vehicle access points, three on the east side and one in the north.  

The primary visitor center is at Pine Springs.  There are multiple trailheads departing from Pine Springs, one up Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas at 8751 feet.   (Come on Texas – I thought you did everything bigger…only 8751 feet? That’s all you got?)

There is another trail to the Guadalupe Mountains version of El Capitan.

We took the Pinery Trail which led to a mid-1800s Butterfield stagecoach station.  The Butterfield Overland Mail Route was the first reliable mail route from St. Louis, MO to San Francisco, CA.  It took 25 days to cover the difficult 2700 mile route. 

We also visited the Frijole Ranch area of the park.

This ranch site was occupied from the 1870s and was owned by several families that modified and added on to the home.  Two springs are in the immediate area – the first spring, right in the yard, provides six gallons per minute.

The second is Manzanita Springs a short walk away.   This area has five springs in a three mile radius – amazing!

Another day we traveled to McKittrick Canyon for a seven mile hike.   The canyon was acquired by Wallace Pratt in 1930 after a visit to the area left him “smitten”.  The family eventually donated 5632 acres at the heart of McKittrick Canyon to promote the establishment of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.


The entrance and trail into McKittrick Canyon. See the bluffs at the top – THAT is why Guadalupe Mountains National Park is important. That used to be underwater and is fossil rich.

Always looking for those signature shots – another stairway to heaven.

We crossed two shallow streams enroute to the Pratt cabin.

The Pratt family built their Stone Cabin in 1931-32. Notice the stone roof.

A little further on was The Grotto.

Just a bit further was the Hunter Ranch Line Cabin – built in 1924.

The scenery changed a lot from deep in the canyon as we walked out.

In and out was about seven miles. The time was well spent.

On our third trip into Guadalupe Mountains National Park, was accessed from the north – the park’s border with New Mexico.

First we drove through the Lincoln National Forest en-route to Sitting Bull Falls.  

Two streams of water were flowing over the rocks into a pool at the base.   On a warmer day we could have relaxed in the pool.

We saw these guys.  We assume they are aoudad like we saw at Hueco Tanks. There is a little information online of aoudad being hunted in this area.

The CCC built picnic shelters here in the 1930s and two of the originals are still standing.   There are a dozen or so more of a newer vintage.

We drove on and saw the clouds just rolling over the side of the hills.

We crossed into Texas one more time. This sign was understated but it was there 🙂

Our last excursion in Guadalupe Mountains National Park was to Dog Canyon.   Again, there are significant hikes that depart from the small visitor center but we opted for a shorter nature trail through the sweet grass.

We saw deer.

We would not have expected that we would spend so much more time to Guadalupe Mountains National Park than in Big Bend.  They are very different but both worthy indeed.

A book series I listened to for many years has, as a main character, a female ranger from Guadalupe Mountains National Park.   Anna Pigeon solves mysteries as she works across the country in national parks.  The reader gets a mystery and learns about a national park.  The premise was so good. The last few books in the 19 book series have shifted to a very dark tone and I don’t read them anymore, but I do miss them.

I looked up which of the books had been set in Guadalupe Mountains and found that it was the first, Track of the Cat.  Following our visits to the Guadalupe Mountains I listened to it again and thoroughly enjoyed visualizing the spaces and places described in the book.  It hurt my ears, however, to hear the reader say Guada-LOOP throughout the book.

It takes a bit of effort to get to both Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks but we recommend them to you.

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