Travel Planning for a New Year

Proper planning is important in many things, including vacations.

It’s that time of year again for me to put some thought and effort into travel planning for the coming vacation year that begins again for us on March 1.  As always, I feel so blessed that Hubby has four weeks of paid vacation each year, and that we are both healthy enough to travel regularly.

In years past, prior to the time we purchased our first RV five years ago, I must confess that travel planning was not something we focused on in our lives to a large extent.  We have always been blessed to take at least one lovely vacation each year for the most part, but we mostly planned our time away more at the last minute and certainly never considered trying to plan on a larger scale… a full year at a time.  Our lack of planning caused us to actually lose some vacation days each year because we did not find a way to take them in the twelve month period when Hubby was permitted to use them… a sad situation, to be sure.

by-failing-to-prepare
This is so very true, including planning our personal times together!

We planned for so many things in our lives… retirement planning, meal planning, budget planning and health planning (doctor appointments, etc.).  So, why didn’t we put a little more emphasis on our special time away together?  I have a feeling we were/are not the only ones that have come to this realization at the empty nest stage of life, but I’m grateful we realized how this could change for the better before too many years went by.

At this stage of life as we approach our 60th birthdays, I consider travel planning to be one of my jobs, but it is a labor of love to be sure.  Hubby works (and travels) hard throughout the year to earn his time away from work, and he does not have time to spend on travel planning.  He even has a travel agent that books his work travels, so my job is to plan our vacation days to use them all and use them in ways we would like to do within our budget.  And if I say so, I think I do a pretty good job now.

I’m also challenged to be creative in our travel plans each year.  Five years ago, I would have never dreamed that my little family would spend Christmas in our RV, but we just loved it!  I enjoy the challenge of creative RV camping a lot, something that might be a good topic for another post sometime.

These days, it is necessary for us to plan our personal trips ahead of time so Hubby will know when he can travel for work without any conflicts.  A few years ago, we had to find a way to “be on the same page” as far as overall travel planning, so I created a shared Google calendar for travel planning purposes.  I take care of updating the shared calendar in a timely manner so Hubby can see both his own business travel dates and our personal vacation dates and a few other events all in one place.

google-calendar

Before we had this shared online calendar as a reference, we encountered some issues with date conflicts.  The shared calendar has helped to largely alleviate those issues, as long as he sends me his business travel dates in a timely manner.  I highly recommend this shared calendar solution if this is an issue for anyone else.  How to share a Google Calendar

Purchasing our first RV five years ago was our first deliberate effort to try to change the status quo and to keep from losing vacation days each year, which happened all too regularly because we did not actually plan our time away like we do now.  We stepped out of our comfort zone just a bit, mostly with our RV financial investment, but we both knew RV travel might actually be something we would love, making it an investment in ourselves and our time together.  We always enjoyed camping in the early years of our marriage, and we were ready to start camping again.

Our desire to travel more conveniently and affordably was another reason for our RV purchase, and yet another reason was Hubby’s desire to not travel by plane for some of our vacations, since he has to do so regularly on business.  Our reasons all proved to be good reasons to make the change, and we are most definitely happy with our decision and plan to continue traveling by RV for years to come.  We both enjoy a nice trip by plane now, too, since we have another great option to do something different.  Those trips are now a little more special for us.

2016-07-04-18.20.57smfs
Just one of our fun and memorable RV trips in 2016 with friends

I ran the numbers last week, and we actually spent 60 days away from home in our RV in 2016, something we certainly couldn’t reasonably afford to do without the RV.  We did not take any non-RV trips last year, which was a little unusual for us but something we chose to do since we upgraded to a newer and larger RV back in May.  We didn’t even miss a non-RV trip either.

Hubby was quite surprised to learn that we spent 60 days out in the RV last year… pleasantly surprised… just as I was after running the numbers.  We had some great times alone and with family and friends, and we are once again grateful for the freedom the RV has given us to get away more often in such a comfortable and convenient way.  We love having our sweet pups along for the fun, and it almost feels at times like we are semi-retired and enjoying life in ways some retired folks do on a regular basis, even though Hubby is still very much employed full-time.

power_of_planning_quote_image-300

Getting out-of-town once a month continues to be one of our travel goals, even if it is just for a quick weekend away nearby, and we also strive to have two full-week vacations each year.  Getting away regularly to some beautiful state parks has helped both of us to “recharge our batteries” regularly and has also helped to keep us healthier, since we do a lot of walking and hiking when we are out.  We have always loved camping together, and having a few nice amenities now just makes it all the more enjoyable for us, especially sleeping on our custom mattress that is so comfy!

Having planned travels for a full year in advance for five years now, we have found a basic travel schedule that works well for us.  Planning our travels each year now actually requires a little less effort on my part, since I have a basic template to use as a starting point.

We tend to travel in the non-summer months to avoid the extreme heat of summer, even though we still venture out a bit in those months at times, too.  We’ve also learned how far in advance we need to reserve most of the places we like to visit because without a site reservation for our RV these days, chances are we won’t be able to secure one closer to our date of travel because more people are traveling by RV, even more than what we saw five years ago.  I continue to be amazed at how many of our friends have hopped on the RV bandwagon now, too.

2016-09-09-19-14-14smfs
If we can travel to certain locations at non-peak times, we can benefit by enjoying less crowded conditions.  Such was the case in northern New Mexico in early September.

This year, we are adding one non-RV trip… a special one indeed!

Over the next three years, we have three big celebrations that are worthy of commemorating in a memorable way….

…Hubby’s 60th birthday later this year,

…my 60th birthday next year, and

…our 40th wedding anniversary in 2019.

I hope we can make each of these occasions special and memorable, so I spent some time last week planning Hubby’s big bad birthday celebration… a non-RV trip that we will take in October.  How blessed we are to have airline miles and hotel points to use for a special trip such as this, putting the total cost of the airfare and hotel with a full breakfast each morning at only $260 for six days and five nights.

I’m excited to finally take Hubby to a special place that I have visited three times in my lifetime but one that he has never visited.  We may also be joined by some long-time friends, if they can arrange their work schedules to do so.   In fact, this trip should be so special and so much fun that I may be fine calling it my 60th birthday celebration, too, allowing us to save up a bit for a special anniversary trip in mid-2019.

20150509_174433
Our last trip by plane was in May 2015, when we traveled west to beautiful Maui.  This year, our special trip by plane will take us east, not west, to celebrate Hubby’s 60th birthday.

If our present travel plans hold for 2017, we will spend about 65 days away from home, with most of those days spent in our RV.  Hubby has ten paid holidays this year, a few more paid days off than in previous years, bringing his total paid days off each year to 30 days.  We certainly plan to schedule those new paid days off into our trips, too.

I’m ready to get this show on the road again… literally!  😀  Hopefully our advance planning will once again help to make this yet another memorable and fun travel year.

 

Wrapping Up 2016

A camping Christmas trip with our family ended 2016 in a delightful way!

2016 is now in the “books,” and 2017 has already seen our first snow of the winter season and of the new year.  Thankfully, it was nothing like the mega storm that introduced 2016 to us, and we only received about an inch this time.  My back starts hurting just looking again at some of the photos from last January and remembering all the snow Hubby and I shoveled for three straight days.  Ugh!

IMG_2409
Girly Girl had lots of fun in the foot of snow we received the first week of January in 2016.
IMG_2367
The foot of snow caused lots of issues for the next two weeks in our city and area, but it was so very pretty, too.

It’s been several weeks since my last post, but all is well, good in fact.  I just took a little break to enjoy the Christmas season and take a few things “off my plate” for a bit.  I also had more holiday prep work to do this year, due to our ten day Christmas and New Years trip to the mountains of far West Texas.

2016-12-25-17-46-46-1smdke
Spending “golden hour” at the top of Skyline Drive on Christmas Evening with my family is a precious memory now.  We captured some great photos of family and scenery here.
2016-12-25-17-48-28smdke
Sunset at Davis Mountain State Park on Christmas evening with historic Indian Lodge in the distance was absolutely gorgeous.  We had the view all to ourselves, something I will always remember fondly.  This was literally the last ray of sunshine on Christmas Day. 😉

 

2016-12-25-18-08-02smdke
The Belt of Venus is always so beautiful in this area, and it was lovely once again on Christmas evening.

All our kids joined us for a long Christmas weekend in the Davis Mountains, and they all departed for home on Tuesday afternoon after lunch, driving to El Paso together then catching their respective flights.  It was a most enjoyable holiday for me, and I think for all of us.  After all, what mama doesn’t like to have all her kiddos with her for the holidays?

We secured our daughter and son-in-law a room at the historic Indian Lodge (see photos below) during their stay, which was just a mile away from our RV in the state park, and our son stayed with us in the RV.  With all the additional space inside now, as compared to our previous RV, we were all quite comfortable, even with the dogs who slept on their nice, new beds next to him.

By cooking some dishes ahead of time, I was able to serve all our favorite holiday foods in the RV… tamales for Christmas Eve, sausage toasts and eggs for Christmas morning, and ham, turkey, cornbread dressing, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and yeast rolls for Christmas dinner.  We even enjoyed a Christmas morning picnic together at our site for breakfast, which was a real treat!  Truly, the weather was gorgeous the entire week we were there.

2016-12-28-12-44-46smdke
Our festive picnic table at our site for Christmas.  Snoopy and Woodstock helped to light up the holiday nights at our site, along with three mason jar lanterns on the table.

 

2016-12-26-17-52-57asmdke
It was a real treat to have a visit from several mule deer late each afternoon during our vacation week, with our first visit on Christmas Day!  We also saw several javelina at our campsite on our first night, as well as some great birds all over the park during our stay.

Following our picnic breakfast, we opened gifts inside the RV in our comfortable living area, which was so much fun.  As usual, the dogs each had a gift of their own to start things off, and I can say that we all received some very nice gifts.  My family was especially good to me, but the real treat for me was just having everyone together for a few days of fun.

The weather was gorgeous in far West Texas the entire week we were there, which certainly helped make our trip more manageable and truly enjoyable.  We even ran our air conditioner for a bit on a few afternoons, too.  I’m sure some friends may think we’ve lost our minds spending the holidays in our RV, but we enjoyed our time in the Davis Mountains with our family more than anything we’ve done for the holidays in many years.  With all the cooking done ahead of time, meals were easy and tasty with minimal clean-up needed afterward, leaving quality time for visiting, hiking and playing games together.

2016-12-25-16-56-14smdke
My long, long shadow during a walk in the park late on Christmas afternoon.  I feel so at home here now and have even entertained the thought of retiring in this very remote area that holds some family history for me.

After the kids left, Hubby and I enjoyed a few days all by ourselves, followed by two days with two friends who made their first trip to the area for the New Year’s weekend in their RV, the same friends we’ve started traveling with a bit over the past year.  We enjoyed showing them around, and they also spent some time on their own at the McDonald Observatory, which we have seen many times on previous trips.  Hubby and the friends hiked from the state park to the national park, and I picked them up there after we all toured the fort area together on New Years Eve.

2016-12-31-15-52-04smdke
We always enjoy a quick visit to the national park in Fort Davis.  Just before our trip, I also learned that a family member, now deceased, actually lived at this fort for a time when he was a young boy!

Our holiday trip was pretty much perfect for us, spending time both with family and friends, as well as quality time alone.  We even made new friends, a couple close to our age that just recently started their full-time RV journey, and we exchanged contact information with them.  It was delightful to visit with them off and on all during our vacation week.

Hubby and I opted to dine out a little more on this trip because there are some really good restaurants in town.  Rumor has it we dined at our favorite Mexican food restaurant three times during our week in the area and that our waitress knew what we wanted to order as soon as we sat down on our second and third visits.  We dined there on the evening we arrived with our son, for lunch with all the kids on Tuesday before they left, and again with our friends on New Year’s Eve.

2016-12-23-19-18-00smdke
Cueva De Leon is our favorite restaurant in the area with the best chips and salsa and chile rellenos to die for! 🙂

We also dined at three other restaurants in town during our stay, which was a nice treat for us.  All were very good, and two were new to us.

2016-12-28-12-00-48smdke
We ate lunch at Poco Mexico for the first time… yummy!
2016-12-28-17-27-25smdke
We made a return visit for burgers at the Fort Davis Drug Store and Hotel.  My green chile and Swiss cheese burger with homemade onion rings was awesome!
2016-12-31-11-44-33smdke
We enjoyed delicious panini sandwiches at The Porch, a new restaurant for us that serves breakfast and lunch and is part of the historic Hotel Limpia.

(On a side note, I couldn’t disagree more with the Trip Advisor restaurant ratings for Fort Davis restaurants, especially the #1 pick listed right now.  We’ve tried that place twice and are not at all impressed with it.  We won’t try again.  In our opinion, after many trips to the area, Cueva De Leon is by far the best in town.) 

Hubby and I also drove to both Alpine and Marfa on separate drives.  We had to make a quick trip to Alpine with our son on Christmas Eve morning in search of a new coffee pot, after ours unexpectedly died on us.  Thankfully, we found one at the big hardware store, the last one on the shelf, because we would have had a crisis on our hands without a coffee pot!

Our scenic drive to Marfa on an overcast day after the kids left was nice, and we saw the pretty courthouse there, along with the historic Hotel Paisano and the whimsical El Cosmico campground south of town.  On their drive back to El Paso, the kids stopped for photos at Prada Marfa, too.

Hubby and I also enjoyed a Thursday evening presentation at Indian Lodge where the hotel manager told us all about the history of the lodge from the CCC era to date, and she also pointed out several of the original furniture pieces from that time period, marked by the metal strappings at the bottom of each one.  It was a nice evening with other hotel guests and campers, complete with hot cider and cookies by a warm fire inside.

2016-12-29-19-53-42smdke
I’ve seen this beautiful table at Indian Lodge on each trip to the area, but it was interesting to learn that it is one of the original pieces from the CCC era.

She also shared that Indian Lodge will close in September 2017 for four months for exterior resurfacing, just in case anyone is planning a trip to the area and would like to stay there.

The week prior to our trip was a fun and busy week, too.

Prior to Christmas, I also hosted my second annual cookie swap on the Monday evening before Christmas.  It was a big success once again, with two new participants this year, in addition to those returning from last year’s swap.  This year, we actually decorated cookies together for the first time, and it was so much fun, even though it was more prep work for me.  I think we will have to keep doing this in future years, if only for the laughs… which were many!  Those ladies pretty much destroyed my kitchen decorating cookies, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

After the cookie swap, I was able to provide some awesome cookie platters to my elderly neighbor, to Hubby’s side of the family during our evening together the next night and to the state park staff on Christmas Eve morning, while also saving lots of cookies for my family to enjoy during our trip, too.

2016-12-20-09-17-49asmfs
Christmas cookies are a tradition with us, and swapping cookies with friends makes the tradition even more special.  This tray included cowboy cookies, snickerdoodles, holiday thumbprints, peanut butter with chocolate kisses, cardamom cream cheese cookie press cookies and decorated star sugar cookies that we all decorated together.  I also made a few other types of cookies not shown here, including oatmeal with fresh cranberries and chocolate chip, and I totally hoarded the white chocolate and cranberry cookies that one of the new ladies brought to the exchange!

Just before we departed on our Christmas trip, we spent a delightful evening with Hubby’s side of the family on Tuesday evening, including some family members from the Dallas area.  The big home-cooked meal was a real treat for all of us during those last busy days before Christmas, with meatloaf served as the main entrée.  It was our first opportunity to gather together in our nephew’s new home with his precious wife and girls, and they were good sports to host everyone while still in the process of moving in.  They wouldn’t have it any other way.

I didn’t have an opportunity to celebrate a friends Christmas with my two special friends here before we left on our trip, but we are hoping to finally get together one evening this week.  I have grown accustomed to this fun tradition over more recent years and definitely missed our fun gathering.

I trust you all had a wonderful Christmas and wish you all the best in 2017!

 

Enjoying Autumn

My favorite season of the year

Autumn is flying by for me, and it’s been a most enjoyable season at home and for traveling in the RV.  The leaves are just beginning to turn, nighttime temperatures are flirting with the freezing mark but not yet giving in, regular fall activities returned, and my favorite farmer’s market vendor has closed for the season after another good run this year.  This is by far my favorite season of the year, and we now consider it to be our “summer,” since it is our preferred season for travel and outdoor fun now.

Since returning from our week-long vacation to the Enchanted Circle area in early September, we’ve made three more shorter trips in the RV, all to state parks closer to home.  We’ve also enjoyed some nice times right here at home, including our annual visit to the fair and enjoying the great food there on opening night, none of which was on my diet, but hey, it’s a tradition… right?

2016-09-23-20-03-32smfs
We always enjoy our yearly visit to the fair

At the fair, we once again dined at the same place I used to take my mom for lunch each year, a charitable organization’s restaurant that I’ve always enjoyed supporting and one that also serves reliably good food.  I guess I will always have my mom on my mind every time I go to the fair now, remembering how much she enjoying it, and that’s ok.  Those are good memories, but it still gets to me each time I go now.

In late September, Hubby and I returned to Lake Brownwood State Park with another couple who also joined us in their RV for four days and three nights, the same couple we met at Caprock Canyons State Park in August on a weekend that was cooler than normal.  It was our first time to visit Lake Brownwood in September, and we managed to get adjacent sites with awesome lake views in the Council Bluff campground.

2016-10-08-12-19-09smfs
View of Lake Brownwood from Texas Oak hiking trail… one of favorite trails

We enjoyed acquainting our friends with the park, and we also had fun hiking and geocaching together, dining outside in the evenings, watching college football on Saturday evening outside on their RV television and driving into Brownwood to dine at one of our all time favorite places to eat, Underwood’s BBQ.

We also celebrated Hubby’s birthday with our traditional family birthday cake, a Texas chocolate sheet cake that I made, and we even made him blow out candles.  Once again, I ate that yummy cake, even though it wasn’t on my diet, a most familiar tale this fall.

2016-10-08-10-56-33smfs
View from our campsite at Lake Brownwood State Park. We enjoyed a nice campfire here on Friday night with our friends.

In late October, we made a quick weekend trip to Lake Colorado City State Park to just get away and relax.  Hubby’s nephew surprised us and met us there in his big, new pop-up camper on Saturday afternoon.  The guys had fun checking everything out on it a little more, and we all enjoyed a great visit around the campfire together on Saturday night and even made Nutella s’mores.  (Yes, we used Nutella instead of chocolate bars!)  We had the campground mostly to ourselves, which was so nice for a peaceful weekend away.

2016-10-22-09-01-56smfs
View from our front door at our pull-thru site at Lake Colorado City State Park
2016-10-22-12-24-01smfs
The site we scoped out for Hubby’s nephew. He wanted a site that was level and had a little shade, if possible, and he was quite happy with this one.
2016-10-22-12-25-21smfs
Another view of his site – lots of room and green grass
2016-10-23-15-27-52-1smfs
Big Red was waiting patiently on us in the RV as we were getting ready to leave on Sunday

Last week, Lake Colorado City finally received some significant rains, and the lake is now up at least eight feet since we were there.  We have never seen this lake with that much water in it because we started traveling by RV during the big drought in 2011.  This lake was hit hard and has been very slow in recovering.  Hopefully, it’s made some nice progress now, and I’m anxious to return soon to see it.

Our most recent long-weekend trip took us to Palo Duro Canyon State Park in early November for three days and nights.  We’ve visited this well-known state park off and on for most of our lives, but this particular trip was by far our best one to date.

img_3605smfs
We enjoyed the gorgeous scenery at Palo Duro Canyon State Park once again, as well as some great weather and fog

I plan to write a separate post soon to share more about that trip and some of the pictures I took.  Palo Duro Canyon State Park just keeps getting better and better, especially since it was named the top state park in the nation a couple of years ago, and I’ll try to share more soon about the most recent improvements and expansions in the park, which are newsworthy, especially to campers!

The state park system has definitely spent some money on this great park in recent years to improve the roads and add campsites, both of which were sorely needed.  Now, if they could just figure out a way to make that 10% grade road going down into the canyon not so steep and narrow!  😉

Since our last trip, we have been cleaning and sprucing up the RV as we begin to transition it for colder weather camping.  Hubby wanted to do some exterior caulking, and I opted to rent a Rug Doctor and clean the carpet while the weather was nice.

Even though we began winterizing in late October at our campsites before heading home, we also started switching out some supplies to prepare for winter camping… loading our heated water hose, electric blankets for us and a guest, extra blankets for us and the dogs’ beds and our good space heater with a thermostat.  Right now, though, the weather is still very nice and looks to stay that way, at least for the near future.  We’re hoping it stays that way next week for Thanksgiving, too.

Visiting a Volcano

We finally paid this unique and scenic place a personal visit!

img_3126smfs
Entrance to Capulin Volcano National Monument at Capulin, NM

Over the past five years, we have traveled regularly to northeast New Mexico in the summer to escape the heat at home a bit.  However, on our drives to and from the area, we have never had time to stop at a rather prominent national monument along the way.  We have always enjoyed seeing it as we drove by and always remarked that we needed to make the time for a quick visit in the future.  So, on our week-long trip to the area back in early September by ourselves, we finally decided to take a little time to make the short drive from our route to check it out in person.

2016-07-01-14.41.23smfs
Our view of Capulin Volcano National Monument back in July while driving Highway 87 from Clayton to Raton.  After some recent rains, the area was beautifully green.  We couldn’t stop for a visit then, but two months later, we did!

Capulin Volcano National Monument is definitely worth a quick (or even longer) visit when driving on Highway 87 between Clayton and Raton.  Since we started visiting this area each summer a few years ago, I have truly loved the beautiful and unique scenery in this remote area that is comprised of extinct volcanoes and grasslands because is it so unique, unlike any other area we have visited.

ne-new-mexico-hwy-64

Highway 87 cuts across the Raton-Clayton volcano field, and Capulin Volcano is actually one of the youngest cones in this area, listed as *probably* extinct, which I find a little fascinating.  It last erupted 56,000 to 62,000 years ago, and there are about 125 cinder cones in this field.  If this area in northeast New Mexico has been blessed with good rains, this entire area is truly a spectacular sight to see, but I find it spectacular pretty much every time we make the trip, it seems.

Our side trip to the monument only took us a little over an hour, but it was an hour well-spent just to drive up the volcano to see the amazing views.

 

2016-09-03-13-35-14-1smfs
Visitor center and gift shop

 

 

 

2016-09-03-13-35-58smfs
Wildflowers were in abundance

 

The visitor center sits at the base of the volcano and has a small gift shop where we bought our traditional souvenirs when visiting state and national parks, a magnet for me and a hiking stick medallion for Hubby.  His wooden hiking stick, made from an old broom handle that his father had, is really an impressive thing now.  He did such a great job staining it and adding some thin green rope accents, and it is displays his many medallions in a most impressive way.  He used to use it as his regular hiking stick, but now, it is primarily a display piece in our RV.  My magnets just sit on our refrigerator at home, not nearly as impressive, but I enjoy seeing them everyday and letting them remind me of so many beautiful places and fond memories.

 

img_3158smfs
View of the visitor center (and our RV) from the parking area at the top

 

After parking the RV in the visitor center parking lot, we loaded up in the car with the dogs for the drive up the volcano.  The drive to the upper lot was not a long one, but it was pretty curvy in parts while also offering some great views, at least for the passengers.  😉

 

img_3133smfs
Starting our drive up the volcano
img_3135smfs
Curvy road on the drive up

 

Even though the park allows some folks to drive their RVs to the top, after stopping two-way traffic on both ends to allow the RV sufficient room to make the drive up and back down, there is absolutely no way we could recommend anyone doing that!  The parking lot at the top has very little room for cars, much less RVs.  Just leave the RV in the lot at the bottom and drive the car to the top… and save some aggravation to others by not inconveniencing them on their own drives up and down the volcano.

 

img_3146smfs
Small parking area at the top

 

We were slightly disappointed that the parking lot at the top wasn’t actually very close to the top of the volcano, as we hoped it would be.  It was still a pretty steep hike on a long sidewalk to the top of the volcano, and we couldn’t take the dogs along on any trails up there.  I walked up the very steep sidewalk just a bit to grab a few photos, but it wasn’t a good plan to go too far, since I was wearing my flip flops.

Nevertheless, the views of the extinct volcanoes in every direction from this vantage point were fabulous!  Taking in the views of the area while driving on Highway 87 is great, but taking a little time to see these ancient volcanoes from on high was even better.

img_3137smfsimg_3139smfsimg_3148smfsimg_3149smfsimg_3151smfs

I’m glad we finally made this little side trip to see Capulin Volcano, and I certainly encourage others to do the same when in this area.  (Just leave the RV at the visitor center.)  The views are spectacular, especially on a clear day.

2016-09-03-13-09-21smfs2016-09-03-13-09-24smfs

There is also a small, privately-owned RV park (Good Sam rated) nearby in Capulin just a few miles away, that would probably be nice for a night or two.

Also, be sure to check the park hours of operation before planning your visit, as they shorten their operating hours at the park in the off season.

More information on the magnificent ancient volcanoes of northeast New Mexico

More great views, including aerial views, of Capulin Volcano

We certainly enjoyed our nice vacation week in northern New Mexico and the Enchanted Circle, but it’s always good to come home again, too.  After all, there’s no place like home and our always magnificent sunsets.

2016-09-02-18-41-39-1smfs
Home Sweet Home on the plains

Our own personal “summer” of RV travel was finally beginning after our long, hot actual summer months at home, and little did we know how much fun we would have on our shorter trips in the coming weeks with a family member, with some friends and also on our own.  More to come.

Around Angel Fire

So much fun, so little time!

In my previous posts, I’ve shared some of our adventures in the Enchanted Circle area of New Mexico.  Most of these were places that we visited on day trips away from our RV base camp at Angel Fire, but today, I want to share about our fun time in Angel Fire.  I previously shared about our visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is located just outside Angel Fire, too.

enchanted-circle
New Mexico’s Famous Enchanted Circle

We stayed six days and five nights at Angel Fire RV Resort, which is part of Angel Fire Resort properties.  This year-round RV park opened in May 2015, and it sits a few miles away from town, just off Highway 64.  We were referred to this park by another RV friend who was quite impressed by it on a previous trip, and we opted to stay here because it was also centrally located for day trips to Taos, Eagle Nest and Red River.

The best option for us to drive to the area was Highway 64 from Cimarron, and the pass between Cimarron and Eagle Nest was very do-able in the RV, although *very* crowded with traffic on Labor Day with many people leaving the Enchanted Circle area to go home.

img_3445smfs
Angel Fire RV Resort – one of the pretty paths in the park

Angel Fire RV Resort guests are granted full access to all resort amenities, no matter where they are located in the area.

img_3420smfs
Angel Fire Resort Hotel at the ski area. RV Resort guests are permitted to use all resort facilities, even at the hotel.

Hubby played golf at the resort on our first day in the area and received a discount, and we were also given two free passes to ride the chairlift to the top of the ski mountain, compliments of the resort, worth $24.  It’s definitely worth taking these free and discounted items into account when deciding where to park the RV in this area.

img_3342smfs
Gorgeous flowers were all around the RV park, and we felt that we were camping in a flower garden.

RVs older than ten years must be pre-approved to stay at Angel Fire RV Resort.  Since ours is more than ten years old, I sent a few photos to the RV resort office by email, and we were immediately approved for our stay.  I will also share that this is definitely the most expensive RV park we have ever stayed in at about $70 per night, but after our awesome experience there, we would do it again in a heartbeat for a special vacation week such as this.  If we took a nice vacation, stayed in a hotel and boarded the dogs, we would spend almost $60 per night just on boarding, so being able to bring them along on a nice vacation helped to justify this nightly rate.  Plus, we had them along for the fun!  After all, we are dog people.

We truly loved the spectacular views from the park, especially on the surreal foggy mornings we enjoyed our first few days there.

All the RV park amenities can be found on their website.  What we enjoyed the most was the pad site itself (long and level), nice views of the area, gated security (since it is just off a busy road), outdoor hot tub, gorgeous landscaping everywhere in the park and the big, grassy “Bark Park” to let our dogs run off-leash a few times each day, which was a lot of fun for all of us.

While this is already a beautiful RV park with amazing landscaping and flowers, it’s going to be even more beautiful in a few years as the trees grow taller.  There are a lot of trees in the park, and it should be a stunning place, for sure.

img_3421smfs
View of Angel Fire Ski Area from our RV site, slightly zoomed in
2016-09-09-19-14-14smfs
Evenings were just beautiful as the sun set with a mostly unobstructed view of the brilliant colors

The large conference center on property is really nice.  It also houses another camper restroom/shower facility with an outside entrance.  This was the closest restroom/shower facility for us, and we opted to shower there on two days, just because it was so very nice!  Just outside the center, we also enjoyed simply rocking in the nice wooden rockers in the evening after the campfire was lit.

img_3329smfs
Conference center in the RV park for gatherings and concerts

To say the pups were happy at the “Bark Park” is an understatement!  Next time, I will bring their Frisbee along.  Having this nice dog park made us realize how much we wish other RV parks would consider adding one, too.

On the food front, there is a nice, well-stocked grocery store in Angel Fire, which is good to know since we discovered that there are only a few restaurants in the area.  On the morning we departed for home, we also filled the RV with gas at a pump at the grocery store, too.

We dined out twice in Angel Fire and certainly enjoyed our food both times.  We enjoyed a good pizza at Angel Fired Pizza for lunch.  This restaurant is located on the second floor of a shopping center next to the grocery store, and we had a great view of the ski mountain as we dined.  We also ate breakfast at The Bakery and Café at Angel Fire on our last full day in the area, and it was so good!  I had a huge breakfast burrito, and it was almost more than I could eat, but somehow, I managed to eat the whole thing.  They are not open for dinner, just breakfast and lunch.

2016-09-09-08-45-20smfs
My huge breakfast burrito at Angel Fire Bakery and Café with green chile gravy and salsa on the side.  I. Ate. Every. Bite!

Trails in the Angel Fire area allow dogs, something that is actually a bit rare for many areas in New Mexico.

img_3351smfs
Deer Trail in Angel Fire
img_3352smfs
Trailhead in Angel Fire

We really enjoyed hiking one of the resort trails with the dogs one cool morning, and this trailhead is located just behind the Angel Fire Visitor’s Center in town.

img_3366smfs
Hiking on a clear, cool morning with the dogs

The resort golf course is very pretty and is located just outside town.  Hubby enjoyed playing the course, even though some brief rain showers interrupted play for a bit.

2016-09-09-17-48-19smfs
Angel Fire Country Club
2016-09-09-17-48-36smfs
Driving range

The resort lake, which is just past the golf course, is also a pretty place to visit, picnic, fish or rent a paddle boat.

img_3323smfs
Monte Verde Lake – Angel Fire Resort

One of the highlights of our trip was using our complimentary tickets from the resort and riding the chair lift to the top of the ski area.  In years gone by, we brought our kids skiing here on a few occasions with other families from our church, so it was a bit surreal to ride the chairlift with no snow on the ground below us.  It was even more awesome to ride it back down with the fabulous views of Angel Fire below us, growing closer and closer as we approached the base of the lift.  Truly, the views riding back down were just fabulous!

In the warmer months, Angel Fire Ski Resort transitions to Angel Fire Bike Park, offering a large selection of downhill bike trails.

img_3398smfs
Big map at the top of the mountain

On the Friday we visited, there were several cyclists riding the chair lift up with their special bikes to ride the trails back to the bottom, and I admit that it looked like a lot of fun, too.  The trails are rated by difficulty, just like the ski trails in winter.  We could probably ride the green trails and may have to give this a try before we get much older.  If we opt to do that, we will rent our bikes and other gear at one of the local shops nearby.

We dined at the outdoor grill at the top of the mountain for lunch.  On the day we were there is was not too crowded, so it was a pleasant experience for us with great views.

img_3397smfs
View of Eagle Nest Lake and the town of Eagle Nest from the top of the ski mountain
img_3386smfs
Lunch cooked outside at the top of the mountain made for a great dining experience

At the top of the mountain resides an 18-hole disc golf course.  We walked over to the first two holes after lunch, and it looks like a lot of fun.  Just be aware that the altitude might take a bit to get used to.  I started to feel pretty lightheaded while we were there, so we decided to forego any further exploration and head back down the mountain.

img_3391smfs
Map of the 18 hole disc golf course at the top of the mountain
img_3394smfs
Look at the rough on this Frisbee golf course!

The resort also offers a zip line at the top of the mountain for those inclined to even more adventure.  I’m not sure I’m ready for something like this, but I might could be talked into it, too.

img_3403smfs
Zip Line at Angel Fire Ski Resort – It’s straight down the mountain from here!

We also made a quick afternoon drive to check out Coyote Creek State Park to the south of Angel Fire.  This state park is remote, very pretty and has some hookups, but I doubt we ever take our RV there, since RVs are not permitted on the road between the park and Angel Fire… and for good reason.  Vehicles over ten feet are not permitted on this road that is quite narrow in one stretch.  Visitors to this state park must drive their RVs in from the south instead.

img_3275smfs
Entrance to Coyote Creek State Park, south of Angel Fire
img_3276smfs
A few RV sites on the river at Coyote Creek State Park

The drive to and from the state park was beautiful on a narrow and winding road through the tall trees, and we even stopped at one pullout to let the dogs get in the creek.

img_3280smfs
Old abandoned log cabins on our drive

Girly Girl jumped right in the water, but Big Red wanted none of it.  Fortunately, we brought along some old towels on the drive.  Carry old towels is something we actually do most of the time when on vacation, especially when bringing the dogs with us.

img_3288smfs
Big Red wouldn’t get in the water
img_3289smfs
Girly Girl has always loved playing in the water and jumped right in

We had a great time re-visiting this area after many years and look forward to returning again in the future.  Our experience with Angel Fire RV Resort was so good that I suspect we will continue to base camp there, even if we stop over at Cimarron Canyon State Park for a night or two and maybe a night at Eagle Nest Lake State Park on the way next time.  I also hope to spend a little more time in Taos and Red River next time, if possible, especially Taos.

We didn’t actually drive the Enchanted Circle highway between Taos and Questa, and that was our plan for this trip due to time constraints.  On a future trip, we hope to complete the circle and visit that area, too.

I have one more post to share to complete my posts on this great trip, sharing some sights we saw on our drive to this area, especially Capulin Volcano National Monument in northern New Mexico.  Look for that one soon!

For more good, detailed information on visiting the Enchanted Circle, please check out the article below.

Legends of America – Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

Roaming in Red River

A fun and scenic day trip with the dogs

On our recent trip to the Enchanted Circle area in New Mexico, we opted to load up ourselves and the dogs for a day trip to Red River on Thursday.  The clouds had finally melted away, and the sun was shining, so it was a great day for a scenic drive to a beautiful area.

As we approached the base of Bobcat Pass, though, we encountered a long delay of twenty minutes due to road construction that resulted in only one lane of traffic across the entire pass. In fact, the wait was so long that several cars finally gave up and turned around toward Eagle Nest.  We considered doing the same, but I’m glad we waited it out.

Finally, the lead pickup escorted our very long line of cars across the steep pass (9820 ft.) and back down into Red River, taking it very slow the entire way.  We were certainly glad that we were not in our motor home for this drive on this day, and we smelled hot brakes from other cars as we arrived in town.  Fortunately, our brakes were fine.  Hubby did a good job to not ride the brake as we came down off the pass.

FYI – Bobcat Pass is the highest mountain pass in New Mexico.

img_3307smfs
On the road to Red River for the day with the pups

The dogs dearly love to go anywhere at any time, whether on a walk, a car ride or a RV trip.  We only have to say “let’s go in the car” one time, and they are off to the car!  😀

img_3309smfs
Following the lead truck through road construction down Bobcat Pass into Red River
img_3311smfs
Red River ahead as we drove down from Bobcat Pass

As we approached Red River ahead of us, I remembered the words to the chorus of “Red River Valley” that I learned as a kid, and it made me smile.  I almost broke out in song… almost.  Hubby didn’t need any distractions on this particular drive, so I’ll just share it here.

Then come sit by my side if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me adieu
Just remember the Red River Valley
And the cowboy that’s loved you so true

Once we approached the edge of town, we were finally free from the long line of cars and were ready to do some exploring!

img_3312smfs
Entering Red River, New Mexico (8671 ft.)

This is a truly beautiful area with lots of tall trees, and quaint little Red River is a cute, touristy town with an Alpine theme.  It offers year-round fun with snow skiing in the winter and outdoor fun in the warmer months, especially in summer when so many people are looking for a cool area to escape the heat at home.  The ski lifts are located in the middle of town and are easily accessed by walking from several lodges nearby and just a short drive from all the other lodges in town.

img_3318smfs
Ski lift in Red River
img_3319smfs
Lift house at Red River ski area

 

Throwback:  Hubby and I skied the slopes in Red River many years ago with a group of friends before any of us had children, and we have some great memories of that particular trip.  Our group rented a large cabin for two nights, and the heater struggled to keep us warm.  It also sounded something like a 747 taking off, too.  It wasn’t too much fun at the time, but we certainly laugh about now.  Good times, fun memories!

We carried a picnic lunch with us on this day trip, since we had the dogs along for the ride, and we found a perfect picnic spot right in the middle of town at a pretty park in front of the Red River Conference Center.  It was just a short walk over to the river just behind the conference center, and we enjoyed a quick walk there after lunch with the dogs.

I wish we would have had more time to just walk around town and along the river, but we were also on a little mission to check out RV campgrounds in the area.  We certainly enjoyed the hour or so we spent eating our picnic lunch and walking along the scenic river, though.

img_3314smfs
Pretty park in Red River
img_3315smfs
Our picnic spot
2016-09-08-12-47-39smfs
Toni Woerndle Memorial River Park on the Red River behind the conference center
2016-09-08-12-48-04smfs
A nice walk along the river
2016-09-08-12-48-13smfs
A ray of sunshine as we crossed the bridge
2016-09-08-12-48-55smfs
Crystal-clear water in the Red River
2016-09-08-12-49-06smfs
Lodges along the river would provide a nice, scenic stay in the area
2016-09-08-12-49-22smfs
Another secluded picnic spot on the river
2016-09-08-12-50-15smfs
Such a nice walk along the river
img_3316smfs
Red River Conference Center on the Red River

 

After our picnic and walk along the river, we got back in the car and proceeded to check out the RV parks and national forest campgrounds in this area.  Well, I should say we tried to check out the national forest campgrounds, but just like the ones at Cloudcroft, most of them were already closed for the year, even though it was only the week after Labor Day.  It looked like there might be some nice ones, but once again, they are not made available to the public as they should be, a continuing gripe of ours concerning the national forest campgrounds in New Mexico.

There are some decent options in the private RV parks in or near town, so if we ever opt to take the RV over steep Bobcat Pass into Red River, we will likely stay at one of them if we can actually secure a reservation.  For the record, our first choice of the private RV parks would be Road Runner RV Resort, and our second choice would be River Ranch RV Park.  We were especially impressed by the staff and facilities at Road Runner RV Resort, too.  I honestly don’t think we would consider any other RV parks in this area, but summer time visitors would certainly want to check out the national forest options, too.  I wish we could have seen them.

Based on our experience on this day, though, we will likely base camp elsewhere in the RV and make a day trip to Red River instead.  It is such a popular tourist town, especially in the summer months, so it is generally not easy to secure reservations due to the many RVers who reserve far ahead of time and stay in this area for the entire season to escape the summer heat.

We might also consider reserving a pet-friendly room in Red River overnight if we want to have a bit more time there on future trips while leaving the RV elsewhere in the area.  Several motels and lodges there are pet-friendly and can be found at the link below.  Most are also in town within walking distance to most everything we would want to see, which is not the case with the RV parks.

Red River Pet-Friendly Lodging

Red River is such a beautiful, delightful area in the Enchanted Circle, and it most definitely worth a visit.  I’m ready to go back again!

A Tiny Treasure of a Park

A relatively new state park in the cool mountains New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle

On our recent week-long trip to the Enchanted Circle area of New Mexico, we had the opportunity to visit several places to take our RV on future trips.  One little state park we found was pretty and one we would consider for a night or two on a return trip.

Eagle Nest Lake State Park is not a big park, but it occupies some prime real estate on the west side of Eagle Nest Lake, which is quite beautiful.  It is a relatively new state park, only founded in 2004.

img_3189smfs
Main entrance to Eagle Nest Lake State Park
img_3190smfs
Visitor’s center area

 

We took the opportunity, after paying our day use fee at the gate drop box, to tour this little park and check out some of the RV sites.

We started our tour at the visitor’s center, but it was locked up on that Wednesday morning.  In fact, we never saw a park employee anywhere in the park during our visit.  It looks like a very nice visitor’s center, and I wish we could have checked it out to see what was offered inside.  There were about six RV campers in the campground, but they obviously could not use any of these facilities, at least on the day we were there.  (I will give some credit here for at least keeping the park open for day visitors and campers, though, unlike the national forests in New Mexico who just seem to pretty much close up shop after Labor Day and completely lock their parks and campgrounds up to everyone.  Ugh.)

For anyone with a boat, there is a boat ramp next to the visitor’s center to give easy access to the lake right in the park.

img_3207smfs
Visitor’s center
img_3193smfs
Wish we could have seen inside the visitor’s center, but it was locked up. 😦
img_3208smfs
A little info on the park

 

There are some nice, tall trees in the day use area, along with beautiful lakeside covered tables.  A picnic here would be a lovely experience, for sure.  We were the only people in this area during our visit, too.

img_3194smfsimg_3196smfsimg_3197smfsimg_3198smfsimg_3200smfsimg_3203smfsimg_3204smfs

Unlike the day use area, there are no trees in the RV campground, which is unfortunate.  The draw to camping here for us, though, would be the great lakeside sites with the nice covered tables.  These particular sites are also pull-through sites and looked to be pretty level.  And as if to try to make up for the lack of trees here, the yellow and purple wildflowers were absolutely beautiful!

img_3215smfsimg_3209smfsimg_3213smfsimg_3210smfs

There is a small area of private residences just behind the state park, including the campground, so if you want a campground that is away from more developed areas, this one might not be for you.  All of the RV sites are dry camping sites, too.  However, for a small nightly fee, camping by a beautiful lake with mountains behind it, a covered table at the site and cooler summer temps is still a good deal to us!  I think the nightly fee was about $10?

img_3201smfs
The tiny town of Eagle Nest sits at the north end of the lake and is easily seen from the visitor’s center area.

 

 

The town of Eagle Nest is nearby, and Angel Fire is only about ten miles away to the south. When planning a visit to this area, it would be worth checking to see what businesses are open and what businesses are closed in each community, especially if visiting in the off-season on a weekday.  The little town of Eagle Nest was pretty much buttoned up on this same day when we went there and hoping to check out some restaurants and shops.  There is a Lowe’s grocery store in Angel Fire, if needed.

This was a fact-finding, or RV park-finding, trip for us, and if/when we return to this area again, I think we might spend a night or two in this pretty little park.  The nightly rate is so cheap, and it would put us a bit closer for day trips to Eagle Nest and Red River, as compared to staying in Angel Fire where we stayed during our trip.  Our only disappointment was finding the park facilities to be locked up with no one on duty, but for just a night or two, we would probably be fine with that.

We also paid a quick visit to two campgrounds at Cimarron Canyon State Park, Ponderosa Campground and Maverick Campground.  I was driving the car and did not take any photos, unfortunately, but we really liked that park.  Just like Eagle Nest Lake State Park, the sites are dry camping, but we would most definitely consider camping there for a few nights.  The draw to that park for us is a true forest camping experience with access to the Cimarron River and some nice hiking trails.  Larger RVs use the Ponderosa Campground in that park, but smaller ones have a few more options in campgrounds.

Since I have no photos to share of this pretty park, here are two helpful links.

Photos of Cimarron Canyon State Park

Campsite Photos – Cimarron Canyon State Park

I have more to share on our trip soon. 😉