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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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View from our front door at our pull-thru site at Lake Colorado City State Park
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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.
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Another view of his site – lots of room and green grass
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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.

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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.

Wordless Wednesday – Foggy Canyon

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Wordless Wednesday – Found in a Geocache

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Memorial and Memories

The very first memorial honoring Vietnam War veterans is in New Mexico

In early September, we were fortunate to be able to spend a lovely week in the Enchanted Circle area of northern New Mexico, and one of the most memorable sights we saw during that week sits atop a hill near the small community of Angel Fire.  In fact, we could see it off in the distance from the RV park where we stayed during the week.  When I researched sites to visit in this area ahead of time, this one stood out as a “must-see” spot, so we planned our visit for Wednesday.

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Sign at the highway entrance to the memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park at Angel Fire is actually the very first memorial to honor Vietnam Veterans and was also the inspiration for the large memorial that now resides in Washington D.C.  Over time, people have placed red bricks here to honor family members and other loved ones that served, and they border the sidewalks throughout the memorial.

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Memorial bricks

I have always had a personal connection to this war because my brother served in it for two consecutive years.  My brother was fourteen years older than me, and I was a young child while he served.  I remember writing letters to him regularly, and we also put together a box of goodies for him every other week and sent it by mail.  In later years, he often shared how much he looked forward to receiving those care packages, too.  I lost my dear brother back in 2007 to diabetes and congestive heart failure, but this visit brought back so many memories of him and this time period in history.

Many specific memories of my brother’s service came flooding back to mind as I toured this beautiful memorial.  It’s amazing how things like this can go dormant in our minds until something prods them back to the forefront so vividly.  As I looked at the various exhibits in the small museum, the memories continued to return, especially seeing those red, white and blue air mail envelopes that we always used to mail our letters to my brother.

The story of how this memorial came to be is so special and so touching, and I encourage anyone to read more about it on the memorial’s website.  I won’t take the time to try to share it here, but it is well worth the time to read about it.  You can also make a contribution to help support the memorial, if you would like to do so.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, David Westphall Foundation

The weather was overcast on the day of our visit, and while the conditions kept me from capturing better quality photos, it provided the perfect setting to match my rather somber mood while I toured the facility.  Before we finished our tour, I also made the decision to order a brick to honor my brother and have it placed there in his honor and memory.  I look forward to returning to the memorial again someday to see his name and service honored along with so many other veterans.

I’ll just let my photos share the rest of the story about this touching place, and I’ve opted to share quite a number of them today because this placed touched me so much.

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Main entrance
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Main entrance
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Blue Star Memorial Garden
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Entering the memorial
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Touching tribute – please read
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Fountain features provide a feeling of serenity
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View of the mountains from the amphitheater
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View of the mountains from the amphitheater
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Huey helicopter that was flown in the war
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New Mexico, United States and POW/MIA flags
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Flags
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Angel Fire Ski Resort in the distance
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Entrance to the museum
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The RV resort where we stayed in the distance
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The views from that meditation bench are amazing.
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The tall tree honoring the founder’s son was very small when the memorial was built but stands tall now, a striking reminder of a life lost.
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Another view of the memorial tree
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The architecture and sweeping lines are beautiful.
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Native flowers adorn the landscape.
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The small and simple chapel is an amazing sight.
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Another view of the Huey
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Burial site of the memorial founders
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One of many small memorial flags along the walkways

I would highly encourage anyone visiting this area to visit this beautiful memorial for an hour or two or even longer if you want to explore the museum in more detail.  I’m so glad we took the time to visit this special, yet somber, place.  It is free to visit.  Donations are accepted from those that would like to make a contribution to help with upkeep of the memorial.

 

Beauty, Reality… and Beauty

I will never forget visiting this place.

On our recent vacation to the Enchanted Circle area of northern New Mexico, we revisited the amazing Rio Grande Gorge again after more than twenty years.  This area is actually a state park now, but it is still mostly just a natural scenic area, spanned by an amazing bridge.

Just prior to our visit to the Rio Grande Gorge, our first stop that Tuesday afternoon was a brief hour-long visit to Old Town in Taos, where we walked with the dogs and met so many nice people there who spoke to us and petted them.

Dogs are the perfect ice breaker when meeting new people, and even though we only went in a few stores while alternating outside with the dogs, we had a great time.  We would never have met so many nice people and chatted with them without having the dogs along, and the dogs relished every moment of the attention while getting some good exercise in this unique and historic place.  Big Red is such a people person, offering his paw to shake hands with pretty much everyone that spoke to him, and Girly Girl sat reasonably still when kids came up to pet her, wagging her long, fluffy tail as fast as she could.

Fun times, nice memories and lovely people, and I’m thinking a girls trip here sometime in the future would be so much fun!  It would be fun to spend a long weekend here sometime, for sure.

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The square in historic Old Town in Taos

 

After our quick visit to Old Town, we then headed out of town toward the Rio Grande Gorge.

In the remainder of this post, I want to share two aspects of this place that seem to stand in stark contradiction to each other.  Sometimes life sends an unexpected dose of reality my way when I least suspect it, and such was the case on the day we visited this park.

First… the beauty.

The Rio Grande Gorge is a beautiful, magnificent sight to see.  I vaguely remembered it from our quick visit many years ago, but seeing it again made me realize that it was truly more beautiful than I remembered it to be.

2016-09-06-16-13-54smfsAs we drove out from Taos to Rio Grande Gorge State Park, we would never guess such an amazing sight existed in the flat land just ten miles from town if we didn’t already know it was there.  The delightful thing about canyons is how they sneak up on you and thrust their beauty right in your face all at once, unlike mountains that you see coming at you for hours ahead of time.  We couldn’t see anything about this famous place in advance, and I happily savored the “shock” factor when I saw it.

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As you approach the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, you would never suspect such a magnificent sight existed below the bridge, but the many visitors are a quick hint to the existence of that sight.
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Rio Grande Gorge State Park
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Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

This was our first real sightseeing excursion on our trip to the Enchanted Circle area.  The lighting that afternoon was a bit challenging to capture both the canyon and the sky in a decent manner, but I’m pleased with the photos, given that no photo can actually do justice to a place like this anyway.  There is no way to capture such massive three-dimensional beauty in a small, two-dimensional photo, but I gave it my best “shot.”

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A small herd of elk was grazing near the bridge, but they never would turn around to capture a better photo.  This was the best I could do… elk behinds!

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Now… onto the reality of this place.

In my previous Wordless Wednesday post, I shared a photo that I took at a lookout spot on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  It is a photo of a suicide crisis call unit, and these units are now pretty much everywhere on the bridge.  I certainly did not remember seeing those units on our previous visit.

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I am going to freely admit that seeing these units everywhere on the bridge really affected me deeply, and seeing them also left a huge impression on my take-away feeling from seeing this beautiful natural sight.  I initially left this area with a heavy and conflicted heart, seeing such magnificent beauty while witnessing the evidence of a hard reality of the struggles that apparently have brought far too many people here in recent years for a vastly different reason.

It is unsettling times like these that cause me to dig deeper until I find something I’m looking for.  While we were enjoying a lovely getaway in the mountains for a week of vacation together, someone else was going through their own personal hell.  I confess that I personally cannot relate to something like this, even though I have a close family member who has attempted suicide twice via drug overdose.  Thankfully, there are others that relate to these situations and are gifted to do something to make a real difference.

As I continued to ponder this dichotomy of life, a quote literally came my way in a Facebook post by a friend…

“Beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of love.”

And it hit me like a ton of bricks… the beauty of what was happening in the placement of those call units.  The sight that initially unsettled me terribly and caused me to dig deeper for a few days, is now a thing of beauty itself.

I have a long-time friend that lives near this area, and subsequent to our visit, she told me that the units are making a difference in the lives of the courageous people that push those buttons and make those calls.  For this outcome, I find myself with such admiration and gratitude for the people that have devoted themselves and their time to try to save others and help them at the most dire time in their life.

Seeing people through the eyes of love changes everything, and those call units and the people that staff the phones 24/7 on the other end are truly beautiful… far more beautiful than even this magnificent canyon.  These people have already seen in advance the beauty of the lives of the hurting people on the other end, and they are determined to make a difference.  God bless them for their significant efforts and life-saving impact in these beautiful lives.

This is truly, truly a beautiful place.

 

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.

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Main entrance to Eagle Nest Lake State Park
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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.

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Visitor’s center
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Wish we could have seen inside the visitor’s center, but it was locked up. 😦
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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.

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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!

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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?

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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. 😉

Another Loss

We just lost yet another loved one in our life, this time very suddenly and definitely unexpected.

Late last October, we spent a very quick weekend camping with some friends.  We all needed a little break from our everyday lives, and I really needed a couple of nights away to refresh a bit as we were dealing with the hard situation of slowly losing my sweet cousin.  These long-time friends gladly joined us, as they had just purchased a brand new fifth wheel, and we shared their happiness as they took their new trailer on an inaugural trip with us.

Hubby worked with this man for thirty years, and they were good friends.  Sadly, we just lost this dear friend to a tragic accident.  One day, this friend was at work with Hubby, and the next day, he was gone.  He did not survive but a few brief minutes after the horrible crash.

Over three decades, this friend and Hubby grew very close.  They had a lot in common and helped and supported each other in ways other friends could not at times.  He and his wife were looking forward to their retirement years very soon, and they were especially looking forward to camping regularly with family and friends and even meeting new people on the road.  We were looking forward to being a part of that with them in coming years, too.

My heart is truly breaking following this tragic news that we received while on a drive around sunset with the dogs in the car.  Hubby completely broke down in tears, and it was all I could do to keep some composure myself to try to comfort him.   I drove us home as he wept and called other friends to share the sad news, and I remember seeing one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in some time as I drove.

We memorialized and buried our friend, along with many others who loved him.  He ended his life well, after many years of heartache, and for that healing, I am very grateful today.  He will most definitely be missed.  So many times in situations like this, I struggle to see how his family will go on without him, but I also know that in every situation I’ve known in the past, they always find a way, even though it is seldom easy for them.

I’m sure I will remember our friend every time we revisit the places we camped with him and his wife and enjoyed their company in some beautiful scenic spots, and I hope that over time, I can remember in gratitude and not in sadness.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
– Marcel Proust

The photos shared in today’s post are from our last trip with our friends back in October, a trip that I remember so fondly.  We had a great time acquainting them with this particular park a little more, and these photos represent some memorable moments we shared together.  It was a lovely time enjoying good friends, beautiful scenery and more than a few much needed laughs.  We also loaned him an extra HDMI cable to use, since he forgot to buy one, and Hubby had great fun teasing him about it.

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Memorable sunsets
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Hidden lake that few people know about
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Beautiful fall colors

 

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Seeing lots of bison and their young up close
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Hiking around the lake

I am feeling fairly guilty right now as I mourn the fact that this is the fifth loved one we have lost in the past fifteen months.  We lost three family members and a good friend last year, and now we’ve lost another friend.  The more I think about being a little resentful of this fact, the more guilty I feel.  Perhaps it is time to quit looking at death in this way and start being more grateful for the blessing of having these people in my life for the time they were here.  As we grow older, we will no doubt continue to lose loved ones like this, and I don’t want the pity party to only grow within me.

This is a very hard loss for many of us, and if you are a praying person, please say a prayer for his family and friends.

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