Tuesday, February 16, 2016

2016 Enchantment Tour

Note:  This is a long blog post covering our 30 day, over 5,200 mile trip.  Lots of pictures, too, so you might want to bookmark if you want to come back to read further later. :-)

On this trip we will be traveling I-10 all the way to El Paso, TX, then north into the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico.  We will be focusing on southern New Mexico with planned stays in Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, Valley of Fires and City of Rocks.  Total trip duration will be three to four weeks.  We are also planning to do a lot of "boondocking", aka "dry camping"; meaning free overnight stays without any electric/water/sewer hookups.

At this point our plan is to bring the trailer home from storage Friday, 2/19/16, so I can run system tests, check tire pressures, lug torques, etc., etc., and load the trailer with food and clothes for the trip.  We plan to depart home on Monday, 2/22/2016, then travel across FL, AL, MS, LA and TX on I-10, using free overnight stays at Rest Areas, Truck Stops and maybe even a Walmart parking lot or two.  We want to spend the bulk of our time in New Mexico.  Of course, if we see something interesting along the way before we get to NM we will stop and check it out and we want to stay well rested, safe and healthy.  We don't like to do l-o-n-g days of driving anymore and since we are retired we really don't need to.

We have apps on our phones, as well as the latest 2016 Next Exit book to help us find what we need along the way.  My chief navigator (Jeri) will be primarily responsible for finding our stops and other things we may need along the way while the pilot (me) focuses on the driving and towing.  This worked out great on our awesome 2015 Western Extravaganza and I am sure it will work out wonderfully on this trip, too.

We have some new items we will be utilizing on this trip:  the new 2,400 Watt Yamaha inverter/generator and the 100 Watt solar system.  These should come in handy to keep our RV battery charged while we are boondocking and/or supplying any additional electricity we may need when boondocking.

Feel free to check back here for pictures and updates as we go on another adventure out West.  I hope to update this blog post every day or two during the trip, subject to internet availability and time, of course.  Typically, if we do not have Wi-Fi access I use my iPhone 6 as a hotspot for my Mac Air to access the internet via our Verizon cellular service.

Saturday, 2/20/16:  We brought the trailer home from storage yesterday and have been busy prepping it and the truck for our trip.  Both propane tanks are full, the 60 gallon fresh water tank is full, the reefer and pantry are loaded with food and our clothes are packed.  The Yamaha 2400 Watt inverter/generator is secured in the back of the truck, along with five gallons of gas for it.  Tire pressures have been checked.  I had the F150 serviced a couple of days ago, so it's ready to go.  Only things left are the last minute things from the home refrigerator, our toiletries, etc.  Departure day is still scheduled for Monday, 2/22/16.

Sunday, 2/21/16:  Trailer is loaded and ready to go!  Looking to hookup the trailer to the truck and get on the road by 9:00 AM or so in the morning.  We will sure miss our family, but we are pretty excited to get on the road again to adventure!

Day 1 -- Monday, 2/22/16:  On the road again!  We got on the road around 9:50 AM and drove about 400 miles, spending the night in west Florida at Blackwater River State Park.  I have to tell you that this was the nicest state park in Florida that I have been in so far.  It was neat, clean, extremely well maintained.  All the campsite pads had fairly fresh crush rock and our site was perfectly level.  The bathrooms were clean and very nice.  Jeri made a nice dinner of Omaha Chicken Fried Steaks, potatoes au gratin and carrots.  It started raining in the wee hours and rained off and on until around daylight (I think it was).  This is a super nice campground that we plan on staying at again.  Here are some pictures.

Hooked up and ready to leave home.
Our first overnight was here in western Florida--beautiful park! 
Our campsite (#3)--note the level, beautifully landscaped site.  On one-nighters I usually do not unhook from the truck--I just use the electric tongue jack to level the trailer and take a bit of weight off the rear springs.
Jeri & Sugar enjoying the campsite.
Our evening campfire (of course).
Day 2 -- Tuesday, 2/23/16:  We woke up this morning, had coffee and a bit of cream of wheat and broke camp; hitting the road around 9:00 AM.  Fortunately, I had shoved our camp chairs and left over firewood under the trailer, so they did not get soaked by all the rain this morning.  It does not take us long to break down camp on these one-nighters since we do not unhook the trailer from the truck--mostly a matter of raising the four stabilizer jacks (I do this quickly and easily with a 18 volt cordless drill and socket), raise the electric tongue jack and disconnect any hookups we may have used.  So far we have used our onboard water and have only used the electric hookup.  Easy--peasy!

Not long after leaving we ran into rainy weather; sometimes quite severe and it lasted about all day, but even with driving slow we did finally make it to the state park in western Louisiana that Jeri had found online and pulled into the park after it closed.  Jeri had found it online and called ahead to let the ranger know we were coming.    We found a campsite around five o'clock.  Not the greatest, but it's okay for one night.  

We finally ran out of the bad weather at Lafayette, LA as the front passed through.  Jeri was reading that there were some tornado watches and some damage in some areas south of us in LA.  Good thing we took I-12 around north of New Orleans instead of dipping down and going through it on I-10.  We got back on I-10 in Baton Rouge.

Both yesterday and today we used our Pilot Flying J RVPlus credit card to get gas at those truck/RV centers.  Because we are Elite Good Sam members we get $.07 a gallon discount on gas!  Nice!  Just run the card at the pump, enter our PIN and the prices drop by $.07 on the pump!  Did I say, "Nice?"

We settled into our campsite here at Sam Houston Jones State Park and used the new Weber Q1200 grill to make pork chops and baked potatoes for dinner, so we ate good again (as usual--Jeri is such a marvel in the galley!).

Jeri saw her first armadillo up close this evening.  It came running in her direction and she jumped up on the picnic table.  It wasn't really trying to come at her; it just wanted to get into a small culvert by our campsite.

It is 9:00 PM as I type this and it is quite windy and getting chilly--low tonight is supposed to be around 45 degrees.  But our trailer is nice and cosy.  I'll probably set the furnace to come on if it gets too cold.

Here are some pictures.
This park is just about 33 miles east of the LA-TX border, so tomorrow will get us well into Texas on I-10.

Campsite #53

Grill Meister at work with the new Weber--it's SWEET!
Pork Chops and Baked Potatoes on the Weber--Good!
It was so windy tonight we decided not to have a campfire and we are both pretty worn out from a pretty stressful day of bad weather traveling, so bedtime early tonight.  Time for bed.

Day 3 -- Wednesday, 2/24/16:  We got back on the road around 9:00 AM or so this morning, found our way back to I-10 and headed west again toward Texas.  We had two major cities to travel through today:  Houston, TX and San Antonio, TX.  Unfortunately, we hit San Antonio late in the late afternoon and right in the middle of HEAVY rush hour traffic.  Pulling a travel trailer through a major city during rush hour is NOT fun!  People drive like idiots.  On the west side of the city the traffic was bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go for miles and we did not get out of the city and back onto open highway until well after dark.  We normally like to find a campground or other parking place for the night well before dark.

We finally came to a Rest Area, but unlike the earlier rest areas in east Texas we had taken breaks in that were quite beautiful and spacious, this one was nothing more than a road going in and out with parking on each side.  We pulled to the left side and spent the night with a few semi-truckers and one or two other RVs.  This was the first night we had ever spent in a rest area with the trailer and actually, it was not too bad.  We both slept fairly well.

One of the really nice Rest Areas in East Texas
Not the same as the one we spent the night in, but the same type of setup--our trailer is on the right side in the center of the picture.
I do not believe I have mentioned yet that one of the perks of being a Elite Good Sam Club member is that we were qualified to get a Flying J/Pilot RVPlus Credit Card.  Why is this so good?  Well, you pull into any of their centers, stick your card into the pump, enter a PIN code and you watch the price per gallon drop $.07!!  Nice!  We took good advantage of this when we could during our whole trip.

One of our Flying J gas fill-ups--this one, as did several others, had separate pumps for RVs.
Day 4 -- Thursday, 2/25/16:  After a quick bite of breakfast in the trailer we got back on the road, continuing west on I-10 toward El Paso, TX.  We really enjoyed the road today through some very beautiful, rugged Texas Hill Country.  The new truck pulled the trailer like a dream up and down the hills--fairly effortlessly, I will add.

Taking a break after pulling away from the pump at the Flying J in Fort Stockton, TX

During this ride, Jeri started looking at information about Big Bend National Park in south Texas and wondered if we should take a run down and spend a couple of days.  Since I had (pre-trip) suggested Big Bend, but Jeri had sort of nixed it because it was about 100 miles south of I-10, I was all for being flexible and heading that way, so after gassing up at the above Flying J in Fort Stockton, TX and taking a break we headed south toward Big Bend on route US-385 toward Marathon, TX and Big Bend.

Jeri taking a break at the Flying J (above) beside I-10 (it's in the background).
Since it was starting to get pretty late in the afternoon, Jeri (navigator and campground finder supreme) found us a RV park in Marathon, TX (appropriately named the Marathon RV Park).  We checked in and set up quickly, again, since our plan was to head on down to Big Bend the next morning and hopefully find a campsite, we did not unhook the trailer from the truck.  I just level the trailer with the electric tongue jack and run down the four stabilizers on the trailer.  Since we had full hookups I did hook up the electric, water and sewer line (AKA, the "stinky slinky") so we could drain the waste tanks in the morning and fill the onboard fresh water tank before heading out the next morning.

Our campsite at the Marathon RV Park
Watching the sun set over US-90 from our campground in Marathon
After dinner we strolled over to the very nice covered Spanish-style veranda/courtyard to enjoy the communal campfire and talk with some of the other campers.  Seems most of them were from Texas and staying there to attend a cowboy poetry symposium in Alpine the next day, but they were very nice folks and we enjoyed talking with them.  After enjoying the fire and conversation we strolled back to our trailer and went to bed for the night.

The communal campfire and some other campers--yes, it was a bit chilly.
Day 5 -- 2/26/16:  After breakfast I drained and flushed the gray and black tanks and topped up the fresh water tank (60 gallons); if we get a campsite in Big Bend we will most likely be dry camping (AKA "boondocking", no water, electricity or sewer hookup).  (This turned out to be the case, too.)

We headed south the remaining way to Big Bend--quite an interesting drive down roads that had dips in them with water level markers sticking up.  These were also north of Marathon.    Seems these dips are located where natural washes come through and they tend to flood when heavy rains come.  It was totally dry when we passed through, though.

Stopped for a quick break at a marker pull-out on the way to Big Bend
The distances in this part of the country are VAST!  We arrived at the north entry to Big Bend at the Persimmon Gap check-in and visitor center and got into the park FREE using our Senior Pass.  We inquired about campsites in the park and were told it was first come, first served and we could just go to the campgrounds and check.  We continued on into the park and arrived after several miles (at 45 mph--the park speed limit) at Panther Junction.  There is a visitor center there and we stopped for a few minutes.  Great Verizon cell phone service here, too.

After this brief stop we headed on south several miles in the park, passing an extensive area that had burned off sometime in the past, as we headed down to Rio Grand Village campground.  It was self-check in, so we drove in and luckily found a campsite (#67) without any problem, unhooked then went back and paid the camping fee for two nights at a 50% off rate (again, thanks to our Senior Pass).  It cost us $7.00 a night instead of the normal $14.00.  Since all I had were larger bills I think I remember putting $10 and $5 bills to pay for it.  I considered it a donation.  LOL  Good thing we drained the waste tanks and filled the freshwater because we did not have any hookups.  No problem--we can be self-contained.  I did put out the solar panel to keep the battery charged.  We used the 100 Watt solar panel quite a bit on this trip and it did a great job of recharging our onboard trailer battery (as long as the sun was shining).

We grilled something for dinner, but I do not remember what it was at this point.  Did I mention how much I love the little Weber Q1200 grill that Jeri got me for my birthday?  It's great!  Cooks like a dream.

Day 6 -- 2/27/16:  Today, we explored the park, or at least as much as we could because of the vast size of it.  We went to the Rio Grande overlook, where Jeri was thrilled to see Mexicans illegally wading back and forth across the river.  She even got some pictures.    They hand-make trinkets, walking sticks, and such and wade over to the US side and lay them out on a big rock, along with an honor system payment can.  Then they go back over to Mexico, wait a while, then wade back across to collect their money.  We were told to not buy these things as it encourages illegal crossings and the items are considered contraband and can be confiscated by the border patrol, but hey, the BP know it's going on and the BP doesn't seem to care--after all, they aren't coming over to stay.

Between the two tourists is the rock with the "contraband" on it.  That's the Rio Grande and Mexico on the other side.
The Rio Grande and Mexico on the other side
My F150 with Mexico in the background. What a beautiful, rugged place this is!
Big Bend has the only entry portal at a national park in the country located near here.  It has a Border Patrol/Customs person stationed there in a small, but nice, modern building.  It's called the Boquillas Crossing.  We talked to the BP guy on duty and he said we could be taken on a short boat ride across the river into Mexico and either walk or ride burros into the little village called Boquillas Del Carmen.  He said there were some really good food restaurants there and some shopping.  We saw a couple coming back into the USA and she was ecstatic about some kind of cloth she had purchased.

Now here is where I will admit I was a stick in the mud--Jeri wanted to cross over and we did have our passports with us, but I did not want to, primarily because I did not want to leave our pup alone in the trailer for the length of time it would take to do it.  In retrospect I should have taken Jeri over.  Oh well, next time.

Slick Rock
Over on the west side4 of the park at the Selenas Overlook
We also spent some time driving up a 4x4 high-clearance gravel/dirt road (Maverick Road) from near the Santa Elena overlook up to the West park entrance (Maverick Junction) on highway 118.  Here are some pictures.

Me driving on the 4x4 road--not bad here.
Beautifully rugged country. 
Rough, dry country this 4x4 road passes through.
Jeri taking some pictures--this was a very rough road in places, but with some beautiful scenery.
I believe this may be a Joshua tree (sadly I am no fauna expert).
Out in the middle of nowhere on Maverick Road we ran across a stick and mud hut.  It had a historical marker telling that some highly respected man and his wife raised a family of eight while living in it.  Hard to believe.  Dirt floor (probably covered with skins or rugs back then), maybe 25' or so long and 10' wide, half in the ground.  

Pretty colors!
Kind of similar to the Painted Desert in Northeast Arizona, but this is in Big Bend. 
That evening, at dusk, we drove up the Old Ore Road (another high clearance 4x4 only road) a mile or so and parked, hoping to see some wildlife as night settled in.  It was totally quiet and peaceful and the stars were awesome, but I think the only wildlife we saw was a jack rabbit.

It was a really fun day seeing the sights of Big Bend and there are many, many sights to see.  I highly recommend that should any of you ever have the opportunity to go to Big Bend National Park you make the effort.  It is a truly awesome place.  I wish we had spent at least another full day and night there.

Day 7 -- 2/28/16:  We said good-bye to Big Bend at 10:00 AM this morning, after dumping our gray tank at the dump station, leaving via the Maverick Junction (West entrance) on highway 118 north to Alpine, then west and north on US-90 to Van Horn, TX where we got back on I-10, heading west to El Paso.  We saw a lot of really great scenery along the way.

Oh, I almost forgot--we watched a coyote stroll through the campground close to our campsite this morning while having coffee.

We arrived in El Paso late in the afternoon (early evening).  Jeri had found this park campground at Franklin Mountains State Park, virtually right in El Paso, but we somehow navigated to the wrong part of the park--the picnic area.  We discovered where we had gone wrong and attempted to find the campground on the north side of the park, but this entailed going up going up and over a mountain pass (Franklin Mountain).  Traffic was very heavy, mainly because of a roadside gathering of sports cars and they were scooting around all over the place, weaving in and out of heavy traffic.  There was also some major road construction going on at what turned out to be the entry to the campground part of the park--thus, we drove right past it!  We went on down the mountain before we could find a turnaround and headed back up the mountain, but there was no entrance to the campground going in that direction.  We really didn't want to drive all the way to the other side, only to have to go back up.

So, Jeri got to check off something on her RV camping bucket list--we spent the night in a Walmart parking lot right in the middle of El Paso.  A plus is that it was right beside highway 54 that we would be taking north the next day.  Jeri went in and asked for permission, which was granted and they asked us to park out of the way over by the garden center.  We ended up being the only RV spending the night there.  It was not bad at all (and it was FREE!).  It was actually very quiet.  Here are some pictures.  (I will admit to making sure the 9 mm would be handy; just in case. ;-) )

Out spot at the El Paso Walmart (thank you Walmart!).
Here we are at Walmart--Garden Center to the right.
As you can see from the pictures when camping at a Walmart or Rest Area one just pulls in and parks.  No putting down stabilizers, putting out awnings, getting out the grill and camp chairs--in other words, you are parking for the night and NOT camping.  We and many other RV'ers are grateful that Walmart, Cracker Barrel and many other places allow us to park for free overnight, and thus, we do most of our shopping at Walmarts when RV'ing.

Day 8 -- 2/29/16:  After a uneventful night and a quick bite of breakfast we left the Walmart lot fairly early and got on highway 54 heading north/northeast into New Mexico on our way to one of our planned stays at Oliver Lee State Park just a few miles south of Alamogordo, NM.  This was a pretty short pull of around 80 miles, so we arrived at the park fairly early in the day.  It is a self-service park, so we drove all around it checking out the open campsites, finally settling on site #5 ($14.00 per night included water and electric hookups).  We booked two nights.

Just as I had read, this is a great park, with awesome views.  The road kind of winds around down and up and literally every campsite has good views without other campers blocking them.

View up Dog Canyon from our campsite (#5)
Jeri catching some sun at our campsite--note the view of the mountains to the west.  White Sands National Monument is just this side of the mountains. 
Our campsite with Dog Canyon in the background
Another view of our campsite
We were needing some things from the store and wanted to see what Alamogordo looked like so we drove into town to find the Walmart Jeri found online. (We use a iPhone app called Allstays Camp & RV extensively when RV'ing.  Great app!)  We found something we had not seen before, a Lowe's Signature Marketplace grocery store.  Jeri went in and was so impressed with it she texted me to come in and see it (as usual, I was out in the truck with Sugar Belle, keeping it cool.).  It was quite impressive!  Here is a picture of the front.  Have you ever encountered one of these?

Lowe's Signature Marketplace Grocery store in Alamogordo 
After getting some groceries we headed back to camp to relax and enjoy the afternoon and evening, taking a walk around the park with Sugar and having a campfire.

Jeri relaxing as we took pictures of each other.

Sunset with Jeri's good camera.
Jeri sitting by the campfire
Day 9 -- 3/1/16:  Jeri made us bacon and eggs with salsa verde for breakfast this morning.  Have I mentioned what a whiz she is in the galley?  Our sight-seeing goal for today is the White Sands National Monument.

Jeri getting some morning sun--gee, we were up early!
Sugar Belle enjoying the morning.
To get to the White Sands National monument we drove into Alamogordo then took highway 70 southwest.  It was around 25 miles or so from Oliver Lee where we are camping.  Once again we used our Senior Pass to get into the monument for FREE!  Love this pass!

The White Sands National Monument visitor center and souvenir stores (there were two).
Jeri wading barefoot in the gypsum sands.  They are unbelievably pure white!
Of course I had to get a shot of my truck in the "Sands".
Jeri and Sugar Belle in the sands.
It was so funny--while out in the sands Sugar started running top speed in a circle around me.  I almost got dizzy from turning around so many times, so her leash would not get tangled.

Sugar running circles around me--she absolutely LOVED running in this sand!
Bill & Sugar Belle.  "I want to do that again, Daddy!"

One of the picnic areas from the dunes.
Picnic area on the loop through the monument.  My truck for scale.
Jeri sitting in the sand
The White Sands National Monument is really an impressive place and they do a great job of keeping the drifting sands from filling the roads, parking and picnic areas by using road graders.  There are some huge parking areas, but they were mostly empty while we were there.  It wasn't all that crowded.  We were told the sands keep spreading to the north and south with the winds and they actually cover many miles just east of the mountains.  I'm glad we visited such an awesome place.

On our way back through Alamogordo I stopped at a regular Lowe's and bought a proper 3.5 lb head axe to carry in the trailer for splitting firewood.  We have found that just about anyplace anywhere we buy firewood the chunks are too large for proper burning, so now I split them down into reasonable size pieces.  They burn much better and cleaner.

Tonight we grilled some Filet Mignon steaks for dinner, then built a relaxing campfire for our last night at Oliver Lee Memorial Park.  By the way, I spent some time in the visitor center talking with a park volunteer and while enjoying the exhibits learned that several Apache/US Army battles occurred in this area and up Dog Canyon.  I also learned the namesake of the park, Oliver Lee, a rancher, besides being a one-time Deputy US Marshal, was also thought to have probably murdered another rancher and his young son, as well as another neighbor; however, he was not convicted--most likely due to some shady deals made to form a new county with local (surviving) inhabitants making up the jury.  LOL  Very interesting!

Screen shot of my weather app--note the temperature ranges and the 11% humidity.
Campfire is started--note the more reasonably sized pieces of firewood.
Sunset through some bushes
A bit of alpenglow up Dog Canyon
How about this sunset??

Thought I'd throw in a campfire video for your enjoyment!

Day 10 -- 3/2/16:  This morning we broke camp, dumped the tanks and headed on up north of Alamogordo to our second "planned" stop at the Valley of Fires Recreation Area.  We picked the last RV spot, a dry-camping one that sat on the other side of a small hill from most of the other RV'ers.  Pretty private and it had a covered picnic table.  It was really windy!  We unhooked the trailer and got it set up for another two day stay.  It was too windy for a campfire, so we did not have one.   There were no electric, water or sewer hookups at this campsite, so we were dry camping.  I put out the solar and it did a great job of keeping our battery charged.  Some pictures.

Our campsite (photo by Jeri)
Our campsite at Valley of Fires
A closer picture of our campsite.  We had this part of the place pretty much all to ourselves!
You can see the covered picnic table in this picture.

The solar panel catching some good sun to charge the battery.  Worked great!
Part of the 40 mile long 5 mile wide 160' deep lava flow.
The hill that separated our campsite from most of the others.  Nice!

Some evening Alpenglow on the mountains to the east.  You cannot see it, but the little town of Corrizozo, NM is between us and the mountain.  Good food!

Our view from the dining table.
Day 11 -- 3/3/16:  This morning we took the Malpais Nature trail that winds down and around through part of the lava flow with interesting points highlighted with signage and a brochure.  Very interesting.

Jeri and Sugar Belle in front of this large lava crest.  Pets were very welcome on most trails in New Mexico.  Thank you!
Where lava stacked up as it cooled.  This lava flow came from a vent to the north around 5,000 years ago.  It did not come from an actual volcano explosion.
Part of the trail through the lava field.

During the afternoon we drove south down highway 54 to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site, where some 20,000 petroglyphs were scratched into the rocks hundreds of years ago by the original inhabitants.  While the experts have no idea why they scratched them, I have my own theory--since all the carvings are on rocks on a high point of a ridge I theorize they were done by bored young men or boys sent up on the ridge to keep an eye out for possible invaiders.  :-)  Whatever, there were lots and lots of them all over practically every big rock and boulder.  Dogs were not allowed on this trail, so Jeri and Sugar stayed around the truck while I braved the rattlesnakes (warning signs, but I didn't see any (thank goodness)) and hiked most of the way up the trail to a rest area.
View from the ridge where the carvings are.

Another view from the ridge.
A Bighorn Sheep with arrows in it.


Sugar Belle was happy to see me return.
What do you think?  Do you agree with my theory the carvings were scratched by bored youth on watch?  ;-)

After a pretty full day of sight seeing we went back to camper to relax, then I took Jeri out to dinner in this little Mexican restaurant in Corrizozo.  It was pretty good! It was still pretty windy so we did not have a campfire.

Day 12 -- 3/4/16:  This morning we broke camp and after stopping just outside the park  to pick up a few small chunks of lava along side the road for Jack and Max (our youngest grandsons) we headed west on highway 380 over to I-25, which we took south down to Truth or Consequences, NM where we stopped at a propane company and refilled one of our two 20 lb. tanks.  A full tank (at 80%) holds 4.5 gallons of liquid propane--they put 3.7 gallons in our low tank.  We stopped at a Whattaburger for lunch, then headed on south on I-25 down to highway 152.  We took this west over some really steep and windy roads to Emory Pass, 

then it went south down to highway 61 and ended up at our planned third camping area at City of Rocks State Park, where we were lucky to find a pretty nice campsite.  Again we were dry camping with no hookups and it was great.

Our campsite at City of Rocks.  We were tucked right in.  It was pretty easy backing the trailer in, but getting it back out was not quite so easy.  LOL

Jeri made this for dinner tonight--MMMMMMMMM good!
Day 13 -- 3/5/16:  We spent some time this morning walking among and taking pictures of the huge boulders that give the park its name, City of Rocks.  Another family of campers came in and I watched in amazement as he back their trailer up and into the campsite just above ours.  Quite a feat for which I complimented him on.  We talked a bit and this family of four, with two teenagers (boy and girl) have been full-timing since last September! 

Our rig down among the rocks
Jeri taking some photos with her good camera.

Another picture of our rig in the campsite.
Since it was cloudy the solar panel was not generating enough electricity to recharge the trailer's battery, so I got to use our new Yamaha 2400 watt inverter generator.  I plugged our good battery charger into the genny and quickly charged the trailer battery back to full charge.  The new neighbor came down and said he didn't even hear it running at this campsite!  That was good to hear--it is VERY quiet.

We explored up highway 180 to Silver City (quite a quaint little city), went to the Walmart for some supplies and explored Fort Bayard.  This fort was established as a fort for the original Buffalo Soldiers and we could drive all around it.  Very interesting, yet a little eery with all the deserted small homes and buildings.

Day 14 -- 3/6/16:  Today we drove north up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (again, thanks to our Senior Pass, FREE).  We took highways 61, 35 and 15.  Highway 15 was a windy road with some pretty steep mountains and awesome views (read scary exposure to Jeri).  Sugar Belle was not allowed on the trail from the office up to the dwellings, but they had small kennels (free) where we left her.  She was not too happy about this!  On the way to the monument we spotted a herd of Javelina.
The trail up to the cliff dwellings was pretty steep in places, but we took our time and made it.  We explored the dwellings and they were pretty interesting, although not nearly as expansive as the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings in Colorado that we went through several years ago.

On the trail up to the cliff dwellings.
Look!  There they are.  We're getting close.
Rest break on the steep section.
I made it!
Jeri was somewhat spooked by what she considered steep exposure on the trail. ;-)

Looking out from the dwellings--some very rugged, beautiful country!
One way out of the dwellings was down this ladder--I took it.  Easy peasy!
Jeri did NOT like the trail down.

After we hiked the loop trail back down we picked up Sugar Belle and took highway 15 all the way south to 180 just east of Silver City.  This was quite a road through some beautiful mountainous areas with awesome views.

We grilled cheeseburgers for our last night at City of Rocks.
Cheeseburgers on the grill.
Day 15 -- 3/7/16:  After using the genny to top off the battery we hooked up the trailer and departed City of Rocks.  We took highway US-180 south to Deming, then I-10 over to Las Cruces (quite a large city), then US-70 back up past White Sands National Monument to Alamogordo.  I remember coming northeast on US-70 there was a very long, steep downhill coming out of Las Cruces.  The truck handled the trailer great, automatically downshifting to help keep the speed down (one of the virtues of the "Tow/Haul" mode).  At the bottom of this long downhill we stopped at a pull-out next to the White Sands Missile Range to have a bite of lunch.  We took highway US-82 east out of Alamogordo through the beautiful, alpine-like Lincoln National Forest.  This was quite a beautiful drive through some very empty country!  At Artesia, NM we headed south on US-285 down to Carlsbad, NM.  Yep, we had decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

On the road again in New Mexico

Jeri found us a campsite at the Carlsbad KOA Campground a few miles north of Carlsbad, NM.  This was a very nice campground and we booked a full hookup campsite for two nights.

Our campsite at the KOA.

Full Hookups at our campsite #B1.  As you may be able to tell from the picture I always put a water pressure regulator and filter on the input of the hose to the trailer.  I also always put a voltage surge protector on the 30 Amp electric hookup.  First I plug it in and it tests the power for proper wiring and ground, then I attached the shore power cord from the trailer.  While we have not had any power issues, you just never know for sure about the power at campgrounds.
When checking in Jeri learned the campground serves up a BBQ dinner every night (not free), so we ordered two dinners and they delivered it right to the trailer.  Nice!  It was very good.

Day 16 -- 3/8/16:  Today we drove on south into Carlsbad on US-285.  On the way we stopped at the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park.  Since we had Sugar Belle with us, I stayed in the truck with her while Jeri went in and saw it.  She liked it.

We next drove down to White City (actually not really a city) on US-62/180 and turned right onto the Carlsbad Caverns Highway and drove the seven miles of winding, hilly road to the Caverns visitor center.  We did not go into the caverns today, but found they did have kennels for pets and plenty of RV parking.  They recommend not starting down into the caverns after around 2:00 PM and we learned the 750' deep elevator was out of commission!  Bummer!  We decided to come back the next morning with the trailer and since the weather was cool we could leave Sugar Belle in the trailer's familiar surroundings where she would be much happier than in a kennel.  I know she will appreciate it!  :-)

The mattress on our bed sucks, even with the expensive topper we put on it last year.    Most RV makers put pretty cheap (AKA uncomfortable) mattresses in their RVs--I guess to hold down costs.  We've tried flipping it, but it didn't help much.  I research Camping World locations and found one on our route back in Katy, TX, right beside I-10.  I called them to ask if they had any good mattresses in stock and they did.  I told them I would see them in a few days.

We went back to camp.  It was around 45 miles from the KOA to the Caverns.  We had bought another BBQ dinner, but this time we ate inside their building with some other campers, but did not really talk with them much.  Everyone pretty much kept to themselves.  We did take some fun pictures--hard to resist since we were not far from Roswell!!!
Yes!  Alien RV'ers!
And they had an alien dog!
Day 17 -- 3/9/16:  I dumped the black and gray tanks and filled the fresh water tank this morning, then we broke camp and headed south through Carlsbad, NM toward Carlsbad Caverns.  We stopped at a Mexican food truck in Carlsbad and bought these absolutely delicious breakfast burritos.

Then it was on down to White City for the turn off to the Caverns.  We stopped in White City so Jeri could shop a bit while I ate my breakfast burrito.  Arriving at the Caverns we parked our rig (truck & trailer) in the RV lot and left Sugar Belle in the trailer with plenty of food and water handy.  It was pretty cool out, so no worries about the trailer getting too hot inside for her.

Thanks to our Senior Pass we once again got into the Caverns FREE of charge. :-)  Unfortunately the elevator that goes down 750' was still not working.  Major bummer!!  This meant we would have to descend and ascend on our own power.  Jeri went down a little ways before turning back.  I went quite a bit further, but finally just got bored and figured I should probably turn around and head back up.  I didn't make it as far as the famous big room, but I think I was pretty close.  Like I said, I just got bored with it all and the place was super crowded!  My Fitbit did log 81 floors climbed for the day, though!  It's a lot of climbing for a 69 year-old!  Here are some pictures I took.

Last daylight for awhile.

It was kind of chilly down there! 
The intrepid explorers selfie. 

It was one long slog coming up out of the cavern, but I took my time and it wasn't too bad.  Kind of wished (in retrospect) I had gone the rest of the way down, but then I also figured Jeri was probably getting tired of waiting for me (but I had the keys, so she couldn't leave me ;-) ).

The Caverns is a marvelous place and I would like to go back sometime in the future when they have the damn elevator fixed and go to the bottom.  With the large numbers of people visiting, many of them Senior Citizens, one would certainly think the government should have the money to fix the elevator! [End of rant]

After visiting the Caverns we pulled back out of the park and headed back north on US 62/180 to Black Village River Road that would take us (on a circuitous route) east to US-285.  We headed southeast on US-285 toward Texas.  It was not long before we left New Mexico and entered back into Texas.  I strongly suggest avoiding this stretch of US-285 because it was not only a very rough road (caused, no doubt, by all the oil tanker trucks), but it was heavy with traffic from tanker trucks and oil field workers and they all seemed to be in one Hell of a hurry!  There are oil rigs everywhere through the area, with lots of fresh drilling and pipeline installations.  Not only that, but both Jeri and I remarked that it was the trashiest road we had ever been on in our lives.  Literally, and this is not an exaggeration, both sides of the road were covered in trash for miles and miles!  It was good to see all the oil recovery going on, though.

We reached Fort Stockton, TX that evening.  Remember Fort Stockton?  We departed south from there for Big Bend several days earlier, so no we had completed this loop and were back.  Jeri found a campground (Fort Stockton RV Park) and we pulled in and got their absolute last campsite!  Lucky!  Jeri actually heard them tell someone on the phone the campsite was totally full just after she got the site (#18, I think it was).  

The campground had a small cafe onsite, but it was closed that evening, but Jeri was told by the owner they would be serving FREE pizza at 5:30 PM that evening in the cafe and there would be live music.  We hurriedly set up camp (since this was just an overnight stop, no unhooking the trailer) and went over to check it out.  Sure enough--FREE pizza and live music.  It was a couple providing the music and they played mostly C&W, with a bit of Elvis thrown in.  The man was actually pretty good, but the woman's voice sorted of grated on my ears.  Anyway, they appeared to be having a lot of fun doing it.  A short sample of the music.

We enjoyed the pizza and had a good time listening to the music for awhile before heading back to the trailer, doing some reading and then going to bed.  It had been a very busy day.

Day 18 -- 3/10/16:  After breaking camp we got on I-10 and headed east.  Jeri was not feeling real good.  We stopped at a pharmacy in Junction, TX so Jeri could pick up a few things to help her feel better, then headed east again on I-10 to US-290, where we got off and drove through the Texas Hill Country to Fredericksburg, TX, where we stopped for the night.  It was raining a lot today.  We stopped at the Fredericksburg KOA and set up in the rain.  Sorry, but we did not take any pictures.  It was just a one-nighter.

Day 19 -- 3/11/16:  We broke camp in the rain.  Jeri was not feeling much, if any, better, so we continued on US-290 to Austin where we took highway 71 southeast back down to I-10 at Columbus, TX.  We again headed east on I-10 toward Houston and the Camping World located in Katy, TX, just west of Houston.

We rolled into the Camping World in Katy around 4:00 PM this evening.  I went in and walked up to the counter and told the sales lady I wanted to buy a new mattress now and I wanted it installed in the trailer now.  She said, "no problem," and really jumped on helping me find one we would like.  We ended up buying a 10" thick Aveeno foam mattress with 3" of memory foam over 7" of foam.  She said they were so comfortable she had bought the same one for her home and loves it.  I sealed the deal and by around 5:30 or so we had the new mattress installed with our topper on top of it and were back on I-10 heading east.

We proceeded through Houston, but it was dark by the time we got to the east side, so Jeri found us a place to spend the night at the Houston Leisure RV Resort, so we got a campsite and set up quickly in the dark.  You could tell they had had a lot of rain because it was pretty muddy beside the trailer and the ground was really soft.  The pad for the RV was paved or gravel--don't remember for sure.  We ate and enjoyed the first night on our new mattress.  Again, no pictures.  Bummer.

Day 20 -- 3/12/16.  We both slept much better on the new mattress and decided we were very happy we had dropped the money for the new mattress.  We had a bite of breakfast and got back on I-10 east.  Somewhere in Louisiana we got off I-10 and headed southeast down a lot of narrow, rain-soaked country highways until we reached Palmetto Island State Park about 10 miles south of Abbeville, LA.  We have a few days to spend (and relax) before we are scheduled to meet our daughter and her family in New Orleans to celebrate our Grandson Jack's 7th birthday.

Fortunately, it stopped raining just before we got to the park.  We checked in and drove around until we found a spot that didn't have a lot of standing water around it and backed the trailer in and unhooked, then I went back and checked us in and paid for two nights.  Here are some pictures of camp.

This is a pretty nice campground, although it is pretty much surrounded by swamp and the road leading in to the park is very narrow and bought.  The roads in the park, while gravel, were in very good shape and the campsites were very level.  Jeri is feeling a little bit better, thank goodness.  I won't say what her problem was because she would beat me mercilessly.  ;-)

Day 21 -- 3/13/16:  We explored the park a bit today and drove into Abbeville to look around, shop a bit and I took Jeri out to lunch.  This was Sunday and all the fresh seafood restaurants in town were closed!  We ended up having a good lunch at a Chili's, then picked up a few items at the Walmart next door and went back to camp.
This is the Vermillion River flowing next to the park.  As you can see it was swelled full by all the recent rains in Louisiana that caused all the severe flooding in some areas.  We managed to dodge the flooding, but not all the rain.

You know I just had to take another picture of the Beast.  This thing is awesome!
The swamp is just a few feet inside the palmetto bushes.
Jeri's little armadillo friend!
Day 22 -- 3/14/16:  This morning we hooked up the trailer, broke camp, dumped the tanks and headed on further east toward New Orleans, but we still had a few more days to spend before our reservation on the 17th at the Ponchartrain Landing RV park in north New Orleans.  We went north on highway 82 up to Abbeville, then took highway 14 east to US-90.  We traveled southeast on US-90 to Morgan City, LA where Jeri had found us another "first" for our camping bucket list, a municipal (city) park in Morgan City called Lake End Park.

This was a really nice park.  Jeri checked us in and we drove to the campsite they had assigned us.  I pulled into it and looked over at the trashy trailer next to us and their very messy area and drove back to the office and had Jeri go in and tell them we wanted something else.  There were a lot of empty places.  They even told Jeri that sites 84 and 85 (taken) were considered choice spots, so we drove to that one and Wow!  We quickly backed our trailer into that one and set up and went back to the office to claim it!  When you see the pictures below you will see why.

The blue dot is us.
As you can see from the blue dot, we had the last campsite next to the lake!  Awesome!
Lake Palourde

Jeri, with the marina in the background.
Kicking' back in the shade after setting up camp--what a view!
You gotta have a cold beverage to kick back properly, right?
Jeri found some friends (at least as long as she had some bread crumbs).  This male and his three females stayed real close by the whole time we were there and every time Jeri came out of the trailer they quickly waddled over to see if she had treats for them.

Nice little evening campfire.
Day 23 -- 3/15/16:  Today we explored the area a bit in the truck and basically just relaxed around the park, taking some more pictures.  I was so lucky!  I got to see a Bald Eagle swoop down and catch a fish from the lake!  What a rare thing to get to witness.  It happened too fast for me to get a picture, but we noticed three Bald Eagles, each standing on a post sticking out of the bay.  Here is a picture of one of them.
What a rare treat!!  A Bald Eagle!  Jeri zoom on on this one and another in a tree (below).

We also saw our resident alligator up close and personal!
I'd guess him to be around 5-6' in length.  I tried to get a bit closer, but he fled into the water.
Day 24 -- 3/16/16:  We broke camp pretty leisurely this morning because we had a pretty short pull of around 80 miles or so to get to the Ponchartrain RV Park on the north side of New Orleans.  We debated staying here another day, but Jeri called the park and managed to get the campsite a day early, so since our daughter's family were already there we decided to go ahead and make the move today.  We were looking forward to seeing them after three weeks!  This turned out to be a four night stay, the longest we have ever spent at one place.

Jeri navigated us to the Ponchartrain Landing RV Park in north New Orleans, but the roads were really crappy (they typically are in Louisiana, it seems).  We took I-10 in and got off at exit 239A, then turned left on France Road.  We were wondering if we were on the correct road as we drove north on France Road because there was a levy wall to our left and nothing but what looked like run down commercial buildings on our right.  We kept going and there it was, Ponchartrain Landing RV Park.  We pulled in and Jeri went inside to finish registering us (we had a reservation).  Fortunately, this is a Passport America (we belong), so we got the campsite at around $40 a night instead of the usual $80+.  We get 50% off at Passport America affiliated campgrounds and this has saved us quite a bit of money.  In fact, since returning I have renewed our membership.

The campground led us to our campsite in a golf cart and we quickly got set up in one of the few remaining campsites (good thing we reserved!).  We went to the campgrounds restaurant for lunch and a cold beverage.  We both had Oyster Po'Boys.  They weren't cheap, but were very skimpy on the fried oysters.  After lunch we just hung out at the trailer. I think I remember it rained later that evening.

Vicki talked us into coming downtown to the jazz festival at Lafayette Square, so we drove the truck down and finally found a parking place a couple of blocks away ($15 for up to four hours!).  Several of Vicki's and Jimmy's New Orleans friends were also there, some of whom we knew, so that was fun.  After a while everyone was getting hungry, but this crew (the NOLA folks) can never make up their minds about where to eat, so after much waiting, We, Vicki, Jimmy and the boys ended up going to this very nice restaurant called Trenasse. Jimmy knew one of the part owners, but this person was not there that night.  The food was excellent, and even better, Jimmy & Vicki treated us!!  Thank you again, guys!  After that we found our truck and drove back to the campground.  It was late.

Day 25 -- 3/17/16:  Jeri Ubered into town in the afternoon to Harrah's for a gambling fix while I hung around camp with the pup and just relaxed.  She hooked up with Vicki, the boys and some friends and went to lunch with all of them.   I think she said she had lobster.  The big motorhome that had been to our right had left and later this nice Ford F250 diesel came rolling into the campsite pulling a very nice (aka expensive) Air Stream trailer.  They did not set up or anything and a few minutes later a taxi rolled in and the four of them got in it with some luggage and left.  They didn't come back until the day before we left and then they just taxied in, put their luggage in the trailer and pulled out.  Strange to pay that much for a place just to park your rig.  Jeri Ubered back with the boys later this afternoon and the boys went swimming in the campground's small pool.  We grilled something for dinner.

Jack (in front) and Max having fun in the pool.
Jeri and Max became aliens.  It was funny, but Jack would not put them on.  He said the glasses gave him the creeps or something.  LOL
Day 26 -- 3/18/16:  I drove Jeri and the boys back downtown to hook up with Vicki and Jimmy.  I went back to camp and chilled.  They all went to lunch and Jeri Ubered back later. We had some nasty weather tonight--lots of rain and some wind, but we stayed dry and cozy in the trailer.

 Day 27 -- 3/19/16:  Today was Jack's 7th birthday party at a bowling alley downtown (his request).  After the party we brought the boys back to the trailer to spend the night again and we bought chicken dinners at a Popeye's nearby.  More nasty, rainy, windy weather again during the night.  I took some pictures of the campsite.

One of the things we got Jack for his birthday was a parachord bracelet weaving set.  They had to try it of course.  His first one came out pretty good!
Max helped of course! :-)
Day 28 -- 3/20/16:  The day broke clear and nice as I recall and we began breaking camp.  Vicki Ubered out later that morning and we all broke camp and left the campground around 11:00 AM or so.

Note:  Uber worked great!  It wasn't cheap Ubering that far, but so worth it.  Jeri said all the drivers were very nice and friendly.  I was going to try it one day, but ended up driving downtown instead.

We stopped at a Whattaburger somewhere along the road for lunch.  Good!

We drove several hours and in the evening we encountered another first for us--we got turned away at a Florida State park--all their campsites were taken.  We ended up driving another 30-40 miles and Jeri found us a campground called The Triple C's Campground & RV Park.  I believe it used to be a KOA, but it was not any longer.  It was a family owned and run campground and they were really friendly.  We had grilled chicken and pasta for dinner tonight.  Trailer was a bit crowded with five of us in it, but it was fun!

Day 29 -- 3/21/16:  Beautiful, but chilly morning.  We had pancakes and eggs for breakfast, then I dumped the tanks for the last time and we broke camp and headed back to I-10 for the last leg home.

Shortly after sunrise.

Turns out this was the last night we will spend in our trusty little Coleman 192RDS.

We stopped at a Wendy's for lunch somewhere along I-10 and I missed the correct turn onto I-95 south in Jacksonville (not sure how that happened), but we arrived safely back home mid-afternoon.  After parking the trailer in our driveway, we took Vicki and the boys home, then came back and started unpacking.  UGH!  Did I ever tell you it is much more fun to pack the trailer for a trip than unpacking and cleaning after a trip??  Well, it is.

Thus ended our month-long, 5,200 mile 2016 Enchantment Tour.  I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as we enjoyed living it.  We spent just over $1,000 burning a bit over 500 gallons of gasoline for a total average of 9.8 miles per gallon.  Not too bad.

4/5/2016:  EPILOGUE
During this past trip and especially after having Vicki and the boys with us, we decided, after much thought, that we wanted to trade in our Coleman on a bigger trailer.  After looking at a lot of trailers at a lot of places and doing an awful lot of online researching we made our selection and tomorrow will pick up our new 2016 Keystone Bullet Ultra-Lite 269RLS 26' trailer (31' overall, hitch to bumper) at the Camping World in Jacksonville, FL.  We have spent the last day and a half removing a lot of the stuff we had added to the Coleman to either use on the new Bullet or sell.  We did leave several major improvements, though.  The trailer looks brand new.  Someone is going to get a peach of a trailer!  I can only hope our new Bullet serves us as well as our little Coleman did this past year.  We will miss it!  Talk about bittersweet!

You might want to check back again later as I will probably be adding more pictures that Jeri gives me and I will start a new post for the new trailer.

Some additional pictures:

Yes, that's snow in southern New Mexico!

Campsite in Valley of Fires

Our campsite at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park

My favorite Junior Ranger closing around.
The road from Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village in Big Bend
The tunnel just before getting to Rio Grande Village campground

In the outback at Big Bend
Night drive down a Big Bend back road trying to spot wildlife.
One of the old abandoned buildings at Fort Bayard.

Our campsite in New Orleans