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The advantages of boondocking

May 28, 2006—Well, here it is Memorial Day weekend already. This day has deep significance for me: it's the anniversary of my first kidney stone attack back in 1978. Every year that goes by without another stone is a year I'm grateful for!

Considering that this is one of the three heaviest camping weekends in the year—the other two being Fourth of July and Labor Day—it's amazing that I have this campground at Villanueva State Park, NM almost entirely to myself. For that I can thank Gertie's ability to "dry camp" for weeks at a time, which allows me to stay in areas without hookups. While the vacationing families with their noisy kids and dogs are all jammed into the dozen or so electric sites down below...yes, I can hear them faintly when the wind is right...


...I'm up here on the mesa, with a wonderful view and no neighbors in sight.


The other thing that helps out is this ominous sign down at the foot of the steep, twisty, rocky road that leads up here. Its stern warning scares off most campers, other than a few tenters. No bus-sized class A motorhomes or 40-foot trailers up here! In fact, no RVs at all, other than Gertie.

Rough road

Now, of course I did check with the park's manager before I came up here. This road looked a lot like the ones at Manzano Mountains, and I didn't want a repetition of that little adventure! But Mr. Gutierrez assured me that I'd be OK with Gertie. He said the only reason for the sign was that last year a woman had come flying down that road like a bat out of hell, kicked up a stone and holed her tank...and then tried to sue him! "The sign was an inexpensive fix for that problem," he grinned.

So I drove up without a problem—good old Gertie!—and found myself a nice isolated spot with a lovely view of the cliffs on the other side of the canyon.

A side benefit is that I have a perfect view of the towering late-afternoon cumulus clouds building up on the other side of the ridge. Monstrous clouds, looking like mountains themselves...I love clouds, and watching these is better entertainment for me than any movie.


On my other side, rugged hills and valleys stretch away into the distance.


A couple of hours after I pulled in, somebody knocked on my door, startling me. It was my friend Sandra Bishop, the Wandering Potter. It turned out that she had pulled into the park right behind me, but turned off into one of the electric-hookup sites below. (Sandra has no solar panels, so she needs hookups.) We chatted for awhile, and she gave me good advice on where to go next as I slowly wend my way toward Cheyenne. Although Sandra is a Tennessean, she's been RVing in New Mexico for years, so she knows the state parks here very well.

The next day I walked down the steep road to have a look at the main campground, which clusters on one bank of the river—on the other side are sheer rock walls that rise hundreds of feet. There's a hiking trail, but it looked way too difficult for me, so I just ambled along the river, which was only a few inches deep in this springtime of drought. A metal footbridge spans the stream, and from its center I had a good view down the canyon.


Upstream from the bridge was a rather unusual sight: a personal message to somebody's mom, meticulously spelled out in three-foot-high letters made of carefully placed rocks. I imagine it's probably been there since Mother's Day, which was last week. What a nice tribute...the mom in question must have been thrilled!

We love you mom!

I had come to the park with an almost empty water tank, contrary to my usual habit, so after a few days up on the mesa, I had to bring Gertie back down the rocky road to the main campground to fill up with fresh water. I dumped my holding tanks while I was at it, though they were only about a quarter full. Then I trundled back up the hill, feeling cheerful: with full water and empty black and gray tanks, I'm good for about ten days of dry camping. I have plenty of food, so I don't have to go anywhere anytime soon. I can sit back, relax and enjoy the solitude up here.

The weather has been lovely, although I do get hit by gusty winds a few times a day. But that keeps it from getting too hot, so I don't really mind. I'm at about 6,000 feet, so it's cooler than it would be down at, say, Percha Dam. The mosquitos that the campers down by the river are swatting don't seem to make it up here to the mesa, and if they do, the wind blows them away.

One thing I love about this place and this season is the amount of power pouring from my solar panels all day. I'm actually getting more electricity than I can use during most of the day, and my batteries are so full by late afternoon that I could run my power-hungry computer and satellite gear all night if I wanted to.

With all that excess power, running the microwave oven or breadmaker is no big deal, as long as I do it during the day when there's a surplus of energy. The bread machine, for example, draws 400W maximum, while at midday my eight panels are putting out close to I can bake bread on solar power and still have juice left over to charge the batteries! What a contrast to this past winter, when the short days and long nights had me struggling to conserve energy just so I could use the computer. Being self-contained and energy-independent is a wonderful feeling!

Bread from the sun

I made this little loaf in my West Bend "Just for Dinner" breadmaker, which makes a 1-pound loaf in 45 minutes flat and uses only 100 watt-hours (about 10 amp-hours) of electricity doing it. As usual, I added ingredients ad lib, including a good dose of whole grains, nuts and seeds and some Mexican cardomom given me by my friend Jonna. It's delicious, and I'll use it for sandwiches for the next few days.

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