Counting down the days until we head to the Colorado Rockies for some quiet time at a lake cabin. Last time Jim and I went to the San Juan National Forest just north of Durango, we camped outside of Telluride. This time we are trying out Vallecito Lake. There’s giant Pike lurking in the depths, and Jim wants to catch one. I remember as a girl living in Northern Wisconsin; I was awestruck by fishermen coming to shore to clean their catch. With monstrous teeth in a wide mouth, and its length at 1 meter (3 and some feet), Pikes are predators and scavengers. Let him fish. I’m kayaking and taking pictures of Aspen trees. Stay tuned!
Happy Fourth of July weekend, my fellow Americans.
Considering the COVID situation, here’s my report of what it was like traveling through thirteen states in two weeks. 5,000 miles. For the record, wearing masks, sanitizing our hands, distancing ourselves, and sleeping in our camper away from people was a mandatory situation.
30 h (2,075.9 mi or 3340.83721 km) via I-40, 55, 80, 76, 25, 17
Yesterday, Jim and I drove 800 miles. No, we aren’t masochists. It’s just that by late afternoon, we were in New Mexico and state parks were closed. Any forest road that provided dispersed camping was miles out of our way. We grew tired and cranky; we gave up and parked in the Walmart parking lot outside of Albuquerque, NM. The round trip was shy of 5,000 miles averaging 600 miles a day on the road.
What a difference from the previous night when we found beautiful Lake Maloney, Nebraska. You’d never know there was a pandemic in Nebraska. I stopped in a Walmart to buy stuff. No one wore masks. No one seemed concerned. (That’s a hasty generalization. Forgive me.) Campers stayed away from each other.
New Mexico, on the other hand, had lights blaring on the interstate informing people they would be fined if they didn’t have masks on. Everyone seemed to wear a mask. My point is each state we traveled through had a distinct response to the pandemic.
The state of Kansas didn’t want anyone from Arizona passing through, so we rerouted our itinerary and got out of there as fast as possible. We found ourselves on a back road in the middle of nowhere for hours.
Northern Oklahoma surprised me by how pretty it was. Lots of trees, hills, and green grass. We were in the Bible Belt. The towns were manicured and spacious. Half of the people I saw wore masks. That night, we parked in a monstrous parking lot of the Church of the Nazarene because Ruby would have plenty of space to run in the grass on the compound. We hoped no one would mind and no one did.
Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.
Driving through Denver
Because our travels took us mostly through rural areas, there was no problem self-distancing. Once we arrived at our destinations, Jim stayed in Pennsylvania on his cousin’s 18-acre farm where distancing was easy. Jim’s purpose was to visit his father who was 91 and frail. I stayed indoors in a bubble world with my Mom for a week. We kept our tradition of an afternoon drive with an ice cream cone in hand.
This was the first trip I experienced where a situation like the COVID affected my perceptions of America. Like most Americans, we had many discussions in the car about the state of the United States. This was no vacation. The trip was a heavy one.
Traveling through the heart of the country made me appreciate the communities I observed from afar. The towns we passed through and the lives of ordinary people who work hard and take care of their yards. It matters. I respect their gardens. I respect the farmers out on their tractors. I respect those who go to church. I admire the flower pots, the trimmed hedges, the canned vegetables, the sheets hanging on the line. I am thankful for the time my mother has left on this earth. I appreciate my job, my friends, my family, and my country. Even though we are going through a bad patch of dysfunction. I am resolved to stay calm and carry on.
Jim and I were almost the owners of a 36-acre parcel in Apache County, Arizona located on the New Mexico border. The adventure began last week when I found land for sale at Sierra Highlands Ranch twenty miles northeast of the rural cowboy town of St. Johns. The area is close to a couple we know and love. We’ve been there before on their 40-acre property collecting rocks and gazing up at the stars at night with wine glasses in our hands.
My reasons were clear. The ranch would be a springboard to the White Mountains, the Mogollon Rim, and our dear friends. We’d improve the land in increments (well, septic, solar power system, house) and by the time I retire in 2026, we’d either move out there full-time or keep it as our camping spot. 36 acres is nothing to sneeze at. I like the idea of owning land. When we kick the bucket, our six children would benefit. That was the rationale. Sigh.
Our guide was most helpful and by the end of seven hours looking at various lots in Sierra Highland Ranch (all 36 to 40-acre parcels) we found the place that spoke to us. We turned a corner and found ourselves at the top of a meadow looking down the dead-end road. The property bordered Zuni land, so the views went on forever. The pasture gently sloped to a canyon. The surrounding hills were interesting with giant boulders and junipers. We saw a solitary Elk standing proud and as big as our car. The air was clean and blue–I felt like I walked into a Zane Grey novel. I can imagine how vivid the star constellations must be overhead at night. Ache!
As we left the ranch and headed back to our friend’s property for dinner and conversation, my heart sank. I knew we wouldn’t buy it. It was sixty minutes off the main road of route 191. Then another half hour before we were at our friend’s house. It was not an hour but two hours to the White Mountains. It would be 5 hours to Clarkdale and 6 hours to Phoenix. I knew my children would rarely visit. In short, the ranch was in BFE. I have come to understand fully how large the state of Arizona is. Space and topographical variety are outstanding. But still, I just couldn’t see us all the way out there in the middle of nowhere.
This was one of those adventure trips where a lot went wrong. There was a short somewhere, and our little camper was without electricity and the SUV’s battery wouldn’t hold the juice. Luckily we have a portable solar panel. We drove home on Rim Road 300 and camped one night by Lake Knoll. That was nice, but the flies and bees feasted on me leaving welts all over my calves. Ruby got sick and soiled the SUV. I was glad to get back home. Adventures are adventures filled with great moments and disappointing ones. I look to the good–we found a new campsite for the future; kayaking on Lake Knoll filled my heart; we connected with our friends on a deep level.