Sunday, January 31, 2010


Cibolo Boardwalk It’s 9:30 am, and the temperature here in Boerne has just risen above freezing: 32.2 degrees.  Up here on the hilltop, we are in a cold, wet fog.  Odel went out to see if we could switch from the water tank/pump (which we use at night when temperatures fall below freezing) to the water spigot/hose… nope, that water spigot is still frozen.  Inside, we are toasty warm, thanks to our wonderful new Kozy World heater.

Looks like it will be a lazy day today… as have been the last few.  Once the skies cleared from the heavy storm that passed through early in our stay, we got out to do a little sightseeing and walking, though the temperatures have been very low.  We still haven’t explored the small town of Boerne – I intend to do that this afternoon, waiting for it to warm up a bit.

Cooking has been my entertainment these past few days, and I have several new recipes I will to add to the blog (soon).  Last night I tried a recipe sent by my cousin Donna, who lives in Wisconsin – so knows what COLD means.  She commented that it was a great meal to warm you up on a cold night, and she was RIGHT. 

Guadalupe River State Park“Peanutty Chicken Stew” is thick, spicy, nutty and delicious.  It uses white rice, which I don’t keep on hand – but it just so happened that I’d seen a pound of Louisiana Popcorn Rice at the great H.E.B. store (one of the best things about Texas!) when we were picking up groceries in Boerne, and I added it to my cart.  It was perfect in the new dish (which I think would be delicious WITHOUT the chicken, too, if you prefer vegetarian).  Recipe coming soon.

I’m also experimenting with my blog a little bit.  The photos I use aren’t always explained by the text, so I commonly use “hover text” to caption the photos – but I have the feeling that many readers don’t know/remember that they can hover their cursor over the photo to read that caption.  I haven’t found a good way to caption photos yet  - but I’m still trying.  :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010


First:  We are overwhelmed by the many blog comments, FaceBook comments, and individual emails we have received from friends and from otherwise silent readers.  Your communications – from the simplest line of condolence to the eloquent remembrance of your own special pets – have brought tears to our eyes and comfort to our hearts.  It obvious that many of you share or have shared special bonds with your feline/canine companions. Thank you, friends.  We are gradually adjusting to our new circumstances - less crying and more thoughts about the joyous times that Luna brought to us.

EATS at the historic Pop Po Restaurant Yesterday dawned cloudy, gray and bleak, just like my mood.  We continued rearranging our space and lives around the new reality.  The last step was to vacuum thoroughly – even the tiniest bit of kitty litter scattered on the rug was enough to set tears welling into my eyes.  Yet another round of crying followed this task, as I felt I was erasing all signs of Luna from our lives.  Just as I recovered my composure…

A car pulled up in our driveway, and two strangers got out.  I went to the door, and Phil and Rose brought their bright light into our home.  Phil has followed our blog (mostly silently) for several months, and reminded me that we had exchanged email previously about the full-timing life.  Canadians, they are wintering in Bandera, Texas, not far from here.  They couldn’t have come at a better time!

After a brief conversation about Luna – who they knew from this blog – and a few fresh tears from me, they diverted us back to thoughts of the larger world with those topics of interest to all RVers: travel stories, problems with our rigs, comments on various travel “styles”, and food.  Mellow and engaging, we were soon smiling and laughing with these new friends, who appeared at just the right moment.  Thanks SO MUCH, Phil and Rose.  Phil, today’s photos are especially for you, from dinner at the nearby Po Po Restaurant.  :)

Fried Chicken Fried Catfish

Odel’s Fried Half Chicken Diner

Laurie’s Fried Catfish Dinner

Chicken gone Catfish gone

Odel’s Fried Chicken 30 minutes later.

Laurie’s Fried Catfish 30 minutes later.

They headed out after a couple hours (I think – time flew by) and we had a bit of time before our next visitor, our good friend Jeff (Tucson, Crater Lake, Ft. Davis).  He and Margaret are in Kerrville, 20 miles or so west of here, and he stopped by on this way home after some dental work in San Antonio.  He and Margaret are “cat people”, who have suffered the loss of their own feline companion recently, and who knew Luna.  Again, our spirits were lifted by friendship.  Thanks, Jeff.

Many full timers have expressed to us one of the big surprises of our chosen lifestyle: we have more, and often closer, friends as full timers than we did in our prior, stationary lives.  They are spread widely, but always ready to help.  We know them through blogs, newsletters, and email – and yesterday, they appeared when they were most needed, and most appreciated.  Thanks, many thanks, to all of you who have expressed your friendship and care.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


How innocently I typed the closing words on yesterday’s blog: “I hope my next blog can be good news about Luna!”  It was not to be.

Luna on her condo. Luna’s problem was finally diagnosed as an aggressive, softball sized gastrointestinal tumor, too large and embedded to be surgically removed.  The very sympathetic vet told us she had a couple of days at best.  By the time the examination was completed, Luna was very weak and in pain.  We had her euthanized.  I was in shock, as it had not crossed my mind when we took her to the vet that we would be coming home without her.

Luna has traveled with us since Day One of our full-timing life.  She has never spent a night without one of us in Scoopy with her.  She was amazingly well adapted to traveling, always ready to head outside at a new stop for a thorough exploration of the surroundings, but never straying far.  It will be very strange to move on without her, our very cuddly and loving companion.  Lots of tears flowing last night and this morning; she is sorely, sorely missed.

Luna and Odel were incredibly closely bonded.  Here are some of my favorite photos of her – see how frequently she is cuddled up to her favorite companion. 

Luna riding in a favorite position.

Luna riding in a favorite travel position.
Lovely Luna enjoying the view.

   Enjoying the view.
Curled up luna

Curled up on Odel’s hand when he came home from a week long visit to Memphis.
Darling Luna

   Relaxing in the sunshine, snuggled up to Odel.
Luna and her tree

Sitting in high grass, enjoying the outdoors.
Luna Explores

   Luna always came when Odel called.
What a pose Luna

Total relaxation, protected by her champion.
Luna on bed

Our beautiful “Baby Girl”.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Boerne, Texas (pronounced Burney) has been on our radar screen since we left Sacramento after Thanksgiving.  Why?  Because we LOVE RV Mobile Lube

RV Mobile Lube doing our onsite oil change. We first discovered their services in March of 2007, when we were in Livingston, Texas.  RV Mobile Lube came to our site – SO much better than taking Scoopy into a shop for service.  In April of 2008, we had the full maintenance service done – oil, lube, coolant, filters changed, etc. – in Fredericksburg, Texas.  In both cases, service was excellent, prices were lower than we have paid for similar servicing at the Cummins service centers, and both John and Robert were personable and patient, answering all of our numerous questions. 

There was no question who would get our business this year, and we scheduled a two-day stop-over at Top of the Hill RV Park in Boerne because they allow RV Mobile Lube to do on-site maintenance work.  We made an appointment for servicing at 10:00 am Tuesday.

Site 54 on top of a hill at Top of the Hill RV ParkOur drive on Monday from Hondo to Boerne was short (69.3 miles; 1:28 hours) and uneventful.  Ten miles north of Hondo, hills began to swell out of the flat scrub, and soon we were winding through wooded slopes, over graceful limestone bridges.  The sky was blue, the winds were calm, and a smile returned to my face.

Just one concern marred our travel – Luna’s mysterious malady was returning, following the familiar pattern.  We’d seen her much worse, but it was obvious she was not “herself”.

Our other problem:  the back door (lift gate) of the Jeep doesn’t lock/unlock with our remote any longer!  In fact, the only way to unlock it is to use an emergency manual override switch that Odel can reach by leaning over the back seat.  Most awkward, and not an option for a shorter person – me.  It needs repairing.

It is now Tuesday morning.  John of RV Mobile Lube arrived for his 10 am appointment at 9:30 am, and is finishing up the oil change as I write this.  (By the way, they also have a referral program. If you give 'em a try, tell 'em Odel King sent you.)

Site 54 is a big corner site.  Two picnic tables! I spent a couple hours last night exploring the internet for travel and campground options over the next 10 days as we head east to Lovelady to visit our friends, Buddy and Jackie.  Talking it over this morning, we decided that what we most want to do is stay put. 

Boerne looks like an interesting town, and is in a central location for exploring more of the Hill Country.  We want a chance to take Luna in for follow-up care if it will help with a diagnosis and treatment.  We have a minor issue with our living room slide that I think can be remedied by a mobile RV service person in the area.  Lots of issues – mostly minor, luckily – can be addressed if we are stationary for awhile.  The daily rate here is way more than we usually spend, but we can rationalize the lower weekly rate (still high for us) for the convenience – and the truly lovely site we are in.

I hope my next blog can be good news about Luna!

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Our site at the Del Rio Elks LodgeTonight I’m writing from Hondo, TX, a tiny town about 30 miles east of San Antonio.  A glass of wine is near my right hand, soothing nerves frazzled by dealing with a computer on the fritz and the inability of the manufacturer to understand folks who don’t have a permanent address!

(Hover your cursor over any photo to read the caption.)

On Wednesday, the night before we left Davis Mountain State Park, I wrote a long blog about our stay there, and a review of the campground, planning to post both the next day when we left the park and had internet access via our Verizon aircard.  When I turned on the computer on Thursday morning… ACK!  The screen was completely black.  All the normal sounds “coming to life” sounds could be heard, and the various drive and battery lights flashed, but without any life on the screen I could do nothing. 

Crossing the Pecos River, the best scenery of the drive.Long story short [represented here as &$*#(*%, NO, NO! #((%)$&%**$]: I could leave it at Best Buy for 2-4 weeks (and return there to pick it up), or ship it to Toshiba’s “service depot” in Kentucky via UPS and have it repaired and back in about 10 days. 

A short exchange illustrating the tone of the entire, multi-phone call ordeal of figuring out all the hoops we need to jump through came when the service rep on the line told me to be sure to back up my computer, and to remove any “sensitive information” before shipping it.  I said “you realize that is impossible to do when I can’t see anything on the screen, don’t you?”.  He said “yes, but I still have to tell you that”.  Sigh, and sigh again. 

So for now, I am back on the little four-year-old Toshiba that we replaced 3 months ago with the new, malfunctioning one.  This is the one with the binder clip to hold the screen together.  :)  Still dependable!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Del Rio to Hondo on an overcast day.We set out from Davis Mountain State Park on Thursday morning, as planned.  During our 4 night stay there, we had a little excitement: our huge windshield shifted slightly out of its “normal” position when we leveled Scoopy in the state park site, which was rather sloped.  We’re lucky it hadn’t rained, as there was a gap of about 1/2 inch in the upper corner on the driver’s side – you could poke your finger through it.  The good news: the windshield didn’t fall out when we lifted the jacks and aired up the suspension.  :)  The gap wasn’t closed, but was improved.  Very good.

We had an uneventful ride through boring scenery to Del Rio, Texas, right on the Tx/Mx border, and settled in at the quiet, friendly Del Rio Elks Lodge for an overnight stay.  We were on the road by 9:30 am on Friday.  A quick stop at the truck stop for diesel, and on to the Escapee park (Lone Star Corral) near Hondo, TX.

The terrain now is flat, flat, flat, something I don’t care for at all.  After we arrived and set up Scoopy, we drove 30 (flat) miles to a Best Buy store in San Antonio to get the computer repaired.  Suffice to say – it didn’t happen.  We drove back home, 30 (flat) miles, tired and frustrated.  Phone calls followed.

Mission San Juan, on the This morning we went back to San Antonio, to the UPS store, and shipped off the computer, then did a spot of sightseeing.  The highlight of the day: lunch at a little Mexican restaurant (Rincon de Jalisco) pointed out to us by the ranger at the San Antonio Mission National Historic Site.  I had tacos that were as good as those I remember from Alamos, Sonora, Mexico – the standard by which I rate all tacos.  OUTSTANDING!

On the way home (after driving around 80 miles today), we promised ourselves to take a day off from driving tomorrow, other than a few miles to see what the town of Hondo has to offer.  Sleep late, chill out, catch up on ‘round the rig chores, watch football… and look forward to our departure on Monday for the Texas Hill Country, the part of Texas that originally made me change my mind about this big state.  Beautiful!

Monday, January 18, 2010


At 7 am in Davis Mountain State Park near Ft. Davis, Texas, there is only the barest hit of dawn tracing the outline of the mountain tops surrounding our little valley.  Hugging the Mountain/Central Time Zone line, the morning sun comes very late here.

Yesterday was a long day (for us): 249.1 miles from our site at Sunny Acres RV Park to Davis Mountain State Park.  Time spent driving: 4:21 hours.  Average moving speed: 57.4 mph; maximum speed: 67.7 mph - the speed LIMIT was EIGHTY miles per hour! 

We hit El Paso before 10 am, and Sunday morning traffic was very light – unlike the smog, which was very heavy.

CameraWe crossed the time line near Van Horn (we lost an hour), where we turned south on Hwy 90 for another 40 miles or so, until we made a left on a little two lane road barely large enough to two cars to pass each other.  In another 20 miles (thankfully, the road widened again) we reached Ft. Davis and rolled on to Davis Mountain State Park. 

This is our third visit here, the first time we have come through so early in the year.  The park is nearly deserted so, for the first time, we had our choice of favorite sites.  We moved into Site 16, full hookups including cable TV – football games, you know.  :) 

Luna relaxes in site 16 Site 16, looking east.

The sun was shining brightly and, for the first time in weeks, we walked around without jackets or fleece!  I opened up all our windows while we set up camp, then sat in the sunshine watching Luna enjoy the change of scenery.  What a difference 15 degrees makes!

No Verizon service in this valley, but our phones will work if we drive/hike up to the scenic overlook that takes in miles and miles of Texas.  Of course the aircard doesn’t work, either – but free WiFi is available to campers at Indian Lodge, an historic, pueblo-style hotel (with restaurant and pool) built by the CCC in 1933, on the state park grounds.  We’ll visit there later today to catch up.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Pomeroy Lake, Colorado Rockies, July 2008 When I talked to my mom on the phone recently, she said she was tired of looking at photos of our brown, arid scenery.  I agree!  Mommy, this one is for you.  It’s Lake Pomeroy, way up at the top of the Rockies in Colorado.  I took it in July, 2008 – and include it as a reminder that not all of the U.S. looks like the southwest in mid-winter.

We were busy, busy, busy all day long.  Odel has been communing with his “exterior maintenance” guru, Frank Gruelle, via phone for the last couple of days, learning everything he needs to know about waxing Scoopy.  Thanks (I think!) to Frank, Odel has a new electric buffer, a “block” and three “bonnets”, and several specialty products are en route to the new home of our good friends, the Bartees, in east Texas.  Purchasing his tools involved three trips to Harbor Freight Tools today alone – and the smile never left his face. 

While Odel was hunting and gathering, I gave the interior of Scoopy a thorough cleaning: vacuumed, dusted, washed and polished – the works.  It was warm enough to have a couple of windows open – finally, it was warm enough to let in the fresh air, all of which is now scented with the lavender cleaning spray I bought in Hood River last summer.  Ummmmmm – fresh!   Between phone conversations with Frank and trips to the tool shop, Odel cleaned our windows (I LOVE my husband!), and tossed in a load of laundry.  Scoopy looks and feels refreshed.

The Rio Grande at Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, Las Cruces, NM Before we set about working hard, we drove a few miles south to the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park and took a walk along the Rio Grande.  This is as pretty as it gets around here right now.  Hey, at least the sun is shining, and we were able to remove our sweatshirts.  :)

Luna has not been afflicted this weekend with her “weekend disease”, so we are planning to depart tomorrow for Davis Mountain State Park near the little town of Ft. Davis in west Texas.  We’ve stayed there twice before and haven’t explored everything I want to see, so we’ll stay three or four days this time.  The landscape will still be dry and brown, but we’re moving in a greener direction.  :)

Now I have pumpkin-cranberry-pecan muffins in the oven – inspired by our trip to the San Saba Pecan Company, just a few blocks away – yesterday.  We came away with Honey Roasted pecans, Roasted Salted pecans, and Dark Chocolate Chile Pecans, with just enough chile pepper to deepen and enrich the dark chocolate.  We’ve hoping to save them (ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!) as Super Bowl snacks when we visit the Bartees in February… but our resolve is weakening.  Oh, well, we can always find chips.  :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Progress on all fronts! 

A solution to our problems? First, since many of you have asked: my back has recovered.  After we visited the chiropractor in Lordsburg last week and she got my top half and bottom half moving in the same direction, each day brought gradual improvement.  I can hike, twist, put on my socks and shoes, make the bed – all the stuff I take for granted each and every day.  Thanks for all your good wishes.

Next, Luna.  Don’t read this paragraph if you are disinterested in her bodily functions (you probably don’t have a pet?) – amazingly, many of our readers/correspondents are!  Yes, she pooped – and the act of closely monitoring each trip to the cat box gave me what I think is the next clue to the puzzle of her health problem.  I dawned on me Tuesday morning that she was peeing at least twice as much as normal, and about three times as much as she was taking in… and all the while feeling better and better.  The bloating was not from lack of pooping, but from fluid retention! 

Eliminating copious amounts of fluid coincided with the end to her lethargy and a return to her normal, well established patterns of sleep, play, and demands.  So… what causes the fluid retention?  A comment from the emergency vet about a “gallop rhythm” in her heartbeat might be another clue – a heart problem?  So we are in a holding pattern, waiting to see if it happens again.  If so, we’re off to the vet with our new observations.  If not… we’ll see.

Rough terrain at Rock Hound State Park The leaking toilet:  Odel lined up a visit from a mobile repair service in town, Larry’s RV & Marine Repair.  What a great guy!  Larry was personable, funny and incredibly knowledgeable!  In less than an hour, he had installed a shut-off valve on the fresh water supply to the toilet (can you believe they make RV’s without such a thing??!), fixed the seal that was leaking and replaced the cracked and leaking sprayer unit.  He gave us some excellent advice on our pump problem, which will keep it going until we get a replacement from Shur-Flo.  I wish EVERY city had a Larry.  His phone his phone number is 575-373-4979 (office) or 575-649-0139 (mobile).  I added our recommendation to

With Luna feeling better, our only complication left at the end of the day Monday was THE MAIL.  While in Rodeo, with firm plans to head next to Deming, we had both our personal mail and the Boomer mail sent c/o General Delivery, Deming, New Mexico.  We felt a tug as we roared past Deming heading east on Sunday; on Tuesday, we took the Jeep 60 miles back to Deming and picked up our two packages of mail.

No point in making a 120 miles round trip for a bunch of bills and a few checks from renewing Boomers!  With the mail safely in hand, we headed to St. Clair Winery, the largest in New Mexico, following up on a suggestion on our friend Bobbie’s blog.  I had been most intrigued by her comment that she and Jim ALWAYS visit the winery when near Deming to refill their half gallon jug with custom-blended red wine (the blend being dry wine and sweet wine, in a ratio appealing to your palate).   

Odel at St. Clair Winery Laurie in the tasting room.

We spent about an hour at the winery, a friendly and unpretentious spot with a long roster of wines, about half of which were available for tasting.  We bought a couple reds, and Odel tried a Riesling he enjoyed, so three more bottles went into the box.  I tried a selection of their fruit blend wines, and ended up with a peach (and grape) wine and a pomegranate (and grape wine), both to be saved for a hot summer afternoon - such a fantasy at the moment!

We added to that a half gallon of red wine, 5% sweet and 95% dry.  Sold in a jug with a screw top lid, it is to be consumed within two weeks – we’ll each be sure to have our “medicinal glass” of red daily.  Cost?  $3 for the refillable jug; $6 for the contents.  Trader Joe’s, eat your heart out!

Taking in the view at Rock Hound State Park NM Mellowed from our wine tasting, we continued down the (deserted) road to Rock Hound State Park.  We had a grand day for hiking: cool temperatures with lots of sunshine and no wind.  Thumping along the steep, rocky trail felt GOOD!  We relaxed on a trailside bench, looking down from our high perch to the campground, and to Deming in the far distance.  The wine, the sunshine, the exertion, the cooing of quail exploring among the cactus – it all conspired to quiet our thoughts and bring us into the pleasant present moment.  Life is good, indeed.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Some days don’t go at all as expected. 

Our plan for Sunday (yesterday): a leisurely morning, including a walk near the RV park.  At noon, take our potluck dish to the office to enjoy lunch and football viewing on the big screen with the friendly owners and residents at Rusty’s RV Park.  Afterwards, we’d start the preparations for Monday’s departure, a short (100 miles) trip to Deming, New Mexico, where our General Delivery mail would be waiting for us at the post office.  We’d settle in to the Escapee RV park in Deming for a couple of days, pick up our mail (including Boomer mail), visit the winery, and the museum.  We have a little water leak from the back of our toilet – in Deming, we could start making phone calls to line up a repair, probably in Las Cruces, 60 miles farther east from Deming.  Excellent plan.

The reality was far, far different.  Just like a week ago in Bisbee, Luna quit pooping, bloated up like a balloon, and spent all of Saturday night moving slowly and pitifully from one spot to another, trying to get comfortable.  We don’t know WHAT is wrong with her.  In Bisbee, the vet couldn’t find anything specific, but the $300 visit seemed to work - Luna began to improve as soon as Odel brought her home. 

This time, we were nowhere near a vet, so had to simply watch, console each other, and hope she improved.  It was a sleepless Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, I couldn’t imagine us watching her suffer all day long, until we got to Deming on Monday.  I suggested we pack up and move to Las Cruces.  If Luna needed emergency care, we would be able to find it.  If she didn’t, we’d be able to get to a “regular” (read: less expensive) vet on Monday.

This is NOT NORMAL!That’s what we did.  We left Rusty’s at 9:30 am and stopped in Lordsburg, NM for fuel less than an hour later.  By noon, we had waved to our General Delivery mail, locked up in the Deming post office until Monday, as we sped past Deming on I-10.  By 1 pm, we were settled in for a week at Sunny Acres RV Park (click here to read our review), our usual Las Cruces choice (nice big sites, discount for Escapees).  Luna spent the entire ride on the lounge chair, curled up in a ball.  She NEVER does that!

We backed into our site at Sunny Acres and began the setup process.  Oops – what’s wrong with this picture?

The back slide slid… and stopped moving halfway.   Hmmmm…

Luna, meanwhile, perked up.  As usual (but with considerably less vigor than is normal), she wanted to go outside.  HUH?  She sat on the patio, looking peaked – but interested!  We decided to finish our setup and keep an eye on her, both fervently wishing she would poop (it had now been two days).  Remembering (with a little help from the internet) that we used to give our super-senior cat, Tucker, Metamucil as a regular part of his diet, Odel went off to the drug store and came home with Benefiber.  When Luna expressed a bit of interest in a meal, we mixed up a tempting slurry of canned food, Benefiber and water.  Yummmmm.  She liked it.  Since she had gone outside and was once again interested in food, things were looking up (slightly).  We put a trip to the emergency vet on hold.

Broken shear pin, cause of much trouble. Before long, we figured out the problem with the back slide: one of the two shear pins had broken.  And guess what?  WE HAD AN EXTRA!  And we knew where it was!  This turned out to be a simple repair that we could do ourselves, from INSIDE the motorhome.  Wow.  We had it fixed in 15 minutes, a real bright spot in the day.

Other, more minor problems, presented themselves… the leaking toilet connection, a loss in power from the water pump.  As we worked with each, we kept an ear cocked to the cat box.  We want poop, we want poop!

It never happened, so at 4:30 we packed up Luna for a trip to the emergency vet, neither of us able to imagine another night of worry over her health.  Once again, the vet found no obvious reason for her lethargy and distress.  She couldn’t feel any problems with the colon, or anything else.  She said Luna had no fever, and no tenderness.  Lots of discussion, no resolution. 

One of the problems we COULD fix today! Back home, Luna continued to improve.  Does she just need a scary ride in the Jeep to renew her?  A cat thermometer in the _______?  An expenditure of money? 

Its now 24 hours since our flight from Rusty’s.  Luna just finished another custom-blended high-fiber breakfast slurry and is sitting in the sunshine taking a bath.  Not 100% herself, but not suffering.  Odel is on the phone lining up a mobile RV repair for the toilet, and discussing replacement of the water pump with Shur-Flo (going very poorly indeed, it appears).

Today my needs are very simple.  All I need to make me happy, happy, happy: a lovely, well-formed, typically-sized, Luna poop!  Photo to follow… (just kiddin’).

Thursday, January 7, 2010


The drive along US Hwy 80 from Douglas, Arizona, across the AZ/NM state line and up to its terminus at Interstate 10 is about 80 miles.  Views are expansive, brush-dotted desert broken frequently by arid, rocky mountain ranges.  You are close to the US/Mexico border here… are those mountain ranges in Mexico?  New Mexico?  No telling.

Now a ranch house appears in the distance, up ahead… possibly within sight of its closest neighbor, likely not. A railroad grade parallels the highway on the left side, abandoned.  The rails are gone, even the ties.  A ranch road comes in from the right – no traffic.  A car, or more likely a pickup truck, passes in the other direction every so often.  No traffic in front, or behind.

A pullout just off the edge of the highway memorializes Geronimo’s surrender near here in 1886, and it is difficult to believe that the landscape has changed much since that time.  Open, vast, harsh and beautiful.

Where are the customer supposed to come from? Around 60 miles from Douglas, homes become more numerous as you approach the NM/AZ state line and the town of Rodeo.  Slow down to the posted speed limit and you will pass through town in under a minute.  Way up ahead… what is that???  It’s big, it’s new, it stands out like a grain silo in Kansas.  And it’s empty.

Thus began our introduction to the saga of a western boom and bust, high finance style.

The first time we drove this road, we were headed to Las Cruces from Bisbee, with no time to stop and examine this middle-of-nowhere anomaly.  This trip, we made it one of our first stops.  An almost-new building, far from any population center, standing empty on the edge of the highway.  Beyond, set far back from the highway, we could see a dirt airstrip, a cluster of hangers, a greenhouse, scattered small homes, and a deep red, two-story, Santa Fe style building.  We turned down the dirt road and went to explore.

Sky Gypsy complex The red building is the Sky Gypsy Cafe, apparently abandoned.  As we slowly circled the building and speculated, a huge, wolf-like dog appeared, followed by woman as curious about us as we were her.  Maria. 

Here’s the story, as told she told it to us:  In 2004, multi-millionaire John McAfee (yes, that one, the one McAfee anti-virus software is named for) came to Rodeo to spend a goodly number of his millions to develop an airpark for “kite-planes”, his obsession at the time.  Because the location was so remote, he added a multi-million dollar mansion (with two guesthouses), four climate-controlled hangers, a greenhouse to provide fresh vegetables (not readily available in Rodeo’s two tiny grocery stores) and, for entertainment, the Sky Gypsy Cafe with a 30 seat theatre.  The kite-plane pilots – the sky gypsies - could stay in one of 10 restored Airstream trailers in the 15 RV sites on the property.  The two-story building on the highway housed a natural foods grocery store and an outfitter.  Estimated total investment: $11.5 million.  That must have perked up the local economy a bit.

Fast-forward to 2007, when the economy began to crumble, taking John McAfee’s millions along with it.  He began selling off properties, cashing out.   In August of 2009, the Sky Gypsy Cafe, the hangers, the mansion and guest houses, the art and furnishings – everything, all of it - sold at auction for $1.15 million.  The boom went bust.  John McAfee took his remaining fortune ($4 million, down from over $100 million) and moved to Belize, where he currently lives.

Sky Gypsy Cafe (photo courtesy of the internet) While we talked with Maria, Billy showed up with another curious couple in tow, a couple who had recently purchased one of the nearby properties and rode their ATV over to check things out.  Maria introduced Billy as the new owner of the Sky Gypsy Cafe and complex (house, hangers, airstrip, RV sites).  He was young – maybe in his 30’s? – with assorted piercings and a slick pompadour that reminded me of Elvis Presley.  He plans to resurrect the cafe and theatre, adding video games to the mix. 

All I could think was “good luck with that!”  Maybe I lack vision… but where are the patrons for this business??  The Rodeo ranchers?  Birders?  The grocery store owners?  The handful of RV’ers at Rusty’s RV Ranch???  Or is Rodeo a crazy hub of activity during “tourist season” - which would be… when?

Maria’s personal story was this: she and her daughter ran the natural foods store, which she said did well.  Maria’s daughter decided to move to Belize (isn’t that where McAfee went?), and Maria didn’t want to run the store alone, so she “let it go”.   Now she lives on the property as a caretaker.

We drove off looking at each other with wide eyes and shaking our heads.  What a story!  I couldn’t help but Google for the details when we got home.   The Dream of Icarus in Desert Exposure tells the story of McAfee and the Sky Gypsies before the collapse; the story of the auction made the New York Times. 

Browsing around Rodeo a couple of days later, a conversation with a local revealed a few more interesting tidbits (file these under local rumor/gossip): Billy, the new owner of the Sky Gypsy Cafe, used to own the nearby Portal Peak Cafe (where we stopped for lunch after a recent hike).  Billy and the owners of the new Chiricahua Desert Museum both bid on the Cafe, and it wasn’t pretty.  Friendships dissolved.  The other tidbit, which fills in the picture: Maria’s daughter, her partner in the natural foods store, is in Belize with John McAfee – his girlfriend?  I understood better Maria’s assertion that the natural foods store was a success – no rent or building mortgage required.  When the Sky Gypsies left, so did the majority of the market.

I can’t help but look at that big empty building on the side of the highway in a big empty valley under a big empty sky and wonder… what will it look like in 10 years?  In 50 years?  Will someone hit on the right business for the location?  What would it be?  Will the building be dismantled and reconstructed somewhere else, somewhere the customers are?  Or will the weeds grow up, the climate take its toll, and one day it will be an interesting artifact of an interesting story of an interesting time in a big, empty space on the edge of Hwy 80?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Sunrise over Rodeo, NMMy day got off to an early start this morning when, from the cozy warmth of my bed, I saw light first hit the delicate clouds forming in the eastern sky.  My back and hip cooperated a little more today than yesterday, and I was out of bed and dressed before the sunrise peaked.  I was outside in 25 degrees to take this photo – a bracing beginning!

Back indoors, I realized that I felt good – not completely free of back pain, but significantly better… definitely good enough to do some exploring – once the temperature rose.

Because they are so often mentioned in the same sentence, Portal, Arizona, and Rodeo, New Mexico, seem like the “Twin Cities” of the AZ/NM borderlands – except that neither is larger than a pinprick on a map.  Just ten miles apart, both can be explored in an afternoon, with plenty of time for hiking besides.  We headed out the door around 11 am, maps in hand.

Gas and Groceries in Rodeo, NMWe’ve decided to stay at Rusty’s RV Park through Sunday, waiting out the cold weather to our east.  When Odel paid for the additional days, Rusty mentioned a potluck at noon on Sunday.  We decided to attend and picked a simple rice dish that doesn’t need any fancy ingredients, a few of which we didn’t have on hand: cheese, corn, and a green pepper.  Consequently, our first stop was in Rodeo, at the tiny grocery store/gas station/RV park. 

As it turns out, Rodeo has not one, but TWO markets – both about this size.  We found all our ingredients (and not much else).   Just down the street, I wanted to visit the Chiricahua Gallery, housed in what appears to have originally been a church.  Odel had packages to be mailed, so took off on foot to find the post office while I browsed the gallery.

Inside the Chiricahua Gallery What an unexpected treasure!  Beautiful paintings and gorgeous woven scarves adorned the walls; appealing jewelry was displayed in wooden cases throughout the shop.  As I wandered through, chatting with the stylish woman staffing the gallery, I gleaned a few more bits of information/gossip about an interesting bit of recent history of the area – the arrival of multi-millionaire John McAfee (of McAfee Anti-Virus software fame) in this little valley, and his subsequent departure two years later, mid 2009.  Its a subject for another blog, another day – and a subject that residents are happy to discuss.

Odel returned, and we took off to Portal, Arizona, gateway to the network of dirt roads piercing the southern Chiricahua mountains, both of us looking forward to an easy hike or two.  We had a great day to be outdoors, sunny and a little warmer.  Passing through tiny Portal, we stopped at the (very) short Vista Point hike for a close up view of the imposing rock formations closing in on both sides.  I was thrilled to find that hiking felt good, no particular back problems.

Scenes from Portal, ArizonaBack at the car, we continued on up the canyon to Sunny Flat campground, where we found the trailhead for a 1 mile hike to the Portal Ranger Station.  We were the only people around, walking slowly along an easy trail through mostly leafless trees.  The sky was brilliantly blue; we were serenaded by water running down a nearby stream bed - Turkey Creek?  Soooooo relaxing.

Another point of interest on the map caught our eye: the Southwest Research Station, which Rusty had recommended.  We set off once again in the Jeep but, as the canyon narrowed, icy patches began to appear with more frequency, then snow.  Why push our luck?  We turned around, and headed back to Portal for a lunch of chicken enchiladas and refried beans at the Portal Store, Cafe & Lodge – topped off with ice cream bars.  Diet?  What diet?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Welcome to Rusty's RV Ranch! Has it only been two days since we arrived here at Rusty’s RV Ranch (click here to read our review and see more photos) in tiny Rodeo, New Mexico??  Though we haven’t been able to do any hiking,  we’ve been mighty busy (a couple more days here in the old west and I’ll be adding “pardner”).

We’ve driven through Rodeo a couple times on our travels east from Bisbee.  Located in a beautiful desert setting at the south end of the Chiricahua mountains, this little burg seemed like an excellent place to kick back, be anonymous, and focus on chores we needed to accomplish before moving on to the east.  We’d eyeballed Rusty’s RV Ranch in passing on earlier trips; the recommendation from The Bayfield Bunch cinched the plan.

We were settled in our site by 2 pm, so decided to take a short tour of the neighborhood.  Our first stop was the Chiricahua Desert Museum, where the road to Portal turns off of Highway 80.  This new museum hasn’t been open long, but is an interesting stop.  About a third of the building is a gift shop, stocked with extremely appealing t-shirts (see Odel’s purchase in the lower right photo), beautiful beaded jewelry, interesting books about the region, hiking sticks, bags, backpacks… I’ll have to return later without Odel for sufficient browsing time!

Chiricahua Desert Museum, Rodeo, New Mexico Reptile and amphibian labels
Noisy, Scary Rattlesnake Odel and the Javelina t-Shirt he bought at the museum gift shop.

The other half of the building is split into two rooms. The first displays art, books, correspondence, and other interesting/funny artifacts concerning reptiles and amphibians: the label of every bottle in the the huge display case (above, right) names or displays one or the other.  The second room?  SNAKES!  Not all of the display cases are occupied yet, but most held a snake (or two).  The rattler climbing the wall in the lower left photo gave me chills – we could hear his rattle through the glass.  An even larger rattler across the room… well, I just wanted to stand far, far back from the window.  That rattle definitely says “Stay Away” to me!

View of Chiricahuas from our site. Though I had specific plans for our stay in Rodeo (hike, put together the required year-end reports for the Boomers, try out a couple new recipes), Monday had plans of its own.  My back, bothering me for a few days, was not improving and was a major distraction.  Something needed to be done.  I Googled “chiropractor Rodeo NM” – and found a chiropractor in Lordsburg, New Mexico, the nearest “big city” (population 3,000).  No appointment necessary, but the office was only open on Monday and Thursday. 

Off we flew.  When we arrived, I filled out a clipboard of information, including the answer to this question: Who referred you to us?  My answer: the internet.  Oh, my gosh, was that exciting for them.  The internet?  The internet?  How did I find them on the internet?  When I told them, they were amazed!  They don’t have a website, and didn’t realize that Google would find a directory entry; it really was pretty funny.  The adjustment took at least 30 minutes of hands-on work, and relieved a lot kinks and knots, all for just $35.  And then, 40 miles back home!

Red Lentil Soup with Spicy Sizzle Monday night I felt sufficiently improved to try out a new recipe: Red Lentil Soup with a Spicy Sizzle (which refers to the hot olive oil, cayenne, paprika mixture drizzled across the soup).  Wow, spicy sizzle is right.  This very simple vegan soup was a big hit with us, for both flavor and looks.  We had it with warm, buttered, whole wheat tortillas – outstanding.  Since none of the ingredients are unusual (easy to find red lentils and bulgur wheat in the bulk bins), I suspect we will be having this several more times this winter.  I’ve added a permanent link to the recipe on the left side of the blog.

Once it was dark, we took a peek at the night sky.  This remote area is known for its “dark skies”, boasting a small neighborhood nearby dedicated to astronomy, Arizona Sky Village.  Rusty’s RV Ranch has NO outdoor lights (not quite true, there is one on the back of the office); light pollution doesn’t exist here.  I haven’t seen stars like this since I backpacked in the Rockies of Colorado many, many years ago.  Nothing like stargazing to add some perspective to life!

Luna wallows in the dust at Rusty's.Today was a better day for my back – a little less hobbling, a little less distraction, a little more smiling.  We tackled the Boomer paperwork early, and we managed to get it wrapped up and ready to mail.  The propane delivery truck arrived around 1:30 – yay, as we were running low – and filled our tank at $2.60/gallon, shockingly reasonable considering our remote location.  With those chores completed, we went outside to bask in the afternoon sunshine – dressed warmly, but no coat required.

Luna is now fully recovered, and LOVES Rusty’s – plenty of room and, more importantly, plenty of dust!  She divides her time between wallowing in the dust (several times a day) and relaxing in a sunny nook we created for her on the bedroom vanity, in sunshine most of the day.  Oh, that we should all enjoy such simple pleasures!