Friday, June 06, 2008

Vacation 2008: Highlights and Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t be afraid to board the pet. Tidbit did great at the vet’s. It was cheaper than having a petsitter come by once a day and she probably got a lot more attention.
  2. A toiletry organizer will save your sanity. For the first time I traveled with a multi-pocket, clear plastic organizer and boy, did it cut down on the cussing! I just took the organizer out of the suitcase, used the products I needed, put them back in the organizer, and tossed the thing back in the suitcase so we could move on to our next destination. So easy it’s probably a crime.
  3. Don’t be afraid to use hair conditioner in the west. In Houston, conditioner drags my hair down, but in the desert, it’s the only thing that keeps it from sticking up in every direction.
  4. Stock your cooler with blue ice instead of regular, water-everywhere ice. Almost everywhere you go now in Texas and New Mexico will have a fridge and freezer either in the room or available on premises for guests. The ubiquitousness of fridge and microwave access in hotels these days means there’s no excuse for not taking decent road food with you.
  5. Nearly everywhere has wireless internet access, it seems. Still, it’s not a bad idea to keep that dial-up account for another year or two, just in case. I was glad I had it at my Dad’s place.
  6. Most decent hotels have workout rooms these days. No excuse not to get a little exercise each day, and it really helps for those days where you spend a lot of time in the car.
  7. When it comes to family, less can be more. It’s great to see them, but it’s a good idea to leave before you or they begin wishing the Acoma natives still threw people off the cliff.
  8. When you find a place that has a good price on local goods (such as Indian pottery), buy a lot. I wish I had bought more at Acoma.
  9. Keep extra camera batteries with you at all times.
  10. Although it’s lots of fun to just take each day as it comes, have a backup plan in case you get to a town only to find the hotels all booked. We had trouble finding a place in Las Cruces and were unable to get a room in Fort Stockton or Ozona. Two years ago we had the same problem, unable to get a room in Silver City and getting one of the last rooms in Fort Stockton.
  11. Be glad camp food lasts up to ten years. Last year we couldn’t camp because of rain, this year it was wind. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
  12. Follow those spur-of-the-moment impulses. We found Pagosa Springs that way and it’s on our permanent must-do list now!
  13. Out of the way places can be really cool. The population of Kingston in the Black Range is only about 30, but the Black Range Lodge is beyond wonderful if you want peace, quiet, a rambling old house in the wooded mountains, and a hot breakfast made with all organic and homemade goodies. Their guest house would make a fantastic writer/artist retreat.
  14. Host dogs make excellent running companions.
  15. Do your homework. A lot of fun things, like a massage and a soak in the hot springs can be done for a lot of money or for just a little. Go cheap so you can splurge on an extra day!
  16. Own a pair of really nice pajamas. I have a pair of red silk ones that I'm not embarrassed to be seen in at any time. Not that I go running around in my pajamas, but it's nice to know that you look great if room service or housekeeping show up.
  17. Take your own pillow.
  18. Make use of the guest laundry. Often.
  19. Cousins have better family gossip than parents and uncles every time.
  20. Count your blessings. Not everyone can take a paid vacation. In many countries, it's a totally alien concept.
  21. Remember that vacation is supposed to be fun. When it starts becoming work, it’s time to go home.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Well, we ended up not doing much at all today. I got up around 7:00 and went to the workout room. Dan joined me as I was finishing my workout and we went to the breakfast room together but he was so grumpy that I stayed out of his way and when we went back to our room I simply went about the business of showering, packing, and getting ready to hit the road. I showed him a brochure about the Sonora caves, but he said he hadn't slept well and that if it wasn't going to kill me to skip it, he'd just as soon save it for another time. Well, that was fine by me. I've seen caves before (went to Carlsbad last year) and I try to choose my battles wisely. Heading east was fine with me!

After so much desert, it was great to see green this morning!

I've always loved the way greenery grows on the limestone.

We headed in to Kerrville, where we stopped at our favorite bookstore. By now, Dan was feeling better, but I was the one who was grumpy because every time I tried to examine the books on Indianola (a Texas town destroyed by a hurricane in the late nineteenth century), the woman minding the shop tried to talk to me. Finally I gave up trying to decide between the two books and escaped to the bargain room, where I found nothing I simply had to have. Had the shopkeeper let me browse in peace, I almost certainly would've bought one of the Indianola books (and they weren't cheap) so it was more her loss than mine, but I was pissed, nonetheless.

Dan and I had some lunch at a little cafe nearby, where we both agreed that we were tired, grumpy, brain-dead, and ready to go home. Plus, the wind was still blowing!

Heading home. The wind was blowing so hard in some places that signs were knocked over!

We got back to Houston just in time for rush hour traffic. Lucky us. Not to be deterred, we picked up the Tid and went home.

Pixel has been all over us tonight and once Tidbit figured out that she had been sprung for good, she was just like her old pre-illness self, eager to play, eager for attention.

It's great to be unpacked, back in my own home with three days before I have to go back to work. Technically speaking, I'm really not going to work until Wednesday, since I'll be at a conference Monday and Tuesday. So although I'm home, this vacation isn't quite over yet!

There will be one more post here before I resume posting at my regular blog. It will be my recap and "lessons learned." There will probably also be some new pictures, now that I can photoshop out things like flyspecks from the windshield.

Be sure and check back tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Day Twelve

Well, our plans are usually flexible, and a good thing. We’re in Sonora, Texas, tonight, with winds gusting like a hurricane. It looks like a dust storm outside.

I got up early this morning at our hotel in Las Cruces and did a 40 minute treadmill run while I did my wash in the guest laundry room. Then I got a cup of coffee in the breakfast room and had a cup of yogurt and some of the blueberries I bought a couple days ago in Pagosa Springs.

Since there appeared to be nothing to do in the Las Cruces area, we headed into El Paso where we had a long lunch with my cousin, who filled me in on all the family gossip. We solved many of the world’s problems in the three hours we hung out chatting, and then Dan and I decided to head west and see how far we could get before we got tired.

It was a very windy, dusty day, but as we tracked east, we expected things to improve.

They didn’t. Those are mountains on the horizon. See them? They're actually quite close, but in some places we couldn't see them at all.

Hazy mountain.

And did I mention it was hot?

I was able to get a few good pics, though.

The mountains in West Texas are somewhat similar to those of the Albuquerque area.

They eventually give way to mesas and flatlands.

The wind kept up with gusts in the 40s and when we got to Fort Stockton, we found everything but the scary motels booked. There was some kind of oil company convention in town, apparently. One hotel let us use their lobby computer to check other hotels along our route and we finally found one 150 miles away in Sonora.

It was already 9:00 Central Time, but our bodies were on Mountain Time and the lower elevation was making us feel perky, so we headed east. The sun went down and we spent the next two hours driving in the dark through gusting winds. It was pretty scary to see the truckers getting their rigs blown around the freeway and the dust clouds descending on us. We kept thinking at some point the wind would let up but it never did.

When we got to Sonora we were very glad we had booked a room from Fort Stockton because there was a sign on the door saying no vacancy, reservations only. There's only one other hotel in town that isn't scary and I’d bet money it’s booked, too. And the next sizable town is at least another hour up the road.

We carried our bags up to our room in gusting winds and now as I look out the window I can see a haze of brown dust and the wind is screaming. The weather report says winds at 22 with gusts to 33, but I think it might be worse than that.

Anyway, it’s late, I need to get settled in, and Dan and I need to make a plan for tomorrow. We think we’re going to spend some time in Kerrville, and maybe since we’re in Sonora, we’ll see the local caves. We had thought we might want to camp but the weather prediction is for more wind like what we’ve got right now and no way can we pitch a tent in this!

Check back tomorrow, when I expect to have more and better pictures. There just isn't much to see in West Texas even under the best of circumstances, but with a dust storm, forget it!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Day Eleven

It was very windy last night in the mountains, but things were cozy in our B&B.

I used this little room for writing. I didn't take a picture of the room we slept in, but it was much bigger.

I woke up early and went for a run in the mountains.

One of the dogs went with me.

These old buildings appear to be from the original settlement of the area during the mining heyday of the late 1800s.

It was a beautiful morning, with some great views.

The pics I took don't do some of these curves justice.

I went back to the B&B where our host made eggs and waffles for us. He turned out to be a musician and Dan was disappointed we had to leave because they were having so much fun talking music.

We headed south, stopping at a scenic overlook before continuing on toward the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Nice scenery on the drive, but the road was narrow and if you didn't go slow and make your turn, you'd end up falling a very long way.

The cliff dwelling site was pretty cool.

The Gila River, which was running low.

The cliffs, which are pretty high up!

Hard to imagine people lived up so high.

At least there are stairs now available. You can bet the natives didn't have these!

Approaching the caves.

People made their homes inside the caves.

I love this view, even though I couldn't get it without a tourist in it.

Leaving the caves.

Nice trail!

Winding through the woods, back to the visitor center.

A dry riverbed. There hasn't been much rain this year.

We tried to go for a hike afterwards, but the river was over the trail, and since it was late in the afternoon and the cliff dwellings were two hours from any nearby town, we decided to head back.

Dry conditions heading toward Silver City, even though we were in the mountains.

A mountain campsite. We were tempted, but kept on toward Silver City. We felt pretty good when we reached Silver City, so we continued to the City of Rocks, one of our favorite places.

City of Rocks in the distance. It sits on a plain in the middle of nowhere.

A cactus in bloom outside the visitor center.

Closeup of the cactus.

Rocks everywhere you look!

In the distance, one of many balanced rocks.

A smaller formation.

Such interesting shapes!

A few small trees grow here.

A new friend.

So many rocks, so little time!

Then since we didn’t want to backtrack, we continued south to Deming, then west to Las Cruces.

Hard to believe we were in the mountains this morning!

In Las Cruces, we stopped at three hotels before finding one with vacancy, although no one could explain what was going on in town to make it so hard to find a decent hotel. We like where we ended up, though—it’s got a kitchenette. Too bad we’re leaving in the morning. We haven’t decided where we’re going next, but we’re considering one of the Texas parks or El Paso, where I have a cousin.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Day Ten

I got up at 7:00 and went for a run around the area. This time instead of staying by the river, I went back into one of the neighborhoods. I encountered a couple of monster hills, but since I was going to be in the car all day, I told myself it didn’t matter. This might be the only exercise I get all day!

When I got back to the hotel, I took a soak in the mineral waters and spent some time in the steam room. Then it was time to shower, pack, and after some coffee at a coffee shop by the river, we headed south. Our plan was to get into the Black Range by evening. I had wanted to stay at the Black Range Lodge in Kingston for years, so we figured we’d start in that direction and see how things worked out.

We stopped in Chromo to get a picture of an old school that had caught my eye on the drive up.

Ridiculously pretty skies! Too bad I got a part of the car window in this one.

And we stopped for a picnic lunch at Echo Amphitheater—a natural stone formation that is part of the New Mexico state parks system.

The cliff overlooking the amphitheater.

The amphitheater.

Nice spot for a picnic.

Looking up from inside the stone amphitheater. Speak or clap and you'll get a perfect echo!

Trees can grow anywhere!

It was quite a contrast to get back to the desert after a couple days where everything was so green. We hit temps as high as 100, but I far prefer 100 here in the desert to 85 or 90 back home where it’s so humid your clothes stick to your body.

A key to long car trips is to pack appropriate road food!

A mural on a desert water tower.

We got within sight of the Black Range by 5:00, which was perfect. I had been concerned that we might have to drive through the mountains, which can be pretty scary and dangerous. But all was well, I called and got us a room at The Black Range Lodge, and as I had hoped, we had our pick of rooms in this big old rambling place. It's busier on weekends and in high season, but Monday night is perfect if you want to have the place to yourself.

A building in Kingston, Black Range.

One of our hosts.

So we’re settled in for the night in a cool old B&B in the mountains, and tomorrow we’ll knock around the area a bit and perhaps camp at City of the Rocks, if it’s not too windy.