We left Back Country Solar in Cortez, CO and headed for the hills! Just a short drive away we were in the San Juan National Forest near Mancos, CO.
We unhooked our toad at the entrance and I, Kat, scouted for a boondocking spot in the Jeep. I met a super nice couple, Randy and Robin, who knew of the perfect spot. I called Mike who was rig sitting and said come on down the road. Boy, were they right!
For the first time boondocking with our new Zamp solar kit, this was the perfect spot. Beautiful Aspen trees circled this dandelion meadow.
We quickly set up camp so we can check out the sights.
The Long Way Down
Why Get Solar?
Staying in campgrounds or RV parks have their perks with full hook ups for water, electric and sewer. Some have pools and provide entertainment. Nice, right? Often times the sites are close together and privacy can be a concern. Sometimes we just want to get away from it all. Our motorhome has a 8000 watt Onan quiet generator built-in, however, they are comparing it to other generators. So in reality, it is not so quiet. While camping in a picturesque spot, no one wants to hear or smell a diesel generator.
What Type of Solar?
We looked at our power consumption. We have a residential refrigerator like the ones in a house, so our power need is high. Some RV refrigerators can run on propane or electric. Ours is only electric. Solar panels will not power A/C, hair dryers, or microwaves. If we want to use those things, we can turn on the generator. After many hours of research and reading countless reviews, we decided to go with the American made Zamp solar system. Our deluxe solar kit came with four 160 watt panels for a total of 640 watts. If we need to later on we can add two more 160 watt panels.
Who is going to install it?
Zamp Solar has many dealerships throughout the country. We just happen to be near one of their preferred dealers, Back Country Solar, in Cortez, Colorado. After emailing and talking with Joe, the owner, we felt he was going to do the job right.
We arrived at Back Country Solar on the evening of Wednesday, June 2, 2017. Joe didn't waste anytime figuring out the wiring. Within a few minutes he had his plan.
On Thursday, we chatted with his lovely wife and business partner, Julie while Joe began the installation. Joe dropped the wires behind our pantry pull-out cabinet. No wires in the slides or showing inside the motorhome. Our battery compartment is by the passenger door so he threaded the wires through our bays. The wiring took most of the day. By the late afternoon all 4 panels were installed. We were pulling in AMPs! Being powered by the sun is an amazing feeling. I'm not going to go into all the tech because Joe says it best. Check out the video of our installation on the Back Country Solar website. He, also, has great DIY videos for all kinds of Zamp systems. Joe and Julie are passionate about solar. Joe took his time to answer our many questions. I started to call him Professor Joe. :)
Friday morning, we said good bye to Joe and Julie to spend the weekend in the San Juan National Forest near Mancos, CO .
A quick to southern Arizona was a journey like no other.
Our trip was going smoothly until we reached mile marker 103 on Interstate 25 about 25 miles north of Truth or Consequences, NM. We heard a quick popping noise but felt nothing. Then our tire pressure monitoring system sounded an alarm. We had blown the back passenger inner dual tire. We safely pulled to the side of the road. After 5 hours of dealing with our extended warranty company and searching for a replacement tire, we were back on the road. To late to reach our original destination of St. Clair Winery (Harvest Hosts) we stayed at Elephant Butte State park .
Kartchner Caverns State Park in Benson, AZ is a treasure! The campground is beautifully maintained. The caverns have excellent cave formations. It is a living cave so they take great care to protect it. Sealed doors keep the outside elements out. No cameras, water, bags, etc... so no pics to post of the cave. The park is located an hour east of Tucson, half an hour from Tombstone, and half an hour from Sonoita wine country.
Tombstone, AZ, the town too tough to die, began as a silver mining town. The streets are walked by Old West characters of all sorts. The stage coaches give rides through town. The OK Corral reenacts the famous shootout. The saloons, restaurants, and souvenir shops line Allen street.
The town of Bisbee is nestled 5,500 ft in the Mule Mountains. This mining town is now an artisan mecca. The city of a thousand steps lives up to it's name. Steps climb the steep mountain sides leading to houses that seem to be stacked upon each other. The winding streets are lined with beautifully restored historic building. The Queen Mine offers tours but we had to save it for the next visit.
The sparkling sand dunes of gypsum stretch as far as the eye could see. Reaching heights of a three story building. It is the largest in the world.
White Sands is an active missile testing range. The testing takes place a great distance from the monument but for safety reasons the park is closed for several hours during the missile testing.
Sledding down the steep dunes is a favorite activity. Sleds are available at the visitor centers.
216 million years ago, the area around Holbrook. AZ was a thick forest with massive water ways. Now the fallen trees are stone scattered through a desert. A stark reminder of the power of nature. At times it felt like we were walking on another planet.
We are so glad that we bought our National Park Pass. I've hiked through the park many times seeing new beauty on every visit. The Holbrook KOA is very nice.
Standing on the Corner is quite a site to see.
Homolovi State Park just outside Winslow
As I climbed our motorhome ladder with my camera gear strapped to my back in the dark early hours, my heart was pounding with excitement. This was the first time we were going to witness this magical moment. When the sun crested the mountains and the first light shone through the valley, the balloons rose and caught the wind. Hundreds majestic balloons quietly passed by us.
For hours we were perched on the roof of our motorhome watching the stream of hot air balloons float by us.
Later in the day, we used the Park & Ride bus transport down to the field to view the balloons in all their grandeur during the Twilight Glow.
In the early morning hours, we made our way through the crowd to witness the second launch of the fiesta. As the balloons were filled, it seemed like they were coming to life. Each with their own personalities gracefully rising above the cheering crowd to join others in the sky.
Black Mesa Winery
We arrived at the Black Mesa Winery in Velarde, NM early Friday afternoon. As this was our Harvest Host for the night, we had plenty of time to sample the wines - all made with New Mexican grapes. The owners, Linda and Jerry Burd, have about 4 acres in cultivation which they use to make their Burd and Velarde wines. The very talented Linda designed all their labels. We managed to sample over 12 wines by sharing our tastings and restocked our wine cabinet with several bottles. While we were enjoying the wine, a dynamic lady entered leading a tour group. Turns out the Dynamic Cindy owns New Mexico Wine Tours. Obviously we had a lot of stories to share about our love of wine. Scott and Murphy were very knowledgeable about the wines and the area. Scott knowing that we were Jeepers told us about a short cut over the mountain to Ojo Caliente.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs
Scott’s directions led us to a crossroads town of Pilar where we spotted a little BBQ joint called Train Wreck. We were going to eat dinner at the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa but this place smelled so good we had to stop. It did not disappoint. Mike said the ribs were To Die For! The owner said they should be since he smoked them for 16 hours. Fortified with BBQ, we tackled the switch back climb over the mountain to Ojo Caliente. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to the hot springs for their famous mud bath, however, there were plenty of unique pools to experience including a soda mineral water pool. As the sun set and the stars emerged, we soaked in silence letting the tranquil mineral waters wash over us.
Blue Mesa Alpaca Farm
On Saturday we settled in at the Blue Mesa Alpaca Farm just outside of Santa Fe. This is also a Harvest Host site and Bob, the owner, gave us an in-depth tour of the farm. With over 60 alpacas and half a dozen horses this was truly a working farm. Alpacas are a curious bunch. They all gathered at the edge of their pens to see who we were, and were especially interested in Lyra. The older males were kept in their own pens while the young males were put together in another pen. The females seemed to have the run of the place (as they should!). The mothers would “hum” to their babies. To our delight, a day old alpaca was awkwardly trotting after his mother. Too cute! Check out Lyra’s blog to read about her adventures on the farm.
Santa Fe Churches
A quick drive to Santa Fe gave us plenty of time to explore. Throngs of tourists blocked the downtown Plaza and countless vendors packed into the city center park. Being Labor Day weekend, we did expect crowds but nothing like this. Our first stop was to see the staircase at the Loretto Chapel. After shuffling through the long line, we finally stepped into the tiny church. The staircase is a mystery. The chapel needed a new staircase but there was no money to build one. A stranger came into town and built it without any nails or screws. He never gave his name and he didn’t accept any payment. He was never seen again.
Just down the street is the San Miguel Mission. It is the oldest continually active church in the country. We have visited many California Missions and we love getting a chance to visit one. An Original beam that held up the loft dated back to 1710.
The last of the churches we visited was the Catholic Basilica St. Francis of Assisi. Mike decided to skip this church and take a seat outside. As I walked through the large ornate doors, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A gift shop packed full of religious trinkets! I was flabbergasted! The main church was very beautiful but the whole experience was tainted by the tacky gift shop.
The famous Canyon Road is an art lover’s heaven. The road stretches for just a mile but it would take days to visit all the galleries that lined the street. We abandoned the Art Scene at the half-way point and met fellow full-timers, Chris and Rachel of “Itsawonderfulrvlife” at the Second Street Brewery. It’s always fun to meet other full-timers like us. After a few beers and swapping stories of the ups and downs of the road life, we said good bye and true to form – hit the road.
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Sunday was the day that I, Kat, had been waiting for: it was Georgia O’Keeffe museum day! As we turned down Grant Street my steps quickened and my heart raced. Finally! I was going to see HER museum. O’Keeffe is one of my all-time favorite artists. I have had the privilege of seeing her works at other museums but this place was special. As the doors opened, I left the world outside and entered hers. I thought of nothing but the works hanging before me. I transcended into O’Keeffe’s world and even though it was only for a little while, I will always cherish the experience. Mike liked it, too.
Downtown Santa Fe
The streets were packed and our bellies were grumbling as we wended our way to the Thunderbird Restaurant. This is the only restaurant on The Plaza that has a dining balcony. Fortified with margaritas and lunch we joined the throngs on the plaza. Let the shopping begin! We spent the afternoon popping in and out of vendor tents looking for unique gifts and Indian jewelry. Then we spotted the Santa Fe Honey Salón. The Honey Guy was handing out honey tastings as fast as he was talking. The choices seemed endless. The best part, all the honey was locally created by Colorado and New Mexico bees. With a couple of jars tucked away in our bag we continued our search for Indian jewelry. At Sissel’s, on Lincoln Street, we met the owner who knew her stuff. She knew exactly which stones came from which mine. The store wasn’t a flashy tourist store nor was it fancy but it was packed with amazing authentic Indian jewelry. We settled on a few Navajo bracelets that we are sure will make a few of our family members happy Christmas morning.
Back at the alpaca farm, we ran into Bob. We spent the evening listening to his stories about the area and places to go the next time we visit. Our favorite story was about the classic Argentina tango. He tells it like he is dancing it.
Traveling isn’t just about seeing new places.
It’s also about the people who live there.
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We launched our kayak at Texas Hole just before the Navajo Dam. The pristine water of the San Juan River makes it one of the best places for fly-fishing trout. This area is catch and release so the trout are plentiful and huge. We were searching for calm water for our next trip with our cat, Lyra. She surely will love looking at all the fish swimming around.
As we launched our Jackson Riviera Tandem kayak near the many houseboats, we were in awe of the many unique boats that live on the lake. We paddled around the houseboats for the most part so we wouldn’t get drenched by wake waves. The Navajo Lake is a beautiful place set in NW New Mexico and it stretches into Colorado. This was our second paddle on the lake and it is quickly becoming our favorite place to go on a weekend afternoon.
After a couple of hours on the water, we loaded up to explore the land around the lake. Leaving the marina, we crossed the dam road and took the first left. This road will eventually lead to HWY 527. Taking several off shute trails we discovered the Frances Canyon Ruins (Navajo pueblito) built in the late 1600's. Pueblitos are built on mesa rims, outcrops, and boulders for defensive purposes. They are usually a small site with a tower. They are only found in New Mexico. The Frances Canyon ruin is one of the best preserved examples of a pueblito. It sits on the mesa rim and has a multi-level tower. We are always so excited to discover such places on our adventures.
With excitement of finding the pueblito, we decided to go to Chaco Cultural National Historical Park in Chaco Canyon near Nageezi New Mexico. Getting to the park is not easy. When we turned off HWY 550 to cut across the desert, the road was pretty rough, however, the park road is paved. Most of ruins are located just off the park road. We took a short, steep hike up to the top of a mesa. Our legs hurt for days after that climb. There are miles of trails that lead to more ruins. If we had time, we would have made the trek to see them. The ones we did see were quite impressive. This was the largest concentrated area of pueblo. The population was in the thousands between 850 and 1250 AD. Unlike other sites, this was built in the middle of the canyon not in the cliffs. This is a Gold-tier level International Dark Sky Park. From May through September the park offers Evening Night Sky programs on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. We hope to make another trip to Chaco for one of these presentations.
Bonita Trail to Kin Klesto Overview
"We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us."
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Mike & Kat
Kat left teaching after 18 years to travel throughout the USA with her husband, Mike, who is an engineer for a Power generation company.