Not As Planned – Part 2

See Part 1 here.

After setting up at Little Arsenic campground at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, I noticed several tents pitched nearby. About 8 or 10! The woman at the visitors’ center said that on Saturday a land art installation would be presented. This would be Neo-Rio, a festival in its 10th year. So I was surrounded by artists foraging for their creations. It was a rich atmosphere.

There are pleasant walks here – many level trails on the top of the mesa. And a few challenging trails to the river. Or rivers – the confluence of the Red River and the Rio Grande give this area its name of Wild Rivers. Cassie and I walked two or three miles each day – always in the early morning. The afternoons were still too warm for me – this at an elevation of about 7500 feet.

The confluence – Red River on the left, Rio Grande on the right as seen from the La Junta campground at Wild Rivers.

Little Arsenic Trail. None of my photos show how steep it is!

One morning we did start down the Little Arsenic trail – one mile to the river with an elevation change of 760 feet. It’s considered (by the automaton who wrote the guide) to be ‘moderate.’ Not for me. It’s very steep, uneven, and has many loose rocks. I had to watch every step. We made about 2/3 of the way down. That was enough if I wanted to make it back to the top. Really feeling my age.

And just to add to this feeling I learned that in a couple of weeks there will be a footrace here – down one Arsenic trail, along the river, and up the other Arsenic trail. Running. Good grief!

One day we walked to Chawalauna Overlook – a fine view both ways in the gorge. Just over the

The chunk of basalt that will eventually fall.

guardrail is a crevice – a huge chunk of basalt is ready to fall (within the next 100 years). It was about 700’ to the river. I could see shelters and tables there for camping. It would be quite a hike to those sites. Another thing I won’t be doing. But it would be amazing to be there.

Camping/fishing shelters along the Rio Grande.





Late Saturday afternoon Neo-Rio was ready for patrons. They offered their art, poetry, music, talks, and a feast. The sleepy little campground (Montoso) came alive. I would guess there were 150 people. We stayed a couple of hours, checked out the art, listened to poetry, and met lots of folks. Cassie is a bit of a magnet for introductions.

Rowen Willow’s invitation.

Spinners on Ms.Willow’s interactive “Roots of Wonder.”

The next morning we walked over there early. I could experience the art with no one around. Some pieces, like the Rowen Willow’s spinning toy, seemed lonely without anyone to play.

But Francisco Letelier’s fabric panels were playing in the breeze and needed no one. He had drawn intricate maps of the world on them.

One piece that I just didn’t ‘get’ the night before, called to me and I finally understood. I had a chance to sit quietly with Nicolette Codding’s “Shifting Paradigm” and appreciate its depth. It was very satisfying to have this time with the art.

Nicolette Codding’s ‘Shifting Paradigm’

Martha Shepp’s ‘The DNA of Root Words’

After a while I packed up and headed north.

The original focus of this trip – The Great Sand Dunes National Park – didn’t go according to plan either. There were no hook-ups (that’s what I get for checking the wrong website). And the spaces are pretty, but small and crowded. It was a busy place. I got to listen to the couple two sites away yell at each other as they tried to maneuver into their spot. After being surrounded by artists and space, this wasn’t fun.

Cassie and I walked towards the dunes, but it was about 1/2 mile to the base. I decided this wasn’t a good place for her. Dunes are difficult for short-legged dogs or is it small-footed dogs. It would be better to make the trip without her.

I decided to return to Wild Rivers. I think I came to the Dunes only because I had made up my mind three weeks ago to do it. But I was unprepared and therefore disappointed. Wild Rivers was the place for me on this trip. Change those plans.

When I returned, the best space available was #11 in Little Arsenic campground. I was happy to take it again. Several folks came after I did to look for a space with no luck. They really need more campsites here. Since I had driven two days in a row, I took it very easy for a couple of days here. There’s a reason not to drive every day.

I moved to Tetilla Peak on Cochiti Lake – the campground on the east side. I like it better than the other – not so big, not so crowded. Thought I might head home the next day, but it started to rain in the evening and was still raining in the morning.

My old RV and I didn’t like the idea of a wet interstate and going through Albuquerque. I decided to stay cozy in the RV and read more. It’s delicious to have so much rain in New Mexico. And so nice to not have to stick to plans.

Not As Planned – Part 1

Now I don’t like a set itinerary or even reservations for an RV trip, but I like to know my general direction and options. I had a chance to practice this on my last trip.

This trip was mainly planned to go north – to get out of the heat. Thought I’d check out Orilla Verde campground (the south end of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument) and then spend most of my time at The Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado.

I had the RV ready on Saturday morning – food and clothes on board. But I was tired, just wanted a nap – at 9AM! I realized I didn’t have to go as far as I had planned. I could just go to South Monticello Point on Elephant Butte Lake – about 15 miles away. That energized me. I camped there for two nights. The first change of plans.

I chose a quiet spot (#7) on the edge of the campground. I’ve stayed in several sites here and they have all been good. The park wasn’t busy – it’s still warm here and the lake is so low that it’s barely in sight here. There were mosquitoes – I was bitten several times. Cassie and I heard coyotes howling and in the early morning great horned owls were calling. Hummingbirds were finding nectar in the creosote blossoms.

What is now green was once the lake in wetter years.

I had a list of four things I wanted to get written. I’ll tell you now, none of them were even started. Another plan pitched into the wastebasket.

Cassie, my co-pilot.

Monday I moved to Cochiti Lake. There are two COE campgrounds, one on each side of the lake. I had always stayed on the east side, so I thought I’d try the west side this time. There was a part that was not well maintained, but was up on the hill with nice views. I had hoped to find a space there, but settled for one in the newer part – closer to the showers and pay station.

Ran into Roxanne, a friend from home. Nice surprise. She had just come from Orilla Verde where I was headed next. She also mentioned that Evie would probably be coming. I’d never met Evie, but I’ve followed her blog for a long time. Turns out the three of us had dinner together with fine conversation. Didn’t plan this gathering, but it was one of the trip highlights.

Sunset over the RVs at Cochiti Lake

Orilla Verde, near Pilar, New Mexico, was the next destination. It was an easy drive on the relief road around Santa Fe, through Espanola, towards Taos. The problem was I didn’t like the campsites for RVs. I should have asked at the visitor center if a small RV could be in the tent sites. I would have fit. I reviewed my list of options.

At the north end of the campground across the river is a dirt road to the top of the west rim of the gorge. Not a bad road, but I probably wouldn’t take a big RV on it. My RV did just fine. From there it was an easy drive to the Rio Grande Gorge bridge. And then to Taos and north to Wild Rivers. It’s the north end of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

I found a site (#11) in the Little Arsenic campground. The only available site. It’s not that there were so many people, just very few campsites. The names are strange. There is also a Big Arsenic Campground. The names come from the springs at the river – also Big and Little Arsenic, although I think they don’t contain arsenic. Figured I’d stay a couple of days until I left for the Dunes.

The road leading to the campgrounds at Wild Rivers.

Spooky Heirloom

Best story from the last family gathering.  Some background: many of my cousins and most of the younger generation just roll their eyes at the mention of genealogy.  But at our last reunion in Illinois we had the rare chance to see a friendship album from a distant branch of the family.  This contained poems, obituaries, and locks of hair.  It was started in 1860.  I wrote about it here for my genealogy blog.

About ten of us went to LaMoille, Illinois to see the album.  My niece went with us, but chose to stay outside.  She thought a book of hair was too creepy.  I persuaded her of its historical significance and she reluctantly joined us in the dining room.  We stood around the table as Wanda explained the history of friendship albums.

I then began to explain our personal connection.  “Our great-grandfather, James Duncan, had a brother, T. C., who married Emma….”  The lights in the house dimmed, went out, and slowly came back up.  We were silent.  The home owners were startled.  And my niece as gone.  We didn’t see her until we went outside.

I took it as a benevolent tip of the hat from Uncle T. C.

News From Home

Traveling in East Africa in 1970s and 1980s was different than it would be now – not much communication was possible.  Occasionally I would see a news story from home in a local paper, but US news was hardly a priority.  I might hear of an earthquake in California, but that’s as specific as it would get – no city, no size noted.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this article in The Standard (Kenya) that mentions my little hometown, Lakeside, California.  Now it wasn’t very accurate – I doubt if San Diego looked like a ghost town.  And El Cajon is not on the river.  And I know that the dam did not burst.  But it sure got my attention at the time.

Some Fiction

Some fiction, but not enough.  This was a piece I wrote almost 20 years ago when I was caring for my parents.  Loosely based on our experience.


“Where did he go now?” I asked my niece, Sheila.

“I think he’s out on the porch,” she replied, not looking up from folding laundry.

“Will he be okay, can he get down that step?”

“Yeah, he takes it very carefully.”

“I hope he doesn’t go out in the street.”

“No, he usually plays in the driveway.”

“Huh?” Did she say my father was playing in the driveway?

“Who are you talking about?”

“Jack.” Her 18-month-old son.

“I meant your grandfather.” My 83-year-old father.

A quick glance at each other and we began to laugh, as we headed to the porch to check on our two charges. Jack played with his red dump truck in the driveway while Dad sat on the porch taking in as much as his failing eyes and ears could.

This was Dad’s last trip to Minneapolis. It was August in the Midwest, and just as in his childhood: hot, humid with mosquitoes and thunderstorms. In our four days there we caught up on each other’s lives. Dad held his only great-grandchild. His granddaughter Sheila saw how Dad coped with his infirmities. And I watched Sheila as a mother, a new role for her.

After that first exchange, we tried to be specific so we would know who we were talking about, but often we forgot. “Has he had a nap? You know he’s cranky without one.” Jack or Dad? “He sure makes a mess when he eats.” We would look at each other and often get the giggles. Maybe this was cruel, but Dad couldn’t see or hear us and Jack never thought we were laughing at him. We were laughing at our situations. Mine, the incongruity of the black-sheep, youngest child of the family now in the position of caretaker for my elderly parents. Sheila’s, the shift of a successful 32-year-old CPA now caring for an intelligent toddler. Her rational world of finances had disappeared in the hormonal irrationality of pregnancy and motherhood. Survival here demanded a sense of humor.

A year later Sheila and I still marvel at the similarities in our lives. At one point last week I was sinking in the sadness of sewing name tags onto Dad’s clothing so he could go to a nursing home. I called Sheila for support. She had just put names in Jack’s clothes so he could go to nursery school. Nursing home, nursery school. Closer than I had imagined.

Dad is not going to get better. There is no cure for his macular degeneration, hearing loss, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. The disabilities have taken over his life. Jack, however, gets better all the time. Nearly three now, he has passed Dad in abilities, moving, speaking, thinking and growing. Those days of us mixing up Dad and Jack are gone.

Sign of the Geese

Someone dumped three geese at the slough.  They must have thought it was a good place.  There had been rains and the creek was flowing – a small stream of fresh water in a brackish mudflat.  Would there be enough fresh water and how could they get food?  One disappeared quickly.  The other two stayed within a hundred yards or so of the road.

People left food for them almost every day.  A couple of farm workers left reject vegetables.  A family with two small girls left bread.  Several times folks put grain out for them  For two months they were a familiar sight.  But the rains stopped.  The fresh water was now a trickle.  And one day they were gone.  I missed them and worried about their fate.

A few days later a small, handwritten sign was stapled to a stake.  “The geese are OK.  They have moved to a house with a pond.”

Abandoned animals point out the best and the worst in people.  Worst in the ones who dump and best in those who rescue.  Thank you for rescuing the geese and thanks for the sign.

[Written years ago after an incident at Elkhorn Slough near Watsonville, California.]


Fifth grade was a big year for me – I could see! Not that I realized before that I couldn’t see.

I used to sit about two feet from the television. Mom and Dad would tell me to move back. I did, but slowly moved up close again. They’d tell me to move back again and I’d leave the room. I didn’t understand what was so great about TV at a distance.

The school nurse told my mother that I should have my eyes tested. So we headed off to Dr. Root in San Diego – quite a trip in those days from our rural town. I liked the eye tests (still do). We had to wait a couple of weeks for the glasses to be made. Then on the big day, we drove back to the city.

I was astounded – I could see windows in buildings and leaves on the trees and people’s faces. I exclaimed over everything. It made mom feel so guilty for not knowing that I had such poor eyesight. No one else in the family wore glasses. Even now I’m amazed when I see babies in glasses. In those days it was unusual for someone in elementary school to wear them.

On the first day I took the glasses to school and hid them in my desk. When the teacher wrote something on the board, I slipped them on. It was magic! After that I never tried to hide them. I did think I looked awkward in them, but at that age I would have felt awkward anyway.

Zuni Woodcarver

A year ago I camped at the El Morro RV park.  Wandering around the grounds, I came across a woodcarver.  Serendipity.  This was Loy Lewis, a carver from a long line of Zuni woodworkers.

He was working on elaborate pieces, mostly of ravens (crows?).  I bought a small piece; my camp neighbors bought one of the bigger ones.  Mine lives on my RV dash.