Sunday, April 7, 2013

Inaugural Voyage

Day One: March 31, 2012
Home to Raton to Sugarite Canyon State Park

Left home about 9:30am and filled the gas tank as I was leaving town. Fought winds for most of the way up, which had me somewhat concerned as much of my stuff was tied in the truck bed with the tailgate off for the camper installation. Filled up again in Raton so I could figure milage before and after camper.

Waiting in Raton for my camper to arrive with my stuff in bed.
Everything was tied down, but I was still nervous on the drive up.
Met the regional Four Wheel Camper dealer at an abandoned gas station in Raton, which is about half-way between Albuquerque and Denver and saved me hours and many miles. The installation went well with cool temps and medium breezes. I'll spare you the photos of the install, not very glamorous.

Amazed at the difference in how the truck drives with the camper on it. 
Makes me darn glad I got the V6!

Sugarite Canyon State Park

Sugarite Canyon SP is just outside Raton. Before finding a camping spot I drove around to check out the park. Not real exciting this time of year, one small and one good-size lake with a few fishermen. I'm sure it looks better with leaves on the oak trees. Evidence of a forest fire along the ridges a few years ago, I guess.  

Lake Maloya at the northern end of the state park. No camping here.
Only one of the campgrounds was open this early in the season. Found a "tent" site for $10 for the night. The only other camper is an older couple from Wyoming in their class A motor home. They're slowly working their way home after spending the winter in warmer climes.  I put away some of the gear and camping items then took a small walk along Lake Alice. Saw a couple of deer and a couple of Mallards. The willows were in the way of getting any photos.

When back at the camper I put away most of the rest of the stuff. Got the XM radio going to tune into the opening game of the baseball season (already in the 5th inning) and heated up home made chorizo  pinto beans that I'd frozen a few weeks go. The Astros beat the Rangers rather easily, of all things. After supper I toasted the new camper and a taste of Jack Daniels with the furnace keeping me toasty!

Set up at the campground. Lake Alice is across the road - you can almost see it.

Turns out there are tent campers across the road. I guess they chose to be there so they wouldn't have to turn off their radio at 10pm. *sigh* I used the Sleep Machine app to cover their tunes with crickets and frogs. 

Got the fridge adjusted to the low 40's. I'm using bottled water as the dealer didn't fill the water tanks due to expected lows around or below freezing. This is mostly a shipment issue, as I think while actively camping the living space is kept warm enough that the pipes wouldn't freeze, even if freezing outside.

I'll listen to a bit of classical music on the XM radio then hit the sack.

Very happy to have the dream coming to life. 

Day Two: April 1, 2013
Sugarite Canyon, across the Great Plains to Capulin Volcano, then off to Cimarron Canyon

Sugarite Canyon State Park

I set the thermostat at 50 degrees before retiring. So glad, as my "three season" sleeping bag wouldn't have been enough. As is, I needed an extra blanket on top about half way through the night. Didn't sleep particularly well - never have in new surroundings. 

I was looking forward to coffee this morning using the stove-top percolator that my friend Linda generously passed on to me. Hmm, something is not right as it doesn't seem to send the hot water up the tube very well. With lots of machinations I got something like coffee made and am "enjoying" it now. Soon breakfast cereal (nice having a fridge to keep milk and OJ fresh), then pack and hit the road. Am thinking of swinging over to Capulin NM to check out the volcano, then Raton for lunch and to Cimarron Canyon for tonight.

Across the Great Plains... or a small southern section, anyway

I had to remind myself that I'm not on a tight schedule. I can stop for photos if I want

Mule Deer

Interesting drive this morning. Took longer than I'd thought as it was a winding, bumpy highway climbing up to a forbidding, high prairie... 8000 feet high in fact. Grasslands with snow in the barrow ditches and gullies, stark beauty. 

Abandoned cowboy cabin in cattle country. You can see the lava rocks lining the gully, reminding us this is an ancient lava flow from one of the many volcanoes in the area.

I could stop in the middle of the highway to take photos without concern for another vehicle coming by. Cattle country. Lots of sparrows and a couple herds of antelope and deer. Then the highway dropped down to Folsom with grass and piñon woods. Then into the Raton-Colfax volcanic field. 

Capulin Volcano National Monument 

The "Welcoming Committee" when I turned into the National Monument

The volcano rises to a height of 8182 feet (2495 m) above sea level, or 1300 feet (396 m) above the surrounding High Plains and at its base is 4 miles (6.4 km) in circumference. The crater is 415 feet (126 m) deep and 1450 feet (442 m) in diameter.  
The monument lies in the Raton section of the Great Plains (or Interior Plains) physiographic province—an immense sweep of country that stretches north from Mexico to Canada, and east from the Rocky Mountains. This section of the Great Plains is characterized by volcanism. Capulin Volcano is just one out of many volcanoes in northeastern New Mexico. This collection of volcanoes, called the Raton-Clayton volcanic field (RCVF), is the easternmost Cenozoic—66.4 million years ago (Ma) to present—volcanic field in the United States. The RCVF covers nearly 8000 square miles, from Trinidad, Colorado to Clayton, New Mexico, and has been active during the last 9 million years. The eruption of Capulin volcano, ~ 60,000 years ago, is one of the most recent eruptions in the field.

My view while having lunch.
Made lunch at the national monument picnic area, as it was already noon, before driving up to the top of the volcano. Quite a view from up there. I decided not to hike around the cone.

Panorama of three photos with the wide-angle lens still doesn't give you the feel for the open space and distances.

I then drove back via Raton to top off the tank before heading to Cimarron Canyon. Strong headwinds from Raton until I got to inside the canyon.

Cimarron Canyon State Park

Trout Lakes at Maverick Campground
Cimarron Canyon SP is such a beautiful place. Maverick Campground, where I camped is only one of several campgrounds in the part. It sits next to a couple of small trout lakes. I found a nice spot and decided to take a small hike up one of the side valleys before setting up camp. Beautiful afternoon. Didn't go too far as it was the first time with my new Keen hiking boots and wanted to ease my feet into them. 

My deluxe campsite
On my return, I set up, rested then heated up some roast-beef hash for dinner. After dinner took a walk around the campground and lakes. Saw lots of juncos and a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets showing their crowns! Of course Stellar's Jays and Robins all around the campground. Greeted a fisherman who'd pulled three nice trout from the lake. I sat on a bench by the lake for a bit. Spotted an American Dipper along the shore. He was singing beautifully, trying to attract a mate, I guess. That was special as I'd never heard one sing before.

I got cold sitting on the bench, so on the way back to my site I stopped to talk to an older couple who had a warm campfire I could stand next to. They were from southern Alabama. The gentleman asked if the camper was mine, as he'd been admiring it. So got a chance to brag a bit.

Built a very small campfire of my own. Now it is out and the D-backs game is about to start. 

Day Three: April 2, 2013
Cimarron Canyon, Eagle Nest, Coyote Creek State Park

I slept much better last night; not great, but better. No problems with the foam-cushion bed, as some have reported, just getting used to a bed and location so different from what I'm used to.

Cimarron Canyon
 Looks like I need to apologize to Linda's percolator. Operator error, apparently, I'd only filled it with half of required water yesterday.  I will blame lack of sleep. Coffee was too weak at 5 minutes, a bit strong at 10. I'll get it right tomorrow.

I took a very nice hike up the creek following the fishing trail. Saw and photographed Mountain Chickadees, American Robins, Song Sparrow, and a Townsend's Solitaire eating juniper berries. Photos are not really blog-worthy, however. On the way out of the park, I saw a wild turkey on the shoulder of the highway. 

I drove over to the town of Eagle Nest where I stopped at the only place I could find open for lunch, Cowboy's Corner, and had a pretty good green chile cheeseburger with fries - fresh made and hand-formed patty. Very tasty!

Coyote Creek State Park

I fought the winds past the ski town of Angel Fire, down a very narrow highway to Coyote Creek SP. Went the wrong way for a few miles after a confusing intersection, the highway appears to go straight, but no, you're supposed to make a sharp turn off the wide asphalt and follow a narrow bumpy paved road to follow the "highway." Not that it is well marked; no route signage at all. (I noticed that again later; that highway intersections up here don't necessarily have signs pointing out which way goes where.)

At first I was unimpressed with the Coyote Creek campground, but later I came to appreciate the creek meandering between beaver dams. Again, none of the oaks or willows are leafed out at this time of year. I think it would be quite pretty in a month or so. I did find a good spot with a shelter over the table. Heard a wild turkey. 

I was going to walk back to the pay station after setting up, but it started to lightly sprinkle. So I sat at the picnic table within the shelter (which can be seen in the photo below) and called my step-mom as I had cell coverage here. Interestingly, I also had cell phone service at the campground in Cimarron Canyon. When the rain let up I walked to the pay station to insert my envelope.

My campsite overlooking the valley. Note the dusting of snow on the windshield and hood.

By the time I got back to the camper it started raining pretty good, plus a little thunder and small hail. Once again happy to have a nice roof over my head and a furnace... and now it's snowing, though only 40 degrees, but that could change. Heating up chicken and sausage gumbo (out of a can.) I hope to do better on future trips as I have the fridge to keep fresh food. 

Day Four: April 3, 2013
Coyote Creek State Park, Mora, Villanueva State Park

Morning view of the mountain across the valley from my campsite at Coyote Creek SP.
It sounded like it rained lightly for many hours last night. I think I had the thermostat set a little high. 

Making coffee. A small amount of snow is sticking to the tops of posts and grasses. The earth apparently is too warm for it to stick.

Oak leaves along the Ridge Trail
Took the hiking trail at the park, up and across the ridge behind the campground. Very scenic, some steep areas, and a very tricky spot with a big boulder and a drop-off, but worthwhile.
A pair of Northen Flickers resting up from active courting.

Discovered for myself the infamous camper "condensation problem" this morning when I went to lower the top. At least I hope that's what it is and not a leaky roof. Glad I had some small sponges to wipe the vinyl sides and the edge of the ceiling. I'd at least read about this in the camper forums, so didn't panic

Headed to Mora. Wow! I've never seen so many Prairie Dogs - all running back and forth across the highway. A very beautiful area with wide, green grass valleys and evergreen covered hills.

The truck seems "bouncy" at around 30 or 35 mph. This is somewhat disturbing. I'd noticed the same thing yesterday. It's very smooth at 45. I guess it is an air bag and/or tire thing. May be aggravated by road and wind conditions. When I talked to others about adding air bags, lots of people then mentioned upgraded shocks, maybe this is why.


Had a wonderful lunch in the little town Mora! Blue-corn, traditional New Mexican, enchiladas filled with beef brisket, beans and rice on the side, plus two fine sopapillas. Red and green chile. All this at a place called "Rene's 50s Diner." Who would have thunk it? I'll certainly stop here again if I'm anywhere nearby.

Put an extra 10 pounds of air in each bag to see if that would help. Changed the oscillation point, but not much. 

Drove through some more rain on the way down to Las Vegas to pick up the freeway to my next small highway, NM 3. I thought this might make a good shortcut someday for getting between I-40 and I-25, but it is 25 mph through too many sections. 

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised how much farming there is along the Pecos through here. Probably has been since the first settlers. 

Villanueva State Park

Villanueva SP turns out it is very popular with the RV crowd, unlike the previous parks this trip. Looks like many are here for the max stay. The lower end of the campground was less populated as there are only a few electric sites. Found a nice spot for me, not too close to others and close to the Pecos River. The campground is on one side of the river, the other side is a tall, dramatic limestone cliff. There were lots of birds singing, too, though still windy with low clouds. 

Campsite. Pecos River is directly at the base of the cliff; about 30' from my camper.
When I opened the back of the camper there was some wetness on the floor. I think just from things, such as the door mat, being wet when I put them away, even though I'd put the wettest in plastic bags. Thought I'd finally try out my Strongback chair, but since it had been on the floor, folded up, it was wet, too. Darn. Got it in the sun to dry and I'm sitting on a rock writing this!

Took a lovely walk down the river. Gorgeous vistas of the river and cliffs, and the piñon pines and junipers. Lots of Townsend's Solitaires. When I stopped at the Visitor Center for a trail map, she asked if I'd like some Civil War info about the area and was surprised when I said "no." Guess there's some history here besides the Conquistadors.

Downstream from the campground. (Did some exposure blending in post processing the photo.)
View full-size

While I took the walk, the chair dried. So this is the life, sitting in my extremely comfortable chair by the Pecos, sipping a little Jack Daniels, as I listen to the river, watch the clouds and the birds flying to and from the great limestone cliff on the other bank. I have my camera and long lens just in case a bird wants to pose. (None did) ... Well, couldn't last, as the sun is getting lower, the cool winds are picking up. Will have to move and see if it will be warm enough in the sun. Well, the sun extended my ideal only for a few more moments before the chilly winds drove me inside. It is still only early April, after all.

Day Five: April 4, 2013
Villanueva State Park and back home

Have I mentioned how pleased I am with having the satellite radio? The SiriusXM speaker dock, aka, boom box, works great off of the house battery. It does not come with a 12 volt power plug, only a 120 vac adapter, but I took a plug & cable from an AA battery charger and it works fine. I had FWC install the antenna option, a bit overpriced, but works great. 

Coffee is perking. I'm hoping 8 minutes will be perfect... mmm, not bad. Then breakfast and the ridge loop hike. 

Walked around the campground trying to take a few bird photos. Will have to see how they turn out... (again, not good enough to post.)

Footbridge from campground to Loop Trail. Looks like a bridge to no where, doesn't it?
At the end, turn left for trail clinging to the edge of the cliff, loop up and over, then return from the right.
Hiked the Viewpoint Loop Trail. OMG! Steep, rocky and longer than I'd thought, but very cool. It really goes way up there. When you look at the cliff face from below it doesn't look that high, but from up there it looks very high… then the trail goes even higher over a couple more hills before descending.

View from Overlook Rock of the Pecos and State Park. The river bends, but not as much as in this perspective.
I was too chicken prudent to stand too close to the edge, so this composite of three photos is missing the middle section of the river. View full-size in a new tab.
I was really ready for my ham & swiss sandwich on my return. Packed up and headed home.

What a great trip!

Hope you enjoyed the post. I'll look forward to your comments. You can subscribe to the RSS feed if you want to get new posts via your feed reader - still a popular method for reading blogs even if Google did kill off their reader due to "lack of demand."


  1. Mr. Bill,congrats on the new camper and maiden voyage! Exciting, exciting, exciting, isn't it to be using your rig after so much planning. We enjoyed your trip report and photos. We look forward to many more! Our best.

  2. Very cool, Bill. I'm glad you finally got your FWC. When I camped at Sugarite, there was a 21st birthday celebration with boozing and music going on at a campsite near me. I didn't have an app to mask the noise then, but I added one soon after! Sugarite must be a Raton party spot.

    I've subscribed to your blog :)

    1. Thanks, Highz. Yeah, Sugarite is too close to Raton not to attract partiers. Villanueva is worth a trip. It may be a bit warm in the heat of the summer, though there are lots of shade trees.

  3. Great shake down trip. Didn't seem to have too many problems besides the condensation or rain wetness. I just downloaded the Sleep Machine app, so thanks for that tip. I don't have my FWC yet, but am planning on getting one in the next year. So any things you wish you would have done differently will be interesting. I have a 2013 DCLB Tacoma and know I will need airbags or leaves, too. Keep the flow coming.

  4. Thanks, sassygirl. I'm still learning the camper, so don't know all the issues, but no deal breakers so far. Condensation is only a problem when it is very cold outside, warm inside and humid. NM is rarely humid, so I only noticed it the one time it had rained lightly most of the night. It seems like a great way to camp. I chose air bags so I could balance from side to side, which I only have to do a small amount.

  5. Enjoyed your report Bill. I've checked out your other blog too. I've birded for forty years. You've got some great photos. By coincidence my wife and I spent last night at Villa Nueva SP on our way home from the Trinity site. Enjoyed it very much. We hadn't previously been aware of it but were looking for a spot away from the interstate.
    I was surprised by the farming along the river but probably shouldn't have been. We get into NM three or four times a year and always enjoy NM's parks.
    Nice new rig...

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Unknown.

      The Pecos was the only reliable water in the region. If you "fly" along the river with Google Maps, or equivalent, you'll see pockets of agriculture where ever there is good, flat soil. At least until the flow dries up.

  6. Great read Bill! Sounds like quite the way to break in the camper.


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