We decided to spend March and most of May in Albuquerque New Mexico to investigate building a home base on a small acreage rural lot on the opposite side of the Sandia Mountains from Albuquerque; the East Mountains as it is called there. Just a twenty-minute drive around the Sandias would bring us to all the shopping we would need, and forty-five minutes would get us to Santa Fe. The community we bought in seems remote and quiet, adjacent to the Cibola National Forest in an oasis of juniper and pinyon pine forest overlooking the San Pedro and Sandia Mountains.
As a base for our investigations we moved into a KOA campground in Bernalillo, a small city just north of Albuquerque. Although surrounded by a sketchy neighborhood, the KOA was clean and well maintained and a good deal for the area at $540/month for a full hookup site. We didn’t plan to spend every day working on house plans; we had places to visit and friends to see too and mixed those pleasures with business.
Although we had drawn up our own house plans, we needed a designer/architect to transform them into official buildable plans that we could present to various contractors. So, our first order of business was to find a reasonably priced designer to work with. We soon found most architects were only interested in building gigantic palaces for retirees with fees to match. But, after a few interviews we found Mike, a retired bull rider turned designer that shared our ideas for a modestly sized home.
While Mike refined our plans, we explored the area. We went to the Albuquerque balloon museum which was surprisingly interesting (those guys are crazy). We familiarized ourselves with artsy Santa Fe and more commercial Albuquerque. We rode the tramway to the crest of the Sandia Mountains to hike through late spring snowdrifts and hiked a desert canyon into the Sandia Wilderness. I rode my mountain bike through the foothills of the Sandias and we visited with family and friends.
We took a couple all-day trips farther afield. One day we spent at Chaco Canyon National Monument, a must see for anyone interested in pre-Columbian cultures. Set in a wide, low canyon the four-hundred year old finely built stone buildings were grouped into small cities along the canyon and were amazing. There’s even a campground there; a good thing since the area is far from anything.
Another day we made the three-hour drive to the Bisti Badlands, a BLM wilderness area in northwestern New Mexico and a strange landscape of low canyons filled with weirdly shaped rocks and hoodoos. The long drive was well worth the wanderings through the lonely canyons full of stone toadstools.
We finalized our plans with Mike and hired a surveyor to stake out the house footprint on the property. It was exciting to see where our house would be and to imagine our eventual home among the juniper and pinyon pine forests. Next will come the big work; excavation and building. But that won’t start until the spring of 2020.
Until then, there’s more traveling to do. We left our comfortable camp in Bernalillo and started the long drive northward to the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon. Our first stop was an out-of-the-way place we’d wanted to see for a while; the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. There are three camping loops there; one first come, first serve for tents or small RVs, another loop with full hookups for big rigs, and third loop with just electricity for medium sized rigs like ours. There’s no dump station there and water is limited, so come prepared. But, the stop was worth it. The canyon is a narrow, 2,000 foot deep gorge with white and black striped canyon walls. Short hikes take you to magnificent overlooks, while a steep, strenuous all-day hike gets you to the bottom of the canyon. With my senior pass park entry fees were waived and we paid half price to camp, normally about $20/night.
Our next stop, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We reserved a site at Canyon Rim campground and arrived amidst snow showers, greeted by a small herd of bighorn mountain sheep grazing by our campsite. The water was still turned off for the year and the visitors’ center closed, but we had come prepared for that. The following day we hiked the canyon rim trail with views into the red rock canyon and the Green River far below. With our senior discount our camp was about $10night, and we were almost the only people there. But, this place looks like it would be very busy in summer.
As we hitched up to leave the following morning disaster struck. The locking jaws on our trailer hitch didn’t latch all the way onto the receiving pin on the trailer, and as I pulled out the entire fifth wheel trailer slid off the hitch and onto the bed of the truck. The damage to the truck and trailer was minor, but while trying to lift the trailer off the truck I over-stressed the lifting legs and the motor quit working. Luckily we had an emergency hand crank and a tripod that we use to stabilize the trailer once set up. So, using those tools to extend the legs enough to hitch the trailer back up again we were able to travel on. But, for the next few days I had to hand crank the trailer up and down to hitch and unhitch it from the truck until I finally discovered that it was just a blown fuse in the leg assembly which I replaced and now the legs work normally with their electric lifting motor. Still, it was a warning not to short cut our normal hitching up procedures (we always check that the locking jaws are completely set, except this time).
We had planned to spend a few nights in Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern Idaho before driving into the Wallowas, but steady rain changed our plans and we spent the next two nights in private RV parks instead before arriving at one of our favorite campsites; a U.S. Forest Service campground outside of La Grande Oregon; Bird Track Springs. No water, no power, no dump station, but a good cellular signal and we spent our last two nights on the road in this quiet and beautiful camp. At $5/night it can’t be beat.
Now we’ll spend the next month in a RV park in tiny Joseph at the head of the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon. We’ll summer on the Puget Sound north of Seattle, and finally, make the long, slow trip south to winter in Arizona one more time before we begin to build next spring. In November we’ll store the trailer to travel for a month along the Mexican Caribbean before settling into Tucson for the winter. At least that’s today’s plan.