SMELLS LIKE CAMPING SPIRIT (A few words about spring)


(A few words about spring)

Here in the southwest winter is just coming to an end, which is one of the main reasons I spend the winter here, and today the air was filled with the aroma of outdoor cooking. And yes, I added heartily to it.

The BBQ season is nine to ten months long, depending on whether or not you can handle two months of 1100f + temperatures in the summer. I leave so that little bit of Heaven can pass without me. Though there was a summer spent in Southern Arizona just to experience the true sense of desert.

One day while sweeping the sand, lizards and scorpions off my patio I happened to notice the thermometer. The day felt very warm. Oh, it was. The thermometer, in the shade, read 1140f. I was not really hot until I saw that. It is a dry heat, really. Then I wondered how long it would take me to get my dumb butt back inside. Not long.

So the campground on Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico is now buzzing. The bees are back. That is an excellent sign of spring. When the temperature is below 550f most bees can’t fly, or maybe their little stingers freeze-up or something, but when they are out in force it is a definite sign that spring is right down the road.

Birds tell us about spring, too. They fly fast and low with their wing tips almost grazing the water, and boy do they sing in the spring. They are happy little birds singing with all their might to attract a mate and signal to other birds that they are back in action.

And then there are the insects. Speaking ill of something so necessary to the equilibrium of the planet goes a bit against my grain, but being bitten, crawled upon and buzzed is not my idea of fun. There is a Bottle fly in the Sierras that is so big with such a hard body that the first time one hit me on the head I thought it was a darling youngster with a BB gun. That is also why I love seeing the insectivore birds, lizards, dragonflies and bats, hoping they will fill the sky at sunset. Of course the lizards do not fly and though the Springtime garner dragonfly can reach 60 mph, it and the Blue dasher dragonfly generally stay close to the water. The dasher actually perches and waits for prey to flit by. That is a smart dragonfly. Being coldblooded dragonflies are also subject to air temperature, like bees, but are surely one of the most beautiful little critters on the planet, with bees bringing up a close second.

Just now the plants are coming to life as well. Brittlebush and creosote will bloom bright yellow, the elegant white flowers of the Datura are soon to come and yesterday a Cane cholla showed the yellow buds that will open into gorgeous cactus flowers. The desert absolutely enlivens in the spring.

Then again, it is only a couple hours drive to Albuquerque were there are shopping malls, Starbuck’s, 5-star restaurants and theaters. Nah, I will take dragonflies and cactus flowers any day.

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Rocks are one of my passions, right up there with root beer floats and, attesting to my age, Daisy Duke shorts. Sometimes it is not the rock type that is interesting, but the shape of the rock. It seems that the most common question I am asked is, “What made this rock so round?” In the studies of geology and sedimentology one encounters many unusual, yet natural shapes. Recently someone asked what the rock balls just up from the lakeshore are. Now, that is an interesting question.

Look at the formation of rock ‘balls’ below. What are they? How were they made?



These funny looking sort of un-rocks are called nodules or concretions and are generally a combination of two components, a solid center mass DSCN3717and an encrusting outer material. They are sort of like an old Tootsie Pop. The Pop, however, was hard on the outside and chewy in the middle. These are the opposite. Chew the center of a nodule and you will be gumming everything else for some time. It is usually made of manganese, cobalt or some other very hard metal. I am sure some of the young people immediately thought ‘oh yeah, like Metallica.’ No, that is Heavy Metal. Not like gold, but they do have a Gold Record. And now that some of the old people are completely confused, let us return to nodules.

What is interesting about them here is that they usually occur on the seafloor and we are hundreds of miles from the closest ocean. Just recently a German research ship, the R/V Sonne, while cruising a few hundred miles east of Barbados discovered a seafloor littered with manganese nodules ranging from soft ball to bowling ball size. Mine are not quite that big, only about baseball size, but they are very nice balls none-the-less.

Manganese nodules have been found in every ocean, though most occur in the Pacific. Exactly how they are formed is still a mystery, but excess metals reacting in sea water or close to underwater hydrothermal vents, maybe with the help of microbes, is the most possible method.

At times when scientists cannot explain an occurrence with certainty they use the SWAG method, a Scientific Wild-ass Guess.

The chemistry of nodules, however, is well-known, but I will not bore you with that aspect, though I find it extremely fascinating, and it could be considered rather complex. Unraveling a nodule is a little like peeling an onion that has lain around for several million years while surface material is continually added in semi-liquid or viscous form, adheres and hardens. The real rub, so to speak, is that one cannot know what is encased within the ball until it is opened or viewed with remote sensing equipment.

Imagine walking down the street and you see a man coming toward you. What can you tell about him? From a distance all you can see is his clothing. What does that tell you about what is inside? Usually very little unless he is not wearing clothes, at which time I suggest running. As he gets closer you can see the clothing more distinctly, his face, skin and maybe a hat. Closer still and imperfections in the skin become visible; the condition of the clothing and how well it fits is obvious. You still cannot tell exactly what is inside, but you can make an educated guess. That is also how a geologist looks at a rock. There are textures and colors, weight and hardness, general shape and condition that can reveal much.

And no, that does not answer the question of how they got here in the southwestern desert of North America. To uncover the answer we must go back in time. In Jules Verne’s “The Time Machine” a man goes through time finding all sorts of wonderful things including pretty women. All we are looking for are rocks. They are rocks that form under water, so when was New Mexico covered with sea water?

There is a geologic model explaining this called transgressive/regressive seas. It describes how ocean water transgresses, or covers the land and then regresses, or retreats back into the ocean basin. A surfer would love transgression; a real estate agent would love regression. So when did this happen? First we have to go back a ways. Do not start looking for last year’s calendar; we are going back 450 million years to the Ordovician Period. Then, in the Silurian Period about 420 million years ago the land dried up again. The sea went back and forth several more times until we approach more modern times a mere 100 million years ago during the Mid-Cretaceous Period when the Western Interior Seaway covered the entire central portion of the United States, including all of New Mexico. This is the period in which these nodules most likely formed.

It was a warm, tropical sea. We know that by the widespread carbonate deposition and calcareous algae. There were times when the seafloor went through periods of anoxia, devoid of oxygen. At the end of the Cretaceous the Laramide Orogeny (uplift; mountain building event) lifted silt and sandstone which we walk on today called the Laramie Formation.

So, if you ever wondered how fossils of flora and fauna that lived in the ocean could be found in the dry southwestern desert, now you know. When you visit the lakes or dry ancient sea beds of the central United States look carefully, you never know what might be at your feet.

(Has anyone found a contact lens? My girlfriend dropped one. Some paleontologist will probably find it in a million years and declare there were creatures with glass eyes living in the Cenozoic era.)

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It has been suggested that the word ‘gypsy’ has its origin in Egypt and that Egyptians were the first gypsies. Romanians and Hungarians might take acceptation to that and claim that their ancestors were the original gypsies. In fact, when gypsies first appeared in Europe in the 16th century the French, wrongly believing they were from Egypt, called them ‘gyptiens.’ To many Romani people ‘gypsy’ is an offensive term, which outsiders rarely understand. In her heyday Cher recorded a hit song, “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” which speaks directly to the offensive nature of the word and is definitely not a glowing endorsement of their character. And it might interest you to know, if you do not, that there is a Gypsy, West Virginia with a thriving population of 328 people whom I doubt drive wooden, arched top wagons, read tarot cards or have had any experience with werewolves.
Long before I knew any real facts my concept of gypsies was that of a colorful bunch of wandering, fun-loving people who were clever, resourceful and altogether unaffected by social pressures to conform. That could easily describe me as well. My first CB ‘handle’ was Gypsy and it was the name of my dog. I have always been attracted to the idealistic notion that the term gypsy invents in my mind, which usually involves a dark-haired woman wearing brightly colored clothing and lots of jewelry.
It is with that in mind that my reference to gypsies is a very positive, romantic one. I like them. Traveling as I do I occasionally meet people who fit my concept of “gypsy.” They are interesting, colorful, rather shy folks who live on the fringe of modern civilization. As Carly Simon once put it, ‘they dance to their own rhythm.’
These are not people one would not meet in the city lunching at the most trendy bistro or perusing department stores named for designers. Modern appliances and electronics are no more a part of their life as a squirrel rifle and buck skinning knife is to most people today. Okay, bad analogy. I own both as do many of you, but the point is, American gypsies are real people who live in the real world and that world is their own. They are not influenced by social pressures, which may be the most important factor about who they are.
A friend of mine living in Arizona who was on his second ‘tablet’ in less than a year travelled to California and upon seeing that a new ‘tablet’ had emerged that was a must-buy for most everyone there jumped in the cattle line and bought a another new one. A true gypsy does not own a ‘tablet’ or even know how to operate one because he has no need for one. My friend who felt he had a crucial need for the latest one complained later that he had great difficulty operating it. Life is funny that way.
Imagine life without the latest electronics. Now take a deep breath, it was only a suggestion. Breathe and release, life is not about to play such a harsh trick on you. To slip even farther into the past, imagine life without electricity at all, and no running water. We take these things for granted and cannot conceive of life without them, yet there are people who choose to live without what most people consider basic necessities. Why, and how?
First, picture yourself living in a 6 x 10 foot space with no television, computer, central heat or cooling system and no, God forbid, dishwasher. Would life even be possible? Of course it would, although not terribly desirable to most people. We tend to think of anyone living in such conditions as impoverished and unfortunate. A great many of them would agree and wish fervently to better their situation, but not all of them. To some people this is a chosen way of life. They are true gypsies; people of self-reliance who dare to live for the simple enjoyment of being.
When asked “why,” one answer resonates time and time again, “freedom.” “The freedom is addictive,” said one of the first gypsies I ever met. “I work the boats (tourist day fishing) when I need money, then go up in the mountains and kick back for a couple weeks. I go where I want and do what I want. That would be real f—ing hard to give up, man.”
One of the few single women I have met doing the gypsy life said that after 7 years she rented an apartment and tried to conform to ‘normal’ life. It lasted 4 months. She said the noise of the city along with the throngs of people made it too uncomfortable for her to remain there.
An Apache medicine woman who has become a friend tells me that she finds it amusing when people are confounded by her gypsy lifestyle. She cannot understand how they could be so dependent on modern conveniences and considers it a weakness. Her life, she says, is about living with nature rather than living in contrast to it.
But what about the hardships of not having modern conveniences? How does one manage a daily routine of cooking and cleaning without something as basic as running water? Most of these folks travel between public campgrounds where water is available. It really is quite simple. You put water in a container and carry it to your campsite. An outdoor stove or campfire heats the water for washing and is used for cooking. In the evening there are oil lamps, candles and battery or gas powered lanterns for light. Without television or a stereo system for entertainment why have light at all? Well, you just might want to be able to see the person you are talking to. That is an ancient art called conversation which is done verbally rather than with a key pad. If you have not tried it recently it might amaze you how much fun it can be.
Oddly enough, entertainment is not something these folks are lacking. Most are voracious readers. They almost literally inhale books. This appetite for reading also makes them good conversationalists. Music is normally a big part of gypsy life. When music does not come out of a box it is necessary to make it yourself, so guitars, fiddles, banjos and flutes are commonly found at the evening’s campfire. And then there are handicrafts of all sorts. Working with leather, jewelry, carving, painting and weaving are among the favorites.
From the outside looking in it might appear that gypsy life is unappealing, but as with most everything it is all a matter of perspective. There are very few people cut out for gypsy life. Those who are do not apologize or make excuses for the life they have chosen. In fact, they care little what mainstream society thinks of them. If clocking in and out, mowing the lawn on Saturday and fetching the morning newspaper in your jammies just as the sprinklers go on is your Shangri-La, be happy about that, but also be happy for people who have found enjoyment in other ways of living.
My latest gypsy encounter was with the wonderful couple in the photos, Dan and Cherokee. I feel very privileged to be allowed to bring them to you. Cherokee, who is an American Cherokee Indian, had never before allowed a photograph of her to be taken. They live in this converted horse trailer with only one modern convenience, a battery powered radio. Dan spent his youth cowboying in Nevada and Colorado. Cherokee’s past is as mysterious as her dark, enchanting eyes. They have little of the modern world in their life, but the things they do have are worth much more, love and contentment.




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When Coyotes Shiver and Lizards Quiver

When Coyotes Shiver and Lizards Quiver


There are two huge misunderstandings about the southwest: One, it never rains in Southern California and two; it does not snow in the desert. Look at the photos below. What do you think?


First off, when Hammond and Hazlewood wrote that song it was not really about rain anyway, but the difference between what we want and what we get, a notion lost on a lot of people who thought it was a serious statement concerning climatic conditions in California. Trust me, it rains there.



Secondly, it was not long ago when two news anchors, whom I will not embarrass by identifying, indulged in a rather inane conversation speculating on whether or not deserts get snow. Being unable to solve this enigma between them and with no one (meaning the director) in their ear to clarify the issue, they vowed to get the answer from the weatherman. I suppose it is possible that they never go outside in winter or take the 120 mile trip south to see the Organ pipe cactus glittering with snow and icicles.

Last week it was 70 degrees

Last week it was 70 degrees

I have seen the Organ pipe cactus in Arizona glazed in winter and the Joshua trees in California looking like giant, skinny snowmen. Of course in California they have to be skinny and are actually ‘snowpeople.’ In both Nevada and Utah there are many regions of the Great Basin desert prone to snow and once on a camping trip to the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, only 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas, my party was snowed-in for two days. Then there was the motorcycle trip through the desert alongside the Colorado River when a snowstorm delayed the journey for three days, spent at a motel in Searchlight, Nevada. Truth be told, I only had to spend two days there, but met some local bikers and had just too much fun to leave. If you have never been to that little berg in the middle of nowhere, it can be more fun than gluing quarters to the sidewalk to watch passers-by try to pick them up. The weirdest desert weather I have ever encountered was not actually snow, but an ice storm, which is weird enough when you consider that it was in Death Valley.

So here is New Mexico blanketed in white freezing fluff. The elevation may be a little higher (4,465 ft) than other southwestern deserts, but at only ~3 degrees north of the Horse Latitudes (where most global deserts occur) waking up to heavy snowfall streaming sideways from the north is very exciting, especially when you do not have to shovel it. In Alaska they call lateral snow a ‘williwaw.’ A local friend described it here as a ‘skiff.’ No matter what you call it snow in the desert is one of Mother Nature’s most pleasant surprises.


Naked and alone. What supreme being would condone this?

Naked and alone. What supreme being would condone this?

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  1. Holiday cheer >>>>>> Whatever is in that flask in your bottom desk drawer under the phony report.
  2. Wrapping papers>>>>>> Glossy paper for wrapping presents unless you’re in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington or the District of Columbia (not to be confused with the South American country) where you are certain to have an extremely merry and mellow Christmas, if you remember it.
  3. Yule log>>>>> A thick tree branch decorated with the leftover junk from tree trimming. I have a great Yul Brenner joke, but it is highly inappropriate.
  4. Balsam fir>>>> Illegal and immoral use of animal hide. No one wants to see a cute little naked Balsam running around (does anyone know what they actually look like?) Oh, I see, f-i-r. Never mind.
  5. Christmas goose>>>>> An office prank that used to get giggles but now gets lawsuit papers.
  6. The Grinch>>>>> Don’t pee on Santa’s lap and you’ll never have to find out.
  7. Snow balls>>>>> Do you remember the cute little polar bear cub from the PBS special named Snow? I really don’t have to explain this, do I?
  8. Christmas time>>>>> A very short period of highly publicized time, which is much like what the rich and/or politicians get for committing heinous crimes. So the next time one of those rulings comes down just say to yourself or your friend, “He/she is doing Christmas time.”
  9. Christmas Carol>>>>> Everyone’s favorite office girl.
  10. Christmas Eve>>>>> The first favorite office girl.
  11. Christmas nuts>>>>> Everyone in the office except the boss, he/she is special. Just so-o-o-o darn special.
  12. Christmas cookies>>>>> Information on the Net that will haunt you until next Christmas.
  13. Scrooge>>>>> Boyfriends/husbands who re-gift something to you or tell you they don’t give gifts because it would cheapen or objectify your relationship.
  14. Ghost of Christmas Past>>>>> A gift re-gifted to the original gifter; for the second time. If it’s your boss go straight to the Website,
  15. Ghost of Christmas Present>>>>> Wrapping the embroidered linen hankies for your girlfriend and the Victoria’s Secret (she doesn’t really have any, does she?) undergarments from the Marquis de Sade Collection for your cheek pinching Aunt Mable. (Cheek pinching could take on a whole new meaning)
  16. Fruitcake>>>>> What someone’s teenage daughter brought to Christmas dinner. Not on the table, sitting beside her. (this one’s especially for my sister)


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Here’s to Christmas, the bird and the tree

Hang your balls and string up your lights

Decorate the windows for all to see

‘Cause the little Fat Man is a-comin’ tonight.


He’s a peeping Tom as we all know

While you are sleeping he’ll be checkin’ you out

He’ll hide his sleigh somewhere in the snow

He’s a sneaky ol’ elf, there ain’t no doubt.


You might get candy and you might get toys

You might get socks and a Christmas tie

But there will be something good for all good boys

If they stop givin’ the girls a line and a lie.


So here’s to Christmas, one day of the year

When joy, love and a snowman will fill up your yard

Have a special glass of Christmas cheer

And don’t get caught lovin’ your neighbor too hard.



Many thanks and Merry Christmas to all my readers. No matter what tradition you celebrate I have created the 5 Commandments of Christmas for all of us.


  1. Give more than you get
  2. Love your friends for their shortcomings as well as their virtues
  3. Don’t be a judge or critic; be a supporter and strengthener
  4. Strike the word “hate’ from your personal lexicon
  5. Don’t annoy people with an idealistic New Year resolution that you won’t keep anyway



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(An editorial engendered by recent comments from my gender)


Do you remember Jimmy Dean’s hit song “Big Bad John” from 1961? If you do, you are old. I remember it. I was only two…, okay I was a little older that. I really liked that song because it was about strength and integrity and a man doing what he knew was right. Times have changed. Big Bad John does not have to be a brawny, timber cracking hero anymore. If you think I am wrong take a look the TV shows of today and the movies. All of my movie heroes were Big Bad Johns, like The Duke.

Back in those days we had dozens of “Bigger than Life” actors that were tagged with the epithet, “a Man’s man.” There was Bogie, Granger, Cliff, Conrad, Montgomery, Hudson – who was more akin to that epithet than we ever knew – and the list seems to stop with the era of Willis, Stallone and the one and only Arnold, who hates ‘Arnie,’ by the way, in case you ever run into him. And back through the fifties there was even one woman who could claim a heroic title right alongside the list of men, Irish McCalla who played in the TV series “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.”

Wow, has that scene ever changed. Now female action heroes are as numerous as males. Personally, this situation thrills me to no extent. I love female ‘tough guys,’ or should I say ‘tough gals?’ And any one of them could kick sand in the face of the infamous ‘ninety-eight pound weakling’ that was so mercilessly made sport of ‘way back when.’ Although, today it seems like he is the perfect guy. He is also in the new generation of action heroes. A pencil thin mustache was once considered manly. Today a pencil thin man is manly, sometimes anyway.

Now, a lot of men from my era are having a major problem with how things are changing and are questioning what happened to the manly man, and what is the deal with effeminate men acting all sensitive and such.

This might be a good time to jog your memory a bit. You see, back in ‘the day’ there was a real life hero, a soldier named Audie Leon Murphy who was the most decorated soldier of World War II (33 decorations). Murphy was 5 feet 5inches tall and was originally turned down for military service because he was underweight. The point is this; heroes come in all sizes, and genders. If you want to see what a real life female hero looks like take a look at Harriet Tubman, one of my personal favorites. Her exploits in American history are legendary.

So maybe the time has come to look at the reality of our heroes. It is not always might that makes right; sometimes it just takes the right person at the right time with the right heart to be mighty.

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Arachnophobia is not For Everyone – A word or two about good spiders

Arachnophobia is not For Everyone

Just hangin' around

Just hangin’ around

People fear spiders. But really, it should be the other way around. “Quick, come kill this spider!” is something we have all heard more than once in our lives. Did you ever ask yourself why?

At a lakeside campground one afternoon last summer my girlfriend was walking behind my camp when I suddenly exclaimed, “Stop! Don’t go any farther.” About two feet in front of her, at face height, was a rather impressive spider web. She was very happy that I had stopped her from wrapping her face in spider silk until I unwittingly explained that I was actually protecting the spider. She would have absolutely ruined Cocoa’s web.

Cocoa was a Kukulcania hibernalis, a female ‘Weaver or House spider,’ who the day before I had watched weave that web laboriously and with great care. She was a master web builder.

How do I know she was a she? Why, taxonomy of course. First, there is color. She was velvety black. Males of her species are commonly brown, and thus confused with the Brown recluse. Her abdomen was large. Males are smaller. Her legs were short. Males have long legs, another reason for the confusion with the recluse.

Check out her legs; a little hairy but nice stripes.

Check out her legs; a little hairy but nice stripes.

It is that matter of confusion that has caused many males to end up on the bottom of someone’s shoe, the underside of a rolled up newspaper or splattered into the crevices of a fly swatter. These are disturbing events to someone like me who understands the benefits of spiders and actually likes them. They are really quite intricately beautiful creatures. It is very hard to convince someone of that when they see eight hairy legs on a big butt crawling up their arm. “Don’t smash it, brush it off” is a sentence I have never been able to complete in time.

Spider Olympics, the next craze.

Spider Olympics, the next craze.

This girl could go gold.

This girl could go gold.

Consider this; how much do you like flies and mosquitoes in your house? I would bet, not very much. Spiders eat them. The Kukulcania will eat almost anything it can overpower and/or gets tangled in it’s web, such as grasshoppers, cockroaches, mosquitoes and aphids.  This also helps prevent diseases they carry. Spiders will actually consume most of the pesky insects in your house or garden. Spider silk and venom are used in medical research. The venom is being developed into a substance to treat arthritis and heart disease. In South America and Asia large spiders are eaten. Okay, that does not mean much considering some of the other disgusting things they eat. Last, but certainly not least, there is the entertainment value they provide. The “Spiderman” movies and comics are terrific and well-worth the movie ticket price, as long as you do not find a spider in your popcorn. And finally, who is not almost brought to tears of laughter when a spider drops in on someone unexpectedly and they flail around with arms waving wildly, screaming and running as if the voodoo Lamia demon had just planted a big wet kiss on them.

The reality of spiders is that they are mostly a docile, well-mannered species that benefits us humans by their mere existence. If you take the time to look closely at their varied shapes and especially coloration you might discover an appreciation rather than an apprehension for our eight legged neighbors.

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Years ago Johnny Cash recorded “A Boy Named Sue.” It was about strength and the power of being. Very recently the most complete fossil remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex was uncovered in the Black Hills. I am not going to go into specifics, listing names and agencies and legalities because those things are totally irrelevant to me. The T-Rex was named Sue. It is an amazing discovery. It was seized by the federal government like Horner’s Duckbill discovery in Wyoming. And this too, is a tragedy.

Sue is not about social context or the legalities of ownership; Sue is about science. Is everything in our society boiled down to dollar value, or are there some things that outweigh profit? Does knowledge have any value at all? Do we only learn mathematics so we can calculate revenue? It seems that the federal government thinks so. They obviously place no value on scientific endeavor, and are only interested in the dollar value that can be placed on the products of research and knowledge.

How foolish it is to believe that monetary wealth can conquer every awful thing; that nothing can be learned without profit and that the discoveries of science are only worth that for which they can be sold.

Greed is one of the “Seven Deadly Sins.” And if you are thinking this is conceived as a sin only against a Christian God, you are wrong. This is a sin against all of humankind because when it is perpetrated against society it is a global offense.

As a thinking, free people we have the right to knowledge. I understand that this type of knowledge may not be of great magnitude to some of you, but remember that inquiring minds even want to know where Elvis is, and some inquiring minds want to know everything.

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I Took The Right Road – a desert adventure, with water



Some time ago I wrote about New Mexico’s state parks having an environment for every camper. So now it is time to take you to a lakeshore camp and show you exactly what is at the end of the right road for me.

Here is the road. Not exactly a super-highway, is it? It is sometimes slow going over dirt, rock and sand, especially when the road has little washboard ripples and a sinkhole or two. The sides are soft, but the road center is firm.








The lake is Elephant Butte where I have enjoyed many camping trips. This is my favorite New Mexico lake, conveniently close to one of my favorite little towns, Elephant Butte, which is semi-connected to the town of Truth or Consequences. They tell me it was named for the old game show. Hmm!?

Just before the turnoff to Elephant Butte State Park there is an up-scale RV park, all concrete with loads of modern facilities including a pool and spa. It is part of the Elephant Butte Inn which is across the street featuring an excellent restaurant and ‘premium’ cocktail lounge where they pour from the well what most lounges only serve as ‘call’ drinks. They also have an impressive selection of beers, fish and chips that will make you start calling everyone ‘matey’ and the friendliest staff in town. So why would I venture out a dirt road to the end of nowhere, leaving all that crunchy, sweet goodness behind?

This is why. Solitude and beauty.



To steal and torture a bit of poetry:

I think no one shall ever make,

A concrete pool, to match a lake

A lake that in its waters cool,

Are not the chemicals of a pool.

A lake whose shore is home and nest,

For egrets, herons and all the rest.

A lake where stars at night can twinkle,

And only little fishies tinkle.

This lake is at the southern end of the Rio Grande rift, a valley oriented north/south that is a product of the first Laramide compression and then volcanism. The butte which the area was named for is actually a basaltic intrusion from that event. The famous K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary is evident where Cretaceous sandstone beds line the west bank of the Rio Grande. That boundary is famous because it is about 65 million years old marking the end of dinosaur era.

In June 2014 another bit of fame came into view when the lake was lowered. Some bachelor partying campers came upon one of the most complete fossils ever found of a stegomastodon, a 3.2 million-year-old larger version of a modern elephant. Personally, I find the present day pachyderm to be quite large enough; not sure why we would want a bigger one. They weighed about 6.5 tons, and most of us think we have weight problems. No one had yet invented zumba or aerobics, so you can imagine that bikini season was a fright (quite possibly this writer needs to spend more time with humans).

When the stegomastodon lived New Mexico was warmer and wetter and the large fellow had some interesting neighbors including giant tortoises, giant camels and even a species of rhino. However, the small, hairy, grunting bipeds that would have been its only predator had not yet arrived from the northwest. Humans would not be here for about another 3.18 million years; lucky stegomastodon.

Today I am also lucky because where I am going is very remote, on the east side of Rattlesnake Island. Yes, island. The water is low enough to connect the island to the west shore of the lake by a spit of dry land. This is sort of like what happened during the last ice age (Wisconsin-Würm) when the bottom of the Bering Strait, only about 320 feet deep, became a dry land bridge allowing people to cross from Asia to North America. Those were some seriously hearty folks. As adventurous as I am, I will not go twenty miles without AAA roadside insurance. You guys should imagine trying to talk your wife into a little holiday jaunt like that one. Maybe next spring you should use that sort of adventure as a lead-in to the fishing trip you ‘really’ want to take. Sometimes starting with absurdity cushions reality.

Driving a sandy road like the one ahead of me requires a bit more concentration than driving on a highway. Well, unless you are in New York or southern California. An 18,000 pound RV is not really the ideal vehicle for such a trek, but carefulness and experience are good partners to travel with. Besides, this road is better than some of the red clay roads in the Appalachians Dad and I drove in deer season when I was a kid. Town Hill and Greenridge Mountain were a maze of them. Also, this is a short road going down to the shore, across the land spit, over a little rise and then around behind the island. The GPS tells me it is only 1.14 miles, as the crow flies.

To be so close to civilization and have no awareness of it is almost unworldly. From the place I chose as a campsite there is not a sight or sound of development, save the weekend boaters which pass by without stopping, though they wave when close enough.

During the week there is not a soul in sight. Tiny wavelets splash on the shore rocks, birds call and chirp and coyotes, but no other sounds carry on the wind to disturb my solitude. Even being an avid music lover I do not turn on the stereo to disturb the peacefulness and stillness of this soporific setting. This is one of those places where you put your toes in the sand, sip something cold and consider the woes of the world to be incapable of entering. When wistful minds conceived unicorns, Middle Earth and magic rings, wizards with pet owls and talking dragons they must have been in a place like this. They must have known this peace.

Then, in the evening, the quietness is shattered by a howling wind. It is fierce. The RV rocks like a small boat in heavy seas and the lake surges up beneath it. Perhaps I am too close to the edge of the lake, but it is not the time for moving. If the sand under the wheels is saturated they could sink with the slightest movement. Shapes of the distant mountains are veiled in the storm. White caps cover the lake, so smooth and sleek only hours before. I know exactly what I need, a cup of tea.

The storm begins

The storm begins

Time passes slowly in a storm. Every noise seems important. Things outside that bang around, hit the sides and roof are all suspect. There will be some damage, but hopefully very little. Sometimes a light cover is cracked or broken, and the folding chair you forgot to fold goes bouncing away, but serious damage is rare.

Occasionally a person who is unaccustomed to the desert will leave their awning down. The only reason to do that is if you are tired of the color and have really good insurance.

As it is with most sudden desert storms it subsides in a few hours. To the north a strip of light gray sky emerges just over the mountaintops and the cosmos comes alive once again, bright with stars as the thick, moist ceiling dissolves into vapor. And then the sky is clear; a clean black slate covered with shining, twinkling bits of enchantment, which New Mexico is definitely the land of.

DSCN4520DSCN4461DSCN4680Obviously, the end of the roadMy front yardDSCN4686



Heron at lunch time

Heron at lunch time



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