Friday, June 30, 2006

Edible Plant Buffet includes Cream of Stinging Nettle Soup

All day long RVs arrived – some with reserved places here at Lake Alice Campground, and some above in the primitive sites at Soda Pocket Campground.

I had a great day! When the sun finally peeked over the canyon side, I let Cat out to explore while I did some house cleaning. Then I joined Cat outside in a cool, shady place to read. I’m about halfway through the unauthorized biography of Walmart founder Sam Walton (by Vance H. Trimble).

From time to time I roamed the campground and as always found interesting people to talk with. Cat seemed content to stay nearby, and seemed to be taking one of her naps under my chair, but I think she actually was seeing how close the birds would come to her.

The park’s bird list has 120-plus species on it; some are seasonal. The most prevalent birds that I’ve seen are humming birds (three kinds), grosbeaks, towhees, finches, pine siskins, goldfinches, Stellars’ Jay and Catbird.

On one of my out-and-about wanderings, I was called over to Betty and Gilbert’s RV. They had just sat down to dinner with “tricycle” Bob, and I was invited to join them. One look at the big pot of beef stew and the just-made sopapillas and I didn’t hesitate.

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-- Advice from Eleanor Roosevelt

Can I eat a soup made from a stinging plant?

At 6:30 p.m. I met up with Winnie for a ride to the Soda Pocket Amphitheater for the evening event – an edible plant buffet given by Park Interpretive Ranger Karen Ordemann. She was just setting up her camp stove.

During her presentation she made – and we ate – cream of stinging nettle soup (tasted a bit like a combination of spinach and broccoli), tossed green salad (an assortment of greens (including dandelion, cattail stems, locust tree blossoms); besides oil and vinegar the dressing had minced wild oregano, wild onion and mint. Next she made pancakes using cattail pollen and the “fluff” from the mature cattail top mixed into regular pancake mix. The pancakes were stopped with chokecherry syrup. Desserts were cookies made with rose hips and raisins, and fruit roll-ups made from wild cherries. Everything was surprisingly delicious!

When it comes to traveling by myself, I’ve come to three conclusions:
Traveling without companions leads to rewarding experiences.
Traveling alone lets me make personal connections with a variety of people.
Traveling alone, I inspire curiosity. And get to meet lots of people.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sugarite Coal Camp, an early 1900s mining town

“Mining drew immigrants from over twenty different nations. Mining was brutal, low-paying work, yet former residents remember their times …as some of the best years of their lives. Although poor in material goods, they had a rich and interesting community life.” – from the Sugarite Coal Camp Tour brochure

Today’s park event was a tour of the Sugarite Coal Camp that flourished between 1908 and 1941. It was one of nine coal-mining towns in the Raton area. All of Sugarite was contained within just a mile and half square miles.

The guided outing started at the renovated camp post office/postmaster’s residence that is now the State Park Visitors Center. Then it continued uphill past the remains of the schoolhouse, clubhouse, company store, doctor’s office, and homes (all built, maintained, and rented by the mining company). One Italian family built a huge oven – similar to an Indian horno – and baked and sold bread to the bachelors living at the nearby boarding house.

The tour continued on uphill to the mining area, including the dynamite shack, motor and fan houses, the pulley system that transported coal down to the canyon floor. The weight of six coal cars going down the mountain pulled six empty cars back up, so no electric motors were needed. Mules were used to pull the carts inside the mine.

In all it was about a 2 and ½-mile walk and took nearly three hours counting time to listen to the tour guide, look at old photographs of what the buildings looked before they deteriorated, and simply have time to look around.

This afternoon I met Winnie, a 72-year-old solo motorhome adventurer, a full-timer, from Maine. She RV traveling seven-plus years ago in a small Road Trek Class C (similar in size to mine), and after several years she traded for a larger Class A – a Rexhall American Clipper. She’s quite the active and interesting person. She carries a kayak on top of her tow-car, and takes it out every opportunity she gets. She hikes and fishes. This year she – and her cat – are traveling from State Park to State Park in New Mexico, staying the limit of three weeks in each park.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Yippee! Space #3 became available

I went to sleep last night thinking of the quote I added to the end of yesterday’s blog entry; and this morning read this quote by Pastor Chuck Swindoll:

“Patience and waiting is good – up to a point. We can get so good at waiting that we never act. We yawn and passively mutter, 'Maybe, someday” as we let opportunities slip away. “Not this year … but maybe someday.”'Don’t wait. If you continue such passivity, someday will never come – and you’ll regret it for the rest of your days.”

A turning point in my life – when I stopped saying “someday I’ll…” – occurred when I was 50 years old. I had just sold my successful wholesale business and gave myself the gift of one year without working. During that year, I had the bittersweet gift of taking care of an aunt as she was dying of lung cancer.

During her last few weeks, we laughed, we cried and we had some deep philosophical conversations. On my flight back home I promised myself two things: that I would not put things off and that time to do things is more important than working just to earn money to buy more “things.” And I’ve kept those promises.

My friend Nancy Griffin sent me a quote that has been added to those I keep posted within view.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it.
I want to have lived the width of it as well. –Diane Ackerman

Knowing that on Friday I would have to either move into a primitive site or leave to find a commercial RV park, I was keeping an eye on the three unreserved sites here. Site #1 was being saved for a NM State policeman who would be here in case extra security help was needed over the July 4 weekend; Site #2 was occupied by Betty and Gilbert and hey weren’t sure when they would leave. Site #3 had been paid-up until Friday morning, but the camp hosts said they only paid a few days at a time. Moving to another site in order to stay three more days didn’t look promising.

Just as I was about to fix lunch today, I saw the RV from #3 driving out. They were leaving a day early. After getting an OK from the camp host, I quickly walked down and put my chairs in the space to hold it, and then I unhooked, stowed and moved.

I like #3, and so does Cat. It is located in a very private-feeling place. Between the layout of the sites and the trees and bushes, I can’t see any other RVs. So, why does Cat like it? I let her outside to explore several times today. She is refining her tree-climbing skills – she’s surprisingly good at it despite the fact she has no front claws. The highest she’s gone, at least when I’ve been looking, has been about 10 feet. She goes out for 30 minutes or so then comes in to drink, groom herself and sleep. What a life!

My afternoon? Sit outside to read and watch birds, take short walks to Lake Alice, to the beginning of Deer Run Trail or simply around the campground to visit with other campers. What a life!

I am blessed.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hiking “Opportunity Trail”

Ranger Pat recommended hiking the Opportunity Trail. She said it would 6-plus miles of picturesque high country. On the map it appears to be a huge circular route that would take us alongside Lake Maloya and through an area of Ponderosa pines.

Having just been “huffed” by a bear yesterday, Hilda and I were a bit leery as we started out on the well-marked trail bordered by dense growth on both sides. Along the way we did see some bear paw prints and a pile of fairly fresh bear scat – but no bears. We saw tracks from deer and elk; and would have walked right by a turkey if he hadn’t noisily scurried off into the bushes. The weather was perfect for hiking; we took time to enjoy the surroundings.

At Lake Maloya we stopped to take pictures. PHOTO 2

After having lunch in Raton, Hilda headed back to Albuquerque, and I settled in to work on my writing projects. I’d write a while, then head out to walk around and visit with other campers. I met up with Betty and Gilbert who live in Raton and frequently camp here in their 5th wheel RV. They were full of information about this small town.

I also had a delightful visit with camp hosts Tim and Denise. I was most interested to hear about the “walk across England” trip that they took in 2005.

Cat and I sat outside a while – well, I sat while Cat explored. I continually marvel at my adventuring soul – places I’ve been and places yet to go. I remembered an important thing I copied several years ago. I don’t remember where I read this, nor who wrote it.

Too many people put off something that brings them joy just because they lack time or are too rigid to depart from their comfortable routine.
Because Americans cram so much into their lives, we tend to schedule our headaches. We live on a sparse diet of promises we make to ourselves when all the conditions are perfect.
Life has a way of accelerating as we get older. The days get shorter and the list of promises to ones self gets longer. One morning, we awaken, and all we have to show for our lives is a litany of “I’m going to,” “I plan on,” and “Someday, when things are settled down a bit.”
When you worry and hurry through your day, it is like an unopened gift thrown away. Life is not a race. Take it slower. Hear the music before the song is over.
Life may not be the party we hoped for; but while we are here we might as well dance. – author unknown

Monday, June 26, 2006

Skunks, raccoons, deer, elk and bears – oh my!

Bear bells provide an element of safety for hikers in bear country.
The tricky part is getting them on the bears!

I awoke to the singing of birds – lots of them and quite a variety. It officially is daylight about 5:30 a.m. but there is no sign of the sun until 7:30 a.m. when it creeps over the east canyon wall.

It was cold last night! The temperature got down to 40 – cold enough to get up and turn my heater on. And it is still really chilly this morning. This I had not expected. I only brought one long-sleeved shirt and a windbreaker.

I had an early morning visit with one of the camp hosts as she walked her dog. She’s the one who filled me in on the local wildlife and the fact that the black bears have been sighted on the hiking trails and also coming into the campground looking for food. Although my first clue about bears were the “bear-proof” trash receptacles.

This morning I walked to the roadside picnic area overlooking Lake Alice for some bird watching.

I was sitting on one of the tables, engrossed in identifying birds, when a man on a three-wheeled motorcycle (he calls it a tricycle) pulled up. His name is Bob Gray, a retired military Texan, master diver and underwater salvage specialist. Bob is a park volunteer here at Sugarite.

The two of us were talking when another man pulled up in his car to talk to Bob. His name is Al Alkhafi and he and his wife Mona live in Raton. What interesting conversation. Al promised to bring Mona by to visit with me, and Bob said that if his schedule permitted, he would take me into Trinidad (just over the Colorado border) for a delicious Mexican lunch. Serendipity at work! Nearly an hour passed before we went our separate ways.

Back at Jeremiah I was just starting to fix lunch when my friend Hilda drove up. She had come to stay the night with me; we had serious hiking planned. This afternoon we hiked the Lake Alice trail. Along the way I nearly stepped on two small, thin snakes napping on the trail: one was shiny green and the other brown.

The trail ended at the Visitors’ Center where we got advice for tomorrow’s hiking, brochures on ‘coexisting with bears’, and a recommendation for dinner in town.

On the walk back to the campground, we both heard a breathy-huff sound – three times – coming from the tangle of bushes alongside the road. We joked that it might be a bear, but certainly didn’t dilly-dally to find out. Back at the campground notice board we read this:

“MEMO From Mama Bear, To All Bears, Re: Living in People Country”

“Look for coolers sitting on top of picnic tables. They’re full of good stuff, and a snap to open. It takes just 20 minutes to raid one and disappear.

“Cars with open doors or windows are a good food source. Open cars are easy to get into, but getting out is tricky. Bending the doors and clawing the interiors to shreds usually works.

“Tents may smell good, but it is just smoke from a cooking fire or stuff like toothpaste and cosmetics which aren’t very nutritious. On the other paw, snacks like candy bars in a tent are definitely worth getting chased and screamed at.

“If you are unfortunate enough to meet a person, let them know you’re a bear. Huff out air, clack your jaws and climb a tree to get away from them. Some people will stand around forever at the bottom of a tree, so develop a strong bladder.

“Remember that humans are dangerous. They are unpredictable and should be treated with extreme caution.”

Hilda and I looked at each other and said: “Huff out air!” It must have been a bear.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hi Ho, Hi Ho – it’s off in Jeremiah I go!

Travel editor and writer Paul Greenberg wrote:
I firmly believe a plan is only something to depart from, and that the serendipity of travel opens my eyes to a world where the arbitrary borders of fear and misunderstanding can be ignored.

Right on, fellow adventurer! I’m no stranger to serendipitous travel. Two marvelous instances come quickly to mind: being invited to ride for several hours in the engine of a Canadian Via Rail train and being invited to a private concert rehearsal of a world-renown organist at the huge “Mother” Seventh Day Adventist Church in Boston. Those two adventures were the result of striking up a conversation with strangers.

What unknown opportunities will this trip bring?

I think I’m getting the hang of motorhome traveling! The start of this trip – that will take me about 3,500 miles in eight weeks – feels more relaxing than it has in the past. I think I’m well prepared.

The biggest packing unknown was if all my frozen meals would fit in the motorhome freezer. Daughter Sue and I had prepared, packaged and frozen about 35 servings of ten different entrees, plus I had bags of frozen fruits to make smoothies. Amazingly, they all fit!

Destination: Sugarite State Park in New Mexico for eight days

I left home about 10 a.m. this morning, heading north on Interstate 25. I had a five-day reservation in the Lake Alice Campground at Sugarite (pronounced sugar-eet) State Park near Raton, New Mexico. The brochure and Internet boasted of “a cool, wooded retreat with a historic coal mining camp, hiking, fishing, camping and an abundance of wildlife. Elevation ranges in the park are between 6,900 and 8,320 feet. The park is called “Northeast New Mexico’s hidden jewel.” Will the park live up to the boasting?

With only 230 miles to go, I had planned to swing through the towns of Las Vegas (yes, New Mexico has one, too) and Raton. But dark, stormy clouds to the north and east motivated me to go directly to Sugarite. I sure didn’t want to be parking, plugging in, and setting up during a rainstorm.

Sugarite State Park, in the Southern Rocky Mountains, butts up to the Colorado border and is located in a canyon formed by Chicorica Creek. The park has three lakes – Alice and Maloya in New Mexico and Lake Dorothey that is just over the border in Colorado.

I had reserved site #10; but could only have it for five of the eight days I had planned to be here. I’m hoping to be able to move into an unreserved site for the last three days. That will take luck because there are only three unreserved – first come, first served – sites with electric and water hookups – and this weekend is part of the Labor Day vacation period. “Be flexible!” I told myself. If needed, I could move onto a ‘primitive’ site at the Soda Pocket Campground for a few days.

I backed in (with help from the camp host), hooked up and settled in – and was eager to look around. It had started sprinkling a bit. After discovering that there was no cell phone service, I decided to walk the mile to the Visitor’s Center in hopes of having service there. I left Cat to explore the outside world from inside the motorhome.

It continued to rain lightly on my walk. After gathering brochures and discovering there was no cell phone service and that the only showering facility was located there, I started the uphill walk back to Jeremiah.

It started seriously raining and I was getting soaked. New Mexico has had such a drought that I could only thank the Lord for the rain! I had walked about halfway before a lady, Josephine Vigil, stopped to give me a welcomed ride. Dry clothes, dry hair and a cup of hot tea, and I was ready to enjoy the sound of rain on the roof. In all, it rained about three hours.

Park information and the schedule of activities provided the evening’s reading. I fell asleep quickly, and slept well. It is so nice to be in the same bed every night while traveling.