As many wives, I am the co-pilot in our RV relationship. I decide when to leave, where to go, and what to provision. Armed with lists upon lists of ingredients to take and possible meals to prepare, I often pack the fridge and cupboards with enough food not to stop to shop for at least a week. I also prepare checklists of all necessary implements, tools, supplies, and accessories that should be on board. And all of this is done BEFORE we even leave. Oh, and let’s not forget that it is also “my job” to determine what we will see when we arrive at our destination.
This uber planning is a remnant of our sailing life when proper planning was absolutely imperative since there are no Safeways or Lowes in the middle of the Atlantic.
However, when my 70th birthday was on the horizon, the thought of planning it felt overwhelming. For the last three years, Manny and I have done nothing but a plan. In 2014, we moved to Pueblo, Colorado, a much better hub than Philadelphia for our RV travels.
Imagine all the planning that move required!
We figured it would be worth it to have years of exploring this beautiful state and its surrounding neighbors of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, rich with history and national treasures.
We bought a home, and when we learned of the frequency of hailstorms, we built a garage to protect our precious Serenity Leisure Travel Van—and that is where Serena has sat for most of these past three years.
From the moment we arrived in Pueblo, Manny and I have become major political and social activists. Traveling has somehow been put on the back burner. Our life has been entirely about organizing events or attending meetings. We have even launched a brand new non-profit, the Renewable Energy Owners Coalition of America.
Since it was a very special birthday, I wanted to do something very special. I looked at the calendar and realized that we could either fly to Las Vegas for a long weekend or if I switched a couple of meetings, we would be able to have a blissful three weeks away from our responsibilities, the perfect amount of time for a much-needed RV getaway.
Although I was ecstatic at the prospect of getting back on the road in our beloved Serena, I was a little worried. Arranging, organizing, and scheduling have become my daily life and I had absolutely ZERO desire to plan my birthday vacation.
So, I convinced myself that one of the great things about a trip in an RV is that actually much less planning is required: there are no airline reservations to make or hotels to book. You don’t even have to decide what will fit in a carry-on bag because you can take almost anything you want.
My biggest concern was that we would be traveling over Memorial Day Weekend, the traditional start of vacation season. But then I realized that being self-contained means sleeping in a Walmart parking lot is basically the same as sleeping at a campground—particularly with the shades closed.
I also decided that I would take whatever food was in our fridge and devise meals as we traveled. Of course, I did a quick check to be sure there were the requisite pots and pans, dishes and towels, and other basics on board. However, I did not make a “to do” list, a “to check” list, or a “to buy” list; just a simple “must take” list of items like medication, iPads, and chargers. After all, we weren’t going to be in the middle of the ocean. If I forgot something, there would be thousands of opportunities along the way to purchase whatever it might be.
We hoped to leave on May 10. Our only scheduled destination was to be in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on May 20, so I could spend my birthday with my best girlfriend. That helped narrow the decisions about how far we wanted to go. However, we still had to decide what direction to turn the steering wheel as we exited our driveway.
Since our life has been so busy, and we haven’t explored many of the local places of interest, we thought a radius of about 3 to 4 hours would be perfect. That way, we concluded, we might discover locales close to home that we could escape to for a few days in the future.
We had always wanted to visit some of the old western towns and quaint villages nestled around the magnificent Sangre de Cristo Mountains. When I told a friend our intentions, she asked where we were headed first. I mentioned Crestone, a quirky town known for its multitude of world religious organizations, like a Hindu Temple, a Zen center, a Carmelite Monastery, several Tibetan Buddhist centers as well as a litany of other New Age groups.
“You’ve got to go to Valley View Hot Springs!” she exclaimed. “Wow, I didn’t even know there were hot springs there!” I said. (See, kismet is already happening, I thought.) Then she added, “You’d better make reservations! Especially for the weekend. They book up months in advance.” “Oh, but we are going with the flow. We don’t want to make reservations,” I explained. “You’d better book ahead, or you’ll never get in,” she insisted, her voice reaching a crescendo as she tried to convince me of the urgency of reserving our place.
I’ll admit, her warning gave me pause, but I decided to hold firm. No reservations! I did take her comments seriously, though, and decided to avoid being there on a weekend.
Her suggestion propelled us into a trajectory we hadn’t thought of previously. Hot springs. Warm water. Relaxation. Just what we needed!
We didn’t exit our driveway until 7:00 pm on Thursday, May 10.
I told Manny that I didn’t care if we slept at a Cracker Barrel that evening.
We. Were. Leaving!
As luck would have it, Dakota Hot Springs, only an hour from our home, is open until 10 pm, with “camping” in their parking lot available. And that is where we went.
After another short hour’s drive, we spent Friday and Saturday night at Four Seasons RV Resort, a well-kept private RV park along the Arkansas River in Salida, a picturesque mountain town in the heart of the Rockies. Yes, the weekend, and not only did we get an incredible riverside site, we were almost the only campers there.
We arrived at the highly recommended Valley View Hot Springs on Sunday but alas, my friend had been right. Booked solid. Until Monday.
“Can you come back tomorrow?” they asked. “Sure!” we said.
We learned that the hot springs are part of the Orient Land Trust (OLT), a charitable non-profit dedicated to preserving this diverse ecosystem of birds, plants, bats and natural springs. We were told that for $30, we could stay in Serena at the historic Everson Ranch, a 150-year-old ranch that is part of the OLT and is being developed as an agricultural facility showcasing sustainable agricultural procedures. The fee included a tour of the ranch in the morning and as much lettuce as I could pick from the facility’s greenhouses!
What a great experience! Their new garden manager, agricultural specialist Brian Ross, took us on a memorable jeep ride around the property. He was bursting with excitement about his plans for experimenting with different crops to determine their sustainability in this rugged windy climate with a very short growing season.
We sampled at least 6 or 7 different lettuces, while Brian explained his desire to grow crops that are not only resilient, sustainable and delicious, but attractive as well. His enthusiasm was contagious. He gave us hope for the future.
Back to Valley View for two glorious days of soaking in a variety of natural hot springs, each having a different temperature, and all of them artfully carved into the mountainside, secluded beneath a thick canopy of pine trees. Our wooded RV site was conveniently located directly across from the swimming pool and the adjacent sauna, which had the unique feature of a tiled cooling tub right inside the sauna.
Manny and I also had the best massages of our lives—and we have had many. I should add that the massage therapist only worked there on Monday and Tuesday that week. Had we had reservations for the weekend, we would never have met dear Jane. (You definitely want to book Jane Adornay and her healing hands. She is a master in the use of hot stones.)
We hadn’t expected to go to yet another hot springs, but Jane suggested that the lithium rich pools at Joyful Journey, only 15 minutes away, would be highly beneficial after our message. Since we were “going with the flow” and doing whatever came next, we took her advice.
While Valley View has a rustic ambiance, Joyful Journey felt more like a luxurious spa, with three man-made pools ranging from 98 degrees to 106.
Hanging baskets overflowing with colorful flowers lined the wooden deck filled with comfortable lounge chairs.
The view from the campground was spectacular. The majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains are a backdrop for the unusual guest accommodations of a number of yurts and teepees.
We were able to snag one of the six RV sites with electric—without reservations. In the morning we joined the hotel guests and enjoyed a continental breakfast complete with fresh quiche made with vegetables grown in a hothouse on the property.
Over the years, we’ve learned to look for campgrounds run by the Army Corps of Engineers. They are usually clean, well-maintained, inexpensive, and always near water. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that there were three of them in the land-locked state of New Mexico, and one of them, Abiquiu Lake, was right on our way to Santa Fe.
When we arrived, there were no more electric-water sites available, but we were offered a fabulous spot with a breath-taking 360-degree view of the Abiquiu reservoir —a view not available in the sites with hook-ups.
(We have noticed that it is often the case that the sites without hookups are more picturesque.) It is nice to be self-contained and have a choice.
Five minutes from the campgrounds is Ghost Ranch, made famous by the painter Georgia O’Keefe.
As we drove along the magnificent winding roads surrounded by vast red and yellow cliffs with their ever-changing light, we could understand why the artist was drawn here.
When we climbed the steps to the visitor center, we were treated to the sight and sounds of the talented Nashville musician, Rob McNurlin. He had been hired to perform at a square dance on the property that evening and was giving the audience on the patio a sample of his musical magic.
A true showman, Rob had the crowd enthralled with his heartfelt country crooning and his guitar. When he realized that Manny plays the harmonica, Rob invited him to join along. It was hard to believe that the two had never met or played together, yet their harmonies blended so well. The crowd —and Manny— felt they had happened upon something special. And they had: they were at the right place at just the right time.
Apparently, Rob was happy with our timing too as he invited Manny to sit in with him and his band that evening at the square dance. Unfortunately, because we had arranged to be at my friend’s for dinner that night, Manny couldn’t stay to play. How ironic that the ONLY plan we had made interfered with “going with the flow”.
After our four-day scheduled stop with my friend in Santa Fe, we were ready to continue our unplanned odyssey, but we wondered where to go next.
New Mexico is rich in Native American history. When the Spanish arrived in 1540, there were over 100 settlements, which the conquistadors called Pueblos, along with the Rio Grande. We realized that we would be passing right by one of the 19 remaining communities, Ohkay Owingeh, still occupied by descendants of the original inhabitants. The website indicated that it was okay to visit, but had many warnings about proper behavior, including no photographs of the inhabitants.
It was very quiet when we arrived; there seemed to be no one around. Suddenly, a little boy about eight years old appeared from nowhere and showed us a shortcut between two buildings. He confided that at the end of the alley, we could go left or right. Manny and I followed his directions and arrived at the village plaza. A man standing in front of his adobe home called to us and waved us over. Boise turned out to be a friendly, jovial Puebloan, happy to show us around the town. He gave us a bit of history and at the end of his tour, invited us to their annual St. John the Baptist Feast Day. What an honor—and what timing!
Since we had been doing the hot springs circuit and were enjoying the variety of relaxation experiences, we decided to try Ojo Caliente, just a half hour from the ancestral Puebloan settlement.
A vast manicured property, Ojo Caliente is exquisitely landscaped to create quiet places, private spaces, and a nurturing environment for their guests. I felt like I had joined the world of the rich and famous, lying in a hammock or reclining in a chair under one of the many pergolas, sampling each of the six pools containing various combinations of minerals to soothe whatever ails you.
Ojo Caliente has been a meeting place and healing fountainhead for many peoples for thousands of years.
Especially at night, under the vastness of the starry skies of New Mexico, you can feel its power.
If you wish to dine out, you don’t have to leave the premises to get an excellent meal. Both the restaurant and the wine bar have high quality, well-prepared dishes at a reasonable price. Although we usually eat most of our meals in Serena when we travel, we celebrated my birthday trip by eating out—a lot.
Manny and I enjoyed their grilled artichokes so much —seasoned with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon— that we ordered them every day we were there!
The luxurious pools are only $ 24.00 for a weekday soak Monday through Thursday from 8 am- 10 pm and $ 38.00 on the weekend.
Additionally, there are a number of accommodations ranging from a historic hotel to luxury suites, as well as 29 RV sites with water and electric and a private, immaculate bathhouse for campers.
We would have been happy with a level parking lot, but this was a beautiful campground, with ample wooded sites, and a bargain at only $40 per night. Camping guests’ privacy is ensured by design, and we were treated with the same respect as a hotel guest paying $300 a night.
Although this was the run-up to the holiday weekend, we had no problem getting a campsite for 3 weekday nights. (In the interest of full disclosure, we did have to move to a different site each night, but the staff said they were amazed that they had anything available.) And frankly, the site we booked first because we thought it was going to be the best, turned out to be the worst, so one night there was enough! Once again, no reservations, no problem.
We really had no idea where this adventure would take us, and it led us to exactly where we needed to be. We returned home relaxed and refreshed. The bonus is that I learned a huge lesson: sometimes the best trips are unplanned.
P.S. With Serena, our self-contained Serenity Leisure Travel Van, now we have no reservations about no reservations!