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!
Route 66 aficionados may well know the name of Seligman from the town in Arizona that shares the name. They may not know, however, the origin of the name. The Seligmans were, in fact, well-known regional traders in the Southwest even before the era of Route 66, and in 1922 they constructed an adobe trading post in the town of Domingo, adjacent to the Santa Fe Railroad and a small highway that four years later would become a short-lived alignment of Route 66.
The two-story building, which features a curved parapet in the Mission Revival style, was constructed just to the north of an older trading post that dates to 1880; the new owners used this older structure as a warehouse. A small stucco residence with a narrow porch sits to the south of the 1880 building. The trading post is adjacent to the New Mexico Rail Runner Express stop on the pueblo. It was consumed by a fire in 2001. Pueblo officials expect the revitalized trading post to generate 30 jobs. Plans for the site include a restaurant and other services for Rail Runner commuters, tourists, and local residents.
The dilapidated building still bears a faded sign that proclaims “where real Indians trade” and was on Historic Route 66 and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe rail line. That made it a well-known tourist stop for the Southwest Chief and motorists. Dignitaries, including President John F. Kennedy, visited the spot as well.
The trading post was listed on the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties in 1997 and on the National Register of Historic Properties in 1998. Tony Tortalita, governor of Kewa Pueblo, said the trading post has been an icon of the pueblo’s history and the plan is to use it to showcase its culture and traditions through arts and crafts.
We are coming up on a year of owning our Serenity (Toots), we have covered 30,000km and have had some of the best adventures I have had in my life. When we set out on the journey to purchase a motorhome, we had no real idea of what we wanted or what we were looking for.
As we looked online and visited dealerships, we got a clearer picture of what we were going for and why. The why seems to have been the biggest thing we used as a guiding principle in the search. We had to become honest with why we wanted one in the first place.
We spent a long time trying our best to break the “keeping up with the Jones” attitude so many people in our society hold. I had watched people struggle to make ends meet while owning a $50,000 boat, snowmobiles, ATVs and about $100,000 in vehicles. They had the latest everything, but if they didn’t work overtime and stay away from their families as much as possible, they could not afford to eat. There was a disconnect there, so Kaitlin and I actively remind each other of WHY we want to purchase something and if it’s a need, want or nice to have.
We took this mentality into our RV buying experience. When we would stop in at a dealership, we would silently run through WHY we wanted an RV and if it fits into this scheme for us.
The first thing on our list was freedom. We are avid believers in the word freedom and all its meaning. Freedom can different for everyone, but to us, it means we are setting up our life in a way where we are truly in charge. We have been actively working our butts off to build careers which allow us to be free and move around as we see fit. (*inbalanceforlife.com is our online yoga wellness video platform, meditations, yoga classes, educational and fun as can be, please check it out and help support some amazing causes!*) After quitting my electrician job and chasing this videographer thing, I felt compelled to bring that feeling of freedom into the rest of my life. An RV lent itself nicely, obviously, but WHICH RV?
This freedom and being able to move where and when we see fit is massive for us. Once we started looking, we knew not just any RV would do, we needed mobility and the ability to be a bit stealthy at times. We didn’t want to be kept out of any parks; some National Parks don’t allow units over 26-feet long. We wanted something Kaitlin would not mind driving into a city, and something I felt confident driving on at least a smooth, dirt road.
We wanted a space large enough for all our things; work computers, bikes, surfboards, dog (we have a big dog named Teagan, see picture below). Yet small enough to get into a mall parking lot if needed. A Class B+ RV seemed really the only option at this point, and there are lots out there once you start to look intentionally.
Next thing was a safe place to sleep. I don’t mean where we park it, or which campsite we may stay in. I mean the environment in which we spend our sleeping hours, the actual physical makeup of the space we would be living in. Something I noticed all my life, but never really put too much thought into, was that when you walked into an RV, most of them have a very distinct smell. Kind of like the new car smell, but for RVs. Do you know what that smell is? That is the materials inside off-gassing not so pleasant gasses.
The seat cushions, the flooring, the cupboards and countertops seem to be stinking up the joint. Kaitlin took her masters in Natural Health, which brought us down the road of learning the environmental influences on our health. Meaning, the things you choose to wear, sleep in, cover your floors with, or build anything out of really can play a huge role in your overall long-term health.
Think about it. How many things in your immediate environment right now are made of plastic? I bet your clothes are even made of polyester. These are oil derived products. Oil! The same thing you fill your car with. Using this oil derivative example, I think you know that the materials used in an RV can be pretty toxic. You wouldn’t really want to rub gasoline on your skin or sleep with a bowl of it next to your bed, would you? Though this is a bit of an exaggeration, there is no way around the fact that plastics are not really good for you. You know how a shirt wears out? That is it breaking down, the polyester material has been losing mass and leaving bits of itself all over the place. Most of it in your dryer, but lots of it on your skin, your biggest organ. Not cool.
When we actually take in our environments, we will see so many examples like the shirt. Oil based products being just one toxin we are surrounded with every day, there is no real way out of it except to live in a wood cabin, off the grid in the Adirondacks. So why not try our best to lessen the impact these things are having on our bodies?
When Kaitlin was learning about the chemicals in carpets, flooring, household paints, bedding and furniture it was a bit scary. A lot scary. I had grown up with all these toxins all around me and no one told me? My health had no doubt been affected, whether it has presented itself in a physical way or not. When our bodies need to be constantly defending itself from foreign dangers, the stress will undoubtedly take a toll, albeit not the same in every person.
We had been trying to have kids for a while, so we spent a fair penny changing the way our house was decorated. If a baby were to show up, we, like any parent, would want to lessen the stress on that new little human’s system. We bought a new bed and repainted. We ripped up carpets and put in bamboo eco-friendly (better, but not perfect) flooring.
So skip forward 5 years, that remodelled house exploded and burned to the ground during the fires in Fort McMurray, we have yet to be blessed with a child (we have been working through the International Adoption process for 6 years now) and we are ready to buy a little toxin-free as possible RV to live in. Our health is part of our WHY. Maybe one of the biggest parts.
Being the little hippies we are, we also knew that longevity and little waste as possible was a big picture WHY in our lives. We try to purchase clothing which will last as long as possible, made from the most natural fibres we can get. Try is key there, we still get sucked in by a deal, but it usually backfires and the jacket rips or the jeans get too worn too quickly. For me, the piece I knew I wanted to include in the GIANT purchasing decision was that things inside the unit would essentially not break prematurely and need to be thrown out and replaced. Finding finishings as closely related to a house, and a finely built house at that was extremely important.
I didn’t want to deal with broken door hinges or small appliances failing and needing to be just tossed out into a landfill somewhere. We live in a disposable world, we live day to day generating a fairly large amount of waste. Some more than others, but for a Westerners to live waste free these days, it’s almost impossible. It’s not an easy task to even minimize the waste we create, but I feel a great place to start is the consumer decisions I make. No more throwaway purchases (trying my best).
The next piece of this hunt was to support places and things we believe in. We are from Canada, we love the freedom and safety we are awarded in this magical country. I have seen a lot of places in the world and I can honestly say that Canada is one of the most beautiful; both environmentally and socially. I love it here and I am proud to have grown up in this country. In order to support a country and the people in it is to make purchases as local as possible. Again, not an easy task in this world we are in. Worldwide trade has taken over our buying experience, mass production in foreign countries seems to be the status quo. We are lucky to have access to what we do. I mean avocados?! Yes, please! The electronics I use to make a living require the economic system we currently have set up in order to be affordable enough and accessible enough to enable me to even write this blog post. It’s amazing, truly it is.
With that all said, I think we can all agree that how we mass produce things in other countries, just to ship it here, get used, break and send it back to that same country as waste, is not the best situation for our planet. When the planet suffers, we suffer. So I feel that if my buying power is directed more often to local businesses, that perhaps the large-scale use and abuse system will slow slightly. If I could get all my groceries from Vancouver Island I would. Good probiotics from local soil for my guts aside, I want to support this amazing place. If we could have bought an RV built in Victoria BC I would have in a heartbeat, if it met the other important rules we have that is.
So where did this leave us? I think you know the answer here, but I will run it through regardless. We bought a Leisure Travel Van. This thing ticked so many boxes during our hunt it was almost a no-brainer. When people ask us why we picked a Leisure over others, I kind of run them through a shorter version of the list above;
Ever want to get away? Sometimes it’s closer than you think. From Victoria BC to Jordan River BC, is not far, but it’s a world apart, thanks Toots for the Freedom.
One more thing people ask me a lot is about price. What I always say is that we had a budget vs. WHY plan to stick to. There seemed to be a big jump in quality with Leisure without the same big jump in pricing, and to live in an authentic and meaningful way, to live my values sometimes requires money. Money to support the Canadian market I am part of and money to truly appreciate the time, energy and resources which go into these long-lasting, top-notch products. I know we made the right decision and I couldn’t be happier with our Serenity. Plus, it is a fine looking piece of equipment which I feel so proud and confident to call home.
Thanks for reading!