Friday, January 30, 2015

Land Yachting Nevada....

      Leaving Quartzsite we set our compass north along the Colorado River and into Nevada.  Passing through Parker, Lake Havasu, and associated communities was a never ending parade of RV parks, Condos, and retirement communities. Beautiful, but very crowded.  There was little privacy without the $$$ attached.  London Bridge is overrated.  This picture courtesy of the Lake Havasu website. 
      We were not planning on stopping in Las Vegas so we stopped short to boondock at the Railroad Pass Casino, about 15 miles south of town.  They have an upper lot dedicated to no more than 3 nights stay for RVs, but we did talk to one gentleman who had been there 5 weeks without interruption.  The area is famous for a large herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep in the nearby rocky cliffs, but after several hours of surveying I found none.  Barb, however, did come out $136 ahead in the casino.  That always makes us both happy. 

      The next day we gassed up, had breakfast, and got the truck/RV washed at Blue Beacon Truck/RV Wash in North Las Vegas, before heading north.  Although Blue Beacon is designed to handle large commercial trucks we have used them twice on this trip with incredibly good results.  $39 for a complete wash/treatment of both truck and RV.  They do a very nice job getting rid of all the road grime no matter how bad.  These are located across the US along interstate highways.

      We headed up I-15 and then north along US 93 towards Ely, Nevada.  This is about 300 miles of straight, flat, nothingness.  I know for a fact that I watched some of these desert views for nearly an hour before finally arriving at the next hill!  Unfortunately, we also constantly gained in altitude and the addition of a pretty good headwind helped cut our fuel mileage to 9.8 mpg.  So much for the 16 mpg + numbers we accrued coming across New Mexico and Arizona.  The 2nd night we camped at the Prospector Hotel & Casino in Ely, NV who had full hookups for $15 a night....can't pass up a bargain!  The casino/restaurant/bar were pretty busy due to a big local fishing tournament so after Barb contributed to the local economy we enjoyed a good salad in the RV.  I do have to 'pimp' Guy Fieri's Mozzarella Parmesan Pork Sausage as it was a delicious addition to our salad.  Some of the best I have ever had.  

      The next day we completed our dry land voyage to Battle Mountain, NV.  U.S. Highway 50 is nicknamed "The loneliest highway in America", with good reason.  After some initial road ice on the first hills out of town we were able to set the cruise control.  The route was much more scenic as we climbed 5 different mountain passes, 4 of which were over 7000 feet.  It did still have it's long, flat stretches, but didn't seem as mind-numbing as the day before.  We did much better this day as we averaged 14.1 mpg over 235 miles even with the mountains.

      I haven't seen my cousin Tom, but once since high school and although we were fairly close 'way back when' lost touch over the years.  He lives in the country outside of town so we were able to park next to his house and 'mooch-dock' for two nights.  Cost...(insert smiley face here).  In fact he had smoked Cornish Game Hens and some Chili waiting for us when we arrived.  After a bonfire and a couple of cold ones the family was once again intact.                                             
       I did have some repairs to make to the solar harness as a fitting I had just disconnected fried when it fell and arched against the wrong address on the battery bank.  I got a new SAE connector and patched it up the next day.  Barb and I really enjoyed seeing Tom again, but next time might be in Northern Idaho as he has purchased property to build a cabin on once he retires in a year or so.  To top things off Barb found several agates in Tom's driveway gravel.  Suffice it to say our rig is getting heavier. 
      The next day we arrived in Reno to some rain.  We made reservations at the Grand Sierra Hotel/Casino RV Park figuring it would give us access to all the major downtown stuff we wanted to do.  Total price for a very nice back in spot with extra room for the truck was $25/night with a 25% discount for retired military.  Total price for 4 nights:  $85 with tax.  The next morning we were treated with a much less rainy view. 
      We visited the Grand Sierra Casino our first night, but did venture downtown and around the area for a bit the next day.  Alcohol is very expensive in Reno.....I found $4-$6 beers to be common, but was informed that better deals exist @ The Cal Nev Casino among others.  I will be in search of them.  Barb did much better with the economy, profiting $324 for her first two nights. 
      Day 3 we ventured south to Carson City, Lake Tahoe and the little village of Gardnerville, Nevada.  The trip to Lake Tahoe was uneventful and without much snow either.  The pass going across from just south of Carson City had very little on it as did the pass out into Minden on our way back. 

      The lake itself is beautiful with some of the clearest water I have ever seen.  We stopped in Stateline, NV for a couple of hours to do some sightseeing and so Barb could overcome her 'One Arm Bandit Withdrawal' sickness at Harrah's.  There was snow up there in the Sierras somewhere as we saw multitudes of skiers and snowboarders coming back into town late afternoon.  One of the locals told us they are in the middle of a 4 year drought which has eliminated much of the snowpack necessary to keep Lake Tahoe full enough to support summer boat docks.  On the way back we sidestepped into the small town of Gardnerville to dine at the area's premier Basque Restaurants, J.T. Basque's Bar & Grill.  The ambience, food, and service were incredible. 
     Day 4 consisted of picking up some lamb we ordered cut up and getting the truck serviced as Barb battled the laundry including all the bedding.  Friday night we toured Virginia Street for the last time this trip.  Barb finished up $40 tonight.  Thank you, Reno.  I'm sure we'll see each other again. 
WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi Hotspot 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room: Gardnerville, Nevada

      Northern Nevada is known for it's large population of Basque communities, largely composed of sheep ranchers.  They originally hail from the northern regions of Spain bordering France on the Bay of Biscay.  They are renown for their cuisine which often centers around lamb and is best served family style.  My cousin had recommended several fine Basque restaurants in his neighboring communities of Winnemucca and Elko, but our time ran short and we had heard of a very famous one south of Reno in the village of Gardnerville.
      J.T. Basque ( has been serving the area for over 50 years.  They are located in the village of Gardnerville, about 40 miles south of Reno.  They have been voted Best Basque Restaurant in the Carson Valley including Reno for more than a decade running.  Their food contains only local grass fed beef, chicken, lamb and vegetables.  Everything is, of course, homemade.

       It all started in 1896 when an early Gardnerville entrepreneur named Hans Nelson bought and moved the building from its original location in the Virginia City, Nevada area. Since then, the authentic Victorian building has served as a hotel, saloon and dining hall throughout its more than 100 year history in downtown Gardnerville. With the exception of the hitching post and horse outside, the Lekumberry family has restored the building's façade to look as it did over 100 years ago. 

      The menu specializes in traditional Basque Cuisine:  top sirloin steak, lamb shoulder, lamb chops, chicken, rabbit, pigs feet with tripe, and an assortment of sweetbreads and stews.  Everything is served 'family style'.  All, that is except the Picon're on your own with that one!

       Barb and I timed our visit to arrive a bit early for dinner as there is often a 30-40 minute wait for a table.  There are no reservations.  We had visited Carson City and Lake Tahoe earlier so our appetites were primed and ready when we arrived.  Their definition of 'family style' is each course is served individually with plates swapped each time the next course arrives.  Before your order is taken the waitress offers you a glass of traditional Picon Punch, which consists of Amer Picon Orange Bitters, Grenadine, Soda, and Brandy.  Since I already had a pint of Sierra Lager from the bar, I passed, it sounded awfully tart anyways.  We both ordered the Lamb Chops.  The first 3 courses come as 'all you can eat'.  Want more?  They'll bring more at no charge. 

 Course #1:  Cabbage Vegetable Soup, Bread, Butter, & Red Wine
Course #2:  Simple Lettuce Salad w/Oil & Vinegar
Course #3:  Ox Tail Stew & Beans
Course #4:  4 each Garlic Sautéed Lamb Chops & Fries

      I asked as to the authenticity of French Fries as Basque culture and the waitress just smiled the replying the Basque do eat lots of traditional potatoes,  but Americans seem to prefer fries.  NOTE:  Later I was informed by a friend of mine who hiked the Camino Trail throughout the Basque Region that French fries are actually a Basque creation and a part of their normal diet.  As you can tell from this picture I had already laid waste to one lamb chop before I remembered to take the picture.  There was plenty of fresh roasted garlic on each chop which gave it the most remarkable flavor.  We did intentionally skip Course #5:  Ice Cream.....there just wasn't any room left. 
      The entire meal was delicious.  We did not order seconds on the first 3 courses as we were saving ourselves for the lamb chops, which filled us more than sufficiently.   The waitress was incredibly helpful with everything including all our questions.  Tab for the meal was a bit more than average, $60, but well worth the experience.  I even picked up a souvenir bumper sticker:  NEVADA:  So many sheep, so little time. 
      I have a rack of lamb and some lamb loin on order with a local butcher which I will pick up tomorrow for our freezer.  Have to experiment with some of this Basque Cuisine myself! 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Quartzsite, AZ: Woodstock for Senior Citizens

      We stopped for a few days in Mesa, AZ to restock, refresh, retool, as well as visit with my cousin BJ Schroeder, her husband John, and meet Turk, the Wonderdog!  John and BJ love to camp and canoe/kayak whenever they get the chance. I loved chatting with John as his list of skill sets far exceeds mine.   He did give me some excellent ideas for improving my solar setup.  They also publish their own travel blog which is quite fascinating and I have borrowed a few of John's RV remodeling ideas for my own projects.  BJ is still just as outgoing and fun as she ever was.  In fact although she is older than I am, BJ is actively involved with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Unit so that tells you how much better shape she is in than her cousin.  It sure was good to see them again. 
      Quartzite, AZ is located about 140 miles west of Phoenix and only about 15 miles from the Colorado River/California border.  It is home to the not only the largest RV show, but many other events throughout the year give reason to congregate here in the desert.  Photo below courtesy of the city website. 

       No less among them are the thousands of retirees that come from wherever in the Great White North to escape the cold of winter.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has thousands of acres throughout the southwest available for unimproved or primitive camping.  Quartzsite, AZ is home to several of these.  For those of us who like to 'boondock' this is heaven.  Here, the definition of boondocking does provide several fringe benefits.  Although there are several Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA) in this region we stayed at La Posa which is just south of town and central to all the activities.  Many people camp here for the shows and even many more stay for the entire winter. The area is very hospitable to retirees, RVs, and folks such as ourselves.  These areas used to be free, but leave to the government to figure out another way to squeeze a couple of $ whenever and wherever they can.  Still, the costs are super cheap.  It is $40 for a 2 week pass and only $180 for a 6 month ticket.  For us this translated to $2.85 per day.  Once registered we are privy to camp anywhere we want in the desert in any of the BLM LTVAs.  At La Posa this included about a dozen vault style toilets, many dumpsters for trash, a dump station, and about 12 water stations for watering up your rig before heading out. Then, it's just a matter of finding a level spot with some privacy that suits your fancy.  We chose the north end of our area so as to be within walking distance of the show.  We filled our 40 gallon fresh water tank, but did also use our two 5 gallon water jugs to top off later in the week.  Solar Panels were put out and boondocking protocols in place.  This time of year the daytime temps run in the high 60s to mid 70s with cooler nights so no A/C was needed.  Obviously, there is plenty of sunshine available for solar.   
      We were about 60 yards from our nearest neighbor yet there were many, many other RVs in the area and the show was still 3 days away.  Trust me, by show time this picture contained at least another dozen RVs. 

      Still, it is a friendly, communal atmosphere here and there is no lack of services including (if you wish for a price) water delivery, sewage pickup, and even mobile RV Repair should the situation arise.  I didn't inquire as to pizza delivery.  They probably don't have reindeer pizza anyway.  Our first night we simply just relaxed and enjoyed the atmosphere and a great salad.  There were many types of RVs throughout the area:  old, new, motor coaches, 5th wheels, trailers, tear drops, RPods, Aliners, Hi-Los, Airstreams, home made, and retro-refurbished.  Several had expanded their awning areas to include a tented room and yet others built small additions, decks, and porches for their winter relaxation.  There were areas with consolidated families, or groups to include the Airstream Gang and RV Forum Group.  I couldn't help but notice what I liked to call the Goernicke Family Bus.....from the movie "RV".   Still, you have to admire the work and craftsmanship required to restore as well as maintain this vehicle.  There is a little something for everyone here. 
     Several days of shopping before the show started consisted of visiting the other main event:  The Quartzite Gem & Mineral Show as well as visiting several gazillion venders and booths to see what we couldn't live without.  Mostly, we just added another 5 pounds of rocks to our collection.  Barb did get some lapidary hardware so we can try our hand at jewelry making when we return home.   One trip to the grocery store (there are only 3 small stores in town) led to believe we needed to stock up on several items as everyone was very busy unloading, stocking, selling, and restocking as fast as they could.  This is a BUSY week for everyone and it won't get any easier. 
      Interestingly, I did see a 'skeleton' of a Saguaro Cactus for sale. It is phenomenal that the interior structure of these cacti is actually a wooden structure of the inner vesicles and skeletal structure of this magnificent cactus.  They are truly unique.     
      Thanks to a great idea John gave me earlier in the week, after shopping at several places we made a decision on upgrading our solar.  Our battery bank is located in the back of the truck and as such, every time we go somewhere the portable panels aren't effectively charging anything.  They are in camp charging the single on board RV battery. 


      We purchased a very efficient Kyocera 235 watt single solar panel that we had mounted on the top of the truck bed cap.  We went with a single panel rather than a pair due to the cost efficiency.  Mounted with brackets allowing it to be tilted up or remain flat (for travel).  This is a very large panel.  We did have to remove the Thule Rack Bars (but not the mounts) which we will store in the truck due to room.  We added a 20 amp Sun Electronics controller that was mounted along with the wiring and mounted fuse block within the truck cap (with SAE quick disconnect) and then directly to the Trojan T-105RE battery bank itself.  This system will provide nearly 12 amps of charging capability. 
      The current 130 watt portable panel (7 amps) will remain at camp charging the on board RV battery while no matter where we go the main bank is charging as well.  Additionally, at sunset I will disconnect the truck solar SAE and use the fused portable solar extension cord to jumper from the truck bank to the on board battery for plenty of nighttime power. was not only the most reasonable quote we got, but they even understood what we wanted in the first place.  In fact one of their installers has the exact same setup on his truck.  Tough, you ask?  Nearly all RVs have their solar mounted to the roof and Kyocera has a reputation for high efficiency, tough hail resistant panels.  Additionally, I checked with my vehicle insurance and as the panels are mounted to the vehicle they are covered as well.   
      We checked out the RV show and except for a few LED lights found nothing we couldn't live without, including too many people.  There was an abundance of motor coaches and 'ginormal' 5th wheels, but not much in the way of anything else except used stuff.   NOTE TO SELF:  Quit eating BBQ at shows cause it is rarely as good as the real thing.  Since when did 'pulled pork' become the only BBQ known to man?  We spent a few more days geocaching and exploring the Hauser Geode Beds south of Blythe, CA before heading out.  This area encompasses several hundred acres of low desert floor and some hillsides. 

We found a couple of geodes as well as collected a few other interesting specimens to cut.  John Schroeder also arrived during the week to test out the new solar system on his Scamp 5th wheel.  We had him over to Mobile Casa Hilts for dinner one night and spent hours doing the 'man thing' talking about our systems and plans for future improvement.   

      We thoroughly enjoyed the Quartzsite experience.  We will certainly return here again when able, but NEVER during show week.  There are just too many people with which to contend.  I imagine it would be a bit like Super Bowl week or Mardi Gras.  In fact as one gentleman at the water station was explaining the week to me......"Its very much like Woodstock for Senior Citizens". 
      We head north now, along the Colorado River and past Las Vegas and Ely to Battle Mountain, Nevada to visit my cousin Tom, whom I haven't seen since high school. 
WiFi provided by our Verizon Hot Spot....there was plenty of signal in the desert.



Saturday, January 10, 2015

Cactus, the Old West, & Tucson Arizona

      We have really fallen in love with the Southwest.  Much as we loved exploring parts of South Central New Mexico, we also knew Arizona had much to offer.  Again this is our first winter south so we're breaking it up into chunks, exploring when and where we can

      Entering the state from the SE we took advantage of the many boondocking opportunities by staying at the Wilcox-Playa Wildlife Management Area.  This area is the southern terminus of much of the Sandhill Crane population's migration route.  Arizona Game & Fish manages the area and provides several primitive camping areas free for 5 days.  There are no fire pits, electric, water, or bathrooms.  Just pull in, level out, and park, which was perfect for an overnight.  There are other boondocking possibilities in this area full of rich history such as Cochise Stronghold, Chiricahua National Monument, and Indian Bread Rock.  All of these areas are primitive, but free.
      We arrived in Tucson, taking advantage of another boondocking opportunity on the Southwest side of Tucson at Snyder Hill.  This parcel of BLM land is just off the Ajo Highway in the Sonoran Desert about 10 miles out of town.  There were probably a dozen rigs in camp total with room for twice as many.  We watered up at the Pilot Truck Stop on our way into town.  After a quick trip to Food City for some restocking we were set.   I have to say that we very much enjoyed the lower diesel prices here as well.  Refueled in Deming, NM at $3.05 and averaged 15.8 mpg towing on our trip to Tucson.  Arriving here we were further delighted with diesel prices near the $2.70 range.  We camped here for 5 days utilizing solar and only spent $4.95 for generator 'top off' gas. 

      Our first day we awoke to rain which lasted all day.  We decided to just head out around town and do a bit of shopping and browsing.   It was in the low 60s so it wasn't uncomfortable, but just 'yucky'.  After an early wonderful dinner of local Sonoran Fare we headed back to camp to settle in and watch a movie and relax. 
      Day #2 saw us finally head out to the Saguaro National Park and Old Tucson.    We had much better weather, in the low 70s with little breeze and plenty of sun.  Old Tucson is famous as a Hollywood location for many famous westerns.  As we toured the town we saw locations for 3:10 to Yuma, Young Guns, Tombstone, and High Chaparral to name a few. 

      From there we traveled further NW to the Saguaro National Park.  This park encompasses 91,000 acres of remarkable landscape.  The Saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States.  It's range is very limited and this park contains a large variety of not only this rare cactus, but many other types as well.  The average life span of a saguaro cactus is 150 years, but some plants may live more than 200 years. A 20 foot tall saguaro weighs approximately 1 ton (2000 pounds).It only highlights the raw beauty of the desert.  We brought Dharma along for the day.  She did enjoy the occasional romp through the desert, but did not appreciate the Saguaro's sense of humor.  Mommy, however, did have a handy tool when we got back to get out the 'prickers'. 
      We finished off our day with a wonderful steak and rib meal at Pinnacle Peak's Cowboy Steak House in Trail Dust Town in Tucson.  The food was delicious, but the prices were a bit on the VERY HIGH side.  They charged us for every single part of our meal including each glass of tea, Barb's baked potato, my bowl of Ranch Beans in addition to our entrée of a steak and a 1/2 rack of ribs.  $62........lesson learned. 

      Our final day in the Tucson desert found us in Catalina State Park.  This area is NE of Tucson and let's you experience the edge of the desert floor and the rugged ridges and 8000 foot mountain ranges very nearby. 

      This is also the area where Arizona Game and Fish began a noble project several years ago to reintroduce Desert Bighorn Sheep into the Catalina Mountains, once their native range.   The original plan was for 30 rams and ewes to be released each year for 3 years.  Unfortunately the local mountain lion population was more of an impact than anyone knew and the current population stands at a mere 15 sheep.  There have been successful births of lambs each year and we were hoping to catch a glimpse of some of these.  I have been dying to use my new 150-600mm lens to get some wildlife pics.  Our hike was unsuccessful however as we saw nothing, but roadrunners and a cottontail rabbit. 

     We did get to see the Romero Ruins, evidence of a Hohokam Tribe Village from somewhere around the years 1350-1400.  We had also originally planned on visiting Sabino Canyon, another wonderful oasis in the desert, but our time ran short.  We caught a few 'geocaches' on the way back to camp and then set up our evening meal of brats over a campfire.  The entire Tucson Valley has been a wonderful visit, albeit a bit too short for our tastes.  We do have to keep moving as we are due in Mesa, AZ to visit with my cousin before we head off to Quartzsite,  The adventure continues....
WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi Portable Hot Spot 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

El Charro Cafe Tucson, AZ

    I had already decided to take Barb to Pinnacle Peak in Old Tucson one evening because she was craving a good steak.  On the other hand I always tend to try cuisines local to the area.  Much like Texas and New Mexico this area is famous for their own brand of cuisine, Sonoran.  The El Charro Cafe of Tucson came highly recommended for our adventure.

       Established in 1922 El Charro Café is the nation's oldest Mexican Restaurant in continuous operation by the same family.  Featuring traditional Northern Mexico-Sonoran style and innovative Tucson-style Mexican Food, El Charro Café is truly as Gourment Magazine wrote:  "A Taste Explosion".  They pride themselves with a large array of award winning hand crafted recipes based on Sonoran and local ingredients. 
        Tuesday was a rainy, dismal day so as we were out running around shopping, we stopped in and treated ourselves to an early dinner.  The 'while you wait' order of chips and salsa was good; very tomato based with a hint of Oregano.  Tasty, but without any heat.  Barb loved it.  Our waiter was very helpful as I explained we really wanted to try some authentic Sonoran Style Mexican Tucson fare.  Sonoran Style is the home of Fish Tacos so it was easy for Barb to select the Seasoned Grilled Fish Tacos on soft Corn Tortillas with Rice and Beans topped with Cheese. 
      I was wanting something a bit more off the reservation so I selected the Tucson Ranchos Enchiladas, filled with Shredded Adobo Pork, Green Chiles, Green Sauce, and topped with more Green Sauce and Cheese.  Served with sides of Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, Rice, and Beans topped with Cheese. 

      Barb and I both loved our dishes, which at first seemed like any other Mexican meal I had ever had except that it had aftertaste that was very unusual, but delicious.  When I asked about it my waiter told me they use 'Billy Spice' which I had never heard of, but apparently it is a Adobo based spice with Orange Peel, Star Anise, and Chamomile as well.  You can buy it online at
      Our service was excellent.  Our server, Brandon is a U of A student who hails from Kalispell, MT.  He was very helpful, checking back with us often to see how we liked the food.  Price is reasonable as well with our tab (with drinks) totaling right at $25.   

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Mexico: In Search of the Perfect Green Chile Cheeseburger......

     We arrived in New Mexico continuing the adventure that has been Joie de Vivre.  We camped at a very nice little RV park in Las Cruces in order to soak up comforts for a few days.  By comforts of course I mean electric, water, sewer, a mail drop, and groceries, but it also would include shopping, sight seeing, and meeting up with a high school friend I hadn't seen in nearly 40 years.  I was excited for this visit as Doc knows more about Geology than I ever will in my lifetime.  Las Cruces is located in the south central part of the state so we kept our day trip travels within a two hour drive of 'home base'. 
     New Mexico is such a diverse state offering desert, canyons, rivers, real mountains, skiing, hunting & fishing, rockhounding, and a myriad of art and culture.  I have always enjoyed cooking with chile peppers, most notably the green NM #9.  Spicier than the Anaheim, but not as hot as the Jalapeno it gives any meal an excellent flavor with some heat in order to accentuate, but not overwhelm the dish.  Chopped, diced, roasted, or stuffed ala smaller Chile Rellenos, Poppers, or in nearly any meal including a cheeseburger these are hard to beat.  The best green chiles in the world come from the town of Hatch, NM.  These peppers do not store well unless dehydrated, or roasted and frozen.  Believe it or not I was able to find 1 pound bags of frozen diced Hatch Green Chiles in both mild and medium right at the local Wal Mart.  Barb informed me that SUPER HOT SCALD YOUR BUTT OFF bags would not be appropriate.  Obediently I put 6 pounds of the mild/medium in the freezer.
     Our first day trip led us across the Organ Mountains to the White Sands National Monument.  Later we lunched in Alamogordo at The Hi-D-Ho Drive In to sample one of their famous Green Chile Cheeseburgers.  Afterwards we visited the New Mexico Space Museum and Hall of Fame.  Barb was very impressed with that.  On the way home we climbed the mountain roads and did some photography at Aguirre Springs. 


      Aguirre Springs was a high altitude little campground at the end of a winding, climbing 7 miles of mountain road that I would never be able to get our RV into, but it was a fun side trip.  Yes, that's snow on those New Mexico mountains! 

      Day #2 found morning temps at 20 degrees and my friend a little 'under the weather' so Barb and I took off to explore for ourselves.  Once again we left Las Cruces and headed east to the Organ Mountains, but this time to Dripping Springs Recreation Area, only about 12 miles from town. 

     This area consists of the transition from low valley desert to the median reaches of the range.  The Dripping Springs Natural Area has over four miles of easy hiking trails, including the Dripping Springs Trail, which shows off desert scrub and low elevation pinon-juniper and oak woodlands, including an array of cactus and yucca.  Elevation at Las Cruces is 3908 feet while at the Dripping Springs Visitor Center it rises to 5600 feet and finally crests at the springs at 6200 feet.   The trail itself is only a 3 mile round trip so the elevation gain isn't that severe, but you do feel the decreased oxygen while hiking (not that I'm in any kind of shape anyways).  Temps at the springs were still only in the low 30s.  We did find snow both on the trail and on the cliff sides near the top.  The final 80 yards were slippery. 

     It was an enjoyable day despite the colder temps.  We did a little rock hounding on the way, but found little.  We headed back to town figuring we'd earned ourselves a good Mexican meal and a cold Dos Equis (no cheeseburger tonight). 
      Day #3 was New Years Day.  I put together a decent snack tray and I just 'vegged' and watched football all day.  Barb took advantage of an empty laptop and did the bills. 
    Day #4 set our course west to Deming, NM.  We were in 'Full Rockhounding Mode' so we set sail for the area best known for geodes, most notably Rockhound State Park and the Baker Ranch. We began at the GeoLapidary Rock Shop & Museum and the Spanish Stirrup Rock Shop to gain some local info before unleashing our rock hammers.   We did purchase some very nice rough pieces (and one pair of beautiful polished twin halves of Baker Ranch Geode).  We hiked the Geode Trail in the park, but only found pieces of Jasper & Rhyolite.  On our way back we stopped for lunch at Blake's Lot-a-Burger for a well earned...yep, you guessed it......Green Chile Cheeseburger. 
       Day #5 set us out on the ultimate one day road trip.  137 miles north of Las Cruces is the town of San Antonio.  It turned out to be quite the adventure as Central and Northern New Mexico got as much as 4-6 inches of new snow overnight.  Yeah I know it isn't really that much, but remember these folks don't usually see this much at one time.  Plenty of vehicles involuntarily on the side of the road or upside down were testament to this.   

      San Antonio is an innocent enough town, except that it is also the home of the two most famous Green Chile Cheeseburgers in the state.  The Owl Bar and Café and across the street is the Buckhorn Tavern.  After a coin flip we chose The Owl Bar.  On an average summer day the Owl Bar will serve an average of 600 to 700 burgers.  In 2003 the Owl's Green Chile Cheeseburger was rated as one of the Top 10 burgers in America by Epicurious.  Of course more food than burgers are served here.  They are also noted for their incredible steaks, pinto beans, and of course green chiles.  But, lets face it, this is what we came here for.  In fact, as the menu describes it....Crusty, gnarled patties of beef are covered with chopped hot green chilies and the chilies are in turn topped with a slice of cheese that melts into them and the crevices of the hamburger. The green chile itself is a flavor revelation; in concert with beef, it's magic. Customary condiments include raw onion, chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, and pickle chips. 

     About now you're asking yourself, "This knucklehead drove 4 hours round trip for a cheeseburger!?!?!?"  Yes, I did.  This is, after all......Joie de Vivre! 
      We also took a quick side trip to the town of Bingham, NM.....population 2.  Noteworthy because it is the home of the Blanchard Rock Shop.  Not only does it have tailings you can explore as well as a selection of local minerals, both raw and polished, but located adjacent to the Trinity Nuclear Test Site, this shop sells Trinitite, a man-made mineral that resulted from the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico.  Relax, much like's safe.  I did not purchase any Trinitite because the prices were awfully steep, but we did get some beautiful samples of Petrified Wood and Crazy Lace Agate


       Day #6 was The Finals of the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  We headed north to Hatch, NM. 

      We traveled north via the state highway instead of interstate so as to see as much of the agricultural countryside as possible.  The Mesilla Valley is famous for its chile pepper production, but is also home to many pecan orchards and cotton fields as well.  Although it is far past chile harvest time, some fields are left for seed purposes this spring.

       Our plan was to tour the town, including the Hatch Chile Express.  This shop is the largest distributor of Hatch Chile Peppers in the world.  You can find it all here in what form, quantity, or heat you're looking for.   In fact there are several businesses that offer many different chile products such as various grades of both red and green chile powder, dried peppers, ristras, salsas, even jellies, honeys, and pecans. 

      Afterwards we ate lunch at Sparky's.  This place comes highly recommended and is my friend's favorite placed to chow down on our favorite treat....a Green Chile Cheeseburger.  We arrived early, at the beginning of the lunch crowd, so the line was only about a dozen people.  Later it got much, much longer.  There is a sidewalk magician performing for your entertainment while you wait.  The kids loved him!   You have your choice of dining outside or inside at two separate dining areas, one of which has a live jazz band performing for your enjoyment, but several folks were enjoying the sunny afternoon dancing!         

      The 'Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail' is famous in these parts as a culinary map to some of the best 'Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives' in the state featuring the #1 taste treat.  There are 97 places in New Mexico that lay claim to THE BEST.  Since I am only human  I concentrated my efforts on either the most famous or those near our daily outings.  
      The famous Alamogordo Hi-D-Ho Drive In has been serving Green Chile Cheeseburgers for over 30 years.  In all honesty it was only fair.  The chiles provided the perfect amount of heat, but the burger flavor didn't have much taste. 
     The famous Owl Bar & Café Green Chile Cheeseburger.  Served for 60 years, it is the #1 rated Green Chile Cheeseburger in the state and one of the Top 10 Cheeseburgers in America by Epicurious.  FINALLY, I discovered a burger worth bragging about.  It is a burger of reasonable size with beef that is obviously hand formed and topped with anything you desire.  The chiles have excellent heat and flavor.  The flavor is excellent and is easily one of the best burgers I have ever had!  The Green Chile Onion Rings (also shown) were also to die for! 
     The famous Sparky's in Hatch, NM is noted not only for it's burgers, but some delicious BBQ,  Tecate' Beer Battered fish, and Teako's Tacos (featuring pulled pork, green chiles, and cheese) as well.  This is my friend Doc's favorite place.  As good as the Owl Bar burger was.......this one is even BETTER!  Sparky's is located on the main intersection in town and impossible to miss.  The owner has nearly a block of various large souvenir statues from other fast food establishments across the country from Ronald McDonald to the A & W Burger Kids to KFC's own Colonel Sanders!  There is plenty of parking.  There is always a line here to eat.  The burger is a THICK, savory, charbroiled burger topped only with REAL cheddar cheese and green chiles on a sesame seed bun.  Like the menu says, "It's all you need".  The burger is easily 1/3 of a pound.  The chiles provide the perfect amount of heat as well.  In fact, I could have used more.  My choice of side was Pineapple Coleslaw which was delicious as well.  As tempting as it was, I couldn't wrap my mind around a Hatch Chile Mango shake so I went with delicious, homemade lemonade.  Barb was unable to finish her burger in one session so it's a good thing we brought along our 2nd Team Taste Tester waiting in the truck.  Her rating?  WOOF WOOF! Congrats to Sparky's for winning the 'Mad Chef Best Green Chile Cheeseburger' in New Mexico. 

     In Deming, NM this is the only 'chain restaurant' burger we ate during our entire stay.  Blake's Lot-a-Burger claims to make a burger that is so much like homemade you can't believe it!  These are not your 'chain type' preformed patties.....every burger begins as a seasoned ball of meat that is hand formed into the final product much like you would make at home.  There are many of these restaurants around New Mexico and it should be no surprise that they occupy 41 of the 97 places on the rankings.  The burger had PLENTY of heat, enough to make me break a sweat, but once again the burger lacked great taste. 
     All in all we had a wonderful visit with Doc, Sheryl, and the entire area of South Central New Mexico that we could get to.  It truly is the Land of Enchantment.   We got out and tried to experience as much of the local area and culture as we could.  The local cuisine here (not just burgers) is delicious, although Guacamole doesn't seem to be a common side dish.   The food is ALWAYS home cooked and the portions are large and fresh.  Although there are many good places to eat we enjoyed the food at Guadalupana and Burritos Victoria.  I don't speak any Spanish, but they didn't seem to mind helping out this Gringo. In fact they treated us like family.  After our mail pickup, laundry, and last minute shopping we will move on west.  The adventure continues..... 

WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi Hotspot.....the RV park WiFi was pretty slow