Life is Full of Surprises

Leave a comment Standard

This nomadic lifestyle can be so surprising. We’ve just spent a week camping in a remote Bureau of Land Management campground in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument several miles south of Taos, New Mexico. We occasionally warn our kids that we are heading to an area of the country that will probably not have cell service, but then we find that we generally have at least one bar now and then. We headed into this gorge expecting to have service, but we had no signals at all! No Verizon for the phones, no AT&T for the MiFi, and no TV channels. We spent eight nights here waiting for our campsite in Albuquerque to open up. The annual Balloon Fiesta packed the campgrounds there and the only available site was $100 per night at the KOA. No thank you! Despite having to learn to live with no connection to family, no way to look at a map online, or look up recipes, this BLM campground with water and electricity for $7.50 per night with beautiful canyon walls, the Rio Grande River whispering past and the occasional screech of a Golden Eagle was the perfect place to spend several days.

And yet, despite being so remote, we have found nuggets of surprise even here …


The winter of 2018-2019 was our first trip to the southwest. Our good friend Maureen flew to Albuquerque to see us for a few days, and we all visited the Acoma Pueblo in western New Mexico. The Acoma Pueblo is the longest continuously inhabited pueblo in the country and, despite it’s location at the top of a mesa with only one steep road up, there are still about 30 families living there. The Acoma people are famous for their pottery. It’s quite distinctive, mostly black and white with traditional Indian motifs like lizards, bears and kokopeli painted alongside beautiful geometric designs. The most intricate pieces are not just painted but etched with fine lines. It’s impossible to imagine the number of hours it must take to complete one pot.

A seed pot made by Sharon Miller of Acoma. (This is not mine, I borrowed this photo from the internet.)

In the spring of 2019 when we first visited the pueblo, I spoke with an Acoma woman named Karen Miller about her craft. She explained that potting is in the blood of the Acoma in the same way that weaving is in the blood of the Navajo. Karen’s mother and grandmother potted, and they taught Karen and her sister Sharon. Their own children were learning to pot as well, starting with simple coiled pots and progressing from there.

This year, because of Covid-19, when we attempted to visit the Acoma Pueblo we found it closed to visitors. (The pandemic hit the Indian nations hard. We saw hand-painted signs at the bottom of driveways in Navajo Nation reading, “NO VISITORS! FAMILY ONLY!”) The pueblos have closed their tours, and that leaves the Acoma people, who depend on tourists buying their pottery, in a really tough situation.

Fortunately, a local casino has allowed the Acoma craftspeople to set up tables in their parking lot. We found this by chance when we stayed the Sky City Casino RV lot for a night. Karen’s sister Sharon was at a the very first table displaying her exquisitely etched pottery! We stopped to talk, told her how we had met her sister and her father last time we visited the pueblo, and it was as if we had just reconnected with an old friend. She updated us on the latest family news (her father had been elected head of the pueblo and her sister took a job at a nursing home) and she even invited us to visit her, Karen and their families at the pueblo when it reopened to the outside world. All this warmth and friendship even before I purchased an exquisite jar from her! 😁


We had set up our campsite in this BLM campground in the early recesses of the great Rio Grand Gorge and spent about 6 hours coming to terms with not having any WiFi, cell or TV antenna service at all. You don’t realize how much you depend on your devices for news, information, maps and just reaching out to say hi to your kids until you have zero service!

Bob took this picture of a sunset rainbow. Not only did the sunset illuminate the gorge’s ridge, but it was the brightest double rainbow we’ve ever seen, even illuminating the clouds.

The following morning, instead of sipping coffee and reading the morning news on our devices, we sat out in the morning sun sipping coffee and listening to the mountain bluebirds and ravens greet the day. One lovely thing about this campground is that there is a strict rule: no amplified music of any kind is allowed. With newer RVs having outdoor TVs and audio speakers, its not unusual to hear music from other campsites … usually country music, but also the occasional thump, thump, thump of a woofer, which can quickly become monotonous. So, there we sat enjoying the morning sun and twitter of the birds bouncing off the canyon wall.

Then, around the corner like an apparition, a big green tour bus pulled into the campground and drove right past us. The bus stopped and regurgitated about 40 grey haired people in various states of mobility. Behind the bus were trucks pulling stacks of large river rafts. We sat there watching and wondering if we were caught on Candid Camera as several people gingerly toddled toward the restroom, some with canes. We concurred that there was no way those people could be going river rafting!

The tour bus.

After a while, a stocky, bearded man wearing a big black prospector’s hat rounded everyone up and said, “My name is Francisco Vargas Ladron de Guevara … people call me Cisco.” Sure enough, he proceeded to tell the folks about the river trip they were going to participate in, followed by the meal that would be served by the local Indian cooks who were already busy in the pavilion. “It may not be food that you are familiar with, but it’s all nutritious, delicious and organic.”

Cisco addressing his rafters.

After Cisco’s lengthy recitation of the rules of river rafting, the folks boarded the bus again and headed to a more northern put-in spot on the river. The river float is conducted by local Indian guides who give educational presentations of the river, it’s flora, fauna and history. We positioned ourselves on the river bank and snapped some photos of them as the rafts rounded the bend and returned to the campground with their appetites whetted for a meal of elk, bison, corn cakes, and other native specialties.

The rafts coming around the corner.

Seeing that tour bus pull in the first morning was surreal in this quiet canyon location. Since then, Cisco has returned with a tour bus several more times. His rafting adventure seems to be quite popular with the retiree bus tours of the southwest!


There are only about ten campsites in this campground, so you say hello to everyone; sometimes you get to know people who are staying longer than just one night. The campground host told Bob that he thought there was another camper here from Connecticut, so we hung our UConn Huskies flag out to identify ourselves.

Our second evening, as we sat outside enjoying the breeze and a beer, a wiry man of about our age wandered over. He looked at the flag and said, “Connecticut. What town?” (That in itself is unusual, as normally we’ll hear ‘Wow! You’re a long way from home!’) I replied, “Manchester,” and waited for him to respond that he was from Greenwich, Danbury, or some other far-flung town. Instead, he asked, “What street??” I said, “Devon Drive. And you?” He said, “Garden Drive.” Here we are in the middle of nowhere New Mexico meeting someone from home!

His name is Jan Lambert, and he sat with us for a couple of hours comparing thoughts about everything from neighborhoods, Manchester High School (he was in the first graduating class of the “new” school) and how the town has changed, to his escape from New England to UC-Berkeley, California life, and Elon Musk and the current state of the satellite industry, in which he spent the bulk of his career. We had a couple of very interesting conversations with Jan before he left for another campground in the northern reaches of the Rio Grande monument. Jan is a true nomad, living a very minimalistic life on the road without a plan, not a pseudo-nomad like us with a house on wheels and all the comforts of home. It was really great meeting him and we hope to cross paths again someday.


This campground is interesting just for the traffic that comes through. It’s a very popular camping spot with about 5 tiny campgrounds every half mile or so down the road. The pavement ends at a rough dirt road that crosses the river via a small suspension bridge and then zig zags up the side of the canyon until you reach the rim. The view is spectacularly rugged, and after following the rim road for several miles, you arrive at a beautiful large suspension bridge that looks too fragile, and when driving over it I had trouble looking down … we were VERY HIGH!

The Rio Grande Gorge National Monument runs 50 miles long and is 800 feet at its deepest point.
The Rio Grande Gorge suspension bridge.

Campers fall into two categories … the folks who hit each campground in succession hoping to find a site quickly, and the gamblers who drive all the way in and start with the furthest campground and work their way down to the beginning. We’ve seen campers pull in, check out the only site available, then leave to probably see if the sites are any better in the other campgrounds; when they returned fifteen minutes later, the site they had looked at has been snagged by someone else.

We saw all kinds of campers in this gorge — motorhomes, pull-behind campers, tents, camping hammocks and even car campers. The one that was most surprising was Ana, a diminutive woman who looked to be pushing 80 who pulled into a tent campsite one day and set up some utensils on the picnic table, then proceeded to find a nice secluded sunny spot near the river to sit in her lawn chair. We thought that maybe she was just visiting for the day, but when we woke up the next morning, after a frigid 31 degree night, her car was still there! We kept an eye on the car and decided that if we didn’t see movement by 9 am, we’d go see if she was okay. A little after 8:00, her passenger door swung open and two little feet popped out. A minute later, Ana stood in the sunshine and stretched, then headed for the restroom building. Later, Bob stopped and spoke with her. She said, “I go camping about once a month. I have a tent, but I just bought this car, so I figured I’d see how comfortable it is for sleeping.” She said that she might go for a hike, and when her car pulled out and headed up the road farther into the canyon, I told Bob she’s probably going four-wheeling up the dirt road to the rim. LOL.

I want to be Ana when I grow up!

Photo from a day drive into the Taos Valley ski area.

Today, we departed the gorge with some drizzle and 30 mph winds (the negative of not having any cell service … no idea about the weather forecast). We’re heading back to Albuquerque and looking forward to visiting with Bob’s aunts Diane and Bosha again!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Life is Full of Surprises

Leave a comment Standard

This nomadic lifestyle can be so surprising. We’ve just spent a week camping in a remote Bureau of Land Management campground in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument several miles south of Taos, New Mexico. We occasionally warn our kids that we are heading to an area of the country that will probably not have cell service, but then we find that we generally have at least one bar now and then. We headed into this gorge expecting to have service, but we had no signals at all! No Verizon for the phones, no AT&T for the MiFi, and no TV channels. We spent eight nights here waiting for our campsite in Albuquerque to open up. The annual Balloon Fiesta packed the campgrounds there and the only available site was $100 per night at the KOA. No thank you! Despite having to learn to live with no connection to family, no way to look at a map online, or look up recipes, this BLM campground with water and electricity for $7.50 per night with beautiful canyon walls, the Rio Grande River whispering past and the occasional screech of a Golden Eagle was the perfect place to spend several days.

And yet, despite being so remote, we have found nuggets of surprise even here …


The winter of 2018-2019 was our first trip to the southwest. Our good friend Maureen flew to Albuquerque to see us for a few days, and we all visited the Acoma Pueblo in western New Mexico. The Acoma Pueblo is the longest continuously inhabited pueblo in the country and, despite it’s location at the top of a mesa with only one steep road up, there are still about 30 families living there. The Acoma people are famous for their pottery. It’s quite distinctive, mostly black and white with traditional Indian motifs like lizards, bears and kokopeli painted alongside beautiful geometric designs. The most intricate pieces are not just painted but etched with fine lines. It’s impossible to imagine the number of hours it must take to complete one pot.

A seed pot made by Sharon Miller of Acoma. (This is not mine, I borrowed this photo from the internet.)

In the spring of 2019 when we first visited the pueblo, I spoke with an Acoma woman named Karen Miller about her craft. She explained that potting is in the blood of the Acoma in the same way that weaving is in the blood of the Navajo. Karen’s mother and grandmother potted, and they taught Karen and her sister Sharon. Their own children were learning to pot as well, starting with simple coiled pots and progressing from there.

This year, because of Covid-19, when we attempted to visit the Acoma Pueblo we found it closed to visitors. (The pandemic hit the Indian nations hard. We saw hand-painted signs at the bottom of driveways in Navajo Nation reading, “NO VISITORS! FAMILY ONLY!”) The pueblos have closed their tours, and that leaves the Acoma people, who depend on tourists buying their pottery, in a really tough situation.

Fortunately, a local casino has allowed the Acoma craftspeople to set up tables in their parking lot. We found this by chance when we stayed the Sky City Casino RV lot for a night. Karen’s sister Sharon was at a the very first table displaying her exquisitely etched pottery! We stopped to talk, told her how we had met her sister and her father last time we visited the pueblo, and it was as if we had just reconnected with an old friend. She updated us on the latest family news (her father had been elected head of the pueblo and her sister took a job at a nursing home) and she even invited us to visit her, Karen and their families at the pueblo when it reopened to the outside world. All this warmth and friendship even before I purchased an exquisite jar from her! 😁


We had set up our campsite in this BLM campground in the early recesses of the great Rio Grand Gorge and spent about 6 hours coming to terms with not having any WiFi, cell or TV antenna service at all. You don’t realize how much you depend on your devices for news, information, maps and just reaching out to say hi to your kids until you have zero service!

Bob took this picture of a sunset rainbow. Not only did the sunset illuminate the gorge’s ridge, but it was the brightest double rainbow we’ve ever seen, even illuminating the clouds.

The following morning, instead of sipping coffee and reading the morning news on our devices, we sat out in the morning sun sipping coffee and listening to the mountain bluebirds and ravens greet the day. One lovely thing about this campground is that there is a strict rule: no amplified music of any kind is allowed. With newer RVs having outdoor TVs and audio speakers, its not unusual to hear music from other campsites … usually country music, but also the occasional thump, thump, thump of a woofer, which can quickly become monotonous. So, there we sat enjoying the morning sun and twitter of the birds bouncing off the canyon wall.

Then, around the corner like an apparition, a big green tour bus pulled into the campground and drove right past us. The bus stopped and regurgitated about 40 grey haired people in various states of mobility. Behind the bus were trucks pulling stacks of large river rafts. We sat there watching and wondering if we were caught on Candid Camera as several people gingerly toddled toward the restroom, some with canes. We concurred that there was no way those people could be going river rafting!

The tour bus.

After a while, a stocky, bearded man wearing a big black prospector’s hat rounded everyone up and said, “My name is Francisco Vargas Ladron de Guevara … people call me Cisco.” Sure enough, he proceeded to tell the folks about the river trip they were going to participate in, followed by the meal that would be served by the local Indian cooks who were already busy in the pavilion. “It may not be food that you are familiar with, but it’s all nutritious, delicious and organic.”

Cisco addressing his rafters.

After Cisco’s lengthy recitation of the rules of river rafting, the folks boarded the bus again and headed to a more northern put-in spot on the river. The river float is conducted by local Indian guides who give educational presentations of the river, it’s flora, fauna and history. We positioned ourselves on the river bank and snapped some photos of them as the rafts rounded the bend and returned to the campground with their appetites whetted for a meal of elk, bison, corn cakes, and other native specialties.

The rafts coming around the corner.

Seeing that tour bus pull in the first morning was surreal in this quiet canyon location. Since then, Cisco has returned with a tour bus several more times. His rafting adventure seems to be quite popular with the retiree bus tours of the southwest!


There are only about ten campsites in this campground, so you say hello to everyone; sometimes you get to know people who are staying longer than just one night. The campground host told Bob that he thought there was another camper here from Connecticut, so we hung our UConn Huskies flag out to identify ourselves.

Our second evening, as we sat outside enjoying the breeze and a beer, a wiry man of about our age wandered over. He looked at the flag and said, “Connecticut. What town?” (That in itself is unusual, as normally we’ll hear ‘Wow! You’re a long way from home!’) I replied, “Manchester,” and waited for him to respond that he was from Greenwich, Danbury, or some other far-flung town. Instead, he asked, “What street??” I said, “Devon Drive. And you?” He said, “Garden Drive.” Here we are in the middle of nowhere New Mexico meeting someone from home!

His name is Jan Lambert, and he sat with us for a couple of hours comparing thoughts about everything from neighborhoods, Manchester High School (he was in the first graduating class of the “new” school) and how the town has changed, to his escape from New England to UC-Berkeley, California life, and Elon Musk and the current state of the satellite industry, in which he spent the bulk of his career. We had a couple of very interesting conversations with Jan before he left for another campground in the northern reaches of the Rio Grande monument. Jan is a true nomad, living a very minimalistic life on the road without a plan, not a pseudo-nomad like us with a house on wheels and all the comforts of home. It was really great meeting him and we hope to cross paths again someday.


This campground is interesting just for the traffic that comes through. It’s a very popular camping spot with about 5 tiny campgrounds every half mile or so down the road. The pavement ends at a rough dirt road that crosses the river via a small suspension bridge and then zig zags up the side of the canyon until you reach the rim. The view is spectacularly rugged, and after following the rim road for several miles, you arrive at a beautiful large suspension bridge that looks too fragile, and when driving over it I had trouble looking down … we were VERY HIGH!

The Rio Grande Gorge National Monument runs 50 miles long and is 800 feet at its deepest point.
The Rio Grande Gorge suspension bridge.

Campers fall into two categories … the folks who hit each campground in succession hoping to find a site quickly, and the gamblers who drive all the way in and start with the furthest campground and work their way down to the beginning. We’ve seen campers pull in, check out the only site available, then leave to probably see if the sites are any better in the other campgrounds; when they returned fifteen minutes later, the site they had looked at has been snagged by someone else.

We saw all kinds of campers in this gorge — motorhomes, pull-behind campers, tents, camping hammocks and even car campers. The one that was most surprising was Ana, a diminutive woman who looked to be pushing 80 who pulled into a tent campsite one day and set up some utensils on the picnic table, then proceeded to find a nice secluded sunny spot near the river to sit in her lawn chair. We thought that maybe she was just visiting for the day, but when we woke up the next morning, after a frigid 31 degree night, her car was still there! We kept an eye on the car and decided that if we didn’t see movement by 9 am, we’d go see if she was okay. A little after 8:00, her passenger door swung open and two little feet popped out. A minute later, Ana stood in the sunshine and stretched, then headed for the restroom building. Later, Bob stopped and spoke with her. She said, “I go camping about once a month. I have a tent, but I just bought this car, so I figured I’d see how comfortable it is for sleeping.” She said that she might go for a hike, and when her car pulled out and headed up the road farther into the canyon, I told Bob she’s probably going four-wheeling up the dirt road to the rim. LOL.

I want to be Ana when I grow up!

Photo from a day drive into the Taos Valley ski area.

Today, we departed the gorge with some drizzle and 30 mph winds (the negative of not having any cell service … no idea about the weather forecast). We’re heading back to Albuquerque and looking forward to visiting with Bob’s aunts Diane and Bosha again!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s