Posts Tagged With: camping

Wacky White Sands 

We set our GPS to Brantley lake state park, New Mexico to take showers and possibly stay, if we liked it because it was only $8 for primitive site, $5 day use. The road took us by a dam with a very low river. We approached Brantley lake state park and it looked like it was last in line for funding. We kept driving until we reached the primitive camping but it didn’t look appealing. The showers were OK, ‘free’ with the $5 per vehicle day use fee with a two second pushbutton. Ahh, it drove me crazy! I’d picked the handicap stall for a little more room and at least the handheld showerheads stream lasted a  little little longer. While I waited for Travis, I saw a jack rabbit with reallyyy long legs. A couple in an RV told us they been road tripping across the US and had a similar future route and that this was one of the worst places they’ve stayed. We decided to continue, did some research on freecampsites.net and found a place at roughly 8000 feet elevation in Cloudcroft, 45 minutes from White Sands. We climbed from scruggly (scraggly, shrubby) desert to high fir forests. I was hoping against sleeping in the desert and was incredibly excited to see so many trees again. We saw aspen trees and then an elk, and another elk! on the side of the road. Travis was super hungry and we weren’t looking forward to either cooking or setting up in the dark so we decide to stop if we saw an affordable looking diner. We passed a couple fancy looking places before finding one that looked reasonably priced. I ordered steak fingers and fries that came with gravy and Travis ordered a burrito with rice, beans, chips, and salsa. I had a few left over fingers for lunch tomorrow. Feeling satisfied, we set our sights towards finding a home for the night. We reached our gravel road turn off and continued up. This was our only second time using free dispersed camping. We parked near a few other vehicles and tents and start walking towards a clear area. A man’s voice gruffly yelled out, “Hey, what are you doing!?” We replied we were looking for a dispersed campsite. He angrily yelled again, “Get out! This is taken!” Even though there were plenty of tenting areas with car spaces. We hurried back to the car. I was both upset and frightened; I sure didn’t want to camp near those kind of people. The next group we saw had a fire and Travis was more confident in approaching them to inquire about the free camping. They were indeed nice and told us just to keep looking, that there were plenty on down the road. Just about when we couldn’t see much because it was getting dark, we found a pullover spot next to a large field. We made sure it was flat enough, set up our tents and got in because it was pretty cold!

I was hoping to wake up to elk grazing in a meadow but alas, it was just us. It was just 45 minutes from White Sands through the town of Alamogordo. Occasionally the interstate we were on closed for military missile testing. The White Sands visitor center was styled like an old Adobe pueblo. I gathered some maps and information on the 8 mile loop drive and short quarter mile and half mile hikes. There were longer hikes but I didn’t want to hike far in the real desert. Our national Park pass got us in for free again ($10/vehicle) and we drove off into the dunes. At first it looked like normal sand dunes, with a few bushes and grass clumps on them, but soon turned into all white bare sand. We pulled off onto a sand parking lot to hike a boardwalk discovery path with lots of informational signs. It’s actually gypsum sand. 

As the pavement ended, we finally found a parking area to be able to walk on the dunes. I took my shoes off and started climbing. Wow, it was cold sand! I fully expected it to be hot under the glaring sun. We watched as other people slid down on the dunes on their sleds. You could buy or rent a slide to sled down the dunes. I guess it didn’t hurt the dunes much. We soon collapsed onto the sand, playing with it like at the beach, burying our feet. Ooh, the ocean. This much sand should have an ocean or some body of water. Instead there were mountains, which were cool…but not an ocean. 

Back at the visitor center we washed our dirty dishes, filled our water containers and ate lunch. I had my leftover steak fingers and gravy and Travis made a Vienna sausage taquito. We bought our patch, what we decided to collect from every place we visited. We saw the same guy we’d seen at Carlsbad Cavern asking about the camping fee. We told him we were camped on a nice mountain up the road and about the website we’d been using but he replied he liked it here. The dunes were great and all but temperatures were still rising and soon they’d be like a sauna. But to each his own. We drove back through Alamogordo, picking up a few items at Walmart and getting gas. We stopped at a few touristy gift shop and I really liked the store with lots of colorful pottery and metal work. Travis pet the store dog and leaned in a little too close so the dog jumped and bared its teeth, making contact with Travis’s nose and lip. I was probably more scared than him. I really liked a metal mountain silhoette and Travis said if I still liked it the next day we would get it on our way out. I really wanted to hike at least a short trail in this area because it was much cooler and to walk because we driven around White Sands. We pulled over to an old railroad valley crossing. The railroad used to bring people up to the mountains for cooler weather and the trestles were still standing. Travis researched a roughly 2 mile hike that actually began super close to where we spent the night. Soon we looked up and saw the old trestle  from above. The trail wasa nice mixture of dirt, rocks, and roots and looped around to a beautiful meadow. If it were later in the day we probably would’ve seen elk or deer. We headed back up to our site but the whole mountain was full. We continued down the gravel road, found an ok site but it was filled with shotgun shells, crushed beer cans and general litter so we ultimately decided against it, opting to drive closer to Las Cruces, our next destination. We drove down into the desert, winding around the city to its south eastern side, next to the mountains. I was worried it would be hot at night but there were no roads leading up the mountain. The GPS coordinates were a little off but we eventually found a spot near trailhead parking. I was paranoid about the possibility of fire ants all around our site until we scuffed up a few ant mounds and they were normal black ants. The sun was setting as we set up our tents and Travis started making pizzas. We didn’t take time to enjoy them thoroughly though they were still amazing. I enjoy ed the sun setting over the city with the mountains glowing behind us. The sun said hello bright and early, heating my tent into a sauna, forcing me to get up and moving. Lots of beetles found shade under our tents as morning came and we chuckled as they scurried from our disappearing shady spots. My coworker used to live here and had given me tips on where to find a cheaper native rug/blanket and with the best frozen custard was. It was a Sunday so everything opened later, around 10 or 11 AM. We made our way to the historic downtown Mesilla area, admiring the desert architecture. We found a cozy little cafĂ© bakery to drink smoothies and wait for shops to open. After washing dishes and mailing postcards, the doors began open. I was eager to check out all the stuff, hoping for some bargains, but everything was still over my budget. Travis found a cool blanket and I bought some Christmas gifts, plus a set of colorful earrings for myself. Satisfied with our finds, we set off for Caliches frozen custard. Travis got a vanilla with sprinkles and I had a brownie caramel sundae. Mmm, this was yummy and so worth it!!

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Enjoyable Echternach

Tuesday July 28I hadn’t set an alarm because I wanted to sleep in and enjoy waking up on my tent. The morning sun didn’t quite hit me as I hoped but it was close. It was pretty chilly so it was a little stretch to get up and out. I boiled up some hot water for my oatmeal to go and took my time getting ready. The tourist office didn’t open until 10 anyway. I went down to reception and went ahead and paid for two nights. I headed to the city center just past 10 and found it much easier to navigate when I wasn’t frustrated and hungry. The office lady gave me a small map of the town and paths but only pointed out one 12km loop trail. She said it was the best day hike in the region. I wandered into the cathedral next door before setting out to find the beginning of this trail. 

The beginning of this trail was also the beginning of many other paths, including a camino with the yellow shell marker. I started up the trail and immediately climbed straight up for half an hour. I stopped and looked back and there was quite a view! I could look out over the town and the surrounding hillsides because I’d climbed up so quickly. I spotted a wooden structure at the very top and hiked just a few more minutes. It was a large gazebo, complete with benches inside. I’d only been hiking for maybe 45minutes but it was around noon/lunchtime and this place just demanded a break. I pulled out a granola bar and began munching away as more people hiked up. No one seemed as interested in the gazebo as I was. I hiked on after eating a bit and wandered through amazingly beautiful forests. There were cliffs next to me and the trees were just perfectly placed all around. I rounded the corner and started descending very steeply into a gorge with high rock faces on either side. I came to an intersection where the trail went straight but it looked like there were trails up to lookouts on either side. I took the one to the left first, climbing many uneven slippery rock stairs before reaching the top. I could look down into the gorge and out across the surrounding areas. There were benches and many worn areas where it looked like people had camped. There was a mother and father chasing their two little boys around on the top. They climbed up here for lunch and the kids looked like they were having a blast. The cliffs were well fenced in all along the top. I could walk on top the cliff looking down at the trail I came in on. I clambered slowly back down the steep stairs I came up and climbed the stairs going to the right. This lookout was much smaller but had a bridge to another cliff island that was pretty cool. There was a troop of young adults that passed by, all grumbling and not very happy, each carrying large heavy packs. None of them stopped to look at either view, just bypassing it without even a picture from the center of the gorge. I was sad they didn’t stop. It really was quite fantastic up here and nothing is meant to be hiked through fast without looking around. I continued on a few minutes after they had passed, walking through some amazing rock formations, all covered in ferns and hanging vines. The rocks had been worn by the wind and rain and had pretty neat textures. It looked like a magical place with the ferns and vines combining to create an incredible aura. I stopped every so often just to stand still, in awe of my surroundings, slowly spinning around in circle. Everywhere my eyes landed was God’s perfect beauty. I passed a picnic shelter with a group of older people. They were all laughing and having a great time. I figured they’d get up and walk on but they all walked to the bus that was parked within eyesight. Well at least they were enjoying nature somewhat. I hiked on, not coming upon anyone for quite awhile. Then I could hear voices and laughter. I couldn’t see them but I could see where they would be. There was a giant rock face looming out over the trail and below it was a cave. This cave had a piece of rock all the way to the ground so you could walk under and around it. The group was sitting in the cave, their now joyful voices mingling and echoing throughout. I felt like this whole area was an incredible secret that Luxembourg kept for the special few. I came upon a sign to go to Berdorf or to continue on my trail. I’d heard that Berdorf was a cute little Swiss town with many shops and restaurants. I could go for an ice cream and it was only 2km there. I headed that way, making sure I remembered which way my correct path went. Soon I left the forest and started walking through fields of wheat and corn, with the occasional colorful poppy. I entered the town and was still able to follow the trail signs but I saw no shops or restaurants, just houses. I kept going but the houses got fewer and fewer. There’d been a turn off but I could easily see that was a highway through more fields. There was a gazebo where the young adult group was gathering. I saw a bar/pub but it only served drinks. Aha! I spotted an ice cream cone on that gate. My pace quickened and soon I was at the door, thinking about what flavors they would be. I pulled and pushed the door but it was locked. It was 2pm on a Tuesday and they were closed. Wow, I’d had such high hopes for this town and the picture of the smiley happy ice cream cone. I sighed and started walking back through the baking hot corn fields, back into the woods. I found my sign and began the way back. This wasn’t through the cliffs or gorge but at least it was beautiful forest with a gently sloping dirt path. 

I got back to town and still wanted a small something to eat so I found a bakery an ordered a cream filled glazed donut. Or what I thought was a cream filled donut. I sat down to eat and was given a fork and knife so I cut into it and took a bite. Mm yummy. I could just barely see the custard now so I cut into that and took another bite. Bleck!! What was that?! It tasted like hard boiled egg. I cut into the donut and tasted more. Yepp, that was egg filling my donut. I stared at it in wonder and disgust. It was glazed with a pretty chocolate drizzle on top. Fluffy. Round. Donut looking. But it was not a donut. I ate the outside, the sweet bread that had glaze but no egg with it. I walked away wanting more, completely unsatisfied with my little (mis)treat. I remembered seeing an ice cream shop but had trouble finding it so I went back to the tourism office to ask. They pointed me in the right direction, probably wondering how anybody could get lost in a town that had maybe 5 roads. Finally, I held in my hand an ice cream cone with hazelnut and caramel flavors. I sat on the steps in the square to polish off my cold deliciousness and just sat there watching people.

I meandered back to my campsite, this time looking in all the shops. I entered one an I thought it was just purses and magnets but at the back I spotted shelves and shelves of puzzles. It started with 100 piece puzzles and went all the way up to 5000! They were all Ravensburger brand. I picked one up and it said authentically made in Ravensburg, Germany. Oh wow, I must go research where that is! I would love to go to the home of the worlds best puzzles! I’d happened upon the Black Forest in Germany as being the home of the cuckoo clock. 

I got back to my tent, set my stuff down and began researching this puzzle city. Turns out it is directly between the Black Forest and Munich. Hmm, my mind started to race ahead of me. I’d like to go but I don’t know if I could fit it in. I’d had to sign up for a specific date to start the European Peace Walk from Vienna and then made reservations for two nights in the hostel in Vienna beginning August 2. It was the first time I’d had a set deadline for time and I was struggling with it. My moms friends friend in the Black Forest area was proving hard to get in contact with. I’d emailed my moms friend and received the contact info for the lady but wasn’t able to call, text, or email. The wifi at the campground was spotty so I tried using my data but that didn’t work. I should’ve been able to make a phone call or text by that wasn’t working either. I tried for several hours, getting more frustrated each minute. I was hoping to leave Echternach on the early bus out to Luxembourg city then down to the Black Forest. From Lux I could go either to Strasbourg, France then across to Freiburg which took pretty much all day or to a city in Germany north of Freiburg but that was way more expensive. I didn’t want to spend the whole day on a train/bus but also didn’t want to shell out big bucks to move a few hundred kilometers. And if course this all depended on if I was able to get in touch with the lady and stay with her or not. I wanted to hike a day and go to Triberg, home of the cuckoo clocks and this lady was right in the middle. I went back up to my tent and started to make dinner. I just wanted to see just a few things while I was in Germany because I only had a couple days to spend. I ate my pasta and thought hard but came up with nothing. I hunkered down in the lounge room as it got cold out and continued to plan. Nothing was coming together and my phone service I’d bought wasn’t working. I couldn’t leave the wifi with no plans if my service didn’t work. I starting shaking, partly from the cold, partly from the anxiety. I was trying not to fret, knowing that it would all come together but this was maddening. I just needed three more days then I’d be in Vienna and on my way down a long distance trail. I finally got the email out but it was past 9pm asking if I could stay there the next day so it probably wouldn’t work out. I wasn’t able to see a whole lot of timetables for trains and buses so I didn’t know how to from here to there. Eventually I went out into the cold and got into my sleeping bag just before midnight, not having a clue as to what I was doing the next day. 

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Lux Luxembourg

Monday July 27I got up early to catch the bus to Luxembourg. I had to ask reception to open the kitchen back up so I could cook some eggs. I left for the station, again walking past some unsavory shops. I was taking flexibus and had a hard time finding out where it was or where to wait for it. I finally just joined another girl standing on the street who had been dropped off there a few days before. It was really windy making us all cold. The time for the bus came and went. Many more people had gathered on the street but no one knew if this was the right spot or where our bus was. Finally, 30minutes past time, a flexibus pulls up and just passed us. It was true there probably wasn’t enough space for a bus to safely parallel park but he didn’t even wave us forward. We all ran a block chasing the bus and caught it, pretty much having to board in the middle of the street. I put my pack in the luggage area and climbed aboard. Most everyone had gone to the second level of the bus for some reason, leaving me almost alone on the first level, with two mothers and their kids. This was alright by me, as long as the kids continued to behave. I was glad I had my M&M blanket to snuggle up under.

We arrived in Luxembourg and luckily one of the ladies overheard me ask the driver where was the tourist office. The bus had dropped us off again just near the stations so I was a little lost. The lady told me to follow her into the train station where the tourist office was. I thanked her and walked into the tourist office. 

This was an adventure. I’d bought a ticket to Luxembourg not having any idea whatsoever of what to do, see or where to go. I knew I was going to Echternach later that day but I had roughly 5 hours to spend. The lady handed me a map and circled the city center and pointed out some monuments and paths around the city. It was warming up outside but was threatening to rain. I headed over the bridge to the city center, passing several nice gardens and views along the way. There were several deep valleys and cliffs within the city making for some aesthetically pleasing vistas. I wanted a bite to eat and I wanted to find phone service and a charger. I was able to find a phone store called Orange and they set me up with a new SIM card. I was expecting them to have some good international rates because Luxembourg was so small but no, it would just have to cost me more to call, text or use data outside of Lux. I was okay with that, figuring I’d use mostly wifi unless I needed the service. Many of the shops were fancy and I didn’t want to eat in them especially with my large now dripping pack. I found a store that sold pizza pretzels and got one to go. I stood outside under the umbrellas eating my snack. I wasn’t quite sure what to do in the rain as what I wanted to do was hike the path to the top of the cliffs for he views. I wandered the city center, looking in a few of the stores. A concert band started gathering in the gazebo in the plaza. I tried to watch them as they played but the store owners wouldn’t let me stand out of the rain under their umbrellas, even though there were hardly any customers even inside, let alone outside.

I left for the path to the view and as I climbed up and down, the sun came out. I hoped it was here to stay. I got to the top and looked out across the city and river below. It was a nice view but I preferred to look out over wilderness. I saw a few people on a level below me and wondered how they got there. I kept walking and there were more and more people. I saw signs saying entrance for 4 euros so I went down to take a look. There were caves and paths down inside among the cliffs. I paid the fee and the clerk let me store my large pack inside his office, saying it’d be hard to go below with it. I sure wasn’t going to argue with that and quickly dropped it on the floor. It’d be safe within his office. I entered the caves and was stuck behind a school group for a little bit. I wouldn’t have minded except that I couldn’t understand the language their teacher was talking in. I crept past and entered the main cave. I figured it be worth a few minutes exploring but I had no idea how extensive the caves actually were. At first there was one large main path with a few equally wide shoots off it to over looks and where cannons would’ve pointed out. It was darker but there were a few lights on the floor lighting the path. I had a small guide map with me but it didn’t tell me much. I just kept going down, making turns and descending steep, skinny, spiral stairs. These new paths would be one person wide an led even deeper into the cliff, eventually coming to a tiny hole where you could peer out. This was so much fun! I kept wandering deeper and deeper, having no idea where I was but knowing that I wasn’t going to be lost. Several times the stairs got pretty tight and I’m not normally claustrophobic but it got a little hairy in there. I followed one path and a family turned back after thinking it was a dead end. I saw a small space and climbed up in it. It was just my height so I kept walking. It got smaller and smaller, but I kept going, crouching down so I could continue. It wasn’t til I was almost on my hands and knees and scraping my hips and daypack on the sides that I figured I should turn back. I certainly couldn’t turn around but I just walked backwards. I have no idea where it ended up but I was glad to have crawled down it as much as I could. Finally when I felt like I was going in circles and loops and up and down the same stairs, I looked for an exit sign. I’d seen them when I’d come in but now they were sparse. I found one and reentered the bright blinding sunlight. Yay pure blue skies!! I got my large pack back and sat on the bench overlooking the valley and ate some of my Cadbury chocolate caramel bar. Mmm, what a cool random adventure I’d found in Luxembourg! 

I headed back toward the station, intent on finding a charger for my phone before leaving for Echternach. I asked the tourist office lady and she had no idea. I sputtered and finally asked for an electronics store. She could answer that question with that there was one just 5minutes away. I headed into Saturn but the security guard motioned for me to put my pack in their lockers and storage. It wasn’t even close to fitting in the little locker so I set it in front of it in front of the window, hoping he’d make sure no one took the bulkiest pack. I wandered around inside, looking for anything remotely like a charger. I asked customer service but they just pointed me to the adapters. I just need the European outlet plug for an Apple device, not any cords or adapters. Eventually I found a clerk that understood what I was trying to get and led me to the Apple plugs section. Yikes, the plug was 20 euro!! I was expecting not to pay over 10. Oh well, I didn’t really have a choice, I really needed this charger. I got it and remembered I also needed Chapstick. The pharmacy nor any quick mart type stores had it. I went into Yves Rocher makeup store and asked for lip balm, showing them my Chapstick stick. The lady pointed me to the right section but none had over SPF 5 and all had slight coloring too. But at least it was only one euro. Finally, I was ready to head towards Echternach. The ride was an hour and a half long and I got off one stop too early. There were no signs, announcements or indications which stop we were on. Luckily I’d just bought service so I could make sure it was only a 15 extra minute walk to the city center. I’d looked at campsites and had picked one out and was hoping they had a site available for me and my little tent. I got to the city center but was a little turned around so I headed for the tourist office but it had just closed. I remembered the campground was pretty close to the river and I didn’t want to use all the data I’d just bought so I made my way to the river and just followed it. I’m pretty sure there was a quicker way through town but this was easiest for now. The town looked quite quaint with many old buildings and little shops. Still not a whole lot was in English. I found the campground but reception was closed. It said to go see the night guard and pointed up the hill. I kept walking and walking but saw nothing of the sort. I came upon a hotel and went in, hoping they could point to the night reception. The guy just pointed back to the campground and said up. Well I was hiking up and up. I’d expected to have been cooking dinner by now, with my tent and bed all set up. I was getting pretty frustrated and hangry. Finally I found the night guards building but it too had closed. I stood there, pondering what to do. Just then a car drove up and a lady got out. Her English was terrible but I was able to understand that she worked there. She tried to give me directions to the backpackers tent sites but eventually just drove me and told me I could pay in the morning. 

It was a real nice set up, with campers along the front when you come in and the more primitive sites on flat grass roads up above. There was potable water and sinks every 50 or so feet. I set up my tent in between two couples and we were all fairly well spaced apart. I tried to set my tent up to catch the morning rays but the ground wasn’t quite flat the correct direction. I got my bed set up and started cooking dinner. I set up my stove on the cement steps hoping to not melt anything or catch anything on fire. I was on the top level so I could watch all the other campers. Many of the other tenters had gas stoves and portable chairs, picnic tables and other car camping equipment. My stove and tent were definitely tinier than all the rest. I just sat there, enjoying the last rays of sunlight waiting for my pasta to cool so I could eat it. The reception was next to a lounge room that had couches, books, games, tables, chairs, outlets and wifi! I went down there after dinner so I could try to plan what I was doing tomorrow. There were many day hikes in addition to the long distance Echternach loop trails. I wanted to hike the whole trail but didn’t quite have time for it. This area was called little Switzerland because it has many of the same geological features as Switzerland, gorges, caves, cliffs, and expansive mountain areas. After an hour I still hadn’t quite found any map or listing of where these day hiked began or ended so I went off to bed. It’d gotten quite chilly out once the sun went down and I’d been in the lounge room. I was pretty excited to be sleeping in my tent once again. There could be snoring from the other campers or suburban noise but mostly just the sounds of the night. 

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