Van trouble changes my thinking even more

WHUFU Trip: August 2018 Lewis & Clark | 0

Friday (Nov 16) 

Felt Picnic Area

I puttered around for a while in my parking lot in the edge of town. People don’t drive by very often, but those that do aren’t shy about craning their neck and taking a good long stare at the blue van parked in their neighborhood. I did my tai chi form, but I’m not confident enough to do it with the locals driving past, so I would stop and become interested in my shoes or open my door and rearrange the maps or something as they went past. That’s pitiful, I know. Maybe that’s what they were staring at.

A small detail here was interesting to me – the mud in this parking lot is like cement. The lot looked solid, but there was some kind of drainage issue so that the back edge was quite boggy. I first parallel-parked along there, and it left my passenger tires thick with what looked like cement. I was careful not to step in it before getting in the van. It also stuck to my Vans like cement.

10:30-ish I crank up the van, drive through the half mile of houses that comprise Felt OK, and re-join US 68 west. I am very close to the southwest corner of the Oklahoma Panhandle, a few miles form Texas to the south, and New Mexico to the west. I am heading west, so I will not enter Texas, which is fine by me. Today’s coffee is in Clayton NM, a mere 25 minutes away.

It’s cool. I kill a lot of time at the coffee place, go to the grocery store, then kill even more time in the Clayton Library. After I got to my beautiful spot for the night I wished I had killed LESS time and enjoyed more daylight on this magical evening. I don’t get me sometimes.

Lake 13 Campground:  

Took me a bit of wandering down unmarked gravel roads to find the camping area, but I'm very happy I did.

There's a toilet and a picnic table. Drive a little, there's boat access, a couple of trees, and a grassy area which I think is the official camping area, then the road wanders half-way around Lake 13.

Nobody used the grassy area. The rain had made it a mosquito-infested bog. I parked at a wide spot in the road by the entrance, and at least one bunch of fishermen spent the night on the far side of the lake.

Super nice place!


Back again!

Maxwell NWR

As noted, I stayed here two years ago and really liked it. Surprise, I like it even more this time! Last time it had rained hard all day, so the official campground looked boggy and dangerous to drive on, so I parked at a level spot on the levee. It was fishing season, so there were 10 or so pickup trucks around the lake, and every few hours someone would drive by. This time there is nobody in sight anywhere, and no one driving by – my kind of place!


Gosh it’s pretty here.

It took three long tries to get the van to start this morning. For the ten years I’ve driven this thing, turn the get, wait two seconds for the glow plug, and start. Even when it sat in 15 degree weather in Reno for a week, it always just started. But it did this ones back in Oklahoma, and now it’s doing it on a cold morning in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico, and I am kinda freaking out. My plan until this very second had been to take the next nine days to get to Salt Lake City to the Freightliner/Sprinter service place there was impressed me last time. I can’t be camping in COLD, remote places and wondering all night if the van will start in the morning for nine days!

For lack of a better plan I am still heading for the San Luis Valley tonight, but instead of the lovely state wildlife area I’d better stay in a motel in Alamosa. If I can’t start the damn van I want to at least be in a town. It seems that once it has run for a while and warmed up for the day it’s good to go until the next cold morning. So I do my regular things – enjoy coffee at the Enchanted Grounds in Raton, decide to get lunch in downtown Trinidad because I stayed there sixteen years ago(!) and thought it was a cool town. I was for some reason very excited to drive the Raton Pass.

You can’t always recreate that old magic. Downtown Trinidad sucked for me today. It was hard to park, the weather was raw and gloomy and felt like it would get worse, everything was dirty and dusty, and the Mission at the Bell restaurant was hard to find because it was in a basement with neither wifi nor phone reception. Just what I did not need when I need to figure out what I’m doing next. I can’t remember what I had, but it was pretty good, which helped my mood some! Oh yeah, it was something with Verde sauce, which is what I always get. I thought it wasn’t Verde because it wasn’t green, but she assured me it was.

After escaping Trinidad and heading north in I-25 I had an epiphany. I pulled off at the next exit to check my math. Indeed, Salt Lake City is eleven hours away, but Mercedes of Albuquerque is only three hours away. The former is into ever colder and nastier climate, the latter is warmer. Therefore …  New Plan! One more Maps check – tonight’s destination is pretty much due west, so Albuquerque is there hours from there also. I’m not really going the wrong direction so I will keep doing what I’m doing today. But tomorrow I will head due south instead of northeast into the Rockies. I feel better already!

With that load off my mind, the rest of today’s drive was really fun. I-25 is just another interstate, but I got off at Walsenburg to take US 160 west over the Sangre de Christo Mountains and into the really interesting San Luis Valley. The weather got ever more gloomy and forbidding as I drove up the east flank of the mountains, even pretty dense mountain fog by the time I got to North La Veta Pass (elev 9,413 ft), but the very instant I crested the moiuntains it was perfectly clear for the rest of the day. It took me by surprise and there was no place to pull over, but I now wish I stopped to try to capture it somehow. It was the oddest thing….

But in any event, it’s clear (ha ha) that whatever nasty weather was going to happen in the I-25 corridor, it isn’t happening here, which is awesome. Clear sailing for me the rest of the day. Past Fort Garland, past the left turn to Great Sand Dunes. I get to Alamosa, and am very regretful I am not driving another twenty miles to San Luis State WIldlife Management Area, but it’s just not a smart play with dicey starting. With sadness, I stop at:

Lamplighter Motel:  

Downtown Alamosa is a cool place to hang out, but this motel is falling apart.

Breakfast at their litle restaurant is included, and it was a pretty good breakfast.


The least pleasant of the rooms I've had on this trip. 1990's TV that doesn't understand wide format, Stupid bed headboard won't let you sit up in bed. Inconvenient plugs.

Really not a good value except for being able to walk all of downtown.

The Riverside Inn on the other side of the Rio Grande looked like the place for me, cheaper than downtown and nicer, but it was closed for the season – bummer. So I ended up where I ended up twelve years ago, at the Lamplighter, an utterly decrepit, piece of crap, end of the line motel in beautiful downtown Alamosa.

How could anybody who ever used a bed think this is a good place for the light?

Alamosa is fun to walk around. There’s a brewery two blocks away, a little museum, Mexican restaurants, the Rio Grande is one block away. All of which make the over-prices depressing motel room easier to bear. The one small detail that absolutely frosted me, adding venom to these descriptions was the fifties-modern anti-headboard lights behind the bed, making it literally impossible to pile the pillows and prop yourself up to read in bed. Who could possibly think this is a good idea?

There’s a sad little restaurant in the front of the motel, and a breakfast of eggs and bacon is included in the $80. It was good bacon and overall a pretty decent meal, which takes a little bit of the sting out of the way overpriced room. There were local families meeting there for Sunday dinner, so it wasn’t really such a sad place on Thanksgiving Sunday!


Starting the van was even worse this morning. This blows up my excellent plans yet again. I had delusionally made plans to camp at Bandolier National Monument in the Jemez Mountains along the way! Hit Jemez Hot Springs in the morning, have a grand old time! But I (think I) can’t take the chance. I must drive to an urban area and sleep outside some kind of Sprinter service place tonight. I had thought Albuquerque, but Santa Fe is an hour closer and they also have a Mercedes dealer, so that will be my first try.

Mercedes of Santa Fe is in a spread out, safe suburban area with a quiet side street. It looks like a great place to sleep! So here I am typing this in a Santa Fe branch library where I will stay until 5pm closing time. Then I will have a crappy dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings and watch the Warriors lose to San Antonio. Then I will go to Best Buy and catch a cold from the sales clerk. Then I will retire to the quiet side street next to the dealer. NOT Awesome  :(

It was a nice place to sleep though…

Monday – Vacation shouldn’t require so many decisions 

This was a perfect clusterfuck of a day. Santa Fe Mercedes couldn’t fix me. Albuquerque Mercedes said their Sprinter guy took the whole week off so they couldn’t fix me till next week anyway. The only people who would look at my van was Hal Burns Truck Repair. So that’s where I went.

In my mind it was imperative to get the starting issue handled before the four day weekend. That did not happen, These jokers banged around in my engine for a day and a half, charged me $1,322, and didn’t fix the problem. So I ended up road-trippin for another eight days in places where it didn’t get below 35° at night and all was fine.

[This seems like a good time to point out that all this drama was unnecessary. As long as the night didn’t get too cold (say 30°) I could start well enough to make it home. This is proven by the fact that that’s what I did after Hal Burns took my money but didn’t fix me. It’s so clear in retrospect …. sigh]

what is up with this?
So anyway, I turned the van over to them around 8:30, the nice man drove me to the Flying Tortilla, which had a pretty darn good chorizo and eggs wet breakfast burrito, and left me for the day. There is a shopping center a quarter mile away, so I became a shopping center vagrant for the next 10 hours. The half-full scenario is that there are way worse places to be stranded for a whole day of your life. The half-empty scenario is that it sucks pretty bad to be stuck in a shopping center in a strange town when you don’t even want to shop!

It was kind of interesting though. All the shopping center workers were hard at it, reconfiguring the place for Christmas. The spot I spent much of the day was slowly transformed into the place there the kids line up to see Santa. The real fireplace, then the faux sled, the faux snow-covered pine trees, and Santa’s chair and the sleigh full of fake presents, and the discreet corner where the camera is placed to get those cute “child is terrified of Santa” pictures.

I have a bad feeling about the Hal Burns crew. I nag them a couple of times during the day. Around 4:30 I get the bad news call. They are not done, and they really have no particular clue how to replace my glow plugs anyway. The van will not be ready tonight. They tell me of the deal they have at the hotel for $79/night. I throw in that my preference would be to just sleep in the van in the lot. So they come pick me up and that’s what I do.

Tuesday – Day Two of Stranded in Santa Fe 

hard to feel too bad about my starting problems looking at this
This is still a giant clusterfuck, but … sleeping on the lot was pretty nice, quiet and safe. It is an odd feeling to be putting up your bed and doing your morning things while the hood of your vehicle is up and a guy is working on your engine. This adventure was very expensive, and a very limited success. They changed the oil, and it was definitely time to do it, and the new filters and pumps do seem to have pepped up the engine. But the whole point of this drill, fixing the starting problem was pretty much an expensive FAIL — $700 worth of FAIL. So I’m back on the road, $1,322 poorer, with another expensive service drama in my future next week. Major Suckage.

I’m out of there around 2:30, heading more or less due south on I-25 to get to warmer climes. Literally every restaurant that’s not a chain place is serving Mexican or as they would have it “real New Mexico cuisine”, so I guess that’s the menu tonight. I am generally a big fan of “New Mexico cuisine” but I’ve kinda had my fill of New Mexico, and I’m just not into it tonight. Nonetheless, I end up at Pete’s Cafe in Belen NM, and got some version of my usual chile verde, and it was quite good. So life would be pretty good except I’m getting that feeling in the back of my throat that invariably means a cold is coming on. The non-awesomeness just keeps coming this week….

Allstays says there is a boondocking place 15 miles down the road, and a real, pay $10 campground another five miles further. I drive by the boondocking spot, and it seems sketchy. Actually, this whole damn part of the state seems sketchy, but that is no doubt because i am sick and have had nothing but shitty things happen in New Mexico the last two days. In the last rays of the setting sun, onward to:

Escondida Lake Campground:  

A dusty little municipal park conveniently located right off I-25 in a sad-looking part of New Mexico.


The payment tube was welded in a weird way, so I could not get my $10 + a note to go in. So I wadded it onto the handle.

I didn't stay very long in the morning, I didn't find it a pleasant place to hang out.

Handy little spot. What they call a lake here would be an insignificant pond where I just came from east of the Mississippi. All the campsites say reserved, but I park in one anyway. The “Iron Ranger” pay station is messed up , but I cram my $10 and a note into it as best I can and try to get some rest and hope I don’t have a cold in the morning.