Picking up where we left off we find our intrepid heroes tirelessly cruising along i40 with Albuquerque in their sights. Northern Arizona is surprisingly forested and green – especially around Flagstaff – whereas New Mexico looks more like what you picture when you hear ‘South West’ complete with red rock formations right along the highway.
We were both excited to get to Albuquerque as our plan was to stop for 3 or 4 days, and we needed a break. At that point I noticed that our fuel was low, a recurring theme in an RV, so I tasked Kathy with finding a Pilot truck stop that hopefully had an RV island.
Kathy located a Pilot next to the freeway (CA speak for highway) in Jamestown NM, and as this was the first time we could accurately calculate our MPG we were both apprehensive and curious as to what we were getting.
A quick digression about RV Mileage
We budgeted $1,200 for fuel to cross the country from Tustin, CA to Orange, MA – just under 3,000 total miles. Prior to buying our RV, we read up on MPG for Ford V10-powered RVs and found estimates ranging from 6.5mpg (usually towing a car, which we were) – 9.5mpg (usually not towing).
Speaking of which, don’t believe a word an RV dealer speaks unless he quotes you a similar range. Yes, Mercedes Benz Sprinter Chassis motorhomes do get better mileage, but keep in mind that they’re smaller in general and use diesel which is currently $3.88/gallon vs gasoline which is $3.35/gallon, or about 15% more expensive.
Note that at $4/gal (cost in CA) driving 3,000 miles at 6.5mpg = $1,846. Ugh! On the flip side, 3,000 miles at 9.5mpg with national average fuel prices of $3.35 = $1,058, so we were erring on the optimistic side with our budgeting.
I’m introducing a ‘MPG’ box, and whenever possible I’ll include this box in a post around the time I fill up to show our MPG. I won’t include every tank, but will include every tank I track – and no, I don’t track every single tank.
I’ll also include elevation gain/loss as this has a big impact on RV MPG, and I’m getting this information using Google Earth.
You’ll either find this info interesting or you won’t, but when we were looking at RVs this is the kind of info we found useful, so I hope you find it useful or at least interesting too. Now back to our journey.
Start: Pilot Travel Center, Lake Havasu City, AZ
Finish: Pilot Travel Center, Jamestown, NM
Elevation Gain/Loss in ft: 12,416 / -6,488
Net Elevation Gain in ft: 5,928
Total Miles: 388
Total Gallons: 45.87
Notes: Not the 9.5mpg we would like, but considering the net elevation gain of nearly 6,000 feet I was more than ok with our results for this leg.
Albuquerque and Leisure Mountain RV Park
Our ‘home’ for the next few days would be Leisure Mountain RV Park just to the east of Albuquerque. We drove through the city without incident and then began the climb into the mountains. Soon enough we were pulling off exit 175 and easily found Leisure Mountain up on a hillside.
Leisure Mountain was one of two Passport America campgrounds in the immediate area (the other being Hidden Valley Mtn Park). We chose Leisure Mountain as Hidden Valley has a particularly scathing review on their G+ page, and I found slightly better reviews for Leisure Mountain.
About Passport America
Passport America is a discount camping membership that I’d recommend to anyone who camps. It costs $44/year and saves you 50% off hundreds of campgrounds across the country. Our membership paid for itself many times over during our trip – and even paid for itself on our first stop!
Leisure Mountain charges $29/night for full hookups so their PA rate is $14.50. We paid $58 for 4 nights of camping – tough to beat that.[/box_right]
That said, it was a very basic RV Park compared to what we were used to. The campsites are all gravel back-in spots on the first few tiers which were full of monthly residents (only $345/month!), and then pull-through spots at the top of the hill for travelers.
They’re also very close together without room for tables, chairs, or awnings, and I had to place the RV carefully so I could open our slides. Still, can’t beat the price, and the pull throughs are pretty easy to access, so I recommend the park for a quick overnight.
We Visit Albuquerque
On Thursday we headed into Albuquerque as Kathy had a meeting at Panera Bread with some potential recruits, and I seized upon an opportunity to get a decent sandwich and a tasty (free) cookie, and some free WiFi.
A friend from High School that now lives in Rio Rancho (just north) invited us to stop by, so we spent the very warm afternoon with him and his son, and enjoyed some snacks and home-brewed beer before heading to old town Albuquerque.
Most of the newer parts of Albuquerque look just like Southern California complete with tract housing, manicured lawns, strip malls full of new stores, and open sky. Old Town Albuquerque is a completely different animal and contains a Plaza similar to what you see in Santa Fe, although it’s smaller, and arts and crafts galore.
We didn’t spend much time in Old Town as we were both still tired and it was a very hot day. We mostly stopped for an ice cream and then drove down Rt. 66 and enjoyed the signage and neon lights, and then headed back to the campground.
As we both work it’s important for us to stay in one place for a few days at a time so we can balance our travel days with work days, and we spent the next day or so working (yay!) at Leisure Mountain.
We did have some excitement at the RV Park as our ‘next door neighbor’ was a grouchy woman in a travel trailer. I incurred her wrath on our second day at the park by looking at her travel trailer, at which point she opened the door with a “What do you want?!?”.
I told her I was looking at her furnace vent covers (Something I need to get to keep bugs out), and she snorted and slammed the door.
A bit later that day, some RV travelers pulled in and while dad set up the RV his wife and kids got outside to stretch and the kids ran around as kids do. Remember that the sites are very narrow, so there really wasn’t anywhere to play. The kids brought out their cat, and the curious cat immediately ran under the woman’s trailer, at which point the kids ran over to get the cat back.
The woman emerged and started screaming at the kids to “go away!” Mom came over to make peace and was also yelled at, and finally dad walked over and the woman told him off too, and then slammed the door and hid.
This didn’t sit well with dad who began banging on the door and windows while mom tried to get him to leave the woman alone. Our RV was right between the two, so we were in the middle of the drama.
Finally dad relented and went back to setting up and everything calmed down. I call this out as most of the people we’ve met at RV parks are very nice and friendly, but it’s important to remember that not everyone is friendly and some people just want to be left alone, so always best to proceed with caution.
The Turquoise Trail
The highlight of our stop in New Mexico was our visit to beautiful Santa Fe. We opted to drive up the Turquoise Trail which is a National Scenic Byway that connects Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
The Turquoise Trail got it’s name as some of the largest Turquoise mines in the world are located along the trail (not where you can access them). This is reflected in the ubiquitous turquoise jewelry which is sold everywhere in New Mexico.
The Turquoise Trail passes through some of New Mexico’s most beautiful countryside and also passes through the small mining towns of Golden, Cerrillos, and Madrid which is the home of The Mineshaft Tavern – “one of the last great roadhouses.”
We enjoyed the 50 mile drive, but didn’t take the time to stop at any of the small towns. We used to feel like we should do as much as possible when visiting an area, but our perspective has since changed. Now we scope out an area and mentally bookmark things to do for ‘next time’ and focus on doing one thing well – and in this case we wanted to explore the Plaza in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe and the Plaza
We arrived in Santa Fe in the early afternoon and went about looking for parking near the Plaza. Now personally I hate paying for parking and I don’t mind a walk, so naturally I was looking for free parking . . . and there isn’t any near the Plaza.
I did find free parking, but it requires driving a ways from the Plaza and finding a side street that doesn’t have signage preventing you from staying there. If you’re like me and you don’t mind a walk, then that’s what I’d do – but otherwise find a place to park for the day and pay the man!
On our walk to the Plaza we stopped and visited the San Miguel Mission which is said to be the oldest church structure originally built in the continental United States. I can attest that it’s very very old, and next door is the De Vargas Street House which is said to be the oldest house in the US.
Both are free to visit (donations accepted), and it was interesting to see just how durable cob construction can be as both structures are 350+ years old.
We then made our way to the Santa Fe Plaza which is located in the heart of Santa Fe.
If you like to shop then the Plaza is the place for you. It’s surrounded by dozens of stores and malls selling just about anything you can imagine with a focus on Southwestern art and jewelry.
You’ll also find museums including the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Museum of International art, and several more. We walked to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum as she’s one of Kathy’s inspirations, only to find the museum closed.
Somehow we let the day get away from us and it was 5pm! Ah well, that just gives us another reason to go back to Santa Fe – not that we need one.
We strolled through a few art galleries, and then headed back to the Plaza where a band was setting up to play. Hundreds of people were milling about, and food vendors were lined up selling all types of southwestern foods, and we both started to get hungry.
One of the most popular restaurants in Santa Fe is The Shed, and as it’s located right near the Plaza we headed there for dinner . . . only to be informed that there was an hour+ wait!
They had seating at the bar, including table seating, and yet they won’t serve food at the bar (grrrr) so in spite of the tasty-looking menu and nice ambiance, we decided to head elsewhere for food. Neither of us likes to wait, much less an hour.
Fortunately this being Santa Fe there are dozens or even hundreds of restaurants to choose from, so I found a highly rated restaurant nearby and off we walked.
Santa Fe is at high elevation (7,260 ft) and is the highest elevation state capital in the United States. It’s also very dry, which means that when the sun goes down the temperature plummets. That made for a rather chilly and blustery walk to our destination restaurant – Mucho Gusto. The good news is that there was no wait and the food was fantastic!
Kathy had the veggie chalupas which are 2 crispy tortillas shaped like little bowls – one blue and one white – and filled with black beans, veggies, salsa, chilis, guacamole, and jack cheese. They were both beautiful and incredibly tasty, and if you happen to visit Mucho Gusto I’d recommend them and that’s what I’ll get next time too.
After our dinner we walked back to the car, and then drove back down the Turquoise Trail. It was a somewhat harrowing drive as the trail is completely dark at night and there are lots of animals in the wilderness. I narrowly avoided hitting a coyote and saw far more deer than I was comfortable with. Another good reason to start earlier and leave earlier.
On to Tucumcari
Our original plan was to head from Albuquerque up through Oklahoma, but on our travel day severe thunderstorms were projected for the Oklahoma City area. I have no interest in driving through ‘severe’ storms, and even less interest in running into tornado weather, so we decided that we’d head to Tucumcari instead which is on the eastern edge of New Mexico.
That’s a story for another post and I’ll cover that next time. I will say that Tucumcari was a source of inspiration for the Pixar movie Cars, so we were very interested to explore it. Check back in a few days as I have some great photos of Route 66 memorabilia to share, and until then, happy trekking!