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  • J.F. Rowan

"Snowmiser, kiss my...SNOWCONE!"

A great nights sleep here at Clayton Lake State Park. A quiet park thus far primarily because there weren’t that many people here when we arrived, especially way in the back in our cozy primitive spot. It’s nice to wake up to the sunshine, a light breeze and a promise in the air of a warm and pleasant day. We have been experimenting with the brewing process of “Cowboy Coffee” and this morning I open the Turtle’s kitchen and put the coffee pot on to boil. A few slices of bacon slide into the Griswold #7 and I inhale deeply. A heron sets up for the final approach along the banks of the lake below, a perfect landing. Coots and Grebes are doing their thing and I pour out a couple of cups of black gold.

Clayton Lake State Park, Clayton NM

In the pimitive area, Clayton Lake State Park, Clayton, NM

After breakfast, I tend to the kitchen, cleaning, re-seasoning the cast iron and a little organizing. I spend some time writing because lord knows, I can never get too much practice. Yvette has a cellular account on her iPad, as for me I am dependent on the trucks WiFi hot spot for any internetwork and so only when the engine is running. So generally, she is in charge of the news, the weather etc. The morning runs its course and sometime around lunch while I’m working on the trailer, Yvette comes out of the coach toting her iPad like a doctor making her rounds. “Um, we might have a problem,” She begins, “I think we might want to consider leaving for Sugarite today, the sooner the better.” She stands there staring at me. Sugarite is a state park in northern New Mexico. “Okay, why’s that,” I say as I finish packing some tools back into storage. As it turns out, the weather form the morning’s forecast is changing, and not for the better. High winds and below freezing temperatures are scheduled for our area and that could adversely affect the water systems in both the trailer and the truck, more so the trailer. The trailer has no real way to keep the water or any of the plumbing in it from freezing. I am working on some changes, but for now, the trailers systems can be a bit vulnerable.

Sure, we’ve cheated the cold weather before by running the propane fired hot water heater in the trailer, then closing up the back kitchen access doors. That will usually keep the area which houses the water pump, water heater and most of the water lines from freezing. The only other weak area is the larger storage area in the forward area of the trailer. For this area, we usually leave the internal light on and plug in some of our devices (there are two12 volt outlets in this storage area) that seem to give off enough heat to keep the area above freezing. But the forecast this was going to be in the lower 20’s for more than 12 hours in a row. Not the kind of weather that I would bet my “Band-Aid” cold weather fixes on and I really didn’t want to turn the water heater on and off for 12 hours. Sugerite, on the other hand, was going to be about 32, with little or no wind and for a much shorter duration.

So we had two choices. One, we could winterize the trailer which would entail dumping all the remaining water (about 20 gallons), draining the hot water heater, and then clearing all of the lines. Not a difficult job, but I hate wasting water especially when good quality water has not been easy to come by. And my confidence in this process as a sure fire way of protection isn’t that high. The second option is to move in the direction we were going anyway, just earlier. We decide on option number 2. We go for a brisk walk, pack everything up and head out. We are on the road by about 1:30 pm. Here again, not the way I like to start a move but traffic is light and it is only about 95 miles to our destination. During the drive, the temperature started to fall, faster than the forecast had predicted but it was still above freezing. By the time we reached the town of Raton, a town about 8 miles from our destination, it had dropped to a total of 30 plus degrees. While in town, we decided to stop and have an early supper due in part that once we got to camp, the only thing I would be using the kitchen for was heating the hot water tank and then closing it off to keep it warm for the night, so no cooking. So, we stopped.

Raton, NM

As we learned later during dinner, as with other towns in our country, drugs are taking their toll on the community and this town is no exception. We actually witnessed a “tweaker” walking down the main street threatening everyone who passed him. When it was my turn I took a wide berth around him, though I was fairly confident of the strength of the heavy duty front bumper in n emergency. Parking was an issue so we took one of the side streets where I could park both the truck and the trailer along the curb. As we locked up the truck, there across the street was a man with two different shoes sitting on the steps just staring at us, even as we walked. I kept the rig in sight for most of dinner and there wasn’t any problem with anyone getting too close to the rig. As someone once said to me, trust your “spidey” sense. It was nice to finish dinner and move on.

So there we were a little bit before 6 PM heading up into the canyon to Sugarite Canyon State Park. In this park, there are 3 camping sections. As we drove by the first, we noticed it was about 70% filled and the spots seemed pretty close together. Not really our style so we continued up the canyon to survey the remaining two sites. Bad news. The two remaining sites were closed, our only choice was to turn around and return to the first area which we did. When we pulled in, the campsite locations all looked even more confined. We drove the loop and just like when we were in park RV park in Big Bend, I just kept on driving. “What’s our other options?” I said.

I have to say, I’m not the easiest person in the world to be around sometimes. I can be stubborn and quick-tempered. I take driving very seriously so on rare occasions the intensity level in the cab can be pretty high. But my wife seems to be able to look beyond my “Frankie-ness” (She calls me “Cranky Frankie”) and still focus on the issue at hand. This time was no exception. “Well, the only other option is Trinidad State Park in Colorado,” she said. I have to hand it to her, she was on her game. “It’s only about 30 miles from here,” she said as she flipped through her trip sheet. The temperature was now 32 and we had 30 miles to go. It would normally be a simple case of pulling over, opening the kitchen and throwing the water heater on, but I had a rack of bikes that would have to come off and I didn’t want to waste any more time, we just needed to get there.

The final push to Trinidad was fairly quick, we took interstate 25 for most of the trip and entered the camp after hours. The park seemed to be fairly quiet and was about 1/3 full with plenty of prime spots still open. The temp was now about 29 and the wind had begun to pick up so I found a spot where I could back in, and use the surrounding juniper and fir trees as a windbreak for the trailer. All in all, a very nice spot but as it would turn out, it would be a long night.

Trinidad Lake State Park Trinidad, CO.

Yvette and I both have our duties. For the most part, they are unspoken. We get to work settling in and one of my duties is to get the bikes off the trailer, stow the associated hardware and get the hot water heater going, hook up electric, check the level etc. I set the timer for about 15 minutes, turn off the heater, close the kitchen trapping the heat inside. I also take a piece of foil and seal off the hot water heater vent grate hoping to trap a few more BTU’s. We also put our phones, iPad, and laptop on the chargers inside the forward storage area in the trailer and leave the storage light on for even more extra heat. I would then get up every 3 hours or so and repeat the hot water heater process. Sometimes I would turn it on, head back to the bunk and Yvette would get up and turn it off. By 5 AM, the outside temperature had bottomed out to 23 degrees and only started to climb above freezing just after sunrise.

Trinidad Lake State Park

Our spot at Trinidad Lake State Park, Trinidad CO. (Note coffee pot)

I opened the kitchen and started a pot of coffee and it seemed as if our efforts had paid off. The water pump was a bit noisy at first, but as soon as the hot water starts flowing through it, all returned to normal. Now, where are we again? In the next few days, we would explore and find out. We also learned that moving was the right decision. The wind back at Clayton Lake was sustaining at 30 mph and the temp was around 25 and would stay that way for over 12 hours. Looks like we dodged another icicle.

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