Turquoise Trail New Mexico

The Turquoise Trail is a scenic byway in central New Mexico running between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Most of the trail is covered by Highway 14, which also runs right next to the house we were sitting. Highway 14 is about 50 miles long and encompasses 15,000 square miles of culture and history. We explored up and down this stretch of road, and were surprised by just how much there was to see and do. We barely scratched the surface!

Cedar Crest, New Mexico

From Albuquerque, we headed East on the I-40 before turning North onto the Turquoise Trail scenic byway. It is important to stay hydrated when adventuring through the New Mexico desert, so we opted to make our first stop Ale Republic. It is a darling little brewery just outside of town. Nearly all of the brews are named with an outdoors theme. My favorites were the Lone Wolf Golden Ale and the Orange Kush Blonde Ale.

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As this is a scenic drive, we shared a taster flight, then explored the local grocery store. There isn’t anything special about the grocery story, but no matter where we go I enjoy walking through them. Grocery stores tell me a lot about the city I’m in. For example, I look at the price of the staples, the types of products they carry, attentiveness of the staff, and the dress of the other shoppers. My impression of Cedar Crest based on the grocery store: casual and tourist driven.

Madrid, New Mexico

Josh and I fell in love with Madrid from the second we drove into town on the Turquoise Trail. It is adorable and quirky in all the right ways. Madrid (pronounced mad-rid, not ma-drid) was a bustling coal mining community in the 1830s. It even had a successful minor-league baseball team that was housed in the West’s first lighted stadium. However, by the late 1840s, the demand for coal declined. The miners moved out and a ghost town was left behind.

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Thankfully, in the 1970s a group of artists moved into the area and rebuilt. Although Madrid is only home to about 250 people today, it packs a big punch of culture, history, and art. We spent over an hour walking through the fun shops and exploring the small art installations. Our favorite installment was Connie’s Photo Park. It is an area filled with photo cutouts and backdrops… and it’s free!

Connies Photo Park - The Places We Live

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Highway 14 ends in the über artistic city of Santa Fe. Although not officially part of the Turquoise Trail, it’s a stop that is not to be missed. As the oldest capital city in the United States, Santa Fe is packed with history and art. Many of the city’s buildings are built in the pueblo style. This change to the typical city view immediately struck a chord. It was if the whole city was a work of cultural art.

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We enjoyed the variety of art while walking along the main road. There were craft shops packed with Native American baskets and blankets. We saw high class art galleries with sculptures on silent auction for more than I would pay for a house. There was even modern art with a western twist (which was our favorite).

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I enjoy art as much as the next guy, but what I like even more is delicious food and drink. Which, thankfully, is another thing that is easily found in New Mexico. Although I did not accomplish my goal of finding the perfect taco joint, I did have some fairly delicious tacos. They just weren’t perfect. However, I did find was The Margarita Trail, a city tourism board sponsored passport to delicious margaritas. Yes, please!

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Strawberry-Jalapeño Margarita. Sweet with just a lil’ heat!

 

Turquoise Trail Wrap Up

I’m not sure we explored the Turquoise Trail in the way it was meant to be explored. Instead, we did it our way, filled with local beer, quirky shops, and odd art. But I’d say the best part about the trail is there’s such a variety of options that you can do it any way you want. The hiking, art, museums, and restaurants along the Turquoise Trail are plentiful, making this a great place to linger during any road trip through the area.


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Turquoise Trail, New Mexico - The Places We Live


The Places We Live – New Mexico

The last leg of our American road trip (#VanLife Part 3) takes us through every southern state on our way to Florida. Our first stop was a house sit for a retired couple who live completely off-grid in the New Mexico high desert with their two dogs. We spent merely three weeks in this desert oasis, but somehow left with years worth of wisdom.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

New Mexico is a southwestern US state bordering Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico. The ancestral home of several Native American tribes, the first European settlers to the area were from Spain. These settlers named the land New Mexico over 200 years before the country of Mexico was named. In the early 1800s, New Mexico became a Mexican territory, but that was short lived. After the Mexican-American War in 1848, New Mexico joined the USA and was later named the 47th state. Now with a population of two million people, New Mexico boasts the highest percentage of Hispanic Americans in the United States and the second highest percentage of Native Americans.

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Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico and has the distinction of being the oldest capital city in the country. It has a semi-arid climate, with cold, dry winters and hot summers. With the pueblo-style buildings and numerous art galleries and craft shops, Santa Fe is well known as a center for arts. It is even one of 34 cities around the world named a UNESCO Creative City for Crafts and Folk Art!

Our Home

Our house sit was located in the high-mountain desert just south of Santa Fe. After driving 30 minutes of rough dirt road, we arrived at a beautiful home with a stunning vista view. It is a small home sitting on 60 acres of wild desert complete with cacti, jack rabbits, and coyotes. If that isn’t interesting enough, this house is completely self-sufficient. High efficiency windows capture and retain sunlight, keeping the house warm even during the freezing high desert winter (though there was also a wood stove for particularly cloudy days, which was quite nice). All electricity comes from a solar power installation,  and the water is all rain caught and filtered.

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The home has one bedroom, one bath, full kitchen, large living room, office, and reading nook. The outside is spacious and complimented with comfortable outdoor seating. There are no TVs in the house, but the co-op internet is stable and was more than adequate for our work schedule. Our hosts have an eye for art and decorated their home and property with beautiful pieces by local artists. We felt like we were in a secluded art gallery made just for us.

rock bench overlooking desert valley

We took to the self-sufficient lifestyle pretty quickly, with only one major change to our daily habits: our water usage. We began showering less often, and the showers we did take were very short. We flushed only when necessary and washed our dishes in tubs. It took only a couple of days to get used to, but I enjoyed the experience and gained a greater understanding of the amount of water I use in a day… it’s a lot!

Our Family

Our hosts are a couple who have opted to forgo the hustle and bustle of the city for the tranquility of the country. They have owned the home for 10 years and still love it. We were house sitting in New Mexico for them while they traveled to Australia on holiday. We couldn’t wait to hear their stories and see their pictures.

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Our pets for this sit included a small herd of barn cats and two dogs, Tess and Brady. Those dogs were big! I have to admit I was a little nervous about their size at first, but they turned out to be incredibly gentle and loving. They are both excellent guard dogs who enjoy sitting in the snow, chasing rabbits, and wrestling in the living room. I can definitely see why the owners chose to have these two dogs with them out here. They took very good care of us. I’m pretty sure they thought they were our babysitters instead of the other way around.

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Our Lives

It was not particularly convenient to go to Santa Fe, as the driveway was extremely rough and bumpy. Thankfully, our hosts provided us with a rough-and-tumble Subaru so Darla didn’t have to take the brunt of it. Still, we chose to adventure to town only every few days. This wasn’t a problem, though, since we enjoyed the quiet and tranquility of the sit. We spent a lot of time working, reading, cooking, and taking long walks. The desert had plenty of new flora and fauna for us to explore and the dogs were fun to watch bounding fearlessly through the cactus bushes.

dog running on a desert path

The sit itself was much easier than I expected. When I first heard the house was off-grid, I had assumed we’d have to put in a little extra daily effort, but there really wasn’t much house work to be done at all. I fed and watered the cats each day, threw seeds out for the birds, and of course took care of the dogs. There were a couple of heavy snow days, but even that offered a great opportunity for some hot chocolate by the fire.

heavy snow in desert

Our Work

Josh finished the first round of editing on his novel while in Arizona. By our house sit in New Mexico, he was sitting on about 180,000 words (30,000 over the recommended upper limit for debut novels). Because of this, he started his second round of edits in New Mexico with a goal to cut at least 10% from each chapter. It was really interesting to watch his struggles and successes with this. I think it really changed the way he looked at his writing.

I made a lot of headway in my social media campaigns for the online fiction writer’s community #WeWriteFiction and was able to catch up on some blog pieces (thank you for your patience). The seclusion also allowed for some great reading time. I finished Titus Fogg by Aaron Piper, a really enjoyable self-published book about a magic kid in the regular world. I also breezed through Stranded by Bracken MacLeod, a horror-scifi about an oil rigger stranded in the ice. 

House sitting in New Mexico was an excellent experience and challenge to our previous views of needfulness. We loved Tess and Brady, our home, the amazing scenery, and the quiet. It was a house sit we will never forget and likely one we will continue talking about for years to come. I love when these sits aren’t just in new places, but require new skills and experiences as well. Up next, check out our adventures in Santa Fe!


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New Mexico House Sitting - The Places We Live


 

Phoenix and Beyond

The final stop on our family-visiting tour brought us to Phoenix, Arizona to stay with Josh’s aunt. Her lovely winter home is about forty minutes out of the city in a nice gated community, and overlooks a golf course and the mountains beyond. The weather was pretty perfect while we were there, eighty degrees and sunny, much better than the snow and bluster we left behind farther north. It’s not hard to see why someone would want to winter here.

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And I spotted my first roadrunner!

Though our time in Phoenix was short, we made sure to make the most of it, with daily jaunts into the city in search of the best tacos and craft brews we could find. We even got the chance to catch up with some friends from our college days. I was amazed at how easy it was to slip back into our old dynamic and reconnect again. Evenings were family time, capped off with drinks on the patio while watching the sunset. All in all we had a great time in Phoenix and felt well looked after.

From there we made our way towards New Mexico for our next house sit. The plan for the weekend was to visit some of the national parks and monuments on our way. Unfortunately for us, the longest federal government shut-down in history was in effect, leaving the national parks unmanned and therefore unvisitable. And though we would have liked to see the Grand Canyon, it was simply too far out of the way to make the drive. Another time, perhaps.

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We have at least five more pictures like this

Thankfully, not all was lost. We briefly stopped off in Sedona, as well as the surprisingly cold Arizona capital of Flagstaff. Though the two cities are quite close to each other geographically, they are drastically different in climate and culture. Sedona was warm, arid, and artsy, definitely a tourist destination. Flagstaff, on the other hand, was frigid and snowy, with more of a blue collar feel to it. While Sedona was the more beautiful destination, Flagstaff boasts a ski resort and some delicious local craft beers, so both are definitely worth a visit.

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Quartzsite, Arizona

The next stop on our sweep through the south took us to Quartzite, a little town out in the desert of Arizona, to spend a week with Josh’s grandparents. Now, usually I’d write about where Quartzite is located, what it’s known for, and what we did there, but I wanted to do something different this time. During our adventures, Josh and I often consider what life would be like if the places we visit were our permanent home. This time around I had a vision of life that was so vivid I had to write it out as a story. So I did. This fictional piece describing our life in Quartzite has been sitting on my desktop ever since we left, but now it’s time to set it free. Enjoy!

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Way out in the desert of Arizona, among the cacti and jack rabbits, you’ll find a little road called Winters. Turn right onto Winters and drive down a ways. You should see a neighborhood of RVs. These are the snow birds and most of them are our friends. The ones who aren’t are simply the ones we haven’t met yet.

Keep on driving, past the 38 footer with the saguaro garden, and then past Jose’s house (he decided to stay full time and made himself that beautiful house of his). We’re the lot on the right with the cactus sculptures made of horse shoes. My grandpa made those. He put solar lights on ’em so they shine at night. If you pass the lot with Mark’s trailer sittin’ on three wheels, you’ve gone too far. Grandpa’s gonna get him fixed up soon, but for now he’s SOL.

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Any-old-way, turn into the lot with the cactus sculptures and go all the way to the back of the lot. Grandpa’s got this whole property, but he shares the space with his friends. His RV is up front. Grandma will probably see you comin’ and give you a wave. Then you’ll pass Sue and Dan’s rig. They’re from Montana. I’ve been to their house a few times. It’s the kind of landscape that leaves you without words. Next up is Joe and Marlean’s. They’re from Wyoming and have been traveling with the gramps for years. They almost didn’t come this year, I’m so glad they did though. They always have the best stories.

Finally, down at the end, right before the wash, is our trailer. It isn’t much, especially next to all of the big RVs in the area, but it is home and more than enough space for our simple needs. The kitchen is fully stocked with a small oven, four burner stove, sink, and microwave. There isn’t a lot of counter space, but who needs it anyway. The nearby VFW serves great food at even better prices. It’s all volunteer, you know. They work for tips only. You don’t have to be a member. Anyone can eat there. We particularly like to go on Thursdays, that’s $1 taco night. I get four tacos and two margaritas for only $8. Can’t beat that!

Around 8:30 in the morning a collection of us, we’re all friends you know, walk to town for breakfast. We like the walk. It’s a nice opportunity to chat and to keep active. Today we walked to the RV sales lot to load up on their free pancake special. You get two free pancakes, sometimes four depending on how the cook feels that day, and all the free coffee you can drink. They have free juice too, but I don’t like it much. The coffee’s better.

While we were there, we went ahead and looked around a bit. It is nice to see some of the new models coming out. My favorite of the day was a Winnabego C-Class. I know it is a little small, but it has everything we could need, plus some. We also checked out the vendors in the nearby lot. All sorts of vendors, but mostly rock vendors. Rocks are a big deal here. You can find just about any kind of rock you want.

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If the weather is nice, which most of the time it is, we’ll get some work done. We’ve got plenty of hobbies to keep us busy. Josh tip taps away on that computer of his in front of the window. It overlooks the wash, the desert, and the foothills off in the distance. Can’t find any better view than that for miles. He should be able to come up with all sorts of creative ideas with a view like that. I’m filling up my afternoon reading a great book. It’s hard to find a good book, but when I find one, that’s all I want to do with my time.

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We’ll meet back up with our friends around 3:30 for dinner. Most places start serving dinner at 4:00, so meeting at 3:30 gives us plenty of time to walk over and get a good table. The service isn’t always great. It’s seniors serving seniors most of the time, but that suits us just fine. We’re in no hurry. Life is easy here.

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Although the story is mostly fictional and written in my pretend Quartzite voice, most of the events and all of the pictures are real. We had a great time visiting the grandparents and getting to see what life is like with the retired folk in their winter homes. We went to nearly every breakfast and dinner place in town, shopped for RVs, wandered the vendor booths, and even had ourselves a BBQ for Jen’s birthday. Despite the slower pace of life, our week went by in a flash, and then it was time to get back on the road and on to our next stop.


Josh’s California Family

From Las Vegas, we headed to Bakersfield, California to visit Josh’s dad, step-mom, three sisters, two brothers-in-law, two nieces, and one nephew. It is 286 miles (460 km) to Bakersfield, which should have taken about 4.5 hours to drive. Never for us. Never in California. Despite the horrendous weekend traffic from Vegas, we did eventually make it. We got to spend a whole week at the house and had an amazing time! We had a great time reconnecting with everybody, playing games and eating delicious food while enjoying the beautiful weather.

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Of course, we had to schedule family time around everyone’s various work schedules, which gave the two of us plenty of time to keep busy on our own projects. Josh was working on finishing his first round of novel edits while I was practicing my photography. Carrie gave me one of her unused cameras and I am determined to learn to use it. I got an app that challenges me to try different techniques each day. I hope it helps.

At the end of the week, we all took a mini-vacay to San Louis Obispo, where Josh’s sister Jodi lives. We made several stops along the way to try some excellent beers and wine, and drove past the site of James Dean’s fatal car accident. Our first night in SLO, all the siblings and spouses went out on the town for some drinks and dancing. The next day started with delicious seafood and a trip to the beach, where a family friend was kind enough to take some photos for us. The next day saw us returning to Bakersfield and saying goodbye. We had an amazing week with the family and were sad to see it end, but it was time for us to hop back in the van and move on to our next big adventure.

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Babysitting in Las Vegas

While we stopped off for a night in Vegas during our first swoop down to California, we ended up staying for a little over a week this time around. We ended up camping out in the garage, using Darla as our mobile guest bedroom. It was surprisingly comfortable, and gave us a little extra privacy. As per usual, my sneaky little sister didn’t tell me that we would be visiting during the school break and that she and her husband would be working. Guess who’s babysitting?!

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It’s us. The answer is us.

Anyone that knows us is probably thinking Carrie is nuts for leaving her three kids with us. You would be right. We temporarily destroyed the kitchen to accomplish a baking challenge, were the indirect cause of several scrapes and scratches when we took them hiking, and caused the complete trashing of the living room when we allowed pillows and toys downstairs for evening story time. However, everyone is still alive and seemed to have fun, so I think we did OK. In fact, I’d go so far as to say we did a pretty damn good job.

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Mom was here too, so we weren’t completely unsupervised during this Aunt Jen and Uncle Josh “anything goes as long as no one gets hurt” babysitting adventure. She’s recovering from her surgery well, and it was great to see her again. The house was full of fun and love during our visit, and it was a real challenge to leave without crying. But with the week complete, it was time to move on further south to visit Josh’s family in Bakersfield, California.

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Family Time

It’s time for the main event! This section of the trip is all about seeing friends and family. We had a few brief visits on our way up the coast, including my sister in Las Vegas, my aunt in Los Angeles, father- and mother-in-law in Bakersfield, and our best friends in Eugene. From there, we traveled to Boise and stayed put for a bit to celebrate the holiday season.

But First, Let Me Take a (Bestie) Selfie

On the way to Boise from Port Angeles, we made a quick stop in eastern Washington, where we met up with our super best friends, Adria and Corey. They live in Spokane, where Josh and I lived for several years during our university studies. It is the second largest city in Washington and a short drive from both Canada and Idaho.

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We had an amazing time re-connecting with our friends and returning to a former home town. One of the things I have always loved about Adria is how similar we are when it comes to planning. She kept us delightfully entertained (and fed) for the whole visit and even surprised us with a night at the local casino. We also got the chance to spend some time with their adorable daughter that we hadn’t yet had the privilege of meeting. Our stay in Spokane was definitely too short, but we made the most of our time together.

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Holidays in Boise

Before hitting the road again for #Vanlife Part Three, we spent a full month in Boise, Idaho for the holiday season, staying at Josh’s mom’s house. I got a part-time job at the local Target during that time, and though it wasn’t as glamorous as my old position, it was nice to get out of the house and earn some extra holiday cash. Thanksgiving was spent at my mother-in-law’s, where we had turkey, mashed potatoes, string bean casserole, stuffing, and candied yams — way too much for only three people! Christmas was spent at my dad’s house, where we enjoyed a home-cooked German meal and spent time hanging out with our nieces as they opened gifts and listened to a special holiday reading by Santa. We even had a mini-book signing to celebrate the publication of Josh’s short story collection. The holidays were great fun, and it was really a special treat to get to spend them with family once again.

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The Glamorous Lives of Jen and Josh

Much of our free time in Boise was spent cooking and baking. Some of our special dishes included Nasi Lemak and a Chinese feast. Our baking dedication really came to a head when we vowed to bake at least one cake per week. We even baked my niece’s birthday cake, a three-tiered snowman whose head hilariously fell off in the middle of the birthday song.

We’re still learning.

And then there were all of the parties. That’s right, we hit just about every hot party in town, including several holiday parties, a roaring 20’s party, a pajama party, and a Mardi Gras party. We ended the month with a new collection of amazing costumes, fun prizes, and lots of new friends.

#Vanlife Part Three

There’s a lot more to say about our month in Boise, but I’m a bit overwhelmed and running behind right now (obviously as it is currently April and I’m writing about December). We made a lot of memories in Boise, but now it’s time to move on to the final portion of #Vanlife, which sees us traveling across the southern US from California to Florida. Stay tuned!