Well, we've regained some house-based normalcy again (it sure took a few days) and have been reflecting on our most wonderful trip--the first trip without a single deadline or firm itinerary. We loved it!
The trip stats:
Distance: just about 5,000 miles in 40 days.
Average camping fee: $22.50 (which reflects only 4 free nights, lots of $14-20 state parks, but also a few doozy nights at $30-55!)
Maintenance: yikes. This trip wins for priciest maintenance outlays: new headlight bulbs, tires, oil change (with oil and fuel filters). But I will always remember Tire Rack with its reasonable 2-day FedEx shipping, should we ever be in need of new tires whilst underway.
Mileage: Hovering slightly below 15 mpg this trip. Didn't get great mileage given the tire problems and fall winds we faced on many days. We also traveled heavy this trip, with holding tanks and souvenirs ;-)
National Parks and Monuments: Boy, did we visit a ton of these!
1. Pipe Springs National Monument
2. Grand Canyon National Park North Rim
3. Mesa Verde National Park
4. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
5. Petroglyph National Monument
6. Navajo National Monument
7. Bandelier National Monument
8. Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
9. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
10. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
11. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Moral of the story: our national parks and monuments are always must-sees: educational, beautiful, and often inspirational.
Favorite State/County Parks: Lake Pleasant northwest of Phoenix--fantastic views. Brantley Lake State Park north of Carlsbad for coziness and ease of camping. Abiqui Dam (Corps of Engineers) for natural setting. Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada's first state park) for best facilities in most unusual setting. Coral Pink Sand Dunes for awesome hiking--Nick loved those dunes.
Best green chile cheeseburger: Manny's Buckhorn for balance of flavors (Double Eagle in La Mesilla in Las Cruces for hottest chiles).
Fanciest meal: Ojo Caliente's new restaurant/wine bar
Best meal value: Ghost Ranch lunch for $8 all-you-can-eat salad bar and lovingly made soups. But wait: those free pancakes at the KOA were pretty hard to beat.
Favorite Roadfood stop: The Range in Bernalillo (or Pasqual's in Santa Fe?)
Most educational tourist attraction: Los Alamos History Museum (or maybe the dowsing demonstration at the New Mexico Farm and Ag Museum. No wait: Pipe Springs National Monument. Or maybe Ghost Ranch. Yikes, but we learned A LOT on this trip.)
Most challenging activity: Hiking down into Carlsbad Caverns via the Natural Entrance (followed closely by the tire debacle)
Biggest surprise: Earthships outside of Taos for Julie; Chimayo for Lisa. Or maybe the free camping in a great campground at Navajo National Monument. No, it had to be the coyotes surrounding our RV at 5AM.
Biggest tourist trap: Four Corners. This is unambiguous.
We've already listed the must-go-back-and-see places in an earlier post--and we will. What a great part of the country and especially beautiful in the autumn. We'll see what we think in the winter/early spring if we're able to get back there.