By dint of its definition, fulltiming seems to suggest exactly that - doing something all the time, in our case living in an RV. Beyond that very confining definition, the term becomes hazy, meaning different things to different people. Fulltimers are not a homogenous group, our only constant similarity is the fact that we live in some sort of structure that is either driven or towed. For some, their lifestyle is dominated by long periods in the same place, for others, by a state of constant flux and movement. While some are extremely gregarious, their lives peppered with frequent socializing, for others it can be a fairly solitary existence. And then of course there’s money: the huge palaces and expensive RV resorts through to the smaller and older units out on dispersed camping sites.
While we have certainly been living in the camper full time since I last wrote a proper log entry, we’ve also been stationary for much of that period, as I have been at Aztec Ruins and Pipe Spring. For us, this hasn’t felt like fulltiming: our personal definition has always involved frequent movement. And so in spite of how much I’ve enjoyed the volunteering, it’s with a sigh of great relief that we return to the road albeit somewhat curtailed by finances. The restrictions are mainly confined to miles of travel so instead of heading somewhere like the west coast, we’ve been tootling around Colorado.
We leave Pipe Spring a few days earlier than planned as I’ve again been summoned to Albuquerque, this time for my citizenship interview and test. We get as far as Acoma Pueblo where the Fourth of July Fireworks make the day’s driving seem worthwhile. We head into the city on the fifth and I try to remain calm. Who can say why I get so nervous when dealing with the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service). It’s not rational, I know that, but so much hangs on these interactions that even though I have no reason to believe things will go badly, I always fear the worst. This time is no different: I leave the encounter clutching a piece of paper with the following words: “Congratulations! Your application is recommended for approval.” However, things are never quite as simple as they seem. I will cover the full rollercoaster of the citizenship saga when it is resolved.
We have it in our minds to head vaguely northward and feel compelled to visit Aztec: friends, a great Monument, and a lovely town. We arrive at a very fortuitous time: there’s lots going on so as well as seeing people and visiting the site we get to try our hand at spinning the Navajo way and attend a talk on preliminary findings from the excavation earlier this year of a small section of Aztec North. For those interested - they found fish bones - and that’s significant!
Vallecito Lake in Colorado is our next destination where we find perhaps one of the best ever dispersed camping sites, anywhere: wonderful views, solitude and nearby trails. After months in the pale, washed out hues of the Arizona Strip, the colours are startlingly vibrant: we don’t seem to be able to look at them enough. It’s a huge part of the pleasure of being here: this is what full-timing is about for us.
Unfortunately, our time here is tainted. Leaving our levelling bricks in position, we are gone for half an hour to dump at a nearby campground. When we return, they are gone. A couple of weeks later, a chair is stolen from our campsite at Curecanti National Recreation Area. The only other time we’ve had anything stolen was very early on in our travels but also strangely enough, in Colorado. Of course we shouldn’t leave things out but it’s easy to feel trusting until behaviour like this throws us into a space of suspiciously looking at everyone for a week or so. We’re back in ‘locking everything that moves’ mode.
After a short return to Aztec (the reasons for which will be covered in a future log), we head out to some forest service land near Bayfield where we have rain, storms and rainbows. There’s not much out here but it is in driving distance of town and dinner at the local brewpub - always a bonus.
Passing through Pagosa Springs, we decide to put the town back on our A list of possible places we might eventually settle. Maybe we’ve lowered our expectations or maybe we’ve always come here after somewhere spectacular and so short change the town. Other than bike trails, it’s got everything we would want in a home base. A few weeks later we make a short stop in Glenwood Springs and while we still long to be able to return here, at a more realistic level we recognise that the only possibility of that happening is a lottery win: given we’ve bought two tickets so far this year, it’s unlikely to happen.
From Pagosa we head for the high Rockies and the highest place we’ve ever camped: 11,700' (3570m) at Lobo Overlook. It’s right by access to a section of the Continental Divide Trail and who can resist that temptation? Being wily, we’ve checked the weather forecast and all looks well until mid-afternoon when thunderstorms are forecast. The sun’s shining as we set out, the profusion of wildflowers breath taking. The forecast proves just a tad incorrect and while Sterling assures me that the gathering cloud and distantly rumbling thunder will only result in “four or five drops”, within a short time, the looming storm has us hurrying back through what are concerningly high, open areas.
A couple of days later, on the way down from the pass, we stop at another dispersed camping location where we are woken in the early morning by the camping being rocked back and forth. Leaping out of bed, Sterling opens the door to find us surrounded by a herd of cattle who seem to have mistaken us for a handy scratching post. They’re startled by the sudden appearance of a sleep tousled human and with some verbal protests move a short distance. We return to slumbers only to be woken again by the sensation of being in a rocking cradle. Firmer words are used by the aforementioned human, the second time round.
Farm animals appear to be in our stars and at our next stop, by a young Rio Grande, we are serenaded from the far side of the river by a flock of sheep. It’s such a familiar sound to us, having lived in North Wales, but one that we rarely encounter here: it almost makes us nostalgic for the beauty of Snowdonia, until we remind each other about the rain. Sheep are sheep but the sight of a shepherd on horseback, trailed by his dogs, is novel: there are no bears or coyotes around Llan Ffestiniog.
It’s a far cry from the green hills of Wales to the pale dry grasslands surrounding the reservoirs of Curecanti National Recreation Area but that’s where we’re heading next. It’s a haven for boaters, kayakers and those who love fishing but a bit of a disappointment for us. There are a few trails and the short jaunt up to Dillon Pinnacles affords lovely views across the water.
Having been in one place for months, we’ve had few if any dealings with dump stations or the endless round of finding both them and freshwater. The delights of these activities are one of the aspects of full-timing that is hard to relish. This is especially true when I remove the dump valve cap one day to be given a supplementary shower of water of an unknown provenance, and no, I don’t want to know. Fortunately, it is a fluke and hasn’t happened again: something must have been caught in the cutoff valve giving us a drip leak from one of the tanks.
Having dumped and filled at Curecanti, we’re off to the north rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s the more isolated, less developed and little visited side of the park and the one we haven’t been to before. The campground has just thirteen compact sites and not much maneuvering room: a number of twenty-seven point turns are needed to get us in position.
The Black Canyon may not hold its own in comparison with either Yosemite or the Grand Canyon but the combination of its sheer walls, depth, narrowness and dark rock make a significant and unforgettable statement. We’re not up to the hike into the canyon itself but rim trails give stunning views down to the fast flowing water, two thousand feet below. Staring into this abyss makes my stomach lurch and my legs weaken momentarily. Other members of the party are not affected and get far too close to the edge!
So, a month of fulltiming. The highs and the lows: dump stations, thefts, finding unexpectedly beautiful places to camp, the freedom to move-on when we choose, the pleasure of a different view every few days, seas of wildflowers, new trails and tracks to wander. We’ve missed it!