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Hauling the land yacht up State Road 126 in the Jemez Mountains seemed like a good idea until the deceptively smooth unpaved portion narrowed into a rugged canyon.

Wedging into a campsite built for tenting at Chiricahua National Monument drew an appreciative audience who mistook the driver's luck for skill.
Photos credit: —Bill Diven

Adventures in land yachting

~Bill Diven

Hoisting anchor from its dock in Bernalillo, our land yacht sets sail for uncharted waters in search of adventure. Exotic locales beckon. Unfamiliar cultures reveal themselves. We are masters and commanders, unless she or I attempt to hog too much authority. Then the Good Ship Lollipop lists toward Mutiny on the Bounty slipping toward Titanic.

OK, so in truth the land yacht barely qualifies as a dory, although I reject the notion that a living space 19 feet long by hot-tub wide is a dinghy. There’s enough room for two people experienced at getting along, plus a deaf, blind, geriatric, occasionally incontinent ex-feral cat. After decades of backpacking, car camping, and sleeping on the ground, uptown living is cooking dinner out of the rain and sleeping on a real mattress.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a camp chair with a view of Colorado’s 13,000-foot twin Spanish Peaks with an IPA within reach. After four previous trips in the already well-used land yacht, we may be getting the hang of this. This, after parking too far from hookups, nearly backing into trees, boulders, picnic tables, and neighbors and learning the importance of greasing hitch parts and ball and wearing rubber gloves while draining the black-water tank.

The RV subculture is growing rapidly these days. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) forecasts continued record annual production approaching 500,000 of everything from pop-ups to ginormous bus-like creatures. Who’s buying? We of, ahem, somewhat advanced age, of course. But the RVIA, in a survey now several years old, reports that the big growth is in the folks between 35 and 54, nearly forty percent of them with kids 18 and under.

We bought our one-axle escape pod for the cat—a long-time resident of Albuquerque streets, relocated to Placitas five years ago as her infirmities took hold. Sweetheart that she is, we weren’t buying her a forty-foot split-level fifth wheel with fireplace, leather sofa, and a deck. Our hunt began in the fringe of Albuquerque’s International District at a crowded lot that while not an elephants’ graveyard seemed like senior living for aged RVs. The cheery owner gave us self-serving but quality advice: start with the oldest, roughest trailer you can tolerate. Then you’re not seriously stuck if your experiment in land yachting hits a reef.

Eventually Craigslist led us to a chile emporium in rural Valencia County with associated storage units, cargo trailers for rent, and the consignment trailer we’d decided on. Solid in appearance and purportedly owned by a kindly grandmother, the inside deserved better than broken blinds, a freeze-damaged toilet valve, and linoleum decorated with cigarette burns. A detailed scrubbing helped, an Albuquerque dealer fixed the toilet, I repaired the blinds, and we’re still speculating about the cigarette burns. Otherwise, it was all we needed: bed, sink, two-burner range, and a dinette table big enough for a Scrabble board.

And off we’ve gone.

We built our experiment around a $100 New Mexico State Parks annual pass, which saves $10 a night for a parking spot, sometimes with utility hookups, sometimes not. So far that’s four trips and 11 nights from Pancho Villa on the Mexican border at Columbus to Sugarite touching Colorado near Raton, Sumner Lake in the eastern highlands to Navajo Lake in the Four Corners.

Despite our long tenures in New Mexico, we finally made it to Fenton Lake, perhaps the sweetest spot in the Jemez Mountains. Heading west from there on State Road 126 proved rougher than expected when the pavement ran out, but so it goes.

Literally everyone we’ve met has been friendly, sharing mechanical wisdom travel, and tips on where else to park in this beautiful state. We’ve also met people for whom a pickup truck with camper insert is affordable housing as they moving from park to park, stay the limit number of days, around the country. Most people play their politics and religions close to their vests, although one man was happy to explain, at length, how he’s a healer as God speaks to him through his rescue dog.

Other folks are full-time RVers who sold their homes and hit the road. Among that group was a fifty-something couple at the Kaktus Brewery in Bernalillo. They were exploring New Mexico from a motor home parked at Cochiti Lake, and after an online search, decided Kaktus was closer than the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid. At the adjacent stool sat a man laying over at the KOA campground next door. Being good neighbors, a gate connects the two, although a thirsty soul entering the brewery property may scatter a few chickens. Ah, so New Mexico.

Campground hosts also are great and understanding people, the source of another valuable piece of advice: ignore any person or well-meaning committee trying to help back your trailer into its designated spot. Pity the poor woman at Chiricahua National Monument listening as we tried to steer her into a tight spot on our second-ever day out.

Pity my poor wife as well trying to back in as I try to verbalize what I can only conceptualize. She finally told me to buzz off and spent a few hours in the back reaches of a casino parking lot working it our for herself. The result? High fives when she nailed the maneuver at Coyote Canyon State Park above Mora.

As I finish this piece, our destination of Yellowstone National Park seems iffy as a forecast blast of early winter may be too much for the three-season land yacht. If that be the case, we’ll just spin the compass and continue the adventure.

 
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