Camping at Santa Rosa Lake State Park


As we headed towards New Mexico, we had no idea how many miles we would make in a day. We like being free to stop and see things that catch our eye, so we rarely make campground reservations ahead of time. We crossed Texas and into New Mexico with no plan other than “We’ll stop at a state park somewhere for the night.” Our first thought was Ute Lake State Park, but once we looked at how far it was off our route we decided to head further west to Santa Rosa Lake State Park.  First our GPS had tried to take us down a narrow, dirt, county road. We stopped and looked at the map, and saw that the road  did go toward the lake itself, but not necessarily toward  the state park on the lakeshore. We pulled up the satellite view of the region, and couldn’t see any obvious  roads to get over to the park from the county road, so we decided to turn around and go back to the paved road. The Google maps directions to the park were much better than the GPS tried to send us down! then, the first set of gates we passed through said Santa Rosa Lake, but read Corps of Engineers, not State Park. We realized that a Corps of Engineers campground would do just as well, so long as they were actually open, so we kept going.  We drove down winding roads past administration buildings, and the visitor center and an observation point. Finally we started seeing signs for the campground, and when we got there it turns out it was the state park!


We arrived well after dark, which is not at all unusual for us for an overnight stop on a travel day. The campground was not full, but neither was it empty, probably because we happen to be there on a Friday night. It was, however, quiet, both during the night and the next morning. we awoke early because of the time change, but didn’t get on the road very early. We took the morning to take care of some housekeeping, take showers, and do some lessons. Then we hit the road right after lunch. We would definitely stop here again when traveling along I-40!

If You Go to Santa Rosa Lake State Park

Rates for a campsite with an electric hook-up were $14 per night. A self pay station is available at the entrance to the campground. There’s a bathhouse with flush toilets and showers, although in the words of my children, the showers were “temperamental,” fluctuating between hotter and colder. The men’s and women’s bath houses were clean and each had  2 shower stalls, and 2-4 toilets. 

Each campsite features a barbecue grill and a picnic table, some with shade ramadas.  There were both pull-through and back-in sites. My children especially enjoyed the small play area adjacent to the bathhouse. The ones who were waiting to take a shower were able to blow off some steam in the meantime.


Eating healthy while traveling

My family have long been fans of spaghetti squash as a replacement for white pasta. We made some for our friends the little zebra dragons, who made a funvideo of their taste test.

However, it’s hard for us to cook spaghetti squash in the RV. We don’t have an oven, only a two burner range. As much as we like spaghetti squash, we had to look for other vegetable-based pasta replacements. I often see zucchini “noodles” and butternut squash “noodles” in the refrigerated produce section of the grocery stores. These products look great, except for the price tag. Customers pay more for convenience, and in this case, you pay a lot for the convenience of not having to turn a vegetable into thin strips. So for a while, I cut a zucchini into strips by hand with a knife for me, while making my children eat regular pasta. Yes, my children prefer spaghetti squash to “regular” spaghetti! I have weird kids who like their veggies.

Then, one day, my husband was browsing the clearance section at the grocery store when he found a small spiralizer on clearance for $0.75. this little device is shaped like a cone, and and as you place the zucchini inside the cone and turn it, like sharpening a pencil with a hand sharpener, it creates long thin noodles of zucchini, or “zoodles.” I haven’t tried it with any other vegetables yet. The vegetable would have to be cut into a shape that would fit inside the cone.

Making zoodles with meat sauce

The zoodles cook quickly in a skillet, with a little bit of oil or butter.

This is much easier than boiling a pot of water to cook a traditional pasta, especially when boondocking in the desert, where water conservation is a must. The zoodles could be topped with almost anything. They would be yummy with some butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. They could be topped with an alfredo sauce and a protein such as chicken breast. This time however I chose to serve them with a tomato-based meat sauce.

Once the zoodles were cooked, I removed them from the skillet to a plate. That I was able to use the same skillet to brown ground beef. I added diced onion, bell pepper, and mmushrooms. Once the meat was browned, and the vegetables were soft, I added jarred spaghetti sauce. I could have used plain tomato sauce instead and seasoned it myself.


The zoodles had cooled a little, but once I poured the piping hot sauce over them it was all good!


The first time we visited Arizona, we wanted to visit a friend in Apache Junction, just outside of Phoenix. We  decided to camp at Lost Dutchman State Park.  We didn’t have a reservation, but sites were available. The sites were not large, but adequate, and were very clean and attractive.The best part was the view of the Superstitions, right from our campsite.  The movement of the sun throughout the day means the view is ever-changing as the light plays across the rugged rock faces.


Lovely view of the Superstition Mountains

The showers were especially convenient at this park.  Rather than having showers inside each restroom, a couple of showers were located on the back side of the bathroom building. Each consisted of a individual shower and changing area, behind a secure locking door. This arrangement allows couples to shower together, mothers to supervise their sons,  and aides or caregivers to assist disabled visitors easily.  The water was hot  and there was plenty of parking (which was nice since our campsite was not close to the bathhouse!)

Each campsite has a fire ring with a cooking grate and a picnic table.  We really enjoyed being able to sit outside and enjoy the views while we studied !

What a great classroom!

Visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park is open year-round. Camping rates are  $15 – $20/night for a non-electric site and  $25 – $30/night for sites with electric and water hookups. There are 138 campsites, 68 of which have hookups. A dump station is also available.  For park visitors who are not camping, there is a day-use entry fee of $7/vehicle. ($3 for a bicycle)

Lost Dutchman State Park has several hiking trails. Descriptions can be found on the park website. There are also hiking trails outside the state park.

The park hosts a variety of events for visitors as well. These range from guided nature hikes and birding events, to musical performances or stargazing events. Curly particularly enjoyed participating in a birding walk while we were visiting.

Groceries and supplies are widely available in Apache Junction. For bargains on produce, we go to Superstition Ranch Market.  This produce store features a wide selection of fruits and vegetables at bargain prices. There are also traditional supermarkets, restaurants,  a Planet Fitness, Wal-Mart, home improvement stores, and auto parts stores. There are public parks with playgrounds. There is also a museum, the Superstition Mountain Museum, and a tourist attraction called  Goldfield Ghost Town, neither of which we visited.

Although now we boondock in the Tonto National Forest when we visit Apache Junction, if you want a hookups and a bathhouse, Lost Dutchman State Park is a beautiful setting.

The Flandreau Science Center & Planetarium is located on the University of Arizona campus. Flandrau offers hands-on science exhibits, a planetarium, and on the lower level,  the University of Arizona Mineral Museum. We visited because we got free admission with our WNC Nature Center membership, as part of the ASTC Travel Passport program.  We enjoyed the hands-on activities, but found the museum to be small. Had we paid regular admission prices, we would have been disappointed.

The Mineral Museum in the basement had a great selection of mineral specimens and some spectacular fossils. 


If You Visit

Flandreau Science Center & Planetarium is open Monday-Thursday from 9 AM to 5  PM, Fridays from 9 AM to 10 PM , Saturdays from 10 AM to 10 PM, and Sundays from 12 PM to 5 PM. 

Regular admission is $12 for kids aged 4-17 and $16 for adults. (Kids 3 and under are free.)

For directions and parking, see the website.

Visiting the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum

While we were camped at Hapgood Pondwe picked up a brochure somewhere for the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum.  Normally we look for attractions that participate in the AZA reciprocal program or ASTC Travel Passport program, to get the most value out of our Western North Carolina Nature Center membership.  However this museum’s regular prices were so low we didn’t need to look for a discount! Since it was July 4th, we called to see if they would be open, and they were.

As we arrived, the keeper on duty came over to let us know he was about to feed the snapping turtle so we could either come see it if we were interested, or stay away if we didn’t want to see the turtle eat.  Can you guess which way we went?  We all enjoyed watching the snapping turtle eat his dinner, consisting of an already-dead mouse, and hearing about the habits of snapping turtles in general and the history of this one in particular. Then the kids, not being shy at all, asked if there were any reptiles they could hold. After thinking for a moment the keeper led us to another room where he allowed the kids to touch and hold an amelanistic  snake while they discussed the difference between amelanism and true albinism. 

Once the impromptu reptile encounter was over, we went over the rest of the museum. A large number of the specimens are insects and birds. Some of the mammal specimens had placards explaining how the animal ended up in the collection- for example, there was a fawn who was preserved after the doe was killed by a car.  This was a little sad, but better than wondering if someone killed a fawn just to stuff it, right?

In addition to live reptiles, the museum also houses live birds, such as the owl pictured above.  Many of these birds are non-releasable due to injuries and serve to educate the public and schoolchildren about raptors. These birds ranged from a little screech owl to a pair of bald eagles.

 If You Visit the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum

The museum is located on Vt. Route 9, near West Marlboro.  From the road it looks like a teeny shack, but there is an extensive lower level you cannot see from the road. You should enter through the gift shop and pay at the counter, then you will go downstairs to the museum.

Admission is $5 for ages 13 and up, and only $2 for kids 5-12. Kids under 5 are free.

The museum is open 7 days a week. They are closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. They may close at times in the winter due to weather.

More information about the museum’s exhibits is available on the website.

Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska

Housed in a building just as beautiful as the art it contains, Joslyn Art Museum features a variety of art from medieval to modern.  The early twentieth-century Art Deco building, featuring a beautiful courtyard fountain, was Sarah Joslyn’s memorial to her late husband and a gift to the people of Omaha.  You can read more about the Joslyn family and the history of the museum here.

Both general admission and parking are free. The museum opens at 10 AM  Tuesday through Sunday and usually closes at 4 PM, though on Thursdays they remain open until 8 PM. They are closed on Mondays and major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. A cafe and a gift shop are available in the building.



Girl in front of glass sculpture
Chihuly glass at Joslyn


Exhibits include European art, Asian art, American art, Greek pottery, a sculpture garden and more. Artists represented include Edgar Degas, Camille Pisarro, Mary Cassatt, Albert Bierstadt, Jackson Pollack,  Claude Monet, Dale Chihuly, Auguste Renoir, El Greco, and John Singer Sargent.  

While the older Tumbleweeds were enjoying all those works, the younger ones particularly enjoyed the hands-on activities in the children’s ArtLab on the lower floor.  Children of all ages can use a brush on a screen to create digital art or use dry erase markers to decorate a Greek-style amphora.  There were also books and cozy reading nooks along one wall.

We also enjoyed an exhibition of quilts from Vermont’s Shelbourne Museum. This special exhibition was not included in general admission, but the $10 adult ticket was very reasonable, especially since the children’s admission was free of charge. This exhibit included a variety of both antique and contemporary quilts some purely decorative, others created for everyday use. 


Dandelion embroidered on white quilt
One quilt on exhibit featured embroidered birds, butterflies, and flowers

Another temporary exhibit we enjoyed, which was included with general admission, was stereographs and photographs from the American west during the construction of the transcontinental railroad.  Both of these exhibits will be at the Joslyn through the end of 2018, so if you’d like to see them, go soon! We certainly hope to spend more time at the Joslyn on a future visit.

If we plan to pass near St. Louis, we always make time for a visit to the St. Louis Zoo.  General admission is free, though there is a cost to park. There are separate fees for some of the attractions: Riding the carousel is $3/person, the sea lion show is $4/person, the children’s zoo is $4/person, the stingray exhibit is $4/person, and the Zooline railroad, which you can hop off and on all day, is $7.95/person.  Children under 2 are free for all the above attractions.  An Adventure Pass  that covers the above attractions is available for sale; members of zoos on the AZA reciprocal list can buy up to four adventure passes for half-price.

You can enjoy some of these attractions without paying extra, however!  The stingray exhibit and the children’s zoo are free for the first  hour the zoo is open, and the carousel is free for its first hour of operation.

The St. Louis Zoo is home to over 14,000 animals, and everyone will have their own favorites.  Ours is the penguin exhibit.  Visitors enter a chilled building and walk through the center. On either side of the walkway are penguin habitats, giving visitors the chance to see the penguins up close.  Because there are no barriers other than the clear front of the water tanks, there is a strong odor in the exhibit.  This didn’t stop us from hanging out and spending time watching the penguins- and in Curly’s case, sketching them.  A sweater or light fleece jacket is a must-have if you plan on spending time in the penguin house-it’s kept at a temperature comfortable for penguins, not people!

Another favorite exhibit was the bird house. The kids loved seeing native birds, and interpretive signs helped us identify and learn about specific species.

Whichever exhibit is your favorite, free admission means you can go again and again, and take your time exploring and learning!



Hiking to Crystal Cascade

Mt. Washington is New Hampshire’s best-known mountain and very popular both with hikers and tourists who choose to get to the summit riding on the Cog Railway or driving up the toll Auto Road.  We decided to hike on the Tuckerman Ravine trail, not in hopes of summitting, but only as far as the spectacular Crystal Cascade. We ended up doing this hike on a cooler afternoon, after a couple of short hikes during the morning.

The hike to the 100-ft waterfall is listed as .3 mile and 250 feet in elevation gain, but parts of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail were closed for trail maintenance. ( You can check on the trail detour here.)We decided to leave our 4-year-old, Tiny, with a good friend while we tackled this one, which turned out to be a good choice.  The trail detour was pretty steep and since the weather had been very wet, the trail was muddy and slippery. I won’t name names, but a couple of us slipped and fell at various times!  Nobody was hurt, however, and we plowed ahead.

The payoff was worth it.  Nobody but us was at the falls, though we had seen a few others on the main trail.  We were able to take in the beauty of the waterfall and get some great photos without waiting for others to move out of the way or worrying that we were getting in the way of others.


Woman in front of waterfall
Tired but happy at Crystal Cascade

I wouldn’t recommend this hike for very young children, unless they’re going to  ride in a carrier part or all of the way, but this was one of my favorite waterfall hikes so far in New Hampshire.  The views of the falls are unobstructed and it wasn’t crowded at all. I hope you get a chance to check it out sometime!

One of our favorite places to walk or jog when we’re in New Hampshire is the trail that runs along the shore of Willand Pond between Somersworth and Dover.  The pond provides municipal drinking water, so no swimming is allowed, but people enjoy fishing, canoeing, and sailing on the 66-acre pond.  

Along the one-mile trail there is a picnic area with several tables. Spread out along the sides of the trail there are also fitness stations, such as balance beams, a sit-up bench, posts for support while stretching, and pull-up bars. Where the trail runs through marshy areas, there are low boardwalks, but most of the path is dirt. The boardwalks are made of a synthetic lumber that has a lot of flex, and so are very springy to run across!

Dogs are allowed and are required to be leashed.  However, our experience has been that many people disregard the leash laws and enforcement is poor. I do wish people would be responsible enough to keep their pets leashed, but since it is an issue, you should be aware. 

On the Somersworth side of the trail is a parking area and a not-very-clean porta-potty. There are no trash cans to be seen, either at the picnic area or either end of the trail. Please pack out your trash! Informational signs tell of the area’s history as a recreation center; the park that was by the pond boasted a dance hall, penny arcade, and bandstand, and was accessible to local factory workers by streetcar. You can even walk into the remnant of a pit where bear cubs were once kept and displayed.


Willand Pond straddles the border between Dover and Somersworth.

What we like about this trail, in addition to the pull-up bars, is the distance markers every quarter-mile. The unpaved surface is also much easier on the joints than walking on asphalt or a concrete sidewalk! Wild blueberries grow along the sides of the trail and there is plenty of shade.

An unpaved walking/jogging trail follows the pond’s shore

All in all, despite the lack of trash service and toilets, Willand Pond Trail is a good place to jog or walk and squeeze in a bodyweight workout.

What is “work camping”?  Like “boondocking” this is a term that has varying meanings to different folks, but we use it to mean any sort of work where a place to park the RV is part or all of the compensation.


When we visit Arizona, plenty of free dispersed camping is available on public lands, allowing us to find paying jobs rather than bartering labor for a site in an RV park as so many work campers seem to do.  Some people enjoy campground work, and when the barter arrangement is fair it can be a real win-win for both the park owner and the work camper.  However, with the growing popularity of Rving and work camping, Some RV parks and owners seem to be attempting to exploit workers.  In a barter arrangement, the value of the campsite is the pay, and when dividing the pay by the number of hours required results in too low an effective hourly wage, we just are not interested.  We are very happy to volunteer our time at state and national parks, but have no desire to help a private business avoid paying fair wages.  If all work campers would do the same, then park owners would start offering better compensation, but too many workers are all to willing to “volunteer” at private RV parks.  

While visiting Tucson I wanted a way to make some extra cash in order for Curly to take classes at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Art Institute.  Craigslist gigs can be hit-or-miss, but I kept checking and eventually found a job building horse fence at Grasshopper Hill Farm in Patagonia.  We contacted the owner to see if there were someplace we could park the camper on the farm,   As it turned out, they were currently homeschooling their daughter and were more than happy to welcome another homeschooling family to camp out on their property.  The pay was $13 an hour for the fence job, with no charge to camp there and a few meals thrown in. The kids were close enough to supervise throughout the day and happy to have a new friend and some farm critters to spend time with.  The couple we were working for were laid-back, intelligent, and fun to talk with, and we bonded over a beer at the end of each workday. 
They invited us to stay on for a week after the job was done and see some of Patagonia, and have invited us to come back again.  One of the best parts of traveling is making new friends!