Letters From a Bus
December 2007: Holiday Travels
2nd entry for December
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A Run of Bad Luck

Las Cruces, NM, Day Five at Sunny Acres RV Park, Site: 59

Monday, December 10, 2007 — Six Months

On our fourth day in Las Cruces, a Saturday, the first day of December, we decided to do some Christmas shopping.  I wanted to find one of those little potted evergreen trees that you often see in supermarkets.  It would be just right to sit on the windshield shelf.  In the years when we always spent Christmas in Kauai, I always found one in the local Safeway. Also I wanted to put together some small gifts in little mini stockings for my sister, nephew and my two sons. 

I found a Hallmark store in the Mesilla Valley Mall — so we were off and running.  We had a good time in Hallmark where I found some cute little stockings as well as New Mexico style Christmas cards.  I also found a Barnes & Noble and picked up some fun little Christmas stocking type of books.

Now from my perspective, here is an odd thing: we saw no Christmas tree lots in Las Cruces.  In the Bay Area all the Christmas tree lots go up right after Thanksgiving. I always bought my tree on December first. Also, I saw no mini trees in Wal*Mart or anywhere else.  Where were the trees?  On line I found Guzman’s Garden Center so we plugged the address into the Honda GPS and drove to Guzman’s.  They were just unpacking their trees, which were not yet ready to sell.  And they had no miniature trees anyway.  After this we tried Albertson's and Target — nothing.  No little trees.

I brought a few Christmas decorations that I used last year on my mantlepiece. I have a fake fir garland strung with white lights. And I have my musical Hallmark Santa, Penguin, and tree from last year.

At this point, in the middle of a strange city and on a busy Saturday Christmas shopping day, we were careless and got into a traffic accident.  We crossed two lanes of traffic that was coming from our left, as we made for a wide median where you can wait to cross the next two lanes of traffic coming from the right.  But Dennis got hit on the driver’s side by a car coming in the second (fast) lane.  He didn’t see it.  Fortunately it was a small car and only going about 25 mph.

Oh dear.  The airbags came out on the driver's side of the Honda. The young woman driving the other car bumped her knee and a paramedic checked her out. She said she was okay. Dennis had a stiff neck from the force of the airbag. But fortunately, no one seriously hurt. The Honda center post and the two doors are bent up. 

The driver's husband of the car accident said that he didn’t like Las Cruces traffic.  He said that the way the city is laid out is dangerous.  There are always medians and so you always have to go the wrong way and then make U-turns or left turns to get to stores on the other side of the road.  We have noticed that the left turns are very mysterious with the left turn green arrow way over to the right of a bank of horizontal lights.  They are counter-intuitive and very confusing.

Dennis has a clean record — never had an accident but this was his fault.  Ego bruised but nothing else.  Exchanged information.  Talked to traffic cop.  Tucked up airbags as best we could and finally left.  We went to Starbucks to sit and recover.  I bought some gift certificates for my stockings.  We went back to our bus.  No tree that day.  Honda a mess.  We look like the Joads. 

We reported the accident and a traffic cop arrived. The paramedics arrive automatically. This might explain why we are always hearing sirens in Las Cruces. In the RV park, other people have commented on the constant sirens going by. The driver got her knee checked while her husband waited and held a paper with their information. Dennis stands by. Airbags came out of the side door and above the door. We had to tuck them up out of the way.

You might say the bloom was off the rose. We were depressed. So in a fit of pique we decided to leave Las Cruces the next day.  We still thought we would head south through Texas and investigate the southern gulf towns like Corpus Christi and Padre Island.  We knew we had to get estimates for damage and thought that the larger city of El Paso (609,415+ pop.) would be better than Las Cruces (86,268+ pop.)  So on Sunday, we drove the short sixty mile distance south to El Paso, TX where we stopped at Mission RV Park.  On Monday we planned to talk to insurance and get estimates from Honda and other body shops.

To cheer us up we took the recommendation of a neighboring couple at the RV park and drove south for forty minutes on I-10E to Fabens and thence to the Cattleman’s Restaurant at Indian Cliffs Ranch.  We were told that it was a working ranch and that it had been used as a location for several films.  The restaurant was voted as one of the top ten in all of Texas for quality and flavor of beef.   Here we found an extensive zoo and a lake walk and much more.  We walked around before dinner and then went to the gigantic restaurant.  The service was terrific and so were the steaks.  I found out why:  the beef they serve is from a special herd raised on grain.  http://www.cattlemanssteakhouse.com/

We were excused and pulled across the second lane of traffic to a shopping center and parked at Pier One. I could look back down at the scene of the accident and took this photo. Dennis was given a $60 ticket for failing to yield. Lohman Blvd., Las Cruces 12/01/07
Cattleman's Restaurant at Indian Wells
We walked around a lake and some of the old ranch buildings. The Cattleman's Restaurant is in the distance at the top of the hill above the lake. Next we walked up the hill and stopped to look at old equipment. Then we walked around the zoo which featured everythings from rattlesnakes, rabbits, deer and sheep to exotic goats, buffalo, alpacas and llamas.

There was much more to see but it was getting late and cold. We didn't see the movie sets. We learned that Jack Nicholson, Chuck Norris and David Carradine, among others, have starred in movies made here. They include "Lone Wolf McQuade", "Glory Road", and the "Jessica Lynch Story". http://www.elpasomoviesets.com/

The ranch was started in 1966 by Dieter Gerzymisch, who worked for his father's shipping business in Germany. He was put in charge of moving the German Air Force School and it's soldiers to Fort Bliss.

Dieter liked El Paso and remained. As a favor to a friend, he bought a string of livery horses to rent to the public. This gave his friend a job. He rented space for them from the Tigua Indians at Hueco Tanks.

In 1968 Hueco Tanks became a state park. Dieter wound up buying the land which takes it's name from the Indian Cliffs nearby. The horse rental business grew and because the location was far out of town, a need for a restaurant developed. It opened in 1973 and the place just kept on growing from then on. It's fascinating and I would certainly return to see more and enjoy another delicious dinner.

This is part of the exterior of the very large Cattleman's Restaurant as seen from the parking lot at the top of the hill. Inside the entrance, you walk down a long hall. Through windows you can see large dining rooms on either side. On a T, the dining rooms at the end of the hall face the valley and have a view. Indian Wells, 12/03/07

There were very few choices for RV parks in El Paso.  We really liked our RV Park in Las Cruces and we really hated the only viable RV Park in El Paso.  It was crowded with narrow paved lanes and dirt sites.  There were many permanent residents there that included a lot of construction workers.  There were no pretty views.  I will admit that it was quiet and there was a dog enclosure where the dogs could play. 

On Monday morning at seven, the day after we arrived, I made a note that it was 37° and that the park was quiet but very ugly.  I commented that El Paso is level and spread out and that at night it looked like Los Angeles.

“The accident on Saturday was a big shock.  Dennis is a good driver.  He doesn’t have accidents.  He got careless.  We were lucky.  We could have been badly hurt.  Broadsided.  As it is — big nuisance, waste of time, costly.

I don’t like it here.  Ugly.  Go farther south into Texas?  Turn and go towards home?  Where stop and spend time while car is fixed?  I feel we are on a misadventure — badly thought out.”

Monday was a nuisance day of errands.  We found Honda and got an estimate on the damage — about $6,500.  We went to a body shop and got a second estimate — about $5,500.  In the afternoon we tried to save the day by seeing the Magoffin Homestead, a State Historic Park.  It turned out to be twenty minutes away near the downtown and was — CLOSED.  We gave up and drove through major freeway construction traffic back to our bus. As tourists, we are disorganized.

The lanes at Mission RV Park in El Paso are tight. This is our view from the windshield in our pull through. We drove down to our site from the lane behind us. (See back of our bus above right.) The construction guy with the truck parked behind his trailer in site #63 made the turn into our assigned site #64, too tight. We had to call and get permission to take the empty site beyond, #65 . That is where we are parked in this photo. Mission RV Park 12/03/07
Compare the views and the lanes in the two parks.
This is the lane where we must walk the dogs at Mission RV Park in El Paso. On the other side of the wall is a storage lot for truck trailers. Dennis stares at them with Margot. While walking the dogs one must be vigilant and watch out for traffic. Mission RV Park, El Paso, 12/03/07 This is the lane where we walk the dogs at Sunny Acres RV Park in Las Cruces. This was taken on the day after a rainstorm. The Organ Mts. are in the background to the east. There are many warning signs to drive 5 mph and there is plenty of room to stay out of the way of traffic. Sunny Acres RV Park, Las Cruces, 12/01/07
At Mission Park the dogs were able to run free in a dog run at the back of the park. One uses a scoop to pick up poop and dirt and that is dumped in one of several bins. The area is smelly. Rudi enjoyed his freedom. He and Margot did run around to play a little bit. There was shade and a little bench but the area was all dirt and not that pleasant. I prefer grass.
Driving south from Las Cruces to El Paso on I-10E. 12/02/06 at 10:35:07 AM Driving north on I-10W. El Paso is a big sprawling city with busy freeways. It's not very pretty. 12/05/07 at 10:43:54 AM

Tuesday noon found us back in downtown El Paso in a parking lot next to the Rio Grande by the Mexican border.  The “Border Jumper trolley” was not running that day so we decided to walk across the bridge to see the neighboring border town of Juarez.  Don’t ask me why.  I thought it was something we should see and do. 

I always read those city visitor’s guide magazines.  One paragraph read:  “Ciudad Juarez, Old Mexico.  No visit to El Paso would be complete without a stop in Juarez, just across the Rio Grande.  You park downtown and cross the Santa Fe Street Bridge for a walk past nightclubs, fine restaurants, a betting lounge, and curio shops before coming to the city’s main thoroughfare, its old Mercado (crafts mall) and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, established in 1659.”  Etc.  Why do these magazines suggest (push) a day in a Mexican border town? I have no idea.

The reality was less than charming.  The bridge, the fences, the wire, and the little trickle of Rio Grande water were sad and disappointing.  No sooner had we descended down the bridge and walked a block then I was ready to turn around and go back.  A taxicab driver who said he would drive us to the market hailed us.  Okay — in for a penny, in for a pound.  We accepted.  I heard him quote $5 but he charged Dennis $7 for a drive of a few miles.  We were assaulted by a group of determined entrepreneurs when we arrived and they basically hounded us as we tried to walk through the alleys by the indoor flea market booths.  There was nothing I wanted, other than to get out of there as promptly as possible.  We paid $5 for the drive back to the bridge.

The highlight of my visit was the US customs official who greeted each of us and looked at our ID. He asked me, "What is your country of citizenship?" With emphasis I replied, "I'm an American." I was glad to say so. He laughed and said, "You're the only one who has given the correct answer all day." I guess most people are intimidated and try to be correct saying they are USA citizens. I laughed. I felt like LBJ: "Ma fellow Ahmericons."

We arrived at our parked car less than an hour and a half after we left. But we weren’t out of there at all.  Dennis lost his car keys.  Apparently they dropped out of his pocket in the taxi.  I didn’t carry my set in my little red hiking purse but I hoped I'd left them in my larger black purse in the car.  We called AAA and waited for forty minutes for El Candado to open the door.  He did, I found my keys and we gladly left.  Counting parking lot fee, the entirely forgetable episode cost us about twenty bucks and a couple of wasted hours.

El Paso, TX

El Paso lies at the intersection of three states, Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua, and two countries, the USA and Mexico. It is the only major Texas city that operates on Mountain Time.  El Paso is the sixth-largest city in Texas and the 21st-largest city in the United States, as well as the 7th fastest growing large city in the nation from 2000-2006.  El Paso has a semi-arid, warm steppe climate (Koppen climate classification BSh) with very hot summers (with little or no humidity) and mild, dry winters.

The Franklin Mountains extend into El Paso from the north and nearly divide the city into two sections. The 24,000-acre Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban park in the United States and resides entirely in El Paso.  Fort Bliss, a major United States Army installation, lies to the east and northeast of the city, extending north up to the White Sands Missile Range.  El Paso is home to the University of Texas at El Paso.  It was founded in 1914 as The Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy and received university status in 1967.

There have been thousands of years of human settlement within the El Paso region.  El Paso del Norte, present day Ciudad Juárez, was founded on the south bank of the Río Bravo del Norte, (Rio Grande) in 1659 by Spanish conquistadors.  Being a grassland then, agriculture flourished and vineyards and fruits constituted the bulk of the regional production. In 1680, after the successful Pueblo Revolt that decimated the Spanish colonies in northern New Mexico, El Paso became the base for Spanish governance of the territory of New Mexico. In the first Mexican constitution (1824), Paso del Norte went to the State of Chihuahua after being part of New Mexico for 200 years. The area was never considered part of Texas until 1848.  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo effectively made the settlements on the north bank of the river a formal American settlement, separate from Old El Paso de Norte on the Mexican Side. A settlement on Coons' Rancho called Franklin became the nucleus of El Paso, Texas. The United States Senate fixed a boundary between Texas and New Mexico at the thirty-second parallel, thus largely ignoring history and topography.  A military post called Fort Bliss was established in 1854, and the Butterfield Overland Mail arrived in 1858. A year later pioneer Anson Mills completed his plat of the town of El Paso, a name that resulted in endless confusion until the name of the town across the river, El Paso del Norte, was changed to Ciudad Juárez in 1888.  El Paso was originally known as Franklin. It was incorporated in 1873 and encompassed the small area communities that had developed along the river (Magoffinsville, Concordia, Hart's Mill).

The Post Opposite to El Paso (the first name of El Paso) began with five tiny settlements: Coon's Ranch, Hart's Mill, Concordia, Frontera and Ponce's ranch. They later grew to become the nucleus of the modern city of El Paso.  During the Civil War, Texas, along with most other Southern states, seceded from the Union to join the Confederate States of America in 1861. 

With the arrival of the Southern Pacific, Texas and Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads in 1881, the population of El Paso boomed to 10,000 by the 1890 census. With a tempting green valley and a nearly perfect climate year-around, the town attracted a constant stream of newcomers: gamblers, gunfighters, thieves, cattle and horse rustlers, murderers, priests, Chinese railroad laborers, prostitutes, and entrepreneurs.

During the Wild West era, according to "The Portable Handbook of Texas", El Paso was dubbed as the "Six Shooter Capital" due to its great remoteness and lawlessness.  El Paso hired a town marshal with rough reputation, Dallas Stoudenmire, who was known to shoot first and ask questions later. The "Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight" took place here on April 14, 1881.  This was prior to the Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.  Prostitution and gambling flourished until World War I, when the Department of the Army pressured El Paso authorities to crack down on vice.

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) various exiled leaders including Victoriano Huerta and Pancho Villa were seen in the city of El Paso. In January 1914, General John Joseph Pershing was stationed at Fort Bliss, where he was responsible for security along the border.  He mounted the abortive military operation known as the Pancho Villa Expedition (Punitive or Mexican Expedition) mounted against the paramilitary forces of Francisco “Pancho” Villa in retaliation for Villa’s invasion of the United States and infamous raid on Columbus, New Mexico on March 9, 1916.  (The expedition failed to stop border raids or capture Villa.)

In 1930, Conrad Hilton opened his first high-rise hotel in El Paso, the now Plaza Hotel. The Plaza Theatre opened on September 12, 1930.  In 1934, Walter Varney and Louis Mueller established the passenger airline called Varney Speed Lines in El Paso and operated out of the old El Paso Municipal Airport (1934–36).  Later transferred to Denver, CO it began Continental Airlines.

After World War II, Wernher von Braun and other German rocket scientists were brought to Fort Bliss in El Paso, along with many of the V2 rockets and rocket parts, starting the American rocket program; they were later moved to Huntsville, Alabama.

The popular drink, the Margarita, was another famous invention given a home in El Paso. It was first mixed in the El Paso-Juárez area at Tommy's Place Bar on July 4, 1945 by Francisco "Pancho" Morales.

From World War II until the 1980s, El Paso boomed into a sprawling city. The expansion of Fort Bliss from a frontier post to a major Cold War military center brought in thousands of soldiers, dependents, and retirees. Copper smelting, oil refining, and the proliferation of low wage industries (particularly garment making), dominated the industrial economy of El Paso.  The implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 affected the local economy, with transport, retail, and service firms expanding, and the accelerated loss of many industrial jobs.  El Paso is sensitive to changes in the Mexican economy. 

Paraphrased and quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Paso,_Texas

We begin our walk from the parking lot up to the bridge. On the left are the Custom & Immigrations buildings one must pass through upon return. All that is required is a photo ID like a driver's license. We're still on the US side. Look at those ugly wires. I feel like I'm in a concentration camp.
At the top of the bridge, Dennis stares through the wire at the famous Rio Grande River. Looking through the bridge wire at the Rio Grande canal below.
At the end of two blocks from the bridge a cabby hails us and offers to drive us to a market. Juarez 12/04/07 Outside the large interior flea market is a small ourdoor cafe where we waited for another cab to take us back.
Walking back over the bridge we have a better view of the Rio Grande and another bridge (to the south) that crosses between the USA and Mexico. The Rio Grande is dammed so there is almost no water. Dennis slumps against our parked Honda in the parking lot by the bridge to Juarez. It was windy and chilly.
A small black bird snuggles down by the rear Honda tire on the warm cement and keeps us company for the duration of our wait. Our movements didn't bother him. I stand at the entrance of the parking lot, peering up the street in the hopes of seeing an AAA truck approach.
El Paso, 12/04/07

We recovered with a nice lunch at Landry’s Seafood and made an assessment of our situation.  It went like this:  The car looks awful but it runs well enough.  We can wait to have it fixed back in Mountain View when we can afford to spend the time it will take.  We have less than six weeks before doctor’s appointments in San Francisco.  We think that we should head slowly towards home rather than ramble down into Texas and farther away from home base.  Anyway, we like New Mexico so why not see more of it as we head towards Arizona? 

The next day on Hanukkah, Wednesday, December 5, we drove back to Sunny Acres RV Park in Las Cruces, NM.  We got a lovely pull-thru corner spot at the end of a lane with a little plot of grass.  It felt like a homecoming and we were happy.

This time we are parked in Site #59 at Sunny Acres RV Park in Law Cruces. We face northwest. At the end of the lane, we have a cement patio pad and a little grass corner plot — with some screening trees too!
If we stayed here for Christmas I would have to put Christmas lights in our little pine tree. Looking NW. From our lawn, looking through the trees I take a photo of the pink sunrise sky. Looking E.
We walk the dogs up and down the wide lanes. We can see the Organ Mts. from this RV park.

For the rest of the week we resumed our errands and Christmas shopping pursuits.  We made several more visits to the Mesilla Valley Mall.  I assembled and wrapped and mailed little gifts.  I took time to write notes and mail over 70 Christmas cards.  I got my nails done.  We bought a fake mini tree at Hallmark and I decorated it with some dreadful but very mini and colorful ornaments from Wal*Mart.  It was a time-out in our very pretty RV park and we enjoyed it.

The parking lot on the north side of Mesilla Valley Mall is elevated and has a beautiful view of Las Cruces. There is no line! One couple in the mall waits to see Santa. I don't understand. At Stanford there would be a huge crowd. Mesilla Valley Mall, 12/06/07

On Sunday we ended up back in La Mesilla where we found an arts and crafts fair set up in the plaza.  It was decorated for Christmas and a small local group played music.  In a special little store there, Solamente, I discovered some wonderful strings of Christmas “flower lights”.  I bought three sets of “evergreen”.  You have to mist them with water and they “bloom”.  After they dried I hung them along the ceiling of our bus with stuffed satin red pepper ornaments.  They look marvelous.

Elsa across the street from Solamente. The plaza and crafts fair is in the back at the end of this building. We find a small craft fair in the plaza of La Mesilla.
The Plaza. La Mesilla, Las Cruces, 12/09/07 We listen to Christmas music.
I kid around with Mrs. Santa who is selling jewelry. I tell her I love her outfit. Inside Thunderbird de Mesilla, an old brick building I try to show how the old arch has been reinforced. There is a lovely creche perched on a roof near a row of luminarias. The location above the Billy the Kid gift shop sign seems incongruous.
Driving home from Mesilla I see white clouds and black clouds. Las Cruces 12/09/07 I found these green flower lights in Mesilla. We strung them up on the valence on the driver's side of the bus. I added red silk peppers. Las Cruces 12/09/07
Spirit of Christmas: I found this Nordic Santa in Santa Fe. He hangs behind the driver's seat. Spirit of Christmas: I found this Evergreen Fairy at Harris Ranch. She hangs behind the passenger's seat.
I saved this Victorian ribbon from Becky's flea market sale and hung my own four choices for Christmas cards this year. I couldn't resist these straw chickens that I I saw at Solamente. They are perfect in the kitchen.
I collect the Hallmark singing carolers. I brought this with us from last year. They sing "Dancing Around the Christmas Tree". They are animated with shaking bells and the tree lights up. Love it. Las Cruces 12/09/07 I added this for Christmas 2007. They sing "Just hear those bells jing-jingling..." Las Cruces 12/09/07
I found this in Mesilla and I keep it in our bedroom hanging from my coset doors. It's very cheerful and I surprise to me when I look up and see it. I love it.
My little tree is in progress. I'm still working on it. I think of the beautiful tall live trees I used to decorate with hundreds of beautiful ornaments collected over the years. They are all in storage.
It took awhile to finish my Christmas gift purchases and to write, address, stamp and mail my cards. It was a pleasant and restful interlude, After I finished with that we began to think about moving on to Deming, NM. We're curious to see the location of a corner lot that we bought from a real estate guru, Dave del Dotto, back in the early eighties.
Elsa Walton, Sunny Acres RV Park, Las Cruces, NM, Monday, December 10, 2007