We never imagined that we’d encounter Arctic temperatures on the last leg of our Year on the Edges of America journey. But we did, and they sent us scurrying south faster than a rabbit chased by a pack of dogs.
Freezing temperatures we can handle; we learned that in September when the temperature dropped to 29 degrees in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, Canada.
That freeze was brief. We were without hookups so we had no hoses to congeal; our pipes weathered the dip just fine. Thank goodness for our gas heater, noisy but efficient. Still, we didn’t emerge from our tiny fiberglass comfort egg for our planned hike that day until noon.
But temperatures in the teens? In the sunny Southwest? You’ve got to be kidding.
The possibility of plummeting temperatures didn’t hit us until the morning after we arrived in Pinos Altos, New Mexico to visit dear friend Chris and her courthouse castle-in-the-making.
We’d spent a delightful three nights in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona with pre-dawn temperatures barely dipping into the 30s and didn’t give the weather much thought as we headed northeast into the Land of Enchantment.
Perhaps the fact that we crossed the Continental Divide – not once, but twice – during that 100-mile trek north should have been a clue. Or that the town’s elevation, 7,011 feet, is nearly 2,000 feet higher than the Mile High City of Denver….
We were oblivious. Excited to be with our friend, we spent the afternoon together ogling ancient adobe abodes, unloading patio brick from the back of a pickup and sampling the libations at the Buckhorn Saloon & Opera House.
We slept that night in our Casita, parked in the driveway, and woke up to 34-degree temperatures. The coffee was hot; Chris and I set off to run some errands.
Then it began to snow. By 10:30, rice-sized hail was bouncing off the hood of her truck like Mexican jumping beans. The sky darkened. Wind began to whistle around corners – of the car, her house, our Casita….
I finally thought to check the weather forecast on my phone. (What took you so long, you might ask.) Overnight temperatures in Pinos Altos were projected to drop to 16 degrees.
Georges may be from bone-chilling Belgium but he’s an affirmed desert rat. I’m not big on wind-whipped walks, frostbite or ice-slicked roads. But our biggest concern was our home on wheels: What happens if the pipes under our Casita – the web of plumbing that’s as essential to our comfort as oxygen-carrying blood vessels are to the heart – freeze over and burst?
How do we fix them?
Will we have to order parts? How long will that take? Is it something we can install? Or will we need to find a garage in a bigger city?
What about our trip? What if we’re frozen in place? What if we can’t get home to Dallas next month….
When we’re at home, we winterize the Casita by draining every drop of water from its conduits, then filling the siphons with antifreeze. This is out of the question on the road, as we need water in our tanks to make the Casita livable. (Chris winterizes her vintage Airstream with vodka, which sounds like a great idea but not one we were willing to try on the fly.)
With visions of exploding pipes dancing in our heads, we bid farewell to Chris and beat a hasty retreat south, arriving in Deming (4,300 feet elevation) at about 4:30 p.m. It’s still bitter cold, even at this elevation, the wind chill exacerbated by Deming’s signature gales….
We ditch the idea of dinner at the funky-wonderful Pink Adobe Deli, about 30 miles out of our way. It’s likely no warmer than Deming and offers no obvious overnight options. We roll through Hatch, famous for its chiles – the Rio Grande’s not so grande here – and pull into the Walmart SuperCenter in Truth or Consequences (elevation 4,200 feet) just after dark.
The overnight temperatures here are forecast to barely dip into the 20s. That seems about as good as it’s going to get. So we turn on the water heater and jack up the gas heat. Thank goodness, we’ve a full propane tank.
It’s a rough night. The gas heater clicks on and off all night like a train switching tracks. The temperature gauge reads 22 degrees when the sun peaks above the horizon the next morning. But our water is still running.
(It’s 58 degrees inside, and positively toasty under our down comforter. Our coffee is good and hot.)
But this won’t do. If it’s this cold here, there’s no way we can survive Santa Fe, which is where we’d planned on meeting dear friend Deborah from Dallas the next day. Santa Fe is another 200 miles due north – (did you know it’s further north than Oklahoma City? I didn’t either) – and nearly 7,200 feet in elevation.
Expected lows in Santa Fe? Fourteen degrees. Fourteen degrees!
Not going to happen. We phone Deborah. We cancel. She’s a gem about it.
Now what to do? We’ve two more nights of Arctic temperatures to endure before the cold front moves on.
We thought about returning to Tucson, whose barely freezing overnight temperatures now seem positively balmy. But that would mean a 300-mile retreat. And then a 300-mile repeat on the way home to Dallas. Not terribly inspiring.
G detached the Casita and took our Xterra into Walmart for an oil change. I remained nestled inside, pouring over maps and weather reports. We wound up booking ourselves into a campsite a few miles away at Elephant Butte Lake State Park with full hookups for $14 a night and immediately began girding ourselves for a couple of hard-freeze nights.
We plugged in and turned on the electric heat full blast. We filled our nearly depleted water tank. Then we disconnected the water hose, drained it of every last drop, and returned it to the back of the car to reduce at least one point of likely freeze.
We slept better on this night, mainly because the electric heater doesn’t clang like the gas one does. But we’ve jacked it up to nearly 80 degrees, hoping the heat inside will protect our pipes outside, and it’s so hot we kick off the down comforter.
The next morning, it’s cold but all seems well. We realize our temperature gauge must be on the blink. There’s no way it can be 9 degrees outside; the forecast low was 22 degrees. Maybe its sensor is frozen?
G takes a hot shower. The water backs up onto the floor of the shower. Sure enough, the exterior drainage pipe is frozen solid.
Hair dryer to the rescue – the one I’ve carted around the entire country for nearly a year and used precisely never. It takes 30 minutes to thaw the pipe with no apparent damage. I enjoy a hot shower, too.
Later, I walk across the loop to the camp host’s trailer to renew for another night. Pam says her temperature gauge registered 17 degrees at dawn. Geez, can weather forecasters really be that far off? What about that 22-degree forecast? (Pam didn’t disconnect her water and it took two hours to thaw. It may be busted. We feel lucky.)
So what to do in Truth or Consequences now that we’re here for another 24 hours?
We wound up spending a marvelous morning at the Geronimo Springs Museum and a liquid afternoon at the Truth or Consequences Brewing Co. We highly recommend both establishments.
The most interesting part of the museum for me was the history of Geronimo and his family. G admired its diversity; the sprawling enterprise boasts exhibits ranging from fossils from the area (including a Woolly Mammoth skull dating to the Ice Age!) to centuries of migration patterns of the native peoples. We’d never seen such expansive collections of ancient pottery and arrowheads.
And in case you’re curious about how the town got it’s name, there’s this explanation.
We landed at the local brewery about 2 p.m. It’s been open less than two years, but boasts more than a dozen craft brews.
We shared a flight of six, and then shared another flight of six. (Our favorites: Supernova Hazy IPA, Irish Red, Kettletop Pale Ale and Good Juju.)
We stopped by the Veteran’s Memorial Park on the way back to camp. The museum was closed but we walked the grounds and admired monuments to veterans dating from the Revolution to the war in Afghanistan.
This one was of particular interest.
That night it “only” got down to 28 degrees. Our electric coffee pot, which we left under the sink where it gets very cold, may have bitten the dust – the electronic trigger no longer heats the water – but everything else seems to have weathered the storm. (Stove-top Italian espresso pot to the rescue.)
The cold front has moved on. And we’ve acquired an extra several days along the Rio Grande in lieu of Santa Fe. We decide check out Harvest Hosts vineyards and farms in the area.
We enjoyed overnighting at a series of member vineyards and farms in the Thousand Islands region of New York last July. Why not do the same along the Rio Grande on our way to Marfa for G’s birthday next week?
Sounds like a grand idea.
So long as it doesn’t freeze.