Sunday, June 5, 2016

Pie Town Bust and Elephant Butte (not butt)!

The first thing you will notice about this post is the new header photo. I have adapted this photo to my Facebook page as well as some new personal cards we can give out. By using the same photo with a consistent theme, it makes it much easier to recognize and associate one with the other. In advertising terms that's called "branding".

No one is here for a lesson in advertising, though, so let's get on with this current phase of our travels. In the last post, we had already topped the Mogollon Rim, so the hard part was past us... that of climbing the nearly 20-mile, 6% grade to get to the top.

The top of the Rim is covered with beautiful pine forests for many miles, but they gradually thin out into a mixture of high desert shrubs and rolling hills, while still retaining that "forest" look. As you go farther east, the pines really thin out and the landscape becomes more "grassy" with scattered low bushes. Also, the elevation continues to rise all the way to Pie Town, at 7,778 feet, where we crossed the Continental Divide just two miles east of there.

But before that, we had intended to stop at the casino at Pinetop-Lakeside for the night... and missed our turn. It felt so good to be out on our own again and seeing country that we had not seen for over ten years, that we weren't paying attention. We should have taken 260 south out of Show Low, and instead, followed the main road (Hwy 60) right on east through town. We were clear over to Eagar before we realized what we had done. By then, we were a good 44 miles east of the casino, and decided not to back-track.


We found a very wide side street next to a church, with plenty of parking along the curb, and stopped to eat a snack, as we hadn't had lunch, and it was already nearly dinner time! From there, we continued on our way east, figuring that we "should" have enough daylight to at least get to Pie Town, where we had heard there was a place to park overnight near the restaurant.

Pie Town, New Mexico is a little unincorporated place along Hwy 60, just two miles west of the Continental Divide. It got its name from an early bakery for making dried apple pies that was established by Clyde Norman in the 1920s. It is the location of a "Pie Festival" on the second Saturday of each September.

Pie town and its people were the subject of an article in Smithsonian Magazine in February of 2005, and CBS News Sunday Morning aired a story about the town in 2015.

Unfortunately, that publicity also generated competition for the one time "only" restaurant in town, and since then, two others have sprung up. In a town that small (population 186) that can't be a good thing. Also, we did not know a few key facts before stopping there. The first is that the original Pioneer Cafe only serves pies... no meals! Therefore, they have limited hours of operation, for which the web site is apparently very wrong. We were told by locals that it is only open from 11 AM to 4 PM, and it was already closed by the time we arrived a few minutes after 6 PM!

Not to be outdone, we went back to the competing restaurant a block west, and when we had passed the first time, there were still people in there eating. By the time we went back, they had left and the door was locked... at normal dinner hour on a Saturday night! Apparently dinner time means they all get to go home to their own dinner, and the heck with any tourists that may stop by! Amazing!

However, that restaurant did serve meals and had an outdoor BBQ trailer, and there were still two young ladies closing things down. They had enough leftover shredded pork to offer us one huge sandwich, with a dab of potato salad to take with us in a Styrofoam take-out box.... free of charge... because it would just get thrown away anyway. The one gal said they could open up to sell us a pie to take with us, so we figured "why not".

Our "left-over" pork BBQ meal.

The pies she showed us in the case were all 6-inch pies... with a $9.95 price tag on them! That's highway robbery! But since she had already opened up for us, we decided to take one... an apricot pie... since that was Sharon's favorite fruit. I also added a 15% tip to it, since they were "donating" the BBQ sandwich, but even with that, we felt it was WAY overpriced!

Our $9.95 six-inch apricot pie.

And the attitude I was catching from this gal was one of "we're doing you a favor, so take it or leave it". When I asked about a place just to park for the night, which I had heard was available, she immediately steered us "toward" (no exact directions) a local RV park just down the road to the west, behind the third restaurant in this "town"... also a "pie only" restaurant... and also closed after 4 PM. It was obvious to see that tradition meant nothing to these new people, and that it had become a tourist trap to them... and not a very good one... other than the prices they were charging!

So we never did get to try the restaurant that "made" this town, nor any of the pies from that original restaurant that the town is so famous for, and came away with a bad taste in our mouths! We might stop back someday, making sure to check our watches to arrive early afternoon... and ONLY at the original restaurant at the east end of town on the north side! We'll stick to our own motorhome for dinner!

Since they chose to roll up the sidewalks at an ungodly and irrational hour, we opted to continue heading east and get out of that town. Hwy 60 is full of LOTS of turn-outs. It seems you can't go five miles without coming to a turn-out, so finding a place to park for the night... for free... was easy as... well... pie.

If you look close, you can see the sign for Datil Well Campground under the tree, left side.
The entrance road is at the tree line on the left.
The sign for Datil Well Campground up close.

It was still plenty light out, so we got as far as Datil Well Campground before we stopped for the night. We had thought about using the campground, but I had read that it was a little over a quarter mile down a rough gravel road, and that the sites were mostly unlevel. But just a hundred feet beyond their driveway we found a nice level turn-out, and it was far enough off the road that we were out of any danger. Road noise doesn't bother us that much, and besides, we only heard a vehicle about once every half hour on Hwy 60. We heard nothing once our heads hit the pillows!

NM Hwy 60 on the left, and us in our turn-out at Datil Well.

We did take time to eat the pork BBQ sandwich... or at least I did. I thought it was pretty good, even without the extra sauce they provided. Sharon not only had a cold and couldn't taste anything, but she was so upset about paying the exorbitant price for what we got that she didn't even want any of it! She tried a little potato salad, but that was all. We decided to save the pie and divide it for breakfast the next morning.

Our $5 pie halves... over-priced by any comparison!

As you can see, the pie is no wider than an ordinary ball-point pen... about 6-inches. The depth of it was OK, but only looked thicker because of its small circumference. In reality it was no deeper than any other normal-sized pie. Nor was it any better than any pie I have ever had from a supermarket. I would have thought nothing of it if it were priced at $3 or $4, or REALLY exceptionally good, but $10 was a total ripoff!

The only time I have paid that much or more for a whole pie is at a Costco bakery, where they make the extraordinarily HUGE deep dish pies. And those are definitely worth it!

We also didn't realize it at the time, but we were at 7,400 feet elevation. It got down to about 34 degrees that night. At some point during the night, Sharon got up and realized the furnace was blowing cold air, so she shut it off. I knew we had propane, so it's probably some rust scale across the ignitor terminals. We had the same problem in our old 40-foot Bounder, and I was able to clean it out and get it working again then. This one may have to wait awhile... when I get time.

We had a sheet, two blankets plus a quilt over us, so we were comfortable sleeping. The next morning the inside of the RV was down to about 56 degrees and I tried the furnace again, and still had no heat, so I went back to the trailer and grabbed the Mr. Heater Big Buddy. We sat it on top of the 40-qt cooler (currently storing CDs) right behind the engine cover, turned both elements up on high for awhile, and it didn't take long to warm up the RV.

I could have also started the engine. On the way to this location, I set the dash heater control to heat, and it got stuck there! We had to tolerate an excess amount of engine heat for the rest of that leg of the trip. But since it was colder outside, we dealt with it by opening a front window on each side.

Anyway... after a peaceful night, morning pie and coffee, and a few photos, we were eastward bound again. By the way, the new header photo on Sharon's blog was taken here that morning. You can find the link to her blog at the top of the right hand margin.

This stretch of Hwy 60 between Datil Well and Magdelena seems to go straight as an arrow for miles and miles.

NM Hwy 60 between Datil Well and Magdelena, NM. The VLA is down there in those plains.

Not too far down the road we passed the VLA (Very Large Array) radio-astronomical telescopes. They don't "see" in the conventional way, rather, they "listen" to form images and detect spacial "sounds". Below, you can see a photo Sharon was able to grab through the windshield, of a dish on the north side of the road. They are HUGE! Our 11'-3" motorhome could easily drive under the lower edge of the dish with another one on its roof!

One of MANY identical radio telescopes at the VLA, Hwy 60, NM

We had been there before, about two months after Jody Foster's movie "Contact" was released (the opening scenes were filmed here), so we saw no need to revisit it at this time. We continued through beautiful rolling hills to Magdelena, where we filled up with gas, and then to Socorro, where we headed south on I-25 to Truth or Consequences.

We had never been there before, but it had a Walmart that allowed overnight parking, so we decided to stay there the first night to get our bearings and stock up on a few things. It was a mostly peaceful night. Their parking lot is the only one we have seen so far that has carports over the parking lot topped with solar panels! Neat! And yes, they ARE 14 feet high, so you can get under them with a motorhome if you choose to. We stayed at the far end, because we wanted the sun on our own solar panels on the trailer!

Truth or Consequences Walmart, with solar carports!

The next day, we decided to refill with propane, and then head out to Elephant Butte State Park, which is the location we used for the header photo at the top of this post. Elephant Butte Reservoir, on the Rio Grande River, is the largest man-made lake in New Mexico, and also the largest State Park in New Mexico. The name Elephant Butte refers to a volcanic core (similar to Devil's Tower in Wyoming), which is now an island in the lake, said to be in the shape of an elephant laying on its side. The information comes from Wikipedia, but I haven't checked Google Earth yet to see if the resemblance is still there.

Elephant Butte Reservoir and State Park with it's namesake island.

I also pulled the heater controls out of the dash while there and discovered the anchor point for the "choke" cable had come partially loose and when I tried to put the lever back to "no heat" (on the road on the way here) the cable center wire had bent (which is what I had suspected). It was an easy "temporary" fix, but may require further "adjustments" later. For now, we are back in warmer weather, and the air conditioning feels far better than the heat! I don't intend to move the lever again any time soon!

We had a peaceful nights sleep at Elephant Butte State Park, despite all the vehicles (and dust) going past our poor choice of sites.... right along the main drive going down to the lake. We had more traffic in that park than we did on Hwy 60 a couple nights before! We thought about going down closer to the beach, but we were afraid to get stuck.

Our view of Elephant Butte Reservoir wrapping around three sides of us.

To leave, I had to back up far enough to make a wide U-turn, but some car had pulled in where I needed to back up. I did the best I could, and when I saw enough clearance to turn around I took it... maybe a little too fast. The other side of the road looked rough, but yet soft, and I didn't want to get stuck, so I made the U-turn a little faster than I should have. The sand wasn't that soft... just bumpy! Oops!

The upper cabinet over the sink came open and "crash-bang" went a few dishes! We broke a clear Pyrex cover for a small baking dish, one of our Correlle dinner plates and a Princess House lead glass coaster. We had glass all over the kitchen floor! I managed to get up the hill by the dumpsters and we stopped to sweep everything out. I located a small Irwin bar clamp in my tool box, and it works perfectly for clamping both door handles together, so that will suffice until I find better latches.

We then located the dump station and took care of the tanks and then refilled with water before we left. Still being unsure of where we wanted to go, we returned to the same Walmart for another night, and to the same exact parking place.

Only this time, some older couple in an old Winnebago motor home pulled up across the sidewalk from us, blocking the nice breeze we had, and then continued to run their generator for another two hours with all their windows shut! Meanwhile, we had to put up with the noise and stink of their generator... and for no good reason! It was 57 degrees out with low humidity by the time they got there, and they didn't need air conditioning! All they had to do was open their windows and breathe some fresh clean air!

They shut the generator down only long enough to run into Walmart, and then they started it up again when they returned and ran it until almost dark! That was so aggravating to us and so inconsiderate of them! There was plenty of room at the back of the parking lot that they SHOULD have chosen a spot off by themselves if they wanted to run their generator! Such inconsiderate idiots!

Unfortunately, this isn't the only time we have encountered people like this. As we leave Truth or Consequences and head north, we again run into this kind of situation, but since this post is getting long, we'll save the rest of the story for another post.

As I write this (Sunday 6/5), Sharon is on a train toward Seward, Alaska on the first part of her Alaska cruise with her sister. She has been on a few local side-trips so far and actually boards the ship on the 6th, for her southbound cruise. Then she will have a couple of tours in Vancouver before flying "home" on the 14th (home being our RV's present location).

Meanwhile, Ed Helvey (see the "Ed and the Aberts" video on YouTube) is here in this same RV park (which I will mention after we leave) for a couple weeks, to visit with me and maybe do some sightseeing of our own. We met with him on his arrival Friday night (5/27) and we had a good visit over dinner at our local Denny's, which happens to be right in front of Walmart. It's been a year and a half since we did the video for Michael Tubbs at our former house in Arkansas. We visited in our RV until midnight, and then ended up staying the night at Walmart next door to his van.

We used our RV to take Sharon to the airport the following Wednesday (6/1). On Friday (6/3) we discovered that another Facebook friend was passing through on their way home from California, and we met with Sue Clark and her husband, Robert, at Denny's for breakfast. Sue owns the donkey that was used in the old Juan Valdez coffee commercials from several years ago (along with many other animals), and we had a very enjoyable visit with them before they headed home to Florida. Ed had already met them previously, so we all had a connection. (Sorry, but I don't photograph people unless they initiate it.)

Ed and I have been sharing dinners together here at our motorhome (since I have much more room), but that night, we decided to head out to a local, privately-owned pizza place. It was very busy on a Friday night, and had very good pizza! Between his projects and mine, we haven't really been out for a day trip anywhere, but I suspect that will be coming up this week.

We're here at this RV park for a month, but will leave the day that Sharon returns on the 14th. Ed might leave on Friday (6/10), to continue on his westward journey, while we make our way towards Texas to get our vehicle tags and driver's licenses updated, but we won't stay there long. We will immediately head back west ourselves, to higher elevations and cooler, dryer temperatures.

So let's leave it here for now, and I'll save the rest of this leg of our trip for another post next week. Thanks for reading/following our adventures. And thank you to those who may have used our links to check out or buy products from our vendors. We still have many things to do on this motorhome, besides our normal traveling expenses, and every click or purchase you make might put a few pennies toward our expenses. We appreciate all that you do.

Stay well and travel safe.

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