There's nowhere like Las Cruces in winter

The plan was to spend our first winter on the road someplace warm. Somewhere that I could get some decent pictures, a little snow, and easy access to roads and supplies. Being far away from everything is excellent when you're in your comfort zone, but it can be a real problem when you have no idea how the insulation, power, and heat will hold up.

Our compromise was a place I had been meaning to visit for years - Las Cruces, New Mexico.

My family lived in the general area of southern New Mexico for hundreds of years, so it always appealed to me. The area was beautiful when we raced through it on a brief sightseeing trip a few years back, and the average winter temps hovered just around freezing.

An excellent place to start!

What I found here was so much more than I bargained for. The food, the culture, the architecture, the mountains - it was all so beautiful. The location I picked had ready access to the freeway and really high-end wifi, so I was sure that I'd be able to work trouble-free all winter. The proximity to trails and mountains meant I would be able to hike, bike, and photograph to my heart's content. 

Tortugas Mountain Observatory

Beautiful observatory in New Mexico - not abandonded, just in the process of a slow restoration.
Founded in 1963 under the supervision of Clyde Tombaugh, the observatory focused on observing the planets.

There is a lot to see down here in New Mexico, and the close proximity to Hatch and El Paso means that the tiny city is very lively. The skies are magnificent, and the food covers the spectrum from boring to inspired. I tend to like heat and spice, just the way my grandmother made it. My wife likes plenty of spice and a bit less heat, and both of us were able to find favorites. We were spoilt for choice most of the time!

New Mexico is also renowned for the fantastic culture, and we took every chance to experience that for ourselves.

Baile folklórico Día de Muertos

Baile folklórico Día de Muertos 1

As for the weather

This year turned out to be one of the harshest winters in the Southwest in many years, and we had many nights well below freezing. We learned a number of techniques to keep our water supply from freezing, and we'll pass these along here.

• Insulate your water lines under the RV/Trailer. The thin plastic tubes are probably just dangling there, totally unprotected. Ours certainly were. I wrapped the hot and cold lines together into a single piece of pipe insulation so that the hot water could keep the cold water warm, and then snugged it all up to the (uninsulated) floor.

• Leave your cabinets slightly ajar to protect the plumbing inside. This one is something that I had never even thought of, so I put a thermometer in one of the closed cabinets (just the pantry) and observed that it was well below the internal temp.

• Keep your water heater and water pump warm. In our case, they actually sit inside underneath our bed. I put a tiny desktop space heater (250w, 3a) in there and then added some furniture mover pads to the lid of the compartment. This allowed the air to circulate, and we were able to run that heater for a few stretches each night and keep that compartment a comfortable temp.

• Make sure you have plenty of propane! We used 2 more little space heaters in our main area to keep everything warm, but when it got very cold, the furnace still kicked in here and there. We went from using 1 propane tank in 6 months to averaging 1 propane tank per month in December and January.

• Use skirts for extremely low temps. Thank goodness we were nowhere near this level of cold, but I'll be fitting our vardo for skirts this summer.

• Protect your hose. The hose, filter, and stand all need to be kept above freezing. You don't need an elaborate and expensive ($80+) heated hose, but some insulation won't go amiss. Alternatively, you can disconnect and drain the hose for very cold nights.

Where to next?

First we're heading home to get the annual maintenance on the vardo, then we need to consider our next steps. The plan was to cross into Canada, then over to Alaska, but the political and economic factors at play right now make that a more challenging prospect. We've had enough issues with the shutdown while here in the US. I don't know how long-term those effects will be, even assuming the shutdown ends soon.