“From Campground to New Town: A Rubber Tramp Transition in Las Vegas, New Mexico”: Episode 15 of The Rocky Mountain Rubber Tramp

Kurt Buss
10 min readNov 24, 2020
Storrie Lake Campground in Las Vegas, New Mexico, can be lonely during the winter months, but it has moments of beauty when nature provides.

Welcome back, dear reader, here we are again, seemingly stuck in Las Vegas, and not the one where “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” unless we are what’s happening, because here we seem to stay. Tough place to break free from…but let’s give it a try. Vamonos!

“I’m here at Storrie Lake [Campground] for quite possibly the last time this season. I’ll be hooking up and pulling the camper into town and putting it on the property I’ll be watching — someplace. It’ll be nice to not have to move it for a while after that. There’s ridiculous blowing out here and I really don’t like towing the trailer with BroBo anymore, now that I know it’s insufficient in power and handling capability, just not a big enough horse for the cart. I’m looking at used pickup trucks. I really like used pickup trucks. Always have.”

— Journal entry: Wednesday; February 6th, 2019; 10:33 am. Anxious in my camper, Cochise.

“Well, here I am in the new digs, at 6th and Washington in windy AF Las Vegas, NM. This is going to work out just fine. It’s nice to be in town among humans and wind-blocking buildings. Storrie Lake was getting lonely and the wind gusts were obnoxious. I thought I was going to be blown to Munchkinland — Rambeaux too! I hear Las Vegas is one of the windiest places in New Mexico, where the mountains meet the plains, and the airstream screeches through the gaps of the Sangre de Christo’s foothill teeth.

But now I’m getting ready to depart on my first road trip since coming to Vegas. I’m going to head down to Villanueva State Park, which is 36 miles south off of I-25 and back through some old territorial settlements to the Pecos River. It’ll be fun. You’ll see.”

— Journal entry: Friday; February 8th, 2019; 11:46 am. Caretaking property in East Las Vegas, living like a boss in my little vintage camper.

Cochise the camper, snuggly settled on the property we watched while it was being renovated in East Las Vegas, keeping the tweakers and junkies out of the carriage house.

“It’s winter again. Ya-f’ing-hoo! I thought New Mexico would be a warm place to go for the offseason, but I hit the harshest winter in decades — according to the locals. I should have gone farther south; I just didn’t have the right mule to pull the wagon. More’s the pity, but… No llores!

I ran out of propane (Stupid!) two nights ago and couldn’t get any until today, so I was heating this place with steam from a boiling pot while I was awake. Woke in the middle of the night when the inside temp dropped down to the 40s. I haven’t had good sleep. Now it’s toasty and I feel like taking a nap. Maybe I will. What are you going to do about that, huh? And who the hell am I talking to anyway? Burr-haw!”

— Journal entry: Monday; February 18th, 2019; 11:19 am. Snug again in the camper, feeling a little silly.

“Well…been nearly a month since you’ve scribbled in here. What’s the matter? Afraid to write your thoughts? Or, were you just on a bit of an extended bender and were too ashamed to face a blank page? Try not to be honest…well, that doesn’t work, does it? Suck it up, Princess!

During this hiatus you did manage to upgrade your tow vehicle. Got rid of the pony and got you a horse. Viva caballo! She’s a BEAST, but you’ll miss BroBo [the Bronze Bomber Nissan Pathfinder.] It is what it is…

You also spent a LOT of time and $$ trying to find your next ex-girlfriend. How did that work out? You know, I really don’t remember…”

— Journal entry: Sunday; March 17th, 2019 (St. Patty’s Day); 11:19 am. Settled in on a side yard in New Town, Las Vegas.

This house across the street from where I stayed was an example of the architectural gems throughout Las Vegas, which claims over 900 structures on the National Historic Registry.

That brings us a bit up to speed, dear reader, and I’d like to take a pause from the journal entries to introduce the newest character to our story: The Beast — a 2002 Ford Super Duty F-250 4x4 SuperCab with the Triton 5.4 L V-8 gas engine developing 260 HP on a ¾ ton frame with a robust cluster of leaf springs that’ll hold the road when you’re towing a load, bro. Boo-Yaa!! I took it to a mechanic I knew to look it over before I bought it, and he just nodded his head and said, “Yeah. This is what you need.” He was right.

The Triton engine is known for lasting forever — over 500,000 miles if you maintain it properly — and the only rap I’ve heard against it is that it’ll start spitting out spark plugs if you don’t get them retightened on a regular basis, which would be before they start getting spat out, I guess. No big deal. It’s a Ford. Built Ford Tough. Who needs all those spark plugs anyway?

The mechanic also told me that the (automatic) transmission was ‘bulletproof’, so I won’t have to worry about smoking it as I did (worry) with that weak link in BroBo’s drive train. And the rear suspension on a pickup truck is hella more stable than those puny little coil springs on SUVs. No more sea-legs after a day of pulling Cochise on the interstate. No more dry-heaving at rest stops. No more heart palpitations and prayers going over Raton Pass between Colorado and New Mexico. No mas!

The Beast on the lot where I traded in BroBo, the Nissan Pathfinder, and got the horse I needed to pull my camper. It was an emotional transition, but necessary.

To be honest, and I wouldn’t lie to you dear reader, I thought I was a Chevy man, because my first pickup was a 1976 Scottsdale ½ ton 2WD that my newlywed wife and I bought for $2,500 in 1985 using all the money we received for our wedding. And we asked for only money so we could buy a used pickup truck (with an insulated topper shell) and head up to Alaska with our Doberman, Hector. He was a great dog, and that was a good truck — except the 305 cubic inch V-8 was a little wimpy when we decided to pull a 1959 16’ camper-trailer (which I don’t believe we named) back down the Alcan highway, because it was cheaper than renting a 4’x 8’ U-Haul trailer.

We’d top some of the big hills at 15 mph and losing speed with the pedal to the floor, but we always made it down the other side and up and over the next one. We called the truck Sweetness in honor of Walter Payton (the Chicago Bears running back who never gave up on a run by going out of bounds but rather took on tacklers and made them pay), because it was a black truck with a white topper, which matched the colors of the Bears uniforms. As a Packer fan it pains me to speak well of Da Bears, but the ’85 Bears were one of the best all-around teams to ever take the field, and Payton was my favorite player, among the many memorable standouts.

I remember waking early to watch the Super Bowl they won when they beat the Patriots the year we were in Alaska. It came on at 8 am because of the time-zone difference, and I watched it on a little black and white tv in an unheated back room of our cabin (so as not to disturb my wife), huddled under multiple blankets, drinking beer and watching the mice scamper around. But I digress…let’s get back to the story, shall we?

“Alright, it’s dark. At least I’m home in the camper and everything is good in the neighborhood, but it gets rowdy out there at night when the loud, muscular trucks and cars rap up the RPMs as they throttle through three gears in a block on a street posted at 20 mph. What da f*uck are they thinking — or not, no? They must be the ones I read about in the newspaper. Under ‘Jail Log’.”

— Journal entry: Friday; March 22nd, 2019; 11:08 pm. Safe at home from a walkabout to the watering hole — Dick’s Pub and Restaurant. In search of a little social interaction in the Land of Enchantment.

Rambeaux in repose, as we seek shelter from a sometimes harsh environment outside.

One of the first things I noticed after moving into town was that in Vegas it seemed as though badass status was measured by the sound of your exhaust — on your big-ass truck with 21” rims, or your ape-handled Harley, or your chainsaw-sounding, wanna-be racecar with the BS spoiler and window tints belching bass-boost gangsta rap. Rap up the RPMs, rap up the sonic bump, bounce your head and look through people. Don’t smile. You’re Bad Ass, Homeboy. Bad. Ass. I got to liking it a little more each day…

“APRIL FOOLS DAY! Be careful. I will…

I had to run up to Loveland [Colorado] last week to get the Beast VIN inspected for the title transfer and registration. It had to be done visually and in Colorado, so Rambeaux and I took a road trip — about 375 miles one way. The truck ran like a champ and I made it to the County Clerk’s office just in time (driving through Denver took over 2 freaking hours — crazy). I booked a motel room at Johnson’s Corner [famous truck stop diner plaza] and had a great night’s sleep on a queen size bed with crisp, clean sheets, a shower (I took two!) and cable. I watched ‘The Perfect Storm’, ‘Swamp People’, and ‘Caddyshack.’ What a treat! Slept past sunup, choked down some bad coffee from the lobby and blasted back as soon as the night’s light snow began to melt off the roads. Denver was better on the return and I made it to the camper a little after dark. Long day, but a good trip. Nice to be home in the hood.”

— Journal entry: Monday; April 1st, 2019; 11:44 am. Back in East Vegas, settled at my nook in Cochise.

Home in the hood. Yeah. This is an area unlike anywhere I’ve ever lived before: more alive, raucous, loud, proud and socially outlawed compared to the politically correct parameters descending upon Colorado as the influx of craft beer drinking hipsters and legal weed aficionados have brought an urban nouveau chic to the bubble popping population on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Down here it’s different. Old school. These mofos been here for centuries, bro, and they don’t give a chivato’s ass about what’s trending on social media, and why should they? They’ve got childhood friends, extended family and amazing food, with traditions going back to the Spaniards and the “civilized” European culture they brought to the savage Athabascan inhabitants, who tolerated the invasion with measured skepticism — but laid down the law when the time came — and what remains is a sunbaked, stone-ground mix of modern life over ancient: fused silica from melted sand on atomic test sites over Clovis points from Mammoth Hunters, Santa Fe Territorial Revival architectural building codes juxtaposed with ancestral adobe Pueblos that predate the Conquistadors by untold centuries, gangsta rap rollin off the Rez, lowrider Cholo whips wrapped in Chicano bling, every thing that sounds good, looks bad and tastes like your abuela’s kitchen smells on Christmas Day. Orale, bro! Or-a-le!

It is the Land of Enchantment. Just don’t act like you belong there if you’re not from there. Give it time, a couple cervezas and you’ll melt right in like cheese on a quesadilla…manana…manana…

I melted in, once I moved into town and started walking around, absorbing all the haunting ghost vibes from the historic buildings tying Wild West antiquity to the post-digital present, the Old Town with the New, wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail to the steam locomotives of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, converging on the separate banks of the Gallinas River, where the mountains come down to ground, and vigilante justice often hung from the impartial end of a rope.

I melted in, when I fell back onto my roots and small-town Midwest upbringing to know when to shut up and listen, and not act like a gringo missionary in the next round of random invaders and conquerors searching for the Lost Cities of Gold, or peyote-laced enlightenment seekers tripping balls in a cerebral sweat lodge, tipi, hogan or wickiup based on “experiences” I had reading a book in college by someone with a Spanish or Native sounding last name.

I melted in, but began to melt away like suds settling to bubbles. The phantom ghosts summoned old demons out of the apocalyptic crypt, and I knew I would have to go north again, to the sanctuary of my secluded woodlot hideaway, nine-thousand feet above sea level and a dozen miles south of the Wyoming border, listening to the breeze blow through the canopy of ponderosa and lodgepole pine trees, in the belly of the jetstream… quiet, quiet, quiet that you can hear, below the din of screaming exhaust pipes and sirens and camper-rattling wind gusts wanting to lift you off your mount and send you out onto the barren, unforgiving plains…

But that’ll have to happen in a subsequent post, dear reader, cuz we ain’t there yet. This is a tough place to break free from and get the release to no longer be what happens in Vegas, and stays. So, I ask you to stay with me and we’ll finish this trip one of these days…it’s the ride and not the destination that matters. And I’ve got a fresh horse.



Kurt Buss

I’ve been writing for publication since it was done on typewriters, oh so long ago. I try to bridge the gap between the then and now of being a Baby Boomer.