A lone pine stands watch
On the summit of the trail
Guarding time, and place.
My final post reflecting our time in Big Bend has arrived! I want to share a quote from the author of a book I have on Big Bend: He describes his first trip up the Chisos Basin road: “I drove the car onto the Chisos Basin Road, winding up into what looked like the ancient kingdom of a long-lost civilization, with a naturally carved castle at the top – Casa Grande.” (from Enjoying Big Bend National Park by Gary Clark) I could not have improved on that first impression he shares. It is indeed a magical place.
We did not spend as much time in the Chisos Mountains area of the park this time around, so I included here a couple of our hikes from January 2017, as well as some hikes and photos from our March 2014 vacation here.
LOST MINE TRAIL
The picture above was taken three years ago, along the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains. That day, it was foggy at the summit creating a surreal atmosphere that was mystical and enchanting. I’m sure this contributed to my fondness for the trail. Hiking the trail this winter for a second time, the skies were clear, and while the aura was different, I was still enthralled with the hike and the vistas offered up along the way.
The trail is accessed via a small parking lot on the road to the Chisos Basin at about the 5.0-mile marker. I would advise getting to the trailhead early since this is a popular hike, and parking is limited. The 4.8-mile roundtrip hike is classified as moderate and a great half-day trek. It is your normal mountain hike – ascending fairly steadily to the summit with a few switchbacks along the steepest section of the trail.
The flora is typical of the Chisos Mountains – a mixture of oak, pine and juniper forest with common desert and understory plants interspersed. The views along the way toward both the Juniper and Pine Canyons, and the distant Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico, define this trail. When we reached the summit, I realized that the meandering path I could see down in the valley towards the south was the Juniper Canyon Trail – which we had hiked several days before. This discovery made my day. I love it when I have the opportunity to view a landscape as magnificent as this from multiple vantage points! The simplest things make me happy 😊
The Window Trail is the quintessential hike in the basin area. The trail can be accessed from the campground or the lodge area where the Chisos Basin trailhead is located. The trail from the campground is a tad shorter – a 4.5-mile roundtrip with less elevation gain on the way back. Hiking from the basin trailhead adds a mile and additional elevation gain if you want to extend the walk and get your heart a-pumping!
The trail descends steadily to the Windows pour-off – an impressive slick-rock drop-off with awe-inspiring views to the Chihuahuan Desert floor below. The walk traverses through a variety of plant habitats – from desert scrub to oak/pine forest along a seasonal creek bed. On the day we hiked, there was a wind advisory. At one point on the trail, the wind was sweeping up the canyon so hard, we had to find shelter from the dust. And even in January, I managed to find some plants blooming!
We met several different hiking parties along the trail – passing each other at various times, and chatting. It’s always fun to meet our fellow hikers! Such a congenial group! On our return trip up the trail from the Window, one hiking group we had previously talked with relayed to us that they had just spotted a mama bear with cubs heading up the hillside. We hurried along to see if they were still in view, but unfortunately the bear family had dropped out of sight behind some cliffs. Darn! We must have just missed them on our hike down to the Window.
When we hiked this trail three years ago, we took a side trail – the Oak Springs trail – that led up onto a cliff overlooking the desert. I highly recommend diverting onto this trail if you have the time. The views are amazing from the top of this ridge.
As I was reviewing my photos from our March 2014 trip here, I just could not resist adding more of those shots!
We hiked to the summit of Emory Peak (7832 ft.) in March 2014. This is a strenuous, 9-mile roundtrip climb via the Pinnacles Trail from the Chisos Basin Trailhead with leg-aching, steep elevation gain of 2,425 feet. It is also one of the prettiest mountain hikes, especially when the Texas Madrone is in bloom during March and April. I am a sucker for exfoliating bark! Go figure, but I am attracted to trees with interesting and varied bark patterns!
I had broken my wrist playing pond hockey just prior to our 2-week vacation here in 2014, so I could not partake of the very short 100-foot rock scramble to reach the *true* summit of Emory Peak. But, that’s okay – another time perhaps. We did not spend as much time in the Chisos Mountains on this trip, so I have a reason to go back!
The hike takes you through a varied plant ecosystem providing a comprehensive introduction to the oak, juniper, pine and maple forests of the Chisos Mountains. With majestic views of the surrounding desert below at various bends in the trail, there is ample opportunity to rest, reflect and relish this unique habitat.
OTHER TRAILS IN CHISOS BASIN
There are certainly lots of other options for hiking in the Chisos. We did not, for example, hike to the South Rim or into Boot Canyon. Sections of the trail to the South Rim were closed when we were there in 2014 due to peregrine falcon nesting. It’s also a very long day hike! Our plan eventually is to organize a backpacking trip and hike to the South Rim when we are prepared to spend the night, so we can enjoy the immense solitude of this spot.
We did hike parts of the Laguna Meadow trail in 2014 – just an out and back hike. I think it’s safe to say we will return to Big Bend – I still have areas of the park where I need to leave my footprints!
And just some random flowering desert plants and wildflowers from our 2014 March visit to Big Bend
I wanted to share some links that I used for plant identification. I found these to be particularly helpful for Texas and Southwest plant taxonomy.
Being on the road, and remaining flexible, means that plans can change, and change fast. We found ourselves with an opportunity to work in the Tetons this coming summer, so it meant that we needed to high-tail it back to Vermont earlier than anticipated to attend to some things at home. We have to be in Wyoming by the third week in May, so we find ourselves out of the desert and in the middle of the biggest snowstorm of the season! Ya gotta love Vermont! I will take the opportunity to get caught up on our Southwest adventures while stationary here for a couple of months!
I need to get back to our Big Bend National Park stay and, before moving to our hikes in the Chisos Mountains here, I wanted to briefly share some other interesting hikes and places to visit in the desert.
Fossil Discovery Exhibit
The ribbon cutting for the grand opening of this new exhibit was on January 14, 2017. So, we were fortunate to be in Big Bend just after this opened. The price tag on this exhibit was a whopping $1.4 million and it was made possible through a successful fundraising initiative spearheaded by the Big Bend Conservancy.
The weather did not cooperate the day we visited the exhibit, unfortunately. It was cold and extremely windy. To be honest, it was all we could do to endure the visit as long as we did. It was pure misery! Since the exhibit is not totally enclosed, our stay was short. We started to hike the interpretive trail at the site but the wind deterred us! I will go back on our next visit to the park, though. I really wanted to spend more quality time looking over the exhibits.
I wandered through most of the exhibit displays quickly, and did absorb a deeper understanding of the significance of Big Bend as a fossil discovery location. I was truly enthralled by the story these fossils tell concerning the evolution of this area from a shallow sea to a wide-spread desert. Quite amazing to me!
We actually stumbled upon some fossil evidence on one of our hikes by the river. It’s so exciting when this happens!
Be sure to sharpen your observational skills while hiking in Big Bend. You just never know what you might come across 🙂
Grapevine Hills Hiking Trail
While camped at Government Springs on the Grapevine Hills Road, we took advantage of our proximity to the Grapevine Hills trail. This trail is further down the dirt road past several other dispersed camping sites. It’s a short hike to the much-photographed Balanced Rock. While the Balanced Rock was certainly worth viewing, I found the geology and rock formations along the whole trail to be more of a draw for me. The area called Grapevine Hills is an example of a laccolith – an igneous rock formation exposed by erosion over the years. In this case, the igneous rock is syenite, a rock similar in composition to granite minus the quartz. As the rock heated up and cooled long ago, it caused the rock to break apart into these rough boulder-type chunks that are visible today due to weathering and erosion.
A process called spheroidal weathering is the technical term for the types of patterns visible on the rock formations in this area. That’s a VERY basic geologic explanation for the complicated process that formed this area!
Next up folks – those amazing Chisos Mountains!!
I told you I would be re-visiting the use of book titles for my blog post headings! Albeit, a slightly modified version from the original “Things That Go Bump in the Night”. And, no this is not a modern-day RV ghost story. It is a story about strange noises in the night, though 😊 (enjoy some pictures from along the Natchez Trace Parkway while I tell the story!)
We’ve been working our way north to Vermont, and are currently navigating the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi. (I’m remembering that old rhyme to help me spell this state we are in! M-I – crooked letter, crooked letter – I, etc……)
It was 4:00 am on Thursday, March 2nd. I awoke to the sound of a very annoying *beep*. The sound was reminiscent of a smoke alarm when the batteries are getting low, you know?? It was followed by another *beep* a few seconds later, and continued with this pattern. We laid there for a few minutes hoping that it would miraculously cease and we could go back to sleep. That miracle was not to be.
Jim thought it sounded like the smoke alarm, but I have a birds-eye view of the LP Gas Detector from my side of the bed and I noticed it was no longer registering the reassuring *green – all systems are good* light. It was glowing *orange*. We could not smell any gas so we were not immediately alarmed. But, we also knew that we had to investigate.
Jim climbed out of bed, grabbed the flashlight and examined the detector. There was nothing written on the instrument (that he could easily see) explaining what the orange light meant. He strolled over to the front of the trailer so he could examine the propane heater. Our first thought was that the heater pilot was not igniting when it fires. He confirmed that it was indeed lit, and pushing out hot air. He then checked the burners on the stove top and everything seemed okay there.
He went back to the detector, and pushed the re-set button to see if was just a malfunction with the detector. Nothing changed. And, the detector is hard-wired so we knew it was not a failing battery. There was only one thing left to do, and that was to consult the Airstream manual. It was cold outside, we were in a fairly remote area along the Natchez Trace Parkway, and were not inclined to shut off the propane and abandon ship – just yet.
It took me a while to find the information I was looking for – remember that it was 4 am, right? So, with my mental faculties still waking up, I first scanned the user manuals that are nicely organized in the back of our Airstream manual. I could not find one on the LP Gas Detector. It literally was the only one missing! So, then I migrated to the section within the manual that deals with all things LP Gas. I hit the jackpot here.
It turns out that if there was indeed a gas leak, the detector would be flashing a *red* light in addition to an alarm. That was a huge relief! An orange light with an intermittent beep means that the detector itself is failing and needs to be replaced. Well, that was good news in one sense. It meant we were not in imminent danger. But, it also meant that we had to get a replacement detector. This was not going to happen at 4 in the morning, and we needed to get the blasted thing to stop beeping so we could go back to bed!
Since it is hard-wired, we could not just remove a battery. We checked out the fuses to see if perhaps it utilized a unique fuse. Nope. No such luck. Next thing I know, Jim has the wire cutters out – so you know what happened next! We would deal with it in the morning. It was a great collaborative effort on our part and encouraging to know that we could work together to solve a problem at such an outrageous hour.
I started researching LP Gas detectors online the next morning. It did not appear that we would find the same model detector in a physical store anywhere near us. We are inclined to replace this with the same detector. I had read in the manual that it is recommended to replace the detector every 5-7 years. This was a new discovery. It’s always good to occasionally read your owner’s manual 😊 I’m pretty darn sure it was the original detector which meant it was already 15 years old. I rationalized that if this one lasted 15 years then it must be high quality, and I would replace it with the same one. That’s how my mind works.
Some of the other LP gas detectors did not have such reliable reviews. Or, were inclined to malfunction on a regular basis. I even read where they are often set off by dogs passing gas! Ha! Beware you RVer’s who travel with pets! That was interesting. Anyway, we decided to wait until we get home (which will be in just a few days) before replacing the detector. I think we will be okay until then.
I suspect that our early morning escapade and lack of sleep probably contributed to the accident that occurred later that same morning. Jim woke up before me around 7 am and started on the morning coffee routine. I climbed out of bed and skirted around him at the kitchen counter, and headed into the bathroom. A moment later, I heard a loud crash, and a series of expletives coming from Jim. I was not sure I wanted to come out of hiding, but I slowly slid the bathroom door open so I could peek out and see what had happened.
We have a one-cup drip coffee filter that we use to make coffee in our thermos mugs. So, we make one cup at a time with the filter delicately balanced on top of the mug. His mug full of freshly made coffee along with the filter had tipped over, and landed on the floor spraying coffee and coffee grounds EVERYWHERE. And, I do mean everywhere. On the adjacent cabinets, on the kitchen throw rug, on the floor, and in all the cracks and crevasses. I’m not sure I would have believed there could have been that much liquid and coffee grounds for just one cup of coffee, had I not witnessed it with my own eyes. I’m still sweeping up coffee grounds days later.
Our cardinal rule about taking up the dish drying mat (which is not a stable surface for preparing coffee) had not been followed. I can only surmise that lack of sleep had interfered with Jim’s brain cells that morning. The kitchen rug is still drying in the back of the truck while we travel! Needless to say, our departure that morning was somewhat delayed due to clean up efforts.
Oh – a day in the life of RV traveling! 😊
We will be home for a couple of months before heading out on the road once again, and have a growing list of things to do – both with the house and with the Airstream. I’m not sure 2 months will be enough! Wish us luck! I will also hopefully get caught up on my backlog of blog posts. So much more to share!
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the pictures here were taken along parts of the Natchez Trace Parkway – a beautiful, quiet, well-maintained road that connects Natchez, MS with Nashville, TN. The 400-plus mile parkway is part of the National Park Service, and is a great alternative to interstate travel if you have the time to meander through this landscape, and absorb some of the old history of the trace and its inhabitants. It is also lightly traveled in early March and made for a very relaxing drive.
There are 3 NPS campgrounds along the parkway that are beautiful and free. They are a model for how all NPS campgrounds should be maintained,in my humble opinion. We are very impressed with them. While there are no hook-ups, the sites are paved and easy to access. We stayed at the Jeff Busby campground and the Meriwether Lewis campground. Also, good to note that the visitor center in Natchez, MS allows overnight parking with electric hookups – all free as well. We stayed there before launching our drive along the parkway, and enjoyed an evening stroll through the quaint town of Natchez.
I recommend checking the parkway vehicle regulations before making plans to travel this route. There are restrictions regarding length and height. I believe the length limit is 55 feet and the height of your rig must be below 13’6″.
Scenes from our walk around Natchez, MS
I’ve always had a passion for photography. I thought it was about time I wrote about my trials and tribulations as an amateur (very amateur!) photographer. I’ve received some really nice compliments on the photography I’ve shared so far on my blog. You cannot know how much that means to me! It’s very kind indeed!
My grandfather, Bob Peterson, was an amateur photographer. He is my inspiration totally. He retired from Longwood Gardens in the late 1960’s and we still have some of his amazing photography from his early years at Longwood, and the early years of his young family – my mom, and her siblings. He gave up his passion when family responsibilities became too demanding, but viewing his early photography it’s obvious how much he loved it. Apparently, at one time, he had his own darkroom and developed his own film. Remember when we used film?? Oddly enough, my second passion is plants. Growing up on Longwood Gardens property in my grandfather’s household certainly had its influences on me! Anyway, my grandfather and his photography was highlighted in a Longwood Chimes publication several years ago. The article was made possible with cooperation and consultation provided by my mother, Barbara Thomas and her brother, Joe Peterson. It was such fun to see him acknowledged for his contribution to Longwood Gardens. 🙂
I did not start to get really serious about sharpening my photography skills until my first year of marriage in the early 80’s. I bought my first decent camera – a Canon 35 mm – and signed up for a beginning photography course at West Chester University. The course was designed to introduce all the basic principles of photography through a series of assignments that focused on one major element at a time. For each assignment, we were to choose our very best photographic effort for inclusion in our portfolio – the *final exam* of the course. We also had to develop our own black and white negatives and prints throughout the class! I was in heaven. I loved it! I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed a class more. I received an A+ in the class with a notation on my portfolio that read: You have a good eye. Keep it up.
I will be forever grateful to my family members who allowed me to use them as subjects during that class: my one and only great-grandmother, Mary Buffett, was a good sport (at 89 years young) pretending to clip her climbing roses as I snapped pictures of her (portrait assignment), my beloved Uncle Roland allowed me to get some photos of him working as a short-order cook at the famed Birmingham Grill in West Chester, PA (another portrait assignment), my brother-in-law Peter came to the rescue when I needed to do an advertisement assignment – I got a great shot of him after a day’s work as a tree climber with the requisite Genesee Cream Ale bottle propped up on a tree stump in the foreground (also a study on depth of field), and my husband Jim graciously served as a model for exploring motion with shutter speed control – both on his motorcycle and in his canoe.
Most of my photography since starting married life has focused on family and family vacations, my gardens, and the interesting landscapes I’ve encountered. I eventually upgraded to a digital SLR – the Canon T3i although I still have all my past cameras. I continue to use the Canon T3i and have it with me now. It’s the only camera that sports a telephoto lens at the moment. Prior to starting this RV journey, I decided I wanted to upgrade once again to a full-frame DSLR. For 6 months, I researched cameras. I even brought home the Canon 6D kit that we loaned out in our Dartmouth College Library media center and experimented with it several times. After being a Canon girl for over 30 years, I must confess that I made the switch to a Nikon. And, I have not been disappointed.
The Nikon D750 is now my main camera. I have it with me constantly. I’m currently using the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm lens with this camera. My budget did not allow for additional lenses at the time I purchased the cameral last spring. I will eventually add to my lens collection! But, for now, if I need a telephoto, or a close-up lens – I use my Canon. I still love that camera. And it still takes good pictures!
The D750 is not light in weight. I know that many photography enthusiasts will use smaller, lighter cameras when hiking. And, I have been scoping out some of these options. Eventually, I may opt to add a more portable camera to my collection such as a Panasonic Lumix, or a Sony Alpha mirrorless. But, so far, I’ve gotten used to carrying the Nikon, and on long hikes, I use a backpacking camera bag if I need to get the weight off my neck!
I have a number of different type filters for my Canon, and hope to experiment with these more before purchasing for the Nikon. My need to be thrifty dictates my decision to use what I have right now. Plus, I think I’ll have a clearer picture what actually works and what I enjoy using by first experimenting with the Canon before spending additional money. 🙂
My user manual for the Nikon is already well-worn and dog-eared . I consult it constantly and have yet to discover the full capabilities of this camera. I’m loving the challenge and adventure and look forward to improving my skills along the way.
I intend to write more about my photographic journey as the inspiration hits me – and share some of my insights as I grow and learn more skills.
I do find that I totally confuse myself when switching from the Nikon to the Canon and vice versa. The settings are all in different places! Keeps me on my toes!
I would love to hear from others about their photographic journey. It’s so very interesting and so personal, but I’m still learning so much!
“Life is like a camera. Just focus on what’s important and capture the good times, develop from the negatives and if things don’t work out, just take another shot.” –Unknown
Some photos from the past 15 years or so….my preferred subjects: family, vacations, my gardens and plants……very random but I will hopefully share and document some my favorites in this and future posts. Enjoy!
ALGONQUIN CANOE TRIP 2010
THE ANNUAL AMBER CUP HOCKEY TOURNAMENT IN CHELSEA, VERMONT
NORDIC SKIING COMPETITION – EISA SKIING – MY NIECES
I have so many photos to share – but my laptop battery is dying!!!! So, I hope to continue to post photos – both old and new – mostly for my own documentation. But, also to share!
I was enjoying a leisurely first cup of coffee this morning, and looking up the weather for Tucson, Arizona online. An announcement on the weather site caught my eye. The advertisement was warning folks to dress warm for the 92nd Annual Tucson Rodeo Parade this morning – it was going to be chilly out there – 60 degrees.
Parade? A rodeo parade? Today? This was news to me. I quickly looked online for information about the parade and found out that it was starting at 9am from the Tucson Rodeo Fairgrounds, about 30 minutes from us. I made note of the parade route, and talked Jim into going. It meant a very hasty breakfast as we needed to get down there and scope out the parking situation. I consulted google maps for a good spot along the route that would put us at a cross street where the parade made a sharp turn to the right. This spot was also about a mile into the parade route, giving us time to get parked and get to the intersection before the front of the parade reached us.
We found a really nice spot at the intersection where I had a fantastic line of sight for the parade! The parade consisted mostly of floats (representing area clubs, businesses and civic organizations) and marching bands. And lots and lots of horses since the whole parade was purposely non-motorized entries only.
The parade lasted 2.5 hours – yes, it was long – but I thought the crowd and atmosphere very refreshing. I really had a good time! Who doesn’t love a parade?
Jim was getting antsy part way through the parade, and was ready to leave well before I was. I kept waiting for representation from the Boy Scouts. I have fond memories of Luke’s boy scout troop marching in the Randolph, VT parades, and I was sure there would be a boy scout troop somewhere in this parade.
Anyway, the end of the parade finally arrived, and we never did see any boy scout troops marching. Oh well!! Still a great parade!
We left the parade and headed to the closest Starbucks to get our second cup of coffee for the morning, and then we were off to do our grocery shopping. While sitting in Starbucks, I got to thinking about the parade. Now, I’m nobody’s fool – I quickly came to the realization that if there was a rodeo parade today, then, by golly, it must be kicking off the rodeo season here in Tucson! (I know what you’re thinking – why did this epiphany not come to me while at the parade when we were a heck of a lot closer to the fairgrounds – like right across the street. It was because I had not had my second cup of coffee for the day yet!) I decided to get back on the old smartphone and see when the rodeo actually started. Lo and behold, the rodeo was going on the entire week, including today.
We got back in the truck and headed back towards the rodeo fairgrounds, and the rest is history. After waiting in several long lines, we got our tickets and were seated with 1/2 hour to spare before the start of the professional rodeo event! We walked around the fairgrounds while we waited for the start – taking in the crowd and we even entered a drawing to win a Dodge Ram truck. Keep you fingers crossed for us! 🙂
Finally, at 2pm, the official professional rodeo events commenced. Forgive this north-easterner if I don’t get the name of the events correct – I am *rodeo-illiterate* but I can tell you I had a blast!
The rodeo – a photographic journey……
Honoring the Armed Forces
Prior to the start of the rodeo, there was a wonderful recognition for our armed services with each branch represented by a different horse-rider.
Bucking Bronco Riding
Great to see the ladies represented. This was high energy and fun to watch!
I think what I liked most of all about the rodeo was the festive, family atmosphere. Apparently, the schools here in Tucson are closed the entire week of the rodeo. (This explains why we noticed such huge crowds at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park!) We happened upon the rodeo completely by accident, but I highly recommend it. If you are planning a trip to Tucson, come during the rodeo. You won’t regret it!
Standing tall in the desert
Greets the rising sun.
We were introduced to the idea of dispersed camping within Big Bend NP on our prior visit to the park. At that point, we were taking what would be our final trip in our old Coleman pop-up trailer. Very nostalgic trip! We had many fond memories and enjoyable trips in that trailer with our sons over the years!
We stayed for two weeks with the pop-up in the Chisos Mountain campground and loved our spot there, so we opted not to move and try any of the dispersed campsites at that time. We did scope out some of the sites on our travels to various hiking trails however.
Our major goal on this trip was to take advantage of the remote, dispersed camping in the park. The way it works is simple. You can request a backcountry permit 24 hours in advance of the day you wish to enter the backcountry. These permits are available at any of the visitor centers in the park, and you must be there in person to request a permit. And, there must be a site open that can accommodate your rig if you are traveling in an RV and wish to take advantage of this type of remote camping. The cost is $12.00 for 14 days. A bargain any way you look at it.
A cautionary tale is in order here. We initially requested this permit at the Castolon Visitor Center, and a volunteer employee issued our permit. Before we moved to the first site he gave us, we drove the truck in to see what the conditions were like on the access road and at the site. We quickly realized there was no possible way we could have brought our trailer back here to this site. We stopped in at Panther Junction Visitor Center and showed our back-country permit to the ranger there, and she immediately said that we were actually not allowed on that site with a trailer. It was designated as a one-vehicle site only. Since the back-country sites were filling up each night, we were a tad concerned we would have to stay at Cottonwood longer than anticipated. But, luckily, she found us a spot and, with some slight alternations in our back-country itinerary, we were able to stick to our plans. She indicated to us that she was going to talk to the volunteer at Castolon and make sure he was understanding the system. In all fairness to him, we did mention to her that he was unsure about that site, and had called someone with more knowledge on what the limitations were for vehicles. He had gotten the thumbs up from whoever he talked to that the site would accommodate us. Not entirely his fault! I, therefore, suggest that if you are unfamiliar with the area you will be camping – always check out your assigned site without your trailer! We’re glad we did.
Our itinerary went something like this: Hannold Draw for one night, Nugent Mountain #1 for two nights, and Grapevine Hills #1 for the remaining 9 nights (also known as the Government Springs campsite).
Hannold Draw Dispersed Camping
Our first night in dispersed camping was at a campsite called Hannold Draw. The access to this site is right off the main road into Big Bend from the north about 4 miles before the road ends at Panther Junction. There is a notation for this site on the park map, but there is no sign indicating the turn-off for this campsite on the road. We used google maps to locate the approximate location of the site, and turned on the road that seemed right according to the map. It led to a park maintenance area, and at first we thought we had taken the wrong turn. Further investigation on foot revealed the campsite location. You continue past the maintenance area, down a small dirt road to the site. I was not thrilled with being near the maintenance area, but you cannot see it from the campsite. And it is clearly not an area used on a daily basis. We did not see a single person back there during the time we were camped here.
This site is the only campsite in the park designed for those trailering horses. There is a corral and PLENTY of room to maneuver you rig.
Any size rig would be able to fit in this site, and reach it from the road, making it a viable choice for long fifth-wheelers and large Class A’s.
It suited us for one night, and was an easy, level site. I don’t think we had to block any of the wheels! Not sure I’d stay here for more than a day, though. Since we were moving to the Nugent Mountain #1 campsite the next day, we decided to scope that site out by heading to the Pine Canyon Trail to hike while we were camped at Hannold Draw. We would have to drive right by Nugent Mountain to get to the trailhead.
Pine Canyon Trail
We hiked the Pine Canyon Trail three years ago, and since it was one our favorite hikes we decided to walk it again this time around – as a good, relatively moderate trail to get our hiking legs back after being at Padre Island for two weeks. The trail is accessed via the Glenn Springs Road, a few miles south of Panther Junction. You travel 2.3 miles on Glenn Springs Rd. and turn right onto Pine Canyon Rd. It’s another 4.1 miles from this junction to the trailhead. There is a very small parking lot here. The road is a decent dirt road, but it does get narrower and rougher a couple of miles onto Pine Canyon Rd. Most vehicles should make it with good clearance – Subaru worthy for sure.
The trail is a very gradual ascent through the desert. As you climb, the habitat shifts to a higher elevation forested environment rich with pines, oaks, and maples. Eventually, be prepared for a short, but very steep climb to the end of the trail at the face of the canyon cliffs. The waterfall was just trickling when we were there in January. During the rainy season, it does actually flow much more noticeably (or so I’m told).
We were hiking the trail towards the end of the afternoon, so the hike out offered some great opportunity for photographs due to the late afternoon light.
Nugent Mountain #1 Dispersed Camping
The next day we moved on over to the Nugent Mountain campsite. We were really psyched to be at this site. It was a great location, and very scenic. This site is 1 mile back on Glenn Spring Rd. and offers a commanding view of Nugent Mountain. There are no other campsites nearby so you really feel as though you are out in the desert all alone!
We had some amazing sunrises and sunsets while we camped here. And it was so quiet at night. Two things that are incredibly unique about Big Bend National Park. It is Quiet! The park is so far removed from any urban areas that there is virtually no noise – air traffic or automobile. In addition, there is no light pollution from urban centers to interfere with the night sky. Star-gazing is a spectacular evening event. The following photos were all taken right at the site – either at sunrise or sunset.
We spent two days at this site, and managed to fit in two separate hikes. Our first day, we opted to just bushwhack up a wash that was adjacent to our site. This was so much fun just following the wash. We saw quite a few animal tracks along the way. Coming back we almost overshot our campsite! The wash was down in a small canyon, and we could not see the campsite from there. Luckily, our navigational skills are such that we knew we needed to start heading up out of the wash and we found that we were just about past the campsite!
Juniper Canyon Trail
I thought it would be fun while we were camped here to travel some of the dirt roads further into the desert and we decided to make our destination the end of Juniper Canyon Rd where there is a hiking trail. The trailhead sits at the end of this road and is a loooooooong drive on some not so nice dirt roads. Juniper Canyon Road is definitely one of the more remote roads in the park, and one of the least improved. From our Nugent Mountain #1 site, you continue on Glenn Spring Rd towards Juniper Canyon Rd. It was 10 miles on a 4-wheel drive only dirt road from our campsite to the trailhead. Very slow going!
You literally cannot travel more than 5 – 10 miles per hour on this road, so allow plenty of time. We really started to wonder if the wear and tear on the truck was worth the effort. But, once we started hiking on the Juniper Canyon Trail, we knew that it was. We saw only one other person the entire day we were hiking – a backpacker who had come down onto the trail from the Chisos Mountains. The trail winds through the normal desert environment, but punctuated with more grasses than other places we’ve hiked within the park. The rock formations visible from the trail were unique and the views of the Chisos were outstanding. This trail is part of a network of trails mostly used by backpackers and is considered part of the popular Outer Loop backpacking trip.
We did an out and back hike along this trail. It would be fun to follow this trail all the way up to where it enters Boot Canyon, but we did not have time for this extended hike. It was still a beautiful hike and worth the effort to reach.
A few days later, when we were in the Chisos and had hiked up to the top of Lost Mine Trail, I realized that we were looking down on the valley where the Juniper Canyon Trail is and I could make out parts of the trail where we had hiked!
Lovely trail if you can stand the teeth-jarring, back-breaking 10-mile ride in to the trailhead!
One additional comment about the Nugent Mountain campsite. While it has a good amount of room – a large circular area – for turning around, our truck and 25′ trailer does not have a particularly good turning radius. We literally had to do what I affectionately call a “30-point turn” in order to get turned around and out of the site! Just keep that in mind if you have a rig the size of ours or larger 🙂 Oh – and sorry, one more thing – there is NO cell service in this area of the park. Be prepared to be off-line and out of touch.
Grapevine Hill #1 Dispersed Camping (Government Springs)
Our final resting spot for the remainder of our stay in Big Bend was the Grapevine Hills #1 campsite. While the scenery at Nugent Mountain far surpassed this site, it was still really nice and had several other positive attributes. There is outstanding cell phone service here. It is located in the small section of the park where you can actually pick up a signal. I have AT&T and it worked beautifully here. The other bonus to this site is location. It is just 1/4 mile off the main road, is located just past the road to the Chisos Mountains, and only a short drive from Panther Junction. I really loved this central location. From here, we could launch a day trip to the Chisos or ride over to the western desert trails easily.
Our first full day at this site was probably our worst day in the park. A high wind advisory was forecast with winds to gust near 60 mph. We were a little worried about this, and it was a nerve-wracking day that we spent huddled in the trailer enduring the winds and watching the dust cloud descend and engulf the desert and us.
One of the hikes on my bucket list was the Chimneys Trail. Located in the western area of park, this trail traverses the desert and culminates at a volcanic rock formation called The Chimneys. This is an archaeologically significant site where Native Americans were known to inhabit. There are petroglyphs here, as well as obvious evidence that it was a well-used gathering space for prehistoric peoples. The trail to the Chimneys and back is about 5 miles if you include walking around the volcanic pinnacles and discovering the ancient remains of human habitation.
We met a young gentleman on this trail who was a recent archaeology graduate . He really had an eye for finding arrowheads near the Chimneys pinnacles. Of course, all artifacts found are to be left on site! Enjoy them and leave them! We also found many, many old mortar and pestle sites in and around the rock formation.
I had a blast exploring the rock formations and walking all around the pinnacles. The petroglyphs (and a pictograph) were awesome. It’s been amazing to find these curious ancient drawings in so many places throughout the west and southwest.
We saw some interesting plant life along the trail that I think I’ve identified correctly. Learning desert plants has been a challenge for this Northeastern gal, but I’m getting better!
Absolutely loved this trail! I would highly recommend getting on the trail early in the morning. It is in the desert and there is very little shade.
Yikes! This desert post is turning into a novel! I’m going to end there for now and continue with the rest of our desert adventures here in Big Bend on the next writing. Until next time…..
I know. Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. At some point, I was destined to use a book title for a blog post. I just can’t help myself – I’m a librarian. It won’t be the last time, I’m sure! 🙂
I recently had some friends ask me for suggestions for an RV packing list. They are picking up their new pre-owned Airstream in May and getting ready to do some long-term traveling. I had been starting to think about a blog post on the things we carry and well, one thing led to another…. thanks for the inspiration to get moving on this post, Beth Ann!
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, is a mainstay in many high school history/literature classes these days. The book chronicles the life of a fictional platoon during the Vietnam War. It is a collection of interrelated short stories and one is titled The Things They Carried. In this narrative, the author shares the items that soldiers carry with them – from the ordinary to the sentimental to the deadly. And not just the physical items they carry, but the mental baggage they bring is also divulged.
When I was trying to come up with an appropriate title for a blog about what types of belongings we chose to bring along on our journey, I was just plain stuck on this book title. It was the first thing that came to mind. So, while a war memoir and an RV travel adventure are completely ludicrous comparisons – the title was utterly relevant to my post and in some ways, I liked the random simplicity of just listing the *things we carried* – similar to the style O’Brien exhibits in his short story. What do I need to bring? What do I bring that just gives me comfort? What did we bring that we just have not used, and what did we pick up along the way? Here goes….
(PS – the photos in this blog are from our trip late last summer to visit Jim’s brother, Paul, in Pahrump, NV. We toured the Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge with him, and drove through Death Valley on our way back to June Lake, CA. Just so you won’t be too bored with the narrative!)
Our Initial Item List Randomly Provided Here
So, what did we carry initially? First of all, we carried items that we considered to be the necessities. And took responsibility for these items based on our prearranged division of labor.
Among the provisions I was responsible for assembling (the day-to-day, indoor stuff) are pots and pans, mixing bowls, salad spinner, a good set of kitchen knives, plates and utensils, cutting boards, single-serve thermos mugs, coffee maker, food, bedding, clothing – mostly warm weather but some cold weather, shoes – hiking and the everyday variety, towels – both kitchen and bath, matches, all essential toiletries and cleaning supplies, essential paper products, utility items such as flashlights, LED portable lights, duck tape, office supplies such as stamps, pens, notepads, scotch tape, extra batteries, paper clips, and screen cleaners.
I measured each and every cabinet and storage space and took pictures of each with my cellphone. I purchased and put into place a collection of organizers and storage containers that house all of the above items. It was, at times, like fitting together puzzle pieces!
Jim was responsible for the organization of all the tools that we might need along the way – the essential tools. He packed automotive mechanics tools such as a suitcase set of sockets and ratchets, tire pressure air gauges, some large tools for tire work and removing wheels, different sized hammers from medium to 5 lb, a tool tray with channel locks, vice grips, large and small adjustable wrenches, several screw drivers, 3-in-1 oil, liquid wrench, electrical tape, masking tape, gorilla tape, a roll of shop towels, wire cutters, gloves (disposable and work), soft wire, and clamps. He has a 2 drawer, 20” by 9” deep tool box with electrical connectors, crimpers, cutters, more drives and an Allen wrench set.
What we carried was often determined by function.
We devoted space for storing Airstream repair and maintenance necessities: Dicor self-leveling sealant and caulking gun, parbond, exterior wax and cleaner with bucket/microfiber cleaning cloths and sponges, various Pex plumbing supplies, a shovel, and leveling boards or devices.
We carried the miscellaneous essential stuff for the Airstream like sewer hoses and attachments, water hoses – both fresh water and other, water filters, surge protector, water pressure gauge, extra electrical cords and adapters, and keep all the above stacked in the truck in various heavy duty Rubbermaid containers. The key is to identify tools used regularly and make them easily accessible. Jim organizes the outside paraphernalia in the truck and outside Airstream compartments. I am in charge of the indoor storage.
We carried items to aid in navigation and documentation of our journey. I maintain the laptop, and cellphones and all the myriad of cords and chargers that go along with the electronics.
The things we carried were also chosen due to our hobbies, crafts and interests.
Along with the necessities, we brought a number of items that speak to our passions and hobbies that we hoped to enjoy along the way. I believe I have the bulk of this type of stuff! I include a number of items on this list: two cameras and assorted accessories (in the end I could not part with my old Canon), my ukulele, drawing pencils and sketch pads, a short stack of recipe books, hiking poles, day hiking packs, portable grill and two bikes.
For me, I was sure I would have time to spend going through some old, old photo albums – digitizing and weeding out the photographs. I brought a Rubbermaid container full of these albums. Has not happened! But, I just might get them out on a rainy day….
Jim brought a few carpentry tools (and a tool for sharpening chisels, etc.) thinking that he might pick up work where these might come in handy. While this work could always materialize, so far these have remained unused.
We use our traditional Airstream chairs for outside seating and have not as yet found a reason to purchase anything else to replace these.
In the end, we opted not to bring a canoe. This is an item we will probably pick up at some point. We also did not bring camping gear like tent, and backpacking equipment. Again, maybe this will be an addition. It would be nice to have the option to go back country at times.
Additions Along the Way
We knew that once we were on the road we would discover things that would be useful, necessary or just plain nice to have. We made a conscious decision not to start the trip with every possible item we might need or want. We wanted experience to dictate some of our needs and desires.
What we picked up along the way: a small aluminum outside table, 4 x 6 indoor/outdoor rug for the ground in front of the trailer, a 12-ton jack (for changing tires and using to pack wheel bearings), a small electric heater to supplement our heat pump when connected to power, a generator, a 12-volt powered air compressor, a 12V to 110 power inverter to charge up my electronics and, the big one, a Renogy 200W Solar Kit (bought and installed by us).
As we have moved into the second half of our first year on the road, it has been a roller-coaster adventure. Yes, the physical things we carry are ever shifting and will continue to alter as time goes on. We are always talking about better ways to organize, what we should discard, and what else would be useful – always aware of our limited space.
The emotional and mental baggage we carry shifts just as much as the physical – if not more. There are days when I love the adventure we are on, and there are days when I have complete meltdowns and wonder what in the world I have done! I feel optimism, enthusiasm, contentment, confidence, happiness and a certain treasured calm much of the time.
And yet, there are days when the feelings of uncertainty, doubtfulness, frustration, and anxiety creep in and I feel overwhelmed. On days like this, I take a hike and almost always discover something new that suddenly makes it all okay. And, I am thankful for a husband who has supported this journey, and always tells me it will be okay no matter what happens.
Is this lifestyle sustainable? The debate on that continues. I am learning a great deal about myself and my priorities in life from a completely different perspective. I believe that I can speak for Jim as well in that regard. He has stretched and flexed and extended his comfort zone, as I have.
Every day is at once refreshing and scary. But, what is life without risk and the reward that comes with that 🙂
Through canyons, past farms
Giving life to the desert
Behold, Rio Grande
The Rio Grande
At once forgiving,
And ever so nourishing
A friendly border.
Two poems – what a bargain! I’m not quite sure why I chose to start my three-part series about Big Bend with the river. It’s where we started our journey in the park this time, and so I’ll begin here. Three years ago, when I saw the Rio Grande River for the first time, I was extremely disappointed. I believe I even remarked, “That must be a creek that flows into the river. It can’t be the Rio Grande.” I’m not sure why I expected it to be a much larger river – maybe because of the name? I really anticipated something more the size of the mighty Mississippi. Funny how perceptions can be so misleading! It was barely a trickle in some places. You could literally wade across to Mexico in numerous places. That was in March of the year.
The Rio Grande has redeemed itself to me. We stayed in the park in January this time, and the river was much higher. Still not a large river but I was really smitten with it on this visit. Although the size of the river is deceiving, I came to realize just what a life-giving force this small water resource is to the surrounding area. It winds through canyons and flows slowly through flat, expansive valleys supporting a multitude of animal and plant life – and does this for close to 2000 miles, from its headwaters in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. About 120 miles of the Rio Grande define the southern park boundary, and the *bend* in the river here is what gives this park its name.
It was interesting for me to learn that upstream, many practices such as irrigation, agriculture, manufacturing and dams have led to a significant decline in the water level once it reaches Big Bend. Much of the water in the Rio Grande as it flows through Big Bend actually comes from Mexico’s Rio Conchos. So, we have much to owe Mexico for continuing to nourish the watershed. In fact, further down river at Amistad Reservoir, Mexico and the United States jointly manage this area.
We arrived in Big Bend National Park about the time we usually reach our destinations – approaching dusk and without reservations. Par for the course! Big Bend has three established campgrounds – one in Rio Grande Village, one in the Chisos Mountains, and one at Castolon. The campground in Rio Grande Village was full, as was the campground in the Chisos (although our trailer is too long for that campground anyway). The sign at Panther Junction Visitor Center indicated that Cottonwood Campground at Castolon had some openings. The visitor center was closed so we had no way of knowing real-time current conditions.
Big Bend NP encompasses over 800,000 acres. It is almost 60 miles from one side of the park (Rio Grande Village) to the other side (Cottonwood Campground). At this point, we were at the Panther Junction Visitor Center (somewhat central) so we had at least 33 miles to go to reach Cottonwood CG – on a slow, and winding road. It was dark enough by the time we arrived in Cottonwood, that we had to park the Airstream and walk the loop looking for an open site. There were literally only 2 sites open and luckily, our 25’ trailer would fit in one of them. It was a tad tight backing in (especially in the dark) but we did it. We’ve gotten quite good at maneuvering in low light conditions! I’m not sure if I’m proud of that fact or not.
Cottonwood Campground was a pleasant surprise. The sites are spacious, and there is adequate distance between sites with plenty of trees (cottonwoods, of course!) interspersed. There are no hook-ups, and a potable water spigot exists (only one) but you are restricted to 5 gallons each per day. So, words of wisdom here, enter the park with a full fresh water tank! We did not. It’s the one time we have NOT filled our fresh water tank while traveling. We decided to only fill it 1/3 full to save on fuel thinking that we would just fill up in the park campground. The only place to fill up your fresh water tank directly is in Rio Grande Village on the far side of the park. It’s also good to have some portable water containers. We did not. That’s another wish list item that we have yet to purchase. We figured all the campgrounds would have fresh water fill-up available. Wrong! My fault entirely for not researching adequately. We scrounged several gallon containers from the camp host at Cottonwood that we used to replenish our fresh water tank when we were boon-docking there, and filled up once at Rio Grande Village before moving to dispersed camping. Live and learn 🙂
We spent two nights at Cottonwood. We wanted to visit Santa Elena Canyon once again, as we really liked that short hike the last time we visited. However, the Terlingua Creek that flows into the Rio Grande at the mouth of the canyon was high enough that you needed to wade across it to reach the trailhead. The creek is dry most of the year, so this was a surprise to us. We did not have our water sandals with us in the truck so we opted to play it safe and not risk wading across barefoot. The pictures posted above, therefore, are from our trip up the canyon three years ago!
DORGAN HOUSE TRAIL
Love the grasses along this trail!!
On our way back to the campground from Santa Elena Canyon, we stopped off at the Dorgan House Trail. The interpretive signs along this trail gave a great history of the early ranching and farming industry that took place here, and outlined the importance of the river to these settlements. I started to see this tiny water resource in a new light.
Dorgan House Ruins
Around 1918, the Sublett family built an adobe house on the mesa along this trail and farmed the area. They grew several livestock crops including sorghum, corn, and alfalfa. Albert Dorgan, a business partner of Sublett, joined the settlement and built an impressive house above the Sublett site. The remains of this house are still standing – enough to give an idea of the structure. He had a commanding view of the floodplain where they farmed, and the river from this spot. The farm survived until the late 1930’s. I was surprised at the amount of farming done here in this very remote desert area. These surely were very hardy folks!
Leaving the trailhead and heading back to Cottonwood, we stopped at an overlook at sunset and I was able to capture Cerro Castellan in all its glory. I don’t think I could have planned this timing. I love it when these spontaneous photo opportunities happen! Right place at the right time…..
HOT SPRINGS CANYON TRAIL
The trail that ascends from the Daniel’s Ranch area of the park was by far one of the nicest trails we encountered on this trip. The trail traverses high desert mesas above the river and the views of the Rio Grande River are impressive. I decided to focus on plant material during this hike and it ended up being a wise decision. The diversity of plants along this trail was amazing.
The trail ends at the historic Hot Springs settlement. You can opt to drive to the hot spring, but a dip in the hot spring after a 3-mile hike was much more rewarding!
On our last trip here, we toured the ruins of the old Hot Spring settlement and saw the ancient pictographs on the rock cliffs.
This time around we focused totally on plunging right into the warm springs!! We planned ahead and brought our swim suits with us for a dip in the hot spring. We found some thick cover along the river, changed into our suits and joined the 8 or so other folks enjoying the hot springs.
It was so much fun! We had some great conversations with our fellow travelers. Eventually, they all started to leave, and we found ourselves alone for a spell to enjoy the hot spring and the river. Heavenly!
Since it was getting late in the afternoon, we could not linger too long. Reluctantly, we gathered up our belongings and headed back up the trail. We had a 3-mile hike back. I was too lazy to change back into my hiking gear, and with Jim’s encouragement, I made the return trip in my bathing suit to let the desert air dry me off. Luckily, we did not find too many other folks on the trail 🙂
The trail is around 6-miles round-trip with some elevation changes but I would consider it to be moderate in skill level. It is very exposed with little to no shade, so depending on the time of the year, it might be advisable to hike earlier in the day. In any case, bring plenty of water!
The views of the river are outstanding. Nowhere in the park can you see the lushness of the river valley, and the harshness of the dry desert landscape so dramatically.
We had not been planning on crossing the border while here, but events in our own country at the time were such that we felt obligated to visit our good neighbors to the south, and show our support for them. It’s a funky little border crossing! And very low-key.
The small town of Boquillas is 160 miles from its nearest Mexican town. Population: 200 hundred people, and 200 hundred Chihuahuas! (this according to a local – I think it’s a joke! Although, there were a lot of dogs running around!) It’s an isolated community that depends in part on tourist trade from the United States. The closing of this small border crossing after 9/11 devastated this harmless little village. The border crossing was finally re-opened in 2013, and gives a few folks from the village some much needed extra income. It costs $5 each to be ferried across the river in a rowboat. I suppose when the river is low, you could opt to wade across but it’s not recommended. Once you reach the other side, the actual town is a ½ mile walk down a dirt road from the river. You can choose to walk, or you can elect to pay for a horse or donkey ride into town accompanied by a guide. The fee for a ride and a guide is between $5 – $8.
We chose to walk, and upon entering the town, reported to the customs office. Interestingly, there was no sign to indicate where the port of entry was housed. We had totally forgotten that we even needed to check in with anyone! One of the guides who had ushered another couple to the town gestured to us as we started walking down the street, and motioned us over to a trailer that was set up inside a tall chain-link fence. “You need to check in here,” he said. He was looking out for us, and we really appreciated that and thanked him immensely. So, be forewarned, when you enter the town and head up the hill – at the top of the hill on the right is a fenced off area with a white trailer. That’s the official port of entry. Report to the custom’s officer there 🙂
I had read that there were two decent restaurants in the small town, and I chose the one that claimed to have a view of the river – the Jose Falcon Restaurant. It was a good choice. They had an outside patio that was on the second floor and it did indeed give a view back towards the river. We enjoyed a bottle of cerveza each (well, okay, two bottles each actually), and some light Mexican food. I had a quesadilla, and Jim tested out the chicken burrito. The portions were small but adequate and good. We received unlimited refills of tortilla chips, and the dipping sauce that was served with the chips was *out of this world* good. The ingredients were simple – onions, jalapenos and shredded carrot. I asked the owner about it, and she said that it was her father’s recipe. Delicious!
We had the pleasure of chatting with the owners since the place was not busy. The restaurant is owned and operated by the daughter of the original owner. When the border crossing closed after 9/11, her father was forced to close the restaurant. The daughter and her husband were living in Atlanta, Georgia for a number of years, and she is a United States citizen. When the border re-opened, she decided to come back to the town where she grew up and re-open her father’s restaurant. Quite a story! They were such nice folks, and I’m glad we went to the trouble to cross the border and experience a little bit of their life and town.
I would recommend taking time to hike the Boquillas Canyon Trail on the U.S. side as well. The trailhead is beyond the road that leads to the border crossing. It’s a beautiful canyon carved through the cliffs of the Maderas del Carmen. The pictures below of this canyon are also from our previous trip to Big Bend.
Davis Mountains Morning
The grass glows golden
As the early morning light
Rests on the hillside.
I am sitting here gazing up at the Davis Mountains in West Texas, sipping on a hot cup of Ginger-Lemon tea, as I contemplate my next post. We are hanging out at the Davis Mountains State Park outside of Fort Davis, Texas while we wait for a mail drop. I chose this spot because I had heard good things about the beauty of this area, and about some interesting places to visit. Since we had to wait a few days for our mail to arrive, there would be plenty to keep us occupied here. As it turns out, even more than I first anticipated!
I am on top of the world right now as I write. It doesn’t take much to get me there! We are camped in the *tent* area of the park because we didn’t want to pay for hook-ups and are quite used to boon-docking. And also, because hardly anyone else is staying on this side of the campground! There’s a bathroom/shower facility just a short walk down the road from us sandwiched in between two campsite loops. We are one of probably two other campers sharing this facility. The privacy is absolutely wonderful. I decided to try out the shower facility this morning, and was pleased that I had the place all to myself. I just returned from a luxuriously long hot shower …. you appreciate these small things in life after you’ve been living in a 25’ trailer and boon-docking for the better part of a month! Showers are infrequent, and short! Hence, the reason for my elated mood. I was even able to plug in my hair dryer and dry my hair. Pure indulgence!
This morning is one of those rare mornings when Jim and I are not joined at the hip. A couple of days ago, he noticed a *drip, drip* coming from beneath the truck – ever so slight but still cause for alarm and investigation. He disappeared underneath the truck for a spell the morning after we camped for free at the Marfa Lights Viewing Area on Rt. 90 (it’s really nothing more than a glorified Texas Wayside).
The good thing about this spot was that we were on pavement and the *drip* was more noticeable. Otherwise, I’m not sure he would have discovered it. He was unable to pinpoint the source of the leak right then, so we went on our way and landed in this state park just a short 20 miles or so up the road from Marfa.
After getting set up on our campsite in Davis Mountains State Park, he once again disappeared underneath the truck. I knew something was up. I did what I usually do at times like this – I took off for the closest park Wi-Fi hotspot and stayed out of his way for a spell. He usually does not want me hanging around bothering him with irrelevant questions while he tries to analyze a situation like this. I’m too distracting. I have no mechanical ability whatsoever and therefore, I’m no help, and actually more of a hindrance.
Jim is the ultimate trouble-shooter. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before. He is a talented guy when it comes to figuring out issues – mechanical, electrical, you name it – saving us many dollars over the years with his can-do, do-it-yourself attitude. And he has transferred this coveted trait to our sons. Between the three of them, there is literally nothing they cannot accomplish (in my humble opinion – maybe I’m a bit biased).
I sauntered back a short time later to discover that he had identified the issue. A small part of the fuel line had started to rust, and was the source of the slow leak. Not exactly an easy fix as it was near where the fuel line entered a box that acted as a cooling chamber for the diesel. (At least, this is what Jim told me) I don’t understand any of this – so my perception of the problem might be somewhat askew – but close enough. Bottom line – we had a fuel leak and it had to be fixed sooner rather than later.
After a short hike the following morning on the Indian Lodge Trail, we headed into the small town of Fort Davis. Jim had some thoughts on how to fix the leak and wanted to find a hardware store. I wanted to mail off a small gift to my sister-in-law who was forwarding us mail on occasion, and we needed just a couple of items at the grocery store – mainly half and half for my morning coffee! 🙂 We noticed a garage on our way into town advertising auto parts and Jim decided to pop in there and see if they had the parts he needed.
The young mechanic offered to take a quick look under the truck, and one thing led to another, and that’s how I find myself alone this morning. Jim is in town at the garage getting this nice young man to fix the fuel line. Yesterday, he told Jim what parts to purchase at the local hardware store, and said he could work on the truck the next morning. What service! Jim usually does his own mechanic work when he can, but we discussed it and came to the conclusion that trying to fix a fuel line in a state park campground might not be a wise decision.
Life on the road is not all fun and games my friends – it has its ups and downs! Mechanical issues are bound to happen. We are getting better at going with the flow when this occurs. There are still those everyday things that need attention, too – things break and need maintenance, bills have to paid, expenses and income have to be meticulously tracked, receiving mail has been a challenge now that we are not stationary, the list goes on and on. With our most recent unexpected problem, we’ve had a positive experience in this little town of Fort Davis. Some of the stress that occurs when your only vehicle needs repairs, and you’re in a strange town, has been relieved! Jim even decided to have this mechanic rotate the tires to even out wear and tear, and also grease the front-end – whatever that means! I guess it’s important though. The local folks have been friendly and very helpful. Real Texas hospitality…
So, this is why I’ve found myself enjoying some solitude this morning, along with time to conjure up the best approach to writing about Big Bend National Park and our stay in this little bit of paradise. One thing I’ve discovered since traveling around the region in and around Big Bend National Park is that this whole geographical region refers to itself as the Big Bend. It includes the towns of Terlingua, Study Butte, Presidio, Marfa, Alpine, Marathon – and beyond. If you study a map of West Texas, you can connect the dots and see the expansive area that encompasses the *Big Bend*. To be clear, I’ll be focusing next on the national park – then, I’ll share some of the broader, geographical area that we’re visiting now (such as Davis Mountains State Park – where the pictures in this post originate).
Big Bend is a diverse, unique place. It is a landscape that includes several different types of ecosystems and a population of plant and animal life that is unsurpassed. For many species, Big Bend represents either their northernmost range, or their southernmost range. The transition between the three distinct ecosystems creates an environment conducive to enhancing the biodiversity of the region.
Since the river, the desert and the mountains are primarily what defines this park, I’ve landed on a pretty obvious yet practical way to share our adventure there. Three posts – each concentrating on one of these distinctive habitats of the park.
Hope to spend some relaxing time in West Texas and get some writing done – Adiós mi amigo hasta que nos encontramos de nuevo! Sure wish I’d taken Spanish in school!
After a light rain
The creosote bush releases
It’s earthy fragrance.
I promised some poetry, didn’t I?? I have always been somewhat intimidated by poetry. I’m not sure why. But, I am confessing this unease here and now. I think it all started in high school. I wanted to enjoy reading poetry simply for its own sake. I was not interested in analyzing it, or sharing my thoughts with anyone else. For me, that took all the fun out of reading poetry. And, I always worried that my interpretation was not the correct one, or the norm. I just wanted to enjoy the cadence, the choice of words and the imagery that it evoked for me. Hence, I sort of shied away from poetry.
When I was frantically searching for an electrical outlet where I could plug in my laptop in Big Bend, I found one in the gift shop at the Chisos Lodge – by that hard, wooden bench I mentioned in my last post! Clearly, there was an effort to discourage anyone from hanging out there long-term to use the internet and charge up! Anyway, on that very wooden bench, I noticed several copies of a free publication entitled Cenizo Journal. In their own words, “Cenizo Journal is a quarterly journal dedicated to chronicling the history and people of Far West Texas through the work of writers, artists, poets and photographers.” I was absolutely delighted to discover this little gem. I took a copy back to the trailer and read it cover to cover, including all the advertisements. I think I was feeling somewhat culture-deprived! The best part for me was also discovering that the journal is named for a plant common in this region – Leucophyllum frutescens – Texas Sage or Cenizo.
There is a point to all this rambling, I promise! What really caught my eye in this journal was the section devoted to “Cowboy Poetry”. Cowboy Poetry??!! For some reason, it brought back images of my lifelong aversion to poetry, and I thought to myself, “Well, if cowboys can appreciate and write poetry, then so can I!” So, I will be experimenting with poetry – reader beware! It’s my new challenge to myself. I thought I would start out simple – with Haiku – as it will give me some structure, and it’s short!!
Creosote bush quite simply dominates the desert landscape here in Big Bend. I had read that after a rain, the distinctive scent of the creosote bush permeates the air. Three years ago, when we were here, it never rained. But, on this visit, we had a very light rain early one morning. As I stepped outside, the air was rich with the aroma of the creosote bush. I was honored to be able to experience this desert phenomenon. So, when contemplating my first poem, I gleaned my inspiration for my first poem from what else – a plant!
Okay, now on to the real theme of my post. We left Big Bend National Park today, having used up our allotted 14-day limit for camping. I’ve decided to compose several posts on our Big Bend adventure and do this in reverse chronology. Just because today was such an unexpected pleasure that I wanted to write about that first! Plus, it’s always good to shake things up a bit.
We landed at BJ’s RV Park in Terlingua this morning about 11am. The only reason we are staying in an RV Park is because I wanted to visit the Starlight Theatre before leaving this part of Texas, and there are not many options for camping in Terlingua. While it’s not the prettiest park I’ve stayed in, this is a little gem of an RV Park, for several reasons.
We got set up by 12:30pm. I had devised a plan to visit the Starlight Theatre for Sunday Brunch, which runs from 11am – 2pm. So, we were right on schedule since it was a short 1-mile drive to the heart of the Terlingua Ghost Town, home of the world-famous Starlight Theatre. A Dartmouth College Library colleague, Jeremy, had mentioned the Starlight Theatre to me several years ago, when I planned and executed my first trip to Big Bend National Park. He was adamant. I recall him saying that it was not much to look at from the outside, but the food and atmosphere was worthy of consideration.
We never made it into Terlingua on that first trip. So, it was one of the items at the top of my list this time around. Now, we had a sort of “dry run” a week earlier, when we left the park in search of a place to watch the Green Bay vs. Atlanta football game. Not being familiar with the restaurant, I thought perhaps it had a bar with some wide-screen TV’s. Jim and I arrived in Terlingua on that day, found the Starlight Theatre and realized that their Sunday Brunch had just ended and the restaurant was closed until dinnertime. By the look of the crowd gathered outside, Jim pegged the place as a tourist-trap and immediately developed a somewhat negative attitude about it. He dislikes participating in touristy attractions – finding them artificial and often over-rated. I sensed that I was going to find it hard to convince him to go back.
I would not be deterred, however! Subversively, I found the restaurant’s website and scoped out the lineup of entertainers for the coming week. It turned out that the day we were leaving the park was a Sunday, and the musician who was playing for Sunday Brunch that day really piqued my interest. I accessed his website, read his bio and was hooked. I knew that Jim would also love this guy – so no need to do a hard sell to get him back to the Starlight Theatre. I love it when it works out this way.
Michael Combs describes himself as a balladeer – a singer of “old new Mexican marchas, cutilios, cuadrillas chotises y polkas; old Texas Blues, Quebecois Reels & Jigs, Gospel & Honky-Tonk, Labor & Union Songs, Folk and Protest songs, a song of the Sea, an Appalachian murder ballad or a 500-year-old maiden’s lament — my repertoire is a Mile Wide and an inch deep.” Read his Home page – it will make you grin 🙂
Pictures are a tad blurry – due to the limits of my cell phone camera in a dark restaurant!
We arrived for brunch, and I was happy to see that it was not crowded and we were escorted to a table near the music stage. J. Michael Combs was already playing – and was singing a set of Mexican folk tunes. We could tell that we were in for a real treat. (I might add that this guy really reminded us, in appearance, of our dear friend Bill back in Vermont!)
We ordered our brunch, and when the food arrived, we knew without a doubt we had made the right choice to come here. All brunch entrees come with a side of fresh fruit, coffee and a delicious basket of *dessert donuts*. They were heavenly! I had the Terlingua Quiche with hash browns and a flour tortilla. It was by far one of the best meals I have ever had. I usually give Jim the hash browns when they come with a meal, but not this time! Jim had a dish that consisted of corn tortillas, eggs, pico di gallo sauce and refried beans – can’t remember the official name but his was equally tasty.
And to leisurely enjoy this meal while listening to some good music! Delightful! J. Michael Combs plays several instruments and we heard them all during our meal – the button accordion, fiddle, autoharp, guitar, and banjo. What a treat! He sort of reminded me of a cross between Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. I bought one of his CD’s and chatted with him briefly after brunch. Turns out he knows a Vermont musician who he has played some Quebecois music with over the years.
After brunch, my only other wish was to visit the Terlingua Cemetery. I have this thing for old cemeteries. This cemetery dates back to the days when Terlingua was an old mining town. Terlingua became a booming mining town with the discovery of the mineral cinnabar, from which mercury is extracted, in the late 1880’s. By the 1940’s, however, demand for mercury had decreased compounded by the Great Depression a few years earlier. This led to the decline of the industry and the town. Now, Terlingua has enjoyed somewhat of a rebirth as a tourist town near Big Bend National Park and is home to a bohemian mix of locals, a few artists, writers and nature lovers.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Truly, the most unique old cemetery I have ever visited.
Every year on November 2, the town celebrates the annual Day of the Dead holiday. A Dallas newspaper article from 2014 brings this celebration to life.
Wandering around this small town, we also came upon a charming little community garden and we just had to trek on down and check it out. We had been wondering how on earth people gardened in the harsh landscape.
Before making our way back to the truck, we also visited the Terlingua Trading Post – a gift shop adjacent to the Starlight Theatre. On *The Porch* outside the gift shop, an eclectic mix of local musicians had gathered for an informal, afternoon jam session. I had read that this is a impromptu occurrence here and was thrilled that we happened upon it when we were visiting. We hung out and listened to the music and storytelling for a spell. Great way to end of day.
If you find yourself in the Far West of Texas, it’s worth a stop in Terlingua. I highly recommend it. Besides the Starlight Theatre, there are other eateries worthy of a mention: the High Sierra Bar and Grill and The Kiva Bar. And, there’s an awesome little grocery store called the Cottonwood Market in nearby Study Butte that will knock your socks off!
Random Acts of Art in Terlingua