Big Bend: The Desert

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Sunrise from Nugent Mountain #1

Ocotillo  

The ocotillo

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!

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Camped in Chisos Mountain Campground in March 2014 – the final nostalgic trip with our precious Coleman pop-up!

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.

 

DISPERSED CAMPING

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).

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Hannold Draw campsite – we backed the trailer up to a hill and in near the corral
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Corral area for horses

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.

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Settled in at Hannold Draw

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.

 

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View of Hannold Draw site with hill behind – a somewhat protected site from winds, which was nice as it did get windy while we were there.

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.

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Pine Canyon hike gradually climbs and winds through a sotol-laden high desert
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And then starts to enter the canyon bringing a gradual change to the plant life –  pines, oaks and maples – a real forested environment!

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).

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Leaving the desert and transitioning into the forested section of the trail
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Evergreen Sumac – Rhus virens
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Pine Canyon waterfall – at trail’s end

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!

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Tucked into Nugent Mountain #1

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.

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Sunrise on Nugent Mountain
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Second sunrise – love the reflections of light on the Airstream!
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Sunset was often more subtle – with monochromatic shades silhouetting the mountains

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!

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Juniper Canyon Rd – it was like this for miles!

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.

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Road sign at junction of Juniper Canyon and Glenn Spring Rd.

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!

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Walking among the grasses
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I just love grasses!  These golden hues really lit up the landscape.
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Love how the textures of the foreground give way to the subtly changing shades of the distant mountains
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One of many back-country campsites we found along this trail

Lovely trail if you can stand the teeth-jarring, back-breaking 10-mile ride in to the trailhead!

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Nugent Mountain – final sunset before leaving the next morning!

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.

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View from Grapevine Hills #1 looking over the expansive desert!
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We experienced some ridiculous weather while camped here – the clouds put on quite a display at times
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More cloud action!  This site is very spacious and most RV’s will fit in here.

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.

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The side of the trailer getting the brunt of the wind was coated with a fine dust the next morning!

Chimney’s Trail

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.

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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!

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Tasajillo – Opuntia leptocaulis
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Texas Rainbow Cactus – Echinocereus dasyacanthus – I think!
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Guayacan – Guaiacum angustifolium

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.

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Chimneys Trail view

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…..

The Things They Carried….

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Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge – Nevada

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!

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Iron work in the refuge was unique and exceptionally well-done!!

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!)

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One of the many turquoise-colored springs teaming with the endangered pupfish species – Amargosa and Warm Springs Pupfish

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.

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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.

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Near Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

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).

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Final Thoughts

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 🙂

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Big Bend National Park: The River

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Santa Elena Canyon

The River

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.

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Santa Elena Canyon – looking east from trail 

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.

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Cottonwood Campground near Castolon Visitor Center – the last spot available that would fit our rig!  Whew!  Lucky once again….

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.

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The morning after we arrived there was significant turnover and an almost empty campground!

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 🙂

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Cerro Castellan in all its glory at sunset behind our trailer at Cottonwood!
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Big Bend Bluebonnet  Lupinus harvardii by the Rio Grande in Santa Elena Canyon

 

 

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

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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.

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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!

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Dorgan House Ruins – interesting to see the adobe bricks still holding up!
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The door and window framing caught my eye.

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…..

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Sun setting on Cerro Castellan – Wow!

HOT SPRINGS CANYON TRAIL

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The beginning of the trail ascends steeply through lush desert vegetation

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.

 

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Prosopis grandulosa Honey Mesquite
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Larrea tridentata  –  Creosotebush  in bloom!
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Agave lechuguilla – Lechuguilla
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Great shot of Jim on the trail – love that red-spined prickly pear!!
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While hiking, we heard some horses and voices and discovered they were on the hillside on the opposite side of the river.  I got this shot with my telephoto lens looking over to Mexico.

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.

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The Hot Spring juts out into the river – it’s an amazing feeling!

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!

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The river has some rapids at this bend – it feels like you are right out there!  The river was cold, but the hot springs nice and warm.  I was sitting in a spot where the warm water flows in!
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Jim was really loving the water – totally relaxed!
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There’s a ledge just on the outside of the hot spring where you can sit in the cold water of the Rio Grande and let the warm spring water flow over your back! 

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 🙂

 

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Not bad for 60 years old, eh??

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.

BOQUILLAS

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.

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The row boat ride across the river.  We were waiting our turn on the other side.

 

 

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.

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It’s a 1/2 mile up this dirt road to the small town of Boquillas
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Apparently, there is also a hot spring on the Mexican side of the river as we passed a sign for the trail that leads to it.

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 🙂

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Many of the homes in Boquillas were brightly painted – very colorful!

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!

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The patio at Jose Falcon’s.  We chatted with this couple from Toronto while we ate.  They are taking some time off to travel like many folks we’ve met on the road.

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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.

 

The Big Bend – more than just a park

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Davis Mountains State Park

Davis Mountains Morning

The grass glows golden

As the early morning light

Rests on the hillside.

 

 

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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!

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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!

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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).

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Marfa Lights Viewing Center

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.

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Hiking the Indian Lodge Trail in Davis Mountain SP, Jim scrambled over a barbed wire fence onto private land to investigate this water trough

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.

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Adobe-style bird blind at Davis Mountains – sweet little building
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Inside view of the bird blind looking out the picture windows
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Birds are happy!!

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…

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Sometimes I think Dr. Seuss got his inspiration for the Truffula Trees from the desert Yucca plant!

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).

 

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Nugent Mountain in Big Bend National Park

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!

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Sunrise greeting the Ocotillo in the desert

 

The Bohemian Town of Terlingua

Desert Scent

After a light rain

The creosote bush releases

It’s earthy fragrance.

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Creosote Bush in bloom in January

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.

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The Creosote Bush in Big Bend was just beautiful at this time of year.  It fascinated me – yeah, I’m easily impressed, I guess!

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!

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I am in love with the Adobe architecture of the area.  This hillside in Terlingua is a great example.

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.

  • $28.00 for a night with full hook-ups
  • Great showers with unlimited hot water!
  • Great free WiFi
  • Free laundry (well, you are asked to donate what you think is fair – honor system). I’ve never come across this in an RV Park
  • Free book exchange in the bath/shower/community building ( I love free bookshelves)
  • Camp hosts that are attentive and just plain nice!

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.

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*The Porch* outside the Starlight Theatre where people congregate to visit, enjoy the scenery and play music

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.

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On the wall above our table
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Beautiful stained glass window above us added to the charm of the interior!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Power……

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Sunset over Laguna Madre – how in the world did I ever get this shot!?

I am doing the ultimate *happy dance* right now!!!  My last three years at Dartmouth College, I participated in a lunchtime line-dancing class which I absolutely loved.  One of the songs we routinely danced to was Happy, by Pharrell Williams.  Now, in all honesty, this was actually not my favorite line-dancing tune.  In fact, I came to really hate the song.  Not necessarily because of the song, however.  It was the choreography that bothered me most.   But, now – I feel like dancing this all over Big Bend National Park!

“(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do”

Okay – maybe I’ve gone a tad overboard.   But, something as simple as a 12v to 110 power inverter has changed my life today.

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Thanks Luke for the inverter – your new one will be on its way soon!

When Jim and I were planning our hiatus from the real world, we intentionally tried to keep it simple.  Instead of trying to figure out every last item we should bring along with us, we consciously decided to let experience and need *on the road* dictate our trajectory.   That said – we did not necessarily agree on what to bring or not to bring – we made compromises as we packed.  I, for example, really felt we should start the trip with a generator since I intended to utilize the boon-docking concept to the maximum when we traveled, and wanted a means to keep our batteries and my electronics charged.  Jim wanted to wait and try to do without this expensive piece of equipment as long as we could, in the hopes of adding solar capabilities along the way and eliminating the need for a generator completely.  He won that argument at the time.

Since the plan was to work along the way, and be connected to full hook-ups as much as possible, we went with the low-tech approach to full-time RV-ing.  And I must say we managed for more than 6 months this way.  Fast-forward to the present day…….

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I’ll be adding bird shots from Laguna Madre throughout – just for interest.  They have nothing to do with my story!

Since we’ve been spending more time boon-docking and unconnected to 110 power, I’ve been particularly challenged with keeping my laptop charged up.  Let’s be honest here – I have been downright “ugly” about it!  It’s been bad enough relying solely on cell data for internet access.  We tend to be drawn to areas that are not necessarily cell service friendly.  (Picture me sitting huddled over my computer being bombarded with gale-force winds on the deck at the Padre Island Visitor Center – plugged into an outlet and trying to access horribly inept WiFi.  It was not a pretty site).

As I mentioned in the previous post, we did finally break down and purchase a generator.  Let me paint the picture for you on how that happened.

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We had moved from our spot on South Beach at Padre Island to the campground at Bird Island Basin.  Our first night there was absolutely idyllic.  You remember the pictures of that beautiful sunset, right?  Well, little did we know as we gazed out over a tranquil lagoon watching the sun go down, that the weather was about to take a turn for the worst.  Without cell service, I was unable to keep up with the weather on a daily basis.  We found out the next day from fellow campers that things were going to go downhill weather-wise and fast.   Bird Island Basin is a wind-surfers paradise for a very good reason.  WIND!

We consider ourselves to be pretty hardy campers, having spent more than a few years’ tent camping and cold weather at night does not immediately register as cause for concern.  However, with the trailer things get a bit more complicated.  There is water involved, in pipes that might freeze.  And that is cause for concern!

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Loved watching those darn pelicans!

The wind was predicted to pick up and reach 30 – 40 mph gusts and the temperature was going to plummet over the next few hours.  And that’s exactly what happened.  We knew we were going to have to keep the furnace on all night to keep our pipes from freezing, and that it was going to put a strain on our batteries.  We discussed the situation and devised a plan.

Jim backed the truck up close to the hitch, and plugged it into the trailer.  We would be using the truck as an impromptu “generator”.  This is not an efficient or highly effective way to charge trailer batteries, but in an emergency, it will keep the batteries from discharging too much.  Jim would be getting up throughout the night to start up the truck, letting it idle for an hour at a time.

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A calm Laguna Madre 🙂

The wind howled that first night, alarmingly shaking the trailer and, even though Jim was the one scrambling out of bed into the windy, frigid night every two hours, neither one of us got much sleep.  But, at least, I was warm under the covers!  Jim, on the other hand, was just a tad on the ugly side the next morning.  To say he was in a foul mood is the understatement of the century.  As you might guess, I did not have to launch much of an argument in favor of purchasing a generator.  I had finally brought him over to my side – under much duress but still.  This weather was to continue at least another day and night.  Home Depot, here we come!  We hightailed it into town, and HD had the very generator that we wanted in stock – a Honda super-quiet 2000w.

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For a couple of weeks, I was blissfully happy now that I had the power to charge up all our necessary pieces of equipment.  We use the generator responsibly, and with the addition of our solar panels, it will be delegated to be our *emergency* back-up plan.

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Now, as often happens, one thing leads to another.  One problem was solved, but with our move to Big Bend, another one arose!

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Yucca torreyi –  blooms can occur throughout the year and found in all parts of Big Bend

When I am finally in a remote area and camped in a spot with decent cell service, I still have the challenge of not being able to charge my laptop.  Big Bend National Park bans all generator use – in campgrounds as well as back-country.  We have our solar panels installed and hooked up, but can only use 12v. And, as a result, my blog postings have suffered once again!  When I do have a connection so that I can post, I have been frantically trying to upload everything before the laptop dies.   Quality suffers, and frustration takes over.  So, I have been forced to find outlets in the park in order to charge my electronics – and this is not always ideal.  Big Bend is not friendly towards allowing visitors access to electrical outlets.  I have found only two public outlets for use – one at the laundromat in Rio Grande Village – 20 miles from where we are camped.  And one at the Chisos Lodge next to a very hard, wooden bench – 10 miles from us.

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Vermilion Flycatcher – entertained us around our campsite at Cottonwood CG along the Rio Grande River

Since the internet access is resolved here at Big Bend National Park (we are in a spot with decent cell service), I finally decided it was time to upgrade the old technology and invest in a portable inverter.  This way I could take advantage of the energy we are generating from the solar panels and charge my laptop in the trailer.  I discussed my dilemma with my two sons, and then looked up some possible inverters online.  The one I found on Amazon was a Bestek 300W inverter that has two 110 receptacles and a couple of USB ports.

I contacted my son Luke via Facebook Messenger (the only way to reach a 24-year-old in this day and age) and told him I wanted to order a 12v to 110 inverter.  I did not think Amazon would ship parcel post, so I said I would ship it to him and then, he could send it to me via parcel post General Delivery to Big Bend Post Office.  Well, it turns out that he had the exact inverter that I thought would work for me.  So, I struck a deal with him!  I really wanted this thing fast, so I asked him to ship me his inverter, and I would purchase a new one for him as replacement.  A win-win situation for both of us!

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View of the Rio Grande River valley atop the ridge on the Hot Springs Canyon Trail

Two days later, I have the power inverter and just tested it out.  Hurrah! It seems to work and hopefully, it will mean I can stay connected and update my blog much more frequently!  Hoping to shake things up a bit, write shorter more frequent postings – and add some poetry.   What poetry???  I’ll tell you later how I  got inspired to give poetry a try 🙂

It really is the simple things in life that are the most satisfying, you know?   All’s well that ends well……

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Moon over Laguna Madre

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Sunrise – our first morning on South Beach

That sounds very romantic, doesn’t it?  We did have the pleasure of viewing the full moon casting its light on Laguna Madre but I did not get a photo.  Sorry!  The full moon on January 12th was over the lagoon during the very early morning hours.  I did not notice the time.  All I know is the bright light woke me up!  Since our bedroom window faced the lagoon, we had a spectacular view of the moon and its reflection across the bay.  Instead of scrambling to get dressed and grab my camera for a nighttime shot, I just laid there and enjoyed it.  While I did not capture it *on film*, I did register that image into memory bank.

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One of those other moments in time!!

Throughout my life, there have been moments in time like this that I will always treasure.  These are not necessarily earth-shattering events but subtle flashes of ordinary occasions that stand out for me.  Like standing outside our old 240 Volvo in Avalon, NJ with baby Leif in my arms, gazing in at the keys in the ignition of the locked vehicle.  Or watching Leif take his first steps while visiting his Grandma Amber in Cape May Courthouse.  Like sitting in the rocking chair, gazing down at Luke while nursing him in the wee hours of the morning.  Or remembering the seriously intent look on Luke’s face when he was tasked with carrying the crate containing the baby ducks hatched in Leif’s first grade classroom out to our car.  We were taking them home to raise to adulthood.  There are many, many more of these split-second memories and watching the moon over Laguna Madre will join the list for sure.

Okay – back to Padre Island – the good, the bad and the ugly as promised.  I’ll let my readers decide where these labels apply 🙂   Padre Island is an imposing environment harboring a diverse landscape that includes beaches, dunes, wetlands, coastal prairies and tidal flats sandwiched between the salty waters of the Gulf and Laguna Madre.  The forces of nature are evident here in a big way.

We arrived on Padre Island facing a weather forecast that was somewhat ominous – gale-force winds and abnormally high tides.  I had seen a blog posting by a fellow Airstreamer that showed them happily camping on the beach at Padre Island, and was determined to give this a try despite the weather.  We pulled into the visitor center late in the day to ask about camping on the beach and were directed to South Beach.

South Beach starts where the pavement ends in the park, and from there you can drive for miles on the beach and camp.  The first 5 miles of shoreline is deemed safe for two-wheel drive vehicles (and brave RVer’s pulling a rig).  After that, 4-wheel drive is recommended and serious towing fees are imposed for recklessly ignoring the conditions.  It was interesting to learn that the 60-plus miles of shoreline in the national seashore from South Beach to the tip of the island is actually considered a public road in Texas.

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Misty morning looking back over the dunes from the beach

We drove to South Beach, and found a spot on the sand just a tad off the paved road.  It was very windy, and the surf was definitely up.  We could tell that the spot we chose was above the high tide mark and it was fairly level and somewhat protected by several dunes on the gulf side.  It was home for the next 6 days.  We had too much sense to venture any further out onto the beach!

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Some things to take into account when camping on the beach on Padre Island.

  • It’s windy much of the time. We did have several milder days with little wind and managed to get in a number of walks and bike rides along the beach.  The air temperatures were warm so that helped us endure those windy days.
  • Another point I’d like to impress upon anyone venturing onto the beach to camp – as I mentioned above, it is a public road. There was a fair amount of traffic streaming by us all day long – fishermen, other campers, and day use visitors just enjoying a drive down the shoreline.  I suppose if you traveled a few miles down the beach to camp this would be less noticeable.
  • It’s very important to track the weather. The tides were unusually high during our stay on the beach.  Some campers further down the beach from us had to pull out in the middle of the night as the water started washing up around their tires.  We were glad that we played it safe and did not venture too far out on to the beach.  Even though we were near the entrance to the beach, it was a cozy spot.
  • It’s free!! You need to get a permit at the entrance to the beach.  There is a self-serve registration station.
  • Cell service is non-existent most everywhere in the national seashore and the WiFi at the visitor center is intermittent – okay – a hint – this was one of the *ugly* times for me during our stay!!!!
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One of the problems Padre Island has is controlling the trash that washes up on shore from the Gulf.  Trash bags are given out at the visitor center so everyone can contribute to the on-going clean-up efforts

Lots and lots of bird activity on the beach – Padre Island is a sanctuary and migration stop for many bird species.

New Year’s Eve on the beach! A perfect evening!

The surf was so strong while we were there that these Portuguese Man-of-War’s littered the beach.  Interesting that they are actually siphonophores – animals made up of a colony of organisms.  Whatever – they are something to see up close!

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Caught this guy lording over the beach on  one beautiful early morning walk

After spending six days on the beach, we decided to move over to the Laguna Madre side of the island and experience life on the bay.  There are two established campgrounds in the park.  The Malaquite CG is located on the gulf-side just a short distance from the visitor center.  Bird Island Basin CG sits on Laguna Madre and actually resembles a large parking lot more than a campground.  It was less crowded than Malaquite and we found a spot towards the far end of the lot with space all around us.  With Jim’s interagency senior pass, we spent a whopping $2.50 a night to camp here.

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The campsites at Bird Island Basin were just lined up like this along the lagoon, but we had a site near the end of the line and no immediate neighbors most of the time!

Laguna Madre is an incredibly unique environment.  I was totally unaware of this until arriving here and reading about this lagoon.  It’s a very shallow, ultra-saline body of water and home to a diverse bird and fish population.  Bird Island Basin is also one of the most popular wind-surfing destinations in the country – for good reason!  Did I mention it’s windy here???????

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By far, one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever experienced occurred our first night on the Laguna Madre

While it did feel like we were camped in a parking lot, we actually really enjoyed our stay at Bird Island Basin.  We used up the rest of our allotted days in the park here on the lagoon.  There were several other campers here for extended days and we met some very interesting folks.  The comradery experienced among campers is truly unrivaled. The only downside to staying here in Padre Island is the amount of generator use.  On the beach, we really did not notice it much since we had no one camped right next to us most of the time.  But, at Bird Island, it was prevalent.  There are no hookups in either campground and generator use is allowed from 6am to 10 pm.  And some folks took full advantage of that.  We were lucky to have tent campers on one side of us most of the time.  And the setting made up for having to endure some generator noise on occasion.

Okay – so I should mention that we contributed to that generator noise on a small scale!  It got incredibly cold and windy for a few nights and we had to break down and buy a generator!

My fondest memories from Padre Island:

  • Listening to the surf all night long on the beach
  • Toasting the New Year on a beautiful beach evening with a campfire, a glass of wine and my best friend Jim
  • Watching those amazing brown and white pelicans endlessly soaring over the gulf and the lagoon
  • Biking on the beach
  • Early morning solitary walks up the beach with coffee thermos and camera in hand
  • Once again, that full moon over Laguna Madre

 

Views from our campsite along the lagoon

It was not all rest and relaxation during our stay on the island.  We completed a major project while camped at Bird Island Basin – getting our 200 Watt solar panels mounted and hooked up.   That’s another story  🙂

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Greetings and Happy New Year from Padre Island

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Brown Pelicans at Malaquite Beach

Happy New Year from Padre Island  National Seashore!  We’ve been hanging out here since December 29 enjoying the gulf coast and relaxing.  After a few days just winding down from our Amazon adventure, we are starting to tackle some Airstream projects before getting back on the road.  Can’t beat free camping on the beach!  I’ve been somewhat challenged regarding connectivity issues here on the island – hence the unacceptable period of time that has elapsed since my last post.  You’ll hear more about this later…..

So, what have we been up to since leaving Alvord, and landing on the coast?  The past few weeks  since Christmas have been a whirlwind of activity!

On Monday, December 26th we pulled up the stabilizers and hit the road again.  Our general plan was to set our sights on the gulf coast by way of San Antonio.  Experiencing the renowned River Walk in San Antonio has been on my bucket list and since it was on the way to the coast, our logical first destination.

Always expect the unexpected when traveling with the Ambers!  We got a late start (not surprising if you know us!) leaving Alvord because Jim wanted to change the oil in the truck. Not ideal but we both agreed that it was a good idea to get the oil changed before leaving because it was so convenient in the RV Park here in Alvord.  So, we finally pulled out of the campground at around 2pm.    This meant arriving in San Antonio after dark and looking for a campsite.  We did not relish the idea of navigating in a foreign city after dark.  I started searching on the smart phone and found an Army Corps of Engineers campground north of the city that would be a better spot to find in the early evening and, so that’s where we headed.

Canyon Lake is a reservoir north of San Antonio operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.  There is a campground here called Potters Creek Park campground.  We like the idea of using federal campgrounds since Jim has the interagency senior pass and it gives us a 50% discount on campsites.  Plus, we prefer the federal campgrounds for their ambience.  These campgrounds tend to be more rustic and rural, and the campsites are generally more spacious and private.

Apparently, a couple of years ago, the campground suffered from a devastating flood.  Two of the three loops were still closed and not repaired.  Curiously, there was no indication of this on the website.  It did not matter though since there were very few people here anyway, and the gate attendant gave us a site that backed right up to the lake and we had no one either side of us.  The cost for a water/electric site with the senior pass was only $13.00 so we could definitely live with that for a night!

I chatted with the gate attendant for a while and asked him about working for the Army Corps.  Jobs in the Army Corps campgrounds are put out on bid each year and it’s something I’ve thought about trying.  He was not enthusiastic about  this particular site, but mentioned a campground they work for Missouri that they really liked.  As with any place, the local federal workforce varies.  He does not find the workforce at this Army Corps site to be as easy to work with compared to other places.  Good information to know when searching for a site to bid on!

It was a decent place to set up for a night and we were happy.  We met a nice couple camped in a Class A across from us.  He had installed the same type of solar panel kit that we just bought, so Jim picked his brain for ideas and looked at how he set it up.  We’d be tackling this project in the very near future!

The next morning, we headed on into San Antonio to the local KOA.  We’re not really huge fans of KOA’s, especially those located near metropolitan areas.  But, it was convenient to exploring downtown San Antonio.  The city bus stop was directly across the street which meant we could leave the truck parked and save the hassle of finding parking in downtown.  For a couple of nights, we would survive.  As it turned out, since we wanted the *cheaper* site with just water and electric, we were put on a spot that backed up to some green space and a bike trail.  We also had no campers on either side of us for the first night!

We got set up on our site around 2pm and then headed to the bus stop to explore the River Walk.  Since it was the holiday week, I expected crowds and was not disappointed!  I’ve had some people tell me they loved the River Walk, and others who were not enamored with the place.  So, I decided to arrive with no preconceived ideas and form my own opinions.

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River Walk  viewed from street level

A Brief History of River Walk  – The River Walk started as a flood control project to save downtown San Antonio, and a series of canals with flood control gates was established.   In the early 1940’s the project to construct the walkway, stairs and footbridges was undertaken, along with the rock walls lining the walkway.  In addition, the Arneson River Theater was constructed and the historic area of La Villita was restored.  Over the years, improvements continued as the commercial and economic potential for developing this area was realized.  Now lined by bars, shops, restaurants, the pedestrian River Walk is a vital part of the city’s urban identity and a popular tourist attraction.

Side Note: We met a gentleman who was camped next to us here at Padre Island who was stationed in the military in San Antonio 50 + years ago.  He said that back then, the River Walk was not a place you ventured after dark!   Clearly, a lot has changed in 50 years 🙂

When we arrived downtown, it was getting on to late afternoon.  I think this must be when the River Walk comes to life.  It was literally packed with people making it difficult to walk at times depending on where you were along the route.  I started to wonder how many people ended up taking an unexpected swim in the river!  In most places, there is no barrier to the river – literally just a drop-off.  While the river is not deep, I still would not want to get wet!  There were times when the crowd was such that I found it a little dicey on the river side of the walkway and a subtle shift in the crowd could mean a not-too-pleasant dip in the water!

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Some areas of the River Walk are lined with restaurants and shops and very busy but other parts of the walkway are more  tranquil
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Love the colorful umbrellas at this Mexican restaurant and flowers in December!
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The Alamo Bowl college football game between (my old alma mater) University of Colorado and Oklahoma State University was happening the week we were there.  We stumbled upon a pep rally in the Arneson River Theatre for OSU.

Oddly, this type of crowd would normally bother me.  But, it was such a festive time of year and the lights were so beautiful along the river, that I actually was energized and refreshed by the masses.  We walked around for a while looking for a spot to eat dinner, and settled on a Mexican restaurant (one of many along the walk).  Since I was determined to have a table right on the river, we would have to wait an hour to be seated.  So, we headed in to the bar for a couple of beers and settled in to watch the college bowl game on TV and wait for our table.  Lucky for us, it was happy hour!  That helped take away the pain of waiting an hour before dinner!

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After an hour went by, the bartender was concerned that we were overlooked and went to check on our reservations.  And sure enough, they bypassed us!  (The host said she had come in and called our name and did not get a response  – but we were diligently listening and making eye contact with the hosts every time they traveled through).  The bartender came back in and informed us it would be another 30 minutes to put us back on the list for a river-side table.  With an hour already invested, we said we would wait.  Jim then headed right back out and spoke with the host personally, and 5 minutes later we had a table.  Not sure what he said – but it worked. He can be very persuasive 🙂

I was delighted to have a table right on the water, and really enjoyed watching the boat tours travel by, and the pedestrians.  Great place to people-watch!  We ordered dinner and a couple glasses of wine and settled in.  When our dinner came, they had messed up my order and I had to send it back.  By this time, I was pretty hungry and thinking perhaps we had not made a good choice in restaurants!  The waiter felt bad and quickly replaced my dinner with the correct order.  And to our surprise, when we got the check we were only charged for Jim’s meal and drink.  So, all in all, a win-win situation for us despite all the delays.  I was impressed that they acknowledged their mistakes regarding our questionable service.

The highlight of our dinner was due to a older gentleman dining alone who occupied the table directly behind me.  He was immaculately dressed in an authentic *ranch* style outfit and caught our eye when he first sat down.  During his meal, he called over the wandering Mariachi band and requested a song.  We got the benefit of this serenade and it was awesome!!  Afterwards, we thanked him and asked him about the song – since it was in Spanish.  He got a tad emotional and with a tear in his eye told us the song was a favorite of his mother’s, who had passed away just a short few months ago.  It was so touching and he was so genuine in his feelings that it brought a tear to my eye too!

 

After dinner, we found a quieter section of the River Walk to meander along and then caught the late bus back to the campground.

It was interesting trying to assess whether we were at the correct bus stop, and we enlisted the help of some other local folks nearby to assist us.  Everyone was friendly and willing to weigh in on what bus we needed.  We made it back to the campground with no issues! (Although, when riding the city bus back late at night, I was struck by a vision of a recent Lee Child mystery I had read where Jack Reacher was in a subway car -not a bus but close enough – and assessing the occupants for terrorist-like attributes!)  It’s funny how something as commonplace as public transportation can be so daunting to those who never use it!  No such thing in rural Vermont!

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Could not resist snapping this photo of a seat on the city bus – made an impression on me

My goal the next day was the Alamo.  I’ve always wanted to see the Alamo – not sure why really –  but I wasn’t leaving San Antonio without visiting this historic site.  Now, admittedly, my memory of the history of the Alamo was somewhat fuzzy.  I remembered that it involved Texans and Mexicans, was a lost cause under overwhelming odds, and that Davy Crockett perished during the battle.  I also remembered the famous cry later issued by Sam Houston – Remember the Alamo!

So, for all those with equally fuzzy memories, here goes! Short and sweet recap of the Alamo!  The Alamo started out as a Spanish mission in the 1700’s – the Mission San Antonio de Valero. When the mission eventually closed 70 years after it opened its doors, the Spanish military took over the compound, followed by the Mexican military after Mexico won its independence from Spain.  Mexico inherited the territory of Texas from Spain and, in an effort to increase the settlement of this territory, the Mexican government encouraged immigration from citizens of the United States.   This colonization of Texas was carried out through the use of land agents called empresarios who acted as recruiters and middle-men, screening potential immigrants and taking responsibility for them as new settlers.  The project was so successful that the immigrant population of Texas increased from around 500 to over 30,000 in just five years.

During this time, Texas enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy as a *department* of Mexico, but wanted to achieve statehood within the Mexican government and decided to fight for statehood.  The Mexican government was opposed to Texas statehood and started to feel threatened by the increased immigrant population.  So, in an effort to restrict more colonization and control the territory, the government halted the immigration practice. This, of course, angered the colonial population that had come to Texas and started to fuel a movement for independence from Mexico.

When Antonio López de Santa Anna rose to power in Mexico he adopted a more centralized government, and wanted more control over the colonies.  He seriously restricted the self-government of various territories and states.  One thing led to another as tensions arose, and the Battle of the Alamo and fight for independence erupted with an incident between Mexican soldiers and Texas colonials.  The colonists fought against huge odds at the Alamo and lost, but the Texas Revolution was inevitable now that the colonists were energized by the bravery of those who fell at the Alamo.  Eventually, Texas won its independence from Mexico.  Texas would remain independent until annexed to the United States 10 years later.  I thought the  immigration problem hauntingly similar to recent modern day issues and arguments.  Allow immigration until it does not suit us anymore – then deny it.  Did not work then, will not work now……but I digress…..

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Front of the old mission
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Research Center on Alamo grounds
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The gardens were beautiful – like a small oasis in the city
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Loved this pergola that ran alongside the church
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Live Oak at the Alamo

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I really enjoyed touring the old mission and the gardens surrounding the Alamo compound.  The museum that is housed in the old barracks was well-done and worth spending some time perusing.  We loved passing under the old live oak outside the museum and reading about its history!

After touring the Alamo, it was time to re-visit the River Walk and we decided to be real tourists and take a boat tour on the river.  The 30-minute wait was worth it, and while we both thought the guide could have been better informed and more entertaining, the boat trip was still fun.

We exited the boat just in time to find the bar that a college friend recommended we visit – The Esquire – and enjoy a happy hour beer.  The Esquire is notorious for housing the longest continuous bar in Texas.  We were advised to go and experience this old, traditional establishment!

On the way to the bar, we stumbled across the Main Plaza area and the San Fernando Cathedral.  So, we detoured into the cathedral for a spell.  It was breathtakingly beautiful and so peaceful inside the cathedral. So glad we happened upon it.  A nice respite from the crowds on the River Walk.

Back to finding The Esquire!  We arrived at the beginning of happy hour, and it was not crowded at the bar on the street-level entrance.  Definitely enjoyed the atmosphere and thanks to my college friend Renice for the recommendation!

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The Esquire Tavern opened its doors the day after Prohibition in 1933 and boasts having the longing wooden bar top in Texas.  Put it on your Bucket List folks!

After enjoying our brews, I wanted to wander on over to the outdoor amphitheater called the Arneson River Theatre.  There was a Chanukah celebration on the river that night, and a Jewish-American rock band from New York City was going to be giving an outdoor concert at the theater.  We arrived in plenty of time to get some seats and settle in for the performance.    San Antonio is home to a diverse Jewish population and the downtown area has been hosting a Chanukah festival on the river for a number of years.  It was really nice to see!  The band played some traditional, folk-style music that was very entertaining.

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Mariachi Band entertaining the crowd before the concert began
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Soul Farm – Jewish-American band from New York City – their first time playing in San Antonio
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Local military man from the Jewish community lighting the Menorah

We left the River Walk shortly after the concert, and headed back to the campground to get some dinner going.  We were not interested in battling the crowds again, and wanted to settle in and get ready to leave the next morning.

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Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia species) along River Walk

The weather reports for Padre Island National Seashore were calling for gale-force winds and cool temps.  Hmm…..  what were we getting ourselves in to??  Coincidentally, a couple from Kentucky with two children had pulled into the site next to us that day.  They were stopping off for a day in San Antonio and then also heading to Padre Island.  We compared notes on the weather report, and both decided to give it a go.  This would not be the last time we saw them!

I promise a more timely posting on our adventures here on Padre Island.  The good, the bad, and the ugly….

Ready to Roll once again…..

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Happy Holidays from Jim and Lynn!

Our two months here in Texas  working for Amazon seem like a blur!  We spent most of the time working, with little spare time for sight-seeing.  In a previous post, I mentioned a trip to the LBJ National Grassland.  A couple of weeks ago, we decided to explore the town of Denton – home to the Texas Women’s University and University of North Texas.  There is an awesome little museum in the courthouse that is well worth a visit.

The courthouse was designed by architect W.C. Dodson in the Romanesque style and built in 1896.  It is a great example of courthouses built during this era and is beautiful inside.  The museum occupies space on the main floor and is operated and maintained by the Denton County Historical Commission.  It was interesting to see how much education was a factor in the success of the town and surrounding area.  The founding fathers of Denton understood the importance of strong educational foundations for community success and supported the establishment of two universities early on in the town’s formative years.

 

There were some informative exhibits highlighting early regional history including the Texas Rangers and early settlers.  There was also a display showcasing some of the history of Bonnie and Clyde!

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Clyde Barrow and brother Melvin
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Texas Rangers

I especially got a kick out of the cattle branding exhibit!

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And the early period sampler quilt…..

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After visiting the museum, we headed across the street to a local food establishment for some much needed sustenance.

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We were very surprised to see an entry on the menu for a “Texas Philly Cheesesteak”. Jim is a HUGE cheesesteak fan having been raised just outside of Philadelphia so he could not resist trying this dish.  He warned the waitress that he was from Philadelphia and would be doing a comparative analysis 🙂 The verdict?   He gave the Texas-style Philly cheesesteak a thumbs up.  The only minor problem was that he had to request ketchup over the offered mayo or mustard.  A Philly cheesesteak really demands ketchup!

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It was a very busy week leading up to the holiday weekend!  We worked over 50 hours, and still found time to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary and my 60th birthday!

On December 20, 2016, we headed into Decatur to have dinner – for several reasons.  Jim and I wanted to acknowledge 35 years of marriage (Yikes!), and we wanted to spend a nice evening with my sister and brother-in-law before we parted ways.  It could very well be a year or more before we see them again.  Vicki and Harry were heading out before us on Friday for California and a rendezvous with their son, Geoff for the holidays.   We extended our Amazon commitment by one day – so our last work day would be Saturday the 24th.

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Downtown Decatur – view of courthouse
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Sweetie Pie’s Ribeye restaurant – how appropriate for an anniversary dinner! 🙂

I highly recommend Sweetie Pie’s – it is known for its rib-eye steak and everyone selected some form of the rib-eye for dinner, with me being the exception of course.  Not a huge meat eater, I opted for the Lemon Sole – which was actually quite good!

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Interesting decor at Sweetie Pie’s – wall full of old truck pictures!!

The restaurant was decorated for the holidays, and it really was a festive atmosphere and a lot of fun.

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Our home away from home for two months – Amazon Fulfillment Center, Haslet Texas

Our last week at Amazon was uneventful.  However, we did draw some overtime and accumulated enough hours to qualify for 5 hours each of personal time – which allowed us to get a full day’s pay for December 24th even though management let everyone go home early.  An extra bonus!

So, of course, for me the reward in receiving half-a-day off on the 24th was football-related 🙂

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My favorite quarterback – Aaron Rodgers!

We left work at 12:30 and were able to make it to Chili’s restaurant in Decatur just in time for the second half – Minnesota vs. Green Bay.  Crucial game for both teams – and my team prevailed!  I must admit the one drawback to being on the road ( and not opting to get TV service) is missing football season.  I need to start planning now for a place to watch the BIG game on January 1st against Detroit!

We spent Sunday, the 25th, getting things packed up and ready for travel – doing laundry, securing stuff inside and out, and re-arranging the truck for travel.   I did manage to throw together a mini-holiday dinner – marinated chicken breasts cooked on the stove-top, sweet potatoes, broccoli and fresh cranberry sauce made with PURE VERMONT maple syrup, of course!  We also enjoyed a late afternoon glass of wine with some fellow Amazon workampers still here in the RV park.

While we miss being near our sons and family this holiday, all in all it was an okay day.  We chatted with most of our family via phone, and also received some pictures from Vermont.  I even took a nap mid-day, which is highly unusual for me!  I think that I finally allowed myself to relax.  Usually on our days off, we were scrambling to get things done since our workdays left no time for anything but eating and sleeping.

The final word on Amazon Camperforce?  We survived the tour of duty unscathed and actually managed to get used to the 11-hour days, 2-hour round-trip commute and physical nature of the work.  It’s not for everyone, and some folks probably could not adapt to the demanding schedule, but we did and it was rewarding to know that we could do it.  Everything the recruiters say is true – it is hard work.  You are on your feet all day – bending, lifting and standing.  It’s noisy, and busy.  You have to be vigilant about your surroundings as you are working around conveyor belts, industrial equipment, and robotic machinery.  If you have issues with your health or your stamina, it’s probably not going to work for you.

We met some fantastic workampers, and also many full-time employees who made the days bearable.  One of the assistant managers on our team really looked out for the camperforce folks, and she gave me a BIG hug on our last day and truly expressed how much she was going to miss us.  She rescued me from *Damageland* on our next to last day (I had been sent there to work since there were no stations available that morning), and I’ll always be grateful to her for that!  Ha!  Ask me about Damageland someday!

We are still searching for a job to get us through the winter.  It’s much harder to secure paid positions during the winter months since they are predominantly in the southern half of the country, and there’s more competition.  While we continue to search, we are heading out tomorrow from Alvord and the A+ RV park  for a short stop-over in San Antonio.  From there, we will travel to the gulf coast and do some boon-docking on the beach at Padre Island National Seashore.

From the mountains of the Eastern Sierras to the coastline of Texas – on to the next!

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Death Valley in September 2016

 

 

 

Road Trip to Texas: Canyon Tour Con’t….

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Okay – back to those awesome canyons!!  We left our beloved boon-docking site outside of Zion National Park and headed to Kanab, Utah.  Instead of driving up to Bryce with the trailer, we opted to stay in (cringing here) an RV park in Kanab.  Three reasons:  the weather was supposed to get real cold up in Bryce Canyon and possibly snow, we wanted to charge up our batteries,  and I wanted to take advantage of the campground WiFi to get some blog posting done and job searching.

Some advice regarding RV/campground review sites is in order here.   I checked with some RV park review sites prior to making reservations and the RV park we decided to stay in received *mostly* really good ratings – especially with regards to WiFi, which was the main reason I chose this spot.  I am learning that while these reviews can be somewhat worthwhile, there are definite flaws.

  1. Make sure you check the date of the review.  Things can change dramatically from year to year -even month to month.  Always look for recent reviews. Two recent reviews for the campground in Kanab where we stayed read like this:  “Were going to stay overnite but decided another nite. Clean restrooms, excellent wifi, good selection of local channels. Owners very nice & accommodating. Nicest one in Kanab.
    Would stay here again.”  And, “A gravel parking lot scrunched between a busy highway and a street. Very crowded. Much highway noise. Walmart would be a better choice but there isn’t one. We came to spend the day at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary so we were not able to site shop. But I wouldn’t recommend this as a comfortable place to stay.”  There were more positive reviews than negative by far, so it seemed like a safe bet.  My experience was akin to the second review and I tried in vain to get on WiFi to no avail, and the office was always closed when we were there in the evening.  The staff was unfriendly almost to the point of being rude.
  2. Notice the affiliations the park has with major RV clubs and ratings with them.  Again, while this is not always fool-proof, it is a good consideration to investigate.   This park gave both Good Sam discounts and AAA discounts – so it seemed like it would be okay.  Not the case unfortunately!
  3. Know your camping preferences well, and how they compare to other types of RVer’s. We know that our style of camping is contrary to those folks who prefer private RV parks with regard to quality and overall experience.  So, while we chose to stay here, our expectations were low.  The experience would have been a bit better had I been able to at least get  WiFi!
  4. Check the surrounding area and location of the park carefully.  This park was located right on a busy 4-lane highway, and in town.  We expected traffic noise, and a less than ideal view!  And were not disappointed!
  5. If possible, check to see how long the park has been in existence.  This was an old park, space was limited and our neighbors septic was right next to our picnic table.  You could reach out and touch your neighbor’s RV.  The landscaping was tired, and everything needed upgraded in my opinion.  The campground was for sale – so that might be one reason for the poor service.

To end this RV park saga on a positive note,  we were able to get our batteries charged up, and we could walk to the local grocery store.

BRYCE CANYON – LAND OF THE HOODOOS!

My first impression of Bryce Canyon was how utterly different it is from Zion.  The name Bryce Canyon is somewhat misleading as it is not technically a canyon but a series of large amphitheaters carved out of the limestone rock.  Over time,  water seeping into cracks was subject to a “freeze-thaw” weathering action and this type of erosion formed the basis of the geological landscape we see today.  The cracks were formed during a major uplift many, many years ago that created the Colorado Plateau and the Grand Staircase.  The principle rock in Bryce Canyon is referred to as the Pink Cliffs – an apt description given the color of the rock!

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Our plan was to only spend one day in the park so we had to make some decisions regarding how to budget our time.  We wanted to get down into the canyon and hike for most of the day, and the Peekaboo Trail was recommended to us by some folks we talked to in Zion.  We hiked what is referred to as the Navajo-Peekaboo Loop starting at Sunset Point. The total mileage is about 5 miles – so perfect for half a day of hiking!

The Navajo Trail descends steeply for about a mile and then intersects with the Peek-a-Boo Trail.

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Switchbacks on the Navajo Trail

 

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Jim hiking the switchbacks

It was hard to keep up a strong pace – around every corner in the trail there was another photo opportunity!

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We hiked out this narrow side trail to get a sweeping view of the canyon!  There was some scary exposure on either side 🙂
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Looking back on the trail carved into the side of the rock
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More incredible views from the trail!

I would highly recommend this trail – while it’s not extremely strenuous it does have multiple elevation changes along the way to keep things interesting and it’s not hard to keep the heart rate up!

After our hike on the Peek-a-Boo Trail, we had some daylight left so we decided to take a driving tour along the whole park to the end of the road at Rainbow Point.  We stopped at all of the scenic pull-offs along the way!

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Natural Bridge Overlook

At Rainbow Point, there is a short 2-mile hike called the Bristlecone Pine Loop.  We decided to hike this trail in search of some more of the cool pine trees!  At the far end of the loop, there is a daunting drop-off and view of the valley beyond.

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Serious drop-off here! Oh my!

We enjoyed our day trip to Bryce.  There are a number of other trails that would be nice to hike if we ever get in this area again.  There are also some backpacking areas that might be appealing towards the south end of the park.

 

CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is unique among our national treasures.  It is located withing the Navajo Reservation near Chinle, Arizona.  The area is administered jointly by the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation.  The Navajo have made their home here since the 1700’s and they continue to farm and raise livestock within the canyon today.  Because of this, many parts of the canyon are off-limits to tourists unless accompanied by Navajo guides.

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Amazing sky the day we explored the canyon!

We stayed in only campground within the park – the Cottonwood Campground.  There are no hook-ups but there is a dump station on-site.  The campground is operated by the Navajo and was very convenient for exploring the park.

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There were plenty of sites available and we choose a site set away from the crowd!  Very spacious sites but watch out for those spiny plants!  Stay on the pavement!

There is only one trail that allows public access without a guide called the White House Trail.  It leads to an ancient Puebloan village ruin that was occupied about 1,000 years ago.  We opted to hike this trail and then take a road trip along the South Rim Drive to see more of the canyon from the top.

While the hike is only 2.5 miles round-trip, it is a canyon after all!  So, it’s steep going down and steep going back up – no getting around that unless you take one of the jeep tours that drive you right up to the ruins!  It’s an absolutely breathtaking hike.  The canyon is beautiful.  It’s not hard to understand why it’s been inhabited for thousands of years.  What an oasis!

The White House Ruins are fascinating.  There is a tall fence that prohibits access up close, but you can still get a pretty terrific view of the ancient village and some petroglyphs.

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Standing near the ruins looking in the opposite direction.  Clouds piling up!  It looked like serious weather moving in several times during out hike, but it never materialized into rain.

Since it was October when we visited, the farms were all put to rest in the bottom of the canyon, but you could still see evidence of the small plots of cultivated earth.

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Looking down onto the canyon floor at one of the farm plots

 

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Found this little critter sunbathing on a piece of wood along the trail 🙂

Our drive along the South Rim road was relaxing and we stopped off at many of the overlooks along the way.  Usually, in the parking lots of the overlooks, there would be several Navajo selling various pieces of artwork and crafts.  While we did not buy anything, we did chat with many of the merchants and it was interesting to hear a little about their lives and some of the crafts they were selling.

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Look at that sky!

I highly recommend taking the time to detour to Canyon de Chelly if you are in the area.  It’s deep in Navajo country, and not exactly on the way to anywhere – but well worth the effort.  By the time we left, we were enchanted with this special place.  There truly is something very mystical about the place.

One more canyon to go – but I’ll leave that for the next post since it’s in Texas!