Past time to catch up with the end of our 2015 trip. It’s a long one so you can always just look at the pretty pictures!
12/2/15 We left Arizona and drove into New Mexico, stopping in Deming for an early dinner at Si Señor – highly recommended! We drove on to Rockhound State Park and found a camp site. Located in the Florida (Flor-ee-da) Mountains southeast of Deming, the park is a great place to hike and collect rocks of all kinds.
We tucked in for the night and turned on the heat. The temperature got down to 22 degrees but we were comfy in the bus.
12/3 After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, yogurt, and coffee, we set off to hike the trails and look for rocks. Everything is uphill from the campground.
Rockhound State Park allows you to hike anywhere on or off the trail in search of geodes, crystals, thunder eggs, or any of many other types of rock. You can carry a pick or other digging tools and are allowed to keep up to 15 pounds of rocks.
We spent three hours hiking up trails and arroyos and picking up “pretty rocks” for our garden. After studying the geodes and thunder eggs at the visitors’ center, we were no closer to being able to identify such.
With no room to carry our collection, Larry loaded them into an appropriately sized flat-rate box and mailed them home. They might have been a pound or two over the park’s collection limit. The lady at the Post Office had seen heavier flat-rate boxes and wasn’t impressed.
12/4 We packed up after breakfast, took another short hike up into the rocks, and then drove back into Deming for errands, supplies, and another trip to Si Señor for some great green chile chicken enchiladas.
On our way out of town, we passed a cowboy standing on a corner, holding the reins of his horse. He was wearing a six-shooter, a cowboy hat, and holding a “Need Work” sign.
Our next stop was City of Rocks State Park northwest of Deming. Are you picking up a theme here?
City of Rocks is a collection of large volcanic boulders in the middle of a desert landscape. This is where we met for the first time in October of 2006, nine years ago. We managed to get the same campsite on the west side of the “city” and settled in with a campfire.
12/5 The next morning we hiked among the rocks for a couple of hours enjoying some sunshine and a bit of warmth after the cold night.
OK, if you insist, more rocks…
The winds picked up in the afternoon and continued into the night with slightly higher temps in the 40s. We baked brownies in the camp oven to celebrate our return to this special place.
12/6 Mag took a walk on the desert trail after breakfast and was relieved not to encounter any rattlesnakes as we had on our first meeting here. We packed up and drove to Faywood Hot Springs nearby for an hour’s soak in the springs. The Springs have seen better days but provided a nice hot soak.
Reluctant to leave New Mexico, we nevertheless had plans to see some sights in Texas on our way home to have Christmas with family. It would be great-granddaughter Melody’s first and we didn’t want to miss that!
By nightfall, we had left New Mexico and hoteled it in El Paso for real showers, a steak dinner, and a Krispy Kreme donut. Civilization does have its perks, and we enjoyed our dose of grease and sugar.
12/7 We were headed for Big Bend National Park but there are a lot of desert miles between El Paso and Big Bend. Fortunately, we love desert.
We stopped in Van Horn, where lunch at La Cocina de Maria was very good. There is a picturesque hotel in Van Horn, although it is rumored to be haunted.
Driving on, in the middle of the desert before reaching Valentine, Texas, we came across an odd sight. A small storefront building near the highway with the name “Prada” on the front. Across the highway was a man with camera and tripod taking photos of the building. He was wearing roller skates. We are not making this up. It turns out the building is an art piece with an interesting history:
We later passed through Marfa which has a growing art community and a lot of reconstruction going on.
We stayed the night in Alpine, a pleasant little university town. We stopped for a cappuccino at Cedar Coffee Supply and a walk through downtown.
There was a historic hotel downtown, The Holland, that was quite inviting.
12/8 Driving on towards Big Bend, we stopped in Marathon, Texas, after spotting some very colorful buildings which turned out to be “Eve’s Garden” bed and breakfast.
Finally, we reach our destination, Big Bend National Park. We realized that, due to time constraints, we were not going to be able to see and do all that we wanted in only three days.
Our first stop was the Persimmon Gap Visitors’ Center at the far north end of the park. From there it was 26 miles to Park Headquarters at Panther Junction and another 23 miles to Cottonwood Campground where we spent our first night. It was a scenic drive.
When we got to the campground, there were only 2 or 3 other campsites in use and we had our pick. We shared the campground with a group of javelina.
Although they generally ignore humans, they will defend themselves if one gets too close. They are omnivores and will eat small animals. Don’t tie your dog to the picnic table as some have learned.
After securing our campsite, we set off to hike at Santa Elena Canyon where the Rio Grande has cut through a spectacular wall of rock.
Unfortunately, the river had risen in the last couple of days and traversing Terlingua Creek, which empties into the Rio Grande here, was only possible through deep mud and water, which we had not prepared for. Yes, we wimped out.
Nevertheless, we walked around the riverbank and watched a family cross after the dad waded chest-deep before backing out and going the deep muddy route.
We drove back to camp as the afternoon sun sank toward the towering walls of the canyon.
We stopped at Castolon Visitor Center, near the campground, and checked out some of the historical artifacts.
After returning to the campground, Mag took a walk along the river with her camera. She was excited when she thought she spotted a big cat across the river – until she zoomed in and discovered some feral vegetation.
one of the park volunteers came by and reported a great horned owl in one of the trees at the campground. She said he was a young one whose parents and sibling had recently left, although he looked full grown.
That evening, around dusk, he flew into a tree next to the bus. He made a squawking sound, and not the usual hooting sound. Soon another owl, perhaps his sibling, showed up and parked in a tree on the other side of the bus. He made the hooting sound and the two of them kept up a dialogue until dark.
After a beautiful day where the temperature reached 70, we were treated to a nice sunset. Temps dropped to 28 during the night.
12/9 After a quiet night’s sleep, we caffeinated up and drove to the Burro Mesa Pour-Off Trail. Although there are great distances to drive in Big Bend, the drive is always enjoyable.
We embarked on the trail and Mag was enjoying taking photos…
Until she dropped her iPhone face-down on the rocks. All subsequent photos of hers are taken with the Panasonic.
We walked up a wash and around the bend to find the pour-off. Spectacular!
We stopped for another short hike to the old Sam Nail Ranch site.
It didn’t seem the most hospitable location for a ranch. Mag is betting Sam’s wife didn’t have much say in the decision. Raising kids in the midst of vegetation that is out to get you must have been a challenge.
Moving on, we turned south to head up to the Chisos Basin, which has an elevation of around 5400 ft. The road climbs quickly and the vegetation changes dramatically as it does. Fall colors were in evidence although this was December.
We soon found ourselves in a new ecozone.
Arriving at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, we made use of the wifi at the Lodge to make an appointment with the Apple store in Austin to assess the damage to Mag’s iPhone.
We found a campsite, lucky #13, and sat outside enjoying the sunshine before cooking steaks for dinner. We did no hiking at Chisos Basin (this time) due to Mag’s having a health issue and the higher elevation. We plan a return trip to remedy this.
12/10 After a leisurely breakfast and the usual second coffee, we headed back down into the low desert. The drive was again enjoyable. If you don’t care for pictures of plants, you must know that we brake for vegetation!
The weather was great as we drove on to the Rio Grande Village campground and picked out a site. Again, there were plenty of open sites and we happened on one with a gorgeous yellow ash tree.
After claiming a spot, we drove to the camp store and checked out the laundry and showers for later. Then we drove on to the Rio Grande Hot Springs down an interesting road (no RVs or trailers).
We walked up a quarter-mile trail to the Springs. There evidently was a spa here at some time in the past.
Along the trail are crafts made by Mexican people across the river who leave them with a container for cash and a suggested price. This is an illegal practice but we saw it in more than one location.
Arriving at the spring, we found a few people already enjoying the spring waters. The river had recently overflowed the spring and left a deposit of silt/mud in the bottom but it was nevertheless enjoyable. The Rio Grande water was freezing cold in contrast to the springs and a couple of young boys jumped from the springs into the river – very briefly.
Leaving the hot springs, we stopped at the village store for laundry and showers, then drove toward the Boquillas Canyon Overlook. Did I mention that we love the desert, and desert landscapes?
The Mexican town of Boquillas Del Carmen lies across the river and one can take a short ferry ride, sans vehicle, from the park over to the town to visit.
Some on the other side have their own way of crossing the river. This canoe was spotted from the Boquillas Overlook.
Back at the campground, it was near dusk but there was time for a walk on the nature trail where we spotted a great blue heron.
Back to the bus for a dinner of Thai chicken peanut wraps. Yum. It reached 80 degrees today, marking the first time the entire trip that we could wear short pants and t-shirts. Finally found the warmth, but now it is time to head north again.
12/11 Packed up and left Big Bend, continuing to enjoy the scenery on our way out. We hope to return and spend more time in this park, and especially in the backcountry. It’s big!
We left the park and drove toward Ft. Stockton. We traversed the “Sierra Madre Astrobleme” before reaching Ft. Stockton. We had to Google that. You can too! Reaching Ft. Stockton, we stopped for coffee at The Garage: Music, Coffee and More. Eclectic, but coffee was good.
We continued on to our destination for the night – Caverns of Sonora. Mag had camped here some 26 years ago and has a funny story involving peacocks, spring-break kids, drunks, and mariachi music. Hopefully, things will be better this trip.
We arrived just as the last tour of the day was starting, around 3:45 p.m. It is a 1-3/4 hour tour down and back up 360 steps. It is a beautifully decorated cave, one that evokes the feeling of being inside a giant geode. Unlike most caves, it was uncomfortably warm and humid throughout the tour. Although we took dozens of photos, they can’t do justice to this beautiful cave. Here are a few.
After the tour, we camped in the tent area, thankfully alone and without peacocks.
12/12 On the road out of Sonora the next morning, we got on I-10 for Austin. We noticed frequent signs warning “Guardrail Damage”. We counted 14 of these before we turned off of I-10. Hmm, is it the 80 mph speed limit? Crazy Texas drivers? This question goes unanswered.
We drove through some beautiful Texas Hill Country, noting that anyone with an acreage of any size seemed to find it necessary to put up a huge gate with solar-powered opener. We passed several larger ranches with extra high fences and spotted some exotic game animals ostensibly being raised for hunting.
We passed a huge number of dead and broken cedar and live oak trees. Texas A&M University estimates 506 million trees have died in Texas, weakened first by drought, then becoming susceptible to insects, herbicides, etc. It was a sad sight.
We entered the German town of Fredericksburg and Lar decided he wanted some good German food. While he Googled restaurant reviews, Mag cornered a local and got the skinny on where to eat. The Rathskeller, located in the basement of an old hospital in downtown Fredericksburg, did not disappoint.
We walked around the touristy downtown and stopped for coffee.
We continued on our way to Austin and were glad it was a Saturday and not rush hour as the traffic was crazy enough, and we decided Nascar skills would be helpful here. We hoteled it again in order to pamper ourselves with showers and restaurant food.
12/13 After breakfast we headed to the Apple Store to get Mag’s phone checked out. The store is located in “The Domain”, an upscale living/working/shopping area. There were four purse stores in one block. Mag allowed as how the purse she’s been carrying since 2008, from REI, was still fine.
Although there were 20-30 people in line when the store opened, we had an appointment and were immediately handed off to a technician. He told us to come back in an hour while they evaluated the phone. We returned before the hour was up and the phone had been repaired and did not need to be replaced. Oh happy day!
We walked around the downtown Congress/6th Street area and were disappointed with the seediness of the area. Lar had been here a few years before when it was in better condition.
Back at the hotel, we had dessert for dinner and watched football.
12/14 Heading for Oklahoma. North of Austin on I-35, there was construction for 50 miles or more. Very few construction workers were in evidence, but everything was a mess the whole length of the project.
Reaching the Oklahoma line, we were tired after 260 miles of Interstate, much of which was under construction, and stopped for the night at Winstar Casino. The place is huge and is touted as the largest casino in North America with over 8,000 slots. Reminiscent of Las Vegas, it has different areas representing different parts of the world.
Spending a couple hours there in the afternoon, we came out roughly $500 ahead and called it a day. We camped for free in the RV campground with great showers and electric. When you sign up for a player’s card, you get a free night.
12/15 Headed homeward, we stopped in Davis, Oklahoma, to have lunch with cousin Janie and her husband Bruce at Main Street Bistro. We need to see these people more often!
After 6,250 miles averaging 17.5 mpg, two minor mechanical issues, and travel through 8 states, 9 National Parks, and 11 State Parks, we were home and looking forward to Christmas with family.