Northward!

After our visit to Austin, Texas, we turned our wagon train northward towards Michigan for the summer.  We are returning to Leelanau for at least one more go-around, as we really enjoyed working at Wild Cherry. We met so many great people while we were there, and we want to spend more time with them!  We would also like to do some more exploring in the area. Our trip was a little bit faster than we planned, as my aunt hasn’t been doing well.  She fell and injured her neck, so we pushed a little harder to get back than we normally would have.  She is stable and in good hands, but we just really wanted to see for ourselves that she was ok.

On our way through Arkansas, we spent the night just south of Little Rock. We parked the rig, not even setting up, so we could get downtown to see the William Clinton Presidential Library before it closed for the day.  I’m going to borrow a thought from our friends Bob and Pat at Michigan Traveler and state that Diana and I like to visit Presidential museums, libraries and homes.  Doesn’t matter the party to us; if they were President of the United States, they’ve earned a place in history and our visit to their museum.  So please hold the political comments.  :). I’ll report on the nuts and bolts of the places.  Everybody has a different viewpoint on how they interpret the presentation of history, so I’m not even going to try to tell how I felt in this or any presidential museum…because you may feel differently.

The building itself was interesting in the fact that the upper floors were supported by this one set of columns on one end.  There’s the fire exit intertwined in it, unless you want to do a high dive into the Arkansas River.  🙂

Just inside the main door is one of the limousines used during his presidency.  Made in Michigan, as are most all of them.  This one is a Cadillac, but most have been Fords. 🙂

The Oval Office is an exact replica of how it was during Clinton’s term in office.

We have seen a few of these re-creations now, and this was the best…simply because they let you actually sit at the desk.  Of course they take photos of you and try to sell them to you for way too much money, but to sit at that desk and look around that room…well, that’s pretty neat.  Actually, that’s very neat!   I had to let that moment soak in for a minute.  🙂

They also had a replica of theWhite House Cabinet Room, which we found to be impressive.

The second and third floors were an open atrium with exhibits on both sides.  Those columns contain a portion of the hard copies of the library’s archives.

Bill and Hillary in their younger days.  I got a kick out of this photo, purely from the standpoint that we have college photos that could rival that.  🙂

Down the center of the atruim were these eight panels that discussed the timeline of each year of his presidency.  While we were viewing the displays on the back side of these panels, a small entourage walked through.  A woman was giving a tour to a well-dressed gentleman, and a few others were tagging along.  Then I noticed a man in a suit next to me, nonchalantly looking at a display.  He was wearing an earpiece…as were several others around the room!  Secret Service types everywhere. None of them were looking directly at us, but you bet we were being watched!  Not sure who the gentleman being given the tour was, but he had to have some major level of importance to be given that sort of protection.  Don’t make a false move, kids….

We enjoyed the Clinton Library, just as we do all presidential museums.  It was a very well thought-out design, and it was full of memorabilia and a plethora of information.

After we left Little Rock, we headed towards Indiana to see my aunt.  Earlier in the trip, I noticed I wasn’t able to get my expandable wheel chocks between the wheels on the passenger side of the trailer.  I thought maybe it was because I was on an unlevel surface…except it kept happening campsite after campsite.  Hmmmm….. Prior to our stopover at Effingham, Illinois, we noticed the right side of the trailer drooping. I thought one of our MORryde suspension springs was going bad, so I called ahead to MORryde headquarters in Elkhart, Indiana to schedule service.  Upon reaching Effingham,  I crawled further under the rig and noticed this:

Oops.  One of our sets of shackles had broken and the leaf spring was resting on the underside of the frame.  I called a local RV mobile tech who came out and installed new shackles on that one spring.  From there, we headed straight to Elkhart.

MORryde has six slots with 20/30/50 amp electric for people waiting for service to park in.  Even if you are scheduled to have service, it can take a few days to get in.  They are busy, and business is good.  So we camped there for two nights, listening to freight trains and the construction project next door.  Having read more than once about the scheduling and the trains on Howard and Linda’s RV-Dreams Journal, we rolled with it.  When we knew the first day that we weren’t getting in, we headed back an hour southwest with the Escape to see my 91-year old Aunt Marge. While the brace she was in seemed very uncomfortable for her, she seemed to be in fairly good spirits.  She definitely was getting good care.  If you recall our post from September 2014 called Paradise in a Corn Field, my aunt is a Roman Catholic nun.  She took her vows in 1946, after leaving home for the convent in the early 1940’s.  This will be her 70th year as a nun, and the Sisters are having a Jubilee in mid May.  We will be heading back down for that, as will the rest of the family.  Her baby brother, my Uncle Ed…who will be a very young 90 years old this year…also lives on the property.  The Sisters have a retirement community for the general public, and he hangs his hat there.  He’s my Godfather, and being with him is like being with my late mom again (before she had dementia)…funnier than all get out and sharp as a tack.  Those two were peas in a pod, and he chokes up at the mention of her.  No visit to see Aunt Marge is complete without seeing Uncle Ed.  He is doing fantastic.  🙂

Back at MORryde, we were able to get in the next day.  Sergio, our mechanic, came running out to tell us that they had a cancellation and that he was ready for us. Just like that, Clara was behind closed doors and Henry was all alone in the lot.

Ketchup and Mustard kept a lid on the situation.  🙂  About 5 hours later, we were good to go.  Sergio installed a heavier version of their MORryde vulcanized rubber shear springs than we previously had, much heavier duty shackles than before, new greaseable bolts (the original ones couldn’t be greased), checked the brakes and repacked the wheel bearings. I also had them readjust our pin box, as our trailer had been riding nose high.  Sergio had Keith bring the nose down two inches.  We still have plenty of clearance between the truck rails and the underside of the fifth wheel, and the lower front end will help us level easier in situations where we don’t unhook the truck and trailer for the night.  With us having the Escape to drive at our destinations, we don’t need to unhook…as long as the campsites are long enough.

 It is here I want to say something about the standard equipment suspension on most trailers.  Even though Colorado put on MORryde equalizers, they failed to put on greaseable bolts or heavy duty shackles.  Our friends Tracy and Lee at Camper Chronicles just had the same issue with their shackles on their Open Range fifth wheel.  They did as we did and opted for the heavier duty shackles and greaseable bolts.  They are headed to Alaska this summer and thank goodness that didn’t happen to them in the middle of the Yukon.  The heavy duty parts don’t cost much more, and I believe that they should be standard equipment on all trailers that still use leaf springs.

From MORryde, we drove 20 miles east to Shipshewana for a few nights.  We needed a break!  Nothing like planting yourself in the middle of Amish country to slow down your heart rate.  :). We enjoyed our time there, then headed back up to Grand Rapids.  I must say, the trailer felt like it was riding on a cloud. We needed to be in Grand Rapids to take care of a few things, in regards to Diana’s mom.  Once we are done here, we will be heading up to Leelanau!  If any of you are going to be up that way this summer, please let us know.  We would love to see you!
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Return to Austin

It was the summer of 1982.  Diana and I were newly married, I graduated from college and we headed off to Austin, Texas for a metal shop teaching job I was hired for.  Work was scarce in Michigan in those days.  The job didn’t pan out and we returned to the Midwest, but we always hoped to return to Austin for a visit someday.  Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David lived there (and still do), so we had a good reason to come back.  Who knew it was going to take 34 years?

In 1982, Austin was just starting to see some of the growth that has since exploded in Travis County.  Nice houses were starting to pop up in the hills west of town, but the entire place was still pretty laid back.  We rented a little two bedroom house on the north side of the city.

  

The house is still there!  Not sure why the lawn isn’t mowed, as the house itself appears to be in good shape.  The ‘north side of town’ has turned into the middle of town, as Austin has expanded so much.  I checked the price estimate online and it is appraised at $285,000!  My, how things have changed.  

Nancy and David had us over for dinner to their place the day we got there.  Their son Robert and daughter-in-law Tasia brought their children for us to meet.  Also, Nancy’s nephew Ben (Diana’s second cousin) and his wife Sara came over with their new baby boy.

  

It sure was great to see everyone!

  

Diana and I both got our chance to snuggle with the little guy!

During the few months we lived in Austin, there were a few unique places we had checked out that we wanted to see again. One was the Capitol building.

  

This beautiful pink granite edifice was designed by Elijah E. Myers, who also designed the Michigan and Colorado State Capitols.  If you zero in on the statue at the top, you will see that she is holding a lone star.

  

Inside the rotunda, there’s that Lone Star again, up there in the dome!

 Another place we visited back in the day was Hippie Hollow.  Diana had asked at her job for places to check out.  So we drove out to this place on Lake Travis…out in the middle of nowhere… and found a gravel pull off that several people were picnicking at.  Diana was trying to figure out how we were going to swim there as you had to climb down a cliff to get to the water when she exclaimed, “That girl doesn’t have a top on!”  I said, “Honey, you are the only girl here with a top on!”  Well, we weren’t into nude sunbathing, so we left.  Fast forward to this year, and we were driving down a very busy road in the hills.  All of a sudden, we see one of the brown highway signs that indicates a county park…saying Hippie Hollow!

  

Lo and behold, it is now a county park.  I like the little “no bikini” symbol on the sign.  :). No one will ever accuse Austin of not being progressive.

Next up was another place Diana had found out about from coworkers…the Dry Creek Cafe and Boat Dock.  Again, this place was way out in the sticks. Back then, it was owned by none other than Sarah Ransom, affectionately known as the meanest bartender in Austin.

  

Cigarette hanging out of her mouth with a one inch ash drooping off the end, she served up longnecks and nothing else.  There was no cafe, nor was there a boat dock.  There was two levels to the place, with a jukebox serving up Willie, Waylon, and Merle. The draw was the sunset over Lake Austin that could be seen from the upper back deck.  The cars in the lot ranged from pickups to BMW’s.  None of that mattered to Sarah, as she would bark at you “ya take ’em up, ya bring ’em back down”, referring to the beers she was serving you.  And if you didn’t bring it back down, you weren’t getting another beer until you went back up and retrieved your empty.

Well, Sarah passed in 2006, after more than 50 years of owning Dry Creek.  Giant mansions started to spring up around the place, but her son has hung onto it.

  

We pulled in and it was like a time warp.  Luckenbach, Texas was coming out of the jukebox, the longnecks were cold, and the cases for the empties were open and ready for us to bring ’em back down.

  

The trees have grown up behind the deck, so the sunsets aren’t quite as visible…

  

…but the company was as great as the last time I was here.  🙂   As we pondered as to how different our lives would have been if we’d stayed in Austin, we both agreed that we’ve done ok for ourselves, finished our drinks and brought ’em back down.

Sarah would be pleased.  🙂

Big Bend N.P. – The River

Our final installment on Big Bend features the stream that gives the park its name: the Rio Grande River.  Winding its way from the base of Canby Mountain in south central Colorado, the river flows south and east for nearly 1900 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.  The entire Texas / Mexico border is defined as the deepest point of the channel as it flows between them.

As the Rio Grande comes through Santa Elena Canyon, it turns southward around the Chisos Mountains.  Not long after, the river turns back north around the Sierra del Carmen Mountains.  It is this huge sweep that is referred to as ‘The Big Bend’.

Our first introduction to the Rio Grande was at Santa Elena Canyon.  We traveled there on April 3rd.

  

That’s Mexico directly behind us, with the U.S. side of the canyon to the right.  The mesa walls are gigantic!

  

In fact, they are so big, they are easily spotted from our campground in Study Butte…a good 12 miles away as the vulture flies.  🙂

  

If we had wanted to, we could have walked across and not gotten our knees wet.  So much water is taken from the river for irrigation over its length, barely 20% makes it to the Gulf.

On April 7 and 8, we drove west from our campsite to Big Bend Ranch State Park.  Totally seperate from the national park, Big Bend Ranch State Park is also a series of open range cattle ranches.  It encompasses 311,000 acres and 23 miles of Rio Grande river frontage.  The first day was a driving tour as far as the town of Presidio, as our feet were still very tender from the 12 mile South Rim hike the day before.  On that trip, we spotted Closed Canyon, and Diana encouraged me to lace up the hikers and check it out the next day.

Closed Canyon was a hike I was first introduced to by Steve and Mona Liza Lowe of Lowe’s RV Adventures when they wrote about it in 2015.  A narrow slot canyon that is dry most of the year, Closed Canyon empties runoff from the desert into the Rio Grande.

  

The first thing that impressed us was the strong, cool breeze blowing through the narrow channel.  It literally took our Adventure hats and blew them off of our heads!  🙂

  

It was a cool and shady spot to be on a hot day!

  

The farther we went, the narrower it got. Definitely not the place to be if rain is in the forecast!

A little to the east is a spot along the road that is referred to as ‘the big hill’.  It’s a good place for a view of the Rio Grande.

  

Looking west…

  

….and looking east.

  

Forget getting our knees wet; we could keep our ankles dry here!

After that, we headed back into the national park towards Boquillas Crossing.  We wanted to see that area of the park before calling the week a wrap.   Boquillas Crossing is unique in that they take you across the river to Mexico in a rowboat…or you wade to the other side.  No bridge to be found anywhere in sight.  The town of Boquillas, Mexico is miles from Mexican civilization, and is almost totally dependent on the U.S. tourist trade.  The border is only open back into the U.S. from Wednesday through Sunday, 9 AM to 6 PM.  This trip, we knew very little about the crossing, so we chose not to go across.  We probably will if we go in the future, as it is so unique.  For a great write up on the Boquillas experience, visit Nikki and Jason Wynn’s blog here.

  

Just downriver from the crossing, we found these Mexican wares on a rock on the U.S. side.  Really pretty trinkets and some fabulous walking sticks.  There was a little container to put your money in…

  
…and the folks on the other side would find their way over to retrieve it.  It is illegal to purchase these products, so we chose not to.  But we didn’t see any U.S. park rangers confiscating this display either, so it seems they look the other way.

That ends our trip to Big Bend.  We hope you enjoyed the journey!

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Big Bend N.P. – The Mountains

Most of Big Bend National Park is dotted with various mountains, mesas and buttes, primarily covered with desert vegetation.  The exception to that is the Chisos Mountains.  It is here that the plants of the outlying Chihuahuan Desert share space with pines and hardwoods usually associated with places much farther north.  Animals such as black bears, mountain lions, and javelinas can be found in the hillsides.  Temperatures are often much cooler than the neighboring landscape.  And the hiking trails are scenic and challenging!

To paint a picture of this stand of mountains, it is actually the remnants of an ancient volcano.  The Chisos Basin is the collapsed caldera of that volcano, and that is where the lodge, campground, and visitors center are. Most of the mountain hikes originate from the basin and go up into the mountainsides around it.

Our first mountain hike actually stayed in the basin.  This was the Windows View trail, and it is paved and ADA compliant. At one third of a mile, it is more of a stroll than a hike.

  

This trail loops to the northwest of the lodge, providing an outstanding view of the V-shaped pouroff through the mountains referred to as The Window.  Appropriately named, this geological feature offers a stunning vista of the desert floor outside of the mountains.  Depending on the time of year, it can also act as a frame for a spectacular sunset photo!  There is also a trail which runs directly to the brink of the pouroff (don’t get too close, as it is a 250 foot drop!)  We did not have time to explore it this trip, but we would consider it in the future.

Our second hike in the mountains was the Lost Mine Trail.

  

This 4.7 mile round trip trail is rated as difficult, and has an 1122 foot altitude gain.  It begins a little ways up the basin road from the lodge at the foot of Casa Grande, seen in this photo.

  

Here is Diana, ready to head up the trail!

  

The trail had numbered viewpoints, but there were no booklets at the beginning of the trail.  I had read that getting to #10 was a ‘must’, and here is the view from that point.  The mountains in the distance are in northern Mexico.

  

 

A fellow hiker was kind enough to snap a photo of us at that viewpoint.

 

This is another 20 or so minutes up the trail.  Not long after this, we talked to someone coming down that said we had another 45 minutes to go to get to the top.   As this was a warmup for a much longer hike we had planned later in the week, we turned back.  Diana developed plantar fasciitis this winter and is nursing a very sore heel, so we didn’t want to overdo it.  We found out afterwards that the hiker misinformed us, as the end of the trail was much closer.  Not to worry, as that leaves us a reason to come back in the future!  One thing to note on this trail:  even though we didn’t see any, the volunteer at the visitor center told us afterwards that there were three black bears sighted on the trail while we were out there.  Also, mountain lions can be an issue in Big Bend, especially along this trail.  Javelinas also roam the park, and can be aggressive.  And did I mention rattlesnakes?  🙂

On Wednesday, April 6, we joined Nancy and David on an all day hike to the South Rim.  This was the primary reason we came to Big Bend, and has been the focus of our winter’s worth of training.  This hike is a 12 mile loop with a 2395 foot altitude gain and is rated as strenuous.  I’ll tell you what, y’all…they ain’t kiddin’.  🙂   While this would be right up some of our fellow bloggers’ alleys, this was quite the challenge for us!

  

We started out driving to the basin  from our campsite in Study Butte before dawn.  This beautiful sunrise greeted us on our way east.

  

At the trailhead, I made a feeble attempt at a four person selfie.  Let’s get hiking!

  

The pointer shows our first obstacle: the Pinnacles.  A good portion of our elevation gain occurred getting to the top of that ridge.

  

Switchbacks were the order of the day, along with some fairly high steps.  These jagged rocks were typical of the surface we walked on throughout the day.

  

We saw several Claret Cup cactus blooming along the path.

  

Further up, we stepped aside to let this worker pass on his horse.  His trailing mule was hauling supplies to trail workers farther up in the mountains.

  

Finally, we made it to the top of the Pinnacles.  Here is a view back down into the basin.  We started down by the buildings near the cone in the center.  3.5 miles under our belts at this point.

  

This Gray Breasted Jay greeted us at the top.  It didn’t show much fear, as I was just a few feet away from it.

We continued along the Boot Canyon trail for 2.8 miles towards the South Rim.  

  

As we were hiking, we met Ian.  He is practicing for an attempt at completing the entire Pacific Crest Trail this summer.  He was heading into the mountains here for three days with his pack and a total of 9 liters of water.  Really nice young man.  We wish him well!

  

As we hiked, the spire that gave Boot Canyon it’s name came into view.

  

The pathway hugged the edge of the canyon most of the way.

  

Finally, we could sense that the South Rim was about to come into view.

  

Woo-hoo!  We made it!  When we chose the day we were going to hike, we decided on the coolest day of the week.  Unfortunately, it was also the haziest.  This is normally considered to be the best view in Texas, looking many miles south into Mexico.  The cliff we were standing on is hundreds of feet high, so we stayed back just a touch.  🙂

  

Even with the haze, we could see a long way!

  

And someone upstairs was happy we made it also, and sent us a halo around the sun. 🙂

  

We found a shady spot and settled in for lunch.

  

After lunch, we headed west along the rim.  The trail eventually turns to the north, continuing along the outer edge of the Chisos Mountains.  By this point, we were starting to feel the effects of those sharp rocks.

  

The western slope is gentler than the Pinnacles/Boot Canyon route.  The South Rim trail eventually meets up with the Laguna Meadows trail.

  

This is a gorgeous valley running back towards the Chisos Basin.  On a clear day, these views would be breathtaking.

  

Not long after we were on the Laguna Meadows trail, the basin came into view.  That was deceiving.  We continued walking and met a young man walking UP the trail… which was surprising, as it was getting late.

  

His name was Price Rumbelow, and he works with the Borderlands Research Institute.  He is a graduate student at Sul Ross State University, and he’s studying the potential for mountain lion/human conflict in the park.  A half hour later, he came back down behind us after retrieving a trail counter, as he was counting humans today.  As we walked, this young gentleman stayed with us, explaining that we actually had farther to go than we thought.  That was good to know, as the trail was starting to seem long at this point.  All the while we walked with him, we had a very informative dialogue about wildlife in the park.  Particularly interesting was the process of installing a tracking collar on a lion. Once the cat is chased up a tree by dogs and darted with a sedative, Price must climb the tree to put a rope on the lion and lower it to the ground.  The trick is to wait long enough for the cat to be asleep…yet not too long that it falls out of the tree!  Every answer was followed with a sir or ma’am.  His parents and community obviously raised him properly.  Meeting young people like this definitely gives us faith in the future.  🙂

  

We made it to our starting point!

We definitely learned a lot on this hike, and we are very glad we did it.  12 miles, while possible for us, is longer than we prefer….especially with elevation gain and loss.  By the end of the hike, our feet were begging us to get off the trail…which somewhat defeats the purpose of being out there to enjoy each other and nature. We carried a gallon of water with us, as recommended by the park service, and we used just about every drop. We will be able to gauge our water needs on future hikes, as a result.  If anyone were to ask our opinion about doing this hike, we would recommend breaking it into two days and staying a night near the rim in a tent…taking into account that it would require carrying more gear and water.  There are several campsites available that you can reserve. Being miles from any artificial light, the stars would be fantastic.

That wraps up our mountain experience at Big Bend.  Next up:  the Rio Grande River!
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Big Bend N.P. – The Desert

One of the first things we did when we arrived at Big Bend was to go to the Visitor Center at Panther Junction.  We always feel that it is a good idea to do that at any park, just to get the lay of the land.  After speaking with the ranger about the trails, wildlife concerns and such, we watched the movie about Big Bend.  In that movie, they summarized Big Bend as desert, mountains, and river.  What a great way to organize our posts on this vast wilderness! 

Today we begin with the Chihuahuan Desert.  This expanse covers 140,000 square miles of western Texas, southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico and northern Mexico.

  

Being from the midwestern United States, I was amazed at how much plant life was growing out of what appeared to be hard packed gravel.  We really enjoyed walking through the arid landscape and identifying the different plant species.

In the southwestern portion of the park is the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.  We explored this road on Sunday, April 3. As the road meanders towards Santa Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande River, it passes a couple of ranches that were here before the park was established in 1944.

  

This is the Homer Wilson ranch.  Once the largest ranching operation in the region, all that remains are a few buildings and a corral.

Not too far down the road is the Sam Nail ranch.

  

Sam and his brother Jim worked this land with Sam’s wife Nena.  Not much is left here but a couple of windmills…one of which is still working and pumping water…and the remains of the house.

  

The ranch sits in a low spot in a valley, and the trees growing in the irrigated soil make a cool oasis.  The blooming honey mesquite bushes that surround the ranch were teeming with bees, and the buzzing from their wings filled the air.

 
After following the drive to the river, we came back the Old Maverick Road.  This was 17 miles of dusty, rutted gravel road, and the Escape took it on like a champ!

  

I was busy watching the road, but Diana spotted this jackrabbit resting in the shade.  She has the eyes of a hawk when it comes to spotting animals!  🙂

On Monday, we hiked to Cattail Falls with Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David.  A friend of Nancy’s from Austin, Margaret, was also here visiting Big Bend and joined us on the hike.

  

While the park service doesn’t advertise this hike on the map or trail guide (due to the fragile ecosystem at the end), the trail is well marked at the beginning.

  

The trail winds through desert landscape for over a mile through the foothills of the Chisos Mountains.  

  

Here I am at the end of the trail, scrambling up the rocks to see the payoff.

  

This is where the waterfall normally is.  Even though there was just a trickle of water coming off the mountain, the drainage was lush with vegetation.  The shade from the trees was welcome relief from the hot sun.

On Tuesday, we met up with Nancy and David for a hike up to Grapevine Hills and Balanced Rock.

  

This path leads out through the desert for two miles, and is a fairly easy hike until the end.

  

The last 1/4 mile is up this outcropping to Balanced Rock.

  

Nancy and David, surveying the surrounding landscape.

  

We even had a lizard join us for this climb!

  

And here is Balanced Rock!  Diana and Nancy are giving it a little help, just in case.  🙂

After we returned to the trailhead, we made the journey to Dagger Flats.  This is more of a drive than a hike, but it features a wide variety of desert flora. A $1 guidebook at the beginning of the trail identifies the plants on this drive.

  

Here is a nice example of a Strawberry Pitaya.  When blooming, this cactus features magenta blooms on the ends of the spines.

  

The yellow blooms on the Huisache were in full swing.

  

The Ocotillo were sporting their red blooms, but had yet to show their green leaves on their branches.

  

There were several Thomson’s Yucca along the drive.

  

This is the marker plant for the Chihuahuan desert, the Lechuguilla. This member of of the agave family can only be found here.

  

At the end of the drive is an impressive stand of Giant Dagger yuccas.  When blooming, these plants sport a showy cream plumage from the top.

  

Here is some of the wildlife the ranger had told us to be concerned about.  I think they referred to this species as the Maximus Davidus.  🙂

  

Not to worry, as Nancy found another type of Giant Dagger!

Every national park seems to have a town nearby that visitors flock to after a day of exploring.  Big Bend’s version of Bar Harbor and Gatlinburg is Terlingua Ghost Town.

  

While there are a few shops here, there’s  not the wall-to-wall crowds that are usually seen in national park border towns.

  

Terlingua has one of the most weathered cemeteries we had ever seen.  Most folks here died from disease, mercury mining accidents, or gunfights.

  

And the town is home to the Starlight Theatre.  This restaurant/bar is named after the incredible night sky that puts on a show most nights over the region.

  

We ate here three times over the course of the week.  With there being so few choices for places to eat out here, we were thankful that their food was good and atmosphere is fun.

That wraps up the desert portion of our Big Bend adventure.  Next up is the mountains!

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Big Bend N.P. – First Impressions

Last year, Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David invited us to come to Big Bend National Park in Texas to do some hiking with them.  We tentatively made plans to meet them in early April.  So since leaving Melbourne Beach on February 21, that has been our goal…and we made it!

  
 

Big Bend is named for the major change of course the Rio Grande River takes between Texas and Mexico.  It is extremely remote, and it boasts some of the darkest skies in the U.S.  Looking at an aerial view on Google Maps, the Chihuahuan Desert is apparent…

  

….but the wild and wonderful Chisos Mountains are not.  When we arrived and this landscape unfolded before us, we were awestruck!  As a bonus, the desert was starting to bloom!

  

The prickly pear were beginning to show off with their red and yellow flowers.

  

The Eagle Claw cactus with their magenta blooms. 

 

The Ocotillo with their red clusters popping out at the ends of their branches.  There is a large expanse of them as you enter the park from Study Butte.

Big Bend National Park is massive, covering 1251 square miles.  The Chisos Mountains, the remnants of an ancient volcano, are contained entirely within the park.  A good portion of the park’s hiking trails originate in the Chisos Basin, which is the caldera of that volcano.  The remaining trails are scattered throughout the surrounding desert and along the Rio Grande River.

There are several gravel roads that lead to the remote areas of the desert.

  

Before we left Michigan in December, we outfitted the Escape with a set of all terrain tires, in anticipation of the rugged roads we planned on encountering. Edsel still looks good in his red paint scheme.  With all the dust in Big Bend, that would most likely not last.  :). We didn’t plan on any high-clearance roads, but any that were labeled ‘4 wheel drive’ were deemed ok for us.

Up in the basin, there is a lodge, campground, restaurant, visitors center and store.  There is not a gas station there, but there is one not far away at Panther Junction.  The temperatures in the basin are cooler than on the desert floor, and are cooler still at the top of the mountains surrounding the basin.

  

When experiencing views like this, it is hard to believe we are in Texas!

With Big Bend being so…well…BIG, we will be writing several posts on our time here.  Stay tuned as we explore the vistas of this wonderful place!

  
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Thar’s a reason they call it Junction, pardner…

Junction, Texas is a charming community with a western vibe.  Located in the hill country a few hours northwest of San Antonio, the town sits just to the south of Interstate 10.  Founded in 1876, the town was named for being the place where the north and south branches of the Llano River meet.  It is the seat of Kimble County, but it has a laid back, cowboy feel to it that belies its official status. Not a lot of famous folks come from Junction, other than Coke Stevenson (35th Governor of Texas) and Les Cox, who went 0-1 in the two games he pitched in for the 1926 Chicago White Sox.

We not only found Junction to be a meeting place for two rivers, but also a meeting place for several members of our RV-Dreams family.  When I sent out a Facebook post showing that we were in Port Arthur, Tracy contacted me to arrange a meetup with her and her husband Lee. She is a fellow blogger and RV-Dreamer. We had been in contact through our blogs, the RV-Dreams forum, and on Facebook over the past year or so. We went to separate RV-Dreams rallies in 2014, so we had never met in person. We had reservations at Morgan Shady RV Park, and it worked out that Lee and Tracy were able to land there the night before us. 

  
What a great meeting it was!  We immediately hit it off, sharing stories of how we got to where we are now.  Tracy made a yummy spaghetti dinner and salad for us, which was a thoughtful touch after a day on the road.  🙂

  
The two of them telling the story of how they became fulltime RVers was entertaining and had us cracking up!  🙂

Tracy’s Camper Chronicles blog is an honest view into the emotional aspects of these two empty nester’s lives as they take to the road.  Anyone who has done what we are doing will tell you straight up that while it may seem that we are on a constant vacation, the minutiae of life still happens.  People still get sick and have to find health care, have to get their hair cut, pay bills, grocery shop….each time having to find a new place to do those things.  Tracy really does a marvelous job of showing all sides of the journey…from the joys of new discoveries to the pain of major vehicle issues.  Definitely worth the effort to peruse her work, if you haven’t already.

After Lee and Tracy left on Wednesday morning, we met up with fellow Fall 2014 RV-Dreamers, Keith and Jeanne.  They were headed west to Fort Stockton and stopped for lunch.

  
This charming couple was camped next to us for a week during the rally, and we had been hoping to be able to meet them again on the road.  Lo and behold, that took place at the Junction Sonic.  🙂   Jeanne had noticed that we were in Texas through the blog and reached out to us by email.

  
We sat out front at Sonic so their dog Umber could be with us.  We had to get our doggie fix.  🙂   We talked for over two hours!  It was great to see them and to know they are both doing well.

  
After lunch, we returned to Morgan Shady and walked the park.

  
It’s a quaint little campground, and the ‘shady’ comes from the many pecan trees that grace the property.

It was at that point that we received a message from another RV-Dreamer couple, Pam and Red.  Like Lee and Tracy, they attended the Spring 2014 rally.  They are near Junction, working on a relative’s house.  We’ve never met, so we decided to clear that little detail up!  We couldn’t make it happen this stay, but we will be returning to Junction soon and are going to get to know them at that time.  We never knew when we attended that rally in Goshen, Indiana that we would develop so many friendships on the road….or that so many of them would be nurtured in Junction, Texas!
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San Antonio Missions

“We’re on a mission from God”

Elwood Blues

With the arrival of Easter weekend, we were on a mission to see a mission…FIVE of them, to be exact!  We made our way to San Antonio on Saturday and met up with Bob and Kathrun, fellow RV-Dreamers who we got to know at the Fall 2014 Rally. Like us, they sold their home, disposed of most of their possessions, bought an RV, and hit the road. (There is much more to their story, but it is their song to sing.  Once Kathrun’s blog is up, we will provide a link.) After we settled into our site, we headed into town to see the Alamo.

This was Diana’s and my first trip here  together since 1982…not long after we were married.  We were living on a shoestring in Austin at the time and had come here with our college friend Betsy who was visiting us from Michigan.  We shared the following story of that trip with Bob and Kat:  Wanting to spend the night in town, Betsy, Diana and I inquired on a whim at the Hyatt Regency to see if they had any rooms available.  They had one with two queen beds…at $45 a night.  Even in 1982, that was cheap… especially for a Hyatt on the Riverwalk in San Antonio.  We asked what was wrong with it, and the clerk said “oh, it probably doesn’t have a view”.  We got to the room and I ducked into the bathroom.  I could hear Diana and Betsy talking as they looked out the window, delighted that we actually did have a view.  I heard one of them say “oh look….there’s a Spanish mission!”  When I joined them at the window, a mere one block away was an unobstructed frontal view of the Alamo.  🙂

On this visit, we weren’t the only ones with Easter plans.  🙂   While very crowded, the line to get in moved quickly.

For anyone who has yet to visit this historic place, the Alamo is no longer the Texas outpost it once was.  The city of San Antonio has surrounded it like so many of Santa Anna’s men.

Kathrun stepped across William Travis’ line in the sand (now bronze in stone).  Be careful, Kat …that didn’t end well for the first people who did that!  🙂

From the Alamo, we found our way to the Paseo del Rio…otherwise known as the San Antonio Riverwalk. This is a series of walkways through the city that line both sides of the river. Originally a Works Project Administration project from the 1930’s, the Riverwalk has sprouted a multitude of unique eateries and shops, and has become Texas’ # 1 tourist attraction.

Here is the four of us at dinner at a riverside Mexican cafe.

The river boats were full, and everyone was having a great time.

The Arneson Theater along the riverwalk.  The venue is unique in that the seats are across the river from the stage. This site is used for all sorts of plays, Mexican dances and mariachi bands. The five bells in the arches are meant to represent the five missions of San Antonio.

On Easter Sunday, we decided to search out the other four missions, all part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  While the Alamo is maintained as a memorial to those that lost their life in the battle, the other four missions are active parishes of the Roman Catholic Church.

To touch on the overall history of the San Antonio missions, these enclaves were established by Franciscan missionaries to convert the local people to Catholicism and the Spanish way of life.  They became safe havens from Apache attacks, so many people accepted the trade-off out of sheer need for survival.  Bob stated that the missions were generally located a day’s travel from each other.  My, how times have changed.  🙂

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First up was Mission Concepcion. This stone church was dedicated in 1755.

Many of the original paintings still exist on the interior walls of the peripheral rooms of the enclave.

We saw this stone in the walkway near the grotto, most likely put there to remind us what state we were in.  We definitely aren’t in Florida anymore. 🙂

Next was Mission San Jose. The grounds of this compound were absolutely beautiful. This church was dedicated in 1782.

The surrounding walls of the mission were restored by the WPA in the 1930’s, creating this expansive courtyard.

The interior of the church was well restored; something we wouldn’t have guessed by the rugged exterior.

Our next visit was to Mission San Juan.

The buildings at this location are replicas, being built by the WPA in the 1930’s.  The doors of this church were locked, so we do not have photos of the interior. We took a walk on a nice trail to the San Antonio River behind the mission.

Our last stop was Mission Espada.

This church dates back to 1756, but the mission itself was established in 1690…thereby making it the oldest of the five.

The interior was simple and had plenty of natural light.  It was a very pretty and intimate space.

If you have the opportunity to journey to San Antonio, be sure to build in enough time to visit all five of the missions.  There even is a paved bike trail that links them together.  We feel it is worth the effort to seek out these beautiful places, and the history that speaks from within their walls.

 

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