01-11-2015 Other Doings in the Coachella Valley

Current Location: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, near Yuma, Arizona

While swimming, soaking, and hiking in the warm winter temperatures of the Coachella Valley are high on our list of favorite pastimes here, we do manage to do a few other things as well.  For complex reasons, we decided to travel north and east through Yucca Valley to 29 Palms to check out the Marine base.  murals at 29 Palms (7 of 48)

It was a billboard advertisement that called our attention to the murals in the small desert town.  Murals are always fun to find, but in this case many of them were on north facing walls, making photography a bit challenging.  I suppose this might be to reduce fading on the paintings.  A few of the murals were done fairly recently, and one especially was interesting because the signatures indicated that it was completed in just a weekend in May in 2013.  Quite the project.murals at 29 Palms (28 of 48)murals at 29 Palms (25 of 48)

murals at 29 Palms (9 of 48)murals at 29 Palms (13 of 48)The mural on the Little Church in the Desert had colors that rivaled any I have seen.  It was quite dramatic.

murals at 29 Palms (23 of 48)This was my favorite, however, what a great sense of humor!

murals at 29 Palms (36 of 48)As we headed back west through town, this amazing fence caught our eye.  It was in a parking lot of a now closed Farmers Insurance building, and the building was just as creative, with walls and windows of rusted mine metal and old brick, even though the building was fairly new.

murals at 29 Palms (30 of 48)Although I don’t care to travel the distances that Paulette travels hunting for quilt shops in Southern California, there are two pretty nice shops in the valley.  On Saturday, with gloomy skies and needing a day of down time, we drove south toward Palm Desert and found both shops in the vicinity of I-10. 

Rick and Paulett_233As is usually the case with quilt shops, these two have entirely different styles and offerings.  In previous years I have found great patterns and fabric and made quilts when I got home from the goodies found here.Rick and Paulett_234

This time was no exception, as I added considerably to my stash, and bought enough fabulous batiks to make a quilt similar to a sample I saw in the shop that melted my heart.  Can hardly wait to get home to get started on it.  The colors are so gorgeous.

Rick and Paulett_221Sunday after our swim and leisurely breakfast, I drove the short distance to The Sands for a visit with Rick and Paulette. So nice of them to invite me for coffee and “dippers”, a Trader Joe delight that Rylie thought she should share as well.  Rylie was adorable, as usual, full of energy and such a sweet face. Rick and I have talked often about computer stuff, and I follow Paulette’s quilting blog, so we do have some things in common beside simply traveling in an RV.Rick and Paulett_222

Our days usually included a walk through the park, checking out the rigs and the people.  It was especially interesting to notice how many sites were empty this year.  Surprising considering the cost of fuel seems to have many more people on the road.  Even though we stay here most every year, we have never gone to any of the sales pitches, or actually figured out the ownership style of the park.  Who knows.  We aren’t buying anyway.

murals at 29 Palms (40 of 48)Some people seem to have bought more than one lot, and just down the road from us in the lower park, an owner was installing landscaping, and gravel on one lot next door to his motorhome space.  It looked quite nice.  I was curious how long these owners are allowed to stay in the park, or if they have to leave as some of the other kinds of park memberships require.  However, I didn’t care to find out enough to sit through a sales pitch!

murals at 29 Palms (42 of 48)On another note, I learned again to make the trip to the upper park laundry rather than using the one in the lower campground near our site.  Once again, as in years past, I lost money in the machines with no way of getting a refund. The office was closed on Sunday, the machines are owned by someone offsite (according to the lone person around in the guard shack).  The only way to get back my 1.25 in quarters was to fill out some extensive paperwork and after the problem was resolved, they would mail the money to me.  Right…I never did ask if I had to pay for the stamp for that service which would have cut my return in half.

Traveling South_035The other minor thing to keep in mind at Catalina is the soft sand and uneven sites.  We put pads under the front levelers, but had nothing under the back ones.  When we lifted the levelers, the back one had sunk at least four inches into the sand.  Be sure to have supports for your levelers and plan on complicated leveling.  We have semi-automatic levelers, so can only manage two at a time, and it gets a bit crazy sometimes in these uneven sites.

Don’t want to end thoughts of our stay at Catalina Spa with negative stuff, however.  I still give this park a 9 out of 10 for one of our favorite parks to spend time in the winter.  The pools are the best part, and I will continue to come south for my allotted seven days as long as this park honors our Passport America.  I would NOT pay the regular price of $65 per night no matter how good the pools were!Traveling South_030

We left yesterday morning, traveling east on Dillon Road toward Quartzite and then south toward Yuma. 

Next: Visiting Judy and the birds at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge

 

01-09-2015 Thousand Palms Hike

Current Location: Catalina Spa and RV Resort, Desert Hot Springs

Midnight: I have been lying around listening to the clock hands turn.  Not very entertaining to say the least.  The silence was broken by the pit pat of raindrops on the roof of the rig, so I jumped up to bring in the towels and swim suits draped around the chairs and tables on our patio.  I think the 3 percent chance of rain might not do much damage to our drying swimwear before morning, but why take the chance.Thousand Palms_177

We began our day as usual, with swimming and soaking, breakfast with the news, fresh orange juice.  Although the weather predictions were for cooler temperatures and cloudy skies, by the time we got in the car around mid day to go hunting for our hike, it was sunny and again quite comfortable in the high 60’s.

Our plan was to drive south into Palm Springs and explore the Palm Canyons that are behind a toll gate on lands owned by the Cahuilla people.  It was worth paying the price, I though, to see these beautiful canyons and to try out a few of the hikes that are well reviewed by folks who have visited.

Thousand Palms_210As we emerged from the driveway, toward the north and east the skies were blue and clear, but toward the south, murky smog was obscuring the San Jacinto’s.  It only took us a moment to make the decision to drive north and east rather than into the brownish bands of gooky air that seemed to be coming filling the entire western part of the Coachella Valley, slipping in like a dirty fog through the canyons into Palm Springs.  I guess that is the price we pay for calm air and no winds.  Smog.

21A short distance east on Dillon Road, the major east west road bisecting the lower end of Desert Hot Springs, is the huge Caliente Springs Resort.  I know folks who love to stay here so we thought we would once again check out the digs and see what we thought.  It certainly is big, and the large three sectioned pool is quite lovely, and under a shady structure to keep it from the glaring heat. 

26There is lovely landscaping and several ponds, a golf course, a huge recreation room with posted entertainment venues and several pages of craft classes and activities. It is beautifully landscaped and seemed quite upscale, at least on the surface.

22Quite the spot.  Most of the sites are very nice versions of park model homes, both for sale and for rent, with a very few RV sections mixed in.  Problem for us, however, is that the RV sections are a long way from the pool, a long way from anything.  I guess that is why most everyone seemed to have a golf cart.  It is a very nice place, but not our kind of place. 

I checked out the four hot tubs and the hottest one smelled strongly of chlorine, and the rest of them were about the temperature of our swimming pool.  Chemicals and chilly.  Not my kind of hot mineral pools.  The biggest drawback, even more than the distance, was the posted hours of open pools from 8am to 10 pm.  Nope, no way.  It really made us appreciate our little park with trees and shrubs between our sites, and our beautiful very warm pools that smell of nothing but pure clean hot spring water.

Whipping back out on Dillon Road, we continued east toward Thousand Palms Highway…actually spelled 1000 Palms on the street sign to keep it short enough to fit I guess.  The Thousand Palms Oasis is in the middle of the Coachella Valley Preserve, operated by the Center for Natural Lands Management in Thousand Palms.

Thousand Palms_166I knew of the hiking trails in the preserve, having hiked the Pushawalla Loop on the eastern side of the preserve a few years ago with Laurie and Odel.  Once again, at the time, our hiking was limited because of Abby, and Mo stayed home while Laurie, and Odel, and I spent a lovely sunny Christmas Eve hiking the trails.

thousand palms hikeToday’s hike.  The blue line is our route, and the red line is the San Andreas fault.

Today the parking lot was almost full when we arrived, it is amazing how many people are out hiking on a weekday.  With the sun shining so brightly, it was magical to slip into the thick darkness of the ancient palms.  Some are as much as 150 years old.  This palm is the only native palm in California. 

Thousand Palms_169We stopped in at the small visitor center to enjoy the displays, including some very detailed information about the San Andreas Fault which runs right through the preserve, and bisects the area in front of the center.  The water that is visible at the surface here, comes from the aquifer beneath that emerges due to cracking and fissuring in the fault.  Thousand Palms Oasis is one of the largest groves of desert fan palms (Washingtonia filifera) in California.Thousand Palms_200

Thousand Palms_176The trail we chose was a short 2 mile round trip toward McCallum Pond, also formed by a natural earthquake seep.  The trail meanders through the riparian forest, up to the desert wash, where plants that can survive with less water than the fan palms but which need more water than is available in the open desert thrive.

Thousand Palms_191Thousand Palms_208Once we reached McCallum Pond, we decided to take the Moon Country Loop for the return trip, adding another mile or so to our walk.  I was glad I had the GPS with me, however, because we managed to get on a longer section of Moon Country than we planned.  The afternoon was progressing and we were still walking north on a very lunar landscape.  I finally tried to double check our location to discover that we had a long way to go before the turnaround.  Enuf!

Thousand Palms_215We decided to backtrack, and then cross the wash off trail to reach the other returning leg of the Moon Country Trail, a great decision.  The hike was only a bit longer than yesterday, but because of the deep sandy washes where the trail goes, we were much more tired when we finished.  Much of it was like walking on a beach.  Best part of the Moon Country section of the trail, however, was the lack of people.  Most folks seem content to stay on the lower trails near the oases, and we only saw a single man hiking out in the direction we had traveled into Moon Country.

Thousand Palms_218By the time we ended our hike, the murky smog was thinning and was replaced by dark clouds to the west.  We hadn’t bothered with lunch, and had a couple of diet pepsi’s and some fritos in the car. Perfect food after not eating all day!  I know better than to drink pepsi any time after 2pm, which is why I am still sitting here wide awake writing a blog!  Next time I’ll be sure to have a snack bar and an orange and more water in the car.

Thousand Palms_212

January 2 to January 7 Traveling South

Current Location: Desert Hot Springs, CA at 55 degrees F at 5 in the morning

We left the day after New Years.  I think we were both ready to leave earlier, but we did have a plan, and I wanted to watch the Rose Parade and Mo wanted to see the Rose Bowl Game so we decided to wait.  The weather at home was icy, with just a skiff of snow left over from Christmas.  There was nothing to plow or shovel, and the only real chores to be done were keeping the fire going.  Christmas Day 2014  (1 of 58)

Neither of us are likely to get bored, there is always something to do, but I did notice a bit of restive boredom building, as we made our plans to head south.  Call it hitch-itch or whatever…it has been a month since we had the MoHo on the road and we were both ready to go.  Christmas Day 2014  (16 of 58)

Christmas with family and friends at home

As we watched the parade, we again talked of taking an RV trip, one of those group things, where you get grandstand seats, a nice place to park, and visits to the float barns before the parade.  Might be the only way I’ll ever see the Rose Parade again, since neither of us really wants to mess with that whole traffic parking finding a place to stand thing.  When I was a kid, we would camp overnight on Orange Grove Boulevard sometimes to get good viewing spots. Maybe next year.

This year we watched from the cozy comfort of our home living room, where I spent most of the day taking down more of the Christmas decorations and packing travel food.  Now that the MoHo is stored in Grants Pass, we have to fit everything we take on our trips into the baby car for the trip over the mountain.  We laughed this time, wondering where Abby and Jeremy would have fit in the heavily laden car.

hooking up on a cold foggy morning at the cottageA night with Deborah at the cottage and when morning dawned foggy and icy as usual for Grants Pass this time of year we were off, heading south on the 5 for what has become an annual migration to Desert Hot Springs.  Sometimes we simply pass through on a trek more distant, sometimes like this time, we will stay in the southern deserts, but no matter how we do it, a stay at Catalina Spa and RV Resort always seems to be part of the plan.

map of the route to DHSWe have no fancy memberships, other than Passport America.  With our love of state parks, national parks, national forest and BLM camping and boondocking, it just isn’t worth the extra money.  However the PPA card gets us some nice half price benefits for our days on the road. Unlike last year, when Catalina was changing its management policies and we were only allowed two discounted nights, this year the policy has returned to allowing a week at half price, for us $32.50 a night is what we expect to pay at full price and we don’t pay that often! Still, the thought of those hot spring pools always draws me back. love the auto downshift in the MoHo

Siskiyou Summit, highest point on I-5 between Mexico and Canada.

If we were going to stay a month, I would imagine we would try out Sam’s Spa nearby, a place Nina and Paul enjoy.  Of course, The Sands is big and lovely with a golf course and comes highly recommended by Rick and Paulette who spend extended time there every winter.  For us, Catalina is perfect, with the lower camping area a bit older, sites not perfectly level made lumpy with sand, and older trees around, eucalyptus, tamarisk, and some kind of desert pine. It isn’t especially fancy, but it also isn’t crowded, with the trees and oleander hedges making the sites in the lower area feel much more private than those in the newer upper part of the park.  Without the need for 50 amp hookups, we have the option to stay here.Even Mt Shasta is shrouded by the murky air

Mt Shasta above the inversion caused murky air of the Scott Valley

We have traveled south many times, but often from our home in Rocky Point, going over highway 97 toward Weed, or from Brookings a few times where we stored the MoHo until we got the Grants Pass cottage.  We haven’t traveled south on the 5 from Grants Pass directly very often, and it is always a surprise to remember just how long a pull it is to cross the pass over the Siskiyou’s south of Ashland at the Oregon/California border.  On this crossing, it was icy at 31 degrees F, but Mo did just fine, and I never felt any slipping around at all. 

As we dropped down into the valley near Yreka, the air quality began to deteriorate, due to the strong cold air inversions plaguing most of the Oregon and California valleys.  The skies were dingy all the way south throughout the great state of California. 

Traveling South_004For people who like to travel around as much as we do, and who enjoy new experiences, it is surprising to me how comfortable we are with doing the same route and staying in the same places on this southward journey.  We took a bit of time to stop in Red Bluff to visit my ex mom in law, a dear woman celebrating her 91st birthday this month.Traveling South_005

The entire route is less than 900 miles, but we give ourselves time, spending two nights along the way.  My trucker kids would do that trip in one day! The Flag City RV Park along the freeway in Lodi is our preferred first night stop.  Half price here with the PPA card is $27 per night, and with cement level pull through sites, full hookups, free wifi and cable TV we like the stop.  Easy and fast and we never bother with making a reservation.  The nearby Flying J station has the lowest gas price around according to our GasBuddy app, so it is easy to fill up for the next day.  This time we also filled up propane, and while it was a buck more per gallon than it would have been in Grants Pass, it was a quick and easy fill right in the driveway of the park.

Morning dawned sweetly with temps in the 50’s, but the air was still murky with the inversion.  Interstate 5 south has been worked on repeatedly, and while last year I remember the road being fairly smooth, this year it seemed to have deteriorated more.  Of course, Stockton is always bad, with construction going on constantly for all the years I have traveled through that area.  With the MoHo jumping and bumping, I looked up the worst cities to live in the US and yes, Stockton is high on the list.  Sad.

The traffic on I-5 all the way to the Highway 58 turnoff toward Bakersfield was steady and thick.  I guess a lot of people were traveling back to Los Angeles after the holidays.  Truck traffic wasn’t as heavy as usual, but the line of cars ahead of us and behind us was solid, and if Mo got behind a truck it often took a bit of effort to get back into the fast moving traffic to pass. I’m glad it was her day to drive!  I took photos of the passing landscape, so beautiful in its own way, but missed having Jeremy on the dash.  So many photos of him sleeping away in the sunshine as we traveled south on this highway.

Traveling South_015We gassed up at the Bakersfield Costco at 2.25 per gallon, amazing for California, and continued east toward Orange Grove RV Park.  I learned last year when we ended up in overflow, that reservations were a smart idea.  Today proved to be so, and as we checked in with our reservation, rig after rig pulled into the big long driveways they have for that purpose.  Taking advantage of the free RV wash area, we got most of the road grime off both vehicles before settling into our full hookup site. 

Traveling South_012As many southward bound RV’rs know, this campground in an old orange grove comes with free picking privileges.  I know you can buy bags of oranges along the road for 5 bucks or so, but they never seem quite as sweet.  Probably brought up green from Mexico or something.  Nothing quite as sweet as ripe oranges directly from the tree.  Hopefully my orange stash will last long enough.  I always feel sad at the moment I slice and squeeze the last orange from Orange Grove RV.

Our favorite route into the Springs is not the one recommended by Google maps, but we ignore their suggestions and travel west into Barstow and take 247 south through the Lucerne Valley, Johnson Valley, and into Yucca Valley, where we then travel down 62 into the Coachella Valley.  I am always amazed at the rugged landscape, the range after range of faulted and folded mountains formed in marine sediments that have smashed into the continent from far lands.  I do have a love hate relationship with my birth state of California and I am always reminded of that when we come south. 

The smell of the southern deserts, the sharp line of the mountains unimpeded by vegetation against the sunset, the twinkling lights of desert cities, all remind me of childhood years long gone.  I am glad they are gone, but also glad that I have the chance to come back and enjoy the best parts of what I remember about living in Southern California.

Traveling South_028Driving south on Corkhill Road toward the resort is almost like coming home.  The familiarity feels nice.  Back again to that dichotomy between something new and something familiar, I guess there are good parts to each.  Within minutes we found a nice spot on 11th street, backed up by nothing but the dog park area, and with no one beside us on the south for two spaces, it feels fairly private.Traveling South_018

I am just a small street and a few steps east of my favorite pool in the world, at least the warmest.  My favorite might still be the infinity pool at the Dusit Resort in Chiang Rai Thailand.  But it is a lot easier and cheaper to get to this one!Traveling South_025

Within minutes of arriving, I checked Facebook and found a note from Betty, another RV blogger, all concerned that no one by the name of Sue Malone had checked in. Nope, it was Mo who checked in, and not with her nickname!  I asked for an hour or so for us to get out the chairs, and sure enough Betty bopped right into our site right on cue.  Bopped is a good description for Betty.  She is a sweet, delightful, happy woman who chatters along so comfortably that it is easy to enjoy her company.  We visited a bit, took some photos, heard some great stories, and then Betty bopped back to her place to prepare for their early morning departure for Arizona.  Nice to meetcha, Betty!

Traveling South_021Traveling South_020We have a week here at the resort, before our travels will take us south toward Yuma.  In the mean time, we hope to catch some of the hiking trails that we haven’t done in the past.  Many trails around this area are not dog friendly.  We miss Abby so much, but are not ready to get another dog, so this is the year to hike all the dog unfriendly trails that we can find.  The weather is with us, the skies are clear and the temperatures are perfect, without the famous Desert Hot Springs winds anywhere in the predictions.  It will be a good week.Traveling South_031

Meandering Quickly to Puget Sound

Current Location: Whidbey Island NAS Cliffside RV Park 55 degrees F and raining

to Fort Lewis (10 of 27)The MoHo parked alone in the center of Shady Firs RV Park Randle WA

We had a good reason for taking a short trip to Seattle.  Thinking that a single day in the busy part of Puget Sound would be plenty to do our business, it seemed that we should make the trip count with an additional few days in the San Juan Islands.  I am fully aware that a short week isn’t nearly enough to really experience this magical place, but it is better than nothing.  We figured it would give us a chance to dip our paddles and check out the area for possible future trips.

map to fort lewisThen the business part of the Seattle day shifted and we actually didn’t really need to go to Seattle at all.  By then, however, reservations were made, and a day in Seattle is always fun, right?  Hmmmm.

When I say meandering quickly, I know that is an oxymoron.  The meander part has to do with the route we chose, avoiding any freeways and enjoying some side roads we haven’t traveled previously. The quickly part has to do with traveling almost 400 miles on our first day.

Mo asked once as the day lengthened why we had planned it this way.  I actually had forgotten, but then remembered, oh yes, it had to do with getting to Seattle for the business meeting and then still having time to play. 

The meandering route took us north on 97, incredibly familiar, but north of Madras we turned west to follow Highway 197 through Maupin toward The Dalles.  In all our years of traveling around Oregon, neither of us could remember taking this route.  Even with smoky skies the views of the canyon of the Deschutes River with Mt Hood in the distance were breathtaking.  Maupin (pronounced MOPin) seemed to be a cute little place, but we didn’t stop.  Remember, we were meandering quickly. So quickly that I didn’t even manage any photos through the windshield. 

At The Dalles, intersecting with Interstate 84, we decided to cross the river to the Washington side to Highway 14.  As we approached Hood River on the other side of the Columbia, the winds picked up as usual and the famous wind surfers looked like so many wild dragonflies darting across the choppy water.  Always fun to watch, I can’t really imagine how they stay upright at.  As we watched, several didn’t stay upright in the strong winds.

to Fort Lewis (21 of 27)Crossing at The Dalles turned out to be a great choice, because the bridge north across the river from Hood River is a toll bridge.  Nice.  We have traveled I-84 many times so it was a completely different view of the Columbia Gorge than we were used to seeing.  At the tiny town of Carson we turned north toward Mt St Helens and the rest of the trip to our camp spot in Randle was narrow and winding. 

After spending a large part of late summer in drought and smoke from forest fires, it was a treat to drive through rain and moist forests.  The views were less than spectacular, however, because this part of the Cascades is thick with trees, lots of them, and most of the views are completely obscured by timber.

to Fort Lewis (15 of 27)Along the southern part of the route especially, we were treated to the mosaic of timber grown and harvested as a crop.  It isn’t a forest, not really, it is a timber farm, and I love that these timber farms exist.  The private companies manage them much better than they did during the rape and run heydays of the 60’s, and as far as I am concerned it is wonderful to have highly managed productive timber lands that don’t tap into our wild old growth forests.  We drove through huge even aged stands of Douglas-fir, and many patches of clear cuts that had regenerated naturally into thick young stands.

to Fort Lewis (3 of 27)As we approached the St Helens Monument on the east side, we found a small roadside rest but only a couple of places where the Mountain was actually visible.  We visited the mountain back in 2004 while it was in an eruptive stage.  From the viewpoint I compared some of our previous photos and was amazed at how much the forest has regenerated on the blast devastated slopes in the last ten years.to Fort Lewis (5 of 27)

We arrived at the Shady Firs RV Park in Randle just after five.  A 400 mile day is an accomplishment on freeways but even more so on the winding side roads.  Daughter Deanna passed on a Rand McNally trucker’s GPS to us (she has three types and didn’t need this one) and I spent the day trying to figure it out and by the time we stopped I was worn out and hadn’t driven a mile! 

to Fort Lewis (13 of 27)I learned to pay attention to Deanna’s advice:  use the GPS, the Atlas, Google Maps, and some common sense.  I discovered that the Rand McNally worked great if I knew exactly where I wanted to go and how to get there and programmed it accordingly.  I did have to change the settings from “truck” to “car” because it kept trying to route me around things and send me a few hundred miles out of the way.  So glad I am not a truck and our full 46 feet of rig and towed length isn’t hard to manage.

Shady Firs was exactly what it claimed to be; a quiet park under shady firs with hookups for fifteen bucks cash Passport America.  I didn’t care at all about the rest rooms or the amenities because we only planned to stop for a night.  The sites are on grass, the hookups were fine and the dump was free.  There were just two sites with sewer, right next to the older trailer that housed a young caretaker.  We opted instead for a site out in the middle of the park, without a single camper joining us that night.

to Fort Lewis (11 of 27)It rained all night, a steady patter on the roof that was soft and soothing.  The morning dawned with beautiful sunshine streaming through the clouds but within a short time the rain took over once again.

Our second destination was a mere 77 miles away.  Mo asked again why it worked out this way and I could only reply that it had to do with finding a Passport America park on our route?  Who knows.  By noon we were settled into our new site.to Fort Lewis (41 of 97)

Next up:  Fort Lewis Military Family Camp and the joys of driving Puget Sound

 

1-10-2014 Big Bend part 1

Current location: Corpus Christi NAS with 53 degrees F and 18 mph winds at 4am

back to camp after a long day in Big BendI am sitting here this morning, listening to the winds buffeting the MoHo.  At 3, we were wakened by the gas alarm going off indicating our power was down.  I stepped outside to check, and everything seemed fine, with dim park lights here and there.  I discovered that the wind had blown the power cord right out of the receptacle.  Fixed it with a bungie and came back to bed after turning the power back to “store”. 

Of course, the moon is almost full and reflecting off the water of Corpus Christi Bay, a rather amazing sight.  There are also 8 to 10 foot fountains of sea spray that are illuminated by the moonlight.  I felt the spray blowing this way when I went outside. We were warned about the sea spray and winds when we took this site on the edge of the park near the water.  It is worth it for the view and the open spaciousness of the site.

map to big bend 197 milesMo and I looked at each other in amazement as we ate our supper last night.  It is rather incredible to go from the wild hot dry angular desert to the flat water filled landscape around us here west of Corpus Christi.  Just one day of driving, and here we are. 

But that isn’t supposed to be the subject of this post.  I need to write about Big Bend, and let myself slip back from this moonlit sea spray filled morning to the warmth of the desert we left behind.  I couldn’t sleep after the wind woke me up, and it was as much from the weight of the Big Bend writing waiting in my head as it was from the sound of the wind. So let’s slip back a bit to a few days ago when we first entered the amazing world of the Big Bend of the Rio Grande.

The sun was brilliant and the temperatures perfect when we left Davis Mountains State Park.  In the cool of the morning, I wanted to get a few more photos of “downtown” Fort Davis, and in the process ran into a delightful gentleman, Jim, who was working for the county at the lovely courthouse, pruning some trees.  We engaged in some conversation, and he told me more about the horrible fire that blew through here in 2011.  He also told me that I shouldn’t go to Big Bend through Alpine as we had planned, but should go south on highway 67 to Presidio and travel the River Road east through Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Highway 170 the River RoadMBZ had warned us that Presidio was a bit dicey, and I asked Jim about this, and he said, just don’t go into Mexico and don’t stop anywhere.  Ok then.  Trouble is, once we got to Presidio, the phone thought I was in Mexico and decided to stop sending me data for the maps.  I had a paper map, but it was a bit worthless for actually seeing the proper turns, and suddenly the big entry into Mexico loomed up ahead, and I hollered, “Turn around NOW!” For some reason, I had completely forgotten the Garmin tucked under the seat.  Duh.  When the phones don’t work and the paper maps are too small in scale, the Garmin is quite helpful.  Trucker Deanna always says, “Mom, we use all three all the time, phones, paper maps and GPS”. Of course. We managed to avoid getting in the entry line and turned around to find our proper turn east on Texas Farm Road 170.

Highway 170 the River RoadFarm Road 170 meanders along the Rio Grande through another wild and untamed gem of this part of Texas, Big Bend Ranch State Park.  We had no time to hang around here, but definitely enjoyed the dramatic views along the route, especially the deep canyons of the Rio Grande near the one rather serious “Big Hill”.  The hill isn’t marked except for a sign about 15 miles west of it that says, “warning 15 percent grade 15 miles ahead”.

ready for the 15 percent downhill on Highway 170 the River RoadFollowing the river for miles and miles, it is easy to see that the international boundary is often just a mental concept.  Here there are no fences and we didn’t see much evidence of Border Patrol in this area.  The road winds and meanders, but wasn’t difficult for our rig, although the big hill was just a little bit hair raising, and thankfully quite short.  The rock formations at the Hoodoos were beautiful, and the geology was fascinating.

We drove east into the town of Terlingua, later wishing that we had taken more time to explore it a bit, but we were intent on getting to our campsite on the far side of the park. We missed a four star attraction listed in our guidebook, the historic Starlight Theater at Terlingua, restored as a restaurant.  We won’t make the same mistake again. MBZ had warned us about this, suggesting that we spend time on BOTH sides of the park, and next time we will definitely do that.  And yes, there WILL be a next time.

the Chisos MountainsOnce we entered the park, the beautiful range of the Chisos Mountains dominated the landscape, but the route is mainly through the desert.  Unlike the Sonoran deserts around Arizona, the Chihuahuan desert seems to have a lot more vegetation, with thick grasses between the prickly pear and creosote.  The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in the Americas, extending almost to Mexico City.  Creosote and agave are the main indicator plants and there are several species of prickly pear and yucca.  I saw not a sign of a saguaro, so common in the Sonoran Desert around Tucson.  Most of the moisture comes as summer rains, with a bit more precipitation than in the Sonoran as well.Chihuahuan-Desert-map

Panther Junction (at the intersection of the main park road 118 and road 395 east to Marathon) is about 20 miles west of Rio Grande Village, and is the location of an excellent visitor center.  As always, we stopped at the visitor center for maps, orientation, and information about the park.  There are some excellent displays, a good selection of natural history books and park guides to help us begin to understand this beautiful, remote area.  My favorite, the 3D landscape map, was big and very helpful with orientation.  I find that these maps are a bit less needed in the days of google earth, however, since I now can cruise an area in 3D on the internet and the imagery is a bit more detailed.  Still, I love that the parks have these big map models.

Rio Grande Village RV Park with full hookupsWe arrived at our campground early enough in the afternoon that we had time to do a bit of exploring around this far eastern edge of the park.  As we knew, there are no dogs allowed anywhere except on pavement or dirt roads that can accommodate a car.  Still, it was hard to realize that we couldn’t leave Abby behind in the rig, or leave her in the car while we hiked.  Just wouldn’t do.  Instead, we planned our explorations around unpaved road trips and a few short hikes.

There are two campgrounds at Rio Grand Village, with the national park campground with campsites without hookups, potable water at the entrance and a dump station.  There is a large no generator zone, and a nice area with sites big enough for large rigs and where generators are allowed at certain hours. 

Rio Grande Village in Big Bend NPBecause we had no idea of the weather conditions for this trip, we opted instead for the Rio Grande Village RV park, basically a pavement parking lot with full hookups and WiFi from the small store and laundry.  Gasoline and diesel are also available, and we were surprised at the reasonable cost for regular at only 3.65 per gallon. We have been in national parks where the prices are two bucks or more higher than the going local rate, so this was nice. We had no need to fill the rig since we had fueled up enough to take us through the park and back out, but we definitely needed gas for the baby car to fuel our off highway adventures.

Our first little trip took us just a few miles from the campground to Boquillas Canyon where there was a rest room at the parking lot and a sign marking the trailhead.  It is just a little over a mile to the canyon, but the trail is “easy” if you ignore the rather steep and rocky ups and downs on the first part of the trail.  I was glad for boots instead of Oofos, and those Keen Targha waterproof hiking shoes are a godsend. Boquillas Canyon trail

Mo generously  decided to wait in the parking lot with Abby while I did the hike, a decision she made a few more times while we were in Big Bend.  Next time we come to this place, if our animals are still with us, we will board them in Alpine, the closest center where there is a pet boarding facility.

leave your dollars and support the schools of Boquillas?

The Boquillas Crossing used to be a port of entry from Mexico, but after 9/11 the DHS closed it, along with all other small ports of entry in the park.  You can see the little town across the river, and at the river overlook we found displays of beaded trinkets with cans requesting $6. per item for little scorpions and for painted walking sticks.  Wherever we found the signs, the request was for money to support Boquillas schools.  We chose not to buy, and yet I did think about it, even though the park insists this is completely illegal and they will arrest you if you buy and confiscate your contraband. 

Below us, across the river, there were boats tied up and some horses resting under the trees, and someone called up to me as we stood there but I couldn’t understand him.  His voice sounded friendly, though, and I am sure he was entreating me to buy something.waiting for cover of night to come and get their money?:

As I hiked up the trail, I found a few more of these little stashes, and at the entrance to the canyon, I saw a canoe hidden in the rocks on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande.  Higher on the trail, looking down below to the river, I saw a man on a horse, and the trail, steep and rocky as it was, actually had horse prints and horse poop on it.  Why do horses get to poop on trails and dogs are not even allowed to go there on a leash with a loyal pooper scooper in tow? I’ll bet anything that guy was from Mexico and had managed to cross the river somewhere to check his little can stashes.

The entrance to Boquillas Canyon was dim, hard to photograph in the late afternoon light, but it was silent and beautiful, with walls rising more than 1,200 feet above me.  I love tall, tight canyons, love how they feel, and found out later that this canyon is one on a list of possible river runs that I would love to do someday.  Probably not in my own kayak, however, since there are some rocky rapids that need a good river guide to navigate.  Still, it is on the bucket list along with Santa Elena Canyon.  That is tomorrow’s story, however. Boquillas Canyon trail

When I got back to the car, Mo and Abby were contented enough, and we did figure out that we should have a book or two in the car for Mo while I wandered about.  Mo and Abby go their exercise by doing six laps around the parking lot. One of the greatest little treasures that we found at the visitor center was a small book called “The Big Bend Guide” by Allan Kimball.  We loved this little book, a great find for first time visitors, with down to earth explanations of the local routes, and what to do if you have only one day or three days or a week in the park.  I highly recommend this book if you have never visited Big Bend.

vWe drove back to the main road, and then again turned off on a dirt high clearance road to find the Hot Springs.  The road is only about a mile and a half to the parking area, and we had hoped that maybe there wasn’t anyone around so we could possibly explore with Abby.  Instead, this was a very popular spot and there were several cars parked and lots of folks heading to and from the springs.

The area was once a large hot springs resort, with a bath house, motel rooms, and even a store and post office.  The abandoned buildings and old palms only hinted at what a delightful place this might have been at one time.  The sun was down, and the evening was cool in the twilight, so Mo decided to leave Abby for a short time while we walked the short distance to the springs.

hot springs at Big BendThe springs are 105 degrees F, in a small rock pool built along the Rio Grande, and look quite nice.  However, when we arrived, they were filled with a couple of families, kids all happily playing and moms floating au naturel in the hot water.  I really didn’t want to jump in with them, so I decided to wait for another time for a dip in the springs. 

We ran into this multiple family again a couple of times, with Alaska plates on their RV.  There were a LOT of people in that rig, but when we talked to them we found out that they were from Austin and had rented the RV.  They were having great fun together, although a motorhome with 4 adults and 4 little kids might be a bit much.  Whew!

rock art at the hot springsWe were happy to get back to our rig and eat the good supper of leftovers from our previous dinner.  So nice not to have to cook when it is dark and we have had a very long day! With no telephone, but at least enough Wi-Fi to get some mail, we settled in and read all the literature we had about what we might want to do on our next full day in the park. 

Big Bend is an International Night Sky park, with a commitment to keeping things dark and unpolluted with light.  There are lots of references to seeing the Milky Way here, but our moon was already too bright and while the stars were wonderful, that gorgeous view of the Milky Way eluded me.  I even got up in the middle of the night to check out the sky.  Maybe it was because the elevation at the Rio Grande is about 1,800 feet and perhaps those great Milky Way views are at the much higher Chisos Basin.hot springs at Big Bend

Still, even in our small parking lot camp, the skies were dark and the night was silent except for some low voiced owls here and there.  Loved it.

Tomorrow we travel the Scenic Route and find the magnificent Santa Elena Canyon