Westbound from Austin

Before we get into the return part of the trip, I did find a couple of pictures off of Pam’s phone from Big Bend that were great. Typically we don’t take pictures of the more “interesting” places during a drive due to our attention on the road. However, Pam snapped this one on the road to the hot springs, where it was a one-lane road, and given the wider wheel base of the Roamer, it didn’t leave much room for error. The one-lane the other way is tucked against the rock wall on the other side. What a blast to drive.

20150405_115132

The second picture was of a very unique rock wall where the softer rock had eroded away around the veins of harder rock to form the marbling seen in the wall.

20150405_125100

Now back to Austin and our trip home.

We headed into Austin from our campsite to see the wildflower center and grab some good Texas BBQ. It should be said that the flowers along all the roads and in the Texas fields during our trip there and back were gorgeous, best in years folks told us.

P1040119

The Lady Bird center was nice, but a little bit of a letdown. Based on what we saw on the roads, I expected huge lawns of the Texas flowers in all their colors for us to see. It was more of a botanical garden with large open fields and a visitor center to help us identify all the flowers we had been seeing on our trip.

P1040121

The facility buildings were beautiful stone, metal and wood structures and still a very nice place to visit. They were getting set up for the yearly sale of plants and the place was buzzing.

P1040138.

We looked up a Diners, Drive-in and Dive BBQ place in Austin called The Green Mesquite. The place looked like a classic throw-back with an outside patio area that also hosted local bands there most nights. Their T-shirt “horrifying vegetarians since 1988” said it all.

20150409_130336

We sampled every meat option they served between the both of us. It was good, but a recent find in Phoenix called Little Miss BBQ left us wishing for Arizona BBQ.

We hiked the falls at Pedernales Falls State Park. The water was pretty low, where at times it can be a wall of water cascading over the rocks following a hard rain.

P1040148

It rained the day of our departure, but we did stop a few places along the way. First, was one of the frontier Spanish forts near Menard, TX, the Presidio San Saba along the San Saba river. The Spanish outpost was constructed and abandoned in the mid 1700s.

P1040155

Another stop was for lunch as we entered the oil fields of west Texas.

P1040159

The lonesome roads out there are all pick-ups and oil trucks running from one far flung site to another. Most of the little towns in the area were made up of RV lots for the oil rig worker’s 5th wheels.

Our next campsite was at Monahans Sandhills State Park. The rich, dark soil of the Austin hill country transitioned into sandier soil as we moved west until the vegetation was nearly gone at the sandhills. They were beautiful.

P1040161

What was most interesting was hiking the dunes in the morning and seeing all of the tracks in the sand from the many creatures that traverse the dunes at night.

P1040178

The sunsets there were also spectacular.

P1040168

We met some new fellow travelers at the park that also have a travel blog at http://www.metamorphosisroad.blogspot.com. They have been on the road for a couple of years now. Pam and I are still new-comers to this adventure lifestyle. They travel with their cat, which is something we have been considering. Pam felt a little homesick for Peanut after our nice visit with Hans and Lisa, and their travel cat Rosie. Given our new mobile life, what we haven’t figured out yet is the optimum travel mode for the road: expedition vehicle, truck and 5th wheel or class A motor home with a car in tow. We’ll keep the Roamer for now.

We left the dunes with the objective to make it to the City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico the back way through Cloudcroft, NM at 9,260 feet before dropping down into the desert basin near Alamogordo. We stopped at White Sands National Monument since we passed right by it along this route. It was raining again, but the white gypsum dunes were very beautiful even in the rare, overcast and rainy weather for the area.

P1040191

We drove the loop into the dunes, but no hikes this time. We’ll have to go back. It’s too bad they don’t have car campsites there, just back country tent sites. It almost makes me want to break out the tent again – almost.

P1040188

We then stopped in Las Cruces for dinner at a good Mexican place, Andele’s Dog House, before arriving at the City of Rocks State Park in pure darkness just prior to them shutting the gate for the night. If you have never been to the park, finding your campsite can be tough in the daylight, but finding one of the few remaining open sites in the moonless night was an experience. Pam broke out the flashlight and we slowly made our way around the park looking for the elusive spot. After nearly circling the place, we stumbled upon a site that was marked as taken with no one there. It turned out it was a day use ticket so they had just left the park prior to our arrival – we got lucky.

When we woke up the next morning we realized how lucky we were. The sight was very nice, and now we understand why folks talk so highly of this place.

P1040196

We hiked around the rocks a little and then drove around the park again in the daylight to see what we thought we saw the previous night, and to mark campsites for future trips.

P1040197

The visitor center there was a neat building. I’m thinking I need another building project.

P1040207

We’re always looking for new roads in and out of Arizona to make our trips more enjoyable. We left the state on a dirt road near Portal, AZ into New Mexico and re-entered Arizona from New Mexico along route 180 to Eager. This was a pretty drive marked with the Rand McNally map green dots, given to picturesque roads. We’ve now traveled on many of the green dot roads. Take these roads, they are not the fastest way to a destination, but possibly the most beautiful.

P1040208

We arrived at our place on the Rim to check up on things (nothing broken or in need of repair – oh yeah) before dropping back down into the valley. The pond was full and forest looked lush, even with the lower than average snowfall this year. I guess the additional winter rain may have made up for the snow. An early Monsoon season would be good too.

P1040213

Our next trip will be into Utah in May….

Eastbound to Austin

Pam and I are on another adventure, this time to Texas. Our most eastern stop of this trip is Pedernales Falls State Park, just outside of Austin, Texas. The two main objectives of this trip were to explore Big Bend National Park and to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Gardens outside Austin. However, the trip also needed to be filled with other stops along the way in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The trip started with a return visit to the Chiricahua National Monument. We visited there recently with friends, but decided to add this stop to the trip east and do some longer hikes around the rocks. We picked a nine mile loop that took us through some spectacular parts of the park. P1030912 P1030906 The eroded rock formations there are unique and some huge rocks balance perfectly on the rocks below… P1030902 …and others look like things that can easily be identified. P1030903 A male coati (about the size of a raccoon) crossed our path during the hike. One of the park rangers provided us with some good info on the furry things once we shared the picture. P1030911 We then took off over the mountains to the south on a dirt forest road (FS 42) that dropped us into Portal, AZ and then onto New Mexico Route 9, a little two-lane road that just skirts the border between the US and Mexico. The drive was though pristine desert. 20150402_113140 After passing through several border patrol check points along the route the overall verdict of the Border Patrol folks is that the Roamer is one bad machine. We agree. We stopped in Columbus, NM at Pancho Villa State Park for lunch. It was an interesting stop to learn about the Pancho Villa raids into the US and the US Army’s pursuit of his gang down through Mexico. I’m not sure I would want to be in the tank they used in the summer time. It is definitely not a Roamer. The RV park there had very pretty desert sites to camp, but it was just a lunch stop for us. Maybe a future stop of a future trip… P1030915 We ended up at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas for the night, the location of the highest peak in Texas at 8,749 ft. The RV campsites are located in the trailhead parking lot and the wind howled at about 50 mph that night. Pretty place, but the winds rattled the Roamer vents all night and made for a restless sleep. P1030917 We made our way to Carlsbad Caverns National Park and hiked the caves there. We knew the cave where the millions of bats come out at night was near there, but did not realize that it is that cave opening itself. In fact that is how the cave was discovered. A 16-year old back in the 1890s wanted to know where the “smoke” was coming from, where the smoke was the dusk trail of the millions of bats leaving the cave. Most of the bats had not migrated or have awakened from their winter hibernation yet so we did not stick around until dusk. The Ranger said at this time of year it could be anywhere from 2 to 10,000 bats that leave the cave at dusk (a laser counting system is now used to track the bats), but in the summer the number is between 700,000 and 1.5 million bats. We descended down into the cave… P1030920 The cave is definitely something to see. P1030948 Unlike any other of the caves we have visited, this cave was mostly self-guided so you could take as long as you liked at a given spot. The inside of the cave rooms are huge, bigger in size and more interesting things to see than Mammoth Cave in KY. I think Mammoth may have the lead in overall length of cave distance, but Carlsbad is hands down the most awe inspiring. P1030970 Seeing that we needed to head back south to get to Big Bend National Park we retraced our path back to Guadalupe NP for the night. We prepared ourselves for the wind that had blown all day and was again predicted to build in the night, but it turned out to be a beautiful night with a light breeze and a good stop. We made our way to Big Bend National Park along route 90 through Marfa and Alpine, Texas. Along a lonely stretch of road that ran next to the Southern Pacific railroad, a train tooted at the Roamer and we back to the train, two awesome machines making their way through the empty desert. Too cool. The region had a year’s worth a rain the previous month and the spring flowers covered the desert. P1030977 In Marathon, Texas we stopped at the Gage Hotel to snap a shot of some interesting long horn art. P1030979 The road into Big Bend NP was lined with Bluebonnets. 20150404_142857 Similar to Death Valley, Big Bend has a lot of area that is only accessible with high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicles. I’m beginning to like these places because they are more interesting to see and the number of folks in the back-country greatly reduced. We book 4 nights at Rio Grande campsite, but after arriving and talking with the Ranger decided to get a $10 back country permit and camp throughout the park. We filled our water and dumped our trash at the campsite and headed out. P1030988 The Rio Grande river enters and exits the park through two beautiful canyons. It enters at Santa Elena Canyon… P1040061 … and exits at Boquillos canyon. P1030995 The 50 some miles of 4-wheel drive road over hills and through washes between the two was a sight to see. P1040048 We camped one night at the Frenso back country campsite… P1040038 …next to the closed Mariscal Mine, a Mercury mine in operation back in the 1920s and 40s. Along with the warning if you touched anything – it would kill you, if you called it Frances – it would kill you… P1040020 The road runs along the river and at one stop we saw beavers in the river, where they build their homes in the river banks instead of the typical beaver dam and huts. P1040058 Another night we spent in the back-country campsite Rattlesnake Mountain. I was not thrilled with the name and what it implied, but there was no mountain or rattlesnakes, just hundreds of beautiful blooming ocotillos. This was a great spot that is now on our top camping spot list. We did see a beautiful 6 foot red racer snake, which eats rattlesnakes, in the back country but he was too fast for us to get a picture of him. P1040076 For our last night in the park we drove up to Chisos Basin, a campground at 5,400 feet that was not recommended for RVs over 24 feet. Since the Roamer is not an RV it had no problem with the climb or the few switchbacks. P1040099 We did a nice hike to the window rock…. P1040098 … that is a 10 foot wide gap in the rock where the wash cascades over in a beautiful waterfall in the rainy season. P1040097 Big Bend is in the Chihuahuan desert so its rainy season is the summer monsoons from June to September. However, we did see lighting in the western sky while camped at Fresno and after reaching the western border of the park the next day we saw a group of folks stuck on the wrong side of the Terlinqua creek wash that was dry when they crossed but now filled and running fast at the Santa Elena canyon. Given the number of washes we crossed in the 50 miles of back roads, traversing the park during the monsoon season would be interesting. We drove for 3 hours one day before we passed anyone in the back-country so you better be prepared for a long wait if something breaks, which we always are with the Roamer. We then drove to Austin in one day, which looks easy since it’s just a little ways across Texas, until you realize that distance is about the same as from New York City to Cleveland, OH! We also took the back roads, which added to the time but also the enjoyment. We stopped in Langtry, Texas along the border where judge Roy Bean, “the hanging judge”, dished out justice west of the Pecos. P1040108 As we entered the hill country approaching Austin, we drove by a ranch that has been hanging their boots on the fence for a few decades, according to the guy who came out to check out the Roamer while I snapped a picture. P1040114 We didn’t make it to our campsite at Pedernalas Falls State Park outside Austin until after dark and nearly clipped a deer in the rump after dusk. There are a lot of exotic game ranches hidden on the back roads in the area with high fences to keep the big horn sheep, gazelles, springbuck and even moose in so the deer had nowhere to go but in front of the Roamer (of course). Not sure it would have done any damage to our front grill, but glad we didn’t find out. More on our adventures back out west soon…