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. The eroded rock formations there are unique and some huge rocks balance perfectly on the rocks below… …and others look like things that can easily be identified. 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. 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. 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… 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. 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… The cave is definitely something to see. 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. 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. In Marathon, Texas we stopped at the Gage Hotel to snap a shot of some interesting long horn art. The road into Big Bend NP was lined with Bluebonnets. 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. The Rio Grande river enters and exits the park through two beautiful canyons. It enters at Santa Elena Canyon… … and exits at Boquillos canyon. The 50 some miles of 4-wheel drive road over hills and through washes between the two was a sight to see. We camped one night at the Frenso back country campsite… …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… 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. 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. 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. We did a nice hike to the window rock…. … that is a 10 foot wide gap in the rock where the wash cascades over in a beautiful waterfall in the rainy season. 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. 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. 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…
2 thoughts on “Eastbound to Austin”
We loved our visit to the Chiricahuas last winter!
It seems the flowers in TX have been extra specially extravagant this year…aren’t we lucky to have visited this year!
It was fun meeting you two last night, safe travels to you!
Nice meeting you both too. Back home safe and now planning our next adventure for May.