Thursday, March 23, 2017

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Tuesday (3/14) to Wednesday (3/22):

We left Terlingua and made the 185 mile drive to Van Horn, Texas. We spent one night at the Desert Willow RV Park which is a Passport America campground. We paid $13.50 in cash and got full hookups with WiFi for the night. We drove around Van Horn to see if there was anything to see and did not get out of our Jeep. Later on we learned that a local Tex-Mex restaurant, Chuy's (not the chain), has a shrine to John Madden. John Madden, the former Oakland Raiders football coach and TV football analyst, did not fly and drove across the country in a motorhome to get to game sites. While driving through West Texas he stopped in Van Horn for the night and ate at this restaurant. Somehow the owner's created several works of art honoring Madden and his stop in Van Horn.

The next morning we continued along I-10 through El Paso and crossed into New Mexico. The air quality in El Paso was terrible with a lot of smog hanging over the El Paso-Juarez area as we passed through. We stopped at the Visitor Center Rest Stop in New Mexico but the center was closed.

We finished up our 175 mile trip to Las Cruces and checked into the Sunny Acres RV Park. This is a small park that was purchased by a family from Fort Stockton, TX a few years ago and they are trying to upgrade the facilities at the campground. We will be here for 8 days and will try to do some small repair/maintenance items on the motorhome. 

Las Cruces is a city of about 105,000 and is home to New Mexico State University (NMSU). NMSU was one of only a handful of schools to have both their men's and women's basketball teams make the NCAA tournaments. We did visit the old town of Messilla which is located on the outskirts of Las Cruces. It is older than Las Cruces but was bypassed by the railroad (which ran through Las Cruces) so it did not grow (still has about 3,000 residents). Billy the Kidd was arrested and convicted of murder in Messilla but later escaped before being killed by Pat Garrett.

Catholic Church on the square in Messilla
We used are time here to repair several of our electric bay door locks that had stopped working. We were able to open the mechanisms up, clean and lubricate the moving parts of the locks and get them working again (we had 4 locks that were not working).  I also used the time to finally get our DirecTV DVR connected to the internet. With this accomplished (assuming we are connected to the internet through our WiFi Ranger), we are able to use the DirecTV app to control the DVR: change channels, watch recorded programs on any TV in the motorhome (we have 4) and set programs to record even if we are not physically present near the motorhome. We also did some cleaning of our fantastic fans as well as doing a "dry" wash of the outside of the rig. Connie and I spent several hours cleaning the windows inside and out along with cleaning the dashboard and furniture. I also made sure that all of the screws in the rig were tight as there are always a few that work loose as we drive around some bumpy roads.
Product I picked up at Escapees Escapade
last year. Worked great on locks.
We had trouble with our power again at this park. On Monday evening the power went out to the rig and we could not get it to work at the pedestal. The son of the owners came by and tried to fix the problem, but one of the wires inside the box was fried and he was not able to work on that part of the electrical system (they have an electrician they use but he teaches a class a the local community college on Monday nights). So we ended up having to pack everything up and move to a different site within the park. Luckily they had an open spot since that have been full most nights we have been here.

Our first site at Sunny Acres RV Park

Our second site at Sunny Acres RV Park

On St. Patrick's Day we visited the High Desert Brewing Co. which is located about 1/4 mile from our campground. We passed on the traditional Irish meal of cabbage and corn beef for nachos. We got the small order of nachos which was enough to feed both of us. Connie got green chiles on her half of the nachos and the chiles were hotter than she expected. We tried a sampler of several of their brews before ordering a glass of the Irish Red Ale and Dark Bock to have with our nachos.

One evening we ate dinner at the La Posta del Messilla restaurant. It was recommended to us by Denise Miller and was an excellent choice. We split one of their combination plates to get a sample of their food which was very good. They had several parrots in an aviary located at the entrance to the restaurant.

Connie has come down with a cold after dealing with allergies here in Las Cruces. The air has been dusty and the trees are putting off pollen here in New Mexico. Hopefully she will get better quickly as we move on to Arizona on Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Big Bend - Last Few Days

Friday (3/10) to Monday (3/13):

On Friday we decided to take it easy since we had been doing several hikes each day in the park. We paid a visit to Terlingua and walked around the town. It is billed as "Terlingua Ghost Town" but these days a number of the buildings have been turned into small shops or galleries. This area was the sight of a number of quicksilver (mercury) mines from the 1880's until World War II when the last of the mines closed down. In the 1980's the town became host to an annual Chili Cook Off and more people began to live permanently in the area. It is also the closest town to the Big Bend National Park and so a lot of visitors to park use this area to stay at. We saw a number of gravesites with coins on them. From what we found out this could be to honor a fallen soldier or to ask that a wish be granted by a departed loved one.

Most of the graves are unmarked in the cemetery.

Overlooks the old mines.
We visited the Terlingua General Store and sat on the porch of the Starlight Theater. The theater is now a bar and a number of people gather each evening on the porch to watch the sunset.

Chili Cook Off held in November each year.

The porch is where local watch the sunset and enjoy a cold one.
We returned to motor home and enjoyed the air conditioners running during the late afternoon. On Saturday we made the drive on Texas 170 from Terlingua to Presidio. The road is known as the River Road and follows along the Rio Grande most of the way. There are a number of scenic overlooks and pull-outs located a various spots along the road. This is called one of the prettiest drives in Texas and is very popular with motorcyclists.

View into Mexico.

Notice the green along the river.

Not much water flow in this section of the Rio Grande.
We stopped at Fort Leaton State Historic Site to eat our picnic lunch at the covered picnic tables located near the fort. There was a charge to enter the fort so we walked around the outside of the fort and read the plaques. From there we returned along Texas 170 back to Terlingua. We did stop in Lajitas which has become a resort town. There is a golf course and resort that we walked through.

Lajitas Resort 
On Sunday we decided to hike the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains. We had to wait in line about 35 minutes to get into the park this morning. The other days we have had no wait or only a couple of minutes.

The Lost Mine Trail is about a 5 mile hike: 2.5 miles up to the top and then 2.5 miles down. You begin at an elevation of 5,500 feet and climb approximately 1,300 feet to reach the top of the trail @ 6,800 feet. As we entered the Chisos Mountains we saw the clouds below the peaks of Emory Peak and Casa Grande.

This being a Sunday morning we did not know if we could find a parking space in the trailhead parking lot. Luck would follow us as a lady was pulling out of a space as we arrived and so we were able to get into the lot. We got out our walking sticks and my backpack loaded with water and nuts. The trail up the mountain is almost entirely up hill with steps and switchbacks. There are several places along the trail to stop and rest and we took advantage of them. No only are you going uphill but we are also at altitude.

One of the level spots along the trail.

View back towards Casa Grande.
We drank water along the way and when we reached the top we had more water along with eating the nuts we had brought with us. The trail is classified as intermediate and it definitely has a few challenging parts. The views from the top were great even with the smoke in the area. The temperature had dropped about 10 degrees from the parking lot to the top so we were glad we had worn several layers of clothing. We were lucky that Sunday was the coolest day during our stay in Big Bend.

Made it to the top.

There were a number of fellow climbers at the top today.
We began our descent down the trail continuing to take breaks when we needed them. The trip up and back down took us about 3.75 hours with us spending about 30 minutes at the top. It was much quicker coming down than going up. We made it back to the campground and started the process of packing up for our departure tomorrow morning.

As we leave Big Bend we appreciate the beauty of the area but also the harshness of trying to survive in this part of Texas. Carl described the desert as "all beach and no water" and he is correct. Other than the trees in the mountains and the greenery along the Rio Grande everything is brown or beige. We enjoyed our visit and realize that we will be spending the next several weeks seeing brown in New Mexico and Arizona.

One last picture of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park.

Monday morning we finishing packing up the motorhome, hitched up the Jeep and headed to Van Horn, Texas where we will spend one night before going on to Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Big Bend - Day 4

Thursday (Mar 9):

After making the move to the Los Gringos RV Park we had a good night sleep with no interruptions in our electrical service. This is a newer park with asphalt pads and full hook ups - but not much else. It is located in an old mine with an auto shop at the top of the park (he works on old cars as well as doing service).

Today we decided to visit the Santa Elena Canyon which is located in the southwestern part of the park. We drove into the park and made the turn down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. This is a 22 mile drive that was laid out by Ross Maxwell who was one of the early directors/managers of the Big Bend National Park. It takes you along the Chisos Mountains before heading downhill to the Rio Grande. 

We first stopped at the Homer Wilson Ranch Overlook and hiked the 1 mile down to the old abandoned ranch house. The Wilsons were one of a number of families who ranched this area before it became a national park. You would always be able to find their house since it sits at the base of a butte along along a creek (dry most of the time).

Ranch is located at base of butte.
From there we drove south to the Sotol Vista Overlook. The Sotol plant is found throughout the park and was used by the Indians for food.

There were fires in West Texas and smoke filtered into the park.
The next stop was the Mule Ears View Point. These top of these peaks are at 3,881 feet which is much lower than the Chisos Mountains.

Mule must be hiding on the other side.
Continuing on south we stopped at the Tuff Canyon. Most of the rock in this canyon was formed by volcanic ash which harden into rock over time. There is a creek running through the canyon which had a small amount of water in it from some recent rains.

We saw some people walking along the creek.
Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom.

We then drove into the community of Castolon. There is a small general store that dates back to early 1900's along with a ranger station and a Visitor Center. At one time there was a military fort located here and there are some ruins of the fort. We stopped and ate our picnic lunch at the tables located outside the old general store. After lunch we walked around the "town" for a short while and looked at some of the remaining buildings. Cotton was grown along the Rio Grande and some of the old irrigation pumps are located near the general store.

We next stopped at the ruins of some farm houses near the Rio Grande. Some of these were Mexican families while some were Anglo. There was 1 mile trail that took you by several of these houses along with some out buildings.

Dargon Family house.

Finally we reached the end of the paved road at the Santa Elena Canyon. This canyon has the tallest walls in the park with parts of the canyon walls rising 1,500 feet from the river to the top. It is a spectacular canyon that we were able to walk into for about 1/2 mile. There are a number of steps you have to go up to reach the canyon, but the climb is worth the effort.

Opening of Santa Elena Canyon

Walking along the trail into the canyon.

Sotol plant in bloom within the canyon after an overnight rain.

Connie walking up the steps leading into the canyon.

Returning to the Jeep from our hike into the canyon, we retraced our route along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Old Maverick Road out of the park. We returned to our campground glad that our electricity was working and our air conditioners were running. The temperatures in this area have been unusually warm this week with daytime highs in the upper 80's and lower 90's.

Big Bend - Day 3

Wednesday (Mar 8):

With Carl and Pam headed to Carlsbad, we were on our own for the rest of the week. We decided not to try a kayak trip since we did not have two vehicles to park at the entry and exit locations. We drove back into the park and headed towards the Balancing Rock Trail. The trail is down a 6 mile unpaved road that gets rough in places. We found the start of the trail and started hiking up hill. The trail is 1.25 miles long with the last .25 mile being a climb up the mountain rather than a trail. We make it to the top to see the balancing rock along with some nice views of the surrounding countryside.

Connie along the "easy" part of the trail.

We make it to the top.
After stopping by the Panther Junction Visitor Center for a bathroom break, we drove a few miles north to the Fossil Bone Exhibit. Specimens from Big Bend's remarkable fossil record along with illustrations are here at the Exhibit Hall. We ate lunch at one of the picnic tables located at the exhibit before taking a tour of the facility. There was a short walk up a hill to an overlook of the area which is now a desert but millions of years ago was covered with water and then lush vegetation.

After leaving the exhibit we headed towards the Chisos Basin located within the Chisos Mountains. We drove to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center and got some information about the hikes in this area of the park. We decided to hike the 2 mile Chisos Basin Loop Trail to see the views of the mountains. It was a trail with lots of steps and some wonderful outlooks to see the Chisos Mountains. The two highest points in the park are located in this area: Emory Peak at 7.832 feet above sea level and Casa Grande at 7,325. 

One of the unexpected items in the park was the amount of bluebonnets in bloom along the park roads. We saw bluebonnets along a number of the roads with cactus located right behind them.

After getting back to our campground we found that the power was out again due to low voltage. We talked with the owners and figured out it was not going to get any better at this park (they did give us a refund of the unused portion of our fees). We called the Los Gringos RV Park and were able to get the site that Pam and Carl had vacated that morning. We made a hurried up exit from the Study Butte RV Park so that we could get set up before it got dark. We were able to make the move and finish up just as the sun was going down. We decided to eat dinner at the High Sierra Bar and Grill since we were both tired from a long day.

Big Bend - First Two Days

Monday (Mar 6) to Tuesday (Mar 7):

On Monday morning we made the 85 mile drive from Alpine to Terlingua, Texas and checked in at the Study Butte RV Park. This RV Park is the closest park to the west entrance to Big Bend National Park. We met the owners and pulled into our site. The sites in this park are side by side and some of the closest to one another we have ever seen. After getting set up we had a quick lunch before meeting Pam and Carl at the High Sierra Bar and Grill in Terlingua. They are staying at the Los Gringos RV Park which is located about 5 miles from our RV park. All of decided that we would start at the Big Bend National Park Visitor Center located at Panther Junction the next morning to start our journey of the park.

Sunset the 1st night we were in Terlingua
The next morning we met Carl and Pam at our campground and headed down Texas 118 for the entrance station about 5 miles southeast of Terlingua. We used our Senior Pass to obtain our 7 day pass to the park and then drove 22 miles to the Panther Junction Visitor Center. 

We obtain information about the park, saw a 22 minute film narrated by actor Peter Coyote giving us a history of the park and an overview of the various regions of the park. The park is about 800,000 acres with desert, mountains and the Rio Grande all contained within the park. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the documents to create the park a few days after D-Day in June 1944.  We also inquired about kayaking down the Rio Grande with one of the rangers and decided to see how the Rio Grand was flowing before proceeding. Currently only 5% of the Rio Grande watershed is flowing down through the park: the remainder is behind dams or used for agriculture or human consumption.

After leaving the Visitor Center we went the Hot Springs Trail. Years ago there was a lodge that people could stay at while enjoying the hot springs that flow into the Rio Grande. There are some ruins of the lodge and one hot springs is still around. We drove down an unpaved road for about 8 miles to find the start of the trail. We walked about 1.5 miles down the trail before turning around and coming back to the parking area. All of us had brought a picnic lunch and we enjoyed the meal under some palm trees at the ruins to the lodge.

The ruins of the Hot Springs Lodge

Indian petroglyphs located on rocks along Hot Spring Trail

Only remaining Hot Springs
After finishing our lunch we continued to drive east across the park to the Rio Grande Village to see how the river was flowing at that point. We stopped at several overlooks along the way that gave us great vistas of the park.

View across the Rio Grande into Mexico
The drive across the park is about 53 miles. We drove through the RV campground with no hookups and stopped at the Rio Grande Village Trail. We walked along this trail for about a mile before turning around and retracing our steps. We could not see any place where you could get a kayak out of the river along this trail.

Trail never got very close to the river
We then drove over to the full hookups campground located a short distance away. We were able to walk down to the river at this point and visited with a couple who had used inner tubes to float down the Rio Grande from the Hot Springs Trail to this location. They told us there was enough flow in that part of the river to be able to float without having to get out and walk through the shallows.

From there we traveled northeast to visit the Boquillas Canyon. The canyon has walls that rise over 800 feet from the river to their tops. The canyon walls along this part of the Rio Grande are on both the US and Mexican sides of the river. They are spectacular and and not seen until you are right up on them.

After finishing our walk along the trail into the Boquillas Canyon, we drove back to our campground to find that the voltage on our shore power connection had dropped to below 105 volts and our Progressive Energy Management System had closed off the connection to prevent damage to our motor home. The owner of the campground worked on the problem and seemed to have gotten it fixed when we left the park for dinner (he had switched some electrical connections within the park). 

All of us met at the La Kiva Restaurant in Terlingua and enjoyed some cold beverages along with pizza. The owner of the restaurant was killed in 2014 and the person that was charged with murder was found not guilty in 2015. Here is a link to the story.

Entry door to La Kiva Restaurant

That evening Pam and Carl received a phone call from their family in Carlsbad and decided that they needed to be there to help with the situation. They will be leaving tomorrow morning and making the drive across West Texas to Carlsbad. We wish them well and hope that everything works out OK.