White Sands

March 9 – 13

I’ve heard of White Sands all my life and wanted to see the place firsthand.  It turned out to be a logical next step for us after Carlsbad, and we’re so glad we spent time there.  We like Alamogordo and especially Oliver Lee Memorial State Park at the foot of the Sacramento Mountains.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park & More New Friends

You know how we were wanting to see some trees after our last stop.  Well, we were fortunate to drive through the Lincoln National Forest on the way to our next stop, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park.  We were both delighted to see towering fir trees and so much green!  Unfortunately, this was short-lived and as soon as we came off the mountain, we were right back in the Chihuahuan Desert again.  In fact, once we turned off the main road outside of Alamogordo headed to the park, we were really disappointed.  This was not looking promising for an interesting next stop.  Mountains, yes, but still desert-y and kinda run-down looking.


Let’s just say we got over it pretty fast.  Here’s the view of where we camped from up a nearby hiking trail.  There’s Lucy, Bitsy and a teeny tiny Pat & Jackson sitting out front.  Stunning 360 degree views with White Sands way in the distance.


Here’s the view the other direction looking at the Sacramento Mountains.  Not many trees, but we’ll live.

Actually the park itself turned out to be a great place to walk Jackson and get a little hiking in.  Signs of Spring were everywhere with the hum of bees in the budding trees and little green leaf buds on things we thought were dead.


The cholla cactus here had bright yellow segments at the ends and I managed to get this little birdy in the shot.  Not sure what he is.


More green stuff popping up near the flowing stream.  Such a nice surprise to hear running water again.


Any birders out there can correct me if I’m wrong.  I think this might be a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.  The bright red spot on the head caught my eye.


Lots of birds and views from Oliver Lee.  We’d definitely come back here.

This was another good stop for meeting new friends.  Barbara & Bud were our camp hosts and also RVillagers.  We connected online right away and got together twice to sit and visit.  They were so easy to talk to and we had some good laughs.  We received some good restaurant and campground advice from them and will be keeping in touch.

White Sands National Monument

The main goal for this trip was to see White Sands National Monument.  We were able to make use of our yearly National Park Pass and visit twice.  The first time was in the afternoon and it was a little cloudy.  It turned out to be a spectacular time to visit, with nice cool breezes.


A favorite showcasing the pristine sand and a single set of footprints.


Pat says someone got footy prints all over his desert.  Actually we were surprised at how quickly our footprints were being erased by the wind.  By the time we retraced our steps, they were already smoothing out, soon to be gone completely.


Snow-covered Sierra Blanca Peak in the distance at almost 12,000 feet.  Such a contrast.  White Sands was like a huge beach with no ocean, surrounded by mountains.


Like frosting in the distance.  We were in shade and the little sliver of bright white was the sand in the sunlight.

A nice young man that reminded us of Ethan came along and offered to take our picture.  He was visiting from Kentucky and clearly taken by the views, too.  We returned the favor and did a little photo shoot for him.  Some visitors were also trying to sled down the dunes.  They didn’t do too many trip down since the hike back up is pretty tough.  A shot of the boardwalk and a few other favorites from the day.

Sunset Stroll


A few days later we went on the sunset stroll with one of the rangers.  Light and shadows made for different lovely views.  According to the ranger, this is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.  It’s unlike the beach sand we’re used to.  Gypsum is a soft mineral and doesn’t get hot under the desert sun.  If you get some of this sand in your eyes, blinking will dissolve it.  Velvety soft sand, and there’s moisture just under the surface.

The sun is slipping away quickly as the ranger tells us about the plants and animals living here.  The yucca plants adapt with 30 foot stalks, the depth of some of the sand dunes.  Other plants build pedestals for themselves with their roots and the sand.  Of course the dunes move and cover spots while uncovering others, constantly moving and changing.


Lower and lower it goes….


The Scramento Mountains glowed a ruby red in the background.  Our campground is way over that direction.

The purples and pinks remain my favorite.


Day is done. Gone the sun.  Loved, loved White Sands and all its moods.

Cloudcroft & the Lincoln National Forest

We just had to get another look at those fabulous trees just 30 minutes away up the mountain.  At an elevation of 8,668 feet, the town of Cloudcroft had snow while we were down in White Sands in our shorts.


Truthfully, we only found these piles at the ranger station when we got up there, but it was chilly and windy.  Almost 20 degrees colder that just a few miles down the road.


We had big plans to hike on this rails to trails section, but we just weren’t dressed for the wind up here.

I walked out onto the trestle overlook just as another tourist says “there’s nothing holding that up!”  “Now you tell me”, I say.  We all had a good laugh and got back into our warm cars.  The road from Cloudcroft drops about 4000 ft in elevation during the 12 miles into Alamogordo.  Very steep grades with runaway truck ramps, if you can make it that far.  Pat & Jackson posed with the forest service elk.  Yep, we were pretty high!  Remind me to tell you that joke sometime.

Pistachio Farm

Imagine our surprise when we drove from Carlsbad to here and encountered fields and fields of trees.  We’re can’t figure this out given the fact that trees don’t seem to make it here naturally.  Apparently pecan and pistachio trees don’t require much water and love it in this area.  You know we love a good factory or farm tour, so we signed on for one at the Heart of the Desert Eagle Ranch.


This place is home to more than 13,000 pistachio trees and 24,000 grapevines.  Pistachio trees are interesting with one male tree for every 12-16 female trees.  The winds around here do the pollinating with the male trees planted upwind.  The male trees are a little beefier looking that the female trees, so you can tell them apart pretty easily.  We bought some Riesling wine and salted pistachios for the road.


The world’s largest pistachio is just down the road at another orchard, so we had to go there, too.

Big Booms, The Blog & Other Tales

You may or may not know the other thing for which this area is famous.  The White Sands Missile Range.  On our first evening we heard a few booms that you could feel in your chest.  Our brave little toaster, Jackson, is horribly afraid of loud noises, so we were worried that this would be a rough stop for him.  Turns out we only had a few other booms, so all was well.


The main road leading to Las Cruces is even closed when they conduct some of the tests.  Fortunately we weren’t set to travel on one of those days.


Now those are some tumbleweeds in the making.  And this is also why we thought the area leading to the state park seemed rundown.  Abandoned more like.

Pat celebrated a birthday at this stop.  I didn’t bake him a cake, but did make him some pretty good homemade mac and cheese in the instant pot.  Have I told you that’s the best gadget ever?  And Pat got to read all day which makes him pretty happy.


Spotted this cactus on our Sunday morning stroll.  Easter is almost here!

Also, I’ve added a new feature to the blog.  Since there’s always a little lag between posts and our next destination, you’ll now find a spot titled “Where in the world are the Iversons”.  (Thanks Catherine for that idea)  I’ll do my best to keep that current so you’ll know where we are even if the blog hasn’t quite caught up.  Let me know how you like it.


Finally our super genius dog learned the hard way about cattle guards.  We walked up to this one in the park, merely to take a look down the road.  Jackson pauses for just a few seconds and then leaps onto this thing.  Picture a 100 pound lab with all four legs dangling through the bars.  Luckily he didn’t get hurt, so we could laugh about it.


They are so mean telling tales on me…..

Next up – Truth or Consequences and the tour that was a big bust.  See you on the way!


Carlsbad & More Chihuahuan Desert

March 3 – 8

Our first stop in New Mexico!  We’re happy to add a new state to the camping map, and also happy that we’ll have almost two whole months to explore New Mexico.  A great way to kick off our Wild West travels for 2018.

Brantley Lake State Park

Brantley Lake State Park is our first foray into New Mexico and boasts the Southern-most lake in the state.  It served our purpose as a home base to see Carlsbad Caverns, but we decided that this part of New Mexico has most of its beauty underground.


Not to hurt the feelings of anyone from in this area of New Mexico, but we’re seriously missing our trees.  This is the first lake we’ve been to with really none to speak of.  That scraggly thing in the picture is about the closest you get here.  Of course it’s a lake made by that dam in the photo.  Apparently the Chihuahuan Desert wins out, and there’s just not enough moisture to support tree life.  Sigh.  We miss them so.


We just didn’t realize how much Chihuahuan Desert there is and that we’d be in it so long.


Jackson did like the road that ends in water.  It was a chance for him to get a drink.  In keeping with the desert, we couldn’t smell the water until we were practically right on top of it.  So very dry here.

Carlsbad Caverns

The main event was fortunately not the state park, but the deepest limestone cave in the United States and New Mexico’s only National Park.  At a constant 56 degrees and 90% humidity, it’s a contrast to the temps topside.  I needed my little cap on for this tour.


We opted for a self-guided tour this time since we’d already toured two other caverns recently.  The first part was the hike in using the natural entrance, taking you 1.25 miles down, or the equivalent of walking down a 75 story building.  Pretty steep.


There’s Pat giving me the wave to come on down.


Here’s a look down the pathway with that snaking walkway and very important handrails.  I learned the hard way on the last two tours that you have to keep really still to get any pictures that aren’t blurry.  I managed a few clear ones this time, especially since we practically had the place to ourselves and could take all the time we wanted.


Once you reach the bottom, the next tour area is the Big Room.  The formations in this place are HUGE and my favorites are the draperies.  They look just like delicate hanging fabric.  We learned from our handy audio tour that initially the cave was used by people to “mine” bat guano.  Early visitors had to enter the cavern in guano buckets.  No thank you.  Very happy for the walking trail down and the elevator back up.


Hall of the Giants – and my attempt to recreate the picture that the National Park Service used for the collector’s stamp.  The ranger told us where to stand for this shot.


Fairy Land – truly magical with all the delicate stalactites on the ceiling.


The Chinese Theater.  Can’t you just see that Oriental man in the middle?  We also liked the Lion’s Tale.


The best part of this cave is the fact that it’s still active and growing almost everywhere.  Since it wasn’t crowded on our visit, we could stop and hear the water dripping.  A drop hit me smack on the top of my head and ran down into my eyes.  This water pool in the Big Room was beautiful with formations that looked like brain coral.


The model of the caverns in the visitor’s center was amazing.  Pat’s pointing to the building we’re standing in, and that angled section beneath it shows the Natural Entrance walkway.  From there you can see the bottom layer and the many vast sections of caves.  We only saw a small fraction of what’s underground.  Simply a marvel.


Don’t I look like a spelunker?  Fortunately there aren’t any small confined spaces to crawl through.  I’m not sure I could really do that.

Motorhome Dinner Party

Our new friends Henry & Linda were just a few spots down in the Brantley Lake Campground and we made a plan for dinner during our stay.  I made chicken fajitas in my Instant Pot and our guests made homemade flour tortillas.  I think they had the harder task to be honest.  (I can’t stop raving about my Instant Pot and how handy it is for cooking in our teensy kitchen.)  Anyway, we swapped beers, dipped chips, and sampled their frijoles and Mexican cookies.  Add a few hours of getting to know each other better, and we’re fast friends with an invitation to visit them in Maine when we finally head East again.

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park

Before we both departed going out separate ways, we made a plan to meet Linda & Henry at the Living Desert State Park.  At $5 admission each, it was a bargain and a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Spring is really on the way and we saw some new blooms and happy desert plants.  Finally a Yucca with living blossoms.  Not sure what the yellow flower is.  And I just like the symmetry of the succulents.

We had the most fun with the animals.  Linda & Henry are avid birders and helped us identify a few locals who showed up in trees, and gave us some good info on the resident eagles and owls.

Honestly, who doesn’t love a good prairie dog town?  So comical with their waving tails on high intruder alert.


So serene.  This elk was not on any kind of alert when we came by.


I was nose to nose with this guy through the fence.  He was so curious and sniffed my nose, my hand, and my camera.  And then he lumbered off with not a graceful bone in his body.


Pat hams it up with the bat display.

Unfortunately it’s time to say goodbye to our new buddies.  Linda & Henry had to make tracks the next day headed back in the direction of Maine, while we were set to move on to our next New Mexico adventure.  I’m sure we’ll see them again in our travels.

One Scenic View & The Rabbits


To be fair, we did find some scenic views in this part of the country.  This shot is from the parking lot at Carlsbad Caverns.  You do a good bit of climbing on the road to get to the top only to descend below ground.

And there were rabbits.  We drove back to the campground that’s about four miles off the highway, one night after dark.  Other than desert scrub, there’s nothing out there on this winding narrow road.  Well nothing other than the rabbits running wildly across the road both ways.  And I do mean running.  We counted at least 20 criss-crossing our path, but then there was this one.  He or she ran right for Bitsy’s wheels.  I attribute this to too much Bugs Bunny cartoons as children, since we both start singing like Elmer Fudd.  “Killed a WAbbit, killed a WAbbit!”  I don’t think I hit it, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Time to move on once again.  Next up – White Sands National Monument and more new friends.

Hueco Tanks

February 28 – March 2

Another stop and another state park.  Just as we like it.  Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site has an interesting mix of visitors, mainly because of it’s two very different claims to fame – rock climbing and ancient rock art.  We came to get a taste of both.  But first, the journey.

 Tumbleweeds, Blimps & Other Delights

We left Davis Mountains State Park and knew we’d have a pretty easy drive, but didn’t realize how eventful it would be.  Lots to see on the way.


First off, it was sooooo windy.  The kind that sends gusts to push us onto the shoulder.  The kind that blows honest-to-goodness tumblin’ tumbleweeds right into our path.  These suckers are pretty big and Pat does his best to swerve around to miss them.  He’s concerned about the stiff stems making it to the radiator.  Well, he managed to miss all but one.  We found dents and tumbleweed remains in the fine mesh Pat put over the front of the grill to protect Lucy’s radiator in Alaska.  Glad we still had it installed.  Onward to Marfa, TX.


We didn’t see the famed lights outside of Marfa, but we did see this Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS).  We played the “what is that” game for miles until we got close enough to see that it was indeed a blimp.  A moored helium balloon to be exact.  Turns out that US Customs & Border Patrol has eight of these at strategic border points to detect suspicious low-flying aircraft.  They fly these like kites and the radar has a range of 200 miles.  On this day they are definitely grounded due to the high winds.

Gas isn’t on our agenda for this travel day, but lunch is.  I see there’s a Flying J truck stop in Van Horn and it has a Wendy’s.  Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve even seen a Wendy’s?  That’d be three MONTHS!  Yes, we’ve been off the beaten path for quite a while where even fast-food is non-existent.  We happily park in a rough gravel lot next to the truck stop and indulge.  Jackson is promised french fries, so he doesn’t complain too much.

Our driving route after lunch takes us due North and gives us a grand view of the Guadalupe Mountains in the National Park.


When we get excited, Jackson gets up to take a look, too.  He’s gazing upon the road most likely, but there’s the highest point in Texas ahead – Guadalupe Peak at 8,749 feet.

After we make the turn West towards El Paso and our Hueco Tanks destination, Pat ends up leading a parade.  We’re pretty slow compared to the rest of the traffic, rarely doing more than 58-ish miles per hour.  Once a line forms, Pat likes to find a pull-off if it’s a difficult place for people to pass.  He pulls into a roadside picnic area and it turns out to be a fantastic impromptu stop.


For his courteous driving, we’re rewarded with this view of the Guadalupe Mountain range.  This is the Western Escarpment and according to the roadside sign, “one of the best exposed geologic rock sections in the world”, and “one of the best examples of a fossil reef anywhere in the world”.

A few more shots from my roadside photo shoot.  I call that first one “Boot on a Fencepost”.

The Huecos & The Tanks

Hueco (pronounced Waco) Tanks State Park is named for the two things it provides this desert area.  “Huecos” are natural basins, and you can find bowl, bathtub and pond-sized indentations in the rocks.  “Tanks” are the natural water pools from the collection of rain-water in the huecos.  Together they provide water for a wide variety of plants, animals, and also supported the ancient people who visited.


The drive into the park takes you around the North Mountain rock face.  I really do see a face in it – something sunning itself with eyes closed.  Maybe a frog or a lizard, with a bit of a smile.  The rocks in the park are really unique compared to what’s around in the area.  Essentially Hueco Tanks is four hills of stone made from molten rock that cooled underneath sandstone millions of years ago.  The limestone wore away to reveal the lumpy rocks, filled with huecos.


Here’s a look at one of the larger “tanks” surrounded by that bumpy rock.


Our first night here was beautiful.  The moon rose over the surrounding mountains that were aglow from the setting sun.  I stood right on Lucy’s steps to take this picture.

Rock Climbing & Rock Art

The park is filled with ancient pictographs, so they don’t let you hike about without a pass.  We reserved ours months ago so we could be sure to explore the area.  On one of the mountains, you can do a self-guided hike, and that’s where we got our taste of mountain “climbing”.  Actually we did what what is referred to as “bouldering”.  That’s where you climb over the face of small rocks or boulders using only natural handholds.


Mostly we just scrambled over and around rocks, but we’re counting is as bouldering.  The “real” climbing fanatics come in by the van load, each with their own crash pad.  This is essentially a big square foam mattress folded in half.  They wear them on their backs like backpacks until they get to their climbing spot.  From there, they lay them down on the ground as a landing spot when they fall.  We talked to a group of enthusiastic young people who assured us that you need a crash pad for when, not if, you fall.

This is the face of North Mountain head on.  We’re on our way past and look up since Pat hears a noise.  This is when we get to watch the real mountain climbing.


In the shady spot, about a third of the way up the cliff face, is this climber.  We find that we just can’t tear our eyes away.

The climber swung over to get another rope, swung back and kept climbing.  Almost at the top, and finally standing on top coiling up the ropes.  It was worth the whole stop to watch that feat, which was about a 200 foot vertical climb.

The other mountains in the park are closed to visitors unless you go on a guided hike.  We booked one to see the rock art.  Our guides, Tish and Dar, took us on quite a hike and one that really involved some bouldering.  At one point we were on a nice little ledge and I just didn’t look down.


We visited several caves with pictographs and petroglyphs that are estimated to date back to 1000 A.D.  Several different groups came to the area including the Apache, but who came here, and exactly when, is unknown.  There are estimated to be as many as 5,000 pictographs in the caves, with more being discovered each season.  Tish and Dar have been living in the park in a tent for over a year, and spend their spare time bouldering and cataloging new pictograph sites.  Now that’s camping!


Tish knew all about the plants and pointed out the yucca.  Their sharp points and stringy parts made a perfect needle and thread for the original people passing through.

More huecos, tanks and scenic views from our pictograph hike.

We’re Not Stalkers

When we first arrived and got set up in our camping spot, I noticed something in the spot next door.  I tell Pat, “Look!  It’s those people again”.  I say again, since we noticed this same white truck with Maine plates and  green kayaks mounted on top at Maverick Ranch, Davis Mountains State Park, and now here.  Truthfully there aren’t a lot of different routes out of Big Bend, but seeing the same people in these same state parks seemed unusual.  We knew that meant they must like the same kinds of places that we do, so we kept an eye out to finally meet them.  We also wanted to make sure they knew we weren’t stalking them.  It was grand to finally meet Henry and Linda, and they even went on the same pictograph hike with us.

Farewell Lone Star State

We’ve seen all we came to see, and we’re ready to leave Texas.  It’s been a great four months of wintering, but we need to add some new states to our camping map.  Some back-tracking was required on our travel day and we knew from experience, there was precious little on the route.  There was the Cornuda Cafe and that was absolutely it for any food along the way.  Looked quirkly and our new friends Linda and Henry were going to stop there, so we decided to give it a try.


All the tables had real legs, complete with jeans and cowboy boots.


My leg and our table leg.

Fantastic burgers and homemade french fries.  I had the World Famous Cornuda Burger with Green Chiles and Cheese.  Pat had a regular cheeseburger and we were both delighted.  And the guy playing guitar and harmonica wished us safe travels when we left.


This drive gave me one more chance to photograph Guadalupe Peak and a chance to drive past the National Park.  Texas has two national parks and we were fortunate enough to see both of them.

Next up: Guess where Linda and Henry are headed?  They have reservations in the same New Mexico state park that we do.  So stay tuned for Carlsbad Caverns and our first motorhome dinner party.

Davis Mountains

February 14-27

We were soooo glad to be somewhere else after a month-long stay in Big Bend.  Don’t get me wrong.  We loved Big Bend, but a month just about anyplace is too long for us.  Davis Mountains State Park outside of Fort Davis, TX was just the change we needed.  A little bit cooler and glorious trees!

Davis Mountains State Park

We’re learning a thing or two about full-timing RVing.  One of them is that we need to pick some places for wintering that aren’t quite so remote for long periods of time.  As you recall, for cell service, church and groceries, we had to drive 50 miles one way from Lajitas.  That was quite an investment, so we only did it once a week.  Well, it turns out that Davis Mountains State Park is in a valley and you can get cell service only if you drive to one of the overlooks.  The good news is that is only a few miles up the steep hill and we can at least do that every day during our two week stay.


A little windy and cold sometimes, but there is indeed cell service and we can use our hot spot at the overlook.  Our place for dueling computers.

The views from Skyline Drive are pretty good, so we really don’t mind making the trek each day.

Star Parties

There’s hiking at the park, too, giving us our first glimpse of the McDonald Observatory.  That’s the main draw for this area which is home to some of the darkest skies in the country.


Way off in the distance you can see the research telescope domes on top of Mt. Locke


And the close up.  These domes are at the observatory about 13 miles away from the state park.

The researchers host “star parties” several times a week and we were able to attend the “Twilight Party” and the “Star Party”.  At the Twilight party, we saw a superb demonstration of the phases of the moon and learned about the moon’s surface geology.  The Star Party was a great follow up with seven different telescopes set up to see both far and close moon views, the Orion Nebula and a few other star clusters.  And yet, I can still only identify the constellation Orion without help.

The Davis Mountains


The 75 mile scenic loop drive gave us a great view of the surrounding Davis Mountains made from rhyolite lava lows 35 million years ago.  These rocks look so different than what we saw in Big Bend.


This is a good representation of the column-like formations and is a backdrop behind the real fort in Fort Davis.

A few more shots from our hikes around the park.

Dog Bowl In The Desert

The park also had two bird viewing areas.  They put out seed and something that looked like peanut butter twice a day to attract the throngs of birds.  I enjoyed looking through the window views, but found out we had the best views of all right from Lucy’s front windows.  Jackson’s dog bowl was a favorite spot for all different kinds of birds.  Put out a water bowl in the desert and they will come.


I think this guy is a Scrub Jay and he’s about to be ousted from the preferred water perch by this bully.  Yes, I think the Acorn Woodpeckers are pretty, but they are kinda mean to the other birds.


These two seemed to be getting along pretty well.  The other bully?  That would be the brilliant red cardinal.  All the other birds came and went without squabbling until woodpeckers or cardinals came on the scene.  And when it was time to leave, we picked up the bowl only to find a nice little ring of bird droppings in the shape of the water bowl.  Hopefully those birds will find another watering hole now that we’ve departed.

Two weeks was more than enough time here, but I did manage to get my teeth cleaned and I got a great haircut from Flora.  Of course we couldn’t do any of this in Fort Davis.  Nope, all that civilized stuff required a drive 30 miles back down the road to Alpine.  Also the place for laundry.  So, let this be a lesson to us.  Next year, we’re spending our winter downtime in a tad bigger place where we can be on the grid the entire time, and enjoy a few amenities close by.

Next up – our last stop in Texas at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site.  See you on the way!


Big Bend Ranch State Park & Go Time

February 9 – 14

All good things must come to an end and that’s the case with our month-long stay in the Big Bend area.  Honestly we were more than ready to depart since we get antsy staying in one place this long.  Three weeks would have been plenty, but then we’re wintering after all.  We forget it’s winter everywhere else with snow and freezing temps, even just a little farther north in Texas.  Fortunately none of that in the desert.

The State Park


For a change, one of us actually got in the picture with the sign.  This is at the start of the drive through Big Bend Ranch State Park.  All the hikes and views we enjoyed were after this spot.

Hoodoos Hike

The Hoodoos Trail wasn’t on our must-do list for the state park, but it was our back-up plan for the day.  To hike any of the trails in the park, you need to get a pass and let the rangers know where you plan to be and provide a description of your vehicle.  When we stopped by for our pass, they let us know that our first choice destination, Closed Canyon, might really be closed due to a missing hiker.  They weren’t sure if he’d been found yet.  Sure enough, that trailhead was covered with ranger and police vehicles and a helicopter was searching overhead.  So, we continue on down the road.


At the Hoodoos trailhead you get this view of a hoodoo that looks like a balancing rock.  Honestly we’ve seen more impressive examples, but none of those were on the bank of the Rio Grande.  It was a fairly short hike, but a good first one to show how easy it is to lose the trail around here.  A lot of the trails are just rock surfaces, so you can’t rely on paths in the dirt or vegetation.  We got off track more than once.  Also, a lot of the trails are like marbles on the kitchen floor.  Extremely treacherous if you aren’t watching your footfalls carefully.  Pat actually took a tumble on this trail, but fortunately was in jeans and a jacket, so not much harm done.  

Fresno Divide

Our stop on the state park scouting drive was at the Fresno Divide trailhead.  Great views here of the Chihuahuan Desert and surrounding mountains.


The sign to the overlook and the vast desert landscape.


I shared this picture in a previous post, but it belongs with this set at Fresno Creek.  Still one of my favorites with the peaks in shades of blue.


Shorty Cholla cactus at the overlook and more red spines in the afternoon sun.  

We liked this spot so much that we returned to hike in the canyon formed by Fresno Creek.

Fresno Creek and a close up of those walls.  They were so interesting that we just had to hike down and get a closer look.  Obviously not a lot of water anyplace this time of year.  But when it does rain, it races through these canyons.  Hiking is dangerous when rains are imminent, but we were hot, dry and safe during our visit.


The rocks continue to amaze.  You have the layers and layers of rocks and right up next to it, the abrupt change with jutting rocks at an angle.  You can’t help but wonder about the force required for that kind of geologic formation.  Here’s Pat pondering just that.


Me and the muscle man with another shadow shot and the Fresno Canyon walls in front of us.


That’s me by the cliff walls and under a pretty substantial overhang.  Pat took the picture and quickly told me to move away from the wall.  That overhang made him nervous.


Little bird nests under the overhang.  They look like some kind of mud dauber houses.


We made it this far and turned around.  The sun is setting and we’d like to get back out of the canyon in full daylight.

The Camino del Rio

Truly the best part of the state park and easiest to enjoy is the the Camino del Rio, better known as the River Road/FM 170.  This is THE drive I mentioned before and is just short of 50 miles from Lajitas to Presidio.  The park newspaper describes it this way, “…labeled one of the most scenic drives in all of the United States…a roller coaster of 20-mile-per-hour turns, steep grades, and numerous ups and downs”.  We drove it six times and marveled at the views every time.


There’s that road snaking along below.  And what they don’t tell you about in the park newspaper are the rock slides.  Every time we drove the road, I had to be alert to chunks of rock in my lane, right around that next curve.

Other Stuff

We were here long enough to get our fill of Amazon packages.  One of those contained Jackson’s boots.  So far we’ve only worked up to wearing the front two boots, but they do seem to help with the sharp rocks and “goat heads” that get stuck in his pads.  He doesn’t particularly like them and resembles a Tennessee walking horse when he high steps, but he gets special jerky treats for wearing them.  

Our favorite place to eat was in Terlingua and was advertised as “semi-subterranean”.  La Kiva was indeed a mostly underground restaurant with quite a funky vibe.  Believe it or not, I had some of the the best fish and chips I’ve ever had there, as well as a delicious steak on our second visit.

And that second visit?  Well that one was with new friends Steven and Linda.  We’ve been following their travel blog for quite some time and were amazed when their motorhome showed up in a site within view of our own.  Thanks to the RVillage social media site, we were able to say ‘hi’ and make dinner plans.  Our first time to meet famous RV bloggers!  Fortunately our rave reviews of La Kiva didn’t disappoint.

Last of Lajitas

A few parting comments from our Lajitas spot.  Everytime we left Lajitas on the way to Presidio, I gawked at my favorite rock formation.


To me, this resembles a Roman coliseum.  A little shadowing and you have your great limestone columns.

Our routine every morning quickly evolved into a walk with Jackson in his front boots to see Clay Henry, the goat mayor of Lajitas.  I talked to him and his Mrs.  Sometimes they would come over so I could reach through the bars to scratch their heads, and sometimes not.  They regarded me with a detached gaze, since I’m guessing they’ve seen my kind before.  We come, we go.  Mrs. Henry was funny when she would rare up on her hind legs and come down to bash heads with Clay.  She rules that roost.


One of these things is not like the other….

When Jackson wasn’t up for a walk to see the goats, we drove over to the resort to access different trails.  No less than 15 Porches were in the parking lot one day.  And yes, I just couldn’t resist parking right between two of them.

I found a good new book series here, too.  “Borderline” by Nevada Barr featured Anna Pigeon, national park ranger, as the main character.  It’s set in Big Bend National Park, and I enjoyed reading some fiction with the sights we were visiting described in the book.  I’ve moved on to read two more Anna Pigeon novels since then that included a mystery at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  We’re headed there on our way to New Mexico.  

And that missing hiker?  They found his body after eight days.  Such a sad ending and we never did hike the Closed Canyon trail.

Finally, there’s the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest.  Turns out we’re set to leave just as the place is being descended upon by all manner of campers bringing their high dollar mountain bikes for three days of epic trail rides.  Or so they say.  They also say there’ll be multiple kegs going every night.   


We’re not exactly keg material, so we’re off!  That first picture is the vista we’d see every time we drove in to Terlingua.  This time we’re following another motorhome towing a small car.  Probably a lot what we look like from behind.  And that second shot is the winding road heading out.  See ya Big Bend!

Next up – Davis Mountains State Park and a little stargazing.  See you on the way!



Big Bend

January 26 – February 8

We’ve decided this is the place of vistas.  Broad sweeping views of the desert and mountains with roads snaking along through both.  It is stark, beautiful and vast.  Big Bend does have an appeal and we see why people come back here year after year.  Since we’re sandwiched between the national and state parks, I thought I’d blog about our visits to each one.  First up, Big Bend National Park.

Santa Elena Canyon

We scoured the trail maps and figured out what we thought would be good hikes to showcase the different areas of the park.  Second on our list was Santa Elena Canyon.  It ended up being our first hike since we got too late a start for a longer trail.  The drive alone is quite a beauty and about 50 miles from our Lajitas home base.


Pat standing on the bank of the Rio Grande at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon.  The walls are up to 1500 feet tall and the canyon is 20 miles long, making it quite spectacular.


The Rio Grande is flowing at this spot, but rolling along so leisurely that it’s hard to tell where the canyon wall ends and the reflection begins.


We saw what looked like a snake in the water, and this bird flitting back and forth from the rock to the river to drink.  I tried to get a clear shot, but had to settle for this wing reflection with the little beak sipping river water.


The best view of the end of the trail where the canyon wall meets the river.


And my favorite shot of the day with that backward look.  Canyon walls framing the Chisos Mountains.  Hard to believe that really is flowing water.

On the way to the canyon we picked two spots to stop on the way out for more views.


Here’s the first one – Mule Ears.  Can’t you just see them?  There’s a better angle on the road, but this captures the surrounding area as well.


And number two – Sotol Vista overlook.  Another sweeping view.  if you look closely in the distance, you can see the notch in the middle set of mountains.  That’s Santa Elena Canyon about 16 miles away as the crow flies.

Given the name, here’s a shot with a Sotol plant in the picture.  And in the one on the right, you can see a vehicle coming up the road to the viewpoint.

Lost Mine Trail


The Lost Mine Trail was our top hiking choice in the park based on the rave review of a random camper at Seminole Canyon.  Edmund waxed poetic about this hike and you could just see him go there in his mind when he described it.  Apparently a yearly pilgrimage for him. Here’s the backward look with the Window View in the distance and you can see the road below where we started.

We had to pick our day carefully since this one is just short of five miles long round-trip, and has an elevation change of over 1100 feet.  To put this spot in perspective, the trail head starts at an elevation of 5600 feet, which is higher than the city of Denver.  Of course the highest elevation doesn’t come close to the Rockies, but is certainly up there for us sea level Floridians, and considering this is Texas.  Fortunately we’ve been at higher elevations most of the year, so I didn’t have any problems with that icky altitude sickness.


At the highest point at the end of the trail.  The Window View is behind me and that rock to the left is the Elephant Tusk.


A better look at that Elephant Tusk.  This trail is gorgeous with 360 degree views.  We were promised trees and did get them, but we had more “forest” in mind, and not just the “hanging on for dear life” trees in the rocks.

A few more shots for you.  A towering old agave bloom with the mountains in the distance and on the trail, me and the Elephant Tusk, Pat at the halfway point, and the Window View at almost the highest point on the trail.


For a little perspective, see if you can find Pat on the trail.  Vast and sweeping really capture this place.


Last but not least, my little blue bird of happiness, the Mexican Jay.  He practically did a photo shoot for me.  I even called out “work it baby” since he was posing every which way in the tree and on the bench.

Boquillas Canyon


These metal signposts are great with the scenic backdrop.  Vistas everywhere you look.


View of the Rio Grande in one direction, and Bitsy waiting patiently for our return in the other.


Just through this locked gate is the spot where you can cross into Mexico if you bring your passport.  Apparently they ferry you across the Rio Grande and then you can pay to ride burros into town.  Don’t go on Monday, though.  The crossing is closed.  Guess what day it is?


We didn’t particularly want to cross anyway, but we did get the chance to see some Mexican souvenirs.  There are little impromptu spots where the wares are laid out on rocks with price stickers and a bucket with a hole in it for your money.  They were so pretty in the sun with the Rio Grande in the background.  It’s illegal to purchase them, so did we or didn’t we?


The best look at Boquillas Canyon that you get.  Not quite as spectacular as Santa Elena, but this is a different part of the park and definitely more desert-y.

Since they had a little rain a few day previously, several different kinds of flowers were blooming.  I also had to get a closer look at the footy prints in the sand.  They looked like little dunes at the base of the cliff.  And probably just dog prints.

This wasn’t a particularly hard or long trail, but with the sun beating down and virtually no shade, it was easy to see why this part of the park is essentially closed in the summer.  We drank all the water we took and wanted more.  I definitely couldn’t do it in the 115 degree heat that they assure me is to come in just a few months.


Another road runner crosses our path on the way out.  Turns out it isn’t as hard as you think to get a good picture.  If you stand still, I think they become curious.  I’ve watched them enough now to tell you what they do.  Two flips of the tail in back and then they pop up that little headdress of feathers.  Usually then they scurry.  Flip flip, poof, zoom!  Take the shot during the poof.

Window Trail With A Bonus

Our final national park hike is the Window Trail.  We got a glimpse of this one during out scouting drive and knew we had to include it in the mix.  It turned out to be about five miles with the bonus.  More about that later.  The trail itself takes you through the Oak Creek Canyon and finally ends at the Window pour-off.


The view at the pour-off and the obvious end of the trail.  The rocks here are polished like glass since water rushes over them to form a high waterfall.  That is, during the rainy season.  At this time there’s only the very slick rocks and a big drop to the creek bed below.

Pat wouldn’t come any closer, but I had to see the bigger picture.  I did make sure I could get back up before I slid down those slick rocks to the edge.

Along the way we see a pair of those Mexican Jays and also a red-headed woodpecker.  I’ve decided my very favorite desert plant is the agave, also called agave azul or blue agave.  I’m sure it’s that soft blue-green color that does it for me.  Plus they have serious black spikes at the end of each leaf with alligator-like thorns along the leaf edges.  They grow an amazing “mast” that looks and feels like a wooden pole with beautiful yellow flowers that seem to float in layers.  (See Lost Mine trail photos for a good example).  They flower once and then they die.  I’d love to be here to see them in bloom and not just the dead remnants.

And now for the bonus.  We read about the Oak Spring Trail that forks off from the Window Trail.  The entire trail was too long, but the half-mile or so trip to the overlook proved to be well worth the detour and distance.


We had this panorama all to our selves, at least for a little while.  A young man named Josh joined us briefly and took a few pictures for us, and we returned the favor.  Turns out Josh was on a road-trip from Houston to LA to see his “date” for Valentine’s Day.  He seemed to enjoy playing photographer and took quite a few shots.  Click. Click. “Sir, please remove your hat and move back a little.”  Click. Click.  “Ma’am, move forward a little.” Click. Click.  “Sir, put your arm around her, for Valentine’s Day.”


I got such a kick out of how seriously he took his picture taking gig.  Loved this one of us resting at our overlook vantage point.


I scampered around on the edge again, while Pat sat back and reflected.  As always, the look back is pretty good, too.

Parting shot with the scraggly ocotillo in front of the mountains, the trail waaaay down below, and me on the carved steps close to the Window view.  There’s a little water in the canyon this time of year, but not much.


For me, the little things are just as interesting as the expansive views.  The rocks change almost every half mile it seems.  This rock wall looked like carved wood.  You can almost imagine faces looking out at you.

I enjoyed this hike most of all.  The crunch of boots on rocks drowned out all the other sounds, so we’d stop from time to time just to listen.  Birds calling, wind blowing in the trees, a running spring somewhere just out of our view, and ,of course, silence.

Next Up – Big Bend Ranch State Park and the end to our month-long stay in Lajitas.  See you on the way!

Jeep Adventure With Ed

January 26, 2018

This is the place for off road adventures, but we had the good sense to leave it to the experts and leave Bitsy behind.  Our little low clearance car can do gravel roads, but certainly not wash-outs and boulders.  Plus, we didn’t want to get stranded somewhere with no way to call since cell service is non-existent in the hills.


We booked a 3 hour tour (I know you’re hearing the music in your head) with Far Flung Adventures so we could enjoy the complete off-road experience.  Ed, our tour guide, introduced himself and then introduced us to Squeaky, our chariot for the afternoon.


It was just the two of us on this afternoon ride, so we got a personalized tour.

Turns out we’re not in either the national or state park for this excursion, but in the Terlingua Ranch hills between the two.  A good opportunity to go places we wouldn’t be able to on our own.

The Plants


This little mound in the blazing sun is supposedly Pancho Villa’s grave.  Not really, but looks authentic with the worn wooden cross and cactus on guard.  Pancho Villa was notorious back in the early 1900s during the Mexican Revolution and was said to cross back and forth over the border causing mayhem.


My close-up shows off the purple-tinged prickly pear and two different kinds of cholla cactus.  That long skinny one on the right looks like braids up close.  Ed was good about answering all my questions on plant names, and I was glad to hear that the purple-tinged prickly pear is really a thing and not just frostbitten plants.  He did say that the really purple ones are in distress and the healthiest specimens just look tinged around the edges.


We stopped by this huge Ocotillo since it has a strange knot of old segments.  Ed explained that each season, the plant sprouts bright green leaves on those prickly stalks and grows a segment at the end of each one that blooms in bright red flowers.  We figured we’re pretty clever guessing the age of one of the plants until he tells us that some seasons are rough and they don’t bloom at all, and others are lush and they have a Spring and Fall bloom.  So, one segment, two segments or none at all.  Really impossible to tell for sure the age of the plant.  But this one?  It sprouted all kinds of blooming segments in a big knot in the center.  Almost like a bird’s nest and we’ve no idea why.


And you probably have some of this stuff hanging around.  Really you do.  The plant is called Candelilla and they harvest wax from it.  Ed said it’s used in most lip balms.  Sure enough, I whip the Banana Boat lip balm out of my pocket and find Candelilla in the list of ingredients.

The Smells

There were indeed smells on the tour.  I could include this in the plant section, but it makes for a better story here.  On one of our photo op stops, Ed grabs some leaves from one of the plants and crushes them between his fingers.  We give it a smell.  The leaves are from a creosote bush and they have a distinctive smell.  In the desert, that’s the smell of rain on the way.


See all those yellow-green bushes?  Those are creosote and no relation at all to the tar-like substance used to coat telephone poles.

The other smell?  That’s the smell of javelinas.  They smell a lot like a skunk, but not quite as strong.  We’ve been smelling them in our campsites, but didn’t know that’s what it was.  We found tracks near the road and stopped the jeep, but didn’t see any running about.  Although a javelina looks like a pig, and is referred to as “skunk pig”, it’s actually a peccary.  No sightings, so no photos.  You’ll just have to google them up.

The Rocks


These “colored stripes” as I was calling them are deceiving.  Looks like sand, but this is really “tuff” or rock made of volcanic ash that came from a vent during an eruption.  The colors correspond to minerals in the rock and to me they resemble sand sculptures.  We’ve marveled at all the different kinds of rocks in this area.  If we were geologists, we’d be in rock heaven.


The Views



By this point in our stay it’s almost time for that blue, blood, super moon.  I like this view better.  Probably because I actually get to see this one.  The real blue, super event happened in the wee hours of the morning.  I no longer “do” early mornings, so moon over the mountains is good enough for me.


There are so many shapes in the rocks even if you don’t have much of an imagination.  This crag sticking out is known as Buzzard’s Beak.  From the other side it looked like an eagle’s claw.


Ed also pointed out several “vacation homes”.  Lots of people pull up a trailer, put a carport over it and call it paradise.  The big black tank is there to catch rain water to last during the dry winter months.


We even spotted some familiar yet unexpected bird life during the ride.  These tropical transplants decorate the outside of one of the retirement homes we passed.  A lot like the vacation homes, but with more water catching capacity.

A few more views for you with a peek at the winding road in the lower right shot.


It’s the end of the trail for us and time to head back.  We certainly got our rough and bumpy road and our share of dust to go with it, but a great off-the-beaten-path experience.  That grit of sand between our teeth was just what we were after, and Bitsy didn’t suffer at all.

I can’t conclude the Jeep excursion without telling one more story.  This one goes way back to the time we lived in Texas and Ethan was just four or five years old.  We would point out Jeeps and call them by name.  Ethan would hotly answer, “It’s a JEET!”  In some ways we were good parents.  This time not so much.  We delighted in getting him all spun up proclaiming they were really JEETS!  We can’t talk about jeeps without laughing about those good old days.

Next up – Big Bend National Park.  See you on the way!