The Most Beautiful Course in Texas

We spent close to a week in Lajitas, Texas –  Big Bend territory.   It was from here that we  journeyed to Big Bend National Park.

The Maverick Ranch RV Resort is part of the larger Lajitas Golf Resort, built to be a destination resort out in the middle of nowhere.  I don’t know how much of that dream was realized but there are a lot of facilities here.    The RV park had a nice pool and clubhouse.  The hotel area has a boardwalk with shops, a spa, and several restaurants.

The golf course, Black Jack’s Crossing, has all kinds of accolades in Texas and beyond.  Golf Magazine declared it The Most Beautiful Golf Course in Texas.   The club house is the old 1899 Lajitas Trading Post.

The adornment on the putting green is the statue “Robert E Lee and the Confederate Soldier.”  Did you ever wonder where those statues that are deemed inappropriate and removed go to die? Or where they go to live on?  One of them came to Lajitas.  This statue was removed by the Dallas City Council in 2017.  It resurfaced at an auction in 2019, was purchased by an anonymous buyer, and donated to Lajitas Golf Resort.   

The golf course is surprisingly green amongst the brown hills.

It goes in and out of the Rio Grande Valley and is very lush considering the environment.

The first time Randy played it was mid afternoon and hot. We were pretty much the only ones out there.

There are a lot of ups and downs on the course which is fun in the golf cart.

We saw abandoned golf balls everywhere and Randy had fun collecting them.   Some were just barely in the rough, or just barely in the pond.   Randy has a ball retriever and it became part of the round to see how many he could easily gather.

He gathered more than five dozen balls with little effort!   We have theories on why people don’t retrieve their ball and just pull out another.   First, it is an expensive course to play so people who can afford to play it can afford to use another ball.   Second,  there are snakes in these hills and who wants to ruin a round with that drama?

Given the heat of the afternoon we saw little wildlife but this road runner played coy with me trying to take his picture.

Randy played again the next morning with new friends in the RV park.  We saw these intriguing foam lines along the course and were told it had something to do with fertilizer application.

Between the golf course and the RV park is the historic Lajitas Cemetery.  Names were primarily hispanic but a few anglos.  There didn’t appear to be any recent burials.

Big Bend National Park is east of Lajitas.  Between the two is the town of Terlingua, an old mining ghost town, remaking itself as the “Chili Cook-off Capital of the World.”

Because my cousins have competed in chili cook-offs around the country, we know a little about the travel and lifestyle of competion. I bought this Ghost Town Chili spice mix by Tom Dozier and made his Championship Chili. It is marketed out of Terlingua and lists his many championships on the lable.   The print is small so I will tell you that the directions call for six tablespoons of spice mix, two pounds of meat, and tomato sauce.  We already knew that competition chili usually has no beans, onions, chopped peppers or other vegetables.  I made the chili mostly following the directions, slightly reducing the hamburger and adding one can of beans.   It was spicy good, but next time I’m adding the onions and peppers.

West of Lajitas is another Big Bend – Big Bend Ranch State Park.  We inadvertently drove through this way from Marfa to Lajitas.  The highway goes through the state park right along the Rio Grande. 

It was quite scenic and we saw the 15% grade signs several times.   Randy and the truck did well going through with the trailer but we drove through another day just to enjoy the views in a more carefree way.

This overlook seemed to be the highest point looking into the valley.

A river runs through it.

Have rock, will climb.

Everything is green near the Rio Grande River.

There are home remnants all through this area, almost all made of rock.

There were three picnic table teepees at this rest area.

We’re not sure how or why this rock formation is here but it is.

Large, no extra large, centipedes are everywhere!  They may be getting into extra small snake category.

There isn’t a Starbucks anywhere in this part of Texas, but there is a Starbucks sign,   I did the research, there are no answers.  It seems to be just another incident of random “art” in the area: a Prada “store” near Marfa, a Target “store” near Marathon and now a Starbucks sign near Redford, Texas.  Wonder what will be next!

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Big Day in Big Bend

The itinerary for this RV trip was made with two national parks in mind:  Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains. Both are in west Texas and very much out of the way – places you have to purposely go to because they aren’t on the way to anywhere.   

We were staying about an hour away in Lajitas and decided we were going to make the drive one time.  We were going to see as much of Big Bend as we could in one very long day.

A woman I met in the campground told me about the app Just Ahead which provides audio tours on your phone using GPS.  Big Bend was one of the free park tours so it was an easy decision to try it.  

We entered the park and crossed the demarkation into the plus side of Randy’s $80 Lifetime Senior Park Pass.  It took a week to pay for itself.   

The most recommended site in Big Bend is Santa Elena Canyon so we headed that way.   

We traveled the scenic drive and immediately noticed that we had timed our visit perfectly.  The prickly pear, cholla and ocotillo were all blooming!

Our first stop and short hike was to the Sam Nail Ranch, established in 1916.  Sam and his wife Nena built their home next to a river, dug wells and planted native and non-native trees.  They carved out a life in the isolated desert.

The windmill still pumps water from the well keeping the former home area lush.

As we walked back to the truck we could see the Chisos Mountains in the distance, they are at the center of Big Bend National Park.

Our second hike was to the Homer Wilson Ranch House. 

As we approached we were surprised to hear music.   A former and current park employee had met at the ranch to play. It was unexpected and delightful.

 The ranch operated with up to 4000 sheep and 2500 goats.

Many of the signs in the park are metal.  That seems a good idea in an environment so harsh.

This guy can live in the harsh environment.

There are bear proof bins around the park for hikers to cache food and water.  The national park service also had some water stashed and available for use in an emergency.

These are the mule ear peaks.

The light color looks like sand, but it is volcanic tuff – hard as the rock it is.

This building once held the La Harmonia store – a trading post and all purpose community center that was patronized by Mexicans and Anglos in the early 1900s.  The border between the countries barely mattered when everyone worked together to survive in the vast desert. 

When Pancho Villa was raiding this part of Mexico, the conflict bled over the border. The US Cavalry came and established a fort here.These historic structures were damaged or lost in 2019 when a fire in Mexico jumped the Rio Grande because of high winds.

The Dorgan House is another former home along the scenic road.

This is Santa Elena Canyon – the left is Mexico, the right is the United States and in between is the Rio Grande River.

We hiked about a half mile in along the Santa Elena Canyon Trail.

We marvel at the cactus and other plants that can attach to almost nothing.

We are in the Rio Grande River in Santa Elena Canyon, one of the highlights of any visit to Big Bend National Park.

We heard about a 14 mile raft trip up the canyon – fun!.

Looking back out the way we came in.

I went over to touch Mexico.   

There are places where the canyon wall was Mexico and others where you had about 10-15 feet of sandy shore.

This was taken from the US side of the Santa Elena trail looking back into Big Bend National Park.

Our next destination was the heart of the park – the Chisos Basin.   The Chisos Mountains are the volcanic origin of the landscape.

We walked the short Window Walk View Loop where we could enjoy temperatures 15 – 20 degrees cooler than the vast desert below.

The last area we explored was the Rio Grande Village in the far south east corner of the park.  We were very surprised to find a full service RV park there.  This is a private concession and doesn’t come up in regular searches.   It isn’t as nice as where we did stay but it is IN THE PARK  and not an hour away.

The primary activity in this part of the park is to see Boquilles Canyon.  In normal circumstances it is possible to get a boat across the Rio Grande and go to lunch and shop in Mexico.  It is my understanding that this used to be pretty informal but now there is a legal port of entry to get back in the United States and passports are required.  With COVID, that crossing is no longer available.

On the way down to the river we came across these wild burros.  There were three of them scratching themselves on the reflector signs.  They knew exactly what they were doing!

We did walk up the Boquilles Canyon a bit but it was getting to be the end of a very long day and we were hot and tired. We did not go into the river this time.  

I did find one Stairway to Heaven photo opp along the trail.

Randy saw something move quickly into one of these caves.  There are mountain lions in the park….

The temperature was108 when we got back to our air conditioned truck with air conditioned seats and we decided what was left to see, would have to be left unseen.

We spent about 10 hours in the park and did most of the short hikes (1.5 miles or less) and nearly all of the scenic overlooks.  We traveled all but one main road.  

We heartily endorse the Just Ahead App and are willing to pay for the next one we encounter.   It was far more convenient than me trying to watch the map and read the information while still trying to enjoy the view.

In the end we are very glad we spent a long hot day in Big Bend. We walked in the Rio Grande and touched Mexico and are glad for it.

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Marfa Coming and Going

Marfa is a quirky place.   It is known for the Marfa lights – mysterious orbs that appear in the night sky. But there is more to Marfa’s quirkiness than the lights. That begins west of town and goes east as well.

We could see this huge blimp from quite a distance. It remains tethered, but flies for the US Border Patrol.

West of town we came upon these massive cut outs.  The movie Giant was filmed here circa 1955.  There is a speaker which continually plays the movie theme.

There appears to be more of the set down the hill beyond the Little Reata entrance. The gate was locked and we weren’t as motivated to jump the fence as the other person who was there at the same time. It is also possible to call the caretaker to be allowed access.  

We were motivated enough to watch Giant that evening – all 3 hours and 18 minutes. It was very impressive how they were able to age the actors over such a long time span.

Marfa is also artsy.  Not every little town has decorated their auto parts stores.

The RV park was adequate at best but came with two perks.  Trains rolled by behind us all the time – cargo and passenger.  We always enjoy the trains.

The second perk was this little self-serve office.  Cute!

Our major excursion during this stay was north 30 miles to Fort Davis – have Senior National Parks Pass will travel!

Fort Davis helped provide security for those traveling the San Antonio-El Paso Road and was active from 1854 to 1891.  During the Civil War the fort belonged first to the Confederacy, then to the Union and was eventually abandoned.  It was later reoccupied by soldiers who pursued the Comanche, Kiowa and Apache.

The grounds are large and building condition varies from foundation only, to barely standing to nicely restored.

Officer’s Row

A large hospital was prominent at the fort.   We learned that frontier medicine was better than we may have thought.  The Army Medical Department learned much through the horrors of the Civil War and was able to pass on that knowledge to their frontier doctors.   In 1886 the Army established a corp of enlisted men to serve as nurses and hospital stewards.

Illness and disease (tuberculosis) killed far more soldiers than battle and the Fort Davis doctors treated their patients as best they could.

This building was primarily the fort chapel but served other purposes as well.  It was the courtroom for a case that became infamous.  Second Lt. Henry O. Flipper was the first black graduate of West Point and was stationed at Ft. Davis from 1880-81.  He was accused of embezzling while serving as quartermaster and court-martialed.

During the trial, Flipper was found not guilty but none-the-less received a dishonorable discharge.  Racial overtones were present in the trial.  Despite the setback,  Henry Flipper went on to serve as Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior.  In 1976 the Army reviewed his case and gave him an honorable discharge posthumously.

So back in Marfa we debated the merits of playing along and going to try and see the mysterious Marfa lights. Randy,  the analytic engineer, had already researched the mystery and found much more mundane reasons for the appearance of these non-mysterious orbs.   He was willing to go look for them but it was cloudy and rainy and we didn’t know if it helped or hurt our chances.  

It hasn’t been that long since we spent long cold hours looking for the Aurora Borealis in Alaska and that was way more motivating than these mysterious lights that couldn’t possibly have supernatural origin.

In the end we decided we would go the nine miles east of town to the viewing platform that was built for the very purpose of viewing the Marfa lights.  We went while it was still daylight during a break in the rain. Party Poopers R-Us.

We did not see the lights. Go figure.

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We got Texas!

The last new sticker we put on our map was New Mexico in October 2017.  A lot has happened in our lives since then, different choices than we wanted. But here we are… 

Big smile and a drum roll… We are adding Texas! We are just barely across the New Mexico-Texas border east of El Paso but it counts!

When we drove across the border, this sign told us that someone at the Texas Department of Transportation has a sense of humor! And that Texas is big.

We visited the Border Patrol Museum in El Paso.  The docents were former border patrol agents and were happy to provide information.

The Border Patrol began in Detroit in 1924 as a push-back to illegal liquor coming into the country from the northern border.  A second site was established in El Paso shortly after.

This map shows the distribution of current sectors along the northern and southern borders.

These vehicles have been used in patrolling the borders – along with the boat and helicopter outside.

One display shows a variety of home-made ladders used to scale border walls and..

..another shows ways people have used to disguise foot prints in snow or dusty areas.

We stayed at Hueco Tanks State Park. It is remote and visitation is strictly controlled because of the fragile nature of the archeological relics contained in the park.

We saw this sign right off.  Do they really think I EVER stop looking for snakes.  No!  NOT EVER!

Everyone is required to watch an orientation film immediately upon entering the park – even before proceeding to the very small (20 sites) campground. Stays are limited to three nights.  

Some campsites are tucked in amongst the giant boulders but we were on the scrub side. It has its own beauty.

Campsites and day use picnic sites have ramadas for shade. Ours was labeled as an Eagle Scout project from 1999.

We had obtained a three day permit for hiking and set right out to explore the area.

We were excited to see what we thought were mountain goats. We learned later that they are aoudads. Someone imported them from north Africa to use in commercial hunting. The aoudad escaped and have become an invasive species.

It was hard for us to think of them as an invasive species…

until we saw what they do to the prickly pear cactus around the park. 

They have no predator except for the rare large cat and no hunting is allowed in the park.   We saw the aoudad every day we hiked and one time saw a herd of about 25 climbing through the rocks eating the vegetation.   It will be interesting to know what happens with the aoudad going forward.  As the herd continues to grow, the status quo seems untenable.

The primary reason Hueco Tanks is protected is because of the long history of peoples visiting or inhabiting the area because of the food, water and shelter provided.  

Rainwater collects in these natural tanks that are all over the boulder mountains.

Rock cavities formed as women ground roots and seeds. They are seen in many places around Hueco Tanks.

Different people groups left their stories in petroglyphs (carved or chipped pictures) or pictographs (painted or drawn).  Some are thought to be 10,000 years old.

Visitors with a permit are allowed access on the North Mountain.  On the second day of our three day permit, we spent several hours traipsing around the rocks looking at the aoudad, the scenery, the tanks, and the signatures from the 1800s and early 1900s covering the pictographs of old.  

We did a Randy thing and went almost to the very top of North Mountain – and to the edge of a cliff. Because I was along, we didn’t actually go to the very edge!

This is what the cliff looks like from ground level.  Yep, we were up there! For perspective, the box near the bottom right is the restroom building along the path that encircles north mountain.

As we went around a boulder we were surprised by a man being RIGHT THERE.  He was bouldering, which looks a lot like free climbing. That isn’t a world we live in so if there is a differences we don’t know it. Hueco Tanks is a premier bouldering site but its coexistence with the archeology seems tenuous given the potential for damage.

We came down North Mountain by way of the chain trail.

And because I am always looking for the next Stairway to Heaven photo, I turned around and took this one.

We were looking forward to a guided tour on our third day.  We anticipated being able to go to West Mountain or East Mountain or maybe some of the areas on North Mountain that require a guide.

The day dawned with rain….rain is good. We managed to find a raincoat and poncho and set off for our tour.

We met at the old ranch house belonging to the family who owned Hueco Tanks from 1898 until it became a state park in the 1970s. The house is now the interpretive center where you see your mandatory interpretive video. We met our three other tour mates and our guide Alex.  He told us about the ranch family that lived at Hueco tanks and the descendants he knows personally.

Because of the rain he decided not to take us to East or West Mountain. He took us to some of the places we had been the day before and showed us what we hadn’t seen.  

Soon we were scrambling over and around rocks and seeing things we had walked right by the day before.

Visitors in the 1800s and early 1900s carved right over ancient pictographs. It is hard to imagine.

Alex took us into all kind of nooks and crannies to see the pictographs.

He told us that the largest collection of mask pictographs in North America, and possibly the world, are at Hueco Tanks.

He told us what research had revealed about a few of the people who had written or engraved their names in the rock.

We climbed up into a covered precipice to wait out a rain storm and listened to story after story.  Our three hour tour became five hours and none of us minded.

Alex explained as much as is known about the age and process of the pictographs we saw.

When you know where to look, they are everywhere!

We had a nice view from our protected precipice.

When the rain stopped and we emerged, there was water in the Hueco tanks!

We felt very fortunate. We had a memorable tour and rain in the tanks. We could watch the water rolling down the boulder mountain from tank to tank.

The rainstorm brought out the creatures – a Texas horned toad!

Some people are special in that they know and care about things and volunteer their time to share that wisdom with others. Alex is one of those people. His Navajo-Mexican heritage gives him a perspective and reverence for the Hueco Tanks area. He passed that reverence on to us in a way that literature, placards, and our own exploring could never have done.

We would sincerely recommend a visit to Hueco Tanks State Park. You will get the most out of it if you are comfortable scrambling over rocks. Plan in advance and take a guided tour.  Get Alex if you can.

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We Loved Las Cruces!

Having three quick stays behind us, we were ready for a longer visit and Las Cruces was a great fit.  We loved Las Cruces!   

We stayed at the Las Cruces KOA and had one of the nicest sites in the campground. 

We had sunrise views in the morning,

and city lights at night.

We even had a glorious sunset on our last night!

Las Cruces has a few iconic photo opportunities.  The first we encountered was the big red chili at Big Chile Inn.  It is 47 feet long and made from 2 1/2 tons of concrete!

Another icon is the Recycled Roadrunner sculpture located at a rest stop on I-10.  We saw it several times as we drove by but actually had to go to the rest stop to get pictures showing the scale and the recycled building materials.  

This mural, welcoming all to Downtown Las Cruces, shows some of the special things about Las Cruces in each letter.  

We saw the mural when we went downtown to the Farmer’s Market.  We had a great time buying art and local food items.  Art and food are big in Las Cruces!

We also enjoyed the historic town of Mesilla.  There is a town square with shops, restaurant and a church.  There are historic markers explaining Mesilla’s interesting history.  The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican-American war established that this little town was within Mexico.   In 1854 the US acquired property, including Mesilla, by means of the Gadsden Purchase.

This 1850 building once served as the capital of the Arizona and New Mexico territories.  It later held the courthouse in which Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to hang.

Just off the town square is La Posta de Mesilla, one of the ten best Mexican Restaurants in the country according to USA Today.   The building, over 150 years old, is on the national historic registry.  La Posta used to be a stage stop on the Old Butterfield Trail.   The 19 year old niece of the local land baron began serving food here in 1939.  Restaurant lore claims that her decision to serve complimentary ‘chips and chilis’ to her customers was the precursor for Mexican restaurants serving complimentary chips and salsa.  

We started with our own chips and salsa and a Margarita Flight.  Our favorite was the Coco Loco but we liked the La Patrona, the Blood Orange and the Chili-Rita as well.  They went great with the best chicken quesadilla we have ever eaten.

We liked La Posta so well that we went back a second time – even though we were only in Las Cruces for five days.  Mexican restaurants are three to a block in Las Cruces and we did frequent one other.  The food was very good but the experience was less festive.

Mexican Food New Mexico Style:  Red, Green, or Christmas.

In addition to Mexican restaurants, the area has an agricultural emphasis on pecans and pistachios.   Pecan trees are everywhere along the interstate.  We bought plain pecans, bread with pecans and butterscotch covered pecans.  

We don’t know if we saw pistachio trees or not but we bought pistachio products:  Pistachio biscotti, pistachio popcorn, and roasted pistachios. Throw in jam and shoofly pie for fun!

We bought New Mexico’s Famous Wedding cookies.   Are you getting the idea we ate our way through Las Cruces?  We did!

We left Las Cruces for the afternoon and drove to nearby White Sands National Park.  The signage says National Monument but the designation was changed by Congress in December 2019.

A highlight of this trip for Randy was getting carded – something he totally enjoyed!  He had to prove he was 62 years old to get his Senior Lifetime National Parks Pass.

White Sands is 275 square miles of stark white gypsum sand, the largest collection in the world.   This particular kind of sand retains moisture and that keeps it from just blowing away.   We were there on a very windy day and there was some sand blowing around but not clouds of it.

Looked like we were driving in a bit of a snow storm!

Sand verbena blooms quickly and has a short life span.

We’ve been here before but it was nice to come again!

Las Cruces sits in the shadow of the Organ Mountains.  We found them reminiscent of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho that we loved.

We drove there and hiked into the Dripping Springs Natural Area.   As the name implies, there is a spring that provides water to the area.

Eugene Van Patten was a major player in early Las Cruces and built and ran Dripping Springs Mountain Camp in the late 1800s. He built a small dam to contain the springs for his camp.

There are several buildings of past guest rooms.

Van Patten leased nearby land to Dr. Boyd who built and ran a tuberculosis sanatorium.  Both men experienced financial problems along the way and sold the properties which were eventually abandoned.

There is still much left for us to do in Las Cruces – some we missed because our time was limited and some places were still closed due to COVID.  We will be perfectly happy to return!

In our next post you will meet a tour guide named Alex. Half Navajo and half Mexican, Alex lives and works near Las Cruces. He said the Native Americans, Mexicans and Anglos fought it out long ago and then inter-married. When the person who is supposed to be your enemy is also family, you learn to get along. He believes the swath from Tucson to the Big Bend area in Texas lives in greater harmony than much of the country because of shared faith and intermarriage. We felt that in Las Cruces.

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Silver City Super Secondary Sites

After successfully getting through our shakedown days, we moved into New Mexico – destination Silver City!

We lucked into one of the nicest sites in the Manzano’s RV Campground.   

I worked on getting the inside set up while Randy prepped the outside – our normal routine. Then he gave the trailer a cleaning that it badly needed.

We celebrated the next stage of this adventure by opening a bottle of chocolate sipping tequila we purchased in Cabo when we were there in November 2019.  If we had remembered how delicious it is, we would have opened it long ago!  As I am writing days later, we haven’t quite finished the bottle but are already trying to figure out how to get more.

When looking at Things to Do in Silver City the primary mentions are of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and some of the area ghost towns.  I’m sure those are great, but we’ve seen a lot of cliff dwellings and explored random ghost town many times.  We have enjoyed each and every one. Those activities required a bit of a drive and we just weren’t motivated.  So….we explored a couple of hidden gems instead.

We started at Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark.  Fort Bayard was established as a military outpost in 1866. In the heart of Apache land, the command was to keep the area safe for mining, farming, ranching and for those just passing through.  

In addition to several cavalry and infantry regiments, the 125 US Colored Troops were stationed at Fort Bayard.  These Buffalo Soldiers are memorialized on site with a statue of Corporal Clinton Greaves.  He was given the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving the lives of six Navajo scouts during a battle with the Apache in 1877.   (Sorry for the photo – the sun position was not helpful!)  Another Buffalo Soldier Medal of Honor recipient to serve at Fort Bayard was William Cathay – only he/she was really Cathy Williams, the only known female Buffalo Soldier.

When Geronimo surrendered in 1886,  most military outposts like Fort Bayard were decommissioned.  The Army decided to maintain Fort Bayard as an Army Hospital, primarily treating tuberculosis patients.  That decision led to a long second life for Fort Bayard.

Nurses came in 1899 and were, of course,  housed separately.  The nurses building built in 1908 still stands.

A new Officer’s Row for doctors and the commanding officer was built in circa 1905.  These seven buildings remain.

One has been refurbished for a museum and visitor center.  Tours are offered two Saturdays a month by the historic preservation society but, unfortunately, they did not correspond with our visit.

The world’s largest sanatorium complex was built between 1902 and 1912.  The facility was a complete city unto itself with infrastructure, gardens, orchards, phone system and entertainment.  There were three hospitals.  

By 1918 there were five hospitals as WWI soldiers injured by mustard gas and Spanish Flu victims joined those with tuberculosis.  The dry, high mountain air, was a good treatment environment for all of them.

In 1918 over 400 buildings existed on site, many on this central parade ground.

In 1922 the facility passed to the new Veterans Administration. The VA opened a new, state of the art hospital in 1923.   The five Army hospitals were gradually phased out.   

The original 1985 Army hospital, housed German Prisoners of War in 1945.  They were brought in from Lordsburg POW Camp to be maintenance staff. The prisoners took the place of those drafted into service and were paid US private wages.

Over 300 buildings on Fort Bayard were demolished as part of Roosevelt’s Works Project Administration from 1937 to 1940.

Eighty buildings remain from the 1918 peak, plus eleven new ones built by the Veterans Administration.    

Fifty six of the remaining buildings are previous housing units.

The Veterans Administration discontinued use of Fort Bayard facilities in 1965.

A National Cemetery is on an adjacent property.  

There are people buried at the cemetery from the Indian Wars to the Army Hospital days to the Veterans Hospital days to present day.  It was named a National Cemetery in 1976.

This section is for soldiers who were buried at sea, for those whose remains were never found or identified, and for those who donated their body to science.

Our second adventure near Silver City was to City of Rocks State Park. 

As we approached the big pile of boulders in the flat vastness of southern New Mexico, they seemed totally out of place!

These rocks are remnants of the Kneeling Nun volcanic eruption. Rifts in the cooling ash were made larger by freezing, water and wind. Thirty five million years of weathering leaves us this City of Rocks.

There is a 3 mile hike around the circumference of the rocks or a hike through the middle.  We opted for the hike through the middle.

I had tried to book our stay at City of Rocks, and will try even harder next time!   The question will be do we get one of these super cool sites tucked within the rocks?

Or will we go for the more civilized sites with some amenities… I’d like to think I’d go for the one with no services in the rocks, but I know myself better than that!   There is a night sky program available for those in the park at night. Next time…

Just as we’d like to have done the tour at Ford Bayard and stayed at City of Rocks, there are still those cliff dwellings and ghost towns to explore.  We are glad Silver City isn’t too far from where we live.  It is worth a repeat visit!

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Are We Novices Again?

When we were last in the trailer (late August 2020) we had a leaky shower,  ideas for renovation and appointments for two estimates.  We kept the appointments but suddenly had a much bigger problem. Our largest slide made horrible noises and barely got in and out. That took priority over everything else because slides really need to work!

Misalignment caused a gear tooth to break which caused more breakage and more misalignment. Who knows how or why? Randy found a mobile tech who worked through the slide issue and then he fixed the leaky shower himself – not for the first time.  

We had also decided we wanted to take out the old carpet and the mobile tech knew a guy. Randy made contact and then decided he would do the demolition himself.

Randy took out the old carpet, laminate and many dozens of stapes. He had to sand the floor several millimeters to allow for more clearance for the slides. It was a lot of work. We had to keep the carpet on the slides because there just isn’t a good way to replace it.

The installer Randy hired did a great job. The results are pleasing!

We had reservations to take a trailer trip to Death Valley over the winter but opted not to go when medical leaders asked people to stay home.  As a result our trailer sat unused for seven months – the longest it has been idle since we purchased it in 2012.  

Thus the question – Are we novices again? We feel like it!  Things that were once second nature now render us unsure.  

When we lived in Boise we had house stuff and trailer stuff and rarely moved things back and forth.  When we were full timers we had everything with us.  When we were trying to stock our new home (and garage) almost everything came out of the trailer because we needed it and because it is just too hot to leave things inside.

The results were that on the trips we have taken since, we would inevitably leave something behind or be out in a remote area in need of parts. Idle trailers seem to have as many things break as those that are being used all the time!   

To combat the inevitable, we planned our first few days of this trip close to home.  We could retrieve a forgotten item or get parts in town before venturing too far away.  As it happened, we did go back home for forgotten AirPods but we didn’t need any parts! Everything is working so far!

We live on the west side of Phoenix and our ‘close to home’ stay was on the east side – sixty miles away!    Not only is the Phoenix metro about 60 miles wide it is also quite populous.  Maricopa county (Phoenix metro) has a population estimated at 4.6 million.  That is about the same as the states of Louisiana and Kentucky, numbers 25 and 26 in rank population order.

Since Maricopa county is pretty much a state on its own, we have our own version of state parks.  There are fourteen Maricopa County Regional Parks and they are very, very nice.  We have camped at several and hike occasionally at the two nearest our house.

We visited our first Maricopa County Regional Park in 2015, Usery Mountain, and loved it.  We went to lunch with a volunteer couple and met with a ranger because we were very interested in potentially volunteering there.

What attracted us then, and now, is how beautiful the desert is here. The tall spindly plant is an ocotillo. Usually they look like dead sticks.
An ocotillo bloom is so lovely. We left an ocotillo blooming in our front yard when we departed.
The saguaros are also blooming. This flicker approves!

This is a chain-fruit cholla cactus.  The fruit pieces are edible and some animals rely on them during drought for food and water.

Prickly Pear Cactus comes in many varieties with different colored blossoms. The yellow blossoms are my favorite. We have one at home just like this but it wasn’t blooming yet.
This hawk was cheating – hanging out at the bird feeders looking for lunch.
We very much enjoy walking the desert trails.
Randy hiked up this mountain to Wind Cave.
It’s not a great cave, but a good hike.

He heard bees and saw a hive in this crevice and when he went in for a picture, the bees swarmed him.  He called me and told me what happened and said he lost his glasses and an AirPod and had to go back in.   When I knew he was okay and was not having a reaction to several bee stings, I shook my head and thought “That is such a Randy thing” –  always going in, or getting closer to the edge, for a better look.

After telling a fellow hiker about his experience with the bees, the other man told Randy about a man who died from a bee attack at the same park. This is the link: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/mesa-breaking/2016/05/26/hiker-dies-after-1000-bees-attack-usery-mountain/85002420/

He trekked on and got to the top!
The campsites are nice. This one came with three neighbor dogs to visit with!
From our site we could see the direction to Phoenix. This huge sign was provided for pilots in the 1950s.

The first time we were here we noticed many people had lights around their RVs and vehicles.  We were told pack-rats love to get up into vehicle compartments and chew wires. We’ve used the lights a few times along the way and got them out again.

Pack-rat nests are pretty much everywhere, not at all hard to find.

Having successfully maneuvered our initial shakedown, we traveled further afield into south eastern Arizona.

We went through the heavily mined areas of Superior and Globe.
That is mining residue, not snow.
Our destination was Roper Lake State Park near Safford.
We had a pull through site for the night and didn’t even unhook. All we did was plug into electricity.

Roper Lake is a nice state park with a small lake.  We thought it was too chilly to pull out the paddle boards.

We hiked to the top of the “sky island” mesa and enjoyed the sunset.  By the time we got down we were blissfully dodging rain drops.   Blissful in the rain is an Arizona thing….

So far so good for these novices! It is great to be on the road again.  Next stop is Silver City, New Mexico!

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Chena Hot Springs, Denali National Park, and Being Above the Arctic Circle

With daylight hours to spend, we ventured away from Fairbanks.  We were there as the leaves were turning and the landscape was beautiful!

Our first excursion was to Chena Hot Springs Resort. We had a tour of the geo-hydro plant that provides most of the heat and electricity for the resort.  

They have extensive greenhouses to grow all of the produce used in the restaurants and crew cafeteria

This resort is very remote (requiring onsite employee housing) and their ability to be mostly self sufficient is impressive. Nice, but we came here for The Ice Museum and a soak in the hot springs!   

The Ice Museum has a number of impressive art carvings and a few “rooms”to rent to stay the night. They give you a room in the lodge as back up. Very few make it through the night!

There is an Ice Bar serving apple-tinis in ice glasses.
A lovely ice glass – keeping it cool!
Cold apple-tinis are delicious!   Randy had two!

After getting chilled in the ice museum – we were ready for a soak in the hot springs!

Another adventure took us on a return trip to Denali National Park.  We were there ten years ago, taking the school bus tour 89 miles into the heart of the park, and seeing a variety of animals.  We also saw a cloud obscured Mount Denali. That was then.

We knew we weren’t seeing Denali this time either because of heavy cloud cover but we were hoping to see animals.  (After seeing two distant moose, a porcupine and a fox right after we arrived in Alaska, we hadn’t seen anything since!)

There really are mountains behind those clouds!
This is an interesting forest.

Usually, personal vehicles are allowed to only go fifteen miles into the park. With no bus tours offered, we were allowed to drive 30 miles in on the only road in Denali National Park.

We saw one Dall Sheep from a distance. That was all.

It wasn’t the wildlife viewing experience we had hoped for but we learned a few things.  Denali National Park’s original preserve was formed to protect the Dall Sheep from excessive hunting. It was later expanded to include the mountain.  Alaska has sixteen national parks and their combined acreage equals two thirds of all United States National Park holdings.

Our last big adventure away from Fairbanks was to fly to Coldfoot, Alaska –  landing above the arctic circle!

It was a small plane. Everyone got an aisle and a window seat.
We saw the oil pipeline from above.

After landing in Coldfoot, we took a 30 minute van ride to Wiseman, 63 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Jack gives tours of his home and the 100 year old former mining community.

In Wiseman, we met Jack who told us about living in the arctic.  He has lived in the arctic region since he was a small child. He and his wife, a few members of his extended family and a handful of others live in Wiseman year round. They live off the grid – as you must up here – using solar power and Honda generators. They rely on subsistence living and plan to use every single scrap of the moose his wife had killed the day prior. They must get a caribou to have enough meat to last the winter. Fishing opportunities are rare this far inland.

Jack uses cues from the trees to know when to put seeds or seedings in his garden. He uses plastic sheeting to warm the ground maximizing their 100 day growing season.   

Our impression was that Jack was one of the smartest people we have ever encountered.  It wasn’t clear if he had formal education beyond the arctic but it was very clear he knew a lot about a lot of things!  Jack reads everything and serves on government boards for fish and wildlife management.

This 100 year old cabin is still used for guests and storage.

It was fascinating and impressive that a handful of people survive out here with just their own tenacity.   It is also humbling to know that I would never (could never?) want to live this way.

We did, however, do what only two percent of visitors to Alaska do. We crossed the arctic circle!

Most visitors cross by vehicle (at least one way) and have a photo op at this famous sign.  We saved ourselves many, many hours by flying both ways – but missed the photo op!

We did get certificates!
Hopefully our next big adventure will be maskless! Stay safe everyone!
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Fun Times in Fairbanks!

Although our purpose for visiting Fairbanks was to see the northern lights, we had daytime to explore.    Randy and I were in Fairbanks in 2010 with my parents on a cruise/land tour so we had already seen some of the sites.  Others were closed because of Covid, and still others were closed because it was late September and the summer tourist season was over.

A repeat activity was to stop at a roadside park highlighting the Alaska Oil Pipeline.  The pipeline is raised so the naturally hot oil doesn’t thaw the permafrost.
The pipeline goes 800 miles across Alaska from Prudhoe Bay in the north to Valdez in the south, and right through Fairbanks. We saw sections of it frequently
“Pigs” travel with the oil to clean and monitor the pipeline.
“Hold up the pipeline” is required photography!

Our cabin was just down the road from a great attraction – the Running Reindeer Ranch.  This is the ultimate story of: girl wants a pet, overcomes mom and financial hurdles to finally obtain two reindeer.  Of course, the girl grows up and moves away, leaving mom to care for the reindeer.  Years later, mom has turned the reindeer herd into a family business. Mom breeds reindeer and educates tourists about them, serving chocolate chip cookies from the same recipe the girl used to raise $2000 to buy that first reindeer.

This is 8 year old Olive, not one of the original reindeer, but the current herd matriarch.

There is an opening informative talk about reindeer. All the while the herd wanders around and through!   Reindeer are the same as caribou – just domesticated.  They need human support. Female reindeer and caribou grow antlers – unlike other horned or antlered animals.   All caribou and reindeer shed and grow new antlers each year.

The herd is currently about a dozen animals and, after learning about them, we all went for a walk through the aspen forest.

And posed with one of the two male reindeer.

Another fun afternoon was spent at the Fountainhead Antique Automobile Museum.   I always enjoy car museums way more than I expect to but this one had a unique twist.  Not only are the vintage cars on display, but corresponding vintage clothing are displayed as well!   How fun is that!

See how the silver grill on the car matches the silver pattern in the dress!  Crazy!

I’ve never been big on fashion except to appreciate it in a general way.  However, I did learn about a pigeon breasted bodice in this 1905 display.  It absolutely looks like a pigeon breast! Oh yeah! See the car in the background!

I learned about a “hobble skirt” from 1913.  Uhhh, why would they do that?

If Randy was writing this you’d get more car highlights.  Sorry, it is me.  Here are a few car things that I noticed, or were pointed out to me.

These cars from the same era don’t yet have consistency on whether the driver’s side is on the left or right.
A 1917 Ford Model T Snow Flyer.
This was Alaska’s first car, cobbled together in 1905 using miscellaneous parts by someone who had never seen a car except in magazines.   Twenty-two year old Sheldon gathered parts from bicycles, wagons, a boat engine, two bar stool seats and other miscellaneous items to build a car, in secret, to impress a girl.    She was impressed and joined him on many rides but they did not end up together.   A car with a story!
The displays were very well done.

Randy had a nice time looking at the cars and talking with the docent. (He said he barely noticed the clothes.) I enjoyed the car-fashion combinations.  It was a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon in Fairbanks.

I will end with one of Fairbanks’ famous photo opportunities.   The arch was made of over 100 moose and caribou antlers.  

Next post – The things we did away from Fairbanks!

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Northern Lights Bucket List – Check!

In 2019 we went on a Panama Canal Cruise for my mother’s bucket list trip and to an overwater bungalow in Tahiti for Randy’s.   My bucket list idea was to see the Northern Lights. Our first plan was an October 2020 Princess Cruise to Norway called Looking for the Northern Lights.  Of course, that was shut down with everything else in 2020.  Plan B was a trip to Alaska. 

Alaska requires a Covid test 72 hours before departure.  Arizona State University sponsors a drive up testing site that worked for us.   We tested Saturday morning, had negative results on Sunday, and left on Tuesday.  The above paragraph makes the whole process sound simple. It was not.

Alaska Airlines had a great deal on flights and does a nice job of keeping travelers and employees safe.  We had great views of the frigid northland with many glaciers.

I researched time and place and decided on a very rural airbnb cabin 10 miles outside Fairbanks.   We booked for eleven nights around the fall solstice with minimal moonlight.

Cute cabin but it hurt my heart every night to see that beautiful wolf hanging next to me.
Kitchen side. The cabin was one big room with a separate bathroom.
Breakfast foods were provided including LOTS of eggs from chickens and quail on site.
Randy did some Handy Randy stuff – replacing a kitchen faucet in the cabin.
We saw a beautiful sunset before we saw a beautiful night!

German Shepherd Sadie lives on site and she and I became good friends.  We even took care of Sadie for a few days when the owner went camping.

At DW Grill in Fairbanks – the only restaurant in town we really liked so we went twice.

We were in place and ready to see lights!      Our working plan was to drive to a nearby viewing area each evening and wait for lights to appear.   It was only 15 minutes from our cabin – but it was easier planned than accomplished!    

We were our first problem.   All summer we have gone to bed early so we could be up early because 5:30 – 9:00 a.m. is the only good time to be outside in the summer desert heat.  Staying out and awake well into the night required a major shift in our internal clocks.

We learned about KP levels (how far the solar activity would spread) and had websites and apps to monitor viewing potentials.   The highest KP levels were supposed to be near the end of our trip but activity was possible at any time as long as the night skies were clear.

Each clear night we drove up the nearby hill for optimum viewing and stayed until we were just too cold and tired to care.

One night we saw an interesting white glow spreading across the north.  It was like a dome of light above a distant city, but Fairbanks was in the opposite direction!   We knew something was different! Sadie had been tied up for awhile so about midnight we headed back to the cabin all the while keeping our eyes looking north.   We stopped once en-route because things were looking even more interesting!

We got back to Sadie, let her off her tether,  and the lights came.  Our lights were white, some like those old spotlights shooting up from car dealerships.   Others we saw were like rolling clouds.   We saw hints of color a couple times but white was dominant.   We didn’t even try to take pictures.  We just enjoyed them, wrapped in a blanket together, with Sadie at our feet.

Our show lasted about 30 minutes and we were so cold and tired that we were fine with it ending!  We were only half way through our trip, KP levels were rising and we had hope of seeing more.

But we never did.  The clouds rolled in for days and we didn’t have another chance until the dark morning we drove to the airport to leave.  I watched out the airplane window hoping to see them one more time.

Honestly, it seems like a crapshoot to ever see the lights.   We went to the right place, at the right time, stayed eleven nights and feel fortunate to have seen them once!  Most people see green lights – so maybe we were lucky to see white.    We talked to someone who had lived in Fairbanks for 27 years and had only seen the multi colored light display one time.

This watercolor was in our cabin and I enjoyed it many times every day.
I bought this piece to commemorate our successful Northern Lights Bucket List trip.

I’ve heard from many of you that seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list too.  I offer this piece of advice.   Do your research on time and place like I did, but then book a room in a Bed and Breakfast or Lodge that will WAKE YOU UP if the lights appear.   I knew that type of lodging existed but was being Covid careful, wanting to be more isolated.  Hopefully, that won’t be necessary too much longer.   It was exhausting to stay awake so late, checking the apps for notifications anytime we woke up, and still trying to have some fun during the days.

Look for future posts about those daytime activities near Fairbanks!

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