Handy Randy – Volume 432

Those of you who have been following this blog for awhile know that Randy is able to fix most things in the trailer. In fact he thinks the ability to troubleshoot and fix things are mandatory qualifications for owning an RV.   He gets frustrated when he has to hodgepodge things together if our location limits supplies but he usually gets it done.

On this trip he had to figure out why we had gouges in our brand new floor  The answer was two metal protrusions just barely sticking through on the kitchen slide.   We’ll get those planks replaced in the fall after we are sure it is no longer an issue on another trip later this summer.

The next Handy Randy project was figuring out what was going on with our Splendid Washer Dryer Combo.  We got flashing light sequences, poor drying, and it would occasionally make noises at us even when it wasn’t in use! We resorted to turning the electricity off at the breaker box.

We’d never seen this much drama with the unit before but we had seen poor drying and lesser light sequences. I did the intensive cleaning procedure that had always worked previously to clear up the problem. Randy repeated it when he found a modified version online.  Again, no change.

While living on the road, having that washer-dryer in the trailer was required as far as I was concerned.  But now that we are part timers,  I was already thinking about whether we would replace it at a cost of around $1500, if we could even get one.  Like anything in an RV, the combo units are not cheap.

Handy Randy kept digging thinking he might get by with just replacing the electronics.  Then he found someone telling about digging out a solidified lint mass way down in the bowels of the machine. 

So,  he took the dang thing out of the closet (after removing the closet door) and proceeded to take it apart.

Sure enough, he found this disgusting mat of lint the size of a dead rat.  No wonder the machine was acting crazy.  We have no answer as to why this bizarre behavior wasn’t there last time we used the trailer and was now. Perhaps being idle for awhile allowed that lint to settle and solidify.

Disgusting!

Even though he was able to fix the combo unit this time, it was enough work that he didn’t want to do it again.   He believed that a contributing problem was reduced air flow because of where the original vent hole was cut.

Way back in 2015 we had the washer-dryer combo installed at a Good Sam Rally.  At that time Randy had been uncertain about cutting holes in the side of the trailer without knowing for sure what he was doing.

Unfortunately that hole was about eight inches off the optimal venting site requiring this adaption. It has worked but lint build up has always been an issue because of it.

Not any longer!  Randy decided to cut a new hole that would vent more directly.  He was glad to find the needed parts in this small New Mexico town.

All done! The left vent is capped and no longer functional. The one on the right is open and works great! The washer-dryer combo and I are happy again.

It was another successful Handy Randy repair! Well done husband!

When the work was done we visited the Mineral Museum at New Mexico Tech in Socorro.  We were impressed with the breadth and depth of their displays focusing not only on New Mexico and Western minerals and gems but it also included specimens from around the world.

Minerals and gem stones is not a world we live in, but we were impressed.  If you do live in that world you’d probably love it!

We routed through Socorro to go to the Very Large Array about an hours drive west.  Unfortunately it was still COVID closed and we only saw the array from the road.  Another time….

We had one final stop in New Mexico –  but just for lunch and pie.  Pie Town had been on our “to do” list for years but we just hadn’t routed through on Highway 60.

After COVID, It felt so very strange to be in a small cafe with other people, especially when lots and lots of people kept coming in to purchase pies.   They have some history with a lot of people because the restaurant has been operating since 1927.

A lunch of New Mexico burgers (with chilis of course) was very good and we left with small Key Lime and Southern Peach pies.   We won’t go out of our way to repeat the experience, but if we find ourselves on Highway 60 again, we’d stop for pie, just like everyone else.

After almost six weeks on the road we came back into Arizona.  We had a great trip but were very ready to be home.  Randy came to the understanding that he really didn’t want to go full time again.

We had one more stop that was important to me.  Randy would have been happy to skip it but it turned out to be a big deal. It will be a little while before I write about it because some things need to settle out, but a big thing is coming in the next blog.

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Commemorating the Bad Boy

Our next stop was Lake Sumner State Park near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

As we turned off the highway we saw an interesting collection of memorials.  We found that Ramond Samora has been placing memorials here since 2011.  There are memorials to a number of veteran’s groups, military branches, and to those still missing in action.

We parked the trailer in a very large site that had a covered picnic table area designed for shade and wind break.

We sat there every day watching the storms as they rolled through.

Our site had easy access to our own little arm of the lake.

We finally got to use our inflatable paddle boards on a morning that was sunny and almost warm enough before it got windy.  I have had the yellow paddle board for years and loved it.  When we decided to buy a second paddle board this winter we opted to buy me a new one and Randy take the yellow one because it was a bit big for me to manhandle. My new board is smaller and lighter.

We explored other areas of the park that surround much of the lake.

Randy tried to see how this contraption might have worked carrying people or gear across the river. From this side it was clear enough – gravity works. He never did figure out how it would return but it likely hasn’t been used for years so some parts may be missing.

A little further on we saw our SECOND rattlesnake in just a few months.  I had never seen even one despite our hiking all over the west for years. Now we have seen two… I’m not liking this trend!  Unlike last time, Randy stayed well back as this snake was poised to strike.   I’m glad we have a camera that zooms in.

We also explored the town of Fort Sumner.  Two of the historical sites we hoped to see were closed but we did have Billy the Kid options.  He’s the bad boy the town commemorates for tourism and we originally felt kind of strange about it.

We stopped at the Billy the Kid Museum and began with a 47 minute American Experience video about his life. He began as Henry, a fatherless boy born in the east. He moved west with his mother and she filed a homestead claim. She remarried and died while Henry was still a teenager. Henry drifted, getting in and out of trouble in New Mexico and Arizona territories.

Over time, Henry became William and formed a gang. Locals saw this gang as helping them against the rich land grabbers and welcomed them into their communities. The violence ramped up and William was dubbed “Billy the Kid” by a journalist.

Billy was once offered a pardon by the New Mexico territory governor for his testimony, which he gave, but the governor later reneged. 

Billy was convicted in Masilla, New Mexico but escaped before being hanged. He killed two deputies in the process.  This picture is of the former courthouse where that trial took place.

Instead of escaping to Mexico, he returned to Fort Sumner – possibly because of a young lady.    He was found out, killed and buried in the Fort Sumner cemetery.

His story is long and detailed and this recap is not intended to be thorough.  Billy the Kid died young and was a notorious killer in the wild west. However, it is easy to see that he had things happen to him along the way that influenced his path.   After we learned a bit about him, we were somewhat more sympathetic.

There is an area in the museum that shows posters of many movies featuring Billy the Kid. This one caught my eye: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. I haven’t looked yet to see if it is on Netflix.

The museum has all things Billy the Kid, but also shows some things around life and times in New Mexico.

Our next stop was the Fort Sumner Cemetery where Billy the Kid is only one of two famous occupants.

Billy the Kid’s original gravestone (front right) was stolen twice and recovered years later.  It is now under lock and key within the caged gravesite.  The large white stone commemorates Billy and two of his gang friends who are buried with him.

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell is also buried in the Fort Sumner Cemetery.  He was once the largest landowner in the United States with massive holdings of 1,700,000 acres.  (The dispersal of this land in a variety of grants was ultimately decided by the United States Supreme Court.)

Lucien Maxwell died in 1875 and son Peter Maxwell took over operations of the large estate.  Billy the Kid was tracked down and killed in Peter’s home at midnight on July 14, 1881.  It was suggested that Peter gave him up to Sheriff Pat Garrett because Peter didn’t approve of Billy’s relationship with his younger sister.  So much speculation!

We decided to finish our Billy the Kid morning with lunch.  Randy opted for the World Famous Billy the Kid Burger!

Our stay at Lake Sumner State Park was right up there with Las Cruces as one of our favorite stops on the itinerary. We’re happy enough that there are two things we missed as an excuse to go back.

During our stay we commented several times about the vultures always circling around. Two of them sat for a picture. They aren’t exactly beautiful!

But this boy is! We saw him as we were driving out – one last gift from Lake Sumner State Park. Thanks to our birding friend Mark, we know “he” is a Western Tanager.

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Something is Missing

Do you see this map?   Once we added Texas, it just looked like something was missing.   Yes, that Oklahoma shape just looks so white. Oh, the silly things that motivate!

From previous trip planning I knew there was an Oklahoma State Park on the very tip of the Oklahoma panhandle.  It was about six hours out of our way but we decided that, if I could get reservations, we’d go get that Oklahoma sticker.

Sure enough, reservations were available, and we were off to Oklahoma!

We went through Boise City – just not the Boise we know so well.

We arrived at Black Mesa State Park!    

Before we were done getting settled we saw wild turkeys. We saw them regularly for two days!

The rangers at the park were very pleasant and helpful. They commiserated with us about this very strange set up for “pull through” sites. There were four sites one right after another along the narrow road. The only way to really pull through is if you were the only ones there. Imagine sites numbered 1-4. Number 1 was there when we arrived and we were number 3. Driver number 2 did a great job getting in. Driver number 4 had it easy as he was behind us. Everyone cooperated and it worked!

The next morning we decided to take a bike ride around the lake.   We didn’t get very far as I was having a lot of trouble with my bike – more than just operator error.

We went back to camp and Randy worked on it. He decided that it really needs a visit to a bike shop.   We spent that afternoon researching electric bikes and trying to decide on whether to purchase one bike or two.   (The next day we decided not to get any and just get mine repaired.)

The highest point in Oklahoma, Black Mesa at 4973 feet was 15 miles away. There is a hike…we just weren’t motivated to do it.

We did do the Vista Trail hike at the park.  We saw a collection of petrified wood.

We enjoyed several varieties of wild flowers.

On a cloudy day you can see forever in Oklahoma.  

When it was time to go, Randy had to hook up at an angle.  To my surprise, but not his, he was able to pull out fairly easily.

Then we were off again, through Texas one more time, and back to New Mexico.

Oklahoma added!
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Several Days in Guadalupe

When we went to Big Bend we made the decision that, since it was an hour away, we were going to spend one very long day and call that good.  Our stay “near” Guadalupe Mountains National Park was that same hour away, but we went three times.  All I can say is it was easier to enjoy hiking and exploring because it was cooler!

We didn’t know why Guadalupe Mountains was special.   We didn’t even know how to say the name Guadalupe – was it Guada-loop or Guadalu-pay?   I heard one ranger say Guadalu-pay so that is that. 

So, why is it special?  Guadalupe Mountains are the world’s premier example of a fossil reef from the Permian era, 260 – 270 million years ago.   A vast sea covered what is now New Mexico and west Texas.  When the sea evaporated, lifeforms were buried in sediment.  Millions of years later continental lift exposed the reef. Geologists come from around the world to study and explore this area.  That is as scientific as I’m going to get.

Much of the park is designated wilderness, accessible only by trail.  There are four vehicle access points, three on the east side and one in the north.  

The primary visitor center is at Pine Springs.  There are multiple trailheads departing from Pine Springs, one up Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas at 8751 feet.   (Come on Texas – I thought you did everything bigger…only 8751 feet? That’s all you got?)

There is another trail to the Guadalupe Mountains version of El Capitan.

We took the Pinery Trail which led to a mid-1800s Butterfield stagecoach station.  The Butterfield Overland Mail Route was the first reliable mail route from St. Louis, MO to San Francisco, CA.  It took 25 days to cover the difficult 2700 mile route. 

We also visited the Frijole Ranch area of the park.

This ranch site was occupied from the 1870s and was owned by several families that modified and added on to the home.  Two springs are in the immediate area – the first spring, right in the yard, provides six gallons per minute.

The second is Manzanita Springs a short walk away.   This area has five springs in a three mile radius – amazing!

Another day we traveled to McKittrick Canyon for a seven mile hike.   The canyon was acquired by Wallace Pratt in 1930 after a visit to the area left him “smitten”.  The family eventually donated 5632 acres at the heart of McKittrick Canyon to promote the establishment of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

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The entrance and trail into McKittrick Canyon. See the bluffs at the top – THAT is why Guadalupe Mountains National Park is important. That used to be underwater and is fossil rich.

Always looking for those signature shots – another stairway to heaven.

We crossed two shallow streams enroute to the Pratt cabin.

The Pratt family built their Stone Cabin in 1931-32. Notice the stone roof.

A little further on was The Grotto.

Just a bit further was the Hunter Ranch Line Cabin – built in 1924.

The scenery changed a lot from deep in the canyon as we walked out.

In and out was about seven miles. The time was well spent.

On our third trip into Guadalupe Mountains National Park, was accessed from the north – the park’s border with New Mexico.

First we drove through the Lincoln National Forest en-route to Sitting Bull Falls.  

Two streams of water were flowing over the rocks into a pool at the base.   On a warmer day we could have relaxed in the pool.

We saw these guys.  We assume they are aoudad like we saw at Hueco Tanks. There is a little information online of aoudad being hunted in this area.

The CCC built picnic shelters here in the 1930s and two of the originals are still standing.   There are a dozen or so more of a newer vintage.

We drove on and saw the clouds just rolling over the side of the hills.

We crossed into Texas one more time. This sign was understated but it was there 🙂

Our last excursion in Guadalupe Mountains National Park was to Dog Canyon.   Again, there are significant hikes that depart from the small visitor center but we opted for a shorter nature trail through the sweet grass.

We saw deer.

We would not have expected that we would spend so much more time to Guadalupe Mountains National Park than in Big Bend.  They are very different but both worthy indeed.

A book series I listened to for many years has, as a main character, a female ranger from Guadalupe Mountains National Park.   Anna Pigeon solves mysteries as she works across the country in national parks.  The reader gets a mystery and learns about a national park.  The premise was so good. The last few books in the 19 book series have shifted to a very dark tone and I don’t read them anymore, but I do miss them.

I looked up which of the books had been set in Guadalupe Mountains and found that it was the first, Track of the Cat.  Following our visits to the Guadalupe Mountains I listened to it again and thoroughly enjoyed visualizing the spaces and places described in the book.  It hurt my ears, however, to hear the reader say Guada-LOOP throughout the book.

It takes a bit of effort to get to both Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks but we recommend them to you.

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Below and Beyond

When we arrived in Carlsbad, New Mexico, we were fairly ambivalent about a return visit to Carlsbad Caverns.  We have been there at least twice, the last time just in 2017.  Eventually, we decided we had the parks pass, we were close, it’s a national park, so why not?

We had a mid-morning reservation (required with COVID) so we missed the Brazilian Free-Tailed bats coming or going. It was the tremendous bat activity that led settlers to wonder what was below and to the white man’s discovery of the cave.

The first cave explorer was Jim White.  He initially let cavern visitors down in a bucket used to haul bat guano.

Explorers then were able to use primitive stairs and ladders.

We decided to go down through the natural entrance. Thankfully, it now it is a 1.25 mile paved trail.  It is steep as it goes down 750 feet but has a handrail and subtle lighting.  We were surprised at the number of people we saw walking out that way.  Down was fine for us but we planned to take the elevator back up!

At the bottom we connected to the 1.25 mile Big Room Route, basically going around the perimeter of the 8.2 acre room.   Enjoy some pictures!

This was the Lion’s Tail, a stalactite with popcorn.
Straws

There were so few people in the cavern that at times we would not see anyone else for five minutes at a time.   That was very different from previous visits but we look for benefits where we can during COVID times.

The Chinese Theater

So that was our adventure below….now for the beyond…..Roswell.   

The town capitalizes on what it is known for!

Our expectations for Roswell were not high, so we were able to have a good time and not take it seriously.

We missed McDonald’s all lit up like a flying saucer….

Our destination was the UFO Museum and Research Center.

The first exhibit was about the Roswell Incident: the 1947 crash of something that may or may not have been a flying disc.  There may or may not have been three aliens, one of which survived the crash.  Oh, and after first acknowledging the incident, the government later said it was a weather balloon. Surely you’ve heard of it!

The information presented was lengthy, well documented and believable, maybe even compelling.  We spent about 15 minutes in this section of the museum and barely scratched the surface.  If you chose to read every document and view every film clip you could spend fifteen hours in this section alone.

Another area highlighted the media’s portrayal of aliens and the world beyond Earth. Another told about “ancient aliens” – think crop circles.

Still another explained the differences in Close Encounters of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Kinds.   There were several displays telling of alien abductions – a close encounter of the fourth kind.

Overall, if you are an alien believer – this could be your mecca.  If you aren’t (Randy), or aren’t sure (Serene) it was an interesting way to spend a morning.  As I said, our expectations were low so we were not disappointed in our exploration of the beyond!

Speaking of low expectations, in our travels over the years we have had them about KOA campgrounds.  We’ve stayed in a couple that were pretty bad and even picked up mice at the KOA near Seattle.  We’ve not really been fans.

When I was doing campground research for this trip and the next, a number of KOAs came up as the nicest campgrounds in the area. The KOA in Las Cruces was very nice.  The Carlsbad KOA,  fifteen miles north of town, was better.

I splurged for the best site and was glad, although all of the sites were quite large.  We had a covered patio, swing, and table.  We also had a fire-pit and BBQ grill but didn’t use them.   We paid for six nights and got the seventh free.  We also had a very delicious BBQ dinner on-site.  We’d go back.

Next up: We spent several days at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

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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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