The day following thanksgiving was just us lounging around the park doing as little as possible. We knew trying to travel out into the city would be an absolute nightmare since it was black Friday. A little online shopping was all that we did, and even that wasn't much. Shirley will be getting a new exhaust header, mid-pipe, high flow catalytic converter, and Banks catback exhaust when we get home. There were also a pair of rear leaf springs and a new oil pump thrown in for good measure.
Trolling through internet for local events I stumbled upon the riverwalk holiday float parade. For those of you not in the know, San Antonio has an amazing riverwalk that wiggles through a few blocks downtown. We had actually spent some time on it during a prior trip to Texas back in 2015 which allowed us to skip the daytime madness of the holidays.
Our arrival was greeted with much fanfare. You need tickets for this show. Twenty bucks a pop in order for you and your loved ones to watch floats travel by with their generators running. Seems way overpriced for what you get. Katie found a spot just outside the gates overlooking the route and we were able to watch the show for free. Halfway through we decided we had enough. It was back into Shirley and off to the mall for a quick glance of some sale items. Then it was us returning home at 2100 to a quiet and dark park. This is way too late for us. We should already be in bed.
Turkey day. A time for friends, family, and togetherness. Or you could just skip all that crap and do what we did. Take the dog for morning stroll down the long dusty road that made Roo dirty.
Katie is in a good mood as she preps lunch. It's been a few days since she's been able to actually cook a full meal and it is something she just needs to get out of her system.
The kitchen turns into a flurry of pans and spatulas. Things are constantly banging off the walls and the floor. That's the way she rolls. I give her a lot of shit about making an absolute mess every time she cooks, but holy smokes can she cook.
After our humble noon time lunch we both crack open a beer and sit outside with the dog. The holiday turns into a classic case of day drinkin' and we suds the afternoon away. Not a bad way to spend a holiday. Not bad at all.
A few phone calls netted us our next destination. We had originally thought about driving down to Corpus Christi for Thanksgiving but everyone was booked. I glanced at the map and looked to the east. Hmmm... San Antonio. One more phone call and we found home for the next few days. We opted to stay in one spot for the next couple of nights in order to avoid the holiday travel rush. The park we picked out was billed as a "Campground style RV park". Sounded interesting enough.
This place didn't disappoint. The long gravel road on the way in made the back of Roo filthy. Besides that, it was a very green and spacious place. With Shirley unhooked we went to Wal-Mart to stock up on supplies and buy some things for Turkey Day at home. There's something about Texas I don't think I've shared with you yet. People from Texas love Texas. The proud Texan flag with it's iconic single star is displayed everywhere. In addition to that there are stars located on nearly every public piece of property. I ran into a little bit of Texas pride at Wal-Mart and decided to buy into the madness.
Look closely at the top of the can. "The national beer of Texas". Keyword there: national. Texas considers itself a nation with the rest of the US just draped over it's shoulders as it carries the burden of holding it above Mexico. People here are fiercely conservative and open carry handguns on the sidewalks on the way to their trucks. Not just any truck, oh no. The trucks down here have special badging on them that decries them as "Texas Editions". What a bunch of lunatics. I love this place.
Shirley snuggles into the backdrop of another Texas sunset as she rests her weary wheels. The old girl has been towed 14,000 miles in the last 6 months and has driven another 5,000. Soon the whirlwind tour will be over and the monotony of dragging my ass to work will set in. Poor girl. It's so sad.
Shit it's early. My alarm was set for 0630 and to top it off we were in a different time zone just two days ago. Tough noogies. We hatched a plan late last night to wake up before the world and get to the natural hot springs on the rio grande. Within it's swift moving waters lies a blocked off portion of natural heated bliss. We hit the road before the sun is up and get to the spot right after sunrise. Only one person is there and he seems happy enough just to have someone to talk to.
At a blissful 105° the natural hot tub warmed us from the morning air that was in the low 40's. We could only stand about 30 minutes until we were just too hot and had to get out. The rest of the day would prove itself a downhill dissapointment from here.
We encountered trinkets for sale in the morning laying out on a rock. This would be the fist time either of us had seen anyone peddling souvenirs in a national park. There was no attempt to even hide it. A pile of stuff with prices and a bucket for money next to it. We had seen the same things for sale last night at a different viewpoint.
Getting back to the RV and out of our space by 1100 am was no problem. What was a problem was garnering our passes to use the kayaks on the Rio Grande. Following a lengthy permit application and ten minutes dealing with the gal behind the desk a final conclusion was yielded. We can't go kayaking. It was the same story as captain genius from the RV check in. She waited until after everything was complete to brief me on a few important details that quite frankly are ridiculous. Each kayaker must be wearing a life vest while paddling. Each group of kayakers (me and the wife) must carry an extra PFD in case of emergency. In addition to that, each group of kayakers must also carry an extra paddle, whistle, and water supply in case of emergency. What the hell? The conclusion was simple: The park has the river "Open" to people, but they put such random restrictions around it that people can't enjoy the ride.
We passed on the pain in the ass kayaking and opted for a short hike along the river. Once more we ran into souvenirs for sale. Accompanied with them this time however was a singing mexican named Jesus. Don't judge me. His tip jar said "Tips for singing mexican Jesus". It then became clear to Katie that there was some elaborate plan on this dude illegally crossing the river to sell stuff. I said she was nuts. But then...
In this picture there is a red canoe. That red canoe was Jesus's escape route off US soil and back to Mexico. Just out of the shot was a man in a white t-shirt perched on a rock with a pair of binoculars. Elaborate Ponzi scheme indeed. I'd categorize this as another let down from the National Park Service. It's not the fact that this guy was just trying to make a few bucks illegally. It's the fact that the NPS obviously let's this happen without trying to stop it. If Katie can crack the case in under a minute I would sure hope a well paid park ranger could do the same.
Overall we'd label the park a real let down. An amazing landscape ruined by people's inability to run a decent show. To cap it off there were only a couple of places to pull off on the 40 mile trip from the entrance. What that means to the casual visitor is it's basically a straight drive through, with little opportunity to get out and explore. There were precisely zero places that our RV could pull off, and parking at the visitor centers was a joke. It turns out the the parks directive is bigger than just the inability to kayak. Big bend doesn't want people to visit. It's merely a whole bunch of government ground on the border of Mexico. Let's just call it what it is. A national park border wall. Disheartened at the lost opportunity we hit the road and jam out the miles for south central Texas.
It was another 250 miles on the road battling the veracious crosswinds. Thirty mile an hour gusts with a steady 20 mile an hour blow made driving a practice of patience. We popped into the Amistad National Recreation area just outside of Del Rio and popped a squat for $4 a night. We had the place to ourselves which is always a mixed blessing. It's nice to have acres of public land to yourself to enjoy the piece and quiet. The negative side to this is that we always feel a little uneasy without having anyone else around. So we'll just sit around cooped up and listen to the wind howl for the night.
Following the routine we got up and walked the dog after coffee. Where the hell are we? Oh yeah... Fort Stockton. The days blur together after traveling for so long and it doesn't help that we showed up at dark. Waking up to new surroundings is a surreal feeling. This place gave us what we needed for the night. We had used Roadrunner RV park just for parking and WIFI. Now it's back on the road to keep slamming through the mile markers. Big Bend National Park is on the agenda and it is a long way out there. With the rig warmed up and ready to roll we start counting down the 140 miles in front of us. That doesn't sound like much when you are in a comfortable car with the cruise on. For me it's driving 70 ft of billboard on an air suspension against a stiff headwind. It's three hours of total focus on the back roads of Texas. Elevation gain and the headwinds wreak havoc with the coolant temp.
Skirting the outlands of the park we hook a left into Stillwell. It's a 6 mile commitment down a narrow two lane road in order to get to an RV park. Our arrival was less than glorious. No cell signal, no cable, and more importantly no class. No class? The mobile homes surrounding the office had old tires holding tarps down on the roof to stop leaks. I hook my phone to the store WIFI (the intelligent owners put the password on the outside of the building) and made a phone call to the National Park. Now let me preface this by saying I checked the park's webpage before we left. It said they were all booked up. I ring up the office and the scholar behind the phone let's me know someone left early and a spot is available for just one night. I proceed to ask the genius on the other end, "Full hookups?". He resounds with an enthusiastic "oh yes". Sounds good to me. We'll take it.
It's back on the road and towards the park. Once past the front gate it's just a meager 40 miles to the bottom of the park. We finally arrive and get checked in. The genius scholar behind the desk walks us through the whole speel about where to go and how to hook up. It's not until AFTER he finishes his speech that he points out a few key things. "Oh. We don't have water. So the laundry room and bathrooms are closed" I look at him a bit puzzled. "Any water at the site?" I inquire. The man with a masters degree looks back at me " Oh I don't think so". Strike one against Big Bend National Park.
The mighty Rio Grande is a couple of hundred feet from our parking spot. On the other side of the bank are some horses grazing the shore. Not just any horses. Oh no, those would be Mexican horses. This river serves as the border wall for the entire park. Unimpressed we hop into Shirley and drive down the road to check out a quick trail. An old abandoned post office and school remain on the park grounds from the early 1900's. It's getting dark so we decide to call it a day. Tomorrow we'll hit a few key places and see some more of what's around.
Lazy. There's no other word for it. Knowing that I've got a job lined up in just a couple of weeks has completely changed the way I look at this website. It's no longer something I look forward too. For the the last 4 months I would go out of our my way and find things to do in order to write out my experiences to the world. Now I'm just writing this out of obligation to my readers. At least that just the way it feels. Time for life to get back to reality. The trip is over.... the adventure has ended... and I have sulked into the mundane day to day actions of planning the actions of our future in order to get set up to live again. I will carry on to the end.
It's early morning and the dog is sitting outside. He likes to hang out in the sun away from us and we get him out whenever we can. It's not always this easy. Roo is parked in the middle of some New Mexico BLM land and there isn't a tent within 100 yards. Eli takes full advantage of our distraction and covers himself in dirt. Awesome.
We pat off dusty dog and leave him behind. The other day we stumbled into some volunteer park rangers on the Smith Springs trail. They suggested we hike McKittrick Canyon for the fall colors. That's the destination for the day. A fairly easy 7 mile out and back trail shows us some gorgeous Texas countryside.
Katie and I both share a moment we didn't realize we were missing. Fall. The last month has been in the desert and there wasn't a fall. Soon we'll be going to St. Louis in the heart of winter. It was relieving to see another season besides the oppressive heat of the southwest. Tromping through the colors of dying leaves was wonderful. Halfway down the trail lay a stone cabin. It was built in the early 1930's and donated to the park for visitors to walk through.
Another mile to the end and we hit the grotto. This place was merely a further escape from the cabin for it's owners. Some stone picnic tables next to a small stream provided a beautiful backdrop for an afternoon out. The hallowed out cliff side complete with stone drippings added a bit of mystery to the location.
With the hike complete we need to stack some miles on. Roo was pointed southwest and Fort Stockton was the destination to hit. It's 3 o'clock in the afternoon and the goal is to pound out 180 miles of Texas landscape. Through the rows of oil rigs we traveled. The well beaten roads were punishment for the old girl. The next 3 hours would just be boxing match for Roo's suspension. At the end of it we were rewarded with a late pull in to an RV park.
That wind. Oh that wind. Twenty mile an hour constant winds accompanied by thirty five mile an hour gusts rocked the RV all night. Every time a strong gust hit the side of Roo we were rustled from our slumber. She shook from side to side as nature hurled it's wind energy at us.
The rules said we have to exit our parking lot spot by 11 am. It's off to north to hit up a small hike known as Smith Springs. It's only 2 1/2 miles and the loop is pretty gradual. The wind has died down and the sun is out. Time to hit the open trail and see what Guadalupe has to offer.
Our morning hike out of the way allowed us to continue northward. Carlsbad Caverns is another National park just across the border in New Mexico. They have the largest cave in the western hemisphere and experiencing this place first hand totally blew us away.
The caverns were absolutely astonishing. The pictures that did partially turn out don't even start to do it justice. The trip down the natural entrance descends 800 ft. From there it's a 1.5 mile walk to the Big room. On the way visitors trounce through hallways with 100ft tall ceilings and so wide people can get lost. The big room itself is just that. With a 70ft ceiling and 1.25 miles long it swallows hundreds of people without even trying.
With our minds blown it came to one of those reflection points. Days like today remind us why we gave it all up to travel. Now we'll go find our home in the New Mexico desert and bed down for the night.
Too the next park we go. Say farewell to Caballo Lake as we roll south to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It's here that we can hopefully find a spot to park in the RV parking lot. They'v only got room for 9 rigs our size, and it's on a first come first serve basis. So it's hammer down and towards El Paso as the miles stack up. Upon our arriaval highway 10 slows to a crawl as we pass a semi truck carrying cardboard being extinguished.
The elevation is starting to stack up and so are the winds. We get the the outskirts of the Guadalupe mountains right as the hill really starts to climb. Staring forward at what lies ahead I make the go ahead call to pull over and unhook Shirley. There is a steep unmarked grade that I know will be a tough climb.
The hill gets steep. Real steep. Just where you see the road end in the picture above it hooks to the right and climbs at probably 9-10%. This is the first time I've been forced to climb most of a hill in 2nd gear without Shirley attached. She's got the power... oh that Cummins power. But there's no chance of keeping her cool without taking my time and keeping the load light. The GPS displays what I had thought to be the problem. We're at 5,600 ft and the turbo is huffing hard. Add to that a 20mph headwind with 30mph gusts and it's a recipe to overheat the little diesel humming along 35ft behind me. At last the crest is made and we can turn off into the RV park. A quick chat with the host shows us that there are two spots left. Good enough for us because we only need one. With Roo resting at a final altitude of 5,850 we can set up camp for the night. It's gonna be a sleepless night for sure. This sea level body doesn't like altitude and the wind is blowing violently.
What? That's the name? Yep, sure is. Back in March of 1950 a radio show host of a trivia show said he'd air his 10th anniversary show from any town that would change it' name to match the show. So this nut job of a town made the change and still bares the name today. Our reason for visiting the town actually had nothing to do with sightseeing. Our fridge needed to be defrosted. Sit back, and listen to my story.
Traveling full time isn't always glorious. Our RV is equipped with an absorption style fridge. I'll keep this super simple so you don't space out and stop reading. House fridge: compressor and fan blow cold air around. RV fridge: aluminum fins get cold and absorb heat from the air. So when these fins get cold they ice up like the old style fridges from way back in the day. We unload the fridge and I get to work scraping the ice out with a wooden handle from a wire brush.
With the fridge scraped clean it was time to get the food back in. I noticed the water in the bottom of the freezer wasn't draining. The little drain hole must be plugged. First I tried to put some windshield washer fluid in the bottom and waited a minute. No dice. So then it was time for drastic measures. Poke it open with a coat hanger. Yay! The water went down. Then I went outside to see where it drained from. Turns out it was from an electric outlet inside of a luggage bay. Uh...that's not good. Some investigating yields the realization that the drain hose was broken underneath the fridge. That would explain why the sub-floor had a water stain when we put in the vinyl planks.
Time to go shopping for supplies. Oh look, the town of Truth or Consequences has a hardware store. We should go there. What began as an earnest attempt to look for a simple hose ended up being thrift store browsing and lunch at Tony's Mexican Restaruant. Word to the wise: Don't eat at places that look nice on the outside. It's almost a guarantee their food isn't as good as the rundown place serving food on paper plates. In fact most of the town looked on the well worn side. It wasn't a place that has a lot of economy and you can see that in the streets.
Back to Roo with our vinyl hose in hand the repair was completed. We elected to spend the rest of the afternoon walking the dog and getting the kayaks off of Shirley for some much needed water time. It's the first occasion since the valley of vegetables that we've been able to float the afternoon away in careless bliss. No noise, no people, no problems. Could be worse....
Another day another drive. Pack up our stuff and hit the open road once more. With Roo pointed north it's just a quick stride over to Hatch NM. This tiny town is self proclaimed as the Chile capital of the world. Is it true? Probably not. The reality is that Hatch just doesn't have a whole lot else going for it. They stay true to the cause and Chile's are hanging from almost every building on main street. Go to the hardware store for some lumber... might as well pick up some chiles. Oh, you planned on stopping by the thrift shop? Might as well grab some chiles while your there. Looking for a night's sleep at Grajeda's hotel? Some chiles would probably lull you into a fire gut induced slumber.
Another hour ticks by as we head northbound up highway 25. Caballo Lake State Park is the destination we have picked out. It's been a while since we've had an opportunity to drop the kayaks in some water. This is something we're looking forward too. At this park we decided to splurge a little and spend the extra few bucks for electric. For a grand sum of $14 a night, we get to park with 30 amps of juice and water hooked up to the RV. The next two days Roo will take a rest as we get out and explore the area a bit more.
The lake is nothing special. It's really little more than a dirty water reservoir of the Rio Grande. Muddy murky water greets us as we walk to it's edge. The land is barren. There's nothing on the shoreline worth looking at and the mountain just across the lake looks the same as it does from the campsites. It's still water in New Mexico, and that's what we were after. Situated at 4,204ft in elevation this little campground has the climate of high desert. It's 85° during the day and drop's into the 50's at night. The other thing it does is zap the energy from sea level dwelling folks. Eli is begging for a walk and it's our dog parent duty to get him out for a stretch. That'll be all for today. Time to sit back and relax.
I'm just a guy, with a wife, a dog, and three cats. Watch us travel the country.
Months of travel
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