Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Big Bend National Park

All three environments, desert, river and mountains.
Looking across the desert toward the Hot Springs.
This is HOT!!
The group enjoys the Hot Springs. In the foreground are the Aussies Deb and Joe.
Sunset on the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains in Mexico.
Where the river exits Santa Elena Canyon.
The Rio Grande flowing through Santa Elena Canyon.
Boquillas Canyon
The Mexican Village of Boquillas Del Carmen.
Chisos Mountains
The Chisos Basin from Lost Mine Trail.
Looking through The Window in the basin to the desert.
Casa Grande on a cloudy day.
Mountain Lion Pawprint

For five days we stayed at Rio Grande Village Trailer Park in Big Bend National Park were we had a fabulous time but were out of the reach of all TV, cell phone, radio and Internet (not a bad thing). This is a great park that offers three distinct environments, desert, river and mountain. We went on several hikes, the first of which was a seven mile trek across the desert to a 105 degree hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande. We had the springs to ourselves for a while before being joined by several others who enjoyed the waters with us while sharing travel stories. One couple was from Australia and are traveling the US in an RV for a year.
We drove to nearby Boquillas Canyon and hiked along the river. On this trail Mexicans were selling walking sticks and other handmade crafts. Unfortunately, this practice which once was a part of the culture of the area is now illegal because of 9-11. They now cross the shallow water on horseback or in a canoe and leave their wares on the beach with a sign hoping enough people will ignore the law and buy. We talked to Singing Victor who sits at the canyon entrance singing for what money visitors put in a jar he has on the ground on the American side. Victor said he used to row people across the river so they could shop in the village, but since this border has been closed the town is slowly dying. It is an 80 mile ride on dirt roads for them to get to a larger village. On the video below you can hear Victor serenading us and see the items that are for sale. A ranger told us he was raised with these Mexicans but never sees them now because of the long drives to open border crossings. That same day we drove almost 70 miles one way to hike in Santa Elena Canyon. On both of these hikes we were rewarded with spectacular views of these deep canyons that the river has carved between the two countries.

We spent two days mountain hiking the Lost Mine and Pinnacle Trails in the Chisos Basin which has a totally different look. These walks where across mountain meadows with long climbs that gave great views of the surrounding land through the trees. As an example of how different the environments within the park are, at the top of the Pinnacle Trail it was 58 degrees and when we returned to the campground near the river it was 91. This area is home to black bears and mountain lions and warning signs are posted everywhere. We did not see either but we did see a LARGE lion pawprint in the dust. We were told that two weeks ago during spring break a lion was seen sitting on the porch of one of the cabins at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Because of its distances from any major population centers Big Bend allows for wonderfully clear star filled night skies and roads and trails that are very uncrowded. There are only three paved roads for the long drive between the four developed areas, but many miles of back country trails and dirt roads gives you the chance to be in real wilderness.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wild West Texas

Amistad Dam
Amistad Dam Spillway
Shaman statue based on the pictographs.
Seminole Canyon Rock Shelter

Nanc warming up by the fireplace at the Marathon RV Park.
The Jersey Lilly

We started the spring travel season driving across West Texas. Our first stop was the Buzzard's Roost Saloon and RV Park in Del Rio, a campground that has a bar offering live country music. We decided to spend a couple days here so we could watch the Pitt basketball team in March Madness and were rewarded with a big win. While there we went to the nearby Amistad Dam that was built across the Rio Grande in the 1960's for flood control, hydroelectric power, water conservation and recreation. The dam is over six miles long with most of it located in Mexico and the road atop it serves as a border crossing. The dam has created a huge reservoir of the Rio Grande, Pecos and Devils Rivers with the water backing up 85 miles. The surrounding water and land are called Amistad National Recreation Area. The name was chosen because amistad is Spanish for friendship. The area has several camping spots and the lake is one of the best bass fisheries in the US with 8 and 9 pounders being common. Because of our short stay I did not get a chance to wet a line:( It is really different seeing these big Western lakes with all this water meeting the arid land.

On Monday we visited Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site which has some of the oldest and best pictographs in the US. In a large rock shelter above the canyon you get an up close view of these 4000 year old drawings. They have been able to carbon date the age of the drawings using chips that have flaked off because the paint included many things from nature such as animal fat and various plants. Because this is desert and the canyon is dry except for flash floods the pictographs are very well preserved. The only access into the canyon was with a park guide and her insight was very useful in understanding the drawings. The park has other trails for hiking and biking and is a worthwhile stop.

From Del Rio we drove to Marathon were we stayed at the Marathon Motel and RV Park, a great little campground and inn complex that has a beautiful courtyard bordered by an adobe wall that has a fireplace where the guests were invited to gather around the fire in the evening. We enjoyed the company of our follow travellers, including one who was bicycling the Adventure Cycling route from San Diego to Florida. On the drive to Marathon we stopped at the Judge Roy Bean Visitors Center in Langtry where the original buildings used by Judge Roy Bean are part of the center. Roy Bean was famous for being the "law west of the Pecos" and often handed out sentences like a "$40 fine and a round of drinks for the jury." His saloon was named The Jersey Lilly after the English actress Lillie Langtry who was know as The Jersey Lily. Unfortunately, the itinerant sign painter hired to letter the sign for food and drink misspelled the name and that continues to be part of the lore. Bean even named his home the Opera House in his efforts to get Langtry to perform there. Ironically, she visited several months after the judge died in 1903. The center has a great desert garden where many cacti were blooming and several exhibits showing the history of this little town.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Class of 2007 Reunion

Class of 2007
Norah the organizer and Patty the official photographer.
In line for Thanksgiving dinner.
Learning more about blogging.
Chef Joe watching over the omelets.
Bob pouring a drink directly into Patty was well documented.
Chocolates and Cordials.
Things were looking up at the star party.
John, Lora & Kathy enjoying the conversation.
Chef Bob with all the ingredients for the hobo stew.
For Marcia it was "When Irish eyes are blurry".
Cook? Molly with a breakfast croissant. No that is not chocolate icing!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We are now at the Alamo Fiesta RV Park in Boerne, Texas for the first Class of 2007 Reunion. We had a great time seeing our 07 mates and sharing the tales of our fulltime lifestyle. Much of the schedule revolved around food and FUN. On St. Patty's Day we had green snacks for happy hour and Hobo Stew for dinner. For the stew everyone brought a can of soup or veggies to add to the meat in the pot and the wild concoction turned into a delicious meal to feed the masses. Another happy hour featured chocolate with cordials and at the last one everyone brought their favorite appetizer. We also had a chili cook off, which was won by Joe, and Thanksgiving in March featuring several deep fried turkeys along with the traditional stuffing, sweet potatoes and other holiday treats. On Thursday morning breakfast consisted of omelets in a bag where you added your choice of ingredients to the eggs in a baggy that was then boiled in a large pot and cooked to perfection. There were excellent workshops with Hank's group participating in geocaching, Marty helping people find their roots in a genealogy class and Molly's group sharing info on blogging. The evening activities included a star party with Mark pointing out several important stars and constellations, games and a brown bag auction where you were to bring a gift of something you have been carrying in your rig but wanted to get rid of to lighten the load. We had such a great time we decided to stay an extra day just to rest up and start a diet.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Keep Austin Weird

Replica of The Statue of Liberty on the grounds of the capitol. The statue on the dome is holding the Lone Star.
Looking at the floor of the rotunda which shows the seals of the five governments that have ruled Texas.
The crowd at the Little Longhorn Saloon.
Jill with her friends and Nanc admiring the winning bike.
Little Longhorn preparing to "choose" the winner.
Dave, Nanc, Jill & John
A few bats above the people on the bridge who have gathered to watch.
A swarm of bats in the air after leaving the bridge.

We have moved on and are now staying at the Hwy 71 RV Park in Cedar Creek, Texas near Austin. We arrived during an early spring cold front and rain. There has been a long drought in this area so the locals are happy to see the rain but we really prefer warm, dry, sunny weather. After a couple days of the cold and rain we were rewarded with sunny skies and warm temps. Oh well, into every life a "little "rain must fall so we don't want to complain too much. On Saturday we went to 6th Street in Austin, the local hangout for college students, to listen to some Blues and have dinner. It is a pretty neat part of town with music flowing into the street from many venues and street musicians entertaining the crowds. On Sunday we toured the Texas state capitol, an impressive building with a rotunda and dome that is higher than the US Capitol. You know everything in Texas is bigger. Later in the day we hooked up with Jill Hubley, who Nanc worked with at Crown and has since relocated and working with a different company. It was great seeing Jill and she introduced us to the "real" Austin which started out at Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon were they were having a antique car and bike show accompanied by live rockabilly music with a HUGE crowd drinking beer and having a wonderful time. One of the "real" Austin events also taking place there was chicken sh_t bingo where patrons bought a numbered square painted on the bottom of a cage and then The Little Longhorn, the resident chicken, was placed in the cage to "choose" the winner. Afterwards we ate at Billy's, one of Jill's local favorites, and had a great evening of conversation on the deck. We were joined by John, a friend of Jill's and also Dave Parsons, another Crown friend who has also relocated to Austin but still works for Crown. One of our regrets in our travels is that it is hard to find these unique local places that are under the radar and away from the tourist areas if you don't have a contact with someone. On our last night in Austin we went to the Ann Richardson Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the bats emerge at dusk. At their height, as many as 1.5 million bats leave their daytime roost under the bridge to spend the night eating thousands of pounds of insects. While it was neat to see thousands of bats flying into the night skies, there were no where near the numbers that will appear later in the summer. We really enjoyed our time in Austin and we agree with the local saying, "Keep Austin Weird."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On Valley Time

Smitty's Juke Box Museum
Jukes on display and being restored.
Helen by an old Rockola.
A variety of old machines.
Moonrise over a Texas Olive.
A green jay and cardinal.
Tom Landry Mural

We continue to enjoy the warm but windy weather of the Rio Grande Valley. Holiday Village, where we are staying because of the good rate, is a very nice park BUT it is to close to the highway and there is constant noise from the traffic. In our travels around the area we have found some nice RV parks away from the beaten path. If we decide to return and stay for longer than the two weeks we stayed this time, there are other places that offer good long term rates.

In Pharr we visited Smitty's Juke Box Museum which has displays of restored music machines ranging from ones that played original Edison records to ones that played CD's. We talked with Helen Schmitt who told us she and her husband have been in the vending business, which her son now runs, for over sixty years. This was a real trip down memory lane for me because many of the juke boxes from the 50's, 60's and 70's were the same ones my dad, Bob, had when he was in the vending business. There were Seburgs, Wurlitzers, AMIs, Rowes, and Rockolas that Bob had used and also antiques from the early 1900's and on. The older machines only had as few as ten 78rpm records to choose from while Helen told us the new broadband Internet jukes have a virtual unlimited number of selections that can be changed and monitored over the net from the office. Helen and I swapped stories about being in the business that also included cigarette machines, bowling machines, pool tables and pinballs. We had one of the old pinball machines in our stix and brix home which was very popular when we had parties and get-togethers and was the last things we got rid of when we sold. If you are in Pharr be sure to stop and see this museum and chat with Helen.

One evening we went to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park to do some birding. The park which is the home of the World Birding Center is closed to motorized vehicles except for a tram that runs during the day. It is a great place to bike but we chose to walk and were rewarded with seeing some great wildlife. We saw many species including several beautiful green jays, cardinals, chachalacas, a woodpecker and others. We saw several javelinas, which we have never seen in the wild. But the real highlight was seeing not one but two bobcats. As we were looking for birds from a blind a bobcat walked through along the edge of the woods and as we were driving home near the park one ran across the road. We got a real good look at that one because he stayed at the edge of the woods even as we backed up to see him. Unfortunately, we did not get pictures of the cats. They are just too quick. In addition, we saw a huge number of green parakeets on the telephone wires in McAllen as they were getting ready to roost for the night but it was too late to get a good photo.
In Mission we saw the Tom Landry Mural that honors the Cowboys' coach who was born and raised there. While we are in no way Dallas fans, it was neat to see the display that included the signature, hand and footprints of former Dallas running back Tony Dorsett who is a Pitt grad from Western PA. GO STEELERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!