Wandering West Texas

Since leaving Big Bend, we’ve hit a number of eclectic spots – some planned, some by accident. In any case, it’s been a terrific week for the Campshaws.

Heading out of the Park, we were intrigued by the Terlingua Ghost Town which appeared on our map.wp-1485537560601.jpg It wasn’t far off our route, so we detoured. This was originally a mining site for cinnabar, from which mercury is derived. Most of the old structures have fallen, but there’s a quirky ghost town economy at work here. Along the road into the town are several spots where you can camp in a teepee, or a beatup Airstream. wp-1485537508473.jpgThere’s a real estate office that looks like a spaceship. wp-1485541029427.jpgWe wandered around the fallen buildings, then headed over to the cemetery, which was a real treat. Most of the graves are above ground, because of the difficulty of digging into the rocky surface. wp-1485537526157.jpgModern graves are decorated with objects that reveal the personality of the deceased.20170127_114239.jpg It’s a very interesting place to wander. We topped off our visit with breakfast at a small cafe there (fabulous Mexican breakfast burrito!), and hit the road.

Balmorhea State Park was our destination for two nights, a spot we picked by its location, not its interest. It’s home to a natural spring with a year-round temperature of about 70 degrees. In the 1930s, the CCC built a gigantic pool enclosing the spring, and the Park was born. wp-1485537090527.jpgwp-1485537463120.jpgwp-1485537479921.jpgThere is a bare-bones campground, and motel-type rooms available. It must be packed in the hot summer months, because there sure aren’t any other lakes around. But, it was so chilly and windy that none of the campers ventured in the water. If you look closely at the photos, you can tell from the water surface how windy it was. The pool ranges from 3-30 feet deep, with several diving boards. It was a nice stop, but we wished that we hadn’t reserved two days – we truly didn’t understand that there was nothing around, and nowhere nearby to visit. But, how about this cool door?wp-1485537427688.jpgWe chose a route to our next stop that took us past Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a place that I had never even heard of. We stopped into the Visitor Center, watched a brief slide show about the area, then headed down a trail to check out an old stagecoach stop. wp-1485537411335.jpgwp-1485537399749.jpgFrom 1858-59, the Butterfield Overland Mail stopped here on its route from St. Louis to San Francisco. What a grueling journey it must have been for the nine passengers along for the trip with 12,000 pieces of mail. 24 hours a day for about 25 days – with brief stops to change horses. Yikes. We didn’t have time to explore any other areas of the Park – saving that for another trip.

Hueco Tanks State Park was a gem of a find for our final night in Texas. wp-1485537360354.jpgTanks refers to depressions in the rocks which collect water, and there are hundreds of these in the rocky formations in the Park.wp-1485537348111.jpgwp-1485537330656.jpgFor thousands of years, indigenous people lived or traveled to this area, as evidenced by the petroglyphs which are scattered around the Park. Sometimes, you really have to lie underneath the rocks to see and photograph the petroglyphs.wp-1485537265734.jpgwp-1485537243134.jpg Most of the really great spots are available with a guided Ranger tour only. We were unaware of this, and didn’t allot enough time to do that. But, we did hike three trails, all with great views, and interesting rock markings. wp-1485537220068.jpgGraffiti has taken a huge toll over the years, probably one reason why permits are required to even enter the area, and are limited to 70 people a day. About half of the people we saw were rock climbers, as there are several areas here which provide challenging climbs.20170127_114753.jpg We enjoyed our great campsite. This is another spot which merits a longer stay – we left far too much unexplored.

See ya, Texas! Now we’re in Columbus New Mexico at Pancho Villa State Park. What an interesting spot this is. Columbus was the site of the last hostile action by foreign troops in the US – a raid by Pancho Villa’s troops in March 1916. wp-1485537115250.jpgThis sparked retaliation by troops led by General John J (Black Jack) Pershing into Mexico, with the intent of hunting down Pancho Villa. After a year, the troops came back to the US, emptyhanded. So many historic events surround this event – it was the last gasp of US Calvary troops, the first time gasoline and diesel-powered trucks and cars were used, and the first time airplanes were used for surveillance. Eight two-seater “Jennies” were deployed, and flew into Mexican airspace. However, the planes were not very maneuverable, and most were unable to fly back over the mountains to Columbus HQ. None of the eight lasted past the first month.

We really enjoyed wandering the Museum – check out this photo which shows Villa and Pershing in happier times. wp-1485537126670.jpgNote the caption of the man standing behind Pershing – Michael Collins was the last US astronaut to stand on the moon – a fact we learned a few weeks ago at the Johnson Space Center.

The Columbus Historical Center Museum also has a site there, which we very briefly visited. I lusted after this tiny little tricycle – what kid wouldn’t look great pedaling this around?wp-1485537146389.jpgwp-1485537166654.jpgThe downside to this area is the really lousy weather. Altough dry, the winds are unrelenting and merciless. Temps are in the 40s, and with a 20mph wind, it is most unpleasant. I feel grit etching my eyeballs.

In spite of that, we plan to ride our bikes into Mexico this afternoon and wander around the little town of Puerto Palomas, which is just three miles away. We hear there’s a great little cafe there. It will be a quick ride there, with that north wind pushing us, and a tough slog home. Oh well….

History Lessons

We left Bryce Canyon in a hail of swirling snow and wind – seeking a lower elevation for the night, but with no firm plans in mind. Checking the map, there’s a huge swath of green, indicating the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument about 160 miles down the road, so we get the bright idea that we’ll boondock and explore that area for a day or two.

Snow gives way to bright skies and 50ish temps. 20160426_100610We zoom down into Kanab and head to the Visitor Center to check out camping scenarios. The Ranger that is not encouraging. On the board is posted the 5 day weather forecast, and it’s a mass of green (for rain). Most of the backcountry roads are already impassable, even for four-wheelers. Not only do we not have 4WD, we’re towing a trailer. She finally recommends one spot – 12 miles out of town, then 12 miles down a paved road to a gravel road beneath the white cliffs. We’re excited – we only hear ‘paved’, so we figure we’ve got it made. Not so fast…..

We pass through some gorgeous territory, including an old Mormon settlement, which is slowly sagging back into the ground.20160425_130719 Finally, we get to the turnoff, and it’s sand and deep red clay. John pulls off the road slightly, and we get out to feel the surface and assess potential campsites. It’s a great place to camp, BUT there are some deep, worrisome ruts in the clay surface of the road. A local rancher pulls up and offers advice, using words like “tow”, “stuck”, “marooned”, and “isolated”. It doesn’t take too long for us to carefully back out and head back to Kanab to find a safe haven for the night. Good choice – it rained hard for ten hours, and I’m sure we’d still be spinning our wheels in red muck trying to get out of Grand Staircase.

So, Day 2 we head over to Navaho National Monument. This the site of the spectacular Betatakin settlement of the Ancestral Puebloens.20160426_15201920160426_15091320160426_150818 There’s a small adjacent campground which is free. This is the best of all worlds.20160426_142343 A great campsite is ours for the taking – complete with our own huge stone patio overlooking the canyon. The Visitor Center is terrific, and we’re camped in a significant historic site. We wander down to the pubelo overlook, check out the surrounding area a bit, and settle in for the night.20160426_194026I’m excited to make the drive through Monument Valley again on Day 3. This remote section of Utah highway passes some through some of the most breathtaking scenery you can imagine. Flat desert is broken up with massive red monuments. There’s no way I can capture the majesty and sheer grandeur of this setting – there’s nothing to use for scale.20160427_111659 It is no wonder that this is sacred ground to Native Americans – it is a breathtaking and mystical experience to pass near these enormous mystical mountains.

John had read something about Goosenecks State Park in Utah, so that became the next stop for the day. Six miles of the San Juan River meander through a deep valley in a series of undulations, stretching horizontally over only about a mile and a half.20160427_120054 It was well worth the $5 fee we paid to wander and admire for a half hour. The lighting at the time we were there was perfect – even the parking lot was photogenic.20160427_120419After checking weather reports and consulting our maps, we decide to press on to Mesa Verde National Park for two nights of camping and exploration of the magnificent pueblos there. 20160427_165942Mesa Verde was one of the original twelve Unesco World Heritage Sites in 1976 – one of the twelve most significant sites in the world worthy of preservation. This relatively small area is home to over 5000 archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. 20160428_12264220160428_11250420160428_105947Having the privilege to see this well-preserved site, visit the gorgeous museum and take a Ranger-guided trip to Balcony House will certainly be two days I will remember for a long time. The Mesa Verde area was inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloans from about 600-1300 AD, with a population that likely exceeded today’s number of inhabitants. Of course there’s a huge difference in the structures from the earliest to the most recent, but to see them all in such a small space is amazing. You review hundreds of years of history within a day.

Our tour of Balcony House was terrific. We headed down under the cliff, then up a worrisome 32′ ladder to reach the dwelling.20160428_13334920160428_133838Probably housed 30-50 people lived there in the 1200s with their domesticated turkeys and dogs. Our Ranger Paul was passionate about helping us understand the forces in play during the time of this settlement.20160428_13394620160428_135247 It’s amazing what we do know about these early settlements, and how much we really don’t know about what caused their seemingly abrupt  desertion of this area around 1300. All you can do is look, absorb, and try to understand. It’s an amazing opportunity.

We did have one low point when using the campground showers today, which had just opened for the season. Chalk it up to the joys of camping.20160428_165158 Tomorrow (Friday), we’re moving on. Once again, we don’t really have a firm plan. The weather forecast is lousy for the higher elevations – snow. Rain in the lower regions. We’re thinking about just moving to nearby Durango for a few days. Perhaps we’ll ride the Durango steam train, although it’s too early in the season to take the classic trip to Silverton. Maybe we’ll just lie low and look for a bar where we can watch a baseball game. Funny how far removed we feel from simple pleasures like this.

Hard to believe we’re entering the last few weeks of this trip. We’ve seen so much, yet all I can focus on is what we’ve left undone, and what we overlooked through ignorance or laziness. There is hardly a place we’ve visited that I don’t want to revisit, yet I know that’s not going to be possible. Food for thought.

 

 

Arches National Park

To qualify as an official “arch”, a hole must have an opening at least one meter long in any one direction.  But, there’s no width requirement – many of the arches in Arches National Park are so skinny that you have to put your cheek up against the rock to see any light through them.  But, the big ones?   Unbelievably grand.  This is Skyline Arch.20140402_150028We camped for three nights at Devil’s Garden Campground in Arches NP.  If you plan a visit site 24 is fabulous! (notice that once again, we’ve lost our license plate!)photo-1Perfect hiking weather persuaded us to hike the entire length of the Devil’s Garden Trail, which detours to some of the largest arches in the Park.  Several steep drop-offs and exposed slickrock made portions of the hike pretty harrowing, especially on the return trip along a primitive trail.  But, the sights we saw…

Landscape  Arch – the longest in the Park at just over 100 yards.  A portion of the arch fell away in 1991, and it looks very fragile.  Hikers are no longer able to walk up underneath.20140403_104902Pine Tree Arch20140403_102353Tunnel Arch20140403_101858Navaho Arch20140403_112606Double O Archwpid-20140403_120102.jpgPrivate Arch20140403_122922At the very end of the trail is Dark Angel, a tall dark sandstone monolith.  It’s so stark and solitary that it has served as a navigation aid for years.20140403_122209On the way back, we were treated to wonderful views of the sandstone ‘fins’, slabs of sandstone set very close together.  In the right lighting, they are spectacular.20140403_132822We also took the “March to the Arch” the following day and viewed Delicate Arch, the most popular structure in the Park.  Although not the largest, it’s unique in that it sits totally by itself, without any supporting rock.20140404_110703What else is here?

Double Arch20140404_130727Turret Arch20140404_122808Thousands of others.  It’s one magical view after another.  Here are some others…

The view from Panorama Overlook20140403_170843The Three Gossips20140404_144253Slickrock passage along Devil’s Garden Trail20140403_114154Go there, and see for yourself.  This is Tapestry Arch (sleeting!)20140402_151242

Canyonlands

Dead Horse Point State Park was our home base for exploration of Canyonlands National Park, located just north of Moab, UT.  Canyonslands is divided into three sections by the Colorado and Green Rivers – we visited only the northernmost Island in the Sky area. 20140401_134515 We hope to visit the Needles area next year.  The Maze is a part we may never get to – the only access is from the Colorado River, or by a rugged jeep trail.

The huge Canyon has a very different feel than Grand Canyon – it’s neither as deep, nor as dramatic. But, standing on the rim, it appears to stretch forever.  There are many different plateaus rising from the Rivers, 1000-2000 feet below. 20140401_135131 You cannot see the far rim.  That alone gives it a unique feel.20140331_141049

In two days, we hiked seven different trails, checked out the Visitor Center and watched the Park movie, lunched in two dramatic locations, and had a blast exploring this beautiful area.  20140401_144433We were happy to have made camping reservations at the nearby State Park, as the two small campgrounds in Canyonlands are first come-first served only.  Both were full, as was Dead Horse Point SP.  It’s hard to know where/when we will need reservations – perhaps we’ve overplanned, but trying to find a place to stay after a long day on the road is not our strong suit.  So…..we plan ahead.

Many of these photos probably have a familiar look to anyone who’s been a regular reader.  But, we did see Mesa Arch, our first big arch, which was amazing.20140331_122309 We dangled our feet over the edge of a steep canyon wall while eating peanut butter sandwiches,20140331_135658 and walked along the while sandstone back of Whale Rock.20140401_113955

We’ve (nearly) forgotten our dismay about waking up to six inches of snow on the Fireball on our last morning in camp.wpid-20140402_091810.jpg What was really weird about that experience is that where we could usually see the canyon, there was only fog.  After we moved a bit, it became apparent that it was because we were above the snow line, and actually IN the cloud – as we descended into Moab, we dropped out of the clouds and into sunshine.  For a couple of flatlanders, it was unusual.

We’re now at Arches National Park, and it is jaw-dropping.  We are grinding our hiking boots (and our tired muscles) into the ground, but we just can’t stop.  More on this amazing spot in a day or two.

 

Big Winds in Dead Horse

“Be careful,” said the Ranger as we checked into Dead Horse Point State Park, near Moab. “There’s a high wind alert for tonight. 50mph gusts. Also, there are no toilets in the campground, due to construction. But, there are two portajohns.”

“Water?” we asked.

“Not for your trailer, but there is a sink outside the (non-functioning) bathroom you can get drinking water from. Or, you can get water here at the Visitor Center, or use the flush toilets here.” (The VC is about 1/2 mile from the campground).

Perhaps, this was not the best start.

We were lucky to get setup before the wind started to knock us around. It was only 4pm or so – way too early to pack it in and hunker down for the evening. So, John decided to hike back to the Visitor Center to check out the exhibits and the movie (nearly all Visitor Centers have movies of their park, which we love). My job was to take Jezzy for her pre-dinner poop stroll. Heading out to Dead Horse Point seemed like a good choice, since it was only 1.5 miles each way.20140330_162434

Jezzy doesn’t like wind. When it’s windy, she thinks it may lead to thunder, and she HATES thunder (see posts on Thundershirt). But, she needs to learn that she doesn’t get to make ALL the decisions in our household. So, off we go on a trail, which heads out on the east rim of the Canyon, about 2000 feet above the Colorado River.

Every now and then we get pelted by a blast of rain. Dark clouds are rolling in, and the wind is definitely picking up. Jezzy’s not happy. I’m less than joyous myself, but we’re on a mission. 20140330_160629After a mile or so, we are headed to a narrow point on the Canyon rim, where we’re about to head out onto a thin strip of land known as Dead Horse Point. Legend has it that cowboys would round up wild mustangs and corral them at this point, about 30 yards wide. Fencing off the open side with scrub and brush, they would choose the horses they wanted to keep, and leave the unwanted horses on the point, and they would die of thirst.

Below, the Colorado River makes a 180 degree swing. It’s a spectacular viewpoint.
However, as we neared the neck of the point, the wind gusts nearly knocked me off my feet!  Jezzy was wild and frantic, trying to dodge behind me so that I could protect her. Me? I wanted to hide behind her! So, we retreated, without getting to see the famous bend.

Safely home, we battened down and got biffed around by gusts of 55mph. It was wild.20140330_160623 At one point, we headed out into the howling win to help out our tenting neighbor.  His tent had become unmoored from three of its four stakes, and was flailing around wildly – we feared it would become totally unhitched, and fling itself over the canyon wall.  He got it under control, but I’ll bet he’ll be sleeping with red dust in his sleeping bag for years.  Finally, around 2am, things settled down. Quiet prevails again.

In the calm of morning, we look with dismay at the interior of the Fireball.  Every surface is covered with a fine red grit.  Our soft slippers make scratchy noises on the floor, and our coffee cups sound like sandpaper on the tabletop.  We got just enough rain to set the dust into a red cement on the windows.  It’s awful enough that we just had to escape.

We headed out on the Trail again, and this time got to see the famous Dead Horse Point. 20140331_094852It was worth the wait.  We’ll get around to cleaning up some time later today.