Pushing Eastward

The Campsh@ck is now firmly pointed eastward, and our slow trek to Michigan has begun. Some portions of this journey I dread, but we’ve tried to spice it up with some variations in our route that enable us to stay in some new campgrounds while visiting some old favorites (I say old favorites like we’ve been doing this for 20 years.) Hard to imagine that this is only our sixth winter of wandering away from Michigan winters.

Maricopa County AZ (Phoenix area) has several regional parks with great facilities. We’ve stayed at two so far, and decided to swing by White Tank Regional Park to check it out this time. While I don’t think this is my favorite, we enjoyed a few nights camping. It was a big change from the cool California mountains – this campground is hot and sunny. With a bit of blind luck, we stumbled into reserving one of only two sites (#24) that had a bit of shade to offer. What luck – it was really hot! I’ll admit that we were pretty smug watching our neighbors sit outsite in the broiling sun, while we were chillin’ in the shade.

White Tanks gets it name from the watering holes (or tanks) that collect the scarce rainwater here in Ford Canyon for all the wildlife here. So, we naturally decided to hike over there to see them, since they aren’t visible from the campground. The first few miles  of trail were flat and rather boring, as we wound our way to the back of the Canyon. Then, we came upon this odd warning sign – something about hazardous Indians and rumnoel runs – whatever that is. 20180328_1221111478470471.jpgPerhaps we should have been warned, but we forged ahead. The hike became difficult after these point – a sharp increase in elevation had us snaking around obstacles, and wedging toes into tiny footholds. We finally wound our way up then down to the tank area, which was worthy of the effort to get there. There was just a bit of brackish water in some of the deeper holes.20180328_134343799132786.jpg20180402_220211110194482.jpgAfter another mile or so, we decided to turn back, as we had drunk half our water, and the trip ahead was twice as far as the trip back. In hot/dry conditions, we don’t second-guess our water supply. All in all, it was a great hike.

Our next destination was to Fool Hollow State Park (AZ),where we had stayed for a single night several years ago. It’s a beautifully maintained, cool area at about 6300′ in Show Low AZ. We were eager to escape the Phoenix heat (projected to be 95 on the day we left). I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful park. Hard-working camp hosts and attentive staff treat this gem as if it were their own. 20180330_1700181071804728.jpg20180331_1708372085522344.jpg20180402_220447299212989.jpgThe drive up from the Phoenix area was filled with some spectacular rugged territory. This roadside project caught our eye as we passed – it’s hard to see, but that big shovel is very precariously perched as it moves dirt around. 20180402_220317178514275.jpg Not a job for the faint of heart!

We didn’t do anything particulary noteworthy at Fool Hollow, but we did meet Paula and Molly – two single women who are both full-time campers. After sharing dinner and camping tales for two nights, we have two new friends – Paula in her Oliver trailer, and Molly in her Casita. Why are most of the full-time campers we meet women? I can only think of one or two men we have met over the years who live full-time in their small trailers or campers. Interesting….it takes a lot of moxie to sell your home and hit the road fulltime. These ladies have it all together.

Here we are now, camped in the middle of of a fairly young lava field that’s 45 miles long, a mile wide, and 50-150 feet deep.20180402_104106-1435890512.jpg20180402_2206521560201472.jpg And the fact that we’re perched on an island over the top of it – amazing. Valley of Fires ranks among one of the more unique spots we’ve camped.20180401_1935221270226480.jpg Lava has spewed from vents in the earth (as opposed to flowing down a mountain) on at least two separate occasions in the last 1500-5000 years, creating a mysterious, crusty spot to explore. A well-signed scenic walkway winds around a mile or so of the area, with many spots to walk off the path and onto the lava beds.20180402_1152331452944319.jpg20180402_2209001309537280.jpgOur campsite is right in the middle of the above photo. You can barely see the curve of the Campsh@ck to the right of the ramada which covers the picnic table.20180402_1213261767284489.jpg It’s fascinating. I can’t briefly explain the geology to you in a coherent way, but would encourage you to check out the above link if you’re interested. The pristine campground is small (about 25 sites), but inexpensive. We have a big site with water/electric for $9/night with our senior pass. Of course, there are superclean bathrooms and showers.

Our time here is marred only by the strong New Mexico spring winds which we have come to dread every year. It really is no joy to be outside in 30-40mph winds, and there isn’t anyplace to hide from them. Although we have the windows open a bit, we have them tied down with bungies and ropes to keep them from blowing open and tearing off the trailer. Having that happen to us once in Death Valley, we’re not chancing it again.

The next two weeks are taking us to several new campgrounds as we move across the vast state of Texas. Hope our nasty winds subside, and I hope spring is finally going to move into the Midwest and Northeast. You have paid your winter dues in spades, my friends. Enough!

 

 

 

Aliens and Unreal Landscapes

It’s been an interesting week. Since leaving the green altitudes of Datil Wells, we’ve been camping in State Parks in New Mexico and Texas. Our camping preferences run like this…1) National Parks, 2) National Forests, 3) State Forests, 4) State Parks/County Parks,   5) Everything else. 6) If we are truly desperate, a parking lot like Walmart or Cracker Barrel (although we’ve never had to resort to that yet). We LOVE pulling into a new-to-us campground for the first time – the anticipation of finding the perfect campsite is always lurking around the next curve.

So, it was with great anticipation that we pulled into Bottomless Lakes Campground near Roswell, NM. 20170417_19154720170418_083819Of course, we wanted to investigate all the UFO business that has been Roswell’s calling card for 70 years. And, we anticipated a really deep series of lakes. Um, not exactly.

“Bottomless” refers to the fact that there are sinkholes here, caused by an underground river. Instead of deep lakes, we found a shallow, swampy chain of lakes, which had an appropriately swampy aroma, and swarms of flies to accompany same. (They nearly drove me insane!) One lake, on which our campground was situated, had enough water to have a picnic/pavillion/swimming area. But, we arrived shortly after Easter weekend, and this area was trashed! After two days, it still had not been cleaned up (same case with the bathroom/showers). Disgraceful. There was crap everywhere!

Roswell is all about UFOs.20170418_10571920170418_110804 There was a reported UFO landing in 1947, which has spawned an entire industry – movies, a museum, and multiple investigations. 20170418_10354720170418_165838Did it happen? Will we ever really know? But, the UFO Museum and Research Center has all the information for you to make your own decision.20170418_10475320170418_10562120170418_11045920170418_170354We spent a couple hours there, reading all the newspaper articles and looking at the photos. It’s all about self-promotion, and selling souviners. John bought an alien fly swatter, in the vain hope of helping to quash to invasion at the campground. We hiked, and wandered around a bit and enjoyed a bit of free WiFi in the campground – a rarity. After two days, it was time to move on.

Ever since our first trip into Palo Duro State Park several years ago, we’ve wanted to return, so we booked a four-night reservation. Sadly, we didn’t get into the campground we had hoped for (full). But, we were assured that this would change later this year, when TX State Park Reservations will allow visitors to make site-specific reservations. As it stands now, you can only make a ‘reservation’, and you’re assigned a site when you get there. We were lucky to get a  pretty decent site anyway. Next year, we’ll get the one we want.

Palo Duro Canyon is called the Little Grand Canyon, as it’s the second largest canyon west of the Mississippi.20170421_13585820170421_135823 It’s spectacular, and mid-April is a gorgeous time to visit. Trees are budding, everything is greening up, and it’s generally pleasant. Two out of our four days did touch 90 degrees (unexpected), but the nights were cool and comfortable. We explored the Park on two great hikes – the Lighthouse Trail was the first.20170420_104953-120170420_105838 This unusual hoodoo is tucked away three miles from the roadway, so the only way to see it is to hike (or bike) in. It’s well worth the effort, which was really minor in the scheme of things).

We also did the Rock Garden hike, another six-mile round trip, which extends from the canyon floor to the rim, through an amazing boulder field. 20170422_13433220170424_10445320170422_114800It really taxes my imagination to  see all these enormous boulders strewn around. Did it all happen in one big explosion, or over the course of thousands (or millions) of years? It’s a crazy feeling to wander through this rock field, as we crawled up toward the canyon rim, about 700 feet above.

We spent the rest of our time cycling around, exploring the nearby town of Canyon, and generally just hanging out, wondering at the beauty of this unexpected place in Texas. At the Visitor Center though, we were taken aback by the appearance of Darth Vader in a diorama with big-horned sheep. 20170421_140955What’s with that? It was in a back corner, and it occurred to us that it might have been placed there by a rogue State Park employee. I was also taken aback by this Unidentified TSM (Texas-sized Moth) which was hanging out in the women’s shower. Yikes!I had to run back and get my camera to get this photo.20170422_202408 (I really didn’t need to rush – he was in the same spot for two days!)

Our last two days have been in Copper Breaks State Park – we are really making the best use of our annual Texas State Park Annual Pass. Breaks refers to the splits in the ground here, which result in a red ‘mini-canyon’ about 50-60′ deep. The surrounding area is absolutely flat. 20170424_134905Although there isn’t a lot happening around here, this is a very pleasant campground, with great spacing between sites and crazy helmetlike shelters over each picnic table. 20170424_195354We are especially pleasant to have nabbed a site with a shade tree. Although it’s been hot – nearly 90 today, we can sit in the shade and breeze and thoroughly enjoy being outside. (As I write this, it’s 9pm, and there’s a coyote party going on not too far away).  We cycled the entire Park, and hiked a few of the trails, although there’s nothing really spectacular to see here. Probably the highlight of the hikes was this former shoreline, preserved in rock, a long way from any current water. 20170424_135203This is the kind of stuff we really love to stumble across on any hike.

Tomorrow we head into Oklahoma. We want to escape any serious prolonged heat, so we’re creeping north a bit. The weather forecast for the upcoming weekend looks dangerous in the Oklahoma/Arkansas area, so we’re going to have to be willing to change plans on the fly if necessary.

Petrified

To a Midwesterner, the big skies and huge vistas of the Southwest have always captured my imagination. What must it have been like to be traveling across the land for months, and stumble across the Grand Canyon (for me, one of the most incredible of all the huge monuments out here)? But, last week, we rolled into the Petrified Forest, and it opened up a huge new world of wonder. This really stretches my imagination.

First, we had to deal with a few logistical items. There’s no camping in this National Park. There are two gift shops on the southern end which offer free camping (dirt parking lot on a highway), but we were happy to have a spot.wp-1492387376719.jpg There really isn’t anything else within 20 miles. So, here was our home for two nights. We opted to have an electric site for $10, so that we would be able to run our air conditioning for Jezzy, while we were gone for a whole day. Bathrooms are available from 11am-6pm. No water is available (“Don’t drink the water. It will make you sick.”) For two days, that wasn’t a hardship, although it would be tough if you weren’t prepared for it.

Since we only had a few hours to explore the first day, we decided to bicycle in, and check out the Visitor Center at the southern end of the Park. It sits in the middle of an astonishing forest of petrified wood. wp-1492387239774.jpgHere’s Petrified Wood 101: Two hundred million years ago, Arizona was at about the same latitude at Costa Rica – about 10 degrees north of the equator. It was loaded with conifer forests. Trees fell, sank into the mud, and were covered with mineral deposits, turning the wood into stone of the most incredible colors. wp-1492387254731.jpgThe color of the stone depends on the mineral in which the tree was buried. It really is indescribable – so different than the petrified wood we saw last year in North Dakota, which was essentially gray, with a woodlike appearance. I couldn’t resist, and purchased about a 50lb boulder at the gift shop. You can see it in my back yard if you stop by.

These mammoth rocks have knots and swirls like live trees. Many have fallen over, and have remained essentially whole and unbroken. The circled rock is a great example of that – the deposits above it have eroded away. Eventually, the deposits below will blow or wash away, and it will fall. You can see the floor below is littered with petrified boulders.wp-1492387568828.jpg Others are segmented, some by natural forces, but others cut by opportunists searching for valuable crystals before the forests were protected. Whether whole or broken, they challenged my imagination.

“Would you walk across this log on a horse for $.25?” 20170413_091138That was the question a Park worker asked John as we viewed the Agate Bridge, a complete petrified tree that had fallen, been buried, and millions of years later, re-emerged from its mineral mountain. Apparently, in the early tourist days, a local gent did just that – collected quarters from tourists, and rode his horse across this narrow bridge above an abyss. The rock has since been reinforced with concrete beneath, but the thought of riding or walking across is harrowing. It’s admittedly difficult to see in this photo.

We drove the length of the Park Drive, from the Petrified Forest on the south to the Painted Desert National Park Visitor Center at the north, which is a totally different change of pace.wp-1492387273437.jpgwp-1492387592159.jpgwp-1492387552889.jpgwp-1492387512441.jpgwp-1492387415831.jpg We pulled in at every turnout, and hiked every little hike. It’s mind boggling.

John has always been interested in astronomy, which led us to our next stop at Datil Wells Campground, just outside the town of Datil, NM. This immaculate BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground cost us just $2.50/night with our Sr. Pass.wp-1492466772645.jpg Our campsite was enormous! There aren’t enough kind words to say about these camp hosts, their friendliness, and their dedication to making this a spectacular spot to camp. We hiked with Jezzy one day, and enjoyed spectacular overlooks from our 8000′ vantage point.wp-1492467053818.jpg

20170415_122546But, our real quest was the Very Large Array, a farm of 27 huge radio telescopes which scan the skies 24/7 for faint natural radio waves from distant galaxies, black holes, and baby stars.wp-1492467244891.jpg wp-1492467305594.jpgThese 82′ dishes can be arranged are mounted on a series of railroad tracks, which enables them to be moved into four different configurations – from 1/2 mile to 13 miles from end to end. Every six hours, the dishes repoint in unison to a new position. Every four months, the entire array is repositoned, using a giant forklift-type of device which lifts, then rolls each telescope to a new position on the grid.wp-1492467321715.jpg It’s amazing. At one point, John thought he was receiving signals from outer space, but it turned out just to be that damned New Mexico wind roaring through the vents in his bike helmet.

A big part of this adventure though, was our bike ride to get there. Google Maps is both our friend and foe. When it’s spot on, there’s no better tool. But, woe be to the cyclist who gets ‘googled’ with faulty directions. In our case, Google suggested that we cycle Highway 60 for a short distance, then turn right on County Road 152. After another short distance we would arrive at “Old Highway 60”, which would take us right to the VLA. What could be more simple?

What we didn’t know was that Old Highway 60 probably hasn’t seen any car traffic since I was a baby. It consists of an occasional splotch of pavement surrounded by huge clumps of weeds. You can just barely see John in the center of the photo.20170416_105802For a while, it was fun riding.20170416_110601 A pack of Pronghorn Antelopes (fastest animal in North America) ran alongside us, as if issuing a challenge. It didn’t take them long to decide we weren’t worthy of a race. We let ourselves through two wire gates, into increasingly barren partures. At one point, three gigantic horses seemed to take exception to John’s advance (I, of course, stayed back in my role as official photographer). The lead horse was very aggressively advancing toward John, leaping and pawing the ground, when he wisely decided to turn around. wp-1492467155251.jpgAfter that, we had to drag ourselves and our bikes under a barbed-wire fence to get to a gravel road, where we eventually got back to the ‘real’ Highway 60. From there, we still had about 8 miles to get to the VLA.

But, what’s life without a little adventure?

We’re now at Bottomless Lakes State Park in Roswell, NM. Tomorrow we venture into Roswell to explore the International UFO Museum, and perhaps to meet a few extraterrestrials. Rest assured, we won’t be cycling in.

A Kansas Flop

At first light Sunday morning, we snuck out of town before all the church bells woke everyone up (although how anyone could sleep through all the trains is a mystery). Our RV park was about 50′ from the tracks.

Plan was to make the 200 mile drive to Abilene, KS and spend several hours at the Eisenhower Presidential Museum, then camp at an RV park in Abilene. Eisenhower was to be the first of the Republican Museums we’ve visited. So far, the four Museums we’ve visited have all been Dems.

What a major disappointment this museum was! 20151220_132734Probably 60% of it was devoted to Eisenhower’s military service and general WWII artifacts. If you like to read tiny print on large posters, this is the museum for you! Guns, tanks, military uniforms….you get the picture.20151220_135909Finally, we get to the point – Eisenhower was sought by both parties to run for President, but the Republicans finally won him over..20151220_140844 Truman supposedly had told him that he would run as Eisenhower’s VP, if only Eisenhower would run on the Dem ticket. But, we all know that Eisenhower/Nixon was the winning Republican combo in 1952 and 1956.20151220_141059Curiously, it seems to me that he was a President with no agenda. No New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society or anything like that. Just kind of an I Like Ike agenda. His enormous popularity as a war hero carried the day.20151220_142649 NASA was formed during his administration, the Interstate Highway System was started as well. Eisenhower favored integration, both of schools and the military, but it seemed to be a lukewarm effort. There really wasn’t much that stood out in the Museum, except Mamie.20151220_13510620151220_135325 We got a really good impression of her – always smiling and engaging, in direct contrast to the rather dour Bess Truman who preceded her.

Oh, Eisenhower was the only President to win an Oscar – for enlightening use of television as a medium.20151220_142211 We left the Museum without much of a portrait of Eisenhower as a President. So disillusioned were we, that we abandoned our plan to stay in Abilene, and so we moved on down the road for another three hours.

Unfortunately, that put us in Dodge City, KS – a place I swore I would never step foot in again. (Here’s a link to my post about our visit here)Ugh! But, our choices were very limited. We stayed at a campground, laughingly called Water Sports Campground. Perhaps it was named that because of the huge, deep mud puddles everywhere.20151220_183441 My new red Marmoleum floor took a whipping! We couldn’t get out of there fast enough in the morning. Check out some of our neighbors! 20151220_183000So, we can check Kansas off this trip. Next up – New Mexico. Bright sunshine picked up our spirits a bit, and we had smooth sailing down two-lane Kansas State Highways for mile after mile. Crossing into New Mexico, we opted to cut our travel day short and camp at Storrie Lake State Park in Las Vegas, NM.. 20151221_173337No facilities of any sort. Pit toilets. We were the only campers there. We buried our noses in books and spent a very cold night in solitude. 20151221_174538Dark clouds and ominous skies greeted us Tuesday morning as we prepared to depart for Winslow, AZ.20151222_095656 Another long travel day, punctuated by howling winds and snow squalls. This was my first time driving/towing in the show and big wind. Tense? I had to pry my clawed fingers off the wheel when we finally stopped for gas, and switched positions. As we approached the AZ state line, we were greeted with this sight – behind the mountain was a bright white horizontal band of clouds, (just below the halfway point in the photo) outlining the mountains and mesa in the distance. It looked like a cloud tsunami! With the dark sky overhead, it was spectacular. My photo, shot thru the truck windshield really doesn’t capture the drama.  20151222_144913But, we got to Winslow in time to take Jezzy for a long walk in honor of her 10th birthday. So, we did the historic photo – you all know what this is about, right?20151222_163416Another five hours of driving tomorrow, and we’ll (finally) be in Las Vegas. Merry Christmas to all – we’ll be hanging out with family, and NOT getting in the truck for a week!

 

Cranes, Cliffs, and the CCC

The highlight of our week?  Hands down, this is it.    I didn’t shoot this video – it was taken by our neighbor, and emailed to me.   Hers was much better than mine!

In a full-out windstorm (blowing 25-40mph, gusting 45-55mph), we headed to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, hoping to see the thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes that winter there.  It was a spectacular success.

But, let’s back up a wee bit.  Facing a short travel day, we actually elected to take the long route to Whitewater Draw.  This would take us through Tombstone, AZ, home of the famous Boot Hill Cemetery, and also the location of the Shootout at the OK Corral.20150302_110440 This town has more kitschy western-y stuff going on than all the rest of Arizona put together.  Tombstone may have been the center of the Wild Wild West back in the 1880s.  To wander through the cemetery, it sure would reinforce that idea.  Many of the tombstones have a name, followed by the designation ‘murdered’, ‘hanged’, or ‘shot’.  20150302_110842My favorite is the grave marker of the famous Lester Moore.20150302_111308Howling wind made it uncomfortable to stay out too long, even though the temperatures were in the low 60s.  How windy was it?  Ask Jezzy.20150302_130908We sought shelter in Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.  BNK was the girlfriend of Doc Holliday, one of the infamous participants in the Shootout.  John was persuaded to step behind the bar and pretend to draw a beer for me.  “Put your hand on the tap, but DON’T PULL!”, were his instructions.20150302_123910Maybe you had to be there to appreciate this, but the funniest thing was the stagecoach which could be hired for a brief tour.  The driver, in full stagecoach regalia, was pointing out places of interest to his four passengers.  But, it was a recorded presentation.  That didn’t stop this driver from giving it his all – he was waving his arms, and giving a full theatrical presentation, as if he was performing at the Met.  His passengers were most likely oblivious to this, being sheltered inside the stagecoach.  As he passed by, John and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.  But, maybe you had to be there……20150302_123514The Courthouse Museum was our next stop, where we learned everything one could possibly want to know about the Shootout at the OK Corral, starring Sheriff Wyatt Earp, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday against the bad guys, who were all killed.  Wyatt Earp was the only one not wounded or killed that day.  As I said, Tombstone was a tough place to live in the 1880s!

We rolled into Whitewater Draw around 2:30, and established our spot in the ‘campground’.  This is actually a small circular parking lot, with a vault toilet in the center, and about six parking spaces surrounding it.  Other cars can pull in and park for a few hours, but this is the only overnight spot.  Our neighbors were from Switzerland – halfway through a two year tour of the US.  Nice folks!20150302_144058We knew this was a Sandhill paradise, as we follow the excellent blog of Ingrid, who describes herself as a ‘non-birder’, but who takes the most fabulous bird photos.  Check out her post by clicking the link above.

We quickly set up, turning the Fireball around, so that our door would be downwind.  If not, we would not have been able to open it from the inside – that’s how violent the wind was.  But, where are the Sandhills?  We saw ZERO CRANES!  Ah, we remembered that Ingrid mentioned that they depart at first light in the morning to feed in area fields, and return to the water at dusk.  The flock here is estimated at times to be nearly 30,000 birds, although we didn’t expect to see that many.

Around 5:30, we wandered down to the water, binoculars and cell phone cameras at the ready.  We quickly met our Swiss neighbors, and our California neighbors in the huge RV directly across the parking lot.  Soon, we could hear the racket of Sandhill Cranes, coming in for a landing.  20150302_17522620150302_182138They were in packs of 100-200, flying directly into the fierce south wind. Wave after wave landed, taking spots in the water, where they stay for the night.  There must have been 10,000-12,000.  We speculated that they stay in the water as protection from predators – there were lots of coyotes hanging around, and we dreaded hearing any confrontations.20150302_175226 Unfortunately, the very dark clouds and late hour of the day precluded any decent photos.  But, we (and our new neighbors) kept murmuring ohmygawd as another batch landed.  The noise was incredible!!  I downloaded an app for my phone to record sound, which I did.  It’s magnificent.  BUT, it doesn’t allow me to share the sound files.  So, if you see me sometime, ask to listen.  It’s a wonderful raucous symphony.

We set our alarm for 5:30 am to be sure to be out at first light.  It was in the 40s and raining.  But, we stuck it out, and were rewarded with liftoffs of several hundred Cranes every minute or so, heading out to feed.  It poured all morning, finally clearing up around noon.  Jezzy and I headed out to explore.  Check out these feet – would you want them in YOUR camper?20150303_103725We decided to stay one more night to see if we could get a better view, hoping that the dark clouds of the storm would have passed.  We were rewarded, in spades!  The Cranes were all huddled along the far shore when apparently a sprinkler went on in the massive field, causing the uprising that you see in the opening video.  It was unbelievable.  Thousands and thousands of Sandhills.  wpid-wp-1425749304050.jpegAgain at 5:30 the next day, we stood on the water’s edge.  Cranes flew away in huge numbers, with the entire 10K (or so) leaving within a space of 10 minutes.20150303_183511 We could see the in the dim light through our binoculars, but there wasn’t enough light for photos.  I will never forget this sight.

We have to move on.  Leaving Arizona in our rearview mirror, we head to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.  This area’s most famous inhabitant was probably Geronimo.20150304_13105020150304_161306It’s my day to drive.  Unfortunately (for John), this involved one of the most hair-raising 40 miles of road we hope to ever travel.  Twisty, turny, up and down…..it took us two hours to climb and descend into the Park area.  They sure didn’t build these cliff dwellings downtown!    Had to pry my sweaty, cramped hands off the steering wheel.  What we didn’t realize was that the ‘campground’ was (again) a parking lot with some walk-in tent sites.  There was only one other camper here, so we hogged an entire corner of the parking lot and set up camp.20150304_172403The Cliff Dwellings here are accessible on foot from a pathway about 1/2 mile from our campsite.  After spending a very chilly night (the temperature was 14), we set off to explore. 20150305_102603 The natural caves in this area had been inhabited over several thousand years, but were only built up inside the caves and inhabited for a very short period – perhaps as little as one generation.  The mystery of why the Puebloan people of the Mogollon era left this area is unresolved.  The site is spectacular, and we were fortunate to have a volunteer docent walk us through the area.20150305_110804 He explored lots of questions, persuading us to think about scenarios that may have affected the inhabitants.  Although this is a difficult area to reach, and one with limited facilities once you finally DO get there, it’s a worthwhile trip.  Here are several different views from the dwellings.20150305_10325520150305_10510920150305_10552720150305_10564420150305_11043420150305_11061020150305_110834 It’s interesting to note that the remnants of several thousand years of habitation in this area were destroyed by the building of the current road that leads to the cliff dwellings.  Knowingly.  Only in America….

Cold again at night.  Minus 14.  John is wishing that I would relax my prohibition on running the heater at night.  It’s only 35 inside the Fireball in the morning.  Fine, until our feet hit the floor!

The week is beginning to blur on me.  Our “3 Night Minimum Stay” policy is in the toilet after our first week.  We’ve had three locations of two nights each so far, and it’s getting worse.  We press on to Fort Davis State Park, in the middle of West Texas.  For those who haven’t visited this area, West Texas is the largest area of nothing one might ever hope not to visit.  Mile after mile of……nothing.  Our site is unremarkable enough, that (perhaps for the first time), we neglect to take even one photograph of our campsite.  The park is very clean, but very old.  Sites are small.  It’s packed!  Why does everyone DRIVE to the bathroom?  We’ve never been in a park with so much truck traffic!  omg!

This early Texas State Park has many CCC buildings and features.  We decide to explore the Trail that leads to a lookout over Fort Davis.  It’s an uneven, uphill trek.20150307_105914 At the peak is a stone lookout shelter, with a great 360 degree view.  There’s also an old CCC era stone water storage tank.20150307_132134 Instead of taking the 4.5 mile (long-way) return, we decide to hike out to the Fort Davis overlook.  What a smart decision that turned out to be!  The trail led through a lava field, with enormous black boulders squeezing a narrow trail.  After 3/4 mile, we came to the edge of a cliff, overlooking the historic Fort, a frontier post during the Indian Wars. 20150307_121905 From our high vantage point, we can see the entire complex, and learn one very interesting fact.  The officer’s quarters (red brick buildings in the lower right corner) were built pointing to magnetic north, while the enlisted men’s barracks (the foundations to the right of them) were lined up to true north.20150307_122056 We loved this big view.  The Fort was also briefly occupied by the Confederate Army, an was decommissioned shortly after that.

We’re trying to figure out how to push on to Texas Hill Country, where John wants to search for BBQ nirvana.  Brisket!  Bummer for us, we badly need to find a laundromat.  One of the pitfalls of having a tiny camper is the equally small amount of clothes we can pack.  We’re good for about a week between laundry stops.  Out here in West Texas, there are few towns large enough to support a laundromat, so we find ourselves camped for the night in Fort Stockton at the RV Park.  Yikes!  A couple hundred large rigs and us.  The RV three slots away has painted on the side, “Private Coach Not For Hire”.  We think we’re going to hand-letter a candy wrapper with this, and tape it to our door.  Ha!

Headed toward Austin for a couple of days.  We’re in the middle of an endless TX Spring Break.  There isn’t a State Park campsite available for the next two weeks (and we purchased a TX State Park pass for $70!)  We can get one night here, and one night there, but we’re exhausted with the effort of driving and moving.  Hope we can figure this out!