Border Crossing and Sandhills

It was difficult to muster up any enthusiasm for leaving our comfy spot at Pancho Villa State Park to move to a gravel parking lot with a pit toilet. The wind was howling! It was cold and generally pretty crappy. We were lured into staying another day by the idea of sneaking across the Border into Palomas MX for a look-see and lunch at the Pink Store, where we were assured the food was good, beer was cheap, and the mariachi band would play all afternoon.

John unloaded the bikes from the truck, and we set off on a brisk three mile ride to the Border. It doesn’t take long when a screaming north wind is at your back! We chained our bikes to a bench on the US side of the Border, and strolled across like we did it every day.20170130_192312.jpg Never got a look from anyone. The Pink Store is a half-block from the Border and can not be missed. Its PeptoBismol color stands out in a row of dental offices, eye surgery clinics, and pharmacies.wp-1485829527440.jpg Cross-border healthcare services is big business in these border towns.

Lunch was mediocre, and the acclaimed mariachi band was horrible! The three guitarists were OK, and the guy with the violin or fiddle tried hard, although he had a hard time keeping up. Hilarity ensued when the trumpeter blasted away. Omg – he was absolutely terrible!! If the rest of the band was playing in B-Flat, he was playing in D-Flat minor. We had a hard time not laughing. Perhaps that was their method from keeping the 100% senior citizen American crowd from hanging around. In our case, it worked.

We wandered around, checking out the sights.

A huge Pancho Villa Statuewp-1485829508744.jpg

Villa and Black Jack Pershing shaking hands before they became enemies.wp-1485829540191.jpg John tried to broker peace, but that apparently didn’t work.

A beautiful old Catholic Church.wp-1485829473829.jpg A bare playground at an elementary school jammed right up against the Border fence.wp-1485829494999.jpg

Lots of other interesting sights.wp-1485829558736.jpgwp-1485829449863.jpgIt was interesting – my first trip across the Border since a Cancun vacation 25 years ago. I swore at that time I’d never vacation in Mexico again. The Have/HaveNot gap is too large to be comfortable for me.

The next to day, we departed for Whitewater Draw under improved weather conditions. Whitewater Draw is a wildlife sanctuary in the extreme SE corner of Arizona. It’s the place where thousands of sandhill cranes winter. We visited in 2015, and have been eager to reprise this trip ever since. Here’s a link to our first visit. Check out the video for sure.

It could not have been more different. Alhough there were fewer cranes in 2015, the circumstances were far different. There was much more water in the Draw. The cranes stand in the water all night, probably as protection from predators (there are lots of coyotes around). This year, there was very little water, and the cranes were spread out over a huge area, not massed into one big clump as before. We watched them arrive at dusk (they fly out to feed all day long).

Groups of up to a few hundred flew in from all directions – the noise is amazing. If you look closely at the photos, the dark sections in the middle are cranes – thousands of them. wp-1485829880819.jpg In 2015, we were there in March. Better, longer light (warmer!), and the cranes weren’t spread over such a great distance.

We couldn’t wait until morning to see the Grand Departure, thinking it would be the same as 2015. Temps were in the 20s, as we huddled with our coffee on the observation deck at 5:30am. We could hear the kerfuffle of groups of dozens or hundreds of cranes arising from the water to fly out, but it was too dark to see them at all. But the sounds….! Incredible. I did get a few shots, and a few short video snips, but it was a completely different experience than 2015. By the time it was light enough to see, most of the birds had departed.

wp-1485829794132.jpgWe were disappointed. We hung out for two hours, until we were so frozen that it was painful to shuffle back to the Fireball, parked in our little corner of the parking lot, where we had slept for the night.wp-1485829920423.jpg We warmed up with more coffee, and headed to Tucson, our final stop before heading up to a mountain cabin for a month in Green Valley. Have to admit, even though we were disappointed this year, it’s a magnificent experience. And Whitewater Draw at dawn and dusk is gorgeous.wp-1485829911236.jpgAfter two quick nights in Tucson, tucked amid the saguaros at Gilbert Ray campground,wp-1485833591322.jpgwe’ve moved on to a cabin we rented for a month in Madera Canyon, just south of Green Valley.  Jackpot!! It’s the most incredible location. We’ve got a huge wraparound deck, complete with swing and numerous bird feeders. Space to move – John can actually stand up straight without bumping his head on the ceiling. That’s a treat for him. Photos to follow next time as we get settled in.

Ahhhhh, life is pretty good. We are lucky, and we know it.

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….