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….

Big Bending

We’ve been in Texas so long already, that we might quite possibly be honorary citizens by now. Our plastic 2017 Texas State Parks pass already has the greasy patina a of a well-traveled credit card.

Leaving Laredo, the Grand Plan was to head to Big Bend National Park. That’s three days of travel, since we tend to move less like roadrunners, and more like armadillos when we are camping.  (A bit of Texas metaphor for you!)

Our first overnight was Garner State Park.wp-1485118480143.jpg We arrived early enough to take a pleasant four mile hike, and view this lovely State Park from an aerial perch.wp-1484679875709.jpgwp-1484679862102.jpg Part of the walk was through a juniper forest, where most of the trees were 10-12 feet high. I had the unusual (and quite pleasing) feeling of being a kid in a kid-sized forest. I liked it a lot.The park was quiet, the aging restrooms clean but unloved. For us, it was a good stop.

A change in plans found us happily stopping for a night at Seminole Canyon State Park, a repeat visit from our swing through this area four years ago. We had a pleasant campsite, and had enough time for a hike with Jezzy along the rim of this beautiful canyon.wp-1485118366645.jpgwp-1485118306292.jpg I loved the sculpture that overlooks the canyon from the Visitor Center. wp-1485118412159.jpg It celebrates the many petroglyphs which decorate the canyon walls here, and along the Pecos River Valley. There are enough hikes and sights here to easily keep a traveler happy for an additional day or two.

Ahhhhh, Big Bend. This isn’t a National Park anyone is just going to stumble upon. It’s remote, and big enough that it requires a full day just to travel from end to end to catch some of the popular sights. Our plan was to make the Chisos Basin campground (the highest at 5400′), our home for three nights, then move on for two nights to the Cottonwood Campground on the western end of the Park. But, we managed to grab a spectacular campsite at Chisos, and couldn’t bear to vacate, so we stayed for five nights. wp-1485118197936.jpgwp-1485118116433.jpgNo regrets at all about that choice.

Our first hike was to The Window, which combined a walk down through the bottom of the Basin with a gradual climb up a spectacular rocky canyon.wp-1485118178885.jpg Steps carved into the steep sides by the CCC in the 1930s made this a hike that anyone with even a moderate level of fitness could accomplish.wp-1485118160216.jpg The The Window at the end is the reward for your labors -a narrow keyhole which provides a grand view to the desolate valley below. wp-1485118149785.jpg We didn’t venture too close to the steep edge – the shiny patina on the rock was plenty of warning that footing was likely to be treacherous. We detoured on the way back to an overlook that provided not only spectacular views, but also a bit of unexpected cell service at a high peak. (There’s WiFi at the Visitor Centers, but no cell signal in the Park at all. In addition, we also couldn’t find any English-speaking radio stations – a blessing on inauguration day).This was a great hike – probably only 6-7 miles total, but packed with grandiose views.

We decided to haul out the bikes for the next day and do a Crankshaw Triathlon – truck, bike, hike.We drove down the steep switchbacked road from camp to a spot near Grapevine Road, a 7-mile gravel washboard, which would deposit us at the trailhead to Balanced Rock. The panniers on my bike were bulging with our hiking boots, extra water, lunch, and snacks. The ride to the trailhead was a nightmare! Grapevine Road runs downhill for these seven miles, and the bright sunlight on the white gravel made it impossible to see (and avoid) the worst of the ruts. Oh, it was a painful ride. When we arrived at the trailhead, I actually had to pry my fingers from their deathgrip on the bars. wp-1485118085914.jpg Lucky for us, we were again rewarded with a great short hike down a sandy wash through a boulder field. wp-1485118005132.jpg I love these Out West sights -there isn’t anything in my experience to compare them with. We scrambled up and around the giant boulders of Balanced Rock without interference by any other hikers. wp-1485118017417.jpgwp-1485118041496.jpg It’s such a treat to have a spot like this to yourself. As you might guess, the uphill ride back to the truck was tough. I had to stop three times, which really pissed me off! (once for a car, once for a gulp of water, and once from sheer exhaustion)

We knew bad weather was heading our way for Day 4. Winds of 25-40, gusting to 50mph were forecast, along with a 40% chance of rain. Sounds great, doesn’t it? We decided to stay close to camp – we took down our awning, rolled up our mat, and packed away all loose stuff. John actually bungeed our grill and stove to the picnic table, which was partially covered by a sun shade. We leashed Jezzy up, and hiked the half-mile up to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, in order to check news, and update our library books, (we could not survive without digital books from the GR Public Library). Jezzy started to get a bit antsy, and we knew the storm was upon us – as we looked west, blue sky was replaced by an ugly yellow/gray smudge – dust kicked up by high winds. We were slammed all night. The Fireball held firm, but bounced back and forth as we were buffeted by big gusts. Rain came down in dirt blasts. It was the roughest we’ve experienced.

The next morning was clear, but still very breezy. It was our last day, and we were unwilling to sacrifice it to hanging around camp. So, we hiked to the Lost Mine (we never did figure out where the mine was supposed to be). We climbed steadily for about 2.5 miles, with a few great views of the Basin. Our campground is in the middle of this photo. wp-1485117911597.jpg At the top, a wide-open expanse across slickrock made the going a bit hairy – the thought of being blown off a 6700′ peak gives one pause.wp-1485117867984.jpgwp-1485117886775.jpg The thrill of an incredible view pushes us on. Rewards are ours.

That last evening, we joined up with our neighbor, an amateur astronomer with an incredible set of super-highpowered binoculars mounted on a very sturdy tripod. I actually saw the Andromeda Galaxy – a first for me. I can’t comprehend this vastness of space, but I love having the chance to cogitate on it all. Big Bend is a Dark Sky Park, and one of the least light-polluted areas of the US. There are thousands and thousands of stars you can see with your naked eye. I can’t begin to capture the fantastic sky with a cell phone camera.wp-1485117961911.jpg It is indescribable -my wish would be for everyone to get to experience this sometime.

I’ll quit here – this post has certainly dragged on long enough. Big Bend has cemented itself in our camping repertoire as a place we will happily visit every few years. Upon leaving, we were surprised to realize that we spent five days here, and never even saw the Rio Grande. How is that possible??


This pretty much describes our last few days here in the belly of Texas. Our history lesson has been combined with sketchy weather that has followed us around – changing up from gray, cold and crappy to warm and sunny, then back again. The damned “wintry mix” is in the forecast for the weekend. What!!?

But, back to the history lesson. We are closing in on completing our grand tour of the Presidential Museums. The George W Bush Museum in Dallas was the first one this week. 20170105_210854.jpg It’s the newest of the Presidential Museums, having opened in 2013. Did you know that a President must be out of office for five years before his Museum/Library can open? We didn’t know that either – hope that doesn’t mean that we’ll never get to the Obama Museum in Chicago, since it can’t open before 2022. That sure sounds like a long time away – we sure aren’t getting any younger.

We decided to drive to the Museum from our campground at Lake Lewisville, about 20 miles north of Dallas.20170104_184921.jpg Then, we parked the truck and left it there, taking the commuter train into downtown Dallas to explore for the rest of the day. What a great stress-free way to explore. Our full-day tickets were $2.50 each. Love being a tourist on public transit!

The Bush 43 Museum was interesting, but not really very informative. We left, feeling like we had a better idea of Laura Bush as a person and First Lady than we had of W. 20170105_213025.jpg The introductory film was not working, so we missed our favorite way of acclimating ourselves to one of these Museums. Of course 9/11 and the horrible  events and videos of airplanes slicing into the WTC dominate. The capture of Saddam Hussein (the pistol he had with him is also enshrined there) is featured. Hurricane Katrina. Missing were clips of momentous speeches and personal notes. Few charming (or damning) letters from constituents. We both felt that the Museum was gorgeous, but lacking personality. Gifts from foreign heads of state were breathtaking, especially those from countries in the Middle East.

The stunning Christmas in the White House display was still up as well.20170105_211145.jpg

The Texas Book Depository, from where the shots were fired that killed JFK in 1963, was the other Dallas landmark on our must-see list. (The window on the second from the top story on the right side is where Lee Harvey Oswald fired. That corner, inside, is blocked off by glass, and preserved exactly as it was). No photos are allowed inside….wp-1483563797113.jpg As with the JFK Museum in Boston, we were were surprised to see the variety of people there. Many had thick foreign accents, and most were too young to have been around for Kennedy’s presidency, but here they were – queued up with their $16 in hand to see this site. What a rush of emotion and remembrance this visit released. I was in 7th grade when Kennedy was shot, and I still remember being in Mr. Gardiner’s geography class when another Mrs. Chaffee (Aunt of Apollo astronaut Roger B Chaffee) burst in with the awful news.

The Museum is set up on the sixth floor of the TBD. Every aspect of the Kennedy assassination is covered – logistics of the motorcade, the excruciating frame by frame sequence of the Zapruder film, news broadcasts of the funeral, and Oswald’s assassination by Jack Ruby, and Ruby’s trial. The Warren Commission. There were films of the funeral from all over the world, and I was again struck by Kennedy’s universal popularity. For me, however, the real power of this place was outside. On the street in front of the TBD are two large white Xs – marking the position of Kennedy’s limo when he was struck by each of the two shots.wp-1483563796881.jpg The grassy knoll….it’s all there. Wow – I was surprised at the emotional impact of all this on me, more than 50 years after the fact.

We wandered around Dealey Plaza and downtown Dallas. Lots of interesting sights.wp-1483563796954.jpg

No new city tour could possibly be complete without us seeking our a brewery, and we found a good one – Braindead Brewery. It was a good day to play tourist. We hopped the train back to the truck, and got back to our campground without incident. Dallas is a huge web of expressway construction – our relative ease of passage was no small matter. They are laying tons and tons of new roadway out there – it’s astonishing.

But hey – there’s another Bush Presidential Museum in Texas.The George HW Bush Museum is located on the campus of Texas A & M University in College Station, about 225 miles from Dallas. Although we had to camp in an RV park, with limited space (NEVER our first choice), we found a great one at RV Haven. It gave us the option to break out our bikes, and ride to the Museum and around town on a chilly, blustery day.

The George HW Bush Museum was very different in feel than the GWB Museum. GHWB had a pretty illustrious life before the Presidency -US Congress, Ambassador to China, UN Ambassador, CIA Director and Vice President. There’s lots of material there, and it left me with a positive feeling for the man, himself. He did begin Desert Storm – heard the term “scud missile” which I hadn’t heard in years. 1000 Points of Light. The dismantling of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall. It was an interesting day.wp-1483563796702.jpgHe spent an average of three weekends a month at Camp David, so there was a replica of the office there – first time we’ve seen that.wp-1483563796657.jpgI was taken by this photo of GHWB in 2013 with the son of one of his Secret Service Agent’s kids who had leukemia. Bush shaved his head in support of his struggle. wp-1483563796378.jpg

Texas A & M is a pretty uninteresting-looking campus. With few exceptions, the buildings are constructed of a blondish stone. They have an astroturf hedge near some of the engineering labs.wp-1483563796377.jpgThere is every kind of engineering department you never heard of located there. We cycled through an area where training is done for advanced firefighting techniques (we didn’t notice the No Trespassing signs). Rainroad tanker cars piled on top of each other, an old 737 laying on its belly with the bottom burned out, a chemical pipeline labrnyth. Crazy stuff which requires different techniques than fighting brush or house fires.

All this is enough to make a girl thirsty – Blackwater Draw Brewery to the rescue. John had an amazing burger there, while I feasted on Nemo Nachos – sashimi tuna with cucumber+avocado+ponzu sauce on chips made from wonton wrappers. omg

We’re now camped on the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston Island State Park. Beachside. If the wind ever dies down and the temp goes up 20 degrees, our next five days will be fantastic. Right now, it’s howling!

Back Again

It’s been forever since my last blog post – seems like home life got in the way of camping life this summer, so there hasn’t been too much to write about. Happily, we are finally on the road again.

What kept us so damn busy that we couldn’t camp?

Yard work – check out our newest addition to our Backyard Bicycle Sculpture Park.

Bike stuff – volunteer duties for our weekly bike club Time Trials, John’s weekend on the National 24 Hour Challenge, and our SAG duties for the Night Shift (100 mile nighttime gravel road bike ride + camping extravaganza).wp-1475114600152.jpg This was our only camping trip since May, and we made the best of it. The down side of this 10 days of camping was that it rarely got below 90 degrees. Even though we were camped on the shores of Lake Michigan, it was ridiculously uncomfortable (but oh so fun…!)wp-1475117531960.jpgwp-1475117416439.jpgFireball repairs – the window that blew out in a freak storm in Death Valley was finally replaced. Whew! We sweated that one out….John wound up taking a trip with the Fireball to Ohio, where a slightly larger window was installed. Since it involved cutting the actual panel of the Fireball to make it fit, he didn’t want to tackle it himself. Pleasant Valley Trailer did a fantastic job. They also installed diamond plate on the front protect the front from stone chips. wp-1475117491721.jpgJohn installed a small 10W solar panel on the battery box to use as a trickle charger to keep the battery up when the Fireball is in storage. Hopefully, we’re done with Fireball repairs for the next year or so. Repairs can suck the joy out of camping, for sure.

Our friends Gail & Sid from Virginia camped in our driveway with their T@DA. Double trouble! We were the talk of the neighborhood.wp-1473178554171.jpg

I had surgery on my right thumb which kept me off my bike and very grouchy (I know that’s hard to believe).wp-1475114514065.jpg After nearly three months, I’m trying to wean myself out of my hand brace, and bring full functionality back. Being able to ride my bike is huge, although not without its trials. I’m finding that riding my road bike is ridiculously painful, so (for now, anyway), I’m sticking to my mountain bike. Not having an opposable thumb for a couple of months is no laughing matter. I wasn’t much handier for day to day chores than Jezzy.

But, enough of that!

I’m a crazy Detroit Tiger fan, so we splurged and bought tickets to two Tiger games last weekend.wp-1475120571787.jpg Although (pitifully) the Tigers managed to lose both games and severely hamper their ability to get into postseason play, we had a great time. We ate coney dogs, drank craft beers, and wandered around Detroit. In addition, we sat behind the cutest Miguel Cabrera fan EVER on Sunday afternoon.wp-1475068847132.jpg Here’s a sampling of the sights.

Nemo’s Bar – a classic old tavern near the old (demolished) Tiger Stadiumwp-1475068879253.jpgHart Plaza on the Detroit Riverwp-1475068711779.jpgwp-1475068659963.jpgGM Headquarters, where we tried to negotiate pension raises for our GM retiree relatives!wp-1475068639748.jpgConey dogs! My favorite was American Coney Island, John preferred Lafayette. Yum!wp-1475068617449.jpgCoolest handmade townie bikes. I want one! Custom Faygo pop colors had sparkles!wp-1475068557796.jpgTree growing on the roof of an empty building downtown. wp-1475068529293.jpgNow, we are finally on the road again for a month or so – heading to the Dakotas to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and everything else in between. Our plan is to generally follow US2, which means we went across the Mackinac Bridge – always a thrill.wp-1475119570125.jpgWe spent our first night at Young State Park in Boyne City, MI.wp-1475119612711.jpgwp-1475068408220.jpg The Park itself is gorgeous, perched on the corner of Lake Charlevoix. It’s easy to imagine total mayhem in the summer months though, as the sites are mostly small and very close together.

Today, we’re in Little Bay de Noc Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest, on the northern shore of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. This is camping at its finest.wp-1475119452139.jpg We have a huge site in a 38 site campground, which we are sharing with only one other trailer, plus a camp host. The wind is roaring, and we can hear the waves lapping on the shore. Along the way today, we stopped at Seul Choix Point, and wandered around the lighthouse, which was built in 1895.wp-1475113118477.jpgwp-1475113147430.jpgI’m a bit shy on photos for this post, but I’ll try to better going forward. It’s so great to be rolling again.

Let the camping begin!



Spring in the Smokies

It’s the home stretch, baby. Just two more nights in North Carolina, two furious days on the road, and we’ll be back home. My bet is that I’ll be wishing we were back on the road again in about a week. The glow of being home sometimes wears off quickly.

Leaving Evansville, we headed to Big South Fork NRA in Tennessee. This turned out to be a fabulous spot to camp – quiet, great bathrooms/showers, and well-spaced campsites in the trees. I’d go back in a heartbeat.20160514_133149This area is loaded with hiking trails, so we opted for a 6.5 mile jaunt to one of the original homesteads in the area.20160514_12214620160514_12052720160514_12194020160514_120941


Magnolia trees with gigantic leaves are scattered along the Trail – they were gorgeous to see, and would be truly spectacular when they bloom.20160514_105548Perhaps best of all, this was a walk on which we could take Jezzy. I totally understand the ban of dogs on trails in the National Parks and many State Parks, but we jump at the chance to include her on our hikes where we can.

Moving on, we decided to revisit Smokemont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This was our third trip to GSMNP, and our second to this campground – in fact, we had the same campsite as our first visit. There were few campers in the Park, although the road in was jammed with cars near any trailhead or attraction when we arrived on Sunday. I really thought that we would be able to see blooms on the thousands of rhododendrons in the Park. Nope! We were STILL too early in the season – a huge disappointment. We saw a few meager blossoms.20160514_104449Our seven mile hike took us along a trail dense with rhododendrons on each side, limiting our views out into the Smokies. So, I had to concentrate my camera on some of the small sights instead of the big scenes. Macro photography is not my specialty, but I did spy a few things I wanted to share. Check out this pink moth. The flowers on the Salomon’s Seal were nearly ready to open.

Most of my flower shots were stupid-looking, so I’m not even going to bother to post them. BUT, the real show came as we trudged back to the campground. As we passed the RV dump station, we noticed dzens of yellow swallowtail butterflies clumped together in pools of liquid on the ground. Whether this was fresh water from the spigots or a bit of drizzle from some RV’s gray or blackwater tanks, I don’t know. But the butterflies were everywhere.20160516_132106Nearby was an even more curious sight. At the base of a tree near our site were other clumps of swallowtails, but I’m not sure what was happening here. But it was butterfly carnage – torn wings and pieces and parts of butterflies were everywhere amid the clumps of fluttering wings. Were they mating, and then the females eat the males? I have no idea. It might be hard to see in the photos, because the ground cover masks the pieces of wings, but look closely and you’ll see what I mean. I’m anxious to get to a spot where I can have enough Wifi to do a bit of research on this – it was crazy to see.20160516_16070320160516_160753We checked out the Visitor Center and wandered through the reconstructed settlement there. Original buildings from various areas of the Park have been moved here, and restored. It’s gorgeous, and the perfect, picturesque setting.20160517_121553.jpg20160517_121636.jpgAnd, how could you NOT want to just settle in and hang out on the veranda of the Visitor Center for a spell?20160517_123858.jpgNow, we’re in Maggie Valley, NC for a ‘rally’ with our T@B and T@DA pals. There are probably 50 campers here, from as far away as New England and Seattle. It’s great to connect with old friends and greet new ones.

I  think my phone is trashed – I inadvertently left it on a chair under our awning last night. It rained, and some of the rain funneled directly into the chair where it pooled around the phone. Damn! I’ve dried it out as best as I can, but nothing seems to be happening. It was due for replacement when we get back home, but I’m sad that it may have bitten the dust a bit prematurely. I’m definitely not relishing the learning curve of a new phone.