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Friday, March 16, 2012

Elephant Butte State Park New Mexico to Big Bend National Park Texas

Santa Elena Canyon

February 6

After three nights in the wind and cold at Elephant Butte State Park near Truth or Consequences, NM we headed north to see if we could handle even more of the weather. We spent the night at Villanueva State Park. This park is nestled in a canyon out in the middle of no where. The roads just before the park were the kind that called for two hands on the wheel and no distractions from the little lady. No problems with that though as Georgiana was noticeably quiet. The park was nicely located in a small valley. We saw only two other camping rigs however no one seemed to be around. We awoke to a sprinkling of snow; so decided to split ASAP When George went over to the restroom before we left a park person said it would be a bit before she could get in as there was blood all over the place. Another reason to leave quickly.

Our plan was to head up and check out Santa Fe. Other than that we had no plan; so we decided to get there, find a place to eat breakfast, and then make said plan. I can say right now that Santa Fe has gone overboard with the southwest look. We could find no building that looked like a restaurant, no signs, no multiple police cars parked outside anywhere. Just low slung brown buildings blending in with the surrounding hills and other buildings. The next thing I knew I was dragging the trailer around narrow downtown streets which I was sharing with many many others. Not a good first impression for me. We finally escaped by punching Albuquerque into the GPS.

Our destination was now an RV park recommended by our new friend, Jim Johnson from Calgary. The name of the place is the High Desert RV park and it's located on the outskirts of town just off I40. Clean and cheap, if a bit noisy.

We looked around a little for real estate but decided that we are just not city people. George called an old friend we both used to work with in Bethel, Eddy Abeita. We had dinner with her one night and she looked great. It was good to see her. Eddy always seemed to have a smile on her face and still does. She lives with her husband on the Isleta Indian Reservation. It is hard to believe but Eddy left Bethel in 1982..holy moly
 we are getting old.

We took a day trip through the nearby mountains to Madrid. It was an old mining town that has turned artsy. George had read about the town in a New Mexico travel magazine. It was a real disappointment, nothing much was open and the town area was very rundown. Summer might help the not open part.

We continued on up to Santa Fe. By this time my unfair dislike for the city had subsided somewhat and I was ready for another try. Even without a trailer the city was still not easy to navigate. We parked in public parking, in what I think was downtown and walked around the “Plaza”. The sights were a couple of old churches and many old buildings. There were not too many people around due, I suppose, to the season and the cold weather. The shops were very expensive with lots of southwestern (dah) jewelry which really isn't George's thing. This was a small blessing. The real estate in Santa Fe was just beyond what we would or could afford. Back to Albuquerque where we stayed for a week. The weather was mostly crappy with snow and hail and lots of wind.

Although there were high wind advisories out for the area we made a break for Sumner Lake State Park above Fort Sumner New Mexico. It was Valentines Day, and what better Valentine gift can you give your special someone other than worry about blowing over. Sumner Lake is a beautiful park right on the lake of the same name. There were lots of “park” deer about that didn't seem concerned about us or Teal. A nice place but little or no warm water for a shower.

During the early morning of February 15th we had quite a wind storm but our little trailer managed to stay upright with no damage. We explored the town Fort Sumner and toured the Billy the Kid museum. It was pretty interesting. George got ticked off over some republican baloney we saw posted just as we started our tour. However, as we had already paid (and figured the owners were just hicks anyway) we continued. George thought Antiques Roadshow or American Pickers would have a heyday in this place. Lots of treasures. We had breakfast at the Rodeo Restaurant which was the only eating establishment open in town. It was the worst breakfast we've had on our trip. Nice rodeo pictures on the walls, bad food. After the museum we drove out to the grave of Billy the Kid. He is presently located in a very sad little cemetery. Some of the others buried here only have “a rock” marking their grave. No names just a rock. Billy the Kid's headstone, which also includes names of a couple of his friends, has been stolen twice over the years so now there is a large fence around all three graves to discourage another theft.

A storm was forecast so we left in the morning for Roswell NM the home of the UFO Museum. Can't wait. We stayed at Bottomless State Park which is about 16 miles out of Roswell. This place was also nice with warmer water in the showers. It turns out that Bottomless Lake maxes out at 90 feet.

This was a location to catch up on a few items: Teal went to the beauty shop (it was called Puppy Love) and boy did she come out looking good; George went to do laundry; and I took the car in for an oil change. I thought I had the hardest job, but George didn't agree.

Just before dark one night while George was on the phone in her phone booth (the car) she looked out the window and a skunk was checking out Teal's empty dog dish. It hung around a while and we got a few pictures.

The next morning we woke up to garbage scattered all over (from a bag Chuck shouldn't have left out) and two bird feeders knocked down and either chewed up or broken. A raccoon had visited us during the night. Western Meadowlarks spent the day eating the spilled bird seed. What beautiful birds. The NEXT morning the raccoon left footprints on the front and back sides of the trailer perhaps trying to look in. Pesky critter.

We drove to Tatum NM for a day trip. What a sad little town. I had lived in both Fort Sumner and Tatum when I was little and had hoped to find something in both towns that I could remember. However, I was just too young or am now too old. The only thing I could remember was visiting the Billy the Kid grave site with my dad. We lived in these area when dad worked in the oil fields. Oh well.

Oh, George counted 73 antelope between Bottomless Lake State Park and Tatum.

George and Real Aliens
We awoke to howling winds one morning so decided to take the opportunity to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center. We found it interesting but I don't think George is convinced yet. She said she heard a young lady say it wasn't worth the $5 entry fee. But don't miss it if you get to Roswell; it's somehow really alien.

Bottomless Lake has a wonderful area for a group gathering. There is a nice roped off area for swimming. It would be a great place for a family reunion.

After waiting over a month for my glasses they finally arrived via UPS. We then left for Brantley Lake State Park which is about 12 north of Carlsbad NM. We got another good camp site (surely due to being off season). When we arrived it was in the seventies but very windy and with lots of little fly like bugs. Maybe they were flies.

Barney (big) and Peter (little)
The first day there, while walking Teal, a woman drove by and asked us if we would watch after her dogs. She was from Arkansas and apparently her husband had been admitted to the hospital in Carlsbad the previous evening. She said he just fell over. Her story was that they would not let her keep the dogs on the hospital grounds. So for the next couple of days I watched and fed Barney and Peter and gave them the random pet. The only hitch here was that the first evening when it chilled down a bit and I put them in their owners trailer and when I went to feed them the next morning the door was locked. I could hear scratching inside so my guess is that this scratching had resulted in locking me out. Fortunately there was a small door in the rear of the trailer that was unlocked. This door was to a storage area under a bed; so pushing junk and mattress and bedding aside I got to the mutts. The woman and her husband were back the evening before we left and she said nobody seemed to know what his problem was. She seemed like a nice lady. The last time we saw her she had a sweatshirt on that said “Elvis has left the building but Jesus is here”.

The windy weather and three dogs kept us from exploring much during our stay.

We left for Van Horn, Texas on the morning of February 24th. We had arranged for our mail to be sent there AND it was waiting for us (thanks Maggie). It's good when things work out.

We arrived at Balmorhea State Park (Texas) the same day and stayed two days. There was a wonderful fresh water pool with water that stayed at 72-76 degrees all year. We didn't partake but there were people in wet suits taking diving lessons. It was a very large swimming area. This was our first Texas park and we were impressed: swimming, motel rooms available, lots of activity areas, green grass, and big trees.

Texas has two fees for their parks, an admission fee and a facilities use fee. We purchased a state park pass for $70 that got us into all Texas state parks for a year. The use fee seemed to vary with what they offered. Some parks have swimming, boat launching, fishing, tennis courts, basketball courts, places to get married (and other group activities), hiking, horseback riding, or just having a picnic. The entry fee varied from around $3-5 and the camping fee is $15-22.

Restored housing at Fort Davis
Our next stop was Davis Mountain StatePark about 4 miles outside Fort Davis, Texas. While here we toured Fort Davis National Historic Site. This was worth the stop. Fort Davis was built and rebuilt over the years to help keep the Indians at bay. Many of the building have been restored and we could see where others were in the restoration process. Apparently, for a large portion of the time Fort Davis was used the Indians were no longer a problem to locals and travelers; so it stands also as an example of early military waste.

At our campsite at the park we were visited daily by birds (of course), deer, and one javalina. Our example was a collared peccary and it loved bird seed. One morning we had eight deer stop by. One drank water from Teal's dish next to the picnic table. I was sitting at the table and took a picture. Unfortunately, the action was too close to get a good picture with my lens.

Next stop: Big Bend National Park. We left Davis Mountain on February 29 and arrived at Rio Grande Village the same day. Rio Grande Village is probably the campground at Big Bend best suited for large rigs. You do have to haul your water, but it is readily available, and generators can be used. Cottonwood would also work but it is a pretty good drive. For full hook ups there is a private vender with a RV park right at the entrance to the Rio Grande park. There's also a store where you can purchase limited food items, do laundry, take a shower, buy gas and propane. We stayed here 6 days at $7 per night using my old persons pass. I think the rate for the venders park was $32

Big Bend is a beautiful park with a lot of traffic. In Texas in general the speed limit appears to be 70mph. In the park it was 45. 45 for miles and miles. A lot of folks zoomed right by; but we also saw park police with people pulled over. The mountains are spectacular and you have lots of time to view them.

View point overlooking Rio Grande River and border
The morning after we arrived we did the nature trail loop walk before breakfast in an effort to beat the heat. From the park you can see the Rio Grande river and Mexico on the far shore. Apparently before 9/11 people visiting the park would commonly cross the river to visit a village called Boquillas to see a Mexican town, buy crafts, and have a beer. After 9/11 the crossing were ended and Boquillas became a virtual ghost town. Now people from the village try to make a few bucks by crossing the border (river) at night displaying their trinkets with a note for gringos to please “make a donation” in a supplied bottle. You are warned via border patrol signage and park literature that to take part in such a transaction will get you in deep do do. I sure hate for people to tell me what I can and cannot do; especially if it makes no sense . Apparently after 10 years this will be somewhat corrected early this summer when a “virtual” border crossing will begin. A good, if belated, first step. It will still be “papers please” and so the traffic will likely be one way as residents of this remote village have no where even remotely nearby to obtain “papers”. In the meantime the trinkets and warning signs exist side by side.

The first three days at Big Bend seemed very hot to us at 84 plus degrees. It then cooled down a bit to 73 and we took a drive to Chisos Basin Campground another of the 3 campgrounds in the park. This was a beautiful drive on a paved road with steep grades and sharp curves. It is recommended that trailers longer than 20 feet and RVs longer than 24 feet not give it try. I would concur. The fairly short drive takes you to a campground with water and flush toilets, but no hook-ups. We saw mostly tent campers. There is a store and a lodge. It was pretty busy and we saw a climbing group staged there.

The next day, or maybe it was the day after, we made the trip to the last campground in the park, Cottonwood. Cottonwood was about a 130 mile round trip from Rio Grande. Again all the roads are paved. This park is the least developed of the three. There are pit toilets and potable water, but no hookups or dump station, and no use of generators is allowed in the park. The scenery is great throughout most of the drive but the highlight is at the end of the road at the Santa Elena Canyon. Here the Rio Grande has cut into the surrounding stone to create cliffs 1500 feet high.

After six days at Big Bend it was time to move on. The next stop is Seminole State Park to check out some 4000 year old pictographs.

This entry is a bit later than we would have liked; and we've moved on down the road a bit from Big Bend. We'll try to catch up by the end of the month.

Very Sharp


Sunday, February 5, 2012

 From Georgiana's journal:
12/26/11 Today we arrived at Twin Peaks campground at the Organ Pipe National Monument.  We now have a new favorite.  It is a beautiful place,  the desert is green and healthy looking.  The location is about five miles from the Mexican border.  Very quite and not many campers present.

12/27  We drove down to Lukeville USA (population about 35) which is right on the border today.  There is a great view of the tall fence stretching as far as you can see in either direction.  I don't think it is working very well though as you can see border patrol folks stationed miles and miles inland.   What a waste.  We were just making the trip to see the place and to check out the post office.  However, for unknown reasons Chuck drove right up to the border crossing .  Apparently once you go that far there is no backing up (spiked barrier and all).  When  Charles explained we really didn't want to enter into Mexico the armed guys (one with a machine gun) moved some barriers and we drove back into the US.  Dumb gringos.

In the afternoon we drove the 21 miles Ajo Mountain Drive within the park.  Very pretty country.  The cactus and trees look much happier down here (as apposed to the Tucson area). 

This is a pretty big campground.  There are 208 camping sites with most of them empty right now.  We've had quite a bit of wind for the past couple of days.  There is no shortage of little lizards running about.  The shower here is run by solar power so don't plan on any morning showers.  We have done quite a lot of hiking here usually during the heat of the day (not too smart).  Lot's of sweating going on between us.   Additionally, the stress from overheating (I assume) caused me to break out with cold sores (I, of course, did not complain).  We had several days of 70-80+ degree weather.  We spent 11 days here.   We stayed at this wonderful park until our mail caught up with us.  This took 10 days.

A very nice spot but it requires planning as there are no grocery stores or laundry facilities for miles.  Ajo (au ho) (Ajo is the Spanish word for garlic) was the place for that.  Ajo, it turns out, is was the home of the first copper mine in Arizona.  Mining finally ended in the 1980's.  "Now Ajo is home to retired people, to Border Patrol agents, and some young families."  According to a lady I met at the laundry, Ajo is either the full-time or vacation home to lots of Alaskans.  One day there were four folks from Alaska doing laundry at the same time so she might be right.  It is a run down place for the most part.  Alaskans in favor of the Pebble mine should come and visit this place; it isn't pretty.

1/1/12  We had New Years dinner with a  nice man from Calgary Alberta.  His name is Jim Johnson and he was traveling about the US with his dog (named for a Star Wars character which we can't remember).  He was the very first person we had met who sold surplus oil field equipment online.  Who knew.  We had our usual pork and sauerkraut.  We couldn't take a chance on an non-prosperous new year.  We hope it works.  Jim enjoyed the dinner and he said he planned to carry on our tradition.

1/6  We left Organ Pipe and traveled back to Catalina State Park at Tucson.   Charles' Canon camera developed a problem and his eyes were driving him crazy so we decided to go back to where both could be addressed.  We got our old campsite back next to Connie and John.  It took a while but Chuck got his eyes checked and new glasses were ordered.   The camera had lost a spring and that was replaced.   We met Margaret and Dave from Minnesota and Leo and Pat from Ontario and had dinner with them at  Connie and John's.  The night before we left Catalina for the second time we had a BBQ dinner at our campsite.  Someone who shall remain unnamed under-cooked the chicken; but people were kind enough to eat it anyway.  Lucky for us we were leaving town.  Some very nice folks.

1/13  We left Catalina State park early and headed down to another Arizona State Park-Patagonia.  A very nice campground, right on a lake, but kind of noisy and not too much privacy.  We went on a self-guided bird walk and saw lots of waterfowl,  a snowy egret, a couple of great blue herons, a red cardinal, a mountain blue bird.  Part of the walk was through cattle grazing land and we walked right through the bunch.  It didn't seem to bother them.  I guess they were used to visitors.  We did a bit of bike riding as well.  We enjoyed watching a young girl ride her bike and scooter around and around the loop we were camped on.  Chuck took her picture and she brought us some small cup cakes she had made.

We went down to Nogales to do laundry one day and had what was advertised to be  "authentic Mexican" food.  It was pretty good food but we've eaten something very similar in Anchorage.  Nogales is the border town directly south of Tucson.

1/16  We are on our way to Bisbee AZ this morning.  It was 50 degrees this morning at Patagonia.  It rained most of the night; the first rain we have had in weeks.

We stayed at the Queen Mine RV park in Bisbee.  The park sets right on the edge of one of the abandoned open pits.  Pretty ugly, but unique.  The park itself was great: warm showers, good laundry and convenient-within walking distance of Old Bisbee.  One morning Chuck took a tour of the underground mine (before the pit mining began).  I don't like going into holes in the ground. We toured the city and went to the Bisbee Mining and Historical museum.  The museum was great and we were fortunate enough to spend some time talking to a lady whose husband and father had both worked in the mines in Bisbee.  She told us a story about her dad bringing home pretty rocks in his lunch pail and then her mother would them give them away to visitors.  She said her mom had given away thousands of dollars   We could believe her given the prices we saw in the stores.  She said she had lived there 72 years.

While in Bisbee we took a drive and had a nice lunch at the Roundup Cafe in the small town of Elfrida.  The waitress was very friendly.  We continued up the road to Gleeson.  This was advertised as a ghost town, but we were pretty disappointed.  Not much there,  just some old  foundations and a restored jail which was closed.  From there we drove a gravel road the back way into Tombstone.  We had been there before so we just buzzed on through and returned to Bisbee.

1/19  We were out of Bisbee early and stopped at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Refuge near Elfrida (again).  There were thousands of sandhill crane and a wide variety of ducks.  It was a great morning walk.  You can camp here but it is dry camping.  There is a restroom but no showers.  As we worked our way toward Willcox we took a side trip to the Chiricahua National Monument to view the rock formations.  Pulling the trailer down the narrow road was an adventure but was well worth the sights.

As we retraced our path out of the park we pulled into a rest area so the three of us could use the restroom and discovered the Faraway Ranch.  What a wonderful place. The volunteer (from Idaho)  tour guide was so enthusiastic that you could tell he loved the old place.

We arrived in Willcox later that day and stayed at the Magic Circle RV Park.  This place is located right off Interstate 10 and is pretty noisy.  I spent the nights with ear plugs.  Otherwise a ok place to stay.

Fort Bowie
From Willcox we took a short drive to the trail head that lead to Fort Bowie .  We walked a short (about 4 miles round trip) path along a stretch of Apache Pass to the fort.  It was a great hike (Teal didn't think so, in fact I thought she might die) and very informative.  The trail is well defined with little narratives along the way.  We visited the Fort Bowie Cemetery, I think the oldest person in the cemetery was 56.  So far, this is my favorite hike.

Chuck and I drove down to Willcox Playa Wildlife Refuge to view sandhill cranes at dawn one morning.  It was 28 degrees.  This refuge is the winter home to 8,000 to 12,000 sandhill cranes.  It is quite a sight and very noisy.  As we were leaving the refuge we saw a coyote run across the road in front of us.  Fortunately no crane was in his mouth.

While in Willcox we also visited the Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum.  We thought it was a fun way to spend some time and $3. 
Pancho Villa Campground
1/23  We are leaving Arizona today after visiting for two months.  I am looking forward to a change of scenery.  So on to New Mexico.  The scenery was much the same. We arrived at Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, New Mexico in the afternoon.  The park Ranger, John, was the friendliest park official we have met.  He was full of ideas of things we might enjoy doing.  This campground is the location where Pancho Villa's men attacked the US.  We watched a video which featured folks who survived the attack.  Very interesting.  We then toured the visitors center at the campground.  Worth checking out if you get in the area.

Risking our very lives Chuck and I drove the three miles to the border and then walked across  to Palomas, Mexico.  I don't mind saying I was nervous; but it was a piece of cake.  Except for venders trying to sell us CD and wallets no one paid attention as we crossed the border.

We visited a store called the "Pink Store" because of the store color.  There was so much to see, pottery, jewelry, was overwhelming.  Chuck knew this was his kind of place when they offered us a margarita as we entered the store.  He wandered around the store and drank a margarita while I shopped.   I bought a salsa bowl and he sprung for a shot glass and two bottles of booze.     While I was occupied with a phone call Chuck pumped the non English speaking lady bartender about  how to make a margarita.  He says he has it down.  He sure is drinking a lot of them. We had a nice lunch and then went through the US custom station and drove back to Columbus.

John the Park Ranger recommended a little Mexican restaurant in Columbus called "Three Salsas".  We stopped by one day and had a wonderful lunch.  Jose, the owner, was also the waiter.  His wife was the cook and everything was homemade.  The food was delicious. Jose couldn't have been nicer, very friendly AND he gave us soup and dessert at no charge. His wife didn't speak English but she had a warm smile.  Jose, I just wanted to hug him.  We also highly recommend this place.

Columbus is a very poor looking town with not much there.  When folks need to shop they drive to Deming,  New Mexico about 30 miles north.

When we arrived at Pancho Villa we purchased an annual out-of-state pass for all New Mexico state parks for $225.  With this pass we only pay $4 a day for water and electric hookups.  Or we pay nothing  if we dry camp.   Arizona didn't have anything like this; we paid $25 a day with water and electricity in their parks.

1/26  Today we moved to Rockhound State Park outside of Deming, NM.  Visitors are allowed to take home 15 pounds of rocks from the area.  Chuck found some treasures we will be packing around for some time.

I managed to catch a cold so I didn't do any rock hunting.  We looked around the town of Deming and it appears to be a poor depressed community.  They do have a great take out Mexican restaurant called Amigos.  We picked up lunch  one day for $3.70 each.  It was more food than either of us could eat.  Chuck went back the next day and bought a dozen tamales for $6.15 for the freezer.

1/29  We headed north to the City of Rocks State Park.  All the water and electric sites were full so we went the dry camping route.  No big deal.  This is a wonderful park and we had a great camp site.  I wish we had had a park like this when I was a kid. These rocks are beautiful.  Chuck, Teal and I enjoyed spending time walking through them.  We arrived at this park on a Sunday and there were kids running around in the rocks playing hide and seek.  It made me wish that all of our grand kids were with us.  We spent some time riding our bikes here.  This is my new favorite park. 

We took a day trip about 90 miles north to the "Catwalk" near Glenwood NM.  This is an excellent destination for a picnic and nature hike.  The walk is 2.5 miles roundtrip and well worth the drive and hike if you are anywhere near.

On our drive "home" we saw the first deer we had seen since we were in the Dead Horse Ranch State Park area back in early December.  On the last stretch back into the City of Rocks park we also saw seven antelope.

2/1  We are at Lake Roberts campground tonight in the Gila National Forest.  This is a federal park where we get to use our Senior Pass for a discounted rate of $7.50 per day for electric and water, but no showers.  We are the only campers here.  As you might imagine it was very quite.  This is a nice park overlooking the lake.  We stayed at this park two nights and the temps got down to 23 and 17 degrees.  There is a camp ground host but we've seen no sign of him or her.  This is our staging area  for the winding road to the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

2/2  This morning we visited Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  The drive was a little over 20 miles from Lake Roberts and I spent some time squeezing the hand rest in the car.  There are some big drop offs.  We took the tour of the visitors center.  We watched the intro. video and we got all our questions answered by the helpful employees and volunteers.

It's about a mile round trip walk to see the Cliff Dwellings.  The first half has some steep sections, but we took is slow.  The Cliff Dwellings were amazing.  We don't know what a tough life is.

After we left the Dwellings we stopped at Doc Campbell's Post and did laundry and took showers.  The water for the showers came from a hot springs; very nice.  He also had homemade ice cream.

2/3  This morning we head to Truth or Consequences NM to decide if we are tough enough to continue moving up towards Santa Fe.   We'll take it from there next time.

(A special thanks to Dave and Margaret from Minnesota for cluing us into places to visit in New Mexico.)