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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