March 2005

A Winter Sojourn

Texas, New Mexico, Arizona

Do Not Enter When Flooded

Or… Around Texas in 80 Days and 3,345 miles; and then Westward Ho the Wagons

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Well, we finally caught up with the Canadian geese.  And the snow geese; and the herons; and, well, you get the picture.  We arrived in Texas late in November, and it was definitely for the birds.  And that’s why so many people spend their winters there.  As you may know, many species winter in southern Texas.  They are most plentiful along the coast (the Gulf Coast, that is), but really are everywhere there’s any water.  And…..despite your protestations, there’s lots of water in Texas.  Texas does everything big.  Every park where we stay is on either a lake or a river, accompanied by waterfowl.

Since last we spoke we’ve been in various parts of Texas, enjoying mild (mostly) weather, and quiet (mostly) locations to hang out for awhile.  When we last wrote, we were expecting daughter Lauri and significant other to join us for several days before Christmas.  It was a treat to see them.  We were camped out in a private park along the Guadalupe River, with them staying in a rustic cabin on the same property.  We had fun showing them San Antonio during the holidays, including the River Walk and the Alamo (still the coolest place in Texas); we wandered the hill country above San Antonio, including breakfast at the Bluebonnet Café in Marble Falls, and a shopping stop in Fredericksburg, where jams and pecans are available in all sizes, shapes and descriptions.  A good time was had by all.

After they trekked back up to Dallas-Ft. Worth to catch their plane (at the beginning of a bad storm which brought de-icing problems and all the other reasons why flying in the winter is just plain NO FUN) we headed back down into town to see a couple of movies.  It was the beginning of the holiday football bowl season, and one night, as we were having dinner, this never-ending line of incredibly huge fellows came through on their way to mow down the buffet.  It was the Oklahoma State team, including entourage, in town to play Ohio State in the Alamo Bowl.  Rick saw the OSU on their shirts, but the colors weren’t quite right for Ohio State, more orange than red with the white.  Anyway, we were quite impressed.  Did they win?  Who knows!

We spent Christmas at Lost Maples State Park, a lovely, quiet spot west of San Antonio.  A few deer, lots of little birds (wrens and cardinals, etc.)  It was very cold, down into the 20s at night.  They talked about snow, but there wasn’t enough moisture in the air, ‘though it had snowed there earlier in the month.  Then off toward Nacogdoches to get the new coach serviced and to deal with some minor problems.  As it turned out, we were to return to the San Antonio area one more time this winter.

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Moving east, we went past bunches of cow clumps and goat groups, and through Dripping Springs, the home of Ol Yeller Landscape Company (doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it!).  On the outskirts of Austin we saw a place advertising BBQ goats for sale, which made us sad.  

After clearing up some glitches on the coach, and getting it serviced at the factory (very impressive), we were ready to roll.  New Year’s Eve found us passing through Houston.  We survived, and the next morning headed south around the city, toward Lake Texana State Park, one of our favorite places in Texas; it’s about 100 miles south of Houston.  Here, they did get snow at Christmas, about 10 inches.  This spot is sort of near Galveston and Corpus Christi, both of which made the news because of their snowfall over the holiday.  By the time we arrived, it was 75 degrees outside, shorts weather.  Welcome to Texas in the winter.  

We spent 3 weeks at Lake Texana.  We really like this place.  It’s quiet, except for weekends, when folks come down from Houston and the park gets quite full.  We did a little motorcycle riding, but not much.  This is brush country, nothing much to see except cattle and armadillos along the road.  There are lots of rice silos, although I don’t think they grow rice here, just squirrel it away.  Had breakfast at the historic Blessings Hotel (town population is 137), which is nothing much to look at and their pancakes are heavy as sin (to say nothing of the Texas toast, which seems to be fried in lard), but it’s about the best around.  Every one was excited because there is a new Wal-Mart not too far away.  So we stayed in camp, enjoying the multitudes of deer right outside our window (a large herd of semi-tame pretty little things), and trying not to give in to the desire to tease the plentiful ‘dillos.  Did you know that an armadillo has 4 offspring each season, and that they are all either male or female but no combination?

One reason we stayed so long in one place is that it was so pretty.  But really, Rick spent the entire 3 weeks getting the coach squared away.  Shelves to install, stuff to get organized, all the things that turn a house into a home.  He had a wonderful time, and was even able, toward the end, to start cleaning the outside of the coach.  I, as wife, was the envy of all the other spouses in the park.  And by the time we left, our new home was beginning to look quite beautiful.

But 3 weeks was the longest we had ever stayed anywhere, in all the time we’ve been on the road.  We contemplated staying longer, but I really needed to get a city fix.  So we started on over to San Antonio.  I had a list of movies I wanted to see, we needed some new clothes, and we wanted some Wi-Fi access.

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And it was good.  We shopped, got on the Internet enough to be current on stuff that mattered, and did the cinema thing.  I could have stayed longer, but after 4 days we agreed that enough was enough.  We had seen 6 movies, each of them a significant experience in one way or another.  We completed our marathon just before the Oscar nominations were announced, and found we had seen almost all of the pictures involved.  Of everything we saw, we very very highly recommend you go see Vera Drake and Hotel Rwanda.  They were very powerfully done, had something important to say, and, I believe, will hold up well over the years.  Movies are important to us; we don’t see everything we’d like to, but we try.  (It would help if we didn’t work so hard to avoid the cities!)  

By coincidence, at about the same time we were seeing Hotel Rwanda (which is an account of the massacre of the Tutsi in Rwanda, by their fellow countrymen, the Hutus), we also saw Dirty War on HBO, dealing with a (fictional) terrorist dirty bomb attack on London.  And then we watched Schindler’s List on DVD.  These three productions, taken as a group, were a chilling reminder of just how repeatedly abhorrent man is to his fellow man.

But enough, enough.  Leaving San Antonio, starting to head further west, we traveled through La Vernia (population 970) home of an antiques store advertising “Books, Pickles and Stuff”, and painted beige with blotches of bright green.  How can you be gloomy when such sights are right around the corner?

We spent most of a week at lonesome Garner State Park, along the Rio Frio, almost the only ones in the campground.  But we were frequently visited by three different kinds of deer, two mice, and one lonely goatherd (no, not really).  Garner is on the western edge of the hill country, and in some of the best biking around.  The weather had turned very cold, but we did get out one day, and had a fine time; we passed one of the “exotic ranches” we’d heard so much about, and it was incredible.  We saw camels, giraffes, kangaroos, elands (or maybe wapitis); we found out this was not really a ranch, more a home for zoo animals that needed a spot for awhile.  It was VERY startling to suddenly come upon such critters out in the Texas countryside.  Leaving Garner, we crossed the Nueces River, through Uvalde to Del Rio, along the Rio Grande River.  We were in familiar territory; Mexico was right across the border, close enough to jump across to.  Damn, it was enticing.  Maybe next year.  

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This is the real “West Texas,” folks.  Where country music is all over the dial; you know the kind, where “ought to” rhymes with “border”; the land of the jackalope and longhorn cattle, where Judge Roy Bean ruled (and the Pecos is a mighty broad river).  Now you’re in desert, the Sonoran (or is it the Chihuahuan?), with all the crazy, funky people you expect to see around here.  We were traveling US 90, which crosses Texas parallel to I-10 but further south, and skirts along the edge of Mexico heading toward Big Bend National Park.  With towns like Sanderson (even more deserted than our last time through), Marathon (the home of Shirley’s Burnt Biskit Bakery of fried pie fame), Marfa and Alpine, and thence to Fort Davis.  Now this is a fun town.  Fort Davis is old Texas, a frontier town that looks the part, but still has good food.  

And even newspapers:  this was a Wednesday; available were last Sunday’s El Paso Times, today’s Odessa American (Odessa is 2 hours away), and last Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, heralding the upcoming Super Bowl.  Oh, yeah, and an empty rack that was supposed to hold the Dallas Morning News.  That rack stayed empty all week; guess there was nothin’ a doin’ up in big D.

There’s a fort here, for the history folks, and fine scenery.  You’re up around 5000+ feet, and snow is in the air.  Even at Marathon, where we spent the night en route, it was only up to 32 degrees when we were grabbing breakfast at Johnny B’s Café.  But now it’s down to 20 at night and up to 42 during the day.  They had about four inches the day before we arrived and it’s supposed to snow again any time.  When here, we stay at Davis Mountains State Park, above the town; good birding, good deer-ing (mule deer in the campground, white-tail deer nearby); I’ve seen two grey foxes, and javalinas are supposed to be around here somewhere.  All quite sufficient for a great stay; but this area also boasts the McDonald Observatory.  It’s here because the air is so clear – oh darn!

But, what, no, we’re leaving Texas?  How can it be?  I thought we were joined at the hip.  Wow, a state border!  We’re in New Mexico!  Humph, looks a lot like Texas to me.   On our way to the state line we stopped for a bit in the Guadalupe Mountains, a national park, and checked out the visitor’s center there.  You’ve probably never heard of this place; it’s a very steep escarpment, very dramatic; a hiker’s paradise, particularly in the fall when the aspens are in full color up in the canyons.  These mountains loom up out of the desert and are very impressive.  One of our lesser-known treasures.

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But New Mexico – the Land of Enchantment –  we know it has a lot to offer, and that we have only begun to appreciate the opportunities here.  Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos remain unexplored.  But hey, we’ve visited White’s City!  This long strip of tourist souvenir shops lines the road to Carlsbad Caverns, which is indeed a treat.  We had long avoided caves; they are but holes in the earth, after all, and you have to go back the way you came in order to get out, and they have bats, and they are dark, and you go down down down to get to them.  750 feet in an elevator.  All pretty suspect.  But we’d been told we were missing something, and after all you have to have a new adventure from time to time…….we guess.  So down we went.  And it was good.  Carlsbad Caverns are huge, claustrophobia isn’t in it, and it’s a cool place.  Rick took tons of pictures, quickly realized they were better without the flash, and got some goodies.  See attached.

New Mexico is the forgotten state – no weather info, it never shows up on the news – you’re flying under the radar here.  We went across the middle of the state on US 60, through high desert that’s dramatic but barren.  Roswell; Smoky the Bear monument; the town (Lincoln) where Billy the Kid last escaped from jail.  Ah, “civilization”: a casino and resort.  At 6600 feet, snow on the peaks.  Plenty of ranching, dude ranches, and desolation.  A lot like US 50 east of Reno, another of our favorite lonesome roads.  

We thoroughly enjoyed the stark, desolate surroundings.  We were surrounded by mountain peaks, plenty of snow on the ground, antelope out on the open range, going through tiny wide spots like Pie Town (the pie place was closed), San Antonio (south of Socorro, where we’d had motorhome trouble on an earlier trip), and through the Valley of Fire.  Passed the VLA Radio Telescope, where Contact was filmed (looks like 20-25 huge birdbaths laid out in a big Y).  We didn’t stop; I said “But it’s free,” Rick said “It’d better be,” and kept on moving.  We did stop in San Antonio for lunch at the justly recommended Owl Bar & Café, for green chili cheeseburgers.  On over the Continental Divide, at 7796 feet.  Lots of snow on the ground.  Cold.  And so into Arizona.

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In New Mexico it was high desert, with few trees and fewer people.  You cross into Arizona and it’s suddenly pine forest and population.  A lovely road all the way across the two states, but the world has discovered central Arizona.  I’m talking about the section that cuts across the state south of Flagstaff and I-40 but above the huge megolapolis of Phoenix.  The used-to-be small towns of Show Low and Payson and Globe are all under development as getaways from the city.  A couple of years ago the Show Low fire denuded much of the forest, and there’s a big sign outside of town “400,000+ acres burned because of environmentalists” – it was a sad sight and one we’ve all seen before.  This is wonderful country, home to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, many charming communities that are quickly becoming sprawls.  If you’ve not visited, it may already be too late.  It took us 45 minutes to wind our way through Prescott.  Yuck!  But old town Prescott is still charming if a bit yuppified, and Yarnell is still small, and still has a little store selling “Brand New Dead Things,” so it’s worth the trip…..

We dropped down toward Phoenix, passing through Wickenburg shortly after their floods receded and while they were still digging themselves out.  Arizona hasn’t seen the amount of rain that California has suffered, but it takes less to do similar damage, and many towns were keeping their fingers crossed that the worst was over.  But green!  WOW Arizona is very green right now, after such a wet winter, and the wildflowers are doing very well.  It is a prime year for spring wildflowers in the desert!  

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We spent a few days in the Phoenix area visiting with family and our (few) belongings stored in Rick’s mother’s garage.  (Hi, boxes, how’s every little thing?)  Picked oranges and tangerines til we had no more room, yummy, yummy.  Got to eat them all up before you enter California; NO PROBLEM.  Then off to Tucson for some tourist stuff.  Oh, no, left turn. Tucson later.  Off to the San Pedro River Valley.  Where, you ask?  And well you ought.  This valley is in the deep southeast corner of Arizona, the land of Tombstone, Fort Huachuca, funky Bisbee; about 50 miles from Nogales over a dirt road.  This was quite wonderful country, a wide valley between low mountain ranges, just north of the Mexican border.  We decided to visit with friends who are building a home, an adobe, here on the edge of the little town of Palominas.  On the edge of nowhere.  About 3 miles from the border.  Their land borders the San Pedro River, the last remaining wild river in Arizona, the only river flowing north out of Mexico, a lovely stream lined by willow trees.  They are up about 4200 feet; it’s not called high desert, but grassland; they get about the same amount of rain each year as San Luis Obispo, much of it falling in the summer “monsoon” season.  They love it, and we were enchanted (oops, wrong state).  We had dinner one evening in Aqua Prieta, across the border from Douglas.  We walked across.  Too cool.  Tubac is near here, the artist’s colony, and the Coronado Memorial Monument.  We hope to come back next winter and see the completed house, and find out just how well adobe really is as an insulation.  Every Californian learns about adobe in the 4th grade, but that was a long, long time ago.  Stay tuned for an update!

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We decided to take the bike over the dirt road to Nogales one fine day.  It takes you over two passes, with a large amount of grassy high desert in between, right along the Mexican border.  It was quite an adventure for us.  We said “50 miles?  No problema.”  Hah!  No problema, my foot!  Mucho problemas.  It took us over 3 hours.  Beautiful but rugged.  And desolate; whew.  Many dips and rocks and bad road; many Do Not Enter When Flooded signs, one between us and a pretty deep fishing hole, but Rick managed to traverse the edge of it (I walked).  And then, out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, what did we see but – a UPS truck!   Going hell bent for leather, but lost, and stopped to ask us for directions (now there’s the halt leading the blind!).  We all kept going, we finally found pavement again, and hit the border.  We walked across, on a mission to find a rug for our new coach.  A bit later, rug in hand (a lovely piece we paid too much for), we headed back to our friends, this time taking the longer but paved (and much faster) route.  

We stayed at this spot for several days, looking out at the Huachuca Mountains, where the clouds build in the afternoon to possible showers; it seems Huachuca means Thunder in Spanish.  I hope the view out your windows is as beautiful and brings you as much serenity.

We would have stayed forever, but couldn’t, so moved on, this time heading for Tucson in earnest.  We stayed for 3 nights in a county campground, among the roadrunners and saguaros, underneath the desert sky.  What a great spot; very close to the Desert Museum, if you’ve been in the area.  Along with the Desert Museum (which we enjoyed, but found we had already seen all it had to offer, in other locations), we also visited the Pima Air and Space Museum, which is quite astounding.  It’s filled with mostly un-restored military aircraft, well preserved in the dry desert air; and adjoins Davis-Monthan Air Base, home to a whole lot more airplanes and airplane parts – a truly vast aircraft storage and wrecking yard facility.

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We ate great food in Tucson, some of the best anywhere.  El Charro, a local hangout, is very famous; we could have eaten there every night.  As usual, I didn’t get to go to the local mission, very famous.  Or to the top of Mt. Lemon; or to a baseball game.  But there will always be Tucson, and we’ll return.  It’s a great place to visit.

But we were heading for the border – California, that is.  Back through Phoenix for a quick tweaking of our solar equipment, and then a couple days camping outside Gila Bend.  This was a surprisingly lovely spot.  We were out in the desert, a green desert.  They’d had plenty of rain.  We had a view of mountains all around, a small lake close by, and cactus out the window.  We were quietly ecstatic.  And then we headed for Yuma.  Why Yuma, for Pete’s sake.  Well, we had to get some mail picked up before it was Returned to Sender.  And we were moving toward the fairgrounds in Imperial, where we have now arrived, and are attending a motorhome rally.  We’ll be up through California this next month, on our way to Canada and Alaska for the summer.

Much love from Rick and Kathy,

Roadies forever

See more photos from the US in 2005

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