Monthly Archives: October 2019

Big Bend NP Texas Oct 25, 2019

We left cold, windy Marfa and headed to Big Bend National Park located in southwestern Texas along the Rio Grande River and the boundary with Mexico. It is a long drive to Big Bend, one of the most remote and least visited national parks in the contiguous United States.  The nearest city is 75 miles away and there is no cell phone service and very limited WiFi which is only available at the park visitors centers. Conveniently there are two gas stations located in the park. IMG_20191026_130448

Big Bend gets its name from the 90 degree turn in the Rio Grande River near the southern tip of the park. The river is the natural border between the United States and Mexico which creates some complicated security issues for the Border Patrol in the area. We saw border patrol vehicles throughout the park.

We had a wide range of temperatures the week we were there with daytime highs ranging from a high of 97 to a high of only 67 degrees in a matter of days. A cold front blew in near the end of our seven day stay and we had winds of 25 to 35 mph for almost 24 hours. IMG_20191026_165109IMG_20191026_151058IMG_20191029_171452IMG_20191029_171521

One striking thing about this park is how big the park is and how far you have to drive to get from one side to the other. To get from the east side of the park to the west side is over fifty miles and takes an hour and a half. Because of the extreme heat in the summer, the high season here begins Nov 15th and runs to April 15th. The park is so large it has five visitors centers but only two were open this time of year. The park has a limited number of paved roads and many gravel and dirt roads. We learned from a park ranger that since they had just finished their rainy season, any unpaved roads were in too bad a shape to drive our Honda CRV. This was disappointing because it limited the amount of park we could explore. IMG_20191026_161551

The first day we visited Panther Junction Visitors Center and saw the park movie. IMG_20191026_13435120191026_155109


Our First Texas View Of The Rio Grande River West OF The Park

During our time in the park we saw many roadrunner and sharp eyed Bill caught sight of a javelina along the side of the road. He managed to get a picture before it got spooked and ran off. We learned from the park movie that javelinas have a snout like a pig and smell like a skunk. IMG_20191027_164932

One day we drove to Santa Elena Canyon to do a hike into the canyon. When we arrived we discovered that the river bed that is normally dried up and must be crossed to reach the trail, was now covered in knee deep water. We seriously considered taking off our shoes and socks and walking across until we heard from others that there was thick deep mud we would have to plow through. We watched other people cross and when they emerged from the sludge it looked like they had on gray knee socks from the mud. No thanks. IMG_20191027_135815

We were content looking at the canyon from a distance. This canyon, like others in the park, had nearly vertical walls made primarily of limestone. IMG_20191027_135527IMG_20191027_140520

We drove the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive enjoying the geologic splendor of the park. IMG_20191027_143838IMG_20191027_153213IMG_20191027_143435

We stopped by the Fossil Discovery Exhibit where we learned about the plants and animals that lived here millions of years ago. At one time a shallow sea covered Big Bend and much of Texas, leaving behind fossils of fish, sharks and swimming reptiles. As the water receded the area was inhabited by dinosaurs and giant alligators. IMG_20191026_171802IMG_20191026_172421

Over the years many fossils and bones have been discovered in the park. IMG_20191026_172516

Another day we drove an hour from our campground which was located in the park to the Chisos Basin section. To get to this area the car climbed two thousand feet above the desert floor. Here there is a lodge and the other visitors center which was open. We took a nice walk on a paved trail to the “Window View” with beautiful views of mountain vistas and the valley basin below. 20191029_15312520191029_15232920191029_15330420191029_163339

Near the end of our stay we drove to the hot springs section of the park. In the early 1900’s people began to come to the area to bathe in the hot springs. It was believed that the mineral springs had healing powers. The owner of the land recognized the potential monetary value of the 105 degree mineral springs and built a bathhouse and desert health resort. By 1927 the availability of automobiles and improved roads meant even more people visiting and so a store, post office and motel were added. In 1942 the landowner sold the land to the state of Texas. In 1944 Texas gave the land to the United States for a national park. 20191026_135024

The unpaved gravel road was very narrow and a little tricky to navigate but the Ranger assured us it was the one unpaved road still accessible. We parked and began the short trail to the springs. IMG_20191030_144448

We could see the remains of some of the buildings from this once prosperous community. IMG_20191030_142513

We arrived at the hot springs where three older women had arrived just ahead of us. They nonchalantly glanced at us and then proceeded to completely strip off their clothes and walk naked down into the springs. Any desire to go down and dip our toes in disappeared at that point. We didn’t stay long. IMG_20191030_144836_MP

Next up we drove to the Boquillas Canyon overlook with more spectacular canyon and Rio Grande river views. IMG_20191030_154528

Across the river, we could see the Mexican town of Boquillas. There is a border water crossing there that is open several times a week. 

We enjoyed our time in Big Bend National Park. It had been on Bill’s bucket list for several years. We probably would not return mainly because it is so remote and takes so much driving time to get there.

On the way back west in one small Texas town a crowd of people had stopped along the train tracks, some with cameras on tripods. We wondered what they were waiting for and then Bill remembered seeing on the El Paso TV news about the 150th anniversary of the Union Pacific’s Big Boy No. 4014, the world’s largest steam locomotive. It was doing a “Great Race Across the Southwest” run with stops in El Paso, San Antonio and Houston. We stopped along the roadside and snapped a few pictures as it went by. Great timing! IMG_20191101_14322320191101_143439

This ends our summer travels which took us to Monument Valley and into Colorado before making our way back down to New Mexico and Texas. 

Next up we are headed back west to spend some time in Tucson and Casa Grande before spending the winter once again in Yuma, Arizona. 

New Mexico & Texas, OCT 2019

After our visit to the Trinity Site we left Socorro and headed to Caballo Lake, New Mexico. We stayed a week at a small RV park owned by an 82 year old lady. It was one of the cleanest parks we have ever stayed at. Every afternoon she had Happy Hour on her covered veranda for everyone. She furnished snacks and each person brought something to drink. By snacks I am talking about meatballs in a delicious sauce, cheese and crackers, chips and guacamole, watermelon, cookies and cakes. Every day! After talking with other people we realized many of them come back for a visit year after year. I think these Happy Hours give the owner some social interaction and also enable everyone in the park to get to know each other. We can see why people come back year after year. 

Next up was Las Cruces, our last stop in New Mexico. When we arrived we unhooked the tow car and discovered the battery was dead. Using the RV, Bill was able to jumpstart the car. We took it to Walmart and since the battery was bad and still under warranty, they gave us another one. But we also learned that the alternator was bad. After learning it would be over $500 plus labor at the Las Cruces Honda dealer, we hired the Walmart mechanic to come to the RV park when he got off work and replace the alternator. For a total of $280 he picked up a new alternator at Autozone, took out the old one and put the new one in. 

After seven weeks, our time in New Mexico came to an end as we crossed into Texas. We took the bypass around the very congested El Paso and after overnighting in Van Horn, we stopped in Marfa, Texas for a three night stay. 

Our reason for spending three nights in Marfa was to visit three nearby places we wanted to visit. 

First up was the Fort Davis National Historic Site. Named after Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, it is one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post and the role the military played in the settlement and development of the western frontier. IMG_20191023_102128IMG_20191023_102212

From 1854 until 1891 troops stationed at Fort Davis protected pioneers, freighters, mail coaches and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road. The troops spent much of their time protecting area travelers from attack by Comanches and Apaches. During the Civil War the fort was first occupied by Confederate troops in the spring of 1861 until the summer of 1862 when Union forces took possession back. After the war ended the fort once again protected travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road from Indian attack. By June, 1891 the fort had outlived its usefulness and was abandoned. It became a National Historic Site in 1963. IMG_20191023_110253
During the summer months they have more activities and living history programs, but on this late October mid week visit things were very quiet. After watching a film at the Visitors Center, we enjoyed walking through the buildings that were open including the enlisted men’s barracks, the commissary, Officer’s kitchen, the post hospital and Officer’s Quarters.


Enlisted Barracks


Hospital Beds


Operating Table


Officer Housing For Two Families

In the kitchen there was a woman in period costume making chili, corn bread and banana bread over a wood burning stove. She was a little flustered because her wood fire had gone out and she had promised to provide lunch to the staff at the Visitors Center. 20191023_113516

The second attraction was the McDonald Observatory located 45 minutes from Marfa. The observatory is part of the University of Texas at Austin. IMG_20191023_124121

We had booked online a two and a half tour of the observatory. Before our tour started we looked around the Visitors Center and saw a movie. Our tour was a nice small group of fourteen and we had a fantastic tour guide. A former public school science teacher, it was quite obvious that she loves her job. After talking about the sun and showing us a live picture of the sun from one of the telescopes, we all boarded a shuttle bus to tour two telescopes. 20191023_145920

The first telescope we visited was located on Mt Locke which at 6,790 feet is the highest point on the Texas highway system. The view from there was beautiful. The Harlan J. Smith Telescope was completed in 1968 and supported NASA. This telescope’s mirror is 2.7 meters or 107 inches. IMG_20191023_162138IMG_20191023_153918

Our guide told us and showed us about how the telescope and dome moved. She talked about the mirror monthly maintenance which involves cleaning with dry ice. 

We all boarded the bus again to the summit of Mt Fowlkes (6,660 ft) to see the Hobby-Eberly Telescope dedicated in 1997. This telescope, after upgrades, is now tied with another telescope as the second largest optical telescope in the world (11-meter or 433-inch). IMG_20191023_16322020191023_163404IMG_20191023_165500
The mirror looks like a honeycomb made up of 91 hexagonal mirrors.


Hexagonal Mirrors – The Curved Bars Are Reflections


Our guide was so enthusiastic and eager to answer questions, our tour ended up lasting three hours instead of two and a half. Amazing to get such an interesting and informative tour for $7 (senior rate). IMG_20191023_165224

Mark you calendars – here is the time and places for the next Total Solar Eclipse. IMG_20191023_144009

Marfa is an interesting tiny Texas town. Most of the visitors, like us, pass through here on their way to Big Bend National Park. It has a very pretty courthouse and some interesting sounding restaurants, unfortunately for us most are only open on the weekend. IMG_20191023_095732

We did read about a Mediterranean food truck which had excellent reviews. Bill got a falafel called a Marfalafel named after the town. While Bill enjoys Mediterranean food, it was his first falafel and probably his last.  20191024_123122IMG_20191024_123158

Marfa is also known as having a phenomenon known as the Marfa ghost lights.  The town built a large viewing area outside of town with bathroom facilities and benches. One evening, just to say we did it, we drove to the viewing area and spent about thirty minutes looking for the lights. Other people there were convinced they saw the Marfa lights. We didn’t see anything that couldn’t be explained as man made such as lights from cars in the distance or radio towers. 
Our last day in Marfa a cold front blew in. We had wind gusts up to 30 mph and that night a low of 27.  Time to move on! 

Next stop: Big Bend National Park, Texas