Las Cruces NM to California- Jan 25-Feb 28

28 Feb

After our dead VW battery scare was resolved, we drove around Las Cruces NM before taking off for the Mogollon Mountains and the Gila National Forest in southern New Mexico.  Las Cruces reminded us of Santa Fe NM – pueblo and southwest architecture – but a much smaller town and without Santa Fe’s high end tourist and retail establishments.

I followed up my seriously poor planning for our hike in White Sands National Park with an even more idiotic job of poor planning.  After driving for a couple of hours we arrived in Silver City NM, where I thought we would find ancient cave dwellings.  Not exactly.  Oh, yes, the cave dwellings are in the area, but only if we chose to drive another 2-3 hours up a steep, narrow, winding mountain road – mostly in the dark.  At the end of the road we would find the cave dwellings, darkness, and single degree temperatures.  We passed.  After all, we saw many cave dwellings in 2008 in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.  Instead we took a shorter, flatter, straighter drive to the three-building town of Glenwood NM where we found no open restaurants (although one owner invited us to join the bar-b-que he was preparing for a crew of visiting utility workers), and an empty no-fee federal campground in a beautiful mountain area.  Before bedding down for the night we encountered two problems: a broken shade (easily fixed with a paper clip) and a dead coach battery (easily recharged by leaving the engine running for about 1/2 hour).

We were fortunate to have recharged the coach battery as we were faced with a frigid 13-degree night.  In the morning we ran both heaters (the propane coach heater and the VW engine heater).  After a half-hour it was warm enough to get out of bed and proceed with our day.

Nearby was the Whitewater Catwalk National Recreation Trail.  We took a 2-hour hike through a mountain canyon trail which included a number of catwalks that were built in the 1850’s to access nearby gold mines.  The hike was stunning and very cold, especially in the shade.

We left and drove some 200 miles to Benson, AZ to spend the night at a functional KOA campground.  The drive was beautiful – across a high altitude golden grass valley in NM (with the Mogollon Mountains in the background) to the forested snow-covered mountains of eastern AZ to the desolate flat high desert plain of Arizona.

If you’ll pardon an obvious geography observation, Arizona borders California, and it has Safeway Markets (with Starbucks stands inside the markets, just like California).  For Joanna and me, all of this brought us to the realization that this was the beginning of the end of our five months on the road. We are beginning to experience a sadness about our adventure coming to an end, and a resistance to returning home.  Our time on the road has become a way of life for us.  We don’t feel like we’re away from home or on a vacation, we feel that this is our life and we don’t want it to end.

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Marfa TX to White Sands & Las Cruces NM – Jan 18-25

19 Feb

After a surprisingly excellent lunch at the roach-coach looking “Food Shark” in Marfa, we took off for Fort Davis TX and the McDonald Observatory (not associated with the golden arches organization).

It’s been very cold.  Another Arctic cold front.  One night, while we were camping in the VW, the temperature dropped to 13 degrees.  Not a problem, inside the VW the temperature held to a chilly 24 degrees.  I think my nose froze, but I couldn’t tell because my fingers were numb.  All in all, it was fun.  The only real problem was our water tank/water pump froze – no running water in the morning.

We found an outstanding state campground a few miles outside of Fort Davis.  Good hiking, good food at the lodge, very few people around.  One evening we sat on the deck and watched the full moon rise from a valley between two mountains.

The McDonald Observatory is located high up in the Davis Mountains.  It’s the darkest environment of any observatory in the US.  We went there twice, once at night to observe the night sky, and once during the day to tour the facilities.  At night, we were part of a small group that sat outdoors.  An astronomer, armed with a laser flashlight, pointed out stars, constellations and planets.  Then we viewed the night sky through four 22-inch telescopes that were aimed at an Orion nebula, Jupiter, two star clusters, and our moon.  During the day we went into two observatories for a tour of their 107-inch and 362-inch telescopes.  The 362-inch telescope is a new design using an array of hex-shaped mirrors that are individually aimed at a focal point.  The telescope is entirely open, no tube, no eyepiece.  Fascinating.

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Big Bend to Marfa TX – Jan 12-18

7 Feb

We spent 5 days in Big Bend National Park TX.  We camped in each of the three camping areas. Two were along the Rio Grande River, one was in the central Chisos Mountains.  The Big Bend area is along the US-Mexico border, which is defined by the Rio Grande, and looks like the bottom of an ice cream cone that follows a big bend in the Rio Grande.  The area is beautiful in its remote desolation.  January is a quiet time, not many people around.  The Park is large, and there is only one lodge and restaurant which is in the Chisos Mountains.  The campgrounds have small general stores which, by comparison, make a Seven-11 store feel like a Safeway market.

Hiking was our major activity in Big Bend.  We took a 4 mile hike on the Boquillas Canyon Overlook Trail which affords a view of a poor Mexican town, Boquillas.  The town has suffered since 9-11 when the local border crossing was closed.  The Mexicans cross the border illegally and place locally made craft objects (wire sculptures, walking sticks) out on hiking trails, hoping tourists will “buy” them up and leave the requested amount of money in a jar.  Another short hike led us to an abandoned resort and its crumbling hot springs development along the Rio Grande.  Soaking in the hot spring was Johnny, a slim, deeply tanned, longhaired local who chatted us up for a spell.

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Austin to Big Bend TX – Jan 8-12

20 Jan

Today is January 20th, our 135th day on the road.  We’re still in Texas.  Last night another Arctic cold front has swept in, it’s 32 degrees at noon, no sunshine, burrr.  Joanna has picked up my cold, except it’s knocked her out.  We’re in a beautiful campsite in Davis State Park, nobody around us.  We’re surrounded by trees, cooing doves, gentle breezes and curious deer.  Except for an occasional wifi or cell connection, we’ve been away from electronic connectivity.  We’re still in Texas.  This blog covers the time from Austin to Big Bend National Park.

Before we left Austin we visited the flagship Whole Foods Market.  Neither of us has seen anything like it before.  Overwhelming at first, particularly on a Saturday afternoon when one has to elbow their way through the hoards of people, and is very hungry and just wanting some lunch.  Aside from the usual food, salad and prepared foods bars; this market has some half dozen mini-restaurant locations throughout the market.  We ate and shopped for food, knowing that we would not find an appealing market for weeks.  Food is a major attraction on the road!

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Austin TX- Jan 5-8 – A blue dot in a sea of red

8 Jan

After leaving San Antonio we took a two-hour drive to Briarwood, near Austin, to visit my Texas friend and former co-worker at Rastar Films, Sister Susan Bartholomew.  Now, Susan is not a nun type of sister.  We’re very similar in many ways, including sharing the same December 10th birthday, albeit I’m much older, and consider one another as brother-sister.  Susan lives in a beautiful rural area with her trusty dog, Daisy.  We spent a night at her house, although I thought she might ask us to leave after I rudely yelled at Daisy to just stop barking at me.  Despite my yelling, Daisy and I bonded solidly.  I think she remembered me from our visit here in 2006.  We had a wonderful visit with Susan, as though our last visit was last week, not five years ago.

I’ve enjoyed, might I say overly indulged, in Southern and Texan cuisine.  But, being a Californian and a recovering vegan vegetarian, I’ve been having a hankerin’ for the type of food to which my digestive system and I are accustomed.  Susan took us to a new local restaurant, Emcee’s Eatery, and it was a delicious and decidedly non-Texan meal (i.e. wild mushrooms, artichoke hearts, al dente pasta, crisp vegetables, lightly dressed salads, spanakopita).  “Dorothy, are we still in Texas?”

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A Week or so in San Antonio TX- Dec 28-Jan 5

5 Jan

Our 5 day hide-a-way in a Houston hotel ended, both of us feeling well enough to move on, we head west to San Antonio to stay with Joanna’s brother Will Jay and his wife Annette.  I’m not feeling healthy again, so a conversation with the doctor in Redwood City results in new medication for my GERD.  It’s working.  I’m feeling hopeful that I will feel normal again, soon.  Then, forgetting my reaction to decongestants, I began taking Mucinex and couldn’t keep my eyes open.  I wasn’t very good company.  Then, as the Mucinex wore off, my lower back went out.  I’d say I wasn’t a happy camper, but we haven’t really been camping in close to a month.  Meanwhile, Joanna is feeling well.

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Two Weeks in Houston TX- Dec 12-28

4 Jan

Other than the Johnson Space Center south of downtown Houston, I’m not sure why League City exists.  Nor am I interested in finding out.  Most of the city seems to be spacious shopping centers bordering I-45.  I’d describe the downtown area, only I don’t remember it.  Apparently League City has waterfront resorts along the Galveston Bay shoreline.  It also affords views and smells of nearby Texas City, an oil refinery center and deep-water shipping hub.

We stayed at an RV park alongside I-45.  Being alongside a busy interstate, it was very noisy.  The pads were narrow.  So were the grass strips between the pads.  The price was double what I would consider fair.  Our neighbors were permanent residents – two parents, two small children, and a disabled grandparent living in a trailer about twice the size of our VW.  On the plus side, great bathrooms and it was a convenient functional place.

For those unfamiliar with RV parks vs. Campgrounds, allow me to explain the difference from my point of view.  RV parks are often filled with long-term residents, either there for economic reasons (RV parks are relatively cheap), work reasons (temporary workers, like construction workers on a project), or Snowbirds (those fleeing their inhospitable northern winter homes for the warmer, crowded, and very social conditions of an RV park.  The RV parks tend to be expensive, crowded, clear-cut, and developed in such a way as to maximize the number of slots that can be crammed between the fences.  They remind me of entry level housing developments, without the houses.  Campgrounds, especially national or state, are developed in more remote areas where the environment was minimally disturbed when the campground was developed.  Oftentimes the roads have not been paved.  The bathrooms tend to be minimalist, but functional.  Campgrounds offer far more privacy and quiet.  They are often located within large national or state parks and away from development.  In the morning one hears chirping birds, not the RV park roar of 18-wheelers.  Our preference is clearly Campgrounds, but sometimes there just aren’t any that are convenient.

I’ve always been fascinated by space travel.  Earlier this month we missed a 4 am launch from Cape Kennedy in Florida as it was rescheduled several times and we decided to leave Florida.  Disappointed!  And so, on to the NASA Johnson Space Center near Houston.  We toured the Johnson Space Center.  Lots of fun, but not as exciting as Cape Kennedy.  The high point for me was visiting the original Apollo Command Center (think “Apollo 13” film).

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Natchez MS to Natchitoches LA to Nacogdoches TX – Dec 6-12

27 Dec

Leaving New Orleans, we had no particular destination in mind, other than visiting friends in Nacogdoches TX four days from now.  I thought it would be fun to head up the Mississippi along the old Great River Route (GRR) for a few days.  In 2006 we spent several weeks on the GRR from Memphis TN to the Great Lakes, one of the memorable legs of that trip.

So, being late in the day, we headed towards Baton Rouge LA and spent the night.  It was a purely functional overnight stop on our way to Natchez.

The next day we got into Natchez MS after dark, totally missing the GRR for a second day.  We camped in a virtually deserted, heavily wooded state park campground and, with freezing temperatures outside, we slept very well in the warmth of our  VW bed.  We toured Natchez, along the Mississippi waterfront and historic downtown.  A pleasant enough town.  We met a delightful woman in an art gallery, Elodie, who spent her married days in the Los Angeles area.  She gave us a Natchez history education.

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New Orleans LA- Dec 4-6

22 Dec

We arrived in New Orleans on Saturday night and checked into Le Richelieu, and old hotel at the east end of the French Quarter. Why Le Richelieu?  If for no other reason, it has a self-park uncovered lot, good for a Eurovan with storage pod on the roof.  We walked down the street and had dinner at the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, a far cry from CPK.  We sat outside in the comfortable night air across from the French Market, feeling transported to another world.  After dinner we walked Bourbon Street and Canal Street.

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From Boynton Beach FL to Bay St. Louis MS – Nov 26-Dec 3

17 Dec

After Thanksgiving in Boynton Beach FL, we drove north to Vero Beach FL and spent the weekend with my grammar school buddy, Mike Spivack, his wife Akemi, and Simon their very vocal African gray parrot.  We spent one night in Vero, then did a caravan north to a beautiful park somewhere inland from Daytona Beach, Blue Springs State Park.  Mike had a business appointment with the owner of the gift shop and sold him some 50 zillion manatee carvings.  OK, manatees are a big thing here, but I just don’t get it.  They’re like big seals on Valium.  Of course, I’ve never seen one in person, but I don’t that get in my way of having a judgment about them.  Anyway, we don’t get to see the Spivacks often and we thoroughly enjoyed spending several days with them.

I haven’t made the time to straighten out the photographs from my camera (i.e. I don’t know where they’re hiding in the computer).  But, posted below (more . . .) are some iPhone photos.