Viewing posts in February, 2011

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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