Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Big Bend National Park and Carlsbad Caverns

Long time, no see! We are alive and well and currently back in Campbellsville, Kentucky, reprising our roles for Peak Season 2017 at Amazon.

Many of you know why I have been so lax about keeping up with this journal. Last year, I graduated from a course that taught me how to be a proofreader of court documents that are recorded and transcribed by court reporters. I have been in business now since the beginning of the year, and I am doing quite well with it. Unfortunately, between our regular work schedule, recreation time, and the proofreading work, I have little time for blogging. This particular entry will be about the second half of our trip west, then I will do a summer roundup of our adventures out in Wyoming, concluding with a "bucket list" item where we spent ten days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, attending Balloon Fiesta.

After leaving Alpine, TX, we drove 90 miles south to the town of Terlingua, TX, at the western entrance to Big Bend National Park. We stayed at Big Bend Resort and Adventures RV Park and Campground. It wasn't the best we've ever stayed at, but it was close to the entrance, had hookups, and we had a site with a tree for some shade. There's a small grocery store in town and a gas station in front of the motel. We didn't really need much else, anyway. We went into the park every day, but, I do have to say, I fully understand the concept of an afternoon siesta now. It was beastly hot! We would get up early and drive into the park, and we would be back at the rig by 1:00 P.M. The temperature in the truck was reading 109 degrees one afternoon. I don't do heat anymore, at least not like that!

The park is massive. It covers eight hundred thousand acres of land and preserves a broad area of the Chihuahua Desert including the tail end peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Our first drive in was just to get the lay of the land and to visit the Visitor Center. There are several Visitor Centers in the park, and the first one we stopped at was the Chisos Basin center. 

We had a nice visit with the rangers there, and there was a small exhibit devoted to the wildlife of Big Bend. Several trailheads depart from this basin, and we took a short walk on the Window View Trail from the center.
There's a longer trail to the top of the Window pour-off, about six miles roundtrip, but we weren't prepared for a longer hike. It is so hot and dry that you really need to be prepared with plenty of drinking water whenever you set out. 

The Chisos Mountains are pretty much the only relatively cool spot in Big Bend during the majority of the year. The mountain range is 20 miles long and is the only mountain range to be entirely within the boundaries of a national park. The highest peak is Emory Peak at 7825 feet above sea level. 

Some of the sights on the drive up to the basin. A lot of the cacti was blooming while we were here.
We then drove to the main Visitor Center at Panther Junction, where we wandered the exhibits and watched the movie. We always try to watch any movies at the centers as they have a very good overview of the park. 

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is the main driving tour through the park, running from the main road down to the bottom of the park, ending at Santa Elena Canyon. Along the way are several areas to stop and explore: Sam Neil Ranch, Homer Wilson Ranch, Sotol Vista, Mule Ears Overlook, and Tuff Canyon, among many other pull-offs. 
It was very hazy, but the dark ridge in the picture is another diabase dike that we've seen other places, notably the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park and the top of Mount Moran in Grand Teton National Park.

Desert Scenery

Ocotillo blooming everywhere

Agave plants, also called century plants. The century part is an exaggeration,  but they do grow for about 15-25 years, putting all their energy into one, single bloom, after which the plant dies.
Tuff Canyon, carved out by flash flooding which is common in the park. "Tuff" is a volcanic-rock material that resists erosion better than surrounding material.
The end of the Ross Maxwell Drive is the magnificent Santa Elena Canyon. The limestone walls tower 1500 feet over the river. The left side of this picture is the Mexican border.

The limestone cliffs tower over the Rio Grande, extending miles down the river.

Boquillas Canyon is another hike that we did. It's fairly short, about 2 miles, but was so pretty. The trail starts with a short climb up a ridge, then descends to a sandy path that you follow along the river to the mouth of the canyon.

There's even a "gift shop" along the trail! These little beaded ornaments are made by the children of Boquillas, a Mexican town across the river, and the money raised supports the school. There is a border crossing where you can go over and visit the village, but we did not do this.

The trail comes to an end as the walls close in on the side of the Rio Grande. It was a really nice walk.

Another short hike takes you past the historic buildings of Daniels Ranch to riverside hot springs.
The road going down to the trailhead had these interesting rockwall formations. It was unpaved, but not too rough.
The trail along the cliffs leading to the....
ruins of the hot springs tubs. There were people soaking in them, but I managed a shot that didn't have them in it.
He was really blending in with the background. I don't remember what he is; my birding friend Debi knows, but I can't remember.
Our last hike in Big Bend was the Grapevine Hills hike to a feature known as Balanced Rock. It follows a sandy wash through a boulder field.
Definitely boulders all around. 
Then it's a short and steep climb up to Balanced Rock.
And we arrived. After a rest and conversation with another group of hikers, it was time to descend and make the return trip.

Views on the way down
The drive out of Grapevine Hills, looking toward the Chisos Mountains.

Close-ups of an agave plant that was blooming.

While in Terlingua, we also had the new converter delivered to the post office there, using the general delivery service, and Al installed it and we were good to go! Full electric again :-). We drove to the Terlingua Ghost Town down the road one night and followed the road west to the town of Lajitas. There's supposed to be a nice campground there, but, t me, it wasn't worth staying out there and having an hour round-trip drive each day just to get to the park entrance. The town of Lajitas is basically just a big resort from what I can see. I also wanted to double-check the road, as I had been thinking about heading out that way after leaving and going up to Carlsbad, New Mexico. I had asked the gentleman at the desk when I checked in what he thought, and he said,"No way." He didn't recommend it for a rig our size due to the narrow, winding road and pretty good grades. Based on that, we decided to head back north towards Alpine and Fort Stockton, and then we just stayed on Hwy. 285 all the way to Carlsbad.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park was the last "touring" stop on our trek west last spring. We stayed right in town, at the Carlsbad RV Park and Campground. It was about a half hour drive to the park and was a nice place. We were also doing some grocery and supply stocking and meal prep for our push up to Wyoming, so it was convenient to be in town close to Walmart and Albertson's. I had booked a tour of the Caverns for the morning, the King's Palace guided tour. It was very interesting, and I am glad we took it, although the group was very large. 

We've been in other caves, such as Mammoth Caves National Park, Howe Caverns in New York, and caves along the Skyline Drive in Virginia, but these are, by far, the largest caves we've been through. Very impressive, and well worth visiting.

Then it was time for our run up to Wyoming to report in for our summer jobs, once again at Luton's Teton Cabins in Moran. We took four days to do the roughly 1100 miles, stopping overnight in Las Vegas, N.M., Colorado Springs, CO., and Rawlins, WY. From Rawlins, it's only about a 3 1/2 hour run, so we arrived safe and sound in Moran right on schedule. 

Thank you for your patience in waiting for this second half. We really enjoyed our trip west this spring, and we highly recommend a stop in Big Bend National Park for anyone loving beautiful scenery and hikes. The only sad part about our trip is that Hurricane Harvey pretty much destroyed the area in Rockport, Texas, where we had stayed. It's been very sad to see the pictures that have been posted of the devastation to the area. Goose Island State Park, where we had camped on the bay, sustained an enormous amount of damage and has not reopened at this point. They are hoping to reopen the first of the year. I hope they do, as it is a beautiful spot to camp. The good news was that the Big Tree, over 1000 years old, survived yet another serious hurricane and remains standing!

As soon as I can, I will get a post up about our summer activities. Happy Thanksgiving to all!


  1. Good to hear from you!! Do not know how you can remember all the details...amazing:o))

    Happy Thanksgiving!!!

  2. Those two places have been on my list forever. So nice to see them through your eyes. Beautiful pictures. How did you get such good cave shots?

    1. I believe I put the camera in night mode. Believe me, it was all the camera, not me! From the previous post, yes, we did just zip across the deep south on I10 to get to Rockport Texas. We had stayed two nights at St. Andrews SP in the panhandle, then just RV parks off I10 in Louisiana, Ponchatoula I think, and Beaufort, TX. Neither spot really seemed interesting enough to spend time at. One year we stayed in New Orleans for a couple days, and I did like the French Quarter and we found a nice park, Audubon Park I believe it was, down in the Garden district. I would go back there for a couple of days again. I think you and David would find it interesting for a few days, even if it is a city!

  3. Very nice shots in the cave, they are hard to get just right. By now you're in the depths of Amazon, oh boy!