Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jan 31 - Alpine to Deming

Got the rig running and on the road by 10am... which today is really 9am as we'll cross into the Mountain Time Zone before we get to El Paso. It's an agreeable day for driving, and the plan is to make it through the El Paso metro area, into New Mexico, and to one of our usual stops in Deming.

From Alpine US-90 (our favorite through this part of the world) took us to Van Horn and I-10. Instead of our usual white-knuckled run through the middle of downtown El Paso we tried a different route around the east and north side of the city (TX-375/Joe Battle Blvd and the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Drive). This route takes us through the middle of Fort Bliss and then up and over the Franklin Mountains before connecting back up to I-10. A good portion of this route is being improved and reconstructed, but I still preferred it to the downtown alternative. It probably added 20 minutes to our day but was more relaxing and we saw a portion of the El Paso area we hadn't seen before.

Once back on I-10 it was only a little over an hour and we were in Deming. Miles for the day were 326. Didn't take long to get settled and pull the top off an "arrival ale" and settle in for the night. Since the weather was looking good for the next few days we think we'll stick here for an extra day or so and see what we can find to explore.

Addendum:  During the drive today we turned over 50,000 miles on the bus-house odometer. We were on I-10 just a short ways from my favorite town (not)... El Paso.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jan 30 - Around Alpine

The wind kept blowing during the night last night, but not nearly as robustly as during the day yesterday. During part of the afternoon it blew hard enough to liberate dust and dirt from gravity's grip, loft it airborne, and totally obscure the mountains 10 or so miles from our camp... mountains that had been crystal clear just a few hours earlier. A nearby weather station recorded sustained winds of well over 30mph, with gusts over 50mph. But higher in the mountains to the west and north, the wind speeds were reportedly much higher. It certainly rocked our world for a few hours.

This morning we got going early (for us). First stop was a local restaurant and bakery for breakfast. Every so often I have a craving for a hot midwest style breakfast... eggs, hash browns, bacon or sausage links, and toast... and we found just that at a local joint called Bread and Breakfast on the main drag. My craving was satisfied for another week or so.

After that we ran a few errands and then drove west of town a few miles where we heard there was a new upstart micro-brewery... Big Bend Brewing Company. We found it, although it was tough... as signage hasn't been one of their priorities yet. What we found is a microbrewery... a beer factory that they're just getting set up. Not really open to the public yet, Steve the brewmaster invited us in to sample their first crop of beers... some of which are now on tap at a few local establishments. Of course, being a brewery, people are naturally attracted to it... like bees to honey... and before we knew it a group of 6 or 8 folks had wandered in and gathered 'round, sampling, and chatting about the craft beer business. It was a blast and if those samples are any indication, they've got more good stuff coming out soon.


Next on the agenda was a visit to the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University. That's right... this little town of 6,000 people has an impressive State University with a student population of about 1,600 folks. Situated right in the middle of the campus is the Museum of the Big Bend... a gem of a facility that provides a great overview of West Texas and the Big Bend area. We enjoyed it immensely.

Tomorrow, Thursday, we're pulling jacks and heading west again. We've talked about making it a longer day... and perhaps making it to Las Cruces or Deming New Mexico. The weather looks agreeable, some wind but much lighter than it's been, and a slight warming trend out there in "high country".

Below are a couple photos from our campsite during the wind storm yesterday...

Usually these mountains are crystal clear from here. The dust was
already in the air.
 

But a while later... mountains are totally obscured. You could
smell the dust in the air.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jan 29 - Terlingua Texas

How does one describe Terlingua Texas?

Terlingua is actually the name for a mining district in West Texas. Located between the villages of Study Butte and Lajitas, about 14 miles north of the Mexican border and 80 miles south of Alpine, the entire area has an official population of about 300 people. I think a few more probably live here but have no interest in being counted or having their names on any government list of any kind.

The original "draw" to the area was mining. In the late 1800s the mineral cinnabar, from which the metal mercury is extracted, was discovered and a small rush into the area resulted in a number of mining operations and a population of about 2,000 people. The ruins and remains that exist today as the historic Terlingua Ghost Town was owned by the Chisos Mining Company and was populated by the mine workers and some of their families. Like most mining ventures, this one played out and by the end of WWII the people left, leaving the old company town to qualify for ghost town status. But in the last 30 years or so, an influx of tourists and recreational enthusiasts attracted by the National Park and the Rio Grand River, have provided enough critical mass of economic activity to result in a revival of sorts... built figuratively and, in some cases, literally on the ruins of the old mining town.

Most of the buildings in the ghost town were built of adobe bricks and are in ruins... various stages of decay and erosion. But it's still a small, vibrant community. Some buildings are partly habitable and, if so, it might be a home for someone. A few key structures have been rehabilitated... the Terlingua Trading Company General Store, the Starlight Theater, the El Dorado Hotel, and a some others. A few newer structures dot the ruins too. Some folks live in old RV trailers, school buses, or in their car or van. There are some, what you might consider, normal houses but the whole area has a run-down, hodge-podge, random feel to it. The few bright spots resulting from someone's monetary infusion stand out by their brightness, uniqueness. But despite all this, the place has a positive vibe to it... one we've come to savor.


It's not an easy place to live. Want a full-selection grocery store? It'd be 80 miles away in Alpine. Doctor? Dentist? Hardware store? Also 80 miles away in Alpine. The nearest Walmart? Well, that would be almost 150 miles away in Fort Stockton. As a result a lot of folks do without when it comes to some things most of us take for granted.

Who lives here? The denizens are about 2/3 White and 1/3 Hispanic. The average age, according to the census, is 34. Men outnumber women by 30%. By my own observation I'd say they are a collection of misfits, refugees, hipsters, exiles, artisans, fugitives, and freethinkers, who seem to be united only in the belief that life doesn't have to be lived conventionally, that the traditional "American Dream" is not their dream, and that it's more important to live their own self-reliant life than the "rat-race" life of so many others... and to have fun along the way if at all possible. Some of them think they never got a fair shake in the "real" world, whether by their own doing or others. Some just never fit in. Certainly it's not an easy life for many, and downright hard for a few, but circumstances have conspired to bring them here... like so many seeds floating on random air currents until something or someplace sticky enough happens along... to hold them for a while. Some take root here, where it can be cheap to live, where misfits fit in, where the odd and quirky are normal, and where they can, for at least a while, call this place home. Terlingua.

To sample the flavor of Terlingua, I offer two websites for your perusal:

http://ghosttowntexas.com/terlingua.html ... general information

http://www.drdougs.com/index.html ... self-proclaimed "borderline mental therapist.

We met Dr. Doug while having lunch at the High Sierra Bar one day. He may be the quintessential resident... but there are so many more.

One of Terlingua's recent claims to fame is it being "ground zero" in the competitive chili cooking world. The first weekend in November every year is the big national competition (actually two separate competitions by two competing chili cooking organizations - the Chili Appreciation Society International and the International Chili Society) which attracts thousands of folks from all around the United States and the world.

During our visit to Terlingua this past Saturday we attended a regional cook-off competition... this one hosted by the Terlingua El Dorado Hotel. As a real bonus, we were also able to snag a spot at a tasting table with a couple new friends (Danielle and Lucius) we made that day... and for a short time became official Chili Tasting Judges. Our 15 minutes of fame... at least for that day.

We hung around all afternoon, enjoying the live music, some free and some inexpensive beer, and soaking in the vibe that is Terlingua.



Jan 29 - That Old Time Rock and Roll

We're hunkered down today waiting out a weather thing. I think it's safe to say we're happy we're not on the road today.

This, from the National Weather Service for West Texas, including Alpine...
GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS OF EDDY COUNTY-
VAN HORN AND HIGHWAY 54 CORRIDOR-DAVIS/APACHE MOUNTAINS AREA-
GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF...QUEEN...VAN HORN...ALPINE...
FORT DAVIS...GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NP...PINE SPRINGS
433 AM CST TUE JAN 29 2013 /333 AM MST TUE JAN 29 2013/

...HIGH WIND WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL MIDNIGHT CST /11 PM
MST/ TONIGHT...
...BLOWING DUST ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM NOON CST /11 AM MST/
TODAY TO 6 PM CST /5 PM MST/ THIS EVENING...

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MIDLAND/ODESSA HAS ISSUED A
BLOWING DUST ADVISORY...WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM NOON CST /11 AM
MST/ TODAY TO 6 PM CST /5 PM MST/ THIS EVENING.

* EVENT...HIGH WINDS.

* TIMING...THIS AFTERNOON.

* WINDS...WEST WINDS 45 TO 60 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 80 MPH.

* IMPACTS...TRAVEL THROUGH GUADALUPE PASS WILL BE DIFFICULT FOR
HIGH PROFILE VEHICLES. DANGEROUS HIKING CONDITIONS. CLEAR AIR
TURBULENCE FROM MOUNTAIN WAVES WILL MAKE FLIGHT CONDITIONS
HAZARDOUS FOR LOW FLYING LIGHT AIRCRAFT.

* VISIBILITY...1 MILE OR LESS AT TIMES IN BLOWING DUST.
Haven't had the big winds as of yet (about 11:30am), but the bus-house is rockin' and rollin' pretty good. More later...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Jan 25 - Castalon and Santa Elena Canyon

Today we drove down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive from the Castalon/Santa Elena Junction in Big Bend National Park to explore it's southwest corner. Our first stop was at the ruins of the Sam Nail Ranch, where one can walk a short trail around and through the remains of the early ranch. Old Sam started ranching here in 1909 and finally gave up in 1946... over-grazing, they say. The land and native grasses could not recover from the ravenous appetite of thousands of cattle and sheep. The desert may appear rugged and adaptable, but when it comes to life, things are very tenuous. Today, there's not a lot to see at the old ranch-stead, but what is here stands as a monument to hopes and perseverance of those early settlers.

Down the road a few miles is a trailhead to the Homer Wilson Ranch... or at least what's left of it. We walked the half mile or so down to the old ranch house. The structure is still in relatively good repair... surprising as it was abandoned in the early 1940's. It was the center of one of the largest ranches in the area (ultimately over 28,000 acres), and focused on sheep and goats.

Just a short distance from the Homer Wilson trailhead is Sotol Vista, a place to view the Rio Grande Valley to the south from an elevated overlook. We pulled camp chairs out and had a snack while studying the view... a neat thing to do on occasion, if for no other reason than to commandeer the pace of your day away from the damn clock. So who's gonna care if I sit here all afternoon?

The Chisos Mountains dominate this part of the park. Their volcanic nature is the origin of the many unusual rock formations and other land forms between them and the river, a mere 15 miles away. Thick layers of white volcanic ash jump out at you in various places, in contrast to the reds, purples, light tans, and dark browns of other layers. This drive is certainly one of the more eye-appealing in the Park.

Castalon was a small unincorporated village on the US side of the river (border), adjacent to the Mexican village of Santa Elena. During some border problems from 1910 to 1914, the US Army set up an outpost here to provide a military presence to keep the situation under control. Once the problem was resolved and the Army left, the village struggled while attending to the needs of nearby ranchers and farmers. In 1940, the official population was just 25. Some of the original Army buildings are still here, one of which serves as a Park Visitor Center and small convenience store.

The nearby Cottonwood Campground is a good place to camp (well, ok, the only place to camp) if you're exploring this corner of the Park. And the best hike down here, in my humble opinion, is the hike into Santa Elena Canyon, about 8 miles further and at the end of the paved road. While standing between the two sheer thousand-foot-high walls of the Canyon, it's hard to imagine the meandering trickle of water known as the Rio Grande River had the power to cut through all that rock.





Jan 25 - Our Big Bend Campsites

We were in Big Bend National Park a total of 5 nights. With the assistance of a very helpful Ranger at the Persimmon Gap Visitors Center, and with some side information from Barney the Old Fat Man, we decided to push the limits a little and stay in one of the many primitive backcountry roadside campsites sprinkled throughout the Park. Most of these (over 50 of them) are alongside dirt roads and rough jeep trails that are neither appropriate nor accessible for a wallowing tubby bus-house. But there are two that would work... Government Springs and Hannold Draw.

In order to use any of these it's necessary to have a backcountry permit ($10 for up to two weeks). The Park Service keeps a record of who has a permit for where so there shouldn't be conflicts with other campers. A quick inquiry by our Ranger when we entered the Park on January 22nd snagged us the Hannold Draw (HD1) site for 4 nights, Wednesday night (23rd) through Saturday night (26th). That meant we'd have to find another place to camp for one night.

Nothing is close in Big Bend. The distance from Marathon Texas to the Persimmon Gap entrance station and visitors center is 42 miles. From Persimmon Gap to the Park Headquarters at Panther Junction is another 26 miles. From Panther Junction to Rio-Grande Village is 20 miles more to the southeast, where there are two overnight possibilities for people with giant RVs... the Rio Grande Village Campground ($14, no hookups, generators OK in one area, not many sites appropriate for large RVs) and the Rio Grande Village RV Park ($33, FHU, Walmart-like asphalt parking lot). We opted for the Campground.

Jammed into Rio Grande Village CG for one night.


Up early on Wednesday, everything stowed, Cummins fired up... we didn't hook up the toad for the 25 mile drive to Hannold Draw. It's pretty much uphill all the way from Rio Grande Village back to Panther Junction, where we turned north and downhill for 4.8 miles where an unmarked gravel road takes off to the east. The twisty rough gravel road goes for only a quarter mile or so, down into a "draw", and completely out of sight from the main road. One end of the draw is used by the Park Service to store piles of gravel and some equipment. The other end is one large flat remote campspot. We parked the rig with the picture window windshield facing northeast to enjoy the view of the Sierra del Carmen and Santiago Mountains.

I should also point out that the Park Service rules out the use of generators in any backcountry campsites. Between our 4 solar panels and full sun most days we were there, we enjoyed all the electric power we needed.

During the entire 4 day period of our stay I'm only aware of one other vehicle coming into the draw... a Park Ranger coming to check up on us. There may have been others while we were out exploring the Park, but that's the only one we saw or heard.

We had a very positive experience at Hannold Draw and won't hesitate to do it again.

Splendid Solitude... at Hannold Draw

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jan 24 - Chisos Basin

Some nearby wildlife was responsible for the only sounds heard last night through the open windows of our bedroom... accompanied by a light cool desert breeze. In the desert, wildlife prefer the cooler nights to hotter days, apparently true even in January when daytime temps have been in the upper 70s. The big waxing gibbous moon softly lit-up the surrounding Chihuahuan desert, giving it the appearance more of a dream state than reality. It was a night conducive to deep long sleep... a fact confirmed by the 9am start-time for the first pot of coffee this morning.

The complete solitude of a campsite is something we look forward to. Not all the time, mind you... but on a regular basis it's nice to get away from the close quarters, the barking dogs, the "security" lights, and the social activity of the developed campground or RV park. This is about as close to nature as you'll get without backpacking in to remote primitive spots in wilderness areas.

I was happy to see the repaired tire on the toad was still holding air, as was Dar's front bike tire which I also patched yesterday (another danged sand burr!!). The plan today was to head up to Chisos Basin Lodge, one of only two spots in the Park where we could find a wifi signal and connect up with the internet and the outside world. While we were at it we had a delightful lunch and met an even more delightful young woman who was managing the restaurant. She worked for the Park Concessionaire and moves around the country to various National Park assignments. Her goal is to live simply and inexpensively, stay out of debt, save money, and live life on her terms... and to experience as much as she can of the different places she's working along the way. The concept is so refreshing and makes so much sense (it's been our motto for years) as long as there's only a tiny fraction of the US population doing so. If large numbers of folks caught on to this secret, and started living this way, our economy as we know it is doomed.

Chisos Basin is an ancient caldera, or volcano crater, that was active some 400 million years ago... give or take a hundred million or so. In the photo above an active imagination can see the complete volcano mountain as it existed before eruptions and erosion wore it down. The caldera is now called Chisos Basin, one of the 4 activity centers around the Park and the home of the Chisos Mountains Lodge. There's also a campground which is only appropriate for very small rigs, and a number of trail heads. Rain that falls in the basin has only one way out... through "The Window", an eroded wedge-shaped notch in the west wall of the basin. 

Since we still had much of the afternoon we found a couple shorter trails and exercised some long rested hiking muscles. It was another day we'll remember for a long time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jan 23 - Screwed

I'm writing this the evening of January 23 (Wednesday) from a very quiet and secluded campspot in Big Bend National Park. In fact, this may be the most secluded place we've ever been, even including our past experiences in the desert near Quartzsite. Other than a brief update from my Android tablet on Monday, we've been pretty much on the fringe of cell service... or with no service at all. Here's a more complete recap of the past few days.

We left the SKP park near Hondo on Monday morning, heading west on US-90. Since we got a late start and because we're really becoming slower travelers, we decided to throw out the anchor at a recommended NPS campground on Lake Amistad, near Del Rio. Mileage for the day was just over a hundred miles. It was perfect for an overnight... drycamping not far from the highway but quiet and cheap at just $4.

The highlight of the evening was a visit from the Old Fat Man, Barney, from Old Fat Man Adventures. Yes sir, there he was in the flesh (and a lot less of said flesh than the title of his blog would suggest). We found him full of life, with a positive attitude, and very knowledgeable about wandering and "looking for too much fun" in this part of the country. Not sure where the time went but it was nearly dark when we parted company. Thanks Barney for brightening our day and for all the information about Big Bend National Park. As you'll read in a few minutes, we put it to good use.

With an earlier start on Tuesday morning we continued west on US-90. This road is a favorite of ours as it's sooo much more relaxing than I-20 which parallels it just to the north. Seriously, I don't think we were passed by more than 10 cars all day. It's not uncommon to see no other traffic in either direction for a half hour. And the State of Texas built the road with wide shoulders and plenty of passing lanes every few miles.

At Marathon Texas we turn south on US-385... destination Big Bend National Park. 5 years ago, January of 2008 I think, we stayed at the Marathon Motel and RV Park and drove down with the Toad for a few days to explore the Park (unsure of what the camping would be for a big old bus-house) and thoroughly enjoyed what we found. Haven't been back since. But it was time for a renewal visit.


Persimmon Gap is the north entrance to the Park along US-385. After trying to lightly persuade, cajole, plead my case, whine... for them to bend the rules just a little and issue the all coveted Senior Pass (one time price $10, good for life, free admission, half price camping... wow!) just a few days prior to my 62nd birthday... well, I can report that the National Park Service has standards and they don't bend rules, at least for people like me. It was a good natured exchange, but that Ranger missed a good opportunity to make the day of an almost-senior-citizen.

But he was very helpful and, along with Barney's information, we snagged a back-country camping permit for Wednesday through Saturday night. The back-country spot we wanted wasn't open Tuesday night so we had to find a place to camp for one night... last night (if you're having trouble following this chaotic time line). For that we found an acceptable site (one that's big enough and level enough for the big old bus-house) at the Rio Grande Village Campground ($14 which would have been $7 if I had a Senior Pass). For anyone planning to come this way for the first time be aware that RGVCG is all drycamping and a lot of the sites are too small for us. There is a private concessionaire that operates an "RV Park" at Rio Grande Village, but it's nothing more than an asphalt parking lot with full hookups and very tight for over 30 bucks per night.

This morning we moved from Rio Grande Village CG to our semi-secret back-country spot, which I'll write more about in a future post.

Screwed??

Oh... the title to this post... what's up with that? Well, on the way down from Marathon on US-385 our tire pressure monitoring system alarmed, indicating a rapid drop in pressure in our left rear Toad tire. For those that don't know, this is a system that continuously reads the pressure of any tire it's attached to and wirelessly radios that information back to the driver.

I slowed while Dar verified it was an actual alarm (this is NOT a test...). The pressure had dropped from it's normal 35psi to 27psi when the first alarm was triggered. Shortly after, it alarmed again when the pressure had fallen to 24psi. We could watch as it declined. In the rear view camera I didn't see anything crazy going on yet so I continued on, slowly, for a couple miles looking for a good place to pull over. And, as luck would have it, a just large enough roadside park appeared. We pulled over and stopped. When I got back to the tire in question the sound of leaking air was obvious. There was no question, we had a puncture.

It took perhaps a half hour to unload the bikes from the bike rack, unload the trunk, dig and find the jack, the little donut spare tire, and necessary wrenches, etc. (all of which are conveniently located at the bottom of the trunk), jack the car, remove the leaker, mount the spare, and then reverse the process and load everything back aboard... not necessarily where it was or where it should be. On top of it all the little spare was low on pressure and our tiny 12v. Walmart bike tire pump was called on to boost it closer to the recommended 60psi. That took a good chunk of the half hour.

After moving to our new back-country spot earlier today, we drove the car over to the Terlingua/Study Butte area (30 miles away) looking for a tire repair joint. We found a couple helpful and friendly guys that fixed the flat in (ready for this?...) nothing flat. And they did so for a reasonable $15 bucks which earned them a little additional beer money for their generosity.

The $400 bucks we shelled out for the tire pressure monitoring system paid for itself in this one incident as far as I'm concerned. Had we not known about the low tire while driving, it would have gone flat, and who knows when we would have noticed it. It's common for folks to keep right on going, rubber tire disintegrating, destroying body panels as it does, eventually getting to the bare metal wheel running on pavement, sparks, smoke, fire... who knows. I've heard them all.

We, on the other hand, were delayed for 30 minutes, still have a serviceable tire and wheel, and have no damage at all. If I never had a flat tire incident like this, the peace of mind alone that comes from keeping an eye on our tire pressures is invaluable. I consider this incident a bonus.

The culprit? A small Phillips head screw... embedded right into the tread, just as if someone with a screwdriver put it there.



Monday, January 21, 2013

Jan 21 - Hondo to Del Rio

Got going a little later this morning than planned. Besides sleeping in late, had to bid adieu to some new friends made during the past two weeks... and that usually involves a nice chat. So, it was about 11am by the time we were pulling out of the driveway and making progress westward on US90.

Having traveled this portion of  US90 many times before, we were looking for a new, untried campspot... something besides our usual stop at Seminole Canyon SP a few miles west of Del Rio Texas. Scratching that itch has us camped tonight near the shore of Lake Amistad, a dammed up portion of the Rio Grande River just north of Del Rio. We'll continue the journey tomorrow.

Besides not being able to see the lake from our site (the lake is more than 40 feet below the full mark and dropping at the rate of a foot every 3 days), we have very slow internet which will hamper my ability to post anything more here than this brief update from our Android tablet. But it's just for one night and it's good to push the envelope once in a while.

We're thinking of going into Big Bend NP from here, and cell phone/internet service could be spotty once again. If anyone's trying to reach us just leave a voice message on our phone and we'll pick it up when we can.

From the San Pedro CG on Lake Amistad...
Thom and Dar.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jan 18 - Blue Skies, Smiling at Me...

The weather is now on a positive up-swing and the forecast for the next week or so is generally warmer and clearer. Maybe, just maybe, the recent persistent pattern of Pacific moisture blowing across Mexico and into the middle part of the country bringing wet and chilly weather is finally changing. It's a change we've been waiting for.

At this point in time we're tentatively planning to leave the Hondo area on Monday. There's a music jam and potluck dinner on Saturday that might be neat... and that we're going to stick around for. Then Sunday we'll get all our prepping chores done so we can blow outa' here on Monday. No destination in mind but we know it won't be far.

We've been exercising our atrophying muscles by walking and biking the past few days, and today I'm going to expose my whitening legs to the sun for the first time in weeks??? months??? That's right, shorts on today... signaling the start of an early Spring.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Jan 16 - More on Blogs

Looks like I stirred up a minor ruckus with a couple folks out there in bloggerville with my January 2 post entitled Thoughts on the Journal... specifically my comment that "those doing what we're doing (living in a giant RV, going north in the summer, escaping south in the winter, staying at RV parks for long periods of time, etc) have universally boring blogs".  Considering how few people read this blog, it actually felt good to be the agent of some controversy for a change. And it caused a nice little bump in readership too.

But about all this I have two or three brief things to add. First, I was including myself in that comment and consider my blog to be a real bore too. Perhaps that wasn't clear enough. Second, my comment is my opinion, which, last I checked, I'm still entitled to. Just as I don't expect to agree with everything others have to say, I don't expect others to always agree with me.

And lastly... whatever happened to the free exchange of ideas that most of us in the USA used to subscribe to? Why do so many of us now read or listen only to those who don't upset our little worlds? Wouldn't it be better to seek out alternative views and opinions... to challenge ourselves... to use that wonderful reasoning ability that we have... to see that there might be another side to the story?

In a larger sense I'm struggling to keep things lively for myself, in both my writing and my reading. And perhaps if some of us become a little more concerned about the quality of our work as opposed to the volume or frequency of it, blogland might just become a tad more interesting for all of us.

Jan 15 - Waiting on Winter

We're still parked just outside Hondo Texas... have been here for a week yesterday, Monday. This was a planned stop for mail and such, as mentioned in an earlier post, but it also turned out to be a good place to pause and wait out the wintery weather in the high country west of here, that is... between here and the Pacific Ocean. That deep trough of cold Canadian air covered most of the western 2/3s of the continental USA for the past few days... providing grumble-fodder for folks in normally warmish places like Tucson, Yuma, and San Diego. What would we do if we didn't have something to whine about?

There is hope, though, on the western horizon. Things are changing. Cold bubbles, like any bubbles (heat, soap, tulip, or housing) don't last long. Nature is nothing if not the great equalizer. And that means moderation... relative warming... and getting the bus-house moving once again. Soon.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jan 11 - Cold, Kindle, Ubuntu, and Cookies

It's Friday morning and we've already received all 4 packages we've been waiting for: a mail package from our super-efficient mail service in Wisconsin, a surprise gift package from a very special person, a big box of fresh home-made cookies from a best friend, and an Amazon order... a new Kindle for Dar.  As screwed up as we sometimes think our country is, and all the problems that seem to be in our way to the future, the system that's developed to move small packages around the country, deliver them to the right people 99.9% of the time, and do it all within just a few days is nothing short of astonishing.

I'm in the process of loading Ubuntu Linux on an old Dell laptop of mine. Why? Well, why not? How does one learn about these things unless one tries? My biggest problem has been the slow download speeds of the Parks wifi system. The installation file is almost 600 MB which I believe could be downloaded in less than an hour with almost any reasonable broadband speed. I realize other park denizens are using the same wifi system, which is why I'm doing it after 10pm at night. But even then it starts fast and quickly slows to a crawl. Wonder if I'm being "throttled" by the park's system?

I did eventually get an installation on the old laptop, but it didn't run right... may have been corrupted during the download perhaps.  At this point I'm just going to wait until I get to a Verizon 4G area and try again.

Dar loves her new Kindle Paperwhite. It's assigned to my Kindle account so she has access to the 60 or 70 books I've purchased or acquired over the past two years.  I've found the black on white Kindle device to be far better than reading on my PC or my Samsung Tablet.  Bright sun and glare is simply no problem for the e-ink display on the Kindle. It's a device optimized for one purpose -- reading black and white text. It doesn't try to be or do anything more.

When she's not reading she's been back at her on-again off-again never-ending family tree project. Because all this online research is so bandwidth intensive, she's been taking full advantage of RV park wifi systems and saving our Verizon data for later. There's just no end to the reasons I love this girl.

I'm starting to look west to see what the weather is looking like out in the high country.  Normal temps out there in January are mid-20s for lows and mid-50s for highs. The next few days are going to drop into the teens at night and only reach the mid 30s during the day. I think we'll be here a while longer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Jan 8 - Added Posts from the Past

Supposed to rain the next two days so I'm getting a few things knocked off my to-do list.  One of these is to get caught up on posts to The RV Sabbatical Journal.  Here's a list of what I just put up... in case you might be interested:

Jan 5 - The Texas White House

Dec 25 - Christmas with Friends

Dec 29 - Vicksburg to Shreveport; Dinner with Ben and Sarah

Dec 30 - Shreveport to College Station


Monday, January 7, 2013

Jan 7 - Johnson City to Hondo

Miller Creek RV Park offers a weekly deal... pay for 6 days and get the 7th for free. We took advantage of that deal and were "paid-up" through Tues morning. But, alas, the weather is moving us along a day early. Rain and heavy storms are predicted for most of central and eastern Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday. So, we made the 120 mile drive to Hondo today.

The route was US-290 to Fredericksburg where we picked up TX-16 to Kerrville. There's a loop road TX-534 that avoids Kerrville's downtown district and hooks up with TX-173 on the west bank of the Guadalupe River for the drive south through Bandera (the cowboy capital of the world... according to them) and to Hondo.

We're planning to stay a week or two at the Lone Star Corral SKP Park just west of Hondo in order to be in one spot long enough to get mail and a few packages. It's also a good spot to catch our breath and get caught up on other chores that I've been putting off for a while.

From here we'll continue the trek westward but things get a bit more complicated. Between here and Tucson Arizona we've got what you can call "high country"... Alpine
TX... 4,500 feet; El Paso... 4,000 feet; Deming NM... 4,300 feet; Wilcox AZ... 4300 feet.  While 4,000 to 5,000 feet isn't really high by most western standards, it's high enough to make a difference in the winter weather. The 500 miles from West Texas to Tucson can be as cold and wintery as Wisconsin at times. The coldest night we've ever spent in the bus-house was in Marathon Texas when it got down to 6 degrees one January night.  So we'll be watching the weather closely... and the run from here to there might go rather quickly.

Yesterday morning we met up with John and Judy for breakfast. We first crossed paths with this duo a couple years ago in Portland Oregon, so when we found out they were staying just a few miles from our camp at Miller Creek, we arranged the second "meet-up". A quick breakfast turned into a three hour morning that didn't seem half that. It was an enjoyable and entertaining time.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Jan 5 - The Texas White House

The normal morning routine around here can be variously described as slow, uncomplicated, laid back, very non-urgent. There's almost never any rush to get anywhere or do anything. Read, catch up on news, grab a little something for breakfast, do a sudoku puzzle, and, if the mood is right, write. It can be intensely boring. But it can also be calm and peaceful... good for the soul as some would say.

Yesterday morning, when we did get going, we headed over to LBJ's Texas White House. The facility is managed jointly by the National Parks Service and the Texas State Parks Commission.

This Ranch is the place where LBJ was born, lived, died, and is buried. The original portion of the house was a very small two story limestone block structure built by an early settler to the area in 1894. One of Lyndon's uncles bought the house and surrounding property in 1909, and then Lyndon and Lady Bird bought it in 1951. Over the years the house was added onto 8 times by the various owners.

We have been here before, back in 2008, but at that time the Johnson Home on the Ranch wasn't open to the public.  It is now, and we found the whole visitor routine had changed too.

Back then a visitor joined 20 or so others and a tour guide aboard a small tour bus, which was the only way the general public could gain access to the Ranch property itself. We followed the crowd and really enjoyed what we saw, but felt shorted in not being able to see the inside of the house. You see Lady Bird had just died the previous July and up to that time this was her home. The agreement between the Johnson Family and the National Park Service allowed for a period of time after Lady Bird's death for the family to retrieve personal effects and memorabilia before turning the rest over to the Park Service.

Now that the home is under the control of the National Park Service a visitor gets a free ticket at the State run visitor center.  That ticket allows one vehicle access to the Ranch property. Along with the ticket, there's a map and a narrated driving tour on CD for the car CD player.

So this time we could drive ourselves onto the Ranch property. The narration on CD turned out to be a great idea as it was informative, entertaining, and well-paced for a leisurely drive through the Ranch. There are stops at the reconstructed LBJ birthplace house, the family cemetery where both LBJ and Lady Bird are buried, the Show Barn that showcases ranch activities and history, and the Ranch House also known as the Texas White House.

During the tour we drove alongside the 6300 foot asphalt runway used by the President and visiting dignitaries during his time in politics. The runway is not robust enough for large planes like the Boeing 707, but could handle smaller business jets like the Lockheed JetStar assigned to Johnson for shorter trips. Because so much government business was done here the runway got a lot of use at times -- as many as 10 or more operations on some days.


The old airplane hanger behind the House is now a combination visitor center and museum. A few of LBJ's cars are on display, as is a Lockheed JetStar under a shelter beside the hanger. Here we bought two tickets for the tour of the Texas White House for 3 bucks each, and before we had much time to peruse the hanger museum, we were following a knowledgeable tour guide around and into the House. He had plenty of interesting stories about LBJ and Lady Bird too.

I found an interesting story about the Lockheed JetStar that's on display... how it almost was scrapped but ultimately saved in a last minute deal. <link here>

During LBJs time in office he spent over 500 days in the Texas White House... far exceeding any previous or subsequent President's time at an alternative or remote office.

Inside, the house feels smaller than it's 8,000 sq. ft. size. It's warm and unpretentious, with the most extravagant portion being the large bedroom suites (yep... one for him, and one for her) added by LBJ and Lady Bird. LBJ died in his bedroom as a result of his third massive heart attack on January 22, 1973. He was 64.

After our Ranch visit we drove into Fredericksburg for sustenance. Being Saturday, and a nice one at that, this increasingly touristy town was bustling. Some folks just can't have enough trinkets, trendy clothes, jewelry and such. We found a table at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company Restaurant and enjoyed watching the crowd.

We've got a bunch of photos from our day in our online albums.  Check them out for a more complete "picture" of Ranch. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside the house.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jan 3 - Progress

On the off chance that you haven't noticed... Dar has actually completed her first post. <click here>  It's about our Dec. 31 visit to the Bush Presidential Library (George the 41st Pres.) on the grounds of Texas A&M University in College Station Texas. I think she did a marvelous job and hope she will do more in the upcoming months.

In addition to her post, I wrote two others yesterday... so now my deficit is down to 5.  Hmmm... now if I could just talk Dar in to doing one or two more, I'd be even closer to even.

Today, after a chilly start near freezing, we ran a few errands that took us over to the community of Dripping Springs, about 24 miles east of camp.  Dripping Springs sounds like a medical condition or a negative side-effect of some medication... so I usually break into a smirk when I hear someone mention the town. We did enjoy a relaxed breakfast at a small cafe and got our chores done in short order.

Since it was only Noon, we made the 30 mile drive to the south to explore a COE campground on the north end of Canyon Lake. Named Potters Creek COE, it's a real possibility for us for our next trip through. Up to the usual high COE standards, the campsites are level and nicely separated to keep your nose out of your neighbor's business. The lake is down considerably from full pool, something you'd expect after the extended drought here in Texas.

Once back at the bus-house we got back to work on photos and writing... and darkness fell. We made some progress today.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Jan 2 - Thoughts on the Journal

This morning I looked at my task list in my blog editor and found that I'm behind by 8 posts now. 8! OMG! I think I'll be "heads down" on the computer for the next couple days.

Dar and I talked about our journal and blogging over breakfast and recalled why we keep this blog... this journal... in the first place: It's the record, our record, of our travels and adventures during the time we live in our RV and explore North America. Secondarily, it's an easy way for family, friends, and curious others to "follow along"... to see where we're at and what we're up to.

As of today I've done 937 posts to The RV Sabbatical Journal over the past 6 years. While I love writing, I think it's become routine, like a job. After 29 State Capitol buildings, many of which look alike, describing them becomes repetitive. Presidential Libraries are similarly laid out in timeline fashion and the task becomes finding the unusual so as to keep humdrum and repetition from overwhelming the reader -- even if that reader is me. Describing mountain vistas and grand holes in the ground... well, there are only so many superlatives in the English language. You'd think the more one writes the easier it would become. I haven't found that to be the case.

There's also an element of procrastination (I've always been a procrastinator) in my nature. My motto has been "always put off until tomorrow what should be done today... because it's often the case that you'll find  that the thing doesn't have to be done at all." OK, while that doesn't hold true in most cases, the trick is learning when it might. Unfortunately, those unfinished blog posts aren't going to go away.

I thought it might help if Dar would occasionally write a post. I set her up as an "author" for our blog years ago, but she's not done even a single post to this point. And I thought I had a motivation problem. Current score is 937 to 0.

I know, she's been handling the photos... and at that she's done a boffo job. But maybe if we mix things up a little we'll motivate each other.

When we first started this lifestyle in 2007, I'd consume vast amounts of time reading other fulltimer's blogs. There was a comfort in knowing there were others out there doing the same thing we were doing. But over the years it slowly dawned on me that it might be better to live my own life rather than reading about others living theirs. And, I gotta tell ya', those doing what we're doing (living in a giant RV, going north in the summer, escaping south in the winter, staying at RV parks for long periods of time, etc) have universally boring blogs. Sorry... that's how I feel. And I'm sure most people find our blog just as bad. And that's OK with me.

The few blogs I still read are about those doing something really "out there", unusual, unique, truly adventurous... driving or sailing around the world, RVing in other countries, living in tiny campers, philosophers, thinkers, and spys.

I don't know where this is going or what I'll do about it yet. I think I've got Dar a little excited about writing a post once in a while. And just reasoning and thinking through "down" periods like this help get me on track again.

The RV Sabbatical Journal will continue to be our record for 2013 and for as long as we'll be out exploring North America and the world.

'scuse me... but I've got some writin' to do.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Jan 1 - College Station to Johnson City

2013
First morning of 2013... woke to the pattering of rain again. The weather service had prepared us for this but I was hoping they were wrong. You see, as long time readers will remember, we hate pulling the toad along wet grimy roads. It's like tailgating a semi truck at just 3 feet back -- the water and road grime mixture is blasted into every crevasse and crack of the car, into the engine compartment, and who knows where else. Even though it's just a little Ford Focus, it's a disrespectful thing to do to a car... not to mention the bikes that are hooked to the back of the car.

Despite all this we did leave the Lazy G RV Park south of College Station. On balance we decided the shabby little park had to be left behind, especially when we knew what was waiting for us at the end of today's drive.

As we plied west the rain eased. Little towns along TX-21 brightened, then dimmed... Caldwell, Dime Box (home of the famous Black Bridge Festival), Old Dime Box, Paige. A brisk north wind kept the driver on his toes and the navigator from falling asleep. At Bastrop we swung to the northwest and took aim at Austin. But this was New Years Day and traffic was manageable... busy but not congested. US-290 carries us west and into the Hill Country of Texas... and the last 40 or so miles to our destination.

We've been to Miller Creek RV Park before... in the Spring of 2010. And we remember it as one of the more friendly and hospitable camps along our way. If you choose to partake, most nights there's something going on... dinners of various kinds, movies, live music, and a nightly camp-wide happy hour at the "watering hole", a large firepit/fireplace/bar which is enclosed and protected from the elements, no less. 

This time of year can be mildly winter-like. For example, the next few nights are predicted to be near or below the freezing mark and high temps just in the 40's. Even heard there's the possibility of ice on Thursday. But there are also spells of warmer and sunny weather. You just take what comes and find a way to enjoy it... which is not a bad way to lead your life.