Big Bend Winter Solstice 2018
After the usual kerfluffle of getting things together and forgetting half a dozen things, we were on the road by 8. This is our first trip in our new* Winnebago RV. We have most of the stuff from our popup camper and a few new things. This is the true shake down cruise.
It is comfortable to ride in except I feel like I need something to prop my feet on, the seat is too high up and there’s too much leg room. As if that’s possible.
We get to Monahans Sandhills State Park and get checked in, go to the grocery store and back to camp in time for a glorious sunset and moonrise. Tomorrow will be the full moon and today is the winter solstice.
Setting up camp is so simple…drive in to the campsite, turn off the ignition and plug in. Done! We are saving propane tonight by using a little electric heater we bought for the popup. And it turns out the refrigerator cools great on electric but not so well on propane which it runs on while we are driving. Part of the discovery journey.
Tomorrow we will arrive at the RV park in Study Butte and get settled in for a few days.
*new to us, it’s 10 years old.
It is Soooo easy to break camp…unplug, straighten things a bit and drive.
We have remembered a few things we need so we decide to stop at the Walmart in Fort Stockton. $60 something later, we head over to the gas station for diesel. Then one of the blinkers sounds funny…I remember my Subaru blinked twice as fast if a bulb was burnt out. Sure enough, the rear blinker bulb is out. This may be a recurring problem because there are spares bulbs in the glove box but no screwdriver to remove the cover. It was very considerate of the light to go out right there where we could just go in and buy a tool set to fix it.
We roll on down the road, stop for lunch in Alpine and get to the place we are staying about 3. Plenty of time to get checked in, set up and chill. This time we are going to pressurize the water system and use it.
Quiet Mike is set up across the wash and he comes over to hang out a bit and we invite him to join us for supper, we are just waiting for Jeff and Jeannie to arrive and when they do about 7 o’clock, I cook spaghetti for everyone.
The reason for this camping trip is for the guys to hang out together and go riding dirt bikes together, the group is Two Wheel Texans and they have several annual motorcycle rides, this is one of them. Most of the group is arriving Christmas Day and staying until New Year’s. Ed lives here now.
We get up and breakfast tacos is on the menu. After breakfast, we all get in Jeff’s suv and head into the park. The front gate is open with nobody in charge. Because of the current president’s temper tantrum over funding for a border wall, the government is shut down. Again.
Anyway, we first head down Old Maverick Road, visit Santa Elena Canyon then drive back on pavement to the Chisos Basin then over to Boquillas Canyon then back to the campground. We had lunch in the Basin and visited the hot springs which was full of people enjoying the hot water.
Back to camp and burgers on the grill for supper. Jeff was cooking and we ate and talked and visited until it was too cold to stay outside.
The campground we are staying in is barely half full. I’ve been here the last two years and it’s usually almost full. Parts of the park are nearly empty. Driving down Old Maverick, we saw one car, last year when I drove down it, I was never out of sight of another car for more than 5 or 10 minutes. The shutdown is hurting way more than those with government paychecks, in fact they will get back pay. It’s seriously hurting the businesses who are depending on being busy this week to get a good start on next year.
More breakfast tacos this morning, then Brian, Jeff and Mike head out on a motorcycle ride so Jeannie and I go visit the Ghost Town and have lunch then go to the Indian Head trail and walk out and see some old rock art.
Ed has invited the bunch of us out to his place for dinner tonight so we roll out there about 4:30. Ed has a place on the backside of nowhere with spectacular views. We enjoy the views and look around and then it’s dinner time. The bread we eat is from a bakery in Ojinaga just across the river, the bakery has been around so long, the fire in the horno has been burning steadily for over 70 years. The bread is light and moist inside with a wonderful crunchy crust and a nutty flavor.
After we eat, we go down to the ramada and Ed lights a campfire. The sun is down and it’s getting cold quickly so a fire is just the thing. We talk and it gets completely dark then we start looking at the stars. The only light is from the fire, the windows in Ed’s house a little ways away and a couple of residences miles away. Once in a while, you see headlights coming over a rise 40 miles away on highway 118. We watch several satellites go over and debate over the source of a light hanging just at the horizon over the Chisos Mountains. Think of the stars you can see in the city and multiply that by 1000, a true dark sky experience, when your eyes get adjusted, the sky explodes with stars.
On the way back, we play peek-a-boo with the moon a couple of nights past full. Jeff takes a wrong turn somewhere and we end up going through the back side of the ghost town.
It’s our last night here. We are going to break the trip back into two days and probably stop at a state park in San Angelo.
It’s only been two full days here but it’s been worth it, it feels like coming home when we get here. Hopefully one day we can call it home for at least a little while.
Tuesday, Merry Christmas
For breakfast, I am going to try to cook biscuits in the oven and it has a special setting for them. I start it up and it starts preheating which goes on for a long time and causes smoke, apparently the bottom surface didn’t get cleaned completely last time it was used. One smoke alarm starts going off so we open the door and turn on the vent fan. That works for a minute then it starts screeching again. Jeff finally comes in and pulls it off the ceiling and puts it on the table outside. The other smoke alarm never went off. Go figure. The oven never seems to be going to finish preheating so I finally put four biscuits in and watch them until they are done. The pan I got was too small to hold all 8 so I cooked them in batches. I managed to get all them cooked but what I really need is a 12 inch pizza pan. Supposedly you can cook a 12” pizza in this oven. I’m sure we will try it at some point.
The campground is filling up now and several more members of the group will arrive today.
This is the day we leave, got a late start then left with the idea of making San Angelo a stopping place. When we finally got to Fort Stockton, it was 2 o’clock so we made the decision to stay at Monahans instead, it’s less than an hour away. The visitors center is already closed so we move in and chose a place and settle in. It’s windy tonight.
For Christmas dinner we have a traditional meal…tamales. They were good, then we watched the news and then a show on the DVD player. The wind is really blowing so we will be rocked to sleep tonight.
About the time we finish dinner, we got a phone call from the guys that stayed in Big Bend, seems Jeff went down with his bike and broke his leg. He was taken to the hospital in Alpine which decided it was beyond their capabilities so he got to fly to Odessa in a medical transport airplane.
After a restless night with Brian and Jeff texting back and forth and everybody else in the group trying to figure out how to get three bikes, a trailer and Jeannie and Jeff back home some sort of plan was cobbled together that didn’t involve us. At 5:30 a.m. Brian turned on the light and I said I guessed that meant it was time to get up. He didn’t disagree. We rolled out at 6 and got to the hospital in Odessa at 7 and visited with Jeff for an hour before heading on home. He will need surgery to pin the bones in his leg back together.
The rest of the way home was very windy and after a while, rainy. Driving the RV is like driving a big box and the wind was pushing us all around the road. We did get home before the thunderstorms really got started.
Lucky the cat is all kinds of unhappy with the weather because he wants outside after being locked in the house for 5 days and now it’s raining and thundering. And now I get to unload stuff tomorrow, Brian has to go back to work for two days before a four day weekend for New Year’s.
All in all, it was a good trip for us and we learned some stuff about our RV and found a few things that need fixed and how to do some things. It may be a while before I master the oven with all its functions and we need to track down a water leak somewhere. I think we are really going to enjoy traveling in it.
We got there and left before the government shutdown really affected the facilities at the National Park. There were signs on the restrooms saying they would remain open until they became unsanitary. I understand now (a week and a half later) some areas have been completely closed off because people were pooping on the ground when they found the bathroom closed, and the trash has built up too far so the road to the Santa Elena trailhead has been closed and the campgrounds have been closed. I understand this is happening at many National Parks. They should have locked the doors and barred the gates at all of them. And all because of one man throwing a temper tantrum because he wants to spend billions of dollars on a wall that doesn’t need built.