Big Bend Holiday 2018

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.

Saturday

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.

Sunday

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.

Monday

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.

Wednesday

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.

Vacation Fall 2018, unexpected destination.

Friday night we got the camper all loaded and ready to close down and the motor quit halfway down. It would go up, just not more than halfway down.

So much for getting an early start Saturday.

Rain was coming so Brian went to Harbor Freight and got a big tarp to cover it that turned out to be big enough to cover half the house. Brian took the cover off the motor and fiddled with it and it still wouldn’t go down. We finally found the manual crank Saturday and got it the rest of the way down, I called the RV place we bought it at and they said they couldn’t see it until Monday. So I made an appointment for Monday at 10.

So, two days wasted we could have been somewhere else.

The original plan was to go to Lake Greeson in Arkansas but cold nasty weather looked like it was going to be too cold and wet to think about fishing out of our kayaks so we decided to go south instead. Goal: Lake Amistad on the Rio Grande. No kayaks because it’s still going to be cold. Fishing poles because who knows, we might take the opportunity for some bank fishing.

We finally get to the RV place and it turns out, the service department is at another location. We get there and they tell us because of the rain, the tech isn’t there but they’ll call him and get him to come in. Be nice if they called us and told us this!

The tech finally got there and looked at things and found the limit sensor was broken free of the track it rides on. It was riding too far on the side and when it hit the side, the motor stopped. Of course they didn’t have the part and he showed us how to work around it so that’s probably what we will do until time to trade it if we can.

By that time, it was nearly noon and we wouldn’t be rolling into the park we planned on until after dark and be setting up in the rain.

Time to rethink the destination.

We settled on Pedernales Falls State Park just west of Austin.

It rained all the way there but let up just a little for us to get set up. Then find out there’s no propane. Take that in to town and get it exchanged for a full one, back to camp and hot soup for supper.

Cold and rainy all night, gray day in the morning. It’s a light rain and if you’re waterproofed, not bad for walking so we do. There’s a trail from the campground to Twin Falls so we take it. We walk maybe half a mile in and see two small waterfalls pouring into a creek, lots of water moving. Being cold and cloudy, nothing much moving or making sounds. We saw a group of deer that weren’t too alarmed by us and saw 3 cardinals.

After that walk is over, we drive down to the falls the park is named after. Instead of being a flow of blue green water, it’s a raging mass of water the color of chocolate milk. You feel the sound of pounding water as well as hear it. It’s so loud we can actually hear it at the campground. There is a lot of power there.

Then we drive in to Johnson City and visit the President Johnson Historical Park. There we watch a short film about President Johnson and look at exhibits at the museum there. We are told the LBJ Ranch is closed because the bridge over the Pedernales River is closed due to the rains.

We have lunch at a Mexican place and on the tv is the local station reporting on the floods, the Llano River is well past flood stage and they are worried about the lake system that goes through Austin. As we sit there and eat, Lake Travis rises a foot.

On the way back to the campground we stop at a winery for a tasting. Pleasant hostess and nice wines. I bought a bottle.

We drive down an interesting road that goes past the state park until it comes to a low water crossing that turns out not to be that low. We decide not to cross. Back to camp, we take a couple more walks around the campground have a light supper. We both read a while and then to bed.

There were deer everywhere. One herd kept wandering through the campground and we saw them in many places in the fields and among the trees by the roads. There are also many fields with goats, they seem to be popular livestock here along with exotic deer from overseas.

After a toasty night in my heated bed, we get up, have coffee, shower. Neither of us wants to cook breakfast so we drive into town to the Mexican place to eat. After a good breakfast, we head for Fredericksburg. We park and walk up and back a couple of blocks. Most of the shops all have the same stuff but there’s a couple of them that have interesting things.

Lunch time so we eat at an Amish deli. Or that’s what they call themselves. They sell Amish furniture too.

We took a little side trip on the way back to see Luchenbach, just because.

On the way back, we take Ranch road 1 which goes close to the Pedernales River. We can see the debris line where the water was up to yesterday. There are a couple of bridges across the river which have flood debris across them where they were covered yesterday. We cross one of them to visit the LBJ Ranch.

There are huge old oaks over beautiful green grass going down to the river. The family cemetery has the biggest trees with a stone and iron fence going around it. Very peaceful.

There is a driving tour around the part of the ranch that is open to the public with placards telling things about the ranch. Descendants of his prize winning Hereford cattle roam around parts of the ranch. The driving tour ends at the main house. It is closed to tours inside the house today but we can walk around outside it. The area is beautiful and peaceful and you can see why President Johnson drew so much strength from it.

Back to camp and it’s chili dogs for supper. I had bought Hormel chili dog sauce and don’t recommend it, it was weirdly viscous and didn’t have that much flavor.

We’ve chatted a bit with one of our neighbors and they had a fire going so we went over and talked a while then it was bedtime.

Breakfast again at the Mexican place. Then we decide to drive to San Antonio and visit the old Spanish missions.

That takes about 3 hours then we have a light picnic lunch and call a friend of mine who lives there. She’s home and we go visit for a few hours. She already has plans for the evening so we don’t stay too long. For dinner, she recommends a place called The Cove which is part laundromat, part car wash and part diner. The food is good and much of it is locally sourced or from individual farms.

Driving home, it gets misty and foggy on the hilltops. We get back to camp about 8 and not too much later it’s bedtime.

It’s a noisy night in the campground, the neighbors on one side are listening to music, not loud enough to hear the words or recognize the song but loud enough to hear. And behind us somewhere someone is watching a horror flick. It’s not loud enough to keep us awake, but it’s loud enough to remind us there are people nearby.

We’ve had a break in the rain a bit yesterday and today but it seems to be coming back now.

Today is our anniversary, 27 years ago, we got married.

After a slow start we head for Gruene. We take the scenic route and get there about 11. Lunch at a Mexican place and then roam around the shops. This time I find more things I want to buy. When we get through with that, it’s only 2:30 so I remember a nice cave we visited before and think it would be nice to see again. We get there and it has turned into a major commercial operation. Tickets are $34 a piece and we decide we don’t need to see it again that badly.

On the way back to camp, we stop in Blanco to see the state park there. It’s old and shows it, some of the main buildings were built by the CCC. It’s a pretty park on a nice stretch of the Blanco River. It would be a nice place to camp and fish or do a little kayaking.

Nearly back to camp, we stop by the grocery store in Johnson City and I get a can of soup since neither of us are very hungry. Back at camp I cut up some potato and add some seasoning to it and turn it into chicken adobo soup with potato and rice. It was good and just enough for the two of us. It’s not actively raining so we sit outside for a while then we straighten up inside the camper because it’s time to go home in the morning.

Got up, no rain. Of course the rain would stop the day we go home. We nearly see the sun at sunrise.

We get camp closed up and packed away, including trouble with the winch getting the camper top down. We took the cover off it and used the work-around they showed us.

Breakfast at the Mexican place again then hit the road north. We stopped on the way through Cleburn at the RV repair place to check on a quote for the winch repair. They tell us it’s covered by warranty and they have the part ordered so there will be no charge on it. Yippee!!

Home and Lucky has an extreme case of wrong side of the door-itis that hopefully will be worn off by tomorrow. Now laundry is going and tv is on catching up on the news.

I give great kudos to Texas Parks and Wildlife department for the bathroom at the campground. It was new and was heated, well lit, and had two gender-neutral bathrooms that were entirety handicap accessible with shower, sink and toilet in one huge room. I just wish they would splurge a little on paper products…no paper towels and the toilet paper was thin enough to almost see through.