Out in the West Texas town of El Paso I fell in love with a Mexican girl Nighttime would find me in Rosa's cantina Music would play and Felina would whirl
So this song, originally by Marty Robbins but covered with regularity by The Grateful Dead, has been on repeat in my head for weeks as we got close to west Texas. We even found a fake "Rosa's Cantina" at Old Tuscon. I had vague memories of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico from a trip with by grandmother when I was about 13, but otherwise knew nothing of the El Paso area. We spent two weeks here in early Febuary and frankly, we were disappointed.
We arrived on Saturday at the MIssion RV Park on the east side of town. The park itself wasn't too bad.... being close to the highway but with easy access, an indoor pool, friendly staff and good prices. Our first hint that we wouldn't much care for city of El Paso, though, was the traffic and the color of the air. You can see the air in El Paso the pollution is so bad. The very next day we got the heck out of Dodge to visit some of the sights we were looking forward to in the area. We attempted our second "two-fer", visiting two National Parks in a single day (previously we did Grant Tetons and Yellowstone, but we'd already been to Yellowstone a few times in the previous week, so it didn't really count). First we drove to Gualalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains NP highlights the Guadalupe Mountain Range and the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Mountain. There were a TON of hiking and backpacking trails criss-crossing the park which got my backpacker feet itching, but we only had time for a short nature trail near the visitor center. Crayton was being dramatic saying he was too tired to hike, but the trail was less than a mile long and he was just being a lazy-butt. The mountains themselves were beautiful in a way that only desert mountains can be. Remote, desolate, dry, forbidding and jaw-droppingly pretty. It was then that I realized our clocks had changed, indicating that we were in the central time zone and we had an hour less than I thought we did, so we hit the road trying to make tracks for Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
A pooped-out hiker
Arriving at Carlsbad, I saw that our clocks had changed back to Mountain Time. It seems the timezone line does some odd zig-zags through here and we didn't need to rush after all. Oh well, now we had more time to spend here! I've heard some great things about Carlsbad Caverns and it did not disappoint. Without a doubt the largest, most dramatic caverns I've ever seen. I especially liked that the park service did not use artificially colored lights like so many commercially run caverns do They went out of their way to show the caverns as they actually are. They're amazing enough not to need embellishment. The caverns impressed me to the point that I'm probably ruined for visiting other caverns. The only other one I've seen that impressed me as much was Ruby Falls but only because an underground waterfall is such a unique thing. The walk through the caverns was pretty long, close to a mile and a half and Crayton was a trooper. Not only did the cavern not scare him, except for places where the trail went close to drop-offs, but he really enjoyed it and walked pretty much the whole way without having us carry him for very long.
Inside Carlsbad Caverns
Best cave ever!
We left Carlsbad and started driving back just as the day was ending. I'd brought my new drone hoping to find a good spot along the way to take it for its maiden voyage and we did. There was a dry lake bed just west of Guadalupe that I'd seen on the way out and the sun was getting low just as we got there making for some pretty dramatic footage. It was fairly easy to fly and I can't wait to get to fly it more.
First Drone Footage!
The rest of the week was pretty boring. Crayton and Pam flew back to Wisconsin on Wednesday for a week to visit friends and family. Pam had her annual 'girls weekend' with her friends while Crayton stayed with grandma. They were there a week, flying back the following Wednesday. While they were gone, I got started on some big camper projects I'd been putting off for a while. I installed JT Strong-arm stabilizers and replaced our stock pin-box with a MorRyde pin-box. I'll blog about those upgrades separately. The week alone here did nothing to improve my opinion of El Paso. Smoggy, crowded and with little but chain restaurants, I doubt we'll spend much time here again. It's one saving grace was that it had a small airport so getting Pam and Crayton to Wisconsin was easier than it would have been in a larger city.
Pam and Crayton came back and the following Saturday were were off again, this time to spend a weekend exploring Big Bend National Park. The drive there was interesting as we passed among other things the infamous Prada store in Valentine, TX. We couldn't stop for photos, though as that stretch of road was under construction. We also saw several dead coyotes on the side of the road, but not a single roadrunner. Hmmmm.... A low point, however was a lot of fresh oil on the road along a stretch of construction. Weeks later I'm still trying to get it all off the truck and camper. We drove on to Marathon, TX a very small town east of Alpine, TX (a slightly less small town) and stopped at the Marathon RV park. A nice smaller RV park with a beautiful courtyard area, super-nice owners and great dark skies for star-gazing. That night, while exploring the town, we met a local who informed us that it was the night of the big valentines dance in town. It draws all the young ranchers from out of town and can be a bit of a hoot. Live music, food, etc. We contemplated going, but weren't sure how kid friendly it would be and we were tired. We could hear the commotion from our campsite well into the night. In hindsight, I wish we'd gone if only for a little while just for the experience of it.
The awesome sky/view from the Marathon RV Park
Sunday after a nice breakfast at a local cafe where we met a young German man bicycling his way across country, we headed south to Big Bend. There is much to see and do in this very large park and we only had one day. So we spent most of the day driving around the various scenic roads of the park and were constantly amazed by the view around each turn. We particularly enjoyed the drive into Chisos Basin and the view from Sotol Vista as well as getting to see lots of javelina and more roadrunners and lizards! We had planned one short hike as that's all we had time for and headed for Santa Elena Canyon. This is where the Rio Grande River (redundant, I know, Rio means River after all) dramatically cuts through the Sierra De Santa Elena. It did not disappoint. The hike was beautiful and it was a lovely if windy day for a hike. Just under two miles round trip, Crayton was a trooper again, loving the challenge of the trail and enjoying the views and the opportunity to throw rocks into the river (trying to hit Mexico on the other side).
Learning about Dinosaurs in Big Bend NP
The View from Sotol Vista
The Entrance to Santa Elana Canyon
Crayton "getting his energies" for the hike up
The view down Santa Elena Canyon
Fresh off the hike, we took a 4wd only road north to Terlingua. Pam always gets nervous when I choose the dotted line road on the map, but having a real truck for the first time in my life, it's too fun to resist. Terlingua was a cool little town particularly once we stumbled into the old ghost town area. It's an old ghost town once inhabited by Cinnabar miners before the mine went bust and the town was left deserted. It's now a sort of artist and misfit magnet and features the Starlight Theater (closed while we were there) and the Terlingua Trading Company. The later is famous for the impromptu jam sessons on its large front porch most nice evenings and that was in full swing as we drove in. The music was great, the beer cold and the people super-nice. It was one of those awesome moments of randomness that drive this adventure. It was getting late though and we were 100 miles from the camper, so we headed back, stopping for a Mexican feast at a small restaurant in Alpine, oddly the only open Mexican restaurant in this fair sized town on a Sunday night.
Jamming on the front porch of the Terlingua Trading Company
Dancing in the parking lot!
Awesome West Texas skies on the drive back
Monday morning found us packing up and heading further east into the Hill Country west of San Antonio.