Saturday, November 10, 2007

From New Mexico to Texas

Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007

A passionate life. What feeds passion? Enthusiasm. Perseverance. Intuition. Explore new horizons. My passion for the RV life is alive and well.

Things are wrapped up at Pancho Villa State Park: my volunteer vest is returned, the keys to the laundry and computer room have been handed back to Ranger/Manager Victor, and good-byes have been said to the other volunteers. Yesterday evening was a farewell-to-Carol/welcome-to-Scott and Carole Happy Hour at Gwen and Jim’s RV. Cat is in the Jeremiah and things are stowed for travel.

I’m off to the beginning of a three-plus month trip. But, first stops in Deming for groceries. I was expecting a 90-mile drive from to Las Cruces, NM. That relied on finding the right Interstate exit. That was not to be and it turned into a 113 mile drive. No problem. I finally found Sunny Acres RV Park and met up with friend Carol Rayburn and her cat Zia. About an hour later, friend Elizabeth Baldridge, and her three cats, Cady, Sunny, and Tux, arrived. The “Winnie Trio” were gathered and ready to start our Texas Adventure.

And here the three of us are at Boquillas Canyon, near the canyon’s mouth. L to R: Carol R, Carol A. Elizabeth

We gathered and discovered we all had blue shirts on! It was time to roll out on I-10. We entered Texas near El Paso, stopping at the Texas Visitor Center where we gathered up pounds of glossy, colorful brochures and maps that covered areas we planned to visit. Here we became Winter Texans – what the Texans call winter visitors, instead of snowbirds.

The loose plans are to wander around southern Texas, including the Big Bend area, San Antonio and Fredricksburg before arriving in the Corpus Christi area by the end of November. Never having been to south Texas, this would be a ‘first’ for us. Itinerary would be worked out along the way – the only ‘for sure’ thing is to have short driving days, keep speed under 60 mph, and have Happy Hour each evening.

Starting December 1, we will meet up with another Winnebago friend, Roberta Cox, to spend December and January at Driftwood RV Haven in Fulton, Texas, a couple blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to avoid harsh winter, have fun, and explore the Gulf area – oh, yes, also to continue Happy Hours.

First Texas stop was Mountain View RV Park in Van Horn, Texas

Monday’s drive was 160 miles east to Van Horn, Texas. The drive was livened up by the passing of a lot of NASCAR 18-wheelers – on their way west to a race in Phoenix. The trucks were brightly pained with drivers’ names and sponsor logos.

Another brief stop was the U.S. Border Patrol station. Carol R in the lead with Elizabeth behind her were waved through – I was stopped. The agent asked, “Are the three of you traveling together?” I answered, yes. His next question, before sending me on my way, was, “By yourselves?!” I smiled and said, yes, before driving off. Even though there are plenty of single gals traveling in RVs, we still seem an oddity to many. The usual comment is: “You are so brave!” Or from many women, “I could never do that.”

At those times, I remember what William Least Heat Moon had to say in his book Blue Highways:

The hardest thing – having the gumption to live different

and the sense to let everybody else live different.

During this leg of the trip, we realized how confusing it was to have two people with the same first name, and we didn’t want to ‘advertise’ our names. So we established “names” to communicate on our CBs. With two “Carols” out of the three, it would be confusing. We decided to call ourselves “Winnies” because we all drive Winnebagos. I pulled Age Rank and became Winnie 1, Carol Rayburn is Winnie 2, and Elizabeth is Winnie 3.

The RV Park in Van Horn was nothing special, we parked on grass/weeds, and I managed to track in a bunch of sticky thistles. Morning brought a pretty stiff wind, giving us a headwind for much of the drive to Balmorhea State Park. It is a delightful Texas State Park. We made the most of the rest of the afternoon and early Tuesday morning.

Balmorhea State Park (Bal – mor – ray)

The drive to Balmorhea was a whopping 50 miles! The park has a huge V-shaped hot spring-fed swimming pool that is naturally heated to 72 to 76 degrees, and a large wetlands preserve. We drove to a nearby lake – the only body of water for miles around – and drove through the tiny town. The most interesting sight in the town was this old vehicle. Perhaps it was someone’s homemade motorhome! In the evening, we roughed out our itinerary – promising to be flexible as opportunities arose.

Davis Mountains State Park, just outside Fort Davis, Texas

After three days if driving – albeit short ones – it was time to settle in for a few days. As we checked in to the park, it made sense to purchase the Texas State Park annual pass. It provides us with reduced camping fees, camping coupons, discounts at park stores, entrance to non-camping state parks/attractions, and the Texas State Parks magazine. Jeremiah nestled nicely in a camping spot that would give nice shade.

We were barely set up when the “locals” came to greet us. They were overly friendly and a bit of a nuisance until they realized we would not be feeding them. During our three days at the park, they visited at least twice a day.

We had other less-welcome visitors.

Carol Rayburn helped me get a harness on Cat. I put Cat on a leash and took her outside a bit. Cat was not thrilled because she is used to running free, but this will not be an option on the trip. When the three of us met at a picnic table for dinner, I had Cat on a leash and Carol R had Zia on a leash. As we sat around after dinner, it got dark and we just had a small light on the table. A rustling in the nearby bushes interrupted our conversation. A flashlight beam showed a short, bristly-backed animal – a javelina. (ha veh LEE na)

Nearly in unison we said: “Get the cats!” Carol R. headed to Zia, I turned to pick up Cat. She had already managed to escape her harness/leash and run under Jeremiah. Elizabeth jumped up on the picnic table! What a hoot! At least once the cats were safe and our commotion had sent the javelinas away.

I had bought a small book on javelina and now seemed a good idea to read more about this critter. First of all, they are not pigs or hogs. They have large heads, delicate, slender legs, and relatively small feet. Their hair is wiry and bristly, some hairs reach six inches in length. Also called collared peccaries, they are near-sighted. They live in a word of scent and sound. And they also have a pungent, skunky odor. They can grunt, bark, woof, and growl. They have four toes on their forefeet, but only three on the hind feet, short tails usually hidden under their hair, and short, rounded ears that stand upright. They have 38 teeth – including two straight, canine teeth that protrude upwards from their lower jaw. Babies, called piglings, are one-pound miniature javelinas and trail mom like little stick-tights. What starts out as a cute, tiny baby will one day become a 40 to 50 pound adult with an attitude – and a javelina’s razor-sharp canine teeth inflict a nasty bite.

We had been warned not to put any coolers outside on the ground. But my two heavy-duty, securely-lidded storage boxes only had tire covers and canned goods inside. So I locked them below my picnic table. The next morning it was very obvious that my boxes were tempting to the javelinas. Here’s what one box lid looked like in the morning.

The state park was our base for exploring the nearby attractions.

Fort Davis National Park

This early fort was home to many of the Buffalo Soldiers – black soldiers who had been called “buffalo” because of their stiff, curly and furry hair reminded them of buffalo hair/fur. The fort was restored by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). Our tour of the several of the buildings are furnished as they were in the olden days, started with a video.

The town of Fort Davis

At a little more than 5,000 feet elevation, this is the highest town in the state. Carol Rayburn and I explored the one-street downtown of Fort Davis, and were amazed to find a broom maker at work. PHOTO of broom maker. As he worked, he explained his process, told about the very old jigs and machinery he used. And, I bought one of his “utility brooms.”

The McDonald Observatory, near Fort Davis

The observatory, with three telescopes, is one of the major astronomical research facilities in the world. We were in time for the 2:30 tour which started in the theater with a presentation and viewing of “live” pictures being taken of the sun: sunspots, flares, etc. The original telescope was a joint venture between the University of Texas (which didn’t have an astronomy program at the time) and the University of Chicago. The newest telescope, the Hobby-Everly, has the world’s largest telescope mirror. Check it out at

Marfa – and the “mystery lights”

The “famous and mysterious” Marfa Lights enticed us to make the drive to the railroad town of Marfa. After a delicious barbecue dinner, we drove nine miles out of town to the viewing area. Here’s what is said about them: “Marfa Mystery Lights are visible n many clear nights between Marfa and Paisano Pass as one looks towards the Chinati Mountains. The lights may appear in various colors as they move about, split apart, melt together, disappear and reappear. The lights were first sighted in 1883. Viewers’ theories range from scientific to science fiction – UFO, ranch hose lights, St. Elmo’s fire or electrostatic discharge, swamp gases, moonlight shining on veins of mica, ghosts of Conquistadors searching for gold. The mystery remains unsolved.” Skeptical me – actually saw it/them.