Discovering Deserts (April 29 - May 7, 2019)
With over 9,000 miles under our belt, we still discover new things daily. This past week has been especially interesting exploring South West Texas and Southern New Mexico.
After leaving Junction, TX, we diverted our route to Big Bend National Park based on several recommendations. It was about 4 hours out of the way, but in retrospect, totally worth the trip! "Splendid Isolation" is a boasting factor of this National Park and we completely agree. In this remote...and when I write "remote", I mean "out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-and-make-sure-to-have-extra-water-and-gas-on-you" kind of place...you have the opportunity to learn about the unique ecosystems and plants that exist here. For example, did you know that within Big Bend National Park there are over 1,500 types of plants (check out Ocotillo and Torrey Yucca) and that you can experience forested mountains AND desert planes all in one place?
We stayed at the Stillwell Store and RV Park, about 6 miles outside Big Bend. It had a Full Hook up and a little shop with essentials. There aren't any stores (or buildings for that matter) for miles and miles so it was convenient to have one at the RV park. Big Bend was the first National Park we went to so Ted was able to get his Lifetime pass to National Parks based on his DV (Disabled Veteran) status. Since we only had an afternoon and one full day in the park, we planned this itinerary:
Day 1: Panther Junction Visitor Center, Chisos Basin, Fossil Discovery Exhibit
We watched the video at Panther Junction. The Chisos Basin offers beautiful views and is basically located in the center of the park. The Fossil Discovery exhibit was very informative - Did you know that millions of years ago North America was divided and that the Big Bend was actually under water....along with NM, CO, WY, MT....etc....
Day 2: Boquillas Canyon Overlook & Trail, Santa Elena Canyon Overlook & Trail, Terlingua Ghost Town (outside the park on the West).
Boquillas Canyon Trail started with a short climb, then descends via a sandy path to the river. The walk is 1.4 miles out and back and takes about an hour. Santa Elena Canyon is 1.6 miles out and back and takes about 1 hour...feels much longer in midday sun FYI. You climb up and then down into a little area where you can get into the Rio Grande. Ted crossed over into Mexico and back (don't tell anyone). As we started this trail, my boot sole unattached about 80% from my boot. I was able to tie it up to get the hike done...thank goodness because this place is spectacular! If you only have time for one day, Santa Elena Canyon is a MUST! Terilingua is literally a Ghost Town...but we had a delicious lunch at one of the very few places that were open and serving food at 3pm.
We feel this itinerary maximized our time there but it was quite tiring... and a midday hike was less than pleasant. I think if we had 3-4 days in the park, it would have been better. Regardless, Big Bend National Park is a magnificent place and we highly recommend checking it out!
On May 1st, we proceeded onto El Paso, TX. I wasted no time getting my butt into a Zumba class. One of the Zumba Instructors from Ft. Benning, GA had just transferred to El Paso so it was pretty neat to know another person in class. Ft. Bliss' shopping area, Freedom Crossing, is phenomenal. By far, the best one I have seen on a military installation so far. They even have a Buffalo Wild Wings, which we had lunch at with an old Drill. May 2nd and 3rd were spent running errands and having meals with phenomenal friends. I went to my first Cabela's store - an outdoor equipment/clothing store. Ted and I invested in some serious hiking boots so we can protect our more experienced feet and do some more intense exploring. Saturday, May 4th, we prepped for one of our largest parties yet. Also, it's a special day because my Dad is bringing Azlan back! Unfortunately they missed the first flight in Miami and spent all day in Dallas on stand by. Meanwhile, we grilled....well the grill master grilled, we drank, told stories, visited with old friends, met new friends and had a blast. By the time Vovo and Azlan landed, the party was on the down swing but my wonderful friend took me to the airport to get them. I cried like a baby when I hugged Azlan. We let the kids play for a bit after we got back and we wrapped up just after midnight.
Sunday, May 5th - Happy Cinco de Mayo! On this day we drive about an hour to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. This place is like an Oasis in the desert. The white sand (actually Gypsum) stays within this unique area's confines and doesn't get hot under your feet. This is the only place in the world that boasts this kind of environment according to the intro video we watched at the Visitor's Center. From now on, we will go to the Visitor's Center first and watch any videos they have on the park. Great way to learn about what you will see and get an idea of what you want to do while enjoying the park. We slid down the dunes, got really sandy, laughed a lot. Another family joined us out there and we had a great time. Our Sunday was concluded by a fantastic steak dinner at a friend's house. It was SO wonderful to see everyone that was here and I even got one of the best hugs ever!
Yesterday, May 6th, #thedrivingartist (no, no, not me....it's Ted), drove to Albuquerque, NM. It was a smooth drive with no problems, Amen! Those are the best kind of moves! The mountain ranges in this area of the country are gorgeous. I'm curious to see the Rocky's next week. I feel like I will be going into a whole new environment - reminds me of when we went from Turkey to Russia in terms of landscape, cultural and architectural juxtaposition. Upon arrival at the Kirtland FamCamp, we got set up in record time. I'm proud to say that we have finally become proficient in setting up the RV and packing it up #poundwinning. Shortly after, we drove to Isleta Pueblo to meet up with my cousin. He's studying abroad and is a Roping Champion. None of us had seen Roping before. It's a sport where a team of 2, on horses, rope the head and back legs of a small cow. It's hard work and these young men made it look easy. Next we visited a Church from the 1600s in the Pueblo - or the Native American Indian Reservation - one of 19 in New Mexico of Pueblo Indians. My cousin's host family is lovely and rich with heritage and history. The night concluded with a nice Brazilian Steakhouse dinner.
Alas, the last week has been ripe with discovery...not only of magical deserts, but of new people and places as well. Stay tuned for next week's adventure week-cap.
Daisa, Ted and Azlan