Friday, 26 March 2010

The Lost Mine Trail

An early morning drive on Wednesday took us high up into the Chisos Basin, our destination was the Lost Mine trail.
Chisos Basin Road
We were the second vehicle in the parking area. Another warning of a mountain lion frequenting the area which could possibly be aggressive greeted us as we set off up the shady trail. Suprisingly, I walk much faster when there’s a bear or lion warning at the trail head, although what difference walking faster makes is anyones guess.

Legend has it that if you are in the right place at the right time of the year, the sun will shine on the entrance to a long lost silver mine, that was either found and then lost or was hidden by the Indians after they were used a slave labour to mine it. Needless to say it didn't shine in the right place today. Ah well guess it's back to checking my lottery tickets!

It’s a 5 mile round trip, and climbs quite steeply up switchbacks there are some wonderful views and it's one of our favourite trails in Big Bend National Park.

Casa Grande

Juniper Canyon
The trail has seats at some viewpoints and steps and culverts built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. As this is a mountain trail there are different types of trees, several different sorts of oak and juniper, including a Mexican weeping juniper which actually looks as though it’s dying.

The Window
Animals can and do use the trail, after all why push through the brush when there is a nice easy trail to use, and people can and do walk into bears and mountain lions, although today, we only walked into a deer. We rounded a switchback and there it was delicately stepping down the trail, we stopped, it stopped and looked at us then after sniffing the air carried on towards us, unfortunately some people coming up further behind us spooked it and off it went leaping into the brush and out of sight.

It was a lovely hike, sunny and warm and we didn’t meet a lion!

The sunny trail on the way down
Have fun, we are!

Bobcats & Vultures

On Monday, we were driving from Rio Grande Village towards Daniels Ranch for lunch, just past the RV park and the old overflow camping area something grey sprang out of the brush and dashed into the road. Mike braked to a standstill. Our first thought was it’s a dog, but dogs aren’t allowed to roam loose in the national parks. As we watched it continued to run and then sprang into the brush on the other side of the road. Grey, similar size to a big dog, runs like a cat, springs into the brush, we’d seen a bobcat! Surprisingly this was in the middle of a hot sunny day and within a stones throw of people on either side. Wow! No pictures I’m afraid as it was to fast.

We continued on to Daniels Ranch, Daniels Ranch is the site of an old floodplain farm.

It’s very pretty with cottonwoods dotting the area.
Today we were lucky enough to find a picnic bench, the other benches filled quickly. Some large black birds with brown under their wings were circling overhead, one of them decided to land, soon to be followed by its mate.
Turkey Vultures!
They didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered by the people and were quite happily wandering around, there were French, American and English at the picnic benches, so who knows maybe they were deciding what to have for lunch?

We left them with a choice between French and American as we headed off on a short hike to the Rio Grande overlook.

It’s only a very short hike, but a steep uphill climb all the way and boy was it hot! Ocotillo was in bloom as was the candellila. Candellila looks similar to a reed and can be used to produce wax which is used for various things including lipstick. At one time there were candellila camps all over the area.
The view from the overlook is very pretty, but thankfully it’s downhill all the way back!
Have fun, we are!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Monday, 22 March, Hot Springs & Bluebonnets

A gloriously hot sunny morning, we took a drive down to the Hot Springs on the Rio Grande. Back before the park existed and until the mid 1950’s, the Hot Springs had a store, as well as a tourist motel and people came from long distances to use the bathhouses over the Hot Springs.

The drive down to the hot springs is interesting, a little way down the dirt road there is a sign saying, no trailers, no RV’s no dual wheeled vehicles, beyond this point. There is a parking area so if your vehicle is to big or you are of a nervous disposition, you can walk down. I’d previously checked with the ranger who said our truck should be have no problems driving down.

From this point on the road divides into a one way system, and is narrow, very narrow, on one side is a jagged cliff on the other is a sheer drop down into a creek bed. We pulled in the mirrors and continued.

Oh I forgot to mention as well as being very narrow, it is full of S-curves as well. Mike watched his side and I watched mine, he trying to make sure we didn’t fall into the creek bed (it does happen!) me watching to make sure we didn’t scratch the truck on one of the rocks without getting my head knocked off. Have you ever tried looking out of the window to check the side of the road without actually sticking your head out? Trust me it's not easy! But we made it! Needless to say I didn’t take any photographs as I was more interested in keeping my head on my shoulders and us staying on the road!

The parking area is beside the remains of a house, with Tornillo Creek on one side, the store and Rio Grande in front. The house has some interesting fossils built into a window and door.
Unfortunately at it’s by the river this parking area also has a sign warning that frequent theft from vehicles does occur.

We walked down to the store which was once of huge importance and people from all over the area and from across the Rio Grande in Mexico came to buy goods and trade.
From there it was a short walk to the remains of the tourist motel, used by visitors to the hot springs.
The jagged cliffs that line the edge of the trail to the hot springs have some interesting Indian pictographs, but they have been vandalised and one section was completely cut out of the cliffs but I'm not sure when that happened.

The bath houses are no more as they were demolished by the park service some years ago, but the stone foundations remain on the edge of the Rio Grande.
The hot spring still gushes out of a corner of the bath house (if you look carefully at the right hand side of the photograph there is a small hole near the river) remains and is wonderfully warm and feels fabulous, the plan was to soak our feet for a while and enjoy the view, usually you are able to sit in the water up to your neck. Unfortunately all but a couple of inches of the remains were full of river mud which looked very uninviting so we didn’t bother.

On the way back to the truck we walked down to Tornillo Creek, which actually has some water in it, bluebonnets and other wild flowers were growing on the creek bed.
We followed the creek round to where it joins the Rio Grande and then climbed up the river bank to the store.
After that we had the nerve racking journey back out on the very narrow, curvey road, but hey we made it. Wish I’d remembered to walk back and take photographs of that road though!

Have fun, we are!

Sunday, 21 March, Grapevine Hills

Rolling hills covered in soft green vines leading to a cool terrace and a glass of chilled wine. C’mon this is West Texas! Chilled wine in the evening absolutely; but no rolling green hills at least not here in Big Bend.

A 6.5 mile dirt road leads from the park road to Grapevine Hills, there is a small parking area then the road continues for another couple of miles to a camping area and the remains of an old ranch. Unfortunately we didn’t find that out until we got back on the pavement and no way was Mike turning round and going back for me to have a look, can’t imagine why?
It’s an easy trail that follows a sandy wash through the red rock canyon before ending at a ridge where the trail climbs for a short while before ending at balanced rock, through which there are extensive views of the park.

Grapevine Hills is a laccolith, a mushroom shaped intrusion of magma from an ancient eruption and is full of hoodoos and strange shaped rocks, and yes I did read that on the trail information board.
All along the trail the cactus and desert flowers are starting to bloom, some of the yucca’s are just about to come out, the smell is heavenly when they do.
There were also some nests among the cactus, guess if there are no trees you nest where you can!
Have fun, we are!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Life in the Bend

We arrived in the Big Bend region of Texas just over a week ago. We’re camped at the Stillwell Store & RV park which is a long way from anywhere.
Today we needed secure internet acess so we drove 30 miles to a picnic area before we could get a signal on our Verizon aircard. Yesterday we went grocery shopping to Alpine and it was a 150 mile round trip. I’ll never complain about having to go to Sainsburys again!
Alpine is a friendly little town, with no parking restrictions! Park where you like as long as you’re not blocking the way and the kerb isn’t painted, red, blue or yellow and for free! How different is that than at home!

We took a walk around the town and stopped at the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University on the way home. Stagecoach and Soldier Exhibit.

There was also a Trappings of Texas exhibition which consisted of paintings, jewellery, sculptures, bronzes, handcrafted ropes, saddles and much more, some of the saddles were beautiful and very expensive, I think the one below was $22,000.00. Isn't it gorgeous?

Museum of the Big Bend is a small but very interesting museum.

The Stillwell Store & RV park is the home of the legendary west Texas Ranch Woman Hallie Crawford Stillwell and is still home to her descendents. Hallie Crawford met Roy Stillwell and fell in love, Hallie was 20 Roy was 40 her parents objected so they ran away to Alpine and got married. Pretty daring stuff for 1918! The rest is history and the stuff of legends.

Roy and Hallie
Hallie’s Hall of Fame is a museum about her life and achievements and is well worth a visit. Hallie was a school teacher, a rancher, a Justice of the Peace and an author, she wrote two books about her life, ‘I’ll Gather My Geese’ about her early years and ‘My Goose is Cooked’ which tells about her life after Roy’s death in 1948, she died two months shy of her 100th birthday.

Hallie Stillwell outside Hallie's Hall of Fame Museum
We are about 10 miles from the Persimmon Gap entrance to Big Bend National Park, note I said the entrance, we average between 100 – 150 miles a day depending on where we hike just driving round the park.

We took a hike into Santa Elena canyon on the west side of the park, it’s only a short hike, but very pretty, the Rio Grande river flows through the canyon and is the border between the USA and Mexico.

Looking into Santa Elena Canyon US on the right, Mexico on the left.
Looking out of Santa Elena Canyon into Big Bend National Park, the Chisos Mountains are in the far distance.
On a partly cloudy windy day we hiked into Dog Canyon, so called because some early pioneers found a dog guarding a fully laden wagon but no people. Dog Canyon was also used by the US army as part of an experiment using camels rather than horses to cross the vast distances in the region. It proved that camels crossed the same area in 60% of the time taken by horses. Nothing came of it due to the American Civil War. While Dog Canyon is a pretty trail it’s not somewhere you’d want to be on a rainy day as part of the hike takes you through Nine Point Draw which is a deep wash running through the canyon. The first drop down into Nine Point Draw.
It is also just the sort of place, where in the very best John Wayne movies, Comanche war parties would be waiting high on the canyon walls for unwary travellers, trust me I checked very carefully! Nine Point Draw where it goes through Dog CanyonBoquillas Canyon is at the eastern end of the park and also has the Rio Grande international border running through it.
There are ancient Indian grinding holes on the rocks just to the right of the steps down into the canyon.

Before 9/11 you could cross into Boquillas, Mexico for lunch and to buy souvenirs, however since then all the informal border crossings have been closed and if you’re found on the wrong side of the border you’re deported to Presidio 100 miles away.

Although Boquillas made crafts can be bought in the stores in the national park Mexican craftsmen still cross the river with Sotol Walking Sticks and jewellery for people to buy, but if you’re caught in possession of items bought from the Mexican craftsment, there are heavy penalties for both you and the Mexican. Mexican crafts for sale on display
Of course in between all this activity there has been a lot of sitting around in the sun, you have no idea how tough retirement is!

Have fun, we are!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


On a beautiful sunny morning we took a drive to Fredericksburg, our destination was the Admiral Nimitz Museum and the National Museum of the War in the Pacific. Both incredibly interesting and really well done, each time you visit you’d probably find something you’d missed before.

The Admiral Nimitz Museum was originally the Nimitz hotel and run by the Nimitz family. After the family sold the hotel it was renovated with a ‘mission style façade’ added, it operated as a hotel until the mid 60’s, I think. The facade was eventually restored to its original unique steam boat look but is higher than it was when the Nimitz family owned it.

After our tour of the museums lunch called, we found a fabulous bakery & café called Rather Sweet, the half sandwiches were huge full of fresh ingredients and the bread was baked that morning, delicious. As for the tuxedo cake we shared well, we thought we’d died and gone to heaven, rich chocolate cake filled with homemade gnache and covered in chocolate, it was absolutely scrumptious.

We needed to walk it off, so we headed off down Main Street, if you’re in need of retail therapy this is the place to come, you could wander along quite happily for several days, or do I mean weeks? Not sure, but needless to say I was banned not even the promise to just look worked, ah well!

At the end of Main Street, we visited the Pioneer Museum which again was really interesting one of the exhibits, not the one below, was in its original location.

This store was on Main Street, right opposite the Pioneer Museum, believe me we were tempted, but it was so hot, they’d never have made it back to the truck, really it would’ve been the heat, honest!

Isn't this seat gorgeous, it was outside the candy store and no I didn't go in there either

Have fun, we are!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A short hike to the Medina River

It was a short hike, only 1/3 of a mile each way, but hey we don’t want to over do it.

The Medina river rises near the town of Medina about 16 miles away, it’s a crystal clear and green. Yes green, I'm not sure but I believe it is caused by copper in the water, but please don’t quote me as I may have that totally wrong!

Our walk started here at the RV park and wound around a field containing some very friendly donkeys and some Texas longhorns with some very long horns, we chatted to the donkeys but gave the longhorns a very wide berth.

We continued along past a lovely white gazebo with a picnic area, through some juniper trees with deer grazing and shortly after arrived at the river, where there were more picnic benches.

A trail led down to the rivers edge, so we wandered down for a look around and then returned to the picnic benches to sit a while and soak up the sun.

You have absolutely no idea just how demanding retirement is. Ah well, such is life!

Have fun, we are!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Bandera, Cowboy Capital of the World

We left San Felipe on a lovely sunny Thursday morning on our drive to Bandera, The Cowboy Capital of the World. I10 wasn’t too busy we took the loop round San Antonio and then I10 Boerne that route was kinda curvier and steeper than we remembered, oops!

It was mid afternoon when we arrived at the RV park we got ourselves all set up then headed downtown. Bandera is a really small town, population 657, but it is full of tourists, there is usually one long queue of traffic down 16 which is the main street through town.
We checked out the menu at the Old Santa Fe Trail restaurant and decided to have dinner. The restaurant has a room full of pictures dedicated to John Wayne and a TV showing John Wayne movies. On the menu they have a ‘Duke’ burger which must be huge as we both had 6oz burgers and were struggling to finish them. After that it was back home and time for a nice cold beer.

We’ve visited The Frontier Times Museum in Bandera. The Museum has some interesting exhibits, including these two:

A 1920's permanent wave, no thanks think I’ll keep mine straight!
A real shrunken head, the result of a family feud, remind me to be nice to everyone!

The current plan is to stay in Bandera for a week or so, but who knows, we don’t!

Have fun, we are!

Friday, 5 March 2010

We’re on the road

We’ve been busy this week, our last couple of days at Livingston were busy sorting things out and getting ready to move.

We left on Wednesday, here we are all hitched up and ready to roll.
Our first overnight stop was at the Stephen F Austin State Park, in San Felipe, Texas. The park ranger who booked us in was really nice and directed us to our site, the sites are set in a loop one on each side and all the utilities are on the road side. Our site was a large pull through, with our own picnic table and grill set among all the trees.
The trees are all covered in Spanish moss and most have huge vines coiled around the trunks.
We took a walk through the trees along the Sycamore trail and down to the Brazos river it’s very wide and fast flowing I definitely wouldn’t want to swim in there.
We also visited the San Felipe de Austin state historic site
In a nutshell, San Felipe was once the colonial capital of Texas and was burned by the townspeople as they fled Santa Ana after the attack on the Alamo.

The site is usually unmanned, but we were very lucky as there was a representative from the Texas State Historical Society on site and she gave us a guided tour. We were shown the well containing handmade bricks, allowed to look inside the JJ Josey General Store which is closed as it’s currently unsafe

We were shown the inside of the replica of Stephen F Austin’s log cabin she was very enthusiastic and very interesting. I must get a book on Texas history.

There’s a nice picnic area by the river, there’s a lot of Texas history here and while there’s not a lot to see it’s well worth a visit, I hope we get to come back one day.

Have fun, we are!