Visiting Boquillas, Mexico

While at Big Bend National Park I made some noises about wanting to cross over into Mexico at least once just. I also wanted a taco. Of course, I’d love to go for a longer visit but our beloved kitty cats; Kia and Kekovar, are something of an obstacle to international travel. Getting them cleared to cross over would require some vet visits, some payments, and a fair bit of paperwork. Thus, for now, it’s day trips only to Canada and Mexico.

A little history

Fortunately for us, Big Bend has a fairly unique opportunity for visiting Mexico in the village of Boquillas del Carmen. Back in the 1930’s, there was a US-Mexico effort to improve relations between the two countries who had a troubled past mostly owing to the US taking a lot of their territory in war. They decided to try and create a peace park, which would take the form of a continuous national park spanning the border of  Texas and Mexico. The peace park never really came together. The US side did become Big Bend National Park but over on the Mexican side, it was pretty much a park in name only and little effort was made in preserving the landscape or wildlife.

The village of Boquillas del Carmen none the less came into being on the Mexico side and made a modest living from American tourists visiting the park on the US side, and then crossing over the Rio Grande to visit their small town. All that came to screeching halt after 9/11 and US visitors were prohibited from crossing there. The village shrank down to about 30 families and most of the business catering to tourists shut down. It was not until 2012 that the US re-opened the border crossing and life began to return to Boquillas del Carmen.

Boquillas, Mexico

Boquillas, Mexico. This is main street in the town. The electricity is a new thing and the green building is the main store in town.

Getting there

We didn’t do our research when heading to Boquillas. All we knew is there was a border crossing to a town in Mexico. I pictured one of those drive-through border crossings you see in the films or find on highways into Canada. I also imagined various businesses catering to American tourists in what I imagined to be a sleepy but roughly modern town. None of this was the case. While we had our passports with us, we were otherwise unprepared.

The Crossing is really just parking lot and a customs station on the US side run by homeland security. You cannot drive through, you must park and then walk through. You will need a passport and they will give you a breakdown of the rules of what you can bring through and what you can’t. Most of the focus is on not bringing back any animals, vegetables, or minerals local to the area as well as no booze or drugs. They also let you know that you will need to bring cash as there are no ATMs on the Mexican side and they don’t take credit cards anywhere.

Boquillas Boat Ride

Here is our boatman. I think he’s also essentially in charge of the guides and transportation efforts in the town.

After you pass through you will need to cross the Rio Grande. Your choices are to pay a gentleman to take you over in a rowboat, or to walk/swim across on your own. The boatman only takes cash. Same goes for everyone in the village of Boquillas so you will need to bring enough to pay for everyone’s crossing and whatever you intend to spend while there. Once across the river, you must make a short Journey to the village itself. You can either walk about a mile on a dusty road, hire a truck to take you or hire a mule/horse to carry you. While making these arrangements you can also employ a local as a guide to show you around at an hourly rate. Again, all cash, all in US dollars. The prices are not very steep. We paid $5 per head for the river crossing and decided to walk to the village.

Once you arrive you will need to check in with officials on their side. The woman we were directed to didn’t speak any English and asked us questions in Spanish that we couldn’t answer. We filled out some paperwork and given a stamp. We had been told there would be a fee by the US officials, but we were not asked to pay anything in the Village.

Two of the more adorable mounts you can choose from to take you up to the village.

What you will find there

Boquillas is a very small town of about 200 residents. Nearly all the houses are one story adobe dwellings and you can walk from one end of the town to the other in about 15 minutes. Many of the houses are painted in bright colors which look pretty from a distance. Nearly everyone you are likely to see in Boquillas is going to try and sell you something. They are not pushy, but everywhere in town the locals have set up little tables where they offer three things.

  1. Cloth banners with images painted on them, either religious, cartoon characters, or Mexican flags
  2. Agave Stalks that are painted with snakes or other colorful designs that make great walking sticks
  3. Little animal figurines sculpted from wire and glass beads

All of these crafts seem to either come from the same makers, or the village residents have all decided that these three things, in these particular styles, are the ultimate desire of your typical American tourist. Each is clearly hand made, but the style and subject matter is remarkably consistent. We were told on the US side that all these items were fine to bring back unless any stones were used in the figurines. We were also told not by buy painted stones but I didn’t see any for sale. We didn’t buy anything since we just don’t have room for novelties in the trailer but I did hand out quarters to small children who tried to ply me with these goods.

Folks from Boquillas, Mexico make trinkets and try to sell them at Big Bend National Park. You're not suppose to buy anything according to federal rules.

Here are some of the wire figures. These were actually on display inside the park with a tip jar so you can pay. It is actually illegal to buy these on the US side but that doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced.

There were a few businesses on what could best be called main street. The was a kind of internet cafe for the locals where we observed Mexican police or military with automatic rifles. There were a few restaurants, only two of which were open, and a bar or two that looked to be shuttered more or less permanently. Also a liquor store and possibly general store. One of the restaurants also served as an inn and had a gift shop that was selling more typical Mexican objects de-art. As of 2015, the Village has electric power through a nearby solar plant. Prior to that, it was generator only.

Notable non-commercial buildings include a single classroom school and the local church. Both have a lot of rustic charm to them with the church appearing to be one of the older buildings in town. I’ve come to appreciate than in many towns in the southwest, visiting the local historic Catholic church is almost always worthwhile and it was probably the most interesting single location in the town.

Most of the residents here do not speak English despite the prevalence of the tourist trade. The boatmen, some of the guides, and the owner of the restaurant we ate at were the only exceptions we encountered.

The landscape here is both beautiful and desolate. This shows some of the painted banners they sell everywhere in town.

Authentic Mexican food achieved

I like Mexican food, or at least I like some of what passes for Mexican food in the US. At least 90% of the Mexican restaurants I visit claim that they offer “authentic Mexican food” and I’ve always been highly dubious of those claims, especially after tasting them. So here I was with the opportunity to finally discover what was or was not “authentic.” I picked the larger of the two restaurants, the one with the inn and gift shop. It also had the distinction of having a nice patio where you could eat and look out over the Rio Grande.

I ordered a plate of red chili enchiladas which came with beans and rice. I spent a while reading the menu which had information about the history of the town. I asked our server about the history of the restaurant. It turned out she was actually its owner. She’d inherited it from her mother who ran it for some 30 years. It had shut down when the border was closed but her daughter had reopened it in the last few years. She claimed that the recipes they used were her mothers. I hadn’t asked, but this convinced me my meal would indeed be authentic Mexican food.

I was not disappointing. While it was not the best enchilada I’ve ever had, it was definitely in the upper echelon. The sauce was very nice and the chicken tasted fresh. It included some cotija cheese crumbled on top, though not a whole lot of it. All in all, it had a bright chili flavor with a little bit of heat. Great stuff. The beans were simple but good, and the rice was very soft with large grains, clearly cooked in a seasoned broth. Trail ordered tortilla chips and salsa as she just wasn’t very hungry. Both were clearly hand made. The salsa had a real kick and tasted super fresh. The chips were pretty thick and not all that great so far as corn chips go.

Based on this experience I’d say the Authenticity of most Mexican restaurants in the US is pretty suspect, but definitely not all. I’ve had some very similar enchiladas in a number of restaurants throughout the US. The most common departure is the use of cheddar cheese. Next up would be the enchilada sauce which gets sweetened in some Americanized restaurants. In total, and for enchiladas, I’d say the differences are not vast and for enjoyment, quality of ingredients and care in preparation matter more than Authenticity but I’m happy to have a standard for comparison now.

Here is the archway on the American side of the border crossing that leads down to the Rio Grande.

Wrapping up

If you visit Boquillas, you want to keep track of the time and get back before they US border crossing closes. Otherwise, you are going to have to stay at the inn on the Mexico side. We managed to get back with a bit of time to spare. The return boat ride is free. Curiously the return screening is done by videophone rather than by the official manning the border crossing. “Are you an American,” and “Did you bring anything back” were the only questions they asked us.

We had a very nice time exploring the village and trying out the food. I’d recommend it to anyone visiting the park or wanting to see a very rural version of Mexico. Just remember to bring some cash and don’t drink the water as it can make you sick if you aren’t used to it.

The post Visiting Boquillas, Mexico appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

A Stone’s Throw RV

A Stone’s Throw RV park is a small, largely self-serve park located near Tallahassee Florida. We found it to be efficient, clean, and a decent place for a short stay.

Nights: 2
RV Park Cost: $56 ($28/night)
Discounts Used: Good Sam
Address: 97 Cumberland Dr.  Lamont, FL 32336
GPS: 30.474009, -83.889024
Website: www.astonesthrowrvpark.com

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Clean

Cons

  • Limited amenities
  • Highway and train noise
  • Not so flat parking spaces

Here we are parked at Stone’s Throw. Notice the growing collection of national park stickers!

The Details

To park at Stone’s Throw RV you can either reserve a spot or just show up. Typically there is no staff on sight. You must pay on arrival by putting cash or charge information in an envelope and dropping it in a pay box. You can park in any available spot. The park is small, fenced in, and sits near the intersection of two highways. That makes it convenient for travelers but makes for a somewhat noisy night and no scenery to speak of. Neither of us found the noise disturbing to our sleep, but it was noticeable if you tuned into it.

The amenities are limited to one unisex bathroom and a single washer and dryer. Since it is a small park they are probably sufficient. The wireless was quite decent for part of the stay but stopped working on our second night. They have full 50 amp hookups, water, and sewer. The spaces are big enough for most rigs, but nearly all of them are at something of an angle, end to end. We had to jack our trailer down fairly low to get it level on what appeared to be one of the less steep sites.

The price is agreeable enough if you have a club discount. I’m not sure how they verify your membership so I suppose that’s on the honor system. Even without it is on the cheap side. You don’t get a lot, but I’ll happily take clean and minimalist at $30 and under, especially in Florida. I give Stones Throw a thumbs up.

The post A Stone’s Throw RV appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

Wisdom and Travel

I see wisdom as an understanding of what it means to be a human being. Wisdom helps us navigate our lives, both giving us the tools to change our circumstances and to adapt to those we cannot change. Wisdom is often gained from a mix of first-hand experience and teaching from our fellow life travelers. The first rule of wisdom is to know there is always more wisdom to be had and to forever seek it out through experience and learning.

Travel has long been seen as a source of wisdom. The wise are often said to be worldly, that is they know of the wider world beyond those they were born to. In religious traditions, the pilgrimage was a means of gaining wisdom and enhancing faith. To undertake a journey to a holy place is also to undertake a journey within yourself. The experiences you have along the way make for a rich tapestry to learn from and reflect upon. Echos of pilgrimage find their way into the secular world in such traditions as “the grand tour” and “the heroes journey.”

Today’s theme is Textures. I like to take pictures of different textures I encounter. These are snail shells on the beach of the Salton Sea, a man-made lake that teamed with life but is now dying a slow death as we restored the natural waterways leaving it to evaporate.

How Travel Makes You Wiser

The most obvious benefit is that traveling brings you a host of new experiences. Every place and every person in the world is unique in some way. While you can see pictures or read descriptions from afar, to truly understand something on a full human scale often involves being there and experiencing it for yourself. You not only can take it in with all your senses, you can feel what it means in relation to yourself as a mental, spiritual, and physical being. This will not only tell you something about the place but something about yourself. With people you meet, this is especially true.

Relationships at a distance are meaningful, but to actually see people in the place they live gives you a fuller picture of who they are and how the place is part of their lives. You will experience both how people in different places are markedly different, and how they are fundamentally the same the world over. You can then reflect on how the places you came from shaped yourself and how your new experiences may change you.

This is the wall of a slave’s residence in a Louisiana Plantation. The building outlived slavery and became a sharecropper’s home, then finally a monument.

Secondly, travel opens you up to how little you know. Wisdom flowers as you realize how little of what is possible is already in your grasp. The more you travel the more you realize the truth that you don’t have all the answers and that wisdom lies in always seeking more. Travel breaks you out of your bubble where you think every question is settled and the truth is always obvious. You will see that your tradition that works so well, is not the only tradition that works well. Likewise, you can see that the evil you know, is not the only evils there are. This encourages you to open your eyes and your mind, to ask more questions, and to seek more answers.

Travel also helps you discover yourself. Even if you are traveling with companions, you will often be forced to rely on your own wits and wisdom to make your way. You will be challenged in ways you never imagined and you will discover new strengths and weaknesses you otherwise might not have known. The routine formulas we create for ourselves in a more static and sedentary life have to give way to more improvisation and spontaneity when you are on the road. Every time you stretch yourself and succeed or fail, you will learn more about who you are, and provided you are willing to learn and grow, you will become wiser for it.

Wind Cave Ceiling

Wind Cave Ceiling – Boxwork is commonly composed of thin blades of the mineral calcite that project from cave walls or ceilings that intersect one another at various angles, forming a box-like or honeycomb pattern.

Tips for Getting Wiser

The best kind of travel for becoming wise is when you try to experience life from the view of those who live in the places you visit. It is easy to avoid this in places catering to travelers. They often make it possible to hide away in a bubble of hotel rooms and tailor made experiences appealing to comfort and familiarity. While these are great for a safe refuge, the best and richest experiences will happen when you embrace the unfamiliar and new. I love going into local groceries, or getting my haircut at a local barber. There are always details that are unfamiliar and new and they give you unique insights into the place and its people you won’t get at a museum or monument. Think about what these things mean to you, and what they would mean to the people that live there.

Remember that travel doesn’t have to take you far from home. You can have these experiences just visiting a nearby town or even a part of the place you live that you have never been to. It is a very common experience to speak with someone in a place we visit who has never been to the places that make that location famous. Before we left our own home we made an effort to get out and see the kinds of places we would visit as travelers. It is a testament to how travel opens you up, that we came to regret the things we didn’t do in the place we lived for so long.

This is a lovely piece of petrified wood. Minerals slowly fill in the cell walls of the tree, retaining the structure but replacing its substance with stone.

Examine the past as well as the present. When we are being thoughtful, we will do research on places we are going to visit before we get there. Knowing the history of these places often enhances our appreciation of what we find there. Any good tour guide will try to fill you in, but reading on your own lets you focus on the things that interest you most and dive deeper into the details. A study of history also lets you see the world for more of what it truly is, an ever changing tapestry rather than a static picture.

Finally, stay alive and keep your health up. Travel can have it’s dangers so be aware of them and take the necessary precautions. While I’m sure a near death experience can lead to a lot of new wisdom, it is one case where I’d prefer to learn from others who have been there.

Go Get Some Wisdom!

It’s out there waiting for you! Go get some today by having grand adventures, putting one foot in front of the other, and generally opening yourself to the vast array of opportunities waiting for you just around the next corner.

Devil’s Golf Course in death valley. This is a place you have to be in to fully appreciate. The muddy salt heaves up into sharp crystalline mounds of earth.

 

The post Wisdom and Travel appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

Sapphire Island Camping and RV Resort: DeFuniak Springs, FL

Sapphire Island Camping and RV Resort has a misleading name. There are no islands anywhere nearby. There are no sapphires nor anything sapphire colored. And it is definitely not a resort. It is a very small, unremarkable RV park and campground in the woods near the highway.

Nights: 2
RV Park Cost: $88 ($44/night)
Discounts Used: None
Address: 5687 US Hwy. 331 South  DeFuniak Springs, Florida 32435
GPS: 30.641602, -86.113134
Website: www.sapphire-island.com

Pros

  • Quiet
  • Full Hookups
  • Decent Wireless
  • Convenient location

Cons

  • Few amenities
  • Somewhat expensive

The restrooms here are small but private and clean. There is even some firewood you can use.

The Details

Aside from its grandiose name, this is a very simple and basic RV park. The lots are fairly primitive, some nothing more than a worn spot on the lawn, others a gravel strip. They are however by and large level and dry which is all you really need. It is surrounded by large trees and a berm separates it from the highway making it a relatively quiet park.

Amenities are limited to the basics: Toilet, Shower, Laundry, and Hookups. They have a couple playground items and a fenced in dog run. It is a small park so the amenities are on the small side as well. Everything is in good order and the bathrooms are nice, private, and include a shower. There is also wire internet which worked nicely except for peak usage times around 7pm when it got a bit iffy. Still, that is far better than most larger parks.

Most of the pads are gravel strips, but for some reason, this hookup is just out on the lawn.

While it is not located near any major attraction, there is decent shopping a very short distance away on the highway making it very convenient for grabbing gas and other necessities. Florida has some pretty serious sales tax which inflates the price of the stay somewhat. You also have to pay an on-line booking fee as they don’t take payment at the park. The result is a higher per night price than I’d like to pay for a basic RV park. None the less, it is fairly cheap by Florida standards.

All in all, I’d give Sapphire Island a tepid recommendation as a decent place to stay but nothing special.

 

The post Sapphire Island Camping and RV Resort: DeFuniak Springs, FL appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Within the northern boundaries of the Chihuahuan Desert of western Texas resides an underrated gem of the National Park System: Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Do you long for a desert hike? Then head to the bright-white Salt Basin Dunes on the west side or the creosote deserts to the east. Looking for breath-taking autumn colors? Then head to the canyon interiors of McKittrick, Bear, and Pine Springs Canyon where maples, ash, chinquapin oaks seem to dance with color as the wind blows. Do you need a challenging mountain hike? Climb the alpine uplands known as ‘The Bowl’ where elevations exceed 7,000 feet. Through dense forests of ponderosa pine, southwestern white pine, and Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir you’ll reach the famed Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, with an elevation of 8,751 feet.

Western Escarpment

Western Escarpment

Devil’s Hall Trail

For our first excursion, we hit the Devil’s Hall Trail, which departs from the Pine Springs Trailhead. Total round trip is a moderate 4 miles, with the first mile taking us through a desert lowland setting. After the first mile, the trail enters a rocky wash surrounding us with those famed trees. We were lucky enough to visit the Guadalupe Mountains in November when the trees really start to show their stuff. Leaves of bright blood reds, sunset oranges, lemony yellows sway and flutter against a bright white rock of the dry riverbed.

We scramble to about the rocks and boulders within the wash of Pine Springs Canyon. Eventually, we reach an impressive natural rock staircase. As we scramble up the staircase, find a dark pool of water held within a tinaja, or pocket carved from rock by turbulent flowing water. We push on, scrambling over boulders and finally reach “hallway” formed by steep canyon walls. The wave-textured 50-foot cliffs give us a cool and shady escape from the afternoon sun. The trail officially ends at a small sign on the north side of the hallway, but adventurous souls could continue the route and explore the winding canyon for a few hundred feet before needing to turning back.

The Devil's Hall

The Devil’s Hall

Salt Basin Dunes

There are two gypsum dunes in North America. The first and largest is the famed White Sands National Monument. The second is the Salt Basin Dunes of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The hike to the Salt Basin Dunes is located 2 miles from the parking lot, so be prepared for a hike in the desert complete with extra water and sun protection.

The Salt Basin itself is a graben or a down-dropped block of the earth’s crustal rock. This area’s faulting of the earth’s crust began 26 million years ago and simultaneously shifted Guadalupe Peak upward for more than two miles to its current position. Water runoff from the mountains flowed down into streams and into the graben. Since the basin has no outlet for water, it just sat there until it completely evaporated, leaving gypsum and salt.

Salt Basin Sand Dunes

Salt Basin Sand Dunes

During the Last Ice Age, the Salt Basin received so much water, that it became a lake, providing water to megafaunas such as mammoths, dire wolves, and giant sloths. The lake was also visited by paleo-Indians some 10,000 years ago.

Today the sediment continues to collect within the basin every time the Guadalupe Mountains gets its annual rainfall. The lake bed is dry most of the year and it would take a huge amount of rains to form an actual lake of a few inches deep. Gypsum deposits are increasing in the Salt Basin minor by a third of an inch per year. Steady westerly winds shift the grains of sand from the dry salt lake, then drop them near the western edge of the park before sweeping up the ledge of the Guadalupe Mountains.

As I shuffle my feet through the sandy trail, I notice a dark black and brown crust covering the sand on either side of the trail. This black crusty carpet is actually a colony of lichen and fungus known as a Cryptogam. Without it, there would be no soil nitrogen, and nothing to prevent wind from eroding away at the land scape. Just above the bio-curst other plants take hold growing in symbiotic relation to the cryptogamic colony. According to the signs the cryptogamic crust is fragile and simply walking across it can open the soil to erosion. I respect and honor this precious land, and watch for the black crust of cryptogams and avoid walking on it. I focus on staying on established roadways, trails, and baren dunes.

Salt Basin Sand Dunes - 2nd largest gypsum sand dunes in the United States

Salt Basin Sand Dunes – 2nd largest gypsum sand dunes in the United States

Oh The Trails!

There are a total of 80 trails within Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Far more than I have time for in my short visit. But here are are my picks:

Guadalupe Peak Trail

The trail to reach the Top of Texas a robust adventurer must traverse steep paths. Hikers gain over 3,000 feet within 4.2 miles, so thus the hike is rated as strenuous. Start early when investing the sweat equity and be reward with the most stunning view Texas has to offer.

Guadalupe Peak

Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

El Capitan & Salt Basin Overlook Trails

This hike leads through the Chihuahuan desert to the base of El Capitan at the southern end of the Guadalupe mountain range, so bring extra water, extra food, and lots of sun protection. Follow the El Capitan Trail and the Salt Basin Overlook Trail. Within a day a hiker can view the massive El Capitan formation from its base and the Salt Basin from above. Total trail length is over 11 miles, but its mostly flat and rates as moderate.

El Capitan from the Road

El Capitan from the Road

Permian Reef Trail

Serious geology buffs will want to pick up a geology guide at the visitor center before heading to this hike. The Permian Reef Trail comes complete with markers which the guide high lights. The strenuous trip is an in-and-out trail totaling over 8 miles and a gain of 2,000 feet. So be sure to start early and bring plenty of water, a lunch, and sun protection. Your hard work will be rewarded with excellent views into McKittrick Canyon from the top of Wilderness Ridge.

Permian reef fossil

Permian reef fossil

Along Pine Springs Trail

Along Pine Springs Trail

Fall Colors of Guadalupe

Fall Colors of Guadalupe

Granite Steps on Devil's Hall Trail

Granite Steps on Devil’s Hall Trail

Hitch in the Hallway

Hitch in the Hallway

Williams Ranch

Williams Ranch

The post Guadalupe Mountains National Park appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

Indian Point RV Resort: Gautier, Mississippi

There are typical RV parks and resorts, and then there is Indian Point RV Resort which takes eclectic to new heights. It is an RV park brimming with “personality” both the kind that is endearing and the kind that is a bit scary.

Nights: 2
RV Park Cost: $58 ($29/night)
Discounts Used: Good Sam
Address: 1600 Indian Point Parkway  Gautier, Mississippi 39553
GPS: 30.406437, -88.634818
Website: www.indianpt.com

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Wilderness setting
  • Boat dock and launch
  • Wide range of amenities

Cons

  • Dirty facilities
  • Wildly uneven quality of parking spaces

Our parking spot at Indian Point was just about the best in the park in terms of its condition.

The Details

Indian Point is an RV park that is clearly a bit past it’s prime. It is clear a lot of love and personality went into creating and expanding the park, but less has been lavished on keeping it up and keeping it clean over the years. I took more pictures here than any other park I’ve visited because there was so much to look at. It is a large park and everywhere you turn there is something curious and surprising.

The parking pads here have clearly been installed in stages over the years. As a result, they vary wildly. We had a nice individual concrete pad that was up on a little hill with a relatively new 50amp hookup. In other areas, folks were parked on large shared concrete pads. In yet others, they were on gravel pads. And way in the pack of the park, they seem to have foregone pads altogether and campers are parked willy nilly on lawns and embankments. Some spots are large, some are small and utilities range from full hookups to none.

There is a large mini-golf course here. It has outdoor lighting (some of which works), this native themed statue, and an odd fountain.

It was clear that in the back portions of the park there were many long term residents who had set up elaborate campgrounds around their RV. These were the older and less developed areas of the park and the roads were partly washed out and very narrow. Up front, the roadways were larger and in better shape and the equipment newer. Here you would find newer RVs and likely shorter term tenants such as ourselves. Likewise, the cabins here ranged from new and shiny to old and grungy. It wasn’t clear which ones were still in use and which were simply abandoned to the Bayou forest.

Indian point is located directly on the Mississippi Bayou. Swampy woodland surrounds most of the park, but the back half runs down into the reedy wetlands where they have a full dock as well as multiple boat launches. Because of its setting, there was a bounty of wildlife in and around the park. Fishing is allowed in the Bayou both by boat and from the docks. Wandering around I found a nice Gazeebo to sit in and watch for birds including egrets, ducks, and woodpeckers. Squirrels were also abundant and fun to watch.

This was a cool spot to watch the wildlife of the Bayou from. Bring some insect repellent, they have biting gnats here.

The park has many amenities, but often they are not well kept. The bathrooms are pretty funky with the women’s having cracks in the walls. The laundry appears to have been dusted sometime last century. While we waited for the laundry I discovered a family of silverfish living inside one of the Laundry Rules signs. We had to clean out the machines before using them as they were full of lint and other nastiness. There are two pools, one of which appeared to be maintained, the other had a lot of debris in it. There is a large meeting hall, a lodge, the boat docks, a mini golf course, an RV storage lot, a restaurant that serves breakfast, and various oddities like the Jimmy Shack. The wireless internet was too weak to use at our parking station.

No doubt there is a story about Jimmy’s Shack, but we were not here long enough to find out. Inside I found a couch and an old TV playing NBC News.

I can see how folks could really like Indian Point for its natural setting, personality, and low price. I can also see many people who like clean and orderly RV parks hating it. For my part, I was glad to have had the chance to explore it but was happy to be moving on after a short stay. The price is quite decent, but a little elbow grease on the part of the owners would go a long way to improving the experience. If you travel with a boat of some kind, then this park could be a real gem for exploring the coastal Bayou.

If you have a boat, Indian point can be the gateway to all kinds of aquatic adventures.

The post Indian Point RV Resort: Gautier, Mississippi appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

Carlsbad Caverns: Left Hand Tunnel

Crisis in the Caves, 1979

On a hot July day in 1979, four men entered the elevator leading down into the Big Room of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Park Technician Linda Phillips also boarded the elevator heading down to work in the caverns. Elevator operator Celia Valdez noticed that the four men wore long trench coats. She upon commenting about the hot weather, and their unusual dressing choice, two of the men pulled out their guns and took the two women hostage. When the elevator doors opened Valdez escaped at her first opportunity by running into a crowd, but for poor Phillips, her time as a hostage lasted over four hours.

Upon reaching the Lunchroom area, one of the armed men demanded the rangers evacuate the 200 civilians out of the cave. Holed up in the underground lunchroom, with hostage Phillips, their weapons, and a bottle of whiskey, they then demanded to talk to a reporter, to receive a million dollars, and to be flown to Brazil. They then proceeded on a shooting spree that only damaged park property, until reporter Ned Cantwell allowed himself to be taken as a hostage.

Meanwhile, an out of uniform ranger quietly lead a group of 100 visitors out of the cave via the Natural Entrance.

After a lengthy negotiation, and after they had run out whiskey, the men released their hostages and traded their demands for a million dollars and a plane ride to Brazil for reduced criminal charges against them. The four gunmen surrendered late in the evening, and thankfully without any innocents physically harmed.

The Lunch Room in 1967

The Lunch Room in 1967 – Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Left-Hand Cave

This was the story that Ranger Donna told us as we gathered in the Lunchroom before we entered the Left-Hand Tunnel. Her husband was the out of uniform rangers that led the 100 visitors out to safety. With the squeal of metal, Ranger Donna opened the gate that would lead us to an ebony darkness. With lanterns, I felt like we’re tracing the cave the way the first explorers did. As we slowly traveled upon a well-worn dirt path, our ranger would stop and tell us a fact or story about the cave.

Lanterns

Lanterns – Candles are lit before the tour of Left-Hand Tunnel

Gargoyles, 1972

It’s not very long before we reach a section of cave with walls that look like they’ve been plastered over with concrete. This is where our Ranger Donna begins to describe that this was a set for the made-for-tv 1972 movie Gargoyles were filmed right there in Left-Hand Tunnel. Not surprisingly, Hitch as seen this “classic” horror TV movie of a bygone age. He described the movie as comically cheap, complete with a scantily clad 70s girl and rubbery Gargoyle prosthetics. After the tour, I went online and found a few clips of the movie. Amusingly enough, the film has a young Scott Glenn (Stick, from Netflix’s Dare Devil). Yes, the movie was as awful as I thought it would be.

Fabulous Fossils

One thing Left-Hand Tunnel has going for it is a fine collection of fossils. Looking carefully in the dim light I found the remains of creatures from 240 million years ago. For the avid geologist, there are ammonites, crinoids, snails, nautiloids, bivalves, brachiopods, and the occasional trilobite. Such things are super hard to spot for the untrained eye and especially in the dim light, but our ranger guide was kind to point them out to us.

Near the Left-Hand Tunnel Gate

Left-Hand Tunnel Gate

Cave Pools

Another unique feature in Left-Hand Tunnel are the cave pools. In the pools such as the ones found here, researchers discovered unusual microbes able to create metabolic energy from sulfur, manganese, and iron. Through the examination of multiple caves, more than 1,200 strains of microbes from pools, soils, corrosive residues, and sulfur deposits were isolated. There are even studies which indicate that some these microbes may have medicinal qualities that are beneficial to humans.

"I lift my lantern higher"

“I lift my lantern higher and get a better look.”

How to See Left-Hand Tunnel

The Left-Hand Tunnel tour was short but provided a unique background into history thanks to our Ranger. The tour is perfect for families with kids or the history buff looking for an easy time in the caves. Keep in mind that this tour is by candle light only and they don’t allow headlamps or flashlights while on the tour. So if you don’t like the dark and not seeing for long distances, you’ll probably want to skip this tour. But if you like history, stories, and a chance to roam a cave as the first explorers did, then book your spot early.

Left-Hand Tunnel Map

Left-Hand Tunnel Map

What to Bring:

  • Closed Toe Shoes or Hiking Boots
  • A Light Jacket or Sweater, it can get cold.
  • Lots of questions for your ranger.

Provided Gear:

  • Candle Lamp

Restrictions:

  • No food or water inside the cave
  • No artificial light sources
  • No bathrooms on the trail
  • Minimum age is 6 years old
  • Anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Cost:

  • Adult: $7.00
  • Youth (Ages 6-15): $3.50
  • Discounts for Senior and Access Pass holders.

The post Carlsbad Caverns: Left Hand Tunnel appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

Lakeside RV, Park: Livingston, Louisiana

We parked at Lakeside RV on our way east to Florida, staying 3 nights so we could spend at least one full day in New Orleans which is about a 45-minute drive from the park. I’ve got almost nothing but good things to say about Lakeside RV, it is a lovely RV park.

Nights: 3
RV Park Cost: $139  ($46 /night)
Discounts Used: Good Sam
Address: 28370 S. Frost Road Livingston, LA 70754
GPS: 30.454579, -90.743081
Website: lakeside-rvpark.com

Pros

  • Beautiful Grounds
  • Nice Amenities
  • Pet Adoptions
  • Great pads and hookups

Cons

  • Expensive

Lakeside really is picture perfect in some places. This is a covered patio near the game room and lounge.

The Details

Lakeside RV follows the proud tradition of actually living up to its name. The park is stretched around the shore of a small lake, surrounded by forested areas. It makes for a fantastic and peaceful setting. You can boat or fish in the lake, and there were Canadian geese, egrets, and ducks puttering about during our stay. Not everyone gets a spot next to the lake, but nearly any spot can see at least a bit of it from their site.

Lakeside has all the usual amenities as well as some of the more upper-end ones. There is a small pool, a game room, and a comfy lounge in addition to the usual bathrooms (quite clean), laundry and camp store. None of these were especially grand, but all were in good order and clearly paid attention to. The pads are all cement and very level, especially considering the instability of soil in Louisiana. The hookups appeared to have been recently installed or upgraded and were top notch.

They even have some nice touches here such as working to find homes for pets that were abandoned at the park. Sadly this is not all that uncommon. We found a stray at a park we stayed at in texas and took it to the nearest no-kill shelter in the area. It’s nice to see the park make an effort to help these animals. They also are pretty strict about their in park speed limit which is a mere 5mph. The park is laid out in a long thin line around the lake so if you are at the back, it can feel a bit tedious. But it shows their commitment to the safety of their guests so I applaud it.

The only downside is the price. Rates are not cheap and Louisiana has some heavy taxes on hotels and RV parks. Even with our 10% Good Sam discount, we were paying a fair bit more than we like to. None the less, they clearly invest in the quality of the park so the rate’s don’t feel unreasonable even if they are on the high side.

The game room is small, but all the games are clean and in good working order, more than I can say for many park game rooms.

The post Lakeside RV, Park: Livingston, Louisiana appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

Fernbrook RV Park: Longview, TX

We only stayed a brief time at this clean and modern RV park in north-east Texas on our way east. Grim weather dogged us while we were here, but Fernbrook RV is a very nice park and has some of the best wireless internet we have yet encountered.

Nights: 2
RV Park Cost: $72 ($36/night)
Discounts Used: Good Sam
Address: 2073 Farm Road 2011  Longview, Texas 75603
GPS: 32.415815, -94.765807
Website: www.fernbrookpark.com

Pros

  • Nice pads and utilities
  • Excellent Facilities
  • Unusually good wireless internet

Cons

  • None found

Despite the overcast day, the park looked fairly nice.

The Details

Fernbrook RV was our last stop in Texas and the weather was turning on us as we made our way east. It is not quite a resort park but for a relatively small RV park, they have a good selection of amenities. We were parked right next to their small pool (closed due to weather) and some really great private bathrooms with built in showers. They also had a spartan but sizable club room there as well.

All the pads and hookups looked to be top notch. They even had free cable TV. Perhaps best of all, the wireless internet in this park is honest to goodness actually good. I had a strong clear signal at all times of day and night. Wireless in parks is so universally bad that I stopped making it a regular feature of these reviews. Typically it is sluggish but functional by day, and useless as the sun sets and everyone starts trying to use it in earnest. At Fernbrook it was good and fast all the time without a single interruption or failure. Like a good RV camper, I didn’t hog the bandwidth for movies or the like but I did download some file updates from Steam and it worked like a charm.

The grounds are not spectacular, but they took pains to make them nice with decorative grasses and some lovely trees. At the pack of the park is a wedding venue that is quite lovely. When the grounds are not in use, park goers are welcome to take a stroll in the garden there. The price is here is right in line with the quality of the park, neither exorbitant nor a great bargain. That’s good enough to get a solid thumbs up from me. I’d gladly stay here again.

You could get married here while staying at the park!

 

The post Fernbrook RV Park: Longview, TX appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

River Cities RV Park

This is was our first stop in Louisiana and things did not get off to a great start. While there is nothing wrong with River Cities RV, but at the price, you get less than I’ve come to expect.

Nights: 2
RV Park Cost: $83.50 ($41.75/night)
Discounts Used: None
Address: 7213 Highway 1 North – Boyce, LA 71409
GPS: 31.365931,-92.602620
Website: rivercitiesrvpark.com

Pros

  • Very Level Pads
  • Clean
  • Modern Hook Ups

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Self Service
  • Poor Wireless
  • Limited Facilities / Amenities

I always feel a bit bad when I have to take pictures in overcast weather, at one park and sunny weather at another.

The Details

What makes this part unique among those we have visited so far is that it is self-service. There is not camp host or manager on the grounds at River Cities RV. You register and pay online and receive a code to open the gates. It is clear that someone comes to maintain the restrooms and the grounds, but other than that you are on your own. While we don’t normally need much from the camp hosts, especially on a short stay, I’d expect at least some of the savings to be passed on in the form of lower rates.

The upside or River City RV is that it is a new park so the hookups are in great shape and the pads are level and in good order. The driving paths are also pristine and the size of the lots are decently sized. While there is nothing pretty about the park, it is kept clean. It borders a highway on one side but the road noise was not an issue for us. The rest is farmland, a strange but unused building, and an RV dealership. There are no trees int the park and thus no shade.

This is what a really good RV Pad looks like. Totally Flat, and including a patio .

There are amenities, but not many. The bathrooms are pretty nice and are the private and include a very decent shower. There are only two, but it is a smallish park so no issues there. The laundry is also small and a little expensive, but also new. There is wireless internet but it was poor and intermittent at pretty much all times of day and night. That is everything you get here.

To be fair, Louisiana has both a sales tax and a hotel tax that is applied to the bill here and included in the price above. The actual rate is a bit over $35 a night. Considering the limited amenities and lack of staff, I’d expect a base rate between $25 and $30 or some type of discount available to get it into that zone. As it stands, it’s a decent place to park, but not a great value choice.

 

The post River Cities RV Park appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.