White Sands National Monument

Millions of Years in the Making

White Sands National Monument is the culmination of a process that started over 250 million years ago when the planet had a single continent and the land was covered in a shallow inland sea. Over the next 180 million years, Earth’s tectonic plates shifted and collided, and while soil covered the gypsum-rich seabed on the surface, the earthen crust rose into towering mountains. The following 50 million years, additional plate tectonic movements forced the mountains apart forming a basin in between. This created the beginnings of two mountain ranges we can still see today: the San Andres Mountains and the Sacramento Mountains, both rich with gypsum.

During the last major Ice Age, which happened about 1.8 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago, ice and water tore through the mountains and then collected in the basin to form the ancient Lake Otero. As the Ice Age receded, Lake Otero’s water dried out and in the next thousands of years, a dry lake bed remained. Today that area is known as Alkali Flats. With the forces of erosion, the gypsum deposits supply the White Sands with its namesake.

Last November, I stood upon that white bright sand which took millions of years to get here. At first glance, the dirty sand berms on either side of the road remind me of Alaska late in the winter season. There are kids on colorful plastic disks sledding down hills and adults trying to keep cool. But upon leaving the truck, and hiking a few miles, we came upon a world of eerie white wonder.

Soap Tree Yuccas in the sand

Soap Tree Yuccas in the sand – are they young plants or did they get buried?

Alkali Flat Trail

Even in November, the day temperatures can reach up to the to mid-80s. Because of the extream heat, trails are marked one level higher than normal. Alkali Flat Trail is no exception and is marked strenuous. There is no shade nor water over the 5-miles hike, which goes up and down bright white dunes.

On the day before, I prepared 2 gallons of water for both of us and a few snacks. We set out early morning as to avoid the worst of the heat. At the start of the trail, there is a kiosk that contains plenty of warnings, but my favorite goes like this:

Do not touch strange objects! Debris from missile tests tends to fall onto the sand. Touching them may detonate the object. If you find something, note the location and tell a ranger.

I never really thought there could be a danger of detonating one’s self out in White Sands. Then I remembered the nearby White Sands Missile Range, which also included the Trinity Nuclear Explosion Site of 1945. We later tried visiting the Missile Range, but our Washington state drivers licenses didn’t count as valid federal IDs.

Keeping note of these rules, we set out toward the dry lakebed of Lake Otero, one of the main sources of the white gypsum sand. About 1 mile in, the multitude of footprints fade, and a spectacular view of endless white sand surrounds us. We climb steep dunes into the heart of this amazing desert. In the distance, I can see the dark silhouettes of the San Andres Mountains and the Sacramento Mountains.

Yucca in the Sand at Dusk

Yucca in the Sand at Dusk

I’m tempted to pick a ridge and follow it, but I know its best to keep to the trail markers. Thankfully, the bright red fiberglass posts marked with a black diamond stand out in the white vastness. On the surface, it seems like there isn’t much here except the white burning sand and the mounting heat, but with careful eyes, we find tracks of birds, insects, reptiles and snakes.

In between the dunes where there is some shelter from the wind and where water tends to collect, plants take hold atop a black bio-crust soil. I can easily identify the Soaptree yuccas and Skunkbush Sumac, but the grasses and shrubs are too numerous to make out. I take simple delight in finding plants that survive in this harsh nutrient-poor alkali soil.

With keen eyes, we spot insects that have adapted to the White Sands: Darkling Beetles threaten to spray their stink as you approach them, while Sand-Treader Camel Crickets frantically hop away into the nearest cover. Multitudes of Harvester Ants take any opportunity to steal away your food crumbs the minute it hits the sand.

Along White Sands Natural Trail

Along White Sands Natural Trail

Land of the Lost Lake

At the midway point, we reach the dry lakebed of Lake Otero. I try to imagine a 1,600 square mile lake, that formed over millions of years ago during the last Ice Age. Did Mastodons, Mammoths, or other megafauna drink at Lake Otero’s shores? I know that when the Ice Age ended, the water in Lake Otero took over 14,000 years to dry up. At the end of that era, the area became part of the Chihuahuan Desert. Instead of a lake, a flat playa filled with selenite crystals buried under clay and silt. I’m rather awed by the fact it took 10,000 years for those crystals to be pulverized and turned into sand by the wind, rain, and frost. Inch by inch, constant and strong southwest winds blew the sand grains around the lakebed and in the greater Tularosa Basin.

Knowing that Hitch isn’t the contemplative sort when in extreme heat, we pack up and hike out on the second half of the loop trail. Our pace is slow as the heat rises. At this time of day, the only animals stupid enough to stir in this heat are us. Mammals, reptiles, and bugs know that the best time to move about is at night. With sweat pouring off our bodies, we take refuge in the truck and rejoice in the modern technology of air conditioning.

Thanks White Sands National Monument, you’re cool but you’re also burning hot!

Follow the Trail Marker

Follow the Trail Marker! Don’t get lost!

Along Alkali Flat Trail

Alkali Flat Trail is hot and there is no shade. Bring plenty of water

Pink and Purple Sunset at White Sands

Pink and Purple Sunset at White Sands

Sled Tracks on the White Sand

Sled Tracks on the White Sand

Bleached Earless Lizard

We think this is a small Bleached Earless Lizard.

After the sun sets, the color of the sky sometimes reflects on tot he sand

After the sun sets, the color of the sky sometimes reflects on tot he sand

Waves of White Sands - in the afternoon light you can catch the shadows

Waves of White Sands – in the afternoon light you can catch the shadows made by the sand

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Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park of New Mexico

While making our way through New Mexico, Trail and I decided to visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens which is both a Zoo and a State Park in New Mexico. As the name implies, the park is about split evenly between showcasing the plant life and animal life of the local desert ecosystems. The zoo is focused on the native species of the New Mexico deserts, but there are some notable exceptions like the succulents of the world greenhouse.

Lovely Gardens

I wasn’t sure what to expect when coming here as Trail makes most of our Adventure arrangements. From start to finish the Living Desert was often not what I expected it to be. The tone of the park is somewhat eclectic. Most of the park is outdoors but you enter through a large visitors center that contains a number of exhibits. In front are dioramas about the local habitats both as they are today, and as they were in earlier geologic eras. Much of the west central US was an inland sea at one time and the origin of the vast limestone deposits that make for dramatic caves and cliffs in the area. The lower half of the visitors center displays natural artifacts; skulls, skins, bones, and geology specimens.

Geological specimens from the southern desert on display in the visitors center.

Geological specimens from the southern desert on display in the visitors center.

The park itself is laid out such that you can follow a single winding trail and see most of the park in one continuous viewing. You begin in the gardens and then work your way to where they have animal exhibits, then back into the gardens again to finish the tour. All in all, you could see the entire park in about an hour, though we spent at least two touring the grounds. The first parts of the garden are divided into habitats showcasing different types of plant life from different areas in the New Mexico Desert. Having spent some time in these places I can say the garden does a good job giving you an idea what you would find in the wild, though in greater abundance and concentration.

The habitats are each described by interpretive signs; individual plant species are also marked. Some include notes about the plant and its use by people, both historically and in modern times. In addition to the plants, we found an abundance of local insect and reptile life thriving due to the species density. In the evening you can spot wild Ringtail Cat in the park, and we happened upon a wild fox near the end of our visit. The habitat gardens and their wild inhabitants were among my favorite areas of the Living Desert. It was peaceful and educational.

The gardens were filled with a huge variety of desert plants. This was part of the riparian area.

The gardens were filled with a huge variety of desert plants.

Interesting Animals

After a very pleasant walk through the gardens, we came to the first of the animal exhibits and here it felt more like a traditional zoo. Many of the enclosures looked pretty old and were fashioned of Concrete covered with stucco with chain link barriers. They were neither very attractive nor looked especially comfortable for the animals on display. Some were undergoing renovation while we were there and others were seemingly abandoned or empty for the time being. While all the animals appeared to be in good health, I felt like some of them just didn’t have the kind of space they would need to be comfortable and happy. It showed in their behavior, either lethargic inactivity or nervous pacing. The large birds struck me as especially out of place in their fairly small enclosure.

This eagle is a wonderful bird to see, but this enclosure feels too small and sad for this fantastic wild animal.

This eagle is a wonderful bird to see, but this enclosure feels too small and sad for this fantastic wild animal.

After passing more garden areas we came to where they had larger open animal exhibits. Here they kept field animals like Pronghorn and Elk as well as a pen filled with prairie dogs. While these animals had the feeling of being partly domesticated, they seemed more relaxed and at ease in their open air but fenced-off enclosures. As always the doings of prairie dogs proved both fascinating and greatly amusing. They are terrifically cute animals. This area of the park also has a brand new reptile house. While not large, it was dramatically nicer looking than anything else at the Living Desert. We were lucky enough to come through when the animals were being fed and having their terrariums cleaned. We got to watch and listen to the Rattlesnakes rattle and see how to handle a large Gila Monster.

This cool mural is from the reptile house. It is so much newer than the rest of the park that the contrast is startling.

This cool mural is from the reptile house. It is so much newer than the rest of the park that the contrast is startling.

Further on we found the big cats on display. They have both Lynx and Mountain Lions in the park. Every time I see big cats in a Zoo I am reminded how very much like house cats they are in behavior. All the cats were very active when we came by. The mountain lions were stalking and chasing one another playfully while the lynx roamed their enclosure attempting to ambush one another from the foliage. While the enclosures weren’t especially pretty, they seemed large enough that the cats were at ease in them. We spent a good half hour watching the cats play, admiring their beauty and thinking of Kekovar and Kia back in the Airstream.

Here is one of the mountain lions at the park, taking a rest from romping with it;'s companion.

Here is one of the mountain lions at the park, taking a rest from romping with its companion.

Wrapping up

At this point, the trail winds back into the gardens, though here, instead of natural habitats the plants are arranged more like a traditional garden, creating spaces to sit, enjoy a meal, or just listen to the sounds of the garden. A large pool and fountain anchors the area and is home to many fish and frogs who jump and hide as you approach, but will sing if you remain still and quiet. Nearby is a greenhouse dedicated to succulent plants from all over the world, one of the departures from the native species theme of the Living Desert. I love the variety and strange shapes of succulent plants and while it is modestly sized, they had a great variety of species to look at.

Not only do the succulents have some crazy shapes and textures, they have very unique flowers too.

I love the array of shapes and textures that succulents come in. Unless you grew up in the desert, they an incredible novelty.

Admission to the Living Desert is only $5 and at that price, it is very well worth a visit. I’d suggest kicking in a little extra to help them with their renovations and to provide the animals with improved enclosures. You can check out the exhibits in the visitors center for free, but considering the cheap price, I can see no reason to stop there. The gardens alone are worth the price of admission. While I had some concerns for a few of the animals, this did not feel like an exploitative zoo. They provide a lot of education to the public and are dedicated to preserving the natural habitats of the animals they display here. Like many zoos, some of their animals are part of breeding programs to try and save threatened species.

One of the inhabitants of the frog pond, a lovely creature with no cage required.

One of the inhabitants of the frog pond, a lovely creature with no cage required.

 

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Co-Enabling Adventure

Trail and I are very different from one another in personality. While we very often like the same things, we approach them in very different ways. Fortunately, instead of a source of conflict, most often these differences are what make our adventures possible. A case in point was when we went to see the natural arch in San Luis Valley.

Trail loves arches. I think they are pretty nifty and all, but she loves them. Whenever there is even a tiny natural arch, she’s excited and pointing it out to me. I am fond of strange art installations and other local weird things. While in the San Luis Valley I spied a sort of newspaper put out by the local Colorado Gator reptile farm. In addition to advertising the reptilian wonders they had on display, it included a hand drawn map of the valley indicating various things to do and see. One such item was a “natural arch.” Thinking of Trail’s love for arches I suggested we check it out. I thought in cool that my curiosity for one type of attraction led me to find one for her as well.

As advertised, here we are with Chip, who was surplussed by an unscrupulous pet store for getting to big to sell.

While this Story is about the Arch, we did indeed go to the Colorado Gator which was a lot of fun.

The name of the arch is La Garita Natural Arch and it is located near Penitente Canyon, which is a popular destination for rock climbers the world over. The drive leading to the Arch is lovely. It takes you into the fringes of the valley, winding up among fantastical rock formations and high desert plateaus. The landscape just screams “Drama And Adventure!” The road is unpaved about half the distance but is not especially rough. After about 11 miles you find yourself at the base of the Arch itself; end of the road. Here you will see the arch looming above you, and signs that campers like to spend the night here and perhaps not completely clean up after themselves.

Despite the lovely drive and the beauty of the arch itself, when I arrived I was not exactly brimming with enthusiasm. We got up early for this expedition so that we could arrive before the full heat of the day descended on us. This is a great idea when adventuring in the desert, you really want to do your walking in the morning as the sun rises, or in the evening a little before it sets. Today was a morning adventure and I don’t do so well with those.

This is what the arch looks like from the end of the road. It's hard to show depth with the camera, it's a bit steeper than it looks.

This is what the arch looks like from the end of the road. It’s hard to show depth with the camera, it’s a bit steeper than it looks.

Trail is a morning person, she rises each day bursting with the desire to get doing things that need getting done. When it’s an adventure day, she is rip roaring to get out and see, do, and embrace the great outdoors. I am a night person, I wake up with a desire to go back to sleep and a general fogginess about the future. The idea of bustling makes me wince and a vigorous hike sounds about as appealing as a trip to the dentist. None the less, I do my best to get up and get out because I love seeing Trail so full of wonder and thrills when we hit the trails. That’s why she’s Trail after all.

So there we are at the arch and I’m thinking, “Ya, that’s nice and all, good drive, cool arch, people should pick up their beer cans. Perhaps I will do it for them. I’ll just take some pictures and perhaps we go back.” As I look around and take pictures, I discover that Trail has started up the very steep looking incline towards the Arch. I paused a moment, not excited by the prospect, but I love my wife and it looked a little dangerous so I decided I’d trudge up there too. Adventure is what we come for so adventure is what we should do.

There she goes. Trail is charging up while I'm taking pictures and thinking, do I really want to go up there, its nice enough from down here, isn't it?

There she goes. Trail is charging up while I’m taking pictures and thinking, do I really want to go up there, it’s nice enough from down here, isn’t it?

It was pretty steep going and the ground was loose with rocks fallen from the cliff face. It’s hot, despite the early hour and I’m sweating almost right away. Anne is practically sprinting up this thing in excitement and I’m trudging behind trying to shake off the morning lethargy. Somewhere in my brain, it registers this is very pretty and rather exciting, but there is a kind of muddy indifference and lethargy I must shake off to let the sunshine in. I catch up with Trail about 2/3 of the way to the arch. From here, things get much steeper and less trail like. It wasn’t much to begin with but it was clear plenty of folks had come this way before. We admired the view and considered our options.

The climb had shaken off some of my morning blahs and I was starting to get into the spirit of things. Trail meanwhile, was looking at the much steeper remainder of the climb and having second thoughts. She’s also eyeballing me and can see I’m not exactly full of roses and rainbows. I’m not good at hiding my discomfort. Still, I feel like it would be silly to turn back now, having put all the effort in trudging up this far, might as well see the thing as far along as we can. After a bit of rest, we keep going.

At this point, the "trail" is about done and its clamoring over loose rocks amid the junipers.

At this point, the “trail” is about done and its clamoring over loose rocks amid the junipers.

Now we are just around 30 feet from the bottom of the arch and we get to where the steep ground gives way to pure rock. It’s not quite a purely vertical climb, but it is an actual climb rather than a walk. From here we will have to go hands and feet with some actual risk of a serious fall if we goof up. A real rock climber would call it a cake walk but neither Trail nor I are real rock climbers now are not equipped for it. But by now, the spirit of Adventure has got me in its grips and I feel like I can get up that rock safely if I take it slowly and thoughtfully. Trail is thinking it’s not for her but gives me leave to go for it without her provided I’m careful.

Natural Arch From Halfway Up

Here is where Trail decided to hang back and I felt compelled to finish what I wasn’t keen on starting. How could you not climb up there? It just says, “Hitch, get up here you lazy bastard! I’m a very cool place to be!”

Thus I make the climb, carefully, slowly, and successfully until I stand withing the arch and then pass through to the other side. The views on the way up were good, but from the arch, it was really something. Now I was feeling pretty awesome and proud of my bold ascent to the mighty summit of… well it really wasn’t all that far. Steep, sure, but there was the truck down there, not so terribly far away. I took pictures, enjoyed the brisk wind through the arch, and came to check on Trail. “Think I can make it? she asked.” “Yep, I replied, I’m sure you can, just be careful and take it slow.” Thus encouraged Trail made her own climb up the rocks to join me triumphant. It was a perfect spot for a kiss so we kissed.

But for Trail, I’d not had the desire to see the arch. But for me, she’d not have known of it. But for Trail, I’d not have started the climb. But for me, she’d not have finished it. Truly together is how we encounter life and find adventure on the road. Together makes life better for us both.

And now the truck is small and the arch is big. It looks like a longer way down that up. Here I'm encouraging Trail to make the last leg of the journey.

And now the truck is small and the arch is big. It looks like a longer way down that up. Here I’m encouraging Trail to make the last leg of the journey.

 

And the reward, a view from the other side of the arch. Well worth the effort.

And the reward, a view from the other side of the arch. Well worth the effort.

 

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Traveling Medicine: Hitch vs Gout

While in Big Bend Texas, I began to notice the big toe of my left foot was not feeling so great. It was kind of stiff and a bit painful. Trail and I had been hunkered down writing and preparing for Thanksgiving at the time so it was not an injury or a strain from hiking. By day two the pain had gotten more intense and it hurt to walk. Trail has experience with Gout and the symptoms matched her own trials with the condition.

If you don’t know, Gout is a disease in which crystals form in one or more of your joints causing pain. The most common location is the first joint of the large toe, right where it hit me. The common consensus is that elevated levels of uric acid are to blame. Once the crystals start forming, your immune system reacts causing swelling and pain. The immune response also seems to make it difficult to recover from the condition.

Rather than pictures of my foot, I thought bugs would be nice to look at. I love insects and take a lot of pictures of them.

Rather than pictures of my foot, I thought bugs would be nice to look at. I love insects and take a lot of pictures of them.

Round 1: Gout Wins

Being the stout fellow I am and because we were around 4 hours drive from the nearest doctor or hospital we decided to have a go at home remedy. If you Google this subject you will find a small cottage industry in home Gout care. Front and center are dietary approaches. There are things you should not eat, and other things you should eat. Avoid: Alchohol, Red Meat, Oily Fish, and Fructose. Embrace sour Cherry Juice and copious amounts of water. These are the most common recommendations though there are many schools of thought. Outside of diet are the usual anti-inflammatory strategies such as elevating the foot and using cold compresses.

I adjusted down my intake of red meat and products loaded with fructose (of which many are). I drank water till my pee was crystal clear. I drank pints of sour cherry juice. I elevated and put cold compresses on my foot. A week later, it hurt worse than ever. It was clearly time for the marvels of modern medicine. The problem was still that 4 hour drive just to see a doctor and then the usual requirement for an exam and all the costs surrounding that kind of visit. It was time to try the marvels of remote consultation.

We see a ton of dragonflies. These ones were especially large and fun to photograph. Old nip-wing here was kind enough to sit still for me.

We see a ton of dragonflies. These ones were especially large and fun to photograph. Old nip-wing here was kind enough to sit still for me.

Who ya gonna call?

Trail had done some doctoring by internet shortly before we left Washington state. The University of Washington hospital has a nice program for it, but unfortunately, it’s for people actually in Washington state at the time of the consultation. They recommended I look for such a service in Texas. A Google search for that turned up two facts. Firstly: Texas was home to one of the leading remote doctor companies, Teledoc. Secondly: Texas had recently passed a law saying that you had to have an in-patient visit before you could get a prescription from a remote visit. More reading turned up there was a lawsuit blocking implementation of the law so I was in luck.

I set up an account with Teledoc. That was a little tricky as their website doesn’t make it all that easy. It focuses on people who have Teledoc service through their work. While they offer individual subscriptions, you have to root around on their website to find it, and the cookies I got from the corporate side kept messing up my application process for the individual plans. I called them but they could not register me by phone. Trail decided to take over and she figured out the problem, ate my cookies, and I had my one-month membership for about $20.

This was the first Walking Stick bug I'd ever seen in the wild. We found him on a sidewalk and gently helped him into the bushes where he wouldn't get stepped on.

This was the first Walking Stick bug I’d ever seen in the wild. We found him on a sidewalk and gently helped him into the bushes where he wouldn’t get stepped on. He’s big, about 6 inches long.

Round 2: Gout is out!

Once you are a member you can call them up and talk to a doctor. Each call/consultation costs you $45 and you can do it by internet or phone. Unfortunately, the internet was awful in Lajitas so phone it was. It took a few tries to get a good connection but I was speaking with a doctor within an hour of requesting the appointment. I explained my problem, he asked a few questions to verify we were dealing with Gout, and he ordered a prescription. The nearest pharmacy was a “mere” two-hour drive from our location and by the time we arrived it had been filled.

I was prescribed a generic brand steroid that cost around $20 and sure enough, it worked like a charm. Within two days the pain was nearly gone, and by the end of the five-day regime, I felt top notch. Sorry sour cherry juice, you are tasty, but you just didn’t get the job done.

I was happy to be on my feet again and Trail was happy we could get out of the trailer and onto the trails in Big Bend. Overall, I was really pleased with the Teledoc outcome and price. I truly think that for common ailments for which there are fairly common solutions, this approach is great. It is so much more efficient than hauling down to the doctor’s office, waiting around, possibly having to do a physical and all that jazz. Not to mention, it is infinitely cheaper. Without using any insurance, I got my condition handled for $75. This is how I think routine medicine should be handled, efficiently and affordably.

This little fellow looked ready to join us on our adventure. When traveling there are big things to see, and small things. Both are pretty amazing.

This little fellow looked ready to join us on our adventure. When traveling there are big things to see, and small things. Both are pretty amazing.

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Nature’s Own RV Resort: Kingsville Texas

Nature’s Own RV Resort was our last stopover between Big Bend and Mission Texas. It’s a big state, and Nature’s Own RV is a pretty big RV park. Considering it has the best bathrooms I’ve seen in any park, it is worth the asking price.

Nights: 3
RV Park Cost: $108 ($35 / night)
Discounts Used: Good Sam
Address: 5151 S. highway 77  Kingsville, Texas 78363
GPS: 27.490378, -97.847965
Website: Facebook Page

Pros

  • Perfect Bathrooms and Showers
  • Modern amenities
  • Full hookups
  • Concrete pads

Cons

  • Some road noise (depending on your location in the park)
Natures Own is not heavy on decoration but I really liked this armadillo cowboy near the entrance.

Nature’s Own is not heavy on decoration but I really liked this armadillo cowboy near the entrance. The overall look of the park says “new and clean.”

The Details

Nature’s Own RV is a nice modern RV park. All the pads are nice level concrete and all the buildings and amenities are clean, modern, and well maintained. Like a lot of Texas parks the parking area has a lot more gravel than grass which makes launching outside the trailer unappealing. We were amused and surprised by the tiny little park benches at each site; about half normal size.

What it lacks in green spaces, it makes up for in its clubhouse. They have a great TV area with incredibly nice, brand new rocking recliner chairs. A great place to chill out while you do laundry. Their bathrooms take the award for best in our travels so far. There are four private bathrooms with showers. They are well designed and include niceties such as fuzzy shower mats so the floors don’t get wet and your feet get dry. Short of a luxury hotel, these are as good as it gets.

They have a small pool designed for cooling off more than swimming in. The internet is pretty good but does drop off in the evening like it does in most RV parks. We got great cell reception so we didn’t need to use it all that much. The location is convenient to shopping and restaurants, but being next to a large highway you get a lot or road noise if you are located at the front of the park. The back of the park is probably well insulated from that, but it’s largely the domain of longer term residents.

The price is a little higher than we like to pay, but I think it is perfectly reasonable considering the quality of the park.

Those chairs near the TV are super comfy, as is the plush throw rug. I know because I'm sitting there as I type this.

Those chairs near the TV are super comfy, as is the plush throw rug. I know because I’m sitting there as I type this.

Finding Felines

We did have a small adventure in the park. As we were washing our RV (a $10 fee is charged for this) we encountered a cat wandering the grounds. I was giving it a pet and wondering about its owner when one of the staff drove by and informed us it was abandoned by someone recently who stayed in the park. They told us we were welcome to adopt it. Kekovar and Kia were not keen on the notion so we decided to take it to a local no-kill shelter so it would be fed and cared for. Hopefully, she can find a good home as she seems a very sweet cat.

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SB RV Park: Charrizo Springs, Texas

SB RV park doesn’t have the world’s catchiest name, but it is a decent RV Park with a lot of spaces. It seems to cater to seasonal oil workers and passers through rather than vacationers. The upside of that is it is a very peaceful and quiet RV Park despite housing many residents.

Nights: 2
RV Park Cost: $56 ($28 /night)
Discounts Used: None
Address: 205 Fig Ave, Carrizo Springs, TX 78834
GPS: 28.512351,-99.869562
Website: www.sbrvpark.net

Pros

  • Very Quiet
  • Full Hookups
  • Clean and well maintained
  • Inexpensive Laundry Machines
  • Pool and weight room

Cons

  • No Showers
The pool area was one of the nicest parts of the grounds.

The pool area was one of the nicest parts of the grounds.

The Details

SB RV is within the town of Carrizo springs but is on the outskirts and set back from the road a fair distance. As a result, it was one of the quietest parks we’ve been to in a while. There is pretty much no road noise and only a few birds on nearby small farms to break the silence. We found our stay to be restful and trouble free.

They have most of the usual amenities, though they are all on the small side. A single trailer building holds the laundry, weight room, and the only bathroom. Said bathroom is not much bigger than the one you might have in your trailer so it’s only of value if you are doing laundry or working out. They have a small, but attractive pool for cooling off. Near the pool, there is a new swing set and a nice lawn for play. None of it was spectacular but it was all well maintained and in good order.

The lots were level and the hookups were all good. The view and grounds are neither especially dismal nor grand; pleasant enough but not inspiring. The price is just right for the amenities and location. Not a great bargain but very reasonable.

The parking areas are not especially attractive, but they have lots of space.

The parking areas are not especially attractive, but they have lots of space.

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Broke Mill RV: Del Rio, Texas

Broke Mill RV boasts that it is Del Ro’s newest and most modern RV park and I don’t doubt it. While it is not the prettiest park we visited in Texas, it had a lot going for it. While our stay was only for two nights, we enjoyed our stay and would be happy to return.

Nights: 2
RV Park Cost: $66 ($33/night)
Discounts Used:
Address: 6069 W. US HWY 90  Del Rio, TX, 78840
GPS: 29.445703, -100.920516 
Website: www.brokemillrvpark.com

Pros

  • Friendly Staff
  • Nice Showers
  • Full hookups
  • Huge Dance Hall complete with house band
  • Good Internet
  • Robust Amenities

Cons

  • None
The view and grounds are nice if not spectacular. Of course, this is winter so not the most flattering time for photos.

The view and grounds are nice if not spectacular. Of course, this is winter so not the most flattering time for photos.

Unexpected Connections

As we arrived at Broke Mill we were asked if we wanted to sign up for a Chilli dinner and country western show that night. At $10 a person, it sounded like a good deal to us. If the price is right, we try to say “yes” to opportunities that come our way. Dinner consisted of Texas chili, soda bread, baked beans, and cherry cobbler with ice cream. Everything was quite tasty and all you can eat. In addition to the food, we were treated to a concert by the park manager and his house band, The Broke Mill Players.

At dinner, we sat with an older couple and got to talking about music and travel. It turned out my father played in a band with their brother in Alaska when I was a child. Just a reminder that while it’s a big country we live in, we are all connected in one fashion or another and you won’t know unless you get out and chat with folks once in a while. The Players put in a good two-hour performance and we did a little dancing before the show was over. All in all a really great and unexpected evening for us.

Fiddler's Hall is where the Broke Mill Players put on their shows. It's decent hall, though the acoustics aren't the best.

Fiddler’s Hall is where the Broke Mill Players put on their shows. It’s decent hall, though the acoustics aren’t the best.

Broke Mill in Good Shape

Beyond the very large dance hall, the park offers nice amenities. There is a large soaking pool to beat the heat as well as a laundry room, exercise room, and even a covered smoking area. The bathrooms were very clean and the showers especially well thought out. For some reason, the bathrooms and showers in Texas have been better designed and maintained than in most other state’s we’ve been through.

The grounds are about average. Tall grasses border the park screening out the road noise and giving the park a softer feel. Everything was well maintained and the hookups were in good order. The internet was especially good here, though the park was far from peak capacity. The location is convenient for shopping though there aren’t a lot of natural wonders nearby.

The name of the park refers to a broken windmill on the property. They’ve even worked it into their decorations with little windmills with broken fins. The price per night is right on the mark for a good RV park that isn’t in a premium location. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone staying in the area. And if they ask if you want to pay for dinner and a show, take them up on it. Be sure to strike up a conversation with your fellow travelers, you never know what you might have in common.

When I say the grass is tall, I mean it. This stuff is around 8-10 feet. We saw a lot of it on the Rio Grande.

When I say the grass is tall, I mean it. This stuff is around 8-10 feet. We saw a lot of it on the Rio Grande.

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Schlub Life – Will your trailer make you trashy?

One of the less inspiring aspects of trailer life has been the effect it’s had on my personal grooming, fashion, and hygiene. While I have not turned into a complete troglodyte, I will say I’ve regressed somewhat since hitting the road.

A number of factors conspire to create this effect.

  1. I just don’t encounter as many people daily since I no longer go to an office. Thus less need for being polished.
  2. Most of the people I do encounter, I will likely never see again, thus making a good impression is less of a priority.
  3. The small shower and bathroom make it difficult to style my hair without a lot of hassle.
  4. The limited space in the trailer means we don’t own a lot of clothing, so it gets worn and wrinkled faster.
  5. Being outdoors a good deal of the time, you get grungy, sweaty, and disheveled much more often.
  6. The small shower and sometimes limited access to water or sewer encourages you to keep full showers to an “as needed” basis.
  7. I wear hats a lot more to shade my eyes outside and thus “hat hair” is an ever-present peril.
  8. You tend not to keep a lot of mirrors around in a trailer, both for safety and because there just aren’t a lot of places to put them.
  9. Trailer life can encourage junk food eating in various ways which is not so good for one’s figure or complexion.
Hitch Getting Ready to Shred Some Sand

Great sand dunes was a fun stop. I got sand in places I didn’t know had spaces. The shirt there is one of my REI Shiek items, the dress shirt of the outdoor set.

The Dirty Details

The most noticeable impact of schlub life is that Bed Head, Hat Hair, and Wind Tossed Locks are pretty much in play 70% of the time. Runner up is my attire which trends heavily towards REI sheik. Slowly but surely my wardrobe is being taken over by very practical clothing that resists rain, mold, wrinkles, sunlight, bacteria, insects, and whatever else nature wants to throw at you while remaining machine washable. It’s great, well-designed stuff but it tends to put utility before fashion. The alternative tends to be “old T-Shirt” that I don’t care if it gets trashed while rock climbing or cleaning the truck.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that trailer life is somewhere between suburban life and camping in terms of scruffiness. Camping is, however, a transitory state, a once in a while event as where our life on the road is persistent and perpetual. There is something of a tug of war between a sense of social propriety that says we should look good, and a practical outlook that says, who is really going to care if we don’t? I am always in some conflict between a sense of vanity and pragmatic laziness.

Here I'm a bit too relaxed as other folks start invading my sanctuary. Time to go.

Notice how the ladies above are doing their best to look good in the outdoors, while I… am um… doing my best to avoid the cover of Vogue magazine. This picture might make for a good caption contest.

Coming Clean

Ironically the occasions when I am most motivated to make myself look spiffy is when we go for a long trek in the wilderness. I want to look good for the pictures Trail will end up putting on the blog. As you can see in this article, it doesn’t always work. It’s funny that a situation in which you would most likely look disheveled is the one you most want to appear sharp and clean but that is the way of the travel blogger. I’ve stopped short of bringing a grooming kit along when we go on hikes but I probably should.

If you read my RV Park reviews (and bless your heart if you do) you have no doubt noticed I’ve got a kind of “thing” going for RV bathrooms. Most parks get either a grumpy scolding for having dirty, dysfunctional bathrooms or shining praise for spacious and cleanly facilities. This is because those parks that do have nice showers, especially private ones, afford me the chance for a kind of spa day. I can luxuriate in a hot shower. Thoroughly wash and style my hair. Trim all things that need trimming, and generally get spiffy and shiny. Of course, what I do afterward is jump into the trailer and do some blogging. Only Trail knows how shiny I can become.

A typical scene of me just getting back from a day trip. Kitties need pets.

Did I mention the cat hair? Living in a 300 square foot trailer with two cats means lots of cat hair for everyone. They can sense when I’ve put on some clean clothing and do their best to remedy the situation at the earliest opportunity.

Ways to stay shiny

Sometimes if feels wrong to offer advice you don’t always take to heart yourself. None the less, I think it’s worth going over a few of those that I practice at least some of the time and have found helpful.

  1. Keep your hair cut short and in a style that can be accomplished with just a bit of combing.
  2. Keep refillable travel-sized containers of shampoo, soap, and other toiletries while keeping the main supply stored away.
  3. Keep a grooming-kit/shower-bag that has all your grooming essentials and is easy to tote around. This way you can easily avail yourself of any opportunity and groom on the road if need be.
  4. Buy clothing that does not wrinkle easily, is stain resistant, and looks somewhat nice on you. Or if you are like me, have your wife pick it out for you!
  5. When boondocking, consider the magical properties of dry shampoo and scented aerosol deodorant or as it’s sometimes known, Shower in a Can.
  6. Make it easy to take out whatever it is you store in your shower so it’s not a hassle to use.
  7. Keep in mind you can use USB cameras and cell phones like a mirror if you don’t have one handy.
  8. Keep a hat in the car and in the trailer so you can at least hide your disheveled hair on short notice.
  9. Keep a good supply of healthy and not messy snacks on hand wherever you go so you avoid junk food impulse buys.

PS:  What’s with the top 9 lists? Who does top 9? Apparently, I do, though it was completely by accident here.

Some of my favorite photographs are of Hitch in the wilderness.

Ahhh, finally well groomed and posed in the glory of nature. Then again, with hair that short, you always look well groomed.

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Marathon Motel & RV Park: Marathon, Texas

Marathon Motel & RV Park is a unique park and well worth staying at. While it is nice enough during the day, it is at night that the park really comes into its own. The wonder of the night sky and their fantastic courtyard make for a magical evening.

Nights: 2
RV Park Cost: $35 ($17.50/night)
Discounts Used: Passport America
Address: 701 Hwy 90 West  Marathon, Texas 79842
GPS: 30.208462, -103.254358
Website: www.marathonmotel.com

Pros

  • Beautiful Grounds
  • Discounts Available
  • Full hookups, including cable
  • Telescope and great night skies

Cons

  • Dusty parking area
Their telescope is pretty serious. This is one of two we saw on the grounds.

Their telescope is pretty serious. This is one of two we saw on the grounds.

Nighttime Delights

Marathon RV is most remarkable in that it specifically caters to star gazers, storm chasers, and lovers of sunsets. Their website will tell you the current and forthcoming sky conditions, and in the office, you will find start charts and an astrolabe.  They have two large telescopes on the grounds and an area specifically designed for setting up telescopes. There are level concrete pads with 110v power sources which are screened from the light of the grounds. The park is located in the most sparsely populated county in the US so the skies are very dark.

In the center of the park is a lovely Spanish style courtyard and garden. Among its attractions are a fountain, a large covered hearth fireplace, a central fire pit, and some absolutely gigantic Agave plants. By day it is pretty enough, but at night it is absolutely gorgeous and downright romantic. At sunset, it is down right jaw-droppingly beautiful. The red skies are framed perfectly by the arches and windows of the surrounding walls. While it was cold out when we were there, we lit a roaring fire in the hearth, made smores, and soaked in the beauty and solitude of the night.

This is the hearth area. Firewood and tinder are provided by the park. It was cozy, even on a cold evening.

This is the hearth area. Firewood and tinder are provided by the park. It was cozy, even on a cold evening.

A Quality Park

The RV Park itself is fairly small with only 19 spots and the grounds where you park are not nearly as lovely as the area by the courtyard. It’s a desert so they don’t have lush lawns, just a scattering of plants and a lot of gravel. That said, the lots were level enough, clean, and in good shape. The bathrooms were nice private suites, and the hookups worked nicely. The Internet was decent enough and cell service was good for us. The motel rooms are scattered around the park in low buildings and looked to be smallish but nice.

Considering the care that went into the grounds and good condition of the park the prices are very reasonable. They also take Passport America which halves the price for the first few days. Since we were there only two nights, staying here was a stellar bargain for us at only $17.50 a night. I liked this park so well I could see traveling there just to spend a couple nights in the courtyard stargazing and enjoying the hearth.

It's nice during the daytime, but at night it is positively magical due to the lighting they have installed.

It’s nice during the daytime, but at night it is positively magical due to the lighting they have installed.

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Hilltop RV: Fort Stockton, Texas

Hilltop RV sits on a low hill overlooking the Texas desert planes near Fort Stockton. It is a full featured RV park with all the expected amenities. The park features some great folk art and a lovely garden area near the office. All in all, it’s a very solid RV park and worth the asking price.

Nights: 2
RV Park Cost: $120($30/night)
Discounts Used: None
Address: 4076 I-10 West, Fort Stockton, Texas  79735
GPS: 30.895359, -102.936044
Website: www.ftstocktontexasrvpark.com

Pros

  • Great Artwork and garden
  • Full hookups
  • Private bathrooms

Cons

  • Dusty if the wind picks up
hilltop_store

I think the Hilltop General Store is actually a storage shed, but I love the effort they put into decorating it.

The Details

We were only at Hilltop RV as a stop over for two nights before heading to Big Bend National Park. While it is true to its name, the view from the hilltop is not especially grand. It overlooks a lot of flat desert terrain. Sunset and Sunrise are the exceptions as you have a pretty grand view of it from the edges of the park property. Since it is in a desert all the lots are entirely gravel. The only lawns are surrounding the office and swimming pool. If the wind picks up, the park can get pretty dusty as a result.

What it lacks in greenery it makes up for with charming folk art. A lot of RV parks are decorated with old farm equipment and the like, but Hilltop goes all in with some of its decorations. There is an old time general store, a huge chicken, and a pair of huge mariachi statues near the pool. A neat concrete amphitheater since near the office painted yellow and decorated with various symbols.

I was very happy with the private toilets and showers which were clean and in good working order. The wireless and cell service were also better than average here, likely due to its hilltop location and it being a relatively small park. There is a fair sized pool, though it was closed for the winter season while we were there. All in all, we had a very nice stay at Hilltop RV and the price was well in keeping with its offerings. If you are in the Fort Stockton Area, I think it’s the best park to stay at.

I suspect this is the only ranchero I will ever see with a star of david painted on him.

I suspect this is the only ranchero I will ever see with a star of David painted on him.

 

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