A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nature Walk to the Rio Grande

Early the next morning I took the nature walk leaving right from the campground. The trail led across this pond via a floating boardwalk...
...then up this staircase...
...where I got my first sight of the Rio Grande river. This was not what I expected. For some reason I had this vision of deep narrow canyon with a river far below.
Another view from higher up where the boardwalk and campground can be seen.
I continued on coming across holes in the rock where people from a long time ago had ground seeds.
Soon after was this.
Much to-do was made by the Park Service to not cross the river. Do not interact with the Mexican people on the other side should you encounter any. Do not buy anything from them. Doing so is a violation of Homeland Security regulations and will be considered contraband and confiscated. And on and on. The truth of the matter was I came to learn that the Park Service is only doing what it is told to do. In fact they would like to see things to revert back to how it was before 9/11/2001. The little village of Los Boquillas relied heavily on the dollars of tourists who visited the park. The villagers would ferry campers across the Rio Grande where they then could walk into the small town, have a few tacos and cervasas and buy the local handmade trinkets and souvenirs. Now that has all been taken away from them (and us) and they are suffering greatly. The Mexican and American fire fighting services worked hand in hand with each other combating fires and even that has been greatly hampered by the idiocy of Washington DC.

I left $5 in the plastic bottle for this and flagrantly displayed it on my dash for the remainder of the trip.
On other trails I found more of these little displays which included nicely made walking sticks beautifully decorated along with other wire and bead work, left for the honesty and generosity of us campers to buy. Each evening in the cover of darkness these poor folk would cross the river and check on their little trail side stores, collecting what money was left for them. The park rangers turn a blind eye.

I sat here by the riverside for a long time, thinking. I thought about how pretty and peaceful it was. How here I sat in America, and there just a stones throw away (I tried it and did hit the other side) was Mexico. How simple and poor their lives were, how complicated and rich was ours. How I held in my hands photography equipment worth more than what a family over there can earn in a year or more. I felt a bit embarrassed, ashamed.
Two totally different cultures and lifestyles seperated by less than 100 feet of water.

The village of Los Boquillas below the Sierra del Carmen

Friday, April 29, 2011

Big Bend National Park and a Senior Moment

More TTWP (through the windshield photography). Okay, I know, but there are a lot of miles in Texas and I had to do something for entertainment.

I came upon these two cyclists on a training riding with their support vehicle. Fine, Texas is flat so it is easy riding, unless you are beating into a head wind. But why here in the middle of nowhere? Seems a pretty boring area to ride a bicycle. The vehicle had California plates too.
These two had just filled up in Marathon Texas. I ride motorcycles. I cannot imagine doing so with two huge flags flapping around behind me though. I know the guy is trying to make a statement for the stars and stripes, POW's and MIA's and that is all well and good, but gee...maybe he could tone it down a little.
I had passed through beautiful Alpine Texas opting to fill up in Marathon 30 miles further. This way I'd have more fuel with me to tool around in Big Bend with for it is a really big park. My AAA map showed Marathon to be a sizable town (it had 2 red circles marking it on the map, instead of just one circle) so I thought no problem. As the end of 30 miles neared, all I could see in the far distance was a few weathered wind blown buildings - no big town. I began to get nervous. If there were no gas stations there, I had enough fuel to go back to Alpine but surely did not want to do that and waste an hour of valuable time. It turned out to have two stations and only the second one, on the very far edge of town had diesel. Whew! Yeah, I paid a premium price for it too. I thought I had learned my lesson on this experience, but later on in the trip it backfired on me.

Entering Big Bend National Park, I pulled up to the kiosk booth and read the sign as I waited for the car in front of me to clear out. "$20 entry fee for 7 days." Further down I read something about "Senior Pass (62 and older)"
I pulled up and Ranger Cindy greeted me. "Welcome to Big Bend."
I said "You only have to be 62 to get a senior pass? I thought it was 62 and a half."
Cindy said "No just 62. The government wouldn't make it that difficult." Having worked for the Federal Government I beg to differ.
"Well I will have to get one of those" I replied.
"Show me your ID and $10 and I can give you one right now." Really? She went on explaining the benefits of my new Federal Parks Senior Pass as I marveled at it in my hands. I guess I wasn't really paying that much attention. I mean I was a bit rummy having been driving all day long. I was all excited to finally be at Big Bend and now I was getting a Senior Pass? I told Cindy this was about the best birthday gift I've got in a long time and it isn't even my birthday.
It was weeks later when I was entering Arches National park and I handed my new Senior Pass and a 10 dollar bill to the ranger lady that I learned that the $10 I paid at Big Bend wasn't a discount to get in, but the one time fee for the lifetime pass that gets me into national parks, monuments and more for FREE!  Was I a happy camper? At least I had already been using the card for half off camping fees.

Cindy also suggested a better campground than what I had in mind. She said I should arrive there right at sunset and handed me a paper she made up with sunset pictures she had taken and where to go to take them yourself. So you can well imagine that I was just plain giddy driving along enjoying the beautiful scenery with my new Senior Pass sitting by my side. Right away I noticed a change in the plant life, especially the prickly pear cacti. What I am use to in California has much shorter spines and I've never seen it with this purplish cast to it.
The campground was great. We got a nice spot off by ourselves much to Sinbad's delight. And who should be the first to greet us?
I am going to have fun here!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Marfa Mystery Lights

I had read about the mystery lights of Marfa Texas long ago. It instantly became one of those places I had to see and a main reason for taking this route into Texas. I was amazed when we rolled through the little town of Marfa that no promoting of the famous lights was present. No billboards, visitor center, nothing. I drove on wondering why that town didn't capitalize on the only thing that would draw tourists to it. Why, I didn't even know where to stop and look for the lights. Then about 10 miles out of town I saw this, and pulled in.
It is a viewing platform center for the lights. Now we're talking. The land and funds for the center were from private donations, none of which from the town of Marfa. The center consisted of two very nice, clean and spacious restrooms, a bronze plaque and telescopes that didn't require quarters to use (a rare item these days) and nothing else.
No one else was around. It was early in the afternoon. What to do? To hang around half a day waiting for nighttime, then seeing nothing or if I did see something..."That's it?" Well I decided to move on. I came. I saw Marfa. I was content. Yet during the following week I couldn't get Marfa out of my mind. I had to be there at night and at least give it a shot.    
So a week later on the way back I timed it to arrive at the viewing station just when it got dark. I was blown away. Not by any lights, but the sheer numbers of cars, RV's and the hoard of people. It was as if a huge festival was taking place. I got about the last space available in the 100 yard stretch parking area. The air was full of excitement with people milling around, eating, drinking, talking about the lights, their thoughts, theories, past experiences. Up on the viewing platform it was like a tourist lookout over the Grand Canyon. The only thing missing was someone selling t-shirts. And I thought I would be here all by myself. Silly me.

People were carrying on. "Is that it? I think I see something moving. There, those red lights." "I see some white lights over this way." Good grief people, they're cars. Also off in the far distance lights could be seen flickering from ranch houses. People were constanly making something out of nothing.
I was listening to a young man though who was talking about the last time he was here with his family. They did see some lights. "They were yellowish white and would move along the horizon real slow, then speed up, back up, flicker and be gone. Then you would have to wait 15 minutes or so and they would reappear." A car would not be able to do that. He said that the best time to have any luck in seeing them was between 2 and 4 in the morning. I went to bed.
Needless to say, I saw nothing but then I really didn't expect to either. It is not like you just drive up, see the lights, then move on. You have to put in the time, make several trips and catch it when conditions are just right. But is there anything to it? Well the fact that the lights were noticed long before cars and the electric light bulb, there must be something going on out there.

This gentleman had this trash can size telescope set up viewing the moon. I swear I could see the moon rover parked in that crater. What a view!

The next morning I got up and the place had cleared out except for one RV. If for nothing else, I had found a great place to camp over night. But Sinbad didn't care for it and had a rough night. Trains roared by throughout the night on the tracks across the highway. They shook the ground and made enough noise to disturb him each time in thinking...well, who knows what a cat thinks.

You can read more about the Mystery Lights of Marfa at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marfa_lights

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Rest Stop

It was lunchtime with no place to pull over. I saw on my map a little green triangle denoting a rest stop 20 miles further on. I can wait. When the 20 miles were behind me, I missed the rest stop. I was gawking out the driver's side window at the Texas Rangers who had pulled over someone on the opposite side of the road. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the rest stop whizz by. Damn! Well I certainly couldn't do a U-turn or back up a 100 yards with the Rangers there. A few miles further a rest stop appeared on the opposite side of the road and here I whipped a U-turn. I turned off the motor, stepped out and relished the absolute silence and the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere on the vast west Texas plains.
I went back inside and made a sandwich. Just as I stepped out of the Little House on the Highway and was walking to the table, an Amtrak Train roared by. The engineer tooted his horn. I waved my sandwich at him and then stood there. I looked at the passengers in the cars. Most had their heads leaning against the windows, bored after hours of viewing flat Texas prairie rush by with no interruptions. A few people were still conscious, gazing out the window. I wondered what image I presented to them. A sudden glimpse of a motorhome, parked at a cement table, nothing else around, and this man just standing there with a sandwich in one hand and a soda can in the other. "He is having his lunch. Maybe he's going to El Paso like we are. Well, we'll be there long before he will."

Not really. I'm going the other way. I just missed my stop a few miles back, that's all.

The Amtrak passenger view.
After lunch I walked around a bit and realized that the dirt road had been dragged by the Border Patrol so they could see footprints of people crossing. I walked back and forth a bunch of times up and down the road.    :))

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To Texas!

By now I had made a decision. We would go to Big Bend National Park in Texas, finishing the trip we started a year and a half ago. We entered Texas at El Paso and I got my first glimpse of the Rio Grande River (Rio Bravo to the Mexicans), only briefly, 60 miles later. Yeah, I was excited.
(most all these photos are Through the Windshield Photography at 57 mph)
From then on it was miles and miles, no...hours and hours of this through the west plains of Texas
 and I enjoyed every bit of it.
When there was something to take a picture of, this was about it.
Unfortunately, I had just ate.
After awhile, I had to get out and stretch my legs.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Birds Galore

I noticed an abundance of birds right around our camp, and I thought I'd try my luck.
Then this guy showed up. I thought some one's pet bird had escaped.
He was near my neighbor's camp. I went next door and found out what he was...a pyrrhuloxia.
 Yeah, I can't pronounce it. It is also known as the Desert Cardinal. That is much easier to remember.

I also found out why all the birds. My neighbors had a feeder out.
He liked his cherries.
My neighbors were from Indiana and had been on the road for months towing a U-Haul type enclosed trailer around behind their car, using the trailer as living and sleeping quarters. That is cheap RV living. I didn't think it right to take a photo of their RV'ing lifestyle so here is a picture of their cat. The man was from Germany and the cat had a German name that began with "K" and "T" and meant something tiger. I couldn't pronounce it and they said he goes by KT. That was fine with me. KT preferred to be in his cage. I know Sinbad would not like that at all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Time to Move On

I let Sinbad out for one last good-bye visit in the sands of White Sands National Monument...
...and he was ready to leave right away.
We stopped at the visitor's center for a quick look around, talked about dog poo with the volunteer on duty...
...then drove on to our next camp at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park south of Alamogordo. Sinbad liked it here. No one nearby and there were things to walk around and tangle your rope on.

Near the campground were these ruins. This is what is left of the adobe home built by Francois-Jean Rochas.
The rock-walled room was the original cabin and the adobe room is a later addition. I was impressed with the detail and effort that went into building both rooms and especially the adobe portion.
This was inside the museum/visitor center and tells his story. In the first picture you can see the rock wall referred to as his corral fence leading up the mountainside from the center of the adobe room and then jogs over to the right. A similar wall was on the opposite side of the canyon. I cannot imagine gathering and placing all those heavy stones into place, on such a steep mountainside, in the hot New Mexico sun.
A solitary life of an extraordinary man.
I think the park should have been named Frenchy Rochas State Park.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day

Hang in there planet Earth.

White Sands 3

This here I found to be fascinating, probably more so than anything else at the monument. I was on a nature trail that looped through the dunes. The trail was showing how the different animals live and survive in this unique environment. I walked up this dune thinking it no more than some brush eeking out an existence. The sign read that this was the very top of a 25-30 foot tall cottonwood tree. The sands had completely buried most of the tree, but as long as a portion remained exposed, the tree would survive until the dune gradually moved on pushed by the continuing winds that brought it here in the first place. It was hard to picture that I was walking among the top of a tree where birds would normally be.

I didn't see any animals but didn't expect to as they are usually only active at night. Only the tracks left behind from their evening activities.