Tues 04 Mar – Boquillas Campground Big Bend NP. First light this morning we were off to the park maintenance HQ to borrow a ladder so that Bob could get on top of the van as unfortunately we don’t have a fixed ladder on the back. He checked out that the solar panels were still OK and couldn’t find too much up top that might have been making the noise. Then opened up the panel between the cab and body of the RV to find that the bolts holding the two together had come quite loose and some didn’t even have washers on – tightened them up and wow no creaks and groans as we are going along – it is peaceful again. We have been on quite a lot of rough roads so it was understandable that things would get shaken up a bit.
Headed up out of the Boquillas campground and up and over a high pass 5700ft and into the Chisos basin – a smallish basin at 5400ft surrounded by towering peaks all around. What a difference a couple of thousand feet make – here there were pines, spruces and firs (a bit stunted) and most definitely bear country. I had understood that the bears don’t come out until April, but not so around here – they had sightings marked on the map in the ranger’s station and as early as January they have been seen wandering around. Mountain lions also abound in this area. We took a short hike which gave us lovely views out over a “window” in the rocks looking way down onto the plains below. It is really quite incongruous to have all these trees around us yet there are still cacti growing as well. The Chisos peaks were something else – just another great surprise we have had in this park. Around every corner the topography changes, the geological makeup of the rock formations change and the desert floor changes from white to pink to brown and everything in between. Down in the Boquillas canyon, spring was just about here – the prickly pear cactus were very close to flowering and some of the deciduous trees were coming into leaf, but up here Spring is still some way off.
The “Window” at Chisos Basin
Our last stop in the park is again primitive, but we are now full with fresh water, have clean clothes and even had a proper shower so all is well. It could be quite cold again as we are still around 3500ft but at least we haven’t got the howling winds that have been present the last couple of nights. Still bear country here – we have the bear proof food container beside us as proof. We haven’t really seen much wildlife to speak of – a few jack rabbits and a squirrel and possibly this morning a small bobcat ran in front of us. I would have liked to have seen a Javelina which is a small pig like animal which frequents the park, but no luck on that front. It is getting closer to the time that the rattlers emerge so always watch our paths carefully when we are walking.
This whole area of Big Bend Park was once the home of ranches and ranchers and had grasslands sufficient to sustain large numbers of stock. When the park bought the land off the ranchers it was leased back to them for two years and in that two years apparently the ranchers went mad – grossly overstocked the whole area and destroyed all the native grasslands. It will probably never get back to what it was and with the funding cuts that US Govt is imposing on all facets of public service – conservation protection and park funding are at the bottom of the list which is really disappointing for the dedicated folk that work in these parks. We have been extremely impressed by the facilities in the parks – always clean, ranger stations that are manned by knowledgeable staff and popular tracks well maintained, but some others are deliberately left ‘primitive’.
I will now go back to Mesilla in Las Cruses and it’s history, as I didn’t have time when I posted the last blog. Mesilla was used as a camping place in the early days by the Indians and the Conquistadors and then when white civilization came in, it was a staging post on the cross country express – this stagecoach would go from the east at St. Louis Missouri to west at San Francisco non-stop in only 23 days – that is some feat with just horses or mules, I don’t think I would have liked to have been a passenger though. Mesilla was still a part of Mexico as was most of lower New Mexico, but the land was bought as part of the Gadsen purchase and incorporated in America in 1854 in order to route a railway on an all weather southern route. Mexico lost a great swathe of land in exchange for only $10 million. In the 1860’s and 1870’s the town was a social centre for the troops from the two local forts with dances, theatre, bullfights and cockfights. Other well known local personalities from that time were Kit Carson and Pancho Vila. Mesilla also had a wild side – lawlessness and bloodshed went unchecked and many outlaws and rustlers roamed the streets. Billy the Kid and many outlaws contributed to this wild side. He was often seen in the bars or dances in the town. In 1881 he was tried in the courthouse and sentenced to hang for the murder of Sheriff Brady but he was taken to another courthouse close by in Lincoln where he managed to escape. There are still some well preserved adobe buildings from that era and it was very easy to imagine yourself back in that time.
Our little internet hotspot gadget is working well for us – today it picked up a very weak signal (we are really out in the middle of nowhere) and is very slowly transmitting emails to me. At full strength it runs on 4G LTE and is really quick, but to be able to get anything in this remote location in amazing. We are now quite into the routine of RV travelling. We have got places sorted for most things. I converted the half wardrobe to a pantry with some plastic drawers which is great for storing the essentials and we have more than enough cupboards and drawers around the van to take everything we have with room to spare.
Our water and waste water lasts around a week before we need to do a dump and refill, and propane needs topping up every two weeks or so. With the solar panels we don’t even have to think about hooking up to the mains – it is doing everything we need – runs our little TV so that we can watch DVD’s, charges and runs computers and it seems to work with very little sun. It was fortunate for us that the bigger panel was available at the same price as a smaller one as a smaller one might have struggled with our needs. We stop off every few days where possible to top our food supplies and I can’t wait until we get to places that actually grow stuff – then we might get some nice fresh veges – produce departments in the supermarkets are the smallest part! The freezer in our RV is great – it works off the propane and keeps everything really frozen, but this also transfers down to the fridge part and we often end up with frozen beer, yoghurt and vegetables if I don’t put them in the drawer at the very bottom. Can’t complain though as it is really useful and means that we can stock up the freezer and that keeps us going for well over a week. Not too impressed with the meat so far – mince seems to be about the most foolproof thing to buy – the steak has been tough (even when marinated for a whole day) and the frozen fish was ghastly. Chicken isn’t too bad and makes a reasonable meal. I have only used my fancy BBQ a few times so far, but it is great – tried out my beer bread that worked out reasonably well. I am sure it will get a lot more use as it gets lighter in the evenings.
It gets dark fairly early at the moment so I try and get dinner at least started in the daylight and then that leaves our evenings for scrabble, reading or movies and listening to music. We have had some lovely sunsets out here in the desert and the stars on a clear night are just beautiful.
Wed 05 Mar – This is our last day in Big Bend and I was rewarded this morning with a sighting of 3 Javelina just up the road from our campsite. They look rather like Captain Cooker pigs, but are in fact a type of peccary. Didn’t have my camera with me so I wasn’t able to get a picture. We left our peaceful site and headed out of the park and made our way to Terlingua Ghost town. It was an abandoned mining town with remnants of houses dotted around. Some had been renovated and taken over by arty people and also this is another place like slab city where the alternative lifestylers can come and live for next to nothing. Terlingua itself was very, very barren and didn’t have a lot to commend it, but the coffee was good.
We hit the road north from here back to Alpine – this is really quite a prosperous town and must owe its living these days to the huge Sul Ross University here. We visited their wonderful and free Big Bend museum, stocked up on supplies and went back down the road we came up on for another free night’s camping. On the outskirts of the the town there were numerous lifestyle blocks and these had quite substantial homes on them (far more expansive than anything we have seen along our travels).
We have been through quite a lot of border control posts in this area as there are only a few roads which lead out of Mexico and up into Texas. Since 9/11 the US has stepped up its surveillance of this region and hence these posts. They just stop you, ask you where you are from and check out passports. There is usually one officer asking the questions and the other stays on the other side of the vehicle with a big Alsatian dog making sure that you don’t try and do a runner.
Thursday 06 Mar – Had a very cold night, must have been down to near freezing again, so waited until the sun was up before it was warm enough to get moving again. Headed back up the road (and through border control again – fortunately a different crew on this morning) and into Alpine – picked up fuel and some nuts and bolts for the van before making off again.
First stop of the day was Fort Davis – a former military defence post between the 1850’s – 1880’s. At its peak it housed over 400 cavalry soldiers. There were over 100 structures, including a very neat row of officer’s houses, hospital, barracks and commissary. Some of these structures have been renovated and it was a very interesting site. Troops at this fort protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches and travellers on the San Antonio-El Paso road.
Fort Davis’s primary role of safeguarding the West Texas frontier against the Comanches and Apaches continued until 1881. Although the Comanches were defeated in the mid 1870’s, the Apaches continued to make travel on the road dangerous. Fort Davis was home to “Buffalo” soldiers – regiments made up of coloured men formed following the American Civil War. The Indians gave them the nickname buffalo because their hair was like the buffalo hair.
Barracks and parade ground
After leaving Fort Davis we headed up into the Davis mountains – and it was quite a climb – we topped 6500ft when we stopped to have a look at the McDonald Observatory which was not terribly informative but did have quite a special telescope with its 11-meter (433-inch) mirror, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) is one of the world’s largest optical telescopes. It was designed specifically for spectroscopy, the decoding of light from stars and galaxies to study their properties. This makes it ideal in searching for planets around other stars, studying distant galaxies, exploding stars, black holes and more.
Our stop for the night was not far from here but at a slightly lower altitude of 5800ft and was in a lovely picnic area. No traffic on the road and one other camper and several wild turkeys for company.
Friday 07 Mar – It was another cold night which can’t be helped when you are up high. Left our idyllic site and headed back off the Davis mountains on to the range – this was country far more suited to stock raising than we have seen and in places if you changed the brown grass to green it was almost like home with rolling hills and trees. That didn’t last and then it opened out on to the flat, no trees but a lot of grassland and the odd beefie here and there. These ranches are huge – 10’s of thousands of acres and they are hardly any stock to be seen. We had to leave behind the tranquil roads as we joined up with the Interstate for about half an hour – what a difference – from no cars to all of a sudden non stop trucks – the speed limit is 80mph and we just dawdle along around 55 so these gargantuan trucks fly past you pushing a huge bow wave in front of them. It wouldn’t be very pleasant to be on a motorbike with that happening. Fortunately we were able to depart this road and again go back to quiet roads and up into our next range of mountains – the Guadalupes. Stopped at the park and had a short walk around to view the site of the old staging post from the overland route then it was down the hill and out of Texas and back into New Mexico. Travelled past the Carlsbad Caverns which we intend to visit tomorrow in search of our site for the night – a BLM a few miles away. We have another rig for company and a small canyon as a backdrop.
I have put in a link on the right to more photos which I have loaded into Flikr – let me know if you can see them.