Monday, April 29, 2013

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Sunday we left Ft. Davis and kept on our westward journey through El Paso and toward Albuquerque. It's so fascinating to see the ever changing geography and landscape as we go from one area to another, from one state to another.  New Mexico is now the 7th state we've been in since we left home.  Just as we came into the state on I-10, we began seeing these enormous cattle feed lot operations, all apparently holsteins.  Just went on for miles and miles.  My first thought was that they were either slaughterhouse operations or some sort of holding area before being moved to slaughter houses, but then saw a sign for a dairy.  We had initially thought we might stop in Las Cruces, but when we realized we were not too far from Truth or Consequences, NM, we just knew we had to push on!  We learned that Ralph Edwards, the longtime TV man behind the radio and TV show by that name decided that on the ten year anniversary of the show, as a PR ploy began looking for a town that liked the show so much they would change its name. Well, Hot Springs, NM held a vote and the town voted to do it, so that's how it got its name.  Not too much in the town now, though, but it is near a beautiful New Mexico state park on Elephant Butte Lake.  We stayed in a lovely spot overlooking the lake; the park is wonderfully laid out, with nice shelters over the tables, and the spots at angles, so it's easy to get a less crowded feel, even if it were full.  Since we arrived late on a Sunday evening, and school has not yet finished, the park was pretty empty.  It's been so nice to be in some of these parks where there just hasn't been anyone there.  We know that will soon come to an end once school lets out, but it's so nice for now.  This morning we woke up to no other campers in the whole row of sites along the bank overlooking  the lake.

Last night we found a wonderful restaurant for some of the best Mexican food we've ever had.  The tortillas were baked fresh, just melt in your mouth.  And the green and red chili sauces were just out of this world!  It was so different from anything we've had at the Mexican restaurants at home, and were we glad to have had this chance!

After supper we walked down by the banks of the lake--unfortunately the severe drought conditions have left the lake at the lowest level it's been in 8 years.  Locals say the farmers and ranchers are really worried that it's going to get worse.  Anyway, we could only imagine how much prettier it would have been had the lake been full.

We took off this morning and just drove on to Albuquerque, where we're now sitting at Camping World, waiting for the service people to diagnose the problem with the fresh water pump.  Hope it's something relatively easy for them to fix, but as I described the problem to the service manager when he was doing the intake, I didn't like the frowns that appeared on his face.  But, hey, this is the no worries, no hurries tour!  Whatever happens happens, and we'll just deal with it.  Wanted to get to Albuquerque, since we had already gotten Trisha's ticket to Florida from here, and I'll have a week here anyway, if it takes a while to fix the problem.  Another ominous sign--as we first sat down in the waiting lounge, Trisha picked up the local paper and immediately saw an ad for shih tzus!  So don't know where that may lead!!

Anyway, here are some pics from yesterday, and the sunrise this morning at Elephant Butte Lake:

These shots are of the McDonald Observatory, not too far from Ft. Davis

Some pretty purple flowers on the grounds of the observatory.

Some different terrain that what we've been seeing

This is a far away shot we tried to get as we were driving along of the pecan orchards.  Never knew this was such a big crop in New Mexico, but along I-10 there are miles and mile of them.

Above:  view of the marina; you can see how low the water level is
 View of the lake from our campsite, with mesas and buttes in the background--learned that a butte is a small mesa, generally accepted dividing line is if there is not room enough for cows up top, then it's a butte.
 As we were walking down to the lake after supper--don't we cast long shadows!!
 Right by the lake
 Sailboat gently motoring on the other side of the lake

Sunrise over Elephant Butte Lake from our campsite.

Well, great news--the service manager just came to let us know that the problem wasn't as major as we had feared, just some loose hose connections and they got it taken care of before 5:00!  Wooohoooo!  So, fortunately there's an RV park right next door where we'll go and relax, now that we have full water in the carhouse, and plan on spending the day tomorrow exploring the many things Albuquerque has to offer!

Leaving Big Bend, on to Ft. Davis

Saturday morning we reluctantly packed up and pulled out of Big Bend National Park--lots of incredible scenery, some wonderful hikes, some exciting bird sightings, and just plain awesomeness!  There's so much more to do here, we know we'll be back some day.  Reading the guide books, we know the landscape will likely be different when we return, as each time there's flooding, the waters rearrange the rocks, sands and the views change--just a miniscule sliver of the changing tableau that's been going on for millions of years in this remarkable part of the world.

Before leaving the park, though, just have to share some experiences, thoughts and observations.  I also realized that, for those not familiar with this part of the country, I hadn't said how it got its name.  The park, as well as this larger area of Texas, is called Big Bend due to the big bend that the Rio Grande makes at this point in its journey.

While most of our experiences thus far have been just spectacularly wonderful, and the people we've encountered have been mostly happy and having a good time, saw a couple of things here that caused us to pause and reflect on the fact that, even in the midst of such beautiful nature, we humans just seem to reveal our frailties and shortcomings.  The first day we arrived in the park, we had stopped at the visitors center to register and talk to the park ranger about things to see within the park.  As I was getting back into the RV, saw a man drive up in a great big rig, towing a big car behind his RV, and when he got out, he had a cigarette dangling from his lips, and then just took it out and threw it down on the ground.  Even though it was on the paved parking lot, with the way the winds were blowing, it was not inconceivable that his still lit butt could have blown from the pavement and into the brush.  With the drought they've been having in the park and so much dry grass and brush, it could have started a fire in a heartbeat.  Plus, it just never ceases to amaze me that so many smokers seem to feel there's nothing wrong with just throwing cigarette butts down anywhere.  Then, the night before we left Trisha and I were sitting out by the store where we had wifi, and a couple came up from their trailer just screaming at each other--he had seen a rare bird and was berating his wife for not having their camera with her to take pictures--so she went back to the trailer and got the camera and when she returned the bird had gone, so he yelled at her some more about how timing is everything and how badly she had blown it.  So they just fumed at each other and stomped off to their trail.  Trisha was recalling the woman we'd met at Ft. Pickens in the Florida panhandle who said she and her husband kept a tent in their RV for when they got out of sorts, she would go sleep in the tent--Trisha wanted to go tell this guy to go get a tent!  But, then I remembered a sermon Fred Craddock preached once about an imagined conversation with God, how the narrator asked God after the Israelites had once again turned themselves away from what God had taught why God just didn't give up on human beings; God replied that the reason was that there is always the chance of redemption.  So I tried to let go of my judgmental leanings here, and realize that all of us fall short from time to time, but, thankfully, there's always the chance of redemption.  Also reminded me of another wise man, my good friend and mentor in the Santa world, Santa Lee from Tennessee, who, when I complained about how some bickering and infighting that was going on once in connection with planning a Santa convention.  Lee said, "Jack, you have to remember that under the red suit is just a human bing."

Anyway, this experience was quickly relieved by another, hilarious encounter there at the store that evening.  A couple of young women came up and were trying to connect their ipads to the internet and couldn't figure out how to get the wifi going.  They saw that I was on the computer and asked me if I could help them and one just handed me her ipad and said, "Can you do it for me?"  Well, we got them connected, and I said I just had to ask how old they were--they told me 22--and I said our kids would just die laughing that some twenty somethings had to ask this geezer luddite a computer question, and that I was able to help them!!  What a hoot!

Anyway, we drove out of the park going west, and were able to see some parts of the park we had not seen to that point.  It's all just so different, and everything is beautiful in its own, different way.  Decided to stay with the back roads on our way towards Albuquerque, and it was wonderful.  Came through Terlingua, where we saw the remnants of a ghost town, and an ancient cemetery that's still used by the locals.  Then to Lacintas, and Presidio. on our way to Ft. Davis State Park, where we spent the night.  This park was lovely, enjoyed sitting out at the picnic table under the shady trees playing cards and eating supper.

Here are some pics:

View through a tunnel as we headed out from Rio Grande Village

Some views of different colors along the western end of the park that we had not seen before

An interesting restaurant in Terlingua, that's built into the ground, and in the second shot you can see the door that looks like a door going down into a mine--it was closed since it was early in the morning, but several of the guide books said it was an interesting place to eat, since once you go in, you go down underground for the seating.

We found this sign amusing--rather that saying closed, the sign says shut!
The cemetery at Terlingua, the first shot is of a marker of recent vintage, apparently marking a family plot

Some of the older, more primitive grave markers

 Many graves have little altars set up in stone alcoves, where relatives come to place candles, money, various objects signifying particular interests of the person who died, e.g., here a golf ball.  At first, the skull here, like many throughout the cemetery, seemed somewhat macabre to us, but in talking to a shopkeeper, we learned that this is all part of an Hispanic tradition of honoring the dead.  November 2 is the Day of the Dead, big celebration where friends and relatives gather in the cemetery, bringing money and food to place on the graves, to ensure that the departed will be well taken care of in the afterlife.  People often dress up in costumes of "Day of the Dead Figures," colorful outfits, with skull masks.  It struck me as a very moving way to celebrate the lives of those who've died, and a way to help keep memories alive.
 Some ghost town remnants
Some views from where we stopped along the side of the road to eat lunch--here horses grazing on the Mexican side, along the river bank

 More beautiful, typical mesa and mountain views along the way between Lacintas and Presidio.

Very unique shelters for picnic tables at a rest stop
 Looking down at the Rio Grande from the top of a really steep incline--in fact a bit scary as we started down.

Courthouse in Presidio--sorry  I cut off the top of the cupola!
 Courthouse in Ft. Davis
 Pretty church in Ft. Davis
 Ft. Davis State Park, early Sunday morning, with the moon still beautifully visible.

Well, I've been writing this while sitting at the picnic table at our campsite in Elephant Butte Lake State Park in New Mexico--our 7th state so far!--having just watched a beautiful sunrise over the lake.  I'll post about this place later, as we need to hit the road and beat feet to Albuquerque--developed a problem with the coach water pump and need to get there to get it fixed.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Big Bend National Park, Day 4-Santa Elena Canyon

While it was pretty chilly at night when we first arrived in the park, it's been warming up steadily--good news and bad news:  the mornings have been increasingly brighter and less overcast, but it doesn't take long for the sun to really get hot.  This day was no exception--don't know how high it got, but midafternoon the store thermometer was registering 99 in the shade!  Can only imagine how hot it will be here at the height of the summer!

But what a lovely day it was.  All the guidebooks said you should do the Santa Elena Canyon hike in the morning, due to the sunlight patterns, so that's one of the reasons we stayed the night before in Cottonwood, to be closer to Santa Elena and to get an early start.  The seven mile drive from the campground to the trail was just glorious, and the panorama views were spectacular!

Looking down from the road to the Mexican side of the river--couple of guys with their cows and dogs enjoying a beautiful riverside morning!

As we drove along, we could see the canyon walls, each turn giving us different perspectives--this is the divide, the river having cut through these walls over years and years--at least two or three, don't you think?!  The canyon walls rise some 1500 feet above the riverbanks along the canyon floor.  We've been seeing this view from afar, but it was exciting to get closer!  Mexico is on the left, Texas on the right.

Beautiful Northern Cardinal on a branch by the trailhead.

 We're standing in the dry bed of the Terlingua Creek, which flows into the Rio Grande at this point when there's rain.  Where we're standing will be completely flooded.
 Looking up the river into the canyon.
 Had to get a little of the Rio Grande on me!
Looking up toward the trail where we're headed.
 Reflection of the Mexican canyon wall
 Two shots of the dry, baked dirt of the creek bottom--quite a change from the way it will look after a rain!

 Another beautiful flower we've not seen before.
The closer you get the more awesome the sight of these high canyon walls
 Love the cactus!
 Looking down from one of the overlooks onto the Terlingua Creek bed
 Turkey vulture just spreading its wings and glorying in this magnificent beauty; on a rock on the Mexican side.
 The trail along the river bank
 These massive rocks that have fallen from the side of the canyon wall--glad we weren't there when they fell!
Standing below an outcropping on the wall, looking straight up, trying to give a little perspective

 You can see Trisha down in the bottom of the picture
All of this is completely underwater when the creek floods.

 In the parking lot by the trailhead--sign said in 1990 when they had a really big flood of the creek, the water was 5 feet above the level of the parking log--about where the notch in this sapling is.
 Mountains of tuff--the volcanic ash from the last eruption--looks a lot like dribbly beach sand castles!
 A view of the Mule Ears, from a different perspective--Trisha now prefers to call this Angel Wings!

Well, we'll reluctantly leave Big Bend this Saturday morning, and head west--looking forward to what many of the guidebooks call one of the most beautiful drives in Texas, toward Presidio--who knows where we'll spend tonight!