Not far from the bluebonnet fields of Muleshoe Bend lies a Texas state park called Longhorn Cavern. The entire purpose of this small park is for its cave tours. We drove right past this park a couple of years ago on the way to another state park, Inks Lake, which is only six miles down the road from Longhorn Cavern and is itself another great park to visit. It’s a beautiful drive through rolling hills with spring wildflowers and longhorn cattle in view.
Natives used this cave as a Comanche Indian Council room. An outlaw by the name of Sam Bass used it as a hideout. Just before the cave was purchased by the state in the mid-1930’s, it was used as a speakeasy nightclub complete with dance floor and a kitchen. Once the state purchased it, the cave was completely readied for tours by the CCC boys. This was prime CCC time. Our tour group gathered in this pavilion below, which they built solely for that purpose from local limestone. The craftsmanship is admirable.
From this building, it was a short walk over and down to the cave. I captured these views as we were going in.
Every cave I’ve visited is different from every other one. I like to see what new thing each cave is going to show me. For starters, I’ve never been in a cave that was totally developed by the CCC. They removed 2.5 tons of silt, debris and bat guano, and they built stairs and walkways. Their entire long days were spent working down underground with candlelight. For that, they were paid a dollar a day.
Longhorn was formed long ago by underground flowing rivers, which makes it unique. Most caves are formed by water sinking down through the earth. The flowing water sculpted beautiful works of rock art.
The CCC workers found this “dog” further back in the canyon and moved it up to where it could be seen better. They were working back in the day when it wasn’t common knowledge that caves should be left in their natural state. Mother Nature carved this sculpture out of magnesium-rich dolomite rock.
Because of flowing rather than dripping water, this cave is not resplendent with stalactites and stalagmites. It did fold some of them in with its sculpted rock art, though.
There is a colony of 80 to 100 tricolored bats here. Of course, they were snoozing away, so we were admonished not to disturb them and not to use flash on our cameras if we wanted to take a picture. Our daughter, Katie, was particularly good at spotting them.
The thing that made this cave a standout for me, though, was an area lined with calcite crystals. There were so many in one place in the cave that our tour could divide as we wished through two tunnels left or right, circle around back to the main tunnel, and go see the other side. They glittered in the dim light. Wow!
I learned a new word in the cave – “pareidolia”. It is the human ability to see shapes or pictures out of something random. For example, “cave bacon” is simply flowstone which looks very much like real bacon. Our guide showed us many formations that looked like something familiar and, for fun, urged us to find our own pereidolia. She showed us this face made from light and rock:
The tour was a full hour and a half and it was well worth the ticket price. Coming back up, my daughter and I stopped for a picture under the CCC’s beautiful stone archway:
Above ground, there are a few trails in this small day-use park, and the CCC built a tower here also. Climbing it gives a view of the Hill Country all around. But I can’t tell you more than that, because it was lunchtime. We were all hungry, so we skipped it.
The best stop here that we’ve found for lunch is in nearby Marble Falls, at Blue Bonnet Cafe. Cal and I had stopped here for their renowned pie once, and this time we discovered they do a great lunch too. It was a Saturday, and there was a line, but it moved quickly.
There was one more destination I wanted to see in the Hills area, and I will save that for my next and last posting of “West of Austin”.
Next time – we visit a past President of the United States
To wrap up the winter of 2023, we moved “up north” 145 miles. This time we sat about as close as you can get to the water, on Corpus Christi Bay at an exclusive private club: the US Military. We were at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi for ten days, for our first stay with the navy.
It isn’t quite as fancy as it may sound. Hurricane Harvey did its work here back in 2017. The road to the family camp is riddled with potholes. A lot of “non-essential” (i.e., recreation) facilities such as the marina have been deemed too structurally unstable for repair but have yet to be torn down. We enjoyed watching all the bird life on the fishing pier, but supposedly it was off limits for this same reason. I say “supposedly” because we saw plenty of people walking or fishing from it now and again.
This naval base is very quiet. There are only 140 permanent Navy service people stationed here. It is a training ground for new navy pilots who pass through until they attain their wings. My own nephew, Mike, trained here and didn’t have much good to say about the place. I don’t think it would be particularly exciting for a young service person. There are only a couple of places to eat outside of the military dining facility, and the commissary and base exchange are small. The club, and other spots for socializing, are only open once or twice a week. The base is in need of sprucing up but there doesn’t seem to be the funds for that.
We’re in a different stage of life than my nephew, though, and found it to be perfect for us. We like off-the-wall, quiet places. I enjoyed many walks on the beach in front of our RV and on the long, wide concrete strip on the other side of the fishing pier. That strip stretched for over a mile and we surmised that it was the shipping dock back when ships stopped here. It was also great for bike riding. We rode bikes all over every corner of this small base. On a Saturday morning the empty streets transformed into great bike paths for us.
Many RVer’s don’t like NAS Corpus Christi because of the constant wind, but we were already used to that after our winter in Harlingen. When the wind was more intense, it would stir up the waves and they would crash against the sea wall. Other RV’ers told us they’d seen it kick up higher than this. I think I’m glad we weren’t here for that kind of weather!
The below RV is not ours. We were glad we did not have this front-row spot. The other drawback to being here is that the salt air is detrimental to RV’s and other equipment one may have. This RV was a little too close to the salty sea spray. As it was, Cal was hosing the RV down every three days or so.
There was a little cove across the road behind our park. I liked to walk there to see the roseate spoonbills that made the cove their home, and to see what other birds might be hanging out that day. I often saw sandhill cranes in the field behind us as well.
The base was built during World War II and I can imagine it was hopping during that era. Senior officer’s quarters were built fronting the dock and the water. Most are gone; Harvey finished off what was left in 2017. But, amazingly, a handful are still lived in.
There is nothing between this house and the bay except for a small field and the concrete strip.
I was surprised to learn that when these homes were built many officers still had servants. The servant’s quarters were to the side of the garage. I peeked into one that was standing empty. It is truly a remnant of a by-gone era. Not much later, the quarters were turned into a multitude of uses by the officers living in the house.
We were both outside a good portion of every day here and it was relaxing to just forget about the time. Many days we joined a group of friends who gather late afternoon most days for a beer or whatever was in their water bottles. We compared notes with them on other military family camps. Some of these folks fish or golf. We like to see what’s in the area, and they were a good resource for that.
Not far to the east of Corpus Christi, the John F. Memorial Causeway bridge crosses the Laguna Madre to the barrier islands on the Gulf of Mexico. A left turn past the bridge leads north to Mustang Island State Park and then up to Port Aransas. The state park is small but I couldn’t miss exploring its beach.
There were many people fishing here on the two rock piers or on the beach. This woman was repeatedly plunging a white PVC pipe into the sand; what was she doing? We had to find out, so we asked and she was happy to tell us.
The device is called a shrimp gun or pump, and she was using it to catch ghost shrimp for fishing bait. They are a tasty treat for pompano and other fish.
In Port Aransas we visited a bird refuge. It was behind a sewage treatment plant – phew! – but there was a nice view of Laguna Madre to see the birds. We even found an alligator hanging out right underneath the viewing platform.
Over the JFK causeway, if you turn right, you end up at Padre Island National Seashore. This is a place that is near and dear to my heart, because it contains happy memories of weekend trips camping on the beach with my best friend years ago. I was happy to see it was still mostly the same unspoiled place it used to be.
Padre Island (not to be confused with South Padre Island to the south; they are not connected) is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world. It’s possible to drive 65 miles down the beach, and we probably only drove less than half of it. It’s a relatively young island – about 4500 years old – in a constant state of change. It’s a fragile environment with its exposure to wind, hurricanes, and ocean currents.
When we first drove on to the beach, there was a line up of RV’s camping on the beach. Then, a smattering of tents, which were fewer and fewer as we went on. Finally, a deserted section: perfect!
Pods of pelicans glided silently by.
These birds on the beach are a little different than the sea gulls they were hanging out with. Their black hats and long tail feathers blew in the wind.
I took a wonderfully long walk down the beach, and saw more trash than I would have liked. I passed several lonely flip-flops without their mates when I came upon this. I wish I’d known this was here; I’d have added to the line!
When we were finished visiting the beach, we stopped at the national park museum on the way back. There’s an explanation for the trash: several currents flow in around the Gulf of Mexico. Those currents swirl around and collect debris from ships and fisherpeople, and all the islands and countries that touch its shores. The north and south currents converge and dump not only sand and shells but also trash right on to Shell Beach, further south than where we stopped driving. Several exhibits discussed the effect of this trash on marine life.
They do a big clean-up day at least once a year. There are trash bags outside of the museum so folks can do a pickup if they’d like, and we did see a gentleman walking the beach with one of the yellow bags. Note to self for another time: stop at the museum first. I had been in a hurry to get to the beach, of course.
I hadn’t been to an aquarium in many years, so we made a stop at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi. We watched a dolphin show and admired all the tanks of sharks, alligators, corals and fish from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
There were moon jellies in the aquatic nursery:
and I enjoyed watching the flamingos in the jungle area. The one in front inspected us up and down. “Just what are you looking at?” it seemed to say.
This one just wanted to dance. They were fun to watch, or maybe I just enjoyed them because I can’t get this close to shore birds out in the wild.
Near the marina downtown, which is where the picture at the top was taken, was a statue of Selena Quintanilla-Perez, a young rising singer who was murdered at a young age in 1995. She was much loved in Texas and many people were here for a look or a picture in front of her memorial.
We were getting ready to say farewell to the Gulf region for now, but one last seafood dinner at Harrison’s landing was in order.
Where do our travels take us from here? That’s for the next post!
My never-ending quest for a warm winter is what led me to book a stay in Harlingen this past January and February. Harlingen is almost as south as you can go without bumping into Mexico.
The town is part of an area known as the Rio Grande Valley. The “valley”, or the RGV as it’s sometimes called, is bounded by South Padre Island on the east to Mission on the west. This whole area sits just north of the Mexican border. It’s not really a valley, but mostly part of a flat scrubby coastal plain.
The RGV is a popular place for “snow birds” from northern states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the whole area has a plethora of RV parks. The snow birds are welcome here; they have a huge positive effect on the local economy. I have posted about all of our trips down to the Gulf; what else is there to do?
Plenty, as we found out. I will try in this blog to give you a little flavor of what our life here was like.
Closest to us and just a short ride on our new e-bikes (more on that later) was a large Iwo Jima monument. I took a picture of Cal in front of it just to show how he was dwarfed by it.
The original statue is in Arlington Cemetery. The sculptor, Dr. Felix W. de Weldon, gifted this full-size model of his statue to the Marine Military Academy across the street. It is 32 feet high. It is made of molding plaster prior for casting in bronze; the constant temperature and humidity here were thought to be perfect for its preservation. All of the conflicts that our country has been in are etched around the base of the statue.
Still on our bikes, after seeing the memorial we also drove right past the Valley Airport doors. That’s how small it is! I flew out of this airport when I went to New Orleans. It only has seven gates.
Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum was also near our park. They had a quilt show in their exhibition area. The quilt show had a Shakespearean theme and this quilt was inspired by the bard himself.
Stepping outside the exhibit and entrance, we could see the 1904 home of Lon C. Hill, along with other historic buildings. According to the museum brochure, Lon was a “lawyer, store keeper, hotel owner, farmer, sugar mill owner, developer, builder, brick kiln owner, canal builder, Statesman, pioneer and visionary.” What a busy guy! His wife died when he built the home, leaving him with eight children.
One of the things we love about Texas is being able to grocery shop at HEB. To me, it is the best grocery store chain of anywhere we have been. How can you complain about a store with a tortilla bakery? But what does the abbreviation mean?
It is explained at the historical museum here. The H.E. Butt family donated the building housing the museum to the city back in 1967. Howard Edward Butt took over management of the family grocery store from his mother, Florence T. Butt, in 1919. She founded it and ran it for fourteen years, so why isn’t the store named for her? Well, that’s a mystery. Howard and his wife are in this somewhat grainy picture.
Shopping at our local HEB one evening, the grackles totally took over the parking lot. It was raining birds! We even saw the parking lot on the evening news the next night. It was the time of year when grackles come from where ever they are all day and congregate. I guess even grackles like to shop at HEB.
Speaking of birds, there are plenty of places to go see them in the valley. The area is part of the migration flyway for birds. We took a walk in Hugh Ramsey Nature Center in Harlingen and came upon a yellow-throated warbler that you can see in the branches below, keeping an eye on the two turtles below.
At the beginning of our Hugh Ramsey walk, we spotted a couple of javelinas in the underbrush. That was exciting, until at the end we found the whole herd!
I hoped to find more wildlife at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles from our park and a place we walked twice. A sign at the beginning of the park road was promising:
I would have loved to see an ocelot, but I knew it would be a stretch. Much later, we watched a nature show about the wildlife of Texas and were able to see what this cute little cat looks like. Laguna Atascosa is only one of two of their remaining habitats in Texas, and only 100 are known to exist in the entire United States. This wildlife refuge is trying hard to encourage their reproduction but they have a lot of predators; it’s not an easy task for an ocelot mother to raise a kitten to adulthood.
A huge part of their mission is to provide habitat for wintering water birds, and other migratory birds. It is a bird watching destination for those who enjoy the hobby. We saw green jays at one of the feeding stations at Laguna Atascosa. I suppose if I wanted to be a serious bird watcher, I’d need to get to the refuge a little earlier in the day.
Most of this park is coastal wetlands. We did see egrets in the large lake here, and an alligator, but it was far in the distance.
On another day we headed down to Sabal Palms Preserve, which is the last remaining stand of the great sabal palms that used to cover the area. An interesting part of visiting this preserve, as we discovered, is that it is right on the border with Mexico. We drove right past the fence.
Passing through this fence was a little confusing but somehow we were still in the United States. Two members of the National Guard were sitting on the levee by their truck as we passed. Sabal Palms closes right at 5:00 and the gates are then securely locked. There is plenty of illegal border activity here, as we later found out.
Long ago, before land was cleared for farming and there was no international border, there were about 60,000 acres of Sabal Palm forest along the Rio Grand River. Now there is less than 100 acres.
In my working days, I was thrilled when I vacationed somewhere during a long winter where I was able to see palm trees. Now I’m happy to see palm trees all winter long. They and other trees lined the beautiful trails in this park.
Part of the draw for Sabal Palms is the Rabb Plantation House. It was once part of Rancho San Tomas, which covered 20,000 acres. The house served as the headquarters for the ranch and was an architectural shift from typical ranch homes of the early 1900’s era. We were able to look around the first floor inside.
On one of our first Saturdays in the area we drove all the way past McAllen to Mission, on the west side of the RGV, for the Citrus Festival and Parade. It was good small town fun.
The best thing about the Citrus Festival was that we were able to buy two large bags of fresh citrus – one orange, one grapefruit – for $5.00. What a steal!
Harlingen still has a fairly vibrant old downtown, which was another thing that scored points with me. There is a smattering of thrift shops, antique malls, and other specialty shops, plus some eating establishments. Once a month on a Saturday, the streets are blocked off for Market Days. Vendors under their canopies line the streets. There is music and plenty of good Mexican and other food to be had, too.
I guess if one drawback can be given about the area, it is the wind. We learned to gauge the weather by very windy, not too windy, and not windy at all. I got used to it because I discovered I didn’t mind the wind as long as it was warm – which it usually was, even in the evenings.
The sites next to us were empty most of the winter so we had a good back yard view. The park is bordered on three sides by farm land and it felt like being out in the country.
When we were at home in Tropic Winds, there were many things to do. I attended yoga and line dancing classes. Cal was outside a lot and chatted with all the neighbors around us. A fruit-and-vegetable truck showed up on Mondays. There were sometimes music concerts to listen to, and few special dinners. The spaghetti dinner put on by the woodworking group is a twice-annual event that everyone looks forward to. The spaghetti is delicious and prizes are handed out throughout the evening.
There are all kinds of ways to RV and we discovered last winter in Phoenix that settling down in a park like this for just a month or two during the winter gives us the community that we don’t have the rest of the year. The permanent park model and manufactured homes that lined the street across from our RV area made the place feel a little bit like the quintessential small town. As I walked the little streets I’d most always be greeted by everyone passing by, whether they were walking the dog or riding their bike or golf cart.
In the late afternoons, friends gather around RV sites, on front porches, or around someone’s golf cart when they are passing by.
Everyone decorates their little home in their own particular style.
Jackrabbits make their home here, too. These RV sites were empty most of the winter and I always looked forward to seeing how many were out playing or basking in the sun.
Anywhere and any way you call it, there’s no place like home.
It’s time to hit the road and head off from El Paso all the way across Texas to our winter spot in Harlingen Texas. Is the truck hitched? Slides in? Stairs up? Let’s go!
Out of El Paso, the mountains were close by for quite awhile, but they gradually faded into distance. The terrain is rugged here. We saw plenty of buttes, strange rock formations, and miles upon miles of open, parched land.
I should maybe have titled this blog “Four for the road”, because there were actually four overnight stops along the way, but our first was at Fort Stockton RV Park. It’s right off the highway and is primarily an overnight stop for RVers crisscrossing the state before or after the long open stretch of west Texas. There are things to do here, but we always say: “Next time!” They do have a handy little restaurant which served us up a good breakfast.
The road entered some pretty hills and valleys of the southwest corner of the Texas Hill country. Our second stop was outside of Junction, Texas for two overnights at Pecan Valley RV. This is a lovely, quiet place just behind a pecan farm. The owners of this park have had it for just a handful of years. They own just two rows of the pecan orchard. The park is a large oval with nothing but grass in the middle of the oval, and RV spaces under plenty of trees ringing just half of the outsides of the loop. There were four sites next to ours, although there were more down the road, and for a blessed twenty-four hours we had no neighbors close by.
There are deer to be seen at any time wandering around. In a little farm area, there are chickens and goats. Many of the chickens were free ranging and came to pay us a visit. Thanks to those chickens, we were able to buy a dozen multi-hued eggs.
The South Llano River is just a short walk from the goat and chicken pen. The river is what makes this park popular in the summer. Besides swimming, people enjoy rafting, kayaking or tubing. In all of its history, the river has never run dry, although with today’s climate change it does get very low in the heat of summer.
We had a full day to rest up here, so we went over to South Llano River State Park for a hike. At this park there is a large protected area where about 800 turkeys make their home. The turkeys are easily scared off, so visiting their roost is not encouraged. We hiked the Overlook Trail, which, after spending time in the Southwest, was an easy trail up for us. We were even surprised on our hike by an armadillo scurrying into the underbrush. It moved too quickly for a picture.
Junction’s single claim to fame is this antler tree, put up by the Women’s Club in 1968.
The Llano river is a bonus to the beauty of this area. I would like to be here when the trees bud again. We’re familiar with Texas Hill country and it was a good feeling to be back.
A short 140-mile drive took us further east to Guadalupe Brewing Company in New Braunfels. Since they are a Harvest Host location, we stayed a night in their back parking lot.
A surprise for this stop was that our daughter Katie, who lives in Austin, decided to come down and join us for the day. She always has ideas for different and fun things to do, so after getting set up at Guadalupe we headed off in her car. First stop: Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo. At first glance, this place looks like a tourist trap off the Interstate. But once inside, we discovered an interesting little zoo with a variety of well-cared-for animals, birds, and a good assortment of snakes.
We also had cups of food to feed a multitude of goats with many cute little kids.
New Braunfels is but one of the German heritage towns that dot this area of the Texas hill country. We walked the little downtown area. All of the busy activity on this Sunday afternoon concentrated on their large Biergarten with Hofbrau beer on tap. Instead, though, we roamed the city streets, checked out an antique mall, and visited the little train depot. If you are ever in New Braunfels in November, you can enjoy their popular Wurstfest.
We needed to patronize Guadalupe Brewing for our stay, so we headed back. They had a full selection of beers to choose from. I’m not really a fan of beer, but Cal is, so we sampled three small glasses. My favorite was their Texas Honey Ale, which is described as “a blonde ale enriched with Texas honey”. Even the description sounds delicious. They also make a good pizza, and dinner was in order. That was a fun day!
Leaving New Braunfels, we pointed Sam and Frodo due south in earnest. It was getting warmer. Putting San Antonio behind us, we were on new-to-us territory. Our last stop: Lake Corpus Christi State Park. It is about forty miles to the east from the city for which it is named. Once we set up, I just sat at our picnic table and enjoyed the warmth and the cardinals singing and flying over us.
I hiked a mile long loop trail. Cactus on the the ground were interspersed with deciduous trees with no leaves, and here and there was a palmetto or a palm tree. The trail finally opened up onto the lake.
I missed getting an excellent photo that evening, though. We walked down to a large aluminum T-shaped fishing pier in the late afternoon and caught the setting sun over the lake. The sunset was amazing. It was a walk where we were just “going exploring”, and I had left my phone and camera behind. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was spectacular.
Traveling further south, we entered a coastal plain with low vegetation, more cactus and very little sign of human life. We had about 140 miles still to go from Lake Corpus Christi. Once near Harlingen, civilization returned. Harlingen is in the northeast part of the Rio Grande Valley, an area that also includes Brownsville and south Padre Island to the southeast and McAllen and Mission on the west. It is at the very bottom of Texas, so once again, we are not far from Mexico.
I’ll leave you here for now while we make some new memories. I’m going to pick up my Europe blogs again for three or four weeks. Do you remember my question from way back in November: what did I leave out of my Scottish blogs?
Huddled in our blankets in front of our fireplace in the cold November nights of New Mexico, we stalked the Weather Channel for a warmer place that would be still be a days driving distance from Denver. El Paso was consistently several degrees warmer. It’s a funny thing, too, because El Paso, Texas lies only approximately 50 miles to the south of Las Cruces, New Mexico. We knew where we had to go. We were going to go there anyway, but our arrival at our site in El Paso was about three weeks earlier than we originally planned.
At the very tip of the nose of Texas, on its far western side, lies the city of El Paso. Franklin Mountain rises up and pushes down into it like a thumb. The city has crept up and around the tip of that thumb. El Paso is limited in its growth southward by the Mexican city of Juarez, from which migrants poured during the months of November and December 2022. Driving along I-10 reveals a tale of two cities: Juarez, looking a little less prosperous and with a lining of smog along its mountainside, and El Paso, with its chain restaurants and hotels lining the expressway. If you look closely, you can see the immense border wall which snakes down and around, dividing Mexico and the United States.
On the northeastern side of the mountain lies sprawling Ft. Bliss, the Army’s second largest base, containing 1.1 million acres. It is so big that it is chopped up by the roads that pass through it, notably SR 54 that passes in front of the RV park. Were it not for that highway, this would be a great place to sit. Behind the park, Franklin Mountain rises up and provides a lovely backdrop. All around the mountain, development never rises much higher than this. I suspect that much of the land is owned by either the federal government or the state of Texas.
On some of my daily walks, I tried to get behind the buildings and up into the hills, but it was just too far. In the foreground of this picture is one of Ft. Bliss’s housing areas and behind that is a fence.
There was plenty of time to explore, so one of the first things we did was hike in the Franklin Mountains.
It was silent on the mountain, until the sound of birds broke through. We stood there for awhile, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from, until this gaggle of geese flew over us. They circled above our heads for quite awhile. Maybe, just like people, they were having an argument about which direction was best for their migration journey? There was quite a discussion, as evidenced by all their honking. Finally they fixed their formation and flew off. Adios amigoose!
If you want to drive to a destination in El Paso that is on the other side of the mountain from where you are, it can take some time to go around on the highway. The single other option is to travel on the only road that cuts through it, which is beautiful Transmountain Road. Franklin State Park, where we hiked, is on that road. Going from west to east, at the end of Transmountain road, sits the National Border Patrol Museum. We thought it might be interesting, so we paid a visit.
The thing that struck me most about this museum is a reminder that the United States borders do not only encompass our border with Mexico, which is what comes to mind when I think about Border Patrol. Those who work for Border Patrol have to be ready for winter conditions up on the border with Canada, and also oceanic borders in other places. The museum is small and didn’t take us long to go through. It is a good place to learn about those who protect all of our borders.
Border Patrol agents have to keep an eye out for motorized hang gliders, which are used for drug smuggling. We learned about the many ways that people try to smuggle all manner of things – and people – into the United States. Helicopters are needed, of course.
After we visited the museum, Cal made an attempt to see how high up we could drive into the mountains from our side (not very far). We passed a migrant detention center and observed many people walking around in the fenced back yard. One man was holding a baby. It is an image that stayed in my mind and put a very human face on the current migration crisis happening in this city.
We made a stop at Keystone Park and El Paso’s Botanical Garden one morning. Keystone Park needs a lot of love, as it doesn’t seem to be well maintained. It is a narrow strip of wetlands on a short trail located between a busy road and I-10, which is amazing given this light-industrial location. There were many birds to see, which made it worthwhile, and then the Botanical Garden can be accessed from this trail.
The birds would take flight and move to another section of wetland when I tried to take just a step closer, so I couldn’t get a closeup shot of them. But I did like this view of the mountains reflected in this picture. Our RV was on the other side of the mountain from here.
The garden was small, but a lot was packed in. It provided plants from the Chihuahuan desert and a peek into some past history.
In one area, there were pretty mosaics set into the wall:
I liked how they had decorated, just a little, for Christmas:
The garden also had a set up of a “paraje” which was an encampment along the Camino Real. This dates back to the 1600’s, when New Mexico was a Spanish colony. The trail covered the distance between Mexico and Santa Fe along what was originally a Pueblo Indian trail. The Spanish were setting up military outposts and needed to move both equipment and missionaries. Parajes were located every 10 or 15 miles to give shelter, rest and water to the livestock and and travelers as well.
The plan for the day was that if we had time, Cal would drop me off at Whoopee Bowl Antique Mall up the highway, and he would go to Camping World while I was there. We have such an exciting life!
I had read about Whoopee Bowl, and I love to poke around antique malls, so I wanted to check this out. If this is the sort of thing you enjoy, it is not to be missed if you are ever in El Paso. I’m always amazed at all the junk…excuse me…stuff that people collect. Whoopee Bowl takes antique malls to a whole ‘nother level.
The above picture is up on the second level. After checking out this massive place and returning down to the first floor, I found a room I hadn’t been in. There was huge fish aquarium, a blazing fire going in a massive brick fireplace, and a rousing game of poker going on.
Atlas Obscura is a guide, both on-line and in book form, to all sorts of quirky and interesting places that one might normally miss. They don’t list the Whoopee Bowl, maybe because it is a business. But they do list the Casa de Azucar, which translated from Spanish means House of Sugar. It was just down from where we were staying and made for a good walk.
It is a testament to one man’s love for both his wife and his Catholic church. Rufino Loya started building this confection of decoration around his little house and kept at it for 25 years. He died just this past August at the age of 88 years. I hope someone will keep taking care of it.
Also just up the road, two artists were working on a mural on a concrete retaining wall. I enjoyed walking by and checking their progress.
Our time in El Paso was also about catching up on chores for me and RV maintenance for Cal. The less-glamorous side of RV life is that we do have to stay on top of everything that one would normally do in their lives. Some things had not been taken care of since before our trip to Europe. It being Christmas time, there was also gift buying, Christmas cards to write, and other things that one does to get ready for the holiday. Our RV park had a club house with a kitchen I could use, and I baked some Christmas cookies there.
Just a few days before Thanksgiving, we made a last-minute decision to visit our family in Denver, so we went drove there without the RV for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Almost every evening while we stayed here, though, we walked together through the little streets of the RV park. It was fairly large so I could get a good number of steps in. When the sun goes down, the temperature plummets, so at times we had to make sure we got our walk in before dinner. For awhile we enjoyed a full moon. There was also a little Christmas wonderland set up by our camp hosts.
And, of course, we paid a visit to Santa!
Like a coin which has two sides, we were happy to refuge here, and also happy when it was finally time to move on down the road.
Next time – zipping across the state of Texas in five days
Happy first blog of 2023! I haven’t gotten back to blogging as quickly as I would have liked after the holidays. Blame it on the flu, and traveling, and also having some nonexistent Internet. We are now in a good spot with great Wi-Fi for awhile, so it’s time to flip the calendar back a couple of months…
Entering our RV again after 3 months away in Europe was truly like coming home. It even still had a little of that “new RV” smell. No mice had settled in and nothing catastrophic happened to any of its mechanics. The lithium batteries hadn’t even lost much of their juice. We looked forward to getting back to our nomadic life, even as we still missed some of the aspects of life that we’d had in Europe. First, though, was two weeks in Denver and a happy reunion with our family there. We would be returning at Christmas. So, for the weeks in between, we headed south to New Mexico.
Our time in this state was a comical musical chairs-style switch up in plans and RV reservations. A five-night stay in a state park was canceled by the park for maintenance issues. A clueless RV park owner who takes reservations only by phone lost our reservation and had a full park during the dates we were to be there. And, unexpected: it often got cold at night, sometimes with below-freezing temperatures. We ended up canceling three other stays because the temperatures were dipping too much. RV life sometimes calls for some flexibility!
One of our “substitute stays” took us to a KOA park in Las Vegas. No, not THAT Las Vegas…remember, we are in New Mexico. While there, we took a drive 35 miles down the highway to visit Pecos National Historical Park. The Pecos Indians had a pueblo there, four to five stories high, home to about 2,000 people for several hundred years until the Spanish came along. What the Spanish didn’t destroy, the Americans did: later, it was a stage stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Situated in a fertile valley between two mountain ranges, it was a major gathering and trading place. The warriors were known to be fierce and undefeatable.
The pueblo is in ruins. This is all that remains of a once-great people. Once upon a time, there were 20 kivas here, which were places for ritual ceremonies. I climbed down inside of one of them.
The park service is slowly reconstructing some of the park based on archeological finds. The Spanish mission was in a partially ruined state and they have rebuilt some of it and the surrounding pueblo.
We drove around Las Vegas a couple of times. It was once a stop on the Santa Fe trail during its Mexican past. Later, the railroad arrived. I read that there are 900 historic buildings in this town, dating back hundreds of years. There are things to see another time when it’s warmer. We had dinner in the Buffalo Hall and Cowboy Cafe, another old building. Their barbeque was delicious.
For me, KOA parks are usually just an overnight stop off the highway. Some are practically on the highway, and come with traffic noise and small sites. We stayed here for two nights, and I must say it wasn’t bad. They gave us site #1, which meant a full sprawling yard and no RV’s in view from our front porch. Susan, in the office, fried us up some delicious pancakes with vanilla and cinnamon for breakfast. However, this park sits near the Hogback Mountains, and Las Vegas itself is at 6,424 feet elevation. I didn’t think it would be so chilly this early in November, but we had snow on the morning of our departure. We needed to get further south!
Northern New Mexico is mountainous and is very beautiful. Santa Fe, Taos, and Angel Fire are all nearby. But we’ll have to save our exploration of it for a time when it’s a little warmer.
Our next stay, in Fort Sumner, was also a last-minute replacement find. It was a small mobile home and RV park, usually the kind of place that would be at the very bottom of our desired place to stay. But the permanent residents were to the back, us transients to the front, and all places were neat and tidy. Our site was very wide, and we were right in town. Well, such as town was. What this place lacked in amenities, it made up for in character.
The owners of Valley View RV also own the “Billy the Kid” museum up the street. Ed & Jewel Sweet opened the museum in 1953 as a repository for all the stuff they had collected in their life, and naming it after New Mexico’s famous outlaw is what drew people in. Their son, Donald (who is no spring chicken himself, but gets around well) is running the family business and together with his son, Tim, they run a tight ship.
I wasn’t much drawn into the Billy the Kid stuff. Stuff of lore though he may have been, he was still a criminal. Allegedly, he killed 21 men before he himself was killed at the age of 21 in 1881. But this is BTK territory: where ever we went around these parts, a sign would proclaim “Billy slept here!” or “Billy shot someone here!” and I couldn’t see one redeeming thing that he ever did. I guess it helps with tourism dollars, but I would say the heyday on these events has come and gone.
I loved looking at all the stuff the Sweets collected and had on for display in the museum, though. Besides these farm implements, there were collections of various household items, lots of old buggies and some covered wagons, and of course more BTK ephemera.
Whenever there is a fort to be seen, and we’re looking for something to do, we usually go see it. They’re all different, and some have been amazing for the surprises they hold. Nothing could have prepared me for Fort Sumner, though. Rather than normal western fort-looking buildings, this beautiful museum greeted us:
Recently completed, the Bosque Redondo Memorial tells the story of how 8,500 Navajo and Apache Indians were rounded up in January of 1864 and made to march almost 300 miles to this place. Called “The Long Walk”, under the leadership of Kit Carson, 200 of them died of cold and starvation on the way. The site was to be a reservation to “civilize” them by going to school, practicing Christianity, and becoming corn farmers. Once they got here, they were made to construct their own dwelling places. Unfortunately, the nearby Pecos river was brackish and caused intestinal problems and disease, armyworm destroyed the corn crops, and the wood supply was soon depleted. Most of the Apache escaped the next year, but it would be three more years before the Navajo simply walked home. The whole venture was a miserable failure.
The memorial was built at the request of some Navajo teenagers who, when visiting Ft. Sumner, wanted to know why their story here wasn’t told. Until just two years ago, you would visit the fort and simply not know what happened at this place. The events were certainly not included in any of my history books.
I didn’t have much of an appetite for visiting the fort after that, but we followed the trail out. There isn’t much left of it anyway. Walking about the grounds, I pondered the atrocities that occurred here under the direction of our government. It is a silent, windswept place.
I’m continually astounded at man’s inhumanity to man. I came away with a feeling that I, we all, need to travel and see these places and to learn their stories. Otherwise, how can we learn not to repeat them?
As a side note, after the fort was abandoned in 1869, a rancher purchased one of the old barracks buildings and turned it into a grand house. It was there that a local sheriff ended the life of Billy the Kid. He is buried in the military cemetery nearby, but we did not visit it.
Ready to get back to nature, our next stay was at Valley of Fires Recreation Area, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. It looks over part of a 44-mile lava flow that happened 5,000 years ago. It was not the result of a volcano. Instead, the Carrizozo Malpais Lava Flow was the result of volcanic vent openings in the valley floor. Our site also looked out over the lava field and provided us with several grand sunsets. From our perch, the only man-made thing that we could see was the nature trail and, occasionally, cars on the road far off in the distance to our right. Ahhhhh…excellent.
It is a quiet and peaceful place and was our favorite stay during this time.
When we hiked the nature trail, we discovered that the lava field is very much a living place. There are cactus, trees, and bushes common to the Chihuahuan Desert that we were in, as well as some late-blooming flowers. Animals live here too but we didn’t see any. Seeing lava rock again almost made us feel like we were back on the Big Island of Hawaii.
As a fill-in for our lost RV reservation, we stayed for several days in Alamogordo, right across the road from the world’s biggest pistachio.
McGinn’s PistachioLand and its neighbor, Heart of the Desert, were both great places to sample pistachios, pecans, and wine. It was very handy, after having all that wine, to just be able to walk across the road (carefully!) and go home. At McGinn’s we also took a little tram ride through the orchards and vineyards for an interesting tour. We liked McGinn’s best, but that was probably because Heart of the Desert was a smaller operation and were very busy with a wedding when we visited.
Also behind our RV park in Alamogordo was a little country road which I enjoyed walking on a couple of times. There was a large pecan orchard to look at, mountains ahead of me, and friendly horses to pet.
The highlight of our stay in Alamogordo, though, was a visit to White Sands National Park. Although it was designated a national monument in 1933, it became a national park in 2019. We took a guided walk by a park ranger, where we learned that recently they have found a set of ancient footprints here. The footprints date to 24,000 years ago, placing humans in North America sooner than was thought, but this date seems to still be in dispute. Although the gypsum sands seem dry, there is water only a couple of feet below the surface.
The sun going down made for great effect, casting its long shadows over the sandy hills. We were here in the late afternoon so as to catch the ranger’s tour, but it was a great time of day to visit.
Our last stay during this time was in Las Cruces. From our park, we were able to walk to Old Mesilla, a village that was settled over one hundred years ago. Red chile peppers adorn the plaza and the thick adobe-walled buildings contain art galleries, shops and restaurants.
I cannot help but point out that there was once a courthouse here where Billy the Kid was tried for his crimes and sentenced to hang. He escaped before that could happen.
We had excellent fajitas in a restaurant called La Posta in Old Mesilla. It had been a Butterfield stage stop and inn, and in 1935 it became a restaurant. Parrots and a piranha fish greeted us when we entered. La Posta had rooms upon rooms, and we ate in what was once was the blacksmith and harness room, with a fireplace that kept us warm. While we enjoyed our delicious dinner, we could look at an immense Christmas tree in an adjoining room.
The state of New Mexico overall has much to offer, but we will have to return at a time when it is warmer. The entire state is at elevation, which means it isn’t a great place to be in late fall and winter. Las Cruces itself, while in the far south of New Mexico, sits at 3,900 feet elevation. It was 27 degrees on our last morning in Las Cruces and it wasn’t the first time we’d had a freeze. Daytime temperatures usually warmed up into at least the 50’s, but nighttime freezing temperatures means that the RV mechanic (that’s Cal) has to disconnect hoses and turn on tank heaters. It’s always a worry that a connection might freeze and crack.
We were continuously keeping an eye on the Weather Channel, trying to figure out where would be the warmest place to sit for awhile. What did we find? That is the subject of my next post!
Our previous post, from Western Colorado, actually happened two months ago. What have we been doing since then? Getting ready for our 3 month trip to Europe!
Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised to hear of our plans. Thinking about it and saving for it kept me going through the last decade of work before retirement. In its original conception, the trip was going to be 9 months, plus Hawaii tacked on at the beginning. Why spend a lot of money flying back and forth over the ocean for a few weeks when you can see more in one trip for several months?
Then, grandchildren started arriving. COVID happened, and the purchase of our truck and 5th wheel. We had our trip to Hawaii earlier this year, so now it’s time for the other part of the plan. The trip duration has been reduced to only three months, but three months is still a blessing, and I’m glad we can go.
I started planning for the trip last fall. And then stopped for awhile. COVID variants arrived, waned, came back around again. Ukraine was invaded by Russia. Optimistically, I reserved AirBnbs and purchased plane tickets. Cal was worried about Covid resurgence. And it is resurging again. We have been vaccinated and boosted twice, and have our masks, but who knows? Neither of us could have foreseen the airport debacle that is going on right now in Europe and here in the States. But all plans are made, and we will hope for the best.
What about our truck and 5er? Our RV is going into storage on an air base. What could be more secure than that? We have a nephew in Albuquerque who is graciously letting us keep the truck in his driveway. I suspect he will be enjoying a few drives in it. When we return to the United States, we will be back to our RV’ing life the same as before.
Meanwhile, besides trip preparation, our time in Denver has been filled with the mundane stuff of everyday life. We have been happily enjoying the company of our grandchildren – and their mothers, of course!
Two days after we arrived, we had a late May snowstorm.
One place I enjoyed returning to this summer was Denver City Park. There were a couple of walks with friends. I wish I could have joined them more often. This is the kind of weather I prefer!
This year, for the first time, I had opportunity to be in the park twice in the evening for concerts by the Mile High Freedom Band:
In Ferril Lake, the fountain changes colors, and swan boats paddle around it.
As we rose north from Arizona and Utah so did the gas prices, and they peaked during our stay in Denver. We limited excursions to those around town. We were curious about a couple of brown signs we’ve seen on streets we travel often, so we followed those signs. The first was 8 miles out from our summer spot at Cherry Creek State Park to Aurora Reservoir. Despite the cool and overcast weather, people were out fishing and SUP’ing.
We discovered a great trail through the rolling prairie around the lake, and some blooms that looked a little like thistles.
Another brown sign we see on our way to City Park in Denver is for Four Mile Park. I was hoping for a hiking/biking trail until I did some research on it: it is a historical park.
Four Mile Historical Park is four miles from the heart of downtown Denver and was a last stop on the Cherokee Trail in the pioneer days. This house is the oldest house in Denver. A cabin was built to supply travelers, and then it became an inn and stage coach stop. Women slept in the parlor and the men upstairs, and the upstairs loft was also used for dances. It finally became a gentleman’s farm for a Denver lawyer and his family, and grew to 600 acres. Now there are only twelve acres and it is in the city with apartment buildings all around the outside.
Tim, the assistant site manager, walked us through the house. We could see its transformation over the years. The first room is the old cabin, then there is a walk through the parlor, and finally into the very genteel turn-of-the century home.
The interesting thing is that the dining room and kitchen are in the basement. It’s cool down there, perfect for hot days when the wood burning stove is always lit. The stove also warms the space in winter.
Outside, there are both replica and and original buildings, barns with animals, and a boardwalk for children to sweep when they are visiting.
One thing I like about Denver is that, even when just going about running errands, I can look up and see the mountains when driving westward.
Of course, the best thing of all is the time spent with our grandchildren. Merely gazing at that perfection of a truck is happiness in spades for our grandson.
As with our trip to Hawaii, I don’t know how often I will be blogging while in Europe. We do have some places that we will be settling in for over a week, so maybe I’ll be catching up then.
Do you follow Facebook? If so, Twosna Travels is there, and a search on the name will find me. I may be more likely to post random photos there.
First stop – Belfast, Ireland. Until then: goodbye, slán, tschüss, arrivederci, antio sas!
Imagine listening to the sounds here: nothing but the birds singing. The lake below is sparkling and blue. Through a gap in the foothills behind the lake you can see the beautiful green and snow-capped mountain peaks beyond. This splendid vision is called Rifle Gap State Park and it lies in western Colorado.
We had come from Moab, one of the best places in the United States for ATV’ing and off-roading in all of its many forms. Our large RV park was crowded and there was a gathering spot by the entrance for any off-road excursions. Any other park in town was full because of an off-roading event.
In true Utah form, our park was also “landscaped” with lots of rocks, gravel, dust and dirt. The park owners made an effort by watering our little patch of iris, but nothing could take away the road noise. It was handy for seeing the national parks, because we didn’t have to drive into Moab, but I was happy to see that our reserved site at Rifle Gap was open one night earlier.
There’s not a lot going on at Rifle Gap and that was fine with us. The water level in the small lake is low. There is boating, but mainly for fishing. Campground loops line the edges of lake like pearls on a necklace. Our loop rose up from the lake in a zig zag fashion, and our site was at the top of a hill. We decided that our site, and the one next to us, were the best and most private in the park.
Rifle Falls State Park is not far from Rifle Gap, and driving there, you pass through a pretty little mountain valley dotted with picturesque farms, a winding creek, and improbably, an old golf course. It is another small park, but we hear it is impossibly crowded on the weekends. No wonder, because it is a lovely spot to visit. We were glad we were there on a weekday.
I had not expected something so breathtakingly beautiful.
You can walk behind the falls—
—and along the cliff walls on either side of the waterfall, there are small caves you could wander in and out of. As you can imagine, I really enjoyed this part.
Up on top of the falls, there is a walkway.
Up here, there are “wooden diversion structures”. There was a hydroelectric plant here in the first half of the 1900’s, and these housed the pipes that carried water down to the powerhouse. Around the turn of the century, there was also a resort hotel near here, and the owner charged folks a quarter (about $5.00 today) to visit the falls. Now that it is a state park, we were able to visit without charge because we have an annual Colorado state parks pass.
Not far from Rifle Falls State Park is the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery, which supplies trout not only for the creek here and in Rifle Gap State Park, but in many other lakes, streams, ponds, and reservoirs. In some remote areas, they drop the fish by helicopter or small airplane. What a shock for a fish!
We always enjoy walking around the ponds in a hatchery to look at fish in their various stages of development. This hatchery has capacity to produce five million fish per year, but is only producing less than half of that currently. Whirling disease is currently a problem with cold water fish, such as trout. The hatchery is only utilizing spring water (versus surface water) to reduce contamination, which lowers their capacity. I also learned that they stock fish for kid’s fishing derbies. That’s great! It gives the kids more of a chance to catch a fish.
There was actually one other state park in this area, Harvey Gap, but all it contained was a large boat launch area. The lake looked similar to Rifle Gap, although it didn’t seem as shallow.
This was a relaxing interlude between our Utah travels and our arrival in Denver for part of the summer. We were treated to more mountain views along the drive to Denver, and I’ll leave you for now with this view of the Rockies from Breckenridge.
How would you like to live in a house carved out of rock? Someone we had met somewhere on the road had told us that the Hole N’ The Rock house was one of his favorite things to do in Moab, Utah. That idea sounded interesting to me, so we decided to give it a visit.
If you’re one of my regular readers, you know that Twosna Travelers doesn’t usually visit places that are dubbed “Tourist Attractions”, otherwise known as “Tourist Traps”. As we arrived, everything screamed Tourist Attraction, especially the sign. I would not have stopped if we had just driven by without knowing what it was all about.
For $6.00, you get a 12 minute tour of the house. Yep, that’s right…12 minutes. And, pictures are not allowed inside. I purchased a little brochure of the house for $2.00 in order to have the inside pictures that I am posting here. There is also a petting zoo where you could feed the animals, a collection of Lyle Nichols metal art sculptures, mining equipment and other vintage items and memorabilia to look at outside, souvenir shops, and ice cream. To me, all of that was extraneous stuff. I wanted to see the house.
While we were waiting for the tour, though, I did stop to admire their collection of antique gas pumps and license plates:
So…the backstory. Albert Christiansen and his brother Leo were part of a family that settled the land that the house is on. An enterprising sort, they cleared a cave on the property for cowboys passing through the area on cattle drives to stay in. In 1940 Albert decided it might be a pretty nice house, so over a period of 12 years he hand drilled and blasted and moved 50,000 cubic feet of rock, finally readying it for he and his wife Gladys to move into in 1952. He died only five years later. For ten years, until his death, he and Leo also operated a diner in part of the house.
The first room on the tour is the kitchen. The 1950’s decor is interesting. There is also a deep fat fryer, not seen in this picture, set into a pot-sized hole in the rock.
The craftsmanship in the fireplace was amazing. The chimney is 65 feet tall, drilled down through solid sandstone from above, but Albert could not get it to vent properly. An outside patio on the rock ledge above the house was in the works at the time of his death, so perhaps he was hoping to finish this off then.
The house is 5,000 square feet and has fourteen rooms around large rock pillars.
Their bedroom can be seen behind the lamp above, and is also shown below.
Albert was also an artist and taxidermist, and his studio was farther back behind the bedroom. He greatly admired Theodore Roosevelt and sculpted a likeness of his face on the rock cliff outside the house, seen in my “Hole N The Rock” photo and in more detail below.
Gladys was no slouch, either. After Albert’s death, she continued developing the home according to what he had dreamed and wished for. She worked with Leo to construct a bathtub in the bathroom.
When Albert died, she moved her bedroom to a different room in the house. She collected dolls, and the ones in this picture were hers. All of the furnishings in the home are still original to what Gladys and Albert had.
Gladys and Albert had no children together, but she came into the marriage with a son, Hub Davis. When Albert passed, she was the one who had the big white sign painted on the cliff. She polished rocks and sold them in her gift shop, and and her collection of them is inside the house. She also gave tours of the house. Hub kept the enterprise going after her death in 1974, and then it was sold and passed out of the family. That is when all the other attractions, including the petting zoo, were added.
There are those people in life who use their creativity, talent and passion to do amazing things in their corner of the world. These people bless us with the fruits of their genius that they leave behind. Albert and Gladys were two such people and I’m glad I was able to see their home – even though I would have liked more than 12 minutes inside! They are buried out back in a little nook in the rock on their property.
We left after the tour and did not pay to see the zoo. The ice cream shop hadn’t yet opened for the day. For some reason, we were really hungry after our visit and had a huge Italian lunch at Pasta Jay’s in Moab. We followed up that decadence with – you guessed it – an ice cream cone!
Feeling like someone whose family vacation slides have gone on too long, I’m wrapping up our travels through Utah mostly in one blog. Suffice to say that we loved seeing all five of the Utah national parks, three state parks, national forests and one national monument that we visited. The rock formations were amazing, and all different. We tried not to pick favorites, because every park had a flavor all its own. The highlights:
GOBLIN VALLEY STATE PARK
Goblins, mushrooms, hobbit houses? In a place you can explore and not have to stay on a trail? Sign me up, please! Nature is at her playful best here.
As the name implies, these magical rock formations sit in a valley and the area where anyone is free to explore (after paying the $20.00 park pass) covers about 3 square miles. There are other trails in this park but we found that by the time we were done wandering about, it was time for our picnic lunch in a shelter overlooking the valley. There is something about Goblins that makes you feel like you are twelve years old again.
The area that is now Goblin Valley was once a muddy tidal flat on an inland sea, back in the Jurassic period. Waves deposited sand and silt. Erosion, wind and rain over millennia hardened the shapes into Entrada sandstone, as we have seen in other parks, and the goblins. They are ever-changing.
Further back in the valley, the cliffs were full of small caves and little nooks and crannies.
Impossibly, wildflowers grow here, too:
Canyonlands National Park
Our last stay was in Moab, where we visited these final parks. Canyonlands didn’t take much time. Our usual drive-through, stopping at places of interest and doing minimal walking to them, took only a couple of hours. It looked like a miniature Grand Canyon. In the heart of the Colorado Plateau, the Green and Colorado rivers carved the canyons.
There are four districts to Canyonlands, and although they all have desert landscape, they are all different from each other. The rivers divide the districts and there are no roads that connect them. We visited the Island in the Sky District, which is closest to Moab.
It seemed like every park we had been to had their trophy arch or natural bridge, and Canyonlands was no exception:
The picture below is of Upheaval Dome, which is a scientific mystery. It is a circular depression about two miles wide. Was it a violent meteor impact that cracked the rock and formed the crater, or was it the effect of time, cracking and splitting the rock that was originally a salt dome? I love a good mystery, and I hope they can find something conclusive. Right now they are leaning toward the meteor theory. When I peered down into the crater, I decided that there a lot of interesting things going on here, geologically.
Dead Horse State Park
Dead Horse completes time spent at Canyonlands. They are right next door to each other, and complement each other well. At Dead Horse, you pay the $20 park fee for a view, but it’s a pretty awesome view:
The Colorado has done its work here, and given us a view much like Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. Here, there is a grand view of the canyon to go with it.
The East Rim Trail was a pleasant stroll for looking down into the canyon.
When scrolling through my phone, I found a list of the “Top Things to See in Moab”. Included in this list were the Solar Evaporation Ponds at Intrepid Potash mine. The ponds can be viewed in or out of Deadhorse. Salts are part of the rock formations, and water is pumped into the mine to dissolve the salt. The salt water is then pumped sent into the ponds for evaporation, and a blue dye is added to speed the process. At certain times of the year, the blue shows up more brilliantly. From Dead Horse you can just barely see the ponds, and I zoomed in as far as I could to catch this picture.
As I was gazing out, trying to decide what I thought about the ponds, a woman standing next to me commented: “Spoils the view, doesn’t it?” I guess it all depends on what you have come to see. I would tend to agree with her though. What is the salt in the end of the process used for? Fertilizer.
Arches National Park
Arches didn’t make the top 10 of most visited parks for 2021, but the numbers are growing. It was the only Utah park for which we had to make reservations to get in. I chose the 6 to 7 AM timeframe. The park is actually open 24 hours a day, and before 6 AM you don’t need a reservation. We were glad that we came as early as we did.
There are some interesting rock formations here. This one was in the Courthouse Towers area, and looked to me like a small group of people on the lookout:
There is Balanced Rock, made more famous by Edward Abbey in his book “Desert Solitaire”:
But the star of the show, to me, was the Arches. We spent a lot of time at the Windows section where we could see Double Arch, North and South Window Arches, and Turret Arch. Cal enjoyed the trails going up to these arches, and I enjoyed doing my best to climb right up under them. Our time in the Windows was actually timeless. We were out of the truck and walking, had no thought to what we were going to do next, and were awed by the Arches, the sun coming up, and the beauty of the day. Best of all, and especially at first, we were just a teeny bit ahead of the crowd.
Everyone politely waits for their turn at getting a photo snapped of themselves under the Arch. There are always willing folks to take our picture, because of course we will then take theirs. We stayed at South Window for a bit, absorbing the view, and we were actually photographed several times.
All you had to do from the Windows Arches was to turn around, and there was Turret Arch.
We had criss-crossed paths a couple of times with three Hispanic folks from Florida, originally Colombia. I practiced my Spanish, even though two of them spoke pretty good English. One of them was having too much fun with her camera, and took several pictures of us as well. This one was her idea:
We coincidentally ran into these folks again at another trail in Arches, and then again the next day at Dead Horse, although the woman didn’t offer to snap any more pictures of us. Maybe her excitement had worn off by then.
My favorite here was Double Arch, which is what we were looking at at the time. I tried to get underneath it, but the rock in the final ascent was just too tricky. Double Arch is massive and absolutely breathtaking, and the view changes with every step closer that you take.
The bonus to getting up early to visit Arches in May, if you like flowers, is being able to see the evening primrose still in bloom. When the sun starts to burn brightly, the flowers close and the blooms are pink.
We also visited Sand Dunes Arch. It was a short walk, and half the fun was trying to get anywhere in the soft sand:
The last arch for the day: Landscape Arch, which looks like an elephant with its trunk stretched out.
A bit of trivia: so far, over 2,000 arches have been counted in Arches National Park.
On our very last day in the Moab area, we used our second early-morning Arches reservation to visit Delicate Arch, the iconic Utah arch that you see in the top photo. The trail is about 1.5 miles one-way to the arch, and ascends almost from the beginning. It was probably about 6:15 AM when we arrived, and we passed plenty of people who were already returning from their ascent.
We passed Wolfe Ranch, a remote settlement that was farmed for about a decade during the turn of the century:
Just past the Wolfe Ranch was Ute rock art, dating from between 1650-1850. John Wolfe may have enjoyed showing this to any visitors that came by:
Part of our hike was on slickrock. Cal is shown here descending the rock, after we had visited the arch:
Finally, a very narrow path to the top with no fence to keep you from tumbling off the cliff! Again, this view is actually taken from the descent perspective.
A turn in our narrow pathway, and the stunning Delicate Arch came into view:
Perfection! An absolutely grand finish to our journey through Utah!
Finally, I have to give a shout out to these fine books, which I purchased from Barnes and Noble just before we hit the road:
They don’t include information that changes often, like hours of operation, shuttle times or advance reservation requirements, so the books should be relevant for a long time. The National Parks book was invaluable for guiding us through the parks and telling us which stops were worthwhile and which not, some hikes that were good, and other things to do. We used it exclusively to guide us on our drive through a couple of the Utah parks. It has information in it that the parks brochures do not. The State Parks book only has a few of the best parks in each state. Dead Horse and Goblin, as well as Kodachrome which I blogged earlier, are in here. I have not used the Secrets book much. It seems like some of that information requires drives on rugged roads or hikes that are a bit longer than we usually take.