T004 Big Bend National Park to Demopolis, AL

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Desert air played tricks with our eyes. Mountains poking abruptly up from the desert floor seemed just a short walk away. Then the air would change and the mountains shrank back retreating in the haze giving a more accurate feel of their true distance. Evenings were best as the setting sun and evening air teamed up to ignite the hidden reds and pinks bringing out the inner glow of the mountain range to the east while cloaking mountains to the west in soft shades of gray and purple. Morning light tried to compete with the evening show but never seemed to have the same glowing qualities of the evening performance. Regretfully, air pollution is a big problem. A park ranger told us that the air is never completely clear thanks to the petroleum industry in east Texas.

Click for a route map and photos of this trip segment

Early one morning we set off to hike to the hot spring, a not so subtle reminder of the volcanic origins of the area. The trail is only a few miles long but worked its way vertically up and down 700-800 feet multiple times as it wound its way along the Rio Grande River Canyon edge with all its deeply cut arroyos. The terrain added a new dimension to our hiking as we started keeping track of vertical feet climbed as well as miles hiked in addition to enjoying the exotic flora and fauna.

The hot spring, tiny in size, was divided from the Rio Grande by just a low wall. There were several people enjoying the warm water. They had arrived the easy way by car. It was an intriguing setting. There was once a small town here where people stayed in a very rustic adobe motel. Rooms without plumbing remained. There was also a grocery/post office. People traveled hundreds of rugged miles to soak. The spring and the shell of the hotel provided a touchstone back to the interesting history of the area.

The thermometer soared into the 80’s as we biked the five miles to Boquillas Canyon. Hills added a bit more of a strain, and we were both sweating but hardly noticed it in the dry heat. Sweat evaporated so fast it never got our shirts wet. A path covered the short distance from the road along the Rio Grande’s gravely banks to where the steep high walls of the canyon cut off further walking. We stopped and watched the river escape between the canyon’s high walls.

9/11 destroyed what had been a great relationship between Big Bend visitors and the tiny Mexican town of Boquillas Del Carmen on the other side. Now for security concerns the border is closed and while Americans can still go over, they risk arrest when they cross back. The town had made its living rowing tourists over to visit the shops and buy souvenirs. The tourist trade was the town’s only industry in it’s isolated position 100 miles by a rugged four-wheel drive road to the next nearest town. Now a few town people sneak over the boarder and dodge park rangers to try to sell a few items to the tourists coming to see the canyon.

One afternoon we watched as a roadrunner explored the campground. Then like a scene out of the cartoon a coyote entered the campground. The two locked eyes and watched each other warily as the coyote slowly passed by and headed into the desert scrub. There was an amazing variety of birds which were new to our Yankee eyes.

We’d enjoyed our dry camping (no hook ups) at the Rio Grande Village campground but felt it was time to move on and sample another campground in the park. We arrived at Cottonwood Campground and found we virtually had the campground to ourselves. Even so we respected the no generator rule by leaving each day to explore different areas of the park while the generator recharged our house batteries. A short drive from the campground is a trail along the Rio Grande into Santa Elena Canyon. We hiked to the trail’s end where it stopped abruptly cut off by almost vertical canyon walls.

Large signs warning of 15% grades on the road through Big Bend State Park to Presidio were a bit intimidating since we were still sorting out the Trek’s capabilities. Ruth was driving with white knuckles as we began slowing and asked what we would do if we didn’t make it to the top. We headed off learning that on the steepest uphill sections the Trek slowed but had power to clear the grade. Downshifting kept speed under control without riding the brakes going downhill. In between the apprehensive steep sections we were treated to awesome scenery.

Presidio, a sleepy dusty town became our furthest point west. We stopped for groceries, found homes with dry dusty desert for front yards intriguing but not too appealing and headed north for a return visit to Fort Davis State Park.

Bert and Grace who we enjoyed so much at Seminole Canyon State Park were camp hosts at Fort Davis. We rode with Bert as he led a birding tour of the area and learned a bit about how serious birders found birds.

We’d planned to walk the four mile trail into Fort Davis and back, but Bert wisely suggested he drive us there and we just walk back. We were thankful for his suggestion since our hike took the entire afternoon. We took time to explore historic Fort Davis, a fort oddly without walls, then started the steep climb along the path back to the State Park. The steepness of the trail and varied shapes of the volcanic rocks prompted many stops to ‘admire the view’ while we caught our breath. As we hiked along our GPS gave us distance to go and a not so subtle reminder of the time of sunset. It was apparent we needed to keep up a good pace to get back before dark. Happily we arrived back at the Trek as the sun was setting.

We dropped the laptop off in San Antonio for repair. Its charging socket had broken in Big Bend. Sadly we learned the laptop would need a new motherboard—its most expensive and difficult to replace component. Our service contract covered the repair but we wouldn’t see the laptop again until we reached St Petersburg Florida.

San Antonio’s River Walk was fun to explore. Interesting shops and restaurants border the river running through the heart of downtown and the walkway hugging its banks. Branching out we found an interesting historic home area and then by luck found the unique city library. However, we just weren’t interested in doing cities and headed out into the Texas hill country.

Esther Benedict, Ruth’s brother-in-law’s sister, creates her marvelous sculptures using a welding torch and wire. She was working on a buffalo for a city in Wisconsin. We marveled at the beauty of her work, uniqueness of the ranch and proximity of the horses. It blew me away to see a CNC welding torch in one of the outbuildings. Aaron, a nephew, designs artwork, loads the design into the computer, lights the torch and then lets the computer and torch cut the piece from a steel sheet. We stayed the evening enjoying Esther and Marilyn’s warm hospitality. We had fun getting reacquainted with Jason, another NY nephew. Esther and Marilyn’s friend Sheila had brought a couple of horses and dogs from Colorado to visit for a few weeks. Sheila gave us a demonstration of Horse Whisperer training in the morning, and we saw for the first time how effective this gentle, subtle training method could be. Everyone at the ranch was busy packing artwork for exhibiting at a horse show as we said good-bye and headed out to explore the hill country a bit more.

Morning revealed a complete campground transformation at Lost Maples State Park. Overnight the campground had gone from us being the only residents to almost full. It was the Martin Luther King holiday weekend and scout troops had arrived during the night for a scout outing. We’d already enjoyed the park’s rugged beautiful trails so we moved on to a private campground within walking distance to Fredericksburg. Town introduced us to Sunday houses–tiny homes built by remote ranchers in the 1800’s so that they could come into town on the weekend to attend church.

Deep in Texas hill country is the LBJ Ranch. The National Park Service bus tour guide indicated Lady Bird was in residence as we passed by the main house. We loved the feel of the ranch, one of those places that felt comfortable. The ranch and Johnson’s history caught our interest enough to start us reading part of Johnson’s biography; Master Of The Senate by Robert Caro.

It looked like an unusual groove in a hill and it was. The historic marker explained the groove was worn into the loose soil by farmers walking back after having rafted their crops down the river to New Orleans and then walking back along the Natchez Trace. We followed the park roadway north, then headed east with Demopolis, AL and Odyssey just hours away.

One last oops slowed us just a bit. Stopping on an off ramp shoulder for lunch we cocked the wheels because of the grade and removed the ignition key. When we went to restart, the incline had put so much pressure on the front wheels we couldn’t unlock steering column. Attempting to push and rock the RV by hand to relieve the pressure on the wheels proved useless. Then Ruth suggested using the leveling jacks. At maximum extension the front end still wasn’t off the ground and the wheels remained locked. However by placing a few 2” x 8” leveling blocks under the jack the wheels left the ground and allowed the steering column to be unlocked. A few hours later we pulled into the marina and started to relocate back aboard Odyssey.

The Trek will rest a bit then get moved to New York. In the fall we’ll leave from NY and spend the winter being Rvers again.

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