Big Bend National Park
"Far away in the sunshine are my highest inspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see the beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead."
– Louisa May Alcott
Hello. Sorry I am late getting this blog together but school is really kicking my butt!!!!
Anyway, Steve and I just left Marathon/Terlingua, Texas after spending a week in the dusty desert. The weather was absolutely gorgeous the entire week - - in the 80's and sunny every day! We had a blast at Big Bend National Park so let me get to the details.
First, we visited the eastern part of the park. Our first stop was an area of the park where they found several dinosaur fossils. Steve and I stood on a ridge to view the area and imagine the dinosaurs roaming, and what happens next - - I ALMOST DIED!!!! Well, not really, but I came close to going over the edge. The top of the ridge was undulating rock and I twisted my ankle on one of the ripples and went down and almost over the side. Holy Cow! I lived, of course, and we went on to the Boquillas Canyon Overlook and watched a dude on a horse cross back and forth on the Rio Grande, wondering if we should alert authorities or what! We decided it was NBD (no big deal) and just chatted with the people we met there, and guess where they were from - - Gladwin, Michigan. This is the second time that we've met people from Gladwin, which is where our family cottage is. How funny! We also took a long hike to the Hot Spring that is in the park as well. Apparently, this was quite the place to hang out in the late 1800's/early 1900's. There were a lot of older buildings there that used to house a store, a spa, and a place for people to change their clothes, etc. Interesting.
The next day we visited the Terlingua cemetery. Terlingua used to be an important town when they did mercury mining in the area in the early 1900's. There is a ghost town there which is nothing more than some crumbled buildings, but the cemetery was really cool. Many of the people buried here died from mercury poisoning but we were told some of them were the losers of a gun fight. Every year, once a year, people gather there to celebrate their loved ones. We also toured through the Chisos Basin in Big Bend. This part of the park is at a much higher elevation and sported evergreen trees and wildlife (of course, we didn't see any, however). We stopped at The Window to watch the sunset and met a guy named Scott from Phoenix who gave us some tips on things to do while in that area. While there, I also learned about the century plant. This is an agave that buds only once in its 100-year life, but when it does, it sprouts a stalk that can go as high as 50 feet. This stalk contains the seed pods and, once the seeds are released, the entire plant dies and falls over. COOL!
The next day we hit the western part of the park. We tried to capture some of the plant-life in this part of the park because it was really cool, despite being mostly colorless. Within this part of the park is a place called Castelon, which is an old store that, again, was important to the area back in the late 1800's/early 1900's. This store was a busy place for both Mexicans and Americans, especially during prohibition when the Mexicans would bring their agave liquor over the border!!!! Anyway, what's cool about this is the house in Castelon was owned by the same family for a long time and every year, that family gets together for a family reunion at the house. It makes the local news and all (there's not much going on in this part of the country, trust me), but what is cool about that is that I met a woman who married into that family and who will be attending that family reunion in February. She was working the desk at the RV park that we were staying at. She is originally from Hawaii but married someone who is a park ranger and it is his family that owns that Castelon house. Neat!
Ok, so we also hiked the Santa Elena Canyon trail that led right to the edge of the Rio Grande. As you can see from the pictures, the river is extremely low and I have got to tell you, the drought in this part of the country is so overwhelming. There are all kinds of lakes and rivers that are dry or pert near completely dry. Anyway, the walls of Santa Elena Canyon are 1500 feet above the river and, while it was quite the hike to get there, it was definitely worth it. On the way back from that hike, we took the Old Maverick Road home and stopped at the Jacal that was there. This "hut" was owned by the Luna family, all 8 of which lived in this hut until 1945. I mean really????????????????? Lastly, for a good laugh, we saw this sign "Loose Livestock". I am not sure what they have against the livestock, but just because a couple of cows made a poor decision or two, they don't have to call them out and make a sign about it - - know what I mean? We all make mistakes. C'mon. I mean, I had my time in the 80's or so. Thankfully, nobody has made a sign about me!!!!
The last thing we did in Big Bend National Park was hike the Grapevine Hills trail. This trail led to some unique geological features - - the rocks here were more like round lumps rather than jagged and sharp like other places in the park. There was some cool flora there too but mostly, we saw an absolutely spectacular sunset there. Check out the pictures. I am telling you it was like fire in the sky. Cool stuff.
The rest of the time in Terlinqua, we spent in Big Bend Ranch State Park, which is even further west in Texas and straddles the Rio Grande. I must say, this park was even more beautiful than the National Park. First, we stopped at the Barton Warnock Environmental Center which is the visitor center for the park. This was a huge surprise as it housed one of the best geological and historical exhibits of the area that we had seen. It also has a Desert Garden which is beautiful. Almost immediately into the park is an old movie set, which was really cool. From a distance, the houses looked authentic, but when you get up close, you can see the chicken wire and stuff so it is clearly not historic, but the setting was absolutely breathtaking. We did a couple of hikes in this park which were awesome. The first one took us around the hoodoos that are there. These are formed because the rock here is much softer than at the National Park and was eroded in an unusual manner when the water level of this area was much higher than it is now. We also hiked into another canyon, but this time we could actually walk all the way through the canyon because there was absolutely no water in it. Again, the drought is killing the beauty of this part of the country!
One of the fun things we did is stop at the roadside teepee and have lunch. We saw some cool flowers on the side of the road - - one of which is the Texas Bluebonnet, which literally covers southwest Texas in about another month or two. But what was really spectacular was our very best wildlife sighting - - Javelinas. These are wild pigs that are about the size of a 30-pound dog. There must have been about 20 of them or so, and we were so excited that we actually saw something alive!!!!!! So cool.
Our last day in the area was spent in Fort Davis, Texas. Our first stop was to visit the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute to take some pictures of the flora in the area so that you can see what we had been viewing for the past week. Some of the stuff was really cool and I am sorry that we couldn't visit in March/April because all of this flora would be blossoming. I understand that the cactus, especially, are gorgeous when they flower. Next, we visited Fort Davis National Historic Site. This fort was important in the mid-1800's as the United States (or the Texas territory at the time) was under constant pressure from the local Indians and Mexicans. This fort was also one of the homes of the Buffalo Soldiers and the first black graduate from West Point - - Henry O. Flipper. It was really interesting touring the fort and seeing the original furnishings still housed in the Commanding Officers quarters. What we found interesting, however, was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, dressed as a cowboy, narrating the film about the fort. Seriously? He was your best choice?
Anyway, we drove through the Davis Mountains State Park and went on the Skyline Drive to get a spectacular view of the Chihuahuan Desert below. We also saw a decent sunset up there as well, and took a picture of our beloved Rex. From there we headed to the McDonald Observatory to do some stargazing. This part of the country is the darkest in the U.S. and, under normal circumstances, makes for excellent celestial viewing. Unfortunately for Steve and I, we had extreme cloud cover the night we went to the observatory. We did get to see the moon seriously up close and the planet Jupiter. When we viewed Jupiter, we could see two of its moons and some of the rings on the planet. Way cool. We learned a lot about spectrographic analysis and how scientist use this to determine the age and composition of stars. We also learned about the Apollo missions to the moon and some of the things that those missions accomplished. I was especially excited to hear about how one of the missions left reflectors on the moons surface that scientists now use to determine distance from the earth. The scientists will shoot a laser to the reflector and, based on the amount of time it takes for the light beam to return to earth, they can determine how far from the earth the moon is. It was interesting to hear that the moon has moved away from the earth about 5 feet since the Apollo missions left the reflectors. Cool huh? I wanted to point out that Howard, Raj, Leonard and Sheldon performed this same experiment on "The Big Bang Theory" but I didn't think the astro-physicist who was doing the lecture would have appreciated that.
Alrighty, that's it for us and Texas. Between last year and this year, we have spent close to 3 months in this state and I would say that constitutes "done". We are now safely ensconced in New Mexico and - - finally - - get to put a new sticker on our States Visited map. WOO HOO!
Take care people and stay warm. I understand most of you are in for some snow in the near future!!!!
"Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it."
– Madeleine L'Engle
Hello from Hondo, Texas everyone!!!!
What a town, this Hondo! We had terrible cell service and the campground's WIFI left a lot to be desired, so we have been somewhat incommunicado this past couple of weeks. For me, it hasn't been bad because I was in Chicago for the first week. For Steve, however, it's been a long two weeks. Not that this part of the country is completely devoid of charm - - au contraire mon frere! It is quite lovely in this here part of Southern Texas. There are huge praries that sport funny looking cactus and some wild looking trees. And the sunsets - - well check out Steve's pictures for a taste of those. The wildlife is also interesting - - we had a roadrunner dart out in front of us the other day! HOW COOL! Unfortunately, that thing moved so fast we couldn't get a picture of it. The best way to describe this part of Texas is to take you back to an old western movie - - the ones where the cowboy walks through the swinging doors of the bar and takes his hat off, hits it against his thigh, and dust kicks off of it. Yeah, now you've got the picture. Very very old frontier, but quite charming.
We did a lot of stuff this week. We visited a museum called Shooting Star Museum in Castroville, Texas. This museum is run by several women, one of which is a commercial airline pilot for Continental Airlines. In this museum, they focus on WWII memorabilia as well as some other interesting stuff. They are putting together an exhibit of handmade quilts and one of the women there, Alice, was responsible for making a good many of them. Very talented lady!!!! Our tour director, Donna, took us out to the barn where they had a huge exhibit of "hit and miss engines". They also had some old games from my childhood on display and those brought back a ton of memories. We enjoyed our time visiting with Donna, Alice and Lilly. Before I leave Castroville, however, I want to tell you that this is the Alsatian capital of the United States. Apparently there is some connection between this town and the Alsace region of France, and in 1998 the Steinbach House was gifted to Castroville. The house is so "Sound of Music" and I swear I heard Julie Andrews singing "The Hills are alive . . . . " when we visited. This house was originally built in 1618 in Wahlbach, France and is unbelievably cool. Castroville even has Alsatian restaurants (which is really similar to German food) and an Alsatian bakery where Steve and I picked up some coconut/date/fig cookies that were to die for.
Okay, moving on. We visited the town of Bandera, Texas and toured through the Frontier Times Museum there. Honestly, when you get into this part of the country, you can almost picture the cowboy activity that took place 150 years ago. Bandera also boasts the country's second oldest Polish-American Catholic Church - - St. Stanislaw - - which was built in 1876 and served the needs of the Polish settlement that began in 1855. Hey, my people were here!!!!!!! No wonder this town felt so warm and inviting to me!
One day, Steve and I went into San Antonio and took a carriage ride around the historical part of the city. That was totally not worth the $40 that we paid, so if you are in the area and are thinking that it would be a nice thing to do - - save your money. Anyway, we headed to the Riverwalk and had a nice walk alongside the canal. We ate at an English pub and had some good British food - - one of my favorites: Shepherd's pie! After that, we headed to the Alamo and the other 4 missions that follow the San Antonio River south. WOW did we enjoy that. First, of course, is the Alamo which has a long history. It was originally named Mission San Antonio de Valero and was originally built in 1724, then Spanish territory. In the early 1800's Spain used this mission as a fort and stationed their cavalry there. It got the name "Alamo" from these soldiers in honor of their hometown Alamo de Parras, Coahuila. (Who knew?) It was a strategic for during Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain. Finally, this mission played an important role in the Texas Revolution in 1835 and 1836. In March of 1836, nearly 200 men, including Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie, were killed by Santa Anna's men. The Alamo is currently owned by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and is maintained strictly by donations and is really worth a visit when in the San Antonio area.
In addition to the Alamo, there are four other missions in the area: Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission Espada. We were not able to see Concepcion, but the other three missions were spectacular. First, we visited Mission San Jose, which is quite spectacular. This mission was built in 1720 and is in remarkable condition for being nearly 300 years old. The Indians and missionaries both called this mission home and worked together to produce crops and mill flour for sale to the locals. The church was breathtaking and is still actively used today for Sunday mass. The facade of this church was worth noting. The stone carvings around the door all mean something:
heart = love
pomegranate = symbolizes church unity and the growing number of converts
shell = baptism
rose = martyrdom
angels = link between God and man
The statues also have particular meaning:
At the top was St. Joseph (San Jose) the patron saint of the mission
Below and to the right is St. Francis of Assissi - the founder of the Franciscan order that provided the missionaries to this church
Below and to the left is St. Dominic to whom Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared and told him to pray the rosary
At the bottom right is St. Anne, the mother of Mary
At the bottom left is St. Joaquin, the father of Mary
So beautiful! We visited the grist mill and learned that they could produce about 50 pounds of flour in one hour using this mill. This was a money-making venture for the mission!!! From there, we visited San Juan Capistrano, which was completely under construction but we could at least grab a picture of the mission. We also saw the hugest cactus ever there!!!! See if you can find my face in the mess of cactus leaves.
Lastly, we visited Mission Espada which is he oldest of these missions. It was built in 1690 in a different location but moved to San Antonio in 1731. This mission taught the indians trades like blacksmithing, weaving and masonry. What I loved about this mission was the inside of the church. It was so quaint and beautiful - - you walk through two very heavy wooden doors and enter the interior space which looks very much like it did when it was built. The ambiance was just the coolest. And believe it or not, this is a very active church as well. I would have loved to attend services there as it just really gave you the feeling of being in the Old West back 200 years ago. I loved it.
Steve and I did some geocaching in two of the state parks in the area: Garner State Park (where we saw the roadrunner and an armadillo) and Government Canyon State Park. Very nice parks. The Hill Country of San Antonio offers so many different kinds of views and vistas that hiking is an absolute joy. Unfortunately for both of us, when I got back from Chicago, I came down with a terrible cold (half my class was sick) and then poor Steve got it from me. But we made the most of our time in Hondo and enjoyed it. Heck, Steve even won $50 at Bingo at the Catholic Church!!!
Alright, that's it for this week. We are headed to Big Bend National Park next week where I am sure we will get some awesome pictures! It's going to be in the 70's there so you people in Detroit/Toledo, SORRY FOR YOUR LUCK!!!!!
"All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope."
– Alexandre Dumas
Good morning Everyone and Happy New Year!
Let me catch you up on what Stephen Ray and I have been up to since I last posted.
First, we had a nice Christmas at the Escapees RV Park in Livingston. We made new friends during this visit - - Ed and Joan Winter - - who taught us a new card game and shared an excellent recipe for a pastry-type dinner. YUM YUM. The members of the Escapees RV Club are such great people and are so warm and welcoming. It was sad to be without family this Christmas, but the members of this group made us feel like we were at least with good friends.
Shortly after Christmas, we left for Galveston. Steve and I love the ocean so we wanted to spend at least one more week near it before we made a sharp right-hand turn to the desert Southwest. Our time in Galveston was great. We wish we could have spent more time there and may even consider it for our family vacation in 2013. Tons to do for young and old alike - - wonderful beaches, great restaurants, one of the best waterparks in the U.S. (Schlitterbahn), museums, fishing, botanical gardens, shopping, etc. You should check it out.
Let me begin with Moody Gardens. This is a complex of buildings - - 3 of which are pyramids - - that house a rainforest, an aquarium, a science center complete with several 4D rides, botanical gardens, an old-fashioned paddle wheel boat ride in the bay, and in the winter, a snow chute. WOW. What a great time we had there. First, we went to see the Christmas light display that they designed to walk you around the entire complex. The coolest part was a light display of the nativity story. Certain sections of lights would illuminate during different parts of the story. It was difficult to capture that in pictures, but we hope you enjoy what we were able to record. During the day, we returned to Moody to see the inside of those pyramids. We absolutely loved the rain forest. There were beautiful birds and flowers everywhere. They even allowed monkeys to roam freely inside the building. HOW COOL!!!! Next, we visited the aquarium. Steve and I love watching sharks and seals and things like that swim about in their somewhat "natural" habitats. Nice aquarium! The Moody Gardens is a definite must-see if you are ever in the Galveston area. (http://www.moodygardens.com)
We also visited the Houston Zoo one day. There was a light rain falling so the zoo wasn't crowded. That was nice because we called Steve's mom and had her go on-line to the zoo's website. The zoo has a lot of webcams and because it wasn't crowded, Steve and I got to stand by the chimpanzee webcam and she saw us on-line, waving to her. She thought it was a hoot and her response to us was "Finally, you guys are where you belong - - in the monkey cage."
Steve and I also enjoy museums dedicated to old war-time machinery, whether it be ships or airplanes. The Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston was quite interesting (http://www.lsfm.org). Naturally, there were a ton of old planes which we enjoyed. But our biggest thrill was watching a P-51 Mustang take off. You can get rides in a number of these old war birds, including an old B-17 bomber. COOL. What was interesting to note about this museum was the damage it had sustained from Hurricane Ike. This museum was a solid mile inland, but still had about 8 feet of standing water within its complex during the Hurricane. Unbelievable, and until you see something like that in person, it is hard to imagine the power of Mother Nature and the damage that it can do.
Steve and I also visited the Ocean Star, a retired oil rig (http://www.oceanstaroec.com). Galveston and the surrounding area are huge oil towns - - tons of refineries that make the BP refinery in Oregon look like a 1/4 scale model or something. Anyway, we learned a ton about the oil industry and the costs associated with drilling for oil. For example, the cost of running one of those off-shore oil rigs for one day is a staggering $463,000 - - that's PER DAY! That really puts the $4.00 gas price into perspective, don't you think?
We did a lot of boring things like go to the movies, walk along the beach etc. but really enjoyed our time in Galveston. At the present time, we are housed in Hondo, Texas which is just west of San Antonio. Steve will be here for the next week, but I am flying to Chicago for a week of intensive study at my school, Moody Theological Seminary. I will miss him, but I get to stay with Terry and Jill while I am in Chicago. I haven't seen them since we picked them up from the trail back in August so it will be good to spend some time with them.
Alright people. Have a great week!