"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!!!!