Life in a 24 1/2 foot RV

In Florida, nearly all our time was spent outdoors unless it was raining or cold. Outside Florida, we’ve had quite a few cold nights but purchased a small electric heater which quickly warms our small rv without using the furnace or heat pump. I like to read sprawled on the bed, and Mel enjoys researching our next stop on his phone or laptop if we can get service. We’ve found we use electronics significantly less on the road.

We cook whatever we can on the grill and sit outside when we aren’t exploring. We take full advantage of campfire fun. Our bikes work great to travel to places within ten miles. Having a small easy to hook/unhook RV that drives like a van makes it easy to use for transportation as well. Also comes in handy to safely “store” Winston with an exhaust fan that circulates outside air. Not hot enough in shaded parking to worry about his safety without using our generator to provide air conditioning which we only had to do twice on hot Texas days.

We’ve become very adaptable. We can easily sit on the couch together, most often without the table to provide more leg room, but with the table at times when using our laptops. Wish our driver/passenger seats swiveled to provide seating, but we’ll keep the dinette seating to allow for grandkids to travelel with us at least as long as they want to. After that, replacing the dinette with chairs will be investigated. Winston finds the seats quite comfortable.

While the bathroom is small, we’ve found using it works just fine if the campground doesn’t provide bathrooms, or if they are too yuck to use. Good to conserve hot water although we haven’t run out yet. Six gallons for both of us seems to be sufficient.

We rarely watch tv. There’s contentment in the air without it. And with so much to explore and interesting people to talk to, we don’t miss it at all.

Billy the kid scenic drive

From Brantley Lake to Oscar Lee State Park we took this scenic drive.

Neither of us much liked Carlsbad New Mexico other than the caverns. Surrounded by the Permian Basin drilling, it is dirty and filled with equipment, flaring flames, and substantial litter. Flaring is the practice to burn off natural gas when drilling for oil rather than capture it. Estimates now exceed $1 million per day in natural gas wasted through flaring in the Permian basin.

The drive itself through the Lincoln national forest was very pretty. Fairly flat in general, but with snow peaked mountains in the distance. This is wild west country, and you can easily imagine cowboys and Indians riding through this area.

We walked through the western town of Lincoln New Mexico. A nice blend of very old buildings still used for residence and some used as tourist attractions. Made lunch in the RV and walked Winston a bit to stretch all eight of our legs. There’s also a Smokey the Bear museum in Capitan which we avoided, but it did cause us to research Smokey and learned he was rescued as a cub during a forest fire resulting in his use as a fire prevention advocate.

We also drove through Roswell New Mexico where the tv series of the same name is based as well as a well known UFO museum. I would have enjoyed the latter, but Mel vetoed a visit. He probably was the smart one.

Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico

We stayed at Brantley Lake state park which was pretty uneventful in winter months. But during a hike near the lake we were surprised to see American white pelicans flying in formation since this is a fresh water lake. They are white with black tipped wings and research indicates they prefer brackish or fresh water. Unlike beach pelicans, they don’t dive for fish but scoop them in their large beaks.

The highlight of this stay of course was the caverns. We spent one day on a self guided tour which took about two and a half hours. Expecting a tourist spot, I was pleasantly surprised how well the caverns are presented. They are softly lit in places highlighting some of the most interesting spots. Rangers are placed sporadically answering questions and monitoring for touching or damaging stalagmites, stalactites or columns where the two have met and touched.

I found the 1924 National Geographic magazine article announcing the discovery of the Caverns particularly interesting.

But the highlight was a second day visit with a passionate ranger led hike. She provided information about formation of these beauties…dripping water that calcifies. Slight bends in some are caused by gentle air flow through the caverns. Some are flat and smooth. Some bumpy with an almost popcorn resemblance. Some are pointed. Some become wave like….termed curtains.

She described early navigation by James White who discovered the caverns when he saw what he thought was smoke coming from a cave entrance. But these were huge numbers of bats, so he reasoned the cave must be large and continued to investigate over time.

She also described significant damage before paths were created and people were able to roam free. Stalactites were frequently broken off as souvenirs. And touching the rock was common leaving human oils which discolored the rocks.

Bats still exit in huge numbers at dusk in non winter months to feed on insects. It’s a daily lighted display with onlookers placed both inside and outside the cavern entrance. Bats are currently wintering in Mexico, so unfortunately we missed that.

We also visited Sitting Bull falls while we were in the area. The drive is along free range cattle country, and we had to slow more than once to let a cow pass. During winter, we would not recommend the time to drive here although the falls were pretty. Falling into a crystal clear green pond was nice. While we’ve seen many posters warning of bears, mountain lions, javalinas, rattlesnakes, tarantulas etc, a cougar poster got my attention since there were few people around and we were hiking with Winston. While very unlikely to encounter one outside of dawn or dusk, I didn’t want to worry about his safety so we hiked only near the falls.

Had to stay an extra day with high winds of 45 mph and gusts up to 65 mph. After checking with some RV bloggers on their opinion we received overwhelming numbers of “stay put” responses.

Big Bend National park

What an amazing and huge place. Spent four nights here and is my favorite so far. I picked Big Bend because it is a dark sky park and selected the timing during a new moon phase when it wouldn’t distract star views. No lights from 10 PM to 6 am. Only red lighting is allowed during those hours to avoid eyes from having to adjust from white light. As a result the first night’s sky was pitch black with sharp clear stars. We watched the sky for nearly three hours and Mel amazed me with his familiarity with various constellations. One shooting star blazed across the sky. It was a magical night. The following two nights were cloudy and the fourth was partially clear but cold. So we feel fortunate to have had one perfect night.

Our favorite hike was the Santa Elena canyon with huge canyon walls on both sides of the Rio Grande river. One canyon wall is in Mexico. The other in the U.S. Beautiful. Sad. Humans have created boundaries. There is a plaque that says wildlife runs freely between the two countries, unaware of the boundary. I had hoped to kayak here, but water levels are too low. Getting here was through the Ross Maxwell scenic drive with gorgeous views.

Sunrises and sunsets are remarkable. Within seconds colors change or disappear into shaded darkness on the various mountains and hills. Our favorite pastime was taking the Nature trail up high with a view of the Chisos mountains and the Boquillas range. The Rio Grande ran beneath the Chisos view. Couldn’t get enough of that scenery. Mexico was across a narrow section of the Rio Grande. Literally a stone’s throw to another country. We could have easily walked across.

We spent one day in the Chisos Basin. Highest elevation in the park at 5400 ft. Bears and mountain lions are frequently seen resulting in warnings not to jog or hike alone or without a walking stick that could help avert a mountain lion attack. Camping areas were beautiful but sites were too closely placed, so we decided to stay in the campground in Rio Grande Village.

We were tickled to see quite a few roadrunners and must admit the Looney Tunes road runner song stayed in my head for days.

While wildlife includes mountain lions, bears, big horn sheep, tarantulas, snakes, bobcat and many others, we didn’t see them. Possibly because its winter. And very dry right now. We heard coyotes every night between dusk until dawn.

Boquillas Del Carmen is a small Mexican village just a few miles from our campground. They are granted a special Visa to be able to purchase groceries at the campground village store. Their next closest grocery store is 3 hours away. Visits to the village are easy as long as you have a passport and report yourself to village authorities when you arrive. And sometimes the gate back to the U.S. is manned and sometimes it isn’t. Unfortunately we didn’t think to bring a passport. But a number of our neighbors went and found the village relied on park visitors to support their restaurants, crafts and stores. US immigration officers were lax with locals crossing the river freely but monitored those they felt planned to stay.

Without Winston, we’d be able to hike more. So while we dread the day he won’t be with us, well return to Big Bend to hike a bit more.

Traveling through Southeast Texas

One night each at Village Creek, Pedernales Falls and Seminole Canyon state parks. This is a vast, rocky, hilly section of Texas with long horn cattle, goats, sheep and deer in the fields. One particularly hilly section had a number of vineyards with large tasting rooms that were similar in design to California or Portugal vineyards we’ve visited. Since we’re splitting driving, thought it best not to stop.

Most of Village Creek trails were still closed from Hurricane Harvey but we covered the ones still open. On the trails by 8 a.m. at Pedernales Falls and had the trail mostly to ourselves. Really nice falls with some rocky trails which Winston loved climbing.

Seminole Canyon was a great camping site with very spacious campsites. Ours had a great view facing west, which made for a nice sunset. Our plan was to take a long hike on the edge of the canyon but we woke to heavy fog which didn’t clear by 10:00 so we got on the road. This will be a stop next year for sure.

We were able to watch the Superbowl from our outdoor tv but since we’re on the Mexico border, we could only get it in Spanish, which neither of us knows. At least not now. But it’s on our bucket list. The officials announcements were in English. But commercials were primarily mattress and internet commercials in Spanish over and over. Got to see Maroon 5 during the halftime show.

Close to Seminole we were stopped by border patrol at a roadside checkpoint. We saw a few others north bound as well as numerous individual border patrol trucks as we left Seminole. Checkpoints had big German Sheperds, and signs asked us to secure dogs, and we worried about them wanting to bring a dog into the RV to search. Could’ve turned ugly with Winston. But they quickly ushered us along after asking if we had only U.S. citizens inside. Two retirees with Illinois plates seemed to raise no concerns.

 

Grand Isle Louisiana

Stopped in New Orleans for beignets at Cafe Dumond. Tough city to navigate through especially with construction but so worth this sweet treasure.

Cool state park, right on the beach but we had chilly weather two of the three days. No complaints after what Illinois experienced with the polar vortex. Yesterday was windy but warm so we walked on the beach and took a bike ride through Grand Isle. Small houses painted bright colors and on stilts. This is wetland country with white and pink egrets, brown and white pelicans and herons. Huge fishing ships.

At the grocery store, we heard locals speaking both French Cajun and English with a Cajun accent. Reminded me of a time when I worked at Regions and traveled to Louisiana. The cash vault manager had such a heavy cajun accent I needed someone to translate English to English for me. A beautiful language.

This is a tourist area in the summer with lots of rentals available. The beach is right over the levee with quick access from the park and neighboring communities. Nice and quiet in January.

The Saints were denied the chance to play in the superbowl this year with a bad call from a ref in the playoffs. Funny to see all the activities planned down here on superbowl Sunday since many plan to boycott watching the game. Heavily televised news topic.

Three days travel now to Big Bend in Texas. Thankfully the government shutdown was temporarily halted to give us a chance to see parks on our bucket list. We split driving and Winston sits in the cab between us hoping for pets. He gets those often.

Gilchrist Blue Springs state park

Weather’s been cool and rainy during our three day visit, but we got a nice kayak paddle in. This area of Florida is full of natural springs. Warm but not hot at a consistent water temperature of 72.

The springs here are amazingly clear. Some spots as deep as 12 feet and we could still see the bottom. Turtles, egrets, fish clearly visible. Saw and heard a wild male turkey strutting and gobbling on the shore as well as a pair of huge wood storks, the only stork in North America. Population is severely declining and significantly at risk.

Must admit part of me was nervous to run into alligators on the Santa Fe river, but they are not aggressive and prefer to avoid humans. Disappointed and relieved at the same time.