SPI in the RAIN

Our winter adventure continued this week on the Texas Gulf Coast and South Padre Island (SPI).  We had envisioned SPI as white sand beaches that go on forever and sunshine all day long. While the beaches didn’t disappoint, the sun certainly did.  Considering we had rain and a stiff wind five of the seven days, it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Nevertheless we made the most of it.IMG_8920.jpgOn one of the sunny days we took the bikes out to explore the area.  SPI has some beautiful beach boardwalks that allowed us to bike right alongside the sand and surf. IMG_4011.JPGOn another day we took a drive towards Brownsville and stumbled upon the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site, the location of the first major conflict in the Mexican-American War.  America’s victory here led to the US invasion of Mexico and eventually the definition of our southern border. Yes, even Mia enjoyed the excursion.IMG_7575.JPG While in SPI we stayed at the KOA.  We are becoming KOA regulars and this location had its pros and cons.  We enjoyed meeting snowbirds from all the “cold” locations during the campground’s social activities. In the week we were there we attended a sunrise breakfast, ice cream social, and watched water zumba while sitting out by the pool.  Even Mia, the camping queen, enjoyed the views.IMG_8913.jpgThe KOA was a little cramped and we would have enjoyed a little more space. However, we’re leaning that it’s common to be packed into many of the RV resorts.

We’re now on our way towards the Hill Country, between San Antonio and Austin.  Along the way we made a stop at the legendary King Ranch, the 825,000 acre cattle and horse ranch. Two giant Texas Longhorns greeted us as we entered the ranch property and were a reminder of the long history of cattle growing in the region. IMG_7593.JPGWe missed the ranch tour but tried our hand at roping. Clearly we are both novices at this skill and need to leave it to the ranch hands.IMG_7595.JPG      Our last stop in Kingsville was at the King Ranch Saddle Shop, which produces and sells luxury leather goods including incredibly made saddles that any horseman would love. We know a few folks who would have been in heaven in this place.

Our adventure continues as we move northward toward the Texas wine country.

Big Bend National Park

Our recent visit to Big Bend National Park and the surrounding area was full of surprises (in a good way).    If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood (just kidding…this place is way out of the way) it deserves your attention.8E9C583A-8FD3-45EC-9E2C-5EC3240F4C33

We traveled from Arizona for three days before arriving at BJ’s RV Park in Terlingua, TX, right outside the National park entrance. Our long drive included long stretches of typical West Texas…scrub brush, crumbling old corrals, and cows. We were happy to arrive at BJ’s and make it our home for awhile.

BJ’s is a funky place, as is Terlingua, and it’s just what you’d expect in a remote Far West Texas town. It was the perfect base from which to explore. The Terlingua Ghost Town features the remnants of an old 1880s quicksilver (mercury) mine and its storied past. A frontier cemetery, abandoned mine shafts, and a saloon seemed to be the perfect package.

We especially enjoyed sitting on the porch of the old Terlingua Trading Company, drinking a beer, and listening to an old guy play western music. The old adobe Starlight Theatre topped off the evening with live music and half-priced burgers.

Our first day of exploration took us into the National Park and to the Chisos Mountain Basin where the mountains top out of 8,000 feet.

There’s some great hiking here. However, I’m not hiking this time around, per doctor’s orders, but the drives here are also spectacular! We also visited the most southern part of the park, which is defined by the Rio Grande. In fact, that’s how the park got its name, for the big bend in the river which defines the US/Mexico border for over 100 miles.

Years ago an entrepreneur built a resort along the banks of the Rio Grande. The resort is now in ruins but the stories still abound. FD23D4F7-1029-4569-9131-D5D565C71606The primary draw to this part of the world was/is the hot springs.  Said to have healing properties, the springs still draw tired hikers and travelers from across the globe.1110745E-04A8-43D4-BF27-726752E18619 Along the short trail to the hot springs we saw Native American pictographs that show humans have been here for a very long time. Right along the Rio Grande you find the most interesting things!38BBB181-7323-465D-94BB-E1FA52185D34On another day we set out to see the biggest highlights of Big Bend National Park: Ross Maxwell Drive and Santa Elena Canyon. The drive takes you through historic ranching sites and incredible scenery.

At Santa Elena, the ultimate destination of the drive, the canyon walls tower over 1,500 feet above the Rio Grande and are a spectacular sight. Steve hiked back into the canyon to get a birds-eye view while I sat along the banks of the Rio Grande and enjoyed the nice  weather.

On the way to Santa Elena we checked out the historic town of Castolon, which has seen trade, war, and farming over its 120 year history. Remnants of its cotton farming era still stand as a tribute to the people who made something of not much along the banks of the river.

On another day we set out westward to nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park. This, the largest state park in Texas, rivaled the national park in many ways. Gorgeous scenery, dramatic canyons, and the meandering Rio Grande make this state park worth exploration.30DDA27E-5740-4E72-8CC1-4EB97467EB1DI explored the park on horseback while Steve got in a long 19 mile run along the park’s roads. My horse, Little John, was a little stubborn but we managed.  He skillfully picked through the steep and rocky trails that made this ride a challenge, even for the more experienced equestrians in our group of six.

This was the first time I’d been back on a horse in probably 25 years and it came back just like riding a bike! Dad always said there was no better way to enjoy the countryside than from the back of a horse, and he would have loved this ride!

Big Bend Ranch State Park also features what has been called “the most beautiful drive in Texas.” The River Road follows the Rio Grande for 60 miles through dramatic canyons and valleys to the dusty town of Presidio, TX. It’s not to be missed.

It’s out of the way, it’s desolate, and it’s vast. The Big Bend region may not yet be on your bucket list. but we think it should be, and we can’t wait to return.

Patagonia Lake State Park and Harvest Hosts

Our winter road trip continued south to Patagonia Lake State Park. This beautiful park is located just north of the US/Mexican border near Nogales and is a haven for birders. We aren’t really into birds but we enjoyed our time there nevertheless. Steve enjoyed running on the trails each day while I rested my ailing foot. While the weather was unusually chilly, we still got out to enjoy the area a bit. Nearby Tumacácori National Historic Park reminded us of the long history of southern Arizona, punctuated by Spanish Colonial Jesuit missions.Not far from Patagonia Lake State Park is the wine growing region of Sonoita/Elgin. Of course, we checked out a few of the wineries while in the area. Our favorite was the funky, women-owned Arizona Hops and Vines, which pairs its wine with yummy snacks like BBQ chips, Cheetos, and Cocoa Puffs. How can you go wrong?After our time in southern Arizona we headed east towards Texas and our next destination, Big Bend National Park. However, RVing is not really about the destination as much as it’s about the journey. And what a journey we had!

We try to vary the kinds of places in which we camp. On this three day portion of our trip we stayed at a winery, a dairy, and an RV resort. First we stopped in Deming, NM and used our Harvest Host membership to park on the property of the D. H. Lescombes Winery and Tasting Room and enjoyed live music, wine specials, and dinner with others who were staying the night.

The next night we stopped in San Elizario, TX at the Licon Dairy, another Harvest Host property. We were the only campers there, but the dairy attracts a steady stream of locals who come to buy the legendary azadero cheese and to visit the farm animals. We bought some cheese and fed the animals, including the camel and many, many goats. Fun!Our journey was not without a small challenge that Steve met head on. Our kitchen faucet started leaking after our time in Patagonia and it soon became apparent that the cheap plastic faucet that came with the trailer needed to be replaced. So, on our way through El Paso, we set up shop in the parking lot of Home Depot and made the repair. Steve had to do some contortions to get to the pipes, but he got it done!Onward!