Big Bend Ranch State Park or The Other Side of Nowhere!

We spent four days camping and hiking in the interior of Big Bend Ranch State Park. This park encompasses 300,000 acres of rugged and beautiful mountains, canyons and high desert. The park land was formerly a cattle ranching operation but when repeated droughts brought about the demise of the ranching operation the state of Texas acquired the land for recreational purposes and created BBRSP.

This park is very primitive. There are no paved roads – many of the roads are single track roads that require 4WD and high clearance. There are no water, elctricity or toilet facilities within the park except at the Sauceda Ranger Station.

We were able to camp on a vista at an elevation of 3600 feet above sea level with a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains including Mexico to the southeast. The night sky is a Class 1 Dark Sky – the darkest rating – spectacular.

The hiking opportunities are numerous with a range of hikes from desert floor hikes to canyon rim views. We had complete solitude on most of our hikes as the many of the trail heads require a 4WD vehicle for access.

This park is probably not for everyone because of the primnitive and rugged conditions. Having said that this park is a treasure – a place where you can get off the grid and enjoy beauty, silence, incredible sunrises, sunsets and night sky.

Big Bend National Park is our next stop.

Be seeing you!

P.S. We have included two photos of the Green Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus. This a variety of cactus that we had never seen before. The flowering leaves are edible and are supposed to taste like strawberries. This cactus is found predominately in this part of Texas and a small area of southern New Mexico. We think it will be a beautiful specimen when it fully blooms.

Camping on Vista Del Bofecillos, BBRSP
Bofecillos Mountains
Bofecillos Mountains
Bofecillos Mountain
Fresno Canyon and Flat Iron Mountains

Green Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus
Sunrise from Vista Del Bofecillos

Returning Home Part 1: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi

After deciding to shorten our trip due to the Covid-19 pandemic we are still keeping to more scenic routes, backways and small towns whenever possible as we return to Connecticut.

From Texas we passed into Louisiana and toured the low country along the Gulf before heading north and making stops in Lafayette and Baton Rouge.After Baton Rouge we continued north into Mississippi and spent a night in the beautiful town of Natchez which sits high above the Mississippi River on a bluff. From Natchez we traveled north on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The NTP is a 440 mile road that follows the path that Native Americans and later Euro-Americans used to travel by foot back to Tennessee and Kentucky after floating down the Mississippi on rafts to trading posts. The entire route from Natchez to Nashville is a national park. There are many historic sites as well as hikes and walks that can be accessed on this beautiful trip. We followed the road as far as the Tennessee/Alabama border before departing to travel east across Northern Alabama.

We will pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, North Carolina and plan on driving the full route which terminates in Front Royal, VA.

We have included a collection of some of our favorites sights as we drove through Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Be seeing you!

Saint Mary Catholic Mission Church, Marathon, Texas
Gage Hotel, 1927, Marathon, Texas

Gage Hotel Lobby
Marathon, Texas
Langtry, Texas – Home of Judge Roy Bean
Uvalde, Texas

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Hackberry, Louisiana
Holly Beach, Louisiana

Cathedral of Saint John The Evangelist, 1916, Lafayette, Louisiana

The Cathedral Oak, Estimated to be 500 Years Old, Lafayette, Louisiana
Street Murals, Lafayette, Louisiana

Mississippi River, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Swamp Blues Legends from baton Rouge aka Red Stick
Martin Luther King, Jr., Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Bontura House, 1851, Natchez, Owned by Free Black Businessman Robert Smith
Rosalie Mansion, 1823, Owned by Peter Little, Cotton Broker
Line Boat Pushing Barges North on the Mississippi Under the Natchez Bluff

Natchez Trace, Mississippi

The King

Honoring the Soldiers of the C.S.A.
Tornado Damage in Tishomingo, Mississippi

Terlingua, Texas

During our time at Big Bend NP we used the town of Terlingua (pop. 58) as our home base. Terlingua is only about twelve miles north of the Study Butte (stew-dee) entrance into the park and has a well stocked general store (Cottonwood GS) for provisions and a half dozen restaurants and shops in addition to motel, camping and RV accommodations. Terlingua has two paved roads – FM 170 which runs east to west terminating at Route 118 which runs north to south from Alpine to the park entrance.

Terlingua came into existence around 1900 after the discovery of cinnabar. The commercial value of cinnabar derives from the extraction of quicksilver, aka mercury. Shortly thereafter about a half dozen mining companies staked claims and set up operations. Over time the companies were consolidated as the Chisos Mining Company but still became bankrupt in 1937 due to falling market prices. During WW2 several mines were re-opened as heightened demand caused prices to rise but by 1947 the mines were again closed.

Many of the miners that worked these mines were Mexicans who came north for the work. Many of the descendants of the Mexican miners still live in Terlingua and the surrounding area. We visited the Terlingua cemetery where a number of the miners who died working the mines are buried and which also is the final resting place for many victims of the 1918 flu epidemic. The cemetery is still in use today.

The town itself is pretty ramshackle which frankly is part of the charm. The local residents are very laid back and friendly. The Terlingua Ghost Town is where most of the restaurants and shops are located – scattered amongst the ruins of the mining company buildings and housing. Many of the current businesses occupy the abandoned mining company structures.

We found Terlingua to be an excellent spot for visiting BBNP if you decide to stay outside the park and had a lot of fun after our hikes unwinding and meeting people in the restaurants and bars in the ghost town area.

Be seeing you!

P.S. Terlingua has the most stunning sunrises which you can watch from most anywhere in town as the sun rises over the Chisos Mountains, Class 1 dark skies for awe inspiring star gazing and the loudest packs of coyotes we have ever heard.

Chicken-Fried Antelope and Grilled Quail

Big Bend National Park

Hola!

After our terrific stay in BBRSP we journeyed east on FM 170 (farm to market) alternatively known as Farm Road 170. The local folks just call it the River Road. It is also a segment of the Texas Mountain Trail. Regardless of what name you reference it by it is an absolutely stunning drive. The road is an undulating strip of asphalt winding its way between the mountains of BBRSP on one side and the Rio Grande and Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains on the other.

Big Bend National Park is an expansive park with remarkable diversity in regard to the terrain and species of wildlife and flora. While it is wild and rugged it is far more accessible than Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are visitor centers, a gas station, drinking water, paved scenic drives and more people. The one thing that both parks have in common is the spectacular scenery.

We would rate this park as a “must visit” national park. A couple things to keep in mind – this is not a summer park due to the South Texas location and it is a spring break destination for many Texas families (making mid-March the busiest time).

Re-assessing our itinerary based on developments with Covid-19.

Be seeing you!

Video Clip: FM 170

Rio Grande, Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains, Mexico
St Elena Canyon
St Elena Canyon
Side Canyon Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off
Lower Buro Mesa Pour-off
Box Canyon, Lower Burro Mesa
Tuff Canyon
Scrambling in Tuff Canyon
Burro Spring Trail
Chisos Mountains
Early Morning Fog Lifting Off Chisos Mountains

Video: Chisos Basin Road, BBNP

Rio Grande
Boquillos Canyon, Wild Burro

Boquillos Canyon, Rio Grande, Mexico on the Right

Rio Grande, Sierra del Carmen Mountains, Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We spent a day at CCNP exploring the Big Room which is one of the 119 caverns that have been discovered so far. The Big Room is the 5th largest limestone cavern in North America. It is 4000 feet long, 255 feet high and over 600 feet wide! The Big Room presents a fantastical display of columns, stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, soda straws and popcorn. You can actually see the formations happening as water draining downward leaves deposits of calcium carbonate – quite fascinating to see this happening real time.

You can reach the Big Room by elevator or hike in via the natural entrance to the cavern. We hiked down the series of switchbacks which eventually take you down 800 feet to the cavern floor. We thought the most breathtaking views we experienced were on the hike down – so we were glad we hiked down. We did however opt to take the elevator back up to the surface.

While this national park is largely about the massive cavern system below the surface there are a number of good hikes in the canyons within the park and a terrific 9.5 mile loop drive (unpaved) through Walnut Canyon.

We recommend a visit to this park in conjunction with other attractions in the area but not as a single destination. Carlsbad is adjacent to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and can easily be combined into a single destination trip.

One thing to remember is there is no lodging or camping within CCNP. It really is a day use facility. We camped on public lands in the Chihuahuan Desert about five miles south of the park – primitive camping.

Be seeing you!

P.S. If you travel from the north avoid Texas Route 652 if at all possible. Route 652 begins at the New Mexico – Texas border and connects to Route 285. Route 652 runs right through the heart of the Mid-Continent Oil Field which is in the middle of a major boom. The roads are a mess and the two lane road is congested with heavy trucks driven by crazed people!

Video Clip – Camp Site Chihuahuan Desert, Mile Marker 10

ABQ – White Sands – Lincoln National Forest

After our stay in ABQ we began our journey to southern New Mexico to visit White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We travel the backways as much as we can in order to take in as much natural beauty as possible. Fortunately, New Mexico offers many opportunities to travel overland on dirt roads and trails through public lands managed by the BLM and NFS.

From ABQ we journeyed overland via the Quebradas Backway which took us through rolling hills and canyons. Beautifully striated ridgelines are in view to the west throughout the length of the backway.

After completing the backway we continued further south stopping in Truth or Consequences before camping north of Las Cruces. Truth or Consequences was originally named named Hot Springs for the 40 different hot springs located in the town. The town changed its name to Truth or Consequences in 1950 to in order to have the radio show of the same name aired in town for the shows tenth anniversary. Our only recommendation if you find yourself in T or C is to stop into Ingo’s Art Cafe, have a cup of coffee and meet Ingo.

White Sands National Park is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. It is truely unique with its ever changing landscape of wind sculpted dunes that cover 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin. The other unique feature is that the national park sits inside the White Sands Missile Range. When missiles are being fired the park closes for obvious safety reasons – check before you go so you are not disappointed.

We think the park can be experienced in one day by driving the loop road and taking a couple of hikes into the dunes. You will also see kids sledding on the dunes.

After leaving White Sands we traveled up into the Sacramento Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. The Sacramento Mountains rise right up out of the basin floor to an elevation of over 8000 feet above sea level. There are a number of vista points that provide surreal views of the White Sands dunefield below.

Lincoln NF has hundreds of hiking trails through out the forest. The town of Cloudcroft sits at the top of the range, a cute mountain town that is a good base camp for hiking in the forest and offers several good restaurants and coffee shops. High Altitude outfitters is an excellent shop for anything you need for your outdoor activities and Black Bear Coffee will get you caffeinated. A number of the trails utilize the railbed from the former Almagordo & Sacramento Mountain Railroad which hauled timber down through the Fresnel Canyon. The railroad shutdown in 1947 but a number of the impressive trestles are still standing and can be seen while hiking. We also came upon several abandoned homesteads while hiking in the forest.

Heading to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Be seeing you!

Video Clip

Video Clip

Yosemite National Park

With repairs to the Beast completed we set out to Yosemite National Park for our first ever visit. We had perfect weather during our three day visit to the park. We did have to contend with smoke from the Briceburg Fire settling in the Yosemite Valley on our first day.

Yosemite is located in the Western Sierra Nevada and features a number of dramatic, well known granite formations. Many of these formations are in Yosemite Valley and should be seen or experienced in some fashion – hiking, climbing or driving. We particularly enjoyed the hikes accessed from Glacier Point Road which provide many spectacular views.

We also recommend visiting other areas of the park outside of the valley. The park is almost 1200 square miles in size – there are many opportunites to see and experience the park outside of Yosemite Valley, without the traffic and crowds.

Yosemite NP is a must see if you are a national park fan. We camped outside the park in the Stanislaus NF. If you want to to stay in one of the park campgrounds or lodges you will need to reserve many months in advance. Regardless of where you stay, driving will be required to access the various areas of the park. Also, go early as trailhead parking is very limited.

Working our way through northern Nevada to get to the Alvord Desert and Steens Mountain Wilderness in Oregon.

Be seeing you!

Half Dome

 

El Capitan, Yosemite Valley

 

Three Brothers

 

Merced River, Yosemite Valley from Roosevelt Point

Smoke from Briceburg Fire Drifting Through the Valley

 

Tenaya Lake and Polly Dome, Yosemite High Country

 

East View from Sentinel Dome, 8130 Elevation

 

Cathedral Spires

 

Camping Stanislaus NF, Merced River, Highway 41

 

Arcata to South Cow Mountain

We continued down the coast to the town of Arcata after leaving the Redwoods National and State Parks. Arcata is home to Humbolt State University and very much has the look and feel of a small college town, albeit sitting on the Pacific coast. The weather favored us with a couple more delightful beach days of which we took full advantage.

From Arcata we stopped in Eureka to visit Bandit Savory and Sweet for coffee and tea before setting out for the town of Ferndale. Ferndale is a picturesque town with a quaint main street and beautiful Victorian homes. The town has been used in many television shows and movies. Lots of boutique stores for those so inclined.

After a walk through town we decided to tackle the “Wildcat”. The “Wildcat” is a narrow, twisty, sometimes paved road that starts in Ferndale and winds up and over the northern King Mountain Range and then drops down to the ocean at Cape Mendocino.  This area is the only coastal wilderness in all of California. There are no major roads and literally no development. Many automobile commercials are filmed on this road in order to take advantage of the spectacular scenery.

We followed the road to Mattole Beach where we were able to camp on the beach. It is incredibly beautiful but completely primitive – no facilities. The combination of the sound of the surf and the night sky is mesmerizing! 

From the beach we followed Mattole Road to Humbolt Redwoods State Park. We were awed by our experience at Redwoods National and State Park. The Redwood Sequoias at Humbolt are even more impressive than what we had seen previously. The trees in Humbolt are protected from the wind by the King Mountain Range and receive far more sun than the coastal redwoods further north. As a result they are even taller than the coastal trees. If you only have time to visit one park we recommend Humbolt.

This area is all part of Humbolt County. While the area is wild and scenic it is economically depressed. We observed many “travelers” in the small towns. There is an edginess with so many travelers about in such small towns (many are transient pickers).

Humbolt County has been home to a significant number of small marijuana farmers since the 1970s. As this industry was vital to the local economy the police in the county did not generally enforce laws regarding the growing and selling of marijuana.

The legalization of marijuana has changed all of  that dramatically.  Officials are now obligated to regulate the industry. The long time illegal growers that operated on a completely cash basis must now get licensed, follow environmental regulations, pay taxes and put their transient pickers on the payroll.

While a number of farmers have quit the business we still saw many marijuana operations as we drove through the remote Lost Coast area.

We highly recommend touring the Lost Coast. It is some of the most beautiful and undeveloped coastline that remains anywhere in the states.

Off to Sacramento……be seeing you!

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North Town Coffee, Bandit Savory & Sweet, Black Oak Coffee Roasters

 

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Snowy Plovers

 

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Clam Beach, Arcata, CA

 

 

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Ferndale, CA

 

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The Wildcat, Ferndale to Mattole

 

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Mattole Beach, King Range Conservation Area

 

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Humbolt Redwoods SP

 

 

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Clear Lake Viewed from South Cow Mountain

 

Redwood National and State Parks

‘Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow’ …or we departed Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for the Northern California coast and the majesty of the Redwood forests in Redwood National and State Parks.

The Southern Oregon and Northern California coast is home to the vast majority of coastal Redwood trees in existence today. These trees are as tall as 360 feet, with a trunk diameter of 30 feet and may live up to 2000 years.

Just a fraction of the old growth Redwoods remain standing today as logging of these magnificent trees continued as late as the 1960s. Today the majority of Coastal Redwoods reside within state and federal lands and are protected by law. Additionally, state and federal agencies are working to ensure the survival of new growth Redwoods through careful management of the environment surrounding the current generation of trees.

Hiking and camping within a Redwood forest was an experience that reminded us of how small we are as human beings and how temporary our stay here is in regard to the natural order of all things. These silent giants dwarf everything around them and demand reverence and silence as you walk among them – we cannot articulate why – they just do.

There are many camping opportunities within the forest and along the coast from which to visit and enjoy the Redwoods, so come and enjoy the beauty.

We will spend a few more days on the coast before moving inland to go to Fresno for repairs to the Beast. After that, weather permitting we will visit Yosemite National Park.

Be seeing you!

Cal-Barrow Road, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP

 

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

 

Cal-Barrow Road, Redwoods N+SP

 

Gold Bluffs Beach, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP

 

Rhododendron Trail, Redwood NP

 

Perfect Setting for Yoga!

 

Crater Lake National Park

After leaving the Oregon coast we followed the Umpqua River east to visit Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is fascinating geologically and quite the natural phenomenon to behold. The crater was formed about 7700 years ago when Mt. Mazama erupted. Years of rain and snowfall into the crater, which has no outlet, gave birth to the lake. It is believed to contain the cleanest water in the world and the average water depth of 6500 feet makes it the deepest lake in the U.S.

Having said that, we would not recommend more than a day or two if you plan on visiting the park. The rim drive allows you to stop at a significant number of lookouts and view the lake from various vantage points but the entire drive is only 31 miles and at most consumes half a day.

There are a number of hikes in the park but only a handful provide views of the lake and only one goes down to the lake. If you visit CLNP, most definitely have a drink (or two) on the porch of the lodge in Rim Village in the late afternoon. And yes, the water is really that blue!

Heading back to the coast and Redwood National Forest after a quick stop in Ashland, Oregon to visit Noble Coffee Roasting (Good Foods Award winning roaster of Ethiopa Buku beans).

Be seeing you!

Crater Lake viewed from Rim Village Lodge

 

Wizard Island

 

Crater Lake from Cleetwood Cove

Crater Lake from Watchman Overlook

 

Camping at Diamond Lake, Umpqua NF