“This Year Marks Our 10th Winter RV Trip”
The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.
Tuesday, December 12 and Wednesday, December 13, 2017-South Llano State Park, Texas: As mentioned in the last episode, Kit and I prefer the more rural and rustic noncommercial campgrounds such as state, county, and national parks. We seldom use the fancy amenities that the commercial RV resorts feature and most have small sites that can be quite cramped, especially in this era of large RV’s with multiple slide out rooms. However, the individual campsites at noncommercial parks are generally larger and sited in such a way to take advantage of the natural surroundings which provide nice views from the camper as well as while sitting outside.
This marks the second time we’ve stayed at this nice Texas State Park…however previously it was rainy which limited our outdoor activities. So, we decided to take a couple days off the road for some rest, relaxation, and exploration. The place was only half occupied so we had the luxury of driving through the campground and selecting our ideal site, which ironically, turned out to be the exact site we had the first time here!
Many of these type parks offer hiking trails that lead to the surrounding back country…Kit and I especially enjoy walking these paths.
A few trails lead to bird blinds with discreet viewing and photography ports.
The blinds looked out on protected enclosures which were equipped with food and water features to attract birds such as this little fellow…the Pico Graciosa con Plumas Rojas.
And his cousin from further up north…the Azul Porque soy de Pájaro Norte de Nieve.
In addition to many other birds of a feather that flock together and visit the beautiful Texas Hill Country this time of the year.
South Llano River State Park features interpretive signs along its many trails.
With signs detailing the various native vegetation, such as this Spanish Dagger.
A species of Yucca Plant, the Spanish Dagger is frequently mistaken for a cactus due to its sharp tipped leaves; however, it is actually a member of the lily family. Many elements of this plant can provide food for wildlife and were used by the native peoples as well. The fibers in the leaves are very long, reaching from the plants roots to the needle pointed tips, which makes them useful as a primitive needle and thread for sewing clothing and moccasins.
Then there is the Ash Juniper, sometimes mistakenly called a cedar tree due to its similar bark structure.
The aromatic tree is responsible for allergy symptoms in humans which is referred to as “Cedar Fever” by the locals. This malady is a real nuisance to those of us who suffer allergies kept under control by medication. Allergy treatments are only effective in one’s home environment, and do little to combat symptoms of allergens found elsewhere, so those of us who enjoy travel just deal with the symptoms. However, the Ash Juniper also has positive benefits to the local population of man and wildlife.
The trunk and branches make excellent material for fences, and the blue colored berries provide food for wildlife.
Over the years, Kit and I have discovered that folks who camp in the noncommercial campgrounds seem to be more relaxed and therefore a bit friendlier…and here at South Llano River State Park the experience was the same. Just taking a walk about the grounds elicited many waves and good wishes from fellow campers. To amplify this sense of community, the camp host and his wife dropped by with a plate of freshly made cookies!
However, not all was peaceful in this serene setting. On the second morning of our stay there was a bit of excitement when a masked fugitive sought shelter and sustenance in the park. Fortunately, he was quickly apprehended by one of Texas’s finest lawmen…Ranger Bob.
Rocky Racoon had been marauding the campground and ravaging the dumpster. He has been captured in the past and released on the far side of the mountain, only to find his way back to these fertile feeding grounds. Ranger Bob’s plan on this capture was to relocate the critter farther away, like Florida…good luck!
One perceived disadvantage to folks that camp in more remote and natural locations is the lack of internet and cell phone connectivity. This nuisance bothers one of us more than the other, however, locating a half-read book from last year’s trip, she was once again content to enjoy the camping experience. Of course, this meant that I needed to be quiet, and the best way for me to abstain from interrupting her reading was to take a hike…so off I went.
A short scramble up a well-marked trail led to the summit of Fawn Hill where views of the valley and campground could be enjoyed.
As I was standing enjoying the solitude and serenity of that beautiful fall morning, my iPhone started alerting when a weak cell signal found the device. Knowing that Kit would enjoy seeing what she had missed these past 14 hours, I downloaded email, the daily news, and her Facebook feed onto my phone for her enjoyment. I guess the mystique of the male provider as hunter and gatherer is still prevalent in South Texas!
Returning to the campground I stumbled across this cute little fellow looking for a meal.
Armadillos, Spanish for “little armored one”, are native to this region of the county and are known as Turtle Rabbits by the native people. One unusual trait is that Armadillos have the ability to hold their breath underwater for up to six minutes, which allows them to walk along river bottoms to access the far side. A distant relative of the Sloth, this poor sighted animal is surprisingly quick considering its short legs, and when startled can leap straight up in the air several feet…don’t ask how I know that!?!?
Kit and I really enjoy these reprieves from the road to relax and recreate, however, since we are on a rather tight schedule to reach grandchildren by Christmas, tomorrow we must continue west.
Thursday, December 14, 2017: Departed South Llano River State Park at 1017 hours under sunny skies and temperatures in the low 50’s. As the name implies, there is a river that borders the park and access is from the day use section which we didn’t visit. However, while driving across the bridge, we noticed that the gently flowing river provides opportunities for fly fisherfolks to ply their craft.
South Llano River is reported to be an excellent river for paddle craft as the river meanders about the famed Texas Hill Country. Oh, in case you’re wondering, I still haven’t solved my kayak carrying problem with this newer rig…so no paddling for Bill!
Leaving the park, Kit and I made our way back to the bustle of the interstate by connecting a few country roads.
Then merged onto I-10 with the other traveling drones heading west.
Today was a rather long and tedious day of traveling across the expanse of Texas, with a rest or fuel stop every few hours. At one roadside rest, I spotted Santa with his sleigh filled to the brim with 2018 model Corvettes!
Now I can’t remember…am I on the naughty or the nice list? Guess I’ll find out come Christmas morning!
Kit and I decided to stop for the night at one of our favorite commercial campgrounds, Fort Stockton RV Park and Roadrunner Café, located just off the freeway and to the east of Fort Stockton, Texas.
A basic campground with nice sites and an onsite café, Fort Stockton RV is a great overnight camping opportunity while making the 550-mile transit from San Antonio to El Paso.
Walking about the campground before dinner we noticed a rig sporting Maine license plates…a rare sight west of the Mississippi, or outside Maine, or Florida.
Paula and Mike are from Old Town, Maine and travel in a ten-foot-long by five-foot-high custom utility trailer, complete with a bed, refrigerator, cassette toilet, and storage cabinet! They have a larger rig located in Florida, but going Full Waldon Pond, they prefer to tow, travel and live out of this diminutive rig. There is a real advantage to RV’ing as a minimalist; lower capital expenses, better fuel economy, ability to squeeze into even the smallest campsites, and without the size and complexity of larger rigs, little risk of forgetting something important…like latching the fifth wheel witch around the pin box as this hapless RV’r apparently did earlier today.
Yep, have heard campfire horror stories of this happening, but have never seen the aftermath…an embarrassing and expensive boo-boo. Think I’ll print this photo and attach it to my pre-underway checklist as a reminder to pay attention to details!
Waiting for the campground café to open, Kit and I meet a woman traveling solo who was waiting, as well. Inviting her to dine with us, Kit and I learned that Sarah was from upstate New York and had recently lost her husband to cancer. Since they loved traveling about the country, Sarah decided to continue RV’ing and purchased a new rig…a 43-foot Newmar Dutch Star, with a flat-towed 4×4 Hummer hitched behind!
That’s a half-million-dollar rig folks, and its combined length is a whopping 63 feet!! Pretty impressive for a solo traveler!
The café is locally known for old fashioned homecooked meals, and even though the no longer offer their signature ribs, the items remaining on the menu were very good.
Well, it’s off to bed as we want to depart fairly early in the morning…good night!
Friday, December 15, 2017: Up and on the road by 0900.
The weather is sunny and clear, but the temperature is a chilly 37 degrees. Before hitting the interstate, we rolled through the town of Fort Stockton on Business I-10 to see a bit of the town.
This Pecos County town of 8,500 folks is one of a few dusty cow-town’s along the I-10 corridor. As such, it is an important transportation stop for commercial truckers as well as the traveling public. And it will soon to be even busier when Interstate-14 reaches the town from the south. Currently under construction, I-14 is known as the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway and will connect important shipping ports of the Gulf of Mexico with important military bases in the west. It will also help evacuate the Gulf Coast population centers in times of emergencies, such as hurricanes.
Easing back on I-10, Kit and I settled in for the last half of the transit through West Texas. We motored along through the desolate countryside stopping only for rest breaks before crossing into the Mountain Time Zone around noon.
Regardless of the name, this part of Texas has no mountains and very few hills. But there are vehicles pulling boats, so I can only surmise there must be a lake nearby.
The above, is a unique power boat, a Duffy 18!
Its power is from an electric motor running on a 48V DC battery pack and delivering propulsion by way of an unusual system called a Power Rudder.
This drivetrain propels the picnic boat at 6 MPH for about four hours before needing recharging. Designed in 1970 by Marshal Duffield, The Duffy 18 is built at their boatyard in Newport Beach, California. Popular with excursion boat companies for tours of sheltered rivers and bays, the Duffy 18 retails for $44,000.00 and the current fleet numbers are a bit over 10,000 units. An interesting vessel, one that I never even knew existed! Check them out at:
As we neared the left side of Texas, the terrain started to vary, a tiny bit.
Soon we were Down in the West Texas Town of El Paso, (hey that would make a neat country song!) and spotted this unusual contraption motoring along.
The lettering indicated it was a vehicle out of the Apple Computer stable, mapping the countryside such as Google had done years earlier. Bristling with 12 high resolution cameras and four laser ranging transponders, dozens of these Apple Maps vehicles are on the road worldwide gathering data to compete with Google.
Pulling off the interstate east of the city, we meandered toward the US Army base of Fort Bliss…our final stop before reaching the Southeastern region of the US which we will be exploring for the next few months.
This military campground is off base near one of the military housing complexes and offers an inexpensive and convenient place to stay.
Setting up camp, dinner, and a cocktail brought the day to a close.
Saturday, December 16 and Sunday, December 17, 2017-El Paso, Texas: This marks the eighth time we’ve stayed at the Fort Bliss Family RV Park. About half the spots are occupied by families of military personnel, some are being used as temporary housing by soldiers attending the various technical schools on base, and most of the remaining sites are claimed by retired military snow-birders…Kit and I are an anomaly as we will only be here for a few days. Fortunately, at 133 sites, there is usually room for the RV’ing through-traveler.
Fort Bliss is on the outskirts of El Paso, and after so many visits to this area, there is just not much else that can be added. On this stopover, we took care of the mundane chores of life on the road and stocked up at the base commissary and post exchange complex…one of the largest, and nicest military shopping facilities we’ve seen. Also made time to eat a bit better as time was available for Kit to whip up many of her culinary masterpieces such as this incredible skillet fried dish!
And it was as good as it looks!
True to our routine, we did take a walk about the sprawling RV park, as it’s always interesting to see the variety of rigs folks use to RV in. Occasionally we stumble upon a truly unique traveling home…such as this stick built fifth wheel trailer.
The owner (builder) of this mansion on wheels probably received inspiration from the Tiny House Movement…but the dark purple, triple axel, two level, forty foot rolling home was anything but tiny! Wanted to talk to the occupants and get their story, but no one was about during our stay.
Well tomorrow, Kit and I continue our trek toward the land of the setting sun.
Monday, December 18, 2017: Broke camp and hit the road by 0747. It had rained overnight, and the temperatures are in the mid 40-degree range. We normally take a shortcut up and over Franklin Mountain to bypass the congestion of downtown El Paso and its cross border Mexican neighbor of Juarez. However, with the wet roads, we decided to stay at a lower altitude and head south into the city…fortunately, at this hour, traffic was fairly light!
Back on I-10, we headed west and crossed the New Mexico border within an hour.
This far south, I-10 skirts the Mexican countryside, and therefore is a prime spot for illegal immigration activities. The US Border Patrol is evident all over the place, and staffs a few checkpoints along the route.
Everyone exits, answers a few basic questions, then most folks are allowed to continue along their way.
Kit and I decided to stop for breakfast in the camper at a rest area then continue along I-10 where we crossed the Arizona border at 1125. A few hours later we came to the small town of Vail…the home of The Shrine of Saint Rita.
This old Mexican Catholic Church was my mother’s favorite place of worship.
And, in the nearby memorial garden, she still enjoys a presence. Visiting this spot has become an annual tradition for Kit and me since moms passing…we sit in the chapel and reflect after lighting a votive candle in her memory.
I found it amusing that the candle was labeled as “combustible”!?!?
Kit and I were back on the road an hour later and making our way further up I-10. We are heading toward the North Tucson and the home of my brother Dewey and his bride Bea, where we set up camp in their ample dooryard for a short visit.
Dew and Bea must have gotten wind we were heading their way as they were nowhere to be found!?!?! Actually, they are on their own RV trip to the California coast in order to visit family in the LA area, but being the great folks that they are, offered up their driveway for a session of dooryard surfing…thanks guy’s!
Tuesday, December 19 and Wednesday, December 20, 2017-Tucson, AZ: The weather was unseasonably cool during our two-day stay with daytime highs reaching only into the low 50’s. Kit and I have, over the years, considered this area as our home away from home not to include our rolling home which we use to get to our home away from home from our Maine home…does any of that make sense? We are actually Arizona landowners, inheriting a relatively small plot of land from my mother, which we haven’t a clue what to do with. Fortunately, the property taxes on this unimproved land are low…but it does give us the right to claim status as Arizonians!
Also residing in Tucson is our mutual brother Dan. Fortunately, Brother Dan was able to get time off work to hang out with Kit and I for a few hours. We enjoyed the visit and catching up on Dan’s recent doings.
As the afternoon wore on, we all headed out to one of Tucson’s many fine Mexican Restaurants, the Ole Mexican Grill.
Decorated for the holidays in the Mexican tradition, there were even Medias de Navidad hanging about this small local restaurant.
Kit, Dan and I enjoyed a nice authentically prepared meal in the Sonoran tradition and treated ourselves to a refreshing glass of iced Jamaica.
An herbal tea made from the Hibiscus flower and sweetened with honey, Jamaica is a favored drink in various parts of the world, including Mexico.
On the second day, Kit and I visited one of the newest and more elegant thrift stores known to man or woman.
The Golden Goose is located in an exclusive area of North Tucson sitting in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountain range.
Run by the local residents as a charity fund raiser, most of the donations come from folks living in this high-end retirement community. It seems, they relocate from the colder climes with all their worldly possessions, so the Golden Goose receives a constant infusion of quality and luxury goods from these folks when they discover there is no way to stuff 5000 square feet of household stuff into a 1500 square foot condo. Kit and I picked up some treasures and now must figure out how to stuff these “must have” items into our 375-square foot rolling box…the cycle continues!?!?
That afternoon, Kit was able to “crock pot” a batch of Great Northern Beans for freezing and later use…I initially questioned the need for such a large kitchen appliance in a camper! However, to date she has used her 2.5-quart crock pot to prepare the beans, chick peas, a batch of shredded beef and another batch of shredded chicken, much to my culinary pleasure!
This has been a short but enjoyable stay in Tucson, but we must continue on…anxious and excited grandboys await a few days to the north…stay tuned!
Kit’s Bit’s: Many thanks to Dewey & Bea for letting us stay in your driveway for a couple of days. It’s such a nice spot, among the trees, with birds singing. We missed seeing the Javalina’s this time, but I’m sure we will see them again. We enjoyed visiting with Dan, he and I are kind of
“on the same page” with our computers, we can sit for hours and enjoy all they have to offer. We also enjoyed our time at Llano State Park. I would love to spend a week there, however, I might have an issue with no Wi-Fi signal. Oh, I could send Bill to the top of the mountain each day to get the latest info downloaded! 😊