Thursday, June 04, 2009

Observations and Lessons Learned

Here, in no particular order, are this year's observations and lessons learned. The accompanying pictures do not necessarily have anything to do with this post. I just like them.

  1. Castile Soap: Don't leave home without it! I guess I don't travel enough (okay, I know I don't travel enough) but somehow I missed the memo that castile soap washes off clean in hard water. I found some travel size Dr. Bronner's at Central Market the week before our trip, and used it every time we had to stay the night at a hotel with hard water. Wonderful stuff.
  2. Coffee Mug: At home, I have a cup of chai tea every night, but this has been a hard tradition to continue on the road. Not only can one not put styrofoam cups in the microwave, but anything you put in them, from evening tea to morning coffee, tastes awful and is probably unsafe. Last year I found a plain china mug for $1. At that price, who cares if it gets broken? It lives in my suitcase now, and this year I had tea every night.

  3. Travel Dress: I had always been a little skeptical of the value of a travel dress, but this spring I broke down and bought one of these in basic black. What a great purchase! It dresses up or down, is cool on hot summer days and looks fabulous layered with sweaters in cooler climes. It can be stuffed in a suitcase, then put on and worn as-is, no ironing required. I wore it with heels and a cashmere sweater for an elegant dinner in Santa Fe. I wore it with flip-flops on the day we went to Balmorhea and was able to change into a swimsuit and back into my dress in a jiffy. That evening I layered it with a blouse and some ballerina flats to go out to dinner. Best. Dress. Evah.

  4. General Order of Things: In retrospect, Dan and I should’ve gone to Big Bend and Chaco Canyon first, then done the hot springs and massages last. I was so stiff by the time we got home that I had to go out the next morning and get a massage.

  5. Big Bend: If you’ve never been and don’t have a friend to advise you, stay at the Chisos Mountain Lodge. Big Bend encompasses over 800,000 acres and several very different environments. Chisos is centrally located, with many options for getting to know the area. It’s too crowded to get the true Big Bend Experience, but it’s the ideal place to get educated and plan your next visit.

  6. Chaco Canyon: I don’t think there are enough superlatives in the English language to describe it. One of the best things is that it’s so far from any points of civilization and so hard to get to via a long and poorly maintained dirt road, that anyone who makes it out there is likely to be dedicated and deeply respectful of the place. It’s a great place to get away from noisy, obnoxious tourists who have little appreciation for what they’re seeing. Best of all, Chaco inspires and challenges assumptions. We all need that.
  7. Prada Marfa: We zoomed by too quickly to grasp what we were seeing, and there was no good way to go back. This has got to be some of the cleverest art ever, though.
  8. Pie: The Pie-O-Neer CafĂ© is worth going out of your way for. A good thing, since it’s located about an hour from anywhere.
  9. Organization: I continue to get better at this. Last year, it was the clear plastic organizer for toiletries that can be hung from a bathroom hook or towel rack. This year I put pajamas, socks, and underwear into their own bags and greatly reduced my frustration in finding things.

Well, this pretty much covers it. Thanks to all of you who have followed along, and to those who have blog-hosted my wayward bunny while I've been away. From here forward, I'll be posting at my regular blog. It's great to be in my own home again!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Day Twelve

I did not want to work out this morning. I had been stiffening up since my mountain-running at Big Bend and was grasping for any excuse, but Dan didn’t wake up and say we needed to hurry and get on the road, and the hotel treadmill wasn’t in use. Since no one was willing to help me skip my workout, I did a half-hour interval session while watching a silly TV show about Mayans being from space. Does anyone but me think it’s a little insulting to say that just because we don’t understand certain things about an ancient culture, they must have been aliens from another planet?

Before we could leave Kerrville, Dan and I had a very important stop to make: Wolfmueller’s Books. We go to this bookstore nearly every year and rarely leave empty-handed. They specialize in Texas and Southwestern themes, both fiction and non-fiction. This year I scored, buying seven books, several of which will go on in my rare book bookcase. Two are about the Texas port of Indianola, destroyed by successive hurricanes in the late nineteenth century.

I now had a sack full of books and was happy, so Dan and I started toward home. It was great to be in the green rolling hills of Central Texas after so many days in the deserts of New Mexico and West Texas.

As we neared home, the hills flattened out...

...and then the landscape became cluttered with billboards, buildings, and other signs of human activity. The skies darkened and we had some real concern that we’d run into a storm, but the rain followed some sort of pattern of its own and we managed to avoid it. We went to pick up the pets and Pixel was unhappy, but fine. Cadbury, on the other hand, was still on his blog-friend tour, organized by his friends at the Houseful of Rabbits. I was informed that Cadbury would find his own way home in a day or two and let us know when he needs to be picked up at the airport. Brat.

Once I was home, I spent nearly three hours unpacking, doing laundry, cooking, and tripping over the cat. It’s important to me to put my life back in order immediately when I return from a trip, before I get busy with other things and lose the ganas to sort through a stack of maps and travel brochures or put away sweaters and travel food.

Tomorrow or the next day will be my vacation summary and lessons learned post. After that, I’ll return to posting at my main blog.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Day Eleven

I so did not want to get up at 6:30 this morning. Dan hadn’t slept well and woke me up a couple times during the night, so I was tempted to skip my morning run. But I reminded myself that I would missing my last morning run at Big Bend, so I dragged myself out of bed and went. Even though I was starting to stiffen up from the hill-running and mountain hiking the day before, it was a good run and I was glad I made the effort.

I had done most of my packing the night before, so it didn’t take me very long to get ready to go. We had the truck loaded by 8:00, had breakfast, and checked out.

I would’ve liked to have gone for an early hike, but Dan had his heart set on Balmorhea, which suited almost as well. I hadn’t been there in nearly thirty years and was curious to see it again. So we headed north out of the park, stopped in Alpine for gas and supplies at one of their organic grocery stores, then continued toward Fort Davis...

...then picked up the road down the mountain...

...and to Balmorhea.

Balmorhea was pretty much how I remembered it, except smaller. Isn’t everything you remember from childhood smaller? The water was cold and it took me awhile to get used to it. Meanwhile, little fish nibbled my legs and toes, which didn’t bother me for the most part, except for a few times when they bit hard and I had to shoo them away. I was curious to get a good look at them, so I finally forced myself to get my head wet, and after that I was able to tolerate the water just fine. My new swim goggles didn’t leak, so I did laps for a little while, swimming with the little silver fishes. But then some kids decided to start a game of water volleyball where I was swimming and there weren’t any other good places. I think there was a spot I could’ve used near the diving area, but the water in the section closest to the spring feed is much colder and last time I was at Balmorhea I got chilled over there and ran into some difficulty in the middle of the pool. No way was I trying that again in my older and hopefully wiser state. So I said good-bye to my fish friends and got out of the water.

With temps in the 90s, it didn’t take long for my hair to dry while Dan and I had a picnic of leftover tortellini from the night before, heated in foil on the sunny dashboard. Then, after what was really too short a stay, we got back on the road.

By now I was really feeling the lack of sleep the night before and the long stretch of I-10 made me sleepy. There’s just not much out there between towns, and even the towns aren’t much to write home about. This was the first time we had driven this stretch in daylight, but I wasn’t surprised to see that we hadn’t been missing much, unless you count this mural of Paisano Pete, the roadrunner. We didn't pass by the statue this year, but I've photographed it before.

For awhile it looked like we might run into some rain, but it remained always just a little ways down the road.

It was a relief to make it into the hill country.

We thought we’d have to stop for the night somewhere between Fort Stockton and Kerrville, but we ended up getting all the way to Kerrville by 6:00, where we decided to stop for the night. We got a hotel room, showered, and went to dinner at a cute little restaurant near the historic downtown. Then we went to our favorite bookstore to see what time they would open in the morning, and decided to call it a night.

It looks like we’ll be home a day early, which suits us both fine, but in many ways I consider myself home already, back in familiar territory where I feel no particular urgency to do as much as I can before I have to leave. I’ll be glad to have part of Wednesday and all of Thursday to get settled in before going to my workshop on Friday. I see that the pollen forecast in Houston remains high. Joy. Time to start taking the meds again, I guess. Some day I’ll be in a position to move someplace where I don’t need pills just to keep breathing. It’ll be grand.

Tonight there's a storm outside my window. We left in rain, we return in rain. It's a funny world.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Day Ten

I got up at 6:30 and went for a run around the paved roads in the vicinity. My route included a steeply graded downhill that went on for about a quarter of a mile. I had a feeling the return trip would be hell, and it was. But I figured it was probably for the best that I tire myself out. Dan quit running and cycling years ago and we no longer have the same stamina. Going for a tough run early would make things a little more equal on the trails.

After my run, I changed into hiking clothes and packed a backpack. Then we had a quick breakfast and headed out.

Our first objective was the Lost Mine Trail. It’s a cleared trail, not too strenuous, but it climbs 1,000 feet with marked stops along the way to learn about the plants and geology. It’s billed as a good trail for first-time visitors and it lives up to its billing.

Dan let me go on ahead, and when I got too far ahead of him, I would stop to take pictures.

We finished our hike around noon and were both game to try another trail, but since there weren’t any we could agree on in the Chisos area, we decided to drive to another area of the park and stop for short hikes until the day got cooler. The side benefit of this would be that we could check out trails and campsites for our next visit.

We first went to Terlingua, then we followed the road to Castolon. We stopped to investigate two old ranches, one with a short hike to an old windmill…

…and another with a longer hike to a canyon floor, where we were able to check out the ranch house and outbuildings.

We stopped for some of the sights along the way...

and checked out some of the trails for later reference. Mule Ears is one we think would be fun.

Although the desert floor was hotter than the mountains, the temperatures never reached the 100s, as predicted.

Then we went into Castolon, which was a US Army outpost during the Mexican Civil War, making sure refugees and soldiers didn’t spill over into the United States. The old barracks is now a store.

A little farther down the road we found some old adobes that are the remains of the Harmonia Store, where Americans and Mexicans both shopped and traded in the 1920s.

Near the old adobes, down a nearby road, is the Cottonwood campground. We saw it and fell in love. We now know where we’ll be staying on our next trip.

And beyond the Cottonwood, the Harmonia Store, and the dry washes of the floodplain are Santa Elena, the Rio Grande, and Mexico.

By now it was after 4:00 and I was starving, since all I’d eaten was a bowl of oatmeal at breakfast. We got back to our room around five and after I showered off my sticky sunscreen and got dressed, we went for dinner. My tortellini dish was so generous that I now have lunch for tomorrow. I figure I’ll heat it before we leave, just enough that it’s no longer fridge temp, then wrap it in foil and leave it on the dashboard until lunchtime. A few hours of driving in the West Texas sun will make for some piping hot pasta.

I had hoped Dan would be up for an after-dinner walk, but no such luck. Instead, I walked part-way down one of the nearby trails, until it started to get too dark to walk alone. Then I came back and walked the area for awhile, finding my deer from last night. They let me get within about ten feet of them and were completely unafraid. They didn't want any interaction, but didn't mind my presence.

Our plan for tomorrow is to head out early and go to Balmorrhea and swim in the spring waters. This will be my first time there since I was 14! Then we'll decide how far east we can go with the time remaining.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day Nine

My cousin Chris and I talked until 3:30 in the morning, so I was in no mood to get up early today. He had advised me not to go for a morning run in the area, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed up so late to begin with. Still, I hadn’t expected Dan to let me sleep until 10:30! I rushed to get my things packed and we headed out of town.

I liked the juxtaposition of sign and truck at this rest stop along the way.

It was a long trip to Big Bend, passing through mostly open country…

…with a few small towns along the way...

...and a couple of rest stops...

one of which included this guy, left behind by a departing child.

The trip was over three hundred miles and over a hundred were in mostly empty country.

Just when I was beginning to wonder if the long trip was going to be worth it, we reached Big Bend National Park.

Since this is off-peak season because of the summer heat, and because it was Sunday, we had no trouble getting a room at the Chisos Lodge. Our room has a nice balcony overlooking mountain vistas…

…and a front view of other cabins and friendly deer.

Once we got our stuff up to our room, I was ready to go for a hike. Dan had other ideas, though. We hadn’t eaten a proper lunch and he had already scanned the menu for the Chisos Lodge restaurant. I talked him into a short stroll…

...but couldn’t convince him to go for a longer hike. So we had dinner and I enjoyed their salad bar and a grilled portobello with veggies and roasted potatoes. It was a pretty nice dinner, considering the restaurant has a captive audience and doesn’t have to be good.

After dinner, we went back to our room and hung out on the balcony for awhile. Then we went for a short walk to see the sunset. We got waylaid by a very chatty older couple, but they went in as it got dark and the wind picked up. Now it's dark, with just a faint red glow on the horizon and the wind whipping through the trees.

Tomorrow we’re planning a full day of hiking—or at least that’s what I’m planning. If Dan can’t keep up, we’ll just have to meet up later.

The wireless internet service here works pretty well, so if it's this good tomorrow night, there will be more pictures!