Saturday, November 10, 2007

And we're off to Texas!

Four Winnebago motorhomers are spending winter in Texas – to the locals they are considered “Winter Texans.” The Texas adventurers are:

Winnie 3 – Elizabeth Baldridge from Alamosa, Colorado. She travels with three cats: Tux, Cady, and Sunny. Her comments will be RED

Winnie 2 – Carol Rayburn from ‘where my motorhome is parked’ but her mail goes to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She travels with Zia, a cat. Her comments will be BLUE

Winnie 1 – Carol Anderson from Rio Rancho, New Mexico. She travels with Cat. Her comments will be GREEN

On December 1, they will be joined by Winnie 4 – Roberta Cox, from ‘wherever she is parked’. She travels ‘pet-less’—well, no not quite. She has some bobble-head birds on her dash that she counts as her pets when the pet subject comes up. Her comments will be VIOLET.

These first three Winnies met up at Las Cruces, New Mexico on Sunday, November 4, at Sunny Acres RV Park. They were joined by three Las Cruces friends for the evening Happy Hour.

Here’s a photo of (left to right) Carol Rayburn, Carol Anderson and Elizabeth Baldridge. It was taken near the mouth of Boquillas Canyon in Big Bend National Park.

General Plans

The loose plans are to wander around southern Texas, including the Big Bend area, San Antonio and Fredricksburg before arriving in the Corpus Christi area by the end of November. Never have been to south Texas, this would be a ‘first’ for two of us. Itinerary would be worked out along the way – the only ‘for sure’ thing is to have short driving days, keep speed under 60 mph, and have Happy Hour each evening.

Starting December 1, the four Winnie friends will be spending December and January at Driftwood RV Haven in Fulton, Texas, a couple blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to avoid harsh winter, have fun, take pictures of the interesting sights, and explore the Gulf area – oh, yes, also to continue Happy Hours.

Winnie 1: When I was asked to join the Winter Texas trip, I didn’t have to be coaxed. As the motorhomer with the least experience, I looked forward to this opportunity. Last winter I had spent two-plus months at Pancho Villa State Park as a volunteer; it was time to explore Texas.

Winnie 2: I had been to far southern Texas once as a youngster so I don’t remember much of it. I have also explored some around the “Hill Country” and San Antonio areas, but know there is a lot more to see there. One place I’ve wanted to see for years is Big Bend National Park which is in our plan. I’ve spent winters in Arizona and southern New Mexico since retiring, so this trip is an opportunity to really delve into the southern parts of Texas that I haven’t fully explored. I’ll also find out if I can stand to be out of the Southwest desert during the winter months.

Winnie 3: I’ve been looking forward to winter travels in Texas since I returned to Alamosa in May.

First Texas stop was Mountain View RV Park in Van Horn, Texas

Winnie 1: What would have been a boring 160-mile drive east – from Las Cruces, through El Paso and into Van Horn – became entertaining as the ‘parade’ of NASCAR trucks passed headed west on their way to the next NASCAR race in Phoenix. The trucks were brightly painted with drivers’ names and sponsor logos. Winnie 2 was leading, Winnie 3 in the middle, and I was at the end. The three of us are communicating by CBs, using our Winnie designations. This route also took us through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. Winnie 2 and 3 were waved through, I was stopped. The Border patrolman asked, “Are the three of you traveling together?” When I replied Yes, before waving me through, he asked, “By yourselves?” Even though there are plenty of single gals traveling in RVs, we still seem an oddity to many. The usual comment is: “You are so brave!” Or from many women, “I could never do that.”

I like the quote by Norman Vincent Peale: “People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves, they have the first secret of success.”

Balmorhea State Park (Bal – mor – ray)

Winnie 1: With a stiff headwind for much of the 70-mile drive east, the NASCAR parade continued until we left the highway. The overnight stop at this Texas State Park rewarded us with numerous bird sightings, including Green and Gray Herons, Swainson’s and Redtail Hawks, Cattle Egrets, both Gambel and Scaled Quail, and Marsh Sparrows at the nearby lake and the park’s wetland preserve. I’m discovering the benefit of having tow vehicles available: both Carol R and Elizabeth tow cars. On a drive into the tiny town, I was surprised to see the remains of this wooden vehicle. Was it an early, homemade RV?

Winnie 2: This state park was really a “find” and is convenient to I-10. It is said to be a desert oasis which it truly is. Native Americans camped in this area for centuries, followed by Spanish explorers, Mexicans, and finally by Americans.

Winnie 3: I’m planning a return to Balmorhea on my way back home. The pool is very inviting as are the paved areas for riding the bike. The birding is also spectacular.

Water from San Solomon Springs was the drawing card and is still being used for irrigation in the area as well as providing a wetlands area at the park. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed a large pool, several adobe cottages, a bathhouse, group shelter, foot bridges over irrigation canals, etc., during 1935-1940. These facilities are still in use.

Davis Mountains State Park just outside Fort Davis.

Winnie 1: After three days of driving – albeit short ones – it was time to settle in for a few days. We couldn’t have picked a better location than Davis Mountains State Park. After buying annual Texas State Park passes (reduced camping fees, camping coupons, discounts at park stores, entrance to non-camping state parks/attractions, and the Texas State Parks magazine), we nestled our motorhomes among the trees. A beautiful, serene place. Before we were totally set up, the ‘locals’ came to greet us. Numerous mule deer – mostly doe with this spring’s youngsters – came into our campsites.

Winnie 2: The bird watching was very good here. The park has a special area set aside for birders to sit and observe the numerous birds that come to the feeders. Zia was entertained by a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet that kept flying around the coach’s windows and mirrors. This park is definitely one that I could spend more time in—a very relaxing and beautiful location.

Winnie 3: I always am eager to see and experience area wild life. However, on one particular evening at Davis Mountains State Park, after enjoying a grilled chicken dinner with the Carols, I was quickly moved to jump upon the picnic table when seeing and hearing two wild “pigs” – actually javelinas – coming thrugh out campsite only a few feet away. The Carols were trying to corral their respective cats. Cat Anderson pulled out of her harness and ran quickly under her motorhome. Zia Rayburn stood her ground. With all the commotion of table stamping and cat calls, our uninvited visitors soon disappeared. The aftermath of all this we were hit with uncontrollable laughter over the to-do. We also decided it was time to learn more about the javelina.

They are not wild pigs, but rather a distinct species that have migrated north and have been in this area since the 1700s. O, yes. They will not continue to migrate to Alamosa because it is too cold. Darn!

They have a keen sense of hearing and smell, but very poor eyesight. Threre are many children’s books written about these distinct and unusual desert dwellers.

If you are not familiar with javelinas, here’s information we found. First of all, they are not pigs or hogs. They have large heads, delicate, slender legs, and relatively small feet. Their hair is wiry and bristly, some hairs reach six inches in length. Also called collared peccaries, they are near-sighted. They live in a word of scent and sound. And they also have a pungent, skunky odor. They can grunt, bark, woof, and growl. They have four toes on their forefeet, but only three on the hind feet, short tails usually hidden under their hair, and short, rounded ears that stand upright. They have 38 teeth – including two straight, canine teeth that protrude upwards from their lower jaw. Babies, called piglings, are one-pound miniature javelinas and trail mom like little stick-tights. What starts out as a cute, tiny baby will one day become a 40 to 50 pound adult with an attitude – and a javelina’s razor-sharp canine teeth inflict a nasty bite.

Winnie 1: An unwelcomed night visitor – one or more javelinas – was determined to find out what was in my heavy-duty plastic container. He left his teeth-marks on the lid.

The town of Fort Davis

At a little more than 5,000 feet elevation, this is the highest town in the state. Carol R and Carol A explored the one-street downtown area, and were amazed to find a broom maker at work.

The town is named for a frontier fort that closed in 1891 but has been restored and is open to the public as Fort Davis National Historic Site. Numerous buildings are open; there is a small museum and visitor center.

The McDonald Observatory, near Fort Davis

The observatory is one of the major astronomical research facilities in the world. It has a major solar viewing program that includes interactive telescope views of sunspots, flares, etc. Check it out at One of the telescopes, the Hobby-Eberly, has the world’s largest telescope mirror with 91 hexagonal mirrors positioned over a 36 foot-wide surface. It is the 4th most powerful telescope in the world and, after the forthcoming upgrade is completed, it will probably be the 3rd most powerful. Construction and operation of this particular telescope has been a joint project involving three U.S. universities and two German universities. We had a wonderful guide on our tour who was able to make the technical information interesting and easy to assimilate.

Winnie 2: This is definitely a “do not miss” tour if you are anywhere nearby!

Marfa – and the “mystery lights”

Marfa, TX, is famous for two things—the 1955 filming of “Giant” and for the Marfa Lights. Since Marfa is only about 25 miles from Fort Davis, we decided to go down to see the lights. The “Marfa Mystery Lights” reportedly show up nearly every night and have been observed and reported about since the 1800’s. The lights have been studied extensively over the years; however, the source of the lights is as yet unexplained. We arrived at the observation area nine miles east of town just before sunset and saw a light on the far south horizon at dusk. It was a reddish color that pulsated occasionally, but did not seem to move. From our reading about the phenomena, we could identify the known lights in the valley—this didn’t fit the description of any of them. We watched the light for over an hour and took some photos. The light looks like a harvest moon in the photos—but it was a moonless night. Did we see a Marfa Mystery Light? The answer to that question is a mystery.