This is the first entry for 2018. Entries from 2017 have been moved to 2017-Adventures. To reach them, go to the drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the Home page. All our entries from previous years are there, too.
Now that the Christmas and New Year’s holidays are over, it is time to start thinking about and preparing for our trip to New Zealand. We leave from Tucson, AZ, but don’t have to be there until about the first of February. That gave us about a month to loaf our way across Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and into Arizona, a distance of 1443 miles.
We traveled short distances each day – rarely over 150 miles – and stayed in each park three or four days. We found a couple of membership parks along the way and stayed a little longer in them to keep the expenses down.
Our intent this month has been to relax and “catch up” on reading, writing, sleep, … as we wandered along. However, that didn’t mean that there is no beauty to encounter or things to learn about our surroundings.
Almost as soon as we left New Orleans, we entered the Atchafalaya Basin which Interstate 10 crosses on an eighteen-mile bridge. Also called the Atchafalaya Swamp, the basin is the largest wetland and swamp in the United States. It is the wetlands and river delta where the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf of Mexico converge. The bridge is the third longest in the US, second longest on the Interstate system, and fourteenth longest in the world.
Our first big stop was in Willis, Texas. We spent a full week at Bishop’s Landing, a membership resort located on a hill on the shores of Lake Conroe. It was a relaxing time but not much to report here.
On the other hand, McKinney Falls State Park, entirely within the city limits of Austin, Texas, is both scenic and historic. During the late 1600s into early 1800s, El Camino Real de los Tejas ran through here. Missionaries, friars, government officials, soldiers, and travelers all traveled from Mexico into Texas along this route. By 1850, the park’s namesake, Thomas McKinney, developed his ranch where he raised cattle and bred racehorses. Upon his death in 1873, the property was purchased by James Wood Smith. The Smith family owned and farmed the land for several generations before donating it to the State of Texas in 1973.
This area was once covered by a shallow subtropical sea. The calcium carbonate sediments compressed into limestone rock. A now extinct volcano spewed softer debris into the sea. The streams of soft volcanic debris eroded more rapidly than the harder limestone. The removal of the soft layers and undercutting by Onion Creek created the Upper and Lower McKinney Falls, one of the center-points of the park. Of course, this time of year the water level is low, so the falls are picturesque, but not spectacular.
We have been encountering chilly weather lately with occasional freezing overnight requiring us to leave water dripping to prevent frozen pipes. It has, however, been sunny, so we were surprised when, a few days after we left, they had snow in Austin. Really glad we missed it!
Even before we arrived at Pecan Valley RV Park in Junction, Texas, we had a (mis)adventure. We rely heavily on Google Maps, but sometimes it will lead you astray. Unbeknownst to us, it will give two different directions to the park depending on whether you search for the park name or its address. We chose the wrong one. If you have ever driven through Texas, you will remember that they have many “frontage” roads running parallel to the freeway to give local property owners access. Trouble is, they frequently come to an abrupt end requiring you to turn around. That isn’t particularly easy with a 36-foot motorhome towing a car!
That wasn’t bad enough. We made another wrong turn and wound up on a gravel road leading to someone’s yard – no room to turn around. The road went a little beyond the house where there was a circular opening with plenty of room to turn around – just before the stream ford through the North Llano River! Sharon put her foot down on that one: NO STREAM CROSSINGS WITH THE MOTORHOME! The turn around went well, but not before Jon had to climb on top of the motorhome to cut off some too-low hanging branches. Ain’t we got fun?
Pecan Valley RV Park is just west of Junction with a pecan orchard on one side and the North Llano River on the other. It is a small park with very nice, friendly hosts and owner. We wandered about in the orchard and along the river front and pretty much didn’t do anything else. That ford across the river was just downstream a little ways from the park. Maps had just taken us to the wrong side of the river. Small error!
As the number of settlers and prospectors passing through traditional Indian territory increased, the military was called upon to provide protection. Camp Stockton was first established in 1858 where roads and stage lines intersected with the Comanche War Trail. The US Army withdrew from Texas during the Civil War and abandoned the camp. Confederate troops briefly occupied the site until they, too, withdrew. By the end of the war, little remained.
In 1867, Colonel Edward Hatch, Commander of the 9th Cavalry, re-established the camp as Fort Stockton on land leased from civilian landowners. The 9th Cavalry was one of the new regiments created for the black men that came to be known as “Buffalo Soldiers.” By the early 1880s the “Indian menace” was no longer a threat and as the frontier moved west, the fort was finally abandoned in 1886.
Of the original 35 buildings, only four remain: The Guard House and three of the eight Officers’ Quarters (one of which is a private residence). Two Enlisted Men’s Quarters and two Kitchens were reconstructed after extensive archeological excavations were completed. One of the barracks houses the Visitor Center.
Van Horn is a small town of about 2,000 people in western Texas. It is a very nice town and the Desert Willow RV Park is pleasant but not fancy. We spent three comfortable nights there and would recommend the park for anyone who might need a place to tarry as they pass through the area.
After our longest move in this month-long saga, we arrived at Hidden Valley Ranch RV Resort. It is another of our membership parks, and we stayed for a full week. Located about 12 miles outside of Deming, New Mexico, in the foothills of the Cooke’s Mountain Range, the park offers miles of hiking and ATV trails in the surrounding BLM lands.
While there, we were treated to a rare event: a Super Blue Blood Moon – a Super Moon is the moon’s closest approach to earth; a Blue Moon is the second full moon in the month; and a Blood Moon is the color of an eclipsed moon reflecting the “earth light” – all at the same time.
We had our first adventure here the day after we arrived. Seven of the 12 miles to the resort are over gravel road. That afternoon we returned to town in the car to pick up a few groceries. They were grading the road so there was a berm that had to be crossed at one point – banging noise; wobble in the steering wheel; tire pressure warning goes on; Jon spends the next hour putting on the “toy” spare tire; in Deming, we buy a new tire to replace the one with the large rock gash in the sidewall.
Way more fun was the day-trip to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to visit the birds and friends with whom we had volunteered the last two winters. We had a wonderful time and reconnected with our friends Betty and John. We even took their van tour of the refuge where we were taken into areas that the general public is never privileged to see. What a wonderful, fun, learning experience they provide!
Our last stop before Tucson was in Benson, Arizona. We stayed in the San Pedro Resort Community, a large community by itself consisting of both RV sites and permanent mobile homes. This area is well known as a winter home for snowbirds. This year has been particularly busy here because of the large number of people who came to the southwest after they were chased out of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas by the hurricanes that pounded those states.
This will probably be our last update for a while. As we have “loudly” announced, we are going to be in New Zealand for about half of the month of February and will be moving rapidly. We will post several entries in March after we return.