November 4, 2004

Canyon, TX – Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:39 pm by diandy2004

We drove 290 miles to Canyon, TX with the wind at our back and ‘downhill’ most of the way. With these conditions we got the best gas mileage yet – 11.11 mpg. Our destination was Palo Duro State Park, just south of Amarillo. One thing we’re learning about Texas – it keeps secrets about it’s beautiful areas and Palo Duro is one of them.

This is the second largest canyon in the country at 120 miles long and 800 feet deep. The State Park offers 30 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails down in the canyon. The drive down to the campground is a two-mile long road with a 10% grade and switchbacks. The canyon walls consist of reds, purples, yellows, and whites. The canyon floor is a multitude of greens. There were hoodoos, caprocks and “spanish skirts” at every turn. An absolute feast for the eyes.

Overlooking Palo Duro Canyon

Spanish Skirts

My Favorite Caprock

Our initial plan was one day in the park, but after hiking and biking on Saturday, we knew it just wasn’t enough! The problem was the weather. Weather reports were calling for a “dusting of snow” on Monday and high winds around 35mph. So we couldn’t just stay one more day, it would have to be two – one for fun (Sun) and one to “hunker down” and wait out the bad weather (Mon). So Sunday was spent biking around the park. These were some of the best biking trails we’ve been on – well-maintained, challenging, but doable for someone of Diane’s skill-level. Some trails were also for biking only which is a rare find.

Colors of Palo Duro

But here’s what really happened with the weather and why we’ll never trust weathermen again: Sunday was overcast, not sunny as forecasted; Monday was cold with high winds but it did not snow; Tuesday it snowed…and snowed…and snowed; Wednesday, the road out of the canyon was coated in snow and slush (remember 10% grade) and the highway out of the park was reported as impassable. The snow in the canyon melted quickly on Wednesday morning since it averages 10 degrees warmer at the bottom, but we hiked up the road to the rim and found 6″ still sitting on top. Weather reports stated a nearby town got 13″ of snow, so I guess we were lucky? The State Park was officially closed for the two days – with 4 campers and 2 camphosts stuck on the bottom. We weren’t able to drive out til Thursday. Jim and Chris – you guys don’t know cold til you follow our Tour de America. We got excited when temps went above freezing!

But what a place. And what an opportunity to see it draped in snow. The contrast of colors: the deep reds and purples covered in white. The contradiction of a desert’s prickly pear cacti and agaves buried in snow. Coyotes howling and yipping in the distance. We couldn’t resist hiking in it on Tuesday. Once, in the middle of the snow storm with winds howling at 40 mph and snow blowing sideways. And then later when it slowed down just prior to sunset. Now we understand why the Red River (which carved this canyon) is called the Red River. Normally it was brown, but with the new precipitation it was red from the fresh erosion process. And now there was lots of little streams or trickles where there were none yesterday…all deep red…against the white snow.

Let it Snow!

Snowball Fight!

Red Dirt and White Snow

Hiking in Subfreezing Temps

Hiking in the Snow

Since we were trapped on Wednesday, we went hiking again to see the changes. Again, most of the snow melted quickly so the trail was thick with mud in spots. The sandstone cliffs were visibly and noisily calving away from the weight of the snow and water. The park road has six river crossings, but now was closed at river crossing number four because the red, muddy water is flowing over the road.

Sloshing thru the Mud

What a visit. What a park.

Palo Duro is one of the places on our list to visit again. Try to get there yourself, but don’t tell the Texans we told you…

…it’s a secret!



There are more pictures on the Web Albums. Just click on any of these pictures and you’ll see them bigger and you can see more of this park.

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March 12, 2004

New Mexico – Snow, Caverns, and Sand Dunes

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:15 am by diandy2004

Our first activity after arriving in Carlsbad, believe it or not, was not the Caverns, but to drive back into Texas to hike in the Guadalupe Mountains.  We hiked in Dog Canyon, which was more remote and generally used for backcountry hiking.  We were surprised to find snow on the ground!  We hiked the Lost Peak Trail/Tejas Trail.  It was beautiful with lots of conifers and canyon views.  The rangers were two of the friendliest Park Rangers – well, they are either naturally friendly, or maybe they were just bored and lonely since this section of the park doesn’t see a constant stream of visitors.

Diane hiking Dog Canyon

Diane hiking Dog Canyon

We also visited Carlsbad Caverns, of course.  The caverns are huge.  Which was part of the beauty and part of the drawback.  Formations were so far away you couldn’t see detail, but the size of the caverns was awe-inspiring in itself.  We chose to do the Natural Caverns Entrance and the Big Room.  Carlsbad has “backcountry” caves, but it sounded as if most only have vertical entries.  If we ever get into serious caving, it would be interesting to come back and try those.

Leaving Carlsbad, we drove through a town called Cloudcroft.  As the name suggests it was a summit pass.  The elevation at the pass was 8,650 and we had a 6% grade with turns to maneuver.  We’ll be confident RV drivers in no time with these types of challenges.  We could start seeing White Sands NM in the distance once we crested the summit.  At first you couldn’t tell what the “white area” was – clouds? beach?  White Sands was much larger than we anticipated.

We rented sledding saucers at the visitor’s center and went sand-sledding.  I think it’s the best way to experience White Sands.  We spent hours playing.  Crawling back up the slope of the dunes though was a killer.  Remember sledding as a kid (or even skiing)?  2 seconds down, 10 minutes to get back up.  Same thing.  At least we had one good day at White Sands, because then it rained for 2 days.  Yes, it rained in the desert.

Sand Sledding in White Sands

Sand Sledding in White Sands

Andy Sledding the Dunes

Andy Sledding the Dunes

White Sand and Blue Sky

White Sand and Blue Sky

The other thing we enjoyed about White Sands was stargazing.  We’d sit out at night and enjoy the immensity and brightness of them all.

Some more of our “Firsts” (not mentioned in the posts):  Dirt Devils; using public restrooms to conserve on water; having to drive around to find a spot with cellphone service; having to worry about layers of clothes for constantly changing temperatures.

March 6, 2004

Texas – Sonora, Big Bend, and Davis Mtns

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 3:54 pm by diandy2004

Caving in Sonora Caverns was fabulous – if you like crawling on your belly, through tight holes, rappelling into pitch-black pits, and just getting dirty.  We spent 5 hours on a personal tour.  Just Andy, myself and Bill the guide.  However, it just strengthened our understanding that our navigation is horrible!  We would never be able to find our way out if it was just us.  Now that we’ve been to several caves (FL, TX, NM, AZ), we still think Sonora was our favorite – it was small and intimate and very pristine.  You could get close to the formations – but no touching allowed of course!  Sections of the cave reminded me of the coral reefs when we’re diving – delicate and beautiful.

Andy Caving in Sonora

Andy Caving in Sonora

Diane Rappelling into the Pit

Diane Rappelling into the Pit

At the End of our Adventure

At the End of our Adventure

Just to note, in Sonora we had a hailstorm and snowstorm in the two nights we were there, but the caves were a wonderful, humid 72 degrees.  We camped right at the Caverns, which was very convenient.  This allowed us to do a general tour of the ‘main’ cave the day we arrived before joining Bill for our private wild cave tour – “Adventure Level III” – the following day.

From Sonora, we drove straight to Big Bend Nat’l Park in southwest Texas.  As far south as you can go without crossing into Mexico.  Most people haven’t heard of it, which is part of it’s beauty.  Plus, it’s not easy to get to.  It’s on the border of Mexico, just on our side of the Rio Grande River.  I have one word to say about Big Bend – “go”.  Visit it!  It’s beautiful – desert, mountains, canyons, and river.  What else could you want?  We hiked and biked and kayaked.  Well, if you can call it kayaking…the Rio Grande isn’t what it used to be due to agricultural usage and damming up north.  It was only several inches deep in spots, even too shallow for our ‘yaks.  Pushing off the bottom with our paddles and portaging over rocky shoals was required, but it was all worth it for the views from within Santa Elena Canyon.

Kayaking the Rio Grande

Kayaking the Rio Grande

Kayaking Santa Elena Canyon

Kayaking Santa Elena Canyon

We’re learning a lot about desert-life: animals, plants, and how much cactus can hurt 🙂 About 10 minutes after Andy complained on a hike about carrying a daypack that had extra clothes, food/water, and a first-aid kit in it while other hikers had nothing, I kicked up a broken branch from a cactus and the barbed spine(s) dug into my calf. So, note-to-self: keep carrying emergency supplies, you never know when you’ll need them.

Javelinas in the park

Javelinas in the park

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

View of Big Bend and Campground

View of Big Bend and Campground

Biking in the park was also very fun.  We almost went as fast as the cars on this unpaved road.

Biking Big Bend

Biking Big Bend

Exploring during a Bike Ride

Exploring during a Bike Ride

And you can also enjoy the hot spring right next to the Rio Grande.  Just be prepared for solicitors crossing the river to sell you their goods.

Big Bend Hot Springs

Big Bend Hot Springs

Our final stop in Texas was the Davis Mountains State Park and Fort Davis.  We also toured McDonald Observatory. Twenty-forty mph winds kept us from enjoying more of the area, so we’ll just have to re-visit this area another time.

More of our “Firsts”:  awesome animal sightings:  Javelinas, Pronghorns, Canyon Wren, and more; my first tumbleweed; having to rely on payphones to make phone calls due to lack of cell service.

February 24, 2004

Texas – Eastern and Central

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:20 am by diandy2004

Eastern Texas is your expected oil rigs and natural gas pumps.  We were still experiencing cold (38 degrees), wet weather so it looked even more dreary.  While visiting Beaumont, TX we spent our time in museums.  We enjoyed:

  • the Fire Museum, (as CERT volunteers, we enjoy anything related to the Fire Department)
  • the Texas Energy Museum, (with all of the oil wells in the area, you might as well learn all about them)
  • and the McFadden House.  (a beautiful home and carriage house from 1905)

These were all well-done, so we were surprised to be very disappointed with the Art Museum.

Here’s a picture of me in front of the Disney-donated fire hydrant at the Fire Museum:
beaumont0011

I’m already struggling with my vegetarian diet that I try to maintain.  I thought it was a fluke that I ordered Vegetable Soup in Louisiana and it came with chunks of beef.  But then in Beaumont I ordered Spinach Enchiladas only to find chicken in it.  Do they feel the need to ‘warn’ me that there are vegetables in the food?  But the meat is a ‘given’?

In Central Texas we stopped in San Antonio and Austin.  We enjoyed both of these cities.  San Antonio has their beautiful little River Walk, and of course the Alamo.

The Alamo

The Alamo

Andy Washes the RV...while I watch!

Andy Washes the RV...while I watch!

Andy started a new hobby while we visited Groene, Texas – collecting pottery coffee mugs.  This purchase would be the first of many beautiful hand-made coffee mugs.

Austin has a nice Riverwalk area along the Colorado River in downtown.  The Congress Ave Bridge in Austin is well-known for their bats.  Unfortunately we’re not here at the right time.  You can expect to see them around mid-March or so.  And the Capitol is worth a visit and has a beautiful dome.

Capitol of Texas

Capitol of Texas

What we didn’t understand about Austin was that everyone used Highway 35, so it was congested and very slow moving, and there were all of these other roads they could use that were empty.  Go figure.  While in Austin we stayed at McKinney Falls SP and enjoyed biking and kayaking within the park and our closest neighbors were deers and birds.

Biking over the Falls

Biking over the Falls

Our campsite was huge, too.  They say everything is bigger in Texas, and so far we believe them.

This was the first area that we were able to use our road bikes.  We did a bike ride from Bastrop State Park to Beuscher State Park – hilly, curvy, and lots of trees – everything FL riding isn’t.  It was great!

Biking Bastrop to Beuscher

Biking Bastrop to Beuscher

After leaving Austin, we stopped in Fredericksburg.  This town offers a great micro-brewery and a great war museum – the Nimitz Museum – so give yourself several hours for the museum.  We also drove out to the Enchanted Rock for some hiking.  We combined several trails to make a loop trail that took us up and around the granite dome and past weather-formed mushroom formations.  Supposedly rock climbers use this area, but we didn’t see anyone out today.

We’ve been really wanting to do some caving though since we’ve gotten into central Texas.  So we scheduled a guided adventure tour at Sonora Caverns.  We’ll be driving through the town of Sonora, TX on our way to Big Bend National Park.

RVing “Firsts”:  RV repair – tire guard snapped (we assume it broke driving through Louisiana)