Catch Our RV Journey on YouTube!

The journey itself might be over, and our “A Year On The Road” RV adventure is officially in the books, but you can still catch up with all the excitement and intrigue on our YouTube channel, which now has almost 100 snapshot videos of different aspects of the trip in the bag.

Javelinas! Jevelinas! Finally, we get to see Javelinas!

From Pictured Rocks National Seashore in Michigan to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, plus dozens of fascinating places and experiences in between, this is our chance to wow you with the visuals of this epic RV journey across 23 states.

Our latest contribution is all about those elusive Javelinas in Texas, but you’ll also find recent videos that highlight the vibrant Historic Market Square in San Antonio, Big Bend National Park and a stunning tequila sunset in New Mexico.

Check it all out on this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP5dY0TcznDGkOY8BQUkpQg

The stunning Natural Bridge Caverns just north of San Antonio featured in a recent snapshot video

A Year On The Road in The Independent, Pt 7

Regular blog readers will know our grand year-long RV adventure is being serialized in the UK’s Independent newspaper, and the latest instalment is now online.

It covers the northern part of our Arizona travels, and you can find it on this link:

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/north-america/usa/great-american-road-trip-arizona-b2533875.html

The majestic Grand Canyon

Okay, But He’s Still A Jerk


We only had four days on South Padre Island, so we packed in as much as we could. We knew one of our outings would involve the work of someone we consider a five-star jerk, but we didn’t know there was another total git who had a big impact on what would become Texas, and on the country as a whole.

If you’ve been following our blog or follow us on Facebook, you know we’ve mentioned having Starlink as our internet system. For RVers, it’s the only fully reliable connection, and that’s something we are not able to take risks with; we have to have internet powerful enough to deal with large files being transferred, because we’re working as we’re traveling.

Starlink and Simon, both hard at work.

You might also know who owns Starlink. And if you do, you know Elon Musk is a controversial character, to say the very least. Perhaps he’s nice to dogs and babies, but we absolutely cannot stand his attitudes or behaviors. It was a huge moral dilemma when we had to decide how to deal with internet on the road.

All of that is a long tirade leading up to us saying we made the trip to Starbase, about 40 miles from our campground (by car; maybe 5 if there wasn’t a gigantic ocean inlet in the way), out in the boonies of Boca Chica.


If Elon ever convinces more than one human being to implant a microchip in their brain, he might enclose his Starbase compound and carry out whatever plan he’s working on, but for now you can drive right up to it, and we did. We were impressed by what we saw, in the same way we were impressed by the Reichstag in Berlin – with a mix of admiration for the building and fear of its owner.

This long road goes straight to the beach, past Starbase and the Starlink compound.

Starbase consists of an area that features rockets and big, mysterious buildings; an area where small, pre-fab homes are stored, presumably for future employees who want to live onsite; the Starlink center; and a launch pad. A massive amount of empty land and the sea surround the compound.

It’s possible these giant…um…rockets…reminded us of their creator in more ways than one.



A few hundred feet past the Starlink base is Boca Chica Beach, which, for now, is the reason you can drive right past Elon’s private property. You can also drive on the beach, because of course you can; this is Texas, and it won’t be messed with by paltry safety rules. Admittedly, Florida has a driveable beach where accidents happen every year, but…well…Florida.


We were actually glad we saw Starbase. There’s no question the place – and the ambition – is impressive. But we’re never going to agree to having microchipped brains or treating people as expendable.

We didn’t expect to be able to get this close to the rockets.

The next day we drove to Brownsville, in part because we were supposed to spend three days camping there and we honestly weren’t sure we wanted to, and in part because we wanted to see Palo Alto, where the first battle of the Mexican War took place when President Polk decided, in 1846, that part of Mexico was now his.

My “unimpressed” face.

I (Susan, obviously) am going to go even more preachy on you than usual, so skip this paragraph if you don’t want to hear it. I won’t be offended, and you’re probably making the right call. But the fact is, I cannot for the life of me understand most wars. Nazi Germany and other wars whose goal was a land grab with a massive side order of genocide is something completely different. That’s a war that needs fighting. Inciting war against people living peacefully just because you want what they have, that’s not how young lives should be lost. Getting along and sharing billions of acres is an option. If you have absolutely no self-control whatsoever and cannot live one more minute without taking someone else’s territory, set up a big speaker and…I dunno…maybe yodel at them without ceasing until they relent. It all ends in negotiation anyway, so skip the murder and get straight to the talking.

Okay, done. Mostly.

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park features a battlefield marked with U.S. flags and Mexican flags, to show the front lines where the armies faced off as Mexico insisted its territory was its own and the U.S. said, “Nuh-uh. Ours now.” It also has a small interpretive center. We’re here to say it’s one of the best little museums we’ve seen on this trip, and that’s saying something.


Jeager, one of the park rangers, was the right man to answer our question: Didn’t this land come with the Louisiana Purchase? The short answer is, “No.” The long answer is, “Nooooooooooooo.” And the reason it’s “No” is because Mexico’s territory extended up into what is now southern Oregon, while the Brits still held what is now northern Oregon, Idaho, and Washington (state, not D.C.).


Part of what is now Texas was annexed as its own republic, but Polk wanted more. So why not lose a bunch of lives and make the Rio Grande the new U.S./Mexico border? What a jerk.

At the same time as the U.S. was deep in the two-year war for Mexican land, the British decided they weren’t interested in a long fight that would probably end in the loss of their territory below the 49th parallel, so they signed the Oregon Treaty and, at the end of the Mexican War, the continental U.S. enjoyed the boundaries we now know.


General Zachary Taylor, a non-political General who didn’t think the war was justified but ultimately led the successful campaign, became a national hero, and then the 12th President of the United States. Fascinating.

Simon was captivated by how well defined the Palo Alto battlefield was, and by the clarity of the interpretive center’s exhibits, which made it easy to see what had happened there. Susan was drawn in by the human side, and by the way researchers unearthed buttons torn from the soldiers’ uniforms during the violence of the battle, and used them to track the troops’ movements, even down to individual soldiers at times.


For us, the ripples and ramifications we’re encountering on this trip explain so much about what is wonderful and heroic and admirable and outrageously generous about this great country, and they also bring into stark focus the events that stand as lessons about the past and warnings for the future, and the decisions that do not represent our better selves.

A Year On The Road in The Independent (Parts 1-5)

Catching up on the first five months of our Ultimate American Road Trip, being serialized in The Independent

Keen readers of our road-trip blog will know we are also serializing the whole trip, month by month, in The Independent newspaper in the UK, and you might like to see the story so far, Months 1 through 5.

It all started back on May 14 with our departure from Orlando and then a month heading north as far as Minnesota…

In Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/north-america/usa/american-road-trip-usa-florida-minnesota-b2369256.html

Part Two saw us travel from Minnesota west to the Big Sky state of Montana, where the magnificent scenery REALLY kicked in…

The astounding Earthquake Lake in Montana

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/north-america/usa/american-road-trip-usa-minnesota-montana-rv-b2398864.html

After arriving in Montana, Part Three of our year-long epic saw us focus on Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park for two of the undoubted highlights of the trip…

Taking time for the geothermal marvel of West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/north-america/usa/american-road-trip-usa-yellowstone-glacier-national-parks-b2415050.html

Part Four of our big RV adventure took us back through Montana and Wyoming to soak up more of those epic views and vast, open spaces…

Mountains – big, dramatic mountains – were a constant feature of this leg of the journey

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/north-america/usa/american-road-trip-usa-montana-wyoming-b2438975.html

Once we reached Idaho and Utah, we were always in sight of spectacular scenery, and it gave us plenty of material for Part Five…

Utah served up the mind-boggling views of Arches National Park

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/north-america/usa/american-road-trip-usa-idaho-utah-b2467275.html

In Part Six, we’ll be writing about the wilds of Nevada and Southern California, but also including Las Vegas and Palm Springs. Stay tuned….!

Missions, Caverns, And A Whole Lotta Food


Our itinerary had been thrown into chaos compliments of Ruthie’s turbo-charged backside, but as things settled down for her, we ventured out again to pick up on the highlights. Some of our plans had to be scrapped, some fell through due to a major college football bowl game that had most of downtown San Antonio in worse chaos than Ruthie’s gut, but there was still plenty to enjoy, if our stamina allowed.

Ruthie gets a lot of love when we venture out. She’s incredibly patient and gentle with children.

Mission San José was known as “The Queen of Missions” for its larger-than-average size, and indeed, the church does cut an imposing figure over the huge courtyard outside. Simon and I both thought a mission was a just church; instead, it’s typically a community with living quarters, trades, agricultural work, and a church. But the mistake is an easy one to make, since the goal of forming the “community” was to convert native peoples to Catholicism, which would then generate new taxes for the King of Spain.


Conversion was the native peoples’ path to safety from the very people who were making them unsafe. Their diets would change, their spiritual lives would change, their clothing and housing would change. And the names they were given at birth? Yeah, those changed, too. The timeless dilemma: what would you do to keep your children and the people you love safe?

We were part of a guided tour, but Ruthie was getting so much attention we backed off a bit. Even the ranger was (fondly) distracted by her.

Inside the church.

This area formerly housed the missionaries and lay people who ensured the communities’ regimented schedule of toil and thrice-daily prayer were upheld.

This is one-third of a working family’s “apartment.” Up to 15 people lived and slept in each apartment, spaces so small they wouldn’t even qualify as a “tiny home” today.

Apartments from the outside. They run the full length of three sides of the compound. The structure out front is a communal oven.

We’d been given a reservation at a downtown hot-spot’s outdoor patio (where dogs are allowed) for lunch the next day, but when we arrived, we were told they weren’t seating anyone outside. The line to get in was, in our estimation, more than an hour long, which just wasn’t going to work, especially since we had plans for the afternoon.

This is about one-quarter of the line waiting to get in.

Instead, we returned to the Pearl area and grabbed a quick taco lunch.


In 1960, four students from a nearby college “discovered” what is now Natural Bridge Caverns, and Simon joined a guided tour that afternoon while Susan kept an eye on Ruthie. Kennels were available, but in her still-delicate condition we didn’t want to leave her.

The two flat slabs that form a bridge above the cavern’s entryway were the inspiration for its name.

10,000-year-old stone tools, projectile points, and a pre-historic cooking hearth were discovered in the cavern when the entrance was being excavated. How cool is that?

Ponds formed in the lower level of the canyon, with incredibly clear water due to filtration by the surrounding limestone, and the lack of pollution and debris.


You can see the smooth, dark walkway in the center of this photo, which gives you an idea of size.

We were glad we only had a taco for lunch when we reached Backyard on Broadway that evening. Boasting the most enormous outdoor seating area we’d seen at any restaurant, anywhere, we grabbed a picnic table away from a group gathering and a load of excited children, and were rewarded with a quiet meal. It was incredible how little the sound traveled.

This is about one-eigtth of the outdoor space.

Simon ordered Hummus Spread with veggies to share, and the Viva Las Tejas sandwich (two beef patties, two cheeses, bell peppers, onions, jalapenos, and spicy sauce), which he devoured. Our server also recommended the Sweet Potato Fries, which we both devoured.



Susan went for the Not Your Father’s BBQ (pulled pork sandwich), and managed about half of it, minus the bun. Damn you, tempting Sweet Potato Fries!


Two Bro’s BBQ Market was our lunch stop the next day, and we’re glad it came as a recommendation, because A) we never would have found it otherwise and 2) we might not have chosen it due to its rather rustic location. It turned out to be one of those “locals” spots that no one wants to reveal so that tourists don’t mob it.

When a meat joint has a skull on their buffet table, you know they’re confident in their beef.

This guy is going to make sure Simon gets all the right stuff.

“What should we try?” Simon asked the manager, and he came away carrying a tray loaded with smoked jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon; BBQ baked beans; Texas-sized bread slices; a massive Big Bro Sandwich piled high with smoked brisket, smoked pulled pork, and an entire sausage, topped with pickles and coleslaw; and a pint of “Cheesy Chop,” made up of chopped smoked brisket and mac & cheese. Lord help us!


Good God!

Drinks were an informal affair. Simply choose one and push the dispenser button on a Home Depot five-gallon jug. And yes, that most Southern of drinks, Kool-Aid, was an option.

I may have been bundled up a bit, with a shirt, two sweaters, and Puffy Coat. Don’t judge me!

Straight away, we knew we were beaten. After a generous sampling of the obscenely-large sandwich, Simon pulled out a half of the sausage, made it into a smaller sandwich, and we saved the rest for later.

So, that white part at the top of the sausage isn’t the sausage. It’s the graphic on Simon’s sweatshirt. Every time I see this photo I think, “What’s that…?” so I thought I’d mention it.

We ate as much as we could of the rest of it, but it was like mice had nibbled on it. That meal ended up making two more meals the next day, and our microwave still smells like a smoker, more than a week later.

The building at the very back and the one on the left are where the goodness happens. You can smell the meat smokers even when they’re not doing their jobs.

Stuffed to the gills, a long, slow walk around the nature retreat of Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy was in order, where, we were told, we’d find the Land Bridge and Skywalk. The park’s trails reminded us of Kensington Metropark, a favorite place for getting away from it all when we lived in Michigan.

It may have been a bit chilly.

Ruthie engaged in her favorite activity (sniffing).

The Skywalk goes on for a long, long way. We only did part of it, since Ruthie really can’t do much hiking and she’d already walked a bit too far to reach it.

We had been booked in for a meal at Breakaway Brewing Company, but we were all food-ed out. Instead, we popped by to sample some of the brewpub’s beers, and ended up having a nice chat with the bartenders. A warm, homey feeling ended the day.


Our bartender was adorable, and knew her beers well. Great choices!

Twice we’d made attempts to visit Historic Market Square in San Antonio (originally a gift from the King of Spain in 1730, and former home of the “Chili Queens” who served up that comforting dish in days gone by), but the chaos of Christmas week made parking impossible. Determined to give it one more try, we headed into town, and finally succeeded.


Note the person walking into the shop, to give you an idea of size.

What a fun place, filled with Latin sounds, bright colors, every tourist souvenir you could imagine, lots of umbrella drinks, and a general air of Christmas cheer! We were so glad we made the effort. Take a little stroll with us:

Strollin’ through the market.

Those allergy symptoms Susan had were no longer acting like allergies, and when Simon came down with them we knew we were in head cold territory; the unwitting victims of an unwanted gift. Annoying, yes, but considering all the other cr@p going around, not the worst thing in the world.

We knew we needed a mental and physical break at this point anyway, and our upcoming five weeks in the Donna, Harlingen, and South Padre Island areas of extreme southwestern Texas were arriving just at the right time.

Saying Goodbye To The Chihuahuan Desert


We’d been in North America’s largest desert for weeks, and in eight other deserts for the past six months. Cactus and pronghorn and the swirling dance of dust devils had been our near-constant companions. Our next destination would take us into the plains, then to the Gulf coast, so a final farewell to the arid wilderness was on our dance card.

The things you see in the desert when you haven’t got your gun…

Ninety percent of the Chihuahuan Desert is in Mexico, but it also extends from Alamogordo, New Mexico to just beyond Alpine, Texas in the U.S.. Like a gateway to its northbound entry or southbound exit, the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center was just up the road from our Alpine campground, so we paid a good-bye visit.


Really, this was the kind of place we should have been to months ago. All of our questions about “What’s THAT” would have been answered. Even so, we spent a happy hour wandering the pathways pointing at plants and remembering where we saw them in our travels.



Ocotillo is used for building fences in the western U.S. in the same way thorny brush is used in places we visited in Africa. Fascinating.

We knew most of the big cactuses and several types of agaves, but the Cactus Museum offered a trip down Memory Lane for Susan, whose parents were Master Gardeners and kept quite a few indoor cactuses over the years.



Ruthie had to wait outside the museum, and she wasn’t happy about it. At all.

Davis Mountains State Park in the town of Fort Davis was not far away, so Simon pointed Nippy in that direction the next day, for a low-key last-look at Texas’s mountainous landscape.

Primarily a spot for hiking and camping, this little state park also had two bird blinds, one of which was in the interpretive center. Here, we saw birds we’d never seen before, though we didn’t see the main draw for visitors, which is the elusive Montezuma quail. Apparently, we were so captivated by what bird life we did see that neither of us thought to take a photo.

Throughout our trip, we’d both been fascinated by the varying geology we were passing (you’ve guessed that if you’ve been following our blogs), and today there was a Ranger talk specific to the volcanic mountains we were in, so he joined the group while Susan continued to bird-watch and keep an eye on Ruthie.

As with all of the southwest, the Alpine area has its share of fossils, this time imprinted in limestone.

This metamorphic rock has been molded and shaped by volcanic activity into a little work of art.

We then drove up the Davis Mountain to see some of the features the ranger spoke about, and to get a good view of the surrounding ranges.


While we were in Fort Davis, a wander around Fort Davis National Historic Site was in order. The compound, established in 1854, wasn’t strictly a military outpost. It was also strategically placed to help protect the mail route and emigrants traveling through this part of Texas.

Several original buildings constructed from hand-made bricks are now in ruins, but many have been restored.


Officers’ homes.

Enlisted persons’ barracks.

Somebody fancy lived here.

A small museum told the area’s story, including the role of the “Buffalo Soldiers” who, among their other duties, were assigned to deal with Apache and Comanche tribes that were not amused by having their hunting grounds overtaken.



Road-weariness was catching up with us, so the next day we stayed local and did a tour of Alpine’s gorgeous murals.


Susan has fond childhood memories of sitting on her Papa’s lap watching the TV show Bonanza, and her favorite character was Hoss. Who knew he came from tiny Alpine?

Lies!


With our evening free, we freshened up and put on real clothes for an elegant dinner at The Century Bar & Grill in the historic Holland Hotel, built in 1928. Knowing we had our pup with us, they reserved a private room for us, but someone arrived before we did and snuck in, so instead we had our own table in the hotel lobby.


It’s a big, comfy lobby.

We started with the Alfredo Spinach Ravioli, which was so creamy and delicious we could easily have made it our entire meal.


While we were still making “Yummy” noises about the pasta, our entrees arrived. Simon opted for the Cajun Blackened Redfish served with vegetables, smashed potatoes, and house-made remoulade. He declared it one of the best pieces of fish he’d had in forever; nicely spicy without being overpowering, and oh, so succulent.


Let the devouring begin!

Unable to share in the delights of that spicy dish, which would have been her first choice, Susan went for the pork chops, knowing full well it would become three meals instead of one, since it was huge, with two chops and a mountain of potato. Indeed, the leftovers fed both of us the next day.


Someone wasn’t talking to us after she offered to eat anything we couldn’t finish, but was given NOTHING. Unthinkable!


Finally, we had time to spare and were in an area where we could enjoy Dark Sky at our leisure. Alpine is known for it and we were blessed with a cloudless night, so we headed out after dinner with a view of the Milky Way on our minds. The full moon that shone like a beacon was both beautiful and our undoing. It was so bright, nary a star could be seen. We stood along the roadside in light so effective we could see sad tears rolling down each other’s cheeks (not really).

There would be other chances, and with Christmas fast approaching our moods remained festive in this surprising little town that had captured our hearts.

Welcome To Don’t Mess With Texas!


With its hidden state-border crossing sign and slightly aggressive motto, Texas loomed large in our front windshield as we left New Mexico behind for what will be nearly two months in the Lone Star State, waiting out winter.

You have to be right up on this sign before you can make out what it is.

It quickly got a bit less peevish, and this would be an ongoing theme that took us by surprise. We experienced so much kindness and generosity in our first week in Texas.

Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes distances. We try to limit our driving in Fati to 200 miles or less per day, and it was 271 miles to our next campground, so we boondocked at a handy pull-out off I-10 in Van Horn, just a few yards off the highway. There is a long strip of road running parallel to the interstate where trucks and RVs can rest overnight. This was our view:


Simon and Ruthie having a discussion about where she was going to take a comfort break that evening, with no dog park in sight.

We pushed on to Alpine the next day, and while the name of this little town should have been a hint, we somehow didn’t expect to be surrounded by mountain ranges. Texas is flat, right?

Well, right, but not Northwestern Texas. Alpine is flanked by the Davis and Glass Mountains, and sits at 4,462 feet above sea level. Not exactly the Rockies, but pretty impressive for cattle country.

Volcanic much?

We saw roadkill not far from this sign that had us wondering if our theory that javelina are a lie was wrong. But it was practically the size of a bus, which (fake) javelina are not. We later found out it was a feral pig.

We didn’t expect so many mule deer just wandering around town.

The reason for our four-day stop in Alpine’s peaceful Lost Alaskan RV Park was Big Bend National Park, located in the Chisos Mountains 72 miles to the south. Our base kept us on track for easy access to US-90, without putting extra miles on Fati.

On our way in to the park we stopped at the entry sign, where a biker was taking a photo of another couple. He offered to take our picture, too, and then some genius happened. Ruthie looks away when anyone points a camera in her direction, but this guy stamped his feet over and over, prompting several little woof-etts from her, and produced photos that look like she’s smiling. Brilliant!


Big Bend launched straight into its prehistoric past, being a location where a great deal of fossilized diversity was discovered. A little exhibit and walking trail tell its 130-million-year story, from the time it was a sea to the time when volcanos shaped the land before woodlands took over; from the monstrous sea creature uncovered here to gigantic dinosaurs, Native peoples, spats with Mexico, and the eventual creation of a National Park.

The landscape here is so changeable.

“Simon, NO! Don’t jump!”
This former mudflat was the site of some important fossil discoveries. Rhinos and camels once roamed the land. So did T-Rex.

One of its claims to fame was the 35-foot-wing-spanned Quetzalcoatlus northropi, the largest flying creature discovered so far, among other dinosaurs that have not yet been found elsewhere.

The pale bones flying just below the ceiling are so long it’s hard to get them into one shot. The near end is its head.

Coming from Florida, we were impressed by the park’s other reptilian claim to fame, clocking in at nearly 50-feet. Deinosuchus riograndens is a dinosaur-munching alligator big enough to take down giant herbivores that waded too close to its massive maw.

We had our picnic near a life-sized metal cutout of the gator.

Just to give a little perspective of the gator’s size. No dogs were harmed in the shooting of this photo.

Geologically, Big Bend is partially the result of the mother of all ka-blooeys. Visitors can drive into and hike all around the Chisos Basin, with an overlook smack in the remnants from an ancient volcano.

If you’ve been geology-ing along with us, you’ll know this is a volcanic plug.

Looking back at the volcanic bowl from a road outside the basin.

Breaking free from a larger continent, subsequent land-mass collisions that raised the land upward, the formation of Cretaceous Sea, and other complicated science-y stuff also contributed to the area’s geological face, and we did feel as if we were in some sort of strange jumble of landscapes; as if the planet had grabbed handfuls of topography from around the country and flung them willy-nilly into Big Bend and the surrounding area.

The wedge between the two mountains behind us is known as “The Window,” and it looks beyond the park into Mexico.



On the way back to Fati we detoured into Terlingua, a mining town turned ghost town. Very little is left here of the original structures, beyond a few crumbling buildings and a cemetery with a few old graves mixed in with the new.



The big draw for tourists is the Starlight Theatre bar. We were going to pop in and be like the cool kids, but it wasn’t open yet. Simon was unceremoniously ordered to back out the door when he stuck his head in to find out when the pleasure of swilling one of their tourist-priced ales could begin.

Fair enough, we’re happy to comply, but also…really? Politeness is free, we’d been looking forward to visiting, and we had a little bit of cash burning a hole in our pockets. We decided not to be cool kids that day.

You can keep your fancy Day-Glo trucks and $14 Margaritas. Don’t Mess With Venesses.

To confirm how right we were with our unreasonably bad attitudes, the Universe rewarded us with mule deer in the campground, not far from Fati, when we returned that evening. A day or so later karma rewarded us with a very sick dog. The two aren’t connected, but maybe we’ll be a bit more patient with our beer money next time.

The Ultimate U.S. Road Trip – Part 5

The latest instalment of our excusive series for The Independent featuring our “Year On The Road” RV adventure is now online, highlighting Month 5 as we reached Idaho and Utah, and the incredible scenery of places like Craters of the Moon National Monument and Bryce Canyon State Park.

You can see the whole story on this link:

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/north-america/usa/american-road-trip-usa-idaho-utah-b2467275.html#

The glory of Arches National Park, one of 12 national parks, monuments and historic sites we visited in stunning Utah

Three Crosses, One Outlaw, And A Snowy Sandscape


Ten whole days in Las Cruces, New Mexico! We arrived at the superbly welcoming Las Cruces KOA Journey campground full of enthusiasm for the billion things we had planned, using the city as our base; a list so long that sane people would have taken a month to complete it. But not us! We were ready to pack it in tight and see absolutely everything! YAY!!

Idiots.

We know better, too. For decades we’ve been admonishing excited visitors to Orlando who think they can do it all in two weeks. But this isn’t Orlando, and we’re professionals. Right?

Would professionals take a photo this bad? I don’t think so!

Normally we stay home on our arrival day because breaking camp, traveling in Fati, and setting up again can be taxing, and we like to start fresh. This time, we headed straight to the adorable town of Old Mesilla, not far from our campground, for its Mexican and Billy the Kid history, and its central plaza decorated for Christmas.




Everything about the tiny burg surrounded by pecan groves worked for us. Cute little one-off shops, strings of red chilis strung along the walkways, and the county courthouse (now a gift shop) in which Billy the Kid was sentenced to hang by his neck until dead for the crime of murder. He escaped, of course, and went into hiding before being shot to death at the age of 22.

We’re not sure what Ruthie is doing, but Simon seems happy.

Ever-aware of not adding any more weight to Fati than absolutely necessary, we broke our “don’t buy anything frivolous” rule and purchased two gorgeous woven placemats with the kind of bright, geometric patterns so prevalent in New Mexico. We use them every day, and they only added a few ounces of weight. We put on more than that just in belly bloat during the hot summer months, so this wouldn’t even register for Fati.

A take-away dinner from La Posta gave us our first taste of New Mexico, with tacos for Susan and Posole stew for Simon. And we’re here to say, that slightly spicy, hearty-flavored stew was the kind of “gimmie more” soup we both love!

We scarfed our food down and didn’t remember to take photos until it was half gone.

So, the tacos were fried (who fries tacos?!). I have no gallbladder. You can guess the unhappy results.

Eat this. All the time!

After a blissfully quiet sleep with none of the all-night-long train noise we’d had over the past week, we made White Sands National Park and the nearby town of Alamogordo our first full day’s excursion. We didn’t know what to expect from White Sands, but we didn’t expect the park’s 25-square-miles of dunes to be so completely like a wintery snowscape that we literally had to remind our brains it was pulverized gypsum crystals, not snow, a task made harder by all the people sledding down the slopes (albeit in bare feet and shorts!).




Now, Ruthie hates sand. You know that if you read our Michigan blogs. But this? She LOVED it. She went prancing and dancing and hopping all over the place, full of puppy energy and joy! We continue to wonder if she was a Midwestern dog that got lost from her family while they were on vacation in Florida, and that she was fooled by the familiarity of a snowy landscape.



From there we went to Alamogordo, where a giant pistachio convinced us to buy a few packets of the real thing, locally grown…


…then we headed up through Lincoln National Forest to Cloudcroft, a place so mountain village-y and so cold it felt like a winter’s day in the Colorado Rockys. Here, Ruthie got to walk on her first patch of real snow (that we know of), and she seemed to enjoy it.



El Paso, Texas, our next day’s destination in Nippy (we’d only be able to drive though it in Fati on our way south), should be an entire blog. It’s iconic. Everyone knows the name. It’s filled with Spanish missions and great Mexican food, and we set off from Las Cruces with visions of authentic cuisine and spectacular history on our minds. But that’s not what we found.

El Paso is a sprawling city. This was taken from high on a hill where rich people live.

We’re certain we didn’t get the best out of El Paso. Everything felt a little bit “off.” It didn’t help that the Visitor Center was located in an area that was entirely boarded up and abandoned, and the center itself had long since skipped town, too.

We tried. We really did. But, for whatever reason, we kept running into closures and locked doors. Need the restroom? Forget it. They’re all locked unless you buy something. We did find a nice market near the Old Town that opened their restroom doors for us, and we were told there is a problem with people experiencing homelessness that has caused local businesses to make the decision to lock up.

And then there’s that big whompin’ border wall that commands attention no matter where you are in town. It’s like a lurking presence. We bounce back and forth between understanding the necessity and being horrified by the inhumanity of it all.


The yellow sign and the overhead digital sign further along read, “Watch For Unexpected Pedestrians.”

The big red X across the border in Juarez is a sculpture that represents the blending of Spanish and Aztec cultures.


To lift our spirits again, we took to the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway the next morning, hot on the heels of the infamous outlaw. Our launching point was Smokey Bear Historical Park, the burial site of the little bear who was rescued after a deadly blaze and became the nation’s advocate for preventing forest fires.



A cute museum told his tale, and honors the country’s longest running advertising campaign (say it with me: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”).


Next up was Lincoln, where Billy the Kid was jailed for murdering a sheriff, and he then shot and killed two deputies while escaping. The tiny burg has hardly changed at all since the 1880s.





Mule deer (or, they might be elk; we never can tell) are all over this town, which added to the yesteryear Wild West feel of the place.



The mountainous drive itself was just stunning, and again, it reminded us how little we know about this country. We didn’t expect such enormous mountains in New Mexico.

But we weren’t done yet. We had two nights booked at a hotel in Santa Fe for a trip in Nippy that would also include Albuquerque and Taos. But we’ll cover that part of our journey in another blog.

Roswell and Carlsbad Caverns were also on our must-do list while in Las Cruces, but as we returned to Fati from Santa Fe we came to an energy-crashing halt. We just couldn’t add another 500 miles to our touring, not to mention having to leave Ruthie in a rented crate while we did a cave tour. It was a bridge too far.

We consoled ourselves by remembering our time in Postojna Cave Park in Slovenia, a spectacular, other-worldly experience during which we were taken “behind-the-scenes” to a pitch-black area where the blind, pure-white, salamander-like Olm (Proteus anguinus) lives. Unbelievable luck allowed us to see this magnificent creature, which lives to 100 years old and only needs to eat every couple of years. We’re not sure anything could top that cave adventure, so that’s the sentiment we stuck with when dropping Carlsbad Caverns from our journey.

One infinitesimal part of the massive Postojna Cave. That thing in the middle is a walkway bridge.

Simon and our guide looking at the tiny Olm that lives in darkness here.

And Roswell? One too many people told us it’s entirely skippable. Two people mentioned issues with crimes against automobiles. We really wanted to go anyway. But we’d been talking about having unfinished business in New Mexico, and we’re sure another visit to the state – next time for longer – is on the cards in the future.

Farewell, Arizona


Willcox, Arizona offered a chance to catch our breath, keep our touring low-key, and end our time in the state on a relaxed note. We expected to spend most of our time “at home,” with a few afternoon jaunts before dinner and a movie each night in Fati. And while that was partially true, we all know what they say about the best-laid plans.

We started our five-day stay at the fabulous Willcox-Cochise AZ, KOA Holiday campground with dinner from the onsite Roadrunner Kafé, where the pizza we ordered was delivered right to our door, hot and delicious. We’d been excited to have a patio with a real table and chairs, an outdoor grill (oh, happy day!), and a fire pit. The unexpectedly cold weather had other ideas, but if we return to this area, we’ll make sure we do it when it’s sunny and pleasant so we can make full use of those fabulous amenities.


We didn’t really have plans for touring the area, but we did want to visit the “sky islands” of Chiricahua National Monument, where enormous rock formations tower high above Bonita Canyon. Apache – who at one time did not use that pejorative term (from the Spanish interpretation of the Zuni word meaning “enemy”) in reference to themselves, but instead use the name “Nde,” meaning “the people” – lived here while it was still a part of Mexico, prior to settlement by emigrant families from Canada, Ireland, and Sweden.




Looking down into the canyon from the top of the mountain, we wondered if this is what Bryce Canyon may have looked like at one point.

A band of coatimundi had been spotted that morning, so we should watch for them, said the woman at the Visitor Center. Black bear, rattlesnakes, whitetail deer, mountain lions, and other large mammals live here, too, but the only wildlife we saw was a lone deer.

Lone deer here.

Driving around Willcox the next day, we braved a rough road that led to a derelict cemetery just outside town, where Warren Earp was buried.


The desert is definitely taking back the cemetery grounds.

Warren was the youngest of the Earp brothers and, having avoided the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, he jumped right in to help his brother Wyatt and their buddy Doc Holliday take revenge for the later killing of his brother Morgan before fleeing Arizona, only to land in Willcox years later, get stupid drunk, and take a bullet through the heart compliments of a patron of the saloon where Earp was over-imbibing. The shooter was acquitted on grounds of self-defense.


The nearly-forgotten cemetery told the story of Willcox’s early days, when people died too young; some far too young.



Also just outside town is the Willcox Playa Wildlife Area where, we’d heard, we might spot Sandhill Cranes arriving at their winter migration grounds. Understatement of the decade. There were thousands and thousands, with more arriving every minute. We spent two evenings at the wildlife area watching them flying in over the mountains in great, long lines.

One small section of birds!


Even Ruthie was captivated.

Many of you have probably seen Simon’s videos of their arrival. If not, here are a couple of videos from our YouTube channel.



Then, because we can’t help ourselves when there is touring to be done, we paid a visit to Bisbee, on the border with Mexico, the day before leaving Willcox.


Bisbee was a mining town, and Simon spent a long time looking at the open mine while Susan mainly waited in the car.


That’s a small lake at the bottom, which gives you an idea of how huge the pit is.

The semi-abandoned but totally adorable Lowell was just a couple of blocks away. It’s a tiny throwback to a kinder, gentler time, from the storefronts down to the old-timey cars parked along the curbs.



It was here that we also got our first look at the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, just a few miles south of Bisbee, in Douglas.


On the way back to Willcox we stopped at Whitewater Draw, where some of the Sandhill Cranes spend the day before flying over the mountain range to Willcox. Here, we watched them take off and make that journey.

The marshy area is chock-full of Sandhill Cranes.

Ruthie seemed content to watch the birds prepare for their nightly migration.

We were ready to move on when morning came. We’d spent 49 days in Arizona – the most in any state so far – and we headed toward New Mexico feeling we’d learned so much about this part of the southwest, which had surprised and delighted us so often.