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Monday, April 27, 2020

Big Bend National Park - FL To NM Road Trip - Stop 4

One retirement goal we have for ourselves is to see all 47 parks that are in the 48 contiguous states in the US.  Big Bend National Park was the first national park we were able to check off our list.

It took us 7 1/2 hours to get from San Antonio, Texas to Big Bend National Park with stops.  More than half, maybe even 2/3 of the ride was through the dessert.  We had never been in the desert so it was really interesting to us, for a little while anyway.   Then it got so boring that I fell asleep for a couple of hours.  By the time I woke up, Soko was starting to panic because we were running low on gas and there were no gas stations to be found.  There were no exit signs, billboards, nothing.  Only dry, dusty dirt and cactus.  But just as we were thinking we were going to have to push the car, with the trailer attached to it, to the nearest gas station, we saw a town up ahead!  We were saved!  ...Not!  It was a ghost town!!  A ghost town?  We thought ghost towns were towns you saw in old cowboy movies, not in real life.  Where were we?  Is this real or a mirage?  We were so confused that I didn't even think about taking a picture until we were a few minutes away.  I was not going to ask Soko to turn around to go back for some pics, though, because he was back to panicking again!

We finally did make it to a town not too long after passing the ghost town.  It consisted of one gas station "Uncles", a hardware store and a couple of small shops.  After we paid a premium price for gas, we made our way down the road that would bring us to the park.  It looked like the desert road we were just on so after awhile I fell asleep again.

It took another 1 1/2 hours, after we stopped for gas, but we finally made it to the Rio Grande Village RV Park which is located in Big Bend National Park.  This is one of four campgrounds in the park but the only one that has full hook ups.  The other three have no hook ups at all.

Please read our full report on Rio Grande Village RV Park in our brand new Guide To State And National Park Campgrounds coming very soon!

Before we got to the campground, we stopped by one of the park's Visitor Centers to get the information we needed to plan an itinerary for our time in Big Bend.  You can find a brochure and newsletter at all national park visitor centers that will give you info on the trails, wildlife, etc. in the
park.  You can also buy additional literature which we did here.  

So after checking in, setting up and having a bite to eat, we got out all our info and mapped out a plan.

We planned an entire day of hiking for our first full day in Big Bend.  The first trail we would come to, on the route we mapped out, was the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail.  

The was an easy 1/2 mile trail that we leisurely strolled along while looking for "remnants of human settlement in the area" that we read we would find.  Soko spotted these cans that were left behind for future visitors to discover.  

Our next exciting find was this javelina who was only a couple of feet away from us when we saw him.   After our initial panic of how to get past him without his noticing us, we realized he was too busy eating some delicious cactus to even know, or care, that we were there.   We slowly backed away and then felt comfortable enough to take a couple of pictures before we quietly walked away.

The next trail on our list was the Grapevine Hills 2.2 mile round trip trail.  We were very excited to hike this trail after we saw a picture of the sight we could see here.  The "Balanced Rock" looked unbelievable and we wanted to see it for ourselves.  The difficulty level of this trail was easy and we really did think that until...

we got just past this sign.

From this point on, I am giving this trail a rating of moderate and in some spots, strenuous!  I was very grateful that my sister bought me a hiking stick for Christmas or I would have never made it up the very steep and very rocky boulder.

But at the top, we were treated to this amazing sight!

And the most amazing views.

The next trail was the Lost Mine which was rated moderate and was almost 8 miles long but the park ranger, who went over the trails with us, said that the first mile would give us a great view of the southeast and would be as far as we would have to venture in if we didn't want to do the whole trail.  Ironically, we got lost trying to find the Lost Mine and wound up out of the park and heading towards Terlingua Ghostown.  We had heard about the town but hadn't planned to leave the park to go there but since we made the wrong turn, and were almost there anyway, we decided to take a quick peek.

It wasn't completely abandoned like the first ghost town we saw on the way to Big Bend.  The 2010 census counted 58 residents!

We found this old cemetery down the block from the town.  It was pretty cool.  We had never seen graves like these before.  Lots of the people who are resting in this cemetery were victims of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.  Little did we know at the time that this would have more meaning to us in only a few short weeks.

We got back into the park with time to hike one more trail before it got too dark.  We decided to skip the Lost Mine and check out the trail the park ranger told us was one of his favorites.  The Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off turned out to be one of our favorites also!  It was an easy, relaxing and beautiful trail.

This is where the pour-off would have been.  I have to say we were not disappointed that it was too dry for a water show.  It was gorgeous and dramatic, anyway, but we can only imagine how amazing it must be when there is a pour-off happening here.  

It was time to get back to the campsite.  It was getting dark.  By the time we got to the park road that would bring us to the campground, it was so dark that we never saw the deer before he was inches from the front of our car.  Soko swerved, I screamed and the deer got away, thank goodness.  It was a reminder that we were sharing the park with the wildlife that live here and we needed to drive slowly and be very aware of our surroundings.

Our plan for our last full day in the park was to take advantage of the camp store building having a washer and dryer.  Even though the second washer was broken, we didn't have a problem getting a turn at doing our laundry.  I really didn't mind keeping my eye on our laundry as this was the only place in the park that we could get internet.  There were two benches inside and a few outside of the laundromat/camp store/shower building.  There were always campers sitting on them while they borrowed the free internet to use their phones and computers, especially in the evening.

After doing laundry and straightening up the car and trailer, we hiked the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail that we were able to walk to.  It was just past the camp store.

It was an easy trail with a side trail, the River Spur Trail, that went down to the Rio Grande, the river that separates the US and Mexico.

Next we headed to the overlook where we heard we could see a beautiful sunset.  Our plan was to come back in the evening to see it.  On our way to up, we saw handmade knick knacks and hiking sticks for sale.  I bought one of the cute roadrunner.

After reaching the top of the hill, we could see why it would be amazing place to watch the sunset.  There is a great view of the Rio Grande up here.

We did go back in the evening and sat with a group of other campers who also wanted to view the gorgeous sunset.

It was a good thing that there were other people with us because as we sat watching the sunset, which was beautiful...

I noticed that people had their backs to the sunset and were taking pictures of the mountains behind us.  The colors that illuminated off the mountain as the sunset bounced off it were stunning.  These pictures do not do it justice.

We got down the hillside before it got dark but not quick enough to get all the way back to the campground.  Luckily the ground was level and our phones have flashlights because we forgot one.  We enjoyed the starlit sky as we walked back.

Before we left the park in the morning, we got to see this little critter, the roadrunner, one last time.  I can't tell you how excited I was to see Wile E. Coyote's nemesis in real life!

We had an amazing time at the first national park on our retirement bucket list.  After we minus the 3 parks we visited pre-retirement, we only had 43 more to go.  

Next stop, Carlsbad, New Mexico!

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Monday, April 13, 2020

San Antonio, TX - FL To NM Road Trip - Stop 3

We have been wanting to go to Texas for a long time and especially the city of San Antonio.  We had heard so much about the River Walk and the Alamo.  It was time for us to see them for ourselves.  So that is where our trip planning started and is how our FL to NM and Back Road Trip came to be.

The first thing we had to do when we arrived in San Antonio was find the campground we booked for our stay here.  We chose the San Antonio/Alamo KOA because of the easy access to the city bus.  It was right outside the campground.  Not having to find parking in the city and giving Soko a break from driving sounded perfect. 

We would definitely recommend this campground, especially if you have kids.  We saw a bunch of them enjoying the playground here every time we passed it and the community room had activities for the whole family to enjoy together.  There is a large camp store and a good sized laundry room.  There is a pool, which no one was using because it was not warm enough outside, but it was open.   

The KOA was very clean, had a friendly and helpful staff and had all the amenities you could hope for.  We especially liked the private bathrooms complete with showers.  This pond was something you don't see at every campground.  It was a nice place to sit and relax for a few minutes.

We asked the very nice lady at the front office/camp store, when we checked in, about the bus service.  She was very happy to give us a schedule and all the information we needed to get to the sights we wanted to see. 


So after parking and setting up the trailer and having a quick bite to eat, we headed to the River Walk.  We were so glad that we did because we caught the last night of the Parade of Lanterns and it was a brilliant spectacle, not to be missed.

The River Walk, on a Saturday night, is alive with people enjoying the many restaurants and bars that line the walk.  It was one very lively and huge block party.

We didn't realize that the Alamo was only a couple of blocks away from the River Walk so we also got to see that lit up for the evening.

After spending a couple of hours downtown it was time to head back to the campground to get some sleep.  We had a long list of things we wanted to do on Sunday, our first full day in San Antonio. 


The first thing we needed to do, after a quick breakfast, was to find the buses that would take us to Mission San Jose, one of the 5 missions that make up the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  You can find all 5 missions along the Mission Trail with the most recognizable being the Alamo.

We always make sure to find a Catholic mass to attend if we are on vacation on a Sunday.  We were so excited to find out about the mariachi mass.  The church was not hard to find by bus and so worth the trip.  We truly enjoyed the joyful music of the talented musicians.   I highly recommend attending this mass  if you are in the area on a Sunday.  Mass starts at 12:00 pm but get there a half hour earlier because the church is very tiny and fills up quickly.

We took a stroll around the grounds of Mission San Jose after mass and were awestruck when we saw this magnificent tree!  We found out later that it is a southern live oak and when this tree has room to grow, the branches will reach the ground before growing upward again.

Now it was time for lunch so we hopped on the bus and took a ride to the Historic Market Square.  

There were on a couple of restaurants here to choose from.  We decided to try La Margarita Restaurant & Oyster Bar so that we could eat outdoors on this beautiful day.  Soko had George's Special and I had the Tex-Mex Enchilada Dinner.  They were good but if we ever go again I would definitely like to try a little something at each of the food kiosks that line the marketplace.  We did get churros from one of them even though we were stuffed after our huge lunch!

Next on our to do list was a second trip downtown to see it in the daylight and to go the Alamo, which was closed by the time we got there the night before.  It was just as people described it to us.  It was small and right in the middle of the city.  The building had only one large room with items and information that showcased Texas history, culture and artifacts.  We got there late, once again, so other offerings here like a film about the history of the Alamo, were closed.  It is fun, though, to know we were walking on the same ground that a small group of about 200 volunteers, including Davy Crockett, walked on as they defended the Alamo and held off thousands of Mexican soldiers for 13 days.    We will have to go back one day to enjoy all the Alamo has to offer.  If you are planning a visit to the Alamo, keep in mind that it closes at 5:00 pm.

After we left the Alamo we took a peek into the gorgeous San Fernando Cathedral.  

There is a tomb, in the church, engraved with the pictures of Davy Crockett, William B. Travis and Jim Bowie, heroes at the Battle of the Alamo, but it is not absolutely certain that any of their remains are actually here even though there is a plaque saying so.  

We took a quick walk down the River Walk, to see it during the day, before heading to the bus stop.  Our plan for the evening was to have a little something to eat and to relax which sounded like a great plan to both of us.

Our plan for Monday, our second full day, and sadly our last, was to attend a rodeo!  When we first made plans for our February road trip we had no idea that the annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, one of the largest in the country, would be taking place while we were there.  Once we found out, we researched to find tickets and got them for Monday night, our last night in San Antonio.

The rodeo didn't start until 7:00 pm so since we had the rest of the day free we thought we would spend the afternoon at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

We found the garden on a list that we had of all participating gardens in the 2019 Reciprocal Admissions Program.  We can enjoy RAP benefits because of our annual membership at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, FL and these benefits were a big reason why we paid the $75 to become Bok Tower members for the year.  Our membership saved us the $15 each admission fee at this garden and parking was free.  

We loved the Northrup Tropical Room, one of 5 glasshouses that made up the Lucile Halsell Conservatory.  We didn't expect to see this waterfall when we entered the room  it and was a nice surprise.

I was happy to see one of my favorite trees, the bald cypress, here.  The roots, or knees, are so cool looking.   These trees can live to be 500 to 600 years old.

After a couple of hours at the gardens, it was time to head back to our trailer to relax awhile and have dinner before the rodeo.  

We decided to take the bus to the AT & T Center which was only a couple of minutes from the campground.  We thought that the parking lot would be packed and would be very expensive.   But because we were taking the bus, we also would have to skip the Chris Young concert that was happening after the rodeo.   The last bus, to our campground, would be stopping by the venue around 10:00 pm and we had to make sure we were on it.

We checked out the fairgrounds first.

Then it was time to see our first rodeo, besides for the very small rodeo we have enjoyed at River Ranch in Lake Wales, FL.  

At one point, the kids were allowed to take part in a calf scramble.  We saw this for the first time at the River Ranch rodeo.  This seems to be a usual event at rodeos we're guessing.

Who knew there were so many different events that make up a rodeo.   It went on for almost 2 1/2 hours.  It was close, but we got out and made it to the bus stop in time to get one of the last buses, if not the last bus, back to the campground.    

We enjoyed the rodeo and everything else we experienced in San Antonio.  We had a wonderful adventure here.  Now it was time to head to our next stop, Big Bend National Park.