We got on the road about 10am and our first stop was visiting my cousin's ranch south of Cross Plains about 30 minutes. My sister had not seen my cousin in a while and his oldest daughter was there so we visited while taking a lunch break. The brats and burgers were ready to go when we go there and finished our meal with a big brownie. Nice visit but time to get back on the road. We were headed back up to I-20 and a motel in Odessa. Our side trip was not too much of a detour and before you know it, we were just south of Abilene. The skies were quite threatening by this time and in a few minutes we were in a storm like no other I've driven through. I'll try to tell you what happened over the next 4 hours in 100 words or less. Gassed up - went 20 miles - ran over something - 20 miles later front left tire was flat - called Taylor Cty Sheriff for help changing tire but Good Samaritan stopped first - Nice guy - angel named Thomas. Still in a downpour, he changed the tire and when offered some cash he refused. He'd mentioned kids in the next town so I gave him a $20 to buy pizza for dinner that night. Back to Abilene - 2 hrs at the Wal-Mart - had to buy 2 new tires instead of 1 - something about matching tire speed - felt taken advantage of but what can I do. Back on the road and continued driving through a massive rain storm - finally arrived our motel at 9:30pm. Pooped so hit the sack. And that was just the first day! I gotta say - weather the rest of the time was perfect. Mid to low 50s at night, 75-80 during the day and nothing but sunshine.
We stopped at a Wal-Mart in Odessa, got groceries, ice and headed out to GMNP about 10am. About 3 hours later, we were looking at El Capitan with the park entrance just ahead.
Sign at the entrance and a couple of nice looking rides
Arriving at the visitor center, we were excited to get some park info and set up camp
Nice people at the visitors' center. We were told the park is really a hiking park, not a camping park. After a quick spin around the campsites and the RV 'camping area' (a big parking lot with stripped parking spaces and a restroom facility with flush toilets and running water) it became quite evident it was not a camping park! We paid $8/night for our campsite, which by the way are first come, first served. In the RV area, there's an information board and metal box to put your camping fees in. Honor system but you left the receipt in your car where it could be seen. We were both holding our breath about a site being available coming in on a Sunday of a long weekend. Only 20 sites at the Pine Springs campground and we sure weren't driving up to the Dog Canyon campground (more on that later). We did manage to get a nice spot, right at one end of the loop, with a tree for shade. The trail continues around in sort of a semicircle with sites scattered along the way and then ending up back at another parking area along the road. You can see in a later picture, various tents scattered about.
The tent pad site
Looking at the tent pad site, I thought 'wow, look at all this room!' and after having the tents up, it seemed to be not so big! But we made it work.
Tents are up!
We used my gray tent for storing our gear and used it as a changing area. It was about 5' off the trail where everyone passes by to reach their sites on the interior. We found people were pretty respectful as they passed by so no issues there.
This was our picnic table. In the afternoon, along with the tree on the right, the green tent provided shade where we had our happy hour each day and by the time it was ready for dinner, the sun had dropped enough that it was not a factor. We only ate one dinner during the daylight and we rewarded with a family of 6 mule deer scampering about 15 yards in front of us. Mom, Dad and some kids. Just couldn't get my camera up quick enough to take any pictures. Too bad!
We squeezed a quick hike in before it got too dark our first night. Smith Springs Trail. 2-3 miles. Nice scenery.
The hill in the above photo was named Nipple Hill - can't imagine why!!!
This is my favorite picture of the whole trip - just love the cloud!
Monday we headed up to Carlsbad Caverns. Needed to gas up but gas is very limited so you get it where you can. Neither one of us had ever been here before. We had tickets for the King's Palace tour, about 90 minutes long. Not all tours are available year-round so you need to be aware of that. $16 or $18 bucks apiece.
While I took lots of pictures in the cavern, many didn't turn out because to catch the best lighting, the camera has to be still and I just wasn't still enough apparently! Anyway, these next few are my best.
After the tour, we headed on out. A view from the top on the way down.
We decided to check out the Dog Canyon campground. You cannot drive to it from the Pine Springs campground (without 4-whl drive) and it's accessible from New Mexico after a drive through the Lincoln National Forest. We were driving down a road and then next thing you know, there's a little TEXAS sign and we were back in TX and at the campground. Nine sites, again, first come, first served. I'd say most sites had shade with nice pad sites and a picnic table. There was one composting latrine. And just like Pine Springs, no showers.
I felt that this area was a bit remote for me. I would definitely not camp at this campground by myself and I'm not sure I'd feel safe even with someone else, unless that someone else was male and possibly armed. There was no one camping here when we visited and we didn't see any park staff either. I just didn't get a nice fuzzy feeling about this place.
Heading back to the main campgrounds, you start high and go down. I rather liked this view.
On the way back, we got to chatting and the next thing you know, we'd overshot our last turn by about 25 miles! Oops! I was driving but apparently not paying attention!
Tuesday started out with a lazy morning. Nice camp breakfast, fried eggs, bacon and toast. Did some housekeeping and then packed a good lunch for us plus filled lots of water bottles. Our hike was to Pratt's Cabin in McKitrick Canyon, about 2.5 miles in from the trailhead. You had to drive about 6 miles outside the park to get to the parking lot. There was a set of restrooms and a display about the geology of the area.
Here are a few pictures of the trail. Notice the different type of hiking surfaces. It was no walk in the park!
This little critter below poked his head out to say ‘hi’. He really blends in to his surroundings!
This next photo is the trail that continues on to the grotto. By this time, we noticed we had gone through a lot of water so we decided to turn off to the right and have lunch at Pratt’s Cabin.
When we got to the cabin, there were 2-3 other couples there but we found a great place to eat – on the back porch. Delightful breeze – very welcome!
Found this in the front of the cabin! I’m sure it’s hard as a rock if you lay on it – sorry, couldn’t resist!
These next two are of the front of the cabin and a view from the front of a nice peak.
While I am not sure where this was, it is an example of some great madrone trees we saw on our way back to the cabin.
I don’t remember exactly how long it took but it was about 5 miles and we took plenty of water breaks and had a nice lunch break as well. We weren’t in a rush so we really got to enjoy the scenery.
Wednesday was moving day. We packed up and were ready to leave about 10am. I think we had about a 6 hr drive to South Llano. As we were just about to get in the car, a family got out of their truck and we heard the mom say something about getting ice. Oh, not good – there’s no place to buy ice in the park and the closest place to get ice – nowhere close to the park! I said hi and mentioned we overhead them. We gave them what ice we had left in our cooler but I’m sure if wasn’t enough. I think it was an hour or so before we saw any ice ourselves. We headed around the south end of the park and took whatever highway takes you to Van Horn and I-10. Just as we headed south on that road, I got to thinking about how we were just out in the middle of nowhere and this would be a great time to speed up a bit. I think the speed limit was already 75 and my car loves to go 80 mph. Well, don’t you know – we went up and over a hill and there was the highway patrol just waiting for someone to be speeding. Not only there, we saw them all the way to Van Horn where we ate lunch. Must have been a convention somewhere! I think we got to Junction about 6pm. The sun was setting but I’ve put both tents up in the dark enough to know it would be no big deal. We were tired but not enough to stop in town and eat Mexican at La Familia. Stopped and got some Shiner, went back to camp, watched a movie and then hit the sack.
Thursday was a trip to Fredericksburg and shopping. But our first stop was at the Doss General Store. Yes a bit out of the way but beautiful scenery. I had told Mary about their cheeseburgers and when we stopped by the year before they were closed. This time they were open and served us a great cheeseburger. There is new ownership there now and it looked like they were trying to spiff up the menu. You know, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it! Did some window shopping in F’burg and found a great Christmas ornament store. We were both in heaven. Got back to camp before dark, just in time for happy hour. That night was another movie and early bedtime as we were hitting the river on Friday.
Friday was nothing but sunshine and we got to the Curtis house by 10am. I had left my kayak there in September so we loaded it and another one into a truck and headed up to the CR 150 put-in. While Mary has paddled a canoe many times, it had been a while and she’d never paddled a kayak before. I gave her a few tips and then left her to do her own thing. More than one way to skin a cat! It was a great paddle but didn’t see much wildlife. The river water was still recovering from the rain they got in September that washed a lot of ash (from the May forest fires) into the water. But it was better than what we saw in September and clarity was definitely on the return. All in all, it was a great trip. Mary loved the riffles and fast water along the way. She didn’t dump at all but I sure did.
Here’s a pic of her in the kayak. She did herself proud!
There is this one spot that is becoming my nemesis! Somehow I got my foot lodged between a rock and a hard spot and later after dinner, knowing my high threshold for pain, my sister convinced me to go to the ER to make sure nothing was broken. And of course nothing was, but I had to have it wrapped and elevated that night. So, we stayed in a motel as my airbed and lack of toilet facilities close to my bed were going to be a problem. Went back to camp on Saturday and did a lot of reading. It was our rest day anyway so it all worked out. My sister treated me like a princess and waited on me hand and foot, no pun intended.
Alas, Sunday morning came and time to pack up and head home. We got on the road about noon. Stopped in Brady to try the ‘cue at the Hard 8 there (not bad but not as good as I hoped it would be) and got home about 7pm. We unloaded what we needed to and went to bed early as we had to be at the airport by 7am to get her on a plane.
Sure enough, the conversation on the way was where we were going in 2012. Looks like it’s a return trip to GMNP to hike Guadalupe Peak and then on to BBNP for more hiking. We just weren’t ready to tackle the peak last fall and our window to do this is closing quickly as she just turned 60 and I’ll almost be 59 when we go back in late September so we gotta get it done. I’m signing that book if it kills me!
Again, we traveled nearly 2000 miles. My sister loves Texas and I love having her here but a week is just not enough for us!