I would like to dedicate this post to my brother, who passed away in early June. He was not able to enjoy camping/hiking/fishing like he used to so I would download my camping trip pics and type him a letter, regaling him with the usual and unusual stuff that happened when I was out in nature. He died suddenly and I felt like a slacker because I hadn't sent him the usual letter with pics. So if this seems long to you, well read what you want. It's just the way I'd do it for him.
My older sister and I took a great road trip last year in May. I called it the State Parkapalooza. 1971 miles, all in TX, including camping at or side trips to Caprock Canyon SP, Palo Duro SP, Balmorrhea SP, Indian Lodge at Davis Mtns, BB Ranch SP, BBNP, So Llano River SP and Colorado Bend SP. We were pooped when we got home but three days later started planning our 2010 trip. We learned several things on that trip and we were going to use that knowledge to improve on this year's trip. So, my now 58 yr old sister flew down in April and we took a week long trip to BBNP and SLRSP.
If any of you remember Chago's post about his primitive camping at BBNP, I must say it inspired me to do the same. With a promise of doing the primitive camping first and going to SL 2nd with water, hot showers and electricity for movies at night, my sister was quite agreeable. But as these were 2 different types of campsites, our needs were different. I knew we'd need a shade shelter and table for eating/cooking so I found a nice 4 ft table and EZ up shade shelter at Academy. But now we'd have to find room in the car for those items so we made some decisions about what we each felt was important to take along. I drive a Toyota Corolla and last year it was packed to the gills so finding space for additional items this year seemed almost impossible. I read that there was a fire ban at BBNP so we took just the grill surface and some brick pavers to build a grill and left the Weber Lil' Smokey at home. But we both liked watching movies at night, so we took the 13” TV and DVD player again. The table and shade shelter fit perfectly right behind the two seats. We stuffed bedding and pillows in various small spaces in the back seat area along with our suitcases and coolers. Both the back seat and trunk were stuffed but not so that we couldn't pack up easily or risk breaking anything when we shut the trunk!
We got on the road about 11am after breakfast with my aunt and uncle. My sister hadn't seen them since our last trip. From north of Dallas we found our way out to I-20 and we were off. Our first night's destination was the Marathon Motel. We had decided ahead of time to stop in Odessa to grocery shop so we weren't hauling all that weight and not icing down food for much longer than necessary. It was an ideal time to stop and get out of the car for a while. Right at our exit from 20 to 385 was a Wal-Mart, so armed with a shopping list, we got in and out in 60 minutes. I think we both appreciated being on our feet for a while! Here's a few pics of what we saw on the way.
Bluebonnets in Sweetwater. After our 2009 trip and this one, my sister and I sure do know where alot of DQs and Sonics are in our fair state!
Saw lots of these!
And finally, we were blessed with this...
We called ahead to the motel to let them know about when we'd be arriving and at 9pm when we got there, a gracious lady greeted us with our room key and gave us directions to our room. We got our suitcases out of the car then promptly dug out two Shiners, chips and salsa and sat on the porch enjoying a star-filled sky. We slept with the windows open with a delightful breeze. We got up the next day and took a few pictures. This place is a lot more than a motel. They have weddings and special events here. They have a small catering kitchen for food prep and storage along with a patio, plaza/courtyard area with a fantastic fireplace and even their own smoker! Here's what the place looks like.
Rooms/buildings were duplexes, each with its own bathroom.
And the smoker
The motel also offered RV and tentcamping. There was a bathhouse for those who wanted to use it. There was a small apartment on top that could be rented. Even had a flatscreen TV in the breezeway between the bathroom/shower area and the laundry. Nice!
Some pretty nice tile work on the inside!
If my memory serves me correctly, you actually have to go west through town past the Hwy 385 turn to get to the motel so we checked out, went back into town, had a great breakfast burrito and then got on our way.
Before going to the park, we went down FM 2627 to stop at the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. Before the entrance, we passed 2 Brewster Cty sheriffs and 2 Border Patrol types checking out a burned out SUV about 20 yds off the road. Looked pretty fresh. My sister and I assumed (!) it had to do with drugs so just kept on driving - no need to gawk!
This was the 'gateway' to the Rio Grande, 18 miles away.
Lack of time really prevented us from any exploring down the road so after a quick look in the registration shed where you self-pay the fees and a look-see of the two campsites at the front of the area (covered picnic tables and decent area to pitch a tent or two and a shared clivis outhouse) we left and drove to the end of the road. The crossover was closed and there was an ancient payphone still there. Yes, we tried it and yes, no dial tone! We left and headed out to 385. We did stop at Stillwell's for an ice cream and soda. They offer showers, $4 for a shower with a towel, and $3 without a towel. I saw those towels on the shelf. I will take my own when I camp down there!
Forty minutes or so later, we stopped in the Panther Junction visitors' station to get our primitive permit. After a brief wait in line, a nice lady said we'd need to talk to another ranger for the permit. Out comes this big, sort of burly guy, sizing up these two women, one blonde and one silver haired. Then the inquisition began! I knew he just wanted to make sure we were prepared and I assumed he did it to everyone! His first question was what was the number one rule in the park. Took me 3 trys but finally - no ground fires. Ding ding ding! He proceeded to tell us we could use charcoal but only in a small grill like a hibachi or Weber Little Smokey. Well heck, left that sucker at home! He seemed pleased that I knew about the burn ban. Then he started in on what kind of car I had. Just a Toyota Corolla?!! I told him we had driven it into BBRSP the year before when we camped there so that got me some props and when I told him where I wanted to camp, he knew I had done my homework. There is only a handful of low clearance, 2-wheel drive sites available and I had asked for one of them. After a few more ?s including the poo question (cat holes are permitted if far enough from a camp or water source), he deemed us worthy and gave us a coveted green tag!!! 3 nights for 10 bucks - can't beat that with a stick. So off we went, in the heat of the day to set up camp - ha!
Here's the sign and our setup.
We were in a very open area, no real wind break to speak of and it seemed to blow quite a bit. When we went to bed or left camp, we lowered the EZ up so it would not catch as much wind. We thought we were pretty clever for thinking of that. I must say, it was a true learning experience to put the shelter up. I am pretty sure the name EZ Up only applies after you've put it up a few times. We could have easily called it the 'Oh Sh#t' shade shelter before we finally got it up!!! In the morning we had a lovely view of the mountains.
We had the first spot on Paint Gap Rd. During our 3 days there, we only saw 4 cars, unfortunately for me, the last one was while I was washing my hair, wearing only a pair of sandals. While my sister tried to shield me from the occupants, there's only so much you can do. But hey, I didn't give a rat's patoot - I'd never see them again!
We were concerned about putting our cookstove on the plastic tabletop. After a bit of thinking, we got out some pavers and put them underneath the stove. No worries now!
Stove set-up and dinner our first night.
Have I mentioned the incredible thunder and lightning storm we had our first night? By the time we had turned in for the night it was blowing and lightning seemed to be flashing frequently off in the distance. It seemed that the clap and flash were getting closer together and I was getting concerned. Once I could feel the hair on my arms standing up. I heard something hitting the tent but it didn’t sound like rain. No, not rain but hail! That got me concerned about it ripping the tent material!
I yelled to my sister if we had another close flash and clap, we should head to the car to ride the storm out. Barely got the words out, then bang! I yelled let's go and off we went. Unfortunately, 10 ft from the car, I tripped over a big log acting as a car stop and fell flat on the ground, getting soaked. No harm there because well, I was wearing the same type of outfit I had on when I washed my hair! I had a sweatshirt to put on in the car and since I fell on it, it was dry! We were in the car for 45 minutes before the thunder and lightning really let up. The tents were still standing and still dry inside so we hunkered down with tents blowing and drifted off to sleep.
On Monday we headed out to the Rio Grande Village area.
At the scenic overlook
Our second day we drove to the Chisos Basin area and the Sotel overlook. My sister had a pinched nerve in her right foot and that really limited our activities. No hiking but lots of driving. We went to Castolon and fortunately asked the park ranger about the drive to Santa Elena Canyon. Seems the road was flooded about 6 miles out and my little low clearance vehicle wouldn't be up to the challenge. We decided not to drive out just to see if he was right so no pics!
I realized others have posted similar pics but I just don't get tired of them - hope you don't either!
View of the Window
As we drove back up the road, I squealed with excitement. Remember Beve's Guad Mtns NP post and the picture of the Madrone tree? Well what do you know?! There were a couple at the side of the road. If I hadn't read his post, I would not have noticed this tree! The bark was indeed so smooth. No berries to be seen but no biggie!
On to the Sotol Overlook. Only one little shade tree so we had a picnic lunch sitting on the sidewalk in what little shade there was. We had this million dollar view while eating and both of us wowed by what we saw.
The notch in the middle of the picture below is Santa Elena Canyon
Big Bend Bluebonnets
Outside of that bad storm Sunday night, our weather was pretty good during the day but even Monday night was overcast so that just left Tuesday night for a chance to see the stars. We drove into Terlingua and had dinner at the Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Bar. The restrooms were in a separate building with little signs that said 'If it's brown flush it down, if it's yellow let it mellow'. I am glad I stopped in after the meal!
I had chicken fried antelope and my sister had salmon. Both of us had margaritas on the rocks. Yummy!
When we got back to camp, the stars were out in full force. We broke out a couple of Shiners and sat and sat staring at all the stars. A great way to end our time at the park.
Next morning we packed up and headed to South Llano River State Park. It started raining at Marathon and rained continually until we got to the park. At the low water crossing, we saw a scarlet tanager and said it must be a sign that the rain would let up. We cruised the campsites available and chose one with a shelter over the picnic table and got my sister's tent out and set it up. It just continued to rain and her tent has a big mesh top so it got plenty wet on the inside. We put it up first in case we didn't want to put mine up and hers could hold the both of us with our airbeds. Sitting at the picnic table, almost completely drenched, I asked if we had any beer left. She came back with the last one so we shared it. She said if it didn't stop raining in 45 minutes, she would pay for a motel room in town. Ten minutes later I'm asking her if we had to wait 45 minutes!!! We have both camped in the rain so neither of us felt compelled to prove that we could at our age. So off we went. This is our campsite in town!
I went to Lum's and got plenty of cue for dinner and with the sound of a steady rain, we crawled into bed and said night, night! Next morning, it's still raining. We went back to the park, took her tent down, wadded it and the groundcover up and stuffed it in a cooler to bring it home. We decided we'd like to enjoy our remaining time together in a dry environment so we decided to go home. It rained all the way to Fredricksburg where I took the turn to Rt 16, headed north and proceeded to take my sister on the Willow City Loop to see the bluebonnets. The rain turned into just a light drizzle and wow! what beautiful bluebonnets!!! And tons of them!!! I've taken this loop before and sure didn't remember that many blooms. We turned back onto 16 and headed north. And so, the rain picked up again. We drove for a while and my sister suddenly says "We're going there aren't we?" I had to laugh! She's only been here once before and she knew where we were. We were in Llano and it was lunchtime. LOL! Had some great but pricy 'cue at Cooper's and then took Hwy 29 straight east to I-35 and headed north. It was still raining. It didn't stop raining until we got just north of Temple. We were both sick of it! I think it was Earl who posted about his trip to SLRSP with his sons and how much rain they had there that weekend. We decided we made the right choice, for us anyway! Got home, unpacked the car and hung up the tent to dry. Spent the last two days watching movies, reading, playing cards and just relaxing. Put her on the plane Sunday afternoon and I stopped at my storage unit to put away my camping gear. That is, everything but the cooler, the tent and the ground cover - took that to my aunt and uncle’s to clean them up and let them dry out.
Another great sister trip!
Wondering about next year? VIP passes to Memphis in May for the BBQ cook-off! We are camping at a state park not far from there. She is driving down and I am driving up. Should be fun!
Thanks for staying with me. Figured I might as well post it all and get it out of my system!