We officially started our trip on Saturday morning, 3/12/11.
For me, Bill, it started on Friday, 3/11/11, and it didn’t start well. We drove to the local Cat Scale (a truck weigh facility) about 15 miles from the house. The truck seemed to struggle the whole way there. Nothing seemed right. The brakes on the trailer seemed anemic, the suspension seemed to complain at ever bump, and our weight was 350# over max. Maximum combined truck and trailer weight is supposed to be 21,000#. We weighed in at 21,350#. From reading and research of hot shot drivers and what they were comfortable with driving Dodge one tons, I thought if I could keep our weight less than a 1,000# over maximum, I’d be ok. With how the truck/trailer combo acted to/from the scale, I changed my mind.
Upon returning to home base, we stripped everything we could from our rig. Tools, books, canned goods, bottled water/juice, clothes, everything. I think it probably got us just under our limit.
Sister Virginia made the 3.5 hour drive up from St. Pete to our home base in Live Oak to say farewell and see us off.
Saturday morning we left, in spite of my reservations. The truck pulled the load quite well. But, I had let the whole situation worry me sick and give me a good case of upset stomach. It took two solid days of the truck handling the task it was assigned with no complaint to set my stomach at ease.
We logged 624 miles the first day, stopping at a Walmart in Jennings, LA for our first official night on the road. The big hurdle of the day was Mobile Alabama and it’s under the bay tunnel. There was a question in my mind about our being able to make the tunnel in the RV. I wasn’t able to go through the tunnel when returning from purchasing the RV in Oklahoma, but apparently that was a different route. Mobile was an unnecessary worry, as was the truck’s ability to handle the chore of pulling the RV.
The Jennings Walmart was a welcomed sight, as I was exhausted. We pulled in, and crashed, pronto. Donna on the couch, me on the un-extended bed, as putting out the slides is considered in poor taste when staying in a Walmar parking lot. As we were preparing to leave, all the last minute “stuff” was just thrown into the RV. On our first and second, night, we just had to deal with the clutter. Once we reached a site were extending the slides was possible, then we’d store the last minute baggage. Until that time we just had to live with it.
The other thing that was resolved that day was where the cat was going to travel. For the first 100 miles, she rode in the truck. After that, I was in the mood to try something a little less tense, at least on me. I tossed her in the RV and said “figure it out”. On the first stop I had to coax her out, but she was fine. On the next stop, she greeted me at the door. Now, we live in her RV.
So, we wake up our first morning in a Walmart parking lot. I’ll admit, Walmart hasn’t been one of my favorite corporate citizens. But, with free overnight parking, inexpensive provisioning, discount gas and friendly helpful staff, they are starting to grow on me. We stock up and hit the road.
Day two, 526 miles, stop in Del Rio, TX, Walmart parking lot, again. Same results, friendly helpful staff, cheap provision, cheap diesel, free spot to crash. What’s not to like about that? During the night I figure it’s time to touch base with the National Park to see about a site for the next night. First major Murphy’s Law situation (other than the refrigeration went out on the first day), turns out we arrive at the beginning of Spring Break and every campground within 500 miles is packed. As much as my plan was to avoid commercial camp grounds, we were force to stay at Stillwell Ranch Camp Ground.
Our first relaxing stop was somewhere west of Del Rio. We pulled in to a dumpy looking place for fuel and noticed they had an apparently popular hot lunch to go table, Tex Mex style. We took a chance and ended up with some very tasty grub at a very nice road side stop, probable just west of Langtry on highway 90. The fun has started.
Now, in defense of Stillwell Ranch, I’d heard good reviews from other’s about it, but I wasn’t convinced of it’s character. We had no choice, Stillwell it was. Stillwell Ranch is what’s left, after being divided by three to the children, of the original Stillwell Ranch. I don’t doubt if one does an internet search of Stillwell Ranch, or Hallie Stillwell, there will be a history of the place. Stillwell has three choices: Full service, clustered around the store and restrooms. Water and electric service across the street in a big open gravel lot. Primitive disbursed camping, no water or electric, but nicely scattered in the desert. We chose the mid range and having electric on the hot afternoons was nice. $17.50 per day. Here is where my camera died. This is the first late afternoon of the college groups tents. Approaching Stillwell from the north one passes through a slot cut into a steep ridge. While the college group was around it was quite the colorful approach with all the tents. Unfortunately, this is the only shot.
When we arrived the first couple of days were cool and windy, with cold nights. After the first couple of days the afternoons were hot, but the nights are still cool.
We have no phone, TV or internet service. I finally figured out if I camp out in front of the store I can connect to the internet. It’s interesting to watch ourselves deal with our different addictions, Donna TV and phone, me internet. I can’t say either one of us in any less addicted to our poison.
Big Bend National Park has been quite the experience, so far. The distances are vast, the terrain unfriendly, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. For now we’re primarily limited to driving as the dog is not welcomed on the trails, but I’m not so sure with the vastness of the park that driving is not the best option.
We entered on State Road 385. The main junction is Panther Junction, approx 26 miles from the entrance. At that point we turned south to the “Rio Grande Village”. This apparently was an original white settler village area. The highlight of the area, were the irrigation ditches dug by some of the original settlers to the area to irrigate crops.
A little farther south is Boquillas Canyon with numerous hiking trail heads and an overlook of the Rio Grande. As we approached the turn-around at the overlook, it was apparent there were walking sticks and art work left, with collection buckets, on the stones overlooking the river. When we got out to check out what was going on, a Mexican guy on a wet horse approached to check the collection buckets. Apparently, the small town of Boquillas was cut off from the US do to the “war on drugs” thing. Before being cut off, it was normal for them to cross the river to do work and sell goods, then return home to Boquillas. The officials definitely frown on them coming across the river to trade, but the locals seem to have no problem with it. I happily bought a walking stick from the man on the horse, then watched him wade back across the river to Mexico.
We took the long route out of the park to return to the RV, a total of 260 miles.
Life here in the desert, in the early spring, is beautiful. The layout is a range of mountains (5,000' to 7,000') with a 20 to 30 mile desert valley in between. We're camped right at the base of the mountain range just north of Big Bend National Park. Night time is cool, mornings and late afternoon are beautiful. If one is in the shade, the afternoon heat is quite bearable. Lots of Javalinas to be seen. Road Runners. Coyotes howl in the night when I take my pre-dawn dog walk. Some of the trees are starting to bloom and sprout, in spite of no rain for 9 months. The bees and birds around these blooming desert plants are amazing to listen to.
By Friday the park had pretty much cleared out. There are still a half dozen or so RVs in the full service area. I don’t think there are any primitive campers left. We are the only Rv in the large dusty lot that serves as the “partial service” area. There were two large groups of college students, maybe 150 in all, camping in packs of colorful tents with catered breakfast and lunch. They were on a class assignment and appeared to be exhausted each evening upon returning from the days desert activities. They all cheerfully left Friday morning. It is now Sunday morning, our planned day of departure.We had a nice meal Saturday afternoon looking out across the desert. These views were what I was dreaming about. The evening was spectacular, full moon rising over the ridge just before our trailer. Cool, cool desert breeze blowing. Different packs of coyotes howling back and forth. A fitting finale to our first official stop.