A Travellerspoint blog

Day 161 - Rockhounding In New Mexico (Photo's Added)

Mom & I try our hands at Rockhounding. New Mexico has a State Park that allows you to collect up to 15 pounds of whatever you can find...

sunny 68 °F

Our objective today was Rockhound State Park near Deming, New Mexico. This is a view of the Visitor's Center and the valley behind it.


Before we left Wal-mart in El Paso, I had checked the hardware department for a small (cheap) pick ax. None to be found, I purchases a small (fortunately inexpensive) shovel. It turned out to be a waste of money for this trip anyway, maybe a serious rockhounder would have used it, but we didn't need it. At any event, I thought I might need a tool. We didn't know exactly what we'd find there, Mom had visions of diamonds and rubys flying about her head. I figured we wouldn't know a gem if we saw one (in the rough that is), but would have some fun and maybe come home with something 'pretty'. When we first got to the park, the visitors center was closed, so we decided to locate a campsite first.We were fortunate to arrive just after some campers had checked out of one of the outside campsites. It overlooks one of the small peaks in the park and has an unobstructed view.


There was a small pedistal & plaque showing some of the Gemstones that could be found at Rockhound SP. Unfortunately, someone had defaced it badly and several samples were missing, but I could read enough to get an idea. The park has many types of jasper and rhyolite, agate, onyx, obsidian, geodes and some other black stones whose name I've forgotten. The geodes are mostly found about 1/2 way up a very steep hill, far beyond Mom's climbing ability. However, one of the path's looked quite level and suitable for her skills. The Jasper and Rhyolite are all over the place as well as a couple of the types of black rocks. Mom walked out about 100 yards and picked up some rocks. I also picked up quite a few, probably nothing valuable but I certainly had fun trying to find as many different kinds of rocks as I could.


By then the Visitor's Center was open, so we spent some time there also. They had a nice Cactus Garden outside and several diarama's inside about desert life as well as examples of geodes and other rocks found in the park. (I still don't think I'd recognize many of them 'in the rough'.) Mom was kind enough to pose for me by the flagpole. (And I must apologize for some of the pictures today - somehow I'd switched the camera settings without noticing, so several shots were overexposed. Perhaps my software could correct this, but I'm not that advanced an editor yet.)


After she was done, I hiked about 1/2 up a very steep slope and collected a few more rocks. Mostly there is a lot of Jasper here - in several configurations. On the mountain side they also have Geodes, but you need a pick ax, lots of time, and a lot more muscle then I've got to find them. I did learned I'm not in good enough shape to be a rockhounder! If you look closely on the right side of this picture, about in the middle, you can see a whitish spot - this is where one of the geode seams is. This is also as far as I could make it up the mountain, I tried to go a little further, but my knee's said that was far enough. (And, it's a lot steeper than it looks!)


While I did not find any geodes on the mountain, I did find something even better - real rockhounders - hounding! It was interesting talking with them about their hobby while they pounded away. They weren't finding any geodes either so were a little disappointed in the park. I was happy just to find a few 'pretty' rocks (my criteria for what's important). Gary (on the left) was kind enough to share a couple of nice specimines he'd found. Sue & Maurice & ? (on the right) had pounded at the wall for some time without luck, so were just about ready to pack it in for the night. (These are thumbnails, click to enlarge.)


So tonight, we're both very tired - physically, but otherwise fine. We're planning to head backwards a bit tomorrow and go to Alamogordo and visit the White Sands Missile Range and a Rocket & Space Museum. We've decided to head north first, then cross over to AZ around mid-state and visit the canyons (Canyon de Chelly & Grand Canyon) before heading back down to Phoenix, then CA.

They seem to grow a lot of nuts in New Mexico (Pecan's and Pistachio's), so we'll probably try to pick some up along the way.

So it's off to finish up the Big Bend blog entry... Here's a nice sunset shot from Rockhound SP to leave you with...



Miles Driven - 126, Cumulative - 15649
Camped at Rockhound SP, Site #6, near Deming NM

Provisions Obtained - Small Shovel (Wal-mart)
Several Geode Seconds from a rock shop near park (just in case we didn't find any, which we didn't)

Posted by jl98584 18:02 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Day 160 - Passing Thru El Paso (Photo's Added)

We skipped Fort Davis and headed straight for El Paso, not much in between I'm afraid

sunny 64 °F

After rechecking the tourist brochures and map, I found that the road north from Fort Davis is a steep, winding mountain road, not recommended for RV's. I think we could have made it, but since Mom is afraid of cliffs and it would have been pretty slow going, I elected to head west on Hwy 90 to El Paso instead. I know there's not much to see on I-10 in West Texas, but little did I know Hwy 90 was as bad, if not worse.

This is the first day on the trip so far where we didn't find anything of consequence to stop for. We did stop at a couple of roadside markers, but nothing worth mentioning. For the most part, we just kept driving. At one point we saw a really odd shape ahead in the distance that I thought might have been a hot air balloon, but as we continued driving, it seemed to be moving away too fast to be a balloon. We probably drove 15 or 20 minutes with it staying just far enough away that we couldn't tell what it was. Then finally, it turned and started going down (it wasn't very high to begin with, maybe a few hundred feet?) As we got closer, we could tell that it was some sort of blimp. It appeared to be docking at this white disk shaped structure. As we passed the entrance to the installation, the sign identified it as an Air Force Base. My guess is that this has something to do with Border Patrol.


Shortly after passing the AF Base, we passed a sign about the Marfa Lights. This is some sort of phenomenon where red lights appear on the desert for no explained reason. The county has set up a viewing platform, but since it was daytime when we passed through, there was nothing to observe for us. The town of Marfa is a little interesting also. However, the museum was closed when we stopped by, so we took a few pictures of the architecture (Church, City Hall and Hotel) and moved on.


After passing Marfa, there was very little else to see. We drove through a small town called Lobo, with no services. Some buildings were occupied, but it also had a lot of abandoned buildings and appeared almost to be a ghost town. Mostly we just drove through desert - brown, dry desert. Occasionally we saw pivot irrigation systems and cattle. Once we actually spotted an antelope! It seems these were almost hunted into extinction (in Texas that is), but they are starting to make a comeback. I had been wondering why we hadn't seen hardly any wildlife in Texas - but we have seen a lot of hunter's blinds.


This was pretty much it. We made it to El Paso this evening after a hard days drive (237 miles in leaky old boat). I'm not sure why this bothered me, I've always liked deserts and solitude in the past, but for some reason, both Mom and I are tired of seeing so much brown desert. Perhaps we just enjoyed the ocean and beaches for so long as we followed the east coast down to Florida, then back up along the gulf that I'd forgotten how to relax and enjoy the quiet and great expanse of the old west. For the moment at least, I miss the coastal birds, tree's and water.


Miles Driven - 226
Camped at El Paso Wal-mart

Provisions Obtained: Propane ($8.68), Gas $26.85, 9.26 gallons at 125,287 and $23.68, 8.46 gallons at 125,400

Wildlife - Hawk, antelope
Domestic - Cattle, Horses, Sheep

Posted by jl98584 19:05 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Day 158-159 - Big Bend Nat'l Park (Photo's Added)

This park follows the Rio Grand River as it bends around the southern tip of Texas.

sunny 72 °F

We visited Big Bend National Park for two days, which wasn't nearly enough (as usual - this trip had turned out to be more of an overview than an in-depth journey. This Country is just too big to see it all in one trip!)

We left from Marathon fairly early in the morning. It was below freezing last night, but warmed up as the day wore on (or as we got farther south, I'm not sure which). We had a 70 mile drive to get to the park entrance, part of which was through cattle country. We still haven't seen any more longhorns in Texas, other then the two we saw near San Antonio. However I thought the colors on this animal were worth a picture - just an idea of some of the things we see along the trip...


Shortly after this, we noticed some really odd looking mountains (hills?). They were so odd, I stopped to take a couple of pictures. I guess I wasn't the only one curious about them, just after we got back on the road we passed a sign explaining the geology. It says the highly deformed rocks are part of the Ouachita Fold Belt, which uplifted between 275 -290 million years ago. This is about the same time the Appalachians were formed, so would seem to be a rather active period in the earths history. This is similar to the sign we saw along a highway cut yesterday to describe some weird, vertical rock veins. We have since learned that the geology of SW Texas is a big deal and a lot of people come down here to study it. I suspect it's partly because everything is so barren that rock formations can be easily seen. In any case, it was odd seeing such old rock formations together with newer formations, just an odd mix.


The further south we drove, the more desert like the scenery became. Finally, we rounded a corner and came across the park entrance at Persimmon Pass.


We quickly learned just how large the park is - after you enter the park, there is an expansive vista that seems to go on for miles (probably about 100, not an exageration). The main valley in the park is about 40 miles wide. There are three distinct regions - the Chihuahuan Desert, the Rio Grand River Valley, and the Chisos Mountains & Bason. The park is very large at over 800,000 acres in size, and while I don't know the exact proportions, I would estimate that the Desert regions take up at least 95% of the park.

The Chihuahuan Desert is one of four deserts in the United States. It also extends over 300 miles into Mexico. Some of the cacti in the park are unique to this desert, so we won't see them again in the Sonoran Desert for example (which we'll be in shortly when we get to AZ). Likewise, the Saguaro Cactus grows in the Sonoran Desert, but not in the Chihuahuan.


Mom & I drove the 26 miles from the entrance down to the main visitors center at Panther Junction. We stopped often for roadside signs ("Interpretive Exhibits") or just things that looked interesting. We decided not to try any of the many gravel side roads (today at least) since the RV isn't really an off road vehicle. After Panther Junction, we decided to drive down to the Rio Grande Village. Visiting the river has been one of our objectives for some time so we wanted to try to camp there for the night. Rio Grande Village is another 20 miles past Panther Junction, so it did take us most of the day (with a few stops) just to get there.

Once we found a campsite, we decided to take the Nature Walk just a short distance from where we parked. Mom took her walker and actually made it a couple hundred yards down the trail! The first part of the walk was over a board path across a beaver pond. (The pond was created by Bank Beavers, different sort of thing then beavers who build elaborate dens.) After we passed the pond however, the trail turned to loose dirt/sand/gravel and became quite uneven. Mom went some distance on it anyway, but it was just too difficult for a walker so she decided to wait for me there. I didn't want to make her wait too long, so decided to take just a short spur to see the river, then head back. The spur wasn't as short as we'd been told, but I did find the river and a few other things and we made it back to camp fine. I went back up a different direction on the trail later in the evening to watch the sunset from the top of the hill (with several other campers).

I took so many pictures that it would be less confusing to just group them by topic (birds, mountains, cacti) rather then try to show them in the order they were taken. Besides, if I didn't do it this way, this blog entry would be 100 pages long! Since neither of us have time for that - let's see how the groups work?

The geology and mountains around the park are one of the big attractions, so here are some of my scenery shots (thumbnails of course, click to enlarge and get more descriptions).


These are some of the Del Carmen cliffs across the Rio Grande River in Mexico. The small village is Boquillas.


Most of the birds we saw were in the Rio Grand Village area. However there were birds in other areas of the park, which I took pictures of if they would sit still for me... Big Bend NP is supposed to be one of the best places for birding, but we didn't see that many. Several campers were complaining about this, so I suspect it had more to do with the cold weather than our bad birding skills. These were the ones we did see (and were able to capture) however. (Note: I spent quite a bit of time looking up the (hopefully) correct names for these, so if you see one that's incorrectly identified, please let me know.) ... and yes, I know a butterfly isn't a bird, but it didn't seem to fit anywhere else.


We also didn't see that many animals in the park. When we first got to the campground, a Coyote was walking by our campsite, but he took off just as I got the camera out. We also saw several rabbits and I did get some pictures of those, but they aren't that good and I figure you know what a rabbit looks like. I saw a lizard on the second day - and got a shot of it, but didn't bother to upload it (too many pic's already). However, you might like to see this one - these were on the cliffs across the river on the Mexican side and were very far away (barely visible). Between the 12x zoom and some major cropping, you should be able to see several goats in here.


Here is what the Rio Grande River looks like when it passes through Big Bend. It is almost dry by the time it gets to El Paso Texas, farther upstream, however is replenished somewhat by the Pecos and a Mexican River. I'm sure this is just a shadow of what it used to be before we started taking so much water out for agriculture and human consumption.


And of course, what would any desert travel be without cacti (and this is only a small sample of the pictures I took of the many different species of cacti in Big Bend NP)? The Park Ranger told us there are 30 different kinds of Prickly Pear Cactus, and 27 of them grow in the park. We also saw cacti other then Yucca and Prickly Pear, maybe I can add a few more photo's eventually.


One area of the park where we also stopped was the Fossil Exhibit. The plexiglass on the exhibit was too scratched to try to take pictures through, but I was able to get a shot of the area. Also, someone had left a fossil in the parking lot (you're not supposed to take anything from a NP), so I got a picture of it.


Finally, I have to make a confession. My cousin dropped us a comment with some really good advice about what to see and do (and not do) in the park. I remembered part of it, but didn't bother to write it down or take notes figuring I'd recheck it once we got there. Then of course, there was no internet signal in the park (cell service), so I had to rely on my really faulty memory. Also I didn't feel we should stay more then a couple of days for several reasons - so had to limit what we tried to do. One thing my cousin said we should not try to visit was the Hot Springs. I did remember this, but also had never seen a hot springs so was just too curious to pass it by. The road was not good for RV's, but we made it as far as the first parking lot where there was a sign forbidding RV's from going any farther. I figured it wasn't too much farther so decided to hoof it while Mom waited in the RV (She has a number of things she can do on occasions such as this, as well as a cold fridge and all the amenities of a small apartment). It was much farther then I expected, but the hot springs are really neat. Here are a couple of shots from the walk and the springs.


Also, because we spent so much time at Rio Grande Village (Nature Walk and the drive down), then the hot springs on day 2), we decided we didn't also have time to visit the Chisos Basin nor take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Ugh. Major things missed there - if I ever go back, I'll make sure to fit these in first. (If I do ever go back, I'll try to shoot for a little later in spring when things will be in bloom, but at least the temperature wasn't too hot by visiting when we did). So anyway, I'm sorry I didn't listen to my cousins advice better, I still appreciate the effort however!

My objective was to get to Alpine, Texas tonight - about 70 miles north of Big Bend. When we left the park, there was one last "Interpretive Exhibit" at the exit - for a vista of the Badlands and area to the west of the park.


Before I turned North however, Mom said she wanted to visit a Ghost Town shown on the map. She said it was only 5 miles further and I agreed that it was still early enough we could probably fit it in. (Chisos Basin was only six miles, so we could have made it there instead, but at that time I hadn't been so sure how much longer it would take us to get out of the park. I do wish we'd seen it, it might be some time before we see real tree's again.)

Anyway we got to Terlingua and found a rather odd place for a ghost town. This was once a mining town for Cinnabar, which is an ore for Mercury. As many as 2,000 people lived here. However, when the mine was closed in the 1940's, the town was abandoned - making it a ghost town. Since the 1970's people started moving back in however as an arts community (and tourist trap). There are enough broken down buildings still around that make it an interesting stop, but I think Langtry has a better claim to the ghost status.


So, with that we gassed up and headed north (I also got gas in the Park once - just to be on the safe side). Again, I should have taken better notes of my cousins suggestions I didnt' really consider going to Presidio first. Our map showed the road to Alpine was a 'scenic route' so we thought we'd give it a try. I guess it was somewhat scenic, in a dry, rocky deserty kind of way. We did make it to Alpine (later than I'd like, but not too bad). Tonight (2/7) we are at Lost Alaska RV Campground in Alpine, TX - about 70 miles north of the western entrance to Big Bend NP.

Not sure whether we're going to go to Fort Davis tomorrow or just head up to El Paso. We'll see tomorrow...


(will work on these later, so many pictures and such a slow internet connection, I'm already not getting much sleep tonight.)

Posted by jl98584 20:07 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

Day 157 - Del Rio Westward, Across the Pecos (Photo's Added)

We drove west through a strong, gusting headwind all day and still managed some sightseeing!

sunny 0 °F

When we got up, it was mostly overcast. The clouds blew over quickly however and the rest of the day was mostly sunny. We weren't totally spared from the huge storm system however; we got lots and lots of wind - gusty, strong headwinds. I drove between 35 and 40 mph most of the day, not good for making progress but as long as I kept my speed down, we did OK. Tonight it's really cold (around freezing) and should be cold tomorrow, but after that it's forecasted to warm up again.

Amistad Nat'l Recreation Area was just a couple of miles from where we camped. This was created by a dam across the Rio Grande River that is shared by both Mexico and the United States. The dam created a huge reservoir that is used for water sports, especially fishing. Mom & I drove down to one of the boat launch ramps but didn't see any birds, probably due to the high winds. We visited the Visitor's Center, but didn't see the need to spend any more time at the lake since we're not into fishing. It was also a little too windy to spend time at a lake (unless you're into aerobic wind surfing, kiteboarding, or some such thing).

A few miles further on we found Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site. The Historic Site refers to extensive prehistoric pictographs in rock shelters found throughout the parks canyons. Due to their sensitive nature, you can only see the pictographs during ranger guided hikes. However, the Park Visitor's Center contains an excellant museum with a lot of information about the types of people who lived in the area prior to European settlement, how they lived, and also a full size replica of some of the pictographs. Since Mom can't hike very well, the Museum suited us just fine. In back, there is also a nifty overlook of part of the larger canyons.


(Somehow, I didn't even think to take pictures inside the Museum). Just outside the Visitor's Center are several plants that are native to this area. Each one has a nifty sign by it to help Visitor's like us learn what the plants are. Mom is posing by a Huisache Tree. In the middle is a Century Plant, followed by a Yucca - very common in West Texas.


One more windmill picture (for Becky?), I promise no more. This one is nice because it clearly shows why they still use a lot of windmills in Texas. There is a water cistern just below the windmill. Many ranches in Texas are quite large. There aren't any streams or ponds in most areas, so ranchers use wells to get water to the livestock. They use a windmill to pump the water rather run electricity all over open range. This tank is adobe brick, but many are cement or steel.


After we left Seminole State Park, we continued heading west into a strong headwind. This was a little stressful, so when I saw a sign for a roadside picnic area I decided to pull over. This turned out to be the overlook for the Peco's River High Bridge. The Peco's River has very sheer cliffs on both sides, forming a deep canyon for some 60 miles. The picture doesn't show it, but the wind was blowing at least 40+ mph here and it was a bit scary just trying to get out and take pictures anywhere near the edge. The bridge is 1,310' long and is 273' above the water. This is the highest highway bridge in Texas and the 13th highest in the US. (By contrast, the Golden Gate Bridge is 220' above the water and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is 200' above water.)


Looking in the opposite direction from the bridge, you can actually see the Pecos River run into the Rio Grande River(on the far left below).


Shortly after taking these pictures, we drove across the Pecos High Bridge, in a strong cross wind, very slowly.

A few miles after we crossed the bridge, we came to the town of Langtry. The wind was still blowing quite hard, I just threw in this shot to give you some idea. These flags were quite stiff, they hardly flapped at all.


I had picked up a brochure about this being the home of Judge Roy Bean. When we first came into Texas, the man at the Visitor's Center didn't recommend this stop, but we were here and there weren't any more towns for some time, so we stopped. Langtry also has a Texas State Visitor's Center and a museum about Judge Roy Bean (really just a few exhibits along the back of the center). Two people staff the center, which is odd when you learn that there are only 15 people in Langtry! Yes, population = 15. Since this town isn't at the border of anything (Mexico is across the river, but there are no legal crossing points) - the only reason I can think of for this is that the State has taken pity on the poor little town?

Anyway, the area behind the Visitor's Center has a couple of acres fenced in. This is where the actual Saloon & Billards Room for Judge Bean is located, which he called "The Jersey Lilly" in honor of the English Actress Lilly Langtry with whom he was infatuated.


The State of Texas restored the saloon, but it has the look and feel of a very old, late 1800's wild west saloon - complete with gaps between the wall boards.


It seems that West Texas was a very wild and lawless place in the late 1800's. The State decided to appoint a district Judge to try to bring some order to the place, and Roy Bean was one of the few men around with a business, his saloon. Most other people in the area were either outlaws, cowhands or temporary workers building the Southern Pacific Railroad and living in tent cities.

The State gave Judge Bean a large book of Texas laws, but he pretty much ran things the way he wanted. He had been something of a rascal before being appointed Judge, and while he did help bring some law & order into the area, he also tended to interpret or make up the law as he saw fit. Later he built this house for himself, but called it "The Opera House".


The rest of the fenced in area behind the Visitor's Center consists of a Cactus Garden. These were all very well laid out and marked, not just what kind of cactus or plant it was - but also how it was used. This is just a small sample to give you an idea of some of the variety in their garden. (Click to get descriptions)


After I took pictures of most of the other plants and signs in the garden, Mom and I decided to drive through Langtry and try to get a better view of the Rio Grande River. The Visitor's Center staff had said the main cross street had a good view the river. We quickly saw what happens to a town once most people leave it. Once the trains no longer needed a water & fueling station, the town didn't really have much need to exist, so there isn't much left. IMHO, they could probably drum up a little more business if they called themselves a 'Ghost Town', this is pretty much what most of it looks like:


We did get a better view of the cliffs from the end of the road, but couldn't see the Rio Grande. There was a gravel road that led down the hill, but I decided it wasn't worth driving an RV down it, especially since we'd have other chances to see the river. The cliffs were pretty cool however (these are in Mexico since they're on the other side of the river).


There is still one functioning gas station in Langtry (I am following my cousin's advice and buying gas pretty much at every opportunity in West Texas!) The sign was damaged a bit by today's wind, but the station was open and I filled up. The owner told me that as far as he knows, this has been in continuous operation since 1929! (They probably don't get enough rain down here to rust old underground tanks.)


So all gassed up, we drove on to Marathon. This will be our jumping off point to drive to Big Bend in the morning. On the way we passed another roadside sign (they call them 'Historical Markers' here, but they use that term generously. Often they are 'Points of Interest', not necessarily historical - IMHO. Either way is fine, we'd still probably stop). This is the first roadside marker I've seen describing the geology, but it's a pretty big topic down here. In this case, the vertical rock bands on the sides of the hill cut away for the highway are part of the "Denuded Ouachita Rock Belt", an upthrust of about 290 million years ago.


In Marathon, we found a great RV campground with wi-fi and bundled up for the night (forecast calls for it to dip below freezing tonight). I don't know if I'll have a signal down in Big Bend NP, it's pretty remote. If you don't hear from us for a day or two, we're probably fine - just unplugged.


Miles Driven - 174
Camped at RV Campground in Marathon, Texas (69 miles from Big Bend NP)

Posted by jl98584 22:17 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Day 156 - Taking Hwy 90 to Del Rio (Photo's Added)

We left San Antonio and drove to Del Rio today. We saw a lot of birds and a few, small curious things - then found Alamo Village. Wow!

sunny 82 °F

We had a good time visiting my sister and her family and as always, it was hard to leave the good company. But we also have a trip to finish so said our 'good-by's' and prepared to head off. We had parked across a small drainage ditch that ran alongside the road and when I backed out, I turned at too sharp an angle and buried the wheel's on Mom's walker into the side of the ditch (Ouch!). The dirt wasn't too hard, so most of the walker was OK, but one wheel was jammed. I was too annoyed (with myself) to try to fix it there, so decided to try to fix it when we got to the next campground.

San Antonio is a very large, modern city, with a maze of streets and freeways laid out in a very confusing mess (to the non locals of course). Not wanting to be hopelessly lost forever, I went ahead and fired up the GPS software long enough to get us out of town. Earlier we had decided to take Hwy 90 west instead of I-10, the main route. Our next planned stop is Big Bend National Park and we figured (& had heard) that Hwy 90 was a more scenic route.

Before we left, my sister advised us to stop at the Alsatian bakery in Castroville. This wasn't hard to find, as the building is one of the first we came across as we came into Castroville, it has a really big sign, and is quite distinctive. Mom selected an eclair and I got an apple turnover, then we also got some bread for our general pantry - all in all quite reasonable and a very tasty stop.


The next town down the road is Hondo. We didn't spend much time there, but it looks like an older frontier town with some revitalization. We did at least find a Post Office and were able to send home the usual travel brochures, books, gift shop purchases, post cards, etc..


Continuing west on Hwy 90, we passed a lot of pivot irrigation systems and plowed farmland. This surprised me some, as I expected Texas to have mostly ranches, not as much farmland as we saw during this stretch at least. We did see some ranch land, and since I've learned that my sister is particularly fond of seeing the Texas landscape with windmills - thought I'd throw in this shot for her.


We also saw a lot of hawks along the stretch of Hwy 90 west of Hondo. I tried researching this one, and thought I had it nailed, then noticed the tail and beak were different. If I can figure this out (as well as the other birds I photographed, but can't identify), I'll edit this again later. (Or, if you know and want to post a comment, please do!)


Shortly before we got to the next major town (population 15k), we pulled over into one of the Texas highway picnic areas. Back home, and in most other states, we have Rest Area's. The Texas picnic area's don't have restrooms, maybe that's the difference, I'm not sure (also Texas seems to like to do things there own way, so maybe they just don't want to call them 'rest area's?) Anyway, these were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930's as part of FDR's "New Deal". It seems we're seeing a lot of good stuff that came out of the CCC and the WPA (Works Progress Administration, also part of the "New Deal"). Hmm.


We again got lucky with this stop (makes me wonder what we miss at all those places we don't stop?) As we drove in, I thought I saw a Roadrunner (couldn't photograph it and just caught a glimpse - so it's just a maybe). However, as we were resting for a minute, we saw a brilliant crimson bird (or at least part of the bird was crimson). It was fairly small and high up in a tree, but we couldn't help but admire the beautiful color. I grabbed the camera and took a couple of shots, but of course he flew away - but just to another tree. More shots. After several minutes of admiring this fellow (and several pictures), we reluctantly hit the road again. Later, we learned that this is a Vermilion Flycatcher, not uncommon in these parts, but still striking. The first photo shows the color patterns better, but the second shows the color better - beside's, he's worth posting two shots!


We also saw this lovely little grey bird, but I'll have to figure out what it is later (can't stay up past midnight all the time). Of course, if you'd care to enlighten us through a comment, please do!


Not wanting to totally mislead you that this is just a birdwatching trip, we drove on in to Uvalde, home of Matthew McConaughey, Dale Evans and Los Palominos, among others. We found out it has a Garner Museum, which is closed on Monday (today). However, the Visitors Center recommended we visit this place instead:


Not too impressive? Looks like a bank? Well, it is a bank - the First State Bank of Uvalde to be exact, founded in 1907. The outside may look like any other bank, but the inside has been decorated to be "Uvlalde's Living Room", using red leather chairs, marble topped tables, antique cabinets, bronze western pieces and numerous paintings. Janey Brisco, the wife of former Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. decorated the bank with a goal of making it feel like a family home - like walking into a comfortable South Texas living room. Over 5,000 people a year come to the bank just to see the collection, including some tour buses. (I didn't take pictures inside unfortunately, but you can see pictures if you follow the link above or at www.fsbuvalde.com).

After we left Uvalde, we saw a few more irrigated farm fields, then mostly ranch land. Del Rio, where we were headed for today (Big Bend NP being some 500 miles from SA - so more then a one day drive), is roughly where West Texas begins. East Texas is the wetter region, with forests, hills and farms. West Texas is dryer, more suitable for open spaces or ranching. So the further west we travelled, the fewer trees and farms and the more scenes like this. (Actually, we're beginning to see a lot of Prickly Pear Cactus, as well as other desert plants.)


Another place the Uvalde Visitor's Center recommended was something called "Alamo Village" in Brackettsville, about 40 miles farther west on Hwy 90. I wasn't so sure it was worth the bother, but decided to give it a try. Actually, we found out it was 7 miles out from Brackettsville on a less than high quality road (then another mile or so on a gravel road (e.g. washboard) once you get to ranch). But it was worth the trip, every bump of it.

Alamo Village was built for John Wayne's 1960 film called The Alamo. Since it was built to reflect the compound as it looked in 1836 - in many ways it's a better experience then the real thing in downtown San Antonio. It's out on the Shahan Ranch, so it's located in a very rural area. There were two locations built for the movie - a village and the Alamo.

The village was used to represent San Antonio in 1836, but John Wayne's art director for the movie, Al Ybarra, designed a set that looked more like a western frontier town. The look is effective however. The plans just called for a movie set, false fronts and only a second wall for most buildings. However James "Happy" Shahan, the ranch owner agreed to help finance the construction if he could make the buildings complete (exterior with four walls, roofs, etc) and then own the set when the movie was done. Therefore, this doesn't look like a movie set, but a frontier town.

When we first arrived, the town Marshall's found out Mom couldn't tour the village because I had broken her walker. These hardy souls came to her rescue promptly and straightened the bolt so the wheel would work again. Mom is back in business.


Notice Mom's attire? It was in the 80's today, I actually had to run the A/C!

The village consists of about 29 different buildings. Some were used for prop's or costumes during the movie shoot, others for scenes in the movie (or in subsequent movies or TV shows filmed at this location). So the interiors of the buildings vary quite a bit. The exteriors are all excellant however.


Here are some thumbnails of individual buildings in the village. You can click on them if you want to see the large version and more description. (Did I mention they put me in Jail for messing up Mom's walker?)


The Old San Fernando Church was also constructed for the village, but I somehow failed to take a decent shot of the front of it - only the back. This was used in the movie when the hero's appropriated some dynamite that had been stored in the basement for Santa Anna (the real church didn't have a basement however). Mom loved the Church basement also - it was just in another room in the church - an old Hollywood trick.


The village is also home to many antique tools, wagons and buggies as well as various movie props that were left behind or donated to the ranch. The hotel is actually unfinished inside and houses many of the antique buggy & wagon collection, including this covered wagon. The cart was located on Back Street.


The Trading Post is used as a gift shop and is the central area for the village. The staff feed a cat (or cats) out back, which creates an attraction for a small flock of Cardinals. (OK, this isn't a birding trip, but Cardinals are pretty, besides these were in Alamo Village.)


While I was out back playing footsie with the Cardinals, Mom went inside to ransack the gift shop (buy a hat and some postcards actually). Inside she also met the nicest lady - who turned out to be Virginia Shahan, the ranch owner! (She's actually interested in selling Alamo Village, a steal if you have $3M).


So, with new pink hat in hand, we decided we'd better wrap up at the Village and actually visit the Alamo. This consists of a compound (the original was four acres, the movie set is slightly smaller) - the entire compound was walled in. The Church, which most people associate with the Alamo is only one small piece of the compound. John Wayne wanted this to be as accurate as possible and required that many sections be built out of adobe bricks. However, he also blew up several sections of the compound in the final, dramatic battle scenes of the movie, so some reconstruction is visible (or later deterioration, I'm not sure).

Also at the time of the 1836 battle, the Church was already in ruins, not nicely restored as it is today. So for the movie set - the replica was built as it looked in 1836 - in ruins. The movie set contains a few, minor, innacuracies - but still is a much more realistic experience than sitting in modern, downtown San Antonio and trying to visualize how things unfolded in 1836. More thumbnails (just too many good things to take pictures of)...


This is just the part of the compound that was the Church ruins.


One picture might help tie the two pieces together. I took this from the cannon platfrom at the back of the Church ruins in the Alamo (compound). It is looking at the village a few hundred yards away. (Imagine the field filled with hundreds of Mexican soldiers.)


OK - now this has inspired me to go check out the 1960 movie, I know it's kind of one sided and not 100% accurate - but I'm curious how many the movie set buildings I can recognize.

By now it was getting later and I still wanted to get to Del Rio tonight. So we headed back to Brackettsville and back onto Hwy 90 heading west. Somehow we managed to drive right past all the nice RV parks in Del Rio and stayed at a little one tucked in between two highways - a little noisy I'm afraid. At least we could dump our tanks, plug in and get some sleep (and it wasn't very expensive).

Westward Ho again tomorrow!


Miles Driven - 196, Cumulative - 14,897
Camped at Chevron Station RV Camp, west of Del Rio


Gas - $27.50 for 9.292g @ 124,636 miles, $27.37 for 9.507g @ 124,777 miles
Food - Cereal, Yogurt at ShopSmart in Brackettville, Texas

Posted by jl98584 22:29 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

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