From Eliza: Five days ago, we were dying hot and now we are freezing cold again. It was really cold when we went into Mexico but the food was so good! Celebrating Mardi Gras was fun, plus we went shopping too.
From Nate: We went to Mexico. It was fun because we got to go into another country. It was really hot a few days ago now its really cold. I am sick and have just been hanging out. Me and Dad watched NCIS most of the day yesterday. It was fun.
From Dan: I agree with Eliza. Hot now cold now hot now cold. It got down to 26 last night (San Antonio) with a wind chill of 15 degrees. Brutal. It only warmed to to 48 today which is San Antonio’s normal low temperature. Oh well, it will be hot and humid soon enough. It has been great hanging out with Sally, Eliza, and Nate. We have seen some great country since Arizona. We have been on some trying roads for an RV. The hot springs in Big Bend were great. If I ever complain again about what I have or really what I don’t have, remind me of Boquillas Mexico. The little town we went to over the border. They are eking out a life there. However, they were the nicest people to us. Very kind and generous. Happy I would say. That has been my life long pursuit. I would go back and visit them. Along similar lines, I have been studying scripture. As you know, I retired from work. I recently read and studied that it is better to have a handful of rest than two handfuls of hard work chasing the wind. Workaholics often deprive themselves of the fruit of their two handfuls of work. I have been enjoying the time with my family. How much of your time is it worth?
San Antonio has a mission river trail along the San Antonio River. It is great for riding. The river walk downtown is pretty cool. We are off to Austin in a couple of days. Going to visit Teresa Walker. Then off to Houston in another week. We have been tons of driving. We drove 1,200 miles since Tucson and from here to Iowa is less than that. Which is good.
I hope all of you are well. We are doing great. Take care.
From Sally: Well here we are, 3 miles south of San Antonio, waiting for the big storm to hit tonight. We won’t be as cold as the rest of the country, but it’s supposed to be almost 40 degrees colder than last night. It’s overcast and getting windier by the hour. Most of the other full-time RV’ers have put away all their outdoor furniture and anything else that will blow away or freeze.
We’ve driven over 1200 miles in the past 10 days and crammed in so much fun it’s hard to describe. From Tucson, we headed south to see my cousin Jen’s girls practice for their horse show. Gorgeous location up against the mountains, and the girls did great during their practice times. A little heart stopping to see them atop such a huge horse; just like seeing Eliza and Nate swing on the bars event! So glad we took the time.
We stayed 2 nights in Benson, Arizona and that allowed us to visit Tombstone and the OK Corral. The Cochese RV park was a treat after the Tucson one. We were parked right by the putting green (Eliza won) and the pool and hot tub. They didn’t heat the pool, so we bet Nate a buck that he wouldn’t jump in. Of course, he proved us wrong, but I think we still need to pay him. The hot tub was fantastic and the views were beautiful. Most of the RV’ers were full-timers, so the park was well maintained. We were too late to get in on the pizza party offered in the barn, but we enjoyed meeting a few people.
Tombstone itself was okay. Everyone kept saying we had to see it, had to, so we drove down. The town is original, boardwalks, old buildings, dirt street. We weren’t there five minutes when Wyatt and Virgil Earp came up to Nate and started harassing him for money. Then they turned to Eliza, and finally to Dan and I. They told us a little about the town and we went to explore. The shops were full of tourist stuff and we looked, but once again, didn’t find anything to fall in love with. The kids know they can collect whatever they want, but we are always delighted when they take pictures and realize that the stuff won’t hold their memories as well.
The re-creation itself was worth the drive. The story of the 30 second shoot out was stretched into a 20 minute skit. We laughed and boo’d and clapped our way through and I tried not to think about how blood thirsty and greedy the history of our country is. Everywhere we have been, someone was killing someone else for land, gold or minerals. Crazy. Almost as bad as I was when I vaulted the seats in front of us, threw my camera to new friends from Maine/California, and had them take a group shot of us with the Earps and Doc Holliday. We could have waited politely in line with the other 200 people, but no way! Fun day.
From there we headed into New Mexico for one night in Los Cruces. As with other parts of the west, we couldn’t see the national parks we wanted because it was too cold and our pipes would freeze. (Add another stop to the return trip next spring.) The RV park was okay; safe, clean and a huge pull through. The kids worked out while Dan and I took a ride, trying to find a bike trail that I’d read about. We found it, but it wasn’t what we expected. A busy street was on one side, and a busier highway was on the other. Not quiet and scenic at all! I tell you, those people who write up locations are just snake oil salesmen! We rode down to the south end of it to take a look at the New Mexico State University campus. I’m hoping that winter is what made it look so dirty and bleak.
Then we drove down into Texas and spent one night at Fort Davis. When Dan and I stayed there in 1998, havelina’s were roaming all over. We didn’t see one this time. Dan knew exactly where we had camped before . After getting set up, Dan took a ride straight up to the top of the mountain, over a mile. We drove up later, and the views were spectacular. We were planning on going to the McDonald Observatory for the night show, but the park ranger said the tickets had been sold out for weeks because there was a special guest lecturer there. That’s the downside of living loose – if you don’t make reservations in advance, sometimes you lose out. And without cell coverage for most of the drive, we didn’t know until we got there. We had more fun that night anyway when the kids worked together to beat me at Uno and we were laughing so hard I cried.
Big Bend National Park was next on our list and we are so glad we did the long drive to get there. We took the scenic route, however, and while the park ranger said it was perfectly safe for Rv’s, it was not easy. 67 to Presidio was a big wide open drive. Then I made the mistake of taking over and 170 got hairy. It runs along the Rio Grande, so the scenery was good, but it was hilly enough that I had to slow way down to make sure the front of the RV and the back of the car weren’t scraping at the same time. I pulled over when I could, and we took a break to throw rocks across the river into Mexico. There were signs all over saying not to cross, not to let your dogs swim, not to even think about setting foot on the other side of the river. Pretty adamant about it. We threw our rocks; Nate and Dan easily, while I had to step way out on rocks to make it over. But it still counted!
Dan unhooked the tow for the next part of the drive. There was a 15% grade coming up, and he wanted to make sure we all made it in one piece. It was hot, about 85 degrees, which added to the stress. Eliza rode with me, and the boys took the rig up the hill. I wanted to scream when a car passed me on a double yellow, tucked in between the rig and I briefly, then passed Dan on a bridge barely wide enough for both of them. I was honking so Dan would know because I knew he’d be concentrating on the road and not expecting someone to pass there. It won’t be the last time someone passes us dangerously.
At the top, the rig was barely moving. Dan had it in the lowest gear, floored, and it barely made it. Going down wasn’t a picnic either, but Dan handled it well again. We pulled off the road in Lajitas, and a maid in a golf cart immediately came up to ask Dan what we were doing parked there. It’s always fun to see how people react to Rv’s. They either love em or hate em, no in between. Evidently, Lajitas is a resort town, all owned by one company. From the brochure I had read, it sounded like a cool little town – spa, pools, golf, shopping, bakery and restaurants – so we had lunch on the other side of the road, and went to walk around. Every storefront had a sign hanging in it that said “closed for lunch until 1:45”. All of them! Closed at the same time! Even the bakery, wah. Not impressed with Lajitas; wouldn’t schedule a week of rest there.
We pulled into our campsite at Big Bend awhile later, and were dismayed to find it exactly like it was in 1998. A parking lot. A big parking lot converted into RV spots. A big hot parking lot full of huge rigs and tons of people with no shade. It’s run by a concessionaire, so we thought they might have made improvements in 16 years, but no, it was exactly the same! Dan checked his journal and said that we only stayed one night in 1998 because it was 110 degrees, we had no tow so we couldn’t get to any hiking trails, and there wasn’t anything else to do. This time we were scheduled for 3, but first we had to get the rig in it’s spot.
The next day we did a short hike in the Chesos mountains, in the park. We hadn’t made it there before, so we were thrilled to get to finally hike it. Eliza and I chose a hike that was AWAY from the 36 sitings of black bears in the past 2 months. The park is happy that they are back and thriving, but we didn’t need to see them up close. We went to lunch at the lodge and Eliza loved the potato soup.
On Monday, we planned on a short hike to the hot springs. We hadn’t been able to get there in the car because the road was so bad, and the trail went right out of the campground, so we thought the 2.8 miles would be easy. Haha. It was 85 again, and we were either going up the hill or down the hill. Great hills, gorgeous scenery, but so hot. We didn’t run out of anything, but we should have doubled the food we carried to account for Nate. The motor court and store/post office that used to be there were very cool. Well worth the hike. Still standing because they were made of adobe and they haven’t been vandalized. The hot springs itself were warm enough to feel good and large enough for 8 of us. Eliza, our adorable germ-a-phob-in-nature, wouldn’t get in because she was smart enough to read the warnings about what was really in the water. The Rio ran by the hot springs and we were warned not to swim in it. Of course, we enjoyed the hot tub, and hopped over the side into the Rio. Which actually had water flowing in it! When Dan and I visited in September of 1998, it was a trickle. This time there was a few feet. It was cold, but we played in it for a few minutes. Then it was back on the hot trail and a long hike back to the rig.
Tuesday morning was windy and cold. We were leaving that day, so we had packed up the rig the night before. We pulled it into another parking lot and took the tow to the trail that Dan and I had seen in 1998. After a short hike, we threw rocks across the river again. ( It’s a requirement in our family.) We could see the little Mexican town of Boquillas that we were going to visit. Small buildings, some falling over. Made of cement blocks or adobe. Some brightly colored and well taken care of, but most not.
Then it was back to the border patrol building so we could cross into Mexico. All we had to do was show our passports, walk down the trail 100 yards, and hop into the little flat bottom boat. The young Mexican guy rowed us about 200 feet to the other shore and the singing Mexican welcomed us. We hired a guide, Eduardo, and choose a truck as our way to get to the village of Boquillas. We would have ridden donkeys, but there were only 3! Darn.
The truck took us directly to the immigration compound. Fenced and gated, we were invited inside a newer looking trailer to fill out the paperwork. I was grateful to not be invited inside the older building with bars on every window. As he filled out the forms, we tried to talk to him a little. Eliza wasn’t comfortable using her Spanish, and I didn’t think my orchard Spanish with varying degrees of cuss words would be helpful either. He didn’t understand a simple question and went on to tell us about where he lived and how he commutes to Boquillas for 5 days each week, and other details about his life. Much more interesting than the original question! I had to sign the forms for the kids.
The village of Boquillas was once a thriving community, with friends and family on both sides of the border. After 9/11, the border crossing was closed, and because it is so remote, the tourist trade dropped to nothing. The blight was obvious and sad to see up close. The roads were dirt with a smattering of gravel. There were electrical poles, but Eduardo said they didn’t work. A few of the homes and businesses had solar panels. There was no running water, but he was proud to point out that they had a pump and large cistern. (I had previously read that this was due to a young woman who was working on both sides of the border and couldn’t stand to see the need anymore.) It truly was a 3rd world area and it was very hard to see the school with it’s broken windows or the new medical clinic and not compare it to Bend. A few of the buildings were brightly painted, with the church a bright lime green. It was one of the more simple ones I’ve ever seen, with 2 pews on each side. Eduardo said the priest came for 2-3 weeks on a rotation with other villages. The new medical clinic staff was also rotating and he was proud to show it to us. We didn’t see a store that wasn’t selling tourist junk, so I asked how they got their supplies. Eduardo said a truck came from the nearest town (160 miles) every week and they bought their fruits and vegetables from it. I never saw a garden or any living plant being nurtured outside. The ground was hard packed dirt all over.
This border crossing was just reopened last March, so there is hope. Some of the families that left are coming back. Jose’s restaurant was huge, with an outdoor area that doubled its size. Because of the wind, blowing sand and cold, we ate our lunch in a little back room. Best burritos ever. Would have taken a case load of them back, but we weren’t allowed to take any fruit, vegetables, feathers, or skins or much to Nate’s dismay, hatchets, back across the border.
So we settled for buying bracelets handmade by Eduardo’s brother. His son had come out in the wind to show us a cardboard cut out with the bracelets attached. At this point, we’d been there an hour and already knew we were going to leave every dollar we brought with us in this town somehow. Buying trinkets, lunch and tipping everyone in sight accomplished our goal. We think it’s sad that the price of us getting to see their culture and invade their privacy is how they survive and we were perpetuating it, but we wanted to see the town and have the kids see how they live. Everywhere we went, people thanked us for coming. And we stood out like a sore thumb. When we left, there were more people coming over, but we were alone there for the morning.
Back in the immigration trailer, we waited for him to finish our paperwork, log us in to his fancy new computer, and then he wished us well. One of the Mexican border patrol agents was there, taking an inventory of the new trailer we were in. I read over his shoulder as he counted chairs, windows, computers, hand sanitizers and file cabinets and marked it on his sheet. It took him the whole 30 minutes we waited, and would have taken me 2. Nice to see that bureaucrats are the same on both sides of the border!
Gabriel was waiting with the truck for the ride back to the river, and we all hopped into the back. The wind was still howling and everyone was ducking to keep the sand out of their eyes, while trying to listen to Eduardo tell us more about his home. He said he had always lived there, and always would, and thanked us again for coming. He also told us again about their festival “maybe March 21, 22” and could we come? I said we’d be out of the area unfortunately, because I’m sure it would be fun.
Another young, strong guy rowed us back across the Rio and we trudged up to the immigration building. I was so glad to be back on US soil safely. Not that we thought anything would go wrong, but we knew there were risks going over. One of the park rangers said she’s never ever go over the border, but most of them had encouraged it. We bought the tickets for the boat crossing at the store in Big Bend, so they knew how many people crossed each day and if we came back or not. Still, nice to be back.
No one is quite sure what strings were pulled to open the border up again last March. There are 2 passport “self-serve” kiosks and a nice building that came with a price tag of $3.7 million. We had to stand behind a line, then one by one we walked across the room and inserted our passport photo page into the kiosk and then picked up the phone on the side to talk to someone in El Paso. They asked us what the purpose of our travel was, and what did we bring back. It took about 10 seconds for each of us. Then we were on our way out the door and back to the rig!
The drive was uneventful, which was nice. We settled in for a long afternoon of wide open Texas skies out our front window. For the second time, we spent the night at a rest area wayside. We had noticed in Texas that they were full of campers and trucks each night, and we wanted to drive as far as possible, so we thought we’d wing it. It was the day for winging it! Turned out fine. We made it near Sonora and parked in a ray of sunshine near a huge grassy area. We didn’t put out the slider for fear of someone crashing into it, and we didn’t put out our cable tv box like the guy behind us because we didn’t have one.
The next morning we took a little detour and spent some time in Fredricksburg. It began with German immigrants, and has morphed into an artists colony-cum-tourist-town on steroids. We were only looking for the bakery, but were pleasantly surprised with how much history there was and the other cute shops. We found our bakery, but it was not half as good as the Dutch letters in Pella. And we drew the line at buying over-priced dog paraphernalia. Really! Dog raincoats? Dog sunglasses? Dog strollers to rent for $10/day?!
Then we drove into San Antonio. We were excited to see it again. We had so much fun here before with Sonny and his family. We knew it would still be fun with our kids. The traffic wasn’t bad, even though much of the freeway was under construction. They don’t have the ease of flat open land to build on like Phoenix. I said, “oh no” out loud again when I caught my first glimpse of the city. A dark brown band of haze enveloped it and it was ugly. I know, we’re driving an RV and contributing to the problem, but it was gross. We didn’t see light rail and only one bus passed us.
The RV park again came well recommended, and it’s okay. Our site backs up to a golf course that we haven’t seen anyone playing. The pool and hot tub are small, but warm. The game room is great and all the games are free. Dan beat me at ping pong and there will be a rematch before we leave. I might get both kids on my side and take him on.
The best part is the bike trail along the embayment which runs all the way into San Antonio, and then another 5 miles south of the park. It wasn’t mentioned at all, so we were surprised. It’s everything Tucson should have done – water running through it, tons of grasses and banks being restored, bathrooms, garbage cans, spots to get in and out for kayak’s, birds all over; it’s beautiful. The only bad decision the Bexar county commissioner’s made were the rough stone tiles that were along the path every few hundred yards. It looks like pavement art, but it’s hard to ride on and I even tripped on it just walking. Still, a great trail system and it’s been packed every time we are on it.
Nate hasn’t been feeling well, so on Saturday Dan dropped Eliza and I off downtown to see the Mardi Gras parade on the Riverwalk. It was a perfect sunny afternoon. Huge crowd, hot, tons of shopping and the people watching was almost as good as San Francisco. I heard 5 different languages and the 5th I couldn’t even place. It’s graduation weekend for the nearby base, and the young cadets were all dressed in their shiny blue uniforms, short hair cuts and tight caps. They looked so young though! Young as in 4 years older than Eliza. Whew. Made me enjoy my afternoon with her even more. We had a great time walking and talking and listening to music. We even caught a few beads from the passing barges.
The funniest part came just as we were leaving. We called Dan to pick us up and were walking to the corner for our ride. I caught my reflection and thought I had a huge smudge of dirt on my face. That morning I had opened the curtains between the bunks and the main area, and the curtain rod had caught me hard on the chin. Hard enough to knock me to my knees crying. I had an ice pack on it for an hour, no teeth were broken, and an aspirin fixed the headache, so no big deal. Until 7 hours later and it’s swelling up again and turning black and blue! Glad it wasn’t over my eye or someone would have been calling it in! It’s still a lovely shade of purple and blue and make up won’t cover it. I like seeing people look at it, look away, and then look again. Only a couple people have asked what happened, but they all stare!
In between all this fun, we’ve been trying to do some school, reading a ton, meeting new people, and just having a great time as a family. I am still cherishing every minute and know how blessed we are to be living our dream.