The Trail to the Southwest-Final Thoughts and Reflections

Greetings,

This is the very last post from the Trail to the Southwest, I promise! Even though we returned home from this trip three and a half months ago, writing these articles and reviewing the photos has taken me back there again and again. What memories were made on this trip! Bear with me as I a share a few of the highlights with you.

I’ll tart off with a photo and a few words about our hiking boots. These boots got a lot of walking done, mostly on rugged, dusty trails. The dust from the Southwest became so embedded in the leather that I don’t think it will ever come out. Not that we care because to us it’s a physical reminder that we accomplished something besides driving around. IMG_3511

Speaking of that, we drove our truck 9104 miles in the 60 days we were on the road. However, we didn’t tow our trailer that many miles, I guesstimate closer to 7000 miles. We stopped to fill fuel 55 times and used between 1200-1300 gallons of gas for about an average of about 7 miles per gallon. We paid in the range of $2.00 – $4.00 per gallon (with highest price in California where the emission standards are more rigorous) with an average about $2.50 per gallon. Some of you are thinking, wow that RVing isn’t inexpensive! You would be correct, however, considering that we were towing our lodging and kitchen behind us, it’s not a bad way to travel. Speaking of gas, our first reminisce from our second day on the road to the Southwest.

The Day When We Ran Out of Gas!

“The next morning brought us some sunshine and warmer temps but with a strong, stiff wind out of the south-southeast, the general direction we were traveling. We traversed around Kansas City towards Topeka where we picked up the Kansas Turnpike that runs through east central Kansas to the Oklahoma border. As we turned south directly into the wind we noticed that we had about ¼ tank of fuel, alerting us that we should start looking for a gas station. On this stretch of road, there are very few exits and most exits had no services. There were convenience plazas placed along the road but they were few and far between. Yes, folks, first the low fuel alert sounded then a couple of miles down the road we ran out of fuel at mile marker 160 on the Turnpike in the middle of the Flint Hills of Kansas!!……Lesson learned, now we start looking for a gas station when the fuel gauge reaches ½ especially when we are in remote areas!”IMG_3121

 

We scored a lot of great memories from our stop at the Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas. Here’s a recap of our visit to the nearby ghost town of Terlingua.

Terlingua

“A stop (down a dusty, rocky road) in modern day Terlingua is not complete without a visit to the Terlingua Trading Company (the former company store for the mine). The big front porch is often filled with people not only to view the wide valley below but to listen to the musicians playing and singing for fun (not busking for $).Terlingua-5614Terlingua-2357Terlingua-2352

Then there is the National Park itself from the Chisos Mountain Basin to the Rio Grande and the Santa Elena Canyon, it’s hard to describe the beauty.

Big Bend National Park

“And it’s so big that it has it’s own post office and zip code! And just how big is it you might ask, well it covers over 800,000 acres or about 1200 square miles with about 118 miles of river frontage on the Rio Grande on its southern boundary with Mexico. The Park gets its name from the U turn the Rio Grande makes from the southwest to the northeast about half way through the park at Boquillas Canyon. About 390,000 visitors enter the Park each year (although that’s increasing) about what the big national parks, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, etc, get in a few weeks. So it shows the effort that visitors have to make to view the beautiful and wild scenery of this Park. It’s also a place where services are far and few between so make sure to buy fuel and bring water and food to make your rounds in this Park.”Big Bend 1-5650Big Bend 2-2415“As we traveled back to Terlingua, the sun was inching down to the southwest giving us the photographers’ reverie, the golden hour. There were lots of stops for photos and just as we were leaving the Park for the last time this visit, we were rewarded with beautiful Southwest sunset. I should also mention that Big Bend is a designated an international dark sky park so it’s a great place to practice night and astronomical photography.”Big Bend 2-5747

 

There’s a lot to like about New Mexico, the mountains and the desert but our favorite place in the state (so far!) is the White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo. Besides being interesting geologically, its a great place for photography, I probably did my best work during our visit to White Sands.

White Sands National Monument

“This week we visit the beautiful, awe inspiring, world famous White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo in south-central New Mexico. White Sands is located in the Tularosa Basin surrounded by the San Andres Mountains to the west and the San Francisco Mountains to the east. On our drive from Alamogordo to this Monument, as we get closer and closer to the entrance, it seems to take on a mirage like look as the white sand shimmers not unlike fresh snow not yet tainted. Intriguing at first sight!”White Sands NM-2467White Sands NM-5969

 

When we try to pick out some favorites from our time in Arizona, it’s a tie between the Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the south central part of the state. I think I liked the Chiricahua for the simple reason that we watched the lunar eclipse from the parking lot! My traveling partner liked the Organ Pipe because of it’s remoteness and the fact that we drove along the U.S./Mexican border. Here’s a bit from both places.

Chiricahua National Monument

“We arrived the day before the lunar eclipse so the full moon was huge and bright. Here a couple of photos of the sunset and the super moon taken from the campground.”Chiricahua NM-2576“The next morning, I roused my traveling partner at 3 AM to make the 35 mile drive to the Chiricahua National Monument to watch the lunar eclipse scheduled to begin around 4:30 AM. We arrived at the parking lot at about 4 AM and had to wait a least a half hour before the eclipse began, we could have slept in for another half hour or so and maybe even had some breakfast! But alas, we were ready and weren’t disappointed, it was very awesome to watch. I did try some night photography that I don’t do much of but here are some of my attempts.”Chiricahua NM-2602Chiricahua NM-6197

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus-6475

“The last part of this drive took us within a few hundred feet of the US/Mexico border separated by a fence on each side. The road you see in the photo below is for patrols only, I parked and walked several feet from the public road to take this photo. Note that there aren’t many tracks, this road is dragged on a regular basis to help Border agents detect footprints in the dirt.”Organ Pipe Cactus-6501“It was near here that an event with the most impact happened to us. We were close to the end of the drive, it was approaching 5 PM and the sun was starting to set (February 13), we came over a little rise in the terrain and saw two small groups of people on either side of the road. On my side, was a family of five; the father, mother, and three kids ages estimated to be 10, 8, and 6. They all had backpacks on their back and were standing looking towards Mexico. On my traveling partners side of the truck, there was a little larger group of people maybe 7 or 8 also including young children that looked to be resting or waiting for something. While they watched us drive by, we waved to them and they waved back, they seemed relaxed and happy. In our imaginations, we speculated they were making an attempt to cross into the US, likely to make a better life for themselves and especially for their children. Maybe they were waiting for someone to pick them up at this prearranged spot or just maybe they were waiting for the Border Patrol to come along so they could seek asylum in the US. Or maybe they were local residents just ending their family hike and outing. Regardless, we often think of them and wonder about their story. If they were detained, we hope they (and anyone else) were treated with respect and compassion, deep down, we hope they made it to their destination where ever it might be. For if they were trying to walk through the desert and mountains to safety, we fear they might have perished in their attempt for a better life.”

 

Our last stop on this trip was at Death Valley National Park and it’s one of very favs! Here’s a little of I said and we saw during our almost three days in the park.

Death Valley National Park 

“What to say about Death Valley National Park? Words that come to mind are WOW! Awesome! Majestic! Grand! and Gigantic! We visited some great sites on this trip but this was one our favs. This park has just about everything except a tropical forest! It has salt-flats, sand dunes, canyons, deep valleys, high mountains, desert, and badlands. It’s the largest National Park in the lower 48 at 3.3 million acres or 5300 square miles and is the hottest (highest temp recorded 134 degrees F, 57 C), lowest (282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin) and driest (average 2.4″ of rain per year) of all the National Parks. Despite these negatives, there’s a lot to see and do in Death Valley especially in the cooler months of the year. We spent two and a half days in the Park and wanted more.”Death Valley-2972Death Valley-2951Death Valley-6679Death Valley-2995Death Valley-6750Death Valley-6781

As I’ve said before this was a great trip and we look forward to spending more time exploring the Southwest, maybe next winter! As we made our way back to Wisconsin, we passed through Utah and my traveling partner made a photo of the beautiful snow packed hills and abundant clouds.IMG_3506

A few parting comments about our ride home. The transition from the West to the Great Plains to the Midwest was gradual but recognizable. Besides the topography, the most noticeable difference was water, the need for irrigation in the West and Southwest for the crops to grow, to the dry land farming of the Great Plains to the rich soil of the Midwest. We also noted that the roads needed work in Utah, Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin, likely due to the freezing and thawing that creates potholes and rough conditions. We also saw a lot of RVs moving west so it looks like we’ll have a lot of company in the campgrounds the next time we head to the western part of the US!IMG_3315

Thanks for following along, hope you enjoyed the trip through the words and photos.

Tune in next week for a surprise visit to …….?!

Til then, travel safe.

Tom

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