Travels with Barrie and Val - The Big U Turn, Part 7

Monday, January 28th - Friday, February 1st

Time to pack up and leave South Padre Island (SPI) and Isla Blanca Country RV Park. We had a great time here but, as I said in my last report, it's time to move on. Lot's to do and see. So headed over to the I-83 and passed through Harlingen and shortly after that we hit, what else, construction! This contruction was to be present for a good part of our journey until we got west of the Valley. We passed through the Valley towns of Mercedes, Weslaco, Donna, McAllen and Mission.This is the main winter haven for snow birds who come to Texas and spend anywhere from three to six months in the Valley. Others go to Port Aransus, and other places along the coast, but the Valley offers the warmest temperatures. When we left, the temperature was going to be around the high 80's for that day and the day after. It as February draws closer, the temperatures will continue to rise.

We continued on the US-83 west, as the I-83 ends just after Mission and becomes the US-83, through Rio Grande City, Zapata and Laredo where we joined up with the US-83/I-35 north towards San Antonio and finally split off from the I-35 continuing on the US-83. We arrived at Carrizo Springs, a nice little town, where we decided that was enough driving for the day as we had left SPI at 0905 and got to Carrizo Springs at 1600 hours. The roads had been pretty straight and flat at the beginning then going into rolling hills as we got near Carrizo Springs. We stopped overnight at a little campground right on the US-83 and didn't bother to unhook as it was a one night stand. I set up the satellite and got a 63% signal was a slight improvement from SPI where I could only get 61%. But I can't complain as this is the furtherest point south and I'm sure if I went into northern Mexico, I could still pick up the signal around 59 or 60%.

Next morning, the 29th, we set off on our westward journey staying on the US-83 until the edge of Carrizo Springs where we picked up the US-277 North. We passed through Eagle Pass and stopped for gas which was $1.05 a gallon. I don't think I'll see .99 cents again as the gas gets more expensive as we head west. At least that's what I've been told and so far that's true although I did see some gas for .97 cents as we went through Laredo but both stations were on the other side, so I didn't bother stopping. When we stopped for gas, we picked up a breakfast burrito which I had never had before because they didn't look that appealing. But was it ever good! Little on the spicy side with eggs and bacon inside. A lot of the gas stations with the convenience stores sell burritos, wings, egg rolls etc., and they keep them under a hot glass container. More on this later. We finally arrived at our destination, Del Rio (DR) about two hours later. Not a long journey that day. We wanted to come to DR to see the Alamo village at Brackettville the next day and then continue on to Big Bend. However, events were to overtake us.

Later that night we were sitting watching tv when I started to feel kind of dizzy and slighty flu like with a slight headache. I decided to go to bed, but when I laid down, the whole room would just spin around like crazy. Does this sound familiar from our youthful days??? I started to feel really nauseous and suddenly I jumped up out of bed and didn't quite make it to the toilet bowl before everything came up. What a mess!!!! After that I just sat up in bed for several hours before I could lay down and sleep without any dizziness. We put it down to that wonderfull tasting burrito that I had had earlier in the day. Fortunately, throwing up really helped as the next day I was almost back to normal except for feeling a little flu like. So that day, the 30th, we didn't do much except go into DR to a local shopping centre to do some window shopping.

On Thursday, the 31st, we headed for the Alamo village at Bracketville. When we arrived at the village, there was a movie being shot. It's called Westown. I can't recall who the star is, I had never heard of him, but it's a film about the first black sherriff in the US. It's being made for tv for the Western network in the US and no doubt it will appear in Canada, probably on the Lone Star network. I don't know when it will be finished but if you see it advertised, the you'll know it was made at the Alamo village. The very first picture made there was Arrowhead in 1951 starring Charlton Heston. Of course, John Wayne's The Alamo was made there in 1959. Other notable movies made there are, The Roy Roger's Show 1960 (TV), Bandolero 1967-Raquel Welch, Lonesome Dove 1988-Robert Duvall (TV), Gunsmoke-The Last Apache 1989 (TV)-James Arness, Bad Girls 1993-Madeleine Stowe & Drew Barrymore, The West by Ken Burns 1995 PBS and many more movies. Val took some pics so I'll include some when I send this report off. It was interesting standing around the set watching them set up the next shot. We were talking to a retired "Constable", a cop, who was working as the guy who did the casting of the extras. I had previously heard a guy talking to one of the people working on the set who described himself as a "gaffer." So I asked this guy later on what a gaffer was. He explained that the gaffer is the guy who assisted the cameraman and acted as the head electrician. Not an electrician in the normal sense, but the guy who sets up the lighting for the different shots. Interesting. After that, we had some enchiladas in the cantina which is also used for movies, but not on this day. Then we visited the John Wayne museum which is one of the village buildings dedicated to his museum. It was interesting looking at the photographs of the many actors that I had seen in the movies, doing their thing in various parts of the village.

On Friday, the 1st we headed out for Fort Stockton (FS). We were planning to go to Marathon on the US-90, but I didn't realize how small the place was; so we decided to go to FS instead. I had heard there was a Ford dealer there and it was time for the 65,000 k service on the Windstar. Which is just an oil and filter change.

An RV moment. When I bought the Windstar last April, it had 30,576 k on the odometer, so we've put a few k on since then! We're currently at 64,948.2 k at the time of writing this report. When we left London on August 8th with the Airstream, the odometer was at 40,583.7. So, quick math says that we've done a total of 24,364.5 k since August 8th. That's just under six months. Hell, that's almost as much as Gary Langille puts on in the same period driving into to work from Clayton Lake!!! But I've always been one for changing my oil on a regular basis. Uh, that's the mineral type folks! And when pulling a trailer, it's even more important. I changed my transmission oil at 40,000 k and was going to change it this time, but the dealer didn't have the machine that gets all the oil out from the lock-up torque converter. So I delayed it until the 70,000 k check. Of course, the tranny oil is not due to be changed for a much later period, but since I'm towing an 8,900 lb trailer, I would rather spend the extra money and change the oil every 25,000 k or so. So waiting a little longer shouldn't have an adverse effect on the tranny.

So, back on track. We left the Del Rio RV park just before 0900 hours and headed west on the US-90 passing through Comstock. We then stopped at Langtry to visit Judge Roy Beans courthouse/saloon and opera house. I think Paul Newman played Bean in a movie back in the seventies. Bean was called the hanging judge but there's no evidence that he did hang anyone. He would quite often fine them whatever cash they were carrying and also confiscate any other possessions they had including guns, horse etc. Then he would kick them out of his area and leave them stranded in the desert! They probably died out there anyway. For the less serious charges, he would fine an offender a given amaount. Then, in his judgement, he would force the individual to buy drinks for everyone present in the courtroom; which in actual fact was his saloon. Anyone who has seen the movie will remember that Bean absolutely adored Lily Langtry, as british actress. He had here picture on the wall of his saloon and built and opera house for here behind the saloon. It was actually a very small building where he actually lived. Lily never visited Langtry while Bean was alive, but did visit the town and the saloon ten months after he died around 1903. Bean is buried with his son in Del Rio. So that's the story of Judge Roy Bean. Rent the movie if you get a chance, it was quite good. But remember it's Hollywood.

After Langtry, we continued westwards on the US-90 passing through Pumpville, Dryden and then stopping for gas at Sanderson. $1.22 a gallon! Most I think I've paid so far on this trip. From Sanderson we headed north on the US-285. The scenary has been typical desert scenary with lots of scrub trees and brush mixed along with cactus. We're constantly passing gates to ranches but to date, we have yet to see any long horn cattle! Apparently, they're not usually found near roads so it's possible we could end up going through the whole state of Texas and never seeing one!!! The terrain has been steadily uphill from Del Rio but no bad hills. We arrived at Fort Stockton at the Parkview RV Park at around 1400 hours. Not a very pleasant park, all dirt, but very flat and level. The guy in the RV office was a realy jerk. His wife was very nice though. I told him I wanted to phone the Ford dealer and try and get in that afternoon but would probably have to wait until Monday, so we booked for three nights. I asked him if I could use the phone to call the dealer but his reply was "no sir"! I then asked him if he had a pay phone and he directed me to te RV park pay phone. We then asked him where we could get propane, his reply was " the guy doesn't come our her, it's not enough business."! He didn't even tell us where we could get propane although we did notice later on some places that sold it. Other RVers has mentioned this guy as well. I've met other RV park personnel who aren't too friendly either, but nothing like this guy! I guess it takes all types!

That night we had, what was probably the worse meal on our whole trip.US or Canada! We went to a place called Camp something. A long low builing where you went in one door and there was a guy there who was cooking pork and beef ribs, steaks, chicken on an open pit barbeque. You selected what you wanted and he put it on a plate which you then took through to the restaurant where you could pick up corn, pinto beans, green beans, potato etc. Well, Val chose the pork ribs and I chose a steak. Val's ribs were so tough she really couldn't eat them. My steak was ok, but really well done. No choice on how it's cooked either. I figure this is how they must eat on the range! Well. You gotta try different stuff and we did!

Saturday, February 2nd - Monday, February 4th

On Saturday, the 2nd, we visited the historic cavalry fort of Fort Stockton. There is no actuall wall and there are only four original buildings remaining from the fort. The guard house (go figure that bloody thing would survive!!!!) and three officers houses. They have rebuilt two of the barracks and associated kitchens and mess halls. The Fort was garrisoned by the 10th Cavalry which was all black. And it was also garrisoned by infantry troops as well. Also black. The Fort was never attacked but was built to guard the settlers against the Apaches and Commanches. It was interesting looking at one of the barrack blocks which houses a museum which showed the cavalry uniform and the way in which a cavalry horse was outfitted for a trooper. Of course, a saddle, sabre, carabine, saddle blanket, half of a tent which was stored in the horses feed bag behind the saddle, horse shoes and saddle bags. The other barrack block showed how the quarters were in those days. I took a picture and will try to send one off. We did continue touring the town, which only has about 7,000 people and stopped at a fifties caf where I had an excellent milk shake and hamburger.

On Sunday we took it easy and got ready to watch the Superbowl. I have gotten into the habit of putting my mirrors on the Windstar and putting the hitch on as well in preparation for our departure tomorrow. We have about 180 miles to go down into the Big Bend National Park (BBNP). As a precaution, I have already booked a campsite.

On Monday, the 4th, we headed down the US-385 towards a town called Marathon. It started to rain and did not really stop the whole day, so I just drove a little more slowly and carefully. After Marathon we stayed on the US-385 which took us into BBNP. We stopped briefly at the eastern entrance to the park and got some maps from the small visitors center. We then continued on to the main visitors center at Panther Junction. Once there, we found that there was only one park in the Big Bend that had full hookups and that was full. So we glad that we had booked, especially on a crummy day like we were having. We also purchased a park visitors ticket for $10 US which is good for a weeks stay. After that, we continued on through the Park and exited via the western entrance and picked up the Texas 118 north as the 385 ended in the park. From the western entrance, it was only two miles to Stude Butte and the Big Bend Motel and RV Park where we bookd in and hooked up. I set up the satellite dish but could only get 45% signal which meant that I didn't get all the channels. A couple of days later I re-adjusted the dish and got up to 53% which brought in all the channels. This is the worse reception we've had since we've been on this trip. But another couple from Owen Sound who had asked me about setting up their dish had gotten a 61% signal! So a few yards seems to make a big difference. We also had the campground cable which was actually a local satellite which only brought in about five channels. There is no cable available anywhere down here. Of course, no ones cell phone works here either; so we sent off a quick email to the kids on our Pocketmail telling them we were off the air. That Pocketmail is a real handy device.

Tuesday, February 5th - Saturday, February 9th

On Tuesday, the 5th, it continued to rain. We had booked into the RV park until the Friday, but I went into the office and extended our stay until the Saturday.

On Wednesday, the 6th, we took a trip into BBNP to visit Santa Helena Canyon which is right on the Rio Grande river. The trip was interrupted by many stops on the way to view different sites. Tuff's Canyon which is a very small canyon but quite picturesque. In the park, there are many places where signs are put up on the road which say Exhibit Ahead. These exhibits cover everything from the surrounding countryside, animals and birds or, a historical site. One place we stopped at required a left hand turn off the main road onto another well paved road that ran for a short distance along a ridge with a drop on either side of the road. At the end of this road was a circular viewing area. This gave a view out over the valley of the Park towards Santa Helena Canyon and looking off into the distance, one could see a large cut in the distant plateau type scenary which was Santa Helena Canyon.

From there we continued along until we arrived at Castalon, which was one of the original settlements. Someone said that a Mexican had just ridden out on his horse with his wife and kid. He'd come across the Rio Grande to pick up some groceries. But I missed him. I can see why they have so many border patrol officers along the border! In the town, there was a small building which gave a pictoral history of the Texas Rangers. I noticed that a lot of the Rangers wore Mexican hats and clothing, which indicates that Hispanics had a large presence in the Rangers. This of course, doesn't come out in the Hollywood movies. But it sure looked grim back then, matter of fact, it still looks grim today!

We continued on towards Santa Helena Canyon and finally arrived at the parking lot near the Rio Grande. There is a three mile return trip to the Canyon and back. We took the trail from the parking lot and crossed a very wide dried river bed. Not the Rio Grande. As we walked, we eventually saw the Rio Grande to our left as it ran between the walls of the Canyon. The Santa Helena Canyon rises to a height of 1500 feet. To put that in perspective, that's only about 200 feet less than the CN Tower! With the river on our left, the path starts to climb. The National Park Service has put in rails along parts of the trail where it drops off down to the river. Not enough rails for someone like me who doesn't like heights! But the path has been laid out in concrete and is a series of switch-backs as it climbs the side of the Canyon wall. We didn't go to the end of the path as I started to get a little wobbly due to the height and closs proximity to the edge! That's enough for me Val!!! But what a beautiful Canyon. Rafting trips can be taken down the Rio Grande and also overnight trips can be taken as well. Well worth the visit. Pics on this trip will be in the pics email.

On Thursday, the 7th, we headed west on the FM-170 to Presidio. The route is marked with dots on the map so we thought we'd take the trip and see whats there. The FM-170 follows the Rio Grand and about 25 miles down the road, we came to a town called Lajitas. This town has been "purchased" by some Texan and he's making it into a resort for the rich. Adobe condos, a small airport just outside of town, a reconstructed western town, modern hotel accommodation and a gulf course. There's also the Lajitas Trading post that has been here since the 1800's. Inside there is a mural along one wall depicting a visit by Panhco Villa and his men. General Pershing of the US Army also paid a visit to Lajitas. See the pic email.

We continued on the FM-170 towards Presidio and stopped for lunch at a picnic spot that has three teepees set up by the State of Texas. They're not cloth but certainly catch your eye when going along the road. Just past this rest stop is a 15% hill that I had heard about from other RVers. The comment is, "don't go near that hill with your RV." Well, when you go up and down that hill, you can see why. We met a couple who came this way and the wife said that she was looking at the floor boards all the way down the hill! Fortunately, they only had a 3000 lb fifth-wheel. But the trip to Presidio was very scenic as it follows the Rio Grande river which we have been following all the way from the Rio Grande Valley. But Presidio was just another ugly Texas frontier town. After Presidio it was about turn and back on the same road. But a really nice trip.

On Friday, the 8th, we went back to BBNP to go to the Chisos Basin area. As we found out, this area is quite different from the rest of the Park. The rest of the park is total desert with no real tree growth. On the other hand, the Chisos Basin has Douglas Fir trees. Not the huge ones, but these ones grown to about 50 or 60 feet. There are also other types of trees not found in the desert. This is due to the fact that this is a basin that catches whatever rain there is and allows this type of growth to take place. The drive up to the Basin was very picturesque and when we eventually reached the visitors center, we were surrouned by a wall of mountain. There are 24 cougars living in this area and the park ranger was talking about how you should not run from a cougar, but make yourself as big as possible and throw stones. Be aggressive. He also mentioned that the place where cougars are most abundant is on Vancouver Island where cougars attacks are quite frequent. But he said that the people there are aware of this and it's the price they have to pay for living there. Terrific! We had an excellent lunch at the restaurant overlooking the Window. Which is a V shapes cut in the ring of mountains that allows a view out of the Basin into the surrounding desert plain below. Quite impressive.

On Saturday, February 9th, we left Stude Butte and the BBNP and headed north on the Texas-118 to Alpine, about and 80 mile trip. The trip to Alpine was a slow but steady uphill climb which was also quite scenic. At Alpine we continued north on the Texas-118 to Fort Davis which was another 23 miles. Again, from Alpine to Fort Davis, it was another steady climb. Alpine is at 4400 feet and Fort Davis is at 5500 feet, the highest town in Texas. When we arrived at Fort Davis, which only has about 1200 people, we didn't like the looks of the RV parks; so we turned around and headed back to to Alpine as we had passed an RV park called the Lost Alaskan RV Park and it looked quite nice. We arrived at the Lost Alaskan and booked in until the following Friday. We set up and had a beer.

I think this is where I'll leave this report. We'll start the next report from Alpine.

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