Monday, February 20, 2017

Signs of spring

Alrighty then

In an episode of The Simpsons, the neighbors rebuilt the Simpsons' house in one day. On a tour of the badly thrown together dwelling, Apu points to a door with a glow pulsing out of the cracks. "This is the only room with electricity. Too much electricity."

Well, I'm at Governor's Landing Campground, Amistad National Recreation Area near Del Rio, Texas, and this is the only site with electricity. Not enough electricity. (That's a long lead-in to a very small joke.)

This is no loss to me since I have my own source of electricity. They're very serious, though, about others not making off any amps.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A stop along the way

The Falcon International Reservoir was created in the 1950s by damming the Rio Grand south of Laredo, Texas. I'm camped three miles from the border at Falcon County Park. Free camping, water, toilets, showers, some electricity, tables, fire pits, etc. And trees. Haven't had any of those lately.

It's one of those places I would never have know about if it weren't for online sources like FreeCampsites.net or Campendium.com.

Right now the grass is mostly brown and some of the aforementioned trees are bare. It's probably a lot nicer in spring, which is technically just a month away.

My GPS unit got me here from Port Mansfield without using any interstates and scarcely any divided highways. But that's okay, because Texas, knowing it's large and spread out, has high speed limits even on two lane roads. And traffic was light.

It was sunny and warm with perfectly acceptable humidity. Not desert-low, but comfortable. Meanwhile, reports from friends say it's windy and wet in the Yuma area. No rush to get back there.

Enough

I spent a quiet, comfortable night by the water in Port Mansfield, Texas. You can camp free for three nights in Fred Stone Park, on Laguna Madre. I went to sleep thinking I'd stay another night or two, but when I awoke this morning I realized the Texas coast just isn't my thing. It's not bad, and I'm certain a lot of people really love it, but for me... shrug. I felt the same way after making pancakes and watching deer stroll by.

So after I post this I'll start heading west. Along the way I'll figure out where I want to be next. New Mexico, maybe. I like New Mexico.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I miss not needing to think much about the weather

Nature is teasing me. Or testing me.

"You don't like humidity? I could make it more humid, you know. See how you like that, Mr. Picky." So it sends fog.

"Aw, poor little man, all damp and glum. I'll make the fog go away." So it sends a thunder storm.

"Still not happy? Let me blow this overcast out of here." So it sends howling, biting wind and drops the temperature about fifteen degrees.

"What, too wintery for you? I'll take care of that in a few days." That's when the heat and humidity are scheduled to return.

So, the question is whether I continue to ride this roller coaster, or just move the Texas coast to my Been There Done That list.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

It cleared up

The rain eventually moved on, and so did I. I'm at the Bird Island Basin campground in the Padre Island National Seashore, on the Laguna Madre side of the island. It's one of the top windsurfing spots, which means it's mighty breezy. Laguna Madre also has a higher salt concentration than the ocean, which means you'll float better when you fall off your board.

Sometimes the forecast is right



"Beach weather" is simply whatever weather is happening at the beach. Today it's drizzle intermixed with thunderstorms. It's not the best time to be a only foot and a half above sea level, so I'm writing this from a store parking lot. Then it's back to the beach. A different one, though, because it's moving day.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The forecast was wrong, in a good way

The sky cleared and it was a fine day to be at the beach. Here is photographic proof.




Hello, water

Port Aransas, Texas. Gulf of Mexico. Camping on the beach. Above the tide line, according to knowledgeable people. Yes!

Since taking that photo, the cloud cover and haze have gotten thicker. The forecast is for drizzle. It's not the end of the world even though it is the edge of the land.

Almost there.

I was about eighty miles from Corpus Christi when I decided I'd had my fill of driving for the day. If I'd kept going I would've been wandering in an unfamiliar area, trying to find a vacant spot to camp before it got dark. It didn't help that it was Saturday and the weekend crowds might make things more difficult.

So I pulled into a rest area. A rather nice one. Two sets of restrooms, air conditioned lobby, covered picnic tables, a maintenance guy keeping things clean and functioning. Traffic rumbled and whined past, but I got used to it.

The problem was that the humidity (which a lot of people would consider just normal, but was on the heavy side for a desert rat like me) was much more comfortable with the doors and windows wide open. An energetic breeze was counteracting the humidity, but since the rest stop wasn't private or secluded, I had to close up the Rolling Steel Tent while I slept. It got stuffy. I coped.

So I'm off to the Gulf this morning. A new place, a new experience. That's why I live this way.

Friday, February 10, 2017

So far

After a 350-mile day I'm crashing in a motel (not hotel) in Ozona, Texas. The scenery looks a little less like desert. It's not as flat and there are mesquite and juniper trees instead of just rabbit brush and creosote.

I could probably reach the Gulf in another long slog, but my saner, more tired self wants me to do it in two parts. It depends on what stopping places I can find. My brain says to stop writing. It wants to shut down for the night.

Onward through Texas

Thanks to a recommendation from Vanholio, I blew through El Paso and headed for Hueco Tanks State Park forty-something miles east-northeast. Petroglyphs, pictographs, ruins and rock climbing. For those who don't know, a tank is a place where water forms pools in the rocks. I don't know why they're not called pools.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, some of the petroglyphs were not made by ancient people, unless you consider the first half of the 20th century ancient.

Sometime during the night I decided I'd had enough of boulder piles and desert. It was time to make some serious progress toward the Gulf. No backtracking to El Paso to ride a tram up a mountain or to see Pancho Villa's trigger finger. So I was up bright and early and waiting at the park gate. "Let me out! Let me head down the highway! I've got the road music cranked up!"

I'm writing this in Van Horn where I previously thought I would need to make the choice of continuing on I-10 or turning south to take slower, less hectic US90. By the time I got here, though, I had already voted for more hectic. "I'm... a... high-... way... star!"

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Back at one of my favorite campgrounds

I was at Aguirre Springs on April Fool's Day 2014 and wrote that I could live there. I'm there again, in the same campsite, wondering why it took two years to return. Larger voices callin', I guess.

Yet I'll be gone tomorrow, because, well, those larger voices won't shut up. And I won't stop listening.

In case you were wondering

Rules about overnighting in rest stops vary from state to state. Some states: not at all. Other states: time limit.

New Mexico says 24 hours max. At least for this rest stop just west of Las Cruces. But, you know, $100 is less than many hotel rooms. And none of them have 40-foot roadrunners made from recycled tires, sneakers, keyboards, ironing boards, crutches... If only there were an equally huge coyote to go with it.


What's that?

Off to the side of my campsite at City of Rocks State Park was this manmade structure butting up it one of the big boulders. Hmmm. A cistern, maybe? Nope.

Decorative concealment for trash cans. And, I suppose, a hiding place for kids. Or a place to sit in the shade.

We must have aspirations

One of the signs along I-10 in New Mexico

Yes, zero visibility is possible, if only you would try. Just close your eyes.

Stopping at an old haunt

I can't pass through southern New Mexico without spending at least a night at City of Rocks State Park.



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

As clean as a truck driver

When I say "truck stop," some people scrunch up their faces and give a silent, "Ewww." They are usually suburbanites imagining a place populated by oily, dirty, smelly blue collar guys hopped up on amphetamines, with female junkies turning tricks in the parking lot. So when I say "truck stop shower" they gag and imagine oily, dirty, smelly, damp closets covered in soap scum, body hair, diseases and other unspeakable horrors.

This is because they've never been to a truck stop. Or they didn't know they had because it was called a "travel center" and it looked like a large gas station/convenience store/fast food restaurant complex. With semis in back. And it's because they've never even knew there were showers to be had.

Well, for the truck stop shower virgins out there, this one at the Flying J in Lordsburg NM is very typical.

Clean, modern, well lit, roomy, private. I've used health club showers and hotel bathrooms that don't measure up. Attendants clean up, mop up and disinfect between customers. They supply fresh towels, wash cloths and mats. The stalls are about six feet by four feet. There's usually all the water pressure and hot water you could want. The shower heads usually have at least two settings. There's no time limit. Bathe until you get wrinkly. It sure beats anything anyone has in a van or RV. It even beats some people's houses.

I prefer the showers at Flying J and Pilot travel centers. (They're the same company.) The towels at Love's tend to be thin and scratchy. I've used the showers at only one T/A truck stop. I have no particular memories, so it must have been okay. Sometimes the showers are on the old side, but I think the companies have programs to modernize them, because I've gone back to a couple of places and was surprised with renovations.

Sometimes you'll have to wait your turn for a shower. Other times you can get in immediately. Pro drivers get loyalty cards and earn free showers. The rest of us have to pay. Usually. Sometimes the clerk, surprised you don't have a loyalty card, will take pity and give you a shower free. Sometimes a trucker behind you in line will offer to put it on his/her loyalty card because they've earned more showers than they could ever use.

Eleven to twelve bucks might be a hit on your budget. I do sponge baths most of the time and truck stop showers every two or three weeks. They're a treat, like pizza or ice cream. But not fattening.

Last call

Bowie, Arizona

This was once a bar. Or a restaurant. Or a restaurant and bar. Now it's only another of the crumbling teepee buildings scattered around the West. This is what happens when you appropriate other cultures' stuff. However, I think we could use a lot more oddly shaped buildings. Anyone can do boxes. Give us more giant teapots, colossal ducks, office buildings shaped like binoculars. That will make America great again.

I don't think they mean naan

I stopped for the night at Indian Bread Rocks near Bowie, Arizona. Nice place. Free. Great for bouldering. That's a little snow on the far peak.

As soon as the sun is high enough in the sky so it's not shining in my eyes, I'll continue on eastward.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The thing about The Thing?

If you've traveled Interstate 10 between Tucson and Las Cruces, you've seen the hundreds of billboards for The Thing? (always with a question mark). Yes, it's a tourist trap. But in the grand sense, it's so much more.

The Thing? isn't just a small, threadbare, not-all-that-interesting museum attached to a gas station, Dairy Queen and souvenir store. It's conceptual art. It's the totality of it. It's the name and the marketing and all those billboards. It's a chunk of American highway culture. It's knowing The Thing? is hokey and disappointing and you drive past because you're too smart. Or it's stopping anyway because you know it's hokey and disappointing but that things like The Thing? have a certain cheesy, kitchy, stupid entertainment value. And it's only a buck. And you needed to use a bathroom anyway.

I was swallowed by a snake

There's a bicycle and pedestrian bridge in downtown-ish Tucson that's shaped like a giant Diamond Back Rattlesnake. A marriage of function and whimsy.

At one end you pass between the fangs. At the other end is the rattle and a motion sensor that triggers the playing of a rattling sound. This could've been just another nondescript bridge, but someone had an idea and the people paying for it said, "Yeah! Let's do it!"

Artist: Simon Donovan. Engineering: T. Y. Lin International. Contractor: Hunter Contraction Co.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Two signs it's less wintery

Of course, winter in the lower parts of Arizona is downright summery compared to places that have real winters. That said, it has warmed up a little more. On the positive side, I can drive with the window open. Mmmmmm, yes. On the negative side, some type of bug is out and about, dining on me. Uhhhhh, no. Oh well. Can't have everything.

Ostrich and stingrays and goats, oh my

Back before I hit the road for good (or evil) I discovered RoadsideAmerica.com. Cool! All sorts of interesting, weird, historical, hysterical things to see. And some disappointing ones, too. I haven't made much use of it over the past three-plus years, but I know the Lone Star State has more than its share of oddities. So I did some research before this trek through southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

My first stop was Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch near Tucson. It's next to Picacho Peak State Park, so you could do a double header if you were so inclined. The ranch is a nicely done petting zoo, but since the ostriches are raised for meat, leather and feathers, it's not a good place for vegans or animal rights activists.

But it's not just ostriches.

Miniature Sicilian Donkeys

A bunch of Budgies

Goats that like to stick their heads through holes to be fed

Stingrays that only want you for your squid

Rainbow Lorikeets that swarm you for nectar

What elevates (literally and figuratively) Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Farm above your average petting zoo is the 800 horsepower, twenty-one passenger monster truck.

Hmmmm, it wouldn't take much to make this beast livable

Oh, sure, they could take you on a tour around the property and give a nature talk about the Sonoran Desert from inside docile tram. But that's too predictable and insufficiently bad ass. And it's more fun this way for our guide, Greg.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

The eastward journey begins

I had been in Ehrenberg, Arizona, to drop off some videos I edited. It was the last bit of something I had to take care of before heading to Texas. After a slow start and a nice shower at the Flying J, I made the easy two-hour drive to Buckeye Hills Regional Park—my usual camping spot in the greater Phoenix area. It's free, uncrowded and sufficiently quiet (after the shooting range closes for the day).

Tomorrow it's another easy drive to Tucson, or maybe farther. I haven't done any long distance driving in a while. Can I break the two-hour barrier? Or should I even try. There's no rush.

Pet sharing

Savanna pays a visit to the Rolling Steel Tent