We are weeks behind in our blogging. Aargh!! As I write this, on December 2, we are in West Texas in the heart of Big Bend National Park. Our last blog talked about Death Valley, which we visited from November 7-11 and we’ve travelled many miles since then. It’s hard to keep up, mostly because we don’t allocate very much time to sitting behind a computer, and also because we’ve gleefully spent a lot these last few weeks visiting friends and family (Elise!). Every day, I think of things I want to share with friends, but most of these ideas never make it out of my head. So, I’m going to try to use this blog to catch up, and hope it’s still interesting reading! You can follow along our travels by looking at our crazy map on our homepage (scroll down from the top). Bob has “dropped a pin” at every stop, along with a picture related to that place. Apologies for the upside-down pictures; Google seems to have a mind of its own and flips some of them (not sure why not all or none), and it’s too hard to work around The Behemoth (Google).
Since we left Death Valley on November 11th, we’ve driven across “The Big Empty” of central Nevada and visited Great Basin National Park on the Nevada-Utah border; had an awesome 3-day visit with dear friends outside Moab—returning to one of our first stops from mid-May (ages ago); hiked for three days in and around Bear’s Ears National Monument; drove from Utah across northern New Mexico to Taos, where we hiked in the Taos Mountains and reunited with friends from our mid-1980s Peace Corps time in Paraguay; visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe; had a fun-filled Thanksgiving week in Albuquerque with our daughter Elise and her partner Hans and their wonderful friends; hiked for two days at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, New Mexico; picnicked at White Sands National Monument and dined in the historic “old town” of Las Cruces; and zipped over to an off-the-grid AirBnB cabin sitting on 80 acres of desert scrub between Dell City and the Guadalupe Mountains, which was our base for two great hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We drove yesterday to Big Bend National Park, named for the big bend in the Rio Grande that forms a large section of the United States’ border with Mexico. We’ll spend about a week here in Big Bend before visiting friends in Texas and heading back east in earnest.
Wow, that tired me out, just writing it!
In an effort to catch ourselves up to real time, I’ll just share some of the highlights and perspectives:
This is shaping up to be one of our best hiking months of our entire trip. We’re out on the trail almost every day. (Yay!)
Great Basin is a national park that few people seem to know about. It’s small, but interesting: some of the oldest trees in the world (Bristlecone Pines, which can live 5,000 years, and then even once they’re dead, their skeletons can remain standing for 2,000 years), as well as Nevada’s highest peak and only (melting) glacier. Once you climb up, you get great sweeping views of the lowlands. The “Great Basin” is a huge area beyond the national park that is so-named because what little water they get doesn’t drain to either the Atlantic or Pacific—it just gets stuck in the basin and eventually evaporates. It was so cold while we were there that the high lakes were frozen and we abandoned camping in favor of cheap hotels in Ely, Nevada, and Scipio, Utah.
Our great friends Marty and John rented a house in Castle Valley, outside Moab, for seven weeks and invited us to visit. Our friend Dierdre was also there, and together we took a beautiful hike in the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. It was so nice to be back in this part of Utah, where we’d been in mid-May, at the start of our adventure. In a funny way, it felt like coming home. The weather there was perfect and it was so wonderful to be with our friends who also value pounding the hiking trails and getting into big nature. Glorious! Thank you, Marty, John, and Dierdre for your generosity and friendship. We are eager for the next shared adventure!
After leaving Castle Valley, we stayed in Blanding, Utah, where we established a 3-day AirBnB basecamp to hike in the nearby canyons of Bear’s Ears National Monument as well as Natural Bridges National Monument. (You may have heard that Bear’s Ears, established as a national monument by the Obama administration in 2016, has been at the top of the list of public lands which might be rescinded. In this context particularly, we felt privileged to visit this beautiful place and contemplate its protected status.) This is in the “four corners” part of the southwest (where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado all come together. The scenery is glorious and colorful, and there are numerous remnants from early native American dwellings—pictographs, petroglyphs, and more. You really are aware that our forbearers were here not so long ago, and also of the disruption and decimation inflicted by Europeans on our native peoples. (Actually, this has been an omnipresent theme throughout our trip—a harsh historical reality that you can sometimes forget about “back East.”) For the present-day visitor, it is a magical place, and the hiking opportunities are endless. We covered as much ground as we could.
Taos, New Mexico, feels about as old as a town can get in the U.S., but more importantly, we reconnected with Peace Corps friends we hadn’t seen in 30 years. Thank you, Kevin and Ana, for welcoming us into your home and sharing Kevin’s amazing tacos. We took a beautiful hike up a trail in the Taos Mountains of Carson National Forest that Kevin and Ana recommended, where we had our first re-encounter with snow hiking since August in the North Cascades, ascending above the nearby ski trails for a sweeping view.
Staying with Elise in Albuquerque was wonderful, as was sharing Thanksgiving with her friends Hans, Dee, Alex, Maggie, Beth, Kemper, and their canine friends. We felt immense gratitude for our wonderful year, our wonderful kids, and the opportunity to share this holiday with such wonderful friends.
Elise, Hans, and Hans’s joyful dog Rio joined us for a hiking jaunt in Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite haunt: Ghost Ranch outside Abiquiu, NM. This is one of the most colorful and beautiful places ANYWHERE. Go!
After saying goodbye to Elise and Hans, we headed off to White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, NM, where we picnicked on the white sand dunes and marveled at the strange site. Bob’s mother Heide has been talking about White Sands for years, so we were glad to have a chance to visit and send her a picture of us on the white gypsum sand.
We moved on from Las Cruces (near White Sands) to get near the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which is in Texas, but very close to the New Mexico border and Carlsbad National Park (which is in New Mexico—we’d visited it on a previous trip to NM). The three days we spent in a 20′ x 30′ off-the-grid cabin outside of Dell City, Texas, was an adventure in itself. It was completely isolated, and we had to drive down many miles of barely discernible sandy roads to reach the National Park (glad we have high clearance 4WD). Directions from the host: “Continue on until you see a boarded-up trailer, then go another 3.5 miles and turn left at a telephone pole and a green box, then go 1 mile to a barbed wire fence and turn left along the sandy track another 1.5 miles until you see the cabin on a small rise on the left.” This was classic desert, and we were all alone except for jack rabbits, road runners, and a few cows that wandered over after dark to check us out. The landscape is huge, and the skies are too. There was nothing but sand and scrubby grasses between us and the mountains, and we couldn’t help but feel like these were our own private mountains.
Just to unpack those words “off-the-grid cabin.” There was no water or electricity—which our host warned us about abundantly. But hey, for us, we like tent camping so this was a step up, and much warmer at night than if we had been camping. There were propane tanks fueling a small cookstove as well as a very powerful space heater. There was a composting toilet (odorless). And there were sinks and a bathtub, set up to be plumbed, but you had to use your own water. For lighting, we used our host’s lantern and our camping lanterns and headlamps. We filled up on water at the national park and charged our lantern from the car every day. For me, who is always thinking about our “next life” and how I can live more sustainably with less negative impact on the environment, I find it really informative and stimulating to visit a place like this cabin and ponder what it is we really need to live a comfortable and satisfying life.
Our rustic cabin was a good basecamp for exploring Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We had two great hikes: we climbed Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, and hiked deep into picturesque McKittrick Canyon—which we learned has been called “the most beautiful hike in Texas.”
Catching up to real time, I am writing this from Big Bend National Park on the Mexican border. It’ll be our last national park before heading east. I have to admit it: I’m very sad that this trip is winding down. I feel like I could do it all over again for at least another year, just endlessly looping through the wilderness. But that’s not it in the cards, and so we’re busily living in the present, while planning next week, next month, and next year. The adventure continues….