Drive to Moab – Arches National Park

The drive from Mesa Verde was pretty short only about 2h, I’ve done pretty well this whole trip I think the longest I’ve had to drive in a day is only about 4h.

The landscape was now alot more like I was expecting from a desert and the West haha, red sand with with these amazing red sandstone formations and cliffs rising up out of the ground, cut by water over millions of years. On the way in to town you drive past Wilson’s Arch which is a short stroll from the road so I stopped to have a look, the Arches are pretty amazing.

Wilson's Arch

The campsite I was heading to was just on the other side of Moab. As you’re heading out of Moab towards the arches national park, you turn right down 128 (There is a gondola on the corner) which follows the Rio Grande River through the canyon. Along this road there are a number of self-register first in best dressed campgrounds. The first couple, which are definitely the nicer ones were already full but a bit further down there were some spots free.


Location: Oak Grove Campground, Moab, Utah
Address: UT-128, Moab, Utah 84532
GPS: 38.6436249,-109.4786776
Cost: $15.0
Facilities: Waterless restroom, picnic tables, camp BBQ’s.


Oak Grove Campsite
Oak Grove Campsite

These camp grounds were allot more exposed, but you get some shade from the sun in the evenings from the canyon walls. I was still an awesome spot on the river bank with canyon walls soaring above you, was pretty amazing. I set up camp and had some dinner. While I was cooking dinner I could see a few people swimming in the river from the rocks a little downstream. After dinner since it was still pretty damn hot, I decided it might be nice to go for a swim to cool off. So i wandered down and joined them, it was two couples one probably late 40’s the other about my age.We chatted while we swam; Well stood on rocks in the water, the current was quite strong in this section so you couldn’t really swim, but it was still really nice to cool off. We stayed till the light was pretty much gone then headed back out camps while we could still see the way.

The next day I got up and hit Arches national park, again I got in for free, not sure why maybe because they were doing works so a couple of places were shut (usually $25 i think). The only thing I will write about this is I headed straight for the far end of the Park for two reasons; one allot of the people coming in were stopping at the earlier stops and second most of the hiking is at the far end of the park so I wanted to get it out of the way while it was cooler in the morning. Now I’m going to let the pictures do the talking.

Landscape Arch
Landscape Arch
Partition Arch
Partition Arch

Partition Arch
Partition Arch
Navajo Arch
Navajo Arch

Most of the arches are made from sandstone fins that have eroded over millions of years.
Double O arch
Double O arch

 

Longnose Leopard Lizard
Skyline Arch
Skyline Arch
Sandstone Arch
Sandstone Arch
Broken Arch
Broken Arch
Fiery Furnace
Fiery Furnace
Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch

After a long hot day in the Park I felt like a refreshing beverage… so I stopped in at the Moab Brewery and had a Beer at the Bar. While I was sitting at the bar a local man came and Sat between myself and another guy, who turned out to be a Kiwi, the Jeff the local guy was amazed that he had sat down between the two of us. So we all got chatting, the Kiwi had shipped his motorbike over from NZ to a place in south america and has been travelling around on it for a few months,  Jeff is civil engineer working for KOA campgrounds planning the remodeling and infrastructure of their campgrounds around the stated and in his spare time he goes rock crawling in his modified Jeep. As the night went on and we got chatting more, Jeff offered to take me out 4x4ing in his Jeep if I was around the next day, I was meant to be leaving in the morning but decided to stay as I didn’t want to pass up this great opportunity. That night I actually ended up staying at a Backpackers in town as it was cheaper than camping ($12).

Mesa Verde Day 2

Today was an early start as my first tour, the long house, was at 9:00am and it was about a 1.5h drive across the park to get there.
Long house was a bit bigger than Balcony house and once had some 150 rooms, it is probably in the worst shape of all the dwellings I saw. They believe Long House was more of a ceremonial place as in the middle was a great Kiva. The guide pointed out an interesting feature, the sipapu in the great Kiva wasn’t centered but offset at an angle from the fire pit which was strange, but when the guide held a compass over the sipapu it pointed true north-south. I thought this was pretty amazing considering we were talking 600-700 years ago. It always amazes me how in-tune ancient societies were, they generally have a great understanding of astrology, building practices that allow their buildings to stand for hundreds of years and a way of utilising the materials around them to create these amazing structures.

Long House

Grooves in the sandstone from where they would sharpen their tools

Long House

My next tour was of the Cliff Palace, so I made my way there Via the museum which had some artifacts and tools on display as well as some more information on the development of the Puebloan buildings and society. There was also an overlook to Spruce Tree house, which was shut due to rock fall risks, so I had a look at that from across the way. It looked to be pretty well preserved.

Spruce Tree House
Spruce Tree House

Cliff Palace was also very well preserved and from the observation area above It gave you a pretty good idea of what it might have looked like back in the day. Cliff Palace they believe was home to about 23 or so Puebloan Clans as there were 23 Kivas. This is one of the youngest dwellings only about 600 years old.

Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace

Kiva
Kiva
Some extremely well preserved wall decorations inside one of the towers.
The original rendering just hanging in there

It was amazing to see the dwellings and fascinating to learn a little about Puebloan society. I thought 3 tours might be a little too much and repetitive, but each guide brought their own facts, figures and ideas as to what might have been going on or how life was. A great stop and well worth it, my favorite cliff dwelling was probably Cliff Palace.

Colorado – Mesa Verde Day 1

My first stop on my way to Colorado was actually an unplanned stop in a small town called Chama, NM. Don’t worry it wasn’t for any car troubles, but for a friend, Tegan, She is obsessed with trains (might have something to do with her job at Queensland rail, but I worked for an AC company…. I don’t have an obsession with AC’s). I had seen all these signs for the Cumbres & Toltec scenic steam train so I decided to have a look. It was only 3-4km’s off track so no big deal. As I pulled up in the train station car park I saw a steam engine puffing along towing another behind, I found a park got my camera and went for a look. I watched for a while as they ‘fueled up’ (added coal to the Tender), and moved around the tracks. It was pretty interesting to, they also didn’t seem to care if you walked around the tracks to have a closer look, I followed others.

Cambres & Toltec Steam Train

Cambres & Toltec Steam Train
‘Fueling Up’

Back on the Road I hit Colorado. Although my stay in Colorado was short it was beautiful and amazing from the moment I crossed the state line. As I entered Colorado The sun was shining and in front of me rose these amazing mountains. My first stop was for lunch in a pretty little town called Pagosa Springs (yes they are hot springs). I found the town park which was a cute like park with some nice green grass, picnic tables and playground set on the banks of the San Juan River. After my chicken, Avocado and Mayo wrap I sat and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air for a little bit, then wet for a short stroll along the river. It was a pretty active river, people wise that is; there were some people floating down the river from up stream in inflatable tubes; a few fly fisherman; and down stream a bit further I could see a watering whole where people were swimming and sunbathing on the rocks, It was a very Nice town and I was tempted to stay the night, but decided to keep moving.

I arrived at my final destination, Mesa Verde National, at about 3:30-4pm. I stopped at the visitor centre to get some information on the sights in the park; Mesa Verde is home to Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. A few of the Dwellings were only accessible on tours and I thought It would be good to get some more insight into the fascinating structures. At only $5 a tour I decided to do 3; Balcony House, Long House and Cliff Palace. Balcony house was that evening at 5 so I got moving as it was an hour drive through the park to where the tour took place. I was lucky enough to arrive at the park on it’s birthday so entry was free (usually USD$25/car I believe), the road twists and turns its way up and along the cliffs, until you get on-top to the Mesa (Plateau, Mesa verde translates to Green Plateau) then its relatively straight. The drive is quite scenic with lots of views over the valley way down bellow.

Valley View
The Balcony house tour stars with a short walk to some steps that take you down onto the side of the cliff, then along a path to a 9 meter or so wooden rung ladder to get you up and into the balcony house. Here we learned that all of the cliff dwellings are built on or near seep springs, a point in the sandstone where the more porous sandstone meets harder rock and the water that has filtered down from the Mesa above is forced out, this was their water source. Balcony house is from the 13th Century so approximately 700 years old and was built around the time they were transitioning from a hunter gatherer nomadic society to a Sedentary society farming on Mesa above. It was amazing how intact and well preserved it was considering its age, with original decorative paintings still visible.

Cliff Dwelling across the Canyon

Balcony House

Balcony
Here you can see the different layering they used in the balconies
Original wall decorations

The tour was excellent a informative, afterwards I headed back to the Campground. One of the more expensive ones at $30 or so, but pretty with free wifi throughout (projected from the restrooms) and showers available. I also didn’t have to pay entry so evens it out.

Taos to Heron Lake

The drive from Taos to Heron Lake was full of surprises. First was the Rio Grande gorge Bridge an arch bridge that spans across the Rio Grande Gorge, I stopped here for a little bit and went for a wander, it was pretty sweet standing on the bridge and looking down into the gorge.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge NM

Next not long after leaving the bridge I stumbled across Earthship Biotecture community, these crazily designed houses are made from natural and up-cycled materials, the main one being rammed tyres which a friend of mine had told me about a few years ago. I stopped and had a gander, unfortunately the visitor center was shut so I couldn’t take a look inside, but I believe some of the buildings can be rented. They were very intriguing indeed, some looking like they had greenhouses inside them and lots of hatches and windows that opened I assume to make the most of natural ventilation instead of AC. I would’ve loved to take a look inside.

Earthship BIotecture Taos
Earthship BIotecture Taos
Earthship BIotecture Taos
Earthship BIotecture Taos

for the next few miles there were more and more of these crazy houses.
Next I entered the Carson National Forrest which was a beautiful drive, then I came round one corner and had this amazing view of the valley bellow, sun beaming through rain on the mountains in the distance.

Sun Through the rain

Then I left the Carson national park… and the road turned to shit easily the worst kept road I have been on so far, but I made it to Heron lake (which was my stop for the night) without a flat haha. I stopped at the Blanco Campground.


Location:Blanco Campground Heron Lake NM
Address: NM-95, Los Ojos, NM 87551
GPS: 36.692402, -106.656725
Cost: $15 ( for non hookup I think)
Facilities: Restroom with shower, picnic tables, camp BBQ’s, full RV hookup, hiking


The campsite was pretty nice, nestled in among the trees. Another self pay, but they do take reservations. It seemed pretty popular with lots of RV’s there was also lake access with a boat ramp just down the road at the Marina. The next morning I got up and going pretty early, first stop the Heron Dam also down the road. It wasn’t a very exciting Dam but the lake looked spectacular, sun was out and nearly a millpond it made me really wish I had a boat so I could go water skiing.

Blanco Campsite
Campsite – Blanco Campground
Heron Lake
Heron Lake

Taos Ski Valley

My next stop was a city called Taos, this stop had been suggested to me by a friend so thought I would check it out. Taos town is nice town with cool architecture, based off native american Pueblo style. I had a few errands to run; do some food shopping, washing and pick up a part for my car. Once I had done all that I headed to the Taos Pueblo an ancient building belonging to the natives, unfortunately the area was shut when I got there so I continued onto Taos Ski Valley to have a look and stay the night as there was free camping there.

The drive up was a gentle climb up through a valley between the mountains. At one point, I come round a bend to see a Range Rover stopped in the middle of the road with his hazards on, I slow down thinking ‘what is this idiot doing’ and pull onto the other side of the road to pass him, as I’m slowly passing trying to asses the situation to work out what the heck was going on, it looked like he had just stopped for no reason, then out of the corner of my eye I see movement so I glance up to see a Black Bear standing up yanking on a bush on the side of the road. I quickly pull in-front of the Range Rover, park in the middle of the road and throw my hazards on (just like the idiot in the range rover) grab my camera and jump out, taking a pretty wide birth I walk back up the road, but by the time I get there the bear had moved to the back of the tree and I didn’t particularly want to go chasing him into the bushes, he was slightly bigger than me… So I got back in my car and kept moving before the next car came.

The landscape changed pretty quickly from the desert of Taos into an alpine one as you entered into Carson National Forest. Along the road to the Right were quite a few basic campsites among the pine trees on the banks of creek, but I kept moving to the village to have a look and see what the campsite there was like. I get to the top and it looks like your typical ski village with some very European looking buildings and lifts heading up to the mountains above. I find a park and go for a little walk, the whole thing is getting me very excited for Canada, a nice little alpine village with a stream running right through the middle of it, a perfect change from the desert.

I find the campsite which unfortunately is tent only, but there are a few RV’s pulled up in the car park that look set up. So I decide to go and have a drink at one of the bars that was open and sus out what the deal was with sleeping in the car park. I end up at place called Stray dog Cantina, I find a seat, order a beer and get chatting to the bartenders two girls about my age. They say it should be fine as it was summer and give me a few suggestions on hikes I should do, the first was one up to Williams lake which was a pretty easy hike and the other was a hike up to the highest peak in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak, which there were two approaches; one from the village which went up along the ridge-line to the top a long but more gentle climb, the other was a hard slog up from Williams lake. I decide I would do the hike to Williams Lake in the morning and then see how I’m feeling and maybe do the hard slog up or stay another night (it was a nice change being in the alpine environment) and get up and do the longer one to the top the next day.

I wake the next morning to find it’s still raining, as it had been most of the night, but I decide to head up to the trail-head anyway as the rain was only light. Once at the trail-head the rain had gotten heavier again, so I went about making some breakfast, there was a covered over camp table so I set up there and cook myself a fried egg on a roll with cream cheese and avocado and brew some coffee. After enjoying my breakfast the rain is starting to settle so I pack up and start getting ready for my hike, I put in plenty of water and some food and get going. The rain pretty much stopped by now. The hike starts off through the some lodges and base of some ski runs, following the stream for a bit, then you enter the trees.



It was a pretty easy hike to Williams lake, along the way I caught up with some young guys who were actually from Texas A & M (I worked with allot of people from there at camp), I noticed the logo on one of their pants. I walked with them and chatted for a bit, but they were going a little slower than I was so I kept moving after a little while. Not long after I made it to the lake, you come over a hill and out of the trees and this meadow opens up bellow, surrounded by the mountains with Williams lake in the middle.

Williams Lake

Me Williams Lak

I hung here for a bit taking in the views, then a little underwhelmed with the hike I decided to head up and do the Wheeler Peak trail. On the way back up I run into the young guys again so I sit with them for a bit and chat some more. While where sitting there the Chipmunks obviously knowing humans generally come with food, start swamping us next thing we know there are about 5 or 6 around us looking all cute wanting food. They start feeding them and taking photos, hence the reason the Chipmunks come over. I snap a few photos, they are pretty cute, allot smaller than I had expected, I was thinking they would be about the size of squirrels, but they are allot smaller, they could easily fit in the palm of your hand.

Chipmunk
Chipmunk
Chipmunk

I continued on up, through the trees until at about 3,300m when you leave the treeline, continuing up through the grassy hillside, now I’m beginning to see more more rodents, lots of mice looking things but bigger, squirrels, chipmunks and some bigger squirrels called Marmots. At one point I come round a bend and just bellow me are two Bighorn Sheep which were pretty cool, I stopped and watch them graze (it was also a nice excuse to rest for a bit, the air is very thin up that high), they soon disappear over the hill so I continued on.

Just above the treeline looking back at where id come from
A Curious Marmot pocking his head out
Big Mouse looking rodent
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep

As you climb up, the switchbacks get allot shorter and steeper, with the nice grassy hills turning into more rock and rubble slides, the air very thin now, progress was allot slower. Toward the top I caught up to an older gentleman named Micheal, so we chatted and finished the last part together, he was part of an altitude conquerors group who were having a competition to see who could climb the highest peaks. It was a nice distraction at this point your legs feel very heavy, the altitude very noticeable. At the top it was as expected, spectacular panoramic views across the surrounding mountains we each sign the book which is stuffed in this metal canister inside the base of the plaque and then sit down to enjoy some well earned food and water, and take in the amazing views that surrounded us.

 

Looking up
an idea of how steep it gets.
Signing the book
Happy Hiker at the top
The View back down to where I had come from way down at the bottom of the valley

Not long after we got to the top a Forest Ranger and Wilderness ranger turned up, Dan and Teck (I think I’m so bad with names and forgot to write them down), we had great chat up there for while, I learned about Tecks jobs as a Wilderness Ranger, he pretty much got payed to hike around the wilderness areas and collect information about the usage of the wilderness. I also learned that there was some native celebration on at the moment and the pueblo areas would be shut for the rest of the week. After we had been chatting for a while we heard thunder rumble across the valley at that point we thought it a good idea to start heading back. So off we went in our different directions. The way down was allot quicker than up, not wanting to get caught in another thunderstorm exposed on the top of a mountain, I quickly caught Micheal right about the tree line (he had left earlier), I walked with him the rest of the way talking some more, there was some rain and hail and a little thunder and lightning but we were within the treeline by then so pretty protected.

The Weather Coming

Overall a great hike,  quite difficult, but I would definitely recommend it, amazing views and lots of rodents to keep you company haha. The whole hike took me about 6 hours including stops (3.5 up 2.5 down) was a total length of 14.3km and rose to an altitude of 4000m (about twice as high as the highest mountain in australia).

Santa Fe – Rio Grande Gorge

My plan was to stay at a Hostel in Santa Fe as it was only $20 a night, compared to RV parks which were more in the area, and I thought it would be a good way to meet some more people. When I turned up at the hostel though, the car park was empty and there didn’t seem to be many people around. I went in to the reception and there was an older man sitting behind the desk, I asked him a few questions and I just didn’t get the vibe I wanted so I moved on. The bed in my van is bigger and more comfortable than a Hostel so I didn’t want to pay $20 for just a place to sleep.

I found a Starbucks up the road so went there to do some research on alternate accommodation, I quickly found some campsites in the Rio Grande Gorge about an hour up the road in the direction I was heading. So I hit the road and Continue on to there.

Off state road 68 is the turnoff to Rio Grande Gorge State park, along this road there are a number of different campsites you can stay at, all are first come first served self register and pay ($7/night). I chose the Second campsite, The Rio Bravo as it is the only one with a shower.


Location: Rio Bravo Campground
Address: Rio Bravo Campground, NM-570, Carson, NM 87517
Cost: USD$7/night
Facilities: Restrooms with showers (payed min USD$1 quarters), Covered picnic tables,
camp BBQ’s, Potable Water, full hookup RV sites (USD$14)


I found myself a Site and went about cooking dinner, tonight a Thai Green Curry was on the menu which I was pretty excited about. In the morning I got up made myself some breakfast and then headed off to do a morning hike.

If you continue down NM-570 just before the bridge there is a car-park where from there you can do a few hikes, there were also a few people going rafting and stand up paddle boarding down the river from the boat ramp. I choose to do the hike up to the Rim, wasn’t very long or hard, the start I a bit more difficult trying to navigate the rocks, but once you get up to the path It is a gentle climb to the top.

At the top you have amazing views across the gorge and planes. It’s amazing to see how these rivers have cut through the planes to create these massive canyons and gorges.I continued along the top for a little till I found a nice lookout and stopped there for a bit before heading back.




Las Cruces – White Sands

I ended up staying two nights as the weather was really bad the first day and I wanted to see the white sands when the weather was good. The campsite was also really nice, situated at the foot of the hills of the Organ Mountain National Recreation Area overlooking the planes bellow which were actually the White sands missile testing site.


Location: Aguirre Springs Camp Ground
Address: Aguirre Springs Rd, Las Cruces, NM 88011
Cost: USD $7
Facilities: Waterless restroom, picnic tables with covered area, camp BBQ’s.


 

Once the weather cleared up in the planes, the clouds just wouldn’t leave the mountains, I was hoping to do a hike while I was there, I headed to White Sands National Monument. On the way I saw a sign to the White Sands Missile museum, so thought I would check it out. The museum was pretty cool ran through the history and evolution of the different missiles and how they worked. I found this pretty fascinating because I’ve always wondered how the different guidance systems worked. It was also amazing to see what they could achieve so long ago, for example, the side winder missile which is still in use today, was originally developed in the 1950’s along with allot of the other missiles, I assume there are allot more that aren’t on display being developed now but was still amazing to see what was achieved from such early technology. The other thing I found fascinating was that they would test the long range missiles by setting them off at another missile testing facility and land/crash them in the white sands or vice versa, I guess they have to test them somehow. They would also use different drones (rocket, plane and helicopter) to train and test the abilities of the missiles.

 

This test unit for the moon or mars lander would definitely have got the UFO buffs going

Oh and there was also a solar eclipse going on… I think where I was it got to about 60-70% you couldn’t really notice, it got a little bit eerie, but  you could’ve gone the day without knowing. I think I was driving when it was at the maximum but captured this shot.

So I get to the White Sands National monument visitor centre and head in to ask a few questions, I was considering staying the night on the dunes. I then head back to my car to head into the dunes, its a little bit of a drive from the visitor centre and you cant walk. I hit the key and the Van turns over and over but won’t start (again my diagnosis was wrong) I’m now thinking it has something to do with the van being warm because its only happened after I’ve been driving for a while, so I let it sit for a bit and try again, no luck. Now a young guy, William, who was also at the Missile museum earlier had turned up and he asked if I need a jump, I didn’t but we get chatting. He then offers to drive me into the dunes since I was stranded. So I grab my bag and some water and jump in with him, we decide to do the longest trek, the Alkali Flat Trail which was the longest about 8km (5mile). The place is pretty amazing, these white gypsum sand dunes in the middle of the mountains, the whole thing sits on a plane which is at an elevation of about 1300m (4000′). The trek was pretty easy, following the black diamond markers out across the dunes and back in a big loop. A few little lizards scurry past, and in the base of the dunes some shrubs live, but other than that it is completely barren. The sand was so white that it was actually cool to touch, even though the temperature would’ve been high 30’s and the sun was beating down.

 

You could barely see these guys, if it wasn’t for their shadow you would probably miss them completely

I get back to the Van and it still doesn’t want to kick over, being hot and bothered and not really in the mood to be playing around under the bonnet (hood) I call AAA and sign up (probably should’ve done this already but I had faith in her (my Van). I get the call-out happening and about 30 mins in I’m on the phone organising a tow (the original call out was just for a jump so when the guy called I told him I didn’t need a jump so I had to call AAA back to organise a tow truck) and while I’m on the phone to AAA I try her one more time and to my delight she fires up, so I cancel the tow and  drive straight to Alamogordo (the closest town about 20min), the AAA guy I was talking to gave me a good garage I can go to to get the Van looked at. Once I get there I head to the garage first and book in, it was about 6pm by now. I then head to AutoZone to see if I can get my error codes read, hoping it might turn something up. Turns out my car computer is pretty basic and you just short out 2 connections in a plug and the engine light flashes codes to you. This didn’t turn up much, just a vacuum issue which I already knew about, but the guy who was helping me had had one of these vans before so gave me a few ideas of what it might be. So I went to work pulling it apart and getting a couple of modules tested and looking at few different things, nothing tested bad but I did fiddle with a few things and find a possible vacuum leak in the vacuum reservoir, so got a new one ordered to the a shop in Toas for when I got there in a couple of days, so for now I plugged the hose going to it with a screw. I then put the car back together and started her up, she fired up straight away and I could’ve sworn she was running better. The next morning she fired up perfectly again, I still headed to the shop to ask them a few questions and just suss out weather it would be worth my while to put her in. In the end I decided not to, they had a couple of ideas of what it might be, but said they wouldn’t be able to tell for sure unless it was playing up (which has only happened 3 times now. So I kept moving on to Santa Fe.

Drive to El Paso – Part 2

I slept in a little in the morning, making the most of having a hotel room, and left to continue to El Paso at about 10:30am. I first have an hour drive to Van Horn to get a tyre for my Spare, a little nervous having no spare still I head off.

 

I made it to Van Horn with no trouble, even though it would have to be the worst quality road I have driven on yet. I get to work trying to find me a second hand tyre for the spare, but after visiting every tyre/car shop in town I had no luck. So I bit the bullet and bought a new one, the cheapest place ended up being the NAPA store so I bought one for about USD$94 and took it to the guy down the street who installed it for USD$10. I had to wait a little bit as he had a couple to do before me so I went for a bit of a walk around town. A couple of things I have noticed driving accross Texas is every town no matter how small has something; alpine had Sul Ross, Marfa had the crazy arts scene and the Marfa Lights, Van horn has the Hotel El Capitan etc. the other thing I like is that allot of the shop and bilboard signage is still painted by hand.

 

World Famous Hotel El Capitan

The rest of the drive was pretty straightforward, when I got to El Paso I got the oil changed and hung out at starbuck for a Little bit then moved on to Las Cruces to spend the night.

Drive to El Paso

Here I was thinking the drive to El Paso would be nice and straightforward.

Firstly my phone (which had decided to turn back on after the storm) didn’t have reception still after driving for maybe an hour out of big bend, so I decided to power cycle it. Bad decision it didn’t want to turn back on again. I had used WIFI in the town just outside of Big Bend to get directions up on it, as I said the drive should’ve been pretty straightforward so I knew the next town would be Alpine.

When I got to alpine I decided to play it safe and drop into McDonalds to use their wifi on my laptop and bring up the directions just in case. What a strange little town Alpine is, it is nothing more than a small town, but has a massive university sitting in it, Sul Ross university. When I stopped in at the visitor centre (to see if they had a map) the girl behind the desk said that atleast 50% of the town’s population is the University.

With the directions saved on my laptop I kept moving, the next town was Marfa another strange little town, it has this big arts scene and most of the buildings as you drive through have been converted to Art studios and Art schools, I only stopped briefly to take a few photos, but wanted to keep moving to get to El Paso and get my tyre fixed.

 

 

About 15mins after leaving Marfa I hear a big bang and the back of the car drops (I was doing between 110-120kmh(70-75mph) at the time) I wrestle with the steering wheel and slowly pull off into the emergency lane. I knew exactly what had happened, that spare tyre that I didn’t like the look of and didn’t want to drive on for too long, well I was right it had given out. So I put on the hazards and jump out to assess the damage, I walk around to the back passenger side to find the tyre completely shredded, F@%&, here I approx. 16km (10miles) out of small town Marfa, no spare, no phone… just me.

 

Luckily the road I was on was pretty busy so I grab my backpack with my camera and Passport in it and Laptop bag and start trying to flag down cars heading back into town, car after car go by but no one stops. I see a fedex Van heading out of town so I flag them down (they’re usually helpful right?) and to my joy he pulls over. He stays for a bit and tries calling a few places in town for me, but eventually had to keep moving, the office was calling wondering why he had stopped for so long.

So I go back to trying to flag down cars heading back into town. A little while goes past and a car heading out of town obviously sees my situation and pulls over. I approach the car from the passenger side, as I get closer I see the plates are from somewhere in Mexico (I’m still very close to the Mexican border) I then get round to the passenger side and see the door handle is missing, not helping me feel any better, but I continue as this is the only car apart from fedex that even stopped. So I get to the window and the driver starts talking to me in Spanish so I say “Habla Ingles?” (speak English?) to which he responds with “un poco” (a little). The whole time im assessing the situation, the man is dressed nicely with a lanyard and swipe card around his neck, so I’m fairly certain he doesn’t want to kidnap me, so I continue to say “Marfa?” and point back towards town, he say “OK” and moves his bag onto the back seat and opens the door for me. So with no other option I jump in and he turns around and starts heading back to Marfa, good start. The ride back he strikes up a few conversations, the only one I picked up on was him asking my name. We get back into town and I tell him he can pull over, he say something about going further, I picked up on a few words, and I said no it’s ok. I go to grab out my wallet to give him some money for his help but he refused to take it, so I thanked him and got out.

Walking back into town I come across an older man working on his house, so I stop and ask him if there is a tyre place in town, he directs me to a place about 3 blocks down.  I get there, it’s about 6pm now, and luckily the people are still there, an older couple and their grandson. So I explain to them my situation and they discuss it for a bit (in Spanish) the man then says it will be expensive, we are technically shut, which is understandable, so I ask how much and he quotes me $75 to repair the tyre, keep in mind this includes driving me to my Van to get the wheel and bring it back, fix it and then take me to my car to put it on. So I agree and off we go, the whole thing a took about 2-2.5h , they were a lovely couple Carlos and Alfida and their 6 yr old Grandson Blake.

 

Now about 8:30pm I decide its better I stay in Marfa and after a relatively stressful afternoon and no spare still, I felt like staying in a hotel with a nice shower. Carlos and Alfida had warned me that all the hotels were over $100 in town but I thought I would see what I could get, so I drop into the next Gas station and ask the girl behind the counter what the cheapest hotel would be in town, they point me to the Riata so I head there.

I get there and the luckily the property manager is still there she offers me a room for $90 (usually over $100) still too expensive for me so I explain my story, she then says she has a room with a broken TV that I can have for $60, so I take it. I then ask her If she could recommend a place for dinner that’s good but reasonable priced. She proceeded to offer for me to join her she was just cooking something and had cold beer. So I thought why not, I went dropped my stuff in my room and headed back to the front. It was her Brenda, her friend Diego and Grandson Sammy. We had a simple tasty Mexican dish (which gave me ideas for on the road) and beer and chatted till about 11 when I went to bed. It ended up being a great stay in Marfa meeting some really nice people and restored my faith in why I’m driving halfway across the country by myself, after some doubt was cast earlier that day.

 

Big Bend – Day 4 Goodbye Big Bend

This morning I woke early to get a head start on the day, there were a few things I still wanted to see on the way out. The ranger had told me I couldn’t leave without taking a drive along the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive to the Santa Elena Canyon, so that was where I was headed.

I didn’t have to pack anything up so I decided to hit the road and find somewhere nice along the way to have breakfast, which I happened to choose the Sotol Vista lookout, which had panoramic views of where I was going as was as where I was headed. A pretty damn good place for breakfast I thought.

After breakfast and coffee I continued along the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive, which is a beautiful drive (as pretty much all are in the park haha) Stopping at a few places along the way.

Tuff Canyon
Tuff Canyon

I encountered this little guy on the path to Tuff Canyon
Chisos Mountains
From this lookout over the Chisos mountain range you can see the south rim about 1/3 of the way in from the left, kinda gives you an Idea of how high it was up there.

I had to grab some more ice for the cooler so I pulled into the Cottonwood store, it kinda reminded me of an old deserted western town, the only person I saw was the lady in the shop.


 

Some old machinery left over from when they grew cotton in the Rio Grande flood plains

From there the road runs along the Rio Grande river, which separates the USA from Mexico which was pretty cool, I think at one point you can even go across into mexico if you have your passport. Now I was starting to get closer to the “wall” which Santa Elena Canyon cuts through, I had under estimated the sheer size of the cliffs that run either side of the canyon. It honestly reminded me of the wall from Game of Thrones, without the Ice and snow.

Unfortunately when I got to the Canyon trail; the water level was too high and I couldn’t get to the trail which went into canyon, so I just admired from across the river.

 

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon

And that was it, time to leave Big Bend. What a spectacular place, with such an amazingly varied  landscapes. If you’re ever in Texas, this should definitely be on the top of your list for places to go!!

Goodbye Big Bend
Goodbye Big Bend