Winter 2016 Adventure – Big Bend National Park or Bust Part Five

Hooray, we finally made it to our ultimate destination. On February 28, 2016, we rolled into Terlingua, Texas, for four nights and chose the Big Bend Motor Inn RV Park for our base camp while exploring Big Bend National Park.

Terlingua, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a living ghost town with a population estimated at 80 people. As a company town developed in the early 1900s to support mining activities of the Chisos Mining Company, the population grew to 1,000 Mexican and Anglo people. The Mexicans occupied one side of the town, the Anglos on the other, and up on a hill, a mansion overlooked the company-owned general store, water service, a school, gasoline station, a theater, and other amenities.

Sign about Terlingua, Texas,
 cemetery
History of Terlingua cemetery

Terlingua, Texas: The Town

Cinnabar, from which metal mercury was extracted, was what drew Howard E. Perry, a Chicago industrialist, to the area. He incorporated the Chisos Mining Company in May 1903. Although he controlled the activities in Texas and built the mansion on the hill, he rarely came to visit his business venture. The Chisos Mining Company became the largest producing mine and largest mercury producer in the United States at that time.

Gravesite memorial
Many of the gravesite memorials are elaborate

On Monday night, the Starlight Theater Restaurant and Bar offered a two for one hamburger deal for dinner. We wandered into the gift shop next door and checked out the sunset at the cemetery while we waited for the restaurant to open. A very nice couple invited us to sit with them for dinner, thinking we’d get a table easier that way. It worked, and we enjoyed our conversation and learned a bit about Texas.

Gravesite memorials
Some memorials are simpler, and others are crumbling

Our plan to return another day to take photos of the Starlight and other buildings around the town fell through, so the photos of the cemetery sprinkled throughout this post are all I have. Hmm, that sounds like a good excuse to go back to Terlinqua someday. It’s a long drive, but definitely worth it.

Gravesite headstone
Trinkets left behind on the headstone

Tourism is the primary economic driver in and around Terlingua and the Big Bend National Park. Businesses such as RV parks, motels, vacation rentals, restaurants and bars, and tour groups are establishments that support the residents and tourists.

Big Bend National Park: An Overview

At Big Bend National Park, visitors can enjoy three parks for the price of one. On the Westside visitors will find the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Santa Elena Canyon, plenty of trails to hike, and the Castalon Visitor Center.

Elaborate gravesite memorial, David Tinsley
David Tinsley was a popular resident in the area

The Panther Junction and the Rio Grande Village Visitors Centers are located on the Eastside. From the Rio Grande center, visitors can hike along the Rio Grande river to see Daniels Ranch and the Hot springs. Access to 4-wheel drive roads leads to various camping sites. The Rio Grande Village is the place for travelers who desire full hookups for their RV. Reservations are needed for 20 of the sites. Or try your luck for the five first-come-first-served sites.

The third area of the park is the Chisos Basin, where the road climbs from 1,800 feet at the Rio Grande to 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. To drive from the flatlands of the desert to the pine-filled mountains made me feel like I was entering another world. A visitor center, hiking trails, the Chisos Mountains Lodge and restaurant, and camping for small trailers (20’ or less) and RVs (24’ or less) are available. The sharp curves and steep grades prevent larger units from making the drive.

Two memorials with crosses at sunset
Two crosses at sunset

Over the next three weeks, we’ll dedicate a post to each of the park’s sections. Until then, stay safe.

Bye Bye Carpet, Bye Bye

What’s a traveler to do when stuck at home with no place to go? Jon’s been busy tackling maintenance and renovations on the fifth wheel with dreams of hitting the road again. I’ll let Jon take over from here to tell you about his chore.

Since we are not able to travel right now (due to the pandemic) I decided to finally get rid of the carpet in the Cougar.  The carpet the manufacturer installed looked like it was ten years old after only a few weeks of use, and it was one thing we always hated about the fifth wheel.

The carpeting worked like a magnet, attracting every crumb, piece of sand, pebbles from our shoes, and even Linda’s hair.

Living area before demo

Here’s the area at the foot of the bed, which was so flattened down the vacuum would no longer perk up the carpet strands.

Bedroom before demo

Thirty-seven screws held the dinette in place. Oh, joy.

Dinette partial demo

We wanted to match the existing vinyl flooring as close as possible and this SmartCore Coweta Oak, available at Lowes, was pretty close.

Carpeting stripped and ready for flooring planks

I hoped the manufacturer had installed the original vinyl sheet flooring under the carpet. No luck on that front. The removal of the carpet revealed a bit of a ramp transition I didn’t expect. This was an issue as the vinyl plank required a flat surface. 

Bedroom flooring in process

The room slide also required something to hide the lip that hangs over inside the trailer.

One more flooring strip to go

The solution for both transitions was a “Hide-a-cord” strip along the transition to complete the install. I installed the plank long ways here to avoid making too many cuts, which could have caused the floor to lift.

Bedroom flooring done

As you can see in the photo below, it appears we gained about 18 inches of floor space by getting rid of the carpeting.

Finished living area

The work involved was more than I had thought it would take, but when it was all done, the time it took was worth it. The only place left with carpet in the trailer is the bed area, which is fine because there is less traffic there.

Now all we have to do is wait for the all clear, so we can venture out on the road again.

Stay safe

Winter 2016 Adventure – Big Bend National Park or Bust Part Three

On our way out of town on February 24, 2016, we fueled up at the Shell gas station in Gila Bend. While Jon filled up the tank, I snapped a few photos of these fierce-looking dinosaurs.

I’m bigger than you, so keep on walking

We settled in at Butterfield RV Resort in Benson, Arizona. With a fierce wind forecast, their asphalt roads and pads drew us in. What we weren’t aware of was the railroad tracks only a block away. Because there are several streets the train must cross in town, we heard the whistle tooting softly off in the distance, and then blasting outside our door, before fading out again, repeatedly throughout the night.

The rest of the resort is quite nice, and they even have an observatory on site. The observatory was closed due to the wind on this trip. With park models and plenty of RV sites, the resort is a favorite destination for winter visitors.

Benson, Arizona, sprouted from the desert in 1880 when the Southern Pacific Railroad selected the site to cross the San Pedro River. The town boasts a population of approximately 5,000. With a Safeway, Walmart, and Tractor Supply store, what more could an RVer want?

A twenty-minute drive took us to the Kartchner Caverns State Park. A strict policy to protect the bats living in the cave prevents patrons from bringing in purses, backpacks, or bags of any kind and no photography (thus no photos) or video equipment allowed. Food and drinks, even bottled water, are also banned. They request visitors to stow their belongings in the cars and provide lockers if needed. Caves we have been to in the past are always cold. Not so at Kartchner, where the inside temperature is warm and humid.

The next day we drove to Patagonia, Arizona, and then circled back to Tombstone before heading back to Benson. Founded in 1898, Patagonia incorporated fifty years later in 1948.

Visitor Center has brochures and things to do

The estimated population today is under 1,000 residents. The city draws in their share of tourists each. They come to spend time at the Tucson Audubon Society’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds and the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Wildlife Preserve. Other tourist activities include hiking the Arizona Trail, camping and boating at the Patagonia State Park, or shopping and eating in the downtown area.

Come on, let’s shop

We only had time to cruise around the little downtown area and wander in and out of the stores. There wasn’t much activity during our visit, which is fine with us. We like having a place to ourselves.

Look, a restaurant. Let’s eat lunch.

Tombstone, Arizona, is a historic town founded in 1877. It is best known for the OK Corral gunfight on October 26, 1881, with Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers (Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan) pitted against the Clanton-McLaury gang. The lawmen against the cowboys, or you might say, the Republicans against the Democrats.

Gift shops, saloons, and restaurants line three blocks of shaded boardwalks.

For a small fee, visitors are treated to a reenactment of the conflict. I had to drag Jon along to see the show. He’s not impressed with what he calls a “tourist trap” although I thought it was fun. The actors have to eat and put a roof over their heads like everyone else.

Me with Doc Holliday and the Earp boys

We learned that the actual shootout occurred in a vacant lot owned by C. S. Fly, a famous photographer. The lawmen won the battle that famous day, killing Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, all of whom are buried in the town’s Boothill Graveyard a few miles from the historic part of town.

Mannequins depict the location of the participants as recorded by Wyatt Earp. They’re so close together it’s no wonder three men were killed.

No social distancing for these guys.
Talk about curling toes; these men need a fresh pair of boots

The Schieffelin Hall opened on June 8, 1881. Schieffelin was a surveyor who happened upon a vein of silver ore and subsequently formed the Tombstone Mining and Milling Company with a partner and investors.

It looked like Schieffelin Hall had a recent facelift

Reprints of the Tombstone Epitaph with original reports of the gunfight are available at the newspaper office and museum with the ticket from the gunfight show. John Philip Clum started the newspaper on May 1, 1880. He arrived in Tombstone five months earlier from the East, bringing with him experience as a meteorologist, Apache agent, lawyer, and newspaperman. In 1881, town folks elected Clum mayor. He also served as the postmaster and was the head of the local vigilance committee. For the past 135 years, the newspaper has reported on the people, events, and places of the old west. A subscription today costs only $25.00 a year.

Tombstone Epitaph

During its eight-year heyday, the Bird Cage Theatre earned its reputation as the wildest, wickedest night spot between New Orleans and San Francisco. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the building contains over one hundred and forty bullet holes, and a legend says twenty-six people lost their lives there. Hmmm, I wonder if the Tombstone Epitaph has information that will confirm or dispel the legend.

The haunted Bird Cage Theatre

Gone are the cowboys and prostitutes. Visitors now buy tickets at $25.00 a piece to take a ghost tour of the building and possibly encounter an apparition or two or three.

Hotel and Mercantile
The Crystal Palace

That concludes our time in Benson, Arizona. Next up, we make a quick stop in Las Cruces, New Mexico, before continuing into Texas.

Stay Safe

Winter 2016 Adventure – Big Bend National Park or Bust Part Two

On February 19, 2016, we continued our Winter 2016 tour toward Big Bend National Park, stopping at the Gila Bend KOA in Gila Bend, Arizona, for a few days of poking around. We liked the extra roomy spaces with plenty of room for multiple vehicles. The park was fairly quiet with only a negligible amount of road noise and the soft rumble of trains off in the distance. The friendly neighbors, who had wintered at the park for years, were a bonus. They gave us ideas for things to do.

Hard to beat an Arizona sunset

In need of restocking our pantry and refrigerator, we inquired at the office to find out the best place to shop. The town of Gila Bend once had a regular grocery store, but it had closed. Our choices were the Family Dollar that had a small supply of food or the Mercado De Amigos Carniceria that had mostly meat.

The Butcher & the Farmer in Buckeye, Arizona

Had we known, we would have stopped in Buckeye at the Butcher & The Farmer Marketplace a half-hour north before we arrived. Our grocery shopping curtailed the amount of sightseeing, so we picked a drive to Organ Pipe National Monument and a quick ride to the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site.

Organ Pipe National Monument

Seventy-six miles south on SR 85 from Gila Bend led us to the Kris Eggle Visitor Center. It was well worth the trip to see the Organ Pipe National Monument, and we were glad we had packed lunch because there was no food near the monument.

Our lunch spot along the Ajo Mountain Drive

This, our first visit, introduced us to the east side of the park and the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive, which made us fall in love with the area.

Sorry little squirrel, you need to find your own food.
The rock formation reminded us of a dinosaur head

The well-graded gravel road took us through forests of organ pipe cactus, saguaros, and ocotillo.

Organ pipe cactus and saguaros
The organ pipes get huge
Jon taking photos
Not many saguaros with arms in this area

About halfway around the one-way loop road, we stopped at Arch Canyon where visitors can take an easy 1.2-mile round-trip walk into a canyon.

Arch Canyon Trail

Aptly named, the canyon contains several arches, which are difficult to see depending on where the sun shines.

We almost missed the bridge in the bottom third of the photo.

A sign warned the steep hill was a dangerous climb. I went up a little way and carefully scrambled down before I landed on my bottom.

Careful on the slippery rock
Chain cholla
Jumping cholla
Prickly pear
Crested organ pipe cactus
Ocotillo bloom

Interested in learning more about the monument? We’ve stayed in the Twin Peaks campground a couple times since our first visit and have posted descriptions and pictures here and here.

Painted Rock Petroglyph Site

It is about a 30-minute drive east of Gila Bend to the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site and Campground. Visitors will find hundreds of petroglyphs on the jumble of rocks at this ancient archaeological site. There is no potable water at the campground, so plan accordingly when visiting.

Bring your own water, there is none around here

Jon and I took the path to the right around the cluster of rocks and boulders, searching for the petroglyphs. We didn’t see much until we had walked halfway around. I’m glad we took the route we did because when I saw so many petroglyphs, I wasn’t sure where to look. If we only knew the meaning of the etchings, we could learn so much about the culture that lived there thousands of years ago.

Split rock
Travelers from the 1800s left their marks beside the ancient ones
So many petroglyphs

Jon called me over, “Hey, look at this.” I had never seen a lizard so beefy and long before. I didn’t want to get too close.

Common chuckwallas are rock dwellers
There must be a story in there somewhere
Desert Sunflower

That ends our time in Gila Bend, Arizona. We next make brief stops in Benson, Arizona; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Fort Davis, Texas. Big Bend National Park will come up soon.

Stay safe