Adventures of full time solo travel in an Airstream named Bob
Recently retired after 30+ years in IT across a handful of industries. Flying solo in a 19' Airstream exploring North America for a few years. I play with photography, birding, and knitting (just to name a few passions).
Situation practically Normal: Certainly the COVID-19 situation has made an impact on my tour of the country. Being an introvert though, social distancing is the norm for me – although I am now more aware maintaing 6 feet between others. Sheltering in place can be done on wheels, fairly easily. My trailer is fully self-contained and comfortable. I’m either relaxing inside of it, or hanging outside in my designated site. Towing is also self contained since I am driving alone in my car. I have adapted: I wear a doggie poop bag on my hand when I pump gas, then throw it out. I eat out less often, and then of course it is only drive through or pickup. I grocery shop less frequently. I wash my hands more thoroughly.
The biggest downside for me: Some of the places I was really excited to see are closed. (National Parks, State Parks, Beaches) It is hard to find places to get some healthy hikes in. I can and do walk around the RV parks multiple times a day. I miss occasionally going to a mid week matinee (but not as much as I thought)
The upside for me: There are no social events I need to scrounge up the courage to attend. I am less likely to be hit up to do small talk which I am particularly uncomfortable with. I am getting more of my knitting projects done. I’ve cut down my future reservations, and will be staying at places longer reducing mileage. I am saving money on gas and food. I was lucky enough to find the last package of RV toilet paper at the Walmart in Silver City a few weeks ago.
I made it back to the west coast! My circuit is almost complete. It felt like coming home. There truly is nothing like the Pacific Coast.
Today I went to Painted Rock Petroglyph National Monument 28 miles outside of Gila Bend, AZ. There were only 8 other people there with plenty of room to generously space ourselves appropriately. I’m happy that national parks and monuments are still open for careful exploration.
It’s an easy flat quarter mile loop nature trail. I was surprised at how many petroglyphs there were. The Painted Rock Site is the largest known site of petroglyphs with about 800 images. The petroglyphs are pecked onto weathered basalt boulders overlaying a granite outcrop.
Although considered a Hohokam rock art site, Painted Rock is on the extreme western edge of the Hohokam cultural area. East of Painted Rock, petroglyphs take on more typical Hohokam characteristics, while petroglyphs farther west take on more Patayan characteristics. Found here and in nearby areas of the Gila River are petroglyphs of Archaic(8000-1000 BC) origin. Painted Rock also bears the inscriptions of historic passers-by. Juan Bautista de Anza passed near here during his 1775-1776 expedition, followed by the Mormon Battalion in the 1840s, the Butterfield Overland Mail, and countless numbers of pioneers. During World War II, General George Patton used this area as headquarters for tank training.
While staying near Benson, Arizona, I went to tour the Kartchner Caverns in Kartchner Caverns State Park. I was lucky enough to get on one of the last tours before the closed them due to COVID-19. I was impressed with how protective of the cave system the tour was. Everything from getting misted on the way in to keep the lint attached to our clothes, to multiple locked doors, and gutter systems along the path. No items (bags, cameras, cell phones, backpack carriers, purses, packs, bottled water, strollers, etc) are allowed into the cave while on tour. The cave has an average temperature of 72 F and 99% humidity. While I already new about Stalagmites and Stalactites, I also learned about formations called Bacon (also called flowstone) and Fried eggs (stalagmites with a small pool of water gathering on it’s top)
In November 1974, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts were exploring the limestone hills at the eastern base of the Whetstone Mountains. They were looking “for a cave no one had ever found” and found it. The two kept the cave a secret until February 1978 when they told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their awesome discovery. Since unprotected caves can be seriously damaged by unregulated use, they knew the cave had to be protected. Tenen and Tufts spent several years looking into the possibility of developing the cave themselves. Some members of the Kartchner family lived in Tucson and were very impressed with the development and operation of Catalina State Park by Arizona State Parks. They decided to approach State Parks to see if the agency was interested in acquiring this outstanding resource. Learn More
Since no photos or videos were allowed in the cave, here are a few photos I found on the web.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is surrounded by the Gila National Forest and lies at the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first designated wilderness area. It was well worth the long winding switchbacking and beautiful drive from Silver City to learn about the history of the Cliff Dwellings. It was a cool, cloudy and windless day. I followed the trail from the mouth of Cliff Dweller Canyon up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings following a stream, up the steep, rocky slope along the cliff side and into three of the six caves. The dwellings were once home to Tularosa Mogollon families.
For thousands of years, groups of nomadic people used the caves of the Gila River as temporary shelter. In the late 1200’s, people of the Mogollon Culture decided it would be a good place to call home. They built rooms, crafted pottery and raised children in the cliff dwellings for about twenty years. Then the Mogollon moved on, leaving the walls for us as a glimpse into the past. The cliff dwellers had departed their homes and abandoned their fields by about 1300. Dire need may have sent the families elsewhere—or maybe they were ready for a new location and embarked on an adventure seeking their next place to call home. – A bit like me and my Airstream!
Like a mirage, dazzling white sand dunes shimmer in the tucked-away Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico. They shift and settle over the Chihuahuan Desert, covering 275 square miles – the largest gypsum dune field in the world and is visible from space.
The soft sand was cool as I walked barefoot across the dunes. The sun was warm, the temperature cool, and a light breeze was blowing. The partly cloudy sky was a spectacular backdrop against the white sands. It couldn’t have been more perfect. The last part of the road into the park is not paved. It was surreal driving across the hard packed sand seeing a see of white in all directions.
White Sands is the newest National Park as of December 2019. It was a National Monument until 1933.
My Favorite Picture from White Sands. I am grateful it turned out so well, using my iPhone in the bright sun and sand, I was blindly taking pictures the whole time.
My easiest and most relaxing time in Big Bend National Park was visiting The Chisos Mountains the heart park. They extend twenty miles from Punta de la Sierra in the southwest to Panther Junction in the northeast. It is the only mountain range totally contained within a single national park. Among the highest peaks in the range are Emory Peak (7,835 feet above sea level), Lost Mine Peak (7,535 feet), Toll Mountain (7,415 feet), and Casa Grande Peak (7,325 feet).
I strolled along the Window View Trail enjoying the cooler air and the shade trees. And had lunch at the Chisos Mountains Lodge which operates the only hotel in the park and a dining room with the grandest view of any in Texas. It was a nice respite after my climb to Balanced Rock. (see previous post)
The most difficult hike I undertook was the trail to Balanced Rock; not because it was a difficult terrain, but because I didn’t pace myself as the path curved alongside a small, sandy wash. Follow the wash, climbing ever so slightly until the trail leaves the wash behind and enters the geologic wonder all visitors come to see: the Grapevine Hills.
Formed as the result of rising magma within the earth becoming entrapped by overlying sedimentary rock layers, the Grapevine Hills display fantastically rounded granite-like boulders of all shapes and sizes. In certain circumstances, such as one near the end of the trail, these boulders have oriented themselves such that they are balanced precariously on top of other rocks. Needless to say, they are truly a sight to see!
Near the end of the trail, the terrain to became more rocky underfoot, as well as appreciably more strenuous as I climbed into the rock outcropping. I didn’t have much left in me at this point. Luckily the walk down and back was quite pleasant.
My favorite hike in Big Bend National Park was into the impressive Santa Elena Canyon. The trail begins at the end of the 30 mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The trail climbs several short switchbacks and then gradually descends along the banks of the Rio Grande. I was surrounded by lush riparian vegetation and 1,500-foot towering vertical cliffs of solid limestone. The trail ends where canyon walls meet the river.
The canyon is visible for over 10 miles away, as the Rio Grande River changes direction abruptly after following beneath the straight Sierra Ponce cliffs for several miles and heads due west, cutting through the mountains via a deep, narrow gorge. This sharp bend in the river was formed by movement along the Terlingua fault zone that crosses the park. For many miles upstream the river is trapped beneath the high walls, eventually emerging into a wider valley at the small town of Lajitas.
I spent a lovely day in Boquillas Mexico. I was rowed over the Rio Grande and instead of taking the offered burro ride, I walked 3/4 mile into town. I bought a beaded roadrunner, and had a great lunch on a patio overlooking the Rio Grande.
I found Boquillas history compelling. Around the turn of the 20th century up to 2000 people lived in here. The principal employment was related to the production of lead, silver and fluorite ore from nearby mines. Mining ceased in 1919 and the town’s population rapidly declined.
Efforts began in the 1930s to create a United States-Mexico International Peace Park in the area, joining Big Bend National Park with the Maderas del Carmen in Coahuila. Boquillas del Carmen would have been at the center of this proposed international peace park, but these efforts have not been realized.
The events of September 11, 2001, dramatically affected Boquillas del Carmen’s 20th-century way of life. In May 2002, the border crossing from Big Bend National Park to Boquillas was closed indefinitely. 5 years later only 19 families comprising around 90 to 100 residents remained in Boquillas. Most of the town’s residents had been forced to move away by the closure of the tourist crossing and destruction of the town’s traditional economy.
After multiple delays, the new Boquillas Port of Entry was officially opened on 10 April 2013. Since opening of the border crossing, the town of Boquillas del Carmen has seen substantial growth with the addition of electricity (from solar panels), a new medical care office, and enhancements at the public elementary school. The village’s population is now said to be about 200 persons.
The Hot Springs Historic Districtpreserves a rich historyof human occupation from thousands of years ago to the not-so-distant past. Visitors can study rock art left behind on the limestone cliffs, picture farms of corn, squash, and beans along the river’s floodplain, or imagine what it would have been like to meet at the Hot Springs Post Office in the early 1900s to collect your mail each Monday. J.O. Langford’s impressive bathhouse is long gone; today the spring is contained by the foundation remains of the bathhouse, on the north bank of the Rio Grande.
I drove down a very scary narrow road for 2 miles, to get to this amazing place. Then an easy 1/2 mile hike to the hot springs. A hidden roadrunner squawked at me, another scary moment. It was well worth it to soak in the hot water at the end.