February 9-21 – Five Still Alive

This is a long post, and overloaded with family stuff.  Skip it if you cannot stand such ramblings, but it was a good week.  I have included some relevant pictures within the text, and a gallery of more at the end.  I was tempted to edit the pieces by Louise and the children, but refrained.  After all, look what happens to dictators who censor the media!

 In preparation for the brief visit with daughter Louise, and Grandchildren Alexandra (11) and K. (8), we moseyed West (as they do in Texas) to the Davis Mountains, north of Alpine. About a mile high, and cooler because of this.

Cold night in the Davis Mountains

Alexandra had requested warm weather, and I assured her that this was “likely”.   The thermometer sank to freezing … then to 20F … 10F and then to 5F.   Don’t ask me what this is in Celsius … look it up.  Suffice to say it was the coldest day in history thereabouts, and everything froze.  It then warmed up a trifle, and … yes … water everywhere as the frozen pump burst its seams.   By now we were one day away from meeting the family off the train in Alpine, and with no wi-fi, no cell-phone, and no water, it was a quandary (that’s duck-language for pond under a trailer!).

But we RV-folk do not give up.   



Where is the cell tower?

I drove to the top of the nearest mountain, spied a cell tower, and after a few phone calls, located the last pump in West Texas, and friend Daniel agreed to put it in on a Saturday, in Del Rio.

  Now Texas is big, and it’s a four-hour drive to Del Rio, but quite reasonable in the moonlight, and we missed all the suicidal deer.

 Yes, the pump was installed by 10 a.m.   We managed to warn Louise we might be late meeting the train, and indeed, after another four-hour drive, we found them, happy as clams, checking out the scenery in Alpine, “the last frontier”.  Less than one hour late!

 Mercifully, the weather came back to normal (warm), and things started to go well.  This until it hit 98F in Big Bend National Park, and Alexandra complained about the heat.


 “You wanted warm, Alexandra,” I said, “and yup … it’s really warm!  Be careful what you wish for!”

 I suggested that Louise and/or the children wrote the next bit, since it was “their trip”.  As I write this, they have departed for Toronto, and we have snoozed the day away, prior to our next journey!


  February 11, 2011 by Alexandra

 Today I woke up early to get ready and went to the airport.

 We hopped on a plane to Atlanta and we flew!  Once we arrived we went on another plane to San Antonio, Texas.

 We stayed at the Menger Hotel in downtown San Antonio.  Before dinner we saw the Alamo and went on a boat tour of the San Antonio river.  For dinner we went to the Original Mexican restaurant.

Hotel in San Antonio

 Did you know that the Menger hotel is the oldest hotel in San Antonio?  Probably not.  Also did you know that a part of San Antonio river is man-made? Again, nope.  San Antonio is named after Saint Anthony – it sounds the same!


  February 12, 2011 by Louise

 Early to rise!  Our wake up call was at 4:30 am!   Taxi at 5 am to the Amtrak station in the dark and onto the silent, hushed train.  Like a ghost train, everyone asleep, lights out.  Found our seats and dozed off as the train ghosted out of San Antonio at 5:40 am.

K. – nap on the train


In the Amtrak Dining Car

Alexandra on Amtrak Train to Alpine

Breakfast in the dining car at 7 am, lunch at 12:15, arrival in Alpine at 1 pm. 

 Slowly the scenery changes.  First, flat land, irrigated crop fields with large rotating sprinklers on wheels rotating around the round fields.  Houses cobbled together out of trailers.  Abandoned farmhouses in the middle of no-where.

 Then desert scrub, low cactus and bushes.  Dry.  Flat. Most things look dead – it is winter, after all.  Wildlife – a deer, a hawk, mules, horses, a long horn (cow).

 We pass over the highest railroad bridge in America over the Pecos river.



Lake Amistad, TX

Over Lake Amistad – a relief to the eyes to see all that cool blue water after miles of unrelieved, scorched desert.

 Into the Chihuahaun desert (no dogs!).  More hills, becoming mountains and canyons and cliffs – lots of rock!  A few small settlements.


Desert – Becoming Mountain Desert

 Sanderson – perhaps a more prosperous town than some.  But desolate, dry, no trees, some buildings collapsing by the  railway.  A harsh land.  Surely a tough people live here.

 Glimpses of life pass us by as the train moves on.  Ranchers on horseback wearing cowboy hats.  A deer running past the train. 

Deer by the track

 We arrive in Alpine on time to find, as expected, that Gran and Granddad are delayed (they had to make a four hour trip to replace their water pump – frozen in the record-breaking cold weather).  We ask a favour at the Holland Hotel – a 1900s restored western style hotel  opposite the train station – to use their phone and store our bags.

 We go off to explore Alpine on foot.  A sad town, really.  Not much to see.  Big churches, stores, lots of pickup trucks, dusty roads.  Few trees. 

 We explore True Value Hardware. We see construction hardhats in the shape of cowboy hats and  take a good look at the well stocked gun cabinet.  We notice the statues of the Virgin Mary in the opposite corner of the store.  Admire the dogs for adoption from the SPCA in cages outside the store.

 Soon enough Mom and Dad pick us up and we are off to Davis Mountain State Park.

Davis Mountains SP




Javalina at Davis Mountain SP

At dinner time a herd of 10-15 javelinas came by.  They grunted and snorted, and foraged in the long grass.

 Early to bed!  The night was cold – below freezing – but the RV furnace kept us warm!

 A beautiful moon, stars and quiet.

Full Moon over the Desert







February 13, 2011  By Alexandra

 Today we went to the McDonald Observatory.  It was really cool to see the sun up close and learn about what is on the sun, like sunspots and solar flares.



McDonald Telescope

We also went on a tour of the telescopes and K. and I got to move a huge telescope! 




K. with McDonald Telescope

The telescope we got to move looked just like something from Star Wars or another space-themed movie.






February 14, 2011 by Louise

 Valentine’s Day – chocolate and cards. 

 A quiet morning – K. played ‘golf’ on the campsite.  We saw two mule deer at breakfast time, then we packed up to go to Big Bend National Park.

Mule Deer faun at Davis Mountains SP

 Unfortunately there was a nail in one of the pickup truck’s tires, so we had a 1.5 hour stop in Fort Davis town to get it fixed.

The kids and I walked around the residential area – dirt roads, scruffy, dusty, hot.  Some houses as neat as a pin, others with a veritable junk yard out back – and out front.  Found a museum, but it wasn’t open, so we peered in the windows.



Broom maker at Fort Davis

  Back on the main road, we discovered a cheerful man outside his shop making brooms out of “broom straw” (sorghum).  We bought a small one with a yucca handle for Gran, and watched while he showed us how to make a broom, 1800s-style.  Very interesting and entertaining.  Turns out he is a retired plumber.




Bluebird Flour

Went into a market store for groceries.  Saw bluebird flour in cloth bags and ropes of dried chilis.  Flowers for Valentine’s Day too.


 Then we drove, drove, drove through miles and miles and miles of desert to Big Bend National Park.  Lots of cactus, scrub, mesquite bushes, rocks and dirt.  Mountains, sun, blue sky, desert.   



Lonely Road in Texas

Hardly anyone was on the road – a lonely place.  Every once in a while a mine – a cluster of earth moving machines, some trailers and a hydro line strung on some wooden poles from the road.  Sometimes a lonely house or trailer in the middle of nowhere, miles from the road down a dusty track.  



Stopping Place – If you have to

I have a glimmer of why you might want to have a gun for safety out in the midst of this desolation – 911 isn’t going to bring help here for hours.


 Seems as if this was the bottom of a sea bed, thrust up over millions of years.   I can almost imagine a sea ringed by active volcanos – you can clearly see the lava dykes and shape of the volcanic mountains.  No doubt it all happened over millennia, but in my mind’s eye I imagine it all happening at once, the earth alive and forming the environment that once supported teaming life. 

 For 100, 200 miles … a lonely, desolate, yet strangely beautiful, austere landscape.  Here you can see the bones, the very skeleton of the earth.  It seems untouched, yet it was actually grassland a hundred years ago, before it was overgrazed.

Bare Bones Landscape



K. outside Terlingua Jail

A short stop in Terlingua Ghost Town.  A former mining town, now a cluster of stone houses and buildings, all decrepit, some inhabited.  A large gift shop with many things made in China, and few made in Mexico.  Visited the ‘jail’






BBQ with K. and John

Finally got to Big Bend National Park – on the bank of the Rio Grande river and the Mexican border – at dusk.  Dad barbequed sausages.








Rio Grande Wetlands at Big Bend NP

The  kids and I went for a walk to see the wetland – amazing to see water, ducks and reeds in the middle of the desert.


 We walked on a path surrounded by reeds about 10 feet tall.  Rustling in the reeds – a javelina?  A duck?  — spooked the kids and so we quickly returned to the campsite for dinner in the dark by candlelight.  Alexandra was jumpy and said she thought there was something in the bushes.  We dismissed her active imagination, but she ate inside the RV.

 A early night.  The night air cold and fresh, the moon brilliant white so the whole site was lit by moonlight.



February 15, 2011 by K.

 I woke up.  Went outside.  Had a granddad breakfast outside.  But it was too hot.  So went inside and changed into shorts, and went back outside.



Coyote at Big Bend NP

We went for a walk to the store and saw three coyotes.   We saw a roadrunner on the road, and one hiding in a tree. We finally arrived at the store and bought things.


 We walked back and heard the coyotes howling and saw a rabbit. 


We played cards and had a snack.  Had dinner and went to bed.


  February 16, 2011 by Alexandra 

Today I became a Junior Ranger of Big Bend National Park!  I had to fill out a few pages of a workbook and get tested, and then I got two official Junior Ranger badges and a certificate.



Elaine, K., Alexandra, Louise and John at Chisos Mountains

Aside from that we did a walk and saw the Chisos mountains.  We ate lunch at the Chisos Mountain lodge.


 I heard all three coyotes howling last night.



Alexandra Louise Elaine and K. – Chisos Window

We talked to a Ranger and looked at some books at the centre. 

   Good thing we moved to a different campsite!

A bear passed through the camp site

The strange feeling I had two days ago at dinner when we were eating outside in the dark, and the scratching outside yesterday night that no-one could explain became clear: a bear had been scratching a tree on our site!

 (Note from John:  This was after Louise and I had a moonlit walk, and I assured her that we were unlikely to encounter any large animals … what did I know?) 

February 17, 2011 by K.

 I woke up.  We drove for almost six hours.  A lot of people here have red pickup trucks.  Before we left I got my Junior Ranger badge at Panther Junction. 

 We drove and stopped at Judge Roy Bean’s place.  There was a cactus garden.  Really interesting. 

Judge Roy Bean – Law West of the Pecos

Saguaro – Unusual in Texas

I saw a sugaro cactus that only grows in Arizona.

 At Del Rio Granddad bought Texas barbeque with sissy sauce when me, mom, Alex and Gran went to Walmart.  I saw a big glass jar of cheese balls.

 We went on to the next campsite.  It is called Fort Clark Springs.  It was nice.  There were white tailed deer and wild turkeys.

 Too bad we could only stay for one day.

  February 18, 2011 by K.

 I woke up.  Had breakfast.

 Played five holes of golf with Granddad.  My first hole I got a double bogey and Granddad got a bogey.  It was really fun.

Keldan at Golf

 Got on the road again to go to San Antonio.  We arrived in San Antonio and we looked around and arrived at the RV park.  There was a pool but it was freezing cold.

 We went to a little park and we saw white cows with horns.

 We got pizza from Dominos.  It was pretty good.

 Then we went to bed.


Saturday, February 19, 2011 by Louise

 Our last day began – after our usual hearty breakfast – with a visit to the San Jose Mission.  A well made video in the interpretive centre tried to walk a diplomatic line as told the story of the missions – how the hunter-gather tribes, squeezed between the Comanche and Apache warriors in the west and European disease brought by settlers in the east, were eventually assimilated into the Spanish people.  Such a heartbreaking loss of life and culture.  Inexplicably, they remain devout Roman Catholics. 

Mission San Jose, San Antonio



Mill at Mission San Jose, San Antonio

The mission – essentially a fort – and the church — are large.  This is the site of the first wheat mill in America.







Fun Fair in San Antonio

Then on to the Kiddie Park – an old fashioned amusement park where the kids rode a 1919 Carousel and other rides that looked very old (and not a little dangerous!)  25 cent games too.  A fun and frivolous end to our trip.



 The last word … by John

 As you may know, I do like to have the last word … but in fairness it is only to introduce Alexandra’s “Thank you” e-mail.  This is somewhat at my expense, but I include it since it is a nice piece of writing, especially from an 11-year-old.    I do like my morning fresh-ground coffee, and did compromise, by grinding the coffee most nights so as not to add to the morning cacophony.

 Sometimes this was not easy, as I had to find an electrical outlet when we were not “plugged in”, usually in a washroom!

 After this there are some more pictures:  Louise took hundreds of them! 

 But Alexandra said it all:

Hello Gran and Grandad,

 As you saw in the letter we gave you thank you for the great trip.

 It’s really hard to get up now without Grandad walking in (thump,thump), turning on the stove (click,click), turning on the fan (whoosh) and then going back into the bedroom (thump,thump). At least there was no coffee grinding earlier in the morning.

 It’s hard eating breakfast without hearing Gran say “Oh John!” and it’s hard to be in the car without hearing constant talking from Grandad. Most of all it’s hard to wake up in Toronto without all this above and without you.

 Coming back to the cold was hard on all of us (What? Boots? Snow? Coats?). It was like a temperature roller coaster. But we survived.

 Thank you again for the great vacation.

 Love Alexandra, K.



The Alamo



Alexandra on the San Antonio River Walk

Alexandra on the San Antonio River Walk

This cougar is stuffed!







After the Fun Fair – time to go home

John, Alex. K. and Elaine – Davis Mountains

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