Sunday, March 18, 2018

White Sands National Monument

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Our recent visit to Big Bend National Park was a completely new adventure for me but there was another place I was also looking forward to seeing. This time it was for a return visit to White Sands in New Mexico.

Even though it's nice to see friends and socialize along our travels, I'm really an introvert at heart and I do my recharging in my own space. When I visit places like White Sands, I get exactly what I need: solitude and magnificent views.

Last time I was there, I almost got lost. I kept walking and walking deeper into the dunes and not keeping track of my movements. Before I knew it, I was completely disoriented. Luckily, there was a cell signal so I was able to navigate my way back to my car using my phone GPS. Whew!

Since then, I've been using an app for my iPhone called "Where's My Car?". It's perfect for people who are directionally-challenged like myself. When I get out of my car, I launch the app and it creates a pin of where I am. I can then use it later to find my parking spot. It gives a live readout of how far away I am and what direction I need to go. It has really worked well for me and I used it each time I trekked out across the dunes

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This iPhone app is a literal lifesaver for me.

To really embrace this sandy landscape, you have to be conscious of how the angle of the sun affects its mood. When the clouds roll in, the desert looks looks like one long continuous blob of white. When the sun appears, it transforms the space into long shadows, three-dimensional hills of pure white sand and reveals intricate patterns created by the wind.

During our entire time there, I found myself chasing the light. Most of the time it was cloud covered with only tiny glimpses of the sun. We stayed at the Elks Lodge in Alamogordo which is less than half an hour to the entrance of White Sands and , because we were so close, I was able to keep an eye on the weather and be there for sunrises and sunsets.

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Looking out at the sunset over White Sands from the Elks Lodge.

As beautiful as the dunes can be in color, I found myself drawn mostly to a black and white interpretation because to me, White Sands is all about form, light and texture. These are the perfect ingredients for black and white photography. There are always exceptions, of course, and those occurred mainly during the sunrise and sunset when color just exploded in the sky.

White Sands National Monument - February 2018

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The moods of sunrise and sunset were different with every visit.

It's hard for me to focus on any kind of "real life" thing when I'm in Alamogordo. I'm kind of obsessed with the sky, watching the sun, watching the clouds. Planning to go or not go...will there be a dramatic sunset or not?? Mostly I just went and whatever the weather, being there was just magical anyway.

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White Sands National Monument - February 2018

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White Sands National Monument - February 2018

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White Sands National Monument - February 2018

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Dramatic light and shadows make White Sands an absolute treat to photograph.

During our stay, we also took a trip to Ruidoso where we used to co-own a house with Linda’s parents. We’d spend the Christmas holidays there with family every year. It's always fun to revisit and see what's different and what's the same. Mostly very little changes.

We both love New Mexico and especially this little corner of the state. There's just something special about being there. Maybe it's White Sands, maybe it's the culture, particularly the Mexican influence. Whatever it is, we keep coming back and we are never disappointed.

Up next: Meeting up with friends in Arizona

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Big Trouble in Big Bend

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We had an uneventful trip to Fort Stockton having decided to overnight at the local Walmart. It turned out to be us and about 40 other rigs. That place gets packed! We got there early enough to get ourselves situated for a clean getaway the following morning, so it all worked out. Plus we got our shopping done and were well provisioned for our trip to the Big Bend area.

We had reservations to stay five days at Maverick Ranch in Lajitas, about twelve miles beyond Terlingua, the closest town to the entrance of Big Bend National Park.

While at Walmart Steven and I had a conversation about how clean Toadie was after that long trip. There seemed to be less road grime and no blowback from Scoopy, which we really hadn't experienced since our big fix in Vermont. It always makes us very happy to see Toadie so clean!

Fast forward to our arrival at Maverick Ranch in Lajitas and, oh my, how things changed! We were shocked to see Toadie drenched in oil! This wasn't the usual road grime you can wipe off with your finger. When we tried, it just smeared and got ugly. What the heck? And to make things worse, we were not allowed to wash any vehicles in the park unless we paid $25. We walked over to explain we had a little grime on the front of our car and could we just rinse it off. They said sure, so we proceeded to rinse off as much as possible from the grimy mess!

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Ugh! Not a pretty sight when we arrived at Maverick Ranch.

Five days later we had to decide what to do. This isn't the first time this has happened but it was by far the most oil Scoopy has spewed onto Toadie as we traveled. We were in the middle of nowhere with very spotty cell service. Did we want to take a chance? Just hook up and hit the road anyway?

Tempting as it was, we decided the prudent thing to do would be to tow Scoopy to the nearest garage and see what was going on. We called Coachnet. Unfortunately the nearest available garage was 160 miles away in Fort Stockton so they arranged to have us towed back there..

The tow guys arrived late in the afternoon and it took about an hour to get our girl situated and locked down on their truck bed. We followed long enough to get photos then we took off ahead. We stopped for dinner and, when we arrived in Fort Stockton, scouted the safest entry into the truck yard just about the time Scoopy arrived. It was after dark and a little nerve-wracking. These guys were pros, though.

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Loading Scoopy up on the towing contraption.

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No, this is not a scene from Close Encounters, just Scoopy’s arrival in Fort Stockton :)

The following day a mechanic from H & H Trucking came over to us and took a look. He could obviously see oil, but he didn't know where it was coming from. He suggested an oil change and a viscous additive which he thought would safely get us to Cummins in El Paso, which it did.

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Scoopy in H&H Trucking getting her oil changed.

At Cummins, they were kind of bummed about that oil change because they would have liked to have it analyzed. But they figured the 240 mile trip from Fort Stockton was long enough to show problems, so they sent the oil out for testing. It came back clean.

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Camp Cummins. We don’t recommend camping here, the nightly fees are outrageous!

So once again, nothing was found and we haven't had any problems since. We have continued to research the issue and have found numerous “fixes” for the blowback, and it has to do with something called a “Slobber Tube”. Ew. After a couple of nights at Camp Cummins, we picked back up on our travel schedule and headed off for Alamogordo, New Mexico and the beautiful White Sands National Monument.

UP NEXT: More beautiful photos from Steven!!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Big Bend National Park

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A few years ago while looking through one of my Ansel Adams books, I was taken by one photograph in particular. I'm not sure what it was about the image that grabbed me but I made a mental note of where it was shot and hoped we would visit there one day.

The place was Big Bend National Park and when the photograph was taken in 1947, the Texas State Legislature had recently allocated $1.5 million to purchase land from private owners and give the 1250 square mile area its new designation.

So while we were hanging out at the Live Oak Ranch in Texas over the Christmas holidays, I got it into my mind that I wanted to go there. Linda agreed and we put it on our calendar.

We decided to stay at Maverick Ranch RV Resort in a little town called Lajitas and it seemed like the ideal place because it had full hookups and thought it was pretty close to the park. What we didn't really get a handle on was the actual distance from there to Big Bend. It was a 60-mile round trip just to get to where the famed Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive began.

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Gorgeous scenery at our lunch stop on the way to Lajitas.

Of course, the distance ultimately didn't deter me and I spent nearly every day at the park shooting the sunrise. And here's the thing about sunrises, very few people are willing to get up early to see them. In fact, for 3 full days I had the entire park (well, as much as I could see of it) to myself.

In general, when we arrive at a big destination like this, Linda and I will go for a drive to get the lay of the land. I view this as a reconnaissance trip. I keep my eyes open for places I'll want to shoot in the upcoming days, paying close attention to where east and west fall for the best light.

It was pretty overcast by the time we got into the park. This had also been a travel day for us. The trip from Fort Stockton where we overnighted at the Walmart parking lot was a little longer than I expected. Still, we made the effort to do a little sight-seeing before the day was done.

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Even though it was overcast, the views at the park were not too shabby!

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a sight to behold and really showcases the park's mighty landscape with its abundant geological structures. At the end of this 30-mile road is the Santa Elena Canyon. We decided to stop at the overlook as the sun peaked out from behind a thick curtain of clouds. When I walked over to the little shelter, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the exact location of the Ansel Adams photograph! We hadn't planned it that way and I hadn't yet made the time to figure out where it was. What a thrill! The light was completely wrong. It was obvious to me that he had photographed the massive rocks in the early morning.

This would be the second time I got to stand where the great master once stood. The first time was back during our first year of fulltiming at Lone Pine in California. It took me a long time to figure out where that particular shot was taken but I just stumbled into this one at Big Bend. Needless to say, I made plans to come back the next morning to take the shot.

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The view of Santa Elena Canyon on that first evening. The final photograph is at the top of the page.

While it's fun to try to emulate Ansel's photographs, the benefits for me are 2-pronged. First and foremost, I get to enjoy a particularly beautiful spot in the world but I also get a chance to really study why he made the photograph. What I've learned is that there was nothing left to chance when he pushed the shutter. The moments in his pictures were absolutely decisive. Shadows in the right place, clouds positioned just so and a strong composition that featured the scale of the thing. When I am standing there myself, humbly looking through my viewfinder, I find a piece of wisdom to add to my own experience as a photographer. And so it was on that first morning standing there as he did.

Every day I drove to the park in the dark as the first needles of light appeared over the Chisos Mountains. Hill crests and pointed rocks would ignite first and then the golden light would slowly drift down the mountain like slow moving honey. As the light appeared, so too did the sounds of birds and I just stood there and thought to myself, this is why it's worth it to stumble around in our rig, trying to get dressed in the dark and navigating down a pitch black road towards the park. It had been ages since I was in my photographic element and if there is such a thing as happiness, however fleeting, I felt it in the cool morning air.

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There are no words to describe the beautiful light and scenery in the area so photos will have to suffice.

Big Bend National Park is not the only attraction in the area. I had read about Terlingua Ghost Town just down the road from our park. I thought it would be kinda cheesy as these places sometimes are but, when we took the time to visit the old cemetery, one of the centerpieces of the "town", it proved to be quite moving. Many of the graves had little trinkets that had belonged to the deceased. It was kind of fascinating and sad to walk around and look at these little life stories.

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Just some of the creative memorials at the Terlingua Cemetery.

Terlingua is also home to a couple of great restaurants. We had dinner at the Starlight Theatre located right in the ghost town. This restaurant was originally constructed in the 1930s as the Chisos Movie Theater and provided entertainment for local residents during the heyday of Quicksilver mining. It has a funky decor, kind of a combination burlesque/cabaret/saloon bar/performance space with lots of interesting artwork. Certainly a feast for the senses and the food wasn't half bad either.

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Epic pano shot by Linda of the Starlight Theatre sign.

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Outside the Starlight Theatre. You figure out what’s going on here :)

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Adding to the atmosphere of the place, there are vintage cars all over Terlingua Ghost town.

During our stay at Maverick Ranch RV Resort, we met a wonderful fulltiming couple, Pat and Judy Iverson. They are followers of our blog and it was fun for us to meet up. We had dinner in Terlingua at the La Kiva Restaurant and bar. This is another funky eatery in a cave-like setting with dinosaur-themed decor. Are you seeing this in your mind?? The food was to die for. Seriously. For me, it was about the best burger I've had in recent memory.

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Hanging out with Pat and Judy.

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This part of Far West Texas has the darkest skies we’ve ever seen. The stars are amazing!!

But our stay wasn't all rainbows and unicorns. When we first arrived, we noticed that Toadie was covered, and I mean covered, in oil. What did that mean and what adventure ensued? Find out in the next blog post.

In the meantime, Big Bend National Park has jumped right onto my top ten list of all-time favorite places. What started as a photograph in a book led me to a wonderful experience and a renewed appreciation for our great National Parks.

Next up: Big Trouble in Big Bend, sort of.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Moseyin' Across Texas

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Since we left Waco we've been somewhat of a moving target. As is our modus operandi, we don't let much grass grow under our feet.

We left Waco on a cool and sunny day, making our way to southwest of Austin where we stayed overnight on the property of my cousin Scotty and his wife, Kris. They have owned this beautiful place for many years, but this was my first time visiting. It was like boondocking in a state park, except with great food and an impressive wine collection. Frankly, I think all state parks should offer those perks, don't you?

We stayed only one night, but hopefully we will catch up with each other in the fall. Scotty and Kris travel part time in a 45' Newmar Mountain Aire so it's possible our paths will cross while on the road.

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Hanging out at Scotty and Kris’s place. We love this campground!

We headed to the Elks Lodge in San Antonio, where we spent a couple of days shopping and provisioning. We also planned a date night so we could revisit Budro's, our favorite restaurant on the River Walk. We hired a Lyft to and from the lodge so we could indulge in a few adult beverages. We had a great time.

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Full hookups at the Elks Lodge in San Antonio!

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The River Walk is one of our all time favorite places and the guacamole at Budro’s is to die for.

Steven also spent a morning visiting and photographing the local missions. you can read about that here: https://spark.adobe.com/page/cfIX8Fj9tkfZH/

After three nights in San Antonio we moved on to the Lazy L&L Campground outside of New Braunfels. We had planned a week's stay here primarily to spend time with friends, including Bill & Kelly. It was great to finally meet "The Restless Youngs", Cori and Greg. We hadn't met yet in person, but when we had a disappointing meeting with the renovators in early December, it was Cori who talked me off the ledge. She and Greg had already done some renos to their rig and she offered some solid advice.

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Cori and Kelly share a few laughs.

The weekend following our arrival at the Lazy L & L happened to be Super Bowl Sunday! Of course, with my beloved Seahawks well out of the running I really didn't care who won as long as it wasn't Tom Brady and the Patriots who I despise with every fiber of my being. Cori and Greg are from Philly and hosted the gang at their place. Tracy and Lee Perkins were gate-guarding about an hour away, so while Lee held down the fort, Tracy made the trip to watch the game. She is an avid Patriots fan and she knew she was walking into enemy territory. She got teased, of course, but she took it in stride. Ultimately, we all just wanted to watch a good game, not a blowout. And wow, it was a great game (made even better when the Philadelphia Eagles took the trophy.)

Steven and I busted out Odie, the new Weber smoker we had just purchased and smoked a brisket. Back when we were in a house we had the larger version of this smoker and we loved it. We've cranked out some really memorable smoked meats, unfortunately, our Super Bowl brisket wasn't one of them. I guess we're out of practice, but we're gonna work on that!

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Scoopy got a great wash while at the Lazy L&L. We’d highly recommend Hill Country Shine if you’re in the area.

Among the folks at the campground were Craig and Jo Gebbert. One day Craig just happened to mention that Junior Brown would be playing at the famous Gruene Dance Hall and asked if anyone was interested in going. Steven and I are long-time fans, so we jumped at the chance! My gosh, what an awesome show! I'm not sure the others loved the music as much as we did, but we all enjoyed the evening out.

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Junior Brown and his “Guit Steel” was fabulous at Gruene Hall.

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Girls night out at the Junior Brown show (actually, the boys were somewhere in the background).

As always happens when we're having fun, our week flew by. It's always sad to leave people we enjoy being with, but we had reservations near Big Bend and Steven needed a photography fix. So we said our goodbyes and headed west.

UP NEXT:  Big Bend National Park..