It’s been a great stretch of stories between the monastery in Willcox and the Texas Coast. We started the trip with an RV fill up at the gas station and someone had left $23.00 on the pump for us! We drove a good day from Willcox, into New Mexico, to Las Cruces. We enjoyed delicious middle eastern food near the university, restocked at Walmart, and checked out the largest red chili and the Recycled Roadrunner art. We visited the old settlement of Mesilla, with the oldest documented brick building in New Mexico.
And, even though we were both tired and could have easily stayed home, we drove out to White Sands National Monument, about 30 miles out of town, for a guided sunset hike.
White Sands is like nowhere else I’ve been, and I’ve seen sand dunes. It is so white, it is like snow. But it feels like sand. And you can see it for miles and miles. I imagine it is blinding and very hot in the summer.
After two full days and nights, we pulled out, with empty holding tanks and a full tank of water, and the Garmin set for Marfa, a small artist town, and Big Bend National Park. But before we even got to the highway, the alarm for the car’s transmission pump started squealing. Marika wanted to ignore it. I knew we’d be driving into vast open no man’s land, with no services for miles.
Marika had talked to an RV guy in Albuquerque about the pump in November when we had to replace it, so I suggested we drive 180 miles north to see him. The receptionist said they were all booked up, but Tom, the owner, said to drive on up and he’d take care of us.
So, we reprogrammed the Garmin and Marika and Cody drove in the RV and I followed in the car. It was a long three and a half hours of wide open landscapes. I found an 80’s station, called a friend, and kept saying thank you for the pump acting up BEFORE we got out of town.
We pulled into the RV repair lot and met Tom and his tech, Jeff. We explained the problem then watched as Jeff checked the connections, the wires inside the cable – the umbilical cord – he called it, that connects all of the electric things from the RV to the car-brake lights, turn signals, and the power for the transmission pump in the car.
Marika stayed with Jeff and I went into the RV to pee, then took out my phone to research places to stay for at least one night. I found two that got good ratings, one was west of town, one was south, at the Isleta Casino.
I called both and chose the casino, in case we were going to continue south to Big Bend. The casino was less than a half an hour outside of town, in case we wanted to be tourists. And, the campground wasn’t near the bright lights of the casino. It was across the street, in an arroyo, with a lake!
Tom and Jeff tightened everything and the pump stopped alarming so we headed out. We pulled into the campground and took the space second from the end, with a view of the lake and the mountains and the train. As soon as we finished leveling, a huge bird swooped over the lake. I said, “Marika, Big bird, black wings, white body.” She didn’t think it could be an eagle, but it was. And there was a second one perched in a tree. What a welcome.
We plugged into the electricity, but stayed unhooked from the water because it was going to be in the 20’s every night, and we didn’t want the hose to freeze. We walked along the edge of the lake, watching the sun go down beyond the trees and the Rio Grande, somewhere beyond them.
I kept thinking over the day, thanking the Universe for bringing us safely to this beautiful place. That Tom was willing and able to help us. And he didn’t even charge us for his time!
The next day I took out the paper map and google maps and started to regroup and re-route. We were scheduled to arrive at Big Bend National Park the following night, so we were at least two days behind getting there. And, there was a chance that the government was going to shut down at midnight, which meant the park would be closed.
We had already cancelled our Marfa reservation and one night at Big Bend, so it was a clear and easy choice to cancel the rest of our reservation and take a more direct route to the coast.
And so, after three relaxing days along the lake outside of Albuquerque, we headed to Roswell, New Mexico, for two nights. Not to see the alien stuff, but because it was an easy three hour drive on the new route.
We stayed at a private RV park that butted up against a city park, so Cody had a great place to romp and play ball. The city also has a small zoo of rescue animals, and a lake, so we were happy with the place.
The first night we dry camped, meaning not hooked up to electricity. It was already in the 30’s around 7pm , and we couldn’t run the two electric heaters, and we didn’t want to run the house propane heaters for too long in the evening, in case they drained the batteries. So we went to sleep really early to stay warm. Cody joined us in bed around midnight, and we were all pretty cozy and warm. The batteries held a charge like they were supposed to, and we turned on both house heaters at six in the morning when it was 21 degrees outside. We moved into an electric site the second day so that we could freely run the electric heaters, and it was much warmer.
We went food shopping, Marika got a pair of leggings at JC Penney, and we got the car washed after a very dirty quick rain in Albuquerque. In the afternoon we took a drive to check out the Bottomless Lakes state park, the first state park in New Mexico. We walked the wetlands trail, then went to a nearby refuge for sunset and saw more sandhill cranes flying in. Marika had her scope out, and I watched from the car.
From Las Cruces we drove a long six hours into Texas to a campground in San Angelo, one of the state parks that Cody and I camped at during my solo Heart Sparks road tour in 2015. This time, it was winter and we had the entire campground to ourselves.
About 45 minutes before sunset, Marika wanted to check out the south camping area eight miles down the road. I wanted to just sit in our campsite and unwind after the long day on the road, watch the sun set, see what birds or deer showed up. But she was insistent, and I wanted to see it too, so we went. We started to drive out of the park, no map, no GPS, just our phones, but the gate was locked. I called the office and the woman apologized profusely and gave me the gate code.
It took four attempts at the rolling combination lock to get it open, then a bit more time to figure out how the gate opened. By the time we were on the road, the sun was behind the trees, but we kept going. When we got to the south camp gatehouse, we picked up our camping tags, and met the woman who gave me the gate code. She apologized again, then told us to enjoy our stay.
We drove down to the lakeside primitive camp area, also empty, and saw hundreds of gulls on the lake. The sky was orange and pink, yellow and gold behind the winter trees.
We drove back toward camp in the dark, not sure exactly where our turnoff would be for the north camp. I said, “It’s just over the river, remember?” We watched for signs and I saw “bridge may be icy” and then the brown sign for the campground, so we turned in. I got out and Marika held the flashlight while I unlocked the gate and we drove in and down the road, and nothing looked familiar. I looked on my Maps app and we had turned off the highway too soon. We were in the Equestrian camp. The road to the campground was a different gated entrance on the other side of the river.
So we drove out, opened and closed the gate again, and turned back onto the highway. We went over the bridge and saw the turnoff sign for the actual campground.
We did the gate again, and drove past the entry booth, total darkness through the campground that has no signs, and thank goodness I left a light on in the RV or we would have never found our site.
We woke up to dozens of wild turkeys and deer in our back yard. We had delicious Pho in town and visited an artists collective, but most of the studios were closed.
Marika returned to the south park to bird along the lakes while Cody and I played ball. Then I took a walk around the campground and found a body of water surrounded by cottonwoods and tall grasses. I heard so many birds, in the trees, in the grasses, but I saw none. I sat for a long time, listening with my eyes closed, wishing that more people could find a spot in nature to sit and relax.
We left early the next morning and continued east toward San Antonio. It was a longer traveling day than expected with a lot of wind and misty rain, but easy driving besides that. We passed Eden, the center of Texas, and camped for one night about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio at a state park along the Guadalupe River. The water was so calm and clear you could see the rocks under the surface. And it was moist in the air, from the rain, and the river and my body was so happy.
We drove over to the trailheads and Marika found a bird blind while Cody and I took the river trail and we saw armadillos eating in the grasses. I’ve only seen them dead along the road. They are something! They have a black and white striped tail and a grayish shell of armor. I said it looks like he is wearing striped pajamas, and that he put on a gray robe to go out. Marika said I was using too many words. A few minutes later, when we were talking about their defense system, Marika said, “They go into their robe for protection.”
If we had known how beautiful it was, we would have stayed two nights, but we had both agreed we wanted to make it a quick stop so we could get to the coast. So we didn’t follow our 2-2-2 rule: Drive only 2 hours each person, arrive by 2 o’clock and stay 2 nights. But we were both ok with it. And so, in the morning, we set the GPS to take us to the beach.
The Garmin directed us out of town to Hwy 181 south. I had looked on Google maps the night before and asked Marika is she wanted a bigger highway or smaller for the day’s drive, and she said bigger. So I re-programmed the Garmin to take us on the 35S.
Except we were already headed to the 181, and I kept overriding the directions, until the GPS had us going all the way around and then through San Antonio. We passed Texas-sized stone mansions, strip malls and chain restaurants, then through an industrial part of town, past some old, shabby homes where the people on their porches looked like they’d never seen a motor home towing a car drive through their neighborhood. The streets got narrower as we passed through the funky arts district, then right into downtown, (thank goodness it was a Saturday), past the Riverwalk and finally, to the signs to 35S.
Once we were on the highway I looked at the map to see where we’d been, and I couldn’t believe that we had driven an hour out of the way, and that, yes, the 181 WAS a better route. And so after 15 minutes of the 35S, we cut across on a numbered Texas road for 20 miles to pick up the 181 after all.
By the time we pulled into the RV park, it was after four and pouring rain. But I grabbed Marika’s rain jacket and guided her into our spot, did the leveling jacks and plugged in the electric. I changed into dry clothes and finally, we were settled in.
The park is not much, but we picked it because it is across the street from the water. It was a bit hard to see much with the rain, but we have a view of the bay and the remnants of a pier, so we are tickled! And we are here for a week!
The town of Rockport is still in recovery from Hurricane Harvey. Many stores and restaurants and motels are gone. On our way into town we passed towering piles of house things along the highway – furniture, kid’s yard toys, wood, roof materials. The park manager said that’s the end of what’s left, that it was much bigger before.
So many homes are still in need of repair, the temporary plastic roof tarps are tattered, many building lost their walls, and folks continue to pile dead tree limbs and trash along the roads for pickup. Our neighbor has been coming here for three years and he said it’s terrible. So much gone.
But the birds are still here. Today we saw white and brown pelicans, cormorants, ruddy turnstones, black vultures and turkey vultures, black crested titmouse, cardinals, laughing gulls, red head ducks, coots, and rock doves.
And our first whooping cranes. There are only 600 in the world, 400 of them migrate from Canada to the Texas coast. And we saw five of them, less than 20 yards away, feeding on the grasses along the bay. And they are huge birds, FIVE FEET TALL!! And they were feeding with some sandhill cranes, which, at 3 feet tall, seemed huge birds, but they are small compared to the whoopers.
Ever since I came to this part of Texas in 2015, I’ve dreamed of bringing Marika here for the birds for a whole month. And now this dream is real. Which is thrilling and joyous. And also leaves me with a new emptiness, because, now what’s the next dream between here and our volunteer job in New Jersey in August?
But, if I shift from feeling empty to feeling open, then it becomes a delightful kind of exciting, to NOT know, and be OK with that, to focus on enjoying all that this dream is, right here, right now.
And I realize that I need time to shift from planning, planning, planning to arriving and being here. After weeks of hopping and skipping across three states, my body and my being need to slow down and settle into here and now. And what a great place to be.