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I'm working all day today and haven't had time for any adventures. Eleanor and Emma are over at Janie Haddaway's doing laundry, so they are working too.
Since we don't have any exciting news, I thought I'd share a few photos of us having a typical day in the Airstream. These photos were taken by Andy, who visited us back in Tucson a few weeks ago. He caught us candidly doing the things we do every day.
Every morning the trailer is filled with hubbub. Usually one or both of are working on the computer, and I'm often pacing around talking on the phone. When you call Airstream Life magazine, and you hear noises in the background, just remember this picture of my "office".
Andy was with us on our hike to Sabino Canyon and I'm really grateful that he took a few pictures of us together. We hardly have any good shots of us as a family. This hike in Sabino Canyon is a treasured memory.
And here I am at the end of a typical day, taking care of subscriber inquiries that came during the day, downloading my photos, and writing up a blog entry for you to read.
We are planning to stay here at NTAC for a couple more days, and then I think we will head over to Roger Williams Airstream in Weatherford for some minor repairs. After that, I am leaning toward visiting Hot Springs National Park on our way north to Indiana, rather than heading west to Mississippi. The more direct route will give us more time to stop along the way.
We spent the morning catching up on work but when we finally poked our heads out we met two neighbors right away. NTAC is a friendly place and everyone wants to say hello and offer something: laundry machines, lunch, a place to work, directions.
It feels like a rally all the time. There is an Airstream in every garage, literally. NTAC is a gated community of villas, "RV port" homes, and grassy lots, each with full hookups for an Airstream. People lease the lots and own the improvements. Most are second homes, but for some people they are their primary residence.
By the way, any Airstream owner can visit here. You don't have to be a member of WBCCI. Normally you'd be parked in the gravel lot, but since we are courtesy parking, we are parked on grass between two houses just up from the clubhouse. Our host has told us we can stay as long as we like, which is very good for our budget.
NTAC is across the way from the town of Hillsboro, which is centered on a mammoth French Second Empire courthouse. I've spotted two of these courthouses in Texas so far (the second one being in Weatherford).
Jim and Janie Haddaway invited us to their NTAC villa for dinner this evening before my scheduled talk about our travels. We feasted on "taco soup" -- a Texas dinner, I'm told. Jim is a past International President of the WBCCI, and we were joined by Dr Earl Elam, the current president of the NTAC Board of Directors, and his wife Eleanor.
At 7 pm I presented a slide show about our travels to about 25 community members. I picked out 160 slides from the thousands in my albums, and talked about where we've been, how we live, and what we do. Although that sounds like a lot of slides, we were done in 90 minutes and everyone seemed to like it. People are always curious about us since we are a bit of a anomaly as full-timers who aren't retired, and traveling with a child.
The audience poses after my slide show
In short, NTAC has rolled out the red carpet for us and we are having a fine time, so we'll be here for a couple more days at least. I've got plenty of work to do, and tomorrow I'm on the program for the Computer Rally going on this week, speaking on "Getting Online While Mobile." Emma wants to ride her bicycle and Eleanor is going to catch up on laundry. We'll also do some research and figure out where we're going between here and Indiana. I'm leaning toward Natchez Trace Parkway but I'm not sure we'll have time to do it properly.
Now that was the right way to run a rally … er, “campout”. The Heart of Texas Unit really has a great way of doing things. We had the most relaxing Saturday, and a great time despite the fact that it rained nearly all day.
Emma and her newfound friends spent the entire day together, playing card games in their ’67 Caravel, and getting into mud by the lakeside. We got her back at dinnertime, soaked, covered in mud, and as happy as a five-year-old can be.
I spent the morning sleeping. After my dawn breakfast, I decided to go back to bed, and didn’t wake up until 11! By then, breakfast was over but everyone was still out under the canopy talking, so I just showed up and nobody questioned where I’d been all morning. Eleanor and I ended up with David Tidmore in our trailer all afternoon, exchanging Airstream knowledge and planning some of our trailer upgrades.
David is a man of ideas and he knows how to execute them. In a few hours, he had me convinced to upgrade to disc brakes, re-wire my trailer for more efficient charging, and add solar. He also showed me the upgrades his dealership has done for other members, some of which are pretty clever, and he pitched me on switching to a Hensley Arrow hitch. We pitched him on our ideas to change some of our cabinetry, upgrade two of the windows, and possibly add a Vista View window. We’re going to keep talking this week about those projects.
Carter and Karmen Yountz's 1961 Bambi
Saturday’s dinner was an incredible Mexican-themed potluck. People in this unit really know how to cook. I was amazed at the quality. By dinnertime, a cold front had blown through and cleared out the rain, so it was cool but still nice enough to eat outside with a jacket on.
Emma and her friends came over at 8:30 to watch “The Princess Bride” on our TV and I made a big batch of popcorn for them, while Eleanor spent the evening out in our folks’ trailers looking at pictures and exchanging travel ideas.
In short, we had a great day. Today was nice too … a casual morning with breakfast at 9:00 or so, plenty of sunshine and chat, then I roamed around taking photos for future articles.
One "typical" family at the campout
In the afternoon we headed over to North Texas Airstream Community in Hillsboro and that’s where we are right now. I’ll tell you all about that this week.
We are finally at the first organized rally since we started traveling in October. The new “Heart of Texas” unit of the WBCCI invited us to join them in here for a “campout”, and so we slogged for four hours through the biggest rainstorm Texas has seen in months to get here.
I am certain it will be worth it. There are about eight or nine Airstreams parked with us beside a little lake, ranging from a nice ’67 Caravel to a polished Classic 280 Turbodiesel motorhome and several newer units. Two of the couples besides us brought their young kids! That’s a rare event indeed for most WBCCI events (but the norm for this new unit). Of course Emma is thrilled with her new friends, even though they are all a bit older than her. By nine o’clock she had been adopted by the other kids and was off playing flashlight tag in the dark.
A couple of people were kind enough to say that they made an extra effort to come because David Tidmore, president of this unit, told them we were coming. They all want to hear about our travels, even the people who read the blog regularly. It’s really nice to see that people are interested, and so I’m going to try to put together some photos and ideas to share with them this evening.
One of the unusual things about the Heart of Texas Unit is that almost all the members are not retired. So they do things a bit differently. The usual WBCCI unit rally includes breakfast on Saturday morning at 7 or 8 a.m., but David stood up last night to announce that as usual, breakfast would be held at “about 9:30”. Given that dinner was set for “about 7” last night and we didn’t actually get to eating until 8, I figured I’d sleep in and then have brunch with the group.
But it has rained hard all night, with thunderstorms, and they woke me up at 6:30 … and I ended up having breakfast alone at 7 while Eleanor and Emma slept blissfully through the patter of rain our aluminum roof. The forecasters say the rain will end today, which is fine with me. The Texans wish it would keep raining, because the state is in a severe drought right now.
In my essays on Gather (see link to the left), I talk about how our form of travel allows us authentic and personal experiences that rarely happen when you’re on a typical vacation. We were lucky to have one of those authentic experiences today, in Taylor, TX.
Taylor is a quiet place about 30 miles northeast of Austin. The land is flat and open out that way, covered with corn fields and Southern Pacific rail lines which run right through the centers of each town. It’s far enough off the beaten path that you wouldn’t expect to see many tourists there, but on weekends, the knowledgeable ones head to downtown Taylor to experience exceptional barbecue, in an area that is already known for great barbecue.
Shanta Kuhl, one of the local town boosters, invited us to drop in for lunch at Louie Mueller’s, one of the two great barbecue spots in Taylor. So on our way north to Cleburne, we pulled the Airstream right up to the side of Louie’s and stepped into one of the best culinary experiences we’ve had since we started traveling.
The first thing that struck me about Louie Mueller’s was the character of the place. The décor is simple: square wooden tables sitting on a black wood plank floor in a high-ceilinged box of a room that looks like an old warehouse. There’s a bit of neon and a corkboard covered with hundreds of old business cards stained brown with years of grease. An ancient jukebox sits in the corner. At 11:45, the parking lot is filled with pickup trucks and the tables are filled with men wearing baseball caps.
The back half of this large open space is filled with black barbecue equipment, looking like an arrangement of steam locomotives, and attended to by a small crew of confident-looking people who start their secret processes at 3 a.m. every day.
There’s no table service. The menu is short and to the point, written on paper tacked to the wall: you can get barbecued this or that. I didn’t see any salads or salmon fritters. When you line up at the kitchen counter with your tray, the friendly staff quickly tosses a thumb-sized bit of barbecue beef on the paper liner for you to sample while you’re waiting.
Emma wanted ribs, so Eleanor ordered three ribs, expecting those skinny things you usually get at chain restaurants. The crew looked at Emma and explained that their ribs are BIG – about a pound of meat on each one. They look like they were taken from a brontosaurus. She got one and there was plenty for Eleanor and I to sample, with leftovers.
One thing you should know is that there is no “one” way to make barbecue. Every place is different, which is why sampling the different restaurants is so much fun. You never know exactly how it’s going to taste, but you can be assured it will be darned good, especially out here in the midst of barbecue country. I could see spending a couple of weeks touring this area and dropping in on a different local barbecue spot every couple of days. If that interests you, check out the Texas BBQ Trail website.
Shanta also took us down to a hidden spot by the railroad tracks, called Taylor Cafe hides in one of the oldest buildings in Taylor, literally a corrugated tin shack that you would never think was a restaurant from the outside. You’d also never think it was the souce of one of the top 20 best dishes served in the USA, according to a New York food writer. Ah, but it is … and some fine food comes out of there.
Taylor Cafe has two entrances, from the days of segregation, one on either side of the building. Although it is obviously no longer segregated, people still tend to stick to one side or the other. The interior is reminiscent of a fishing shanty, with exposed plywood on the walls. A big central bar is where you order. You don’t come here for the décor, you come because Vincel Mares has been making barbecue here for over fifty years. When he decides to make something special, like a batch of pork sausage, you’d better be in line the first day or two because after that it will be gone.
I shook his gnarled hand, obviously crippled with arthritis, and listened to his quiet voice as he smiled and talked about his food. It’s his life. Every day he gets up at 3.am. to cook, and goes to bed late at night, getting only a few hours sleep before he starts over again. There are regulars in this place who come every day to eat his food.
Although we’d already had lunch, Vincel gave us a package of turkey sausage to take with us. It sits in our refrigerator now. Every time we open the refrigerator the wonderful smell is apparent – that sausage won’t last long …
Taylor TX -- a worthwhile stop along I-35.
The highlight of today was grocery shopping, which is remarkable coming from me. I normally hate grocery shopping but the Whole Foods Market in Austin is definitely one of the exceptions. This place is amazing.
Eleanor has a culinary arts degree and I like eating good food, so the combination can be dangerous sometimes. This was one of those times. We went nuts, trying samples and buying all kinds of things. I grabbed some terrific nectarines and "pink navel" oranges while Eleanor shopped wild mushrooms and peppers. Then we bought smoked salmon, seafood paella (rice with seafood), kung pao tofu, fresh cut pineapple, watermelon, potato latkes, olive & artichoke antipasto, French boule bread, and a pint of chocolate gelato. That was our smorgasbord dinner. Yum.
Halfway through our Whole Foods Market dinner
We also bought ingredients for Eleanor to make something Mexican for the potluck dinner this Saturday, since that's the theme the "campout" organizers have announced: tomatillos, chipolte peppers, corn, bell peppers, onions, limes, and various Mexican spices. She's making a roasted corn salad.
We also bought a lot of other things we love: Maytag blue cheese, chocolate milk (something I don't digest well, but I can't resist), dried cranberries, Turkish apricots, roasted cashew butter, freshly roasted coffee beans (still warm!), a chocolate truffle dessert, china black rice ... mostly stuff you can't find at the remote grocery stores we usually shop at out in the boonies.
This is the key to traveling well. You've got to try to have fun even in the mundane errands. It doesn't always work, but it's worth a shot for the times like this when you succeed. Shopping at the Whole Foods Market was an evening's entertainment (and that's not even counting the people-watching, which was some of the best since California...)
So we're stocked with goodies for a while. Between the staples we bought before going to Big Bend and the Whole Foods spree, this Airstream is loaded with enough food to keep us in gourmet heaven for weeks. It's not just weenies and beans when we travel!
Texans pride themselves on being friendly. So it was no surprise that about a dozen Airstreamers showed up to join us at the Salt Lick tonight for dinner, and they all seemed to have a great time. After some excellent barbecue, there was a cry from the rabble-rousers for me to make a speech, so I stood at the end of one of the picnic tables and did a little Q&A about our trip.
Being mostly retired folks, and all Airstreamers, they were completely in sync with our thoughts and ideas about traveling the country. Again and again I heard "It's so great that you are doing this with your daughter," and "The magazine is great -- I hope you are doing well with it!" It was a great evening for my self-confidence, and I think Eleanor also enjoyed the affirmation.
We talked for about an hour after dinner, covering homeschooling (everyone seemed to think it was great, even the grade-school principal), magazine publishing, travel tips, lifestyles, and domestic bliss. I expect a similar scene this weekend at the rally in Cleburne, and again next week. I have been invited to speak at the Region 9 Computer Rally next week about our Tour, so it may be time to develop a regular speech. Otherwise, I can ramble on all night!
On another topic, I was up late last night making plans for various projects. There's a lot happening behind the scenes! For example:
We have lined up Dometic, Shurflo, Zip-Dee, Airstream, Fantastic Vent, Reese, Vintage Trailer Supply, George M Sutton RV, and GSM Vehicles as sponsors of the '52 Cruiser project, which is tentatively called "Vintage Lightning". The project is looking good, but we are going to be pressed to have it ready for the International Rally in June. Anyone who might be able to tow it one-way from New York to Oregon this June, let me know! We may need some help there.
The solar system for our Tour trailer is being designed now with the help of Triangle Electric in New York, and I hope to help install it in early April while we are in Florida. Right now we are planning on four 110-amphour AGM batteries, three 130w Kyocera solar panels, a Xantrex inverter, and a charge controller.
We are also working on design of some custom cabinetry for the Safari to hold our laser printer, some Zip-Dee chairs, laundry, recycling, books, and misc. I am hoping to find someone who can build and install it while we are in Florida, but right now don't have anyone in mind.
I've got to put in a full day on the magazine tomorrow but if we can we'll take the evening to go into Austin and enjoy the new balmy weather and perhaps a bit of live music.
Pecan Grove RV Park is a nearly legendary place in Austin these days. It has been described to me as "the place the hippies used to hang out," but now it is a funky oasis in the midst of the town that wants to keep itself weird. (That's what the t-shirts say: Keep Austin Weird.)
There are at least a dozen Airstreams here, and several Avions as well. Most of the residents seem permanent, or at least seasonal, and there's a very friendly vibe about the place. I am sure we will like being here, especially now that the weather has improved.
I have done some more research on the bike thing, and it seems clear that we are safe with a bike rack / receiver hitch mount on the rear. Our loaded weight will be well within what the chassis can withstand, and really it won't be much more than many people put in their bumper storage compartments.
Some people go a bit further with their frame mounted equipment. Here's one I spotted recently. I wonder if the owner has trouble towing it in traffic?
And you were worried about a bike rack?
Tomorrow we're going to look up an old friend of mine who relocated here years ago, and of course in the evening we will have dinner at the Salt Lick BBQ with a gang of Airstreamers. By the way, the Salt Lick calls itself "The last bit of Texas in Austin." Sounds promising.
Sunday we ran errands, so it wasn't a fascinating day. Still we did get to the Witte Museum (free, because we used our ASTC Travel Passport again). Emma seemed to like the Texas animal exhibits best.
We also researched the bike rack problem. Here's the short version: Yakima no longer recommends ANY bike rack on the Nissan Armada. That's a change in their policy, since we bought our rack. Presumably the problem is the flexible factory crossbars that allow bikes to wobble too much.
Thule offers a very weird solution that is essentially a set of their crossbars mounted to the factory crossbars. This provides a rigid base and probably solves the problem, but it looks like a Rube Goldberg invention and raises the height of the rack a couple of inches, which would make mounting a bike even harder than it already is.
On their website, Nissan recommends a Yakima rack that is discontinued. No help there. I doubt it would have worked better anyway.
A few readers suggsted putting on a front receiver hitch. Unfortunately, nobody makes a front receiver hitch kit for the Armada so far as I can tell. Trunk racks don't work for us because they force us to remove the bikes everytime we need access to the back, which is often.
Another reader suggested dumping the bikes and rack and getting a pair of folding bikes. But folding bikes are expensive, and we'd take a huge hit on the bikes we already have (which we just bought last September). Plus, the folding bikes would end up in the trailer or the truck, which is what we are trying to avoid. Interior space is at a premium.
That leaves us with putting a receiver hitch on the rear of the Airstream, for a receiver-type bike rack. It can be done in some cases. In the 1970s Airstream sold a bike rack option for their trailers, which I have seen on rare occasions. It was bolted to the sides of the bumper compartment and carried two bikes. However, the 1970s plague of "rear end sag" on some longer rear-bath models put an end to that. People got paranoid about overloading the rear, and legitimately so in some cases, where the trailer was heavy and the frame was light. Those 70s frames couldn't take the shock load ("moment arm") of the extra weight when it bounced over a bump.
But not all Airstreams are made the same. In our case, we are lucky that the Safari 30 is built on a Classic frame, meaning that it is very strong. We believe that we can put a receiver hitch on it and be safe as long as we keep the overall added weight to <100 lbs, including the hitch itself. But clearly more research is indicated. I'll continue looking in to this to see if we can get away with it. If so, I think this would be the best long-term solution.
Sign of the week:
"Seen" at the Pima Air Museum, Tucson, AZ
It rained a tiny bit last night -- a sign that we are finally coming out of the desert. We haven't seen rain since December in Los Angeles!
We're taking a day off today, which in our world means no tourist stuff, just a few errands. I am going to keep my eyes out for a red-and-white barber pole since I need a haircut. You need a sense of adventure (and a distinct lack of concern for hairstyle) to just pick a random barber in a strange city. Sometimes the results are good (as in Borrego Springs CA) and sometimes they are tragic (as in Cupertino CA). Be grateful I didn't post a picture of the Cupertino haircut. Eleanor said I looked like Moe of the Three Stooges.
I want to remind you of a few events, in the hope you can join us. We are having a dinner at the Salt Lick in Driftwood TX on Wednesday night. Also we will be at a rally in Cleburne TX next weekend and and also at the Region 9 Computer Rally in Hillsborough next Monday. If you think you might want to drop in on any of these, check our Schedule page for details or use our Contact Us form.
In less than three weeks, we'll be up in Indiana for a brief visit, at Twin City Airstream of Indiana (Lafayette). This will be the only stop we make up north until July, so if you can drop by, please do! I'll be fine-tuning my presentation on "Getting online while mobile" if anyone is interested in seeing it. We also have a slide show of about 80 of our favorite Airstream photos. Let me know if you might be able to visit while we are in Indiana.
COLD! Something is wrong here in Texas. The temperatures in Big Bend dropped into the 40s on Friday, a 30+ degree change from the day before. By the time we arrived at Seminole Canyon State Historic Park Friday night it was 37 and the wind was blowing hard. We turned on the furnace and spent the evening watching a movie ("Emma", the Jane Austen story with Gweneth Paltrow) and having a belated Valentine's Day.
This reminds me of two things: First, we stepped up our Netflix subscription to 8 CDs at a time. We love movies and we rarely watch (or can receive) over-the-air TV, so having a choice of movies on disc is essential for those bad-weather evenings like last night. People ask us how it works when we are always moving, so I'll tell you.
It works fine. We have our mail forwarded to General Delivery or a friend's house every week or two, and that's how we get our movies. Having the "eight at a time" plans means that we usually have 3-4 handy at any given moment, and each mail package brings the balance. I try to plan the Netflix queue to include at least two kid movies, two family movies (hard to find these days), and some movies for adults like thrillers. We're Jackie Chan fans, so I've got his latest ("Thunderbolt") here right now.
The second thing I wanted to mention is that we like to be flexible about holidays and birthdays. If our schedule makes an event inconvenient, we postpone it. No guilt, no pressure. We were so busy in Big Bend that we skipped Valentine's Day until last night. With nothing to do in Seminole Canyon, Emma and I worked on making Valentine's cards with glue, markers, construction paper, and rubber stamps. Then Emma and Eleanor made a cake and we watched "Emma" the romantic movie. That was Valentine's Day for us: February 17, 2006.
Valentine's Day 2006 in our Airstream
Now the problem is what to do for the next few days. Today (while driving to San Antonio) we started off at 33 degrees and never warmed above 37 all day. These are the coldest daytime temps we've seen since we started the trip.
It's not much fun in the 30s. It's too warm for winter activities (skiing, sledding, skating) and too cold for summer activities. We're going to have to exercise some creativity to keep busy until it warms on Tuesday. I'll catch up on work and Emma will do some schooling, but then we'll have to get out for at least a few hours. The San Antonio Riverwalk does not seem appealing in the 30s. We are parked in the midst of several historic Missions, so we may attempt them, but if the weather is really abominably windy as it has been, we may resort to doing our shopping and laundry.
We're leaving today. Emma is still sleeping, but Eleanor and I are prepping to go to our next stop, which is Del Rio, Texas.
We're all a bit wiped out from the hiking. Yesterday I worked all morning at the local coffee shop (where I could get online) and after lunch we drove back into the park for a pair of hikes, 3.8 miles and 1.6 miles. The day before we did the same thing, taking Bert with us up to the Chisos Mountains for a hike until sunset. The weather has been spectacular (80 degrees and unlimited sunshine) and there hasn't been much wind, which is essential in this dusty environment. We consume a LOT of water these days to combat the dryness, because if you get behind you'll feel even more tired.
Emma the leader gives instructions to her troops on a Chisos Basin hike
The lack of telephone service and questionable Internet has been troublesome for me, and we need to get going if we are to make our scheduled dinner at the Salt Lick in Austin next Wednesday. Between then and now we want to visit Del Rio and San Antonio, and there's 500 miles to cover along the way.
Sometimes people think that our lives on the road are without the usual challenges of day-to-day life. In fact, we've just substituted new challenges for the ordinary ones. For example, consider the fiasco that ensued when a component on the bike rack snapped last Sunday, forcing us to carry one bike in the trailer until a new part could be shipped in.
We called for a spare part (from a payphone) and asked for it to be shipped overnight. But FedEx doesn't deliver here. USPS offered "Express Mail" service to the Panther Junction post office but failed to meet the delivery promise of Wednesday. By then, we were in Study Butte, 30 miles away.
It was hard to track the part because the Internet service at the campground went down daily. The wifi signal was borrowed from a nearby liquor store, apparently by some agreement. First the problem was the phone company, then somebody tripped over the power cable on the wifi router. Each time it went down I ended up on my hands and knees in the dusty back room of the liquor store, trying to diagnose the problem for the owner, who wasn't too happy at my presence.
Finally I gave up on the campground wifi and started driving to the one other place in town where people can get online: the coffee shop. There, things were more reliable (I'm there now). The bike rack part has arrived now, so we'll get it one the way through the park on our way north to Marathon. Then we can re-assemble the rack (in the parking lot of the post office) and proceed to Del Rio.
UPDATE Feb 2006: Carol McNair, general manager of the Big Bend Motor Inn and RV Park, informs me the entire campground will have wi-fi Internet next year!
But I am not happy with this Yakima roof rack. The "universal" connection method they use for the Nissan Armada results in a very wobbly rack, which is why the part broke in the first place. It's also very hard to get a bike on the roof of this tall vehicle without (a) scratching the car; (b) killing one's self. We need a better solution for carrying bikes with the Airstream in tow. I'm researching that now, and will report on it later.
Met this guy on a trail yesterday and he tried to sell us car insurance
It's a rare day that I post twice, but Bert & Janie showed up with my camera and so I had to rush down to the coffee shop to upload photos of Big Bend for you (which you can see by clicking the Pictures link to the left), and to mention a few other things.
I have posted my essay on the plight of the people of Boquillas Mexico. You can find that by clicking the "Gather" link to the left. I think their story is interesting and I hope you'll enjoy the essay.
Victor Valdez, lifetime resident of Boquillas Mexico, singing by his handmade walking sticks
The other thing is simply that we keep meeting great people and I want to mention some of them. Besides, David, who I mentioned earlier today (below), we have met the McLravys of Lansing Michigan, who are traveling in their Airstream Land Yacht. Yvonne McLravy is quite a good self-published author, who gave me two of her books. I was up late last night reading her account of traveling Alaska's Inner Passage, a trip we plan to do in the next couple of years. She may contribute some writing to the magazine in the future.
We also met Carol McNair, who is the general manager of the campground we are staying in. She dropped by today to say she is a big Airstream fan and owner of an Excella herself. She is one of those folks who stopped in Terlingua for a visit (four years ago) and just never left. Carol is also a subscriber to the magazine, which always warms my heart...
So between the new photos and the Gather essay, there is a lot of content for you to browse today. Enjoy! Let me know what you think. We're off for a hike in the Chisos Basin now.
Are Texans extra friendly or are we just becoming notorious? We spent part of the afternoon visiting Terlingua, where we met a fellow named David, who runs a ghost town. It consists of the remains of a handful of dry-laid stone buildings and a few slowly melting adobe huts. On behalf of the owner of the land, David leases the buildings to artists and entrepreneurs and other such people, who are slowly rebuilding them into a new sort of community.
David and his wife also run an art gallery from one of the refurbished buildings, featuring local art. Their home is a 37-foot school bus. They have unreliable electricity, unremitting heat in the summer, little water, and few local amenities. For seven years, they have lived in the dusty surroundings of Terlingua Ghost Town, with the other quirky inhabitants, and they have loved it.
We immediately hit it off. When Eleanor mentioned that she lives in an Airstream, David did a double-take and said, "I think I've read your blog!" Since we hadn't mentioned we have a blog, this was a shock. Keep in mind we were standing in a ghost town that is sort of a suburb of a tiny village that is literally the end of the line in southwest Texas. I can only get online by driving down to the Terlingua Springs Market and borrowing their wi-fi. Many people here don't have telephones. And yet, this guy knows us!
But that's how it is going now. People are writing to us from other parts of the country, saying basically, "I've read your blog. Come to our town and we'll give you courtesy parking." We love that. I expect we will meet a lot of people by courtesy parking in their driveways, and it sounds like a great way to spend the summer.
Today we are going to take most of the day to go hiking in the park. I'll hopefully have my camera back tonight (still no appearance by Bert & Janie), and if so I'll try to post as many pictures as I can. In the meantime, I can use Emma's camera to document today's trip.
Let me cut right to the chase: you must visit Big Bend National Park. It is hard to do, and in this country where nearly everything is easy to get to, that should be reason enough to go. But Big Bend is so much more.
This mammoth park, located in a remote corner of Texas, is an incredible amalgamation of history, native culture, geology, desert life, and scenic beauty. Stretching nearly 60 miles from east to west, it is so large and diverse that you need two weeks to begin to see most of the highlights. Three distinct ecosystems are represented here. And really, the only way to see it is to get out of your car and start hiking.
For this reason, visiting the park with a recreational vehicle is a great choice. Ten years ago, Eleanor and I tent camped in the park for four nights. We had an unforgettable time in our quiet little campsite, two miles off the paved road and totally private. But I remember that after two days we were forced to drive to Terlingua (30 miles away) to recharge our video camera batteries, and it was three dusty days before we got a bath one night in a hot spring. In the comfort of the Airstream, we find we can enjoy the park just as much and still have light, heat, and a hot shower at the end of the day.
Sunset on the limestone cliffs near Rio Grande Village
I can’t tell you everything about Big Bend because it would fill a book. Suffice to say that anyone who enjoys a hike will never be bored here. That leaves out a lot of people, I know. Janie was in the little store by “Rio Grande Village” (not a village at all, but simply two adjacent campgrounds), when a woman walked in and asked, “Where can I go to see something beautiful?” The store clerk was helpful and offered a few suggestions. But Janie thought, “Just open your eyes!” Indeed, there’s almost nowhere you can turn in Big Bend where there isn’t something beautiful or at least interesting.
I am glad we brought Emma up from an early age to enjoy hiking. We took her on hikes Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. On Sunday we did three hikes, each about one to two miles. She was fun to have around, and interested in everything. Two months in the desert has given her a real appreciation for the amount of life to be found here.
Catching up after a day of hiking
It was a very full weekend. We saw two hot springs and hundreds of fossils, pictographs and petroglyphs, natural watering holes in stone (abajos), and limestone cliffs lit pink in the sunset. We met Mexicans from the nearby town of Boquillas del Carmen and listened to their stories. We shot pictures of swallows flying into their cliffside nests, roadrunners, and javelina. We saw a desert fox running behind our path, and listened to coyotes barking just 50 feet from our trailer. And that was just the weekend!
So do I have to say it again? You must go to Big Bend when you can.
Having done all the short hikes on the eastern side of the park, we relocated today to the nearest town, Study Butte (pronounced “Stoody Beeyoot”). Here we have full hookups, wireless Internet in the rec room, and we are closer to the majority of the best hikes. So I can keep you updated for the next few days as we continue to explore the park.
Unfortunately, I can’t offer much in the way of pictures today. Bert has my camera. I left it in his truck today after our last hike, and I hope he has noticed and retrieved it by now. He and Janie elected to stay one more day in Rio Grande Village so they could check out a few more of the longer hikes. They will meet us here on Tuesday or Wednesday, and then I’ll be able to download over 100 new photos for our online album. Until then, I only have about a dozen shots to pick from for the blog.
I will also be posting an essay Wednesday on Gather, after I get my camera back. There is a sad story involving Big Bend and the Mexican people who live just across the border in Boquillas del Carmen. Both Bert and I were so taken with the tale that we took extra time to photograph and interview some of the Mexicans and I’ve written up their story. On Wednesday or later, you can read it by clicking the link to the left that says “Gather”.
We are back in the Internet zone this afternoon. Big Bend has been amazing, as usual. I will be posting huge blog entries all about it as soon as I get my thoughts together, my 105 emails squared away, and my photos downloaded. Look for more on that on Tuesday.
Just a random thought for you today: We have been on the road for 135 days at this point, and it seems like absolutely no time at all. Eleanor and I were talking about this a couple of days ago. We have no sensation of time passing. Life “on the road” is so full, so exciting, and busy that we have to remind ourselves we’ve been at this for four months.
It feels more like a series of adventures. We don’t miss our house. We don’t feel “cut off” from friends or family. We don’t feel claustrophobic. If anything, the experience has been better than we ever expected it to be. I’m not sure if this is a symptom of our personalities, or simply the road speaking to us.
Sign of the week:
After a full day in the "office" I broke away to join Eleanor and Emma for a dip in the famous Balmorhea swimming pool. They say it is the largest spring-fed pool in the US, and the water is always 72 to 76 degrees and very clear.
Emma, ready to put on her mask and snorkel!
It was tough to get psyched to go in the water because it didn't warm up much today (about mid 60s). So we took the added precaution of wearing our shorty wetsuits. But it was great once we got in -- great viewing, and plenty of creatures to see. Dozens of friendly black catfish, schools of shiny little fish, turtles, and ducks. Have you ever watched from below as a duck swims? It's pretty funny.
Eleanor and Emma meeting the catfish
At some points the catfish were so numerous, looking for handouts, we almost had to push them out of the way. And the water was as clear as my other favorite natural spring, Blue Spring in Florida. It's definitely a great spot and I can imagine it's very popular in summer.
Emma's snorkeling is coming right along. She's comfortable in water over her head, not afraid of undersea animals, she can tread water, give hand signals under water, and she can clear her mask without surfacing. We still need to work on a few skills, but we're all very pleased with her progress at age 5 and a half.
Today we are heading to Big Bend National Park for the weekend. Our plan is to meet Bert, Janie, and their friend David, at Rio Grande Village, which is a campground deep inside the park on the east side. We'll be very close to petroglyphs and a hot spring. I'm looking forward to seeing them again. Wednesday night we were up to nearly midnight telling stories and laughing!
I won't be able to update the blog from Rio Grande Village, and our cell phones won't work either. We'll be gloriously cut off from society for the weekend. There are few services in the park and that's the way people like it. So we'll catch you up on Monday. Expect some good pictures!
There are a lot of things I don't get to talk about in this blog when we are traveling. The day-to-day experiences are enough to fill this blog, so I often skip little things. But today, since I'm parked in the bedroom working on the computer, I have no time to go play and I do have a bit of time to reflect.
One of the things I don't get to talk about much is what I'm reading. Although you might not care, what I'm reading has a huge impact on how I see our surroundings, and hence what appears in this blog. A nice feature of the Airstream we have is that it has two bedside nooks, perfect for books. I like to read each night before bed, and so the nook is always full. Traveling also means learning about the places you visit, and one of the very best places to find books about local culture and history is the store at any national or state park.
My real problem is restraining myself from buying a half-dozen books at every stop. We just haven't got room to store them all! So I usually only buy one every few stops. In Nevada I bought "Touring California & Nevada Hot Springs," in Arizona I bought "Roadside History of Arizona" and "The Harvey Girls," but these are more reference books than literature.
For this reason I was thrilled when Andy left me a copy of "Sailing Alone Around The World," by Captain Joshua Slocum. Slocum was a a washed-up old mariner with familial, legal, and financial problems when in the 1890s he built a personal sloop and sailed off solo to adventure. His voyage, a sort of "Walden on the sea", became famous, and Slocum eventually wrote this book about it. In the end, he emerged from the trip "ten years younger" than when he left Boston, and one pound heavier.
Slocum's book is a remarkable bit of prose especially considering the author had no more than a third-grade formal education. The flow and pacing are beautiful, and the romance he brings to the mundane exercise of piloting a craft across featureless seas is inspiring. He manages to turn even a bout with food poisoning into a thrilling experience.
We, too, are sailing around the world in our own way. Like Slocum we are setting sail with only the vaguest of destinations, and letting the experiences happen as they will. This is part of our "post-modern traveling" philosophy, a deliberate lack of structure that encourages accidental discovery, unexpected turns, startling revelations, and the joy of true freedom.
With a rigid travel program in place, one can nearly eliminate the chance element. The risk of a bad hotel, a dull moment, uncomfortable surroundings, or becoming lost, disappears when one is bound by a pre-programmed schedule that has been carefully vetted by someone before you. But I think this is a false reassurance. Expecting that nothing unexpected will happen is paradoxically a self-fulfilling prophesy that you will be disappointed by something, however small. The world is not so cooperative and predictable, no matter what you pay the tour guide. Our philosphy is that it is best to accept that structure in travel is mostly an illusion, and embrace the challenge of constantly-changing circumstance instead.
Slocum had a tough life, in which he learned much about sailing and human nature, but seemed unable to apply it to his own circumstances until late. For that reason, his voyage around the world appeared to be escapism. But in fact he was finally running to his own true calling as a solo traveler and writer, most comfortable in his ship's well-stocked library with Thoreau, Tennyson, Melville, Conrad, and Dickens. I am inspired by his ability to finally find himself after a lifetime of frustration and disappointment. It must have been hard to accept that his destiny could only be found by taking enormous risks into an unknown future. But his choice paid off, proving once again that following one's heart is the best path.
So every night, I marvel at the similarity between the daily steps of his voyage of self-discovery, and ours. This is the stuff that great bedtime reading is made of. I'll be sorry to finish the book, but glad to have met a fellow traveler such as Captain Slocum.
Sign of the week
What else is in my book nook today? "The World Is Flat," by Thomas L Fleischman; "The Digital RV" by my good friend R.L. Charpentier (available through Lulu.com or Amazon.com); "His Excellency" by Joseph L Ellis (a biography of George Washington); and a pre-publication galley of "Mobile Mansions" by Douglas Keister (coming out in April from Gibbs Smith).
West Texas is so vast that it would probably be its own state if anyone lived here.
We decided not to push hard on the drive to Big Bend, so we came as far as this little state park. It's the kind of place that defines "middle of nowhere". The centerpiece of this park is a large natural spring, which forms a giant swimming pool that is 72 to 76 degrees year-round.
While I'm catching up on work for two days, Eleanor and Emma may gather their courage and go for a little swim, or even some snorkeling. Snorkeling in Texas? Yes, and if the water is clear enough we may even see some fish.
Bert & Janie arrived a few hours before us, but they are going to head to Marathon tomorrow to meet another friend. (That may be only an excuse, so they don't have to go swimming!) We'll all rendezvous in Big Bend over the weekend, probably in Rio Grande Village. Tomorrow I'll take some photos of this Balmorhea State Park and give you a report.
Before I get into White Sands National Monument, I should tell you about our friends Bert and Janie Gildart, since they will be traveling with us for the next week or two. They are authors and photographers who work as a team to research and write hiking and nature books. Most recently they have published several books in a series for Globe Pequot Press on things to do in certain national parks. Bert also writes for Airstream Life magazine.
It's great fun to travel with Bert and Janie because they are into hiking and photography (like us), and they seem to enjoy having Emma around. As I mentioned yesterday, they have a fairly new Airstream Safari 28 slide-out. They are parked just down the hill from us at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park.
This is a nice state park, and it's a shame we are not going to get to explore it properly. Behind us is a line of ragged mountains with a canyon that is begging to be explored. Below us to the west is the wide-open expanse of the White Sands MIssile Range. The view is inspiring. This morning I watched pink light of sunrise illuminate the mountains 40 miles to the west, and slowly fill the valley's playas.
But instead of hiking here, we headed to White Sands. This park is basically a collection of huge dunes made entirely of gypsum sand. The sand blows southeasterly from nearby dry lakes, and without a river to wash it away, piles up. Normally gypsum is water-soluble, so gypsum sand is very rare. But here conditions are perfect for it to accumulate in marvelous heaps with textures and designs made by the wind.
After a little orientation at the Visitor's Center, we decided to go for the longest hike here, the 4.6 mile Alkali Flats route. Driving out on Dune Drive gives one the impression of driving on a frozen lake. The road and parking lots are graded white gypsum sand. The occasional buildings look like ice fishing shanties.
Hiking on the sand is difficult work. We were surprised that after an hour we had only managed to go one mile. But of course, we spent a lot of time paused to let Emma play in the sand. Every dune is a fantastic opportunity, for play (sliding down the dunes on a plastic sled is encouraged), animal track identification, and photos.
The hike took us over five hours to complete. By the time we got back, we were exhausted and my camera battery was dead. But I was satisfied with the photos I got, and I think Bert was as well. He shot several rolls during the hike. I've posted some photos on Flickr tonight if you want to check them. Click the link to the left that says "Pictures".
Emma earned another Junior Ranger certificate, her third. She's getting into it now. And we of course picked up another stamp in our National Parks Passport book. When I went to stamp the book, I was surprised to find we were last in White Sands National Monument on Feb 4 2000 -- almost exactly six years ago. I hope we are back soon. There's a lot more to do in this area.
We are on the move again. According to Dr C., we have “done” Tucson and with his blessing we pulled up stakes and headed east on I-10 toward new and colder frontiers.
Sunday, as planned, was a day to catch up on a million little things. It’s important to have those times in the schedule or you start feeling overloaded. We got all the errands done, laundry, cleaning, re-arranging, etc., so we were ready to hit the road today.
We talked to Bert and agreed to meet up at a state park near White Sands National Monument. He and Janie were further north in New Mexico photographing bird migrations. For them it was only three or four hours drive time, but we ended up blowing the whole day between driving and stops.
One stop was to get the Airstream washed again. This time I tried a “self-service” wash designed specifically for RVs. Not great. I got the trailer clean … mostly … but I wouldn’t recommend it. The real truck wash service is still better, even at $40 versus $10.
We pulled into Oliver Lee Memorial State Park after dark, so we couldn’t get a photo for this blog entry. But tomorrow we are planning to spend the day out with Bert & Janie at White Sands and perhaps the New Mexico Museum of Space History, so I expect to come back with a pile of pictures.
From here on for at least a week, we’ll be caravanning with Bert and Janie. They have an Airstream too, a Safari 28 slide-out. (It’s sweet. Great space inside.) We are going to spend two nights here in Alamogordo, then head to Big Bend National Park in Texas for a few days. Then we’ll probably caravan together over to San Antonio. There may be some other stops as well. It should be great fun!
Wow, we're worn out. We've spent the last two days being tourists and it's tiring. Today is going to be a slower day to catch up on business and relax a bit.
The big event of yesterday was the Pima Air & Space Museum. Fair warning: if you find wandering around 80 open acres and four hangars looking at old airplanes (primarily WW II through 1970s era) to be dull, skip down to the picture of Emma, below.
For Andy and I, it was pretty interesting. The Pima Air & Space Museum has an excellent collection of aircraft, thanks to the promixity of the Air Force Base next door, where hundreds of obsolete warbirds have been scrapped. Once in a while they just close the road separating the two locations and tow over another addition to the collection.
The highlights of the collection are an SR-71 Blackbird (2.5 times the speed of sound and built with slide rules!), several planes which were used as Air Force 1 including Kennedy's, a Constellation, B-17, B-24, "Mig Alley", plus many fighters, helicopters, a Guppy, an Electra (like Amelia Earhart's) ... there are hundreds of planes to look at. It's a full day if you like aircraft, and they even sell an optional 2-day ticket. My advice: spring for the extra $5 for the tram tour to get more info and help keep the family from melting down. Also bring plenty of water, even in winter.
We also ran over to the ASARCO open pit copper mine for a tour later in the afternoon. It's about 20 minutes south of Tucson on I-19. Unfortunately we arrived too late for the last tour (it leaves at 3:30). The Visitor Center is free and quite interesting if (again, like me and Andy) you like industrial topics. Emma bore up bravely but most of it was over her head. We're going to owe her a major "kid day" pretty soon, for being such a good trouper.
I dropped Andy off at the airport at 5:30 this morning and so that ends our tourist phase in Tucson. We need to get the Nissan's oil changed, load up for travel, pick up some necessities, and maybe try the pool. (They keep it heated to 90 degrees, we discovered.) Tomorrow, we head out for New Mexico, where we are planning to meet Bert & Janie Gildart in Alamogordo and visit White Sands National Monument.
We are starting to see that Tucson has a tremendous amount to offer. No wonder so many snowbirds have landed here. We're never going to see all the things we want before we have to head east.
Yesterday we drove about 48 miles over to visit Kartchner Caverns State Park, which was (as predicted) very good. We've seen a lot of caves over the years and this one is unique -- well decorated, diverse, and comfortable inside at 68 degrees. They've installed a really good visitor's center and the volunteer guide we had was first-rate. I would post pictures but they do not allow cameras on the tour at all. If you plan to go, be sure to visit the Arizona state parks website to get information first.
While were there, Emma and I went over their national map of famous caves in the US. We've visited several just on this trip (Lehmann Cave in Great Basin NP, the talus caves in Pinnacles Nat'l Monument, Kartchner) and soon we may drop in on Carlsbad if we have time. Last summer in our Argosy we visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, too. All great visits.
There's a campground at Kartchner so you could stay overnight if you wanted to, but no much else to do in the immediate area. Tombstone and Bisbee are down the road a bit, but there are more convenient locations closer to those towns.
If you get hungry at Kartchner, you're out of luck unless you have your RV with you. Benson is the nearest town with restaurants, about nine miles away. We can recommend Reb's Cafe -- a "real" place with reasonably good food. And they put plenty of the malt in the malted shakes, which makes Eleanor happy.
Our next stop was Sabino Canyon, which is part of the Coronado National Forest, northeast of Tucson. This is a great spot, also recommended. There's a parking/admission fee but our National Parks pass (with Eagle hologram on the back) got us in for free. (If you visit a lot of US Forest Service spots, the pass and hologram are well worth the $65 annual fee.)
Sabino Canyon is a terrific place for easy hiking. You can choose paved roads suitable for cycling or strollers, or dirt trails that parallel the hills. There are horse trails, too.
Emma spots a roadrunner!
The scenery is great everywhere. For a really easy view, you can hop a tram up into the canyon and get off anywhere you want. The trams run all day, so you can design a hike that works for you, even one-way hikes that only go downhll. We got there late so we skipped the tram and just took a casual two mile walk so we could take our time and talk about what we spotted.
Emma gets a peek at the Saguaro fruit.
By the way, we are now in the Chihuahuan desert, rather than the Sonoran desert. It's a not a lot different, but there are some variations in plants and animals. One animal that remains the same from the Mojave to here is the mountain lion, but of course we didn't see any.
I spot so many unusual signs as we travel that I have started collecting them (photgraphically). Here's my "Sign of the Week".
What a great day for visitors! Around noon, I was cycling around the park and dropping off copies of Airstream Life on the steps of every Airstream I found (we have four here now). When I got back, I found a fellow in a bright aloha shirt looking at our trailer. It turned out to be blog reader Mike Birch, who had deduced what park we were in from the clues I gave in the blog!
Mike and his wife Tracy were just stopping in to say Hi, but we couldn't let them go that easily, so we ended up having a tour through the interior and then sitting out under the awning on a glorious Arizona day. They are heading west from Texas in their Airstream right now, and just happened to be crossing paths with us here in Tucson. They've offered us courtesy parking at their place in Colorado, which we may be able to accept when we come back west in May.
Unfortunately we had to cut our visit short because we needed to get over to the airport to pick up our friend Andy. He's escaping the cold damp weather of Boston for a few days. Poor guy showed up wearing a fleece and blue jeans (we were wearing sandals and shorts). We took him over to a couple of gem show venues and then headed back to the trailer for dinner.
It's very unusual to have a guest in our Airstream, but it is fun. Since we have the only Airstream floorplan with two bedrooms, we are actually quite comfortable. And the weather is great so we aren't spending much time inside anyway.
We are really lucky this week. The famous Tucson Gem & Mineral Show is in full swing this week, and it is great! All over the city, in dozens of venues, people have come from all over the world to buy and sell gems, minerals, pearls, jewelry, meteorites, fossils, crystals, giant geodes .... and Native American crafts, watches, rare coins ... and kettle corn.
We started off fairly restrained, at the first venue we visited, not buying anything even though everything looked really great. In the second venue, I broke down and bought kettle corn for everyone. Eleanor bought a pair of cool bowls made of fossilized stone.
In the third and fourth stops, we completely lost control. Emma bought a trilobite fossil, Eleanor bought necklaces, and I bought a collectible watch. How can you resist? Everything is a good bargain, and the vendors will often drop their prices to wholesale just for the asking. It was a good thing the shows all closed up by 7 pm, so we were forced to go home.
Emma and her trilobite
It is also a good thing we don't have a house back in Vermont, or we would have bought much more "stuff" to put in it. I saw some amazing fossil sheets, as large as 5 ft x 3 ft, for ridiculously low prices. Those won't fit in the trailer ...
When you live in limited space, the key to buying things is that you have to decide what to get rid of at the same time. Something comes in, something goes out. We just don't have the room to accumulate "stuff" so we try not to buy things we don't really need. This shopping spree was definitely an exception.
We will go back to more of the show today (after we pick up Andy, our guest, at the airport) but hopefully we'll just look, and not buy. It's an amazing event and I can highly recommend it for anyone in Tucson this time of year.
I have to tell you, I absolutely LOVE having a full hookup camp site. It means I don't have to worry about things like taking a shower and washing the dinner dishes in the same evening because of the grey tank capacity. With water & electric only sites, we will use the showers at the park - if provided. I also tend to prepare "one pot" meals and use paper plates & bowls to minimize the dirty dish load. But with W/E/S I can let my culinary skills loose. Not just because I don't need to be concerned about the number of dirty pots, pans, & dishes, but because campgrounds that offer W/E/S are usually within or just on the outskirts of a major city. That means I can purchase local specialty foods and have a grand time cooking in the kitchen. With full hookup the Airstream truly is a house. (It's always a home.)
"Campsites" at Bolsa Chica State Beach, near Los Angeles
What I don't like are those "RV Resorts" (and I use this term as loosely as the proprietors of said places) that offer the amenities of full hookup at the expense of nature. There isn't a tree or shrub to be found and the closest thing to wildlife is the dog in the Class A 10 feet to the right. The goal of these "parks" is to cram as many RV's as possible onto an expanse of asphalt next to a major highway near a major city and then throw in a laundry and club house so it can be called a resort.
Is this a camping experience, or a resort? Neither.
Don't take what you just read in the wrong way. Some - albeit, too few - RV Resorts are what they claim to be - resorts. They offer restaurants, heated pools and spas, play areas for the children, some natural shade (though manicured and manipulated), a guest laundry, fitness center, gift shop and general store. They are basically a high end hotel where you provide your own "guest room".
The one we are at in Tucson offers all of the above plus patio furniture and a fruit bearing citrus tree at each of its 384 sites. Also a library, public restrooms & showers, propane grills, meeting rooms and a convention hall. The RV Resort we stayed at in Benbow, CA for Thanksgiving offered free WiFi, and its own 18 hole golf course. These are but two great places to stay with your Airstream if you desire what I call "the Ritz experience". It's obvious that for a lot of folks, this is exactly what they are looking for. But I don't need or want all that these real resorts have to offer.
What I desire is the convenience of W/E/S with the advantages of being in a natural setting. We have been to such places! There are some very lovely camping spots that offer full hookups and not at the expense of the trees. (not to sound like the Lorax) :-)
Cherry Creek SP, CO offers full hookup and maintains an air of dignity. It is a great place to camp, with a huge playground, and a reservoir that allows swimming and boating. It has miles of walking and biking trails. Wildlife is abundant - we saw great horned owls, jack rabbits, mule deer, coyote, and magpie. All this in Denver!
Full hookups at Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora CO
When we camped near Santa Barbara, CA at Carpinteria State Beach, our full hookup site was less than 50 feet from the ocean and even though we were parked on asphalt, we were also parked under trees. We had shade, the sound of the waves and a view of the water.
In Anza-Borrego Desert SP, CA the Palm Canyon campground is in the desert. There we had the benefit of evening Ranger talks, fabulous hiking, tons of wildlife including Big Horn Sheep and hummingbirds, and our full hookup site had palm trees, desert flowers, cactus and an incredible 360 degree view.
Full hookups at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Unfortunately, these fabulous campgrounds are few and far between. It is painful to acknowledge that more than not, the only full hookup campgrounds available are no more than a barren stretch of land with W/E/S. We have found ourselves in one or two of these places also, and having experienced both is why I think I abhor the latter so.
You see, I know we don't always have to give up the wonders that nature has to offer to be able to get the benefits that man can supply.