Showing posts with label Roadtrek Agile van. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roadtrek Agile van. Show all posts

Monday, August 7, 2017

Big Bend National Park. Sigh.

An expansive view from one of Big Bend National Park's many tread-worthy hiking trails. Hmm. Wonder how and where Trump's wall would fit in here? Big Bend borders Mexico.
I added a new national park to my LOVE list during our spring 2017 SW road trip -  Big Bend in the far southwestern reaches of Texas. I'd visited there in what seems another lifetime, my twenties, long before the Internet provided easy access to everything you need to know before you go anywhere, do anything.

In the 1970s I knew nothing, about the park, took one short, steep, HOT walk and was on my way. I had no idea what I was missing!

PK and I, bolstered with online advice, were revved up for Big Bend, having read how great it is and also how the park's precious campsites, both in established areas and in dispersed sites, are hard to come by during peak seasons, one of which is early spring. Reservations are possible, but we didn't have any.  If you're a member of the didn't-plan-worth-crap club, of which I am president, you would be subject to the first-come, first-served method of securing a campsite.

This involves getting up early and maybe waiting in line, as we've endured at national parks elsewhere. We were up before 7 a.m. at Marfa, (see post) where we'd spent the previous night (don't laugh, that's early for us) and then on to Marathon, the small town closest to the park's Panther Junction headquarters 69 miles south.

At Panther Junction we learned that all the coveted backcountry sites were booked out for four days  They may not have worked for us anyway as they're all on gravel roads, many requiring 4WD, which we lack. They were booked four days out. 

A surprise about Big Bend NP is that it encompasses an entire mountain range. The Chisos Mountains provide much of the park's stunning scenery - a green island in a desert sea, according to park literature. The park is huge, 1,252 square miles, and the Rio Grande forms a 118-mile border between Texas and Mexican states. We headed to the campground at 5,401 ft elevation, fingers crossed that a first-come, first-served site would be available. 

We were in luck! An incredibly cheerful volunteer campground host greeted us the moment we arrived and  guided us to one of the remaining sites, which happened to be among our best ever. The view was spectacular, and because we were on the bottom tier of the hillside campground and we had only a couple neighbors. If you want to camp at Chisos Basin, and can score a reservation, ask for site 60 or 59. Sixty is the BEST. (Somebody beat us to it) No complaints! Neither would work for large RVs. Our Roadtrek Agile is 19 feet long.
A Torrey yucca decorated our camp area, which was also a great birding spot. Another bonus of this campground is that it is way cooler than at lower elevations. While campers at the popular Cottonwood Campground were enduring temps in the 90s, we were basking in the mid-70s. Spring and fall are the best times to visit. Low elevation camps are closed in summer when temperatures on the ground can reach 180 degrees! Instant death!

The road into the Chisos Basin provides a campground overview and a look at the Window, that deep V between mountains. The Window is a popular hiking destination, and we found out why.
The Window at sunset viewed with a telephoto lens close to our camp.The trail leads to the point of the V. 

Here's PK at The Window's V. The drop-off is a pour
over for flash floods and is scary high. The path

has been polished slick by hiking  boots. We did not
go any closer fearing death or inconvenience from
a misstep. 

 The trail leading to The Window is equipped with carefully carved or constructed
 stairs. PK, in his trendy khaki outfit, is camouflaged. 

Rocks I loved.
  And more rocks. The park's geology has been described as a 
geologists' paradise due to all the exposed rock strata. According 

  to park literature, the abundance, diversity and complexity of rock

outcrops is "staggering." For me, their beauty is staggering.

Wildflowers, including numerous cacti varieties, were around every bend in the trail and along roadsides at all park elevations.

Claret cup cactus.
Prickly pear cacti were flagrant show-offs.

A century plant, which actually lives about 30 years, blooms once and dies.
We were fortunate to see this grand specimen.
Ocotillos made art all over the areas we explored.
This jay appears to be giving us the stink eye. Dozens of jays and other birds and butterflies delighted us en route to The Window. The park attracts around 450 bird species throughout the year. 

One of hundreds of unidentified butterflies along The Window trail.
Santa Elena Canyon of the Rio Grande dwarfs  a
kayaker. The canyon is a stopping point for tour
buses and one was disgorging tourists when we pulled in. The short 
hike up the canyon has a few steep spots. Combined
with the 90+ degree heat, it was a challenge to
some of the elderly sightseers. Later an ambulance
was called to the canyon to rescue someone who'd
collapsed on the trail. Because of heat at lower elevations,
we confined most of our hiking to the Chisos Basin. 
We hiked a couple other trails out of the Chisos Basin, in addition to The Window, and weren't necessarily smart about it. The popular Lost Mine Trail, on the road to the Chisos Basin campground, is only a few miles long. We intended to hike it in the morning, but by 9 a.m. the parking lot was full. Later, when we decided to give it a try, much of it was in the sun and even at high elevation, it was  bloody hot.  It's steep, rocky, and strenuous. It was worth the effort for the panoramas at the top, but we wish we'd had an earlier, cooler start.

The bottom line about Big Bend National Park is that
it's well worth your time and energy to explore. We stayed but three nights, having reservations and obligations down the road, but I understand how many other visitors tromp the trails and ride the roads for a week or more.

Big Bend National Park has a comprehensive website.

Earlier posts about Spring Road trip 2017

Marfa, TX, a lesson in road-trip planning

Arizona, a zone of its own

Joshua Tree National Park  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Hoh, the hikes, and the bike scum

A big leaf maple along the ethereal Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park.
We spent a couple weeks on Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula earlier this month, traveling in our Roadtrek Agile, a compact home on wheels. Everyday was dense with subject matter. 

A close encounter with a bald eagle, and later, a humpback whale; a reunion, after 40+ years, with a woman who validated my memories of the thin slice of our shared past; a music festival that challenged what I thought I knew about music-and about festivals; Victoria, a city that made me rethink my bias against cities, and a hike so beautiful it made my chest ache.

And I can't neglect the random human factor, connections and moments shared with people we meet along the way. Those rank right up there with the natural beauty we find in parks and reserves everywhere. Usually brief, the connections may be intense, moving, hilarious, or, in the case of the young man self-described as "bike scum" on this trip, just plain interesting. All share one thing - under ordinary circumstances in our ordinary lives, we would not be talking with these strangers.

If you're open to it, travel presents opportunities to stick out your hand, and maybe your neck, and interact with people you'll not see again. The encounters provide food for thought. As if I needed more "thoughts."

As a writer/blogger, a problem with frequent travel is that my brain gets buzzed with so many ideas during and after a trip, that I have big troubles producing a post or two before we leave for the next getaway. The trouble comes with sorting, sifting, and shaping details and deciding, deciding, deciding. Should I use this word or that? This photo or another? Check email or Instagram? Make a cup of tea or a gin and tonic?  

I don't expect I'll require therapy to solve my writing difficulties, but maybe I should take a course in self discipline? Or develop a method to light up, in my beleaguered brain, the best stuff.

For now, this post's title narrows the choices.
On the Hall of Mosses Trail. Or maybe it was the Giant Spruce Trail, or the few miles we hiked on the 18-mile Hoh Trail, which leads to the 7,980 foot summit of Mount Olympus. Chest is aching here with the beauty of this mossy, moist and fragrant cathedral filled with soft sounds and filtered light. It is otherworldly.
The Hoh is a remote glacial-melt river in the Olympic National Park. It lends its name to the Hoh Rainforest where three trails out of the visitors'  center pass giant Sitka spruce, western hemlocks, big leaf maples, Douglas firs, western red cedars and more, all festooned with colorful mosses and lichens. Two trails are loops around a mile long. Easy.
This moss is fluffy, soft, spongy and several inches thick.
We live a couple hours from coastal redwood forests, which are magnificent, but the Hoh Rainforest rivals the beauty, if not the size, of the redwoods. The rainforest earns its name by getting as much as 300 inches of rain a year annually. We were blessed with two sunny days. 

The Hoh Rainforest is not exactly on the way to any place else, so I guess we shouldn't have been shocked when we arrived at the Hoh Visitor Center's campground around 5 p.m. on a Saturday in mid July, the pinnacle of tourist season, and scored a campsite. Wahoo! We were fully prepared to turn back to one of the pull-offs that looked decent for boondocking - legal free camping. 

With our senior pass, camping cost just $10. Like most national park campgrounds, camp sites don't have hook-ups, but do have water and restrooms with flush toilets. (In Canada, those are called washrooms. Inquiries about "restrooms" draw blank stares and perhaps pity for weary travelers looking for a place to take a nap.)

Our home on the road, a Roadtrek SS Agile, compact comfort at its best.
Looks like a science fiction movie set.
Even with our late arrival, we had plenty of daylight to set up camp and hike the Hall of Mosses Trail, an .8 mile wonder departing from the park's visitor center, a quick walk from our campsite. 

A nurse log engendered these trees, and their tangled roots, before becoming part of the forest floor.
After hiking we returned to our camp for dinner, which was hamburgers cooked on a serving-platter-sized charcoal grill. I managed to squeeze four burgers on the thing, thinking we'd have two leftover for the next night. We had all the condiments, of course including a sweet onion from our home garden. Life is good!

Random moment arrives.....every travel day should have at least one!

It was dusk when PK noticed a man pushing a bicycle charging along a trail behind our campsite.

PK called out,  then jumped up to catch him.

"Do you mind if I invite him to dinner?" he asked, hollering over his shoulder.

Of course not!! 

A minute later a lanky young man was standing in our campsite warming up to the idea that he suddenly had a hot meal and a place to hang his hammock.

I think PK and were remembering, at that moment, the frigid December night in Death Valley when we invited a bicycling stranger we met in a convenience store to share our campsite and supper. We rescued him from a stealth camp he'd set up in the bushes along the road. He was still drying out from a violent storm the previous night.

He was gracious and grateful for a hot meal and warm conversation. We were inspired by his courage and grit as he rode solo the park's rough unpaved roads, slogging through sand and over steep grades. Plus he told a helluva story about how he'd escaped from flash flooding after water filled his tent during the storm.

We shared more stories and breakfast the next morning, then met up with him again about 15 miles down the road as we did our own cycling. He invited us to stay with him if ever we were in Denver. We never were.

Things weren't quite as cozy with the random person at the Hoh Rainforest, but just as engaging.
Setting up his hammock in the dusk. (flash photo).

Phillip from Portland, OR, is not your typical bicyclist. No Spandex, flashy bike jersey or high-tech trappings. No tent for him, but a hammock and sleeping bag covered with a tarp. No sleek, light  and costly biking shoes, but work boots.
Phillip's bike shoes. No kidding. No need for clip-in pedals.
He carried flip-flops for camp use.
After hearing him speak, I said, "If I couldn't see you, I'd guess you were a 250-pound Harley rider with a heavy cigarette habit."

He smiled and replied in his gravely voice,  "I'm a bike rider with a heavy cigarette habit."

It wasn't long before he rolled one, being super careful to blow smoke away from me.

PK was inside the van cleaning dishes. I cook. He cleans up. This gave me a chance to ask nosy questions without PK giving me "the look." Phillip didn't mind at all. One thing I know from my years as a journalist, people like to be asked questions about themselves.

I learned he rides his bike to jobs on Portland's bike-designated streets. Some good friends of ours happen to live on one of the streets he uses.

"That's the best street in the city for commuting," he said. "I can roll a cigarette and smoke it on the way to work."

He got a BS degree in electrical engineering, he said, but doesn't have a regular job. He's a disabled vet with a head injury.

"I'm not a careerist," he told me. "After the accident, I realized I didn't buy into the nine to five routine." Instead he does contract work and also teaches programming to elementary kids.

"Most of them get it by the time they reach second grade, " he said. "But trying to teach programming to most kindergarteners and first graders doesn't work."

New to biking, his first overnight trip was 50 miles one way. At the end, he and a bunch of other renegade cyclists set up in a campground and raised hell.

"We made a lot of noise and were the worst people there," he said. "We're bike scum. We don't look like most bikers or act like them.  We partied all night, and I got three hours of sleep."

Riding 50 miles back the next day wasn't all that much fun.

We saw Phillip along the road the next day, stopped at the top of a steep hill chugging from his water bottle. I didn't see any smoke so he must not have had time to roll one yet.

Us? We were headed to the northern Oregon coast with home a couple leisurely days south.   Generous and benevolent Mother Nature in summer dress loomed large in our immediate future, and perhaps more randomness. We could only hope. 

PK entering the mosses trail through a nature-built portal.Maybe we'll get
back there sometime and hike to the meadow below Mount Olympus.

More Roadtrek travel posts

Us and Them, Then and Now - traveling with our son and his girlfriend made clear some generational differences. But it was all good.

Chasing the Death Valley Super Bloom, 2016 - no mention of the Roadtrek here, or photos, because this was our first trip with it and I was still getting used to traveling in such a luxury unit after all our years of car camping, and then a pop-up camper.

Loving Death Valley Part 2 - Again, no mention of Roadtrek. I couldn't quite get over all the attention our new-to-us van attracted. We met a couple in Death Valley who had paid someone to find a used Roadtrek for them. They couldn't believe our luck in scoring a decent deal on our own.  I'm over it now!