Friday morning, December 31st, we headed to Las Vegas along with a missionary from the organization to which a motor home had been donated. Since the home could not be picked up until Monday morning we had time to visit with friends in Benson, Arizona on Saturday and visit and stay with some friends in Tucson overnight on Saturday.
We got to Vegas just before dark on Sunday, scoped out the salvage yard location where the motor home was racking up storage charges and located our Motel 6.
We managed to hand some Spanish curved illusion tracts to the people handing out other forms of advertisement on the Strip, ate something and went to bed to get rested up for our big adventure. The last motor home the ministry received took three days to travel what is normally a one day drive! Would ours start and drive okay or be a battle of inches?
The motor home had had a refrigerator fire which burned a hole in the side and the roof including some damage to wiring and the interior.
Fortunately none of the damage prevented the motor home from being started.
Once it was running we moved it out into the parking lot of the salvage yard and after a few trips to Lowes had it sealed enough for a run to the gas station and then we were on the road. But not for long! It looked like stuff was flying off the side. Pulled over and closed the refrigerator access door and burned bits stopped coming out and the rest of the journey back to Texas was not worth writing about. I'm fine with that. Disaster may make the best stories, but not the best experiences.
Big Bend National Park
After we got the burned coach back to Harlingen, Texas we pulled up stakes and spent a few days traveling to Big Bend National Park. We went through Corpus Christi, which is rather counter intuitive routing, but it was time for the semi-annual transmission service at Greatstate Transmission, in Corpus Christi. The route also avoided Laredo with all its bad memories and crummy street routing.
We stayed two nights at the Passport America park in Mathis, TX, and used that as our base to run to Corpus for the transmissions servicing and our favorite Chinese buffet in the area as well as our favorite Mexican restaurant in Mathis and a few errands for truck parts and other shopping in Alice, TX. The park is basic, but economical and quiet.
We spent some time in Corpus Christi and Alice trying to find a better antenna for the newly installed tire pressure monitor. We had bought a bargain priced unit, but one that would work better for a shorter truck/trailer combination. The receiver only seems to pick up the transmitters when the rig is turning and then just on the closer side. Plus the transmitters come with a cheesy gasket that has a tendency to leak. Haven't lost pressure in a trailer tire from one month to the next for several years and the device which is supposed to warn of any pressure loss is causing same. Almost works like a government program. The cure is worse than the problem.
Our next leg was from Mathis to Del Rio traveling through Eagle Pass and along the border highway to Del Rio. In one area there are many pecan orchards and roadside stands selling "soft shell" pecans. "Soft" seems to be a relative term - at least with the ones we bought. Tasty, though.
We stayed two nights at the Buzzard's Roost , another park in Passport America discount RV park network. It was located conveniently to the town of Del Rio and for getting on our way west when we left. Once they do their pruning for the season the park will be a little more big rig friendly. As it was, the tree branches were overly friendly but we dodged the bigger ones and the smaller ones didn't seem to cause any damage.
While in Del Rio we drove around and viewed a number of historical building that were covered in a guide brochure we had acquired at a tourist bureau in Harlingen. We stopped at and I toured (Juanita doesn't share my fascination with small town museums) the Whitehead Memorial Museum. My favorite exhibits were the one about the history of the border radio stations ("From Del Rio, Texas" is a phrase many of my generation have related to me - a poor deprived west coast Canadian who never got to hear those words coming over the ether on a cold mid western winter night.) and, of all things, the Crosley station wagon that Judge Roy Bean's son used to transport his former life insurance clients when they had become his undertaking clients. there was lots else - definitely worth the four bucks senior admission fee.
We tried going to the source of the Del Rio springs, but found that public access was restricted. This was a minor disappointment since the springs are said to be as voluminous as those at San Antonio and I have always had a fascination for spots where water spontaneously emerges from the earth and a river proceeds forth. We contented ourselves with walking the paths and bridges of a park across the highway.
Early Monday morning I took both propane bottles to the filling station. One to be filled and the other to be topped up. Not planning on running out of propane in the frozen reaches of West Texas! Then we were on the road on the shores of Lake Amistad and across the Pecos River to the town of Langtry where Judge Roy Bean held sway as saloon keeper and "The Law West of the Pecos". Nice free museum and historical site.
After a stop at Sanderson for lunch, and Marathon for fuel, we entered the park in time to get to our reserved site in the dry camping area near Rio Grande Village before dark.
The campsite was kinda unlevel and I pulled through to take another pass at it and exceeded the clearance expectations of the corner of the truck bed and the fifth wheel.
Third time in five years that has happened. The body shops must contribute design ideas to pickup manufacturers. Next summer it will be time to mod the suspension on the fiver and the clearance problem should be solved. Other than that minor glitch it was a good day and the start of a great week.
The week in Big Bend National Park was marvelous. Probably the first time in several years I have slept for eight hours in a row for more than one night in a row. Juanita says I almost became sane.
On a typical day we slept late (for us) and had a quiet breakfast before the nearby campers started their generators at the 8 a.m. allowable time. Then we did some reading over coffee and in an hour or so it was warm enough to venture out and go to the village to check e-mail before heading out exploring.
By and by we read every roadside sign in the park and drove every paved road.
Our first full day in the park we headed to the Chisos Mountains Basin, but as we got closer and looked at the clouds it was in, decided to give it a pass and we headed down by the river to visit some old agricultural settlements and hike the Santa Elena Canyon. Only a few feet separate the countries of Mexico and the United States in the canyon, but the the cliffs are unscaleable and not a probable location for an immigrant pathway.
On the way back home the clouds were gone so we drove up to the Chisos Basin over roads that had been sanded for the ice that morning (good call to avoid going there!). The vegetation on the mountain slopes in shadow were still covered with ice. Going several thousand feet higher in elevation will do that. Camping down by the river worked for us in January. In August I'd opt for the basin if our rig was small enough to go there.
One day we drove to Presido and had lunch and used the time there to do some cell phone calls on time sensitive business back in Canada. Between the park and Presidio was Study Butte, the ghost town of Terlingua (mercury mine) and the village of Lajitas. Not to mention the Banderas movie set - a town built on the banks of the Rio Grande River as the set for half a dozen movies.
A couple of times we drove and hiked in to visit the ruins of the hotel and wallow in the hot springs from early in the last century. If they get too warm, bathers have the option of slipping over the side of the rock work and cooling off in the waters of the Rio Grande. Some have been known to swim the few feet across and visit with a Mexican national and his horse. In several places the Mexicans will leave displays of souvenirs along with a price list and jar in which to leave your payment. Usually they will then keep a lookout for officials and come across to pick up the payment when there are no US officials to stop them. My guess is the guy with the horse was one of the cross-border sellers.
There are signs advising against the legality of crossing into Mexico (more than half way across the deepest channel of the river at any given spot) or buying souvenirs from the Mexicans. General paranoia about giving an edge to bureaucratic enforcers meant that we stayed on "our" side of the river and didn't buy any illicit souvenirs. Juanita did, however, dip into the river next to the hot pool. Too cold for me!
We hiked to the heights overlooking our campsite in the Rio Grande Village and hiked the Boquillas Canyon and returned to the Chisos Basin as well as other exploring. I would have liked to hike to Dog Canyon, but the lonely parking spot seemed too vulnerable a place to leave the truck alone for several hours.
After our week in the park we headed out through the north gate and on to Marathon. When we stopped for the border inspection station south of Marathon I smelled the unmistakable smell of hot engine coolant and said "somebody has problems". It was us. A few miles outside of Marathon the "check gauges" light and buzzer came on. Stopped. Looked. Topped up the rad and turned back to town, Booked into a wonderful RV park (what an unexpected gem!) on the other side of town and drove back through to town to find the only mechanic in town had just left for lunch. Came back to the rig, looked closer and found the top rad hose had swelled a bit and had a small hole worn through it. Wrapped it with Magic Wrap and went to the nearest town with a parts store and ordered a hose for next day delivery.
Our unplanned interlude in Marathon, Texas turned out to be a very pleasant experience. After driving to Alpine, Texas and back to order the radiator hose we had time to visit with our neighbouring campers at the Marathon RV Park and they told us of the Gage Hotel and the Gage gardens a few blocks away from the hotel. We spent a relaxing time wandering around both before returning to eat supper and then go hang out and visit with campers at the daily evening campfire.
The following morning we drove to Alpine early and picked up the hose and returned for the quick install of the hose and top-up of antifreeze. Then back on the road to more or less retrace our steps back to Harlingen. We turned away from the border at Del Rio and drove to Uvalde rather than Eagle Pass. By the time we were getting close to Mathis it was getting dark so we stopped short and spent the night in a WalMart parking lot in Alice, Texas. After breakfast the next day we drove to Harlingen and booked into an RV park where we planned to spend the time while working on the burned out motor home.
Life in a large RV park full of snow birds was a bit of culture shock. Seemed that many people fill up their days by walking to the activity center and visiting and playing cards. Not something that appeals to me, but I did get to practice my French talking to one of our many French Canadian neighbours. His English was orders of magnitude better than my French, but it was fun to see what could come back through the more recent layers of Spanish I have been trying with mixed success to apply to my brain.
Rebuilding A Rig
Remove the damaged bits, replace the needed bits and cover it all up nicely.
The guys did a nice job. Juanita cleaned ahead of us and behind us. I had fun getting in their way. Pictures below show the rig up to the time we left. A few days after that the ceiling was completed and the rig pressed into service on a deputation journey.
Travel to Next SOWER Project
We watched the weather forecast closely and timed our dash to our next project at Victory Camp in Alvin, near Houston, Texas to avoid the worst of the winds and all of the ice pellets, frozen overpasses and other nastiness on the edges of Snowzilla.
Arrive in freezing, gray, but dry weather. Get set up and scurry around the corner to Kelley's Country Cookin for bowls of shrimp gumbo and back for a meeting with the camp staff to find out what we will be doing. Sounds like we will be busy doing needed work indoors and out as the weather directs.
February and onward
Project time during the day family time during the evenings and weekends.
Find out about shutdown schedules and what that means for return date to Canada.
Choose a project that can be worked at to fit with the travel schedule or schedule some travel to states we have not rv'ed to to fill in holes in our "states visited" map.