SCUBA Diving In The Desert

February 27, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The 2018 RV Trip Continues

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Thursday, Feb 22  (continued)

On the roads to the next park, there were 3 or 4 different border patrol cars parked, we even had to drive through 2 random checkpoints. Easy enough because we must not look suspicious. They just asked if we were natural born citizens and let us drive on through. The song, The Traveler by Chris Stapelton played; “I couldn’t tell ya honey, I don’t know… where I’m goin’ but I’ve got to go. ‘cuz every turn reveals and open road… I’m the traveler…”

Blammy! Our peaceful wandering was shattered by another stinking blown tire! Same area as the last time. And now, we were on some road near the US-Mexico border with nearly non-existent cell service. We pulled off the side on to a gravel road and climbed on the roof of the RV to try to get a signal to call roadside assistance, again.  This time they were surprisingly fast, sending a couple of kind Mexican fellas in a pick-up equipped to render assistance. It happened at 1:30, and by 2:15 it was repaired and we were rolling again! We decided to make our next stop Del Rio. There was a Goodyear there where we could get 5 new tires to replace the old ones with to this doesn’t keep happening.

I noticed there were more goats and sheep than cattle as we drove along, and a lot of named creeks with not a drop of water- though they seemed to gradually fill as we got closer to Del Rio. Every now and then a citris tree heavy with brightly colored fruit would catch my eye and make my mouth water.

We arrived at our next camp just outside of Del Rio, Lake Amistad (meaning “friendship”  in Spanish). This was a huge National Park that lies on the United States-Mexico border.  It is a reservoir created for flood control, water storage and power generation. This park spans 81 miles up the Rio Grande and other neighboring rivers, which feed it giving it over 540 miles of shoreline; like I said, HUGE! (You should say that word in your best Donald Trump voice, otherwise it doesn’t hold merit.) So, with that much water, you would think this place is a tropical oasis- quite the opposite. It was very dry and the lake had receded so much, what would have been a water front camp site was a mile or greater from the water.  It had a warm and dusty charm, I say charm because we had previously been traveling through so much mist, I welcomed the dryness. Plus, most people will tell you the desert has its own way of charming people.

There were only 2 other campers in the entire area we picked. We were boondocking again (with the exception of paying for the site) and had no hook-ups, so running the generator wasn’t so bad with so few people around, but we kept that to an absolute as needed basis.

We went for a walk with Lil, in a feeble attempt to find the lake without trails to follow. We were surrounded by overgrowth of scrub brush, thorny and thick in spots and sparse in others. Tiny freshwater clam shells were crunching under our feet, we were walking on the lake bed. Not far into the hike, (or bushwhacking?) Lil caught the scent of deer and saw them bound away. The sun was setting low in the sky, giving a gentle glow on the tall yellow grasses and sage green brush. With still no water in sight, we aborted our adventure and started back to the RV. It would be very easy to get lost in this brush, for there was miles and miles of it, and who knows what kind of dangerous critters come out at night in these parts!

I watched the sun set from the roof of the RV, hoping to get some good photos. The thicket was still warmly illuminated by the long and low rays, and the sky started to turn all sorts of beautiful colors. They say sunsets in the Texas desert area are the most beautiful, I believe that now.

I made us un-stuffed peppers for dinner, worked on my hand-written journal until my hand cramped, then we fell off to sleep.

SunsetSunset Click on the photo to see more of the Lake Amistad area.

Friday, Feb 23

A very comfortably warm night, not too hot and not too cold. Lil and I went on a short walk around the empty camping area and saw 5 more deer cross the gravel road right in front of us. They moved slowly, curious and cautious about our presence. One walked with heavy stomping feet as if he were warning us off, or taunting Lil.
Soon after that we were ready to go, not much to unhook when we boondock. On the drive out, a couple large turkey flew up from the ditch. So much to see around here. We needed some supplies, most importantly, those damn tires, so into town we went. We had decided the day before to walk across into Mexico since we were this close, and it was deemed the safest area to cross around here.  We found a designated parking area for pedestrians where left Lil to guard the RV. The weather was mild, in the low 60’s and heavy overcast, so we knew she would not overheat. Our plan was to just stroll across into the little town, buy a trinket, eat some food, have a beer and come back, maybe 3 hours max. I was very nervous with butterflies in my stomach. I had so many bad stories about Mexico rolling around in my head. We paid our 75-cent toll to cross and made it over with not a single person manning the bridge. The Rio was actually very pretty, though very small. The town we crossed into welcomed us with tightly packed streets and plethora of  vendors selling crappy clothing and cheap souvenirs. Justin pointed out a bar called Crosby’s telling me it was made famous by George Strait in a song… I’ll have to look that one up later. Within under 5 minutes we passed by a guy selling tacos from a roadside cart. We passed, but I quickly turned when I smelled them, I was starving and would risk eating something from the side of the road in Mexico. They were little cheese, bean and beef filled corn shells rolled tightly then covered in sautéed onions, a pile of fresh veggies and drowned in a mildly hot guacamole sauce. Oh my gosh were they delicious! The vendor spoke fluent English, and helped me understand how much they would cost me… $2.00, a steal! We walked and ate those tasty little buggers and swung into another tiny store to grab a couple of cold Mexican Cokes to wash them down. Ahhh. A little more aimless wandering and I found a shop to get a set of carved marble turtles (because I saw a couple turtles in the Rio when we were crossing). Again, the clerk was very helpful but didn’t speak English. Justin talked to him in Spanish to get a good price for my little set and I walked out happily clutching my $6.00 set of little turtles. One last goal to accomplish- a quick beer. None of the bars were open this early in the day, probably a good thing. We did find a “fancy” restaurant where we could sit at their bar and we enjoyed a couple of Dos Equis. With that, our time in Mexico was over. We walked back, hoping there would be no trouble crossing into the US. The customs agent had a light casual conversation with us about our experience, throwing in his necessary questions, and once again we were back on US soil. In all, we had been gone around 1.5 hours, but that was more than enough for me! Next time we visit Mexico, it will be at an all inclusive resort.

Streets of MexicoStreets of Mexico




Click on the photo to see more of our Mexico experience.


We checked in with Goodyear, but our tires were in yet, but no luck so we found a laundromat and we sat there for an hour while I did my chores. Then, we decided to just go to Goodyear to see what they had in stock rather than waiting. While Justin worked with them to get new tires, I spent some time at McDonalds uploading photos. Feeling accomplished with everything we took care of this morning, we made our way to our next stop.

Seminole Canyon State Park was where we stayed. The draw to this place were the ancient pictographs; Pecos River rock art dating back 4,000 years. There were no open RV spaces, so once again we were boondocking for the night. The spot we had was still a campsite, although a primitive one. It had an awesome view over the desert and the trailheads were very close. We had a dinner of chili dogs then took Lil out to explore some of those nearby trails. Lil’s favorite part was a rabbit she found hiding under a bush. Mine was the who-knows-how-old broken glass strewn along the ground up off the trail. I let myself imagine it was from the days the Southern Pacific Railroad ran along this very spot (built in 1882 per a historical marker).

Saturday, Feb 24

This morning, we got out on the scooter to buzz up to the park office and see if we could get in on the 10:00 am tour down into the canyon to see the pictographs, and luck held out for us.  It was not a strenuous hike, but a significant one. We were led down into the belly of the canyon, where time had eroded a large dome under one of the walls. It was there that ancient people drew out stories of their times, displaying elaborate animals, Shamin priest figures and other meaningful symbols. They were considerably faded, but still remarkable. Nobody really fully understands their meanings, but it’s obvious this place was a magical one to the people. Along the path were some of the various limestone rock, split to reveal some of the fossils of long ago; 90-million year old sea creatures, and some mammal teeth, possibly camel that roamed these ravines long ago.

After our pictograph experience, we had lunch at the RV and took Lil out for a good hike to a canyon overlook. The sky was clearing nicely, mist fading off to reveal dreamy blue skies. I was stunned by the beauty of the canyon, vast and seemingly endless, bending and cutting deep through the heavy stone to make its way to the Rio Grande. This hike was maybe 3.5 miles round trip, but long enough. As the day drew on, it got hotter and you could almost hear the plants slurping up any remaining dew droplets. Looking across the landscape you could see the heat waves begin to ripple into the sky. Lil had plenty of drinking water we brought along but she chose to cool off by laying in one of the few watering holes on the rock. Through the trails, I stepped over many more of those 90-million year old fossils from when this was ocean. I’m still amazed at how much our planet has changed.

From Near the PictographsFrom Near the Pictographs Click on the photo to see more of the Seminole Canyon experience.

A busy morning left a tired doggy, she snoozed on the couch while we drove to our next destination. The rock formations along the way were carved out to make room for the road, leaving exposed the multitude of flaky layers of crust, folding and drooping in places.  The terrain became more hilly, and looked like someone had poured gargantuan piles of salt from the heavens, then sprinkled them with pepper and parsley leaving us looking like a flea scurrying among them. The view was endless and no civilization was in sight; no towns, no towers, just desert and scrub brush. I thought I saw a cell tower at one point, but that was just a mirage. In the distance, faint outlines of mountains came into view.

It was almost without warning that we fell into a valley of giants, Big Bend National Park. Once we passed through the entrance, the road edged in blonde grass went on for over 20 miles to the first stopping point.  Big Bend is over 800,000 acres! It’s named for the great curve of the Rio Grande where the story of Pecos Bill lassoed a tornado, which carved out the mountains we drove through.

The sun was setting low and started to cast long magenta shadows on the mountains and caverns. We were driving through a dehydrated dusty basin with jagged foothills shooting up around us in peaks and columns. This was the first time not having a plan didn’t work out so well; there were absolutely no spots left for RVs, and we drove around trying to locate an overflow lot, but this place was so large, we couldn’t find anything. We drove on another 30-something miles out of the park to the town of Terlingua where we found a spot with hook-ups at a big RV facility. It was just on the edge of the park, and had gas and a restaurant so we felt lucky. It was so dry and windy, we could taste the dust being kicked up. By the time we got settled in, it was after dark and we were tired. Dinner at the café was mediocre, but it filled the hole. All I wanted was food and sleep. I tried to take Lil out for a potty walk, but she couldn’t find a single patch of grass to go in, it was tough, but she found her spot eventually.

Sunday, Feb 25

The desert does have hot days, but man do the nights get cold! Low 40s last night after having temps in the upper 80’s earlier, such a swing. The sun brought a good view to the park we stayed at. Basically hundreds of RVs nestled in a dust bowl. The bright sun rapidly warmed us, leading up to a beautiful day to spend inside Big Bend. We decided to make the morning of it and drive on in the afternoon.  As we drove through the park, the mounts seemed to morph and move with each turn. The dust (and surprisingly- air pollution) in the air created a haze that softened the harsh features of distant peaks. There were a few gas stations located throughout the park, there had to be with a park this size. We took advantage of one to make sure we’d make it out ok. Our attraction today was the Santa Elena Canyon; a deep cut into one of the mountain ranges where the Rio passes through. One quick stop along the road to get a photo of some horses that stood below on the edge of the river. Those horses were grazing on the edge of the Chihuahuan desert in Mexico. All we had to do was walk across the shallow area of that river and we would once again be in Mexico. When we got to Santa Elena, we stopped briefly at some old ruins on the side of the road where I met a friendly horny lizard. Then again at an overlook just on the outskirts of the canyon. It was staggering, literally dizzying, the magnitude of it and how it loomed over us. On our way down to the river, a road runner scurried across the road in front of us. We parked the RV just under a tree surrounded by tall grasses and had lunch at a picnic table right behind the RV. I walked down to the water to get a better view of the Santa Elena, and man was she magnificent! It made me wish we had a canoe to paddle in. Lil was not allowed on these trails, so we skipped the hike in, I was satisfied enough with this view anyhow.

Big Bend SunsetBig Bend Sunset






Click on photo to see more of our Big Bend experience.

On our way back out I couldn’t stop gaping my mouth at the sheer size of the boulders that tumbled down off the mountains. Solid rock the size of cars or greater laid at rest in the grasses next to the road. Farther along we drove, a long and quiet ride aside from the wind gusts. Fence, windmills and grassy desert went on for miles with an occasional herd of cattle. It was tranquil, but lonesome.

We arrived at Davis Mountains State Park late in the day. We had hoped to partake in a late night stargazing experience at the nearby McDonald Observatory, but they were closed this night. That gave us time to take Lil on a stroll up the hill to check out their “Lodge” area. Now, it held a park store and restaurant, all of which was closed and absent of any life. This building didn’t look like a lodge to me, rather, I told myself it was an old secret research facility hidden deep in the mountains until it was purchased and made part of the state park. It held an eerie clandestine character to it. I imagined there were long corridors and many more rooms far below ground level. Justin just laughs at me when I tell him these things. A walk back crossing over a bone dry riverbed to the RV for ham, stuffing with gravy and green bean casserole for dinner!






Click on the photo to see more of Davis Mountain.


Monday, Feb 26

After leaving Davis Mountains, we wandered over to Balmorhea State Park. It held a natural San Solomon Springs that we wanted to SCUBA dive. It was a pool around 25 feet deep that covers 1.3 acres, holding 3.5 million gallons of water and gushing out 28 million gallons daily! We brought with a mini SCUBA system for each of us, something Justin designed to be more compact than a standard dive rig. The weather was low 70s but windy. The water was warm, around 72-75 degrees all year long. We donned our wetsuits and slipped (literally) into the spring. It was surreal to be in such a tropical feeling environment in the middle of a desert.  It was crystal clear, and teeming with friendly endangered fish that would nibble at our ears. We even spotted a turtle swimming around near us. At the bottom, we could see the springs jet out of the sand, making it writhe and wiggle like there were thousands of worms squirming about in it. I could feel the force as I waved my hand over it, praying that my gopro camera on my head was catching some of this. After about 30-40 minutes, we ran out of air and had to end the dive. What a great way to refresh after all the desert driving.






Click on the photo to see more of the Springs experience.


Our stop for the night was Guadalupe Mountain, where we scored one of the last RV spots in their “park”, which was really just a parking lot deep up in the valley of the mountains. We got the perfect corner spot, and the park was filled (holding maybe 20 RVs) by 6:00 pm.  A walk down to the office with Lil led us to read some info plaques telling us that these mountains we were viewing are actually fossilized reefs from an ancient time when the very spot we stood would have been an abyss within a vast ocean some 265 million years ago!! We walked back to the RV and I couldn’t stop staring in wonder at those towering reefs and how insignificant we really were in the age of this planet. While our SCUBA gear dried on the table, we sat and enjoyed the view.

Tuesday, Feb 27

This morning we wanted to partake in a hike but once again, no dogs allowed on trail. We chose the shortest and fastest one, leaving Lil to rest in the RV sitting in the cool mountain air. After halfway in, I was glad she hadn’t come, this terrain would have been difficult for her though she would have given it her best shot. It started as a dusty trail through grass, emerging into white rocky crevices and eventually crawling deep into gorges with sheer rock faces on either side. It ended within a canyon called the Devil’s Hall, quite the spectacle of nature with tall slate grey walls that echoed with our chatter. We turned back at this point, but I’m sure further exploration would have led us to more wonder.

Back at the RV, Lil was actually still sleeping, and greeted Justin happily for a walk along some picnic trails before we pulled out for the next destination.

It’s time to get out of Texas.

Guadalupe SunriseGuadalupe Sunrise Click on the photo to see more of the Guadalupe experience.


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