Texas and Arizona Eastbound Trip
March 21 to April 3, 2014
I think of this as my Texas trip of 2014, even though my original goal was Florida. But Texas is as far as I got, where I spent the largest amount of my time, and where I experienced the most new places. I also visited some of Arizona on my way east, and New Mexico on the way back west.
This was a long and productive trip, so I have split it into two blogs - eastbound and westbound.
There is a vast amount of Texas still to be seen - I went through both Corpus Christi and San Antonio without taking panoramas, which was a shame. I am planning to pick up where I left off, with a winter 2015 trip to south Texas, the Gulf Coast, and Florida.
The weather was good everywhere except on the Gulf Coast, where it was warm and humid with persistent fog and haze. Even in early April the combination of heat and humidity was unpleasant, and I wished that my camper had air conditioning.
The surprise of the trip was the town of Goliad, halfway from San Antonio to the coast. It has a Spanish mission and presidio, and played a significant role in Texas history. A comfortable state park campground and a bike path connecting the sights made it a pleasant place to stop.Thirteen national park properties were visited on this trip: Tonto, Casa Grande, Fort Bowie, Chiricahua, Big Bend, Amistad, Palo Alto Battlefield, Padre Island, San Antonio Missions, Carlsbad Caverns, Pecos, Gila Cliff Dwellings, and White Sands.
I also had in mind a project to document rivers from their source to their mouth, and started with the historically interesting but relatively unknown Pecos River, 900 miles long.
The trip lasted 27 days and I created 367 panoramas. This first blog covers 13 days and 128 panoramas. I camped every night.
(Click any picture to open a larger version.)
My first day's drive was a long one, down the San Joaquin Valley on I-5 and right through Los Angeles on I-10. I spent the night in the casual camp area behind the Patton Museum at Chiriaco Summit. Next morning I enjoyed breakfast at the restaurant there.
I rolled into the Phoenix area midday and had lunch with Bill Bailey of Nodal Ninja. I got to Casa Grande National Monument at 4 pm, just in time to see them lock the gate. I headed north into the Superstition Mountains looking for a place to camp.
I eventually found a comfortable campsite at Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Unfortunately the neighbors rode noisy ATV's around the campground until late at night.
Tonto National Monument was near the campground, so I took a hike and made a few panos there, then headed back to Casa Grande National Monument. It is quite the landmark, a four-story brick tower rising from the flat plain.
I was anxious to make substantial progress towards my first major destination of Big Bend National Park, so I got back on I-10 and drove until after dark, then crashed in an RV park on the south edge of Benson.
After a brief stop in Willcox I hiked to Fort Bowie at Apache Pass. One of the best things about this historic park is that it is not on a major road, and you must walk a mile or so along the original trail to the pass and the ruins of the fort.
Late in the day I was lucky to get a very nice campsite in nearby Chiricahua National Monument.
The morning was spent driving and hiking in Chiricahua, around and through an amazing array of hoodoos and columned cliffs.
Then I retraced my route to Willcox and continued east on I-10 into New Mexico. I ended up in another RV park, in Deming. Though seemingly dead flat, this area is actually on the continental divide.All panoramas taken this day (11)
From Deming it was a long day of nothing but driving, non-stop through Las Cruces and El Paso, some panos near Marfa, grocery shopping in Alpine, and arrival in Big Bend National Park just at dusk.
The big attraction near Castolon is Santa Elena Canyon, and the amazing escarpment of the limestone plateau it cuts through. Ross Maxwell Drive (named for a park superintendent) heads north and circles around the Chisos Mountains. The mountains are a world apart from the lowlands of this desert park, cool and partly forested.
Having had a good look at the western and central parts of the park I moved my base east to the Rio Grande Village area. I wanted to take the River Road, which follows the Rio Grande through very remote country (which I had photographed in 2003). I was disappointed to find that it is no longer maintained, and considered dangerous.
This east end of the park also has a dramatic gorge, Boquillas Canyon, as well as a border crossing and the ruins of an old hot springs resort.
Another long driving day (Texas offers lots of those), following the Rio Grande from Big Bend to Langtry. There is no direct route along the river, I had to go quite a ways north before turning east, and none if it was freeway. Just before sunset I stopped at Seminole State Park.
This is where the Pecos River joins the Rio Grande. Later in the trip I would cross and recross the Pecos, and eventually trace it all the way to its headwaters in the snows of the Sangre de Christo Range, 900 miles almost due north of here.
The big attraction in this area is Judge Roy Bean's Jersey Lily Saloon in Langtry. There is a very slick visitor center run by the Texas highway department and popular for school field trips, and also the 100% genuine original saloon out back (I saw two copies of it later on this trip).
From Langtry it was many miles of two-lane road (with a 70 mph speed limit) through Del Rio, the oil boom at Carrizo Springs, and the bustling border crossing city of Laredo. I enjoyed the slowly changing scenery, and listened to the Elvis channel on satellite radio as I roared down the narrow twisting highway. I stopped for dinner in Zapata, then found a campsite at Falcon State Park.
That night at Falcon Reservoir I realized that I had crossed from the dry desert country of west Texas into the humid climate of the lower Rio Grande Valley and coastal plain. I hiked around the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, famous for tropical bird species, then continued on to the Gulf of Mexico at South Padre Island.
Somehow I missed finding the huge campground at South Padre, and ended up in a funky little place next to a marina, never did find out how to pay for it. It was warm and humid all night.
I explored the town of South Padre Island, a resort area notable for the abundance of t-shirt shops and liquor stores. I was amazed to see such tall buildings built on a sand island, and not surprised to hear that one recent highrise had started to tip, and been demolished before anyone moved in. I drove up the barrier island a few miles to the end of the road and visited the impressive birding center. Despite the fog it was uncomfortably hot.
I drove back to the mainland at Port Isabel, then south to Sabal Palm Sanctuary. In addition to protecting the only remaining natural grove of this once widespread tree species, it is the southernmost point in Texas, about the same latitude as Miami. The sanctuary is actually on the south side of the daunting border fencer.
I made a quick pano stop at Palo Alto Battlefield, one of the least interesting national parks that I have been to, then headed north up the coast. At the ship-breaking yard in the Port of Brownsville they were dismantling the aircraft carrier Enterprise, but I couldn't get close enough for a panorama.
Near Kingsville on the vast King Ranch I saw a sign for an RV park and followed a road southeast to the coast at Riviera Beach.
Onwards to Corpus Christi, where the weather was so gray and misty I didn't bother with panoramas, despite some interesting subjects - I will add it to the list for my 2015 trip. I did some grocery shopping, then drove the causeway out to Mustang Island. The campground there was just an asphalt parking lot, so I continued south to Padre Island National Seashore.
My intention was to drive down the beach a few miles and camp there all alone, that's what you are supposed to do at Padre Island. But the beach was closed due to an oil spill up the coast. Experiencing this long barrier island was one of the major goals of the trip, so I was disappointed. I had no choice but to leave, or camp in the campground.
It was 80 degrees all day, and not much cooler at night, with a relentless humid wind. I walked on the beach a bit, but was not happy. The wind was so strong that bicycle riding wasn't much fun either.
I poked around Padre Island a bit before I left, then took the highway bridge north from Corpus Christi - next time I will take the Aransas Pass ferry. I sought out a famous oak tree up the coast at Goose Island.
This was the easternmost point I reached on this trip. From here I covered a bit more of Texas, then back into New Mexico.