Our 100th Harvest Host stay!

Day 11

LOCATION:  Outside of Wichita Falls, Texas
CAMPGROUND:  Horseshoe Winery and Vineyard – a Harvest Host site.  Nice gravel driveway to park in.  Easy to find.  Remote, so very quiet.  Very nice staff/owners.  Good wine.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Hot again.  High 95

The winery had called us telling us that they had a special event at the winery and that we needed to arrive before 4:00.  So, we got a very early start from Fort Stockton where we had spent the night at the Old ’76 Beer Garden.  The drive was a combination of dreaded Interstate 20 and secondary roads.  The first 3 hours were through oil fields and refineries.  There are so many that the air stinks.  Heavy equipment everywhere.  We drove by the oil towns of Midland and Odessa.  They are full of temporary housing for oil patch workers.  Then, the landscape  turned to sand hills, then black soil, and then red soil.  It started getting a little greener as we drove north.  This has been our route so far….

We arrived at 3:30 and got settled in.  We are on a nice, paved driveway, so no chance of getting stuck if it rains tonight.

  The people hosting the special event at the winery had reserved the entire place except for the upstairs patio.  We did our wine tasting and selected a bottle for dinner.  We spoke with the owner who lives in a gigantic house on the property.  She said storms were predicted for tonight, and if it got took bad, we could run over to their house and hunker down in their tornado shelter!  Yikes! 

The owners/staff are very friendly.  You can see their mansion in the background….

This is our 100th Harvest Host site!  We have really enjoyed staying with them, and often plan our route around interesting-sounding ones.  The company recently obtained another web group called Boondockers Welcome that some HH guests recommended.  With Boondockers Welcome, you stay in people’s driveways at no charge.  We will check it out. 

We enjoyed a “loaded pretzel” with our wine tasting.  We relaxed in their air-conditioned tasting room, using their wifi until 5:30 at which time their special events guests started to arrive.  They moved us to the outside upstairs patio where we ordered a charcuterie plate to have with the bottle we bought.  It was nice and not too hot, except super windy. 

Back at the trailer, we watched some old British comedies (thanks to our daughter) on George’s tablet until it cooled down and we were ready to eat dinner.

DINNER:  Not wanting to heat up Joy, I made chef’s salads:  cheese and meat left from the charcuterie  board, bacos, croutons, all with a homemade balsamic vinegar dressing.  I used a combo of greens – baby spinach, pea shoots, and baby kale.  It hit the spot.

It started to cool down about 8:00.   With all the windows open, it will be ok for sleeping. 

Leaving the Big Bend area

Day 10

LOCATION:  Fort Stockton, Texas – 325 miles west of San Antonio
CAMPGROUND:  The Old ’76 Beer Garden – a Harvest Host site
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 95
DRIVE:  2 hours

We have enjoyed our stay at The Lost Alaskan RV Park.  This is an interesting cactus in front of the restroom/laundry facility.  It is sprouting new leaves and we ate them!

We were given a late check-out, so we hit the trails.  Alpine has a university and there is a hill/mountain in back of the school.  Someone had recommended the hike.  It was 3 miles round-trip.  It was VERY rocky and steep.  It is called the Desk Trail, as there is supposedly a desk at the end of the trail that a college student had dragged up there years ago.  The trail was not marked very well.  Either we missed the turn to the Desk, or they have removed it.  Anyway, it was good exercise.

This is the view of the university campus below…

We arrived in Fort Stockton and got parked easily in our Harvest Host’s parking lot.  The beer garden was not open yet, and since it was beastly hot, we made a bee-line to the winery/saloon next door with blessed air conditioning.  We did a tasting and told them that we would return for dinner.

The beer garden opened about 6:00, and we had some of their craft beers and wine.  We enjoyed chatting with another Airstream couple from Quebec, and fellow Harvest Host campers

The hostess/owner was so informative about the area and their dreams of building this beer garden, an AirB&B, and a restaurant (future).  The beer garden bar area is a container.  Nice set-up

This is the future restaurant…needs a bit of work.

We are parked just behind the beer garden with a secret back entrance.

We returned to the winery/saloon (originally from the cowboy days) for dinner.  The owner/winemaker, Michele,  is French and we talked with him about our upcoming canal trip on the Canal du Midi in southern France.  He has done that, too, and highly recommended the cassoulet there. 

The place was hopping, with a lot of hip Fort Stockton-ers.  These girls were  dressed to the hilt and ready to party..

DINNER:  We had Michele’s gourmet tacos – shrimp, avocado, cabbage, and sauce.

By the time we returned to Joy, it had thankfully cooled down.  We opened all the windows and slept peacefully, with the howling of coyotes in the distance. 

Enjoying Alpine

Day 9

CAMPGROUND:  Lost Alaskan RV Park
LOCATION:  Alpine, Texas
WEATHER:  Quite nice.  Cool overnight (no A/C).  High 82

Today was a bit quiet.  I did laundry in the RV park’s laundry room, always a convenience.  We did grocery shopping, washed the truck, and filled up with gas in preparation for tomorrow’s trip.  It is always nice to be able to go to gas stations without the trailer. 

Alpine is a cute town.  We drove around its historic parts, spotting this BnB with an Airstream dining area….

Then, we stopped at one of the historic hotels for a drink.  It is magnificent inside.  All along this highway, there are grand hotels – Marathon, Alpine, and Marfa.  This one was built in 1912 for a Mr. Holland. It thrived until about 1975, then sat and deteriorated.  It was refurbished in 2012.

Back to the campground for dinner.  This is the first time that George has grilled on this trip.  It has been too hot!  There is a burn ban in effect, so he used the gas grill.

We started with stuffed, grilled jalapeno appetizers…

DINNER:  Grilled portabello sandwiches with charred red bell pepper and red onion.  Side spinach salad and couscous.  Yum!

BOOK:  “The Three Sisters” by Heather Morris, author of “The Tattoist of Auschwitz”, another great book.  This is the true story of 3 Jewish sisters and their survival in Auschwitz, and the strong bond among them throughout their lives.  5 stars out of 5

Happy Birthday to George!

Day 8

LOCATION: Alpine, Texas
CAMPGROUND:   Lost Alaskan RV Resort.  Full hook-ups, pull-through, paved sites.  Nice brick picnic tables.  Very nice bathroom/showers.  Swimming pool.  Super friendly staff.  $38/night.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Beautiful.  High 73

We have enjoyed our stay at the Maverick RV Resort in Lajitas.  Last night, the weather was so cool and beautiful that we opened all the windows and enjoyed the fresh air.  This is the nice clubhouse at the RV park.

The RV park is right next to the Lajitas Cemetery.  These graves date back to the early 1900s.  The word Lajitas means flagstones in Spanish.  Many of the graves are just covered with flagstone pieces.

We asked for a late check-out as we only had a 2-hour drive today.  We spent the morning on a 3.5 mile hike up a mountain.  George said he would be walking more slowly than on yesterday’s hikes as he is a year older today!  🙂 

We walked up and up, past the resort’s zip lines – top and bottom.  We saw a lot of interesting cacti on our way.

YAY!  We made it!  The overlook has pretty views of the landscape below – the dry, natural part contrasted by the green, irrigated resort/golf course

The trail is called the Picnic Table Trail.  The resort’s equestrian staff bring horse-back riders up here for a sunset ride and end it with wine and snacks at this table. 

We packed up and drove 2 hours north through the mountains, arriving in Alpine late afternoon.  There is more shade here than any place in the Big Bend area. 

DINNER:  For George’s birthday, we celebrated by going to Alpine’s fancy restaurant.  Hip cowboys represent most of the customers.  We shared a chile relleno dish with crab-stuffed jalapenos.   It was quite nice! 

An unforgettable hike…..(I survived)

Day  7

LOCATION:  Lajitas, Texas
CAMPGROUND:  Maverick RV Resort
WEATHER:  Cool!  Highs only 73 – Hooray!

We awoke to wind and overcast skies.  There was a chance of rain (much-needed), but it cleared off.  Taking advantage of the cooler temps, we got an early start for some hikes in Big Bend Ranch State Park. 

Our first hike was the Buena Suerte (Good Luck) Road in the Contrabando (contraband) River region. 

This was the route for the bustling trade of illegal goods between the US and Mexico – mostly liquor and wax.  Wax was made from the candelilia (little candle) plant that grows abundantly in this area.

We found very old, rusty tin cans along the way, including several beer cans that had the old church-key openings. 

There were interesting patterns in the rocks.

Then, another trail  leading off from the Buena Suerte Road.  When you see the landscape from a distance, you don’t appreciate the variety of plants and rocks.  When hiking, you see so much diversity. 

Then, on to hike #3 – Closed Canyon.  We started the hike on a creek bed.  As we hiked deeper into the canyon, it became steeper.  When it rains, there would be a flash flood through here, moving the water through the creek to the Rio Grande. 

I was caught off guard at one of the first steep slopes, and with tiny gravel on top of slippery rocks, kerplunk!  I was down.  I skinned my elbows and bruised my palms.  From then on, it was a combination of flat creek bed, with steep, slippery slopes in between.  I gave up trying to walk down them, so I sat on my bottom and slid down the next 20 slopes! 

All around us, we looked straight up at rocks more than 15 storeys above us.  Very impressive. 

Now, the return!  Big trouble!  The first several slopes were almost impossible to climb up.  There was nothing to hold on to, and no firm steps.  I really felt that I might be stuck!  I tried to climb on my hands and knees, and got part way.    Another couple appeared and helped George get me up.  George pulled my arm while they pushed my butt.  Sure glad a camera was not around at that point!!!!  I got pretty tired of negotiating these 20 or so climbs on the way back.  Phew! 

We stopped at a picnic area with tipis for shelter.

And, other stops with nice overlooks of the Rio Grande.

Back home, I took a glorious shower.  I was covered with dust and needed to clean out my scrapes. 

We celebrated the end of our first week, and the eve of George’s birthday with a bottle of cava.  Pop!

DINNER:  Leftover leftovers – chicken pasta with vegetables.  Side salad. 

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Day 6

LOCATION:  Lajitas, Texas
CAMPGROUND:  Maverick RV at the Lajitas Golf Resort
WEATHER:  Cooler…..Only 102

The early mornings are so nice here.  As we sat outside eating George’s “Sunday Morning Special”, a roadrunner ran up to us to check us out.

Today was our day to do Big Bend Ranch State Park, the largest state park in Texas.  Lajitas, where we are staying, is between the national park and the state park. 

We drove the 60-mile highway that goes through the state park from Lajitas to Presidio, named the 6th most remote city in the USA.  The drive was spectacular.  Parts were like a roller-coaster…..when you reached the top of a hill, you could not see where you were going down.  A bit scary.  The highway parallels the Rio Grande River the whole way.

Presidio is a cute border town, right across from a larger Mexican city.  People go back and forth all the time.  I read that most of the Americans cross over to go to restaurants and shop there.  Conversely, gas must be cheaper in the USA, as we saw lots of Mexican license plates at the gas station.  We found a cute local place for lunch.  The people are super friendly. 

We took our time on the return, stopping first at a fort that is the largest adobe structure in the US Southwest.  We stopped at pull-outs to enjoy the scenery.  This is an area that has hoodoos.

And this stop had a gravel road going down to the Rio Grande River.

The canoe/kayak outfitters were there, but the part of the river that has water in it was pretty short.

This stop called Contrabando is the site of the set of 2 movies filmed here – The Streets of Laredo and Fandango.

Back in Lajitas, we visited the mayor…..a goat! 

DINNER:  We went over to the resort area, back to the Thirsty Goat Saloon.  You can order food there from the resort’s fancy restaurant and also their bakery/pizzaria.  We ordered a pizza, which was delicious.   Since we were about the only people in the saloon, the bartender switched the TV from a sports channel so we could watch “60 Minutes”.  Nice!

No passports? No Mexico!

Day 5

CAMPGROUND: Maverick RV Park at the Lajitas Golf Resort.  Paved spacious sites, some pull-through.  All full hook-ups.  Fire ring.  Picnic table.  Swimming pool.  Activities available – horseback rides, shooting range, zip line.  $55/night.  4 stars out of 5
LOCATION:  Lajitas, Texas
WEATHER:  In a word…..112

Mornings are nice and cool here in the desert.  We bought a breakfast burrito (one of the best we have ever had) from the food truck in front of Paisano RV Park where we stayed last night.  While we were eating, a large coyote trotted through the park!

We had a busy day planned….Paisano RV Park said we could check-out late, so we wanted to return to Big Bend.  Our plan was to go to the far east side of Big Bend to the Mexico border crossing and visit a village there, which we had done several years ago.  We were almost there when I realized that I had forgotten our passports! 

On to Plan B….

We visited the park’s fossil exhibit.  It has been very nicely done.  Bones from this  huge flying dinosaur were found here, and they think it is the largest of its kind.

And this photo is what this area looked like millions of years ago….

The landscape around the fossil exhibit was stark and beautifiul.

We drove on to the easternmost part of Big Bend.  We did a one-hour hike on a nature trail.  It was brutal.  I had forgotten my hat (too!), so used George’s bandana to keep my head from boiling.  I dumped water on it once in a while.  The trail followed what is left of the Rio Grande River in this area.  Not much!

Along the trail, we saw little trinkets like these made by Mexican children.  They sneak over at night to leave them.  During the day, gringos pick them up and put some coins in their money jar.  Our guide told us that Border Patrol is aware of this, but leaves them alone.  Thank goodness!

This dramatic mountain faced us on our way back to Terlingua. 

While we were unhooked, we decided to check out the jeep tour guide’s house where we have a reservation through Harvest Hosts in a few days.  It is out in the middle of nowhere.  The pavement ended and we drove on dirt roads.  When we hit a few swales, we looked at each other and said “no!”  So, I will be contacting Chris (The Desert Dude with Gratitude) to tell him we won’t be staying.  He has built the place himself and lives totally off-grid.  It was interesting to see his set-up.

Then, back to Paisano RV to pack up.  This is the RV park….

We drove only a half hour to this resort.  We had heard rave reviews about it.  Half of it is an RV park and half is a golf resort/spa/upscale hotel with a little shopping village. 

I tried to help get set-up but I thought I would die in the heat.  I think I got “prickly heat” as my skin just felt like it was on fire.  We hurriedly hooked up the electricity.  While Joy was cooling off, we went over to the village in the resort.  It is like an oasis….amazing what a little irrigation can do!

This is a retama tree which is in full bloom this time of the year.  Its yellow petals carpet the ground.  The community where we spend our winters is called Retama Village.

We were in search of the Thirsty Goat Saloon at the resort.  It is down a shaded walkway, really pretty.

We drank our drinks slowly to enjoy their A/C and to give Joy her time to cool down.

DINNER:  It is too hot for George to grill outside and I don’t want to heat up the trailer by doing a lot of cooking, so I am microwaving most of our dinners.  Tonight was warmed up rice with a packet of Trader Joe’s Indian Tikka Vegetables.  Not too bad!

A day with “The Desert Dude with Gratitude”

Day 4

LOCATION:  Terlingua, Texas
CAMPGROUND:  Paisano RV Park
WEATHER:  111 high.  Ouch! 

We love to use Harvest Hosts, as they are fun destinations and free (sort of)!  I had booked a jeep tour of Big Bend through Harvest Hosts and today was the big day for that.  When I made the booking, Chris (The Desert Dude with Attitude) suggested that we do the tour today, and then stay at his house (free) on our last night. 

Today he picked us up at 7:30, wanting to beat other tourists and get out before too much heat. 

First, he took us on a remote gravel road requiring 4-wheel drive.  We were the only ones on the road.  He stopped periodically to point out rock formations, and gave us a nice history of the area.  At this stop, we saw a prickly pear cactus in bloom.

The road ended at Santa Elena Canyon, one of the park’s most famous sites.  We took a hike on the trail that leads to the Rio Grande River. 

Chris kept moaning about the level of the river.  He has lived here 28 years and has never seen in so low.  The kayak tours have all been canceled and the deepest water is ankle-deep.  On the left is Mexico, so some of the tourists waded over there, just to say they did it.

Then, on to another part of the park.  This area was a big cotton growing/processing area before it went bust.  A few houses are left.  This is the view of the old school house from one of the remaining very simple houses.

The rock formations are very interesting and Chris explained the geology of the landscape.  This one is called Moose Ears.  There is a blooming ocotillo in the foreground.

This one is perfectly named The Carousel.

There is a lot of volcanic rock making interesting formations.

Chris dropped us back at the RV park in the early afternoon.  It was a very nice tour.  He is really laid back, and loves living here.  We are curious to see what his place is like in a few days.

We took it easy in the blazing hot afternoon, then took a little drive.  The A/C struggled to keep up.

DINNER:  Chicken fried rice.  This is another meal I had prepared and frozen before we left.  It was nice not to have to cook much and heat up the trailer. 

The sunset was beautiful….

BOOK:  “The Kommandant’s Girl” by Pam Jenoff.  A very interesting book about a Jewish girl during WWII that pretends to be a gentile and becomes a German Nazi Kommandant’s secretary.  She struggles with this relationship but does it to get information for the resistance movement.  5 stars out of 5

On to Big Bend!

Day 3

LOCATION:  Terlingua, Texas  – right outside the west entrance of Big Bend National Park
CAMPGROUND:  Paisano RV Park.  Full sun, no shade.  Gravel, level, pull-through sites. Full hook-ups.   Firepit and picnic table.  Superb bathroom/shower room.  Mexican food truck at entrance.  Good wifi, no TV.  $50/night.  4 stars out of 5
WEATHER:   Overnight last night, it got down to about 60.  We opened the windows for sleeping in the middle of the night.  Then…..today – full sun.  High 102.  A real scorcher.  I can feel my skin burning

We had a leisurely morning at Marathon RV Park and Motel where we stayed last night.  We watched (and heard) trains pass by, right in front of the park.

Then, on to Big Bend National Park.  We drove south from Marathon about 30 miles to the park entrance.  Then, we drove through the park, east section to west section.  We pulled over at one of the look-outs for a picnic lunch.  We found our RV park and got settled in.  Thank goodness for 50 amps = 2 air conditioners running full blast.

Our tactic here is to get up early every day to enjoy the morning coolness, do outdoor activities until about 1:00, relax in Joy’s air-conditioned comfort during the day, then out in the late afternoon when it starts to cool off.

So, after getting set up, George took a siesta while I read.  Then, we were off to Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua was a mercury mining town that went bust.  Now it is mostly just a haven for hippy-types and tourists.  This store is famous…..local musicians sit on the porch drinking beer and playing music.

We found a bar called the High Sierra and stopped for a drink.  I had a Happy Camper IPA, which I thought was appropriate! 

Then, we drove back into Big Bend taking a scenic drive up to Chisnos Mountain.  On our way, we saw a lot of ocotillo plants in bloom.  They are wispy plants with small red blossoms on their tips.  We thought that we had missed spring flower blossom season, but we learned that most of the flowers have not bloomed yet….They are waiting for rain.  It hasn’t rained since January, and that was just a 1/2 inch.  The ocotillos are one species that can bloom without water.

We drove up and up to the Chisnos Mountain Lodge. 

We had drinks at their bar and admired one of the park’s iconic views called “The Window”.

Then back home for dinner.

DINNER:  Tacos with a Tex/Mex chicken/veg mix that I had made before leaving.  I added some sauteed onions and chipotle pepper, and served it over corn tortillas.  I microwaved for a minute to melt some cheese, and topped with spicy salsa.  Muy bueno! 

When our daughter visited us recently, she loaded a bunch of old British TV shows on George’s laptop.  So, without TV, we watched 2 episodes of “To The Manor Born”, one of our favorite series. 

Desolate western Texas


LOCATION:  Marathon, Texas, just north of Big Bend National Park
CAMPGROUND:  Marathon Motel and RV Park.  Very southwestern.  Full hook-ups. Not too shady, but ok.  Picnic table and pull-through site.  Good wifi.  No TV.  $31/night.  4 stars out of 5.  Night sky show.
WEATHER:  HOT.  High 97, but cool in the evening

We took a little hike around Lake Casa Blanca State Park where we stayed last night, then left at 9:30.  The GPS said we would arrive in Marathon at 3:30, but we encountered a lot of road construction with one lane blocked and a flagman directing one-lane traffic.  That slowed us way down, so we lost 1.5 hours (including stops for gas and picnic lunch).

It was one of the most boring drives ever.  Just miles and miles of sagebrush.  You start seeing mirages.  There are signs for ranches but I don’t know what they do….no cows, no oil. 

This is the stretch where we ran out of gas when we were here several years ago.  That time, we had counted on getting gas at Langtry, home of Judge Roy Bean. But this is what we encountered…..no gas! We made sure that that didn’t happen again!

We followed the Rio Grande River, and we could see Mexico quite near.  We also saw 5 different “paddywagons” – former school busses painted white that the Border Patrol uses to transport the illegal immigrants.  At one point, we saw a family being corraled by Border Patrol.  Such a sad situation. 

We had the highway almost to ourselves.  As an example of how remote/unpopulated this area is, we encountered the strangest thing ever.  We saw a sign that said “Road Race Today”.  So, we stopped as they had closed down the highway for a race.  Jazzed up Corvettes and other cars passed us after they completed the race.  Strange!  Also frustrating – another thing that slowed us down today when we were tired of being in the truck. 

Marathon is a cute cowboy town.  Its main claim is that it is at the junction of one of the 2 roads leading to Big Bend National Park. 

Our RV park is kind of cute, and has a TexMex theme.

Our site reservation was for only 30-amp (meaning power for only 1 A/C).  When we arrived and it was still 95, we asked if we could upgrade to 50-amp (= use of 2 A/Cs).  Praise God, we got the other site and were able to get cooled down! 

We walked into the main part of town which houses the old Gage Hotel, on the Historic Register.   It is very upscale.  We went into their White Buffalo Bar for drinks.  I had the prickly pear margarita – quite nice. 

A very attractive, slim woman next to me at the bar ordered a huge chicken fried steak with 2 orders of gravy.  It was immense, overflowing the plate.  She ate every morsel!  Life is not fair!

DINNER:  We walked back to Joy and I cooked a light dinner.  I made some pasta and added a bit of cream cheese at the end to make a cream sauce.  I served some cold smoked salmon on top of it.  Sides were steamed peas. 

Once completely dark, George went out and watched a dark sky presentation.  He said you could see all kinds of constellations.