Our Chalet Truck Camper

Our Chalet Truck Camper

Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 23 to May 25 Oklahoma to Bull Shoals Arkansas

May 23 to May 25 Oklahoma to Bull Shoals Arkansas

We hated to leave the peaceful Corps of Engineers camp but the East calls and we are wandering on. You forget when you live in an eastern state, that even though everyone thinks we are rural, it isn't more than a half hour to a store for groceries, bookstore etc. In the western states you can easily drive several hours before a larger city appears. The roads here are, for the most part, in much better condition and better maintained then the east. Of course there is a lot less traffic to wear them out and the freeze/thaw cycle is shorter but the roads are a joy. Another nice thing about trucking through the west are the diesel prices. We thought of our camping friend Roy often with all the signs with "Cherokee Nation" in them.

We crossed Oklahoma mainly on Route 412, a red road though we did take the interstate through Tulsa, a big sprawling city. The roads in OK are long and flat and for the most part empty except for oil trucks picking up from the little derricks which are in most every field.

We had tried calling quite a few OK and AR state parks plus Corps of Engineers to see if there were a space to be had. It's not a good thing to not have a reservation over Memorial Day weekend. Our luck hit again and Bull Shoals State Park near Flippin, Arkansas had a cancellation. The fellow who answered the phone asked if we played the lottery as he didn't believe our luck. He had just hung up from a four day cancellation. And yes there is a Flippin, AR. Gave us an extra 150 miles of driving on narrow, hilly back roads to get there but it is worth it. We've been traveling long and hard and needed "down time".

The Corp of Engineers manages the White River and the dam is huge. It's a bit disconcerting to know the state campground is on the down side of the dam. The dam releases water for power generation and all day the river rises and falls. You can tell when a release is coming as all the local fishermen move to higher ground.

Exhausted we just crashed and slept a great night with the sound of the river beside us. The state park is one of the best we have ever been in. There are about 100 sites but spread out well, all along the river. It is immaculate and I would highly recommend staying here. A ranger told us that several years ago the state added a half cent tax which goes directly and solely to the state parks. There are 52 parks in Arkansas. Lucky citizens to have so many and so well managed.

Today, the 24th, we have mostly walked a bit around the park, not done the hiking trails back to the dam yet. I read and knitted; Joe read and had a great time talking to the local fishermen. We mostly hung around the camper doing some cleanup and maintenance, cooked and rested. Tomorrow we'll walk the trails, rest a bit more and then head east on Monday. As the temperature starts to drop, a fog starts to form on the river. It never got over 85F today and is now down to 70F. Want to bet this is a good sleeping night again?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 21 Bandelier National Historic Monument

May 21 Bandelier National Historic Monument

Up early on a crystal clear day after a sound sleep with no one around us even owls. This isn't a crowded time of year but we are still body time East Coast so are up and going early.

Usually I research the places we visit but I hadn't done that for Bandelier. What a shock to find what we did. We didn't expect the extent of the  ruins which rival Chaco Canyon but there are more of them easily accessible. Again we were the only people walking through these early Indian ruins and had the place to ourselves. 


This part of the site has paved paths with sandstone steps and wooden ladders. It is quite accessible and has interpretive signs all along the way. The park service also loans out a pamphlet with a history write up to read as you get to sections of the site. I personally think that one of the best parts of our government is the Park Service.

You don't realize the size of what you have walked through until you see the ruins from above. There were about 100 people living in that pueblo circle plus more buildings up against the cliff walls.

Walked out, we went on to Los Alamos and the Bradbury Science Museum. Learned a lot about the Manhattan Project and how the entire town of Los Alamos was built for the Army in secret. We decided to skip Taos this time and moved on to Route 64 through some pretty tight curves at over 9,000 feet and into Cimarron, NM. This is part of the Santa Fe trail scenic byway and follows the early western cattle drives.

Too long on the road today and finally ended up at Clayton Lake State Park, glad to put the old feet up and rest a bit. We've turned east and will gradually head home having met our major goal of Big Bend National Park.

May 20 Santa Fe, NM to Bandelier National Monument

May 20 Santa Fe, NM

When we first started traveling one of my goals was to drive as many of the America's Scenic Byways as we could. I thought surely we could get them all. Wrong ! There are a lot of them we'll never get to but a lot we have.  After the journey through Albuquerque on I-40, we switched to the Scenic Byway Route 14 - The Turquoise Trail.

This good two lane road goes up into the Sandia Mountains. Once again, we decided not to drive up Sandia Peak as we've been similar places and the diesel use would be huge. We switched to 301 to country road 57A, a corrugated dirt road which took us through Indian reservation land and huge cattle ranches. Rough ride but the truck and camper did well and once again proved that a Truck Camper is the way to go. Enough bone jarring at times so hit I-25 into Santa Fe rather then continue to a way back woods COE.

One of the best things about traveling in a truck camper is that it essentially a pickup truck. Yes ours is on the upper end in size but still a pickup truck. We found parking in Santa Fe behind the Cathedral. $6.00 bought us as much walking around and lunch time as we wanted.

We had lunch at "The Shed" and we would highly recommend it. Authentic southwest food, not the cheesy glop some places serve. Corn, chili, chicken soup for me, chicken quesedilla for Joe. We easily walked off those calories quickly. I browsed the native Indian craft stalls and we walked through a lot of the historical district to see the architecture and into a couple of art/sculpture galleries.

Off we went to Bandelier National Monument to camp overnight and do some hike/walking. Love that Golden Age National Access pass. $6.00 for a beautiful site in a wooded campground. Got so excited to se what was around us, we did a truly stupid thing. Took off for a short walk with no water. At least we had our sun hats on and good walking boots. Two miles of trail out to a vista point and we were some hurting souls when we finally made it back to the camper. Don't do that!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 19 Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park

May 19 Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park

Another crystal clear 55F morning. After a walk around the Fool Hollow Lake we headed off to the Petrified Forest National Park. By end of day, we were pretty tired having put in over five miles in desert air. We entered the park from the I-40 side so came to the Painted Desert portion first.
There are numerous view points and walks back to pueblo sights, petroglyphs, and so many changes in geology that is it unreal.

On one stop we got to walk beside a 100 "apartment" room ruins of an ancient pueblo. The rooms were in a large square with a center court. All that is left of the ancient river is a dry bed. Once the river dried up, the people had to move on. 

There are amazing petroglyphs all around this site. Later we stopped at "Newspaper Rock" where there are over 650 glyphs.

I'd hoped to walk down into Blue Canyon. After all it is a paved path and only a mile round trip.  However at 5,700 feet in altitude I just don't do that well with the up portion. We did get about half way down before looking back up and realizing - it's up again. At least we did get to see some petrified wood.

This looks silly but cover us is pretty necessary.

We stopped in Gallup, New Mexico at the Ford dealer where Joe got the brush/cattle guard last year. Needed DEF fluid and the service manager remembered us from last year. Walked to "Jerry's Cafe" for a late lunch of southwest native food. We were the only non Hopi Indian patrons at the time. If you are ever in Gallup, go. It's not what we in the north think of as "Mexican" food but has very different seasoning which we enjoyed a lot. 

Tomorrow we head through Albuquerque, the Sandia Mountains and towards Los Alamos.

Monday, May 19, 2014

May 18 Sonora Desert Museum and Salt River Canyon

May 18 Sonora Desert Museum outside Tucson, Arizona

Up early at 6AM, 52F and sunny. I'd always wanted to see the desert with the Saguaro cactus standing like sentinels. The Sonora Desert Museum is a private museum meaning no public funding. It is exceptionally well run with docents available for tours through all parts of the acreage. The weather forecast was for 98-100F so we wanted to be there when it opened at 7:30AM to give these northern bodies a chance to survive the heat. Fortunately it only got into the high 80s and was windy, quite enjoyable actually. Later in the day on the road it hit 98F.

Docents greeted you and pointed out all the free suntan cream spray machines and water bottle refilling stations. We doused liberally and probably drank a couple of quarts of water over the period of three hours.

The saguaro cactus were in bloom !! The variety of cactus was amazing. Docents were stationed under canvas shelters along the paths and they explained the life cycle of the big giants and the birds and animals the depend on them. There were also large enclosures for a mountain lion, brown bear, Mexican coyotes and a large exhibit of reptiles thankfully behind glass.

We did all the walks including the one out into the desert. Fortunately there were very few people around so you actually felt what it must have been like to cross the desert as a settler. By noon we'd had it and drove on stopping at the visitor center at the Saguaro National Park for another short walk.

On to I-10 to 87 to 60 and a fabulous drive through the Salt River Canyon on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. This is like a mini Grand Canyon that you actually drive down into and back up. Joe said it was like riding through "intestines". The F-450 has all the power needed to take those 12% mile long grades. You can see part of the road in the top left of the photo.

This is what the road looked like on the Delorme mapping. I was driving and Joe was calling out the curves as they came up. Lots of pull out areas to let faster drivers by.

We ended up exhausted and camped in the Sitgreaves National Forest near Show Low, AZ. A cool wind off a lake and all the camper windows open was refreshing and a great end to a long, tiring but good day. What an incredible country we live in.

May 17 - Travel And Resupply

May 17 - Travel And Resupply

Another beautiful day ranging from 60F at 6AM to 94F by late afternoon. this is bone dry weather and you have to be careful to drink a lot of water as you are drying out and never know it.

Lots of warning signs on the highways out here about zero visibility and dust storms. We were fortunate and the ones that hit us were very small even though you could feel the wind power. I'm sure these are quite minor for what can happen.

We travelled along I-10 as that was the easy route to get over to the Sonaran Desert Museum just west of Tucson, Arizona. We also needed to resupply so of course there was the obligatory Walmart stop. Don't all campers stop at Walmarts? There are a few different products that we don't see in Maine.

El Paso is an enormous city and went on for miles and miles and miles. The entry points off and on I-10 were handled by service roads, easy once you got used to them, a bit frightening at first to have traffic coming in constantly. We hadn't had Texas BBQ on this trip yet so chose "The State Line" after several local recommendations. Awesome! Beef short ribs (impossible to get in Maine), brisket, sausage, chopped BBQ plus all the usual sides. We've since eaten off of it for two more days as there were so many left overs. Everything in Texas is big.

Since we wanted to get up early on Sunday to be at the museum when it opened, we chose to stay in a dreaded (I hate them) KOA. Caught up on laundry, water, dump, long showers, etc. There were a lot of beautiful blooming cactus all around us.

Friday, May 16, 2014

May 14 to 15 Big Bend National Park

May 14 to 15 Big Bend National Park

One of our bucket items was camping in Big Bend National Park, Texas and being able to look out the door of the camper and see Mexico. That can now be crossed off the travel list. Somehow the list never gets any shorter once we hit the road as there are always new places to see and enjoy.

We left Garner State Park in rain (as usual). Traveling on the back ranch roads from LBJ to Garner was very interesting as the country was full of emu and bison ranches plus what appeared to be "shooting ranches". Big game hunters can come in and shoot elk, etc. in fenced in ranches. Not quite sporting in my way of thinking but looks quite popular. Some of the ranch houses are top of very steep hills with concrete drives. They looked like compounds all fenced in.

Sun finally came out and along Route 83 we found the Judge Roy Bean Museum in Langtry, TX. Joe had once done a lot of reading up on him and said the museum was fascinating. I spent the time outside in the cactus gardens.


First of several stops on this trip at Border Patrol stations. Very cursory on their part as we just don't look like what they are looking for. Two old dudes from Maine in a truck camper? Let them on through. We of course have all our ID, passports, etc. and are always willing to have them inspect truck and camper. We aren't off the border yet so who knows what will come tomorrow.

We took route 90 to Del Rio to Marathon to 385 and into Big Bend National Park. It is a long, long way to the entrance of this immense park. Along the way there are many small dirt roads leading off into hikes. We took several but quickly found that the dry heat is deceptive. You don't sweat as the heat just wicks it away quickly so it is easy to overheat. We'd taken quite a few water bottles with us and drank them all. My main problem with walking long distances out west isn't as much the heat as the altitude. At 3200 feet it is a long way from the sea level I'm used to so just take it a bit slower. Lots of blooming cactus, birds and small lizards along the way.

We camped at the Rio Grande overlook near Boquillas in the no hook up portion. Love the truck camper as the systems work fine without power or water. The solar kept us topped off even with a 12 volt fan going overnight.Thanks again to Mike T who installed the big inverter before we left on this trip. It is nice to have that extra power use in the morning for coffee.

The Rio Grande is narrow at this portion and folks do walk across it. We found several spots on our walk where craftsmen had left hand made items by the side of the trail with glass jars for payment. I did buy a pretty painted walking stick that had been shellacked - very nice work. The next day it had been replaced and the money was gone so figure someone walked over at night and replaced it.

Another couple out birding on the same trail, nicely took our picture.

Second day we traveled over the Ross Maxwell Scenic Trail which leads to Castoldon. Again along the way there are a lot of side trails to follow. We walked into the Sam Nail Ranch site and wondered how anyone could have survived in this harsh land much less raise livestock. The windmill was the reason they could stay and when it failed, they had to leave.

The Sotol Vista is the top of the road to Castoldon. The view was astonishing but so vast the camera won't catch it. Joe and I travel to enjoy the geology of our country. This area is full of volcano cones, petrified ash with thrown lava rocks on top.

We camped at Cottonwood CG, a very small boondock right on the Rio Grand. It is a silent place with only birds, wind in the trees - and a very persistent woodpecker who decided to pound away on the truck mirrors. Closed the mirrors against the side of the truck so then he beat on the chrome. Fortunately birds don't fly at night.

May 13 LBJ Ranch

May 13 LBJ Ranch
Morning rain (as usual) but minor the rest of the day. We still feel like we are bringing Noah's floods along with us everywhere we go. In Maine, a three digit road number would be a logging road in rough shape. In Texas the three and four digit roads are farm and ranch roads, well paved, two lane and a joy to drive though most of them are 65mph and we feel comfortable doing 50.  We used these roads to get near Fredericksburg, Texas and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Ranch site. 


You know how things just happen sometimes? That extra minute a clerk took to check you out, that return to the gas pump to get your receipt, that very slow driver you finally were able to get around? Life and all those little minutes gained or lost sometimes put you in amazing moments. A few moments later and we would not have had the tour guide we did today to go through the "Western Whitehouse".

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Ranch is a working ranch given to the US Citizens by the Johnson family. It was used as a second Whitehouse when LBJ became president but also served as a family home and retreat. We started our tour at the Sauer Beckman Living History Farm, again a working farm from the early 1800s. This area of Texas was settled by German immigrants, many of them stonemasons and wood artisans. The buildings are original and showed how families lived in that time.

After a drive through the interior ranch roads with views of the cattle and innumerable wild deer, we came to the aviation hanger behind the ranch buildings. Later we learned that LBJ called this plane "Air Force One Half" as it was smaller and at the time he was vice president. There was a runway able to handle this plane right behind the ranch house.

We went to get a ticket for a house tour and the ranger told us to join in a tour just exiting the building. There were only six people so we were pleased to get in a small group. Total absolute shock when we gathered up and there was our tour guide - Luci Baines Johnson, the president's daughter. She had two visiting friends from Germany and was giving them a tour.

The normal half hour tour stretched to an hour and a half as she told funny, sad and personal stories of LBJ, her mom and growing up on the ranch and in DC. We truly felt like we had touched history. The ranch is well worth the visit and we are lucky as a nation to be able to see where history was made. She did remind the ranger accompanying the tour that some items were "on loan" not a gift - like her 1963 Corvette. Once Luci had a son, LBJ took this car back and gave her a Lincoln Continental the size of a boat to drive as it was safer. Her son wants to Corvette.

After our first Mexican cantina meal in Fredericksburg, we drove on to Garner State Park for the night. Tomorrow we push for Big Bend - hopefully not going into storms.