Sixth day, Jan 5
I awoke when the sky was still dark and went outside after breakfast to watch the sunrise. Even with my down sleeping bag, it was too cold to sit still and enjoy the morning, so I decided to go for a bike ride as soon as it was light enough. I made it out the unpaved road without incident; I am getting more comfortable riding on loose surfaces. It took two hours to ride fourteen miles to an exhibit on fossils found in the park because I was slowed down by strong head winds and mountainous roads. I learned that the desert area was a swamp in the Eocene epoch (56 to 34 million years ago), but there were no helpful hints about spotting fossils like I had hoped. Several of the parks we’ve stayed at have trails with rocks that one can supposedly see fossils in, but I can never see them. I had hoped that the exhibit would teach me what to look for, but the display was focused on what has been found the the park.
I returned to the site to have lunch with John, and after lunch we set out for a walk. Our campsite is near the entrance to an unpaved road, so we walked to the end to see where it goes. After a mile or so the improved dirt road turns into a “high clearance” road, the uneven and rocky surface passible only to the most rugged of vehicles. Past the last of four campsites on the road, the map showed a spring. We continued to the end and found the ruins of an old ranch, but no water. Some structures showed where the spring was, it was tapped to provide water to the livestock, and an empty stream bed was carved out below, full of dried and dead trees. Altogether a fun exploration – we even saw a tarantula on the road!
Seventh day, Jan 6
And on the seventh day, we rested. At least we rested from adventuring, and spent the day on more menial tasks. We needed to fill propane, dump the tanks and fill up on water. The place to do all that, Rio Grande Village link, also offers wifi, so we spent the day doing internet stuff as well as all those above-listed RV tasks. I woke up with a really unusual case of vertigo, so the timing of a rest day worked out great for me. After spending the day on the internet, we did need a little walk, so we headed back to hot springs and walked a short loop trail nearby. It was too cold for me to go in, and John didn’t want to join the three guys in the tub if I wasn’t with him.
Eighth day, Jan 7
Many of you may recognize this date as the day that arctic air froze much of the US (aka the Polar Vortex). The cold snap hit us, too, though not nearly as hard as our northerly friends. The low was 17 degrees, by far the lowest temperature we have experienced in the van, and our water system froze. Thankfully, as far as we can tell, nothing is damaged and the water flow resumed later in the day when the sun warmed the van.
John got up early (an unusual act) with me to make it to the Chisos Basin for a ranger-guided tour of a two-mile loop trail. We were the only two in attendance, so we got a personal tour of the plants and lessons about the local animals. The walk was super informative and we had a great time.
From the Chisos Basin we drove to Grapevine Hills Road, home of the Government Spring campsite about which John had read great things. We drove over six miles on the unpaved road to get to a trailhead for a one mile trail leading to an amazing rock formation, called “Balanced Rock”.
Next we headed to the western part of the park, which so far we had not seen. On the way to our next campsite we stopped at another short trail to a “pour-off”, which I take to be a term meaning sometimes-waterfall. The rock walls were phenomenal.
Further down the road toward our campsite we made one more stop when John spotted yet another impressive canyon, Tuff Canyon. John calls this the “bonus canyon” because when I am trying to convince him to take side trails to fun sites/views while hiking I call them “bonus trails”.
It’s amazing how bright the moon has gotten just in the time since we’ve been here. It is now at about the half phase, and it is bright enough to cast shadows. We went for an after-dinner walk in the moonlight. I have excellent night vision and my eyes are very sensitive to light. I am engaged in an ongoing (and losing) battle against bright lights and love the opportunity to enjoy a stroll in the low light of the moon. I managed to convince John to not turn on the headlamp for the first half of the walk in order to enjoy the moonlight and increase the chance that nocturnal creatures would come within sight, but he insisted that he wanted to see on the way back.