Sunday, April 24, 2011

Finding myself again, in the South

After San Antonio, we made our way down to Corpus Christi. I'd heard many things about Corpus, so I was excited to experience it. Since my uncle lives there, we got to stay for a few days and really check it out.

The aircraft carrier USS Lexington is there, a museum now. But it was quite interesting being on it, imagining this vessel of destruction in action. How many lives it had taken. How many spared. What capacity we have as humans, for war, for battle, for ingenuity. And how our curiosity is never abated.

We spent a lot of time at the beach. I hadn't been to the gulf since high school. It seemed saltier than the Pacific. Luckily the water was perfect, and we got to swim. We also got sand in our faces because the winds in Corpus are notorious. Apparently it's the place for wind sports.

The birding there was rather fantastic as well. I am so unfamiliar with water birds, so it was really cool to get out the books and the binoculars and have at it. The funniest birds are the Laughing Gulls because, of course, they truly sound like they are laughing. Every time I stepped outside and heard them, I'd question myself just a little- like what are they laughing at? Did I forget something? Did I miss something? They're in on the cosmic joke. And I'm not. Oh how lovely to be near them. We also saw them mating. Quite the hilarious ritual. I'd love to learn more about those birds. There were also many other types of gulls, herons, sandpipers, pelicans, and many more.

After taking a day to rest and do laundry and all the other mundane necessities, I was beyond ready to be sleeping outdoors again. I missed the moon and the stars and the sunrises and the sunsets. I'm starting to think of the tent as "home"- an interesting phenomenon.

My uncle gave me a GPS- something I never thought I'd have, but which has turned out to be very useful. We've used it every day since then, and although I was a bit resistant to the idea before having one, it's actually saved time and money. So we followed it into Bay City, TX, where we didn't spend much time at all, but did camp next to a swamp with the loudest wildlife I have ever heard. It was beautiful. All night long I felt like I was dreaming in a swampy symphony. What music! From there, we headed to a state park outside of Lake Charles. This one is also in the swamp land. The area was great, but the campsites weren't. Also, it turns out everyone goes to state parks for holiday weekends. We'd forgotten Easter was soon (it's hard to keep track of time like this), and so we could only stay one night because everything was booked. Other than the mosquitoes (I was eaten alive), it was nice.

We ended up asking around about other places to camp because none of the RV parks allowed tents, and all the state parks were booked. We were informed of a parish park. These are not listed on maps or the internet or anything, but apparently they are gems. Camping was $4 per night, and there were fewer people there. So- when in Louisiana, ask around for the parish parks.

And yesterday we rolled into Lafayette to visit my former and much admired French professor. We all went out to dinner at this delicious Indian place that had so many vegan options on the menu. It was so good. And our visit was so lovely as well.

Today we head just outside of New Orleans to meet up with some friends for a few days.

It's really interesting being back in the south. In Texas, I was catching the southern drawl, and here the accent is just intriguing- the whole creole thing. I want to ask people to keep talking just so I can revel in their accents. The humidity is really awesome. I'd missed it. Although I didn't miss feeling like I needed 5 showers per day. The mosquitoes are wretched, but I've learned my lesson with them. The trees and birds are exciting too.

It's time to hit the road, so more later. Love to everyone.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Photo update

Vineyard at the Val Verde Winery

Sunset over the Railroad Bridge at Amistad Reservoir

Rock Painting at Fate Bell, Seminole Canyon State Park

The Alamo!

The River Walk

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A fortnight, and still

It's been two weeks today of being on the road. I realized how much I'm becoming addicted to watching sunrise every morning, and sunset every night. And, gazing at the stars every night because that's what you see. You don't have to make an effort. We haven't used the rainfly on the tent for a while now, and so all night long I wake up, look at the stars or gaze at the moon, and fall gently back to sleep. How wonderful this is!
Monday morning we headed to Amistad National Recreation Area, which is a beautiful reservoir just west of Del Rio, TX. Our campsite was surrounding by water on 3 sides. And it was cheap! Our camp hosts there ended up giving us some excellent advice on what to see and do in and around the area. Camp hosts are incredible resources, and usually pretty amazing people- so make a point to talk to them! They are volunteers from who knows where, and we've realized that many of them know each other and can connect you with some cool opportunities as well as fill you in on history, local flora and fauna, and tips about the area. I have a deep appreciation for all of the camp hosts we've met so far.
So Monday we explored Del Rio a little, found a grocery store (the first one in TX to sell tofu!! Yay!), and did a lot of enjoying the cooler weather (relatively, anyway) and the beautiful lake. Tuesday we (on the advice of our camp hostess) found the sole health food store in Del Rio. It's called Nature's Medicine Shoppe, and was an absolute paradise for me. We were able to find nutritional yeast, among other things, and the store had so many products that I know and love. The book section was even incredible. I could have spent a lot more time and money there. The woman who owns the place is incredibly kind, and we were able to chat with her about where to buy organic produce in the area. Places like this are invaluable assets to a community, in my humble opinion, and I'm so glad that this place does enough business to continue to exist.
Later, we visited the local winery which happens to be the oldest winery in the state of Texas, the Val Verde winery. Every wine in the tasting was delicious, which is not typical, and the hostess was so nice.
We then spent a couple hours in the library, where I randomly picked up a book of essays by Barbara Kingslover (I love her) entitled High Tide in Tucson. The first essay shared this title, and just happened to discuss many ideas about the differences between being animal and being human. I highly recommend this read, as it went right along with many of the thoughts I've been tossing around on this trip.
After a brisk and brief swim back at the campsite, the rest of the evening I spent enjoying nature. The area is populated by an energetic group of cliff swallows, and several scissor tailed flycatchers, one of which graced us with his presence.
Wednesday morning was a 35 mile jaunt over to Seminole Canyon which boasts the oldest rock paintings in North America, dated at 4000 years. The tour took us into the Fate Bell Alcove, where the paintings, although fading, can still be seen. Our guide said that they are fading at a rate which suggests they won't be visible at all in 20 years, so we may be the last generation to be able to view them. The feeling in this place was, of course, ancient, and magical. The symbols have yet to be interpreted since they are so old and belong to a group of hunter gatherers we know little about. The paintings were beautiful, and I would recommend trying to see them before 20 years goes by.
That afternoon we left Amistad to head for Kickapoo Caverns State Park. The Stuart bat cave is there, and is home to 500,000 bats this time of year. This place is truly in the middle of nowhere. To my delight, armadillos were running around all over the place (first time I've seen them in the wild), and porcupines too. Racoons and scorpions bigger than any of the ones I've seen in Arizona were also taking up residence there. A hybrid boar that is the offspring of domestic pigs and some sort of German boar also roam the twilight. The many many birds include the black capped vireo, which is endangered in large part due to the parasitic cowbird. All these things I saw. Including the 500,000 bats fly out of their cave at dusk, and proceed to be hunted by 2 peregrine falcons (the fastest animal on earth), which definitely dined well.
One of my favorite parts about this week was spending time with a couple from Quebec. We were on the same tour at Seminole Canyon, and wound up camped beside each other at Kickapoo. We were the only campers around, and the only 4 people at the bat cave. We enjoyed good food and drink, and wonderful and enjoyable conversation and company. Since they are native French speakers, I got to pick up some new phrases.
They are taking a similar route through Texas, so we may run into them again actually. It's easy to get so caught up in the solitude of nature (even when you are with one other person) on a trip like this, you sometimes forget about the joys of dinner with friends, etc. It's really nice to get to share the wilderness with others who appreciate it.
It helped the transition into San Antonio today in the sense that I was happy to be around other people. Our day began with breakfast in the woods, and right now I'm in a hotel room right next to the Alamo, in the middle of the 7th largest city in the US. To say that my senses have been overwhelmed today is an understatement. From driving into town, to trying to check into our hotel (which had somehow had us booked for two separate dates in May and not today), to finding a place to park, to fighting the Fiesta crowds to see downtown, I am exhausted. I am not a city girl, though I appreciate some of the things cities have to offer. I just think I needed a gentler reintroduction into the hustle and bustle of a city. Everything is so loud and so fast (I know this), but it seems so much more so after a time spent away from it all. Especially having lived in Tucson for the past three years, where even the hustle and bustle is nothing comparatively. So, I did get to see the Alamo, which was, like everyone said it would be, smaller than I'd imagined. But, I am glad I was able to stand before it. I also got to experience the River Walk, which is lovely if busy. We attempted to go to a vegan restaurant for dinner, which google maps said was only 1 mile away (it lied), but that didn't work out. So one margarita and a dozen mariachi bands on boats later, I called it a night. Too overwhelmed to appreciate it right now, so I will try again tomorrow. (By the way, mariachi bands on boats are a bad idea because you can't actually hear an entire song. I have a soft spot in my heart for mariachi bands, and I will follow them around drooling if left to my own devices. See, I have this vision every time I hear one play, of myself dressed in a beautiful flamenco dress with flowers in my hair on a moonlit veranda with the band playing and my feet flowing. Luckily, I got to hear one song from a stationary band tonight. Ah, yes.)
So, all is well, and I keep being reminded to let every feeling come, to be in awe, and to be here now. I've been trying harder than ever to live fully in the moment (though today was much more difficult for me). Que sera, sera. Right?

By the way, this internet connection and the fact that I left one of the cameras in the car means that I will have to post photos later. Ah well.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Leaving the Last Frontier

Today we rolled out of Big Bend NP. It was getting so, so, so, so HOT. The park is half in the river basin and half in the mountains. At the river, temps are over 100 already, with limited shade. In the mountains it can be up to 20 degrees cooler, and there is shade to be had. Anyway, it was magnificent, but I would like to return in October. When they haven't been in drought for almost 8 months.

Friday night, we took a little hike into Boquillas Canyon. The trail winds down along the Rio Grande, with a great view of the city of Boquillas (the Mexican town just across the river). You climb down into the canyon and see how the river gouged out this beautiful place. There were horses that had crossed the river grazing on the grasses beside. It's a majestic place.

The next morning, it was the hot springs again. Trying to take advantage of them as much as possible. Fortunately, not many people frequent them- maybe they don't know about them. But you should certainly visit the hot springs if you are ever in Big Bend. Then, during the hottest part of the day, we headed up into the cooler Chisos mountains. We did a little hike out to what they call the Window, which has a great view of the park. The Chisos mountains are unique, and it was hard to get any photos to do them justice. The trail wound down the mountain, through several different types of terrain including a nice green treed area full of birds that I didn't know. The rocks were so many different colors because of all the minerals, and the sky was overcast meaning we were able to stay relatively cool.

The trail opened up to the window quite dramatically. The wind was crazy strong through here, and at the edge it just dropped straight down. It was a bit unnerving actually. But incredibly worth it. This is one of the more popular spots to see in the park, so I hear. And the hike is not difficult.

We took our time heading back to the hot river, though it was still burning up when we got there. We took a little walk before sunset on this trail next to the campground that had a great view of Boquillas and the Sierra del Carmen mountains.

Then last night one of the rangers gave a presentation on mountain lions. It was so so incredibly educational. This guy was a wildlife biologist and a ranger at Big Bend in the winter and Yellowstone in the summer. He explained the behavior of lions, the territory habits they have here in the park, and how to tell if a lion could pose a threat to you just by observing them. Apparently their coat turns reddish if they are nutritionally deficient (due to old age or the inexperience of youth, or injury). Typically this is the only time they would pursue a human (out of extreme and desperate hunger). I've seen mountain lions 3 or 4 times in Tucson, and they are so beautiful. It was nice to learn so much about them and know that they have an undisturbed home in the park.

Heading out of Big Bend, it's just more desert. Chihuahuan desert. There are a few small towns. We are in Sanderson now. When asking locals what there is to do here, they say "sit inside." It's just too hot to do anything. So I'm taking this time to be on the internet. Who knows when it will happen again.

Day 11 of being on the road, and the first night in over a week that I'll be sleeping within walls. It feels a little weird, but I'm grateful for some cool air and a nice shower. Living outside changes your skin so quickly- sunburn, bugbites, dirt, cuts, wind, etc. And I think it changes your soul even more quickly. Puts you more in touch with the elements, with the extremes. Makes you more pliable in a sense. Stronger, too. Part of the animal nature of being human. So many people try to deny this, but I think it is important to embrace this aspect of our existence. As important as embracing our divinity.

Well perhaps that's enough contemplation for one blog post. I hope this finds you well and alive and living your life to the utmost.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shoot first, ask questions later

Here I am in Texas. In Big Bend National Park, actually. The irony now is that there is absolutely no cell phone service for at least 30 miles, but there IS free wifi. So.
We've been over a week on the road now, and I love this life of no agenda, sleeping outside, facing the elements. And we've certainly faced them. It reminds me that I'm alive- it makes me realize that mother nature is so much more powerful than people give her credit for- the extremes, and the way the weather can change in a heartbeat. Living outside of walls and roof is the only way you could ever truly understand this.
We left Cloudcroft freezing cold and wound our way down the mountains and east.

We headed out to Bottomless Lakes State Park, just past Roswell. I've always wanted to see Roswell- I have a fascination with anything to do with the cosmos. Bottomless Lakes is a cool place because the lakes were formed by sinkholes, and they are full of gypsum (and they are not, in fact, bottomless). It was quite the abrupt weather change, rolling up to the park. It was pushing 100 degrees (and we'd come from 40ish). Luckily one of the lakes that we camped near had a swimming area complete with sandy beach, so it was

nice to just relax and enjoy that. The water was freezing cold but it felt so good compared to the sun. The weather stayed warm even after sunset, and the stars were super bright. I was even able to do yoga on the beach, under the stars. That felt really nice, being able to look up at the night sky from triangle pose... ah, yes. So all was nice. Then about 2 a.m. I woke up abruptly to the tent bowing in on us. The winds had reached 30 or 40 mph. It was extreme, and at the same time a cold front was moving in, so the temperature dropped into the 30s or 40s within half an hour. Frigid winds and bending tent poles kept us up for hours. We couldn't jump in the car because the car is full of junk. So we just hoped the tent poles wouldn't break. We unzipped the "windows" to let the air flow through, and that helped a bit. I can't even explain how intense the whole experience was. It actually felt like the wind could have picked us up. Finally the wind calmed enough to doze a little.

The next morning we took the bike (in freezing cold) into Roswell to check it out. The UFO museum there is a trip. It posts sworn statements from eye witnesses the night of the crash, and the President's radio broadcast that night. It also displays newspaper articles from that week. There are photographs of UFO's, and all sorts of interesting displays. There's also a research library open to the public. I was sort of hoping to get abducted or something, but no such luck.
That night the wind was a little bit nicer to us, but it certainly made its presence known. The next day we headed down to Carlsbad Caverns. We didn't make it in time to hit the caves before they closed for the day. We camped in White's City just outside the park, and it was overpriced and really weird. The whole "town" right there is completely run down. Apparently there is also no fire department to respond to emergencies. We are getting more and more remote as we go. The wind reared her majestic face again that night.

It woke us up just as the sun was rising (thankfully, because sunrise was beautiful), but it was so bad this time that we actually had to rush to get our tent taken down and pack up the car. It was really hard because everything was blowing like crazy, and you could barely keep your feet on the ground. As I was putting the tent in the trunk, a gust of wind slammed the trunk into my face- right between my eyes, to give me a nasty gash, blood and all.

So after getting everything shoved away, we took the bike up to the caverns just in time for them to open. It was crazy because we were alone in the caverns for most of the hike (it's a self guided thing). The stillness of the caverns was profound. Carlsbad is one of the largest by volume caves in the US- so the rooms were HUGE and expansive. I felt so much peace with the earth all around me like that. What a great morning.
That day's drive brought us into Texas- oh the flat dry expanse, and oh the oil trucks and oil rigs and oil everything. We stopped in Pecos, and a couple other tiny Texan places. (Good luck finding tofu off west Texas highways!!) That night brought us to Balmorhea State Park (a pricey place, for sure). The wind was nicer to us that night, and we were able to see the night skies quite easily. The coyotes sang me into and out of sleep all night long (I love that).
That brings us to yesterday. We headed straight to Big Bend NP. We stopped along the way. Alpine was the coolest little town so far. A great bookstore called Front Street. Check it out if you have the chance!

So we finally made it to the campsite around 5 p.m. and it was still 100 degrees. So hot and dry. This is the least visited National Park- it's in the desert, it's completely remote. And we are a stone's throw across

the Rio Grande to Mexico. The border used to be open, and apparently the little Mexican town just across the river is in trouble because their entire economy revolved around tourism from this park. It's pretty sad. They warn you that you can be arrested if you buy crafts from people selling them at the river- illegal commerce. So you see all these crafts laying on rocks (with no people around) and jars for money because they want you to just leave it there and take the item. If they catch you with these items, they confiscate them and fine you. So sad.
We went to a ranger presentation last night about the history of the last frontier, and the Texas Rangers. It was pretty awesome. I really wished my dad and brother could have been there with me for that. They would have LOVED it. The NP Ranger told stories of the wild frontier, and talked a lot about the type of person it takes to live in a place like this: rugged, courageous, forbidding, rough, etc. I like that alot. I like the idea of being at frontiers, of choosing to go forward into unexplored area or of running away.
So after a good nights sleep, and a twilight view of the Rio Grande, and bullfrogs and trespassing burros singing all night, we tried to find an owl we heard calling this morning (no luck) and then made our way to the hot springs (yes, yes!). They are amazing. Sitting flush up

against the River, you can bask in 105 degree water while staring across the river at Mexico and envying the birds that cross so freely. Ah, so nice.
And that just about catches everything up. Love from the last frontier!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

On the Road Again (and again)

Well, here we are. Day 3 of being on the road (again). I feel more wild and free with each passing moment. It's a process, though. Everything is, I suppose.
We've only been driving about 140 miles per day, which is nice in its own way. Taking it slow. I cried my eyes out leaving Tucson- her beauty and love will be with me always. But slowly as I got out of town, the feelings of loss upon leaving turned steadily into feelings of welcome from the open road. It's an existence that I adore and long for, and while it is always hard to leave a place, sometimes it is harder to stay. Movement calls to me, I will ever answer.
So Thursday, we finally managed to roll out of town close to 1 in the afternoon, after cleaning the apartment, packing the car, shipping a box, and saying goodbye to one of our favorite neighbors. We headed east, with the intention of going to visit Leslie Canyon, which is in Southern Arizona. I wanted to spend a night in the wilderness named after me. As it turns out, the roads to get there are unpaved, and my car being as loaded down as it is, this was not an option. So, instead we headed into the Coronado National Forest, to Chiricahua National Monument. The campground was full except for one site, which had orange cones blocking the right side of the drive. We weren't sure if this meant we shouldn't use the site, but I felt like it was the universe saying "don't stop." So we ended up driving into the Forest Boundary (on an unpaved road, as it turns out) for about 6 miles, and camping off the road in the wilderness. The spot we found happened to be next to a small windmill which pumped water into a trough for the many many cows who were ranging free around us. The only sound (other than nature) all night was the sound of the windmill whirling. How lovely!! With cows for company, and a magical forest, the evening was full of soulful feeling. A twilight walk past the windmill brought me to some beautiful trees. And the stars!! Oh! Orion seemed to be pulsating with energy, brighter than usual.

The next day we headed into New Mexico, on the lookout for Rockhound State Park. We have this atlas we found at Bookman's that is a camping atlas, so it marks all the campsites on the atlas and gives descriptions of the parks. It's coming in really handy. So, we made our way through the New Mexico desert, and it is so beautiful. Different than the Sonoran of course, but it holds its own magic. Yucca and prickly pear, scraggy mountains, and vivid horizons. Coming into the park, there were plenty of open spots, so we chose a spot uphill with an incredible view. Dinner has been consisting of reconstituting dehydrated meals I've made over the past several months. So they are all vegan and delicious and full of the energy that we need. Plus, it's so simple to make dinner. I also got to make use of the shower here, which was most welcome. Funny how good showers start to feel when you're not sure when you'll get your next one. The stars from this campsite were pretty phenomenal as well. I spent a long while just watching them. I think I'm starting to recognize more stars and constellations just by observation, which is great. Then, all night long, I awoke to the beautiful tones of coyote song- one of my favorite sounds in the world. It was wonderful!

This morning, we woke up there in the New Mexican desert where temperatures where getting into the upper 90s, and now I'm writing this at 10,000 feet elevation in Cloudcroft, in Lincoln National Forest, with the heater running and an ice skating rink down the road (outdoors). Our trek here involved a stop at White Sands National Monument, which I just love, and insisted on stopping at again (it's nice having the Annual Pass for National Parks, Forests, and Monuments because these things don't cut into the funds). We dumped the stuff on the back of Chip's bike into my front seat, and I hopped on the motorcycle with him, and we drove into the dunes.

That place has such a cleansing energy about it. Maybe it's the purity of the white sand that makes me feel so pure myself. I don't know, but I love it. So after that little jaunt, we wound our way up the mountains to check out every campground on the map (they were all closed). We found the ranger station, only to discover that the majority of the campgrounds up here don't open until May. So we found the one that was supposed to be open, turned around and drove there, and found that it was, in fact, closed. Helas! We could have either tried to make it to the next campground (outside of Roswell) or settle into a motel here. Since Chip is on the motorcycle, and its not the most comfortable thing, or the warmest, we opted for checking on the motels. We stopped at this old mountaintop place, and the guy inside was willing to be talked down in price since it's not their busy season. In fact, I think we're the only guests. The hotel has been around since the 1930's and the bar next door since the 40's. Clawfoot tub and everything- it's kind of cool. It does feel weird to be inside right now. But I am looking forward to a bath and some quiet (and warm) time.
So far so good. This journey is making me feel many things. Mostly, I feel like I'm doing what I want to be doing. That is very important to me right now. I am realizing that I do not have a destination, and I do not want one- not a physical one anyway. My destination right now is more about the spirit- to honor the sacred, to have faith in the universe and myself and life, and to be the person that I am (not the one that I think I should be, or that others think I am). Uprooting myself makes this a lot easier. Like you can breathe and think outside of the context of all the things we get caught up in living in civilized society. Sure, there are hard parts and dark parts and scary parts, but that's the point. To not be ruled by these things. To trust that all is as it should be. And that is definitely true right now.
All is as it should be.
I will keep posting whenever I get a good internet connection- so far this is the first time. I can update my facebook via my phone, but otherwise that's it. So stay tuned. Love to you all.