Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

 

Today drove from Gallup, NM to Arizona to visit Petrified Forest National Park. We had a time change so got there really early. I was awestruck with the views in the Painted Desert.

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We hiked a lot today. I think we hiked about 5 different trails totaling about 6 miles. My grumpiness was very evident.

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Even the camera can’t capture all of the beauty and colors here.

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We stopped at all the vistas and looked at the different layers in the soil and rock.

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One trail was a one way hike so Mom walked back to get the car and meet us at the next location. Daddy took pictures so we could remember what she looked like as we sent her off alone on the trails.

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I loved the flowers and spent a lot of time with the camera today. I am hoping to get some good shots for 4H photo contests next year.

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We found an owl pellet. After examining the skeleton, we think it is the remains of a kangaroo rat.

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I insisted that we hike a trail down to the bottom of the mesa. Mom said she would go with me but informed me we had several longer hikes after lunch. We hiked about 10 minutes down and then back up. I was REALLY glad we don’t go further. It was super steep and downhill was a breeze. I was out of breath after hiking back up!

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I was begging to do some off trail hiking so Mom walked with me a bit while E and Dad took a break. We saw lots of lizards and ravens and found a few survey markers.

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We stopped at the Painted Desert Inn (historical) and toured the building. I was sad that I couldn’t get a banana split for 20 cents anymore.

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Up next was a stop along historic Route 66. There was a 1932 Studebaker wearing away in the desert.

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As I mentioned, I loved the flowers!

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We stopped at Puerco Pueblo and saw remnants of an old community and their Kiva (ceremonial fire pit).

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At Newspaper Rock there were petroglyphs etched into the rocks. Click on the below photo to enlarge and look to the left of Emmerson’s head to see some of the etchings.

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The darker portions of the rock had the carvings.

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The Blue Mesa trail was spectacular. We hiked down from the mesa to the floor of the valley below. The layers of earth looked blueish purple.

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In the ravine areas there were exposed petrified trees. This entire place used to be a river valley and the trees were basically driftwood that floated down the river (there were no branches, just trunks). Then river sediment settled on top and the right mineral situations took place and over millions of years the rocks became petrified. As the erosion occurred the trees were exposed again and are what we see today.

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I loved the little plants growing in the rock.

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Even the lizards were cool.

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Even though the petrified trees are protected in the park people still take pieces to sell or keep. We were allowed to tough and explore but not move or take.

I loved all the colors in the wood.

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One of the Junior Ranger activities was to hug a piece and see how far our arms went around. They were massive! This is a smaller piece.

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We stopped by the visitors center at the other end of the park and turned in our completed books. Since we completed ALL the activities we got a badge, patch and a cool pencil!

One more look at the petrified wood and we opted to wrap up as the skies were getting darker.

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On the way back we stopped at a piece of Navajo land and had more fry bread! :) This time it was $3.50 a piece versus the $1 at the flea market. I opted not to eat any and wanted a push pop instead.

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Back to the campground in New Mexico for showers, dinner and relaxing.

Exploring Gallup, New Mexico Area

Today we took the truck for an oil change at the local Dodge dealership. We worked on our handwritten journals while we waited. Once we were done we headed to the Gallup Saturday Flex Market. Boy was it amazing. Nothing like the flea markets back home. The majority of the booths were local crafts and food mixed with trunk junk sales. We stuck out like sore thumbs in an area of Mexican immigrants and Navajo Nation members.

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We tried new foods like fry bread, covered in cinnamon, sugar and honey. Mom liked an item called Kneel Down Bread. It was basically ground wet corn put into a corn husk and baked. Mom claimed it was insanely yummy! They also called them Navajo tamales.

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After the flea market we just poked around to see what we could find. We opted to drive across the border into Arizona and visit the Navajo Nation. We toured the visitors center and learned all about the “Long Walk” as the Navajo were taken from their land to Fort Sumner and then their march back to their land after the treaty was signed.

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We enjoyed the Forked Hogan.

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We saw lots of animals that the Navajo hold dear. The coyote was one of my favorites.

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They had an albino raccoon.

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The bobcat was taking a nap in the tree.

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Emmerson loved the Mexican Wolves.

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We found silly places to have our photo taken.

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We stopped back at Genaro’s for dinner again tonight. Last night it was awesome and I had a huge sopapellia and fried ice cream after my cheese crisp dinner.They have amazing food. IMG_9711

I thanked the Kokopelli for a rain free day.

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After dinner we all helped tidy up the travel trailer. E and I were in charge of dusting and putting things away.

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We are staying fairly clean and organized. Mom seems to go non-stop. This is our kitchen. There is a nice sized fridge on the wall opposite the stove.  Above is the dining area  and pantry. IMG_9724

Mom and Dad have a separate bedroom. Mom was working on blogs and laundry all evening.

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Our general living space. With the slide our we have a decent amount of space. E and I sleep in the bunks on the left (they are full sized beds) and the bathroom with toilet, shower and tub is behind the closed door. There is also a sink and cabinet outside the bathroom. We are making it work. We have to declare intentions before entering the bathroom and make sure no one else needs a quick trip. Most of our shows have been in campground facilities but we are starting to use the shower in the camper more.

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It looks small but it seems to work. Dad and Mom did a lot of organizing up front before we left to make sure it all worked well.

Grants Mining Museum and El Morro National Monument in New Mexico

On our way to our next campground in Gallup, New Mexico, we stopped at Grants Mining Museum. It is a mock up of what the uranium mines would have been like. We had an AMAZING tour guide named Mr. Jack. He grew up working the mines and later was in leadership. He even won an award for safety and keeping his 150+ men mine accident free for over a year! WOW!

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We got to check out the mine train.

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We learned how air flow as crucial and how the mines had different levels. Apparently before 1978 if you needed a drink in the mine you drank the water seeping through the rock which was later ruler unsafe due to the uranium content! Many people lost their lives in the mines.

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We learned how they built back hallways to enter when blasting occurred so they could have fresh dust free air.

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We saw the actual equipment used in the mining process. This is a rake to drag out the mined material.

 

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We learned how the mine cars could hold 5 TONS of material! I figured the rock was heavier than elephants. There is NO WAY 5 elephants could fit in the cart!

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They even had a check in and out board to make sure who was or wasn’t in the mines that day.

Some people had to walk over a half of a mile in the mine tunnels to get to their assigned working spot.

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The tour guide found this fossilized dinosaur bone with crystals growing inside of it when he was younger. He donated it to the museum.

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We learned about yellow cake which was the refined uranium.

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Off we go again to El Morro National Monument in Bluewater, New Mexico.

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We walked the Inscription Trail and learned how El Morro was a resting place for travelers heading west. It was first visited by the Native Americans, then Spaniards, the Americans.

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The mountain was beautiful.

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The reason people stopped is behind us in the this photo. WATER! There was a natural collecting pool that was shaded by the mountains.

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Some of the rocks looked like they would fall right off!

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Petroglyphs from the first people to pass by El Morro. Most are made by arrow point or a stone hammer.

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Up next were the Spaniards. Their inscriptions were more elaborate and usually had the year they came by. The first recorded with a date was in the early 1600s!!

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We worked on and earned our Junior Ranger badges.

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Fort Union and Capulin Volcano Adventures in New Mexico

 

We are staying in Las Vegas, New Mexico at a KOA Campground. Our site is on the edge of a hill and the winds are strong. We had the playground all to ourselves and thought that the campground was fairly empty.

We started out the morning early with a trip to Fort Union. We learned about the Santa Fe Trail and how the military set up forts to protect the land that the US was claiming. We learned that this was the largest of the forts. The walls were made of brick and covered with adobe. A lot of work as gone into preserving the site.

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I was in a bad mood most of the morning. I think I am just tired. Thankfully I bounced back once I was out in the fresh air.

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Up next on our day was Capulin Volcano National Monument. We visited the Visitors Center to pick up our Junior Ranger books and head up to hike the rim. We opted to start by hiking down into the crater and having lunch. I wanted to be able to say I ate lunch IN a volcano! Obviously this is no longer an active volcano.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Down down down we go. The weather was windy and about 35F! We were cold but enjoyed the hike.

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We warmed up on the rock wall as Emmerson wrapped up his lunch.

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Up next was hiking the 1.25 mile rim of the volcano. The wind was howling. Due to the elevation, apex 7900 feet above sea level, we took request brakes to catch our breathe and warm up in the sunny spots.

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The walkways retained a fair amount of heat so laying n them became a wonderful treat. We were the only nuts hiking the rim this morning!

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The storms were rolling in as we hit the half way point. If you look careful you can see the black truck in the parking lot to the left of us in the photo.

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As we were heading down the volcano it started to SNOW! We turned in our books and earned our junior Ranger badge and also a patch for hiking the rim!

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Off for more exploring in the SNOW! There were hundreds of pronghorn in the fields we drove by. They were too far away for photos. But the snow was hitting the car and sticking!

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A group of mule deer was feeling very photogenic and allowed Mom to snap a few photos.

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You can see the snow was starting to coat the grasses.

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We went to lower elevation and stopped at a old haunted hotel called the St. James Hotel. Lots of “bad people” stayed there. There were even bullet holes in the ceilings and rooms were people were shot and killed. It was fun but we didn’t stay long. On the way our we saw more mule deer.

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Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, NM

 

On our way to our next stopping point we made a pit stop at the Smokey Bear Historical Park. I had a great time in the visitors center learning about fires and fire prevention. We completed a special Junior Ranger program by the New Mexico Forestry Division. We also earned a really neat patch.

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We saw the burial site of “Smokey Bear” who was found as a cub in 1950 after a bad fire.

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Remember ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES!

9 out of 10 wildfires are started by humans! We learned a lot about how to protect our homes from fires and how we can help prevent fires from getting out of control.

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Final Days in Carlsbad Area in New Mexico

It rained all day one day and we called it the lazy campground day. Mom worked on laundry pretty much all day. When she finished we headed to the game room so I could shoot darts and play foosball. I opted for a game of Monopoly.  Emmerson and Dad joined us after the game for some family foosball.

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After nearly two solid days of freezing rain it finally cleared up. Our site at the Carlsbad KOA was fantastic. We had a huge fire pit, a covered picnic table and even a patio swing!

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Since it was sunny we headed out to a place called the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. They had mock habitat for the region and lots of local animals.

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I loved the javalina!

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We sniffed every flower and plant that was in bloom.

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The scenery was amazing. We truly were in the middle of nowhere! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The prairie dogs were really entertaining. We have seen several in the wild but it was fun to see how they interacted with each other

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We have also seen a LOT of tumbleweeds. This was the biggest one we have seen so far. When we drive they are always blowing across the roads.

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When we finished at the zoo and gardens we headed to Playground on the Pecos. It was a giant wooden playground that you could play in for hours and still not see everything.

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When we got home we rode our bikes for a while and played on the playground with the digger toy in the shade.

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We did get to swim the first day at the campground but once the rain started we were too cold. This photo was from Daddy, we forgot to add that.

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Our time at Carlsbad is up and we move on in the morning.

Carlsbad, New Mexico

After a leisurely start to the day we drove a few hours to Carlsbad. We truly were in the middle of nowhere. The roads were worn and the scenery was oil derricks, oil pumps, open fields, a few cows and desert plants. The Chihuahuan Desert is massive! It is hard to believe we are still within its borders.

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We switched to Mountain time as we entered New Mexico. We arrived at the Carlsbad KOA and set up camp and explored the campground a little. Then we loaded into the truck and drove to Roswell to look for aliens! We visited the International UFO Research Center and Museum. They had lots of information on disproving aliens. It was a bit silly but we all enjoyed our brief time. The entire town was alien obsessed. Even the street lights were domes that they added alien eyes to.

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We drove back through Artesia, New Mexico and opted to just keep driving. We were all getting tuckered out. We got back, had dinner and went swimming at the campground pool! Quick showers and some downtime before bed watching Deadliest Catch on the campground free cable.

The next day was long but amazingly fun! We were out early, as usual, and drove to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

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We picked up our Junior Ranger books and tickets for a tour we had booked from home. We hiked in the Natural Entrance Trail down over 800 feet, it was about 1.5 miles of switchbacks.

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Coming into the cave was breathtaking. We had been to lots of caves before but this was beyond words.

We arrived for our tour of Kings Palace, with our guide Ranger Eric. We stuck close to the ranger and asked lots of questions. We found out that he started in the Florida State Park system at Honeymoon Island! He was a fantastic guide and very knowledgable. I got to lead the group with the lantern and even run the light switches to take us to total darkness in the caves.

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Kings Palace was beautiful. We saw stalactites, stalagmites, columns, flows, draperies, soda straws and so much more. After the 1.5 hour and 1.5 mile tour of Kings Palace we opted to stay longer and tour the Big Room.

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The Big Room was massive! Millions of years in the making provided an amazing sight.

After we wrapped up at the caves we took the elevator back to the surface and completed our Junior Ranger books and earned our patches and pins.

We grabbed lunch from the cooler on our drive to Guadalupe National Park. We visited Frijole Ranch and learned about how the spring water was a the key to survival in the desert. It was interesting to see springs in such a dry place.

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We visited the visitors canter, hiked a short trail where we learned that this area was a stopping point on the mail delivery system. Then would travel on average 120 miles a day. I can’t imagine wagons crossing the rough dry land.

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I found a bone on our hike.

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We earned our Junior Ranger badges and patches at Guadalupe and called it a day as the storms rolled in.

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Today we walked nearly 8 miles but no one is showing signs of exhaustion!

We have certainly had our share of weird weather on the trip so far. Nothing dangerous but just unexpected rain in the dry desert, dust storms and hail! Must be the darn Kokopelli!

Davis Mountain State Park – McDonald Observatory

We were up and out early again to drive towards Davis Mountain in Texas to visit the McDonald Observatory. First we dropped the camper at Davis Mountain State Park. We then drove up to the observatory for a daytime program. We killed some time in the exploration center.

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We learned more about the Dark Sky initiative and had a tour of one of the larger telescopes. We got to see how it moves and tracks with the dome closed.

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It was GIANT.

Then we toured the Hobby Everly Telescope (HET). It was made of more than 90 mirrors and looks at light instead of regular visual images. During our tour it began to rain and then hail. I was fascinated by the hail. I could hardly focus on the telescopes when there was ice balls outside the window.

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We headed back to camp for rest and relaxation before our late evening viewing program.

It started to rain again, then small hail about the size of a pea. Suddenly the hail got bigger, about dime sized. We thought we would float away with all the rain. This is supposed to be desert!

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After the storm ended to headed out to the observatory again. The clouds were still in the area so we didn’t have high hopes of our program happening. We were able to take part of a tour and see the 36” telescope but not able to use it. I got to drive the dome during a demonstration of how it would work if the weather wasn’t icky.

We saw some photos on the guides laptop of things we WOULD have been able to see. Oh well, there is always another time. The gave us cookies and lemonade and that made it all better.

In the morning of departure we took our time and enjoyed playing outside with all the rocks and roly-poly bugs we found. We made a city for the roly-poly bugs.

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Off we go to Carlsbad area for several days of fun and exploring.

Speed limit—80!!!

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Big Bend National Park, Texas

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We had a long drive from San Antonio to Big Bend National Park. We were staying outside the park in a city named Terlingua. We set up camp in the evening and had dinner at a local diner. We had stopped on the way through the park and picked up our Junior Ranger books so started working on them a bit in the evening.

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While at the park we saw some beautiful sights. We checked out a fossil sight and learned how long this land has been developing and all the animals that lived here in prehistoric times.

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I checked out the rocks and the plants. I was deep in thought looking all the land in front of me.

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Off to bed early as everyone was exhausted from the long drive. This was our last BIG drive for a while. From here on out we will be having shorter drives between points. We opted to take a dirt/gravel road called Old Maverick Road. It was about 14 miles of washboard bumpy roadsand boy was it AWESOME!

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I laughed hard as I hung out the window as we drove at about 5 mph.

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We saw jackrabbits, kangaroo mice, roadrunners, a javalina, buzzards, cotton tail rabbits and lots of bugs. Big Bend is part of the Chihuahuan Desert and the plants were so different. Some of my favorite were the ocotillo, sotol, century plant, agave, lechaguilla and lots of cacti. Everything was in bloom. The blooms on the cactus plants were so pretty.

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We bought a book about the flora and fauna at Big Bend and Emmerson looked everything up to learn more about it. I looked some things up as well, but he was excited to do it so I let him.

We stopped at all the historical pull outs. I enjoyed the jacal. It was a shelter for a family made of rock and ocotillo plants. Inside the structure it was about 10-15 degrees cooler!

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We drove down to the Rio Grande. There is a split in the cliffs that were about 1500 feet tall. One side is Texas and the other side is Mexico. We hiked down to the river and tossed stones into Mexico! The water felt really cold for the desert.

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We continued our drive of the massive park and saw mountains made of tuff (volcanic ash) that settled and then lava on top of them. This entire area was made from old volcanos although there are no volcanos in the area today. Some of the mountains have funny names. This is Mule Ears.

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The views were amazing.

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Next we hiked the Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff Trail. In times of high water in the area this turns into a waterfall.

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There were lots of beautiful rainbow lizards.

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I want a lizard like this when i grow up but a ranger told me they were better in their natural environment. I guess I will just have to work here someday!

At the end of the trail you come to the waterfall area. We decided to climb a bit. I got scared but made it up. Down was very hard but I made it safely to the ground.

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On our hike back we spotted the most spectacular cactus of the trip so far!

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We stopped by Terlingua Ghost Town. It wasn’t very much like ghost towns we had heard about. It was populated and tourist industry based. After a quick visit we headed out. I bought a Kokopelli rock, which Mom and Dad are blaming our strange weather on.

We called it a day and headed back to camp. A dust storm rolled in and we were shut inside for an hour. We headed back out late for an evening ranger program about “dark skies”. Basically we learned about light pollution at night and how it effects our bodies, minds and also the abilities to see the stars that our ancestors saw. Big Bend is registered as a Dark Sky area. The stars were AMAZING!

Up early again and off to explore more. We drove to the Rio Grande portion of the park next where we saw the pterogylphs and pictographs in the Hot Springs area.

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We dipped out feet in the hot springs. The water was very warm and I could have stayed all day with my legs dangling into the waters. I did make Mom and Dad nervous as I scaled the wall with the rushing waters of the Rio Grande behind me.

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We also stopped at a place called the “window”. It is a gap between the mountains that looks like it goes on forever.

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We saw a nipple cactus too. They grow mostly underground!

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We checked out the visitors centers and turned in our books to get our Junior Ranger patch and badge.

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We headed back to camp for showers and food. Dad was the last to shower and got caught in another dust storm on the way back from the showers. He got safely inside when we heard a smash as debris was flying into the camper. After we could see more than a few feet we saw a giant sheet of insulation that had flew into us. No damage, thank goodness! It was quite a windy dust storm.

Overall, the scenery was amazing to say the least. I had no idea Texas had such different landscapes.

We added Texas to our state stickers too.

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Off to Davis Mountain next to visit the McDonald Observatory!

San Antonio, Texas

Before we left NOLA we added the stickers of the states we drove through so far on our journey: Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana!

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After a long and BUMPY boring drive we arrived in San Antonio. The roads were terrible from NOLA to pretty much 30 minutes before the Texas border. The truck and travel trailer were bouncing so much Dad thought we would all get concussions! Texas roads were better but very boring. We stayed entertained by playing Block Heads on the iPad! 9 hours of driving and we arrived at the San Antonio KOA. We hooked up at our site, made a grocery run to Wal-Mart (everything else was closed… Happy Easter!). We got filthy on the campground playground, showered up and had dinner. E and I sat down to write in our travel journals. I exclaimed that this was torture but produced a nice entry on NOLA.

Mom, Emmerson and I took the city bus, without event, to downtown San Antonio.

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We visited the Alamo and learned about how the Texans stood their ground against all odds. Even though they lost the battle they stood strong. I leaned that Jim Bowie, famous knifeman, and Davy Crocket, famous frontiers man both fought int he Battle of the Alamo.

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We walked around downtown and bit to get our bearings. We visited the Buckhorn and Texas Ranger Museum. There were tons of mounted animals from all over the world. Some of them were rather creepy looking.

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There was a giant salon downstairs.

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We got to see the Circus Side Show section. There were 8 limbed lambs, two headed sheep, the Fiji mermaid and much more. They even had FLEAS dressed in clothing!!!

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They had a house where water ran up hill, balls rolled up hill, you didn’t fall out of diagonal chairs and even a room where I turned into a giant!

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Next we took the trolley to Market Square.

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We ate lunch at Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery.

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I enjoyed my quesadilla made with fresh house made tortillas! Mom summoned the mariachi singers and they sang La Cocaracha!

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I met Mexican Elvis! He was real! He would stand super still and as people took photos with him he would move a little. I was laughing so hard that so many people got tricked. Not me!

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We wandered the shops in Market Square.

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Up next was a trolley back to the Riverwalk and a 35 minute Riverboat Tour. We learned all about the history of the canals and the river. We found out how they control the flood waters and that they can reroute the ENTIRE river under the city if need be. Once a year they drain part of the river for repairs and a “mud run”. The most common thing found in the rivers is… silverware!

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We caught the city bus back to the campground and spent the late afternoon and evening relaxing and swimming.

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