Vacation 2008 - Big Bend National Park, Texas and NASA, Houston



We decided to take a real vacation this year, and we wanted to do it up right. So...since Sweet Geek is a nature photographer, and the kids have never really travelled, we decided to do Big Bend National Park.

It's located *way* south, along the Texas-Mexican border. It's a very large park - it takes 3 hours to drive from one side to another. It's very mountainous, with peaks and canyons all over. Desert, too.

The Rio Grande River defines the park boundary for 118 miles - in fact, that's how the park got it's name; the river bends at the lowermost point here.


Anyway, enough blather - let's get on with the pictures, right? (I am not going to post all 400+ photos that I took....I'll just post the ones I like best. I'd like to keep my friends...:grin:)

We left home at a little before 5 AM on Friday, and drove for almost 11 hours (OK, we did stop for lunch and potty breaks, but still - we arrived at the "hotel" at 4:30-ish that evening. We got all checked in, got our key...and *this* is what we saw when we got to the "cabin":  

Here it is...home sweet home.  Isn't it...lovely?    Here's a shot of our unit - No. 16.  It's...bright and cheerful, yes?


The name of the hotel is "Easter Egg Valley Hotel"..and I can certainly see why! Each cabin is a different bright color...must have had a bunch of oops paint at the "local" paint store!

The cabin isn't very large, but it's clean and the A/C works, and it has running water, a full-size fridge, a gas oven with 4 burners, and a microwave. Not too bad!


I'm standing at the front (and only) door here.  It's...cozy. The wooden door is the's....tiny.    By turning my camera just slightly, you can see the kitchen.


There's no TV, no internet, and no cell phone service out here. It's beautiful, it's rugged, and it's hotter than hell. It was 107* when we arrived - at 4:30 PM...and at 6:30, when we were exploring the Park (and letting the cabin cool down - the A/C was NOT on when we arrived)..well, look:


A shot of the thermometer in the Jeep.  It was a bit hot, no?


Thing is, we were UP in the mountains at that point, and the temp had dropped quite a bit. It didn't cool off until almost midnight - and it STILL didn't get cooler than about 75*. But, I think the views were worth it:


This is what we see from the side of the cabin    This is a mesa inside the park.  It was raining up in the mountains, and was absolutely breath-taking!    More pretty's stunning down here, it really is!


We also visited the Terlingua Ghost town...more on that later. It was late, we were tired, and I didn't get many pictures.


I have a *ton* of pictures from out here - the views are spectacular, the terrain is's well worth the trip to come visit! We're already talking about coming back out...when gas prices become more resonable.



Saturday dawned bright and...early? Well, 7 AM is early when you've had an 11 hour car trip the day before. :grin: We went outside to find breakfast waiting for us:


This guy was waiting for us to fire up the grill.


He posed for a few pictures, then ran off. We had a "normal" breakfast instead, then headed into Big Bend National Park.



We headed to Panther Junction Station to pay for our access (it's only $20 for 7 days - a real bargain!), and got some ideas for where to go/what to do. The Park Rangers here are very helpful - she pulled out a map and marked all the "must see" areas, told us which hikes were suitable for the kids, where the prettiest views were....and told us that the Rangers don't patrol the whole park each day, so if we broke down, we were SOL (unless we had a satellite phone. Ooops...) This, being our first day, was starting off well - we decided to go hike the Lost Mine Trail.

The story goes that some Spanish Explorers found silver in the mountains, enslaved the natives to work it..the natives had an uprising, killed their enslavers, and closed up the mine. Geologists say that there is *no* silver in these Makes a nice story, though. :grin:


This is black bear and mountain lion country.  We haven't seen any - yet.    This is from about half-way up the trail.  We had come about 1.5 miles, and I was feeling it (we climbed about 900 feet) we turned around and went back down.    The view made the hike worthwhile....we had another 1.5 miles to go to the trailhead, which is why we turned around and went back.


At this point, we were all hot, tired, and hungry, so we headed back to the cabin. After lunch and a nap, we got ready for the evening's adventure...a trek to Fort Davis to visit McDonald Observatory - they were having a star party. Fort Davis is approximately 100 miles from the cabin, but we decided that it was worth the trek...and it WAS.


This is a shot of the telescope park.  2 large telescopes - you can see the *real* one in the background (they have 3 humungeous ones...we got to look thru the 2 in the park)    View up the hill at the other 2 huge telescopes


Before the star party they had a Twilight program, where we learned about what we would see that evening. At 9:30, the Star Party was *amazing*. They had the 2 smaller observatories open, plus a bunch of private telescopes....we got to see Saturn (the rings are *awesome*), M-13 (the "cosmic moldy cheerio"), the moon, and M-51 (a binary star) - I might have the 2 numbers mixed up...but they were impressive. As was the lecture beforehand by an (I presume) UT Austin professor (that he was a professor, I can tell. From UT..I'm guessing, since McDonald is the UTA Observatory). I did NOT take pictures during the Star Party or Twilight Program - I didn't want the flash to disrupt the lectures or make it hard for people to see the things in the telescopes.

We left about 10:30...and after a hair-raising drive back (there were a *ton* of mule deer, javalinas, and suicidal jackrabbits), we made it in - at 1:30 AM. :whew:


Sunday dawned bright and late - I got up at 7; everyone else staggered out of bed around 8. We headed back into the park around 9-ish - our destination: Meriscal Mine. It's an abandoned Quicksilver mine, and it's located on some rather primative roads. The signage says you need 4-wheel drive.....well, Jeep makes a Damned Good Product, because Libby (2-wheel drive only) handled the trek just fine. It helped that the Army Corp of Engineers had recently regraded the road...but it was still very very primative.

Information about the mine.    Mine as seen from parking area.  It was about a mile hike to get to it...mostly UP.    You can tell it's abandoned, right?


It took us about 2 hours to get there....we almost never exceeded 20 mph. We had lunch at the mine, then headed back - next stop: Hot Spring.


This was the Langford house at Hot Spring - the owner.  Not much left of it.    This is what's left of the store...there was also a motel.  The inside of both were painted with murals - it was too dark to get a good photo, though.    Rock art dating from about 1000BC to 200BC - they aren't sure of the exact date.  It's on the trail down to the hot spring    ;What's left of the foundation of the bathhouse at the hot spring.  It was dirty and smelly.


The pictograms/pictographs were meh, but the hike was pretty. The hot spring stank, and was quite dirty, but still....nice hike. The buildings were cool.


By this point, it was almost 3 PM so we headed back to Panther Junction. The kids had gotten "Junior Ranger" workbooks, and had finished their assignments, so we wanted to turn them in. Both of them answered the real Ranger's questions correctly and were sworn in as Official Junior Rangers - they even have pins to prove it! After being congratulated by all the visitors in the center, they got their loot and we headed back to the cabin.


Kids being sworn in as 'Junior Rangers' - it was pretty cool!




Monday, our last day at the Park. We decided to do it right - we headed out at 7 for sunrise photos, then went down the Santa Elena Trail. It's the most scenic drive in the park, and we got tons of photos. Unfortunatly, Herself dropped her camera at the 2nd place we stopped at..but we shared photos with her. (Yes, it broke. BIG time. :sigh: Hope we can get a replacement when we hit civilization.) Anyway, on to the photos:


First stop, the Nail Ranch. Deserted now, but a nice hike. It was very overgrown here - and we almost didn't find the remains of the house - I literally stumbled over them. It was *so* overgrown, and the paths were not very well marked.

One of the original settlers in the area.  Not much left, now...    The house - or what's left of it.  It was very hard to find.    You can see the top of the windmill from the road, and it's the only sign that there was once habitation here.



Second stop, the Homer Wilson Ranch. It was abandoned in 1945, but still appears livable. Homer made his money sheep (and goat) farming - which caught *my* interest.


I like to have the info signs of the places I visit - that way I can remember the important details.    The ranch house as seen from the cliff face - it's down inside the canyon.  It was a rough hike to it - the cliff is very steep.  It's also black bear country, but we didn't see any.    Holding pen of some sort - I assume for his sheep    ;What a view!  I think I could live here quite happily - as long as I had running water and air conditioning! :grin:



On down the trail...Mule Ears Peaks. Wonder why it's named that?


Love the signs - I don't have to type so much!    It does sort of resemble the ears of a mule, doesn't it?



Next, we hit Tuff Canyon, Castolon, and Santa Elena Canyon. Very pretty views, VERY nice drive....well worth the trip by themselves! I'm going to lump all the pictures here - the descriptions will tell you what's what. :grin: I'm also not including a lot of photos of each site - I have so many, my bandwidth would be exceeded in no time!


Sign at Tuff Canyon.    This is a good representation of Tuff Canyon.  Very pretty - as were all the views out here!    One of the 3 info boards at Castolon.  The other 2 were a map of Big Bend, and the Current conditions and Border warnings.    There's not a lot here - a long building that's now the info center/general store, a couple of houses, a bathroom, and some old machinery.  Nice example of early 1900s architecture, but not much else.


This is the Rio Grande River - the border of Texas and Mexico.  It wasn't flowing fully now, but it's still impressive.  This is the best shot I got of it.    There are 2 signs at the Santa Elena Overlook - I only included this one.  I'm lazy, that's why.    Best example of the view at the Canyon.  Don't know if you can see them, but there were some rafters on the Rio Grande when I took the photo.



We're in the homestretch now....Terlinga Abaja and Luna's Jacal. Interesting sites, both of them...


This is an example of the infamous Texas Jackrabbit.  He was nice enough to pause long enough for me to snap his photo thru the Jeep's windshield.    Yet another info sign.  You'd think I wanted my kids to learn something....    A true ghost town.    There's not a lot left.


Remember when I mentioned the Terlingua "Ghost Town" on Friday? Well, it's not. A ghost town, I mean. There are still people living in (and trashing) Terlingua...THIS is a real ghost town. I mean, I can forgive the Chili Festival every November - but don't call yourself "Terlingua Ghost Town" when you're not (Yes, that IS the name on the sign......)


Very interesting ruins of a house.    This is for scale - Himself is right at 4 foot tall    I can't imagine raising a family here....I really can't    It's so strange to see color in the desert - we HAD to get a picture of this.


On our way out of the park, we decided to check out one more site...Fossil Site. It was 26 miles away, but Fossils! It was..disappointing, to say the least....


The first of many info signs.  I'm not going to show them all...there's too many.  Too bad they were the only things worth seeing...    This is about half of the exhibit - very disappointing.


Seriously, the only thing really worth taking photos of were the info signs - the views weren't much, and the exhibits were meh. Ah, well....



Tuesday we packed up and left the cabin at 7:30.


THIS is worth waking up to!  It was what we saw as we loaded up the Jeep on our way to Houston

We headed out to Houston, via Marathon, Ft. Stockton, and San Antonio. Not much to see....except sheep, goats, oil wells, windmills and sand. The windmills are *huge* - we saw some of the blades travelling down the roads; they were at least 65 feet long. HUGE.

We finally arrived in Webster at 7 PM - tired, hot and hungry. I will NOT recommend the Motel 6 out here - service sucked; their computers were down (happens), their WiFi was....weird. We had a signal, but the front desk refused to sell us access because "it goes in and out". Ummmm....Sweet Geek tells me that's not how it works. Plus, we were told the room we reserved (bottom level) wasn't available - there were *no* bottom level rooms available, and the one they gave us had NO refridgerator or microwave. We PAID for, low and behold, we got a bottom level room (in, like, 5 minutes. Not enough time to prep a room).


We did our laundry (took 3 hours to do *1* load....have I mentioned that Motel 6 sucks?) and finally hit the beds around 10. At least the beds were clean and the room was cold.



Wednesday we got up and headed for NASA. First stop was Best Buy to replace Herself's camera. Then, onto the Space Center! I won't post all the photos - we've been there before (we've been year-long subscribers for 3 years straight now), and I didn't take as many as I could have (already have them), but I have some:


Podium JFK used to announce the Space Race    This is the actual capsule that went to the moon.  I got to *touch* it, even!    Historic Mission Control.  Way cool.    Oak grove planted in remembrance of all astronauts that have died in the line of duty


Mock up of the command capsule of a Saturn 5 rocket - the one used in all the Apollo missions    Brass Plaque at the Saturn Rocket exhibit.



We left NASA at 2, grabbed a quick bite for lunch (members get 10% off all purchases....but $10 EACH for junk food meals is a bit extreme. We hit Chik-fil-a instead - $22 for all 4 of us), and headed for Upstairs Studio in LaPorte for a yarn/fiber fix for *me*. Lovely place - lots of yummy yarns, some handpaints, some not, lots of fiber....and I left with a bag of goodies (souvinier yarn doesn't count, right?): Trekking sock yarn in "mountain" colors, hand-painted Merino (also for socks) in blues/greens, and a replacement McMorran Yarn Balance. Sweet Geek bought me some lovely green wool (for more socks for him) - I gotta keep him! He understands the need for wool/yarns! :grin: I won't post pictures of the stash enhancement, as I think that's just a little over the top...but it was well worth the trek. She had a card-weaving loom set up....I need one of those. Really....there just wasn't room in the Jeep to bring one home on this trip.

We then headed out to Kemah for photo ops on the Boardwalk. Again, we've been before - but I got some good pics.


Police car at entrance to the Boardwalk.    Kids with the stingrays - they got to pet them    Some of the Rays at Stingray Reef



A nice couple gave us 2 free passes to the Sting Ray exhibit...and the cashier let all 4 of us in on them, and gave them back to us (they were all day passes). The kids got to pet the rays, we got photos of them. Win/win. After we left, I found a dad/daughter duo that I passed the tickets on to.....spreading the joy.



Thursday we had a slight change of plans - we headed out to Galveston instead of staying in Webster. It's only an hour away, and this way we didn't have to come back later.


We made our usual stop at the Elissa, Texas's Tall Ship (if you're not familar with She's a *fully restored* iron barque; her keel was laid in 1877. She's fully staffed by volunteers; anyone can sail if they put in enough hours. I want to do that....eventually. You need 65 volunteer hours to go out on a day sail; 120 to crew.


The lovely Elissa - Fully Restored and Sea-worthy.    The original plaque on Elissa.  This is how they identified her for restoration    View of her mast...she's beautiful.    Elissa's figurehead, after restoration


Elissa's home in Galveston.  This is a hurricane-proof dock - she rides out all the storms here.  They drop her masts and remove her sails, of course.



We then took a harbor tour....I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. This was the first time we'd done this...and it was well worth the money and the time!


One of the dry docks - it's where ships are repaired.    This is an oil rig - used for off-shore drilling    WWII battleship at the Seawolf Museum.  There's also a submarine there....    Pelians hangin' out in the Bay.


The whole reason for the Harbor tour - we had moe dolphin sitings then the guide had seen in *years*.  Seriously...Something like 15 minutes of nothing but dolphins playing. Totally awesome!    Look how close they got to the boat!    There they go.....



Friday we packed up and headed home - tired, slightly sore, but happy. Lots of photos - each kid took at least 300; I have over 400 and Sweet Geek...well, he has 8GB of photos that he took. LOTS of photos, is all I'm saying....:grin:


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