Tag Archives: thanksgiving

#Opt Out (Freeze Out)

(Ok, I know this is WAY LATE but that’s what happens when you have photos on one computer and write a post an another…)

Typically, every year Hubby and I “opt out” from the jumble of Thanksgiving and Black Friday and use that time off of work to head out to the middle of nowhere and camp. (Even REI does #optoutside so you can share your photos from your hiking adventures, rather than getting run-over by a crowd trying to get the cheap tvs at Walmart for Black Friday.) A year ago we went to Big Bend National Park, and this year we decided to go to Palo Duro Canyon State Park outside of Amarillo, Texas. It’s the same amount of time in the car, and neither of us had ever been there before so we wanted to give it a shot. After we had booked our trip we discovered Run Away campers, and fell in love. They are affordable, they are comfortable, and they are TINY! We ordered our little Range Runner model camper (it’s actually the largest model they have at 6’x8′) from Florida and it was delivered just a few days later! We were excited to get it before our camping trip because that meant we would be able to glamp (glam camp) instead of being in a tent, which had been the original plan. The first chance I got, I called the Park Service phone number for reservations, but they were out of RV camp sites! I was sad, but I thought, ‘One last trip of rocks in the back and waking up stiff. After this, we will use the camper.’ But as we got closer to the date, every time we checked the weather it was looking worse and worse. The high for the day dropped from being in the 40s to being in the low 20s with freezing rain. It was going to be miserable. We were going to cancel, defeated and depressed. Until Hubby got the idea to check the RV site availability again. Lo and behold, other people had checked the weather too, and cancelled their trip so there were spaces available! I did a happy dance and we started planning for the trip once again. We left before the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving Day since it was a 9 hour drive, and got there just in time for the park office to tell us that the weather is going to get worse, so they will probably close the office over the weekend. “That’s fine,” we told them. “We have a tv and a stack of movies.” But we had no idea what we were in for.

The rain turned to sleet, and the sleet turned to ice. We tried hiking around our camp site a little bit but the mud was caking onto anything that touched it and making a huge mess. I was afraid of slipping and hurting my back so I was being extremely careful. We got back to the camper to thaw out and ended up having to heat up canned soup inside the camper because it was too miserable to cook outside.

From Thursday night to Saturday morning we watched 3 of the Planet of the Apes movies and Season 2 of Scrubs. We got a little bit of cabin fever so we bundled up and headed out to do a little birding once the ice stopped falling. There was a thick layer of ice on every surface. Walking through parking lots was difficult because it was so slippery. But I got some great bird shots anyway! We saw a huge flock of turkeys (30 or more) and each bird had ice frozen on its back. We went to a birding station and the Cardinals and Finches had frozen feathers also.

female cardinal Gold Finch male cardinal turkeysWe headed back to camp to hike around a bit more (now that the ground was frozen, the mud wasn’t an issue) and Hubby saw the Park Host come by to fill the bathrooms with toilet paper. He went to go talk to them and they told his that the road to get out of the park was closed and we wouldn’t be able to get out until noon on Sunday! That was a problem. With a 9 hour drive, that was cutting it close. What if the roads didn’t improve and we were stuck longer? The last thing I wanted was to get home at 2 am and have to go to work the next day. So Hubby and I loaded up into the truck and checked the road for ourselves. He has all wheel drive so we weren’t concerned, and any point that the road looked icy, we would get out and check it before driving on it. (The road to get out of the park goes up through the canyon, so if you lose traction on the icy road, it’s quite a tumble down). The road seemed fine as we headed up, and I had him stop a few times so I could get pictures of the beautiful ice-covered grasses and yucca and barbed-wire fence.

frozen grassI even heard coyotes howling VERY close to me and I was so happy to hear them. Every time I hear coyotes, I’m the only one around for miles (while Hubby sits in the warm car!) and it seems like they are singing to me. I even saw one of the singers a few minutes later!

coyoteWe finally made our way to the park entrance and saw that the gate was wide open. The park host had told us it was closed and locked and we couldn’t get out! So we looked at each other and came to this conclusion: If the road freezes, it will be over night. The road is passable now, but in the morning there is no guarantee. So we got out while the getting was good and headed to Amarillo to spend the night.

We headed back down the park road and hooked up the camper. In 20 minutes we were back on the road, carefully heading out of the park. The highway was frozen so we took it slow and then pulled into the parking lot of our destination: The Big Texan steak ranch. Part of our plan on this trip had been to eat at The Big Texan because it’s an icon! It has been on tv shows like Man vs. Food and Day Tripper because they do the 72 ounce steak challenge. You have to consume a 72 ounce steak, a baked potato, a shrimp cocktail, salad, and a bread roll, all in 60 minutes. Of course, we weren’t going to be PARTICIPATING in the steak challenge, but we still wanted to eat there. Also, as it turned out, The Big Texan has a hotel ON SITE so we didn’t have to go anywhere by the end of the night! The parking lot was an ice rink so I was really happy we didn’t have to get back on the highway and find somewhere else to stay. (Also, I just saw on their website that they now have an RV park too, so that’s good to know in case our next trip to Palo Duro gets cut short again!)

The next morning, before heading home, we stopped at Cadillac Ranch.cadillacs3cadillacs

It’s literally a bunch of Cadillacs from the 1940s-1960s that were jammed into the ground in the 1970s as an art installation. The thing is, it’s legal to do graffiti art at this site. I guess that’s kind of the point – everyone is an artist if they are given the chance. We had never seen it before, and we might never come back to Amarillo again, so we had it on our list of must-dos while we were on the trip. We trudged out to the cars through the snow and ice, took a couple pictures, and got back to our heated car as quickly as possible. But I noticed some interesting things while we were there: there are so many layers of paint on the cars, that it looks like the cars are melting.

frozen paintThere had been people out at the site spray-painting in the snow and ice, so that the frost on the cars was painted orange and blue. The snow on the ground was also used as a temporary canvas, saying the typical “So-and-so Loves So-and-so” and happy holidays. Also, even the barbed-wire that surrounds the property had been painted. It was surprisingly beautiful.

Once we were done at Cadillac Ranch we headed home, stopping in Dallas to see some family, and then making our slow trudge home (the drive from Dallas to Houston is supposed to take 3 hours, but for any number of reasons, it always takes 6).

Our trips are always adventurous even if they don’t go as planned. I guess that’s how I know I love my Hubby too, because instead of being ready to kill each other by the end of the trip, we were planning our next adventure!

This Year I’m Thankful For…

PERFECT WEATHER!

Hubby and I usually use Thanksgiving as an “us” holiday. We either get together with friends or go out on our own. This year we decided to go camping in Big Bend National Park. This is where both of us did our thesis research, and basically where we lived for 6 years, so we miss it terribly. Last year around the same time, we went to Alpine, Texas for Art Walk and there was a terrible ice storm. There was a thick layer of ice on everything, and it was snowing.

Ice on the False Red Yucca and Lantana
Ice on the False Red Yucca and Purple Lantana
Snow and lights decorate the Yucca
Snow and lights (and duct tape) decorate the Yucca

Normally I like snow and don’t mind ice too much, but all of our friends who still live in the area stayed indoors where it was nice and toasty, so we didn’t get to see a lot of people. And we had planned on going to BBNP for a day, but the roads were closed because of the ice.

The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn't needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn’t needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.

So what was there to do? Go to the coffee shop to drink coffee, and go to the bar to drink beer.

Vanilla Latte from Plaine
Vanilla Latte from Plaine

It was a great weekend, but not at all what we had planned.

Fast forward about 6 months, and I was getting pretty bad “city claustrophobia”. Every time I see a new building go up it makes me want to go back out to Far West Texas and never leave. So Hubby and I planned a camping trip for Thanksgiving Weekend in BBNP, in order for me to keep my sanity a little longer. Thanksgiving is the busiest weekend that the park has because the weather is usually fantastic (cold at night but nice during the day) and it’s a 4-day weekend for must of America. Of course, weather can also be terrible, like the year before. We basically had a 50-50 shot, so it was worth taking. And we won the weather jackpot. 40 degrees at night and 70 degrees during the day, with crystal clear skies. It was perfect. We managed to get a back country camp site on Pine Canyon Road and no one else was around. It was perfect. There were a few other campers further down the road, but far enough away that we couldn’t see or hear them. Solitude. Ahhh….

Our view from Camp - Sierra del Carmen Mountain range
Our view from Camp – Sierra del Carmen mountain range

My main goal for the trip was to try out my astro-photography skills that I had acquired recently (with practice and YouTube) and I had a great time and some awesome success, if I do say so myself!

Stars through The Window
Stars through The Window
Stars over Casa Grande
Stars over Casa Grande
Moon and stars over the desert
Moon and stars over the desert
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
Stars over the Carmens
Star trails over the Carmens

We also made time to do a hike on the Pine Canyon Trail, and head into Terlingua for some culture…

Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Terlingua Cemetery
Terlingua Cemetery

For those of you who have never been to Terlingua, never heard of Terlingua, or couldn’t imagine how people could live in the desolate and harsh desert floor, you need to see it at least once. Terlingua was once a booming town, known for mining quicksilver, also known as Mercury. Unfortunately they no longer needed Mercury (and they discovered that it makes you go crazy) so the mines closed up and the town became a ghost town. Now the Terlingua Ghost Town is a tourist attraction, and people have begun moving back into the formerly vacant buildings. The cemetery is still in use today, but has graves from the 1800s as well.

The people of Terlingua are interesting. The desert provides inspiration for artists and solitude for outlaws, and Terlingua is the crossroads for these people. Basically, if you want to be left to your own devises, this is where you move.

Terlingua Trading Company - The Front Porch of Terlingua
Terlingua Trading Company – The Front Porch of Terlingua. This is usually where you can sit and have a beer while listening to the locals play guitar and sing.
Starlight Theatre - A famous landmark
Starlight Theatre – A famous landmark

After hanging out and listening to the locals play guitar for a little while, we headed back into the park to drive some back roads to Santa Elena Canyon and then back up to the Chisos Basin to do some more star photos. On our drive, we spotted a rattlesnake in the road.

Poor injured rattlesnake
Poor injured rattlesnake

He had been hit by a car (you can see the blood on his head and on the road), but he was still alive. So Hubby got a long pole out of the truck bed, I directed traffic (ok, one car, but they still almost hit the snake!), and Hubby got the snake off the road.

Snake, safely in the grass.
Snake, safely in the grass.

Snakes don’t have to eat very often so hopefully he can heal up and get better before he starves. We tried our best at least! He was clearly not very happy with us, but it was for his own good.

It was a wonderfully successful camping trip and photography trip, and as badly as I wanted to stay and never come back to civilization, I just wasn’t ready to become a permanent desert rat. That just means that we will probably have to make the trek out to BBNP again very, very soon.