Earth, Wind, and Sunny Days [#3]

by Ali Filippelli - posted from Carlsbad, CA

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 Nearby Colorado Lake State Park, TX

Nearby Colorado Lake State Park, TX

We’ve been on the road for two weeks now – 6 days driving through the South West and 9 days in Rosarito, Mexico visiting with family. What have we learned so far…? Well our most popular instagram post to date is a short clip of Kaspar’s curls blowing in the wind. Not sure what the take-away is – for me, mostly that I’m envious that Mother Nature bestowed that glorious mop of hair unto the most unassuming host. But I guess that’s life. I get to look at it a lot – so that’s cool, and if the host is in a willing mood I get to style it.

However, since this blog is not about Kaspar’s hair, I’ll move on…What else have we learned? That you can say goodbye to places as well as people – places that over the past six years have become our friends. In April as we spent the last few weeks of our time in Dallas making our farewells – I meandered, on foot and bicycle, around areas of the city I new I would miss. The places that offered up so much to us; the bike trail I took to work every day, the parks we picnicked in and ran through (and tried to take our cat to…), the lake that welcomed a 9-mile longboard race around her shores each year. As we left the city and drove south, thinking we had said all of our goodbyes, we settled into our thoughts, lined up our podcasts, and opened up our snack packs.

 Monahans Sandhills State Park, TX

Monahans Sandhills State Park, TX

We more or less had the next six days planned out, the hottest parts of the days would be spent driving, the mild evenings in parks camping. As we shared our route, many people remarked that it was not a very direct path west, “Oh sure, we know” we’d say, knowing that was the point. We would go to the Chisos Mountians of Big Bend National Park and explore nearby towns, we’d head to Faywood Hot Springs and unwind, go somewhere in southern Arizona, and swing Joshua Tree with a nearly full moon getting brighter along the way before arriving in Rosarito…As it turned out we didn’t even make it to Big Bend the first night. What we quickly realized was that this time we actually had…just that – time – we didn’t need to keep driving and arrive at midnight. When we usually had just a long weekend to accomplish our camping/hiking/road trip escapade, we now had as much time as we needed, so really then, what’s the rush. That’s why we stopped and how we met Jim at the abandoned gas station outside of Colorado Lake State Park – we both arrived too late and were locked out. So we settled down for a few, made some dinner, shared some beers and listened to his stories. After the sunset we got back on the road and drove to the nearby Monahans Sandhills State Park where we would spend our first night. We had visited this place before – around Thanksgiving 2015 on our way back from Big Bend. Back then it had been a chance encounter – a last minute decision to check out some place new, delaying our arrival back into the city for just a bit longer. Now, Monahans was waiting for us just as we had left it almost 2 years prior.

 Santa Yelena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, TX

Santa Yelena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, TX

 Mule Ears Peak, Big Bend, TX

Mule Ears Peak, Big Bend, TX

Pushing off the next morning, we headed to the Santa Yelena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. It was our third time in the park, and we were exploring a new area, a canyon with soaring walls and a slow silty section of river – the Rio Grande - an easy hike with a stellar view. We swam and dried off in minutes in the dry desert heat. As we made lunch looking out over the Chihuahuan Desert, we plotted our route forward through Terlingua – a border town nestled in the desert between Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and the Rio Grande. Once a mining district for cinnabar, it was now home to a ghost town, a cemetery dating to 1903, and a weathered slow living community of part time river rafters. As we passed through and spoke with some of the locals we heard about a Cinco de Mayo celebration in the Rio Grande where both Terlinguans and Mexicans came from both sides of the border and partied. We spent that night in Marfa, a town about 100 miles away, actually one of the few other towns nearby – nearby being relative in this remote area. Marfa is about as contrasting to Terlingua as you can get. Locals, artists, foodies, hipsters and artisans abound, mixing together to form a modern pioneer community of sorts. You can stay in a trendy hotel, glamp in a camper/yurt/teepee/safari tent (this was our choice) or pick a spot for you to pitch your own tent (which we’ve done in the past). It is dry and windy self policed city, full of site-specific installations by Donald Judd. If you happen to be “nearby” out in the middle of nowhere, both Terlingua and Marfa are worth a visit.

 Chisos Mountain Range, TX

Chisos Mountain Range, TX

 El Cosmico, Marfa, TX

El Cosmico, Marfa, TX

 Terlingua, TX

Terlingua, TX

The next morning as we drove towards New Mexico with Faywood plugged into our GPS, I noticed an FB update - '3 Years Ago' we were in White Sands National Monument – I looked down at the US road atlas in my lap and traced the path to White Sands with my finger; we were going to pass right by it. Three years to the day – we spent an afternoon there trying to surf the dunes on one of Kaspar’s skate decks. And now today we were slipping by in our Fiesta outfitted for three months of travel – for me it was a sign that we had made the right choice. 

Over the next few days as we made our way west along 1-10, we revisited some places we had stayed before – Faywood Hot Springs, Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, and found some new ones – Coronado National Forest, Madera Canyon, and Picacho Peak State Park - a striking 1,500 ft spire marking the westernmost battle of the American Civil War. We drove through tiny towns like Rodeo in New Mexico where you can learn a little bit about ‘Pig Wisperin’ or ‘Buny Docterin’ and through towns like Tombstone, Arizona made famous by the shootout at the OK Corral with the likes of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Ike Clanton and the McLaury brothers, where reenactments occur daily.

 City of Rocks State Park, NM

City of Rocks State Park, NM

 Rodeo, NM

Rodeo, NM

 Tombstone, AZ

Tombstone, AZ

 Picacho Peak State Park, AZ

Picacho Peak State Park, AZ

 Palm Desert, CA

Palm Desert, CA

On this trip I kept feeling like we were saying goodbye to the places that had brought us so many good memories while living in Texas – greeting us and bidding us well as me moved through and past. Some spots were just a quick stop and hello, others opened up to reveal new expanses. In City of Rocks State Park in southern New Mexico, we watched the sun go down over 34 million year old rocks – as we pondered this later that night in the Faywood hot springs we were joined by a swinging, free spirited, nudist couple – Donna and Art. In Madera Canyon, a spot we picked out randomly in a visitors guide from the Tombstone, AZ information center, we ended up camping next to Clay, a snake whispering, endurance athlete, former coast guard, who lived on the road most of the year.

So at the end of that first week what else did we learn? That friendship can take on different forms – people or a physical space, and that you should remember to say hello and goodbye to both. That there is an art to taking your time and stopping along the way is a good place to start. Stopping is how you meet the Jims, the Clays, the Donnas and the Arts.* Once our exploration was focused on the mountains, on isolating ourselves from the city bustle, and on the challenges of a long hard hike, we have switched that focus slightly to include looking to the people around us.  Don’t plan everything out, most of it, but not all of it. Oh, and that Kaspar has great hair.

*See our instagram feed for their stories and others we have happened across

Parks visited or mentioned:

Road trip tip: Need wifi while on the go? Both Starbucks and Denny's have got you covered. Also if you happen to pass through Tombstone, AZ Wyatt's Coffee House has free wifi.