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  1. #1

    Default Tour of Texas & New Mexico - Spring 2016

    I just finished a 27 day, 5,246 mile trip from Tucson, AZ through New Mexico and all around Texas and back with my husband. We traveled in our Chevy cargo van modified for long trips, camping most of the time. Our daily average cost was $70, for the 2 of us. I'll summarize our costs at the end of all of the posts. The lower gas prices really helped to lower our costs.

    For those who have followed our previous trips you know our focus is visiting national park sites (411* NPS sites as of today!), hiking, bird watching, letterboxing, Quest Scouts, and being flexible along the way. I'll explain more about some of the activities in future posts. I have an Instagram account which I posted to frequently throughout the trip - those posts can be found under SrJrRanger on Instagram.

    I'll be posting at least once per day, and will double up a few days, as we leave in mid-May for another extended trip. This trip was a fun Spring trip; the roadside flowers throughout Texas were beautiful. The natural and historical sites were all worth visiting. The weather, for the most part, was great - better than expected.

    As you read along I hope you find some information that may help your travel plans. Feel free to comment or send me a PM for additonal information.
    Travel on,

    *386 NPS sites I have visited to date.
    Site # 411 - Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (Washington, DC)

  2. #2

    Default Chiricahua National Monument - Day 1

    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    Start: Tucson, AZ
    Finish: Bonita Canyon Campground ( NPS), Chiricahua National Monument, AZ

    Back on the road again! Leaving Tucson just as Spring was coming into bloom. This year Parry's Penstemon has taken over our front yard. Ocotillo blooms are close to flaming out and the Palo Verde tree blossoms are starting to show their yellow popcorn flowers out on the edges. When we return in a month the cactus should start blooming.

    Parry's Penstemon - front yard

    Before leaving town we went out of our way to fill our gas tank with $1.38/gal gasoline. Gas, in town along our route, was hitting $1.69. We had been as low as $1.25 a couple of weeks ago.

    East on I-10 to Willcox where stopped for beverages before heading south along AZ 186. We stopped in Dos Cabezas to take a picture of the historic post office. My husband is creating a web page of photos of historic Arizona post offices, any existing building before 1960.

    Dos Cabezas Historic Post Office

    In the past year Chiricahua National Monument has allowed reservations at the campground at It is highly recommended to get reservations, especially on weekends. This beautiful, secluded campground only has 20 sites which fill up quickly. It was so nice to know we had a campsite waiting for us. We stopped at the Visitor Center for passport stamps and to pick up their 'I Hike for Health' 2016 Centennial program card. We were not planning to hike the 5 miles required to earn the attractive pin during this visit, but we do plan to come back and finish it this year.

    Chiricahua NM 'I Hike for Health' pin

    We settled into the campsite and enjoyed birdwatching, sketching and a hike in the area. The campground was full, and it was apparent that it was Spring Break. Families with active kids; we enjoyed watching their energy before retiring for the night.

    Wildlife Sightings
    Anna's Hummingbird
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Mexican Jay
    Acorn Woodpecker

  3. #3

    Default Fort Bowie NHS & into New Mexico - Day 2

    Thursday, March 17, 2016

    Start: Chiricahua NM
    Finish: Pancho Villa State Park, Columbus, NM

    Wonderful morning in camp, enjoyed a short walk back to the visitor center. The campground host came around at 9 and told us the road out of the area would be closed for an hour beginning at 10 to cut a tree down, that got us motivated to pack up and head out.

    Chiricahua NM - Morning view

    Chiricahua NM - HooDoos

    Nearby is Ft. Bowie National Historic Site. This is a unique NPS site, the primary access is a 1-1/2 mile trail into the fort. This is a hike we have done many times over the years and never tire of the scenery or history. There are interpretative signs all along the hike. This year as part of the National Park Service (NPS) Centennial they are also offering the 'I Hike for Health' pin. Just by hiking to the visitor center you qualify for their pin, but you have to ask for it. The ranger on duty told us they only got 200 pins for the year, so they were reserving them for those who knew about the program and asked for the pin.

    St. Patrick's Day is my husband's birthday, and yes he does have a bit of Irish in his genealogy.
    Birthday boy

    Fort Bowie 'I Hike for Health' pin

    Verbena along the trail

    Apache Spring along the trail

    From the parking area for Fort Bowie NHS is a short drive, mostly paved, back to I-10 where we continued east into New Mexico. We stopped in Lordsburg at the McDonalds for my husband's annual Shamrock Shake. From there we continued on I-10 a short distance before heading south on NM 146 to Hachita, then east on NM 9. We had decided to check out Columbus, NM. Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus was our destination for camping. New Mexico State state parks are very reasonable, $14 for sites with electric and water, plus usually free showers.

    We had planned to go out to dinner for my husband's birthday, however all four restaurants in town were closed on this Thursday evening. We could find no explanation, most of their signs indicated they would be open. We went back to camp and fixed dinner. Later we saw a notice posted by the bathroom that the American Legion was serving a traditional St. Pat's Dinner, open to the public.

    Wildlife Sightings
    Mexican Jay
    Acorn Woodpecker
    Montezuma Quail
    Bridled Titmouse
    Common Raven
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Scaled Quail
    Black-throated Sparrow
    Bendire's Thrasher
    Northern Cardinal
    House Sparrow
    House Finch
    Rock Pigeon
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Gamble's Quail

    Rock Squirrel
    Cottontail Rabbit

  4. #4

    Default Las Cruces area - Day 3

    Thursday, March 18, 2016

    Start: Columbus, NM
    Finish: Aguirre Springs Cmpgrd, Organ Mountains National Monument (BLM), east of Las Cruces, NM

    If you are into military history a visit to Columbus, NM and NM Farm and Ranch Museum for another NHT stamp. Last year when we stopped we spotted 2 Great-horned Owls perched above the entrance to the museum, today there was just one. I asked at the admissions desk and the lady quietly told me, there were kids standing behind us, about the death of the female. In a wind storm she was blown into wires and electrocuted. The male mate finished raising their brood successfully. They think he may be courting a female nearby. We hope to see a pair next time we come through.


    We did some letterboxing* around town before heading out to the new BLM Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. We were surprised by the interpretive signs once we arrived. There are no directional signs, however if you follow the roads on the printable map through their website you arrive at the parking area for the Ridgeline Trail. No fossils are displayed, in fact some have been removed and taken to area museums. We had been curious to see the terrain. We hiked a short ways up the trail, some wildflowers were present.

    Prehistoric Trackways NM

    We headed east on US 70 across San Augustin Pass of the Organ Mountains and into Aguirre Springs campground. This is within the bounds of the Organ Mountains National Monument, another BLM site. The road in is six miles with 4 miles part of a one-way loop and restricted to vehicles under 23 ft. There are a couple of hiking trails and 57 campsites. At 5600 ft it can be cool, even at this time of year, but nice through the hotter months. The only water is at the entrance, close to US 70. Each campsite has a ramada over a picnic table, grill and a fire pit plus vault toilets. Th gate closes either at 5 or 7 PM, depending on the season. For tent and small RV camping it is ideal. The hillsides on the drive in were covered with Mexican Poppies.

    Mexican Poppies

    Aguirre Springs Campground

    Organ Mountains

    Wildlife Sightings:
    White-crowned sparrow
    House Finch
    Common Raven
    Turkey Vulture
    Greater Roadrunner
    Gambel's Quail
    Great-horned Owl
    Black-throated Sparrow
    Canyon Towhee


    *Passport Stamps - as we travel through National Park Service sites we collect a small, round, dated stamp that is issued to the sites by Eastern National. A club we belong to, National Park Travelers Club (, maintains a database with the location of the stamps for members ( 2 week free access available). My husband, is a self-described fanatic, as well others in the club who want to collect all of the stamps possible. Some of the sites have bonus stamps which can be very attractive. In a separate post later on I'll link to my husband's web page where all of the stamps collected on this trip will be displayed.

    **Letterboxing - a fun, treasuring hunting hobby which started in England in the late 1800s. Today 2 websites provide access to clues; Atlas Quest ( LBNA ( It is similar to geocaching, but involves following written clues, some easy, some very complicated, then exchanging hand-carved stamps between your personal stamp and the stamp you find in the box into logbooks.

  5. #5

    Default Into West Texas - Day 4

    Saturday, March 19, 2016

    Start: Aguirre Springs campground, NM
    Finish: Davis Mountains State Park, Ft. Davis, TX

    Morning view of Organ Mountains

    Not sure what the temperature was this morning, but it was cold. We fixed a quick breakfast and continued on east US 70 to White Sands National Monument. The parking lot was very busy, definitely Spring Break season. We got our passport and Centennial stamps and filled our water containers. We had been here last summer for an event and had spent quite a bit of time, so we got the park's passport stamp and the NPS Centennial stamp before heading out.

    We continued across US 70 to Alamogordo, then south on US 54 into downtown El Paso to visit the El Paso Museum of History and Chamizal National Memorial. As we entered downtown El Paso we discovered a street festival surrounding the museum. We found parking and enjoyed the activities while getting the stamp.

    Dancers - El Paso

    Once done at Chamizal we headed east on I-10, all the way to Van Horn where we stopped for a quick bite before heading south on US 90. The traffic on I-10, even well past El Paso, was heavy, we were ready for some 2-lane highway. This route takes you through Valentine where there is an unique road art display - Prada Marfa. This building is west of Valentine and many miles from Marfa, truly in the middle of nowhere! Along this route we saw Pronghorn alongside the highway.

    Prada Marfa (late afternoon sun made getting a better picture difficult)

    Texas view on US 90

    Past Valentine we took a series of ranch roads (paved) to reach Davis Mountains State Park, near Fort Davis, TX, our home for the next 2 nights. Knowing we would arrive on a weekend night and during Spring Break I had made reservations, as expected the campground was full.

    A word about Texas State Parks: They do not charge a reservation fee when you book online and the nightly fee is reasonable; $20 for electric and water and free showers. However, a couple of years ago they initiated a per person fee for entrance, per day, in addition to the camping fee. So in addition to $40 for 2 nights we would be charged $24 entrance for our 2 night stay. Luckily I discovered this before we arrived and based on other planned activities it be became apparent that their $70 annual park pass would pay for itself. In addition to covering our entrance fee it provided 4 nights of 1/2 price camping, for the second night. What I found disturbing is the entrance fee is charged for anyone 13 and up, seems to be excessive for families.

    Wildlife Sightings
    Mourning Dove
    Canyon Towhee
    Common Raven
    American Crow
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Western Meadowlark
    House Sparrow
    Rock Pigeon
    Turkey Vulture
    Red-tailed Hawk & others
    White-winged Dove
    Greater Roadrunner

    Rock Squirrel

  6. #6

    Default Fort Davis NHS - Day 5

    Sunday, March 20, 2015

    Start & Finish: Davis Mountain State Park, Fort Davis, TX

    Very cold night - mid 20s. About 5 AM we turned on our small electric heater which helped. We did not linger at camp, but got up and went immediately to the lodge dining room in the park for their weekend breakfast buffet. Everything tasted good, but more importantly we were inside and warm. Besides a restaurant there is an overnight lodge in the park.

    Lodge patio

    We went back towards town, Fort Davis, and spent a couple of hours at Fort Davis National Historic Site. I walked the whole area while working on the Junior Ranger* booklet. It was still very cool, but sunny. The ranger was very enthusiastic about my completing the program, checked to see if I was older than 83. That is the oldest person to complete their program and the ranger told me he does the junior ranger programs when he visits other parks. After swearing me in as a Junior (Senior) Ranger he presented me with the standard badge, their patch and a special patch for the centennial year. The previous weekend they had a special centennial event and had extra patches to hand out. I promised to walk up the hill overlooking the fort to earn that patch, which I did and got a nice overview.

    Ft Davis NHS
    Junior Officer's Quarters

    Parade Ground from Overlook

    Junior Ranger badge & patches

    The ranger I worked with had the new shiny, large Centennial ranger badge. We learned that they could order them through the NPS employee supplies website for $40. Not all rangers have them, however those that do can be seen from a distance. It is at least 1/3 larger than the standard badge.

    Centennial NPS Ranger badge

    We spent some time in town letterboxing before heading back to camp for lunch and showers. It was finally getting comfortable to sit outdoors. Later in the afternoon we had a couple of roadrunners come close by hunting right in our campsite.



    Wildlife sighting
    Mule deer

    Canyon Towhee
    Greater Roadrunner
    Cedar Waxwing
    Ladderback Woodpecker
    White-winged Dove
    Turkey Vulture
    Common Raven
    Bewick's Wren
    Canyon Wren
    Curved bill Thrasher

    *Junior/Senior Ranger programs - I complete these programs as I travel, even as one older than a Junior. The park sites are welcoming to all, all ages, to complete their programs. About 10 park sites have Senior Ranger programs. I have a blog titled, 'Junior Ranger-Senior Friendly'.

  7. #7

    Default Big Bend National Park - Day 6

    Monday, March 21, 2016

    Start: Davis Mountains SP, Fort Davis, TX
    Finish: Rio Grande Village, Big Bend NP, TX

    Another cold night, but not as cold. We went into town for breakfast, a very tasty chorizo, egg burrito at Lupita's Place. We continued south on TX 17 into Alpine for groceries and gas before continuing to Big Bend National Park. We entered outside Study Butte and took the 13 mile dirt road from Maverick Junction down to Santa Elena Canyon. This road is suitable for most 2-WD, mainly washboard and few places with some rough rocks, clearance was not a problem.

    Santa Elena Canyon

    The road is paved as you head east along the Rio Grande into Castolon, an old cotton farming compound. Now there is an NPS visitor center and store, plus some old buildings and equipment. Besides getting the passport stamps I picked up the Junior Ranger booklet and a sheet for The Centennial Challenge; 3 patches for 3 different hikes in the park.

    Castolon Compound

    Farm Equipment

    Cactus flowers

    We followed the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive north, to the main park road and then east to turn back south to Chisos Basin area. This is an area we have hiked in the past. Today was a stop at the visitor center for the passport stamps. Black Bear had left the Big Bend area in the 1940s, recently they have returned from Mexico. In the Chisos visitor center there is a map of the hiking trails with numerous small yellow sticky notes indicating recent bear and mountain lion sightings. Within the past week a sow with 2 cubs was seen close to the group campground.

    One of the Centennial Challenge hikes was a 3 mile hike along Hot Springs Canyon. Today the temperature was in the mid-70s, it was expected to be much warmer tomorrow. My husband dropped me off at the Hot Springs trailhead and I hiked the 3 miles over to the Rio Grande Village picnic area where he picked me up and we settled into camp.

    Hot Springs pictographs

    One of the questions to answer for the challenge was which way is the turtle rock facing in the river.

    Turtle rock

    Cactus flowers

    Leaving the picnic area and heading towards camp we saw a bobcat along the side of the road. We had made reservation for these 2 nights, concerned that Spring Break could fill the campsites in Big Bend that week. Rio Grande Village is the only one that accepts reservations, Chisos Basin and Cottonwood are first come-first served. Neither were full when we went by them earlier in the day. The key is to settle in, probably before 4 PM, and avoid weekends. Our campsite was in the no generator section and we were totally surrounded by mesquite trees, blocking nearby campsites.

    Wildlife Sightings
    Turkey Vulture
    House Sparrow
    Mourning Dove
    White-winged Dove
    Vermilion Flycatcher
    Northern Cardinal
    Greater Roadrunner

    Squirrel, Eastern Grey
    Cottontail Rabbit

  8. #8

    Default Big Bend - Rio Grande Village Day 7

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016

    Start & Finish: Rio Grande Village, Big Bend NP

    Very slow start to the day. Enjoyed most of the morning in camp, warming up nicely. Before noon we stopped at the visitor center for this area. The Rio Grande Village consists of the NPS campground, Visitor center and the following concession services; store, laundry & showers and RV park with hookups. After lunch we were enjoying some ice cream at the store when I looked up and spotted this Greater Roadrunner up on the roof, probably looking for a handout.

    Rooftop Roadrunner

    Nearby is the Boquillas Canyon Overlook and crossing. The Rio Grande flows below the cliff and overlooks the crossing into Mexico. The canoe (pictured below) will come ferry you across. You can walk or take a burro into town for lunch at one of several restaurants. This crossing was made legal in the past year. The park service literature has information if you are interested to make the crossing.

    Boquillas Crossing

    Flower - mallow

    After dinner and closer to sunset we walked out on the Nature Trail that starts from the campground. It was a full moon night and lots of people were out in the area to get pictures. Ocotillo is one of my favorite desert plants, they are tall, spindly sticks with bog thorns that are bare most of the year. With a very little rain leaves will sprout along the stalks and every Spring, with or without rain, they bloom as bright orange flame-shaped flowers. To me they represent the harshness and beauty of the desert - all in one plant.

    Ocotillo blossom

    Full Moon over Boquillas Canyon

    Wildlife Sightings
    Golden-fronted Woodpecker
    Turkey Vulture
    Vermilion Flycatcher
    Chipping Sparrow
    Western Screech Owl (heard)
    Common Poorwill (heard)
    Northern Cardinal
    Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

    Cottontail Rabbit

  9. #9

    Default Langtry to Amistad - Day 8

    Wednesday, March 23, 2016

    Start: Rio Grande Village, Big Bend NP, TX
    Finish: San Pedro campground (NPS), Amistad NRA, Del Rio, TX

    Throughout the night we heard the Common Poorwill calling throughout the campground. Never loud enough to wake us, but heard when awake. Packed up after breakfast and drove back up to Panther Junction.

    View towards Chisos Mountains

    I had a plant walk to complete before checking with the ranger at the information desk. I turned in my completed Centennial Challenge sheet for 2 of the 3 patches and my Junior Ranger booklet.

    Centennial Challenge patches.

    One final stop at Persimmon Gap visitor center for park passport stamps. We stopped in Marathon for tasty pizza before turning east on US 90, enjoying a tailwind. Along the route we took the short side road into Langtry, TX. The state has a well-developed tourism office which includes the typical services, but also has historical buildings behind the office for visitors to tour. This area is known for the western personality of Judge Roy Bean who was considered the Law West of the Pecos [river]. He was a fan of the actress Lily Langtry, hence the town's name.

    Tourism Office - Langtry, TX

    As I stepped out of the car at the tourism office I spied a very old saguaro across the street. Saguaros are native to Arizona, northern Mexico along the Arizona border and a few in eastern California. Someone, a very long time ago, planted and nurtured this cactus. Based on it's size and arms I would guess this was at least 125 years old.

    Saguaro in Langtry

    We continued east on US 90 and crossed the Amistad Reservoir just west of Del Rio, TX. This is one of the 411 (as of 4/12/16) NPS sites. It is a National Recreation Area which has campgrounds, one right along the highway and another one a few miles off the highway. We chose the one a few miles off the highway for quiet, both campgrounds charged $4 ($2 discounted). The unique feature of this site is the reservoir spans the United States and Mexico borders along the Rio Grande.

    Wildlife Sightings
    Golden-fronted Woodpecker
    Turkey Vulture
    Common Raven
    Northern Mockingbird
    Greater Roadrunner
    Northern Cardinal
    Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
    American Coot

    Cottontail Rabbit

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default One of the best looking!

    Wow, good catch on the Saguaro in Langtry -- yes, that is a magnificent tree!

    And awesome flower and animal photos in this report!


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