#ChristaKrista TexMex National Park Trip
Trip Dates: Friday, January 12th, 2018 – Monday, January 15th, 2018 (Thankful for MLK Jr. Day)
It's no secret that I'm on a quest to visit every National Park in the United States. And, fun fact, there are "National Park People." I met one of these people last summer when I was on a solo road trip through Arizona and Utah. It all started when I hiked the Subway trail (not the sandwich shop) in Zion National Park and this kind soul asked me if I wanted my picture taken since I was alone. The answer to that question is nearly always a resounding yes; the struggles I've gone through to get a good photo while solo are pure comedy. Anyways, Christa and I maintained contact even though she lives in Houston with her husband. She joined us for the Trans-Catalina Trail back in November and accompanied me on a trip to New Mexico and Texas in January! 'Twas 4 days, 3 National Parks, 1 National Monument, 2 ChKristas, a lot of pictures, and even more memories.
We flew from our respective residences to El Paso, Texas where we picked up the rental car and immediately drove the hour and 45 minutes
to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. We were on a mission to 1) arrive before the gate closed and 2) go 'sledding' on the sand dunes! Mission(s) accomplished. White Sands was absolutely incredible. In fact, a bill was recently passed to make the National Monument into a National Park. I fully support it although others do not. The sand dunes are made of white gypsum and are quite frankly a mysteriously dramatic landscape in the midst of an otherwise dry, flat, unappealing part of New Mexico. The week before this trip I was in Buffalo, New York where we had yet another blizzard and I truly could not tell the gypsum sand from freshly fallen snow - it was that white! Naturally, we stopped at the Visitor Center and bought a sled before starting out on Dunes Drive in search of the perfect dune to sled down. Having sled on snow and made snow angels all throughout my childhood, this was truly a first to complete these activities in such purely - and pearly - white sand! Of course I completed the Junior Ranger book along the way, making one last stop at the Visitor Center to earn by badge before heading to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Leaving White Sands around 5pm and stopping for dinner made the three hour drive great fun, especially when the campsites at Guadalupe are first come, first serve sites. I guess that's the funny thing about packing as much as possible in four days: you simply have to hope for the best when you arrive in the pitch dark, 20-something degree weather, not knowing if you'll get a campsite, and having to pitch your tents when you do luck out and get a spot. Things to note about Guadalupe Mountains National Park in January... It gets dark early. You'll most likely find a vacant campsite. It gets cold. Like, really cold. It gets windy. Like, really, really windy. It turns out the "feel like" temperature was 6 degrees and the winds are so strong that the Rangers told us 18-wheel tractor trailers have been blown over. My, my, my, good thing I staked my tent down, eh?! Between time constraints and untimely injuries (more on that later), I'll be revisiting Guadalupe Mountains to hike to Guadalupe Peak (the highest point in Texas). Sure it was nice to spend some time at the park exploring the Frijole Trail and Frijole Ranch and History Museum, but it was even nicer to head over to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Another magical gem, Carlsbad Caverns is New Mexico's only national park. There are over 100 caves that comprise the park; many are
closed to the public. The most notable public cave is the "Carlsbad Cavern." We arrived just in time for the Left Hand Tunnel Tour and please note, this was the best $7 I have ever spent. While Rangers classify this tour as moderately difficult, we took the elevator down to undeveloped sections of the caves and the entire tour was candle-lit and lead by a National Park Ranger!!! The tour took place on unpaved trails, some slippery slopes, between cavern pools, and around fragile formations. While the surroundings were unimaginable, my favorite part of the tour was when the Ranger had us blow out our candle lanterns to create total, complete, utter darkness. No matter how hard I tried, I could not see my hand in front of my face. It was incredible. The Ranger shared a whole lot of knowledge; one of the most interesting facts to me was that if we stayed in the cavern long enough without light, we could actually go blind. The story of how the cave system was discovered and mapped was also fascinating but I'll let you visit and learn for yourself. After the Left Hand Tunnel Tour (which yes, it does sell out very far in advance), we had just enough time to explore the Natural Entrance and the Big Room - a huge underground chamber in the cavern. This is yet another park I'd love to revisit in order to see the bats take flight from June-October. Bats literally exit the cave nightly by the hundreds/thousands. And, in August/September baby bats, born in the early summer, join the flight along with migrating bats from colonies further north. I'd love to see that!! And, I'd love to see thee most enthusiastic Park Ranger who awarded me my Junior Ranger badge!
Frozen from the night before and simply not wanting to drive five or more hours in darkness, we opted to treat ourselves and rent a hotel
room at the Holiday Inn in Alpine, Texas - about halfway between Carlsbad Caverns and our next stop: Big Bend National Park. It was early to bed after an epic day of National Parks only to get up early for another day of National Parks! #LivingMyBestLife... Anyways, while driving the rest of the two hours to Big Basin, we spotted the world's largest 'Target' store on the side of US-90. We immediately turned around to get a closer look. Turns out this Target isn't actually a functioning store but it sure looks like one, inhabiting a former railroad structure just west of Marathon, Texas... One of the least populated parts of the state (the 2010 census counted only 1.5 people per square mile with a current population of 430). Needless to say, at 8:20am I am pretty sure we thought "Target" was a mirage!!!
Big Bend National Park deserves a bit more time as it was one of the (many) highlights of the trip. We arrived at "the" sign in the southwest corner of Texas around 9:20am Sunday morning, stopped at the visitor center, set up camp at Chisos Basin Campground, and then started exploring (naturally). Remember when I mentioned the "untimely injuries?" So, Christa had a bit of an accident while getting in her Uber on Friday - she rolled her ankle on the curb. Although it was painful and swollen, I don't think either of us considered it to be too bad as she was able to walk on it. In fact, she walked on it for six miles as we completed the Hot Springs Canyon Trail. Thank goodness the trail connected Daniel's Ranch to actual flowing Hot Springs and we were able to rest and relax in the water - or she might have tossed me over the edge!!! So, yes, hands down the Hot Springs Trail is my #1 pick for hikes in Big Basin. The trail runs close to the river, complete with beautiful views of the Rio Grande, Chisos Mountain Range, and Del Carmen Mountains. I really felt like I was in a wild wild west movie and/or Don Quixote as I spotted a burro across the Rio Grande in Mexico. To sit in hot springs while the Rio Grande passed by us was awesome. The Navy boy nom noms hanging out in the hot springs weren't bad either.
After the Hot Spring Trail we decided to check out the "border crossing" that is The Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. The Border Patrol/Customs Officer/Park Ranger definitely thought we were crazy and while we had our passports with us... We were just a little too late to take a stroll in Mexico. I'm certain my mom just let out a big sigh of relief. Sorry not sorry Mom, grabbing lunch in Mexico is on the to do list for my next visit! I mean - just read this. *Add to Bucket List.* Anyways. We returned to the campsite before heading to the Window View Trail to watch the sunset. Here we met the most kind, respectful, young man - shout out to Hamza - and enjoyed great conversation and a beautiful sunset before venturing to Starlight Theatre in Terlinga for a late dinner. 'venture it was. It's hard to put this experience into words. Having to wait for nearly two hours, starving, not remembering what I ordered, not even sure if I ate what I ordered, driving back in the darkness, it's always an adventure. The Ghost Town of Terlinga was cool though!
Monday morning we woke up early to do the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, while only about two miles round trip, the canyon was stunning and I again found myself thinking how cool it was to be on American soil (er, a limestone cliff in America) but looking at Mexico just across the Rio Grande. From Santa Elena, we started the slow journey back to El Paso knowing we HAD to see Prada and get back in time for our flights. Prada we did, flights we did not. Sure, the middle of the West Texas desert isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a fully stocked Prada store, but there is one just a few miles outside of the tiny town of Valentine, Texas and we knew we had to stop. That was after an unruly, rickety drive on Old Maverick Road out of Big Bend. Looking back, I wish we would have known the following: "While usually passable for most vehicles, this road tends to be rough and washboarded; the fourteen miles takes around an hour to drive. This road is subject to high water and flooding following rainstorms." - Source #adventure!
Anyways, back to Prada... Prada Marfa is actually an art installation and although frequently vandalized, the front door is locked - from both the inside and outside. The goods inside the "store" are actual Prada shoes and bags picked out by Ms. Prada herself. The night after the installation officially debuted in 2005, the building was broken into, its contents (six handbags and 14 right footed shoes) were stolen. The sculpture was quickly repaired, repainted, and restocked. The new Prada purses do not have bottoms and instead hide parts of a security system that alerts authorities if the bags are moved. It's a sight to see, like "Target," the physical buildings contrast against the vast Texas land.
While on the five hour drive back to the airport, it turned out Christa's flight was cancelled due to weather in Dallas. Understatement of the year: This just wasn't her trip. She was a trooper when literally everything went not-as-planned. Breaking/spraining her foot (seriously she was in a boot for WEEKS after the trip), losing cell phone chargers, leaking coolers all over her clothes, cancelled flights - she survived. I dropped her off at a hotel, returned the rental car, boarded my flight, and got back to LA at 11:15pm, and made it to work on time the following day. The joys of being a Weekend Warrior... I wouldn't have it any other way.