Saturday, April 25, 2015

Altus, AK, Plus Gordonville, TX, Then on to Hooks, TX (Texarkana)

April 22, Wed. We stopped for 1 night in Arewelost, OK, (Altus by Nowhereville)!  We went a bit out of our way to Altus AFB, where they train pilots to fly the big military cargo planes.  We wanted to get our AFB frequent camper book stamped so we could send away for more free nights of camping coupons.  Altus is close to the border of TX  in the corner at the bottom of the east side of the square & just before the state spreads east again along the Red River.  Crossing the upper part of TX was out in wide open country again. Once in OK, we took the back road down to Altus where all you saw was ranch land, big sky, and not much else.  The town itself was a bit old and rundown .  The campground on the base only had 12 sites.  But the fun part was seeing jackrabbits again!  I didn’t take a picture of the site because it was late and a storm was moving in.  There was the possibility of a tornado, so I was really uncomfortable and had a restless night.  Whew, we only got rain. 
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The town that would later be named Altus was founded in 1886.  The community was originally a settlement of about 50 people on Bitter Creek that served as a trading post on the Great Western Trail.  Cowboys driving herds northward often stopped to buy buttermilk thus, the town was known locally as "Buttermilk Station."
April 23, Thurs. The next morning was overcast, foggy, and drizzling as we drove down over the border on our way to Outtheresomewhere, TX, (Gordonville by Middleofnowhere)!  We headed to Shepard AFB Recreation Area, again out of our way, to get another stamp for our AFB book.  The recreation area is out on Lake Texoma  and is one of the largest reservoirs in the US plus the 12th largest US Army Corps of Engineers lakes.  Lake Texoma's two main sources are the Red River from the west and Washita River from the north , and situated on the border between Oklahoma and Texas. The recreation area was really shabby and a disappointment.  The water in the lake was just brown and so dirty looking.  But it served our purpose.  Rather ominous looking skies as we parked.
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Gee whiz!  More severe storms and threat of tornados!  We wound up staying 2 nights instead of one because of severe storms & tornado threats east of right where we were headed.  Thank goodness we caught the edge of the storms & a tornado shelter was right by our site, SCARY! I was not a happy camper, LITERALLY!  The rain just poured!  So glad we decided to stay put.  We did NOT want to drive in rain and lightening, etc.  That’s one of the perks of being a fulltime RVer, if you don’t like a situation, you can just alter your plans.  Then here was the sky over the lake as the storm moved out!  Awesome! "Red Sky at Morning, Sailor Take Warning, Red Sky at Night, Sailor's Delight!" 
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The next morning was bright and sunny and gave a whole different look to the lake.  So glad we had a good day for travel. 
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April 26, Sat.  We drove on a nice highway straight east sort of following the Red River through more of the less traveled areas of TX and saw more and more green and trees!  We saw lots more cattle ranches and horse farms all over the place. We did go through a few small towns that were some of the shabbiest and dirtiest we have seen.  It was a rather pleasant drive on a pretty day and most of the time we had the road to ourselves.  Only another 1 night stay was on tap at Red River Army Depot in Texarkcana, TX (border of TX & AR) at the Elliott Lake Recreation Area.  Boy! What a difference in this pretty blue water lake from our last stop!  We even had a nice paved site instead of grass and dirt, a welcome change.  We are also noticing the hotter days and higher humidity after what we were used to in AZ.  Of course, I had to go exploring and had some company down by the water. 
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I  found this cross down by the water, a perfect setting for a little prayer.
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Palo Duro Canyon at Amarillo, TX, From Albuquerque

April 19, Sunday.  This post is a little late because we were in a canyon for 3 days with no cell phone or internet service.  Well, they say things are big in Texas, but I think they are just as big in New Mexico!  After leaving Albuquerque, we headed straight East on I-40, and I do mean straight!  The road just seemed to go on  forever with no end.   There sure wasn’t much to see except big skies, open plains, and not much else.   

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Crossing the state border into Texas didn’t change the scenery any, just more of the same!  At least we were in our state of residency as fulltime RVers,  but who would know way out here!  At least we had company on the road.  Our only other company were several groups of antelope and my favorite, prairie dogs!   

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We passed through Amarillo on the way to Palo Duro Canyon, about 20 miles south of town.  Of course,  we have been constantly singing the old country song “Amarillo by mornin’, then on to San Anton’…, Amarillo by mornin’, with all that I’ve got on…”   We had purchased the Texas Parks and Recreation pass several years ago and glad we did.  We saved a little on our camping fees.  Boy, the TX state parks have gotten expensive!  The normal fee for us would have been $34.00 a day because several years ago, the parks started charging a day use fee per person per day in addition to the normal camping fee.  Pricey for no amenities and just water and electric, and other camping areas don’t have that but the price is the same.  We had a nice cozy site and enjoyed eating outside under the shade in the nice cool weather surrounded by the colorful canyon walls.  It was so peaceful and quiet. 

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To reach the campground, we descended 600’ down a 10% grade for about a mile to the canyon floor of Palo Duro Canyon with nice panoramic distant views of the canyon.  It is nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of Texas” and opened in 1934.  I don’t like steep roads with no guardrail but it wasn’t too bad.  Only thing is, I will be on the outside heading out! 

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The canyon is 120 miles long, 800’ deep, and the second-largest canyon in the U.S.  Less than I million years ago, a fork of the Red River carved its way through the Southern High Plains.  “Palo Duro” is Spanish  for “hard wood” in reference to the Rocky Mountain Juniper trees still seen in places in the canyon.  The scenery of the park centers around all the colored geological layers all throughout the rock formations and walls of the canyon.  There are many hiking trails  and we saw several families out mountain biking.   The park was not busy but I bet the place is busy on weekends being so close to Amarillo.

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We had hoped to have a good old fashioned camp fire but a burn ban was in effect due to high winds.  Shucks, I had my mouth all set for a nice crispy hot dog cooked over an open fire.  We even bought some just for this occasion!  So instead, we took an evening drive to the end of the canyon and back because it was still a very beautiful late afternoon.  The night sky was clear so you could see lots of stars.  On the website, RV Park Reviews, a camper talked about listening to the coyotes.  So we slept with the fan off and the window open to see if we would hear any.  Nope, no such luck the first night.  But we had to close the window in the middle of the night because it got down to 43 degrees.  

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The next morning we grabbed the map again and looked for some of the trails plus we wanted more views with better lighting.  There is a real nice Visitor Center built right onto the side of a canyon wall with a small museum and history films. We just took our time and stopped at several overlooks.  We wanted to take a few short hikes but the hike down to the river was not pretty at all and the river was more like a narrow canal so we gave up the hiking idea and weren’t really up to anything strenuous anyway.  So we worked our was back to the campground after more pictures.

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There are several “river crossings” along the canyon road and they are numbered.  New bridges have been built across a few of them but the road dips down to the others and there are signs warning of flash floods.  There must have been some recent rain because water was still washing over the roads in different areas.  Glad it wasn’t too bad!  Just enough to get the truck muddy!

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Back at our camp site, this female Cardinal saw her reflection in our windows the minute we arrived and she tried to get at “that other bird” constantly each day all day long.  Amusing to watch but didn’t want her to get hurt.  The sun was right on the big windows and so bright that there wasn’t much we could do.  The pretty red male was nearby and would court her and feed her.  Aww..cute.  At least we had some entertainment since we couldn’t watch TV or get on the internet. 

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We enjoyed the quiet surroundings and being nestled in the canyon, but just were not all that excited about the place.  In our travels, we have seen much prettier canyons, like Canyon de Chelly.  There was just something about the canyon floor that was just not as pretty as we expected.  The park workers were doing right much repair and the red dirt around all the sites in the campgrounds just made the camp sites rather dirtier than other rustic state parks we have camped in.  And I hoped it wouldn’t rain and make red mud!  But it was on our bucket list and we are glad we stopped so we can say we have been.  We always try to plan for a little adventure, perfect or not.  At least we are out exploring and that’s a good thing any day! 

As a bit of interesting extra history about Palo Duro Canyon, here is a plaque commemorating the final campaign against the Southern plains Indians, including the Kiowa, Comanche and Cheyenne that took place in this canyon.  The plaque is near the end of the canyon road: 

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Albuquerque Old Town Square, Los Alamos Day Trip

April 14. Monday.  My, my, I was right!  From the previous post about finding my favorite jewelry store in Albuquerque, I and my wallet did indeed get in trouble!!   Warpath Traders is located in Old Town Square not too far form the military base.   It is a pretty outdoor square with shops and restaurants around a grassy center square. 
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The sales lady was so sweet, she helped lighten my wallet, A LOT!  All the Jewelry is Indian made, mostly Navaho and Hopi.  I love the turquoise stones, and I found a mixed brown color 3 piece set I was looking for.  The shop had so many beautiful things that I could have spent all day in there deciding what to buy!   I did buy some trinkets for the “gals” in the family.   But oh, what fun it was!  Good thing my next social security check is due! 
Centered around the plaza, Albuquerque's Old Town encompasses about ten blocks of historic adobe buildings. On the north side of the plaza is the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, which was built in 1793. Surrounding the church, the city's settlers had built their homes, shops and government offices, many of which have since been converted into the restaurants, art galleries and shops that comprise Old Town today.  Old Town today looks much like it did when it was built centuries ago. Its Pueblo-Spanish style architecture with flat-roofed buildings and soft contours of adobe mirror the Southwestern landscape. Long portals (porches) line the fronts of most buildings offering shade from the New Mexican sun.  For almost three centuries Old Town has been the crossroads of the Southwest. It is the Historical Zone of the City of Albuquerque and home for many families whose ancestors founded the town.
Then April 15, Tuesday, we took a 75 mile day trip to Los Alamos, where the Atomic Bomb was developed.  We had been there before several years ago.  It is just such a really pretty drive up through the mountains and bluffs near Santa Fe.  Los Alamos, meaning "The cottonwoods" is built upon four mesas of the a plateau and the adjoining White Rock Canyon.   Los Alamos is home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was founded to undertake the Manhattan Project, the development  of the Atomic Bomb.  In 1942, during World War II, the Dept. of War began looking for a remote location for the Manhattan Project.   All information about the town was highly classified until the bombing of Hiroshima.  All incoming truckloads were labeled as common items to conceal the true nature of their contents, and any outbound correspondence by those working and living in Los Alamos was censored by military officials. At the time, it was referred to as "The Hill" by many in Santa Fe, and as "Site Y" by military personnel.   After the Manhattan Project completed, White Rock was abandoned until 1963 when people began to re-inhabit and rebuild new homes and buildings.
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On the way back down off the bluffs, we had some nice views of left over snow on top of the mountains across the valley above Santa Fe.  We tried to stop at the Old Town Square in Santa Fe, but just like our visit several years ago, parking was a nightmare so we gave up and headed home. 
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So back out across the open land from Sana Fe to Albuquerque with desert views over the wide open spaces. 
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