Thursday, March 21, 2019

Big Bend National Park is BIG


Brian and I have wanted to stop at Big Bend NP on our way back from Mexico for several years, partly as part of our quest to see as many national parks as possible and also because of its featurs. Big Bend is one of the largest, most remote, and one of the least-visited national parks in the continental United States, but it's still difficult to get a campground reservation there.
One of the main attractions are the hiking and backpacking trails. Big Bend is also known for its dark skies and stargazing.In 2012, the park was designated an international dark-sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association. Measurements made by the National Park Service show that Big Bend has the darkest skies in the continental United States. Thousands of stars, bright planets, and the Milky Way are visible on clear nights. Unfortunately we were there during a full moon with cloud cover so we weren't able to get the whole dark sky experience.

Big Bend is very popular during early spring so we've never been able to get a campground reservation and boondocking isn't allowed in the park. Since it's so vast and off the beaten path it only made sense to us to go if we could get into one of the campgrounds. There are only two campgrounds in the park that will accommodate rigs over 24 feet so our choices were limited unless we wanted to stay outside of the park and spend half our day driving into and out of the park. We got lucky this year and were able to reserve two consecutive nights, the only ones available in February or March.


The map above shows how far the Park Headquarters and Visitors Center are from the closest towns (which aren't exactly close to anything else). We stayed at the Rio Grande Village Campground which was 30 miles from the Visitors Center. On the map above it's located where the road from the Visitors Center goes southeast and ends at the Rio Grande River.

Big Bend covers 1,251 square miles and there aren't very many maintained roads so it takes a while to get around. The roads in the park end at the Rio Grande River, which is the boundary between the United States and Mexico. More than 1,000 miles of the river are part of the boundary and 118 miles of that are in the park. Many of the park's features have been shared with Mexico for thousands of years. Santa Elena Canyon, one of the park's best known and most photographed features is half a canyon in the U.S. and half a canyon in Mexico, and the Chihuahuan Desert is shared by both countries.

We spent our time on our first day exploring the area around the campground. We drove out to the Boquillas Canyon overlook where visitors often cross to visit the Mexican village of Boquillas. In the photo below the plateau is in the U.S. and Boquillas is in Mexico. It's a good example of how much the river bends, pun intended.


We continued on to Boquillas Canyon and hiked into the canyon. The Rio Grande begins in south central Colorado and flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the water is diverted before the river reaches Big Bend.


Boquillas Canyon is one of three major canyons in the park. Although the water level was low, it was still impressive to see the canyon walls and rock formations. The woman walking into the canyon in the photo below gives some perspective of how high the canyon walls are. We enjoyed the hike although it was super hot - wrong time of day to be hiking but it was our only chance so we took it.


Santa Elena is the most well-known canyon and it was our first destination on our second day. We got up early to make the drive, well over an hour from our campground, in an effort to beat the heat and other hikers. Good decision, and it worked out well. The canyon is spectacular.



We hiked a trail that followed the river, ascending at the beginning before coming back down to water level. The photos above were taken at the entrance to the canyon, looking both ways.


We saw several groups of people canoeing the canyon.


From what we could determine, canoeing on the river is allowed as long as one has a permit. It appeared there were places to camp upriver. When we saw a large group of people returning downriver with a guide we checked things out and found that there are several companies that are licensed to escort river trips.

Big Bend has several ecosystems - river, desert, and mountain. After leaving Santa Elena canyon we headed for the mountains. Not mountains by Colorado standards but definitely not desert. The elevation in Big Bend ranges from 1800 feet to 7832 feet so maybe these could be called mountains.


We had a fun, if tiring few days and saw a limited amount of Big Bend. It would take more than a few days to see it all but I think we got a pretty good idea of what it has to offer.

Monday, March 18, 2019

San Miguel de Allende Day Trips

After leaving Ajijic we returned to San Miguel de Allende for a few weeks. Our good friends Mindy and Robert from Colorado have a house rented in San Miguel for the months of February and March, and we wanted to catch up with them. Mindy and I go back to my first years teaching in Colorado and it's always special to be able to spend time together.
Although this was their third visit to San Miguel Mindy and Robert hadn't had the opportunity to take many day trips so our goal was to take them to some new places. We spent a fun day in Dolores Hidalgo, and ended up packing a few of their purchases in the Bus to deliver to them in Colorado this summer. No charge for delivery other than a good Mexican meal cooked in their new purchases.

The other day trip was to Bernal, a Pueblo Magico that Brian and I have been to before. When I blogged about it  a few years ago I explained why it's considered such a special place - the following link has more photos and more information  Bernal Mysticism and History  Bernal is the third largest monolith (single rock) in the world, quite impressive.


Bernal is about 80 miles from San Miguel so we got an early start. We had hoped to get there in time to hike at least part of the way up Pena de Bernal, 'the rock', but were stuck in a traffic jam for 2 1/2 hours and didn't get there in time to do any hiking. Maybe next time. We did have time to wander around town a bit and have a nice lunch of gorditas and beer.

Below are Robert, Mindy and Brian with Pena de Bernal in the background. It can be seen from just about anywhere in town.


There's a lovely plaza in front of the church, good place for a photo op.


While the town was very quiet on the day we visited, a weekday, it was pretty clear that it was a tourist destination and I would imagine it can get pretty crowded. There are lots of shops, a variety of restaurants that were both upscale and budget, and quite a few places to stay. It's a very colorful town that's fun to explore. I took this picture of Mindy with the catrinas, and it reminded me of the puzzle 'which one is not like the others?'


We finished our day with some ice cream and a visit to the mask museum, Museo de Mascaras, which was pretty interesting and has a great mural in the front.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Ajijic/Chapala Area and No Fuel

Fuel Shortage

The fuel shortage in Mexico put a bit of a kink in our travel plans this winter. The President of Mexico decided to close the pipelines because of massive thefts and corruption. The shortage was the worst in the area we were in - the states of Jalisco, Michoacan, and Guanajuato. Many stations had no fuel and long lines if there was fuel. It was estimated that 70% of the stations in Jalisco and Michoacan were closed because there weren't enough tanker trucks to supply them with fuel.

Because of the shortage we decided to move the Bus to an RV park in Ajijic on Lake Chapala, where we could walk to most places and stay put until things improved. After almost three weeks in the Ajijic area there wasn't much progress, although on the plus side I had some very good dental work done.We then spoke to a friend in Patzcuaro, where we had hoped to head next, who told us the situation there was even worse. We decided that we would return to San Miguel de Allende, since we were planning to meet friends there for a few weeks in February anyway. For a variety of reasons that I won't go into here, we feel we made the right decision. There's always next year.



Ajijic

The Ajijic/Chapala area is said to have the largest ex-pat community in the world, and I believe it. It's an easy place to hang out, although it doesn't feel much like Mexico. We've been in the area many times, and this time we decided to walk around the town and take some photos of some of the colorful murals and a few interesting signs.

















Friday, January 11, 2019

Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque

We're staying at a new RV park that's about a 15 minute drive north of the towns of Chapala and Ajijic called Chapala RV Park. It's still under construction but our hookups are good (50 amp which is unusual). Once the park is done we think it will be very nice. https://trailerparkchapala.webnode.mx/


There is a nice common area, and bathrooms with showers and laundry are being built.



The park overlooks the city of Guadalajara and Lake Cajititlan, and is across the highway from the town Ixlahuacan. The views are great.

Chis and Juan joined us for a few days and the four of us took a day trip into Tlaquepaque, which is sort of a suburb of Guadalajara. I always enjoy going there - lots of galleries, museums, shops and restaurants. A pictorial tour of our day....













Christmas in Valle de Juarez

It's been a while since we spent the holidays in Valle de Juarez so we were happy to receive an invitation from Barb and Sal to a Christmas party there. Barb and Sal used to own the RV park in Valle de Juarez where we stayed on previous visits. We have some great memories of previous holidays there making tamales, taking great hikes, eating lots of good food, making new friends, and generally enjoying ourselves. Sal and Barb sold the RV park but have a beautiful house in town where they spend part of the winter.


It was great to see some of our RV friends that we haven't connected with in a while. There were four couples who stayed in RVs at another park near town, and quite a few former RVers made it to the party as well. The RV park we stayed at this year worked out well for us. It's called Victoria RV Park and now has a website with information about the park and surrounding area  https://www.victoriarvp.com/Home

Lots of fun, some pictures from the party...


Sal and Barb


Our group from the four RVs at the park this year - Paula and Jerry from Nova Scotia


Gail and Bill from Nova Scotia


 Chris and Juan from Monterrey, Mexico


and Sue and Brian 


Quite a few people at the party, here's a group shot 


It was a great way to spend the holiday, our thanks to Sal and Barb for getting all of us together for a mini reunion!