Sunday, 30 March 2008

Welcome to Arizona

It's amazing to look back on a map at how far we have traveled in the two months we have been in the US. We have made it to Arizona, which is only one state away from Califorania (the last state before the sea!) We drove through route 80 to Bisbee, where we are now, which was an amazingly scenic drive past yet more mountains. The scenery has changed a lot. There are beautiful sping purple flowers along all the road, but the landscape looks very golden and orange, not a green tree in sight.

On our way to Bisbee we stopped at the tourist office in Douglas and was informed by the lady there that we should walk into Mexico. She said it was perfectly safe, we could leave the RV in the US and that it shouldn't be missed. She also told us that the town on the Mexico side was not at all touristy and uniquely Mexican. So this we did. We were able to walk freely into Mexico through the border gates without anyone questioning us. On our return though we had to answer questions and have our passports taken away and analysed to get back into Arizona. Since then I have heard from many other locals that the border we went through is one of the largest ports for drug trafficing from Mexico, and the locals dont feel its safe there at all! I have no idea why the tourism office is promoting it. Anyway, we walked around Mexico for 30 minutes, got bored, (it was far too hot for walking) and came back to the RV. The Mexico side was such a contrast to the US side, despite being seperated by only one road. The steets were extremely poor and unmaintained. The signs were all in spanish and no one spoke any english. We met beggars looking for spare change. Still, it was an experience. We can now say we've been to Mexico. (Thats a photo of us in Mexico, by the way)

We are now staying in Bisbee which is very close to Tombestone. We've spent two nights here and will be driving to, or through, Tombestone tomorrow. Bisbee is a gorgeous place. We are staying in the old town right next to the old copper mine. The town was once a thriving copper mining industry, but now houses many mature hippies who fell in love with the place on their way to California, and never made it any further. There are so many artists and musicians, and lots of people in strange clothes. The houses are set up into the hillside and its really very quaint. A lovely place to walk around.

This morning Dan, Jimmie and Annabelle were so brave, and took a tour through the old copper mining tunnels. The tour lasted almost 2 hours and they were decked in a mining hat and torch, and protective mining coats, and boarded the real old mining train. They were taken deep into the mountain through tiny tunnels and shafts. When Dan came out he told me that I would have absolutely freaked out in there, so I'm glad I gave it a miss.

Last night, on one of his evening wanders into the town, Dan met some of the local people and was treated to an evening of chatting and making new friends. He met a lovely lady called Cha-cha, who invited us all over to her house for dinner today. So we turned up at her place, which was a beautiful typically American looking house (to me) and I felt a bit odd about turning up at a strangers place to eat! But Cha-cha and her family were so lovely that they put us right at ease. She cooked us the most amazing authentic Mexican meal, and we ate it with her two daughters aged 5 and 17, her father and her grandma (aged 92 but she can still boogie!) Grandma Annie hugged us all when we arrived as if we were old friends. Her father came from Norway, as a stowaway on a ship, a long long time ago. She was just lovely. My kids fell in love with her. But she did keep telling them how beautiful they were, and they do like that!

Barney made friends with their gorgeous little girl and they soon went off to play together. After the meal Cha-cha asked if we needed to do any laundry, or take baths or anything that we can't do in the RV. Dan said that I'd been missing baths for the last two months, and before I knew it a hot bubble bath had been drawn for me! Dan was laughing at me taking a bath in the house of someone I'd only just met, but as soon as I got out they drew him a bath too! We both came out feeling like new people.

It is so nice to travel across the globe and to meet lovely, hospitable, generous hearted people like that. We thoroughly enjoyed their company, and really appreciated tasting the local Mexican cuisine.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

A place like no place on earth...

When I was a child I used to dream that heaven would be full of beautiful white sand dunes, summers days and perfect blue skies. A place that glows, that is serene and totally quiet, peaceful. As I sat on top of the white sand dunes here at 'White Sands' in New Mexico I almost felt as though I'd found heaven. White Sands is one of the most inspiring places I have ever been. I sat alone on top of a sand dune and watched the sun set behind the mountains here. Dan was away on a ranger led 'sunset stroll', and the kids were quietly playing at the bottom of the dunes. As the sun set the sand turned from white, to blue, grey, and every shade in between, whilst the mountains turned from brown to orange to pink. I just sat there, for an hour, just looking. I felt completely at peace, totally content, inspired by life and the earth, hopeful and excited about the future.
Already we have seen so many different and vast landscapes. As we travel across America I am often filled with an immense appreciate of how small we are, and of how vast and varying this planet is. Dan and I have spent many nights now just staring up at the stars. Have you ever lay under the stars, just staring, long enough to feel as though you are just sucked onto the earth by gravity, and that you are staring down into a deep, dark void? If you look at the stars long enough it starts to feel as though you are staring down into them, not up at them. It's quite a feeling. If you ever want to realise your place in the universe and glimpse the magnitude of creation, lay under the stars (in a desert if possible!) and just look.

The journey to Alamogordo (the closest town to white sands) took us about 2 hours from

Carlsbad. We made plenty of stops because, as usual, the scenery was just divine. You may remember in one of my posts I explained about the mountains having small little trees dotted across them. Well, as we drove through New Mexico the scenery made a sudden change from those little trees, to a completely Alpine looking scene. Suddenly we felt as though we were driving through the Swiss Alps! The small town of Cloudcroft looked like a quaint Swiss ski resort. During the winter the area actually was used as a ski resort, although the snow was long gone by the time we drove through. The little houses nestled in the Alpine hills looked totally Swiss. It was quite a change. We drove up 8500 ft across that area and from the top of the mountains we could see a white valley, way off in the distance, which was the 'White Sands National Monument'.

Another 40 minutes later we were back in the desert! What a range of scenery, from ski resort to desert in just a short car ride. We have stopped booking RV parks in advance now and are just literally turning up in places and finding somewhere to stay. It suits us better this way, as we can just stop wherever we want to.

We drove through Alamogordo and straight to the White Sands National Monument. The whole white sands area of desert covers almost 300 square miles. A section of this has been preserved as a national park (called the monument) and is available for people to explore and enjoy. The kids picked up a junior ranger pack again here, and they are now junior rangers to about 5 different parks. The packs are very educational, and they really enjoy doing them. It's a great way for them to learn about the area they are living in, and they are usually free or just a nominal $1 fee.

As soon as we drove into the park the kids (and I) couldn't wait to get out of the RV and into the sand. The sand is made from gypsum, is completely white, and remains constantly cool, despite the soaring summer temperatures of up to 120 degrees. The dunes are constantly moving, so the scenery never looks the same. The dunes are just beautiful to look at. I had never even heard of this place before, yet it is one of the rarest places on the planet. Part of the white sands area (60 miles from where we were) was used as the testing site for the worlds first atomic bomb.

No doubt though, what Jimmi and Annabelle enjoyed the most, was sledging down the dunes. Every year hundreds of kids visit the park to slide down the dunes, and we hired a plastic snow sledging disc from the gift shop. We oiled the bottom of it to make it go faster and spent a full day just sliding down the dunes. Little Barney was happy enough sliding down on his bottom so

he kept away from the sledge, but the rest of us all had a good go. (You can see tons of fun pics of us surfing the dunes in the New Mexico Album 2 folder. This album is really worth viewing as the pics are just like nothing you will ever see at home. The weather while we were there was perfect. In the summer it would be far too hot for us to visit here. This was as hot as we needed it to be.

At the end of our first night at the dunes we headed off to find somewhere to sleep for the night and ended up dry camping (eg no hook ups) at a nearby state park. We drove up to it at about 8pm. It was so extremely dark that we had no idea what the park or our camp site looked like. When we woke in the morning we discovered we were sleeping in a beautiful wilderness, right beneath a big mountain. So we decided to stay there another night (this time with hook ups). The sky was awesome the nights we stayed here. There seem to be so many more stars in the wilderness. Maybe its because there are no street lights. But on a clear night you can't help but sit out looking at them. On our second night there the kids put on a rock concert for us! Five tunes from Tenacious D, Within Temptation, Nightwish, System of a Down and Evanescence! We watched it by flash light and it was quite a show!

We have headed further west now, (despite me wanting to build a tent and live in the sand dunes!) This morning when we left we had no idea where we were going. Only that we are heading towards Arizona. We drove through Las Cruces and avoided going into El Paso (as had been our original plan) as we heard it was just a big industrial city. We stopped at a missile museum on the way and learnt a bit about atomic warfare! We ended up at an RV park in Demming. It's a Passport America RV site and is only $12 a night for us, so we drove up a long lonely dirt track to get to it, expecting it to be not very nice. Only to discover an amazing little place in the wilderness, set next to another mountain. As soon as we pulled up in our space we noticed literally hundreds of huge desert hares playing around the area, and just dozens of road runners busily running about the place! The kids were completely impressed and so we might stay here tomorrow and just watch nature.

Please be sure to check out all the photos as I just wanted to put them all onto the blog but had to restrain myself!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Update on the last few days

We have a great rest the last few days. Dan is finally learning how to relax, and is half way through reading a book (a book which he bought me for my birthday!)
The Carlsbad RV Park held an easter egg hunt on Saturday evening, followed by a camp fire with marshmallows to toast. Somebody decided to let the under 5 year olds hunt for eggs first, but all of the eggs were just laid out on the grass in the play park, so the under 5's took practically all of them in about 20 seconds and left nothing for the older kids! Barney was pleased as he collected half a bucket full.

Yesterday we rested most of the day, then took a drive. We found a cinema showing a kids film that wont be out for another year in the UK (I dont know what it was called - it was a Dr Zeuss thing with Jim Carey in). So Dan took the kids to see the film, whilst I gave the RV a good clean. Can you imagine living in your car for two months? Now imagine 5 of you living in your car for two months. That is what this RV is like. We've been keeping it tidy and clean, but it just needed a real good wash down. So Dan and the kids watched an absolutely fabulous film, whilst I played some loud metal music, got out lots of bleach and hot water, and washed the floors, cupboards, chairs, toilet, shower, sinks etc. You wouldn't believe the amount of desert dust that came out of the chairs. No wonder I wake up sneezing every single morning!

Oh, in the photo above the we are all in bed watching the film 'RV', which we have seen before, but which we found even more hilarious after living in an RV for two months.

Today we didn't know what to do, but it was such a lovely sunny day that we just started driving. We ended up back at Carlsbad Caverns (see post below). But this time instead of taking the elevator down 800 feet into the belly of the caverns, we entered through the natural entrance to the caves, walked down to the bottom of the caverns (which took us two hours) and came back up on the elevator (there is no option to hike back up). Well, we all really enjoyed the natural entrance to the caves far more than we did taking the elevator. It was a steep 2 hour walk, and we all had sore knees, but it was just so much fun! It was like an adventure.

The path took us under huge fallen boulders, into thin caverns, down to a 40ft tall pile of bat poo. We felt totally lost within the caves. Whereas the route that we took a few days ago was just flat and pretty, but not adventurous or exciting. This time we felt like real explorers. It was extremely dark and wet in places. Climbing down and looking back up at the entrance was awesome, but then the trail went away from the entrance and there was no way of looking back or forwards in parts. (There is a photo below this post showing the view up to the entrance from deep inside) I was surprised that I didn't feel claustrophobic. We all felt a little dizzy in parts.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Carlsbad and head further West. We are heading towards Arizona, but haven't finished in New Mexico yet. We are planning to stop at White Sands National Park which I just know is going to be stunning, but I won't tell you about it yet.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

We've finally said goodbye to Texas, a place that we all fell in love with. Each one of us enjoyed Texas far more than we had expected, although we mostly kept away from cities and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

Our sat nav tried to drive us to New Mexico up the busy interstate roads, so we totally ignored her and made our own way up the country roads. That made our journey a lot longer, but the scenery was breath taking. I particularly enjoyed the drive between Fort Davis and and Kent up the 118. This drive took us through the Davis Mountain range, an area full of hundreds of picture perfect round small mountains, covered in thousands of tiny short trees, which Barney said looked like Broccoli fields. As we drove through it I just sat imagining how the Apache would have lived on the land here a few hundred years ago. The area was still so unspoilt, apart from the road. I talked to the kids about the Apache people while we drove along, and we imagined their villages, homes and way of life.

After the 118 we headed towards the Guadalupe Mountains, still in Texas but on the border to New Mexico. We drove through the Apache Mountains, the Baylor Mountains, the Sierra Diablo Mountains and the Delaware Mountains, along a road that was covered in hills and dips. I've never seen so many mountains in my life as I have driving through Texas. Eventually we arrived at the Guadalupe Mountains, the highest peek in Texas, so we stopped at the visitors centre for an hour or so. Here we took a scenic one mile walk, and spent quite some time inside the visitors centre while the kids answered Junior Ranger questions. Jimmie spent ages filling in his book with info about the animals that lived in the region. Back when we were in Big Bend, the kids became official junior rangers. They completed some activities that taught them about the area, and did some things like picking up rubbish to help the area. They were then sworn in as junior park rangers and presented with certificates and badges. They made a solemn promise to protect America's National Parks. Now, little Barney is really into the 'Power Rangers' at the moment, so becoming a 'Junior Ranger' was a huge deal to him! When we got to the Guadalupe Mountains national park he ran round like a wild thing collecting and disposing of litter, as his job as a junior power ranger. Bless.

Anyway, now we are at Carslbad RV Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico. We had booked three nights here but have extended it to five as the kids are loving the place so much, and it will give Dan and I some time to relax. Being spring break, there are lots of kids vacationing here, which means Annabelle and Jimmie have made a lot of new friends. There is an indoor pool, a kids park, petting zoo, games room, and various organised activities for the Easter Weekend. Annabelle and Barney have already competed in an easter picture competition, and Annabelle has been on a disco hay ride with a heap of other kids.

Yesterday we took a trip to the Carlsbad Caverns, which are 11 miles away. I was horrified to learn that the walk into the caverns would take an hour and a half, or else we could take an elevator down to the bottom of the caves, 800 ft below ground. Well, being rather claustrophobic, (as anyone who read my MRI scan blog knows!) I wasn't took chuffed about the elevator. But I couldn't expect my kids to make that walk. So I held my breath, shook like a leaf and walked into the elevator where the ranger proceeded to tell me horrifying facts, such as that I was going 75 storey's down under the earth. To make it worse, the elevator had windows to show the terrifying fact that we were being lowered 800 ft down through a solid rock tube. Oh my.

But the walk around the caves was lovely, despite the fact that spring break made it one of the busiest weekends of the year to visit. The caves weren't all that different from the Marble Arch caves in Northern Ireland, only that they were deeper under ground. The drive to the top of the mountain where the cave entrance is was breath taking. We were so high up above New Mexico and could see for hundreds of miles. New Mexico has been so much warmer than I expected, and not very windy. This sort of weather is just perfect for us. Photography was allowed in the caves, much to my amazement, but Dan doesn't have his tripod with him, so we were limited in our photographic abilities as the caves were just too dark for really good pictures.

Today we are celebrating Easter. We were surprised to find out that they dont have the big boxed Cadburys type easter eggs in America that we have at home. The kids were a little disappointed when I told them. So I bought lots of packets of mini eggs and little chocolate rabbits and stuff , made up easter baskets and hid them around the RV.

There is now a New Mexico album, and I put a few extra photos in Texas Album 2 as well.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


It's been a relaxing couple of days with many changes. We are staying in a tiny town called Fort Davis. It is named after the Fort that was built as a base during the days of the final frontier, when American soldiers were protecting people from / fighting with the Apache. We went to visit the site of the Fort and spent a few hours wandering around, going into the old hospital and buildings, and learning about life in those days. The hospital was very interesting. It had lists of the soldiers that died there, and what they died from, which the kids enjoyed reading. The place was very educational, and free with our America The Beautiful pass. Little Barney completed a junior rangers book and was awarded with a certificate and junior rangers badge.

We have been here three days, and apart from a walk through the town (it is really tiny, a small village really), the visit to the fort, and a trip to the play park, we have spent a lot of time in the RV. The weather here has been a shock since our stint in the desert. It's windy here , feels more like home. Although we haven't had all the rain and floods that other places in Texas have suffered from. With the weather here being cold we decided to look into the temperatures for the places we are heading to, and had a bit of a shock. Tomorrow we head north into New Mexico, which will be a bit colder than here. But after that we had intended to visit Colorado, even further north. It has been a dream of mine all my life to see The Rockies. But we were disappointed to find out that it is still covered in snow and we could be subjected to bellow freezing temperatures. So a sudden change of route was in order.

We have spent hours over the last few days, with maps out, researching, plotting and planning. Thank goodness for the Internet and google! Our route has completely changed and we will cover even more miles now, in order to remain warm. We had booked and paid for the RV for four months with the idea that we may stay for six months. We decided yesterday that we can't afford to hire it for six months, as it really isn't cheap, so we came to a compromise of 5 months. At that point we had been here 7 weeks and had 10 weeks left. Dan realised that we needed to book the flights home before they got any more expensive, so it was time to really sit down and plan. Dan phoned Cruise America (the RV hire company) and said that we'd like to keep the RV for one extra month, only to be told by the lady on the phone that our RV is going out on hire the day we are due to return it (31st May), and that they have no other RV's left for hire. It was really disappointing, and we decided to book our flights home after 4 months as there was nothing to be done.

But this morning Dan decided to go onto the Cruise America website and try to book the RV online. We were shocked to discover that we could hire an RV online, for the dates we requested, and that the lady on the phone had not told us the truth! Could she just not be bothered to sort it out for us? Dan immediately phoned the San Francisco branch of Cruise America where we are due to return the RV and asked to add another month onto it. They said that we could, but we'd have to go to San Francisco on 31st May to sign the new contract, and then return the RV to San Francisco on 28th June to return the RV. That was no use at all. We are due in California in about 3 weeks time, so theres no way we could be there on 31st May and then again on 28th June. But they said there was no way around it. So Dan, being the man he is, phoned the manager of Cruise America and told her the situation. She said not to worry, she would just extend our hire without all that silly fuss, and we only have to return it on the 28th without doing extra trips. So now we are staying an extra month! (14 more weeks from now!)

We have booked our flights home for the 3rd July, San Francisco to Dublin, a 13 hour flight. Our new route will take us from New Mexico, westard into Arizona, up to the Grand Canyon and into Nevada, through LA into the southern part of California, much much sooner than expected. From there we have two options... option A drive right up California into Oregon then East toward Yellowstone Park, down into Colorado and then west into Utah, coming back into California to hand the RV back and fly home, option B drive half way up California, head east into Utah, miss out Colorado due to weather, head north and drive west back to Oregon, then down into the north of California, ending in San Francisco. Which route we take will be dependant on the weather at the time. That was probably really hard to understand if you haven't been sitting with a map all day like I have, so here are two maps. Option A and Option B. The red lines are where we have already traveled, black dots are where we have stayed. The green lines are an extremely rough plan of where we will be going from here. But it's all subject to change. Click on the little maps to see the full size image.

By the way, if you are looking for the newest photos, they are in Texas Album 2.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Five days in the Chihauhaun Desert

Words can't really describe the awe inspiring beauty of the desert and the magnificence of the mountains that we witnessed over our five day stint in Big Bend National Park. Even the photos that we have don't do the area justice. The park covers some of the Chihuahuan Desert region of West Texas, which extends down into Mexico. At over 1200 square miles, the park has deserts, canyons, and the most amazing mountain ranges. It would take years to thoroughly visit every part of the park, but we drove around most of the roads accessible to RV's and stayed in two different locations. The first two nights were spent in the Rio Grande village, which is basically a concrete RV park with hookups, near to the Rio Grande river. It was a nice area to see plenty of wildlife, and convenient since there was a store there. But it was very close to all the other campers, and expensive at $28 dollars a night. So we asked about the back country camping and managed to book a primitive site for as many nights as we liked for just a one off $10 fee. We stayed three nights there. There are various back country sites throughout the park. Some are not suitable for RV's, but a few are. They are remote, have no electric, water or sewer hookups, and are what is called 'dry camping'. We thoroughly enjoyed our three day stint at 'Croton Spring'. We were totally alone for most of it (apart from the odd car driving in to see the view).
The clearing we were parked in was in the middle of the Chihauhaun Desert floor, surrounded by mountains on all sides. (If you look carefully at this photo here you can see our RV parked up at our camp spot, totally alone) The spring itself was bone dry. One of the first things we noticed was the silence. During the heat of the day the animals don't come out. And I don't blame them. Yesterday it was 95 in the shade at 4pm. But at night time what we noticed first was the absolutely stunning silence. Every night since we came to the US we have listened to the sounds of a million grasshoppers. But in the heart of the desert, there were none. The grasshoppers were out in force at the Rio Grande village near the river, but not at this site. Several of the nights we were there we heard the screams of packs of coyote, very close by. It was amazing to hear... so loud, a mix between wolves and women howling! At first I thought it was someone having a laugh outside the RV! Barney didn't like the Coyote noises at all and wouldn't go outside after dark.
We saw quite a lot of wildlife while we were there. We didn't come face to face with any bears, mountain lions, snakes, javelina or tarantulas, all of which live in abundance there. But we had great fun watching the Road Runners running about the place. One morning we saw a herd of deer walk right passed our camp site to graze. Dan got quite close to them and the one in this picture just looked up at him and started posing for photos! At night we sat outside the RV and watched the Kangaroo Rats scurrying about the place. They were very entertaining.
But we didn't spend the whole time sitting outside the RV. We took some walks along the various trails throughout the area, and drove to all ends of the park. The drive up to the top of the Chisos Basin mountain was stunning. The road was winding, with cliff edges, and rather scary. Our RV just about made it. It's 25 ft long, which is the maximum recommended to make it up the mountain. At the top of the mountain there are stunning views of hundreds of miles of desert. It was quite breath taking. In the photos there is no depth of field, so it doesn't look any where near as good. We took a walk to the Rio Grande river. The Rio Grande separates America from Mexico, but it isn't very wide. We looked out over Mexico and saw men riding on donkeys. The Mexicans can be arrested and deported if they go across the river. Apparently the Big Bend is a huge gateway for drugs into America, as well as immigrants. At the rivers edges there were rocks set out as little illegal gift shops. The Mexicans made souvenirs that were for sale in the park gift shops, and put them on display by the river, with price tags half the price of the gift shop. They would leave a tub for money and hope that a tourist might fancy something. We noticed them sitting in the trees at the other side of the river watching us to see if we bought anything, but apparently it is a felony to buy their stuff so we didn't. At one point a Mexican man made his was across the river on horseback so we all hurried into the RV and drove off in case he was a drug smuggler or something! It seemed a bit silly afterwards.
We took one walk along a trail down to a canyon by the river. When we got down there, we were greeted with the echoing sounds of Mexican song. Across the river were a hut full of Mexican men, and one man was singing his local songs in the hope of a tip or two from the tourists. It was quite surreal to hear the Mexican music echoing through the canyon like that.
The highlight of the trip for Jimmie was probably the early morning hike he took with his Dad. The pair of them got up before sunrise and set off to the Rio Grande overlook, where they sat and watched the sun rise together. You can see Jimmie in this photo sitting in Texas, looking over the Rio Grande into Mexico, just after sunrise. I know that's a memory that he will treasure all of his life.
All of the kids coped surprisingly well with the heat. Jimmie took it in his stride, Barney had red cheeks the whole time but never complained. Annabelle was ok with it although she didn't like it too hot. My body hates me and decided to finally have the migraine it had been building up to for a month. So on a really hot day, on a hike, my brain decided to feel like it was going to explode and I started violently vomiting. I'd felt it coming on for weeks and kept being able to subdue it by resting, or sitting in the dark, but this time there was no subduing, so I suffered an awful migraine on a stifling hot day in the desert. One memory I will not treasure. Poor Dan ran around like a madman trying to help me - fetching water, putting iced flannels on my head as I had a fever, making me drink more fluids. The boys fanned me down with home made fans, bless them.
There are two photo albums from our trip to the desert, so be sure to look through them as I can't post as many pictures as I'd like to on this blog. One night we sat outside and watched the sun set over the desert. And another evening I gave everyone facials in the desert! Including face masks, hand and foot massages and moisturizing. That was quite an experience. The desert really dries a person out. We could not shower for 4 days as we had no water hookups, but yet our hair dried out instead of getting oily. We were all constantly covered in a film of desert dust - it would be in our ears, around our eyes, in our scalp, up our noses! Just a slight breeze of wind would cover us from head to toe in desert dust. I couldn't wait to get a shower.
We also took a drive to Terlingua Ghost Town, outside of the park. It was an odd place, but fascinating. As usual Dan took no time getting to know the local people and he sat outside the local bar talking to a group of men whilst the kids and I looked around the gift shop. He was told that Terlingua is an abandoned mining village. The people here used to mine for mercury, and of course the miners kept dieing from poisoning. Then the town became a Mexican residence, but the Mexicans were all deported and it once again became a ghost town. The centre of the town has the strangest primitive cemetery. The land here must be rock and the graves maybe can't be dug deep because they are piled high with slabs of rocks. Each grave has a wooden cross and various religious artifacts places on it. One local man came over and told us it was essential that we place coins on the graves to ensure that the inhabitant didn't come and haunt us. He was deadly serious about this and truly believed that the dead haunted the town. All the street signs in the town were depicted in skeleton form. What a strange place. But well worth a short visit.
Now we are back in the land of the living and heading up to Fort Davis, still in Texas, before moving on to New Mexico. I have really loved visiting the first frontier of the wild west! But I am so glad its not summer yet as this is more than hot enough for me.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The Gage Restaurant, Marathon, Texas

We've been on the road now for almost 6 weeks and there are certain things we miss... baths, our beds, and good food. We have eaten out a few times since arriving in the US, but to be fair the places we have visited have been all-you-can-eat places, purely because of our budget.

But last night Dan took a walk as I tried to get the kids to sleep. He was gone quite some time, and when he eventually got back he was full of chat about the people he'd met. He really loves to meet the local people while we travel. We have both noticed that people are so much nicer in the rural areas than in the cities. There are nice people in the cities, dont get me wrong, but there are a lot of crazy stressed out nutters too. So Dan spent a few hours last night chatting to various off duty staff members of the local hotel restaurant. They told him that they serve the best food in America, and insisted we should try it. Well, let me tell you - they weren't wrong! I am going to be dreaming for weeks about the meal I ate tonight!
So Dan booked a table for 7pm this evening. I'm not entirely sure whether the restaurant is known as the Gage Restaurant, or Cafe Cenizo, as there were signs for both. We walked the 5 minute walk from the Marathon RV park to the Hotel. We sat out in the courtyard as it was such a nice evening, and such a nice area. There was a big open fire near us, a cobbled courtyard with a fish pond, fountain, a wall lined with cow skulls which the kids were totally impressed with. I felt like I was sitting out in the Old West, listening to the sounds of the old railroad every time a train went past.

Our waitor was the guy who Dan met last night. The manager came out and said he'd heard all about us and D would take care of us tonight. The menu looked amazing but we had no idea what to order... Elk, Bison, Scallops, Antelope, Quail - none of which I've ever tasted before. D recommended a few dishes and we went for Bison Ribeye and an Antelope Steak (ok, in the menu they all had fancy names but I can't remember that). Whilst Dan was chatting to the manager our waitor brought over a basket of hot homemade breads. He explained to me what they were and I wish I could remember the exact details as they were divine. One of them was a hot corn bread with some special ingredient in it (I know, I'm useless, I should have taken a pen and notepad with me!) and the other was bread with some sort of cheese in it. The butter was home made with molasses and goodness knows what (perhaps yaks milk or something). Well, it was bread like we'd never tasted before, and still warm. The kids ate a ton of it, and little Barney eat almost his own weight in it.
But soon after that the waitor came over with five starters and said they "were a gift from the chef" !!! Barney took one look at them and said out loud "I hope they dont give me one of them", just as the manager came up behind him and said "well, we're just going to give you one of them anway." I had to laugh. It was such a posh starter for a four year old and he had never seen anything like it. Jimmie and Annabelle looked suitably impressed too. As best I can remember it was pan fried scallop on a bed of tomatoes topped with a quails egg, and in the most delicious sauce. None of us have ever had a quails egg before, and Dan is the only one who has had a scallop before. But these scallops were huge, like steaks! It tasted, like heaven.
When our Bison and Antelope arrived, Dan and I divided our meals in half so that we could taste both. Both were truly the most amazing meals I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I wish I could describe what Antelope tastes like. (Annabelle was most disgusted with us eating such cute creatures, despite having half a cow on her own plate!) The Antelope meat was very strong flavoured, nothing like beef or pork or anything I've eaten before. It was just heavenly, but I'd have trouble eating the whole dish on my own as it really is very rich. Dan liked the Antelope best, but I really enjoyed the Bison. It was like a steak, but so much better than a steak. Honestly, I start dribbling every time I think about it. I want to move into that court yard and sit eating Bison for the rest of my life. Steak is tough, in my experience, even when cooked well. This was like steak, but it literally melted in your mouth. I have no doubt that this also had something to do with the chef - Paul Petersen. He could give Gordon Ramsey a run for his money any day, I'm telling you. I better not start talking about the veg, potato, sauces that came with the meat, or I will be here forever.

When we were truly stuffed the waitor said that he would give us some complimentary deserts as well. I nearly fell off my seat. We were treated like royalty, and I have no idea why. Just because people here are nice? Maybe they'd been tipped off that a top gourmet food critic from Ireland was in town!
Well, I've never talked so much about food, but this place just made an impression. If you are ever driving through the 'Gateway to the Big Bend', stop by Marathon, find the Gage Hotel, and eat here. You will not regret it. I promise you. They were so sure of it that they said to us "if this is not the best food you have ever tasted, your meal will be free." I'm happy to say it was the best food I've ever tasted. Tomorrow I go back to living on rice and beans though.

Roaming the Wild West!

Well, if this isn't one of the most beautiful places on earth! Every drive we take brings us to somewhere even better than before. And we haven't made it to Utah yet which is supposed to be spectacular.
Right now we feel as though we are in the wild west, where all the old cowboy films were made. We are in an area around Marathon and Alpine, on the outskirts of the Big Bend area. In case y'all start worrying we wont be online for at least 5 days, maybe longer. Tomorrow we are heading into the wilderness. Lol. Well, we are heading into Big Bend National Park which has no electricity, no water, and no wifi. We are spending a few days 'dry camping', as they call it, without RV hookups. So don't be worrying about us. I'm betting our mobile phone won't work either so, if there are any emergencies, you will have to call Big Bend National Park.
Yesterday we spent almost 9 hours travelling. We were relieved that we didn't take the interstate, because route 90 may have taken longer, but we just loved the scenery along the way. The locals tell us there's not much here to look at, but we disagree, as its just a totally different world to Northern Ireland. We drove 400 miles at least, and the scenery is just vast. In every direction, as far as the eye could see, was desolate cactus filled desert mountain land. We stopped quite a few times along the way just to absorb the landscape and stretch our legs. When we did get out of the RV Jimmie couldn't believe how 'Texas' the whole place looked.
The local people in Marathon are lovely. Last night Dan happened to meet the chef, waitor and bar tender of the local hotel. This is pretty much a one horse town, and they rely on the passing

tourists to make money. Tonight we are going to eat at the hotel, where the staff have promised us the feed of a lifetime. Dan spent all evening chatting to them last night. They told us if we come for dinner they will let us try all sorts of local dishes.
Last night we spent the night in a motel (part of the RV park). Just as we arrived in marathon our gas detector started beeping, and nothing could be done to reset it. We shut off the gas, phone Cruise America, and told them of the problem. Since it was night and no mechanics could be found, the paid for us to sleep in the motel, as the noise from the alarm was migraine inducing. Oh wow, it was so nice to sleep in proper comfy beds! The first thing the kids noticed was that the motel room had a TV, and they sat watching cartoons happily. At the moment the gas detector is switched off until we come out of Big Bend park, where a mechanic will be fitting a new device for us. We couldn't complain at Cruise America's service, they were great about it.

Well, if you haven't looked at the photo albums lately, check out Texas Albums 1 and 2 for more pics of the amazing area we are staying in. There are also some photos from our trip to San Antonio zoo, which I didn't get time to blog about.

The weather here now is just perfect. It's hot, but not at all humid, so it's just lovely. The sun is out, theres no sign of rain (thank goodness, we've had enough of that). Let's hope it lasts.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The USS Alabama (late blog post by Dan)

Dan wrote this blog post a few weeks ago in Alabama but it was on the wrong laptop and its only now that I've managed to copy it onto this one. So, sorry its late, but here is our blog post from Alabama....

Today we took a trip to the war ship USS Alabama and all had a great day out. It was a full on memorial park with battle ships, planes, tanks and submarines. The city of Mobile seems to be a very industrial place and it was no surprise that many of the ships were built in that area. We took a turning off an 8 mile bridge to get there which was a little strange ( if you took a turn off all the bridges I know you would be in big trouble). And once again great thanks to Louise for getting us there quickly and free from maps.

After having breakfast in the car park we headed straight for the battle ship which cost us the equivalent of about £15 for the whole family which was great value. The ship was amazing, there were three self guided tours which you could go on and we did them all, and that was just the battleship. You could walk through lots of rooms and touch almost everything, it was fascinating to see all the different rooms and get a taste of what it must have been like to be at sea. With the exception of the officers, life aboard a warship would have been, lets say “compact” and it was very interesting to see how they lived their lives.

Anyone that knows me would guess that I spent the entire day talking about how much organizing would be involved taking a warship to sea over long periods of time with a crew of 2500 men aboard, and how much supplies and equipment you would need. The ship had aboard a doctors, dentist, barbers, hospital, bakery, massive kitchens, stores for weapons and uniforms, as well as temporary prison cells, darkroom for the photography, printers and pretty much everything you could think of. Even the hospitals had a mix of doctors specializing in almost every field of medicine.

I could go on about it all day because we learnt so much about the day to day running of the ship and the manpower to work there.
During the day we took a break from the ship and made our way the large submarine. This was a lot smaller but you did get to go inside and walk the whole length of it. After going down some stairs you are met with a door about four feet tall and almost the same width and thickness, you almost had to crawl into it. Bree was a little anxious as she is quite claustrophobic but she did really well. There was not much room inside which gave you taste of how difficult it would have been to be at sea in it. There must have been tens of thousands of different knobs, levers and switches and it just made you wonder how they ever build them. It seemed like the most complex thing on the planet.

The kids really enjoyed the day and even barney who had his little legs walked off him loved it. There is so much to see and explore there its impossible to be bored. It was cold today though, felt like home when the wind blew.

As we are heading closer to New Orleans we are staring to see the total devastation left by hurricane Katrina. They had on display many photos of the damage caused at the park. We were looking inside an aircraft carrier full of planes from different wars and presumed that the damage on world war two planes were from wear and tear over the years. They turned out to be mint condition planes before the hurricane ripped its way though the place.

All wars are such a shame, some are necessary and some seem pointless but in all conflicts there are the innocent people who suffer and I could not help looking down the barrel of the huge guns and thinking of the ships sometimes tragic past and the loss of lives because of mankind’s evil and greed.

On a lighter note most of you know that I m quite a friendly guy, well it does me no harm over here. All the women in the shops think I am just great. All day I hear “ hi sweetie” “hey honey” “bye Hun” “what you say there darling” I could get used to that. Twice I have been in a bank where four women have all tried to help me at the same time. If you are lucky you might get a grunt at the tills in sunny Banbridge.

Tomorrow we head for Mississippi for four days before heading on to New Orleans in Louisiana. No camp site booked this time we will just see what happens when we get there. Bye for now.

(written several weeks ago by Dan).