Monthly Archives: April 2017

Day 9 – From Snow to Las Vegas! (new mexico)

April 30

This post is about our drive out of the snow after camping in the post office parking lot in Solano, NM.

Plus our visit to Las Vegas, New Mexico later that day.

Las Vegas, NM

We didn’t have any trouble getting out of the parking lot in the morning. The plows had been at it overnight and you could actually see the pavement at times. The most significant thing is that the snow and extreme winds had stopped.

We drove up to the turn off for the Mills Canyon Rim Campground. We would not have been able to make it to the campground even if we had continued last night.

So we turned around and headed towards Las Vegas for more urbane adventures. The drive down Hwy 120 to Wagon Mound was really pretty. You decend into a canyon. The further down we were, the less snow we saw.

We headed to Las Vegas, NM. It was described as having great historic buildings. The town was visited by Coronado in 1541 and the Spanish settled the area in the 1790’s. The railway came in and settlers from the East came and built Victorian homes and buildings. So the area has an interesting combination of Spanish and Victorian architecture. There are about 900 listed historical buildings.

There is a great article by the New York Times.

New York Times article

But it is from 2007. The area has gone downhill significantly since then.

We stopped at the Visitors Center.

Note the snow on top of the bushes and roof.

The lady was very helpful. I am very glad to have gone there because we picked up the “Historic Trail Guide” pamphlet. It wasn’t what I expected for a guide about the historic Spanish mission and Victorian buildings.

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Day 8 – SNOW! In New Mexico?

I’ve decided that breaking our blog into overnight sections makes more sense right now.

April 29

After a very windy, rainy and cold night outside, we headed to New Mexico. It started snowing even before we left Texas. It wasn’t a big deal at first, because the ground temperature was still pretty high, so the snow wasn’t sticking. Once we reached New Mexico, it started sticking to the fields and ground. The roads were still clear for a while, but that was changing quickly as we gained altitude.

On the CB, the truckers said that part of I-40 near Albuquerque was closed due to an accident related to the snow. We decided that lower altitudes would be better and most of the middle of New Mexico along I-40 is at high altitude. So we picked Mills Canyon Rim campground in the Kiowa National Grasslands to stop for the night.

Mills Canyon Campground

We stopped in Tucucari for supplies and then headed north on Highway 54 to Logan and then Highway 39 to Roy.

Even when we were in Tucumcari, a lot of ice was accumulating on the Fuso.

The section of Hwy 39 is the La Frontera del Llano Scenic Byway. So we hoped for a nice view along the way.

Long story, short…

The snow got thicker, the amount on the road increased and finally visibility was extremely limited.

By the time we passed through Mosquero, we were very concerned.

When we finally reached Solano, we decided to stop. There were plow trucks coming through regularly, but the visibility and our lack of familiarity with the roads made it pointless to go on. The highs the next day were supposed to reach the 50’s. We didn’t think we would have a problem after the next morning. The best spot for us to camp was in the parking lot for the Solano Post Office. Since it was Saturday night, we figured that we were good until at least Monday morning, if need be.

Town is not a description I would use to describe Solano. It is a post office and collection of homes and farms. But, because there was a great place to park. We were relieved to stop. We even had a tiny bit of cellular signal, a real bonus. Thank goodness we changed over to Verizon. In the East, not an issue, but out West, especially in lightly populated areas, Verizon is the best.

About an hour after we pulled in, a U-haul pulling an SUV also pulled into the parking lot behind us. There was a car following it. After a series of door openings and closings, the driver left the U-haul behind and rode off in his friend’s vehicle. We had a quiet evening otherwise.

The next morning, we were woke up a little late and were able to get out easily.

The plows had been at it and the snow had stopped, so everything looked better.

There was still a lot of snow on the roads. We headed up to the turn off for the campground. It would have been a challenge getting into it today, much less last night. The highway only had about one car width of road clear.

We took a good road down into a different canyon and had very nice views. After unsuccessfully doing outdoor activities, we decided to visit a few towns to see what they had to offer.

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Day 7 – Oklahoma to Texas 

April 28

We left our campsite and stopped at Prairie Dog Town, an area set aside for Prairie Dogs in Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.

The prairie dogs were almost friendly. I’ve never seen them so habituated to humans.

Jon was eating a morning snack and he had one come up under the fence to almost beg for food.

Obviously, most people don’t resist. The one that came so close was female and may have been nursing pups. So I got a few really up close photos of them.

It was really wonderful to see pups and a large number of prairie dogs out and about. They did signal warnings a couple of times, but there were always a few left out.


When we drove in, we noticed a bison in the pasture behind the prairie dog area. It turns out there were actually two bison on two separate fields. One on them was close to the path along the side of the prairie dog area, so Jon and I took it hoping to get a better view of the bison.

We absolutely did. We stayed on the path for most of the time, but then we walked a little closer.

We completely understand that bison are not tame and are much bigger and faster than we are. We didn’t get too close.

I did really appreciate the new camera with a telephoto lens. I was able to get some really close up photos.

After this excitement, we headed west. We were hoping to make it through Texas today. The weather report called for a winter storm warning tonight. Not something you expect in Texas at the end of April. We finally decided to stop in Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge to camp.

Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge

Muleshoe is known for its bird life. Sand hill cranes stop here during their migration. We weren’t there at that time of year, but we did see a Ferruginous Hawk rise up from the road and fly off. It was impressive.

The Muleshoe campground was very nice. There were spaces for six spots. Some had picnic tables or fire rings. There were vault toilets, but no potable water.

There was already another vehicle at the camping area. It was a Sportsmobile. After getting parked so that we were optimally lined up with the expected storm, we went over to say hi.

It turns out that they had only recently taken possession of the van and this was a five week inaugural trip for it. They were from Oregon and had brought their very large black German Shepherd. We talked to them for a while and warned them about the oncoming storm. Jon suggested that they might want to realign their vehicle, but they weren’t interested in moving at this point.
Jon and I walked up to the main office to sign in. After a very short distance from our camper, the wind really started kicking up. And it was very cold. We signed in and took a brief look at the displays before heading back.

It had gotten really cold and the wind was incredible. I am very glad we had a four-seasons camper and so appreciative of Jon’s forethought about the direction of our camper.

Lemon-ginger chicken with jalapeno sugar snaps and French fried shallots with a nice white wine.

We didn’t leave the camper until morning.

I am thankful that our camper is well insulated with double paned windows, has heat, and a bathroom and kitchen inside. Those features are not always needed, but when they are, I am grateful.

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Wild Turkeys at Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge 

From April 27 – 28

We saw a number of wild turkeys at Doris Campground in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.

Because a took a large number of photos of the turkeys, I decided to split them off into their own post.

All these photos are from our turkey sightings on April 27 & 28.

We first saw the wild turkeys in an uninhabited campground loop. There were five Tom turkeys and about three hen turkeys pretending to ignore the males. The exact number of females was hard to determine. The males stayed in one big group promenading in their best mating postures. The females were often in high grass making them hard to spot unless they raised their heads.

When we settled into our campsite, we saw the turkeys cross the road and come over to our campground loop. The females were in the lead grazing on whatever looked appealing. The males followed behind looking as dignified and pompous as possible.

A female turkey. Note her really long legs.

We watched them enter the camping area and seemed completely unafraid of humans.

Jon and I walked over to get a better view. I took a lot of photos.

Later in the day, once we had gotten back from our hike, two male turkeys in their normal attire came over to our campsite to forage. The males look so much smaller when they aren’t all poofed up.

And they look kind of like they are wearing a skirt when they are in the in between stages.

All of the turkeys in the US are in the same genus and species (Meleagris gallopavo). This includes the turkeys which have been domesticated. The white domesticated turkeys have been bred with such large breasts that they can no longer breed naturally. See Dirty Jobs if you want a hands on demonstration.
Wild turkeys almost became endangered in the 1960s due to excessive hunting. Restrictions were put in place and efforts to relocate turkeys were a huge success. There are now large numbers of wild turkeys.

Most turkeys in the US are derived from the Mexican Turkeys that the Spanish settlers brought back to Europe. They were then brought back to the new world with English settlers. Some of those turkeys escaped and became wild again. So between the native turkeys and escaped turkeys, there are a number of different subspecies of wild turkeys.

Wild Turkey Subspecies

For the most part, the easiest way to tell them apart is by the banding in their tails and their location.

On the eastern part of the US, the turkeys generally have a rufous colored band (a reddish-brown color) at the tips of their tails. Merriam’s wild turkeys are found in the western parts of the US (between New Mexico up to Wyoming and Oregon). Their distinguishing feature is the cream colored tip of their tail feathers.

The turkeys at this campground were the Rio Grande subspecies. The Rio Grande turkeys are found in the southern more central and western states like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Utah. They have longer legs, a tan to cream tip their tails, and are more generally lighter brown with a copper and green iridescence to their feathers. They are also supposed to be gregarious, and these were certainly that.

Those features are hard to tell when they are in the shade.
Once we saw a few males in the sun, it was much more obvious.

The turkeys really made this place special. I hope you enjoy the photos.

The Wikipedia entry was very helpful.

Wikipedia Wild Turkey Entry

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Day 6 pm – Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge 

April 27 afternoon

After a brief stop for supplies, we headed to Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge.

We headed for the campgrounds and it took a bit to figure out the loops and campsites.

We saw turkeys in the first loop we drove through. No campers, just a cluster of male turkeys and a few females.

We wanted to be down by the lake, but there were limited sites with power. So we wound up in D loop which had nice flat spots with power and a little space between the campsites. It was in a scrub oak forest among the many trees.

It had gotten pretty warm, so I appreciated the trees to shade the camper.

Hopefully being a little further from the lake, we wouldn’t have any issues with bugs.

We spent a little time talking with a nice couple in big, classic American SUV. And then the wild turkeys came over. I grabbed my camera and we all followed them. There were five males and three hens. It was fascinating.

Once we had enough photos and our guests left, we walked up to the entrance to pay for our site.
By the way, when going to state and federal sites, it helps to have a checkbook. Most of the time you have to deposit it in correct amount, so unless you have exact change, you may be stuck overpaying.

We planned on taking the Little Brushy Trail after the stop at the Entrance Station. 

We reached a really beautiful section on some rocks with a great view of the lake, turtles and lots of wildflowers.

We spotted really dark clouds on the horizon.

After reaching a dam and beautiful canyon, we decided to head back to our campsite before it started to pour.


We reached our vehicle without any problem. We hung out for a while and the storm passed over without dropping any rain.

We had a nice quiet rest of the day. We saw more of the turkeys and some deer. The human neighbors weren’t particularly friendly. Everyone seemed to do their own thing.

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Day 6 am – Sulphur, OK

April 27 morning

We had kind of a late start. Our plan was to keep the distance pretty short again today. We picked out a destination before we left our campsite.

We decided on Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge near Fort Sill Military Reservation. We passed by the National Parks Visitor Center in Sulphur, the town next to the Chickasaw NRA (National Recreation Area). The building was a modern construction with the use of natural materials. We stopped to see if they had any info on our planned camping area. They didn’t.

The building in the background is the NPS Visitor Center

The town was attractive, so we took a walk down the main street. There was a really nice little park on the corner with a water feature, a number of appealing bronze sculptures and native plants.

We especially liked the Pileated Woodpecker incorporated into the water fountain and one of the wall plaques. We have a pair of them nesting by our house in NC.


After stopping there,  we walked along the main street. There were a number of antique shops obviously catering to the tourist crowd. I was surprised that several of them were open. After all, April isn’t exactly tourist season and we were visiting on a Thursday. We passed a dress shop with an elaborate strapless gown in the window.

As we kept going, the shops’ quality and condition decreased significantly. By the end, most of the storefronts were vacant or used for storage. Several of those storefronts were owned by the Billy Cook Harness & Saddle Manufacturing.

The horse coming out of the top of the building facade was fun.

Now that we had stretched our legs, we headed west to tonight’s stop.

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Day 5 – Arkansas to Oklahoma 

April 26, 2017

When we left Hot Springs, Arkansas, it was about to rain. We fortunately were able to pack up before the storm came through.

As usual, we wanted to take the back roads. We took US 270 for a while and then planned on picking up the Talimena National Scenic Byway from Arkansas into Oklahoma.

Talimena National Scenic Byway 

It had the similar feel as the Blue Ridge Parkway, down to the very heavy fog.

Little serpentine roads like that are great on motorcycles, but it the Fuso, it wasn’t much fun with no view and no visibility for even short distances.

I’m sure the views are really great without the fog. So, if you happen to be in this part of the world, I would recommend taking it assuming there isn’t any rain or snow.

We turned off at the next exit and headed to Oklahoma on the back roads.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

We aimed for a shorter drive today. So we decided to camp at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. It had formerly been a National Park and there was an area that formed a historic district. There was an enclosed pasture with Buffalo. We didn’t see any there.

We camped at the Buckhorn Campground. We were able to find a spot close to the Lake of the Arbunkles.

There were four loops, although A & B were closed. The campground had a controlled burn within the last year and the evergreen trees looked like it.

The campsites were a reasonable distance apart with lots of mature oaks providing shade.  We checked out the bathrooms and showers. They were really nice.

We took a walk down to the lake about an hour before sunset.  It was a great view.

We had a quiet, laid back evening.

 

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Day 4 – Hot Springs, Arkansas 

April 25, 2017

April 25

We camped at Gulpha Gorge which is part of the Hot Springs National Park. The park includes Bathhouse Row in the historic part of Hot Springs.

After driving for the last three days, we were ready for a break. So we decided to hike to the historic section and back.

We crossed over the creek and followed the Gulpha Gorge Trail up the mountain and then took the Hot Springs Mountain Trail that follows the ridgeline.

There was a great view from the top.

We opted to skip the Observation Deck.

We continued along to reach the Shortcut Trail & then the Dead Chief Trail.

Doing that put us out on the Grand Promenade right behind the bathhouses. It is a lovely, patterned brick, wide walkway. It is easy to imagine couples dressed in their finest strolling along it.

Going to the end put us close to the end of Bathhouse Row.

In 1832, the federal government set aside this area to reserve the springs. Considering this was before National Parks and the Civil War, it was an unlikely action. In 1921, it became the 18th National Park.

Hot Springs National Park

The architecture of this area is notable. In 1913, there was a huge fire that burned most of the buildings along the main street.

Because of that, the majority of the buildings around this area were built soon after in an art deco style. The details caught my eye.

And the lines.

The bathhouses were designed to attract the rich and wealthy, so they are build in a variety of styles.

Quapaw Bathhouse is built in a Spanish Colonial Revival style. It has been restored and offers spa /bath services. Of course, it is closed on Tuesdays.

The Fordyce is built in a Renaissance Revival style. It was the most impressive bathhouse at the height of the Bathhouse period.

It was extensively restored and is now the Visitor Center for the National Park.

It was early afternoon at this point, so we stopped at the Superior Bathhouse for lunch.

It was built in a Classical Revival style. It is currently operated as a brewery and restaurant.

Superior Bathhouse

The food was really good and fresh. Jon tried their root beer and found it tasty.

We toured the Fordyce visitor center and museum. The restoration was extensive and there are lots of attractive features.

It was interesting to see what kinds of health therapies have come and gone in the last 100 years.

Hydrotherapy is still in use.

Physical exercise is still important, just the types of activities. I’m surprised that Cross fit isn’t incorporated traveling rings in their training programs.

After the Fordyce, we continued walking down the main street checking out the sights.

Once we felt like we had seen enough, we hiked back to the campground via a little less hilly a route. We walked about 7 1/2 miles with a lot of elevation.


Jon and I were both hot and tired by the time we got back to the campsite. So we spent time hanging out, talking with other campers, cooling off, getting organized, etc.

We are heading out tomorrow. A big storm front is coming through in the morning.

On our way out, we passed by the observation deck at the top of the hill we climbed. We definitely had a lot of elevation to climb on that hike.

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Day 3 – Crossing the Mississippi River

April 24, 2017

Alabama to Arkansas

Our campsite was relatively quiet until the whippoorwill (turns out it was actually a Chuck’s-will-widow) started calling at 4:30. We were able to get back to sleep, so we had a nice lazy start this morning.

Chuck-willis-widow

We continued west on Hwy 278. It is a really pleasant route to take. It reminded us of Hwy 64 in central North Carolina.

We crossed into Mississippi going along I-20 before taking the Natchez Trace Parkway back to 278.
We took more backroads to cross the Mississippi River at Helena, Arkansas.

It gave us a chance to see a juvenile Bald Eagle and coyote.

Even with the bridge being only two lanes normally and one lane right now due to construction,  we crossed in a timely manner with a chance to enjoy the view.

We stopped at the Arkansas Welcome Center in Helena which is worth stopping at if you happen to be out that way.

We took the backroads across most of Arkansas. The eastern part is primarily agricultural. We saw a crop duster. Other than that, it was pretty much just fields and trees and tiny farming communities.

We stopped for the night at the Gulpha Gorge Campground in the Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

It is an older, moderately densely packed campground. There are lots of mature trees providing great shade.

We settled in and took a stroll around the campground.  We talked about overlanding with a nice couple in a pretty rugged vehicle and trailer.

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Day 2 – Georgia to Alabama

April 23, 2017

Driving through Georgia in the Rain


It was raining when we got up. So no photo of our campsite. It rained on us through all of Georgia. We made it around Atlanta with only slow downs, no major stoppages. That is why we tried to get through it on a weekend.

After Atlanta, we got off the interstate and have been following Hwy 278 through Alabama. The rain mostly stopped by early afternoon.

We passed by a car that had slid off the road into a ditch deploying all of their airbags. The family seemed to be ok and waved us off. It was a good reminder to be careful on rain slick roads.

We stopped for the night at the campground at Corinth Recreation Area inside the William B Bankhead National Forest.

We found a really nice campsite right next to the lake overlook and a trail through the woods.

We stopped a lot earlier than last night giving us time to take a hike in the forest and time to prepare grilled chicken with salsa verde for dinner.

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