Life in the Desert

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Sunday, February 8, 2004

Well, we survived our first week of actually living in the camper van, and just loved it! Spent the entire week in Big Bend National Park - about 800,000 acres in southern Texas along the Rio Grande river, the boundary between the United States and Mexico. From an elevation of less than 2,000 ft along the river to nearly 8,000 ft in the mountains, Big Bend includes massive canyons, vast desert expanses, the entire Chisos Mountain range and an impressive array of plant, animal and bird life. What better place to begin our adventure! There are actually three official camping areas in the park, but the Channers opted - of course - to try a couple of the primitive backcountry campsites that are sprinkled along the park's dirt roads. As long as we had sufficient food and water, and a shovel to dig a latrine pit in the rocky desert, we didn't need for anything. We wanted privacy, solitude, desert silence, and spectacular scenery to create a complete contrast to the fast-paced life that we left behind. Besides, we had to test our new (old) van on a few rocky dirt roads before heading south where we're sure to encounter a few driving challenges. Luckily, this time we managed not to lock ourselves out of the van or bash a hole in our gas tank as we did last year!

We were so happy to finally arrive that we spent the first day doing nothing but reading, relaxing, and eating, but by day two we were ready to explore Big Bend on foot. The Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Basin is an 8 km magnificent hike that climbs over 1,100 ft to an elevation of 7,500 ft. Particularly fascinating was the contrast between the temperate vegetation (including pine, oak and juniper) on the north-facing slopes, and the ocotillo, cacti and other desert plants on the south-facing slopes. The cooler temperatures are generally a respite from the uncomfortably hot desert trails, but the cold temperatures in Canada seemed to follow us along the way, and we had to walk fast to keep warm. Daytime temperatures climbed to between 12 and 18C when the sun was out and we were out of the wind, but night-times became uncomfortably cool as we experienced temperatures down to minus 5C - thank goodness for our new sleeping bags and the MEC long underwear!! Some days were quite pleasant and we hiked comfortably through the Boquillas Canyon, explored various early pioneer settlements, and had a dip in the natural hot springs at 41C. In spite of the cold evening temperatures, the hot springs lured us back to enjoy a cold beer while skinny-dipping and watching the full moon rise - could life get any better??

They say that kids enjoy new toys and we certainly proved that, both with our new van and also with our new digital camera - a Canon S50. The scenery at Big Bend is so spectacular that we couldn't help but take about 150 shots a day.......guess we'll have to put a stop to that because it takes all our evening hours just to download them onto the computer and to "ooh" and "aah" all over again. We managed to photograph just about every species of desert plant life in the park, and had a great time trying to identify our favourites - ocotillo, sotol, lechuguilla, candelilla, cane cholla, nipple cactus, purple-tinged prickly pear, giant dagger yucca, and, get the picture. We made a mental note that next time we must visit in April when the spring rains bring the desert into spectacular bloom.

We'll no doubt tell you a lot more about the van as we continue the trip, but suffice it to say that it's just what the doctor ordered, and is running really well. Not too big, but definitely a step up from tenting like we did last winter. We found it to be quite an exercise, downsizing from a 2,200 sq ft house on the farm to our van whose kitchen/dining/living room area measures about 5 ft by 5 ft! However, already we're finding that we've got too much "stuff" and will likely download as we head south.

So, tomorrow morning we leave for Del Rio, Texas where we'll cross over into Ciudad de Acuna in Mexico, and hopefully to some warmer weather.
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