Leasburg Dam State Park, Las Cruces, NM. February 2017

We left Balmorhea heading west on I10 past the merge with I20 coming in from the north.  Suddenly we went from a reasonable traffic level to massive truck congestion. It is hilly heading for El Paso and none of these trucks can manage a steady speed. 70 mph down the hills, 55 mph (at best) going up.  And if one is trying for a steady speed, say 64 mph, it is like Bumper Cars.  So we just back off a bit or speed up and pass a clump of trucks.

The garbage dump that is El Paso starts about 30 miles before you get there.  Trash everywhere along the sides of the road, run down houses and ranches. Rusted out cars and trucks abandoned where they stopped running. And then El Paso itself is 30 miles of construction, lane shifts, uneven lanes, big changes in speeds and as many cars and trucks as will physically fit on the roadway most exceeding the speed limit by 10-20 mph. We just get in the lane next to the right lane to avoid all of the on and off traffic and stay there.  Keeping up (posted) speed is no problem except for the speeders.  There were a lot of 12′ wide lanes.  That gives us about 16″ on each side.  

And even more constuction is going on building the Trump Taj Mah Wall.  Miles of black rusting steel or concrete walls with every scrap of vegetation scraped off on the northern side and what looked like surveilance towers every hundred yards or so and lots of border patrol cars.  All designed to keep us in.


Good thing we didn’t have to stay, just get through it.  We had to go through three Border Patrol check points so far in Texas and Arizona.  No stops in New Mexico. We might not like the current immigration policies but these folks are doing a job that someone else designed for them to do.  Just like the folks at the airports.  They were all courteous and businesslike.  Asked the questions they needed to ask and we were on our way.  Pictures taken of us and the coach at every stop.  They all had on body armor and weapons nearby. It has to be a miserable job out in the middle of the desert in the heat.  I wish their job was not mandated by politics. I wish they could all be teachers or home builders or anything else that would benefit society in a positive way.

We were headed for Leasburg Dam State Park about 20 miles north of Las Cruces.  Shortly after entering New Mexico there are cattle feed lots on the south side of the Interstate, one after another.  Some separated by irrigated fields growing cattle feed. There is little different here than there was just 50 miles to the east in Texas.  But being in New Mexico just felt better.  Every bridge is a work of art.  Everything looked cleaner.  Somehow we felt much more at ease.


This is another very nice New Mexico Stare Park.  Good water and 30 amp power. And the New Mexico Sky. The Leasburg  State Park is only $14 per night as are all of the NM State Parks. The low dam is on the Rio Grande River to create a pool for irrigation of more than 31,000 acres. There are huge pecan orchards, fields of chile peppers, alfalfa, cotton, onions and corn.  And vinyards and wine making is important as well.


The water was mostly being routed around the dam while they were rebuilding part of it.  There were lots of hiking trails and day use areas for this small park visited by more than 110,000 people each year.


It was cool at night and warm during the day.  Just across the river was the town of Radium Springs.  Very few still living in that glowing spot.

We stopped here so we could take a day trip to White Sands National Monument.  

More on that later,

Roger and Susan

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, February 2017

About an hour north east of Las Cruces in the Tularosa Basin there is an amazing 275 square mile area of giant white gypsum sand dunes. This is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world and most of it is protected within the White Sands National Monument.

The basin is surrounded by the San Andreas and Sacramento Mountains.  There is not much rain here but what rain there is dissolves the gypsum in the higher mountains and it flows down into the basin.  There is no outlet so the water pools in two lakes, Alkalai Flats and Lake Lucerno.  As the water evaporates the gypsum forms selenite crystals.  These fragile crystals can grow to three feet in length but break down in the wind into sand-like particles which make up the dunes.  Gypsum is rarely found in this form. 

The wind blows the gypsum sand into many different shaped dunes.  Since the gypsum is water soluable if it gets wet it can form a firm layer on the surface of the dunes.  And since it does not absorb the sun’s radiant energy like normal sand it remains cool enought to walk on in your bare feet even on the hottest days.


The day we were there it was cool enough for a jacket.

Unlike most sand this gypsum sand is firm.


A popular activity is hiking out in the dunes to a big hill and sliding down on plastic flying saucers, just like what we did when we were kids in Minnesota on snow.  You can buy a “dune disk” for $18.  When you are done they will buy them back for $5.  They also had “refurbished” used disks for $12.  What a racket!  No rentals.

Some “kids” go further into the dunes than others


The gypsum sand is very fine, almost like sugar but fine.  Almost a powder. And it clumps together if you pick up a handful and squeeze it.  Just under the surface it feels damp because it is.  The water table here is only 3-6 feet below the surface – more if you are standing on top of a dune.  The water is not suitable for drinking but it keeps the sand moist and provides for a wide variety of plants that grow here, most with very long roots.  Plants have adapted here to grow in the moving sand dunes.  Some make their own little island that the dunes move around. Others just get taller and taller as the dune moves over them to stay above the surface.  These do not survive when the dune moves on leaving them sticking up high and dry.

There is a loop road through part of the dunes so most visitors can get out and see them.  There are many stops, picnic areas, trail  heads and a couple of board walks out into the dunes.  All of this is just graded sand.  A road grader goes through a couple times a week to smooth it out.

Definitely white sand.


Anything goes.

White Sands is pretty neat. Like many places it could have been exploited but it was set aside as a National Monument in 1933.  The park’s Visitor’s Center was built by the CCC in 1936. As far back as the late 1800’s  it had been proposed to create Mescalero National Park after the Mescalero Apache who were here long before exploration by the US Army in 1849 and farming communities were settled in Tularosa in 1861.

White Sands National Monument lies entirely within the White Sands Missle Test Range.  The Monument is closed about twice a week for a couple hours because of missle tests.  The Trinity Site, a National Historic Landmark, where the first nuclear bomb was detonated lies on the northern most boundary of the White Sands Missle Test Range.  This is a place I would like to visit.  It is open to visitors one day in April and one day in October each year.  After more than 70 years the area is at least 10 times more radioactive than normal area so visits are short.

Back to Leasburg Dam State Park.  There are private RV parks in Las Cruces but they are mostly full of snowbirds and one-nighters for close to $40 per night.  The state park is 1/3 of that and much nicer. 

More later.  We’re off to see a Dude Ranch near Demming, NM.

Roger and Susan

Balmorhea State Park,  Balmorhea TX  February 13, 2017

West Texas is pretty bleak. From Kerrville we headed west on I10.  Our route planning was for about six hours of driving plus a couple stops for lunch and driver changes. We have stopped at Fort Stockton before but heard about Balmorhea State Park from a couple folks. It is maybe an hour past Fort Stockton.  I20 merges with I10 at Van Horn another hour past Balmorhea. Van Horn has a nasty reputation for being very unfriendly towards RVers.  There are a couple of RV parks there and if that is where you are OK, but not in town.  So we stopped at Balmorhea.  And what is here?  Water.  It is the site of an enormous artesian well, San Solomon Springs, that has issued 15 million gallons of 72° water a day as far back as anyone remembers. That is right, 15 million gallons!

Before anyone did anything with the water it flooded a natural desert wetland called a cienega. Today the water flows through two smaller cienegas to Balmorhea Lake where it is stored and used for irrigation.  

In 1934 the CCC was here building canals.  They also built an enormous swimming pool.



The water was warm but it was in the 40s. No swimming for me.

They also built the park, a park manager’s house and a hotel.  All are still in use today.


The motel reminded us of the Rustic Western Cabins on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Pretty basic but there for the visitors who come.  The park person in the office said that it was quite busy in the summer.  It was a nice place to stop and the campground was pretty much full.

This is an odd place out in the middle of West Texas where there isn’t much else.  But water is what makes things happen.

Heading west again in the morning.  El Paso is a challenging place to get through and on into New Mexico.

More later,

Susan and Roger

Kerrville TX February 2017

Off we go towards Tucson, not in a very straight line or in any hurry. We could have driven from Mustang Island to Tucson in two days but we will take a week.

We headed north from Corpus Christi towards San Antonio and then west to Kerrville. We had thought about stopping in Fredericksburg where a friend has been recovering from a surgery but he was back home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We also heard that Fredericksburg was a nice place to see spring flowers but we were early for that. Our friends Douglas and Amanda home base north of Austin and suggested we meet for dinner in Kerrville. It was only a 2-1/2 hr drive one way for them, not much by TX standards.

We stayed overnight in the Kerrville-Schreiner county campground on the Guadalupe river. It was pretty nice.

There was a 1978 Vouge motorhome next to us. A classic in many ways. It has a big Detroit Diesel 2 stroke engine.  Popular back then but hard to fine parts and people to service them now.


I though the round port hole windows were pretty neat.  
Douglas and Amanda arrived and we went to a place on the river for supper. Good food.

Douglas wore his Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum T-shirt from last summer. In just six weeks this was the third time we crossed paths with Amanda and Douglas, mostly on purpose. After supper we went back and played Quidler. They had a long drive home and we were headed further west the next day so the part broke up early. The next time we see them may be this summer.
I was checking on the internet at the Foretravel Forum before heading to bed and someone posted about railroad cars in Wyoming getting blown over in high winds. I looked at the web site and they were containers stacked two high on a container train that had blown over. In the 1980’s I was doing some consulting with the Association of American Rail Roads on aerodynamics of freight trains and this was one of the issues we looked at. So I googled something like container trains blowing over in the wind and one of the first things that came up was an article about wind tunnel testing of freight trains.

And there I was, third from the right in 1985. This was up in Ottowa, CA at the National Research Council of Canada’s 9M wind tunnel. We were all standing in the 30′ x 30′ cross section wind tunnel with a 1/6 scale model of a locomotive. We had several different locomotive types and many different rail cars as well. Another odd bit of history.

I am way behind again on blogs. I am trying to get caught up.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Port Aransas, TX Jan 2017

Port Aransas is a smaller town at the north end of Mustang Island.  Several expensive RV parks with what looked like small spaces, a big marina or two, several hotels, lots of condo-like places, homes, lots of places to eat and a ferry to the mainland.  It is actually a fleet of ferry boats with 6 or 8 loading docks.  They run continuously and even in this off-season time the waits were 30 minutes.

There was a kite store there as well which was the main reason for going there.  We got a kite for a young fellow we know in Oregon and a whirling thing and a spool of 90 pound test line for a big kite I got last summer at Mackinaw Island.  So back to the beach.  I am sure Port A is wonderful for some folks but not our kind of place for lang.

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It was interesting that almost every kite and wind sort of thing there was made in China except for this whirling thing  which was made in Oregon.

The new kite is colorful, topical and flew well.

My big kite is over six feet wide and in the strong wind pulled out a couple hundred feet of line in a flash. I was out there pulling on the line doing my shoulder exercises.  There were several kite boarders off-shore too.  The wind would catch their big kites and they would fly through the air.  They were all in wet suits with elaborate harnesses and big curved kites riding on something that looked like a cross between a surfboard and a snowboard.

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And there was always somebody fishing out on the jetty.  Maybe not so much catching though.

We found some banana pudding and vanilla cookies to use up our old bananas.  Yum.

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And then it was time to leave.  Three weeks on the Texas Gulf Coast.  Windy and humid and fun.

We are off towards San Antonio on a not so direct and not very quick route to Tucson.

More later,

Roger and Susan

 

 

Padre Island National Seashore

Just across the channel near the end of the causeway from Corpus Christi and to the south is North Padre Island.  The town there is actually part of Corpus Christi. It probably has a name but we never figured out what it was.  Drive through that part of town past the condos about five miles to the Visitor’s Center of the Padre Island National Seashore.

We stopped to pick up some information and an iron on patch.  We try to get one at most places we visit.  With some Velcro added to the back side they stick to the fabric part of the window valence above the windows in the coach.  They add a colorful accent as well as a reminder of all of the places we have been.  We have 58 of them now and are starting to run out of room.

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This is a fun way to keeps places fresh.

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I always thought being a Park Ranger would be fun.

The Visitor’s Center is on the Gulf side of the island.  On the bay side there is a basic campground (parking lot) and picnic areas.  This is a very popular kite boarding, kayaking and stand up paddle board area.  You can go half way across the bay (1/2 mile or so) and it is only about 4 feet deep.  There are some deeper areas where there are channels for boats and a much deeper dredged section that is part of the InterCoastal Waterway.

The InterCoastal Waterway is a protected way for ships to travel from Brownsville, TX to Boston, MA.  The 3,000 miles began in pieces as far back as the early 1800’s.  The War of 1812 provided more incentive to complete sections.  The Houston Ship Channel is part of the ICW and was originally built in 1872. The demands for efficient bulk transportation demonstrated in WWII and the risk of German UBoats got things moving to finish even more.  Today a deep wide protected channel gets you all the way along the gulf and somewhere through Florida to Boston.  Pretty amazing.

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A pretty boring campground but it was almost full.

There is another Gulf side campground, still pretty much a parking lot but many of the spaces are much wider and make for some reasonable off-grid camping.  And if you really want to rough it the paved highway ends about 1/2 mile past the Visitor’s Center on the beach.  And then it is 68 miles to where the paved highway starts again.  And in Texas the beach is considered a state highway so off you go.  And anything does.

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A 4×4 pickup had no problem.  There were lots of just regular cars out there as well  and the home of the brave too.

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We stopped for a while to sit in the sun.  It was warm and windy.

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Lot of fun.  The Jeep does well.

That’s it from here.

More later,

Roger and Susan

 

 

 

USS Lexington Slide Show Pictures

Well my slide show experiment worked for some, not for others so I am going to repost the slide show sections.  There may be some duplicates.

Hanger Deck

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It is huge, there is a 16 person Flight Simulator Ride as well as a movie theater.
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First step in Naval Aviation, a trainer
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Hanger Bay Sliding Doors

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A Douglass Dauntless fighter-bomber
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Heavy torpedo bomber of the type George HW Bush flew

Lower Decks

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Knobs, Handles, Dials … OH MY!
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Steam Turbines, One High Pressure, One Low Pressure  Both Feed Giant Gear Reduction Transmissions to the Propeller Shafts
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Boilers Make High Pressure Steam
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Yum, Plastic Food.  Breakfast in the other line looked worse.  The sign at the head of the line said “Take All You Want but Eat All You Take”  When the Lexington was decommissioned in the early 90’s they were spending more than $1 million a week on food.
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This was the Officer’s Barber.  There were three for everyone else. 
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Nuts for Knots
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Anchor Chain

Flight Deck

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View from the Bridge
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Blue Angel
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F-14 Tomcat
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5″ Deck Guns, 15 rounds a minute!
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Bird on a Wire (antenna)
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Lots of Anti-Aircraft guns on both sides
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Catapult Line

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Tomcat
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Cloudy Day but Hot

More later,

Roger and Susan