Winter 2016 Trip Highlights

We just returned from our 9 week winter adventure that started in the middle of December with our trip to Ft. Meyers, FL and ended with our return home on February 18th. We had a great time, met new people and saw new places while traveling about 4500 miles. This is a great time to travel as fuel prices are really low in the South, at least Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. I bought diesel at Flying J/Pilot because I have their discount charge card and paid $1.88 a gallon. However, as some regular stations diesel was $1.67 and regular unleaded was $1.36. We met old friends in RV Parks in Duson, LA on our outbound trip and at Lake Conroe, TX on the return trip. Most of our early trip experiences are chronicled in previous posts, so this one will focus more on the return trip.

We enjoyed our month long stay at Bentsen Palms in Mission, TX. The local Mexican American population was friendly and they welcomed “Winter Texans”. The food was fabulous and I think that I can say now that I have had real Mexican food. I do have to say that the jalapeno peppers are hotter in Texas. I had to be careful on how many I used after a couple of mouth burning experiences.

Big Bend Map
Big Bend Map
Big Bend
Big Bend

We made a last minute decision to head to Big Bend National Park that turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Big Bend is nestled in Southwest Texas in the Chihuahuan desert. It is the least visited of all the National Parks, probably because of its remoteness. It has many hiking trails and several campgrounds, but most will not accommodate large RV’s. One has full hookups, but states that it has only a few spaces that might handle an RV up to 40 feet. There is some permit camping where RV’s can be parked for up to 14 days, but generators are not allowed so without a good solar cell setup it would be difficult to stay long. Here is a link to Gone With the Wynn’s blog that talks about it.

http://www.gonewiththewynns.com/free-camping-big-bend-national-park

Our Home for the Week
Our Home for the Week
View From Our Side Window
View From Our Side Window

Consequently, we checked out some of the commercial RV parks in Terlingua and Lajitas which are the two closest towns. Ultimately we ended up at the Maverick Ranch in Lajitas which is part of a golf resort right on the border. As it turns out we made the right choice after actually seeing some of the other RV parks.  In our opinion, Maverick Ranch was the best maintained and had the largest sites, although it was the farthest from the park entrance.  Remember this is the desert so there isn’t much grass or vegetation.  Montana had a tough time finding the right place to take care of business, plus we fought tracking sand and dust into the bus during our entire stay.  The ranch host told us that they had a dust storm a few days before we arrived that totally blocked the view of the mountain that you see in the picture above.  I’m glad we weren’t driving when that occurred.  Aside from zero visibility, the dust would get into all the engine and bay compartments.  Make sure that you bring all your supplies or as much as you can.  There is a small General Store in Lajitas and a little bigger grocery store in Terlingua.  Everything is more expensive and the selection of items is limited.  There are only a few restaurants and I will talk about them in a later post.  The drive from Alpine to Lajitas is breathtaking in places.  It is around 100 miles and there are no gas stations so make sure you have plenty of fuel here too.  There is fuel in both Terlingua and Lajitas, but it is a little more expensive than in other parts of Texas.  Not surprising because its a remote area.  In addition to the scenery, there are quite a few sharp

Road to Lajitas
Road to Lajitas
Road into Big Bend
Road into Big Bend

turns and elevation changes that make this drive interesting.  It was a challenge for me in the Ventana at times.  We had to really slow in spots and then keep our speed up in others because of the hills.  There are no long mountain runs, but some of the hills are steep and long enough that my speed dropped from 65 to about 30 by the time we got to the top. I just kept it in Drive and let the Allison transmission and 400 hp Cummins manage the job, which it did.  I was able to give the “Jake Brake” a workout for the first time too.  Without it I would have really been on the brakes coming down some of the mountains.  It would have been a great trip to have had the HWH Active Air package added.  I think the added stability provided with that system would have made taking the curves a breeze.  I just don’t have the extra 10 grand for it.

The park also features a diverse landscape that goes from around 1800 feet at the Rio Grande River to around 8000 in the Chisos mountains. Expect to drive long distances when going through the park so make sure that you have plenty of fuel. There are no gas stations that we saw. For us it was about a 20 mile drive from Lajitas to the park entrance, then we drove another 70 or so round trip just getting to a couple of the visitor centers. We took a service road back from St. Elena Canyon that saved us 40 miles, but I think I lost a couple fillings in my teeth and maybe need new shocks on the Edge.  We didn’t take our RV through any of Big Bend, but it would be possible as long as you stay on the main road and pay attention to the signs. There are some roads that have switchbacks which have warnings to not try navigating them in anything over a 24 foot rig. After driving them, I have to agree and think that even a 24 foot rig would be a challenge.

I want to say a little more about Terlingua and Lajitas so I will continue that discussion in a subsequent post.  I will close this one with a few more pictures from Big Bend.

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