Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Back to the Basics of Love in Luckenbach, Texas

It's November ... We are in southern Texas ... And yes, we are wearing our down-filled winter jackets.

Layered up for a day at the Habitat build site.
Thankfully, working under the Texas sunshine quickly warmed us up!

A couple of strong cold fronts producing rain and freezing temps over the past two weeks have not only shortened some of our Habitat build days, but also prompted Doug to figure out how to ''winterize'' Baby Beest. On the bright side, it also gave us extra time to check out the Hill Country around Fredericksburg, Texas.

Fredericksburg, we found out, is the hometown of this handsome and skilled Fleet admiral Chester W Nimitz. Nimitz lead the Allied air, land, and sea forces in the Pacific during World War II, so it is no surprise that the National Museum of the Pacific War is located here. We visited this all-encompassing museum one rainy afternoon with our friends, Joanne and Gary. The tremendous amount of ''history'' overwhelmed our non-history loving partners, Joanne and Doug a bit. Gary and I, however, were easily drawn into the stories of the personalities, strategies, and battles that eventually brought about an Allied victory. 

Joanne was very patient as we delved into
the battles of Midway, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.

During this Veteran's Day week, it is important to remember and celebrate the ''uncommon valor'' that is seen in every one of our country's dedicated veterans!

One other local site caught my eye and made me think ... where had I heard the name of that town before??? 

Being a fan of classic rock of the 70s and 80s, I recalled a country crossover hit by that name. See if you remember ...

This #1 Country Hit from 1977 pushed Luckenbach, Texas, a tiny ''widening in the road'' located 13 miles from Fredericksburg, into the national limelight. A virtual ghost town, this 9,000 acre community was bought by two investors in 1970. The property had two buildings ... a combo post office/general store/saloon and a dance hall which the new owners used to host many unique musical events.

The success of Waylon Jennings' song secured Luckenbach a place in country music history and made it a tourist destination where ''Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach''.

So, ''Let's go to Luckenbach Texas'',

to check out if they are selling anything
that we can't live without,
 or just stretch out and relax by the
warm fireplace,
and enjoy some impromptu
country music performances.

We are happy that we could ''Get Back to the Basics of Love'' when we were faced with another cold, rainy afternoon. Because ''in Luckenbach, Texas there ain't nobody feelin' no pain'' when hanging out with good friends!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

A Quick Visit to Big Bend National Park

Deep in southwest Texas lies a well-known but rarely visited national park. Big Bend may seem like it is located in the middle of nowhere, but the hundreds of miles of natural beauty of this national treasure provides a great reward to anyone who takes the time to explore it.

We had four days to travel from our Habitat build in Las Cruces, New Mexico to our next Habitat build in Fredericksburg, Texas. This would be another test of our ''no reservations and no specific destination'' van lifestyle. Why not get off the main interstate and experience a whole new level of exploring? Glad we took a few days for a quick visit to Big Bend National Park!

The beauty goes on for
hundreds of miles!

Big Bend encompasses the Chisos Mountain Range, a good portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, and 118 miles of the Rio Grande River. With over 800,000 acres, it is larger than the state of Rhode Island. And with only a little over 400,000 visitors each year, Big Bend hosts less tourists in a year than the Balloon Fiesta did during its nine day stretch. It is home for more than 1200 species of plants and 450 species of birds. The uniqueness of the ever-changing scenery, fauna, and flora kept us engaged during our long drive through the park. Keep your eyes sharp ... you may even see a tarantula crossing the road, just as Doug claims he saw!

Our home base for two days was the exclusive Chisos Basin Campground. I emphasize ''exclusive'' because we could have never hung out here during our Wildebeest days. There is a sign at the beginning of the six mile road leading into the basin warning against driving any vehicle over 25 feet long. The roads were definitely twisty and narrow, but Baby Beest handled it like a pro. Our reward ... a cozy campsite surrounded by the Chisos Mountains. The view of the bright Milky Way and thousands of stars in the night sky proved to us that Big Bend has definitely earned its certified ''dark-sky park'' status.

The next day we took a hike along Big Bend's popular Window Trail. This 4.4 mile round-trip trail started out near our campsite and lead us past a variety of vegetation and rock formations.

Agave and prickly pear cacti

Lizards cooling themselves in the shade

An agave century plant

Fall foliage along the creek bed

Our reward came as we approached the end of this out-and-back trail. Walking along the rocky stream bed of Oak Creek, we approached ''The Window''.

The view of the distant desert floor and mountain peaks was perfectly framed by the rocky cliffs ... giving us a magnificent window view of the rest of the park.

The next day we checked out of our scenic campsite and took a ride through the desert on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.

Our destination ... Santa Elena Canyon, beautifully formed by the Rio Grande River.

Our mission ... to hike the short nature trail that would lead us a short ways into the canyon's shady depths.

Our main obstacle ... the murky, muddy, and fast-flowing Rio Grande River that was not going to allow us to cross over into Mexico today.

Our heros ... the group of youngsters who decided to take off their shoes, grab a hiking stick and attempt to cross over to the flooded trail bed to reach the the nature trail on the American side of the river.

From that distant southwest edge of Big Bend, we began our drive out of the park and on to our next destination. But along the way, we were again treated to endless beauty that added interest to our long drive ... like one of our favorite desert plants, the ocotillo.

... or the rock formations. What do you think these look like?

Three days in Big Bend National Park gave us a much appreciated rest after our Las Cruces Habitat build. But, as you can imagine, our quick visit was not long enough to see and do all that there is to see and do. Big Bend is a huge, diverse national park in the middle of nowhere ... and we will be back!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Habitat for Humanity Build #15: Las Cruces, New Mexico

Lessons learned from the talented Habitat crew!

As we returned to Las Cruces, New Mexico to participate in another Habitat for Humanity build, I was once again so impressed by the knowledge and skill of the local volunteers and my fellow Care-a-Vanners. This mighty team of volunteers built and raised walls under the guidance of our skillful and ever-patient construction supervisor, Meghan.

Three years ago when Doug and I participated in another Habitat build in Las Cruces, we met Meghan who was also a care-a-vanner. Her desire to ''jump right in'' and learn all that there is to know about building a house really impressed me. And so, it was of no surprise for me to see her shine in her new position as the construction site supervisor. Over the next seven months, she will guide numerous volunteers and future homeowners in the construction of five new houses for the Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity.

When we arrived, House #1 consisted just of exterior walls on a concrete slab. House #2 was just a concrete slab, and Houses 3, 4, and 5 were still awaiting their foundation and stone ''fence''. Seeing the smile on Doug's face, I knew that learning to frame was in my future. I am grateful for the many lessons that were going to come my way and for all the folks who taught this old dog many new tricks.

Smile! You learned a new skill today!

This lesson was taught to me by future homeowner Stacie, who shared a big smile as she learned to use the chop saw for the first time.

If you keep your eye on the nail, chances are good that you will hit it on the head!

Taught (and retaught) by my patient husband. He and I were both impressed that this lesson also may have helped me with my pickleball-whacking skills which resulted in a rare win against Joanne and Gary (or it was just my lucky day).

A plumb wall is a perfect wall!

And a perfect wall leads to a happy construction supervisor who won't have to figure out how to straighten it later on. And believe me, Meghan would figure out how ... she is that good!

Measure twice; cut once
Three heads are better than one

It is wonderful how the teams of local volunteers, future homeowners, and the care-a-vanners worked together over the two weeks to create the exterior and interior walls on the first two homes.

There is power in numbers

These seven powerful women worked together to help ''raise the roof'' as we hauled and handed up the trusses for house #1. What we lacked in height, we made up in sheer determination! After we were through, house #1 really started to look like a home.

But one of the greatest lessons came from Construction Supervisor Meghan's dog, Abby ...

Be Faithful!

Abby showed up every day with her owner to encourage all the hard working, skillful, and generous volunteers who are helping to build ''forever homes'' for her canine companions and their deserving families ...

for Katie and Roberto
and their three children,

for Stacie and her daughter,

and for Kristine and Richard
and their five children.

There are always new lessons to be learned at each Habitat build. And the #1 lesson is that by faithfully building a home for a deserving family, we will help spread ...

Peace to all who enter here!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Getting Carried Away at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Every traveler has certain ''bucket list'' destinations. One of ours has been to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Each October, hundreds of hot air balloon enthusiasts and thousands of spectators gather in the high desert to celebrate the graceful art of floating in air. Two weeks ago, it was our turn to get ''carried away'' at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Originating in 1972, the nine day fiesta quickly grew from a gathering of 13 hot air balloons to become the world's largest balloon rodeo with more than 500 floating beauties. October's cool morning temperatures and the unique weather phenomenon called the ''Albuquerque Box'' helps produce near-perfect soaring conditions. The ''Albuquerque Box'' is a set of predictable wind patterns that aid the balloonist's travel course. At low altitudes, the winds blow to the south and at higher altitudes the winds blow to the north thus allowing the pilots to follow a ''box'' pattern and land close to where they took off.

Balloon Fiesta Park, located north of downtown Albuquerque, is the location for all the festivities. The 365 acre park has camping spaces, parking areas, and a ''Main Street'' complete with vendors selling all sorts of New Mexican souvenirs and delicacies. Our ''foodie'' friend, Gary highly recommends the ribbon fries loaded with bacon, cheese and of course, New Mexico green chilies!

But the highlight of Balloon Fiesta Park is the 78 acre launch field. For a $10 admission fee, we had ''up close and personal'' views of all the balloons and activities. Highlights from our couple of days on the launch field included:

... beginning the day with the
''Dawn Patrol'' as they light up
the morning skies with their
propane burners and test for
favorable winds,

... getting near to the balloon crews
as they set up, inflate, and prepare for take off,

... watching the ''Mass Ascension'' of balloons
as they take off in organized waves at 7 am,

... enjoying the ''synchronized burns''
of hundreds of balloons during
the evening Twilight Balloon Glow,
... and ending the day with the
fireworks extravaganza.

While we initially didn't reserve our camping spot early enough, we were fortunate to be one of those on the ''wait list'' who were able to snag a spot after someone canceled out. For $40 a night, we had a home in the ''dry camping'' section ... no hook ups but a perfect spot to view the early morning ''rush hour'' that floated over us.

According to some ''fiesta'' enthusiasts, the ultimate experience is to be on the launch field for the early morning Mass Ascension. After digging out our winter jackets (as it is quite chilly in the desert at o-dark-thirty), we took the free shuttle bus over to the launch field for this true balloon fiesta experience.

32 degrees and I could hardly feel my
toes, but it was oh ... so beautiful to see
the balloons greet the sun when it finally
appeared over the mountains.

Ascending along with the sun was Christ
(the balloon) during the ''Mass Ascension''.
Noses are red, feet are numb,
but our smiles are genuine as we get
''carried away'' with all the early morning fun!

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta claims to be the most photographed event in the world. And yes, I too got ''carried away'' with the picture-taking, but it is not hard to do. Everywhere you look ... a magical, mystical photo opportunity is waiting for you. 

You will love it as we did, and so we encourage you to put the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival on your travel ''bucket list'' and get ''carried away'' with all the fun!

Maybe someday I will get braver and agree to truly be ''carried away'' when Doug convinces me to take a ride in one of these floating wonders!