Tackling Texas

posted in: Texas, Van Life | 4

Texas is a beast. Boasting nearly 270,000 square miles of terrain with 7 distinct regions from hill country, mountains, and coastline to basins, prairies, and plains, I suppose one could say that Texas has it all. Driving through was no small feat! I’m so happy that we made the trip because by the end, I would say that Texas won our hearts.

The biggest downside to Texas is that much like Arkansas, there were minimal opportunities for dispersed camping which means we were funneled right back into the State Park game. We thought we had found a loophole. Wait. Back up. We totally found a loophole—Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). After some thorough research, Eric and I discovered that for $24 we could buy an annual pass that would guarantee access to roughly 50 WMAs across Texas. Score! Well, it would have been awesome however our timing, not so much. Many of the WMAs were closed for hunting season, therefore, we ended up paying top dollar as we made our way through Texas.

First stop, Dangerfield.

Dangerfield State Park

Despite the constant drizzle and occasional downpour, Grizz and I hit the road to burn off some pent up energy. We absolutely needed it! I chose the pavement because I thought the trails would be mush, but much to my surprise, the trail around the lake was in tip top shape about 98% of the way. So, we did what any sane hiker would do—we went for it!

What a trip! Although it was a bit gloomy, we made it all the way around in a little over an hour and didn’t see another soul. Maybe rain isn’t always a bad thing!

Here are some photos from our mini adventure:

After our cold, wet hike I warmed up with a long, hot shower. Since all the other campers were in RVs with private bathrooms, Eric and I took advantage of the shower house and we each had our first “real” shower with endless, steaming water in over a month. It was pure bliss.

Mission Tejas State Park

I’m proud to say that in the 1 1/2 days that we were here, Grizz and I hiked every single trail in this park covering over 20 miles (we hiked some trails twice). Though the ground was still damp from all the rain, we had nothing but clear skies the entire time we were there. After weeks of cold and rain, the sun felt miraculous, quickly drying out our soggy souls.

Many of the trails appeared just as the one pictured above with minimal variation. Basically, a dense array of skinny pines towering overhead. But don’t be fooled by the lack of expansive views, there was plenty of life below!

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There were also several newly built bridges lined with fallen leaves…

some interesting plants growing around burned trees….

plenty of rocky stairways to descend…..

And…oooooo….W.A.T.E.R.

Thankfully Grizz was leashed or he definitely would have been in for a dip!

A Few More Pics

Overall, a very pretty area to explore and enjoy. Here are a few more finds from our time here:

A cabin from the 1800’s
A random chimney along the trail
A portion of the El Camino Real passes through the park

Above is a Spanish mission where friars attempted to convert the native Hasinai Caddo to Christianity in 1690. Instead, the Spaniards only left the natives with disease and death abandoning the mission only four years later.

Mission Tejas is also were we took nice long walks in the pitch black night. Often, we would turn our head lamps off and just walk along the paved road and listen to the armadillos rustle around in the leaves. Grizz and I would freak out, Daddy of course just laughed and lovingly referred to us as “wimps”. With head lamps on, we could see millions of green emeralds reflecting the lights. They were everywhere. Unfortunately, I learned these were spiders. Another set of larger eyes appeared from the darkness. We never discovered what this creature was, but the next day when Grizz and I were hiking, I could have sworn I saw a werewolf.

Well, that was probably my imagination. It was more than likely a coyote.

Dark Days

We were showered with rain and with the rain came a damp cold that went on for days as we attempted to make our way out of Texas. We were all tired from long days of driving and spending night after night at loud or crowded rest areas. On a positive note, the rest stops in Texas are generally really nice. Many had lovely picnic areas and walking paths which helped me and Grizzy get our steps in for the day. It helped, but were were all desperate for a longer stretch of sunshine. After several pep talks and a few good nights sleep, we were able to push on with hope in our hearts for better days ahead. And better days were granted to us as we made our way towards the southwest.

Davis Mountains State Park

The campground and lodge look so small as they wrap around the tree lined valley below.

Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side. While the Davis Mountains didn’t have a stitch of grass, it was just the green we needed to pull us from the darkness. The sun decided to make an appearance and Grizz and I hiked our little hearts out until we (well, I) couldn’t hike any farther. This was the first big elevation we hit after nearly 3 months in mostly flat terrain. It felt so good to climb!

Skyline Drive Trail

Views from the climb up
Grizz climbs towards the top
Signs help keep us on track
My cute little hiking buddy
Grizz says, “Why so many pictures Mom!”
A view from the top
Celebrating sun, climbs, and living life with a kiss at the top!

The Old CCC Trail

Where Grizz first learned about poky things.
Also where Grizz ran happily through the snow covered trail.
And where we both stopped to appreciate the mountain views.
Then appreciate them some more!

Montezuma Quail Trail

It doesn’t look like much, but I assure you it was about 250 feet straight up on rocky terrain. Not that hard, not that easy.
Once we were up and could see around the back side of the mountain, the views went on for days!

Indian Lodge Trail

After the upward climb from the Montezuma Trail, you have the option to hit the Indian Lodge Trail and that is exactly what we did. Wow. The hike was incredible, a little challenging and a whole lot rewarding! Warning: the pictures do NOT do this hike justice.

Views from the top were hard to capture in the stark sun (not complaining about sun!)
A real cliffhanger!
More poky things for Grizz to attempt sniffing.

Speaking of sun, it was a little warm that day. Grizz found the biggest shade spot in a 2 mile stretch and plopped down for a rest break. Smart dog.

I wonder who the 3rd foot (print) belongs to? Any ideas???
More love from Grizz!

Limpia Creek Trail

Grizz and I woke early, way before sunrise. I grabbed our already packed gear and headed for the trail. According to the park map, the Limpia Creek Trail was on the other side of the highway and about 2 miles from where we were camping. After the trek to the trailhead, we learned that a code was required to access that hike. Well, that would have been helpful information to put on a map! So we hiked back to the office, waited 10 minutes (it opened at 8), signed in and got the code, then headed back for the hills. Unfortunately, the sun was already up by then so I didn’t get any good sunrise photos! So much for planning ahead! Haha.

Once we got up there, I could see were were basically on the other side of the road from the Montezuma Trail. Eventually the trail wraps around the mountain and the highway disappears.

A tree grows in the center of the trail

The desert is bursting with color and life if you look hard enough!

The sun came up fast and the brightness of the day didn’t make for the best photos, so I tucked my camera away. There is something peaceful about living in the moment. So, I enjoyed my breath as I climbed those big rocky hills taking in the views, smelling the fresh air, and well, watching out for mountain lions!

Big Bend Ranch State Park

When I think of BBRSP, a few words come to mind: expansive…surprising…breathtaking…unique—It’s a MUST if you’re ever in the southern horn of Texas. The drive alone is spectacular! In fact, the loop from Ft. Stockton to Presidio then across to Big Bend National Park and back up to I-10 is overall pretty fantastic. The landscape is one of a kind! I can only say that with a bright sun and no expensive camera gear, it wasn’t the easiest to capture. But here are some photos of our drive and quick overnight in the area.

The road from Presidio. Last stop before the Mexican border.
Beautiful Mountains!
A fun, twisty road
The Rio Grande
The vastness was surreal
Peak after peak! Can you spot the road in the bottom left?
At times, the road ran right along the Rio Grande
Our home for the night. A Tepee equipped with picnic table, grill, and parking spot for FREE.
Not a bad backyard for the night! Plus, you couldn’t beat the price!
The mountain tops made the road look oddly slanted
The views were incredible!
The drive was exhilarating!
Excuse the smudges. This was so beautiful it looks good even behind a windshield!
As we went eastward, the landscape began to change.
Interesting crevices as the reds started to slowly emerge from the mountains.
There were also a lot of intriguing rock formations
Plus, colorful shapes in the distance
Then just like that, Big Bend National Park came into view. More WOWS even through a spotted windshield!
Another shot of BBNP from a distance. Spot the cat ears?

Like I said earlier, this was a phenomenal drive and if you ever have the chance to go, I highly recommend. I would have LOVED to spend a lot of time at the National Park hiking these glorious mountains, however due to crowds and COVID, it just wasn’t worth the risk. Plus, I’d have to leave little Grizz behind as dogs are not generally welcomed on trails within a national park. So, maybe another day.

Historical Marker Number…

Front of the Mission

While driving through Texas we saw the most historical markers we’ve ever seen. Well, Texas is a big state with lot of history, so, I suppose having over 16,000 markers makes complete sense! There was one that spoke to me so we stopped to check it out.

Back of the Mission

According to the signage, this small church is referred to as Mission Mary and was in operation from 1895-1935. The building was plastered in the 1940’s to preserve the structure. The mission now stands as a monument to the settlements which no longer exist in the area.

There were hundreds of stones and painted rocks stacked up around the church with peoples names, prayer requests, and other personal remembrances (ie: Dates of marriages, child births, and family deaths).

An interesting stop in the middle of absolute nothingness surrounded by mountains.

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The Gifts

In a span of less than 90 minutes, Eric and I were granted six, YES SIX gifts. Zeus (Greek) and Jupiter (Roman), the gods of weather and sky, must have been battling it out. Winner takes all. I say, they can both exist in my world. Just keep those gifts coming and I will admire and appreciate them fully.

#1 A Rainbow

Sometimes rain can be a real drag, especially when you live out of your van! Other times, rain can be a beautiful drag! This was one of those rare occasions where I was so caught up in the beauty of it all, I almost forgot that Grizz and I were cold, wet, and still had a long drive ahead. As they say, “YOLO”.

I couldn’t pick a favorite, so here you go in order of appearance:

This was likely one of the best rainbows I’ve ever seen and some scenery to boot!

#2 A Glorious Drive

On a whim, while sitting at that rest area pictured above (the one with the glorious rainbow), Eric and I decided to completely bypass El Paso and head north towards New Mexico.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Not only was it a beautiful drive, but a memorable one as well. And, we didn’t even know that the best was yet to come!

#3 Another Rainbow

It was full spectrum, AMAZING. Awkward (yet impressive) panorama. Not too shabby for a pic in motion!
The partial view just wasn’t the same

#4 Mountains and Rainbows

What? Mountains AND Rainbows. This day just keeps getting better!

AND better….

AND….

#5 El Capitan

WOW. Mind blown.

The Guadalupe Mountains. Oooo…pretty.

As soon as we began climbing, the rainbow faded but the sky was brilliant and wonderful all the same.

There was a rest stop situated perfectly, right across from El Capitan, however the wind was violent and the air was frigid so we only stopped long enough to take the picture shown in the section (A Sunset) below.

#6 A Sunset

What a perfect way to end the day. In fact, also a perfect way to end this blog.

Reflection

Texas was a pleasant surprise. From North to South, and East to West, Texas has to be one of the most diverse states we’ve visited thus far. Personally, I can’t wait to go back! There was so much to see and do that we barely touched the iceberg of what Texas has to offer.

While van life on a budget can be a little tough due to lack of BLM land, there are some genius ways we discovered to maximize our dollar throughout the state! Rest stops, hidden picnic areas and WMAs are some great ways to stay for free as long as it’s NOT hunting season!

That said, we also learned that some things are just worth paying for. Texas has some amazing State and National Parks and I’m so glad we didn’t pass them by!

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Eric and I would also like to take the time to thank all of your for following along in our adventures and we hope you continue to enjoy the blog. We love to hear your comments, thoughts, travel ideas, or just a plain ole hello, so drop us a line below!

Thanks for reading!

Until next time friends….

4 Responses

  1. Debbie

    Oh my gosh Jenni! Fabulous, fabulous pictures! I especially loved the rainbows! I also thoroughly enjoyed your pictures of BBNP. They brought back wonderful memories of my trip there when I was in my twenties! I’m glad you finally enjoyed some sunshine! I think Grizz is the luckiest dog around. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us!!

    • Jenni

      Thanks Debbie! BBNP was amazing. I imagine that it definitely brought back great memories because it was WOW! Amazing. I’m so glad you’ve experienced that place because it was quite magical. Glad you enjoyed the blog and as always, thank you for reading. 🙂

  2. Barbara McNeil

    Tremendous pictures!!! We lived in TX and thoroughly enjoyed it! I hope you like New Mexico, it stole my parents’ hearts. We lived there 5 years (when I was a kid) and loved it. Give Grizz a hug for me!

    • Jenni

      We LOVED New Mexico, although we wished we could have stayed longer. Due to Covid, we didn’t visit long and tried very hard to be respectful and stay out of stores and public spaces. We can’t wait to go back at a more appropriate time but wow it was amazing! 🙂 I can see why the state stole you parent’s hearts. <3 Thanks for reading!!!

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