20141116 – Goodbye Albuquerque. Hello Bob Cats, Roadrunners, TBones, Nodding Donkeys, wilderness – yea it’s Texas


Sunday – very cold and snow.


Loved ABQ but thank Chione I won’t have to try and spell it again.

The essence of Albuquerque, the iconic Balloon Fiesta. Sadly we missed it by a week.

The essence of Albuquerque, the iconic Balloon Fiesta. Sadly we missed it by a week.

Up and away by 08:50. That’s a record. Can you believe it’s snowing in ABQ as we say goodbye.

Sledging in White Sands National Monument.

Sledging in White Sands National Monument.

Drive down I25 and then over a mountain range, to view 144,000 acres of CaSO4•2H2O, or as Walter White would say hydrous calcium sulphate, or Gypsum as normal folk would say, that is White Sands National Monument. Crossing a mountain range and the roads are just sheet ice from the snow. It’s 20F. Not a smart move should have probably stuck with the Interstate I25 route. White Sands could be a bit of a let down if it’s covered in snow. A miserable grey cold trip but just as we arrive at White Sands the suns out and the sky clears to bright blue, not a cloud to be seen – how neat is that.

A unique place, the largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Monument in south-central New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an “internally drained valley” called the Tularosa Basin. This dune field is very dynamic, with the most active dunes moving to the northeast at a rate of up to 30 feet per year, while the more stable areas of sand move very little. Many species of plants and animals have developed very specialized means of surviving in this area of cold winters, hot summers, with very little surface water and highly mineralized ground water. With white lizards it shows how evolution can speed up.

It's my turn now. But it's my sledge.

It’s my turn now. But it’s my sledge.

Can’t resist hiring a sledge to go sledging down the white sand dunes. Not exactly a bucket list item but certainly something you should try. Wendy’s not having any of it. Thinks I’m crazy, but then when she sees what a cracking job I make of it she can’t resist – see photos.

Finally arrive at El Paso and off out to the Olive Garden for tea. Chicken parmigiana, I’ve always wanted to try it. Sadly best described as chicken mac nuggets with a tin of tomatoes sloped over it and some spaghetti, then sprinkled with cheese. A kiddies meal. Certainly not a patch on their Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo.

We’re lucky to get to the Olive Garden in one piece, when some idiot turns left onto a one way road. Don’t blame me it was pitch black, not a lumen of street lighting in this 3rd World country; a dual carriage way; no “One Way” sign straight ahead of you; oh yes there’s one just over the dark Stop sign. Well those are my excuses. Anyway we survived. No thanks to the aggressive drivers coming at me.

Driving around here at night is terrifying. No street lights; aggressive drivers; fast and not prepared to give way. What is it with this American Jekyl and Hyde personality behind the wheel. If a pedestrian’s around they’re like meek and mild puppies scared of their own exhaust fumes. Then on a motorway they’re like some freaking steroid intoxicated maniac, out to annihilate everything that’s breathing.

El Capitain in Guadalupe National Park.

El Capitain in Guadalupe National Park.

Why I Like Retirement:

Question: How many days in a week?
Answer: 6 Saturdays, 1 Sunday

Question: When is a retiree’s bedtime?
Answer: Two hours after he falls asleep on the couch.

Question: How many retirees to change a light bulb?
Answer: Only one, but it might take all day.

Question: What’s the biggest gripe of retirees?
Answer: There is not enough time to get everything done.

Question: Why don’t retirees mind being called Seniors?
Answer: The term comes with a 10% discount.

2,738 road accidents in Texas last year. No wonder. Gordon Bennett, they have detailed instructions on when you can overtake or not, don’t just rely on solid yellow lines, oh no spell it out and yet they hide one way signs and don’t bother with street or sign lighting.

Then there’s the classic road sign, “obey all signs, it’s the law”.


Monday – cool and sunny.


Javelina and no it's not a pig or wild boar. They get terribly offended if you call them that.

Javelina and no it’s not a pig or wild boar. They get terribly offended if you call them that.

After a good nights sleep and a free breakfast at the hotel we nip down to Guadalupe National Park, it’s only 110 miles down the road, and back, no more than a trip to the local supermarket. Still a tad cold.

On the way we’re pulled in by border patrol. Perhaps it’s something to do with the giant “Kiss Me Quick” Sombrero I’m wearing. Can I see your passports – that’s a first in 20 years. My driving license with loose picture doesn’t cut it, these guys obviously have some brain cells. Don’t have passports with us, but thankfully he accepts an iPhone photo.

Guadeloupe is dominated by El Capitain, not the one from Yosemite, but oh so similar. Do a couple of the shorter strolls, nature trail down to Butterfield stage and then the Frijole Ranch walk. Certainly one of the more obscure and less popular NP’s. Don’t even have a NP hat. Alas no sign of a Roadrunner or even the Horny Texas Toad – an awesome looking creature.

Texas Roadhouse for me tea. Saves risking live and limb driving around El Paso in the dark, we can walk to it. I suppose being in Texas I must have a T-Bone, better at night than one for breakfast. 23 Oz monster. It’s just one of those things you have to do. Won’t need to eat for another 7 days now.

I know we’re a tad obsessed with this awesome bird but in view of two road dash sittings, which we’re that quick we couldn’t catch on camera, I just couldn’t resist including this 3rd party footage:

Welcome to Carlsbad Caverns.

Welcome to Carlsbad Caverns.

Question: Among retirees, what is considered formal attire?
Answer: Tied shoes.

Question: Why do retirees count pennies?
Answer: They are the only ones who have the time.

Question: What is the common term for someone who enjoys work and refuses to retire?
Answer: NUTS!

Question: Why are retirees so slow to clean out the basement, attic or garage?
Ans wer: They know that as soon as they do, one of their adult kids will want to store stuff there.

Question: What do retirees call a long lunch?
Answer: Normal ..

Ricky Gervais on atheism:


Tuesday – hot and sunny.


Carlsbad Caverns - awesome.

Carlsbad Caverns – awesome.

Drove from El Paso, yet again, to Carlsbad.

Call in at McKittrick Canyon for the walk. Reckoned to be a birders paradise. A pleasant walk but a distinct lack of birds. Certainly no Roadrunner.

Then it’s off to the vast underground Carlsberg, sorry Carlsbad, Caverns National Park. Words like awesome, stupendous, rad, narly and mind shattering don’t do it justice. Nor do my photos, mind you it is a tad dark down there and only lit with subdued lighting to maintain the ambience of a cave. It takes an hour to complete the walk and that includes cheating by using the 750 foot lift. If you walk down and back it’s 3 hours. Just lost for words. Sadly Wendy missed it all, although she did see the video but you really do have to see it to believe.

Then it’s off to our hotel in Carlsbad. A typical $90 a night hotel here costs $370. There’s a major oil boom in the area. More big trucks, big burly workers with giant footwear and plates of food piled high. I watch as one cuts up his pancakes into little squares, just like his mommy used to, then uses only his fork.

Question: What is the best way to describe retirement?
Answer: The never ending Coffee Break.

Question: What’s the biggest advantage of going back to school as a retiree?
Answer: If you cut classes, no one calls your parents.

Question: Why does a retiree often say he doesn’t miss work, but misses the people he used to work with?
Answer: He is too polite to tell the whole truth.

And, my very favorite….
QUESTION: What do you do all week?
Answer: Monday through Friday, NOTHING…. Saturday & Sunday, I rest.


Wednesday – hot and sunny.


Carlsbad Caverns - awesome.

Carlsbad Caverns – awesome.

Drive back down to Rattle Snake Springs. A highly recommended birding sight. Wrong time of year, hardly any birds and sadly no Rattle Snakes.

Call back in at Carlsbad Caverns to visit the exhibit and catch the video that we missed yesterday. No doubt about it, but this place is worthy of at least a full day.

Tempted to do a ranger tour of the Kings Chamber but it means we’ll be driving down to Alpine in the dark. Not advisable on these roads.

Wendy tries a spot of caving!

Wendy tries a spot of caving!

Drive down from Carlsbad to Alpine. Really get to see the extent of the oil boom around here. More Nodding Donkeys and drilling rigs than Arabs at an OPEC conference. Also a fair bit of cotton and cattle. Rewarded with sighting of yet another Roadrunner, doing what Roadrunners do best – dashing across the road. Oil tankers buzzing up and down the road like flies around a rotting turd. Never realised it before but these tankers must constantly go and transport away the oil pumped up and deliver it to a refinery. Obvious when you think about it.

Nodding Donkeys everywhere a sure clue to where we are. Along with drilling rigs, cotton and cattle.

Nodding Donkeys everywhere a sure clue to where we are. Along with drilling rigs, cotton and cattle.

Three hours later (yes Texas is a big State) we finally arrive at the one horse town of Alpine. Our Best Western hotel’s very comfortable. But what to eat? Not a fantastic choice. There’s a mediocre menu’d diner and a Pizza Hut. Settle for a Pizza, despite my reservations. Rip off misleading pricing and disappointing Pizza. Confirms my view that you should never bother with Pizza in America, they’re always crap, Chicago excepted.

A hawk but we're still arguing about which one it is.

A hawk but we’re still arguing about which one it is.

More on us geriatrics:

Just before the funeral services, the undertaker came up to the very elderly widow and asked,
‘How old was your husband?’ ’98,’ she replied….
‘Two years older than me’
‘So you’re 96,’ the undertaker commented..
She responded, ‘Hardly worth going home, is it?

Reporters interviewing a 104-year-old woman:
‘And what do you think is the best thing about being 104?’ the reporter asked…
She simply replied, ‘No peer pressure.’

The nice thing about being senile is
you can hide your own Easter eggs and have fun finding them.

I’ve sure gotten old! I’ve had two bypass surgeries, a hip replacement, new knees, fought prostate cancer and diabetes. I’m half blind, can’t hear anything, take 40 different medications that make me dizzy, winded, and subject to blackouts. Have bouts with dementia. Have poor circulation; hardly feel my hands and feet anymore. Can’t remember if I’m 85 or 92. Have lost all my friends. But, thank God, I still have my driver’s license.


Thursday – hot and sunny.


Welcome to Big Bend - at last.

Welcome to Big Bend – at last.

Drive down from Alpine to Big Bend. 3 days in the wilderness. Well by my definition it’s wilderness, no Starbucks, no Taco Bell and worst of all no Internet. Gordon Bennet, how will I survive.

See plenty of Roadrunners on the way down, but all camera shy.

As we’re staying at the Chisos Mountain Lodge – only hotel in the park – we explore that area in the afternoon. Do the short Window Trail and then the basin loop trail. Awesome scenery but not many birds.

At sunset we go out to try and get a sunset shot through the window, but no red sky shot, although some of the mountain shots in the soft light are great.

Chios mountains at sunset.

Chios mountains at sunset.

Dinner in the only restaurant. Everything served on paper plates as there’s a severe water shortage. Share a table with Lee and Lisa from San Diego. He’s a dermatologist who does a lot of lecture tours and now retired. Very entertaining evening and good company.

Apparently his wife has the claim to fame of having been taken short in Danali National Park, Alaska. Did what women do best in the bush when caught short, and ended up with 35 Mosquito bites on here backside. To add insult to injury Lee used a photo of the offending 35 bites to illustrate, in his lecture, how many Mosquito bites you can get on one backside.

No TV. Catch up on a boring documentary and early to bed.

I feel like my body has gotten totally out of shape, so I got my doctor’s permission to join a fitness club and start exercising.
I decided to take an aerobics class for seniors.
I bent, twisted, gyrated, jumped up and down, and perspired for an hour. But, by the time I got my leotards on, the class was over.

My memory’s not as sharp as it used to be.
Also, my memory’s not as sharp as it used to be.

Cheeky Roadrunner waiting on our car for us - bonnet runner.

Cheeky Roadrunner waiting on our car for us – bonnet runner.

Know how to prevent sagging?
Just eat till the wrinkles fill out.

It’s scary when you start making the same noises as your coffee maker.
These days about half the stuff in my shopping cart says, ‘For fast relief.’

Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.


Friday – hot and sunny.


At last the Roadrunner photo. Now we have 80+ to sort.

At last the Roadrunner photo. Now we have 80+ to sort.

Up early for breakfast. A tad disappointing, but then we’re off out to explore the Rio Grande village area and hopefully capture some shots of a Roadrunner. We’ve been told this is the place. Sure enough we’re rewarded and 80 photo’s later we’re RR’d out. One cheeky devil is even stood on our car bonnet waiting for us to come back off a walk.

As I’m walking down to the Rio Grande I see what I think is a Mountain Lion and get some great shots of her and her cub. Turns out to “only” be a Bob Cat. But what a treat.

Do the nature trail walk and not a bird in sight.

Coffee and wifi at the village store – wow wifi.

Then do the Boquillas Canyon walk. By now it’s 75F, the suns beating down on us in the desert and Wendy’s squawking like a banshee, “It’s too hot, you know I can’t cope with this heat”. Great views down the Rio Grande into the canyon.

Bob Cat or is it a Mountain Lion? Merely a Bob Cat with her cub in tow.

Bob Cat or is it a Mountain Lion? Merely a Bob Cat with her cub in tow.

That nice Mr Obama’s created a shit storm with his executive order to grant immunity to 5 million “undocumented immigrants”. His action will grant “deferred action” to two illegal immigrant groups – parents of United States citizens or legal permanent residents who have been in the country for five years, and young people who who were brought into the country illegally as of 2010. The majority of the countries up in arms about it, apart of course from 5 million “undocumented immigrants” – how can we become one.

From our overlook over the Rio Grande we see the first influx of some more illegals from Mexico – see picture.

Then it’s the Hot Springs – the road from hell – but at least we make it there and back. Wendy has a paddle in the hot springs, sat besides the raging, cold, Rio Grande.

That bird displaying his wares.

That bird displaying his wares.

After 7 hours on the go we return to have coffee (Chai Latte) on the balcony and admire the view.

Dinner in the restaurant again. Back to the room. No TV, but we’ve 80+ Roadrunner / wildlife photos to cull, crop and process. 21:00 and Noddy’s no where near Big Ears but we’re off to bed.


Saturday – hot and sunny.


Obama's OK'd "undocumented immigrants". Is this the start of another mass migration across the Rio Grande?

Obama’s OK’d “undocumented immigrants”. Is this the start of another mass migration across the Rio Grande?

Up early for an in the room breakfast. Much cheaper and better than the restaurant breakfast.

We leave today but have the whole day in Big Bend.

Do the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive and call in at all the Pull Offs to see the vistas. Highlight of the whole park, apart from the Roadrunner sighting, is a walk down the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. Sadly it’s a tad cloudy so we don’t get the best pictures.

After a full morning we drive back up to our hotel in Alpine, same one as Wednesday. Yet another pull in at a border patrol. Poor guy spends 5 minutes searching my passport for the date stamp. At last he finds it and we can go on. At least this time we have our passports with us.

Dinner in a classic All American diner, sadly no pinkle water license.

Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend the other end of the Rio Grande.

Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend the other end of the Rio Grande.

It’s goodbye Big Bend. A massive park with 3 different environments in one, the Chihuahuan desert, the Chisos mountains and the Rio Grande river. Enjoyed it, and at last we get some great pictures of our favourite bird, the Roadrunner, but Zion NP is still my favourite. To be fair they all have something different to offer.

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