Westward Ho, Here We Go! – West Texas
NOTE: We’ve replaced our “Where We’ve Been” widget with an “Upcoming Planned Stops” widget (see it in the left column?). After several recent “near misses” and surprise meet-ups with other travelers, we decided to display a section of our reservation spreadsheet that shows upcoming planned stops. We hope this will help us meet up with more of y’all down the road!
From Fredericksburg to the western state border in El Paso is about 590 miles, and because we didn’t want to rush our way through Texas we selected five stops before leaving the state. On these layovers we explored a cavern, hiked a mountain at a National Park, had a total surprise meet up with new friends, and enjoyed an unplanned visit to El Paso that changed our initial impression of the city.
Caverns of Sonora
For those of you who have followed us during our journey, you know that not only do we love to climb/hike mountains, we also enjoy going the other way to be amazed by what’s hidden underground. Many caves have similar features, but each has its own attributes that make it unique from any another. We understand that caving isn’t for everyone – especially claustrophobic folks. But if you’re thinking about an underground adventure, feel free to check out some of the ones we’ve explored:
- The amazing subterranean underground river in the Philippines
- Lava Beds National Monument in California
- Oregon National Cave Monument in Oregon
- Kartchner Caverns in Arizona
- An underground waterfall at Ruby Falls in Tennessee
- Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky
- Shoshone Ice Cave in Idaho
- Carlsbad Cavern National Park in New Mexico
Back to Sonora, Texas, we stayed overnight on the property of the Caverns of Sonora, a first come first serve small RV park provided to visitors of the caverns. The tour led us into a warm cave 155′ and 360 steps below. For almost two miles we walked along highly-decorated cave passages leading to and through the Crystal Palace:
There were only six people on our tour, and we were all expressing our amazement at the glittery and surreal scenery caused by speleothems that lined the walls, roof and floor of the cave. Every turn we made presented us with new exquisite and fragile formations:
The features that made this cave unique and caused it to be established as a National Natural Landmark were the heavy concentrations of calcite crystal formations, especially the rare helictites in the Crystal Palace area. They changed their axis during growth from vertical formations to horizontal, creating amazing odd shapes. We were all stunned by these fragile and spectacular formations!
After two hours of being wowed, we thought the $20/person fee was totally worth it. If you want to take a worthwhile break while driving across Texas on I-10, make this stop – you’ll be glad you did!
Our next stop was at Fort Stockton, where we just chilled for two nights. This and the next three stops involved almost constant wind-blown dust and sand, so we completely gave up any attempts to clean Betsy or the car.
Our only activity here was to see an easy bird to photograph, a Roadrunner called Pete Paisano. Standing 11′ tall and 22′ long, he welcomes all visitors to his town, and allows anyone to take his picture while bringing smiles to passersby:
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Continuing on our westward trek, the next stop was at Van Horn, Texas. It’s the closest town from which to explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We were originally going to camp at Pine Springs Campground in the park, but canceled when we realized there were no hookups and it might be packed over the Easter weekend.
So we drove the car there, and as we prepared to start our hike, we heard our names called. Amazingly, we were spotted by Mark and Joodie of Chasing Dirt! Although we’d been following each other’s blogs, we had no idea they were camping here. Amazing!
We chatted for a bit and learned we’d be meeting again at our next stop – Hueco Tanks S.P. After that excitement, we continued on with our only hike in these mountains, the Devils Hall Trail. It was a nice moderate trek that eased us back into hiking mode with minimal elevation gain and some scrambling around boulders in a wash. All the while we marveled at nearby large cliffs rising up to Guadalupe Peak, with plenty of beautiful landscape surrounding us.
There are several trails here that we missed, check out what serious hikers Mark and Joodie did during their stay if you’re thinking about a visit.
We were getting close to the western Texas border, but we weren’t done yet. Because of our aborted plan to camp at GMNP we ended up parking Betsy in eastern El Paso. After a few days of investigation the city turned out to be nicer than we had remembered, possibly because a lot of improvements have been made since our last pass-through in 2013:
On our way to Palisades Canyon trailhead, we made a wrong turn and stumbled upon a unique outcropping at the southern tip of the Franklin Mountains. At the top was Murchison Rogers Park, a small spot with an overlook that provided panoramic views of El Paso and across the Rio Grande to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico:
There were interpretive signs displaying regional history lessons, using geographic locations provided by the historic points of interest:
We began our hike at Palisades Canyon Trail, an easy hike on the southern end of Franklin Mountain Range that featured interesting Chihuahuan Desert landscape:
Waiting for my hubby, I found some interesting desert plants:
Taking the 375 loop home, we drove along the border wall and passed by the “X” we’d seen earlier from above:
While near the border we enjoyed Mexican seafood at Coco Loko, browsed a local market and quenched our thirst at Deadbeach Brewery. Their beer was good enough that we filled our growler, hoping to impress Mark and Joodie when we met up at our next stop – Hueco Tanks S.P.
Everything is bigger in Texas – this Jenga was as tall as me 🙂
Our three nights here barely scratched the surface of what El Paso has to offer, and we enjoyed our stay on the eastern outskirts of the city.
With mountains all around us, we know we’re definitely back in the west now, wohoo!
Next up: Climbing and Crawling at Hueco Tanks