Saturday, April 12, 2014

Family vacation synopsis

Today is Star Wars day at the public library. It's kind of hard to concentrate on this blog post when a guy dressed in a Darth Maul costume lurks just over my left shoulder. Kids are making foam lightsabers, participating in trivia contests, a Chewbacca yell contest, and bouncing around in the trash compactor. Nerd Central is right here. Of course, nerdiness is so mainstream that its lost its cachet as a means to outsider status.

It's hard to believe its been almost two weeks since we returned from our first family vacation, a trip to Texas to visit my sister and three national parks: Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns. This vacation was a good mix of relaxation and busy-ness. We did a lot of hiking and sightseeing, but still had time to relax in camp at the end of the day. Southwest Texas was blessedly free of snow, but a constant wind and perpetual dustiness started to grate on me after awhile. Every night in camp was a tent-flapping affair.

Quick highlights of the trip include:

A trip to the Houston Rodeo and ag show. We didn't see the rodeo, but the birthing station was a hit, where we got to see wobbly-legged newborn calves and shiny, pink little piglets stomping around their indifferent sow mother.

A hike to a hot springs at Big Bend National Park, where we enjoyed 104-degree natural mineral springs on the shore of the Rio Grande River, just feet away from Mexico. That night, in camp at the Rio Grande Village, I awoke to the sound of gently tinkling bells and the braying of donkeys. Illegal traffic? I didn't investigate to find out.

The hallmark feature of Big Bend National Park is Santa Elena Canyon. It is a majestic site, with walls rising 1,500+ feet above the banks of the Rio Grande. Just as we pulled into the lot, we saw a rattlesnake coiled in the middle of the road. A couple other tourists were snapping photos and I joined them. The rattler was not too pleased by the attention.

Jonny enjoyed hearing his voice echo off the canyon walls. Here, he pauses in his favorite prospector pose near the turnaround point of the hike.

We spent two days at Big Bend and then drove a few hours north to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We planned to hike to Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, on Thursday, but paid a visit to nearby Carlsbad Caverns National Park instead because all of us were less than energized by a stomach bug. Somehow, the caving experience revived us. Jonny motivated us to take the natural entrance back out because he hoped to see a few bats. He successfully saw a few flit on by. We didn't stay until sunset because the winds assured the bats wouldn't be making a mass flight out of the cave that night.

After stopping in Carlsbad to enjoy the public library and art museum, we headed back to our windswept camp site at Guadalupe Mountains. The next day, although still quite windy, was a good day to attain the summit. Jonny led on the 3,000 foot climb and kept a decent enough pace, not once complaining about the wind and steep cliffs. It took us six hours to reach the summit and back, a hike of almost 8.5 miles. It was the first state high point for Jonny and the 16th for Esther and I.

On the way home, we stopped by President Bill Clinton's boyhood home in Hope, AR, and made it home on a Sunday night around 10 p.m. The next day it was back to work.

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