Motoring Across America

With James "Alex" Alexander

with James "Alex" Alexander



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Blog 286: White Sands and Green Chili Cheeseburgers

Brantley Lake State Park to Cochiti Lake

From Brantley Lake State Park we took 285 North to Artesia, and then went west on Highway 82. At Mayhill we entered the Sacramento Mountains and traveled several 6 percent grades and reached over 9,500 feet at Cloudcroft. Really pretty. Entering Almogordo, we headed north a few miles on Highway 54 to our campground.

Boot Hill RV Sign

Boot Hill RV Park, Alamagordo, NM
We have stayed at this park before. A good place for a night or two, sites are level and long and the place is quite clean.

White Sands National Monument
At 6:30 the next morning we took the 35-minute drive to White Sands National Monument. Jack had been pestering me all spring as to when we would go back there, and I was glad to get him off my case. We were the second car entering the monument at 7:03, and we drove about two-thirds through the park until we found the spot we wanted. I took Jack and Mitzy off their leashes and the fun began. Jack bolted through the white gypsum sand running at full speed in big circles like an asteroid going hot. I spent about an hour shooting this black blast blur with the wide grin up and down the dunes.

White Sands National Monument Sign

Jack at White Sands

Jack at White Sands II

Jack at White Sands III

Jack at White Sands IV

Mitzy, though, tired of the excitement and wandered back to the car. She had had enough fun.

Mitzy at White Sands

We then took our time driving back slowly, stopping several times to shoot the yucca. Also, I found a fun photo opportunity of some guys having breakfast.

Happy Campers

Yucca II

Yucca III

Here is a yucca that Janny shot.

Jan's Yucca

After stopping by the visitor center for Jan to get her passport stamped, we bought a tee shirt and a burrito to share on the drive back to Boot Hill.

We hooked up the car and took 54 north then west on NM 3. We then took 285 north to I-25 south where we hung a right. At exit 264 we took NM 16 and followed the signs past the Cochiti Lake Dam.

Cochiti Lake COE

Cochiti Lake Campground Sign

Cochiti Lake Campground is another Corps of Engineers project. This secluded area west of Santa Fe featured very big sites with private areas. We were up on top of a hill with a view of the lake and the mountains.

Coach at Cochiti Lake

Galardia

Cochiti is within the boundaries of the Cochiti Reservation, which borders other reservations on all sides. Each has their own Pueblo, a Governor, and a ruling council.

Day Trip to Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument Sign

We decided to take a side trip to Bandelier National Monument. As the crow flies, it is only 12 miles from Cochiti Lake to Bandelier. However, as Google Maps points out, the best route is a 75-mile jaunt, south, east, north, and then west. Yet, when I studied my New Mexico Road and Recreation Atlas, the trip would be only 32 miles if one was willing to take 14 miles of non-paved road. Confident in our off-road ability, we set out on National Forest Road 268 planning on taking Bland Canyon through the Jemez Mountains, connecting with Highway 4 east to the monument.

Cochiti Lake to Bandelier National Monument

We quickly learned that road 268 was basically a riverbed covered with rocks and rutted tire tracks with a stream running through the middle. The rough going was really slow for about three miles and continued to get more challenging. As things continued to worsen Jack and I got out of the Jeep to scout ahead by foot. Turning a corner, our “road” was blocked off by a farmer’s fence, making further progress nonnegotiable. Sadly, we backtracked, but started developing a plan B.

Alex on No Road

Plan B

Cochiti Lake to Bandelier National Monument - Long Route

We drove south on 22, went south on I-25 for a few miles exiting at San Felipe Pueblo onto historic Route 66. At Bernalillo we turned northwest on 550 all the way to San Ysidro where we headed north then east. Here we found three nice old trucks (see below).

View Past Bernalillo

Each mile the scenery became more beautiful as we slowly went upward climbing the Jemez Mountains through the Santa Fe National Forest peaking at over 9,000 feet. Jemez Springs is gorgeous, and as we continued we had the Valles Caldera National Reserve on our left, a huge region of ancient volcanic activity--some of the prettiest scenery we have seen. After a short stop at Bandelier, we continued on the White Rock, then took 502 east, and then 285 south.

Valles Caldera Sign

Green Chili Cheeseburgers
By then it was early afternoon and we were quite hungry, but decided it was worth a few more miles and a few more minutes to drive to one of our favorite towns in New Mexico, Madrid. So instead of getting back on I-25 south to return to our campground, we took NM 14 (the Turquoise Trail) south to this old hippy, artsy town. We parked and took the steps up to the deck of the dog-friendly Mineshaft Cantina. They specialize in craft draft beers and homemade margaritas, and green chili cheeseburgers.

Jan and I are green chili cheeseburger fanciers, having tasted several versions all over New Mexico, including those from the much-touted Buckhorn Tavern and the Owl Bar and Grill in San Antonio. However, we both agreed that our favorite is the version served at the Mineshaft Cantina—a huge burger of beef cooked exactly how you order it with cheese, salsa, deep-fried hatch chilies on the bun, and a mound of French fries on the side. Enough spice to add a little zing to the already mouth-drooling taste. Here is Jan’s pic of her plate. Great place to hang…then back to camp. All in all, a 214-mile road trip—a little longer than intended, but much better than expected. Wow!

Green Chili Cheeseburger

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from San Ysidro.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.

Blog 285: Hot and Windy, Dry and Dusty

Cranes Mill to Carlsbad

Heading north and east for 30 miles, we then hooked up again with I-10 West on our journey into West Texas. I-10 is like a friend that you enjoy for a couple-day visit, but then you start to yearn to move on—we were reaching the yearning point.

When you hear the words “West Texas” what thoughts come to mind? What feelings? What images? For me it is simple: “hot and windy, dry and dusty.” We traveled for 317 miles in mid- to high-90s temperature before stopping in Fort Stockton for the evening

Hilltop RV Park Sign

Hilltop RV Park, Fort Stockton
For one night, this was a good choice (I can’t imagine spending more than one night in Ft. Stockton, though). The place was well run and adorned with metal art throughout the park.

Metal Burro

3 Musicians

There was also a cool sign on a hill across from the campground.

Ft. Stockton Sign

Brantley Lake State Park, Carlsbad, NM
From Stockton, we headed west on 285 all the way to the New Mexico border. The entire way through Texas the west wind whirled, sending streams of orange-ish red dust across a highway worn out by thousands of trucks, mostly hauling oil pipeline equipment and supplies. It seemed like every fifth truck was adorned with an “oversized load” sign on its grill with hunks of machines or metals or materials hanging over the side and out the rear. The trash on the side of the road reminded one of the littered streets in bad Detroit neighborhoods. Not pleasant. However, once we hit the state line, the road improved, the traffic lightened, and the roadside looked as New Mexico had a little more pride in appearances. We continued on 285 North through Carlsbad and up to our campsite in Brantley Lake State Park north of town.

Brantley Lake State Park Sign

Brantley Lake View

We thoroughly enjoyed this isolated area out in the desert of New Mexico. There were lots of bunnies and hundreds of those long-eared, long-legged Texas jack rabbits. Of course, Jack and Mitzy loved them.

Along with other critters there were lots of scaled quail, mockingbirds, grackles, roadrunners, and lizards.

Twin Peaks

Mourning Dove

Roadrunner

Carlsbad Caverns
Of course the most famous attraction in the Carlsbad area is the Carlsbad Caverns. Several years ago we wanted to tour them but arrived too late in the day. Last year I had put a plan together for Jan to drop me off for two hours while she and the Pups took the drive through the park (Jan is not crazy about caves). When I went to get my ticket, I was informed the elevators were broken. Yes, I could walk, but that would extend my visit to five hours. Hence, we put it off another year.

There was one upside though, Al Roker and an NBC camera crew was at the visitor center when we arrived. They were shooting sessions for their 100 Years of National Park series. Jan greeted Al, and he responded with a big smile, and I spent some time talking to the crew.

Carlsbad Caverns Sign

This year, however, I learned from my past mistake—like a senior checking out final exam results, I monitored the NPS Carlsbad Caverns website daily to make sure that all was a go. I learned that elevator maintenance was planned for the days prior to my trip, so no worries. However, the night before, I found that the maintenance had been extended one day! Oh, brother—I thought I was jinxed.

Luckily, we had a little flexibility in our schedule so I set back my trip one day.

I arrive 8:26 a.m., got my ticket, and at 8:29 I was in line for the first elevator (8:30) to take me to the Big Room, 850 feet below. A cool thing for me was, unlike most caves, they did not require being chaperoned in a tour group, and you could not only take pictures but also use a tripod. I spent two hours walking and photographing this immense cave, only seeing a few people along the way. Crazy impressive. Here a few shots.

Caverns I

Caverns II

Caverns III

Caverns IV

Caverns V

Caverns VI

Caverns VII

Caverns VIII

Note to future visitors of the caverns: Go early. When I exited the caves, people where in long lines to get in. There were six buses parked with hundreds of school kids streaming, screaming, and scampering to take the tours.

Can’t Pass a Food Truck
Jan and I love food truck cuisine, especially Southwest food truck cuisine. We stop as much as we can. On my return to camp, I stopped at the La Patrona food truck to bring home their special burrito and a torta for our lunch. We sat outside, alert pups at our feet, desert before us, and tasting some of the best food in the world. It just doesn’t get any better.

Old Trucks
Here are two old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 46

Old Truck 47

See you soon.

Blog 284: Deep in the Heart of Texas

Davis Bayou Campground to Cranes Mill Park

From our Ocean Springs campground, we once again strode on to I-10 West and traveled across Mississippi and most all of Louisiana, stopping close to the Texas border at Vinton RV in Vinton, LA. This was just an easy-on, easy-off location for the night—just a place to rest up, and then go.

Vinton RV Sign

The next morning, we again pointed the coach west on I-10, scooting through the very light traffic of Houston, and then to exit 604 in Segun, Texas. After about an hour of taking Texas 46 to 2722 East to 2673 North, we arrived at our campground on Canyon Lake, Texas. Canyon Lake is strategically located, about 35 miles NE of San Antonio and 45 miles SW of Austin. It is a big, manmade lake created and managed by the Army Corp of Engineers.

Cranes Mill Park Sign

This place is our kind of park…small (just 30 sites), big sites, covered picnic tables, scrub country behind us, and lake views up front. Deer everywhere and lots of birds.

Corn Flowers

Bull Thistle

Oh Deer 2

Western Kingbird

For many hours over our stay, we stalked the scissor-tailed flycatcher (also known as the Texas bird-of-paradise or the swallow-tailed flycatcher) and were fortunate to get a photo or two (in reality, I probably shot 400 or more).

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

Our RV-really-good-friends from Oregon were in the area visiting family, and we spent time with this crew doing a little sightseeing, and then they took us out boating on the Caribbean-hued waters of the lake. Here are a couple of hot chicks on the boat.

Boating Babes

Old Trucks
Here is one old well-digging truck from the Texas heartland.

Old Well-Digging Truck

See you next time.

Blog 283: Tarzan, Moonshine, and Shrimp Boil Buddies

Punta Gorda to Ocean Springs

Adios, South Florida
As South Florida temperatures kept nudging upward and starting to set new highs, we departed Punta Gorda a couple of days earlier than originally planned.

After fueling up at the nearby Pilot, we headed north on I-75N, took I-275 around St. Pete, and crossed over the Skybridge, taking in the great Gulf views that tall structure provides. From there we took FL589 north until it merged into FL98N. Although the weather was in the mid-90s, cloud cover much of the trip helped keep the edge off the heat. Traffic was light (for Florida) and most of the roads were in decent to good condition—great traveling conditions.

We ended our travels four miles east of Perry, Florida, at Rocky’s Convenience Store and Campground…right off the highway, large sites, nice setting—good overnighter.

Rocky's Sign

While walking Jack on a backroad the next morning, I came across a sign designating the site of a past hotel. We walked back to camp, got Mitzy and Jan, and came back to explore.

Hampton Springs Hotel Sign

The Hampton Springs Hotel was the “must go to” Florida Panhandle destination of the rich and infamous. The hotel was visited by Theodore Roosevelt, and even royalty from the Far East. The sulphur springs and baths at the resort became known for their healing powers. The luxury hotel resort eventually included elaborate fountains and gardens, a covered pool, golf and tennis courts, stables, a casino, ballroom, an outdoor dance pavilion, and a railroad depot. The hotel also had a bottling plant, which bottled and shipped water from the springs to customers around the nation, and a private hunting and fishing lodge. The hotel burned down in 1954 and the area was largely abandoned.

River by Hotel

Johnny Weissmuller
While exploring the ruins of the hotel grounds, we came across a local walking his good-looking dog.

Hotel Dog and Master

He was kind enough to share some insights about the hotel and the grounds, along with some information not readily found in the historical files. Much of the underwater filming of several Tarzan movies took place at Wakulla Springs, located about 14 miles south of Tallahassee, and some of the filming took place on the grounds of the hotel. According to the local word-of-mouth journal, Johnny Weissmuller stayed at the hotel several times, always accompanied by an entourage of several young ladies, all known for their bold and bawdy ways. Interesting stop.

Georgia on My Mind
We headed west on US98 with almost zero traffic. Five miles past Newport we headed north on FL363, then at the outskirts of Tallahassee we took the Capital Circle bypass that connected us to I-10 West. After heading northwest for close to 30 miles, we went north on 269 to the town of Chattahoochee. We then continued north three mile into Georgia to our next destination along the shores of Lake Seminole.

Eastbank Sign

We stayed five nights at the East Bank Campground, a Corps of Engineers campground on Lake Seminole, bordering Georgia and Florida. Great big campsites, grounds as neat as a pin, and all sites with views of the water.

Lake Seminole from Eastbank

Campfire

Tuscany at Lake Seminole

Mississippi Meet Up
We got an early start leaving the campground, headed west on 90, south on FL286, then west on I-10 across the Florida panhandle, a stretch of Alabama, then into SE Mississippi, where we took MS 57 south to Ocean Springs Road. That took us to our Davis Bayou COE campground, just east of Ocean Springs. After several warm days, the light-jacket weather was welcomed like an old friend you haven’t seen in ages.

Davis Bayou Sign

Davis Bayou Campground is another COE campground and part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The campground is on the east edge of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and Ocean Springs is just a few miles east of Biloxi. Our campground was home to hoards of squirrels and vast numbers of birds. We spent a lot of time sitting outside watching the action, and Jack had the Squirrel Channel on from dawn to dusk.

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Brown Thrasher

Squirrel Close Up

Turtles and Gators

One of the campers towed a travel trailer with his classic car. Here is a shot of his rig and one of him standing proudly by his car with his chauffeur smiling at the camera.

Classic Car and R Pod

Classic Car Pose

Beach Walks
Another great benefit of our campground location was the short time it took to get to the beach. Most mornings we took the Pups for early morning walks alongside the Gulf.

Shrimp Boil Buddies
The campground was awash with friendly people from Alabama and Mississippi. Within a few hours of our stay we had a squadron of new friends. Before long we were all telling stories and passing life histories like we’d known each other for years. Jimmy, our neighbor, is a talented fellow and one of his capabilities is making moonshine. Not wanting to offend, Jan agreed to sample his surprisingly excellent wares (of course I was polite as well :’). The kind soul gave us a sample to go to stave off the stress of traveling!

Jan and Jimmy

Later in our stay, Jimmy and several of his lifelong friends invited us over to a shrimp boil. Jimmy cooked and everyone ate the traditional boiled shrimp with sides of sausage, sweet corn, bread, deep fried gator, and blueberry cobbler. Just wonderful. Here is a pic of that interesting crew.

Shrimp Boil Buddies

Shrimp Boil Sides

Old Trucks
Here are two old fire trucks taken in Biloxi.

Old Fire Trucks

A really fun few days! See you next time.

Travel Blog 282: The Pig Hunters

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from my Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

Lake Apopka Loop
It is getting late in the season, and the youngsters are growing up! Here is a pic of an immature Little Blue Heron and Flying Tri-Color Heron taken on the Lake Apopka Loop.

Immature Little Blue Heron  II

Flying Tri-Color Heron

Campsite Bow-Tailed Grackles
Those who know me understand that I am easily entertained. Sitting outside in the afternoon the Bow-Tailed Grackles flitter here and there looking for old chips, stale crackers, or chunks of anything edible. Here are a couple pics of these avian comics.

Bow-Tail Grackle

Bow-Tail Grackle II

Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center (CHEP)
The CHEP is a state park just one mile from our campground. It has five trails, ranging from a mile and a half to two miles. All trails are interconnected so you can go for a short stroll or a several-mile hike.

Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center

I have mentioned it before in earlier blogs, but until very recently I was unable to take photos, as I had dog leashes in both hands. Now that Jan, my hiking buddy is back in action, she takes Mitzy and I take Jack’s leash in my left hand while holding my camera in my right hand. We have seen lots of wildlife and were rewarded by seeing a couple of immature eagles on a recent visit. And as always, vultures are everywhere, eyeing all living things with lustful looks.

Immature Bald Eagle

Vultures

The Pig Hunters
The big excitement at the state park, though, is wild pig hunting. Our schnauzer, Mitzy, is a Sweet Polly Purebred, a gentle little princess that loves laps and lives for pets (and chunks of cheese).

Sweet Mitzy

However, take her on the trail amidst the scent of wild pigs and a magical transformation occurs--her feminine curls thicken, her dainty muscles tighten, and her angelic face hardens as she turns into Thunder Dog, Huntress of Hogs. Her mild feminine bark turns into a wild savage howl as her eyes burn into the woods seeking her prey. Every fiber of this Hell Hound lusts for her porcine pleasure.

Thunder Dog

Urged on by Mitzy, Jack joins the frenzied attack, leaping, yipping, and straining on his leash like the lead dog at the Iditarod. Dragged forward, it is all I can do to keep him under control.

Pig-Hunting Jack

I think you can imagine the challenge of trying to photograph fast-moving pigs through dense woods with one hand on a shaking camera--crazy difficult you say? For sure. Almost impossible? You bet. Hah! Here are some pigs I caught in action.

Running Wild Boar

Wild Piglets

Wild Pig

What other family do you know that hunts wild pigs before breakfast?...ham and eggs of course!