We are camped at the MacMillen (or McMillen, I’ve seen it spelled both ways here) RV Park just 1/4 mile from Fort Davis town center. Its a full hookup site and has good wifi! It gets below freezing at night so we’ve just been running off the fresh water tanks and dumping as needed. The sewer inlets sit about 6 inches above grade which made for a great science lesson for the boys as we proved the theory that poop doesn’t run uphill. If you are a seasoned RVer you have this little contraption that looks like a model train bridge that elevates your sewer hose on its path to the sewer inlet. If yer a cheapskate like me you use the ol’ lift-it-in-sections technique. But with the contents weighing about 5.5lbs per foot in a container with the rigidity of a slinky this technique should not be relied upon in the future. But enough about that, the fun part of the day was exploring the downtown metropolis of Fort Davis!
After spending the morning and early afternoon doing school and work we headed over to Fort Davis National Park. The location was really nice as its set back in some Texan mountains (or, Colorado hills). The kids got their Jr Ranger books and we explored. Its a really well done park with great displays and a cool history. Our favorite part was the hospital and seeing all of the really crazy tools the doctors used like the esophagus dilator (a long stick which they could put increasing larger diameter doo dads on and stick down your throat). Brielle liked the horse drawn ambulance. They also had different bugle calls every 10-15 minutes and they gave us a cheat sheet to know what they meant. It sounded really cool as it echoed off the rocky bluffs and brought the otherwise deserted grounds to life. The kids took their Jr Ranger oath and received their patches. But we forgot their National Parks Passports back at the trailer….DOH! Its just a few miles from our campground so we’ll swing by another day to get stamps.
Brielle by the old chapel
Another Jr Ranger badge
Outside the commissary
Fort Davis panorama
What are big brothers for?
Dacen as a soldier
Outside the commissary
Exploring Fort Davis parade grounds
The original RV
Sibs in a swing
On our way to Fort Davis Texas we stopped in at Balmorhea State Park home of the worlds largest spring fed pool. We should have eaten lunch late and enjoyed it there at the park instead of the nasty, loud truck stop because we were the only vehicle in the Balmorhea parking lot. The water is 72-76 degrees…it was 30 outside so the steam gave the illusion that the water was much warmer than it was. I suspect its a hoppin’ place in the warmer months. Supposedly there are fish in the pool but we didn’t see anything but ducks in the water. We snapped a few pics and got back on our way to Fort Davis in a Texas snow storm (ok, maybe not a storm).
It was too cold to swim (in our opinion)
Heading to the pool
That is, I got no crap on me, Ava or the ground during my first solo dump of the tanks. Movies like RV with Robin Williams can freak a guy out about all the bad things that can happen when emptying your tanks.
So, as an engineer I made sure I understood the system as a whole. I read a lot of instructions on proper technique and how to avoid contamination of everything but the sewer hose. And I watched an inordinate number of Youtube videos on RV black tank mishaps and how to avoid them. My biggest concern was that there would be pressure from a line of people waiting to use the dump station. But when you are at a state park in the New Mexican desert, in January, on a Tuesday you pretty much have the dump station to yourself.
January 25, 2016
Happy Birthday to me!
Today I turned 10! We drove down to Carlsbad Caverns National Park NM. We arrived at about 11:15 we decided to eat lunch right then because we can’t eat in the caverns and sadly, the elevators were out of service. We headed into the cave at about 12:30 due to lunch, visitor center, and bathroom breaks. When we headed into the caverns we had to go down a twisted path deeper, deeper, deeper, and even deeper. It got darker, darker, darker, and even darker. Finally, we had descended all the way to the twilight zone. The twilight zone is where many small animals like raccoons, mice, rats, snakes venture and where miners would mine guano (bat poop) in the 19th century to the early 20th century.
In the early 20th century a guano miner named Jim White wanted to explore deeper into the cave. All of his mining friends thought he was crazy. But this was the dream of his lifetime. Imagine being Jim White in the early 20th century and having to carry a lantern in one hand and digging deeper and deeper into the cavern with the other. Also there weren’t any paths or railings. But in 6 months by himself he explored all of Carlsbad Caverns.
THE SCIENCE OF THE FORMATIONS
Walking the 3.75 miles of Carlsbad Caverns and seeing cool formations in every direction is awesome. But it wasn’t easy for the formations to get there. When it rains the rain water slowly, slowly seeps through dirt, rocks, and gasses and pick up minerals like iron oxide, sulfur, and calcite. Then, the combination of the rainwater and minerals drips and turns into a colorful, rock icicle which is called a stalactite. When the combination of the rainwater and chemicals finally drip off of the stalactite they drip on to the ground they form a stalagmite. Sometimes the gasses make a bubble like a balloon and it is called popcorn. A soda straw is formed when the chemicals mixed with rainwater drips down and forms on the outside making it hollow. A column is when a stalactite and a stalagmite unite. A drapery or bacon is created when the solution of chemicals and rainwater drip down the wall.
After walking through the amazing caverns we were going to do “ask a ranger” on the Jr. Ranger program. One interesting thing I learned was bats actually eat moths not mosquitoes. Also, I learned that the real owner is Bill Gates. Just Kidding! Everybody owns all of the National Parks. Probably the coolest fact I learned was bats can see just as good as humans but they use echolocation at night because it’s darker and harder to see. Also, using echolocation it’s harder to catch the sound because it’s going the speed of sound and that’s why bats have big ears. With echolocation bats can figure out the size, shape, density, distance, and type of animal the sound bounced off like paleontologists can see what a prehistoric animal eats, the size, weight, what it looks like, and much more. I hope you learned a little something about caverns!
Dacen turned 10 today…double digits! We woke up to a beautiful morning camped here at Brantley Lake State Park just north of Carlsbad NM and had donuts for breakfast (birthday boy’s choice).
We packed a lunch and headed to Carlsbad Caverns. Since Dacen is in 4th grade this year he gets an annual pass to our national parks…so, our cavern entrance fee was waived!
We enjoyed lunch outside in the sun. Its January and NM is known for high winds, but it was actually really nice for a picnic.
Then grabbed Jr. Ranger books for the kids and headed to the natural entrance.
If I was ever a park ranger I think I’d really enjoy a stint at Carlsbad Caverns. I love the desert mountains, the remote location and the cave itself is just so stinking big. And the formations never cease to amaze me.
I’ve been through the main caverns probably 6 or 7 times and every time I have ridden the elevator out of the cave. But this time the elevator was not an option….it was out of order. So we walked out the natural entrance which was a super cool bonus. If you’ve ever been in a wild cave on your own you know how easy it is to get lost because things look so different on your way out of a cave. The paved path and handrail made getting lost pretty hard but it still looked so different on the way out….like two caves for the price of one (oh wait, we didn’t pay any price to get in today!!). On our way out a little man in a helmet passed us on his way down into the cave. He was looking down but said “yer on the home stretch” in a cheery voice. It took my brain a bit to process all the info but I turned around and said, “is that Mr. Bemis?” to which the man replied, “couldn’t be….they wouldn’t let that guy in here”. Sho nuf!! It was Tom Bemis.
Oh, you don’t know who Tom Bemis is? Let me tell you. This guy has served Carlsbad Caverns since, well, I don’t know but its been a long time. There are several wild caves you can get access to on your own….but some require a ranger to go with you and Tom Bemis led me and my buddies on a trip through Ogle cave. This guy is TOUGH and, despite his back/spine injury, can jug up a rope out of a cave faster than I’ve ever seen anyone go. Tom retired in 2009 but now works as a consultant….he was supervising the electricians working in the cave today.
Brielle was nervous during our trip into the cave and around the Big Room about the fact that we had to walk all the way out. She asked if I’d give her piggy back rides on the way out. But once we got started up she did great….never once asked for a ride on my back. Its quite a hike out of the cave but with a few rests along the way we all made it!
We came back ‘home’ and Steph made biscuits and gravy for dinner (the birthday boy’s choice). He wanted mystery cake too but it was late and so we’ll try that for tomorrow night. Tonight we sang happy birthday to Dacen over a dish of ice cream and a Girl Scout cookie. Dacen said, “this was the best birthday ever!” I agree.
Two spelunkers walk into a bar and order some drinks and Carl the bartender says “we don’t serve spelunkers here”. The two spelunkers beg for him to pour them some brews and Carl finally gives into their plea to which the two spelunkers respond “Carl’s bad” as they high five each other.
Carlsbad NM is a place of many fond memories for me. Growing up we made several trips here to visit family. In high school we visited during Thanksgiving one year because I was really into caving and hadn’t been to the caverns since I was a wee one. Then in college my good friends, the Dogs, made numerous trips to the area to explore as many of the wild caves in the Guadalupes as we could get access to. I brought Steph here when we just had the two boys. I’ve stayed in motels, dumpy motels, tents in town and tents in the backcountry. But this time its all 5 of us and we’re staying in our little home on wheels! After setting up the trailer we went for a bike ride around the campground, played at the playground, and watched the sun set. Then we turned around and watched the big ol moon rise up out of the ground.
For seasoned RVers its probably no big woop, but I’m still very green. It blows me away that we have all the conveniences of home: electricity, heat, water, hot water, and internet. We ate a nice hot meal together on real dishes and now the kids are watching a movie. Now I have to buckle down and do some work…anyone ever use the Levenshtein distance before?
After a couple days of free fall we splashed down into our first day! My steering wheel is a little skinnier from squeezing it so tight. It took much longer than we expected. We used a lot of diesel. But we made it to our first stop (just an overnight) and set up our house. And get this, NO PROBLEMS!! God is good.
It was a hectic morning trying to get ready. After hitching up we gave the Ryplewskis a big hug and rolled away. We could NOT have done this without Eric and Alyssa’s kindness, generosity, experience, tools, watchful eyes, lessons and prayers. We stopped in Colorado Springs to say goodbye to Baba and Zedo (Huck’s parents…that is Slovak for grandma and grandpa). Then we stopped in Pueblo for a bite to eat and Ava played with the big boys…
Yeah, I’m over the line but it was my first solo back in job and the dude in the truck on Ava’s right said “no problem, yer fine”. But just as we were getting in the truck to leave a trucker shoe horned himself into the little space I left….I think he was either showing off or teaching me a lesson for playing with the big boys.
We were passing passenger vehicles on Raton pass…bogged down the last couple miles where it gets steep and I got behind a slow moving semi. And we rolled into our destination in the dark (not ideal for our first time setting up by ourselves). But we did it! One day down, 159 more days of adventure still to enjoy.
Rewind back to Oct 4, 2015 at our church Grace Place. Its opening weekend of the new facility we have been blessed with and the preacher does a short bit on “independence” and into my head pops this:
There is a vast space between “independence” and being “in <space> dependence”
Of course, there is no way something so clever could also be original and I proved myself correct with a quick search at big G where I found at least one. But still I like it. And I’m on the journey from the former to the latter.
So, as we drive away from everything that is known and comfy and into this adventure there is a mix of those two feelings. On one hand we are fully independent: I’m an independent contractor, we have independent little learners we are homeschooling, we are independent from a concrete foundation, the world is our oyster (or the US is our clam). On the other hand we find ourselves fully in dependence as we leave everything that is known and comfortable to us. Dependent on our truck and 5th wheel, dependent on each other, dependent on kind and generous people we will no doubt meet, and dependent on God. Fully dependent on God to continue to provide for us, protect us, guide us, teach us, comfort us and surprise us.
Father in heaven….thank you for this wonderful opportunity. I ask that this adventure marks a giant step in my journey from independence to in dependence. Amen
The last few days have been crazy hectic as we moved stuff to the rig and got our house ready for the renters to move in. And so, at 3:30pm yesterday we handed the keys to our renters and officially moved out of our home of the last 16 years. It felt really weird. Like free fall from a jump. School was letting out and so we got to say our goodbyes to our neighbors…the Wieders, the Briggs, Liam, Graham and Riley. It was hard, but comforting knowing that we’ll return in the summer. I cannot imagine moving away for good.
The trailer is full of our stuff but not put away. My brother and sister-in-law are putting us up for a couple of nights while we’re in free fall. The truck should be done by noon today…praying that this is the end of its issues for a good long time. I’m thankful for my awesome wife and kids who have powered through this big change in our lives with such positive attitudes. I’m blessed beyond belief with family….there is no other team I’d rather take this journey with. Maybe on the road tomorrow!