From Windswept Plaines to the Rio Grande

April 30, 2016

The Arlington Hotel, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Anxious to get back on the road, we checked out of The Arlington and were on the road by 8:00 a.m. and entering the Ouachita National Forest within the hour. Deciduous trees lush with spring boasted vibrant green over yellow-green grasses. Finally, after being shrouded in storm for the past two days we were enjoying blue skies.  Stratums of white and grey clouds crowded above the tree-covered Winding Stair and Rich Mountains, granite peaks occasionally poking beyond the treetops. The creeks and rivers bulged with the three inches of rainfall that arrived in the last 24 hours, flooding the roots the clung to the banks. Rust–gilded homesteads boasted yards adorned with car carcasses stacked and strewn with potential purpose, anticipation of future need.


We headed north toward Abbot Arkansas. Cresting the final hill and descending into Scott County, the mountains were finally in full view. A chainsaw-carved bear held up a wooded sign: “Welcome to Walden”.

We reached our destination by late afternoon and pitched our tent in the Black Kettle Recreation Area in the Oklahoma National Grasslands.   It was partly cloudy, windy, and about 65 degrees. We chose a spot in a beautiful campground beside a man-made pond, created from the damed creek. Geese with a gaggle of goslings picked their way across the grass. Ants marched back and forth across the red dirt. A dock overgrown with reeds extended from our site. Short, gnarled black walnuts and cottonwoods waved in the wind. The sun glistened off the water, birds of prey soared, battling the wind; “Ooooklahoma. Where the wind comes whistling ‘cross the plains. A welcome change from the urban situation of Hot Springs Arkansas.


Black Kettle Recreation Area


Airing out the tent


Two weeks from today we will check into our apartment at Mount Rushmore. Hard to believe, but an amazing feeling-what a fantastic adventure before us!  We didn’t know exactly what to expect from rangering, but our anticipation and excitement was palpable.  Even at Hot Springs we noticed that we were looking at the rangers a little differently wondering as we watched them behind the visitor’s center desk or rounding the corner on a trail.  What were they doing?  What was their day like?  What would our days be like?  What exactly is it like to be a park ranger?   All we knew came from the job description, our conversations with Blaine during and after our interview, and our own experience seeing rangers in the parks throughout our travels.  But how reliable is the information gathered by watching a profession from the outside?  How well do people you encounter, outside of your profession, as you are working actually understand your job?  We had a lot of questions and were doing more than our fair amount of wondering.  But at the same time we were enjoying our journey and reveling in the wonderous excitement of the new and the unknown.  Between now and then we hoped to hit a few more parks in Colorado as well, including camping in the Great Sand Dunes and a few days in the Rocky Mountains.

The sun was becoming golden and started to dip into the horizon.  What a treat to realize that we had the entire campground to ourselves. We explored the nearby creek trail and started on dinner. One of our favorites things to while camping and living on the road is to get creative with our cooking. We had some Mullins cheese that we stocked up on in Wisconsin and a delicious baguette from Our Big Oak, the exciting baking venture of our dear friends Luke and Stephanie (hosts of Georgia Jamboree).



We enjoyed our dinner as the twilight began to unfold. The surprising sound of cows mooing nearby, followed by coyotes yipping ushered in the evening. A small mob of starlings flapped in unison as they careened along the shoreline. A white egret perched on a rotting dock post. We looked long into the night, Orion bright in the western skies.


May 1, 2016– 6:44 a.m 46 degrees

Black Kettle Recreation Area Campground, Oklahoma 

We woke to a raging wind and grey skies in the grasslands (a frequent weather pattern no doubt) as we pack up and hit the road again.




Strong weather was certainly headed our way. As I drove across the remainder of Oklahoma toward to rising sun’s orange hue. 7:07 a.m. – Welcome to Texas and the 75 m.p.h. speed limit!



Huge grain elevators spot the dusty windswept towns and gigantic cattle farms. We wove west across the panhandle of Texas on the farm roads battling 40 m.p.h + crosswinds. Tumbleweeds shot across the road as the birds battled the wind. Furiously flapping their wings, they hung, suspended in midair, their effort no match for the storm-sucked air as it roared across the Texas plains. We couldn’t help but laugh, half amusement and half awe, as the wind that so often elevated, held each bird against its will.


As we rolled along we watched the clouds. It looked like it would be raining by the time we hit New Mexico, our next destination being Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. We increased elevation, drawing closer and closer to the clouds.  We crept through the small town of Cimarron, where the Rockies meet the plains, and suddenly realized that it was not rain, but snow!


North of Eagle’s Nest, we dropped into the top of the mountains in New Mexico. The snow was bright and beautiful, swirling around us.







We pulled into Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument in mid afternoon, swung through the visitors center, and chose a campsite at Big Arsonic Campground.  Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument was established by President Obama on March 25, 2013.  It is the headwaters of Rio Grande River as well as the confluence of the Rio Grande and Red River.  The monument is of immense natural and geological importance boasting volcanic cones, canyons, wild rivers, grasslands, and a wealth of artifacts from generations of human settlement.  It supports an abundance of wildlife and is also on the Central Migratory Flyway.

From our site we could hear the river rushing through the gorge 800 feet below us. The snow had stopped after a beautiful, big-flaked showing. Pinion pines clustered our campsite and descended into the grand gash in the land. The spring sun emerged and ignited the color in the canyon walls. A vulture sliced svelte wings through the updraft. Ravens cawed and cascaded along the rim. The afternoon sun started the insistent drip and splash of fresh snow thawing.


We hiked to the confluence overlook of the Red River and Rio Grande and then returned to camp to pitch the tent and make dinner. Flatbread sandwiches with peppered turkey, several cheeses, and Nueske’s bacon.

The snow started again, sprinkling the distinct tic-tic of frozen flake on stretched tent fabric. Lumps of snow fell from the trees in large splats as the South sucked the precious moisture in.


We relaxed at our campsite, explored the rim of the canyon, and listening to the world’s best white noise; a river amplified by the natural megaphone of a canyon. It lulled us into a deep slumber that cradled us into the morning.



Tuesday, May 2, 2016

Site #6, Big Arsonic Campground

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, New Mexico


It was a beautiful grey morning in New Mexico. We lingered in the awesome and unexpected dose of the mountains before we headed to Colorado.

We crafted a creative breakfast over the grill: The French Crouton Omelet. Consider the premise of French toast, savory, with crouton-size hunks of a delicious Our Big Oak baguette, covered with cheese instead of syrup.  YUM.


The noon-approaching sun warmed our backs we gazed into the canyon one last time before continuing on our journey. Soon we were packed up and ready to head toward Colorado and our next National Park stop, The Great Sand Dunes.


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