Brownsville, San Antonio, Big Bend National Park
Flying the Edge of America
Monday, September 8, 2008: Brownsville, Texas
Who knew the Egyptians had been to Galveston.
We left Galveston behind us this morning and headed south for
Brownsville Texas. Brownsville is at the southernmost tip, of the US part,
of the Gulf of
Mexico. The weather was clear on departure but it soon began to close in on us.
In flight we discovered that there might be thunderstorms in the Brownsville area
at our arrival time. As we flew on the clouds began to bubble, churn, lift, and
close in around us.
We climbed to 6,000 feet which kept us above them. The cloudscape resembled a
snow white coral field with sharp barbs and jagged extrusions. Because of the
weather we changed to an instrument rules flight plan just in case we needed to land
through the clouds at Brownsville.
The interesting coastline of the gulf.
Lucky we did change to instrument flight rules as there were three thunderstorm
cells surrounding the Brownsville airport when we arrived. The weather changed
to real horror. Black thunderstorm clouds, pouring rain, bumps and jolts, in
every direction. We battled on dodging left and right around the cells with the
help of our weather GPS and the flight controller. Finally, we landed safely with only our nerves frayed. 51-Juliet once again
proved what a magnificent aircraft she is.
On landing I always open my door in the airplane and am usually rewarded by a
cooling breeze. When I did this at Brownsville all I achieved was making us even
hotter. The outside temperature was in the 90s and the humidity was a similar
number; all this while it poured with rain. Eventually we were able to escape
the overwhelming weather by getting into our rental car and turn on the
air conditioning. We drove around Brownsville and discovered
that it is a thriving community made up of many not so nice homes, strip
malls, and freeways. Brownsville shares a border with Mexico so we plan to
walk over tomorrow. In the civil war
Brownsville was used to smuggle confederate goods to Mexico for sale.
Brownsville Flight Video
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Lots of pictures of clouds.
It turns out hurricane Ike might hit the Gulf States by this Friday so we took
the opportunity of a small break in the thunderstorms today to leave Brownsville
and fly to San Antonio in Texas. We never made it to Mexico. The flight was over a bubbling and churning
field of cumulous clouds but it was uneventful. It is funny, when I left on
this trip around America I had visions of collecting hundreds of photos of
Instead we have hundreds of photos of interesting clouds. I
did not realize what summer weather would be like in America based on my
experience with Californian weather. If I were to do this trip again I
think the best time to leave
in Spring and go in an anticlockwise direction to avoid the hurricane season.
San Antonio Flight Video
Wednesday, September 10, 2008: San Antonio, Texas
Hurricane Ike and the local weather making it tough for us to fly.
We walked into downtown San Antonio this morning and walked the river walk. This
is a very quaint walk beside a small river that runs through town and has been
diverted into a loop. The humidity was high so it was a bit hot but well worth
the effort. We went on to the Alamo which is in downtown too. This
is a monument now of the remains of the fort where the legendary battle between
the Texian rebels and the Mexican army took place.
The weather continues to chase us away from the east. Hurricane Ike is now
defiantly going to hit the Gulf States, hurricane warnings have been issued and
some evacuations have begun. The problem is the local current weather in San
Antonio and Alpine Texas, which is our planned next stop, is quite nasty. We
might be able to make the flight tomorrow but it is an hour by hour call at the
The good news is we got another Obama will win for our poll. This was from
a guy in Texas and at the Alamo no less! I am predicting a landslide victory for
Obama at this point.
River Walk Video
Thursday, September 11, 2008: Big Bend National Park
A lonely but faithful 51-Juliet sitting by herself at Alpine.
We did indeed leave San Antonio this morning and fly on to Alpine, Texas. Alpine
is the closest public airport to the Big Bend
National Park which is where we are headed to. The
weather was mostly below us but at times it bubbled up to give us a jostle. One
bump almost turned 51-Juliet over which made us really hang on to our seats. The
landing was a full instrument landing.
A well deserved glass after landing.
We broke out of the clouds at 1,000 feet above the ground. Not too big a deal
normally but in this case there was high terrain all around us. It is a bit
disconcerting to be descending at 1,000 feet per minute in complete whiteout
with the knowledge there are mountains all around you. However, we made it
without a hitch and found ourselves soon enjoying lunch at a local restaurant
that was quite good.
We drove on to Terlingua Ghost Town where Julia had found us some very interesting
The Rio Grande bursting its banks.
As she looked for a place to stay out here in this very remote location she kept
turning up very so, so options. Then she found a kind of bed and breakfast right
in the ghost town. The place was hard to find and there was no one there to meet
us as they had told us they would not be there until tomorrow. Why we are not sure. They
left us a set of instructions at the main office which looked more like a broken
down shack than an office.
The beautiful turbulent skies over Terlingua.
The instructions said something about "go behind the building, locate the dirt
road with a wooden arrow and drive up to the parking lot". We did this and when we
got out we saw a set of Adobe buildings that did not look inviting. But we found
our room, which had the key left in the door by the owner for us, and were
pleasantly surprised at how quaint and more importantly clean the room was. The
bathroom was a shared one but as there was no one else staying here it really
didn"t matter much. As
the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho said: "twelve cabins and twelve vacancies". Julia
found no tarantulas in the room so she was very happy.
I found WiFi in the room and so I was happy.
As I write this it just began to pour with rain. The place is normally a desert
but they have had non-stop rain for the last two weeks which is very unusual and
has made everything very green. We took a drive to the Rio Grande to see how
it had been affected by the rain and low and behold it was running over its
banks. We spent the evening sitting outside of our cabin watching the light show
from the thunderstorms; they are better to watch from the ground.
Alpine Flight Video
Rio Grande Video
Friday, September 12, 2008
I did not sleep very well last night because of the thunder,
lightning, and pouring rain. But
we got up ate breakfast and drove the 30 miles through the park to the Big Bend
National Park Visitors Center.
It is a exceptional park and we have had the luck
to catch it in one of its very rare green moments because of all the rain.
This is a very beautiful National Park.
We decided to drive up the Chisos Mountains to hike the trails there. After
eating our cheese sandwiches at the Chisos Lodge we walked the Lost Mine Trail
to the top of the mountain.
Where the deer and the antelope and giant spiders play.
This was truly a fantastic walk and we did it in
cool conditions not in the very hot conditions we were expecting. It was a bit
humid but the temperature was in the low 80s. We met a nice fellow called Tim
on the trail who has been traveling to national parks for several weeks. We also
came across the dreadedtarantula on
Julia was the first to see it and it was a real beauty. These spiders are big
and they can move fast if provoked.
We were told by the ranger that their bite
is no worse than a bee sting but that they can spray out their body hair as a
defense and it can cause severe irritation. We got a few photos and a bit of
video of the beast.
Big Bend Hike Video
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Volcanic ash and basaltic rocks.
We drove the Ross Maxwell scenic route towards Castolon today and it was
fantastic. The park is accentually the ancient remains of a giant volcanic
explosion. The earth is every shade of brown from ash to deep
chocolate brown. The ash
colored soil is indeed volcanic ash.
Deserts flowers blooming.
The many buttes in the area and the mountains themselves are the remains of
massive lava flows leaving behind hard
basaltic rocks. These rocks have resisted erosion more than the sandstone and
ash and so they protrude reaching upwards towards the sky. And again because
there has been so much rain here everything is unusually green and blooming.
Today we even came across a valley which was covered with
and purple flowering
bush making the valley dance with hues of green, brown, yellow, and
Today I spent a bit of time helping the owner of our cabin sort out her wireless
Internet access. It had worked perfectly until the storm came through then it
stopped leaving us in a void of no Internet. It turned out to be a very complex collection of systems that had been pieced
together over time. So she was happy for me to draw it out on paper for her and
give her instructions on how to reboot the system correctly after a power
outage. Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In.
Big Bend Drive Video
Miles Hiked: 174
Miles Flown: 8,568
Flights Flown 38
Hours Flown 63.13
States Visited: 27
Towns Visited: 46