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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 interesting terrain.

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 would be 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 moment.

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 accommodation.

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

Magnificent sunset.

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 the trail. 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 Ocotillo and purple flowering Texas sage bush making the valley dance with hues of green, brown, yellow, and purple.

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

Trip stats

Obama: 23

McCain: 5

Undecided: 8

Miles Hiked: 174

Miles Flown: 8,568

Flights Flown 38

Hours Flown 63.13

States Visited: 27

Towns Visited: 46


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