Update 14: March 19, 2007
324 days; 27,719 miles (Car: 12,187, RV: 15,532); 36 states; 31 National Parks; 11,814 photos.
Update on Zane
For the most part, Zane continues to do well and is tolerating our nomadic lifestyle. He is a lot of work sometimes, but it's worth it to have him traveling with us. We had a few days of concern during our stays in northern Florida and Hot Springs National Park, when his seizures were acting up considerably. Calls to the hospice nurse and doctor who treated him in Florida helped us relax a little, but there was one day in particular that really had us worried.
Zane has had three types of seizures that we've witnessed since getting back on the road. During our stay near Hot Springs, he was having the most mild of the seizures we've seen. They may have been mild, but they were virtually non-stop. Susan estimates on that particular day, Zane had at least 100 seizures. We discussed (again) taking him to the ER, but we are opposed to hooking him up to a bunch of monitors and medicating him unless we have evidence that he is in pain. We even talked about postponing or aborting the next leg of our trip and heading straight to Phoenix to have him looked at. Because it seemed like he was starting to go downhill, we thought that perhaps he wouldn't make it through the night. But true to form, just when we feared the worst, our little guy rallied and had a period of several days where there was no seizure activity at all.
As of this update, Zane's seizures are back, but they are not as frequent. However, some of them cause him to turn blue, which is always a scary sight until he comes out of them and starts breathing normally again. Other times the seizures make him throw up, so we have to make sure we suction out his mouth to keep him from breathing it into his lungs. He's also having increased instances of reflux, which also make him throw up. We never know how he'll be from one day to the next, so there is always some level of worry that accompanies us as we travel.
Justin continues being a great big brother to his little "Zaner", and usually wants to help out with Zane's care and feeding. When Zane cries, Justin will ask him what's wrong, then put his hand on Zane's head or talk to him to help calm him down. Justin even held his hand under Zane's mouth once, telling Zane it was okay to throw up in his hand if he needed to. No doubt that offer would have immediately been rescinded if Zane had gone through with it, but it was neat seeing Justin showing such compassion for his little brother.
Hatfield Law of Natural Attraction
On a different note, we've been working on a law that will describe one of the unfortunate realities we've witnessed during our travels. We call it the Hatfield Law of Natural Attraction, and so far the only exceptions have been remotely-located National Parks that require boat travel to get to there.
The Hatfield Law of Natural Attraction states that any significant feature of natural beauty in the United States will attract one or more of the following diversions:
a) Water park
b) Amusement park
c) Outlet mall
d) Wal-Mart Supercenter
Further, this law stipulates that in order for the average American to be attracted to such a natural feature, these diversions must exist within a driving distance of not more than 30 minutes.
Hot Springs National Park: March 2-6, 2007
(Location 64 on the Map
As we entered Hot Springs, Arkansas after a 10-and-a-half hour travel day from New Orleans, we saw a huge sign proudly proclaiming that Hot Springs was the childhood home of President Bill Clinton. We visited anyway.
Whereas most of the National Parks we've been to have been vast areas of mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, etc., Hot Springs National Park is mostly comprised of buildings. Yes, there is a scenic drive in the hills around town, but the focal point of the park is Bathhouse Row, a line of buildings along the town's main street. These bathhouses are what remain of the Golden Age of Bathing from the early 1900's, when an estimated one million people a year flocked to the many hot springs for their therapeutic benefit.
Most of the bathhouses are not open to the public, although one is still in operation, offering tub baths, showers, steam cabinets, etc. The park's visitor center is housed in the Fordyce Bathhouse, a restored 3-story building from the period that gave us a good look at what was going on here at that time. We walked along Bathhouse Row, took a tour through the Fordyce, and walked the promenade above town that passed by some of the springs that haven't been capped off by the Park Service. We even filled a few water bottles at the town spring, where the water that we drank first fell as rain water here some 4000 years ago.
I did a 4-mile hike one day in the hills around town, and Susan and Justin took a day trip and went to Crater of Diamonds State Park to dig for diamonds. Like the majority of people who visit in search of riches, they returned empty-handed.
For photos from Hot Springs National Park, Click Here
Big Bend National Park: March 8-11, 2007
(Location 67 on the Map
Nothing brings home the vastness of Texas like a drive across it. It took three long travel days for us to drive from Hot Springs to Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas. And the park itself is big; we put 200 miles on the car just driving around the park during the time we were there.
Big Bend National Park is named for the big bend that the Rio Grande River makes as it snakes its way between the US and Mexico. The main natural attractions here are the huge desert expanses, the rugged Chisos Mountains, and the calm tranquility of the river as it passes beneath soaring canyon walls.
We were happy to be back in the desert, and eager to get back into a decent hiking regimen. We started with a short hike down to the Rio Grande itself, which wasn't far from our campground. The river was only 20-feet across, which, given all the talk of solidifying our border with Mexico, seems quite narrow. But when you look at the type of terrain someone would have to survive to even get to the river, you realize there is no need for additional fortification. Even so, there were posted warnings about keeping an eye out for drug traffickers traveling through the park. That night Susan took Justin out for a walk after dark, where he got to see javelinas for the first time.
The next day, after a short hike to a hot spring for Justin to splash his feet in, we did a 4-mile hike to a place called The Window in the Chisos mountains, where a narrow canyon ends abruptly and provides views of the desert far below. Even though we were at nearly 5000 feet in elevation, the heat was such that we sought out every available shady rest on the hike out. Justin was in rare form, saying hi to everyone as he rode in his carrier and asking for high fives from passersby during our rest stops. Zane did well, too, sleeping most of the time in Susan's Rebozo despite the heat. After dinner, I took Justin out on a short 3/4-mile nature walk in the dark, with Justin illuminating the way with the flashlight and constantly asking where the javelinas were.
The following morning we took a drive over to the west side of the park to check out Santa Elena Canyon and her 1500-foot walls. This was a great hike not only for the views, but for the fact that much of it was shaded; it sure seemed unseasonably hot while we were there.
Big Bend is a popular birding spot, but we only managed to identify one new bird, the Vermillion flycatcher.
For photos from Big Bend National Park, Click Here
Guadalupe Mountains National Park: March 11 and 14
(Location 68 on the Map
Seemingly in the middle of nowhere in north Texas sits Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The mountains are what remains of a 400-mile long marine fossil reef that was formed here 260 million years ago. Because of its remote location and its relative obscurity as a National Park, it's likely that the only people who visit it are those who are already visiting Carlsbad Caverns just 50 miles up the road.
On our way from Big Bend to Carlsbad Caverns, we stopped at the visitor's center long enough for Justin to excitedly (and loudly) look at the many wildlife displays. He made it a point to say something to almost everyone there, and even managed to interject himself into a couple of ongoing conversations. The ranger whose ear he bent for awhile said it was the most entertaining conversation she'd had all day.
A few days later, we returned to do a 4.4-mile hike out to Devil's Hall, a rugged canyon with walls made of layers of rocks. It almost seemed like we were walking between the brick walls of two buildings instead of through a canyon. When the creek is running, there are a series of small waterfalls near the end of the hike. Since there was no water during our visit, Justin had fun scrambling around on the rocks in the creek bed.
For photos from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Click Here
Carlsbad Caverns National Park: March 13 and 15, 2007
(Location 68 on the Map
After touring caves at Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, Wind Cave in South Dakota, and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, we figured we'd experienced just about everything a cave could offer. It was with that attitude that we visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park. After two days of walking below ground in the huge caves there, we changed our minds and can say that Carlsbad tops them all.
The fossil reef that became the Guadalupe Mountains also formed Carlsbad Caverns. As the reef was forced up over millions of years to form those mountains, rainwater seeped down through cracks and faults in the limestone. The water mixed with hydrogen sulfide to form sulfuric acid, which dissolved the limestone and left what we now call Carlsbad Caverns.
We did two of the self-guiding tours while we were there. We accessed the first tour via an elevator, and were shocked to see a restaurant and gift shop 750 feet below the surface. (The Hatfield Law of Natural Attraction might need a corollary to address this unfortunate phenomenon). This tour took us through the highly-decorated and immense Big Room, where we could see examples of stalactites, stalagmites, popcorn, soda straws, draperies, flowstone, as well as other formations. The trail was easy enough that Justin walked it himself.
The second tour we took started at the so-called Natural Entrance, which is where everyone entered the cave prior to the construction of the elevator in the 1950's. It's also where thousands of bats enter and exit nightly in their search for food. This tour requires you to descend 750 vertical feet on foot over a mile to reach the main areas of the cave. Due to the steep descent, I carried Justin in the carrier for this tour.
For photos from Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Click Here
Petrified Forest National Park: March 19, 2007
(Location 70 on the Map
After leaving Carlsbad, we traveled north to Santa Fe for three nights. I hadn't ever visited Santa Fe or Taos, and wanted to take the opportunity since they were on the way to Petrified Forest. We had lunch one day with my friend Garrett and his fiancee Monica at a nice place that did nothing to help us fight off the bulges we acquired during our inactivity in Florida. It was Garrett who sparked the idea for this trip a year-and-a-half ago. I joked that the least we could do was pay for the $60 lunch to thank him for this great idea of his that's costing us thousands of dollars!
We left Santa Fe and headed to Petrified Forest National Park, another place I'd never been to. When trees fell here 225 million years ago, streams carried them into nearby floodplains where they eventually were covered up with silt, mud and ash. As erosion has occurred over time, the quartz-like hardened fossils have remained as the surrounding earth has been removed.
We could have used another day to see more, but still got a good idea of the area and what the park has to offer. We took the 28-mile drive that meanders through the Painted Desert before heading south through the rest of the park. There were numerous opportunities to get out and stroll the short trails and overlooks. We saw endless samples of petrified wood, plus an abandoned pueblo and petroglyphs from the 1100's. It's a worthwhile half-day stop if you happen to be in the area.
For photos from Petrified Forest National Park, Click Here