Monday, April 7, 2008

Doing the impossible

Odyssey at Chisos Basin

We are at Chisos Basin campground
(site number 2, for the incredulous) in Big Bend National Park (map).

When we rode up here on the scooters Saturday, confirming our recollection that the road and its four hairpin turns would be no problem, we scoped out about half a dozen sites where Odyssey would fit comfortably. That's out of 60 spaces in the whole campground. Perhaps half a dozen others would also fit us, but were sloped so aggressively that we would not be able to get level. The campground was mostly full Saturday, but we noticed that many of the spaces we were eying had tags for departure on Sunday.

Knowing that checkout time here is noon, yesterday at about ten minutes till I grabbed a tarp, some stakes, and a can of "Off" with a bright orange lid, jumped on the scooter, and ran up here to grab a site. The place had emptied out nearly completely, presenting me with a plethora of choices. This site was the most capacious, the most level, and had one of the best views. Also, it was not one of the 26 sites that are reservable, so I did not need to worry about it becoming unavailable at some later date. I staked out my tarp, left the Off on top of the bear box, paid for two nights, and headed back down the hill to get the bus.

Even after Saturday's jaunt up here, we had done a lot of ruminating about taking the bus up the road, since the recommendation against rigs over 24' is clearly posted on both the road and the park map. That said, we know the difference between a recommendation and an outright prohibition -- one of our favorite roads in Death Valley, at the summit of which is a fantastic free campground, is posted as prohibited for vehicles longer than 22'. Odyssey could make it over that road without incident, but we've never done it -- I'm certain we'd be ticketed by the first ranger that came along.

In any case, to ensure that no traffic coming the other way would come face to face with a giant bus halfway in their lane, Louise rode "pilot" on the scooter, running ahead of me by a few hundred feet, and clearing me around the hairpins on the radio. I only had to wait for oncoming traffic once. We also stopped at three of the four paved turnouts, to let the engine cool down from the aggressive 15% grade -- I did not want to come close to overheating near the summit, with no place to stop.

We arrived at the campground without incident, and immediately proceeded to the dump station, which is what motivated us to abandon our cozy spot at Government Spring. Nevertheless, the female half of the volunteer camp hosts gave us a very disapproving look as we arrived. Pretty smug, I thought, for someone who was staying in a 35' fiver (which must make for a 45'-50' total combined length with their tow vehicle -- as camp hosts, I am guessing they got a ranger escort up the hill). By contrast, the law enforcement ranger who came through later in the day only smiled and waved as he passed us.

One of the reasons why we wanted to stay up here at Chisos Basin is to take advantage of the lodge here, with the only restaurant within the park (the other reasons being the spectacular scenery, and the fact that it's 15° cooler here than down by the river). Since the campground had completely filled up by 4pm (making our choice to zoom in and grab a spot at noon seem prescient) and the lodge was sold out, I rode up to the restaurant around 4:30 to see if we would need reservations for dinner. They don't take them, but allowed that it was an early crowd -- there might be a wait between 5 and 6, but not likely after that.

At 6:30 we rode up to dinner, and what should we find parked outside the lodge but a 45' Prevost H3-45 tour bus, which accounted for not only the lodge being sold out, but the lion's share of the early dinner crowd. All our ruminating and precautions were superfluous -- 45' tour buses come up here all the time. In fact, as I am typing this, the 40' recycling truck is here emptying the bins at the campground entrance.

After dinner, we noticed that the right tag tire on the Prevost was completely flat, and we sought out the driver to alert him that he would have a problem in the morning. It turned out that the tire's been flat since Del Rio, and they've been running with the tag retracted (many Prevosts have liftable tag axles) until they can find a tire shop to do the repair. We can relate.

It is stunningly beautiful here, and today we will just relax with the scenery for most of the day, although one of us will have to run down the hill to Panther Junction at some point -- according to the postal service, our mail has arrived at the post office there. Tonight we will have dinner again at the Chisos Moutains Lodge -- Monday is the prime rib special in the restaurant.

We are still waffling about the scooter rally in Galveston. If we decide to do it, though, we will leave here tomorrow.


  1. I was shocked when I read today's post that you took the Odyssey to Chisos Basin. I clicked the link on yesterday's blog and saw that they didn't recommend larger coaches.

    We have been to Big Ben NP in a car so I know how beautiful it is.

    I'm a little new at "Motorhoming" so I should be more advertureous!

    Mark in PS, CA

  2. Another nice boondocking site is on the BIA 13 between Farmington NM and Chinle AZ. Site is a stub of an oil lease access road (gated about 50' in from the road) on the east side of Buffalo pass with a sunrise view towards Shiprock. If you've ever read any of the Tony Hillerman "Jim Chee / Lt Leaphorn" mystery novels, at 8500 feet it is the closest (non 4x4 navigible) road access to their favorite viewpoint. See Google maps at (36.466806, -109.150713) The road access from Chinle has 14% grades and a few swirchbacks - easier from the Farmington side. Not advised if snow on the ground (paved but not plowed)

    Ken Lawson-Williams

  3. The book arrived ! Thank you again for sharing. We made it to Big Bend a couple of years ago and just loved it. Sure is along ways to get there though from Ontario.We are now in the early stage of considering full timing. We know the writing is on the wall for us being able to maintain our home here and still afford to spend winters away. A huge decision for a 60 and 64 yr. old. (young in spirit and still in good shape)

  4. How about a 360* video of your great view!



Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!