Travel March19: Out in the West Texas Town of El Paso

The Mechanic and I just spent a week in El Paso, Texas. I can’t ever say it without thinking of the Marty Robbins song – am I the only one?! I know it seems like a random vacation spot but my brother and sister-in-law have lived there for 13 years, and The Mechanic’s brother-in-law was just stationed there last summer. So it presented a perfect opportunity to visit them both as well as introduce them to each other. I’m all for our siblings getting along!

We had a whirlwind tour of both the city and the parks outside of it. Our first stop was BeerFest, hosted by local brewery DeadBeach Brewery, complete with local artists and food trucks. It was a perfect intro to the city. We had the opportunity to ride the “new” streetcars, too. New as in – recently reintroduced. They are the original streetcars that ran from the 1950s to 1974, then were stored near the airport. In 2012, the city decided to resurrect them, and they officially launched last November – so we were among the early users. We rode the whole loop and greatly enjoyed our tour of the city this way. (There are a few things I’d like to see improved, including better stop signage, but hopefully as more locals use them, they will campaign for those things themselves.) Our whirlwind tour of the city included the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) campus, local restaurants and the zoo. The El Paso Zoo is small but well done, with a new section being created now. For such a small zoo, it seems to be very heavily involved in saving endangered species regionally as well as around the world. It must keep their personnel busy – but thank you! I hope we don’t lose much more wildlife because of human activities than we already have.

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We also did a day trip to White Sands National Monument, outside Las Cruces, New Mexico, and camped overnight at Davis Mountains State Park, in Fort Davis, Texas.

I’m completely fascinated by White Sands – in the right spot, all you can see is white gypsum sand. We took our shoes off, and despite the glare of the sun, the sand was cool and damp in some areas.

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Camping at Davis Mountains State Park was colder than we had anticipated but still fun, with amazing views from the mountain top. We stopped at the Fort Davis National Historic Site on our way out, rounding out a brief history of the Buffalo Soldiers, some of whom were stationed there in the 1870s. We also saw a Buffalo Soldiers memorial in the El Paso Cemetery.

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Visiting our siblings was of course the highlight of the trip, but there is plenty to do in the city as well as the area, so we are looking forward to a return trip someday. Is your family as spread out as ours are?


At Last, Mountain Biking!

At last, I have tried mountain biking. And I can say that it did not start off well. It just barely ended on an up note. Someday, somehow, I must get over my fear of falling and smashing in my teeth.

The Mechanic and I went camping near Harrisonburg, VA, just overnight, for his birthday. Ironically, most of the bike-y people I know were not far away, doing the Shenandoah Mountain 100. From the scraped up arms and ribs I saw at work today, a good time was had by all.

Even a place for disabled hunters to go!

Even a place for disabled hunters to go!

Our campsite was a “no facilities” park, Slate Lick Fields, that catered to campers with horse trailers, and the location was indeed full of horses. We got the last available campsite, at the end of the road, which was perfect – large, fairly flat, and next to a lovely stream. The campsite was next to the access road to the reservoir, which was where we went for my First Ever Mountain Bike Ride.

Definitely no facilities.

Definitely no facilities.

Slate Lick Lake, which they are draining to do repairs.

Slate Lick Lake, which they are draining to do repairs.

Because it was a reservoir, rather than a lake, it was uphill to get there – which mean downhill coming back. I didn’t like that part at all. The trail was full of very large pebbles, and I was terrified of slipping, so I walked down most of it. The flat parts were mostly okay. The Mechanic was convinced I wouldn’t like mountain biking.

However, after brunch at The Little Grill Collective in Harrisonburg, we went out to Hillandale Park, a park with mountain biking trails that The Mechanic has talked about before (a lot).

"Green space packed with activity areas"

“Green space packed with activity areas”

Although I asked to walk the train before we got the bikes out, I was encouraged by what I saw – packed dirt, not loose rock. So we got the bikes out. The Mechanic wisely opted against offering unsolicited advice, and let me go at it my own speed, and this paid off. I didn’t get pissed off, and I eventually felt more comfortable with the bike (did I mention this was the First. Time. Ever. on this bike, too?), and on the trails. I did get off and walk over the biggest rock clusters in the trail, but by the time the heat and humidity did us in, I was beginning to get more confident about going over roots and small rocks. Yay!

In fact, I’m looking forward to trying it again, and soon, before I lose my nerve. I think that I could eventually begin to slowly lose my fear of smashing my face. Hey, I had a lot of dental work in junior high and don’t want to do that again! (My mother would thank me for this as well.)

Lessons Learned:

  • Uphill, ironically, was more comfortable than going downhill. Am I the only one here?
  • Letting me work through it on my own was the best way to learn.
  • Being confident on one bike doesn’t automatically mean I’ll be confident on another bike.
  • Perhaps wearing a skirt on a mountain bike isn’t the best idea. It kept catching on the nose of the saddle. This, of course, leads to the last lesson:
  • I need new clothes in which to mountain bike!

What do¬† you do to help get past fear of something you really want to try? I’m open to tips! (And I just solicited them, so no worries there!)

Feeling better!

Feeling better!

Once I get past the fear, hopefully I'll love mountain biking almost as much as The Mechanic!

Once I get past the fear, hopefully I’ll love mountain biking almost as much as The Mechanic!

I Survive Bike Camping

Not only did I survive bike camping, I had a blast! The weather was rainy and humid, but not hot, the towpath was lovely and empty of almost anyone else, the miles flew by, and we are still talking to each other.

First, a quick recap of our travels: We unloaded and packed the bikes Saturday evening in Shepherdstown, WV, then biked across the river to the C&O Canal Towpath, and up 2 miles to our first campsite. The next day we biked back into Shepherdstown the next morning to stop at the bakery and farmers’ market, then back again to the towpath. We camped at mile 30, then on Day 3 we made it all the way back to Arlington and home.

Shepherdstown is full of cyclists, and this is why – an official welcome!

At the beginning – Mile marker 75.

The campsites were nothing like I expected. I grew up camping in national and state parks in California, so the narrow spots along the side of the towpath were not what I envisioned as campsites. But each one had a porta-potty, a water pump with iodine-ized water, a picnic table, and a fire pit and/or grill. There was little privacy from the trail, but there were also few people.

Campsite Number 1

Campsite Number 2

Although it was great to have water pumps at each campsite along the way, I was less than thrilled with the water itself. Yes, showing my city girl roots! Sure, all the pump water was treated with iodine, but it also made our water look orange.

Not the easiest to use…

Our iodine-ized water

The porta-potties, well, the less said about those, the better.

The scenery was gorgeous. It drizzled most of Sunday afternoon, the first full day of biking, and I wore my fluorescent cycling jacket over my pink tee-shirt and skirt. It was really too hot to wear it, but I didn’t want to get that wet, so I suffered, but it beat the giant poncho! The rain drops on the river were pretty though, and I think it kept people off the trail.

It was hard to resist stopping at every lock and every scenic spot on the first day, so I have a ton of photos of locks and lock houses (which can be rented). We therefore didn’t get quite as far as we’d planned the first day.

Lock 37 – the locks are all in varying states of disrepair; while some have completely filled in, some still have the wooden lock doors.

A lock house at Lock 29

One of the rentable lock houses

There were some wildlife spottings, although not as many as I’d hoped.



I was very happy with what I had ended up packing, especially my shoes and skirt. The shoes are GoLite hiking shoes I just bought in Bar Harbor this summer but had yet to wear. The knobby hiking bumps worked great in my pedals, hooked right into them, almost like cleats. They are filthy now, considering all the mud and dirt we rode through, but that’s what they were for! The skirt I wore over my padded bike shorts on the first full day was the most comfortable thing I had. The cargo shorts I wore the second day, although handy with pockets, were too big and baggy and I wasn’t happy or as comfortable. Think it’s time for a new skirt!

Dirty legs!

Dirty bike! Even with fenders

The knobby tires on The Mechanic’s bike just packed the mud into the fenders. We had to stop several times to clean them out.

We hadn’t really had a chance to compare supplies, and it turns out that we could have taken more gear (mostly kitchen type stuff), and we ate most of our food. The towpath was a trash-free trail, so we had to pack our garbage out, which I hadn’t planned on. Luckily I always pack extra ziplock bags! The second night we had a lovely dinner, complete with wine, as it started raining.

Dinner our second night – in my Thomas Hammer t-shirt and with my vintage bicycle girl mug!

There was only one major problem, and it wasn’t even that major – due to construction around Great Falls, there was a detour – over the canal. A bridge, over the canal. There was a bike rail on the staircase, but it still was not easy to push the bikes up the stairs.

Detour at Great Falls

That detour set us back a bit time-wise, as did my decision to head home over Chain Bridge, instead of going all the way into Georgetown and crossing the Key Bridge into Rosslyn. I had no idea that Arlington was sooooo hilly around there – I ended up walking my bike most of the hills because my legs were so tired. It’s funny – the miles flew by on the trail, but once we hit the hills, I realized how spoiled we had been with a flat, ever-so-slight decline trail.

All in all, we learned some lessons (pack more food! Bring a small cutting mat! Nylon sleeping bags are gross in the humidity! Camping under the flight path to Dulles Airport is noisy!), but came out unscathed. I’m already making my list of supplies for the next trip, and trying to figure out where we can go that is as pretty and isolated. Maybe the rest of the towpath, all the way to the western end?

Mile 5! We made it!