Bienviendos a la Selva (Tena, EC)

Tena is a small city that skirts the Amazon region in Ecuador. For $6 per person, it took three hours by bus to get to Tena from Baños. When we arrived at the terminal we walked through town to Hostel Austria which was moderately priced at $23 and did not include AC.  It was however very clean and convienently located.

Initially, we were underwhelmed with Tena. We are walking around town at 3:00 pm and nothing was open. The one thing we wanted to do was go on a hike in the jungle, but every tour shop we found was closed. We were so disappointed we decided we were going to leave the next day. Trying to find something to do shouldn’t be this hard. That night Tim went out to get something to eat (my stomach was still not 100%) and he found a tour company that was open! Long story short we ended up getting what we wanted – a trip into the Amazon jungle.

The tour cost $55 each and lasted from 9 am to 4:30 pm. No one else signed up so Tim and I got a private tour! The trip started outside of Misahualli where our guide peacefully paddled us in a handmade canoe through a small canal to our hiking spot. We saw a couple of spider monkeys and beautiful birds.

We donned our boots and hit the trail. Our guide, Javier, showed us different plants including the plant of which they make Panama hats. He made us headbands out of it. He also used a flower bud to make me fake nails which helped me channel my inner tiger. We found a termite nest, Javier picked at it to make them come out of their nest and then put my hand on it so they crawled on me. If you rub your hands together and smash them they release a menthol scent that can be used as a natural bug repellant.

We returned to Misahualli for lunch and had a traditional fish dinner wrapped in banana leaves and yuca, which is like a potato. After lunch we walked to the river and saw a troop of monkeys. It was entertaining to watch them easily swing from the tree branches, curiously gazing down at us.

Monkey eating a banana

We then caught a bus to a go on a waterfall hike. Our guide allowed a couple other travelers to follow us to the waterfall so they wouldn’t get lost. It was a hot, slippery hike but we were well rewarded in the end with a glorious swim in the waterfall.

After the trip Javier took us out for celebratory drinks where we met Abby. Abby is a local that told us about a white water rafting festival going on that weekend called Jondachi Fest, named after the Jondachi River. She said that there was a registration party that night and invited us to come, at least for the free pizza. Needless to say we showed up and registered for the overnight rafting trip for Saturday. Abby said they were looking for volunteers to help out with the race on Friday so Tim and I volunteered.

We got up early the next day which started with free breakfast. We rode with Abby to the race finish line where we carried boxes of empanadas down a steep, slippery trail (did I mention that all the trails in Tena are slippery??) It was physically very hard for me and also mentally challenging as I had to keep smelling the delicious empanadas without getting to eat any. After the race we hiked back up the steep trail and got a free lunch. (Volunteering is awesome!)

The next day was the overnight kayaking/rafting trip. The class of the rapids ranged from 3 to 4+. The trip was only $55 a person and included our own private tent, lunch, dinner and breakfast the next day.  We camped at Playa Selva resort. It is in a remote location that you either hike to or arrive by the river. The scenery was absolutely beautiful the entire trip. We learned that the purpose of Jondachi Fest is fighting the government from damming the river. It would be sad if they dammed it because it is quite beautiful and provides so much life to the forest.

All in all our trip to Tena was a success thanks to Jondachi Fest. We saw a side of the Amazon we never would have seen before and are so thankful for how everything played out with running into Abby and having the opportunity to volunteer.

The taxis drove down to the take out

Cat Ba Island

After the stunning scenery of Phong Nha National Park we decided to go see the Phong Nha of the sea, Ha Long Bay, another Unesco World Heritage Site. We heard Ha Long City was over touristic so we decided to head to Cat Ba Island via the port city of Hai Phong. This involved a three-day drive. The first day we headed to a small town off the Ho Chi Minh Trail called Bach Dai Dung, this was a pretty nice drive along the scenic and little traveled road. The next day we drove to Thanh Hoa, this was a much less pleasant drive with much more traffic and development. Both days we spent the night in small guesthouses for under $10 a night. The third day we drove to the port city of Hai Phong, the third largest city in Vietnam. This drive was even less pleasant, a ton of traffic, trucks, and construction and then we had a bit of trouble finding a place to stay. We finally found a decent hotel for $15 with a garage to park our bike.

The next morning we got up early to make the dusty drive to the ferry terminal. It was 120k($4.5) Dong per person plus an extra 30k($1.5) Dong for the motorbike. The ferries run every hour from 8 to 5 with a lunch break between 11 and 1, luckily we made it just a few minutes before it left, so no waiting. The ride was fairly scenic but even more scenic was the motorbike ride through the island to the town of Cat Ba where the hotels were located. This was high season so despite being less touristy than Ha Long City there were still plenty of people around, mostly people shuttled in from Hanoi. Even being high season we got a bay front room on the main strip up on the 7th floor for $15 a night. The food however was at least 50% more expensive than the mainland, still cheap but not like before.

The first day we just kicked it at the hotel after three days of hard traveling and enjoyed the view. The next day we got up and changed the oil and had our bike rack rewelded and then went and to check out the two public beaches. We decided on the second beach and ended up renting chairs with no mats and an umbrella for 120k dong. That was pretty steep considering we paid 80k in Nha Trang and had access to a resort and pool. However from the first few hours we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The water was also ridiculously warm, I would guess 92 or 93 degrees, not too refreshing! The last day we rented a tandem kayak for 200k($9) for the day. This was probably the highlight of the trip as we paddled through the amazing formations and even through a cave to our own beach, just like the movie. We also paddled to Monkey Island, where we saw no monkeys. We tried to make the climb to the top but it was a difficult hike that required scrambling and the rocks were simply too hot to touch in the middle of the day.

The next day we had to get up early to make sure we caught the ferry. There was a tropical storm coming and it was likely that the ferries would be shut down later in the day. Luckily we made it off the island and then made a mad dash to get as far inland as possible.



Behaving like adults at the Bay of Concepcion

We decided to stay at Playa Santispac at Bahia Concepcion. It is one of the more popular of the 12 beaches that line the Bay, but it is large enough to fit everyone. We parked our rig right on the beach. Costs 100 pesos a night or about $5. No cell service here. Once again, the north winds followed us here making it too cold to swim or do any water sports despite the hauntingly beautiful and clear, blue water.

One day we drove with our new friends Hannah and Ty to check out a couple of the other beaches. We drove to playa El Requeson. It is a small beach and there is a cool sand spit that you can walk onto a little island. With the strong north winds, this beach is even more exposed than at Playa Santispac though. We also checked out Playa Coyote. There are a lot of snowbirds that come here and set up shop for several months. They take up quite a bit of space, but there is some room. This beach seemed to be a little more protected from the north winds and would be a good choice if you had to camp when the north winds were strong.

One morning we decided to go kayaking before the winds got too strong, While kayaking, we found the hot spring/hot tub that’s fed by the ocean. Unfortunately, the tide was too low and it was way too hot to get in. After kayaking we created a wind barricade with the kayak and RV and laid out in the sun a while.

There are a few snowbirds here and two restaurants. Ava’s restaurant and Armando’s. Armandos has a happy hour from 4-5 where you can get 2 for 1 margaritas for $1.50…niccceeee and strong too. We didn’t eat at the restaurants. Ava’s has wifi and showers you can pay to use, however we didn’t utilize these either. One convenient feature about staying at the beaches along the bay are the people that come around selling various groceries out of their trucks. We bought fresh fish, scallops, fruit, veggies, bread and cakes.

Despite the gorgeous scenery we decided to only stay three nights. The wind was very strong and, well, annoying. We are going to Ciudad Constitucion next as a halfway stopping point to La Paz for CAR-NA-VALLLLL!!!


Our first time to the Sea of Cortez near Bahia de los Angeles

Between San Quintin and Bahia de los Angeles we stopped halfway in Catavina for the night so we didn’t have to drive six hours in one day. This section of the drive has been the most scenic. It starts off along the Pacific ocean lined with large sand dunes. Then it progresses into the mountains and desert. We saw so many different cacti, some of which I’m sure inspired some of Dr. Seuss’s illustrations. Catavina is just a truck stop basically but there is a campground called Santa Ynez that is tucked away from the highway. It costs $120 pesos a night or about $6 dollars. Remember you should always pay in pesos because another couple that was there said they paid in dollars and it was $10.

After Catavina, highway 1 starts to smooth out. Up to this point it has been very hectic trying to avoid potholes. Most sections of the highway have been narrow with no shoulder, so if another car is coming and there is a pot hole you just have to hit it and pray you didn’t burst your tire.

Bahia de los Angeles, a little bay of the Sea of Cortez is very picturesque. The land coming into it is desert, then there’s the beach, the bay and the mountainous barrier islands in the background. We chose to stay at Daggetts campground which is right on the beach. No hookups at all but there are hot showers, the hottest shower I’ve had in a long time in fact. It costs 100 pesos per person per night which for us is about $10 a night.

While we were here the north winds were very strong all day everyday, it wasn’t until the day we left did the winds die down. I recommend checking the weather before coming to try and ensure it isn’t windy. Due to the winds we were unable to go in the kayaking or fishing which was a bummer. But one day while we were walking down the beach, we met a local man named Glenn who told us where to collect clams here. Glenn then gave us some of his homemade smoked fish and told us he would meet us the following day for clammin’. We continued our walk down the beach to a lighthouse which Tim climbed and then into town for some tacos. We loved the tacos from
Taquería de la Carretera. When she decides to open, the tacos and her homemade salsas are so delicious we ate there twice. No only are they fresh, but they are cheap at only a dollar a piece. There is a convenience store attached to the taqueria where if you buy something you can get the wifi code.

Bahia de los Angeles is a hidden gem and the locals are so friendly and willing to help you find fun stuff to do. In fact while we were clamming, another couple approached us and offered to take us fishing! Since we had already been there three nights, we declined. We are trying to make our way to La Paz in time for Carnaval. Next stop we are going back to the Pacific coast, south of Guerrero Negro along the lagoon for some whale watching!


Arches and Canyonlands, Utah

On your way south to Moab on highway 191 you can find LOTS of boondocking spots on Willow Springs Road (left turn if heading south). At the beginning the sites are more rocky but if you go down only ¼ a mile the sites are more level. This road is popular for ATV’s and campers in general so don’t expect to be all desolate in the desert here. Also, the gentle hum of cars on the highway can be heard, but the scenery offsets that I believe. In some sites you can have a 360 degree view of the surrounding canyons and sandstone rock formations that change colors throughout the day. Among the usual warm colors of the rocks you can also see tints of green and blue in the layers. It is absoultely beautiful. We are able to get Verizon and AT&T voice/data service here. There is so much to do but on the first day we had to do our bimonthly laundry trip, pick up mail, and work on this lovely blog of course. The visitor center in Moab has decent free wifi.

We visited Arches National Park on our first day of exploring. After passing the visitor center, it feels as if you are entering the ruins of an ancient civilization. Vertical walls of red sandstone jut up like pieces of demolished buildings. Like all the other popular national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon) there are lots of people, all sizes, ages and ethnicity. Even on the longer, more strenuous hikes we couldn’t escape the crowds. The first hike we did takes you to the base of the Delicate Arch, you have probably seen a picture of this arch as it is an iconic symbol of Utah, and National Parks in general. It was a hot and steep 3 mile hike. I was surprised to see so many people, young and old, that roughed the trail instead of settling on one of the easier and shorter viewpoint hikes. To get to the base of arch you have to walk around a caving sandstone hole. It is at a slant so I imagine it can be dangerous after a good rain. I will never forget the moment of standing under that arch. We also hiked to Devil’s Garden where there are a lot of other arches. Another famous one is the Landscape arch. It is a long, slender stretch of an arch at 306 feet. People are no longer allowed to stand under this arch as it is slowly starting to erode, go see it while you can!

It took about 45 min to drive from our camping spot to get to Canyonlands National Park. We hiked Murphy’s Trail. A portion of the trail was very strenuous as it descends 1400 feet within one mile. There is a drop off on one side of the trail as you descend the vertical cliff. The entire trail in and out is 10.8 miles. After descending the cliff, you walk through semi-desert terrain which eventually gives you a great view of white rimmed canyons.

On Saturday we took Marilyn on a short hike since she was cooped up in the RV the past two days. It’s called the Negro Bill Trail and it takes you along a stream to a large natural bridge. When we reached the natural bridge, we got to watch some rock climbers repelling down the wall. Tim and I took advantage of the water and went swimming in a deep part of the stream. I laid on one of the large boulders and let the cool water wash down my hair and body.

Our last day here we went kayaking in our inflatable kayak on a calm section of the Colorado River. We put in at mile marker ten on the way to Potash dock off road 278 and took out at Potash dock. This equaled a 11.5 mile trip. We attempted to arrange for a shuttle but it was damn near impossible. One company I talked to (Porcupine) wanted $100 for a 15 mile shuttle (sans gear by the way – he said they don’t shuttle gear…wtf??) So we said eff it, just going to ride the bikes back to the truck like usual. After kayaking we attempted to ride the bikes but then Tim’s pedal fell off. We didn’t have tools so I asked a group of people from South Dakota if they could give us a ride back to our truck and they kindly obliged. What a great world we live in.

Before we left, we showered and dump and loaded at Slickrock Campground ($5 per shower and $5 to dump and load). The showers ran out of hot water pretty quick…so I would go somewhere else next time. Also, the dump station is at a lean, those of you who understand this process will get that this is not a good thing.

Our week trip here was AWESOME! There is so much to do here – hiking, kayaking, white water rafting, mountain climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering, and ATV trails. I can’t wait to see more of this Painted Desert. Next stop, home of the hoo-de-hoooooossss, Bryce Canyon. 🙂


Grand Teton National Park

After Yellowstone we continued south into Grand Teton National Park. The easiest way from West Yellowstone was actually driving through the park again. The roads are easily navigated by even the largest rig thankfully. We had originally planned to stay in a campground for a night near Jackson since we had already been boondocking the past five days and needed to dump, fill up, and shower. However the first park we called charged $110 a night! We checked several other and the cheapest was $80 a night. Even the National Park was $40 a night for no hookups and $70 with water. I don’t care where your campground is, we’re not paying that. We ended up paying $4 each to shower in Yellowstone and paid $10 to dump and fill up on water at a campground in town.

Luckily someone on the Boondocking & Free Camping USA Facebook group had a spot they recommended that was down Antelope Flats Rd just across the border of the National Park into Bridger-Teton National Forest. I also spoke with the district ranger and there are spots along Gros Ventre Rd, both dispersed and a large boondocking National Forest Campground. Both spots were listed in The Days End Directory and it mentioned that the view from antelope flats was an amazing, clear view of the Tetons. That clinched it for us.

They were right, the view was simply amazing. By far the best view of any campground we’ve stayed at. There were around seven sites, half of them would fit large units. There were also several dispersed spots if you continued past the campground. Unfortunately we didn’t see those until after we’d already setup camp and it wasn’t worth it to me to move for a slightly better spot. It was very easy to get to, the road is paved for the first four miles or so and then a well maintained gravel road for the last mile. Just be sure to stay on Antelope Flats Rd as you have to turn to stay on it. We were there for labor day weekend and even then there were spots available every night. We were literally feet from the National Park and 15 miles north of Jackson, which has a real grocery store.

After we got setup we went for a walk past the dispersed spots and then up a trail to a peak for a fantastic sunset. The next day we went for a hike to Taggart Lake which was also simply amazing and then went and stocked up on groceries($200+++!). The next day we hiked into Cascade Canyon which was so beautiful I would put it right up there with the hike into the Grand Canyon. What makes the Tetons so scenic is that there are no foothills to block your view. These huge 13,000 ft + tall mountains rise straight up from the Jackson Valley floor at 7,000 ft. They are famous for their steepness but none of the trails we were on were actually that steep, but then we weren’t trying to summit either, lol, just walk into the valley between these monsters.

The last day we decided to go for a kayak trip down the Snake River to take in the beautiful Tetons from another perspective. We were able to do the same as before and left our bikes at the takeout and then road back to the truck so we didn’t need a shuttle. However it still cost us $25 as the permit to boat in the National Park was $10 and they required a $15 AIS sticker which you could purchase online. They checked for all of this as you come through the gate and they will check your boat for invasive species. It was still well worth it if you consider what going with a raft company would cost. Although there are no real rapids within the Park the river can still be quite tricky as it will split into multiple channels and only one will be deep enough for even a kayak. This has the potential to be pretty dangerous as even with the water being very low we had about a 6 mph.

We also drove to Granite Creek which was an hour and a half ride from where we were camping. It was worth it though. It’s a natural hot spring high up in the mountains. They actually built a pool on the hot spring with a deck and everything. It was $3 a person to get in but man did the water feel good. It’s in the 90’s in the summer and varies a bit with the snow melt. People also come out here on their snowmobiles in the winter and since there is no runoff in the winter it gets up 112! There were a ton of boondocking spots all along the 10 mile gravel road to the hot spring. I would recommend simply pulling up for a day or three rather than drive like we did.

Yellowstone may have the more unique environment with all of it’s volcanic features but Grand Teton beats it on shear beauty. Especially if you can stay in the same campground we did. The hiking and kayaking is fantastic, if a bit crowded. We were there for Labor Day so that certainly doesn’t help. Even with the crowds it was well worth it and we will certainly be back. Enjoy the pictures!


Whitewater kayaking on the Trinity River (Shasta Trinity National Forest)

We initially had planned to drive through the Shasta Trinity National Forest on our way to Redwood National Park. As the road followed the river we noticed a bunch of rafters, and from the road the white water rapids looked pretty large. So we randomly decided to find a place to camp and go rafting. We first tried Big Flats, a national park campground that was empty. Although I could have gotten the rig in there is was not meant for trailers our size and the trees were heavily overgrown.  Also because we hadn’t planned on boondocking our water tank was empty and there wasn’t any water at the campground. A mile or two down the road we came across an RV park right on the river. It was a killer location with views of a rapid so we got to see rafters come by every now and then.  The next day we ran it ourselves…

Once we parked and settled in, we only had to walk across the street to find a rafting company. They have a class five run but unfortunately the water was too high to run it. Lucky for us it was at a perfect level for the class three run. When she found out I had run the Gauley in West Virginia (a famous BIG class five river) a few times she recommended us renting kayaks instead of going in a raft with a guide. We’d done this before on the Nantahala in North Carolina (Class 2 with one small class 3 at the end) but never on a river as wild as this one. I was amazed that they rented all manor of rafts and kayaks to take down guided or self guided. There are very few places I know of that still do this.

The two owners and one of the guides all recommended that we each take a one person kayak but Victoria felt more comfortable in a two person kayak. They thought this was funny and were taking bets on how many times we’d flip. The two person kayak is much less maneuverable and does not have leg straps to hold you in, plus you have to be able to coordinate between the two paddlers. They nicknamed them “divorce boats”.

We followed along with a guide taking a family down in a raft for mothers day. As usual Victoria and I dominated and didn’t flip once. In the first large class 3 rapid we hit, the guide was getting ready to rescue us. He had told us to avoid the largest holes and waves but I figured, what fun is that? So we blasted straight at them. Although Victoria did almost fall out twice, once she was saved by the wave that we ran into, pushing her back into her seat. If I had a picture you’d know why he thought we would fall out. I guarantee the only thing you’d see was the tops of our helmets in some of those waves and holes. We kept paddling and although our boat was completely filled with water we made it out no problem. After that he wasn’t a doubter anymore, and I think he was a little impressed. 🙂

We happened along at the right time, just after a dam release but not too soon after. The river was running at about 2000 cfs. This provided for a lot of big class 2 and several big class 3 rapids (6 or so). I say big class 2 and 3 because the reason for their ratings was the size of the waves and holes more so than their technical challenge. There was one class 3 that took more finesse because there were boulders strewn through out it, so you needed to be more careful with the line you choose. If you wanted to run the class five section apparently the end on May is the time to be there. A little bit later and Victoria might have had her first Class 5 experience!

If you happen to be in northern California and enjoy whitewater rafting I can’t recommend the rafting company or RV park enough. The campground is simply beautiful, surrounded on all sides by the mountains and with a view of the very rapids you’ll be running. Plus when we were there, we were the only people in the park. Although we got zero reception anywhere around there the campground had excellent internet (can’t say that about many parks).

The rafting company was a small family outfit that had been there for 25+years and were very laid back (most rafting companies are more like joining the marines as they try to get huge groups of people ready for the river). In addition the fact that they will rent several different types of boats is amazing. By all means if you’ve been rafting a few times, take your own boat down. Self guiding certainly adds some excitement. If your into to big water like me and can’t make it for the class 5 section, rent a kayak. A class 3 rapid feels like a class 5 when you in a boat a quarter the size of a four man raft and you don’t have a guide helping you out.

All in all that was definitely the coolest unplanned stop of the whole trip.

P.S. The only picture we have was of the view out our window and Victoria with the largest pine cones known to man. The rest are photos of others on the river. I really need a Hero Cam 😉

The campground was $28 a day with full hookups(water, sewer, electric).
A single kayak was $45, a double $65, and rafts depend on the size. We also paid $15 for a shuttle (We only have one car). A guided rafting trip was $75 a person and it was $190 a person for the class 5 section. Self guiding certainly makes for a very reasonable day on the river. I’m glad we decided against trying to use our inflatable kayak, it simply does not drain water quick enough and the tubes are small for a true whitewater boat. It would be fine on class 2 and maybe even a small class 3 here or there but we almost certainly would have done some unintentional swimming on this river in our boat.

 Trinity River Rafting, Inc.
P.O. Box 572
31021 State Hwy 299
Big Bar, CA 96010
800-30 RIVER (307-4837) or (530) 623-3033
 Trinity Adventure Park – Campground, Store, Restaurant
Across the street from Trinity River Rafting


Big Bend National Park, Texas

After passing through the entry gate at Persimmon Gap, I felt as though I was driving through a National Geographic magazine. Picture purple, yellow and white wildflowers lining a long paved road, a desert landscape with various cacti in bloom and hazy, bronze mountains on the horizon. Such a beautiful setting in a harsh, unforgiving land.

With our 31 foot fifth wheel and 4 pound Chihuahua, our choices for camping were limited. Our only option was to stay in the Rio Grande Village campground. Regular camping is only $14 a night and with our America the Beautiful Pass admission was free (normally $20). All the sites are spacious, some are in direct sun, some have all shade. We chose a spot with a little of both since we needed our solar panels to get some sun. There are public restrooms but no showers. If you want to shower you can pay for one at the village store, $1.50/3 minutes. There are sites available with electric and water hookups but they were all taken. These sites are more costly at $33 a night and packed tightly together in a parking lot. There is another campground in the Chisos basin but you can’t go there with a trailer greater than 24 feet. For those without RV’s and not into “roughing it”, there is a lodge at the Chisos basin. There are a ton of sites for back country primitive camping as well which would have been awesome, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it since National Parks don’t allow dogs outside of the developed campgrounds. There are a couple gas/diesel stations throughout park, so no need to worry about running out of fuel if you want to see the entire 880,000 acres of the park.

The first day we planned to kayak the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena canyon. The renowned canyon is one of the highlights of the park and visited by many. The ranger suggested we put in at the Santa Elena boat ramp and kayak up river to the canyon and float back. I’m starting to see a trend here in Texas. Do Texans never kayak or simply not understand the logistics? It was our second suggestion to “just paddle upriver and float.” If the water is too low you simply cannot do it! Nevertheless, we didn’t give up like at South Llano, we were too determined to see and kayak through the canyon We had to portage the kayak at least 7 times. It was hard work but it was worth it in the end. Our point of view from the kayak was spectacular. The Rio Grande River, from what we saw, is very calm, narrow and shallow. Tim and I joked that it should be renamed the Rio Grande Creek. In the canyon, the only sounds are from little songbirds chirping and flying to and from their nests on either side the towering canyon. With the help of the current, only two portages were required on the way back.

The second day, we hiked to Emory Peak, the highest peak in the park at 7,825 feet. A 10.6 mile hike round trip from the basin with a 2,000 feet elevation gain. It was our first day hike in the desert. We each carried 3 liters of water and lunch. We passed a few hikers that were hiking to their primitive camp, carrying with them gallons of water for dry camping. Water is scare here so you have to carry a gallon a day for primitive camping. Nearly every plant has thorns, so you have to always be careful about brushing up against something. Reaching the peak was anti-climatic. I was expecting a plateau with a 360 degree view of the park. Yet after a 30 yard scramble to the peak, there was no where to comfortably hang out and have lunch. On our descent we saw a deer, which Tim thought was a donkey at first because they are more grayish toned here than brown. We also saw a small flock of Western Scrub Jays. We finished in only five hours. What’s the best way to end the day after a strenuous hike? A soak in a natural hot spring! FDR believed them to be healing. I agree, or perhaps it was the extra strong white Russian I had prepared for myself….it was pretty amazing. The experience was special for us since it was both of our first times in a HOT spring. The temperature stays at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, unlike the cooler Springs in Florida that stay at 72 degrees year round.

South Llano was awesome, but Big Bend definitely surpassed my expectations. I purposely did not use the internet to get a sneak peek of Big Bend because I wanted the first time I saw it to be through my own eyes. I literally couldn’t stop taking pictures because I saw beauty every where I looked. The mountains change color throughout that day. We were told by many locals that we were lucky. Because of the extra rain the area had received earlier in the year, the wildflowers and cacti were thriving more than usual. All in all, our stay at Big Bend was truly an unforgettable experience.

Five Star Scale Rating
Scenery – *****
Campground – ***
Campsite – ***
Recreation – *****


South Llano River State Park

South Llano River State Park
Junction, Texas

South Llano River State Park is a complete vacation package. A quiet campground with a river in the mountains. All of the sites are large and roomy, but the best sites are the last numbers on the outer edge. These sites face a large field that white tailed deer visit every evening. If you need supplies, Junction is only 5 miles away from the park. Sites with water and electric hookups are $20/night. There are hot showers in the restrooms. There is an entrance fee of $4 per person per day you have to pay even if you are paying to stay the night. I was told that all the parks in Texas do this. So if you are planning on vacationing in Texas for a while, it’s worth it to buy a Texas State Park pass. It is $70 for one year, waves all your entrance fees and includes 4 coupons for half off the nightly rate.

There is plenty of wildlife to view from deer, jackrabbits, ground squirrels and many species of birds. I’ve never been a birder nor have I ever really cared about birding, but this park opened my eyes to the calming hobby. There are two bird blinds that you can comfortably sit and watch the birds come to take a bath and peck at seed. I saw at least 10 different species after just sitting for a couple minutes. Another nice thing about the park is the effort to save land for the Texas turkeys. They have large roosting fields available for them that they do not allow visitors to enter. While we were here, the turkeys were still in mating season so we didn’t get to see any in the roosting fields. While driving, we saw a hen cross the road and on one of the hikes I heard a Tom gobble, one of my favorite animal sounds by the way. Other reasons to come here other than birding, how about a natural fresh water lazy river? You can rent a tube for $5 and float down the river. Be sure to check the water level before planning this as the river was too low when we attempted to kayak. The ranger didn’t seem to know because she suggested kayaking upriver and floating down. Unfortunately we only made it half a mile and after two portages we gave up. There’s miles of mountain trails to bike or walk, with the highest elevation at 2,100 feet. We saw many mountain bikers so it must be a popular spot.

We had only intended to stay two nights here but I fell in love with this park, so we stayed three. There are a lot of nice parks in Florida, but this was the first park that I’ve experienced this ecosystem. I love that I am able to have these new adventures. I’m so far away from everything I’m used to and yet I feel comfortable. I can’t wait to see more mountains and deserts in Texas at Big Bend.

Five star scale rating
Scenery – *****
Campground – ****
Campsite – ****
Recreation – ****