leave: noun;
1a : permission to do something; 1b : authorized especially extended absence from duty or employment;
2 : an act of leaving : DEPARTURE

So we left.

A jet plane to Denver and we ended up in a yurt outside of Ridgway in the mountains near Telluride….

It was that time of year again. Christmas. Let’s consider all of the things we do during the holidays without getting preachy or pedantic. Nah. Let’s not. T-Rex and Vulture decided to go on their second annual to the Chisos Mountains for “camping” in Big Bend.

But first, 23 December.

T-Rex had a rough start of the morning due to a bit of a carb and beer overdose the night prior when they visited friends in Fredericksburg. Shaky jakes and all meant that T-Rex needed a little more time in bed that morning. OK, we all let our hair down every now and again (even if we only have scales) and Vulture was kind enough to act like she believed T-Rex when he said it was not, in fact, a hangover.

We dropped Lucille the Beagle – with her bow tie – off for her holiday celebration at Lucy’s Doggy Daycare and made our way to the Chisos Mountains.

We had quite a few mini-adventures on our way. We had tacos at the Laredo Taco Joe’s – a fine purveyor of gas station tacos. We had an educational interaction with the Customs and Border Patrol officers near Laredo. Although Big Bend is becoming one of our favorite national parks – it’s a huge, beautiful park with miles upon miles of unexplored countryside – the sense of adventure was missing this time around. Perhaps it was because we had been there before. There are very few ways to get to the park and the scenery is changeless on our timescale. We felt as if we were revisiting old memories that were still very fresh. Traditions are a representation of life’s cyclic nature where we travel back around to the same places to see the same things and celebrate the achievement of making it through another year. They give us a chance to process and reflect.

A lot of non-traditional things happened this Christmas. A migrant caravan (WWJD?) approached our southern border(ish) which ultimately caused a government shutdown that also affected the National Park System. This appeared to embolden the CBP officers to overstep their bounds and delay travelers for “offenses” like having a driver’s license from one state and license plate from another. Per their mandate, they are only allowed to delay traveler’s a “reasonable amount of time to establish their citizenship”. This is usually accomplished by the question “Are you a US citizen?” It’s weird how the atmosphere around these interactions have changed. It seemed like any deviation from the norm is viewed as a threat or suspicious data point to the CBP officers. Probing questions about where we were going, coming from, why camping on Christmas, why the different state documentation (when we both carry and showed federal ID cards only attainable by US citizens), when all of this is simply life and how T-Rex and Vulture roll. The experience was strange enough that it prompted internet research into CBP’s mandate and hours of philosophical debate. We were faced with the decision to go along with questioning that we knew was wrong, but it seemed the alternative could have been a lengthy delay and harassment. We simply wanted to roam the wild west, yet we had to justify our presence in the land that we love and have served and defended over the last twenty years of federal service. Not good friends, not good.

After successfully crossing the interior border checkpoints as bonafide US citizens, we arrived at the La Loma Del Chivo aka The Goat House in Marathon, Texas. Words can not describe the magnificence of this location. There was a Bee Hive, which sleeps one college student getting away from it all after a bad break-up. The Spirit Room housed five Chinese ladies. The Goat House was bursting with books and a myriad of other hidden treasures. It was a pomegranate. Everything inside was nested, smashed up against each other like ripe jewels awaiting discovery. And let’s not leave out The Goatqueen herself, Ingrid. A dear, sweet Slovakian soul who brought us warm towels, freshly made Slovakian almond cookies and tangerines. and told us which neighbors probably had whiskey. If someone brought you tangerines when she was a child, it meant that they really cared about you because they would have stood in line for a very long time to get them. After a restful night of exploration and sleep in the goathouse, we headed to Big Bend. Which was open/closed. Sort of. In reality, it lacked adult supervision which several park patrons clearly took advantage of.

The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. ~Fyodor Dostoevsky / Albert Einstein / Edna St. Vincent Millay

Moving on, we hiked through the backcountry in some beautiful scenery, but Vulture was sick as all get out. She used up all of her Kleenex, ate all of her cough drops and had to throw in the towel. So it was off to Terlingua for the second AirBnB adventure of the trip at the Casa de Aero. Vulture was initially skeptical of the property because the approach is not terribly charming, however quickly changed her mind once we saw the meticulously appointed Airstream trailer. T-Rex was in rare form as per usual and convinced Vulture to join him in the outdoor shower (despite her illness) and then followed this gem up by leaving an open bottle of water to spill on the bed. Reptiles aren’t known for being terribly sensitive. But a trip to the amazingly well-stocked Cottonwood store (this store made Vulture want to move to Terlingua for realsies) set everything to right and they both wished they had more time at Sandy’s lovely property. With a baby Christmas tree at their bedside, bellies full of delicious Loma Linda food and heads full of sugar plums, the dynamic duo turned in for the night for another day’s adventure. Editor’s note: T-Rex forgot the cookware and can opener, but we adapted and overcame. T-Rex remembered his signature ability to turn into a cyborg by strategically placing a headlamp over his eye and stating “I am a cyborg”.

P.S. The toilet almost works now.

The last day in Big Bend and we hiked to the top of Emerson Peak. Breathtaking views. T-Rex worked to overcome his debilitating fear of heights at the scramble to the top of the peak. We wore our Christmas antlers (thank you Cottonwood Store) on the way back down and seemed to truly brighten everyone’s day. How strange it was to cross through all the different eco-climes on the way up the mountain. We started in high desert at the valley floor, passed through scrub oaks and on to cedar and pine near the peak. Our day-to-day trudge along a single axis can wear us down because it seems unchanging. Yet if we simply change our awareness and direction of travel, seek a new route along a different axis, we discover so much beauty. We can have that presence, that trajectory and tradition without sacrificing adventure.

Let me tell you about the things we did. Wait, just listen first. On a previous adventure, one might call it a virgin voyage, T-Rex froze his little tail off due to an inferior sleeping bag. This trip to Palo Duro-verde was a redemption. T-Rex purchased a down Kelty mummy bag and Thermarest liner. He attempted to curry Vulture’s favor with a snappy (and heavy) new tent, cookware and general campy prowess. He was marginally successful. On this trip, an important breakfast discovery was made. Powdered eggs + pre-cooked bacon + cottage cheese = mana from heaven.

We hiked the entire park from tip to tail along the Comanche Trail and back along the creekside. A truly marvelous canyon and the second largest in the United States behind that Grand Ditch in the west. The scenery unique and amazing; we were lulled to sleep by coyote song, we also had this cast of characters:

The Giggler – a fellow camper with a signature, consistent laugh that was a cross between a woodpecker and a hyena who inhaled a large draught of helium;

Cold Carload Campers – a group of young adults who did not bring enough camping equipment for all, necessitating two of them sleeping in their running car – which was equipped with automatic headlights that added to moon’s lustrous glow;

Chik-Fil-A Charlie- a teen who attempted to use a credit card with no other ID than his Chik-Fil-A rewards card;

Poker Face Park Ranger Pete- who explained, through gritted teeth and with a healthy dose of sarcasm what identity theft was to Charlie at check-in;

Omelette, Pork Chub and Scrapple – three Texas longhorn cattle posted up as guards at the park entrance;

Crazy Larry’s BBQ employees – told us of hidden hikes and gave us extra rib meat and hand drawn maps of their park treasures

Car-loving Sikh semi-truck drivers @ Cadillac Ranch;

“Some Day” Lubbock Machine Shop and Cat Hostel Minder with Wee K9 sidekick.

Early in November, T-rex contracted Vulture’s restless ways. Next thing you know T-Rex, Vulture and Lucille the Beagle (@lucillebeagle) threw some things in a backpack, bundled up into T-Rex’s truck and headed east to Corpus Crispy.  They saw wonders. Like ferris wheels, Fajitaville, the Selena museum, and a dead fish on desolation aka Padre Island. Old Bayview Cemetery – the oldest federal military cemetery in Texas – was one of the trip’s highlights. Vulture rescued a seed pod from what looked like the oldest mesquite tree in Texas and T-rex wandered around looking for machines. He didn’t find any. Lucille the Beagle thought the trip was grand because the hotel had so many pillows that she could rearrange to suit her discerning taste.