Monday, March 28, 2016

A Seventies Memory

The 1970s sped by, in my mind today a blur of rapidly passing images. In college at the beginning of the decade, a couple of years later I graduated and married, a typical scenario for my generation.

Hub at the time was a Navy man. We lived a short time in Charleston, South Carolina, and then Philadelphia. Re-entering the civilian world, hub accepted a job with a manufacturing company in a south central Pennsylvania town. We settled into small town life. As the decade rolled on Matthew was born, and 2-1/2 years later Jason joined the family.

We moved into our new home following a snowstorm in February, 1979. Suddenly upheaval temporarily disrupted our lives on the morning of Wednesday, March 28, 1979.

Local news began reporting a possible problem at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear reactor south of Harrisburg, PA, about 15 miles as the crow flies from our house. National outlets quickly picked up the story, and we knew something potentially bad might be happening very close to home.

TMI company spokespersons, state representatives, the governor, then federal officials held a series of news conferences, generating conflicting and confusing statements.

On Thursday the government ordered a five-mile area evacuation, and on Friday Governor Thornburgh extended the evacuation to pregnant women and small children living within a 20-mile zone around the nuclear plant. It was a recommendation, not a mandatory evacuation order.

Schools closed and officials advised everyone to remain indoors.

Confusion reigned, people unsure what to do. Hub and I packed our bags, belted the boys into their car seats and drove to my parents’ home on Long Island. We watched TV from a safe distance as President Carter and other politicians visited TMI and addressed a frightened public.

A couple of days later hub returned to TMI territory and went back to work, just down the road from TMI. 

Meanwhile three-year-old Matthew and I boarded a plane for Florida and visited my grandfather, a.k.a. Grandpa Sam, thrilled to show off his great grandson to anyone who would pay attention.


Within an hour after arriving at Grandpa Sam’s apartment Matthew needed to go to the bathroom. This would not be a normal pee or poop. Perhaps the travel and excitement of flying upset his body, or too much junk food shocked his system. Whatever the reason, his poop proved potentially prize-worthy, clogging the toilet and necessitating an emergency call to the apartment house janitor for an extra-large plunger and cleanup crew.

The calamity was not an auspicious beginning, but Grandpa Sam mellowed as Matthew’s engaging smile and antics won Great Grandpa’s heart.

Meanwhile, back in TMI country, hub walked around his factory on the Susquehanna River, properly attired and with a Geiger counter in hand, checking radiation levels.

News reports indicated the TMI accident was worse than initially realized. The nuclear reactor’s uranium core melted – not completely, but enough to cause major concern and give TMI the dubious distinction of being the worst commercial nuclear reactor accident in U.S. history.

After five days basking in the warm Florida sun, frolicking at the beach and in the pool, Matthew and I returned to New York. Jason was glad to see us, but enjoyed his time with Grandma and Grandpa.

The three of us drove home and reunited with hub. The TMI crisis officially declared over, everyone returned to normal routines.

The aftermath –

I Survived TMI T-shirts and glow-in-the-dark souvenirs appeared on store shelves.

The movie The China Syndrome, released twelve days before TMI, depicted an accident at a nuclear reactor. Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and Jack Lemmon starred. Ironically, one of the movie’s most prophetic lines was in reference to the possibility of a meltdown that could “render an area the size of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable.” Following TMI, Jane Fonda campaigned against nuclear power.

Although not solely responsible for the demise of the nuclear power industry in the U.S., the TMI crisis proved a significant factor. Some experts consider TMI one cause of climate change, the decline of the nuclear industry leading to more environmentally damaging energy alternatives.

TMI Unit 2 reactor cleanup lasted years, completed in December 1993 at a total cost of $1 billion. It is permanently shut down.

TMI Unit 1, owned today by Exelon Corporation, is operational under a license from the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) until 2034. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Rite of Spring


In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
Benjamin Franklin

Real spring – not simply a date on the calendar indicating an astronomical phenomenon - is almost here. I can feel it in the air, sharp breezes taking on a warm edge by afternoon. 

My gray, barren yard transforms
as flowers bloom.
Daylight lingers and Earth’s grayness dissolves. The yellows of sprouting daffodils, greenery on trees and bushes, the glistening sun and deep blue sky chase away winter blues. An eclectic mix of garden tools and construction equipment materializes everywhere. The local ice cream store opens. People emerge from winter hibernation, walking, riding bikes or simply sitting outside, smiling, faces raised, absorbing the sun’s warmth.

Such a lovely picture, a perfect picture except for one problem –

TAXES - defined as:
An obstacle to enjoying spring.

I never worried about taxes as a kid, so spring was a delightful season. I am not Catholic, but fondly remember Ascension Thursday, occurring after Easter, usually early May, the first day my friends and I went to the beach after months without sand and sea massaging our feet.

I grew up and became an adult, Ascension Thursday beach trips replaced by that great American tradition memorialized every year on April 15th - or the closest business day to that date – TAX Day. FYI –The date is Monday, April 18th in 2016. Here’s why.

Whatever else happens in the world – a Presidential election, late spring snowfall, sidelined by the flu for a few days, cancelled plane flights, weddings – there is one thing we can count on every single year.

TAXES

Our favorite TV show may be cancelled, our much-loved coffee shop close, construction work could play havoc with our commute to work, our lives seem steeped in chaos, yet tax time will arrive. The IRS eagerly awaits our returns (no matter what Ted Cruz says). Ben Franklin said so, and our Founding Fathers never lied (according to one of my teachers decades ago). 

 As proud citizens, hub and I undertake the yearly task, the government confirming we donate our fair share of TAXES in support of a bloated bureaucracy located within the confines of the Washington Beltway, where thousands upon thousands of hard working bureaucrats attempt to run the country. A few hundred elected officials occasionally work there also, when not on vacation or visiting constituents or foreign countries or seeking election.

Hub and I do our own taxes. I collect the documents. Hub inputs the data. We are a team. If not dysfunctional, not exactly in perfect harmony. We argue, get tired, hungry and annoyed with each other, but we persevere.

Completed forms are filed with our demanding Uncle Sam and, for the last few years, our difficult cousin Chris Christie. Chris insists he wants to reduce our hefty state tax bill, but unfortunately his pronounced generosity has yet to become reality. A tug of war ensues – Uncle Sam wants more, Cousin Chris wants more, and we want to keep more, especially now that we are retirees.

Taxes complete, TurboTax indicating no errors, we hit the send key, propelling electronic forms into cyberspace and the cloud, our hard work settling in IRS supercomputers.

We breathe a sigh of relief and turn our attention to a world turning bright and happy. Spring unfolds in colorful splendor. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I Am FEISTY AFTER 45


Not one to toot my horn – usually – most of the time, I admit I am doing just that. Not just for me, but for the other women with whom I share this particular honor.

One of my blog posts – Up Close and Personal With My Nose – is featured in the anthology Feisty After 45: The Best Blogs From Midlife Women, a book of humorous and not so humorous articles by 45 women in the throes of midlife. Elaine Ambrose edited the book. FYI – the book is available on Amazon in paperback or kindle version.

Although I may technically no longer be in my midlife years, I accept the description. The online Free Dictionary defines midlife as, “the period of life between about 40 and 60.”

If not actually within those defined decades currently (I confess I am not), it was not too long ago, so the important thing is that I remember.

I do not remember much about happenings during my early childhood, elementary school years and later events occurring ages ago, but I can conjure specific incidents and people encountered during my midlife years. Not everything, but a lot of stuff. If I do not write about the episodes and issues now, the memories most likely will disappear, or at least be watered down, neutralized, altered by my mind.

Nowhere in the book (and I carefully looked) does it say anything about the age at which being feisty after 45 morphs into something else.

And what else would it transform into, you might be wondering…

I have been giving that a lot of thought. I am not sure, but came up with some ideas for Feisty After 45 graduates, titles like:

Pooped Past 60
The CRS (can’t remember sh*t) Years
Always Short, Now Shorter and Shrinking
Fifties are Fine but the Sixties are Sensational (think positive!)

So here I am, a Feisty After 45 contributor/author/woman of a certain age, sitting on the couch, dressed in an inelegant ensemble of sweat pants and sweatshirt, computer precariously perched on my lap as the writing goes on  - hopefully for a long time.


My blogger buddy Tom Sightings at Sightings Over 60 did a great job this week discussing a topic we all wrestle with, or at least occasionally think about - Do We Really Want Change? Read about change from his perspective, along with ideas from other Boomer Bloggers here.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Seven Weeks and No Longer Counting

The best part of traveling is often the people encountered along the way –

The Scottish couple, owners of a somewhat run-down motel purchased five years ago now transforming the place into a modern inn as a years-long renovation project nears completion…
 
Far more cactus
than people
in Big Bend.
A colorful collection of characters populating the Big Bend wilderness – retirees escaping northern winters and living in RV campsites along the Rio Grande - artists launching galleries and restoring abandoned miner’s huts – folks leaving fast-paced 21st century life for a laid back existence in the middle of nowhere, working in coffee shops and restaurants, guiding hikers into the backcountry and amateur mariners down the Rio Grande…

Memphis barbecue is all pork.
The retiree at the Dallas Arboretum driving visitors around the gardens in a tram and emphatically declaring he has the best (volunteer) job in the world…

The chef, deli owner and transplanted New Yorker escorting hub, me and a young Aussie on a four-hour culinary tour of Memphis…

The two beautiful twenty-something Hispanic sisters who recently opened a boutique hair salon, spa and airbnb…

My Mom’s friend, 98-years-young and still going strong…

And travelling along with us in spirit our esteemed governor. Where are you from? A common question posed by people we met. Mention New Jersey, eyes widen followed by, “So what do you think of Christie?” 

Everyone knows Christie. Although conducting a short-lived Presidential campaign, he definitely captivated people. When Christie endorsed Trump, the speculation began – What does Christie want? After all, he will be out of a job January 23, 2018. Vice President? Attorney General (he is a lawyer)? My guess: Supreme Court justice.
What devious rascals were the FBI haunting?
Every dog walker and
casual pedestrian
a suspect...
A challenge when settling into temporary digs became finding and signing on to the house Wifi. Our Nashville apartment offered a long list of nearby Wi-Fi’s. Two immediately caught my attention; one a password-protected site labeled FBI Surveillance Van, and the second a non-encrypted FBI Surveillance Van Guest site. Tempted to log onto the guest site, caution prevented me. I did not want the FBI knocking on the door. But I did stare out the window looking for vans, wondering which one belonged to the FBI and what they were doing. Monitoring a high-level drug dealer? Mob boss? Illegal immigrant or slave trade hideaway? Unlawful criminal activity?...The area seemed such a nice, quiet, unassuming residential neighborhood, but everyone passing by walking a dog or carrying a bag from the convenience store at the end of the block became suspect.
 
Which remote turns the TV on...which one
controls volume...channels...DVD...sound system...
An obstacle when settling into temporary accommodations revealed a lack of technological expertise and, if completely honest, suggests membership in a mature generation - figuring out how to turn on the TV, find programs and change channels.

An uncomplicated cable system operates our home TV. It costs too much and Comcast is renown for poor customer service, a fact verified by personal experience, but my mantra is if it ain’t broke to the point of uselessness, don’t make it worse…

Most airbnb apartments offered ROKU, Netflix, Dish, Apple TV and on and on it went;  “just hook up your computer to the TV” one young host advised. One place offered, in lieu of TV, a library of DVDs.

Learning the nuances of various appliances, finding basic kitchen utensils, opening cabinets and drawers in a frantic effort to locate toilet paper – these and other challenges added to the fun and occasional frustration of our travels.

Seven weeks after leaving home we returned. We now sit in our comfortable, familiar chairs, have no problem using the TV, washer and dryer, know where kitchen tools are located, and sleep restfully in our own bed. 

We are content to be home.

Until we hit the road again… 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On The Trail of Presidents

The one-room schoolhouse LBJ attended when 4 years old.
Travelers enjoy activities they often have little time for the rest of the year, spending hours wandering around museums, touring top attractions, exploring city streets. Foodies savor culinary specialties and take cooking classes, recreational enthusiasts hike, bike, swim or ski, while others look forward to basking in the sun at the beach…

Hub and I hiked some, ate a lot, and toured major attractions. Our American odyssey crossed the path of three Presidents and since we are history buffs, we visited two Presidential libraries and a President’s home.

Our first stop acquainted us with the Presidential Library of George Herbert Walker Bush - Bush 41. Never having crossed the threshold of a Presidential library, I did not know what to expect. I was thinking documents, books, papers…

The library tells the story of Bush’s life and work in a series of exhibits through pictures, videos, and objects. I found peeking into Bush’s early life most interesting, but admit by the time I reached the Oval Office display I was tired, my feet hurt and I could not wait to sit down. 

We spent a couple of days in Dallas, but did not visit the George W. Bush - Bush 43’s - Presidential library. I did not want to sink into a sour mood by immersing myself in the eight years of the Bush 43 administration. Recalling domestic and world events of those years depresses me, and we were supposed to enjoy our road trip.

We drove past Lyndon Johnson’s library in Austin, bypassing it in favor of the LBJ ranch, a national historic park site in Texas hill country. The self-guided tour included the house where LBJ was born and lived the first five years of his life, and the one-room schoolhouse his mother sent him to when he was four years old. He attended the school only a few months before the family moved, but it sparked LBJ’s love of learning.

The Texas ranch belonged to relatives before LBJ bought the house, renovated and expanded it, and purchased additional land. It remains a working ranch and cattle graze on the grounds.

In the ranch house kitchen a plastic pie sits on the table, a replica of one baked for a luncheon in honor of President Kennedy and the First Lady’s visit to the ranch on November 22, 1963. The luncheon was canceled, the pie never served.

We toured the William J.Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. The guide regaled his audience with humorous anecdotes about the artifacts on display, resulting in a fun as well as educational experience. And, in case anyone wonders, the library is on a large tract of land, landscaped but almost entirely devoid of buildings. There is plenty of room for another Presidential library, should the opportunity arise. 

The fiscally minded might wonder who foots the bill for Presidential libraries. Not the taxpayer.

The money for building the libraries comes from private donors. Once constructed Presidential stuff fills the museum.
A Dale Chihuly sculpture the artist
donated to the Clinton White House.
It is now in the Clinton library.

There is one problem.

When a President leaves office, all documents and other items supplied by the federal government belong to the government.

To solve the dilemma of filling a museum with items the ex-President does not own, the completed building is turned over to the federal government. The government steps in, maintains and furnishes the library. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the precedent of private funding and subsequent government management of Presidential libraries, and future Presidents followed his example.

The final destination in each place is, of course, the gift shop. A Presidential tie, handkerchief, plate or T-shirt did not appeal. Hub, however, reluctantly dragged me away from the book sections, insisting I already own too many unread books. Of course he is right, but is there such a thing as having too many books? 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Baths, massage and a facial, oh my!


View of Oachita Mountains from Hot Springs National Park.
Hot Springs stretches along a narrow valley in southwest Arkansas’ Oachita Mountains. The  springs begin as the earth warms rainwater seeping downward. Thousands of years later the water, heated to 143 degrees, thrusts upward onto the earth’s surface, the velocity so rapid the water does not have time to cool.

The historic town deserved our time and of course our tourist dollars. The idea of soaking in hot springs charmed.

Native Indians enjoyed the springs probably thousands of years before French and Spanish explorers ‘discovered’ the thermal waters. Americans hoping for miracles began seeking out the hot springs in the early 1800s. Doctors touted the curative powers of the waters for aches, pains, and debilitating diseases. The springs became so popular growth threatened their survival. President Andrew Jackson, in cooperation with Congress, created the Hot Springs Reservation in 1832, later designated a national park

The arrival of the railroad in the 1870s increased tourism. Gangsters showed up with the railroad, and the town earned a reputation as a gambling mecca. Baseball teams held spring training in Hot Springs in the early 20th century. A powerful and corrupt political machine ruled from the 1920s until the late 1940s.

But alas, the easy money and high life did not last. Like so often in life, change came to Hot Springs and spoiled the party. Tourism declined, bathhouses closed, and the population plunged. By the 1990s grand Victorian-era buildings, hotels and bathhouses were falling apart.

Three near-death blows doomed Hot Springs:
* A new generation of state and local politicians closed the casinos.
* The medical community no longer hyped baths as a medical treatment.
* Air travel expanded vacation possibilities, allowing people to visit places all over the planet.

But before decline made Hot Springs another American ghost town, change again impacted the area in the guise of the National Park Service and area businesses. Public and private initiatives launched the town’s revival, hoping to rejuvenate the tourist industry.

Eight bathhouses served clients in the early 20th century, but only one remained open by the 1990s. Today two offer bath and spa services. A third serves as National Park headquarters, a visitor’s center and museum. Other renovated bathhouses contain administrative offices, a gift shop, and a craft brewery and pub.

Hot Springs today is in transition. Boutique shops, tourist sites, restaurants and art galleries exist alongside crumbling buildings. Thoroughbred racing and a casino draw an adult crowd while recreational facilities attract families.

No one may believe in the medicinal effects of the hot springs anymore, but a plunge in the waters sure feels good.

I could not leave town without dipping in the waters and sampling spa services. A massage and facial, affordable compared to elevated East coast prices, prepared me for the next leg of our American odyssey.

Although not ardent blues or country music fans, hub and I journey on to Music country…
View of the Hot Springs area from the Hot Springs Mountain Tower
in the national park.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

90+ and Counting

In honor of International Women’s Day I present two great ladies, role models for all of us.
Mom and Helene, 2011.
Dallas was not originally on our travel agenda. Hub and I previously visited the city, hub for business and me visiting relatives, but our drive from New Mexico to Arkansas passed through the city, so we stopped to call on a relative and friends.

Our Dallas cottage
An airbnb find served as our Dallas accommodations, a charming 100 year old bungalow in an established Dallas neighborhood. The tree-shaded streets concealed small, vintage cottages, some in great shape and others, although inhabited, neglected. Newer dwellings replaced original ones that succumbed in recent years to the prevailing desire for bigger houses and state-of-the-art amenities.

A visit to a relative – not really a relative, but the relationship is too convoluted to explain, mainly because I do not know exactly what the relationship is – highlighted our Dallas sojourn.

Helene is 98 years young. She and my Mom have been friends for decades. Four years ago Mom and I visited Helene, and I wrote about that visit here. Related somehow by marriage, Mom and Helene formed a close friendship decades ago. Helene and her hub, Mom and Dad shared many travel adventures, Las Vegas one of the places they enjoyed a number of times over the years.

Helene’s home for the past six years has been a senior apartment complex offering an independent lifestyle. Her sanctuary comprises a spacious two-bedroom apartment with a balcony, kitchen with large refrigerator, stove and dishwasher, ample counter space and storage. She still cooks regularly. 

An amateur photographer and constant traveler, Helene square danced and tap danced until 90, and remains physically active. She uses a cane because so many people have fallen around her facility the staff insists she use one, but she adamantly asserts she does not need it. She remains mentally sharp – just like Mom, 91 this past January, who also lives in a senior apartment house on the East coast. Mom, a retired elementary school librarian, maintains a full schedule attending meetings, book club get-togethers, visits to ill friends, cultural events and more. Only bad weather and/or cancelled activities keeps her home.

No one knows why some of us live for decades lucky enough to avoid health and/or mental issues that incapacitate permanently. Helene and Mom weathered physical problems over the years, but both recovered enough to maintain an independent lifestyle.

Role models for all of us.

Ninety and counting and still going strong.
Me and Helene

Monday, March 7, 2016

Boomer Bloggers Reflect On Spring, Millennials, and Consumer Concerns

Hopefully we have seen the last of winter
Picture from Tom Sightings at Sightings Over Sixty
The new month brings promise of spring. As travel draws me closer to home and winter dullness fades, signs of renewal appear everywhere. Driving from Arkansas into Tennessee, trees are beginning to bud and color brightens the landscape. Reds, greens, yellows dot the hillsides, an impressionist painting in production. The sun shines higher in the sky and feels warmer, remaining bright and clear for a longer period of time each day.

Travel is not always predictable, and sometimes issues arise we cannot control. A planned trip to Carlsbad Caverns, supposed to be a highlight of our cross country trip, did not occur. Read why in my post The Day NOT Spent in Carlsbad Caverns.

New York State, March 2016,
from Tom Sightings at Sightings Over Sixty
Meanwhile another blogger, Tom Sightings of Sightings Over Sixty, also turned his thoughts to spring this week. We all know that optimists are healthier, happier and more successful than everybody else. So follow the yellow brick road over to the post To Make You Feel Good ...  where Tom  tries to turn what he hopes is a last gasp of winter into a prediction for an early spring. 

Laura Lee Carter, writing at Adventures of the New Old Farts, discovered that the more she learns about millennial women, the more she likes them! She heard something new this week, which prompted her to write about millennial views on marriage.

On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, writes that Americans are making modest progress in reaching their savings goals, consumers want more information about what’s in their cosmetics, and consumer groups are urging the alcohol industry to stop advertising to kids. She encourages consumers to take steps to be alert, informed consumers this week - National Consumer Protection Week - and every week.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Day NOT Spent at Carlsbad Caverns


Streetlights in Roswell, New Mexico. 
We reluctantly began our drive to Dallas, the next destination on our journey across the country. Relatives and friends eagerly awaited our arrival.

The route guided us through the alien territory of Roswell, New Mexico, an underwhelming experience. No aliens, no real spaceships, only another sandy southwestern town. Hub snapped a picture of the main street’s lights and we continued on, passing the day rolling through the Texas prairie.

Brown flatlands extended to the horizon. An abandoned town lined with run-down brick buildings, a few grazing cattle, occasionally a farmer on a tractor tending his fields broke the monotonous landscape.

The day was not supposed to be one of long haul driving. We looked forward to visiting Carlsbad Caverns.

The Caverns rated a must-see from many sources. Friends, reviews on Trip Advisor and other websites, travel magazines.

However fate intervened. During initial research the Carlsbad Caverns website displayed a warning: Elevators Out of Service.

What exactly did that mean? According to the site:

…you may walk in/out the Natural Entrance, a steep 750 ft. descent/ascent. We suggest you begin your hike-in by 12 noon to allow time to see the Big Room. Admission fees apply.

The descent/ascent was 1¼ miles each way. Visitors must walk down, a 1¼-mile hike into the caverns, and after viewing the caverns walk back up, a 1¼-mile climb.

We discussed whether or not to attempt the trek. The more we mentioned the idea to previous cavern visitors, the more apprehensive we felt.

Warnings included ominous words like steep, strenuous, should be in great physical condition, be prepared

What would happen if we were not out of the caverns by closing? Tired and needing rest, would we be carried out on stretchers? Would we be locked in, unable to get out until the following morning? If one or both of us collapsed during the climb, were medical personnel available to revive us?

What about food? Reviews indicated park personnel carried everything in and the concessions quickly ran out of food. Taking food into the caverns was forbidden, but people in the know did it anyway (according to reviews). Should we carry our own provisions?

Would we be so tired after descending we would not feel like touring the caverns?

We felt conflicted.

The day dawned bright and sunny. Dressing, packing, we looked at each other, hesitant and honestly not looking forward to the difficult cavern trek. Both of us sighed and decided, “No way, not today.”

Carlsbad would have to wait, the caverns placed on a future must-see list along with other sites bypassed due to circumstances beyond our control, such as the volcano in Hawaii, always active, suddenly deciding to sleep the week we visited…

The day originally delegated to viewing amazing cave stuff hundreds of feet below the earth transformed into hours driving above ground, observing the Western prairie.

Oh well…

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Allure of Big Bend



Hub kept inquiring, “Why are we going to Big Bend? Why do you want to go?”

No specific reason formulated in my mind. Most people told Big Bend was a stop on our itinerary responded, “Where?”

I do not remember where or when I first heard about the park, but the place intrigued me from the beginning. Big Bend National Park, located in southwest Texas, lies in a long bend along the Rio Grande border with Mexico. 

Driving hours through Texas vastness we passed few cars, and fewer cars passed us.

Traversing nowhere land, we finally arrived at our destination.

First impression, besides hub’s amazement at being dragged into the heart of nowhere, was one of wonder.

I wondered where in the world are we? Far from major population centers – 559 miles from Dallas, 600 miles from Houston and 400 miles from San Antonio, our starting point, in the middle of a county covering 6,000 square miles with a population just over 9,000we landed in the middle of nowhere or more specifically in the middle of dusty, barren country.

Close inspection indicated signs of human life. A few cabins appeared occupied, but they were outnumbered by abandoned houses and assorted vehicles strewn along the road.
 
A touch of spring color in the desert.
Our casita, Spanish for small house and our lodging in Big Bend territory, proved quite charming. A porch perfect for relaxing and taking in the landscape faced the mountains. No buildings blocked our view of dusty land, cactus and other small shrubs, flat land leading to rolling hills and distant mountains. A variation of browns distinguished the color scheme, a few patches of green and purple cactus and desert flora providing dashes of color. Occasionally a road runner strode onto the porch, his head moving side to side, aware of us but unsure who these intruders invading his terrain might be. He scurried away if we made a sound.
 
Our roadrunner friend.
Big Bend National Park encompasses over 800,000 acres of desert hill country with a few mountains offering challenging hiking opportunities, a chance to see deer and other forest animals, cooler weather, trees and greenery.

Hub on the Santa Elena trail. The Rio Grande
flows between the canyon walls.
We hiked the Santa Elena trail, following the Rio Grande into a canyon bordered on both sides by soaring rock walls. (No manmade wall needed here, Donald.) The river flowed low, narrow and shallow.

The second day dawned bright and warm, not a cloud in the sky and no wind, perfect weather for a canoe trip down the river. Our guide led us along the passive waters, only a couple of ripples (which we decided were definitely class one or two rapids) challenging our paddling ability. A mile hike up a mountain, a chance to test the waters at hot springs, a lunch break, another quick stop in Mexico (because it is illegal to stopover on the Mexican side of the border) to stretch our legs, and our day on the Rio Grande concluded.

The days passed quickly hiking, canoeing, enduring a jeep ride into the backcountry (hub and my backcountry hiking and camping days are far behind us), relaxing in a rustic wilderness inhabited by vacationers escaping 21st century life temporarily, and others fleeing permanently.

Five days after arriving hub and I, temporary escapees, packed, loaded the car and continued our westward trek. 

Signs of spring in the desert.