Imagine a time before smartphones, before online reservations, before reservations were even necessary. In those RVing dark ages, we found campgrounds in a publication called “Woodall’s Campground Directory.” It was the size of a Manhattan phone book (what’s a phone book?). In addition, we used a 10” x 15” spiral bound Rand McNally Road Atlas to find the routes to get us to the campgrounds.
Remember when you were a kid and you ran just because you could? Not to keep your blood pressure down or to be able to eat that chocolate thunder hot fudge sundae, but because you were outside and you had legs and those legs wanted to move.
Trail running feels like that to me. But not just any trail. Playful trails, single track, curvy trails; trails that go up and down through dips and gullies; trails that say, “You gotta see this.”
Those are the trails that give me the elusive runner’s high. You finish out of breath, noodle-legged, but you say, “God, that was fun.”
In the hill country of Texas, about an hour west of San Antonio, we stumbled upon a city park campground in the town of Kerrville with a small system of trails that were made with me in mind. A trail runner from Colorado or Vermont or any area with more than one contour line on their topographical map might consider the Kerrville trails child’s play. But where we live in southern Delaware, elevation is measured in inches, and single tracks are short, and soggy, and end at hunting blinds.
Six sections made up the trail system in Kerrville-Schreiner Park, and most were short—1.5 to 2 miles. Connector trails combined the sections to create a grand loop of 9ish miles. About 350 feet of elevation gain made for some short heart-pumping, but not toss-your-cookies, climbs.
Did I mention these trails were great fun for my green-level mountain biking skills, too?
Icing on the cake was the paved bicycle trail, accessible from the park, that followed the clear, blue waters of the Guadalupe River into downtown Kerrville (six miles one-way).
We’ve been RVing for nearly 15 years now and less than a handful of campgrounds make it into the coveted top tier of the Mitchell-Adams-Mitchell rating system – Anastasia, Grayton Beach, McDowell, Dead Horse Ranch. Our scoring system is purely subjective but some factors include exercise options, how close the sites are to each other, park vegetation, what type of clientele the park attracts (loud, obnoxious versus quiet, respectful), etc.
Unfortunately, Covid put the brakes on one of the most important categories in our rating system: quality of bars within biking distance from the park (extra points for cute microbreweries). Kerrville has great potential in this area. And while, at this point, it’s looking pretty good for Kerrville-Schreiner, our scoring is incomplete. We’ll have to return after Covid for the final rating.
Check out Mitch’s fantastic St. Augustine video. My role in it was very painful:
Usually we freeze in St. Augustine. Winter in north Florida can be cold, and it’s a damp cold – the worst kind. Those that live out West don’t understand. “Fifty degrees?” they say. “Fifty degrees is nice.” In Moab or Steamboat or Fountain Hills, fifty degrees is shorts weather. But in Florida, a damp wind-blown fifty degrees penetrates stocking caps, gloves, winter coats, and especially bones.
My favorite running trail in our area is the 4.5 mile Bob Trail at Trap Pond State Park. Why is it so great?
The Prickly Pear Trail at the Fresh Pond State Park is one of Brandi’s favorite places to run. She loves the surface – a combination of packed dirt, grass, pine needles, and crushed gravel. She loves the distance – about 3.5 miles. But the biggest reason she loves it is the “Brandi-time” she gets about two miles into the trail.
For years, when we traveled out west, we completely avoided the Phoenix area. Sprawl, traffic, crowds, pollution – not our idea of great camping opportunities. But then we heard from other RVers about a county park near Scottsdale called McDowell Mountain. Nearly impossible to get into but well worth the effort, everyone said. It is now our all-time favorite park. Just outside Phoenix. Who knew??
For me, the term “El Carnaval” conjures up scenes of a huge street party – hips swaying to latin beats, beads flying, shirts lifting, drinks flowing. But I’ve never been to Rio or to Mardi Gras or any Fat Tuesday celebration. So, although Mitch and I usually avoid crowds like the Plague because Mitch believes if he doesn’t, he will catch the Plague, I was excited to see that our caravan itinerary included a stop in La Paz specifically to attend El Carnaval.
La Maranatha RV Park in La Paz was our meet-up location for the caravan after our 15 days of freedom. It was fun to catch up with the others. A few of them had spent time in Cabo San Lucas, one couple had gone on a 7-day kayak tour out of Loreto, one couple had stayed in La Paz the entire time using it as a base camp for exploring. All reports were fantastic except for Cabo – no one really cared for Cabo.
Our wagonmasters, John and Becky, had reserved taxis for the group for the final night of El Carnaval. Since we arrived on Sunday, we had time to do some exploring. We’d heard the beaches around La Paz were beautiful so we decided to check those out.
I’m adding this as a word of advice to future travelers – if at all possible, don’t go to the beaches of La Paz on Sundays. All of La Paz goes to the beach on Sunday! For the beach that we had heard the most about, Playa Balandra, we couldn’t even get close. Cars overflowed the lot and parked along the access road all the way out to the highway. It was the same for El Tesoro. El Tecolote was huge enough that there was plenty of space for parking. And quite a number of RVers were dry camping there. We watched the scene for a few minutes – loud trucks driven by men holding beer cans in their left hands, the steering wheel in their right using beach volleyball games as weaving cones, unleashed Rottweilers and pit bulls frolicking in the waves – before deciding that maybe we should use the rest of the afternoon to stock up on groceries and do laundry.
On Monday we drove about 45 minutes south to the town of La Ventana (the window) to look for some mountain biking trails listed on our Trailforks app. It is another big kiteboarding area and so it has a lot of restaurants and campgrounds and Americans and Canadians. As usual, the trailhead was not marked but, once we found it, the main trail was easy to follow and was really, really cool! It was flat but it wound back and forth around and through stands of cardones and other crazy desert flora. Someone had even taken the time to label some of the plants. Of course, as fast as I was running, they were all a blur (completely kidding – the problem I have with stopping while running is that there’s a darn good chance that I might not be able to start again!).
Finally, Tuesday and El Carnaval – parrrtayyy! We were dropped off a couple of blocks from the parade route which was along the La Paz Malecòn (boardwalk). It looked like a fair midway with carnival games, food booths, kiddie rides, and stages. But the backdrop was pretty spectacular – a sunset over the beautiful Bahia de La Paz. It wasn’t very crowded at all. Some people from our group had gone the first night of the festival and had said that it was so packed that you could barely move.
We strolled along the malecòn, taking in the sites, until we came to an area of restaurants that had tables set out right beside the parade route. We asked a server how to go about getting a table and he said that as long as we agreed to spend at least 500 pesos ($20 dollars) we could have a spot on the balcony overlooking the parade. Perfecto!
So we sat at our table, the server brought us drinks, we met a fun bunch of people living on yachts in the bay, a nice young, local mother with her two kids, shared nachos and pizza with all of them, and had the perfect view of the “crazy” parade.
The thing is, it wasn’t a crazy, drunken, free-for-all at all. It was very much like a Midwestern county fair with great Latin music and dancing. The floats had young beauty queens in formal costume gowns smiling and waving (wrist-wrist-elbow-elbow), or bands with irresistible horn sections (the semi driver pulling one band joined in by letting off his air brakes in rhythm with their music), or school-aged dance teams. Being Mexico, there were some revealing costumes and one float had women doing pole dancing routines (to which the guy from the yacht said, “You’re not gonna see that in the Macy’s Day Parade!”) The risque-est of them all was a float with costumed adult “women” dancing – and only because we were informed by the young mother, in a whispered giggle, that they were really “hombres” (men).
After the parade the streets became a little more crowded but not bad. Kids zig-zagged around us, fathers carried toddlers on shoulders while mothers held tightly to small hands which gripped stuffed animals, glowing sticks, and lollipops. One of the most entertaining events of the whole evening was watching the kiddie Ferris wheel. It was only about twenty feet tall but it looked like it predated the Mexican Revolution. The operator manually advanced the wheel while loading. It appeared that the rule was “Under three years old had to be tied into the seat with a sisal rope knotted under the kid’s armpits. Over three – kid’s choice.” It took awhile to get all the seats filled – some kids started crying, some stared forlornly out at the crowd, others smiled and waved at their parents the entire time. Finally, it was loaded. The guy gave it a few good whirls as if he were spinning the wheel at the Price is Right until finally the motor caught and took over. I watched with my eyes partially covered, waiting for one of the none-tied in kids to get launched or slide out the bottom. But, other than the few that had been crying from the start, when the ride ended, all customers seemed pleased and alive.
It really was a perfect evening – good food, great entertainment, fun happy people, and we were back in at our camper by 9:30 pm.
The word around town was that we had to try the pizza in El Triunfo. We’d passed through El Truinfo on the way from La Paz to Los Barrilles and it looked like many of the other towns along the highway – a cute church, many hollowed-out buildings, a couple of topes (speed bumps). But Becky, our ever up-beat wagonmaster, had assured us that it warranted a return trip.
We prefer to calorically justify our eating excursions so I started to look for blog posts or web guides for an activity to do in El Triunfo other than the heavy lifting required to get pizza slice to mouth. We’d seen a tiny square sign when passing through Triunfo with a bicycle and a directional arrow. Did I dare dream of a biking trail in this tiny town in Baja??
We didn’t find any trails listed on Trailforks (this great app that a mountain bike guide in Los Barriles had told us about). And many of the listings on the on-line search were for mountain bike tours covering all of Baja. But I did find a couple of posts, in Spanish, about a mountain bike race in El Triunfo – Ciclismo Baja Sur. It sounded promising enough and, although the maps I’d found were vague, we figured someone in Triunfo would be able to point us in the right direction.
El Triunfo was once a mining boom town. At its height in the 1890s it had about 4,000 – 10,000 residents. But when the gold and silver ran out, so did the mining companies. Now it looks like there might be a couple hundred people living in the ruins. But they are really cool ruins and a few businesses are moving in to restore the old brick buildings and breath life back into the town. One of two remaining chimneys used in the calcination process (whatever that is) was designed by Gustov Eiffel of the Eiffel Tower and they are trying to complete some much needed restoration work on it.
When we got to El Triunfo (it is about 45 minutes north of Los Barriles) we turned at the arrow/bike sign on the main highway looking for the trailhead. No luck. It is a very small town though so it didn’t take us too long to drive all the way through it, on both sides of the highway, searching for any other possible clues to this bike trail. Still no luck. We parked and I asked a bartender in a cute little restaurant if he knew anything about it. He said that he thought it was behind the chimney. We walked to the chimney but the area was closed due to the restoration work. As we were walking back to the car wondering what to do next, I noticed what looked like a goat trail at the end of a street leading down into a wash. On a piece of paper smaller than a business card stapled to a fencepost (not the closest fencepost to the street), was a black arrow pointing towards the wash. I followed it and found another arrow pointing north. We’d found the trail!
Have I mentioned that we’d only brought one bike? So I ran the trail with Brandi (that’s actually not a punishment – I really love trail running!) and Mitch took the bike. It was marked well at first, although the paper arrows would be destroyed after one major rain. But then, as we got further, the arrows were turned the other way. So we’d missed something, somewhere, but we continued on, going against the arrows. After a little over three miles, going through an arroyo, over some hills, and behind the chimney, we ended up back in town. I decided that I’d call it a day but Mitch wanted to go back through.
About an hour later, Mitch rode into town, relieved that he’d found his way back but with a big grin on his face. “You missed the really cool part,” he said. There’d been a turn that we’d wondered about when we’d passed it. He took it the second time and it ended up being some really fun single-track with great views. Too late though – my brain had moved on to pizza.
The pizza was in a restaurant called Cafe El Triunfo, in an old brick building that the owner has beautifully restored. It was a unique space with one relic-filled room leading to the next, patios, awnings, balconies, and an open air bar and brick oven overlooking the Eiffel chimney. We sat at the bar and watched the staff make our pizza and slide it in the oven while the resident Great Dane buried chunks of bread in the dirt around the patios to dig up later (the server told us that he always remembers every hiding spot).
I am not a pizza connoisseur – almost any dough with cheese makes me happy. But this was goooood!! Nice thin, crispy crust, fresh, fragrant basil, lots of mozzarella. Before we knew it, our large had disappeared.
Calorically speaking – I know I didn’t come close to breaking even. But Becky was right – El Triunfo was worth the return trip.