Our very first trip in our new camper was to Fredericksburg, TX, the cutest little German town in the Texas Hill Country. We decided to do an overnight at a KOA, just to feel out the camper and get aquatinted with our new travel trailer. We even baked cookies in the propane oven, just to see how it worked.
Our second trip was an overnight in preparation for a future work trip to make a music video. We invited our friends and collaborators, filmmakers, Christine Carstairs and Robert Haynes, a married couple who also work together, to stay the night in the camper with us at McKinney Falls State Park right here in Austin. We wanted to test the camper and the situation of actually having four people in it; do a day of hiking and picture taking to prepare for our upcoming journey to Big Bend National Park to film the music video for our song, Deadly Beauty.
Big Bend National Park is an amazing and brilliant park in the extraordinary desert and mountains of West Texas, along the Rio Grande! Having heard about this pilgrimage of sorts, Rob and I took a traditional tent camping trip there, the spring previous to buying our travel trailer. We fell in love with the place so deeply that we wrote a song about it called Deadly Beauty.
There were Bear and Mountain Lion warnings everywhere in this park, complete with bear proof storage boxes at every campsite, as well as warnings about “curious” Javalina, breaking into your tent. Also there was some wild weather that came with this wild terrain. It came and went very fast and included a lot of lightning, a downpour, hail, not to mention temperatures reaching 116 degrees during the day and then dropping into the 50s in the evening! We did not end up setting up our tent, we slept in our car for four nights. To tell you the truth, there was one night that it was so gusty that I thought it might blow the car over… It didn’t, obviously.
Interesting fact: Big Bend is the least visited of all of the National Parks because it is so remote.
Suggestion: Read, Big Bend, A Homesteaders Story,by J.O. Langford before going to Big Bend, it will give you a much deeper appreciation for the land and the journey. I can honestly say that this is in my top 10 favorite books.
Also: Visit Terlingua, it is the weirdest, coolest little desert, formerly ghost town, right next to the park. Also, don’t tell anyone about it. I want it to stay cool.
In any case this trip was inspiring. As an artist and as a human being you can’t help but be changed by this journey.
Less than a year after visiting Big Bend for the first time we released our album,Brush With Greatness, with the song, Deadly Beauty, an homage to that unapologetic, raw, and wild place. We truly felt that being in the presence of and having the opportunity to explore this desert, mountains and river was a quite literal brush with greatness. The song Deadly Beauty without a doubt is filled with visual and aesthetic imagery, how could it not be? Making a video for this song was mandatory.
We asked Robert and Christine, our filmmaker friends who were our collaborators on the photos and album art for Brush with Greatness as well as script advisors cum directors and cinematographers on the music video for the song, Proof if they would want to go to Big Bend for four nights over Thanksgiving and shoot the video for Deadly Beauty. It was on! Four people, twenty hours in the car, four days in the desert, and sleeping in The Apex! It was actually quite magical!
RV Lesson #1: Plan your trip accordingly… It takes at least two hours longer than you think it will when traveling with a travel trailer. Just go ahead and tack on two hours to your journey when you are estimating how long it will be. Also you will go through gas about twice as fast. I can’t emphasize this enough! Fill up when you are at half a tank!!! Especially when you are in the desert, or anywhere remote. We coasted into a gas station on fumes and in a state of panic. Lesson learned!
We stayed at Big Bend Resort and Adventures Park, about 6 miles from the Western entrance to the park. Our thanksgiving dinner was Turkey Chili. We didn’t get in each others way once. Somehow we all maneuvered around the camper like an intricate ballet. Christine, despite being six feet tall and having insomnia, was sleeping on the dinette converted to a bed next to her husband Robert, and reported that she has never slept better in her entire life! These are minor miracles here!
RV Lesson #2: It is very possible for the RV break controller to become unplugged from your vehicle. In fact this happened to us in rather steep and mountainous terrain. This can be VERY BAD. At about hour 10, the vibration of the vehicle jiggled the plug right out of the socket. We have since created a little harness for the plug with zip ties to make sure this doesn’t happen anymore. ALWAYS continue to check the status of your break controller, throughout your journey, to make sure it has not become disconnected.
It rained and was overcast on what was supposed to be our first day of shooting, so we ended up scouting some locations and just taking stills while exploring a bit… The next two days of shooting were intense. We were following our video treatment, sometimes linearly and sometimes not. There were a lot of scenes and locations to get in a short amount of time, before we lost daylight. Not to mention, a horse and horse wrangler that had to be involved on the second day of shooting. Oh, yeah and the detailed and outrageous costume I had designed for myself… I was literally hiking up the side of mountains in a vintage evening gown with a feathered mask and headdress while onlookers and tourists gawked and tried to figure out what the hell we were doing.
Our main goal was to capture the beauty, diversity and wild spirit of this untamed land and share it. I think we accomplished that.
Here is the final product:
I love setting out to do something, and then actually doing it! It is immensely satisfying. Because of the camper, we were able to make our dream of a video for the song, Deadly Beauty a reality. Viva La Apex! Honestly, without it, our artistic vision could not have been realized. Also, we had a ton of fun!
By the way… If you are interested in seeing what team Carstairs/Haynes has been up to lately, check out the trailer for their festival bound horror/comedy short, The Spell Book. In another collaborative effort, Rob Houle, my wickedly talented husband and front man of our bandBefore Dawn composed the original score for the film and I designed and built the main character, the spell book.
To most of our friends and family, it is no secret that Rob and I are in love with camping. It floats our respective boats! In fact, it goes beyond love, it is a deep passion. It is a lifestyle that we seek out! We are aware that there are a lot of different definitions of camping and that it means something different to different people. We are not snobbish about it, and really, we love all of it! Backpacking, car camping, RVing, overnights, extended trips, State Parks, National Parks and private campgrounds, they are all wonderful and serve their purpose. In my opinion camping is the best way to travel and see the country.
My exposure to camping came at a young age. In fact there is a distinct possibility that I may have been conceived while my parents were camping. When I was a baby, my parents took me tent camping, according to my mom, camping is a great activity to do with babies.
When I was a kid, from the time I was 7 until I was about 14, I went to summer-camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin at Camp Nicolet for Girls in Eagle River. I spent the whole summer in the National Nicolet Forest. We stayed in cabins but went on hikes, cookouts and overnights, this served to enhance my love of camping as well as sharpen my skills in the realm of packing a backpack, making a fire and general outdoor survival.
When Rob and I met in college, I shared my love of camping with him. My sister gave us a tent for Christmas. Planning and going on camping trips quickly became one of our favorite pastimes. We got to see and experience places that we never would have gone to or even thought of going to otherwise.
Our first camping trip was a three day trip to Ocala, National Forest in FL. We went to Lake Eaton and Juniper Springs. They were both amazing. At Lake Eaton we heard something big in the woods at night and it scared us, branches were snapping under the feet of whatever creature was lurking. We imagined that it was some sort of large wildcat, it was probably just a raccoon…? We hiked the Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail, which was magnificent. It is about 80 feet deep and 450 feet wide. The flora and vegetation completely changed as you hiked deeper into it. It is similar to an Oak Hammock, featuring magnolias, live oak, dogwood, lobolly pine and sabal palm. The temperature and humidity even changed…It got a little cooler, but more humid. It was fascinating!
At Juniper Springs the water was so impossibly clear that it was almost invisible. We swam, we hiked and explored, we cooked our meals and ate outdoors. The scenery and the sense of relaxation that came from spending time outdoors was beautiful. Our love of camping as a couple grew. We knew this would be something that we continued to do together always…