Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse.

Big Bend National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

In a state as diverse as Texas, there’s always an adventure around every corner and unique attractions at every turn.

From West Texas to the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, El Paso to Texarkana to Brownsville, from outdoor enthusiasts to foodies to culture buffs, there’s always something to see and do in Texas.

Even those of us who visit Texas frequently and spend a big chunk of our time traversing it leave most of the state untouched.

We’ve driven through Texas numerous times over the years. But yet, it always amazes us just how big Texas really is.

Charting any RV trip through the state can be a daunting task. So many miles, so many routes, and even after all our years on the road we’ve still not seen large portions of the Lone Star State. Every trip through, we explore new areas—and revisit favorite haunts.

The state overflows with awesomeness at every turn, places we find completely captivating.

Monahans Sandhills State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usually we just follow I-10 in from the west. Yes, it can be boring but it is the most direct route.

We take our time and schedule varied side excursions along the way and make the journey—and not the destination—the highlight of the trip. It is the journey that is the joy of RVing.

We’ve explored the Big Bend area, including Big Bend National Park, Terlingua, Alpine, Marfa, and Davis Mountain Observatory. If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

The wind-swept, dynamic rippling sandscapes in Monahans Sandhills State Park is one-of-a-kind. A half-hour’s drive west of Odessa it’s well worth a visit. The park consists of 3,840 acres of wind-sculpted living sand dunes, some up to 70 feet high. The Park is set in one of the areas where the dunes are still active and constantly being shaped by the wind and rain. The dunes grow and change shape due to seasonal prevailing winds and you can watch them change whenever the wind is blowing.

Blue Bell, Brenham  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blue Bell, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream. For us aficionados, ice cream is one of the four food groups. Blue Bell has become the best tasting and certainly the most successful ice cream in Texas (and that means the best in the world). Would my taste buds lie? To learn what makes an exceptionally good thing good, we visited “the little creamery” in Brenham: I think we found out but every few years we require a refresher course.

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market. Several tons of barbecued beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausage links are served each day. Aside from the barbecue, Lockhart is a wonderful old town to visit. This small Texas town exudes a rustic, slow-paced charm arising from its Western heritage, rooted in cattle and cotton.

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth. City Market in Luling, is such a place. The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town. Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, we headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined a tour. The tour gave use a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Bock to the Extra Pale Ale, Haymaker. A day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!”

There’s more—much more—adventure in Texas. Space does not permit to detail our numerous other unforgettable adventures and experiences from The Alamo, River Walk, and San Antonio Missions National Historic Park in San Antonio to Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in the Hill Country. Galveston, Johnson Space Center, Big Thicket National Preserve, Caddo Lake, Rockport, Goliad, Rio Grande Valley, Palo Duro Canyon, and Austin.

Don’t Mess with Texas, Y’all!

And, of course, because we haven’t yet been quite everywhere, we’ll keep exploring Texas

What’s Next?

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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2 National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Touring America’s national parks in an RV can be a transcendent experience.

Dante's View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley
Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore the great outdoors. Although some parks may have limited access to certain areas due to ice and a heavy accumulation of snow, many of the unique natural environments found in America’s national parks are best appreciated during the winter months.

Many of the most famous national parks experience a drastic drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions. In fact, you may just have the park mostly to yourself.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter. This is a perfect time to visit one or more national parks.

With snowbirds and Winter Texans in mind, the following are my picks for the two best national parks to visit this winter.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley. The very name repels. So do the superlatives: the hottest (134 degrees in 1913), driest (less than 2 inches of average annual rainfall), and lowest (282 feet below sea level) of the U.S. national parks. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level.

Its forbidding name, suggests a vast stretch of nothingness. Boring. Bleak. Empty. Right?

Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley's forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes.
Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley’s forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead wrong. Despite its inhospitable name, Death Valley National Park can, in fact, be quite welcoming, especially during the cooler winter months.

With average temperatures that hover around 120 degrees during the summertime, Death Valley National Park is best visited during the winter months. The typically harsh environment of Death Valley is much more inviting during the winter, with temperatures in the low 70s during the day and the high 30s during the night.

The largest national park outside of Alaska, Death Valley offers everything from snow-covered mountain peaks to sand dunes. It’s a spot unique on Earth, with high, snow-frosted 11,000-foot peaks towering over a valley that drops 282 feet below sea-level.

There are whimsical salt formations, reflective pools, and hidden side canyons. There are date palms, historic borax mining equipment, and volcanic craters.

Take a tour through Scotty’s Castle, one man’s dream retreat, or drive to Dante’s View as the sun leaves the valley. It’s a big park, with lots to see, and it’s a lot easier when the temperatures are in two, not three, digits.

Unlike many other parks, Death Valley’s peak season is during the winter and early spring. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the least-crowded. It is advisable to make camping reservations in advance.

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest protected area of Texas, Big Bend National Park is perhaps most appealing in winter. Temperatures hover in the 60s, perfect for taking on the park’s nearly 200 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, which span desert, riverside, and mountain terrain.

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round.

Elevation in the park ranges from 1,800 feet along the river to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures can vary by 20 degrees between the two, so bring extra layers.

Rio Grande Village is the center of visitor activity during the winter months. Great scenery, warm temperatures, abundant wildlife, and full visitor services make this a must-see location for any Big Bend outing. Rio Grande Village has an NPS campground and visitor center, and a concession-operated camper store, laundry, and shower facility. The store also runs the Rio Grande Village RV Campground, the only campground with full hook-ups.

Ringed by massive cliffs and amazing views, the Chisos Basin is a year-round focal point. Numerous trails begin in the basin, and range from short walks to longer backcountry hikes. The paved, 0.3 mile Window View Trail provides an excellent place to view the mountain peaks or watch an evening sunset.

A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a number of services in the Basin including the lodge, restaurant, and camper store. A 60-site campground is located in the lower portion of the developed area.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Eyes on Texas

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. Besides serving up quiet in big, Texas-size portions, Big Bend boasts geologic wonders, unique wildlife, and plenty of room for hikers and campers to spread out.

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. The Indians thought this land was the Great Spirit’s rock storage facility; the Spaniards called it “El Despoblado,” or “the uninhabited land.” However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Chihuahuan Desert vegetation—bunchgrasses, creosote bushes, cactuses, lechuguillas, yuccas, sotols, and more—covers most of the terrain. But the Rio Grande and its lush floodplains and steep, narrow canyons form almost a park of their own. So do the Chisos Mountains; up to 20 degrees cooler than the desert floor, they harbor pine, juniper, and oak, as well as deer, mountain lions, bears, and other wildlife.

The National Park Service operates three developed front-country campgrounds: Chisos Basin Campground, Cottonwood Campground (near Castolon), and Rio Grande Village Campground.

The concession-operated Rio Grande Village RV Campground (with full hook-ups) is also located at Rio Grande Village.

A 16-mile one-way driving tour takes visitors through Aransas National Wildlife Refuge's grassland, oak thicket, freshwater pond, and marshland habitats, providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A 16-mile one-way driving tour takes visitors through Aransas National Wildlife Refuge’s grassland, oak thicket, freshwater pond, and marshland habitats, providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is special for many reasons. It is home to America’s tallest bird, the highly endangered whooping crane. One of the rarest creatures in North America, the whooping crane is making a comeback from a low of 16 birds in 1941.

Each winter the refuge plays host to huge wild flocks of whooping cranes whose bugle-like call echoes across the marsh. Productive tidal flats provide clams and crabs for the whoopers to eat. These cranes can often be seen from the observation tower from late October to mid-April.

With a spectacular wing span of 8 feet, the cranes reach speeds of 30 mph and travel 400 miles a day along their 2,600-mile migratory route between summer nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta and wintering grounds at the Aransas refuge.

The refuge also provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering grounds for more than 390 migratory and native species including pelicans, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and many other birds.

A 16-mile one-way driving tour takes visitors through the refuge’s grassland, oak thicket, freshwater pond, and marshland habitats, providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Additional activities include hiking, birding, picnicking, and fishing. Six leisurely hiking trails totaling 4.3 miles are available.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The chain of five missions that were established along the San Antonio River during the 18th century stands as a reminder of Spain’s most successful attempt to extend its New World influence and control. Representing both church and state, these missions were charged with converting the local Native Americans, collectively called Coahuiltecans, into devout Catholics and productive members of Spanish society.

More than just churches on the Spanish Colonial frontier, the missions also served as vocational and educational centers, economic enterprises involved in agricultural and ranching endeavors and regional trade.

Before the Spanish came, there were no horses in Texas and no gunfire, except for the raiding Apache. A vast frontier had never been touched by a wheel or felt the blade of an iron ax.

Among other contributions, the missions planted the roots of ranching in Texas. Indian vaqueros tended huge herds of cattle, goats, and sheep. They marked stock with branding irons like the ones used in Spain and Portugal as early as the 10th century.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 10 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—Davy Crockett

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10 Spectacular National Parks for Camping

Camping in America’s national parks allows a visitor to more fully appreciate the beauty of America’s natural treasures.

If you’re in search of a camper’s delight, these are the best national parks for you.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based and backcountry recreation. The recreation area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah, encompassing scenic vistas, geologic wonders, and a vast panorama of human history.

Lees Ferry Campground offers 55 developed camping sites; no hookups available.

Primitive Camping is available at Stanton Creek, Hite, Farley Canyon, and Dirty Devil.

Lone Rock Beach is a beach camping area

Additional developed campgrounds are operated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, are available at Wahweap, Bullfrog, and Halls Crossing.

Continue reading →

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Located in the southwest corner of Texas where the Rio Grande makes its “big bend” of a ­turn from south to north along the Mexican border, Big Bend National Park is a scenic blend of desert, mountain, and river environments. The peaks are the Chisos and the desert, the Chihuahuan stretching deep into Mexico.

The National Park Service operates three developed front country campgrounds: Chisos Basin Campground, Cottonwood Campground (near Castolon), and Rio Grande Village Campground.

Shenandoah National Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Shenandoah National Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The concession-operated Rio Grande Village RV Campground offers full hook-ups.

A limited number of campsites in Rio Grande Village and the Chisos Basin campgrounds are can be reserved from November 15-April 15.

Continue reading →

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful, historic national treasure which includes the scenic 105-mile long Skyline Drive—a designated National Scenic Byway. The Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

As each season arrives, and the changing leaves hit their peak of rich color, the expansive views become a tapestry of lush green in spring and summer to red, yellow, and orange in autumn.

There are four campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park: Mathews Arm (mile 22.1), Big Meadows (mile 51.2), Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5), and Loft Mountain (mile 79.5).

Although Shenandoah National Park doesn’t have a campground that is just for RVs, it does have three campgrounds that will accommodate large RVs. Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain campgrounds have pull-through and deep back-in sites which can accommodate an RV with a tow vehicle. Although hookups are not available, the campgrounds do have potable water and dump stations (with the exception of Lewis Mountain Campground).

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Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls, © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls, © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sheer sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo.

The campground, located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. Sites are of varying length and suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length. Each site includes a parking space, picnic table, and grill. There are 3 restroom facilities that include sinks and flushable toilets, but no showers. No hookups are available, but a dump station is located in Loop 1. Limited services are available during winter months.

Continue reading →

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 3-part series

Part 1: Top 10 National Parks for Camping

Part 2: Best 10 National Parks for Camping

Worth Pondering…

We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in, for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.

—Wallace Stegner

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50 Things To See or Do See in Your RV Before You Die

You might have read it or flipped through it or seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

The list, which includes everything from Asian sailing excursions to African horseback riding sites, might be mouthwatering to the wannabe world traveler. For most, however, the financial ability to travel the world simply isn’t there.

But have no fear. Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Acadia National Park, Maine

People have been drawn to the rugged coast of Maine throughout history. Thanks to the robber barons that used the park as a private playground in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the islands of Acadia have been preserved in a pristine state.

Acadia’s largest island, Mount Desert Island, encompasses a range of geological diversity, including rocky Atlantic shoreline, lush forests of spruce and fir, dozens of lakes and ponds, and rugged granite hills. Today visitors come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the scenery.

The Alamo, Texas

One hundred seventy-six years ago the Alamo was the site of a pivotal moment in the history of the Texas Revolution where 250 or so Texian and Tejano defenders held off an estimated 1,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days.

The Alamo is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the “Shrine of Texas Liberty.”

If you have never visited this sacred shrine, you haven’t really visited Texas.

Remember the Alamo!

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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

Each October, New Mexico skies are full of bold blues, imperial reds, and vibrant yellows. The event is the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon event in the world. This extravaganza takes place from the first weekend through the second weekend in October—this year’s festival is from October 6-14—and attracts hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the world.

After you’ve been to the Fiesta, it will be easy to see why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment.

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Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is special for many reasons. It is home to America’s tallest bird, the highly endangered whooping crane. In fact, each winter the refuge plays host to huge wild flocks of whooping cranes whose bugle-like call echoes across the marsh.

With a spectacular wing span of 8 feet, the cranes reach speeds of 30 mph and travel 400 miles a day along their 2,600-mile migratory route between summer nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta and wintering grounds at the Aransas refuge.

The refuge also provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering grounds for more than 390 migratory and native species including pelicans, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and many other birds.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Park is a geological wonderland and one of Utah’s most accessible parks. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures that is unlike any other in the world. An awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations dot its landscape.

The greatest density of natural arches in the world occurs in Arches which preserves more than 2,000 imposing natural sandstone arches—including the world-famous and much-photographed Delicate Arch.

Continue reading →

Big Bend National Park, Texas

If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. Besides serving up quiet in big, Texas-size portions, Big Bend boasts geologic wonders, unique wildlife, and plenty of room for hikers and campers to spread out.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. The Indians thought this land was the Great Spirit’s rock storage facility; the Spaniards called it “El Despoblado,” or “the uninhabited land.” However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

“My favorite thing is to go where I have never been,” wrote photographer Diane Arbus, and so it is with us.

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