Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Too Many Titles

SO - Gary and I have discussed over the last couple of days what the title of this posting would be and came up with way toooooo many titles! There was -


Never Know What You Will Find In the Middle of No Where

Don’t Judge a Town or National Park but It’s First Look

First Impressions Should NOT Be Lasting

Etc., Etc., Etc.

As we left our ‘parking lot’ camping space (which prepared us for any needed emergency stops in the WalMart parking lots) in the Guadalupe Mountains NP, we left the snow and 29 degree temperatures behind and headed for Big Bend NP in Texas and looked forward to having FULL hook-ups and internet access (as advertised!).

As we headed down the road on a Sunday morning, Elizabeth was quite happy driving along passing only about a dozen cars all morning on the state roads that led us down the way. All of a sudden we passed this ‘bus stop’ (at least that is what it looked like) on the side of the road in the middle of no where that was a “Prada” stop. Yes - that is what it said - “PRADA”!! In the middle of no where in Texas?!?!? (Turns out this was an artist installation that proved so popular it is still there).

A Prada Surprise

Not too much further down the road was this ‘thing’ - again in the middle of no where! Gary and I were back and forth - is it a plane - no a blimp - a balloon - a blimp tethered. Finally an answer - it was a tethered blimp that is a US Air Force tethered aerostat radar station!! All we could think of was - perhaps our son-in-law’s station in Lemoore, CA was not so bad - after all he could be in this middle of no where!!

If Heather thinks Lemoore is in the middle of nowhere, she should try outside Marfa, TX

We continued on this state route in the middle of no where - and reached the town of Marfa, TX where we decided we might be prudent to fill up the fuel tank. While Gary was taking care of the fuel - Elizabeth was looking at all the ‘street’ signs - one of which was the sign to the right to the Paisano Hotel, which was used as the base camp by the director, George Stevens, of “Giant” during its filming. Maybe this was something to go check out - which we did - and found a beautiful, old hotel with wonderful tile detail that truly made this a building to see and admire.

Giant Film Production HQ

Great tile work

Good thing the Palace was closed, it made parking easy

This led us to a wonderful, bohemian sort of place for breakfast/lunch. A very local place that we would have never found, much less go into, without the recommendation - and it was very good.

The Austin Cafe in Marfa. A local hang-out

Finally, we decided it was time for us to continue our trek to Big Bend NP and our new camp/home for the next few days with all the amenities we had missed during the past few days:-)???? I must say that one BIG thing we have learned on this trip is - Never Judge a Town or NP by Your FIRST Look or Impression!!!!

Here we were in the metroplex of Study Butte/Terlingua in all its glory - the western entrance to Big Bend NP. Like so many towns we are familiar with, these two little towns were founded at the turn of the 20th century as mining towns and grew together when the Park came into being.

Yes, that is the entire Metroplex in the background

- And our new and improved (???) campground - Gary calls it “The Quarry”!

I have seen so much grit and dust as I have here.

We do have all the hook ups as promised - BUT, the wi-fi is in the cafe. Not quite as efficient as access in Magic:-( After getting set at ‘camp’ we did our usual ‘tour of the town’ and headed to the National Park entrance to get info.

Entering Big Bend, the least attended National Park in the System.

On the way back we checked out a little of the town and booked a river raft trip for the next day. We also stopped at a little General Store to check it out and to see if they might have a coffee pot for Gary to replace the one that ‘died’ a couple of days ago (Gary gets really grouchy without his 12 cups of coffee in the morning - and NO he can’t use the espresso machine for this!). What a GREAT little place. Anything and everything you could want - and it doesn’t break the bank to buy things there. We found just the coffee pot Gary was looking for, ice cream sandwiches and nutty bars for our afternoon snack AND MOST IMPORTANT - home made tortillas:-) We took those back to Magic and had them with some of that red chili con carne from Mesilla - VERY HAPPY CAMPERS despite the quarry.

A great little general store.

Monday, March 22 - A river raft trip on the Rio Grande or Rio Bravo del Norte in Mexico. The middle of the Rio Grande is the border between the United States and Mexico - for those who have forgotten. So, as we paddled down the river we were in both countries at the same time - and back and forth between the two. We also stopped and took a hike into a beautiful canyon on the other side of the river - therefore we were in Mexico. All of this is done without our passports! However, we were assured that the river rafters have an agreement with the Border Patrol on what will and won’t be done. Guess so - as we are still here and not in a Mexican - or American - jail for going across the border without our passport.

Our river rafting group

The Rio Grande

We saw hundreds of turtles on the river

Rio Grande Duo in Mexico

Lunch break

When you are in an area such as this, though, with our towns on one side of the river and Mexican towns on the other, you get a real different view of how to maintain (or not) our borders. Especially when for years citizens of both countries have crossed the river at will to eat or buy goods and then returned. All very innocently and without a desire to stay. A difficult situation for sure.

Of course our river guide - Rebecca - gave us sooooo much local information about the flora and animal life as well as much information on the geology of the area. Most of the animal life along the river consisted of birds. AND - for our birder friends - we were fortunate enough to see the rare double breasted mattress thrasher:-) Rebecca also armed us with information on places to eat and hikes to take so we were enlightened and ready for our next couple of days by the end of the raft trip.

After the trip we NEEDED our afternoon ice cream break -- so back to the General Store -- then home to get ready for dinner. As we learned at the General Store that Monday is 2-4-1 burger night at the Starlight Theater!! Julie and Mike - you would have loved it:-) Not only did you get your burgers BUT there was also live entertainment and a full bar. What more could you ask for?!?!

YES - this is the Starlight Theater

Tuesday - Another day in Big Bend. Today we are off on a couple of hikes. We drove to the southeastern corner of the Park to Rio Grande Village and Boquillas Canyon.

On our way -

As you might guess, a mighty river like the Rio Grande has carved many canyons along its course. Each has its own character - all beautiful in their own way.

Boquillas Canyon gave us our first REAL view of the ‘closeness’ of America to Mexico. (On our raft trip we were in a canyon with very high walls on the Mexican side - so there was no interaction with Mexican locals.) As we drove out to the mouth of the canyon and the trail head we saw small Mexican villages just the other side of the river. Keep in mind - all of this area is NP on the US side so no development and Protected Area on the Mexico side so there is little development. At view points and along the trails there was ‘merchandise’ for the Americans to buy left by the Mexicans who had come across the river on horse. You took what you wanted, left your cash and they came back to collect the money and restock. We saw them come back and forth - and some even approached us. We only assume they did watch for Border Patrol and stayed away when they saw them.

The local merchants with their horses, waiting across the river

When we started down the trail into Boquillas Canyon, we saw another little ‘camp’ that appeared to be more Mexican Nationals as there were many little ‘merchandise displays’ along this trail. When we got to the bottom of the trail and down along the river we saw a Border Patrol with what appeared to be one of the Mexican Nationals who had come across on his horse. They talked for a few minutes as we were walking in their direction. As we got close, the Border Patrol led the Mexican Nat. away and kept saying to him “tell them its OK”. Again, assuming the Border Patrol was having the Mexican radio (with a VERY sophisticated radio) to the rest of the ‘camp’ on the other side of the river that he was OK - not knowing for sure what that might mean?!?! I must admit, Gary and I were both sad if he was being arrested. Clearly, these men do NOT come over here and stay. Anyway, we continued on our hike and on the return we learned that ALL our assumptions were wrong - and once again - DON’T ASSUME!! On the way back we saw a couple of Mexican Nat’s going down the middle of the river. Of course, Gary noted that their canoe was full of photo equipment and the man walking was coming our way with additional equipment. I had to talk to him, as I was concerned that if he was on our side he might get arrested as the man before him. Turns out the camp on the other side of the river was about 50 people there to do a film for Mexican tourism - and the man I was talking to was leading the group. They were going into the canyon to get the beauty of the canyon. As he said “there is so much beauty in Mexico, but right now all anyone hears about are all the drug murders”. We also asked about the man we had seen earlier and learned that he came over to talk to the Border Patrol to attempt to get more boats for their equipment! And, we saw him coming back down the path as we reached the end. So - all was good - and this made this little hike VERY interesting.

The Mexican Tourism film crew

Looking for more boats for his crew

More film equipment

After this excitement, we were ready for our afternoon ice cream, and then drove to our next destination - the Chisos Basin. The Chisos Basin is 5400’ in elevation and is surrounded by the highest peaks in the park - the highest of which is 7300’. This area was much more to our liking - NOT a sand box!!

After checking out the Visitor Center here (and getting another stamp in our NP Passport), we took a short little loop trail of about 2 miles. The most impressive view here was to look to “The Window”, which is a V between mountains that provides a wonderful view of the Santa Elena area.

Hiking the Chisos Basin Trail

This had provided a pretty full day. So, we stopped by Magic to pick up our ‘drinks’ (byob at the restaurant) and we were off to a little Mexican food restaurant about 14 miles north of town - Tivo’s. ‘Mother’ does all the cooking and ‘Son’ waits on the tables. Needless to say, we had another fantastic Mexican food dinner with some of the hottest red chili we have ever had. Even Gary’s forehead was in a sweat!!

After dinner, we were having a lovely evening sitting outside watching basketball when wind gusts came up that just about knocked us off our chairs. We made a mad dash inside and closed the slides. This morning we had dust and grit an inch thick EVERYWHERE!!

Despite the fact that we are not enamored with all the desert and sand here, we did have another hike we wanted to do in the Chisos Mountains. So, we postponed our departure from Big Bend by a day to hike the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos area. On our drive in to the trail head, we came upon a family/herd of Javelinas having breakfast by the side of the road. Then when we got to the trail head, we had an escort of a couple of mule deer.

Have a Javelina??

Really nice hike

This little mule deer didn't mind sharing the trail

The Lost Mine Trail took us up 1100’ in about 2.5 miles to a ridge across from the Casa Grande (the Big House), which is the tallest point in the Big Bend NP. Great hike and GREAT views.

Beautiful vistas - Casa Grande in the background

After this hike we needed some time sitting - so we took a drive to the third area of the park - the Santa Elena Canyon area. Another beautiful canyon with sheer rock walls.

The Santa Elena canyon on the Rio Grande

We were glad we stayed - but are now ready to head to some GREEN!!! (We truly hope.)

Off to the Hill Country tomorrow. More later - E&G

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