Big Bend to Marfa TX – Jan 12-18

7 Feb

We spent 5 days in Big Bend National Park TX.  We camped in each of the three camping areas. Two were along the Rio Grande River, one was in the central Chisos Mountains.  The Big Bend area is along the US-Mexico border, which is defined by the Rio Grande, and looks like the bottom of an ice cream cone that follows a big bend in the Rio Grande.  The area is beautiful in its remote desolation.  January is a quiet time, not many people around.  The Park is large, and there is only one lodge and restaurant which is in the Chisos Mountains.  The campgrounds have small general stores which, by comparison, make a Seven-11 store feel like a Safeway market.

Hiking was our major activity in Big Bend.  We took a 4 mile hike on the Boquillas Canyon Overlook Trail which affords a view of a poor Mexican town, Boquillas.  The town has suffered since 9-11 when the local border crossing was closed.  The Mexicans cross the border illegally and place locally made craft objects (wire sculptures, walking sticks) out on hiking trails, hoping tourists will “buy” them up and leave the requested amount of money in a jar.  Another short hike led us to an abandoned resort and its crumbling hot springs development along the Rio Grande.  Soaking in the hot spring was Johnny, a slim, deeply tanned, longhaired local who chatted us up for a spell.

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The Big Bend campgrounds do not have showers.  After a number of days without a shower, and after several hikes in very warm, dusty weather, we were past due for a shower.  Our VW bathing routine just wasn’t cutting it.  So, after morning check-out time had passed, we went to the Chisos Mountain Lodge desk and asked if we could pay for the use of a shower in one of the uncleaned rooms.  The desk clerk looked at us as though we had requested her first born.  But, a more experienced employee stepped forward with two large fresh bath towels and said “we all need to take showers,” and gave us a room key.  Then she added, “there’s no charge, just bring the room key back when you’re done.”  The showers were wonderful!

We then, some might say foolishly, celebrated our freshly cleansed bodies by taking them on an uphill 3 hour, 5 mile hike to the mountaintop at the end of Lost Mine Trail.  Considering the peak was at 7,500 foot elevation we had a 360 degree view of Big Basin, beautiful!  As the sun began dropping, so did the temperatures – all in all, a great day.

We took several other hikes while in Big Bend, the most exciting was a dawn hike through Santa Elena Canyon.  Unfortunately, the sky was ordinary and the sunrise was normal.  Nevertheless,   the morning light on the canyon wall was a bright orange.  During the hike, the vertical narrow canyon walls loomed above and provided us with dramatic scenery.  Back at the VW, we invited another hiker, Jacks, for an oatmeal and cappuccino breakfast.  Jacks is a landscaper in Oakland who moved to the Bay Area to escape the very conservative surroundings of her native Virginia.

We left Big Bend through the west gate, and spent some time in the Terlingua ghost town.  The crumbling buildings and historic cemetery provide a glimpse into the hard life of the second half of the 1800’s.  But the most interesting part of Terlingua is the general store.  Not the general store itself, but the long front porch.  The porch is a gathering place for locals and visitors, and is a legendary gathering point for musicians.  While we hung out there, a revolving number of musicians played and sang.  Anyone who wanted to join in was welcome.  Being an Eagles fan, I absolutely loved the Eagles songs that we sang – the setting was straight out of “Desperado.”  In the early morning light of the next day, the porch was empty except for Dr. Doug, the venerable morning clean-up guy who shared Terlingua stories with us.

After Terlingua we headed south, back to the Rio Grande.  We checked out a luxury resort, spa and golf course – Lajitas.  It’s a beautiful spot in the middle of the proverbial nowhere.  It must have been off-season – save a few maintenance people, there wasn’t a soul to be seen.  The grass on the golf course was brown, the retail stores were closed, the guest rooms were beautifully prepared for non-existent guests (we peaked in through the spacious uncovered windows).  It felt as though we were present at the birth of a new ruins.

Next, we drove west along the Rio Grande through the Big Ben State Park, billed as one of the most beautiful drives in North America.  Beautiful, yes.  One of the most beautiful drives – only if those making the assessment didn’t include the 100 most beautiful drives in North America, like Highway 1 in Big Sur, the Smoky Mountains, et. al.

At the Contrabando abandoned movie set in the State Park, we met Mark and Laura.  Mark and Laura also had been traveling in a VW Eurovan, with their two children.  Had been, that is, until its transmission died on a narrow one-way dirt road several days before.  Our hearts went out to them, understanding the situation and knowing the time and dollar costs they were facing.  Also, they are from Alaska and run an RV park there.  They, as did an Alaskan tour guide we met the day before on the Terlingua porch, encouraged us the take a VW road trip to Alaska this spring/summer.  We’re extremely interested in doing that, taking a ferry through the Inland Passage on the way north.

We continued on to Marfa -a town of some 2,000 residents that distinguished itself some 20 years ago by becoming an artist community.  It’s an intriguing, perhaps unique, mixture of a traditional conservative small west Texas town and progressive artist haven.  We stayed at the historic Paisano Hotel and enjoyed bathing in the privacy of our own room.  While in Marfa, at sunset we drove to the viewing station to see the mysterious and illusive Marfa lights.  They only appear 10-15 times a year.  Did we see them?  I don’t know – check out the photos and judge for yourself.

Next stop, Fort Davis and the McDonald Observatory.