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Monday, April 29, 2013

My Chicken Ran Away to the Bush

Today was our day to move from Terlingua to El Paso, Texas.  It was a 4 hour bundle of excitement, we must say.  We were serenaded on the way by our iPod, with such classics as Burl Ives's "My Chicken Ran Away to the Bush", which is exactly what we think probably happens a lot out here.

Compared to the terrain we drove across, Terlingua was an oasis.  Just a flat plain of scrubbrush.

We claimed a victory of sorts when we arrived at the border patrol stop south of Alpine, answered a few perfunctory questions while a dog sniffed all around our truck and trailer, and were waved on with a pleasant "good day."  David was all set to offer the cats up to the border patrol officers if they were suspicious that the cats were really mules.

We hadn't gone more than about an hour and a half, having passed through Marfa, Texas, when we stumbled across this pretty trendy shop on the roadside:

It was actually located in the metropolis of Valentine, Texas:

For the most part, the scenery was flat, flat, flat.  This unending landscape of excitement was finally interrupted with a stern message that we took very seriously:

However, ultimately, we took great comfort in the fact that our RV park is right next to the highway, next door to an RV service company, and only 3 miles from the local Freightliner dealer/service shop.  And there's a Camping World nearby, too!  We think there isn't much of anything that could go wrong that we couldn't get fixed right away.  So we're feeling pretty secure.

Arrived Mission RV Park @ 12:45 pm MDT

Sent from my iPhone

Depart Terlingua @ 8:50 am

On the road to El Paso!

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Things are not as they appear.... Disney in the Desert

Hi Blog! Today is Sunday. Our last full day in the Big Bend area.  We decided to play tourist today and go on a scenic drive along the Rio Grande.  Our first stop was the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center.  The Interpretive Center is set up as a self-guided environmental tour.  The various displays take you on a walk through time outlining how history and geology have shaped the cultural heritage of this region.  We learned how humans, animals and plants have adapted to survive the harsh conditions of the Chihuahuan Desert. We came away from the Center with a better understanding of all the great geologic upheavals that shaped our country.  It is easy to see the forces at work in the desert.  It is all laid out before you.  Did you know that the Appalachian Mountains continued past Georgia all the way into Mexico? There's nothing left to them down here.  It's all been eroded away.

At the Visitor's Center, we also learned there was a movie set located in the State Park just a few miles past Lajitas.  So, off we went in search of movie magic at the Contrabando Movie Set.  This location was used to film such notable pictures as Uphill All The Way (1985), Rio Diablo (1993), Gambler V: Playing For Keeps (1994), Streets of Laredo (1995), Dead Man's Walk (1996) and Journeyman (2000).  It's also featured in the Brooks & Dunn music video for My Maria, which won Music Video of the Year in 1996. In September 2008, heavy rains and flooding occurred in Ojinaga, Mexico. The rain, and the ensuing release of water from local flood control structures caused widespread flooding, and resulting in damage to the movie set buildings.  Here is a photo as you enter the set.

We stopped into the saloon for a quick drink. While the bar remained, the wooden floor was completely covered with dried mud from the floods.

Then it was off to the chapel to get married.

Things are not as they appear to be.  While the inside of the bar was finished off, here is the inside of the chapel, it is pressboard, chicken wire and stucco.

The movie set overlooks the Rio Grande river.  Here's Dave taking in the scenic view.

 Here is the movie poster from Streets of Laredo.

We found one scene online that shows the buildings in the backdrop.  When we get better internet, we'll probably download the film just to see if we can recognize our neighborhood.

Now you might think this picture is of an old west town, but you'd be wrong.  You are looking at the Lajitas Golf Resort.  They stole a page from the movie set and have done their best to create a very "Disney-like" version of an old west town, complete with outdoor store (with no real outdoor equipment), day spa, hotel, jewelry store and bakery. They call it the "Boardwalk" since the sidewalks are all wooden planks.

At least the restaurant had cold beer.  We were not impressed with Lajitas and would probably choose to spend our time on the porch in Terlingua!

More Tails on the Terlingua Porch

This is a true conversation. Only the names and some details have been changed to protect the innocent (or maybe the guilty.)

Setting: On the Porch of the Terlingua General Store, sometime early on a hot summer Sunday morning. The usual locals are sitting around chewing their breakfast beers. The usual dogs are lolling about on the porch floor.

Patron #1: Did you see the cops come drivin' up into the parking lot last night, chasin' a feller?

Patron #2: No. I left early.

Patron #1: Well, it was around 6pm or so. The guy come drivin' up at TWO MILES AN HOUR, and there are the police, just chasin' him that slowly. They gets to the parking lot and he gets out and ambles out around back o' the shed over there.

Patron #2: Two miles an hour? Whyever for?

Patron #1: Can't say. Maybe he was trying to convince everyone he warn't doin' nothin' wrong. But anyways, he goes out behind the shed, and they follered him. Then all of a sudden old Ben comes runnin' out from the clinic shouting, “They TASED him! They TASED him!”

Patron #2: Tasers?

Patron #1: Yep, sure enough. Ben says he saw it himself. They tased the kid.

Patron #2: That seems a might extreme for just drivin' two miles an hour.

Patron #1: Well, you knowed it wasn't just that. Hell, young Sam's done this before.

Storekeep: Sam? It was Sam?  I drove by his place last night and didn't see no light, figgered he wasn't home and wondered why. That 'splains it.

Patron #1: Yep, well you know young Sam did this same kinda thing a month or two ago.

Patron #2: I heered about that. He saw the state troopers and decided to have a little fun. He wheeled off over a hunnerd miles an hour, crashed a few fences, out over a field.

Patron #1: Not just that. He smashed the tour company's jeep, then almost hit one of the cop cars. Laughing the whole time, they said.

Patron #2: I guess they weren't much happy 'bout that.

Patron #1: Well, 'specially since he gave 'em the slip that time. So figure they was out to git him this time.

Patron #2: See what I mean?

Patron #1: What's that?

Patron #2: They's too many danged PO-lice around these parts anymore.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

10th Annual Terlingua Desert Chihuahuan Challenge

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls grab your fancy hats and mint juleps, it's time for the 10th Annual Desert Chihuahuan Challenge! Folks around here take this race seriously. It is advertised all throughout the county.  Here's the flier we picked up yesterday.

Little dogs from all over the Texas desert, and as far away as Mexico, come to run in the big race.  The race course is behind the general store, just past the old jeep.

Before the race, it is quite the fashion show with racers showing off their favorite colors and frilly outfits in a pre-race pageant that would make Churchill Downs pale by comparison.

The race has grown so popular over the years that other small dogs have banded together and sued for the right to race in the Desert Challenge.  Because Terlingua is filled with artistic, free thinking kinda of folks, the race was expanded to include a second category of "other" small dog.

Here is your first glimpse of the race course.  That's the judges tent at the end with the red and white stripes.

What were you expecting, these are Chihuahuas after all.  Speaking of which, here is a photo of the winning Chihuahua, Reilly.  Yes, that's a lightening bolt painted on the side of his coat, just like his favorite doggie action hero Bolt.

Reilly was defending his title from last year which makes him a two time champion.  Reilly's dad has a real estate rental business - Big Bend Vacation Rentals.  So, if you don't have an RV and want to come out to Terlingua, Texas and see the 11th Annual Terlingua Desert Chihuahuan Challenge, Reilly's dad will hook you up with a rental.

Because we spent the morning hiking, we missed the main race.  However, we got there just in time for the small dog race.  After parading and prancing from the porch to the race course, the dogs enter the gate.  The top lid is dropped and the front panel drops and away they go.

Ooops, false start.  Someone jumped the gun by sneaking out the little breathing hole in front of the gate.

Everyone is back in the starting gate. The bell rings and they are off.  Really off.

Bubbles jumped to an early lead, followed by Killer, Spike, Rassle Dassle and the rest of the pack.  However, Bubbles lead was too great to over come and she took home the blue ribbon.  Next came the raffle drawing.  As we awaited the announcement of the winners, we ran into our waitress from the Chili Pepper Cafe.  We must have brought her luck - she won a raffle item!  Do you know what she won - a gift certificate to the Chili Pepper Cafe.  Even in Terlingua, life can be so ironic at times.

After the race, everyone moseyed over to the porch for another cold beer.  (The one we took to the race course didn't last long in that heat.)  Fascinating discussions ensued regarding the current political climate, the value of rocks and the current real estate market.  The whole time people were strumming on their guitars, ukuleles and banging their spoons.  We decided to take a walk around the Ghost Town before the discussion turned to actual aliens.  The movie Paul (about the RVing alien) did come up though.

The Terlingua Cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places.  There are over 400 graves, the oldest from 1903.  While the area is known for its mercury mining, not a single person died from mercury poisoning.  Many died in 1918 from influenza! The cemetery is still used today by current residents.

The old guy that owned the Chisos Mining Company, Mr. Perry, built himself a mansion on top of a big hill.  The upper floors had narrow windows so that it could be protected from Pancho Villa and his revolutionaries.

After walking around the Ghost Town, it was hard to imagine that over 2,000 people lived and worked here.  There was a butcher shop, ice cream parlor and movie theater.  Today, a number of these old structures are occupied by free spirits living off the grid.

We have one more day of tooling around this area and then we pack up and head for El Paso, so there's one more porch visit in our future.

We are definitely coming back here next time we are in Texas.

Window Trail Hike in the Chisos Mountains

Today we had one last chance to get in a decent hike, and we chose another popular hike - the Window Trail, which leads from the campground in the Chisos Basin, out to a ledge in the Chisos Mountains at which Oak Creek pours over in a huge waterfall to the desert floor below.  Of course, the pourover only occurs if there is flooding water - which there currently is not - so we didn't get to see the pourover "in action."  Nevertheless, this was a dramatic hike.

Our hike set out downhill from the campground, and early along the trail we spotted Carter Peak, the most distinctive mountain in this direction, with its forked peaks:

Looking directly behind us on the trail, in the morning sun, we could see Casa Grande looming over the Chisos Basin:

The mountains, buttes and rocks in Big Bend National Park never cease to amaze.  Everywhere we looked were massive outcroppings and igneous upthrusts:

After continuing down the Basin slope on a gently descending trail, we finally hit a canyon through which Oak Creek runs to get to the Window pourover.  If you look very closely in the photo below, you'll see Kathy, dwarfed by the canyon walls:

As we approached the Window, we had the option to hike first about a quarter mile up to an overlook giving a sweeping panoramic view of the desert floor to the northwest of the Chisos Mountains.  Here is Kathy (again dwarfed), working her way up the Oak Springs Trail toward the overlook:

The overlook was spectacular, with views dozens of miles out to the horizon.  The drop-off was so sheer that it gave us vertigo just to peer down:

We returned down the Oak Springs Trail and made our way out to the Window, where, through a narrow slot and over stone polished to a slippery smoothness by unimaginably strong, rushing floodwaters, we could catch a glimpse of the desert we had seen from the overlook.  It was dangerous working our way down the gray rock toward the notch, because the rock was so slippery.

The total hike was almost 4.5 miles, and we worked our way back to the trailhead quickly and easilly, eager to get over to Terlingua for the 10th Annual Terlingua Desert Chihuahua Challenge!  More on that in the next blog entry.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Tails on the Terlingua Porch

Our neighbors at the Big Bend Resort RV campground, Wayne and Pat, are wonderful people who have many stories to tell of the Big Bend area.  They have been coming here for years and love this sparsely populated, hot, dusty community.

One of their favorite places to hang out is the Terlingua General Store, in Terlingua Ghostown.  Terlingua is a mining district located west of Big Bend National Park.  It sprang up originally with the discovery of cinnabar in the 1880's.  Due to mining, it grew to a metropolis of about 2,000 people until, after World War II, the decline in mercury production caused the town to shrink to almost nothing.

The area had a renaissance of sorts in the 1960's when a variety of hippies, environmental types and others gravitated to it because of the low cost of living.  Many houses in the area had been abandoned when mining disappeared, and people just squatted in whatever vacant houses were handy.  In many cases, the true owners of properties were not known.

Over the years, the Terlingua General Store has become the social center of this quirky universe.  Come 4:30 pm or so every day, the locals drift onto the front porch of the store, buy a six-pack of beer from the establishment (being careful to keep their beers refrigerated and take care to leave the store manager note of how many of their refrigerated purchases they have drunk), and sit on the porch to swap stories, play or listen to music, play with the resident dogs, or just hang out.  This front porch is known as the "Terlingua Porch."  We joined the crowd with Wayne and Pat and chatted for a stretch.

The porch is never complete without its honorary dog hosts.  Buddy, a cinnamon brown labrador-chow mix, was by far the most social, and he and David became fast friends.  

Here's a photo of the Terlingua Porch today, complete with dog:

Here's a photo of Wayne (and part of Pat on the right) making friends with Gonzo, one of the canine habitues:

Kathy and Gonzo played a mean series of games of tug-o-war, and the score was about even.  If you consider dog slobber all over your hands a prize, Kathy won first.

A well-known figure on the Terlingua Porch is Doctor Doug, who maintains his own web log, which in itself is an entertaining introduction to all things Terlingua.  Doctor Doug has been around these parts for some time and has such notoriety that the general store even sells a postcard with a photo of the young Doctor Doug (known in that capacity as Doctor Black) astride a local automobile:

But there is much more to Terlingua (and the Terlingua Porch) than just Doctor Doug.  One writer and photographer, Blair Pittman, has written two books, "Tales from the Terlingua Porch," and "More Tales from the Terlingua Porch" and also maintains a web log.  Read these books and the web logs of the Good Doctor and Mr. Pittman to get the real flavor of Terlingua and this idiosyncratic community around Big Bend National Park!

After happy hour and a short rest, we dropped over to the Chili Pepper Cafe again with Wayne and Pat for a delicious home-cooked Mexican style dinner.  Kathy highly recommends their guacamole, which really is mainly avocado.

Santa Elena Canyon, Castolon and More!

As Kathy says, "Hi, Blog!"

We get TWO blog entries today.  This blog entry, the first, is all about the west side of Big Bend National Park.  The second will be about our introduction to Terlingua Ghostown.

We heard that Santa Elena Canyon, on the Rio Grande, is spectacular, and we weren't steered wrong.  We drove the 40 or so miles to the canyon early this morning, to try to get as much hiking in as we could before the sun got too high and hot.  Here is a photo of Santa Elena Canyon, looking in from where Terlingua Creek enters the river:

The river was even narrower and shallower here than the other day, and David was even more tempted to cross.  Here he is, caught in the act of almost crossing the river.  His excitement about that cooled down when he found out that crossing the river without permission can bring a $5,000 fine or 1 year in prison.  Oh well.

To hike into Santa Elena Canyon, first you have to climb up along the cliff face, then back down to the river beach within the canyon.  Here's a view, from up on the canyon wall, of the Rio Grande as it flows eastward out of Santa Elena Canyon:

Having gotten into the canyon, we nosed around.  Kathy got too nosy and almost got eaten by this stony shark!

Once in the canyon, we could walk about a quarter mile along the beach.  From the beach, the canyon walls loomed large.  Both sides of the river were covered in muddy footprints.  Okay, we get it, the U.S. side had footprints from tourists.  But whose footprints were on the Mexican side???  We didn't see a soul on the other side.  U.S. tourists who crossed over surreptitiously?  Mexicans who crossed into the U.S. illegally there?

After exploring the canyon, we drove back to the Castolon Visitor Center.  Castolon was, essentially, the center of development on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande in the Big Bend area.  The earliest settlers were Mexican, but once the Anglos saw that Mexicans were scraping together a living farming along the river, a number of Yanquis tried their hand at it.  Land along the river at Castolon was used for growing cotton as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables.  Here is the Alvino house, the oldest intact structure in Big Bend National Park, an adobe house built in 1901 by Cipriano Hernandez, one of the Mexican settlers of Castolon:

A later settler of Castolon installed a steam engine to pump river water up to irrigate the cotton fields.  Here, Kathy is conducting a VERY CLOSE inspection of the steam engine:

Driving back from Castolon, we stopped at Tuff Canyon.  Tuff is a very hard, smooth, grey rock compressed from volcanic ash that has fallen from eruptions.  A whole canyon was carved in the Big Bend basin through tuff and volcanic rock strata:

What trip into the eastern part of Big Bend National Park would be complete without a visit to Mule Ears, a huge volcanic formation visible from as far away as Terlingua, where we are staying in our campground:

As the late afternoon was hot, we hurried home to shower and drive to Terlingua Ghostown for beers on the Terlingua Porch with our RV neighbors from San Antonio.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lost Mine Trail

Hi Blog.  Today is Thursday and our day to get out on a little bit longer hike.  After looking over the list of suggested hikes we got from the park ranger, we decided on the Lost Mine Trail located in the Chisos Basin.  We would have picked a longer hike, but ended up getting to bed late last night trying to catch up on our blogs!

On the way up to the trailhead, we saw the cutest little black bear by the side of the road.  The little bugger reminded us of the little black bear we helped Katie chase out of her summer camp.  Unfortunately, the camera was not within reach, so we have no photographic evidence of this ursine encounter.  However, we now have a new policy of leaving the camera in the cup holder for future animal encounters.

Our destination, Lost Mine Peak, at 7,650 feet elevation, dominates the skyline across Upper Pine Canyon.  The peak's name comes from an old legend that describes how Spanish explorers found a vein of silver in this area and enslaved local people to mine it.  According to the legend, the workers eventually rebelled and killed their enslavers, then sealed the mine entrance to prevent further exploitation.  There is no evidence to support this legend, and geologists don't believe that silver would be found in these rocks.  However, the name adds an air of mystery to this mountain and makes for a really cool hike.

As soon as we leave the parking lot, we can look up and see Casa Grande.  This little peak is only 7,325 feet, but it dominates the Chisos Basin. The trail begins a steady slow climb on a very well maintained trail.  The Civilian Conversation Corps built many stone culverts and other masonry structures along the trail.

The trail switches back and forth between two valleys.  One seems to have small trees and lots of brush.

The other one, has many more tall trees.  These trees provided much needed shade since there wasn't a cloud in the sky today.

We picked up a self-guiding nature trail booklet at the trailhead.  It costs $1.00, but was worth every penny.  There were 24 stops along the 2.4 mile trail to the summit.  Here is Kathy reading all about the Fragrant Ash with its sweet smelling white flowers.  (Yes, we both stopped and smelled them.)  These stops gave us a chance to catch our breath as the trail rises over 1,100 feet in elevation.

We ran into a bunch of Appalachian Mountain Club members on their way down the mountain, including a woman who lives outside of Boston.  The subject of the recent bombings came up, and she is still shaken from the events and had difficulty talking about it.  As much as we were upset by what happened, the folks in the Boston area feel it much more intensely.  It's personal to them.  After getting some trail intel and news of deer sightings, we bid them safe travels.

Onward and upward!  A good part of the trail is in the open providing fantastic views of the Chisos Basin.  You can just make out the road heading into the basin.

As the trail made switchback after swithcback climbing higher and higher, we could see evidence of the wind and rain eroding the rocks creating a boulder field that stretched down the side of the mountain.  Here is a picture of grandma boulder surrounded by all her little grandbaby boulders.  (Can you tell the air is getting thinner - look at how blue the sky is!)

The last few switchbacks were actually stone steps leading up to the summit. There is a long summit trail that leads to a cliff with a drop off of over 1,000 feet.  Kathy tried to make it across the knife edge to reach the lookout, but couldn't do it - just too vertiginous.  Dave scampered across and looked down into the abyss. Too bad the camera didn't do it justice.  Here is the view looking down into one of the valleys on the far side.

If you squint really hard you can see Kathy on the way to the summit.

On the way down, we had one more look at Casa Grande before heading back into the trees.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I sooooo wanted to take a picture of this rather large woman on the summit in pedal pushers and sandals carrying a black umbrella and clearly reeling from the heat, but resisted the urge.  After all, she did make it all the way to the top.