Having left El Paso, TX, we wanted to head up to Guadalupe Mountains N.P. for a little ‘splorin’ & boondocking. However, after conducting some due diligent weather checking, we discovered the forecast highs for the next few days was to be at or around 20 degrees, with snow expected. “Aha! No you don’t!” Being the smartest human on the planet, I altered our destination to the big city of Van Horn, TX. Mother Nature-0, Me-1! (Or so I thought, as you will soon read about). We rolled into town just as it was turning dark and found the Wild West RV Park had space for a couple of days, taking an extra day to explore the area. Well, it took all of about 10 minutes to thoroughly explore the area (Van Horn is a little tiny town/rest stop at the side of I-10. You know you are in Sticksville when the town is limited to one Dollar General store for all your fine shopping needs.) OK, now I gotta give Mother Nature-10, Me-0. Forecast was for snow in Van Horn on our exit day, so we re-upped for one additional day to stick it out. And it did snow, to the tune of about 6” of fine powder. The RV park clerk said it was the most they had gotten in several years. Yeah, that makes me feel good…
So we hung around a little later into the morning of moving day to give the roads a chance to de-ice a bit more, then hit SR90 headed south, intended destination of Marfa, TX. The roads turned out to be good but when we got to the megalopolis of Marfa, we found no RV space acceptable & available. So, march on we must, on into Alpine, TX. We found a home at the Lost Alaskan RV Park for a couple of days.
One of those days we headed back over to Marfa to take in the sights. About the only claim to fame Marfa has is they have a rare local phenomenon called the Lights of Marfa. About 9 miles out of town the locals have built a nice little observation station/rest stop from which to attempt to view those lights. Their originating source is not known; some claim they are reflections of vehicle traffic from the highway (it runs nowhere near the area of the lights), some say swamp gas, some say camp fires, but nevertheless nobody has discovered their source. After researching a little about the Lights of Marfa, because they are reported so infrequently, and me not desiring to sit out in the frigid temps at night to hope to see them, we decided not to do another night trip into Marfa for the lights. But we did check out the big city, which is a whole lotta depressed, distressed buildings and closed up shops.
Our second day out of Alpine we drove over to Marathon, TX. Jeanne wanted to see the world’s smallest Target store and that just happened to be on the way. It’s not really a Target establishment, some “artist” painted some logos on a tiny square building in the middle of nowhere and parked a shopping cart in front of it. Marathon itself is another booming, bustling southern Texas town…NOT! There was not a lot other than the Gage Hotel, the White Buffalo Bar, and the Brick Vault Brewery & Barbecue. They have an awesome American Stout called Starlight Stout, for you stout/porter drinkers out there. Marathon does happen to have an RV lot at the hotel, in case anyone wants to make this their vacation destination…
Out of Alpine it was on to Terlingua, TX for our stay at Big Bend National Park. The RV parks around Terlingua just outside the park are all pretty “rustic”, and we found home at the Big Bend Resort & Adventures. This is a pretty good sized park, sites large and spread out, FHU’s, and a gas station parked right next to it.
First up was a short drive up to the “ghost town” part of Terlingua. On the way we encountered the Terlingua Cemetery. This is an ancient cemetery with wild west style gravesites scattered on the hillside. Just a stone’s throw up the hill we found “downtown”. There is the old Terlingua jail, a hotel, a trading company, & the remnants of an old gas station among the many ruins covering the area. People still live there, some of the homes looked to have been “add-ons” to the ruins of older buildings.
We were told by a local in Van Horn that we just had to go to La Kiva for dinner. The place is cave/dinosaur themed and does indeed have a cave-like architecture/feel. It also has a dark history for the folks of Terlingua. It seems the former owner, Glenn Felts was murdered out in the parking lot of the business back in 2014. A local river guide/drinking buddy of Felts was charged and acquitted of the murder. La Kiva should not be confused with an establishment of fine cuisine, but it is quirky and worth seeing if you ever find yourself in the area.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, with return on Old Maverick Rd. was next on our dance card. We loaded up Woodrow Wilson in the Jeep and hit the road. The Scenic Drive is a paved 2-lane road down to the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook and trailhead, then Old Maverick Rd. is a mild Jeep trail back to Maverick Junction and the park entrance station there. With constant scenic views along the way, there were several points of interest that we took in. The Homer Wilson Ranch, Mule Ears view point, Tuff Canyon, Castolon, and Santa Elena Canyon were all along the Scenic Dr. Santa Elena Canyon is very cool, the Rio Grande River flowing at the bottom and through the dueling cliff faces, one belonging to Mexico, the other to the USA. On the Old Maverick Rd. we found an abandoned family’s home called Luna’s Jacal. Back in them days I guess either humans were really really short, or folks just did not care to stand erect inside there homes, as the photos will show.
We returned home, fed our faces, then left Woody to guard the bus while we headed over to Chisos Basin to try and catch a sunset through a mountain formation called The Window. The views were OK, not outstanding, seeing that it was most fully overcast during sunset that night. And we FINALLY got our first real glimpse of wild critters as we were driving home at dark…a couple of Wile E. Coyote’s cousins ran across our headlights.
The Rio Grande Village area is on the eastern side of Big Bend N.P. We left Woody at home for this trip (poor guy, but we think he tends to get car sick so we try to limit his road trips). First detour was to see the Hot Springs just outside the Rio Grande Village. A short walk past some of the old buildings led us to the small hot springs. The springs are on the Rio Grande River (our border with Mexico). Along the path we found where some of the Mexicans from across the river had set up a little “arts and crafts” area, selling walking sticks and desert art (mostly wire & bead scorpions) with a self-pay jar and prices listed. Jeanne actually read in the National Park’s newspaper that it is illegal to purchase these “arts & crafts”, I’m sure it has to do with duties and taxes, it’s all about government greenbacks…
We then continued on to Boquillas Canyon Overlook. There we got an overview of the big Mexican city of Boquillas Del Carmen, as well as a short walk to see into Boquillas Canyon where, again, the Rio Grande River splits the canyon faces between Mexico & the USA. We found more “arts & crafts” along this way, and this time I believe we got to see some of the “artists”, lounging across the river.
A little bit of mild Jeep trailing (4 miles +/-, one way) led us to Ernst Tinaja. Ernst is the name of the German who came to the area in 1873 and discovered this particular “tinaja” (translates to big earthen jar), a rock formation containing a large pool of water. Stories have various animals getting caught trying to drink from the water, falling in, then drowning when unable to escape the smooth limestone walled pool. There are also stories of Private Morton Diedel of the 14th Cavalry, during the Mexican Revolution in 1913, having fallen into the big tinaja and drowned. And as it turned out, we happened upon an old gravesite for a 26 year old named Juan De Leon, died in 1932, a short distance from Ernst Tinaja. He was supposedly on his way to or from Ernst Tinaja when he was shot & killed. Buried on the spot, murder never solved. The canyon containing the tinaja was pretty scenic.
On a day that it was supposed to rain on us but did not, we decided to load up Woodrow Wilson and take the scenic drive to Presidio, TX, through the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The drive was very scenic, most time spent parallel to the Rio Grande River, passing by more ruins, an area called Hoodoos (not like Utah hoodoos at all), lots of steep canyon walls, and a pass through a golf resort area called Lajitas. We stopped for chow at a place in Presidio called El Patio—-not the best Mexican cuisine I’ve had, kind of a mix between Mexican diner fare and Tex-Mex. We even got treated to a herd of wild donkeys and a couple of wayward Wile E. Coyotes along the drive.
With a little clearer skies, we returned to Santa Elena Canyon to take the short 1.6 mile round trip hike into the canyon. The hike actually climbs the USA side of the canyon wall and leads you into the mostly shaded canyon above the Rio Grande River. The river is a popular venue for kayakers/canoers led by river guides and we were treated to a 4-boat floatilla coming through the canyon. Once out of the canyon, there was a small piece of quicker moving water. I’m no expert on river rapids classifications, but I would say these “rapids” needed to pick up just “a touch” of speed to approach a Class VI rapids. However, as you can tell from some of the photos I took, one of the presumed guides had a bit of a struggle “shooting the rapids”…On our way back home we stopped by the Sam Nail Ranch, one of the features of the park. It is an old, abandoned (in ruins) ranch, tucked in amongst the thick cacti, with one of two windmill water pumps still working. There was basically only part of one wall still standing, an old chicken coop, and for the life of me I don’t understand the desire to locate a ranch in the thick cacti.
The next morning it was back to the Chisos Basin where The Window trail takes you through the desert mountains to the “pour off” point where a spring fed creek goes over the cliff, they say falling about 200’. We got to the trailhead bright and early, wearing 43 layers of clothing because it was FREEZING! (Just kidding, we only bundled up in 21 layers. OK, OK, it was 3 layers, jeesh!) Off we ventured, down to the valley floor and out to the base of The Window. It is a 6.1 mile round trip hike from the store with some pretty spectacular scenery. Once we reached the “pour off” point, I made a wise decision not to get too close to the point to try & verify the 200’ waterfall…the edge is all slickrock, not many handholds anywhere, and the slickrock looked damp – bad juju if you ask me. We pretty much had the trail all to ourselves that early in the morning which was nice. On the way back, all the fair-weather hikers had arrived and there was quite a bit of them passing us. The last mile or so of the return hike is moderately strenuous, it had us huffing & puffing.
Seeing that this was a nice, clear day, we decided to return for the sunset as seen through The Window. We had dinner at the Lodge, then hung around and waited for sunset to arrive. A couple of deer wandered by as we waited, then sunset arrived. There were no clouds to offer much contrast in the sky colors, but it was a cool sunset just as well.