March 2, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Texas

“As a matter of cold legal fact, Roy Bean was no more justice of the peace than the first jack rabbit to be met in Big Bend brush.”  Saturday Evening Post, 1939

Carol writes:  After we left Padre Island on the Gulf Coast of Texas, we spent the next few days at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station where we relaxed over the long Presidents' Day weekend and caught up on laundry and commissary shopping chores.  We lucked out getting a campsite there due to a last-minute cancellation which worked to our advantage when we were in the right place at the right time.  It isn’t hard to understand why this campground is so popular--with its wide-open, sunny sites next to the fishing piers on Corpus Christi Bay.  Adding to the ambience, there was also a resident family of very entertaining long-eared jackrabbits.

For the camping finale to our marvelous year of RV adventures, our plan was to head toward Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande River, one of our favorite camping spots in west Texas.  We knew from experience that we would have a very good chance of experiencing more welcome warm, clear days before we had to head north to finish out winter at our home in Colorado. 

On the way to Big Bend, we hopscotched from one Texas recreation site and/or state park to another, first at Lake Casa Blanca, where the desert plant life of large prickly pear cactus was starting to remind us of home.

Next, we spent three restful days at an Army recreation site along the shore of Lake Amistad, one of the major water sources for the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  The lake also serves as an international recreation area that is managed jointly by the United States and Mexico.  Fittingly, “amistad” is the Spanish word for “friendship.” 

There was something so peaceful about watching the daily trains in the distance as they made their way across the picturesque bridge over Lake Amistad.  Both of us especially liked the soothing sound of the train whistles during the night.

In the campground we had long conversations over three days with two very friendly couples camping nearby.  We were delighted one evening to accept an invitation from David and Mellie to join them for dinner at one of their favorite steakhouse restaurants on the outskirts of nearby Del Rio.  It was fun to share travel stories during dinner with such adventurous world travelers.  Incredibly, David and Mellie have been RV full-timers on the road since 1995, and have served as campground hosts at many of their favorite places.  They have spent an amazing 12 seasons volunteering their skills at Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, Alaska.  One of our most beautiful days on our Alaska adventure in the summer of 2011 was spent on the waters of Kenai Fjords National Park where we viewed incredible animal life in a pristine glaciated landscape. 

Mellie’s love of quilting was “right up my alley,” and we talked quilts for a long time.  When she showed me some of her recent quilting projects, I grew green with envy as I marveled at all the space she had for her sewing machine, in addition to designated closets for fabric stashes in their large 5th wheel trailer.

As we left Lake Amistad, we headed along the Rio Grande River and stopped for the night at Seminole Canyon State Park.  Mellie had told us about a ranger-guided tour of the pictographs in Seminole Canyon, and so we made arrangements to take the afternoon tour.  Al and I both remembered staying at this park during our 1989-1990 Galus Family year on the road, but neither of us recalled anything about pictographs in the canyon.  As our ranger-led group headed down into the canyon,

we passed by this remarkable 17-ft bronze statue of an Indian shaman.

Many of Seminole Canyon’s most outstanding red and black pictographs were on the rear wall of a deep rocky overhang high on the canyon wall.

It wasn’t possible to include any kind of reference object in our photographs to indicate perspective, but these pictographs were approximately 2-3 feet high;

this scorpion-like drawing measured about 2-3 feet long. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our lovely afternoon walk in Seminole Canyon, and the Paleo Indian pictographs were the icing on the cake.

The next morning we had coffee at a lookout next to the bridge over the Pecos River—Judge Roy Bean country!

At the Texas Welcome Center in Langtry, we stopped for a visit at the home

and saloon of Judge Roy Bean, the legendary 19th century Justice of the Peace and sole dispenser of law west of the Pecos.  Old photographs of Judge Roy Bean in front of his saloon demonstrated just how perfectly preserved these buildings have remained from over a century ago.

The saloon and the city of Langtry were reportedly named in honor of the British actress Lillie Langtry, who was much admired by the Judge.    I found the simple bar in the Jersey Lilly Saloon from which Judge Roy Bean dispensed justice to be particularly fascinating. 

The legend goes that if the Judge found a jury trial necessary, he chose the jury from the customers in his saloon, and sometimes held court right on the front porch of the saloon.

After one final stop in Sanderson for gas, in addition to a few provisions from a “store” that we were told had “everything,”

we felt ready to head into Big Bend.

In Big Bend we camped for three days in the Rio Grande Village campground.

At the top of my wish list was a day trip across the Mexican border into the tiny Mexican village of Boquillas.  Historically, the 200-300 inhabitants of Boquillas had enjoyed a long period of easy visitation by Big Bend tourists.  In fact, the town’s livelihood had become very dependent on the American dollars that were spent on food in their restaurants and on souvenirs in the restaurant shops.  After 911, all that wonderful international cultural exchange came to a crashing halt, and the border crossing remained closed for over 10 years!  Over that decade many residents left Boquillas, but for those who stayed life could not have been easy, as we were told that access to Boquillas on the Mexican side is solely by means of a 150-mile dirt road!  

From our campground in Big Bend, we drove a few short miles to the brand new border crossing on the American side,

showed our passports, and headed down the dirt path for a rowboat ride across the Rio Grande into Mexico.

In our entire year of international travel, this was the first and only time we crossed from one country into another by means of a rowboat.  We were met by our guide, Gabriel, who led us on a 1-mile stroll through the sandy Rio Grande floodplain, then on up into town for lunch.

Although the temperature outside in the sun was well into the 90s, the shaded patio where we ate lunch kept us comfortable and cool.

Al’s Dos Equis beer and my bottle of Coke were deliciously ice cold,

and the view of the Rio Grande River below was awesome!

After lunch, led by our guide, we took a short stroll through the impoverished, yet proud dirt “streets” of Boquillas.

Several times we were approached by very young children who were selling trinkets of various simple crafts.  Houses were very small,

and the only means of generating electricity for a lucky few was by means of solar panels.  The Catholic church was simple, with no frills on the inside.  Gabriel told us that a priest comes once a month to say Mass…

The town has one telephone that is shared by all.  Boquillas has only one teacher, who teaches all grade levels, and one resident doctor and nurse who rotate in for 2-week stays.  Gabriel was very proud of the new medical clinic in Boquillas that was built by the Mexican government.  The 21st century certainly hasn’t arrived yet in Boquillas; yet, universal healthcare is available for those who need it.

Why do we like coming back to Big Bend, even though we have visited twice before?  For us, in addition to the incredibly scenic desert and mountain beauty, it is the fascination with the abundant animal and plant life in the Chihuahuan desert.  It is the turtles in the wetlands near the Rio Grande,

the eye-popping vermillion flycatcher,

the great-horned owl with its melodic hoots, and the always fascinating javelina at Cottonwood Campground.

Although technically February belongs to the season of winter, we found that by this time of year spring had already arrived at Big Bend.  Many large yucca plants were in magnificent bloom,

and the Texas bluebonnets (the Texas state flower) along the roadside were especially lovely.

Big Bend is largely a park for hiking, so it was no surprise that we were bound to meet up with some very extraordinary and adventurous fellow campers.  We talked with one couple, Don and Gwen, who were in their 80s, and they told us stories of many backpacking visits to Big Bend.  They had also hiked several hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail and many miles on the John Muir Trail in California.  It was a delight for us to meet and talk with such adventurous seniors, proudly still doing road trips from Pennsylvania in their homemade Ford conversion van with no built-in bathroom or kitchen.  I have stopped voicing that we had it hard in any way this past year living out of our 23-ft Pleasure-Way RV.

On the way out of Big Bend, we noticed a Fiat Global Car parked at one of the lookouts and immediately knew that it was from Europe.  Sure enough, the distinctive European license plates confirmed our suspicion, and the country designation of ‘D’ told us the occupants were from Germany (Deutschland).  We had a delightful conversation with the driver!  He told us he and his wife had been touring the United States and Canada for the past 10 months and would be winding up their trip in mid-April.  By an amazing coincidence, the timing of his RV adventure had just about paralleled ours in Europe!  He had even used the very same shipping agent (Seabridge) to ship his RV that we had used.  What a fitting chance meeting near the final stage of our adventure!  After all, it was a French family in their own European RV that we met in 2011 while panning for gold along Bonanza Creek in Dawson City that had first put the bug in our ear to ship our camper to  Europe and see the sights that way.  That day on Bonanza Creek we could never have envisioned what a magical year it would turn out to be...
“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”  André Gide

No comments:

Post a Comment