Big Bend National Park

Tuesday, November 24
Big Bend National Park

    I enter Big Bend National Park, speed limit 45, at 11:45. My Golden Eagle pass gets me in for free. Finally, after all these miles of prairie and desert, a little bit of rock formations start cropping out of the desert, little ones. At 12:20, I stop at the Fossil Bone Picnic Area and reach the Visitors Center at 12:45, temp 68. I mail some stuff to Burrie and leave at 1:02 to get a peach pie and a York peppermint patty at the convenience store nearby, where a mockingbird hops around hopefully. Gas there was $2.464 (not $2.469). The country around the road is not all interesting but there's stuff off to side looks pretty good.
    So I leave the main road for the Chisos Basin, into the middle of the good stuff. A 15 mph sign with a bear--I'm not a bear so I guess I can do more than that. It's a windy twisty road through incredible rock formations that no photo can do justice to, past the Lost Mine Trail and other trails, and ends at a camping area with a motel, gas station, and another visitors center. This is such a short description of what was easily the high point of Big Bend. But there's no way this can be put into words.
    Back on the main road, back into desert country then into hilly country with rock-strewn slopes, out of the park and downhill on Texas Route 118, past bunches and bunches of outcroppings of sand and rock, hard to capture with photographs (I don't try), and a stone pillar. Back into the flat. Study Butte and Terlingua.
    I stop at the Big Bend Resort in Study Butte a little after 3:00, temp 74, odometer 112457. It's still a clear blue sky and it feels warmer than 74. This is a very high class motel--the internet is very slow and there's no refrigerator or microwave. The guy at the desk says there's no phone but there's one in the room and it seems to be working. There's a good overhead light so there's very little use for the lamp on the table next to the bed. The table has 2 drawers. There's also a round table that wobbles and 2 small arm chairs. The TV is on top of a dresser with 6 drawers, 3 side by side, the usual foldout luggage thing, shelf, and hangers, lots of counter space with the sink, and you can hear the people next door.
    I can't find my cell phone. I figure it fell out of my breast pocket with a number of other things that I picked up when I bent over. After walking to the convenience store, a woman knocks on my door. She found the phone lying under my front tire.
    There's a tiny lizard (Mediterranean house gecko) on the toilet tank top; it tenses when I flush. I get a BLT and sweet tea at the associated restaurant and convenience store. This time I drive over. If the woman hadn't returned my phone, I'd probably have driven over it.
    It's nice standing out under the desert stars in the brisk night air, even if the moon makes it difficult to see anything except Sirius and Rigel and maybe one other star. The distant lights of Terlingua and of the motel office and unfortunately those on the rooms of the motel. I could drive out into the desert but there'll be time enough for that when the moon is gone.
    Bed at 12.

Wednesday, November 25
In 1980, I went to Fells Point for the first time: "Fells Point Playhouse. But no coffee houses."
Big Bend National Park
    I leave the motel at 9:21, 59 degrees. There's a pay phone at the convenience store. A pay phone! I get $15 worth of $2.389 gas, odometer 112458. Breakfast is a cherry pie and Arizona razzleberry iced tea from the convenience store. I'm not going to pay $10 for the breakfast buffet.
    Back to Big Bend at 9:39. The folds and wrinkles of our Mother Earth could not be captured with a camera--I think a film camera could capture better details, at least better than the one I have. Gray ghosts are looming over the horizon, Rough Run Creek, a couple of mountains rise above the desert floor with what looks like a square antenna on top. Mountain ghosts ahead of me, a wonderful little canyon to my left, covered with grass and shrubs, little ledges coming up from the canyon, a zigzag Great Wall of China in miniature. How different things look coming in this direction--things behind me that I couldn't see before are now in my face. Big stalks rise up with stuff at top, like cattails or giant sparklers like the little ones that we had as kids. The Panther Junction Visitor Center at 10:17. On to Hot Springs and the Rio Grande Village. I cant see what's off to my right very well; this is when you want to be in a convertible. There's no way I could capture the picture in front of me with a camera. There are layers of haze in front of mountains, a white haze, blue mountains, a white streak of haze about halfway up. There is practically a forest here of ocotello, the wiggly things, like rubber fingers.
    The more time I spend here the more beautiful the desert becomes. Maybe not beautiful but more exotic and alien to Eastern eyes. It makes me wish I could have been a park ranger.
    I stop and take 2 photos at the Rio Grande Overlook. I can't see the Rio Grande, which I finally see at a campground near the Rio Grande Visitors Center. The Not So Grand River is muddy and not that wide. There are a number of tents here and I realize what a tenderfoot I am. I wish I had learned how to camp out in a tent and do it the right way.
    Magnificent country, the mountains rising up on the other side of the river in Mexico. The dirt road to the Hot Springs Historic Area is a washboard in several places, then a one-way narrow track with no place to turn around, a steep gully to my left that seems only inches away from my tires, a sharp turn that makes me wonder if I could possibly make it without slipping into the canyon. The road is really rough and becomes a two-way road just before it reaches the parking lot at 11:46. An abandoned building of some kind stands above it.

    There's a path to the hot springs, 0.25 miles. I meet a couple of people in bathing suits going the other way. There's another abandoned building--you can walk in a little bit then it's fenced off: Maggie Smith's store, closed 1952. "No one ever left Maggie's Store cold or hungry." There are 3 paintings on the wall, the remains of a fireplace. Another abandoned building with many doors is blocked off. It looks like it might have been a place for people to change clothes. There are supposedly Indian hieroglyphs on the rock wall but they're too faint to make out what they are, just color. 11:46. I give up after half a mile. I can't go into them anyway; there's no place to change clothes (the ones leaving apparently used their van--can't do that in a Mitsubishi Eclipse). But I would have at least liked to have dipped my hand in them. The road going back on the other side of the gully, under orange cliffs, is just as scary as the one coming in road back. There are lots of prickly pear and ocotello and some kind of bush. This does not look like a fun curve.
    Back to the main drag at 12:19, small birds flying around. According to a plaque at one of the pullovers, the stalks going up to brown kernels, like cattails, are sotol or zotolin. I take 3 pictures at Panther Junction, including one of Panther Mountain, and get a peach pie at the convenience store. The sky is clear blue, mountains off to left a darkish or rust red in color, the sun shining on them. There's the mirage of a lake off to my right, grayish green in color. It's just the shadows of clouds.
    I take the road to Castelon and Santa Elena, the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, canyon at 1:15. Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. There are a number of yellow trees off to my right, rounded, looking a little like very big dandelions. Beautiful country. Is that a cave up there? Nope, it's just shadow. It is just so damn impressive. I scare up a jackrabbit while taking a photo of some dikes along the road to Castelon. This is where the word awesome really has meaning. I've seen awesome and it ain't me. I turn around after 5 miles and take the main road out of Big Bend, temp 75, taking 3 pictures of a totally rectangular formation (nature's billboard) and a canyon at Old Maverick Road. As I leave the park, there are a couple of teenagers standing on top of the Big Bend sign.