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"I'm on my way back home..." Big Bend Again

Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.
Howdy from Alpine!
T'was a grueling ride through wind, rain, almost freezing rain, wind and more wind. Like almost riding sideways. The wind blew me and the bike over at a gas station :oops:

Now it's sunny, 20 degrees warmer and only a bit of wind.

I'm home! ;-)

See y'all next week.
Feb 9, 2005
Portland, Oregon
First Name
Glad you made it home safely.

Last year a few of us went to Alpine and Big Bend. This was in late April. Coming home it was cold, wet and windy. A few that had gone the previous year said they had snow coming home. This year we're going to Arkansas! :giveup:
Apr 7, 2007
53 sMiles south of Alpine
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Welcome back! It feels right to have you here again!

Stop by the adobe on your way south. We've got great weather planned for the weekend. :sun:

After a cold morning start in Alpine, we'll have the coffee/tea ready for you.


equipment junkie

My Email is Dead!
Apr 21, 2008
Wimberley, Texas
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Glad you're back! I look forward to more entertaining "reads". You are able to express much of what many of us feel about the area and it's people, history etc...We just simply lack the tremendous talent that you display with every post. Godspeed and write soon (and often)!:clap:

Craig aka equipment junkie
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.
When your heart sinks deeper, taking root, growing, blossoming, reaching outward and turning yourself inside out, it is a sign, a hint, a tap on the shoulder that whispers somewhere, echoing inside.......'You belong here.'

Many know that feeling, some may not even be aware of it. Until they leave. They just know they have to go back. And wait for that time when they don't have to leave.

Back at La Trettoria for brunch and warming the hands and fingers, curved lovingly around a hot mug of coffee. Extracting the last enjoyment of 'home' before returning to that In Between Place.

See y'all soon.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Roger! :clap:
Feb 25, 2004
Marquez, Tx.
Hey there gal,
It was nice to see you again Sat morning in Alpine. We looked for ya'll Sat. night at the Starlight, but we got there kind of late. I hope you enjoyed your time there as much as we did. Till next time,,,,,,,,,,,,.
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.
A 550-mile day. We even left Terlingua late this morning, sitting around the kitchen table in the old Mansion chatting with Kaci, not wanting to leave. It was great doing a long ride again; been over a year. On the road for twelve hours, stratigic stops for gas and food (brunch and dinner) and a Starbuck's iced mocha ;-). Fatigue didn't set in until stopping for dinner in Weatherford. And then it all hit at once: lots of traffic, noise, people and general fatigue. Almost back, wanting to turn around again.

This brief trip down to Big Bend was full of happenings. Too little time to do all I want to do, but it's that way all the time. While riding north on Maxwell Drive in the national park last night with the sun gleaming on the Chisos Mountains, it was as if a drapery had dropped and all the colors were on display. I had never seen such articulation in the Chisos before. No photographs could have captured the splendor of the mountains and desert in the early evening sun like that. I was awestruck. (Thanks to Where's Waldo Bob for that idea.)

And I thought to myself that I can't wait until I have the freedom to ride, hike, camp, explore and wander in the park and in the entire area when ever I want to, how ever long I want. Yet I know I still can't see and experience it all during the remainder of my life time. But I'm going to try.

No time to do any of the hikes I wanted to. This trip was more about 'business' than pleasure. I met more new people, spent time with people I met previously, and even spent time with old friends (Desert Rats): Roger, Hardy and friends, David and his brother. Several opportunities sprang up, some unexpected, and I hope to see those come to fruition. A few of them were just darn weird coincidental; almost too coincidental.

By golly, I think pieces are really falling together.
(I even started collecting rock for my Terlingua patio... :mrgreen: )
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.
We'll keep the home fires lit till you come back to stay.
Thank you, Voni and Paul, for the invitation to stop and visit. We really enjoyed your hospitality and your place is wonderful! Hope to do more of that, and return in kind as well, in the near future.

It was nice to see you again Sat morning in Alpine. We looked for ya'll Sat. night at the Starlight, but we got there kind of late. I hope you enjoyed your time there as much as we did. Till next time,,,,,,,,,,,,.
Hardy, it was such a nice icing on the cake to run into you and Denise there. I sure did enjoy my time there, but, as always, the time is too short. Hope y'all had a good loop around the Big Bend area.

We were at the Porch Sat night after pizza at Long Draw. Roger rousted David awake and he finally made it up there, too :mrgreen: We did turn in a bit early that night. I was still beat from the bad weather ride the day before. Last night at the Starlight was the best (the local's night)!

PLEASE send me a pm letting me know when you will be up here at Perry's. Lunch or dinner is on me!!!!
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.
Home on the Range?


Sometimes leaving, on the road, doesn't really sink in until many miles are already rolled away from under two wheels. It's been a long time since a real road trip on the bike. Three days in Oklahoma last fall was like taking a stroll in the backyard. This was different.

Another long trip like those to Utah and Tennessee in the past are far and few between these days. I've realized in the last year that life these days seems to stand in the way of too many things that I normally, or used to, enjoy. And Time, that chronological clock that ticks away opportunities, is getting louder. So last year (or was it before last year?) I decided on a Four-year Plan (TM). I've been in this area now for ten years; my Living in the City Experiment is reaching its conclusion. Time for a change.

This trip was more than just a pleasure trip, but details are irrelevant here. Regardless, it was, like most of my riding trips, more than just a 'ride'. On the other hand, it was indeed a ride. It felt good to get back on the steed and do just that: ride. Ride till you can't go anymore. But then again, I think I could have gone further. If I don't stop.

I often wonder what it is that captures us so: get on a bike and just go. Go until you can't go any more. Or just go and submit to that Wanderlust. That lust that is like a gear driven by sheer will, determination, by a primitive drive to move. I don't know what it is, and my scientific curiosity -that unconscious urge to know 'why?', 'how?' - keeps asking the same questions. The brain reels narrative that could pass for explanations, but in the end I just shrug my shoulders, smiling and just go.

In the mist and rain, in the gusting winds that throws the bike and I side to side, the game face appears, sheer will and determination take over and you keep going. Focus, ride and go. It will get better.

It did. After hours of laying on the gas tank and tank bag, neck craning up with battered helmet, we turned left: south. With a tail wind I could now sit up and be a sail. Carry me south, towards warmth and sun. Carry me home. Like a bird with weary wings and a genetically driven urge to fly south, we sailed down to Alpine.

Then all I wanted was a hot cup of coffee and a seat that wasn't in motion. For a little while.

Later we checked into our accommodations for the evening: Antelope Lodge in Alpine. A delightful place just off the highway with cabins scattered around a grassy courtyard. The cabins are quaint with kitchenettes and full bath with shower stall. The colorful tile was cool to the touch and playful to the eye, the pillows were awesome (with a bad neck, pillows assume a more than average importance).



Settling in, it was now time to explore. The first attraction was a glowing campfire in the middle of the courtyard. Scattered around it were several leather jackets hinting of Harley riders. They were, and a friendly group as well. We all chatted, fed the fire, told stories and imbibed of toddies.


Later, Ed and I browsed through the geology museum connected to the office. It was indeed a fantastic find! Scattered in two rooms were specimens from all around the Big Bend region: fossils, geodes, gems, rocks of all shapes, sizes and colors. And it was all well noted and annotated. A 'must see' for anyone with an ounce of curiosity about the inorganic natural history of that area.

A warm shower revived a road-weary body and lulled me to sleep. After an episode of 'Star Gate' :mrgreen:
Feb 22, 2006
Bedford, TX
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You know it's posts like this one and those from Tim Kreitz that remind me how much I miss West Texas. Growing up in Odessa, I thought I couldn't get away fast enough. Now the idea of finding a place somewhere like Ft. Stockton sounds pretty near perfect.
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.
Eighty-two Miles in Five Hours


Yes, it took that long to ride down to Terlingua. But then, we were already on Terlingua time.

After packing the bikes, we headed to breakfast at La Trattoria. I had an omelet with a blackberry pancake. The spinach and feta omelet is absolutely delicious. As is the coffee.


The inside of the cafe is very clean and simply elegant. Staff is friendly and helpful. One of the staff is from Granbury, so we had plenty to chat about.


It looks like a favorite hangout for the locals for lunch. Sometime I would like to stay for dinner and sample the wines. Be sure to check the specials. The food is exquisite and reasonably priced. A single computer at the counter offers Internet Cafe access, which is how I posted to the forum while there. It also enabled us to contact Voni before we left.


So there we are when two women walked inside in riding gear exclaiming about the cold. And who should follow is Hardy! Wow, what a great coincidence! Hardy and Denise, Hal and Sandy were planning on breakfast before riding a Big Bend Loop. We all chatted for a bit, which extended our time there, but who cares? Good friends, beautiful day, who can ask for anything better?


If you are in a rush, an order/pick up window is in the rear of the cafe. Behind these beautiful GS's of course. ;-)


We stopped for a fantastic visit with Voni and Paul on the way to Study Butte. Their house is wonderful, as is the shop which is spotless. I keep hearing about all the magical things Paul can do with motorcycles :mrgreen:


And I enjoy their sense of humor. Some of Paul's handiwork:


Voni is red, as anyone who knows her is already aware of. And she does exude a happy red. She's a genuine lovely lady and a gracious host. I think I found someone with a lot in common interests down there, even down to the rocks and cacti. :-P

My first ever glimpse of ocotillo in leaf was at their house. I love ocotillo, but I'm not sure why. To many they look like dead pointy thorny sticks. As with most botanical creatures, this desert plant is known by many names: coach whip, Jacob's staff, vine cactus, and ****** spiky things. But it is not a cactus.

Most of the year they assume deadpan sticks or tall whips covered with spines. Although they are shrouded with flaky brown bark, they are green underneath. As with most desert plants, after a good rainfall they burst into foliage and flowers: clusters of small ovate verdant leaves. At each tip tops of those whips, a spike of small brilliant red flowers grows to wave in the breeze and contrast with desert yellows and browns. Like all desert plants, there's a mad rush to photosynthesize and reproduce in the presence of the most precious resource available: water. This is how desert plants adapt to the harsh hot and dry environment; to conserve moisture and nutrition as long as they must, then make a mad dash to procreate when water is available.


In front of Voni and Paul's house was a beautiful specimen in leaf and flower. As you can see from the top photo, the temptation of placing Voni's red bike with the ocotillo was too tempting.

Soon it was time to gear up and move on. South to Terlingua.
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.

Views From the Porch

"Terlingua was rough and rugged, almost no streets, very little water, not too good food....." -Drury Phillips, Chisos Mining employee, 1904.

When Drury returned to Terlingua in 1906, things had changed. No longer were there tents, huts and scuffed living. Instead, adobe houses scattered the hillside with flower pots and clothes lines in the backyards, rocklined walls and walkways, and even a nice store where "prices were marked in pesos and dollars - you had no parking troubles."

When journalist W. Hornaday visited Terlingua in 1910, he found a "picturesque mining camp" with about 700 villagers, nearly all Mexicans. Perry's mansion overlooking the camp must have been formidable back then, but the hub of the mining company and the village was the Chisos Store.

The Store was the heart of the community. It was the center of their Universe. There could be found the general office where the mine manager huddled surrounded by papers and scribblings, the only phone in the village, a well-stocked commissary, and the center of social life for mine workers and their families.

Perry was successful at monopolizing merchandising in the area, especially the mining camp. The only competitors were the small store near the Study mine (now called Study Butte) and run by locally respected Senor Villalba with his sons, and another store on the Johnson ranch many miles away near what is now known as the River Road in the national park. All the mine workers were coerced into buying their necessities at the Chisos Store and peddlers were threatened or warned away when they approached the camp.

Regardless, the store served as a social center and one of the favorite activities of Mexican and whites alike -adults and children- was to congregate at the store's porch. Even after the mine closed, the store (as well as the Chisos Hotel) managed to stay afloat for a short time. And it remains today known as the Terlingua Trading Post and Starlight Theater, as well as the Study Butte Store.

Both stores are testament to a long history of locals and visitors. Even when both towns dwindled to a dozen or so occupants, the buildings stood. Waiting for people to congregate again. Like a snail shell waiting for another owner to breathe life into it. They've come full circle.

The Trading Post is a magnet for locals and tourists. I have to stifle a smirk when I hear the locals complain about the tourists. I've heard it all before; in fact, I've added my quota, too, in the past. But tourists are the bread and butter in Terlingua and Study Butte. Without the tourism, there would be no incomes. And there would be fewer locals. It's always a Catch-22. But the key is finding a balance.

I recounted to a few there what the old timers in Maine used to do to the tourists: give them wrong directions to places, relate stories to scare them, or just tell them "Well, ya can't get theyah from heyah." The inevitable response was a raised eyebrow, lifting one corner of the mouth, maybe blow out a puff of pipe smoke and ask, "You're not from around here, are ya?" I've watched them run French Canadian tourists in circles. Then smirk as they leave town more confused than when they pulled in.

The population of Terlingua area is probably well over a hundred in the winter, spring and fall. Then drops to a few dozen in the summer. Everyone thinks it's hotter than youknowwhat there in the summer, and it is hot. But, well, it's a dry heat. Knowing well what humid heat is, I'll take that any day. On the other hand, the rains come in during two of those summer months. It rains, sun shines, and you'd never knew it had rained. But those brief rains provide a respite from the heat. And the tourists.

The Porch of the Terlingua store still provides that Center of the Terlingua Universe. Locals and tourists alike gather and socialize. Or just sit with a cold beer or soda and gaze at the view as thoughts jumble around in their heads and their bodies relax in the shade. It's a good place, the best place there, to people-watch. Come sit a spell, rest your back against the hard but cool thickness of rock and plaster walls and relax.

Meet some of the locals, one many will recognize as the famous "Uncle". I prefer to call him Roger, but he goes by many names and doesn't care. Then there's Darin, a long-time river guide. I've watched him quite a bit and he's an interesting character. I still don't put it past him to be living in a cave as he claimed to me once.



Then there are visitors and tourists. I can sometimes differentiate the two. Tourists are there to see the novelty first-hand. They are usually sight-seers looking for souvenirs, wondering about the eclectic mix of people sitting on the benches with beers in their hands, laughing and chatting.

Then there are the visitors. Not really sight-seeing or hunting for souvenirs. They harbor a genuine interest in the place, people, history, both natural and cultural. I even suspect some of them had ancestors, old family members that may have lived in the area, perhaps worked the mines, or cowhands on the nearby ranches.

Sometimes I wish I were a fly so that I could land nearby and listen. Not because I'm nosy, but because I am interested in the stories they may be telling. Because there are many people that lived there with many wonderful stories and no one hears them. Except for a chosen few. And when they die, those stories and the legacies are gone. Forever.


And, of course, one of the most wonderful sights and views from the Porch is that Fairy Ring of mountains: the Chisos. Where else can one watch the sun set in the East? Or watch a blood orange full moon rise? I've heard many "ooohs" and "Awwws" during sunsets. One might even catch a storm cell forming. But always, we look for those mythical ears.


Then there's the occasional surprise. One evening this pulled in front of the Porch:


A young fella from Austin first saw one of these in Colorado. It was love at first sight. After some research, he contacted the outfit in CO that imports these from Austria and had one shipped down to him. He and three other passengers had spent the last day or so driving this in the state park. Apparently it will go anywhere. (he also commented that the back country roads in the state park are way more primitive than in the national park). It reminds me of a Kawasaki Mule on steroids.


I bet those tires are EXpensive!


A group exited the Starlight and headed towards a gaggle of parked BMWs. The fleeting red bike immediately identified the rider as Voni ;-) Looks like Paul's leading the group.


It wasn't long into the evening when the last few days on the road hit me and all I wanted was a bed to crawl into and some shuteye. The strong winds and cold rain the day before fatigued me more than normal. Roger had also retired early and I was glad we were able to have a relaxing and fun dinner of pizza and toddies together at Nancy's Long Draw Pizza. David and his brother arrived in time for the sunset and I was excusing myself to walk up the gravel drive to the Mansion before darkness settled in.

It was nice to be home again. And the room upstairs at the Mansion was cozy and simply elegant.


Goodnight, Chisos.
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.

Land Shark

One of the several motivators of this trip was 'window shopping' for property. I use that common cliche because intent was to explore candidates as well as one piece of land in particular. Just not through a window. Nor on a bike.

We borrowed a genuine Desert Rat Mobile, thanks to the generosity of a good friend, and drove the back roads into the Terlingua desert. The slow but steady pace offered the best way to really explore and study land features, road and terrain conditions, and a 360 degree view by simply turning your head in any direction.

Some of you may recognize the landmarks in the following photos. Despite the several times I've ridden this road, I have missed more than 50% of everything I saw this time. Unburdened from focusing at least 75% on the road surface, restrictive gear, and dust, it was almost as if this was a maiden 'voyage' into this part of the desert. And I loved every nanosecond of it. So much so that the camera remained in its bag for most of the drive. (that, and using it is more frustration than its worth given its dysfunctions).

So, while this is a brief four-wheeled segment of the trip, you might enjoy it anyway. I sure did.

The was the first time I have seen this desert this green. Except for a day trip into Black Gap Wildlife Refuge where the vegetation was progressing into spring mode sooner than away from the River, many areas of the desert were the greenest I've ever seen. Hidden pockets of color even caught my eyes, such as flowering cacti and other woody and herbaceous plants.

Cottonwoods reveal moist areas with their almost fluorescent green clouds of leaves. Any observant visitor to the desert learns the 'canaries' of the terrain and it's characteristics: cottonwoods indicate springs, natural tanks, and creeks.

Mesquite with their extensive root systems suggest water presence. Although most common in dry creek beds (arroyos) and alongside creeks and rivers, their tap root can reach subsurface water 50 feet below the surface. A large lateral root system 'catches' and absorbs rain water within 6-12 inches below the surface.


Although mesquite is commonly considered a noxious weed, and in many cases it is, it forms a symbiotic relationship in the ecosystem as a 'nurse' shrub for other plants and a protective canopy for animals and birds. Indeed, I flushed a flock of huge quail hiding from the sun while trekking across an area up on a ridge. They also provide feed for many animals and were an important dietary source of nitrogen for native Indians and other nomads (some day I'm going to try my hand at grinding the beans -or seeds- for flour; I hear it is good stuff.)


Nearly all the occotillos were in bloom, their red spikes waving in the wind. Some yuccas pushed up their massive spearheads of pink and white blooms. Clumps of pinks blossomed alongside the roads near Terlingua Creek and bunches of tall green and yellow grasses flowed like colored waves across the desert. And the gems: the brilliant large jewels of flowering cacti.


Progressing along the road, we rounded a curve


and vistas opened up to a green valley: Terlingua Creek.


We also passed through and by hillsides of tuff, compacted ancient volcanic ash. I love these geologic remnants of history. Ash spewed from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, settling on the ground like snow. The bands of colors form from the rock that it came from and sometimes it looks like a soft polar-fleece blanket with colored strips on a whitish background. It appears soft and you can almost feel that softness surrounding you as you ride or stand amidst it. A foot placed on its surface slowly sinks into the fluffy dust and I feel as though I've tread on some sacred fairy dust where no man should tread. I try not to walk on it lest I disturb it.

Many locations in both BB parks display ancient volcanic activity, especially tuff deposits. One shining example is Tuff Canyon in the national park. Another is along Scenic Highway 170 (River Road). A short section of this back road was carved through a low hillside of tuff. It allowed me to really see it close up and now you can see it, too.


Way Back When (late 1880's and early 1900's), most of the land between the Chisos Mountains and through the Terlingua desert - north to Alpine and west to Lajitis- was grazed by cattle. The earlier ranches were huge: hundreds of thousands of acres. But even later as the large ranches broke up into smaller individual operations, the land was a common ground for their cattle. Unlike Eastern states' ranch management where operations were smaller and grazing land was divided by fences, the tradition of 'frontier' cattle grazing in the West was common range. Animals of several outfits branded their cattle with a recognizable symbol and the cattle ran together on common ground. During round ups, they were herded and separated according to brands, with new calves being indoctrinated into domestication.

Although nearly all of the old ranches are gone now, their lands integrated into both parks, a few signs of their presence remain: fence posts and ubiquitous barbed wire. They can still be found in both parks (the state park still has a small herd) and various places in the Terlingua desert.


During a conversation one night on the Porch with an interesting character from near Ruidosa, a few still run their cattle communally near his ranch. He said they are scraggly and like feral cattle. My sister (an agricultural accountant) asked me recently how viable these ranches are; I wish I could provide an answer. I just don't know, but a few still exist. I hope that some day in the near future I will meet a few of these ranchers and record their history and stories.


We were winding through hillsides and along ravines, sometimes perilously along canyon edges. It seemed as though we had crawled along 20 miles of gravel. Then this appeared...........
and disappeared.


Where did it go????
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.
Trails Through the Desert

Perhaps one of the most intriguing characteristics about the Big Bend area is the terrain: ups, downs, rounds, drop offs, steep cliffs, exciting geography and geology. The typical response when I mention going to the canyons in Texas is a look of bewilderment. Even from some native Texans.

"Huh? There's no canyons in Texas! It's all flat."

Texas covers a lot of territory with a large variety of terrain, geography and ecosystems. Even the Panhandle with a reputation of the most flat area in this country has many endearing and interesting features. But the Big Bend area has it all (except for humid coastal): arid desert, temperate oasis in the Chisos Mountains, basins, dry and seasonal creeks, springs, canyons (even hidden slot canyons), and all that is associated with a river -valleys, tributaries, and aquatic life.

It's harsh, extreme, and unforgiving. Yet the juxtaposition of its beauty and sublimity may be what draws us to it. The Beauty and the Beast. And when you are out there, off the ribbons of roads that technology smoothes for our techy boxes of steel (and plastic), you are at its mercy. But remember, the desert gives no mercy. It's us that provides our own mercy.

I remember overhearing a visitor to Big Bend tell her companion, "No human could live here!" I bit my tongue, but I wanted to tell her that people have been living in deserts for eons. The Chihuahuan desert is no exception.

Living in this environment is not easy and many people have come here with their northern and eastern attitudes and technology to dominate it. It may work for awhile, but not for long. No Sun Cities will appear here, no Disneylands or SeaWorlds, no malls or sky scrapers. Even the local resort has never flourished as originally conceived. Most people don't want to live here, many don't even want to visit. It's not the mythical frontier.

Evidence of people living in the Big Bend area is all around. Archeologists have discovered and studied signs of human presence throughout the area. Yet, until the late 1700's, few people set up 'housekeeping' here; there were few settlements. The region was mostly a 'pass through'.

Native peoples on both sides of the river traveled north, south, east and west through the region. They moved across the land to hunt, gather, trade, battle, and flee. The only places where habitation was more than temporary was along the river where plants could be grown and harvested. Even many of these settlements moved on during droughts or periods of raids (by other indigenous peoples and invaders, like the Spaniards).

Like any area of land, movement of life makes trails. Wildlife make paths to water and shade. People make trails for the same reasons, but also to navigate between settlements and hunting or trading grounds. Several trails in the Big Bend region exist with a rich history: Comanche war trails, trading trails, primitive roads for commerce, and now we have roads -primitive and groomed- built with modern technology.

Aren't these one of the draws to Big Bend? The roads. Everyone loves the roads. Driving in luxury cars, hauling in trucks, challenges for 4-WD rigs, peddling mountain bikes, riding street-bikes and playing with dirt bikes. But these roads have history. They weren't there just to play on. They all began as a trail firmed and marked by thousands of feet and hooves. Barely a hundred years ago, heaps of bones piled alongside one stretch of a now modern road near the river. It was once the primary trail used by the Comanche on their raids into Mexico. Many captured cattle died on the drive north and they were left there.

Then there we were, driving a Desert Rat mobile in the Terlingua Desert. Referring to maps and GPS to guide us, the terrain was getting rough as we went north. So did the roads. I knew from the map we were coming to an arroyo, but I didn't expect the road to disappear. But it did.

The road had hugged the edge of a drop off down into a large wide arroyo. Actually, I think this was a good candidate for a small canyon. And we had to get to the other side.


I could see the road on the other side, but not down in the canyon. It wasn't until the road disappeared that I had a feeling of uncertainty. I buckled my seat belt.

"You've been down this road on your bike, ya know."

Something is different when you are on a bike or in a box on four wheels. I'm not sure what it is, but I buckled my seat belt. I didn't have my helmet to put on........

Gearing down we drove slowly over the crest of the road and the bottom of the canyon filled the windshield. We were going to be eaten, engulfed by a mouth of yellow, beige and green with sharp jagged edges. Maybe that's it: the scene in the long rectangle of a windshield. Peripheral vision is disrupted and what's in front of you cuts off the rest of the world providing information. Maybe that's what a falcon feels like with a leather hood on. Or a horse with blinders on. Except I'm not comforted like they are. I want the entire view of information in front and to the sides. Like when on a bike.

While we crawled up the other side of the canyon, I was craning my neck to see the beautiful adobe house on the cliff that overlooks the canyon. Wow, what an awesome view they must have! Off the grid, the house and occupants appeared to be fully serviced with four large cisterns for rain water catchment, solar panels, propane tank and generator, and a receiver or transmitter on top of a pole (radio?). "Yup, I could live like that." That came out easily because I did for many years, except my gravel drive and road weren't this long.

Passing by below the adobe house, we rounded another canyon where the road was right on the edge for about 75 feet. You don't want to drive off that edge. It's a long way down. On the other edge was a fantastic sight, a showcase of natural terraforming millions of years ago. "Stop!!!" I was compelled to jump out and get some shots of this.



Then the terrain flattened out a bit and we concentrated on the maps and GPS looking for a specific landmark. Around a prominent hill was what we were searching for. But, like many places in the desert, distances are deceiving. It was longer than it appeared. Finally, we found the turn-off for the land we wanted to explore.


From the base of the hill, I could see the Christmas Mountains, tell-tale Santiago, Agua Fria, Blue Ridge and that fairy ring, the tops of the Chisos Mountains. It was a beautiful view. Unfortunately, it was not the tract we were looking for. That was down the road and lower elevation. Most of the view was lost there. But still had redeeming qualities.



One view I like was of the roads snaking up the ridge and lost into the unkown. We had been on one of those roads.


I found an odd specimen of Rainbow cactus; it had budded and drew appendages. I have another name for this cactus, but this is a family forum.


A shining surface caught my eye to the north and I had to go explore. Walking across the gravel (almost two-track) road and down a hill, I saw a view that knocked my socks off - and my boots. All I could utter was "Whoahhhhhhh.........." A valley fell away below with a canyon slashing through the bottom as if an eagle talon had ripped it open. On the other side off in the distance were several mountains and landmarks I recognized. "I want THIS tract!" I could live here on this ridge. Oh yea....... :mrgreen:



I dragged myself away and we headed back. On the way, hidden under a mequite bush was my first flowering Big Bend cactus. With a resounding "STOP!!!", I jumped out and nearly ran (you don't run in the desert unless you have steel toed shoes and pants). The colors of the huge petals stood out against the beige desert floor as if someone had spilled spots of vibrant paint.


Several hours in the desert left me feeling strange after we approached Hwy 170 near the Ghost Town. We were in civilization again. Funny that; how relative it all is. I feel extremely alienated when ever I return here from down there, and now I felt dissociated from Terlingua after being deep in the desert for several hours. I know I could stay out there for days at a time if no commitments forced me into town. Then going to the Ghost Town would be like a Sunday drive into civilization. Again, I felt like I was back in Maine, but at the polar opposite of climate and ecosystem. That made me giggle.

After a rest and two bottles of water, Roger, Ed and I spent time at a local establishment for dinner and toddies, visiting with locals and relaxing. As with every evening this trip, we finished it off with a visit to The Porch. And then moseyed up to the Mansion for some shut-eye. Tomorrow would be a busy day.

Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.
"How we view the West has always depended on where we stand to view it." - John Findley, in Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture after 1940.


Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are interesting states of juxtapositions. The three states contain vast areas of physical beauty, rich in mineral resources, arid environments (excluding east Texas), and scarcity of water. All this has influenced their history in many ways, inclusive and exclusive. The major difference is public lands. The Federal presence in both NM and AZ could possibly fill most of Texas.

The result is part and parcel of a global and national capitalistic economy: land as a tradable commodity - property. It has less to do with 'individual rights' as it does commodification. The 'C' word is not merely an economic system; it is a mode of consciousness. It is a mode of production, an attachment of ultimate significance to material effects and their transformation for purposes of acquiring wealth. It is an ideology.

The federal park, forest, wilderness and conservation systems and policies were born out of the recognition that unexploited lands would soon disappear at the helm of Western migration; the rapid expanding industrialism would soon deplete their natural resources -including wildlife- to feed the machine. "Sentimental attachment to some geographical part of the world is not part of the system," wrote economist Lester Thurow.

Growing up on a ranch, Teddy Roosevelt foresaw the inevitability of resource depletion -including the wildlife that lived on those lands- and started in motion the national park system. Of course, at that time in the early 1930's expanses of Western lands were still unsettled. Many of those expanses slowly became integrated into the conservation and preservation system in the public trust.

Texas, on the other hand, joined the US collective as a former sovereign nation. It contained no federal public lands. Thus no federal forests, parks, or refuges in Texas. Until lands were donated or bought. One look at the LBJ Grasslands map will reveal a pathwork quilt of public and private land. Even in the Big Bend National Park, a section remains private property.

But what is property? Many layers and many words exist to explain human relationships to the land: ownership, possession, property, belonging. In the US, individual ownership is in reality renting a parcel of land that is actually in the collective, or national, property. We pay for rights to call it ours, pay taxes for the local, state and federal infrastructure, and use it with the community consent. The Government enforces the will of the community, determines individual claims to property, resolves conflicts over territories and protects the entire community. Or as Firesign Theater once said, "We're all Bozos on this bus."

Sometimes afflicted with that decades-old inner conflict (sometimes outer) rose again this trip: a strong personal desire, -no, urge, to have my own land, my own spot on this earth, and, at the other spectrum, share it with others, equally strongly supporting public lands. Partly, I was there to investigate a specific rectangle of land in the desert to call my own, build a humble meager domicile, subsist with self-supporting services (except grading the road; my bike can't do that), and protect it from harm and disrespect by others.

Yet, to dissect that vast desert into pieces of 'private property' seems irreconcilable. It just seems wrong. Maybe impossible. The first deed for my spot in the Maine woods where I built a cabin was written on a cedar shingle with tree marking crayon. On one ridge in the desert I felt like painting on a large flagstone "This spot right here belongs to me as long as I live, whereas I shall build a small unobtrusive adobe, live and provide my own water and power. Just grade my roads, please, in exchange for an annual fee. Anyone is welcome to visit and have iced tea.""

So where am I going with this? Down and up rocky and sandy roads, back out to the tarmac and into the national park, a vast wondrous geographical spot on this world for which I have an enormous sentimental value. I make a terrible capitalist.

Stopping at the Study Butte store to gas up, the pump quit at barely over two gallons. "Huh?" No gas coming out. Okay, I can ride with that. Back in the store to settle my tab, I casually remarked, "The gas pump stopped."

The gentlman behind the counter nonchalantly replied, "Power outage."

I grinned, 'Yup, just like 'home'.' Meaning, when living in remote areas, even visiting, stuff happens. Where most city people would panic or get upset, here, you just grin and shrug. It happens often.

While gearing back up, a couple on a dual sport bike exchanged waves and next thing I know they're turning around. Pulling in front of the bike. It's Bob, aka Where's Waldo, and his wife, Gloria. Both are retired from Illinois and call Big Bend 'Home' during the winter months. We've ridden with Bob off and on and it was good to see them again, especially our last day there.

We had prearranged with Roger to meet at the Basin for cobbler and ice cream. It has become a Big Bend tradition and I can't leave without sacrificing my cholesterol to fulfilling the requirement. Which I do gladly. So the four of us on three bikes -I on the Whee, Ed on his FJR, Bob and Gloria on a nice black BMW 650GS- rode up into the park and up the Magic Road (what is the equivalent to 'Yellow Brick Road' in the Chisos?) to the Basin. Ed led, but he was fired as navigator when he missed the turn into Juniper Canyon. ;-)

Our bikes found a safe place in the corner behind the lodge and Roger fell in step behind us as we headed for a table. The cobbler was delicious, as usual, as well as the cinnamon ice cream on top. Roger had commitments to fulfill and the remainder of us decided to ride to Castalon with a stop at Sotol Vista.

As usual, this is a glorious place to stop and absorb the wide vistas to the south and east, and the Chisos to the north.


Also a good spot to find some shade, sit, relax and visit.



Feeling a bit restless, I wandered around with the camera and shot a few. Wiley waited patiently.



I began putting on my gear as a hint 'Let's ride'. Ed and Bob decided to trade bikes. I followed Ed on Bob's GS, Bob and Gloria followed me on Ed's FJR, and a park ranger followed all of us to Castelon.


And since SmugMug seems to be hanging up, this adventure will be concluded this weekend.
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.

Castolon, once a frontier community in the national park, lies between the river and the foothills of the Chisos Mountains. Formerly known as Santa Helena, it was settled by Mexican families that cultivated grain crops.

It became a true frontier town as it grew. The US military established a small base for cavalry troops, white settlers established ranching operations nearby, Mexican families farmed the river banks, and even the Chisos Mining Company pushed a finger in by co-establishing a store. In the true sense of 'frontier', the town spanned cultures, boundaries and borders.

After the area was incorporated into a national park, town residents moved elsewhere and the post office was closed in 1954. Some of the buildings remain today serving as residents and offices for park employees and the store still serves the same function.


Several remnants of history stand today like quiet sentinels of the past.




They form a silent marriage with the surrounding majestic topology and geology of the area. A reminder of occupational cycles on the land: boom and bust, hope and despair, gain and loss, war and peace.



Where acres of cultivated grains and cotton once ran alongside the river, today the cottonwood trees reflect sunlight in the western sky like glimmering mirrors of fluorescent green.


An early Monday evening in the park was a first experience in its emptiness and striking sunlit angles. We encountered very few vehicles and no other people. The stores were closed and the quiet was as warm as a blanket. We were the only visitors there and the locals appeared to welcome us.



The place presented more of its true self in the absence of flocks of tourists. Its ghosts of the past were free to mingle with your imagination, the silence of the landscape and empty buildings providing a stage for decades to enact their parts.


Restlessness again crept in and I started gearing up to ride back to Terlingua. Bob had previously implied that riding north along the paved road was a delight. I'm glad he didn't elaborate. As I led the group north, I was astounded and awestruck at the show of color and detail on the hills and mountains. It was as if a secret had been revealed.

The angle of the early evening light strips away shadows and haze off the southern faces of slopes, revealing the natural geological paintings in all their glory. It was a ride that I still run through in my mind and one I shall not soon forget. More so, it weights the anchor to this area, more and more dragging me back. Looking forward to a time when I don't have to leave.

As I rode the sweeps and winding ribbon I wondered if this is what it feels like to be a bird soaring through the area inside the park. Leaning from side to side as wings bank on thermals and head compassing the scenery side to side. For a moment, I was flying. And it was glorious.

Next: Monday night at the Starlight.
Jun 7, 2006
Exit. Stage West.

Monday, the culmination of another visit to Big Bend, was busy but rewarding. And a good way to top it off was dinner at the Starlight in the Ghost Town. Burgers are two for the price of one, and they are good. Bob, Gloria, Ed, Roger and I all enjoyed a dinner of good burgers, surrounded by locals and listening to fantastic music, performed by locals.

I don't recall the names, but the woman (whose voice reminded me of a polished Janis Joplin; a smooth blues voice) is associated with a health-food store in Alpine (if memory serves me right). The lead guitarist is very talented! His blues guitar is fantastic, his voice compelling and on key, too. He is a Terlingua resident, and I've seen him before, but can't remember the name (I have name amnesia). The bass player was as most good bass players; subtle, riding on the voices and lead notes to provide gentle nudging.

They were fantastic. And an example of what this type of community fosters: it nurtures creativity, freedom of expression.



We sat out on the porch after dinner in the warm darkness. Monday nights seem to draw desert folks from their nearby adobes, ranches, and from neighboring places as far as Casa Piedra and Ruidosa. Along with several others I had met previously, strange coincidences introduced me to a few others: writer and artist from Casa Piedra, desert expedition guide from Ruidosa that made my favorite roadside art piece, and ended with a personal talk with a river guide just returned from a trip into the outbacks of Mexico. Hallie Stillwell's granddaughter had latched onto Bob, both sitting on the bench. Beers lubricated the tongues with stories galore, none of which I remember considering I was slowly fading towards sleep. I knew a long day of riding was in store after sunrise.

It was hard to leave the next morning. But I silently promised the desert I will return. And soon, to stay.