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Bobbi, Dusty, and Vance in Texas

July 2001

Big Bend National Park

Dusty wrote one of his friends in June:

Big Bend. It's a national park, where we're probably going to do some long hikes and, possibly, river-rafting. . My dad gave me some web pages of Big Bend if your interested:

Here's what we actually ended up doing ...

After spending the night at a motel in Alpine, we drove down to Big Bend in the morning. There we checked into the Chisos Mountain Lodge, motel-style accommodation, rustic only in that there were no phones or tv, in the middle of the Chisos Mountains (Big Bend is the only National Park in the USA to completely encompass an entire mountain range). The lodge was located at the northern trailhead of the loop shown at left (where the thick green lump is).

Our first day there, we made an afternoon walk to the north and west of that lump down the dry arroyo to a place called The Window. The trail is 2.6 miles one-way and gives a good introduction to walking in the dry heat of Big Bend park, except that the trail sloped down to The Window, leaving the hard part, the walk up, for the way back to the lodge.
The Window is in the bottom of the V, above. The temperatures seemed mild to us, though it was hot in the direct sunlight.
At The Window itself, the arroyo plunges over a cliff which you wouldn't want to approach too closely without some sort of belay. We had a picnic lunch in the shade there. Dusty is sampling a wine called Texas Red which is made from grapes grown around Ft. Stockton. We picked up the wine in the convenience store at the lodge, and after our first bottle, couldn't wait to sample more of the Ft. Stockton wines. Texas Red was one of the nice surprises of our trip to that part of Texas.
From The Window you can continue up the Oak Spring trail to where you get a better view of the valley below, which you can also descend to on that trail. When later we drove down to Castolon on the road in the valley, we could see The Window and the Oak Spring trail coming in off the Chisos Mountains.

Next day we tackled the loop south of the lodge which I think the ranger said was about 11 miles, not counting the 2 miles up to Emory Peak and back. At 7825 feet, Emory Peak is the highest point in the park.

Here's the view looking from Emory Peak back down to the Visitor Center at Chisos Basin.
The Chisos Mountain Lodge was comfortable but for almost $100 a room, it was overpriced. The restaurant had good food but didn't warrant a second visit, and they charged 3 times the price of what you'd pay for the same wine in the shop. So we decided to drive down to the Rio Grand where, for a dollar a person (round trip, and not including tips, as you're constantly reminded) we took the conveyance you see at right across the shallow river guarding the southern border of the United States to reach the Mexican town of Boquillas
Once across the river, we were taken in a truck to the most presentable building in Boquillas, the home of Danny and Doris, who are fixing the place into a hotel they call Buzzard's Roost. Here we were charged $20 each to spend the night on cots in the open air (it was too hot indoors) with bats buzzing us frequently, preventing sleep till almost dawn. I will say one thing, breakfast was delicious.

Doris chatted with us about the parties they had on their veranda when people stopped in to take advantage of the outdoor activities in the area. The evening before I'd been handed a guitar and traded licks with Doris on it, and she had albums sporting printouts from web pages where people had reported on sessions with music and booze at the local cantina. But in the heat of summer, the town was dead when we were there, and the cantina in the center of the village was closed. We had gone for a wander up the dirt road and found a kitchen where la senora made us bean burritos and tacos. Kids approached us in the streets on our walk asking if we wanted to buy cheap bracelets which they had for sale, but they didn't bother us. One kid asked us however for a half a dollar to buy a coke. He kept after us, persisting in English that was too good for the third world, "Well, are you going to buy me a Coke or not?" When we finally relented (turned out to cost 75 cents), he told us he attended school in Fort Stockton. Apparently the US immigration officials were going easy on the comings and goings of the people of Boquillas, which I was glad to hear.

One of the nicest things about Buzzard's Roost is that just down the hill from it, there's a hot springs where all the locals go to bathe. On the down side, it's the only place to bathe, so we had to schlep down there with our soap and towels and wait till a family had finished up and piled back into their truck before we could pick our way in the dark to the concrete tub with a hosepipe running into it. But once in the tub, it was heavenly refreshing. Doris said one of their guests had once failed to return home and had been found snoozing in the tub, perhaps under the influence of too much Tecate beer.

Many have been to Buzzard's Roost and left traces of it on the web:

Barely refreshed from our fitful night at Buzzard's Roost, we recrossed the Rio Grande (Rio Piqueno at that point) and were happy to see that our car with most of our bags in it had remained undesturbed.

We drove on the American side to the Boquillas Canyon trailhead, where we walked a mile or so along the river to the gorge, very reminiscent of Oman.

We then drove clear across the park to where the Rio Grande emerges from another canyon, the Santa Elena. Typically of US parks, there is an overlook where you can stop to get a photo.

You can park your car and walk up into the canyon about a mile and a half. Despite the concrete steps and iron railing midway, it's picturesque. Rafting expeditions ply here, but on the bits of river we saw, there didn't seem much to challenge or even interest Zambezi rafting veterans. Even the rafting operators there were telling us we really ought to be in Colorado, which was where the white water was that time of year.
Late in the day, we drove back to Alpine by way of Marfa. There we stopped in to see Dick and Jean Zimmer, good friends from Oman days, who'd just returned from a trip to Montana. As soon as we got there we were served a great meal, and despite a house packed with visiting grandchildren, we were invited to spend the night. But after a meal and a walk about the town, we headed on our way. We had by then (or I had) decided I wanted to be in New Braunfels at nine a.m. the next day when the rafting operators would open for business. We drove most of the night, stopping only for a couple hours snooze in the car before dawn at a roadside layby.

Rafting on the Guadaloupe River

I often canoed the Guadaloupe River when I was a youth in college in the late 60's at the University of Houston. My friends and I would rent our canoes in Houston and haul them up there on our surfboard racks. Back then the Army Corps of Engineers at Canyon Dam used to let a lot of water out into the river, and you could call up there and find out when the flows would be at top levels. We had to tell the people we rented from that we were taking their canoes to the Brazos, a slow river I canoed just once and never again. On the Guadaloupe we could easily wrap a canoe overturned in current around a bridge buttress and have to stomp it flat once we'd extricated it to shore. Back then, there were hardly any homes on the river. Deer used to come there to drink at water's edge, where we'd watch them while sunning nude on nearby rocks. After a trip down the river we would stop to eat in one of the many all-you-can-eat catfish restaurants that used to do business on the river, and we were once told our custom was unwelcome after we'd ordered our sixth helping. Strapping youths we were, who could work up an appetite after a day on the river, and it's not hard to see why there are no longer any all-you-can-eat catfish restaurants along there.

30 years later, I was amazed at how the area had changed. It was now a too popular playground for too many people. We first stopped there on our way to Alpine, after having spent the night with my sister Leslie and her family in Georgetown just north of Austin. We had arrived there early afternoon after barely squeezing by an accident that had closed the freeway on Highway 35 just an exit short of the Canyon Dam turnoff. We drove in weekend traffic up the river and were astounded to see right at the bridge where we had planned to rent our rafts hundreds of people lined up to put their tubes in the river, and the river itself packed bank to bank with floaters for as far as we could see round the bend. The fact that we had chosen a weekend day at the end of summer vacation right in the backyard of students from the University of Texas in nearby Austin was obviously poor planning on our part. On that day we had changed our plan, driven up to the dam to cool off with a swim in the lake, and then moved on to Fredericksburg where they were holding a beer and wine festival, which again we couldn't enjoy because we were driving on to Alpine that night.

So now, after a few days hiking at Big Bend, we figured if we tried again midweek and got there right when the raft renters opened, we'd have better luck. And indeed we did.

Because of all the building along the side of the river now, the engineers at the dam appear to be limiting the flows, and the river doesn't pump the way it used to. At least that was my impression, and I guess that's the reason.
The river wasn't crowded, and we had a pleasant day of it, cruising gently down the stream. It was fun on the river, but in truth, the rapids were so miniscule that you could get out of the raft and shoot pictures of your family 'fighting' them and then jump back in the raft, push it off the shallow creekbed, and be on your way.
We pulled into a quiet spot to have some lunch.
I was pretty surprised at the scene that greeted us at the end of our journey. Places like this never existed on the river in 'my day'. Here, the sound of rock music broke the formerly pristine silence, and margueritas were available by the pitcher. So much for the deer slaking their thirst in these waters. But still, there was a Texas style to the way people had their fun on the river that was nice to experience before heading back to the endless farmlands and built up shopping malls in the less picturesque flatlands to the east.

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Last updated: August 30, 2001 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0