The Texas Road Runners !!!!!
Road Trip Adventures, Roadside Attractions, Crazy DIY Projects, Texas Fishing, Rock Hounding and more......
Big Bend - 2002
Sites include visits to : Mason, TX, Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch, a bit of Terlingua, Lajitas, Alpine, Fort Davis, the Marfa Lights and the McDonald Observatory and some of those Texas Roadside Attractions.
Star Date : 4/12/2002 – Friday (As always, click on the picture for for a larger image and click on the links for surprises.)
Wow, my first real vacation since my 12 years with VarTec. Not that I did not take vacation before but, normally I had to hang around the area in case things blew up at work. I would usually wind up back at the office once a day for some issue. Well not this year. I’m heading out where pagers and cell phones can’t touch me.
I had spent most of the previous week packing and I was set to go. I had no idea what to expect so I let Evelyn handle the planning since she had been there before. I got home from work, packed up the truck and headed out to Evelyn’s place. We crashed for the night for an early rise the next day!!!
Star Date : 4/13/2002 – Saturday
We woke up not too early and finished packing up the truck. We took the back roads to Gatesville then headed west on Hwy 84. We then the scenic route south on Hwy 281. Then we took Hwy 29 west to Mason and had lunch there. While in Mason, we walked the town square, window shopped and learned of the Texas topaz to be found here and the about the bat cave. Yes, we would have to come back to Mason. Mason is also the county seat of Mason county. We meant to take Hwy 377 southwest to Junction to hit I-10 but, wound up going north to Brady. Once we got our bearings straight, we then took Hwy 190 west which paralleled I-10 till you get to Fort Stockton. Then onto Hwy 67 south till we hit Alpine.
We checked into the local Best Western and asked the desk clerk where there might a nice restaurant to go to for dinner. The clerk recommended a nice Mexican place, La Casita Restaurant, not to far away on East Ave. H. After dinner we crashed for the night to make way for the rest of our journey to Big Bend the next morning.
Star Date : 4/14/2002 – Sunday
We started the day early and packed up the truck again. Before heading south, we explored Alpine some. Unfortunately, with it being a Sunday morning, everything was closed. We did hit the main grocery store for more food since anything will be expensive once we are in the park area.
Finally, on the road again. We headed south on Hwy 118 and drove through some really nice desert country side. Cathedral Mountain was soon to the west of us. It is amazing how some of these ranchers can raise cattle out here. Then all of the sudden we hit the mountain pass. My truck was screaming “I think I can, I think I can” like the little red train. We were driving up and down and all around. I really had to watch my foot made of lead and of coarse the road.
We finally made it through the pass and drove by such mountain monuments such as the Hen’s Egg, Elephant Mountain and Turkey Peak. The road was once again straight and narrow which suited me just fine. We then arrived in Study Butte for lunch and to gas up again. Then Evelyn said she wanted to pick up the driving. Fine with me.
We first looked for a rock shop, but none were found to be open. With it being Sunday you know. Then we took Hwy 170 west into Terlingua. We explored the old ghost town of Terlingua with it’s interesting Mexican cemetery. They really know how to burry people around here. Maybe I want to be buried like this. Or like this? Oh my God !! The dangerous gift store. Well lets just say I loaded up with plenty of souvenirs for myself, co-workers and family. Evelyn pick up some kitchen things which match the southwest theme of her newly renovated kitchen. By dangerous store, I mean there high prices.
Time to go again. We drove by La Kiva, a semi-underground restaurant and club. The bar was fully stocked. It would be open mike night on Wednesday so we made plans to return. We headed further west on Hwy 170 taking in the desert sights and stopped at Lajitas. More window shopping and more photo op.’s. We continued west passing by the Big Bend Ranch State park and climbed up a hill which over looked the Rio Grande and Mexico. We continued further west until we hit Contrabando. No, we were not in Mexico, it was just an old movie set. The Rio Grande nearby was very low.
We continued west to take in more sights and then tuned around back to Study Butte. Once back in Study Butte, we arranged a canoe trip on Tuesday. This could be a mistake? Finally, we headed into the Big Bend National Park. At first the driving was just fine, then another big challenge getting up to the Chisos Mountain lodge were we were to be staying. One could not go more than 10 miles an hour through some of the switchbacks. We checked in and unloaded. The lodge had a little geriatric trail which we hiked and saw plenty of friendly deer. Then we made plans for our upcoming adventures in the area. Time for bed.
Star Date : 4/15/2002 – Monday
I got ready for the morning and we hit the lodge restaurant early and then we made our way to the Lost Mine Trail. This looks really high. Thank God for the switchbacks. The cactus was in bloom at the higher levels. As we made our way up, the environment changed from a desert to that of a forest. We finally made it. All the way to the very end.
We then headed back down and had our lunch. Time for shopping. We took the road to Boquillas and paid a Mexican rowboat captain two bucks to row us across. Then we were then hounded by various transportation venders offering us mule or taxi service to the town. We opted for a small hike. Heck if could make it to the top of the Lost Mine Trail, then this should be nothing. Unfortunately, I hate hiking on sand, but we made it. One Mexican followed us everywhere. So we decided to let him be our tour guide. We told him we only had one thing on our mind, ROCKS!!!! Oh yes we found them. Galena, varied colors of calcite, cave formations, interesting sandstone pieces and purple fluorite. They tried to pass the purple fluorite off as amethyst but, we knew better. I could go on and on. We took in the sights, found a small restaurant and had a beer. We then found our guide who helped us get a taxi/truck to pick up our rock and drive us back to the river. We boarded our row boat and got back safely to the United States. Unfortunately now we were loaded down with rocks which made it a very difficult trip back to the parking area.
We then put the truck in 4X4 mode and took the Old Ore Road back to the lodge. The road was only 26 miles long but took all afternoon to traverse. However, we were able to see sights that most visitors would not be able to see. One poor elderly couple took their normal low clearance car starting from the other end. Unfortunately, the woman drove while the gentleman walked ahead moving big rocks out of the way. Please note : When taking these primitive roads out in the desert, make sure you use a high clearance vehicle and take plenty of food and water with you. One never knows what could happen and very few people venture in these remote areas who could help you in case of an emergency. We then made it back to the lodge and prepared for the next day’s adventures.
Star Date : 4/16/2003 – Tuesday
We had are usual breakfast at the lodge restaurant and headed to meet the others for our Santa Elena Canyon canoe trip up the Rio Grande. The water was low and in some places we had to drag the canoe. However, I did hear it was good fishing here. Evelyn and I just could not coordinate our rowing and almost beat each other with the oars. So our guides separated us and we finally made it to our destination for lunch.
After lunch, our guides hiked us into Mexico to visit Fern Canyon. It was quite a hike, almost like rock climbing at some points. “Put your foot here, hold on there” commanded our guides to get through the rough spots. We even had to go into an underground cave full of water. We endured till we finally made it. The canyon walls were filled with the oldest known species of fern in the world. At least that is what they told us dumb Americanos. We eventually loaded the canoes back up and headed back downstream to our point of origin. Of coarse they kept us separated again. Hum, on shore were two individuals taking pictures of us rowing back to shore. Well, after being banged up, bruised and sun burned, I don’t think anyone cared. We guessed it was for their web site or a brochure or something. Later we learned that Evelyn's and her guide's picture was on the front page of the Dallas Morning News. It was an article on adventure guides. We headed back to the lodge and stopped by the Mule Ears Peak for a photo-op.
Later that evening, we went back to the Boquillas area and hiked to the Hot Springs. The trail took us trough the old trading post and to a ledge which presented to us some ancient Indian petroglyphs. The water felt good after battling a canoe all day. We were by the Rio Grand and we viewed the night sky full of bats owls and other wildlife in the area. We then made it back to the lodge and crashed for the night. Tomorrow was another adventure.
Star Date : 4/17/2002 - Wednesday
We put the truck back in 4X4 and this time took the Old River Road from east to west. More amazing sights were to be seen. We visited the ruins of an old mining camp and the old Mariscal quicksilver mine. This place needed further investigation. Although the mine shafts are now barred, it is now used by migrating Mexican Free tail bats. We stopped at one primitive camping area, Gaging Station, hoping to find the Rio Grande. We never found the river and almost got ourselves lost. As we continued west, we ran into the ruins of the old Johnson Ranch. We even drove through a forest of Sotol! At the end of the road, we arrived at Castolon. From there, we then went into Santa Elena, Mexico. As it turned out, Santa Elena is not a rock town but, a restaurant town.
That evening we took the Grapevine Trail. Not a lot of time for photo op.'s, it's getting dark. At the end of the trail, one came to a set of boulders where nature had arranged into a door way. Warning, do not go past the doorway.
It was getting dark and we had plans to go back to Terlingua and have a nice dinner at La Kiva!!! We had a nice steak dinner and listened to various folks play during open mike night. Doctor Fun entertained us. We then headed back to the lodge for some much needed sleep for tomorrow was going to be our last day in the park.
Star Date 4/18/2002 - Thursday
That early morning we began an early hike of the Windows Trail. Like the Lost Mine Trail, it started out in a desert environment and quickly turned into a forest as we ascended to the top. This too was another challenging trail but worth the sight at the end. Yes, I had to go to the very edge and it was a most scary sight looking down.
After the hike, we checked out and headed back to Study Butte for gas and eat lunch at the local deli. While eating lunch, Evelyn found a local advertisement newspaper rag and discovered a rock show in Alpine. It even spoke about a rock show at the Arlington Civic Center later in August. Well, its on our way to Fort Davis. Alas !!! The rock shop was open. We hit that shop and felt like we were a bunch of kids in a candy store.
We left the rock shop and headed back north on Hwy 180 to Alpine. We noticed on the way down that there was a border patrol station, but they didn’t stop folks heading south. However, they did stop folks heading back north again. Yes, we stopped and were giving the third degree. Once they were satisfied that we were not drug runners or sneaking Mexican across the border, they let us go. Once we hit Alpine, we looked for the Civic Center. Before we could find it, Evelyn just had to make a stop at a local nursery for some desert plants for her rock garden. Do we have any room left in the truck?
We found the rock show and controlled ourselves. However, there was a group of Mexicans who were selling awesome dogtooth calcite crystals and huge desert roses dirt cheap. We also bought a pair of geodes. Time to hit the road again. We finally checked into our B&B in Fort Davis, the Old Texas Inn. We unpacked, rested a little and then headed to Marfa to view the Marfa lights. The Marfa Light Observatory was very nice. It must be one of the most expensive rest stops in the state of Texas. It was cold and a little rainy but we saw them. I can’t explain them, but we saw them.
Star Date 4/19/2002 – Friday
We made it easy on ourselves and drove around the Fort Davis Mountain State Park. I don’t think I could have managed another hike at this point. From the high points, we could down onto Indian Lodge, the town of Fort Davis, the tomato farm , the telescopes of the McDonald Observatory and on the very top we found an old watch tower for the fort. We also drove around the Scenic Loop while stopping at the McDonald Observatory. We checked out the telescopes and got to go inside one of them. Then time to raid their gift store. We continued along the loop and visited the some kind of solar panel electrical plant.
We continued an then all of the sudden we were stopped. I chased down a construction worker and asked what was up. He said they were about to blow up a road cut to make room for a future shoulder on the road. Great !! Where can I take a picture of the blast. Up that hill. Up the hill I went, though I could only take this shot. The blast was not as loud as I imagined it to be. After they cleared the road, we were allowed to pass. We inspected the blast site but, no fossils or interesting rocks.
We passed by Balmorea State Park and made our way back to Fort Davis. We ate dinner at a local Mexican food restaurant, Cueva De Leon, and picked up some mini chimeneas. We retired for the night to get ready for tomorrow’s big day.
Star Date 4/20/2002 – Saturday
It was another early rise and we loaded up the truck and checked out. We first headed to the old Fort Davis ruins and hike the trail around the fort up in the mountains. The trail led us to the other side of the fort and then we proceeded to explore the old ruins. I have to admit, they did a very good job in preserving the old fort.
After visiting the fort, it was time for the long drive home. We made back to Fort Stockton and headed east on I-10. We then took Hwy 190 around Irran, TX and view all the windmills. We had our lunch in Irran and noticed we were in Alley Oop land. As it turns out, the creator of the Alley Oop cartoon is from Iraan, TX.
We continued east on Hwy 190 while both of us ran over two very huge brown snakes on the road. We made it back to Mason, took Hwy 29 to Hwy 281 and headed back north. Hwy 84 took us back to Gatesville and then the back country roads back to Clifton. What a drive. We unloaded and I’m sure I slept in the next day.
Star Date : 4/21/2002 – Sunday
It was time for me to head home and recuperate. I can’t wait till next year. Oh, by the way, HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE !!!!
So, until next time, take care and I'll See you... on the road, or in the workshop, (which is really just my garage) !!!!
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