Big Bend and Beyond, Sunday, February 13, 2011
I heard the bakery next to the hotel in Lajitas baked great pastries, so I tried stopping in before heading west along US/Mexico border. Unfortunately they were closed, but the hotel was nice enough to let me snag a cup of coffee from the lobby.
Our first stop was at the abandoned Contrabando Movie Set in Big Bend Ranch State Park. Big Bend Ranch State Park is enormous as well. It stretches nearly 40 miles on both sides of 170, known to the locals as the “River Road”. The set was constructed in 1985 for the western comedy “Uphill All The Way” starring Roy Clark, Mel Tillis, and Burl Ives. Since that time, six other movies have been filmed here: Rio Diablo, Gambler V: Playing for Keeps, Streets of Laredo, My Maria (1996 Music Video of the Year), Dead Man’s Walk, The Journeyman. The set was situated between the road and the Rio Grande River. Across the river is Mexico. I found myself tentatively walking up to each building hoping I didn’t run across a drug operation or something. I kept telling myself, don’t be so ridiculous, no one would operate 30 yards from the road, but that’s what the news does to people. ..instills fear when it reports tourists killed by drug cartels in the mountains surrounding the border. Thankfully, I only stumbled upon a few empty beer cans.
Petey and I continued on to Hoodoos or Balancing Rock, another stop in the Big Bend Ranch State Park. On the way we passed a rest area complete with picnic tables shaded by teepees. I thought it was funny, so I took a picture. I don’t have any details on Hoodoos other than the fact it was an interesting looking place and also resting on the US/Mexico border. Armed with my bear mace (like that will protect me from a Mexican druglord) I walked up to the vista and then down along the trail to the river while Petey slowly
followed. I think his hip was bothering him, thus he lacked enthusiasm. We also climbed over a few rocks in hopes of capturing some unique pictures, but instead I managed to slip, fall on my camera, and get a few lackluster pictures. That wasn’t a very exciting moment of my day.
We kept heading west toward Presidio and made a stop at Fort Leaton State Historic Site. In 1773, the Spanish garrison at Presidio Del Norte (present day Ojinaga, Mexico established El Fortin De San Jose to protect farmers in the vicinity. The post was later abandoned. Around 1810, Ben Leaton purchased extensive property in the area and by 1848 the community became known as Fort Leaton. Ben Leaton was a ruthless trader and as such earned nicknames such as scalp-hunter, desperado, and un mal hombre (a bad man). While visiting the fort, I noticed a car in the parking lot with a giant political slur taped across its back window along with American flags pasted on every window on the vehicle. For some reason, the sight just made me giggle, so I took a picture. By no means am I trying to portray any political opinions by this posting. I think I found the image funny because there is no way I would spend my time or money to express my political views on my car or at my house like this individual did. I think it invites conflict and I’m not interested in getting my car or house egged. Though I suspect the centerpiece creates quite a bit of conversation too. There was no mistaking what this individual believed!
Petey and I pressed on to Presidio and turned north toward Shafter, a ghost town, but once dubbed “the richest acre in Texas” due to the millions of dollars of silver extracted from its mines. Veins of the precious metal still run through the surrounding hills. On the way to Shafter we spotted a few pronghorn and even caught a glimpse of “Lincoln’s profile” on a nearby mountain. A sign pointed to the mountain, otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed it.
We stopped briefly in Marfa to snap a quick photo of the courthouse. I planned on returning to Marfa later in the evening to view the Marfa lights, but after I researched the mystery surrounding the lights, it sounded to me like they are reflections from car headlights and campfires. It wasn’t intriguing enough for me to make the forty mile round trip from Alpine where I had a place to stay, thanks to my friend Molly. She put me in touch with her ex-husband Tim, who I had only met once, since I can only keep up with Molly about every three years or so, and he just rented a house in Alpine one week ago! It was basically a historic adobe house with two small bedrooms, a bath, and a kitchen. Unfortunately, Alpine, along with the rest of the country suffered a hard freeze last week and the pipes burst. Tim only lives here part-time and was able to fix about half the pipes before having to leave for work in Pecos this evening, so I met him in the late afternoon so he could show me the ropes. He also gave me a quick tour of Alpine. He pointed out the coffee shop, local book store, the University, and a few restaurants including Reata. Really, the same Reata (upscale southwestern cuisine) that is in Fort Worth, Texas!!! I couldn’t believe it.
It was so nice of Tim to hand over the keys to his home. I failed to snap his picture before he left, but he is a New Hampshire boy turned Texan, donning a Cowboy hat and boots and loving the Big Bend area. Had I followed Molly’s instructions and called him on Saturday instead of Sunday, I could have been at a giant ranch party in Terlingua Saturday night! That’s OK; I enjoyed my meal in Lajitas. I am bummed that I missed the Cookie Chilloff though. It is a spoof on the World Championship Chili Cookoff held every November in Terlingua. Per Reader’s Digest, I knew the Chilloff was held in early February, but I didn’t see any signs for it when I drove through, so I thought I must have missed it. Tim informed me it was today! Oh well, my waistline doesn’t need any cookies or ice cream anyway. Petey and I relaxed for the evening in Alpine and prepared to leave Texas behind us in route to New Mexico tomorrow.
On a different note, my dad told me the WJ McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis is really neat. Visitors can peer through the only world-class telescope in America available to the public. Unfortunately, the light shows are Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday night, so I couldn’t make it. I will have to go back. I just wanted to mention it in case any of my readers plan on visiting Big Bend soon. ETB
website: www.notablenotecards.com, www.etsy.com/shop/nichenotecards, http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/13583, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/big-bend-ranch, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/fort-leaton, http://www.texasescapes.com/TexasGhostTowns/ShafterTexas/ShafterTexas.htm