Monday, November 5, 2012

Goin' round the Bend

Last week we went to the southwest corner of Texas to Big Bend National Park, about 4oo miles from us in Somerset.  This park which is the size of Rhode Island, is not well known by most folks.  It runs right along the Rio Grande and the Mexican border.  To get there you need to first get to Texas and then go through all of Texas, probably gives many folks enough reason to think twice about going there. 
Our road to Big Bend led us first to Langtry Texas, home of legendary Judge Roy Bean.  Well you know we had to stop to see whatever we could see, which is not much.  This is also an official Texas tourist info center.  The judge named the town for Lily Langtry, the "Jersey Lily" for whom he had an infatuation, though they never actually met.  He wrote to her numerous times to come to Langtry, however, it was not until after his death that she came to town for a few days. Can not even begin to imagine what she thought of this hole in the wall named in her honor. It was a railroad stop back then, so there must have been some activity, but it was still in the middle of no where.  Langtry  today is a "town" of about 30 people...never saw more than about 6, others must have been out in the surrounding desolate hills....a quick 1/2hour stop to view the site, use the facilities, check for any interesting tourist brochures and we were on our way to Big Bend

Judge Roy Bean

bar and hall of justice

Opera House built for Lily to perform; in reality it is where the  Judge lived and died

View around Langtry,_Texas

link below shows red in region of Langtry

Big Bend National Park

a view as you arrive at the park

one little cloud over the Chisos Mountain area

view from the terrace

white lava rock formations in south east part of Big Bend

We had no idea what to expect here, so did not know that Big Bend was part desert and part mountain. The elevation varies from river level, about 1,000 to a high mountain range of about 8,000 feet. We spent one whole day driving around the park and were just amazed at the varied beauty.

When at the level of the Rio Grande on the eastern tip of the park, you are above the river.  This is the Boquillas Canyon area. Looking at the other side it is gentle slopes with lots of trees.  There is some RV camping in this area, but not that exciting and no views of anything really from the sites.  

We did see this road runner, who seemed to be posing for folks taking pictures from their.  He was not bothered by them or by me walking up closer to him to get his picture.

When at the level of the Rio Grande on the western tip of the park, the Santa Elena Canyon, you are faced with an enormous rock wall.  It is quite impressive to say the least.  The river goes thru a canyon in this wall, one side being US and the other Mexico.  You can literally walk across the river into Mexico, but lots of warnings posted to make sure you know that crossing is not legal.  There is some tent camping down a dirt road, but we did not check it out so don't know what it's like.

Rio flows thru the canyon that is at the Vshape in the clifts.  Mexico is the cliff on left side of picture and US is the cliff on right side of picture.

walk way was put down due to recent rains w lots of mud floading area

Rio Grande runs very near behind me

In between these two areas of the park are the mountains.  The park lodge is in the Chisos Mountain Basin at about 5400-5500 ft.  It is a beautiful basin that was naturally carved in the mountains.  The accommodations consist of a series of very nice cabins for 4, a small "motel" type lodge and a grouping of some bigger more rustic type cabins.  There are good views from all the rooms.  A restaurant with great big windows to admire the view was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The food was really good, with breakfast running about $20 for the two of us and dinner about $16-22 per person.  You could also order a breakfast or lunch to go, called hiker specials.

There is a large terrace outside the restaurant, which is one of the few areas you can sometimes get cell and internet service. I had a brief few moments of cell service to send a picture, but basically was not even trying to use it other than as a camera.  We had not even taken our laptops on this trip. Plugs all around the terrace are used each evening as folks return from their days activities. Other than there, this is a time of disconnect, which lots of folks seem to appreciate.  Folks seemed to just enjoy the views and conversations were always very quiet.  Very nice!

view from inside the restaurant

As with all the national parks, the lodge and restaurant were run by a contracted company.  While the restaurant was good food and well organized, the lodge itself seemed to have a few problems.  We ended up having to change rooms for the 2 nights that we were there.  Thought this was a rare situation, especially since we had only booked rooms a few days before going.  Not so.  We heard many folks also having to move around during their stay there.  Seemed to be the biggest problem with the lodge.  
Another issue was with the beds themselves.  Room one had a great big king size bed, which was very comfortable.  Room two, for the same price-about $130 a night, had 2 full size beds with sag-in-the-center mattresses.  Oh la la, it was some "cozy" sleeping, we were no longer used to sleeping in such a small size bed.  We survived and even laughed about it at the time.
There is also some camping in this area, but nothing bigger than 24ft can make it up the steep, switch back turning road.  No hook-ups here.

We took one hike,  to the Lost Mine, which was about 5 miles round trip up and into the mountains.  We did not make it all the way to end of the hike up because my hip said enough and Fred did not want to leave me for the mountain lions or bears to find on the trail.  ha ha!  This is mountain lion and bear country.  
Signs on this hike and others in the mountains are all posted with information that small children should not be taken on the trails due to mountain lions. A pretty serious matter in these areas, so there is lots of information about what to do if you encounter one.  If you do meet a mountain lion, do not run, look big (interesting -guess it means stand together), throw rocks, carry a big stick ( I had my walking stick so we figured that qualified). Last year due to the severe drought in Texas, lots of bears were seen looking for food on patios in the lodge area.
the photographer being photographed. ha ha!

a view on our hike

prickly pear cactus and fern that we saw on our hike.  odd combination

What we did see were large tarantula , baseball size with long legs.  Found two fighting on the trail, see video below and another just hanging out on the trail.  This was within site of the end and in my view that was enough.  Climb was over, now time to make our way back down.  I'd seen enough!!!
one tarentulla on top of the other = fighting or

We were really glad we got a chance to visit Big Bend and will most likely go there again.  We have already spotted some other hikes we would like to do while there.

A bit of exploring just outside the park, furthest west by Mexico, we found the ghost town of Terlingua.  A desert town that is just about abandoned, other than a few hardy folks doing river rafting out of there.  This is real hardcore life, with just enough amenities to keep the folks going rafting happy while in "town".  The pictures tell the story.....

Leaving Big Bend we stopped at McDonald Observatory near Ft. Davis Texas.  We were able to view real-time activity on the sun, tour the facility and play with equipment.
We seem to be adding Observatories to our list of things to do while traveling.  We have now visited Kit Peak by Tucson, Lowell by Flagstaff and now McDonald.  

moving telescope around

silver is made by adding many, many strips of duct tape. was done because there was too much reflection on the original glass on the dome

for our NPR listener friends

On the way home to Somerset, we found a Seminole Cemetery.  Many were Medal of Honor scouts that had been buried here.  It is still being used today.
It was a great trip and gave us another view of southwest Texas that we had not been able to see driving along I-10.

below is an interesting sidenote relating to this cemetery


Next week we are off to Lafayette, Louisiana,sister city to Le Cannet France.  We'll be eating Cajun food and boudin there.
Stay tuned,
Michelle and Fred
Traveling the country so you don't have to!