Big Bend Journal

We left Austin as planned on Thursday, January 13, with our sights set on reaching Big Bend NP in two days.  Our somewhat less then direct route lead us to an overnight in Sanderson, TX at the Canyon RV Park wedged between the Southern Pacific main line and US 90.  It is self check in, self pay and we never did see the owner/operator, but we got to top off the freshwater tank and drain our holding tanks before entering Big Bend where there are no amenities in our chosen campground – Rio Grande Village.  There is a full hookup campground adjacent but it is more than four times as expensive and is no more than a paved parking lot with hookups.  We are on a spacious site with glorious views and the sound of generators, our own included, starting at 8 AM and silenced by 8 PM.  Actually it is 9:15 as I write and I don’t hear any of them.  My solar panel is doing the work of recharging the batteries now that breakfast is over.

We arrived on Friday and after setting up we took a bike ride to get an overview of the area.  This park is huge.  It is 50 miles from our camping area in the east to the western extreme of the park.  Needless to say, we did not leave our immediate neighborhood in our brief bike ride.  After greeting some neighbors and sitting out in the sunshine to read for a bit, we sat with the guide books and maps to plan our activities.  Saturday morning greeted us with chill (40 degrees) and fog.  Not wonderful, but we packed up lunch and a variety of clothing in the car along with binoculars, hiking sticks, bird book and who knows what else and set out for Chisos Basin.  This is an area we had not explored at all in our trip here in 2005.  The road from the Basin Junction is only 7 miles, but it climbs a pass to drop into the basin where there is motel lodging and restaurants for those who do not choose among the variety of camping possibilities.  After wandering around a bit we retraced our steps to the Lost Mine trailhead.  By this time the sky had cleared and the sun was bright, the temperature began to rise.  We set out on this 4.8 mile round trip with gloves and three layers of clothing.  As we climbed, and this trail had no letup as we climbed 1000 feet in 2.4 miles, we got warmer and stopped a couple of times to remove layers.  As we neared the top of the climb I was regretting the jeans I was wearing, wishing I had worn lighter slacks or my pants with zip off legs.  We had lunch at the top of the climb with views of the rugged land all around us.  The traffic on the climb was light, we saw maybe half a dozen people descending as we climbed and when we reached the top there were only two guys having lunch.  As we descended we saw more people climbing and wondered if they realized that there was no way they could reach the top and return before the light was gone.  We spent about four hours on the trail including our lunch break.

We were grateful to return to the car and rest our legs.  We had not been on any strenuous walks in a while and for myself, my legs were tired.  We stopped at Grapevine Hills trailhead and after a few minutes walking in sand I begged off.  Even though it was only a mile in I was tired and the light was fading. 

Sunday morning dawned cloudy and chill.  We had decided we would take on the Mule Ears Spring hike.  It is a 3.8 mile round trip with a net elevation gain of 20 feet.  However that NET does not give notice of several lengthy steep elevation changes along the way.  We were still layered and had settled into hiking mode as we set out.  Before we got there we passed Burro Spring Pour Off and the short trail was too tempting so we stopped and hiked into this box canyon to see the waterfall that you don’t want to see if there is water coming down.  The canyon is a trap, once water starts flowing it will fill and there is no place to escape the flood.


All was dry!

Mule Ears gets its name legitimately, here is what it looks like from the trail:

We continued on to our target and began the hike into a spring that flows in the desert.  We made one stop to shed layers and eat our lunch on the way in.  We found the remains of the corral at a trail junction and followed around the wall to a short trail that lead to the spring which was flowing and had a population of frogs we could see and hear. 

We concluded the day by continuing down the road to Santa Elena Canyon and hike to narrow of the canyon.  This gap in the surrounding cliffs is cut by the Rio Grande River which is the border with Mexico at this point .  It feels so narrow that it seems we could touch both sides at the same time.  Although we had considered taking Old Maverick Road back to the main highway, the Volunteers had discouraged us and it would be dark by the time we got back to Gee 2 so we retraced our route and arrived at twilight. 

Monday we decided to devote to the eastern end of the park, primarily Boquillas Canyon which defines the point at which the river departs Big Bend.  We had explored this area thoroughly in 2005 when we last visited here, but felt it worth another trip in any event.  The river is shallow and slow at this part of its course and there are many “informal” crossing points.  These are used today by residents of Boquillas, on the Mexican side to set up little bodegas to sell their handcrafts.

They set them out on rocks with an honor jug and signs with prices.  Purchases are discouraged by the Border Patrol and any goods bought this way are subject to confiscation.  This does not seem to bother either sellers or buyers.  We were carrying no money and thus avoided temptation. 

After spending time along this beautiful canyon we retraced past the campground where we stopped for lunch and then went on to the Hot Spring.  I put on a bathing suit and we walked in from the parking lot and met a small crowd seated in the remains of the hot spring house enjoying the spring.  in 2005 the river was so high that the entire foundation was under water and it seemed dangerous to try to get on top of the vent.  Now, with the river several feet lower, we could walk to the foundation and pick our way to a seat in the spring.   Carol rolled up her slacks and joined me on the edge of the spring and we had a lively discussion with other travelers who had come to the spring. 

This ended our time in Big Bend.  In the morning we rolled out along the road to Study Butte and then we decided to take the road to Presidio.  It was a lot of work driving this rollercoaster of a road in Gee2, but the scenery was well worth the 67 miles of extreme hills (15% grades) and tight turns.  We stopped in Marfa long enough to pick up our mail and continued on to Sierra Blanca about which later.

In Austin – part 1

Getting together with Leigh and Pat in Austin has become a regular event that Carol and I look forward to and plan on every time we pass anywhere near that delightful city.   We really enjoy their company and they do know the neatest places to see and tour in the city they both love.  Later in this week we will get to share our love of Austin with friends from Rochester, the Poleshucks, who we will be meeting here.

Yesterday, Saturday January 8, was an example of the diversity of culture to be had in this city.  We started at Flatbed Press, which is celebrating 20 years of fine art printing.

From there we went to the Austin Museum of Art where we saw many of the finished prints we had seen at Flatbed Press on display along with other interesting work.  We did find the labeling and references to audio on phone to be out of synch with layout of the images.  This was disconcerting to say the least.  In one case the reviewer starts with the image with on the label and digresses to an image that is in a different room and much further along in the progression of show.  Next stop was Arthouse at the Jones Center which was mostly about the newly reconstructed building which is a work of art unto itself.

This view is from the loft looking down on the second  floor gallery space.  There is a wall to the left (not seen) which is in sections and is hung from the rafters so the sections can be moved to create a wide variety of gallery spaces. We moved  on to coffee and then some sales galleries and finally to an opening of work where I lost Carol.  She was very struck by the first work she saw and immediately started talking with the artist about what she was seeing.  It was some time before she got past the first room of this extensive gallery.

Dinner was high end at La Condesa, which I would highly recommend.  The Duck in Mole was grand and the reports on the Scallops and other dishes were also excellent.  Service was friendly without getting in the way and the atmosphere is a delight.  We were sated and barely able to move so we decided to partake of the Austin scene in a neighborhood bar.


In addition to a good group of Texas musicians; Guitar, Bass Guitar, Pedal Steel Guitar and drums playing fun country western there were a lot of people playing a game of dominos that made no sense to us.

It is called 42 and we are going to have some instruction in the rules before we leave town.  The story is at some point card gambling was banned so this game was devised to get around the prohibition.

We left early – about 11 PM – to get some sleep to prepare for another days.

Who’d a Thunk

Weird wonderful strange News Years Eve in Texas. 

In the Escapee Campground guide we noted that there was a special four hour New Years Eve Show at the Liberty Opry in Liberty Texas, a mere 45 miles down the road from where we are staying.  Having not made any plans we thought it might be fun to try a very different experience.  I called for tickets and was able to get two.  The show started at 8 so we thought we ought to have a meal in Liberty. 

Checking the internet for restaurants I found a few chains and one interesting sounding Mexican.  When Carol called, she learned that they used lard rather than vegetable oil meaning there was no vegetarian option she could trust, not to mention I do not eat pork products.  That left McDonalds, Subway or Chili’s as the only choices.  So it was New Years Eve dinner at Chili’s, not our usual option, but we were able to find some reasonable choices and were not left hungry when we drove the rest of the way to Liberty Opry.  The people watching was super.

The show bill can be found at

Here is the brief listing from that website:

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2010 – 8:00 P. M.-Midnight *
DONNA B “The Ebony Cowgirl”
Jay Cantu
John Ray Baxter
Rick Burton
Jim Cox
Larry “Booger Lee” Etheridge
Kenneth “Little Red” Hayes
Andy Lingenfelter
Jerry Locke
Mike Loftin
Aaron Marshall
Marcy Rae
Ray Sowell

If those names do not mean anything to you don’t be surprised, they didn’t to us either.  The top three are performers brought in for this show, and apparently many other shows during the year.  The remainder are the Liberty Opry Band who play every week! Actually Jay Cantu is one of the owners of the Opry. 

By 11 or so, as they were heading to the second intermission, the energy level was still rising.  The mix was Country, Western, Gospel, 50’s Rock and later.  Heath Spencer Phillips did Elvis and Roy Orbison and I can’t name the others.  He leapt off the stage, he cavorted and by the time he finished a number we were all exhausted for him.  Jabbo Cannon did a really great Johnny Cash as well as gospel (you could tell he was going to do gospel because he took off his hat).  When we came back from the second intermission at 11:30, they were running 30 minutes behind schedule and started changing the playlist to try to hit Auld Lang Syne by midnight.  They were only a minute or two late. 

Following a stirring medley of Dixie/Battle Hymn of the Republic and something I didn’t recognize we were all invited to a buffet (Big Ugly Fat Fellows Eating To much according to the comic who was one according to his own testimony).  It was 12:15 and we still faced a 45 minute drive home.  We left and talked about the experience all the way home.  The quality of the performance was incredible.  Many of the musicians are older performers who have come off the road and settled in east Texas and this is how they keep active.  Their years of performance showed in their presence and sound.  There is a regular show every Saturday night and we agree that the next time we are in this part of Texas on a Saturday night we will make it to Liberty, unless it is an all Gospel night which Carol says we might still consider.

May this year be a good year for all of us.