On the morning that we were scheduled to take the turn south and make the run to Big Bend National Park we wisely decided that we should hit the local Walmart and stock up considering that we had no idea what we would find once we got there. We found a Walmart in Fort Stockton. Actually, it is hard to remember a place anywhere in America that we could not find a Walmart.
One of our staples is gallon jugs of water. Since seeing several recent reports of the “island” of plastic floating in the pacific and what plastics of all kinds have done to the environment, we have decided to do our very small part and get away from twelve and sixteen oz water bottles and buy gallon jugs instead. We were not yet ready to move all the way to a water filtering container especially being in many different places and not being sure about the water source in each. We have also secured large reusable shopping bags to eliminate the need for the smaller ones that are used in grocery stores. Of course, we tend to forget to bring them into the store and have to run back to the truck constantly to retrieve them. New habits are hard to build.
While Eileen searched for other items, I sought out the water. When I located the water section, I found empty shelves where the gallons once resided. I asked if there were any others and was told no. The clerk explained that we were in an area where there are lots of oil field workers and they come each morning and buy up all the water jugs. I decided to forgo the question of why they just didn’t take that into account and put out more water. That made too much sense. We were forced to buy a case of smaller bottles. The environment would have to suffer for a few more days.
We left Fort Stockton with some excitement and a fair bit of anxiety. When we hit the road going south to Big Bend we knew we were in an entirely new world. The road seemed straight as an arrow and there was literally nothing on either side of us for miles. Once in a while we would see a few stray cattle grazing and wonder how far they had to go to get water not seeing any in the vicinity.
We travelled like this for sixty miles until we got to the town of Alpine. Fortunately, there was a small diesel station set up for trucks which we took advantage of and filled up. We then turned off the main road onto 118 South and climbed through a very windy and steep mountain pass until we moved onto the straight road ahead and settled in for a long ride through country that we had never experienced before. On both sides of the road as far as the eye could see were mountain ranges.
The road signs identified several mountains and I was surprised to see that most were elevations on the 6,000-7,000 foot range. This was not the rolling hills of Connecticut. We travelled through this environment for hours with mountains in constant sight. The trip was made a bit longer as we stopped on the side of the road several times to take photos.
We have obviously experienced mountains before, but this view was totally different than the tree-covered mountains of New England and the Eastern seaboard. It was the lack of trees and vegetation covering them and the vast expanse of land between the road and the mountain ranges on either side that created the unique feeling.
Views along Rte 118 to Big Bend
After a few hours we finally neared our destination in Lajitas, Texas. As we neared the area of Big Bend we once again had to crawl through the mountains on high and winding roads to make our way to the small town of Terlingua, including Ghost Town, which we would explore later. There was not much readily apparent along the main road that meandered through the town. Random camping areas where people seemed to just drive out into the desert and drop anchor popped up quite often along the way. There was a small airport but we did not see a plane. We ran across a pizza shop that did not appear to have produced a pizza for some time.
Every once in a while, we ran across some adobe houses seemingly plopped on property randomly, many sitting on hillsides with nothing else around. We crossed several dips in the road that had fluorescent flood gauges on the side telling motorist how deep the water in the gully might be and signs warning of flash flooding. We had no doubt that the floods could be real, but looking at the surroundings, and how dry and dusty everything seemed to be, it was hard to imagine large amounts of water being anywhere near these hills.
I had reserved a site at Maverick Ranch RV Resort which was part of the Lajitas Golf Resort nearby. Seeing the few campgrounds along the way did not fill us with great confidence as most places simply had campers haphazardly plopped in spots on the dirt and sand in areas that were essentially parking lots with hook-ups. I have said several times before that we are not campers. We live a RV lifestyle which means different things to different folks. For us it means a comfortable and clean site that allows for the adequate electrical needs of our 50 amp service, plenty of water and preferably decent access to the internet. If there is cable or good access to local tv stations via the antenna, even better. Some would call it “glamping”. I am not sure we are at that level.
We reached Maverick Ranch and were pleasantly surprised that it was actually more of a resort than the other local campgrounds. There was actually a general store, the first we had seen in twenty miles with gas pumps right before the resort offering diesel. That was a good thing. The other feature that stood out immediately was an old grave yard that was situated just to the right of the entrance. I fully expected to find the graves of some old west characters who had built and tamed the town at some point. An obvious feature that spoke to the surroundings was that many of the graves were mounds covered by rocks. I am sure digging a hole six feet deep by hand in this area was a monumental chore.
Scenes from Maverick RV
The RV park was well laid out and very accessible. Each site had a sizeable concrete pad. The sites were large and we had a common area outside our front door with at least space for one potential site between us and the people in the next site. There was no grass at the site but that is understandable given what it must take to grow grass in this environment. Water is at a premium I am sure and probably is not wasted on growing grass where grass is not needed. The best thing about the park was the view. It was surrounded by mountains and had some hiking trails that led out of the park into the surrounding desert and up to some of the ridges.
After setting up we were sitting outside taking in the surroundings when we were reminded of how small the world is even when you are experiencing its apparent vastness. I have mentioned in a previous post that we had met some new friends on our trek through Canada this past summer. Dave and Wendy, originally from New Jersey, and then from Florida, have recently given up life on the road after a few years of travelling the country and have settled in Tennessee for the foreseeable future. I had posted on Facebook that we were settled at Maverick Ranch in Lajitas. Eileen received a text from Wendy saying that old friends of theirs, who they had also met on the road, were in the same RV park. She described their RV and told her that they were from Pennsylvania. She suggested that we be on the lookout for them and to stop by and say hello.
We decided to make our way up to the hotel and golf course area across the road and search out Wendy and Dave’s friends Linda and Kit from Pennsylvania when we returned. We had been told that they had guests for dinner and we did not want to intrude on that. As were leaving we spotted their RV and it was literally three sites from us.
We continued on to the resort. After checking out the greens fees for the course I decided that golf was not in the cards for this stop. It cost 180 dollars for eighteen holes – but that included the cart! I like to play golf, but you will never catch me paying that kind of money to play, especially with my level of play. I might pay that much just to walk the course at Pebble Beach or Augusta, but not to play Lajitas. The property was set up with a hotel situated in a long building with a boardwalk in front meant to look like an old west town. Besides the hotel, there was a gym, a business that did jeep and hiking tours, a bakery, a pub and a restaurant. Eileen and I made our way to the pub and sat on a patio overlooking the surrounding mountains and had a drink.
View from the Pub Patio at Lajitas Resort
Lajitas Resort Hotel
After our drink we returned to the RV and met the new neighbors that had just pulled in. It was a young family with three children; two sons sixteen and twelve and a daughter around ten. They had decided to pull up stakes and live on the road. The mother and father were both able to work from the road and were involved in some type of Christian ministry. They were very nice people with a very different style of parenting. In the first hour that they were there, the ten-year-old had wandered off and was spotted making her way up a path on the mountain across from us. After asking her brothers where she was, dad spotted her on the path just before she was out of sight. He calmly told her brothers to retrieve her.
I later was having a conversation with the dad as I cooked some burgers on the grill. He was asking about my grill and said that mom and the kids had gone on a hike through the hills. It was dusk and he pointed out their silhouettes high up on a ridge. When they made their way back down the boys asked dad if he had seen the sister. He calmly said no. Mom followed a few minutes later and asked the same thing. I could feel panic rising in my chest with the prospect that these people had just lost the little girl in the mountains as nightfall threatened. Mom calmly walked over to the motorhome, opened the door, and yelled for the daughter. She was there. She had stealthily sneaked by us as we talked and was safe inside. No fuss for them. They did not seem worried at all.
A short while later Linda from Pennsylvania came knocking on our door. She said that she had seen us leaving earlier and she also could not believe that two couples who both knew Wendy and Dave were a few sites from each other thousands of miles from home. Linda invited us to join she and her husband Kit and their friends. We grabbed a drink and a couple of chairs and made our way over.
Linda and Kit had been to this area many times over the years and had made friends in the area. We could see how that could happen as they were both gregarious and seemingly adventurous people who enjoyed having fun and meeting new people. Their friends had lived in the Lajitas and Terlingua area for many years. Between all of these people we tapped into a wealth of knowledge about the area which was essential in narrowing down how we would spend our limited time.
One of the areas that they turned us onto was the Ghost Town in Terlingua. This whole area had once been a very active mining area. The two main yields from the mines were mercury and silver. At some point the silver loads were tapped and the need for mercury no longer existed. The mines closed and abandoned and many people moved on. What was left were people who loved the area and were committed to staying and making the best of living in a uniquely beautiful setting carving out a life as best they could.
The next day we decided to check out Ghost Town and also the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park. We drove to Terlingua and stopped first at a little Mexican restaurant where I had a beer and we had some chips and guacamole. We then made our way up to the Trading Post. People sat out on the long front porch of the Post and drank beers and listened to locals play their guitars.
We found Linda and Kit sitting on the side deck. Their RV sat in the parking lot. They had pulled out that morning and were going to stay on their friend Roger’s property that night before pulling out the next morning to start the slow roll back to Pennsylvania. We hung out with them for a while and checked out the Trading Post. We said our goodbyes until the next time we would have a chance to meet up and started off for Big Bend.
Linda and Kit Sitting with Eileen on the Deck at the Trading Post in Ghost Town
Big Bend is massive. It covers approximately 800,000 acres or 1200 square miles and covers the area from Study Butte southeast of Teralingua and south to the Rio Grande River. It is the only national park that contains an entire mountain range known as the Chisos Mountains. We found the road to the basin some twenty miles into the park. The road up and over the rim of the basin wasn’t quite a nailbiter until the last mile or so which climbed and then descended a very steep, narrow and winding road to a visitor center with a store and accommodations. It was a very popular place with many hikers and other visitors.
We took a short and easy hike out to a point where we had a great view of what they call the “Window” where two ends of the mountain range form a V that looks out over the sprawling desert floor far below. It was a striking view. More adventurous hikers can actually take the longer hike that actually leads to you standing in the window and on the precipice of the cliff looking out to the valley floor. We were happy to have a view a bit further away.
Images from Chisos Basin
When we returned to the RV from Big Bend we noticed that the oldest son from the family next to us was collecting firewood for their fire ring. We then saw him dragging a large section of a small tree that he had obviously sawed down with the saw in his hand. He had actually gone a short distance off the road in the park and sawed down a tree! We were not sure, but we guessed that this behavior was frowned upon. His father was sure to provide verbal affirmation of his son’s manly provision for the family.
The next day we went back to the park and make our way to Rio Grande Junction which sits right on the river. It is a beautiful area with mountains on both sides of the river. Just before we arrived at the junction we pulled off to take the very short hike up to a lookout over the river. We met a couple taking pictures of the ridges across from the trail. They had spotted a family of mountain goats high up on a ridge. Most of them were long gone but I was able to spot a young one making his way up the ridge to catch up with the rest of the family.
That night back at the RV park we were taking a walk through the park. Eileen will usually say hello to any dogs being walked and stop to pet them. There was a gentleman walking a very unusual looking but beautiful dog. We stopped to talk to him and the dog who was very friendly. He told us that he was the manager of the park and lived right behind the office.
He knew Eileen loved the dog so he handed her the leash and said, “You can keep walking him if you like. Just deposit him in the yard when you’re done.” Eileen gladly agreed to take him. While walking him we met a man from Massachusetts who actually worked with a dog rescue organization and we talked with him for a while. As we walked the dog back home it was apparent that everyone knew the dog. When we returned the dog to his yard the owner showed us where he put the leash and said we could take him out anytime we wanted. Unfortunately, the opportunity never presented itself again.
While we were in the area, I told Eileen if we were ever to consider living in an area like this, I knew what businesses I would open. First, access to food and fuel are not readily available. There were a couple of markets or general stores and they knew how rare a commodity they had. The prices were outrageous. I fueled up at the station near the RV park and paid $4.50 a gallon for diesel.
The other business would be a car wash. As you can imagine driving through the desert deposits a healthy layer of dust on your vehicle daily. I wanted nothing more than to give the poor truck a bath but there was not car wash anywhere that I could see. Maybe the restricted use of water made such a business prohibitive. If not, you could make a fortune.
While near the border we saw no sign of border patrol or hoards of immigrants invading. Interestingly enough our first real encounter with border patrol was 100 miles north of Big Bend as we were leaving the area. They had an inspection station where all vehicles had to pull in and pass muster. We were asked where we were coming from, if we had anyone riding in the trailer, and if we were citizens. It seemed odd that with an “emergency” on the border that resources were being employed a hundred miles from the border.
We really enjoyed our time in the Big Bend area. It is definitely not an easy place to get to, but the experience is worth at least an initial trip, and if possible, a return to the area. The lifestyle is completely different than we are used to. The focus is on a simpler existence. It is nice to experience that simplicity and the incredible beauty of the area for at least a short period.