Big Bend Ranch State Park, just west of Big Bend National Park, preserves an equally large chunk of scenic beauty for public use. As one of the newer parks in the Texas system, it is laced with dirt roads, not very developed and difficult to access. From what we can tell it is a haven for mountain bikers and long distance hikers. However, a state highway that lies between the southern border of the park and the Rio Grande River, provides beautiful views for the less ambitious. This drive between our campground in Study Butte and Presidio also included some man made "attractions".
Because there are so few people here, restaurants have to be creative to make a go of it here. The Kosmic Kafe housed in a series of pink trailers is a good example. Even though we are here during the high season, we keep running into the same people who are seeing the same sights that we are, that goes for eateries or scenic overlooks. It feels like we are all on a tour together.
The first stop on the drive was Terlingua ghost town. Ghost towns are a tricky thing. By definition they are towns that have become more or less uninhabited, but they can't be too far gone or there's nothing left to see there. When mining for mercury was a going concern here, Terlingua housed 2,000 Mexican and Anglo workers and their families. When the quick silver market dried up, and the mines closed in the 1940's, it became a ghost town. Two decades later, "Chili-heads" began making an annual pilgrimage here each fall for the Terlingua International Chili championship. We met a couple in our last campground that comes here regularly for this event and they described it as a big deal. It's hard for us to imagine after seeing the place. Today the ghost town has a few viable tourist sights including the well kept cemetery and a restaurant and gift shop. Many of the dilapidated buildings seemed to have people living in them - squatting in them? It looked like the perfect spot for a bunch of aging hippies to hang out and smoke weed.
The next stop was Lajitas (rhymes with fajitas). Apparently it was meant to be a posh resort, purchased by a Mr. Smith for $3 million in 2001. The hotel is a lovely recreation of a western town and the championship golf course included three holes on an island in the middle of the Rio Grande and a par one in Mexico. The economy tanked, the golf course flooded, and Mr. Smith bailed, losing about $80 million. The hotel appeared to be open and staffed, but there was hardly anyone there. Another ghost town in the making?
Just across Contrabundo Creek a picturesque village appeared. It too was in a poor state of repair, but that's OK because it was only built as a movie set in the first place in 1985. Since then a few films have been made here including some we have heard of. All it takes is a few coats of paint and they're back in business.
We stopped at Closed Canyon and hiked into it. Its name did not mean that it was closed to hikers. Rather, it got narrower and narrower and we couldn't make it all the way to the river. The rock in this particular area is so hard, that the occasional rain is not making much headway in eroding the canyon.
Our drive ended in Presidio, a town of 5,000 inhabitants and a legal border crossing. More importantly, this town had a real grocery store and we could stock up on produce and milk. It was a real town and although small and poor, didn't look like it was going to become a ghost town any time soon.