Blue People, Red State - Winter 2010 travel blog

Sotol Vista

Luna's Jacal

Mule Ears

chilled cactus

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Santa Elena Canyon

wading across

Santa Elena Canyon

When we left the valley to come to Big Bend, I filled the larder as if we were coming to the other side of the moon. Now that we're here, I'm glad that I did, for indeed that is where we are. Because the park is so big, we moved to the west side to access the other side of the park and are camped in the major town in the area, population 125. It's called Study Butte (pronounced with a long U sound so they can tell the locals from the tourists). We have plenty to eat, but we have to wonder what the locals do for food. There are no grocery stores here. There are no any other kind of store here. We can buy gas.

Most of the folks who live around here remind us of the people we met in Alaska. If you don't fit in where you are, you keep moving on until you come to the end of the road. End of the road people are often slightly eccentric and live in a spot that is nice to visit, but the rest of us probably wouldn't want to live there.

The loop drive on the west end of the park is a combination of dirt and paved road. It was called the Maxwell Ross Scenic Drive and encompassed some of the best scenery as well as the spots where most of the people lived before this area became a park. The jackal (Mexican house/shelter) where Gilberto Luna lived to a ripe old age of 108 and raised a large family, was especially mind boggling. The back end of this abode was a huge boulder and the rest was pieces of wood and stone. It can get extremely hot here in the summer and we've had evenings near freezing. Let's hope that there was a lot more to this home than we could see today.

It's so arid and sparsely vegetated, we've been having trouble imagining how anyone could make a life here in agriculture. But today we learned that the land was much different when the farmers were here. The locals were doing subsistence farming, but when the Anglos came along, they planted fields of cotton using the largest equipment available at the time. Trees were cut down to construct homes and fencing. Sheep and goats grazed on the grasslands and ate it down to the nubs. After some successful years, drought made their farms untenable and after they left, their activities had left the dirt so packed down, that it could no longer absorb the water when it did come. An area that had sustained numerous kinds of plants, became the moonscape we see today. Mother Nature can heal some of man's mistakes, but these appear to be irrevocable. Now when I read about how more and more of Africa is tuning into desert, I will envision this place.

The guidebook said that there are flowers blooming here no matter what time of year you come. I've been straining my eyes, but except for an occasional yucca, the flowers are not evident. When I do see a splash of red or yellow, it belongs to a cactus. At first I thought this meant that they were dying, but the guidebook says that they turn red when it gets cold. A bit like autumn leaves. Desert plants exude a certain hostility that I don't feel in other settings. As our guidebook said, they either "stink, stick, or sting."

Our favorite spot was the Santa Elena Canyon, a canyon like none we have ever seen before. It is extremely narrow and the walls tower 1,500 feet over the river. The mesa overhead was split in two by a fault and one side in Mexico and the other side is the US. If the whole border were like this, there would be no need of a wall or any questions about which side you are on. We would have liked to hike into the canyon, but the Mexicans have just released a load of water which flooded the valley and kept us from walking to the other side. A young couple with less scruples and pulchritude than we, took off most of their clothes and waded across anyway. You can take raft rides through the canyon when the water is this high, but it would cost us $300. Probably not.

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