When we drive and hike around this barren land, it is easy to get the impression that we are just about the only ones who have ever been here. It is so quiet that my ears hurt and the air is so clear we supposedly can see over 100 miles. But there have been people here enjoying the scenery long before we got here. Farmers and herders worked hard to make a go of it in the first half of the 1900's. In the process their animals ate so much vegetation that the land is still in recovery sixty years later.
One lucky man discovered natural hot springs that flow from the ground right next to the Rio. He built a two story bath house and hotel and advertised the spot as "the fountain that Ponce de Leon failed to find." Some claimed the water had radium in it as "sufferers from asthma, kidney diseases, dropsey, jaundice, pellagra, eczema, rheumatism, tobacco poisoning, hiccoughs, boils, skin diseases, influenza, sunburn and urinary disease have left their troubles here and gone home rejoicing." During the Mexican Revolution, he was forced to abandon the spot for a few years, but he returned to make a good living until the 1940's. We hiked to the spot and found three geezer couples soaking their troubles away in the 105º waters. Hmm, might have to come back with our bathing suits.
Another picturesque spot is the Chisos Basin, where the altitude lead to a dramatic change in vegetation and the green of the pinon pine, oaks and junipers highlighted the rock formations. The Civilian Conservation Corps had a camp here in the 1930's and when they complained about the food, their supervisor sent them out to climb the mountains nearby to enhance their appetites. No more complaints. A picturesque campground is at Chisos, but it is too small for rigs such as ours. In fact it is so small, there was hardly anyone staying there at all - a pity because the view was so fine. A hotel nearby offers the only restaurant eating in the entire park. Home cooking is going to be the name of the game as long as we are here.
The road to Balanced Rock was described as an improved dirt road and so it was. The Jeep and its intrepid driver handled it with aplomb, giving us the courage to spend tomorrow on the improved and unimproved dirt roads. A hike took us to the balanced rock formation itself. The trails in the desert can be hard to see. They are virtually indistinguishable from the erosion created by the occasional rain. Luckily, Balanced Rock was a popular choice and every time we felt a bit unsure about the route another hiker came into view. It was hard to stop taking pictures as each curve of the path lead to new views. A beautiful spot!