Palm Sunday in Ft. Stockton, TX, a God forsaken place, remembered only by the massive amount of Truckers stopping for refreshment, fuel or sleep right across from our motel. But in spite of its desolate location, we are taking an extra pause here because it is the first really nice weather we have seen since Florida. Sunny,. a little breeze and about 85-90 degrees today. The deserted pool is calling our names and the sunshine is just too inviting. We also want to watch the final round of The Masters this afternoon, during what would normally be our drive time. Big Bend will have to wait til tomorrow.
Contemplating what to do with an entire unscheduled day was too much for us. We decided we had to accomplish something! One look at the Rolling White House, and we knew what we needed to do. Its last bath, other than rain, was in Columbus Ohio in September! Her new color is a dim gray. The local self service car wash (the RWH won't fit through a regular car wash-- and there probably isn't one here anyway!) was brimming with customers, lined up waiting to place their quarters in the soap and water machine. I'm sure the awful dust storm has something to do with it, and the fact it is a glorious Sunday. $5.00 worth of quarters later, we got at least the first layer of grime off. What an improvement!
Big Bend NP -- only gets a few thousand visitors a year, low for a National Park, WAY off the beaten path -- only the determined visit here. But what a treat for those who make their way here, and an even bigger treat for those who make their home in this area. You have to be a pioneer, as nothing in this area is easy, but the people are wonderful. The scenery they enjoy every day is beyond breathtaking, but making even a meager living here is difficult. Those of us who are "trespassers" on this beauty are the lucky ones.
We have arrived during the most beautiful part of the year. There are three distinct areas here, the mountains, the desert and the river--the infamous Rio Grande. We knew we wanted to experience one of the canyons on the river, and enjoy the best display of desert flowers in years -- and they were spectacular!
A stop at the visitors center yielded the information that the campgrounds and lodge were full (spring break for some schools). I had scoped out this resort at Lajitas -- even more off the beaten path -- but they have a golf course! So off we went. Now this place is a trip. It was about 99 degrees at 5:00 in the afternoon, and 17 miles from even the most minimal idea of civilization. But we were here. The golf course was closed due to remodeling, the pool was freezing cold, but the rooms were reasonable ($58). We checked in and made plans for the river trip tomorrow. Big Bend Adventures -- Feel the Magic! -- No rafting, the river is too low, but a canoe trip -- called the boomerang -- is possible. Three hours upstream -- but not much current -- you can do it! -- some hiking in the canyon and a nice drift back down. OK, we'll bite.
We are apprehensive. Our last encounter with boats that we manage was not a happy site. The guide cheerfully reminded us that canoes are also called "divorce boats". Reassuring. Phil decided that the solution was to let me pilot the boat in the rear, and he will take orders (he knows what a control freak I am about things like making it safely down rivers!). Instructions: paddle on the side opposite the direction you want to go. The pilot can control direction by dragging the oar on the side you want to turn towards, and (this is the best part), the rower in front takes direction on which side to row on from the pilot!!
We're in the water and paddling upstream. Stay out of the current, and follow the guide. Some places are too low even for canoes. Now paddling like crazy (did I mention upstream), and additionally, we have to drag the canoes across sand bars and gravel bars! Thankfully, it was a cloudy day, as opposed to yesterday of hot, high temps. The scenery is spectacular! Canyon walls 1500 feet above us and totally silent here. Beautiful.
The Rio Grande is not only low, but they say, don't swim in it. We were the only canoe of 5 with clients that didn't overturn at some point during the day! I attribute it to my skillful maneuvering and fear of my camera meeting the Rio Grande up close and personal! One could not drown in this river -- not swift and not deep! The real "a-ha" of how bad the river is was the guides insistence of using a waterless hand cleaner before we could eat lunch! Not recommended, --mandatory. A little scary!
The lunch stop was a welcome site. A green site with Mexico on one side, 1500 feet up and the Park 1500 feet up on the other. After eating, a hike up to fern grotto was planned. Phil and I only went part ways as old age, out of shape, and a bad case of "the tired's" had set in. We had to save our meager strength for the return trip and its portages ahead of us.
On the return, we not only had the river current to help, but also a nice wind blowing down the canyon speeding us along. Amazing how much more quickly we got back to the put in location. Even the portages were easier--downstream! We even learned how to navigate mild rapids -- and we executed them without tipping or slamming into other boats. Poor Phil, near the end, and our strength totally tapped, an older couple with us got into trouble crosswise between two rocks. We were behind them, and needed to go through the same channel that was blocked. Phil got out of our canoe, and helped free them -- complete with them IN the canoe! He said later, he's not sure how he got the energy! Except we knew our exit from the river lay ahead of getting them going again!
We fell into bed very early after a nice long shower to remove the Rio Grande from our bodies! A beautiful trip and a wonderful remembrance of this Park. But, oh the aching bodies! A raging dust storm had greeted us upon our return from the canyon. We thought it might blow our casita off the foundation -- and the poor RWH - what would become of it. We drove the few blocks to dinner instead of walking, as the visibility was only a few yards, and the dust was horrific -- stinging the body, and in your hair, clothes, etc.
The next morning dawned clear, sunny and calm. You couldn't believe what was happening only 8 hours ago. Today is our day to explore the mountain and desert part of the park. The Mule Ears and more beauty. I subjected poor Phil to a search for just the right flower pictures. Hope we got some good ones -- he was very patient as I yelled "STOP!! I see one". But you can't capture the beauty of what really goes on on the desert floor.
As we were leaving the park, there was something in the road. Thunk, Thunk. "Phil, you just ran over a huge snake!" This guy was stretched out across the entire lane -- at least 8 feet long! Red and pink and probably 6 to 8 inches in diameter. We stopped exiting the park and asked what it was. The Ranger said there are lots of them here. It is a Coach Whip. Not poisonous -- but quite spectacular and big!