Sunday, May 4, 2014

Trip Report: Big Bend and Thereabouts - Day 1

Taking a road trip out to parts of west Texas and the Big Bend area is something that I have wanted to do for years.  We have numerous friends who've either gone on camping trips or attended the annual Chili cook-off in Terlingua, and the idea of being so close yet having never actually been was disturbing to me.  On the other hand, we had no intention of putting on hiking boots, packing a tent and some sleeping bags and heading out into the wilderness.  In fact, this little break from work (and, oh by the way,  our wedding anniversary) was intended to be one of those deals where we rarely exit the vehicle (and the air conditioning), and really, see what all the excitement is about from a distance through a bug splatted windshield.
 The first day of the trip was just to get there.  After a lot of research, we decided that our best bet was to use Alpine, TX as our base of operations.  Turns out for us, that was a good plan.  Alpine is small enough to be quaint, but large enough to have known hotel chains that, if a serial killer was managing it, surely someone would get word back to the corporate offices.  Honestly, if you saw some of the tiny little places we drove by, you'd take this into consideration.  Not to suggest that small equals serial killer haven, I'm just saying my idea of a good night's sleep doesn't entail that kid from Deliverance sitting out on the front porch pickin' and grinnin' on the banjo all night.
And as it turns out, when we actually saw some of the hotels I had looked up on the Internet in person, Eva informed me that she would have stabbed me in my sleep had I made reservations there.  The Hampton Inn in Alpine it is, my delight.
 As an adult, I had never been out Highway 90 west of Uvalde.  I have to say I was eager to find some of the roadside oddities that might sprinkle the landscape out there.  As it turns out, I was on the wrong highway for any of that.  No half-buried Cadillacs, no weird Tee Pee hotels or anything worth noting in the odd category.  But it doesn't take long to recognize just how big and wide open Texas is.  Hell, we see that driving just 10 minutes outside of Devine, but the road from here to Del Rio and beyond is filled with a whole lot of nothing.  I don't mean that in a bad, boring way, but in more of an appreciation for what early settlers had to deal with.  Long stretches without cellphone coverage, for instance.   
We did find civilization in Del Rio and interestingly, found a Rudy's Bar BQ where we decided to grab a quick lunch and fill-up before heading on.  Just a quick note about that.  In San Antonio, people rave about Rudy's.  I've never disliked the place, per se, but it's not my favorite.  But both Eva and I were extremely pleased with the vittles we had at the Rudy's in Del Rio.  The brisket and chicken were great with no need for the sauce.  The potato salad was outstanding.  I don't want to get anyone in trouble, but the people in Del Rio are not following the company formula, and we liked it!  I hope this isn't me reporting to Rudy's management that they have a serial killer in their midst, but what they ought to do is get out to Del Rio, figure out what they are doing and move that staff to San Antonio and Leon Springs.
Just outside of Del Rio is Lake Amistad.  The water seemed really low.
More interesting to us was The Pecos River.  In fact, I ended up pulling over so we could get out and take a look.  More pictures when I post about the eastbound side on Day 3.
When we got to Langtry, our first real tourist stop, we were pleased to see how nice and clean the facilities there were.  The grounds are well kept and we enjoyed the short break from the road.  Of course, the reason you stop in Langtry is to see the Jersey Lilly where Judge Roy Bean held court.
 When you see how vast and wide-open Texas is, it seems unlikely that anyone would have found this tiny spot along the Rio Grande to have justice dispensed in the first place.  The entire bar is a lot smaller than our living room, so it seems even more of a mystery that such a legend was born of this place.  But it is cool, nevertheless.
We drove down to the location of a famous boxing match that Judge Bean, ever the entrepreneur managed to facilitate.  And the picture below the marker is the Mexico side of the border.  The obvious question is, why don't people just walk across the border?  Well, I'm sure some do.  But the terrain is so rugged out there, your average person is not going to make all that risk and effort to get to the Judge Roy Bean tourist stop because, nothing, really nothing else is there. 
And as we learned, they have these random inspection stations up and down the highway.  I have recently seen several videos on the Internet where the perfectly legal American citizen exercises their right to not respond to the Border Patrol guys at these inspection stations.  Honestly, I wondered what I would do when I encountered my first one on the trip.  Make no mistake, I've been through these inspections years ago when we would make trips to Laredo, but now, thanks to my friends on the Internet, I wondered if my rights are being abridged in some way.  Screw all that.  In each case, we rolled up, the guy smiled with a How's it going?  You guys US Citizens?  All right, have a good day. 

This is not to suggest that I am not opposed to check points, be they for random drug or DWI inspections, or any random thing.  I am.  In the case of these inspection stations, the only thing to be upset about is that they are a waste of tax dollars and a waste of time.  We laughed about the fact that all the illegals could jump out of a bus, run around the check point, then get back in the bus on the other side.  But, in terms of ruining my day?  Whatever. The Border Patrol guys we encountered were all friendly, though admittedly, I'm pretty US Citizen looking and come to think of it, so is Eva.

And then there is another sort of stop.  So there we were not even 20 miles from Alpine when I saw a State Trooper off in the distance coming towards me.  I checked my speed - cruise control set for about 80 - and hit the brakes.  When we got closer, I actually sped back up to 75, the posted speed limit and then as soon as we passed each other, he hit his brakes and pulled a u-turn.  Whatever.

I immediately pulled over to the shoulder, put on the flashers and pulled out my DL and lowered the windows.   When the trooper approached the passenger side window he asked if I was aware of my speed.  I mumbled something friendly about going between 70 and 75.   He smiled and said he had me clocked at 82.  There is no arguing when you know you are due a ticket and since, truth be told, I always speed, I mean always, this was coming.  When you are happy to accept a ticket just to make up for the fact that you haven't had one that you deserve in years, I guess you come across as friendly.  
And the friendly trooper gave me a warning.  And when he turned to go the other direction, I sped away to Alpine.
We were please to find Alpine a small, clean, friendly college town.  Aside from the fact that most every shop we wanted to visit closed by 5 PM, the place has character.  Who knew Hoss went to Sul Ross? Not me.
After checking into our hotel, the Hampton Inn in Alpine (which we were very pleased with), we got back in the truck and headed down the road to Marfa.  To me, Marfa was the real disappointment of the trip.  In doing some basic Google research on Marfa, it was made out to be this hipster, artsy-fartsy place full of galleries and museums.  Well, perhaps it is all that, but not after 5 in the afternoon.  Granted, with a population of 2,121, there probably isn't any expectation that the sidewalks shouldn't roll-up at 4:59PM, but if you are planning on going to see the Marfa Lights, for instance, don't expect to be entertained by the rest of Marfa while you wait.
Speaking of the lights.  There is an observation area about 5 miles outside of Marfa on the way back to Alpine.  They have restrooms, parking areas, telescopes and information about what to expect.  We didn't see anything, which is always a possibility.

The other thing I wanted to see in Marfa was the big 3D controversial art display showing a Prada store front.  Well, turns out it isn't in Marfa at all, and given our limited time, we weren't feeling the urge to go find it.  For some reason, the Google maps app on my iPhone kept pointing us to an art gallery in Marfa (which was closed).  Maybe another time.

We decided to head north from Marfa up to the town of Ft. Davis.  In hindsight, it might have been better if we had gotten a room for the night there so we could have gone to the McDonald Observatory to see the star show.  Chatting later with some folks who went, it seemed like a great time.  Our issue was, we did not want to be navigating the roads in the middle of the desert late at night, so instead, we decided to eat dinner.
Ft. Davis is just a small little place, but it looks like they have their tourism act together.  We drove up to the base of the mountains to take a few cool pictures.
 We had dinner at the Ft Davis Drug Store that housed a small art gallery and a hotel all in the same building. 
 We decided on sandwiches and some of the best tasting tea either of us have had in a while. 
 Pictures just don't do justice to the wide open views on the drive out in this part of west Texas.  There are rough looking small mountains where you just can't imagine someone trying to farm or raise cattle, then wide open plateaus for as far as the eye can see.  Small towns consisting of one gas station, a closed down saloon and a few beat-up, abandoned shacks made us realize our small town out here is a regular tri-city metropolis complete with an HEB and soon, a WalMart.  And that's about as small as we want to get.

Next - Day 2 and our trip to Terlingua Ghost Town.

1 comment:

MsBelinda said...

First of all I want to congratulate you guys on your anniversary. You chose a great area to spend it in.

Wonder if your DPS trooper was the same one that stopped Suerte?

Would you believe I have never been to Rudy's in Del Rio? Only have read reviews from bloggers like yourself and the opinions go 50/50.

Yep, Judge Roy Bean's place is in the middle of nowhere! I knew Hoss Cartwright went to Sul Ross but only because I went there too, jajajaja otherwise I doubt I would have known :D

Great pictures...looking forward to your next post.