Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

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Big Bend with The Nephew

Posted on June 30, 2015 by Sahar

To begin with, the Big Bend Region of Texas and New York City are two places I’ll use just about any excuse whatsoever to visit. In both places, I’ll think “I want to live here”,  “How can I convince Husband Steve to agree to move here”, and “Damn. The food is great”.  Then, I come home, get off the vacation high, and come to the realization that both of these places are escapes for me; if I lived there, I would look to escape them as well.

Of the two, of course, the escape to Big Bend is much more easily attained. For you first-timers, to go from Austin to Alpine (our first & third nights’ destination) is a roughly 400-mile jaunt via US290 to IH10 to US67 to TX118.  To get to Terlingua/Study Butte (our second night’s stay), an 83-mile drive, just take TX118 south. Well, you can take TX118 as a direct route to Terlingua/Study Butte, but we took the long way through Marathon and drove through, and explored, Big Bend National Park.

Or, as I heard someone say once, “Drive 6 hours west, turn left and drive another hour and a half south”.

By the way, for the uninitiated, Marathon is pronounced “Marath’n” and Study “Stoody”. You don’t want to sound like a rube or anything like that.

 

The reason Husband Steve & I decided on this trip was to have, quite possibly, the last summer with our Older Nephew.  He graduated from high school this year and is starting college in the fall.  Husband & I were trying to decide on a graduation gift and landed on a trip to Big Bend. When we told Nephew, he seemed as pleased as his 17-year-old self would let him get. In fact, he almost smiled.

Nephew has been to the Big Bend region before  – Marfa and Ft. Davis. He’s been to the lights, stayed at El Paisano, and explored the fort. He’s just not been to the park. Well, now, here was his chance. Honestly, I think the promised trip to Mexico sealed the deal.

 

Day 1 – Thursday, June 11.

The trip started off rather inauspiciously.

I asked Nephew when I picked him up at the airport on Wednesday if he remembered his passport so he could go to Mexico. He said he remembered the extra paperwork his mother (my sister) gave him – a letter stating Steve & I were in charge of him and her passport information – but failed to bring his passport. His quote was “Everything I told myself to remember, I forgot” (this included a book of Big Bend trails and a map I loaned him). One unplanned phone call to his no doubt exasperated mom secured an overnight delivery of Nephew’s passport.

The passport arrived before 10am on Thursday. Victory.

However, as things go with Steve & I, even though we planned on being on the road by 10, it didn’t happen until 11. We basically needed the extra time to load the SUV I rented.

The behemoth we rented. It was like driving a bus.

The behemoth we rented. It was like driving a bus.

With a quick stop in Fredericksburg for gas, restrooms, and snacks, we were really, finally, on our way.

Nephew

Nephew. For someone, like his aunt, who loathes having his picture taken, we got quite a few photos. Though not always willingly on his part.

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You tend to forget about those promises you made to yourself when you travel.

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Nice to see the Llano River with water.

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Husband Steve. Who did all of the driving out to Alpine. Whatta guy.

As we drove along IH10, I saw the opening where I could finally feel like I could breathe a little:

Whew.

Whew.

Starting to see mountains

Starting to see mountains

Fluffy clouds with a little sun

Fluffy clouds with a little sun.

 

Rain to the south.

Rain to the south.

Clear to the north

Clear to the north

I think I saw this when we stopped for gas near Ft. Stockton. Nephew really started to get excited - in his own way - at this point.

I think I saw this when we stopped for gas near Ft. Stockton. I’m not sure if this was for the state or national park. No matter; Nephew really started to get excited – in his own way – at this point.

We did run into some rain going into Alpine. It seems as if the rain has taken up permanent residence in Texas this year.

We finally made it to Alpine. It was a joyous time. And not only because we’d been driving for 7 hours.

We stayed for nights one and three at the Antelope Lodge. We’ve stayed at this old motor court before and rather enjoyed its rustic, slightly quirky charm. Plus, it’s cheap.

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The blooming prickly pear at Antelope Lodge.

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The blooms on whatever tree this is smelled heavenly. Remember, I’d been stuck in a car with two men for almost 7 hours. It was most certainly welcome.

Our home for nights #1 & #3: Antelope Lodge, rooms 11 & 12.

Our home for nights #1 & #3: Antelope Lodge, rooms 11 & 12. I was digging the way they had a 2×4 holding up the crossbeam.

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Prickly Pear fruit – meh. Prickly Pear flowers – always beautiful.

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Antelope’s courtyard.

 

Before we left Austin, Steve made reservations at Reata in Alpine for our one “fancy” meal while we were in this part of the country. For whatever strange reason I made up in my head, I’ve avoided eating there whenever we’ve been in Alpine. I have this thing against steak houses, I guess.

Even after this meal, I still have a thing against steakhouses. Just not this steakhouse. Or, rather, a Texas Cowboy Cuisine establishment.

I guess I was skeptical about the food overall. I tend to avoid “buzz” restaurants, and this one still has a bit of a legend buzz around it even after having been open for 20 years. I don’t consider myself overly picky or a “foodie”, but I just always had a mental block.

I suppose ANY restaurant being open for 20 years deserves some buzz. I mean, the restaurant business is a cruel one.

I was happy to be proven wrong. Our food was plentiful – as one would expect – but was also very enjoyable.  The decor was a simple, pared-down, but slightly upscale rustic. (I happened to notice bottles of Silver Creek wine in the alcove above us. I couldn’t quite see what vintage they were; but considering the cheapest bottle is $70 retail, this place is no hole-in-the-wall.) Our server, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, was a young man studying at Sul Ross. He was a wonderful server. Attentive without hovering. That counts for a lot.

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I included the highway marker just to prove I was there.

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Nephew’s & Steve’s choice: Chile Relleno with Crab-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Jalapenos.

I’m guessing it was good, because they both finished their plates. I believe the Chile Relleno one of Reata’s signature dishes.

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My dinner: Chicken Fried Steak.

My dinner was excellent. There wasn’t more breading than meat, the gravy wasn’t pasty, everything was well seasoned, and the green beans weren’t overcooked.

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These Jalapeño-Cheese Grits.  That’s a dinner plate, by the way.

So… When I see grits on a dinner menu, I’m generally compelled to try them. The grits were really good. Plenty of cheese and spice. The one drawback – too salty. If the kitchen backed down a little on the salt, these would’ve been excellent. There was a lot so the guys helped me eat them.

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Part of the studied upscale rustic charm. A saddle in front of a window facing onto a mural of cattle on the range.

Would I go back? Sure. It’s definitely on the list.

Alpine at night.

A little of Alpine at night.

 

We did a quick walk around Alpine just to work off some of dinner. Nephew told us he’d been through Alpine before but ever really got to see the town. Because it was already dark when we left the restaurant, he didn’t see too much, but we did walk up and down Holland and some of the side streets before deciding to call it a night. We wanted to get an early start on Friday.

Day one at the Park. And the trip into Mexico.

 

Day 2 – June 12, Friday

The day started early. 6am. Steve wanted to be on the road to the park by 7. We somehow managed to accomplish this.

While he was getting ready and loading the behemoth again, I went to get Nephew. I opened the door and saw him doing push-ups on the patio. I had to give him credit for already being far more active than I care to be that time of the morning.

And, so, off we went.

 

Good Morning, Alpine.

Good Morning, Alpine.

Steve & I remembered a coffee shop we rather liked the last time we stayed in Marathon.  Since it was only about 30 miles, we decided to hold off on breakfast until then.

Marathon (or Nancy’s) Coffee Shop is right there on US90 in Marathon as you’re on your way to the park.

Again, as I’ve discovered for Big Bend, the food is plentiful, very good, and reasonable. The strong coffee is a plus.

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Good Morning, Marathon.

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Nephew’s Breakfast: Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit. This ain’t McDonald’s.

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Husband’s Breakfast: Migas. His personal favorite.

I forgot to take a picture of my breakfast because I was so focused on getting the guys’ breakfasts before they started eating. I had Pancakes with Bacon. I needed the carb and protein loading.

After a (perhaps too) leisurely breakfast and a discussion of what we were going to do that day, we finally hit the road to the park.

One of these visits I’m going to get a picture of those turkey buzzards sunning themselves.

After about an hour and a half, we finally made it to the second stop of the day, Panther Junction. Since the Persimmon Gap checkpoint was closed, we had to buy our permit there. It’s also a convenient excuse to get out of the car, stretch, and buy stuff.  I like it, too, because it is actually very well landscaped, and the restrooms are reasonably clean.

Panther Junction

Panther Junction

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Panther Junction.

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Panther Junction.

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Panther Junction

After we finished at Panther Junction, we headed back on the main park road towards Boquillas Canyon.

Boquillas Canyon is rated a “moderate” trail. It’s not very long, but it is steep. And, on a hot day for a barely in-shape middle-aged woman like me, it was, shall we say, more on the moderate-to-difficult scale. I definitely had my moments. I used my breathlessness and knees as excuses to constantly stop and take photographs while Steve & Nephew trotted way ahead of me.

Boquillas

Boquillas

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About halfway up the trail and looking into Mexico.

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At the top for breath stop #2 and looking into the canyon.

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Turning around to see the Rio Grande and the US side.

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Steve & Nephew on the trail to the canyon. They grew impatient with me and wandered on. Can’t say I blamed them, really.

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Grinding holes of the indigenous people. Seeds, roots, and likely bone were ground in these holes as an ancient mortar-and-pestle.

Slightly differernt view of Boquillas Canyon.

Slightly different view of Boquillas Canyon. A little more green.

Still slowly going down the trail.

Still slowly going down the trail.

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You have to really work hard to take a bad photo here.

Once one leaves the trail and gets down to the canyon and the River, the shade is such a welcome relief and reward for hiking the trail at mid-morning.

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Steve and Nephew contemplating their next moves.

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Nephew’s next move? Crossing the river. It was a subversive thing for him.

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I was oddly proud.

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In my wanderings while the guys were doing their own thing, I managed to capture this dragonfly. It’s almost like it wanted me to take its picture.

We ended up staying in the canyon, by my estimation, for well over an hour. Nephew, Steve, and I all had our different reasons. Mine? It was out of the sun. If you’ve ever been to Big Bend, or even just in a higher elevation, you know the sun can be brutal. Especially in a west Texas summer.  Any shade is welcome. Plus, it was just so peaceful, even after another family arrived.

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A place like this makes you realize how artificial borders are. US on the left, Mexico on the right, the Rio Grande as the barrier between two countries.

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I wonder how many hundreds, or even thousands, of years it’s taken these silt layers to build up. Just a little more time and pressure, it’d all be shale.

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Looking back at the trail we knew we’d eventually have to climb again.

Here was their reason for staying in the canyon: rock throwing contest.

The menfolk throwing rocks into the river

The menfolk throwing rocks into the river trying to hit pieces of driftwood

This fascinated me. Not sure why.

This fascinated me. Not sure why.

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Looking up

With no small amount of resignation, we decided it was time to go.

With no small amount of resignation, we decided it was time to go.

Now, for the highlight of Friday’s part of the trip – going to Boquillas del Carmen.

I can still remember when there was a time where one could go freely between Texas and Mexico without worrying about needing a passport. Your driver’s license would do fine when you wanted to cross back. I myself did this numerous times – mostly for the super cheap Margaritas, booze, and tchotchkes. Plus, it was fun to go down with a bunch of friends for a road trip.

However, as we are all painfully aware, this all changed after 2001.  Now, to simply cross the river and travel essentially one mile into Mexico, you must to have a passport. The days of cheap anything are gone, too.

Steve & I went across the river about 2 months after the crossing opened in 2013. Then, the recovery had just started and it was still almost ghost-town like. We had heard that there had been some great progress in Boquillas del Carmen since then, so we were anxious to see what had happened.

Now, Nephew’s major in college is going to be Spanish. He’s already pretty fluent so we pressed him into service as our interpreter.  I don’t think he really enjoyed it – especially when we called him out for claiming that he really didn’t know any. We told him it would be a good thing if at least one of us (my Spanish is mediocre at best, Steve’s is pretty much non-existent) could speak to the locals in their native tongue rather than make them try to understand us.

It’s called cultural respect.

Boquillas Crossing

Boquillas Crossing

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Welcoming one and all to Boquillas. Providing you have the right documents.

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Heading to the River.

The Rio Grande. Rio Grande del Norte. Rio Bravo.

The Rio Grande. Rio Grande del Norte.

The river wasn’t as high as it was in 2013. I was fine with that. I remember the last time, the river was so high and fast, I honestly thought we’d capsize.

The method and means of crossing was the same as before. A canoe came over to take us across while Victor the Singing Man serenaded us.

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Our captain. I didn’t get his name. This was his job. Rowing Gringos back and forth across the river all day. Be sure to tip your captain.

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Looking down the river from the canoe.

We told Nephew that there are 4 ways of getting to town – walking, truck, horse, donkey. He said he wanted a horse because he had an image to maintain.

O… K…

Well. Guess what. No horses that day. Just donkeys. Or, in keeping with the spirit of things – burros.  Since it’s hard for me to climb on a horse, I was fine with a burro since that was what I was going to request anyway.

After paying Victor for the river crossing and tipping him for his singing (be sure to bring lots of small bills), Jesus was assigned to us as our guide for our visit. Sweet man.

So, after helping the gringa & gringos up on the burros, we were off.

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The back of my burro’s head. I didn’t get its name. It followed directions well, though.

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Steve.

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Nephew. Looking happy despite having his image blown.

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Steve on his noble steed. Like the horse he rode the last time, it didn’t like following directions.

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The road to Boquillas.

At the hitching post

At the hitching post

Once we got into town, we had to go through the ritual of the Mexican passport office (which was crowded) and then sought out lunch. We decided on Jose Falcon’s. When Steve & I went to Boquillas in 2013, we ate lunch at Boquillas Restaurant.

If I had to compare between the two, I’d’ve chosen to go back to Boquillas Restaurant. This isn’t to say that the food Jose Falcon’s wasn’t good (and, yes; I know the difference between Mexican and Tex-Mex), it just felt very touristy and a little dumbed-down to me. But, with a touristy town, I guess that’s to be expected. They even have a souvenir shop attached. I didn’t patronize it.

So, after settling in and buying a Jesus a Coca (he didn’t want anything to eat), we ordered lunch.

Jose Falcon's.

Jose Falcon’s.

Steve's drink of choice - the Michelada

Steve’s drink of choice – the Michelada

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I was grateful to get this.

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Nephew and his Coca.

The chips & salsa course

The chips & salsa course. I found the salsa a little bland, but the pickled jalapenos and guacamole were outstanding. Steve ate most of the guacamole in about 5 minutes.

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Mine & Steve’s lunch: Red Cheese Enchiladas. They were very good, but nothing unforgettable.

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Nephew’s lunch: Quesadilla. He actually did get more than one on the plate. I was slow with the camera.

After a lazy lunch, Jesus took us on a tour of the town. There were definitely more buildings than the last time. The town has also been electrified since March of this year. It was an international effort that is beginning to take the town out of the past and bring it into the present. Hopefully, there will be more improvements that will make the Boquillas’ residents lives better and not just give tourists another place to exploit.

As we walked around, we noticed electrical wiring, satellite dishes, more construction (including a new primary school), and a generally more optimistic atmosphere. Of course, the tourist-based economy is back in full swing. Steve bought me a small bag with a cut-out burro design from Jesus’ grandfather and I bought a little bead Ocotillo from a little boy who came up to us. The children are, admittedly, almost impossible to resist.

The main street in Boquillas

Boquillas main street. A few more buildings.

The legendary Park Bar. They painted it again. Last time I was here, it was blue.

The legendary Park Bar. They painted it again. Last time I was here, it was blue. Since we had Nephew, we didn’t go in. Next time.

Admittedly, I'm into what is now called "ruin porn". There's generally a dignity in these old buildings. I'm sure that they'll be repaired and repurposed at some point.

Admittedly, I’m into what is now called “ruin porn”. There’s generally a dignity in these old buildings. I’m sure that they’ll be repaired and repurposed at some point. Plus, I like taking pictures of doorways.

This one has at least been repainted.

This one has at least been repainted.

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I know this is a tough existence, but imagine waking up to that view every day. Perhaps I’m being a entitled romantic.

The church has been rebuilt. Something the town is very proud of, and rightly so.

The church has been rebuilt. Something the town is very proud of, and rightly so.

Steve left some money in the collection box.

Steve left some money in the collection box.

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I’m not very religious, but I believe sacred spaces are just that, sacred.

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I can’t really describe this, except that I love it. Another abandoned building that will either be repurposed or recycled.

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More homes. I didn’t get any photos, but some of the homes had bright blue satellite dishes. Creeping technology.

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The solar panels Boquillas is so rightly proud of. My first thought was, why can’t the US do this on a larger scale?

After taking care of our exit paperwork back at the passport office, it was time for us to cross back to America.

We’ll be back and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Boquillas.

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So, yeah. Steve snuck this one of me & Nephew. So, now I can really prove I was there. I also had one hell of a sunburn at this point.

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On the way back to the river.

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Nephew basically asking “why are you taking my picture? Again.” Me: “I’m trying to make memories, Dude.”

Steve with Jesus back at the corral.

Steve with Jesus back at the corral.

We landed back in Big Bend, went through passport control (a strange experience in and of itself), and decided to head to the Basin.

I think this is a Century Plant. I've never seen one quite so high.

Harvard Agave. I’ve never seen one quite so high. At least not one that was alive.

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There’s that 50% chance of rain we read about.

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West Texas version of Jack’s Beanstalk.

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One of the things I love the most about Big Bend. The emptiness and occasional isolation. The beauty is a plus, too.

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Heading to the Basin

Because we were gluttons for punishment that day, we thought we’d try the Basin Loop Trail. It’s less than 2 miles round trip and not too difficult. At least, it wouldn’t be if you hadn’t had all your strength sapped by the afternoon sun.

Starting the Basin Trail

Starting the Basin Loop Trail

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Casa Grande

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Looking into the Basin.

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Once again, the men left me to my own devices.

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I like to get a bit of sun rays or even a slight glare in the photographs. Makes things more dramatic.

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Scenery like this makes me forget the tired, the bugs, and the sunburn.

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It was so green. For Big Bend.

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The Window. The first time I came to the park, a ranger told me this was one of the most popular spots. Every time I see it, it still strikes me with a certain amount of awe.

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Indulge me. I was playing with a camera app on my phone and filtered the photograph.

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Ditto.

It was about this time that we all three decided to turn back. We could hear thunder, the sun was beginning to get low, and we were being eaten alive by bugs. At least I was. Steve & Nephew seemed immune to them. Plus, we were really tired, filthy, and hungry.

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Plants growing out of seemingly solid rock always amaze me. It’s the simple things, ya know?

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Casa Grande and the incoming rain.

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Nolina.

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Ward Mountain.

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it seemed like there were literal forests of Sotol all over the park this time.

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Goldeneyes.

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Sotol at the Window.

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Looking towards Casa Grande through a seeming forest of Sotol.

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With the wide-angle lens.

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I think this is Toll Mountain.

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One last photograph of the Basin.

I could swear as we walked past one patch of rocks and underbrush, I distinctly heard a rattle. I may have been mistaken as to the source of the rattle, but I thought it best to move on. As I got further away, it stopped. If it was a rattlesnake, it did its job well.

For night #2, we decided to stay in Terlingua/Study Butte. The logic was this – after driving for 7 hours, we didn’t want to go any further than Alpine the first night. For the second night, we didn’t want to drive back to Alpine after spending all day at the southern end of the park.

So, Chisos Mining Company Motel it was.

After unpacking, resting a little, and scraping off the day, we headed to the Terlingua Trading Company for a little shopping (t-shirts, always t-shirts) and to the Starlight Theater for dinner.

When we got to the theater for dinner, we were told it would be an unknown amount of time before they had a table ready for us. So, while Steve & Nephew waited, I wandered.

Every time I see the Ghost Town there’s a little less of it, it seems. Weather, age, and, no doubt, human intervention keep the town in constant flux. Perhaps if I had on proper footwear and wasn’t so afraid of critters or cactus as it was getting slowly darker, I would’ve delved deeper into the brush and found more evidence of the dwellings. As it was, I stayed on the outskirts for the most part.

I don't know if the rusted machinery or impliments were simply left after the mine closed or have been artfully placed by the locals, but they are interesting artifacts to Terlingua's past.

I don’t know if the rusted machinery or implements were simply left after the mine closed or have been artfully placed by the locals, but they are interesting artifacts to Terlingua’s past.

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Poking around the Ghost Town.

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Ocotillo and a what I think is a cultivator.

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Ghost Town. Looks like what would’ve been one of the larger homes.

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Looking down into the brush I didn’t dare wander into in sandals.

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I have to honestly say, I’ve never seen the Big Bend region so green.

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Another doorway picture.

I ran out of the brush positive I saw a tarantula. (Although, now, I think it was just a figment of my imagination.)

I spied Steve and Nephew still waiting for the table, so I took a few more photos of the rusted equipment.

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I’m guessing this is a grader of some sort.

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Gears.

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Thos Ocotillo just looked like a huge spider coming out of this mass of Candelilla.

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Candelilla.

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A Ford V8 that’s been sitting outside the theater for as long as I can remember.

I decided I’d better join the men. Just as I looked up, Steve was waving for me to come in. Perfect timing.

I like the Starlight Theater. It has a nice atmosphere, cold beer, and good food. Nothing spectacular, just solid, good food. Perfect after a day of tromping around the park. Sometimes, of you’re lucky, there will even be a show going on.

A slightly more artsy view of the Starlight Theater's facade.

A slightly more artsy view of the Starlight Theater’s facade.

Nephew, even though he’s a growing 17-year-old, put Steve and me to shame with his restraint when it came to eating. During the entire trip, he ate (mostly) reasonably and knew when to stop. Me and Steve? Let’s just say we like to eat. The two of us are just barely in shape (we do gym it), middle-aged, and sometimes let our appetites get the better of us. My own rationalization of the eating thing is that I’m a professional and I really need to do all the research I can. Steve goes along for support.

Very gentlemanly of him.

My Dinner: Chicken Fried Wild Boar with beer-based gravy.

My Dinner: Chicken Fried Wild Boar with beer-based gravy.

I’ve had this dish before. It’s very good. Not too much breading in comparison to the meat, excellent mashed potatoes, and the vegetables weren’t overcooked.  If memory serves, the last time I had this, it was closer to a cream gravy on top. This time, the gravy was a beer base using a beer from Big Bend Brewery. I’m not sure which one it was and I forgot to ask. But, it was just a little too much. I don’t know if this is the recipe or the cook got a little too liberal with the beer, but it was almost too strong a taste. And I like beer. I ate all of my meal because I was really hungry, but I had to mitigate the beer flavor with the potatoes and bread a lot more than I would’ve liked.

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Nephew’s very reasonable dinner choice: Turkey Club.

I managed to catch this before Nephew drowned his fried in ketchup. He asked for no mayonnaise, so I think he was brought a dry sandwich. It may have had some mustard, but I don’t remember. He said, except for the dryness, it was very good.

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Steve’s dinner: Filet Mignon with salad (not pictured)

Personally, I have no use for Filet Mignon. There’s a reason it’s usually wrapped in bacon. Because it doesn’t have any flavor. It’s expensive because there’s only 2 tenderloins on any given animal. But, Steve was happy, so who am I to judge. He said it was cooked just the way he liked it and he ate everything on the plate.

Just as we were tucking into dinner, the entertainment started. We literally had a front row seat.  The singer was someone who works in the kitchen at the theater who I guess they let sing for a little extra cash. He was pretty good at improvising and came up with a verse talking about Nephew’s awesome hat and the fact that he was a gentleman and took it off when he was inside.  Steve tipped him. The singer, I mean.

The rest of the trip, Nephew referred to his hat as “My Awesome Hat”.

Our entertinament for the evening.

Our entertainment for the evening.

After dinner, I asked Steve to stop at the Cemetery so we could take a look. I like to poke around cemeteries (just for historical curiosity, mind you) and Nephew had never been there, so we stopped.

There’s just something about being in a cemetery at night that helps take on a different feel and significance.

This particular cemetery is a little more haunting to me than most because of the sheer number of unknowns and young ones that are buried here. Some of the newer graves, though, helped to mitigate the feeling, though. They simply looked like some real parties going on.

Terlingua Sunset over the Cemetery

Terlingua Sunset over the Cemetery

One of the unknowns

One of the unknowns. At least to most.

One of the younger ones.

One of the younger ones. At least we know her name.

Par-Tay!

Par-Tay!

Some solid construction and loving tributes here.

Some solid construction and loving tributes here.

More graves of no doubt the mine workers.

More graves of no doubt the mine workers.

Silhouettes

Silhouettes

Leaving some coins in the alcove.

Leaving some coins in the alcove.

Once it became too dark to see well, we headed back to the hotel.

Nephew was a couple of buildings away from us. I wasn’t too happy about that. After some eye-rolling as I lectured him about locking up, etc., we dropped him off and said good night. And be ready to go at 7am.

Them to our room.

For what it is, The Chisos Mining Co. Hotel is pretty good. The rooms are pretty bare-bone, but if all you’re using them for is sleeping and showering, they’ll do.

Just to let you know.

Just to let you know.

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Our accommodations

After we unpacked, Steve & I sat on the porch for a while and just talked, watched the lightning in the park, and looked up at the stars. A good way to end the day.

And, off to sleep.

 

Day 3 – Saturday, June 13

Another early morning. Steve wanted to get an earlier start than we had on Friday. At least we didn’t have as far to go to get to the park. While he packed up, I went to fetch Nephew. There he was, doing his push-ups. I was barely awake and suddenly felt old.

We saw a place the night before called Big Bend Resort & Adventures Cafe and so decided to go there for breakfast.

It was certainly what I expected. Nothing fancy, just basic breakfast. Not that I’m complaining. It was really good.

Again, Nephew put Steve & me to shame with his restraint.

Nephew's breakfast: the humble Breakfast Sandwich.

Nephew’s breakfast: the humble Breakfast Sandwich.

Nephew opted for the simple. And, he finished in 3 minutes.

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My breakfast: Biscuits & Gravy.

I honestly had no idea it would be so much. It was delicious, though. The gravy was just the right consistency, not at all greasy or pasty, and had just the right amount of salt. I should’ve asked for crispier hash browns, though. I did end up giving Nephew some of my bacon.

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Steve’s Breakfast: The Basic Breakfast

Compared to me, Steve had a child’s plate. He was happy. He even had some of my breakfast.

After looking over the map and showing Nephew where we were going, we headed back to the park. Our goal: Santa Elena Canyon.

Steve and I have tried twice before to go. Both times, flash floods stopped us. After the storms we saw the night before, we wondered if we’d miss out again. We listened to the in-park radio feed and didn’t hear anything about the canyon being closed, so we forged ahead.

But not before making Steve stop so I could take more photographs. I’m lucky he’s a patient man. Usually.

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Ocotillo at sunrise

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The green dot is a reflection of the sun off the lens.

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I think this is Rattlesnake Mountain

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I really don’t want to see what crawls out of this.

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Good Morning, Big Bend.

After turning onto Old Maverick Road to Santa Elena Canyon, we had another 30 miles of dodging road runners, rabbits, and jack rabbits as they headed back into the grass and brush.

When we arrived, it was already crowded (for Big Bend). In fact, the only times I’ve seen so many people in the park in one place was either at Panther Junction or the Basin.

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Facing Mexico at Santa Elena Canyon.

Paw prints in the sand.

Paw prints in the sand.

As walked towards the canyon, a gentleman told me that if I wanted to go into the canyon, I’d have to get my feet wet. I knew I’d have to, I just didn’t know how much.

My first glimpse of the canyon.

My first glimpse of the canyon.

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In the water. Steve is just ahead, Nephew is nowhere to be seen.

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I always find it amazing to think about how many millions of years it took the water to cut this canyon out.

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Just before stepping onto dry land.

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Indulgence filtering.

On shore.

On shore.

Now, for the climb. At least part of it has stairs.

The climb begins

The climb begins

After staying with me through the first set of photos, Steve decided to try to catch up to Nephew and leave me to my pokey self.

Climbing...

Climbing…

Turning back and realizing I've gone further than I thought.

Turning back and realizing I haven’t gone as far as I thought.

Yup.

Yup.

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Over the hump.

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I caught up with the men. Nephew was once again throwing rocks into the river.

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They scootched on ahead to an outcropping and found a better rock-throwing vantage point. No. There wasn’t anyone in the river.

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Looking at Mexico.

Looking back into the park

Looking back into the park

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There he is.

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Fossils. Reminding us that this whole area used to be under water.

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Candelilla on the trail.

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Ocotillo in the canyon.

Steve and I came across a group who looked familiar. It turned out it was the same family who shared Boquillas Canyon with us the day before. We had a lovely chat. We asked if they had gone to Boquillas, but they said no one had brought their passports so that was out. We told them what to expect when they do get a chance to go. I can’t recall what else they were doing on the trip. Lovely people.

We eventually made it to the end of the trail. It basically ends at the edge of the river as you head back down into the canyon.

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Nephew resting in the shade at the end of the trail.

There were several other people resting at the end of the trail.  We all heard echoes coming from further down the canyon. We were wondering how they got down there and came to the conclusion they either walked down the river hugging the cliff face or rowed down in canoes or kayaks.

Me being me, I decided to take a dip into the water and see how far I could go. Not very without it getting very slippery and the mud trying to suck the boots off my feet. I got back on shore just long enough to grab my camera and very carefully wade back in.

Steve dipped a toe in but elected to stay on shore. I think he was waiting to see if I’d fall in. Nephew waded into the water with me briefly.

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At the end of the trail.

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The American cliff face.

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Looking at Mexico.

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Looking back down the canyon.

Nephew started back almost as soon as we stepped back on shore and completely ignoring me when I told him to stay where I could see him. Steve stayed with me while I reorganized and we walked back together.

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Starting back.

As we walked and chatted, Steve & I decided this was our favorite trail so far. Third time was really the charm.

In the meantime, we lost Nephew. We called for him; no answer. I kept thinking that if anything happened to him that my sister would kill me. Steve calmly told me that he was fine, there was only one trail so he couldn’t get lost; basically, there was only one way for him to go. Instinctively, I knew he was right. Emotionally, I was concerned. I mean, if he’d fallen off the cliff, we definitely would’ve heard something.

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Heading back. This is also about the time I realized we lost Nephew.

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Lovely view. Still looking for Nephew.

We came across two men coming the opposite direction. We asked if they’d seen a teenager in a lime green shirt. They said yes; they’d passed him on the trail. I was relived but still aggravated. At least I knew he hadn’t fallen into the river off the cliff. Aggravated that he was so far ahead.

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So, we get to what is essentially the highest point on the trail and look down. We see Nephew crossing the river.

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Again, this brings to mind the artificiality of borders.

We finally get to the beginning of the trail again and dip back into the water and join Nephew on his next Mexico excursion. I will say here that walking around in the water felt really great.

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Nephew in Mexico. Again.

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In the middle of the river

Nephew wanted me to help him with an experiment. He pulled out the plastic cover for his Awesome Hat and put it on. Then, he wanted me to walk up a little ways on the mini-rapids, place the hat, brim up, in the water and see of the cover would do its job. I did; it flipped over. The experiment was partially successful. The covered part of Awesome Hat stayed dry; when it flipped over, it, of course, got wet.

I was just glad he caught the damn thing. He would’ve been upset if he lost Awesome Hat.

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Where the experiment was performed.

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Husband Steve. Fearless Explorer.

We finished at Santa Elena. I was glad we did because a large party of bros were about to paddle down the canyon.

Steve & I had toyed with the idea of taking Nephew to Burro Mesa. However, by the time we were done at Santa Elena combined with Friday, we were whipped and Steve was feeling a little overheated. We decided to just slowly make our way out of the park, stop occasionally to take photographs, and head back to Alpine for our final night.

Since I was the one doing the driving, I got to stop the behemoth any time I wanted.

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I had to get my Ocotillo fix.

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I’m not sure why, but I love Ocotillo. Especially when they’ve bloomed out. We were a little late for the blooms, sadly.

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Spiny Fruited Prickly Pear.

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Strawberry Pitaya

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Trap Mountain

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Looking over the desert

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Mule Ear Peaks via telephoto lens

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Mule Ear Peaks via standard lens.

Driving down Ross Maxwell Scenic Road, we came across Sam Nail Ranch. We’d never seen it before, so we stopped. It was a short, flat, easy trail with a lot more to see than any of us anticipated.

I’ve never seen so much prickly pear in one place. Ever.

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This is just inside the entrance to the trail.

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Sam Nail owned this ranch from 1909-1946. Since then, it’s been taken back over by nature. In a really huge way.

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I wish I’d seen this when it was in bloom.

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Walking the trail.

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The Chisos in the distance.

One of these days, a really good wind is going to blow this over.

One of these days, a really good wind is going to blow this over.

I was honestly fascinated at the type of person who would try to ranch in a place known for frequent droughts, isolation, and rough terrain. One would have to be a tough, hearty soul.

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Walking down the trail towards the back of the ranch, it suddenly became almost forest-like. I don’t know if some of these trees are native to Big Bend, but they seem to have done well.

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I read somewhere this windmill still pumps water. I didn’t check.

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More quite possibly non-native trees mixed in with the Mesquite.

I'm not sure if this was the old ranch house or a barn. Looking at the foundation, such as it was, it was very small.

I’m not sure if this was the old ranch house or a barn. Looking at the foundation, such as it was, it was very small.

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Final look around the ranch as we went on our way.

And, after this final stop, I starting driving back to Alpine.

Goodbye, Big Bend. Until next time.

Goodbye, Big Bend. Until next time.

Going back up the road to Marathon, as anyone who’s driven 385 knows, there’s a Boarder Patrol Inspection Station about 30 miles in. I know he was joking, but Nephew said we should just speed on through, flash our high beams, or just act suspiciously so we can see what happens.

I had two thoughts on this: 1. None of those suggestions were going to fly; 2. Pretty interesting talk from someone who wants to go into law enforcement.

After the inspection, we discussed lunch options. Nephew said he wasn’t hungry, but Steve & I wanted something. Nothing big, just something. Since, seemingly, the only restaurant in town that was open was at the Gage (and we weren’t going there), we stopped at the French Grocer.

The French Grocer. A good, solid general store.

The French Grocer. A good, solid general store.

Steve & I weren’t that hungry. We were in the mood for more of a snack and drinks. We split a Turkey & Cheese Sandwich (made on premises) and chips. Nephew, for someone claiming he wasn’t hungry, ate about half the bag of chips himself.

They were very generous with the iceberg.

They were very generous with the iceberg.

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There always seem to be birds nesting in the eaves.

We again came through some rain on our way back to Alpine. Very heavy rain. As I was driving through it, I thought, wow, I’ve always wanted to see a storm in Big Bend; I’m an idiot.

We checked back into the Antelope Lodge for our final night in the same rooms we had on night one. We had just managed to unpack the behemoth and get into our rooms before the rain followed us into Alpine. This time, hail was included. Plus, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees within 15 minutes.

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Here it comes

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Hail. At this point, Steve made me close the door.

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I stepped out anyway and took another look.

While we were waiting for things to clear up, Steve heard from our friend Stewart Ramser. Stewart is the tourism director for Alpine as well as publisher of Texas Music magazine, among other things. He was in town getting ready for the Big Bend Music Festival in July and who knows what else. Stewart’s a busy man.

We had planned to meet Stewart at the Alpine Cowboys baseball game Saturday night, but the rain cancelled those plans. So, it was decided we would have dinner at one of Stewart’s favorite places in town – La Casita. A locals joint.

We were all disappointed about the game, but dinner sounded promising.

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La Casita

We met Stewart at the restaurant. He had posters in hand that he wanted to post on the wall. After ordering dinner, he tried with scotch tape. They all stayed up for about 5 minutes. I think he finally managed to hang the posters after borrowing some pins from the restaurant management.

Dinner was excellent, by the way. As it usually is when you find a place off the beaten path.  In my experience, locals places are, as a rule, better than anything where tourists generally congregate.

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Nephew’s Dinner: Beef Enchiladas

The beef enchiladas had ground beef. I don’t know why I was surprised. It’s certainly less expensive and easy to prepare. I’m also guessing Nephew enjoyed it; he finished his plate.

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Stewart and I ordered the same thing: Chicken Enchiladas with double rice

I really liked these. The chicken was well seasoned and the verde sauce was different from anything else I’d had before.  It was almost creamy as opposed to salsa-like. It was also a milder flavor than I’m used to; not so tart or spicy.

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Steve’s dinner: Deluxe Campechanas

Steve was all set to order the beef enchiladas until he saw this dish float by. The guacamole intrigued him. To me, it looked basically like a huge plate of glorified nachos.  I tried a couple of bites; it was very good. But, it was one of those meals you eat where it never seems like you make any sort of headway. He didn’t finish it. But he did give it the old college try.

After parting company with Stewart (it was great to see him), it was still relatively early. Since the ball game was out, the three of us took a drive to Marfa.

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Looking down the main street at the Presidio County courthouse. The belfry would’ve been a cool place to go if the courthouse had been open.

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The Chinati Foundation grounds. I like the landscaping, but minimalist art simply bores me.

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Steve wanted a photo of this. Pointless. Simply pointless.

We wandered around the center of town for a while and wondering what the hell happened to the radio station, book store and the covered space by the railroad tracks. Eventually, we made it down to Planet Marfa to listen to some music and have a beer (or, a Coke in Nephew’s case).

Planet Marfa is a nice, tree-lined partially open-air space where you can just hang out and listen to some music. They have a fairly neat teepee set up with a sitting area sunk down into the floor (you have to take some stairs to go down). They have an “upstairs” up one of the trees and tables to sit around. They also have a fairly limited bar food menu.

At Planet Marfa

At Planet Marfa.  We left not long after they put the lamps on the table. The petroleum smell gave me a headache.

Marfa Sunset

Marfa Sunset

Steve, Nephew, and I chatted for a while about our plans for Sunday and just hung out. After the rain came through, it cooled everything down and cleared the air, so it was a very pleasant night.  We didn’t stay out late, though. We were all tired and knew we had a long day ahead of travel back to Austin.

So, back to Alpine and bed.

 

Day 4 – June 14, Sunday

 

None of us were in any hurry to get up and moving. But, we finally managed to conjure ourselves up, shower, and pack the behemoth. Then, I knocked on Nephew’s door. No answer. Again. No answer. After the third knock, I heard a snarky “I heard you the first time.” I answered with an equally snarky “Then you need to say something”.  Turned out he was up several hours before and fell back to sleep. So, I was apparently waking him up again.

We headed to Magoo’s Place for Breakfast. Steve & I ate there last year with my parents when they met us in Alpine. Honestly, I thought the restaurant had been open for decades. It’s been open 9 years. It’s certainly popular with locals and, I’m sure, tourists alike.

The Huevos Rancheros are some of the best I’ve ever had. Beans, excellent; eggs, cooked perfectly. Ranchero Sauce, just the right amount of spice. One drawback – they never seem to give you enough tortillas.

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Steve & Nephew’s Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros with scrambled eggs

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My breakfast: Huevos Rancheros with sunny-side up eggs. And, yes. I know what this looks like.

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Magoos!

After leaving Alpine, we drove the long way home via Del Rio. We had a crazy idea that we’d cross into Cuidad Acuña for a couple of hours.

But first, a quick stop in Langtry to get out of the car and go see the Judge Roy Bean Visitors Center.  Steve & I had been here before, but we wanted to take Nephew; Roy Bean being a “lawman” and all.

For a place so remote, the visitors center is really nice.  The buildings have been lovingly restored and maintained and the story of Roy Bean, while no doubt sanitized for your protection, has been preserved via electronic diorama.  There is also an amazing cactus garden, if you are so inclined to visit. I had seen enough cactus, so I opted out this trip.

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Sunflowers outside Sanderson

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The original Jersey Lilly Saloon.

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It certainly doesn’t look like saloons in the movies.

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Indulgence filtering. Making it look old-timey.

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The old billiard room.

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One of the table legs.

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The Jersey Lilly. Bean would hold trials of the front porch.

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Looking through Judge Bean’s House.

A long view of the Langtry Opera House. Roy Bean's home.

A long view of the Langtry Opera House. Roy Bean’s home.

After we finished at the visitors center, we decided to take Nephew to the over look above the Pecos River. Steve & I stumbled on to it last year and were floored by the sheer size.

Nephew seemed impressed.

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The river is 900 miles long and has been described as being up to 100 feet wide in some places. Crossing was a dicey prospect at best. This bridge wasn’t completed until the 1950’s.

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Nephew taking it all in.

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Looking over the Trans-Pecos.

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The river wasn’t as high as I’d thought it would be. We could definitely see vegetation.

After saving a couple of centipedes from the asphalt and the possibility of being run over by the behemoth, we drove to Del Rio. Our plan was to cross into Cuidad Acuña, walk around, have lunch, shop, cross back, and drive home.

Now, I remember when there was a place to park on the American side and walk across the bridge into Acuña, just like in Laredo. However, that is no longer an option. If you don’t want to take your car, you have to park at a taxi service and they will take you across. Otherwise, you’ll have to take your car over. Since we had a rental, we couldn’t take it over even if we wanted to; we didn’t. Steve didn’t want to use a taxi service, either. So, the trip to Acuña was off.

At least there was a convenient sign stating “Final Turnaround. This is your last chance before you are in Mexico.” Or, something like that.

So, we turned around. Steve stopped at a gas station and, while he was filling up, I scouted Yelp for restaurants. We ended up at El Patio Mexican Buffet.

I haven’t been to a buffet restaurant in years. It was fun. The food was average, but it was fun.  I honestly can’t remember what Steve or I ate. Nephew, on the other hand, made himself a huge taco-burrito hybrid with beans, meat, rice, queso, and a lot of sour cream.

Nephew contemplating his buffet options.

Nephew contemplating his buffet options.

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There was definitely variety

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I liked the fact they had Menudo on the buffet line. I didn’t try any.

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Salsa and Queso Bar.

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I really should’ve eaten a salad.

As I was paying, I asked the lady behind the counter about the mystery pedestrian bridge to Acuña. She told me what I already knew, there was no longer a pedestrian bridge. I was hoping she’d give me a different answer.

So, the three of us decided it was simply time to drive back to Austin. After driving through more rain, San Antonio, and the clogged arteries of the Austin freeway system, we made it home around 6:30pm. My sister was waiting for us when we arrived. She was taking Nephew to his college orientation early the next morning, so she decided to come the night before.

 

It was a great trip. I’ll miss those summers with Nephew.

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Luckily, we have Younger Nephew for 3 more years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 to “Big Bend with The Nephew”

  1. Danyah says:

    This is the best blog post you have written. Hands down.
    Love love love this.
    Thank you for taking my bear cub on this journey.

    Older Nephew’s Mama Bear.

  2. Mirabel says:

    Found your blog after listening to the most recent “Sporkful” episode where you talked about fasting for Ramadan. I enjoyed hearing bits and pieces of your childhood: German mother, Palestinian father. I am American married to a Persian, who immigrated to the US 4 years ago. He does not practice Islam, but I have become more and more fascinated by how much it influences cultures of the East, and of course how it certainly shapes him. (Persian food also quickly became my favorite!!) I’m looking forward to having children who will grow up with such a rich heritage behind them, and I will be happy to support them embrace their father’s culture as you did.

    On to your post…I really enjoyed reading this! I have longed to travel around these parts of Texas/Mexico, and after reading your post I feel like I did. Seriously. I love how this reads as a photo-journal, and I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. Traveling through your lens is both eye candy and informative!

    • Sahar says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Mirabel. I’m getting ready to write a new post on our most recent trip, so I hope you enjoy it just as much when it’s finally posted. Perhaps you’ll be able to travel to Iran sometime in the future and experience your husband’s home country. I enjoy visting my relatives from Dad’s side in Jordan; it gives me a chance to continually learn. Plus, the scenery in Jordan is gorgeous.



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