Monday: January 24th

We left the sprawling Phoenix area mid-morning on Sunday the 23rd. This was now the official turning point of our trip. From here on out we would be heading east and homeward.

After looking over the map we decided on Van Horn, Texas as our over night. The 522 mile drive would take us back through Tucson and on though eastern Arizona, southern New Mexico and back thought El Paso which had been a traffic jam east bound when we came though on January 13th. From there it was down to Van Horn which would allow us an easy drive down to Big Bend. This 522 mile drive would cost us 80 bucks in gas. I am sure when we get home and see the total cost of the fuel for this trip we will shocked. I am estimating it will be $800-$900. Ouch...

We arrived in Van Horn around dusk and settled into our room at the Motel 6 which cost us $40 for two beds, fridge, micro, coffee maker and WiFi. All pretty much standard for most hotels these days.
The next morning we hit the road around 7:30. The temp in Van Horn was 18 degrees with clear skies.

We drove southeast on US 90 and about 100 miles later we arrived in Alpine where we then picked up Rt 118 south to the Study Butte/Terlingua area, another 80 miles.

In 2005, during my first visit to Big Bend National Park I had stayed in the Chisos Mining Motel in Terlingua. I remembered the place as being very uninviting and my room being dark and depressing with zero charm or amenities. And, to make matters worse, it was way overpriced.
But, like the far flung town of Ajo AZ, Terlinqua has few accommodations and since they are "close to the action" they command prices they would never get anywhere else.

Also in Study Butte/Terlingua are the Longhorn Ranch Motel ($100/nite) and the El Dorado Hotel. Betsy checked out all three and was able to get a price of $75.00 a night at the El Dorado. Now, you would think for that price you would get what are considered standard amenities at even the cheapest hotels. Wrong.
The room had no fridge, microwave or coffee maker. There was a 12" TV with no remote.
There was only one tiny window measuring about 18x30". This, along with an interior "finish" of painted particle board and furring strips gave the room a dark, depressing and claustrophobic feeling.
But, wait - that's not all!! The heating unit chugged like a freight train and the 20 gallon hot water tank was operated with and on/off switch. And, like the good old Marine Hotel in Ajo, the El Dorado had no plug for the bathroom sink.
It did have WiFi, but barely. The signal was so weak I could just manage to get my email downloaded.
Locally, these accommodations are called "rustic". I call them crappy and overpriced.

After getting our stuff into the room we drove over to the park entrance near Chisos Basin to have a look around.

Click on the photos below for a larger image.

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This is the bandit station, also known as the fee station for the park. No one was on duty so we drove on though.

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Reminiscent of Organ Pipe, the mountains seemed endless as we drove over and through the pass.

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When we located the trailhead to "The Window" we met a couple from Wisconsin who kindly took our picture. We swapped travel stories and chatted with them for a half hour or so and really enjoyed meeting them.

Chisos Basin from NPS map

Above is a cut out from the NPS Map. The two trails we hiked are highlighted. Take a look at this amazing Google terrain map. It is large - (1.5meg).

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The Window Trail has lots of good scenery and interesting plants.

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Here, Betsy looks back up towards the basin and the stunning Casa Grande Peak.

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I ain't no geologist but as I understand it much of the park's formations are a result of volcanic activity.

...The oldest volcanic rocks in Big Bend owe their origins to this eruptive cycle. Between roughly 38 and 32 million years ago Big Bend itself hosted a series of volcanic eruptions. Initial activity in this cycle centered in the Sierra Quemada, below the present South Rim of the Chisos Mountains. Subsequent volcanic activity at Pine Canyon, Burro Mesa, near Castolon and elsewhere in the park is responsible for the brightly colored volcanic ash and lava layers of the lower elevations and for most of the mass of the Chisos Mountains.

Volcanic activity was not continuous during these eruptive cycles. Periods of hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of years passed between eruptions. During the quiet interludes the forces of erosion carved new landscapes, many of which were destined to be buried under layers of ash and lava from later eruptions. Life returned to the land only to be displaced by future eruptions. Elsewhere in the Big Bend rising magma sometimes failed to reach the surface. Instead, it spread within existing layers of rock, uplifting and fracturing overlying strata. Once the magma cooled and crystallized it formed solid masses of erosion-resistant intrusive igneous rock which have now been exposed by erosion of the overlying material. Maverick Mountain, the Grapevine Hills, Nugent Mountain and Pulliam Ridge are among many examples in Big Bend of such “frozen” magma chambers. Source: NPS

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As we walked along side the stream bed we saw many fine Century Plants (Agave americana).

The misnamed century plant typically lives only 10 to 30 years. It has a spreading rosette (about 4 m/13 ft wide) of gray-green leaves up to 2 m (6.6 ft) long, each with a spiny margin and a heavy spike at the tip that can pierce to the bone. When it flowers, the spike with an cyme of big yellow flowers may reach up to 8 m (26 ft) in height. Its common name likely derives from its semelparous nature of flowering only once at the end of its long life. The plant dies after flowering, but produces suckers or adventitious shoots from the base, which continue its growth. Source: WikiPedia

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Negotiating the narrow and twisted stream bed trail is made much easier by a series of steps which were carved from, and built into the smooth, marble like rock.

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Step right up!

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The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were responsible for many of the trails in Big Bend National Park. The CCC left many fine examples of stonework behind and I have little double this was one of their many projects.

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Like many places in the Southwest, the geology is a bit mind bending.

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Our first glimpse of "The Window". Here you can look out into the Chihuahua desert to the northwest from an elevation of over 3000' above the desert floor.

The trail down to the Window pouroff (a pouroff is a usually dry desert waterfall) eventually follows Oak Creek. When water is present, the creek flows through the narrow passage in the rock at the top of the pouroff and falls 200 feet. Creeks both erode and deposit sediment, and in the following picture you see some of the alluvium (water-deposited sediment) that had previously been deposited in this drainage, now exposed by current erosion. The rounded clasts (the geologists' general word for silt, sand, gravel, etc.) in this outcrop indicate it was worked over by running water for an extended period before deposition. Big Bend was wetter during the last glacial period, according to several lines of evidence. From "Narrow Escape: The Window" © Francis Redfern

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As this photo shows, the canyon was getting pretty dark by now. We enjoyed the scenery for a bit and then it was back up the trail and eventually out in to the open sun again.

By now it was definitely "beer/food:30". So, at the recommendation of one of the rangers we decided on "The Star Light Theater Bar and Resteraunt" for some brews and grub.

Once upon a time, during the mining heyday of Terlinqua three was quite the bustling town. Now Terlinqua is a reinvented ghost town.

The Starlight Theater is the tourists’ and the locals’ hangout, a restaurant and bar where disparate members of society rub elbows. Progress has not changed many buildings, however. The local radio station KYOT 100.1 FM has taken over the abandoned local hotel. The old church also now hosts Yoga lessons. A now defunct restaurant is the crisis center for the town, and it doubles as a social gathering destination for many about once a month, with homemade food and music and much conversation. The old school has been replaced by a new modern one a few miles away. With no more children and laughter, the original building stands year after year, braving the elements. From: Terlingua, A Texas Ghost Town By Ara Gureghian

Terlinqua has quite a history. Like many boom and bust mining towns it used to quite the exciting place in the middle of nowhere.

The discovery of cinnabar, from which the metal mercury is extracted, in the mid-1880s brought miners to the area, creating a city of 2,000 people.

According to the historian Kenneth Baxter Ragsdale, "Facts concerning the discovery of cinnabar in the Terlingua area are so shrouded in legend and fabrication that it is impossible to cite the date and location of the first quicksilver recovery." The cinnabar was apparently known to Native Americans, who prized its brilliant red color for body pigment. Various Mexican and American prospectors reportedly found cinnabar at Terlingua in the 1880s, but the remoteness and hostile Indians deterred mining.

A man named Jack Dawson reportedly produced the first mercury from Terlingua in 1888, but the district got off to a slow start. It was not until the mid-1890s that the Terlingua finds began to be publicized in newspapers and mining industry magazines. By 1900, there were four mining companies operating at Terlingua. Source: WikiPedia

When we got to the Starlight the large dirt parking area was full to overflowing and there were people up on the porch drinking and yakking. We entered the funky old building and found it full and bustling. Pretty good for a Monday night. We got seated quickly, finally got our beers and then ordered the "2 for 1 burgers" the ranger had mentioned to Betsy. I am glad they were "2 for 1" since the very average burgers would have been 10 bucks each otherwise.

While there we amused ourselves by making fun of the absolutely monotonous droning of a guy playing a guitar and singing for the dinner crowd. I don't know how he managed it but he made every song sound absolutely the same. Dreadful. But, better that I could do.

Then it was back to our cave like motel room and to bed.


Next installment: Day 2 in Big Bend - Hiking the Lost Mine Trail.
'Till then... Adios!
~ Mike and Betsy