Monday, February 22, 2010

Second Day in Big Bend Area

Mother Nature is about to throw a curve ball at us, which pretty much means my riding plans need some major rearranging. Originally, I planned to spend all day Monday in Big Bend National Park, to include riding Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive then down into Chisos Basin before heading east to Rio Grande Village in hopes of catching the RRR folks around lunch time. After lunch I had hoped to ride over to Boquillas Canyon before heading back north to Marathon. Then on Tuesday I planned to ride up to Ft. Davis, get the national park stamp, and then ride the Davis Mountain loop, head down to Marfa for lunch and continue down to Presidio. But this is not to be. Tuesday's forecast is for rain and probable snow at the higher elevations, which means Davis Mountains.

So last night I did some work massaging my route to catch the high points from both planned riding days on Monday and then leave Tuesday's plans open based on the weather. This meant getting up early Monday morning and heading north to Ft. Davis before turning around and heading south into Big Bend.

I was out the door at 8:00 AM this morning and, after getting the bike uncovered and myself and my Gerbing plugged in, I was on the road by 8:15 AM, heading west to Alpine and then north on 118 toward Ft. Davis. The sky was perfectly clear and, despite the thermometer reading, it didn't feel as cold as it actually was. I was well north of Alpine, riding on that really gorgeous stretch of 118 into Ft. Davis, by 9:00 AM.

Ft. Davis National Park is an excellent representation of U.S. Army life on the frontier. Multiple examples of well-excavated foundations and existing structures are spread around a large drill field at the base of the Davis Mountain range. "Organ Pipe" rock formations set a dramatic backdrop to this fort and, at the right time of day, are quite photogenic. A few photos, a stamp in my National Park passport, and I was back on the road, retracing my route south and east through Alpine and to Marathon. Here I topped off my gas tank before heading south from Marathon into the park. It's about 70 miles to the Panther Junction visitor center in the park. Along the way I enjoyed the road and the Chisos Mountains vista in front of me.

Through the entrance station and then a quick stop at the Persimmon Gap Visitor Center to get a stamp, and I was now within the park boundaries, which meant a 45 mph speed limit. This is hard to obey. The road begs for greater speed as it swoops around rocky outcroppings and cone-shaped formations. A haze hung over the mountains, somewhat diminishing their drama. I searched for but could not find a photogenic opportunity because of this. Anyone who has attempted to take a photo of such vast scenery knows how disappointing and far away everything appears in the resulting snapshot. They never look as good as they are remembered in real life.

At the Panther Junction intersection I turned left to head toward the southeasternmost part of the park. I had not been to this side in many years. Its appearance is considerably different than that of the southwestern section of the park, which includes the most popular Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and its various overlooks and Santa Elena Canyon. So today I would spend my day in Boquillas canyon and in Rio Grande Village. It is my hope to time it so that I see the MTF off-road riders when they arrive at Rio Grande Village for their lunch break.

The road through this section of park is through a low flat plain dotted with prickly pear and Ocotillo. In another month or so, with enough moisture, the usually drab and gray Ocotillo will be in full bloom, waving their 8' long floral arms in the wind. I saw no evidence of buds on the prickly pear, which is surprising. Normally by this time of year the deep red buds are evident, and a few may even be impatient enough to unfurl their bright yellow blooms.

As the road nears Boquillas canyon it becomes more twisty and the terrain more hilly. At one point it ducks into a stone-fronted tunnel carved into a hill. The massive limestone cliffs of Boquillas Canyon formed a wall ahead of me and to my left, looming ever larger the closer I got to the end of the road at Rio Grand Village.

I arrived at around 12:45 PM and was hoping I had not missed the MTF group. I parked the bike and went into the small store at the campground to buy a sandwich, some Powerade, and a small bag of almonds. Sitting outside at one of the covered picnic tables, I listened to the conversations around me: One couple spending 6 months in the U.S. were from Switzerland, another were from Minnesota. As I sat there, a lone rider on a well-used KLR pulled up to the store, dismounted, scratched his head as he looked around, and then ambled inside. I wasn't sure if he was with the MTF group or not but it didn't appear that he was.

I enjoyed the pleasant breeze and bright sunshine as I sat outside but by 1:15 I was growing restless, but I also had the feeling that the MTF group were still coming, that I had not missed them. So I decided to ride the one mile back up the road to the Rio Grande Village visitor center to get the national park stamps and then continue another 100 yards to the turnoff for the Boquillas Canyon Road and head for the overlook. It would take less than 30 minutes to do all of this and, even if I missed the arrival of the other riders, they'd most likely still be there when I returned.

The road to the Boquillas canyon is a fine road, very twisty and hilly, posted speed limits of between 15 and 25 mph and requiring respect for those speeds. A few miles down that road is the turnoff to the right to the Boquillas Canyon overlook. I headed up that little road and at the end parked my bike and grabbed my camera to get some photos looking across the Rio Grande into Mexico and looking back at the canyon wall behind my motorcycle.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a small group of men at a little campsite across the river in Mexico. Their mode of transportation was horseback and the men seemed to be camping, sitting in campchairs in the shade of a few cottonwoods along the banks. A well-worn path could be seen exiting the river bed and climbing the embankment to where I stood. The river was running much higher than it was the last time I was here several years ago. The park ranger at the entrance station told me that the river was about 5-6 feet higher than usual and that a few access points - hot springs, Santa Elena Canyon - were closed due to flooding.

It was time to head back to Rio Grande Village, check on the arrival of the MTF off-road riders. As I approached the village store I could see no motorcycles and was disappointed. I looped through the parking lot and was preparing to exit back onto the main road when I saw 3 bikes, then 4 bikes, then more, heading my way. They'd arrived! Pulling back into the parking lot, I was soon approached by one of the riders, Dan, to say hi. The riders were all quickly off their bikes, one bike was quickly up on a pole stand and the rear wheel was off. Others headed into the store for food and a cold drink. There were a few riders I did not know and we greeted each other with introductions. Many of the others were long-time MTF folks. Every rider was covered with light tan dust head to toe, but everyone had a grin on his face. One rider went down a few miles back and Dan had ridden that person's bike down to the village. He and his wife Beth then rode two-up back up the Old Ore Road to get Dan's bike.

Things were a bit chaotic in the parking lot for a bit until I could sort out what was going on. A good samaritan in a 4-wheel vehicle offered to go back and get the injured rider and bring him out. The rider was not seriously injured, just a suspected broken collar bone. A park ranger EMT tended to the rider and an ambulance was called to transport him up to the hospital in Alpine to be examined.

I needed to get on the road soon, so said my goodbyes to those sitting near me. It would be 90 miles back to Marathon and I also needed to get gas at the gas station near Panther Junction.

As I rode north on 387 back toward Marathon, I could see the dark clouds gathering to the north behind the mountains. The sun to my back lit the faces of the mountains to a glowing pale yellow against the dramatic backdrop. It was a most pleasant view for 70 miles.

Back in Marathon, I changed into jeans and set out to take a look at my dining options for the evening. The several breakfast/lunch places were closed for the day. The Flying Burro is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so the only choices were the Oasis Cafe (looking a little suspect) and the hotel restaurant again. This was no contest. I headed into the White Buffalo bar and sat at the bar next to a local couple and ordered a Blue Moon beer. Chatting with the couple, I learned that they moved here in 1996 from Vermont after a friend told them about how cheaply they could buy a house here. They bought a little adobe house for $5,000 with extra land, put lots of sweat-equity into it, and then sold it for $86,000 a few years later. They now live in a house they build themselves. They were an interesting, if quirky, couple. I promised the wife Diane that I'd walk up to her studio on Tuesday.

At dinner, I was seated at the same table as the night before and once again I struck up conversation with the other two couples seated at the other two tables in our little dining room. One couple was from outside of Chicago, in the Aurora area, the other was from Cleveland OH. We compared notes about the park: Neither of the couples had been into the park yet, planning to go there the next day. One couple would be spending the next few nights in the Chisos Basin Lodge in the park. Once they realized I'd been to the park before, they opened up a bit more, asking for recommendations and suggestions on where to go and what to see in the park.

The menu at this restaurant is simply outstanding and I was hard-pressed to choose, but decided on the "Crispy Skin Chicken." Good choice! It was a small de-boned cornish-hen (with the drumstick bone remaining) that was pounded or flattened, then coated on one side and pan-cooked in a reduction sauce until the coating became very crispy. It was set on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes served with a side of pesto rice.

Tomorrow I'll stay in Marathon for the day, wait out the snow and cold. There's plenty to keep me occupied here. Link to all photos is here:


  1. Thanks for taking us along, Barb


  2. Barb; I sure like the way you write, clear, expressive, and you make even the dull places interesting. Thanks for letting us "ride" along with you.


  3. Hi Barb,
    As always, great writing and pictures. I came through there last May and the memories came flooding back. Thanks.