Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 2 in Big Bend Country

Yesterday was a great day spent exploring Big Bend National Park with two women from MTF, whose husbands were out playing on two wheels in the dirt. Today one of those two women is going to ride on the back of her husband's KTM while the other woman and I are going to rough-road it in her P/U truck to meet the guys at Sauceda, in the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park.

After breakfast this morning at the little cafe at the motel, Becky and I hopped in her husband's pickup truck and started heading toward Big Bend Ranch State Park on FM 170. We needed to get a head start on the dual sport riders, since they can make much better time than we will on the 47+ miles of gravel and dirt to get to Sauceda for lunch.

We stopped at the Warnock visitor center just east of Lajitas to get our park passes then got back onto 170 to drive this fantastic road toward Presidio. This stretch of 170 is called the River Road. It closely follows the bends and twists of the Rio Grande, occasionally gaining significant altitude up the 15% grades to the tops of bluffs that overlook the river at some points. The views at the top of these bluffs is spectacular, with the river and the bluffs on the Mexico side of the river and occasional glimpses deep into Mexican territory.

The Park Ranger at Warnock suggested that we take the first turn-off onto Bofecillos Road toward the state park entrance road. He doesn't recommend this road to car drivers but felt we could handle it in the truck. When the road appeared we turned right to head north and within a mile we were cursing that park ranger big time! The road was very rough, very twisty, and with steep grades. In many places the rocks, gravel and sand were so deep we feared we would lose momentum as we climbed the steep hills and took the 90-degree and greater bends in the road. The roadway was barely one vehicle wide and each time we crested one of the steep, blind hills we feared for what we may come up upon coming the other way.

At one point on this desolate road, we figured out that if anything happened to us, no one would ever find us. Yikes! Soon the very rough roads had shaken our bladders to the point that we took a quick pit stop out there in the wilderness that is Big Bend area.

We were very glad to reach the turn onto the Park Road 20 miles later. This road, while still fairly rough in places, was a piece of cake compared to the last 20 miles on Botecillos Road. We flew along, relatively speaking, and sometimes wondered if we were ahead of or behind the riders. We guessed that we might be in between the two groups, since both groups passed us on 170, one pack of riders passing us soon after we leave the Warnock visitor center, the other pack passing us just before we took the turn onto Botecillos Road.

As we bumped and jostled along on the Park Road we whooped and yeehawed our way over the hills and through the low, dry river beds. It was bronco-bustin' fun when we weren't terrified out of our wits by the loose gravel that caused the rear-end of the truck to slew sideways into near out-of-control skids.

After what seemed like forever, we finally spotted tin roofs glinting in the distance ahead of us. In a few more minutes we reached the little Sauceda compound. We were the first ones there. There were no bikes in the parking area near the little store/gift shop. It wasn't too long, however, before we saw the first bikes approaching on the road, their cloud of dust and distinctive "thumper" engines heralding their arrival long before the bikes came into view. In twos and threes the bikes arrived over the next 15 or 20 minutes.


Lunch was hosted by the park ranger staff in the Bunk House. Sauceda is an old restored ranch, donated to the state years ago. Today, the park hosts bi-annual cattle round-ups, an event when any city slicker can pretend to be a cowboy for a few days. They have a nice bunk house with large open living room with fireplace, and industrial-sized kitchen, and a large eating area with wooden plank tables and benches which promise some good chow and good times.

The food was good: Enchiladas verdes, salad, and ice cream for dessert. We visited a bit, browsed the gift shop then decided we should get on the road ahead of the riders, in case we ran into problems or got a flat tire. One by one, however, the riders caught up with us and passed us. So much for that plan! This time we took the main exit road - Casapiedras Road - back to 170 instead of the rugged Botecillos Road. This was like an interstate road by comparison. Still gravel, but smooth and wide and straight the entire way. We could travel 50 mph on this road without problems.

We made a quick stop at Ft. Leaton just to see it - t's part of Big Bend Ranch State Park - then headed back toward Study Butte. It was close to 5:30 PM by the time we made it back to the campground/motel. A very long day. But fun! Some riders were already returned to the motel, others were not far behind, having chosen to go over to Presidio first.

The three of us walked across the street to a little tiny cafe for dinner that night. It would be my last evening in the Big Bend area. Tomorrow morning I would get up and get on the road after breakfast to drive back home to Houston.

It was a good trip. I never once regretted not being on the bike because of the opportunities having a car provided me.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Big Bend in February....is this becoming a tradition?

Last year's trip to the Big Bend area was great! Can this year's trip top that? I wouldn't know that until I got to Study Butte and hooked up with the MTF folks who would be there for some off-road riding. My decision to go by car was driven by several things: All the times I've been to Big Bend have been on a motorcycle. I've never been there in a car. I'd like to hike some trails but leaving the bike alone and unguarded at a trail head seems risky. Also, there will be two other women there, both wives of off-road riders, and it might be handy to have the car for our own day trips into Big Bend and the area.

I left home at 6:00 AM on Wednesday morning and easily got ahead of the rush hour traffic in Houston. By noontime, I was in Del Rio on US 90, time to stop for gas and Jack in the Box for lunch - my favorite: chicken fajita pita sandwich!

The drive out there was unremarkable, except for all those poor dead skunks in the road! In Alpine, I took 118 south toward Study Butte. Now this is a section of highway - about the only one out here - that I've never been on. How is that even possible? There are so few roads out here. But it's a fact. It's a great road! Lots of twisties just south of Alpine, and a few other sections of interesting sweepers until I got to Study Butte. Too bad I was in a car!

I've stayed at Big Bend Resort before, but in the low buildings across the street from the main property. The rooms over there were a bit spartan so I wasn't sure what to expect at the main property. As it turned out, I was booked into room 49, a wonderful new and spacious unit in a small building at the back edge of the RV park. The unit had a microwave, small fridge, table and chairs and a great little porch in front. I brought two folding lawn chairs and immediately set them up on the porch for some sunset viewing later.

I found John and Becky from Illinois just as I was checking in. Becky would otherwise be spending her days hanging out alone at the motel, so I plan to spend my days hiking and sightseeing with her. We quickly made plans to have dinner at the Starlight Theater in Terlingua ghost town. We ran into Paul and Voni Glaves who had the same great idea we did! they had a small group of friends and visitors with them. It was good to have a chance to say howdy to them.

A simple dinner and some interesting entertainment by a vocal duo and then we headed back to Study Butte and the motel.


Thursday morning and Becky, Agnes (the wife of another off-road rider), and I walked/jogged the mile to breakfast at Kathy's Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe, http://www.kosmickowgirl.com/, a funky and weird assortment of old buses, trailers, and sheds all painted bright pink. A small group was already there, assembled around a nice firepit, which took the morning chill off nicely.

After breakfast, and after I showered and dressed, we got in my car and headed for Big Bend National Park.

We stopped at the Panther Junction Visitor center, got the lay of the land, browsed the gift shop and then headed up to Chisos Basin. I learned the day before that there's a trailhead at the top of the roadway. We found it, parked, and then hiked about a mile up the trail to a fantastic overlook. Everything is so parched and dry! This part of the country is in a severe drought and it really shows. Much of the brush and grass is brown and dry and the Opuntia are shriveled from lack of water.

We made it to the lodge in Chisos Basin right at noon...perfect timing! We had no sooner sat down at a table when one of the off-road riding groups showed up and joined us. It was fun to listen to their excitement as they chattered and poked fun at each other. Afterward, we hung around until the riders were ready to head out for the rest of their day's adventure.

We walked the short paved trail to a scenic overlook called "The Window" which looks out over the Chihuahuan desert into Mexico.

After the riders headed out, we drove out of the basin and headed for the beautiful Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive that would take us to Santa Elena Canyon. Last year this road was closed due to damage from severe flooding of the Rio Grande River. According to the parks visitor center, it is now open again to traffic so I was looking forward to getting down to the river bed. I hadn't been in a few years.

It was a great day and we got back to the motel about the same time as most of the riders. John, Becky and I decided to have dinner at La Kiva Friday night. We got ourselves out of synch with the guys. They did La Kiva Thursday night and were headed for Starlight Theater this night.

Tomorrow Becky and I will drive in her truck to Sauceda in the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park to join the riders for a private lunch, prepared by the park staff just for us.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A friend's new Kawi Concours 14 is Hatched

Did friend Steve sleep any last night? I wonder that, because whenever I have a "big day" coming up I rarely sleep well the night before. Steve's "big day" was today and it entailed taking delivery on his brand new Kawasaki Concours 14.

Friend Mike rode his BMW K1100RS over to my house to meet up and ride out to Katy and Wild West Honda/Kawasaki/BMW for the excitement and photo op. Nothing like a brand new motorcycle to inject new enthusiasm into the personal sport of riding.

It was cold and crisp this morning when I opened the garage door and then backed the BMW R1200R out into the driveway. A few minutes later and Mike and I were riding up 288 to the Beltway, which would take us north to I-10. Less than 40 minutes later we pulled into the parking lot at Wild West and went inside in search of Steve and his new bike.

We found him:

And a whole group of folks, there to see him off on his maiden ride on the new bike:

Paperwork done, photos taken, now what?

Lunch, of course! Steve needed to take it easy during the first 1,000 mile break-in period so this meant not getting onto the interstate if we didn't have to. So he led the way heading west on US-90 to take some curvy roads and finish at Tony's in Sealy for a late lunch.

After lunch, everyone scattered, but Mike and I hung around long enough to get photos of Steve leaving the restaurant:

Was it my imagination or had the wind really picked up while we were inside eating lunch? It felt so much colder, too. Close to home, top of the gas tank, then park the zooty BMW in the garage. Nice short ride: 130 miles, but good to get the girl out for some exercise!