We woke up to bad news this morning; Val has a sore throat so it looks like she’s getting my cold. Hopefully it’ll be a light cold and she will get over it quickly. I still have a bit of a cough, but pretty much feel back to normal.
We had a lot we wanted to do today so we went to the bakery, split a cinnamon roll and orange juice, and headed back to the park. The first thing we wanted to do was drive up into the Chisos Mountains where the lodge was. It was a short drive off the main road, but we went from an altitude of around 2000 feet to 5400 feet and although it was still arid, there were a lot more trees and everything seemed a greener. The end of the road is called the Windows Area because a gap in the mountains offers a window looking out on the vast desert area.
|We make our way up into the Chisos Mountains|
|This is the lodge and camping area. The gap in the mountains on the right is known as The Window and when you get to the lodge you can see the through "the window" and get a view of the valley spread out below.|
After spending a little time at the top we drove back to the main road and drove to Rio Grande Village, which is at the far eastern side of the park. We were considering whether to take a twenty mile off road trip to an abandoned mercury mine and after getting encouragement from a ranger we talked to we decided to do it.
The route we are taking is part of what is called the River Road, which follows the course of the Rio Grande, but you never actually get very close to the river. The River Road is just over 50 miles long and ends in the western part of the park where we were yesterday. Since it is an unimproved road it takes five or six hours to do the whole drive and we just didn’t have the time so we were doing the first 20 miles to the Mariscal Mine historical site. The Mariscal was a quicksilver (mercury) mining operation that was last used in the 1940's.
The road was very narrow and pretty rough in places, but it didn’t require 4-wheel drive although it is advisable to have a high clearance vehicle. The drive was very interesting and the land we traveled through was much more interesting than the area adjacent to the main roads. There were many dry wash crossings and we wondered what that area would be like during heavy rains.
We arrived at the mine and the temperature was up to 90 degrees so it was pretty warm. The mine itself was located up on the mountain side, but on the flat land you could see many abandoned buildings that housed the workers when it was operating. Although you could see the mine buildings from the parking area, you had to hike up the hill to get them and I decided to take the hike, but Val just didn’t feel up to it today so she opted to stay near the car.
The walk was a little steep, but it was very interesting with all of the old buildings still standing although in a state of disrepair. Another climb led to a point above the mines which gave a near 360 degree view of the surrounding desert. I can't imagine working in this desolate, isolated spot in the middle of summer, but like the ranchers that settled here, the miners found a place where they could support themselves and their families.
Despite the heat, it was a very interesting hike and well worth it to me. I felt bad leaving Val sitting there for a so long, but she drove around and explored some of the old buildings down on the flat while I was gone.
|There were a number of old buildings scattered around on the flats below the mine which housed the miners.|
|There were quite a few openings down into the mine, but they had all been gated closed.|
|You can see just how dry and desolate this area is.|
By the time I got back to the car, it was mid-afternoon and we had one more thing we wanted to do today so it was time for us to head back. Where we were headed was out of the park so we said good-bye to Big Bend and headed west. Val had seen a three part TV show on the National Geographic Channel called "Badlands, Texas" which was about a town called Terlingua, which is actually located between the park entrance and Tajitas where we are staying. The show was about a murder that occurred in the town, but also talked about its quirky residents. Checkout this short video and this one to get a feel for Terlingua. She never dreamed we would actually be near the town so we couldn’t leave the area without paying it a visit.
Terlingua was a mining town, which was all but abandoned when the mines shut down and was called a ghost town, but at some point people that really wanted to get away from it all started moving there and it came back to life. The town looks pretty down and out with pretty much all sorts of residences ranging from teepees to trailers to whatever thrown together; there are very few what might be called normal homes in the area. We were told the place to visit was the Terlingua Trading Company and the Starlight Theatre located next door, which is actually a restaurant and bar.
We arrived around 4:00 PM and there were quite a few cars parked with many people sitting out on the long porch, drinking beer and listening to a group of musicians playing mostly bluegrass music. We looked around the trading post for a while and then joined the crowd relaxing on porch while we waited for the Starlight Theater to open at 5:00. Everyone was very friendly and we talked for quite a while with some couples from the San Antonio area. They said they like to get out here once a year before it gets too hot. The doors finally opened at the restaurant and it quickly filled. We had a great dinner and enjoyed both the food and atmosphere. When we left the restaurant, there were people everywhere and the parking lot was full. Several more musicians had joined the group on the porch and everyone seemed to be having a good time and enjoying the beautiful warm evening. We would definitely come back to Terlingua again if we are in the area, it was great fun and very interesting.
|The town of Terlingua|
|There was a crowd on the veranda listening to the musicians tell stories and play music. When we came out after dinner the parking lot was full and there were a lot of people. Friday night in Terlingua.|
|Val got a new pair of boots. ;-)|
From Terlingua it was a short drive to Tajitas and our hotel room. Val was worn down although she did really well today considering she had a sore throat all day and wasn’t feeling at her best. Tomorrow we continue our trip west and will be heading to Las Cruces, New Mexico where we’ll stay tomorrow night.