I found a little bayou cut down the way from the Dow Chemical refinery. Ample vegetation offers cover from the 20mph winds, the cold front having dragged the mercury to 37F.
"They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday is just as bad"
Went down to the Gulf in the town of Freeport, picked up some groceries then cruised over to the Bryan Beach, a public access beach beyond the oil refineries. The wind blew heavy through the night casting sand over my sleeping bag and onto my gear. Not willing to bother, I pulled my hat low over my eyes and fell fast asleep. By morning it would be 20F cooler and sprinkling through the day. I've got some cool and wet days to kill and know just where the local library is.
I met some fabulous people in Marble Falls and Austin on my travels. Once more, I find myself in the company of such hospitality and friendliness that one cannot help but return in the future. The sound of the road sings me like a siren from the east. I cross 200 MI of Texas passing through the campus of Texas A&M and into green fields of hay, wheat and cattle. Pine forests begin to appear and I set up camp in the Sam Houston NF for a few days of hiking and enjoying the mild 70 degree days.
I hiked over 6 miles yesterday along both OHV trails and hiking only trails. The smells and feeling of a pine forest brought back so many fond memories of the east and the south, so familiar. I'm now scooting along into a cold front bringing a 30 degree swing in Temps and some rain. A common trend these past few weeks in TX.
Back at Tom's Ranch it after a frigid ride in to Marble Falls, the temperatures rose as the afternoon sun burned away the clouds. Tom worked t he saw cutting many Juniper, or as locals call them, "cedar" bows. The burn pile was roaring and my duty to put out runaway embers in the tall grass.
The opportunity to help on a Habitat for Humanity project in town presented itself. The home dedication was Sunday so the work needed to be completed quickly. I cannot say enough about the wonderful and colorful team of volunteers in Marble Falls. Following the hard work at 4:00, we retired to The Double Horn for a hard earned beer.
Tom invited me back to Marble Falls for some work around the Ranchito and some fence building on the Habitat for Humanity house in town. Looking forward to giving back and lending a helping hand to some great people. The weather is only getting warmer after tomorrow so that too is a plus! Spoiled by the warmth of the last week.
As a fan of all regional foodways, my uncle suggested we take a drive south to Lockhart, TX for a meal from the historic Kreuz Market. Established in 1900, the unique Texas landmark uses post oak to smoke their meats. Their slogan: "No Barbecue Sauce, No Forks, No Kidding" points to the pride they have for the flavor of the smoke. The interior is a vast barn-like space with a huge line leading to the door. We waited for about 20 minutes to order and another 20 minutes to get drinks. IT WAS WELL WORTH IT! The brisket and sausages were served wrapped in paper alongside a choice of either crackers or white bread.
Following Hwy 1431 along the Balcones Canyonlands NWR, I worked my way toward the Austin metro area. The pace of traffic quickened and flagstone entrances to familiar suburb communities of McMansions lined the roads. Soon I was following I-35 south toward the city limits to meet up with a friend for a brew and finally my family that lives south of town. I spent the long weekend in town taking the opportunity to explore the sights by car in a broad tour of the area. My family spared no expense and effort in showing me around and treating me to the delicious foods and lifestyle Austin has to offer.
Austin is home to a series of giant light towers built back in the late 1800's known as the Moonlight Towers. I had heard about this oddity through the 99% Invisible Podcast ( http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/under-the-moonlight/ ) and was intrigued. Sure enough, a happened across one on my way out of town today. It was a neat site and an interesting listen if you take the time.
From podcast: The height of the Moonlight Towers was a means of accomodating the lighting technology at the time: carbon arc light, a precursor to the incandescent bulb. Arc lights are essentially a continued spark between two carbon electrodes. They are extremely bright and produce a lot of glare—the sort of thing you use in a searchlight. Arc lights at street level would be blinding, so municipalities put the lights up high in order to spread the glare out. Still, even on their high tower, arc lights were tremendously bright. Their light would be harsh by modern standards, but they were an especially stark contrast to gas lamps. A gas lamp has the power of about 15 candles. An arc light has the power of a couple thousand.
Nearing the city of Austin, I made camp along the Colorado River just outside the town of Marble Falls. The temperature was warm with a slight breeze as I stood along the banks in a T-Shirt surveying the low water level. The free county park campground was just what I needed after a long day's ride. A nice quick bath in the cool water left me drying in the last fading rays of sunshine overlooking ducks and doves on the water's edge. I heard the strumming of a guitar in the distance and went to investigate. Around the corner was a local guy sitting on a 5 gallon bucket enjoying a beverage as the sun sank into the river. He introduced himself as Tom and offered to let me pluck a few notes on his Martin Backacker guitar. I obliged and soon had a cold local Blonde (ale) in my hands and the opportunity to share some stories. "I don't know what you are doing tomorrow but you are welcome to come up to my 'Ranchito' a few miles from here." I told him I'd stop by tomorrow and we exchanged information. The night was quiet and stars bright.
I rolled up to Tom's "Ranchito" and was welcomed with open arms. I offered to get some work done around the garden so we shored up and levels out some planter boxes and laid down weed barrier cloth in preparation for the upcoming planting season. Soon healthy tomatoes, peppers and greens would be sprouting from these 2'x2' squares. It was a pleasant day in the sunshine and great company to swap stories and hear about the local history.
Following dinner, Tom suggested we make a visit to the local watering hole, The Double Horn, for $3 Thursdays. I was all about meeting his local gang down at the bar and trying some of the local brews. Their stout was rich and delicious with a nice hoppy note. The quality of folks I met down there and the true characters that represent this town in Texas continue to inform my opinions of how great this state really is.
After a few weeks of living in the desert environment and only a few sporadic opportunities to be near forests, the little Ruckus rolled north and east toward the Texas Hill Country. I was impressed by rolling hills which gave way to small forests of oak and cedar. Vast ranches with creative and artistic entry gates lined the roadsides, their fences holding back cattle, goats and sheep from the roadway. The stubbier oak trees gave way to sprawling live oaks with massive trunks and branches of evergreen leaf shading the grass. It was a pleasant surprise to return to the land of forests and trees, knowing there are many more ahead of me continuing east. The shifts and changes in environment are one of my favorite parts of traveling.
The famous "Three Sisters Road" loop turned out to be just down the Hwy 41 so I made a point to ride over to Neuces Canyon for a change of scenery. The winding road crawled up the steep canyon walls along the blue waters of the Neuces River. The wind blew strong from the North but I didn't care, I was back in the land of twisties after so long! Eventually I made my way up to the town of Junction, TX on I-10 and made camp at the city park. The local grocery store had sausages and fresh bread which I cooked on a grill fed by pecan wood. The din of trucks continued through the night but at least I was under a tree again and could hear the faint sounds of the flowing river nearby.
The following day I took a variety of empty back roads to the German settled town of Fredericksburg, TX. A sign greeted me with "Wilkommen zum Fredericksburg" and I was surprised to see "Road" replaced by "Strasse" on some signs. 100+ year old buildings of tight limestone and characteristically German architecture reminded me of the small towns off Hwy 11 in the Shenandoah Valley. Following the advice of a fellow rider I met at the visitor center, I stopped in at the German Bakery in hopes of finding Laugebrochen. They didn't have any but their selection of strudels and treats looked delicious. I picked one up and continued through the green pastures and rolling hills of the Pedernales River Valley. I felt very much as if I was back in Shenandoah or out in the fields of the Rhine River. An occasional cactus reminded me that I was in fact, still in Texas.
Heading toward Del Rio, the dammed up Rio Grande creates a deep blue reservoir surrounded by a Chihuahuan desert landscape. The name "Amistad" means friendship as the reservoir internationally borders the US and Mexican sides of the river. Spur 406, the old Hwy90 leads a few miles to the water's edge where the yellow centerline disappears into the algae blooms. Ducks swim among the reeds and submerged vegetation once thriving in the desert. My GPS shows me in the lake but due to the drought, the water level has fallen over 20 feet, evidenced by fishing line wrapped around a bush on top of the hill.
Departing Big Bend NP, I chased a coyote down the barbed wire fence line at 35mph before he ducked into a small familiar hole in the fence. Those suckers can move! Heading north on 385 up to the small town of Marathon, I fueled up and headed east on US90. That familiar addictive joy of being on the road again filled my soul and brought a wide smile to my face. A small pack(?) of Javellina scurried away from the shoulder as my little bike approached. A brisk 20mph tailwind gusted from the NNW generally offering a comfortable boost in power and efficiency. My next fuel stop in Sanderson saw 112mpg on the last tank of gas! I'll take it :)
The small whistle-stop town of Langtry, TX sat off the main highway overlooking the banks of the Rio Grande. At a closed gas station/grocery store, I turned down the beaten and chipped old road headed for the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center. A modern Texas State visitor center with maps, bathrooms and small exhibits guards the old buildings out back. Judge Bean was a humorous and curious figure in western lore, executing his own style of frontier justice from his bar/courthouse, "The Jersey Lilly" Wiki Article
I enjoyed the break from the sunshine and a chance for water in Langtry. A group of Harley riders struck up a conversation before I departed, soon after passing me on US90 in a roar of chrome and exhaust notes. The old roadway was visible to my left and right, hugging the terrain closer than this modern road designed for large trucks and speeds of 75 mph. Small rock walls and boulders mark the old shoulders of that once often traversed road. Continuing east, freight trains over a mile long pass me by in a swirl of dust, colorful graffiti and black petroleum cars. To it's side, a small notch cut in the mountain reflects the old narrow gauge that once carried materials, livestock and passengers to the growing "WEST". Today all that remains are memories and scars in the landscape.
The Amistad Reservoir offers a free spot to camp for the night off Spur 406. I continue down the narrow highway realizing that this once was the old US90 before the Rio Grande was dammed. I ride until the yellow line disappears into the blue waters and stop to write in my journal. Ducks paddle by and frogs croak in this manmade oasis in the desert.
Two nights were arranged at the Pine Canyon Campsite #4 which sits at 4200' in the Chisos Mountains under the shadow of Lost Mine Peak. Two miles of an uphill hike lead to the trailhead to the Pine Canyon Trail, a 2 mi climb of 1000ft elevation up to an intermittent waterfall and pine forest. I spend an afternoon reading and relaxing around camp, happy I bought another jug of water for the three day stay. A hike up the road to the trailhead takes about 45 minutes and climbs 800 feet or more in 2 miles. A great way to end the day. I am treated to the primal scene of two bucks sparring with a clash of antlers at the base of the mountain during sunset. The continuing clash and movement disappears easily, figures camoflaged against the desert landscape. The morning sunshine casts the mountains in colors of red and pink beyond my tent. Preparing a cup of Big Bend Roasters "Texas Wild Fire Blend", I prepare for the day, exercise, then begin the morning hike.
The forest environment was taxing on my senses! I felt so overwhelmed with the familiar musk of wet soil, the sound of cool water sluicing down a slick rock. Oak leaves cracked beneath my feet and birds squaked through the canopy of madrone and pinyon pine overhead. The last few months spent in the arid climates of California, Mexico and the desert southwest have taken their toll on me more than I could tell. The appreciation of trees and the density of a forest make me feel at home, as if the surroundings mountains are giving me a big hug. I look forward to the prospect of more trees and vegetated areas greeting me as I soon travel east across Texas. I gave myself a haircut with a 99 cent pair of pink handled child safety scissors in the reflection of my scooter mirror. Not too shabby! One last evening spent in the park on the north end before heading toward Marathon then Hwy90 east. Where I travel from here remains unknown, just how I like it.
The weather was a bit cooler and overcast for a couple days resulting in unusually foggy mornings and wet ground. It would take nearly a week of sunshine to dry everything out after the few days of rain. I camped up on Grapevine Hills Rd andenjoyed one of the most spectacular sunsets of the trip. It began as a yellow orb below the cloud cover and illuminated the clouds in various colors through the strata up to the dark blue above.
Near the Boquillas Canyon at the south end of the park exists one of the smallest border crossing in the US. The Boquillas crossing reopened in 2013 and allowed tourism dollars and visitors to the park to experince the flavor of a small Mexican puebla in the Chihuahuan desert. LINK The town exists almost solely on tourism and has a somewhat staged feel about it after visiting real towns within the Mexican Baja Peninsula. Once across the river, one can rent a burro or horse for $8, or hitch a ride in a pickup for $5 to the 1/2mi uphill to the customs post. I chose to walk and enjoy the windblown sand and view of Sierra Del Carmen to the east.
Once in town I got the free tourist visa and stamp on my passport then headed out to photograph the small village. The community is built of an assortment of adobe or cinderblock dwellings, most in quite poor shape but lovingly attended. One small church stands in brightly painted yellow against the blue sky. I go inside to explore the lime green painted interior. The wind blows fiercely causing the wooden ceiling panels to sway inside overhead. Groans and creaks of the old building echo through the small church as if the building was alive, some would say it is. The worn pews and humble interior reflect a sacred but used space of a poor desert people.
Embracing the park, I explored around for nearly two weeks visiting many campsites and taking in all the diverse and massive park had to offer. Maybe not all...but certainly some. Down on the Rio Grande near the south-eastern portion of the park exists a number of hot water seeps into the river. These geothermal springs range from natural horizontal slits in the mud to established concrete pools with structure. The most popular is just 6mi or so from Rio Grande Village. Once an established resort on the river, today the remnants of an office/store and rooms of a motel are all that remain. The view of the river and surrounding hills still unchanged.
Following the cliffside along a 1/4mi trail brings me to a concrete tub filled with sand and algae and a soothing warm heat radiating. A tub full of Austin firemen who just finished a Canyoneering expedition in the Santa Elena Canyon country. A lone traveler I met briefly at the ranger station swims across to the far bank and back, an action punishable by hefty fine. "It ain't illegal if you don't get caught!"
Mexcians cross the river illegally to sell walking sticks and metal artwork along many of the trails near Boquillas. The same items are for sale in the park too for about twice the price. The cross-border activity is overlooked by the CBP unless incidents of stealing from campers or crime occurs, in which case they confiscate the items and monitor the border closely.
I would later find what I like to call the "hidden hot springs" near my camp for the following couple of evenings. The weather guessers had threatened rain and cool northern winds but the days remained mostly sunny and shower-free. I had finally found the old man-made hot spring kept up by locals who frequent the park. What a joy it was relaxing in solitude on the early mornings as the sun rose above canyon cliffs above me.
The least visited National Park in the country sits down along 118mi of the Rio Grande river and covers nearly one million acres of Chihuahuan desert. An arid landscape revealing a diversity of microclimates and vegetation meets me as I wind my way around the park. Following Ara's advice, I navigate down the gravel Old Maverick Rd past Luna's Jacal. The small structure is built into the boulder on the north side of a mesa by the banks of a dry creek. Old Luna raised nearly 50 kids and lived in this small ocotillo and ponderosa pine roofed abode.
In the distance, a narrow gouge cuts deep into the mountain where the powerful waters of the Rio Grande have carved a notch through solid rock. Santa Elena Canyon offers a steep hiking trail into the cool shade of the soaring walls to mesas above. Carrizo cane grows down along the river banks and prickly pear cactus up higher.
From here I explored over to Castalon, an old US outpost for monitoring the border and any unrest around the turn of the century. Old equipment rusting in the sunshine contrasts nicely against the bright blue desert sky. The backcountry camping permit is secured and I make my way over to Buenos Aires overlooking the dense vegetation of the Rio Grande.
The following day the little bike climbed over 2000' to Sotol Vista, a promontory overlooking the western side of the park. Despite the constant uphill struggle, the small machine chugged along at 12mph or so up the grade to a lunch break and time to cool.
I've been backcountry camping in Big Bend NP for the last week. I took a break yesterday to visit with Ara and Spirit at The Oasis. A wonderful visit. Riding back into the park for another week or so of camping in the warm winter desert.
Pics to come down the line.
In May 2014 I quit my job to ride a Honda Ruckus over 59'000 mi and counting. Wild camping most nights and cooking most of my own meals, I keep the costs low and the landscape changing.