The light on the landscape and the visual scale of the landscape have both been photographically challenging here in the Chihuahuan Desert down near the Rio Grande.
The morning temps and age have conspired to keep me away from the early morning light and age and laziness have conspired to keep me away from the evening light; other than those times, the light is pretty harsh and the skies are the brightest blue.
I have figured out the scale perspective for me at least. This area is three parts: one part (way dry and almost dead) desert, one part (rough and rugged earth toned) mountains and one part (greenish) river corridor. The key has been to include all three. That was done best on the River Road, Texas FM 170 (FM standing for Farm to Market) along the Mexican – US border on the southern edge of Big Bend Ranch SP in Texas. The views here are from off of ‘the Big Hill’ looking south and west into Mexico across the Rio Grande.
Within Big Bend National Park they were talking of the current drought in these terms: Over the past 18 months they have registered 4 inches of precipitation. Normal for that period of time is 20 inches of precipitation. Apparently it is worse outside of the park. The meager amount of water that we witnessed in the Rio Grande apparently comes out of the mountains in Chihuahua Mexico via the Rio Conchos. North of that major tributary the water in the Rio Grande seems to be consumed by agricultural uses and development.
The Rio Grande is disappearing as a river system.
BJ’s RV in Terlingua where we stayed is on town water. The water is pumped up out of a subterranean reservoir through thick stainless steel piping at a temperature over 110 degrees. Then it must be cooled, settled, reverse osmosed, desalinated and purified then delivered (30,000 gallons pumped per day on average) at so much ($$) per gallon.” The Study Butte Water Supply Corp. (SBWSC), is providing drinking water to 103 customers through 21 miles of pipelines, serving a population of about 700 people.”
Driving down here from Alpine, heck since we’ve been in the State of Texas, we have been a little overwhelmed by the Border Patrol presence. Green and white trucks appearing out of nowhere following for a time then roaring around and disappearing over the horizon. I am sure immigration is an issue but I just have not seen it locally. The locals chalk the Border Patrol presence and the immigration issue frenzy up to 9/11. Prior to 9/11 there was a much freer and easier access across the river border, going both ways. 9/11 did change all. I also overhear lots of ‘over breakfast’ commentary on local police forces having more federal dollars than they know what to do with. Apparently the militarized riot police presence we have seen of late is a result of those dollars. Not sure I need my local police department to be an armed militia on par with the armed forces or national guard.
Wildlife, with the exception of a few birds and the apparently desert hardy Road Runner, goes to ground during the day in the desert even in the winter months. Other than a couple of notable and enjoyable Road Runner sightings and a good looking camp-fed coyote skulking around camp in the headlights one evening we have seen no wildlife here in the desert. I need to go sit in an arroyo somewhere after the sun goes down and just listen.
Deep West Texas, a rugged place: desert, mountain and river.
A day of driving and short hikes into Big Bend National Park on the Castolon Road resulted in our first roadrunner sighting and much marvelous mountain and desert scenery. The visual scale here is so very different from the east coast mountains. The mountains here are younger relatively and the geology feels like it is still happening: Hearing rocks fall off the face of a butte and clatter down the detritus pile. Our first time in the southwest desert and would like to return when there has been some moisture in the system. Very brown, very dry: the rare pocket of oasis green where a spring or water source supports life.
The end of the day found us in Terlingus’s Ghost Town Cafe and Saloon listening to an old time music circle: very friendly people, very inclusive, all ages all stripes.
A spaghetti and fresh green salad dinner was served up for all: very nice!
Lots of musicians in Terlingua: pupil and teacher, protege and master, aficionados and hangers-on, fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin players.
The locals gracing the Ghost Town Cafe and Bar with their music were Mark Lewis, organizer of the Monday night gatherings, Jeff Brady, Sunny, Taylor, and Tim Callahan, with Austin from Florida wishing he had his fiddle along.
Taylor, the 12 year-old held his own, with the ol’ boys calling out the next tune whenever asked.
Jeff Brady played a classic 1926 vintage banjo ( wish I had written down the name).
He also brandished a custom built cherry red amplified acoustic guitar.
This man, and rightly so, was proud of his musical instruments!
There was a story with each.
The cold weather and snow storms have chased us south till we can go no further staying on this side of the Rio Grande and the border. And still the cold nights have found us: 21 degrees last night. Arrived at BJ’s RV mid-afternoon Thursday the 22nd to a woman who recognizes my voice, 75 degree temps and beautiful skies. Since then we have been hunkered down waiting for the cold and damp air and overcast skies to go elsewhere. Firday night ‘went to pizza’ as Nel would say at the Long Draw Pizza establishment on RT 170 W, the River Road, out beyond the Terlingua Mines historical marker and overlook. Good pizza and cold beer; don’t kid yourself, get the large pizza to start. Everyone else seemed to have gone to ground because of the weather. Less than a dozen folks eating pizza that Friday night.
Ventured out looking for a warm breakfast meal of some substance Christmas eve morning. It is amazing how quick the tin and fiberglass tent on wheels we call an RV gets to the ambient temperature. Great to have a furnace/heater on board. Although after the CO beeper went off in the middle of the night back at the beginning of our journey and I have been a little weirded out by the on board furnace since. Back to breakfast; ended up at the Terlingua Ghost Town Cafe (which apparently just changed hands) with an interesting mix of local musicians and river boys, RVers and motel mavins. Found a great breakfast plate of home fries, eggs and a porkchop!
Good and tasty, tasty and good!
Drove around some in the mid-day overcast, enough to realize we needed to stay around until the weather broke to appreciate the grandeur and scale of the remote desert, the river corridor and the rugged mountains that make up the Big Bend of west Texas.
Enjoyed my brief chats with Jason, the Starlight’s general manager and jack-of-all and new friends from the far north of Minnesota.
Everyone that was at the Ghost Town Cafe for breakfast was at the Starlight as well: a community of sojourners all.
Enjoyed Hogan and Moss’ music and I believe I captured some of their stage presence.
It is a challenge to critique and edit one’s own work, mercilessly; challenging but rewarding, and an ongoing learning process.
As it is this Christmas Day in Terlingua, Texas, hard up against the desert, the Rio Grande River and the Chisos Mountains, the sun has triumphed over the high overcast and the temps are climbing back above the freezing mark.
Alpine, Texas deserves more than a posting upon leaving town and grab shots on the way out of town. Nice place; I could probably live there except for the summer temperatures. The overnight temps during our pre-Solstice visit to Alpine conspired to keep me in during the early AM, missing the nice morning light.
Oh well … getting old or getting lazy. Maybe both.
We stayed at the BC Ranch RV Park on RT 118 N going out of town towards Fort Davis.
We would both go back again. Some folks never leave.
Nice people all the way around. Good facilities. What you see is what you get: No frills, but who needs the frills. Affordable pricing.
Leaving town a local rancher said hello and then wise-cracked about the tow car asking, “Where did you get my golf cart?” He did not hang around to take the measure of my sense of humor.
The Texas Fusion restaurant was recommend by one of the ladies at BC Ranch RV and she was spot on: excellent food at affordable prices with a friendly and informative wait staff. We would go back to Texas Fusion as well.
Alpine seems to be the ranch / college town while Marfa, the ranch / bohemian town. Both deserve time and exploration.
In a perfect world it might be the Pete Almodova Gallego State University.
Drove through Marfa, TX a couple of evenings back on our way to Alpine, TX. Saw enough that justified my interest from some prior reading that we went back yesterday afternoon. Interesting ranch town and art colony combined. James Dean’s last film Giant was filmed in Marfa. Lots of contrasts: old-timey western street fronts in pastels, reclaimed buildings all over town bearing the same adobe-type wall around them, entire city blocks walled in and given over to a single individual’s family dwelling, gated, padlocked and walled off art in this west Texas town where you could probably leave your house unlocked and your keys in your car.
Great photo ops: Late afternoon light grab shots ~ Marfa, TX
Pizza at the Pizza Foundation was great. Ran into some expat New Englanders, Red Sox Nation , making pizza in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert in the shell of an old gas station. The gal taking orders was able to reference her summer camp experience in Freedom, New Hampshire. From her depiction my guess is the Leuthi-Peterson Camps. Fun to talk New England and eat good pizza. When we got around to it we were too late to get into the Chinati Foundation but I would go back with a full day’s time and reservations for the tour. Interesting installation even in the dark. Talking with the pizza gal from RI we realized that the art focus in out of the way Marfa is due to one man, one Donald Judd, and after his passing, the Judd Foundation.
Too fully grasp all that is Marfa, Texas one would need more than the late afternoon and evening that we were able to devote to this bohemian West Texas town.
After our meal and a Chinati installation search drive south of Marfa in the fading light we went searching for the Marfa Lights. We were out well beyond town but still within Marfa at the Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Area on Route 90 heading east towards Alpine, TX after sunset. There must be something to this Marfa Lights phenomenon to attract this much attention and the investment in a nice roadside facility. We were both skeptical to start especially when the only other people at the viewing area jumped and proclaimed belief at every light on the horizon. Cold night once the sun went down, so we returned to the car. Some constant fixed lights on the horizon as well as some flashing fixed lights on the horizon became points of reference after sitting in the dark and watching for a couple of hours. Two incidents had us leaving wondering what we had seen: a herky-jerky point of light, almost like a star fallen to earth danced around randomly moving from right to left generally, towards the viewing station seemingly way closer than the horizon line, closer than mid-range as well. It moved beyond the viewing station and left our line of sight. Shortly it reappeared on our side of the viewing station back in our line of sight moving left to right and away from us. Then … poof … it was gone. A further visual occurrence while we were present; this a roundish orb of white light leaving a slight trail. Almost looked like a visual slinky nearer the horizon further off than the star point light referenced earlier. This one made a brief appearance and then was gone. It appeared and moved down and towards us.
We tried to rationalize both sightings; in the end our rationalizations did not hold up.
We left: If not believers, we were certainly wondering what we had seen and experienced on the Mitchell Flats outside of Marfa, Texas.
Left the Roswell area after a second visit to Bitter Lake NWR, this time on a socked in early morning. Drove to the Carlsbad Cavern NP area. Stayed in the least expensive private RV park which also happened to be the closest to the Park. We don’t need nor appreciate all the ‘extras’ that justify the price that comes with a KOA . If we are going to spend that kind of money we will get ‘off the road’ so to speak and stay in a motel. Stayed in White City just down the entrance road to the Park. This whole area including the above ground portion of the NP was burned over very recently (past 3 months). The fire in and around White City which caused the residents to be evacuated was a ‘back fire’.
Photography without a tripod in Carlsbad Caverns put both the technology and myself through our paces. Super high ISO and the ‘noise’ that comes with it.
Whoever did the lighting in Carlsbad Caverns should be hired back when they revamp and upgrade which is happening soon: LEDs.
Left Carlsbad Caverns NP via 62/180 past the Guadalupe Mountains with an approaching storm front.
The Guadalupes are some rugged lookin’ mountains!
Dropped down out of the mountains onto the Chihuahuan Desert and the salt flats basin.
One can see both approaching and departing traffic and weather for miles.
There was more weather than there was traffic.
On to Hueco Tanks SP west Texas.
Hueco Tanks SP, Texas
Popular place: climbers, birders and archeology/ethnology types.
Once the State of Texas realized what they had and the use and beating it was taking they instituted a tight use and access policy that seems to be working for all. We were required to watch an orientation movie and speak with an interpretive ranger. They only allow 70 people (climbers, birders, hikers, bikers and photographers) at a time onto the public access portion of the park (maybe 25%). The remaining portions of the park have limited access and have to be accessed with an approved guide.
We were most intrigued by the pictograph history left by all sorts of peoples. The tanks portion of Hueco Tanks are water containing and storing depressions, in the synite granite,of various size and depth. This being the Chihuahuan Desert water is at a premium for all living things. Water brings animal life which brings man, ancient and current. Archaic hunter gatherers inhabited this area as did the Jornada Mogollon as did the Spanish/Mexicans and native American tribes, then ranchers and settlers: all seemed to have left there mark: pictographically.
These images are from the area referred to as newspaper rock.
Mescalero Canyon where the Apache held off the Mexicans and then all but one vanished up a tree and away.
Sometimes it’s all about the people.
We were greeted by down to earth friendly types behind the counter. They were willing to engage in some humor and conversation even given the lateness of the afternoon. Nancy the interpretive lady was a fount of info and energy. She referred us to John the campground host. John in turn, after his morning duties the next day, guided us to Kiva Cave for a very special viewing of well preserved pictograph masks from the Jornada Mogollon period. Once we got to the cave site we shared John and his knowledge with some folks up from Mexico City.
Thank you John Rutherford.
At 82 years he spanked my behind up and down and back again on the rocks and trails. Must be the difference in our low backs.
If you are in Hueco Tanks SP TX (and you should be some day) look up John Rutherford: say Hi to one good guy!
While in the Roswell, NM area we stayed at Bottomless Lakes SP east of town.
Nice place, unique geology and hydrology; Carlsbad Caverns above ground.
Lots of active wildlife, more so in the evening. The early morn was socked in by fog and overcast.
This guy never budged betting that his camo would do the trick.
Driving that little black Smart Car through the refuge in the morning fog and overcast was like being in a blind on wheels.
Chilly with both windows open.
Sand Hill Cranes
An active wetland environment.
Lots of big raptors on the wing hunting in the AM. May be why there was more wildlife activity in general during our afternoon visit.
Everyone was keeping their heads down in the morning for fear of sharp talons from on high.
Skate Boarders and BMX Guys in Santa Fe, New Mexico
The skate boarders were out in force showing their stuff.
Black hoodie, gray and red knit hat; this guy spent some time with the newbies, helping and encouraging. A good thing, a good guy!
The images speak for themselves.
The guys that were riding were athletes.
There were a fair number of hangers-on who were not riding.
The appearance of an older dude with a camera unnerved lots of kids.
Sorry: Did not mean to interrupt the party.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Cochiti Pueblo ~ Arts and Crafts
Beautiful Handwork ~ Holding Off the Arthritis
Three Generations ~ Cochiti Pueblo
Spent more time talking than shooting images. Everyone willingly and comfortably spoke and shared of themselves and their knowledge of their Pueblo. The language, which is a spoken language only, is still being taught by elders to their children and grandchildren in the homes. The school teaches the language as well plus there are summer programs to keep the language alive. Everyone acknowledged that the loss of the language would be the loss of much of the culture and heritage of the Cochiti. I spoke with a native photographer who had his work on display. He proudly related that he was studying photography at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. He is learning wet darkroom technique, a disappearing talent. Mary proudly showed me her Native American sewing designs colorfully rendered on pieces of clothing. I ate wonderful baked goods and was treated to a taste of outdoor oven baked bread, freshly baked this morning, with green chile relish. I spoke with a grandmother, an elder who told me of the Pueblo’s reknown for its drums and story tellers. Foolishly I asked where I could hear one of the story tellers. No one laughed at my error, I was just patiently informed that storytellers are a clay craft. Young and old alike were very open and sharing.
Las Vegas, New Mexico
Charlie’s Spic and Span Bakery and Cafe
A good nights sleep, a shower and a slow moving morning helped us correct for the couple of time zone changes and brought us to Charlie’s Spic and Span Bakery and Cafe in Las Vegas, NM.
Green chile is hotter than red chile.
Papitas are cubed cooked potatoes.
Huge baked goods!
Tortillas baked in front of you and served fresh and warm if you chose tortilla instead of toast with your breakfast. Breakfasts are good!
Gloria knows tortillas.
Gloria was kind enough to allow me to photograph her doing her job. Gloria’s tortillas are of whole wheat and white flour. This surprised me, I assumed corn for some reason. Some how between being placed into the oven on a conveyor and being baked, it appeared that the dough was flattened out some. They are baked, then cooled down and either bagged or served.
Gloria and I experienced a little bit of a problem with our linguistics, but we communicated just fine.
Thank you for sharing with me. The pride in what you do shows!
Further on in our day after arriving in Santa Fe and having a similar driving experience as in Las Vegas earlier it became apparent that NM cities are in the land of residential speed bumps. Speed bumps abound and are seriously sized and strategically placed. School crosswalks were seriously elevated as well. Santa Fe at first blush seems to be a sizeable little city.
A Santa Fe City park dedicated to skate boarding and BMX biking. What a grand idea! Do other cities and towns have similar?
I have not experienced that in New England other than on the sea coast around Portsmouth.
New Mexico, maybe more correctly the Southwest, is the first area or region on our journey this year, to present with mixed cultural & ethnic groups; all enjoying the different cultures yet presenting with pride as Americans!
The Texas Panhandle ~ The Town (One of Many) That I-40 Forgot
Passed through McLean, TX last night looking for a bite to eat. Too late for the Devil’s Rope and Route 66 Museums. Probably too late for McLean, that or we took the wrong exit into town. The next town down the highway, the sun having set, was presided over by the largest Christian Cross I have ever experienced: Groom, TX. We approached the cross on the back-roads at twilight. The enormity of the cross combined well with the sunset lighting: wide angle lens.
Headed into town looking for that warm bite to eat. The sun was down and the temperature was dropping. Business Route 40, maybe a misnomer, looked like it had been the main drag through town at some point in time.
A couple of grain elevators and a derelict railroad plus a main street/side street with a few businesses and the community center plus some residential side streets work together to comprise Groom, TX. On east end of town ‘The Grill’ beckoned. Good food and good company. Larry, the owner,welcomed us and gave us the low down on The Cross, I-40’s sorry impact and Texas six-man football as played by the small town high schools of the Texas panhandle. We were offered the side parking lot for the camper that night and took Larry up on his offer.
Quiet town, quiet night.
Within weeks the opening of Interstate 40, just outside of town, effectively orphaned the McLeans, Grooms and Conways of Old Route 66/US Route 40 in rural panhandle Texas; businesses closed up and people began to leave. The town, at one point with a population of 1500, is now a town of 200 plus households and 500 people, give or take.
Groom, TX has its own high school, which is a good thing. In order to field a football team they and many other small rural community schools play six-man football. A fast high scoring game according to Groom’s best ambassador, Larry Brown.
There is that feeling of community in Larry and Karen Brown’s restaurant. Lots of local folk happen by for the morning meal. Everyone knew one another. Each new local in the door went to the area seating the others and asked for and received permission to join the morning’s social gathering. An out of town trucker was made welcome as well. Larry looked after our needs and his wife Karen cooks an excellent breakfast.
Larry Brown epitomizes pride in place and pride in it’s people in this corner of Texas!
According to Larry, Zack Thomas’ father, Zack Thomas of the Miami Dolphin’s NFL football fame, built The Cross outside of Groom after being rebuffed by some larger Texas towns /cities due to height and air traffic restrictions. The Cross was a calling on the part of the driven senior Thomas. It is a 19 story, 190 feet tall free standing steel in concrete structure and can be seen for 20 miles.
The Stations of the Cross in life-size metal and wood sculptures ring the huge cross. Marble benches for rest and reflection abound. Sculpted renderings, a library and more.
The Cross by the light of day.
A beautiful and heartfelt site. Much time, effort and expense have resulted in a magnificent Christian monument of art, steel and concrete.
My guess is the town of Groom, TX has been blessed with and by The Cross’ proximity. Which is a grand thing.
Leaving Groom we got lost on Old RT 66 looking for the Punch Buggie memorial in Conway, TX. Not much of anything in Conway, TX. Ended up on a TX Farm Road paralleling I-40 but it was way off in the distance. Eventually we found our way, but we never found the Punch Buggies.
Continued our day’s journey through Amarillo, TX and on to Tucumcari, NM. NM Route 104 from there to Las Vegas, NM.
Climbed the way impressive Canadian Escarpment on a two lane road and are now on the High Plains plateau covered with snow. The Rockies are in view.
A shower tonight 😉 and Santa Fe tomorrow.
A day of driving! Cold night last night, ran out of propane running the generator and the gas heat. Propane is more expensive than diesel. The C-PAP machine uses more than its fair share of electricity. Learning curve again.
Left the Ozark country of south-western Missouri and into Oklahoma this AM. Rolling countryside. Signs on the Interstate warning one “Do Not Drive Into Smoke”. I can understand that but am wondering what generates the smoke? South and west to OKC then due west to the Texas panhandle. Lots of Native American Tribal lands. Western Oklahoma is beginning to feel like the West: ranch country, live stock, flat and rolling red dirt barbed wire fields. Ranch houses and buildings fewer and farther between than the Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri farm houses and barns. Soil gone from black to red. Starting to see the highway parallel the railroad and towns built around grain towers. Truckers rolling by with livestock in their big rigs. Was encouraged to see a good-sized both-sides-of-the-highway industrial-sized wind farm. This at Mile 77 of I-40 in western Oklahoma well beyond OKC where the land forms changed and Oklahoma felt western.
We are not far enough south yet to put the chilly weather to rest. We are headed to the mountains of New Mexico for the weekend, Santa Fe. Will not find the warmer temps there. Plan to spend some time in Roswell, NM on the way to west Texas.
Any one been to Roswell before?
Pulling To the Left All the Way To Terre Haute (the leftward drift will be a surprise to no one who knows me)
This years ride and towd: ’09 Winnebago View 24P and ’10 Smart Car
Looking for some equidistant stops along the way to break up the head-long drive to New Mexico from northern Ohio my brother suggested Terre Haute, Indiana as the first day’s destination. This based on his having been there for his work (Poly One) and the fact that Terre Haute is known for square donuts.
Terre Haute, Indiana, the ‘high ground’ back in the day the boundary between Canada and the Louisiana Territory is presently the home of Square Donuts, the Sycamores, and Burke Spring and Alignment shop.
A challenging day of driving with the camper pulling noticeably to the left. Thus two-handed driving with no sight-seeing sent me on-line. We called ahead. Big O’s couldn’t handle the length of the vehicle and recommended Burkes. Burkes listened to my story and scheduled us in for first thing the next day. They invited us to stay in their lot overnight, which we did. Being right across from the Terre Haute PD lent a certain amount of peace of mind to the night. Terre Haute is a train town, as evidenced by trains coming and going at all hours. The kind of noise that quickly becomes white noise to a local; something that one who is accustomed falls to sleep by. Terre Haute is also beset by crows. Through out the night there was a harsh avian screeching at fairly irregular intervals. Enough for one make and take note. Turns out Burke’s solution to Terre Haute’s issue with crows is an automated predator call (turned on high?) to ward off the crows. Must be one heck of a crow problem.
Burke’s did an excellent job. We are on the road again tacking straight down the mid-western Interstates of this country pointing ourselves towards New Mexico.
Burkes did not gouge the traveler in need.
The oft quoted degrees of separation played a part.
I spent a small but significant three year portion of my early 60’s youth in Danville, Illinois living on Vermilion Street while my Dad worked for a fertilizer company (Federal Chemical if memory serves). Nice place, good people, fond memories: the middle school years, an interesting time in life.
The Burke family that owns Burke Spring and Alignment started their business in Danville around the time we McKinneys lived there.
Small world, and getting smaller.
If nothing more go to Burke’s for the life-like mural art work.
Check it out!
Lots of folks chatted me up about the camera, kind of like walking a puppy or having a newborn.
A gent gave me a list of not to be missed photo ops:
and more that I can not remember.
Only the McKinney youth had the sense to turn towards the camera.
Not a soul on the streets below, and we spoke to quite a few, could identify or name this building.
It was erroneously tagged to a South Park episode and the L. Ron Hubbard/Tom Cruise religion of Scientology by, Michele, a waiter in a pizza and pasta bistro, la Dolce Vida.
The pizza chef refused to combine his spinach and red sauce pizza toppings.
Not a bad thing I guess.
The structure in question was a Church of Christ Scientist building and bell tower, now owned by a design group.
Butler City Pennsylvania is a thriving small city community. Good energy abounds and good things seem to be happening for Butler City and Butler County. The Butler County Historical Society is worth a visit, both online and in person. Butler City lays claim to being the birth place of the Jeep back in the day. The Butler County Tourism Bureau produces and distributes an excellent brochure highlighting the Barns of Butler County by way of a Barn Trail.
As far as photo ops go the Barn Trail is worth a look as well as the time to check it out.
The Working Dairy Farm : Marburger’s
The Historic District of Harmony in Butler County is a worthy day trip as well!
I was only able to hit 4 of the many barns on the Barn Trail given a morning’s drive. Some are working farms and some seemed to be hobby farms, either way they are staunching the suburban sprawl that seems to be encroaching everywhere.
Development after development, McMansion after McMansion.
Lots of countryside yet, but it almost feels doomed to the surge of the developer’s dozer blade.
Thank you for your commentary and critique.
Heading west, still colder than I want it to be. We probably need to head south immediately.