Months in the making, the day finally arrived. Dad and I were to meet up at the Peter Rabbit at 7 a.m., top off the tanks and head north. Man I had a lot of crap loaded onto the bike!
Although born and bred in Texas, and with no intention of living anywhere else, there are still a few places in the great state that I've never spent a lot of time. Far West Texas is one of them. Last time I was here, it was the early 80s, and I was laid over for an hour or so in Van Horn, 17 years old and alone, standing outside a closed convenience store at midnight waiting for the bus to come haul me and my suitcase to Midland. Greyhound Buslines has its place, and that trip taught me that that place was somewhere far away from me.
This time I was on my 2004 R1150GSA Adventure, Pop was on his 2009 Wee, and we were NOT going to Van Horn. With the routes decided and the itinerary loosely drawn, we launched a bit after sunup.
There isn't a whole lot of scenery to look at in south Texas, I suppose, so I set in for a long ride.
Lake Amistad, in Del Rio, is huge and a real treat for this part of the world. The railroad bridge runs alongside the highway bridge.
Here's a shot off the Pecos River Bridge, the highest highway bridge in Texas at 273 feet. It's over 1,000 feet long, two lanes and no shoulder.
See the Border Patrol? I easily must have seen 15 to 20 of them on the way.
Somewhere along here, things started to jell, and artists named Jobim and Gilbert started to samba through my head. It was kind of weird like that for the next few hours.
We passed Seminole Canyon State Park, which has some indian rock art and cave dwellings, and the small town of Langtry. Langtry is the home of a Texas Legend: Judge Roy Bean, and we stopped here on the way back. More on that, later.
The crosswinds were horrid and the winds would clock one direction and then the next. Most of it was coming from the left side and you had to lean into it to keep going straight. This went on for miles.
We grabbed a bite to eat in Marathon, the site of the second largest earthquake recorded in Texas. One look at the Marathon Coffee’s menu, and the Reuben on Rye was calling my name. It's not so much that I'm a connoisseur, but that, now, I can say it has been done.
While we were there, we saw the Law pull over a cadre of Harley riders--not a single helmet in the bunch, but plenty of black and chrome. Marathon, like most small towns, put its school next to the paved road, and Deputy Dog is on the prowl. Got a postcard for the wife and kids and placed it into the capable hands of the postmistress.
We headed south out of Marathon, toward the Ranger Station at Persimmon Gap. On the way, we learn about Santiago Peak. Apparently it is named after some poor bastard who got cornered and killed there by a marauding band of Indians. Must have been some sort of local celebrity to have gotten a whole mountain. Was it poetic justice, karma, bad luck? I’m not sure, but whatever it was, it probably included poor planning and this reminded me that bad things do happen out here. Santiago Peak is the mountain with the flat top, to the right, and that’s where good old Santiago lies, today.
Texas does a pretty good job of giving the traveler a bit of local history through historical markers laid out along the highway, usually out in the middle of nowhere. This one talks about this site being a natural water hole in prehistoric times. The Spaniards used it, too. When the water hole finally dried up due to development of a creek, some enterprising fellow named George dug two wells in 1900 and put up two windmills. The site served cattledrivers from Mexico and the Chizos mountains on their way to the railroad at Marathon, as well as for men hauling ore from the mines, and US troops on border duty.
At Persimmon Gap, we get our campsites and permit lined up. Dad got a Senior Discount card for $10 and now has free admission into any National Park. While we were waiting our turn I perused the bookstore and, with the ghost of Mr. Santiago floating in my mind, decided on "Death in Big Bend."
The weather forecast posted at Persimmon Gap is promising: tomorrow the temperature will be cooler and there will be much less wind.
Finally, about 6 or 7 hours after starting, we hit the Old Ore Road. The wind was strong, the temperature hot, the sky big, and the ground hard–unless you got out of the tire tracks where you found several inches of sand, gravel, and loose rock.
It looks worse than it was only because I didn’t crash.
Time to rest; a victim of the edge of the road and three failed attempts to save it.
As with anything, it happens in an instant.
Even the Wee takes a nap.
Very interesting terrain, but hard and savage, and I wonder whether Mr. Santiago ever stood here.
“R.I.P. Juan de Leon, Born June 24, 1906, in Boquillas del Carmen, Coahuila. Died July 10, 1932.” http://www.nps.gov/bibe/historyculture/juan-de-leon.htm
Travelers offer bottle caps and coins in exchange for blessings from the shrine’s occupant. There were several quarters. Someone with great reverence for the lost soul glued glass beads and pennies to the cross, and I think I even felt the spirit when I saw the glimmering globs glint sunlight in gorgeous shades of green and blue. Good old Juan. He’s probably got more fame and money, now, than he did while he was alive. His family would be so proud. (It may be the family who has done all this, since Boquillas del Carmen is pretty close, but I got the sense that it was being treated like a wishing-well you find at a mall)
Finally, we get to Camp De Leon. The wind has died down, the temperature cooled, and we settle in for a quiet night, blanketed by a sky full of stars.