Wow! I am about a week behind in posting anything about this whirlwind trip, so let me see if I can catch up. At this point it is Wednesday, January 30 and I have 2 more days of training. The former 6-season campground hosts, Jane and Bill Berry, have been absolutely wonderful in helping me learn the new job and they depart tomorrow afternoon. The other 13-year hosts, Royce and Royann, left last week and were also wonderful about helping orient me. I will be getting up early tomorrow morning to conduct a first round with my counterpart, Jane, so that we can make sure we are doing things the same. The 104 campsites are about 60% full at this time and I’ve been told that we are totally full for all of spring break and Easter is an absolute zoo. More about that later.
On Thursday, January 23 we had classroom presentations by members of law enforcement, border patrol, birding and park dispatch. I can honestly say that I think that we are receiving the most professional, well-presented training by awesomely intelligent people! I keep pinching myself as I almost cannot believe that we are being treated like royalty here. I know we will be working for our keep, but the NPS honestly tries to make this fun as well as productive jobs.
In the morning we took a stroll around the Panther Junction residence area and identified a couple of birds, then went down to the Boquillas Crossing to Mexio which is due to open soon. My friend Jaclynn and her work partner, Miguel, have been waiting around eagerly anticipating the start of their jobs. Unfortunately, we found out this last weekend that the Mexican government does not have internet lines and other infrastructure ready yet so the opening of the border will be delayed indefinitely. Jaclynn and Miguel will be working as interpretive rangers at visitor centers for now.
The artwork above and below is the new standard for signage in the park. They use a computer guided laser to cut this beautiful decorative art and signage into metal. They have found that painted signs and artwork just do not stand up to the sunlight in this region.
Following is a photo of Jaclynn at her new worksite whenever the crossing opens(!)
And Jaclynn enjoying a quiet moment by the river. Subsequent photos show some idyllic border scenes:
Jaclynn’s supervisor, Bob Smith, asked us to go down to the Boquillas Canyon to meet “Victor the Singing Mexican”. He has placed jars on the river bank on the American side to collect tips and sings his heart out from the Mexican side to attract generous folks. Unfortunately, he did not realize that we were all federal employees or he would have grabbed his tip jar and skedaddled back to the village. He was not going to get arrested, but he did waste about an hour waiting (and singing) while we chatted with him and enjoyed the area!
We also found out from law enforcement today that the trinket kiosks are run by mini “trinket cartels”! Most of them are operated by a bunch of guys who use the money for beer. We naively thought that the money actually helped support the women and children of the village who make the trinkets. Oh, well! By the way, park visitors having the trinkets in their possession could be fined or arrested. The trinkets are always confiscated when found on park visitors. Law enforcement does not always confiscate the trinkets and money at the kiosks . There is a kind of truce – we won’t confiscate your stuff so that you MAY make a little tourist money, and in return we ask that you do not break into our cars!
Friday and Saturday was our overnight river trip down the Rio Grande through Temple Canyon. The river was very slow and there has not been much rain this year. Jaclynn and I paddled and bunked together, we got to go through some mild “rapids” and “cane shots” (where the cane overhangs the water and we have to sort of plow through it. First, our lunch break after about 2 hours of paddling and some river scenery:
Later in the evening . . . ah, Tequila!!! Lots of it! (Tim, Jaclynn, Lee and Nick)
Around 5:30 or so we set up our first night camp and prepared dinner – and what a dinner it was! Lots of chicken, pork, sauteed vegetables, beans, rice, tortillas and a desert to die for! A wonderful cobbler made in a dutch oven over the coals – yum, yum, yum!!!
Nightfall, desert and an almost full moon rises over the canyon walls . . .
The next morning we woke up late (after having stayed up til nearly 2:00 enjoying adult beverages and solving all the world’s problems) and enjoyed scrambled nacho eggs, toast, peanut butter and jelly, crispy bacon and tons of coffee. Yes, we ate so good on the trip!! They forgot to warn us how good the food would be!
(Above – Jaclynn and Matt, a new law enforcement officer and former EMT who told EMT war stories to entertain us!)
On Sunday morning I took a 5 mile hike to see some rock formations and petroglyphs. Amazingly, the river trip was so relaxing that I had no trouble hiking. The weather on the river trip and through the weekend was in the 70’s with night time temps around 45-50 – great sleeping weather!
On Monday, instead of going to class, I spent the whole day working with Bill and Joan the campground hosts. They are so patient and kind! It is a pleasure walking from my campsite about 1/2 mile to theirs because I usually see 6-7 javelina and lots of pretty birds along the way. Thought you might enjoy a picture of me on my first day in uniform:
Today is Wednesday and it was a really fully day. We started out with a field trip on geology and paleontology. We went to the west side of the park, Santa Elena Canyon, and had so much great information on volcanoes, dinosaurs, intrusions, minerals and other stuff that my head is about to pop! Our instructor, shown in this first photo is Don Corrick.
The weather had sure changed today! Yesterday 60 mph winds had all but obliterated any view of the mountains around us and temperatures plunged to 40 this morning. The wind was still strong today and I had only packed a light fleece jacket! Fortunately I had my trusty cardinal fleece blanket that Bill and Pam Kennedy had made for me as a Christmas gift many years ago and it saved my life!
Minerals mined in this area include fluorine (purple and pink below). I thought this was interesting since they make hydrofloric acid and other products from it:
The red portion of this rock is cinnabar from which mercury is made. The ore is heated in a furnace and the resulting mercury vapors are condensed. This was a major product in the WWI and II years.
The rock shown here is NOT a petrified tree, but rock which was indicates the huge stresses resulting from tectonic plates screeching across each other during earth’s movement:
Next, a variety of petrified shells from this area:
These are actually petrified plants from the Oklahoma area. Law enforcement confiscates bushels of stolen materials from the park each year and staff experts have to determine whether artifacts such as these were stolen from Big Bend or elsewhere. Yes, heavy fines and sometimes jail time result:
Then the ever popular – petrified poop!!! No, they could not tell what sort of animal left it, but it is poop:
These next objects look like petrified dinosaur eggs, but are actually limestone rocks which were rounded by river action. Later, a patina of minerals was deposited on the outside surface and the surface eventually eroded away to give the appearance of baby dinosaur bones inside:
We returned from our field trip about 4:00 and I spent the next 3 hours doing a check of the campgrounds. But before I began my rounds I was greeted by the cheery site of this Vermillion Fly Catcher birdie and his bride on the tree across from where I will be set up as camp host: (Good night and I’ll post more soon!)