The last week has been a mixture of work, parties, visiting with other traveling park people, high heat, big winds, a near rain event, travel to Boquillas, Mexico and a day with the back country volunteers. And I leave Big Bend in two days!!!
Wednesday, April 10 – Getting photocopies of campground maps & other business at PJ, then pick up Jaclynn and her bicycle for lunch at Chisos Basin with Paul and Judy, then Jaclynn rides her bike back to RGV and I wander over to the Cottonwood Store in Study Butte for a few quick groceries.
Thursday, April 11 – I took a “power hike” to the Hot Springs, shared my water with a German couple who were struggling with the heat and walked them off the trail, and enjoyed showing them a Western Diamondback rattlesnake crossing the road at the Daniels Ranch. The snake, thankfully, lingered in the road soaking up the late afternoon heat for about 5 minutes then slithered into the brush, avoiding getting smooshed by a pickup truck. While I held up traffic for the snake crossing a pickup truck owner, “Bubba”, kept saying how much rattlesnake tastes like chicken. (By the way, Bubba is a term I will borrow from my backcountry friend, Nancy. Bubba is anyone who does stupid hillbilly stuff like making donuts with their vehicle in the desert, smashing a beer bottle just to watch the mess it creates, etc.)
In the evening Joy and Earl, our visitor center volunteers, had organized an RGV volunteer pot luck. Yummy bratwurst, hamburgers, potato salad, brownies and great company was the order of the evening!
Friday, April 12 – Boquillas! The border crossing had opened suddenly and unexpectedly Wednesday morning. A group of us (backcountry volunteers Mike and Nancy Coe, Jaclynn, law enforcement rangers Beau and Matt, and me) got our passports out and went! It was really interesting to see everything up close and from the Mexican side of the river. Mostly we noted how they can see very clearly the roads to watch for Border Patrol and Law Enforcement!! No wonder they were so good at keeping an eye on their tiendas (stores) and skeedaddling! They always knew when the federales were on the way.
It was fun to meet face to face the people with whom we had conversed across the river. For long-time volunteers and local residents it was a time to get reacquainted with old friends.
On the American side we had to decide whether we were going to take a row boat ($5 round trip with money going to the Mexicans), or wade across. Once in Boquillas we had to decide whether to ride a horse or pickup truck to and from town ($8 per person round trip), or walk the half mile or so along a dusty, rocky road. There were about 12 pickup trucks and at least 15 saddled horses waiting for fares. It made us feel a little guilty if we decided to walk so some of us bit the bullet and hired a horse or truck to take us to town.
Paperwork at the Mexican entry point took about 10 minutes and the guards were very friendly and helpful. The town is patrolled by Mexican federal troops who cruise around fully armed, 6-8 troops in a hummer sort of truck. A little intimidating, but not too bad. The barracks were pretty dismal and I can only imagine that the government has a heck of a time getting volunteers for this outpost far, far from any civilization. The government was not charging us yet to enter their historic area (Boquillas) but we were told that the fee will soon be $2-3 per person.
Even though there were power lines that gave the appearance that the town has electricity, the plan to provide electrical service to Boquillas was scuttled by the Sierra Club . The grounds for their powerful lobby’s victory were that the power lines crossing the Wild and Scenic Rio Grande would interfere with bird migration.
You will see satellite TV dishes, but they are powered by car batteries strung together, trickle charged by solar panels or by generators run for 2 hours or so in the evening or for special events. The refrigerators at the bar and Falcon’s restaurant are run by propane. Supplies come from a town about 150 or so miles away and the road is half gravel and half paved. Quite an expedition to get what one needs!
We were told that there are 36 families, about 100 people in Boquillas, and many people are related to one another. The oldest person we met was Pablo at 86, then another man, 83, who was singing badly and playing his battered guitar in front of the bar. Almost every family had a tienda where they sold wire beaded road runners, scorpions and jewelry, mineral rocks, woven bracelets, etc. For not buying much, I wound up spending over $50 that day! Some of the prices were very high, such as simple blouses for $22, dresses $32.50 and a woven hammock for $150. I commented that they were trying to make up in a day what they had lost economically in the 12 years since 9/11/01 when the border crossings were closed.
The food at Falcon’s was wonderful – bean and cabbage burritos with home made tortillas and cold pop or cerveza. The restaurant was clean and hygiene rules seemed to be followed closely. The town is even in the process of renovating a building to serve as a 4-room motel and restaurant. What a proud day that will be!
Estevan served as our tour guide – he is quite the entrepreneur! He showed us his modest home, the trinkets he makes and the hot springs bath tub! One simply uses a wadded up rag to plug a drain hole in the rock “tub” and the hot spring water which runs all the time fills the tub creating a lovely, but not too private(!) bathing facility right on the river. In addition, I noted how they use old bed springs for many things including the garden gate shown below!
The other impulse that we Americans had to suppress was the desire to pick up all the trash that had accumulated in the scrubby bushes all over town. I was told that the trash is part of Mexican culture and if we helped by cleaning up the trash would reappear within days. Hmmmm.
Below are the budding motel, a curious tank thing that someone suggested should become the raised patio for evening beverages, one of the owner’s sons and grand children, and the owner’s end of the building and something on the garage that we could not decipher:
The electric wires in town, the school, the Catholic church and Beau, Jaclynn and Matt being very good in church:
Next Matt (30 years old) with Pablo (86) and a local child at Pablos house where he was selling craft items, Falcon’s restaurant, Mike and Nancy getting Mike’s walking stick autographed by the maker, and the horse that was tied up next to the restroom:
Playing pool and enjoying cold beers at the Bark Bar, the old guy that sang badly and played a beat up guitar, his dog whom I had to hold tightly to get a non-wiggly photo, and an unusual light fixture:
Mike and Nancy with Estevan, the Baptist church, more local color and back to the river:
It was a great day!
Saturday, April 13 – The East District Ranger, Ben Welch and his wife Nancy hosted a great party at their house. They had made chili and everyone brought dishes to pass – home made stuffed baked jalapeno peppers, cornbread, pico de gallo, chips, chocolate cake, brownies, ice cream, etc.
Monday, April 15 – A day in the backcountry! Mike and Nancy invited me and another man named Walt to spend the day with them in the backcountry to see what their jobs are like. I had expressed an interest and they wanted us to have a good idea of what their jobs were like. I have applied for a job in the Everglades but if I am not selected then I will come back to Big Bend as a backcountry volunteer.
We traveled East River Road and part of the Black Gap road. The Coes had found a section of the Black Gap where vehicles had created a “drive-around” which damages the park resources. We hauled a bunch of boulders to prevent the drive-around there and also erased vehicle tracks from a wash and placed boulders to prevent vehicle entry to that location, too. We patrolled the primitive campsites, removed the ash and charcoal from illegal fires, picked up trash (including a Samsonite folding chair!), and generally made sure the sites appeared pristine. Matt is hiking into a remote area so we shuttled his truck from his starting point to the trail end where he will emerge tomorrow.
Lunch at Talley campsite and the Rio Grande at the Solis campsite:
Pink Prickly Poppy, Desert Willow in Bloom, an unidentified flower, and Silver Nightshade:
Cane Cholla in bloom, cholla with 4 canyon wren nests (!), and another couple of pretty photos:
All in all, another GREAT day!