Monthly Archives: July 2016

Big Bend Summer 2016

Burkburnett Texas Wednesday, June 8

I just finished the book "Wild" a few weeks ago it dawned on me that I was due for some adventure myself. Not being a 20-year-old looking for Adventure with something strenuous like the Pacific Coast Trail, I thought I might do something a little less brash.

Having just turned 65 I keep telling myself I'm going to make another trip to Big Bend this year. That happens every year.

I've got a week or so in front of me with nothing scheduled and a little cash burning a hole in my pocket, so I headed out today for Austin Texas, my first layover on this trip. I realize accommodations are going to be hard to get in Big Bend, so I needed to be prepared to motorcycle camp. I have kept current with all of the latest gear but just never seem to use it so this afternoon I decided to head out for for the KOA campground in Burkburnett Texas. First hundred miles down and with one bar left on the gas gauge I pulled into the KOA.

With my large touring cases and a 25 mile an hour headwind, my gas mileage drop to 29 miles to gallon indicated. I had been heading south on the toll road cruising about 85, and I found the DL 650's limit. First time in 15,000 miles I have ever run out of power. I decided to let it run hard today, and so we did.

It's 830 right now, and I'm inside my tent it's quite comfortable I got my new Big Agnes air mattress inflated and decided to go without a sleeping bag this time year and just brought a sheet. I was careful to pick a green one, so I don't get confused with some other people in Texas who wear white sheets.

When packing, I started to go with my compact one person tent and then at the last moment decided to go for the four-man REI tent I bought last century. I'm able to set inside with my chair as the flies/bugs start to descend on the tent.

When I was younger, and motorcycle camped a lot I used to stay at KOA's quite often to get a shower. This one had a swimming pool too.

Dinner, freeze dried Chili that has been bouncing around in my camping supplies for a couple of years. Jet Boil is such a great tool. It took a while to rehydrate but tasty and way too salty.

I usually journal when I travel, and I'm going electronic this time, writing this as I go.

Will I continue onto Big Bend or lounge around in Austin Texas? Hopefully, I will do both?

Burkburnett Texas Wednesday evening June 9

I made digress a few times and my journal for those who are reading. But this is part of the trip.

After taking my evening medication including melatonin, I quickly started to drift off. About 30 minutes later a car pulls up about 10 feet from my tent. Late arrivers it's dark mosquitoes, and gnats are out in full force. I spend the next 30 minutes listening to a couple with their elderly mom and the young girl fuss about trying to set up their tent in the dark while being besieged with bugs. Thank goodness for the melatonin I was able to go back to sleep quickly. Melatonin is great stuff. I worked on a story last century for PBS about some researchers in San Antonio at the University of Texas branch. They told me that they were convinced melatonin will prevent Alzheimer's, but they were shutting down their research and did not have enough money to go through trials and prove it. I guess I'm going to be the trial on it so if I start to get bread head we know their theory was wrong. They say that you lose millions of brain cells as you get into your 60's. That's interesting because I am the happiest guy I have ever been right now.

Most of Texas was recently hammered with torrential rains over the last two months. This included my campground the ground was very waterlogged the water pumped back into the bottom of my tent, and everything was wet in the morning. My Big Agnes air mattress worked all night beautifully, and I awoke at sunup.

Made my own coffee and had a great breakfast of eggs and spinach omelet from a freeze dried pack. It was very good I drank my coffee as things dried out then headed out for Austin.

The rear tire was very hot yesterday after the long run down the toll road. I decided to air it up to the recommended high point. That required me to feed some small children along the way for a buck fifty, fair enough. I wonder how much money makes it to food.

The trip was very nice as I passed group after group of Harley riders headed south. The ROT Rally was this weekend. Many of them look pretty beat up from a long trip I especially enjoyed seeing two bikes with side hacks and a bulldog on one; he had on goggles. You got a love these guys riding Spartan from who knows where. A few of the newer Harley Davidson look like they have pretty good protection.

I was headed to a much rowdier bunch, my grandkids. On the way to Austin, I swung over through Georgetown. Then picked up Highway 130 that let me bypass all of Austin traffic and make it to Lockhart, my destination for the evening. I love these toll roads within 85 miles an hour speed limit. Once again my DL 650 was running a hair under wide open for the 40-mile trip. Grandkids all wanted a ride when I got there.

That night I ate some of the best Pizza in my life at Loop and Lill's in Lockhart, thin crust with real cheese, basil and some real good salami and a couple of locally brewed beers. Yumm.

Had a great time visiting with the grandchildren and especially Darby my new granddaughter by soon to be marriage.

Today I called the Chisos Mining Company in Study Butte and they have plenty of rooms available. Booked one for two nights. They are predicting 101 temperature next week, so I am glad I am not camping. I don't know what I was thinking about needing camping gear this time of year. All the hotels are empty this time of year. Maybe it was the loss of brain cells that caused this?

Del Rio Texas Sunday Evening June 12

After visiting all of the relatives in Texas for a few days, the adventure to Big Bend is back on. This trip was spawned by my desire to work out some personal feelings about life. After having the best seat in the house, literally, it is time to come to terms with life in Oklahoma. More on that later.

On the road by the crack of 10 today from Lockhart to Del Rio. My orders to myself, start slow then taper off. You never know what you might not see acting like someone in a hurry.

South of San Antonio, tooling along, many years back on Sunday morning I remembered seeing a Mariachi band with dancers pour out of mass at one of the old missions in South San Antonio. A quick stop to look it up on my phone and I was sure the one I had seen was San Juan mission. Tapped the location on my phone and it immediately started to direct me. Wow, this is handy. I remembered it happening around noon, so I picked up the pace and made it about ten till noon. Of course, this was not the same mission, but there was a mariachi band playing so I took an extended break to hear them pick and sing a few tunes.

Maria was the lead singer.

I noticed that there was a wall and it was most likely built by Mexicans several centuries ago. That kind of gave me a reason for a double take. It was probably made under duress by Mexican natives capitulating to some taskmaster from Spain. Hmm.

After some lounging, I got back on the bike and headed down 35 towards Laredo with no idea what route I was going to take. After a while, I took the Uvalde exit because the landscape was so much like what I remember in Mexico.

Years ago, I loved riding the badlands of northwestern Mexico when I used to visit Copper Canyon. It is unfortunate what has happened to Mexico and much of the strife is caused by the appetite of the American Drug market. Too much pain for those good folks of Mexico and then to get called liars, thieves and murderers by Trump is embarrassing for me. I did not see any Trump signs the whole day. Kind of a given in the south Texas valley.

I was tooling along at about 55 and realized how much easier this was than busting it at 85. Music going in my helmet and before I knew it I was in Uvalde.

Years ago I was working for a TV show called Real Stories of the Highway Patrol. I was all over South Texas working as their drug interdiction guy and we always heard about Eagle Pass. It was known as a drug-smuggling paradise. The decision was easy, southwest from Uvalde on old Eagle Pass road for 90 some miles. Fascinating country including seeing a giant eagle with a full white neck and head. No chance to get a picture but very impressive.

About 4 miles outside of Eagle Pass there was the mother of all drug checkpoints but for those heading northeast only. I have never seen so many cameras and "scanner looking things". I started to take a picture but thought it might draw too much attention. My GPS and phone quit working too. Sounds like a good move for the Border Patrol with cars backed up a quarter mile or so to keep them from communicating.

Just a note to the smugglers, there is no checkpoint driving up to Del Rio. I passed ranchette after ranchette with an old house and a new one right next. Before and after smuggling we used to say.

As I dropped down into the Rio Grand Valley the temperature really started climbing. 104 on my dashboard. I decided not to stay too long in Eagle Pass except to get a picture of the water tower.

It looks like a very prosperous community but very spread out. lots of strip shopping centers. I think the drug trade has been very good for some of the border towns.

I wanted to take the road along the Rio Grande north to Del Rio and it was a pristine piece of tarmac. It is very green this year. A great 50 miles up to Del Rio in 100-degree heat and I was ready for a Hotel. The swimming pool was like a magnet to me. I got a room with a king, first floor, and a parking spot right by the door. The guy even had a cold bottle of water for me at the desk. Great end to a great day.

Tomorrow should be even more fun as I enter Big Bend park on the way to Study Butte. I am going to continue my strenuous regiment of getting on the road at the crack of 10 and keeping the mileage under 300 for the day. Another day of starting slow then the big taper off.

Study Butte June 13 (it's actually the 14th and I have the Internet now)

Lake Amistad west of Del Rio Tx.

Leaving Del Rio around 9 in the morning I started off to for Study Butte where I had a room reserved for a couple of days. Right out of Del Rio I ran into another expansive Border Patrol checkpoint. It looks like they have all of the exits from Eagle Pass covered. Drug smugglers disregard my previous statement. Cell phone service stops about 30 miles west of Del Rio. It took me a few moments to realize what had happened. If you stop navigation or music playback on an iPhone you will not get them back until you get service again. Just as well, It felt good to be out of contact.

There were dozens of Border Patrol pickups cruising a dirt road right next to the highway. They dragged tires from a chain to leave fresh dirt behind them, I am sure this was a way for them to check for footprints of those who wish to enter the US. Perhaps this is preparation for the wall.

I felt a funk going on as I motored down the road to Marathon and I couldn't put my finger on it but I was about to intersect a very big day from 16 years ago.

Gage Hotel in Marathon

About 20 miles into the park area I saw a sign for the Stillwell Ranch store, so I detoured and headed off to see what was left. I had edited a documentary about the Stillwells and many of their neighbors in the 90's called "Change in the Bend" narrated by Barry Corbin. Austin Community college-sponsored the doc. I arrived at the store to find one grumpy guy in a back room sort of upset with me interfering with his tv watching. The place looked just like it did years ago. He told me that Hattie and the rest of the clan had passed away years ago and that some younger members of the family sold it off to some Doctor. Boy, that is the end of an era for sure. He told me I was crazy for trying to visit the park this time of year and I assured him that I was headed to the hotel promptly. I finished a soft drink then apologized for interrupting his afternoon. He kind of got nicer at that point.

Pushing on to the park area and the park entrance. 20 bucks for a 7 day pass to the park and while I was paying up I asked the Ranger if Boquillas crossing was going to be open this week. He informed me that it will not be open until Wednesday and that works with my trip. Ride the river road to Presidio tomorrow then visit Ojinaga and ride back. Boquillas on Wednesday morning then on to the Gage Hotel and the ride back.

I made it to Study Butte about 2:00 pm and the place was real quiet and rightfully so. The outside air reading no my instrument cluster was 110. I quickly checked in and was greeting by another very grumpy front desk lady who acted like I was really bothering her to check in. She really flew into a rant when I asked her for internet access and of course, it didn't work either. I asked politely a couple of times if it was going to be fixed and was met by another flurry of I don't know nuthin about no internet and that's that. One more selling point for the hotel was there were two channels on the tv. One was soccer and then the other was Fox News covering the latest Trump sound bite. Geese, I was trying to get away from this stuff.

After a nap and a shower, I headed for the Starlight dinner theater in downtown Terlingua. It has to have the most interesting front porches in the whole state of Texas maybe even the whole world. I downed a few quick beers and immediately started on introduce myself to locals. A lively conversation developed as I was sitting next to a writer who was working on a book about some army veterans from the Big Bend area and just like a cocktail party other conversations started as I meet another lady, I talked her into taking this picture.

On the right, her name was Sasha and she was a theater director from London. Next to her was Vicki, she had lived in Terlingua since 1970 and was nine years old when her parents moved there.

After an excellent rib eye steak eaten at the bar along with too many more beers, I made my way back to the room a few miles down the road. There are great views everywhere you look. I stumbled into bed realizing beer was probably not the best way to rehydrate from a very hot day.

Study Butte June 14th

I was a little slow to get up today reminding myself that I needed an early start on Wednesday. Slowly I gathered a few items to take with me to Presidio. Filled up the camelback to rehydrate from my attempt to rehydrate with beer.

Damn, it was nice out and a little cool to boot. Clouds were all around and I headed out for Presidio down the infamous river road. This is 60 miles of some of the best riding Texas has to offer. Great views of the Rio Grande and lots of elevation changes with great curves and pristine tarmac.

I set myself at a comfortable pace and started to enjoy the scenery. There are lots of blind corners and blind dips on the road. I told myself to be cautious, seen many an obstruction around blind corners in the past. Sure enough, about 10 miles down the road and there was a family of pigs wandering around. I broke fast and had plenty to spare if I had been going fast it would have been interesting. Settled in on a comfortable pace then rode upon horses after a turn then cattle and so on. There had been a big rain the night before and most of the dry creek crossings had rocks and sand in them. I love hitting a G Out and feeling the suspension bottom out, I don't know why I like that. Steady as she goes this is not a road to push it on.

A relaxing ride into Presidio then onto the international bridge. It was about 10 a.m. when I started the crossing. Pulled up to the Mexican border guys and they asked for my registration and insurance. I took the seat off where it was supposed to be and nothing. I don't know where it went. The guy took pity on me fumbling with my seat, so he just waved me on shaking his head.

I made it, I really wanted just to cross the border and drive around town for a few hours taking in the people and way of life. It is definitely not an easy life but the folks looked happy, a lot happier than the folks I see at my local grocery store or in public in my small town.

While there I got a text from the daughter of my old friend Dan Rosen.

It was on this day in 2001 that my good friend and riding buddy Dan Rosen passed away while on a trip into the center of Mexico. It was early June in 2001 that Dan came to me insisting that I take a trip to Mexico with him and his family. The same kind of urgency that came over me a few weeks ago when I decided to make this journey. Interesting what life will throw you if you get out of the way of your own BS.

Presidio had been the launching point for most of our many trips to Mexico and I was hell bent to get there. On one of the trips, I bought a bottle of Mezcal and upon returning decided to sip a little one day. Long story made short, my daughter decided to abscond with it.

Destined to get a new bottle I located the best bottle they had in the Super Mercardo and then headed back to the border after just tooling around for a few hours. I turned east out of town for a bit.

In the future, I am interested in taking a trip to San Carlos. Ace musician and new friend Pat O'Brien said this place was excellent. That is on the agenda for my next trip to the area.

After driving around a bit all I could find were burger and chicken joints. The guy in the Super Mercardo suggested a restaurant in Presidio. I saw a big line at the border, so I decided to do my 45 minutes and get that over. Had a great meal then headed back on the river road.

It was getting real hot by 1:30 so I picked up my pace and headed straight for the room. Some guy in a Mercury Montero was burning up the pavement down river road so I settled down behind him a hundred yards or so. Letting him clear a path made it a perfect ride. I could tell he was giving it everything that car had. I just stuck to simple body movements with trail braking and the fun meter was a medium for me and that was perfect.

The front was scuffed all the way and the rear was at a medium scuff. It is amazing what some basic riding techniques can do for your overall pace while someone else is stabbing the brakes real hard into a corner then letting off real quick. You could see his suspension get upset when he tried to turn after letting off the brake and disturbing the traction.

Made it back to the room, it was a mere 107. More journaling then off the Starlight for another great evening.

Pat O'Bryan was there operating the house sound for tonight's entertainment. What a great musician, he hosts the Terlingua music fest. I had a great evening bending his ear and hearing about all of the adventures he had on the road during his life as a musician. He is a great Texas Blues musician.

Terlingua is a one of a kind town with plenty of characters to boot

Front porch of the Starlight

Inside view of the stage

After a few more wonderful conversations on the front porch, I headed back to the room. Early start the next day.

Gage Hotel in Marathon Texas Wednesday, June 15th. Before the wall tour of the border.

The day started early about 5:30. Nice and cool 85 degrees and the bike is loaded and gassed. Headed off to Rio Grade Village on the east side of the park. It even felt cool enough to head over to the hot springs about 5 miles from the village.

I took the dirt road and was glad to put some "dual" in the sport riding this day. The road is very easy hard packed with a few washouts. It was a snap to navigate. They have made some impressive improvements to the last section of road to the springs.

Got the bike parked and headed down the quarter mile trail to the springs.

Along the way, you ruin of the old bathhouse community that existed early in the 1900's. Just keep left and follow the high jagged rocks to the bath.

I had it all to myself and it was kind of cool. The clouds were out and this was shaping up to be a beautiful day.

It is incredible the difference in life just across the river. I sat there enjoying the warm water on my tired feet for a while.

They have improved the bath area since I last visited. It was kind of run down and the rocks were falling apart last time. All is well now. Great views of the canyon area and the river.

Got back on the bike and headed for Boquillas crossing. Wow, that has changed a lot. The last time I was there you just parked anywhere but now there is a port of entry.

I got there just in time to see the flag raised by L. McClusky, park ranger. She was kind of by the book and loosened up a bit after some conversation. She informed me that there was a small no-mans-land outside the office then the trail to the river.

Once at the Rio Grande I was greeted by this guy for the short boat ride over to the other side. 5 bucks for the ride and 1 buck for the guy singing.

round up for the touristas.

You can get a burro for the day and an attendant for 5 bucks. My burro was old one ear and had a bit of an attitude like most Burros should. William my valet for the day walked with me as I rode the poor beast up the dusty hill into the village.

William and me

It is just like I remember but with power lines now. William explained they have a big solar farm south of town.

After a great meal at one of the two eateries, we sat and talked. William told me how he had a good job in Missouri as a concrete worker until he got rounded up and sent back to Boquillas. He said he has 4 children and makes 1 dollar a day plus tips. I told him I was paid fairly well and wanted to share a bit. I gave him 40 more dollars in addition to the 5 dollar tip I had already given him. Go ahead and flame me for this. I am afraid that the El Jefe who sat down by the river got all of it instead. he was trying to come up with enough money to send one or his kids to school. Geese, like these people don't have it hard enough and we just can't wait to make their lives more miserable.

One ear gave me a ride back to the crossing. I think life as a burro is pretty hard in Mexico.

After my ride back I had to talk with a border patrol person via phone after the kiosk scanned my passport. Off I went to the Boquillas Overlook, it was a great way to see the town. It looked a lot bigger from the view.

Boquillas has one industry, tourism from people like me. You can imagine what happened to the town after 911 when the crossing was militarized and shut down. Some poor folks who were visiting the day after 911 were rounded up and hauled off to for questioning. That put a stop to what little money they had coming in It was just recently re-opened. With the new port of entry.

So taking a nice ride back to Panther Junction and headed to the basin for a cup of coffee I was pulled over by a park ranger. He asked if I had just visited the port of entry then told me that my passport was there. Damn, I forgot it in that kiosk when the border patrol person was grilling me on the phone. She had intense eyes and was very direct, it kind of shook my vibe for the day. She was kind of a bummer. On the other hand, I thought it was going over and above to have someone find me one road. Good one Park Rangers.

After a quick trip back to the village, I was en route to the Basin. It was cloudy all morning I picked the right day to visit the park. The ride up to the basin was fun. There are lots tight 10 mph turns and the vegetation just gets so different as you ascend.

I found a couple of these things, someone chime in and tell me what they are.

As the sign says there are bears and mountain lions living up top. It is a unique ecosystem in the middle of a desert. How cool is that?

After some coffee at the store, I meandered back down the mountain. Talk about trail braking opportunities. Dragging the front brake into the corners with just enough force to keep the suspension compressed and the tire stuck to the ground.

Once down I set my sights on Marathon, and the heat was starting to pour down. I saw a speed limit sign close to Panther Junction of 45 MPH. I've always cruised about 55 or so and never had a problem and passed a park ranger truck. It did a u-turn with lights and siren. Twice in one day? The ranger was nice and immediately said there would be no ticket. He had a trainee in the car and wanted to know if a trainee could practice a stop with me. I didn't exactly have a choice. We wound everything up with a verbal warning and I suffered thru the hottest part of the park at 45 for another 15 miles.

Oh my, was the Gage a welcome sight. A nice swim in the pool and then a trip to their coffee shop. The Gage is a first rate hotel in the middle of nowhere. How great is that?

Some more writing in the lobby after the coffee shop closed down and dinner at 7:20 sharp. The meals are quite good and the restaurant requires reservations. I can't wait

Tomorrow is the first leg of the trip back. Downsides of an adventure are always melancholy.

Got up on Thursday morning and headed back home. For once I had a good tail wind and great roads all the way back. Made it easy from Marathon Texas to OKC by 6 p.m.

I had plenty of time to reflect about previous trips. I rode in the Terlingua Dual Sport ride twice in 2002 and 2003. I think the area is too delicate to off road. Just my opinion.

This is where I met Mack

I started to see areas that were being trashed and just decided not to participate anymore. I sold my dirt bike in 2010 to a physical therapist who put himself in the hospital with it. Dual sporting gives me a taste of off road when I want it.

I think riding in the Mount Hood rally kind of ended my desire for weekend dirt biking. Always looking for property lines and having to put up with one of your friends who decides to start a dick measuring contest on someone's property just didn't sit that well with me. I just like to ride and in a competitive environment, you get just to ride without distraction. Otherwise, it's on the public byways for me.

If you really want to get grit in your teeth try the Idaho City 100. Been there and done that.

From 2000 trip.

Things I remember so well from the trip, sitting in the hot tub with no one around looking out over Mexico is an experience that can only be had first hand. I can try to write about it but you just gotta do it. There is something special about the Big Bend area. The plight of so many who came before and we are talking before air conditioning, back when these borders were crossed daily by the residents. Lives perished in the sun, small fortunes were made mostly of larger ones. The unexplainable fortitude and toughness everyone had to endure just to stay alive. If you close your eyes while sitting on the bank of the Rio Grande you can feel the hard desire to survive. You can smell the rawness of the area all around as you try to fit yourself into the great mosaic of this land.

With each visit, I remember what I gained from the last one and it has always been something I treasure.

The late Juan Valdez from 1998 trip

Floating across the river in a small dingy at the only unmanned crossing in America is something to behold. Sure it is touristy but let's face it, as we sit in the comfort of our air-conditioned homes sheltered from the elements we get to peek into the life of others who went before us.

Every mile and every conversation bring us closer to being a better person. We posture about walls and immigrants I just hope this trip creeps into my soul and helps me remember my ancestors were once immigrants.

William, who I paid to accompany me to town, had thrived working as a concrete worker sometime in the past making 15 dollars an hour trying to support his family. He was rounded up and deported. He is a good man, I can see it in his eyes. Say what you want but we are all part of this mosaic and to let a river define success and failure, life and death, educated or not educated is at least something to ponder.

My work lets me interact with many international clients and for that I am grateful. I would never understand the importance of what little humility I seem to be able to muster these days. The ability to move past disruptive influences and not listen to those who wish to use me.

The last night in the area I was having a nice meal at the Gage restaurant and the couple next to me started to talk a bit and a nice conversation started. We talked about grandkids, kids, traveling, retirement you name it. I spoke about what fun I had in Mexico and the older gentleman started circling (grammatically) around to immigrants, and I could see where he this was going. I looked at him in the eyes and said I came here to get away from that kind of thinking. He looked mad and said nothing. They quickly left, and I was sitting there asking myself about how FU we have become. I need to set boundaries and strive not to judge. I learned early on that as a journalist you can not take anything for granted because all is fluid in this world and the last thing I want to be is judgmental. Like the failed Christian I am, I will someday judge again. But you gotta try.

Gotta visit Marfa next time and stay in this grand hotel.