Lloyd and I woke up on Christmas morning in Marathon, Texas our last official stop in the Trans Pecos. This is an enormous section of southwest Texas, which can best be described as a high plains desert with mountains thrown in for effect. We arrived in this magical place on Tuesday, December 15. Our first stop was Fort Stockton, a long stretch of town off Interstate 10. We've stayed here many times, and although it's nothing to write home about, just being in the Trans Pecos is enough. We then spent 2 nights at the Steven's Best Western in Carlsbad, the closest place to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Millions of years ago the mountain was uplifting and now sets in the desert like a great ship that rose from the earth. Ten years ago we hiked the Summit Trail to the highest point in Texas. It was a remarkable day, one we did not try to repeat. Instead we hiked the Dog Canyon Trail (named after the Black-tailed prairie dogs who once lived here), the Bush Mountain Trail and then drove more than 100 miles (this is a big place) and hiked the McKittrick Canyon Trail all the way to the Pratt Cabin. We left Carlsbad and made a detour to Dell City, a dusty, little town west of the park. We had lunch at Spanish Angels were Santa Claus and his wife were dining with a bunch of locals. Except for the Clauses, everyone was packing a gun. Maybe they were, too. Who could tell under that big red suit?
We ended up in Alpine, Texas at the historic Holland Hotel for 3 nights. The hotel was just remodeled and reopened a month ago. It was rustic, but elegant. Like most towns in this vast area, the main highway runs through it, which means the railroad does too. In the middle of the night, you can hear the trains rambling through. We drove the triangle between Alpine, Fort Davis and Marfa (home of the mystery lights, filming of the movie Giant, and place where James Dean met his maker). Then on our way to Presidio, a border town, which, for some reason, I always wanted to see. Most people here speak Spanish. We checked into the Three Palms and had a great meal at El Patio.
Finally we arrived at Big Bend National Park. The last time I visited the park I was 26 years old. Driving in, I wondered why I stayed away so long. This place is enchanting. I can understand why people request to have their ashes spread here. We drove in from the western side so I got to see Terrlingua, the ghost town and Lajitas, the resort town where you can sign up for rafting trips on the Rio Grande (this will be another reason to return, as if I needed one). We were lucky to get reservations for 2 nights in the Lodge. This place is usually booked 2 years in advance. We settled in and hiked the 5.6 mile round-trip trail to The Window, a crack in the mountain that overlooks the canyon below. The trail ends abruptly, a shear drop off. How far down, I'm not sure, I didn't even venture to look. That night I woke up and saw more stars then I've ever seen in my life. The park is considered the "darkest" national park because there is hardly no light pollution. The next day we drove to Santa Elena Canyon, another crack in the mountain where the Rio Grande spills out and the rafters end their journey. Then to Boquillas Canyon where I visited long ago. That was before 911 and the closing of the border. Back then, we accepted a ride in a canoe across the river into Mexico, declined a ride on a donkey and walked to the Mexican town of Boquillas and had lunch at Jose Falcon's. Three tacos for a $1.00. Jose's is still there; so I heard. Now the Mexicans set on their side of the border and just wave. They come across when no one is looking and leave their homemade curios with a money jar. If you want a souvenir, you take one and place you money is the jar. We encountered a lone jar with no crafts, just a note from Victor, the singing Mexican, who would sing Rancho Grande. If you liked his singing, you drop money in his jar. He spoke English and explained that before 911, he operated a ferry across the river. It was getting late so we rushed back to the Basin and attempted an 8-mile hike to Emery Peak, the highest in the park. This was one of those things you know you shouldn't do, but for some reason, all good sense is lost. It was too late in the day to do this, but I guess we needed an adventure. At 4:20, I decided to turn back. The elevation was getting to me. Lloyd was determined to press on. This is not a leisurely walk in the woods. It is best described as strenuous. There are signs to watch out for AGGRESSIVE mountain lions and bears. I was terrified to walk back alone. But I wasn't going to set and wait for Lloyd. Five minutes after we parted, I ran into a black bear. He was about 30 yards off the trails and we both stopped and eyed one another. I continued on, but he kept watching. Luckily, he left me alone, but I continued my hike with a stick in one hand and a rock in another. I pretty much ran down the mountain and arrived at the Lodge at 5:10. I expected Lloyd to return around 6:00. At 6:30 I was worried. It was dark, cold, and starting to rain. Lloyd, as usual, was wearing shorts and a light T-shirt. At 6:45, it was pitch dark and snow flurries were beginning to fall. I was on my way to the ranger station to report him missing. I was in tears. As I turned the corner, I saw him walking in. I was too relieved to be angry. My crazy husband made it all the way to the top. I didn't tell him about the bear until the next day.
Last night, Christmas Eve, we stayed in Marathon at the Marathon Motel. A cute adobe place nicely decorated for Christmas. We went to a communion service at St. Mary's. No Mass due to a shortage of priests. It was 14 degrees when we woke up. Lloyd is getting ready to jog. I'm not.
Today we leave the Trans Pecos, but I hope to return and not after 32 years.