Perfect moments are few and far between.
And they are just that, a moment. A snippet of time.
And some are picture perfect.
And this is one of mine.
We spent an evening after leaving Seminole Canyon parked in an overlook literally a stone’s throw from the state park. We drove less than 3 miles to get there. It was an overlook that Loops wanted to try out, having seen another RV guy on YouTube use it for an overnight camp.
The view is phenomenal I’m sure you’ll agree.
We parked here early in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day hanging out, looking at the view, taking photos and watching the birds flying below us, along the Pecos River. Loops cooked chicken on the BBQ and we sat out on the picnic tables, watching the sun sink slowly lower while we ate. We finished our dinner and then sat on the wall for the final sunset and to see all of the Turkey Vultures come in to roost in the trees around us.
It’s moments like these that are so easy to think we should be having all of the time given our lifestyle, but somehow rarely do. Everything that evening just seemed to come together just right – location, timing, weather and company; one of those perfect moments.
We are heading to Big Bend National Park, it is the next stop on our tour of Texas. Whenever you meet someone and tell them you are traveling through Texas, Big Bend is the first ‘you can’t miss’ location that rolls off of their tongue; so we don’t plan to.
Of course like everywhere here we are realising this means another long haul drive of a hundred miles or so to reach. And yes, I know it doesn’t actually sound very far, but when you are in a massive bus, towing a vehicle, driving at 60mph tops (mostly slower because of hills and dips) AND you have to keep stopping to air the bus out because of an exhaust smell; well, let’s just say the trip takes a little longer than the same distance in a car.
Still, the drive gives us time to appreciate the rapidly changing landscape from flat desert ranches to hilly desert mountains, with the occasional sprinkling of dry desert grassland if we get lucky. Oddly, I’m not fed up of the desert just yet.
We break up our journey with a brief side stop to visit the home and workplace of Judge Roy Bean, self-proclaimed ‘The Law West of the Pecos’. Personally, I’ve never heard of the chap, but thanks to the small visitor centre and cactus garden (both free to visit), I can now tell you his story.
Judge Roy Bean lived way back when the West was still being settled and pretty darn lawless (that would be the 1800’s). No-one from the high-falutin East side of the country really wanted anything to do with the people hanging out over here in the desert, and so they appointed local-ish chap Roy Bean to be in charge of dispensing the law in these here parts.
It seems Mr Bean was a bit of a character (though not quite Mr Bean by British standards); for he was a loud and lively saloon-tending chap who ran his court from his actual bar. When someone broke the law, they were dragged swiftly in front of the Judge who then dispensed his justice, right there while serving drinks and as the whim took him.
Apparently there are rumours about him ordering people to be hung (and technically he could do that if he wanted), but mostly he gave them a far worse punishment in some ways – he would order them stripped of their guns and their horses and run them out of town. You might not think that’s so bad, but wait until you’ve visited the Texan desert. Even with today’s ‘colonisation’ of this area, you’d die of dehydration or heatstroke before you even came close to seeing another town.
A perk of the visitor centre is that you can go and stand in his actual bar and home; they’ve both been kept and preserved and you can get a feel of what it might have been like to see justice done here.
Additionally, there has been a lovely cactus garden planted at the site and this is where I get a chance to test out my plant knowledge gleaned back at Seminole and to see an Ocotillo (Devil’s Cane) that actually has green leaves and not just a dead stem!
Apparently it has flowers most of the time but only grows leaves in times when water is plentiful, and obviously they water the plants here at the centre.
Well, I was excited anyway.
Our drive today finishes on the outskirts of Big Bend at an RV park in the town of Marathon.
I’m realising the term ‘town’ out here is used loosely for any place that contains more than three buildings within half a mile of each other. Think I’m kidding? My Official State of Texas Road Map gives me the census numbers for towns across the state and do you know the population of the smallest town out here?
One single solitary person.
That constitutes a whole town’s population.
I’ve also noticed that the most frequent vehicles we pass are other motorhomes, massive big rig trucks and of course, Border Patrol agents driving up and down their chalk road. No-one else has the slightest interest in visiting this place.
Also, there is no internet service out here. In this day and age that is considered pretty unusual, but you can live without it.
But you know what is scary? There is no phone service out here either. If you are on the verge of death, well, I guess your time is up, cause that’s just the way it’s gonna go. No-one will ever know until they smell you. There is no calling for help out here.
Now that’s what I consider ‘Remote’.
Driving into the National Park the following day is a pleasure, we really get a feel for nothingness. The desert is all encompassing. It is vast, empty, and enormous. There is nothing but stone, dirt, dust and scrub everywhere you turn.
But this part of sparse desert does include mountains! Fabulously high and mighty looking, each one individual in shape and size.
They start low and scattered but the further you drive into the park the higher, denser and more magnificent they become.
At over 7,000 feet these are the largest mountains I’ve ever seen in person, but I remind myself that as we continue north-west, these will pale in comparison to others we will discover, mountains twice as high as these!
The heat is scorching at the height of day. Venturing out of the RV requires at least a large floppy hat and some sun cream to protect from the burn that will appear way too quickly. But really if you want to some all of this environment up in one word it would be this – Dry. With a capital D.
My face – my skin, nostrils and lips – feel almost desiccated, drained of all moisture. My eyes are so parched that I have to blink almost continuously and scrunch them up to try and keep them lubricated. And when you breathe in, after a while you can’t help but begin to cough, I feel like I am drying up from the inside out.
Everywhere you go you must have water with you. Even if you step out for a 5 minute stroll, you need to take a bottle and be drinking it all of the time. Without it, you would dehydrate immediately.
Not realising how severe the dryness was (and being ridiculously useless at drinking water in my normal life anyway), I didn’t properly twig how much I H2O I needed to consume, until my nose started to bleed when I sneezed.
We have no hook-ups while camping here at Rio Grande Village in the park. We can run our generator during day time hours for air conditioning, but are loathe to because the whole place is so scenic and peaceful. So we sit and bake when we are indoors. And despite what people say about the desert being sweltering during the day and then freezing at night, it’s bollocks. Total nonsense in the case of the Chihuahuan Desert, which is where we happen to be. It’s bloody hot at night too.
But silent. Good lord, it is silent as the grave here.
Being here means we need to take in the outdoors, to make the most of the short two days we have (that was all we could book, it is full on either side of our dates). We start by me coaxing Loops into a short wildlife walk, right on our doorstep here in the campground. Just over a mile, round trip, it should not at all be discounted because of its short length.
It just so happens the path we take isn’t great for wildlife (and believe me I keep a very close eye out for the four rattlesnake species found here), but it is perfect for taking in the view of the Rio Grande River, sitting a mere 10 minute walk from our camp. The short trail leads us up onto a small rock outcrop and provides a vista over two countries, America and Mexico.
But, wait…. Hang on…..
I have to have a brief debate here with Loops because what I am looking at is a really small and shallow river, more of a pebbled stream really if truth be told. If I wanted to, I could take my shoes off and wade confidently across in about 20 steps and not even get my shorts wet.
I therefore must have read the map wrong and this must be a smaller branch of the Rio Grande and the actual river must be elsewhere. I am expecting to see something the size of the Mississippi River, requiring a rather large boat and some decent effort in order to cross. It is named ‘Grande’ after all.
“No, this is it,” Loops tells me, and proceeds to point out a border town in the distance, Boquillas del Carmen, filled with colourful looking buildings. I can also see a donkey just across the water, on his own, and can hear him braying every now and then.
Hmm. This is fascinating. It absolutely captivates every part of my brain. That is Mexico, right there. I can see it. I can practically touch it. And despite what Donald Trump may have you believe, there was no mass crossing of ‘Bad Hombres’ taking place anywhere around here. In fact, the only evidence I saw of potential ‘illegals’ here was this:
I think I’m right in saying that I read in the NPS magazine that you might find small items like this within the park border, Mexicans who are making small trinket items to try and sell to tourists, crossing over to leave the items and a jar to put money in, in the hope someone will buy something from them.
I don’t know, I’m aware everyone feels differently about these things and I’m sure that yes there are some very bad immigrants out there (along with the many bad Americans) but for me personally, I don’t feel overly threatened by the thought of an impoverished Mexican hand making items to try and make $5 to live on out here in the baking heat of the barren desert.
And I certainly don’t think that any type of ‘Big, Beautiful Wall’ will enhance this view….
With that said, Loops and I enjoyed the sights from the hill, with me standing there still in utter delight and disbelief that this is the southern border of the USA. Maybe it’s because I’m from an island nation? We are isolated after all by rather a lot of water. You even need to take a boat to the Isle of Wight for goodness sake. Actually, there you have it – it’s more hassle getting from to the IOW from mainland England than it is going from America to Mexico. I don’t know, it just tickles me is all. I can’t explain it.
Mid-morning the following day, as I am making my first of many cups of tea for the day, I reach into the cupboard to grab a snack bar for Loops only to discover the most dreaded thing in RVing. His protein bar has been nibbled open.
MOUSE IN THE HOUSE!
Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.
I’m shaking as I reach up to the most vital cupboard in the bus, dreading what I will find. And yes, the news is gutting.
I hold my treasured packet of Bourbon biscuits in my hands as if it was a casualty of war.
The bastard has chewed open the last of my Bourbons making them inedible.
There is no saving him now. The mouse will die. NO MERCY!!!!!!
I will tell you this now, we dodged a major bullet here, we were very lucky. There was but a single mouse and Loops trapped him that very evening using the ultimate weapon – peanut butter. Thankfully we got him before he managed to invite any of his buddies over and cause havoc and destruction in the bus, and because of our short stay in the park, we logically think that he was actually a hitchhiker from the RV park the previous night and not from Big Bend.
However, we took no chances, every single item of food was removed from the cupboards, all packaging disinfected and obviously anything nibbled was thrown immediately away.
Everything was then placed into solid plastic food bins for a week, so there was literally nothing else available to any animal bar the peanut butter traps.
One mouse down, we saw no further signs or noises of any type, and to date have had no further issues. We were bloody lucky to say the least.
But I’m still mad as hell about my Bourbon biscuits, not to mention the hassle of disinfecting everything, having to bleach down all of the cupboards AND then Lysol them all, and then having to wash every dish item in the cupboards too.
Death was maybe too good for him.
It is at this time I think the heat and just everything was once again getting too much for me, and maybe too much for Loops too, so I decided the following day to spend most of my time alone; sitting quietly in the nearby picnic area with my camera, taking photos.
It’s funny, but for all of the appreciation I have for the outdoor environment, I have to admit that I am not a passive outdoor person.
What I mean is that when I am outside, my instinctive urge is to be active in it in some way. That might be walking or riding on my bike, it could be looking for photographic subjects, gardening or practicing plant names or I might be learning some navigation skills or camping. My overall drive is to be doing something.
Generally, I do not sit. I do not watch and listen. I am unable to just ‘be’. That is not comfortable for me.
But today, sod it, I feel tired and drained and upset and just want to be quiet and alone and to think. So that is what I do.
I pull out my folding chair, pick a spot in the shade of a tree, plop my bottle of water next to me and my camera in my lap. And I sit and watch and listen.
And it was probably the best time I had at Big Bend.
I let my thoughts trickle through my mind, mirroring the wind flittering through the leaves in the trees. I breathed in and out deeply. I rode the waves of upset and calm and they rose and fell within me. I let my gaze sweep back and forth over the grass, sitting motionless and quiet.
The first roadrunner I saw took me by surprise. It was as if it simply appeared out of no-where, suddenly standing right next to me. And I mean, right next to me.
It looked up at me a few times, completely unconcerned by my presence. It took steps toward me and then past me, as if really I was potentially interesting, but then decided I wasn’t. On then off it ran.
If I wanted total seclusion for the day from all and sundry, I have obviously not chosen well, for it seems I am perched in the official ‘Texas Roadrunner Hang Out Venue’. I counted no less than 5 roadrunners from my chair, a mix of male and females, some wandering about checking out the view, others hunting for bugs and lizards.
Watching them I try to work out how much of the cartoon character is present in the actual birds. I remember there being a lot of blue in Roadrunner on TV, and these birds are far from colourful. Their feathering is composed of several rather dull shades of brown, although the males do have small bright patches of blue and orange on their faces I notice. I guess brown isn’t a very entertaining colour for children.
But they do run, and they do run fast, blink and you will miss it. What I particularly find endearing though is while watching this male with his lizard, his tail tick-tocks from side to side. Not up and down for balance, but literally side to side like a metronome or a dog wagging its tail.
From a bit of research, I think this is a bit of a mating display to females when they catch food. I’ve also found out they are Greater Roadrunners which are part of the Cuckoo family and they have zygodactyl feet, like parrots. That means they have two forward and two backward facing toes so their footprint looks a little bit like an X-shape (and apparently in Mexican culture that is a shape for warding off evil).
I totally and utterly enthralled with them.
I’m joined by other birds throughout the afternoon here in my solitary green space, and have a fine time taking photos of woodpeckers, an American kestrel and what I believe are ravens.
It’s another one of those perfect moments in a way.
Despite my emotional turmoil of the moment, part of me feels at great peace with everything.
It is soundless apart from nature itself, I can see the magnificent imposing mountains in the distance, I’m cool in the shade and breeze and I have my feathered friends for company.
These are the moments we wish for.
And I get to have this one.