2 Jun 2010, 11:13am

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Goin’ round the Bend

big bendFeeling the need to get away from it all, I just returned from a long Memorial Weekend in Big Bend.  I had the great good fortune to go with Anton Hajek, a local lawyer of some note but, more importantly, a man who has been visiting the area for many years, since, in fact, he was a teenager.  Since then not only has his led many scouts through the vast National Park, the biggest yet least visited in the lower forty-eight, he is a leading member of the “Friends of Big Bend” plus a Master naturalist to boot.

            Even in the desert, I was spoiled rotten.  Not only did Anton magnanimously drive most of the time during our explorations of the vast wilderness, so I could take in all the glories of the area’s varied terrains and peaks, he is also, of all things, an avid outdoor cook, so much so he is a busy member of the Lone Star Dutch Oven Society.  Suffice it to say, we ate well!

            Exactly what I brought to the party is a pertinant question.  A good knowledge of the transportation history of the area, such as the first, failed, attempt by the Texas Rangers, under the leadership of Jack Hayes, to reach El Paso from San Antonio in 1847.  They got as far as, you might possibly guess, Big Bend.  Seeing the area up close for the first time you could certainly understand their decision, forced upon them by lack of provisions and water, to turn around.  A smaller army expedition finally made it in 1849 which led, inexorably to the establishment of a ten fort network to safeguard future travelers and settlers and, in 1850, the largest wagon train in US history, which set out to populate El Paso.

            One of the many, many wonderful stops we made along the way was to Fort Davis, named after, surprisingly, Jefferson Davis, of some repute, but who was then Secretary of War at the Federal level.  Though I have read much about such establishments, it was an eye opener indeed to actually visit one.  The visitor center and gift shop is in one of the old enlisted men’s barracks, a building which was in severely dilapidated condition in 1961 when the National Park Service was given responsibility for the old fort, which never actually had a barricade wall of any kind around it, even of wood.

            I had only been west of Kerville on IH 10 once before, twenty years ago in October, on a road trip from San Antonio to San Francisco via Los Angeles with the wonderful person to whom I have the good fortune to be still married.  When I worked for the Union Pacific in 2003 as a crew driver, I don’t think I even went as far as Del Rio on HWY 90 more than twice.  There is a midway point – I forget the name of the town – where I would meet a van based in Del Rio to swap east and west bound crews but even then it was rare to go that far.

               Actually, and I don’t know why I almost forgot, both Anton and I went to a ranch south of Ozona in Val Verde County just one week earlier, to retrieve a 1929 Dodge Victory Six four door sedan that had been sitting in a barn since 1957.  With its flat tires, it took almst two hours to load the remains on a trailer, and the rubber roof blew away during its first time ever on a freeway – IH 10 was not complted in this area until the mid 1970s.  Maybe heading west could be becoming a habit.

            The park itself lives up to its dramatic billing.  Though this is not the peak visitor season, which is the spring, there were a good number of visitors, though never to the point of feeling in any way crowded.  The mountain ranges and the Rio Grande are something that every Texan should see up close and personal at least once in his or her lifetime.  And, of course, you cannot do it all in one visit, so a repeat visit at a cooler time is something I contemplate with enthusiasm.  To sit in the Hot Springs immediately beside the river on a cool evening would just about make the entire 1,350 mile round trip worthwhile in and of itself.

            A better vehicle for going off road  than a Dodge Caravan would be wonderful as well, providing it could match the 24.8 MPG we achieved over the four days.  There are Jeep Tours to be had from an outfit in Study Butte but these were fully booked when we were there, so booking in advance would be a good idea.

            I can neither confirm nor deny if either of us happened to wade a little too far over the Rio Not So Grande and end up in Mexico.  However I can say, as a twenty year resident, that the USA, and Texas, in all its multi-faceted glory, still look wonderful to this furr’ner.


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