Monday, 17 March 2008

Five days in the Chihauhaun Desert

Words can't really describe the awe inspiring beauty of the desert and the magnificence of the mountains that we witnessed over our five day stint in Big Bend National Park. Even the photos that we have don't do the area justice. The park covers some of the Chihuahuan Desert region of West Texas, which extends down into Mexico. At over 1200 square miles, the park has deserts, canyons, and the most amazing mountain ranges. It would take years to thoroughly visit every part of the park, but we drove around most of the roads accessible to RV's and stayed in two different locations. The first two nights were spent in the Rio Grande village, which is basically a concrete RV park with hookups, near to the Rio Grande river. It was a nice area to see plenty of wildlife, and convenient since there was a store there. But it was very close to all the other campers, and expensive at $28 dollars a night. So we asked about the back country camping and managed to book a primitive site for as many nights as we liked for just a one off $10 fee. We stayed three nights there. There are various back country sites throughout the park. Some are not suitable for RV's, but a few are. They are remote, have no electric, water or sewer hookups, and are what is called 'dry camping'. We thoroughly enjoyed our three day stint at 'Croton Spring'. We were totally alone for most of it (apart from the odd car driving in to see the view).
The clearing we were parked in was in the middle of the Chihauhaun Desert floor, surrounded by mountains on all sides. (If you look carefully at this photo here you can see our RV parked up at our camp spot, totally alone) The spring itself was bone dry. One of the first things we noticed was the silence. During the heat of the day the animals don't come out. And I don't blame them. Yesterday it was 95 in the shade at 4pm. But at night time what we noticed first was the absolutely stunning silence. Every night since we came to the US we have listened to the sounds of a million grasshoppers. But in the heart of the desert, there were none. The grasshoppers were out in force at the Rio Grande village near the river, but not at this site. Several of the nights we were there we heard the screams of packs of coyote, very close by. It was amazing to hear... so loud, a mix between wolves and women howling! At first I thought it was someone having a laugh outside the RV! Barney didn't like the Coyote noises at all and wouldn't go outside after dark.
We saw quite a lot of wildlife while we were there. We didn't come face to face with any bears, mountain lions, snakes, javelina or tarantulas, all of which live in abundance there. But we had great fun watching the Road Runners running about the place. One morning we saw a herd of deer walk right passed our camp site to graze. Dan got quite close to them and the one in this picture just looked up at him and started posing for photos! At night we sat outside the RV and watched the Kangaroo Rats scurrying about the place. They were very entertaining.
But we didn't spend the whole time sitting outside the RV. We took some walks along the various trails throughout the area, and drove to all ends of the park. The drive up to the top of the Chisos Basin mountain was stunning. The road was winding, with cliff edges, and rather scary. Our RV just about made it. It's 25 ft long, which is the maximum recommended to make it up the mountain. At the top of the mountain there are stunning views of hundreds of miles of desert. It was quite breath taking. In the photos there is no depth of field, so it doesn't look any where near as good. We took a walk to the Rio Grande river. The Rio Grande separates America from Mexico, but it isn't very wide. We looked out over Mexico and saw men riding on donkeys. The Mexicans can be arrested and deported if they go across the river. Apparently the Big Bend is a huge gateway for drugs into America, as well as immigrants. At the rivers edges there were rocks set out as little illegal gift shops. The Mexicans made souvenirs that were for sale in the park gift shops, and put them on display by the river, with price tags half the price of the gift shop. They would leave a tub for money and hope that a tourist might fancy something. We noticed them sitting in the trees at the other side of the river watching us to see if we bought anything, but apparently it is a felony to buy their stuff so we didn't. At one point a Mexican man made his was across the river on horseback so we all hurried into the RV and drove off in case he was a drug smuggler or something! It seemed a bit silly afterwards.
We took one walk along a trail down to a canyon by the river. When we got down there, we were greeted with the echoing sounds of Mexican song. Across the river were a hut full of Mexican men, and one man was singing his local songs in the hope of a tip or two from the tourists. It was quite surreal to hear the Mexican music echoing through the canyon like that.
The highlight of the trip for Jimmie was probably the early morning hike he took with his Dad. The pair of them got up before sunrise and set off to the Rio Grande overlook, where they sat and watched the sun rise together. You can see Jimmie in this photo sitting in Texas, looking over the Rio Grande into Mexico, just after sunrise. I know that's a memory that he will treasure all of his life.
All of the kids coped surprisingly well with the heat. Jimmie took it in his stride, Barney had red cheeks the whole time but never complained. Annabelle was ok with it although she didn't like it too hot. My body hates me and decided to finally have the migraine it had been building up to for a month. So on a really hot day, on a hike, my brain decided to feel like it was going to explode and I started violently vomiting. I'd felt it coming on for weeks and kept being able to subdue it by resting, or sitting in the dark, but this time there was no subduing, so I suffered an awful migraine on a stifling hot day in the desert. One memory I will not treasure. Poor Dan ran around like a madman trying to help me - fetching water, putting iced flannels on my head as I had a fever, making me drink more fluids. The boys fanned me down with home made fans, bless them.
There are two photo albums from our trip to the desert, so be sure to look through them as I can't post as many pictures as I'd like to on this blog. One night we sat outside and watched the sun set over the desert. And another evening I gave everyone facials in the desert! Including face masks, hand and foot massages and moisturizing. That was quite an experience. The desert really dries a person out. We could not shower for 4 days as we had no water hookups, but yet our hair dried out instead of getting oily. We were all constantly covered in a film of desert dust - it would be in our ears, around our eyes, in our scalp, up our noses! Just a slight breeze of wind would cover us from head to toe in desert dust. I couldn't wait to get a shower.
We also took a drive to Terlingua Ghost Town, outside of the park. It was an odd place, but fascinating. As usual Dan took no time getting to know the local people and he sat outside the local bar talking to a group of men whilst the kids and I looked around the gift shop. He was told that Terlingua is an abandoned mining village. The people here used to mine for mercury, and of course the miners kept dieing from poisoning. Then the town became a Mexican residence, but the Mexicans were all deported and it once again became a ghost town. The centre of the town has the strangest primitive cemetery. The land here must be rock and the graves maybe can't be dug deep because they are piled high with slabs of rocks. Each grave has a wooden cross and various religious artifacts places on it. One local man came over and told us it was essential that we place coins on the graves to ensure that the inhabitant didn't come and haunt us. He was deadly serious about this and truly believed that the dead haunted the town. All the street signs in the town were depicted in skeleton form. What a strange place. But well worth a short visit.
Now we are back in the land of the living and heading up to Fort Davis, still in Texas, before moving on to New Mexico. I have really loved visiting the first frontier of the wild west! But I am so glad its not summer yet as this is more than hot enough for me.


penelope kennedy said...

Sounds absolutely wonderful except for the heat. You are having an absolutely amazing time and it's very inspiring . Even makes a homebird like me want to get on the road . ! It's a journey of a lifetime .

Davy said...

That photo of Hazel and the three kids in the desert graveyard would make a great album cover; 'Don't Mess With The Maygers.'

Anonymous said...

crikey hazey, how hot does it get in the middle of summer do you reckon?


Anonymous said...

what a beautiful place, the graves may be piled high with rocks to keep the animals away. It was a common practice in the early west to pile on the rocks so the wolves and other critters could not dig through the grave. I am enjoying your travels and seeing the U.S. through your families eyes.

Bridget said...

Wow, stunning photos! You have been brightening up my winter dark nights.

Anonymous said...

Pity about the migraine. HOpefully that will be it for the duration of your journey. I am thinking you will be planning your next trip on your way home. Can I go? lol FUNGI