Since leaving Big Bend, we’ve hit a number of eclectic spots – some planned, some by accident. In any case, it’s been a terrific week for the Campshaws.
Heading out of the Park, we were intrigued by the Terlingua Ghost Town which appeared on our map. It wasn’t far off our route, so we detoured. This was originally a mining site for cinnabar, from which mercury is derived. Most of the old structures have fallen, but there’s a quirky ghost town economy at work here. Along the road into the town are several spots where you can camp in a teepee, or a beatup Airstream. There’s a real estate office that looks like a spaceship. We wandered around the fallen buildings, then headed over to the cemetery, which was a real treat. Most of the graves are above ground, because of the difficulty of digging into the rocky surface. Modern graves are decorated with objects that reveal the personality of the deceased. It’s a very interesting place to wander. We topped off our visit with breakfast at a small cafe there (fabulous Mexican breakfast burrito!), and hit the road.
Balmorhea State Park was our destination for two nights, a spot we picked by its location, not its interest. It’s home to a natural spring with a year-round temperature of about 70 degrees. In the 1930s, the CCC built a gigantic pool enclosing the spring, and the Park was born. There is a bare-bones campground, and motel-type rooms available. It must be packed in the hot summer months, because there sure aren’t any other lakes around. But, it was so chilly and windy that none of the campers ventured in the water. If you look closely at the photos, you can tell from the water surface how windy it was. The pool ranges from 3-30 feet deep, with several diving boards. It was a nice stop, but we wished that we hadn’t reserved two days – we truly didn’t understand that there was nothing around, and nowhere nearby to visit. But, how about this cool door?We chose a route to our next stop that took us past Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a place that I had never even heard of. We stopped into the Visitor Center, watched a brief slide show about the area, then headed down a trail to check out an old stagecoach stop. From 1858-59, the Butterfield Overland Mail stopped here on its route from St. Louis to San Francisco. What a grueling journey it must have been for the nine passengers along for the trip with 12,000 pieces of mail. 24 hours a day for about 25 days – with brief stops to change horses. Yikes. We didn’t have time to explore any other areas of the Park – saving that for another trip.
Hueco Tanks State Park was a gem of a find for our final night in Texas. Tanks refers to depressions in the rocks which collect water, and there are hundreds of these in the rocky formations in the Park.For thousands of years, indigenous people lived or traveled to this area, as evidenced by the petroglyphs which are scattered around the Park. Sometimes, you really have to lie underneath the rocks to see and photograph the petroglyphs. Most of the really great spots are available with a guided Ranger tour only. We were unaware of this, and didn’t allot enough time to do that. But, we did hike three trails, all with great views, and interesting rock markings. Graffiti has taken a huge toll over the years, probably one reason why permits are required to even enter the area, and are limited to 70 people a day. About half of the people we saw were rock climbers, as there are several areas here which provide challenging climbs. We enjoyed our great campsite. This is another spot which merits a longer stay – we left far too much unexplored.
See ya, Texas! Now we’re in Columbus New Mexico at Pancho Villa State Park. What an interesting spot this is. Columbus was the site of the last hostile action by foreign troops in the US – a raid by Pancho Villa’s troops in March 1916. This sparked retaliation by troops led by General John J (Black Jack) Pershing into Mexico, with the intent of hunting down Pancho Villa. After a year, the troops came back to the US, emptyhanded. So many historic events surround this event – it was the last gasp of US Calvary troops, the first time gasoline and diesel-powered trucks and cars were used, and the first time airplanes were used for surveillance. Eight two-seater “Jennies” were deployed, and flew into Mexican airspace. However, the planes were not very maneuverable, and most were unable to fly back over the mountains to Columbus HQ. None of the eight lasted past the first month.
We really enjoyed wandering the Museum – check out this photo which shows Villa and Pershing in happier times. Note the caption of the man standing behind Pershing – Michael Collins was the last US astronaut to stand on the moon – a fact we learned a few weeks ago at the Johnson Space Center.
The Columbus Historical Center Museum also has a site there, which we very briefly visited. I lusted after this tiny little tricycle – what kid wouldn’t look great pedaling this around?The downside to this area is the really lousy weather. Altough dry, the winds are unrelenting and merciless. Temps are in the 40s, and with a 20mph wind, it is most unpleasant. I feel grit etching my eyeballs.
In spite of that, we plan to ride our bikes into Mexico this afternoon and wander around the little town of Puerto Palomas, which is just three miles away. We hear there’s a great little cafe there. It will be a quick ride there, with that north wind pushing us, and a tough slog home. Oh well….