Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Guest Post: 48 Hours In The Far West Texas Twilight Zone

My husband, Frankie, had the entire week of Thanksgiving off from school, while I had only Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  He decided to go camping in Big Bend National Park by himself.  I asked him to write a post about his experience because it was all just so bizarre.  What follows is his post.  Enjoy!


I had been wanting to go tent camping in Big Bend National Park by myself for a long time.  I decided that the first two days of Thanksgiving break would be the best time to go with another day after that spent in Alpine. For the camping part it would be 48 hours off the grid with no cell service and no one would know where I was. It would be only me and the wild outdoors, man and survival. Little did I know that it would be a strange 48 hours that I can only compare to the Twilight Zone.

I started my trek to Big Bend National Park early Saturday morning. I arrived to the park around noon and paid my entrance fee of $20.  There is a saying in Big Bend that goes something like, "The Native Americans believed that Big Bend is where the rocks left over from the creation of the world were dumped."  Instead of getting to see this wondrous beauty as I was driving through, all I saw was red and blue flashing lights in my rear view mirror.  You need to know that the speed limit is only 45 mph through the entire park of Big Bend. I was doing 78 mph....

The park ranger pulled me over and told me that the speed I was going could land me in court with possible lost of my CDL license (gotten so I could drive a school bus).  After a 30 minute scolding he marked my ticket as only going 70 mph which doesn't require a court appearance, but still carried a $200 fine.  Though mad at the scolding and at myself, I respected him for giving me a break and continued on my merry way but at a much slower speed.

The place I wanted to camp in Big Bend literally had a blizzard. High winds with snow and ice, the whole definition of the word. You have to understand, this is in a part of the world where it might snow once a year and that would rarely be in November!  I planned on camping in the Chisos Basin for two nights and I knew I had to get there early to reserve a spot.  As I headed further towards the basin it was about halfway there when the freezing rain, the sleet, and the snow started to fall.  I have been to the Chisos Basin many times but I have never seen it like this!

Snowy Trees Big Bend National Park

Icy Fog Big Bend National Park

It was very pretty, but I knew I wouldn't be able to camp there after I saw this sign!

Bear Sign Big Bend National Park

I decided to leave the Chisos Basin. I just wasn't prepared for that cold of weather with a tent and a few blankets. I knew I could find a hotel room somewhere else in the area. I wasn't quite ready to leave despite the weather so I decided to spend the next couple of hours in Boquillas Mexico.  The border crossing into Boquillas had recently been reopened in the spring of this year after being shut down for almost 12 years due to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Past the American side the crossing is very simple.  When I say simple I mean a man, his row boat, and a bullet ridden truck taxi.  (I have no clue about the bread and why it was there!)

Truck Taxi Boquillas Mexico

Once in Mexico I was directed towards Mexican Customs which is in a little trailer.  I was given a seven day visa free of charge and I got my passport stamped.  I was then allowed to explore the small town of Boquillas.  There really isn't much there.

Colorful Boquillas Mexico

I knew I didn't have much time because the border patrol crossing on the American side is only open 9 AM to 6 PM Wednesday through Sunday and it was already a little after 3:30 PM.  I didn't want to get stuck in Mexico!

One of the very first things I saw after coming out of customs was a man wearing a ski mask carrying an axe. I was a little hesitant being in Mexico in the first place with all the drug cartel violence taking place so when I saw that man, I almost lost control of my bladder!  I later found out he was just going to chop wood.  After my "near death experience" I needed food.

I went into the first restaurant I saw to get lunch.  Yes, there was more than one!

Jose Falcon Restaurant Boquillas Mexico

The food was good but it did have a tourist price tag on it! I paid the same price there as I would have at any Mexican food restaurant in Texas.

Burrito at Jose Falcon Restaurant in Boquillas Mexico

The English speaking waitress was very friendly.  I learned from her that the town had no electricity and everything ran off generators, and they burned wood for heat, hence the ski masked man with an axe.  I also found out they only had one satellite phone for the entire village and it only worked when the sun was out.   If you do decide to go be sure you have cash as there are no ATM or credit card machines.

I thought about spending the night there at one of the local houses that offered a room.  I was advised that it would take awhile to find a room because it was very cold and not a lot of tourist had been over that day.  I waited for about 30 minutes as a place was being secured.  In that time I decided to just cross back over the border instead and get a room in Terlingua which is a small town just outside the park.  My trip to Big Bend cost me just about $250 and all I really have to show for it was a meal, some pictures, and a new stamp on my passport.  But that's the price when you can't predict the weather or read a speed sign.

If you have never been to Terlingua, you are in for a treat.  It is one of the strangest most weird and eccentric little towns you can find.  It is out in the middle of nowhere, at least 100 miles from the nearest anything!  It is home to the annual Terlingua Chili Cook-off but still considered a ghost town. I found a hotel called Motor Inn at the Big Bend Resort on the main road that had rooms for a fairly reasonable price.

I was hungry and bored, so I asked the hotelier where I could eat and hang out for awhile.  She gave me the name of two places in town.  There is one thing you need to know about Terlingua.  There are no street lights.  So when it is snowing and sleeting be careful of where you are turning.  You might be turning right into a ditch!  As I drove around lost for about 15 minutes I finally found the first place called the The Starlight Theatre.  I was expecting a restaurant andI just wanted something to eat.  Little did I know I was about to walk into the twilight zone.   This was no ordinary restaurant.  This place host burlesque shows and live music on a frequent basis in the absolute middle of nowhere.

I love little quirky things like that, so I got excited about the evenings prospects.  Unfortunately, due to the weather, there was no entertainment because they were unable to make it to the night's show.  The restaurant had already stopped serving food as well, but there were appetizers.  I sat for a spell and had some chips and salsa.  I stayed for about half an hour then left to find the other location the hotelier had told me about called La Kiva.

I started out towards the hotel and found the place nearby.  The freezing rain had started to come down harder, but I knew I was close to the hotel so I went ahead stopped in.  I walked to the front door, opened it up, and realized I had to take stairs down into the restaurant.   This place was underground!  I was the only person in the place so I decided to sit at the bar and talk to the bartender.  I ordered a brisket calzone, which was tremendously awesomely great and talk to the barkeeper named Gumby while ice pellets were falling through the thatched roof of the restaurant.  I quickly finished my calzone and left to return to the hotel.

Since it was too cold to tent camp and I didn't want to stay in Terlingua another night, the next morning I drove 80 miles to Alpine Texas. I planned on staying two nights now instead of just one in my most favorite hotel in the world, the Maverick Inn.  I had heard there might be road closure due to the weather but I didn't want to spend another day in Terlingua, so I geared up and left despite the weather.  About 60 miles later towards Alpine, the snow and the ice started to really accumulate. I was forced to drive 15 to 20 mph up and down hills!

Icy Roads From Terlingua TX to Alpine TX

Very Icy Roads from Terlingua TX to Alpine TX

Right outside Alpine there is a hill called, The Big Hill.  On that big hill there were live power lines across the road causing traffic to come to standstill for about 2 hours while we all waited for the electric company to come to the rescue.

Downed Power Lines Near Alpine TX

When they finally got there they cut the power lines with bolt cutters causing the other power poles as far as I could see to all snap in half  due to the weight of the ice on the power lines one after the other, like dominoes.  Not only could I see it, I heard them all snap!  It was crazy!

After all the waiting the last part of my drive took a whole ten minutes to reach Alpine.  I went to the Maverick Inn to see if they had a room for the night.  I had one for the next night but I had left Big Bend area a day early.  They were able to secure a room at their sister hotel called the Holland Hotel for me instead.

Holland Inn Lobby Alpine TX

The previous night Alpine had hosted their annual art and music night.  Many of the musician had gotten stranded in Alpine because of the weather and were staying at the Holland Hotel as well.  They started a impromptu jam session in the hotel cafe and lobby.  I spend some of the afternoon listening to them and just hanging out by the fireplace.  Another part of my afternoon was spent driving the 25 miles to Ft. Davis to view the white scenery since the roads were clear by then.  The fields were still winter white though.

Winter Cow in Ft Davis

That evening I strolled around Alpine until the weather got too bad.  The white Christmas lights embedded in the now white crusted trees gave off a great glow.

Christmas Lights Alpine TX

I got up the next morning, 48 hours after I started the trip, to head home.  Roads were clear.  Skies were blue.  The trip home was uneventful, just long, but still pretty.  I had come full circle!  Like none of it had ever happened. Can't you hear the Twilight Zone music queuing up?

Road Home Blue Skies Clear Road Alpine TX