T003 Del Rio, Seminole Canyon and Fort Davis, Texas

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Pancake flat farmland slowly changed to scrub land fenced from the road. At very wide intervals a ranch entrance, just a gate with a signboard, broke the fence line. Behind each entrance a road wandered off over the horizon or tucked behind the low rolling hills that were starting to appear. Otherwise, there was no evidence of people.

Click here to view route map and photos of this travel segment.

At Del Rio we gave into curiosity and walked across a bridge over the Rio Grande River into Mexico. It was a bit disappointing. The town of Ciudad Acuna felt like a Mexican themed mall. We poked around for an hour or two wandering in and out of shops. A street vendor selling gold chains caught our eye. Ruth bargained for the chain she admired. So far it hasn’t turned her neck green. It was fun kibitzing with various sellers. The novelty of being in Mexico quickly wore off though, and we headed back over the boarder.

For a number of hours gravel roads running parallel to the road had us puzzled. The puzzle became clear as we passed a Border Patrol SUV pulling tires behind. The officer’s head was hanging out the window looking for footprints! Later we stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint, a permanent structure with an officer standing in the middle of the road. I answered that just the two of us were aboard and we were waved through.

Rocky outcroppings began piercing the desert floor. Rolling hills climbed around us introducing rugged gorges where water had ripped away the sand that supported a sparse covering of grasses and cacti we’d never seen before. US 90 climbed the increasing hills, working its way at times through cuts in the rugged hills. We turned off into Seminole Canyon State Park and had our pick of sites. We had the slight rise to ourselves with a commanding view of mountains in Mexico miles away. At night we left the Trek’s south facing shades open watching the sun creep behind the distant mountains as deer materialized out of growing shadows and moved about working up courage to jump a fence at the park boundary.

Bert fired up the mule; a small John Deere work truck. We squeezed aboard and started off on the park tour to the Panther Cave pictograph. Bert, a park volunteer stopped frequently and led us to stunning views out over the canyons. At other stops Bert searched around finding prime examples of cactus, or unique grasses and taught us all kinds of interesting things about desert flora and fauna. We arrived at the edge of Rio Grande, a river flowing through a vertical walled canyon in the middle of a desert. From our lofty overlook there was little evidence of the confined river making the desert green. With binoculars we could see the huge ancient painting nestled into a deep depression (the cave) in the canyon wall. Even at a distance the pictograph was interesting to see. A close up view would have required a long boat ride from outside the park.

We really hit it off with Bert. He invited us to stop for happy hour in his RV parked near shrubs which afforded a bit of shelter for birds as they darted in and out from the feeders he’d set up. Bert and Grace are in their late 70’s and have been RVing for years. He’s a self-taught birder and has learned the identity and interesting facts just about everything one might come across in the desert. To our delight he does an outstanding job of conveying his knowledge. We rapidly formed a friendship.

Pictographs and their remote desert surroundings caught our interest. We extended our stay, picked up information at the Visitors Center and did some studying of both the pictographs and desert. A tour to the Fate Bell pictograph located down in a canyon close to the visitor center provided our first close up. We hit it off with Diane, our volunteer tour guide and learned a bit more about the desert and RVing. Sadly she also explained that because of vandalism, most pictographs are protected and usually a guide is required. On Christmas day we rode with Diane to another pictograph remote from the park. There we made the steep decent on a narrow rough trail to see the White Shaman pictograph. It is located on private land now owned by a conservation group who is working to preserve and understand these faint images left by a people we know little about.

The mouth watering aroma of prime rib roast filled the Trek. It has always been our traditional Christmas dinner. This year we had guests. Bert and Grace joined us to celebrate Christmas. The four of us had a wonderful time comparing past adventures and discussing areas we all knew. They are from Ft. Edward, NY so we know we’ll see them again.

We crossed the Pecos River and took a small detour to visit Judge Roy Bean’s courtroom and bar. He was the eccentric judge who declared he was the law west of the Pecos. His unique judgments: “You are fined $16 and a round of drinks for everyone present, made him famous.” The name and the historic buildings were the draw made better by a great cactus garden and a Texas visitor center featuring great historic information.

Frequent stops slowed our progress as we headed to Fort Davis. Historical markers along the road appealed to our curiosity, and we’d stop to read snippets of history. A few times we stopped just to admire stunning rugged rock outcroppings and terrain very different from any we’d experienced on our travels in the east. The uniqueness of the arroyos and massive rocks had the feeling of old wild west movies. We joked about bandits popping up from behind the rocks to hold us up.

Sunspots showed up dramatically on the surface of the sun being projected by a sun telescope on to the visitor center theater screen. It was a fitting introduction to the McDonald Observatory. More impressive was the gigantic telescope we toured–one of several atop the 6,000 foot summit. Ralph and Stef—now CLOD’s (Cruisers Living On Dirt) had provided transportation in their dinghy. Before it had been an inflatable attached to Sea Jay their sailboat. Now it was a Pontiac Sunfire towed behind their Winnebago. They have Sea Jay up for sale and now cruise by RV full time. We’d met up at Fort Davis, TX a location over a mile higher than our last meeting on the water.

Traveling the scenic road through spectacular rocky terrain Ralph braked to a stop and backed up. There in the grass close to the road shoulder were the hard-to-find Montezuma Quail. He’d spotted them while driving along at 60 mph. They were close enough to get good telephoto pictures and to add another find to our life list. We figure Ralph and Stef should be into birding if he has eyes sharp enough to spot birds at speed. He also found us prong horned antelope.

On another road we’d passed a sign indicating cattle might be on the road. Passing over grates designed to discourage cattle from crossing we noticed fences were gone. A short while later we met up with a huge bull standing inches from the road checking us out. We passed slowly pleased that our roadside companion was happy just standing and watching.

Back at Fort Davis State Park we continued catching up on our new life styles and swapping notes on RVing. One evening we walked the campground checking out rigs and the beauty of the park. We quickly we discovered we weren’t the only species checking out rigs. A group of mule deer worked their way through the campground looking for handouts.

Reluctantly we parted company. Ralph and Steph headed west to be at the site they had rented for the rest of the winter. We headed south after a short delay. Our early departure was delayed because our headlights and instrument panel lights weren’t working. A quick check confirmed we had brake lights and marker lights so once it was bright enough to drive without lights we headed south. Much later a new fuse fixed the problem. However, for now it was time to head for the prime objective of our shakedown cruise: Big Bend National Park.

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