A Bit of the Bends in the Bend

Well here it is going on the end of March, and I’ve been away from the blog.  It’s been that Celebrating Month you know, and I’ve been keeping busy at it.  Where I sit right this minute is miles and eons away from some of the things I’ve been experiencing, and I’ve taken myself to and from all ends of the spectrum of some sort of sublimity.  Music – there’s been lots of music – from the full blown orchestration accompanying the incredible spectacle that is Cirque du Soleil – to that special, very special evening with Bobby Bridger as he did one of his final performances of Seekers of the Fleece – his narrative and musical interpretation of the story of Jim Bridger, the mountain man.  I never knew I shared my birthday with Jim Bridger, so now I am further honored.

But here…. here I sit under the wide open skies and in the vast spaces of West Texas, very far away from the hustle and bustle of cities and bigtime entertainment, and here the entertainment is what you make it.  It wouldn’t suit everyone, but it suits me just fine.  The way things are turning out, it’s much more a solitary experience that I had thought it was to be… maybe there’s a deeper message somewhere in that.  But meet-ups with friends still come, and it seems the days have been pretty much my own to make of them what I will.  (A little like life.)  So I’m following some familiar roads out here, and making it a point to go down some trails I’ve never seen before.  It’s obvious that there are not to be anything resembling firm plans on this trip.  Fluid – go with the river – that sort of thing.  Followed with a big heapin’ dose of Let It Go.

It’s painfully dry out here – hasn’t rained since last August, I hear, and it shows.  The last two springs I’ve spent time in these parts, it was lush – unbelievably  so.  The clarets and prickly pear were popping, the yuccas were purely ridiculous, and the fiery ocotillo were out of control.  Not so this year.  Everything that was a verdant green in past springs is some shade of brown, excepting the mesquites and a few tamarisks, (the water stealers), and most of the cacti are sucked in on themselves and some turning red-purple when they’re not even supposed to.

There is, of course, still life abounding, but likely struggling.  I was blessed with a big hawk sailing over me the other morning, and the canyon wrens still sing their operettas.  But fires have been around here, and some of the hills look like volcanic vistas, their grasses reduced to stumpy black nubs, and the yuccas stand silent dark vigil, stripped of their headdresses and being only gaunt bodies against the sky.  I’m working on making that lemonade, and looking for the treasures, but I have to say I prefer the days of plenty ‘nuff and bounteous blooms.  Of course that can go the other way, too, when the rains get too full of themselves and turn into flood, and then that wreaks its own flavor of destruction.  Roads and structures are washed away, but so it is, and so has it been in these cycles for hundreds if not thousands of years.  No plenty this year, except for plenty dry, and the land is hurting, and like I said, it shows.

So as I’ve always said in these presentations, these aren’t meant to be the bigtime art shots, just a little show and tell of what is the flavor of the day.  Click To Make It Big still applies, and here’s what I found on this adventure.  Sad to say, though I prowled about the park for several days, I found none, not one image worthy enough to think to try to print and hang out there as art.  It was a frustrating search, so there are no show stoppers here, hardly even anything to cause a long glance.  It’s merely some scant details of scrambling around, and apologizing to the “tourists” I came across who had come to see something better than this – a landscape that should be in the midst of bounty and bloom, the lush and the divine – only to find dust and wind and hills from Mordor.  So goes the cycle of life, and now we wait for the rains.

On arrival there was a hint of color in the sunset that turned out to be only a tease with not a lick of payoff in the coming days.  Not even clouds to add any interest to the skies.


While waiting for my friend from Arizona to make an appearance, I was for a while occupied by some other company.  I figure this guy came with the room, for he made himself right at home.  I called him Slick, though I think he’s seen his best days.  Like any guy on the prowl, he made as much as he could out of the opportunity, and maybe was grateful for a soft place for a little while.


Looking for breakfast in Terlinqua usually means you’re headed for Kathy’s Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe where you can get a breakfast burrito bigger than your two fists, and get an eyeful of the local color.  In this case, it happens to be rather pink.  I can’t say as I know what H-Mon means.  Must be Terlinquese.


Breakfast at Kathy’s usually involves sitting around the firepit with the locals.  Sometimes they talk to you, sometimes they don’t.


Desert fences are often made of ocotillo, quite the dissuader for anyone wishing to transgress or trespass.  It’s supposed to take hold and grow, but even if it’s dead, you’re not going to be wanting to get through this barrier.


There’s a lot of kitsch around Study Butte and Terlingua, and here’s a little more.  Out here you see more Texas flags than the usual USA variety, and Texas this and Texas that.  Texas cactus, too.


Appropriately fueled for a day of exploring, hiking and image seeking, I headed out to the Western end of the park, and decided to take a road not ever traveled to the Burro Mesa Pouroff trailhead.  Along the trail, there was much evidence of the drought that has taken hold and not let go.  The creosote bushes seem to be holding their own, but the cactus, not so much.


Lots of  beasties flying around, and here was a big wasp of some variety seeking nectar from the mesquite blooms, also doing well enough and some of the only green around.


Pouroffs are the waterfalls of the desert.  You’ll just have to imagine water coming off the flats above, but none lately.  If you look close, you can see a maidenhair fern showing an incredible attitude of Hope Springs Eternal, for it bore a little bit of green.  How, I have no idea.


Big Bend is full of conglomerate rocks – rocks within rock – likely picked up in volcanic flows, or floods, or volcanic floods – more or less.  I’m thinking that looks like some fossil critter there on the left.


There was so little to see that my eye caught a bright yellow-orange leaf settled into a niche in the rock.  I hate to say how pitiful the offerings were this time, especially since my last two spring trips to Big Bend were ridiculously filled with water, bloom and fecundity.


I did snag me some wood art.  Don’t you just love this beast, all camouflaged, sitting on the rock?


And yet more challenged cactus.


My next destination was Santa Elena Canyon that sits on the Rio Grande River – Mexico on the left, Texas on the right side.  Behind the yucca bravely offering up a bloom, (somebody had to do it), you can see the cleft in the horizon line that marks Santa Elena.


Not much river for sure, and I was surprised that they were running some canoes.  As the river runners approached, I thought I’d go stick my toes in the Rio Grande, and have a moment with the water.


Well, let me tell you, I have a whole new respect for quicksand.  Oh sure it looked solid… sort of…. enough, I thought.  I’d hardly considered the next steps when I sunk down to my calves.  No easy escape, either.  I knew enough to sit down, (my new Indian name is MudButt), to disperse my weight and prevent further sinkage, but it was a purely pitiful situation.  I was trying to get myself out before the canoes went by right in front of me.  Lalalalalalalalala.  Dumbass.


I finally extricated myself, and didn’t even lose my Chacos.  Thinking better, I went over to the rocky part of the river’s edge, and proceeded to clean myself up.  Stinky, gooey, slimy, claylike ooze.  Yuck.  This whole trip’s been this way, one way or two others.  WTF?  I mean, seriously? Really?


About the time I got myself unslimed, I turned to look back where I’d been entrapped, and saw another woman sunken down further than I was.  I couldn’t get my lens cap off fast enough, but the image of her husband trying to pull her out of the muck was hilarious.  She was gracious enough to share her mudpack experience with me.  She lost her shoes though.  I can’t tell you how hard it is to get your feet out, much less the shoes you had on.  I don’t think I’ll be doing that trick again…. (she said hopefully.)


Oh, those water travelers.  They looked somehow ridiculous paddling by in that little trickle of river.  Dinky boats on a dinky river.  They could’ve waded the length of this part I think.  Nothing looked right about it.


Thus humbled by my experience, (surely my feet are better for the mudbath, likely expensive if I’d gone to some spa), I headed back to check out the rock formations on either side of the road you see on the way to Santa Elena.  There’s just something about a long and winding road, but then I like those straight ones, too.


This stuff is TUFF.  Actually it is – Tuff – a porous rock formed by consolidation of volcanic ash.  And you can’t walk on it worth a hoot.  And when it crumbles and slides underneath you, the bushes you then stumble into are full of thorns.  This is at least the third time I’ve tried to get something here, and maybe I should give up.  Last time I lost a lens cover.  But I just know there’s a picture here, which is why I keep trying.  Sigh.


As I flail around on the unforgiving rock, PonyGirl waits patiently for me to finish up my quest.  She’s been a good steed, manifested for many months before I found her last year.  Finally, the 4WD I needed for these runabouts.  And now, time to give it up for this day, and head for a shower.


The next day I adjusted my attitude and my pride and headed out again to explore the east side of the park.  This time to the hot springs, one of my favorite places.  Down the river from the springs there was a nice scene, almost too perfect.  Horse and rider on the Mexican side, taking a break.


The last times I’ve been out to the park, the river has been in flood and the hot springs submerged.  Not so this time around, and many people were taking advantage of the waters.  I can remember how good they felt after a 3 day backpack of the South Rim years ago – what balm for aching muscles.  The springs are hot, and the river runs cold right next to the walls enclosing the hot water.  Those walls have crumbled a lot through years of time and flooding, since this used to be a place for the swells to come and have themselves a unique experience out in the wilds.  But they still work, and they are a highlight of the park for many people.  Even saw a naked ranger one time.


Up high on the cliff walls close to what’s left of the old bathhouses are the mud nests of the cliff swallows.  There are also some petroglyphs in the area, so you know that the Native Americans knew about this magical place, too.


There are some huge palms around the buildings.  What the drought hasn’t about crippled, the incredible hard winter last year tried to do everything else in.  It was the coldest winter in decades, but here lost in the dead fronds of the palm hides a little bit of green.  Life will come back.


The big palm next to the main structure looks to me like exploding fireworks.  Grey fireworks.  Still beautiful without much color or  life.  And somehow strange.


Now off to see what it looks like around Boquillas Canyon, which is very different from Santa Elena.  Still parched on this end, (what, I was expecting something different?), but the river still flows, and the cattle in Mexico on the other side look relatively content, with the notes of a cowbell clinking in the wind.


And here’s Homeland Security at work, with a fellow from the other side walking across the Rio Grande just like it was nothing.  And evidently it was.

Turns out he was coming over to check out the sales and donations being collected on the honor system for painted sotol walking sticks, crystals and small art objects being sold along the trail.  After 911 they closed the Boquillas crossing, cutting off “trade” and contact across the river.  Now families that live mere miles apart, separated only by the Rio Grande, are supposed to travel way down to Presidio to make legal crossing, a hardship that is fairly ridiculous for friendly people who make meager enough living as it is, and just want to keep in contact with their families.  The good news is that they are going to reopen Boquillas crossing.  Meantime, everyone sort of looks the other way, and the Mexicans bring over their wares and the tourists leave their dollars in little jars next to the art for sale.  A little further down the river a man sat on a ledge on the Mexico side, singing his heart out, his voice reverberating down the canyon.  He had his own sign and jar, looking for donations in reward for his serenading the tourists.  There’s that, and tending the cattle and goats.  And making walking sticks.  The dollars collected go to the Boquillas schools.  I got a little beaded wire roadrunner and a crystal that looked like very dark amethyst – my souvenirs of Boquillas Canyon.


More dead grasses in the dried mud with a nice ledge – close as I can get to an art shot.


Just how many pictures of struggling cactus can I take?


Getting toward the end of another rather frustrating day, (I haven’t even told the story of the two hour four wheel drive adventure to nowhere, and no pictures to back it up – it’s that ridiculous), it seems there’s little else to do but head back for another shower, and then make for the local watering hole of another kind.  The Starlight Theater in Terlingua is a legend of sorts – the hangout for locals and tourists alike.  The locals sit all along the benches out front, usually there are guitars involved, and the tourists gather around to soak it all in, or get soaked themselves.  Monday nights are two for one, both alcohol and burgers – cheap thrills.  I didn’t get a shot of the “cool tables,” but each one is indeed an art piece.  Take it all in when you’re in the neighborhood.  It’s another world down there with characters abounding.  Some people go to the desert and the Big Bend to get lost, but more than a few have managed to find themselves.


The disappointments or wonders of the day are soothed or toasted with tequila and song.  Nothing like Terlingua and tequila, a good match for each other.


And as the sun settles in the West, we think on the next adventure, but have sort of put the fork in this one – at least this part of it.  Plans have changed – I have to head home earlier than anticipated, but Eve’s Garden still soothes, and I renew myself in that oasis in the high desert.  As in the beginning of this runabout, as I left the park, that hawk again soared right over me.  A good sign.

Wasn’t exactly the trip I thought it would be, but that’s OK, too.  We learn, and then we let it go.  Especially that quicksand thing.

See you down the road, y’all.


5 Responses to “A Bit of the Bends in the Bend”

  1. Hey Alexa, I’m familiar with ALL those feelings and observations Queenie wrote about. And I had that great mud experience just recently as well. Loved your ‘non art’ pictures too. Keep on Truckin!

  2. Well Word-weaver, welcome home. I’m glad you’re back in one piece and with your shoes too. It may not have been a grand one but certainly an adventure and still. though tortured, the desert is beautiful. And so are your words.

  3. Susan Curry Says:

    I really enjoy reading your blog. Your attitude is positive even when melancholy. I, too, have found myself in quicksand. Once I lost a shoe and once Tom and I almost lost our Nissan truck. Most of all, I love your photos. Even with the drought, the desert holds its beauty. And, as the world suffers, so suffers the desert.

  4. Alexa- my fellow “Crazy Woman” (u called me “Crazyman”!)… finally got around to reading some of your “Blog Prolog”… after reading for about 5 minutes, i could see this “Road Less Traveled” was gong to turn into a Laberinthe, with “twists & turns” in ALL DIRECTIONS! So I scrolled down all the way to this “Reply” column (which took me a good 5 minutes more!) observing all your Photos along the way, and decided this is something to peruse, the same as “Reading an Adventure Novel”- which I’ll investigate when I’m more “relaxed” and “sane” enough to “jump in feet-first”! I can’t wait to meet “Queenie” & all your other “Kindred Spirits” on the way to New Mexico! I’ve got a “N.M. Story” hidden away too in my brain- when I visited “Truth Or Consequences” national forest to join a hippie “Rainbow Gathering” in 1977 (my first “Oddysey” on the hippie-trail; I’ve been 2 five other gatherings “all over the 50-State Map” meeting Injuns like “Medicine Story”, clowns like “Wavy Gravy”, Gurus like “Ram Dass” and Health Freaks like “Viktoras Kulvinskas”). I can clearly see this blog is truly a “labor of love”, and is likely destined to be a “Lifelong-Journal” of a “not so crazy-person”, who loves to share her experiences with all her “Kindred Spirits”! (to be continued:…)

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