I still believe that when I die, I want my ashes spread over the various trails in Big Bend National Park. I owe my life to this place. This is where I have so often gone to seek solice. It is where I nearly died, where I learned to live, and it had incredible memories for not only me alone, but also with my wife.
While living in Texas we had made several trips to both the National Park, as well as Big Bend State Park. Don’t let the word “park” disuade you. This is a fierce place where you can quickly find yourself at the mercy of the elements.
Because we have spent so much of our adult lives away from family, Melissa and I have made it part of our tradition to travel on either Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. This is out of the norm for both of our families that draw closer to home during these dates. Because of the geographical distance, it just isn’t possible to get all of us to all of them in the brief period we have for time off. In addition, because of my time in the service, I was often away during the holidays and either drew close to my own family or my military family as we all did with my others being so far away. Melissa and I have had some incredible places all to ourselves including a beach at Thanksgiving, diving in Balmorea on New Years, Mountain Biking Fossil Rim Wildlife Refuge on Our anniversary, and of course, Big Bend at Christmas.
A year before my near death trip to Big Bend, I took Melissa there for Christmas. We left on the day after Christmas from my folks house in Austin. Abby was developing a bit of a cough so my folks asked that she stay with them while Melissa and I traveled the 10 hours west to the Chiuauan Desert.
Winter in the desert can be more than chilli. When you take off without your jackets, it can be downright miserable. Somewhere in the re-packing, the bags containing our jackets were left in Austin. After getting to Big Bend, we opted to drive the 200 mile round trip to buy jackets at the nearest Walmart. Instead we moved our campsite from the shadded Rio Grande Villiage to a sunny site 50 miles west in Terlingua.
Over the next few weeks, me armed with my new Raliegh M-60 and her with a modified Raliegh commuter bike (I beefed up with new shocks and mountain biking tires), we assaulted several trails, traversed into Mexico, and explored several out of the way places. Together we worked our way around the Big Bend area map on our mountain bikes, including a few 30+ mile trips down trails filled with miles of washboard roads, hours of baby head rocks, and endless washouts that would consume our tires. We had much of our belongings packed into a couple of trailers for some of the trips. Together we explored old ranches, rode to abandoned homesteads on the banks of the Rio Grand, and spent hours just riding in silence.
One of the disturbing aspects and one of the moronic decisions made by park authorities in the 1960-1970’s was the tearing down of buildings that had been errected prior to the park’s inception. The idea was to let the park return to its “natural” life, forgetting that there is a historical and archeological aspect to its life as well. Still, there are a few old outpost that still survive.
At the time, l was in great biking shape. I had been racing on the weekends, riding with my buddies all the time, and occassionaly commuting about 100 miles per week. Melissa was in decent shape at thetime, but needed breaks every few days. As a compromise, she would drop me off on a dirt road like Dagger Flat Road in the morning and meet me in the afternoon. This allowed her to pursue her love of history, wild life observation, reading, and just napping. In the evening, we would meet back at our camp and share the experiences of our day. In addition, camping close to Terlingua, we had access to real showers.
We also made sure to reward ourselves for tough days we rode together. I remeber after an incrdibly tough day of biking from Castolon to Buenos Ares and back, we rewarded ourselves with a huge dinner at Tivos. In fact, one evening after a few days of hard core biking we rewarded ourselves with both Tivos and the (can’t remember the name) local Itallian Resteraunt.
Melissa grew up around horses, and since she had been so good about climbing back on a mountain bike after breaking a collar bone, I could mount a horse. While there, we also took a horse packing trip. We signed up for a group horse packing tour. Melissa and I were the entire group. The guide was in a great mood, had no other plans for the day, so he took us to several of his secret spots. I also think that since Melissa is great with horses and I easily adapt to any adventure, he was enjoying our company. I was pretty worried about saddle sore, so I packed a pair of road bike shorts ( the tight spandex) that I covertly wore under my military cargo pants. The horse trip was really cool, and our guide and I would converse on history, philosophy, and politics of the Big Bend region. We capped of the day (late afternoon) with a hot meal at one of local hook-ups. Highly recommend….especially if your wife is really into horses.
We did venture into Mexico, and I will cover that in another post at some point.
New Years marked our last night in the desert. We hung out at the recreation center in the RV park and met up with a couple and their teenage son who had been traveling the US from Germany. I enjoyed the dialog since living in Germany was and still is one of the most influential periods of my life.
The following morning we packed our camp, loaded the car, took one last tour through the park and began the journey home. We stayed the night in a VERY nice hotel to recover. That evening we soaked in a hot tub, ate a real meal, and while she romantasized the trip, I planned the next.
Big Bend is an incredible place, and spending the holidays touring it with my bride only magnified its wonder. We would make several trips to the area for various holidays, and each one special.