TERLINGUA RANCH - Christmas 2000

We like dust, desert, scenery and solitude, so this place was for us.  Liz and I visited Terlingua Ranch several times during our stay in the USA and we were totally smitten with it.  The ranch is reached by traveling down I-10 west and then heading south through Alpine, taking highway 180 south from Alpine for about 80 miles until you see a left turn and a sign board for the ranch.  Drive the 6 miles of black top and then 11 miles of dirt road, and eventually you will end up at the sprawl of buildings which make up the accommodation units, restaurant, offices and other facilities of this oasis in the desert.  Sadly, the ranch house and facilities are now closed, but it was fun while it lasted.

Terlingua town itself is more miles to the south, so don't get confused.  The ranch covers 200,000 acres and is located right among the mountains, with miles of local roads, extensive walking, and an air strip.  The weather is typically dry and warm in winter, hot in summer and the night skies are very dark and filled with more stars than you've ever seen in your life.  This place is laid back, peaceful and quiet, with numerous "characters" - just as you would expect for a place so remote.  We have some pictures which we can share.

 

Terlingua Cabin.jpg (55658 bytes) This is our cabin at the ranch.  The telescope mount is covered in plastic to keep out the dust and we leave it assembled the whole time we are there.  At night, all we do is remove the plastic sheet, mount the telescope and we are ready for another night of observing.  Although you can see mountains, they are sufficiently far from the immediate area that the view of the sky is relatively unimpeded.
Dust.jpg (39178 bytes) Here is an example of the ever present dust which we've talked about.  A truck has just gone by, and you certainly don't want to be following someone for all of the 11miles of dirt road, eating their dust all the way!  Welcome to the "character" of the area.
Lizzie at Terlingua.jpg (86656 bytes) The area is desert, and you need to be careful when you walking about not to get "cactised" - a word Liz and I have coined to describe being impaled on the spines of one of the many varieties of cactus which can be found growing everywhere. This walk was along a dried up river bed.
Up the mountain.jpg (54546 bytes) Views from some of the high ground can be quite spectacular and you can see literally for miles and miles.  But you do need to be careful, and there are no "official" tracks up the mountains.  Safest to stay on the roads.  They're quiet and believe me they are high enough.
Lizzie 2 in Terlingua.jpg (84273 bytes) Make sure you take a lot of water with you.  Even in winter it gets pretty warm in the daytime, but can also be pretty chilly at night.  Sturdy boots help with the spikes and the rocks and the dust, and a hat can be useful to shade your precious locks from the sun.
Tarantula.jpg (119949 bytes) We share the desert with many other residents.  Rattlesnakes are reputed to be everywhere but we have never seen one.  Coyotes are also heard at night, but we've only seen a few - they tend to keep away from the inhabited areas.  The birds are a delight, and we also came across this Tarantula spider, ambling slowly across the path in the sunshine.
Drill Truck 1.jpg (66853 bytes) Remote and relatively undeveloped though the area is, there are still signs of man's activities.  On a long walk one day, miles from the ranch, Liz and I came across this old drilling truck, once used to drill a water well for a property long since abandoned.  
Drill Truck 2.jpg (55928 bytes) It's still lying where they left it, a monument to man's struggle against the elements, the dryness of the desert air having minimized corrosion down the years.  We reckon the truck dates from the 1950's, and it seemed very eerie, lying there with the wind blowing through it's carcass.
BBQ.jpg (43659 bytes) And for those long nights observing the stars?  What better than a built in barbeque, useful for keeping you warm and also for cooking those "essential somethings" which astronomers seem to need to help us survive the rigors of the night!

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK

If you get tired of "chilling out" at the ranch you can always head back down the road for 16 miles, take a left on the main road and go south on highway 180 towards Mexico.  In 30 miles or so you will reach the town of Study Butte, where you can buy fuel, groceries and have an excellent breakfast served in fine style at Miss Tracy's Cafe.  We're told that Miss Tracy hails from Manchester, England and she has two dogs called Charles and Fergie.
Big Bend 1.jpg (79180 bytes) A couple of miles further and you are in Big Bend National Park, an area of incredible beauty and marvelous scenery.  The park is huge, and there is much to see.  This is one place we liked to visit - called Boquillas Canyon.
Big Bend 2.jpg (47683 bytes) This is an area where the Rio Grande river has carved its way through the mountains. We liked it down by the river, where we could watch the water surging past and look at Mexico, just feet away on the other side.  It's easy to see why the area is swarming with Border Patrol officers.  As you approach the canyon along the trail you enter tall bamboo which covers you with a canopy, and which seems to be a characteristic of any area close to the river.  Then, you are on sand, and the swift flowing river lies before you, swirling on into the canyon.
K2 at Big Bend - 1.jpg (61836 bytes) Another place which is great to visit is the area around what they call "Hot Springs".  It's right down by the Rio Grande and the trail leads you past pictographs and other evidence of habitation of the park a long time ago.
Liz, K & K2 - Big Bend.jpg (57824 bytes) Even at Christmas time the weather is usually warm and pleasant, and it is very soothing to walk alongside the rushing waters of the river.
Hot Springs - Dec2000.jpg (59554 bytes) The trail brings you to the hot spring itself, and there really is a hot spring, complete with mud which you can spread all over your body.  We found some people wallowing in the mud, and the water was about as hot as bath water.  We chose not to jump in.
Fossil - Big Bend 2000.jpg (78372 bytes) The area is rich in sandstone and other sedimentary deposits, and right in the middle of the trail we found what appeared to be a huge fossil.  It's hard to say for sure, but the conditions are so right for it, that a fossil it must surely be.
Big Bend - 2000.jpg (75068 bytes) Winding up the hill and over the top of the cliff, the trail brings you to a fantastic precipice, with a drop so deep that we dared not venture too close to the edge.
K2 on the edge.jpg (88625 bytes) We could see the Rio Grande ahead of us, snaking its way along the border.  We could also see large birds with vivid colours and also smaller birds way below us, darting across the surface of the water and catching insects.
Lizzie on the edge.jpg (79594 bytes) It's hard to describe the view, but to blend the beauty and the warmth and the river makes for a superb place to relax and enjoy a quiet afternoon on New Years Eve - which is the day we were there.
Profile at Big Bend.jpg (63340 bytes) Big Bend National Park has many areas of interest, and these are only some of them.  The desert teems with life, the views from the Chisos Basin (in the middle of the park well away from the river) are incredible, and the history trapped in the geology must be immense.
The Ravine - Big Bend 2000.jpg (83854 bytes) We have been to the area three times now, and we will doubtless go again.  Every time we go we explore a different place, and if you possibly can, do take a four wheel drive vehicle with you.  Many of the roads are dirt roads and you can get so much further.  There is gas in the park, and you do need it.  The distances are very large and especially if you plan to stay in the park for more than a day, you will need to fill up if you intend to drive to any more than a couple of places.  Enjoy your stay, and remember, leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories.

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