Dec. 7 – We took Ranger Bob’s advice and drove east to see the sweet blush of sunset on the vertical cliffs of Sierra del Carmen, where the Rio Bravo del Norte (aka Rio Grande) cuts through to form Boquillas Canyon.
We are late. We are always late. It is the outstanding feature of our existence. The color has drained from Sierra del Carmen’s limestone escarpment by the time we find a suitable place to park the behemoth and have dinner. Before long a curtain of darkness has fallen on the Big Bend stage, and we set off to figure out our next move.
We make it back to the main road and travel a mile east to Rio Grande Village. If you ever find yourself wandering Big Bend in search of a little oasis of 21st century civilization, which is kind of a perverse thought, when you think about it, there’s a little store at Rio Grande Village with adjacent laundry and shower facilities that stay open all night. You can get a five-minute shower for $1.50. There’s wifi, too. And an outlet. Just saying.
We do a little Christmas shopping, engage in more indecision, then hole up to clean our clothes and ourselves. In a disgusting aside to be entered faithfully into the record, this will be the last time we shower until we reach Pennsylvania. After this, we will go nine days and more than 2,800 miles without bathing. I said it was a dirty story.
By the time we’re done our laundry, it’s late. We’re tired. We drive through the park in search of overnight lodging. We nearly kill a javelina or two on the way, but alert driving and judicious breaking spares these particular collared peccary.
We drive past Panther Junction, and the road to the Chisos Basin, and the road to Castolon before finally pulling over at the Big Bend badlands overlook to boondock for the night. Sorry, NPS. We’ll get you next time.
By the time we eat breakfast and get moving in the morning, we’re late again. Of course. Too late to see the sunrise spectacular at Santa Elena.
But we get to Santa Elena Canyon anyway, because it’s still cool, even without the roseate hues of sunrise enhancing the splendor of Sierra Ponce on the Mexico side of the Rio Bravo. Max talks us into clambering about the rocks and in between a defensive line of prickly pear at the base of Mesa de Anguilla.
I could write a thousand flowery words about the stunning beauty of Santa Elena Canyon, but like I said before, I’m no poet. I’ll leave it at this: damn.
Intermezzo, Dec. 28 – I got up this morning while Becky and Max were still sleeping and made the 2.7-mile trek along beautiful Route 30 to the Starbucks in Paoli, my hometown. I know the International House of Bitterness is anathema to the whole notion of home. I know it is a ubiquitous, thousand-headed global monster. No matter how far you stray from home, you can always go to Starbucks and enjoy the artificial trappings of home at no extra cost.
Oh boy. I am a pathetic, bleating, bloated sheep, just begging for the slaughter. I began this aside a few minutes ago, intent upon saying something nice about Starbucks. I was seduced by the siren song of Lucinda Williams.
Her hoarse scrawl on the ineffable “Lake Charles” tempted me to conflate good music with good business. My head in a fog, my shoulders swaying, my lips synching along to We used to drive from Lafayette to Baton Rouge/In a yellow El Camino listening to Howlin’ Wolf …
What a sucker! Then some hard words of truth from Paul Simon:
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest
Ain’t it the truth. Goddamn simpleton. I was thinking ab0ut Charlie Pierce, the peerless Pierce, over at Esquire yesterday, how he had briefly lacerated The International House of Bitterness. I was skimming, and I all digested was his understandable disinclination to hear Sarah McLachlan ad nauseum. It thought: Damn, Charlie. I ain’t heard Sarah all morning. What you on about? All I’ve heard is Lucinda Williams, the Band, Elvis Costello, the Clash!
The Clash, for chrissakes. And not only the Clash, but “Lost in the Supermarket.” Life’s little connections, so bittersweet.
Waterfalls of irony washing over me, yet I’m dirty as a pig in shit.
I went back and read you, Charlie. You know, like the words and all.
There it was, plain as day. Howard Schultz, that glad-handing, cock-sucking weasel who allowed the SuperSonics to be stolen out of Seattle just so he could retrofit his nest with gold brocade. Howard, exhorting good sheep like me to exhort those flaky Congressmen and women to fix the debt. Let’s come together, America! Priceless. Fix the debt!
And how to the beneficent overlords at Fix the Debt want to fix the debt? They want to fix it on the backs of the poor, elderly and infirm. They want to slash and burn Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And how about the American Military Colossus, which accounts for over half of discretionary spending?
Sshhhh! And please don’t look behind the curtain. Because you might notice Fix the Debt is made up of a gang of ruthless plutocrats with “ties to 43 companies with defense contracts totaling $42.3 billion in 2012.”
Yes, freedom! Obliterate the safety net so an international cartel of well-dressed thieves can continue to live like Croesus on a millennial cocaine bender.
Fuck you, Howard. I am done with you. Until further notice. I already have spent my $4.29 today, so I will stay here and bleat out my impuissant rant in your house. Tomorrow, I’ll go somewhere else*. Even if it’s an equally reprehensible corporate outpost. Anywhere but here. You shameless fuck. God, I wish Joe Strummer were here.
*Ouch. Rhoda reminds me, too late, that my mother gave each of us a $25 gift card to Starbucks for Christmas. I guess we aren’t done with you quite yet, Howie.
OK, back to Big Bend, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. We left Santa Elena Canyon, but not before taking some more photographs. First, we took pains to document an array of regional fauna, both nonnative and native.
First, the extremely nonnative:
And then there’s the kaleidoscopic invasion of monarch butterflies. Monarchs come through here in big numbers on an 1,000-mile migratory route to their wintering grounds in Mexico. Seems they’re a bit behind their schedule this year. Of course, it’s already winter, and we’re a stone’s throw (hackneyed but true) from Mexico.
Next it was off to the Mule Ears Spring trail. It was nearby and easily accessible.
We had traded in the awesome beauty of Santa Elena Canyon and now wandered in the sere landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert.
We passed an endless procession of greasewood and purple sage, prickly pear and yucca. We kept an eye out for sidewinders. We were fully exposed to the sun, which made the easy hike a trifle more arduous. When we got to the Mule Ears Spring, it was nothing more than a trickle into a stagnant bathtub. Of course, this was intuitive, if we had been intuitive types.
The region is in the middle of a wrecking drought, and it stood to reason that a spring at the terminus of a desert trail would be less than refreshing. We kept our bathing suits stowed and enjoyed the simple refection of peanut butter slathered on Ritz crackers, washed down with water.
Then it was time to retrace our steps, keeping an eye out for sidewinders as always. We passed the array of greasewood and purple sage, prickly bear and yucca all over again.
We saw no rattlers.
We made it back to the behemoth and headed back up the Castolon Road on our way out of Big Bend. I stopped every so often to skim a roadside exhibit and snap pictures of a series of spectacular rock formations. I wanted to absorb as much of the geological sweep as possible before we found ourselves outside the park. Mostly, it was a dismal failure.