Monthly Archives: April 2016

Photograph of Lajitas Boardwal


Teardrop Trail Log: March 27, 2016

My first trip to the Big Bend area came when I had been hired to work on the marketing team for Lajitas. The name is Spanish for “little flat rocks” and refers to the Boquillas limestone of the region. The office was located in Austin, but we would fly into the far West Texas resort for meetings. Sadly, we were working and not sight seeing. The only view I had of Santa Elena Canyon was a marketing photograph. This trip was my chance to see the Big Bend country.

Lajitas, twelve miles west of the Terlingua Ghost Town, had consisted of a trading post and an old cavalry post that was used as a hunting lodge. It had been bought by Houston business man, Walter Mischer in 1977. The scruffy, Old West-style resort was best known for its beer-swilling mayor, a goat named Clay Henry. Mischer had turned the town, into a modest resort with an Old West boardwalk, cheap hotel rooms, a nine hole golf course, and an RV park anchored by the 65-year old trading post became known locally as the Courthouse of South County.

Photograph of Lobby at Lajitas

Lobby at Lajitas

In 2000, Austin-telecommunications tycoon Steve Smith bought the town at public auction. Smith’s vision was to transform Lajitas into the Palm Springs of Texas and it was christened The Ultimate Hideout. Fast forward to 2007, the property was sold again.

We stopped General Store that has moved down the highway from the resort and is now home to the new mayor Clay Henry. The postcards I found that seemed familiar. They were from the time I had worked there.

Road Trip Eats

Teardrop Trail Log: March 27, 2016

We got a recommendation on where to camp with our teardrop and checked into Big Bend Resort and Adventures in the Study Butte Terlingua area, just outside the national park. The Cafe, which is open seven days a week, reminded me of so many places I’d eaten, like the Java Junction Cafe in the West Texas town where I had gone to elementary school. Formica tables, melamine plates divided for the main dish and two sides, plastic water glasses and two flavors of Tabasco on each table. The first time we walked in the door, we were greeted by a symphony of aromas that brought back memories of home and family.

One evening, the special was chicken fried steak, a tenderized cube steak coated with seasoned flour, deep fried with a crisp golden brown crust. A Texas classic. The other option was steak fingers, chicken fried steak cut into strips. Our plates arrived, the steak was plied high on a bed of french fries, served with white, peppered country milk gravy. There were also Texas-style green beans on the plate, cooked to the “unique” texture and color like so many women in my family did. Yum…. We were so focused on the food that we forgot to take a picture!

Photo of biscuit and gravy breakfast

Breakfast with bacon, eggs and biscuit with white, peppered, country milk gravy.

The next morning, we decided to check out the breakfast buffet. While waiting in line to use the toaster when we spotted biscuits. Not the doughboy’s biscuits, but the light, flaky good ole comfort food fantasy biscuits. We left the buffet line for the table with bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits and the white, peppered milk country gravy like my Mamaw used to make.

Ah, comfort food on the road!

photo of Hoodoos of Big Bend Ranch State Park

Wildflowers in the Big Bend

Teardrop Trail Log: March 27, 2016

We were a little early for the big flush of wildflowers, but there were quite a few blooms — especially cactus — anyway. These are a few of the beauties we encountered in the Big Bend area.


photo of Big Bend Ranch State Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Photo of Santa Elena Canyon Trail

Hiking the Santa Elena Canyon

Teardrop Trail Log: March 26, 2016

After a lunch break at Castolon, we drove on to the Santa Elena Canyon entrance. The park ranger in Castolon mentioned that parking might be a problem, and we could see why as we approached the canyon. It’s a very popular attraction in the Big Bend, and a modest amount of parking. Cars were parked on either side of the entrance road for quite a distance. Luckily, someone had just left, creating a space, and we slipped right in. Another advantage of a smaller vehicle! A short walk on the road, and we entered the trail.

Photo of switchbacks on the trail


It starts out with a longish beach “paved” with boards which really help with the deep sand. A turn or two and you get the first unobstructed view of the canyon. Amazing. With walls up to 1500 feet directly bordering the river, the views are really dramatic. After crossing Terlinqua Creek, you begin climbing the improved trail on the U.S. side of the river. A series of switchbacks consisting of paving and stairs, form the first part of the trail.

Photo of The view from the top

The view from the top

With a vertical rise of several hundred feet, the 1.7 mile trail provides a decent workout, but a walking stick is helpful as the trail is on the edge of cliff faces at several points along the trail. Great views, but a little challenging for those who aren’t as sure-footed or suffer from vertigo. The paving ends once you reach the highest point of the trail.

photo of The trail near the river

The trail near the river

Later, the trail descends back down to the river level with sandy, grass and plant-lined paths that end up at the river. It’s very shallow here, and in places you can walk across the river to the Mexican side — many hikers do. In all, we spent 2-3 hours enjoying the canyon and taking photos. One of the most spectacular experiences I have had on the Teardrop Trail yet!

photo of Near the end of the trail

Near the end of the trail

Photo of Alvino House, Castolon, Texas

Adobe Architecture in the Big Bend

Teardrop Trail Log: March 26, 2016

In Castolon, we encountered the Alvino House, named for Alvino Ybarra who lived there with his family from 1918 to 1957. It was originally built in 1901 by Cipriano Hernandez, who irrigated the bottomland to grow melons, pumpkins, squash and beans. To make extra income, he operated a store out of the house and tended the steam-powered cotton gin.  It is the oldest adobe structure in the park, and represents the everyday life of families who lived and farmed along the Rio Grande.

photo of Detail of Front Entrance

South Entrance

photo of Detail of Front Entrance

Detail of South Entrance

Photo of Window Detail

East Window Detail

photo of Interior Hallway

Interior Hallway from West Window

Photo of Interior Room

Interior Room from North Window

photo of Detail of Roof

Detail of Roof

Photo of Detail of Hatch

Detail of Hatch on East Side

photo of Courtyard Entrance

Courtyard Entrance on North Side

Photo of Courtyard Detail

Courtyard Detail

Photo of Santa Elena Canyon visible in the distance

Santa Elena Canyon is visible in the distance

Ranches in the Big Bend

Teardrop Trail Log: March 26, 2016

On our way to Castolon and Santa Elena Canyon, we encountered exhibits on two large ranches in the Big Bend that were founded between 1909 and 1929. Known as the “Sam Nail Ranch” and the “Homer Willson Ranch” (ne. Blue Creek Ranch), they varied in size from 15,000 to 28,000 acres. Both were occupied until the 1940’s , and later incorporated into the Big Bend National Park. The Homer Wilson ranch was one of the largest ranches in the United States, and the most significant one in the Big Bend Area.

Homer Wilson Ranch was the first such operation in the Big Bend area, and required self-reliance, independence, a life with moxie and strong character.

photo of Homer Wilson Ranch on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend

Homer Wilson Ranch on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend

Photo of Santa Elena from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Exploring Castolon En Route to Santa Elena Canyon

Teardrop Trail Log: March 26, 2016

We entered Big Bend National Park and drove down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, a 30-mile paved road to the Castolon Historic District on the banks of the Rio Grande. The views were amazing. Santa Elena Canyon came into view as we drove toward the river.

Photo of Alvino House, Castolon, Texas

Alvino House, Castolon, Texas

In the early years of the Twentieth Century, people began to farm and ranch in the area. In 1901, Cipriano Hernandez irrigated the bottomland, grew crops and operated the first store in the area out of his  home. The building, known as the Alvino House, was named for Alvino Ybarra who lived there with his family from 1918 to 1957. It is the oldest known adobe structure in Big Bend National Park.

The Mexican Revolution raged in Mexico and many families fled across the border until around 1920. The violence brought the U.S. military to defend the border. Numerous camps were established by the National Guard and the Air Corps established a landing field at a nearby ranch. Originally known as Camp Santa Helena, construction of a permanent post at Costolon began in 1919 but by 1920, the Revolution was over and the buildings were never occupied.

Photo of La Harmonia, Castolon, Texas

La Harmonia, Castolon, Texas

In 1921, the La Harmonia Company Store moved into the new barracks building and served as a store and post office. In 1961, the National Park Service acquired the store and a park concessioner continues to operate it. The visitors center is also located in the historic building. It is still the center of activity in this part of the park.

The parking lot of La Harmonia overlooks the Alvino House below while Santa Elena Canyon beckons in the distance. Even so, this view doesn’t prepare us for the Canyon.

Photo of Alvino House with view of Santa Elena Canyon

Alvino House with view of Santa Elena Canyon

Volunteers in the Park

Photograph of Chisos Basin Visitor Center

Chisos Basin Visitor Center, NPS Photo/Ann Wildermuth

Teardrop Trail Log: March 24, 2016

Whenever we go to a national or state park, we like to check in at the Visitors Center or Ranger Station to find out the status on trails, campsites, roads, events and other interesting things. We stopped into the Chisos Basin Visitor Center on our first full day in Big Bend. The exhibits on the peregrine falcon, black bear and mountain lion provided more information on these species’ lives in the Chisos Mountains. The Center also includes Big Bend Natural History Association bookstore and restrooms. Backcountry camping permits can be issued from the Visitor Center.

In addition to rangers, the Center was staffed by enthusiastic volunteers who have broad knowledge on many topics, helping visitors with a wide range of questions. Madeline, one of my college classmates has been a park volunteer and was recognized for contributing many hours of service to Big Bend National Park.

Photograph of Chisos Basin Map with recent bear and lion sightings.

Chisos Basin Map with recent sightings.

Big Bend has diverse habitats with more than 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, 56 species of reptiles and 11 species of amphibians. The Chisos Mountains are a popular nesting site for migratory birds, as well as for bear and mountain lion sightings. Studying and managing wildlife is a key activity in the park. Both the volunteers and rangers track a number of sightings through wildlife observation reports filled out by visitors. On the wall of  the Chisos Basin Visitor Center was a map updated with black bear sightings.

I guess we’re not in Kansas any more.

Photograph of Black Bear in Big Bend

Black Bear Sighting in Big Bend

photo of The View at Seminole Canyon

The Wildflowers of Seminole Canyon State Park

Teardrop Trail Log: March 23, 2016

We stayed in Seminole Canyon State Park our first night out, and found there had been recent rain in the high desert. That, combined with the time of year (late March) led to a profusion of wildflowers — the best I have ever seen in the arid Texas landscape. Marilyn and I spent a couple of pleasant hours photographing what we saw.

The light was perfect too. Many of the photos were taken less than an hour before sunset — the Magic Light that photographers love …

photo of The Golden Hour in Seminole Canyon

The Golden Hour in Seminole Canyon

Hiking in the Chisos

Photo of The Window Mountain Gap

The Window

Teardrop Trail Log: March 25, 2016

The Chisos Mountains form the core of Big Bend National Park, and have some of the most striking scenery. After driving in the day before and stopping briefly at the Park Headquarters near the Chisos, we decided to start by exploring them. It was about a 45 minute drive from our Study Butte campground, and we arrived in the late morning.

Photo of Chisos Mountains Visitors Center

The Visitors Center

There is a Visitors Center and a small store, along with a restaurant and guest housing located at the end of the road, and a 15-minute walk previews the main attraction: The Window. This geographic feature is formed by a gap between two of the mountains, and looks out over the western part of the park.

The short walk was a great tease, and after having a bite of lunch, we got some last-minute advice in the Visitors Center, filled our water bottles, and headed out on the Chisos Basin Loop — a little less than a two mile hike. We figured it would take about 2 hours.

Photo of Chisos Basin Loop Trail

The Chisos Basin Loop Trail

Listed as “moderate” difficulty, it was more of a challenge than we expected. There is quite a bit of vertical variation on the trail, and with the roughly 5000 foot elevation, I was noticing my lack of conditioning. Never mind — it’s a great hike.

The Window comes in and out of view on the trail, and you also get to see the back side of another feature: Casa Grande. I had a lot of fun taking pictures, and we both got some great images. We got back to the Visitors Center about 4.

Photo of Casa Grande in the Chisos Mountains

Casa Grande from the Chisos Basin Loop Trail