While winter rages out of control in the northeast, we must take time out to bask in the 80 degree temps of the Big Bend in February. We hooked up the camper and set up camp for 3 days in the Cottonwood campground on the banks of the Rio Grande River, just a stone’s throw from Mexico. We had a great spot just a short distance from a pair of great horned owls who were setting up housekeeping in a tall cottonwood tree.
We decided to drive the 52 mile primitive 4 wheel drive road that runs along the Rio Grande River across the width of Big Bend National Park, a road that gets you into the interior of the park and into some of the wildest, most scenic and least visited areas, full of history. The dirt trail leads us to the southern boundary of the United States, the other side of the river being Mexico:
Remnants of early vehicles that didn’t survive the rigors of many miles of back-country labor lie abandoned these 75 years or more along the route:
We soon come upon the remains of the Johnson Ranch, which was actually built by the U.S. government during World War I as an airfield and retreat for pilots, all officers, who would fly here in their early bi-planes and land, anticipating several days of relaxation, which really meant drinking, partying, and enjoying the pleasures of the local ladies, mostly from across the border:
The bones of the rusting automobiles are not the only ones left forgotten in this harsh, remote and forgotten end of the country:
We soon arrive at the site of the Mariscal Mine, a smelter for mercury, or “quicksilver,” which was the source of several large mines in the area, none so remote as this one:
The view of the distant 8000′ high ridge of the Sierra del Carmen mountains in Mexico, seen through the eyes of a miner’s home, built from the flat limestone slabs so prevalent in this area. Did this laborer even have time to notice the beauty of the desert, or was it merely something to be cursed, laying down a bone-weary body on a tiny bed in a one-room rock hut:
The real purpose of our journey is realized soon enough, as we begin to encounter many fields of endless blooms, the fragrant bicolor mustard, which carpets the desert floor as far as the eye can see in some places. We can’t recall a winter that has been as wet as this, with monthly rainfall between 1-2 inches, during a time of the year when we rarely see rain. With the windows down, the fragrance of the blossoms is almost overwhelming, like driving through a perfume factory:
Back at camp, the night settles in as we watch a setting sun, then the waning moon, then the stars of the outer bands of the milky way, a sight rarely visible during the winter months when you can only see the distant bands in the darkest of skies:
A piercing quiet, found nowhere else, then sleep.