January/February in the Big Bend is a great time to explore. Because of the lower elevation and southern latitude, winters here are very mild, and this year is no exception. A week in the border country was an opportunity to catch up with several friends, both old and new(er), and so Jodie & I hooked up the camper and headed the 90 miles south for the week. We made base camp in Lajitas, just 17 miles to the west of the famous ghost town of Terlingua.
The Rio Grande River forms the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and Hwy 170, the River Road, rolls through this country like the river itself, surrounded on all sides by the grandeur of the mountains and canyons that define this land:
One of the most exciting discoveries on this trip was finding the first BLUEBONNETS, or lupinus havardii, of the year in bloom along the roadway:
This land is filled with geologic wonders, including these hoodoos carved from tuff, or volcanic ash, along the way:
The old mining district around Terlingua is a reminder of tougher people during a tougher time, in a tough land. Here, laborers from both sides of the border toiled for pennies a day to produce “quicksilver” between 1903 and the second world war:
Beyond the communities of Terlingua and Lajitas, we enter the desert mountains now protected by the Big Bend Ranch State Park, where we meet up with park veterans for a day of hiking along a creek drainage, important for centuries to pre-history Americans, the Spanish explorers, the settlers and homesteaders from both border cultures, and the more modern cowboy culture. This is a country of critters both large and small, all dependent upon the liquid gold resource: water.
The Fresno Creek drainage flows both above ground and below for miles, down from the high country whose waters ultimately drain into the Rio Grande River.
Old skeletons of former mining efforts remain silent testimony to the workers mining cinebar for the WWI war effort:
The “Rock House” ruin stands along Fresno Creek as a reminder of those who established homes and families in this hot, dry land, wringing out an existence against all odds:
Further upstream, we stand on a high bluff, looking down on the creek drainage, bending around the flat-topped peak of an extinct underwater magma flow, or laccolith:
From the bluff, we look down on the remains of a primitive factory that produced wax from the candelilla plant. The wax was used in everything from varnish to chewing gum:
These boilers were used to separate the wax from the stems and leaves in a dilute solution of sulfuric acid:
As we turn back and head downstream, the water is forced to the surface by the bedrock, so that it flows along the rocks in wonderful patterns and pools:
A nice place for a dip to cool off:
Along the banks of the creek are found other remnants of homes, and lives, that were dependent upon the sparse water of this desert land:
The layers of sediment exposed by water and wind form a rainbow of color that tell a geologist the story of eons of changing landscape and climate:
And so, January is a time of exploration in the Big Bend, visiting old friends and welcoming the coming of spring with the return of the iconic bluebonnets to Texas along the Border.