For the last week my wife and I have been traveling with Bill Wright, photographer and Positive American. Wright, a friend and native of Abilene, has been visiting the Big Bend area since his high school graduation more than 50 years ago. That's a long time: I think he knows almost everyone in the area by name.
What do you do in Big Bend? Here's a sample.
We've rushed out before dawn so a semi-retired private investigator/amateur astronomer from Houston could show us a rare event. Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury were lined up in order across the sky, visible to the naked eye.
We've seen a small cemetery nearly lost against a panorama that stretched for a hundred miles, half an hour's drive from the nearest house.
Coming down the dirt road from Chinati Hot Springs into Ruidosa, we've listened to a woman explain that you can't sell much beer in a village of twenty people when only eight people drink beer and three are trying to sell it. Living in a town where the main source of income is likely to be Social Security checks and drug trafficking, this can be a problem.
We've visited a hand built adobe house, isolated, "off the grid," and powered by solar panels and a small wind generator. We've also learned that "off the grid" is a state of mind. We've visited with a local anthropologist, Enrique Rede Madrid, who is building a case that his village, Redford, is the home of an unrecognized Indian tribe.
At the Chisos Mountain Lodge we've watched curious deer chew their way to the parking area. And down the road we've stopped for crossing Javelina.
We've also met people whose stories would make good fiction: a retired Mennonite pastor who flies an ultra light airplane, walking the Ernst Tinaja trail as we were leaving. A Minnesota woman who downsized from a big house to a small house, started traveling in an RV, and is now in her first weeks of "full-timing" as an RVer. Not far from the Santa Elena campground we listened to a Wisconsin woman explain that she and her husband had just left their careers and were traveling by RV--- until they figured out what they would do next. She had no idea when, or what, that would be.
The oddest juxtaposition, however, was at the town of Lajitas. When I passed through in 1998, while riding my motorcycle along the US/Mexico border, Lajitas had just been sold at auction. Back then, it wasn't much different from nearby Terlingua, the tiny town best known for its annual Chili Cook-Off and a population that had listened to Timothy Leary when he advised everyone to turn on, tune in, and drop out.
Today, aside from having a goat that drinks beer as mayor, Lajitas has gone corporate. Billing itself as "the ultimate hide-away," millions have been spent building a golf course, lighted tennis courts, a luxury resort hotel with restaurants to match, and furnished two-bedroom condominiums that you can call your own for only $500,000. This, I was told while visiting, could someday rival Palm Springs or Aspen.
Perhaps it will. The hotel rooms, which rent for $205 to $325 at peak season, are well worth the price. And perhaps the condos will appreciate, as a salesperson intimates. No one, certainly, should be unhappy about the number of jobs being created.
Still, it provokes a sense of loss.
Glitz and status? In Big Bend?
It ain't right.
On the web:
The Borderland Trip
National Park Service
Hotel Limpia in Fort Davis
McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis
Lajitas: The Ultimate Hide-Out
Marathon: The Gage Hotel
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