Big Bend National Park, simply put, is beautiful. The park itself is the size of Rhode Island and sits right on the border of the U.S. The area is littered with Cretaceous fossils and 9,000 year old artifacts. The geology is striking with ragged peaks and valleys created through tectonics and volcanic activity. It’s also known for having the darkest sky in the U.S. and people flock to makeshift observatories to watch the sky. There were very few stars for us that night as the full moon took center stage and lit the rocks and crevices around us.
Reluctantly, we broke camp on the second day of our journey and headed for Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which boarders the U.S. Across the Rio Grande lies El Paso Texas. According to the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security website, the State Department has classified this city as a “Critical” crime threat. The crimes they list include murder, drug trafficking, and kidnapping. According to the State Department, 730 people were murdered last year in this small city.
We are going in an off-white convertible S-model Mini Cooper with sport package and black seats.
After Juárez, we will camp in Arizona at Upper Scorpion Camp. Again, like the day before, I ponder on why they call this camp “scorpion camp”. I smile. We are no tourists; this is traveling!
But first we must backtrack our route to Marathon along the Comanche Trail through Persimmon pass.
The Comanche were plains Indians following the buffalo in Kansas, Oklahoma, and north Texas. They were the only tribe in North America to fully embrace the horse as part of their culture. The horse was their culture. It was their life. Everyone in the tribe had at least one horse and warriors often had at least three or more. At their height, Camanches reached a population of 20,000 and brought with them 220,000 wild horses as they migrated, following the buffulo during the year. That said, their preferred way of getting a new horse was to pilfer one from the Spanish. They would leave the buffalo and travel down through Texas, warring with the local Apache, and travel through Persimmon pass. The same pass we drove through this day. The trail was well used by the Comanche and very visible at the time, more so because on the way back from a raid they would set fire to the land to prevent pursuit. They would travel across the Rio Grand and raid the Spanish settlements taking horses and people.
We make Marathon and turn west along Highway 67, top down on our Mini. We stop for lunch in a tiny town called Marfa. Unfortunately, everything was closed. Everything — like in all three restaurants on Main St. everything. My travel companion mentions the Marfa lights. Perplexed I look it up. Marfa, which is in the middle of no-man’s-land on the border of Texas and Mexico, is known for the Marfa lights. These sightings began in the 1800’s and continue today. Many people attribute them to UFO’s or paranormal activity. Researchers believe they are simply car lights. Here are a few excerpts from Trip Advisor:
“Anybody who says these are car headlights or campfires have NOT seen these lights. They certainly look like UFO activity or more likely some atmospheric phenomenon. Very bizarre.”
“We saw them! Also read a study that science students determined they were headlights from highway 69. But we don’t think so.”
“[..] the lights just come and go. Very interesting.”
You get the idea. We continue along and make El Paso, Texas. This city is right across the river from Juárez. We have to make a decision. Do we take our convertible Mini across the Rio Grande to Mexico or opt for a trip to Walmart.
We decide on a new air mattress because the brand new expensive out-of-the-box mattress that I researched on blogs for over a week and finally bought online at REI has a slow leak. As many of my friends will attest, most of my body weight is on the top half of my body, and I woke up in the middle of the night with my shoulders on the ground staring at my feet elevated above me.
El Paso has grown to be very large and outside of its location on the border of Mexico and the Rio Grande, it’s hard to imagine its rich history and stories of the Wild West. I’m sure you have heard of the famous Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight. Yup, that happened right where we were in El Paso. It started when 75 heavily armed Mexicans galloped into town. They confronted the then sheriff looking for two of their comrades who were in turn searching for lost cattle possibly rustled. The sheriff, Mexicans, and some townsmen rode together to Johnny Hale’s ranch, a known rustler, and there they found their fellow cowhands shot dead and left to rot. They left Hale, a influential ranch owner, and took a few of his hands to jail and had a trial the next day. The sheriff who knew Spanish acted as an interpreter for the El Paso court and the men were convicted. That did not sit well with some of the townsfolk and Hale who implicated the sheriff as a Mexican sympathizer. That night in the saloon, Hale’s friend and El Paso ex-marshall called the sheriff out and shot him in the chest. The NEW marshal, Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire, a noted gunman, was having dinner across the street. He ran over, pulled out his Colt, and shot an innocent bystander who was running away. OK, that can happen. But now it gets more Hollywood. He shot one of the gunmen and the other was taking cover behind a wagon yelling at him. Dallas raised a pistol and shot him between the eyes. The whole episode lasted five seconds. That next evening, Hale hired a hit man to assassinate Marshall Dallas. He confronted him with a shotgun behind the back. Dallas turned around with his Colts and shot is private parts off (I’m not making this up) and he quickly bled to death. Unfortunately, Hale (not a great guy) finally succeeded and Dallas and his brother were killed the next year.
New mattress in hand, some duct tape should anything happen to this one, and some sea bass and fresh vegetables, we make our way to Silver City, New Mexico and then deep into the bowels of the Gila National Forrest. It is a beautiful two hour drive through Cottonwood forest and valleys and we make camp at the end of the road at Upper Scorpion which is a mile away from the next day’s exploration of the Gila Cliff Dwellings. We make camp and we pour ourselves a Spanish red blend while we wait for our coals to get hot. I grill our onion and bell pepper and then our marinated sea bass. After the sea bass, I grill up some shrimp using the remaining marinade and the only cooking pan I brought, my large cast-iron pan I call Betsy.
We drank our wine and talked over peel and eat shrimp while two or three bats kept vigilance over our heads protecting us from unseen flying insects. It was a beautiful night under an old oak tree with yesterday’s Big Bend full moon still high in the sky here in mountains of southern New Mexico.