Welcome back to Big Bend National Park, where we visited in February 2016. Of the 62 national parks in the nation, Big Bend clocks in at over 801,000 acres, making it the 14th largest in the system.
For more information about this section of the park, see the Big Bend National Park overview in Part Five.
The Rio Grande Village in the eastside of the park is 41 miles from the Maverick Junction entrance where we entered. Be sure to heed the posted speed limit of 45 mph. A park ranger had to warn Jon to slow down a tad.
From Terlingua, Highway 118 is the route to take to the eastside of the park. Although this tunnel is short compared to the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel in Zion or the Wawona in Yosemite, when we see a tunnel and there’s a place to park, we have to take a picture.
From the Rio Grande Visitor Center, the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail leads to a viewing platform on a pond and continues up a hillside for river and mountain views.
We took a lunch break at the Daniels Farm House, which is a 1920 adobe farmhouse representing Texas pioneer farming. John O. Wedlen, a Swedish immigrant who came to Texas for greener pastures, built the building as a shed for farm equipment.
Daniels purchased the farm in 1937 and moved into the former storage shed as his residence. Later he added a room to use as a small store, serving the local residents in the Boquillas community.
Daniels converted 100 acres of land to cotton and moved away in 1944 when the park was established. The home, or shed, is 44 feet by 15 feet, or 660 square feet.
At the Hot Springs Historic District, visitors will find preserved buildings, pictographs, and the foundation from the old bathhouse. The 105-degree water entices guests to come on in, soak a while, the water’s fine.
When J. O. Langford heard about the healing powers of hot springs in Texas, he filed a claim under the Homestead Act sight unseen.
After following a 21-day treatment of bathing and drinking the spring water and experiencing relief from his recurring bouts of malaria, he opened the spring to other bathers at 10 cents a day or $2.00 for the full 21-day treatment.
Besides starting tourism in the area, he also became a schoolteacher, a self-taught doctor, and a postman.
There is plenty more to see in the eastside of the park, and I’d love to come back and spend a week or maybe two.
Next up we check out the westside of the park. Until then, stay safe.
Hooray, we finally made it to our ultimate destination. On February 28, 2016, we rolled into Terlingua, Texas, for four nights and chose the Big Bend Motor Inn RV Park for our base camp while exploring Big Bend National Park.
Terlingua, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a living ghost town with a population estimated at 80 people. As a company town developed in the early 1900s to support mining activities of the Chisos Mining Company, the population grew to 1,000 Mexican and Anglo people. The Mexicans occupied one side of the town, the Anglos on the other, and up on a hill, a mansion overlooked the company-owned general store, water service, a school, gasoline station, a theater, and other amenities.
Terlingua, Texas: The Town
Cinnabar, from which metal mercury was extracted, was what drew Howard E. Perry, a Chicago industrialist, to the area. He incorporated the Chisos Mining Company in May 1903. Although he controlled the activities in Texas and built the mansion on the hill, he rarely came to visit his business venture. The Chisos Mining Company became the largest producing mine and largest mercury producer in the United States at that time.
On Monday night, the Starlight Theater Restaurant and Bar offered a two for one hamburger deal for dinner. We wandered into the gift shop next door and checked out the sunset at the cemetery while we waited for the restaurant to open. A very nice couple invited us to sit with them for dinner, thinking we’d get a table easier that way. It worked, and we enjoyed our conversation and learned a bit about Texas.
Our plan to return another day to take photos of the Starlight and other buildings around the town fell through, so the photos of the cemetery sprinkled throughout this post are all I have. Hmm, that sounds like a good excuse to go back to Terlinqua someday. It’s a long drive, but definitely worth it.
Tourism is the primary economic driver in and around Terlingua and the Big Bend National Park. Businesses such as RV parks, motels, vacation rentals, restaurants and bars, and tour groups are establishments that support the residents and tourists.
Big Bend National Park: An Overview
At Big Bend National Park, visitors can enjoy three parks for the price of one. On the Westside visitors will find the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Santa Elena Canyon, plenty of trails to hike, and the Castalon Visitor Center.
The Panther Junction and the Rio Grande Village Visitors Centers are located on the Eastside. From the Rio Grande center, visitors can hike along the Rio Grande river to see Daniels Ranch and the Hot springs. Access to 4-wheel drive roads leads to various camping sites. The Rio Grande Village is the place for travelers who desire full hookups for their RV. Reservations are needed for 20 of the sites. Or try your luck for the five first-come-first-served sites.
The third area of the park is the Chisos Basin, where the road climbs from 1,800 feet at the Rio Grande to 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. To drive from the flatlands of the desert to the pine-filled mountains made me feel like I was entering another world. A visitor center, hiking trails, the Chisos Mountains Lodge and restaurant, and camping for small trailers (20’ or less) and RVs (24’ or less) are available. The sharp curves and steep grades prevent larger units from making the drive.
Over the next three weeks, we’ll dedicate a post to each of the park’s sections. Until then, stay safe.
What’s a traveler to do when stuck at home with no place to go? Jon’s been busy tackling maintenance and renovations on the fifth wheel with dreams of hitting the road again. I’ll let Jon take over from here to tell you about his chore.
Since we are not able to travel right now (due to the pandemic) I decided to finally get rid of the carpet in the Cougar. The carpet the manufacturer installed looked like it was ten years old after only a few weeks of use, and it was one thing we always hated about the fifth wheel.
The carpeting worked like a magnet, attracting every crumb, piece of sand, pebbles from our shoes, and even Linda’s hair.
Here’s the area at the foot of the bed, which was so flattened down the vacuum would no longer perk up the carpet strands.
Thirty-seven screws held the dinette in place. Oh, joy.
We wanted to match the existing vinyl flooring as close as possible and this SmartCore Coweta Oak, available at Lowes, was pretty close.
I hoped the manufacturer had installed the original vinyl sheet flooring under the carpet. No luck on that front. The removal of the carpet revealed a bit of a ramp transition I didn’t expect. This was an issue as the vinyl plank required a flat surface.
The room slide also required something to hide the lip that hangs over inside the trailer.
The solution for both transitions was a “Hide-a-cord” strip along the transition to complete the install. I installed the plank long ways here to avoid making too many cuts, which could have caused the floor to lift.
As you can see in the photo below, it appears we gained about 18 inches of floor space by getting rid of the carpeting.
The work involved was more than I had thought it would take, but when it was all done, the time it took was worth it. The only place left with carpet in the trailer is the bed area, which is fine because there is less traffic there.
Now all we have to do is wait for the all clear, so we can venture out on the road again.
On our way out of town on February 24, 2016, we fueled up at the Shell gas station in Gila Bend. While Jon filled up the tank, I snapped a few photos of these fierce-looking dinosaurs.
We settled in at Butterfield RV Resort in Benson, Arizona. With a fierce wind forecast, their asphalt roads and pads drew us in. What we weren’t aware of was the railroad tracks only a block away. Because there are several streets the train must cross in town, we heard the whistle tooting softly off in the distance, and then blasting outside our door, before fading out again, repeatedly throughout the night.
The rest of the resort is quite nice, and they even have an observatory on site. The observatory was closed due to the wind on this trip. With park models and plenty of RV sites, the resort is a favorite destination for winter visitors.
Benson, Arizona, sprouted from the desert in 1880 when the Southern Pacific Railroad selected the site to cross the San Pedro River. The town boasts a population of approximately 5,000. With a Safeway, Walmart, and Tractor Supply store, what more could an RVer want?
A twenty-minute drive took us to the Kartchner Caverns State Park. A strict policy to protect the bats living in the cave prevents patrons from bringing in purses, backpacks, or bags of any kind and no photography (thus no photos) or video equipment allowed. Food and drinks, even bottled water, are also banned. They request visitors to stow their belongings in the cars and provide lockers if needed. Caves we have been to in the past are always cold. Not so at Kartchner, where the inside temperature is warm and humid.
The next day we drove to Patagonia, Arizona, and then circled back to Tombstone before heading back to Benson. Founded in 1898, Patagonia incorporated fifty years later in 1948.
The estimated population today is under 1,000 residents. The city draws in their share of tourists each. They come to spend time at the Tucson Audubon Society’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds and the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Wildlife Preserve. Other tourist activities include hiking the Arizona Trail, camping and boating at the Patagonia State Park, or shopping and eating in the downtown area.
We only had time to cruise around the little downtown area and wander in and out of the stores. There wasn’t much activity during our visit, which is fine with us. We like having a place to ourselves.
Tombstone, Arizona, is a historic town founded in 1877. It is best known for the OK Corral gunfight on October 26, 1881, with Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers (Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan) pitted against the Clanton-McLaury gang. The lawmen against the cowboys, or you might say, the Republicans against the Democrats.
For a small fee, visitors are treated to a reenactment of the conflict. I had to drag Jon along to see the show. He’s not impressed with what he calls a “tourist trap” although I thought it was fun. The actors have to eat and put a roof over their heads like everyone else.
We learned that the actual shootout occurred in a vacant lot owned by C. S. Fly, a famous photographer. The lawmen won the battle that famous day, killing Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, all of whom are buried in the town’s Boothill Graveyard a few miles from the historic part of town.
Mannequins depict the location of the participants as recorded by Wyatt Earp. They’re so close together it’s no wonder three men were killed.
The Schieffelin Hall opened on June 8, 1881. Schieffelin was a surveyor who happened upon a vein of silver ore and subsequently formed the Tombstone Mining and Milling Company with a partner and investors.
Reprints of the Tombstone Epitaph with original reports of the gunfight are available at the newspaper office and museum with the ticket from the gunfight show. John Philip Clum started the newspaper on May 1, 1880. He arrived in Tombstone five months earlier from the East, bringing with him experience as a meteorologist, Apache agent, lawyer, and newspaperman. In 1881, town folks elected Clum mayor. He also served as the postmaster and was the head of the local vigilance committee. For the past 135 years, the newspaper has reported on the people, events, and places of the old west. A subscription today costs only $25.00 a year.
During its eight-year heyday, the Bird Cage Theatre earned its reputation as the wildest, wickedest night spot between New Orleans and San Francisco. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the building contains over one hundred and forty bullet holes, and a legend says twenty-six people lost their lives there. Hmmm, I wonder if the Tombstone Epitaph has information that will confirm or dispel the legend.
Gone are the cowboys and prostitutes. Visitors now buy tickets at $25.00 a piece to take a ghost tour of the building and possibly encounter an apparition or two or three.
That concludes our time in Benson, Arizona. Next up, we make a quick stop in Las Cruces, New Mexico, before continuing into Texas.