Tuesday, February 26, 2019

~ In Pursuit of Wildness: Big Bend National Park ~

The article "In Pursuit of Wildness:  Big Bend National Park" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 2/26/2019.

As Steve McQueen said, “I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than any city on earth.” I’m not sure if Steve McQueen considered the badlands of Texas “nowhere,” but that’s where I’m riding my motorcycle on this epic adventure into the Wild West. In four days and 1,700 miles, I intend to wake up in the middle of Big Bend National Park.
I’m on a 2018 Indian Chieftain Limited for my trip to West Texas. I feel like a kid about to open his first Christmas present. I love Western movies, especially the line by Augustus McCrae in Lonesome Dove: “Ain’t nothing better than riding a fine horse in new territory.”
That’s how I feel as the warm wind hits my face along Route 66 in the Mojave Desert. This motorcycle is smooth, and I set the cruise control for 65 mph while listening to Marty Robbins sing, “Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl …” GPS, radio, my music, cruise control, retractable windshield, endless gauges—OK, I’m spoiled as I cross the mighty Colorado River into Arizona.
It’s a long first day after 585 miles and I’m looking for my usual camp in the Kaibab National Forest, nine miles south of Ash Fork, AZ, where dispersed camping is permitted. There are no fire restrictions, so I collect firewood to cook my gourmet dinner—Dinty Moore beef stew with a few saltine crackers and a Hostess Cupcake for dessert. Sleep comes easily as the cool night breeze comforts me after crossing the hot desert. I try hard to see the stars, but it is pointless.
Taking off my helmet in front of Sofia’s Kitchen in Socorro, NM, a nice lady and her son say good morning. They are carefully looking over the Indian motorcycle. Her son speaks first: “Mom met her husband in Panama where he worked on the Panama Canal. He had a ranch near Silver City, NM, and rode an Indian motorcycle in the 1930s.” She smiles and says, “I’m 103 years old, and in two months I’ll be 104.” I give her my business card which she reads carefully.  In Spanish, she says, “I see you are a Griego. There are many Griegos here in Socorro.” I nod. She then wishes me well on my journey. “Que se vaya bien.” The icing on the cake was when she simply said, “I like your Indian.” And words from a lady who is almost 104 years old! I leave Socorro for the badlands of Texas with a smile on my face.
Texas is huge and I leave Interstate 10 heading south on Highway 118 toward Fort Davis National Historic Site. There is little traffic and the wide-open country is priceless. The National Park Service Rangers at the visitor center tell me that Fort Davis is perhaps the best surviving example of an Indian Wars’ frontier military post in the Southwest. The visitor center is full of historical pictures and surreal exhibits explaining that from 1854 to 1891, Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and on the Chihuahua Trail. I’m so happy that I stopped here on my way to Big Bend National Park.
Chisos Basin Campground at 5,401 feet is home for the next three days. Immediately I love Big Bend. I highly recommend the Window Trail (roughly five miles round trip) as well as the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to get a taste of the Chihuahuan Desert. It will lead you to the Rio Grande, and to my favorite—walking into Santa Elena Canyon. I absolutely consider this trip an honor, riding the Indian Chieftain Limited that turned heads everywhere. This machine was flawless. Marty Robbins is still singing. “… One night a wild young cowboy came in, wild as the West Texas wind …”
After 11 days and 3,400 miles out to West Texas, I found that place called “nowhere.”

Planning a Visit
The park is one of the last remaining wild corners of the U.S., with more than 800,000 acres ranging from an elevation of less than 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. There are massive canyons, vast desert expanses, forested mountains, and an ever-changing river. From the forests of the Chisos down to the floor of the desert, more than 1,500 types of plants thrive in the park and support ecosystems full of pollinators, herbivores, and other wildlife. Take a ride along one of Big Bend’s roads, and discover just how much diversity and life there is in this amazing desert!
With more than 100 miles of paved roads, 150 miles of dirt roads, and about 200 miles of hiking trails the park offers countless opportunities for scenic driving, hiking, camping, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding, bird watching, wildlife observation, and stargazing. Additionally, the Rio Grande borders the park for 118 miles, providing options for half-day floats to extended excursions by raft, canoe, or kayak.
The park is experiencing an increase in visitation, busiest on extended weekends related to federal holidays, during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, and during spring break in mid- to late March.
Big Bend National Park is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Some services and facilities may close or reduce hours during parts of the year. Always carry water!
$25 dollars per motorcycle; $15 individual; $30 vehicle. Big Bend annual passes, $55. The park operates three developed campgrounds; Rio Grande Village, Chisos Basin, and Cottonwood Campgrounds. The cost is $14 per night per site ($7 per night with applicable pass).
For more information or to purchase a pass, visit www.nps.gov/bibe.

Text and Photography: Robert Griego

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