Monday, May 07, 2012

Learning Curve to Big Bend

No astrology today, but some photos from our trip.

For our wedding anniversary treat this year, after much deliberation and studying of weather forecasts, we decided that driving south and west offered the best chance of missing storms, tornado watches and rain which threatened other possible destinations.

Onward to Texas's Big Bend area then...........

The area known as Big Bend is part of the stretch where Texas meets Mexico, and the Rio Grande describes an arc. Within that arc and leading up to it lies some very different Texas landscape.

Photos from husband's camera and from my own follow, with a few notes. Clicking on images should bring up an enlarged pic.

Overnight stay in Sweetwater, a typical small Texas town. It lies on the edge of the Permian Basin. Oil wells rule a few miles northeast, but here they have all but petered out, along with the oily stench.

Two locals at breakfast in the motel's café made certain they'd not miss any news.

A large display of rifles in the court house foyer~ how very Texan!

A faded mural on an old abandoned building on the edge of town reminded us of more colourful days in Sweetwater.

And a motel from days long past told of times before Best Western, Days Inn and the chains took over.....

Next a stopover in Fort Stockton. Remains of the old fort still are there, but non-photogenic. It was established in the mid-1800s, the army based there protected travellers and settlers heading west and to Mexico and California. Nearby springs ensured that Fort Stockton became a regular stopping place; several well-used trails intersected there.

An old hotel now houses the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum - the turn of the century hotel was run by frontier woman Annie Riggs. Thirteen rooms in the old hotel recreate life much as it would have been in Annie's day. Below, part of the kitchen area ~

A short hop brought us to Alpine for two nights, a base to explore further southward. The Best Western has an unusually elaborate facade - just right for showing off my white jeans.

At breakfast next morning a fellow hotel guest at a nearby table remarked to me "You sound English". "So do you", I replied. He was, from Devon in fact, and in the US exploring but also visiting his son who is part-way through a 6 month work visa in Fort Worth. It felt rather strange, but nice, chatting again to an English person - first, in person, since 2005!

A half-hour drive west of Alpine found us in Marfa, a tiny town made famous by some mysterious lights which appear, intermitently, in the vicinity - Wikipedia explains.

Marfa is also famous for Hotel Paisano, location headquarters for the cast and crew of the film Giant for six weeks in the summer of 1955. As well as Giant the town has been location for more recent movies: There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men. The town hosted annual Marfa Film Festivals around this time of year in 2008 - 2010. These continue but in slighly different form, Cinemarfa, and feature mainly fine art films.

In a room of exhibits related to Giant your Blogger warns fellow Aquarian James Dean about dangerous driving.....

Through the Davis Mountains and Fort Davis a short drive west of Alpine, we spied a sign to the Macdonald Observatory and followed the road up a hillside.

We'd missed the official guided tours but went inside - difficult to capture the scene in a photograph though

Next day we drove straight south to a place I was itching to visit: Terlingua, a ghost town close to the US/Mexico border and Big Bend National Park.

Terlingua, in its mining days, used to look like this:

A few brave souls live here - biker types rather than hippies I suspect. The heat here, even in early May, is intense - above 100 now - up to and above 115 later.

The bar and restaurant (above) opens at 5:00 PM. There's a gift shop nearby whose many wares sadly include around 80% (a guess) "made in China". I struggled to find a souvenir coffee mug made in the USA and did eventually find one made in Arizona.
Annually, on the first Saturday of November, over 10,000 "chiliheads" convene in Terlingua for two annual chili cookoffs: the Chili Appreciation Society International and the Frank X. Tolbert / Wick Fowler World Chili Championships.

Amazingly this is a working hotel Upstairs at the Mansion. Website definitely worth a look. For a get-away-from-it-all vacation - here's your ideal venue!

We drove on from Terlingua to Lajitas, right on the border and watched the Rio Grande wind its way along - from here you could throw a stone into Mexico.

On the way back to Alpine, but around 80 miles from the border we had to pass through a Border Patrol point, stop the car while an officer surveyed us and the car's empty back seat. "Are you both American citizens?" "Yes". "Go ahead, thank you!"

Heading North again on Friday we decided to vary our route, avoid oil cities Odessa and Midland where accommodation is way, way over-priced, and stay just over the New Mexico border in Hobbs for a night. No much to say about Hobbs, except that it felt a little weird beng on the cusp of a time zone - one foot in Mountain Time (New Mexico) and one in Central Time (Texas). The motel had two clocks on the wall behind the check-in desk, one for each zone.

Back into Texas and on to Sweetwater next day, this time via Colorado City, exploring a couple of antique stores on the way. Just outside Sweetwater is the National WASP Museum.

We'd noted billboards for this on the way out, but found it opens only Wednesday to Saturday, and it was then Sunday. This time we caught it just an hour before closing time.

WASP, by the way = Women's Air Service Pilots (World War 2)....the first women to fly America’s military aircraft – women who forever changed the role of women in aviation. We'd ignorantly surmised, on the way through some days back, that WASP was either a museum dealing with entomology or enthnicity (both highly doubtful!)

Two local ladies in charge of the museum walked us through it and gave us their well-learned spiel about the exhibits. We watched a 20 minute informational video. The museum is housed in a 1929 hangar - horrendously hot and humid that day, which made concentration difficult. Still, it was an interesting visit. There's a website for further information.

Jacqueline Cochran was WASP's leading light, as well as first woman to break the sound barrier, fly a jet over the ocean, pilot a bomber across the Atlantic.
From Wikipedia

Before the United States joined World War II, Cochran was part of "Wings for Britain", an organization that ferried American built aircraft to Britain, becoming the first woman to fly a bomber, (a Lockheed Hudson V) across the Atlantic. In Britain, she volunteered her services to the Royal Air Force. For several months she worked for the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), recruiting qualified women pilots in the United States and taking them to England where they joined the Air Transport Auxiliary. In September 1940 Cochran wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt to introduce the proposal of starting a women's flying division in the Army Air Forces. She felt that qualified women pilots could do all of the domestic, noncombat aviation jobs necessary in order to release more male pilots for combat.

Nancy Love, another WASP leading light. With co-pilot Betty Gillies, they were the first women to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber. She created the WAFS (Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron), pre-cursor to WASP.

Husband surveys the training box where the women learned to handle an aircraft. We declined an invitation to try it - heat was getting to us rather badly by this time.

Above: sculpture of Fifinella - a female gremlin designed by Walt Disney for a proposed film from Roald Dahl's book The Gremlins. During World War II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) asked permission to use the image as their official mascot, and the Disney Company granted them the rights.

A few odds and ends:

On the way home through Albany, Texas I spotted this sign. "Actually I think Hereford, England is the true home of the Hereford", I pointed out with a sigh.

And a fandangle - calliope - steam driven music:

And a rusting old Triumph for which the owner was optimistically asking a hefty $3,000!

Two gorgeous shots by husband of yellow cactus blooms which are all over the place in West Texas at this time of year, and of another desert-type flower.

So much amazing landscape, weird rock formations, in Big Bend area, a surprise around every turn, impossible to capture it:

We decided to leave the National Park itself for another trip (maybe in the dead of winter when temperatures will stay under 100 degrees!)


Wisewebwoman said...

I love your road trips with Himself, T, I feel like I'm on the journey with you!

I laughed at the failed motel with the "jesus never fails" sign behind it.

Giant is one of my fave films and I love the fact they have preserved artifacts from the time it was made.

Lovely trip for a Monday, thanks!


Anonymous said...

GP: As for Saturn still retrograde, no wonder you found some really `old stuff` in a modern country. And luckily you found the price for that Triumph a bit steep, even if it`s sporty looks are preserved (guess no roof available - or needed in Texas). Glad you had a good trip, considering Saturn etc.

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~~ Glad you enjoyed - we did - a lot!

Entering Hotel Paisano is like stepping back several decades - kept that way deliberately, with the addition of some gifty bits and pieces on sale - mostly vastly overpriced for rich tourists who can afford to stay there.....and if rich enough, in the very room James Dean slept in. :-)

Twilight said...

Anonymous/Gian Paul ~~ Wasn't even aware of Saturn's doings, GP - I don't watch such things or I'd become paranoid. ;-O

Lots of 'old' stuff in Texas (and Oklahoma) - 'old' being not much more than 100 - 120 years. In fact the whole area has always seemed to me, in some ways, to be stuck fast in a corner of the 1950s.

The Triumph didn't have a chance of ever being workable, as I recall - goodness knows how they expect to get $3,000 - maybe for parts - a door or something.

Thanks - yes we did enjoy it, in spite of the heat.