After leaving Marfa we drove south to Chinati Hot Springs, which we found out about from a few people in Marfa. The Hot Springs is a small quasi-resort in the very corner of Texas, built around a naturally occurring hot spring right on the Mexico border. To get there we drove through some small towns that almost seemed deserted, then drove over seven miles of super rough dirt road through the middle of nowhere. We saw a group of cows hanging out on the road munching the dry spiny bushes & then later saw a family of javelinas milling about in the ditch. Our first official sighting of our friends the javelinas! They just moseyed off the road when we drove by…they apparently were not in a bloodthirsty mood & did not try to charge our car. How unexciting!
The hot springs was really neat - it was a group of little cabins, a community kitchen, and camping spaces along with a a big outdoor hot tub (filled with the spring water of course) and a bunch of smaller private tubs you could use to take a bath. We took a dip in the hot spring water then went for a hike on the trails around the hot springs. The trail we followed went straight into Mexico but we’re not sure whether or not we actually crossed the border. If you were a Mexican wanting to cross the border that would be a super easy place to do it, in case anyone out there is interested!
Day One, Big Bend:
After Chinati Hot Springs we drove into Big Bend National Park. It was freezing there! It was about 35 degrees our first day there and I was not at all happy about it. We set up our tent in the freezing cold, I whined & complained, then we decided it was much too cold to go for a hike - even Jamie agreed about this. So instead we went for a scenic drive with the car’s heater on full blast. During our scenic drive we spotted another family of javelinas trotting along together down the side of the road. We were about to find out that javelinas would be our #1 most sited animals in Big Bend! We stopped at an exhibit, read the little poster, and then decided to sit in the car listening to a CD & waiting for the sun to set. I picked Elliot Smith for our CD & Jamie asked me if I wanted to kill myself (it is a depressing CD I guess). We both laughed because - don’t worry, I did not actually want to kill myself - but I was definitely not in a very good mood. The sun never really set, it was much too cloudy and icky out. It just got dark.
It was only 6pm, not early enough to go to bed, so we decided to treat ourselves to a drink in the park’s restaurant. We went in & sat in the wonderful warmth of the restaurant. It wasn’t quite warm enough, though, so I kept both of my jackets on. I’m sure I looked like a crazy scraggly lady that weighed 300 pounds, but whatever. We got beers & a plate of Texas Toothpicks - little strips of deep fried onion & jalepenos. Yum! We heard the guy next to us order a steak ‘VERY rare’. Jamie now dreams of ordering a steak like this. He also secretly admires the way my dad claims he wants to order a steak - “Just wipe its ass and put it on my plate.” Eeeew.
Day Two, Big Bend:
It was a little bit warmer this day, so we decided to do a bunch of hikes. We saw dry stream beds, a little spring/oasis in the middle of the desert, and old ranch house. We also saw lots of deer & cute little roadrunners throughout the park. We did four hikes throughout the day, made yummy bean tacos over our cookstove, and went to bed. We were very happy this day because we finally finished under our daily budget - only $10 for the whole day (for our camp site)!
Day Three, Big Bend:
The first day of our bike tour! We packed up our panniers, loaded our bikes, and dropped the car off at the Ranger station for the night. We planned to bike the 21 miles from Panther Junction ranger station down to Rio Grande village where we would camp for the night then pack up the next day and head back. This was our first day on our fully loaded bikes - food, tents, everything! The first day we descended 1900 ft so the riding was super easy. The weather was finally decent, sunny & mild, but we did have to ride in an annoying headwind for the first eight miles or so. We were pedaling on a slight downhill so the headwind wasn’t too difficult but I was really annoyed because the wind from a headwind plus just your regular riding speed is so much louder than I’d expected. We could not hear each other talk unless we rode right next to each other and yelled, and we most definitely could not hear cars approaching. Luckily not many people were driving on the road, and the wind died down after we reached lower elevations.
Before we got to our campsite we road a four mile detour to Boquillas overlook - just a little point looking over the Rio Grande river into Mexico. I was surprised to see that there were a group of Mexican guys & a horse on the other side of the river watching us tourists. They’d waded across and set up a few little crafts that they were selling & collecting money for in a plastic jug. They were watching from across the river (about 300 ft away) but the payment for the crafts was basically on the honor system. We didn’t buy anything but instead sat on a rock nearby and ate our snack of oranges & baby carrots. One of the guys on the other side of the river decided to wade across and gather up the money he’d made so far - we figured rangers probably stop by occasionally and confiscate the money & crafts, so he was being careful to keep as much as possible. He waded across the bright green river wearing his red shirt and singing a song in Spanish. The river only came up to his waist in the middle. He took his money, said hi to us, then went back to the Mexican side. It was actually a really beautiful scene, but sad too.
We backtracked across our 4 mile detour and headed to our campsite. We pulled up on our bikes, picked out a site, and started to set up the tent. The campsite host came over to visit us right away…she had some very important information for us. This campground was in javelina territory and those little warthog clans ruled the roost in this area of the park! There were all sorts of guidelines we had to follow to avoid a nasty run in with the javelinas including things like:
- When you set up your tent you had to either leave all the doors open so the javelinas could roam in & out sniffing your possessions, or you had to collapse the tent poles so the javelinas would just walk right over your tent. Leaving a tent set up with the doors closed was an invitation for the javelinas to slash right through the walls to find out if you’d left them any tasty morsels, like toothpaste or a granola bar, inside.
- When cooking dinner you usually need two people to finish the task. One to do the cooking, the other to shoo away the javelinas!
- All food & toiletries must be kept in the metal cabinet provided on your site. Nothing could be left outside of this cabinet at anytime as the javelinas are constantly on the lookout for things to snatch and run away with.
- At night the javelinas might come snuffling around your tent but then won’t try to get in because they’ll know you’re in there. If you wake up and smell something like a cross between a sewer & a skunk, you’ll know the javelinas are hanging around outside your tent. If you want then to leave you should turn on your flashlights and talk loudly.
We actually saw a family of javelinas just 100 ft away from our site; they were happily rooting around in the grass. I thought all this was hilarious, Jamie was a bit more nervous. We set up the tent, left the doors open, and walked to the park store to buy two cans of Shiner Bock beer to celebrate our first day of bicycling. On our way back to the site some guy joked that it looked like we were going to have a big party tonight with our two cans of beer! We made our dinner, sat around drinking our beers, and did not have any run ins with the javelinas. We were both nervous all night that we’d wake up with a stinky javelina snuffling around our head through the thin tent wall but nothing happened.
I’m out of internet time at the library, I’ll try to come back and write more about our 2nd day of bike touring tomorrow!