Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Big rocks, muddy water and sunny skies

They call it the Lone Star State, but after sunset there are billions of stars in the sky.

Judge Roy Bean was "The Law West of the Pecos" and, after a restful night in the desert at Seminole Canyon, I loaded up the KLR bound for Lantry, the next stop on US 90 headed west. There's a reconstruction of the judge's saloon/courtroom and a gas station selling barbecue sandwiches, bull whips and rattlesnake eggs in Langtry. I had a sandwich for breakfast, topped off the tank and continued west.

The Pecos River has cut a gorge that divides West Texas from the lush, green east.

I discovered the KLR's Corbin seat -- added since last summer -- was much more comfortable five inches aft of where I'd been riding on it. I rearranged the back-seat luggage, stacking two skinnier dry bags where I'd had one fat one. Finally, I had a couple of comfortable riding positions to chose from.

A Border Patrol SUV drags the dirt road next to the US 90 so new, illegal footprints will show up overnight.

Law enforcement efforts to keep the border closed are conspicuous in West Texas. Near Comstock, I was stopped for an "inspection" at a road block, which turned out to be little more than answering the question: "Are you and American citizen?" While I answered, a K9 team sniffed the bike for drugs.

Meanwhile, I passed a Border Patrol SUV every ten miles or so on the highway, some of them dragging tractor tires behind them down the dirt road paralleling the highway. I asked a state worker cutting grass at a rest stop why they were dragging the gravel roads. "It's so they can see the footprints of the illegals," he said. I thought that would be quite a trick, since the gravel roads were hard and stony, unlikely to show footprints.

Near Sanderson, a gaggle of bison scrounged the range for a meal.

Despite their size, I discovered buffalo are shy critters. Spotting three of them along the highway, I pulled off and dug out the camera to catch a quick shot before they hustled themselves out of range. If their ancestors had done as well, there might still be herds of bison in these parts, I suppose.

There was enough room out of the rain under the tin roof for the picnic table, my tent and the KLR.

I arrived at Big Bend National Park with the rain to find no room at the Chisos Mountains Lodge. Luckily, there was a campsite open. I hauled the picnic table to one side of the sheltered concrete pad and found enough room to pitch my tent under cover. There was even enough space to park the KLR, although a ranger stopped by in the morning to tell me to move it to the pavement.

The lodge had good food and wi-fi, but no cell phone service. After a nice meal of chicken alfredo and a couple of glasses of wine, I booted up the computer to let Mary know I was alive and well and to post some photos for my High-Speed Wobble followers.

Out in the parking lot I stopped to talk to Larry, a fellow rider on a beautiful 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 sport touring bike. Next morning, I ran into him again in the dining room for breakfast and we talked about our rides. Although his Concours was only two months old, he already had 12,000 miles on it. The cockpit was outfitted with radar and laser detectors, a snazzy, waterproof ZUMO GPS and an iPod. There was one other gadget mounted on the handlebars I didn't recognize. "What's that?" I asked.

"Garage door opener," he said.

Larry had a high-paying job in Florida, but left it to ride his motorcycles after he'd developed a heart condition. On the road, his health improved, he said, and if his heart was going to mean a shorter life, he figured he wanted to spend it doing what he enjoyed most.

He has houses in Asheville, N. Car. and Florida and a collection of motorcycles both places. The Concours was his latest acquisition, but he has BMWs, too. He said he used to have a KLR, but didn't ride it much after he got a Suzuki V-Strom, a similar dual-purpose machine with a more powerful, two-cylinder engine. "I have a lot of respect for KLRs, though," he said. "I know this guy who used to ride Harleys and said he had to fix something once a week. Then, he got a BMW and only had to fix something once a month. Finally, he got a KLR and hasn't had to fix anything yet."

Larry said he sold his KLR to a rider who was headed to Alaska with a group. They were all riding KLRs, because of their reliability and road worthiness and so they only had to carry one set of spares for the whole group.

Big Bend's Chisos Mountains were spectacular in the morning sunshine.

Larry said the ride to Boquillas was "for tourists," and he was headed to Castolon instead. I said I thought I'd check out Boquillas first and then ride to Presidio in the afternoon.

The Chisos Mountains rise out of a beautiful desert.

The mountains dwarf the KLR in the morning sun.

A tunnel opens up the road to Boquillas Canyon.

The towers of the Chisos.

The prickly pear cactus were in spectacular bloom.

At Boquillas Canyon, Mexicans crossed the Rio Grande to leave geodes, wire scorpions and decorated walking sticks for tourists to buy.

This visitor from south of the river crossed over on horseback to arrange his wares.

Prices for the souvenirs listed on a piece of cardboard.

Souvenir vendors come and go across the river by horse and canoe.

More prickly pear blossoms.

After my visit to Boquillas, I stopped for gas near the park headquarters and, after a few minutes, Larry pulled up. "You made the right choice," he said. The previous night's rain had washed over the road to Castolon and left several inches of mud, closing it.

We decided to ride together through the Big Bend State Park to Presidio, stopping along the way at Terlingua, home of the International Chili Championship.

The Roadrunner Deli provided chili for lunch and some advice from a Gold Wing rider from Fort Davis.

The chili at the Roadrunner Deli was spicy and hot, with onions and cheese but absolutely no beans or tomatoes. Shortly after was arrived another rider, on a white Gold Wing, stopped in for lunch. He was coming down from Fort Davis and had just ridden the river road to Presidio that we were planning to take.

Larry enjoys an after-lunch cigar overlooking the Rio Grande.

Leaving Terlingua, Larry got his first look at the Rio Grande and was not impressed. The river is shallow and muddy in these parts. "I don't understand why they use the term 'wet backs,'" Larry mused. "They ought to call them 'wet knees.'"

Further up the road, the river showed it could cut magnificent gorges.

Little river, big canyon.

Presidio was a hot, dusty little city -- not much of a destination -- but the road to it along the Rio Grande was spectacular, once we were a mile or two from Terlingua. The engineers didn't do much grading, blasting or filling and let the road follow the river, twisting through swales and cresting hills, where I believe I caught air a few times. There were plenty of 15 and 25 mph ess bends and long sweepers.

The river might not have impressed Larry, but the road did.

From Presidio, we turned north through Marfa, into the grasslands and up to Fort Davis, arriving about 4 p.m. It had been a full day and I decided to stop at Fort Davis State Park to spend the night. Larry, on the other hand, was ready to hit I-10 and keep going. We wrote email addresses on a piece of paper I tore out of the notebook in my tank bag and tore it in half. It'll be interesting to see if we reconnect.

From "Skyline Drive" above Fort Davis there's a splendid view of the grasslands north of Marfa.


  1. Bring back some of that hot spicy chili, maybe as a snack on Olomana Golf Course :)

  2. Your photos are the pretty version of the old 'Raw Hide' sets. I hope you are having a fabulously good time, because I think I'm a little... lot jealous. j