Saturday, May 4, 2013

West of the Pecos

After I arrived in El Paso, my cousin Sue and her husband Bill took me out to Carlos & Mickey's for some great Mexican food. Next morning, they wanted to show me Barnett's, the world's largest Harley dealership.

I have to admit, this place has hella Harleys. There were many rows like this one.

Cousin Sue liked the big trike with the V-8 engine.

Sue works for Park University on Fort Bliss. Her office and the Park classrooms are in this building, which was originally stables for horse cavalry.

Sue's been recruiting and counseling students at Fort Bliss for more than 20 years. She also accompanied Bill to Germany when he was stationed there. He also did tours in Vietnam, Korea and Iraq, where he staffed a Patriot missile battery during Desert Storm. Both Bill and Susan are originally from Bangor, Maine, but they found a home in El Paso, where Bill was stationed between deployments.

Fort Bliss has an armor museum, which includes one or two of just about every US tank, armored car, or motorized artillery piece made since World War II.

The museum includes a few items from other armies, too, such as this Zundapp KS750, a BMW predecessor with enormous carrying capacity -- Some 1,200 pounds of gross vehicle weight.


Next day, Sue and Bill took me to Cattleman's Restaurant in Fabens, Texas -- a local institution with rugged scenery that has been used as a location for a number of feature films. Besides peacocks and road runners, the restaurant features coyotes. The critters get meat scraps in exchange for entertaining diners, who can watch them feeding through the dining room windows. The steak was great and the cole slaw with pineapple chunks was unique and surprisingly good.

Here's Flanman up in Franklin Mountains with West El Paso in the background.

Bill and Sue Gilbert and Flanman at Chez Gilbert in suburban northeast El Paso.

Departing El Paso, I continued east and left I-10 at Kent to ride south into the Davis Mountains.

At dusk, I camped at Davis Mountains State Park, where the deer wandered through the campsites. I pitched my tent was next to a dry creek bed where a pair of wild pigs foraged for a snack.

Next morning, I had breakfast at the soda fountain in Fort Davis. Here's the wash basin in the rest room. You gotta love Texas plumbing.

West Texas is absolutely gorgeous -- a perfect place to build a homestead, if only it wasn't so remote. I can only imagine the spectacular view from this hilltop home near Marfa.

The town of Marfa has received a lot of publicity on Sixty Minutes and NPR as it has emerged as a growing artist colony. One of it's off-cited exhibits is an ersatz Prada boutique in the middle of nowhere. I met three twenty-somethings -- two guys and a girl -- while I was taking a picture of the courthouse and asked them where the Prada store was.

"It's about 30 miles in that direction," one of the guys said pointing toward Arizona. "And it's totally not worth it." I decided to take his advice and spare myself the trip. I've already seen pictures.

"If you're going to Big Bend, go through Presidio first," the other dude said. The road from Presidio to Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande is a famous motorcycle ride.

The girl was checking out the V-Strom. "I love your bike," she said. "That's the one I want."

"It's a good one," I agreed. "But it's really tall. Not like a Harley." It appeared she had long enough legs to handle it, though.

South of Marfa is Elephant Rock, a local landmark.


In Presidio, I got gas and wandered through the market. There was no shortage of hot sauce.

Outside the market I met Luis Gonzales, who asked, "Is this your bike? Are you really from Hawaii?"

Gonzales, Presidio born and raised, retired there after a career with the National Park Service. "There were no jobs here in Presidio," he said, "so I got a job up at Big Bend,"

Later, he transferred to the Grand Canyon, where he managed facilities for the mules that carry tourists down into the canyon. Then, he took a transfer to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where he worked from 1989 though 1993. Eventually, he returned to Presidio to be with his friends and family. We talked story for about 15 minutes before Luis climbed in his shiny Lincoln Navigator, waved and drove away.

At the cemetery at Redford, Texas, next to the river road from Presidio to Big Bend, the graves are marked with piles of stones, weathered wooden, marble or wrought iron crosses and even solar-powered garden lights.


There isn't much water in the Rio Grande after the states upstream have diverted their shares of the flow.That's Mexico on the left, Texas on the right.

There are tall bluffs on both sides of the river -- more on the Mexico side than the Texas bank.

A fisherman tries his luck. It's hard to say if his catch will be Mexican or American.

A tourist takes a picture of the Rio Grande valley with her iPad. Her husband asked me "Where's the fence?"

"No need to build one here," I said. Not with those cliffs,"

Big Bend National Park features both bears and mountain lions. I planned to camp there on Saturday night, but changed my mind -- not because of the bear warning signs, but because of the weather forecast that predicted temperatures in the 30s overnight.

I decided to keep going to Sanderson and took a room in a snug motel.


Here's my route: Fort Davis (A); Marfa (B); Presidio (C); Big Bend National Park (D); and Sanderson (E).

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