Big Bend report

Some musings on our book tour through Far West Texas, promoting Big Bend National Park, the latest Patoski-Parent collaboration with Laurence Parent, written from a porch in Terlingua while watching the sun go down. A fine way to end a four day run through Far West Texas is sitting in a wicker sofa on a rock porch of a rock house in Terlingua on a warm afternoon (90 degrees for the high), laptop in lap, legs crossed resting on a wooden chest, head moving from screen to scene, watching the Chisos start to glow pale yellow before turning a rich, warm orange in their afternoon finale, Betty’s porch roof protecting me from a gentle shower passing overhead, though feeling a couple drops blown in by the cool breeze that also carries the aromatic scent of the perfume of the desert, wet creosote.

The drops tick and tickle the tin roof, then a brief strum of steady drops, then retreat to a lazier rhythm before going away.

The Chisos remain drenched in sun.

A tour bus drives past, exiting the ghost town. Two dog growl playfully as they try to gnaw at the other’s legs. Out behind the house, a jackrabbit hops through the creosote, catsclaw, and prickly pear and limestone either oblivious or unafraid of another mammal’s presence.

This is our day off after two days of promoting Big Bend National Park, our collaborative venture for University of Texas Press on a book tour of Far West Texas. So we did Lost Mine Trail, the oldest trail in the National Park and the best introduction to the high country without hiking to the rim. It was a nice three and a half hour hike. The trail was in excellent condition. I picked up only two pieces of trash, a small foil shard from what would seem to be a chewing gum wrapper, and the torn corner of a package of candy. We passed about 25 hikers going up, on top and coming down. Near the end of the trail I took a picture of a guy taking a picture of his friend sitting on a precarious rock perch. “I hope you don’t mind,” I said after I’d already done it. He was OK with it.

A few minutes later at the literal end of the trail, while enjoying my Skittles and honey-roasted peanuts lunch (I had a late breakfast), the guy I’d taken the picture of asked if I was from Austin. “Wimberley,” I told him. I only use Austin when I’m out of state.
“I recognize your voice,” he said.

“KGSR?” I responded.
“Yeah,” he smiled.
Fancy meeting you here at the 7,000 level, at the top of Lost Mines Trail.
I told him about the time I phoned in the Morning Show from Mesa Anguilla.
He understood the ridiculousness of it. He was a Big Bender too.

I miss doing radio. Since April, I haven’t had a regular gig, but I’m working on it.

And I get to be on it now and then and talk it a lot. Talking Channel 12 Americana on XM with scooter buddies from Odessa in for a bike rally, getting interviewed about the book by Tom Michael on the Marfa public radio station that isn’t on the air yet but is online and will be on the air sometime because the tower is ready as soon as the FCC says they can. Got that?

We had time to hike but we didn’t have time to run the Rio Grande which is up around 7 feet. Evidently more flow is coming from releases from dams on the Rio Conchos in Mexico where the river’s reservoirs are reportedly full. Mike Long at Desert Sports said it’s looking good for fall.
When we went to Rio Grande Hot Springs with Bob Phillips and the crew from Texas Country Reporter, we couldn't find the springs. They were underwater. I've never seen the river so high at this spot. Muddy and roaring, the river was looking good.

A testimonial of this Made In Terlingua delicacy, which you can make yourself at home. Try it. We had some more this weekend and my palate is still thanking me for it.

The Chisos glow is reaching the mellow stage.

The signings went well. Steve Griffis of UT Press, who lives in Marathon and works a territory that extends from Dallas to El Paso guided us around and did yeoman's work. Stephanie Nelson the publicist for UT Press and her predecessor to Gianna Lamorte ran interference.
We did signings at Front Street in Alpine, The Limpia Hotel in Fort Davis, Marfa Book Company in Marfa, Panther Junction Visitors Center at Big Bend National Park, and the Book Room at Terlingua General Store.

I managed to get in a swim at Balmorhea. There is no finer swimming. Air temp was in the low 60s. Water temp was in the mid 70s. I had the pool to myself. The vegetation, everything looked improved from the cleanup last year. Visibility was at least 40 feet.

Jean Hardy at Front Street Books in Alpine talked about the perils of publishing for awhile. She should know, running Iron Mountain Press which published Robert James Waller and is soon to publish Edwin Bud Shrake.

Rosario and Robert Halpern took me to Ray’s in Marfa where Charlie Bell’s band, Soconomo played. It’s been awhile since I walked in and heard a bar band play Doug Sahm, much less three Doug Sahm songs, much less “Cowboy Peyton Place”. I objected to Charlie that the singer changed the line “I met her at Soap Creek Just By Chance” to “I met her at Ray’s place just by chance.”

The scene was Locals Only. Art Weekend during which Ray’s was packed asshole to elbow with hipsters from out of town was last weekend.

There’s some interesting friction going on there between the oldtimers and the newcomers. WWDJD? indeed.

There isn’t a local conjunto from Marfa. All the local Mexican music comes from Ojinaga, which locals refer to as OJ, and really, really super cool kids call J. That's too dang bad.

On the other hand, Los Pinches Gringos are playing all over the Big Bend and the Trans-Pecos.

At the Hotel Limpia signing, Lanna Duncan, who owns the hotel as well as the Hotel Paisano in Marfa with her husband Joe, got to talking about Henry Trost, the great architect of west Texas, New Mexico, and southern Arizona. Some of his more recognizable works are the Paisano, the Hotel Gadsden in Douglas, Arizona, and loads of buildings in El Paso and Tucson. By the end of the conversation, Lanna told me to stop by the desk at the Paisano where she graciously left me a copy of Henry C. Trost: Architect of the Southwest, the most complete book about Trost's designs, published by the El Paso Public Library. The book is a treasure.

I ran into at least 10 graduates of my high school in Fort Worth including Dian Moore who runs the Hotel Limpia gift shop, my friends Bert and Sonny Lee from Santa Fe and my friend Margaret Johnson from DC who was experiencing the Big Bend for the first time with her husband Ray Ottenberg (they like it!), a woman who's putting together a travel magazine with her two friends from Austin, another woman who's dropping out and moving to Terlingua if the job at the convenience store comes through, my high school cheerleading partner Chris King and her husband Mike, who were waiting for me at the Terlingua store while sitting next to the esteemed writer and photographer and Big Bender Blair Pittman who it turns out is from the Class of '66. Small world. In the parking lot of the Lodge in the Chisos Basin of the national park, I ran into some buds from Wimberley, Perry and Susan Raybuck, who advised us when we were thinking of moving to Wimberley 13 years ago and Allan and Nancy Dyer, who established the coolest small business/shopping area in Wimberley, Poco Rio. It's great to run into them anywhere, but especially in Big Bend National Park.

Doing a book signing in the national park was a privilege, especially getting to bend an ear and hear rangers like Mary K Manning, Barbara Hines, Rob Dean, and associates give advice to visitors. Them's smart people. How do they know all the thing they know?

Our signings coincided with The Ride For Trails Motorcycle rally and a wedding that emptied out the Ghosttown Saturday night. No reservations were required to get into the Starlight Theatre restaurant, the porch was empty, and so was the parking lot. The wedding reception at the CASI site was as packed as a Chili cookoff weekend which is the first Saturday in November.

Laurence and I spent all day Monday being filmed and interviewed by Bob, Jason, Mark, and Christy of the Texas Country Reporter. They're great folks with incredible stories who get to travel around Texas talking to folks - my kind of job. Bob receives over 100 emails a day with story ideas. He's especially impressed by several self-taught poets he's uncovered in the country and along the backroads. I love poets because they sure aren't in it for the money. The crew and Bob asked good questions and were very good sports by climbing halfway up Lost Mines Trail with equipment to do a Q and A in the high country. Bob's opened a boutique resort and spa between Kerrville and Medina called Escondido that we're going to check out directly if not sooner. Our segment will air in late November.

Sunset is almost complete.
The oranges are gently fading into browns and purples. Low thunderheads scud in the distance, a good hundred miles away. The air is hazy with humidity but it’s possible to still make out a smudge line marking a mountain range in Mexico northwest of Saltillo, 250 miles away.

The last rays depart like the sound of a violin as the movement of bow finally ceases. The rest of the range has already been draped in slate, hard against the pale blue sky, the pink and purple clouds still drawing sunlight, and the darker purple horizon.

Time to go eat and get ready to watch the shooting stars.


-- New photos: a few pics from Big Bend National Park that I took on the Lost Mine Trail.


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