Monday, March 31, 2014

Riding the Range from West Texas to Big Bend

Suzanne and I saddled up our ponies (er, Winnies) and pulled out of the corral at Balmorhea State Park on a sunny and breezy West Texas day (are there any other kinds?).  We were on our way to a week’s stay at Big Bend National Park, but wanted to take our time and enjoy the scenery along the way, so made the 200 miles a two-day trip.

Wild Rose Pass and the canyons south of Balmorhea were looking a whole lot prettier in the morning light than when I’d boondocked there a few nights ago.  Bluebird blue skies and spring green on the cottonwood trees! (thanks for the photos of my Winnie, Suzanne!)


We had our walkie talkies to chit chat as we drove, and both fired up our iPhone playlists to sing along with as we drove.  Suzanne started hers out with John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” (her favorite road trip tradition).  I, on the other hand, like to match my playlist to the area I’m traveling in—if it’s driving back to Chicago, it will have “Sweet Home Chicago” in there somewhere, so today for West Texas, my playlist was loaded up with cowboy songs by Gene Autry, Sons of the Pioneers, Roy Rogers, and more.

This was my view as I sang along with Gene to “Back in the Saddle Again”!

Rockin' to and fro
Back in the saddle again


It was lunchtime when we reached Fort Davis, so we herded the Winnies next to another RV near the picturesque courthouse and left Millie to “yodel” out the window to her new pals-- a much calmer, quieter well-behaved pair of RV doggies!


Meanwhile, Suzanne and I headed to the Fort Davis Drugstore for lunch.  It’s a time-warp and the real-deal.  An old-fashioned soda fountain with all kinds of ice cream delights served up by teenaged soda jerks fully dressed the part with bow ties and paper hats.


Suzanne came to get the cheeseburger that Kimbopolo had raved about during her trip here last year.  Yep, she reports that it was as good as it gets!

After lunch, we returned to our saddles and moseyed down the road to Marfa.  The winds were really blowing by then and tumbleweeds were rolling across the highway as fast as we could dodge them.  Queue up the Sons of the Pioneers!

I'll keep rolling along
Deep in my heart is a song
Here on the range I belong
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.


Suddenly, there was a panicked voice on my walkie talkie.  Suzanne’s awning had become unhooked and was now flapping violently in the 30+ mile-per-hour crosswinds. We pulled over to a wrestle the wayward vinyl back around it’s awning pole.  Thankfully, no rips or lasting problems with it, just a roller lock that had not been fully engaged.

We got to Marfa in the mid-afternoon and tried hard to figure out what all the recent publicity (i.e. a 60 Minutes TV show feature, various travel articles, etc).  The town was cute enough with a picturesque courthouse, church, and old movie theater, and it did have a few trendy hot spots, but not much more impressive than any of the other cute west Texas towns such as Fort Davis.


But Marfa did have something we had not yet seen on our trip—an honest to goodness chain-gang!  All dressed up in their Texas orange and white with a gun-toting Sheriff to supervise their work. 


After getting the Winnies settled in their boondock spot for the night, we unhitched my yellow Tracker and rode out west of Marfa to the tiny ghost town of Valentine, TX.  Here, just beyond the run down Hi Way CafĂ© and the old abandoned general mercantile…


was the infamous Prada Marfa “store” in all it’s pop-art glory beneath a spectacularly moody sky of an approaching storm.


The storm chased us all the way back to the Marfa Lights Viewing Center where we had hoped to boondock the night and see the infamous “Marfa Lights”.


We toured around the viewing platform, and looked through the viewing scopes a few times, but never saw much more than the rising full moon, or the midnight stars over the Winnies (but, apparently Suzanne bolted out of bed in the middle of the night convinced she was now seeing something!).


A brutal wind, rain, and cold front had moved into the area making for a very long night as the Winnies were battered about.  In my haste to walk Millie as fast as possible the next morning, I neglected to notice that the dirt beneath the entry step was now 4 inches of mud.  What a way to start this miserably cold day!


We quickly packed up and drove up over a ridge to the day’s appropriately-named town of Alpine, TX where it was actually snowing on the peaks surrounding the town!


Alpine was cute with some neat murals and a longhorn-toting Cow Dog food truck, but we were most interested in it’s impressive full-service grocery store on this blustery morning.  Just exactly what we needed to finish our provisioning before our final push on to Big Bend.


With the boondocking night under the stars and moon still fresh in my mind, and the approaching mountains of Big Bend in the windshield ahead of me, I queued up some Roy Rogers for one last sing-along to “Don’t Fence Me In”:

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in

Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in








  1. You guys are having way too much fun - no wait a minute, you guys are having fun!

  2. Why are my ears hurting again? ;-) That picture of Prada Martha is uh-MAAAY-zing! It looks like Old Man Winter is about to swallow up the store!

    Thanks for not mentioning how much time I spent in that Alpine grocery store, after having no stores available for two weeks. I am still trying to clean out the fridge!

  3. So interesting to read your account after reading Suzanne's ... both of you with the gorgeous photography ... I know that area fairly well. I usually zoom on through and it's fun to read both of your opinions. Ft. Davis and Alpine ... LOVE your playlist... I sing to high heaven rolling through there every one of the songs you mentioned ... you did leave off Gene Autry's Cattle Call .. HAHaaaaa... oh, me .. what fun

    Buttons and Bows... east is east and west is west but the wrong one I have chose... let's go back ... so on ... oh lord?! now I'll be singing that all afternoon ... I'll love you longer stronger where yer friends don't tote a gun... don't bury me in the prairie ...

    I'm done

    1. Well?! I wandered over to YouTube to my Western playlist .... and as I was listening to Cattle Call ... I said.. .that's not Gene Autry ... that's Eddy Arnold... ! while I realize you may not care, I felt the need to make things right... lol ... you're fault I'm listening to all these great Western songs... brings back lots of memories from TV in the 50s... you too young to remember Gabby Hayes?

    2. Fabulous account. Love the photos as usual. You are GOOD at that! Aren't you glad you have one to keep of you Millie, and Winnie going down the happy trails?

      P.S. I'm so glad you guys stopped at the soda fountain. I thought Ft. Davis was pretty spiff.

  4. Fabulous, fabulous photos. I love driving through West Texas. I did it many times when I lived in Houston and was designing a resort in Tucson. I always preferred the drive to flying. The sky and clouds are wondrous! Keep on posting - I'm loving every minute of it. I'm so envious of your Winnie.........

  5. Sounds like so much fun. I loved all the pictures and wish I had been there as well as I saw so many places I would have liked to check out like the Drug Store and the Food Truck.


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