Even before impromptu opportunity if we become members of the Chinati, we can maybe see the xx? we’ve wanted to camp in Big Bend and return to the McDonald Observatory. See the heavens through giant telescopes, through our naked eyes, tiny orbs in the galaxy and the Marfa lights. What the heck, let’s take the risk—throw down for membership then doublefist phones when reservations for the show go live.
Arthur eventually gets through. We get tickets. We book a room at the Paisano in Marfa and borrow Giant from the library and hiss it to each other in Spanish like we got something to be sultry about and map out a loop of 1300 miles of the breathtaking and beautiful.
The first two nights we stayed in the Rio Grande Village of the National Park. There’s also the Big Bend Ranch State Park, which we eventually drive through, and across the Rio Grande, a string of national parks in Mexico. The total expanse is massive.
Here is our campsite, made hastily in the dark to catch a nighttime lecture on the resident birds of prey.
Our first full day, we explored.
I was amazed by the biodiversity, especially of plants—prickly pear and brush and dozens of things I don’t know the names of, muscling in the rocky soil for scarce sips of rain.
Below is the ocotillo, my new best friend. So charming! I could not get enough. We were lucky to visit when their firecracker blooms burst that gorgeous orange from the tips of their spiny tendrils.
That’s a turkey vulture above dead center—not a UFO, and not a bird of prey though we learned about them anyway, barfing all over the road to lighten their load when struggling to take flight from approaching vehicles.
Vultures are actually in the stork family.
Everywhere were signs of vibrant color, life,
and living that don’t come easy.
Here are some bird hidey-holes
and petroglyphs of ancient ghosts
nicked and jotted on rock.
Across the Rio Grande is the small town of Boquillas. There is a border crossing right in the park, but you can’t visit without a passport. While I was aware this most official of documentation is required, it didn’t occur to me that we could actually go to actual Mexico, so we didn’t pack our papers.
No matter, the city came to us as tiny craft stores along the trails. I bought the ocotillo to remember it forever. Arthur got a roadrunner because MEEP!
We didn’t see him.
That’s the Rio Grande, y’all.
Where it thinned less than Grande, I couldn’t help myself.
I ran away to Mexico.
The depressions in the bedrock are remnants of mortars (as in, “and pestles”) made by American Indians to grind nuts and seeds.
Men and boys fish the fluid border in Boquillas Canyon.
By the time we picked all of the cactus out of Arthur’s arm, microscopic needles he didn’t notice go in, the light went strange.
It’s all the same earth, same country, same Texas, except the parts that aren’t, well you know what I mean.
Lounging on the mountain we waited for Orion.
Jupiter, the moon, and Mars came too.
The next day searching for a petroglyph of a bear on the back of a rock that a ranger heard a rumor of, I give a snake a SHOUT and skin my shin and find only another most perfect milling mortar
and curiously round stones.
I wanted to take this whole thing home with me, but, you know, federal law and stuff.
Nestled between the national and state parks is the one-time mining town of Terlingua, complete with self-guided ghost town tour, where we wended around rusty nails standing straight up after all these years they’ll make ghosts of us yet.
Here are more ancient holes created by people to oh wait.
Definitely a UFO.
Playing in a mine-shaft elevator.
Not satisfied with the phantoms seen so far, we explored Terlingua Cemetery.
I’ve never seen one quite like it, with the rocks piled high in mounds like the bodies didn’t go in holes at all.
We braved steep gravel and dust devils for our third night of camping at Chinati Hot Springs, where we were warned of falling branches, black widow spiders and toppling from the height of pool chairs.
The water was damn fine, a sore sight in these desert parts that slurp out your moisture and cake your joints with grime.
A shout-out to my Fit for being such an efficient wee beast, chewing through miles and dust like it warn’t no thing, with plenty of room for camp gear, snacks and all of our wonder.
A fence made of ocotillo bones! I could have cried yet marveled at the parts that took root and exploded fire anyway.
Arthur took care to complete his fitness goals
and was ever the good neighbor once we got to Marfa.
We were in town during this offbeat, art oasis’ de facto weekend, Monday and Tuesday, so many of the establishments were closed, including the Chinati we were members of and everything.
But there was plenty to see if your eyes were tuned right.
I was especially fond of the library’s homemade oversized collection.
OH yeah, and there was a concert that we went to!
It was an intimate crowd too cowed to dance but the space was great and the xx made me cry.
We danced anyway and strangers said we were great, we are Grande, Giant, Jupiter we peeped the next night from afar, along with Mars and different views of the moon, and the Orion nebulae that helps form the belt that keeps the sky’s pants up.
We’d picked out the heavenly bodies every night of our trip so far—so cool as a finale to see them up close, or as close as close gets, snuggled in our horse blankets.
Leaving the observatory in the pitch I saw my first javelina, dead in the road GIGANTE! like a werewolf. Big Science tricks good, this is still wild country. Next time might not be so lucky. A feral pig, a fierce gale could throw my Fit right off the mountain.
Our last day out we missed our dogs extra hard.
Relieved to leave the desert, in those endless miles we interrogated the heat and horizon how could you live? with the grit permanently in your pores, where you wake with bloody noses, where the vultures bring the babies and your grave is marked with more weight?
But I know in dusty hearts we’d go again in a second.