Sunday, October 31, 2010

More Dia de los Muertos!

Some images from El Paso's celebrations in recent years...check yesterday's entry for more information about this event!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day of the Dead Altars

El Paso's Mercado Mayapan invites the public view community-made Dia de los Muertos altars at their faciility today and tomorrow from 3-10 pm.  This year's celebration will highlight the state of Chiapas and will offer traditional food and dance.

Mercado Mayapan Festival Market Place
2101 Myrtle
El Paso, TX 79901
From the El Paso CVB's website, "The origins of Día de los Muertos in Mexico can be traced back to the indigenous peoples such as the Aztec, Maya, P'urhépecha, Nahua, and Totonac. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors were observed by these civilizations for perhaps as long as 3000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the "Lady of the Dead", corresponding to the modern Catrina.

In most regions of Mexico November 1 honors deceased children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2. Death, to a certain extent, is celebrated as a special occasion. Elements like water, earth, fire and air as symbols as the soul is passed from one life to another. Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering of goods to be offered to the dead. During the period of October 31 to November 2, families usually clean and decorate the graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings, which often include orange marigold called "cempasuchil", originally named cempaxochitl. In modern Mexico, this name is often replaced with the term Flor de Muerto, Spanish for "Flower of the Dead." These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels), and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque or sotol for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) or sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. The pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.

Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes. These altars usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, and scores of candles. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing so when they dance the dead will wake up because of the noise. Some will dress up as the deceased.

Public schools at all levels build altars with offerings, often omitting the religious symbols. Government offices also usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as important to the Mexican heritage.

Those with writing talent sometimes create short poems, called calaveras (skulls), mocking epitaphs of friends. This custom originated in the 18th-19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, proceeding to present the epitaphs on the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of José Guadalupe Posada. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla are also traditional on this day.

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (skeletons), and foods such as sugar skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.

The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of perhaps are not universal and often vary from town to town. For example, in the town of Pátzcuaro on the Lago de Pátzcuaro in Michoacán, the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. On November 1 of the year after a child's death, the godparents set a table in the parents' home with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a Rosary (used to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for them) and candles. This is meant to celebrate the child’s life, in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride winged boats called mariposas (butterflies) to Janitzio, an island in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there.

In contrast, the town of Ocotepec, north of Cuernavaca in the State of Morelos opens its doors to visitors in exchange for 'veladoras' (small wax candles) to show respect for the recently dead. In return, the visitors receive tamales and atole. This is only done by the owners of the house where somebody in the household has died in the previous year. Many people of the surrounding areas arrive early to eat for free and enjoy the elaborate altars set up to receive the visitors from 'Mictlán.

In some parts of the country, children in costumes roam the streets, asking passersby for a calaverita, a small gift of money.

Celebrations of the holiday are growing steadily across the United States, adopting ancient traditions and creating new rituals. Día de los Muertos is quickly becoming an international event."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lovely sunset near Marathon

This great sunset shot taken near Marathon was sent to us by Wilma Schindeler.  Wilma is leaving the Gage Hotel after eight years as General Manager and we wish her the best!  Thanks for all your service to the region, Wilma!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A brief hiatus

We're taking a few days off, but we'll be back soon!

Monday, October 18, 2010

One of our best undiscovered adventures

Big Bend Ranch State Park offers miles and miles of trails just perfect for extreme adventure for mountain bikers.  They have an online guide to biking in the park, to download it, click here

For regional cycling information, visit:
Thanks to TWPD for this great photo!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

People living in Big Bend

Sometimes visitors forget that before Big Bend National Park was established for us all to enjoy, it was home for others. People lived their lives in the region...the earliest settlers were Mexicans establishing residence in the early 1800s.  The park's website has a page on those original settlers here, as well as an entire section on stories about residents of the area.

Another place you can learn about the people of the region is Alpine's Museum of the Big Bend on the campus of Sul Ross State University.  Plan to stop by on your visit to the area!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A stagecoach route you can drive or mountain bike

Guadalupe Mountains National Park was the site of the historic first meeting of eastern-bound and western-bound Butterfield Overland stagecoach delivering the mail cross-country in 1859.  This photo was taken near that spot on the Williams Ranch Road in the western stretch of the park.  Access to this road is limited, but you can get a key to the gate from the rangers at the visitors center.  Very rough, it is only navigable by 4x4 vehicles and mountain bikes.  The view and the adventure is worth the effort.  Click here to read more!

For more regional cycling information--for road and mountain biking--visit:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fort Davis National Historic Site hosts children's games at Fort Griffin's Living History

Last week, Fort Griffin hosted their annual living history event and Fort Davis National Historic Site offered a chance for kids to try out some historical children's games!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What a GREAT view! Above Fort Davis National Historic Site

There's a great trail connecting Fort Davis National Historic Site and Davis Mountains State Park, that...for the views alone...should be a required activity for visitors to Fort Davis.

Our Texas Mountain Trail regional hiking page has a link to a trail map...take a look at:!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chinese Graves in El Paso's Concordia Cemetery

One of the fascinating places to visit in El Paso is Concordia Cemetery, named by True West Magazine as this year's "Best of the West!"  There you can experience the complexity of the history of this part of the west, as you see graves of Buffalo Soldiers, gunfighters, Texas Rangers, Civil War veterans, early settlers, and Chinese railroad workers. 
The Concordia Heritage Association's excellent website has a full page devoted to the history of the Chinese in El Paso, as well as more photos of this part of the cemetery.  Be advised this website plays prepared for some audio!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Just west of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a unique sight and a historic place

Just west of Guadalupe Mountains National Park (you can see the profile of El Capitan and Guadalupe Peak in the photo above) is an impressive expanse of salt.  These salt deposits are the remnants of an ancient shallow lake that was part of the Pleistocene Epoch, 1.8 million years ago.  Salt was considered sacred and precious by the native peoples in the area, and was important to Anglo settlers because it was a preservative and it was used in the smelting of silver. 

These salt flats were the object of much controvery and conflict, including a multi-year conflict known as the El Paso Salt War.  You can read all about it here! 

This stretch of road, Hwys 62/180 is part of the original Texas Mountain Trail driving route, set up in the 1960s to encourage visitors to HemisFair '68 to explore Texas.  You can read more about it here!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Yes, you should stop.....

If you're traveling on the River Road near Big Bend, there's a place you really need to stop and explore:  Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center.  The humble little building serves as the eastern entrance to Big Bend Ranch State Park and is a regional information center. It is there to introduce the Big Bend area to the traveler and to encourage the preservation of the diverse natural and cultural resources, including adjacent areas in Mexico. The center has interpretive exhibits, a biological gallery, photo exhibit, library, regional artifacts, desert gardens and picnic areas.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Seen most every night above the Chihuahuan Desert of the Texas Mountain Trail region.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Another walk with Derrick Birdsall, Ojito Adentro

Derrick Birdsall of the My Sight Picture blog takes us on another hike in Big Bend Ranch State Park, on the Ojito Adentro.  Generally, this hike is an easy one, with some fun scrambling added into the mix!  Click here to see Derrick's blog and read about this hike!  Thanks again, Derrick, for sharing your great work!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Taking a walk with Derrick Birdsall, Big Bend Ranch State Park's Cueva Larga

One of our longtime Facebook and Twitter friends, Derrick Birdsall has a great photography and adventures blog, called My Sight Picture.  We encourage you to visit this page, as he chronicles a hike to one of the documented prehistoric sites in Big Bend Ranch State Park, Cueva Larga or the Big Cave.  His love for our region is infectious--he does a great job describing his hikes--and we always enjoy seeing his photographs.  Check back tomorrow for a link to another of his hikes in Big Bend Ranch State Park!  Thanks, Derrick, for sharing your images with all of us!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

View from the Trail, Davis Mountains State Park

Here's another view from our recent hike on a mountain biking/hiking trail in Davis Mountains State Park, near Fort Davis.

For more regional hiking information, visit:
For more regional cycling information, visit:

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Opening Soon at Eugene Binder Gallery in Marfa--Portable Landscape by Joianne Bittle

We first learned about this project on the website,, a place creative works can find funding...and we were delighted to learn this artwork will soon open in Marfa's Eugene Binder Gallery.  There's a video about the artwork on this page.

Joianne Bittle
Preserving Mass Extinction: A Portable Landscape
Opening reception: Friday, October 8, 2010, 9-11pm
October 9, 2010 - March, 2011(I have to check on the exact day)

"The Concept: A Collage of Past and Present
During the Permian period shallow seas covered much of what is dry land in present-day Southwest Texas millions of years ago. Referencing a 1960’s diorama of the Permian Sea from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City along with a diorama from the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum in Midland, TX, an invented landscape has been fabricated in the back of a cargo trailer. This artwork installation is what I call a “portable landscape” and the first in the series. My goal is to connect the ancient to the present environment with the people living in Marfa, Texas, and the surrounding area, and call forth the primordial sense one feels while traveling through this land.

The Construction:
 Like looking through the viewfinder of a camera, a large proscenium window exposes an intimate underwater scene diorama. A painted ultramarine blue-green background, a three-dimensional foreground with objects is constructed inside the trailer creating an ancient oasis, and offers sun-drenched viewers refuge as well as a look into the past.

The seabed landscape is barren incorporating a variety of casted and real fossils including brachiopods collected in the area. Today, these fossils continue to lie buried underground waiting to be discovered and maybe even owned!"

Eugene Binder Gallery
call for hours (432-729-3900 or 432-729-4949)
218 N. Highland Ave.
Marfa, TX 79843

Check out the artist's website:

Monday, October 04, 2010

A Nature Writer Returns

An old bighorn ram overlooks the valley below on Elephant Mountain, Elephant Mt Wildlife Management Area north of Big Bend National Park in West Texas. Photos Copyright (c) 2010 Wendee Holtcamp
Several years ago, nature and travel writer, Wendee Holtcamp wrote a wonderful article for Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, called "Top of Texas, " in which she featured the view from Guadalupe Peak.  Recently, she was back in the region and just posted a wonderful set of photographs on her blog, Bohemian Adventures
She's writing another article about places in both the Texas Mountain Trail region and our neighboring Texas Pecos Trail region, but you can get a preview of her beautiful photography and some of the places (Elephant Mountain, Balmorhea, Davis Mountains!) she visited by reading her blog entry here! 

Sunday, October 03, 2010

On your way to the mountains, may we suggest?

If you're heading to the Texas Mountain Trail region from the Midland/Odessa airport or are on I-20 and want a wonderful place to take a moment away from the road, you can do no better than stop at Monahans Sandhills State Park in the Texas Pecos Trail Region.  We took this video yesterday, when there were millions of sunflowers in bloom!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

El Paso Desert Botanical Garden/Keystone Heritage Park

One of the most unlikely places to view wildlife is in the center of a large city.  El Paso is abound with surprises, not the least of which is Keystone Heritage Park and the El Paso Botanical Gardens.  Located at 4220 Doniphan on the west side of the city, is a unique place to view desert plants and gardens, birds and even an archaeological site (the site by appointment only).  For more information on the park, click here and here!  An upcoming event is below!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Seen recently in the Fall Migration: Yellow-Headed Blackbirds

This photo was taken this spring at Gage Gardens in Marathon, but we've heard reports of them coming through in the fall migration.  To learn more about yellow-headed blackbirds, click here.

To learn more about regional birding, click here.

We will soon announce the availability of the newest Great Texas Wildlife Trail maps--for Far West Texas.  To learn more, click here!  Thanks to our many sponsors and volunteers for helping to make this new birding resource a reality!