Thursday, January 31, 2013

Reed by the Rio Grande

Even today, reed grows by the Rio Grande.  We took this photo along the trail at Hot Springs in Big Bend National Park.  Why is the reed important?

Consider this snippet from yesterday's post about Homer Wilson Ranch house in Big Bend:

"The double roof is supported separately by large poles.

The ceiling is made of reeds in the pattern that has been used for centuries by the inhabitants of the river. The story goes that Mrs. Wilson wanted the reed ceiling with the adobe mud on top, to-which Mr. Wilson agreed. However, since such a roof would leak, he used a 2-inch concrete mixture in place of the adobe mud and above that a sheet metal roof, thus making the house leak-proof. 

This arrangement not only accomplished its purpose but in addition made the house much cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, as it created an air space between the metal roof and the ceiling. It was a very satisfactory means of insulation"

There may be invasive non-native species along the banks of the Rio Grande, but even they can tell us something about the plants' relationship with human life in such a remote place. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What would it be like to LIVE THERE? Homer Wilson Ranch in Big Bend

Homer Wilson Ranch house far off in the distance
from the scenic overlook from Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
in Big Bend National Park (click on the photo for
a closer view!)
Dwarfed by the majestic scenery, there's a historic ranch house standing in Big Bend National Park that is enormously effective in capturing our imagination.  What was life like on this wild land in the late 1920s when Homer Wilson established his ranching operation here?  Self-reliance, was a life requiring moxie and strong, strong character.

Even today, those characteristics are required of the backpackers who include a stop to the ranch house on the park's Outer Mountain Loop.  It is a three-day, 30 mile trip on a strenuous primitive trail and significant elevation changes.

From Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive pull-off, the ranch house looks like an oasis.  What was it like?

From the 1975 nomination form to place the ranch in the National Register of Historic Places:

Original Appearance: 

Although Homer Wilson maintained Oak Canyon as his headquarters, he "erected at this location (Blue Creek) a secondary and very substantial ranch house..."! "This house was 24 x 60 feet with 16 x 60-foot screened porch on the south side of the house. The house proper consisted of 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, and a large living room near the middle of the north wall. There is a large fireplace in which the mantle is made by very artistic placement of long slabs of stone placed horizontally. Some of these slabs are up to 8 feet in length and placed in a colorful arrangement.

The double roof is supported separately by large poles. The ceiling is made of reeds in the pattern that has been used for centuries by the inhabitants of the river. The story goes that Mrs. Wilson wanted the reed ceiling with the adobe mud on top, to-which Mr. Wilson agreed. However, since such a roof would leak, he used a 2-inch concrete mixture in place of the adobe mud and above that a sheet metal roof, thus making the house leak-proof. This arrangement not only accomplished its purpose but in addition made the house much cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, as it created an air space between the metal roof and the ceiling. It was a very satisfactory means of insulation.

The interior walls carry little if any support for the roof, as this was done by sturdy poles set in cement and holding up the weight of the ceiling and roof. Practically all materials for the construction of the house came from the area. The stone, sand, and gravel came from Blue Creek Canyon, the timber from the Chisos Mountains, and the reed from the nearby Rio Grande. Thus the Blue Creek line camp ranch house may be said to be indigenous to the area. The floor of the house was made of well-selected flags while that of the porch was 'concrete.

In addition, to the house in the Blue Creek complex,  a small 1-room house for living quarters for additional ranch help, a small storeroom, an outside barbeque fireplace, a cistern to catch and hold fresh rainwater, a circular corral with a snubbing post for the training of young horses, and a nearby dipping vat and chute. There was also a chemical outhouse, a small chicken house, and a combination rock and tin structure likely used for the storage of salt and other equipment and tools,

Access to the Blue Creek house was over a reasonably well-maintained dirt road which came up the valley from Oak Canyon along the flats between Burro Mesa and the Chisos Mountains and then over the ridge into Blue Creek Canyon.

Present Appearance: Of the structures described above, all but the chicken coop still remain* Except for the storeroom and toilet, which are in poor condition, all are "structually sound, but deteriorating in detail."

More about Homer Wilson from the same document:

Homer Wilson was born in Del Rio, Texas, in 1892, studied mining and petroleum engineering at Missouri School of Mines, served in Europe during World War I, and returned to the Rio Grande country after the war. 

In 1929 he purchased ranch land west of the Chisos Mountains, and ultimately expanded his holding to include 44 sections to operate this vast tract he established his home and headquarters at Oak Springs. 

Later he moved part of his operations to Blue Creek. Wilson developed the ranch and raised his family-there during the years up to 1943 when he died suddenly. In 1942 he deeded the land to the State of Texas during-the early days of park land,-acquisition. 

The family moved from the ranch by the agreed deadline of January l,1945.  As one of the largest ranches in the Big Bend area, the Wilson Ranch has local significance. Its structures along with the natural setting provide opportunities to interpret twentieth century ranch life for this area.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Hospitality Heroes! Hyatt Place El Paso Airport

Danny Padilla (l), accepts the Texas Mountain Trail
Hospitality Heroes Award from Executive Director, Beth
Nobles (c), Director of Sales, Rebecca Diaz (r)
Every year, we award one or two regional businesses or attractions well-deserved special recognition, our Texas Mountain Trail Hospitality Heroes Award.

Our friends at the Hyatt Place El Paso Airport location have earned it!  They exemplify the best in hospitality and service--qualities that distinguish all our Texas Mountain Trail Hospitality Heroes Award winners.

The property was the first to participate in our cycle-friendly accommodations program, and was the launching location for Adventure Cycling Association's first Big Bend Loop tour last fall.  Click here to see their 2013 Big Bend tours...Adventure Cycling is  offering three Big Bend Loop tours this year, and they're visiting with the Hyatt Place about using their facility again.

The property has provided in-kind support that's allowed us to build partnerships and develop programs to bring travelers to El Paso and the rest of Far West Texas--like our Far West Texas Wildlife Trail, the Peak Fitness Challenge, and others.  In short, they've been an important part of every program we've launched.

Bike parking in rooms allowed
in this Texas Mountain Trail
cycle-friendly property!
From the early days of our organization, the Hyatt Place has supported our Texas Mountain Trail non-profit with leadership provided by Rebecca Diaz, their Director of Sales.  Rebecca served on our board for several terms, and is currently our Vice President and a member of our Executive Committee. 

All that support is most appreciated, but there's more:  without fail, the entire staff of this property is friendly, service-oriented and interested in providing the best stay possible for all its guests.  THAT makes our region just a little bit better for the traveler.   Congrats, and thank you!

Also, we'd like to note that we featured the menu items offered by the Hyatt Place for health-conscious visitors...check out our link to that entry!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Same Day: Sunrise and Sunset

Friday morning's sunrise captured by our friend,
Monte Riggs in Marfa
The same day's sunset, also captured in Marfa,
by our friend, Monte Riggs
Our region must be blessed with some of the best sunrises and sunsets anywhere.  Take for example, Friday's skies captured by our friend Monte Riggs in Marfa.  BEAUTIFUL!!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hot Springs in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park's David Elkowitz
(and a member of our Texas Mountain Trail board!)
gives a tour of Hot Springs

Hot Springs motel structure
View of current day visitors paddling to the Hot Spring
to enjoy a soak
One of the neatest places to visit in Big Bend National Park is the Hot Springs Historic District, which has evidence of ancient human history (in the form of rock art) and more recent history in the remnants of a Hot Springs resort, started by J.O. Langford when he moved to the Big Bend in 1909.  Read Langford's story:   Langford, J.O., with Fred Gipson. Big Bend: A Homesteader’s Story. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973.

Read more about the historic district on the park's website.
Learn about taking a soak on your next visit!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Imagine farms of corn, beans, and squash in the river's floodplain

We took this photo on Saturday, at Big Bend National Park's Hot Springs Historic District.  This is the view from the remains of the historic Hot Springs resort motel.  Stay tuned for the next few days for images of this special place.

Along the banks of the Rio Grande, farmers on both sides of the river carved out a living growing beans, corns and squash in the sandy soil.

Learn about taking a soak yourself, just as tourists did in the 1920s through the 50s.

Take a look at the rock art left by ancient people.

Plan a visit yourself!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Alvino House at Castolon in Big Bend National Park

Click on the image to get a closer view!  Notice Santa Elena
Canyon in the upper left, and the Alvino House on the right!
Explore the little paths in the park, and you'll be richly rewarded.  Down this path in the Castolon Historic District in the southwest part of Big Bend National Park, is the Alvino House, the oldest intact adobe structure in the park.  Built in 1901 by Cipriano Hernandez, a Hispanic farmer, it represents the everyday life of many of the families who lived and farmed along the Rio Grande.

From the park's website:

"Other Big Bend residents of Mexican descent chose not to work for local ranchers. They established homesteads and survived by subsistence farming and raising sheep and goats. These settlers developed ingenious methods for farming in the desert. Armed with an intimate knowledge of which plants could succeed in the desert climate, those who homesteaded near the Rio Grande or desert springs would use these water sources to irrigate their crops. Others, located far from water, farmed seasonally by locating their farms near washes and diverting water from flash floods during the rainy season. Many supplemented their incomes by harvesting candelilla, a desert plant from which they would render a fine wax, by baling hay and selling it to the local military and mining camps, by cutting and hauling wood to nearby settlements, or by trapping and trading furs at local trading posts."


"The east end of the rambling adobe building now known as the “Alvino House” was the original Castolon store, where Hernandez vended his melons, pumpkins, squash, and beans"

In 1918, Alvino Ybarra moved into the house.  He earned his living by operating the engines that powered the cotton gin and water pump that brought water from the Rio Grande to irrigate the fields.  He was also a tenant farmer for the La Harmonia Company.  Alvino Ybarra continued living in the house until 1957, when he moved to Alpine.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sotol Overlook in Big Bend National Park

This weekend, we got off the road as much as we could in Big Bend National Park.  And while the scenic drives are INCREDIBLE, there's nothing quite like getting out of the car and seeing what you can see on foot.  In this case, we didn't have to walk far, as the Sotol Overlook on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive offered spectacular views...this one from the parking lot!  (What you're seeing in the blue distance is Mexico!)

Click here to read more about the places you can visit along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive in Big Bend National Park! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Visiting La Harmonia

Many visitors heading to Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park miss the Castolon Historic District just off Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, right by the Rio Grande.  One of the most visited places in the district is the La Harmonia Store, where you can still go in and buy provisions, cold water and snacks, t-shirts, sunglasses and other sundries.  The building was built in 1919-20 to serve as a barracks for the U.S. Cavalry during the Mexican Revolution.  Shortly after the building was erected, the troops were withdrawn, and were purchased by Wayne Cartledge and Howard Perry, partners in the La Harmonia Company.
It doesn't take too much imagination to put yourself back in the 1920s, when the shelves were stocked with a wide variety of merchandise to cater to both American and Mexican citizens.  Right next door to the store, there's a little museum and bookshop designed to help visitors understand the Castolon area of the park.   The La Harmonia Company was vital to the survival of the remote villages in the area.  It remained in business until 1961, when it was sold to National Park Concessions and incorporated into the national park.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Big Bend Vista, Friday afternoon

click on the photo to get a closer view!
Taken late Friday afternoon on the road heading out of Big Bend National Park towards Terlingua...just one of thousands of beautiful sights if you pull off the road every now and then and get out of your car!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Join the Peak Fitness Challenge and Take a Heritage Hike!

In mileage, our #2 female hiker in the Peak Fitness Challenge
but #1 in enthusiasm!  Adrianna Weickhardt, Franklin Mountains State Park!

We're in the process of contacting all the winners, but we now have a list of the hikers/trail runners who logged the most miles in the Peak Fitness Challenge in 2012.  Those with an (*) asterisk have logged more than 20 miles on the Peak Fitness Challenge website, :

*Hannah Simmons
*Adrianna Weickhardt
*Abby Austin
*Laura Jones
*Lindsay Strelec
*Lynn Vasquez
Ashley Benisatto
Denise Martinez
Kristi Hines
Rachel Carrera
Lindsay Drysdale

*Mike McCorgary
*Hector Zubia
*Don Baumgardt
*Dennis Vasquez
*Drew Stuart
Tony Esparza
Charlie Pruett
Caleb Law
John Moses
Nathan Stanley
Charles Russell

Most of these hikers have experienced trails we've designated as "Texas Mountain Trail Heritage Hikes," and they've experienced historic ranch homes, mine ruins, an airplane crash site, a canyon where a Texas Ranger was killed by cattle rustlers.  Take a look, sign up, hike the trails, and YOU will be eligible for a variety of prize drawings in 2013!

The Peak Fitness Challenge is an ongoing program, and a cooperative effort of our Texas Mountain Trail, (and PhiDev, Inc.), Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Franklin Mountains State Park!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest!

We are excited about the upcoming Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest, when Lajitas Golf Resort and the Big Bend community (including Desert Sports) welcomes mountain bikers to the trail! Want to join in?  Mark February 14-16 on your calendar and sign up here!  Riders of all abilities are welcome!
Click here to view our cycling page with links to routes and cycle-friendly hotels!

Making last minute plans to participate in the Bike Fest?  The folks at Big Bend Resort  want you to know that they're offering Fest participants (who book a room with them)  a free (and fully loaded--bacon, eggs, sausage, grits, yoghurt, fruit, biscuits and gravy, etc!!) breakfast buffet.  What could be better than that!?!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Music in the Mountains

One of our cycle-friendly and historic hotels, Marathon's Gage Hotel, is sponsoring a singer/songwriter's show next month!  Call for dinner and show tickets 432-386-4205.  Show will include Drew Kennedy, Walt and Tina Wilkins.
Gage Hotel
Looking for more music events in the region?  Check out Viva Big Bend's Music Festival in late July!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Early morning....

Our friend in Marfa, Monte Riggs, recently moved to the region from Houston.  A long-time runner, it took some time to adjust to a difference in altitude and running conditions, but eventually found new inspiration in the natural beauty of the area.

"Waves of sparrows or chickadees in silhouette against the bright morning sunlight break away before me, launching themselves from the tall grasses and creosote bush to scatter across the road ahead of me, their flight pattern a rhythm of rising and falling just above the tops of the grasses surfing on the slowly warming air." 

Read the entire post on "One Foot in Front of the Other," a blog for newbies to fitness.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Spring Wildflowers

Our winter precipitation
is good news as we're
anticipating spring flowers!
Like these! Van Horn in April
Some of our spring flowers start in February (or even earlier during a warm period) and then extend through early summer.  Some bloom in summer, and some will peek out during other times if there's rain and the temperatures are right!
Mountain poppies in El Paso in March
Roadside flowers along Hwy 54 just south of
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in September

Flowers found along the trail in
Big Bend National Park the first of October!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sites along the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail

Several years ago, we partnered with Texas Parks and Wildlife and our neighboring Texas Pecos Trail to develop the
Far West Texas Wildlife Trail.  Click here to read more about this trail and to learn how to access/purchase the map!
From the El Paso Uplands Loop of the trail, Franklin Mountains State Park Tom Mays Unit
From the Davis Mountains Loop, the Davis Mountains Preserve (open 365 days a year, their Madera Canyon Trail)
From the Davis Mountains Loop, the Cactus Greenhouse at Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center
From the El Paso Uplands Loop, the botanical garden at the Museum of Archaeology
From the Big Bend Loop, Big Bend National Park's Window Trail

From the El Paso Uplands Loop, near the Museum of Archaeology
It is part of the mission of our non-profit Texas Mountain Trail organization to develop programs that help folks get the most out of their visit to the Texas Mountains, like the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail.  You can now become a member of the Texas Mountain Trail and support our programs!  Click here for more information!

Monday, January 14, 2013

A short little jaunt, by bicycle or motorcycle or automobile! Our Heritage Bike Route called "Ride to the Post!"

A lovely view of the road on our Texas Mountain Trail Heritage Bike Route, the Ride to the Post!

A five miles out, and five miles back easy ride just about anyone can do...on a bike, motorcycle, or a car. 

Start in Marathon, at the cycle-friendly Gage Hotel or Gage Gardens and follow the signs to the "County Park," and soon you'll arrive at a VERY neat oasis in the mountains, which was used by Apache and Comanche and Buffalo Soldiers alike.

Click here to learn more about the route.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Alpine's Train Station and El Paso's Train Station and getting here by Amtrak

Inside Alpine's train station
There are two Amtrak stops in our Texas Mountain Trail region, Alpine and El Paso.  Click here for details about the Alpine station, and here for details about the El Paso station.  Both stations are absolutely lovely, and both are on the Sunset Limited Route.  Click here to read the Sunset Limited Schedule brochure from Amtrak.

Union Station, El Paso