walking from LA to NY travel blog

view from the top of the "lost mine" trail in the chisos...

double rainbow at sunrise as i was breaking camp in "organ pipe...

a family of javelinas invading the campground at big bend. by reputation,...

the rio grande - US/mexico border - at big bend national park....

this wild horse was on the US bank of the rio grande......

......and swam over to the mexican bank to join his herd. it...

hard to see - but this is a wasp dragging a paralyzed...

this guy was not happy as i approached him - wanted to...

these signs are all over the organ pipe cactus nat'l park. it's...

in the backcountry of organ pipe cactus nat'l park, i saw at...

sunset at the quitobaquito oasis - the only water for miles around

this early 20th-century tank was at the pancho villa state park in...

THIS is an organ pipe cactus. north of the border, it's only...

ok, i admit i love snake photos! this big guy was at...

two of the fence types used on the US/mexico border in arizona....

a third type of border fence, also a vehicle barricade. this one...

mexican businesses right across the street from the border 'fence'. i was...

nice mexican horse farm, right up against the border fence

this is the scenery (and farm) in the southwest 'bootheel' of new...

jagged ajo mountains in organ pipe cactus nat'l monument. that cactus up...

the view from the crest trail of saguaro nat'l park, west of...

the 'bones' of a cholla. interesting lattice structure

abandoned cattle corral in organ pipe nat'l monument. it was ranched until...

another view of the quitobaquito spring-fed oasis at sunset

totally cool how this dirt outcropping has weathered! in the rio grande...

a butte in the castolon region (west side) of the big bend...

believe it or not, this is a trail! in the mountainous 'chisos'...

i was going for the artsy look with this dead cactus and...

i am the lizard king. i can do anything.

abandoned mercury mine in the rio grande region of big bend

this tarantula ambled over to me - i thought he was going...

a veritable forest of saguaro cactus - in saguaro national park, west...

the only thing left in this abandoned miner's camp is the bathtub....

the famed kitts peak observatory, southwest of tucson. many comets have been...

hard to see, but this is a roadrunner atop the postal box....

spent some time 4-wheeling in the deep sand - some of it...

is it me, or does this saguaro look like he's in the...


i’ve been hanging out in the desert – my absolute favorite place to be, even better than the beach - since my last post. it’s wild and harsh and quiet and peaceful and i love it. i spent two nights camping in the big bend national park on the texas/mexico border, and another two nights in organ pipe cactus national monument, on the arizona/mexico border. a great way to wrap up this fantastic journey!

i drove the 400 miles from my cousin’s house in san antonio to big bend on a friday, arriving about 3:30pm. i’d called ahead to see if i needed camping reservations but was told it would surely not be busy. wrong-o, moosebreath! the most popular region of the park, the chisos mountains where i wanted to camp and hike, was full – and it was because of the columbus day holiday 3-day weekend. c’mon, who really gets that holiday off? well, banks and government employees – which includes the civilians at the local air force base, who had pretty much taken over the park. so i ended up camping in a different region of the park, down by the rio grande, and that was fortunate because it opened up a whole new section of the park to me. i’d never been to this eastern portion of the park, and was able to spend a whole day hiking and driving the 45-mile 4wd road along the river out to the western region which is called ‘castolon’. of course it was all beautiful and challenging and i can now say i’ve explored a large percentage of the park. and, on my way out, i stopped at the chisos region (which is in the middle) and did one 5-mile lung-buster of a hike with some awesome views when i reached the windy top. so all’s well that ends well, and i love the place so much that i’m sure i’ll be back yet again, some day.

as i was exploring the rio grande in big bend i had two things happen to me. first, i finally saw some wild horses, which i’ve been trying to see the whole trip. this small herd appears to use both sides of the border, because i saw one horse on my side (see photos) who called to the horses on the other side. they answered, and she (he?) waded right into the river and swam across like she’d been doing it every day. dual-citizenship horses - pretty cool! so as i was taking these photos, i was so pumped up that i failed to notice the prickly pear cactus i was about to stumble into. which of course punctured both my euphoria and dozens of places on my leg. spent the next 15 minutes picking spines out of my leg and ankle. i’m a veteran desert-rat who knows better, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at me. it’s no fun getting cactus’d! and in animal news, as i got back into camp i encountered a small family of javelinas (see photo) who, fortunately, trotted away as i approached. those things have a nasty reputation for being willing to fight, but these must have gotten used to the campers.

the road west out of big bend has always been one of my favorite drives. hwy 170 winds along the rio grande with lots of dips and curves, especially between lajitas and redford, and has very little traffic. i wish i’d had ol’ tessie out there to really unwind on that road, but there’s not a lot of charging stations in texas! still it was a fun drive, and i ended up having a delicious lunch at a little mexican place in the border town of presidio, texas. i figured the food can’t get any more authentic than that! (i wanted to cross the border, but now you need a passport to even visit the border towns. a driver’s license doesn’t work any more.) anyway, there are places along that road where the rio grande looks like it’s no more than 10 feet wide – running fast and deep, for sure, but i don’t see how they can possibly stop people who want to get into the US. and if you look at the border photos i’ve posted from new mexico and arizona you’ll see what i mean. there seems to be 3x as many border patrol agents (and checkpoints) now as there were the last time i was down along the border, but they’re fighting a losing battle, i think. i talked with a few of the border patrol agents and it seems their agenda is more to stop the drug-runners and other smugglers than the stop individual migrants.

heading northeast towards new mexico, there aren’t too many options in texas except interstate 10. so i reluctantly got onto the interstate for about 30 miles before i could get off it and run along the farm roads again. and funny – during that 30-mile stretch the speed limit was 80mph! last time i saw a speed limit of 80, it was in kilometers per hour in south africa. i couldn’t bring myself to rocket my poor little ford escape along at 80mph and drink up all that gas, so i settled in at 70. quick enough for me!

one of the areas i wanted to explore is the ‘bootheel’ of new mexico – that weird little section in the southwest of the state that sticks out. there are only two roads south in the region – one has a border crossing and the other ends in a little town and national forest. so i wanted to explore that little road, but as i stopped for gas, the owner told me i shouldn’t go down there – nothing but drug-runners and border patrol. she said they don’t even drive the main east-west road, highway 9, at night any more. but, in an attack of stubbornness / bravado / curiosity / whatever, i ignored her and headed south. i got only 17 miles into the 40-mile road when i came to a washout, so i turned back rather than trying to cross the water in the vehicle. guess it was just as well; i got to see what the terrain looks like but didn’t encounter any other cars.

gas continues to be incredibly cheap, by california standards. i saw $2.79/gallon on the tohono o’odham reservation in arizona. amazing! i headed down towards another of my favorite desert places, organ pipe cactus national monument, which is right down on the border. and specifically, i was heading to an oasis called quitobaquito, which has been shut down by the US border patrol since 9/11. (it sits just a hundred yards from the border and 200 yards from a busy mexican highway. there used to be a chain-link fence with an unlocked gate, and i have a photo of my kids when they were younger, on the mexican side of the gate looking as though they were trying to get in! so admittedly, it’s never been very secure.) anyway, i have memories of my visits there 30-40 years ago, where i could sit there at sunset and watch the desert animals come out for a drink. very special place for me – but now that it’s finally been reopened this year, it’s changed quite a bit. the pond is completely surrounded by tall grasses and you can no longer see the shoreline – nor the animals coming to drink. i did see one cool thing, though – a wasp dragging a paralyzed tarantula back to its nest. (see photo.) the light was poor so it’s out of focus, but it was something i’d only seen in documentaries, where these wasps sting the tarantula to paralyze them, and then eat them alive. wish i’d seen the whole thing, but i just saw the result......

throughout organ pipe cactus national monument, there are signs warning about snugglers and ill eagles. or something like that. anyway, i did a lot of hiking in the back country and didn’t see anything, except a lot of garbage left by the migrants. i tried to pick up what i could whenever i was nearing the end of a hike, but there’s a lot of detritus out there. i extensively used my ford escape’s 4wd as i explored areas i hadn’t been to before. i’m feeling a lot more confident in the capabilities of the vehicle that i was before; i generally don’t push the limits of the 4wd and the clearance, but i hit some pretty gnarly stuff. the park has provided at least 4 emergency stations that i saw in the backcountry – there may be more – where a lost or injured or dehydrated hiker OR migrant can press a button and help will come. these are powered by solar panels and also have a tall strobe-style beacon that flashes at night. great idea!

and one final note: after hearing ‘forrest gump’ about a million times as i met people, i finally met someone who mentioned the peace pilgrim! she was a quaker lady who set off on a cross-country walkabout back in the late 50’s to protest the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and walked around the US, canada, and mexico for 28 years relying completely on the kindness of strangers. now, i identify a lot more with HER than with some fictional character in a movie i still have yet to see! LOL.

i’m going to grab one more short hike on my way out of organ pipe cactus and then head for familiar territory – the california coastline. my plan is to drive up the coast and get to san jose by monday for another dental appointment, and then finally make it home to roseville. can’t wait to see the dogs and the grandkids! and the wife and the friends! and yeah, i suppose, even the kids...... {:>



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