Thursday, October 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Ten by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey


 
www.joandonaldsonyarmey.com
 
 
Author’s Note
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

Road Tripping USA Part Ten
We drove to Langtry, Texas, and stopped at the Judge Roy Bean Saloon and Museum. Roy Bean owned a store when he was appointed as Justice of the Peace of the Pecos County to combat the lawlessness of the area. He moved his court to Langtry and set up a tent saloon. He later built a wooden saloon which he named the Jersey Lilly after famous English actress, Lillie Langtry. She was his idol and he composed many letters to her inviting her to his town, which he claimed he named after her.
     Judge Roy Bean dispatched his own version of the law and was known as the ‘Law West of the Pecos’. Although he was also known as the ‘Hanging Judge’ there is conflicting information about that. Some say there is no evidence that he ever sentenced anyone to hang and others state that he sentenced two men to hang, one of whom escaped. His bar, or the front verandah, was his courtroom and his customers usually acted as a jury. He had one law book, his own idea of frontier justice, and a six gun to back his decisions.
     Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Le Breton on October 13, 1853, in Jersey, England. She married Edward Langtry in 1874. Her beauty won her many acclaims and she became a stage actress in 1881. She later formed her own production company. She toured the UK and went to the United States on tour in 1883. After many such trips, Lilly, as the American's spelled her name, became an American citizen in 1897. She died in Monaco on February 12, 1929. She did get to Langtry, Texas, in 1904, but it was a few months after Judge Roy Bean's death.  
     The buildings- the billiards hall, the saloon, and the opera hall- are all original and well preserved. We walked into the saloon and I bellied up to the bar. In the Opera House was a bed and some other furniture.
     Beside the museum is the Cactus Garden Interpretive Trail. We wandered the path through the different cacti reading their names and descriptions of their uses. I learned that the fruit and flowers of the Spanish Dagger are edible and the fiber is used for string, and that candy is made out of the Eagles Claw. It was a lovely walk through the garden and across a man-made dry river.
     Langtry is just a few houses near the museum and a post office. I bought a post card and mailed it to mom.
     We were on the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan Dessert and we drove through this desert over the next week as we went through southwestern Texas and into New Mexico and Arizona. The desert also goes south into Mexico. It covers 139,769 sq. miles (362,000 sq. km) and is the third largest desert on the Western hemisphere, and second only to the Great Basin in North America.
     At Marathon we headed south and passed a sign stating we had entered the Big Bend National Park. However, the headquarters were still 28 miles (45km) away and the campground 20 miles (32km) past that on the Rio Grande. We drove through a tunnel and finally reached the campground after dark.
     Big Bend National Park is named for the big curve in the Rio Grande. It covers 800,000 acres (323,760ha) of desert and mountains, and includes 118 miles (190km) of the Rio Grande. It is the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan desert in the U.S.
     In the shower/laundry room the next morning, I talked with a woman who said she and her husband had been in the park for five days and were planning on staying for a couple more. They had been RVers for a year, travelling around the countryside. She told me about some of the hiking trails in the park. She said to watch for the trinkets that were beside the hiking trails for people to buy. I wasn’t sure what she was talking about but I figured I would find out.
     Mike and I walked to the boat launch and Mike put his foot in the Rio Grande. We drove to the Rio Grande Village nature trail. Mike wasn’t sure how far he could get but we set out. Just as we crossed the bridge over a pond we met four people who had just finished the trail.
     “Is the trail worth going on?” I asked.
     “Oh, yes,” one of the men said.
     “Is it hard?”
     “Going around the bottom of the hill is okay but it is a steep climb to the top.”
     The other man wore a jacket with the name Jasper on it. Mike saw it and asked. “Are you from Jasper, Alberta?”
     “No. We’re from London, Ontario. We’re Canadians.”
     “We’re Canadians from Vancouver Island.”
      The man said they came down to Texas every fall to spend the winter with their friends in San Antonio. He asked us what we were doing. Mike said we had gone to an international breast cancer dragon boat survivor festival in Sarasota.
     “Oh,” one of the women said. “One of our friends in London belongs to a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team and she was at Sarasota.”
     I asked the name of the team was but they couldn’t remember.
     We started hiking along the trail and we hadn't gone very far when we found some hiking sticks, and scorpions, road runners, necklaces, ocotillos, roosters, and other items made out of beads and copper wire in a group by the trail. There was a piece of cardboard beside them with the prices on it and a plea for donations to support their school.
     These were the trinkets the woman in the laundromat had been talking about. They were left there by Mexicans who came across the river.
     It was on the honour system to pay and there was a container to leave the money. Mike and I each bought a hiking stick. Mike's had a bird and a cactus painted on it and mine had a snake. We carried on and found three more wayside trinket sites. We climbed up to a magnificent overlook where we could see Mexico across the Rio Grande. There were beautiful canyon rock walls and a town way in the distance. Donkeys grazed just on the other side of the river. Interpretive signs told about the border and the wild animals in the area.
     We descended and then I decided to walk around the hill. On the way I found a sign for a river spur trail. I strolled along it towards the river. On the way I saw bowl-like depressions in slabs of rock. I had talked with the woman in the store when we registered the night before and she told me that they had been notched by the natives centuries ago and every time they came through they used them to grind their grain into flour.
     On our way back to our camper, we met two women heading out on the trail. I told them to watch for the hiking sticks and trinkets. One of them said she thought it was against the law to buy stuff from illegal aliens.
     We headed to the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. There was a building at the Port of Entry but the crossing was closed. A man was doing some work on the building so I went and talked to him. He explained that anyone wanting to go to Mexico could walk down to the river. The Mexicans on the other side would come across in boats to pick them up and take them to the town we had seen across the river where they could shop or relax.
     “Many people just go across to chill and say they have been there,” he said.
     There is no guard at the crossing. There are cameras set up and it is monitored in El Paso. Inside the building is a kiosk where anyone wanting to cross could scan their passport. El Paso checks the passport and can keep track by camera when the tourists return.
     The man told me that for hundreds of years the Mexicans had been crossing the river into the US on a bridge at this crossing and no one said anything about it. Then the border patrol decided it wasn't right so they demolished the bridge. But, because they knew the crossings would continue anyway, they gave the Mexicans some green aluminum boats. Those boats are the ones they pick up tourists in.
     On the way to the Boquillas Canyon overlook we saw a sign that said: Purchase or possession of items obtained from Mexican Nationals is illegal.
     We weren’t sure if that meant the items at the trinket sites or if we bought something from them in person.
     From the overlook we could see the river below and a tall rock face in the distance on the Mexican side. There are more trinkets-necklaces, anklets, tea towels, hiking sticks. We looked down on three Mexicans on the other side of the river who were watching us through binoculars. They had a small fire going and one of those green boats sat on the river bank. Mike liked a rock with crystals embedded in it and he bought it. He held the money in the air before putting it in the jar then picked up the rock and showed them. He waved and they waved back.
     We had our oil changed in Alpine and then left on the Texas Mountain Trail. The scenery was wide open spaces, grass, cows, some cacti, some bush, and hills in the distance.
     We drove into Valentine. It has a population of 217 people and no services. Mike saw a sign for a library and he stopped. I still had some of my books so I went in to see if I could donate them to the library. The librarian was very friendly and told me about the founding of the Kay Johnson Library.
     "Kay and her husband owned a ranch near here and she always wanted to do something for Valentine but never got to it before she passed away. So her daughter, and her husband, from Austin Texas bought this old house, fixed it up, and started the library in Kay Johnson's name."
     She took me on a tour showing me the different rooms.
     "Each room has a different type of book: mysteries, romances, children's. There is even one for hard covers. All the books have been donated and anyone can borrow a book."
     "I am a mystery writer," I said. "I have copies of my three novels in the camper. Would you be interested in a set?"
     "Oh, yes." she said. "That would be wonderful."
     I came back and signed them. I gave them to her, then signed the guest book. The place is not advertised but tourists do stop in. A couple from Sweden had signed the book a few days before me.
     The West Texas Valentine's Day celebrations are held in Valentine on Valentine's Day, hosted by the Big Bend Brewing Company from Alpine, Texas. A building in the town has been renovated to hold the party. There are usually three bands, lots of food to eat, and a dance. People come from all over the area to celebrate.
     Valentine began as a station on the Southern Pacific Railroad. There are two stories as to how it received its name. One is that it was founded on Valentine's Day. The other is that it was named after John Valentine, a stockholder in the railroad. The population grew to 600 but when diesel engines were introduced in 1950 the roundhouse was closed. The crew change point was moved in 1984 and the population slowly dwindled.
     We decided we wanted Mexican food for lunch. We saw a sign for Chuy's Restaurant in Van Horne and stopped there. While we waited for our food we were told the story of a Monday night in 1987 when John Madden stopped in to watch Monday night football on their television. During his career Madden was an NFL football player, a super bowl winning coach, and a football commentator on television. He liked the food of this restaurant so much he mentioned it in articles he wrote for magazines. On one of his television shows he called it the "All Madden Haul (sic) of Fame". Madden had been coming to Chuy's for many years and had his own director’s chair with his name on it.
     Mike ordered Quesadillas and I had Flautas, which is shredded beef in corn tortillas. The food was delicious but I don't think we will be back every year.
     As we continued north we are in the Guadeloupe Mountains. Guadeloupe Peak is the highest point in Texas at 8749 ft. (2667m).
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