Pressing on toward the Big Bend

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It is Saturday morning. We are up early since we have a long day ahead of us. We have to cover some miles today. We stop at Lake Amistad, a large reservoir on the Rio Grande. It is known for birds but none today. The lake is very low. It is an interesting sight anyway since the water is so low there are very steep banks of white rock with almost no vegetation. Ahead we stop for a quick break at the Seminole Canyon State Park and historic site. This was a home site for ancient native Americans. Down in the canyon are caves with pictographs said to be the oldest in North America. It is a steep hike down into the canyon and, although we have arrived in time for the ranger guided walk, we do not have the proper clothes and shoes. We opt instead for the interpretive center. We learn about life here in the desert 12,000 years ago when elephants and camels roamed the land along with mammoths and bison. It was interesting to see how the Indians used the Yucca plant’s roots to make flour and early examples of weaving to make baskets. Not much further down Hwy.90 is the little village of Langtry home of the Judge Roy Bean museum. We make a stop at the museum and visitor center. The original Saloon where the self appointed Judge held court has been well preserved. Judge Bean was known as the only law west of the Pecos. He had arrived here during the Civil War while escaping creditors and the law. Ever the opportunist, he took advantage of the post war rail road boom and built the Jersey Lilly Saloon and Opera House named in honor of Lilly Langtry, a popular English singer of the time. Judge Bean was totally smitten with her and, after numerous correspondence, prevailed upon her to visit this place in the middle of nowhere. Judge Bean was able to keep Law and Order in this wilderness for many years. It was, however, his interpretation of the law. Back on the road, Hwy. 90 crosses the Pecos River just as it joins the Rio Grande. We are climbing slowly and crest a hill to reveal a vast landscape that is jaw dropping. It is a seemingly endless Mesa. We come to a tiny community named Dryden where we hope to find gas and a place to eat other than a convenience store. A festival of sorts is going on. Lo and behold it is a car race. The service station tells us to go down to the court house where several food vendors are set up. We discover a very interesting race. A car club has convinced the State of Texas to close state highway 349 which heads north west out of Dryden for about 70 miles toward Fort Stockton. Participants can drive anything they want. They are divided into speed classes. We were told the average speed of the fastest class was 165 miles per hour. What a spectacle. They had stopped at the courthouse for lunch so we joined in. I, of course, asked tons of questions. The event included 156 cars and trucks. Some looked like retired NASCAR autos, lots of Vets, and Mustangs along with a Dodge Ram truck and a 2002 Ford Thunderbird. Drivers are sporting racing suits, shoes and helmets.A police car sounds his siren and folks head back to their cars for the return ride. Everyone is staged 30 seconds apart. There were lots of hot cars and lots of noise. This is my kind of car club! Soon we arrive in the town of Marathon and our home for the evening, the Gage Hotel. The story of this town is tied up with a wealthy Texas businessman, J.P. Bryan. He has a love for Texas history and buys a ranch outside Marathon. The ranch has a 3500 square foot home but not enough for him to entertain guests. He decided to buy a run down hotel in town and then spend $10,000,000 on renovations including adding a spa and the White Buffalo Bar along with a wonderful restaurant headed up by his former personal chef.We stay in the Captain Shepard House built in 1899 by a former sea captain who came to this area to survey the right of way for the railroad. The railroad made possible the establishment of the town of Marathon. Shepard became a rancher with 25,000 head of sheep. Marathon has become the gateway to the Big Bend Texas area. We are delighted with our stay here wishing it were longer. Sunday finds us up early and ready to leave except we have to take time out to rescue a runaway dog who we find running down the Main Street in the traffic dragging his chain behind him. Linda is concerned the fast moving traffic will run over him. She grabs the chain and goes down the street questioning passersby if they know who owns to dog. The owner turns out to be one of the hotel maids whose has come to work and the dog has broken free and is looking for her. We hit the gas station to top off the bike and head south toward the Big Bend National Park. There are many words to describe this place but the one that always comes to mind is VAST. There are many kinds of blooming cactus including the yellow prickly pear, the aptly named claret cactus, the octillo cactus and the hot pink fresh yuccas. Way off in the distance we see the park entrance gate and ten minutes later we arrive at the gate to find that the ranger’s computer is broken and we must proceed to the main visitor’s facility 30 more minutes up the road. This is sure a huge park.