Rio Grande

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

Our stay, at the bottom of the southeastern corner of Texas, right next to the hotly disputed border to Mexico, became very pleasant in spite of all reservations and the expulsion (see also the travelogue “Gulf of Mexico”). One could write many stories about the illustrious society on our camping site and nevertheless all would have the same background: freedom and independence.

In the neighboring village Brownsville we organized the big jeep service with various small repairs. Early in the morning we put the jeep in front of the garage and the foreman explained immediately that all ordered parts had arrived. But we couldn’t understand that our jeep was in the workshop for 6 days for the 7 hours of work. Maybe the clocks are ticking here, a stone’s throw to Mexico, really different and so we could really enjoy the area.

At the beginning of our forced stay we lived a stone’s throw from the Mexican border and very close to the Rio Grande. Unfortunately we could not see this big river because of all the fences and barriers and the many patrolling cars of the border guard were already impressive.

Apropos wall: There are already – around the bigger places in the southeast, along the Rio Grande, already an approximately 4 meters high fence stands ugly in the landscape and reminds of a relic of the border between the FRG and GDR. In addition to the border patrols, the many controls along the border are reminiscent of a bygone era within Europe.

In recent years, nothing new has actually been erected at the wall or border fence and outside the cities and larger towns one can continue to look “fenceless” over the Rio Grande to the neighbouring country.

Interestingly, the cities along the border are almost an image of the Mexican sister towns on the opposite side of the river and people speak Spanish to each other – even in the shops the announcements come first in Spanish!

The involuntary days in Brownsville we enjoyed – for better or for worse – with its lively business districts and also we soon became price-conscious bargain hunters concerning the accommodations. Fortunately we could book cheaper and cheaper from one motel to another.

As a pastime we naturally explored the closer border region, and so we saw, really southeast near the Mexican border, a spaceport under construction, where a heavily wealthy investor wants to compete with NASA with commercial flights into space. When the rockets take off one day, the glaziers in the surrounding settlements will certainly also have some work to do with replacing window panes, as these, in contrast to the NASA launch facilities, will be far too close to the scene.

After 6 days it was finally time – our jeep stood outside in front of the workshop again. Except for the gear oil change everything was done as desired and should be in order again for a carefree continuation of the journey.
Quickly the paperwork was done, already we dashed out of Brownsville into the wide plain of the Grand Valley and the endless horizon, where soon the dark clouds emptied.

Valley is actually a bit exaggerated; it is actually a huge plain, where besides agriculture also many cultures supply the northern states with fresh vegetables and fruits. And, how could it be otherwise; in the fields all people with dark facial features are standing and come from Mexico, or their ancestors migrated years ago to the USA.

Until the first large water reservoir upstream, where the Rio Grande is dammed up and provides for a balanced water balance, it was actually not particularly spectacular. Maybe it was also the rainy weather, or we were finally happy to see certain elevations again.

From the Falcon Reservoir the distances to the individual places became further and further and with Laredo we reached again a bigger city, where the acting mayor wanted to change the president of the USA from the wall project until recently. Also this city resembles more a Mexican settlement than an American one; everywhere they are, the brown burned laughing faces and provide for a bustling city.

After leaving Laredo, the landscape became more interesting and we followed the Rio Grande as close as possible. At the beginning we could not follow the course of the river for a long time, because most of the land is privately owned, or any oil drilling companies claim the area for themselves, and without any special permission driving on the roads is forbidden under penalty.

After Del Rio followed the Amistad Reservoir, where the Rio Grande was again dammed up into a huge reservoir and today is home to a huge recreation area for many leisure activities. At the same time we reached the Chihuahua Desert, the largest desert-like and very dry area of the North American continent. Immediately afterwards follows the Seminole Canyon State Park, where there would be many rock paintings from the early Indian time to marvel at in the low lying canyons. Unfortunately the guided tours are only once a week, and we were just one day late! Unfortunately.

Until Marathon our way climbed further and further into a wild landscape. The individual places lay still further apart than already experienced and are mostly shrinking settlements far away in a hard environment. But the further we went to West Texas, the darker the nights became; they enjoy a first-class reputation among astronomers. We too marvelled for hours into the night sky, and one starry night trumped the next.

We finally headed south again towards the Rio Grande, where the Big Bend National Park awaited us, where we wanted to realize many ideas. Unfortunately it remained with the will; due to the budget dispute in Washington the park rangers are on unpaid forced vacation and thus the national park was virtually closed for visitors. At our own risk we were allowed to drive on all publicly accessible roads, but an overnight stay in the backcountry was forbidden and made our intention impossible right at the beginning.

We would have liked to spend a night at the “Old Ore Road” as well as along the Riverroad at the Rio Grande in a totally secluded area. Also many warm springs would invite for a longer stay. So it remained only with driving on the mentioned ways and an overnight stay on a private Campground, crammed between megacampers, for which we paid an extremely high price.

What we missed we caught up in the adjacent “Big Bend Ranch State-Park”, where 54 million years ago a volcano formed a unique area. At the beginning of the American settlement this area was also managed by settlers. However, the barren landscape drove them to ruin, and so the state finally came to this park, which is in no way inferior to the eastern national park and is wonderful in its own way.

The days as also the nights were almost ghostly quiet; nowhere a noise source and even the sky was for 4 days “free of airplanes”, what is almost no longer imaginable for us Europeans. Every night we were thrilled anew with a starry sky that wanted to outdo the previous one once again. Between the individual camps there were again and again great offroad routes, which wake up the boy in every man and I could, in contrast to Chantal, almost not get enough of it.

Sometime we stood in Presidio, a border town in the middle of the desert. The whole place is again a mixture of Northern European and Spanish buildings and left us with a rather poor impression. The barren land around this small town probably doesn’t throw off any more.

We courageously followed the road that directly follows the Rio Grande northwest into an even more deserted area. The ranch areas became bigger and bigger and only a very extensive economy made the cattle husbandry possible. The falling prices in the agricultural sector are extremely damaging to the ranchers here and many are forced to look for more opportunities to earn a living or to give up immediately. Finding other work in this remote area is probably extremely difficult and the few tourist opportunities offer little chance of additional income.

Our road ended in Ruidosa and so we crossed the Chinati Mountains via a ranch area that is believed to have six-digit hectares. We were very surprised by the mountain landscape: Wild and secluded we climbed through rugged valleys and after a few hours reached the wide plain around Marfa. The endless meadows glowed in a brown-yellow and, in contrast to the ranch land lying southwest, there was a lot of grazing.

To avoid the highways, we went further north, where the Davis Mountains and an important observatory should improve our knowledge about the stars. Unfortunately a closed cloud cover was predicted for the next nights; thus our stay was limited to the exhibition and the souvenir shop.

Further north again, after the Baylor and Delaware Mountains, the Guadalupe and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks are located in the middle of the northern foothills of the Chihuahua Desert, where, after the pausing budget dispute, we were again able to undertake other activities than reading the prohibition boards. A longer hike, but also the visit of the cave system of the Carlsbad Caverns inspired us very much.

To get back to the Rio Grande, we drove our jeep through the northern foothills of the previously visited national parks and the Sacramento Mountains, where again endless expanses waited for us. During a whole day we saw, beside many cows and a few horses, only a handful of people, who were mostly only tourists and moved on the edge of our way.

To our surprise it was the Hueco Tanks State-Park, a few kilometers before El Paso, over with calm: Because of an upcoming bouldering competition the park was overcrowded and we had to queue in the back of the queue. I would have liked to have visited this climbing area and maybe made some climbing moves, but we didn’t want to wait in a queue of cars any more than to be roasted by the sun.

So we stood soon in the middle of the traffic bustle of El Paso and marveled at the Mexican city Ciudaz Juárez. The glances were very sober: a huge jumble of houses, or is it more of a chaos in the local buildings – we don’t know. We followed the dry Rio Grande for a few kilometres along the border road, where a big fence again affected the view to the neighbouring country.

And, shortly after, we could cross the Rio Grande for the first time and stood in New Mexico (USA). We are curious to see what this state has to offer us and we are already looking forward to driving through the farm and ranch country. In contrast to Texas not everything should be fenced in here and allow adventures off the highways. 

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