January 26, 2018
This is the place for off road adventures, but we had the good sense to leave it to the experts and leave Bitsy behind. Our little low clearance car can do gravel roads, but certainly not wash-outs and boulders. Plus, we didn’t want to get stranded somewhere with no way to call since cell service is non-existent in the hills.
We booked a 3 hour tour (I know you’re hearing the music in your head) with Far Flung Adventures so we could enjoy the complete off-road experience. Ed, our tour guide, introduced himself and then introduced us to Squeaky, our chariot for the afternoon.
It was just the two of us on this afternoon ride, so we got a personalized tour.
Turns out we’re not in either the national or state park for this excursion, but in the Terlingua Ranch hills between the two. A good opportunity to go places we wouldn’t be able to on our own.
This little mound in the blazing sun is supposedly Pancho Villa’s grave. Not really, but looks authentic with the worn wooden cross and cactus on guard. Pancho Villa was notorious back in the early 1900s during the Mexican Revolution and was said to cross back and forth over the border causing mayhem.
My close-up shows off the purple-tinged prickly pear and two different kinds of cholla cactus. That long skinny one on the right looks like braids up close. Ed was good about answering all my questions on plant names, and I was glad to hear that the purple-tinged prickly pear is really a thing and not just frostbitten plants. He did say that the really purple ones are in distress and the healthiest specimens just look tinged around the edges.
We stopped by this huge Ocotillo since it has a strange knot of old segments. Ed explained that each season, the plant sprouts bright green leaves on those prickly stalks and grows a segment at the end of each one that blooms in bright red flowers. We figured we’re pretty clever guessing the age of one of the plants until he tells us that some seasons are rough and they don’t bloom at all, and others are lush and they have a Spring and Fall bloom. So, one segment, two segments or none at all. Really impossible to tell for sure the age of the plant. But this one? It sprouted all kinds of blooming segments in a big knot in the center. Almost like a bird’s nest and we’ve no idea why.
And you probably have some of this stuff hanging around. Really you do. The plant is called Candelilla and they harvest wax from it. Ed said it’s used in most lip balms. Sure enough, I whip the Banana Boat lip balm out of my pocket and find Candelilla in the list of ingredients.
There were indeed smells on the tour. I could include this in the plant section, but it makes for a better story here. On one of our photo op stops, Ed grabs some leaves from one of the plants and crushes them between his fingers. We give it a smell. The leaves are from a creosote bush and they have a distinctive smell. In the desert, that’s the smell of rain on the way.
See all those yellow-green bushes? Those are creosote and no relation at all to the tar-like substance used to coat telephone poles.
The other smell? That’s the smell of javelinas. They smell a lot like a skunk, but not quite as strong. We’ve been smelling them in our campsites, but didn’t know that’s what it was. We found tracks near the road and stopped the jeep, but didn’t see any running about. Although a javelina looks like a pig, and is referred to as “skunk pig”, it’s actually a peccary. No sightings, so no photos. You’ll just have to google them up.
These “colored stripes” as I was calling them are deceiving. Looks like sand, but this is really “tuff” or rock made of volcanic ash that came from a vent during an eruption. The colors correspond to minerals in the rock and to me they resemble sand sculptures. We’ve marveled at all the different kinds of rocks in this area. If we were geologists, we’d be in rock heaven.
By this point in our stay it’s almost time for that blue, blood, super moon. I like this view better. Probably because I actually get to see this one. The real blue, super event happened in the wee hours of the morning. I no longer “do” early mornings, so moon over the mountains is good enough for me.
There are so many shapes in the rocks even if you don’t have much of an imagination. This crag sticking out is known as Buzzard’s Beak. From the other side it looked like an eagle’s claw.
Ed also pointed out several “vacation homes”. Lots of people pull up a trailer, put a carport over it and call it paradise. The big black tank is there to catch rain water to last during the dry winter months.
We even spotted some familiar yet unexpected bird life during the ride. These tropical transplants decorate the outside of one of the retirement homes we passed. A lot like the vacation homes, but with more water catching capacity.
A few more views for you with a peek at the winding road in the lower right shot.
It’s the end of the trail for us and time to head back. We certainly got our rough and bumpy road and our share of dust to go with it, but a great off-the-beaten-path experience. That grit of sand between our teeth was just what we were after, and Bitsy didn’t suffer at all.
I can’t conclude the Jeep excursion without telling one more story. This one goes way back to the time we lived in Texas and Ethan was just four or five years old. We would point out Jeeps and call them by name. Ethan would hotly answer, “It’s a JEET!” In some ways we were good parents. This time not so much. We delighted in getting him all spun up proclaiming they were really JEETS! We can’t talk about jeeps without laughing about those good old days.
Next up – Big Bend National Park. See you on the way!