After leaving the Texas Hill Country, we travelled southwest towards the Mexican border, approaching Big Bend Country. If you picture the terrain in a classic spaghetti western or a coyote-roadrunner cartoon, that’s exactly what it looks like –mesas, canyons, and lots and lots of cactuses. We first stopped at Seminole Canyon and did some terrific canyon hikes in an area known for pictographs by prehistoric peoples.
We then toured through nearby Langtry, which featured Judge Roy Bean’s saloon and home. By all accounts, Bean was a low-life criminal for much of his early life until becoming, ironically, ‘The law West of the Pecos’ in the late 1800s. Bean became a legendary figure in his own time, holding court in his saloon and doling out his unique brand of justice. Looked like our kind of bar…
We carried on west and decided to forego Big Bend National Park this time due to the severe restrictions (most) US national parks put on dogs. The Bear wasn’t allowed on any trails or in any buildings. They basically want you to keep dogs in your vehicle or not bring them at all (don’t get us started…). So instead, we drove through the interesting towns of Marathon and Alpine before arriving at Davis Mountains State Park. This was an outstanding campground with excellent hiking.
After 3 days, we carried on to Fort Davis National Historic Site, which back in the late 1800s, featured the first ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ (black soldiers). The Bear got into the fighting spirit…
We moved on to Balmorhea State Park. Papa Bear went for a swim in the spring-fed outdoor pool in the afternoon and the next morning, a cold front came in and it was 16F (-9C). Our RV waterlines had frozen but quickly thawed by mid morning with no damage.
We then drove out to the West Texas town of El Paso (queue Marty Robbins…). El Paso is a large, sprawling city (17th in the US) with lots of big box stores and strip malls. We did a bit of shopping then camped at Franklin Mountains State Park, which was a spectacular setting.
The following day we went into downtown El Paso for some authentic Mexican food and dined at L&J Cafe, a hole-in-the-wall joint that came highly recommended. It didn’t disappoint – the large-portioned 3 enchilada combination platter was delicious and a bargain at $9.95.
So that’s it – next stop, New Mexico. But given this is our 4th and final installment on the Texas portion of our trip, here are our overall impressions of the Lone Star state…
- As a general comment, Texas could be its own country. It really seems to have its act together, combining a bold sense of independence (yet blending much of their history with Mexico) along with a distinct cowboy pride and culture. In a way, their slogan – ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ sums up these traits.
- Despite the slogan, people are real friendly and helpful. And like much of the US south, we never got tired of being called sir and ma’am.
- Texas State Parks are amazing. The terrain, facilities, visitor centers and staff are all first rate. The reservation system (which we didn’t use) is terrific because even if parks get booked up, if you’re late or a no-show, you’re out buddy! They were also affordable thanks to the $70 annual pass we bought which ended up saving us nearly 250 bucks in entrance fees and discounted camping rates.
- While the big cities are impressive, the small towns are even better. You could always count on finding some kind of quirky bar, interesting store or bizarre eatery in smalltown Texas.
- Shiner Bock. Our new favorite day-to-day beer.
- The night sky. Stars shine bright in Texas (that’s gotta be a country song?)
- Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s essentially no green grass or well-kept lawns in Texas. Even government buildings and schoolyards are surrounded by dry, patchy scrub brush fields – all containing annoying prickly burrs that would beset the Bear’s paws and legs when she chased her ball. The daily goat-thistle delousing ritual was a pain (literally) for all of us.
- An increase in cholesterol. Texas makes great BBQ and it was hard to pass by any decent-looking BBQ joint without stopping in for a delicious beef brisket sandwich.
- Okay, Texas has really, really good BBQ and Tex-Mex fare but baked goods are utterly deplorable. We never found anything resembling a decent loaf of bread in the entire state. And take our word for it, don’t get a donut in Texas despite an abundance of donut shops. We did (several times) and were always sadly disappointed…