Saturday, 20 September 2014

Day 30: Del Rio, TX - Alpine, TX

Alpine, I thought, what a damn' stupid name for a place in Texas which will doubtless be surrounded on all sides by MMFD.  Just goes to show how stupid I can be as Alpine is indeed somewhat alpine in surroundings, and about the same height above sea level as Battle Mountain or the summit of Ben Nevis.  I didn't know they even had mountains in Texas before today, but there are some quite tasty ones to be had, albeit not Rocky or Sierra-sized ones.
A Texan mountain, yesterday
First the bad news.  Wol-Mart in Del Rio does not sell ickle travel kettles and as mine died on its arse last night I am having to improvise Proper Tea using the In-Room Brown Drink Making Facilities.  It works surprisingly well.  I have been advised to try Target instead of Asda West (thanks, TimC, for both the advice and the name!), but the nearest one is in El Paso which is supposed to be under a Several of feet of water.

Yes, west Texas was scheduled for a repeat dose of Tail-End of Hurricane Odile, the storm which caused all yesterday's shenanigans.  And it certainly looked pretty gloomy when I emerged kettleless from Wol-Mart this morning but after a few drops it stayed fine around me until mid-afternoon.

The first part of today's route read "Retrace to Sanderson; SO $ Marathon", or it would if I was using an Audax route sheet instead of Emily.  Added excitement came from the peculiar mechanical rattling coming from Somewhere on the right front of the Mudstang at speeds above 65 mph.  I even opened the "hood" to look for stray mariachi musicians, but found only a loose rubbery doofer no longer covering the positive terminal of the battery.  Worrying rattling sounds can best be dealt with by:

  • Cranking up the stereo, or
  • Lowering the roof, or
  • Both

Worked for me...  More motor-spirit in Sanderson where, praise be, the "gas" pump didn't do any of that tedious mucking about with "ZIP codes".  Only the fourth one this year.  IIRC the USANians were supposed to be introducing Chip & PIN back in 2009/10, so it is a mystery why it has taken them so long to introduce a different, and brain-damaged, system instead.

After Sanderson come the mountains which I didn't know were there, and at Marathon 'tis "L US-385 $ Big Bend National Park".  Big Bend National Park is low on the list of Famous National Parks headed by Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion etc.  Possibly because to get there you have to get to either Marathon or Alpine, which are both pretty remote, and then drive a further seventy miles into the back of beyond just to make it to the entrance.  Where you may well get the next best thing to a guided tour from Ranger Jack at the Persimmon Gap Visitor Center.  I'd fancied visiting here ever since reading of someone's early morning experience of finding scores of tarantulas basking on the roads.  I didn't see any taranshulas myself, which is no bad thing as I'm not keen on them, but thanks to Mal Volio for the tip.

Big Bend is so named for the Big Bend that the Rio [Grande|Bravo del Norte] makes around the mountains.  It must have taken them minutes to come up with that one.  The river hereabouts is no wider than it is in Alamosa but is running rather quickly and I for one should not be tempted to swim across it.  And not just because of the presence of Border Patrol agents pretending to be birdwatchers either.
The Rio Grande.  In the background: Mexico.  In the foreground a special treat for ZZ Top fans: Rio Grande Mud.
Smack in the middle of the park is the extraordinary Chisos Basin, being a cirque surrounded almost entirely by high mountains with a titchy outlet to the rest of the world called The Window.  You can walk to the window from the Visitor Center, but I don't do walking in that sort of rain, thank you.  It had arrived, you see, a Several of hours behind schedule but fairly intense.
Back wall of the Chisos Basin.  Here be mountain lions.  And BEARs.
There exists a short-cut back from Santa Elena Canyon on a dirt road but the rotters had closed it.  Probably sensibly given the state of the weather, though it had occurred to me that one way to conceal the Team Cygnus graffiti would be to apply a fresh layer of mud to the Mudstang's flanks.
Mexican cliffs at Santa Elena Canyon
Most main roads within a three-day swim from the Texas border day's march of the Tortilla Curtain are heaving with Border Patrol agents.  They also have permanent checkpoints where they stick the barrel of an M-16 up your nose while barking demands for your papers.  Actually they don't; they are scrupulously polite and one of them was even a West Ham fan.  Srsly.

Alpine, as I have noted, is a nice enough place but they haven't wasted much cash on fripperies such as street lighting.  Which is why, as a result of Unanticipated Puddle Discovery during tonight's Milk Run, I shall need to wash my feet before going to bed.

On DJ Random sometimes getting it right: DJ Random is a so-called "Smart" Playlist who lives in my iPod and plays tracks at random provided their current play count is 0.  I think he may be suffering from Droid Rot as he's definitely served up HMHB's Eno Collaboration twice so far.  However it was pleasing that in the middle of the National Park he played Olé! Tarantula by Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, not to mention something by Rodrigo y Gabriela a literal stone's throw from Mexico.  The icing on today's cake, though, had to have been Tom Lehrer's Oedipus Rex followed immediately by Amplifier's Number One Son.