Mustang Island to Big Bend

The great thing about traveling versus going on vacation is that when you travel you experience the good. the bad and the ugly. So far, we have been having a wonderful time, but our trip out west has not been what most  people would characterize as a relaxing getaway.

Unlike many parts of the United States where you tend to walk around in a state of wonderment and awe, northeast and south Texas have been an object lesson in what can go wrong when zoning and environmental regulation are laughed out of the room.

Mustang Island State Park in Corpus Christi was our first expe­ri­ence with the state parks in Texas. Where we are from, the state parks are often sweet, pine scented CCA projects from the thir­ties, or they are mod­ern and attrac­tively land­scaped. Decrepit or deluxe, our New England parks have trees and a pretty aesthetic, which are things I took for granted until now.

At Mustang Island there is prim­i­tive tent camp­ing on the beach, and the RV sites are arranged on a grim boule­vard that runs par­al­lel to the shore.

The beach is so long that we had to remind our­selves to turn around  because we could have kept going for miles. Unfortunately, the view of the water was marred by dozens of oil rigs, and the view of the dunes was ruined by the ubiquitous high tension wires.

When we first got to the park the ranger assigned us our camp­site on the boulevard and that is how we ended up camp­ing between the meth lab and the Bavarian pedant.

The meth lab fea­tured a 35’ long box trailer with its win­dows shrouded in bed­spreads. It was the kind of dwelling you might hurry past should you stum­ble upon it while hik­ing out in the back woods, complete with four motor­cy­cles, some filthy patio fur­ni­ture, and a beat up 1979 Chevy truck out front.

When we got to our site we real­ized that we had to turn our camper around side­ways to make the door con­ve­nient to the pic­nic table, which also happened to be adja­cent to the meth lab. As we pushed it into posi­tion, a man emerged from the trailer wear­ing a T-shirt that said “Don’t ask to ride my motor­cy­cle and I won’t ask to fuck your wife” and offered to help us push. He said his name was Jeremy –“but my friends call me Chopper because I ride a Chopper.”

Despite the T-shirt and the scary trailer, Chopper seemed nice. He and three other people are living long-term in the park –“We’re in good with the park rangers” –and will move on to Florida in June to fol­low con­struc­tion work.

Chopper and Ken are itinerant construction workers. Ken’s son LJ has his CDL, and I’m not sure what Ken’s wife when she’s not smoking or pick­ing up dog poop from the camp­site and putting it in a bucket.

A blue-eyed, white Doberman.

A blue-eyed, white Doberman.

The dog poop, some of which I also picked up from our camp­site, was being made by Ken’s albino Doberman Pinscher, Damian, who spends his days con­fined in the trailer or tied to a 6’ length of rope. Damian gets so lit­tle exer­cise that his claws look like talons and he prac­ti­cally lev­i­tates with unspent energy.

While I was busy mak­ing fussy foil pack­ets of fish and enjoy­ing a glass of cold white wine, Ken’s wife watched me from her trailer win­dow as if she was watching a cooking show on TV.

On our left dwelt the Bavarian pedant whose acquain­tance we made when we heard him hopping around like Rumpelstiltskin in the alley between his enor­mous rig and our tiny egg. When My Royal Consort went out to see if he could be of any assistance, the sprightly little man declined the offer and then adroitly enticed him into his trailer by show­ing him pretty pic­tures of the Giant Sequoias.

It was obvious to me that the elf only had eyes for My Royal Consort, oth­er­wise, he would have tried to lure me into his lair with pic­tures of horses, so I slith­ered away to avoid the forty-five minute long tor­rent of advice, direc­tive, opin­ion and per­sonal nar­ra­tive that flowed from our neighbor like the Danube.

Because of the depress­ing state of affairs to our left and the gushing stream of advice from the right, a gloom set­tled over us. Not only that, but at our end of the park a cold wind was howl­ing. As I strug­gled to keep the dishes from blowing away My Royal Consort hap­pened to notice that another site in the park was being vacated.

Even if we had had to move our things with one arm tied behind our backs, we would have made it hap­pen in the same amount of time it took us to fling every­thing in the truck, hitch up the Casita and move five camp­sites away. As much as I wanted to be PC about the caravan situation to our left, that whole scene pretty much sucked.

After we moved our camp, the sun came out and everything got progressively better for us.

The following day, we packed up and headed south toward Brownsville and Port Isabel, which we discovered is quite possibly a contender for a designation of “circle of hell”, so we kept going further south until we stumbled into a county campground on the Rio Arroyo in Rio Hondo.

Our home for the next 10 weeks

Our home for the next 10 weeks

It was just getting dark when we arrived and everything seemed idyllic. We were camped on a beautiful river at sunset. At one point, two javalinas wandered through our campsite. There wasn’t a bright light, high-tension wire, or anything to do with oil or industry in sight.

The following day we decided to take a walk to the mouth of the river and around the point. There were so many fish that you could hear and see them jumping around, and the birding was spectacular, yet, when we got to the boat launch there was a sign advising people to not eat the fish they caught.

As we were walking back to our campsite, a tugboat pushing a tanker barge nosed its way into the mouth of the river and headed up stream. As it passed by us, we saw that the barge was carrying a cargo of benzene. Rio Arroyo is very narrow and travels far inland, past neighborhoods, schools and parks.

Our next destination was Amistad National Park, where we intended to spend a night on our way to Big Bend National Park. Our journey from Rio Hondo to Amistad was notable in that the countryside was so relentlessly depressing that the blight caused by the oil fields barely made a difference in the overall uglification. We traveled for miles seeing nothing but stunningly boring scrub land punctuated by wrecked buildings,rusted  trailers, toxic industrial sites and bloated road kill.

When we arrived at Amistad reservoir, we had to laugh at the dismal grey landscape, and the attractive way the Park Service had constructed the concrete and corrugated metal campsites.

The Amistad Reservoir was created as a joint project between Mexico and the United State. It is vast, and perhaps even pleasant in the summer, but when we got there it was deserted and creepy. After poking around for a while we found a section where there were a few other people camped out, so we chugged some beers with dinner and went straight to bed. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

In the morning we headed west to Big Bend National Park and were very happy to see the countryside finally start to change. The colors were still muted, but mountains and buttes sprung up, and the industrial blight gave way to ranches and horses.

The weather was forecast to be really cold so we scrapped our plans to camp in the high elevations of the Chisos Basin and are currently waiting out the weather in the lovely town of Marathon which is about 70 miles away from the park.


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  1. Jerry Ballanco says:

    I sure hope you and Jack get to walk about in the hill country. on the back roads along the borders of the ranches. It’s dressed in scrub oak, cedars dead, dying, surviving, and prickly cactus..its dry, real dry, cold or hot, always windy of course the goats and their dogs and their keepers, some disgruntled and thirsty cows,lots of deer but you will see only the stupid ones or the dead ones, maybe a turkey bunch or buzzards feasting on unsavory stuff. You may hear the voices of dispossessed indians their shades complaining or whining or cursing or blessing but when you get alone there and love the space, the calichi, the isolation they will get inside and haunt you and make you want to come back
    meth labs, sofas on porches, junk cars in the yard…you might be able to find them too.

    Hope your trip to Big Bend made up for the disquiet of some of the earlier days.

    1. admin says:

      Hi Jerry, You are 100% right. Our stay in Big Bend and our travels beyond have more than redeemed Texas. We have had a great time, taken some wonderful hikes and met wonderful people. I’m so happy to have met you and Jean! Take care, and hope to catch up in New Orleans in March.

  2. Al Fermeglia says:

    God Bless Texas! Wow, it sounds like AN INTERESTING TRIP SO FAR! Hey, if you see Walker, Texas Ranger, could you get me his autograph?

    1. admin says:

      You know I will!

  3. Kathryn Donahue says:

    Told you it was scary! LOL. Keep writing!

    1. admin says:

      Now we are into the Big Bend country and it is staggeringly beautiful. In retrospect, our trip through south Texas only made our time here sweeter.

  4. Susie says:

    I have NEVER had any desire to visit Texas – for all of what you describe here and because of the politics of the state. Your descriptions are validation for those past thoughts! Great to live it vicariously!

    1. admin says:

      Ahh but it gets better! We are in The area near Big Bend And it’s spectacular! People have been friendly everywhere in TX

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