WEST TEXAS: MOUNTAINS, MESAS & MILES
Part 2 of 4: Big Bend & Texas 118
Friday, 29 February 2008, marked the end of seven days and 4,448 miles in the saddle for me. My trip began with my
31st Iron Butt Ride, a Bun Burner 1500 run from Miami Beach FL to Del Rio TX, covering a total of 1,568 miles in
34 hours 26 minutes. It ended with my 32nd Iron Butt Ride, a SaddleSore 2000 run from Carlsbad NM to Miami Beach
FL, covering a total of 2,126 miles in 43 hours 51 minutes. Most of the remaining miles were spent riding through
some of the most historically rich locations and incredibly scenic landscapes the Lone Star State has to offer.
Shortly before dawn on Monday, 25 February 2008, I filled up my tank--and the five-gallon gas container strapped to
my luggage rack--and headed northwest out of Del Rio on US-90. It was still dark as I crossed the Amistad Reservoir,
a huge man-made lake at the confluence of the Rio Grande, Devil's and Pecos Rivers. By the time I reached the bridge
over the Pecos River proper, though, I had an unforgettable view of the hundred-foot high vertical rock walls
lining both sides of the deep green waters that carved them flowing below. And from that point on, there was a
marked contrast between the flat, mesquite-covered brush country of the South Texas Plains behind me, and the
rolling expanse of rocky buttes, rounded mesas and endless canyons dotted with cactus and sage typifying the
vast Chihuahuan Desert that lay ahead.
There was a time in our history when there was said to be "no law west of the Mississippi,
and no God west of the Pecos." And soon after I crossed the Pecos, I took a detour into what is left of the
town founded by the man who was to add a corollary to that admonition: The town is Langtry, home of the
Jersey Lilly Saloon, a.k.a. the courtroom of Judge Roy Bean, a man whose legendary exploits--some fact,
some fiction--have earned him a prominent place in the history of the Old West, where he will always be remembered as
"the Law west of the Pecos."
Another hour's ride brought me to Sanderson Canyon, and within it the town of Sanderson. Although it is the factual
home of the
and claims to be "the Cactus Capital of Texas" and
"East Gate to the Big Bend Wilderness Area," Sanderson is perhaps best known as the fictional setting for
the blockbuster film, "No Country for Old Men." If you ever ride through Sanderson, be sure and stop.
Even if you don't appreciate the quaintness, chances are you'll be glad you bought the gas.
Fifty miles further west in Marathon, I turned south on US-385 and headed into Big Bend National Park,
whose 800,000 acres of massive canyons, colorful desert expanses, and majestic Chisos Mountains are billed as
"...one of the largest and least visited of America's national parks." If that is the truth, then most Americans
just don't know what they're missing. Nowhere else have I seen such rugged yet beautiful desert terrain
projected across such a timeless and endless natural canvas. You'll find photos and more information about
Big Bend online at
... but understand that no words or photos can truly convey the immense scale
of its natural grandeur. It's something you'll just have to experience first-hand to fully appreciate.
Somewhere near midday, and midway through the park, I stopped for gas at the Fina station just west of the
park HQ at Panther Junction. It turned out to be one of those c-stores that has just about everything one
might need, and the two guys running it sure seemed happy I stopped by to give'em some business. I headed
west from there, exiting the park via the southern terminus of Texas 118, and rolled into the tiny twin
towns of Study Butte and Terlingua, best known as "the World's Chili Cookoff Capital."
Famished from the ride and thirsty from the heat, I pulled into the Chili Pepper Café there for some
of the tastiest soft tacos and iced tea I've ever had. I really enjoyed conversing with a few of the locals
there as well. If "eclectic" and "eccentric" are adjectives that turn you on, then Terlingua is the place for you!
Refreshed and refueled, I continued north on Texas 118 through 84 miles of majestic natural monuments with
names like Elephant Mountain and Kokernot Mesa, reaching the bustling mini-metropolis of
Alpine around 4:00pm CT.
After stopping at a lawyer's office there to sign some papers (don't ask), I resumed my ride north on 118 into
the Davis Mountains--a Texas-sized version of the Black Hills--for the 20-odd miles remaining to get to
There, after spending several minutes on the side of the road being harassed for no fucking reason by a member
of the local constabulary, I bought a bottle of wine and some cheese at Baeza's, dropped a c-note on a
mini-suite at the Stone Village Motel, chained up the bike, and called it a night.
The next morning--after a long night's sleep on a mattress that almost justified what I paid for the room--I
continued my ride north on Texas 118. The emerald green trees and brown and gray rock formations near the turn-off
for McDonald Observatory reminded me of Mount Rushmore without the sculpture, and I seriously thought about
canceling my next trip to Sturgis and returning to the Davis Mountains instead. I stayed on 118 for its last
remaining miles, descending slowly from mountain peaks to desert basin and its northern terminus at Kent.
From there, my ride continued west on IH-10, where this story will pick up next month.
Until Next Time ... Ride Long, Ride Free!
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