Near Alpine TX

West Texas: Mountains, Mesas & Miles – Part 2

June 2009

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.

Pecos River US-90Shortly 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.

Langtry TexasThere 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.”

Sanderson TexasAnother hour’s ride brought me to Sanderson Canyon, and within it the town of Sanderson. Although it is the factual home of the Buzzard Rally 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.

Marathon TexasFifty 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.

Terlingua/Study Butte TXSomewhere 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 Cafe 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!

Fort Davis TexasRefreshed 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 Fort Davis. 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.

McDonald Observatory TXThe 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!