Creativity Travel

Road Trip Big Bend: West Texas Women


This following post represents the collective experiences and thoughts of three women who set out on a 1,500 mile trek across West Texas in December 2003. This is their “Road Trip: Big Bend.”


In Castolon, the southernmost point of this drive, we stop to rest. DeLinda and I get out of the car to stretch our legs; I look to my sister in the back seat to ask if she will join us. She sits, knitting, with the most peaceful and contemplative smile on her face. I close the door quietly and catch up with DeLinda.

We came South today with the idea that we will cross into Mexico, near the Santa Elena Canyon. The travel books tell of river crossings where small boats take visitors across to Mexican villages for lunch and shopping, and we are excited. But, a stop at the Castolon Historic District alerts us to a post 9/11 change that makes such crossings illegal and attached to a $5,000 fine and jail time!

It was only by chance that we saw the sign on our way into a small sundries shop in this former border outpost. Inside a woman transplanted here, from Cape Cod of all places, agrees with our decision to not visit Mexico today!

We met a number of such transplanted women on our trip. They were concession hosts in the park, restaurant owners like Ms. Tracy in Study Butte, and shop owners. It seems this is the place for disenchanted but strong women to remake themselves.

At the same time, almost every story of men moving to the area spoke of their love for a woman who would not join them. It seems nothing they did—not the Terlingua mining man who built a theater, or Judge Roy Bean who named a saloon after his love—would entice them to come.

It must take a very special kind of woman to call this desert home. Most we saw or met were independent and capable; strong willed and, I imagine, strong in temperament. Their eyes were bright and steadfast, their faces aged . Were we meeting them all at the same times in their lives? Or does the very personality of this place etch itself into all faces, branding them as belonging here, and no where else.

They were not friendly to us three outsiders. We were visitors, spending our disposable income in their impoverished home town. We were on vacation, they were living. The things we take for granted too numerous to list became glaringly obvious at almost every stop along this trip—in Terlingua and Study Butte, in Presido, in Ojinanga, certainly, and Del Rio.

A cookbook I bought featured the annual Terlingua Chili Cook-off. The original proceeds of the book financed the building of a Big Bend High School. Previously, kids were up at 4:30 a.m. and bussed 160 miles round trip to Alpine each day!

These small towns were so unexpected to the eye, appearing in the middle of nowhere. “We’re not nowhere,” DeLinda would say, “We’re in Terlingua!”

What we expected—what I expected—with the mention of the word “town” was some commercial strip of shops. A New England Main Street complete with stores and people and houses. What we saw, instead, was a mismatched mix of small shacks, trailers transformed into shops and homes, old structures makeshifted into a town of similarly mismatched people, making there way in this barren and rough outpost of America.


BUT THE BOOK: Big Bend Pictures
It takes a long time to get to know the Big Bend. And to get acquainted with the independent, self-contained, slightly quirky people who call this place home …well, that can take a lifetime. James Evans understands that. Recalling his decision to make the Big Bend his artistic muse and photographic subject, he says, “I moved here in 1988 to dedicate my life to the Big Bend and its people. I don’t shoot pictures and leave and make a book. This work is a slow accumulation of years of being here. The mountains are familiar friends and the people my heroes. I am one of them.”

Road Trip: Big Bend narrative & photos ©2020, Jen Payne.

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