Road Trip Big Bend: Mavericks

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.”

SATURDAY

Leaving Castolon, we drove through the Rio Grand flood plain, dry and dusty, with trails of old river and flood obvious in the hallowed-out ground. Rocks and sand covered the road and spit up clouds of dust that made our mouths pasty and our lips parched. We stopped for a moment at the grand Santa Elena Canyon — a massive wall of rock standing tall along the Texas and Mexico border. Beyond, Mexico. There.

We turned north, along Old Maverick Road—a well-worn, dirt road leading 13 miles north toward Terlingua and Study Butte (pronounced “stewdy by-oot”).

Driving this isolated road, we felt part of everything. Alone, it was easy to imagine the early visitors here, stunned by the awesomeness of this flat landscape, surrounded by these massive, prehistoric stone mountains.

Santa Elena Canyon
Along the base of Santa Elena Canyon
Where the pavement ends…Old Maverick Road
Along Old Maverick Road
Seussian landscape

North, at Maverick Junction, we headed northwest up Route 118 into Study Butte and Terlingua. We lunched at Ms. Tracy’s, an eclectic looking cafe with an open porch out front and a blow-up Santa next to the road sign—easy to forget it was only five days until Christmas!

My sister wanted to eat inside. “I’ve had enough of the outdoors today!” And so we sat inside, a room that felt like Ms. Tracy’s dining room, while she prepared our lunch in the kitchen next to us in this “come as you are home cooking emporium.” The three of us enjoyed the stillness of not traveling as we ate our homemade Mexican lunch: salsa, picadillo, burrittos, migas.

After lunch, we made our way to the Big Bend Motor Inn, a 1950s style strip motel planted next to an RV park at the base of stone peaks. From the front of the hotel, you could look back to the vast stone park we had just left.

My sister napped while DeLinda and I took off into town, stopping for wine and snacks. Full from lunch, we opted for snacks in the room before heading to La Kiva for drinks.

Driving along the winding road in the jet black night, we found our way to this local bar recommended by DeLinda’s hairdresser Anne Monique. La Kiva is a “a unique structure of massive sandstone boulders, cut into a terrace overlooking Terlingua Creek.” Just as unique were the patrons inside…

We followed DeLinda down the narrow stone passageway, through ominous doors into a room filled with locals—a skinny woman in overalls with long braided pigtails serving drinks, an urban-looking cowboy, 50ish, seated at the bar, a bawdy woman twisting her cropped bleach blond hair and flirting with the woman next to her, a biker with a long Amish beard leaning against a far wall, and the bass player in funky white sunglasses…

We drank, acutely aware of these strangers and not feeling very welcomed. We were tourists, doing our best to act like we belonged when clearly, we did not. The funny thing is, each of us, in our own way, were as odd as the people in that bar. Our life experiences, our quirks, our eccentricities gave us membership, even if the locals did not.

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

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