There is no straight line through the desert. What looks easy is hard. ‘Barranco’ after ‘barranco’, all hidden from the horizon. Impassible terrain. Snaking a path is the only way.
Driving into Big Bend National Park, shades of purple compete with mounds of desert brush. Each clamoring for the win. Key notes of Freddy Fender and Marty Robbins play on the radio. The Chisos Mountains flank me to the left. And time slows, even stops perhaps.
Just over seven and a half miles down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive we come to the historic Homer Wilson Ranch line camp. Established in 1929 and registered as a historic place in ‘75. Highly visible from the road, it is estimated over 68% of park visitors pass by Wilson Ranch. Many never stop.
Behind the house stands an old round pen, corral, and snubbing post, amazingly intact for almost 100 years of age. An easy trail, quarter mile from the road, and civilization melts away. From here there is no visible sign of pavement or motor vehicles.
With stone, sand, and gravel from Blue Creek Canyon, timber from the Chisos, and reed from the nearby Rio Grande, the line camp could be considered indigenous to the area.
Past the house we ride, following a dry creek bed. The brush is thick. An audience of cactus and small trees line both sides of the trail. We parade through.
This path easy yet rocky, my horse steps too close to the edge. He bolts forward to regain his balance. I turn my head toward the sound of the trail behind us, scattering down the hillside.
We rise and descend through Ocotillo twice as tall as I sit on horseback. The flapping of wings breaks the silence as a lone raven cuts across the sky.
And then we break. High canyon walls and rocks every color surround us, an anomaly in a somewhat monochrome desert. I admire the artwork. My horse, Dex, is eager to move on.
Originally from Del Rio, Texas, Homer Wilson studied mining and petroleum engineering. He served in World War I, returning to purchase land west of the Chisos Mountains – eventually establishing a homestead with his wife Bergine. Not a cattle ranch, however. Wilson moved in goats and sheep to the Big Bend. A herd even more vulnerable to the predators at hand.
Yet Homer made it work. For fourteen years, until his death in 1943, he made it work.
A down and back ride today, I watch closely for loose rocks along our return. The sun now warm enough to shed layers.
And high above, castle walls stand – protecting us from the cliffs above. One giant block teetering on the edge. With an eye upwards, I wonder if this will be the moment.
Moving forward in silence now. I wander just to hear what’s going on in my own head. To quiet my inner critic. Make sense of the ‘descansos’ of my life. Removing myself from the slow, insidious approach of rain and fog.
Although Dodson Trail runs ten miles one-way, our ride was short this day. Not enough. And as I write, I find myself needing more. The steady clip-clop of my horse finding his way, an occasional huff as he settles in.
To touch that which is my soul and complete it. To make it work. Because really…. if not now – then when?
Find out more about horseback riding in Big Bend National Park: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/bc_horses.htm