Spring comes early to the Rio Grande. Bluebonnets sprinkling the road, framing my view into Mexico. Cliffs high along the river. Rows of chopped rocks run like balcony seats at an opera across their face.
I stop to take a picture, there are so many pictures here. My dog watches through the window and my horse nickers, reminding me our goal is to arrive before dark.
Driving Highway 170 the desert cliffs give to green fertile land, and now irrigated fields line the river corridor as the land opens.
Turning onto Bofecillos Road toward Big Bend Ranch State Park, the timing is perfect. I finish belting out “Dreamweaver” as we make our way into the interior and begin to tackle the most bolt-breaking road I’ve ever driven. A seamless transition from sleep to wake.
Stretching along the Rio Grande and the Texas-Mexico border, Big Bend Ranch State Park encompasses over 300,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert, including canyons, rugged mountains, and incredible night skies.
It is the largest Texas State Park with just over 238 miles of multi-use trails, and 4 main camping/staging areas for horses. But in many ways, this is not a “park.” This is the real deal, nature at her most honest and authentic.
Washboard road aside, I savor every view. The sun setting into an ocean of color between desert peaks. Renewed amazement with each turn. Every joint in my body shaken, we arrive at Jackson Pens just after sunset.
It’s February in southwest Texas and still cold in the morning, in the 30’s. Bacon, eggs, and coffee warm me from the inside out.
By 10am there is enough heat to ride. Past moss-covered boulders littering the ground, through a brushy arroyo. Rocks stacked like building blocks, one on top of the other. A million hiding places. Cholla in bloom. Its long spines reaching upward like the bent, arthritic fingers of a witch on each side of the road. Yellow flowers at each tip.
As I move down Solitario Road, my horse turns to look behind us. Not once, but three times. No doubt his eyes are better than mine.
The sun peaks out from behind the clouds and I raise my face upward, sighing in relief. Feeling the side-to-side rhythm of the horse’s walk. The sway of my hips with his. The clip clop of horseshoes punctuated by his occasional huff and head shake.
I reach back for sunscreen and he stops to graze, taking advantage of my distraction. He’s a smart one, this horse. And I am reminded that our relationship is not one of master to servant, or handyman to tool. We are family. Partners.
In Big Bend Ranch, the desert is full of dry creek beds. Some cloaked in green – even fall colors. Old ranch roads and fences crisscross the land. A scattering of dry water tanks. A short, left hand detour finds us at an old cistern block and shade, and I wish I had more beer.
There’s something very liberating being in such a remote area. In the silence. No cell phone service. Every decision, every risk, my own.
Here, the rocks give away the earth’s secrets. Each color and line within a story. Four of the major geological events marking North America’s development converge in Big Bend Ranch. Two of these can be seen in the Solitario.
The oldest rocks here date back to the Appalachian Ouachita Marathon event around 300 million years ago. Part of the great supercontinent collision with North America, then subsequently uplifted and formed again, about 50 million years ago by the Rocky Mountains event, followed by volcanic and river activities further shaping the land.
Working our way back to the main road, what’s meant to be a shortcut back feels like Groundhog Day. Every turn the same, with every crest there is another. It seems we are always almost there. And we always are.
Later that evening I sit next to the fire as the sun sets and the cold moves in. Fast. Like it’s been waiting for this moment. My horse, Dex rests after our 12-mile ride, safe. Filling his belly. My dog, Kona, next to me on the ground.
The night cools and my glass empties, I know soon we will go inside. And as always, Kona will find her place next to me on the bed. Her love simple, just to lean against me is enough.
And I go to sleep smiling.
To read more about the Solitario: https://tpwd.texas.gov/…/media/pwd_br_p4507_1437_06_08.pdf