On a recent visit by friend Jeffrey R, an excellent amateur photographer, we made a swing through Big Bend National Park to document a few of the artifacts of an era of frontier life that is way in the past. Only remnants remain to testify to the harshness of the land and the reality of survival in this brutal environment.
First stop was at the Homer Wilson Ranch. This was a line cabin located in the Blue Creek drainage. The ranch and cabin were in use until World War II, then abandoned prior to this ranch becoming part of the new Big Bend National Park:
Closer to the Rio Grande River, an old homestead looms above the desert near the outflow from Santa Elena Canyon. Settlers farmed and ranched this fertile floodplain of the Rio Grande until the 1930s:
Nearby, a graveyard lies in mute testimony to those who spent the last years of their lives along this border struggling to survive:
Just upriver from this homestead looms the opening of Santa Elena Canyon, a canyon formed when the land on both sides of the river was uplifted along a fault clearly defined by the 1500-foot high mesas, which were formed when the fault slipped and uplifted. The result is a canyon popular with boaters who put in at Lajitas, Texas, and float the shut-in canyon until it exits the uplifted slabs here at the confluence with Terlingua Creek:
The “ghost” town of Terlingua, TX, lies just a few miles to the west of Big Bend National Park. It was a mining town, established by the Chisos Mining Company, and flourished until the demand for mercury subsided after World War II. The cemetery consists mostly of graves of Mexican laborers who worked the mines, with as many as 2000 workers living in the area in its heyday. Many of these graves are dated 1918 and 1919, the result of the great influenza epidemic that ravaged the United States in those years. There are hundreds of graves here. Pictured are a notable few:
Howard Perry formed the Chisos Mining Company and the town of Terlingua sprung up and grew as a result of the jobs it provided. The original school was housed in a tent, then the permanent Perry School was built in 1907. The multi-room adobe building has seen considerable deterioration in recent years, and will soon be gone without considerable restoration, something unlikely to happen.
Howard Perry build “The Mansion” for himself and his wife on a high spot on the “anglo” side of the town. After the mine was established and the mansion built, Perry’s wife came from Chicago to join him, stayed one day, and headed back to Chicago, vowing never to return…and she didn’t.
The church seems to be undergoing a much-needed restoration, and appears to be in use again as a church. Through the years it had fallen into disrepair, had the steeple shot off by drunks from the chili cookoffs, and lived in as a shelter by various people. The exterior and interior both reflect the efforts of a major restoration effort, something very welcome to see:
Many of the images on today’s blog entry have been produced through the use of HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging, the technique of combining multiple images of different exposures to create an image with more detail in the highlights and shadows. The software used here is Photomatrix Pro. You can get a free trial version to play with, and the results are astounding.