March Means Spring Break Along the Border

March is a warm month in the desert. It means time for hiking, stargazing, and sidestepping all the “Spring-Breakers” that flood into the Big Bend, first from Texas schools, then from the northern colleges as the month wears on. It was during this time that two good friends from the Dallas area made the trip to do some “star-trails” and night sky watching. We had a forecast for clear skies, and so we pulled our off-road Palomino Banshee popup camper to the park and made base camp in the one of my favorites, Chilicotal. The first day we hit a few familiar sites, including these:

Inside the ranch house on Blue Creek:

1 Ranch

An old cemetery between Castolon and Santa Elena Canyon:

2 Grave

 The ruins of an old homestead dating from the early 1900’s along the River Road:

3 Homestead

The sun making its way behind the Mesa de la Anguila at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon:

4 Santa Elena

And then there was some starry night photography. The Milky Way was visible, but not as spectacular as usual due to some haze caused by blowing dust, but it was nevertheless worth the late nights:

5 Stars

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After a day and a night of photographing and hiking, we decided to take a trip across the river to the little village of Boquillas, Mexico. This was a popular watering spot for decades until 9/11, when our government decided that this hamlet was a foreign threat and locked the border, an effective blockade to starve out the desperadoes. It worked, for this village nearly dried up to nothing in the 12 years of quarantine. Last April, U.S. Customs build a port-of-entry facility within the Big Bend National Park just across from Boquillas, and once again U.S. citizens were able to move across the river for a little taste of Mexico. The last time I was there was in 1989 with my daughter, and many things are the same as they were. To my surprise, there has been an infusion of capital into this little town since the border reopened, and the homes and businesses are sporting new paint, and even a few new businesses that were not here 25 years ago. It is here that I should mention that in 1989 you didn’t even have to show identification on either side. Now, YOU MUST HAVE A PASSPORT.  

A look at Boquillas from a hill on the U.S. side:

9 Boquillas

You get instructions about what you are allowed to bring back across, and the closing time of the Customs kiosk. Then you walk about a quarter mile to the shores of the Rio Grande River and wave to the flat-bottom rowboat on the other side. You must get a $5 ticket at the Rio Grande Village Store for the boat ride, or swim across. We chose the boat. Prepare to be serenaded by Victor, the Singing Mexican (self-proclaimed) as you are rowed across (tip jar waiting). Once in Mexico, you have a 1-mile stretch of sandy twin track road between you and the town. You can opt to walk, ride a donkey, or ride in a pickup. Walking is free, the donkey or truck are negotiable. I would plan on $5-10 depending on supply/demand for the day. We walked. Upon climbing the last little hill into the edge of town, you find the Mexican customs facility on your right…a trailer with two agents…one to hand write your passport information, and the second to scan your passport and enter you into their computer:

10 Boquillas

The Falcon family has several businesses that are very clean and have excellent food. The Falcon Restaurant sports a couple of gift shops with an open-air, shady eating area and excellent Mexican favorites. We had tacos and burritos. The tortillas were magnificent. Total cost for 3 burritos and 2 beers: $7:

11 Boquillas

Just across and up the street is the Park Bar, an institution in Boquillas. I bought my 18-year-old daughter a beer here in 1989, and it looks the same, except now a green front instead of white:

12 Boquillas

A look up the street lined with houses, with the Sierra Madiera del Carmen mountains framing the background:

13 Boquillas

The Catholic church has a new coat of paint, inside and out. Doors are open for worship:

14 Boquillas

15 Boquillas

Inside the famous Park Bar, nothing has changed in 25 years…or perhaps 50…except the price of pool. The beer is cold, $2 per, and the hospitality is warm. Two college girls on spring break from Illinois were sampling the local tequila, one shot at a time:

16 Boquillas

17 Boquillas

This is a sign of generations:  a house with a 40 year old horse, a 30-year old satellite dish, a 20 year old pickup, and a new internet dish and solar panel. Could be Mexico, South America, Africa, or India. But you see it here:

18 Boquillas

To return to the U.S., you check out through the Mexican customs trailer, walk back to the boat (or ride a donkey if you had one too many tequila shots), and present your boat ticket to Victor. We made it back by 6:00, the cutoff time for U.S. customs, to avoid spending several more days there until customs reopened (although we had already figured the swim would do us good).

And so, our last night was a starry one, with star trails above our campsite, tucked neatly into safe, secure Big Bend National Park:

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