We left off our narrative just on the New Mexico side of Raton Pass to insert an INTERLUDE explaining the dual purpose of the trip—to see the Big Bend and Gila, etc. as well as investigate winter Rambling country sans skis or snowshoes.
Sheeba and I shifted off I-25 onto Hwy. 84 just south of Las Vegas NM. I just love the north central New Mexico high juniper country, but the journey down highway 84 was even more special. Perhaps because it’s a simple two-lane the rolling loveliness of the country was more intimate, more appealing. A jog to the southwest at Pastura NM on Hwy. 54 took me over to Hwy. 285 which would head down to Roswell, which I figured would be enough travelling for the day.
This was different country. By the time I was traversing Lincoln County (if memory serves, home of the famous encounter between Billy The Kid and Sheriff Pat Garret) the land was a sere tablet of beige and pale, pale green very sparse vegetation, as flat as a billiard table. Not a tree in sight. I can’t imagine sneaking up on anyone in Lincoln County New Mexico…they can see you coming clear to the horizon.
I eventually pulled in to Roswell and set up camp in a location I’ve never tried before—the parking lot of the local Walmart store. I’ve heard of travelers doing it many times. So I was going to give it a shot. I parked Sheeba in the far northwest corner of the lot, proceeded to cook supper, and prepared myself for whatever might happen next. Nothing did. It worked! I spent the night snuggled on the couch in Sheeba with no interruptions at all. The stories were true…at least at the Roswell Walmart. (I usually park Sheeba on BLM roads throughout the West but I didn’t see any enroute…so the Walmart experience was the ticket that night. Good for the Walmart folks!).
Because of the eye situation I was resolved to travel only in daylight hours. Meaning from first light to last light. The morning was quite cold—in the twenties—when I pulled out at shooting light. Headed for Texas and Big Bend. Down through Calsbad (whose Caverns I had visited as a lad back in the 1950’s) and on to Pecos, Texas—home of Judge Roy Bean, whose famous Court represented “the Law West of the Pecos” in the otherwise lawless west Texas frontier of the 1800’s. There is a museum to Bean’s Courthouse in Pecos. Pecos also hosts the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. Both were not open yet, so I clicked some photos of the establishments and kept rolling for BB. (I’ll post some photos at the end of this travelogue…when I get some help on how to do it. For the present I’m simply registering the verbal content of the journey.)
The route down to the Persimmon Gap entrance to Big Bend National Park passed through the historic town of Marathon on Hwy. 385. As I approached the entrance the terrain became wilder and wilder, the road twisting through desert ridges and crossing numerous washes where desert thunderstorms send torrents across the road. Depth poles indicated the possibility of several feet of water sluicing away any unwary motorists.
I stopped at the Visitors Center and put myself in the capable hands of a charming couple of Rangers—husband and wife—regarding where to camp, hike and backpack. They told me sites had to be specified in advance. I asked them to lay out the most remote, and private, sites—both for foot travel and truck camping. The route those two laid out for me was spectacular. I set out for my first campsite—McKinney Spring– on a genuine 4WD road called the Old Ore Road. I stopped on the way to hike out an arroyo hoping to overlook a huge basin. The day happened to be my Grandson Kam’s Birthday and I wished I could phone the lad to wish him Happy Birthday. But there was no cell service, and hadn’t been for many hours of travel. As I arrived at the end of the picturesque gully and overlooked the gigantic basin (absolutely beautiful) my cell phone suddenly rang. It was our own Aron Snyder, wanting to discuss with me a post we agreed he needed to make on the Message Board regarding future products. Readers there were concerned about what was happening to a couple of long-time Kifaru Packs that seemed to be dropping from the line. I stayed put at the lip of that basin while Aron and I completed our discussion and I phoned Kam. Nice hike!
The McKinney Spring campsite was exquisite. Designed as a solo site it was wonderfully remote and I had the whole landscape to myself for miles and miles in any direction. (I had seen no other vehicles, and wouldn’t for the duration of the slow drive down Old Ore Road.)
Daylight was fading when I arrived at my campsite so I threw on my trusty old Spike Camp and headed out for a hike, headlamp in my Possibles Pouch as always. I immediately jumped a couple of jackrabbits and a fabulously fast roadrunner. As I wandered out from camp I mused about the future of Kifaru….
Next: Outlining that future.