I had one last look around Roswell and filled up on fuel before continuing the journey with one of the longest drives so far. Walmart was the wrong direction but I needed to top up on water and knew how remote I was driving today. On the way back through Roswell I saw a homeless girl with a dog sat in the street so I pulled over and gave her half my crate of water. It was worth it just to see the smile on her face.
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, TEXAS
The drive from Rowell took me nearly 7 hours to reach Big Bend. It took me through mile after mile of acrid smelling oil fields on the New Mexico / Texan border. I’d set off a couple of hours later than planned and was aiming to reach Santa Elena Canyon an hour before sunset. From there, my hotel was a 2 hour drive back through the park.
Big Bend National Park is one of the most remote areas of Texas. I knew there was going to be no mobile signal for the final 2 hours of the drive after I’d passed through Alpine, and I also knew the canyon was a 200 mile round trip from Alpine. I stopped at a petrol station in Alpine to fill up with fuel.
For once in my life I was sensible. I headed to the hotel in Alpine that I had booked for the night and introduced myself to the guy on reception. He was generously proportioned with long curly hair. I explained that I was heading deep into Big Bend National Park and if I wasn’t back to check in by 20h00, then send out a search. He said he would and wished me a safe drive.
Just outside Alpine, and still 90 miles from Santa Elena and the Mexican border, I passed a Border Checkpoint. I stopped the car and the border agent asked for my passport. He rapid fired lots of questions at me, “Was I a US citizen?”, “What date did I arrive”, “What date do I leave?” etc. I answered all without stuttering and surprised myself. I then told him it was my turn for a question. “Sure.” he said.
“Why is there a Border Checkpoint and passport control, 90 miles from the Mexican border?” I asked. The border agent paused for an uncomfortable 5 seconds.
He then replied, “You know… that’s a great question. I’ve not really thought about it before and I’ve no idea.” He waved me through, presumably to avoid another difficult question.
I drove through the most stunning landscapes for 90 miles. Eventually, over the brow of a hill, I reached a kiosk. I expected to pay to enter the National Park, American parks are usually around $5. I stopped at the kiosk. “You’ve only got an hour before sunset, that’ll be $25 (about £19)”.
My jaw dropped. I explained that there was only myself and I only had a few minutes at the canyon. He wouldn’t give in; if I had a full day I would have paid the extortionate fee, but having just a few minutes it wasn’t worth it.
I had a leisurely drive back north stopping to take photos regularly. An hour after sunset it was totally pitch black. I stopped at the side of the road to take a shot of the milky way and stayed about half an hour as my eyes got accustomed to the darkness. The milky way was a little too high in the sky so after taking a couple of shots I packed up my equipment and started to move on.
I’d only just got up to speed a hundred metres on from where I’d been taking photos when a large animal walked out crossing the road. I swerved to avoid it and reduced my speed from 90mph to 60mph.
At the border control point I described the animal to him. He listened to my description and immediately said I’d seen a Javelina. He explained that this looked like a pig but was actually from the hippo family. They had 2 short tusks and although not normally aggressive, they would attack if frightened. I couldn’t believed I’d been wandering round outside taking star photos just before I saw it!
I got back to the mountain town of Alpine, and checked into my hotel. The big guy on the reception asked who I was and if I had a reservation. I asked if he remembered me, I came in earlier to say I was heading out to the canyon and to call a search party if I wasn’t back. You could hear the cogs grinding and his face strained to think. “Nope” he said. Trust me to alert a forgetful receptionist, I dread to think what would have happened if I’d been attacked by a javelina!