On the Way to the Park

Big Bend National Park

November 2018


Before we leave on our trip, I call the main telephone number and get Nikki.  I ask her, “Do you have laundry facilities at your rental rooms?”

Nikki answers, “For what days?”

“Umm…  What?”  I’m envisioning them daily hauling a washer and dryer around.

“Can I do my laundry on Tuesday?”

“Oh.  Laundry.  I thought you wanted a room.”

“I have a room.  Do you have a laundry?”

It went downhill from there.

Where is the most remote area in the United States?  Of course, because there are so many different ways to interpret “remote,” this question does not have a simple answer.

Do we rank the most remote as a place with the lowest population density?  Perhaps it is the greatest distance from a road, or from water?  How about if it receives the fewest number of visitors?  One of my students suggests that any place without cell phone coverage is too remote for him.

For Lisa and me, “remote” is two airplane flights and a four-hour drive just to get to the entrance of our destination, Big Bend National Park.  The nearest town is Terlingua, a ghost town.  Four horses trotted by one time.  They called it “rush hour.”  El Paso, one of the nearest larger population centers is 259 miles distant as the crow flies, or 328 miles as the crow drives.

The landscape becomes more barren as we drive farther from civilization.  There are however, the constant signs that Texas produces more oil than any other state in the U S.  From the moment we entered the Odessa airport we were bombarded by billboards, equipment displays and information exhibits, all about the drilling and production of energy in Texas.  We see thousands of oil pumps dipping up and down on the horizon like those little plastic bobbing drinking birds.

There is more to see.  First is this cattle skull.  It’s in Odessa, mounted on the front of Pee Wee Dalton’s, which is where you go if you want a pair of boots.  Supposedly the skull once survived a lightning strike.  I don’t know what it means for a dead thing to survive anything.  Especially, as in this case, the dead thing was never actually alive.

Jackrabbits grow to over two feet in length and weigh as much as 15 pounds, or the same as my overweight cat.

The largest not-a-living jackrabbit is in Ralls, Texas.  It’s 14 1/2 feet tall and weighs 5000 pounds.  The chainsaw artist sculpted the thing from four large elm trees.

We did not visit this jackrabbit but rather, in Odessa, we come upon another larger-than-life jackrabbit, which was the world’s largest before Ralls came along.  This one is named Jack Ben Rabbit, after John Ben Shepperd, the president of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce.

There had been a jackrabbit roping competition, staged every year during the Odessa Rodeo.  But in 1978, the Humane Society shut it down.  The statue was Shepperd’s tribute to the now defunct competition.

Several official Texas historical markers are placed with the rabbit.  One is engraved with a recipe for Jackrabbit and Dumplings.  I think that’s just bad taste.

As they say, “Fear the ears!”

We found what was probably Lisa’s favorite attraction on our drive to Big Bend, this one on Main Street in Fort Stockton.  From their website, “Located deep in the heart of West Texas, the city is a living tribute to frontier life, when Comanche Indians, cattle rustlers, and American soldiers came to find water, buffalo, or just a stiff drink.  It’s still a great place to get that drink, as well as eat delicious food and see some amazing sights.”

Paisano Pete is an amazing sight.  He hangs out on Main Street in Fort Stockton and like Jack Ben Rabbit, Paisano Pete also was once the world’s largest of its kind.  (I’m beginning to wonder if the thrust of this trip is to visit the former largest things in the world.)

note the matching stripes

Paisano, they tell me, means “peasant.”  You’d think it would mean “pheasant,” but it doesn’t.  This is Paisano Pete, second largest roadrunner in the world.

In May of this year, Lisa and I visited the Barringer Crater, not far from Winslow, Arizona.  The Barringer is the largest meteor crater in the world.  For that story, see  On this trip, keeping with our unintended theme, we stop at the second largest meteor crater, the Odessa Meteor Crater.  We like holes in the ground.

But this one?  What a ripoff.  Actually we were warned not to expect too much, and it isn’t technically a ripoff.  There is a crater here, approximately 550 feet in diameter and 100 feet deep.

Why would this be a ripoff if it were, which it isn’t?  It’s just that over the years, about 63 000 of them, plus or minus twenty minutes, the damned thing filled up with dirt, dust and silt, and then it started growing plant things.  It looks like an ill-kept field, described in one source as “scrubby rangeland, as visually thrilling as an Odessa vacant lot.”

One historical plaque tells us that the original meteorite is buried 170 feet below the land surface.  Bore holes have been drilled to a depth of 164 feet.  Don’t ask me why they stopped and didn’t go the extra mile, or in this case, the extra six feet.

Did you ever see a meteorite crash into the Earth?  I haven’t, but they tell me that there is a lot of fire involved, among other things like noise, projectiles, flowing stuff and the like.  The landscape can burn for weeks.  I am tickled by the numerous NO SMOKING signs posted about the rim.

Near the flagpoles is an sign embedded in the ground.  It reads…


There is no explanation.  However, when you drive out from the site on Meteor Crater Road, you first see a sign reading…


Soon, another sign reads…


It doesn’t take long to predict the next five signs…






These signs happen to be placed in the proper ratio of distance from the sun sign as the real planets are from the real sun.  The only mystery, as we approach Interstate 20 is whether there will be a sign for Pluto.

Some of us still miss Pluto and want it back in the planet club.  Alas, no sign for Pluto.  It remains a planetoid, minor planet or dwarf planet, demoted from full status.

We split our drive/sightseeing tour by staying the night in Marathon, Texas, population 470.  The business district, all three blocks, is decorated in, as Lisa brands it, “dead animal motif.”  The interior walls of every building, every building, are hung with formerly living large animals:  moose, bison, deer, elk.  Outside are sculptures and other formerly alive large animals.

And one saint.  Was he a saint?  Dunno for sure.  Were saints goofy?

I’m not going to tell you much about our visit in the actual, remote Park.  This is why we went, to get away from you.

All right, one thing.  This area of the land is made up of endless low ridges and mountain ranges.  From the north, you can enter Big Bend through an open section called Persimmon Gap.  Five miles south is a break in the mountain forming a small slot canyon.

Many years ago, a lone stock wagon, and the attached oxen that motored it, were found here, guarded by a dog.  No one ever discovered the identity of whoever it was that abandoned the wagon, and the cows (castrated adult males) weren’t talking.  The canyon was named after the loyal canine.  Dog Canyon.

We park at the Dog Canyon trailhead.  Our hike leads us across open scrub, grasses, yucca and cactus with the canyon clearly visible to the east as a distinct cleft in the Santiago Mountains.  We can see it throughout the entire route.

After two miles we drop down into a dry wash with a bed of ankle-turning rocks and stones, bordered by sandbanks and clumps of vegetation.  The going is slow and careful.  After not too long, we enter the canyon, walking between the sheer stone walls on either side, some of the oldest rock in the park.  The sun squeezes down to the canyon floor for maybe twenty minutes a day so the ground is eternally muddy and sandy.  The gunk tries to suck our boots off our feet.

Here’s some irony.  A sign at trailhead explains the usual cautions for desert hiking:  bring plenty of water, guard against the sun which will burn your skin off, watch out for snakes.  The irony?  No dogs are permitted in Dog Canyon.  That’s just not fair.

Okay, one more story about our trip to Big Bend.  Go to my column The Scary, Dangerous Mexican at