2.26.2008,12:24 PM
Return to Big Bend: DSDS Ride
It hits again. My head is somewhere else -in a desert of cacti, jagged spires and towering mountains, limestone shale and sandstone rocks, gullies of tiny pebbles, pits of clean beige sand, and a palette of colors that change with dancing light or under slithering shadows. After the third visit to the Big Bend area my head and heart are left behind while my body was forcibly transported back to the rat hole city. Even my five acres of retreat in the countryside seems crowded and too busy: gas rigs tower and blemish the landscapes and vibrate the ground I live on, swarming cars and trucks everywhere, always in a hurry, even racing up and down my country road, and noise of people and all their machines. The Big Bend area again claims me; heart and soul.

The first morning back in the desert greeted me with a pinched nerve in my neck; I couldn't even move my head off the pillow in my sleeping bag. Lifting my head up with my hands and awkwardly crawling out of my bag and tent, I drank several cups of coffee, ate four Advil and put on my riding gear. I was going to ride, come hell or high water.

Ed and I led good friends Bill and Graeme on the desert roads north of Terlingua Ghost Town, a ride we jokingly refer to as the "Desert Rats' DS Squared Route": Dual Secret Dualsport Route. Our friend Roger, who lives on twenty acres of desert near the town, shared that route with several of of us that spent ten days there over the Xmas holidays. Because we have become good friends with common interests and love for the desert area there, we now refer to ourselves as the 'Desert Rats'. Three of us also ride smaller bikes - 250 and 350cc's - thus the term 'rats' seems appropriate. In several ways.

This was Bill and Graeme's first time riding in the back country of the Terlingua desert. Bill is like my big little brother, so I was eager to share with him all the roads, nooks, canyons, crannies, rocks, sand and big sky. Because Bill came down with a bad cold the day before we rode, he and I were stoic riders that day, but despite the physical discomforts we still wanted to ride. And ride we did.

We stopped at a spot in the desert where we hope to establish a common base camp. A small group of committed riders will pool finances, time and muscle to build a shelter on a tract of desert where members can establish a base to camp and ride when visiting the area. The vistas are breathtaking. In the shadows of Sawmill mountain - whose summit rises 3,797 feet above sea level and 900 feet above the desert floor - three large arroyos slither west down from the Sawmill ridge to drain water out and into the desert. The largest arroyo is deep and narrow enough to be considered a canyon. Because of water availability and shade, these narrow and deep arroyos shelter hidden oases with trees and other plants that can't thrive in the naked desert floor. To me they are like other 'worlds' to explore.

The Chisos and Christmas mountain ranges rise to the east and south, and the magnificent collapsed Solitario hides behind a ridge in the northwest. Behind the intermixed jagged uprisings and worn desert formations hides the treasured paved River Road and the tiny towns of Study Butte and Terlingua. Pink's Peak and the expansive uplift of Agua Fria mountains rise to the north. The desert road is a beige ribbon that winds down into arroyos, up over hills and hugs the northwest shoulder of the Sawmill Mountain formation. It's like a snake that beckons you, if you can break away from the mesmerizing views.


Close examination through naked eyes and binoculars reveals the variety and beauty of the land forms around the site. Ancient layers of sandstone shale reveal the secret that this area was once the bed of a large body of water. Striations of these layers going in every direction are testament to the violent upheavel of the earth as it thrust up through the old ocean floor, mountains breaking through the surface as if they were whales in need of air. Sawmill Mountain was one of these upheavals and the colors of the new mountains and old ocean floor contrast each other as if they were still battling for ownership of this land. Yet they are frozen in our time like a still shot from a long movie.


This is only one sampling of the amazing and unique geological environment in the Trans-Pecos area. Its history is on display here and everywhere, like a giant grand museum of life, death and change. It is all an archeogeologist's orgasm. I could entertain myself for hours, days, years exploring and contemplating the geological history and changing environment, natural and biological. A careful and educated eye could read the land here like a sacred tome. And easily call it home.

Reluctantly getting back on the bikes to continue our ride, we rode towards the north. I had to giggle when three GPS directed us in the wrong direction and route. Unknown to us, a section of the county road that wanders north, eventually heading east to a paved state road, was closed in the 1950's. The road was turned over to a private ranch to become a part of their private property and no longer maintained by the county. Since then, a section has deteriorated into three- and four-foot deep gullies. After some confusion, we retraced our route to a junction of two roads and headed west instead of north. We would have to skirt the western bottom of a small mountain to continue north and east.

After getting lost a few times we found our familiar landmarks indicating we were on the right route. Eventually we found a famous landmark in the Terlingua desert, quaintly referred to as the Hilton. A small rock building with thatched roof and divided into two rooms. The owner and builder was a man named Hilton, so the name is appropriate in several ways. Riders often stop here to sit on the bench on the porch shaded by ocotillo stems woven together with wire.


Resuming the ride, another hallmark of the route, and one that indicates closer proximity to the end of the route, is Terlingua Creek. As one of the major creeks in this area the arroyo in which runoff water drains the nearby mountains is wide and deep. Although this northern section is dry most of the year, water usually runs year round in the more southern section, eventually draining into the Rio Grande near Santa Elena Canyon.

Tall river canes on the west bank usually offer some shade in the afternoon sun. Because we were there at high noon, no shade could be found anywhere except for up-creek and into the deeper narrow canyons. Regarless, we stopped to rest and refresh ourselves.


Continuing on we traversed a large area of flats reminiscent of the earth's volcanic past. Hillocks were draped with white hardened ash with hints of rose mineral bands streaking through the otherwise bland view. I was reminded of another location nearby referred to as 'Moon Valley' because of the landmarks resembling a lunar landscape.

Climbing a hill and rounding a bend we came upon a small guest ranch: Ten Bits Ranch. The first time I passed there I was intrigued by the stark features that hold the ranch in its palm like a hand with old bony fingers. The dark spires behind the ranch starkly contrast with the smooth white lunar landscape below to the west. The entire scene captivates me as if it were a living rock structure frozen in time.



Shortly after passing Ten Bits Ranch, we parted ways at Highway 118; Bill and Graeme riding south, Ed and I north to Terlingua Ranch office. Later that day, Ed and I rode back towards Terlingua and paid another visit to that spot in the desert that holds me like a string, always drawing me back. After pulling off most of our gear, we both explored the area. Because of my neck and inability to turn my head, I had not taken many photographs on this ride. But the solace, peace and solitude of the place seemed to melt and ease all my physical and mental discomfort. With the sun beginning its descent on the western horizon and a thin cloud cover, the colors and shadows on the desert floor and mountains changed minute to minute.

The camera was constantly affixed to my eyes and the shutter snapping. No words can convey the majestic and mesmerizing views all around me, and the camera only captures a small pinpoint of the total landscape.



The sun played hide and seek with the clouds and threatened to dip below the ridge to the west. Reluctantly, it was time to head back before darkness fell.


We followed the road along a ridge that towers over the small town center of Terlingua and is one of my many favorite vantage points. The views overlook the expanse of landscapes to the southwest and northeast. I felt like a hawk perched on my bike overlooking my terrain.

Slowly rolling into the parking lot in front of the store and Starlight Theater (now a restaurant), only a few bikes and riders were present. That changed as they started to roll in and soon there was a swarm of bikes, mostly dualsport bikes. Riders sat on the porch with refreshements, mingling with the locals and sharing stories. We all watched in amazement as the full moon peeked over the Chisos and began to show its face. It was like a live blood orange ball teasing us with cloud wisps and the mountains. Soon it hung in the sky, a blazing bright orange ball.



As weariness crept in on me, I excused myself and rode the short ride back to camp. After a brief visit with other riders I wandered down to my tent which was set up away from the central core where it was quiet and dark. Leaving the fly flaps open, I fell asleep to the stars as they were chased by the moon, and, as expected, a chorus of coyotes nearby.

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posted by Macrobe
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