4.17.2009,7:21 PM
Big Bend Again: Into The Light

Castolon, once a frontier community in the national park, lies between the river and the foothills of the Chisos Mountains. Formerly known as Santa Helena, it was settled by Mexican families that cultivated grain crops.

It became a true frontier town as it grew. The US military established a small base for cavalry troops, white settlers established ranching operations nearby, Mexican families farmed the river banks, and even the Chisos Mining Company pushed a finger in by co-establishing a store. In the true sense of 'frontier', the town spanned cultures, boundaries and borders.

After the area was incorporated into a national park, town residents moved elsewhere and the post office was closed in 1954. Some of the buildings remain today serving as residents and offices for park employees and the store still serves the same function.

Several remnants of history stand today like quiet sentinels of the past.

They form a silent marriage with the surrounding majestic topology and geology of the area. A reminder of occupational cycles on the land: boom and bust, hope and despair, gain and loss, war and peace.

Where acres of cultivated grains and cotton once ran alongside the river, today cottonwood trees reflect sunlight in the western sky like glimmering mirrors of fluorescent green.

An early Monday evening in the park was a first experience in its emptiness and striking sunlit angles. We encountered very few vehicles and no other people. The stores were closed and the quiet was as warm as a blanket. We were the only visitors there and the locals appeared to welcome us.

The place presented more of its true self in the absence of flocks of tourists. Its ghosts of the past were free to mingle with your imagination, the silence of the landscape and empty buildings providing a stage for decades to enact their parts.

Restlessness again crept in and I started gearing up to ride back to Terlingua. Bob had previously implied that riding north along the paved road was a delight. I'm glad he didn't elaborate. As I led the group north, I was astounded and awestruck at the show of color and detail on the hills and mountains. It was as if a secret had been revealed.

The angle of the early evening light strips away shadows and haze off the southern faces of slopes, revealing the natural geological paintings in all their glory. It was a ride that I still run through in my mind and one I shall not soon forget. More so, it weights the anchor to this area, more and more dragging me back. Looking forward to a time when I don't have to leave.

As I rode the sweeps and winding ribbon I wondered if this is what it feels like to be a bird soaring through the area inside the park. Leaning from side to side as wings bank on thermals and head compassing the scenery side to side. For a moment, I was flying. And it was glorious.

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posted by Macrobe
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