Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chinati Mountains

In July, when Kman and I ventured into the Eden of Texas (Big Bend, for those folks who have known CP only briefly), we traveled with the June edition of Texas Highways which featured an article called "Road to Chinati". We knew about the little hidden away gem before our trip, but reading through that issue made the decision easy - we had to give the Chinati Hot Springs a try.

We had traveled from Alpine through Lajitas, and onto Presidio that morning. Gorgeous drive if you've never been. You would never believe such scenery existed in Texas, but it surely does.

Presidio is a border town and just across the Rio Bravo del Norte (aka The Rio Grande) lies the town of Ojinaga, Mexico. Presidio is a strange little town. I felt more like I had strayed across the river than stayed in the USA. The stores, the people, heck even the language was all Spanish. Even though Kman speaks a smattering of TexMex Spanish, We had to get a translator at the local Alco - a general store similar but smaller to perhaps a Big Lots.

From Presidio, we traveled Highway 170 to Ruidosa, then took a right hand turn onto a caliche gravel-topped road just past the La Junta General Store. The proprietor of said establishment seemed a little blurry around the edges, but Kman got simple enough directions to find the turnoff. I think I might know what was growing behind his adobe-walled off garden and it weren't okra, Mabel:

(Remember, click to enlarge photos)

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The gravel road was fairly easy, though we couldn't travel much more than 20 mph. We happened upon this poor looking little fellow:

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He looked malnourished and limped, and though I knew he was wild, we stopped and tried to cajole him up to our car for a snack of cold lettuce. No go. Probably just as well.

The gate to the hot springs finally came into view and we checked into our room, the El Presidente, which had its own private sunken tub that filled directly from the hot springs behind the building. The room also had the honored designation of being the "Elvis room", due to the decor:

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Spy that bottle of frosty Bud Light with Lime on the little table? One of my surprised discoveries on this trip; I am usually a beer snob, only embibbing when I can get icy cold Mexican beer or a Shiner Boch. We even have a nickname for the brand, "Buttwiper" - though not terribly original - I know. But, Butt Light with Lime goes down oh so smooth after long car treks over hot dusty Texas roads. Makes a great beverage with Dan's Smokehouse peppered beef jerky. Saved our hungry butts on many a hiking trail. It's a staple anytime we take a car trip (the jerky, folks, not the beer. Though the beer is in the cooler, we value living la vida loca, and the cerveza comes out after the keys leave the ignition.)



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Though the rooms were equipped with the much-needed AC unit, and thus a little easier sleeping at night, I have come to the conclusion that folks in the Bend believe a mattress is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. Kman and I both gripped our sides of the bed during the night to prevent becoming a gigantic human burrito.

But oh, oh! The view from the upper spring-fed cool swimming pool more than made up for a lumpy bed. Refreshingly cool, with that nice dry sage-scented breeze coming off the beautiful Chinati mountains, and nary a city light in sight:



The hot springs with temperatures around 110 degrees fed into the lower communal pool just down the hill from the "cool" pool. Kman is kicked back here with a glass of white wine and probably discussing art with one of our fellow guests (I am safely hidden behind the camera lens - no need to shock your senses with my choice of bathing suits - we forgot to pack ours, and I made do with a pair of jogging shorts, sports bra and a very loose t-shirt):


There was a little algae in the pool, but for the most part it was very clean, and the water warm and nourishing. Only one other couple were staying at the Hot Springs that evening, and some neighbors from the area (they are few and faaaarrr between) came to soak a bit in the communal springs, but there was more than ample room. Chilled bottles of wine, warm bubbly mineral water, the Texas sky twinkling like diamonds, and good easy conversation made for a perfect evening. (Course, I was a little wobbly walking back to El Presidente, but I chalked it up to all those soothing and healing minerals oozing into my pores and bones.)

Later when trying to figure out why it seemed I had met one of our fellow bathers before, I felt like such an idiot; we shared the hot springs that evening with Glenn Justice, and I never made this connection. I would have talked his ear off even more. Both he and his wife were delightful to meet.

Heading out the next morning, our host, David, assured us our Mazda CX-7 (yeah we traded in the little Jeep diesel) would make the 55-mile Pinto Canyon road. We did, but the unpaved 20-mile portion of the road took us nearly 2 hours to traverse before we hit blacktop of Highway 2810 on into Marfa.

Pinto Canyon Road is more ways than one. Yes, the natural scenery is beautiful, rugged, and like stepping into a John Ford movie; the road condition itself was more than just a little white-knuckle hairy in about three places. Fortunately, we only met two farm trucks and a mail truck, all at no-sweat passing by places on the road.

One up-hill climb in particular was snakey, and peppered with not-so-small boulders, with a steep drop-off to the right hand side and no shoulder. Kman climbed it like it was something he and Evel K did everyday. The photo below is of the Canyon Road at one of those easy passing spots mentioned above. Dumb me - I didn't stop to take a photo of the Death Trap parts. This is an early morning shot with the clouds just beginning to curl away from the upper ranges of the Chinati's:


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The Chihuahuan desert and mountain area of Texas is unbelievably beautiful, no doubt about it. But, it is also a very unforgiving terrain; it doesn't suffer fools easily. Civilization in far southwest Texas has not been very successful - something for which I am grateful. Occasionally, you glimpse evidence of past attempts; slowly making its way back to a raw elemental beginning, losing all shape and function:

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For the experience, for the view, for the soothing waters, I highly recommend taking the Twlight Zone trip to the Chinati Hot Springs. Not for the faint-of-heart, or the 4-star traveler, but if you have a little Ambrose Bierce or Jack Kerouac in your genetic makeup - it's calling your name.


Anonymous said...

I'm booking my stay in the Elvis Room post haste!

K. said...

Great pix!

I've driven across West Texas three times -- the El Paso to Austin route. Of course, that didn't bring me anywhere close to Big Bend, which people who haven't been to West Texas might not be able to grasp.

Bathing suit pix, please!

Cowtown Pattie said...

I am surprised no TT reader has spotted a hidden picture of Moi in these photos!

And I am laughing my butt shot in particular has someone's cotton "drawers" rumpled up on a night stand.

Hint: they ain't mine. Must be Elvis's.

We were shuckin' clothes off right and left to hit the pools that afternoon...

Pancho said...

Did you all knock the plaster off the walls or did it come fully furnished with that feature :>]


Fine story and pictures, missy, thanks for sharing.