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Ten for Texas (1 Viewer)

Wes Hobarth

Registered User
Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

It was seven-fifteen in the morning Eastern time as Norma, Liz and I emerged bleary-eyed from our Log cabins after 25 hours of endless travel which had culminated in a 230 mile drive to arrive at this remotest of spots in Bush country around one in the morning to find a bunch of room keys left under a stone at the ranch office. Finding the cabins took another half-hour at least: sorting out whose was whose, another. It was Moonless and the Stars were incredible, considering this is the Lone Star State. But this little adventure at the end of a long trail was beginning to shed light on the personalities that were both to infect and invigorate the next two weeks of my life. But let us not go there yet and have some joy.

As the dawn rises and we meander the hundred yards to the breakfast room we are assailed with: House Finch, Eastern Meadowlark, House Sparrow, Cave Swallow,
Pyrrhuloxia, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Mockingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cactus Wren, Yellow-throated Warbler, White-winged Dove, Barn Swallow, Say’s Phoebe, Common Raven and Turkey Vulture. Seven of these are Lifer’s. Not bad for 45 minutes unconsidered random use of bins along a potted track!

At Midland Airport the “night “ before Great-tailed Grackle and Northern Rough-winged Swallow had already been added. So nine Lives so far. How many more would we get and what further tribulations may lay ahead will unfold in the coming weeks in the usual Dickensian episodic fashion. After two weeks on the trails in the Badlands it may take me a while to come back to earth and sharpen my pen.

A taster for the future; has anyone else out there had a flat (tire) in the desert personally changed and sorted by an eccentric Texan millionaire? I thought not. But that’s Texas.

Yesterday was a slow one adjusting to the pace and space of the locality and meeting some of the locals. They were much more spiced and human than the CHINA types in Dodge One. We were in Dodge Two. Dodge refers to the make of the hire wagons we had. This land is clearly a state of mind. as well as a place. It is as truly remote as you can get in the US of A. No ATMs TV or phones, even mobiles are just a useless pocket weight here. And the roads, sorry pavements, are just empty, and I do mean empty. On a forty mile trip from the Ranch to Study Butte, the nearest town, population 120, you are lucky to meet two Pickups coming the other way.

So where are we? South West Texas, close to the Mexican Border formed by the Rio Grande River. Our accommodation is twenty miles up a dirt track off HW 118. Study is a further twenty miles south and about a further five miles short of the west entrance to the Big Bend National Park where we will spend much of our time. 1252 sq miles of montane and desert wilderness to explore. Birds, bears, mountain lions, snakes and scorpions await. But the real animals were to be found in Dodge One.

So let us look at the contents of both Dodge One and Two before we continue our journey.

Dodge One is a pre-formed clique. Stewart the organiser, a failed Classics teacher, Vic, cerebrally and, physically impaired, a vicious cnut and his harridan wife Margie who talks endlessly (God if only someone had taught her to speak). Then there is Mike (insecure and an unresolved fascist who in middle-age still lives with his mum) and Alan the Wraith, a nonentity that will make no appearance in this story, for when he enters a room you think something has just left. Stew, the organiser, can administer flights and car hire, just, but his people skills will rate as zero minus.
Dodge Two was me, Norma and Liz, plus Jack and Pete (two, loveable, retired adventurers of advanced years who were probably on their last trip before they turn their toes up).
Locals. Well I believe I had mentioned this word before. Last night in the restaurant we had met Alida, a coffee and cream extraction who manages the establishment. A nice lady who has promised to set us up with some local knowledge. Also she has agreed to breakfasts for us all at 6.30 A.M. which we do today and for the rest of the trip.
Today is our first trial trail into Big Bend. Reluctantly, Dodge One agrees to stop off at the Roadrunner Deli in Study to pick up some to sandwiches. In the end they buy some also. No rations are available in the Park, apart from the Chisos Basin and Rio Grande Village. Miles and miles apart. We drive east as the sun rises and obscures our vision as we head for the Visitor Centre at Panther Junction another forty miles where we hope to buy maps and orientation material. After this we head to Government Springs, an arid place with no Birds and then to a brief visit to the Chisos Basin, before returning to the Ranch and a second crap evening meal. Tomorrow was to prove Dodge Two’s last evening meal at the Ranch and the first true division to erupt between the two wagons. Dodge One needed their Drinking Time and were prepared to forgo solids. Dodge Two was not and wanted to enjoy local fare. We also had to cater for Pete who was Diabetic. So the Divorce became physical, and I am sure both parties benefited from the separation. I mean Bush County is not the place to contemplate Murder. Is it?

Monday night Dodge two stops off in Terlingua (population 25) a mere 50 miles from bed and goes to Tivo’s Mex Café. Wonderful. Take your own boose in and chill out over some chillies. Mutt and Jeff go for Gringo Catfish while the three have pure Mexican. But before this culinary triumph much else has happened. After a long drive daylight today found us at Rio Grande Village where Verm Fly, Inca Dove, and Gold-fronted Woodpecker held us enraptured in the car park as we drew in. On the menu to follow were slim sightings of Painted Bunting and other exotics plus Common Black Hawk, which is not at all common.
But I have missed a Day and a Night. Let’s go back to Saturday. We meet Brent, a progressive Country Singer who performs live in the restaurant and sounds like Willy Nelson. Alida has arranged for us to meet Caroline tomorrow. A local Birder and writer who has created her own habitat on her Ranch off Snake Road down near mile two to the HW. Caroline, although mature, is rather fetching, so I jump at the chance to join her in her ancient Diesel Pickup as lead vehicle, to fill her in on where we are coming from. But instead she fills me in. She just never stops talking. Within 30 seconds I know she has buried a husband last year and married another. Later, I am to learn from one of my Bar Room mates at the Ranch that she is known as the Black Widow. Its not one but seven husbands she has buried! She still looks alluring though and there is just something special about her tits. Which kind of brings me back to Birds.
Our first visit to Caroline’s added Brewer’s Blackbird, White-Throated Sparrow, Green-Tailed Towhee, Verdin, Scott’s Oriole, Savannah Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler and my first ever Humming Bird, Black-Chinned. She made us lunch in her wonderful house built by Wetbacks over thirty years ago at $5 a day and then took us to the only Lake within a hundred miles. Enterprising House Sparrows, plus Lark Sparrow, AM Coot, Gadwall, Mallard, and possibly Mexican Mallard (a recent split I am told ), Gt. Blue Heron, Varied Bunting and Wilson’s Warbler get added. There were others from Big Bend the day before but apart from Mexican Jay I can’t remember them right now.
So back to day four. After Tivo’s, a beer or two with a new Yank mate. Steve Lucas. No, not the film man, a builder, from out of state, of the same name, who reveals more secrets of the locality in which we find ourselves.
Locate an Oasis of trees is the true secret to Birding in the Big Bend, for trees are in short supply here. The four trees outside the Ranch Greasy Spoon have Ladder-Backed Wood, House Finch and White-Winged Dove nesting, while the Power Pole that supports the wires that feed intermittent electricity to the Ranch also have Elf Owl nesting. A morning delight every day. Not that today (Day 5)was to be much of a delight. Stew’s organisational and Mike his Navigator, navigational skills will be tested today and found wanting. But the worst daymare I could imagine that they could come up with was reserved for Sunday Day 10, after which the split with Dodge Two was complete. But there is much to come before the Pinnacles Trail Incident. Today we are supposed to go to a place called Pine Canyon and then Dugout Wells.
Up till now the tracks and pavements (Texan for roads around here) have been OK. Deep in the Back Country of the Big Bend my waning trust in the capabilities of Dodge One’s Commissariat, well wanes. After five miles of Sump-Scraping boulders and ruts and vehicle evacuations to raise the ground clearance we grind to a halt as the track deteriorates markedly. There are supposed to be trees around here. None in sight. Vehicles are abandoned and we walk. Several hours later still no ******* trees and not many Birds. As one of the fittest, which ain’t saying much, I walk far ahead, probably, partly to be alone and not say something I may come to regret. Why am I being so unlike me? Never mind, because I walk ahead and watch where I step I miss Prairie Falcon. But do add Brown-Headed Cowbird, Canyon Wren, Black-Chinned Sparrow, White–Throated Swift, Bronzed Cowbird and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Never found any trees. The Comics who are supposed to have been sorting this have not realised the trees don’t start for another 5 miles (as I find out when I consult a map back at base. This is one lesson I should have learnt). We just have to turn back. Some are nearly dying by now. Climbing in 80 plus F degrees is not for Wrinklies. But they are reluctant to admit it. I am building attitude towards the idiots running the trip. Dodge Two’s Old Boys remain touchingly faithful to their former compatriots, but see the signs and recognise safety within Dodge Two.
At Dugout Wells Norma and Liz get Great-Horned Owl. Every one else gets Squat Diddly. Wrong time of day for anything really.
Tonite the five ate at Starlight Theater in Terlingua Ghost Town. Drinkable wine, Beer, best Solids, and atmosphere. On the way back from Dugout we chose to stop off at Panther and Button-hole a Ranger on where we should go next. A real Sod –off to Dodge One. But inside info we got. Tomorrow morning would be rather special.
Today we head for an unmarked trail known to the locals as Cat-Tail. The Ranger who told us of this said we could reasonably expect to get Olive-Sided and Dusky Fly, Band-Tailed Pigeon and for the USA an “endemic” to Big Bend of Lucifer Hummingbird. At this point I must quibble with the content of the condensed new Sibley of Eastern North America which is supposed to include Texas. This particular gem and a number of others are simply not in it. I bought the big Sibley in Florida last year, but it is big and heavy, so I fancied the portable new versions, unfortunately just a bit too portable with important omissions. Anyhow, after a pleasant early morning stroll shaded by a mountain we encountered all of the above with the exception of the Pigeon and also added in a delightful wooded enclave Brewer’s Sparrow and Zone-Tailed Hawk. But Lucifer is a first Mega tick for the trip. Two more are to come our way in due course.
A long drive ensues to Cotton Wood Camp, another location on the Rio Grande River and the border with Mexico. In the afternoon we clock Hooded Oriole, Western and Couch’s Kingbird and Wild Turkey to add to the tally. Tonite Dodge 2 dined at the Phoenix Café in Terlingua, Italian cuisine of master class cheffery. Open Weds to Sat evenings only.
The 22nd April 2004, a Thursday if I remember rightly should have seen us on an early morning start to somewhere called Dagger Flat. But as we emerged from another hasty breakfast which was growing more monotonous by the day I noticed we had an actual flat. Steve the builder was on hand to change the wheel to the emergency only spare and advised us to drop off at Troy’s place a ways down the track on the way to the HW as he would fix the puncture caused by a four and a half inch nail. Troy, whom I had some beers with, is a real Gent. We knock him up in his Shack at about Eight A.M and look helpless. I don’t open till nine but for you people I will make an exception. With spit and a bit of twig the puncture is fixed and Troy relieves us of ten dollars. I don’t need the money, but I’ll take it anyway he says as he bids us farewell. He surely doesn’t, for we learn that Troy inherited 28 million dollars and lives off the interest in this wilderness (Pun intended). Troy had also been bitten by a Rattler, about six months ago and cured himself. He seemed to have some medical knowledge and reckoned the anti venom serum was more corrosive than the snake-bite. Troy also helps out in the kitchen at our Ranch and is thinking of buying the place. That’s Texas.
Eventually we get to Dagger Flat where Vic Vicious from Dodge One has a veritable strop about what I know not and don’t want to. He has never acknowledged me and I have no intention of not returning the compliment. According to Mike the Navigator who I am slowly warming to, all of Dodge One has been enjoying spleen from this worthless Cnut. So, it is not just us.
A long day adds little. Sharp-Shinned Hawk for the rest, which I miss while trying to get my GPS to work. Then Black-Tailed Fly, Cooper’s Hawk, Common Ground-Dove, American Pipit and Cliff Swallow come our way.
You may have noted we have seen quite a few Sparrows. This despite know-all Mike, yes, well I am still warming to him, saying there are no Sparrows in America. I think he means they should be classed as Larks. And I don’t think he was having a Lark with us. Never mind, even in the Eastern Sibley there are Thirty-Three varieties listed. They are worse than Warblers to identify over here. But we are getting good at it.
Tonite I get into further lengthy discussions of a Meta nature with Dean, over Bush and the Universe. Dean, whom I haven’t mentioned before is an Engineering Professor who is spending some time down here to re-evaluate his life doing even odder jobs around the Ranch than Troy. Getting involved with all these Nuttters is a clear indicator of how little I can stomach Dodge One. The rest of Dodge Two must be a lot more sanguine than me.
Half Way. What more can befall us? Rather a lot as it turns out.
Week two commences with a return to the Cotton Wood Camp area on the Rio Grande. Cliff Swallow, Black Phoebe, Black Vulture, Orchard Oriole, Common Yellowthroat, Crissal Thrasher, Grey Hawk, Northern Parula and Lucy’ Warbler find their way to our Optics.
Pete, one of the Oldies in Dodge Two had taken a day of rest when we went to the Cat-Tail for the first time, so he still needed Lucifer H and the other goodies we obtained there. It was agreed both Dodges would stop here on the return Journey. On the drive back a couple of vehicles got in between us. Dodge One you will appreciate always took the lead. Both our vehicles are smothered in desert dust, and look different colours from when we began our journey from Midland, so long ago. After some tired miles I am convinced the wagon now in front of me and driving very erratically, even for Stew, who does it all, is not Dodge One. Especially when it takes an unexpected right to some poxy viewpoint. We carry on, go to Cat-Tail and get Pete his Birds and he is well pleased. We don’t encounter Dodge One until breakfast tomorrow.
Now, Vic Vicious has been attitudinal again today. Jack, the other Oldie in our wagon, lets on that on previous trips with this soup of weirdo’s, he has seen Stew and Margie (Vic’s harridan of a wife, holding hands). Mike; we find tomorrow he has not been well on the return journey today. His Gout and Asthma have been playing up. I am not joking. Apart from living with his Mum, Mike is also a Magistrate! Think you’ve heard it all now? Wait on. Tonite we dined at the Phoenix again. His Strawberry entrees are there to die for.
But the next day starts with another return. This time to Caroline’s place, and our second true pearler of the trip. Her habitat gave us Cordilleran Fly, Western Tanager, Solitary Sand (except I missed that while going for a piss in a gully) and Rock Wren. A nearby –ish Canyon where Caroline took us, afforded views of Grey Vireo, a true drab rarity.
During this time, discussions ensued about what to do for the afternoon and tomorrow. Dodge One was going back to Rio GrandeVillage. Dodge Two chose a new location. Lajitas. Half the distance, on the Rio Grande with added water and a true Cowboy Town to boot. Apart from Green Heron, American Goldfinch and Red-Winged Blackbird the best views imaginable of Painted Bunting were obtained. A real one over Dodge One. But before this there was still tomorrow being discussed. Colima Warbler was the target. Choices were a nine-mile loop walk beginning with a lot of up, or trying to do it in reverse and going as far as you could on the final flats and then returning at a moment of choice. Dodge Two understood option Two had been adopted.
As early morning surfaces in the Basin of the Chisos Mountains we discover Stew has changed his mind because Dodge One want the Big Loop. In concept, with 10 hours of daylight ahead, despite this being Bear and Mountain Lion country ahead it sounds almost feasible. Though, with Jack being 77 and Pete Post Heart Attack at 70 and Mike, well Mike in his condition, the three Musketeers being me , Norma and Liz have serious doubts. Stupidly we all set off, along the Pinnacles Trail. I count paces and after two hours I reckon we have done a mile. Four more slow hours on I reckon we have achieved about four miles. And the terrain all the way has been a hard climb. As probably the fittest I have gone ahead some ways and waited for the rest to catch up. This has given me many forty-minute periods to contemplate our situation as I sit on a rock and smoke. I quiz some Backpackers coming the other way. They reckon we have another 6 miles of worsening climbs ahead and that we are at least ten miles short of the end of the trail. I take command and send us back the way we came. We have five hours of daylight left and cannot afford to find ourselves here in the dark. This is ******* dangerous and the organiser has been a totally silly ******. We are dealing with people’s lives here, for Heaven’s sake. Vic Vicious, who had yet another strop before we set off this morning was the only cnut to fall over on this failed hike. I do not believe the significance of this was fully realised by him. I am just glad he only grazed himself. I would have had to carry him off the mountain should he have done anything worse. Vic, I hope you die slow and obscene as opposed to quick and clean.
But, up this accursed Mountain Range we did add Black-Crested Titmouse, Spotted Towhee, Acorn Woodpecker, Golden-Crowned Kinglet, House Wren, Townsend Solitaire, Bushtit, and finally for me, due to Pete’s help, Colima Warbler. I am too tired to remember where we ate tonite. I think it was The Boathouse. A Chicken Special menu as the sun settled on the Eastern Mountain ranges as we watched luminous reflections. Apart from Breakfast I don’t think we encountered Dodge One until they ignored us at Midland on the way home.
With three days to go Dodge One’s plan was to go back to Rio Grande Village today (4 to 5 hours driving) head north tomorrow on a 3 hundred mile round trip to Lake Balmorhea and then do Lajitas on the last day before leaving without breakfast to head for Midland Airport long before dawn the following day. Dodge Two’s itinerary will be back to Lajitas today for the morning and then take the scenic drive along El Camino del Rio to Presidio and the Mexican border. Caroline’s tomorrow and then leave the Ranch the following day to drive to Lake Balmorhea and then spend the nite in Pecos which is only about an hour and a half’s drive from the Airport after a leisurely breakfast. Much more sensible.
Only two new additions at Lajitas, Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak. The switchback drive to Presidio is an eye popping, gear dropping adventure. You have the Rio Grande on one side, fanciful geological formation all around and grades as steep as 15 per cent. A case of Strap in and hold on.
At the border Jack decides he wants to cross to Mexico to say he’s been there. Norma goes with him to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble.
Meanwhile I take a photo of the Border Crossing and get pounced on by a squad of Border Guards who arrest me for committing the Felony of photographing a Government Facility. The guards are really jumpy but the heat lessens when they realise we are from Blighty. I had to delete the pic I had taken and then show them every other photo I had on the camera. Thank god for Digital, otherwise they would have had my Camera they said. This International Incident held up the Border crossings for about fifteen minutes and a woman who was in the queue that we spoke to in a café subsequently said she was surprised they didn’t strip our vehicle down. Phew!
Now its Tuesday and a quiet one following yesterday’s excitement. At Caroline’s we add Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Plumbeous Vireo and Nashville Warbler and say what we believe is farewell to Caroline. Baird’s Sandpiper shows up on a final trip to Lajitas.
And now it is farewell to The Ranch as we drive a barren eighty miles to the Big Bend gateway town of Alpine, which may seem an unlikely name for a Texas town but at an elevation of 4481 feet it is no misnomer. Along the way and in the middle of nowhere we get stopped at an internal Border Control post and five British Passports are methodically examined.
Next its on to the pleasant town of Fort Davis and at an elevation of 5050 feet it is the highest town in Texas. An hour or two at the National Park a few miles out of town affords us further additions to the list. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Bewick’s Wren and Western Scrub Jay. Decidedly cooler around here than what we have been used to and Storm Clouds are gathering. Back at Fort Davis for lunch and the Heavens open. Tremendous Thunder and Lightning. Driving North to Lake Balmorhea the road is in flood.
We arrive at the Lake under heavy skies and a strong wind has got up. Apart from, wait for it, some Chinese Geese it looks pretty well birdless and uninviting. Even the shack where you are supposed to get a permit is shut. We drive on anyway. Half an hour later the weather starts to improve and a white truck pulls up behind where we are parked. Is this the warden come to give us a Ticket. Nope it is bloody well Caroline with a buddy of hers (actually one of her previous Sister in Laws). With her local knowledge this is going to be a Godsend. She gives us a whistle stop tour of various nooks and crannies around the Lake and the list just grows and grows:
Willet, American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Long-Billed Dowitcher, Hen Harrier, Ring-Billed Gull, Geater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Olivaceous Cormorant, American Wigeon, Snowy Egret, Common Loon, Northern Shoveler, Whimbrel, Black-Necked Grebe, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Osprey, White-Faced Ibis, Black-Necked Stilt, Redhead, Least Sandpiper, Forster’s Tern, Great White Egret, Pied-Billed Grebe, Least Tern and the stunning Yellow-Headed BlackBird.
Leaving us fairly stunned Caroline departs for one of her other houses in Alpine, but not before telling us there is a Baltimore Oriole in the trees around the entrance to another local Nature Park. We go and we get it along with Tree Swallow and Lark Bunting. Black-Chinned Hummers are also doing amazing display flights.
Driving onto Pecos in the dusk an American Crow flies by.
At Midland Airport in the morning, although I can’t be bothered to unpack my bins, Scissor-Tailed Fly and Upland Sand are sighted.
Final Tally 170, of which 117 were Life ticks. Other Critters included one dead Rattler, Skunk, Coyote, Raccoon, the lovely Javelina and assorted Rabbits, Deer and desert Squirrel. Biting Insects, especially the “No See Ums” as they call ‘em here were a bit of a pain. Why do they always hone in on your ears with such a banshee whine?
My mate Maurice, from the Hungary trip last year has just e-mailed that when he went to Texas with Birdfinders a while back his score was 254. Our problem was being stuck in one place I guess. But it was good to have the time to get to know it and the extraordinary local people really well.
Well I’ll be Howdy Dowdy I reckon that about wraps it up.

Post Evaluation Blues
First up, writing a “Not the Trip Report” or rather “A real Trip Report” actually allows the privilege of enjoying the experience twice, if not three times, once when you are there, recounting it and then the possible vicarious pleasure other readers may obtain. Next come the Photos to further shade the view. Some of mine of flowering Cactus are rather pleasing, as are some of the scenic shots of barren mountains. I forgot to mention the Butterflies Staggeringly large ones.

Old Wesmondo. Unable to let go. Bugger, this is a place I could go back to.


Well-known member

Thoroughly enjoyed reading your travel-log Wes. A touch of Waugh & Hemmingway, if I might be so bold, :scribe: with a bit of Bagdad Cafe and Texas Chain Saw (character) Massacre thrown in for good measure! :'D (oh the lists were good too!) A stimulating read, well done :t:


Well-known member
We loved your ramblings! Are you quite sure they were Dodges, and not Ramblers? We just got back from Big Bend, ourselves, and haven't seen all of those birds. We can't stay as long as you did, though. We will go in April when my hubby fully retires, to see the really great birds. Glad you enjoy our favorite stomping grounds. We hope you come back soon! Again, loved your story. You wrote quite well, but you might have left a few stung behinds in your dust.

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