It seems like the U.S./Mexican border is constantly in the news these days. Though President Donald Trump recently didn’t force a government shutdown over funding for his 30-foot border wall — which he says Mexico will pay for, eventually — the wall and the border are sure to make headlines later this year when it’s time to talk budget, and funding the wall, again.
I’m reminded of my trip last winter down along the border at Big Bend National Park. On the way a friend and I stayed at the Historic Gage Hotel, about an hour away in Marathon, Texas. It was reminiscent of an old Mexican hacienda. We stepped back in time with all the old furnishings and even a white buffalo head on the wall in the dining room.
We arrived at the park and headed first to the Rio Grande, where we could have waded across in several spots near where the water flowed between two steep cliffs. When we turned around, at least five javalinas, weird creatures reminiscent of wild pigs, crossed the path right in front of us.
The Remains of Earlier Days
In a different part of the park, we reached the Rio Grande again, down a long winding trail framed by tall bushes on one side and on the other side, a cliff with pictographs believed to date as far back as 1,000 B.C., at Boquillas Hot Springs.
We also found the remains of a popular resort from the 1920s and 30s, with ruins that looked like half a dozen rooms and a store — it was built before the area was a national park. Further back, in 1747, Apaches lived in the area and grew squash while the Comanches passed through the area but didn’t settle there.
On our trail walk we arrived at a big square frame of water where two or three people were soaking in the hot springs adjacent to the river. It’s believed that ancient people dug out the bathing pit. On the Mexican side of the river, a couple of people were saddling up horses and there were a couple of rowboats.
Further down the U.S. side we stopped at a simple, un-manned stand where painted walking sticks and animals made of copper wire and beads were for sale. I bought a lovely copper-beaded peacock and put my payment in a little box. I assume Mexican merchants rowed across the river to collect the money and deliver more items for purchase.
Big Bend is huge, with lots of craggy mountains and many rough, four wheel drive roads.
Venturing down a narrow dirt road, we found the jacal — a thatched wattle-and-daub hut — where Gilberto Luna lived. In 1901, at the age of 60, he crossed the Rio Grande into the United States from Mexico. The hut is a one-room dirt floor structure about four feet high, made of small tree trunks covered with animal skins and built into a hill.
It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and visitors can walk in if they bend over a bit. Luna farmed in the river bottoms near the border, raised many kids with several wives and reportedly lived there to the ripe old age of 108.
The Amazing Starry Night
After dinner overlooking the mountains at Chisos Mountain Lodge, the only lodging inside the park, we walked down a dark path to a lookout. It was so dark that we saw multitudes of stars, a few planets and the Milky Way, far more than I’ve ever seen in my life. It was amazing.
In 2012, the park was named as an†International Dark-Sky Park, one of 10 certified spots in the world untouched by civilization’s light pollution.
That night I went in to the bar for a few minutes to warm up and got an update on the New Hampshire primary results, since it was almost the only place to get news or internet. It was hard not to have a phone signal but suddenly, the Wall Street Journal and my sister, at the same moment, both sent me messages that Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders had won.
Except for brief moments here and there, we had no phone or internet service in the park and nearby areas. That took some getting used to for a news junkie like me. It was nearly impossible to find a newspaper, besides the local, which was four days old.
I wondered how people who live out near the border keep up with the world.
The Ghost Town
The next day, we drove outside the park to nearby Terlingua, where many retirees and young people spend their winters living in RVs.
The Old Starlight Theatre was a busy bar and hamburger joint. But Terlingua is also a ghost town, where little old stone homes, half intact with additions built onto ruins, dot the hill.
You could tell the houses were constructed of all the rocks lying on the ground. Apparently the man who owns all the property said people could build there but couldn’t change the old structures.
There’s also an old quicksilver mine where many years ago the owners made a lot of money and the Mexican and Indian miners likely died from mercury poisoning.
I can’t imagine where or how President Trump is going to build his wall at Boquillas Hot Springs on the Rio Grande or at the point where the river flowed between two cliffs — or why he would want to disfigure this lovely, remote area with hardly a person around.
I’m also reminded of when I crossed the border from McAllen, Texas, to Reynosa, Mexico, a few years ago. People on both sides appreciated the exchange of commerce. American companies built factories in Mexico, while Mexicans crossed over to work or shop at places like Wal-Mart.
Outside of town I went birding and learned the birds flew through the area during their seasonal migrations.
On another trip to Nogales, Arizona, Americans I talked to weren’t keen on having a tall wall cutting through people’s land. They liked being able to cross the border to buy prescription drugs and have dental work done very inexpensively.
Time will tell if the wall will ever come. There are already sporadic sections of walls and fences and customs guards in the desolate border lands, through which the Rio Grande flows and people have passed for millennia.
Reprinted with Permission from Lillie Suburban Newspapers.