I have no idea why I ended up at Big Bend. It was on the list of destinations for some reason but I never could remember why. I think it was just a random national park. Or perhaps I had it confused with somewhere else that had fossilized dinosaur footprints… in any event, after passing the worst border control ever I wasn’t about to drive back.
I started my trip to Big Bend pretty well. Driving through the desert I saw a lot of wildlife living aside the road that I was not familiar with including eagles, prairie dogs, vultures, wild boar, weird stocky-looking desert deer, a coyote, jack rabbits, you name it. I was having quite a bit of fun until I hit a immigration and drug checkpoint. “Oh crap.” I said. “I hope they don’t search me, I have too much crap to put back together if they do.” This was one of those things I dreaded and somehow knew would happen. Murphy and all.
I drove up in the 105 degree weather and patiently waited while their dog circled the Jeep. “Can you please pull to the side.” This of course was followed by, “could you please get out of your vehicle.” I was barefoot. I figured it’d be somewhat suspicious if I took five minutes to exit the car trying to find and put on my shoes. I felt the tar. It was very hot but I have been saying I needed to toughen up my feet… I left my purse, and the sun block, in the car, as I was instructed.
We were taken aside and questioned. Apparently the dog had signaled our car was somehow off. “Do you have any drugs in your vehicle?” “No, I don’t have anything.” “No prescription drugs either?” “Just birth control.” I said, taking an inopportune moment to be a passive aggressive bitch. Despite my motives this was a 100% honest answer to the question if I had prescription drugs, for another stupidity often deceives into making people believe in innocence and thirdly I just liked making my inquisitors as uncomfortable as I was. Of course in this case I really was innocent. “Oh I’m not interested in any of that.” The man seemed for a second a bit embarrassed he probably could have worded his question better. Success.
I’m cool in these situations, though my heart may be pounding and I may be at the verge of an anxiety attack I have learned to feign an almost distracted indifference. This was currently working for me. The dog circled the Jeep over and over, panting in the excessive heat (it was 106 degrees that day.) The poor mutt’s paws were melting to the pavement and he kept lying down, not to alert his handlers but because he was fucking sick and tired of working today. I looked at this pathetic mutt and sighed. “Are the dogs ever wrong?” “No! Never!” Well this one must be an ass then. I watched as everything I owned was taken systematically out of the Jeep and was put on the ground for the dog. Everything was manually searched through the heaps of trash that had piled up in the past few days. Note to self: clean out the Jeep, I’m a vagabond not a garbage woman. That’s when they spilled a box of condoms all over the place. I rolled my eyes. Now who s going to swallow them? They’re covered in tar and dirt. JUST KIDDING. **Author has never been or will never be a drug mule. Drugs are bad kids!**
By this time they’d realized I was barefoot and offered me my shoes. I declined. The pavement was fine, it was the hot metal stairs I was sitting on that were bothersome. They continued to question me. “Has anyone ever smoked in your car?” Again with the vague wording. “No, no one’s ever smoked in the car.” “Sometimes the smell gets stuck in the car for awhile.” The guy seemed very unsure if he should believe me or not. Sometimes his expression would soften, but I think he honestly believed himself the dog was right. I asked what kind of dog it was. He said it was a moth. I have never heard of such a thing and wondered if this wasn’t an accented way of saying mutt.
After half an hour the men put my stuff back, came to greet me, smiled and sent me on my way. It was a tense experience. I was a bit nervy afterwards and very tired. It is bad enough to be accused of something which you are guilty of, but to be accused of something you have nothing to do with is even worse. There’s always that air of mystery hanging above it. What had the dog caught? Was he just tired? Did he smell the odd critter smells I probably still have on some of my clothes and was curious? Did his handler misread him? I’ll never know.
About an hour later I found myself driving through yet another deserted looking village. It was odd how even the gas stations seemed to have no personnel, only offering a slot for credit card payment for the desperate. There were three cars in this town, a car, myself, and a cop, who immediately pulled me over for speeding. Sixty miles in hour in a thirty mile and hour residential zone is generally frowned upon. Whoops. Somehow I’d missed the signs. He seemed friendly enough and let me off with a warning, probably intrigued by my story, thank God, that would been a hellova fine!
For hours after this I travelled the roads surrounded by canyons and on the top of each a border control car was parked. I saw less and less cars until I was the only one on the road except for a few passing trucks going the opposite direction. The desert stretched on for miles and miles and miles with no variation until I had forgotten how long I’d been on the road. It felt like a lifetime. I had this weird feeling I’d been driving this road for longer than I could remember, perhaps a lifetime or so. The only animals I saw were dozens of vultures circling the roadways in the hope of a scrap to eat. How welcoming.
I got to Big Bend after nightfall. There was an entrance building but no gate. It had a little bulletin board that told us how to pay seeing as there were no personnel there. So I did what the sign said, I drove another half an hour or better into the nothingness until I came to the welcome center. This park must be HUGE. It was deserted but I was able to use the bathrooms. I was also able to pay with the credit card and a dial-up internet connection. This area was a cellphone and wi-fi dead zone in the middle of a godforsaken desert still being circled forebodingly by vultures. It was another 25 miles to the campsite. Rio Grande Village. You could throw a rock into Mexico from my tent. Save for three tents this campground was deserted. The little box that was used to pay was so stuffed I could not fit my payment envelope in and this was not a little box! It stood at least three and a half feet off the ground. This place looked completely abandoned. On each picnic table was a flyer stating beware of wild pigs, they’re vicious beasts that will scavenge for your food. I knew I’d have to be careful of bears at some of these campgrounds but ferocious pigs?? A metal cabinet was provided to store food in to keep it away from the evil hogs. At the bottom of the notice there was a statement that if we had problems we should contact park personnel… I’d find out how hard that would be later.
Putting up the tent was a challenge to say the least. It was so windy that it had to be secured while I was holding it up. I was so tired by the time I got done I didn’t even bother to put out the little occupied sign on the campsite’s pole. I just crawled in. I was desperately hungry so I ate an apple sauce cup and left the cup sitting at the feet of the air mattress. A few minutes later I heard something outside. As I put my foot over the mattress it hit the tent wall and something else that quickly skittered away. “I think I just kicked a pig! I felt it’s snout!” I squealed. What a way to start the evening. I still fell asleep and slept well in the heat which was blessedly dry. Heat is nice if you ask me, as long as it’s not muggy. Muggy is gross and uncomfortable and reminds me of being mosquito bait in the Deep South. It’s pretty bad when you sweat so much you can hear the air mattress squick when you get up. Showers. They have to be the one modern invention I was really really missing and forever grateful for.
I got up way early, 7am so I could get a move-on… and a shower. It’d been way too long since I’d been afforded the opportunity and I had laundry piling to the ceiling as well. Because if there’s anything that makes not having a shower even worse, it’s having to wear your disgusting clothing over and over again as you sweat like a peasant. I was seriously grossing myself out. I found the bathrooms but they didn’t have any showers, as promised. I had to ask an Irishman with a multi-cultural group of tweens and teens. He instructed us to go to the store, the showers were across from the store… because where else would they be??
The store was five miles down the road and appeared completely abandoned. It was locked up and dark. There were no buildings anywhere near the store, much less across from it. I managed to somehow find one park ranger who reeked of manure and asked him. In somewhat choppy English he told me the showers were in the store and it was open 24-7 except for cleanings. Yes, that’s right, I chose to go to the store during the one hour in the morning it was not open. I waited and eventually took $1.50 coin-operated shower. It was amazing! The feeling of being CLEAN! Totally worth the creepy setting. I also did the laundry before setting out.
Big Bend is a strange and wild place. Aside from the cleaning lady and the one park ranger I found there were no staff to be seen anywhere here. To make it creepier they left old buildings completely abandoned with little plaques inside, “This used to be a store.” It was like some sort of twisted joke… Like someone had a lot of useless arid land and decided, “lets make it a park and lure unsuspecting tourists! We’ll leave the ghost towns up as a testament to those who came and FAILED.” We met an Irishman, a few Germans, and an Australian couple, no Americans, coincidence? This place was lawless, there were signs everywhere saying not to leave you car unattended, that they will get thieved from, and not to deal with the locals… yet there was no guards, no security of any kind, or staff to be seen anywhere, just more circling vultures. I did leave the Jeep to see the hot springs, though I did sort of deal with some locals. I drove to a overlook of the Rio Grande, and there I could see the squalid little river, with a squalid little shanty town across from it. There was a canoe and sitting on the bank and fresh donkey poop at the bottom of the overlook. I knew I heard donkey braying the night before! Then I saw the strangest thing.. a bunch of jewelry and bead creations sitting on a series of rocks with a little sign reading prices and a collection jar. Though it was ageist the rules I decided to support non-violent means of making money and bought a little scorpion off this impromptu craft stand.
The last thing I checked out in the town was its collection of fossils…. Which were replaced with replicas and completely unimpressive. I was thrilled only when i spotted some sort of odd desert chipmunks and the most adorable waddling baby skunk trying to outrun the Jeep. I had the Australian couple take my photo to memorize this crazy place and decided not to go to the actual ghost town because it was fifty miles away, still in the damned park! That was how big the place was. When I drove out I saw yet more abandonment. The welcome centers were still all shut up and dark and even the gate to leave the park was completely unattended, meaning we could have easily just not paid anything and gotten away with it. I spent the next few hours travelling through the same strange desert that seemed to go on miles and miles without stop. It plays with your head… I once again had to go through a different border control but all they asked for was the usual paperwork and they flagged me through.
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