Out of the woods in Lajitas, Texas

It’s been over a month since our last post, I know. I can’t speak for Dave but I know for myself there are a few reasons. But first let’s talk about Lajitas…

“Out of the woods” I title this because – ha ha – we are in the desert, but also because Dave and I got much of the R&R we’d been looking for as individuals and as a family. It was a recharge we’ve been waiting for, and here’s why (for me, anyways):

I want you to try to imagine a place (and maybe you’ve been to a place like this, maybe even THIS place – but if you haven’t been to this place or a place like this you can only imagine it… and maybe not even that) where it is so quiet that when you stand outside you only hear the noises made by people around you or the wind in your ears. You can hear cars coming from a mile away (and there are only a handful every day), or footsteps walking down the path 100 feet away. And on a hilltop you can hear everything below: conversations as though they are next to you, the crunch crunch of footsteps, or the car still out of sight down the road. The wind you hear only in your ears because there is nothing to catch it. No leaves, no trees, no buildings. The wind rushes through your silent ears, an invisible ocean of waves. Other than that, it is quite simply silent.

And paired with the crystal clear silence is untouched darkenss. Clouds are sparse here, so the moon and stars have full reign over the night sky. We began with a new moon, revealing more stars than you can imagine. And if you step outside you are met by a wall of darkness, a true abyss. The Big Bend area (stretching a few hundred miles alond the West Texas border, and hundreds of miles from major cities) has one of the darkest skies in the entire country. Mexico, a stone’s throw across the Rio Grande River, poses no threat to the dark skies. Mountain ranges span in every direction for hundreds of miles.

When the moon began to appear, light poured down to the Earth below. No structures or trees in her way, the moonlight was brighter at half-full than a regular full moon in Wisconsin. And the full moon? Our shadows at night were as strong as during the day, and instead of the usual grey spectrum of night we could still see color. Even with the shades of the camper down, you would have thought street lights surrounded us.

The Earth and sky as it is….

Indeed, I have been looking for this my whole life.

I love hiking, but I hate the noise of my feet on the rocks or leaves. Little did I know I just needed more sand. And I love state parks and nature preserves, but cannot stand the distant hum of the interstate just a mile or two (or maybe less) down the way. Little did I know I could go much, much further away and one could indeed find silence. And I always long for darkness, but I have almost never escaped the porch lights, street lights, and glowing light pollution of small and larger cities blanketing the night sky in a haze of distraction.

And that’s just the light and sound! I haven’t talked about the people, or the landscape, or the smells, or the sensations. How much time do you have?….

The landscape is beautiful to see, expansive and covered with mountains, plants, and the bright sunlight, but more than that it is the energy here that is remarkable. This land used to be below an ocean of water, and dinosaurs lived here, and humans have wandered and inhabited this land as long as there have been people. And at the same time it feels untouched, untainted. It has been respected and it has control. The plants, people, creatures who walk this desert?… They are only here because the desert hasn’t killed them yet. But it’s not violent or malevalent. It’s honest and humbling. This thing is bigger than you and it can swallow you whole, so what an honor to be here and breathe in this air and have the desert accept you. Just don’t fuck it up and you’ll be fine…

And then of course there’s the basic aesthetics. The beautiful colors – yes, colors. The greens and browns, the reds and blues, the bright purple prickly pear, the crisp yellow berries, and the rainbow sunrise and sunset that makes the landscape glow and shine until you are left with only black and blue. The tough, short plant life – so stoic that even the 50 mph winds barely move the thorned branches. The ocean of rocks and mountains offering infinite hunting opportunities. (I found an intact white sea shell, rose quartz, and fossils.)

Dried up creeks and riverbeds make the perfect hiking trails in this endelss nowhere. But then, of course to the left is Big Bend National Park and to the right is Big Bend Ranch State Park. Whatever outdoor activities you enjoy you can do them here, except maybe surfing. Otherwise, it’s here. Rafting, swimming, climbing, biking, hiking… And hundreds of miles of preserved land means – you guessed it! – more silence and more darkness.

To get to Lajitas, Texas you must drive and drive and drive. El Paso is about 4 hours away. San Antonio is about 7 hours. Remarkably, cell service and wifi are not impossible here. You have to be in the right place and know the right people, but it’s there. 20 years ago, this would have been a scarier place to be 🙂

And speaking of scary, though I didn’t think about it TOO much, the closest hospital was about 100 miles away. It gets you thinking.

I made a few questionable decisions related to that note. Hiking alone with Eli was always one of them. Even when hiking behind the campground, taking care was imperative because of the risk of injury and/or dehydration. Rattlesnakes and scorpions aren’t really out and about this time of year, so I had that comfort. That said, one particular hike I took was not a great idea. I drove about 100 miles (50 of which were past the ranger station at Big Bend National Park) to hike 2 miles on a “primitive trail” (AKA unmarked) into Dog Creek Canyon on an 80 degree afternoon. Brilliant :/

To my reassurance, however, I was not the only one with this idea. There were 3 cars at the trailhead, so I was not alone – I was just the only one alone and with a small child. But all’s well that end’s well, and it ended well. While standing in the canyon, Eli puttering about and practicing his own rough road walking skills, I looked up at the shaded, bushy mountain walls leading down to the creek bed and imagined myself to be a mountain lion in her perfect position for attack. Let’s just say I wasn’t as relaxed on the way out of the canyon as I was the way in.

We hiked quite a bit, as a family and otherwise. We saw rock formations, the Rio Grande River in various iterations, petroglyphs, swam in a hot spring, climbed steep hills, mountain biked, and much more.

About 17 miles away was the most miraculous grocery you can think of, complete with goat milk, a remarkable meat selection, produce, a wide cheese selection, and all the essentials you could ask for, cooking and otherwise, from cleaser to batteries to socks and headlight bulbs. Is this heaven?…

12 miles down the road was another gem that has my heart: Terlingua. Anyone who’s been there needs no further explaination. We’ve met a few people already who’ve been through Terlingua and Big Bend (we left about 5 days ago after spending a month there), and everyone agrees: there’s no place else like it.

Terlingua is a small town, if you can call it that. It’s more of a community, with on average about 2 residents per square mile of the expansive area. They gather in the Terlingua Ghost town. Yes, that’s right. Baddass.

A small developing community in the early 1900s shut down in the late thirties and early forties after the closing of local mines. Literally abandonned for a number of years, there are still many crumbling structures, overgrown with thorns and barely standing. Amidst the rubble are the new Terlingua structures, some new construction and some reclaimed original buildings. The main gathering point is the Starlight, a now-restaurant/bar converted from a theatre. We went a few times, and it was always booming (relatively speaking) with a mix of locals and visitors, all gathering to enjoy a good drink and good food. Outside the restaurant was the Terlingua Porch, a long and large covered porch where locals gathered sporadically, talking and playing the community guitars always sitting outside.

A few art shops, car maintenance shops, and small restaurants span the road through the ghost town, and there are a handful of residents there as well in their compact houses. Every Saturday there is a small farmers market, also a clear gathering (and money making) opportunity for locals.

We chatted with a young couple (who had a toddler as well) and a few other locals about life in Terlingua, and they described it as a “hippie meets cowboy” community. Most people have catchment water (where you collect rain in barrels and use that for all your water needs), and some use solar energy, and everyone uses propane. Truly an off-grid-living opportunity.

And the schooling?… I couldn’t help but ask since there were 900% more children at the market than I expected (that’s 9 kids :)). 17 students graduated from Terlingua school last year, and they all went to college 🙂 And medical care? Emergencies? “You have to have a full tank of gas, and always be ready to drive.” There’s a local emergency response service “if you can get ahold of them” (comforting), and for $65/year you can sign up for helicoptor transport should the need arise. We’re not in the midwest anymore….

So you can probably gather that there were some discussions – however fantastical – of moving here. But don’t worry (mom), it’s not going to happen. We love our families and friends to much to disappear like this. Instead, it’s become our favorite spot so far and a “how long before we can get back here again” kind of vacation destination. Besides, I checked in with the spirits and they flat-out told me that I can’t live here (I am needed elsewhere), but that I can visit as much as I like.

And it’s kind of funny… To fall so in love with a place right after we said, “Whatever….” and kind of threw our tired hands up not knowing how to maximize our time and energy on this trip. But isn’t that the way?… You find true love when you’re truly not looking. But for me to love this place? In the desert? No cities for miles? Isolation? Even I could not have predicted this one.

Now, it should also be said that Dave was not as enamored with this place as I was. While he loves it here, he wasn’t fantasizing about moving here, and he wasn’t walking around calling himself a ‘desert woman’ like I was. Yet the time here for both of us was priceless.

This was solidified by the true friends we made here. An entire blog post and story all its own, I’ll spare you that and just share that we made friends here at the RV park we plan to see again and again, in Lajitas and elsewhere. They live in New Mexico, Montana, Texas, Colorado, and on the road.

So I didn’t write for a while because of a few things. (1) I was busy (hiking, sitting, resting, eating, walking, talking, etc.) That’s good news 🙂 (2) I was afraid. I was/am so in love with this place I didn’t know how to talk about it without scaring my family and scaring myself. Never knew I would find love in the desert… (3) I was lazy. Sorry 🙂

And you don’t have to be a hippie to love this place. We met numerous elderly folks of the cowboy persuasion who have been coming to Lajitas for 20+ years from all parts of the country. Snowbirds?… No, no, no. These folks proudly call themselves “Winter Texans,” and I have to respect that, because this isn’t just about getting out of the cold… It’s about BEING (in every way) in the Big Bend.

What’s Eli up to? He’s talking more (‘Elmo’ is definitely the cutest development), running more, face-planting more, and getting right back up more 😉 He’s climbing and coming down stairs, he’s eating more varieties of foods, starting to drink from a cup, and he’s got stronger attitudes and opinions. He’s still napping like a champion every day (long enough for me to write this entire post).

We spent a few days outside Deming, New Mexico on our way to Verde Valley, where we will now be for a month. But like a teenager who’s just lost her first love, I’m feeling a little bitter and clingy. Can anything compare to Lajitas?… I know from years of training and experience that while the pain of saying goodbye is inevitable, the suffering of longing and lingering is completely in my own hands. We’ll see how mature I decide to be…

They say, to get over a relationship loss, it takes about a month of every year of the relationship (so a 6-year relationship would take 6 months). If I was in Lajitas for a month, that means it should take me about 2.5 days to get over it. Okay. I’m only 2 days behind.

Verde Valley?… Let’s do this!

2 Responses to Out of the woods in Lajitas, Texas

  1. Mom

    What a way to start my day….I can almost feel it from your writing. Thanks for not “scaring” me.
    Glad you guys are finding what you are/were searching for. xxox

  2. Davemills

    Lajitas is now on my list!

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