Big Bend on the Beemer 1999

This is a copy/paste from the old website on my 1999 trip to Big Bend on the then new Beemer. That was about 95,000 miles ago. I hope the links work. If not, the original stuff is here: http://dajudge.us/bbend.htm and I’ll fix the links later.

Big Bend
OK. Trip report No. 1. Horseshoe Bay, Texas to Big Bend National Park
First real trip on the new RT although I did start with 2900 miles on
the bike already. Had decided on this trip in lieu of attempting
the Blue Ridge Parkway — boy am I glad I did. The weather in that end
of the world became impossible, at least for me.
First some references:
A good search is on snap.com for “Big Bend National Park Texas” — lots of results.
Many storms rolling through central Texas on Friday morning, March 12, 1999,
as I’m preparing to leave. All loaded up, gassed up, maps and GPS in
hand, Valentine 1 firmly mounted. Check the weather on the ‘Net. Look
at the doppler radar out of Austin and the national radar on
weather.com. Finally, a go decision is made about noon as most of the
stuff around here has gone around North and it looks good to the West
and Southwest.
The first thing I notice is that the RT handles nicely with the load and
rides even better than naked. I take a favorite route to Fredericksburg
through Sandy and near Willow City. Anyone who gets anywhere near
Willow City needs to do the “Willow City Loop” which comes off of Texas
16 about 30 miles South of Llano and comes out the other end about 10
miles North of F’burg. Lunch in F’Burg at a new place. While backing
into the one parking spot where I think I can eat and see the bike, a
cager is coming up as if to take the place. They back off and I ease it
in and practice my first move in getting off the RT with all the
camping gear packed right behind me. Interesting maneuver, if
inelegant. Just as I order, the cager comes up to say hi — it was my
former next door neighbor! Small world indeed.
Then to Hunt, Vanderpool and Utopia (http://www.riverlodge.com/).
Have done that route many times and enjoy it every time. Much of it
along the river, all of it hilly and twisty. A unique sight along the
way is the Lost Maples State Park. Turning due West at Utopia, an area
not yet explored, I take further note of the clouds building up again.
Ah yes, Texas weather. Ever changeable. Running Westerly, the hills get
higher and the clouds heavier. Glad for the Aerostich and fullface
helmet — think I’m gonna need it. I hit US83 just South of Leakey, in
the rain. Very light rain but I’m nervouse because (a) it’s light, and
(b) I’ve not been in the rain with this bike yet. Change of plans, turn
North for a while, then West on FM337, skirting the main storm.
FM337, which also runs from Utopia Westward, and eventually hooks up with
Texas 55 is a fantastic ride. Just out of Leakey you start a steady,
sharp climb into mountain country. For a while I almost think I’m in
REAL mountains. Lots of new surface and roadwork everywhere, but a good
ride.
Down out of the mountains I hit the flatlands and head Southwest toward Del
Rio. Bar ditches full of water and a 1/2 mile stretch with hail 2-3
inches deep along the edge of the road. Change of route had been an
excellent idea. The PIAA 1200’s are starting to show up on the road as
the light dims. As it turns hard dark I’m very glad to have them. This
is still deer country.
Stopped at Del Rio for the night because of doubts about the weather. Next day
headed early for the Big Bend, still many miles away.
Only made 286 miles that first 1/2 day. The Garmin
III+ says I averaged 53.5 mph. On the road Saturday at 8a.m. Cold and
windy, very gusty. Handgrips on and vest plugged in. Stopped at Dryden
for a warmup and a snack. Not a place you would stop otherwise, and
there are only two choices, one being the Dryden General Store. Pablo
owns the place and had a few groceries, sodas, one pair of shoes
(black, lace, used — very), assorted foam ball caps, and a slew of
junk that only a hard-scrabble rancher would know about. Pablo tells me
about a bicyclist who was through there once and planning to cross into
Mexico and ride along the Rio Grande … to California. Pablo told him
there were probably no roads and few trails, but off the fellow went.
Needless to say, Pablo never knew what came of him. We also discussed a
German fellow who was motorcycling all over the world but had never
been to China and was lamenting that. I told Pablo that my goal was to
see most of the U.S. by motorcycle and he offered that he could not do
that — had never been on a motorcycle — but could do it by horseback.
Despite his probable 65-70 years age my guess is he could, too.
Actually, I have no idea if his name is Pablo — but it fits.
Stopped in Marathon to have lunch at the famous Gage Hotel, only to find their
restaurant not open at the moment. The soda shop next door had a
fabulous cheeseburger that I hungrily devoured.  Asking around, I
discover that all the rooms in the whole area are taken. Spring break
and the Bend is popular with the college students — and I thought they
all did beaches! Got the last available room at the Big Bend Inn and RV
park in Study Butte — Study being pronounced Stu Dee. Have no idea
why. When I asked about a campground, the lady laughed. Now I didn’t
think the question deserved quite that response, but at least a room
was available.
Rode down US385 to the ranger station, then up to the Basin. While the BBNP
is primarily desert, the Chisos Mountains sit smack in the middle of it
and up a beautiful mountain road lies the Basin. It is an interior
basin on top of the mountain. Reminds you of a volcano mouth, sort of.
The ride up that road is just as beautiful as I remembered it and the
first glimpse of Casa Grande peak is awe-inspiring, again. In the Basin
is a lodge, camping, and many hiking trails of varying difficulty and
length. It’s about 6,000 elevation compared to the 2,600 on the desert
floor.
Out of the Basin I head West toward Study Butte (remember the
pronunciation, there’ll be a test later). Approaching the cutoff to
Santa Elena canyon I remember my first trip there. Suddenly, the left
blinker is on, check the mirrors for rear cagers. All clear ahead.
Decisive left turn and a twist of the throttle brings me AND the bike
to life as I anticipate the ride. It’s 30 miles up over a series of
mountain ridges and then down into the canyon area. Santa Elena is 1500
feet deep and the best lookout point has you looking straight into the
throat of it. A favorite float trip is from Lajitas (http://www.lajitas.com/)
down to this canyon. A more extended trip goes further downstream to
Boquillas canyon. I stop to sip a little coffee (the Nissan stainless
thermos has kept it hot since early morning). Take a few pictures. Talk
to the Gold Wing rider with his family in the Suburban — can tell he
is wishing for his bike! Time to ride out. Stopped to view Mule Ears
peaks — yep, that’s just what they look like. Have to look up the
geological history of how they got that way.
On into Study Butte and checking in. Hungry. Ever notice how our trips all
center around food and where to get it? On a tip from another tourist,
I head for “Papa Rios” which to look at is, well, just a place my wife
would not enter without serious encouragement. But my hunch is correct
and the food is great. Authentic Mexican food and it’s all prepared
freshly, one dish at a time. Glad to be back in the ‘Bend’ and with a
good meal under my belt, I’m happy. Did 354 miles today, including the
side trips. Prior to entering the Park I averaged 69.8 mph, but the
twisties dropped it to 58.2. My elevation ranged from 740 to 5540 feet
according to my Casio Triple Sensor watch.
The RT has performed flawlessly. With all the cross winds — some of which
were gusting brutally — I did figure out the “sail effect” where the
RT wants to turn into the gust, thereby maintaining a pretty good
track. I’ve heard people criticize that but I think it’s pretty
effective. Still using no oil. Amazing. The engine has smoothed out a
little more and the exhaust has become a little more pronounced. Can
almost hear the engine running now.
Sunday morning. Off into the Park again, down to Boquillas canyon area and Rio Grande Village — a camping village (http://www.big.bend.national-park.com/camping.htm).
Warm, sunny, and incredibly quiet in the picnic area. Time for a little
more coffee-sipping and contemplation. Several birders intently gazing
into binoculars. Must remember to get a compact pair to carry on the
bike. A couple of javalinas crossed the road in front of me on the way
down — the first game I’ve seen up close, other than deer. The sky is
intense blue, totally clear. Many bird sounds. A Bob White quail,
finches, many others I don’t recognize. A woodpecker is in the pine
tree just behind me but I can’t spot him. Coming into this area early,
travelling Easterly, I had the mountains silhouetted by the morning
sun. Passed an artist set up on the roadside. People beginning hikes.
Sitting here, I’m surrounded by the majestic, stark, and brutally
rugged of this area. Surely this must be where God lived while he
worked on the rest of the world.
Out of the Park, through Terlingua (now commercially developed in part, but
still quaint). It’s famous for the old ghost town, an most interesting
old cemetery, and a famous (if raucous) chili cookoff. Destination for
today is Fort Davis, via Presidio. Have never been North of Terlingua.
Through Lajitas where many people are suiting up for river rafting. And
then.
Then the road gets really interesting. The surface is rough in many places
but the stretch from there to Presidio is awesome! Steep grades, esses
that seem to continue forever, hilltop crests so sharp you wouldn’t see
an 18-wheeler approaching. Many off-camber turns immediately (operative
word is immediate) after crests of hills. Many long sweepers along with
tighter turns. Not much traffic. The country is becoming even more
stark, dry and rugged than down in the Bend. Very inhospitable. Keep
seeing “open range” warning signs — but no livestock. The drought has
really hit this area — two years in a row, and it’s dry to begin with.
Lunch at Presidio (yep, that food thing again) and North to Marfa. No reason
to stay here. At Marfa I make an executive decision to head for home.
My wife is leaving tonight for a 5-day convention and I’m really
missing her (don’t tell). Get out the map, get the GPS in hand. Plug in
a few new waypoints and turn Easterly. Quickly. I know I’ll get caught
by dark because I only left the cafe in Presidio at 2:30. By the time
it’s dark, I’m getting off of I-10 and onto US290 toward F’burg,
Johnson City and turning back North to home. It’s cold now — went
below freezing I hear later. Grips on high. Stop to report into home
and put on another pair of socks. PIAA’s spotting deer constantly now
— thankfully! Fortunately, none of them get bold. Road time today
10:45, 637 miles, avg speed 59.2 which includes the sight-seeing time.
Some of that was at a little quicker rate <vbg>. Total trip 1302
miles.
In short, the bike was flawless, time too short (my fault — could’ve
stayed gone). The Big Bend is a very unique place. Not “pretty” to some
people’s eye — but a very unique and varied environment with an
interesting ecological history. It’s out of the way. You have to be
going there to get there. Try it — you’ll like it!
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About Gil Jones

CPA/Attorney/Judge by training and trade. Hobby nut at heart with BMW m/c, computers, ham radio, kayak fishing, photography, hiking and, starting in 2010 some semi-serious running and bicycling (road and mountain bikes). Retired after 16 years on a Texas District Court bench and since 2013 have been mediating cases. I am a Credentialed Distinguished mediator (TMCA).
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