Texas Traveler: Heading Home from Big Bend

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Ed. Note: This is the sixth part in a series about driving to Big Bend National Park and back.

This might be Too Much Information, but after three days of camping in the desert and one long 14-mile hike, Texas Traveler was ready for a shower come Saturday. We woke up in the morning, glutes sore from the previous days' hikes, and packed up our tent as well as our frozen fingers would allow. We got lucky on our trip to Big Bend -- the weather had been in the high 50s and sunny -- but that didn't mean the nights and mornings weren't freezing, which lead to unpleasant combination of being both sweaty and cold at the same time.

Our friends had arrived to the park a day before we did and reported that before we left, we absolutely MUST go to the southern border and check out the old hot spring. With a 12-hour drive staring us in the face, a rinse-off in bubbling hot water sounded like the perfect solution for our soreness and stankyness.

In the early days of Big Bend, mercury mines dotted the landscape. In the early 1900s, a town built up around a tiny hot spring on the banks of the Rio Grande, which served 21-day cures to the workers of the mines. By the 1920s, the town had grown into a full-fledged resort. All that's left now are the sun-bleached remnants of the post office and guest house, along with artifacts of a much earlier civilization in the form of petroglyphs on a cliff overlooking the Rio Grande.

And the small pool, with its 105º water, remains, also overlooking the Rio Grande. The road to the spring is rough and narrow, but the hike is quite easy and pleasant. Steam rose from the rocky pool as we soaked our tired, chilled bones in the "restorative" waters.

After the hot spring it was time to hit the road. We'd toyed briefly with the idea of taking I-10 back to Houston, to see the Caverns of Sonora, but instead we decided to go home the route we came, SH 90 to San Antonio. Our first stop was Marathon, where we discovered the the Gage Hotel is only open for dinner. A few doors south, though, we were able to get an excellent patty melt at El Peppercorn Cafe.

Our goal was to make it to Seminole Canyon State Park by 2 p.m. to take the guided pictographs hike, since we'd missed it a week before due to bad weather. But we'd lingered too long at the hot spring, so, knowing we wouldn't make it in time we opted to stop in Langtry instead and tour the charming Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center.

Roy Bean was a true West Texas character -- a dueling gambler and somewhat corrupt saloon owner-turned lawman who practiced his own form of justice in the wilderness of the West. Once, when orchestrating a gigantic boxing match in the Langtry area, Bean was told he couldn't have the fight in Texas or Mexico because boxing was illegal in both places. So what'd he do? Held off on announcing the location of the fight until the last minute, then set up a boxing ring on a sandbar in the middle of the Rio Grande River.

In between Del Rio and San Antonio we took a few minutes to drive around the town of Castroville, TX, the Alsatian capitol of the state. Settled by Alsatian immigrants during the adelsverein, the town boasts French/German restaurants, a historic cemetery and probably the best kolaches in Texas. It's now marked on the map for a future Texas Traveler expedition.

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