Wednesday 5 November:
Things didn’t start out too badly. It was a little overcast when we left the hotel, but not too bad. We took the I10 out of El Paso, following the Mexican border. After about 50 miles we stopped for a short break; it had started getting cold and we had an odd spot of rain, so we put waterproofs on just in case. We only brought waterproofs just in case – we hadn’t planned to have to use them!
We returned to the I10 and the rain started with a vengeance. The I10 itself wasn’t too bad – single or dual carriageway, not very busy and quite good views, if a little flat and monotonous. The trouble was it was difficult to see the view through the rain and road spray.
About the time we were properly wet and cold we came upon another Border Control check point where they entirely failed to take sympathy on us and insisted on seeing passports. Maybe we should carry them somewhere more accessible whilst we are so close to Mexico.
We left the I10 to join Route 90 at Van Horn, where we stopped in a roadside diner called Papa’s Pantry for a break. It was basic, but a proper authentic independent diner with a clientele consisting mainly of Mexican looking truck drivers. It would have made a good lunch stop, but amazingly it was still only 9:30am, so we just had coffee.
Heading south on Route 90 the rain began to ease and then stop; it even looked like the sky may be brightening up.
We pulled up along the road to get closer look at what appeared to be a small zeppelin or large weather balloon tethered in a field and, as we were taking pictures, a large freight train rolled by on the railway line that runs parallel to the road, treating us to a honk of greeting.
We resumed our journey and, contrary to our hopes and expectations, the rain also resumed. It seemed to be getting harder and colder and the next 40 or so miles were pretty miserable. Not a moment too soon we arrived in Alpine.
Alpine is a small town of less than 6,000 people, but its main claim to fame is that it gets you onto Route 118, heading due south toward Big Bend National Park, which is where we were headed. First though we had planned to stop for lunch and found a brilliant, classic 1950s style shiny roadside diner called Penny’s: a good day for diners!
As we gathered in the diner, peeling off soaking bike gear and shivering with cold, a suggestion was made. I can’t remember who first voiced it, but we were all thinking it: do we really want to go on to Big Bend? Wouldn’t it be better instead to find a hotel in Alpine and just relax for the afternoon somewhere warm? Preferably with a hot tub and a bar…
This was not a decision to be taken lightly, we had all been looking forward to visiting the Big Bend National Park. Its name comes from the fact that it is bounded by a large bend in the Rio Grande River, 118 miles of which runs through it along with the Mexican border. It is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert in the US, covering over 800,000 acres and with more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals.
It also is of great interest to archaeologists, with an abundance of fossils, and the roads are described as superb for motorcycling – which is what we had planned to spend most of tomorrow doing.
Its main claim to fame, however, is that in 2012 it was named an International Dark Sky Park; one of only ten places on the planet certified for ‘dark sky stargazing’. To make the most of this we had booked to stay at Chisos Mountain Lodge, right in the middle of the park.
But against all of that, consider the facts: it is another 80 miles to the park, and there looks to be little prospect of a let up in the rain. The rain is also forecast to continue tomorrow. That means the biking won’t much fun and no matter how dark the sky you won’t be able to see anything through the thick layer of cloud.
We decided to stay put.
We managed to get rooms in a Holiday Inn Express and as we booked in things started looking up. They have a pool and a jacuzzi – and it is heated and indoors. And later there is a reception with free beer and nibbles, laid on for the Hadrian V-Twin guys who are also staying here for the night. We decided that the right decision had been made.
We had a lazy, relaxed afternoon and managed to get some clothes washed before getting to the reception. Annoyingly, the Hadrian V-Twin guys had left El Paso just a couple of hours after us and missed almost all of the rain.
The only downside to our revised plan was that the only realistic nearby eating option was another Pizza Hut – I didn’t come all this way to eat at Pizza Hut! Oh well, needs must…
Miles today: 220
Total miles: 1306