Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oasis at Guadalupe Mountains National Park!

Smith Spring
There's a place--on of our favorite places, in fact--that's a respite from the heat and sun of the desert, and that's the Smith Spring trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Here's what the park's website says about the trail:
"Begin this hike at the trailhead sign. Look for birds, mule deer, and elk as you walk this loop trail to the shady oasis of Smith Spring. Take a break here and enjoy the gurgling sounds of the tiny waterfall before continuing around to sunny Manzanita Spring. Scars from wildland fires of 1990 and 1993 are evident along the trail. The trail is rated moderate, with a round-trip distance of 2.3 miles. Allow one to two hours."

Manzanita Spring
 When you get to the spring itself, you'll feel shaded and cool.  And this summer, what's better than that!?!

For more photos of this neat trail, visit our flickr slideshow.  

For information about regional hiking opportunities, visit our hiking page!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Farmers Markets and Fresh Food!

A fruit tart at Marfa Farmstand

Van Horn built a special building on their main street to give produce vendors a permanent place to buy fresh food.

Produce at Marfa Farmstand

Hungry?  We've added a new page to our Texas Mountain Trail website to guide you to the farmers markets and artisanal food in the region.  From Alpine, to Marfa, to Van Horn and Fort Davis, to El Paso there are places to buy fresh food! 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Tumbleweed Times, History for Kids and Families!

One of the fun aspects of our Texas Mountain Trail program--made possible through our association with the Texas Historical Commission--is our ability to send grant money to worthy projects in Far West Texas that engage folks with history.  Last year, one of the grant recipients was the Tumbleweed Times, sponsored by the El Paso County Historical Commission, the El Paso Independent School District and the El Paso Public Library.  Jeryl Marcus of El Paso wrote and edited the newspaper for schoolchildren all across our six county region in the westernmost portion of the state.

The Fun Page, click in the image to enlarge it!

The four-page, black and white monthly publication has the look, feel and format of a local newspaper. It presents information in a child-friendly, easy-to-read manner and is designed to capture the interest and imagination of both children and adults.

The back page of each issue has a review and retention section – or “Fun Page” with games, puzzles and other clever activities based on information that can be found elsewhere in the paper.  (Click on the large image to read a fun page...our favorite is the maze featuring Van Horn's museum cat!)

A website ( is a dynamic, colorful supplement to the newspaper. Readers can log on to the website in order to submit feedback, or to offer story ideas, suggestions, letters-to-the-editor, etc.

Both the online and printed versions include the sponsor information and logos as preferred by each of the following sponsor organizations: Texas Heritage Trails Program; Texas Historical Commission of El Paso; El Paso Independent School District; and the El Paso Public Library.

Distribution to elementary schools: Each student in grades three through five received his or her own free copy to read in class and take home to share it with parents, siblings, extended family and others. Teachers, principals and librarians received their own copies as well.

El Paso Independent School District
Alpine Elementary School
Ft. Bliss Post Exchange (PX)
Eagle Elementary School (Van Horn
Marfa Elementary School
El Paso International Airport:
El Paso Visitors and Convention Center
El Paso Public Library
and other locations across the region

Visit Tumbleweed Times' website for more photos and features! 

Monday, June 27, 2011

How about a sunrise to start the week? Big Bend Ranch State Park


Waking up to a wilderness sunrise is one of the joys of visiting our region.  Here's some photos of a remote campsite in Big Bend Ranch State Park in the morning, the Papalote Llano Nuevo campsite.  Large expansesof desert, mountains, sky and cacti.  Lovely!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Touring the Mission Trail

Have you wanted to tour El Paso's Mission Trail, but didn't want to drive yourself...or you wanted someone to share the incredible history of the area with you?  Now you can get aboard the Mission Trail Experience, a guided van tour to take you to all the neat places along the Trail.
Recently, we heard from the folks at the Mission Trail Experience, and they described their tour this way: 
Confined to plutonium-powered DeLoreans and unwieldy telephone booths, time travel is a dangerous and mischief-baiting activity. Instead, let history repeat itself as often as you can stand it with a tour on the Mission Trail Experience.

Choose between the following options: For $25, you get a ticket for the San Elizario Historic District Tour. For $40, you get a ticket for the entire 9-mile corridor, Mission Trail Tour. Mission Trail Experience walks history lovers through El Paso's past on tours that explore museums and offer eyes feasts of architecture dating back to the days of Spanish colonization. The three- to four-hour tour of the San Elizario historical district pauses at 17 sites of local and historical importance, such as the colonial Presidio Chapel and the Old County Jail. Embark on the four- to five-hour Mission Trail tour to venture farther afield, visiting the colonial Ysleta and Socorro missions, along with the San Elizario chapel and the Tigua Indian Cultural Center.

Both tours include lunch and allow sightseers time to peruse nearby art galleries and shops, ideal for purchasing souvenirs that can prove your whereabouts to jealous golden retrievers. Though not included in the value, the shuttle service connects the tours to eight local hotels ($8 charge), with rides available to and from the tour sites. See It! Feel It! Believe It!

For more information, visit the Mission Trail Experience's website, here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jack Comics' Mel, the Kangaroo Rat!

From time to time, we ask photographers and artists to share their work on the Daily Photo.  We featured Chris Ruggia's Jack Comics on June 16...and here's more from Chris!

Mel is a Kangaroo Rat. There are several Dipodomys species in the Big Bend area, and I never did settle on just one. There is a small species (Merriam’s - Dipodomys merriami) that lives where my story takes place, but I also gave Mel some of the more complicated social interactions from a larger species (Banner-tailed - Dipodomys spectabilis) that occurs a bit farther North.

The hook that really got Mel’s character started was the idea that the small rodent is the biomass that drives much of the desert food chain. If they had human thoughts and feelings, I thought, they’d be bound to feel put upon, and so Mel’s conspiracy theories were born.

Much of his character revolves around this resentment of predators. He schemes of ways to organize and fight back, and has several dream sequences with various fantasies of power.

After I’d got started, Nature Conservancy biologist John Karges loaned me his copy of Special Publication #10 from the American Society of Mammalogists, Biology of the Heteromyidae, which outlined almost everything known to date about kangaroo rats.

Mel’s interactions with his family (episodes 20, 21, and 30), the cheek pouches where he stores seeds for later use (episodes 42, 43, and 50), and even the detailed choreography of his fight over a burrow with another kangaroo rat (episode 33) all come from notes I took while reading this book.

John Karges was consistently encouraging and helpful to me in developing Jack. In fact, he suggested the Grasshopper Mouse as a subject, which let to a whole comic book of its own. Be sure to thank him for me if you run into him!

Read more of Jack: Adventures in Texas' Big Bend at, or follow it on Facebook at

Thanks again to Alpine's Chris Ruggia for introducing his Big Bend characters of Jack Comics! 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dining on the Sunset Limited

Eating in Amtrak's Sunset Limited's dining car allows travelers to meet and visit with fellow adventurers.  The staff will seat you, and to our pleasure, we dined with a family coming back from a trip to Big Bend.  Their mission--besides having a great time--was to work on a series of children's books starring Explorer Bear (pictured above).   The family was charming.  Here "EB" is seated in front of the herb roasted half chicken, with vegetable medley (orange and yellow carrots, red bell peppers, green beans) and rice pilaf.  We also ordered dessert, in our case, a cheesecakey, cold lemon-berry tart.  It was rich and satisfying for all four of us to share!   Visit this page to download a Sunset Limited Dining Car menu as well as the National Cafe Car menu.  (Check the right side of the page, under Downloadable Info.)

We enjoyed the full view of the scenery from our table in the dining car...notice the plates and fresh flowers on the table!    During dinner, my companions told me about taking the train from San Antonio to Alpine, renting a car and heading to Big Bend National Park, and all about their hiking adventures there.  They had a terrific time and are eager to come back to work on more adventures with Explorer Bear!

We'll continue our series on traveling to the region by train after our return trip from Houston to Alpine.  (You can also reach our region on Amtrak through the El Paso station, which has full baggage services, which means you can travel with your bike!)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

From our seat on the Sunset Limited, Views of the Texas Pecos Trail region

Today, we continue our journey on Amtrak's Sunset Limited, and the views we saw from our seat aboard the train.  We boarded the train in Alpine in early afternoon, which meant we traveled past some of the Texas Pecos Trail's scenic attractions in the waning (beautiful) light of the day. 
View from the Pecos River Bridge
We didn't miss anything, because the crew made announcements about each of these spots in plenty of time to fish cameras out of our luggage.  Our first photo opportunity in our neighboring Texas Pecos Trail was the Pecos River Bridge...check this page for photos of the bridge and a summary of its interesting history.  There's another neat photo of it here.
Lake Amistad at sunset
 Our next photo opportunity was Lake Amistad at sunset!  This is a national recreation area administered by the National Park Service.  Their website describes the area this way: 
"Amistad NRA is the United States portion of International Amistad Reservoir, formed on the Rio Grande along the border of the US and Mexico. Amistad is known for excellent water-based recreation, camping and is surrounded by a landscape rich in prehistoric rock art, a vibrant border culture, along with a wide variety of plant and animal life."
Near Del Rio, the Rio Grande and beyond that, Mexico!
As the train rolled towards Del Rio, the Rio Grande came into view.  One of the things we like about train travel is the opportunity to see homes and ranches and farms not normally seen from the road.  In addition to the sights here; we saw lots of goats, cattle and horses; dogs frolicking in an orchard after dinner; a large family barbecue and party with balloons hung in every tree in the yard! 

In our Texas Mountain Trail region, you can board the train in El Paso or Alpine, and travel the Sunset Limited or Texas Eagle lines.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

From our seat aboard the Sunset Limited, views from the train from Alpine to Houston, part 1

We boarded the train at the Amtrak station in Alpine on Saturday afternoon, as the town was celebrating at their Fiesta del Sol.  We hopped aboard the Sunset Limited, stowing our large suitcase downstairs, and made our way to our assigned seat on the upper level. 
We wanted to take this journey by train, because we wanted to experience something new to share with our travelers to the region, but also, we confess we wanted some time to decompress and think.  Driving or flying didn't seem as conducive to actually relaxing, so we opted for the train...besides, it was a great adventure!

One of the neat surprises--in addition to having plenty of space in our car, so it was relatively quiet--was the ability to really SEE the landscape outside.  We headed out of Alpine and saw the magnificent mountains on the way to Marathon, and of course, the beautiful cloudfilled, blue sky.  Yes, these were all taken from our seat aboard the installment, the sights from the Sunset Limited in our neighboring Texas Pecos Trail region!

Today's post

Blogger is not letting us upload photos for you today...we'll post as soon as they let us!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New bike route: from cycle-friendly Hyatt Place to downtown El Paso and back!

Park your bike in your room!
 Our friends at put together an easy 12.8 mile (roundtrip) route from the very first Texas Mountain Trail cycle-friendly hotel, the Hyatt Place Airport El Paso, to downtown and back.

Starting Point:  Hyatt Place El Paso Airport, 6030 Gateway Blvd. E., El Paso, TX 79905
Phone 915-771-0022; Fax 915-771-0599,
Cycle-friendly features include: oversized guest rooms for safe storage of bikes, purchase freshly made breakfasts/lunches/snacks packs for cycling adventures , complimentary shuttle to airport and within 3 mile radius, 24 hour fitness center, outdoor pool, laundry/valet services, and more.
flowering cholla at Concordia Cemetery

Grave of gunfighter John Wesley Hardin
The route includes a swing by El Paso's historic Concordia Cemetery.  In the shadow of the Franklin Mountains, this is a wonderful stop, especially for history enthusiasts.  There's a special section for Buffalo soldier graves, for Chinese railway workers, for El Paso's earliest settlers, including famed gunfighter John Wesley Hardin!

Interior of the restored Plaza Theatre
 in downtown El Paso!

The El Paso Museum of Art is in the heart of downtown!

Downtown El Paso, the destination for this bike route offers so much to do!  There's a museum "campus" with so many great spots to visit--the Museum of Art, the Museum of History, a railroad museum, holocaust museum, science museum, and more, and more!

Historic Union Station still serves Amtrak...get off the train,
unpack your bike and head down this route
to the cycle-friendly Hyatt Place!

Dancers performing at one of El Paso's great downtown festival a Day of the Dead performance outside the El Paso Museum of History!
For more images from this route, visit our flickr slideshow, here.

For full route information from the website, click here

For a link to the Hyatt Place hotel, click here.

For regional cycling information for Far West Texas and the Texas Mountain Trail, including a full list of cycle-friendly hotels, click here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

River Road Bike Route!

Bike route on the River Road, Hwy 170, click on the photo for a closer view!
Some places capture the imagination more than others...and one of the best is the winding, exciting, Hwy 170, "the River Road" between Presidio and Terlingua.  Not only is it a great driving and motorcycling road, but it is a challenging, yet thoroughly satisfying bike route...check it out!  Much of the route cuts through the edge of Big Bend Ranch State Park, and slides by the Rio Grande. 

For more regional cycling information, visit:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Historic area of Lajitas

Calvary Post area of Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa
On the scenic River Road, between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, sits Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa where a calvary post was established at the turn of the 20th century as a result of the Mexican Revolution.  Today that Calvary post offers comfortable accommodations, from standard rooms to deluxe officer quarter rooms with a view.  They also have boardwalk suites, condos and cottages if you prefer more space, privacy or luxury.

Lajitas offers a whole host of services, including: 

Click on the photo to read the history!
Cowboy Art Gallery
Equestrian Center
General Store & Deli
Gift Shop
Golf - Black Jack's Crossing Championship Golf Course
Hunt Club
Longhorn Museum
Red Rock Outfitters - Activities Desk
Rio Grande Walking Trail
RV Park
Shopping On Site
Swimming Pools
Tack & Saddle Store
Fossil Museum

Do you like to shoot, ride the river, or ride on horseback or mountain bike, shop, play golf?  Check out Lajitas Resort!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Important Discovery: An 11,000 Year Old Paleoindian Site in the Big Bend

Are you fascinated by early history and archaeology?  Want to learn about the biggest discoveries?  We've got a place for you...the Center for Big Bend Studies, on the campus of Sul Ross State University in Alpine.

Deep below the surface of the desert, at a "needle in a haystack" location at the foot of a mountain in rural Brewster County, the Genevieve Lykes Duncan site was discovered by the Center for Big Bend Studies a few months ago.  There are components from the Early Paleoindian (ca. 9500 BC to 8200 BC) and Late Paleoindian (ca. 8200 BC to 6500 BC) cultures.  Early hearths were found, as well as debitage (debris from stone tool manufacture), scattered charcoal and bits of bone.  The site will require much more study to learn all it has to offer scientists and scholars.

Yes, we're teasing you with this information, because we want to encourage you to become a member of the Center for Big Bend Studies and receive their detailed newsletter on early regional history and archaeology.  Their most recent newsletter, Volume 22 of La Vista de la Frontera, talks about the get it, you need to join.  Memberships start as low as $35, but that's a bargain as you'll be the first to learn more about this exciting discovery! 

Want to get a taste before you sign up?  Previous issues of the newsletter are all available for download FREE of charge, here!

Friday, June 17, 2011

New Cycle-Friendly Hotel in the CENTER of things!

 El Paso is our gateway city, our urban center, and a place of surprising charms.  It is also on Adventure Cycling Association's Southern Tier Route, and sees many cross-country cyclists as they travel coast to coast from California to Florida.

Downtown El Paso has a surprising number of museums (Museum of Art, Museum of History, Holocaust Museum and Study Center, Insights Science Museum, Railroad and Transportation Museum, and the Lynx Exhibits, not to mention the historic Plaza Theatre, and the Visitor Center at the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau.  There's plenty to see and to there.

And now, a downtown hotel has joined our growing list of cycle-friendly properties, happy to provide special services to all their guests, but especially those on bicycles:. 

Holiday Inn Express-Central, 400 E. Missouri, El Paso, TX 79901 Phone 915-544-3333, Fax 915-533-4109,
Cycle friendly features include: In-room storage for bikes, deluxe express start breakfast buffet, outdoor heated pool, 24 hr fitness center, on site laundry facility and dry cleaning services, business center, free high speed internet, located in the heart of downtown El Paso near bike routes. And for cyclists combining train travel with your journey, the property is near the Amtrak station too!
Whether you're planning a trip cross-country by bike, or just enjoying our gateway city, consider the friendly folks at the Holiday Inn Express-Central!  (Lots of space for your bike in that room!)

For regional cycling adventures, check out our webpage: !!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jack Comics!

Click on the comic for a closer view!
From time to time, we invite folks to share their images of Far West Texas and the Texas Mountain Trail, it is cartoonist Chris Ruggia!

In January 2005, Alpine-based cartoonist Chris Ruggia launched the first episode of his natural history comic, Jack: Adventures in Texas' Big Bend.

Since then, he has followed along with Jack (a black-tailed jackrabbit) and Mel (a kangaroo rat) as they've encountered other Chihuahuan Desert denizens -- and done their best to avoid being eaten by them.

The story is set in the desert scrub near the base of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park (take the Paint Gap road early in the morning and you'll probably see a few of Jack's compatriots), and wherever possible each character's personality is based on the actual life cycle, diet and behavior of its real-life counterpart.

The comic just posted its 50th installment at and a new facebook page ( features a peek at the comic in progress and announcements of new episodes.

Two printed comic books featuring Jack and his world are also available at, as well as the following shops in the area: The Murphy Street Raspa Co., Front Street Books, the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center , and the Panther Junction Bookstore in Big Bend National Park (

 "Stay the future, we'll ask Chris to come back and show us Mel, (the  kangaroo rat), the earless lizard, and spadefoot toads!"

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gosh what a pretty sky!

Don't we have the pretties skies in Far West Texas?  Taken in Marfa this spring!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Treats from Bowie Bakery!

We've featured them before, but we wanted to do it again, because their pastries are SO good!  Just a mile or so from downtown El Paso there's a special neighborhood bakery with a history as rich as the pastries.  Check out Bowie Bakery, on 901 S. Park in Central El Paso, or their new westside location at 5000 Doniphan. Mexican breads, cakes and pastries amply fill the cases each morning.  Definitely worth checking out!

Read our original post about this wonderful place, the Bowie Bakery

Monday, June 13, 2011

Andromeda Strain!

Science fiction fans!  Michael Crichton fans! Take note!

The opening scenes of The Andromeda Strain (1971), stars a completely recognizable Shafter, Texas.  Called Piedmont, NM in the film, Shafter is the the spot--so the story goes--where a U.S. military satellite has crashed, releasing "something from space," that has killed most of the town's residents.  Since the movie was filmed in Shafter, little has changed...see it for yourself as you head down Hwy 67 from Marfa to Presidio!

The story was penned by Michael Crichton (credits include ER, Jurassic Park and many others), and directed by Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Star Trek: the Motion Picture and many others).

More information on The Andromeda Strain, including a clip is here.  We saw it ourselves recently on download!