Posted March 6, 2019 – Narrated by Carmen
It’s a hot topic these days, the border … but throughout the winter the cities and small towns along the US-Mexico border are mostly known as sunny and warm Margaritaville getaways – a hidden paradise.
We’re border people
I’d never really thought about it till now, but I guess we’re border people. Like many San Diego County youngsters, Jim and I crossed frequently into Tijuana with our families to purchase inexpensive dry goods, fresh hand-made tortillas, hand-tooled leather belts, hats, purses, bottles of vanilla.
Mama taught us how to shop. Her eye for quality and bargaining skills – honed while stationed in Naples during the cold war – and her southern charm captured the Tijuana street vendors and store managers. Mama’s sweet deals usually ended in smiles and an enduring business relationship.
Loaded up like burrows with Mama’s purchases, she herded us through the hot and crowded midday market into the cool and cavernous “Cafe La Especial” at the foot of the stairs in downtown Tijuana,” as the TV announcer crooned in a velvety hispanic baritone on Channel 6.
Back in the 70’s, the Mexican stations broadcasting from Tijuana provided the best television and radio reception – perhaps due to the deep canyons and solid granite Jacumba Mountain range to the east. Ads for decorative tile, car mechanics, vehicle upholstery, glassware, furniture and clothing dominated the media. My favorite garments were from Mexico. I even bought my wedding dress in Tijuana for seven dollars.
But the best reward for a day trip to Mexico was the bag of assorted Mexican pastries Mama bought to keep us occupied during the hot, miserable border commute in our non air-conditioned Plymouth Fury station wagon. Good times.
Always up for a drive into rocky territory, we took the eastern route from San Diego in January to visit some old places that we’ve never seen along the U.S. border.
Nothing edgy about it.
It was just cold and wet, and we needed to dry out.
With the SoCal drought finally broken, we pulled out in a deluge. In Tucson we met up with Dad, my sister Deborah who was there for the Gem and Mineral show, and several other family members. But, just 400 miles from San Diego, Tucson was cold, wet and windy, too. The harsh winter weather west of the Rockies has sent many of our full-timing friends further south into Texas and Mexico.
There’s no getting around it, both sides of the border are luring more seasonal travelers than ever. This year, we’re visiting the southernmost destinations along the U.S. side of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers where diverse cultures relax into a mutually beneficial peace and harmony.
Hey, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with Yuma.
When we were kids it was a dusty encampment with mostly run down temporary housing in non-conforming neighborhoods – a place to ride dirt-bikes and dune buggies and boon-dock in the open desert beside the Colorado river.
At some point the San Diego Padres started Spring training exercises there and the gentrification began.
Now, the Palm Springs style golf courses with neat upscale pueblo-style neighborhoods draw retired San Diegans and Angelinos who are energizing this historic desert outpost.
Last year, we spent Christmas in Yuma sipping date shakes at Martha’s Gardens, cycling the bike path along the canal, hiking in The Painted Desert, kayaking the Colorado and cooling off at Prison Hill Brewery.
While passing through on February 1st – thanks to Harvest Hosts – we enjoyed a quiet and scenic overnight stay at the beautiful Las Barrancas Golf Course. The next morning we set out for …
Deming, New Mexico
Why does New Mexico have such beautiful skies?!
Within moments of crossing the border we had the sensation of floating on that New Mexico cloud magic as we drove toward our favorite steak house, Adobe Deli. We shared the ribeye and ordered an extra French Onion soup and potato.
After dinner the manager invited us to proceed into the dance hall where a fine oldies band played love songs for the Valentines weekend crowd. But we didn’t want to overdo it. Instead, we turned in early right there in the parking lot while the band serenaded us into a blissful red-meat red-wine slumber.
We woke early to get a move on to …
Mesilla, New Mexico
… where we had a breakfast bowl at The Bean Cafe …
and took a walk through the historic town.
That afternoon we entered Texas …
and just passed through busy El Paso …
and drove over more falling rocks into …
San Elizarios, Texas
… where we pulled into our Harvest Host destination, Licon Dairy – a farm, just off the ancient El Camino Real Historic Route.
On the morrow we’d head into the outback, so we used this opportunity to stock up on fresh produce, yard eggs and Asadero cheese cultivated right there on the premises.
The friendly staff recommended a short walk – past a freshly plowed field and a pecan orchard – to Sophia’s Restaurant where everything is made in house with fresh local ingredients.
… Then, we strolled home wondering what it would be like to sleep beside a camel.
Camel spooning turned out to be no big deal, and we hung onto that adventurous spirit as we set out for Marfa. First we stopped in Fort Hancock, Texas, for amazing Huevos Rancheros and screaming WiFi at Angie’s…
and then, not long after a border patrol check-point down the road a bit …
we merged into the land of mystery lights, cowboys, and posers …
But it was a mistake to arrive on Monday.
Nothing happens in Marfa, Alpine or Marathon till Wednesday and we were due to be in Big Bend National Park on Thursday.
And, it was cold and windy – even for the high desert. But, we made the best of it, dropping in the few places that were open in Marfa …
We took a free self-guided tour of the courthouse …
and had margaritas and sweet potato poutine at the world famous Paisano Hotel (where Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean stayed during the filming of the movie, Giant in 1956) …
The next day we toured beautiful Alpine, home of the Cowboy Poetry Festival …
but nearly every restaurant was closed, so later that night we made use of our wise purchase at Licon and made “breakfast for dinner” – Huevos Rancheros with a cheesy verde sauce …
On Monday and Tuesday nights we took advantage of the free overnight parking at the Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Area …
… where Jim met full-timing RV friends on the viewing platform. Christina and Ben from “The McMilan Express” had just returned from Big Bend and recommended we stay at Marathon RV and Motel – about a quarter-mile walk to The Gate Hotel and The legendary White Buffalo Bar. We took them up on that wise suggestion and we’re passing it on. Hopefully, we will meet up again with Christina and Ben.
After a dinner of beet tacos and a spicy Texas rose, we walked home to watch GIANT – filmed only a few miles from The Gage Hotel – to get a sense of the unique layers and cross-cultural dovetailing that make West Texas a legacy of international acclaim …
… as the following day we would embrace our new home on the range for the first time and settle into what we feel is the best camping spot in Big Bend – just steps from the unwalled and unfenced bank of the majestic and expansive Rio Grande.
Via con dios, Amigos!
18 thoughts on “Hugging The Border”
Man, all that nice food. I had to take another Amlodapine tablet for my blood pressure after reading your post. You guys find the most amazing places to visit without making reservations. What’s your secret?
Hey Kelvin! I can’t believe I ate the WHOLE thing 😀
Our “secret” to finding great places to stay is a lot of luck and a NOT making reservations. We’ve had mixed results on reservations – about 50/50. Sometimes they are a good idea, other times not so much and we wish we’d stayed someplace else. We don’t make reservations that are not refundable … well, maybe if it’s in a great location and there is only a minor charge for a cancellation, but not as a rule. Through trial and error we’ve chosen a no-reservations style of travel because it gives us more freedom to stay where we want. Occasionally, we will make a reservation if it’s a place that we know well or have had a first-hand recommendation through someone we know. But unless it’s prime season, we take a chance because most campgrounds keep a few sites for last-minute, first-come-first serve guests. I think we’ve only been turned away 1-3 times in three years! But, if there’s nothing available or we just want to save $ we always have free places to crash through Harvest Hosts, Allstays and Freecampsites.net. Jim is currently working a blog about all of these details.
Always great to hear from you, Kelvin. Where are you two right now?
I’m sure our paths will cross again! And until then, we’ll visit through this magical blog that captures the essence of seeing the country the best possible way:-) Those Big Bend sunsets are like no other!
So embarrassed that I didn’t venture out into the freezing temperatures to meet you two. Now, I realize that we were both coming down sick with a cold. We still have the sniffles, but are on the mend. Next time!
Nicely done, what a great story… but that’s what we’ve come to expect from you guys! We enjoyed a similar eastward trek form Chula Vista to Texas in springtime 2018. We visited several of the places mentioned in your post. As much as we’ve loved previous experiences in BBNP, this time we docked at Alpine and day-tripped from there. There’s so much to enjoy in the desert Southwest… too much to list without starting our own blog. We shall return! Thanks for sharing LIB experiences!
Hey JJ! Thanks so much for being with us. Yes, now we realize that two weeks in Big Bend isn’t more than a howdy-do. But we’ll be back. Next visit we’d like to stay for at least a month – probably early Spring again. Stay in Terlingua for two weeks, then Chisos Basin for two weeks and then finish where we were in Rio Grande Village in the no-generator, no hook-ups, first-come-first-serve area (gorgeous sites!).
We loved Alpine! We should stay there, too. I’m sad to have missed the Cowboy Poetry Festival by a couple of weeks. That MUST be on our schedule next time!
Hi, I’m heading to the big bend area in early April. Were you boobdocking? If so. Do you share your location? Did you get to Chinati Hot Springs? They have a couple camp spots.
We were camping in Rio Grande Village in a first-come-first-serve site. Just a few weeks before we arrived we had made a reservation for a campsite over the internet for a 30′ travel trailer. But when we arrived the site was not even close to being a fit for us. The campground host intervened and fitted us in a gorgeous site in the first-come-first-serve area. The campground hosts are top-notch managers – very professional. If you don’t need hook-ups you’re gold at Rio Grande Village. There is potable water but you will need a bucket. The showers are horrible, so don’t even think it. I would pay $2 for a good shower but these are not worth it. Just take bird baths and use the potable water faucet for your cooking needs, buy ice at the store and you shouldn’t have to move. But if you do have to go to the dump station, pre-pay, notify the campground host and also leave some items in your spot to signal ownership. We didn’t have to move for 14 days. It’s a fantastic campground! Sunsets are AMAZING!
Please let us know how it goes for you and …
Amazing stops, great discoveries, and picture-perfect scenery. Thanks for sharing your adventures. Looking forward to the next stop.
Thank you so much for being with us. Our 100th blog entry will be about Big Bend!
We were there last March, great place to visit, bought a walking stick down on the border.
Hey Darryl and Toni! Gracias for being with us!
Oh my! I bought so many gifts for friends and family in that area!
Like the pictures! Enjoy!
Thank you, Ken!
All the pictures are beautiful, but your bride photo is my favorite. Love your dress! Amy
Awwww … thank you, Amy. We need to get together next time in San Diego. Miss you. xoxo
We are so glad you guys finally spent some time in Texas AND enjoyed the experience! Eating at the Gage Hotel is always a wonderful experience. While I have spent a lot of time in the BBNP area, specifically in Terlingua for the World Chili Cookoff, Judy has never been there; we plan to spend a couple of weeks there in early 2020. Glad the Bluebonnets were in bloom. Hope to see you guys again soon. Safe travels and come see us in Little Rock or NTAC/Hillsboro.
Michael & Judy Shelley
Hey Micheal and Judy! We were in bluebonnet heaven. I never thought I’d see such a display in my life. I don’t think my photos can explain the phenomena. We will be in Texas for the next 45 days. Texas will #5 on our “days most spent” list. Is that good enough ;-D We love it here. So much history, intrigue and beauty. Let’s make plans to meet up!
Jim and Carmen