Posted March 6, 2019 – Narrated by Carmen
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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.
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
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 …
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!