Friday, April 4, 2008

Almost idyllic

Odyssey at Colorado Canyon campground

We are at the Colorado Canyon primitive campground, right on the Rio Grande, in Big Bend Ranch State Park (map).

Shortly after leaving Tres Marias yesterday, we came upon another "Y" not marked on our maps, this time a turn off for yet another new, unmarked cuota. I'm sure the cuota would have been faster and involved less hill climbing, but we elected to continue to Ojinaga on the libre (free) route.

We're glad we did. In addition to getting to see the little town of Coyame on the Rio Conchos, the road ascends through some incredibly beautiful countryside, culminating at a summit overlooking the spectacular Peguis canyon on the Conchos. This slot canyon rivals many in the US southwest, and I'm sorry we did not have the wherewithal to hike down to it for a better view.

We rolled into Ojinaga after a couple hours, and found a Pemex station with a cambio attached (I needed to change more dollars to fill up). We put in 770 liters (203 gallons) at $5.75 pesos each for a total of $4,420 pesos, around US$425 at the prevailing exchange rate of about 10.4. That figures to around $2.09 per gallon, or just over half what it costs in Presidio, Texas ($4.10 per gallon). In fact, while we fueled, several diesel pickups with Texas plates passed through the station -- folks have figured out that it's way cheaper to fill up across the border.

We paid our $37 peso (~US$3.50) 3-axle toll and crossed the bridge into the states, just downstream of the confluence of the Conchos.

At the US border station, we drew the short straw and got some buckaroo who needed to impress either his boss or perhaps the several cute young female officers on the watch. This guy was loaded for bear, insisting that we declare everything (but refusing to be clear with us about exactly what items needed to be declared), and implying that he was going to fine us (or maybe arrest us) if he found any undeclared items aboard. Sheesh, give it a rest. We had far less trouble or attention from any of the aduanas or military checkpoints in Mexico.

This time, at least, we had remembered to hard-boil the remainder of our eggs before crossing. Still, we lost a pair of nice apples and half a package of salami, all bought in Douglas, Arizona. Foolish of me, actually, to have bought the salami -- I had forgotten that lunch meats are high on the hit list. On the positive side, he did not asses any duty on our liquor cabinet or wine cellar, all of which I declared after the stern lecture.

As with last time, the head honcho wandered over to look at the bus -- this one was wearing colonel's birds on his shoulders (and I still have not cracked the Customs and Border Protection rank insignia code), and he was nothing but pleasant, as were the aforementioned cute young female officers, all of whom just absolutely had to traipse through the coach.

Ironically, after all the tough talking (and, apparently, turning on every light in the coach), they did not even ask us to open any of the bays. Once, as a mental exercise while passing through one of the numerous Border Patrol checkpoints across the southwest, we calculated how many Mexicans could be stacked in the scooter bay (without the scooters, of course), and decided it could be a couple dozen. Never once has the Border Patrol asked us to open those doors. But watch out for the salami!

After clearing customs, we made two complete circuits of the tiny burg of Presidio looking for a grocery store. There is only one, the "Thriftway", which fortunately turned out to be reasonably well stocked. No salami, though. But we were able to provision ourselves for a week or so, which is how long we're contemplating staying in Big Bend.

By this time it was fairly late in the day -- miraculously, we lost two hours as we crossed the river. Chihuahua is on Mountain Time, and Presidio is on Central Time, accounting for one hour of the difference. Mexico is on standard time right now -- their Daylight Savings Time begins this Sunday, whereas (most of) the US is on Daylight Savings already, congress having moved the date up by several weeks -- accounting for the other hour. So we rolled onto the bridge around 3pm and off it around 5pm.

Our quick tour of Presidio revealed that it lacked overnight options, nor was anything in town (such as a restaurant) appealing enough to warrant finding one. We elected instead to continue along the river on Farm Road 170, having remembered several primitive camp sites in the state park.

In order to camp here, one needs first to have paid the park entrance and camping fees, which happens at the Fort Leaton State Historic Park just east of Presidio. The park was closed when we arrived, but there is an iron ranger and a stack of permit envelopes. The risk, of course, is that you will pay your fee and then find all three of the road side camp sites either full or inaccessible. We had scoped them out three years ago, though, and figured we could get into at least one of them.

As it turns out, we had this spot all to ourselves last night, even though it can accommodate perhaps half a dozen vehicles. The river here, which is just a few yards from us, appears suitable for swimming, and we are in a small canyon with stark beauty all around us. It felt like absolutely a perfect spot as the last light faded from the day.

This morning it is equally perfect, but in the darkness of the night the spot's one defect became clear: bugs. Specifically, millions and millions of gnats.

In spite of reasonably good screens on the windows (which we had open all around because it was still in the 80's), gnats are small enough to probe their way in through whatever tiny openings present themselves, and, with even just a few dim lights (including our computer screens) on, they came inside by the thousands. We finally had to put our small table lamp on one of the counters to keep them corralled in one section of the bus, so we could use our computers (mostly) in peace. This morning I was able to shoo most of them out by opening the roof hatch, though many had to just be vacuumed up, dead or alive.

Today is cooler than yesterday, but I am hoping it will be warm enough before our 2pm checkout time to go for a quick swim in the river. Tonight, we should be in Big Bend National Park.


  1. My theory on why the border guard was so hostile is that he wanted to be part of Homeland Security after 9/11. His dream was to fight them gol-darned terrorists, but he ended up a vegetable inspector in Presidio, TX.

    Being 15 years older and 4 inches shorter than the women in his work group, his only chance at impressing them was to adopt a fierce anti-produce-smuggling attitude. Judging by the amount of eye-rolling they were doing, I'd say he definitely made an impression...

    But, hey, now he's got some salami to show off.

  2. We've found that it seems to go better at the border crossings if you have an item on the "hit" list and declare it, seems to satisfy the agents, they don't generally go farther and check anything else.


  3. We have found the same after countless border crossings. I wonder why the US border guards can't have the courtesy (but seriousness) of the Mexican aduana?

  4. I guess the cost of gas depends on what you're used to. I just got back from an 8 day jaunt up and down the east coast (from eastern Ontarioe to Jacksonville, FL). Gas averaged 3.15$/gallon. In Canadian dollars, that meant a full tank cost me 31$ish. In Canada, that same full tank currently costs me 48$ish. US gas is cheap!!! :-)

    I've really enjoyed your stories of your treks into Mexico; they have been both entertaining and educational.


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