Howdy, folks, this is old Doc Yanoff reporting from Lajitas, Texas, the last stop before you cross the big river. (That would be the Rio Grande, not the Mighty Mississippi.) Why on earth, you might ask, have I traveled 1,000 miles to come out here? Good question. I have to come to the Big Bend Country to spread the gospel of Adam Gold (i.e., sell some books) and see this marvelous area for myself. (Believe it or not, this is my first trip to the Big Bend National Park!) Well, it took a while to get here (50 years) but it was worth the trip. This part of Texas is simply M-A-G-N-I-F-I-C-E-N-T! Truly some of the most stunning scenery on earth.
We left Austin on a Sunday and traveled northwest, through the charming city of Fredericksburg, which is now surrounded by an assortment of Hill Country wineries. (Yeah, we were forced to do a couple of “taste-testings.”) Then it was due west (via Interstate 10) to Fort Stockton, where we participated in another round of wine tasting and enjoyed a gourmet picnic with some distinguished local authors. I might have consumed a tad too much vino, but you know what they say… good judgment comes from experience. And experience? Well, that comes from poor judgment!
After we sobered up (and had a good night’s sleep) we turned south and drove on a VERY deserted road to the quaint western town of Marathon. (The name doesn’t quite fit, since nobody runs down there. Too hot.) After lunch we toured the famous Gage Hotel, the gem of Brewster County. (Brewster is the largest county in Texas, which is still the largest state. If you don’t count ice and snow.)
This grand hotel (see photos below) was built by Alfred Gage, a young man from Vermont, who at the age of 18, arrived in Texas with little more than a twenty-dollar gold piece in his pocket to become a rancher. (In 1878) Over the span of several decades, Mr. Gage amassed a ranching empire of over 500,000 acres, and almost died mowing the lawn on Sundays. (Just kidding about the lawn) I am the most famous writer to have ever visited the hotel, but another guy named Zane Grey also stayed there. As did Gutzon Borglum, the Mount Rushmore sculptor.
After touring the semi-deserted town of Marathon, we drove further south, spending several hours on Highway 385, which leads to Big Bend National Park and then to Terlingua, which bills itself as “The Chili Capital of the World.” (Another strange name, since it is NEVER chilly in Terlingua!) Naturally we had to visit the ghost town, which was really an old mining camp, and we were also compelled to dine at the Starlight Theatre, the town’s most famous dining venue. (The Starlight was fun to visit, and they make a fine bowl of chili and a marvelous prickly pear margarita.) Beware of drinking too many margaritas, or you might become a little prickly yourself!
The remainder of our adventure was spent at a lovely place called the Lajitas Golf Resort, which is further west. (On the border of the Rio Grande.) The golf course is known as “Blackjack’s Crossing,” because this is the very spot where General “Black Jack” Pershing crossed the river to pursue Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula, better known as “Pancho” Villa. Mr. P, as his comrades called him, was never caught by the U.S. Army, which chased him and his band of outlaws for nine months. Thus, I thought I would try to find the illusive bandido!
With the help of my trusted companion, Mr. Shawn Dunham, a rather famous cowboy-veteran, we rode into the Chihuahuan Desert to pick up the outlaw’s trail. (Shawn was also a professional rodeo bull-rider, so he was used to being around my type of bull!) We did not pick up the desperado’s trail, but we did pick up some garbage left by inconsiderate campers. I was also shown the natural rock pen where Pancho Villa kept a string of reserve horses. (He would change his mount then make a mad dash to Mexico when he was being pursued by the U.S. cavalry.)
All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend the morning, and as many of you know, I am an accomplished equestrian. (My main accomplishment is not falling off!) Shawn Dunham was a great guide (and a fascinating man) so if you’re ever down in Lajitas you should look him up and book a trail ride. You will learn a lot and have a memorable experience. (You can check him out @ http://www.shawndunham.com) Oh, and one other thing, don’t forget to thank him for his service to our country. (As in two tours of Iraq!)
Just between you and me, I wanted to ride bare back, but Shawn asked me to keep my shirt on. (I guess he didn’t want to scare the coyotes!)
I will share the remainder of my great western adventure next Sunday, so please set your clocks accordingly. In the meantime, what else is new? Well, I am happy to report that my new mystery novel, CAPONE ISLAND, will be prominently featured at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany in October. The book was recently chosen as one of the “Outstanding Mysteries of the Year,” and I’m quite excited to receive so much exposure. (The Frankfurt fair attracts about 300,000 visitors each year!) Dankeschon, my friends and supporters!
Well, that’s all for now… my strudel is getting cold. Have a safe and successful week and please remember to roll with the punches… Some days you’re the pigeon; other days you’re the statue. (There’s a lovely thought!)
Love to all,
Doc Yanoff *******PHOTOGRAPHS ATTACHED*******