Monday, February 16, 2009

February 16, 2009 Stillwell Store & Ranch

There was moisture in the air when we left Ft. Clark Springs ... but it was not enough to need the wipers. Just something you felt on the air. This area of Texas had severe floods in September of 2007 ... nothing since. The drought is evident everywhere. Water restrictions are commonplace in restaurants and everything is sere and dusty. We drive through the questionable town of Comstock and into the Seminole Canyon State Park. It is a scenic drive and we are in no hurry. The Pecos River is fairly big and at the bottom of a large chasm. I love looking at the striations in the rock walls along the road. We stop in Langtry, Texas .. home of Judge Roy Bean. It is really just an intersection where the main draw is the Judge Roy Bean visitor center. It is a recreation of the store/saloon/seat of justice that the "Judge" ran in the late 1800's. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Pecos County and was the only law "west of the Pecos" for quite a bit of time. When an accused was brought in to his store he took off his apron, hauled out his law book and notary seal, and assembled a jury from his customers. Sometimes he actualy used the law book, but just as often he based his rulings on his own sense of "frontier justice", backed up by the six-shooter he kept on the "Bench". There is little evidence that he ever hanged anybody ... the harshest punishment was to fine a horse thief every cent and valuable he owned (including his horse and gun) and then expel him from Langtry under the threat of a noose. The hazards of trying to get to "civilization" when you are on foot with no money and no gun are enough to make any tough guy see the error of his ways. There is another cool thing here at the Center ... a self-guided "Cactus Garden" that has examples of cacti and shrubs that are found in the area. Yucca, Prickly Pear, Agaves, Saguaro, and more .. so many of them also have the medicinal uses noted ... pioneers and the Indians before them had a whole pharmacy at hand.
We keep looking for a spot to have lunch. Sanderson is a bit larger than Langtry, but the only place we see is not inviting. One of the beautys of Texas is that there are these little areas every 40 miles or so for folks to pull off the road and picnic or rest and get out of their cars. The beauty of travelling in an RV is that you have your kitchen with you! We can stop, make lunch, fire up the generator and brew a pot of coffee and discuss the route. While doing all that, I called ahead to a place we picked at random out of a guidebook and secured a place for a few nights. We want to camp outside Big Bend at first. It is a good 50 miles or so into the National park to a campground. We don't want to get there and find that there is no room!

So ... we find the Stillwell Store and RV Park. Now ... when I call this place a lady answers and says, "Sure! I got plenty of room! Y'all come on down here! But fill up your tanks at Sanderson! They charge too much for fuel and propane in Marathon, and you will pay even more in the park!" Sanderson is this little town that looked like something out of the TV version of Stephen King's "The Stand". We saw NOTHING alive except one dog. It was the middle of the day ... there were cars on the street .. STREET (just the one) ... and not one human being. Eerie. but we trundle on another 40 miles or so on I-90 and then turn south at the town of Marathon onto Rt 385. This leads directly into Big Bend Park and we are deep in the Chihuahuan Desert. It is barren and dry and harsh and very, very beautiful. 46 more miles of nothingness on 385 and we turn off onto FM2627. The "FM" designation is something peculiar to Texas, I am told, and it stands for "Farm to Market". Kind of like "RR" or Rural Route, elsewhere. 6 more miles of nuthin' and we are suddenly at the Stillwell Ranch. We see a low combination of buildings and trailers on one side of the road, surrounded by a conglomeration of campers, 5th-wheels and motorhomes. Across the road is a very large parking area with more hook-ups and a few more trailers, and the gates to the "Stillwell 4 Ranch". This place is a testimony to one family's effort to hold on to their land and ranch no matter what. We are greeted in the store by "Nan", who tells us to "Pick our spot" and gives us a brief history of the ranch.

Her grandmother "Hallie Crawford Stillwell" came to the ranch as a new bride in 1918. In 1916 she was a schoolteacher in Presidio, just across the Rio Grande from Panch Villa's stomping ground. Her family was upset with her decision to be independent and follow the profession she prepared for, but she had a very determined streak. After she fell for Roy Stillwell (20 years her senior) and told her family she was going to marry him, they tried to talk her out of it. They felt he was a reprobate who drank too much, gambled, and was just not suitable. She told them "I'd rather be an old man's darling than a young man's slave!" and they got hitched. Her family relented, and off she went. She lived to the age of 99 .. 2 months and 2 days short of her hundredth birthday. she is almost a legend in South Texas. Her obituary was carried in the New York Times.

Look at the kind of thing you can stumble across when you roam around the Country!!! We stayed there 2 nights ... enjoying live music in "Hallie's Hall of Fame" (a museum full of artifacts from Hallie's life on the ranch) and beautiful, starry skies that had us sitting out in our recliners with blankets until very late ... just looking at the heavens. These folks don't live lavishly, but they are rich in scenery and rightly proud of their heritage.

We drove into the Park. Jawdropping. Found 2 sites in Rio Grande village campground and we head there tomorrow. We are stepping into a magic land.

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