Southern Tier: El Paso to Del Rio, TX

The El Paso hostel is a bit run down. I think the clerk put me in the noisiest room. No matter, I am sound asleep. The town has a few decent bike shops and next day I hunt for a couple of spare tubes and spokes. Shop owners seem friendly and helpful. I buy a bus day pass to explore the city, but end up using it only once and walk everywhere. The other side of an avenue south of downtown is all Mexican; shops, produce, signs, people, everything, even the dogs. I thought I passed the border by accident. The waiter in a Thai restaurant keeps asking me how my food is. It got a bit colder since you asked a few minutes ago.

image

I follow Delta and then North Loop Dr. to exit the city. Dogs are barking beyond high fences. I pass through Tornillo, or the remains of it. A “historical marker” says the town’s best days are behind. “Plain View Lake” is an odd campground with artificial ponds filled with fish to catch. A big sign says “bikers welcome” which puts me off; it’s too early to stop anyway. I ride through a few small towns and pecan groves (still?). I pocket a handful of ripe pecans from ground before I see the sign that says anyone caught doing that will be punished. Too late; a nice addition to my trail mix. I cannot quite make it to Sierra Blanca and setup camp by the side of noisy I-10.

image

There is a border patrol checkpoint just before Sierra Blanca. The guy asks me if I am a U.S. citizen, then waves me away while I was trying to get my passport out. The headwind is picking up and I decide to call it a day in Van Horn. I see lots of motel signs with 29.95 price tag. I also remember seeing a bulletin at the city hall entrance about bed bugs, so I head towards the big yellow KOA sign. It’s only marginally cheaper with the promise of clean bathroom and blazing fast wi-fi. Showers are indeed nice but wi-fi is crawling. Next morning, I walk in to have breakfast in their small cafe. A thin layer of scrambled eggs and so-called hash-browns with a single slice of toast cost more than a McDonalds meal. There will be no tips.

image

The weather forecast predicts fierce winds and recommends tying down lawn furniture. The morning starts with strong tailwind and I’m at the hwy 118 junction in 2.5 hours, a 40 mile distance. Of course, hwy 118 is heading south and now the wind is right on my face. Sudden side winds throw me into the middle of the lane two times. Luckily for me it’s a rarely used road. Pressing hard into the wind I barely make it to a picnic area on Davis Mountains area before dark. In Texas roads, picnic areas have tables, garbage bins, but no restrooms. Weird.

image

The attraction on this part of the route is the McDonald Observatory. It’s freezing cold next morning when I show up at their door before opening time. They have a popular show called “Star Party” three nights a week, but I don’t intend to wait all day and spend a cold night looking at stars here. Besides, my prescription glasses are somewhere at Pismo Beach Dunes and I can barely make out the big dipper.

image

I keep riding and descend into Ft Davis, a wide flat area with the remains of an old fort and huge cottonwood trees. Next is a long strip of desert parcelled by private ranches. The air is still cool when I reach Alpine, a large town next to the Big Bend National Park. The park is too far south for me to consider and the weather is getting nasty by the day.

image

I camp between the road and the railroad before reaching Marathon. Cargo trains keep passing all night. Next morning packing up lasts forever. It hurts touching the tent poles and the windchill freezes my fingers while riding. I would love to stay in Marathon but I cannot find a reasonably priced place. I see a hostel sign but somehow it does not seem appealing (later I learn from a fellow cyclist that it was quite a nice and interesting place; too bad). After a nice breakfast at Johnny B’s, I keep riding in cold sunny weather and check into a motel in Sanderson.

image

The weather report says there is an arctic cold air sweeping through the country — no surprise there. An eastbound cyclist I met in the same motel decides to stay another day. The next morning the temps are at 0°C and does not go above 6°C all day. After a not-so-boring (canyons, my second flat tire), cold and long ride I make it to Comstock for another warm motel stay. Are my camping days over?

image

A short ride away is my next stop, Del Rio — a large town close to Mexican border. On the way, there is a big lake — the Amistad Reservoir — which is the result of a dam on Rio Grande. At the visitor centre I meet an eastbound cyclist couple, Jeff and Diane. We apparently stayed at the same motel and ate at the same pub yesterday. They are doing a section of the route from Phoenix to Austin.

image

Historic Del Rio downtown is a lot nicer than the strip malls dotting the highway, but there is construction on the streets and most places are closed or simply inaccessible. I ride through quite neighbourhoods with tall trees and small shops. I don’t know what it is, but it feels good.

24 days, 1372 miles.

st3View the full route

Date Destination Miles Duration
2014-11-08 Roadside, Esperanza, TX 75 08:06
2014-11-09 KOA, Van Horn, TX 53 04:24
2014-11-10 Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area, TX 67 06:29
2014-11-11 Roadside, Alpine, TX 62 06:07
2014-11-12 Outback Oasis Motel, Sanderson, TX 73 06:42
2014-11-13 Comstock Motel, Comstock, TX 91 08:01
2014-11-14 Motel 6, Del Rio, TX 31 03:19