Originally published 12 February, 2014
The DOM rock from the movie Fandango
We got up rather early today....as we had far to go. At the end of the day....we had traveled over 235 miles. I've spoken about the movie "Fandango", from 1985. It is about an epic quest and pilgrimage through some of the most remote and distant parts of Texas to "dig up Dom". The movie was shot in the area around us and the places we went through. Today, we dug up Dom.
It is vast and scenic here, as well as remote. This is probably 20 miles from a town.
We left around 9 a.m., grabbed a latte at the Marfa coffee shop (we're remote. not uncivilized.) and headed down route 67 towards Presidio, TX. We crossed through a border patrol checkpoint but weren't stopped on the way down. You pass through a bunch of sensors and cameras, but they only stop you coming north. Remember...this is 65 miles NORTH of the border. But there aren't many roads headed north.
A fantastic bakery, in Presidio, TX!
We stop in Presidio, TX at a grocery store with gas pumps out front. Presidio is right on the border....and I mean RIGHT on the border. We top off with fuel, and go into the store to check it out. I always like going through a grocery store when I travel. You learn a lot about the local culture and diet by doing this.
We quickly figure out that although geographically we are in Texas, culturally, we are in Mexico. The announcements over the store PA system are in spanish. A lot of the products are only labeled in spanish. We only hear spanish spoken in the store...but that's who lives here. It's a heavily hispanic culture.
Out in the vast emptiness of west Texas
We leave the store and head towards FM (farm to market) 170. I pass a panaderia on the right and slam on the brakes and pull a quick U turn. For those of you that don't know....panaderia means "bakery". And I do love me some baked goods...especially Mexican pastries! We wound up with apple "pancake", which is very similar to apple pie, mexican cinnamon cookies, and freshly made flour tortillas! Score!!!!
The family that ran it apparently had every family member in the store. They were all very friendly, and very patient with our rusty spanish. One of the sons spoke fluent english and helped out when we hit a bump language wise when working with his mom. They were chatty and fun...and it was a great stop!
That tiny strip of water is the Rio Grande, and the land on the other side is Mexico
From there, we head down FM 170. We realize that we're gonna be in remote area so we stop while we still have cell service and check our messages before we head into the land of zero bars. They don't have 4G here....or 3G.....or any G as far as we can tell. They have cell service...and if you knew how remote this place is...you'd be amazed they have that.
So we're sitting on the side of the road, and the border patrol pulls over to check on us. The guy thought we were having car trouble....we told him we were checking messages before heading out. He bid us a good day....and off we went!
Rock formations shaped by eons of wind and water are the norm out here
Make no mistakes...it's remote here. Iceland is probably the only comparable place we've been....but even with Iceland, the distances are shorter. It's way out here....and we see road runners going across the road, and keep our eyes open for other wild life. You can see forever out here. Mountains that seem not far away may be 10 or 20 miles away. Mesas, funky rock formations, canyons............it's certainly the wild west out here!
FM 170 highway, between Presidio and Lajitas , TX
And there's the river. You can stand on the bank and throw a rock into Mexico. There's no fence, no border guard, and it's so remote, and rugged, it would be incredibly difficult to cross here. If you wanted, you could wade across the river in some parts, swim in others, and go to Mexico and back...in under two or three minutes.
Rio Grande Canyon, Texas/Mexico border
The border has always been porous here. Animals and people have crossed back and forth here for hundreds of years with no thought of the fact they're crossing an international border. Out here...it really doesn't matter. One side is just as barren and remote as the other.
There are places to put in a canoe or raft and float the river. The border is the center of the river.....leaving you floating in and out of either country. We saw people putting in with a canoe, and floating downriver to another vehicle which they would take back to the put in point. Like everything else out here.....you're on your own. You keep this in mind and realize that you're the only one you have to rely on....and that the nearest hospital is probably 120 miles away. You pay attention...and you're careful. Your life may depend on it.
Exploring the ruins. We're unsure how old they are.
We stop to explore, and since it's dry and solid, we went just a little off road with the truck to explore some old adobe houses that had fell in and some rock formations. It's difficult to tell how old things are here. The desert reclaims some things....while allowing other things to last seemingly forever. We look for clues, but find nothing conclusive. They could be 20 years old....and they could be 200. The methods are the same.
Bill at the "Dom" rock
After this, we head east and finally come to where Dom is buried. In the movie, the characters have driven across what seems like all of Texas, to get to this incredibly remote place in the middle of nowhere. This was correct. The thing that was a bit of movie magic was making it seem like the Dom rock was way off the road and they had to hike a long way to get to it.
It was actually about a hundred yards off the road, and while on a cliff which required steady footing and more than a little bit of care....it was pretty easy to get to. Just don't get in a hurry and don't get too bold. It's a long way down.
Laurie on "Gardner's Rock", FM 170, Rio Grande, Texas
Edit 2018- Many have wondered who "Dom" was. I have told them through the years to watch the movie so they can figure it out. It's a great movie and one of my favorites, but it is more difficult to find and people can't seem to find out on their own. Consequently, SPOILER ALERT! Dom....is a bottle of Dom Pérignon. As digital entertainment has evolved, it has become a bit easier. Here's your link. This movie is wonderful. www.amazon.com/Fandango-Kevin-Costner/dp/B00LFF8IGW
Teepee rest stop, Redford, TX
After "digging up Dom", we went to the teepee rest area....a Texas landmark. They have a picnic area right on the river and the picnic shelters look like teepees! We had lunch there....and during our lunch break, not a single car passed. Laurie repeatedly remarked how quiet it was....and she was right. As she observed to me, there are no trees for the wind to whistle through......when the wind blows, you can only feel it, not hear it.
The "Contrabando" movie site. The background is real, and the buildings are too. But they were built for a movie set. Edit- I read an article that it was torn down in 2015.
We continued to wander down river and stopped at an old movie set, which several westerns were shot at. We poked around a bit there, Laurie got her stones for her collection of stones from around the world from the Rio Grande, and I used my film cameras to do a bit of photography. We met a couple from France in this area, and another couple from New Hampshire. When you're way out in the boonies like this and you both stop to look...you tend to talk to each other. They're fellow travelers like us........checking out the dirty edges and odd places.
The world famous Lajitas political goats!
From there, we head to Lajitas. Lajitas is basically a golf course and a fancy hotel in the middle of nowhere. They have a general store and a RV park. The duly elected mayor of the town has historically been a goat. Like in baaaaaa kind of goat. With horns. While we were stopped at the store, there was a nanny goat, and 3 babies. They live in an enclosure that keeps them safe from mountain lions and coyotes at night, but in the day, roam free and just wander about.
The woman who keeps them gave them raisins as a treat, which they loved. She explained to us that this year was a heavily contested election, and that the 3 baby goats were all running for office this year, and that ballots were available in the general store and we were welcome to vote for mayor. They have a sense of humor out here for sure.
Teralingua post office/general store/theater
We leave Lajitas and head to Terlingua. It's basically a ghost town, but people live there. We were coming into town and I stopped at a garage to check out a couple of dune buggies. They guy was very friendly and we talked for a few minutes. A look in his garage revealed a Dodge Viper that had been "worked on", and it had a 680 horsepower engine.
He also had a 70's cuda, and a bunch of street rods. It turns out the he owned the local bar, dance hall, hotel, and a bunch of other businesses in town and is involved in a lot of civic organizations. Nice guy....his name was Herman. Just another person we run into in our world travels. It's always cool to meet people and learn from them.
A typical Teralingua house
We wander through the ghost town, check out the old general store, and have a drink on the front porch. Like most of Texas, it's very remote and barren. And there are people here...so they congregate. People were hanging out on the front porch socializing. It did seem to be the kind of place where, if you lived there, you knew everyone.
Laurie goes to jail
We head north from here....70 miles to Alpine. We have a great Mexican dinner in Alpine then head back towards Marfa. Laurie wanted to stop and look for the famous "Marfa Mystery Lights"........and we saw them! I don't think they're anything like space aliens or anything.....but a confluence of real things. Personally, I think they're lights on cars WAY out in the desert.....and the shimmering and heat waves make them jump about and move around. It's a cool thing to see nonetheless....and if it makes Laurie happy.....I'll agree that it's space aliens or some such! The things I do for the one I love.
Tomorrow, Laurie is poking around at the Chinati Foundation (art stuff) and I plan on doing some film photography around here. Laurie has a bit to say and I'm posting it below.
Quote of the day, from the movie "Fandango", when they finally got through this epic quest and dug up Dom: Gardner: "Was it worth it?" Phillip: "Yeah. It was."
Note: In our opinion.....yeah. it was.
Song of the day....very appropriately..."The road and the sky"- Jackson Browne
West Texas at it's most typical
Laurie's thoughts- Well we have been on the road about 3 days now. The drive was not as bad as I thought it would be. Even though it was a little nerve wracking driving through the freezing fog, it was beautiful and transformed the trees into fairy lands.
Teralingua yard art
Its impossible to impart the vastness that is Texas. They call it Big Sky Country for a reason-the sky goes on forever. And sunrise and sunset are magical. The sunrise creeps into the morning sky, bringing a new day to life slowly like a trickle. The end of the day is just as subtle as the sun sinks below the light show. Then the moon and the stars come out in full and the sky is alive again.
So different from where we live where the sun has to clear the mountains before becoming visible. Here the horizon meets the sky everywhere I look. More like being on the ocean but without the tides. I can't imagine how brutal the summer would be since the sun is already very hot. And as soon as it goes down the heat leaves the land and it drops 20 degrees. Such an inhospitable land. You can see how the mountains are eroding and turning into scrub land. Where there is water there is life, though, and the Rio Grand river is the area's life line.
Apparently....when it rains, it floods.
Everyone here is really friendly, and we have hardly met anyone in Marfa who is from Marfa. This town exists it seem because of the Chinati foundation and the jobs that have trickled from the people who come to work for it. There isn't much else here but because this foundation brings a certain cultural mind set there are odd things you wouldn't associate with the middle of nowhere Texas.
For example, they have a film festival, galleries and quite a few good and healthy places to eat, a wellness center and an international school. Then there are the Marfa lights that actually do exist. They are supposed to by mysterious lights out in the desert and what do you know, they are really there.
Graffiti in an abandoned house
Meanwhile the trip through the desert was amazing. We went through SMALL towns that are barely a crossroads such as Shafter and then Presidio which is right on the Mexican border. It feels more Mexican than USA. Makes me want to really go to Mexico. There are so many abandoned structures everywhere. Its odd, like people just woke up one morning and said to themselves, "had enough", and left.
Seem like they've been doing that since the first settlements. Terlingua was interesting as the new people just basically moved a few rocks and rebuilt a few of the houses that were there. Everyone has been really easy going, sort of an island mentality in the middle of the desert.
Then there are the sharp edges. My favorite was the sign in Big Bend park at a trail head that gave instructions, among other things, of what to do if one encountered a mountain lion or bear...Pick up small children. make yourself look big, and if attacked fight back.
Tomorrow I go for a tour of the Chinati foundation. Should be interesting.
I'm Bill. My wife Laurie and I love to travel and share our stories. We especially love it when we have been able to motivate our readers to start traveling on their own, and making their own stories.
Click on any of the boxes below to go to a specific day of our trip!