Boquillas and Beyond

[For this third installment of my Big Bend series, all photos, again, by Brent & Alyssa Franklin.]

Start the day with coffee on the patio, with wren and quail and thrasher stepping near, with three dawn coyotes hunting leisurely in passing. Start the day by having been observed, by being ready for the desert drive and the mountain slopes to Boquillas and beyond…

ferrymen on the Rio

Start the day by asking, “What’s in a name? Is there a picture for this ranger outpost also known as Rio Grande Village, Texas, a story hidden by yet another place name in the wild?” Well, sure there is… Boquillas used to be a mining town, a store, a restaurant, serving miners at Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico until the roughshod days that followed 9/11/01 and, then again, when Covid struck. The times were tough, but the international border has reopened.

caves at Boquillas Canyon, climbers at bottom…

I started off by learning that the Spanish name Boquillas translates into “little mouths,” a reference to the small streams and arroyos draining into the Rio Grande nearby. Boquillas Canyon, also known as Dead Horse Canyon, is alleged to be the site where the first U.S. surveyors in the region, floating down the river, saw a herd of horses at the canyon mouth and had them shot, suspecting that live animals might be useful for unfriendly natives.

hitting the dusty trail, Mexico

Our passports secured, we began our Mexican venture by crossing the river in a rowboat, ready for variety, novelty, and maybe even some depth. For the short haul into the little village of Boquillas del Carmen and beyond, we hired burros, with a local guide named Abraham. Yeah, we could have walked the mile-long route, but the young folks had decided that beasts of burden, well-kept for days like this, would be appropriate, especially for the older Americans. Ah, romanticism, with a dash of humor.

main street, Boquillas del Carmen

I would think of other times, of Robert Louis Stevenson buying a donkey for 65 francs and a glass of brandy for his nineteenth-century journey through the French Cevennes. Stevenson recorded his adventures in an essay called “Travels with a Donkey,” and I’m confident that his equine servant shared some characteristics with my chocolate-colored burro– stolid, dutiful, nearly elegant, and sometimes painfully slow. Our walking tour of the economically struggling village was an eye-opener but rewarding for the sense of kinship and camaraderie involved. We came prepared for the hopeful children who’d approach us with beadwork for a sale to help their families. Our limited supply of dollar bills vanished quickly.

old age, new age
riding on what passes for the local “interstate”!

We could start the Mexican day and finish it rhythmically, perhaps like the sure-shod narratives of author Stevenson. The writer chose his words carefully (our guide Abraham was well-versed in both Spanish and English). Stevenson composed his sentences with a delicate and modulated touch (our guide enjoyed introducing us to his rural village and its surroundings). The remoteness of eastern Mexico, thankfully clouded over and comfortable on this winter day, unfolded like the sonic paragraphs of a captivating travelogue.

eating lunch with our guide, Abraham (facing camera on left)
reddish pictograph near the hot springs
Hot Springs, Rio Grande
old cotton gin, Costolon ranger station
mouth of Santa Elena…
Rio Grande, Santa Elena Canyon
canoers exiting canyon
riverview (2) inside Santa Elena Canyon

[Stay tuned for one more post from Big Bend & beyond, primarily some favorite photos… Thanks for visiting the blog, and don’t forget, your comments are always welcome!]

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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11 Responses to Boquillas and Beyond

  1. Brent says:

    I can’t tell if I’m the first reply here, but I didn’t see the post when it first went up. Boquillas could be a good reminder for many people that civic pride doesn’t have to be tied to material wealth or prosperity. Sometimes it just flows from a tight-knit community and a spectacular setting.

  2. AJ Morris says:

    The older I get, the more convinced I become: If the human race is to survive, we need to think much larger than borders.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Enjoyed this, particularly the Stevenson tinged travel on a donkey – almost elegant, was that the phrase? Excellent stuff, and what a day for you and your family. Nice to see a border as a place where welcome and understanding appear to thrive…
    Great photos to accompany the text, and already looking forward to the next instalment – thanks, Walt!

    • plaidcamper says:

      *nearly elegant – great phrase, and one I’ll aim to live up to!

      • In my own inelegant manner, I’ll say yeah, I think Stevenson actually used the phrase “nearly elegant” for his donkey’s mannerism, once he figured out how to make the animal move along. And yes, the border experience was a fairly quick & easy one, if not “elegant” then surely welcoming. Thanks pc!

  4. loydtruss says:

    Wow, the Santa Elena Canyon is epic! Amazing how the Native Americans survived in that type of terrain back in the day. Several Native American tribes lived in the Rio Grande one being the Chiricahua Apaches. I would surmise that Geronimo could have avoided capture just by utilizing the two states of Arizona his birthplace and Texas. Enjoyed the read and looking forward to the next installment–thanks for sharing

    • Thank you for the comments, Bill. This canyon country is amazing not only for what it offers the visitor but, as you indicate, for a look into its historic depths. To live & to survive there is almost unimaginable to most of us.

  5. Jet Eliot says:

    A terrific visit to the Rio Grande, Walt, thank you. I so enjoyed your words and the photos, too. That second photo with the cave was great with the teeny tiny people showing perspective. Lovely to see you and your family, the burro rides were great, lunch at the restaurant, and other NM delights. I read RLS’s essay “Travels with a Donkey,” it was fun. And your travels look like fun, too. I really enjoyed this a lot…great adventure.

    • Thank you for visiting, Jet, and a pleasure to read of your response here. So glad that you enjoyed this Mexican reflection. And thanks also for checking out the Stevenson essay. RLS isn’t much known for his essays but I like his travelogs and stories.

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