Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hot Springs

We covered the eastern side of Big Bend National Park today. Among the many places we visited was Hot Springs.

I've long been interested in this place. Years ago, I came across a small book in my local library called Big Bend: A Homesteader's Story by J. O. Langford. Mr. Langford suffered numerous health problems from a childhood bout with malaria. While visiting in West Texas, he heard of some springs on Tornillo Creek in the Big Bend country that reputedly had curative powers. In 1909, he filed the paperwork to homestead the land and moved his wife and infant daughter to the property. He spent the next several years developing the springs, and his book covers the life he made for himself in this isolated corner of the country.

Today, a few of the structures from that time remain. There are 2 ways to access the area. You can do a 6 mile round-trip hike from Rio Grande Village, or drive down a short but interesting road to the ruins. We decided to drive. The first section of the road is is good shape, though much of it has the washboard surface many natural surface roads do. About a mile or so into the drive, though, the road splits into 2 one-way sections on either side of a ravine. Each section of the road is very narrow, and large vehicles can not negotiate this section of road.

Very narrow alternate sections of roadway

The first structure visible upon arriving is a small house built of native stone on a rise west of the parking lot. A small foot bridge leads east to a series of trails splitting in front of the old store and post office.

Hot Springs store and post office

We followed the trail past the store in search of the actual hot springs that Langford claimed restored his health. Along the way, we passed the motel rooms built to accommodate those who came seeking health from the storied hot springs.

Motel rooms at Hot Springs

Just past the rooms are cliffs that rise above the river trail. Old Indian pictographs can be found on the bare rocks of these cliffs.

Numerous pictographs are visible, as well as some bird nests at top left

We finally came to the hot springs themselves. In Langford's day, he built bath houses to provide himself and his guests a bit of privacy. Flooding eventually destroyed these structures, but the foundations are still clearly visible. When we came to the springs, we discovered a young family enjoying the warm waters, even though we where there on December 27. Steam was clearly visible coming off the 105 degree temperature water of the springs.

Notice foundation from bathhouses still evident in spring. Rio Grande is running beside spring. At top center of picture is a tent with a small campfire. This camp is in Mexico.
Having read Langford's book really brought this trek to life for me. If you enjoy reading, I highly recommend reading the book. I'm sure you can find it on interlibrary loan. Amazon also carries a copy. The book provides a real slice of life on the vanishing American frontier at a time when most travel in the area was still done on horseback. I really enjoyed seeing how Langford immersed himself in the culture of the area and interacted with the natives.

We visited other places today, but I'll cover these individually so that I can cover each area a bit more fully than I could were I to put everything in one long entry.

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