Things sure have changed along the Mexico/US border and things seem like they may change even more if Trump has his way. The Rio Grande is a beautiful scenic area for canoes and kayaks. Not necessarily the water because it is usually very muddy looking but the entire scene around the river is so breathtaking, awe inspiring, and so relaxing looking out at all the beauty. All that could change very soon if Trump gets his way and ruins the natural beauty of this area. Most of this area is within the Big Bend National Park in Texas.
It was 1998 the last time I was at Big Bend. I had went on a camping and canoeing trip with some fellow college mates. We drove down and camped at one of the primitive camping areas within Big Bend National Park. I almost froze that night in my tent. I had no idea it got so cold in a desert climate at night so the next day I went on a search for wool knee socks and slept great after that.
The whole purpose of this trip was to canoe the Rio Grande on the Mexico/US border. First we had to apply for a permit to get on the river and that is not always easy. They only hand out so many permits and sometimes you have to wait to get on the river a looong time. To speed the process up we crafted a deal with the rangers of the park to work for one day in exchange for the permits and work us they did! In the heat of the desert our job was to dig a gigantic hole who knows what for but it felt like a scene from Goodfellas when Joe Pesci’s character was digging his own grave in the field. Down in the hole we were sweating our faces off and all the while being hyper aware of the wildlife, mainly the Javelinas (looks like a wild boar but they are not in the pig family) that would run up on you from time to time. The rangers said ‘don’t worry they are a little aggressive but you have a shovel use it if you need to’ great so the thought of being mauled by a pig like animal down in my own grave was a nice vision.
After our long, hot, and miserable work day had come to a close, we finally received our river permits. We planned to stay on the river for 2 weeks so we had to pack our tent, sleeping bag, food etc but not too much because we had to put everything in the canoes. I was surprised when I first saw the river, it was so muddy you couldn’t see anything and it stayed that way the whole 2 weeks. Apparently that is how the river always is. The bad thing was we had planned to take our baths in the river but it was so muddy we mainly used water bottles and body wipes so none of us smelled too good I guess by the end of the trip. The first time I washed my hair in the river, it felt dirtier afterwards so that was the last day in the river to try and get clean.
Other than the Javelinas, another critter to watch out for is scorpions! You never know where they may be lurking so if you are primitive camping always be sure to zip up your tent completely, be mindful if you have to use the restroom during the night as you walk outside and be sure to keep your shoes inside the tent. Also if you plan on taking a canoe trip be sure you check the canoe every time before you step inside it.
The canoe is where I found scorpions lurking twice during this trip. The roadrunner or chapparral bird is a fascinating bird to watch. They won’t bother you but if you see them take the time to watch them for awhile. They can run up to 20 miles per hour and can take down a rattlesnake so fast you may miss it. Check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LE78eJx5hg
If camping is not your thing then there is a beautiful lodge within the park called Chisos Mountains Lodge along with a restaurant and gift shop. We went to the gift shop to check it out while we were there. There are hiking trails all around and the local deer would even come right up to you and eat out of your hand. There is also an RV park here as well so no matter what you are looking for you can find the type of lodging that best suits you. I can’t really suggest any food there since we were on a camping and canoeing trip, I had all my food packed in, mainly MRE’s from the military. Those really are the best if you plan on doing any camping.
Which ever type of lodging is best for you, remember to bring plenty of water as this is a desert park and drinking water will be difficult to find. Since the desert has such polarizing temperatures you will need to be sure to pack appropriate clothes for the cold weather at night but also cool clothing during the hot days as well as a hat and sunscreen.
I was rather shocked at the lack of border patrol in this particular area, in fact we never saw any border officers for the entire 2 weeks that we were on the river. Granted for the most part along the Big Bend National Park river access it is such a deep gorge that it would be practically impossible to cross there and highly ineffective and dangerous for anyone trying to cross, however there was one area that we came across where you would see pickup trucks full of Hispanic migrant workers driving back and forth from Mexico to the US and vice versa. I thought how odd since you always hear how that doesn’t happen. We stopped at this spot to get a drink at a local place right on the river. I asked one of the workers inside how these people were able to
travel across the river. She said they just drive over to work here then they drive home to Mexico in the evening. Wow didn’t realize that was so easy. Then she told us there was a boat down by the river with a sign that read “$5. for a ride across the river to Mexico”. She said that there was a really good restaurant in Mexico not too far in country that visitors love to go to. It was such a cool set up but still surprising.
Now I realize border control is a hot and touchy subject for many people right now and I’m not against border control, however the manner in which Trump is going about it is very distasteful, threatening, and damaging to international relations not only with Mexico but with other countries as well and putting the United States in a bad light. It has been estimated that the wall Trump wants to build will cost our country and our citizens $21.6 billion dollars. Think of where that money could be better spent. Do you know how many border control agents there are right now? In 2012 there were 21,000 agents and that number has only grown since then.
When I went on this Rio Grande expedition of mine it was 1998, pre-9-11 era and yes the world was very different. Of course illegal immigration has always
been an issue here in the US but I can’t say I blame these people for wanting a better life for themselves and their families when you consider the horrible conditions they come from. Not only from Mexico, Central and South America but all over the world. Illegal immigration is a problem and we do need to work towards a better system, but a ‘great wall of Trump’ at the cost of $21.6 billion dollars to me is not the answer.
What is the answer? Well I can’t tell you what the answer would be to such a complex issue, but I can offer an opinion so in that spirit, my opinion is several steps. I think as far as the border wall is concerned, we should leave it the way it is. We already have a wall for most of the ‘crossable’ border so why spend $21.6 billion to just extend it a few feet upward, ridiculous! Border agents? We already have border agents, 21,000 of them. What we don’t have is better training of those agents, better technology to assist those agents, more trained search and drug dogs, and better education for immigrants when they do come here legally.
These really speak for themselves but allow me to expand on what I mean by better education for immigrants when they come here. I believe we should put forth a greater effort to make sure that immigrants get the proper information they need, tutoring for learning English, basically an assimilation process to help them ease into their new lives here so that they can become productive citizens and love their new country. This would benefit everyone and I believe we would have less issues with immigrants later on that feel like outcast or like they are not wanted here. This type of treatment towards immigrants only solidifies their preconceptions that Americans hate foreigners. Hmmmm maybe I can work towards building such a facility in the future.
So back to the trip. After our 2 weeks on the Rio Grande of being exhausted and sunburned we decided to treat ourselves and headed to San Antonio for a local art
festival that was going on. What a beautiful city it was. So much talent in the area with all the traditional Mexican artwork. The food was fantastic! More authentic Mexican than we were used to coming from Tennessee. We walked all over the city trying to take in as much as we could. The river walk was very nice with all types of shops and restaurants along the river that ran through town and another place I always wanted to see was the Alamo. When we first walked up on the Alamo I was completely shocked that the it is in the middle of downtown San Antonio surrounded by high rise buildings. Not at all what I expected. I thought it would be out away from civilization by itself, even the pictures I had seen of the Alamo looked as though it was in the middle of nowhere but once I was there in person I realized that those pictures were just cleverly taken to give that illusion of being secluded. The encroachment of the Alamo has been aggressive and has continued to grow since I visited there, however there have been recent efforts to stop encroachment, restoration of the actual Alamo and the Alamo plaza. It was amazing to visit this historical site famous for the 1836 battle where David Crockett fought for freedom in the Texas Revolution and ultimately died there.
At the time I had no idea just how famous David Crockett was or about all his
accomplishments for the State of Tennessee and for our nation. It wouldn’t be until about 6 years later that I would end up working at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park in Tennessee and would remain there for the next 13 years as a park ranger. I had many good times there getting to know the wonderful community and our visitors that would come from all over the world even the Director of Cultural Resources from Northern Ireland. We of course do law enforcement as Tennessee State Parks are required to be commissioned law enforcement officers to work there, but I also enjoyed doing a wide array of diverse programs and activities with the public both historical and recreational as this park is a very diverse one and so are the employees there. Or at least they were. The park manager, the rangers, including myself, have moved on since the department at the time decided to change their way of dealing with
the park and in my opinion have destroyed a lot of the great community relations that we worked so hard to develop. I truly hope in the future when the administration for the department changes that the incoming overseers will see what a detriment the policies were from the previous administration and will work hard to change those mistakes.
San Antonio has so much to offer and is rich with cultural diversity, local artwork, and delicious food. It really has everything that you could need or want. I would definitely recommend visiting this city if you ever get the chance and really soak up all the culture the city has to offer as well as all the history. Of course there are many Spanish speaking people here and with good reason, this used to be part of Mexico before the United States took over and eventually made it a state so don’t be surprise if you need to know a little Spanish when visiting. Today it’s easier than ever with technology to help with anything you need, even learning a new language. I have several apps on my phone (iPhone) that assist with any language that you would like to learn or just help you understanding others with the audio so take advantage of these apps before you travel, not only along the Mexico border but anywhere you may travel to in the world this is a great way to help you blend in.
Some other suggestions, if you do plan on doing a canoe trip down the Rio Grande, you might want to contact the state of Texas to inquire about a permit and to check to see if access is still available with Trump pushing to build this hideous wall it may completely block the United States from having access to the river or to certain parts of Big Bend National Park in the future. Below are some websites on Big Bend, San Antonio, and an article about the proposed wall to help you with any ideas you may have about traveling here in the future.
I hope you will comment or share your own travels to the Rio Grande so others may benefit in your adventures and expertise.