Remembering Basin and Range

It is basin and range, all the way from where I was born in the Wasatch to the Sierras. With a mountain range every fifty to one hundred miles and wide flat valley between. Ecological islands following the route of the great continental subduction. Like wrinkles in a piece of cloth they track thinning crust which produces unique landscape and species. I miss that environment.

Here in Texas there is a place just as special that draws me back over and over again. It is the Big Bend and Chisos Mountains. I’m not a flatlander by inclination so any time I spend in or near mountains is special to me. My senses become a little keener, with eyes unconstrained by the works of men. You can dream primal dreams there.

Chance Encounter

Billy Faier - musician
Billy Faier – musician
Sometimes it is easy to forget that life is a journey full of unexpected twists. One day on a whim or boredom, I drove four hundred miles from San Antonio to the West Texas crossroads town of Marathon. I pass through Marathon once or twice a year on my way to Big Bend. It’s a good place to stop for coffee. In fact it is the last place to stop for anything for more than a hundred miles when heading into the Bend.

Sitting on the patio of my regular coffee joint was an old man playing the banjo with such eloquence that I had to sit down and listen. Funny, none of the other patrons seemed to notice him there. He was playing and singing tunes straight out of the East Coast folk scene of the 1940s and 50s. Given where he was in far West Texas it was like he had beamed in from another place and time.

That is how I made the acquaintance of Billy Faier. He was genuinely a veteran folk singer, friend of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, traveling companion of Woodie Guthrie, contemporary of Pete Seeger and practitioner of progressive politics. He was old school in ways that are hard to comprehend for the twenty first century. Now at eighty four or eighty five years old he was transplanted to another place altogether.

We spoke for half an hour. He had a bright cheerful manner with plenty of stories which he punctuated with simply beautiful solo banjo music. I bought a couple CDs and told him I’d see him next time I was out that way. Sadly he died before I got back to Marathon. I won’t forget him anytime soon.

Wilderness

Balanced Rock - Big Bend National Park
Balanced Rock – Big Bend National Park
Balanced Rock is one of the iconic spots to visit in Big Bend National Park. A short twenty to thirty minute hike is required to see the huge bolder more than ten feet across balanced neatly between two outcrops. It is a sight worth seeing.

Most tourists take snapshots of the balanced rock by itself or with someone pretending to hold the great mass above their head. Nice souvenirs to be sure.

This photo was made just before sunrise with my tripod setup underneath the bolder. Tourists generally wait until after sunrise to hike Grapevine Hills because mountain lions and bears are active in the hours just before dawn. I’ve never had a close encounter except one time seeing evidence that a big cat crossed my path. It left scat full of javelina fur on the trail right where I’d walked an hour before. That is my real wilderness experience.

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