Archive for the “Attractions” Category

Reviews of off-the-beaten-path, quirky towns and oddball attractions across North America

A few weeks ago Jim and I crossed the Rio Grande for a one-day Mexican holiday in Boquillas del Carmen.

After twelve long, lonely years of being closed off from tourists in Big Bend National Park, this rustic Mexican community is celebrating the return of adventurous park tourists willing to walk or boat across and explore this old world village.

Boquillas is a former mining town that quickly became a popular destination for U.S. and international park visitors when Big Bend National Park opened in the 1940s. Made famous in the song Gringo Honeymoon by Texas singer songwriter Robert Earl Keen, for many decades thousands of park tourists made passport-less jaunts by boat, foot and mule in order to eat, drink and party in a village untouched by time.

“Tied our donkeys to an ironwood tree
By the street where children played
We walked in the first place we could see
Servin’ cold beer in the shade
We were drinkin’ like the end was not in sight
And we drank all afternoon
We asked the world to wait so we could celebrate
A gringo honeymoon.”

Sadly, post 9/11 border security regulations quickly put a stop to Boquillas’ informal river crossings. The move nearly decimated the town’s population, but over a decade later in April 2013, remaining villagers, Big Bend locals and park authorities were elated when U.S. border officials re-opened the crossing – albeit with a $3.7 million checkpoint station and official passport rules regulating visitor requirements.

Today’s visitors will find that while much has changed on the other side, Boquillas continues to hold a special charm. Newcomers are still greeted on the river by Victor, the town’s unofficial director of tourism who belts out popular Mexican songs for tips and welcomes everyone with a giant smile.

Packs of burros stand ready for visitors too wilted to make the 20 minute trek to town on foot but pickup trucks also offer transportation.

Walking through Boquillas is like a visit to an early 20th century Mexican village. Unpaved streets lead to little more than the two restaurants and bar, a few dozen hand-built adobe houses, two plain churches and a school.

This off-grid community is pleasantly different from all other border crossings in that visitors aren’t assaulted with the usual traffic, grime and crowds found elsewhere in Mexican borderlands.

Since there are no grocery stores, liquor outlets or pharmacies, you won’t have the opportunity to do much shopping or get dental work done, but your American dollars can go to better use by purchasing handmade crafts made by locals of every age.

When you’re ready for a break, head to the famous Park Bar that greets thirsty travelers with icy cold beer.

You can satiate your appetite right across the street at the decades old Falcon Restaurante and souvenir shop that serves up $3 plates of mini tacos and burritos, or you can walk across the street to a new competing eatery.

Touring Boquillas only takes a couple hours and you can make the most of it with guided trips led by residents anxious to practice their English and show off their community. Guides greet you when you arrive on shore and work strictly for tips. Although your participation is optional, doing so adds a personal touch to your adventure, provides for your safety and positively impacts Boquillas’ economy.

Boquillas is accessed by traveling to the east side of Big Bend National Park, near the Rio Grande Village campground. The crossing station is Wednesday through Sunday between 9 am and 6 pm and official passports are required. You can cross over on foot or by paying $5 for a round-trip row boat ride, and transportation into town for non-walkers costs anywhere from $5 to $8. For more information visit the Big Bend National Park website.

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On the first leg of our snowbird waltz across West Texas Highway 90, we made a pit stop at the Prada Store in Valentine.

After last year’s controversy about the Prada Store artwork versus the Playboy Hot Rod billboard and the legality of roadside advertising / art, we wanted to see if this landmark was still standing.

The good news: it’s still there. The bad news: it’s showings signs of age and it may not be here next time we come through.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT)’s order to remove the structure is still being considered. For now, we’re glad that government moves at a snail’s pace. Art still rules.

Later than night we made our usual pass through Marfa (a town that thinks a little too much of itself in my book) and directly on to the Marfa Lights Viewing Station, where we boondocked for the night, hoping to catch another glimpse of the glowing orbs.

When dusk fell and low clouds appeared, along with dozens of sky watchers, we had a feeling the lights wouldn’t show up, and they didn’t. One guy who’s been there seven times said he’s only seen them two times in seven, so we weren’t too surprised by their absence.

That’s OK though. The best part about this roaming lifestyle? There’s always next time.

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Other than fabulous Las Vegas, the state of Nevada seems like a whole lot of nothing. We’ve driven across it no less than a half dozen times (at least!) and I can say with certainty that you’re not missing much if you drive through in a hurry.

But in true American style, there’s always a surprise in Nevada, just when you least expect it.

Take for instance Bailey Hot Springs.

Located just east of Death Valley and about an hour north of Vegas, this funky little RV and tent camping park is a great place to stay for a night or two. Don’t let the cheesy website fool you; if you dig offbeat hot springs resorts, Bailey is worth a visit.

Obviously place has been around a while, so don’t expect first class amenities other than wireless Internet. You’ll get basic hookups and if you’re lucky a working sewer connection for your nightly $25 rate. Facilities are rustic and earthy, as you can see by this photo of the gravel-bottom pools. But with unlimited access to three private hot soaking pools at different heat temperatures, what more can you ask for?

Management is laid back and cool and your neighbors are often like-minded vagabonds too. There’s a good vibe here and one that will put Bailey Hot Springs on our route the next time we’re in or around Vegas.

Do you have a favorite hot springs resort? Let us know what it is, we’re always game for a soak!

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There are some places we’ve been to that just get into our soul. Stillwell Store is definitely one of them.

We didn’t make it down to the Big Bend last winter but we’ve been dreaming about Hallie Stillwell’s territory ever since. Our plan was to return this coming February for at least a month – or so we thought.

Sadly, in August Stillwell was sold to a buyer who reportedly wants to keep things the same while turning it into a hunting mecca. Cynicism abounds but time will tell. It was no secret the ranch was on the market, and we understood why it had to happen, but the sale still felt like a huge loss to the region.

And then tonight, we just got the heartbreaking news that Kay Pizzini (pictured below, behind the counter), Hallie Stillwell’s granddaughter and the last of the amazing line of tougher than nails Stillwell women who kept the operation going, suddenly died without warning. We are so sad and all we can say is, look out heaven, you’ve got some kick ass women in control now.

My heart is heavy for Kay’s family and the loss of such an incredible piece of history. We had just gotten to know the Stillwell magic and now, it’s gone. Another piece of the great American west, disappeared for good.

Godspeed Kay. Godspeed Stillwell Ranch.

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Here’s a very quick video of another fun art project from our travels…

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Marfa Texas Tethered Aerostat Radar Surveilance BalloonIn the middle of nowhere on the way to Big Bend National Park, you may miss the Prada Marfa Store if you blink. The first time we saw it fly by, we had a classic double-take moment. I was actually more focused on the UFO in the distance, which turned out to be a Tethered Aerostat Radar surveillance balloon.

There is no door, but complete with pricey pumps and a placard describing the artist’s intentions, the Prada Marfa store has stood along this remote stretch of West Teaxs two-lane for eight years.

If you want to see it, you better hurry up!

Texas DOT Determines Prada Marfa Store Is Illegal

Texas lawmakers and the media are now claiming the installation is little more than an illegal roadside ad. The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) has issued an order to remove the structure, calling it a billboard that does not fit permitted specifications.

Designed by Artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset to resemble a Prada storefront, with the intention of it slowly disintegrating in the harsh West Texas climate, the small structure sits on private land in Valentine, Texas. This small tourist attraction has definitely drawn the attention many, and certainly brought visitors to the remote area, perhaps even helping to spawn the growing Marfa, Texas Art Scene.

Prada Marfa Texas Art Installation Highway 90

While she did not commission the project herself, Miuccia Prada approved the installation prior to its construction in 2005. Celebrity visits have resulted in a photo shoot of Beyonce at Prada Marfa, a write-up about Marfa in GQ magazine, and worldwide attention upon this stretch of highway often referred to as a godforsaken part of Texas—otherwise known only for its mysterious lights phenomena.

And that might be exactly why the “store” may soon be shut down. Locals have complained about the roadside art project, and apparently don’t take kindly to big brands putting up “billboards” along their back roads. This isn’t the first time a major brand has been chased out of town. A Marfa, Texas Playboy art project was the first to come under fire by the TXDOT. It appears that Prada Marfa will follow suit soon.

What do you think? Ads or Art?

Wyatt Ray Dawg Wears Prada

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