April 1, 2015

Here is the new website for the Texas General Land Office. I struggle to find the right words.

March 31, 2015

We have paint. See the pretty woodwork?

March 30, 2015

When we were in the Big Bend we saw a lot less of the Border Patrol than usual. I don't recall seeing one of their vehicles parked at any of the usual observation points. I'm sure that they haven't withdrawn—there are more agents down there than ever before—but they must have changed tactics.

I can report that the Polvo crossing has disappeared. You used to be able to walk or drive across the river there, down below Redford. Now they've closed the dirt road to the river and brought the fences from the flanking properties to meet each other. A newcomer would never guess that the river is back behind those two little houses. That crossing was in use for something like a couple of thousand years; it was the site of the ancient native village of Tapacolmes. Now it's gone. Here's what it looked like in 2002:

March 30, 2015

There was a guy on a riding mower in the drive-through line at Starbucks this morning.

March 27, 2015

Earlier I was musing about the need for 33-inch tires for Jeeping off-road. Then I checked the specs on my Jeep. It already has 32-inch tires. Surprise!

I think one consideration in going to 33 or larger is the footprint—the width of the tire. Mine are 10 inches, which is pretty big. Then there's the matter of sidewall strength. That's a big deal, because sidewall cuts are a common problem, often caused by idiots driving fast through sharp rocks. My tires are tough, but they're not monster tough. Another big issue is tread pattern—mine are not aggressive in that department, which keeps them from being noisy. A six-hour drive to West Texas on knobby tires? Spare me.

There's this off-road experience known as the Rubicon Trail. It's in California. You can look it up. Fans of the trail promote it as the most difficult off-road trail on the planet. Those particular fans have never tried to Jeep up the face of the Grand Teton.

Anyway, so. The people who organize the Big Classic Important Rubicon Trail Run require tires no smaller than 33 inches and no larger than 35 inches. I don't know whether they would look the other way for my 32-inch guys. Probably not. It's a status thing. The reason they won't let you get larger than 35 is that big balloon tires are for mud, not rocks, and they bounce, especially if you're stupid enough to run them at full pressure and/or stupid enough to go too fast. When you're rock climbing, one bounce and you're upside down.

March 27, 2015

Sipping a cold beer on the front porch of the Terlingua Trading Company, Jeanne formed this opinion: "These people aren't quite right." She noted the continuing presence of mercury contamination from the old Cinnabar mines.

March 27, 2015

I found the back roads of Big Bend National Park to be more tame than I expected. At worst a 5, sometimes a 2. (The picture is a 10.) That should be treated as no more than a data point, because the condition of back roads can vary substantially from trip to trip. In our case the roads had been flooded and rutted by spring rains but weren't terrible. I didn't see any evidence of recent repairs or maintenance, but the Park Service might have smoothed things out here and there.

Substantial stretches of the roads meant for four-wheel-drive high-clearance vehicles were suitable for my former Buick Enclave, assuming that I was willing to put some wear and tear on the suspension. My new Jeep, with its rigid frame, insane suspension, and beast drive train, handled everything with grace. Never a doubt.

The Jeep has a ten-inch ground clearance, which was plenty. Scraped rocks were evidence that others have driven the road—or attempted to—with significantly less. I was driving on factory tires: Bridgestone Duelers, which are rated for off-road use but are also suitable for city driving. Although lots of off-roaders prefer oversized knobby tires, there wasn't any need for them on the drives that we took. I recognize that there are many off-road adventures that would kick the crap out of my tires, but I do wonder how much of a 33-inch tire selection is function and how much is style.

The trick to handling difficult roads is simple: drive slowly.

March 27, 2015

The Santana Mesa Overlook on the Camino del Rio between Terlingua and Presidio. The sun was cresting a ridge behind us, and we watched as the sunlight crept closer, down the Rio Grande. Quite a morning drive.