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The desert of Big Bend, Texas

The frontier land in the desert, the last bit of North American soil and rocks, the tall cliffs is where the greenish Rio Grande calmly slithers against the massive mountains separating the two lands, Mexico and the USA. There is no view to be seen of the other side at this particular point where we stopped, at the Santa Elena Canyon. A sliver of opening in-between the two cliffs allows for some light and the river to pass through, but not much more. One can imagine desperate immigrants trying to canoe their way into the country of their dreams. But border patrol is everywhere inside the territory, watchful eagle eyes trained to recognize what does not fit into the rough landscape. The beach of gravel and mud allows us to get close to the rock wall, so tall that by 3 p.m., the sun is blocked for the walkers down the mountain. The river is icy cold and murky, not very inviting. After you drive hours and hours of flat interstate with, surprise! No gas stations and no food (a rarity in the US), you finally start to see the brown mountains lining up in your view, and then you turn down South to be only surrounded by rounded domes of every heights. Some funny shapes, mostly of dark colors, made of boulders sometimes feeling like falling down towards the road, I was surprised of the colors of the landscape. Not green and forest-like, nor yellow and sandy, but more like an ancient planet of dead rocks and toned down colors, with no trees, no flowers, no water, and no life it seems. A beautiful and unfamiliar environment. We drove all day inside the vast park, stopping at all major heights and peaks, visiting the funny no-bottom toilets sporadically placed by rangers. There are a few visitors centers selling the usual chips and cookies, water (five gallons recommended per person per day while visiting the park) and sodas. Not much more. This is not the Grand Canyon store. I liked the scarcity of human traces inside this park, not much tourists, we rarely saw any people. We really appreciated the silence, the shadows on the mountains, the rarity of civilization — this was really a trip to another planet, or at the very least, to a very empty corner of our country. This is bear territory and the rubbish bins installed to deter the animals are also quite efficient at preventing humans to open them, we found. After leaving the park at the end of the day, we had to go through an official border patrol control station, smack in the middle of nowhere, with serious men in uniform and their drug-sniffing dogs. We pulled over slowly and when asked which country we were citizens of, I quickly answered: Texas. After a few seconds and a laugh from the officer, I added: United States… and we were on our way. My daughter said she saw the black dogs circling the car wagging their tails, probably upset we only had regular food in the vehicle. The hiking day was exhausting and we were glad to finally reach our cabin at the Terlingua Ranch, where the most sumptuous of sunset treated us to a divine show of pinks and oranges turning into purple and finally brown, when the dark mountains disappeared into a wall of blackness against the starry sky. The ranch had a wonderful homemade dinner by the fire, where all the comfort foods were just what we needed.