Dusty book kicking up rocks at big bend national park

Dusty book kicking up rocks at big bend national park

December 26, 2012 – Part 1

Home On The Range


Sam Nail Ranch

Homer Wilson Ranch

Today we plan to tour down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and hopefully make our way down to Santa Elena Canyon Trail which is the divide between USA and Mexico.  First stop, Sam Nail Ranch.  Sam Nail Ranch are ruins from one of the settlers in the area.  There is not much left to see anymore.  A Windmill, partial adobe mud wall of the home, and a lean-to used as a shelter, possibly for animals.  It is interesting to see how the availability of just a small amount of water completely changes the landscape.  As you are driving south on Ross Maxwell you can see the sudden up-crop of trees in the distance.  This region is very dry and water is scarce.  A small creek runs through the property of Sam Nail Ranch and in the wet season it flows with life sustaining water.  Today,  there is only a trickle of water.

When researching the history of the region I learned that many of the early settlers brought cattle to graze.  It’s hard to imagine there was ever enough grass to sustain livestock but there were many successful Mexican cattle ranchers in the region, even before the Anglos.  When the Anglos settled, a combination of years of drought and overgrazing took its toll on the land.  We spent about an hour wandering through the area  – the ground is flat and easily accessible for people of all ages.  The shade trees are not native to the area and when filled with leaves they must have provided protection from the harsh elements.  There is very little shade during the midday hours in this region. I have to wonder if it would be enough relief from the intense and unrelenting heat of the summer.

The settlers in this part of the country must have been incredibly tough and optimistic to farm such a dry, scarified landscape. In comparison, the chatter of insects at night must have sounded like a symphony compared to the deafening drone of silence during the daytime. It is so quiet during the day that you can easily imagine the sound of silence on the surface of the Moon or on Mars (which this place could almost be). With no competition from wind, vehicles or other creatures, for us city folk, even speaking seems like an act of futile defiance against this vastness of scale. When you speak, you almost cannot hear your own voice – the words just seem to leave your lips and drop dead on the dry, rocky ground. In this perspective, you can’t help but feel foreign and inconsequential. Maybe the comfort of the insects provided the necessary companionship for settlers to call this place home.  When walking on trails, you really can feel like you are the only person in the world – there is a feeling of isolation which I feel is unique to this place. Both intriguing and uncomfortable in this age of constant, on-call communication, to know and feel you are far from the company of others is something everybody should experience at least once, particularly when it is so difficult to achieve.

A corollary: Like the moon, there is a discernible drop in temperature when standing in direct sunlight and the shade. The daytime temperature here bounces between a maximum out in the sun and a minimum when in the shade. This time of year, if you can find some shade on the back side of a mesa or basin then you will experience a subtle but noticeable shift in temperature.

pic 1
                                                        Trail from homestead to animal shelter
pic 2                                                        One of the remaining mills
pic 4
                                                        Remains of the second windmill
pic 3
                                                     Trail leading through thicket to river

Traveling south, we headed for  Homer Wilson Ranch also known as Blue Creek Ranch.  Abandoned in 1944, this ranch was built in 1929 by Homer Wilson and he lived here with his family until he died in 1944 (more).  It was one of the largest ranches in the area.  Much more modern than the Sam Nail Ranch it is particularly well preserved. It was purpose built from stone and has a two layer roof providing welcome insulation from the extremes of temperature.  From the car park there is a short one-mile trail to the ranch buildings. The hike is not too strenuous and the trail is good. As usual, wear appropriate footwear. The views from the trail head are breathtaking – take a moment to experience them!

pic 5                                                        View from top of trail leading to ranch
pic 9                            Homer Wilson Ranch in the distance from car park
 pic 6                              View from the once screened in porch of Homer Wilson Ranch
pic 7                                    Cool in the shade. Taking in the views from a Homer Wilson Ranch window ledge
pic 8                                                           Standing outside the ranch hand quarters
 pic 10                                                                        Horse corral still stands

Back to the truck we head further south to our next destination Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail.

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  2. Bev Sykes says:

    Stunning photos and so sharp! Commentary wonderful and could relate to Wilpenia Pound, a once successful farming area in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. Wilpenia also bears the sad remains of failed farming on an over grazed plateau. Always feel humbled and emotional stumbling into these places from a different time which, as you say, bear no resemblance to our manic world. Feel in awe of the first settlers establishing themselves in these harsh and remote environments.
    Can only imagine their disappointment at being beaten by Mother Nature! xx

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