The morning in the Basin is just glorious. The mountains keep the sun from showing for a while, but the beautiful light reaches over the peaks, illuminating soft clouds overhead. I pack up the tent for the last time, load the bike, and head over the hills out of the Chisos Mountains and back into the desert. This place, Big Bend, is really unique with an incredible array of plant and wildlife, stuck in an unusual setting. There are a thousand plant species and more than 450 bird species have been counted here, more than in any other U.S. national park. Iím beginning to wish I had scheduled more time here, as Iíd like to take a side trip down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. At the end of the road is the Santa Elena Canyon with 1,500-foot walls carved by the Rio Grande. I had no idea how magnificent this place would be, and my poor planning means I have to leave now in order to stay on schedule.
I head down to Panther Junction, the Visitor Center and Park Headquarters. The entrance station was closed when I came into the park yesterday, so I need to get the map and guide, and show the ranger my Golden Eagle Pass. Oh yeah, and I need to get the stamp. But now my GPS is acting up. The damn thing keeps shutting off. I realize that it is running on battery power, not off the bikeís power, although the wire is definitely plugged in. Ah, it must be the in-line fuse, and the internal batteries are running low. Iíll take a closer look when I reach the visitor center.
The stamp is there, waiting for me to ink my passport. And there is also a stamp for the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River. But I have to wait to talk to the ranger, as someone is getting a backcountry camping permit. If you want to camp within the park, but outside of the main campgrounds, you need to register with the rangers and let them know where youíre headed. They take your name and address just in case. And it turns out that the guy who is registering is from Poughkeepsie, my hometown! But he seems less than thrilled to meet someone else from Po-Town. Okay. Fine. LOSER.
Turning my attention to the GPS problem, I reach under the fairing and try to get at the fuse that I had wired at the dealership in St. Louis. But there isnít much slack, and I stupidly pull off the connector, ripping it from the wire. Yes, the fuse is blown, but now I need to rewire the fuse holder, and that is not going to happen today. I donít have the time, and the spare fuse is under the rear seat, which is under the camping gear, which is securely strapped down to the motorcycle. Iíll just run the Garmin Street Pilot off the internal AA batteries for the day, and Iíll worry about this later. Iíve got to get moving.
Turning north, I cruise across the Tornillo Flat, wondering just how hot it gets here during the summer. The park guide says ground temperatures can reach 180 degrees at mid-day. That must be a typo, right? I stop near the Persimmon Gap park entrance, just shy of Marathon, because the GPS keeps shutting off. What the hell is wrong with this thing? I decide to put in fresh batteries and blow out the dust. Iím unscrewing the GPS from the mount when something catches my eye, over there in the cactus. Thereís something moving around out there, but I canít quite see what it is. I step off the road, and walk into the desert scrubs to get a closer look. What the hell is that? I walk deeper into the prickly plants, my boots and riding suit protecting me from being impaled. But I canít find anything out here. I turn back towards the bike.
And there it is, just a few feet away from me. Munching on a cactus. And it doesnít see me. Itís a Javelina, sometimes known as a Collared Peccary. A piglike, hoofed mammal, the Javelina is a cactus loving omnivore about the size of a dog. I video tape the strange beast for a few minutes and then leave him to his breakfast. Itís amazing how animals here in the desert have adapted to their harsh surroundings. The Kangaroo Rat, for example, never needs to drink water to survive. It metabolizes water from carbohydrates in the seeds it eats. Roadrunners get much of their required moisture from the body fluids of prey, such as lizards and small rattlesnakes, pecked to death by stunning blows from the roadrunnerís beak.
Up ahead in Marathon I stop for gas. Iíve only gone 110 miles since I filled up in Study Butte yesterday, but there just arenít many towns out here and Iím not going to wait and see what lies ahead. Iím turning east on US-90, and the next town, Sanderson, is 54 miles away. Then itís another 21 miles to Dryden, and then 40 more to Langtry. Between the last two gas stops I only passed one filling station, inside the park near the VC. Thereís an reasonable looking Shell station here, so I think Iíll fill up. This tank will take me somewhere between Del Rio and San Antonio where theyíll be plenty of towns and gas stations.
Langtry was the home of Judge Roy Bean, the infamous Justice of the Peace and "The Law West of the Pecos." The Westís most colorful lawman, he ruled Americaís last frontier with his own brand of justice. I stop at the Langtry visitor center, curious to learn a little more about the man Iíve been hearing about since I entered Texas two days ago. Thereís no stamp, as itís not a national park site. There is a stamp, however, another 50 miles east at The Amistad National Recreation Area. This national park site was created when the 6-mile long Amistad Dam was built on the Rio Grande as a joint U.S.-Mexico project. Amistad means "friendship", and the reservoir hosts 850 miles of shoreline along the two countries. The area also contains 10,000-year-old rock paintings and some of the best preserved archaeological deposits in North American.
At 3:50 PM, just past Cline, the bike starts to sputter. Iíve seen this before, not on this motorcycle, but once on my 1969 BMW R69US. Iíve run out of gas. WHAT!?! I RAN OUT OF GAS? HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN? The trip odometer reads 239 miles. The GPS tells me itís another 15 to Uvalde. I thought I could make it.
I thought wrong. With the high speeds and low elevations, the bike is running through fuel like water. On top of that, the bikeís fuel gauge has been acting up, getting stuck so I canít tell when Iím running on the reserve. The R1100RS has a 6.1 gallon tank, and Iíve been able to go well over 250 miles on a fill-up. But not this time. Of all the times on this trip that Iíve worried about running out of fuel, I just didnít think it was going to happen this time.
Okay. This isnít too bad. There must be a bunch of gas stations up ahead in Uvalde. Cline, the town I just past, wasnít much more than a border patrol station. There was nothing there. My cell phone works (a miracle) and I dial up the 800 number for the Cross Country Motor Club. Every new BMW sold in America comes with a Roadside Assistance Plan and a three-year membership to the Cross Country Motor Club. A fellow named Todd answers and I tell him Iíve run out of fuel and give him my location. He puts me on hold for a few minutes and tells me they have a contact in Uvalde and another about 50 miles to the north. I ask him to call the Uvalde station, and he puts me on hold again. About 10 minutes later he tells me the place in Uvalde doesnít deliver fuel! What the hell good is that! He offers to call the "local authorities", or the station 50 miles north, but I tell Todd Iíll take care of this myself. Thanks for nothing! I guess I got what I paid for.
I donít know why I even wasted my time with Cross Country. I press a few buttons on the GPS, and because Iíve downloaded the MetroGuide information into the unit, Iíve got the names and phone numbers of ten service stations in Uvalde. I call the closest one, the Exxon station at 1403 North Gety Street. 830-278-6322. They tell me theyíll be there in 30 minutes with some gas. Great!
At 4:35 PM the fellow from Uvalde arrives with a gallon of gas, and 5 minutes later Iím gone. Total cost: $20. I was so thrilled I gave him $30. The sun is going down, and the GPS is acting up. It keeps shutting off although the batteries have plenty of juice in them. Itís a real pain to keep turning the unit back on while Iím riding. Iím getting closer to San Antonio and I have no idea where Iím heading. I was hoping to get the stamp for the San Antonio Missions, but theyíll probably be closed by now. Thereís one of those big brown NPS signs for the Missions on the Interstate, and I take the exit.
Mission Concepcion looks striking in the setting sunlight. I get some nice shots, but the visitor center is closed. I turn south towards Mission San Juan where Iíll visit in the morning. Iím looking for a decent motel, but this neighborhood is kind of nasty. The motels advertise special "daytime" rates. Next to "The Landing Strip" (with no airport in sight, if you know what I mean) there is a Days Inn that looks reasonable. Well, at least itís surrounded by barbed wire. Iíll be safe here.
My weapon of choice is the Olympus DS-150 Digital Voice Recorder. Itís so small I constantly think Iím going to lose it. It weighs 2.6 ounces, measures just 1.7 by 4.6 inches, and is only .6 inches thick. The unit runs for 10 hours off two AAA batteries and will hold 160 minutes of recordings in up to 198 different messages.
The best part of this recorder is a feature I havenít even used yet. The unit I bought came packaged with VoiceXpress Professional, audio transcription software from Lernout & Hauspie. This means I can take the audio files I record on the DS-150, download them to my computer and the software will type out what I said. You can even use voice commands to control your computer. Cool, huh? Of course, you need to teach the software the nuances of your voice, and that means sitting down for about an hour and reading some text into the machine. I havenít had the time to do that yet.
I ordered the whole package directly from L&H and the cost was around 200 bucks, after a rebate. Not bad. Iíve seen the DS-150 packaged with the IBM ViaVoice software, but the L&H package gets better reviews. To learn more go to http://www.lhsl.com/voicexpress/mobile/.
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