Amistad International Reservoir, Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center, and Marathon
Driving south from Bandera, the Hill Country begins to level out and the landscape returns to flat and green. After driving west on I-90 for a while, it begins to change yet again as you near Amistad International Reservoir.
Amistad International Reservoir
The first time I crossed this reservoir, 9 years ago, I didn’t know anything about it. It appeared so suddenly that there was no time to look into what we might find if we stopped. This time, I wanted to at least enjoy the view.
Amistad dam was constructed in 1969 and is managed jointly by the United States and Mexico; Amistad is the Spanish word for friendship. The recreation area is managed by the National Park Service, which charges a fee for boat use and camping facilities but not for hiking.
Activities in the area include boating, camping, swimming, scuba diving, fishing, hiking, birding, photography, and viewing pictographs. Native Americans lived in this area 4,000 years ago and left behind pictographs which can be accessed by hiking or by boat, depending on lake levels. If you’re interested in viewing them, the most convenient access point will be through Seminole Canyon State Park, at the northwestern end of the reservoir.
During our short stay, we got our first look at the flowering Prickly Pear Cactuses. With a range reaching west from the Hill Country and into the Big Bend Region, the bright yellow flowers of these cacti brighten the April landscape. Between the incredible views over the lake and all the flowering desert plants we discovered, it’s a wonder we managed to tear ourselves free. As it turned out, we had even more to look forward to at our next stop.
Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center
It may seem a little odd that a Texas Highway Visitor Center would be considered a necessary stop on the road to Big Bend; the reason is that it’s so much more than a place offering tourist information and timely restrooms.
When the visitor center site was purchased by the state in 1939, stories about Judge Roy Bean, who declared himself “the law west of the Pecos”, had already spread far and wide. Operating one of the two saloons in town and serving as justice of the peace in Langtry for twenty years, Bean made quite a name for himself. Along with his often bizarre sentencing practices, and the ability to profit from them, came stories of a man who seemed to have quietly funneled money to those who needed it most. It’s difficult to separate truth from legend when it comes to Judge Roy Bean, but he certainly left his mark on the history of this area. Bean’s original saloon, which also served as his court room, burned down in 1897, six years before Bean’s death. Fortunately, it was rebuilt and deeded to the state in 1934.
In addition to the saloon, the visitor center includes a beautiful desert garden, which for me was the biggest attraction. Take the time while you’re here to walk the paths. You’re likely to encounter some of the plants again in Big Bend, but most of them I have only seen at the visitor center. If you bring along a picnic lunch, you’ll find some nice tables out front where you can enjoy it. After getting back on 90, we continued on toward Marathon.
I had read a bit about Marathon in Texas Highways Magazine, and was looking forward to seeing it. Since it turned out to be much smaller than expected, and we were beginning to run short on time, we chose to settle for a short driving tour.
The Gage Hotel is a bit of an institution in Marathon and I strongly considered booking rooms there for our Big Bend stay. Built in 1927, the hotel has been expanded over the years and today includes a number of the amenities you would expect to find in a more metropolitan area. The drawback to staying here is that the drive to the middle of Big Bend National Park takes 1.5 hours.
Entering Big Bend National Park
At the entrance gate to the park, we were given a map and some brochures. The $25/vehicle fee seemed quite reasonable when we realized it was good for 7 days. We, unfortunately, would not be spending more than 2 days.
As we continued, the mountains grew larger and were layered one behind the other far into the distance. After the long drive to get there, we were ready to get out at the newly built Fossil Bone Exhibit and enjoy being back in Big Bend.
To be continued….