This is one of the stories my editor had me leave out of my Guru book, expanded here for this telling. It’s a story worth telling though–and funny–but not funny at the time it was happening. Actually, a lot my adventures are like that: they are funny in retrospect. Here are the two main characters of this tale–
Back then I still had an active mental health practice and these were my therapy dogs, Morgan and Lacy. At the time of this trip, Morgan (left, black), a.k.a., Old Dog, was ten-years-old. He is a Retriever mix; Lacy (white) was a 14-month-old Great Pyrenees. There was still a lot of puppy in her then and still is now two years later. Morgan is Top Dog between the two of them. Lacy may be younger and outweigh him by some 2x pounds, he is nonetheless, the Boss Dog–and the leader in this case into mayhem.
This was our last Big Bend, Tx, trip in 2019. As I write this post revision (10/18/21), that was almost exactly two years ago. I’m also adding some additional stops we made headed out there. So, it’s a little expanded from the version that was in the book. It was a farewell trip. It was the only long-distance trip I took them on. I found trying to handle them both by myself was a little too much.
I was pretty sure this would be my last trip out here to the Big Bend area and even to Texas. For some 50 years I had been driving to Texas to visit my parents, both of whom now, recently had passed. Consequently, there were some special places I wanted to stop along the way and say goodbye. It was a trip of memories, of goodbyes, as well as a farewell trip to Big Bend itself.
However, the old saying, “Never say never” applies here, as I am now planning my 2022 epic bicycle adventure tour, which includes touring Big Bend and surrounding area on my bicycle. In truth the whole idea for my upcoming bicycle tour started here in Big Bend on this 2019 trip. Consequently, this story and trip is part of the background for my evolving 2022 tour for which preparation, planning, and training are now ongoing. (Anybody willing to assist me in this venture, there is a “Donate” button below, and thanks.) Back to our journey…
We had spent four long days driving out to Big Bend, making stops for lunch at Mary’s Cafe in Strawn, Tx., home of the best chicken fried steak in Texas, or for my money, anywhere, except, of course, the one I prepare from my own kitchen! Here I was at that “last meal.” Don’t worry, the dogs got a share as I couldn’t possibly eat the entire thing–and that was their small!
I hadn’t told anyone in Texas, family or friends, that I was making the trip. Just me and the dogs on a last trip West. It was a trip of closings, including my third (and final) marriage and my parents’ deaths. After Mary’s and just up the road about 20 miles, we stopped and visited my parents’ graves. Dad had died in 2016, Mom in 2017. It will probably be my last and only visit since there burials. In it reside many of my relatives: aunts, uncles, grandparents, and more. The graveyard sits on property donated by my grandparents and later my parents. It abuts the family farm. From it you can see the house my parents built and lived in for over 20+ years. They then later moved nearby to Ranger, Tx, just down the road.
Then there was an early evening dinner at the famous Johnny’s BBQ in my growing-up town of Odessa some 250 miles down the road from Strawn. Our destination for the night was Ft. Stockton. Johnny’s was one of my favorite places to eat BBQ as a teen growing up in Odessa. Still there and still making a great BBQ! Hadn’t changed much in 53 years. (Somewhere I have a photo of this and will update if/when I find it.) I wasn’t hungry from my big lunch, but got it to-go, and had it later that evening at our motel in Ft. Stockton. I put it in the back of the truck as the dogs, who mainly road in the back seat, would have gone crazy smelling it. Maybe me too.
Arriving at Big Bend the next day around noon, we were all three exhausted from the four days of driving and riding. However, we still had about two-and-half hours to go before we got to our camping site. Once past the entrance to the Big Bend NP, it is still about an hour’s drive to the ranger station to get a camping permit, another 20 minutes around to the turnoff to the back country on Old Ore Rd, to our camping site. An hour and ten-minute, four-wheel drive later on Old Ore Rd, we arrived mid-afternoon at our campsite. After an initial, cautious sniffing and exploring by the dogs, we all three just laid around, exhausted. Morgan liked the back seat of the truck and was sacked out there.
Lacy was lying out in the shade of the bear box, a heavy-duty metal box to put your food and trash in to keep it away from the bears, javelinas (peccaries), mountain lions, etc.
I need to point out at this point before we go further, both of these are “city dogs.” Neither has been to the desert, and the desert can be a very nasty place. Everything bites, stings, or has a nasty disposition, or chemical defenses. Survival in the desert is a very Darwinian “bloody tooth and nail.” I had been concerned about bringing them because of their unfamiliarity with and the many dangers of the desert. So far they were doing okay. I had brought some special first aid stuff to get thorns out, etc. But, Jesus, there were rattlesnakes, scorpions, cacti, thorny bushes, all kinds of nasties everywhere. I grew up in the desert and had spent time camping and hiking in it, so I knew it. It is my natural stomping ground.
I was napping/dozing in the front seat when I heard Morgan charge out of the truck. I sat up and went into panic mode: Lacy had spotted a badger and Morgan was tearing off after it! I didn’t even know badgers occurred out here! Morgan had no idea just how dangerous badgers were. He thought it was a funny looking cat probably. He loves chasing cats. Doesn’t know what to do when one doesn’t run or turns and faces him off. He just stands there wagging his tail, unsure what to do.
That badger would quickly tear Morgan a new asshole. Badgers are nasty critters when confronted. As Morgan tore up the hillside after it, there was clueless Lacy following right after him. Stupid dogs! I watched as the two dogs went charging up the hill toward the badger. At first the badger stood its ground, but when it saw Lacy, the small horse, charging up behind Morgan, he decided to cut his losses and high-tailed it over the top of the ridge. This kicked in Morgan’s pursuit circuitry and Lacy following happily behind. All my work and training with them forgotten in their chase.
I had taken their training collars off when we arrived to recharge them. My bad. I could have sent a scathing electrical charge to them to bring them back, if they had had them on. I hadn’t put them on their leashes either, as we had just been laying around chillin’ for the last couple of hours.
I plowed up the hillside, in my sneakers (luckily I had not taken them off), jumping over cacti and prickly bushes and agave, all the while trying to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes too, and yelling the dogs’ names, telling them to “COME”!!! Lacy, to her credit, stopped and came to me, and stayed with me. Morgan reluctantly finally came to me. In my panic to stop get them, I had not grabbed their leashes.
We were walking back down the hill, nearly back to the truck, when Morgan must have heard the badger again, and tore back up the hill toward it. The badger had poked its head up over the hilltop and Morgan had spotted it. I quickly clipped Lacy’s leash on her and told her “down”. She obeyed. Grabbing Morgan’s leash, I tore back up the hillside just as Morgan disappeared over the hilltop. Again, charging up the hill, jumping cacti, looking out for snakes, I topped the hill to find Morgan sniffing around trying to find that badger. There were a couple of holes over there, and apparently the badger had gone down one of them. Yelling at Morgan to come, he finally stopped and let me put his leash on him. I’m the one who did the actual “coming.” Before his training, he would have just run off though. We walked back down the hill to the truck. For the rest of the trip, they either stayed on their leashes or had their training collars on when we were outside.
After my heart rate and adrenaline level settled back down, I got them settled down and finished setting up our camp. As the sun started going down behind the mountains to our west, I fixed supper–a ribeye, fried potatoes, and a salad. After dinner, watching the sun set behind the mountains in the west, I relaxed in the soft light of my backpacking candle light lantern, watched the stars and moon start peaking out, and had a celebratory scotch and cigar. A successful day. No casualties. I could relax now, right?
Wrong! More fun was coming that evening as a Norther blew in, the wind came up in a desert gale, and I had to scramble around in the dark, securing the gear. Morgan crawled in the backseat. Lacy and I spent the night cramped in the back of the truck as I didn’t want to set the big cooler full of food and beer outside. The next morning it was near freezing! It had been in the 90’s when we pulled in the previous afternoon. I had brought cold weather gear and pulled it out and on. Welcome to the desert!
Again, I would appreciate any help my readers might give for my upcoming 2022 bicycle tour, beginning in the sacred canyon country of the Pueblos and Navajos in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, continuing to this wild desert of Big Bend, then on to the Texas Hill country and Austin, headed eventually for St Augustine, FL, some 3500 miles by an old man on a bicycle.
By way of offering assistance for the tour, Gary Stillwell, an old high school (Permian High School in Odessa, TX) colleague and friend, has graciously volunteered that, if I’m 250 miles from either of their two homes (Austin, TX, or outside of Ruidoso, NM), he will come get me. He also added that I needed to be carrying a pistol for protection. He went on to explain that he and his wife, Julie, another old high school friend, and another couple were cooking out in his and Julie’s backyard one evening in their home outside of Ruidoso last summer and up walked a mountain lion! He had apparently smelled the meat on the grill and came to investigate. Luckily, he turned away. But it was unnerving. He emphasized that there were much more than hombres I needed to watch out for and have protection. There are mountain lions, bears, rattlesnakes, and now I know, badgers, in a lot of the country I will be peddling and camping on the trip.