When I began writing this series, I had no idea the words would just keep on flowing beyond a single post. But, hey, that’s OK. I’ve enjoyed the writing, and we finally made it to that point in the story where I get to talk about my favorite little town along the “Grand and Turbid River to the North.” A town I actually never set foot in.
It was, as you may guess from the titles, Boquillas del Carmen otherwise known as Boquillas !!!
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how a town I never visited could be my fav, but keep in mind, there was but a shallow and not-so-wide portion of the Rio Grande separating me from this border town, and I was able to interact with some of the residents there in some unique ways.
But first, let’s start with a bit of the language – one of my favorite parts.
And before we dive in, I’ll kick us off with a great and pertinent quote from the movie, “The Professor and the Madman.”
“Every word in action becomes beautiful in the light of its own meaning.”
Boquillas is a quaint and impoverished town with a population somewhere between 200 and 300 people. Like Terlingua and Lajitas, it too suffered the effects of depopulation once the mines were played out. And to look at it, even from a distance, it is still stuck in time, somewhere around 1950 I’d guess.
Perhaps even much more antiquated.
“Boquillas del Carmen” translates into, “Mouthpiece (or Teat*) of the Walled Garden.” And you will instantly understand where the reference to the “Wall” comes from, because directly behind the town is the “Sierra del Carmen” or the “Mountain of the Walled Garden.”
This mountain range bleeds off of the “Maderas del Carmen” or the “Wood (or Makings) of the Walled Garden,” which is a natural protected area in Mexico.
The mountain range behind the town is composed of an expanse of sheer rock cliffs, thus, the “Wall” where its highest peak, the “Pico del Carmen,” or the “Peak of the Walled Garden,” rises over 7000 feet! And the “Garden” being the vegetation between the Wall and the River.
The River, that giant Chocolate Snake, slithers past the town and into Boquillas Canyon inside Big Bend National Park where a segment, or subrange, of the Sierra del Carmen crossing over to the American side is known as the “Sierra del Caballo Muerto” = Sierra (Mountain Range) del (of the) Caballo (Horse) Muerto (Dead) = the “Dead Horse Mountains.”
And there seems to be a morbid preoccupation with “Death” in this region as the Dead Horse Mountains are composed of a series of block fault ranges, in particular, the “Caballo Muerto” Ridge (Dead Horse Ridge) that traverses 30 miles into the Park dropping from its average of 4000 feet above sea level to 3000 feet before ending in Dagger Flat near the Persimmon Gap Ranger Station.
Trying to describe these mountains could be best summed up with the following pics:
And there are at least three legends of how these mountain ranges were named. The first being that a bunch of Texas Rangers slaughtered a whole bunch of captured Indian ponies to prevent their recapture. To the Comanches, horses were what dollars are to the Whiteman, so this would have been a big deal to the Native Americans.
The second is that a couple of cowboys stumbled upon a remuda of horses trapped in a canyon in these mountains. They were unable to rescue them and ended up watching them all starve to death. Why stay and watch? Seems kind of morbid to me.
And finally, there is the tale about surveyor Arthur Stiles, who named the Ridge and Mountain Range because his favorite saddle horse plunged to its death from a high cliff in those mountains. The legend doesn’t say if the horse committed suicide, was murdered, or simply had an accident. I guess we’ll never know for sure. 😊
At any rate, back to my favorite little town across the border.
Up until September 11, 2001, border crossings were allowed here. But with the tragic event of that day, the border crossing was closed and it remained closed until April of 2013.
Now, in comes one of my River Rat’s tales.
Somewhere in this time frame, the American company providing electricity to Terlingua and Lajitas offered to extend power across the River to power the town. Yes, all those years, no electricity. Today’s Americans would simply not know how to survive a day without electricity. I mean, can you imagine, no TV, no Facebook – LOL.
The company told the people of Boquillas to wire up their houses and “Power” would soon be theirs. Remember, this is a little impoverished community that was just regaining its tourist trade after the border was reopened. To wire up their homes must have been an incredible expense. And as you can probably guess, the Americans didn’t keep their promise. It seems someone, of the Powers-that-be, failed an environmental impact analysis.
So here, all of these poor Mexican families had spent all their money on wiring for no Power. What to do? Well, these creative folks stripped all of that copper wiring out of their walls and fashioned it into local crafts. Cacti and Scorpions and Roadrunners and bracelets. Then they added hand carved and painted walking sticks. And with the tourists back, they recouped their losses and this craft tradition became endemic.
Ut oh, but what happened when COVID caused the border crossing to close once again? The ever-inventive people of Boquillas simply waded the River with their wares, laid them out at Big Bend’s major points of interest, and left a tip-jar and price list for their American patrons.
I purchased a couple of items myself.
Now the Border Patrol has a very heavy presence here, and it’s my understanding that their behavior ranges anywhere from abject tolerance to obsequious confiscation. If they catch you purchasing the merchandise, they will consider it contraband, and I suppose they will lock you up awaiting whatever fate might be delivered for buying a trinket for $10 bucks or less.
I try to stay clear of these guys and carry my passport whenever I’m near the border because these guys can be pretty intimidating and the reach of their authority is pretty broad. You have to be prepared to prove your citizenship and explain “what the hell are you doing here” when you come all the way from the Midwest.
You’d think travel itself was outlawed.
I did get to see the BP in action when they were unable to pin down a Mexican gentleman who crossed over the River on horseback to recapture a couple of his wayward horses. The man recovered his horses and returned to Boquillas unscathed. With a rather large grin upon his face. We had exchanged friendly greetings during his pursuit, and I sort of cheered him on, much to the frowns of the BP.
Standing across the River, the people of Boquillas and I had a bit of cultural exchange. They cheered me on when I repetitively shouted “No Wall!” And I cheered on the “Singing Jesus” when he gifted us travelers with a Spanish song. He leaves a donation jar on the US side of the River, and it would be a tough time for the BP to call a song on the wind contraband.
It is always refreshing to meet people who are Down-to-Earth, Positive in Mind, and Open in Heart. And that, my friends, is how I will remember the people of Boquillas. Despite what some would call their poverty, they lead a very rich life.
Oh BTW, the town did finally get electricity in 2015 with the completion of a solar farm. I also understand that there is one phone line that comes into the village now, and the “operator” coordinates a call back time to complete the call to the correct person.
Back on my side of the Border, this beautiful landscape gifted me with the vision of a Black Bear Cub, literally dancing in the middle of the road before scurrying off to find its Mother. And at precisely 4:30 in the afternoon, someone of higher authority rang the “Tarantula Bell.” I obviously made that term up, but no lie, at exactly that time, the Texas Brown Tarantulas suddenly appeared in mass and were crossing the roads everywhere. I think this phenomenon lasted about thirty minutes, which was long enough to stop, say hello, and capture a nice pic.
It is hard to capture the totality of my experiences in Big Bend, although, I hope I was able to give you a taste of the area. And I’ve veered off course several times, going down those rabbit holes. There are so many of those side trips I haven’t yet conveyed that I will eventually end up writing about them in separate blog posts.
Look for one theme, again involving that preoccupation with Death, the “Día de los Muertos” or “The Day of the Dead.”
Another rabbit hole, is the brief story of how a Goat became a Mayor of Lajitas, and his line of succession. Of course, one about the annual International Terlingua Chili Cook-off and Terlingua Ghost Town.
And then there is another about Questzalcoatlus northropi, a pterosaur from the Late Cretaceous Period.
And, of course, there is the complex story about how the Comanches used to essentially rule this territory – like for hundreds of years and, in particular, there is the story of Quanah Parker.
See you soon with another tale . . .
Title: I again borrowed from the Comanche language for this post with Hayarokwet
u (four or forth) & T umar uhkit u (finish or end). Thus, we have the fourth and final chapter of this series.
Photos: I took all of these pics at Big Bend. The feature pic is of Boquillas Canyon, as is the 5th one down. The rest I think you can figure out. 🙂
* Other translations of Boquillas besides “mouthpiece” include: nozzle, burner, teat, nipple, stem, cigarette holder, and piece of gossip or hot air. With so many translations, I would look at this as being colloquial for “Entrance” or perhaps “Teat” as this where the garden erupts and provides nourishment.
Prior Posts in this Series include:
Sources: I listed the majority of my sources in the prior chapter, but here’s one I know I need to include: