Lupita and I were sad to leave the magical mountain town of Terlingua but our journey across the border had to continue.
We set course on FM 170, which is known as the “River Road” because it runs parallel to the winding Rio Grande River for 120 miles.
The folks at the cafe in Terlingua told us that the road was one of the most beautiful in Texas, so we were eager to see it for ourselves.
It didn’t take us long to reach the town of Lajitas, a resort town with an official population of 50 people.
Just the day before, we had seen the majestic natural beauty of Big Bend National Park and the ghost town of Terlingua.
But the border is a land of contrasts and Lajitas offered yet another surprise.
Irrigation from the Rio Grande River allowed for the creation of a golf course, a resort, hotel, a spa, high-end shops and restaurants.
Lupita and I snapped photos of the green and manicured lawns and walked around the grounds.
It was one of the most luxurious places we had seen on our trip, literally an oasis in the desert.
But Lajitas is more than just a spa and resort, it’s a part of what makes the Big Bend a magical place.
A beer-drinking goat named “Clay Henry” was once named the mayor of the unincorporated border community.
The resort town and its golf course along the Rio Grande River draws high-rollers from across Texas and the rest of the United States.
Many of them prefer to land at a private airport instead of driving in like Lupita and I did.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
But Lajitas is also a gateway to the Big Bend Ranch State Park.
With more than 311,000 acres, Big Bend Ranch State Park is the largest in Texas.
FM 170 cuts through the massive state park, which has no fences and no cell phone signal.
One feels truly free as if there is no border, that it’s just an imaginary line.
The Rio Grande River was there to the side of the highway with no buildings or power lines on either side.
We didn’t see any Border Patrol agents or military patrols, only mountains, rocks and beautiful cactuses.
The winding road leads up and down over the mountains.
We had drive the rental car in second gear for many parts of the drive to prevent the brake pads from heating up.
That made the trip slower but it also allowed us to enjoy the scenery.
It only took a couple of hours to get to the border town of Presidio, Texas.
The town of 4,300 people has only international border crossing in either direction.
We rolled past the historic Fort Leaton to get to town and the international bridge.
The desert town of Presidio had much less “character” than other cities we had seen.
Marathon had the Gage Hotel and charming high-end shops.
Alpine had the beautiful Sul Ross State University campus and immaculate surroundings.
Marfa had its pink courthouse, funky artist colonies and bohemian lifestyle.
Terlingua had the ghost town and Lajitas was an oasis in the desert.
But Presidio seemed more like a blue-collar ranching and farming town.
Lupita and I looked for historic buildings and churches but just saw simple one-story buildings.
There was only one Mexican restaurant open in town with a line of people waiting outside.
Eager to see the international crossing, we opted to eat at a Subway to save time.
We parked just a few blocks from the international bridge in front of a kiosk for “tourist information.”
With no flyers or information, Lupita and I headed to the bridge and into the unknown.
Curious customs officers inspected our bags and asked a lot of questions.
We must have seemed out of place to them or maybe they weren’t used to tourists walking across the bridge.
The sun beat down on the bridge in the 100-degree weather.
Cattle grazed along the river reminding us that State of Chihuahua is one of the lead beef-producing states in Mexico.
As we crossed into Mexican border town of Ojinaga, our constant companion was the sunshine, the dust and heat.
We walked into town and past souvenir vendors that didn’t have much business.
Ojinaga seemed like the reason people created the stereotype “dusty border town.”
The wind constantly blew dust across the sun-bleached boulevard.
But for many travelers Ojinaga is not destination but rather a pit stop along the way to the City of Camargo and then on to the capital city Chihuahua.
It didn’t take long before we had to stop for a big bottle of water and head back to the United States.
Back on the Texas side of the border, there was a decision to make.
Highway 67 would take us to Marfa and eventually to El Paso, which was some 254 mile away.
But FM 170 continues along the Rio Grande River another 50 miles past Presidio to the border towns of Ruidosa and Candelaria.
The two Texas towns both have less than 50 people each.
Ruidosa is known for its general store, adobe church and thermal hot springs.
Candelaria is known for being the end of the line for the “River Road.”
The border town also has a wooden bridge that leads to a town on the Mexican side of the river.
But that bridge is not an official border crossing manned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Although one could use it to go into Mexico, one could technically be charged with illegal entry if they cross back into the United States.
The trick is to use it when no Border Patrol agent is around.
But we needed to reach El Paso by nightfall, so we decided to head north to Marfa.
Not seeing Ruidosa and Candelaria is the one corner we cut in our trip across the border.
At the time of the trip, we did not know about the wooden bridge across the Rio Grande in Candelaria.
If we had known, we would have made time.
It’s my only regret on the trip but we have made a solemn vow to return and see both Ruidosa and Candelaria.