The US/Mexico Border Daily
SECTION ten: Rio Grande Village to Langtry
Here we go! Today we depart on our wildly wacky potentially disastrous boater-walker combo adventure! Zak and friends Eddie and Britt spent the night at our campsite which meant getting eight people and all their stuff on the water this morning. Yikes. It was slow going. The pile of gear that we needed to transfer from our campsite to the put-in was so monstrous that multiple trips were required.
By noon the put-in area was strewn with piles of gear. There was some organization, the piles were categorized by function: personal gear, kitchen gear, boat supplies, and food. Zak’s group showed up significantly later to the put-in yet somehow got on the water earlier. Before leaving, Zak perused our outdated gear, offering to give us some of his. Typical Zak, so nice.
A lot of effort goes into a river trip. We had two duckies (large inflatable canoe-like rafts) that had to be blown up and checked for leaks. Everything had to be stored in waterproof containers and tied down on the duckies, with consideration for weight distribution and seat space. Paddles and life jackets have to be readily available to every boater and extras stored appropriately. Kim and Fred would be hauling the duckies behind their kayaks, and the kayaks had to be prepped as well. By the time everything had been sorted and stored two o'clock had rolled around and we needed to get going. The three hikers waved goodbye to Fred and Kim and helped shove them off the shore. Time to get moving.
We were still within the National Park and were able to follow the road and then a short trail that took us along the river.
It was much easier going than hiking directly along the river banks but it meant that we were out of sight of Kim and Fred and would endlessly discuss: "Will they run into problems?"
Good luck guys! The walking was iffy with almost no shoulder and plenty of touristy traffic. We passed the Boquillas Crossing - a ferry that takes pedestrians to the other side of the river. The town of Boquillas sat on a hill just across from us, a sprawl of brightly colored buildings. The crossing is only open half of the week and unfortunately was closed today. Bummer!
So many people. Mostly in cars but on foot when we passed by trailheads and parking lots. Our gear was stashed in the boats so we blended in with the crowds with our small backpacks. We reached an informational sign just before our turnoff that drew the three of us nerds in like a magnet. There used to be an aerial tram that crossed the river at Boquillas. In 1915-1919 the tram transported zinc, lead and silver across the desert, from Mexico into the States. Nikki, our fluent Spanish speaker read the Spanish half of the sign while we followed along in English and tried to pick up some new vocab. Nikki, please teach us more Spanish!
Boquillas Canyon trail would take us back down to the river to rejoin Fred and Kim. They would have four river miles under their belt when they met us and gosh were we sweating it.
How was the boating? Was it impossible paddling two kayaks pulling two boats weighed down by gear?
This first part would be the trial by error stage to see if our plan worked or if we needed to help F&K more with the boats.
The trail climbed up a limestone bluff that overlooked a stretch of the river before it was sucked downstream into a massive canyon. Perfect position to watch for Fred and Kim. Unfortunately our optimism waned when we realized that the struggling boaters below us were Zak, Eddy and Britt. They had left much earlier than our crew and are hardly slouches, which meant the river was slow going and F&K would be at least another hour. What felt like a cool breeze to us was a monster headwind on the river. Also, the low water level, around 111 CFS (cubic feet per second) made boating painstakingly slow.
It might be so low that we will be forced to drag the boats in certain sections. Panic! Is this going to work?
Well not much we could do at the moment but crack some beers (the one thing a river trip always has!) and settle in to wait. Across the river in Mexico, a group of men had set up several stations around a large fire.
Eventually one of them loaded up a small canoe and paddled over to the US. What?!
After constant Border Patrol scrutiny, it’s absolutely bizarre to see no sign of them in the Park. The man restocked a pile of touristy souvenirs that line many of Big Bend’s river trails. We’d seen some near the hot springs, a selection of handcrafted beaded desert animals and glossy walking sticks made of cane. The objects each had a price tag attached with an honor system jar in the middle for cash. The men must be making them across the river.
When we finally saw F&K in the distance it was clear they were struggling against the headwind. It was almost impossible to make any progress without being blown backwards. When they reached our rock, Claire and Nikki hopped in the duckies to help with the paddling while Tenny pulled them from the shore. It was clear we weren’t going much further in this wind. Luckily around the corner we found Zak and the gang camped on a small spit of sand. They probably weren’t all too keen on having their guy’s trip crashed by our messy group but didn’t let a hint of that come through in their gracious offer to share. We were definitely going to have to rethink the feasibility of our boating plan. But for now dry clothes and dinner!