Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.

C.M. Mayo < Digital Media < Podcasts < Marfa Mondays <

Transcript #2

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Announcer: Welcome to
Marfa Mondays, with your host, award-winning travel writer and novelist C.M. Mayo.

C.M. Mayo: This is the podcast for Monday, February 20, 2012. I'm C.M. Mayo, and this is the second in the series scheduled for the third Monday of every month from January 2012 through the end of 2013, apropos of my travels and researches in writing a travel memoir. I'm just starting, so I'm not sure where exactly the book is going, but maybe you are listening to this long after it's been done and published, in which case, I invite you, if you haven't already, to read all about it on my web site, cmmayo.com.

But back to February 2012. I'm starting out with travels that focus on
Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, and the people and the landscape as he would have encountered them.

So who was Cabeza de Vaca? Cabeza de Vaca was a conquistador who underwent what may well be one of the most gruesome and bizarre odysseys ever recorded. The indigenous people he encountered, befriended, healed, was enslaved by, had never seen a European, and many thought he had come from the sky. I find it peculiar that Cabeza de Vaca isn't better known north of the Mexican border. That old saw, "truth is stranger than fiction," applies in his case, or at least his version of events, which one might as well believe, because the fantastic fact is Cabeza de Vaca did reappear in northern Mexico in late April of 1536, one of only four survivors of the several hundred men who participated in the Narvaez expedition to Florida in March of 1528.

Cabeza de Vaca left a memoir, Náufragos, translated into English as Castaways. You can read more about Cabeza de Vaca in Paul Schneider's deeply-researched book, Brutal Journey. On the internet at archive.org and elsewhere you can download for free Fanny Bandelier's 1905 translation of Cabeza de Vaca's Náufragios as The Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, 1542. And there is a stunning movie by Mexican director Nicolás Echevarría with a screenplay by Guillermo Sheridan titled simply "Cabeza de Vaca."

So. nearing the end of his eight-year odyssey from Florida to the Gulf Coast of what is now Texas, and then moving southwest, Cabeza de Vaca arrived at La Junta de Los Ríos.

La Junta de Los Rios, which means "where the rivers come together," the two major rivers being the Río Conchos and the Río Grande both much larger then, for their waters had not been diverted for municipalities and irrigation. Today, this is a sparsely-populated desert area, and the main towns are tiny Presidio, Texas, and Ojinaga, which is on the other side of the Río Grande, in Mexico. From here, La Junta de Los Ríos, Cabeza de Vaca set out across the desert. What his precise route was is open to some debate, but we do know that he noted certain landmarks in La Junta de los Ríos, so that's what I came to Far West Texas to see. From El Paso, I drove the three hours east to Marfa, and then from Marfa, about an hour down to Presidio, Texas.

In trying to get a sense of the landscape and this leg of Cabeza de Vaca's journey, I wanted to look around La Junta de Los Ríos, and drive into some fairly remote places along the Río Grande, and in the Big Bend Ranch State Park. And that is how I met Charlie Angell, expert wilderness guide, who is the subject of this first interview.

We recorded two interviews, actually, both in January, one at mid-day along the river in the Big Bend Ranch State Park, the second one later the same day, at Fort Leaton in Presidio.


C.M. Mayo: So it's Monday, January 30, 2012, and we are in the Big Bend Ranch State Park, and I'm talking to Charlie Angell, who is the owner and director and all-around go-to guy at Angell Expeditions, and we are sitting at a picnic bench at the what is this place called?

Charles Angell: The Hoodoos and Bouncing Rock. Good evening.

C.M. Mayo: It's amazing. So, Charlie's got a cold, so he says for me to say that he normally sounds a little different, but sounds fine to me. And I am just fascinated to talk to him, because I've been going around for the last day and a half with Charlie, in and out of all these places along the border. We're following the route of Cabeza de Vaca, which I'm going to be writing about, but what I think is going to be the most interesting to talk about right now is Charlie's story, of how did you get out here to the Big Bend area? What brought you out here?

Charles Angell: Well, actually, my father passed away in 2001, and I got a phone call a couple months afterwards. I'd never really known him. He disappeared from the family when I was about 11 or 12, but the phone call was the executor of the will, a guy in Houston, a friend of my father's, who said, "Your father passed away, and there's ten acres and a house if you'd like to have it. It's in the Texas Big Bend region." And so, there it was. I just said, "Well, sure, let me go check it out." And I decided I wanted to keep it. In fact, as soon as I saw it, I knew I was, before I even got this far, by the time I reached Marfa, probably, I knew already I was going to keep it, because just the love of the scenery.

C.M. Mayo: You drove out from Florida.

Charles Angell: No, I flew to San Antonio, actually, and stayed there for a night. I had a friend in the Air Force, who still is, actually, he's a lifer. But he was stationed in San Antonio, and I thought, "Well, I can visit him for a day, and then drive out." I got a rental, obviously, and then had another couple days to visit with him after I was done. And actually, one of the requirements, not necessarily a firm requirement, but to get the house was to come out here and scatter my dad's ashes on his land, which was in the will. So the executor requested I do that, and sure, so that's what I did.

C.M. Mayo: Where is the house?

Charles Angell: It's in between Presidio and Ruidosa on FM 170, the River Road. It's about a quarter to a half mile north of the international border, and I'm about 15 miles northwest of Presidio.

C.M. Mayo: Okay, that's close to Chinati Hot Springs.

Charles Angell: It's closer to Presidio than the Hot Springs, but it is on the way to the Hot Springs, yes.

C.M. Mayo: So you fell in love with the landscape and came out here and decided to stay.

Charles Angell: That's it although the house was a real fixer-upper. My dad didn't have any indoor plumbing, no stove, no sink, no shower, no toilet, none of that stuff. So it was, no insulation. It was basically a garage or a shed, and it took me several years of commuting back and forth from Florida to there, ten-day spells at a time, to work on it and make it to where it was finally habitable so I could finally move here, yes.

C.M. Mayo: So then, when you decided to move here, you put together your company, Angell Expeditions.

Charles Angell: I actually started getting prepared for that before I moved here full-time. The last year before I did is buying, getting the web site together, incorporating, buying a lot of T-shirts and swag and things like that, key chains to give to customers or sell.

C.M. Mayo: Had you worked in this business in Florida?

Charles Angell: No, but I always did a lot of camping, a lot of fishing and sailing in Florida. I was always into the outdoors, and did, when I... growing up in Dallas, I did a lot of camping, hiking when I lived there. I just never made it this far west, always wanted to get to the Big Bend, but never had the time or the opportunity to. So this was my opportunity.

But during that several-year period, when I've got the house till I was able to finally move here, which was actually about, I guess it was six years before I was able to finally, or seven years before I was able to move here full-time.
During that seven-year period, I would fly out from Florida for ten days to two weeks at a time, and I would spend half the time working on the house, and half the time just hiking around here and exploring and doing stuff. So that was kind of like my education to become a guide, and I actually hired a guide service a couple times to do activities here, and just realized that I could be as personable and as informative as the people that I had hired, or better.

C.M. Mayo: Well, you've been incredibly informative, I have to say. Going through, when I called up and said, I called from Mexico City and said, "Let's go look at the Cabeza de Vaca route or the probable route, I'd like to learn on the ground more about the places that he saw and visited," and it's been fascinating. It's been excellent. I'm going to be writing about it, so I won't go on at great length about that here, but it's been amazing to me how much you know. And this is also such a huge area, really. The Big Bend Ranch State Park, the Big Bend National Park, and then just all the surrounding area, it is a really gigantic expanse of territory.

Charles Angell: Yeah, it is. And you know, just if you're passionate about something, which I am about this region and about exploring it and helping other people enjoy it like I do, and have a passion for it, then you try to educate yourself, like anything. I'm sure skilled mechanics are always poring through Chilton's manuals and learning about different carburetor springs and such, but for me, I just, every time I see a book that I don't have on the region that's interesting, I'll get it, and I use those sources, sometimes the internet, local historians, just locals that have lived here all their life or their families have. You know, you get a bunch of different opinions on varying things, so I just kind of try to meld it all into one opinion that becomes my own.

C.M. Mayo: There's so many different things you can do here. There's hiking and canoeing and climbing, bird-watching, archaeology. It's a naturalist's paradise. It's a bird-watcher's paradise. People come to go hunting as well, and there's just a bit of almost any outdoor activity you can think of. What's your favorite? What do you really enjoy the most?

Charles Angell: Riding the river, specifically kayaking on the Río Grande is what I enjoy more than anything, and kayaking other rivers also. But the only down side is the river here is seasonal, so we have periods like currently today, and has been for several months now, and especially because of the drought, the river's not at a level that's very rideable or fun. So, you know, the rainy season when it picks up, that's always a good time, but that's what I enjoy more than anything.

And of course, mountain biking, although the mountain biking trails that are good are not close to where I live, so I have to really block out a full day to get out there, do it, and come back. When I'm getting a lot of calls for work, it's kind of hard to do that.

C.M. Mayo: Well, when people call you to set up expeditions, what's the most common type of expedition that you'll do?

Charles Angell: It's about even with the river tours, river rafting, and Jeep tours. And I do more Jeep tours than the river because quite often, the river is not in a rideable state, or not where, requiring a lot of athletic activity to drag your canoe or your raft through the muck and everything, or running aground and doing that. So I end up doing more Jeep tours than anything else. But if I had my preference, I'd rather do river trips all the time.

C.M. Mayo: We're looking at the river right now, and it does look kind of low, but it is so gorgeous. It's this sort of jade color, and the Hoodoo formations, how do you spell that?

Charles Angell: H-o-o-d-o-o.

C.M. Mayo: They're like something on planet Mars, and we've been sitting out here for an hour. We just had lunch. There's nobody here. There's nobody here! I mean, you're just 360 degrees, there's nobody here, and it's gorgeous, and I'm just amazed that more people don't come out here. Well, that leads me to my next question. A lot of things must surprise people once they get out here. What do you find really surprises people the most?

Charles Angell: Well, I think one of the things that people are definitely, aren't aware of untill they get out here is how wide a region it is. When they want to do activities, they're shocked to realize that it takes an hour minimum to drive to every different thing, sometimes two hours. So there's a lot of driving involved to get to all the points of interest, but for the most part, anywhere you're driving from point to point, there's always interesting stuff to see on the way.

I'd say they also can be surprised that there is virtually no spillover violence from Mexico, because everybody's always worried about that, and it doesn't happen.
It's just non-existent here. Here we are with nobody around. It's the same with the Mexican side of the border that we're looking at.

C.M. Mayo: Yeah, we're looking at Mexico. We're looking at the cows coming down to maybe get stuck in the mud there, and drink the water and eat the river grasses. It's like, you could just walk over there. I don't see anybody or anything.

Charles Angell: Yeah, so I would say that surprised a lot of people. They expect to come out here and see a bunch of guys with machine guns and wheelbarrows full of marijuana or something like that up and down the river.

C.M. Mayo: I have to say, one thing that really did amuse me earlier, we were up by Fort Leaton, and there was some place where you could walk right down to the bank of the river.

Charles Angell: Oh, the gauging station.

C.M. Mayo: Yeah, and you could, there are sensors there, and I guess if you went too far in or out, they would follow you.

Oh, and the other thing, of when you cross the highway, there's the sand where they plane the sand.

Charles Angell: Yeah, that was yesterday, the border patrol, paralleling the river road between Presidio and Ruidosa, it's just a lot of sandy areas there, and just about every day, the border patrol will get in one of their four-wheel-drive Broncos or one of those type of vehicles, and they'll drag big tractor tires by a chain behind it, and just drive, like, two miles an hour dragging these tires, and it planes out the sand so it's nice, smooth, untouched surface, and every day they come back and check it for footprints for illegals.

C.M. Mayo: So I guess they would see our footprints walking down there.

Charles Angell: Yes, we left our footprints there, but they're these trackers, the border patrol are pretty good, actually. They'll look at the make of every tennis shoe, and they can see, or every type of shoe, and they can see that we went in, and then back out. So they, hopefully they didn't think that we walked all the way to Mexico and back in that short amount of time.

C.M. Mayo: Well, it's really astonishing, because I'm used to seeing the border where you cross in a car, like Tijuana or at Ciudad Juárez, El Paso, Matamoros down there, and this is just huge amounts of wild country, and it's incredibly beautiful. I mean, I can't get over how beautiful, so I just go on and on about how beautiful it is. And I'll stop for a moment and come back and ask you another question.

So you have to be very wise about your vehicle. You want to have very thick tires
because I've been driving out here and had flat tires with a regular rental car. You have to have very thick tires, and always top up the gas tank, and always carry water.

Charles Angell: Yes, absolutely. You know, I'd say something else too, a lot of people don't realize, they hear the Big Bend, they always think Big Bend National Park, they don't realize that the largest state park in Texas is Big Bend Ranch State Park.

C.M. Mayo: Which is right kind of neighboring to the northwest.

Charles Angell: Yes. It's on the Río Grande, just like the national park is, and many people will tell me, when I take them to that park, they're like, "Wow, I wasn't aware that there were two parks here." They thought there was just one. But the state park, Big Bend Ranch State Park that we're having lunch at right now at the Hoodoos, along the Río Grande, it's by far the best state park in Texas. It's the largest and it's got more prehistoric Indian cave art than any other place in, any other park in Texas, I think.

C.M. Mayo: That's an amazing thing to say.

Charles Angell: Yes. There's a lot of also some cave art in areas that are not, that are privately owned, like along the Pecos River, but as far as public access, this would be the place to go to to see prehistoric cave art.

C.M. Mayo: But it's good to come with a guide, right? Because I think some of those are in places that are fairly difficult to climb to.

Charles Angell: Yeah, not just that, a lot of them are down roads that take four-wheel-drive vehicles to get to, or high clearance and the ability to be able to have the knowledge to drive on those roads. And knowing where these archaeological sites are, the historic sites are, they're not marked on the maps. They don't want necessarily people just to be going out there willy-nilly all over the place, so they prefer to have either a ranger accompany somebody to these sites or a guide. That way people are monitored so they're not damaging it, defacing it, taking artifacts, or any of those things. If everybody touched a painting when they were here, in a few decades, the painting would probably disappear from hand oils.

C.M. Mayo: I know that's really the case in Baja California, that they've really tried to protect them, and it's sometimes a bit of an uphill battle.

Charles Angell: It is. There's some sites here where people have pried off some paintings from cliff walls, which is, maddens me, breaks my heart.

C.M. Mayo: Well, we've been sitting here for more than an hour, and somebody's finally pulling up on a motorcycle.

Charles Angell: Yeah, it's Hell's Angels.


C.M. Mayo: Okay, so our last interview got interrupted by some motorcycles, but the riders turned out to be kind of fun and interesting guys, one from West Virginia, and the other was an American pastor of what seemed to me an Evangelical church down in Ciudad Chihuahua. So they were fun to talk to. Then we went off and did a whole lot of other really interesting things, hiking canyons, looking at archaeological sites, following the Río Grande all the way down to Lajitas, and we saw a lot of different movie sets, places that have appeared in... I can never get the name of that movie right, "The Melquiades…"

Charles Angell: "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," catchiest film title in history. It did win an Oscar, who could read that one?

C.M. Mayo: Yeah. And also, that movie…

Charles Angell: "Streets of Laredo"?

C.M. Mayo: "The Streets of Laredo." That was filmed, gosh, back in the early 80s? [Note: It was 1995]

Charles Angell: I think it was a made-for-TV movie, yeah, as all the Larry McMurtry ones, the "Lonesome Dove" series were, I think.

[Note: 1989.]

C.M. Mayo: So all this country is, so we're still pretty much until we get up to Lajitas, right, still within the state park?

Charles Angell: Well, we're on state park property now, but that last little stretch wasn't. It kind of jumps in and out. It's above us, but we're not actually in the, well, we're in the boundaries now, simply because we're on Fort Leaton's property.

C.M. Mayo: Right, okay, so we turned around and came back.

Charles Angell: But to leave here, we'd step out again, and then be right back in, yeah.

C.M. Mayo: Right. So we turned around from Lajitas and came back, and we're on the road to Presidio. It goes to Presidio.

Charles Angell: We're five miles out of town or less.

C.M. Mayo: Yeah. So it was just an all-star day, but I have more questions. One of them was, what is, of all the places that you know in this whole region of Big Bend Ranch State Park and the Big Bend Park and both sides of the border, what is your favorite place to go?

Charles Angell: Honestly, just anywhere on the river. If the water is flowing good, I just love to be in the river. It's like the best seat in the house for the Big Bend, I think. You can see canyon walls. You see desert. You see riparian zones. There's more wildlife there than anywhere else, and even if it's a really, really hot summer day, you can stay cool. Hiking out in the middle of nowhere on a summer day can be brutal if not deadly, whereas in the river, it's easy to stay nice and cool, and any time you get too hot, you can jump in. But I really enjoy that, especially when the current's flowing fast enough to have some challenging rapids.

C.M. Mayo: Okay, so that would be all along the Río Grande, from…

Charles Angell: Both parks. You know, there's still, both the parks, I mean, areas like Colorado Canyon, Santa Elena Canyon, those would be some of my favorites. Also, if you wanted to not be on the river, I mean, my second favorite place to be, the various archaeological sites. I'm really, really into history and ancient history and pre-history, and I just, I like going to sites where I can see how people lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, and I like doing that anywhere, especially in the park here.

C.M. Mayo: Well, that was one of the most amazing things that we saw today, was we saw where there is the Shaman's Cave, up the, what was the name of that canyon?

Charles Angell: The Cañon de los Burros.

C.M. Mayo: The Cañon de los Burros, absolutely spectacular. Spectacular, it was a cathedral-size cave. We didn't actually climb up it because that would've been a whole afternoon in itself, but that was amazing to see.

Charles Angell: Yeah, just, not even knowing that there's pictographs in the cave, just driving up in there and hiking around is amazing. It's a closed canyon, and yeah, you see that, or a box canyon, and just seeing the big cave itself, which is like a giant half-egg or something, like an amphitheater, a band shell of yore.

C.M. Mayo: So it's got a six-legged fox and then in the other cave art, pictographs, all through this region, there's all sorts of animals and kachina kind of things and signs...

Charles Angell: Yeah, all sorts of stuff, handprints, things like that. I mean, there's even, I guess what, there's one that I assume is called tally marks, but it's just like vertical lines, almost like if you were in jail making the marks for every day or month or year that you're in there. And they have, there'll be, like, sometimes three or four-foot long line of just vertical markings that kind of snake up and down. So I've been told sometimes that people interpret that to be a snake, although I think that's a very difficult way to draw a snake. I think that's probably more like what they call tally marks, which sometimes wrote a mark every time they returned to that cave for the season, or maybe for the full moons they saw. So maybe that's what they are. I don't know, or maybe I got it all wrong, and that's not what tally marks are, but if I could interpret the term "tally marks," I would call it those lines.

C.M. Mayo: The peoples who made those are all gone, these would have been the Jumanos, and after them came the Apaches and the Comanche. So the focus of my travels initially, now, here in January 2012, when I'm just getting started, was looking at where the conquistador Cabeza de Vaca would have passed through, what he would have seen, and a little bit about the life of the people that he would have encountered [the Jumanos]. So they probably would have been the people who made some of these paintings or their ancestors would have made those paintings, so we also saw, I was really impressed by seeing a number of these sites that you showed me that were middens.

Charles Angell: Yes, you mean, the areas along Redford that were just old, they have antiquity markers there. The ground is comprised of a lot of old, ancient ash, because there just had been, I'm sure, hundreds of thousands of campfires built there through the millennia by the peoples that lives there along the banks of the Río Grande. And eventually the soil gets composed of largely charcoal that has just degraded down through the years and mixed with the soil, but yeah, that's what it is there. It's ancient.

A normal midden pit is just a pit that was used for cooking repeatedly, but I think in that area, there were so many through the years and so many fires built sub-surface or on the surface that it just, it's one big ash pile at this point.

C.M. Mayo: So it is literally hundreds and hundreds of years, because you were telling me yesterday about how they had discovered beneath a concrete slab a body that turned out to be 800 years old.

Charles Angell: Yeah, when they were tearing down some old buildings to try to build a new housing development, when they ripped up a small concrete slab, underneath it was a body that was of a woman that was actually buried. She was curled up in a burial position and placed under there, and rocks and ancient cement were put over her, but they estimate her, through carbon dating, she's, from the year 800 AD, so that would make her, I guess, 1,200 years old or so.

C.M. Mayo: That was a funny story, because the people who discovered it thought they had discovered something fairly recent, and they called the sheriff.

Charles Angell: I think that's how the story is. The sheriff came out, and then started looking at it, and then after a while thought, "Well, maybe this body's not that recent." And it turns out, yeah, after they got some archaeologists out there, they realized yeah, this is not even close to a murder case anymore.

But what was odd, and it's I guess very traditional, and I don't how elsewhere in the US, but here, the foundation that she was buried under was from that era, 800 AD or so. But then successive generations of peoples came through and they would keep using that slab for their own housing, and then eventually, a modern, well, I guess the 20th-century housing back in the early teens was built over that still, utilizing that concrete, they just expanded more of it, and nobody ever knew that they had a 1,200-year-old body under their floor the whole time.

C.M. Mayo: Well, and then you can just walk across the ground where, if you didn't know any better, you'd think, "It's just a junkyard," or "There's just wilderness," and literally, just scoop up in your hand little pieces of arrow and pottery. You can see the paint and the firing on the pottery.

Charles Angell: Yeah, that stuff's all there, and we didn't touch or do anything with it. We just looked at it and left it. It's still a site that's waiting for funding. Hopefully one day they'll do a lot of research there, but unfortunately, like so many important sites here and in Mexico, there's just not the money or the personnel to really fully go through it. They've got their hands full doing stuff they can, and how do you make a priority list when everything is ancient and important?

C.M. Mayo: One of the things that has really struck me in this journey today and yesterday, coming along the river, following the possible route of Cabeza de Vaca is how back in his time, which was, of course, the early 16th century, the ecology here was so very different, because there was so much more water. And we didn't have the salt cedars [tamarisks], and how thickly populated this would have been with indigenous people, because it would have been a much wetter place, because the river would have had more water, there would have been more shade from the Alamo trees...

Charles Angell: I think, you know, when you read some of the accounts, I mean, different accounts of history vary wildly, but I think that the general consensus estimate is that when Cabeza de Vaca came through La Junta, the population of the Native Americans here was somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000, and he did comment that it was an actual area of population and that they had permanent housing, which were either adobe mud-brick structures or perhaps rock and mud structures, that were then plastered over with more mud to make them appear as if they were stuccoed.

But yeah, there was definitely a sizeable population here, and it was, and they say this is the oldest continuously cultivated region in North America, this area where the two rivers meet, the Río Conchos and the Río Grande.

C.M. Mayo: That name, La Junta, the coming together of the Río Conchos and the Río Grande, it's a couple specific places, but it's also the general region, some miles in all directions.

Charles Angell: Pretty much all, where the two rivers meet, the whole entire valley in between the two mountain ranges, which would be the Sierra Madre range in Mexico, and then the Chinati Mountains to the northwest, or northeast. Everything in between there, and I guess also, you could say as far east as Sierra Rica in Mexico, but this whole entire lower valley where the rivers flow through, this would be considered La Junta, yes.

C.M. Mayo: It's a very beautiful place, and we're here in a season where it's very dry. There's been a drought. It's not looking its best, but it's still really beautiful, and you can still very clearly see the green line of vegetation along the Río Grande. Now, the other thing that has really struck me is the geology, and when we were out earlier this afternoon, you were showing me also El Solitario, which I had never heard of, and this was just some unthinkably huge explosion.

Charles Angell: Yeah. I mean, I don't know, the Chinati Mountains caldera was a much bigger explosion than when this El Solitario did. Solitario, I think, was more, had a lot of leaks and hisses and blasts, and as such, it was a huge explosion, no doubt about that, but the unique thing about it is it was just, if you can imagine a giant bubble of magma under the earth that just swelled up like a giant blister and it just pushed up the earth above it up until it got to a certain point, then it just kind of popped, like a blister would, but it was a blister of magma, which then becomes lava as it flows out in vents and ashes. It's very unique. There's only a few of those, a handful of those on the surface of the Earth where you can see a magma dome like that. And most of the rest are under the ocean floor, so I think the only one in North America is the Solitario. There's others in other continents, but I think, as far as I know, there's only a handful on the Earth, and that is one of them.

C.M. Mayo: So it's a heaven for archaeologists, and it's a heaven for geologists. And another thing that strikes me is the birds. As we go around all day, there's just been one bird after the other.

Charles Angell: And you notice, I'm distracted. There's these really cute gambled quail, they have the little topknot, a typical quail, and they're coming to the water over there to get water. Do you see the two of them?

C.M. Mayo: I see them. Yeah.

Charles Angell: They're not the regular scaled or blue quail that you see here, which are so cute, but these have a little topknot that are, I love them. I think the funniest thing about quail is that they can fly. You know, obviously, but they just don't like to. When you see them, they struggle so hard to not fly. They're just like, "I got to run, I got to run, I got to run."

C.M. Mayo: Well, speaking of running, we just saw a roadrunner.

Charles Angell: We did.

C.M. Mayo: And we saw some doves, and I think yesterday there was a bald eagle.

Charles Angell: No, we saw two golden eagles.

C.M. Mayo: Golden eagles.

Charles Angell: That's right, in between Presidio and Ruidosa, the drive there. We were looking at the site of the old San Francisco de los Julimes Mission, but yeah, we did see a pair of golden eagles. I've seen one around the Chinati Hot Springs the last few months that's been flying around there. But it was solitary, solo, and this was a pair that seemed to be working together. They're definitely leery of humans too, because you notice, they were close to the highway, and then we pulled down there, they kind of backed away from the highway and kept their flight pattern away. But they were huge birds, no doubt about that.

C.M. Mayo: Do you get a lot of people wanting to come do expeditions because they're bird-watchers?

Charles Angell: Indeed. That's a big thing, although a lot of bird-watchers, like mountain bikers, they can be pretty independent. They like to do it on their own, although they will hire guides. I do get several trips a year for bird-watchers, maybe a dozen if that, but this region, the Big Bend region, is, I think it has more species of bird that come through or roost here annually than any other place in North America, believe it or not. It's a major hub on the flight pattern for migrating birds.

So yeah, and the park itself, the national park and to a slightly lesser degree the state park, they are both considered areas that have more species of bird coming through annually than any other park in the United States.

C.M. Mayo: So if you were a bird-watcher, this would have to be on your bucket list.

Charles Angell: It definitely would, although a lot of bird-watchers tend to be the person that may not be in the best physical condition. They're in their twilight years, possibly. So you know, I don't know if it happens. There's a lot of places to go to see birds, just because there's a bunch of variety here, the terrain might a little challenging for some people to want to do. Although I do encourage them to come out anyway.

C.M. Mayo: You can get to a lot of pretty remote places if you have a good four-wheel-drive high-clearance vehicle.

Charles Angell: Yes, and I have two.

C.M. Mayo: Well, that road we went on earlier to go see the Shaman's Cave was pretty rough. I definitely would not take a rental car on that.

Charles Angell: Yeah, and you know, believe it or not, just about all the four-wheel-drive roads in the state park are old ranch roads when it was a goat or cattle or other type of ranch, and those roads have been around since just after the turn of the century, and people would ride horses on them. But then later on, they would drive these old Model T-type trucks on them. So if you can imagine a modern Jeep that we took on that road today, imagine somebody in one of those vehicles that was... how rough that would be. Riding the rumble seat, no less!

C.M. Mayo: Well, when you look at this area, it's this big area that I guess we would just call it the Big Bend area, it really has such a lot of variety within it. What of all these different areas I'm thinking of the Chinatis, I'm thinking of the river, I'm thinking of the border, I'm thinking of the towns from Lajitas to Marfa which are your favorite places? Like, if you had your top three?

Charles Angell: I think Terlingua as a town has the best charm and hospitality of all the region, certainly some friendly locals, and you can always get advice or opinions from people, whether that's good, bad, or what you wanted in the first place. So I would say that, and there's plenty of good places, watering holes and restaurants there to go to, and again, like I say, when I go to the various towns in the area, I have friends in all of them. No one greets me warmer than someone in Terlingua.

As far as getting out and hiking, or just getting out in the outdoors, I mean, anywhere up high in elevation, I like. I like climbing the tops of mountains, whether it's in the state park or the national park.
If I can get somewhere that's difficult to get to and remote and has a great vista, that's what I like to do.

Then of course, like I said before, one of my favorite things is the river, and just about any stretch of the river between the two parks, or even in the lower canyons, just great stuff, great scenery, and people that have come here sometimes for 10, 15, 20 years, or have lived here all their life, I know people in the city that have lived here all their lives and they're 60, and they've never once been on the river, on the Río Grande in a boat. And for me, it was transforming. I hiked a lot. I had rode my Jeep off-road a lot, and I finally got a canoe and said, "Let me try this out," and I did it without any direction.
It was kind of a disaster the first time, but once you get out there, you see stuff that you've never realized before. And now I'm just hooked on that a lot.

C.M. Mayo: What is it that you notice that you hadn't noticed before?

Charles Angell: Specifically, a bunch of car wrecks on the hills of the side of the river road. [Laughs] You can't see them from [from the road], no, but that kind of thing, just a whole different angle. You know, when you drive in the high vistas overlooking the river, you just see that green sliver of water down below. But then when you're on it, I mean, it's amazing too, just some of the ecosystem down there is so much different.

There's beaver down there, believe it or not. The fish will jump. There's all the species of bird, and there are peregrine falcons along the river, which are only there, and they're very endangered, you know, which is also the fastest animal in the world, the peregrine falcon, 200 miles an hour in a dive.

Anyway, I got off topic, didn't I?

C.M. Mayo: Yeah, but yeah.

Charles Angell: Those are all the reasons why I like it down there.

C.M. Mayo: And the quiet here really strikes me. I mean, everywhere that we saw today, there were…

Charles Angell: Except for where we're at right now.

C.M. Mayo: Except, yeah, right now we're sitting in, under, like, a palapa. Do you call them palapas here?

Charles Angell: This is a palapa, yeah.

C.M. Mayo: Under the palapa of a picnic hut on the grounds of Fort Leaton, and the highway's out there. So every once in a while, a car will go by.

Charles Angell: What we've been hearing is the exodus of employees working on the levee to contain the Río Grande behind the bank, and those are all them, and it's quitting time, and they're just all getting in their vehicles and leaving.

C.M. Mayo: Well, since it's close to quitting time for the day and the sun's going down, and I'm going to drive back to Marfa, I have a last question for you. Well, almost a last question for you, which is:

It's not easy to live out here. I can see that, just as a visitor, that water's an issue. Distances are an issue. The population's very small for this gigantic area. When we were driving in the Big Bend Ranch State Park today, which I've seen state parks. This is amazing. This is amazing. It is truly one of the greatest, most scenic drives in the United States, and we saw, what, two motorcyclists and a couple cars? That was it for several hours.
So I can see that it's got to be challenging to live out in this part of the country, and especially this part of Texas. What do you think, what type of person do you think is the happiest living out here, long-term?

Charles Angell: You know, a person that doesn't mind the summer heat. Obviously that's a big factor, or that can tolerate it, at least, but one of the things I love out here is I don't have to be in a traffic jam anymore. That just, I've lived in big cities all my life, and nothing makes me more upset that just wasting time sitting bumper to bumper.

You know, a person that can also, be self-sufficient for certain, we have a lot of power blackouts because of primitive power lines and a lot of high winds that will knock them out. Phone lines go out routinely. Internet goes out routinely. So as long as you are pretty independent and can manage yourself and don't mind the heat, then I think it's the perfect place.

You can feel lonely at times, but you don't have to be, because all I have to do is call up a friend or visit a friend, and there's plenty of them out here, and most people are friendly. They're looking for company like yourself.

So if you're used to all the amenities of a city, this is not the place to move to, by a long shot. But if you don't mind visiting the city, and then coming back out to live in solitude and around the nature that's here, the wide open spaces, this is the place to come.

C.M. Mayo: And it's really, really quiet. Other than right here by the highway!

Charles Angell: Yes, exactly. Yeah. I mean, I enjoy sometimes just waking up in the morning, get a cup of coffee, and I can stand in my bathrobe and slippers out in my front yard of sand and gravel, and just watch the sunrise. I don't think I could do that much in the city.

C.M. Mayo: You can't see through all the buildings in the city.

Charles Angell: It's true, but you usually can't just stand out in your bathrobe with your neighbors walking in, either.

C.M. Mayo: That's true, that's true. You could probably walk around naked.

Charles Angell: Sometimes I wear less than the bathrobe.

C.M. Mayo: Yeah, well, I can't believe how many places you can just walk and walk and walk and not find anybody.

Charles Angell: Yeah, well, these two parks are very remote. They're way out here. It takes a long drive. I mean, the nearest airport to fly to would be Midland or El Paso, and both of them are going to make you about a four-hour drive away from here still. So, being so remote, I mean, they're the two largest state, or the largest state national park in Texas, and the two that are the least frequented, I believe, or at least the national park is one of the least frequented in the United States, and the state park is the least frequented in the state of Texas. So, but that kind of makes it better, I guess, having less people crowding you around. I've been to some parks like the Arches park in Utah, beautiful, but I might as well have gone to a drive-in movie.

C.M. Mayo: I felt that way when I was last at Yosemite. The main lodge there felt like, you know, the Tokyo metro station or something. Literally hundreds of people. I mean, you had to make, like, a 20-minute line to use the ladies' room. [Laughs]

Charles Angell: It's like being at a bar on New Year's Eve or something, I guess.

C.M. Mayo: Yeah, you kind of had to drive fast, because people would honk if you stopped to take pictures too long.

Charles Angell: Yeah, almost then you're not enjoying it. You're doing it out of requirement. It's like, hurry up, take the photo at this view so we can move on to the next one. But oh well, that's what I like about here, too. You know, you can take your time, usually.

We do get busy, spring break and some of the holidays, the cooler-month holidays, but even then, those busy times are nothing compared to busy in some of the major parks.

C.M. Mayo: So okay, the best time to come here, thenwell, this seems to me like a really good time.

Charles Angell: This is a great time.

C.M. Mayo: This is January.

Charles Angell: Today I checked the Jeep before we got out. It was 74, so that's perfect weather.

C.M. Mayo: Comfortable, it's warm, but it's very comfortable for light hiking and driving around. Another really great time to come is September, when things are in bloom.

Charles Angell: Yeah. We get a lot of things blooming in the spring, depending on how much rain we've had. So I don't think we're going to have the greatest spring now. It might start a little later, or not a whole lot at all. The less rain there is, the less the plants like to bloom. I would say this, we've gotten more rain in the last six-month period than we did the previous year's six-month period, which is not a whole lot more, but we've gotten, I mean, previous year's six-month period, we got zero precipitation, and this last one we've gotten maybe half an inch to an inch, I think, in various areas.

Then the fall, starting September, October, November, great months to come out, good weather, even December can be. This December was pretty cold, but this January, the weather's been really, really good, only cold at night. In the daytimes, most temperatures have always been in the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s.

C.M. Mayo: Well, and cold at night really has just been, put on a cap and a jacket, and you're fine.

Charles Angell: Yes, yeah. Don't get your feet wet.

C.M. Mayo: Yeah, it's nothing compared to Chicago or something like that.

Charles Angell: Yes, there's no slush puddles in the gutter.

C.M. Mayo: Yeah, it did actually snow the other day, but then it melted within a few minutes.

Charles Angell: Yeah, up in the higher elevations, definitely.

C.M. Mayo: I'm just been going all around this whole area, trying to, as I say, follow the probable route and get information relevant to the journey of Cabeza de Vaca, and you've just been an amazing guide. I have seen far more than I would've seen on my own in the amount of time that I had, and I've gone into many more places than I would have dared to go by myself, particularly certain canyons and up bumpy roads in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. So I have to say, you've been a fantastic guide, and I highly recommend you.

So please, tell the people listening how they can get in touch with you if they want to have a guided visit to any one of these things, whether it's canoeing or bird-watching or looking at archaeological sites or geological sites or even climbing or whatever, there's just so much to see and do here. How can they get in touch with you?

Charles Angell: They can go to my web site, AngellExpeditions.com. Angell has two Ls, Expeditions with an S, that's plural. I can be emailed, Charles@AngellExpeditions.com, and our phone number's listed on the web site. There's a lot of information on things and activities to do, photos, and some video links that you can see of various activities that we provide. So go check it out, and you can also visit us on Trip Advisor, TripAdvisor.com. We've got some good reviews there, and they keep building up. So we enjoy that. By the way, you were a great client to have. It was like hanging out with a best friend for two days, and we share the same interests and passions. So that was great too, Catherine.

C.M. Mayo: Thank you so much, and thanks not just for being a great guide, but also for doing this interview. Thank you.

Charles Angell: Of course. Any time.


Announcer: Tune in for Marfa Mondays with your host, C.M. Mayo at cmmayo.com/podcasts.


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