The drive from Del Rio in Texas to Marathon, the entrance of Big Bend National Park takes about three hours. If you stop at the various tourist attractions along the way then it can easily turn into a day trip, which is what happened for me. I decided to drive on Highway 90 to take in the scenery and not to rush along the Interstate.
After Del Rio I headed to Langtry to visit Judge Roy Bean’s house. My first stop after Del Rio was not very far from the Del Rio city limits. It was near the Amistad Reservoir just down the road. Amistad, meaning friendship in Spanish, is famous for water-based recreation, camping and hiking. The area is also home to a wide variety of plant and animal life above and below the water.
This post is part of a series about my road trip around Texas
Amistad Reservoir History
According to Wikipedia, a 1944 treaty between the United States and Mexico proposed the construction of a major dam and reservoir on the Rio Grande. It provides flood control, water conservation, irrigation, hydroelectric power and recreation in the area. Its construction on Rio Grande began in December 1964 and ended in November 1969.
Interesting: The Grapevine Trail in Big Bend National Park
It is right next to the border, in fact the border cuts it in half. It is huge with a massive road and rail bridge crossing it as you can see on the images. The water has a nice blue hue but the levels have dropped quite drastically. This is a huge worry for people around there as they use it for agriculture and as drinking water.
Read about Del Rio in Texas here
On the photos you can see the old water levels marked by a thick white line in the rock. That’s where the water used to ebb and flow but now it’s several meters shallower. The rail and road bridge was so tall and the surrounding area looked absolutely amazing. What I liked most was when those huge American trucks crossed, the entire bridge was rattling.
As I was driving out of Del Rio I saw a train coming, but unfortunately it stopped before crossing the lake. I waited a good 20 minutes but it didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Having given up on the train, I drove on towards Marathon. The picture above shows how straight the road was and what a vast expanse of land it is with hardly any trees around. In fact, there were only some bushes and cacti and lots of rocks.
Pecos River High Bridge
About half an hour after the Amistad Reservoir came another massive, and even more impressive, bridge. It spans the River Pecos just before Langtry. Before the mid-20th century, travellers had to negotiate a two-lane switchback to descend the canyon walls to reach the first highway bridge across the river. The original bridge stood there until a flood washed it away in 1954. The current bridge is 400 meters long and 83 meters above the water level, making the Pecos River Bridge the highest highway bridge in Texas. I took the photos below at the overlook alongside a pullout on the northeast end of the bridge.
The water was light blue and birds were chirping away with cacti and aloe vera surrounding everything. The only noise that sometimes broke the silence was trucks crossing the bridge.
I find it amazing how, in the middle of absolute nowhere, they built such an engineering marvel. But even here the water levels have dropped drastically in recent years, demonstrated by a clear white line at the bottom of the canyon.
The Law West of the Pecos
My next stop was at Judge Roy Bean’s house in Langtry, also known as the Jersey Lilly. I think this was one of the best parts of the holiday, like something from the cowboy movies. Judge Roy Bean lived back in the days when a public house owner could become the justice of the peace! Apparently there was so much crime in the area that the people around here decided to make Roy Bean the justice.
He held court on the porch of his pub and had only one volume of a 30 year old law book to put away the criminals! He normally just made decisions by his own rule book as he was “The Law West of the Pecos”.
The pictures show the pub from the outside as it was back 100 years ago. The original was much larger but his enemies burned it down, so he built this smaller building where he died on March 16, 1902. It was almost the anniversary of his death the day I visited. Inside I could still smell the oil and paint they used to varnish the wood!
They even had some original bottles and pictures of his love: an English singer Lillie Langtry. Amazingly, he fell in love with the actress whom he’s never seen and named the town after her!
Judge Roy Bean’s Playground
The surrounding area around his house is now a live exhibit. On one of the images there is a pump to pull water from the ground and many cacti and wild flowers. I bought a couple of stamps and cards at the tourist office, but then ended up keeping them because they were so beautiful. The postman has lived in the village for 25 years, having been the postman ever since. He has not regretted moving there at all and he recommended I move too. It was so tranquil and friendly – I was almost ready to stay.
Related: Scenic Drive Along TX Highway 170
Something that I cannot describe is the sweet smell of flowers and the scent of the air. Every flower smelled so sweet and they were super colorful. In memory of this I decided I will turn one of the corners in my garden into a Texan corner! It will be full of bluebells and other flowers from Texas. A few miles outside Langtry the land became even more arid and the river that the next bridge crossed already dried up. It was only a seasonal river that fills up during the rainy season.
Read about the drive from Sanderson to Marathon in my next post
Texas Road Trip Video
Watch the video below to check out Judge Roy Bean’s house and to see the full Texas road trip.