Ride Report: Van Horn and the Lost Trail

Tony Eeds

Godspeed Tony.
N. Texas SP
Jun 9, 2002

and yours truly ...




Exceptional, but more to follow ...

Day 00

Day 00 dawned early at Steve’s house, as Steve and I had to do a couple of things to my bike (changes the oil and adjust the chain) before Bill and Ian arrived. Up and about at 6:00AM and stoked with coffee, we wrapped up last minute items in anticipation of our coming adventures.

Bill arrived from Tomball and Ian followed closely behind. The first real order of business was to remove a collection of tools and construction stuff from Steve’s truck. He indicated that we might want to be careful as he had not seen the seat and floor in a while. After removing the tools, Steve used his air compressor to remove the dust and hair on the seats while Bill cleaned the mats. Soon we were piling stuff back in the now clean cab and loading bikes. Off like a herd of turtles, we stopped for yuppie foods stamps and were soon heading west towards Van Horn.

Meandering across Texas, we sampled the local cuisine in Liberty Hill (I think that is where we were) and Ozona. After an excursion through Fort Stockton for wiper blades to assure us that we would not see rain, we quickly completed the last lap and found ourselves in Van Horn.

Dinner at Chuy’s topped off the evening, with a beer or three back at the Holiday Inn Express. We had (solemnly?) promised to not attempt to solve any of the worlds problems, because this ride was to be about reflections on life and friendship.

Day 01

Day 01 dawned cool and clear as a bell. Bill was up early and had eaten breakfast before the rest of us even stirred. Can you say excited? Ian, Steve and I grabbed breakfast and we discussed the plan for the day. We had two days to ride and had already agreed that one day would be the Lost Trail. Steve wanted to explore the Green River Road which runs SW out of Van Horn, so that became the plan of attack.

Geared and gassed up, we headed south on the Green River Road before the sun had even peaked over the mountains to the east. Chasing the receding shadows, we headed south into the valley that ended at the Rio Grande. This promised to be a day full of explorations at all levels. Riding two abreast we swept like a formation of low flying jets towards the edge of reality known as the Rio Grande.

Caught in a time warp, much of the southern border area I have experienced is inhabited by societal dropouts. Poverty appears rampant and every homestead has more than it’s fair share of junk nearby. Many also appear ramshackle or abandoned as people left looking for opportunity elsewhere. It is an odd juxtaposition to find such destitution in such inspiring surroundings. It is as if promises made were not promises kept, on both sides of the table.

So much with sociology ... let’s get back to the ride!

Traveling south, we encountered a locked gate at a point about halfway between the town of Van Horn and the Rio Grande. Always respectful of private property, we checked for routes around the ranch in question and finding none headed back north towards Van Horn to map out other adventures. As the long term goal was to connect the Lost Trail with points west, we focused on roads leading east from the Green River Road. Finding none of promise, we found ourselves soon back at the crossing of the Southern Pacific. Steve and Bill headed east on the RR access road, but quickly returned before Ian and I even had a chance to react. A quick decision was made and we headed west along the RR ROW to see where that road lead. Starting first along the southern side of the tracks, we soon found a crossing and shifted to a better road on the north side of the tracks. Even though the road was relatively straight, it was not well maintained and there were a dozen or of arroyos that offered bike swallowing berms the could be doubled if a person had the ... uhhh ... gumption, yea, that’s it ... gumption. None of us had the gumption, so we still don’t know if DS bikes can jump.

Telltale dust clouds of the riders in front of me kept me company as we headed west with the sun at our backs. To our north, barely a mile away, we could see land yachts and 18 wheelers scurrying across the desert floor on the lifeline known as I10. Oddly removed, I can only imagine what the inhabitants of civilization thought of our dust plumbs drifting lazily towards them.

As GPS units don’t lie, mine soon showed Sierra Blanca on the screen and we meandered into the last jumping off point in West Texas in the Central Time Zone. El Paso was still 88 miles to or west and now Fort Hancock and the possibility of a future border crossing danced in our minds as we had coffee at Ernie’s in Sierra Blanca. A quick exploration loop through the town, a picture in front of the Hudspeth County Courthouse and we were off heading south on RM1111. Asphalt quickly petered out and we again were enjoying the dirt roads dual sport bikes were made for. Steve and I on our XR650Rs and Ian and Bill on their Suzuki 400s quickly ate up the miles towards Indian Hot Springs.

Stopping to talk with a Border Patrol agent (always a good idea), we got directions and learned a bit more about the Green River Road, the Bramlett Ranch and lack of access. Fate had shined on us, as we had found the only available route to Fort Hancock.

Again heading south, we decided to take a break to absorb the scenery, only to discover that Bill’s rear tire was well on the way to flat. Bill and Steve jumped into high gear and with a bit of stomping by Ian and I on the tire at appropriate times we had the tube out. Steve patched the tube, while Bill and Ian looked for the offending object that punctured the tube. It appears to be a small piece of metal and the tube was soon replaced and the wheel remounted. Steve and Bill had proved to be tire changing experts (a fact that would haunt both Ian and I later).

While wrapping up the tire change, helpful Hudspeth County employees scratched out a map in the dust on the road, confirming the Border Patrol Agents directions and adding important information about how to return to Sierra Blanca via a different route.

What transpired next was a ride down a road that puts Pinto Canyon to shame. Descending towards the Indian Hot Springs and the Rio Grande, we meandered along ridgetops and through canyons that had not been marked by man with the exception of the road we traveled and the telephone lines that lead our way. The countryside was rough, very rough, but beautiful in it’s ruggedness.

Arriving at the Indian Hot Springs, we feasted on a view of the past that appeared to have not changed in at least 50 years, with the exception of adding air conditioner units to one of the buildings. Not having the slightest clue as to what we saw, I promised to do some research upon returning to Dallas. A quick search of the Handbook of Texas Online turned up nary a hit, so I will have to dig further. The architecture seems to be from the 1930's which jives with the boom of “miracle” hot springs in Mineral Wells, Hot Springs and other locales around the US. Time will tell as research momentarily takes a back seat to the ride report.

Heading northwest, we danced along a line dividing the desert to our north from the fields along the river to our south. Water rules in the arid desert Southwest as evidenced by the minuscule width of the river that flows wild from it’s headwaters through to the middle of New Mexico. Farming and the pressure of civilization have reduced the once mighty Rio Grande to a mere stream. If it was not for the Rio Conchos that enters the Rio Grande near Ojinaga, the canyons enjoyed by people floating the Rio Grande could be walked by hikers. Even with the Rio Grande being a mere shadow of itself, it clearly brings life and commerce to this corner of Texas and produce to your tables.

Field after field, lovingly prepared for the coming growing season, slipped silently by as we headed northwest towards Fort Hancock. Encountering the asphalt of FM192 about halfway between Indian Hot Springs and Esperanza, we stopped in the shadow of the Esperanza Post Office (abandoned and hinting of good times in the past) and decided we could see the gas pumps of Fort Hancock on another day. Following the Esperanza Cut-off north, we encountered I 10 about a mile north. The ribbon of concrete spreading towards the horizon looked strangely foreign, and yet comforting, as we approached the bridge. Looking at the faces behind the windshields passing beneath us as we sat on the bridge, left me wandering what they thought of the four Power Rangers on the bridge.

Heading northward following mental images of the map scratching the dust some three hours earlier we looked for clues as to how to return towards Sierra Blanca on a route names “Old US80". For me that promised to be a step back into my past as I drove the old route one last time in the early 1970's, as they were building the Interstate. Unfortunately I didn’t have a clue as to where to find the roadbed. Just as we found the telltale RR crossing that confirmed our memory of the map, a border patrol agent pulled up and asked us to call in if we had seen anyone. He had three illegals in the enclosure in the back of his truck and was hunting for the rest of his quarry. He confirmed our route with a crude hand drawn map (which surprised me) and we parted ways, promising to keep a eye out for folks on foot in the desert.

Again following the RR tracks we headed west towards Sierra Blanca. Our friendly county employee had been insistent that we were to follow the RR tracks, which lead us to the only glitch of the day. Crossing a well maintained road and RR crossing for same, we stepped off the edge of time into the a part of the desert that probably had not been touched since the RR went through in the 19th century. A couple of hundred feet past the road edge, tire tracks petered out and I watched Steve race into the distance, followed by Bill and Ian.

Gamely heading on, I felt the old familiar knot in my stomach that often crops up when memories of the pins in my foot a few years back surface. Now the trail (or lack thereof) was getting plain ugly and what did I see but Bill and Steve standing at the top of a hill as Ian gamely tackled the rise. Stalling, Ian and Bill inched his bike past the crest with rocks raining down on the lower portions of the hill signaling a loose surface. Ugg ... now it is my turn. First, then second as I accelerate to attack the bottom of the hill. Watching the hill rise in my vision, I choose among many rain ruts trickling down the face. I do OK until about the two thirds point where the hill got the best of me and the pig and down we went. True to course, the tank ended up below the wheels. Ian and Bill rescue me and we stood the bike up. Realizing that the far side of the hill is no better, Steve helped us turn the bike around and we all retreated back towards the crossing. Ian decided the edge of the RR ballast offers promise as a better (smoother) route and off he goes. I chose the virtual freeway of the RR ties and cruised past him as he dodged large rocks that have fallen from the face of an adjacent embankment. Steve and Bill make it back as well and we all found ourselves at the RR crossing.

Having studied the map on my GPS, I realized this is the correct road. In the lead now, I headed off only to discover that no one is following me about a half a mile later. I pulled over and killed the motor, hoping to hear the sounds of approaching bikes. Nary a sound encountered my ear other than the chirps of the birds about and the wind. Worried that something might be amiss, I fire up my bike and retraced my route, hugging the edge of the road, wary of the potential for bikes to be hurdling my way. I had gone little more than a hundred yards when they approach and Steve gives me the thumbs up, solving one concern but leaving the explanation of the mystery until later.

Some beautiful countryside unfolded as we unwound the road back towards Sierra Blanca. Eventually the road encountered I 10 and we were faced with a choice of service roads. Too late, we realized we were on the interstate on ramp and we were soon hurdling eastward at freeway speeds past a sign that announces that Sierra Blanca is 6 miles over the horizon. Soon we were in line for the Border Patrol Inspection Station on I 10. Creeping eastward in the line, we were reminded of the seriousness of the issue, when we see Border Patrol Agents and Deputy Sheriffs head off in various directions. Sadly, my first thought was towards a donut shop.

After passing through the inspection station, we discover that agents are combing an area near a train on the a siding. No doubt they were looking for illegals. The last mile unwound quickly and we again found ourselves at Ernie’s for lunch. By now it was almost 3:00, but breakfast was clearly a long time in our past and we still had to return to Van Horn.

After lunch and gassing up at the Exxon, we soon found ourselves retracing our route of the morning back along the RR ROW. Steve and Bill raced off into the shadows, with Ian following and me riding sweep (sounds better than last). About half way back to Van Horn, Ian and I stop to answer some rather pointed questions posed by a lady in a pickup truck. Easily explained, perhaps the funniest thing was watching the lady’s face as she tried to understand Ian, who grew up in England and retains a bit of accent. She was concerned as to why we were there, a legitimate question with all the drugs and illegals crossing through the area.

Regrouping at the RR crossing, we again headed back towards Van Horn, a beer (or three), a shower and dinner. Our last adventure of the day was discovering upon arrival at our motel that it was crawling with State Troopers. We found out later that they were in town to throw a kink in the smugglers works. I wished them good luck and good hunting.

Dinner found us at the Ranchman Steak House. With steaks and appropriate libations all around, we celebrated the end of a great first day of riding. Our total mileage for the day, according to my GPS, was 208 miles. Not bad, considering we had no plan past going down Green River Road.
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Tony Eeds

Godspeed Tony.
N. Texas SP
Jun 9, 2002
Day 02

Day 02 dawned cold and clear. Breakfast complete and stoked with coffee, we headed south on US 90 towards our destiny with the past.

For those not familiar, Steve organized the first Lost Trail Ride the first weekend of August last year and six of us completed the ride. Steve, Stevie, John, Bill, Ian and myself, ably supported by Steve’s wife, Linda. That trip was full of memories fit for a lifetime and we were going back. That being said, as many of you know, this ride was different, as Stevie died in December from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident during a ride we were on in Big Bend. I was lost in my own thoughts, as I imagine others were, as we leapt into reality standing with one foot in the past and one in the present. The cold of the morning crept through the cracks in my armor, reminding me of that day as well.

FM 2017 lead us to Chispa Road and the start of the Lost Trail. Taking up the position as Steve’s wingman on the first leg south. With pleasure, I watched a man lost in his element. Steve is poetry in motion on a bike, knowing the right gear and speed for every occasion. I learned a lot riding at his side on Saturday, perhaps most importantly how much I have left to learn.

Familiar and yet unfamiliar, as we were running the route in reverse of our ride in August, I found the path more difficult than before. Loose rocks were everywhere and we were dodging either the rocks of the mesquite thorns tugging at our gear.

Trying to make sure I had enough gas to reach Presidio, I found myself running in gears far higher than I was used to. Not faster as much as smoother, I learned something about 4 strokes, keep the revs down and the speed up.

Stopping a couple of times along the way for photos (at a bridge and at the pickup truck submerged in the mud) we began to make new memories of new trips.

Reaching Candlelaria, we encountered blacktop and quickly ate up the 48 miles into Presidio and lunch. Lunch was at the El Patio Restaurant. From the look on the faces of other patrons, they must not have expected to see Power Rangers.

Filled and fueled up and knowing that we had gas enough to make it back to Van Horn, we dialed it up a notch and sped back towards Candlelaria and the start of the Lost Trail up SH170. SH170 is often mentioned in the top 10 rides in Texas, but in my opinion, many are leaving out a nice part, if only because of the history, by not traveling the entire length of the road.

Steve and Bill went on ahead and Ian and I rode at least 15 miles side by side separated by not more than a couple of feet at any point. Up, down, around corners, it didn’t matter; we were on rails, and our engines rose and fell in sync. If you have never done it you need to try it someday. The thrill cannot really be described, only felt.

At various points we caught sight of Steve and Bill and at one point I fancied that we might catch them. That thought was interrupted. Remember my point about the changing of the flat? Well here we go again. I was riding along having a swell day when what did I hear but pfft ...pfft ... pfft ...pfft. You get the picture? We stopped in the middle of BFE and proceeded to locate the problem. I was bummed that the slime in my tire didn’t work. After locating and removing the one inch long thorn, Ian points out 5 more that he could see in about a one foot section of my tire. I guess the slime really did it’s job!

Now for the comedy, I didn’t want to mess with changing tube, so we decided to see if the slime would fill the hole and I could inflate the tire with my handy dandy tire pump. Oops, it would not fit tight enough and all the air leaked out. Never fear said Ian as he whips out his CO2 inflation device. Get what, it didn’t work either, at least past the one tube that was in the durn thing. Talk about two of the Three Stooges, that was Ian and I! Giving up on changing the tire, I sent Ian on ahead and gaming fired up the bike to gingerly motor onward towards pavement. It was only about 25 miles in the distance. Ian soon returned as he realized it would be better to be lost together than alone (my bad, because I should have known that from my days mountain climbing) so he followed as I gingerly dodged the rocks. Slowly remembering that speed can be your friend, I increased my speed to the point that centrifugal force made the flat tire more rigid. Ian was soon working to stay with me and we quickly ate up the miles between me and pavement.

Reaching the pavement I was disappointed to find that Steve and Bill were nowhere in sight. Turning to check on Ian, I found Steve and Bill shadowing me as well. I thought for a minute that the sky had deposited them behind me. Actually they had been sitting on at a vantage point that overlooked the valley pointed out to them by another Border Patrol Agent. We were becoming the stuff of legend, as they knew “someone” was down there, but didn’t know who. Don’t even think of asking me how they knew, as I haven’t a clue.

Steve asked me if I wanted to change the tire and I said ... naw, let’s go on to town (25 miles to the north), I will change it in Dallas. Again, dinner, beer and a shower awaited. Did have my priorities straight or what?

Dinner again found us at the Ranchman Steak House to celebrate the conclusion of a great weekend of riding. Our total mileage for the day, according to my GPS, was 262 miles, bringing our total for the two days of riding to 470 miles.

Tony Eeds

Godspeed Tony.
N. Texas SP
Jun 9, 2002
Lessons Learned:

Check your equipment (pumps for sure) while in the comfort of your driveway.
Carry a paper map to use in conjunction with the GPS.
You can go about as fast with a flat front tire, but turning is a real bear.
Be ready to go riding every time Steve calls, it will be a memorable experience that is best experienced today and never left until someday.

Thank you, Steve, Bill and Ian for a wonderful time. More importantly, thank you Linda, I know this weekend was difficult for you.
Feb 7, 2006
Absolutely beautiful write up man!
GPS and cell phones have added a lot to cross country trail riding, especially in places like Big Bend.
Very sorry to hear about Stevie.
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