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Houston Chronicle Article

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Offline Reece

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Houston Chronicle Article
« on: January 16, 2016, 09:06:36 AM »

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Offline Slimkitty

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2016, 09:24:24 AM »
Bummer, I can't read it without a subscription.  I assume they're talking about FM 2627.  I might take that drive on our way out of the park in a few weeks.  Is it worth it?


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Offline Flash

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2016, 09:46:59 AM »
My guess is its about the bridge at La Linda. It's a great drive and a very lonely place. Stop by Stillwell Store, too.

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Offline Reece

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2016, 10:04:27 AM »
Decaying bridge marks what could have been at border crossing
By Joe Holley

LA LINDA BRIDGE - If you've made the 40-mile drive south from Marathon on U.S. 385 to the northern entrance of Big Bend National Park, you know that the closer you get to the park the more spectacular the scenery gets. What I didn't know until a couple of weeks ago is that a less-traveled road that intersects 385 leads into terrain that in its solitude and rugged beauty is as affecting as the park itself, maybe more so.


FM 2627, the only paved road into the state's Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, leads you first to the Hallie Stillwell Store, Museum and RV Park. In the early years of the 20th century Stillwell was a sharpshooting rancher-teacher-justice of the peace in this area the Spaniards called El Despoblado (the uninhabited). If you want a self-guided tour of the little museum dedicated to Stillwell's life - she was nearly 100 when she died in 1997 - the storekeeper will give you the key. ("Just turn out the lights and lock the door when you leave," he requests.)

From the store, FM 2627 meanders downhill for another 20 miles through dark basalt ridges and cream-colored limestone foothills before it ends at a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. It's the only paved access to the river between the national park's eastern boundary, five miles away, and the little town of Langtry, more than a hundred miles to the northeast. The road dead-ends at a tall, concrete bridge, its one lane blocked by a heavy chain-link fence and concrete construction barriers interspersed like upturned dominoes from one end to the other.

Maybe 50 feet below the bridge, the slow-moving, tree-lined river cuts through Heath Canyon, bounded on the Texas side by the Dead Horse Mountains and on the Mexican side by the majestic Sierra del Carmen range. Along with my sidekick on this trip, fiancée Laura Tolley, I stepped out of our SUV and was immersed in almost-complete silence. Standing on the limestone bluff at the bridge, I could hear the water flowing, barely. As Laura said later, there was something haunting about the place - the vastness, the austerity, the sense of distance from the noisy, crowded world we're familiar with. (Something else happened at the bridge that reminded her of the movie "No Country for Old Men," but I'll tell you about that later.)

Among the arid hills across the bridge are the abandoned houses and buildings of a ghost town, La Linda, Coahuila, along with a mining operation that shut down decades ago. A picturesque white church sits atop a hill outside town. It's beautiful from afar, but those who have visited say it's in ruins too. (I've read that Mexican soldiers on the hunt for drug cartels wrenched off the doors and window frames for firewood.)

A company bridge

For decades La Linda Bridge, also known as the Hallie Stillwell Memorial Bridge, was the only border crossing point for hundreds of miles between Del Rio and Presidio. Mexico had a rudimentary customs office on its side of the 381-foot bridge, but on this side, nothing.

Dow Chemical built the one-lane span in 1964 to haul into this country processed fluor spar, used in making aluminum and other products. At one time more than 300 people lived in the village. Most worked at the plant, first for Dow and later DuPont after the company bought the mine in 1971.

Those who knew La Linda during its heyday recall a bustling, little community with a school and businesses and cement-block houses. Marathon resident Russ Tidwell recalls the "chicken express." Refrigerated trucks from Midland-Odessa regularly transported frozen chicken parts to the bridge, where they would be off-loaded to un-refrigerated Mexican trucks for distribution in Musquiz and other remote villages in the area.

The mining operation shut down in the 1980s, but the bridge remained open to cross-border traffic until 1997. After smugglers killed a Mexican customs official at the bridge, the U.S. Customs Service closed it.

Once the bridge was no longer in use, the Coast Guard moved to demolish it, citing a law that required the removal of obstructions in navigable waters. (The Rio Grande is considered navigable, even though along this stretch it's more likely wadeable.) Owners of land adjacent to the bridge, including the National Parks and Conservation Association, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the national park system, would have had to pay for demolition at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. When DuPont left La Linda, it deeded the bridge to the conservation group, which presumably is still responsible for paying for its demolition, although nobody's pushing to get it done.

Knocking down the bridge would remove the only span connecting Brewster County and a potential eco-tourism destination on the Mexican side of the river. That possibility is what prompted the late Ty Fain, president of the Rio Grande Institute in the 1990s, to fight to save it. He envisioned a binational peace park tying Big Bend to some of the most spectacular scenery in northern Mexico, an idea that goes back at least to the 1930s.

Beauty in Mexico

Fain spent a great deal of time across the river over the years. He climbed craggy mountains clad in Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines, tramped through valleys festooned with orchids and watered by crystal mountain streams, all of it just across from Big Bend. He also worked closely with private landowners in Mexico and with the Mexican government, which has set aside 2.5 million acres of wild lands as a "protected zone."

The bridge would be crucial to any binational park plan, and Fain's Rio Grande Institute got it saved. After 9/11, though, talk of binational projects, including parks, waned. Fain died in 2012, his dream unrealized. The occasional kayaker or canoeist glides under the decaying bridge on the way downstream to Boquillas, but most, I'm guessing, have no idea that it could be a gateway to a magnificent wilderness area as spectacular as any in North America.

Laura and I stood above the river, savoring the cold, clear air, the almost unsettling silence, the majestic view. I had my camera out, taking pictures of the ghost town when I noticed movement through my lens. Two military-style Hummers were bouncing down one of the abandoned roads, and when they pulled up at the foot of the bridge, a swarm of soldiers in desert camouflage piled out and began hurrying across. Dodging the concrete barriers like swivel-hipped running backs, they seemed to be headed in our direction.

I thought about waiting around to find out what they were up to - in the spirit of Hallie Stillwell, you might say. Laura suggested otherwise. Firmly.

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Offline dprather

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2016, 03:02:57 PM »
My wife and I recently did that drive and found it well worth the time.

After turning off of 385, travel a ways and pay your respects to the memory of Hallie Stilwell by buying a cold drink at the Stilwell store.

We went late on NewYear's Day.  The fading light enhanced the dramatic scenery.

Don't expect to be troubled by anyone else.

We stopped and spoke with a Border Patrol officer - that was it.

Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline alan in shreveport

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2016, 04:59:24 PM »
Has anyone else met Fred at the La Linda crossing ? He used to live in a trailer overlooking the American side of the bridge  - kind of a self-appointed watchman of the bridge. He moved to the motel a little west (but visible) of the bridge. I talked with him and had  a couple of cold ones with him a few years ago but haven't run in to him since. Definitely an interesting fellow.

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Offline Flash

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2016, 08:22:58 PM »
Has anyone else met Fred at the La Linda crossing ? He used to live in a trailer overlooking the American side of the bridge  - kind of a self-appointed watchman of the bridge. He moved to the motel a little west (but visible) of the bridge. I talked with him and had  a couple of cold ones with him a few years ago but haven't run in to him since. Definitely an interesting fellow.
Have had two Fred encounters, once each time I have driven down to the end of the road.

First time was in 2003, when our family made its first foray south of Fort Davis down into the BBNP area. My kids were 8, 5, & 3 back then. We spent the whole day driving all the asphalt roads in area, so naturally we drove down 2627 as well. We were the only ones at old crossing and the place felt very lonely and creepy, but kind of wonderful. Then a guy in a pickup with dog in back drove up and parked across the way from us and seemed very interested in the river and such, but kept his distance and left us alone. We sort of wondered what he was up to the whole time we were there.

Three years later, while staying in the Basin in a cabin this time, we made the drive again, this time in search of 4 or 5 geocaches that were strung out along FM 2627. The last geocache ended up being down a rocky embankment below the road, which was also below the trailer up on the hill above. I still remember the character hollering out to me from the hill above to watch for snakes among the rocks. He seemed friendly. Finding the cache, I called back and reassured the man that I would indeed be careful, quickly signed the log, and got out of there. Later on, up at the Stillwell Store, I asked Nan (Hallie's daughter or granddaughter?) about the man in the trailer up on the hill down by the bridge. She just stated mildly, "Oh, that would be Fred." Apparently he was the watchman/river fee collector for the landowner at that time.

-Flash
« Last Edit: April 18, 2016, 09:35:37 PM by Flash »

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Offline Andreas

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2016, 04:25:26 AM »
"Bread for Fred" -  Sheriff Ronny Dodson paying a visit to Fred in 2015:

« Last Edit: January 17, 2016, 06:27:00 AM by Andreas »
"Any time you're throwin dirt you're losin ground."

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

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Offline Owl

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2016, 09:14:28 AM »
About ten years ago, a couple of friends and I did a leisurely six day paddling trip through Boquillas Canyon and took out at Heath Canyon Ranch.  "Ranch" was somewhat of a misnomer as, from what I could tell, the few RV campsites and extended parking for river trips was about all that generated income.  We met Andy Curie, the ranch owner, who had been a geologist with DuPont.  Andy seemed like a nice guy and had some interesting stories about life down there and the Fluorspar operation.  We also met Fred who said he "worked security for the ranch". 

I understand that Andy;s health deteriorated and he moved to Alpine.  I'm not sure if he's still alive.  I wonder if the ranch is still in operation.

After finishing the trip, we took this pic at the bridge:

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Offline alan in shreveport

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2016, 08:02:26 PM »
Excellent find Andress, thanks for posting that video
According to Fred, Andy (his boss) got sick and moved to El Paso for treatment. He left Fred in charge of the motel (ranch ?) and somehow that morphed into bridge watchman. The funny thing was that he did have a satellite phone - not a cheap hobby. And he preferred Corona. That was about 2007 or 08. I remember he liked my car at the time - a 2007 corvette. Quote - " Drug dealers don't drive corvettes ".

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Offline Casa Grande

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2016, 09:30:51 PM »

"Bread for Fred" -  Sheriff Ronny Dodson paying a visit to Fred in 2015:



Yes, this was from NATGEO's "The Badlands."




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Offline Jalco

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2016, 05:26:44 PM »
Thanks for posting the article, Reese.  I've always wondered why the crossing wasn't still open.  Never realized it was a "company" bridge.

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Offline dprather

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Re: Houston Chronicle Article
« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2016, 07:38:15 PM »
Not being a deep-thinking professional border specialist and all, it just seems to me that the area would become more secure if the bridge was reopened and if Feds were stationed there
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

 


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