Texas Escapes
Online Magazine
Texas Towns by Region
  • Texas Hill Country
  • Central Texas North
  • Central Texas South
  • South Texas
  • East Texas
  • West Texas
  • Texas Panhandle
  • Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Towns A - Z
    Over 2800 Towns

    Texas Ghost Towns
    Over 800 Ghost Towns

    Book Hotels
  • Texas | Columns | "True Confessions and Mild Obsessions"

    Yuccaing it Up In the Big Bend
    The Ballad of Dagger Flats
    (a.k.a. The Adventures of Las Dos Francescas)

    by Frances Giles

    I have a best friend, also named Frances, whom I've known since we met in nursing school back in 1970. In early 1997 she called me up from her home in Poteet, Texas and said she was looking to have a break from work and home and suggested a trip to the Big Bend National Park. We set aside a time in March because she said the yuccas should be in early bloom then on the Chihuahuan Desert. I was glad of a break from work myself and had never been to the Bend so I looked forward to the experience.

    I drove from Austin to Poteet to spend the night and we left in my loaded Pontiac sedan the next morning, leaving her husband and teenage son behind to batch it for about a week. We spent the time talking and looking at scenery and generally just winding down.

    The landscape seemed endless the closer we got to the final leg of our journey, and it was beginning to dawn on me that I had rarely been anywhere with so few signs of human life. Still, it was beautiful in a lonesome, primitive way, and we reached our final destination by driving up a very steep, winding, twisted road to the top of a mountain and checking in at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, our base camp for the week. Mornings were glorious, with crisp, cool mountain air and gorgeous sunrises, with a free roaming herd of tiny javelinas or peccaries snorting and grunting their way across the landscape by way of the sidewalk in front of the rooms. They were definitely not beautiful, with faces only a mother could love, and all of the stories I remembered hearing about huge, vicious, marauding hogs with razor sharp, upturned yellow tusks slashing and ripping their prey weren't exactly comforting, so I always waited for the other Frances to get up and out before venturing across the parking lot to the restaurant.

    On the appointed day for our desert exploration, we got up and made sure the cooler was filled with ice and cold drinks, loaded up the car and drove back down the mountain. We drove out onto the main highway and after about 8 or 9 miles, I think, we turned off onto the unpaved road leading to the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert and to the Dagger Flats. We oohhhed and aahhhed and ouched and grimaced as we bounced and jostled our way over the deeply rutted, uneven, single lane dusty road that was our trail to the promised desert delights. The word road is used very loosely here. I remember rocks, little rocks, big chunky ones, even some boulders, and dust, lots and lots of white powdery dust flying all around us if we drove faster than about 3 miles an hour. We spent several hours, as I recall, getting to the end of the trail, looking at yuccas in all sizes and shapes, admiring their wild, spiky beauty. Frankly, I didn't know yuccas could grow as tall as some we saw. The biggest ones looked to be several stories high, compared to the more squatty ones I'm accustomed to seeing as part of a nicely landscaped lawn. They were in bloom, not as full as they would be later on, but impressive nonetheless.

    It was quiet, very quiet, out there under the blindingly bright blue skies, just us and the faint whistling of the wind, and I thought it was a perfect place for reflection and to gather ones' thoughts. We reflected, we gathered, we snacked, and then it was time to head back. I turned the Pontiac around on a couple of feet of curved path apparently graded for that purpose and headed back toward Highway 385. Semi truck and bus drivers, don't try this at home. I drove less than a block when the car suddenly stopped dead in it's tracks. No warning sounds, no funny smells, no smoke or steam, no idiot lights blinking madly on the dashboard, just...nothingness. Both of us looked under the hood for any signs of leaks, disconnected wires or cables, something to indicate why Old Betsy had rolled over on us. Nothing, nada, zilch.

    So, here we were, in the middle of nowhere trying to formulate a plan and trying not to panic. Fran-the-other decided she would try to hike to the main road, a distance of seven long, torturous miles wearing insubstantial, non-hiking friendly shoes over rocks and ruts, to flag down a passing car, we hoped. My excuse for not doing the same was a pair of bad knees that would never have made it more than a few blocks. Right about then I saw a dust cloud billowing far ahead. Oh, halleleujah! It turned out to be a little VW camper-travel van containing 2 very nice ladies, a few years older than us. They had been classmates in college, too, and had remained friends over the years. Once a year they left hearth and home in different states to take a week long trip together to somewhere new each time. Lucky for us it was the Big Bend that year. After they established that we weren't serial killers luring unwary travelers to their doom, they took us back to the Panther Junction Visitor Center. It was closed for the day, but we used the pay phone to call the lodge topside and ask the managers, a husband and wife team, for help. We had gotten friendly with them while we had been staying in the lodge and they told us to sit tight while they radioed for a wrecker service to deal with the marooned car. Sure enough, a nice gentleman showed up within an hour driving the tiniest and oldest wrecker I had ever seen. We crawled in the cab beside him, showed him where the car had died, and he thoughtfully dropped us off at the Visitor Center again before heading in the opposite direction to Marathon and to Sixto's Shell Station and Garage. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for him and for Mr. Sixto.

    We called the lodge office again and Mike said he, his wife Terry or another staff would be down as soon as the restaurant closed for the night, which would be in another hour or hour and a half. Nature beckoned to the other Frances and she headed for the public restrooms while I sat on the cement bench outside, the contents of the car piled beside me. Night fell, quickly and audibly...BOOM! It got chilly in a matter of nanoseconds and I suddenly realized I was in darkness like I'd rarely experienced before. I couldn't see anything clearly past about four inches from the end of my nose. I'm generally not afraid of the dark, but the night noises seemed to get louder and more ominous. Feeling just the least bit edgy I dug down into my ten gallon sized "purse" and found my two, count 'em, two Swiss Army knives, one a 23 blade beauty my brother had given me when he upgraded (to what?! A 40 blade gas powered chainsaw?!?), the other actually a Swiss Army STYLE knife, with only about 6 blades and purchased at K-Mart for $3.98. I dropped them in my right pants pocket and waited for Fran to come back out and wait with me.

    Suddenly a vehicle drove up and my immediate thought was that it was our pals from topside come to pick us up earlier that anticipated. What a relief, thought I, completely forgetting how long that trip took, coming down a steep, sharply winding mountain road as they were going to be doing, and in total darkness. I jumped up and called to Fran to hurry up, "They're here!" as I hoisted my shoulder bag up and started pulling on the handle of the ice chest. There were no outside lights burning and it wasn't until the door opened that I saw that it was an old model pickup truck containing 3 men in the cab, three men who seemed suddenly menacing, foreign, dangerous. Fran stepped beside me and hissed "That's not them! Get back over here!!" I passed her a knife and told her to open the longest blade and keep it at the ready as I did the same. I'm embarrassed to say I kept the REAL Swiss Army knife for myself. I've still had residual guilt about this from time to time over the past 15 years. I take no pride in the knowledge that I also had access to a sharp toothed, lethal saw blade on mine. She had no such blade on hers. My mind was in overdrive wondering what evil lurked, etc. while trying to stay calm enough to formulate a plan of attack, or defense, as the case might become. At that moment we heard another engine and a second vehicle drove up behind the first. Doors opened, interior lights illuminated...cohorts of the occupants of vehicle #1? A mobile Bigfoot? Our rescuers from Chisos Lodge? Nope, a young man and woman in an SUV. Without warning, the first pickup truck suddenly roared off into the night, and before I could feel a sense of relief, the young couple hesitated briefly, held a short conversation, then closed their doors and drove off, too, though at a normal rate of speed. Maybe they were just looking for a bathroom. Maybe the other fellows were looking for the same. No matter. We were once again alone, in the black of night, in the farthest reaches of the state, no vehicle, at the mercy of cougars and roving, hungry packs of wolves and unnamed nocturnal creatures waiting to...Sorry, it all came rushing back to me for a moment.

    Somewhere in all of this turmoil, while we were still under threat from the murderous bandits, if that's what they really were, Fran had mentioned that the blades on our knives were probably pretty germy, resting unused as they did among the accumulated detritus at the bottom of my purse, and she wondered if we had time to wash them off. That's when the whole situation seemed to get even more crazy, but I got that mental slap across the cheek I needed to calm down and become rational and in control again. What the hell difference did it make if the blades were clean, my mind screamed! These were wicked, lethal weapons, for Pete's sake! They were going to be lifesaving instruments! Eventually Terry, the wife half of the manager duo, showed up to rescue us. We recounted the story of the entire days' events to her as we headed back to safety and arrived laughing uproariously, if a little shakily. Both of us, the Francae, as someone dubbed us decades ago, are known jokers and kidders, so we no doubt embellished some points. Some, I said.

    The next morning we walked over to the restaurant and office for breakfast where we were introduced to a park ranger who laughed and said he knew all about the "ladies of the previous evening". It seems the two way park radio system had spread the word across at least 120 miles, he informed us, and we had been the topic of chatter "all over" the park. In the dining room a nice, friendly, polite college age young woman came to take our orders and she seemed to be having trouble controlling a facial tic. She was joined by another server, a young man. He was an outgoing, talkative fellow and informed us, making no attempt to control his mirth, that our reputations as mobile ladies of ill repute were now widely known. The Bobbsey twins broke down then and guffawed all the way to the kitchen to put in our orders. We met all of the staff that morning, ALL of them. It seems they just dropped by the table to say howdy and gape at the middle aged "professionals". The souvenir shop clerk chatted us up, grinning and introducing us to anyone who came through the door, although they all seemed to know about us, anyway. It was soul satisfying to feel the warmth and spirit of camaraderie and to know we had given so much pleasure to so many.

    While we had been staying at the lodge, we learned that the husband of the management couple was an amateur writer, so when I got back home to Austin, I was inspired to write a little poem which I called "The Ballad of Dagger Flats" and mailed it off to him. It detailed the events of that day in a relentless, thumping, loping, iambic beat, the only meter in which I seem to be able to write. It accompanies this memory.

    The Ballad of Dagger Flats
    (a.k.a. The Adventures of Las Dos Francescas)

    They came from down South Texas way, those two gals known as Fran,
    Looking for adventure in this vast and glorious land.
    “We will look at scenery, explore the nooks and crannies,
    Gaze upon the vistas through bifocals made for grannies.”
    Friendly folk at Chisos Lodge were welcoming and kind.
    They were not to know that we would soon be in a bind.
    Dagger Flats our destination on that fateful day,
    So with loaded auto we sought out the bloom's display.
    Over hill and over dale we rocked and rolled and tumbled.
    While one Fran said “Ooh!” and “Aah!” the other Fran just grumbled.
    Suddenly there came a halt. The Pontiac was dead.
    Both Frans felt the clutch of fear, nervousness and dread.
    Had two nice souls not driven by who offered food and garments,
    We would still be on the Flats, carrion for varmints.
    Just at dusk we found ourselves in front of Panther Junction.
    The doors were locked but we found out the pay phones still could function.
    Mike and Terry sprang to action promising retrieval,
    So we sat right down to wait, whilst we were stalked by Evil.
    Panthers snarled, coyotes howled, the night grew black and chill
    As we waited for our saviors from atop the hill.
    Frances 1 expressed a wish to use the Junction's toilet,
    Leaving Number 2 on guard, admonishing “Don't foil it!”
    So she stayed and kept a lookout, wishing for some mace,
    While she whistled in the dark and felt her scared heart race.
    Suddenly a truck appeared and pulled in with a glide,
    And like a ruptured duck Fran 2 hopped up to hitch a ride.
    The other Fran hissed “Get back here! That cannot be our help!!”
    “Oh, migosh, she's right!!” said Frances 2, with startled yelp.
    Then a brilliant thought occurred, she'd got Swiss Army knives
    In her purse. “Oh, joy, we've got a way to save our lives.”
    In a flash the blades were open, ready for defense.
    The nursing conscious Number 1 asked “Has it had a rinse?”
    Terry B. drove up just then and saved Fran 1 from death.
    She was just about to draw her final earthly breath.
    “Who the heck cares if those bandits would have got infection
    From our blades, as they were bent on crime without detection?!?!?”
    Terry, Mike and all their staff, and Park policemen, too,
    Now have heard this story, of Frances 1 and 2.
    Throughout the Bend we're legend. Sound the drums and trumpets!
    Were we nurses seeing sights, or homicidal strumpets?

    © Frances Giles
    "True Confessions and Mild Obsessions"
    December 12, 2012 Column
    Related Topics: Big Bend
    People | Columns | Texas Town List | Texas
    Texas Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories, and vintage/historic photos, please contact us.
    Custom Search

    Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast

    Texas Attractions
    People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
    COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

    Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
    Vintage Photos


    Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
    Website Content Copyright ©1998-2013. Texas Escapes - Blueprints For Travel, LLC. All Rights Reserved