Contrabando on the Rio Grand

Contrabando on the Rio Grande from bbd on Vimeo.

The Contrabando site takes its name from a nearby canyon. It’s an easy crossing from Mexico and doesn’t require a swim, simply a wade. You can guess why the canyon has that name.

What makes the site interesting is that it’s now the location of an abandoned movie set. Nine different movies were made here including the justly forgotten comedy-western Up Hill All The Way starring Roy Clark, Mel Tillis and Burl Ives. A bit better film was Larry McMurtry’s Streets Of Laredo.

The set is decaying, its demise forestalled somewhat by the arid climate, but returning to dust and plastered over particle board debris is inevitable. For all that, it was quiet, I was alone and I felt transported to a time that could have been real. A time really not that long ago, and a time now when a real rancheria like this still dots the Mexican landscape.

This is the story that inspired the amateurish video:

Contrabando

decaying set

This is the second in a series taking you along on one of my solo photo road trips. It’s a continuation of the previous post from the now dead Open Salon site “Dawn at Prada Marfa,” a photo shoot of an art installation in a remote part of the high desert in West Texas. And it’s part of my journey toward my OS friends, a meet-up in Scottsdale at Rancho Laurena and eventually being introduced there to that most subtle of mistresses, Kilt Lifter Scottish ale on draft. She’s a sneaky powerful dominatrix. Some tales will remain untold I’ve been told I promised.

I was dimly aware of the Contrabando site, but was brought up short when I stumbled upon it on US Highway 170. The highway, also called Ranch Road 170 is a sinuous asphalt snake, curving and undulating for some 60 miles along the Rio Grande. I had no trouble throwing a rock over to Mexico, the river is quite placid and narrow near the highway.

You know when you see a highway warning yellow sign advising of a 6% grade and trucks must use lower gears? There was a small and nearly missed sign at the beginning of the road near Lajitas, just west of Terlingua, that mentioned grades up and down at 15%. That may not sound significant, but I can tell you that I felt like I was on an extreme rollercoaster at Six Flags. Coupled with the fact that often at the apex of a steep ascent, that innocuous sign with a little curved arrow you just passed did not in any way prepare you for an off-camber two wheel skidding turn just out of view on the other side of the top of the hill leading you straight to the depths of Sheol. My incontinent screaming once again drowning out the 300 db output from my iPod wailing Sun Kil Moon’s Si Paloma.

Still, it has to be one of the prettiest roads in the country, certainly in the state. But it is a severe beauty. And I traversed it in March, not in the searing moisture sucking parched summertime. There were green things to see—a rarity for much of the year when most things take on the camouflage of dust and a dry hope for survival to a relatively cooler time.

The Contrabando site takes its name from a nearby canyon. It’s an easy crossing from Mexico and doesn’t require a swim, simply a wade. You can guess why the canyon has that name. Various sites on the Internet spell it Contrabano, but that’s a mistake.

What makes the site interesting is that it’s now the location of an abandoned movie set. Nine different movies were made here including the justly forgotten comedy-western Up Hill All The Way starring Roy Clark, Mel Tillis and Burl Ives. A bit better film was Larry McMurtry’s Streets Of Laredo, though it starred that turgid curmudgeon James Garner—my dislike for the improbable Rockford will keep me from adding it to Netflix.

The set is decaying, its demise forestalled somewhat by the arid climate, but returning to dust and plastered over particle board debris is inevitable. For all that, it was quiet, I was alone and I felt transported to a time that could have been real. A time really not that long ago, and a time now when a real rancheria like this still dots the Mexican landscape.

I enjoyed taking these shots and I hope you enjoy viewing them with me. Thanks for stopping by.

Addendum: If you want to point your GoogleEarth app or Googlemaps webpage to this location, you can find it here: 29°16’46″N, 103°50’29″W or 29.2794, -103.8414. There are some Panoramio photos on GoogleEarth that show it in less decay than my shots.

Contrabano

The sky seemed too immense, much more so than what I could capture here.  You can see a larger version of this shot here.

west of Lajitas

Contrabano church

Inside the church, a bell façade in reserve

Inside the saloon things are decomposing as well

That’s an Ocotillo plant on the left, with a mockingbird taking wing above. You can see this shot in a larger size here.

Again, that big, big sky. Larger version of this shot here.

Randy Newman comes to mind for some reason.

A home overlooking the river with a covered patio for sitting and sipping.

I don’t think the sawhorse would actually hold a real horse for long. These two shots above are not of the same structure, the bottom one shows the outside of the saloon…inside view of the saloon a few above.

The view to the river

See? An easy walk to Mexico without having to bother with all those pesky trigger happy border guards. (Yeah, probably some Predator drones overhead and out of sight)

Ocotillo bike rack—FAIL! Actually, the ocotillo stems make good fencing if you can keep yourself from being impaled by the thorns whilst building it.

Another view to the now invisible river. Look closely at this original sized image in the middle right hand side of the shot and you’ll see a wild burro.

Nearly between two worlds—that’s Mexico on the left looking west and the curvature of the earth beyond.

You can see a fairly benign portion of the Ranch Road 170 to the right in the shot above.

A lovely thing I encountered all along my journeys were these little cairns left by those who’d gone before.

It seems I used this particular lens in this shot on this trip more than any other lens I have, and it’s a beauty. It’s the Nikkor 14-24mm 2.8.  It’s a wonderful performer. The only downside is that the front element is so large, and constructed in such a way that there can’t be any protective filter. It does have an extra hard nanocoat on the outside element, but still, you have to be very careful with this lens to keep it from getting bumped. The lens cover is as big as a dessert plate. You can see a picture of the lens here.

And finally…

I hop back into my trusty little Honda and continue my journey westward to lovely friends and the amazing Kilt Lifter.

all images copyright © 2009 by barry b. doyle • all rights reserved

# # #

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s