The American Picnic


We rode our bikes there. Five miles through the desert sun, between rolling hills dotted in palms and cacti and crowned with rocky cliff sides. Red and golden burnt up brown crags of cliffsides, the kinds you might expect to see Indians chasing a few buffalo over the edge of. But there haven’t been Indians in Texas — real Indians, the wild kind, the great kind, the ones that never knew white people — for about 200 years. There aren’t many white people here either, Western Texas, 50 miles north of one of America’s largest and least visited national parks, Big Bend, is a lonely place. The towns aren’t incorporated and boast populations with numbers like 455 and 267. The bars aren’t open every day, you’re lucky if the grocery store even is. If there even is a grocery store. It’s empty. Not the frontier, everything is fenced off, ranchers and their claims to keep you out of what’s their’s. No, not the frontier, but still, it’s empty.

We rode our bikes there, to the Post, as the locals call it, though the signs officially read Red Rock County Park, a gift by some long gone ranchers to the area. Picnic tables surround the dam, a shallow pool sits empty and you wonder if it has any recollection of every being wet, let alone full. The place is in fairly good order, the bathrooms are working and clean, there’s a large pavilion with a massive barbecue pit. You can imagine 50 years ago parents bringing their children here, children bringing their friends and their pets, friends meeting neighbors, all of the women in red and white checkered dresses to match their picnic blankets, the men in cowboy regalia, the kids with their cap guns and everyone laughing and boisterous under the squelching sun. The barbecues flaming up while the beers were kept cold and no one concerned with the dangers of nuclear war or identity theft or a world running out of oil.

But today it’s empty, save for myself, my son and the stray dog who followed us here. The dam is full, surprisingly so given that it’s difficult to find a drop of water in town that doesn’t come out of a tap or bottle. But a full dam doesn’t make for a full park, and I get a little nostalgic for a time when a place like this might have been filled every weekend by chance, now I wonder if I could even fill it by placing fliers around town and inviting everyone out.

Even here, in the middle of nowhere, the closest thing to frontier left of the Wild West, you still won’t find the vestiges of yesterday. While some places’ buildings and streets and telephone lines grow faster than others, it seems that everyone moves away from nostalgia at the same pace.

Want more?

Read various other posts on Marathon, TX. You can also watch a video about this day in Marathon or check out our photo gallery on Marathon TX or the nearby County Park, mentioned in this post.