After being held up by snow in the pass the night before, we were several hours behind. Sundown was approaching and we decided it was time to start looking for a place to stay. Zacatecas would have to wait another day.
“Too bad everything is fenced off,” Churpa mused, “Or we could take one of these side roads into the desert and find a spot to camp.”
“Or maybe we could find a cheap motel in one of these little towns coming up,” I’ve seen No Country for Old Men. Who knows what evil lurks in the desert. A cold shower and a hard bed sounded much more pleasant than running across some crazy Javier Bardem-type in the middle of nowhere.
“Yeah, I suppose,” Churpa sighed. I could hear the nostalgia in her voice. She really wanted to pull off somewhere to camp. I held out hope that an affordable hotel would materialize before the sun finally ducked behind the mountains to the west.
As we continued down Highway 49 south of Jimenez, Churpa continued to scan for side roads into unfenced desert. That we were still quite a distance from Gomez Palacio, the next town of considerable size, didn’t bode well for my paranoid fantasies. I steeled myself to the idea of camping in the desert somewhere.
“Fosiles. Aguas termales!” Churpa blurted excitedly as we passed a dusty side road on our left marked by a faded sign. “Let’s try it. Maybe they’ll let us camp there. If not, the land isn’t fenced, so maybe we could find a spot out of sight of the highway.”
“Umm…” I tried to stall as we sped past the sign. “Umm. . .I guess. Should I turn around?” Churpa immediately replied in the affirmative and I gave up on the idea of a hotel. Camping in the desert it was.
“Ex-Hacienda Los Remedios,” the sign read with an arrow pointing eastward toward a pair of distant bluffs looming over the desert. Miss Louisiane swayed and bounced as we rolled down the rutted and pocked road past a fairly large cemetery. After about two miles, we came to an overpass over 49D, the toll road running parallel to the 49. Another five miles and we found ourselves at the foot of the bluffs.
“Camping!” Churpa exclaimed as we pulled up to a cluster of buildings, including a ruin of an old hacienda building. A hand painted sign pointed us past the ruin and around a network of arroyos. As we pulled up to a gate, a pair of young Mexicanas approached from the other side. Churpa jumped out of Miss Louisiane. After a few seconds of conversation, she climbed back in.
“It’s only 60 pesos to camp, and they have a cave!” she said, as one of the women opened up the gate and ushered us in. Once inside, we drove past a few small houses and parked the van on a flat spot next to a very Mexican picnic area featuring a metal Coca-Cola table top nailed to some logs surrounded by the plastic chairs that are ubiquitous in Mexico. Just past the picnic area were two large cement pools.
We happily forked over the 60 pesos and the two women ushered us to the pools. Churpa tested the waters as they led us past the pools, then past the little poolhouse to a shed-like building with a metal door. Inside was a much smaller and more shallow pool with warmer water than the two outdoor pools. We were then led through a little arroyo with a big, metal door at the end. Past the door was a low cave with two little pools with even warmer water.
The two Mexicanas then left us to ourselves for the evening. We took a good soak in the aguas termales, then Churpa made supper while I made up the bed in the back of Miss Louisiane, secure in the knowledge that Javier Bardem would not bother us here.
As a postscript, Churpa did some research on Ex-Hacienda Los Remedios. As it turns out, it was once a horse ranch, and Pancho Villa’s favorite stallion, Seven Leagues, is said to have been born there. No wonder Churpa was drawn to the place.