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April 2002 (updates are found at the bottom of the page)
My wife and I hadn't been to Lajitas on the Rio Grande since November of 1993 and were looking forward to finally visiting again. We love this area due to its remoteness, natural beauty, and the fact that it has an airport conveniently located within walking distance of the whole town. We knew that the town had been put on the auction block and had been purchased by an Austin resident, Steve Smith, who had always wanted to own a town. We were anxious to see what this would mean for Lajitas.
The first thing it meant was no more convenient airport. That's right, the convenient airport has been abandoned and a new airport has just been built 4.2 miles east of the town. This is to permit jet aircraft to use the airport and to relieve noise. Actually, it relieves noise for the resort but provides new noise for those neighbors who are on the flight path. Mark, at the hotel desk, assured us that there would be someone to pick us up and give us a ride to the resort. All we needed to do was to call before we left and then call by radio from the air when we arrived. You have to call from the air because radio communication from the new remotely located airport to the resort is no longer possible while on the ground. So we made the phone call and gave our estimated time of arrival of 3 pm.
A direct route from Del Rio to Lajitas goes through Mexican airspace. Here we are approaching the Rio Grande (center) in the Big Bend area.
The new 7500' airstrip is easy to spot in the Big Bend desert.
Two of the three buildings that make up the
Downtown Lajitas maintains its movie set look
View from the Ocotillo Restaurant
Dos Amigos Restaurant in Paso Lajitas, Mexico
Walking/horseback riding trails along the Rio Grande
On May 10, 2002, the Border Patrol closed the Lajitas border crossing as well as two other Big Bend area crossings at Santa Elena and Boquillas. The closing was abrupt, unexpected, and dramatic, with some 40 federal agents arriving in helicopters, unmarked cars, and sport-utility vehicles. Additional funding and manpower in response to the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center has enabled the Border Patrol to enforce rules that were previously low priority. The closing of the border at Lajitas has divided families, caused a loss of jobs, and a reduction of trade in both Lajitas and Paso Lajitas.
What was previously a walk across the river is now a 120 mile trip to cross at the nearest legal border crossing. The Lajitas/Paso Lajitas community is now split in half, families are divided, friends are separated, and the Lajitas workforce is depleted. The children of Paso Lajitas are unable to attend school since the only school within a reasonable distance is in Lajitas. The boatman, Jose Romando-Rodriguez, who shuttled workers and visitors across the river for a $1 round-trip fee, was arrested, convicted of illegal entry, and served 19 days in jail.
The economies of both towns are affected. Business at the 103-year old Lajitas Trading Post has dropped by 40%. The Dos Amigos restaurant in Paso Lajitas has closed. Jobs at the Lajitas Resort, which is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation, are no longer as attractive to Mexican laborers who may no longer go home to their families at the end of the workday. The town of Paso Lajitas, whose population had swelled to meet the need for laborers in Lajitas, now resembles a ghost town.
The Lajitas Resort is evidently already having its share of problems. There are reports of projects having to be redone not just once, but sometimes a second time. Allegedly, contractors have gone unpaid and have quit. Local residents are uneasy about the water consumption demands that two golf courses and upscale housing will bring to the desert environment. The removal of salt cedars from the banks of the Rio Grande has raised eyebrows among locals. The concern is that the low-lying area adjacent to the resort may wash away during flooding of the river. This area is shown in the last photo of the above article.
In retrospect, locals remember May 10 events with the same horror that Americans remember September 11. One resident, a Vietnam veteran, said "My mind went back to Vietnam. Everybody was in shock. Everybody was running. No one knew what was going on." Now the border is closed to everyone but firefighters and people with medical emergencies. Border Patrol agents are patrolling the river to enforce the closure. The agents do permit families to meet midriver to pass food and clothing across.
Residents along the river have formed the Big Bend Border Alliance to address the issue of reuniting the two towns but the prospect of getting any political action seems dim.
Well, more things have changed at Lajitas. There are new owners and they wish to adjust the marketing focus and reopen Lajitas to the less than wealthy. Here is the email I received:
Mr. Penick- I apologize in advance if my partner Edwin Leslie (or maybe I did- it's been a busy year!) may have already contacted you this year regarding Lajitas. As you may know, our group acquired Lajitas Resort & Spa in January 2008. Lajitas is NO LONGER "The Ultimate Hideout""! We are not "hiding", are no longer exclusive and are no longer cost prohibitive for middle class Americans. One of the things that so attracted us to taking on this project is the absolute magnificence of the Big Bend area and our desire to make it accessible and affordable to all sorts of people, not just the wealthy. We have lowered hotel/guest room rates to what we think are very reasonable levels, have drastically cut prices at our Candelillia Cafe ( and will be introducing our new, far more extensive Tex-Mex and regional menu soon). We have "opened" the Maverick Ranch RV Park , with no resort fees and daily/weekly/monthly rates starting at $29/day, have added our own ATV's for desert tours, and have made many other changes around the resort.
We would very much like to welcome back pilots and flight groups of all types- we have fully serviced our airport fuel trucks and tanks and offer AV fuel and Jet A. We do not charge tie down or landing fees to guests of the Resort, and are very willing to negotiate rates for rooms, activities, fl ins etc for groups of even relatively small size.
By way of example, on the car side of things, Carroll Shelby's group is coming out at the end of September for a huge event: http://www.motortrend.com/features/newswire/38412/index.html
In a nutshell, with our great airport facilities, resort amenities and guest accommodations now at affordable levels, we would welcome the opportunity to start making Lajitas a venue that you, other pilots and flight clubs would consider once again!
Thank you for your time, and please feel free to contact me if there is anything I can do for you or any questions we can answer.
Vice President/General Counsel
Bridlie-LEG Lajitas Inc
Lajitas Resort & Spa