back to Lajitas

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.
We arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule and made the radio call from the air. Mark told us there was someone at the airport to give us a ride. We landed and there was no one there. There was only a fuel truck and a tug (neither had the keys or I would have considered either mode of transportation). We unloaded our bags, tied down the airplane, and installed the cabin cover. We waited under the wing out of the burning sun as our vacation minutes ticked away.
There was no telephone and no personnel present, although I have been assured there will be both in the future. I tried the radio on the ground and was unable to reach the resort as expected. The airport is a newly constructed 7500' x 100' paved strip with one cavernous hanger (completely empty at this time), a fuel supply (not ready at this time), and a small shack. It did not have an airport identifier at this time but is expected to in a couple of months. We were stranded and the only thing to do was to prepare the aircraft for flight and head for the resort to make a radio call. This I did while leaving my wife and baggage at the airport. I made several radio calls before I got a response, while orbiting the resort low enough to let everybody in town know I was there. I tersely explained my predicament to the desk clerk and she summoned Mark once more. After a couple more orbits, Mark came on the radio and assured me that someone would pick us up. I had Mark call to close my flight plan since it was about time for the FAA to begin a search.

The new 7500' airstrip is easy to spot in the Big Bend desert.
After this rather expensive radio call, I returned to the airport and found the constable there with my wife and bags loaded in his vehicle. I secured the aircraft and reinstalled the cabin cover and we headed for the resort. Richard, the constable, apologized for the mixup. It seems that another airplane landed just before we did and they picked those people up thinking that they had gotten everyone. Mark met us in Lajitas and he also apologized for leaving us stranded at the airport.
We checked into our room at the Officers Quarters. Although accommodations in other areas of the resort are under renovation, these rooms are basically the same as they were on our 1993 visit. The main change is that the rate, which was $60/night is now $125/night. The rates were overpriced in my opinion, both in 1993 and now, but it is after all a resort and it looks like the new owner is going to need the money to pay for the renovations.

Two of the three buildings that make up the
Officer's Quarters
According to local residents, the changes the new owner is making have revitalized the town, which was dying as facilities such as the water treatment plant were falling into disrepair. Smith, who paid 4.2 million for the town, has reportedly sunk another 40 million into improvements and plans to spend another 40 million.
A new water treatment plant has been built, a new wastewater system has been built, the old 9-hole golf course has been expanded to a PGA-approved 18-hole course, the salt cedars along the Rio Grande have been removed and other trees have been planted, an outdoor theater has been built, an equestrian center has been constructed on the south end of the old airport runaway (don't worry cowboys and cowgirls, the stables are still there), and the storefront area has been blocked off for pedestrians and horses only.
Area residents have mixed feelings about all of this. In the past, people have been attracted to this area as much for what it doesn't have as what it does have. The solitude and lack of any big business together with the natural beauty and rugged desert environment have attracted an ecletic, somewhat gritty, individualistic resident to the area. The transformation of the Lajitas resort community threatens to change all that. It appears there will now be jet traffic, a new breed of resident who can purchase pricey real estate and build upscale homes, and more well-heeled visitors who can afford the more costly accommodations. Residents worry about the consumption of precious water resources by the resort community.

Downtown Lajitas maintains its movie set look
Changes are afoot for the RV park. Once located next to the golf course on the south side of the resort, the RV park is being relocated to a site on the north side of the resort. It's called Maverick Ranch. RV parking spaces will be sold rather than rented and the price tag is reported to be $100,000. Furthermore, there are restrictions on what types of RVs will be permitted. Evidently, many of the snowbirds who have previously occupied the Lajitas RV park will be priced out and will have to go elsewhere. Some have been regular visitors for 20 years.
On February 8, Johnny and Sharon Voudouris arrived in their Class A motorcoach (I think that means RV) and are expected to make the first pricey purchase of an RV parking space (oh, I mean "professionally-managed hideout for luxury motor coach"). They were greeted by resort owners Steve and Sarah Smith with champagne toasts and a mariachi band.
The resort plans to sell off a number of homesites. But "only a privileged few will be able to stake a claim on a piece of land." I think that means $$$.
So what about the resort restaurant? I believe there are three restaurants planned, but at this time the original restaurant is the only one and remains at the same location. It's called the Ocotillo. The room has been renovated with floor to ceiling glass and a porch on three sides. It's a nice change; the view is very nice.

View from the Ocotillo Restaurant
The Lajitas fajitas are still served and are a good as ever. Strangely though the pico de gallo had no pico. The peppers were there, but there was no detectable heat. I don't think they were bell peppers, just very, very mild.
The informal border crossing is still active. You pay one dollar for a rowboat ride across the Rio Grande to Paso Lajitas. The return trip is included. On our visit, the flow was so low that you could walk across either upstream or downstream from the boat crossing but we elected to take the boat. Vehicles were also driving across the shallow water.
We ate a lunch at Dos Amigos in Paso Lajitas. The food was very good. Tex Mex entrees were only about $4. We visited the local grocery store. They don't have a large selection, but we got some juice boxes--mango, guava, strawberry--and some hot sauces. Prices here were also reasonable and they do accept dollars.

Dos Amigos Restaurant in Paso Lajitas, Mexico
Major Clay Henry still officiates from down by the trading post. It's Clay Henry III now and there is a Clay Henry IV newborn. The mayor and his entourage have new digs--a pen with an iron fence and a plaque. The plaque proclaims that the mayor does accept bribes. The bars of the fence are spaced to permit passing a beer bottle through yet prevent the mayor from sticking his head out.
The Lajitas Sun reports that "Claytie Four" will be the last offspring of Clay Henry III since he was "so rudely disarmed by a vandal Nov. 27 of last year." Hopefully the new resort owners will provide competitive entertainment options so that we don't have to be confronted with such disturbing news in the future.
There is a new river walk area along the Rio Grande with gravel pedestrian/horse paths. This is one of the areas where the salt cedars have been removed and quite a bit of planting has been done including cottonwoods and wildflowers.

Walking/horseback riding trails along the Rio Grande
For our return flight, the hotel gave us a ride to the airport. I had Mark activate my flight plan by telephone after our departure since the FAA cannot be reached by radio from Lajitas. Our flight was a direct route to Del Rio, which goes through Mexican airspace and I wanted to make sure I was on a flight plan. The hotel van waited at the airport for our takeoff.
I had been told that local residents were not happy about being on the flight path of the new airport. I did notice that on departure from runway 07, that I was over rooftops at about 500' AGL. Perhaps pilots should be asked to remain in the traffic pattern until reaching pattern altitude on departure.
We enjoyed our short stay at Lajitas but are somewhat concerned about its future. Will the rockhounds be able to afford to continue to hold their Rockhound Rendezvous here? Can the Cessna 180/185 club hold their annual gathering here with the airport no longer located at the resort? It doesn't seem like as much fun if you can't stroll down to the runway from your hotel room and do some hanger flying with your buddies. Can Steve Smith round up enough rich folks who want to spend their vacations in the desert to make his investment pay off? A big maybe.
Can normally-funded people find a substitute for their lost vacation spot? Probably so. The displaced group will be available and perhaps neighboring communities can prepare to receive the economic runoff.

Tom Penick

June 2002 Update

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.

September 2008 Update

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:

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.

Larry Goldenthal
Vice President/General Counsel
Bridlie-LEG Lajitas Inc
Lajitas Resort & Spa

432.424.5158-Lajitas direct
432.424.5195-Lajitas fax
281.946.5055-Houston fax
713.254.9994-Houston phone


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