A lone buzzard circled the morning sky as we left the pavement and turned onto a dirt road with a sign that read, "River Road East--Road Condition: Four-Wheel Drive, No Gasoline at Castolon." Our wanderings had brought us back to Big Bend National Park.

I glanced at my wife, Darlene, as I got out of the truck to photograph the sign. The road looked easy, and I had confidence in our big Ford F-350--but I hoped the buzzard wasn't an omen.

We'd checked road conditions with the park ranger at the Panther Junction Visitor Center 15 miles northwest of River Road. As we examined the map, he told us that the last report had listed the road as passable and patrolled. Four miles southeast of Panther Junction, we'd been treated to a hilltop panorama of Mexico and the mesas across the Rio Grande, still shrouded in fog.

I climbed back into GGRRRR-1, fired up the diesel engine, and drove toward Mariscal Mine and Castolon, 51 miles away. The road at this point was washboard, but two lanes wide and level. Our tires stirred the fine dust into a cloudy trail as we idled slowly down the road.

About four miles from the main highway, we entered a wash area with the road surface three to four feet below the surrounding ground level. I could visualize how water and sand would roar through here during a flash flood and shifted our truck into four-wheel drive. Old wheel ruts were deep, but the mud had been baked as hard as the surrounding rocks.