The Writing Traveler: Mystery in the Desert

A single wooden cross rises above a lonely grave in Big Bend National Park. Photo: J Gerald Crawford

Someone had gone as far as he could go. Someone left a friend behind. Someone rests in peace. Memories die often and die hard in the desert.

I wandered upon the desert cross years after someone had hammered it into the ground.

Maybe it had been decades.

I have no idea.

But there it stands among the mountains of Big Bend National Park, just the way we found it.


And weathered.


And lonely.

Rocks piled upon a grave.

I looked for a name.

There wasn’t one.

Caleb Pirtle

Someone had gone as far as he could go.

Someone left a friend behind.

Someone rests in peace.

Memories die often and die hard in the desert.

Was he a traveler in search of civilization?

Was he a settler who tried to tame the land before the government boys came into the mountains, saw the grandeur and beauty of the desert, and created a national park?

Was it a wife?

A mother?

Did she die during childbirth?

So many did.

Life was tough in the desert.


And unforgiving.

Ranchers sought to civilize the landscape.

Ranches crumbled.

Ranchers moved on.

They had little when they arrived at the Great Chihuahuan Desert.

They had nothing when they rode away.

Those who survived considered themselves fortunate.

Those who survived at least broke even.

Water was scarce.

Sometimes there were only dry creek beds.

Rain came seldom.

Some years, rain went elsewhere.

Who lies beneath the cross?

How did he or she die?

Old age?




I’m betting on a bullet.

But then, I write thrillers.

Someone always dies coughing on a bullet.

All I know are a few scattered facts.

Someone died.

Someone cared.

Someone nailed a cross into hard ground.

Someone took the time to say goodbye.

And now only the mystery and the winds remain.

One is as elusive as the other.

Please click HERE to find Confessions from the Road on Amazon. It is a collection of my stories about real people and real places.

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