La Linda - A barricaded bridge to a Mexican ghost town
The easiest take off point to travel to the old and remote La Linda Bridge in Texas is from Marathon, which lies north of Big Bend National Park. Keep in mind that Marathon, TX has one gas pump. That gas pump is run by Ernesto and pay at the pump is not available on this antique. We arrived at the store at 8am, quickly realizing the store had not opened up yet and that I was at the mercy of the owner to show up.
After Ernesto showed up 30 minutes later, we fueled and turned south at the nearby intersection of Highway 90 and 385. From here you have a decent little drive ahead to reach the bridge. You will pass a US Border Patrol sub-station in about 10 minutes, but only traffic headed north has to stop.
After 39 miles from the junction you will have your left hand turn on FM 2627, which takes you to the La Linda Bridge. Six miles into this road you will come across the Stillwell store, where you can buy food, beer, and get gas if needed.
Keep on the road headed southeast, not as if there are any real options to turn, and you will hit the La Linda Bridge in another 20 miles past the Stillwell store. The road abruptly ends into a small cul-de-sac type area that has the barricaded bridge and a drive into a private residence.
The old bridge is an interesting sight, with multiple cement barriers and a fence contraption to keep anyone from crossing it. Just on the Mexico side is a dilapidated Mexican border patrol station, where two agents allegedly were murdered by drug traffickers in the late 1990’s.
The one lane bridge was first opened in 1963, to support fluorspar from mines in the nearby towns to be imported to the United States. The bridge eventually closed down in 1997, after the mines shutdown and the Mexican agents were killed.
When the mines went out of business and the bridge closed, all the people left, turning La Linda into a ghost town.
Currently the bridge is supposed to be demolished, but no progress has been made in that direction for years. Some support exists to re-open the bridge, but opposition is just as strong.
Looking off to the right from the bridge is the most noticeable attraction, a pristine white cathedral, catching the hot sun of the Chihuahua Desert. From a distance the church looks in mint condition, but a Mexican Army unit pulled all the pews and doors off for firewood in the early 2000’s while stationed in the area to stop cartel activity.
To the left among the hills is the actual ghost town of La Linda, Coahuila. Buildings and homes scatter the hills in what appears to have once been a solid small town.
While the area seemed to be completely desolate from all man-kind, a heart stopping noise erupted from one of the buildings while we were shooting photos. It sounded like metal being smashed against metal repeatedly. We found no logic behind the noise, as it appeared empty, but something was definitely going on. The noise would take a break but then would start again.
After sometime we saw dust rising from a trail and the sound of a truck near the ghost town. A group was doing something in the town, possibly scrapping metal, or maybe something more sinister.
Off to the right of the bridge is a trail to what looked as a scatter of residences on the US side. After about 15 minutes at the bridge we heard an engine start from that area. Soon a man on a motorcycle rode from the residences to check us out at the bridge.
The man’s name was Fred, apparently the local protector and only resident in the area. Fred said he has lived at the bridge for 12 years. Some claim he is a former Marine, others say he was a hardcore biker.
After checking us out, he kindly recommend we back up the road a few meters to take photos from his lookout. He was heading to the Stillwell store and made sure to warn us not to enter his property.
After he noticed we were not leaving, he insisted we follow him up the road to the lookout, which we did.
The lookout is not far back up the road from the bridge and allows a higher vantage point to the town of La Linda and the Rio Grande River. Here you can look down on much of the town and the valley.
Fred’s lookout was more than a vantage point. It included an old school bus, a collection of bikes, a large fresh water tank, camp fire areas, and old mattresses. It was hard to tell if the area was for campers or a resting point for travelers on foot.
After spending a little time at the lookout, we decided it was time to scatter before Fred came back and was tired of us hanging around. We jumped on the highway and within a few miles we ran into Fred on his motorcycle. He stopped us to ask how we liked it.
I began to wonder if Fred really went to the store, or if he traveled uphill to spy on us spying on his area. Who knows, but it was an interesting and almost tense interaction for sure. At no time did Fred seem threatening or mean, it was only under the current conditions that the encounter seemed sketchy. All in all the guy seemed to be a really nice dude.
After more research, it turns out there is an old airplane runway right behind Fred’s place, which is an old ranch property consisting of a number of buildings. It appears he lives in a mobile home, while permanent structures stand nearby.
Even from Fred’s lookout point you cannot see the runway, nor are there any signs or resemblance that a small airport exists in the area. Without Google Earth and the airstrip actually being registered, it is likely that none of the general public would be able to detect the airstrip.
The mystery, what is the airstrip actually used for, is a question nobody had an answer for. Maybe big dollar hunters use the strip to reach the desolate area, but what is really worth hunting in this desert.
On the way out of the area and to Big Bend National Park we stopped in at the Stillwell store. We asked the man working, who had a similar biker look and of age as Fred, what his neighbor’s story was. He smirked and laughed off the question, almost as if he didn’t really know his closest neighbor. We found this character to be just as odd, so I deemed it time to stop lingering and asking questions and to hit the road. I pounded a dollar Tecate from the store and we proceeded to head for the Big Bend park.
After more research, it turns out Fred’s area on the Texas side is known as Health Canyon Ranch. The ranch was bought by geologist Andy Kurie after La Linda went under. Kurie turned the ranch into cabins and a café which would open for visitors. Those looking to kayak the river can pay a fee to park and unload here as well.
It is unclear if many ever utilized the cabins or café, but for the last few years Fred is the only occupant. Kurie moved to El Paso in 2009 due to health reasons. The café and cabins are now closed, but if you can get in touch with Fred you can camp out in the area.
I recommend stopping by La Linda Bridge for those visiting Big Bend National Park. It is a short side trip that is even more off the beaten path than the park is itself. There is no cell phone service in the area so be prepared. Unless it’s a busy weekend the only life you will see is the store and your likely encounter with Fred.