From the hip, musical setting of urban Austin with its outlying regions of rolling hills and greenery, we went west and south into the vast openness of south western Texas. As we journeyed on, the landscape became increasingly dry regardless of the massive storm clouds that dumped marble sized hail on us. Just after the temperature dropped twenty degrees in five minutes. While a bit nerve racking to be driving headlong into the blackness of those whipping winds, we decided to pull off and wait out the passing storm in a conveniently located rest stop. That brief scare however, was rewarded by the blue skies and streaks of sunset orange that greeted us on the other side of the passing storm.
What wasn’t a pleasant sight was the sudden jump in gas prices the further we headed out into desert country. Just like that change in temperature (except in the opposite direction) gas prices seemed to increase .50 cents a gallon in twenty five miles. Always the bummer that it is to see gas prices rise, I can’t say we weren’t expecting this. Just not so much of a hike so quickly. By the time we neared our destination of Big Bend National Park, we had to pay… oh never mind. You don’t want to know and I want to forget.
And fortunately, forget it I did as we drove the sixty or so miles through the desert from the nearest town to the majesty of Big Bend. All along that southern route the mountains grew larger and the surroundings increasingly more amazing as we entered what I would call our first taste of truly “alien” territory. You see, apart from the general differences that one region has from another, all in all the overall look of the country hadn’t really changed until we reached that part of Texas. Great expanses of hot, dusty plains with a layer of harsh, low lying vegetation gave way to the colorful, soaring peaks that surrounded us in the distance. With the browns and reds and shadows cutting into the mountains with the layers of time readily seen across their faces, I really felt like we had entered a different world.
The campground was top shelf, offering splendid views across the Rio Grande and into Mexico. The kids thought it pretty cool (as did I) that at one point on a short hike we took, we were literally twenty feet from Mexico with nothing but the eight inch deep water of the river to stop us from crossing over. I had to explain that as fun as that may be, if we were to get caught we would have to travel 100 miles in either direction to get back in at a proper border crossing.
At one point in the southern end of the park, the mountains are notched with the Santa Elena Canyon that can be seen from far off as you drive ever nearer. An impressive sight from a distance, it only increases as you get closer until you find yourself standing before a scene of epic proportions. Following the river into the canyon with sheer cliffs on either side, I half expected some dinosaur or monstrous creature to come lumbering up from between the canyon walls. As the dry, hot rock gave way to shady enclosures of lush vegetation, it felt like we had traveled back in time as the place seemed utterly void of modern interference.
Unfortunately the time arrived when again we had to move on. With an April 1st deadline to be in southern Arizona for a month of ranch sitting, we had about a week to make it there with a few stops we wanted to make along the way, including a couple delves we wanted to take into the strange…
First up was Ft. Davis, Texas and a look at the mysterious lights in nearby Marfa. Unexplained for over one hundred years, the lights appear and vanish intermittently in no particular order or pattern. It was very odd to sit there watching them blink on and off, and move, and not know what they are or what causes them. I hardly expect that they are of some extra-terrestrial origin, as who in their right mind (alien or not) would go on trying to weird us out for almost 150 years! Alright already! Oh well, the mystery continues.
And the mystery continues in Roswell, NM as well, where we spent some time in the UFO Museum and Exhibit. Following the timeline of events that supposedly occurred there, it is quite convincing that something did happen and our trusty and protective government went through a lot of trouble to keep it quiet. What else is new, right? The government changed the story or explanation four times in the ensuing years to keep this event covered up. Filled with testimonials and eye witness accounts, the exhibit was entertaining to say the least and certainly worth the $5 to get in. Strange what goes on in the desert when no one’s looking…
Prior to that though was a stay in Carlsbad and a trip to the fabled Caverns. This was the third time for me and Tan (we went twice twenty years ago) and it was just as magical and impressive this time as those. I got a specific thrill filling the kids with anticipation of what I knew was going to be an extraordinary experience. The initial descent into the darkness of the cavern is almost the best part until you find yourself in these massive caves with “decor” unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Once again my imagination took over as I envisioned some demonic creature pulling its slimy body from one of the endless dark holes or pits that are everywhere along the way. Cool stuff.
Luckily, we stayed in some very nice state parks along the way, usually two nights in each place. Most sported some fantastic views of the surrounding areas with desert vistas as far as one could see. That’s the thing about it out here. Lots of desert. I particularly like it in the evening, a couple hours before sunset but not so much during the day. In the evening, things are starting to cool down and it’s nice to sit and take a load off after a day of touristy activities, work in the local library, or a few hours driving during the afternoon hours under a blazing sun. It’s those seemingly endless drives through the hot desert expanses that begin to make me feel uneasy. Don’t things happen in deserts that no one finds out about for weeks, months or years? Especially during the day?
But in the desert we are, as we ranch sit in southern Arizona for the month. Just forty miles from the Mexican border, we took a ride down to check out the town and give the kids their first experience of a different country. I’m pained to say that it was very much a disappointment. I certainly understand that you’re not going to experience the true culture of any country in a border town, but Agua Prieta was a dirty place that, as we were reentering the U.S, the American border patrol agent described in much less than favorable terms. I did joke about it a bit on Facebook afterwards, but I was truly heartbroken that my kids’ first foreign country experience was this little slice of… whatever. We should have been clued in when we strolled into Mexico no questions asked. As we continued walking it suddenly dawned on us that we were actually in Mexico. Talk about anticlimactic… and I said so to Tan and the kids. We’ll try again, maybe in Nogales. I don’t want their vision of Mexico to be of that.
So, the closest town with any sort of real amenities is forty miles away in the opposite direction. This is seriously the middle of nowhere. Acres and acres of dry scrub sectioned and fenced off into homesteads of various sizes from the small (like the eight we’re on) to the truly massive. Aside from school, Mercy tends to the animals, comes up with crafts, and cuts my hair (with Tan‘s help)! Riv and I started some driving lessons (what better place than on back ranch roads) and he even drove a few miles down empty Highway 181! The days are hot, dusty, and dry and the nights are cool and cloudless, with the stars shining brightly. The evening quiet of the desert is only interrupted by the far off howls of coyotes and the nearer responses of the neighboring dogs keeping watch over their territories. A month of desert life will be enough for me but it’s the peace, calm, and tranquility of the evenings that I most enjoy here.