I have crossed west Texas so many times in my life and each time I promise myself it will be the last. On each crossing I have looked for an alternative route through this vast wasteland in hopes of seeing something interesting or new. No matter which highway I choose, there will be mile upon mile of stark landscape, high winds that make steering difficult, blowing dust, searing sun and dusty near-dead towns. Roadkill and spinning tumbleweeds provide some interest while the radio crackles with raging hell-fire sermons, mexican music or pontificating talking heads. And everywhere are road signs selling acres and acres of land at 'bargain prices.'
I have been asked often, "Aren't you afraid to be traveling alone?" In 16 months on the road I must say I have felt little fear but I do take a lot of precautions to stay as safe as is possible.
Traveling these long stretches I made sure my gas tank stayed full. It was a no-brainer, as soon as the gauge registered the 1/2 way mark I started looking and was willing to pay any price at the next pump I found along this lonely road.
I discovered quickly that signs saying "Gas station 5 miles ahead..." were often outdated. But the scariest of all, cell phone coverage was non-existant for almost the entire 2 1/2 days!
I knew there would be few options along the way for overnight parking. No Cracker Barrels or Walmarts showed up on my GPS for hundreds of miles. So I sat with the map and my guide books and studied them until I found a state park on a small river and lake about 150 miles west of Ft. Worth. Perfect!
Except that the river and the lake were completely dried up. Boat launches and fishing docks were high--and dry.
Vacation homes and businesses were deserted and I was all alone in the campground. Yes, I was scared.
On the second day I pulled into a very remote rest stop for lunch and decided to open all the windows to get a little fresh air. Within minutes there were dozens of angry bees circling around Sigh Me's food bowl--to Sigh Me's delight. She was getting bored with all that traveling and suddenly she had something fun to chase. It took me only seconds to close the windows and go to work with the fly swatter. Thankfully we weren't stung but I realized how dangerous that was--especially if the bees were Africanized.
But there were some spectacular views. I saw coyotes, rabbits and roadrunners and a few amazing sunsets.
From a historical marker, "Guadalupe Peak, Texas' highest mountain at 8749 feet above sea level, dominates one of the most scenic and least-known areas of the state.....Legends of hidden gold in the mountains go back to Spanish rule."
As I came close to El Paso I saw great expanses of salt beds.
From another marker...."Over one million years ago a large, shallow lake occupied this area. Salt deposits left behind as the lake dried up became an extremely important resource to the people of El Paso valley. "
Finally, with relief, I crossed the border into New Mexico. I know this sounds like it was not a pleasant experience for me but that is not altogether true. I think my feelings would be the same if I had been walking on the moon. 'Barren and lonely--but challenging and starkly beautiful as well.' And, like it or not, I will have to cross this part of Texas again someday.
Note: To add to the drama of this trip I was reading "Empire of he Summer Moon" by S.C. Gwynne... the story of Quanah Parker of the Comanches, the most powerful Chief and Indian tribe in American History. It is an amazing story and I highly recommend reading it if you are at all interested in the history of the early Texas settlers in the same remote area I have just traveled. Quanah Parker was the 'half-breed' son of an Indian chief and his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman who was captured by the Comanches in 1837. An old movie called 'The Searchers' was made about this incident..