Thursday, February 18, 2010

Miles and Miles of Texas

In our quest to reach Taos this coming weekend, we spent today making our way through hundreds of miles of Texan terrain, leaving behind the mild and sunny climate of central Texas (just when signs of spring have arrived) and barreling along the flat, straight highways into the heart of the Texas Panhandle where huge Longhorn steers grazed along the side of the road.

Small Texan towns are frequently graced with interesting and quirky names. Inspired by William Least Heat-Moon's predilection for interesting town names (he would base his travel itinerary on which towns had the most intriguing or funny names), here's a brief and entertaining list of towns spied along the way today:
  • Novice
  • Oplin
  • Comanche
  • Blanket
  • Oatmeal
  • Zephyr
  • Sweetwater  
  • Trickham
  • Rising Star
  • Early
  • Tye
  • Lawn
  • Happy (population 647)
Don't these just sound like they could be the names of horses? Mary bets there are Texan towns named after horses and horses named after Texan towns.

Texas is an idiosyncratic place, a country unto itself in many ways, and a state whose residents pride themselves in their history and individuality. In fact, it is the only state in the US that is also a republic unto itself and could legally secede from the union and be its own country if it chose to! (We know some of you probably wish they would!). There is so much to see, and so many small towns worthy of at least a brief walk along shady arcaded main streets with their false store fronts and interesting Western architecture. If we had the time (which we usually have plenty of), we're sure many colorful conversations could be had if we spent some lazy hours at a few local watering holes and barbecues (like the one pictured below where Keith took a surreptitious photo from his lap), but alas, that will have to wait for another time.

You see, we are on a mission to get to Taos as soon as we can, a mission which has motivated us to make a 360-degree turn and the longest drive in a single day of our trip yet---almost 500 miles! Phew! We actually made it beyond the halfway point to the little city of Canyon where Mary spent a very happy year of her childhood. We've already driven by the home on her old street (which looks just the same but even better), her old school Rex Reeves Elementary, and the pool and playground where she used to swim and play with her brothers and pals. It's nice to see that Canyon has retained its small town feel and that its downtown and infrastructure seem to be thriving. Canyon has one of the lowest crime rates in the state of Texas, not to mention the lowest taxes. Indeed, the general economy in Texas "es mejor" than most states we've traveled through, yet the Southwest still calls us, Mary's eleven generations of Texas roots notwithstanding.

This afternoon, stopping at a Home Depot in some nondescript town for supplies, we were standing outside the rig when a big black pickup truck pulled up, and the windows rolled down.

"Is that all you?" the young man in a baseball cap asked as he flicked the ashes of his Marlboro cigarette out the window, pointing at our rig. "That's quite a truck you got there." The woman in the passenger seat agreed, and the second young man in the back seat grinned and smoked in silence.

Keith strode over to their truck and leaned on the sideview mirror. "Yeah, it's our only home. We sold everything and hit the road. Now we're looking for a new place to call home."

The man in the truck leaned over towards the passenger side and said, "Well, the Texas hill country is one of the most beautiful places in America. We live near the lake about 20 miles from here. It's quiet, no one bothers you. You could live anywhere here and be happy." He took a drag on his Marlboro and his girlfriend nodded agreement to his assertion.

"Well thanks," Keith said. "My wife's parents are in Georgetown and her aunt and uncle are in Denton, so this is about halfway between them. But we're on our way to Taos to visit our son. We might end up in New Mexico, after all."

"Well, that's too bad, but good luck with your trip and all. That's a fine truck you have there." And with that, they drove away.

The rest of the long drive consisted of oil fields, oil refineries, long stretches of open country and low red cliffs, and the area of Sweetwater which claims to be the "Wind Energy Capital of the Country", where massive windmills dot the landscape like multi-armed titans. Meanwhile, the small oil wells (no photos, sorry!) dotting the vast open landscape resembled arch-backed dinosaurs hungrily pumping away at the earth in their eternal quest for crude.

Even though it's easy to feel judgmental of the people who speculate about, pump or invest in the development of crude oil, it's that very crude that powers our rig, cooks the food on our propane stove, and heats our rig to a toasty warmth on a cold night. Oh the irony of it all.

Slowing down to local speed limits as we entered various towns along our route, we saw signs for custom meat processing plants, an auction of "exotic animals", an archery and taxidermy specialist, a rodeo stadium, a gun shooting range, and any number of car lots packed with pickup trucks, diesel rigs, and farm machinery. Intriguing small town shops beckoned to us in almost every place we passed through, but the miles of open road ahead of us had a stronger magnetic pull than the storefronts, sadly enough. Still, the character of the charming towns left us wanting more, and there's no doubt we'll pass this way again some day.

At this writing, we are "boondocking" in the parking lot of the Canyon Holiday Inn Express, the night manager sympathetic with our need for a free and convenient place to park for the night. Mary entered the lobby, told him our story, and he said "I have no problem with that" when he learned that we would sleep in the parking lot and leave early in the morning to visit Mary's childhood home down the street.

At this late hour, the wind blows fiercely and rocks the rig, and the outside temperature is 47 degrees. With plenty of propane, we're safe and warm in our cozy mobile home, and the sounds of a distant train and the traffic on the street in front of the hotel are no obstacle to sleep (especially with ear plugs). After 470 miles of open Texas roads, we'll sleep as soundly as a rancher stuffed with pulled pork at the end of a harvest day.

Howdy from Canyon with love from Mary and Keith.

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