“Don’t Mess with Texas” may be an anti-littering campaign slogan, but it serves well as a state motto. In fact, until my first trip to Texas in 2009, I thought it was a state motto. It sums up both the people and the land of Texas quite well.
After having a fantastic time in Houston, Dave and I took three days to drive across the Lone Star State. We didn’t have a plan or anyone to visit, so we used the Internet to find scenic Texas drives and interesting attractions, and pretty much made it up as we went. It was actually a perfect way to see the state, a place where there are no apologies for Texan quirks, and no patience for anyone who can’t see why Texas is so great.
We set off from Houston on I-10, wound our way north of San Antonio and made our first stop in Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” What a place. We stopped in the visitor’s center, and were greeted by a friendly woman who was more than happy to give us a map and tell us how to find all the great sites of Bandera. Those sites included a flea market, general store, courthouse and riverside park. The main strip was decorated with Texas flags, cowboy memorabilia and several signs insulting President Barack Obama. As we popped in and out of stores, we found a lovely theme in their ornaments, decorative signs and postcards–a miniature gun or picture of a gun, followed by the phrase, “We don’t dial 911.” Right.
From Bandera, we wound our way through Texas Hill Country. I didn’t actually know Texas had hills like that–almost mountains. Great fun to drive when your rotors are worn and the car is wobbling. Oops. But we survived!
We spent the first night in Seminole Canyon State Park, near the Mexican border. The park is in the middle of the desert, with no signs of civilization for miles. I think there were two other cars at the campground that night. It was our first night of camping on our road trip. The park provided tent pads–i.e., squares of really hard dirt that have been cleared of cacti. It had never occurred to us that a hammer might be handy tool when trying to drive tent stakes into the ground, so we ended up using a rock to bash the stakes into the dirt. Just call me MacGyver.
We got all settled in and enjoyed the park’s free wi-fi (in the middle of the desert, seriously) until it got dark. Then we crawled into the tent–onto our air mattress, because we’re not really that hardcore–and tried not touch each other. It was SO hot. Thankfully, it cooled down as it got completely dark. It was just becoming a manageable temperature when all the creatures decided to come out. New York City, London–they don’t have anything on the noise of the Texas desert at night. It was ridiculous! And the wind. The wind was insane–we thought our tent was going to come down around our heads. Needless to say, it was not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. It wasn’t the worst, either, but Dave did make me promise we’d spend the next night in a hotel.
After our night in Seminole Canyon, we headed to Big Bend National Park. You can’t drive across Texas without stopping in Big Bend, right? I had a day of hiking planned for us, and I was excited to see Big Bend for the first time… until we arrived and it was 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Nothing like a heat stroke to dampen your excitement over a new place. Nevertheless, Dave and I were determined to enjoy the park. Did anyone else know that Big Bend National Park is so huge it takes hours just to drive through it? Drive through it. It’s enormous. Dave and I had not realized the scale of it. Because of the heat, we decided a scenic drive was going to have to be our primary venue for enjoying the park. We did stop for one short hike–we lasted maybe 20 minutes, and went through two water bottles while walking and two more as soon as we got back in the car. Whoever decided a dry heat is not so bad? While you may not be drenched in sweat, you still feel like you’re going to disintegrate into dust at any moment. Dave’s pleasant analogy was that he felt like he was going to turn into a cookie, because we felt like we were in an oven.
We drove southeast from the park’s eastern side, until we were driving along the Rio Grande with the mountains of Mexico visible on the other side of the river. I must say, our first view was not so grand–the river is quite small in places. I suppose that’s why those southwestern politicians are so worried about immigrants swarming our borders. Anyway, so we drove along the Rio Grande for quite a while, and it was stunning. Most of the drive was up and down mountains, and the view consisted of mountains on the other side of the border as well. But those mountains are nothing like the lovely rolling green mountains I’m used to in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Those mountains were stark and dry and did their best to serve as an intimidating barrier between Texas and Mexico.
Our final stop on our Texas tour was Terlingua. A ghost town. Seriously. We were driving along, and all of sudden we saw signs for a ghost town. Of course I made Dave stop. It was an incredibly strange little place–the houses looked like they were from 19th century Mexico, but most of them are still occupied. There were a few shops and a movie theatre, but that all looked deserted. Terlingua was a mining town, once upon a time, according to signs. It is also “birthplace to all chili cook offs world wide,” according to the welcome sign. Your guess is as good as mine. The best, and creepiest, part was the cemetery–a massive cemetery, all the markers written in Spanish, and it looked like all the graves were from the 1940s and earlier.
What a trip. Texas, you are fascinating. And nutty, but that’s okay.