The other day RTD and I made the trip through Big Bend National Park over in the far reaches of Southwest Texas. The trip the from Las Cruces was boring, and I must admit the desert gets a bit monotonous as I've mentioned before. One can only spend so much time thinking "Yay! Sand!" before wanting to fill ones eyes with cactus spines and starting dreaming of unnamed horses. At least that's my feeling. Desert dwellers probably feel that green trees and rolling mountains get a little old... Well this was my first trip to Big Bend in spite of my years of living in Texas. I took a route through Marfa, TX so I could see the area where No Country for Old Men was filmed. If you've not seen this movie, go rent it now and watch it. Twice. The first time will leave you feeling unfulfilled and confused, like that first morning after prom. The second time brings it all together a bit better since you kind of know what's going on. I was surprised at how "artsy" this tiny west TX town was, but after considering that it is a popular destination for Hollywood Western types, it made more sense. Alas, there was still no Starbucks.
As I continued on towards the park, the desert continued to be about as exciting as RTD on Valium. I did see some Javelinas which was another first for me in TX. Javelinas are a time of swine that get up to about 60-80 lbs, and have a perpetually bad day. Running into a javelina is bad. Running into a pack is worse. Running into a pack with piglets after a meal of bacon and pork chops is probably catastrophic. Luckily RTD didn't run into any at all. We also saw more wild turkey and buzzards which always hold Rocky's rapt attention. Other than that we mostly drove and I cursed the thunderstorms that were prevailing, and swore that if the park was just more scrubby desert I'd start searching for books of matches...
I was not let down. The contrast between the park and the surrounding nothingness is huge. The park is filled with jagged peaks and valleys, colors across the spectrum, and varieties of fun filled wildlife to keep the nights interesting. I entered from the west entrance and made my way through. The same showers I'd been cursing made for amazing pictures, so of which I've already posted. The elevation change is amazing, and at the highest points in the park the weather is almost cool. Well, for Texas at least. I tooled along taking pictures and stopping to admire the contrasts of the oranges and reds of the rocks and sunsets against the angry blacks and greys of the summer storms. I finally descended into the Rio Grande valley where the heat and humidity were in direct competition with each other to see which could be listed under "cause" on your death certificate. I made it to the campsite where I got out of the Bean for about thirty seconds before deciding to head back up the hill to the Basin campsite. I'd suggest this to anyone who isn't "camping" in Van Halen's old tour bus.
We overnighted at the infamous Skunk Stomping Grounds where tragedy was narrowly avoided, and I was pretty much miserable. My air mattress picked that night to spring a leak, and after two refills I just settled for misery on the cold floor of the Bean while Rocky looked at me in a mocking fashion. The next morning brought on more rain and massive fog until we made it back into the lowlands. The trip out of the park was ok, but the best scenery is in the west of the park, and the rains do nothing but to enhance it though that might only work in the evenings. After the park I went through yet another Alien Checkpoint where the Bean was scrutinized in detail to see if I was running illegals through there. I guess the fact I could easily fir thirty or forty brings a little attention to me. After that it was back to desert boredom until I noticed a little something.
In was driving about thirty miles south of Fort Stockton when I notice a large black hunk of rubber on the side of the road. You know, the ones that occasionally depart a truckers tire and sail directly into your windshield, too small to do damage but big enough to require and underwear change after it hits. Well these hand sized chunks are not unusual, except this one moved when I got closer. This piqued my interest, and the Bean was eventually doing a 27 point U-turn to get back to see what it was. When I got back to where it had been, it was gone! I turned around again and slowly cruised up the highway to see if I could find it. It wasn't long before I saw the "rubber" walking through the woods. The "rubber" was actually a "Tarantula". I was impressed, another first for Texas and I! I immediately stopped the truck and got out for a closer look. I left RTD there in the truck since I wasn't sure how poisonous these things might be. Anyhow, one thing that fascinates me are spiders, and here was a big one. I drew deep from the wellspring of knowledge gleaned from years of watch such great shows as The Crocodile Hunter and other Discovery Channel wonders, and tried to decide what to do next. It didn't take long for the answer to come to me.... Poke it with a stick. I've learned that when all else fails when dealing with wild animals, especially those with large fangs, stick poking is a given. I rounded up a twig and tried to remember if tarantulas were capable of long jumps. My gut said "no" so the poking began.
My first couple of pokes did not produce the desired effect, so I went with another time tested method of wild arachnid wrangling, and tossed a few pebbles at it. I was rewarded with some movement to and fro, but not much else. Now I got a bit of testicular fortitude up and started alternately poking, pebbling, and picturing as close as I could. Finally it wandered into the road and stopped. Foiled, I increased my stick poking, attempting to poke about the head and neck area. I was having fun! I was five years old again! I was standing in the middle of a highway with a semi truck headed my way. Finally with one last deft maneuver I poked away and garnered the desired pose. The spider rared back on its' hind legs and displayed the fangs. Success!! I snapped a picture and retreated to the side of the road as the truck passed by, blowing the tarantula around a bit. Finally, bewildered at what had just happened, it made it's way back off into the brush in search of that eternal motivator of males, females, and I continued on to the Hill Country of Fredericksburg, TX.
Now I realize Texans love Texas and everything, but most of my memories of Texas aren't very fond, therefore my opinion may be a bit jaded. That decree made, I have to say the Hill Country is a pretty nice area of the world. The temperatures here tend to be about ten degrees cooler than the rest of Texas, so Satan isn't nearly as often spotted in this corner of Hades. The hills are a golden rolling carpet spotted with live oaks and mesquites, and that everpresent destroyer of cars, that oversized rodent, that walking eating machine, the White Tailed Deer. Throughout the hill country are numerous wineries and ranches, and my personal favorite, several winding rivers. The rivers are where one can engage in that great Tejas Past Time of tubing. This is where you and a few friends rent inner tubes with plastic bottoms, toss in a cooler of tasty brew (cans only) and float lazily along the green hued limeladen rivers with hundreds of your new friends. On a weekend it is nearly impossible to not end up drinking, regardless of whether you brought any beer or not. The multitudes of sun seekers floating along on the donut shaped caravan will surely bequeath unto you more alcohol that you care to have. While Texans might be hogs of the highways, they certainly aren't stingy with the beer.
After a lazy frozen rainfilled afternoon of floating the river, we headed to my other favorite destination of the Hill Country; Gruene, TX. Gruene is an old German town that's since been revamped for tourism. It's just touristy enough to be a tourist town, yet not so overdone you expect a large mouse with gloves to pop out from behind every corner. My favorite restaurant there is The Gristmill, and one would be selling themselves short to miss out on it! No meal on the menu will run more than $20, and most are half that. The place is in an old mill, so the old walls, timber, and water tower are all still there, along with terraced seating, and the oldest dance hall in Texas just a stones throw away. If all of this sounds like a shameless plug for Gruene, it's because it is! If you ever end up near San Antonio, scratch the River Walk off your list and drive the half hour north to Gruene and mail me your "thank you" notes later!
Speaking of Texas dance halls, I also got the opportunity to here a couple of Texas musicians play. Sadly it wasn't at Luckenbach, though I've heard Thomas Michael Riley (whose place I was staying at this time) play there and ya can't pass that up, either. Matt and I ended up in Marble City Falls to hear Mike Blakely play along with a few other fellows, and good times were had by all. I was getting a bit worn down by this point but I was still quite happy to have the opportunity! Finally with all that out of the way I visited a few more friends in San Antonio before getting ready to head out to New Orleans. One of my classmates is spending his summer playing Army in the summer heat of Texas so he can be an Army doc, so I had to bring him and some of his other downtrodden buddies some Rudy's so that they'd know what real brisket was like. Hope ya enjoyed it, old man...
As for SATX, I don't have much to say, that's where I did my rehab, and I may write about that tonight for the 4th. I don't know yet, I'll have to look in my soul and see if there is a story that wants to get out. If so, you'll see it. That brings me to where I am now; Katy, TX. I stopped here because my air conditioner stopped about ten miles back so I'm about to suck it up and go buy a new compressor. The sound you heard this afternoon was the wail I unleashed after seeing the price of keeping the Bean (and Rockstar) cool.... Anyhow I hope to get to around N'Awlins tonight, and then who knows from there. My buddies at Fort Rucker have all headed out for the Fourth so I may just sleep on a beach in Florida somewhere, who knows. At least the bikinis will be out in abundance!! Until then...