Day 7. February 3. Today’s 285-mile drive was relatively uneventful and much less stressful than the earlier travel days in this road trip. From Brazos Bend we went north to the town of Rosenberg, Texas and stopped in at the local Buc-ee’s, the Texas convenience store chain. The saying here is it’s not a real Texas road trip without a stop at one of the many Buc-ee’s stores. They are open 24/7 and known for, among other things, their super-clean restrooms, remarkably friendly staff, and Rosenberg was no exception. On our way to San Antonio, we passed the turnoff for New Braunfels,Texas where the Buc-ee’s there is the largest convenience store in the world at 68,000 square feet. The store features 120 fueling positions, 83 toilets, 31 cash registers, 4 ice machines, and 80 fountain dispensers. Texas through and through!
The weather across south-central Texas today was cloudy, breezy and a steady 52. The scenery was consistent with flat, open prairies and live oak turning to mesquite as we headed west of San Antonio. We passed ranch gates and miles of fencing and long horn cattle, Brahmins, Herefords, and a dozen more we couldn’t identify. We saw shallow washes over low bridges and deep canyons where the bones of dead trees lined steep, red dirt walls. Everywhere the exspansive, grey sky reached down and touched the mostly brown earth that has not yet awakened to spring, as if the earth were holding her breath.
We stopped for the night in the town of Uvalde at a private RV park conveniently located on Highway 90. We parked among the big rigs occupied by what is referred to as “winter Texans”. After a cold and blustery afternoon walk, we returned to do some exercises and one of our neighbors stopped by to introduce himself and remind us that tonight at the Oasis Outback (the restaurant across the highway) they are serving catfish. “There’s enough for two of you in one dinner order!” Texas size meals and we’ll pass on the option.
Peter headed up to the bathhouse for a hot shower and I hunkered down in toasty, warm T2 for some quiet reading before turning in. We are expecting rain showers tonight and hoping they stay south as we head north into the Davis Mountains.
Day 8. February 4. It was cool, drizzly and windy when we left Uvalde, Texas this morning and the quiet start unfolded to a wonderful, though long, day. We covered 301 miles today, mostly along Highway 90, landing at Davis Mountain State Park in Fort Davis, Texas after eight hours.
From Uvalde, we traveled through the town of Del Rio which we got to know pretty well last year during our stay at Seminole Canyon State Park since this was the nearest place for food, cell coverage, wifi and essentials. Del Rio, a town of 15,000, is all business and today there was major road construction on Highway 90. We made it through fine and stopped for some wonderful, really fresh and light donuts (raised glazed and toasted coconut) from River City Donuts. The day was already looking brighter.
Del Rio is just north of the Rio Grande River and the border with Mexico so U.S. Border Patrol is very visible here. About ten miles out of town, there is a mandatory checkpoint. This time, the officer asked us only where we were headed and if we were U.S. citizens. Simple and we were on our way in no time.
We drove the next 80 miles with no cell coverage or wifi. I think this is the most desolate stretch of road we have traveled in a long time. The grass has not turned green here and most likely won’t until April or May. Currently, there is a burn ban in effect in this part of Texas and looking at the parched grasses, it’s easy to see why.
Skies cleared as we passed through Marathon, gateway to Big Bend National Park. The first gas station in town has a café with the most immaculate little restaurant with bathrooms that are very cute and super clean. We were heading in when we spotted an Airstream in the lot. We pulled up and introduced ourselves. They are on their way to Big Bend from Minnesota in a 23-foot Flying Cloud. They are also heading to Arizona but to Organ Pipes National Monument, a place we want to stop on our trip back east in a couple of months.
Some Airstream friends had recommended a private campground in Alpine but we opted for a repeat stay at the state park in Fort Davis called Davis Mountains State Park. We were here last year and experienced the only snowfall of our entire 2016 trip and so we were looking forward to no snow. As we pulled in to claim a site, we saw a SUV from Vermont and found out they are also here in an Airstream. This was their first visit and they are hiking and biking through the area before heading to Arizona.
By late afternoon, the weather had cleared considerably and we were thrilled. We had purchased tickets to the StarParty at the McDonald Observatory for tonight. Founded in 1934, McDonald Observatory is known for the darkest sky of any major observatory in the continental U.S. It is a research unit of University of Texas, Austin and here a combination of telescopes look at wide areas of the sky, deeper into the universe, analyzing the light that is recorded on detectors and learning about space.
For the StarParty, we got to visit on the clearing night, gathering in the outdoor amphitheater, listening to a guide tell us about the night sky we were seeing (moon half full, Venus, north star, constellations, and one unexpected meteor). Then, we got to peek through each of the eight telescopes in Telescope Park and see deeply into the amazing sky, beyond what our eyes perceive. I saw the surface of the moon, three craters, and the tallest mountain range on the moon. I learned that Venus has phases, like the moon, and looked at the phase where a slice of light on the surface of Venus reveals where the sun is currently lighting it. I observed the astounding Orion nebula and saw deep into space where blue-tinted young stars are now forming. It was beyond words and one of most deeply spiritual experiences of my life. We loved it. We returned to the quiet and warmth of our little T2 cocoon and slept soundly and deeply.
Day 9. February 5. One of the luxuries of a two-night (or more) stay anywhere, is sleeping in. The park was quiet and very dark since the sun rises here at 7:40, so it made for a lazy morning. Our target for the day was Fort Davis National Historic Site, just three miles down the road from the campground. This fort played a major role in the history of the region. From 1854 to 1891, troops here protected emigrants heading west, guarded mail coaches, protected travelers on the San Antonio to El Paso road, and fought off the retaliations of native people. The site is spectacular, sitting in a box canyon near Limpia Creek where wood, water and grass were plentiful. The Apache, Comanche and Kiowa had discovered this generations before so for decades, until the mid-1870s, the fort was also engaged in halting the raids by native people who objected to the presence of outsiders.
One of the most interesting people to be stationed at Fort Davis was Second Lt. Henry O. Flipper of the Tenth U.S. Cavalry. Flipper was the first black graduate of West Point in 1880. He served here for one year and was tried in a controversial court-martial later. This decision was overturned in 1976 and he posthumously received a full presidential pardon in 1999.
We also learned that Buffalo Soldiers, the black infantry units in the regular Army, served here from 1867 to 1885 performing routine garrison duties in the cavalry.
On returning to the campground, we noticed a new Airstream from Oregon. They had a fan cover on the top of the trailer that we want installed in June when we return to Airstream’s headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio. One of the protocols of this nomad life is if you see someone outside, it’s fair game to talk to them. I did and learned that the fan cover was installed standard on their 2016. We exchanged contact information, learning that Alison is from Massachusetts and they were planning on watching the Super Bowl game (go Pats!). We hope to catch up with them in Oregon on our trip to the northwest in 2018.
We headed into town for the game and kick-off and after the first half when the Falcons were ahead 21 – 3, we braced ourselves for the seeming reversal of fortune for the Patriots. Maybe is was Lady Gaga dropping into the NRG Stadium (think Cirque de Soleil) at half-time that turned it around for the Patriots, but after Peter dropped me off at T2 to do some writing, he headed up to the Indian Lodge to watch the end. As history now knows, the Patriots ended up defying all the odds of so deep a gap in scoring, setting numerous new records, and surprising the hell out of me when Peter returned to announce they had won 34 – 28.
All of which goes to demonstrate, once again, that the universe reminds us that we live in times that are unpredictable and unbelievable, so prepare as much as you can but be courageous enough to leave the rational behind and follow the heart. Fall in love with the life you have been given. Thank you Patriots!
Peter and Liz continue their travels west through Texas in their Airstream, crossing into Arizona later this week.