Thursday, January 23, 2014

Western Texas

I stayed in my room until check out time, knowingly putting off getting back in the car for what would be hours of driving. I had already driven through much of the sprawl the night before so within minutes of hitting the road I was in the barren backlands of western Texas, my GPS instructing me to “turn left in 426 miles.” As I crossed the wide open state the landscape went from pastural to desert. I love the desert, something about the rugged landscape just speaks to me, maybe its the foreignness of it all. It’s so far removed from the seaside life I grew up in on the shores of Lake Erie. I love cactuses, but I blame that on my mom who always seemed to have cactuses in our house, I love lizards and snakes and even tumbleweeds. 

A little after midday I stopped and made lunch at a picnic area. I pulled out my map in search of something to do in western Texas and noticed a green patch up on just over the border in New Mexico. “Carlsbad Cavern National Park,” I read in my head. I had heard of this place before, but had somehow forgotten it’s existence. Not only was it closer than El Paso, it was virtually on the way, just a different route but equal miles. With that I changed course and headed to Carlsbad New Mexico. The park would be closed by the time I got there, so I decided I would stay the night in Carlsbad, wake up early and go to the caverns and then head on towards El Paso in the afternoon. Finally after days of driving I had something to actually look forward to, something more than just miles of unceasing pavement. 
Windmills add a nice break from the desolation. 
But I still had nearly four hours of driving till I got to Carlsbad, and the desert landscape, while beautiful, did little to liven the journey. Eventually I reached the town of Lamesa, which boasted a healthy population of 9400, and was gracious enough to let me get gas, which I was low on and beginning to become concerned about. In the barren backlands of the american west, it can be quite a few miles in-between gas stations, hundreds sometimes, and there’s usually no warning for such stretches. As a result I tend to fill my tank as frequently as possible, trying never to get below a half a tank, in case I end up in one of those stretches. Because if you run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, I’m not sure what the next step is. 
Nothingness, Nowhere.
After Lamesa I entered the largest stretch of nothingness I had yet to encounter. It unlike most of western Texas which is comprised of ranches, farming and oil operations, this swath was just empty. Just mile after mile of indescribable nothingness, but the sky was beautiful, rolling clouds stretched out into the distance, the sky seemed to somehow be bigger here, I guess that makes sense, after all, “everything is bigger in Texas.”
Where the land is flatter than the sky.
I crossed into New Mexico early than I had anticipated, and instantly gained another hour to my day. I came up on Carlsbad quickly and headed to Living Desert State Park, for no other reason than I had some daylight and I wanted to get a hike in, if only to stretch my legs. I turned down the road for the park and instantly the pavement started to climb up into the hills, soon I found the park, which is apparently also a zoo, which seems fitting giving the name, but it was closed. I pulled off at a parking lot that had an amazing view over Carlsbad and the desert that surrounded it. A short hiking trail lead back down the hill and I followed it. The path was flanked in varying species of cacti. The setting sun cast a perfect hue over the prickly foliage, and I walked transfixed by the variety of cacti that the mountain contained. 

As the sunset the temperature dropped rapidly and I headed back up the mouton back to my car. I sat back in the car, relieved to have been able to do a little walking, and headed off into the twilight in Carlsbad. I stopped by a burger place, called Church St. Grill, that claimed to have the best burgers in town, as burger places are apt to do. I, of course, can not speak on who in Carlsbad, New Mexico has the best burger, but I can say that the burger I had was pretty darn good. After my dinner I headed over to the local Walmart, where once again I would be sleeping in my car. However, it should be stated that this time was not completely voluntary, I had searched for a hotel only to find all of the hotels had No Vacancy, inexplicable for a wednesday in January, but alas, my car would once again be my abode. 

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