9. There are too many miles in Texas
I was stuck west of the Pecos – Van Horn, Texas, is on Interstate 10 and close to absolutely nothing; I’d had a flat Friday afternoon and needed a spare tire for the RV. There are no tire dealers in Van Horn and the few in Fort Stockton are not open on Saturday or Sunday. So I waited Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. You have to be flexible AND patient when you travel a lot, because a lot will go wrong, slowly. I was at Luera Tires in Fort Stockton, TX, before it opened on Monday, with my fingers crossed. Other early customers waited in cars scattered like children’s jacks across the parking lot. A lady watched as I slipped between her and another vehicle, threading the needle with my large truck and trailer. Funny the things that challenge and amuse me now – things so very different than when I had a day-time job. Jorge, the owner/manager of Luera, was dressed in a casual shirt and slacks, ironed, and impeccably clean, when he rolled up the heavy doors on the bays to begin another week’s work. Though there were others waiting, he took me first, to get me back on the road. When he slid up under my RV to unhook the flat, I laughed, “I can’t believe how clean your work clothes are. I bet your wife hates it when you get all greasy.” He replied, “Give me another hour or two and they won’t be clean.” As he worked, he explained, “I was born on a ranch about 40 miles from here. There’s nothing up there.” In less than an hour, Jorge had mounted the spare and checked the air in the tires on the truck and RV. I pulled out, stopped at a Subway, drove across Interstate 10 and headed due south on Hwy 285.
I-10 is more “efficient” route to Florida, but Hwy 285 to Sanderson and Hwy 90, and then east on 90 at Del Rio to San Antonio is so much prettier, vast, and remote. From Fort Stockton to Del Rio, Texas, it’s 185 miles of two-lane, lightly traveled road– a drive I’ve enjoyed many times over the last fifteen years.
The land is rolling desert – miles and miles and miles of mesquite, cacti, and rock, stitched together on broad vistas and topped with endless blue skies. The land has its own rhythm and is as soothing as a train ride. For stretches, the road and railroad track run neck and neck; on good days, I get to watch a freight train heading north or south, adding a bit of man-made color to this desert pallette.
Sanderson, TX, a mid-way point between Fort Stockton and Del Rio, is known as the Cactus Capital of Texas. There’s not much there other than cactus – a filling station with a large parking lot where I always stop, a mom-and-pop motel across the street, …
South of Sanderson is Langtry, TX, home of the famous/infamous Judge Roy Bean. It’s a stop worth your time – at least once. Judge Bean was a rough-handed, salty figure who created his own versions of “justice”, versions that often ignored the Constitution and other legal trivia.
North of Del Rio the Pecos River cuts a gorge under Hwy 90; there’s a rest area on the southwest corner that’s one of my favored views. Misty, my new German Shepherd, travels like a champ and is great company. In deserted places like this remote photo op, she also gives me a sense of security.
I said I wouldn’t push too hard this time – drive too far, too late. But there are stretches of Texas where there are just no options, once you’ve gone past the one good pull out. And it can be hard to know when I’ve over-shot my luck. I’m not good at making reservations; how am I supposed to know where I’ll be when it’s time to stop for the day? I had no way of knowing when I’d be able to leave Fort Stockton, so I didn’t know how far I’d get that day. Or the next, or the next. Flying by the seat of my pants is easier when the weather cools down; I just stay at WalMart if all else fails. But in
the summer I have to have AC to survive the night (for example, it finally got down to 84 at 2AM in Fort Stockton), so in the summer I have to find an RV park.
I bolted south and then east from Del Rio on Hwy 90 to San Antonio where I picked up Interstate 10 again. After too many mind-numbing miles on the Interstate, I finally reached the eastern mile marker 888 and crossed into Louisiana. And more than once, I drove too hard, too long, too far.
As I headed East on I-10, the mesquite began to share the landscape with squatty oaks, then the oaks grew in diameter as the grass began to fill in the sand; by eastern Texas there were trees and the ground was covered in grass, though the ground was split by large cracks — proof I was not totally out of the desert. But when I stopped for the night in Louisiana, Misty laid on a thick blanket of green, the kind that grows near swamps.
After several days of driving east, it looked like I was going to get back into Florida around 2 pm – until the traffic on I-10 came to a dead stop at the Mississippi/Alabama line. I sat on that boring slab for three hours while the police worked a wreck that involved a semi that had flipped, closing east-bound traffic for over twelve hours. Finally, I inched off the Interstate with about a million semi-trucks; everyone else turned east but I headed west, figuring anything was better than the east-bound gridlock, even if I had to go to Kansas. I worked my way west, north, then south, and finally got back to my house five and a half hours late. Oh well. Patient, flexible, sense of humor. When possible. And when that’s not possible, it’s good to travel alone.
8,700 miles later, I’m back. And now it’s time to sell the house and get rid of all of this stuff.