Texas Trip Notes: On the Road

On the highway out of San Antonio toward Sonora, TX
Texas wildflowers (Indian blanket)

“There are times when one just feels like driving . . .”  — Larry McMurtry, “A Look at the Lost Frontier,” from In a Narrow Grave:  Essays on Texas

We drove a total of 1,952 miles on Texas highways in a loop from San Antonio, to Big Bend National Park, then south along the borderlands of the Rio Grande River, to the Gulf of Mexico, and back along the Padre Islands before heading north again to San Antonio.  As we headed out of San Antonio on the first leg of our drive, I admired the wildflowers growing in the ditches along the road.  By the time we arrived in Sonora about two and a half hours later, trees had pretty much disappeared from the landscape.  We were in the arid West now.

My Country
by Dorothea Mackellar, from My Country and Other Poems, 1909

“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror —
The wide brown land for me!”

Flat, treeless, with big skies

“The air was so clean and dry she scarcely felt the need for inhaling and exhaling.  Pure as it was, it felt as if it might permeate the flesh without bothering to trouble the lungs.”  — Nevada Barr, Borderlands

I loved the immensity of the skies on the wide open land of Texas.  I loved the wind and the fresh air.  It called to mind this poem by William Stafford, where he quotes the wind saying, “I spend my vacations in Texas.”

Things the Wind Says

“Everything still ought to move.

Of all plants I believe my favorite is the tumbleweed.

There are places in the mountains I am afraid to tell about,
but at night you can hear me hint about them.

Islands aren’t so much.

I never saw a cloud I didn’t like.

Steam is all right, but I prefer smoke.

I was born in Kansas, but now I travel all over the world.

I spend my vacations in Texas.

The best job I ever had was with Sir Francis Drake.

My cousins live in water: they’re a slow bunch.

I’ll dance with anyone — royalty, commoners,
but especially refugees . . .”

And yet, I was aware how privileged we were to be seeing this land from the comfortable confines of an air-conditioned car!

“We toiled across sterile plains, where no tree offered its friendly shade, the sun glowing fiercely, and the wind hot from the parched earth, cracking the lips and burning the eyes. . . . As far as the eye can reach stretches one unbroken waste, barren, wild, and worthless.” — John Russell Bartlet, Personal Narratives of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Chihuahua

The land is dotted with plants that stick, sting, or stink.  O. Henry calls the prickly pear a “demon plant.”

“With dismal monotony and startling variety the uncanny and multiform shapes of cacti lift their twisted trunks and fat, bristly hands to encumber the way.  The demon plant, appearing to love without soil or rain, seems to taunt the parched traveler with its lush gray greenness.”  — O. Henry, “Caballero’s Way,” from Heart of the West

Prickly pear cactus in bloom


The landscape between Marathon and Big Bend NP
Too late for bluebonnets, but I did see this small outcropping of lupine on the road to Big Bend NP

“Cracked mud is the violence of heat waves made visible.”  — Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks

Dried stream bed

Just once were we lucky enough to be on the road early enough to watch the light some slowly  into the country, illuminating the sky with a brilliant sunrise sky.

“There are no mornings anywhere like mornings in Texas, before the heat of the day, the world is suspended as if it were early morning in paradise and fading stars like night watchmen walking the periphery of darkness and calling out that all is well.”  — Paulette Jiles, The Color of Lightening

“The country was dim and lovely, as it always is at dawn or dusk, when the smells and colors have their full substance and have not been neutralized by the dust, the flatness, and the heat.”  — Larry McMurtry, In a Narrow Grave:  Essays on Texas

Dawning day on the road from Big Bend NP to Alpine
Santiago Peak on the road from Big Bend to Alpine

The only things that interrupted our grand Texas road trip were the border patrol checkpoints we were subjected to.  Five different times along US highways, all cars were made to stop at border patrol stations.   These highways were not right on the border, either; they were miles away from crossing stations. The officers there, accompanied by K9 dogs, simply asked us if we were both US citizens and waved us through.  But I wonder if we had looked like we were Hispanic or Mexican, if we would have been subject to more rigorous questioning or if we would have had to show proof of our citizenship.  Do Texans know that other states do not subject their drivers to checkpoints along their highways, highways not right on the border?  How effective are they, really?  (After all, if you were an illegal, wouldn’t you avoid these portions of highways?)  I never thought I would see something like these checkpoints in America in my lifetime.





One thought on “Texas Trip Notes: On the Road

  1. Perhaps if you lived in south Texas for a time, your view of the checkpoints would change. A friend who ranches in the area never expected to find headless, decomposing corpses on his land, either: probably a result of the ongoing drug cartel wars that are moving into our country. Another friend works for a company that needs people in the field on a regular basis; it requires anyone working within a hundred miles of the border be armed and well-trained. Cut fences, loss of cattle, raids on homes and attacks on people just driving the roads are real.

    So, yes. We know there are checkpoints, and we know that not every state has them. We also know they aren’t a perfect solution, and that abuses occur. But I don’t know anyone — including my Hispanic friends — who wants to see the state overrun with the kind of problems that have been percolating for years on the border, and that now are moving north into the state.


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