Sunday, May 27, 2012

RT12 Day 5: West Texas

Today was the lowest mileage day of my trip so far, about 350 miles from Fort Stockton, TX to Austin. Also the first day with no tourist stops (no planned stops at least) on the way, so I had the luxury of hitting the snooze button four times before getting out of bed, and being leisurely about packing up. I was expecting a boring, uneventful drive, in contrast with the continuously stunning landscapes of the past few days. And the first couple hours met that expectation pretty well. In fact, this picture could equally well be a video:

Yup, exciting stuff!

As I travel further east, the character of the trip is changing with the landscape and the liberal-conservative spectrum, and I'm having to adapt. If I keep expecting Grand Canyon All The Time, I'll always be disappointed. So I'm adjusting and learning to love this part of the trip for what it is, letting the billion percent humidity and spotty cell service add to the aesthetic rather than kill the mood. Enjoying the road trip thing, windows down, sunroof open, and 90's rock radio way up. (Of course, that's in the spots where you can find more than the two requisite stations: Christian and country.) Wind-blown hair and California license plate. Speeding like crazy. (The speeding part has to stop soon -- after 2277.3 miles, I saw the first cop of my whole trip.)

The quickest way to get from point A to point B would have been to take I-10, but I decided to click on the little white Google dots and drag them up until they hit state routes and county roads, just to make things a little interesting:

So I ad-libbed my way in the general direction of Austin, trading in white dashed lines for yellow ones, and merge signs for "historical marker in 1 mile" signs. These brown and white historical markers show up every few miles. I'd been passing them by, since they're almost always just small turnouts with informational plaques. But sometimes they're not! As I drove past what I thought was just another lame-turnout-with-a-plaque sign and I saw some stone ruins, I did a double-take and made a U-turn. Lo and behold, I found a presidio!

In 1757, having gotten wind of possible treasure in this area, the Spaniards built this fort near present-day Menard, Texas. They promptly tried to convert the local Apaches to Christianity, and in doing so, iadvertently made enemies of other Indian tribes, including the Comanches. The Comanches attacked the fort, and supposedly only one of the hundreds of Spanish settlers lived to tell the tale.

It was restored in 2011, and now there's a parking lot, restrooms, and fancy signs at the entrance. But definitely not flocked with tourists.

You can walk through the ruins and read the signs that indicate which piles of rubble used to be living quarters and which were church-related (what's the p-word I'm looking for!?)

I had fun climbing around through the tiny doors.

This is the coolest part:

There's a beautiful little river that runs adjacent to the presidio (believe me, this is a shocking display of beauty when you've been driving mind-numbing miles on west Texas country roads). And now there's a golf course right nearby, too. Who knew?!

On this drive, I definitely had moments of "Where the hell am I moving?!" Granted, I realize Austin is nothing like these parts of the state, and I'm only seeing this stuff because I insisted on driving on ranch roads. But still, I reserve the right to react to the fact that I'm moving to Texas. Here, "Tanning" does not mean the first thing you think of. There are billboards that read "Deer and Hog Processing." There actually are abandoned streets that look like this (you can't tell here, but it's a taxidermy place):

There are churches everywhere. You know those yellow diamond-shaped warning signs, like for livestock crossings or curves in the road? Yep. They have ones that say "church." They also have signs that say "Obey warning signs. State law." Taking the two together... hmm. My favorite church (another double-take followed by a sharp U-turn):

Their bidding to "come as you are" seemed to take on another meaning. Ha. The gate happened to be open, so I drove down the narrow road leading to a small wooden shack-like building that must have been the church. Halfway down the road, I ran into this guy:

Here he is, standing right out in the open. This is one of those pictures where the animal looks a lot less imposing than in real life. I swear, he was huge, and he was staring me down, like, church service ended three hours ago, what are you doing here, you're an idiot. I wanted to get closer, but I chickened out and threw the car into reverse. Didn't even turn around, just backed all the way out the road. Yeah, because I was scared of a cow. Whatever.

So I didn't go to church with them, but I did see some real life cowboys, in the flesh. Hats, ropes, and everything! A mile later, I saw another U-turn animal, with insane-looking antlers, that I still swear to God was a reindeer but clearly couldn't have been. What is this? An elk I guess? Apparently I don't know the difference between reindeer, moose, elk, and caribou. Oh well, there are other things I'd rather know anyways. I wish this picture could convey the actual nature of the beast:

Anyway, arrived in the late afternoon and checked into my hotel, waiting to pick up Dad at the airport. An unexpectedly fun day! Looking forward to exploring Austin tomorrow.

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