Tag: Bill Windsor
When Barbara and I began our Round America trips, we adopted these Rules of the Road. For us, it provided the perfect experience. Feel free to take our list and modify it to your likes and dislikes.
Rule #1 — See the real world. Stay off the interstate highways.
Rule #2 — Eat pie. Eat where the locals eat. Avoid franchised restaurants. “Slow food” rather than fast food.
Rule #3 — See the sights that others miss. Don’t visit many theme parks.
Rule #4 — Plan to enjoy the unexpected. When something catches your eye, check it out.
Rule #5 — Try new things — new places, new people, new food, new experiences.
Rule #6 — Stop and smell the roses…or whatever. No need to rush; enjoy the journey.
Rule #7 — Think local. Listen to local radio stations; read local papers; and watch local TV.
Rule #8 — Make the best of every situation, If it seems boring or ugly or wrong, look again.
Rule #9 — Be smart. Be safe. Be prepared. Exercise every day. Keep the gas tank full.
Rule #10 — Preserve the experience. Maintain a journal; keep records; and take a lot of photos.
We followed these rules on our first 149-day 50-state trip, and the rules provided a fabulous experience. The most important thing we did was to drive on two-lane roads except in emergencies or late at night when we had to reach a destination that evening. We all see very little on interstate highways, but we see all types of interesting things on two-lane roads. It’s a kinder and gentler way to travel as well.
We ate 181 pieces of pie in 149 days. The original idea behind the pie was not to eat pie just to be eating pie, but because every small town has a cafe where the locals eat, and the good ones always have great pie. So mentioning pie was just a way of emphasizing the focus of the trip as a two-lane roadtrip experience, a slower, kinder, gentler trip. Just as you don’t see much on an interstate, you don’t see anything new or experience anything special eating at franchised restaurants of any type.
Nothing against theme parks, but we wanted to do other types of things. If you have children or love roller coasters, by all means make theme parks part of your Rules of the Road. But for a great local experience, see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, the Perky Bat Tower, and the Enchanted Highway, or whatever floats your boat.
“>One of the better Rules was to enjoy the unexpected. We made it a practice to go and see what people told us about. When someone in south Texas asked if we were going to see the Grand Canyon, we replied “you bet, we’re going to see everything from the Grand Canyon to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.” We were then asked if we were going to take the train to the Grand Canyon. We never knew there was a train at the Grand Canyon! So, we committed right there that we would take the Grand Canyon Train tour, and it was great.
We tried a lot of new things. And what a treat it was! It changed us, too, as we are now much more likely to try new things in our everyday life. It makes life more enjoyable.
Stopping to smell the roses proved harder than we thought. It’s hard to drive to all 50 states and see a lot in 149 days. You could take several years if you had the time and money. We learned quickly that having motel reservations in advance was a bad idea as it interfered with leisurely travel and exploring the things that pop up to get your attention.
We did our best to think local, but we didn’t read any newspapers or listen to the radio or watch TV for 149 days. In a world filled with sensationalism of bad news, that was one of the best parts of the trip. Eating where the locals eat in local restaurants and getting to know the local people was wonderful.
Making the best of bad situations was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the trip. There were some points of interest that we could not find. Rather than be upset, we’d keep our eyes open, and we’d often spot something else of interest. One of the worst experiences turned out to be among our best stories from the trip. Not reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or watching TV can be a problem when you aren’t paying attention to things like holidays. I had no idea it was Easter Sunday, but I figured it out pretty fast when I was in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico with the gas tank on E. We took a trip earlier this year “In Search of Elvis and the World’s Largest Chili Dog.” There was no World’s Largest Chili Dog, but it was a funny experience!
Be smart. Be safe…. We did a good job there, though my friends and relatives still think I am crazy for going up and meeting so many stgrangers in strange places. If I hadn’t, we would have never met literally hundreds of interesting people, including two people who floated across the Atlantic Ocean on a raft and lived to tell about it, a snow cone vendor and lube shop owner who took me to see a beautiful spot on the Rio Grande River, and two people who pedaled across America in giant shoes.
We preserved the experience by writing a roadtrip journal for 149 days and by taking 14,341 roadtrip photographs. Okay, so I overdo everything. Do what makes you happy, but be sure you have a good camera, and take photos that are meaningful to you.
As we continue to travel, we haven’t changed a thing in our Rules of the Road. The Rules provide the foundation for a wonderful time everywhere we go.
Bill Windsor – Round America
Many people dream of traveling to all 50 states. Bill and Barbara Windsor drove 29,000 miles on two-lane roads and visited all 50 states in one 148-day trip. We saw 2,500 towns, met fascinating people, took over 14,000 photographs, and recorded our experiences, observations, and interviews.
We visited everything from the Grand Canyon to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. We met interesting people every day, including two people who floated across the Atlantic Ocean on a raft and a couple who pedaled across America in two giant shoes. We met artists, waitresses, doctors, desk clerks, gas station attendants, tow truck drivers, mountain sculptresses, snow cone makers, a Gideon Bible deliveryman, the woman who has lived across from the White House in a tent since 1981, and many others. We enjoyed 181 pieces of pie.
We presented a business card to everyone we met. It said: “We are traveling to all 50 states writing a book about the places we go, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat.” Round America is the story of this trip. It was an incredible experience.
This weblog will give you the opportunity to see America – all 50 states, enjoy many sights that most would miss, and read about our chance encounters with many interesting people. There was lot of humor along the way. In addition, we learned and re-learned lessons every day on the road, and we share those usually serious observations at the end of each day’s journal.
On April 1, 2003, Barbara and I left on a long-anticipated trip that we have affectionately referred to for several years as “The Pie Trip.” The trip covered all 50 states, over 2,500 towns, and over 29,000 miles. The trip ended on August 26, 2003. We wrote about the trip each night in our Daily Journal.
The idea for this trip originated in 2000. I proposed to Barbara that we go on “The Pie Trip” — just take off and travel the country and “eat pie.” We would go on the backroads and eat in cafes and diners where the locals eat (where they always have pie) and just learn about the places we go and the people we meet. We would write a book about the experience.
We became busy with other things, and the trip was postponed. I was more than a little disappointed when I discovered a book titled American Pie published in 2002 that had a strikingly similar concept and a great name.
But the idea for the trip was bolstered by my experience driving a 1955 Chevy Police Car from Dallas to Atlanta and on to Orlando. I spotted the car on eBay, and I was the winning bidder. The seller, Steve Jobe of Southlake, Texas, told me that I would be missing out if I had an auto transporter ship the police car from Dallas to Atlanta. He convinced me to drive the car, and I did. People everywhere smiled, pointed, and waved. I got literally hundreds upon hundreds of thumbs up and honks as I drove down the highway. One lady even took a picture at 60 miles-an-hour as we drove side-by-side down the Interstate in Louisiana. In Ruston, Louisiana, two police officers pulled me over. I knew I wasn’t speeding. They smiled and offered to trade cars. I always drew a crowd at every gas station and fast food stop; many people took pictures. I had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of people who I would have never met. And best of all, I saw THOUSANDS of smiles from people passing by. It was such a happy experience that I felt we had to get serious about planning the trip.
We wanted to do something unique, so we decided to visit all 50 states in one trip. Barbara vetoed making the trip in the 55 Chevy Police Car. I knew we would meet tens of thousands of people in that car, but the risk of a breakdown on remote two-lane roads was too great. Visiting all 50 states in one trip was to be unique enough!
The new plan was to go entirely around the country with a well-planned route. We would visit all 50 states. I mapped an itinerary that took us from Atlanta to Savannah to Daytona Beach to Miami to Key West to New Orleans to Brownsville to Tucson to San Diego to Los Angeles to Flagstaff to Santa Fe to St. Louis to Nashville to Atlanta to Louisville to Des Moines, to Denver to Salt Lake City to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Seattle to Anchorage to Minot to Duluth to Mackinac Island to Toledo to Cleveland to Buffalo to Burlington to Fort Kent Maine to Calais to Providence to New York to Washington DC to Norfolk to Myrtle Beach to Charleston to Savannah to Atlanta and all spots in between. Last stop was Hawaii to complete our trip Round America. If you look at a map, you’ll see that we essentially outlined the USA and then completed one circle through the non-border states. We visited all 50 states and passed through at least 2,500 towns. We logged over 29,000 miles by car.
We saw major sights, including Mount Rushmore, Alcatraz, Niagara Falls, and Hollywood, but we also saw other attractions such as the world’s largest ball of twine, the smallest church in America, the Forrest Gump bus bench, a house built entirely out of one log, the spinach capital of the world, the Roswell UFO Museum, the underground missile silos in North Dakota, the Judy Garland Museum, the James Dean Memorial, the Ben & Jerry’s factory, and assorted roadside attractions. We made special detours to visit some highly-regarded pie places. Our son, Ryan, owns a tour and travel business, so we used his company to identify sightseeing tours and activities along the way.
We tried to eat where the locals ate…unless the locals ate at franchised restaurants…as we sought to concentrate on good, independent local places and “slow food.” Nothing too fancy; diners and cafes were our #1 choice. We tracked each restaurant we visited and the roadfood we ate, and we have preserved that for posterity on our Road Food page.
A few people have asked what prompted the trip. We wanted to relax, enjoy life, and see more of the USA. We miss the kinder and gentler days of our youth. Our parents took us on wonderful driving vacations as children, and we both miss that. Most of our vacations with our children were airplane trips rather than car trips, and when we did drive, we drove on the interstates. You don’t see much of anything on the interstates, so the decision to drive primarily on two-lane roads was essential for us to see and experience what was important to us. We’ve been to most of the big cities, so we concentrated on smaller towns and areas where we’ve never been. We saw the trip as a real celebration of the many wonderful things that our great country has to offer. We looked forward to seeing and photographing patriotic displays that we saw along the way. We were at a point in our lives where we could devote several months to take a trip of this magnitude, so the timing was right. I always enjoy doing things that others haven’t done, so traveling to all 50 states in one trip would be a very satisfying accomplishment. And, we hope our book will encourage others to truly SEE the USA!
We wanted a memorable experience. We wanted to do something unique. And we did!
We are writing books about our experiences. We are writing about “the places we go, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat.”
A family tradition has been to end our vacations by creating a list of the best and worst of the trip. Best meal, worst meal, best city, worst city, best excuse, worst expenditure — some serious and some funny. As we approached the trip, we compiled a master list of bests and worsts to consider as we traveled, and we ended our trip by naming our roadtrip bests and worsts.
We wrote daily, and we have provided a daily account and photos on the web site. We tracked our experiences with a Scorecard as well — tracking various and sundry “vital statistics.”
As we take future trips, we will continue to add information and photos. We hope you will check in on us occasionally by visiting this blog or our web site — www.roundamerica.com.
Bill Windsor – Round America
My wife and I travel to all 50 states by car on two-lane roads. We wrote a book about our first trip Round America. That experience also prompted me to start a business selling Sightseeing Tours and Activities. We continue to travel, photograph, and write about our travels. We will share our travel stories on this weblog.
Bill Windsor – Round America
Round America spends the day in Tucson, Arizona. There is a lot to see in Tucson, but I didn’t see it. My apologies to Tucson. I had dirt clods in the eyelids.
Today was car day and me day. I took care of the car first — wash, shampoo, wax, and windshield repair. Then an oil change. I met wonderful people at each stop and ended up telling Round America stories. There was lots of laughter, so I think people enjoyed themselves. Many of the folks I met suggested places to go and things to see.
At the Simoniz Car Wash, Anthony, Arturo, and Reuben got the car cleanup started, and Jose did the detailing. Jacques repaired a chip in the windshield. Inside, I met Debbie the cashier; Yolanda (originally from Paxico, Kansas) and her boys Cole, Drake, and Blaze; Joyce; and others.
At Jiffy Lube, an especially friendly group of happy workers included Leo, Francisco, Javier, Joe, and Granpappy Jack.
Once the car was squared away, it was time for me. First stop was the Pearle Vision Center where Dr. Steve Miller diagnosed me with “dirt clods in the eyelids.” His diagnosis sounded a little more medical, but the fact was that some of the dust and dirt from the sandstorm at Big Bend was stuck in my eyelids. Dr. Miller was kind enough to remove them and provide medication. No wonder my eye kept hurting so badly. The cornea was not scratched, but the upper part of my eyeball was badly scratched, and there was dirt or sand imbedded inside the upper and lower eyelid that caused the irritation to continue since the sandstorm five days ago. I could feel some relief right away, but it will take several days to heal.
Liana and Kathleen were great fun at Pearle. Kathleen said I made her day telling them the stories of Fast Freddy and the Floating Neutrinos. I told her that she made mine by feeling that way and telling me.
Next stop was Just for Feet. The trip began with a brand new, bright white pair of Nikes. Seriously, after just 22 days, they look to be a year old and are a really ugly combination of colors. Judging by the shoes and my left eye, I stopped to realize that there is a lot of wear and tear going on. I’d taken 2,033 photographs, so that means glasses on and off at least 2,000 times and the car door opened at least half that many. I’d put 6,417 miles on the car thus far, and I’d gone in and out of 19 motels in just three weeks.
Back to the shoes, I wanted a dirt color pair in hopes they will look better over the long haul. I also needed something as comfortable as humanly possible. I tried on really cool-looking shoes by Timberland, New Balance, and others, but they either rode up on my heel or felt like I was going to topple over due to an oddly shaped sole. I finally settled on the ugliest, but these babies are comfortable. I’m the proud owner of Rockport Walking Shoes Model MWT13 (made in China). Sand is the official color — perfect!
At Just for Feet, Jeff helped me, but then Jason, Eric, Ricky, and Frankie joined in. Analisa took my money. Brian wouldn’t let me take his photo, but he was the answer when I asked the guys where to find the most unique sight in Tucson. Brian can put his hand flat on the floor without bending over. Amazing but true; I saw him do it.
Since today is a day of rest and a break from the norm, I broke the rule about fast food chain restaurants. I enjoyed two delicious hot dogs at Weinerschnitzel. It was nostalgic for me. We haven’t lived in a place that had a Weinerschnitzel since college. At Texas Tech in Lubbock in 1971, it was called Der Weinerschnitzel. Nasty Johnny, Arne Ray, Hampton Cottar, Steve Shanklin, Bozzie Jane, and I and all the other students called it “The Der.” We’d go, especially late at night, for a Der Dog and Chili Cheese Fries. I think the chain blew it by dropping the Der from their name, but the dogs were great.
At “The Der,” I met a really nice couple, Mario and Stephanie, and their dog Rocky. Mario said my little car is his dream car, so after scarfing down the dogs, I went outside where he was seated and gave him the key. He wouldn’t drive it at first, but he finally did. Mario invited Barbara and me over for home-cooked Mexican food the next time we are in town. I’ve got their number, and we will most definitely take them up on the kind invitation. It took a lot of shots to get a decent one of Rocky. The only thing harder than photographing animals is flags…the darned things just won’t hold still. It may take me five or six shots to get a decent flag photo.
I realized today that you can have more fun just doing what you gotta do every day in real life if you just take a minute or two to talk to folks. Roger would approve.
As I wrote today’s report, I tried to play back the tape from the last two days, and the brand new Radio Shack Micro-45 Recorder is not working. Looks like I will have to add Number of Tape Recorders to the Trip Scorecard. I’ll have to get a new one — number 4.
This marked the beginning of Week 4 with 34,453 on the odometer. It had been quite a ride so far. I looked forward to healing so I could get back at it, but the decision was made to extend the stay in Tucson by a day so my left eye could rest…and so I could get caught up on the writing and web site work. As a result, I spent the rest of the day in the room. I organized the huge piles of brochures and things to be shipped back to Atlanta, and I processed photos, wrote, and slept. I perfected sister Marty’s technique for processing batches of photos with PhotoShop. It worked great and was saving at least an hour a night. Thanks, Murt the Gurt!
As I reflected on the first three weeks, I was really happy. The trip had gone very well. Not without the occasional unexpected event — Officer Vincent Passarelli, eye injury, and gas panic on the bad end … with Harry and the Natives, tee pee village, Floating Neutrinos, Fast Freddy, and many others on the good end. We’d been able to see most of the sights we wanted to see; only a few disappointments in that regard.
I’d really missed Boz the last week, and I was anxious for her to return to the trip in two days in San Diego.
All systems were working well, though there had been too many too long days. I decided to sit down again with the itinerary and see if there were more days that need to be split in two.
I hadn’t read a newspaper or watched the news (other than brief war reports) for 22 days. Not hearing all the bad news is good.
I was surprised that only seven antacids had been consumed, and five of those were on one day when Bozzie and I both got sick after drinking a Coke of all things. Contrary to popular expectations, we had not gained any weight. I wasn’t eating nearly as much as when I was home; I often felt like only one meal a day.
Eight states so far, though the trip would soon be 20% behind us. I’d lost track of how many people we’d met so far and how many times “the car” has been lost. That will take some work to calculate, but it’s probably well over 200 people — at least 10 a day on average and probably lost 30 times. 8 states. 2 countries. 576 towns. I’d bought 320 gallons of gas so far. 6,417 miles. 2,033 photographs. 1,500 U-turns. 1 flat tire (bought for someone else). 1 speeding ticket. A million laughs.
I’d have to look back at each day to answer this best, but the most fun for me so far was Day 18 — seeing Big Bend, meeting the Floating Neutrinos, getting my beads, viewing 50 spectacular sunsets, eating a bowl of chili in Terlingua, and losing the sight in my left eye. Savannah on Day 2 was a close second. My favorite stories so far are Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand and the trip to the river on Day 16 and the Floating Neutrinos on Day 18. Barbara and I will update our initial round of nominations for Best and Worst as we leisurely see San Diego and Los Angeles.
Here are all of the photos from Day 22 of the Round America 50-State Trip:
Round America travels from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico to Tucson, Arizona. Truth or Consequences is a special town. We also visit the Shady Dell RV park in Bisbee, Arizona, Boot Hill in Tombstone, Arizona, and other interesting spots along the way.
I only sleep five or six hours a night, so I was up and away from the Best Western at 7:15 am. Sunny and clear. Tyler was still at the front desk, and I met Chuck. He told me a little about Truth or Consequences. He likes the name okay. It was the only reason I was there. I had to visit a town that changed its name to that of a popular radio and then TV program back in the 50′s.
I stopped for gas the second I saw a station. I may never pass a gas station again. Teston Miller owned the Chevron, and a nicer man you’ll never meet. The town was originally named Hot Springs — named because of the hot mineral springs that bubble up there. Then two things happened. Arthritis medicine came out, and the hot springs were not as important to folks, and the thriving tourism business slowed dramatically. The town of Hot Springs began to decline. When some resourceful folks in the town heard Ralph Edwards say on the radio in 1950 that he wished some town would change its name to Truth or Consequences to help the Truth or Consequences radio show celebrate its 10th anniversary, a movement began. A special election was called, and the vote was 1294 to 295; Hot Springs became Truth or Consequences. Now how cool is that! The folks in this small town seized the day and, as a result, obtained more national radio and TV publicity than any town of its size.
Sadly, Ralph Edwards is now gone to Heaven, and the show is gone as well, so the name doesn’t mean as much anymore — but what a great history. Ralph Edwards promised to come to the town and do a broadcast in 1950, and he kept his word. But he did a lot more. According to Teston, he came back every year for 50 years. He loved to ride a horse in the parade, but it was sad the last few years when he could no longer ride and had to be driven in a convertible. Then he couldn’t come at all, and now he’s gone.
If you aren’t old enough to have heard Truth or Consequences on the radio or to have seen it on TV, you may remember “This Is Your Life.” Ralph Edwards was the host, and he seemed like such a kind, special man. According to the people I met in “T or C,” he was just that.
The Sleepy Hollow RV Park & Smoke Shop was an unusual-looking business, so I stopped to take a photo of it and then of the mountains behind. A man hollered out: “Wrong time of day for that.” I responded that it was the only time of day I had. I met Roger Smith, co-owner of the Sleepy Hollow RV Park & Smoke Shop. He said: “You got a minute?” I said sure, and he ran off to his house a hundred feet or so away. He returned with a worn 3-ring binder in which he carefully maintains photocopies of what his house and RV Park looked like many years ago and a few other things that are special to him. He is very proud of his place. Roger told me there is a lot of great history here, but most folks are in too big a hurry and say “there’s nothing here.” Roger said people need to take the time to look around and ask questions and see what there is to see. He knew that without driving to 50 states.
Roger went on to tell me a number of great stories about “T or C.” I learned that Roger was once an aerospace engineer but spent last Spring as a ranch hand working with a buffalo herd. Nice nice man. When he learned I was headed for a day of seeing ghost towns and old western towns, he invited me in and dug around to find some photocopied brochures of places I would have never known about otherwise. His wife, co-owner Marylin, jumped me as I entered. She was caring for two children while selling cigarettes out the window in front. “We ain’t buying no advertising. It doesn’t do any good. The government is putting us out of business with all the taxes on cigarettes and the like, and advertising doesn’t work.” When she came up for air, I told her that I wasn’t selling advertising. She saw the little white car and the notebook and prejudged me big-time. It was Roger’s prized notebook. She finally calmed down. She said Roger is the nice one. She was right about that.
Roger and I shook hands and said goodbye. As I headed out the door, Roger chased after me. He opened his notebook and gave me his color photocopy of his RV Park. Tears came to my good eye. You had to be there to understand.
I drove back into town to take some more photos. I couldn’t leave without doing that for I had certainly learned that most people think there’s nothing here and don’t take the time to look around. I owed it to Roger.
I saw a number of mountains as I drove on. That’s what they’ve got in New Mexico — lots of pretty mountains. They grow chile peppers in this area. More dust. There was one spot along the highway with a sign that warned of dust storms for the next 40 miles. “Zero visibility is possible.” I learned that in Big Bend. I haven’t been able to see very well out of my left eye for three days now.
In Deming New Mexico, I saw a glorious sight — a Radio Shack. I began looking for a place that would sell a pocket tape recorder in Hidalgo — 2,099 miles back. Hard for a city slicker to believe, but absolutely true. Ernie helped me and suggested that I see Columbus, New Mexico — the only US town ever invaded, if you don’t count 9/11. Pancho Villa was the terrorist.
I was stopped on the street by Walt and Zinta, two former academics who were off on their own trip. Walt told me a funny joke that I probably shouldn’t repeat here.
On the edge of the town of Lordsburg New Mexico, I spotted an old bus that had been turned into a roadside cafe. Taco Loco. It somehow looked like just the spot for a guy who drove 600 miles to eat two pieces of pie.
A trucker of 22 years named Kenny who had pulled over for a two-hour nap and had just awakened after 12 hours was waiting for his food. He said he reckons he must have been more tired than he thought. He was doing take-out…eating as he drives. His dog was doing a lot of barking. Mercedes was her name. Kenny said an old lady (trucker and biker talk for wife) and several girlfriends had come and gone, but Mercedes had stuck with him. Mercedes learned to honk the horn on the steering wheel of the truck, so Kenny had to tape it off so she couldn’t honk and wake him up. But she’s a smart little dog as Kenny said she had now figured out how to blow the air horn. No wonder he slept for 12 hours.
Phyllis stuck her head out the little window, and I ordered a breakfast burrito. Man was it good — a big soft flour tortilla filled with eggs, bacon, hash brown potatoes and topped with salsa. What a bargain at $2.65. I gave her $5.00 and told her to keep the change, and you would have thought I had given her the $100 I won in Biloxi! I wish I had. I asked Phyllis how long she had been open, and she said: “Not long enough. I’ll be out of business next week. They’ve sold the land, and I am being evicted.” She was so nice. This was so sad. First Roger and now Phyllis. She went on to tell me that she had never made any money. “Just covering expenses.” She was a one-person operation, and the hours sign said 7 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week. That’s 98 hours a week “just covering expenses.” I told Phyllis things would get better, and I told her I would keep my eye out for a new location as I drove around town. She of course knew what I was about to find out; Lordsburg is one of those once neat old western towns that has all but dried up. There was no place to go around there.
I drove out to see the Shakespeare Ghost Town. It was even on Cody and Erica’s map, so I figured it had to be good. It was closed — only opens occasionally. Private property. I’ve never seen so many do not enter signs in my life. There wasn’t a one at the Trinity Site, but this place was clearly off limits. A sign said it was the owner’s residence. I imagine it would be a problem if the trailer you live in is on the street of a ghost town listed in Cody and Erica’s map.
There was little but desert between Shakespeare New Mexico and Douglas Arizona. But I did spot a car well off the two-lane road literally in the middle of desert nowhere. There was a “For Sale” sign in the window. I thought, “Now, that’s an optimist!”
Arizona became state #8, and I drove around Douglas for a few minutes before going to Bisbee, Arizona. I really liked Bisbee. It’s an old mining town, and the open pit mine is still operating and takes up about half the town. The town is built into the side of a mountain, and it has great old buildings everywhere.
I saw a sign for Shady Dell RV Park, and I had it on my list of things to see, so I turned. I couldn’t remember why I wanted to see it, but I knew the second I saw it. Shady Dell has rare antique travel trailers available for rent. The place is really well done, and it would have been a wonderful experience for a night. The fabulous fully-restored 1957 Dot’s Diner is there, and I had Rhubarb Pie. Waitresses Mary and Kirsten recommended it. I’d never had rhubarb, but I know now why my Dad loves it so much. I sat next to a man and his son, two Roberts. I saw young Robert eyeing my beads, so I struck up a conversation.
In downtown Bisbee, I met several people, including Neil Ziegler and two ladies whose names I should have gotten at the Bisbee Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. They were very helpful and informative. I took some photos. Had I known Bisbee was as neat as it was, I would have stayed a lot longer, but I wanted to get to Tombstone before the last gunfight of the day. Arizona is on Pacific time during the Daylight Savings part of the year.
Tombstone, Arizona is the famous old western town with the OK Corral and Boot Hill. I had looked forward to visiting, but I was disappointed. I’m surprised they didn’t have someone posted at every road into town to charge you a fee just to pass through. I felt a little ornery so I chose not to pay to see the Bird Cage Theatre, the OK Corral, or the world’s largest rosebush. At least Boot Hill was free, though the gift shop that seems to own it was accepting donations.
I reached Tucson, Arizona as the sun was setting, and as I drove straight into a blinding sun, my eye really started to water. Probably some dust (no extra charge) picked up in Tombstone. I’m sure it was a fabulous sunset, but I settled for the room, several shots of Visine, and a couple of Advil. You can’t chase the sun every day. Three weeks on the road, and I was ready for some rest.
As the day ended, I pledged to always have a minute.
Here are all the photos from Day 21 of the Round America 50-State Trip.
Round America travels from Roswell, New Mexico to Pie Town and on to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It was an exciting day — seeing all the UFOs in Roswell and visiting a town that is famous for its pies and is actually named Pie Town.
Every day has been an adventure. Some more than others. Today was heavy on adventure. I went on an Easter Egg hunt of sorts. I didn’t stop to appreciate that today was Easter Sunday until it was too late.
I stayed at the Loco Motel (better known as the Roswell Comfort Inn). According to three absolutely delightful ladies who I met at the checkout counter at the motel, when they had their carpets cleaned, it was “news” that was written up in the paper, and it said “loco motel” rather than “local motel.” Ana, JoJo and Betty Boop (Veronica) were a hoot. All work at the “Loco.” Veronica gave me a really cute handmade rabbit with a colored egg inside. She wanted to go on the trip with me in the worst of ways — stuck her leg out and pulled her pants leg up a little feigning a Marilyn Monroe hitchhiker pose as I drove off.
Fun ladies. A great way to start the day. I’d hate to guess how many times in my life I have checked out of a hotel or motel and just paid my money without saying a real word to anyone. I asked about UFO’s or mentioned my beads or something, and the next thing you know, three of us are having a ball telling stories and talking. I think we all need to talk to each other more. It makes for a more enjoyable life.
I’ve certainly found that folks in smaller towns are much nicer than folks in larger towns. I’ve also found that the folks who work in smaller places tend to be much nicer than folks who work in larger places. Folks who work in less expensive places tend to be much nicer than those who work in more expensive places. There’s a lot to be said for small. As we learned on Day 1, there is a kinder and gentler America, and it is alive and well in small towns.
Roswell, New Mexico is cool. I really liked it there. The city (47,000 people makes it a big city on this trip) appears to be much more prosperous than most of the towns I have seen since April 1.
The first adventure of the day was UFOs! I passed the New Mexico Military Institute on the way to UFO Central, which is right in the middle of downtown Roswell. I absolutely loved the way so many merchants — even fine furniture stores and investment companies — had aliens and UFOs in their windows. Nothing like getting with the spirit!
It was June 24, 1947 when Kenneth Arnold saw a UFO near Roswell. It was big news all over. On July 5, 1947, Mac Brazel found debris. The Roswell UFO incident is the biggest and best documented of the various alleged UFO sightings.
I began my UFO education at the Crash Down Diner where I met Richard Hesse and his daughter, Melissa. Melissa owns the Diner, and Richard and his wife, Randhi, own the Starchild Gift Shop right next door offering a truly incredible selection of alien and UFO gift items. It would make The Shell Factory proud! I had a wonderful alien-shaped pancake for breakfast, smothered in caramel sauce and topped with ice cream, whipped cream, and nuts. Yummy. I met Carl Schlach from Michigan at the Crash Down.
Richard Hesse believes there is life out there. He says “do the math.” There are millions of stars, and the odds are that there is something out there somewhere. It certainly seems possible to me.
I met two nice ladies who work at the International UFO Museum and Research Center — Phyllis and Wanda. The museum is really well done with all types of displays about the Roswell incident and others — even has an area presenting the position of those who do not believe. The museum was free, but I made a donation. I wish I had spent more time reading what was available. I will return to Roswell with Bozzie Jane; we’ll make a vacation of several days doing Big Bend, Marfa, Roswell, and points in between. Phyllis said she looked forward to meeting Barbara. Sweet lady.
I was delighted to find an Office Max and a Target in Roswell. I had been on the lookout for days for a place to get a new tape recorder. I pulled up, and they were closed. Easter. I didn’t stop to think that this would be a factor throughout the day. When you live in places like Dallas, Cleveland, and Atlanta, you expect to be able to buy virtually anything at any time.
I saw what I was sure was a spaceship as I headed out of town. I snapped a photo. Upon further investigation, it was the top of a grain silo, but it sure had the right look in the right place. Maybe it was a spaceship masquerading as a grain silo. I choose to be a believer.
Richard Hesse told me to be sure and check out the Roswell City Limits sign. It said “Dairy Capital of the Southwest.” What?! UFOs put Roswell on the map, and the city fathers are promoting dairy. Those folks haven’t learned the important lesson that most small towns know: Celebrate what you got!
Today is a big day. I am detouring several hundred miles out of the original path for the trip in order to see one and only one thing: Pie Town, New Mexico. The place got its name from a lady who baked pies for the ranchers in those parts. It has grown over the years from one lady to where it now has a population of 60. I learned of it several years ago when someone gave me an article about great pie, and the Pie-O-Neer Cafe in Pie Town, New Mexico was featured. A “Pie Trip” could not possibly be valid without a visit to Pie Town, so I carefully charted the course. It’s literally as remote a location as is Big Bend — nothing of any consequence for 100 miles or more. So, another adventure began as I rolled out of Roswell in anticipation of great pie — multiple pieces of delicious pie!
I saw some surprisingly interesting towns en route. Lincoln, New Mexico is a neat little mountain town. Lots of history. Buildings are restored or are being restored.
Just after noon, I got my first glimpse of snowcapped El Capitan Mountain. 10 minutes later, I was in the cute little town of Capitan, New Mexico. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Capitan is the home of Smokey the Bear, and he is buried there. I stopped at the Smokey the Bear Museum.
I also stopped at the Shell station to fill up and grab a Coke. Corinna said “nice beads.” As I’ve said, many women smiled and some commented. But men tended to think I was a deviate of some type.
Since I left Del Rio way down in South Texas, I had essentially been without cell phone service. New Mexico was no better, except in Roswell.
Most states had sent me a map, but New Mexico did not get one to me before I left, so the map I got from Cody and Erica was very much needed. According to the map, I was to be passing near part of the White Sands Missile Range. That’s neat. So when the sign said it was just five miles off the highway, the little white car just headed there automatically. I had to see it.
All of a sudden I realized where I was! The Trinity Site — the site where the first Atomic Bomb was tested on July 16, 1945. This was a serious deal.
I pulled up to the main gate where I was met by Gus, the security man. His badge looked a lot more official than Dr. Doug Blackburn’s. I asked if I could go in, and Gus said I’d have to come back in October. I told him I was just passing through, writing a book, and on April 20, October just didn’t work well for me. Gus didn’t think I was very funny. He said: “October.” I got the message, so I went to Plan B. I asked if it was okay to take a few photos. “No.” I was wishing Rose was with me. She knows how to get photos of forbidden stuff. To Plan C, “Gus, may I take your picture?” “No.” Gus was a man of few words. Perhaps I should always remove my Mardi Gras beads before approaching men with guns at military installations. So, I hopped back in my car, hooked a U and went into Plan D. I drove quickly away and snapped a few photos from a Distance while Gus went back to reading the Sunday paper. Rose would be proud.
On the road again, my next stop was Magdalena, New Mexico. Never heard of it, but it is a nice little spot that is undoubtedly a small artist’s community. Probably just a few hundred people there. I met two nice boys, Daniel and Chris. They were excited to have their photo taken, and then they got into the spirit of the trip and kept coming up with ideas of spots in Magdalena that I should photograph. They followed me on bike. I saw an Easter Egg Hunt in a park area with some great sculptures apparently done by a local artist. I liked Magdalena.
I kept checking the map as Pie Town didn’t appear to be getting much closer. I discovered there was a HUGE error on my Excel spreadsheet itinerary. The number 100 was in the mileage column, but it was more like 300. I decided I had to press on. I just kept driving and driving and driving.
Pretty scenery, but you know how it is when you are mentally programmed for one thing and your system gets thrown off. The next thing on my handy Cody and Erica map was the “National Radio Astronomy Observatory.” I stopped to take a quick photo from a distance. As I looked back at it in the rearview mirror, I realized what I had just passed. THAT was The Array! The site of the Jodie Foster movie, “Contact.” Excellent movie! Had I realized and known they had a video presentation, I would have driven over.
UFO’s, White Sands, and The Array. This is adventure at its best!
A few miles down the road, I realized I had been in a big adventure for some time. I had been looking for gas, but the little towns either had no gas stations, or they were closed. When I hit Datil, a town printed in slightly larger, bolder letters on the map, I began to panic when the only gas station there was closed. The last open gas station I recalled seeing was the Shell station I visited 172 miles back in Capitan. I figured I was good for about 70 miles max. I pulled out the Cody and Erica map again to see if there was any town that had larger, bolder type anywhere near Datil. There were no options. The best bet looked like it was in ARIZONA — a ways past Pie Town, New Mexico! I knew I couldn’t make it that far. I began to panic. All I had wanted to do was eat some pie.
There were very few cars on the road. No wonder. There ain’t no gas.
I decided the only thing to do was keep going toward Pie Town. I passed the Continental Divide the first time at 5:05 pm and pulled into Pie Town two minutes later. That annoying “you are out of gas buddy” light was shining for the last I don’t know how many miles.
Pie Town is really tiny, so I had no trouble finding the Pie-O-Neer Cafe. Despite the gas situation, I was so excited to see it. I took a few photos. Then I went up the steps, and I saw it. “CLOSED.” No way I have driven 300 miles or so to eat pie and have Pie Town’s pie cafe closed. Devastated was not the right D word.
I knocked on the door. A nice lady came. They had just closed at 5. I told her I had driven 5,500 miles to eat pie there, and I gave her my card and pulled the photocopy of the article out of my notebook to show her I was telling the truth. She let me in. They had just a few pieces of pie left. I had Apple Walnut Raisin and Peach. Very good! I met the owner, Kim Bruck. She and three brothers moved there from Chicago, so Pie Town had grown to population 65. She told me that Coconut Cream, Oatmeal Raisin, and Apple Crumb were her best sellers. I told her if it were not for the fact that I was almost out of gas that I would be in pie heaven. She gave me a free slice of pie and a little pie-shaped magnet as a gift for Bozzie. I enjoyed talking with her, but they wanted to close up and go home, and I wanted to see if I could find a land line to call AAA to put their service to a real test — delivering gas a million miles from nowhere. Kim and her brother told me there might be a gas station open 22 miles west — usually open until 6, but not sure about Easter Sunday. It was 5:45, so I said a quick goodbye and I drove very fast to Quemado where I could have kissed Robert, the attendant at J&Y Auto Service, when he was still open. If it hadn’t been for two ladies and a flat tire in a huge RV, he would have been long gone.
Life was good again. It is a shame that gasoline detracted from the visit to Pie Town, but thank heaven the Pie-O-Neer was even open on Easter Sunday and J&Y Auto Service. I never thought I would be happy paying $1.00 more per gallon than I had ever paid for gas before, but I was. Best gas by far. Ain’t supply and demand grand.
Back to Cody and Erica’s map, I now had to re-route myself to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I identified a new way to go without backtracking, and I saw some gorgeous scenery in the many mountains of New Mexico. Because I was driving in the mountains, the sun was shielded, and it became dark much earlier than it does out in the desert where I’ve been for a few days. As it got darker, the mountain roads became less enjoyable. I passed the Continental Divide again about 9:30. 226 miles from Quemado, I pulled into the Best Western in Truth or Consequences. The last 40 miles was spent hugging the yellow line as I circled a mountain with the rocks of the mountain to the left and black space to the right and no guard rails. It was the only time I was glad Bozzie Jane was not with me. When I told Tyler at the Best Western the road I had come in on, he said: “You drove that AT NIGHT?!” Yep. I’m glad I couldn’t see; it was too dark to see, and my left eye was hurting the whole day. At least there were no other cars. I’m sure most of you are thinking that no one in their right mind would drive that far for two pieces of pie. You’re absolutely right. But it will be a special memory and fun story to tell.
It is so important for happiness to maintain a positive attitude, hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. I realized that life in small towns and remote spots has its trade-offs. It’s unlike life in the big cities where we have lived. For the most part, life in small towns seems gentler and happier to me, but there are always trade-offs, and one of the biggest is learning how to adjust for a limited number of places to shop and get essentials such as gas. Come to think of it, Ginger conveyed that to us on the first day of our trip.
Here are all the photos from Day 20 on the Round America 50-State Trip.
Round America travels from Big Bend National Park, Texas to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico via Marfa and Wink. Marfa is a lovely artist’s community with the spooky Marfa Lights. Wink is the birthplace of Roy Orbison and home of the Roy Orbison Museum.
The BADlands Hotel was B-A-D. As I reported yesterday, the hotel was cheaply built. For $195 a night, I expected top quality, but there was NO quality in the room. In fact, there wasn’t even electricity, running water, or telephone service — though all were supposed to be provided. The service was poor from the time I dropped in to book the room, to the time I checked in later that night, to checkout.
The only thing worse than the lack of speed with which the checkout guy handled checking me out was his complete void of personality. When he handed me my bill, not only was there no adjustment for the lack of electricity, water, or telephone service in a room with the windows caulked shut, they had tacked on a $15 “resort fee.” Words cannot express….
Let me just say to Steve Smith, the “Austin billionaire who has bought Lajitas, Texas and has turned it into a resort” as I was told is the case. If the rest of Lajitas is like the BADlands Hotel, you should have stuck with whatever made you rich. I felt completely, totally ripped off by the BADlands. And to take a lovely, old town that dates back to an ancient Rio Grande River crossing first recorded by Spanish explorers in 1588 and completely convert it to a modern-day tourist trap resort should be a crime punishable by extended imprisonment in room 216.
You have to blow off steam every once in a while; I’m glad I got that off my chest.
Despite my eye injury, I got up and out before the sun came up as I wanted to see the sunrise at Big Bend. I hiked a ways off the road to an area that Yvette, the bartender / waitress from last night, told me would be the best spot. I sat on a rock in the cool morning air and saw a beautiful sunrise out of my right eye. I got several excellent photos, even though I am now having to modify my photographic efforts as I have always been a left eye shooter. I’ll be doing right eye work for a few days.
I started meeting interesting people bright and early with “Dr. Kathy” and “Dr. Doug Blackburn” of the Phillips 66 station in Study Butte. I picked up a Visine product, but when I told Kathy, the Phillips 66 store manager, about my eye problem, she knew I had the wrong stuff, so she became Dr. Kathy as I was directed to get something that was not limited on the amount of daily use. Visine Tears was the right product for me, and it gave me some relief, though my eye hurt badly throughout the day. I felt bad about complaining during the first few days of the trip about having to take my glasses off to be able to take photographs and not seeing as well as I used to. It could be worse.
Dr. Doug Blackburn is a real character. He came up and knocked on my window as I was organizing myself for the day’s drive. He was wearing hospital scrubs with an impressive-looking hospital-like photo ID pinned to his blue scrub top. But he had on a “Study Butte Store” baseball cap, and when I looked closer at the ID, it said “Doctor of Boarderline Psychology.” We talked about the trip, Terlingua, Study Butte, and Lajitas…and some of the characters who lived around there. I asked: “May I take your photo, Dr. Blackburn?” He said: “Oh, I’m not a real doctor; I’m just one of the clerks at the Study Butte Phillips 66 gas station and store.” I didn’t want to tell him that I had long since figured that out. He proudly pulled back his jacket so his ID would be clearly visible in the photo. Nice guy and obviously a lot of fun! The Round America sign on the car was very effective as it pulled people to me, and I met far more people as a result.
The Study Butte Mall aka Phillips 66 station has a stoplight in the front of it. It’s the only stoplight in the town. It’s on their property — not on the road. Pretty cute.
Since I drove back and forth between Big Bend and Lajitas several times, and Terlingua is the town in between, it will probably be the town that was most visited on the trip. I went to or through Terlingua five times.
Driving back and forth in Big Bend and at a few other points during the trip, I realized that you see a different view just by traveling in the opposite direction. Maybe we’ll take this trip “backwards” someday — do the same route, but head north from Savannah rather than south, and just travel “backwards.”
Blue sky today, so I was tempted to stay and repeat all the photos I took on overcast yesterday. But at 8:15, I pulled away from Study Butte and drove to Presidio Texas, which may be an even more beautiful drive than the drives I took through Big Bend yesterday. The sky was blue, so the pictures are pretty good, though I didn’t stop as much as I would have because my eye was just killing me.
I saw a lot of faces in rocks today. I swear I saw Bob Hope’s face in a rock. I may have gone too long driving alone in the car. Come back Bozzie Jane! On another trip, I’d like to try photographing the faces that I see and then using PhotoShop to alter the images so others can see what I see.
Right outside Lajitas, the Big Bend Ranch State Park begins. Gorgeous views. Many more “oh ****s” today. I stopped at the “Contrabando” movie set. At several points, I stopped for a photo, and then turned around to see another stunning view. Sometimes we never turn around and miss the good stuff.
Because of the eye problem, I skipped a few things today that I otherwise would have done.
Presidio is a small town, but bigger than most I have seen lately. I stopped briefly at the ghost town of Shafter, Texas. Fort Shafter was a defense against the Apaches. Someone there has a sense of humor as there was a makeshift “roadside park” set up in Shafter — two folding stools and an umbrella. At least I think it was to be funny…maybe just a way for the one or two folks living there to meet the occasional tourist who stops by for a photo.
I landed in the delightful little town of Marfa, Texas at noon, and I spent much longer there than planned as it proved to be a special place. It seems that a wealthy artist and/or art lover, the late Don Judd, was originally the person who decided to restore Marfa’s buildings. Then along came Tim Crowley to continue the process. The result is that virtually all of the great old buildings in the center of the town have been restored. Marfa has a significant artist’s community, and judging by the number of airplanes at the airport in this small town of 2400 people, there are a lot of folks with some money in and around Marfa.
The largely non-commercial restoration of the buildings in Marfa has made it a really special place. Undoubtedly a place that the artists would love to keep a secret. I thought of all the small decaying towns that we’ve seen. Every town needs a wealthy art lover, but few have one. Marfa is so fortunate to have had two.
The old military base was turned into a HUGE art museum by Mr. Crowley. It encompasses many of the military buildings, and there are a lot of them. I found out about the Chinati Foundation and museum from skateboarders Erik, Jerek, and Anthony. I asked where I could find the world’s largest horseshoe, and Erik said it was at the Chinati Foundation, and he directed me there.
The Chinati Foundation looked like it might be some kind of cult place, and when the two nice young men inside, Tim and Jason, said I could not come in, I really started to wonder. But they told me it was an art museum, and two Austin artists outside, Scout and John, confirmed it. Tim and Jason said they did not have the authority to let me in to photograph the horseshoe, so I headed to town for lunch.
I turned down a side street looking for a restaurant with pickup trucks. That’s a great way to find a good restaurant in Texas. Another great way is to look closely at the civic club signs at the city limits as many will say where the club meets for lunch. Chances are, they meet at the good places. On this street, I saw two great 50′s-era motels, the Capri Inn and the Thunderbird Inn. I had an excellent T-Bird Club Sandwich at the Thunderbird Restaurant. The waitress, Rose, is definitely in the running for best waitress on the trip. She has a great smile, and we had a delightful conversation. She also was an invaluable resource about Marfa. She told me several sights to see; told me about the Marfa Lights; and explained how I could take a photograph of the horseshoe without permission. I loved that part.
I put on my shades and my secret undercover mission began! I followed Rose’s directions and drove down the road and took a left just past the Laundromat. Then I drove for a mile and a half and began looking to the left for the museum buildings at the old base. Once I saw the buildings, I was to turn into the area with several homes and go in the backyard of the one closest to the horseshoe. I found the closest house, and I pulled the car around a barn on the side. I got out, tiptoed through the horse pasture, zoomed the camera in as far as it would go, and snapped one photo. Then I ran back to the car and started to pull out when the lady of the house caught me. She asked: “what in the world are you doing in my yard?” I replied: “Just taking a photo of the horse shoe.” She said, “the horse sh**?” I said “no ma’am, SHOE. Sorry to have troubled you,” and I sped off as I had when I spotted Fast Freddy with the giant hedge clippers. I mentally thanked Rose, and enjoyed a nice sense of accomplishment from having managed to get a photo of the forbidden horseshoe (even if it was from 100 yards or more away).
Back into the center of Marfa, I began to see that Marfa has quite an artist’s community. There’s a great flag sculpture next to the courthouse, and there are a number of galleries. I understand there is a lot more hidden from view. Kind of like those rattlesnakes Dr. Dan told me about in Lajitas. I met and spoke with Belinda and Kim — two Marfa artists. I learned a lot more about the art activity in the town.
The Marfa Lights are an unexplained phenomenon that causes lights to appear in the sky. According to Rose (who I would trust with my life), it’s no hoax. A number of scientists have been in to try to figure it out. There are several theories, but no explanation. I was sorry I couldn’t stick around to see if the lights came out that night. But Boz and I will absolutely come back to Marfa and spend a day or two. If one wanted to live in a town of 2,400 people, Marfa looked like it would be a dandy. It’s hard to believe that we lived most of our life in Texas and had never really heard much about Big Bend and had heard nothing about Marfa except the spooky lights.
I stopped briefly in Fort Davis, Texas. It had a lot of tourists. After seeing Big Bend, I saw no reason to take the scenic drive through the Fort Davis Mountains. That would have been like going to the carnival after having just been to Disney World. If Barbara had been with me, we would have seen the doll museum there. I can’t figure out how Fort Davis had so many more tourists than a lot of other great places I have been. Perhaps because it is easier to get to.
Not far outside Fort Davis, the land flattened, and I began seeing terrain similar to what I grew up with in West Texas — flat and dusty. There was a good old West Texas dust storm blowing, and this was the last thing my eye needed. Then a lot of oil wells appeared, so it was flat and dusty with oil wells.
I was taking this route so I could hit Wink, Texas to see the Roy Orbison Museum. Roy Orbison had such great songs — Pretty Woman, Only the Lonely, and others. A very unique voice. Roy is Wink’s claim to fame. There actually is one other claim to fame there — the Wink Sink — a giant sinkhole. They do have a red water tower and formerly had a Pink Panther Bar.
I snapped a few classic small town photos in Kermit Texas, and then I boogied for the New Mexico line. The time changed there, so it was just before 5:30 Mountain Daylight Time. The scenery changed almost immediately as well — greener, some hills, and mountains in the distance. New Mexico, “the Land of Enchantment,” is a very beautiful state, but you gotta like mountains.
I passed through Loving New Mexico, and I was hoping to get some love-oriented pictures, but I didn’t see any businesses to speak of, and nothing was love-related. We’ve seen way too many adult businesses in tiny towns; if there had been one there, I would have photographed it. What I did find is that a great salesperson once visited Loving. Might be the same guy who made such a big sale in the country of Belgium where all the highways have street lights every 50 feet or so. Same deal in Loving. There were street lights every 50 feet from one city limits sign to the other. I hadn’t seen anything like this anywhere else.
I pulled in to Carlsbad Caverns National Park about 6 pm. I saw a sign that said “Eat 750 feet underground.” Not me. Both Boz and I are quite claustrophobic. So, I took a picture of the sign, and called it a Carlsbad’s Caverns.
I was much more excited to see White’s City. White’s City uses Burma Shave-like billboards to advertise for many miles. It’s an OLD souvenir shop tourist trap (and I say that in a good way). I wanted to see their Million Dollar Museum. I paid my $3 and went in. I’m sorry to report that it was a little better than Sponge-O-Rama, but not much. Then again, Sponge-O-Rama was free. The Million Dollar Museum was 11 rooms in the basement filled with old displays of “antiques,” some of which were in poor condition. I’m afraid White’s City was a disappointment — not what it used to be. If I hadn’t been so tired of driving and my eye hadn’t hurt so badly, I probably would have found it entertaining in a camp sort of way. Attitude is an amazing thing.
As I drove back to Carlsbad (Carlsbad Caverns is about 20 miles outside the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico), Gutter of the Brotherhood of the 74 motorcycle gang waved for me to pull over. Three weeks ago, this would have scared the dickens out of me, but it was a busy street, and he looked nice. Big on that big Harley, but nice. He was no weekend biker (and we’ve seen a whole lot of them); his jacket and doo-rag were the real stuff. We had a nice talk, and he agreed to let me take his photo. He wanted to be sure I told everyone that the Brotherhood of 74 does a lot for charity. I overheard him speaking to someone on his cell phone as I drove off; he told them he was going to be in a book. Folks really like that!
I chased the sun once again, but I was smack dab in the middle of Carlsbad. I tried to get to the outskirts of town, but I had to settle for sunset at a temporary storage facility. Not every sunset can be a Big Bend masterpiece. Gotta take ‘em as you find ‘em and learn to enjoy what you got.
The restaurant on my list for Carlsbad was Casa de Cortez. I found it on the highway. The place was filled with older locals, so I knew it would be great, and it was. If their hot sauce had been more to my taste, I probably would say their Mexican was the best yet…but I’m sticking with Rosita’s as best so far. I never got the name of the waitress. She was busy. I was tired.
I spotted the No Whiner Diner just before Casa de Cortez, so I backtracked for dessert. Alyssa recommended the apple pie with ice cream, and it was very good. In the parking lot, I met an interesting young woman named Alma — from Wisconsin. She said she was trying to get away from the guy she had come to Carlsbad with and was trying to get home, but AAA was not answering the phone…or something like that. I asked if I could do anything to help, and she said “pray for me.” I asked permission (as I always do) and took her photo. I asked if she had any money, and she said no. I gave her $20. If she was a hustler, she had the best approach I have ever seen as I never felt hustled. I hope she was just a young girl who needed to get home to Wisconsin. It’s so much more gratifying to look at things positively.
I met Cody and Erica at a Chevron station. Cody was born here, and Erica got stuck here. From what little I saw, Carlsbad wouldn’t go on my list of favorite cities.
Just outside of Artesia New Mexico, I had my first truly scary experience on the trip. I watched as a car pulled out of a parking lot, and I thought for a split second that I had gotten confused and was somehow on a one way road going in the wrong direction as the car came straight at me. No, I was in the right place; the car had turned into the wrong lane and was heading straight for me. Fortunately, I saw it all happen and had the time to maneuver off onto the shoulder and out of harm’s way.
I was relieved to reach Roswell, New Mexico. I had never planned to stay at the far south end of Big Bend, so I was on the road for 100 miles more than planned today. Too much. Then I spent several hours in Marfa (which will be in the running for Best Small Town). I was tired, but Roswell appeared to be a very thriving city of 47,000, and I was anxious to see all the UFO stuff.
I met Becky, Bill, and Fletcher as I checked into the Comfort Inn. They each confirmed that they felt UFO’s exist and are real. Bill had seen lights. I was delighted to fall asleep with this important issue put to bed.
One of the most asked questions is “where are you from?” I started the trip saying “Atlanta.” Now, I say I am from the town I last slept in, but tonight I will be from the town I will next sleep in. This usually starts an interesting conversation.
History is good and important and to be treasured. I wish things could be more like Marfa and less like Lajitas. Restored rather than overly commercialized. I never even thought about being a “preservationist” before this trip, but I am one. I also learned another important lesson: to enunciate more clearly the next time I get caught with my camera in someone’s horse pasture.
For the last two weeks, I have rarely known what day of the week it was.
Here are all the photos from Day 19 of the Round America 50-State Trip.
Round America visits Big Bend National Park, and along the way, Bill Windsor meets the Floating Neutrinos on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. The day ends with incredible sunsets and dinner in Terlingua, Texas, chili cookoff capital of the world.
Big Bend is incredibly beautiful (even on an overcast day), and it is the ultimate sunset spot, as you can drive from location to location while the sun is setting and see a variety of spectacular sights from heights that provide the ideal view.
I met some really interesting people on Day 18, including a Jehovah’s Witness at a gas pump (Ricky Bowman); a Border Patrol officer (Officer Hart); five fine young missionaries (Katy, Pete, Claire, Chris, and Katie) who I met at a gas station and then saw down the road when they had a blowout; two delightful ladies running a gas station in Sanderson Texas (Gennie and Deanna); a man who went to Texas Tech the same years I did, and his wife (Dalton and Pearl Hobbs); five park rangers (Ranger Rob, Katrina, Ranger Don, Casey, and Anita); the Tulane University tennis coach and her husband (Mary Lee and Brian); a former missionary and his wife – a Harvard-educated attorney (Ruben and Karen); a nurse/pilot and her doctor husband (Britton and Dan); Mike the night manager at the Study Butte “Mall;” a great bartender/waitress (Yvette); a couple who are in the unconventional lapidary business (Cindy and James); the Floating Neutrinos (Poppa and Aurelia); and several others (including tourists Carol, Duane, Stan, and Roma as well as Jeannie and Steve). While I enjoyed meeting all of these folks and learning a little about most of them, the Floating Neutrinos may be the most interesting people I have ever met.
The day began in Del Rio, Texas at 8:30 am. 69-degrees and dusty. I met Ricky Bowman at a gas pump. Ricky’s a big barrel-chested 100% Texan-looking man. He saw the sign on the car and asked what I was up to. He is fairly new in Del Rio — moved there so they could be near their grandchild. We figure that’s about the best reason to live anywhere! He told me the sky isn’t always gray there. We talked for quite a while before he said he would like to give me something. He went to his pickup and brought me two magazines — “The Watchtower” and “Awakenings.” Ricky is a Jehovah’s Witness. I’ve never had a real conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness, so I asked about how and why he chose that religion, and I asked what his view is of the war in Iraq. He chose the religion because of the warmth and sincerity he felt from the members of the group. That sounded like a good reason to me. As to the war, he informed me that the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe we are “at the end of our days.” (I don’t believe I will join up as I would much prefer to look on the bright side.) We talked a little more about this, and Ricky admitted that the “end of our days” could be a period of a million years or some such huge number. Ricky asked if I was going to Hawaii, and I told him it would be the 50th state to visit. He said the first Kingdom Hall (aka church) was in Hawaii, so I promised to go see it and get a photo for him. I wished Ricky the best for his grandchild and for our own and for their grandchildren and their grandchildren and….
I ran into Officer Hart of the Border Patrol at the mini-mart. He confirmed that the Border Patrol needs more people.
Not far outside Del Rio is the Amistad Dam and Reservoir. The terrain became pretty — going from flat white desert to brown to green with some hills and gullys (Is that the right term for a small canyon?). There wasn’t a safe place to pull off for a good photo.
26 miles from Del Rio was another Border Patrol Checkpoint. I guess I don’t look like I’m smuggling any illegals in the little white car as they just waved me through.
Not much in the little town of Comstock, Texas. I did see a deer storage place. The terrain is so flat and barren in this area that it just doesn’t seem fair to the deer.
When I reached the Pecos River, I realized I missed a bet when I didn’t pull off at a “roadside park” that wasn’t billed on the highway as one of the best scenic overlooks in the state. U-Turn (what the car now does best), and I found myself at the top of a little mountain meeting Dalton Hobbs and his wife Pearl. Dalton had a double T on his shirt, so I assumed he went to my alma mater, Texas Tech. He did. And we were there the same 4′ish years. He was in advertising, and I was in marketing, so we probably had classes together. I’m counting it as the second meeting of “an old friend” in two days! The Pecos River Bridge is the highest in Texas, and it is really an impressive sight, especially after several days of choking on the dust in the border towns.
Mountains appeared on the horizon as I took Loop 25 off the highway and headed for Langtry, Texas. Langtry was the home of Judge Roy Bean, and his courtroom, saloon, and pool hall have been maintained by the state. Judge Bean is well-known to Texans and anyone interested in the Old West as he was a notorious judge who dispensed his own brand of justice and profited from his position. In addition to the building, there is a very interesting Cactus Museum on the grounds. I never stopped to realize there are so many different varieties.
I wrote two days ago that I was in the wide open spaces. I wrote yesterday that it was wider and opener. Today it was the widest and openest. It was 265 miles from Del Rio to the entrance to the one million acres that are Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, and there are only four towns on that route. The four towns are tiny, and only two had anything that I could see (Sanderson and Marathon). Look on your road atlas, and you’ll see a huge area in Texas with not much in the way of dots.
Outside of Langtry, the speed limit increased to 75, and so did I. There just isn’t anything to see alongside the road. I did pass an RV at one point.
I reached Sanderson, Texas at 11:30. The sign says “Cactus Capital of the Southwest.” I didn’t see any increase in the amount of cactus that had been for as far as the eye could see for 125 miles, but I mentally applauded Sanderson for “celebrating what they got” — something we have noted numerous times on the trip.
Inside the gas station, I met Gennie Merrifield and Deanna Seager, two delightful ladies. We had a nice talk about the trip, and Gennie suggested that I go see their train depot. She thought showing it in the book might help them raise money to restore it as the city was having trouble getting money. I enjoyed it and a few other things I saw due to that detour, and I hope I might help them raise some money as great old buildings like this need to be preserved!
My lunch consisted of a Goodarts Peanut Patty. Those babies are good! If you’ve never had a peanut patty, you’ve been missing a great Texas treat. A high school and college friend, Robert Taylor, used to own Goodarts, and I toured the factory a few years ago.
As I started to pull away from the gas station in Sanderson, I noticed a group of young college-age-looking folks. I asked which way they were headed, and they said Big Bend. I walked over and met Katy, Pete, Claire, Chris, and Katie. They are all missionaries working in the McAllen area. These seemed like really fine young people, and it was so great to hear about the good they were doing. It struck me that there is a lot we can all do to help others, and it doesn’t have to be with money.
In this part of the country, there are all kinds of things that you don’t see elsewhere. For example, I drove over “Three Mile Draw,” as well as places called gulch, arroyo, bend, creek, and many others. Not many rivers, but a lot of gulches. You see windmills from time to time; these are kind of like lighthouses in that both are a sign of life. In the desert, the windmills provide the energy to pull the water out of the ground, and where there’s water, there’s usually life.
I was just doing my thing at 11:45 am. In this area, I’d go for long stretches without even seeing another car. “My thing” consisted of driving as my eyes scan 180-degrees ahead enjoying the view and looking for anything that my mind considers especially interesting at that point. I came across a car that was moving slowly on the two-lane road, so I spent pass #8 to get around them. As I drove by, I saw a long web address painted on the side of the car. I thought to myself that this was very interesting to see on a passenger car, and I wanted to know what it said. So, I pulled off the road to take a photo just so I could read the web address when they passed me. They passed, but there was no web address. Uh oh, 18 days on the road and I was beginning to hallucinate. I felt sure I saw a web address, so I spent pass #9 to go around them again. It said “floatingneutrinos.com,” and there was some other writing on the car that I couldn’t make out. Floating Neutrinos??? I wondered what in the world a Floating Neutrino was! I was anxious to get to a hotel so I could check out the web site.
I motored on, and it was several miles before I saw something that I wanted to photograph. So, off the side of the road I went and out of the car with the camera. A few minutes later, I saw the Floating Neutrinos car approach and pass. As the car drove by, I was able to see an Ernest Hemingway-looking driver, with a woman riding shotgun, and a dog in the back seat. They drove slowly past, and the woman’s arm was sticking out of the passenger side window gently waving Mardi Gras beads. They stopped 50 feet ahead of me, and I walked up to the car; and I met Poppa and Aurelia and the dog, Buckaroo. They gave me the beads as a gift. How special was this. I knew from looking into their eyes that this was going to be interesting. I can’t remember everything that was discussed as I kind of felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Buckaroo kept barking, and Aurelia told me to avoid eye contact, as the dog would not bite me unless I looked him in the eyes.
We began to talk as I tried to remember to avoid making eye contact with Buckaroo. As I recall, they were especially enthusiastic about my odyssey, but we very quickly began talking about them. I learned, among other things, that Poppa Neutrino and Aurelia (aka Captain Betsy) took a trip from New York City across the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland and then down to Spain. Many people have taken a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, but Poppa and Aurelia did it floating on a RAFT! The Floating Neutrinos. Poppa reached into the back seat of his car, and he pulled out a yellowed laminated newspaper story from the New York Times with their picture and a picture of the raft (that looked like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie). What an amazing adventure, and what stories they have to tell. I tried to remain focused, but I just kept thinking how incredible to be on my unique journey by land and to be on a highway in the middle of nowhere and bump into two incredibly interesting people who risked their lives while making an incredible journey by sea. Going to the river with Fast Freddy paled in comparison.
Poppa said he wanted to give me a song that he had written. I noticed a guitar case in the trunk. (And after Fast Freddy and the giant hedge trimmers, I’m sorry to say that the thought of there being a machine gun inside rather than a guitar did skate through my mind.) Poppa gave me a photocopy of the words and music to “Thanks to the Yanks of the USA.” He asked if I would like to hear him sing it, and I said absolutely! Poppa played the guitar and sang; Aurelia smiled; Buckaroo barked; and I thought how sweet and what a truly unique experience…while I scrambled to get a photo of this as no one would ever believe it. otherwise.
When the serenade ended, I had to ask Poppa his views of the Iraq War. I anticipated that Poppa and Aurelia would be anti-war. His response was fascinating. Poppa and Aurelia are not “meat eaters” and would not even kill a mosquito…and though President Bush is a “hunter” and eats meat and hunts and kills, they both support the President, voted for him, and believe his actions would dramatically change the world for the better. I didn’t expect to hear that. Poppa talked about a lot of things that I didn’t fully comprehend there on the side of the road, but I was anxious to explore the web site. The back of their car has this painted on it: “Let those who know tell those who don’t know.” The front of the car has a symbol about the “seven levels” that I believe conveys their philosophy of life.
Before we parted, Poppa and Aurelia gave me a videotape of their raft trip across the ocean and a CD of great jazz music by their children, the Flying Neutrinos! The CD is excellent; I’ve played it several times, and we will continue to enjoy it. Boz and I watched the video, and it is better than many of the movies we have seen. I could have stood there for hours, but I had a long way to go and no hotel reservation, so I said goodbye. I just kept thinking about what an amazing encounter this had been. To see and learn more about Poppa, Aurelia (aka Captain Betsy), and Buckaroo, see www.floatingneutrinos.com.
15 miles further down the road, and I saw a car with a blown out tire. I put the car in U-Turn mode, and there were my five missionary friends. All they had was a little donut spare, and it was 25 miles to a town. I had learned that the three young ladies were on a year-long program that paid them $60 a month, so I felt good about giving them the money for a new tire. After I reached the next town and saw how small it was, I hoped the money was enough. I can see how they might not have been able to find a tire for 150 miles. But they are all good people, so I figure the Big Guy was watching over them and Marathon would have a tire to fit their little car.
If this book does well, perhaps I will follow it up by just returning to this stretch of road and write another. I’ll just get a couple of lawn chairs and put up a sign that says “Writing a Book — Stop to Chat.”
Marathon, Texas is a neat little place with a very impressive restored hotel, The Gage Hotel. I met Carol, Duane, Stan, and Roma out front. Roma frowned and asked where my car was from. I told her I was sorry to say it was a German car with French tires. I pledged that both will be my last!
At this point, the scenery was great. Flat land on both sides of the road with mountains surrounding me miles back from the road. When I saw a sign that said the entrance to Big Bend National Park was 72 miles, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Talk about the middle of nowhere! The scenery was wonderful. I passed a ranch entrance with nothing but three stars on the entrance gate; I figure a general must live there, or maybe someone who rates movies, hotels, or restaurants.
Most days, I would see roadside memorials. I saw one on this really remote stretch of road, so I hooked a U. It said Aguilar. There were flowers and beer bottles and money and a stuffed animal and more. I had no gift to add, but I took a photo.
At 2:30, I reached the entrance to Big Bend National Park. I was greeted by Ranger Rob. He looked like an actor — tall, tan, big smile, enthusiastic greeting. I told him that I was thoroughly enjoying Big Bend…that the scenery was fabulous. He informed me that I was just entering Big Bend and that all the really good stuff was inside. Was he ever right!
I later met four funny Big Bend ranger-like folks at one of the few visitor’s centers in the park. Katrina, Ranger Don, Casey, and Anita. As I approached the Ranger desk in the Big Bend Welcome Center, they all looked at me and said, “How was Mardi Gras.” I responded that I had been to New Orleans but not for Mardi Gras. They then asked where I got my beads. That was the first time I realized that I was wearing the beads that Aurelia gave to me on the side of the road. With my hands full with my camera and tape recorder, Aurelia probably just put them over my head. At the time, I did not appreciate what a huge factor the beads would prove to be on the rest of the trip.
I wore my green, purple, and white beads every day on the road since I met the Floating Neutrinos. The Floating Neutrinos have to be really lucky to have survived their float across the ocean on a raft, so I considered the beads a good luck charm. The beads added a whole new dimension to the trip. Women would smile, and many men would look at me with a “can you believe that ‘weirdo’ look.” Kids would stare. I met far more people with the beads. I felt I needed a gift for people I met, though I will say that most of the people I met seemed surprisingly excited about having their name in the book. While the business card and a little fame may be gift enough, I ordered a case of beads. I am very conservative, so the beads were a walk on the wild side.
Photographs simply cannot do justice to Big Bend. The views are 360-degrees. I’d get out of the car to take a picture of a beautiful sight, and as I turned to get back in the car, I’d be knocked over by something equally beautiful. It was an “oh ****” day. I don’t cuss much, but when I topped a hill to see one breathtaking sight after another, I realized I was saying “oh ****” out loud again and again. I drove for hundreds of miles in Big Bend. I had not yet been to a place that I had found to have scenery as spectacular as Big Bend. Since volcanic activity was responsible for much of the landscape, the diversity was what really got my attention. You could look in four directions and see four totally different types of terrain. I think Big Bend is probably the best kept secret in the United States.
I drove to Study Butte and Terlingua but I didn’t see a motel that appealed to me, so I drove on to Lajitas. Lajitas, I later learned, is being developed as a “resort town.” I stopped at the first place that appeared to be a resort hotel, the Badlands. There was one room left. I was relieved to know I would have a room for the night, and it was 4:45, and I had just three hours of time to see more of Big Bend, so I took the room even though I was shocked to hear $195 for a room in this dusty middle of nowhere spot.
I did meet a very nice young lady while waiting for service at the Badlands. (And you can wait a looong time for service there.) Britton is a nurse/pilot, and she introduced me to her husband, Dr. Dan. Britton told me a number of places to go, and Dan said the area was filled with great characters. He said they are like rattlesnakes; you may not see them, but they are out there. Britton told me a great story about a man who moved to Lajitas from Chicago. When he moved to town, someone asked his name, and he said “Jake.” They said “Jake what?” and he replied “Just Jake.” He died after 20 years or so there, and when they buried him, no one knew his name, so the gravestone says “Just Jake.”
I asked everyone I came in contact with where was the best place to see the sunset. I was surprised that no one had a particular spot. Most said to just walk outside.
I raced back to Big Bend and took the drive down to the very end of the park at the border of Mexico. Just fantastic. When I got to the end of the road, the wind was really blowing. When I began hiking down to the canyon and river, I was in the middle of a sand dune when my eyes became absolutely filled with sand. My left eye was badly scratched, and tears were streaming down my cheek, but the sun was starting to set, so I pushed on.
On the climb up the side of the mountain, I met Ruben (a former missionary) and Karen (his Harvard-educated attorney wife) as my prized one-of-a-kind Round America cap blew off and disappeared down the side of the mountain. That made me unhappy, but the sun was starting to set, so I pushed on.
A little further up the mountain and I met Mary Lee, the coach of the Tulane University tennis team, and her husband, Brian. Very nice folks, and I had a chance to chat with them for a while after I came back down the mountain.
I got some photos, but the wind was blowing so hard that it was impossible to hold the camera still. There wasn’t as much water at that spot as I had pictured in my mind’s eye. Had I known that and that there would be a gale-force wind in the middle of a sand dune, I wouldn’t have gone. But ya pay your money and ya take your chances. Sometimes ya win, sometimes ya lose, and sometimes ya get rained out.
When I returned to my car, my cap was under the windshield wiper. I know Ruben was my good samaritan! It was so refreshing to meet so many nice, kind people.
I spent the next hour chasing the sun. I couldn’t believe that none of the people I had asked about the best place to see a sunset had suggested that I go to Big Bend and drive from point to point to see 50 different sunsets. I cannot envision a better place to see the sunset than Big Bend, due to the ever-changing terrain. The beauty of sunsets is the combination of the color in the sky and what it is framed against on the ground. Big Bend just can’t be topped in the sunset department! The wind continued to blow hard, and I was disappointed to later see that many of my photos were too blurry to use from the wind making it impossible to hold the camera still. But I thoroughly enjoyed the sights I was able to see with my right eye! My last sunset of the day was at 8:36.
Big Bend is humongous. Over one million acres! It was at least an hour’s drive out of Big Bend and back to Terlingua where I had my heart set on a big bowl of chili. I began to panic as I was running low on gas; I wasn’t sure I could make it out, but there were no options.
I made it. I met Jeannie from Arkansas and Steve from Austin as I stopped at the Study Butte Mall for gas and several soda pops. I should have asked whether they had anything for my eye!
Terlingua is the home to the mother of all chili cookoffs. I went to the Starlight Theare Bar and Restaurant. The chili was good, and the Dos Equis beer was too, though I drank about five glasses of water since I failed to do as I knew I should and had no water heading into Big Bend and no place to stop to get any). I tried Dessert Nachos — nacho chips covered with dessert sauce and a big scoop of ice cream in the middle. Different, but I bet the homemade cobbler would have been better.
Yvette was my bartender/waitress, and she was one of the best yet. She told me several places to go for great sights, and she has the vision! She educated me to the beauty of both the sunrise and moonrise in Big Bend, and said, “You know, the great thing about Big Bend is that you can see so many different views as the sun and moon look different depending on where you are at on the ground.” She knew what I had just learned and that so many others apparently never stopped for a minute to consider. Yvette told me exactly where to go the next morning to see a great sunrise near Lajitas.
At the Starlight Theatre, I sat next to two couples. The first couple didn’t say boo, and the man overtly turned his back to me when I was exchanging stories with Yvette as if to say, “get out of my life buddy.” Perhaps he was anti-bead. The second couple was delightful. Cindy and James are “unconventional lapidarists.” I learned this means they create unusual cuts of various rocks and gemstones. Nice people, and we had a great time talking. They enjoyed a chance meeting that day with a world-renowned lapidarist, and they were overjoyed that he invited them to join him on a dig at a ranch near Terlingua that is known to have incredible gemstones. This was to them like finding and seeing the Perky Bat Tower, meeting Fast Freddy and going to the river, bumping into the Floating Neutrinos, or happening upon Harry and the Natives is to me. Cindy and James gave me a beautiful polished gemstone to have made into a ring for Bozzie Jane. It was an imported stone, not something they found on the side of the road. I again wished I had a gift other than my business card and camera lens, but I arranged with Yvette to pay for their margaritas without them knowing.
I finally pulled into the parking lot in Lajitas around midnight. Man it was dark. When I say black, I mean black. When I managed to stumble up the stairs to the front desk at the Badlands to get my key, I learned that the electricity, water, and phones were all off. It took four people with zero personality forever to figure out what room I was in, etc., as I stood there with my eye hurting much worse than it had at the Starlight. I was escorted to my room by flashlight.
The hotel was cheaply built. For $195 a night, I expected top quality, but the room had hollow-core doors with dents and veneer peeling off. The shower was a prefab tub/shower like you would find in a very inexpensive apartment. The chairs were poorly made western-looking reproductions that felt like they would break as I sat down. There was no AC, no water, and no phone service, but this place probably would have seemed worse if there had been power. The lobby was nice — always a good trick. The window was caulked shut, so it was hotter and stuffier than necessary. I could go on. I cried out of my left eye and tried to sleep. I couldn’t set an alarm since we lost our battery-operated model, but I hoped I would eventually fall asleep and hoped I might somehow awaken before sunrise so I could go see what Yvette had promised — a fabulous sunrise.
Day 18 was PHENOMENAL! Best day yet for me; I regret that Boz was in Atlanta and missed it. It’s interesting that I can consider it the best though I had three significant problems and one big travel disappointment: (1) I found the BADlands Hotel to be BAD and the top nominee for worst use of money on the trip. (2) There was neither electricity, nor water, nor telephone service at the BADlands Hotel. (3) I seriously injured my left eye. (4) It was an overcast day (only thing worse is rain when you are going to see beautiful natural sights).
The lesson for the day. Man, that’s a tough one as there are so many options. I guess the lesson is that an awful lot can go wrong, but we can make the best of every situation if we focus on the good.
Here are all the photos from Day 18 of the Round America 50-State Trip:
Round America travels along the border between Mexico and Texas — McAllen, Texas to Del Rio, Texas. Bill Windsor bumped into an old friend in a town with a population of 2, and a visit to a casino was a sobering experience.
It was a dusty day in South Texas. I don’t know if it’s always like this, but the day began and ended ugly. The sun never cut through the dust.
I asked the two Fernandos at the front desk of the hotel what was unique about Laredo, and they both felt it was the significant number of vendors of Mexican products. We also spoke about the huge flag that Laredo has — so tall that it has an airplane warning light on top. According to the Fernandos, the folks just across the border in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico put up a huge flag, so Laredo, Texas had to follow suit.
I hit the road at 8:00 am as I tried to get up and out earlier each day. I drove to the border to get a photo of the Mexican flag, but it appeared that the flaghangers had not shown up for work yet.
All traffic was stopped at a Border Patrol Station a few miles outside of town. The Border Patrol has a high profile along the border, but according to the officers I spoke with in Roma yesterday, there are a lot of places where it is easy for people to cross illegally. Our borders with Mexico and Canada are immense, but I’d sure like to see the government significantly increase the size of the Border Patrol staff and budget so we will be more secure.
Once I made it through the line of cars at the Border Patrol Station, I saw a building on the horizon that looked like a Sadam Hussein palace. When I got closer, I realized it was a Texas Travel Center operated by the Texas Department of Highways. Incredible place — fabulous building, fountains, park — really something. Inside, Naomi and Ophelia were great fun, and they had brochures for anything and everything all across the state. I loaded up about a 10 pound bag. These travel centers and welcome stations are a great resource for roadtrippers.
I commented yesterday that the area between Roma and Laredo was really the wide open spaces. Well, today I saw wider and opener. There was very little to see other than flat ranchland for most of the day on the road. Even little towns are rare in this part of the state. Pull out your Rand McNally, and you’ll see.
I did pass twice today — same truck. I passed because the truck was spewing gravel all over me. Then the truck passed me during on a photo stop, so I had to pass it again. That’s six passes in 17 days. It was so nice to be out of the mode where I’ve always tried to get somewhere as fast as possible.
When I reached the tiny town of Catarina, Texas (population 45), I saw a Shrine to the Virgin Mary at St. Henry’s Catholic Church, so I stopped to take a photo. It wasn’t on a Camaro, but it was nice.
I did another doubletake in Carrizo Springs, Texas. I spotted a car wash, but it was closed. On the side of the building was a hand-painted American flag. I only counted 34 stars. I guessed it must be a really old car wash.
It took me a little less than two hours to get to Crystal City Texas, the spinach capital of the world. I drove up and down several streets looking for the world’s largest Popeye statue, but I couldn’t find it. I saw two nice ladies in a doorway of a law office, and I stopped to meet Carol and Leticia. They showed me right where to go. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the annual Spinach Festival is such a big deal in the town that it has a big storefront office right on the main street. I drove to the City Hall, and there was Popeye — a gift to the city in 1937, so they’ve been doing spinach for a long time in Crystal City.
As I drove from Crystal City to Eagle Pass, there wasn’t anything to see, so it was a big attraction whenever I saw the entrance gates to a ranch. There are some palatial ranches in Texas, but I didn’t see any palatial gates in this part of the state. What I did see, however, was a great variety. The theory I developed as I drove along with nothing else to do is that most folks consciously or subconsciously reflect their personalities in their gates. Some had names; others had artwork of animals; and some had nothing but the gate. I wonder if any sociologists have studied this. I hadn’t seen any funky mailboxes since leaving Florida.
My day changed when I reached Eagle Pass, Texas just before noon. I’m sure my thoughts were affected by the dust cloud that was masquerading as the sky. I drove right to the border (as the border is always the best-signed area in any border town). It was a humbling experience. I was embarrassed to have my little white car there as it felt showy. I saw people digging through 8-foot high piles of old clothes. I saw an open-air “shop” where shoes were being sold for 10 cents a pair. It was very, very sad to see so many poor people.
I couldn’t have felt lower, but I really wanted to see the only casino in Texas — on the Kickapoo Indian Reservation. There were a few billboards around town, but none of them showed an address. I stopped at three gas stations for directions and never found the place. I finally flagged down a UPS driver, and I finally felt like I was headed in the right direction. I guess I should have realized that if the casino was on an Indian reservation, it wouldn’t be in the heart of town. I finally found a little sign with an arrow pointing to the right, so I turned off. It was way, way, way outside town. The dust was much thicker there as most of the roads were dirt or stones. I drove for several more miles through the Indian reservation, and I finally pulled into the parking lot.
I had been expecting some glamour and glitter, but I didn’t find it. There were very few cars in the lot. The building didn’t look like a casino at all. There was a big sign showing plans for several phases of construction, but I heard later that the Indians ran out of money. I also heard the Kickapoos had lost control of the casino to Mexicans…not sure what that’s all about. I couldn’t imagine many people driving through those dirt and rock roads to get to the Lucky Eagle Casino, and it seems like they don’t. Inside, there were several rows of slots, one operating blackjack table, an area that was apparently used for bingo, and a small bowling alley-like snack bar in one corner. Gaspar and the others I spoke with were very nice, but I was just sorry for the Kickapoos. I had planned to go in and plunk down my $100 bill on red, but there was no roulette wheel. I gave about two seconds thought to putting it on one hand of blackjack, but it wasn’t the right place or time; I’d have been sick if I had won. I felt like just giving them all the money I had in my pocket. I pumped $10 into a slot machine, and I was relieved when I lost the money, as I wanted to leave so I could be sad in private.
My next stop would be Alamo Village north of Brackettville, Texas. Population 2. More wider and opener. At 2:46 pm with 32,439 miles on the odometer, I spotted a big hill or a tiny mountain — first real rise in the landscape that I’ve seen since we left Atlanta — 4,403 miles ago. I stopped and took a picture. Alamo Village and the Shahan Ranch are what you would call remote — 7 miles north of the little town of Brackettville and then several miles down a dirt and/or rocky road to the movie location town. It was built in 1951, and the first movie filmed there was “Arrowhead” starring Charlton Heston. Over 100 movies have filmed there since. It is best known as the site for “The Alamo” starring John Wayne. I took a few photos at the Alamo area and then worked my way over to the western and Mexican town areas. I would have normally taken a lot of photos at a great location such as this, but my attitude was in the dumper after Eagle Pass and the Kickapoos, and the air was so thick with dust that photos wouldn’t be very good.
As I walked down the main street looking at the simple (but very appealing to me) old western and Mexican architecture, I saw the town Marshal heading in my direction. He was 50 yards away, but he looked familiar. As he came closer, I thought for sure I knew him. As my greeting, I blurted out: “What’s your name?” He replied: “Rich Curilla…and your hair is a different color and you aren’t as thin as you were 20 years ago, but I thought I recognized those eyes.” Boz and I had speculated about whether we would run into anyone we knew unexpectedly on the trip. Well, here I was in the middle of a western town movie set shaking hands with a man who worked for me 20 years ago who I hadn’t seen or heard from since. What a treat! Rich is a very talented actor and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. When he left our employ, he moved to the Brackettville area, and he’s been working at Alamo Village “forever.”
We traded a few war stories, and then he took me to meet Mrs. Virginia Shahan, the boss lady at Alamo Village and the Shahan Ranch. She has the place for sale. $6.5 million, and it can be yours. I told her I wasn’t in the market. We owned a ranch and western town 20 years ago when Rich worked for us. I think one western town should be the quota for everyone. It was really nice to meet her. Then Rich told me that Ron Howard was doing a new version of “The Alamo.” I was sorry to hear Opie chose a location near Austin rather than “Alamo Village.” I’m sure I’m not nearly as sorry as Virginia. I traded email addresses with Rich, and I hit the dirt and headed for Del Rio.
I drove straight to the border so I could add to my collection of border crossing photos. Del Rio, Texas connects to Ciudad Acuna. I also visited the Whitehead Museum, a small frontier village with 20 exhibits.
Alpine was scheduled to be my stop for the night, but I just wasn’t up for the drive, so I landed at the Del Rio Ramada Inn. There are very few towns in this part of the state with a motel, and the pickings are slim even in a good-sized town like Del Rio. Tommy Zapata was very nice at the front desk, and he recommended the best Mexican restaurant in town. I also met Maricela at the front desk — beautiful name that I had never heard before.
I skipped lunch today — lost my appetite at the Lucky Eagle. Dinner at Don Marcelinos was excellent. Rosita’s on Day 16 is still the best Mexican food on the trip, but this was mighty good. After dinner, I dropped quarters in the slot at a hand spray car wash and did my best to blast away the massive amount of dust and dirt that had built up since the last car wash just a few days ago. After the gigantic boulder cobblestone street in Savannah on Day 1, the trip to the river with Fast Freddy on Day 16, and then the Indian reservation and Alamo Village today, I was seeing a front end alignment in the not too distant future. I planned to have the car checked when I got to a city that was big enough to have a dealership for our flavor of car. On the way back to the motel, I visited a Hawaiian Shaved Ice (aka snow cone) stand. I tried another mango snow cone. I wanted to see how it compared to the one I had yesterday at Freddy’s Fast Lube and Snow Cone Stand. Not even in the same league! Freddy has something really special.
As the day ended, I reflected on how it humbled me to see those significantly less fortunate. I want the poor and the Indians to have a better life! As sad as it was, I believe seeing what I saw today would be humbling and beneficial to others. I’d love to see the President and his Cabinet go to Eagle Pass and the Kickapoo Indian Reservation for a meeting. Then Congress could come down and do the same. They should “look at the world in a different way” after seeing what I saw today.
It’s been two days with no pie. I’m going to be sure to eat some pie tomorrow…I wonder what the specialty is in the Big Bend area!
I don’t have a motel reservation, and I will be way out in the B-O-O-N-D-O-C-K-S, so tomorrow night should be interesting. Could be the first night sleeping in a little white motel (the car).
Here are all the photos from Day 17 of the Round America 50-State Trip:
Round America travels along the Texas-Mexico border between McAllen and Laredo, Texas. The highlight of the day was a chance encounter at Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand and a special visit to the Rio Grande River.
What an enjoyable day! I met some great people. I visited Havana, Rome, and Mexico. I almost rode on a ferry. I ate Mexican food only, and I ate at places where they only spoke Spanish. I visited the birthplace of the greatest pro football coach ever. I had my first snow cone as an adult. I enjoyed a lovely war memorial and several patriotic displays. I saw the world’s largest killer bee, a baboon, an orange car on a statue in the middle of a field, and the world’s only drive-thru store built as a giant six pack of Pepsi Cola. I saw the Rio Grande River from several vantage points. I saw great, old architecture and spent much of the day on a movie set — part of the time literally and part of the time figuratively. I enjoyed a number of beautiful sunsets as I raced west (at the speed limit).
I set a record for the most photos in a day — 154! I had never been in this area, so everything seemed to catch my eye.
I’ve already commented previously about what an incredible number of occupations and types of businesses there are in this country. As I checked out of the hotel, I met the Gideon Bible Delivery Man. Just about every hotel has a Gideon Bible in every room. I never stopped to think how they get there, but in McAllen, Texas, it’s in a maroon and silver van.
Boz and I founded a donut franchise in 2001. We sold our interest in the business, and the transaction closed yesterday. To celebrate, I drove from McAllen, Texas to Pharr, Texas and spotted “The Great Donut” and dropped in for breakfast. It was a Mexican donut shop and bakery, and the young woman who helped me did not speak any English. I didn’t recognize most of the pastries, but true to one of the Rules of the Road, I tried something new. 3 donuts for 80 cents was quite a bargain, and they were GREAT! Best donuts so far without question.
Smitty’s Jukebox Museum in Pharr was my first stop. After getting lost a few times, I found it, and Smitty, Jr. welcomed me and gave me a tour. Smitty’s features a really impressive assortment of antique jukeboxes, and Smitty could not have been nicer. Since I have a huge collection of 45 rpm records, I am into old jukeboxes. I have never seen anything like several that I saw there. Smitty seemed pleased that I took his photo, and his sidekick wanted to be sure I knew how to spell his name for the book — “D-O-U-G.” He was wearing a ball cap with the name “Doug” on the front of it. They gave me directions to Hidalgo, and D-O-U-G told me to be sure to see the new ice hockey rink being built there. Nice, nice guys — a great way to start the day. (Just kidding you, Doug!)
I drove to Hidalgo, Texas primarily to see the world’s largest killer bee. The statue was created because Hidalgo was the city where the Africanized “Killer Bees” were first discovered in the US. The statue is 10 feet high and 20 feet long, and as statues go, this is a nice one. According to D-O-U-G, the hockey team that would play in the new arena has been named the “Killer Bees.”
I also visited the Hidalgo Pump House. The pump house was built in 1909 and was fueled by mesquite wood (the same wood that is used to smoke the very best barbeque). The pumps provided all of the irrigation water used in the Rio Grande Valley for many years. It’s a big place, and it was great to see that it has been maintained and/or restored by the city. I was sorry to see that I was the only visitor. Mary sold me a ticket for $2 and offered to give me a personal tour.
I wanted to have some good Mexican food in this part of the country, so I began looking for a place. It took about two seconds. I’m not sure if there is any other kind of food down here. I spotted the name “Rosita’s Cafe” on the top of a building several blocks off the highway, and I went for it. The waitress did not speak English, but she understood “tacos and Coke.” I really love Mexican food, and I have high standards for my Mexican food, so this was going to be interesting. I hate to keep saying that so many things are great, but this was a real treat. The tacos were unlike anything I have ever had before, with tender cubed chunks of meat and fried onions, a pico de gallo-like mixture to add, and some hot hot sauce. The tortillas were soft and oily rather than hard and dry. While beans and rice are usually ho-hum fillers on the plate, both were fantastic. The beans were like pinto beans, and they were cooked with jalapeno peppers, onions, bacon, and some mystery stuff. They should win Best Beans!
Based upon what I have seen and heard down here, the Hispanic community is into elections big time. There are signs everywhere, people campaigning, and people talking about the local elections. At Rosita’s, the two men next to me were calling friends to get out the vote.
I have been a Dallas Cowboys fan since the early 60′s. Tom Landry was one of the finest men who ever lived, and I believe he was the greatest football coach ever. Coach Landry was born in Mission, Texas, so when I was daydreaming and missed the city (hard to do since there are several signs), I had to turn around and go back. In downtown Mission, there is an exceptionally well-done mural that depicts Coach Landry from his birth to his success as a coach over 29 years and to his admission into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The folks in Mission are apparently extremely proud of Coach Landry as car after car on a very busy street stopped to stay out of the way as I snapped photos.
When I first found Mission, I spotted some flags and pulled over to take a closer look. Mission has a big and very impressive War Memorial in a lovely park. When I got out of the car, I met Jesus Gutierrez. He showed me how to get to the Tom Landry mural. He also wanted to have his name in the book, so here’s to you Jesus. Mel, who works for the city on landscaping and park maintenance, was kind enough to open the locked gates to let me have a closer look at the various war memorials. The folks in Mission could not have been nicer!
Mission has a big citrus business. I saw big packaging operations as well as a lot of pickup trucks on the side of the road selling fruits and vegetables.
Throughout the day, I took a picture of almost all of the border crossings. Hidalgo links to Reynosa. Rio Grande City links to Camargo. Roma links to Ciudad Aleman. Los Ebanos links to nothing. And Laredo links to Nuevo Laredo. In Roma, I met two US Customs officers (Molina and Smith), an immigration man (Mr. Moreno), and three Border Patrol officers (one of whom was Officer Lopez). They were all great. Officers Molina and Smith told me where I was and was not allowed to take photos, and they allowed me to get up on a big tall ladder stand (like the band director uses to direct the band at a major college football game) so I could get photos of the Rio Grande River and into Mexico. They then explained how I could walk across the bridge and leave my car in the good old USA. Mr. Moreno helped with directions, and then came running over to the car after my trip to Mexico and back to make sure I knew where to go to see the best sights in Roma. Nice, nice people.
There was one disappointment today. I had my heart set on a ferry boat trip across the Rio Grande River to Mexico, but when I reached the ferry crossing station, it was locked up and no one was anywhere to be found. This was in the little town of Los Ebanos, Texas. Now this wasn’t just any ferry! The Los Ebanos Ferry is a relic of the frontier days. It is the last hand-drawn ferry left along the Rio Grande, and it is the only government-licensed ferry on any river in the US. The ferry holds up to three cars, and men pull ropes to move the ferry back and forth across the river. I learned that the town of Diaz Ordaz is a good four miles south of where the ferry docks in Mexico; what is at the Mexican border is a customs checkpoint with guards who are usually playing cards. The spot has been used as a crossing since the Mexican War of 1845. The Texas Rangers (law enforcement…not the baseball team) had some interesting encounters with bandits involving the ferry, and it was a favorite location for liquor smugglers during prohibition. It was fun just to be there, but I sure wanted to take the ride!
The drive to Los Ebanos and the ferry crossing spot began the part of the day when I felt like I was in a movie. I headed south a little ways past the town of “Havana” to get to Los Ebanos. The drive through narrow streets with sharp turns going to the ferry crossing was filled with little houses and barns and buildings that looked like they were right out of a movie set. And all along Highway 83, I saw one interesting building or business after another. It was really like being in Mexico, but it was the US side of the Rio Grande which is the border between Texas and Mexico for the entire 801 miles from Brownsville to El Paso. When I hit Rio Grande City Texas, I saw one picturesque old building after another. I parked and took a lot of pictures. Rio Grande City was formerly a riverboat terminal, but the riverboat business ended and a lot of the great old buildings began to decay. I saw only one that has been restored (though there may be others). The La Borde House was built in 1897 and was first a trading post where Indians and fur traders brought their goods. It was converted to a hotel in 1917, and in 1980, Larry Sheerin purchased the property and did an authentic restoration. Attaboy Larry! I saw one other restoration underway, and I stopped and met three delightful characters — “Memo,” Felipe, and Jesus. I took their photo behind some bars of a window, and they wanted to be sure I explained to everyone in the book that they are “restorers” not criminals behind bars in a jail.
I continued to see one snow cone stand after another in the small towns that I pass through. I saw an especially colorful one with an American flag straw coming out of the top, and I put the car into U-turn mode (something that usually happens 30 or 40 times a day). I pulled up to Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand in the little town of Escobares, Texas for a quick photo. A man came running up to me wanting to know what I wanted. I explained that I just wanted to take a photo of his stand. He proudly announced that they had done all the work on it themselves. He also showed me his very colorful and attractive umbrellas, and explained how they were made, but I couldn’t understand his accent or the words he used.
At this point, we shook hands and exchanged names; he was Freddy Escobar of Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand. Freddy asked if I wanted anything, and I said I’d love a Coke. He replied: “Snow Cone?” And I said, “Sure, give me a snow cone!” He asked: “Flavor?” I replied: “Grape.” He said “Mango!” I said, “Sure, mango it is.” Freddy had to explain my order to the young girl in the dark recesses of the snow cone stand who didn’t speak a word of English, and she began preparing my treat. Her power appeared to be provided by an extension cord running from the Fast Lube shop just behind. I can’t recall having had a snow cone since I was a child. It took quite a while. The window finally slid open, and out came a big styrofoam cup filled with a mango-colored mixture with a straw and a spoon. When I tell you my “snow cone” was AMAZING, please realize that I’m not exaggerating this time. It was 94 degrees and I was thirsty, but this stuff was special. The flavor was wonderful, but the consistency was what I couldn’t believe. It was much better than smoothies we get that tend to be glorified Slushees. I don’t know what was hiding in that hut, but the end result was like an ice drink with the consistency of frozen yogurt. I think Freddy should franchise; I can see Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stands all across the US. Seriously, it was really, really good, and it never melted.
Freddy grabbed two of his business cards and asked me to send him a copy of the book that will have his name in it. While I was waiting for my drink, I mentioned to Freddy that I was disappointed that the Los Ebanos Ferry was closed as I had so wanted to see the Rio Grande River. (While it is the border between the US and Mexico, the road does not run along the river, so you never see the water.) Freddy said: “I have a friend with property that has a beautiful view of the river. You should go there.” I told Freddy that I really appreciated it, and asked how I would get there. He said: “Oh, you would never find it on your own. I will lead you there.” I told Freddy that I couldn’t impose on him to drop what he was doing and take me to the river, but he insisted.
Freddy hopped in his pickup truck with a man carrying a liquor bottle in a brown bag, and off we went. I was saying to myself, Bozzie Jane would not approve of me meeting someone on the side of the road and driving off to who-knows-where with them. But hey, one of the Rules of the Road is to try new things, so there my little white convertible was trying to keep up with Fast Freddy in his pickup. I was feeling good, drinking my “snow cone,” until we came to a bumpy dirt road, and then I started to worry a bit — more about the car than my own safety. Then we came to a road that looked like a heavily rocked creek bed. My enthusiasm began to drain faster than the mango “snow cone.” I was hoping Freddy was the nice person that he appeared to be rather than a serial killer or car thief who fancied a little white convertible.
When we pulled into a nice grassy clearing with trees next to the Rio Grande River and I saw the view, it was a huge relief. What a great view! I took several photos, including one of Freddy next to a barbeque pit. Freddy says he wants to turn the spot into a park. It’s a great setting, though the access may be a hurdle. I thanked Freddy profusely, nodded to the older man with the bottle in the bag, and I pulled out to retrace the path and get down the road. What a nice thing for Freddy to do and what a special place to see! And to think that I even gave a few minutes thought to being the victim of a serial killer. How silly of me!
I stopped at the dirt part of the road and hopped out of the car to take a photo so I could prove that part of the experience. I didn’t hear a sound yet I sensed something was behind me. I turned around to see Freddy walking toward me with the biggest pair of hedge trimmers (cranked wide open) I have ever seen in my life. The vision of being killed with hedge trimmers in a remote area of Escobares, Texas and having my body thrown in to the Rio Grande River flashed before me. I jumped in the car and got out of there. As I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw Freddy lean over and trim a few low-hanging branches off some of the trees.
Freddy was a really nice man just helping me have a special experience. As much as I loved my Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand experience, it is sad that there is so much violence in our country that we have to be worried about innocent things such as this and have to wonder whether the strangers we see are good or up to no good.
Still in the movie figuratively, Roma, Texas was the next stop. I met all of the nice people mentioned above at the border crossing. I walked over to Mexico and back and got some good photos. Then Mr. Moreno showed me where to go to see the other great sight in Roma — the real, old buildings that were used as the movie set for the movie “Viva Zapata!” I parked and walked for several blocks and literally entered the movies as I took photos of one great-looking Mexican-style building after another. The buildings were marked with the names used in the movie.
I had a nice chat with Officer Lopez and two other Border Patrol officers, and they told me they stay extremely busy as many Mexicans are constantly trying (and many succeeding) in getting across the over 800 miles of border. They showed me an aerial lift they have with a night scope on it so they can catch folks at night. I asked how 9/11 has affected their job, and they reported that they have gone through a lot of additional training. I thanked them for the increasingly important job they are playing in our nation’s defense.
After the trip ends, Boz and I planned to rent Viva Zapata! and the other special movies that were made in the cities we will have visited.
I drove through Falcon, home of an International Falcon Reserve, but I saw no falcons. The sun was going down at this point. I’m really disappointed when that begins to happen as the sightseeing is so much fun, and for a few hours before sunset, the photo opportunities are reduced to the side of the road facing the sun.
The stretch of highway between Roma and Laredo really is the wide open spaces. Little more than land with ranch entrances many miles apart.
I began taking sunset photos in Siesta Shores, Texas. Because this area is so flat and there aren’t many trees to obscure the horizon, it is a great area for sunsets! A car pulled over to talk, and I met Mike Reynolds. We chatted about travel, his recent trip to Monterey Mexico, his work, the trip, and the book. I asked if he ever tired of seeing these amazing sunsets. He looked west and said he had lived there his whole life, and he never really noticed.
I reached Zapata, Texas just as the sun was setting. The movie “Viva Zapata!” was not filmed in Zapata, but back in Roma. Zapata does have a claim to fame, however. It is an “underwater town.” Rather it was. A number of years ago, the reservoir flooded the entire area, and the town was submerged. On the way into and out of Zapata, I got some excellent sunset photos.
When I passed through the tiny town of Chihuahua, I thought about looking for a place to get some Mexican food for dinner. But you’ve probably heard those same stories I have about the Mexican food in Mexico, and I decided not to tempt fate by eating in a town named after a breed of dog.
Judging by the lights on the horizon, Laredo, Texas is a pretty big city. Nuevo Laredo is across the bridge. Laredo has some of the oldest ranchlands in the country, and it is the nation’s largest inland port. It also has the world’s only drive-thru beverage store housed in a building built to look like a six-pack of Pepsi Cola. I drove through and met the manager, Jerry Tovar.
I can say categorically that the folks I have met along the border have been the friendliest, most helpful, most interested people. Everyone has been interested in the trip and the book, and lots and lots of people would honk and wave when I was just standing on corners or the sides of the roads taking photos. The folks who live in smaller towns take greater pleasure in things that us big-city-folks would never notice.
The temperature reached 94 degrees today — 10 degrees hotter than the previous high on the trip. It was 88 degrees when I pulled into Laredo at 8:30 pm.
Every “sunset” is different, and everyone sees the same sunsets differently, and this is good. Wherever you may be, your view of the sunset is going to be slightly different from the next person’s. We’ve lived in a lot of places and we’ve traveled a lot, so we’ve seen a lot of “sunsets.” I believe the perspective provided by living in and traveling to various places is really good for people. And I believe very strongly that from time to time, we should all stop and look at the world in a different way. That was one of the main lessons that I took from one of our favorite movies, “Dead Poets Society.” Robin Williams plays a teacher, and to help convey this message to his young students, he gets them to come up one by one and stand on top of his desk at the front of the room. From that vantage point, they realized that they really did see things differently; this lesson was then applied to life and learning. I’ve adopted this as a personal philosophy and have taught it as part of business training that I’ve done ever since I saw that movie. I have physically had fellow workers stand on a desk when they couldn’t see the answer to a problem or when I felt they could use a new perspective. We set out on this trip for a variety of reasons, but one reason was to relax and clear our heads. This absolutely happened. Without being conscious of it, perhaps the main reason we took the trip was to stop and look at the world in a different way. But like my new friend Mike, we haven’t paid any real attention to sunsets. This trip has certainly changed that, and I am confident that it will recharge our batteries in many ways.
The tape recorder has become an essential tool on the trip. I dropped the recorder today, and it will no longer record, so I will buy tape recorder #3 tomorrow. We’ve lost a travel alarm clock and one camera lens cap so far. I may throw the two broken tape recorders into a box with the 100+ bottles of hotel shampoo that we will sell on eBay at the end of the trip.
I have passed a grand total of just four cars thus far while driving on the two-lane roads.
Here are all the photos from Day 16 of the Round America 50-State Trip: