Saturday, December 24, 2011


Pontotoc, Texas

Once I passed the turnoff to 281, just south of Marble Falls, I had officially gone as far west from Austin as I had ever gone, in the 10 years I've lived in Texas. Things were feeling unchartered. Well, they were plenty chartered, thanks to Google Maps and road signs, but the sense of adventure kicked in anyway. It was good to be alone, good to be on the road, good to be heading away from the familiar. The hills melted away into plains. Highway 71 stretched ever on.

I gassed up in Llano and checked my tire, which had been leaking air for months but seemed to be holding steady. Bought some bottled water and Pringles. I only ever eat Pringles on road trips. That morning I'd printed out sections of the trip from Austin to Santa Fe - 5 pages, 5 legs. It was 9 hours or so to Roswell, and I was worried that I would get tired before then, or bored, or restless, but none of those things happened. The more I drove the happier I felt.

In Pontotoc the earth was sandy and soft. I stopped at the Historic marker and took a picture of the abandoned school, and a stretch of the town. The whole town looked deserted and sad. There were signs posted saying "Stop the Mine" on a couple of ranch fences. I tried listening to my own music but my speakers were no match for the pavement, so I gave up and turned to the radio. Country Western and Golden Oldies would carry me through to New Mexico.

Eden marked the end of my first leg, and soon after I was driving past San Angelo -- a much bigger town than I expected, although I saw very little of it since I stayed on the loop. It was after that I first saw the wind farms. I wanted to stop and take a picture, but I don't think I could have captured it adequately on film anyway. The more I drove, the more these giant white towers seemed to appear on hillsides and ridges. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Silent and huge, blindingly white, and turning so methodically. I wondered what the locals thought of this disruption to their landscape. I wondered if they at least profited from it. They were everywhere. Whenever I thought maybe I'd left them behind, more would appear in the distance.

Gassed up again in Big Spring, at the intersection of US 20, which cuts across the state from Odessa to Shreveport. This is Bush territory. Ranches and oil drills, everywhere you look. The sun was slowly going down. Cattle slowly gave way to crops. It took me a while to figure out what "gin" meant, and what the puffs of white by the side of the road represented. Was this leftover snow on the ground? No, cotton. Flocks of birds swooped, descended, and rose again from the cotton fields. Geese in v-formations flew overhead. I was headed towards Brownfield, so named, presumably, for the brown fields of cotton surrounding it. This must have been cotton country for a long time.

I watched the sun with anxiety, because I thought I'd left my glasses at home (turns out I had them the whole time). I can drive at night without them, in a pinch, but I prefer not to, especially in unfamiliar territory.

Goodbye, sun
I pushed on in the dark. Someone had told me that the stars would be amazing when I got to the Texas/New Mexico border. There wasn't a moon and I kept looking for starlight, but it wasn't as spectacular as I had hoped. I had 100 miles to go in the dark, before stopping in Roswell.

It's true what they say about Texas being a very very big state. I gave a silent cheer when I crossed over the border. It was one lane from here all the way to town, and despite occasionally passing, and being passed, I had the road nearly to myself. About 10 miles outside of town I called Charles and had him book me a room at the La Quinta.

Roswell was bigger than I expected as well. It's home to the New Mexico Military Institute, which may partly account for its size. I don't know. Maybe it's the aliens. The McDonalds is shaped like a UFO, the Wendy's sign says "Aliens Welcome!" But I imagine all this alien crap gets a little old for the people who actually have to live here. I got out of the car after 500 miles and 9 hours of driving feeling a little wobbly but mostly alright. Foursquare and Yelp directed me to Big D's Downtown Dive, where I ate an enormous green chile cheeseburger. I headed back to the hotel, flipped aimlessly through the channels for an hour or so, and fell happily asleep, eager to see what New Mexico looked like in the morning.