When I get near the interstate south of Saragosa, on my way to Fort Davis, I come across two ancient Model A Fords driving along the road. Actually, only one is on the road and the other is on a trailer, being pulled by a Suburban. Theyíve got Colorado plates, and theyíre in mint condition. I saw the two cars parked along the road into Carlsbad Caverns yesterday, but I didnít have the time to check them out. Now I get a good up-close on-the-road view at speed. I think itís really wild that these folks take their antique cars on the road like this.
Past Toyahvale the road turns mountainous, and the straight aways give way to curves. The Barrilla and Davis Mountains clash together with their rough, weathered peaks. As I pass Casket Mountain I see a tarantula crossing the road. Wait a second. A TARANTULA! I turn around to check it out and watch it crawl into the grass along the side of the road. Apparently they are quite common around here, and in the spring the road is covered with tarantulas out looking for mates. Iíll have to keep an eye out for these guys when I camp tonight in Big Bend National Park.
My first stop of the day is the town of Fort Davis. I take a break at the Fort Davis "Drug Store" and Old Texas Inn, an old-time soda fountain, for lunch. Hook me up with a nourishing burger, fries and a shake. I just love this heath food stuff.
Besides the nutritious food, Fort Davis is also the home of the Fort Davis National Historic Site. The well preserved fort was active from 1854 to 1891 and served as an outpost to the southwestern frontier, protecting travelers and merchants from Comanches and Apaches along the San Antonio-El Paso Road. Fort Davis was also one of the first posts in the west where soldiers of African descent served. From 1967 to 1885 black troops patrolled the southwest and fought in the Indian Wars of the late 19th century. The Comanches and Apaches called them "Buffalo Soldiers" out of respect. The fort was also the station of Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African-American graduate of West Point, who served as Acting Commissary of Subsistence. However, in a cloud of prejudicial overtones, Flipper was accused of embezzling government funds and brought in front of a court martial. He was found innocent of the charges but guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer. For 94 years, Flipper and his descendants fought to clear his name. Finally, in 1976, the Army reviewed the case and changed his discharge to honorable.
I head down to the dusty hamlet of Marfa and walk around town a bit, looking at the old buildings and the impressive county courthouse. But what I should have done is checked out the Chinati Foundation, Donald Judd's major opus. (I didnít know about it until the next day, when my friends, both John Allee and Kip Williams, told me about it.) No matter how much planning I managed to do before I left, my plan canít be perfect. Iíve been riding by things Iíd like to see without knowing it along my entire route.
The end of the road is Presidio, a former Spanish mission village, now just a small border town along the Rio Grande. Writer James Michener called Presidio his "favorite place in all Texas." I turn east along the river and start across El Camino del Rio, a spectacular road. After a few miles of open range, the route turns into a roller coaster that lasts for 50 miles. Exceptional views greet me at the summit of Santana Mesa, and then the road turns down, ascending at a 15-percent grade for five miles. When I reach Lajitas, an 1915 Army post established to protect settlers from Pancho Villa, I count the vehicles Iíve passed. One pickup, one truck, three motorcycles, and one Border Patrol car. Thereís just nobody out here.
The gas station at Study Butte provides a fuel stop, although I filled up only 130 miles ago in Marfa. But I donít know how far the next station will be as I enter the most remote part of Texas. The sun is sinking, starting to glow along the horizon, as I ride into Big Bend National Park. The beautiful light illuminates the Chisos Mountains before me as I make my turn at Maverick Junction. Roadrunners sprint across the desert road near the entrance station, which is closed at this late hour. Iím heading towards the Basin, a campground buried within the mountains at 5,401 feet. As I cross the Green Gulch, I see another tarantula, and then four black bears, far off on a hillside, climbing towards the peak in the setting sunlight.
I set up camp in a mad dash, trying to beat the fading light. The campgrounds are about half full. The sites are very nice, each including a covered picnic table and a bear-proof food locker. The sun sets through The Window, a cutout in the mountains, at 7:15. I break out my dinner: an apple, some carrots, and a couple of candy bars. By 8 oíclock the stars are out in full force. The glow of my laptop fills in the absence of a fire. At 11, a full moon rises and I retire to my tent.
ON THE ROAD:
Truck drivers are pulling over to let me pass.
As Iím riding along two lane roads in western Texas, truck drivers are pulling onto the shoulder to let me by, without me even having to think about it. They just do it like itís a normal thing, like itís expected. They pull over even when there isnít any traffic coming in the opposite direction. Can you imagine a driver in New York State doing the same thing? NO WAY!
Like the sign said when I drove into this state, "Drive Friendly, The Texas Way." Man, they werenít kidding!
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