My drive across Texas begins in Arlington on Sunday morning under a cloudless blue sky. It is 82 degrees. Before leaving the city I stop to take one more photo of the new stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play football. It did not turn out as well as I had hoped, just like the dozens of others I took the day before, but then I never claimed to be an expert photographer.
West of Ft. Worth the road hugs the rolling landscape and sunflowers bloom in the ditches. A south wind blows so hard the prairie grass is bent horizontal. Out here there are people of means who have acreage so they can keep horses and ride them or breed them or whatever it is people do with horses besides feed them. Horse people are different and they are common in this part of Texas.
Near Abilene the landscape takes on a noticeable change. The soil and the rock have turned the color of a clay flower pot. The horizon is broad. There are hills and mesas. Oak trees, so common a few miles back, have all but disappeared. In their place are smaller trees with thin, silvery leaves. I don’t know what they are, but I don’t claim to be an expert on Texas horticulture. Prickly pear cactus has started to appear. So do sprawling wind farms and a few bobbing oil pumps. I drive on, past the rocky, snake-infested hills of Sweetwater, where they boast of having the worlds largest rattlesnake round up. That just sounds nasty.
A few miles past Sweetwater the land goes flat and treeless. There are farms here, but nothing grows in the fields. This strikes me as odd for the middle of June, but I don’t claim to be an expert on Texas agriculture. What does sprout from the fields are the wind machines with their gigantic blades, hundreds of them all spinning in rhythm. It occurred to me that maybe the fields are bare because these things pay the farmer’s bills now, but I don’t claim to be an expert on renewable energy. I drive on.
By the time I reach Big Spring the farms are gone, replaced by low hills covered with rock, scrub brush and cedars. The rock is layered. At one time it was the ocean floor. I always find this hard to get my head around. Past Midland the temperature is 102. The wind machines have been replaced by oil pumps. The horizon spreads for fifty miles in every direction. The sky is bright, the land is bleak and hostile. There are still no trees. For scenery there are oil pumps, transmission towers, telephone poles and what has to be the toughest and least attractive vegetation on planet Earth. The wind is still howling and for the first time I see blowing dust. I drive on.
West of Odessa the road drops down from a plateau and the horizon expands exponentially. I think I can literally see 100 miles. Thunderheads are building in the west. I hope for some relief from the sun. The temperature outside is 108. My feet are hot in my shoes. Near Monahans I see sand dunes. A sign warns me to watch for sand on the road. What’s next, camels? The speed limit here is 80 mph. I have never seen that before. I drive on.
At Pecos the sun slips behind a cloud just as the car thermometer hits 110. I can’t seem to drink enough water. Ten minutes later it is raining and the temperature is 91. Blessed relief. It doesn’t last long. The miles tick by. Time passes at a crawl. I question my judgment for making this drive in the first place. But I drive on.
On the far horizon, barely visible through the haze and smoke from the forest fires in Arizona, I see the mountains. The end is in sight. The landscape seems less hostile now. Scrub brush and bare rock are replaced by yucca cactus and a golden grass that would be about knee-high to a grown man. Cypress dots the hills. The road begins to rise and fall with the changing elevation. Plopped here and there are extinct volcanoes, millions of years old. They are not very tall as volcanoes go, however, I don’t claim to be an expert on geology. I drive on.
Finally, mercifully it is over. Six hundred and twenty miles from where I started, I reach my goal – El Paso. I’m sorry if the end seems anti-climactic, but I never claimed to be an expert on the literary big finish. (written June 15, 2011)