Wed. – Fri. Dec 13th -15th: Around 3 pm, Wednesday Dec. 13th we arrived in Marathon, a small dusty west Texas town. One gas station, the Oasis Café, and an old western style hotel called the Gage. We enjoyed our meal of Tex-Mex and the festive ambiance of the café. It was warm and overcast as we headed out of Marathon going south on US 385 to Big Bend and the Chisos Mountains.
The landscape began to change as we progressed further south. We were surrounded by deep red bluffs and far away snow tinged mountains. At this point in our drive, we knew we were in some rough country as the elevation increased with each mile. It looked like we were driving through the mountainous desert terrain of Arizona.
Texas is huge; 1,000 miles east to west and almost 900 miles from Brownsville to the Texas panhandle. And each part of Texas has its own terrain and climate. When you drive across Texas you feel like you are passing through multiple states not just one. The northeast section is green fertile farm country dotted with small rural towns. Further south, from Houston and along the Gulf coast, you feel like you should be drinking a margarita as you drive past palm trees and beaches. The central Texas prairies are dotted with cattle and oil wells, rambling ranches with signage over their gated entrance drives that lead to sprawling homes. There were also the small clapboard homes of those who do not have oil pumping their bank accounts full or a thousand head of long horn steers to tend. South-west Texas feels like a desert, and looks like a cowboy movie. The small towns we passed on Highway 90 were dusty and hot looking with adobe dwellings and few businesses.
This was not our first foray into the deep state of Texas, so we recognized the Texas attitude permeating the air, or maybe a better phrase would be we picked up the Texas vibe. But Texas is more a state of mind than a place on the map and all native and most transplanted Texans live in this state. The first clue that you have crossed over into Texas Nation are the many signs “Don’t Mess with Texas” and the latest billboard from the Texas Department of Transportation “Dead Man Talking”. And if these messages don’t convince you to be careful, be warned that Texans are armed. One survey estimates that over 6 million Texans own guns, with 44 % owning more than one firearm. And most of those gun tooting Texans dress the part, sporting cowboy hats and western boots. A real live cowboy movie. On a T-shirt we saw, the words “Texas, we don’t call 911” embossed over the Texas flag with two hand guns flanking the image is more warning than joke. And the Texas flag is everywhere. In the eastern states you may see US flags on poles outside businesses, but will rarely see the state flag except at official buildings and parks. But the people of this great state seem to identify as Texans first then citizens of the U.S. They are not opposed to disregarding flag etiquette either, which requires that Old Glory always be raised higher than any other banner near it. Many businesses and private residences here had the Lone Star flag flying level with the Stars and Stripes on a second pole beside it. And if there is only one pole, most will have both flags, reluctantly placing the U.S. flag above the Texas flag.
But what we weren’t prepared for was the southwest tip, the horn of Texas. As we moved further into Chihuahuan Desert our cell phones lost all contact with the outside world, a harbinger of our next few days with no electronic distractions at all. No phone calls, no texts, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram, and no TV. You read that right. The National Parks do not have TVs in their lodge rooms. We had learned to enjoy our sabbatical from the daily news cycle at the Calypso, so this would be an added boost to our imposed fast. Our cell phones were now just cameras and my I-pad was just a back-lit reader.
Chisos Mountain Lodge is snuggled between mountains, very close up mountains, not the far off peaks of the Teton’s or Rockies. The actual lodge rooms are located in a cluster of buildings in a semi circle just below the Lodge itself. We got checked into our second floor room around 5 pm and immediately went out on the balcony to check out our view. We stood in the cool evening, and watched the orange sun dip down behind the mountains. Through the gap, called the Window, we could see the valley below diffused with pink and purple light. The higher elevation (two of the mountains are over 7,000 feet) meant we were in for much cooler temperatures which was evidenced by the mounds of dirty snow in the parking lot. Neither of us had adequate clothing, only fleece jackets and gym shoes.
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