In a break from my normal ramblings, I pass over to the Dynamo Dad who has penned an animated tale about his recent trip to Texas.
We decided to head to Midland Texas because we wanted to go see Big Bend National Park and the Guadalupe Mountains. Both of which are probably the remotest areas in Texas and New Mexico, perhaps the USA.
Cosmos Tours don’t go there, Branson’s Virgin don’t go there, All America Tours they go everywhere, but not there. Greyhound only provide a nearest schedule service stop 50 miles from Guadaloupe and you can forget Big Bend.
Amtrak on the St Louis to Los Angeles trans continental route stops at Alpine, the town that serves Big Bend. Their blink-and-miss-it-station is over 100 miles from the National Park entrance. Amtrak provide a daily transcontinental schedule service, but talking to an Amtrak “engineer”(driver) at breakfast one morning in Alpine all does not appear to be what it seems:
“Bes yer fon thru ta da stasion cos trains can be hours late, day late, Iza know mine’s late cos Imsa steel avin mi breefasss an wiz got 2 trens going thru taday an zay hasent till me wat one I get yit”
Having said that, the driver got up and made himself another waffle.
So we hired a car from Midland and made our way directly south on country roads to Fort Stockton. It was just over 100 miles away and late afternoon. And I was not yet accustomed to driving an automatic, my left leg feeling surplus to requirements. In fact occasionally it mistook the brake pedal for the clutch so we had a schizophrenic Nissan Note not knowing if it should drive away or stop.
At first we ploughed through mile upon mile of “transformer” like derricks, oil and gas pumping stations and depots that serviced them. As these gradually dwindled we were then confronted with miles and miles of fenced in ranches of sand and few tufts of grass and mesquite.
We passed ranch entrances to the Big Y this and the Lonely Rattlesnake that,but never saw a rancher,cowboy or cow – more about that later. In fact, after driving for 40 minutes on a straight undulating road we started to pray for the sight of anything and took relish in sometimes seeing an old fashioned, straight out of a spaghetti western wind wheel that was no longer pumping water.
Ranches the size of the Kent seemed to be the only entity in this region. Finally the town of Imperial – population 400 – came on the horizon.
Imperial could be seen 30 miles away in the middle the desert. A few lights flickered, perhaps, maybe this was a bustling imperial metropolis.
‘Slow town line speed limit 35 miles’ said the sign on the outskirts comprising of two wooden shacks and four rusting Dodge pickups – the kind you see in any good desert cops and robbers film.
“Coffee time” said my wife.
“OK ” I replied.
Slow speed limit 25 miles said the sign next to two fixed trailers and another shack, but there was no sign of life except for satellite dishes.
Stop ahead was the next sign.
“You know what he said, you must stop at the stop sign” said my wife.
“But Kate, we are in the middle of nowhere. I’ll just slow down.we haven’t seen anything for 20 mins,” I retorted.
“ You’re still doing 27 mph. You’ve got to stop.”
“It’s deserted desert, the only thing we’ve seen moving is tumbleweed and road kill” I said (thinking this bonkers).
“ Just stop! There may be someone waiting to book you for an infringement, you know Lysander got one.” (Lysander being the son who is now living and working in Houston.)
So I stopped at the intersection of the two country roads, gave a good glance either way, saw nothing for 20 miles either way, and tentatively creped across. Within 100 metres we were out of the town limits having pass a closed General Store and then a ‘Gas and all makes of trucks repaired but not foreign’, service station. After that we were back on the prairie where steers and antelope don’t roam. And it was dark, really dark dark, no light pollution here.
It had been unusually cold when we got off the plane in Midland and the skies had been grey, not blanket, rainy day, English grey, but two tone grey, threatening grey.
Bang! We saw two forks of lightning ahead of us.
“ What’s that.Have we hit something?” said Kate woken from her slumber.
“ Looks like a desert storm,” I replied calmly.
“Can’t we go round it?”
“ Kate, there’s only one road in this middle of nowhere. Where do you want me to go”
“Well let’s stop until it passes”
Now sometimes it’s best not to tell your other half what’s on your mind. While it had been daylight I had seen yellow shot up road signs saying ‘ watch for water on the road’. I had thought this incongruous in the land of droughts.
Here we were in a land where a borehole into the water table was a lifesaver and they were telling me to drive carefully through water in case of flash flooding.
“ No best we keep going as we’re near Fort Stockton, only another 30 miles,” I suggested.
By now the night sky was lit up every few minutes. We could see, way out on the horizon, the silhouettes of isolated caravans next to a water storage container, single tree a pick up.
“What’s that noise?” shouted Kate.
“I think it’s rain,” I said lying through my back teeth. It wasn’t, of course, the sound was the result of us being caught in a storm of golf ball sized hailstones. “Kate can you figure how we demist the windows as I can’t see.”
“ Turn the fog lights on, I bet you don’t know how to do that.” said Kate.
We were then hit sideways with an all-mighty wind.
“Just watch the road will you, as you’re drifting. I think you turn the fog lights on by turning the inner knob,” she continued.
By now I’m doing about 20 mph, under a shower of ice golf balls, visibility being a porthole created by the back of my sleeve, blown here and there by squalls. And there’s my wife asking me to find the fog light switch when there’s no fog.
We drove on and managed to get the Interstate 10 into Fork Stockton.
The “interstates(IS)”are three lane dual carriage highways with a large central reservation. For the uninitiated, they can be confusing. Blessed with little brown signs with white lettering barking out the warning “Wrong way”, you can quite easily turn into the ‘down’ carriageway when you should be in the ‘ up’.
So peering out of my mist free port hole of a windscreen, my wife tangentially remonstrating that I should know where the fog light was, I pulled up to the stop to turn right onto IS10.
Guess what, I drove up the wrong carriageway on one more isolated road, straight towards a Peterbilt tanker, the sort they used in the film “Duel”. Lights blazing, it simply stopped, its driver switched on his cab light and indicated to his right. I politely said thank you, he waved, I reversed our Nissan Note and followed his instructions.
Later when I gathered my wits again, I thought imagine doing that on the M25 – simply impossible.
Without further mishap we got to our Fort Stanton Super 8 hotel; in Tripadvisor markings, Super 2.5. The heater, microwave, lights and fridge worked.The HBO and WiFI worked; for about an hour.
Picture this – we are at the epicentre of the shale gas boom. From here the US of A has turned itself from a net importer of energy to net exporter. So what do we have? We have a power cut, the town – population 3,500 – was in darkness. Not a let’s wait an hour and then see if all the city is blacked out, but coal black blackout.
Being of the post-war generation, we settled down for the night and went to bed in the dark and cold. Meanwhile our fellow American guests were telling reception in the corridor they had no WiFi or TV and what she was going to do about it.
At 3am the electricity and everything that was attached to it returned in a blaze of light and cacophony of sound.
Later that morning at 6am the poor receptionist said they had had unusual temperatures of 26-28c. That night they plummeted to 4c as a tornado had just skirted the town.