June 25th – 26th – Alpine – Big Bend – Alpine
Strangely enough, given our chosen mode of accommodation, we decided to rent a car in Alpine, and having taken grateful advantage of the good will of our hosts we found ourselves, only an hour or two after arriving at our destination, back on the road again. This time in a sporty little silver Chrysler. It feels so incredibly light after the RV, it’s like riding a go kart. Our main concern with taking the RV out into the wild open range is that the darn thing only does ten miles to the gallon, and running out of gas in the middle of the Texas nowhere sounds like a decent way to attract vultures.
So, on the first night we took the car up to this little place called Fort Davis. It was this really funny little town, absolutely frozen in time. There are cute little wooden houses, a retro diner selling cream soda and original cola – which tastes amazing – and home made fudge and ice cream. Then there are various little nik nak shops, one of them run by some very strange people, and that was pretty much it. Once the initial novelty had worn off it became a little claustrophobic, like someone just might steal your shoes and sling them over a telegraph wire. So we moved on. We drove back a different way to go via Marfa, the other little town in the same area as Alpine. En route the scenery became a very pleasantly familiar rugged, earthy, gritty, spiky countryside, with the occasional farm marked by an old fashioned wooden windmill, open backed trucks by five bar gates, and the criss crossing wind kicking up miniature cyclones of dust by the side of the road, and always the tarmac stretching off into the distance, lending definition, perspective, purpose.
Marfa past us by without incident and we were heading back towards Alpine when a very frightening thing occured. I momentarily succumbed to tiredness and started to drift off the road. A little gravel kicked up and I was jolted to the reality of the situation in time for it to amount to nothing more than a beating, but ultimately relieved, heart. Time for an early night.
The following day we set off pretty early, aiming to complete a big loop that would take us down to and through the Big Bend State Park and on to the National Park, which is smaller and borders the State Park to the East. After about an hour driving through dusty territory now familiar, we began to perceive a shift towards a more sharply defined and extreme landscape. We very soon found oursleves in the park proper. The road became a steeply rolling curving beast, hiding vast hidden dips, and once again lending definition and direction to a new and desolate beauty around everyone of the steep, narrow corners. Oddly reminiscent of Iceland, in appearing a little like you might imagine the surface of Mars – only here the earth really was scorched red.
Even in the more economical Chrysler we had concerns about running out of petrol. We were less than halfway through our trip and more than half way through our tank – and so far had not passed a single gas station. With no alternative but to press on, the creeping, disconcerting sense that we might have made the ultimate road trip rookie mistake, was starting to play on our minds a little. Our hopes were raised a little when we rounded a corner right next to the Rio Grande (no more than a paddling stream at the bottom of a ditch in this part of the world), and we saw a few houses and a church steeple on the next hill. However, as this and two more similar settlements lumbered by, with no more sign of petrol than there was of any life at all, our nerves were once again becoming frayed, until, quite unexpectedly we came to a junction with a road going South towards the border and a petrol station diagonally opposite us. We must have been right on the border between the two parks, and though after filling up we did venture on to the entrance to the National Park we decided that we had run our luck far enough and so turned back and went North back past the petrol station back towards our camp.
It seems odd really, but while the petrol had brought us relief it hadn’t quite settled us completely and we just didn’t feel like continuing. The other-worldly appearance of the State Park had perhaps given us our fill of wild rugged Texas for one day, and the camera needed re-charging in any case, Pen having taken something close to 1000 photos in a single day. So I guess some kind of visual-fatigue had set in. Long drive to Santa Fe tomorrow. A new state and a new time – Mountain Time.