As I write, we’re driving through the oil fields of West Texas. We are on Day 6 of our epic cross country trip. It’s flat as the eye can see with oil rigs in every direction. I’ve learned so much about Texas in our short two-day trip through the state, even though it is my birth state. I was born in Lubbock, Texas because my dad was stationed there with the Air Force. I only lived there 6 weeks before we moved back east.
The main thing that I’ve learned is that Texas is a diverse state in topography. I mistakenly assumed that it is all flat. Just today, I’ve seen rolling hills, small mountains, a beautiful lake (Lake Travis), plateaus that I would associate only with southwestern states, and now flat plains. We’ve driven by beautiful cattle ranches, cute small towns (Fredericksburg, TX), wineries, and now countless oil rigs and refineries.
The other thing I’ve learned about Texas is that they drive fast. They say that everything is bigger in Texas –well, so is the speed limit. 75 mph was common around Dallas and Waco. As we drove out of Waco, more toward Austin and beyond, the speed limit has risen to 80 mph. When I talked to my mom on the phone today, she said that she remembers the 75 mph speed limit when she lived in Texas in the 70s.
All we see in west Texas are tractor trailers. We were just on a one lane road after waiting at a light for 5 minutes. The light seems to be their version of a man with Stop/Slow sign letting cars through. All of a sudden, we saw an 18-wheeler coming right at us. He must have ignored the red light on his side. Thankfully, Jimmy and the truck were able to slow down and get over in time to avoid the head-on collision. Thank you Lord!
Another thing I’ve learned about Texas is that it’s windy. I expected that in west Texas but not in Waco. I wanted to wear a cute dress for our trip to Magnolia Market but I realized pretty quickly that the wind would kick up and literally kick up my skirt. Not trying to be Marilyn Monroe these days. I had to have one hand on my purse and one hand on my skirt. The wind is definitely more powerful the farther west you go in Texas. Wind turbines line the plateaus of southwestern Texas. At 102 degrees this afternoon, the wind didn’t help cool us down though.
Let’s rewind to this morning. We got up at 6:15 a.m. so we could eat breakfast at the hotel and get on the road by 8 a.m. Miracle of miracles, we left at 7:45 a.m. Today is a driving day. We had one fun spot to hit on our way west – the Hamilton Pool Preserve. It is a collapsed grotto – basically a natural pool in a partial cave. We reserved a spot online in the 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot. We arrived at 10:30. We paid $11 online for the reservation and $15 (cash only) at the gate. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and started the 15 minute hike (with an 80 foot descent) down to the pool. It is pretty rocky so I wore my tennis shoes for the hike down. The natural rock formations and the plant life is amazing. My husband had our nice camera and he couldn’t stop taking pictures.
We could tell that we were getting closer to the pool because the voices we heard got louder. As we came around the corner, the view of the pool took our breath away.
The boys got in the pool right away while my daughter and I followed the short path around the pool to take pictures.
They have life jackets you can use in the pool if you don’t want to worry about swimming the whole time. Once I got in, I just put a life jacket under my arms so I could float around.
All was fine until I saw the park ranger on duty get out his walkie-talkie. He was calling in re-enforcements. My daughter and I watched him carefully to try to figure out what was happening. A few minutes later, the ranger told us to swim away from the side of the pool where he was. Eventually, another swimmer told us what was going on – the ranger wouldn’t dare utter the dreaded word: snake.
We saw the snake – he was small. I don’t like being near snakes. I happily floated farther away. Just then, my more dramatic son had me freaked out when he said, “Mom, you have a leech on your neck.”
My daughter turned toward me and said calmly, “It’s a leaf.” Crisis averted.
At one point after seeing a turtle, my crazy husband overhead another swimmer say, “Oh, I love turtles. They’re so cute.” So he said, “Oh I love rattlesnakes. They’re so cute.” I reminded him that rattlesnakes are not water snakes. He said, “It was the 1st snake that came to mind.” The girl and her friend got out of the water fast. They must not know anything about snakes.
Emma Grace then said, “Why does my family have to be so awkward?” My thoughts exactly.
It was still only in the 80s at that point in the day and the water was very refreshing. Hamilton Pool Preserve, aptly part of Dripping Springs, Texas really is a wonder of God to behold. His works are amazing!
We hiked back up to the parking lot and got ready to leave. As I got into the car, I saw a clementine under the front tire.
Hmmmm…that is the second time that I rescued a clementine from an assault by our mini-van. The first time was the day before just before we left the hotel.
Just then, my son, Nate, said, “Mom, don’t move that!”
“Why is there a clementine under the front tire?”
Nate – “I just wanted to see what would happen.”
A science lesson – I see. Oh my!
After leaving the park, we got on our way west looking for a place to makes some sandwiches for lunch. We finally found a Valero gas station. I even saw a full-fledge cowboy there. He had a really cool white cowboy hat. I tried to get his picture but I was too slow. I nly got his truck.
As we were making sandwiches, Seth came out of the convenience store with a corn dog. It was $1.50. After that, the kids each made a beeline for the corn dogs. I must say, I tried the jalapeno cheese corn dog. I’d have that over a fancy meal any day – especially after a day of swimming. The kids cleaned them out of corndogs today. When Jimmy was buying his corn dog (the one I tried), he told the cashier that we are from North Carolina. She said she had no idea where North Carolina is. She’d never been out of her town. Whoaaa!
After lunch, we kept seeing signs for Texas peaches. After moving to North Carolina, I still miss my Maryland peaches. We had to stop and try some Texas peaches. Jimmy bought a bag of peaches and a pint of blackberries, their other special.
When he bit into the peach, juice shot out on Emma Grace who was 4 feet away. After he was done his peach, he was covered in juice.
Can you taste those sweet peaches now?
Through west Texas, we were getting low on gas and my phone had no service. Every time I tried to search for gas through Waze, I got the “Something Went Wrong” error message. Oh boy!
Finally, I hit a segment on the road where I got one bar. I was able to find one gas station outside Fort Stockton. As my husband got out of the car, I heard him yell something unintelligible. I asked him what he was yelling about.
He said, “Look, an endangered species. We’ve got to show the kids.”
What did my husband see that startled him so much? A pay phone.
We immediately all gathered around the pay phone to show the kids what it was. We even taught Emma Grace how to use it.
Just then, my husband ducked. A very large bug-like thing flew right over his head.
I asked him what it was.
He exclaimed, “A mouse with wings.”
Oh boy! Sometimes I wonder where some of my kids get their dramatic side – I shouldn’t.
As it got dark, we were getting closer and closer to Carlsbad, New Mexico – the home of Carlsbad Caverns. While planning our trip, I found out that there aren’t many affordable lodging options close to the Caverns. Even on Hotwire, the hotel prices were outrageous – I guess because there are not many options. When I checked a few months ago, the Holiday Inn Express was $500 per night! I felt like I got a real bargain when I snagged the 2-star Rodeway Inn for $150 for the night. That’s way more than we’ve spent anywhere else except for a splurge night in the Grand Canyon.
Our Waze GPS had lost signal a long time ago. There were no minivans at we got closer – only oil fields and 18 wheelers. We felt really out of place and we started to wonder if we were officially lost. Eventually, we turned down a dark road that the GPS said was our 2nd to last route before the final road for the hotel. We had to go 15 miles on this dark road with huge potholes (more like craters) all along it. Since we had no signal and Waze kept flashing in red, “Searching for Network,” we wondered if we were on a dead-end road. For a while, we followed an 18 wheeler as he navigated the potholes. It was VERY slow. When the truck turned off the road, we both said that we might really be in trouble. It was a very treacherous and dark 15 miles. We rejoiced when we finally hit the National Park Highway.
This sign matched how we felt at the end of the long road…
Can you tell that we are having a ball? The car is a mess with books, food, wet bathing suits (hey they dry fast in Texas heat), and trash but we wouldn’t trade the mess for the memories. My husband just told me we went over 2000 miles. And I just looked down at my phone and we gained another hour – welcome to the Mountain Time Zone. We’re over halfway across the country and making a lifetime of memories and enjoying mountains of laughs. See you tomorrow.