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Monday, February 23, 2015

Three Days and Crazy Weather in Texas

Monday February 23, 2015 Quality Inn and Suites Room 129 Roswell, New Mexico

Left Lafayette on Thursday and since we slept in late and got on the road a bit later than usual we decided not to bother with Keller’s. Since they open at 7, we figured that by 1030-11 the bakery shelves would be pretty picked over. Also, since we set our goal as Lufkin, Texas—about 270 miles away that we would forgo the longer more scenic route through the small towns of French Louisiana and take the Interstate up to Opelousas. From there we took 190 due West through Eunice once more. I made notes of the motels available there, should we return for Mardi Gras in a future visit. Though there are no Choice brands, there is a Days Inn, a Best Western and Holiday Inn Express, so we could make reservations in advance and have a nice room. Eunice is not as popular as NOLA or Lafayette etc to the tourist, so I doubt there would be a full house in town. On we went through the Louisiana prairie land: rice paddies, grazing cattle and cotton fields being prepared for planting. Probably some cane fields, too. A young couple we met in Shucks told me that cane harvest is July and August. They said I wouldn’t want to be there when the cane was being burned nor would I want to be too close to the fields as they are harvested since the rats that have been living there come out in droves—i imagined the Pied Piper leading them out along the lawns. The fellow said that anyone who has even a small plot of land turns it into a cane field or a rice paddy.

As we reached DeRidder and West Louisiana the terrain changed and began to take on the piney woods look of East Texas. As the roads merged Bill said he was going to cut in front of this vet—I said how do you know he’s a vet, does he have a bumper sticker? He said, yup, a Nam vet and he’s black—I said how do you know THAT!!!???? Within minutes a black corvette flew by us in the passing lane. He sure got me on that one. I munched on a morning apple and some Laughing Cow wedges as we approached and then crossed the Sabine River, over an old bridge onto a Texas state road. A welcome sign or two but no welcome center so my poor tattered, stained Texas map will have to serve for a few more days.

As we passed through Jasper there was a gas war going on between two stations across the street from each other. One had gas at $1,37/g and the other had it at $1.35/g. Needless to say there were lines into and out of both stations Reminded me of the time when gas was rationed and you could only get it on certain days. I was living in Burlington and working in Swanton—took a bit of planning to make sure I had enough gas to get to work and back for several days and that I got up early enough on “my day” to get to the pump and to the Interstate in time to make school on time. Took a bit of planning and a good alarm clock for sure.

Almost didn’t recognize Zavalla, they’ve widened and paved the road and made a loop road etc. Nothing like the dirt road it was the first time we came this way,BUT the little cafe that had a poster for a lost long horn back then is still there, as is the hand carved eagle in front of the school and the post office where I chatted with the Postmaster about the cuts that were going to come to the postal system. Glad, his wasn’t one of the offices closed, though I didn’t stop to see if his hours were cut. Passed by a town that is no more, through one that is the Gateway to the Sam Rayburn Reservoir and into Lufkin for the night.

The Quality Inn in Lufkin does not serve breakfast. Instead there is a small restaurant off the lobby that has some of the best dinners, though very pricey. They wanted $28 for chicken fried steak, for example. Personally, I wouldn’t pay 28 cents for it. I’ve always said it is either a good cut of beef they’ve absolutely ruined cooking it this was or it was a lousy cut to start with. Either way, keep it—only thing that should be chicken-fried, in my humble opinion ,is chicken. I had a delicious pork chop with mashed sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli that I’m sure got steamed when I ordered it. For as good as dinner is there, the breakfast is terrible and over-priced. Since it is the only game in town we ate it and headed west once more. The day, for the most part, was gray, drizzly and windy. We passed by the locations of once upon a time towns of which there is absolutely no evidence now. Yet, since I don’t think the area has changed much, it is not hard to imagine the shops and people and churches that once stood in a big open desolate country. The towns that are still there cannot be too different—although they are there still because the railroad did not pass them by.

It isn’t hard to recognize the politics of the area—Marquez was the most blatant in their prescription for saving the country but other towns had smaller signs advocating the same strategy. Texas pride is everywhere—including a Texas map on the tailgate of the ever present pickup. While the people are very friendly and welcoming, there is no doubt that, to Texans, the center of the world, no the universe, is Texas and not New York or Paris or any other self-important place.

The King-Williams cemetery was very peaceful and beautiful. Although the historical sign says the last interment took place in 1944, there are two more recent—2004 and 2009—if I remember correctly. I would imagine it was these people who spent the money to place more durable granite markers in front of the original stones on the graves of their ancestors. When the old stones become illegible the information will still be there, reproduced on these new markers. In at least two instances, they have already served their purpose.

We stopped shortly after the cemetery to have a lunch at a picnic area—Bill had sardines and I made a ham and cheese pita. We drank V-8s and had a bowl of Dole fruit cups. Then we resumed our Westward trek through towns whose storefronts are empty and sad facing the wide red brick roads that once served a thriving community. It is so sad and the distance to a shopping center so great now, one wonders what has happened to the neighborly ambience that must have once existed. It was nice, though, in one town –a rather large one, with everything closed for Sunday, to see two young boys—brothers, I think, one around nine, the other about eleven, headed several blocks down to the park—the younger boy with his football tucked under his arm. I was so pleased to see there are still places where kids can do that with nary an adult in sight and they are safe.

Eventually, we reached more open spaces with the roller coaster roads—not really hill country but on its edge. With the change in terrain and being more westerly we had driven out of the rain and gloom into a sky filled with big white clouds floating in a deep blue sky. It was still windy and the birds were enjoying the thermals on which they could soar. Turkey vultures are everywhere –I don’t remember them as a kid—have their numbers increased through the years? Don’t know, but by the time we reached our suite in Early, I was ready to upload pictures and blog. So off Bill went to the Italian restaurant next door—Prima Pasta—while I opened the pate, dug out the club crackers and some Merlot for dinner. Unfortunately, the wi-fi was terrible so I decided to read my eBook—something I don’t really enjoy. Reading on the computer—but the book is okay. Bill surprised me with a slice of Black Forest cheesecake and all was well with the world. Ate it while watching Blue Bloods.

Saturday we moved into West Texas—like a another world in comparison to East or Central Texas. It is a huge State and it is so impressive how different each area is from the other. Here it is wide open land—grazing land but the drought has caused most ranchers to get rid of the cattle that filled the area. Oh, there are still some really huge herds that extend as far as the eye can see, but now there are lots of sheep and goats. Oh, the farmer and the cowhand are not only friends now, I think, in some instances they are one and the same. As wide open the land is, the winds blow mightily and so wind farms are huge and extend many many miles.

Since the distance between Early and Big Spring is not great we took more time driving through some of these towns and was amazed to see many streets, wide and brick paved and yet if not totally filled with empty storefronts, they still had several of what once were main streets desolate and empty. Loved the old Sinclair station, complete with the old pumps. It didn’t appear to be a museum or in any way used but certainly it was being maintained.

We have traveled this area many times before using different Farm roads and or State roads but they do crisscross so there are some places that we’ve been in before. Winters is one town that we’d not been to but had seen a historical sign on another back road in the area that told of the town and its significance as the birthplace of Rogers Hornsby. Despite our exploratory meandering we arrived in Big Spring around lunch time. We drove all through the town checking out the restaurants and decided on the Red Mesa Grill. i had a salad with little bits of chicken, too much cheese but delicious beans and pico de  gallo. Washed it down with a Dos Equis. It was good but much too much food so I didn’t finish it. Things like that don’t reheat well in a microwave so did not take it with me. Decided we’d get the gas for tomorrow and head to the motel.

We were amazed at the bundles of wood—though we’ve seen them sold at home –mostly for people with fireplaces in town. Guess that’s how it must be used here, since it doesn’t get cold enough to need lots of wood, plus, there isn’t a lot around here—lots of scrub but nothing I’d call a forest. If these bundles are like ours at Price Chopper they are about 1/128th of a cord, making the cord about $1000. Not bad for the seller.

And so off we went to the motel where we watched Patton! Good heavens.

We also started to pay attention to the weather reports calling for sleet and freezing rain the next day by 6PM and in New Mexico even earlier. Decided that we needed to get to New Mexico and Roswell before it hit.

So, yesterday, we were up before daylight and on the road by 7:30am. As we were eating breakfast the desk clerk said that when we working in another motel they  had a regular traveler who used to tip the staff with—I said, Maple syrup!—and he said yes. The little cabin shaped cans and that once you’d tasted Vt maple syrup what you got in the store just didn’t match up. I laughed and said,nope it doesn’t and we have some with us for our transplanted New England friends in New Mexico.

As I looked at the huge red sign on the top of the Hotel Settles, I thought about its history when it was the tallest building in the area—probably still is but buildings have been built up around it. In the late 19th and early 20th century it was the only place to stay for miles and the cattlemen could see it from way out on the range. It fell out of vogue in the late 20’s and 30’s and eventually closed and sat empty and vandalized for years. About ten years or so ago it was bought and refurbished and the restaurant and bar has reopened as has the hotel. We didn’t eat there but will check it out sometime.

Off we went into the cold and fog which soon changed to rain. We were once more on back roads so did not have trucks to contend with and though the Texans have speed limits of 70 and 80 we were early enough on a Sunday morning to pretty much have the roads to ourselves. We’ve learned that it is the custom here to run halfway on the shoulders to allow people to pass if they so desire and so the few times some hotshot came up behind us, we just let him/her go on their merry way.

On this particular road, which we’ve traveled before there is no indication when you’ve entered New Mexico other than the route signs which are quite distinctive and the different style of historic signs. We’ve been many times through Tatum the street signs of which are all wrought iron made by a metal shop in town—so unique and pretty.

About 35 miles outside of town I was amazed at the poor performance of the window wipers. All at once I realized the tips were iced up and the side corners of the windshield and the frame of the side view mirror was iced. Fortunately, the temperature had been in the 70’s not too many days earlier, so while the fur coats of the black angus were getting white with the ice accumulating on it, the roads were not icing up. Douglas Bristlecone’s window and mirror defroster works like a charm so in no time at all the ice was melted and the wipers were good as the new that they are.

We arrived in Roswell by 10 am, having gained an hour immediately upon crossing the Tx-NM border. We decided to kill some time at the wildlife refuge. The water was very choppy with whitecaps and the ducks were almost obscured in the swells. Only saw three geese but lots of Northern Shovelers and Mallards plus others I didn’t recognize. Got to the motel around 1130 but our room wasn’t ready and the people in it had asked for a check out extension so they wouldn’t be leaving before 130. Bill decided to go next door to the Tia Juana Cafe for a couple of beers. Since we’d just eaten at Sonic I had a Butterfinger Sonic Blast to drink so I ensconced myself in the lobby and watched Stars on Ice until the room was ready.

We also saw that the weather was going to continue messy and snowy so we extended our reservation to leave on Tuesday. Brought my little computer over to the king sized bed and read some more of my eBook and then when the time came watched Downton Abbey and Grantchester and then to sleep.

Woke up to a snowy Douglas Bristlecone. I shut the curtains, climbed into bed and read my Irish Country Doctor. Watched The Five and then spoke to Betsy. Worked on my pictures and now caught up the blog.

Going to watch NCIS La and probably go to sleep. Tomorrow I think we’ll head to Socorro since Wednesday is supposed to be beautiful and we’ll spend some time in the Bosque. After that we are thinking of doing a loop through TorC and back up through Alamogordo—but who knows—we never plan that far ahead.

At any rate, we were so amazed to see how much of Texas we have explored –there are a few places we still want to spend some time checking out—but not many. Too bad it is always so crappy when we come down that we can’t skip Texas, though we really do like it.

But for now, it is time to close and get ready to watch TV. Hope you are all well, warm and this horrible winter isn’t playing too much havoc with your lives. Take care—The Two Traveling Peas

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