Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Texas Hill Country To The Border

After the unexpected tour of the Lyndon Johnson ranch we arrived in Fredericksburg around noon on Sunday and we were not impressed. It was our fault partly. A sunny Sunday in the holiday season and the sidewalks were packed? Amazing! It looked like Duval Street during Fantasy Fest (except everyone looked respectably dressed) and it was clear taking. Rusty stroll and window shopping was not going to be relaxing and enjoyable. I hope the good people found their stocking stuffers.
I had been looking forward to Fredericksburg as an unusual outpost of Germanic culture but what I found was a four lane highway driving through downtown with all the intimacy of a freeway. Sidewalks crowded and fast cars pushed us to get on with it.
I think Layne nailed it when she said we need to come back in Spring for wildflowers which are said to be astonishing, or Fall after schools get busy and devote some time to the area. Part of this journey is exploration and we are taking notes on places we want to see next time around.
I was surprised by a couple of things about the bits we did see of Hill Country, and that was the total absence of billboards on the highways, no neon advertising and not much of anything between towns. Someone has been taking care of the tourist attractions here because the roads are broad and smooth and the towns are focused on local business and local stores. Clearly this is a valued attraction for Texans and I felt lucky to get a small look in on the place.
Outside Fredericksburg we were driving southwest to a distant point on the Rio Grande about three hours away. I don't know if the countryside was technically desert because there are tons of scrubby little trees that look like live oaks to my mediterranean mind. Without doubt it was deserted.
Texas is not a popular RV destination for people looking for deserted boondocks, informal camping on broad swathes of public land, minimal impact no facilities, open skies and all that back to the wilderness stuff. There is no Bureau of Land Management land in Texas and National Forests are sparse and small so most of the time the highways through all this open space look like fenced in luge tracks, we were in a sled sliding past a whole lot of nothing but unable to get off the road. Until we could.
It was where Interstate 10 crossed our highway and there we found an old roadside stop that had seen better days. Not too scenic but it was unfenced which worked for us, and for Rusty.
I don't know when Texas last saw regular gas at $1:45 but this place looked like it had been shut down for a while. I don't suppose the arrival of the freeway helped.
Layne heated our savory kolache buns from Austin while Rusty wandered around being a dog. We had a decent Verizon signal much to our surprise so we weren't as lost as we felt. That changed.
The road went on and on shedding miles and cell phone strength as we went. The gas gauge said we had 109 miles of gas but Del Rio was 139 miles away. The numbers did not add up. "Well," I said, "We are bound to find a gas station somewhere." Layne stayed silent. The little blue dot kept tracking our progress and I was reminded we had paper charts in the attic, a shelf above our heads.
We did find gas eventually at a highway intersection. We stopped and looked. "That's going to be horribly expensive," I said. It was a run down convenience store surrounded by All Terrain Vehicles and men grouped in camouflage hunting clothes  looking very butch. In my own head I could see myself showing up in great big box with my goofy accent, a pansy mask and a dog more at home in a salon than out tearing out the throat of a wild boar. "I'll bet that place is full of Omicron Covid," I tried playing my ace. All I could see was me being strung up by my knackers and getting slow smoked for dinner by hunters who had suffered a fruitless hunt. I couldn't see any dead game draped artfully across their machines. "If you're sure we'll find gas," my wife said. Say no more, I put the poofy van in gear and we continued rolling like the pioneers of the wild frontier we fancied ourselves to be, Conestoga prairie schooner catching the wind as we went. Yea-haa!
I found a Shell station when the gauge showed 20 miles to empty. Layne had discovered in Rocksprings, a cell phone oasis, that gas in Del Rio costs $2:56 a gallon. That was fatal. We loaded up with the bare minimum at $3:10 a gallon and set off full of optimism. The road did not get more inhabited. It went on and on like this:
Or this:
Google sent us left when we had no signal so I stopped and pulled out Mr Rand McNally's great paper invention. I flipped the pages and founds on the paper. I made an executive decision. "We are not turning left," I said with authority. Rusty was reluctant to get back aboard the capsule, the life support system in this wilderness.
The fences around here are huge and I couldn't make up my mind if they were to keep deer out or in, or to keep lost Mexican migrants out or what. We drove for miles  and miles alongside  eight foot fences in perfect order. We meet a couple of stags alongside the road with huge racks of antlers and an astonishing turn of speed when they ran alongside us unable to escape across these massive fences. 
It was warm, in the upper 60's windless and very dry, not an unpleasant afternoon but the gauge was dipping again and there was absolutely no sign of a town anywhere. Mathematically we were safe with 80 miles in the tank and thirty miles to go. But still...
I had ants in my pants because we couldn't stop, we had lost the power to decide, the road had no shoulders, no pull outs, no picnic areas, no parks, no scenic overlooks. We rolled along at forty miles an hour staring at nothing at all. This was like sailing when you get caught up in the shape of the waves and the little bubbles on the crest as they pass under the hull, and your mind goes blank. I settled back and let my mind go blank, I put aside the desire fo an empty dirt sidereal to drive up and park for the night here, where there would be nothing but stars.  The impenetrable fences pushed us on, squeezed us like toothpaste out of the tube.
We arrived of course, welcomed to the county seat of Val Verde County by two portapotties in a dusty empty lot. We greeted them like old friends and took advantage to empty our own tank while Rusty welcomed himself back to civilization with a quick tour of not very much. We turned onto Highway 90 and Del Rio made itself known to us, an all American city with cheap gas and every fast food outlet and box store known to any American.
We had bought a hotel room for the night, a Hampton Inn on Hilton points so it was free and thus much cheaper than a night in a full service campground. The showers, laundry and central heat were welcome and a quick check of my Google maps put us 7.7 miles from Ciudad Acuña in Coahuila State. Del Rio seems a world away from the Port of Entry and the whole other world we want to see. That will have to wait till Arizona; family obligations call us west, but north of the Rio Grande.