The Chisos Mountains, down in Big Bend National Park.
It’s been a lovely couple of days. I’m still in Alpine, Texas, here till Tuesday, then it’s off to New York City for four nights. Here are some more travel notes, in no particular order.
1. Friday my dad and I drove down to Big Bend National Park, a 300-mile round trip. Dad is a geologist, so I got the whole skinny on the place. A stunning place. 800,000 acres. Lots of volcanic activity, it seems. Indeed. Dad tell me that, from a geology standpoint, Big Bend is one of the most interesting places in the country- far more so than say, the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley, which he describes as “geologically straightforward”. The other thing is, Big Bend only gets 300,000 visitors a year, compared to 10million-plus for some of the other big parks. So you do feel totally away from it all.
2. On the way back we stopped at Terlingua Ghost Town, which was a very trippy place, just in the shadow of Big Bend. It’s an old abandoned mining town that has been taken over by lots of people living in trailer homes, old school buses and tents. Some people have taken the abandoned buildings and turned them into bars, art galleries and yes, even a small hotel. But it has this very alternative, tripped-out, end of world feel to it. Any further South and the terrain starts getting pretty hostile pretty darn quickly. Hundreds of square miles with, I kid you not, prickly pear cacti every three feet. They are really nasty and painful cacti, if you ever fall off your horse, though I’m told the fruit is delicious.
3. You want to know how nasty the cacti is down here? Yesterday I bought a hat from Sprigg’s Boot & Saddle, the pace where all the local cowboys buy their gear. Not only do they sell real, working, leather chaps, the owner told me he also makes custom leather breastplates, in case the cowboy falls of his horse. Heck, they even make chaps for horses.
4. I am pleased to report that Alpine, Texas has its own microbrewery, Big Bend Brewing Company. I paid a recent visit there and yep, it’s good stuff. As good as anything I’ve ever had on the West Coast.
5. At the brewery, I started a random conversation with the guy sitting over on the next barstool. Turns out the man was none other than John Armstrong, a prominent local citizen [He’s currently running for District Attorney], and the owner of the winery I mentioned in my last post. So we had a good ol’ talk about the wine business. I think his stuff rocks. Texas wine. Indeed.
6. Last night Dad and I drove 40 miles North to look at the stars at the McDonald Observatory, one of the largest in the country. The highlights for me were seeing the Rings of Saturn and the Orion Nebula through a telescope, plus with the naked eye, an astronomer pointing out to us the Hubble Telescope, moving through Orion- imagine a bright dot of light, 450 miles up, moving across the sky at 25,000 miles an hour. That was actually a very fun night out. Very interesting, groovy and laid back, though at 6,500 feet up, best bring an extra layer of clothing or two.
7. Alpine really isn’t an oil town. Sure, if you go to the Town & Country convenience store at six in the morning, you’ll see a group of about 100 people waiting to be picked up by the oil field work gangs in their pickup trucks, but the fields are more North of here, say, another twenty miles or so. Oil is more a Northern West Texas thing, than a Southern one.
8. I was talking to an old friend of my dad’s, Kay. She’s from around these parts- her dad is a rancher. Kay summed it up pretty well: “Everybody loves living around here. The trouble is, it’s hard to make a living.” Yep. I recently read online that the average income in Alpine is $26,000 per year. I guess with my internet thing going on, I’m not too worried about it. I feel extremely fortunate.
9. La Trattoria still has the world’s best breakfast burritos. Yum. And they get their coffee from Big Bend Coffee Roasters over in Marfa, Texas.
10. About 12 miles due West of Terlingua, there’s an upmarket golf course and spa called Lajitas, built right along the banks of the Rio Grande. One of the holes is actually built on the Mexican side of the border; I guess the local Federales aren’t too fussed about it. I’ve never been, but I hear a lot of stories about it.
11. Part of me wants to buy an Airstream trailer and just go live out in the desert somewhere, in between my paid gigs. Drawing, drinking Shiner Bock and looking at sunsets. I guess we all get these hippie fantasies, at one time or another. Though the desert is an unforgiving place to anything that relies on water for its survival, there’s something about it that makes you feel “very far away from all the bullshit”. Which partly explains why this part of the world appeals to me. Though it may not be the most glamorous, wealthiest or famous place in the world, I haven’t felt the need to switch on my bullshit detector since the day I got here.
12. Though this part of the world went into economic decline after the World War Two [like every other ranching culture in North America], I can already see it coming back, I can already seeing green shoots springing up. Sick and burned out of big-city life, people are starting to move to places like here, more and more. And they’re bringing what they learned in the big city and applying it to a place more suited to their individual needs. Hence the trattoria’s, the microbreweries, the coffee roasters, the art galleries and yes, the internet cartoonists turning up. And the internet and the global microbrand make all this even more viable, even more exciting. Alpine, Texas is no longer in the middle of nowhere; Alpine, Texas is in the middle of EVERYWHERE, if it wants to be. Rock on.
interesting notion that the small towns and the iconic down-home “american” community might see a resurgence.
since i moved out of silion valley and in to part of america’s heartland here in tulsa i’ve really grown to love the “real-ness” of folks that live out here. i’ve seen a lot of people from the coasts give up on the rat race and settle in tulsa, in other parts of oklahoma, texas, etc.
i know i myself am more grounded, more sane, more connected to the people around me and the community that i live in, after living a decade here. it’s a great place to raise my daugther. i am much happier knowing she’ll grow up here than in the plastic frenzy of san jose.
When we first opened our Joplin, MO office a few years ago I joked that it was “a truck stop with a zip code” and figured we’d never really be able to hire for that location. Turns out I was wrong. We were able to tap into a vein of folks ready to move back from the edges into the heartland. Time to fill the positions was longer, but we managed to attract really good people.
I was once stranded in the desert of Utah – car trouble. In the heat of summer. Alone. You do, at such times, realize the awesome expansiveness & potentially unforgiving nature of the desert – though in a somewhat beautiful kind of way.
Your ghost town visit – so interesting to learn about. Thanks.
When you find a place you resonate with, go for it!
Prickly pear is well-known in alternative medicine and as a food & beauty item (health food stores). Even so it seems it can’t be over-harvested!
Big Bend is cool. Went there on a long roadtrip in the early 1990s with my parents, just after a rain, so we got to see it green. My dad was born in west Texas and wanted to go back and see it.
Stayed at the lodge, and it was the first time I’d ever been in a hotel room without a TV.
(Also. Oil business mentioned in the last post? Doing what?)
1) desert living: you might want to check Edward Abbey
2) love the desert in spring, use to attend PCForum, best when it was in Tucson, and we’d get outside town
3) ultra-rural living, discovered the same some years ago. We live on a lake, surrounded by national park, seasonal folks are here about 3-4 months, otherwise traffic is seeing another car on the road.
Cable-internet and wifi’d the house
Working to bring high speed internet to other parts of our county. Imperative for ex-urban knowledge workers
4) you might a chuckle:
Keep up the good work
Speaking of Airstreams, it takes a village…
As someone who has wandered the Grand Canyon and surrounding country in a Geology class I am inclined to disagree. We have fossilized sand dunes and nearly everytime of rock formation imaginable up in our region.
Now if he is refering to just driving to the Rim and then leaving sure, but we have some amazing stuff in Northern AZ Hugh! 🙂
Have to defend my home turf. If you want to avoid tourists and visit the canyon that’s child’s play you just drive to the North Rim, it gets hardly any tourists and South Utah has some great geology just North of their as well.
End of my geology rant.
Good point re. Oil, Candice. Thanks. Updated the blog post accordingly.
Re. the desert. The first time I drove through it I made sure to pack a few gallon bottles of water in the trunk of the car. We never needed them in the end, thank god, but in retrospect it was a good and wise thing to have them.
But Hugh, didn’t you hear? Michael Arrington says that you have to be in Silicon Valley to matter.
You know, I’m starting to think that the only people who get it are outside the Valley. But please don’t invite them to Alpine.
For a guy with plenty of great ideas, this is one of your best yet. Great thread throughout. More power to you.
I wonder if you’ll remember the pull when you really need to, some time in the future when you have too many meetings scheduled in London?
Airstreams are a great way to stay out there since they help force you to conserve water unless you enjoy frequently dumping your black water tank.
It’s beautiful how that part of Texas puts the lie to most assumptions about the flatness of the state.
Sounds like you’ve found a place that feels like home.
I recently discovered the same for myself. It’s a pretty beautiful thing.
Those pictures are amazing, I wish I could go mountain biking there. I like extreme situations and mountains like those. Great images. Thank you and keep up the good work.