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.