Tuesday, March 28, 2017

West Texas

Well, Texas is one big damn state.  It took 3 days of hard driving to get across the 880 miles from east Texas to west Texas.  We'd never made this drive before, and it was amazing to watch the change from the wet swamps and rice paddies of the east to the hill country to the dry Big Bend area (desert area).  We just passed out of west Texas this evening and camped in Las Cruces, NM.  You'll remember from the last post the world was wet, and the roads were built on causeways above the swamp.  Here in Las Cruces, the average annual precipitation is just 9 inches.  So, we've gone from an area where the average annual rainfall is 57 inches, to one where it is just 9 inches.  (Westfield gets about 47 inches a year, just for reference)  Our camper is perched on a concrete pad in the middle of a gravel parking lot.  My wife asked for a shaded campsite, and the woman doing the reservations just laughed.  There's a LOT of sun here, and our skin is drying out.  Anyhow, we saw a lot of incredible things and learned a lot passing through Texas.  Unfortunately, we didn't have internet, so we couldn't update on the way.  So...let's take the trip across together.

When last we blogged....we had crossed the Mississippi and driven into eastern Texas and through Houston.  To me, the Mississippi marks the point where the climate in the US changes from the relatively wet areas of the east to the drier areas of the west.  Along with that, the vegetation becomes more xeric (adapted to dry conditions).  I always tell my students that they could travel around most states east of the Mississippi, and the ecosystems are relatively similar.  Once you cross, however, things change...

Driving.  Karin and I were talking, and we think that driving with the camper is about 2 1/2 times more difficult than driving a plain old car.  There's just never a moment when you "get into the zone," like you sometimes do in a car.  With the camper, you're "ON" all the time.  We try to do short shifts and switch drivers about every 2 hours, because its hard to concentrate at the level you need for much longer.  Out here in west Texas though, was the easiest driving we've had.  

Typical view of the middle of Texas.  If you look at the water, you can see that it has a greenish tinge, which I believe is because it is coming out of the karst, or limestone, topography.  This is similar to what we saw in Florida.  Most of the geology in this area was karst, and we saw several signs advertising caving adventures.

Notice that the trees are shorter and more spread out than what you see in the east.  These are oaks.

The road cuts were really cool, and allowed you to see the strata of how the sediment was deposited.

What few rivers there were had little water, but the river valleys were quite large.  You get the idea that when it does rain, things happen in a big way.

More west, more dry, with the views opening up.

The dog walk at a roadside parking area.  Virtually everything is stickery here.  These are prickly pear cacti.  Back in Florida, my wife bought a prickly pear fruit for us to try.  Tasted good, but a lot of seeds.  I was careful to frame this photograph, so you couldn't see the toilet paper, plastic bags, diapers, and other litter that bums had left.

The wildflowers are gorgeous.

It's a big world out in Texas, with big lanes.  This is a huge oversize dump truck on the back of a huge oversize semi, and it still fits in their lane.  We typically cruise about 61 or 62 mph, just because that's plenty fast when you're towing our rig, especially when it is windy.  The speed limit here was 80, and when semi trucks roared by, they would suck us over to the right.  You had to be vigilant to avoid being pulled over the white line.

Here's a close up of the oaks at a rest stop.  I believe these are fully grown, but I'm not sure what kind they are.  The leaves look a lot like live oak leaves.  These are the sort of tree you saw in the earlier slide.

Road cuts and endless sky.  Really nice to not be crowded, after driving through Houston and San Antonio.


This is the Rio Pecos.  In these cowboy movies, they're always talking about "the law west of the Pecos,"  Well, a couple seconds after we took this photo, we were West of the Pecos.

This is a cool image.  There's old wind power in the foreground, where a ranch windmill is used to pump water out of the ground.  You've probably seen these in the western movies.  We saw a lot of these in operation.  If you look on the back ridge, you can see many, many modern wind turbines generating electricity.  The old and the new.

Here's a closer view of the wind turbines on the ridgeline.  In the foreground is an oil donkey, pumping crude oil out of the ground.  We saw a decent lot of these, as well.

We saw the flashing light of a wide load, and here's what it had - a wind turbine blade.  Two more came right after it.  Kind of gives you a respect for the scale and the size of the things, huh?

We camped at San Soloman Springs at Balmorhea State Park.  This was a special enough experience that we have a whole blog entry for it.  In this picture, you can see the rig and the campsite.  These white things are walls with roofs to shade each campsite's picnic table from the intense sun.  As you'll see in the post on the spring, this was a special and unique place.  The spring gave water, and with it, life.  If you travel just a mile in any direction, it was once again barren and dry, with no people and few animals.

The next day, after swimming in the springs, we headed west.  We passed by the Mary Mission church.  This was built in 1925, and remodeled in 1940.  Apparently, Sophie is going to the service.  This was built out of thick-walled rubble, and stuccoed.

The simple and humble interior appealed to me.

Here's the rig, and the mountains in the background.  Good luck finding a tree.

Further along, it gets still drier and more sandy.  the vegetation lower and more sparse.

The view from the road.

 A dry wash, or river bed.  No water unless it is raining, here, or somewhere else in the watershed.

We passed a lot of Union Pacific trains pulling containers eastward.  I guess they pick them up from China at the docks in California and carry them all around the country.

This shows just how sandy and dry it is.

Outside of El Paso, TX.  El Paso was a busy, crowded town that didn't look much different than any other bustling city in the US.

This was kind of interesting.  It's a solar demonstration and research site at the University of Texas, El Paso.

We traveled out of Texas and have stopped for the night at the KOA in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where we're writing this.  Here's the gorgeous sunset over the Organ Pipe Mountains - view from the campground.


  1. Your rig is awesome! And the wildflowers are beautiful! Glad to see you are all enjoying yourselves! Safe travels!

  2. It's nice to see a close-up of the wandering environmentalist himself! I was driving between Nashville, TN and Greenville, SC this past fall and saw rigs in the other direction go by each loaded with a blade of a wind turbine. But they were spaced out. The first one that went by I was thinking the gov't had recovered parts of an alien space ship (too many Marvel superhero movies, I guess). They were eerily beautiful and elegant. Keep up the great blogs!

  3. Thanks Robin, I was amazed at how big they are. If you look at the diameter of the blade and all the bolts vs. the size of the semi truck!