Day 5: There and Back

 I am awake. And I’m excited, not just because of the amazing sunrise or the way the sun sets the mountains behind me on fire! 

    
 I am excited because today,  for the first time, I know where I am going. Years ago I visited Collosal Cave Mountain Park and fell in love with the surrounding desert, so when I realized that I could make this one of my stops I was ecstatic. I am ready to go back! But I’m also working on embracing the here and now, so before I hit the road, Rocky and I set out to explore one of the trails at Rock Hound State Park. 

On our journey, I spot a cottontail. He freezes on the path, waits for us to get closer than hops a little farther down the path. I can’t help wondering if I’m following Peter Cottontail down his bunny trail or if I’m Alice being led to wonderland!   

 At the end of my walk, I notice this sign. And I think: if this was the end of the road for me, it’s a good place to be.  

 On my way back to the interstate I discover a Walmart!!  Yay! So happy to stock up on real food.

In the parking lot I meet, Tim.  He strides over to my car with his white cowboy hat, black vest, faded jeans and cowboy boots wearing a smile beneath his oh-so-western mustache and a sparkle in his blue eyes and says, “Maine, now you’re a long way from home.” 

I spent the next half hour learning bout Tim: retired after thirty years in the military, Forester, engineer and now Pecan Farmer.  He tips me off to breakfast at Si Senorita and I have my first Mexican breakfast…Yum!!   

 Per my usually ADHD while driving,  I wander off the interstate in search of another historical Fort. This time I find it!  Rocky and I head down the 1.5 mile trail to the fort. He really isn’t up to the task and I find myself carrying him most of the way. 

  

  

  

After about a mile I am stopped by two border control officers. They want me to know that they are after an illegal who is here in the woods. He’s wearing a red hoodie. I hesitate for a moment, then decide to finish my hike. 

I meet a few people, but no red hoodies. And here’s where I’ll probably irritate a few people. When I think of illegal immigrants, I don’t want them crossing the border illegally…but then I think of the person and I wonder what they are running from that would drive them over the mountains and into this desert.  It’s easy to feel strongly about a concept, but more difficult to apply that to a living, breathing person. 

 I considered another tale about finding the illegal hidden away in my car….

I arrive at Collosal Cave and it’s everything I remember. 

    
   
Camping is only $5 and there are only two other people in the section of the campground I’m. I pick a site way in the back so that I can have privacy for the first time this week!  

 The one strange thing… The gate to the campground is locked at 5 and opened at 7:30 am. There is no cell reception, but if need to, I can run a 1/4 mile to the 911 phone that rings automatically to the sheriff.  

Filled with plans for morning and thankful that it’s not dropping below 60 tonight, I settle in to sleep.  

   

Day 3: The problem with boredom 

I would make the absolute worst long distance truck driver on the planet!  You see, I don’t seem to last more than 2 hours before I need to get out of the car, if only for a minute. And it was this propensity to boredom that led to the story that follows. 

  After San Antonio, Texas I-10 is an never ending stretch of high desert landscape scattered with prickly pear cactus,  colorful flowers, shrubs and low growing trees. Mesas rise up toward the endless blue sky, providing an array of tabletops for the gods. It really is beautiful country.  On occasion, herds of cows graze on the dry grasses. A wind farm stretches across a row of mesas. Oil pumps bob slowly up and down. And I love it! Its exciting and breathtakingly beautiful.   

 But after oh, 300 or so miles I begin to crave a change of scenery, even if only for a moment. So when I spot a sign for an historical fort, I flip my blinker on and off I go. 

My car winds along the deserted road as I search for another sign. Miles clicked by. Rocky gives up on the adventure and curls up in his seat, sound asleep. 

 Still, there is no sign of the fort.  I spot a section on the side of the road large enough for me to pull into. With the car in park, I take out my phone to google the fort. Rocky doesn’t even lift his head. 

My door flies open. Strong hands grasp my shoulder and rip me from my seat. 

I kick and twist. I can’t break free. 

Behind me I here a sound. A howling canine screech. I glimpse a flash of brown and black fur fly past me. 

The iron grip releases and I leap away.  

 My attacker screams. His arms flail trying to free himself from the Yorkshire terrier attached to his neck.  Rocky’s jaw is clamped shut, his body swings outward as the man spins. His hands close around Rocky. He rips the dog from his neck and flings him out into the road. The  little body sails through the air and lands with a sickening thump. 

Blood pumps from the gaping hole  man’s neck and my hands reach to apply pressure.  But the instinct to survive overtakes my training as a nurse and I step back. 

I watch him fall. I watch his blood seep into the dry thirsty earth. My eyes never leave him as I go and scoop up Rocky. He barks and a piece of flesh falls from his mouth. I let out the long breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding as I cradle my pup and climb into my car.

The light fades from the man’s eyes. I press a 9 and a 1 on my phone and then stop.

 The police will take hours. 

I have a campsite waiting for me. 

I turn the key and the engine comes alive.  As I drive back down the lonely winding road,  a shadow crosses my path. And then another. I look up. The vultures are circling. 

Just kidding. 

That was true right up until the man. 

But I’m on my third murder mystery by Nevada Barr set in National parks and maybe my inagination got away from me!  

Here’s a few photos from my real day which included, barbecue for breakfast, cactus love from Texas on a nature walk at a rest area, a giant roadrunner and a perfect end to my day watching the sun set from my campground. I sure do love Texas! 

     
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Day 2: Into the night…

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” J. R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings 

The soft patter of rain on my tent is soothing, so much so that I tap the snooze button on my phone and nestle a little deeper beneath the covers. But after a moment my eyes open and I toss the covers off.  California isn’t coming to me, after all. 

Rocky springs up, brown eyes bright with anticipation as he looks up at me wondering what we are doing next–excited about whatever it is. 

 Getting up was a good thing.  No sooner had I repacked my car when the soft drizzle transitioned into steady rain. By the time we reached the road it had escalated to a downpour.   
 Mississippi ushered me on my way with lights and sirens of the thunder and lightening variety.

I wish I could safely  pullover to snap a picture of this bridge that is transporting me into Lousiana! It isn’t so much the bridge, but the lush green trees rushing by beneath me. You see, Louisiana is one big mysteriously magical beautiful swamp.  

   
And I have to spend a little time exploring it! 

Moments later a visitors center sign beckons to me and I pull off the interstate. A charming white house  surrounded by green grass and flowers laid claim to the title of ‘Visitor’s Center’. Standing just as proudly, but in startling contrast across the road is the Swamp Shack gift shop.  

   
I spend some time chatting with the owner of the Swamp Shack, a friendly woman with a bounty of southern charm. She proudly shares with me that very soon I will be traveling  across an 18 mile bridge that will carry me across the largest swamp in the US. And she tried very hard to get me to buy an alligator head or claw (Nope!)

The 18 mile bridge really is 18 miles and it crosses the Atchafalaya swamp. Right in he center of it is another visitor’s center.   

    
   

Louisiana with its swamps, wading birds and Spanish moss slips apast the windows of my car until I reach Jenkins and I once again leave the interstate for adventure. 

At the Gator Chateau a line of kids, maybe ages 6-10 filed through the door before me. For a less than a moment I consider abandoning my quest. After all, I seemed to be the only grown-up interested….So what‽   

   
As I sat on the bench and stroked the surprisingly soft skin of the baby alligator, I ask if all this human contact effects the gators when they are released (The Gator  Chateau is an alligator rescue and release program) 

No, she reassures me, gators don’t form bonds. I think about that as I drive away. Does that mean the gators are like sociopaths? Then why does a mother protect its nest and babies? Is it really just instinct?  

 By the time I reach Texas, my second audio book was done, and I still haven’t determined if gators are sociopaths…

Houstin is huge! At least to this Maine girl it is! And I manage to hit it around 4 in the afternoon. Fourteen lanes, tangles of overpasses above me, buildings towering in the distance. I’m glad my tank is full and my bladder is empty! 

 And now I’m here at Stephen F. Austin State Park, 45 short minutes beyond Houston, bundled into my sleeping bag as I listen to the night time songs of insects, the occasional hoot and howl from the woods behind my tent and enjoy the warm smell of wood smoke.   

 

 

Day 1: In the manner of Bagginses

 “It’s a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)

As I pile the last of my belongings into my little car, I feel like a Baggins. 

Okay, so I won’t be facing a dragon, saving middle earth, or even walking, but I do feel as though I’m being swept up in the thrill of an adventure! 

I glimpse the waning crescent moon through the clouds as I leave the apartment that I’ve called home for the past three months and my heart races! This adventure–a journey to the west coast– is my most exciting so far!!

Only a few other motorists have ventured onto the road in these early morning hours, so I claim the interstate as my domain and press play on my Nevada Barr audiobook.

The combination of clear roads and a good story causes the hours and miles to slip away. Suddenly I find myself on I-10, the road that will be my companion for the bulk of this trip.  

  A glance in my rearview mirror reveals a sky bursting with color and memory after memory of new friends, fabulous coworkers and oh, so many adventures brings a smile to my face. Yes, the East coast ( Maine, North Carolina, South  Carolina and Florida) has been good to me. 

Chapter after chapter, mile after mile fly by and I know I’m nearing the Florida border when I feel an intense gaze emanating from my shotgun-riding-pup. I see the urgency in those brown eyes and I shift into the right lane, then off the interstate to a nearby rest area. There, as if frozen mid-turn  atop a pole is a Blue Angel navy plane and now a memory from long ago rushes back to me.   

 I’m wearing white capris with tiny colored stripes. The air is filled with the smell of sausage and fried dough. Jumbled conversations from the crowds of people surrounds me, but my eyes are on the sky.  Five planes turn as one. Their wing tips seem only inches apart and I wonder at the skill and fearlessness of the pilots. 

I duck involuntarily as the planes dive toward the ground, pulling up in a graceful arch and soaring up into the blue sky… 

Rocky’s  psychotic barking at a dog 100 times his size rips me back into the present and I wrestle his twisting, writhing little body back into the car. 

Alabama comes and goes in what feels like minutes and the car barrels across the Missippi state line. 

Now I wonder if I’ve ever been to Mississippi…I’m not sure, so I decide to check out the welcome center.

   

 Once again I’m awed at what I find. The remnants of three trees have been carved into various birds. I am amazed at how some people can look beyond what is and see what could be…and then turn that could be into what is… So thankful for the people who have this gift of creativity!

And now here I am, tucked away in my tent and thinking back on my day. It’s been a good day…my only wish is that my hubby could have shared it with me.