As author Mary Lasswell once said, “I am forced to conclude that God made Texas on his day off, for pure entertainment, just to prove that all that diversity could be crammed into one section of earth by a really top hand.” Anyone who has ever driven across Texas would know: there is little need to travel outside the border to step into a different world. I live in Austin, a thoroughly humid and green environment. Thus it was with excitement that my family embarked at 5:00 a.m. spring break Monday on a road trip to west Texas, where high humidity is no more than a horror story and dense, tall greenery among the rocky foothills is a far-off fantasy.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
We made record time as we flew down I-10 with the rising sun in the rear view mirror. We stopped only once on our seven-hour trip in the tired town of Ozona, and then we were off again to the west. It was a gradual transition, but as we progressed, the terrain became rockier, the vegetation sparser, and the roads steeper. It was unlike anyplace I’d ever been with its sheer cliffs and fragmented hillsides, all only a few hours away from home.
My family stayed in a small cabin at Prude Ranch, unique for its giant spur out front, fields of horses, and mess hall dominated by an ancient oak tree. We passed a day wandering the property, tottering our way around the mountain-edge trails that looked over the ranch.
That night, we drove out to the McDonald Observatory for their Star Party. Set apart from civilization, the observatory incongruously sits in the middle of the scrubby land, a stranded ball of facetted glass and metal visible from miles away. Once it grew dark, the sky lit up with stars unparalleled by city displays. We were shown constellations and then later distant planets and star clusters through telescopes, the likes of which I had only seen in textbooks. There was a fresh wonder in being able to look into the sky for myself and see the stark rings of Saturn and the vivid colors of the dust clouds in Orion’s Belt.
The next day we took a relaxed cruise across the highways winding through the crossroad towns dotting the area. We stopped for lunch in Marfa, the largest town in west Texas, at a converted gas station with fantastic pizza named Foundation Pizza.
On our way back that evening, we were forced to take a detour to avoid a wildfire creeping its way across the mountainside adjacent to the ranch. This 23 mile detour brought the opportunity to see wildlife that I did not expect, including mountain goats, roadrunners, and a herd of javelinas, all fleeing the fire.
On the last day, we drove nearly two hours to Big Bend National Park. We hiked five miles, round trip, to the natural formation known as the Window, which is an opening between two mountains that plummets abruptly into a deep valley. Though it was hot, dry, and dusty, the sweeping landscapes and beautifully diverse succulents highlighted the harsh journey, which was made tolerable by plenty of water. After the draining hike, we all but fell into bed that night.
We arrived home late Thursday, welcoming the humid heat and expansive greenery of central Texas. Our family vacation to west Texas was eye-opening, allowing me to immerse myself in new environments and showing me that you do not need to spend a fortune and travel around the world to experience something different. But it is always nice to be home.
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