Texas. Beautiful, exciting, diverse, hip and chic. A place where anything goes, there’s no shortage of things to see and do. However, I always feel snickered at by other well-travelled veterans that because I’m jet setting less than another continent away, my experience will somehow be less exciting. I didn’t want to believe this, as I dreamed of seeing the Marfa Mystery lights and eating my weight in barbecue. I wasn’t going to let it bother me as I packed my bags for a day of travel (three flights!) to begin me and my boyfriend Jeffs road trip across the state. After a few connections, we arrived at our first destination, Corpus Christi, ready to explore this amazing, new, and wondrous place.
After landing in Corpus Christi, the original plan was to explore the Padre Island National Seashore – unwind from this harsh winter here in Ottawa, and take some time to wander the beach with the opportunity to camp right there on the Gulf Coast. However, Mother Nature turned against us, and because of heavy rain, we were unable to fulfill this. So, what else could we do but head out early to our next destination, staying in a completely random town, Uvalde.
Succeeding in checking into a generic motel, we were just looking forward to heading off the next day for Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site. The draw here is the opportunity for guided hikes to see what many consider the best pictographs in North America, many of which are possibly 4,000 years old.
Legend is, humans lived in this area at the end of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago, although they left few signs of their presence. Then about 7,000 years ago, other people arrived, and within 3,000/4,000 years, they began to paint designs on sheltered rock walls. Our timing happened to be right for taking the Fate Bell Cave Dwelling Tour, which is a 2-mile round-trip hike that leads into Seminole Canyon to a huge rock shelter where we saw many pictographs. There’s even a pictograph that is rumored to be a portal into another world, along with painted shamans, people holding hands, and plenty more proof of human life.
We did feel that it was more of a “tour” than a “hike”, so we opted for another called Canyon Rim Trail and ended up seeing amazing views of the canyons from a bluff. For more information, simply check out the park’s website.
Although we love our own little cozy tent, we had had enough of it for now and set off for Marfa, and specifically El Cosmico, where our abode was a safari tent – 120 sq ft. with wood floors and durable canvas walls and doors. They come equipped with a queen bed, a chair, simple lighting, and an electrical outlet for charging devices (tres important!). The beds are also heated with electric mattress warmers if need be. At this 21-acre nomadic hotel there’s also a mix of campsites, yurts, teepee’s, restored vintage trailers, and for hygiene 2 outdoor showers (my first time using one of these – not so bad, minus the cool breezy wind). The centre of it all is the community lounge, with a small shop, beer and wine, a record player, free coffee in the mornings, and plenty of places to lounge. Walking around Marfa is really a surreal experience – you kind of feel like you’re in a Western movie, but throwing in a few hip stores, dining establishments, and coffee shops – for the most part though, it surely is akin to the American frontier.
Personally, one of the reasons I wanted to explore Texas lies right in Marfa – the Marfa Mystery Lights. There’s a long, old story of how they came to be, but in a nutshell, there are two illuminations that appear, disappear, and reappear in an area where there are no roads, no houses, and no human inhabitants. Are they supernatural beings or visiting aliens? Or simply electrostatic discharge, campfire, or swamp gas. No one has definitively solved the mystery. We were lucky enough to spot them from a viewing area 9 miles east of Marfa on the U.S. 90. Spooky huh?
From there, it was back to our squishy lovely tent for a night at the very remote Big Bend Ranch State Park. Arrival at the Ranger Station requires around an hour of off roading on an especially bumpy dirt/gravel road. But, after we did finally making it in our little rented Chevy Sonic, we found an amazing campsite for the night. Although there were other campers, you would never know it. It was so serene and the landscape was exquisite. A little sidenote for this area: there is absolutely no cell phone reception, gas, or groceries. Just be forewarned. Spectacular mountain scenery paired with a hike into the desert (with no written signs to guide your way, only rock sculptures to mark the path), we were essentially in the middle of the vast wilderness, with thousands of species of plants and animals. I was adamant about seeing El Solitario, which is the parks signature landscape feature. It has a very distinctive shape (even from space!) and was made by magma from deep in the Earth that was pushed upward which displaced thousands of feet of overlying rock. This activity created a blister or dome-shaped bulge on the Earth’s surface. We were fortunate enough to be able to find a trail (Puerta Chilicote Trailhead) that led us to an ideal viewing point called the West Rim Overlook. What a wonder.
The next part of our road trip was all about runnin’ the river. After the most gorgeous three hour drive, we arrived at our next homestead, Terlingua’s Ghost Town. It’s primarily a slightly revitalized mining town that went bust – the miners walked away, leaving their homes behind. Dining is limited, so we ended up at the Starlight Theatre (where everyone else also ended up), which used to be a 1930s movie palace, also abandoned when the mines didn’t work out, and was reborn into an eatery and watering hole. I must recommend the trademark chili and the prickly pear margarita. But the real reason for being here was our one day Big Bend River Tour. It’s a guided trip down the Rio Grande, which is the body of water separating Texas from Mexico. There are a variety of trips offered of different lengths, so the tour that we ended up taking depended on the water level that day, but in the end was the Santa Elena Canyon tour by canoe. To put it plainly, it was awesome – we had a really cool guide, along the way are varied rapids that add a bit of excitement, we stopped at two natural hot springs, and were provided a full deli style lunch to enjoy. I have to say, it was definitely one of the highlights of our road trip.
Now, we’re out of the camping zones for good and on to the bigger cities. After our longest drive of 6 hours, we make it to San Antonio, home of the River Walk and the Alamo. The River Walk is absolutely beautiful, winding along 5 miles of sidewalk cafes, restaurants, bustling bars, and high-rise hotels. After walking along and soaking it all in, it was time to eat dinner, and no one comes to Texas without having some barbecue. So, the County Line it was. And pork ribs it was. I love me some good ribs, and good ribs they were. Afterwards, with tons of different bars to choose from, we settled on the Martini Bar, Swig, serving any combination of martini you can come up with, comparable to The Works (though that’s for burgers) here in Ottawa. The next morning, before leaving this city we didn’t get enough time to spend in, we had the privilege of visiting The Alamo. For those of you who are like me, and have no idea what the Alamo is, here’s a brief explanation: In 1836 Texan rebels, wanting to have Texas independent of Mexico (because it was part of Mexico at that time), barricaded themselves in this structure to hold off a siege by a large Mexican army, which didn’t work out so well, and all of them were killed. With the audio tour, I was able to step back into that time and honor the fallen. Recommended touristy visit for sure.
Before leaving on this trip, I had the tedious task of rearranging the entire travel itinerary I had made in order to be in Austin for the unique and creative South by Southwest (SXSW). It’s really a huge conference and festival covering music, film, and interactive concepts, however there are tons of unofficial events spread out all over the city. We had three days for our fill of music – from the heart throb back in the day Ryan Cabrera, Australian DJs hyping up the dance floor, and some heavy metal especially for Jeff, it’s like Bluesfest on Adderall.
Dallas: last but not least. Winding down the trip, we checked out the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza which marks November 22, 1963, the day a sniper assassinated the nation’s 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy as his motorcade traveled west on Elm Street. The museum is a top draw in north Texas, preserving the exact spot where Lee Harvey Oswald crouched and fired his rifle. Again with an audio tour, it also reflects upon the life, times, and legacy of the Kennedy presidency, with a moment-by-moment recollection of that fateful day. At the end is a new inscription from me in “Memory Books”, as it seems like not only did a nation lose a great man, but so did the rest of the world.
There’s this general association that Texas is all about country music, cowboy hats, beauty pageants, and barbecue. But, in reality, it is so much more. There’s a great deal of amazing landscape (Jeff only made me stop every 10 minutes to take pictures of it), tons of history, beautiful nature, rad festivals, and even some mysteries. It’s a fun place to road trip through – we learned a lot, ate a lot, and experienced a lot. We let ourselves soak in the state and its cities, which does nothing but make you richer – even after you receive your credit card bill.