I had to run up to Alpine to give a presentation on a new insurance package to our TRLA Alpine Office, but after the first question I had to use my "call a friend life line" to our Benefits Director. After that call I just held the posters and as Julie said, I was in my best Vanna White mode. An exhausting presentation.
Tomas and I had started out early from Mission stopping in San Isidro for breakfast where we were warned not to stop for any suspicious looking police/deputy/DPS vehicles because there's been a rash of robberies by men pretending to be cops. Just like the Zetas in Mexico. Good to know that there's nothing like having a little bit of Mexico in South Texas to make the ride more interesting!
We've been in a drought throughout Texas and the valley had not had significant rainfall since late July 2010 so when we saw the thunderstorm approaching us north of Hebbronville we were glad to see rain clouds. That good feeling didn't last too long as we had to pull over about 20 miles south of Freer, pull out the rain gear and move on. I have a BMW one piece rain suit that I brag about being absolutely water proof and the perfect outfit for any thunderstorm. I was wrong. The rain really started falling and the wind was blowing the rain sideways and soon I began to feel rain coming up my sleeves because I forgot to put on my neat rain gloves, the ones with the little squeegee on the forefinger for wiping the water off my face shield. Those gloves overlap the rain suit sleeve, my summer riding gloves don't do that and with no place to pull off the highway it was too late to change. Then I felt water dripping down my neck onto my shirt and rain coming up my pant legs so by the time we made the Love's Truck Stop in Encinal some 70 miles later, I was soaked. A guy who passed us up on the way to Encinal was also at Love's and came over to tell us that he couldn't believe we were riding in that rain and that he wouldn't do it for any amount of money. It's hard to look like "mancho man" when you're soaking wet so we just smiled and said it cooled us off. I switched shirts, fueled up and rode on. The clouds were gone past Encinal and 30 miles later I was totally dry.
Riding in the rain, if you stay dry, is not bad especially in summer months when it's a nice cooling off break. The only scary part, apart from hitting water puddles and fearing hydroplaning (not a good thing on two wheels) is lightening. Before getting to Freer there were some pretty nasty flashes that were a little too close for comfort. I can feel myself ducking as we cruise by those big radio antennas. I'm thinking that the rubber tires prevent grounding with the pavement so I should be okay, right?
There's not too much change in the landscape from the valley and the rest of South Texas not until we pass Eagle Pass, about 20 miles west on Hwy 277 do things change as we approach Quemado, Texas. Quemado is a small town sitting in what is a beautiful oasis of green pastures and huge pecan groves. There isn't anything like it east or west for hundreds of miles. It's by the Rio Grande River with its pastures and groves irrigated by a series of canals. It's worth the time to get off the highway and take the narrow two lane county road which parallels the river for a few miles.
Another 36 miles to Del Rio, stopped at Rudy's BBQ for a late lunch before continuing on Hwy 90 west to Alpine from Del Rio. We're running late so there's no time to stop at the Pecos River overview of the highest suspended bridge in Texas or at Judge Roy Bean's Museum in Langtry as we kept rolling west.
|West Texas Fires - photo by JBalovich |
We fueled up in Sanderson, Texas and had been on the road all day with 455 miles behind us and only 84 to go on Hwy 90 before reaching Alpine, Texas. As we rolled into Sanderson the setting sun silhouetted what I thought was a beautiful rain cloud finally making their way into dry, drought stricken West Texas. Between that beautiful cloud and our bikes sat on the middle of our lane two Sheriff Deputy vehicles with their red and blue lights flooding the highway. No doubt some type of license check point or a search for poachers. I was wrong. As I pulled up to them they said the road was closed because there was too much smoke across the highway. That's when I realized my beautiful rain cloud was actually smoke from the burning fires. The deputies said that the wind usually dies down at night so the highway might open by 1am or we could head north to Fort Stockson on Hwy 285 and then south on Hwy 385 to Marathon, a 120 mile detour. The wait would be too long and riding at night is never a safe alternative in deer country so we checked in at Sanderson's Desert Air Motel for the night. The $48 room charge convinced me that stopping overnight was a smart move.
|Still burning by Hwy 90 West of Sanderson |
West of Sanderson fires rule. With the highway now open I left the motel at 7am leaving Tomas to get some more sleep. Highway 90 west to Marathon was open, but it was still burning just off the highway and with the winds picking up again during the day the highway would close again by that afternoon.
Friday morning and the fires are still burning. This is how much of the area looks like now.
Late Friday morning Tomas joined me in Alpine and we headed south to Study Butte before entering Big Bend National Park. The skies were still hazy as far south as the park. At the Chisos Basin we met a fellow rider on a Ducati riding from Phoenix, Arizona to Houston. He had been riding since Tuesday (four days) and heading east. I mentioned that unlike his ride from Phoenix we were just down the road about 600 miles and then it dawned on me that we were about the same distance from each other. On the way north we were at the speed limit of 75mph when suddenly a very huge buck stood in front of me on the middle of the highway. I slammed on the brakes, but he just looked at me like I was invading his space. He walked off, leaped a fence and disappeared into the woods. To say he jumped the fence would be wrong, implying that effort was involved, and with a graceful walk he glided over the fence as if it were only a foot high.
We left Big Bend by way of the North entrance coming out in Marathon planning to head east to Sanderson for a second night's stay. Unfortunately, Hwy 90 was again closed so we rode back into Marathon to try and find a room for the night. Alpine was booked, and so was Marathon. We had no choice, but to go north about 60 miles on Hwy 285 to Fort Stockton. We landed a room at the Hampton Inn. We rode about 340 miles on Friday before we finally ending up in Fort Stockton.
About 10pm Fire Fighters started coming in for the night. Seems all were young, looking like America's real cowboys, beat and weary from fighting fires. They all carried their packs with everything from sleeping rolls to work boots. By 6am they were eating breakfast and gone by 6:15am. These young men and women had to be worn by the daily grind of coming in late at night and leaving before daylight.
|West Texas blazes. Photo by JBalovich|
Saturday morning we were off at 8:15am riding to Eagle Pass, Freer, Hebbronville and home. We rode 534 miles on Saturday and 1,335 miles in three days.
It was impressive to see the charred landscapes looking stark and strange like something from another planet. Rain will certainly help put out the fires and restore the landscape to its natural beauty. Until that comes about it's worth your time to see parts of West Texas in this unusual setting.
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