At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


It was great to get out of town; my weekend film and music consumption was getting too routine. I picked up Pablo at the Lubbock Airport on Thursday morning and we cruised through the excellent Texas highway system while dodging tumbleweeds and listening to some regionally appropriate road trip music (Willie Nelson, The Flatlanders, etc.) provided to us by Felix. A few hours later we stopped in New Mexico to eat Thanksgiving lunch at McDonalds and look at the weird illuminated rock formations 700 feet underground in Carlsbad Caverns. Back on the road, we saw the silhouette of the Guadalupe Mountain Range rising abruptly from the desert plains. A half hour later we crossed back into Texas and pulled into the park visitors center, only to be told that all the campgrounds were taken. A park ranger advised us that back across the border in NM there was some Bureau of Land Management property open for campers. So we drove back up the highway as the sun was setting and found the gated dirt road. As we lurched along at 5 mph, weaving from side to side to avoid stones and thorny mesquite bushes, I wished for an SUV. We found a large level patch of dirt cleared out among the yucca and juniper, and hurried to set up Pablo's tent as a frigid wind stiffened our fingers. When we finished at dusk it was too uncomfortable for us to bother cooking, so we sat in the car and ate cold Turkey Spam sandwiches and dried cranberries picked out from trail mix. Finally we got into the tent with a bottle of Knob Creek at around 7 p.m. and shivered even in our mummy-style sleeping bags. First lesson for future campouts: in winter, consider Florida. Later in the evening I I got up to investigate the source of car doors slamming and loud talking. I saw two flashlight beams sweeping the area near the gate, but didn't find out until the next day that they were fellow campers.

In the morning we made coffee and ate muffins. Pablo's whisper stove suffered the fate of Challenger--the O-ring sealing the fuel cannister leaked and the entire apparatus caught on fire. I had brought my bargain basement camp stove as a backup, and although I didn't have high hopes for it since it failed me in Taos, Pablo managed to get it burning long enough to make a couple of cups of the hot and black*. Second lesson for future campouts: redundancy is good. We then packed up and went back to the campground, where we were glad to find an empty spot. After setting up the tent again, we started hiking up the trail to Guadalupe Peak. It was fairly strenuous but not nearly as difficult as Wheeler Peak, and we made it to the top in about 3 1/2 hours. We took in a spectacular view of the foothills to the east, the rest of the mountain range to the north, and a big salt flat to the south and west. I signed the guest book stashed in a metal ammunition box at the base of a memorial set up by the US Postal Service. Someone, by the way, had left in the box business cards with a blog address printed on them, The Lonewacko Blog, "Blogging Across America." An interesting idea...

Hiking down was easier on the cardiovascular system but murder on the joints. Third lesson for future campouts: bring a knee brace or two. Back at home base, we again made a hasty dinner (Dinty Moore) and crawled into the tent at 6:00 p.m. A few swigs of bourbon and we fell asleep for the next 13 hours.

The next day we spent hiking McCittrick Canyon, which is famous for its out of place fall foliage--a spring fed stream supports a number of typically eastern trees. At this time of year more of the leaves were on the ground than on the limbs, but they were still colorful. The path was blessedly level, a relief for our sore legs. After finishing the trail in early afternoon, Pablo took a nap in the tent while I climbed up a small hill near the campground. The mellow afternoon sun and gentle wind put me in a contemplative mood.

Later we decided to seek out the attractions of civilization. The nearest town on the map was Salt Flat to the southwest, but after a twenty minute drive we learned that the town seemed to consist of one house and one cafe (which latter was closed anyway). We did, however, admire the view of the mountains from across the salt flat. We decided to drive back north to Carlsbad for buffet dinner at Furr's and book browsing at Hastings.

The next day we took the southern route back to Lubbock. Going through the least populated county in the US was not that remarkable an experience; Loving county has the usual Permian Basin landscape studded with oil-pumps.

Sunday evening Estevan, a high school chum, arrived. I hadn't seen him in two years so we had a good time catching up. Unfortunately, we lost track of how much wine we were drinking and so had bad hangovers the next day, dampening the sightseeing. It also turns out that all the museums in Lubbock are closed on Monday. There was a small town museum in Floydada, Floyd County, with a few Coronado artifacts, and a good ol' West Texas gal curator who talked our ear off about local history.

By a lucky coincidence Estevan had found out a couple of weeks earlier that a college friend of his had gotten a teaching job at Texas Tech, so we stopped by the CS department on the off chance that he would be in his office. He was, so we went out to the brewpub for drinks and then arranged to eat dinner at a barbeque restaurant north of town, after Estevan and I could take a nap to get over the lingering hangover. The barbeque was great--the best beef brisket I've ever had.

Now I'm happy to be back at work so I can rest from my vacation.

*With acknowledgements to P. G. Wodehouse.


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