Two sides of Texas

Two stories today, two stories from Texas, the state so illogically large that the only way I can comprehend it is to split it up by a highway.

We’ll start at the state’s border. If you enter from the West, your first look at Texas is not actually Texas. It’s Juarez. The closely-packed, brightly-colored homes occupy every square inch of the hills, seemingly put together on top of one another, like other neighborhoods in Northern Mexico. That’s on the right side of the highway. On the left, in El Paso, a nice building that appears to be a new hotel is being built. You could throw a baseball from one to the other. As a country, we talk a lot about border politics and arbitrary lines and the birth lottery, and I wish it could all be done right here, on the El Paso/Juarez line. Let’s hold a debate here, where it’s real, where Mexico and America blend.

We’ll end with Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Texas is flat. Crazy flat. Crazy huge and crazy flat. So despite being more than 100 miles away, it’s possible to see the Guadalupe Mountains almost as soon as you leave El Paso. They rise seemingly out of nothing. California has impressive mountain ranges, but they’re layered. The tallest mountain is next to another huge mountain. This is different. The flat-topped Guadalupe range is a rising aberration in a sea of flat oil fields and cattle ranches.

Here lies the tallest natural point in Texas, the Guadalupe Peak. It’s around 8,700 feet tall. In Colorado, that wouldn’t even qualify as a mountain. More like a hill. Here, you start at the bottom, look up, and think, ‘How am I supposed to get up this thing?’

On the way up, I kept pace with a man wearing a white hat. He looked to be in his 50s and was in pretty good shape. This, though, was a whale of a hike. About halfway up, we took a break at the same time. I was breathing like Deadpool in that oxygen deprivation chamber. He looked over and said, “It’s been uphill since the first step, huh?” He was talking to the right person — I had moved onto bandana No. 2 after already sweating completely through the first one. I agreed, then said “It’s not every day you get to hike to the Top of Texas, though.”

He laughed. I felt like an asshole. But then he smiled and said, “This is my last chance to do it, too.” As he pushed up off the rock with one hand, he took his other hand and made a fist, tapping into his chest a couple times before standing up and walking away. Maybe I should have pried. When I saw him up at the peak, he was sitting on a rock, munching through a sandwich. I walked over, ready to ask him why this was his last time, but he caught my eye and smiled before repeating the fist on his chest, like it was our little secret.

From up high this looks like water. It’s actually white sand.
This little rock formation in front of the peak reminded me of Michigan.
Flat, flat, flat. Apparently on clear days you can see the Sierra’s.

LIGHTNING ROUND

  • You can make it across the entirety of New Mexico on a half tank of gas.
  • You cannot do this in Texas. I drove on a highway surrounded by oil fields for hours today, but literally ran out of gas as I pulling into a gas station. Lots of oil coming out of the ground with nowhere to buy it.
  • In Pecos, Texas, the official tourism website recommends winding down the day with a nice delivery from Pizza Hut: http://visitpecos.com/visit-pecos/destination/museums-galore-pecos-memories
  • I stopped by the local Walmart after being told it was the only grocery store in town (unconfirmed, but I didn’t see others). No fresh vegetables or fruit. The only available greens were frozen. It’s really easy to live in this country and forget about food deserts, but they are real and they are scary.
  • Tomorrow is Big Bend National Park. It’s apparently the darkest area in the United States. I am very curious to see if that’s noticeable or not.
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