TEXAS FOUND (at last)
It was like turning a corner and stepping into another world. In the space of just a few miles, the real Texas appeared, stretching out before our eyes, the one we had etched in our minds after being glued, as children, to endless cowboy films on our parents' little black & white TVs.
Highway 10 heads west like an arrow and as soon as we joined it, half an hour out of Fredericksburg, the carefree and car-free open road drew us magnetically towards the bright horizon. We recognized an old familiar friend at once. This is the Wild West of our imagination.
We are currently in Ft Stockton, 300 miles west of San Antonio
It is hard for travelers to contain their excitement when anticipation turns into reality. We didn't even try. On either side of the road, miles upon miles of arid desert scrubland, peppered with desiccated vegetation, reached out to the curtain of flat-topped escarpments that rose up in the far distance. It is as if you are driving on a drained seabed (which you are if you go back a zillion years) with cliffs of layered rock skirting the edges of this mystifying empty world. It is absolutely stunningly beautiful for its emptiness, its vastness, its drama and its rugged resilience as it lies motionless under glowing blue sky. Just a few faint brushstrokes of gossamer white clouds completed the perfect scene. This is the sort of road where you decide to use the cruise control, which you had never up to now dared to use, put on your favorite music and just absorb the wonder of it all. (please take a look at the videos at the foot of this blog).
Route 10 West
Conical pyramids rise up from the desert floor like Mayan ruins
We had finally left the rolling green countryside of the Texas Hill Country. Fredericksburg is a town that must not, under any circumstances, be missed. Unapologetically German through and through, it was for generations the home and refuge for settlers who had fled all the problems and persecutions of Europe to establish a new own home from home here in central southern America. Just as the British could not resist recreating a little piece of England in their New World, the Germans rebuilt a bit of theirs here in Texas. The town consists of principally one road, Main Street, which is a total surprise as it has some of the classiest shops we have seen anywhere in the country. This place has style. The restaurants are fashionable bistros. The bars are more Soho House than doss house (with no TVs silently showing some sport or another) and the home furnishing stores have the sophistication of the plushier parts of New York and London.
Main Street, Fredericksburg
The Main Street sidewalk
The bars are irresistible (as are some of the customers)
At one end of Main Street is Admiral Nimitz's old hotel, built with an appropriate resonance of the fo'c'sle of a large ship. Chester William Nimitz, the revered fleet admiral of the US Navy, takes singlehanded credit for the US and allied naval successes in the Pacific during WWII. He was born here in Fredericksburg, a fact of which the town is enormously proud.
The former Nimitz Hotel, now a museum
This is also wine country. Dozens of well-manicured vineyards surround the town and, most fortunately, don't produce just that disgustingly sweet white wine, the hocks and the liebfraumilch, that the Germans are famous or infamous for. We enjoyed some excellent local nectar, especially at the Wild Seeds Farm winery which doubles up as a sort of garden center. The whole area is also a patchwork of Texan ranches, with a few fields of goats and sheep but mostly cattle. Our favorites were definitely the Dutch Belted Cows, which we had not seen before but which seem to love it here. The cows are outnumbered only by the wild deer who stare at you nervously from every angle.
There is much to do in and around Fredericksburg. An old disused railroad tunnel 30 miles away is well worth a visit. Just 900 yards long, it is home to no less than 3 million bats. Each night at dusk they leave the safety of their lair as a dark cloud to go feeding, much to the delight and appetite of the predatory hawks and the human visitors to this remarkable spectacle.. You can sit and watch this phenomenon for free at weekends. There is also a great short walk (our kind) along the old railroad line.
One other place to mention as a must-visit, but which could be easily missed, is an astonishing old house 6 miles to the east. Well, it looks old but it is actually reconstructed, on three floors, from buildings and wood brought here from far afield. It is all the idea of a super stylish fashion designer and her young, talented ingenues and together they have succeeded in buckets to recreate a genuine old-timer, retro community feel, which carries the same mood as their clothes. Unashamedly youthful, the line of clothing is one of grungy, urban chic and looks as if it has already been passed down through three generations. It is hard to describe but it must have an obvious anti-glam appeal to the well-heeled trendies in the big cities, in line with rich kids who like to dress down to play being poor. If interested, you should check out the website at:
The bohemian home of the design and corporate HQ of Magnolia Pearl.
But we have now left all that behind. We have found the real Texas. Let's be honest, most of the landscape we have seen thus far on this 15 month odyssey is similar in texture, from Massachusetts to Central Texas. But now, as we head towards the New Mexico border, everything is suddenly different. Today we are driving 100 miles in the faithful little mini to Ft Davis National Park. This is where they chose to place the most famous US star watching center, the MacDonald Observatory. Why place it here? Because it sits at 6,790ft, has cool dry winters and long hot summers and there are no significant towns to disgorge their light and air pollution for miles. Although never star-struck, we shall nonetheless definitely call in to see what astral delights they have discovered lately.
Next stop: Carlsbad, New Mexico
Thankfully Short Videos of the Open Texan Road
While traveling around in this way and for so long you meet many many people. But it is only occasionally that you truly make that immediate connection. We are sure you have had this experience and will know exactly what we are talking about. It got us thinking: you don't only MAKE friends but you also MEET friends.
We have been so fortunate to have crossed paths with some remarkable people with whom we have instantly connected. From Williamsburg, Virginia to Hot Springs, Arkansas, it has been our luck, joy and privilege to spend time with some very special people.
It happened again this week. We met Erick. Erick is a remarkable man, a Mexican, a brilliant cancer doctor specializing in leukemia, researcher and administrator and the best company this side of Tijuana. Having helped hundreds fight their battles, Erick currently has his own health challenges. We feel for him as we have friends and family in the UK who have had to face these all too common setbacks too and who, fortunately, are now on the road to recovery. Erick is greatly strengthened by the love and support of his lovely parents and we were so delighted to have met them, spending a whole afternoon putting the world right in Lauren's magnificent bar in Fredericksburg's Main Street. We know Erick has limitless strength to take on the challenges ahead but we want him to know we send him our love and best wishes, as only friends can.
P.S. for UK readers (with apologies)
Just can't resist a comment (but should do in this non-political space) after seeing all the political turmoil in the UK this week.
Please, let's end this Brexit fatigue by backing Mrs May and get this whole sorry, drawn-out episode behind us and move on. If it all implodes next week, look what is waiting in the wings... Red Corbyn, commie bullet-maker McDonnell and the fascist 'do was we say, not as we do' Left. No longer loony, just dangerous. Tykes, bikes and strikes are ready to take over. Be careful what you wish for... or get the oil-lamps ready.