Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Trip Log #1

Busy holiday weekend, so I didn't get any updates done like I hoped, nor have I gathered all my pictures together. But, as the time since I got back starts to linger, I figgered I better get an update done quick before details of the trip start to escape.

Our first day was uneventful; my daughter and I had one-way flights out to Lubbock, in west Texas. The flights were on Southwest, which is an unusual airline in lots of ways, not least of which because their M.O. seems to be to make a series of milk runs or puddle jumps, if you will. My daughter and I were in no fewer than five airports, on four flights before we arrived, and it took all day.

The next two days were mostly made up of hanging out with family that we don't see often enough; my folks, and two of my brothers and their families. We did, however, make an attempt to go to the natural history museum on Texas Tech's site only to discover that they are closed on Mondays. As a plan B, we went to the National Ranching Heritage center, which was pretty fun. There are close to fifty buildings which were relocated, and in some cases restored, on site, from various ranches around Texas, New Mexico and even further afield in some cases. It also has a big steam engine, which is always one of my favorite things to see. I'll double check when I finish gathering all my pictures, but I think it was a big Baldwin 2-4-4-2 Mallet. Although I also believe 2-4-4-2's were rare in the US. Maybe it was a 2-4-4-0? I'll check later.

I love the Age of Steam. That's part of the reason my model railroading was one of the great hobbies that I never quite had, but why I'm still fascinated with the hobby nonetheless. It's also part of the reason why the steampunk aesthetic was one that I quite enjoyed, and why I went through a prolonged phase where steampunk sensibilities were very much a part of DARK•HERITAGE, and why I never completely let them all go, even as I pulled back from that aesthetic quite a bit.

The Ranching Heritage center also had all kinds of kinda neat Old West stuff. A lot of what they had was ranchers shacks, old ranch houses, cookhouses, corralls and stuff like that, and frankly, after seeing half a dozen ranch houses, I'd seen enough to last me for a while. I also liked the thirty or so odd unique life-sized bronze statues of longhorns running in a herd up front. Longhorns (the Texas variety, not the similarly named English breed of cow) are an unusual breed in many ways. Optimized for survival, they are tough survivors; their calves can stand up and run sooner than any other breed, they can survive on much more marginal pasture than most other breeds, and they're pretty self-sufficient. Sometimes too much so; ranchers sometimes struggle when pregnant cows go to give birth and "disappear" for a time because they go off into hiding. However, their beef is somewhat tough and stringy, compared to other beef cattle. In fact by the 1920s, Longhorns as a breed were nearly extinct, because nobody had any real reason to raise them compared to the Herefords or Anguses, and they were in fact revived as much for the nostalgia and links to Texas history than for any other reason. In the past, great herds of longhorns, a hybrid breed of US and Mexican descent, roamed wild, and in the days when land and cattle were there pretty much for the taking by any enterprising fella who could stand the risk and hardship, they were common. And in the wake of beef shortages after the Civil War, longhorns from west Texas rode the Goodnight-Loving trail up north where they filled the slaughterhouses in Chicago and were sent further east.

Another curious fact about Texas, and much of the American southwest in fact is that it has been undergoing historic drought and heat conditions lately. My folks said that they haven't had any measureable rain since October. Granted, Lubbock is a fairly xeric place at the best of times, but this is ridiculous. Fields were dying and red or tan in color, grass was sere and yellow, wildfires are a significant danger across much of the region lately (in fact, Fort Davis, which I visited on my last trip to Texas a couple of years ago, had fires that threatened the observatory, which I stopped at; and apparently you can't even get to Carlsbad Caverns National Park because of wildfires.) Not to get too far ahead of myself, but this is in stark contrast to the more northerly parts of the American west. Heck; we had to alter our route home though North Dakota, because we would have driven through Minot, which is underwater.

Anyway, after staying in west Texas for a few days, we loaded up the car and undertook the very first leg of our extended road trip, which got us to Moab, Utah. We spent a fair amount of time in Texas and New Mexico still, crossing the Llano Estacado, crossed through a small corner of Colorado up by Cortez, and then went in to Utah via a number of smaller, and little-trafficked roads. Curiously, we went right by the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, but didn't have time to stop, sadly. Colorado was also quite green this time of year--at least this year--but as we crossed back into Utah, we got to the very typical Four Corners American southwest terrain; the kind of stuff that western movies like The Searchers were famous for using as locations.

We turned in early. We had earlier determined that Moab was "the gateway to the canyonlands", being the only significant town of any size that was near Canyonlands and Arches National Parks; Moab was essentially located between the two of them, actually, and they were already really close to each other. Canyonlands was a little too big to digest, but we thought we could spend a morning making a significant dent in sites to see in Arches before hitting the road again and being on our way further north.

No comments: