“We don’t tolerate speeding in Texas.”
~Sheriff outside of Junction, Texas.
Alright, so I got pulled over today. My first time ever. In Texas. Sounds fun, right?
I was driving down Interstate 10 outside of Junction, Texas. There is literally nothing around. I’ve seen maybe 10 cars in the last hour. This is a fairly hilly and mountainous part of west Texas. I was coming down one hill and saw a cop sitting on the side of the road. I looked down and thought I wasn’t speeding. After we’ve turned the next corner, I see the new Dodge police car coming up behind me with lights flashing. Since I’m the only car with in 20 miles, I assume he’s after me.
I pull off to the side of the road and put on my blinkers. The sheriff pulls up behind me and jumps out of his car. He sneaks up beside the car, peering cautiously into the backseat where Madison sits confused because she had been asleep for the last hour. The whole time he has his hand on his gun. The conversation went something like this:
“License, insurance and step out of the car, please.”
“I need to step out of the car?”
“License, insurance and step out of the car.”
“Uhh…O.K.” I get my license and the insurance and step out of the car.
“Come back to the rear of the vehicle.”
“No, over here. No, here.” Apparently there was some magical spot that he wanted me to stand at behind the car that I couldn’t find. Finally I was standing to his liking.
“I clocked you going 85 down that hill back there. Any reason you were speeding?”
“Uhhh…isn’t the speed limit 80?”
“Ahhh…well I guess I just usually go about five over.”
“We don’t tolerate speeding in Texas. Who else is in the car with you?”
“My sister and my granddad. It’s his car.”
“Your granddad, huh?”
“What do you do? You a student in Chapel Hill?” I was decked out in my Chapel Hill T-shirt and a UNC hat. Very observant, this one.
“What are y’all doing down here?”
“We’re taking a road trip across the country, coming down south, going up the California coast, then coming back up north.”
“Mmmhmm. Well, slow down.”
Then he gave me back my license and insurance and got back in his car. Less then a mile down the road he had another car pulled over.
Other than our brief pit stop, the drive from San Antonio to Carlsbad Caverns, N.M., was pretty great. The area right outside of San Antonio is the Texas that I was expecting to see: no grass, brown dirt and rocks as far as the eye can see with little patches of green shrubs and cacti. The only civilization anywhere near the highway are the few ranches that are spread out for countless acres in the country.
Everything seems very slow out there. The animals wander slowly around their pens. We passed a wind farm, fans turning slowly on the right side of the road, looking like awkward giants waving from the hilltop. The oil rigs look like abandoned, lazy see-saws.
There’s no rush here. That’s the way it should be.
Not far from San Antonio, I-10 runs right into a mountain range (the name of which I can’t seem to find right now). I’m not even sure if I should call it a mountain range. The ground was mostly as flat as it had been the whole time, but suddenly there were big rocky hills popping up on both sides of the road, sometimes with rocky cliffs lining the road where the ground had been blasted to build the road.
We followed these mountains up to Carlsbad Caverns in the southern part of New Mexico. The cave is one of the biggest in the United States (I’m pretty sure it is the biggest, but I can’t find that confirmation anywhere). We got there in time to use the natural entrance and get a guided tour later in the day. (There are two options to get down to the main part of the cave, called the Big Room. There is the natural entrance, which is a hike down the mouth of the cave, and an elevator.) At about 1 p.m. we started down the natural entrance. It took about an hour to walk down to the Big Room. The path down there was crazy steep and got dark really quick. The rock formations were simply amazing and monstrous. It’s really hard to describe the size and awesomeness of this cave. At one point, there was a 200,000 ton rock that had fallen from the ceiling and landed on the floor. I can’t imagine what that would have been like.
It took about 2 and a half hours to walk down the natural entrance and around the Big Room. The Big Room is exactly what it sounds like, a massive area with awesome rock formations. At one end there is a cliff that leads to the lower cave with even more areas to walk around, but this is undeveloped and not open to the public. To give a little reference, the path that runs around the edge of the room is 1.25 miles.
After we walked through that, we took a guided tour through what is called the Kings Palace room, another part of the cavern off the natural entrance. This room was even more beautiful, with thousands of stalactites hanging down from the ceiling. It reminded me of an old gothic stone church. The tour guide, Ranger Joe, also told us a lot about the history of the cave and how it formed, which was really interesting. Most of the initial exploration was done by a 16-year-old cowboy named Jim White. The only reason it was explored at all was to mine the guano from the bats to use as fertilizer. (If you don’t know what guano is, feel free to look it up.)
At one point on the tour, Ranger Joe cut off all the lights in the cave room and we sat there in total darkness. It’s a weird experience. You can put your hand in front of your face and know that it’s there, but you can’t see it. It’s pretty disorienting. I wouldn’t want to be caught down there with no light.
We finally left the cave at around 5 p.m. and headed on to Roswell, N.M. It was a short and nice drive free of crazy Texan sheriffs. The farther west we go, the less green I see around me. The ground around the highway was completely flat all the way to the horizon, except where a massive shadowy mountain lurked off to the west.We’re staying here tonight and checking out the Air Force base here — where Paw-Paw was stationed — and the UFO museum. Oh Area 51….
In totally unrelated news, the Tar Heels won their first game of the College World Series!! Go Heels!
Let’s hope I don’t get abducted.