- Where We Started: Alpine, Tex.
- Where We Ended: Alamogordo, N.M.
- Miles Driven: 352 (6,279 total)
- New States: New Mexico
- States So Far: 14 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
We've seen a lot on this trip. We've experienced a lot. We've laundered a lot. We've eaten a lot. The one thing we haven't done is exercise a lot. So with a light sightseeing day in front of us, we decided to get in our first hike of the trip. This was also a nod to Fred and Hank, who spent most of our visit to Big Bend National Park in the back seat of the car. And once you get past dating in high school, being in the back seat of a car for long periods of time tends to lose its appeal.
So off we went to Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, Tex., and headed to its highest point to take a hike. Now, I'm not going to try to claim this was a 10-mile hike; it was one mile at most. But it was really steep -- both ways. And we saved the steep uphill for the hike back. And it was hot... OK, so you're not impressed. But, hey, it was a start.
The park provided a picturesque view that would have made some great photos of the beagles. The only problem: After hitting their stride as models over the past week, the beagles went back to being, well, beagles. Joan's attempts to get them to pose led to award-winners like this.
Finally, we got one usable photo of our difficult subjects, and lacking anything else, had to use it as the Bonus Beagle Photo of the Day. For those who have never owned a beagle, they do tend to be a tad stubborn, but not all the time. Some days, they're both cooperative on all fronts. Other days, they just refuse to do what they're told. About anything. That indpendent streak is something we love about them, since Joan and I both have the same independent inclination. But on days like this, it can make you crazy. Maybe it's because we didn't give them the proper mix of snacks in the green room beforehand. You know how celebrities can be.
We did still manage to get a few decent shots of the scenery. They were just beagle-free.
From there, it was off to El Paso, Tex., a border city that is largely ignored by most travel books. After driving through, we now know why. It's not a pretty city, and seems to have been hit hard by the recession. As a result, it felt like a rather joyless town. For us, the interesting facet to El Paso is the border, especially with the rapidly increasing violence in border towns in recent years. In Fort Hancock, Tex., we hopped on Texas 20 -- which runs close to the border -- and took it toward El Paso. Eventually, we worked our way onto side roads that got us within a few hundred yards of the border.
This was a fascinating drive, as you could see how different the culture was in these border towns. Lots of Border Patrol vehicles, a number of roads restricted to government vehicles and all sorts of traffic jams both ways at the many border crossings. Yet, in the midst of all this, there were lots of peaceful farms and quiet country roads.
At this point in the ride, we couldn't drive any closer to the border without actually going into Mexico. But we continued the drive, and in El Paso, hopped on Texas Loop 375, which runs mere feet from the border. There, you could look into Mexican villages, and see the additional, razor-wire topped fence that accompanied the standard fence. As we were driving, Joan saw an amusement park, and commented, "That seems rude to put that so close to the border. It's like we're just taunting the people on the other side." Turns out the park was on the Mexican side of the border. Whoops. But we were so close to the border, it was hard to tell what was where until you were right upon it.
After dinner, we cruised up U.S.-54 through a heavy military area that houses the Fort Bliss Military Reservation and the White Sands Missile Range. We also hit another U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, and for the second time, were merely asked whether we were U.S. citizens or not. I told the officer we were, and we were waved on.
- A few miles west of Van Horn, Tex., we entered Mountain Time Zone. The only effect this will have on anyone reading is that this will probably mean the daily report will come a little later in the day. Sorry.
- I realize that FHMA may contain more bathroom humor than one might prefer. But considering how many public bathrooms we're forced to use, potential humor and/or horror reside around every stall. At the oddball La Kiva, where we ate dinner on Sunday night, Joan went to use the bathroom while I paid the check. She took such a long time I thought maybe they were selling jeans in there. Then, she emerged laughing. This raised all sorts of warning flags in my brain, and told me she'd fill me in when we got in car. My curiosity only increased.Our intrepid toilet journalist then reported the following: Apparently, there was a sign taped inside the bathroom door that said, "Please do not flush ANY paper. Our septic system thanks you." Joan sat and thought about this for a few minutes. She'd seen signs about not flushing sanitary napkins or tampons. But no paper of any kind? Noting an empty but lined garbage can next to the toilet, she pondered her options: 1) flush and risk an overflow situation, or 2) wipe, toss and run. Joan -- being that this was a "uno" situation and not a "dos" -- chose the latter. Fearing she may have misunderstood the sign, we screeched out of the parking lot like Potty and Clyde.
- On this topic, reader Jen Parobek asked in the comments whether we noticed the pervasive smell of urine during our visit to San Antonio. I can't say we did. But considering how much time we've spent in a filthy car with two filthy beagles, it may well be our sense of smell is gone.
- Upon our arrival at Davis Mountains State Park, I went inside to pay and was waiting behind a gentleman, who was engaged in quite a detailed discussion with the ranger. As I waited, I learned a lot about these two folks. He was from Detroit; she was originally from Duluth, Minn. After they spent time arguing which place was colder and which place was nicer, they moved on to a debate about the differing personalities of those from Michigan and Minnesota. There seemed to be no concern that someone was waiting less patiently by the minute. "People from Minnesota are tougher because of the weather," she said. "Michiganites are more refined," he retorted. "Yes, and Northeasterns are the most goddamn impatient," I said, but only in my head. After 10 minutes, the gentleman finally retreated from the counter, and the ranger -- as if I hadn't been there for 10 minutes -- immediately asked me where I was coming from. Afraid of being pulled into another geographically-based debate, I mumbled we were on a cross-country trip and had been everywhere, paid my $10 and sprinted for the car.
- Davis Mountains State Park has signs everywhere warning you to the presence of bears, mountain lions and javelinas. As we were preparing for our hike, I asked Joan that if we were confronted by a mountain lion, and had to choose one dog, which she would give up. Without missing a beat, she said: "I'd tell them to take you." I probably deserved that for asking the question, but I'm sure that's not true. Right, Joan? ... Joan?
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Theme (from Goldfinger)," by John Barry. First off: I have now declared that the iPod random song of the day can no longer be from a movie score. You all know I have an affinity for movie music, and most of you probably never will let me forget that. So, from here on out, we'll stick with non-movie music. Second, John Barry is an excellent film composer if you're so inclined to check him out. I like James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith and Hans Zimmer more, but Barry is right after that. And, by the way, for those of you who want to take shots at me on this point, let me say this: At least I'm honest about my music likes. I love these lists on Facebook where someone supposedly puts their iPod on shuffle and writes down the first 25 songs that play. Amazing how not a single person ever seems to have anything uncool on their iPod. Please. We all have our music skeletons.
- Most-Played Albums: We had a big Talking Heads day, running through "Little Creatures," "Speaking in Tongues" and "Sand In the Vaseline." My personal favorite Heads tunes: "Once in a Lifetime," "The Big Country," "City of Dreams," "Lifetime Piling Up," "(Nothing But) Flowers" and "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)." We closed the day off with yet another play of the new David Byrne/Brian Eno album, which is less new by the day, I guess.
- Most Appropriate Song of the Day: Sheryl Crow's,"Every Day Is a Winding Road," which played as we navigated switchbacks on a scenic drive between Alpine and Fort Davis, Tex.
- Lunch: McDonald's, Alpine, Tex.: I believe this was our first McDonald's stop of the trip, which is not a bad thing. This McDonald's had wireless (though you had to pay); that's the first time I've seen that. As for the rest of the experience, it was the cookie-cutter experience McDonald's has brilliantly mastered and monetized. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5). I got chicken strips and fries. It was relatively small, which is the only reason I didn't give myself one star. Restaurant Rating: 3 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale). Perfectly servicable.
- Dinner: Smitty's Pit BBQ, El Paso, Tex.: This Roadfood recommended BBQ joint was a mixed bag. The meal started well with terrific tossed salads, and ended amazingly with Joan's rum cake. My main course -- the sausage platter -- was very good, but Joan's BBQ chicken platter was so dry, she barely ate any of it. So despite the positives, you have to ding a BBQ place when its BBQ doesn't stack up. Jim Nutrition Rating: 2 stars (out of 5). I did have a salad, no dessert and no beer. Then again, when you're making nutition arguments on what you're NOT eating, then you clearly have a problem. Restaurant Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).
- Quality Inn Alomogordo, Alamogordo, N.M.: We got this room for free, and not even because Joan managed to negotiate the deal. After finally mastering the labyrinth regulations around the "Stay Three, Get One Free" deal, we finally qualified. And, for the most part, we were happy. Our room was big enough that the dogs could chase each other in it and the bed was comfortable. But there were muliple down sides: The wireless wasn't great. There wasn't much grass for the dogs to mark. The laundry room was so dirty that Joan refused to let any of our clothes -- even the dirty ones -- touch anything in it except the inside of the washer and dryer. The room keys worked only sporadically. Hotel rating: 2 stars (out of 5). We are looking forward to being pampered at the Kimpton FireSky Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: White Sands National Monument, and on to Tucson, Ariz.
- Tomorrow: Tucson, and on to Phoenix.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Phoenix, and then the beginning of our three-day break.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS