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Monday, January 14, 2008

Planning my big Texas Trip

I had been planning this trip for a while. I have never been along the Texas coast south of Galveston. I've never been to Corpus Christi. I've not seen so much of the Rio Grande. This trip is my one chance to see it all one last time.

I'm familiar with Hill Country, the Permian Basin, the Greater Dallas-Fort Worth region, East Texas and its pines, but the southern Plains have always eluded me. I never had a reason to go there until now.

I will hug the Texas border, from the Gulf Coast south of Houston down to the Rio Grande, then continuing up along the Rio Grande to Big Bend country and the Chihuahan desert. The idea is to "taste the Texas border" and understand the intimate issue of immigration that is so close to most Texans.

From my town I will travel toward Houston but turn toward the Gulf before I reach the big city, passing through Freeport, Matagorda, Palacios, Port Lavaca (all which should have massive wildlife to see), Rockport, Corpus Christi, South Padre Island, where I will wade in the shallow shores and photograph the wildlife. Hopefully I get here before Spring Break! I want to spend a night or two along this coast to absorb its famous nightlife. I want to see and feel the ocean waves under the moon. This part of Texas is known to be home to over 500 species of birds, many of which live nowhere else in the US. I figured three to four days to make it down this far, about 600 miles.

I will take a break in Brownsville, have some Tex-Mex food, and walk around the battlefields where the Mexican War began in 1846. I want to get a visual feel for what the Mexicans fought so hard to retain, and what Union troops fought so hard to take it from them. Perhaps this will help me understand Mexicans' desires today to cross so easily across the border. There are three sites within a short drive/walk apart: Rancho de Carricitos where the skirmish began with an ambush on US troops, Battle of Palo Alto and Fort Brown.

Then I will continue along the Rio Grande Valley, aka "the Valley", drive along US Hwy 281 westward as it straddles near the border with Mexico. This area is known for its pink grapefruit and I want to try one fresh off the tree. There are also several marshes and wilflife refuges I want to explore, and several state parks along the river that I want to hike and camp in. The towns along the river, Hidalgo, McAllen, Rio Grande City, Zapata, Laredo are on my itenerary, welcoming me with their Spanish mercados and old square flare. From the coast to Laredo is about 210 miles. This is also home to many Snowbirds who spend the winter months in South Texas.

Once I tank up in Laredo and head further along the border on county road 1472 the desert, the South Texas Plains, begin. This is desolate, barren land and will continue so until I reach Big Bend Country. But if the political situation dictates, I may veer off the border road and go north toward Artesia Wells, Carrizo Springs, back toward the border to Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Marathon. There go another 400 miles.

From Marathon south it's Big Bend Country, where I plan on at least three days of hiking/camping and most likely no internet with which I can update this blog. There's a 14-mile hike called the South Rim hike, a strenuous hike for avid hikers. That's a plan for me before leaving the park and continuing on toward Lajitas, Presidio, Alpine, Marfa (where two recent movies, "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will be Blood" were filmed. Marfa is turning into a movie mecca for the modern western. Seeing the town transform from a cattle railroad town to a movie town should be interesting. The dead-end roads and turn arounds mean added mileage, but I figured another 200 miles just getting to and out of Big Bend Country, another 160 getting to Marfa and civilization again.

From Marfa it will be westward toward Van Horn and El Paso, 120 miles west on the tri-state border where the roadtrip officially ends.

A lot of the towns mentioned are 30-50 miles apart and probably don't merit a day visit, but I will judge that when I get there.

Routes can change due to weather, political climate or desire, but the overall focus of the trip will be wildlife, history and a sense of the vast Mexican-Texan border. Distractions will be road-side oddities and local personalities who give me leads and tips for other things to see.

I am reading as much as I can about the coastal and south plains areas of Texas. I want to know more about the history of the place I am driving through, to better appreciate what I am seeing later.

I hope it all works out. I am very excited about this trip, but doing it alone is a bit daunting. Yahoo! says it's over 1800 miles, and I'm sure it will be even more once local mileage is added. At $70 a day that's a lot of money for the trip, most of which will go toward gasoline. I can get by with $20 for food, but $4 for cappuccinos that will get me into HotSpots for a while, even in isolated places like Marfa.

My van will be my primary means of sleep. There are two military installations along the way I will stop in to restock and refresh: Corpus Christi Coast Guard and Langley AFB outside Del Rio. If anything, they have free internet.

I will explore during the day and write/talk to locals at night. There are plenty of free HotSpots in coffeeshops and hotels in the big cities. This connectivity will make this trip stand out from every other travel writer's earlier books.

I hope I haven't neglected anything? One thing I know I need to look into are good digital voice recorders, one that is good outside and that can download to my laptop.

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