I am a creature of habit. I imagine most folks are to some degree. When October rolls around, I pull out my Harry Potter hardbacks to either be re-read or give me good company. I wore the same socks every basketball game in high school. I chew Orbit sweet mint gum and drink a cup of coffee every morning. When I was younger I had Big Bird’s film classic Follow That Bird on repeat and was adament on my daily outfit: a coonskin cap and cowboy boots. Naturally, I was Davy Crockett reincarnated. My habits changed alongside my style, however, and I would eventually trade watching Big Bird for listening to Jewel’s “Pieces of You”, the coonskin cap for a Chicago Bulls flat bill with ‘Jordan’ sewn on the back, and the cowboy boots for Birkenstocks.
Turns out that the five seasons of Friday Night Lights and the few years I was Davy Crockett fighting in the Alamo, were the only times in my life I felt any particular affection or alliance to the great state of Texas. I always thought of Texas as hot and braggadocios. One of my favorite lines from John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is when he’s detailing his affection for Montana (something I deeply identify with): “Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.” It’s always seemed overrated and I’ve never been that interested. But just as I’m a creature of habit, I’m also a creature that eats her words. In one week I saw a glimpse of why Texan cars are littered with Texas-related bumper stickers.
We stopped in Austin for a few nights and spent time with great friends, ate a lot, connected with some family history, found the greatest radio station, and witnessed it’s overall cool-ness. And then it was on to Big Bend National Park in the middle of nowhere West Texas. Even though it’s open all year, the park is so out of the way from everywhere, that it only gets 300,000 visitors a year (compared to the 4.5 million at Grand Canyon). The absence of people in such a large space is just a chunk of its majesty. Our campsite in Chisos Mountain Basin was another as we nestled into an amphitheater of red rock and sunsets.
Andrew and I went on four hikes (Lost Mines, the Window, Santa Elena Canyon, and Balanced Rock) that were all vastly different and equally gratifying—another rarity. But it was the desert ecosystem that really rocked my world (another statement I never thought I’d utter). I make many exceptions to many rules, and up until this point Southern Utah was the only desert I loved. I’m truly a world of contradictions and am still gnawing on those words. Big Bend has had far more rainfall in the past few months than usual, and it has caused a grand celebration of wildflowers. I drove Andrew nuts by stopping every time I saw a flowering cactus. Here is a litany of that celebration.
The roadrunner is our new favorite animal. Not only can it run up to 20mph but its diet consists of lizards and small rattlesnakes. Then there’s the kangaroo rat that doesn’t even need to drink to survive; it can metabolize water from the carbohydrates in seed. Never knew I’d be so fascinated by a rat. And so it was that Big Bend taught me to love the desert life with no exception. Texas will never be Montana, but it owns a separate magic not to be overlooked.
We bypassed New Mexico for the moment with the hopes to add it in the end, and pushed on toward Arizona. We stayed at Catalina State Park outside of Tucson for a few nights and made friends with the Saguaro cacti. The next week is littered with iconic sites—canyons of all shapes and sizes. For now, we’ll focus on these needled beauties.