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West Texas

Seeing the Google Earth image of our campsite last night started me thinking. It’s amazing how we can go somewhere but not really know much about what’s around us, until we start asking questions and poking around. In this case, I had realized we were in an oil field when I spotted a derrick by the road, but had no idea how many oil wells were surrounding us.

This morning I decided to make some mental notes as we drove through west Texas along I-20, and then Rt 285 north from Ft Stockton to New Mexico. Tallying up the things I saw as we drove turned a “boring” drive into a really fascinating one. Everything was worth noticing: oil wells, small gray deer among the cedars, ranch gates made of stone, sagebrush, mesas and buttes.

The things we saw today tell me that we have crossed the line from low elevation and arid climate to a much drier high desert climate. At first, I-10 cuts through rolling hills, revealing cliffs of yellow limestone and millions of years of geologic history in sedimentary layers. Then around Ft Stockton, the ground becomes flatter and the plants gradually become more and more scattered. The cedars that help define the hill country are almost gone. The temperature drops more rapidly in the desert air at sunset (it was 37 when we arrived and has since dropped into the 20s) and even Emma’s hair is telling me that humidity is much less than it was a couple of days ago in Austin.

We decided to skip Marfa and head north to Carlsbad Caverns. Emma’s still nonchalant about the caves, but Eleanor and I want to see them again. The last time Emma was here, she was still in the womb, and Eleanor was carefully walking down the cave’s natural entrance, eight months pregnant.

We’ve parked at the only place in Whites City, at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Whites City is basically a tiny intersection at 3600 feet elevation, bearing the usual tourist stuff (restaurant, gift shops, motel, post office, etc). It’s a cousin of many such places around the country: Wall Drug in South Dakota, “The Thing” in Arizona, “South of The Border” in South Carolina, etc. Whites City is not nearly as interesting as those larger brethren, but definitely cut from the same cloth.

It was once much more of a tourist trap than it is today. Along the highway leading here, you can still see the remains of dozens of black-and-red billboards advertising the place in its heydey. The few readable signs are a tip-off to how long ago that was. My favorite said, “WHITES CITY. KODAK FILM — FLASHBULBS”. When was the last time you bought a flashbulb?

Best Western has taken over the former Whites City motel, but it still features a low-budget RV park out back, of the type you see all over the west: a dusty (or muddy) dirt parking lot, decaying facilities, questionable electric, wide open spaces and a view of the highway. Full hookups, $20. Many other western parks are cheaper, running as low as $10 but there’s no competition in Whites City, so they can charge more.

There are about six or seven rigs here in the lot. It’s far from a luxury resort, so they must all be cheapskates like us, or unwilling to make the 20 mile commute down from Carlsbad. The first hint of the park’s status is the broken gate with a fragment of splintered wood sticking out. A sign warns that trailers must swing WIDE to avoid hitting the gate. They’re not kidding. It took us two tries to make it through without a long scratch on the streetside of the trailer.

At our site, the first electric outlet we tried was mis-wired (reversed ground and neutral according to our tester), there were no caps to the sewer outlets, and the grill is completely rusted and burned out in the bottom, rendering it unusable. A heap of old Whites City billboards are piled just beyond our site in the cactus. Deep muddy ruts at the edge of the campground give testimony to a mighty battle that recently occurred with a large RV that was apparently trying to turn around and got stuck. The entire place has an air of benign neglect.

But we don’t care. It’s just a place to park for the night, and as long as the water is potable and the sewer doesn’t back up, it’ll be fine. The high desert feels good, even at 37 degrees.

Whites City RV Park.jpg

Housekeeping notes: (1) The blog is now on Mountain Time. (2) I can’t post pictures because we are on Verizon’s “extended network”. For some reason, the slow speed of that network doesn’t agree with our blog software and I can’t get photo files to upload. I also can’t successfully FTP them. So any photos you see in tonight’s or tomorrow’s blog entries are the result of my emailing them to one of my correspondents, who posts them for me.

Our Google Earth location.