One thousand nine hundred and twenty two miles in four days, I think that is a new record. We didn’t drive for the sake of driving but it was even. We drove all over the place, trying to get as much out of Texas as we could in half a week. We probably achieved this goal, except the fact that one would normally need weeks to properly visit this state. Besides San Antonio, Austin and Houston, we stopped by many other towns such as Del Rio, Fredericksburg, Sanderson, Ozona. The main interest of our trip was however the Big Bend National Park, vast protected area located in the Chihuahuan Desert next to the Mexican border.
Our journey began on a Friday morning. We got started pretty slowly but surely. We left Baton Rouge and made our way to Lafayette. The route to Lafayette was very pleasant. I particularly like the Atchafalaya Highway. We visited downtown Lafayette for an hour, saw the Cathedral and took a coffee in Dwyer’s, a famous coffee shop on Jefferson Street. Then, we hit the road again, heading West.
The further we were going from Baton Rouge and Lafayette, the more I was feeling out of my zone. Once at Lake Charles, I felt like I wasn’t in Louisiana anymore, or at least not the Louisiana was used to. Another 40 minutes and we crossed the Sabine River which is the natural border between Louisiana and Texas. We drove to Beaumont where we stopped to meet with acquaintances from Texas. I would hate to live in this city, but the bar in which we ate was pretty cool. I could now say I was feeling in Texas!
At this point, we still didn’t know if we would go to Austin or San Antonio first. We had pretty much abandoned our initial idea of going to the Big Bend National Park for time restrictions, and we were thinking of visiting only the biggest cities of Texas. It happened that we decided to go to San Antonio first to see the River Walk on a Friday night. The night had already come when we passed by Houston. I was amazed by all of the huge American and Texan flags proudly hanging along the highway. In Louisiana, people are far from hanging the state flag as much as here.
We drove and drove and drove until we eventually arrived in San Antonio at around 1030 p.m. We were tired, and I doubted we would hit the road again today. At that time, our plan was to stay here, sleep in the car on the parking lot of the bus station, and go to Austin next morning. We left the car at the bus station and walked around. We found the famous River walk and spent the night along the river, amazed at the wonders of San Antonio. This city looked very dynamic. Everybody seemed happy. I was impressed by the people who looked completely different from Louisiana. They seemed to pay greater attention to the way they dressed. There were also very few Afro Americans. At least half of the people were Latinos and hearing most of them speak Spanish seemed natural. The atmosphere was nothing like in Louisiana. I felt like I was in another country.
We had a good diner and wandered around until 0230 a.m. That is when my friend had the brilliant idea to hit the road instead of sleeping. “Guys, let’s go to the national park, now”. I was up for it of course, because it sounded crazy. It wasn’t very expected now that it was almost 3 a.m.. The park was very far, but what makes turns a trip into an adventure is the unexpected. So here we were, on the road again at 3 a.m., with the new objective to reach the Big Bend National Park as soon as we could. We drove in the darkness for a couple of hours. We were on the Old US Highway 90, heading to Del Rio, a small city at the Mexican border. But before we could reach it, we got tired and decided to stop and sleep in the small and scary town of Uvalde.
We woke up at 8 and got started straight away. We had a much more important business to do than waste time sleeping! We drove and drove and drove, to finally end up in Del Rio. We were so close from the Mexican border that we thought that it would be stupid not to go and see it by our own eyes. The checkpoint was pretty fun. While a few cars were going to Mexico, so many were trying to get into the U.S. that there was a huge traffic jam. Next to the border, on the U.S.’s side, there was a Mexican flea market which made me feel like I was in Mexico. At the gas station, everybody was Latino and people talked to me in Spanish like it was the way it was supposed to be.
Our next destination was the Big Bend National Park. We thought we would get there early in the afternoon but we didn’t expect what would happen on the way. We passed by the Amistad Reservoir which is an extremely beautiful lake with white sand shores. We didn’t have the time to stop by and I regret that, but we’ve seen other amazing stuffs. But now let’s talk about the crazy things because it is now that they begin. We were happily driving on the US 90 when we saw a sign that was saying “Slow down, inspection ahead”. We were like “What the heck is going on here!?”. I imagined that there would be some US patrols in the desert to look for illegal immigrants, but I hadn’t imagined that they would put checkpoints in the middle of the road and check every single car with dogs and guns. Well, that’s what they did. At that point I felt like I was beyond enemy lines in some sort. Unluckily, I was the only one to have my passport. My friends didn’t have their papers. The soldiers asked us to get out of the car and asked for the papers. My friends provided all they had: driving licence and Polish national identity card. It took them quite a while to check my friends’ identities but they finally freed us. It was a pretty crazy thing to be stopped by a patrol in the middle of the Texan desert.
As we were driving West, I could see the landscape change hour after hour. It was getting drier and more yellowish/orangy as we were adventuring ourselves in the desert. The vegetation became rare. The plain was now a desertic plateau crisscrossed by many dried streams. When we arrived in the small town of Sanderson, the plateau wasn’t visible anymore although the surrounding hills were the manifestation of its intense erosion. Sanderson was a crazy town. It was like an oasis in the desert, where travelers stop to rest and refuel at the gas station. There were many overloaded wheelers that seemed to use this road. The town looked very sad. The houses were of the same color than the mountain. Everything looked dusty, rusty and old. The inhabitants looked very poor but it wasn’t surprising given the geographical location of the town.
Read the next part of the trip here : “The West Texas Experience: From the Big Bend National Park to Houston”.