After some time spent in Sanderson, looking for a local restaurant but only finding a cafe whose manager was extremely rude and crazy, we left this town and continued our journey to the Big Bend Park. We drove for a couple of hours through arid hills until the small village of Marathon, and headed South on the US Route 385. We passed a US Border Patrol checkpoint which was controlling the cars on the other side of the road. A couple of minutes later, we were in the complete wilderness of Texas.
We drove through the amazing landscape for a while, when what I was hoping would not happen happened: a tire blew up. Luckily my friend didn’t loose control of his car and parked it on the side of the small road. Here we were, in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire. Fortunately, my friend had a spare one and started to change it. We put the damaged one in the trunk and kept driving in the wilderness to the national park. I was hoping that no other tire would blow up because they seemed pretty old. With another flat tire it would’ve taken for a while to get assistance, and I’m not talking about the bill. Anyways, we finally arrived at the entrance of the national park and drove through.
The landscape was fantastic, unbelievable. There were vast areas of desert with mountains in the far background. It was 0430 p.m. and the sun was now low in the sky. The clouds in the sky created an atmosphere of mystery. Everything was dead quiet. I had never seen a desert in my whole life, so this looked very amazing. The vegetation was rare, there were only some kind of dried bushes and cactuses which I had never seen before. I knew that the Mexican border wasn’t far, on the other side of the Rio Grande. I knew that Mexico was inaccessible and that we couldn’t go any further than this place. It was like I had arrived at the end of the world, a final destination. It was a really strange feeling.
We parked the car and adventured ourselves in the desert. We didn’t go to far because we didn’t have any time for hiking, and the sun was going down. I wandered around, amazed by this place which was so different from everything I had seen before. I was studying the soil, the rocks, the vegetation, and I was taking photos of the surroundings.
After a while, we decided to drive until the road ends. We arrived at the bottom of the Big Bend Mountains and drove on a small road that was going uphill. The mountains looked like huge grayish rocks. The route was sinuous and tiny. We finally arrived in a col, from which we saw an amazing sunset. We kept driving and we eventually reached a very small village, sheltered among three peaks. It was the end of the road.
The drive back to Marathon was pretty cool. It was dark now, dead dark. The Big Bend National Park is the darkest place in the U.S., excellent to watch the stars at night, because all of the cities and villages are so far away. Unfortunately, clouds were hiding the stars. I’m sure that if no clouds, I could have seen the milky way like I had never seen before. We drove through the wilderness without seeing any sign of human life. At some point, we finally arrived at the US Border Patrol checkpoint that we had seen on the way. The guys stopped us and searched the car with their dogs. Then, they asked us where we were from. It seemed that they had heard about us because they just asked for our papers, did a quick check and let us go. While we were waiting, it looked like they had maybe arrested a bunch of illegal Mexicans! They had put them in line next to their outpost, and then they brought them inside. All of this was pretty crazy!
Our next destination was Fort Stockton, which was a town next to the I-10. We drove there on a country road which had no lights and few signals. In one hour, we saw only one car. This route reminded me a book that I liked very much and which was taking place in Arkansas: Stephen Hunter’s Hot Springs. I was happy to finally see the lights of Fort Stockton. The plan was now to try to drive as much as we could towards Austin. We took the I-10 and drove like crazy. All the driving was kind of ridiculous, but that was part of the fun!
So, we had been driving on the I-10 for a while now, and there were no gas station. We started to be extremely low on gas and we had to refuel as soon as possible. Everything was pretty dark and the exits leaded to nowhere, so we kept driving. We finally reached the city of Ozona, which had to have a few gas stations. A red light was indicating the critical level of gas. I hoped that it would do for a few more miles until Ozona, or we would be in serious trouble. We finally made it to the gas station! What a relief. We fed the car with plenty of gas and ate snacks from the shop. We were now very tired so we checked out a motel but it was way too expensive, so what did we do? Just made our way back to the I-10 and headed to Austin… We drove for a hundred miles until Junction City. At this point, there was no way for us to keep driving without putting our lives at risk. It was something like 2 a.m. and last night we had slept for only three hours. We went to Motel 6 and booked a single bedroom. My friends slept in the bed and I slept on the floor. It felt super comfortable, I fell asleep straight away!
We woke up at 0830 and packed our stuff. We were ready to leave at 10 and had to do a little hide and seek with the manager of the motel who thought there was only one guy in the room. We then left Junction City and took the US Route 290 which was going straight to Austin. The landscape was very different from West Texas. This region is called the Hill Country for a good reason. It was very hilly and strongly reminded me of Italian Tuscany!
We stopped by a funny gas station which was selling ammunition! How nuts is that? Then we arrived in the German town of Fredericksburg. I noticed that a lot of places in the area had German names. Fredericksburg was a lovely little town with a lot of history. They had tourist shops everywhere, people wandering around and everything. We went to a place called the Silver Creek and ate a good German lunch. Then we made our way to Austin.
We arrived in Austin at around 330 p.m. and stopped by a Walmart Superstore to get the tires of the car changed. It took them two hours to do it and we spent our time in Walmart. Even Walmart looks different in Texas, or maybe the Walmart next to Louisiana State University is crappy because they only students go there!
At 5 p.m., we were ready for Downtown Austin! We drove there and parked. We walked to Congress Avenue. The sunset was amazing. The capitol was a nice building that looked similar to the U.S. capitol in D.C. We then walked to the campus of the University of Texas. It was way bigger than LSU! Unluckily we couldn’t see much because it was already dark.
Now, we were very hungry and we wanted to try a real Texan steak while we were in Texas. So we walked and walked and walked, trying to find a good steakhouse. Well, believe it or not, it took us 2 hours to find a decent place, and they didn’t even serve real Texan steak in this place!! What a disappointment. But anyway, we ate there, and then went in two bars on Old Pecan Street. We got scammed by a bartender who faked to be nice to us, but got rewarded in another bar in which a band was playing good blues! At 130 a.m., it was time for us to say goodbye to Austin.
The idea was now to go back to Baton Rouge. We drove on the US Route 71 toward Houston. The night was very dark and the stars very bright. I could distinguish the Milky way, and a lot of constellations! I wish I had more time to get out of the car and admire the skies. We reached the I-10 at around 4 a.m and slept on the parking lot of a gas station. I woke up at 8 and went to McDonald’s. We left at 10 a.m. We thought it would be silly to go straight to Baton Rouge and not stop by Houston when we had to drive through it. So we ended up visiting Downtown Houston. I found nothing crazy about this city. Just big buildings and an active city center. I’m sure there are plenty of stuff to do in Houston but I don’t think it’s my type of city. We also visited a part of China town and then went home. We arrived in Baton Rouge at around 0930 p.m. four days after departure.
This trip was pretty crazy because we never had a real plan. I had just drew the big lines just in case but I lived this travel hour after hour. The best part of the trip was definitely the second day, when we drove through the desert and the Big Bend National Park. Frederiksburg was good too. Among the big cities, I really liked San Antonio, but wasn’t impressed by Austin or Houston. Now that I think of it, I am very happy to be living in Louisiana and Baton Rouge.