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Carlsbad Caverns

As the sun rose

I ate breakfast in one National Park

and headed to another, underground

See more of the day’s photos in the gallery.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Spent a windy, windy night in the Pine Springs campground.  Several other campers’ tent poles snapped.

Fork

Tomorrow it’s either continue on the ACA’s Southern Tier route to El Paso or strike out north toward Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  If the latter, there won’t be posts for a while.  I left the Davis Mountains today:

Rest Day in Alpine, TX

Today I spent doing laundry, some repair work, and relaxing in Alpine, TX, staying with a wonderful Warmshowers host named Liz.  She has a small guest house that is paradise for a road-weary cyclist.

I really needed this day off, as I’ve been tired all day and have not enjoyed even the short, unloaded bike rides around town.

I did get to the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University this morning.  It’s free, takes about an hour to go through, and provides examples of geology, geography, and military and economic history of the Big Bend region, including examples of equipment used by US soldiers in the 1800s, a recreation of a general store, and examples of fossils, including the wing of a flying dinosaur.

There is a great bike shop in Alpine as well that let me use their tools to fix a broken spoke.  I happened to be in town for St. Patrick’s Day and had delicious corned beef and cabbage at the Railroad Blues bar.  Potatoes and cabbage marinated in Guinness beer for 12 hours, then cooked for another 12 hours?  Yes.
Tomorrow I head northwest into the Davis Mountains through Fort Davis and ending at the McDonald Observatory.  There is supposed to be a spectacular full moon tomorrow night, which I am excited to see from the dark mountains surrounding the observatory.  Might be time for a Moontan, Golden Earring’s album name including the hit song “Radar Love”.

Recap: The Last Four Days

Yesterday, I posted commentary on water and this region of southwest Texas.  Today’s post is a general overview of the past four days.

I started out from Del Rio, Texas, a large city on the border of the United States and Mexico.

The day’s goal was a picnic area next to the Pecos River crossing.  This area of Texas has long stretches of road with no towns or service stations at all, making planning for water and food critical.  I had caught a weather forecast in Del Rio and heard that strong southeasterly winds should rise during the night, providing a strong tailwind for the day after.  This tailwind would make the long climb between the Pecos River campsite and Sanderson, TX–an 80 mile ride with only one town in between to resupply on water–much easier.

After Del Rio, only one town provided a water stop:  Comstock.  As I rode into town, I could see Mexico to the left.  Comstock sits quite close to the border.  The Border Patrol has a heavy presence in the town and provide a stream of profits for the one gas station/grocery store in town.

So far, this entire section of the Southern Tier route has followed Highway 90.  It’s a major highway with flatter grades through the hills than would be found on rural roads.  In many places, the road actually cuts right through hills, revealing the local geology.

Read more about the geology in a previous post.  These cuts don’t eliminate some fun downhills, though.

Note the uphill on the other side.  😦  (That’s a sad-face symbol.)

I reached the picnic area in late afternoon and met some people who were passing through.  It’s a popular photo stop for the Pecos Bridge, one of the few ways across the Pecos River.  Startling to see so much water.

I set up camp and slept.

The promised southeast wind woke me up before dawn, and at first light I was off on the road full of cereal bars and ambition for the 80 mile ride ahead of me.  A cloudy sky shielded me from the sun.

A flat tire briefly stopped my progress, but it was quickly fixed and I was on to Langtry for a much needed bathroom and water stop.  More road cuts made the day interesting, but I was focused on getting the miles behind me before the day got too hot.

I made it to Sanderson and stayed in a hotel, a reward for a long day on the road.  For the last ten miles, my legs seemed to stop working, but I made it to town with enough time to spare to eat dinner at the Dairy King and take a shot of the hotel parking lot out my door.

The next day’s plan was about 55 miles to Marathon, TX.  Not a great distance, but the tailwind disappeared, becoming a headwind, and the first 32 miles were all uphill, a gradual but grinding climb.  Some had better ideas and headed west to east with the wind.

Trees are becoming scarce, replaced by desert scrub and grasses.

I reached Marathon in the early afternoon and settled into La Loma hostel, offering free lodging to cross-country bicyclists.  The morning view from the second story deck made a nice start to the day.

As I rode out of town in this arid region, I saw a sprinkler watering a lawn.

A railroad line follows Highway 90, providing interesting windows on the landscape.

With a short day–only 33 miles to Alpine–I managed to take some time and get a photo of myself riding.

The few remaining trees are Seussian.

That’s the past four days.  I’ve already passed the 1,000 mile mark, roughly a quarter of the trip now behind me.  A week or two more of desert riding will bring me to Phoenix and the turn north to the Grand Canyon and cooler climates of southern Utah.  Just might go from risk of heatstroke to risk of frostbite.  Looking forward to it.

waterwa

Water and rocks:  southwestern Texas.

A SW TX River

Or lack of water and abundance of rocks.  In Sanderson, I was told it hadn’t rained in over a year.  Plenty of rocks, though.  The Dairy King is also in Sanderson.  The only one I’ve ever seen.  It’s like chess, where the Queen moves anywhere on the board it wants, and the King has a special move, the castle, but one that sequesters it in a lonesome place.  Sanderson, Texas.  We found the King!

Ouachita.  A Texas Historical Marker roadside sign described the surrounding geological formations as the Oachita Rock Belt.  In the road cuts–channels blasted through hills for roads to go through–I see the local geology.  Suddenly on both sides of me today I saw vertical bands of crumbling rock, red like bricks and breaking apart into cubes.  Geology holds that bands of rock are not formed vertically but horizontally.  To become vertical, geologic activity must turn the entire deposit 90-degrees.

I thought of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.  The video of the tsunami coming inland are terrifying.  Watching thousands die.  These are forces far greater than we understand.  We can describe how they happen, to some degree, but we cannot approach enacting the force of a 9.0 earthquake, so powerful that it moved the mass of the earth closer to its center, increasing the speed at which the earth turns, thereby shortening our day by some millionths of a second.  Notice?

Pompei came to mind as well, along with Herculaneum, the city destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and where archaeologists found fossilized humans, like geodes, bubbles in the magma formed by the bodies that had long since disappeared.  Some cradling children.  There must be similar scenes interred in Japan beneath the debris, perhaps to become fossilized or preserved enough to be unearthed thousands of years from now when memory of the event has disappeared.

Canyons, draws, Dry River–an actual river that I crossed today–all shaped by the forces of water only present in this region for 12 inches a year.  In good years.  This landscape is an exercise in patience, geologic time, humility, gratitude for the wetter places.  The places that supply the bottled water, that grow the potatoes in the potato and egg breakfast tacos from the gas station.

 

Yesterday, there was only one town between the start and end of my 80 mile ride.  That town was at mile 60.  I loaded the bike with enough water to get me there.  When I arrived, I found nothing but the general store, post office closed for the day, and a scattering of abandoned buildings, nearly all of which either had abandoned gas pumps in front or faded paint on the exterior walls, always “CAFE”.  The general store was open when it should not have been.  Closed on Tuesdays, the owner said they were open because, “I got all my running done yesterday.”  If the store had not been open, I would have had 20 miles in desert heat and sun with no water.

There are road signs with hinges in the middle, designed to be folded up when not needed.  Some say “Burn Ban in Effect” and appear at county lines, as counties must be the government unit that decides these things.  Others, more frequent, say “Watch for Ice on Bridges”.  It was 93-degrees today.

Where the Downhills are Uphills

I’ve made it through the majority of Texas Hill Country.  Beautiful views only seen after lots of hard work climbing.  Here’s a view looking down from halfway up one of the climbs today.

I’ve battled a headwind for the past three days, so strong that there have been downhills where I’ve lost speed without pedaling.

This makes for some long, grinding days.  Yesterday was a gradual seventy-mile climb up the Guadalupe River Valley.  The climate continues to get drier, perhaps uncharacteristically so as many people have told me rainfall totals are down.  Lavender isn’t growing.  Wildflowers aren’t growing.  The wind is very dry, and I go through a lot of water, which of course means that I have to carry more and more water.  Water is heavy.

At the very end of yesterday’s ride, though, I was rewarded with ridgetop views with a setting sun, perfect lighting conditions for some good photos.  Most of them were on film, but here is one digital.

I have posted all photos from the days ride in the photo gallery.  Many of the images will appear to be duplicates, but I take multiple shots using different aspect ratios, simply the ratio of the height and the width of the picture.  For example, 3×5 is an aspect ratio.  16:9 is as well.  Do the images with multiple perspectives seem different?