Thursday, December 2, 2010

A big, big, big disappointment

Does size really matter?
Apparently it does in West Texas. Everything is big — big sky with not a cloud in it, but marked with white tailings from every jumbo jet cruising by; big highways with semis playing truck tag all day, often forgetting that little rigs are politely trying to share the pavement in the Canadian way; big cities in the eastern part of the state, leaving the west laid bare to the world, but for El Paso, big only in its sprawl of low-rise structures.
And bare it is. Little vegetation in all that high desert, few houses, small towns that add new meaning to the word poverty. Some towns are burdened with a name simply because there are two gas stations, one on either side of the interstate, the kind of place that when you stop, you thank the powers that be it isn’t your job to pump the gas nor your fate to live there for all your days.
It’s big prairie, as flat as any on the Canadian side of the border, with cattle occasionally coming into focus. The drivers know they’re out there somewhere because the highway is lined with relatively low fencing.
What is small is the vegetation. Few trees but scrub brush everywhere. In another time, it likely reduced soil erosion caused by a relentless wind. Now branches’ sole purpose seems to be to catch the ubiquitous white plastic grocery bags as they sail by. Canadians accustomed to recycling nearly everything are shocked when a restaurant meal is delivered on a plastic plate, with plastic cutlery for famed Texas barbecue. The drink cups are Styrofoam. Bring on the garbage bags. Why wash when you can throw it out?
And as an aside, famed Texas barbecue doesn’t deliver. Moe’s Original Bar B Que in North Carolina, following Alabama protocol, and a Louisiana version at Jason’s Diner in Port Allen, knock Texas on its ribs.
But west Texas has come across with a delightful state park jutting out of prairie. Balmorhea State Park, just outside the small town of the same name, promises an oasis and delivers. The pools formed by mineral springs appear as conventional swimming pools filled with water at a year-round 72-degree water (about 21C). Signs lining the pools explain how the springs form deep beneath the earth and how that water is captured for human use. They mention the man-made pool has a bottom that is a hard surface in some areas but is all natural in others. Developed during the Depression by the Work Progress Administration, the pools’ outflow forms a cienega, the Spanish term for a natural marsh.
Ian, who will flail his way out of any waterway when the suggestion is made of marine life swimming beneath him, is stunned to see a half-dozen large catfish making for his lily white toes as he sits on the pool’s steps.
He can swim quite fast.
As much as San Antonio captured our imagination in a big way, with the exception of one park, West Texas lost it.

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