Joan Randall, a Woodstock resident, set out on a journey to “Discover America” she has agreed to share her stories with the readers of the Vermont Standard.
These are her stories.
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Blog #14 – Texas to New Mexico
The Texas Hill Country is breathtakingly beautiful. I had no idea. All I ever heard and remembered as a child was mile upon mile of flat landscape. I know that is coming up ahead, but right now we are enjoying this. We took Route 71 out of Austin, which took us into some real western towns! Only one was still vital, Llano, unfortunately the others were boarded up on their main street, one store front after another was vacant. It saddens me to see so much of our early culture gone by way of strip malls. If I had to define one consistent characteristic I have seen throughout my travels so far, it would be the box stores. No matter which state I have traveled through, I can be 100% sure I will soon see a Staples, Walgreens and Wal-Mart. I had to question if those few dollars we saved by passing our local merchant was really a savings at all. What is the real cost to loose so much culture and center of community? Town after town the main streets are boarded up only to find box stores 5 miles away. I am proud that I have always stayed loyal to our village merchants in Woodstock. I hope you will too! From what I have witnessed, there is too much at stake!
We soon left the hill country and ventured into the flat plains of Texas by taking the back roads, if you can call it that. On these single lane highways posting speed limits of 75 mph, one must be a brave soul to drive on these back roads. Lights on are essential. There is only a single dashed line separating you from on-coming traffic. From the route I had chosen, I had estimated only 150 miles of the plains and oil fields of West Texas. What I did not plan on is that the same landscape continued on into New Mexico. So much for the best-laid plans!
New Mexico road signs are something else themselves! You had better have a compass or GPS. They will forewarn you of a route intersection, but the route goes two ways and on these back roads they simply do not mention the direction, (north, south, east or west). Also, they neglect to restate the route number until 20 miles down the road. This will keep you guessing for quite some time as to whether you made the correct turn. Maybe it is New Mexico’s strategy for keeping the driver alert! A perfect example of this was when I was traveling on Route 176 from Texas into Eunice, New Mexico. From the map, Rt. 176 crosses Rt. 18. When I arrived at the intersection, I couldn’t locate Route 176. Either it has vanished or clearly does not exist as listed on these triple A maps. I went south for 5 miles on Rt. 18 and then north on Rt. 176. At that point, I decided to just head north to Hobbs and pick up Rt. 180 that Rt. 176 was suppose to intersect with. Continuing on Rt. 176 would have saved about 20 miles of these monotonous flat desert plains and oil fields. Still determined to find Rt. 176, I scanned Rt. 180 trying to see if it indeed connected with Rt. 176. The search produced nothing, Rt. 176 simply did not exist!
My first destination in New Mexico was Carlsbad Caverns. I wanted to see the bats fly out of the Cave. We arrived around 1:30 p.m. I wasn’t planning on viewing the cavern at that time because it was too hot to leave Bode in the car. Much to my surprise the National Park had a kennel service with signs prohibiting pets being left in vehicles. I know Bode is not going to be too happy with me, but I really do not want to miss this opportunity. I packed his bedding, water and all his favorite junk food as bribes – all to no avail, he immediately protested. I found my strength and left him in the kennel rationalizing that I would be gone for less than two hours.
The final admittance to the Caverns was at 2 p.m., I just made it. There was no time to go back to the car for the proper attire since I was the last one allowed into the cavern. I was told that a park ranger would be entering the cavern 15 minutes behind me and that he would be shutting off the lights and traveling with a flashlight. I was warned not to allow the Ranger to get ahead of me. I assured them I had no intention of allowing him to get ahead of me! To arrive at the main cavern, you must walk down 800 vertical feet. It was an amazing experience, dead silence abounded. It reminded me of scuba diving in the Caymans when I did a canyon dive. I am sure it was due to the complete absence of sound, a rare experience, as well as the similarity of the appearance of the rock. Once I entered the main cavern I realized how lucky I was to have arrived when I did. The atmosphere and experience changed completely when I witnessed families and tourists strolling along the path, little ones making their voices echo off the walls, babies crying (and this was off season!). I did not want to envision what this experience would be like with the summer crowds packed into this cavern.
With a fairly fast stride, I was able to see the entire cavern you are allowed to see without a guide. It was mesmerizing. To exit at this late hour you are not permitted to walk out, you must take an elevator up. As I was approaching the elevator, two park rangers were on their hands and knees painstakingly trying to clean up urine that he told me to step over. I was appalled and before I knew what I was saying I blurted out, “What is happening to mankind?”. Without missing a beat, the ranger replied, “We question that every day!”. This left me with a sick feeling, too soon after witnessing such awe. The saddest part of this story is that a mere 5-minute walk would have provided the restrooms.
It was time to spring Bode from jail. It was nearing 4 p.m. and the evening bat program started at 7:15. There is enough time to go for a hike. I am looking at all these hiking trails on the map that I would like to explore, but visions of rattlesnakes keeps me on the pavement. I really do not like snakes! It is the one thing that really has me jumping out of my skin. I approach a ranger to share my fear of snakes and he promises me that it is a rare occurrence and not to let that stop me. He tells me that there is too much desert beauty that needs to be seen on foot and points out a jeep trail we can follow and to hike any one of the marked trails along this route. We did set out on that breathtakingly beautiful jeep trail and only met one other truck. We both had stopped in the same spot to marvel at the vista. Tomorrow we will hike as this is a time the temperatures were beginning to cool and the wildlife begins to venture out. I am not sure if that means the rattlesnakes are going to their dens or coming out to find the rodents and I had no desire to find out! Besides, I just finished a 2.5-mile hike in the Cavern and I needed to find a place to spend the night before the bat program began in less than 2 hours.
We did make the evening bat program and the ranger kept insisting that we must remain quiet. All cell phones and electronic devises had to be turned off since they admit a high frequency sound the bats can hear. As we are waiting for the arrival of the bats, panic begins to overtake me. It is still early in the year, but we may witness as many as 2,000 bats exiting the cavern. How will Bode react? Will he want to chase the bats and start to cry out in excitement? That was a gamble I did not want to take. The sun had set. If I am going to take Bode back to the Jeep it must be done now. We raced back to the Jeep. I quickly settled Bode in and ran back to the site, hoping I had not missed the flight. Well, we waited and waited. The bats were in no hurry to leave this particular night. Maybe in total I saw 50 bats. The dark of the night had settled in, if the bats were exiting there was no way to tell. Guess that is the price I paid for panicking with the boy!
All Bode’s Well.