February 7, 2015, El Paso to San Antonio- The most notable thing about many deserts is the stillness, even on an Interstate highway. I set out from El Paso around 10, after making a visit to Cracker Barrel, for a small but satisfying breakfast. I don’t patronize chains very often, and hadn’t been in one of those bustling, overstuffed establishments with the big front porch, in almost three years. It was fun to look at the plethora of snack foods and old signs from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and to play Triangle Pegs, a couple more times. The service was good, and the food, forgettable.
The traffic headed into El Paso today was jammed up, tighter than Mid-town Manhattan. On the other hand, those of us headed eastward were relatively few in number. We got even fewer once the road passed the last turn-offs to Chihuahua. The desert of the same name was equally austere, except for a handful of the region’s signature yucca plants. Below, are the Franklin Mountains, the link between the Rockies and Sierra Madre.
The silence of the Chihuahua occasionally gets broken, by the presence of tough, and alternately congenial and taciturn folks, who are gathered in towns like Sierra Blanca, Balmorhea and Van Horn. The last is the largest community in the I-10 corridor, east of El Paso and west of the Hill Country. I stopped for lunch at La Cocina de Maria, a “Mom” place that draws the locals away from the branch of San Antonio-based Chuy’s. Maria’s enchiladas are strictly Tex-Mex, but with home-made sauce and the salsa that went with the chips was Maria’s own.
I pressed on, stopping only in highway rest areas, for the obligatory stretch and strut. The mountains call, from a safe distance. I will drive the stretch between Uvalde and Van Horn, on the way back to Arizona, but for now: This is a view, looking south towards Big Bend.
The Hill Country starts to beckon, around Ozona.
Not long after that, I found myself pulling off at Sonora, a town named for the Chihuahua Desert’s western neighbour. Like Sonora, California, the Texas version is not so much desertified, but gives off an air of tough and dusty. The early oil riggers liked it here.
By the time I reached Junction, barbecued brisket was calling my name, so I pulled into Lum’s.
The cafeteria style that distinguishes so many Texas barbecue places is in effect here, but the family that runs Lum’s is down home friendly and payment is after the meal, almost on the honour system. I’m certain, though, that cheaters and meal-beaters would run into Bubba, if they had a mind to take advantage of the situation. The brisket was good, and the sauce a bit mild, but satisfying. I’d stop at Lum’s again, if I pass through Junction.
San Antonio, which I reached around 8 PM, was full-on bustle- it being Saturday night and all. I will save visits to the Missions and King William District for my return trip. It was enough to get to the East Side, rent a room at a little place called Spur Motel and head out to look for wifi, as the Spur is one of only four motels at which I have parked my carcass, that haven’t had Internet. It was reasonable, though, so I took my trusty laptop and headed to a nearby McDonald’s, always good for Internet service, to post the successful journey across the Texas Outback.