Falling in Love with West Texas

A billion thoughts spun through my head. That was amazing!. Was it beautiful? No. Was it safe? No. Was it inspiring? No. But my perspective and insight had grown immensely.

I had just gotten back into El Paso, Texas from walking across the Mexico-U.S. border into Ciudad Juárez. I was hesitant to make the journey, but a kind elderly woman who worked with the National Park Service at the Chamizal National Memorial, whom I have nicknamed “Mi Abuelita” encouraged me to go. When I followed up with her after my visit to Juárez, I could tell all her encouragement was a ploy to broaden my perspective. She was sneaky. I wrote in my journal that she gave me “the gusto and self-confidence” to go.

Was their validity in all the warnings from my friends and acquaintances in Mexico City about visiting the Mexican border? Most certainly. Diverse cultural biases and political views began to make all the more sense after my visit to Ciudad Juárez. I got it. I understood it. So many things people said and why they said them came to light during this short but insightful visit.

I was only in Ciudad Juárez a few hours. The whole time I was there an anxiety ran through me. I thought I had accidentally bypassed a border security checkpoint. I walked into Mexico unaccounted for. This made me especially nervous on the way back into the United States, because I thought I would be caught. And, mind you, I was singled out.

Everyone else could simply scan their Texas IDs for self service reentry into the U.S.. I was fumbling around with my passport and the scanner wouldn’t accept it. I didn’t know what I was doing. A border agent called me over.

“What was the purpose of your visit,” the U.S. Border Patrol Agent asked me.

“Tourism,” I replied.

“Tourism?” he questioned, with a look that told me, people do not go to Juárez as tourists.

Although I was grilled heavily by the agent, I was appreciative of his thoroughness and I came to find out that Mexico does not keep track nor require identification of foreigners walking across their northern border, at least not at El Paso.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 10.21.40 PMIt was a new, peculiar, and patriot moment for me to read the sign above the highway stating “Welcome to the United States.” My visit to Ciudad Juárez is a tale to be further unpacked at another time. I was glad I went, but I was so grateful to be back home and ready to continue on with my U.S. National Park adventure.

This day would not only broaden my perspective of Mexico, but my understanding of Texas would also be augmented. I have lived both in Mexico and Texas. But living in solely Mexico City and Houston, my perspective was limited. Visiting Juárez taught me that Mexico City is by no means the same as a border city. And my next stop in Texas, at the Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park, would be my introduction to a different type of Texan than those I had been previously exposed to. This would be the extremely rural, isolated, overly friendly, and hospitable West Texan, which I became very fond of.

The drive from El Paso into remote West Texas and the Davis Mountains was beautiful and very unique. It took a while of driving past lots of semi’s and oil fields, but a turn in the road led me to a long stretch of two lanes which flowed among mountains. I had never quite been to this type of landscape. It seemed part forest but park desert. What I came to learn is that it indeed was a new landscape for me. It was the Texas savanna.

DSC09651The road wound through countryside and slithered among mountains. At one point I came to a overlook where I looked down across the grasslands and the mountains. In the distance, over the mountains, it was storming. I could see the dark clouds and rain contrasting with a golden sun that was peeking out from the corner of the sky. The contrast in the sky, brought about contrast in the land between the deep greens of the scattered trees to the accents of golden grass.

DSC09657I could sense the arid land giving off a sigh of relief for the rain that would soon arrive. A could feel the tension released in the air. As I continued on my drive, a parade of javelinas jumped a stone wall, scurried across the road, and leaped into the wild grass and brush. These creatures look like wild boar, and although javelina is the same name given to a wild boar in Spanish, these javelinas are peccaries, and unlike boars are native to the Americas. But combine the savanna with a javelina, and the fact I hadn’t seen a business for hundreds of miles, and you could have fooled me to thinking I was out and about somewhere in the African savanna and I’d be prone to see a zebra, or a lion.

Wait! What’s that? I arrived at Davis Mountain State Park and bright pink a sign warned- “Mountains Lions have been sighted…please use caution and do not leave your children unattended.”

I really was in a different world.

I paid an entry fee at a self-service drop box, although i realized later, as an lodge guest, I didn’t need to, and I proceeded down the road towards the lodge. It was late evening now, the sun was getting lazy, and the surrounding storm clouds darkened areas of the sky, shadowing the landscape and giving an eerie ambience, almost like there was a solar eclipse.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 10.13.40 PMExcept for the one elderly couple who asked me for directions at the drop box, whom I couldn’t assist with any knowledge, I didn’t see any other people on my way to the lodge. This place was very quiet. Am I in the right park? Is there a lodge here? Or is there another Davis Mountains Park? Then rounding the bend I saw, nestled between two mountains, a picturesque oasis. I had arrived.

Driving up to it, I was very excited. This looked perfect. It looked like it had jumped right out of Southwest history to be at my service. It was a white adobe structure, resembling a multi level pueblo village, with immense Southwest charm and historic aura. I learned in was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was not just any CCC project, but I would say an achievement of art.

I walked up to the counter.  

“Why hello, darlin’. Welcome to the Indian Lodge.” I could tell from her initial address she was going to be a character well appreciated in my story. “We are just so happy to have you here.” She had blond curly hair, was middle-aged, and had a life-loving and sincere essence.

She asked me my name, had me sign myself in, and handed me the key. She was extremely friendly in the warmest and most genuine and unexpecting way. She told me the hours of the restaurant, the pool, and check out, and then proceeded with: “Cell phone service is spotty, and there is wifi, but you know what we say? If you catch the wifi, take a picture cuz it won’t be here for long.” She explained how they were off the grid as far as land-based internet service concerns, and internet had to be channeled through satellite, but with the mountains surrounding, the signal didn’t always make it down to the lodge.

“Have you eaten?” she asked, only to proceed to tell me everywhere to eat was closed. And trust me, there wasn’t much option out here in the middle of nowhere.

“It’s ok, I have some food in my car,” I explained.

She smiled.

“Alright, here’s how you get to your room…”

Wait, what? I thought. That was a lot of directions, I didn’t ask her to repeat. How hard could it be? Fifteen minutes later, I still couldn’t find my room. It was some sort of maze. This adobe village had various levels that didn’t always match up with one another, with stairs here and there, landings, and random courtyards spread out in between. I knew I had to enter an inside common room, go out the other end, and go up some stairs, but I couldn’t tell exactly what was a  “passageway” and what was private patios and landings belonging to other guests. I came back to the common room, there were other guests gathered. “Can we help you,” one asked.

“I am just trying to find my room. I’ll find it.” And I did.

My room was isolated at the very top of the adobe structure. It stood up like it’s own tower, with its own set of stairs and its own private patio. It was almost like I had my own private building. And uhhhhh– a sigh of disbelief and then embracing perfection. The view was stunning. My room looked out into the valley of the two mountains, the sun dipped down in the middle of the valley, creating a quintessential sunset pristinely visible from the patio and windows of my room.

I went inside.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 10.13.14 PMRustic, beautiful, charming. An old stone fireplace stood with an extending stone hearth. The walls were white abode, the ceiling wooden logs, the furniture hand made of cedar, some original historic pieces from the 1930s. The lamps here and there gave off a warm and homey glow. A rocking chair stood next to the fireplace and in front of the wood framed window with the bright orange sunset. The window on the opposite side was tucked into its own nook where a desk and chair stood, as if looking out intrigued by the view of a tree reaching out its branches. And the bed in the middle was adorned with a beautiful lacework comforter and a blanket depicting running horses and geometric designs, looking like a true piece of native craftsmanship of the area.

Hands down, in all of my travels, this is my favorite place I have spent the night. I felt like I had walked right into a Zane Grey novel.

It wasn’t just the historic charm and visual appeal that made me love this place so much. It was also this incredibly friendly and homey vibe. To unpack it, I later came to find out that nearly everyone I encounter in West Texas is very friendly and it makes sense after reading the book Beneath the Window about West Texas. Historically speaking, West Texas was so extremely rural, that the people living out in this area, fighting desperately with the land to create homesteads, found other humans such a rarity, that when they did encounter other humans it was an exciting event, so much so that these other humans were greeted with such warm hospitality and delight. I believe this aspect of West Texas pioneer culture is still strongly evident today. It has been passed down, and even still, this area is very rural. Seeing others I’m sure is still exciting and novel. I’ve been to many places I understand, but try explain this to a native New York City dweller and it might be a little more difficult to understand.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 10.13.28 PMAlso pertaining this this vibe was this true lodge feel. Back in the early days of park lodges, arriving at a lodge was sometimes an accomplishment in and of itself. Long horseback rides or wagon trips through challenging terrains would finally lead one to a lodge of comfort and peace. Same situation today. A long and isolated journey through very remote roads to the middle of nowhere, brought me to the Indian Lodge, and the lodge was the only thing here. There was nowhere else to go this evening. This was it. The lodge was its own oasis. Everyone staying at the lodge had nowhere to be but at the lodge. We all had to make comfort and do with our own limited amenities and food. And without distraction, we all shared the sunset together, the maze of the abode structure, and each other’s own company. Although this place was isolated, and it was quiet, I was not the only one here. I believe there was a wedding party staying at the lodge. Clues of confetti, signs, and gatherings of multi-aged people, led me to this assumption.

DSC09699 (1)After dropping off my bags in my room, I peacefully explored this village of a structure. The clouds had melted away and the sky above was a calm darkening blue. Going from one adobe island to another from and one terrace and courtyard to another, I sat and enjoyed the remainder of the sunset and listened to the water trickling at a courtyard fountain. I also explored inside. The common indoor area was constructed with beautiful woodwork, old western chandeliers, nooks and crannies to sit and relax, and a small statue and area honoring the work on the Civilian Conservation Corps. I. Loved. This. Place.

I went back into the room that housed the front desk and asked the hostess if i could use a microwave to heat up some soup and oatmeal. That would be my dinner. I took them up to my room, kicked off my shoes and went over to the little desk nestled aside the inlet window.

I reflected on the day and journaled. My journal entry starts off “What a difference a day makes!” The previous night I was dodging lightning on the white sand and found myself sleeping scrunched up in my compact car with a ticket from a park ranger. Now I had the most unimaginable perfect, peace place to stay, and I had had a full and exciting day of crossing the U.S-Mexico border, learning new history, and opening my eyes to new perspectives.

This day would be the start of my falling in love with West Texas.

DSC09688

Check back next Wednesday for the next “episode” in the adventure.

Click here for the previous entry “Texas, Mexico, and the Experience at Chamizal National Memorial”: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2019/03/21/texas-mexico-and-the-experience-at-chamizal-national-memorial/ 

Check out my book “Among Blue Smoke and Bluegrass” on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Among-Blue-Smoke-Bluegrass-Tennessee/dp/1790631297

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