“After 4.5 hours of driving through bleak west Texas, the Mexican border looking sad off to my right, I arrived in Marfa, the little town everyone’s been talking about.
It’s cute. Aspects of it are very hipster-chic, but I sort of love that a small town in the middle of nowhere was able to achieve that mystique. I saw a man doing hard, manual labor outside to the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack. Shine on, you crazy diamond.”
“Drove into the park and immediately noticed the rust red craggy rock faces and occasional spires of the Chisos Mountains. I kept thinking to myself, “This is like a mini-Zion… but with forests! It’s like a mini-Zion, plus Joshua Tree, but not the trees!” One day, I’ll figure it out.
Took the advice I kept getting and did the Window Trail. It was incredibly beautiful. I had to hustle to do the 4 miles in 1.5 hours, but it was awesome the whole way. I was ducking under oak trees, jumping over black bear scat, and staring slack-jawed up at huge, crumbling orange cliffs. At the end of the hike, there’s a narrow overlook peeking out at miles and miles of the valley below.”
“Dinner… DINNER! I did a fancy macaroni and cheese casserole and pulled out all the stops. We’re talking gorgeous pasta, sausage, extra real cheese, and peas, honey! I ate so much and still have half of it for breakfast tomorrow. I cleaned up, grabbed my Garmin from my bin, shoved everything but my water under the bed, then texted Brian from the InReach.
The moment I did, it started raining. Then, it started POURING. I was watching flashes of lightning streak across the night sky as the wind rocked the van from side to side. Oh, tiny mammal, huddled in your tin box house…
As I write this, it is raining cats and dogs outside and windy. I’m drinking a tallboy of Modelo, because that was the only solo beer the grocery store had. I had short text exchange with Brian, which was magical and made me feel at least ten feet closer to home.”
“Had to hike with the menstrual cup in today, which was weird, and I occasionally thought I felt it leaking. I dumped a cup of blood onto the dry leaves on the forest floor and watched it splatter when I stopped to pee. Luckily, no one was around.
Not long after, I caught up with a duo who had just met on trail. Ryan and Kirk. We hung together, talking about the parks for a while, and it was awesome to have some company that hiked fast. Plus, we could take photos of each other on the South Rim itself, which was glorious!
Kirk and I hung back to eat our sandwiches, then we finished the hike together, bouncing down the tree-lined meadow trail and talking about politics and academia.”
“Finally, Santa Elena Canyon. It’s pretty damn impressive.
The rain hit as I started to drive back, stopping for a few unbelievable photos. The sky was on fire. Like, electric orange halos hanging around desert mountains and crumbling plateaus fire. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy no one else was on the road, because I kept slowing down to capture quick photos with my phone so I could remember how outrageous it was and write about it later. The clouds do obscene things here with the light. They make it their slave and set it aflame.”
“Finally, the sun poked through the clouds a bit, so it was time for hot springs.
The hot springs themselves are lovely. They’re situated in a historic area of the park, near the southern border with Mexico. An old store from the 40s and what appeared to be a small old hotel still had ruins near the springs. As I sat in the warm water and read Mary Oliver poems on my Kindle, I couldn’t help but gaze across the mint green ribbon of water that separated me from Mexico.
There was a man over there who would occasionally wade across the thigh-deep, slow moving water to his craft stand on the US side and accept money for souvenirs, then he’d waddle back across the Rio Grande and wait. When the springs got too hot, I plunged my tired body into the river, swirling around and thinking about borders.
“What a difference 30 feet of water can make,” I thought. How arbitrary. How humbling.”
“I eventually found myself on a series of remote, west Texas highways intended only for truckers and seasonal oil rig workers. There was snow everywhere, very few gas stations, no cell reception, and it was 28 degrees outside, even in the afternoon sun. I almost hit two coyotes and a stray dog on the bizarre drive. I spoke on the phone with a girlfriend, passing these large, glowing orbs of fire as the sky got dark.
Oil country feels strange and satanic. Big fireballs squirming across the horizon, and then, when you pass them, they’re surrounded by an occult-like semicircle of massive, chrome machinery. I felt like the only woman in a hundred mile radius. I probably was. Both truck stops were populated entirely by pickups and 18-wheelers.”