On the way to Austin on Highway 71. This is a very familiar route; I've driven it many times. It's the way to Houston. Recently I drove both ways -- from Beaumont to Midland and then back to Beaumont the following weekend, as part of the long process of returning my Cessna 150 to Midland.
Highway 71, going east. I was surprised to see a fair amount of water in the Concho River in San Angelo. Yes, the river was some eight feet lower than last time I saw it, just about a year ago during spring break. But there was water, that milky blue-green water I normally associate with glacial runoff, but here in Texas that's the color of rivers before they pick up the brown of mud down across the Balcones fault zone, downstream of Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio. Texas has a big stair step in the middle of it, and that's the Balcones. The west side is "up" and the east side is "down". The stair step runs through three of the four major cities in Texas.
Green, green, green. Every mile I went toward Austin the roadsides got greener. The weeds pressed up against the shoulder, fairly bursting with planty life-force. Coming from brownish Midland on the Llano Estacado made it look that much more green. The entire drive, my eyes were open in a way they weren't before. The hills seemed more interesting and, well, more hilly. Again this is probably due to my eyes being accustomed to the unrelenting flatness of Midland-Odessa (and Houston before that).
Into Austin, I stopped for fuel at my normal place, a Shell station on the north side of the road. Then onwards (on 71) to the Austin airport to pick up a colleague who flew from Midland to Dallas and into Austin. It's a five-hour drive and probably almost a 4-hour plane trip all told, so I prefer to drive it. Picked up colleauge and got a bit lost trying to get to County Line BBQ. After a nice drive on Barton Springs Road, we found it and had quite a good meal just before closing time. I need to come back in the daytime to enjoy the view from the patio.
For several days I had been fighting a cold and after dinner and the long drive I was pretty beat. I was glad to finally arrive in the area of our hotels in north Austin, near the University of Texas JJ Pickle Research center. Sleep, up the next day for lectures all day (Tuesday). Tuesday evening another colleauge arrived, also drove in from Midland. Dinner at Roaring Fork steakhouse, pretty good.
Wednesday a morning of lecture then a drive to Del Rio, Texas. Other colleagues rode in one car and I drove the Tacoma alone, down I-25 to San Antonio and then west on US90 through Hondo and Uvalde.
Driving new roads is a treat. I get to see new things, and I love to. I keep a map in my head of all the places I've been and roads I've driven. From Austin to San Antonio and I-25 and then west were all new roads for me, new territory (--Ed: of course I have been to San Antonio but not via this route). It was super green, even into Del Rio (normally thought of as a dry place). Weather was sprinkly but the clouds broke up into scattered cumulus and the sun shone, warm day. Getting out of the truck in Del Rio, it felt humid and almost tropical, and I immediately liked the place, it had a good, vacation-y feel to it.
Field trippers with our motor coach (Thursday a.m.)
Road cut. Note T-shirts = warm.
Next day (Thursday) we spent the entire day looking at Eagle Ford equivalent rocks, Del Rio (formation), Austin Chalk, Boquillas. My cabin site on my land in Big Bend, another 200 miles west, is on the Boquillas carbonates. The day was warm and sunny with puffy clouds. West of Del Rio is the impressive Lake Amistad, a reservoir on the Rio Grande created in the 1960s by the US and Mexico. The lake was low but still pretty. This was my planned destination last year (really, 2010), the day before Christmas when I was on my way to the Del Rio area with Sabkha in the Miata. I got a late start and I ended up turning back, walked Sabkha around the 'hood. That night she had her first seizures, two major ones, and we spent several hours at the emergency vet. I didn't know if she'd survive the holidays, but she did, and seemed to recover. Still, this was the beginning of a decline that led to the decision to put her down in August 2011. So although we never made it to Lake Amistad, visiting this place made me think of Sabkha as I still often do.
Colleagues from Concho (Tom and Pat)
At lunchtime on Wednesday we visited a viewpoint along the Pecos River, looking upstream at the Pecos High Bridge, which replaced a low railroad bridge built here in the late 1800s (sorry, Google for an exact date if you want it). Quite a pretty view, but somehow lacking. I don't find flat-lying sedimentary rocks (especially carbonates) to be an inspiring background to anything, and I'm also very partial to Arizona. Or at least New Mexico. Still, it was lovely, with the bluish water and all the trees poking out above water line. Are these trees that grow in the riverbed or are they corpses from the drowning of this area after the construction of Amistad Dam?
Pecos High Bridge on the Pecos River at confluence with the Rio Grande
Pecos with the dead (?) trees
Picnic area at Pecos River overlook
In the evening, at one of the last stops of the day, the warmness suddenly turned cool as a few puffs of cold air came up the road from the west. On Thursday morning we woke up to cold and spitting rain. We spent a half-day in the field. I drove my truck so I could leave from the trip and head north out of Comstock. But I forgot my camera at the hotel in Del Rio. I went back for that and stopped at the Lake Amistad NRA visitor center.
Driving back to Midland was about 3.5 hours. First up to Ozona, under I-10 (so many times I have driven east-west here on I-10, now I am ignoring it and going under it). Then up to Big Lake (there is not one) then Rankin and into Midland. The drive on 163 between Comstock and Ozona is very pretty, with big trees close in to the road in many places and water visible. Closer to Ozona is a large burned area. Dead junipers dot the hillsides (dead from drought). North of I-10 seems hillier than I remember. It is grey and continues to mist/rain all the way into Midland. Everything seems green and happy from the rain, although we are getting nowhere near enough to reverse our drought conditions, nevermind fill up the reservoirs we rely on for water, up on the Llano Estacado.