Marfa to New Orleans


Exit Stage East

Leaving Marfa meant backtracking about 40 miles to look at Prada Marfa on the outskirts of town that I had driven past without giving notice.

Candy bar in hand, for I have a candy problem that is not yet cured, we pulled into the adjacent pull out.

While waiting for other tourists to do their thing a generationally-similar woman pulls up in a late-70s RV based on the Ford Econoline platform. Within minutes Ashley and I are in her RV (oh the luxury of not being in such a small vehicle) trading tales. We learn that she is a designer who lived in LA and for various reasons decided to give up most of her material goods and hit the road. We talked for a while and said our goodbyes as we sped off toward Big Bend.

Talking to her put the pace of the trip in perspective. She was staying in locations for two weeks whereas we were bouncing from place to place every couple days at least with 8-hour driving days being the norm. Finding that happy medium would prove to be hard over the next couple days.

Big Bend Basin

The drive to Big Bend had some stops I am sad to have missed. I don't expect I'll have a strong reason to go to such a remote area again in my life to visit the ghost town Terrilingua, Texas. But perhaps.

The size of Texas starts to become apparent.

Half-way through the drive I decide I must eat now. Pulling into a stop I eat chicken and had the reigns over to Ashley to drive.

After an hour of driving the landscape turns to mountains, but to a sort altogether different than I've seen thus far. It's like the stone of Utah and Arizona was attached to an elastic sheet that was punched from underneath creating peaks.

Pulling into Big Bend at 5:02 PM on Saturday evening the ticket check is already closed. With no knowledge of the park the mission becomes to find a good camping spot and to cook dinner before the night sets in.

As we drive past camping areas I arbitrarily say no until I say yes. We turn into Chios Basin and drive aimlessly around the dozens of spots trying to find one that is open. We find a spot next to a bickering, older couple from Michigan. They don't find their tent especially comfortable.

Camp, Camp, We're Falling Apart

With the sun setting, food preparation begins in earnest. I immediately start frying a corn tortilla in an attempt to satiate my hunger. I eat it. It's fine. I still want food. We take out some chicken that was chilling next to to the body of the car and make something resembling tacos.

The earmarks of a long driving day set in. I'm criticizing the size of the chicken cuts and the lack of a clean camp kept just ever so. Fed we decided to hike the half-mile through the dark it takes to get to the visitor center, that rumor has contains a decent grocery. We're running low on propane for the morning. A short hike that is longer than I expected through some of the darkest skies in the country eventually yields to a parking lot with a store. Truly in the deep wilds. Propane in hand we lose our way to the trail and decide to stumble through until we fall off a cliff or arrive. We arrive.

Car setup we nap. Tomorrow is a hiking day. Car bed ready for sleeping

Hike Up Those Hikes

Waking breakfast somehow makes itself. Officially the first morning that I haven't dreaded getting up out of the car to be met by a cold breeze tightening my skin to the tautness of a timpani. Eggs with stuff.

I drape myself in Dad. First aid kit? Check. Knife? Check? Compass? Check? Bucket Hat? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Other things? Mostly, yeah. Ready to hike we head for the visitor center in search of something resembling a destination that might suit our needs.

Previously, I'd had my heart set on Emory Peak in two days via the South Rim. Not being as prepared as I would like to be and skeptical of the value of two 15+ mile hiking days we decided to nix the overnight. We settle for a shorter hike, Lost Miners Trails on the suggestion of some paragraph I happened to see in a guidebook for sale at the visitor center.

Setting out my first thought is: "I'm going to break a sweat it's so hot here." And I do. Even burn a little but not as bad as Ashley.

Soaking in the views at the top we meet a half-retired couple from Michigan, unrelated to our earlier camping partners, and pick up travel advice along our route. They've been in Big Bend for about a week and let us know our must sees along with other areas we should hit especially around Tallahassee, Florida. Only one of them is retired and he drove up a couple weeks earlier. He tells us about the canoe trips he takes up in the Northwest Territories. She tells us of there trips up the Dempsey highway and the beauty of the arctic.

They share their cookies.

I consider that my planned trip to South America might be more my speed if I were to head north. It's all in flux and up for debate.

Hiking in the Chios Mountains

Left United States, Right Mexico

Driving towards a new camping spot we go through a tunnel to be stunned by the Sierra del Carmen, a prominent uplift separating the United States and Mexico cut by the Rio Grande.

I pull into an interpretive station with two other people. We walk towards the people and I stand slightly off center to the sign in an attempt to read it. The gentleman in front of me, sunglasses, white branded T-shirt and sneakers remains oblivious to my presence. It's a plant identification guide helpful. He leaves.

All throughout the park are plants with thin stalks the length of a person extending out from the center. There are thousands. The entirety of the landscape. Lechuguilla.

The interpretive sign had suggested views of the Rio Grande but instead it was the floodplain. That's fine.

Boquillas Canyon

I turn down a road signed "Boquillas Canyon." A winding four miles later and we are in a small parking lot with one of vehicle. To the left is a quick climb up a hill towards the cannon entrance.

Getting out of the vehicle, tired from the previous hike but bolstered by the promise of a good experience, we head up. Almost immediately we're greeted by a view across the Rio Grande. My first impression is that for an international border it is quite small. River almost sounds aggrandizing.

Across the river, impeded by no fence, catapult, sniper, or other method of border control (save the unseen drones) are a group of Mexican tourists on horseback. Their voices carry across the water. Ashley at this point isn't convinced that we are looking at Mexico. It's too arbitrary. The divide too little. I start to question if that is the Rio Grande. Lined up at various points are handicrafts of wire and beads displayed on a blankets with pricing and a milk jug to deposit payments.

We walk on towards the canyon. The trails ends in sand but we continue going to see how far we can get hugging our bodies to the canyon wall to avoid a small but wet drop to the languid river underneath our feet. We stop at a gravel bar unable to make our way any further. Looking up at the walls of the canyon, one side Mexico, one side the United States, I sit with that, unsettled.

Across the river are two burros eating away at the vegetation.

Sleep Long, Sleep Well

Disgusting and tired Ashley and I head for the campground on the unlikely chance there is a shower and the definite chance that we can prepare dinner. Without any cash I stop by the park country store to use the ATM to pay the campground fees and see if anything looks spectacular for dinner.

I attempt to use the ATM twice only to have it timeout after a full 5 minutes each time. The attendant walks over after watching me struggle for 10 minutes and informs me that it won't work as the phone line is in use. I look up to see a short, white-haired lady talking away.

To reward my perseverance I pick up a chocolate fudge sundae Pop-Tart. While I'm considering other poor choices she hang up and I extract the cash I need.

I somehow create a decent meal out of the what-remains. The night passes punctuated by howls of wind.

Hot Spring I Hardly Know You

I wake up with one goal in mind: to go to the hot springs. We were told by our hiking buddies yesterday about the hot springs and that if we went in the morning we are almost assuredly going to be alone.

At a breakneck-no-breakfast pace, camp is broken and we are off for the hot springs unsure what to expect. Little Yaris almost meets her match along the winding, undulating dirt road to the hot springs but makes it safely to the parking lot.

Wandering along what looks to be the trail we stumble along, passing shells of old buildings not longer anything, expecting to hit to hot springs at any moment. The signs indicated 1/4 a mile but suspicion starts to set in that we aren't going the right way. One bend later and we are greeted by a stone pool with comfortably warm water.

Settling into the water the Rio Grande is within reach, or perhaps the spring is part of it. The wind gusts are violent; water is occasionally shredded off the surface into a mist.

I sit and soak. Soaking in a hot spring with the Mexico in the background


Leaving Big Bend we head for Austin. The drive is memorable in being unmemorable. We pass through Texas Hill Country with a short stop at a curio shopping peddling all things tchotchke. There is a large wind chime that fills the air with an eerie theremin-quality note.

While I am driving Ashley is coordinating our sleeping situation. We both expected Austin to be easy but aren't able to arrange anything until we are about thirty minutes outside of the city.

Arriving, my initial impression is how much this reminds me of Portland, Oregon in the summer. I can almost place a one-to-one correspondence with every shop that I see in one city with that of another.

At Kava Bar, we meet several others in town for kava, a beverage brewed from a Polynesian root. I've never had it and listen to the therapeutic effects described by several people of varying levels of knowledge and degrees of woo. It taste like dirt. That's not bad. Ever the skeptic, I wait.

The bottom half of my face and throat feel like they've been rubbed in Novocaine.

I don't really feel calmer but I concede it's possible.

We drive to our designated sleeping arrangement, a cozy bed rolled out on a home office floor.

The next two days pass quickly with some highlights:

Ashley works while I explore. Unfortunately sometime between the between lunch and another stop her wallet is misplaced. We search but can't find it and have to go into replacement mode.

Farewell Austin

On our third and final night in Austin we stay with our acquaintance-come-friend Ghostbuster.

We bring oysters and greens and have a great dinner sitting around the fire pit slurping down grilled oysters. We swap stories and settle in for the night with promises of breakfast in the morning.

However it becomes so much more. Ghostbuser takes on the duties of tour guide and takes the day off. After breakfast he shows us all of the hubs around town from 6th to South Congress to Zilker Park. We eat two more times before noon. He takes us to the Capitol building where he calls a friend and then we are getting a tour from a person who works for a state representative.

We were expecting to stay until noon but are having so much fun we stay until the evening. Saying our goodbyes we set out. I could settle in Austin.

Austin to New Orleans

Leaving Austin I drive trying to get far enough that the drive tomorrow is only half a day and not enough to cause Ashley or I (mostly me) to go stir crazy.

Turtling along the abandon highway under the cover of darkness a cop flips on his lights and pulls out behind me. Fearing an infamous small town Texas speed trap, I slow down awaiting an explanation that what I thought was 50 MPH was actually 72 MPH.

Headlight is out. I'm just unobservant and judgmental. I get away with a warning.

I drive through the night passing through the glitz and concrete splatter that is Houston. With only a view from the highway I decide it's a humid Los Angeles and pass through without a better assessment.

Forty minutes east of Houston I pull into a rest stop and decide to bunker down for the night. The vehicle is stealthy enough we won't be bothered. I wake Ashley up and we convert the vehicle into sleep mode. Getting ready for bed I head for the rest stop bathroom only to be greeted by the most overbuilt, luxurious rest stop I've visited to date. The foyer, which it has, has forty foot ceilings. There are historical interpretive signs throughout the stop. There is an attendant and vending machines.

Overwhelmed but with clean teeth I move forward landing from foot to foot eventually making my way back to the car and into a fit sleep.

Waking up I drive on.

At some point the Texas hill landscape has given away and instead of the xeriscaping that has described most of the trip is a lichen-infested bog itching at the edges. Everything feels like a temporary hold on the Earth that nature is simply waiting to reclaim. The question is only when.

We stop at a Cracker Barrel for breakfast at my behest. A friend at my old job raved about it over enthusiastically, to the point of driving 8 hours ostensibly for it. I suspected she was exaggerating, but I was not disappointed. Somethings have a cult following for a reason. I couldn't pry apart what was Cracker Barrel invective and what was Southern charm in our service but I was resigned to be pleased.

Those biscuits.

Ashley needing to get a couple hours of work in and I the car in shape, I drop her off at a coffee shop in Liberty, Texas. I try a couple mechanics but they are all too busy. I get an oil change. After watching a YouTube video on a phone in a nearby BestBuy (as I remain without accessible internet for this journey). I decide I can change the light myself and pick up the part from the dealer. Sweaty and unmotivated I tell myself I'll do it later when I have a better place to replace it that isn't a big box store parking lot.

Somehow over the course of 200 miles the air has gone from an arid, moisture sucking force to a damp blanket hugging at my body. I despise the feeling. If this is New Orleans it's not going to be a pleasant experience. I start to dread the next couple days.

Through Lafayette, Louisiana and into Baton Rogue, Louisiana we hit the first serious traffic of the trip. What I expected to take four hours turn into a seven hour journey.

Tired Arrival

Ashley through magic and charm managed to secure an air mattress with a friend of a friend who lives in New Orleans just outside of City Park. Pulling into the city Ashley needed to get some work done. I drop her off at a coffee shop and spend the next forty minutes in a blind hunger rage roaming the city in my car looking for a parking spot nearby. I'm doubly anxious with the sun setting and a headlight I have still yet to replace.

New Orleans has a unique traffic arrangement. Almost all of the roads are one-ways with neutral zones divided into the median that allow turns. Arriving to this I had a unique hatred for the city that I couldn't place that I knew I needed to write off until I had a proper chance to explore the city. I take a short nap.

I pick up Ashley and we drive over to the wonderful people hosting us, Chelsea and Natalie. When we arrive Natalie is there and we settle in. Chelsea arrives a short while later and sets up an air mattress for us in the living room. There house is homey. It feels good to know we'll be at this place for three nights. That's a long stint.

Chelsea invites us to a bar with one of her friends she is wingwomaning for with the bartender. We drive and she bikes. At this point both Ashley and I are still a little hesitant on the safety of New Orleans. It's the first major city a car parked with everything in it is going to be parked on the side of the road for long periods of time. We grab po'boys at a place that has pictures of Obama on the walls from a visit.

We have fun. Chelsea's friend know a lot about the history of New Orleans and give us a rundown of the surrounding area. We head off leaving him with his bartender friend and go to another nearby dive bar.

The first bar felt like a wine-drinking booth in a Whole Foods: hygienic, expensive, and cute. I get a beer and do more annoying quizzing on the city. Rent always comes up as topic. It's more than I expect. I learn that smoking in bars was just banned last year. Drinking outside is as great as it sounds and legal. You can get to-go cups.

We all head back to the house to sleep.

Borrow Our Canoe?

We wake up ready for the day. Chelsea has some time before work. She has a canoe that we can borrow and throw it on top of her SUV and head to City Park for beignets and coffee.

The food is good. The coffee is good. The beignets are good. And important to me: reasonably priced!.

Chelsea has to go to work so she goes for a run leaving us with her car and the canoe.

A short food run to the store and we are back at the park ready to canoe. The day is perfect. It is 73 degrees with little cloud cover and no humidity. Ashley and I struggle to move the canoe.. With vast amounts of coordination we somehow manage to remove the 250+ lbs 16 foot behemoth off of the car. We then move it in fits and starts until we get to the water.

Cautiously, with little trust for Ashley, I get in. Having witnessed her clumsiness throughout the trip I am convinced she is going to barrel roll us into oblivion. After 15 minutes I calm down and we hit a good pace.

The waterway is studded with bridges and passes through a sculpture garden. At one point the only way to progress is to become enmeshed in a deep, dense, tangled mess of vegetation. With herculean effort the canoe gets through.

There are huge pelicans sitting in the trees and turtles in every direction. It's a beautiful day.

Making land after a couple hours, we lay in the sun, photosynthesizing for the first time on the trip.

It's midday at this point and we have yet to experience the French Quarter. Ashley and I drop off the SUV and I go to work on replacing the headlight. It's more difficult than I want it to be especially with only a multitool. Thirty minutes later it's done and I'm cleaned up.

To the French Quarter! With luck, parking isn't impossible. Wandering through the streets is something entirely different. It isn't the subdued suburbs and hip neighborhood shops. It's raucous. There are people everywhere. Sipping cups filled to the brim with alcohol fill the hands of every other person. Glitz has prominence.

A brass band takes prominence at the end of the street filling the error the a bass and scream that has the attention of hundreds. There are little kids wailing away at saxophones. It's for money sure and in the most touristy part of the city, but it's hard not to appreciate it. We decide

There are street performers at every step. One show becomes so large pushing through the crowd is nigh impossible. We wait and witness one of the most effective crowd shakedowns I've witness. Shameless but successful. I'd later see performers doing the same routine with lost charm after the first time.

Long day. To establish some degree of normalcy Ashley and I call it an early night and I read and fail to blog enough.

An Historic Day

Sleeping in is nice.

Chelsea and the friend we met at the bar earlier in the week work at a popular brunch spot. She made reservations for us. The food is divine.

We wander the Bywater neighborhood popping into shops and hear the story of Mr. Okra. It's sunny but not quite to the splendor of the previous day. The clouds have moved in.

A long walk later and we are in Jackson Square. The St. Louis Cathedral stands prominent in the skyline surrounded by artists with their wares hung along the fence encircling the nearby park. It's perhaps the most beautiful building I've seen on the trip. The prominence of the structure in the surrounding neighborhoods and the elaborate stained glass and murals set it apart. I linger before heading out to explore.

The rest of the days passes. Exploring the city on foot. Setting out for City Park once more to accidentally stumble upon some LARPing in a crowded park with BBQ all around.

As it gets closer to night Ashley wants to see the swamps. I drive out into the delta to the nature preserves that dot the area. As we get ready to leave I'm hungry. We stop at the Bayou Barn partially because of the name but mostly because of the location. Stepping through the door we realize too late that we are crashing a wedding. No one says anything. I feel guilty. I don't want to eat their food. After a couple transits we drink some iced tea and watch the bride dance with her father.

After signing the guest book we head out.

New Orleans was excellent and we had gracious hosts.

Next Stop Memphis

Memphis-bound we pack up and head out from New Orleans with plans of transiting Mississippi in a day.