For the first time ever, I really struggled with heading out to work at “The Dirty Gig” the other day. Our disaster recovery team is working healing magic on a hospital. And sure, I was tired from long hours and lack of sleep, but it was something else slowing me down. I made the mistake of turning on a classic movie channel during breakfast. Before I knew it, I was engrossed in one of the best movies of my childhood — “The Flight Of The Phoenix” … not the recent cheap imitation, the original with Ernest Borgnine and Gary Stewart. Darn it. Just as the toy airplane mechanic was about to snap as the stranded men doubted that his German engineering skills could lift their crashed airplane out of the Middle East desert … I had to go to work.
The coincidence didn’t occur to me at first, but a couple of days later, I was up before sunrise to traipse around in the sand too — the biggest sand dunes I’ve seen this side of White Sands, New Mexico. Have you ever been to Monahans Sanddunes State Park? What a surprise. Pretty awesome in my books, at least from a photography standpoint. Hmmm … I might have to go back and try my hand at sand surfing in one of those sand-sledding discs they hand out at the park.
But anyway .. You probably know, there’s nothing like a Texas sunrise and/or sunset. This area, The Permian Basin, is no exception. Oh the purples … Oh the pinks … Oh the soft baby blues … Oh the oranges. You get it. Now imagine all of those hues and more hovering in a near cloudless sky, but also reflecting off miles of white sand hills in every direction. And then there’s that whole light and shadow thing, dividing and outlining the borders and unique shapes of all the dunes. Pretty. Definitely beyond my abilities to capture the scene with a camera … but worth a try.
(Editors’s note: The original post was supposed to include information regarding the sand. It is gypsum, rather than quartz … somewhat rare on the planet … kind of cool — http://sand.xboltz.net/white.html )
I never thought I would feel bad about tracking footprints across sand, but at Monahans the dunes were so pristine at dawn, it seemed as if I had defaced God’s handiwork … the contrasting and contouring ripples stretching for miles in every direction … unspoiled and so abstract in their perfection.
Thankfully I do have a pretty decent camera that helps, but I had struck out in the sand without a tripod. Pity. So, the ol’ farm boy inside kicked in, and I grabbed my hardhat out of the van and cradled my Nikon inside it, tucked the safety garb and photo equipment in the sand, set the timer. It worked ok. Ha … but soon the helmet had become an object de art too, as I noticed its white dome resembling a dune. Ha … in my mind the two had become one … the white, round mounds of sand and the reinforced fiberglass helm that protects my noggin … I digress …
Time to leave. I had more ambitious plans. Next I headed due west of Monahans toward Pecos, but pulled over when I saw the ruins around the small hamlet of Barstool … er … Barstock. How cool.
It has some of those run-down gas stations that you would expect to find on Old Route 66, only more rustic. I cruised through town and did a u-turn for a photo, just as a freight train barreled through. And then I noticed I was being followed. The friendliest looking dog … perhaps the only dog in town, was watching every move and padding closer toward me. Not knowing his intentions, I commanded “Stay!” Ha. He froze in his tracks, complete with one foot in the air, mid-stride. He looked some kid frozen in a game of “Red Light Green Light.” Funny. Or the mannequin challenge … He stayed alright … just like that for the entire time I checked out the cool old building that sadly would not be resurrected from its fate. Demolition was already underway. Pity.
I told the boy to run on home, as I drove away. He was still there, doing the statue thing as I headed west to Pecos. Forever to be known as “The Dog Who Stayed” … Ha. Kind of sounds like a children’s book title.
Pecos … another interesting town with lots of southwest flavor and run down regional architecture that is beautiful in its own deteriorating way. Turning, the camera and I headed north toward some big hole in the ground. Ha … Carlsbad Caverns National Park, just across the Texas/New Mexico border near Carlsbad, New Mexico.
I would be lying if I said the drive was beautiful. It was mesquite and sand and scrubbrush or something like it and oil/gas rigs … and only a few cars for the next hour and a half … or was it two hours. Heck. It should have been 45 minutes … but for some reason New Mexico chose to leave that isolated little road in a time warp with a posted 55 m.p.h. — with no good reason, unless it is to collect federal highway dollars or something absurd like that.
Being the rule-following, law-abiding, goody-two-shoes that I am … I drove 55, while being blown off the road and cussed vehemently by every oil rig-funded monster truck in the area. Ha … I also abide by the law because “Big Brother” was riding shotgun. The van is equipment with a GPS tracker that rats on me if I speed. So … who knows what life-threatening events were happening all around me … I was busy “being safe” and staying under the 55 m.p.h. on an empty road. Hell, there could be an earthquake opening the land down to the bowels of the earth beside me, and this device would only capture statistical analysis on whether my cruise control is accurate or not. There is safety and there is the illusion of safety. But don’t get me started on how those little “safety devices” have all kinds of unsafe practices built in … more distracting than cell phones when they fail to reset properly and then sound like a “test of the emergency broadcasting system as you drive down the road” … I digress.
Carlsbad. Most of my childhood friends and siblings all have explored the cave. But not me. Until now. Man I wish I had made it sooner. It is a hike, not to mention scenic underworld on overload. I chose the natural entrance into the cave, while I noticed the 20-year-old college excursion group took the elevator down. Go figure. Down into the chasm … it got pretty dark in a matter of minutes, with the large opening of sky, shrinking above and behind me. Definitely, I would recommend late February, early March for a visit. The desert lands are already pretty warm, and the cave is not crawling with tourists. I travelled down. Funny thing, although the hike downhill seems so easy, it is also stressing on the old thighs and calves, as you resist gravity and its desire to throw you down the dark path.
Although I spelunked solo, next time, I think I will do a guided tour and get the full experience when they turn out the lights. How haunting that must be. The cavern is pretty ominous with the lights on. Back to the hike … don’t do like I did. The hike became a mental challenge that needed conquering. I was determined to march through, take photos, and get back to the car knowing that I had mastered this little bi-otch. What a dummy. Next time … walk, sit, study, walk, sit, marvel … and so on. I breezed through and I should’ve meandered.
Ha … did I mention I made the mistake of doing a gut-buster fried miniature chicken taco in some little dusty town on the way to Carlsbad? IF I were a more “public” person I would share the fears I was experiencing, as I delved deeper into the abyss … stomach rumbling loud enough to break the silence in a theater carved out over a millenium:) Ha … could one relieve onesself in dark silence … or would there be another tourist nearby in the dark? Would sounds amplify and boom throughout the dark cavern? You get it:)
One of the times I did stop was to ponder this: I watched water dripping on a huge boulder, which had formed a huge deposit of sediment on one side of the rock and thought how cool it would be if you saw that final water droplet, full of calcium or lime or whatever, that was just enough weight to finally overturn the balance of the rock, causing it to tumble and create a cave in or whatever. Ha … that would be awesome. Deep thoughts:)
To exit, I did ride the elevator up, which all-too-conveniently dropped me off near the bookstore with its souvenirs. I am pretty picky about t-shirts and found the wares to be a bit gawdy. I sat my sights on coffee mugs, and didn’t love those as well. Finally, I settled and grabbed a generic cup with a bat on it … for like 19 bucks. Oh well … it will hold good coffee. Then … I discovered there is a better gift shop in the restaurant under the same roof … with better mugs. So … I returned the more expensive cup that I didn’t like and replaced it with one I fancied. If I had to do it over again, I might have just bought both instead of suffering the ordeal of returning a coffee cup inside a cave for a refund administrated by an almost-senior citizen who was not a member of the computer generation, nor the cash register generation. The cavern was tough, by the gifts shops were the true gauntlet.
AND get this! No Wi-Fi in the cave, which may be for a good reason. Someone get the research department to check out the effect of Wi-Fi on bat sonar … hmmmm ….
Back on the road.
I don’t make it out to this far west quadrant of Texas very often. I don’t think anyone does, unless they live here or drill for oil and gas here. My first visit … the most impressive thing, all of the nice homes in Midland that didn’t just have basketball goals in the driveway … they had big glass, real gymnasium style basketball goals.
A few more days into the job, I rushed to the burned hospital only to smell smoke. It was everywhere and strong.
When I smelled the smoke in Monahans in the morning, I assumed the surrounding grassland was on fire … a fairly logical assumption. My wrong conclusion seemed to have support. At a “major intersection” in Monahans, the traffic light turned green and I was heading through when my path was blocked by a parade of stray dogs. They were trotting down the middle of the main road, against the lights, through traffic with a sense of urgency. Surely, there was fire and the animals were starting to sense the danger and flee …
Two hours later I heard that the clouds of smoke had travel to West Texas from extreme North Texas … The Panhandle. One whiff of the smoke and it took me back to my childhood on the farm. I could picture lying on my back with the siblings, resting on the cool tin roof of our barn and catching benign flying ashes, transported by the wind from farms that were miles away, where wheat stubble was being burned. And I thought of the nights we drove by a neighboring farm and saw the “neon” glow of a controlled burn, enveloping a field at night … smoke rising to the stars.
But there were no picturesque stories coming from the Amarillo area … “The Perryton Fire” … only horrible stories of thousands of animals suffering in the blaze and the tragic loss of young heroes who tried to save their livestock from the insatiable fire. How horrible. Even later, I learned of the connection between Monahans and the Panhandle blaze — that one of the three deaths first reported from the fire was a young woman from Monahans. As if any more verification was needed — the word had spread around town about as fast as the grassfires, that the small town had lost one of its own. At the same intersection where I saw the parade of dogs, I saw a reporter in a little car covered in TV station call letters, with some “Action News”-type marking on the car. Later, someone sent me a link that had that very reporter’s account of the unimaginable loss the town of Monahans had suffered. Horrible.
A day later or so, despite the normal, dry weather report I had just confirmed with the Weather Bug app., it started hailing and pouring just as I snatched up insulation pallets and building supplies with my trusty forklift. To a farm boy, it was akin to finishing the day on your tractor, just as the rain hit … when you get soaked on the way to the pickup … but it feels so good.
There was no way to avoid thinking of the Monahans families who were suffering the loss of a loved one … and feeling that she was in the comfort of our Lord as the rainbow formed above the tiny church.
Rain smells awesome in Monahans. Like my dusty farm memories, the combination of rain and the soil fill the air with a one-of-a-kind earthy perfume.
As the hail pelted me through the open roof of the forklift, I looked up to see a great rainbow over the church across the street from the jobsite. Ha … it is the church that is 100 feet from my temporary office … the same one that’s bell tower serenaded us 2-3 times a day. More than once I had given supply trucks specific instructions to find my office — “park right in front of The Virgin Mary.”
As for Wi-Fi, I was not invited to use the hotspot from the hospital, nor the church for that matter. I had to rely on my iPhone and its cellular technology to power my Internet needs. Hmmm … I swear I think the bells chimed loud enough to knock me offline a time or two … but I love me some chimes.
Only a few days prior to the big Panhandle fires I was laughing at an interesting “weather report” on the local news station. The weatherman was warning people of the dangers of burning their lawns. It sounded so funny at the time … and I actually saw some people doing this on my drive to Carlsbad, in another city. Burning their lawns!?! But then … the death and destruction in the news from up north was an all too grim reminder of how quickly any fire can get out of hand, no matter how small the source.
It seemed everyone in town knew the young fire victim, or knew someone who did. The owner of a local hardware store was no exception … her daughter’s best friend, as the story went. I spent a lot of time buying supplies at two hardware stores … in a town with only one donut store (which closed for a week during Spring Break!?!).
About these hardware stores. One had the old ‘location, location, location” thing down, situated in the heart of the town. The other was south of town a mile, but brand new. The downtown hardware seemed to care little about customer service. They knew they would get your business, because they were convenient. Don’t get me wrong, I am perfectly capable of carrying any hardware I purchase, but I thought it was very strange that I made four trips back to my vehicle, to carry all the paint I purchased, while 2-3 employees watched and shot the breeze with the locals.
On the other hand, the employees and even the owner of the hardware south of town knew my name after a couple of visits, greeted me, conversed, offered to carry stuff to the van … etc. … you know, they treated me — a stranger — just as you would expect from the nice people of a small town.
Now I am calling it HardWars. The difference in the two businesses — night and day. And as Paul Harvey was prone to say, “Now the rest of the story.” I learned the two stores are own by rivals who were once family. That’s gotta be tough in a small town. There seemed to be know love loss between the establishments …
More tiny towns … I finally saw Kermit, the early boyhood home of one of my middle school running buddies. Hmmm … I wonder how many Kermit The Frog jokes that town has endured. But me, I wanted to pick on Jal … Jal, New Mexico … a rival of an old girlfriend from New Mexico. I wondered if Jal High School ever considered “Hogs” for their mascot … Jal Hogs … think about it … think about the old Beverly Hillbillies … I digress.
My other new favorite town name from this trip is Pyote. Anyone besides me think the good townspeople of Pyote need to buy another vowel and call the trippy little place Peyote? OH … just as I saw the sign for that hamlet, a scrawny scavenging varmint crossed my path. Had the city founders done a better job with the name, I could have said it was a coyote at Peyote. Missed opportunity.
Elsewhere, I did multiple trips on The Dirty Gig (the disaster recovery job) to pick up supplies in Midland and Odessa. In all fairness, that is not the most interesting drive — the most interesting part being the huge drop in elevation, which I will assume marks the edge of The Permian Basin. I mean, that would be basin like … I never thought about that one before. Until now, Mojo is about all I knew of the area, so it was special when I passed by the storied Odessa Permian High … Home of Mojo and subject of the decent movie and pretty good tv series. Interesting … the local news casts refer to their coverage areas as “Your Basin” and things like that. I suppose that would not seem unusual, had I been native.
Last call … I was intrigued by The Kent Companies — they had Huddle House — a diner chain I have seen in other cities, and for me at least, a new entry in the big world of tiny convenience stores called “Kwik Kent.” Well now … that made me think of many funny things. I will leave it at … hoping it makes old friends think of a sense of humor.
Know what I sayin?