Arid landscape, black tarred road slicing through the scorched earth, cacti and shrubs and bushes everywhere, absolutely no inhabitation till horizon, and miles and miles of visibility. This is what west Texas is all about. It seemed just like a shot from the western films I saw in my school days, thanks to my dad. The only element absent from the scene was stubble faced, tan skinned blondie (Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly), on his horse, with the spurs on his boots digging deep in the horses’ skin, making him whine and thrust forward into a direction which leads…basically, nowhere.
We covered this long distance to the Texas border, not on a horseback, but instead in a Chevrolet Malibu. Still, it took us 9 hours. Before heading out in this wilderness, we visited what can probably be called the prettiest town/city in Texas – its capital, Austin. Yamini’s suggestion to go up Mt. Bonnell, the highest point in Austin, was a very good one. It was actually hard to believe that the picturesque vista we were witnessing was in Texas. Sweeping views of Lake Austin, with multi-million dollar houses lined up along its banks, with remnants of fall colors on the trees in their front yards were a very good change from the “typical Texas” views. The trip to downtown Austin, particularly on the famous 6th street was good. One can clearly notice why people call the city of College Station and Texas A&M University as conservative, and label the city of Austin, and University of Texas, Austin as liberal. Cosmopolitanism was at its peak here, but only second to the experience I had on the mile long street just outside University of Washington, Seattle.
While heading west, after a while, one starts seeing a faint outline of a range of mountains far ahead, which makes one wonder – Have we reached? It’s only after a matter of 3 hours more that we get the feeling of having actually reached it. It took us quite a while to reach the Carlsbad Caverns, and we were late…by half an hour. So, we drive 9 hours, and all we get is a closed national park. Also, the lady was nice enough to tell us in a courteous manner – “Guadalupe Mountain National Park is also going to be closed over Christmas, so I see no point in you guys going there.” That statement was basically hinting at the stupid act of driving out this far on Christmas holidays. But, with a feeling of “how can the rangers close a trail?” we went and camped overnight. Rakesh had a sleeping bag, whereas I and Manasi didn’t. The temperature drop at night forced us to take shelter in the car with the heater turned on. As a result of these temperature changes, Manasi fell sick in the morning, but she was successful in persuading me with her consistent encouragement, to leave her at the campground, and go for the climb. The climb was not much of a deal, with only 3000 ft. of height gain over a distance of 8.4 miles. We did beat the time of “6 to 8 hours” written on the board at the trailhead though. Going up took us 2.5 hrs, 1 hr on the summit, and 1.5 hrs to get back, totaling 5 hrs. The usual photography session ensued on the summit. The summit was a nice Christmas gift for me.
After loosing couple of frustrating hours on the campground, trying to work around the car’s security system which had got enabled, we started our return journey.
It indeed felt good to have summitted our first peak in US, although it was nowhere near the efforts it took us to summit Mt. Thelu in the Himalayas. On the way back, seeing the sun set on the horizon of the stretched out land, behind the endless number of pumping jacks installed on petroleum wells, going up and down in a never-ending monotonous rhythm, I witnessed for the first time, what a co-worker had told me, “Samarth, oil is never found at the prettiest of places.”
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