On the Road Again

Trip Start Jan 01, 2012
Trip End Jan 18, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Sunday, January 1, 2012

We got an early start yesterday morning, heading out from Austin at 6 a.m. Just got back from Beijing 36 hours prior, so the Texas countryside provided quite a contrast to the urban wasteland I've called home the past year and a half. The sun rose at our backs about an hour into the drive, lighting up the rolling hill country landscape around us.

We took back roads and smaller highways, so we got to cruise through a few little towns—Llano, Brady, etc. The central fixture and most imposing piece of architecture in these towns is the big stone courthouse, with American and Texas flags waiving out front. Made me think of Atticus Finch and what the life of a small town lawyer would be like. Again, quite a contrast to my day-to-day once I start in Hong Kong next year. Would I trade lives with Atticus? No, but it’s nice to imagine and romanticize.

North of Abilene the rolling hills gradually flattened out, giving way to a rolling plain punctuated by imposing plateaus. Flocks of looming white windmills were also a near-constant feature, their turbines slowly rotating in the West Texas wind. In the wind farms closer to the highway I could see that farmers had simply plowed around the base of the turbines, the cold winter dirt heaped up in tidy furrows awaiting the next crop. Oil derricks were also scattered across the landscape, their steady seesaw motion in the foreground complementing the spinning turbines on the horizon. And I suppose right there you’ve got the evolution of the West Texas economy over the last couple hundred years—ranchers and farmers living off the land, oilmen striking black gold beneath that soil, and more recently high-tech wind turbines (almost certainly imported from China) producing energy from the wind above this sparse land.

After driving through Lubbock the land flattened out even more, stretching straight to the horizon with no hills or plateaus to be seen. We were less than a couple hours from Palo Duro Canyon but it was hard to imagine a canyon or even a small valley being close by. It wasn’t until we turned off the highway and were not but 5 miles from our destination when the Canyon opened up out of the flat plain.

Our cabin is perched right on the rim of the Canyon and when we first arrived we were not all that impressed, to be honest. But once we drove down into the Canyon and hiked around a bit we realized the Canyon walls and bluffs are a lot more imposing from below. We parked the car and went on a short hike down by a little stream called Red River. It seemed too small to be the Red River that forms one of Texas’s borders, but I’ll check a map and make sure. It will be interesting to see how the Grand Canyon compares—I guess not everything is bigger in Texas.

In the early evening, before the sun went down, we cracked open the bottle of Dalwhinnie I brought and had a few glasses. I had a glass at a friend’s house in Beijing a couple months ago and loved it, so I was excited to see if it lived up to my memory—and it certainly did.

As the sun was setting over the rim of the Canyon we sipped our whisky and played cards. As the sun faded the stars slowly started to come out, with Mars’s reddish twinkle leading the way. When I emerged from the cabin later in the night I was greeted by a Texas night sky filled with stars. I almost cried—in Beijing I don’t think I had seen more than ten at a time.

As I’m writing this dawn’s rosy fingertips are caressing the Eastern rim of the Canyon. The stars are beginning to fade and the second day of our road trip is off to a beautiful start.
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