Tag Archives: desert

A Fruitless Quest for Perfection

“Are you enjoying this weather?”

My first thought was that she was being sarcastic, but her sweet open face and tidy grandmotherly hairdo belied that notion. “Well, no,” I replied cautiously. “I’d like it to be a bit warmer.”

“Are you from here?”

“No. Baltimore.”

“Well we just love it here. We’re from Georgia and it’s so hot there.”

“Oh, that explains it. You must be enjoying the cool weather.” We were camped just south of Duluth. It was a 60° and cloudy in July – not the best summer weather in my view, and in winter five feet of snow can arrive all at once, all in one day. Sorry, Duluth. Can’t say I’ll be exploring your charms any further.

Summer sunset near Duluth
Summer sunset near Duluth

And that, my friends, is a perfect example of why we have been on a wild goose chase looking for a perfect place to live.

Because we’ve been talking to people.

What you already have – curly hair, skinny legs, a home in the South – is not necessarily what you want. What someone else wants – straight hair, big boobs, a home where it snows in winter – isn’t necessarily what you want.

What Jimmy thinks he wants is not necessarily what I want. And what we both think we want or someone else thinks we‘d like, we don’t want when we get there and see it. It’s too congested or too rural, too busy or too slow, too tired and seedy or too brand new and characterless. I despair.

So let’s review that list of requirements for a perfect place again:

  • Ÿ  somewhere not too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry
  • Ÿ  no spiders, no mosquitoes or other hideous insects
  • Ÿ  no snakes, no bears
  • Ÿ  no tornadoes
  • Ÿ  no hurricanes
  • Ÿ  no floods
  • Ÿ  no earthquakes
  • Ÿ  no tsunamis
  • Ÿ  no volcanoes
  • Ÿ  no deep snow
  • Ÿ  no humidity
  • Ÿ  no wild fires
  • Ÿ  a low cost of living
  • Ÿ  an ocean or gulf view (yes, realize that eliminates all but 21 states)

    Gulf of Mexico from the Panhandle of Florida
    Gulf of Mexico from the Panhandle of Florida
  • Ÿ  a mountain view would be nice, too

    Mountains bathed in sunset light viewed from the warmth of a desert climate
    Mountains bathed in sunset light viewed from the warmth of a desert climate

To this list I’ll now add:

  • Ÿ  no cattle grids on the interstate ramps (too high chaparral)
  • Ÿ  nowhere that traffic on the interstate is the main topic on the local news
  • Ÿ  not on a road called Skunk Hollow
  • Ÿ  no mudslides
  • Ÿ  on second thought, no spiders (above) would certainly eliminate all 50 states so will modify that to no tarantulas or giant arachnids. That might eliminate Florida so I won’t tell Jimmy if I see one. In fact Florida has all manner of shocking creatures, but humans are probably the worst (humans in general, not Floridians in particular) and we can’t get away from them.
  • Ÿ  not in a town where the local library sees fit to display a “No Guns” sign listing the pertinent ordinances in case you want to argue the point
  • Ÿ  near a major airport to take a teeny bit of stress off trips back to Blighty
  • Ÿ  not where we would ever, ever have to use the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River in New York City ever, ever again. Others shudder when you mention it to them and Jimmy pales and starts to tremble.
  • Ÿ  nowhere that you can buy just guns, musical instruments, jewelry and car audio in the same store
  • Ÿ  that no hurricane and no tsunami thing might eliminate all the ocean and gulf coasts so I’ll choose to ignore the discrepancy for now.
  • Ÿ  I’d like to say not within 50 miles of a taxidermist but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
  • Ÿ  not in a town where the gun store sells gator meat, hog traps and fresh frogs legs.
  • Ÿ  not in a town with a gun store at all. It may be very un-American of me to not want to have anything to do with a gun but I’d like to live somewhere that I don’t feel the need to have one about my person or home.
  • Ÿ  nowhere that we’d be dependant on using an Interstate daily as one third of Americans are. They’re a generally a mess – busy and bumpy.

Should we abandon the quest and the list and just live near one of my brothers so we’d at least have family nearby?

That would be Florida which falls foul of many of the items on the above list.

Or under the unending grey skies of Washington State (at least when we lived there) where when Mount Rainier is uncloaked it is event to be remarked upon and pointed out. “Look! Rainier’s out!!”

Mt. Rainier making one of its rare appearances
Mt. Rainier making one of its rare appearances

Fourteen and a half thousand feet of geographical wonder, which when the sky is clear is visible all up and down the Puget Sound, is usually hidden from view under a thick veil of cotton wool. Look at a U.S. weather map and you will invariably see a swirl of muck over the top left corner of Washington. The Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier are under there.

Jimmy is really no help at all. He wants to blow the house fund on a big motorhome.

Are There Any Texans out There?

For every little thing that is bigger and better in America, according to Americans, it’s that much bigger and better in Texas, according to Texans.

When describing a spider and saying 14 inches, a Texan will hold his hands out at full arms breadth. And of course there’s the story about the Texas rancher bragging about his family’s property to an East coast farmer. “My Daddy can drive his truck from dawn to dusk and still not cross our property.” To which the East coast farmer replies, “Yeah, my Dad had a truck like that.”

Our first view of the Rio Grande, USA to the left, Mexico to the right.
Big country. Our first view of the Rio Grande, USA to the left, Mexico to the right.

There is no doubt that Texas is a big state, 268,601 square miles (bigger than Spain and Portugal combined), the largest state after Alaska so driving is a daily pastime. “We might drive a hundred miles to the grocery store. To a European, that’s a vacation,” our neighbor in the campsite boasted to us. We drove 49 miles to the interstate the next day and didn’t encounter another soul on the lonely road.

The 22 million of population in Texas is concentrated in the east of the state. Parts of west Texas have a population destiny of less than one person per square mile – no urban sprawl, in fact no urban – with vast tracts of desert and mountains.

This was all we saw for miles and miles and miles.
This was all we saw for miles and miles and miles.

The parched and empty landscape is tranquil in winter but deceptive. Wide dry river beds and deep gulches, new patches of road and new bridges where the gulches run through, give an inkling of the ferocious rains and flood waters of summer. During the previous September floods had caused extensive damage in Big Bend National Park.

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Texas weather and conditions include tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, floods, wild fires, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues of locusts, snow, searing desert heat, biting cold and sometimes all at once. Texans are given to exaggeration though, as a tsunami erupting from the Rio Grande in west Texas where we learned of this lively weather seems unlikely.

If the wild extremes of weather aren’t enough, they have their share of horrifying creatures in Texas – tarantulas, black widow spiders, funnel-web spiders, vinegar bugs, scorpions and ninos de los terras, which I was given to understand were scary little snakes, but the only reference I can now find to those words is children’s shoes. Still dangerous but slightly more warm and fuzzy are mountain lions and bears and even a big cat that was thought to be extinct but lives an elusive existence amongst the 309,331 square miles of Big Bend National Park, but that’s all according to Texans.

Our first sighting of the comical roadrunner was of said bird running on the road – Beep! Beep! – just like his cartoon persona. Also new to us were javelinas – cute little bristly pig-like creatures that are not pigs.

Click pic to enlarge.

090123BigBend 106
Gold in the hills. Big Bend National Park at sunset. Believe this is Casa Grande. Does anyone know any different?

We had attributed all of these real and imaginary creatures and phenomenon to Texas but we were new to the Southwest and all the marvels it had to offer.

“And how about your skin?” I questioned our waitress, Rebecca, who had moved recently from the humidity of Florida to the arid atmosphere of Ft. Davis. “How does the dry air affect it?”

“Well my lips are so dry and cracked they feel like they are going to fall off and my arms and legs are parched. Other than that I’m perfect,” she said endearingly. But she lives in a tree house so I’m not sure I can take her word for anything.

So how ‘bout it. Any Texans out there? Just what are ninos de los terras? Am I even spelling it correctly?