On our last day in El Paso we visited Fort Bliss, the home of Army Air Defense. We enjoyed the exhibit on "Who Shot Down the Red Baron?" as well as the history of air defense. We didn't even flinch too much as they boasted of the Patriot's success in killing SCUDs during the Persian Gulf War----it's always Army air defense startling to read how accurate these missiles were believed to be.
The historical buildings at Fort Bliss were pretty well razed by the CSA forces in 1861, but a replica of the old fort has been constructed for tourists and history buffs.
The city of El Paso del Norte was founded 22 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, at a crossing of the east-west and north-south trails south of the Rockies and where the Rio Grande could be forded. The Mexican city is now called Ciudad Juarez, while the city north of the river has been renamed El Paso. It has always been an important transportation hub, and has become more important due to NAFTA. The guidebooks recommend not venturing south of the border after dark, as Juarez has become a center for drug trafficking.
Leaving El Paso we headed east, avoiding the freeways. From Odessa to Midland we passed through just a few towns: Mentone, the county seat and only town in Loving County, with barely a whisper of life; Kermit, the county seat and one of two towns in Winkler County (the other town, appropriately enough, is Wink), where we had our choice between the Sonic and the Dairy Queen for lunch. By the time we stopped in Midland in midafternoon, we had covered three hundred miles of empty, dry, windy West Texas. Wildcatting, maybe
We did pass (a) Guadalupe Mountains National Park; (b) lots of people working along the gas pipeline; and (c) the Permian basin oilfields. We caught sight of one new well being drilled near the highway, but half of the pumps weren't working; we guess that means a lot of the wells have gone dry. We also saw several ranches with a few llamas. We imagine they are being kept as pets.
Heading east out of Midland we found Texas to be more and more populated. Little by little we stepped down from one level to the next; little by little there was more evidence of rain; little by little ranching turned to farming; little by little winter turned to spring, with wildflowers and trees covered with purple blossoms and tiny delicate new green leaves.
Beefmaster isn't the most appealing name for a restaurant, but in Texas.... and it was the only restaurant in Ballinger (except for the Dairy Queen). Since it was Friday, the buffet was catfish, chicken (and livers and gizzards) and shrimp and hush puppies, plus vegetables and dessert. At 11:30 we got one of three remaining tables; as we left the line was growing.
We continue to be interested by the large numbers of goats on central Texas ranches. Some, we understand, are raised for wool; others for meat. We Texas courthouse have no idea if any are raised for goat cheese. The goats can share the same pasture with the cattle, because the animals prefer different species of plants for fodder.
We spent the night in Temple, where we shared the motel with a girls' powerlifting team. Don't ask.
Leaving Temple we completed the Texas transformation from West to East. We passed several "Units." This is the Texas euphemism for prisons. We drove along for almost an hour on a highway identified as "OSR Texas" It turned out this stands for Old San Antonio Road, and the acronym is used in lieu of a highway number.
We found rivers and swamps and dams and reservoirs and (this being Saturday) bass fisherman seriously at work. The families of bass fishermen were occupying themselves at a non-ending string of flea markets and yard sales along the roads.
Then we found ourselves in dense pine forests, which were being harvested for lumber, and we knew we had completed the transition from the dry western deserts to the wet eastern forests of Texas. We saw Spanish moss and road-kill possums, and lots of the prosperous ranches had turned to miserable falling-down shacks, still inhabited by country-dwelling people.