Abilene – 117, El Paso – 568
So says the highway sign, an hour outside of Dallas. Those are miles by the way. I've got a long way to go.
I'm headed to Midland, then onto Alpine, Texas, on assignment for Nightly News. I've found it's just about the same time involved to drive or fly to this part of west Texas, and truth be told, I don't really mind the drive.
It affords a great opportunity to think. Nighttime on the road in west Texas is good for that.
The big hunt
I stopped for a cup of coffee in Big Spring, and when I came out of the truck stop, a trio of muddy pickup trucks had blocked my car.
Dove season just opened up in Texas, and this group of hunters had gathered to divide up their birds and head home.
They apologized for blocking in my car, and started to move them out of the way. No problem, I said, I'm not in that much of a hurry.
We started talking, I found out they were from Sweetwater, Texas. They showed me the birds they had shot. The 12-year-old (his first hunting season, he proudly proclaimed), showed me his new shotgun. It was a birthday present from his grandpa, who told me the kid was a dead shot out to about 50 yards and he had no trouble keeping up with the rest of the group – not bad for a kid his size, he added with a smile.
The group was related somehow – cousins, sons, in-laws, fathers, grandfathers. They said that the only reason the women in the family weren't around was because grandma's knees were bothering her, Aunt Linda was pregnant this year, and mom had left earlier in the day to go to work.
The 12-year-old also couldn't resist telling me, as only a 12-year-old could, that grandpa shot a rattlesnake. Sure enough, a rattlesnake carcass, peppered with #7 shot from a 12-gauge, was in the back of one of the trucks. The hide was to be sold to a boot maker, (it was a pretty big snake) and the 12-year-old was going to keep the head and the rattles. That is, according to grandpa, if mom said it was ok. They loaded up, and headed back east on I-20 toward home.
The long road
The roads out here deceive you. Some of them are straight as a surveyor's tape for 30 miles.
I've driven on some stretches of I-20 at 70 mph and not seen another car for an hour. But early in the morning, or at dusk, deer and antelope wander all over the place, and it's easy to come over a small hill and plow right into a herd of them. Road kill attracts huge turkey vultures, with wingspans of seven feet or more. Hit one of those going 70 miles and hour and it will pop your airbag, and make a mess no one wants to clean up.
I pulled into Midland, a little less than five hours after I left my house, and I saw another sign on the highway.
El Paso 313
That's miles, of course.
West Texas is a very big place.