Endless Plains

Fort Stockton, Tex.

We left El Paso refreshed and restored, but without a concrete plan for a next stop. We headed out I-10, got gas, and pushed past the industrial side of the city as it fell away to the south alongside Mexico, which stretched out green and rugged to the horizon.  This was the section that we had heard extends for some 90 miles with few services. Within 30 minutes we were practically on our own with the long-haul trucks. The two interstate lanes shimmered in the heat in front of us at 80 mph in miles-long curves and straightaways, bordered by the west Texas scrub.

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We took turns driving, talking, going back over the trip, and what was to come. Even in its truncated version, the trip would be our last big splash for who knows how long. As we raced across the West, the future seemed sharply defined by what the doc would tell us September 26.

We had to get there first, we reminded each other. There were only a few “picnic areas” along this stretch of I-10. The rolling green scrub flew by. I pulled off at an exit labeled “Plateau,” but saw only a shut-down gas station and café. The road at the end of the ramp simply ended.

Occasionally we saw a structure, but no cattle, no farm vehicles, no human beings. This is West Texas, I reminded myself, while Sandy dozed—vast and nearly empty, prompting thoughts of Dostoevsky’s description of the Russian steppe that, he wrote, drove the insane political visions of the country’s 19th century radical fringe, most of whom were executed.

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Eventually the interstate splits, with I-20 leading northeast toward Odessa and Midland, Texas’ big oil country, while I-10 simply drags you due east. We hoped, because of the mild weather, that we could find a state park for camping close to the highway. I studied the map—nothing. Finally, as the miles flew by, we settled on the Fort Stockton RV Park. I called, yes, they had a tent area, sites for $19.00. Sounded good. Did we need a reservation? “Never hurts,” the woman on the phone said. “We’re at exit 264, you can’t miss us.”

We hoped to avoid a commercial campsite, but this was it. We passed through a couple of Fort Stockton exits. Gas stations, stop-and-go convenience stores, mobile homes. There’s a Walmart, we were told, but never saw it. At exit 264 we saw the sign and pulled up to the office. Monster RVs lined the lanes of the place. The woman explained that the tent area had four sites, one already taken. “Take your pick,” she said.

We followed the map to the end of the lane. The tent section was squeezed between the RVs, the bath house—and the interstate. We stared as the big trucks roared by a couple of hundred feet from our assigned site, generating a constant breeze through the underbrush that served as the only buffer between our site and the highway. The site itself was OK, soft patio stone along with a picnic table. I set up the tent and we headed for the camp café for a Texas catfish-and-hush puppies dinner. While at dinner I squinted at our map to find Fort Stockton. It’s there, in slightly bolder print than Plateau. 100 more miles to Ozuma.

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