Day 20 – Entering Central Time Zone

Frontage Road

The untraveled frontage road along I-10. Easy pedaling! Click on any image to enlarge.

12 April 2011. Uneventful is good! I took it easy today, pedaling only 36 miles—including the length of Van Horn and back upon my arrival to town. I was fighting a fairly strong headwind (over 20 mph for most of the distance, I would guess), but the only elevation gain was about 400 feet as I-10 crossed over the Carrizo Mountains.

Flood gauge

Periodically the frontage road would dip into an arroyo or dry stream bed, with warnings about high water and these flood gauges. You can tell whether it's safe to drive across.

Train along the frontage road

Just on the other side from the highway were the train tracks. One train passed me.

About two-thirds of the ride today was on the virtually untraveled frontage road on the north side of I-10, the rest was on I-10. At no point was I more than about 100 feet from the highway—so I saw my fair share of trucks. I-10 seems to carry more trucks than cars; yesterday when we went through a Border Patrol inspection stop, trucks were split off to the right, and that lane backed up about a quarter-mile, while the car (and bike) lane was virtually empty.

I-10 overpass

A view from the I-10 overpass at Allamoore, where I got on the Interstate.

I was struck by the number of FedEx trucks on the highway—mostly tandem trucks. Most of the other trucks were fleets of long-haul trucks; I see the same company names over and over. The high point (in the truck department) was seeing three oversized loads, each hauling a single wind turbine blade.

Big wind turbine blade

A big wind turbine blade. I saw three of these oversized loads go by.

Wind turbine blade

That blade rolling on to the west.

Despite the proximity to I-10, the frontage road was a pleasure to bike on. In the 20 miles I pedaled on it, only three trucks passed me. Three trucks plus two bicycles. I stopped to chat with a couple from Holland: Teun and Gerde Plug (I think). They were an older couple, probably about my age, pedaling from Miami to San Francisco and camping most nights. I noticed that they had almost exactly the same German (Ortleib) panniers that I have—one notices these things!

Holland bikers

Teun and Gerde Plug, from Holland, biking across the country, east to west.

I also waved to someone walking east on I-10 and hitchhiking. Then I remembered a sign I had seen coming into Sierra Blanca: “Prison Area: Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers.” He certainly didn’t seem to be having much luck in the ride department.

After coming over the modest Carrizo Mountains, I enjoyed some coasting (finally). I passed into Culberson County, which marks the separation between Mountain and Central time zones. Near there, I passed a strip of burned grass along the shoulder. It smelled of fresh fire—it almost felt warm as I passed it. The fire risk is called extreme, and someone I’m staying with tomorrow night noted that there was just a fire up near the McDonald Observatory.

Entering Central Time Zone

Crossing into Culberson County and the Central Time Zone.

Recent burn

A recent burn along I-10; it smelled as if this had burned very recently.

I got into Van Horn by around 2:30, even with the jumping ahead of the time, so I biked most of the length of the town of 2,400 residents. As far as I could tell, it’s basically one long strip that contains most of the business (Broadway). I had passed the motel I was planning to stay at (the Economy Inn – $29.95 plus tax!), but I wanted to see if there might be something in more of a town center. It appears that there isn’t a town center, just a strip with a dozen or more motels and the usual strip fare.

Economy Inn

My motel and a view of Van Horn--on Broadway Ave.

Economy Inn

Compact and comfortable--the price is right!

I visited the one nice, old hotel about a mile east of where I’m staying: El Capitan. I went in to look around and was pleased to find a relief map of this part of Texas. I had thought of avoiding the Davis Mountains tomorrow and biking directly to Marfa (a cool town from what I hear), and the relief map confirmed that the 73 miles between here and Marfa would be totally flat.

My left knee doesn’t seem any worse than yesterday, though, and I’ve heard such great things about the McDonald Observatory that I just have to see it. The clincher was that one of the scientists there is a WarmShowers host, so I’ll stay up there tomorrow night. Perhaps I’ll even get to see the observatory in action. It’s owned by the University of Texas.

The observatory features the 9.2-meter (433-inch) Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) mirror telescope, which is one of the world’s largest optical telescopes. It is optimized for spectroscopy—examining light from distant stars and galaxies to determine their properties. The HET was completed in 1997, a joint project of UT-Austin, Penn State University, Stanford University, the Ludwig-Maximillans-Universität München, and the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.

Other telescopes at the McDonald Observatory include:

The Harlan J. Smith Telescope, constructed in 1966-68 with a 2.7-meter (107-inch) mirror; this was the third largest in the world when built.

The 2.1-meter (82-inch) Otto Struve Telescope, constructed in 1933-39, which was the world’s second largest telescope when built.

An 0.8-meter (30-inch) telescope and laser system that measures the distance between Earth and the Moon and tracks the drift of Earth’s continents. We gotta know these things!

I’ve never been to an observatory and can’t wait to see whatever they will let me see—even if I have to stay an extra day. I mentioned to John Kuehne, my WarmShowers host, that I was instrumental in getting the Light Pollution Control credit in the LEED Rating System; maybe that will warrant a special tour!

On my tour of Van Horn, the high point was the junk art yard. Some photos attached. I chatted with the guy behind it all, Gerald Scott I think he said his name was. Interesting guy. He also has some great cacti growing at his place.

Gerald Scott's art yard

Perhaps the most bizarre feature of Van Horn is this yard with Gerald Scott's art built from junk.

Junk art

A sampling of Gerald's art.

Gerald's art

I hope my bike doesn't end up like this!

Giant insects

I think this was my favorite.

Gerald Scott

With the artist.

Gerald Scott up-close

Without the hat. Gerald's been at this a long time!

Orange cactus

One of Gerald's blooming cacti. He said they took a hit last winter with very cold temperatures.

Cactus fence

A gorgeous collection of prickley pear cactus along a wall here.

Pruning the cacti next door

Pruning the cactus. Ths guy seemed a little skeptical of the artist next door!

Tomorrow’s leg will be a challenging one: 75 miles with over 2,000 feet of climbing into the Davis Mountains. Fortunately, the forecast right now is for a west wind—yay! While the route turns south from Kent into the mountains, it would be great to at least get as far as Kent (further than I came today) with a tailwind!