Day 26 – Into the Heat – and on to Sanderson

Alex - Route 90

Hot already at 10 am.

18 April 2011. As I write this I’m sitting in a shaded courtyard at the Outback Oasis Motel in Sanderson, Texas, next to an artificial pond thick with water lilies and other wetland vegetation. When I walked around it, I heard frogs jumping into the water and I spotted an occasional goldfish through an opening in the vegetative cover.

I may not last out here too much longer, though. First of all, it’s hot. The NOAA Weather Website shows it being 99°F at the nearby Dryden Terrell County Airport (as of an hour ago). And it’s gotten quite windy—much windier than during my cycling today.

Before I left La Loma Del Chivo this morning, resident Billy Smith offered to show me around, and I gladly accepted. Billy has lived there 40 days, following some very serious medical problems in which he was told he likely won’t be able to walk upright again. (He introduced his medical condition to me by saying that he has a bunch of three–inch-long metal pins holding his back together.)

Moon setting

Just before sunrise this morning--the full moon setting over La Loma Del Chivo Eco-Community.

Papercrete abode

With the sun just rising, Billy showed me around the compound. This is a papercrete dwelling that a woman built during her stay.

Billy Smith

My tour guide this morning: Billy Smith.

Bottle House

Billy noted that this Bottle House sometimes whistles when the wind is blowing.

Billy showed me some of the buildings in the early morning light, explaining which the sweat lodge is, for example (next to what I thought was a clay bake over in my blog yesterday), showing me inside the kiva (next to the sweat lodge), and explaining that a lot of their structures are made out of papercrete (a mix of shredded recycled paper, sand, water, and some Portland cement). But where he really got excited was in showing me the gardens he’s been putting in and nurturing—desert gardening is a real challenge.

As he showed off the plantings he’s caring for—often not even knowing what the actual plants were—he would reach out and grab a few leaves and munch on them, obviously proud of his work. There were also lots of trees going in that he’s tending—cherry, fig, persimmon, apricot—along with grapes and other elements of a permaculture landscape. A somewhat overweight and very friendly dog, Rascal, followed along, looking a lot like the dog I remember from The Little Rascals, growing up.

Raised beds

Raised beds keep the gardens more manageable apparently--and probably aid in watering (the key management task!).

Trees and greens

This idea of intercropping vegetable crops with trees seems like a good idea, but I wonder whether the greens rob too many nutrients from the trees?

Trenching before plantng

Before planting anything, Billy said he digs deep holes or trenches and adds rich compost. I think he said this trench will be for beans.

I was also able to say goodbye to Stan before wheeling off. Stan was the first one I was in touch with about the eco-community and hostel, but he’s only a part-time visitor. He comes back to “get connected” he says. His goal today was to complete work on the batch solar water heater; tomorrow he heads off to California.

Interesting place. Still not a place I’d want to live, but certainly a contribution to our flailing efforts to find ways to live more sustainability. I was really glad that I had a chance to see the gardening operations.

Small earthen wall

Expressions of art is an important part of La Loma Del Chivo, it seems. I rather liked this small section of wall with the garden fork.

I didn’t get off very early from Marathon with the community tour and needing to wait for the Post Office to open. I got to the Post Office around 9 am I think, after enjoying a breakfast of blueberry pancakes and ham. I shipped back a $10.95 Priority Mail box of some colder-weather gear that was great having in the higher-elevation mountains, but won’t do much good in 90° weather: lined gloves, over-boots for my bike shoes, my down vest. I also sent back my 6-liter, collapsible dromedary bag for water that I’ve used only once and don’t expect to need, a stack of maps and various pieces of literature about points west of here, and a piece of Labrodorite I had purchased at the gem & Mineral Show in Alpine. In all, I’m guessing I got rid of four or five pounds.


At the Marathon Post Office

With warm weather upon us, I don't think I'll be needing my down vest and other warm-weather gear, so I shipped it home. I was glad to see which way this flag was blowing!

Today’s ride to Sanderson was uneventful. I covered the 55 miles at an average speed of about 16 mph and got in around 1:30, even with several stops. I had a modest tailwind most of the way, which certainly helped (it’s picked up quite a bit since I arrived), the shoulder was wide and in great shape and there was almost no traffic. Perfect biking conditions, really. Even the heat isn’t so bad, as long as you’re moving along at a healthy clip and have plenty to drink to fuel that evaporative cooling!

Curve in road

This bend in the road was an exciting change--after the first 20 miles being pretty much totally straight. I passed a few more burn scars.

Highway 90

Highway 90 is great for biking: wide shoulder with few bumps and almost no traffic. The scenery may get a tad monotonous, but that's life.

Cow on road allowance

I saw a few cows that had gotten onto the road allowance.

I could probably have made it to my next destination without too much effort (another 60 miles to Langtry), but I’ve decided not to push it too hard. Getting in at 1:30, I had time for a nap, and I expect to do some reading in a little while—and still not be rushed to get to dinner. Restaurant choices are quite limited here, but I was relieved to discover that there is an option besides the gas station across the street (Route 90) from my motel.

As for excitement on the road, I passed two turkeys at different places, and saw what looked like a very large, black squirrel. I went back hoping to get a better look at it with my binoculars, but no such luck. Any idea whether there’s a largish, very dark squirrel living around here?

I also stopped to take a look at a scissor-tailed flycatcher. I had seen a bunch of these beautiful birds in a tree near the eco-community I stayed at last night. The tail seems totally out-of-proportion—very long in the adults, and it spreads to a wide V when flying. A beautiful, distinctive bird.

I noticed today that, despite the heat, there seemed to be a lot of birds along the highway. I think I’m beginning to see some subtle changes in the country as I leave the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem for whatever these grasslands are referred to.

Lunch break

A perfect spot for lunch: a bit of shade and a guardrail to lean the bike against and sit on! One celebrates these little gifts!

I’ve pondered, periodically, how long I will continue on this journey eastward, and I decided today that I really want to see the transition to a wetter, more verdant ecosystem. So that’s my near-term goal.

Of course, it’s easy to make far-off goals like that when the biking is easy and my legs (and knees) are feeling good. As soon as I hit a day of headwind, my tune may well change! Regarding my knees, as noted, they are feeling pretty good—not 100%, but close to it. There seems to be a direct proportionality between elevation gain (or upwind pedaling) and knee pain. I’ll have to collect a few more data points to be sure (I hope not too many on the knee-pain side), but that seems to be what’s going on!

Outback Oasis Motel

My home away from home: the Outback Oasis Motel. Nice spot!

Water lily pond

The water lily pond at the motel.

Outback Oasis Motel

I was really impressed with the landscaping around the motel.

Motel rooms

I'm in one of these rooms in the back. A nice, clean room. Remarkably cool even without turning on the air conditioning.

Motel at sunset

The motel after I returned from dinner--just after sunset.

Stripes gas station

The Stripes gas station, immediately across Highway 90 from the motel--my only option for breakfast in town, apparently. (The sunset makes it look nicer than it is!)

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to Langtry with even hotter weather—over 100—and staying with a WarmShowers host. It’s been great to meet all sorts of different people on this trip through WarmShowers—one of the high points really! From there, it’s another day on to Del Rio, where it’s forecast to be 102 or 103°F—pretty hot for a wimpy Vermonter!

As I was sitting on a chair outside my motel room in the perfect night weather (about to post today’s blog), I got into a conversation with the owner of the motel here: Roy Engeldorf. He and his wife Ruth bought the motel eight years ago after he had been coming to the area for a while hunting snakes and other reptiles.

That piqued my curiosity, as I had just read an article about these horrible snake hunts where rattlers are rounded up and killed. That’s not at all the kind of collecting Roy and his associates do. They never kill snakes or other reptiles, but Roy does raise, buy, and sell to reptile collectors.

Roy Engeldorf

Roy in front of his well-maintained and clearly marked snake trays.

Gray-banded kingsnakes

A beautiful pair of gray-banded kingsnakes.

He showed me his snake and lizard house. There, he has about a half-dozen Gila monsters (North America’s only venomous lizard), hundreds of snakes, and a few other animals of interest: a tarantula, some scorpions, and such. When I asked if he had collected the Gila monsters, he said, “Oh, gosh, no; they’re fully protected in every state where they’re found.” His are captive-bread, and two that he has are specimens that he has raised.

Gila monster

Roy says he's never been bitten by a Gila monster or venomous snake. This Gila monster that he raised seemed pretty feisty!

Undescribed Mexican rattlesnake

An undescribed Mexican rattlesnake that Ray and a friend discovered. A determination is being made as to whether it's a new species.

Snake food

Raising snakes also means raising snake food. These mice and rats seemed well cared for.

Herper T-shirt

I kept this image a little larger (click on it to enlarge, and then click again to magnify); I hope you can read it. "You might be a herper if..."

He showed me a smallish rattlesnake and he and a friend had collected in Mexico (about 300 miles south of here)—actually it was one of the offspring of the snakes they had collected. It turned out to be an undescribed species, and Roy may actually get to name a snake; if so, he’s thinking of calling it a Variable Rattlesnake (I think that’s what he said).

Roy also showed me the reptile demonstration room in the front of the motel, where the areas most common snakes are displayed, with lots of useful information (and warnings).

Snake display

In the front of the motel is a more public display of local snakes.

Roy travels throughout the area teaching school students and community groups about lizards, and he was just in Austin testifying about some regulation that affects collecting. Very nice guy. I’m still far from convinced that keeping wild animals as pets is ever appropriate, but of those who raise snakes and other lizards, I’d be willing to bet that Roy is at the top of the list relative to doing so responsibly.

Now a bit later than intended, but on to bed!