Sunday, February 6, 2005

We had a wild and wooly night last night. I guess the ten foot wind sock just a few feet from the picnic area should have been our first clue -- it was darned windy last night. I would estimate winds around 35-40 mph with gusts to 60+ mph. We made it through the night, though, and nothing blew off the coach. The ranger at the national park had warned us that the wind comes whipping down the canyon, right through the campground, and on down the state highway.

It was so windy that we actually broke camp and pulled out first thing in the morning. We certainly could not put the satellite dish back up, and the weather was still too drippy to want to go back up to the park, so we headed down US180 to the valley and in to El Paso.

El Paso is, frankly, an industrial wasteland. After fueling up along I-10 (Texas has the cheapest diesel we will see from here west), we drove TX375 along the "river." I put that in quotes because the Rio Grande here is more like the Trickle Grande -- one could literally walk across it. Of course, one would then be fired upon, because the river frontage here resembles the fortification of Berlin before the wall fell. There are floodlights every 100 feet or so, and a 20-foot "DMZ" along the US side of the river separated by concertina wire fences from the river and the rest of the city, the exclusive domain of the border patrol.

Almost all the water we saw in the Rio Grande in Big Bend comes from tributaries in Mexico. The Rio Grande is dry in El Paso because all its water is impounded further upstream, used up by Texas and New Mexico before it ever hits the international border.

We left El Paso by crossing El Trickle Grande into New Mexico, and made it as far as Santa Teresa before realizing that we would not see another supermarket until Tucson. So we briefly recrossed the state line into the northern El Paso suburbs in search of a "real" supermarket (we've only seen bodegas and mini-marts for the past few hundred miles). We found an Albertsons which, we both thought, must be the nicest supermarket we've ever been in. (Albertsons is a chain with which we have more than passing familiarity, but this is one of their newest stores.) Jonesing for a modern mega-supermarket with a real meat counter and a real bakery, we spent a good half hour or more shopping and stocking up. Then we had to wait in line for a good bit to check out because everyone was last-minute shopping for their superbowl munchies. Ugh.

After a minor navigational snafu (our maps do not correctly show the new highway to the new Santa Teresa border crossing), we found our way to NM-9 and have been traversing the southernmost part of the state. We are now at Pancho Villa State Park (map), the last decent camp site before Arizona. The park is in the town of Columbus, which was raided in 1916 by the Mexican revolutionary Francisco "Pancho" Villa, prompting a punitive raid into Mexico by US armed forces chasing him down. The state park comprises the grounds of the military barracks and staging area for the retaliation, led by Pershing. This campaign marked essentially the last use of mounted cavalry in a US military campaign, as well as the first use of mechanized forces. Pershing's experience here with a mechanized army paved the way for his success therewith in WW-I in the following year. (Can you tell we've been to the visitor center?)

Tomorrow we will head into Arizona.

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