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Category Archives: Travels
Homemade donut shops are a big thing in the rural West. If a deteriorating town along the back roads has any business, it’s probably a donut shop. And not a squeaky clean and bright national chain like Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donuts, but usually in an abandoned laundromat or ex-burger joint. I’d been driving past them for a week.
After my night camping in Goodlett, Texas, I stopped at my first—for coffee. It was dark and empty of people except the clerk. Surprisingly, he was a Cambodian. He explained to me, in a still thick Asian accent that his aunt in New Orleans owned the shop, and he managed it. His one employee came in at 2am to make the donuts, then left by 9am. He came in at 6am to run the counter. He could make the donuts, but didn’t like it, and certainly did not like coming in at 2am. Most Western donut shops close at 2pm, his favorite thing about the job.
I wondered how he felt, being in this lost place, so different from his home. He told me there were maybe 4 Cambodians in the town, and he missed home. He urged me to visit Cambodia because it was so lush and beautiful. Quite unlike the dry and barren Texas panhandle.
A car beeped at the drive-up window. It must have been a regular customer, because the manager handed her a ready-made box, the size of a giant pizza, with at least 2 dozen donuts of different colors, toppings, stuffings and shapes. I asked him if he ate donuts.
“No, they’re very unhealthy. Asians eat fresh vegetables; healthy food. Americans eat the wrong things, they only eat food from cans, no fresh vegetables. So they’re fat and sick.”
“Well, I’d say you’re contributing to that aren’t you?” I asked.
“I don’t care, they eat what they want, but they should know better.”
I paid for my coffee, and he handed me a neatly folded paper bag. “Something for your trip,” he said with a smile.
It was six glazed donut holes. I thanked him with a smile and wished him the best. Out in the van, I tasted one. Greasy, sickly sweet, gummy. I pulled into the Walmart at the edge of town—the one that had obliterated most of the local businesses on Main St. I needed a bottle of super-strength bug remover for my windshield—a necessity after a couple days of deep South driving. The donut holes, despite the kindness of the donut man, I slipped quietly into the trash bin out front.
Childress, Texas again. I pulled into Walmart, for extra-strength bug scrub. Walmart was the whole ball game for Childress, judging from all the sad and empty storefronts on Main Street—the is the brave new world of America. My normal windshield washer fluid barely got me through the buggy tropics of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Now in the dry Texas desert scrub lands, it was time for a deep scrub with the right stuff.
I try to park the van far out in big box parking lots– with the work trucks. This time I spotted a pooch next to me. Where I come from, you don’t tie up a dog and ride around with it on a flatbed truck. Suburban dog lovers would pitch a fit, and call the cops. This fella had sweet eyes, wagged its tail, didn’t bark. It looked right into my eyes, hoping to make a friend. Damn it.
Should I open the side door to the van, grab a kitchen knife, cut the rope, and let it jump in? It was just five feet. It could be done in seconds. I’d give it a dish of cool water, and a ham slice from the fridge. It could be my travelling companion, seeing the country from a soft van seat. It could hike with me in the cool Carolina mountains, chase squirrels up actual trees and splash in creeks to its heart’s content. No more hot deserts, rattlesnakes, or prickly cactus. I’d be a hero and have a loyal pal for the rest of the trip.
But Texans have guns, and some unshakable convictions. This fellow’s owner might not agree with Eastern ideas of animal liberation—or in his cowboy view, rustling.
I might at least toss my new friend one of the donut holes I’d recently acquired as a gift from the local donut shop—but no, not even that.
This was a working dog. It must be fine on its bed of leather straps and dusty ropes. Its life was on the ranch with his master, setting out cow licks and feed and such. In the mornings, it probably couldn’t wait to jump in the truck for whatever desert adventure might come that day. So, I just took a picture to share a view of the different country of Texas. Damn it.
This is a typical view from a ‘primitive’ campground on Salmon Creek Lake, just outside the tiny, mostly abandoned crossroads town of Rogerson, Southern Idaho, a very lonely place.
Primitive campgrounds are very spare– sometimes not even a level parking pad, usually a common water spigot and pit toilet. It never has electric. For these reasons, you won’t find the herds of bus-sized RVs that populate average brightly-lit commercial campgrounds that require hookups for electric, water, and sewer, as well as 75 ft. long paved pads that don’t require backing up. Luxury and primitive don’t mix. I prefer primitive.
Because of the quiet, primitive campgrounds generally have wildlife. Small groups of deer are common, so are foxes, coyotes, and raccoons. I stepped on my first snake in the West here. It was a little rattler, maybe a foot long. I jumped 2 ft in the air, and it scurried away.
I didn’t worry about it, but friends told me young snakes are more dangerous, because they shoot more venom when they bite. It made me watch my step very carefully for the rest of the trip. The biggest commotion was swallows diving and soaring on the shore. A pair of robins fussed at me, because their nests were under the picnic table shelter.
I didn’t see a structure or street light for at least 20 miles. The only sounds were the wind and the birds. Nearing sunset, the temperature dropped into the 60s. Unbelievable clean air. Time to put on a jacket and contemplate the universe.
There was not a cloud in the sky, very new moon– my best chance yet on the trip to see stars. I woke up at about 3:3o AM and stepped outside. It was astonishing.
I’d never seen the entire Milky Way before. It etched a path from horizon to horizon. It looked like a consciously built, detailed structure, and was actually unsettling, like I was in a cage, a tiny, forgotten thing in the universe. And this was still just a small portion of the Milky Way.
The earth feels so insignificant under that sky. More insignificant are it’s petty squabbles, which are the product of an ”intelligent” species that has evolved to live in the delusion that it is important under this staggering sky.
Human civilization has been around for 10,000 years. It developed the ability to destroy itself, and most living things less than 100 years ago. Difficult to conceive how it will sustain in this 5 billion year old universe. With those disturbing thoughts, I went back to sleep in the comfy van.
In the morning, after a walk through the scrub, I headed out for more Idaho.
In Rogerson, there was a convenience store with gas pumps and little diner, so I stopped in for breakfast. I had very nice chats with the proprietor/cook and a local resident who had traveled much of the world, but returned here for the peace and quiet. This was the only business for 50 miles in either direction, so there you go. The proprietor gave me a book about the spirituality of travel– she had traveled much.
As usual, the goodbyes were brief. I knew we were just passing through, and didn’t even bother giving each other our names. No point. Just living in the moment, which is a wonderful thing about living on the road.
Nights on the road:
1 Tues 5/23
Lebannon, TN Cedars of Lebanon SP
2 Wed 5/24
Mussel Shoals, AL
Belden, MS Deer Run Eagle Ridge Trace State Park
3 Thu 5/25
Clarksdale, MS Natchez, MS NATCHEZ State Park
L’Acadie Inn &RV Park Eunice, LA
5 Sat 5/27
Eunice, LA L’Acadie Inn
6 Sun 5/28
Denton, Texas Fairmont Suites Hotel
Outside Dallas; Parks way too hot for camping
7 Mon 5/29
Goodlett, Texas Old Cotton Gin RV Park
8 Tu 5/30
Amarillo, TX La Quinta Hotel
Instead of Capulet and Paulo Duro State Parks-
too hot, crowded, and attacking ants!
9 Wed 5/31
Raton, NM Sugarite Canyon SP
10 Thur 6/1
Trinidad, CO Trinidad Lake SP
11 Fri 6/2 Louisville, CO
12 Sa 6/3 Louisville, CO
13 Su 6/4
AM – grocery supplies – Alfalfa’s
PM – drive to Glenwood Springs, CO
Drove today from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux Reservation, via the Bandlands Nat. Park. My van parked for the evening in a field behind a Lakota-owned restaurant and motel in the middle of the reservation.
Prairie thunderstorm raging outside. I’m on high ground, but a ranger today said yesterday, several trucks were blown over in the Interstate. Not much wind. The photo below is of a ruined building is in the ghost town (real) of Scenic, SD., a few miles from the reservation border.
Alcohol is forbidden on the reservation, so little places like this can still be found in a few places near the reservation border– luring natives over for just one little drinkie. White Clay Nebraska, just over the SD line is a thorn in the side of the reservation, but the tribal government can do nothing. Nebraska enjoys substantial tax revenue from alcohol sales to native-Americans. When implored to close that store. the Nebraska legislature says, no… ‘it’s a free country- don’t tell us what to do!’
US history is filled with hatred of the native populations. Many immigrants thought the native peoples were savages and vermin that needed total extermination to allow Christian European theft, exploitation, and ultimately destruction of the pristine lands where natives had lived and prospered 6,000 years. There are still numerous signs of friction, bitterness, and exploitation between white immigrants and natives today. But all the natives I met were friendly, helpful, open, and easy-going.
I’d like to go back. And they asked me to.
Spent a few hours chatting with these guys at a campground outside Trinidad, CO, a small hurting city with the odd reputation in the 1960s as the Sex Change Capital of the world– yep, Google it. Trinidad hangs on as an old mining town, but not sure if a new coffee shop can make it the tourist draw many small towns hope they will save them in the 21st Century people drain into suburbia.
These were single guys on long motorcycle trips– not stopping for Trinidad’s medical clinics. They weren’t travelling together, just happened to land, like me, in the same place at the same time.
You see many of them on the road. They are very friendly, curious, humble, and good at conversation– willing to tell you their whole stories, if you have the time.
They have interesting stories about why they’re on the road, and their love of unplanned travel. Most bikers don’t seem to have a travel plan, stopping where it’s interesting, then moving to an accidental spot on the map. They ride bikes because ‘they’re crazy’ –their answer to why? One was a John Waters fan. I had some copies of LOW BUDGET HELL with me, and gave him one for helping solve a camper van problem.
Before hitting the road, he was a massage therapist at a ritzy spa in Taos. He was a hobby a car mechanic who loved weird vehicles like the Roadtrek. The other guy was a ship captain in the Caribbean, but also a licensed mechanical engineer. Both had recently made a split-second decision to buy a big bike, sleeping bag and go figure out Amerika.
Both had college degrees, but were not content to live the conformist lifestyle of suburbia or marriage. They were both helping their widowed mothers navigate old age, because they were the only ones who had the time. This trip was a 2-3 break from that– to see how they liked bike/camping in the national parks.
They’re definitely not the average guy behind the counter or selling you something on the phone. They’re chasing a red dragon. Cool dudes.
I’d traveled 2,400 miles of back-roads through the South in the past 12 days, and passed through dozens of small towns. They were in bad shape– most business closed, bushes growing through the sidewalks, homes with collapsed roofs, “gas stations” with no structure but a single rusted pump in an weedy lot.
Many once-thriving rural ‘towns’ are sad monuments to the dashed dreams of earnest entrepreneurs Looks like most people have moved to suburbs of Denver, Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta, Charlotte…
The devastation is a sad portrait of America, and the bitterness of those left behind is understandable in a way that isn’t covered much in the news. This cute/clever sign for THE COWGIRL CAFE looked pretty new, and seeing it from a distance, I was hoping to get a nice down-home lunch there, after driving 3 hours on desolate Texas Highway 87 out of Amarillo. It had been a voyage of dry ranches and as string of abandoned small towns. To my disappointment, it had been closed/abandoned for many months– joining Channing’s dozen other small businesses in oblivion.
Goodlett, Texas (pop. 138) is about 3 1/2 hrs. Northwest of Dallas on Hwy 287, 175 miles from the nearest Interstate and five hours from Amarillo, the closest town of more than200 people. The capitol of the middle of nowhere. I liked it.
Had a small shade tree, and little store, laundromat, and shower. It also had a very cool swimming pool! Only 3 other campers the night I was there, and I had the pool to myself.
Noticed a big bird (roadrunner?) hopping toward my glasses, that I left on the side. I swam over to grab them, which made the bird hop faster. I snatched them a fraction of a second before the bird, and it flew away.
Feeling ‘safe’ I put them down and continued swimming. But birdie returned and started moving in. I raced and once again won. Lesson learned. I put them on and doggie paddled so I could keep an eye on the thieving varmint. Shifty, outlaw Texans!
This RV park is for sale, if you’re looking to get away from it all. The lady who owned it grew up in the town. She married a local fella and had 5 daughters. When they went off, she went to college and earned a PhD in cotton genetics. So, living in and setting a business in an old cotton gin in Goodlett.
This is a display at an ‘antique’ store just outside Goodlett. I would have bought one, if someone had been around, but in the 30 minutes I strolled around, not a soul to be seen. Being Texas, I didn’t want to tempt fate by slipping one in the van, and sneaking out of town. They are popular lawn ornament in some places in the West.