Even though it is LARGE and LONG, there is very little (“[no]Thing!”) to speak of in West Texas. Problem is, we have this rule about driving 4 hours a day only… So we had to make at least a couple of stops before reaching our Rally Point near Austin.
The first stop was in the West Texas town of Marfa. Marfa has a long and unusual history…like many of the places we visit. Places you (and we) have never heard of and would never visit on purpose. But which, when you happen by, have some striking features.
Marfa is basically a one-stoplight town. But since the 1800’s is “renowned” for a phenomenon known as the “Marfa Lights.” These are some sort of apparition (or aspiration? Abomination?) that appears with some frequency on the wide-open spaces just east of the town. These are variously described as lights, objects, ghostly creatures or mass hallucinations. Lights/ objects/hallucinations that move in impossible (well, at least improbable) ways, and are quite clearly visible in the dry desert air.
We thought we would check them out. There is actually an official “Viewing Station” about 8 miles east of town, which is basically a roadside picnic area that allows overnight parking. We pulled in about 4:00 and found a nice level spot next to the field and with a great view to the south, towards Mexico and the plains where the lights appear. When we got there, there were a couple of other RVs parked at the other end…maybe a ¼ mile away. We cooked dindin and awaited amazement. Alone (virtually) with our thoughts.
About 7:30 (at dusk), cars, trucks – and even TOUR BUSES – began to arrive. By the time the sun had set, there were at least 100 people awaiting this phenomenon. In the absolute-middle-of-nowhere.
We were glad to have parked away from the building/balcony, where the crowds collected. The excitement mounted…the collection of people seemed to be expecting nothing less than the rapture!
Well, we saw….ABSOLUTELY NOTHING (except a magnificent sunset) …which I pretty much expected.
Please feel free to ignore science or “facts” (or invent your own, as seems to be all the rage these days):
It is MY SCIENCE-BASED THEORY (based upon no facts but who needs facts – or science — anyway, these days) that the lights are campfires and headlights from the south that are reflected off a shimmering inversion layer. Mirages are common in the desert…this would be the nightime version of a mirage. This night, it was cold and windy…absolutely no inversion layer present or possible, so no lights.
Now, you cannot prove non-existence of a phenomenon because it was not seen by one person on one evening. Some would say you cannot DISPROVE anything — if you don’t see Marfa Lights or anything else 100 days in a row it doesn’t mean day 101 might not be different…. So maybe there are lights. And, there must be some reason tour buses come here…not even a souvenir stand!
It turns out there are a few other things to see and do in Marfa. There is quite an Art community. It was started awhile back (in the 70’s) by a guy named Donald Judd, who creates very large Aluminum and Concrete sculptures. He found the abandoned Hangars from the Army Airforce Base, built there for training purposes in WWII, to be the perfect place for his workshop and gallery. He has since formed a foundation and an institute to do things art and philosophy-related. Others followed. Restaurants and bars followed.
Unfortunately, they also followed him in that his and their galleries and studios are open from Wednesday to Sunday. We were there on MONDAY.
In addition, Tom Reepmeyer, a Chicago friend, Pilot and avid Soar-er, said we should look up “Marfa Soaring” and go for a ride…that Marfa is well known as a soaring center! Who Knew (besides Tom, that is)!!
So, we have now visited a small town in the middle of absolutely NOWHERE, and have very good reason(s) to go back again! Who’d have thought THAT – perhaps the “lights” are metaphors for such reasons to visit this little bit of desolation?! Fortunately, Marfa…and West Texas… must be traversed if one travels east or west to/from the left coast…so we have made a note!
Once the buses and Rapture-seekers left (disappointed but not dissuaded), we had a quiet night on the roasdside and left to continued our traverse of the wasteland. Mile after mile of – NOTHING. Not even the hint of lights, or rapture. I realized we could make it to our next planned stop, Marble Falls near Austin, if we “busted” our rule of 4-hours max daily driving. Seemed like this would be a good time to take that mulligan; and the RV park had our spot available a day early.
What we found, when we got to the area around Marble Falls was nothing less than spectacular…and unexpected after West Texas Boredom. The Hill country around Austin is DROP DEAD GORGEOUS. Blue Bonnet and other wildflowers in bloom. Old-money ranches. Hilly terrain. Rivers. Vineyards. It was a long driving day, which we do not undertake lightly, but the ends in this case justified it.
Our plan for the next several days was to attend a Bluebird Rally organized by a group called “the Lonestar Birds.” We were allowed to attended on the premise that even if your ONLY goal is to traverse Texas, this cannot be done (driving) in a single day. So one must by definition become a Texas Resident for at least a day, making us eligible for this exclusive group. At least that was the story they told me. The reality is simpler still. Bluebird folks everywhere are super nice and extremely gracious. Anyone who drives now or who ever drove a Bluebird (there were some “SOB’s” at the rally…”Some Other Bus”) is always welcome!
So we settled in for several days of community with some of the nicest folks you could ever know. This included some pot-luck meals, a catered BBQ event, a visit and private tour of a local craft brewery and … BUS REPAIRS. It seems that a Bluebird rally cannot be considered “official” until someone’s Engine Cover is up and three or four folks are wrenching away. The designated site was right next to ours…a MUCH newer and fancier coach with a recalcitrant Alternator and/or Voltage Regulator. For excitement, the shade-tree mechanics almost torched the vehicle with a direct short to ground…a bit of ad hoc arc-welding. Never a dull moment at Bluebird Rallies! And, it helps remind us that we LIKE our old and simple vehicle.
Speaking of which, we appreciate rallies as an opportunity to walk through some of the older buses like ours…it doesn’t help us to see the marble-and-granite palaces with inbuilt laundry machines just as the mechanical and electronics noodling on the newer buses is irrelevant to ours. But it DOES help us to see rides like our own, with new and novel ways to efficiently use space. We have gotten great ideas for storage, shelves, upholstery, flooring, etc.
There was even a post-rally rally. Several folks stayed after the official end of the event, and we had potluck around a campfire. With all sorts of adult beverages. Pumpkin Spice Baileys. Tequila Rose. And for me, bit of Glenfiddich. After 4 days at the rally, and 2 more days at the post-rally, we know a dozen more folks, in Texas mostly, but also nearby Louisiana and even New Orleans, with pads, hookups and the desire to host wandering friends.
While in the Austin area, we took advantage of a few other experiences and learning moments the area offers. We drove up to nearby Austin to visit the LBJ Library and Museum.
It is sort of an unwritten rule…if we are near a Presidential Library, we go if time allows. These are always fascinating, and LBJ’s was no exception.
There was a Microbrewery called “Save the World” were all profits are donated to charity. Good beer for a good cause. And the Bluebonnets were in bloom everywhere!
We even had a chance to visit some of the shops and antique places in nearby Marble Falls. There we found a set of heavy glass tumblers that EXACTLY FIT in a rack that came with the bus, and in which nothing we owned or had seen previously would fit. They were brown glass…very 80’s…you would think they came with the bus!!! These glasses cost $6. For ALL 7. And all the money went to the local animal shelter.
As the rally (and post-rally) came to a conclusion, we departed Marble Falls for our next destination. This one an EXTREMELY short drive to balance the long drive arriving to Marble Falls, down the road to Spicewood where friends from a previous rally have their home. And plenty of places on said home’s property for buses to park and connect. And margaritas!