During our drive across country, I’ve learned a few things. Don’t speed on Interstate 10, because there are lots of police looking to write you a ticket. There are some large bugs living in the southern states. And most importantly, Texas is GIANT!
I’ll be honest and tell you that I didn’t look at the mileage that Interstate 10 covers in Texas before we left, but I can now say with authority that if you think you can drive across Texas in a day, you’re either a maniac that doesn’t need sleep or you’re mistaken. The total distance from Irvine, CA to Orlando FL is around 2400 miles, and more than a third of that – about 890 miles – are spent in the massive state of Texas.
I’d like to say that I found Texas extremely entertaining. The reality is that all the way from El Paso to San Antonio, a distance of 550 miles, is relatively featureless and incredibly boring. That isn’t to say that El Paso is particularly exciting either – at least not in a good way. Juarez Mexico is right across the border and is a massive city of 1.5 million people, which when combined with the 900,000 Texans living in El Paso forms one of the world’s largest bi-national populations.
That’s all well and good, however the problem is violence. Juarez is home to some of the worst drug cartels in the world, and had 2,600 murders in 2009 – about 5 times more than the most murderous city in the United States. The US border patrol was out in full force when we drove through and there’s something of a border war going on in the area, so it’s not exactly a good place to visit right now.
None of this is El Paso’s fault of course, and from what I’ve read El Paso is a great city. Unfortunately some of the violence from Juarez has spilled into El Paso, and the whole area isn’t a place we wanted to hang out in any longer than we had to. We passed into El Paso in the dark after enjoying dinner at La Nueva Casita Cafe in Las Cruces, NM, and drove for what seemed like forever until we reached the other side.
This is where the first interesting phenomenon of Texas presented itself. Cities in Texas are sprawling, but have very little in the way of urban sprawl. In other words, El Paso covered a lot of ground, but once you drive through El Paso suddenly there’s nothing, and the nothing continues for tens or even hundreds of miles. Coming from Southern California this is a completely foreign notion, as SoCal is the very definition of urban sprawl.
We passed into the enveloping darkness outside the city and headed toward our first stop for the night, Van Horn. It was then that I realized a second Texas phenomenon. Texas is incredibly dark! There’s next to no light pollution once you get outside the cities. This is no-doubt due to the lack of the aforementioned urban sprawl, but again this is a bit shocking if you’ve lived in Southern California for the past 12 years.
Our target for the next day was San Antonio, as both Kathy and I have heard great things about the River Walk and were ready to step out of the desert for a bit and enjoy some city culture. It’s a long way from Van Horn to San Antonio – 430 miles – and during this time I made some observations about Texas and Texans that I thought I’d share with you.
- More than any other state I’ve driven through, Texans have an annoying habit of passing you and then slowing down. I know this because I’ve used cruise control extensively during this trip, and because having to pass someone who just passed me is annoying, especially when they pass me again, slow down again, and we rinse and repeat.
- Texas is very clean. I’m not sure if it’s the threatening signs that say – Don’t Mess With Texas! $1000 fine for littering – or if it’s because the residents care more about their state, but it was a nice change from the trash all along the sides of the road in the deserts of California.
- Texas WalMarts are surprising clean and well organized compared to every other WalMart I’ve been in.
- Most people in Texas drive the speed limit or below. We drove through El Paso at 60mph and rarely encountered a ‘weaver’.
- Things are priced reasonably in Texas. Our Motel in Van Horn (Knights Inn) was clean, well taken care of, and cost $49 for the night. We slept like babies and I’d recommend the place to anyone in a heartbeat. Also, we got our favorite treat – McDonalds Ice Cream cones – at 2 for a $1. Definitely can’t beat that!
- Texans love them some BBQ! We drove past more Barbecue restaurants than all other types combined
- The rest areas are clean, themed, and almost all have Wi-Fi, making Texas rest areas far and away the best I’ve encountered in any state!
- Unlike California the terrain of West Texas simply doesn’t change much. We drove for hours and could have been in exactly the same place for all I knew.
Overall I appreciate west Texas for what it is. I’ve found the people to be mostly friendly if a little reserved, and really appreciate how well taken care of everything is. In my next post I’ll cover San Antonio and the River Walk. Until then, happy travels!