Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
— “Don’t Fence Me In,” music by Cole Porter and lyrics by Robert Fletcher and Cole Porter
DEL RIO, Texas — Robert Fletcher and Cole Porter must have had West Texas in mind when they wrote the lyrics to that American classic.
During the past three days, our cross-country bicycle journey has taken us through “land, lots of land,” and we’ve camped at night “under starry skies above.”
I was last able to update this blog on Wednesday at Marathon, the gateway to Big Bend National Park. That was the last place with an available wi-fi connection until we reached Del Rio on Saturday. I’m writing this in the dark, sitting at a picnic table outside the office of the Buzzard Roost RV Campground, our home for Saturday night.
Thursday’s ride of 55.06 miles from Marathon to Sanderson along U.S. 90 was relatively easy, mostly downhill through rolling ranchland amid buttes and mesas.
The highway, a good part of the way, took us along the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad. Several times we were passed by trains, with a locomotive at each end and perhaps a hundred container cars in between.
Friday was a beast of a day — 80.98 miles from Sanderson to Seminole Canyon State Park. I rolled out of camp at Sanderson — a primitive campsite at an American Legion Park — just after 8 a.m. and didn’t get to Seminole Canyon until nearly 6 p.m.
The ride was through canyons carved out by rivers — now mostly dry — flowing to the south.
Because our route was to the east, we had to traverse those canyons. Every few miles took us on a steep downhill followed by an equally steep uphill on the other side. Throughout the day, we fought a stiff easterly headwind. And the road surface on much of U.S. 90 is chipseal, a layer of tar with gravel spread atop it. The very rough surface and the headwind made for very slow going. Sometimes, I could barely make 5 mph.
All along the route, our path was crossed by migrating Monarch butterflies, like us, on a transcontinental journey. And, like us, they were buffeted by the wind, but they always seemed to regain their course as they struggled unerringly to the south toward Mexico.
Our Adventure Cycling Assocation maps for this part of West Texas bear such notations as “No services next 55 miles” — the route from Marathon to Sanderson. The maps for the route during the past three days were sprinkled with such notations as we traveled through some of the emptiest country in the United States.
Sanderson, for example, is one of only two towns in Terrell County. It has a population of 875, according to information from the local tourism bureau. The only other town, Dryden, has a population of 11. All of Terrell County, including Sanderson and Dryden, has only 976 people. Those who don’t live in the two towns are scattered on ranches with huge acreage. We’d pass the entrances to ranches, with dirt roads leading off to the horizon and nary a building in sight.
Sanderson, nestled in Sanderson Canyon at an elevation of about 3,000 feet, calls itself the “cactus capital of Texas.” It boasts in its handouts for visitors that “the nearest traffic signal is 65 miles away in Pecos County.”
But on Saturday night we are amid the bright lights of Del Rio at the Buzzard Roost, run by a delightful Thai woman named Ratana. She drove our group of riders in two trips to a Saturday night dinner at a feeding trough called the Sirloin Stockade — all you can eat for just over $8 per person. We got our money’s worth and the restaurant probably lost money on our crowd.