Departing Trinidad, Colorado we are on familiar ground. Having made the trip dozens of times across the northeast corner of New Mexico, the Panhandle of Texas, and the savanna that is North Texas and the Dallas/Fort Worth area; this segment of our journey proved to be as much a trip down memory lane as it was in the moment travel.
Raton Pass, which divides the states of Colorado and New Mexico has always existed in my mind as a sort of a demarcation between Texas and just about any place north and west of there. US highways 87/84 cut across the empty and starkly beautiful northeastern New Mexico. The sagebrush and antelope dotted countryside also sport several recent (in a geological sense) volcanic features. Lots of little pointy volcanoes that kind of look like the mountains a child might draw....perfect pyramids...only many missing the tops which blew off in a series of eruptions. Also, a BNSF train line follows the highway for much of the route, the coal trains that occasionally pass provide a bit of dynamic scenery and a lonesome whistle if you're lucky.
A quick stop in the unlikely town of Dumas, Texas at the Pak & Sak is required for both fluid off-load and pecan praline acquisition. In a small box located on the counter by the register exists near perfect examples of the caramel-y/chewy variety of the southern treat of pecan pralines. Buttery and studded with tender Texas pecans, I always stock up on a few of these pralines whenever I pass through.
In Amarillo we seek out a burger joint featured recently on the Travel Channel's Man vs. Food TV show....the host consumed Coyote Bluff's self proclaimed Burger from Hell. While I wasn't up to a little bit of hell, I was up for a huge burger and some really good fresh french fries. That is just what I got, along with a ice cold long-neck of Shiner. Damn. Medium rare and huge, with the appropriately squishy bun to absorb any expressions given off by the substantial portion of ground cow, my burger craving was satisfied. The tiny cafe looked exactly like it should - packed with a hodge-podge of diner-esque seating, actual (as opposed to contrived) crazy crap on the walls, a few obvious structural issues and the smell of burgers and fries permeating it all. Yum. Well worth the short wait to score a couple of seats.
Several trips made to New Mexico and Southern Colorado during my childhood provided the opportunity to memorize the towns along the highway US 287 between Amarillo and Fort Worth, Texas: Amarillo, Claude, Goodnight, Clarendon, Hedley, Memphis, Esteline (and it's infamous 50mph speed trap), Childress, Quanah, Chillocothe, Vernon, Wichita Falls, Bowie, Decatur, Fort Worth. It's a portion of the drive I always used to to dread, as if it were something to endure on the way to the mountains and places more commonly viewed as "scenic." I find myself now actually looking forward to this part of the trip and I'd happily argue now that it IS scenic. I take comfort in the static and un-hip nature of these high plains towns. I get melancholy when the mom-and-pop gas station I used to visit is boarded up. I secretly (despite the contradiction herein) celebrate the addition of the occasional Starbucks and the coffee beverages we've come to anticipate on every corner.
Contradiction aside, you can't argue with the kooky imagery that is the juxtaposition of a Starbucks doppio macchiato in a dusty high-plains and uncosmopolitan town such as Wichita Falls, Texas, can you?