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EASTER 2001

by Manuel Casillas
www.ManuelCasillas.com


Are you somebody with the best gear money can buy? Because when it comes to gear, only the best will do! Have you been backpacking through thunderstorms, sandstorms, scaled rocks, or freezing weather, just because you love it on the trail more than anything else? Do you have every piece of equipment needed for a weekend or a few months on the trail? Are you the MAN in the event of a backcountry emergency? Do you feel more at home anywhere wild? Have you ever felt like there was nothing left within your constraints to explore? (Constraints often equal time and money constraints, both true for me). Are you the poster child for backpacker of the year? Do you think you have lived through all that Mama Nature can throw at you from wherever it is you get away to? Looking to turn it in to a new WILD ADVENTURE?

Try doing it all again, mostly the same way you do it now, have done it, and are going to do it…. except this time …. try taking along an adult newbie! And for the real WILD ADVENTURE, try taking along her kids. This may not be my worst weather experience or physically taxing trip I have ever taken, nor by any means a real backpacking experience, or even car-camping, but with a newbie and her daughter (seven) and son (two) this proved to be a true adventure.

EASTER WEEKEND 2001 - FORT DAVIS, TEXAS

Long haul from Houston so I left Thursday and met my “new companions” in San Antonio for an early morning departure to Fort Davis. Fort Davis is in the Davis mountains near Big Bend Texas. For all of you not from Texas, (sorry), that’s near El Paso. We ran into some difficulty that Friday evening and on the following morning. (She hadn’t packed yet). But we got here late Friday around 5:30 pm with a minor $100.00 delay from our friendly State Trooper! 91 in a 70! Oops!

On our way, we stopped in the small town of Fort Stockden for supplies. This is the last small town off the Interstate. The prices of supplies would rise as quickly as the elevation does as we head up into the Davis mountains. This last supply stop usually takes me twenty minutes tops (you gotta stretch). But with company unaccustomed to living off the pack, (backpack for couch campers), I decided I’d better bring an ice chest. This proved to be just as difficult because they had never lived out of an ice chest either. This living out of an ice chest, otherwise known as car camping should be taught to all boys and girls by the third grade. I prefer it as kindergarten class but I was told they may fall in the ice chest at that age. I replied “sounds refreshing!” but the words were met with an evil grin. So I say - as long as every boy and girl learns how to live out of an ice chest by the third grade (Federal standard) we should be okay. I tried to anticipate everything that we would need including the dye for the Easter eggs!

Back on the road we had to find our way through the West Texas highways. In the sprit of adventure or plain stupidity, I brought no map. Okay I had my GPS. (Global Positioning System) We took some slow tours through small Texas towns with peaceful views of the mountains. They had homes that must have been passed from generation to generation. There was even a small college, Soul Ross University, which brought dreams of attending, with such a humble setting to surround your studies.
We pulled into historic Prude Ranch around 5:30 p.m. After checking in, we unpacked her Explorer (As quickly as a non-camper adult, a seven-year-old and a two-year-old can unpack). Because of the amateurs, we rented a small room. Two beds, no phone, no TV, just bath and running water. It had a private porch and was adjoined to two similar rooms. These small triplexes spotted the hillside. This ranch is usually a summer camp for children. It had a very dorm-like setting.

Next we toured the facility. We found a center community cabin that was equipped with a satellite TV in one large den room. In another large adjacent room, there was padding on the floor and walls for I assume gymnastic-type activities. There was also an icemaker and a soda machine. That was our last time in that building. We strolled down to the basketball and tennis courts and on the way passed other families enjoying themselves near their cabins. All here for the holiday. As we made our way down we passed “the stables” which was of course fascinating to the two young city slickers (and their city slicker mom). As we continued, we entered the main hall that I had had the privilege of first glance during check-in. It was built around a large Oak tree and the roots and base were the centerpiece for this dining hall. The top of the tree was through the roof. Next we showed the seven-year-old and her small brother the indoor pool. (Half stone wall fence built up with plastic shielding the rest of the way up and over the top) Next, of course, we were headed back to cabin for our bathing suits.

After a short swim we headed back to the cabin. The sun had set while we were swimming and at one mile in elevation, the temperature drops fast. Once we stepped foot outside it ended up being a mad sprint to our cabin for dry clothes for the small ones (we changed as well). As we were changing, she noticed she had one last cigarette!!! By now it was close to 8:30-9:00 p.m. I told her if you want them I have to hurry, the closest town is small and everything probably closes early! I was right. On the way back into the small town I came back across some cars we had seen parked at the side of the road on the way in to Prude Ranch. They were back from their hike and here in the cool dry night they had set up their tent and had a fire roaring right next to the roadside. Something you never find anywhere else in populated Texas. Most state parks are just small areas set aside near populated areas. Not here. The true sense of solitude exists. So after I looked for a gas station with cigarettes for sale (two in town both closed) then a grocery store (one in town closed), I did find what seemed to be a small restaurant in town and it was open. I stopped to see if they could direct me to anyplace in town open selling cigarettes. They politely asked what kind and directed me to a small narrow staircase and asked that I ascend. I did, to find a small bar tucked in the attic of this converted old home. There were maybe 5 tables and a five-seat bar. But still the small town pace existed in here and only after some patience and twenty minutes later (seated at the bar the whole time) was I asked “what can I get for you?” Another twenty minutes passed before the waiter/bartender returned with the cigarettes after she got caught up with another local that walked in. On my way back now.

The day had turned completely to night as I returned. The sky was overcast that night, but still on the small winding road making my way through the mountains, a true sense of seclusion and nature surrounded me. This 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday through Friday Houstonian began to contemplate the rat-race I participate in daily weighed heavy on my mind. I considered 3:00 a.m. server crashes or nights like these.

Back at Prude Ranch. When I returned we made some burgers and called it a night.

The next day we rose with crisp morning air (somebody opened all the windows last night?). We got ready and headed to the national historic site Fort Davis. There we had the privilege of seeing barracks and quarters used by the Army in the 1800’s. There were a few restored buildings but just the sense of history and the fact that you are walking on the same path that men and women walked many years ago in their isolated fort. Small things left a lasting impression, such as the restored kitchen of an officer’s quarters. What stood out in the building full of kitchen supplies and furniture was a small plaque that stated “Kitchens were built away from the main house, in case of fire, the house could still be saved”. When you are so far removed from civilization out in the mountains, to defending settlers heading West, every last item becomes a priceless treasure. Also fascinating was the fact that Buffalo solders (African-American Soldiers) were stationed here at Fort Davis. In fact, the first African-American to graduate from West Point was stationed here at Fort Davis. In history’s sad way, the fact that this is important, is because it shows how our great young republic did have trouble understanding God’s great scheme. Unfortunately, still today, we have uneducated morons that still believe that skin color, rather than character, measures a man. The young African-American Soldier a Lieutenant was tried at Fort Davis in a highly controversial trial by a mostly white court marshal. African-American men got little respect and for one to be an officer was especially hard for the elite white officers to stomach. He was tried for theft of substance (uniforms, nails, food) anything that had to be ordered through the military was considered substance and he was the substance officer in charge. He was found innocent of the theft charge but was found guilty of conduct unbecoming of an officer and forced to resign his commission and was given a dishonorable discharge. He went on to other success; however, most historians believe he was unjustly accused. In the 1970’s his decadence petitioned the court marshal. The Army did review the case and dismissed the charges and awarded him an Honorable discharge.

Back at the ranch just in time to eat a quick sandwich then the seven-year-old and I hit the trails aboard our new four-legged friends Nugget and Trickster, our horses. We had an hour to roam behind the hill spotted with the triplexes. It’s funny how just a few hundred yards away you are taken to a place where it seems as though you are the first human to step foot here. There are no real defined trails; you just wander through the fossil-ridden creek bed and up a hill for your panoramic of peace, calm and tranquility. A sense of real being overcomes you as you stare into Mama Nature’s eyes. The day winds down with a cool dip in the pool as the sun retreats behind the mountains. (This time we brought a dry shirt and our windbreaker for the walk back). The sky was clear today and as the sun begins to lie beneath the horizon, we are blessed with our first glimpse of the diamond mine in the West Texas sky. Back at the cabin we prepare for dinner but first we MUST color our Easter eggs. This of course, a family event, we gather the young ones. They were outside redistributing the earth outside our cabin. Uh-oh diaper rash---Back to town.

7:00 pm we all pile in and head back to town. Guess what? Keep in mind it is early in the evening --- grocery store closed, gas station closed, after all it is Easter eve! Once again the only thing open is the small restaurant. This time she hops out and returns with the secret knowledge of the location of the local’s store. It is convenitly hidden behind the closed gas station. Not visible from the main road! Go figure! One box of cornstarch later (new diaper rash cure for me) and back home we head. The eggs are now boiling over the on small BBQ pit. I hear a gasp from inside the cabin “WE HAVE NO BOWLS FOR THE DYE!” I spring into action (this is the kind of backwoods emergency I was talking about in the beginning). One military canteen cup found in the truck (I use this when backpacking and take everywhere I go camping), one plastic cup from NIOSA (Nights in Old San Antonio, another story), one ice bucket and two plastic cups (hotel type) and I believe the word is BLAM! EASTER EGGS. Next hotdogs for the kids, sausage for us and of course for dessert, S’mores. Then some quiet time next to the fire and a story of a day just like today, …on an evening just like this one …there was a family just like this one, ….all gathered around the fire like we are, ….They were making S’mores just like we are, …. In the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT …………………… the fear in their eyes evident …COMING TO ATTACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

Long pause…….

THE EASTER BUNNY!!!!

There was much screaming but then “you tricked me!” We laughed, the seven-year-old didn’t laugh as much. She did not like being fooled. We gazed up one last time. It seems as if time stops as we stare into the diamond mine, in silence.

Next day we rise and to our surprise the Easter bunny did come that night. So of course we had to find the Easter eggs and candy. That darn Easter bunny left my boots outside! I think he did not want us to hear him wearing them and stomping around the cabin. It would have woken us up! We wash and get ready to head home. But first a quick, and I mean quick stop at the observatory. After we make it up the mountain (Automobile switch backs all the way up). We try to watch a forty-minute presentation on the sun with live pictures in the smaller telescope dome we were in. But the little one was not interested. So we left and head to the very top where the huge telescopes looked out into the sky. We still had a screaming, upset person in a car seat. We discussed it and decided that this was not the right time. There were others that had come a long way to see this and we had no right to make them endure this while they tried to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. So we head back down the mountain toward home.

But it’s not over yet! Right smack in the middle of Nowhere, Texas somewhere between the lonely observatory and any civilization, we get a flat. No problem we are in a state-of-the-art ‘97 Ford Explorer. Just change the tire and move on, right? Now remember this is HER TRUCK. I get out and unpack some things from the rear to get to the necessary tools and … NO JACK. Not a big deal just flag someone down and borrow their jack. As we wait for someone to come by, wait… it gets better… I find NO LUG WRENCH. Thankfully, a friendly family came by. We jumped up and down in the middle of the road and they stopped. Fortunately they also had an Explorer. I changed the tire but as I did, a herd of real big bulls had gathered at the fence line and were making it clear that we were apparently “in their space”. We all got a chuckle (given the safety of a barbed wire fence between us and them). We said our thank you’s and tried to offer some compensation for their help but they refused. As I have said many times, travelers help travelers. When you help them, they will help you when you need it. Thanks again to that family, wherever you are!!! Seven hours later we are back in San Antonio. That’s far enough, I’ll go back to Houston tomorrow.