Februarytime Ramblings (2018 Edition)

West Texas. How am I going to capture West Texas in words? I wrote a song years and more years ago (I Love West Texas) that was/is a silly little celebration of the landscape out around Big Bend. Alpine. Balmorhea. Marfa. The landscape melts into the sky. Cactus and scrub and mountains and rivers and did I already mention the sky? It feels bigger out there, somehow.

Back in the days when Mrs. Hoke and I lived in Austin we’d go spend the last weekend of summer at Balmorhea State Park where we’d swim in the pool (constructed by the CCC way back in the back when) and look at the mountains and wander around the desert. There’s not a lot to do out there and that’s the kind of vacation we like most. Less doing. More being.

Last year Sister Hoke and I were in charge of deciding where we’d take our "big family vacation" and we both decided it had been too damn long since we’d been out in West Texas (she’s also a devoted fan of the region—no surprise—we’re related). So what we have here is a tiresome sharing of photos and memories from our trip on the lastmost weekend of The Summer of 2017 (and other memories too, probably). Yawn. Sorry.

A few more words about the song I mentioned above. I think it showed up after our first trip out to Big Bend and back in Austin I played it one night at a song circle after a concert at The Rouse House and Bruce and Liz—the hosts—both responded favorably to it and talked to me about opening a show there sometime or other and so that led to a bunch of other wonderful stuff that’s happened since. Your life is probably full of little instances like that too, yes? I hope so. When I recorded the song I tried to talk Ray Wylie Hubbard—who was producing the recording for me—into doing a little spoken bit but he wouldn’t bite. Oh well. He’s done pretty well for himself despite this choice. So I've heard.

Back to the trip: Mrs. Hoke and I flew into Houston and drove to Conroe and scooped up Father & Mother Hoke and drove to San Antonio for the night. It was “free art night” at The McNay Museum so we took advantage of that. We supped at La Botanica. We might have had drinks somewhere…or maybe we just made margaritas back at our room. I got up the next morning and ran around Brackenridge Park and then we loaded up the van and climbed onto Highway 90 rolling west and west and more west. Through Sabinal. Uvalde. Brackettville (Where John Wayne’s “Alamo” was filmed way back when—the old set has been used for other things but hasn’t been open for tourists for a few years now. Brackettville is also home to Fort Clark Springs—Mrs. Hoke and I spent a long weekend there once and swam in the pool and visited the set and other stuff I don’t recall now because I was so much older then...)

As we approached Del Rio we started seeing a lot of air traffic from Laughlin Air Force Base. And then across Lake Amistad and past Seminole Canyon (where I’ve chased several jackrabbits or maybe the same one over and over—who really knows other than the jackrabbit[s]). We took a longer-than-normal rest stop in Langtry where we poked around The Jersey Lily and read about Judge Roy Bean and admired cacti and stretched our legs.

Jersey Lily Door

Entrance/Exit (Depending)


Bad Hombres


Seussian Cacti

And then back into the van and on down Highway 90, pausing in Marathon where we had a round of margaritas on the patio at The Gage Hotel. We all agreed they were the best margaritas we’d had all day. No contest. And I forced Father and Mother Hoke to pose for a photo and they consented because: margaritas.

Refreshed, we climbed back in the van and drove on—pausing briefly to dutifully photograph “Target Marathon” because such things are important to do. Truly. They are. "Target Marathon" ain't gonna photograph itself, after all.

And then through Alpine—taking note of Big Bend Brewing Company—and past the Marfa Lights Viewing Station and then into Marfa proper where we drove up Main Street and parked at the home we rented for our stay. (An aside: the house was/is at the SE corner of Austin and Columbia and I just pulled up Google Maps and switched over to “satellite” view and traced the route I ran several mornings down a dirt road out to an overlook on a nearby ranch. Isn’t technology freakishly wonderful sometimes? Amazing times, these.) I don't know if the Marfa watertower is the tallest structure in town, but it sure acted like it was.

Marfa. Watertower. So Tall!


The next day was split between art-gazing at The Chinati Foundation and star-gazing at The McDonald Observatory. The art-gazing was wonderful. The star-gazing was cancelled due to excessive clouds (but the drive up was beautiful and we got to enjoy a stunning sunset before the clouds took over for the evening so there's that).

Porchview at The Chinati Foundation


Marfa Sotol

  Hat by Sunbody. Lights by Dan Flavin.

Clouds Over McDonald Observatory at Sunset


When I'd gone for my run in San Antonio I later lamented not having my cellphone/cameragadget with me because there was some highly photo-worthy stuff (art and architecture) that I saw along my route. Lesson learned, I toted my cellphone/cameragadget along with me on one of my morning runs in Marfa.

 Stock Tank

 The Road Out/Back (Depending)

 The Overlook

The next day--Sunday--we took a "day off." It's important to have some down time during your vacation time. I think Benjamin Franklin said that. Father Hoke and Sister Hoke went golfing while Mother Hoke and Mrs. Hoke and I drove up to Balmorhea State Park so I could jump off the high dive at my most favorite swimming hole on the lastmost day of The Summer of 2017.

We arrived to find the park was closed--CLOSED--because of some maintenance issue or other. So. Hrm. What's a boy in his swimtrunks to do? We got in touch with friend J.P. "Jalapeno" Schwartz and he met us at Big Bend Brewing Company in Alpine where we unraveled the mysteries of the cosmos over a pint or two. I shared how my plans had been dashed because of some maintenance issue or other. Well. It turned out that our friend J.P. "Jalapeno" Schwartz had himself encountered a maintenance issue or two in his life so kindly offered to get us into "The Pool Bar" back in Marfa. In the words of my dear friend Richard Brock: It did not suck at all (that's the highest rating on the Richard Brock Does-It-Suck-Or-Does-It-Not-Suck Scale, by the way).

 Did Not Suck At All

It is good to have friends to save us from disappointment, is it not? I walked back to our house through Marfa's quiet downtown. The Hotel Paisano's neon sign burned a bright red against the dark West Texas sky (don't go adjusting your monitor--this is a black-n-white photo).

The Hotel Paisano. Main Street. Marfa.


The next day was the "big day" for our trip: up before sunrise and a 2 hour drive to Study Butte where we rendezvoused with a guide to take us all around Big Bend. "What do you want to see?" he asked. "The good stuff!" we replied. He did a great job. Nailed it, in fact.

 Father Hoke. Rio Grande. Cliffs.

 Looking Out the Men's Room Window

 Father Hoke. Canyon. Mountains.

 Sister Hoke. Ceri. Desert.

 Mother Hoke. Mountains. Sky.

 Father Hoke. Mother Hoke. The Window.

 Mrs. Hoke. Climbing. Big Bend State Ranch.

 Sister Hoke. Photographing. Big Bend State Ranch.

 Don't Talk to Me about Rio.

 Hoodoos. Big Bend State Ranch.

Months have passed since we left Marfa and flew back to our day to day in North Carolina. We moved (same town, different house). We've been back to Texas again (Austin, this time). I've played a bunch of shows, run a bunch of miles, and taken a bunch of naps. Life was waiting for us when we got back. That's not a complaint. Not really. But I'm looking at these photos and thinking about the sun and sky and quiet of that little West Texas town. Yeah. I'm ready to go back.

I've read that true to-the-bone happiness lies in learning to content oneself with the here and now and not fritter away the moments dreaming about the there and then. I'm guilty of that at times, to be sure. The sunburned grass of West Texas can surely seem greener than the actual green grass in my own yard. Some days it does. Some days I grow weary at the rush and buzz of our lives and wish we instead lived at a slower pace. That we lived the sort of lives where we could sit and enjoy a train as it flows howling past our front bumper and not fret and fidget the whole time over where we're trying to get to. I recognize not everyone shares this point of view...


Thank you for reading this thing. Thatisall.


Joanna Castillo March 01, 2018 @06:53 pm
Your ramblings are always the best ramblings. Thanks so much.
Deborah Schmidt March 01, 2018 @04:20 pm
Drat trying to peck out a story on my phone; pardon the mispellings, etc.
Deborah Schmidt March 01, 2018 @04:13 pm
Thoroughly enjoyed your story as I also share in the love of that part of Texas, especially Balmorhea, hence my email address "debbieduck". Last time I swam at, the most gorgeous Spring fed pool in the world, it was a week before school let out in the spring 2016. Each time I was in the pool, I noticed one small duck swimming solo. I took a liking to that little duck. My last day swimming I managed to plied up close to it and noticed it had only one webbed foot. As I got out taking my time drying off and trying to soak up every last moment there, a couple of 20 something mail types started harassing that duck and throwing things at it. I had a talk with those young men and they justify their behavior with some asinine excuse. And when I stop by the park headquarters on my way out, I inquired about that little duck, as I was worried about its lonesome self fending off the memorial day throngs which I knew were one week away. The park ranger assured me the little duck had taken up residence at Balmorhea and been there several seasons. A one legged duck makes for pretty wobbly flying. That smart little pato knew that it could survive there and had been doing so very well on its own. Next time you're there, ask the park rangers about said duck. Perhaps you'll meet little duck yourself.
SisterHoke March 01, 2018 @10:02 am
Nicely done! And I hereby attest that these are true and valid statements. And that it was wise of you to omit the part about the flying scorpion or whatever that hell insect was.
Betty March 01, 2018 @07:46 am
One of my favorite parts of the world. Thanks for helping me remember.
Grady Ormsby March 01, 2018 @12:28 am
Nice photos. I enjoyed the trip.
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