It was 12 hours and 29 minutes until we arrived in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Having left Hot Springs National Park around midday, we knew we would eventually need to find a spot to camp or sleep. (The lack of knowing where we will sleep on our journeys is an ongoing problem that will bud its ugly head much later on our other adventures–stay tuned.) We eventually found a rest stop with a full tornado shelter in the Texas plains. It was cold and uncomfortable in the car, but at least we could rest easy knowing if a tornado touched down the shelter was a few feet away.
On day three, bright and early, the drive featured the southwest landscape — flat deserts with massive, rocky plateaus erupting out of the horizon. We were 3 hours away from the park when trouble struck, a flat tire. We had not seen a gas station, or any man-made structure for that matter, in hours. Coincidentally, we broke down — and I kid you not — perfectly in front of a ranch. The normal routine of changing a flat tire ensued. However, we discovered that the jack that came with the 8-passenger Chevy Trailblazer we were driving was tiny and could not jack up the car properly. I had the brilliant idea to steal stones from the ranch’s stone wall across the road and stack them on top of the jack to help boost the car up. Sadly, my plan failed.
We came face-to-face with the option we were avoiding: seeing if someone was home. Nicholas walked up to one of the two rock walls that guarded the fortress and proceeded to shout, “Hello! Hello! Is anyone home?” He turned to me and shrugged his shoulders, but my eyes widened as a figure came out of the door. A white-haired man leaped over the first wall and stood in front of Nicholas. From my position at the car, I could see Nicholas pointing in my direction, explaining our situation. When Nicholas came back, I asked him what happened, but he was perplexed, as the man just nodded without saying a word and walked away. Moments later we heard the rumbling of a large pick-up. The Texan jumped out and unwound the chain and padlock that was snaked around the wrought iron gate guarding the mouth of the driveway. He pulled his truck in front of our car and opened the bed. Nicholas showered him with stuttered “thank yous” all the while the denim-clad man stood silently with a cigarette dangling from his mustached mouth. After an extended, awkward silence, the Texan turned to me and drawled, “Well–you sure are petite.” “Why, yes, yes I am,” I said unsure of how to respond. The rest of our encounter resulted in the Texan helping Nicholas lower the tire from under the car–a 30-minute process–and having him question our tire pressure. When we told him we didn’t have an air compressor to check, he invited us to fill them using his. That’s right, we followed the Texan inside his stone fortress. Nicholas filled the tires as I continued to make small talk. My enduring memory of the Texan was his advice to me: to be careful in Big Bend, particularly warning, “Don’t go wandering out in the backcountry when it’s your time of the month. The mountain lions will smell you, find you, and eat you.”