It is Thursday morning and I am going crazy packing suitcases and doing laundry and filling bird feeders. I am so excited because tonight Gus and I will sleep for a couple of hours before getting on the road and driving west to Kentucky to see our new grand daughter and her Mommy and Daddy. On our way we will travel through several states, some of which we have never been in before. I am hoping to count birds wherever I can and try to enter new birds lists on eBird as I go. I already know from checking the eBird Top 100 link that absolutely no one is counting birds in Christian County, KY so far this year. Perhaps I will be the first to provide that valuable data to eBird. It is late by the time we get to bed but we get about 4 hours of sleep before we rise and hit the road.
The sky is barely gray when we head east on I-10. We make our first stop in Wilcox, AZ and as I walk shivering and cold back to the car after getting some hot coffee I am amazed at the snow-covered Chiricahua Mountains blushing blue and pink in the early dawn light. I snap a few quick pictures, but Gus is eager to get on down the road. He is always eager to get on down the road, so I squeeze in birding and photography wherever I can. But I am not complaining. I am glad to be on this trip. It has been a long time since he and I have done a road trip together.
The drive across eastern Arizona soon becomes a drive across New Mexico. I have never been east of Deming, so once we cross this town we are driving new roads for us. Much of the land seems so barren but as we come over the hill on I-10 near Las Cruces I am astonished by the sight before me. Saw-toothed peaks rake the eastern horizon in such glorious majesty. The road descends to the valley floor where flowering trees line grassy fields. This is a beautiful place! I watch slack-jawed as we drive through. I make a mental note of this as a place I want to come back to. A place I want to explore. El Paso is interesting to me because my son, Alex did his basic training here. I have never seen this place so I look at it with eyes examining it for traces of my son’s life. I thought of El Paso as a flat dusty town so I am quite surprised by the rolling hills and curves. As we drive through I am looking for birds along the highway, but it is windy and I am not seeing much. For most of Texas it is this way. As we leave El Paso behind the land does flatten out until we are in oil fields. For most of the trip I see no birds until we reach the eastern edge of the state. We stop at a rest area at the edge of darkness where I marvel at green grass and tall trees. It has been a very long time since I have seen any place like this.
We press on through the darkness. Our time is so precious to us. Alex only has the weekend off and we are trying to get there as soon as possible. I drive for a while to give Gus a rest but soon I can go no further. I pull off the road somewhere and we switch places once again. By now we have been driving for 18 hours or more, but Gus does not want to stop. Finally we pull off the road in eastern Texas for gas. We are in some back road truck stop with men dressed in camouflage and smoking cigarettes in the store. Do they still do that here? The walls are dingy, the floors dirty. I walk down a long dark hall to find the ladies’ room. The broken and dirty tiled floor is exposed by a door propped open with a trash can. I have no trouble finding a stall to use; they are all empty. I wash my hands in a sink next to a condom dispenser padlocked at the corners with industrial padlocks. Are people that desperate here?
This place is giving me the creeps and I leave as quickly as possible. I take the dog for a walk while Gus takes his turn inside. All along the roadway the semis idle in the cold, dark night. I pull my coat tighter around me, praying that Gus will hurry. It is 1:30 a.m. by now and I am exhausted.
Gus returns to the car and we get back inside. A discussion arises about whether we should stop for the night or press on. By now we have been driving for almost 20 hours. I make my case for stopping; Gus wants to press on. He says he is so wound up he cannot sleep. I say he will be asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. I tell him that I am too tired to relieve him if he gets tired. We get back on the highway and go one more exit where Gus pulls off the road and we get a hotel. We drag our suitcases and our tired bodies inside. Gus lays down on the bed, pulls the covers up around him, and falls asleep. He does not even move again until the morning when he hears me going out the door, binoculars in hand.
I walk outside the hotel in Texarkana to discover a vacant lot on two sides of the hotel that are birder’s heaven for they are teeming with birds. While house sparrow woke me with their harsh and raucous calls I am now delighted to find mocking birds, cardinals and white-throated sparrows. Soon I spot one brown thrasher and then another. Overhead I see some large dark birds soaring. I spot a turkey vulture, then black vultures! My first bird count for Arkansas is very good and I am satisfied. Soon we are in the car and headed east with the sunshine in our eyes. We are on the road again. Kentucky, here we come!
Blogger’s note: Gus and I are still on the road. We go birding with TR Ryan tomorrow! More stories and photos to follow.