Mike Breiding's Epic Road Trips: March 2024

Tucson to Morgantown

March 2024

El Paso, Marfa, Alpine, Georgia, San Antonio, Sleepy Hollow, Berlin Homestead and Cabin #18

March 20th 2024

I departed Tucson on March 20th at around 7 a.m. The plan was to drive I-10 to Van Horn, TX, and then pick up US 90 to San Antonio.

I have driven this back-and-forth route a number of times, and lately it has become rote. I no longer feel the inspiration or excitement I once felt, and the attempts to do so became more and more forced. So, why bother? Good question, and one to which I have an answer: put the brakes on these back and forth trips and save the miles on the van and myself for trips that don't make me work so hard to have fun. Maybe Betsy will even join me...
So, for the foreseeable future, I will, like Betsy, be flying back and forth. Yes, I will truly be a Snow Bird.
OK, on with the show.

More often than not, every time I take a road trip these days, I also take a trip down memory lane. It seems to be a common activity for those of us who are on the cusp of our final years. When my dad was in his 80s, I remember he spent more and more time talking about his early life and reading and re-reading his WW II journal. Now I am where he was.

And so it was with this trip—the drive from Tucson to Morgantown would take me as far back as my childhood and conjure up memories of more recent times.

Thanks to my mom and Marty Robbins, I first heard about "the west Texas town of El Paso" in 1959, when I was 7 years old. Marty sang to us about El Paso, a faraway place in west Texas where a cowboy fell in love with a Mexican girl. This cowboy's love for the fair maiden was stronger than his fear of death, and so things did not end well. Love, passion, jealousy, tragedy, and remorse—all these were expressed in song by the strong smooth voice of Marty Robbins.

That song, "El Paso" by Marty Robbins, has lived with me all my life. When I am not listening to it, it's playing in my head endlessly. Fast forward from 1959 to 2005, when I am planning my very first "Epic Road Trip." How could I not make a stop in El Paso?
And so I did. Of course, it was not the dusty town of cowboys, Mexican maidens, and gunslingers anymore, but it was certainly El Paso. I could walk across the border from my $25-a-night room in an old hotel and get huevos rancheros for breakfast at a local diner, where I watched the cook mash and stir a huge cauldron of frijoles refritos. Yes, this was my El Paso, not Marty's, but he kept me company while I was there.  

Since that first visit in 2005, I have been through El Paso many times, but I never stopped over again. The El Paso of today is a busy, thriving, and sprawling metropolis. In 2005, the population of El Paso was just over 500,000. Now it is nearly 1,000,000, and it has all the traffic, freeways, and elevated roadways one might expect for a city of that size.

My drive through El Paso this March of 2024 showed signs of a still-growing city. I was glad to get through the area and leave all the construction and congestion behind.

After about 2 hours on I-10, I reached Van Horn and the exit for US 90. From this point on, I would be on US 90 until I reached San Antonio.

My original plan was to drive the 70 or so miles on US 90 east to a picnic area west of Marfa. But I decided to squeeze a few more miles out of the day, and instead I decided to continue east to just west of Alpine, where I would bed down for the night.

For this drive from Morgantown to Tucson, I had installed a platform in the van, which allowed for out-of-sight storage underneath it and a clear space to put a sleeping bag and pad. That saved me two nights's hotel fees, which have sky rocketed in the last several years.
On this return trip to Morgantown, I also slept two nights in the van. What will I do with all that money I saved!? Buy gasoline.

The stretch of US 90 that passes through Marfa, Alpine and on to Del Rio was the setting for the Coen Brothers' movie "No Country for Old Men", released in 2007. However most of the film was shot in Las Vegas, NM.

Route from Van Horn to San Antonio TX

This shows my route from Van Horn to San Antonio on US 90 with Marfa, Alpine, Comstock and Del Rio labelled. Comstock? More on that in a bit.

If you find yourself driving east on US 90 some day this is what you will see just northwest of Valentine and 36 miles west of Marfa.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Photo source: pradagroup.com

When you are in The Middle of Nowhere Texas, this is what passes for art. This permanently installed art work is cleverly named Prada Marfa. Ha, ha, ha...
I was supposed to pick up a pair of custom-made, chartreuse, high-heeled sneakers, but they were not ready yet. Next time.

Click on the photos below for a larger image.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Photo source: roadsideamerica.com

Once you have finished shopping at the Prada store continue on down the road a piece and you will find James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor hanging out. Artist John Cerney installed this "Giant Marfa" October of 2018 as an homage to the 1956 movie "Giant".
I bade farewell to Jimmy and Liz and started looking for the Texas Roadside Park where I planned to spend the night.

Where I spent the night - just west of Alpine TX

And here I am at my hotel - no reservations needed and free of charge.
I thought the configuration of this rest area a bit odd. There was both an upper and a lower area. I was in the upper area which was a dead end and so there was no through traffic. The lower one, which was adjacent to US 90, allowed vehicles to pull in and then drive on through. I saw several people do this but there were no overnighters in the lower area.
When I left Tucson I told Betsy I would call when I was settled in for the night but there was no cell signal at the Rest Area. I drove a few miles east until I barely got a signal. The signal was so weak I decided to send Betsy a text. After several minutes it was sent. Now she would know I was safe and sound.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

My room with a view. That morning, Betsy made me a nice salad for my first night out. Tasty. So was the PBR.
After dinner I hung large black garbage bags from the front and rear windows. Not for privacy but to prevent headlights shining into the van once it got dark.
As it was not quite bedtime I had another cold one while listening to the CD my Tucson buddy Jim Dixon made for me, The Hollies - Best of... "On A Carousel", "Bus Stop", "Carrie Anne" and other goodies.   Have a listen.

"Hey, Carrie-Anne..."

I had a quiet night and then I was up at my usual 5am. I was only a few minutes from Alpine and an all night Sunoco where I gassed up and got a $2 cup of coffee.
I pulled off onto a quiet side street and enjoyed my coffee and a big slab of Betsy's Southwest Banana Bread and then I was on my way. Next stop, Pecos River High Bridge and then on to San Antonio. Or so I thought.


Once it got daylight, I could relax and enjoy the views of mile after mile of what some might call a desolate landscape. To me, it is beautiful, bordering on the sublime with its solitude and quiet. I saw few cars on this particularly lonely stretch of US 90. At one point, I crested a rise, and on the downhill, I could see for miles and miles. And I could also see a large gray van along the side of the road and someone standing near it.
As I got closer, he waved his arms, and then I saw the look on his face—frantic and worried. How could I not stop? I asked him what the problem was, and I soon realized communication was going to be a difficult. He stumbled and stammered, and then finally pointed at the van and said, "Gasoline, none." Oh, boy. What a place to run out of gas. I drove by him and pulled in front of his van. I noticed it had temporary tags for Pennsylvania. Very odd. He ran up to my van, and I motioned him in.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Meet Petre, from the country of Georgia. He is out of gas in The Middle of Nowhere Texas and cannot speak English. As we drove he kept calling and calling on his phone, to whom I do not know. He was obviously upset and worried, but after a while, he calmed down. Several times he looked at me, held his hand over his heart, and said, "Thank you, thank you." Poor guy, what a jam to be in.
Eventually we crossed the Pecos High Bridge, and I started wondering where the next gas station was going to be. Finally, after about 30 miles or so, we could see a gas station at the crossroads of US 90 and SR 163 in the tiny town of Comstock, and thankfully, it was open. Petre and I both got out and walked into the store, where there was an older woman sitting behind the counter. I explained Petre's predicament and told her he could speak almost no English. I asked her if they had gas cans for sale. They did. Then I asked her if she knew of anyone who could drive Petre the 35 miles back to his van. She asked me to wait a minute, got on the phone, and explained the situation to the person on the other end of the line. She then asked them, "Are you available?". Then, nodding her head, she asked how long they might be. She then said, "Ok," and hung up the phone. Luckily, Petre would have a ride back to the van and not be stuck out on lonely US 90 with his thumb out.
Petre and I went outside to the pumps, and I stood by as he filled up the gas can.  I tried to make sure he understood someone would be by soon to give him a ride. We then went back inside, where he paid for the gas. Then I was back on the road and heading towards San Antonio.
I have to wonder how that story ended and if Petre got back safely on the road. I hope so.

The rest of the drive to San Antonio was uneventful and I was soon at Geary and Sue's place - truly a home away from home.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

When I was planning the visit with Geary and Sue, I mentioned I wanted to bike on one of their greenways. Geary had just the place for me - the North Salado Greenway.

The Howard W. Peak Greenway Trail System (Greenway) is a growing network of approximately 101 miles of developed multi-use and accessible trails open from sunrise to sunset. The Greenway trails wind through natural landscapes along many of San Antonio’s waterways including:

Salado Creek
Leon Creek
Medina River
Westside Creeks (Apache, Alazan, Martinez, San Pedro, and Zarzamora)
Tributary Creeks (Such as Huesta Creek and Culebra Creek)

Hiking and biking along the Greenway trails are great ways to get fit and enjoy the outdoors. There are over 50 major trailheads and neighborhood connections to access the trail system around the city. The four major segments of the Greenway are the Leon Creek Greenway, the Salado Creek Greenway, the Westside Creeks and the Medina River Greenway each offering several miles of uninterrupted trails. In addition, the Greenway trails connect dozens of local parks and consist of approximately 1,600 acres of creek-side open space and natural areas.

Source: © 2000-2024 City of San Antonio

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Our starting point for the ride was Hardberger Park which is just two miles from where Geary and Sue live. The above image shows our cycling route as recorded on AllTrails. You can see the interactive route here.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The design, construction and signage on this trail showed a lot of forethought and also must have cost a small fortune. The trail was very busy - "Build it and they will come."

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

One of the things I really liked about this trail was the serpentine way it wiggled through the woods. The surface is concrete, and it must have been quite a job to form it up with all the curves that were added in.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

These three guys are carrying climbing gear. More on that in bit.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

This graceful "S" curve was one of many. It made the riding fun and there was always limited sight distance which hid what was just around the corner. Well done!

Geary signalled for a left turn and we were soon off our bikes and walking them down into a wash at the base of a cliff. The cliff is referred to locally as the "Medicine Wall".

The Medicine Wall is a popular climbing area and is an exposed section of Edwards limestone, which is heavily pockmarked with solution voids. The exposed section is about 90' in height, which allows for both top roping and protected climbs.

Some of these voids provide nesting habitat for birds. While watching the climbers, we noticed yellow tags on the rock face, alerting climbers to the presence of an owl nest. After looking at distribution maps for Texas owls, it seems most likely that this would be the nest site for a Great Horned Owl.

We were there to ride and I did not expect this bonus - ferns!

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

This fern and the one below were growing out of cracks in the Medicine Wall. They were both new species to me. This one is Alabama Lip fern (Myriopteris alabamensis).

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

This unfern-like fern is Ovate-leaf Cliffbrake Pellaea ovata. It has an interesting distribution: Texas, Mexico, West Indies in Hispaniola, Central America and South America. We have two species of Pellaea in West Virginia which I have seen, otherwise I might not have recognized this as a Pellaea.
These plants are definitely in harm's way considering all the climbing activity near the base of the wall.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The Medicine Wall has several places with fixed anchors for climbers. There is some controversy about this type of climbing and some consider the permanent installation of such hardware as destructive. I consider it ugly and akin to graffitti.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

These were no doubt installed using a hammer drill for the holes in which epoxy glue is placed and then the anchor. I consider this vandalism.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Here are a few of the "rock jocks" we saw at Medicine Wall. I wonder if they realize they may be trampling some of the unusual plants which call this place home. I doubt it.

After a bit Geary and I continued our ride to the turn around point at Eisenhower Park. I had been to Eisenhower a number of times before to enjoy the hiking trails there. The Greenway trailhead was not there the last time I had visited. There were a couple of steep grades to get up to Eisenhower which had us both huffin' and puffin'. We took a short break and then rode back the way we came which would take us back past Medicine Wall.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Photo: iBird Pro

As we were rolling by the Medicine Wall on our way back, We heard the distinct and unmistakable call of a Canyon Wren. To say the least, I was both delighted and surprised. I had no idea Canyon Wrens were in Texas, and if you look at the range map below, you will see they barely make it into this part of Texas. Betsy and I first heard and saw this bird in 1982 while honey mooning in the canyon country of Utah.
Geary already knew the bird was in the area and confirmed the ID, although it would be difficult to mistake the song for any other bird.

Click the play arrow to hear the Canyon Wren's
descending musical cascade of liquid notes.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Map: Audubon Birding app for Android

As you can see from the map above, the San Antonio area is at the eastern edge of the range for the Canyon Wren. We saw a friend of Geary's on the trail just after hearing the Canyon Wren and he confirmed there was an active nest in one of the solution pockets on the Medicine Wall face. Once can only hope all the climber activity and noise does not cause the nest to be abandoned.

Canyon Wren nest site at Medicine Wall along the Salado Creek Greenway

Shown above is the location of the Canyon Wren nest site at Medicine Wall along the Salado Creek Greenway. One has to wonder how the bird found this refugium in the middle of all this urban sprawl, which is only 700' from a busy freeway.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Source: iBird Pro

The above image is from the Android app iBird Pro. Unfortunately this app is no longer available for Android. It is still available for the iPhone.


On the way back I took a few snaps of some of the wildflowers along the trail.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

This is Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum). This species can be found all across North America, from the Great Lakes to the West Coast of the United States.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

This is Texas Stork's Bill (Erodium texanum). It was scattered along the trail where it was open and sunny.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

We saw just one patch of the this little cutie. It is Goldeneye Phlox (Phlox roemeriana). It grows only on dry limestone soils of the Edwards Plateau and nearby areas of the High Plains.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

All the rocks you see here are Edwards limestone, which is the main geologic unit of the Edwards Aquifer. Located in south-central Texas, the Edwards Aquifer encompasses an area of approximately 4,350 square miles that extends into parts of 11 Texas counties. This is the aquifer San Antonio relies on for water. Geary Schindel was Chief Technical Officer for the  Edwards Aquifer Authority from April 1999 to March 2023 · 24 years. According to the Edwards Aquifer Authority web site: "The mission of the EAA is to Manage, Enhance and Protect the Edwards Aquifer."
Geary is co-author of the book "The Edwards Aquifer: The Past, Present, and Future of a Vital Water Resource".

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Here is a species of primrose (Oenothera speciosa) I had never seen before. Quite lovely, me thinks. It has several common names, pinkladies, pink evening primrose, showy evening primrose.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Do these "pinkladies" look pink to your? Perhaps, like some other flowers, they change color as the flower ages.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

In spite of signs like this there are quite a few dog owners who leave their "fur baby's" poop behind.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

There were several shallow, dry crossings with warning signs. I imagine that after a summer storm, the crossings could be quite hazardous.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

BONUS! I did not know Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) occured in this area. Once upon a time we had a very nice specimen of this small tree which flowered profusely.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

And here is the last shot on the North Salado Greenway - yours truly and an interesting looking Texas live oak.


The next day, after a spastic start, I began the next leg of the drive home. I was just about ready to hop on the interstate when I realized I had left a very important item behind—the banana bread. So I started back to Geary and Sue's to fetch it, but by that time Geary had noticed it in the fridge and headed to the gas station to meet me and hand it off. But I was at a different gas station, not the one he assumed I was going to. But we finally met up, and all was well. Thanks, Geary!

San Antonio TX to Social Hill AR: 2024-03-24 to 2024-03-24

Today's route would be east on 1-10 to Schulenburg, TX, then north on SR 77 to Rockdale, then US 190 and US 79 to Palestine, then SR 155 through Tyler and on up to Gilmer, then US 271 north to Mt. Pleasant, and I-30. Then I-30 east to Texarkana, past Arkadelphia, and finally to Social Hill, AR, just south of Hot Springs, where I would bed down for the night.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

At Rockdale, Texas I saw a large field of flowers between the parking lot of Legacy Storage and Towing and US 77. I pulled off the road to take a whiz and also take some snaps of these beautiful Lupines, aka Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis). There are over 100 species of Lupine in the US and that might account for seeing them in so many different places.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

I saw mile after mile after mile of these beautiful lupines on my drive through Texas.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The field in front of Legacy Storage and Towing also had lots of Texas Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) growing in it.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image


I continued north, and around 6:00 I started thinking about where I was going to bed down for the night. I had no particular place in mind, but I did not want to stay in a motel.
I started taking a closer look at the secondary roads off the exits, and I found a spot that looked like it would not be busy with traffic. I was right, and the name of the road even sounded suitable for a night's sleep in the van: Sleepy Hollow Road.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Here it is, my Happy Hour and nighty-night spot after the 10 hours on the road.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

By the time I got settled in, it was about 7:00 and not far from my bedtime. I have no recollection of what I had for supper, but it was most likely beef jerky and beer, as there were no services at this exit. That was fine with me.
As you can see from the photo I did have some company flying high in the sky.
I set about getting the van ready for beddy-bye and soon I was in the sack. I heard very little traffic before I nodded off, even the Interstate seemed quiet.

I awoke around 3:30 and felt like I was rested and ready to move on. By 4:00 I was on the road. Now, I had a decision to make. Did I want to drive the 15 hours straight though to Morgantown? If I did it would put me there after dark and I knew the house would be dark and cold and there would be no water until the following day.
The day before I had emailed Becky and Tom I might show up on their doorstep by early evening and that is what I ended up doing and 13 hours later I was at their place and looking forward to visiting and spending the night.

Sleepy Hollow to Berlins

The next morning I reluctantly left the Berlins and started the last leg of this trip. I was now only about 1.5 hours from Cabin #18 and I would have the better part of the day to de-winterize the plumbing, get the heat back on and start unloading the van. I was glad to be home and off the road but now I was looking at a lonely 3 week stretch until Betsy arrived home. And, I would have to cook. Egads!!!
I thought I would wrap this up with a little music. Enjoy.


See you next time...


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