WASKOM, Texas – Seriously, you’re not into Texas for two seconds when the theme is set.
Everything is big here. Everything.
With a state and a mindset so huge – how can I be nice about this? – people get creative to fill the vastness.
Driving in from Louisiana on Interstate 20, you’re instantly met by a Travel Information Center that has no peer. It seems to be six stories high, although a look inside reveals there’s simply a huge, vaulted interior with a bunch of windows. An oil tanker would fit inside. Maybe two.
Homes, trucks, people, their egos, landscapes, football stadiums – Texas lives big. And it’s not afraid to flaunt its proclivity toward excess.
Must be that enormity that begets a feeling of infinity, a feeling that the world and its resources are unlimited. The scale of life is just different in the Lone Star State.
The information center, and its two sets of men’s and women’s restrooms, is just the tip of the gusher. From entrance to exit I encounter examples of Texas’ immensity:
b I unwittingly drive through Canton during First Monday Trade Days. Cars and people everywhere along the highway. A safe estimate is 20,000 people are flocking to this nationally renowned flea market.
Later I’ll call the city of Canton, which hosts the four-day-long monthly event, and learn I’ve hit the market at a slow time. Single-day crowds in the six digits are not uncommon, says Linda Hatfield, operations supervisor for the Trade Days.
When it originated 150 years ago, it was known as a great little spot to buy a freshly rounded-up wild horse. Today, traffic is crawling, kids are bawling and the heat inside my truck cab is galling.
With about 7,000 vendors on 300 acres and 28 miles of walkways, well, if you lose track of your child, you can just grab another and try to swap them back later.
b I make it across the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area with just one tank-fill, but barely. It’s bigger than Rhode Island, bigger than Delaware, bigger than Connecticut. Official totals show that the Dallas-Fort Worth area, my friends, is larger than our three smallest states combined.
b The Permian Basin gas and oil field is so huge that it has its own museum and hall of fame. Trust me, the Petroleum Museum and Hall of Fame in Midland is a wonderful place to be, if for no other reason than it’s 70 degrees in there and 95 degrees out there in shadeless West Texas.
I’m hoping George W. Bush, who grew up in Midland, will be there to show me around. I’m told he’s not here today, but he is one of the Hall of Fame’s newest members. He was inducted in April 2009 to join his dad, George H.W. Bush (1991).
A brochure says the museum “holds the world’s largest collection of antique drilling equipment and modern machinery.” It’s interesting to get a look at the recently-made-famous blowout preventer. What do I know, but it looks like it should’ve worked.
A film highlights the 1973 oil shortage and the risks of being held hostage by foreign powers who don’t have our best interests in mind. Today’s oil, the narrator says, is found deeper underground, in smaller amounts and often in environmentally sensitive areas. But the oil is there. “We must not fail.”
b After 630 miles of driving in one marathon, heat-stroke-inducing day, I cruise up into the relative cool of Guadalupe Mountains National Park for the night.
The next morning, I make the 4.2-mile hike to the 8,749-foot summit of Guadalupe Mountain, the state’s highest point. A stainless steel, elongated pyramid crowns the tip-top. It was placed there in 1958 by American Airlines as a monument to the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach route that passed just south of the peak.
In the mid-1970s, some big-thinking Texans, including an influential congressman, lobbied for a tram that would have shuttled 100 people each hour from the park’s visitor center to near the Guadalupe summit. The idea ultimately was abandoned because of public opposition and the cost.
Five others join me on top, and we look out over an immense and virtually unspoiled panorama. I write in the summit register, “I bet on a clear day you can see Florida.” Just saying it’s a big view, that’s all.
Texas is huge. You take the state’s history, its land and its 80 mph-speed-limit mindset, add it up, and the sum is enormous. Texas lives big, and that’s that. Nobody’s to congratulate or blame. In this state, there’s just no other way.
johnp @durangoherald.com For more photos and blog entries, visit www.summerdetour.com.