“Hang ’em first, try ’em later.” Judge Roy Bean
As I said goodbye to aliens and UFOs and pedaled out of Roswell on Highway 380, my thoughts turned to the Pecos River, about ten miles away. Like the Rio Grande, it was another river of cowboy fame. This was the land of the mythical Pecos Bill, who could accomplish such prodigious feats as lassoing a whole herd of cattle at one time. He carried a rattle snake for a whip and was said to ride cyclones and mountain lions as well as his horse, Widow Maker, who feasted on dynamite with the same relish that Peggy eats dark chocolate.
Judge Roy Bean, a Justice of the Peace and saloon keeper, was another legend of the Pecos. He was the real thing, however, a ‘hanging judge’ who billed himself as the ‘last law west of the Pecos.’ Cowboys could stop off at his place for whiskey or justice, depending on their needs. His courtroom/saloon was down on the Texas border with Mexico, far south of where I would be crossing the Pecos, however.
Most of my knowledge of the Pecos came from Westerns. Between ages 11 and 13, I read every Zane Grey, Luke Short and Max Brand book I could lay my hands on. When I was off riding the range, punching cattle, and chasing outlaws, not even the call to dinner could pull me off the great stallion I rode. I carried my own brand of justice, blazing six-guns. And I was lightning fast. Step aside Billy the Kid. (No wonder Americans are so gun-crazy, given the legacy of the West.)
I paused at the Pecos and threw a rock into the water as a symbolic gesture to my youth. Then I returned to the present and checked out a hill I had to climb on the other side. It wasn’t much. I had passed the 1500-mile mark on my journey and was on my way to 2000. My legs and lungs now laughed at such obstacles.
What did bother me was that I was saying goodbye to the West I loved, the west of towering mountains. I would soon be biking across land that was flatter than the proverbial pancake. Yes, rivers and streams cut through these lands, there would be canyons and steep ups and downs, there would even be impressive hills as I made my way east. This land had a beauty and personality of its own. But I wouldn’t see another mountain until I reached Gatlinburg, Tennessee and started over the Smoky Mountains. And they don’t tower.
I was soon cycling across the flat plains and the mountains were receding into the west. This was sagebrush and cattle country. What trees existed were small, little more than tall bushes in comparison to their far western counterparts. In the distance I could see a long escarpment that signified the beginning of the Llano Estacado, one of the largest tablelands in North America. Between the road and the escarpment, I was surprised to see sand dunes. Later I learned that they were the Mescalero Sand Dunes, apparently an ATV paradise. (The dunes took their name from the Mescalero Apaches. Maybe their ghosts hassle the four-wheelers for disturbing the peace.)
I climbed up onto the Llano, passed through the non-town of Caprock, and eventually reached Tatum, New Mexico. As I approached the community, I started noticing metal art, everywhere, scads of it. It seems that everyone in town and for miles around supported the local artist. There were cowboys, buffalo, coyotes and other western themes, each simply and clearly outlined, dark shadows against the sky and countryside. Figuring I had found a town that supported art, I just had to spend the night.
NEXT BLOG: I enter the forever state of Texas and prepare for my first tornado watch— with a six-pack of beer.
17 thoughts on “Adios UFOs; Hello Pecos Bill… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek”
I am a sucker for the stories of the old west. I remember all of those old TV westerns and I wrote a post about them once – https://aipetcher.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/dads-scrap-book-tv-westerns/
In 1995 I visited Monument Valley and that remains one of my fondest memories. I really like that final picture!
Checked out your blog, Andrew. Good overview! My homework was always done by Sunday night because that was when Bonanza came on… and I never missed an episode. 🙂 The Lone Ranger got his name, BTW, because he was the last man standing in an attack on the Texas Rangers. –Curt
Thanks Curt, I didn’t know that!
Bonanza is repeated all the time in the UK!
I love all the metal art Curt. Clever and describing the country to a T. Much like the large black bulls adorning the hills in Spain. Much as I love the Southwest, you can’t deny the beauty of the hills and greenery further north.
I suspect if you were raised in the area, you might come to love flat, Katy, but I prefer my topography to have some bumps. 🙂 –Curt
Those oil wells and its pumping action are called ‘ja knikkers’ in Dutch. Translated as ‘yes nodding.’ Don’t ever expect a ‘no’ from an oil well. Even flatter than Western Texas is Holland.
Yes, would work, Gerard. I’ve taken a train across Holland but never experienced it from a bicycle. I was impressed with the number of bicycles in Amsterdam. –Curt
The metal art is very impressive. Such simplicity yet quite striking.
My thoughts exactly. They had some with paint, but I didn’t think they were nearly as impressive as the simple silhouettes. –Curt
Oh, I love the gossiping pair, metal silhouette art at it’s best. -Ginette
Wasn’t it fun. I had the same idea. –Curt
Back to the real world! Blimey, that is flat country…we have a couple of counties in the UK which are notoriously flat, Norfolk and Lincolnshire, but then I realised that compared they are not that expansive and soon hit the hills or North Sea. I love the metal art work and your photo of the oil well, strangely emotional. So, did you try any lassoing? See any buffalo? As young I was mad on anything Cowboys and when my mother got me a real cowboy hat from USA I was over the moon and still have it!
When I was growing up in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, we called the people who lived down in the Sacramento Valley “Flatlanders.” It was not meant nicely. (grin) Later I would live in the Valley for years but never felt truly at home. But at least an hour’s drive could get you into the mountains. I was at the local county fair in Southern Oregon a couple of years ago. They had a lassoing area set up with a wooden cow. I tried my luck. The cow had nothing to worry about. I didn’t see any buffalo in Texas although they are probably raised on ranches. I’ve see them wandering around in National Parks and along the Alaska Highway. Fun about you and your hat, Annika. And it says something in the fact that you still have it. 🙂 –Curt
I’m wondering if you happened to go through Levelland, Texas. I lived here for some time before I got the joke with the name. All that flat, hot, and dry can do something to the mind. Maybe I need to bring out those naked Pentecostals again, for a summer re-run.
Before hurricane Ike, there was a fabulous metal silhouette display south of here: life-sized cowboys, buffalo, and such. it disappeared for a while, and now is back. I’m not sure if it was washed away and re-done, or if the pieces were found and replaced. In any event, it’s some of my favorite art. Ranches often have some neat pieces at the main gates.
The Trans-Pecos always has had some allure for me, even though I got stranded out there once with a broken radiator hose. A nice trucker fixed me up, and gave me kudos for having some gallons of water in the trunk. The other thing that area’s famous for is Pecos melons — cantaloupe. They’re the sweetest and best in the world in a good year.
I made my first drive across 80 after a year in Salt Lake City, with the Wasatch around me. I had something resembling vertigo, with no mountains on the horizon. Eventually, I learned to let clouds be my mountains.
Clouds can do it, Linda, seriously. And they can be spectacular in Texas. I am a sucker for photographing them, wherever they are found. In Texas, however, I am also thinking weather; the more spectacular the cloud the more likely it is to be bringing hail, downpours, or tornados. Sometimes I feel like I am playing a game of chicken with the clouds. But such clouds don’t cluck. They go boom!
I found the same thing with ranches and gates. The metal art adds a lot.
Didn’t make it to level land but I appreciate the sentiment. 🙂 –Curt
a branding iron… oh no! Lol 🙂
I miss the mountains too. But this flat land has its metal charm.
Great metal charm if your throw in the Benin Bronzes! Lots of branding. It’s how the cowboys kept their cows separate. Many an outlaw, not to mention future cattle barons got their start by learning to modify the brands, and thus the ownership. 🙂 –Curt