My phone vibrated with a Whatsapp notification. I stared at a picture of Trump supporters in Dallas protesting the election with placards reading “We Wont Accept Fraud” and “Trump Pence 2020”. It was Nov 7th 2020, four days after the US Presidential Elections and every news outlet was broadcasting blow by blow accounts of the vote tallying process. Early that morning, Biden had pulled ahead in Pennsylvania by a significant vote margin and was expected to win the elections.
That morning, the husband and I had left the familiar confines of Houston, the largest urban sprawl in Texas and a Biden stronghold, and were en route to Big Bend, a sparsely populated National Park by the Mexican border. We were a quarter of the way into our 700 mile road trip and were on the outskirts of San Antonio. As we drove on Interstate 10, through dramatic limestone cliffs with scrimpy foliage, the radio station tuned out and was replaced by static crackle. We had entered West Texas.
Our knowledge of West Texas was limited to stereotypes and caricature – oil, cowboys, guns, lawlessness, Trump supporters and xenophobia – since the furthest west we had been was San Antonio. Loathe to board a virus infected flight, we decided to take our chances with the gun toting cowboys and make the 11 hour drive to the national park.
“Are those wind turbines?”
I looked out to see a long line of turbines, white towering structures with their rotating blades, in the distance. I had never expected to see windmills here. This was oil country – home of the West Texas Intermediate crude and a global benchmark for oil prices. To add to the incongruity, on either side of the highway were scattered sucker rod pumps with the horse head rocking back and forth as they pumped oil to the surface. A quick google search informed me that Texas was the largest producer of wind energy in the US. It was also the largest producer of crude oil in the US. The new and the old existed side by side.
We reached Fort Stockton and turned south into the Chihuahuan Desert. The vista that stretched before us didn’t resemble a desert. It was sand and gravel with a mosaic of shrubs and cactus bordered by the grooved silhouette of mountain ranges. We were alone. Not a car or building as far as the eye could see. The only sign of life was a coyote that quickly slinked back into the bush as our car approached it. A few minutes later, the stillness was disturbed by the sound of revving engines. A rally of bikers in black, leather gear cruised by. It was a scene straight out of a Harley Davidson ad.
After being on the road for 11 hours, we were relieved to finally arrive at our resort in Lajitas. We grabbed a couple of drinks and headed out to the patio overlooking the cliffs. Fairy lights were strung out. A musician strummed the guitar in the bar. A bonfire crackled. We struck up conversation with a couple of pilots who were spending the night before picking up a passenger and flying to Mexico. We sipped our drinks and watched the sunset. As the strains of the guitar grew faint and the embers glowed, we called it a night and headed to bed.