I’m spending some time alone to get the writing part of the book completed this weekend (!!) and I decided to choose an AirB&B in Texas this time, rather than New Mexico. NM is beautiful, and seems to have more places to stay, but if you look a little harder you can find amazing options in the Lone Star State.
The Hueco Mountains are only about forty minutes east of El Paso, which is pretty convenient for me. I have a limited amount of time, and driving all the way to Terlingua was really going to cut out a lot of productive hours. Hueco means ‘hollow’ or ‘hole’ in Spanish, and the second most famous thing about the region is the Hueco Tanks: giant depressions in the rocks caused by weathering over millions of years that collect enough rainwater to support the life cycle of native frogs and some freshwater shrimp.
The most important feature of this state park is the abundance of cave and rock paintings over 8,000 years old. There are more paintings of masks here than anywhere else in North America, and they feature some the earliest and rarest uses of green pigment. Of course, idiot vandals tagged a few sacred sites, so park attendance is strictly monitored, and no more than seventy people can visit at a time, outside of scheduled appointments for guided tours.
I scheduled a tour for myself a couple months ago, but then the kids brought home stomach flu from school and I had to cancel. I didn’t reschedule because warmer temperatures mean rattlesnakes, but the owner of the home I’m staying in assures me that was silly, because rattlesnakes are present 365 days a year. My last shred of confidence about starting to hike again when the temperatures dropped has evaporated in the blazing sun. She swears they rattle to alert you when they’re thirty feet away and are afraid of being trampled, and I shouldn’t worry too much. She’s from Canada and seems outdoorsy but gentle, so I’ll take her at her word.
I wandered out to take some photos this morning and heard buzzing as soon as I opened the door. My hosts have really made an effort to make their plot of land look lush with flowering plants, and that has attracted an angry hoard of Tarantula Hawks. They look like enormous black wasps with orangy-yellow wings, but their sting is the second most painful insect bite in the world above regular wasps, bees, and jungle centipedes. Apparently, Tarantula Hawks sting tarantulas, paralyze them, drag them to a hole and bury them alive. They lay an egg on the helpless spider, and the babies that hatch feed on the motionless but still very much alive massive tarantula until they are big enough to go out and kill their own prey. This is the stuff of nightmares. So, while this beautiful property that offers stunning views, a meditation garden, and a hot tub beckons me outdoors, I’m hiding inside for fear of being paralyzed by a wasp sting that feels like a gun shot wound, and then swallowed whole by the ever-present rattlesnake. I miss my ignorance of these creatures from just twelve hours ago.
I have, however, accomplished a fair amount since arriving. I am about two pages from declaring myself finished with the content for the book, and then it’s time to edit. I tend to got bogged down in the editing phase, so I might ask my mother to help me. She is smart, well read, and naturally critical, so she will be perfect for the job. I suppose not laying around in a hot tub has contributed to my productivity.
This area is rather eclectic, in terms of real estate. My host tells me the land here is extremely cheap, so some lower-income people bought the land, spent all their money on
the mandatory septic and water tanks, and then built what looks like a shanty town out of corrugated metal in the middle. Pre-fabricated homes are very common in remote areas, which I’m sure has something to do with the hassle of trucking supplies and workers to the desert, and there are many plots with a little pre-fab home plopped on top. These people are living their isolationist, libertarian dreams out here in the desert without any immediate neighbors, and I admire their hearty spirits. Unfortunately, there are a large number of abandoned buildings out here as well, and if I were a landowner and my view was dotted with half-collapsed sheds, I would be furious. Because this is the real estate equivalent of the Wild West, it seems you can just walk away from the wreckage to move on with your life.
I am staying in an authentic-style adobe house built ten years ago, and I have my own entrance and full kitchen. I am not roughing it this weekend. I almost booked a tiny pre-fab cabin outside Dell City, but the fine print said something about bringing my own water if I wanted to bathe or “cleanse the composting toilet”, so I decided to save that listing for another day. Perhaps that will be the starting point of book two: The Smell of the Wild.
Before I realized the desert was full of biting, stinging, paralyzing horrors, I took a few pictures of the area. Hueco Tanks holds a massive bouldering competition every year, and your hardcore outdoorsy friends have probably heard of the place. The AirB&Bs and hostels in the area cater mostly to “climbing kids”, as my host called them, but my place is way too nice for rock climbers. I told the host she was under-pricing the rental, but I kind of hope she forgets so I can come back to visit. Perhaps there is a season where the Tarantula Hawks migrate or all spontaneously die, no doubt eaten by something larger and scarier.