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Rolling my way to Houston

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff  March 29, 2011 06:59 PM

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DEL RIO, Texas -- Began the day in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Very clean, mally town. Home of New Mexico State. Would highly recommend drinks and dinner at De La Vega's Pecan Grill & Brewery. It's worth a stop simply because it's a very stylish property. In fact, that's what got me inside. But I stayed around, and was glad I did.

Lunch Tuesday in Alpine, Texas, home of Sul Ross State University. Ate at Magoo's Place and had a creditable trio of beef enchiladas. The attraction for me was Kokernot Field, a celebrated old baseball park that has housed baseball for decades and which was once featured in Sports Illustrated. The town should make it easier to find. There wasn't a sign anywhere, and, believe me, this place has got some cachet.

Passed through the town of Marfa, home to the Marfa High School "Shorthorns." For me, that ranks right up there with the Lincoln (Coney Island) H.S. "Railsplitters" and the Tillamook, Oregon "Cheesemakers" as great high school nicknames. This being football country, the sprinkler was on the field at 11 a.m. Guess they have spring practice, or something..

A couple of miles outside of town I came across a highway marker commemorating the town of Presidio, which the tablet claims is "the oldest town in America," having been "a settlement for over 10,000 years." It claims to be the site of the first recorded Wagon Train crossing into Texas on December 10, 1582, headed by Antonio De Espejo." All news to me.

One question, however. Since Presidio is about 100 miles south, why is the marker in Marfa?

Marfa was full of surprises. Another mile or two down the road, I stumbled upon an exhibit concerning the "Marfa Mystery LIghts." The story is that in 1883 a young cowboy named Robert Reed Ellison spotted unusual lights in the sky. They "move about, split apart, melt together, disappear and reappear," and we're talking right now, in 2011. UFO theories proliferate (naturally), but no one has yet solved the mystery. If you're interested, they have set up a nice little spot for you to enjoy the lights.

Passed through the sleepy town of Sanderson, which had that "Last Picture Show" look. Sanderson bills itself as the "Cactus Capital of Texas, " and a sign in front of the high school proclaims its pupils to be "The Best Students In West Texas." I was not about to argue.

But perhaps the most interesting revelation was discovering the Judge Roy Bean Museum in the town of Langtry. There really was a Judge Roy Bean, you know, although he was officially a Justice of the Peace, not a judge. But he truly was an amazing character, and he really did provide the only justice West of the Pecos for more than 20 years.

You can walk inbo the actual saloon/courtroom where he presided, as well as the "Billiard Room" in which he died. Incidentally, he was not a hanging judge, because he was far more interested in fining people and collecting the money. He named the town after the famed actress Lilly Langtry, whom he basically worshipped from afar, but whom he never met. Her only visit to the town named after her came 10 months after his death in 2003.

Have I mentioned the whole thing is free?

Didn't hear my "Are You Gonna Kiss Me, Or Not?" today, mainly because for much of the ride across U.S. 90 there was no radio reception. No AM, No FM, No Nuthin'. This was tough duty. Back home I wouldn't even back out of the driveway unless the radio was cranked up. Next time I'll remember to take the IPod or pack some CDs.

The ride into Del Rio is modern America at its worst. Take Route 1 North and triple it.

Tomorrow I hit Houston, a town that appears to heve been constructed solely by architectural school drop-outs.

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