What's for Desert?
Oil rigs and prickly pear cacti? Yeah, we're in Western Texas.
Apparently this week is Spring Break for many Texas schools, and consequently the Texas state parks - including Sand Hills state park in Monahans, where we camped last night - are at capacity. So it's good that we made reservations. Unfortunately, you can only reserve a generic camp site, but not a specific space - so if you make a reservation, you're guaranteed a space, but which space you get is granted on a first-come-first-serve basis.
We checked in late in the afternoon, but by that point all but one space was already taken. So, not having a whole lot of choice in the matter, we took site 16. Unsurprisingly, given the park's name, the site was little more than sand. There was what could generously be called a paved driveway, but neither of us felt confident backing a 4,000 lb trailer onto loose sand. Or rather, we figured there wouldn't be any problem backing into the site, but it might be tough getting out!
Further complicating things, a couple of geniuses at site 16 decided to take not only their campsite but ours too! In their defense, sites 16 and 17 are right next to each other, and even share a single pavilion. Still, they set up as if the whole place was theirs. The park ranger, K.C., even offered to move their tents off our side of the pavilion. But since we didn't have a tent to set up, there was no need.
We did, however, take our neighbor's site (#17), which had more pavement and thus seemed the safer bet for the trailer. This forced our neighbors to take our original location (#16). But since they had spread their belongings equally on both sites 16 and 17, they didn't have to move any of their stuff - all it meant was that they had to park on the sandy driveway of site 16. And since they had a single compact car (which probably weighted a quarter of what our SUV and trailer weighed), it was a logical decision
I see how Sand Hills state park earned it's name - it is quite literally a bunch of hills made of sand for as far as the eye can see. I climbed to the top of one such mound after setting up camp and took panoramic photos.
That's our camper on the near side of the street, in site 17. (Notice how the two tents - neither of which are ours - were placed on both sides of the shared pavilion.)
Though we're not in New Mexico quite yet, this is truly Breaking Bad country - we even saw an RV parked in the middle of nowhere, just off Interstate 10 - which is why we're watching that show throughout the trip. We finished season one last night, and we're now on to season two. And tomorrow we stay in New Mexico.
Given the arid landscape, I'm quite surprised by the quantity of vegetation. There can't be much rain here because even modest precipitation would quickly erode the loose sand - even the three-and-a-half gallons we drained from the trailer water pipes washed a significant hole in the campsite terrain.
Upon waking this morning, however, I was again surprised to find dew covering the entire park. Plus, clouds blanketed the overcast sky. Despite practically nonexistent rainfall, there appears to be enough moisture to sustain plant life, which have no doubt evolved to maximize what little water they can collect.
Stairwells (particularly older ones) and bathrooms are often well-designed acoustically. Of course that's not intended - it's more the product of the materials used in their construction (concrete in the former; tile in the latter). In fact, Weird Al Yankovic made some of his first recordings in his college dorm room bathroom because the acoustics were so good there - indeed, better than anywhere else he could have recorded.
The term "resonant frequency" refers to the phenomenon of how certain pitches (frequencies) elicit certain responses from certain spaces and materials. The shower at Sand Hills state park had a resonant frequency of around 64 Hertz (C two octaves below middle C) because when I sang that pitch, the place lit up. I was probably humming at around 15 decibels (barely audible), but when I entered the shower that was amplified to probably 60 decibels (roughly the volume of normal conversation). In other words, the volume of my humming was increased by a factor of about four when I entered the shower - significantly greater amplification than usual, even when I do find a particularly resonant space. My understanding of physics is insufficient to explain why this phenomenon occurs, but it's something I test in nearly every stairwell and bathroom I enter, in the hopes of finding one as resonant as the Sand Hills state park showers.
JOHN (Aaron's father and travelling companion on this tour):
Here's my favorite story from Monahans Sandhill State Park in Texas: I went from our trailer to the Suburban to get something and check out tinkling chain sounds too close to come from any camp site other than ours. Outside, I saw a white SUV with its engine running parked on the nearby road, and a U-Haul trailer, probably 8-10 feet long, sitting in the oncoming traffic lane. A woman, about 40, was picking up the hitch of the trailer, obviously empty, and maneuvering it back and forth to position it to be moved into a site across from us. That seemed odd, but the park superintendent had mentioned there was a nearby site occupied by two women campers.
Just as I was going to offer to help push the trailer, the SUV driver, a hefty woman, got out of the vehicle and pushed the trailer from behind while the first woman pulled. I asked if I could help. The second woman grunted, "No, I think we got it." The SUV door then opened, the dome light brightened the inside, and there sat at least three bulky young men, obviously sons of the hefty woman, with earphones in use and some kind of handheld electronic devices throwing a bluish reflection off their faces. None of them seemed aware of the gallant and gentlemanly action they should have been engaged in. Okay, maybe they had offered to assist and the two women thanked them and verbally patted them on the back for their courteous offer.
Yeah right, John. What handheld universe are you living in? Well, I found the answer to that question.
While watching the unchivalrous youths tapping away in the SUV, I looked up and saw a generous amount of stars scattered across the sky. There was the easily-recognized Big Dipper constellation. The tail and mid-section of Draco the Dragon was almost visible. Orion's belt was unmistakable. And a short distance from that heavenly clothing accessory was the auriga, the herdsman, paired with a teeny triangle on its side that represented his "kids." We saw Jupiter, Polaris and a bright first quarter moon trying to wash the fainter stars into oblivion. Now that's worth watching.
P.S. Walking through the appropriately-named Sandhill state park at night seemed like meandering through mountains of snow. The bright half moon shining on the white sand could easily have fooled someone who had left snow piles behind in Kenosha just a week and a-half before.
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