In 1976, I was hitchhiking east on I-20 in Texas along with my then wife, Mel, and dog, Osha. From El Paso at the New Mexico border to the east Texas stateline near Shreveport, Louisiana, the state of Texas is an unfathomable 838 miles across. Put into perspective, that’s the distance from New York City to Georgia.
We were tooling along I-20 east in an old Pontiac Catalina. Near Pecos, Texas, the wind started to pick up. The tumbleweed were rolling and bouncing across the highway, taking on an almost surreal life of their own. As we progressed eastward, the wind really gained velocity, probably up to 40 miles per hour or so.
Knowing our ride would end soon, I pulled out my road atlas to find a suitable location to get out. There it was – Monahans Sandhills State Park. It had camping facilities, which also meant bathrooms and showers. On the map it appeared to be right near the highway. This would be our destination.
By now the wind was honking, blowing sand almost horizontally across the desert. It was so intense that the driver put on his headlights and occasionally his windshield wipers. At Monahans, we bid farewell to our driver and thanked him for the 85 mile ride.
Exiting the car, we were blasted by sand. Ooooh, it stung! We leaned forward into the howling wind, backpacks on our backs, and headed off the highway to find the state park. Poor Osha. The sand immediately got into her eyes. I got down on the ground and pulled her head up into my sweatshirt for some relief. I then found a bandana and tied it across her eyes. She would have to blindly follow our voices.
Twenty minutes later, sand in every nook and cranny in our clothes, skin, hair, and gear, we were in the treeless camping area. There were three RV’s camping, and no one else in sight.
We’d never be able to set up our tent in this gale, so we sought shelter in the restrooms. In the men’s room, I attended to Osha. Pulling off her improvised blind, I flushed her swollen eyes with water until the sand was gone. She wagged her tail and licked my face in appreciation, then laid down and looked at me with an expression that said, “What next?”.
After a quick conference with Mel, we decided to spend the night in the ladies’ room. We thought a guy might get the wrong idea if he came upon us three in the men’s room. We moved to the ladies room, situated Osha and our backpacks in the corner, then both stripped and jumped into the oversized shower. We actually began to feel human again as the sand washed from our bodies.
The ladies room door opened. “What a nice dog”, a woman’s voice said. After hesitating a bit, she added, “I’ll be waiting out here while you finish your shower.” Now what? This camper from one of the RV’s doesn’t realize that it’s not just Mel in the shower. Will she freak out when she discovers I’m in here, too?
“Ummm … my husband’s in here with me”, Mel said meekly. “Oh, that’s alright”, she replied. “I saw you were on foot so you stay in here as long as you like. It’s nasty outside.”
After getting dried off and dressed, we apologized profusely to the woman. She was very understanding, and not bothered a bit by my presence. After she finished her shower, we had the ladies room to ourselves again. The wind howled all night, pushing sand through every crack around the doors and windows, but we had a calm, windless sanctuary.
By morning, the sandstorm was over. Standing by the side of the road with thumbs out, the timeless words of General William Tecumseh Sherman came to mind. “If I owned Texas and hell, I’d rent out Texas and live in hell!”
- Mountain Man