One of Elizabeth’s goals in life is to visit every national park. It’s funny to think about it, but in the summer of 2018, she still had yet to visit any. Thus, we made plans to visit two parks once her differential equations class was over. On the recommendation of my coworker, Ethan, we planned a weekend in southeast New Mexico where we could visit Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks.
On Friday, July 13, Elizabeth and I loaded up her car following her calculus class in mid-afternoon. I was dealing with ear problems at the time, and remember thinking that hiking above 8,000 feet with a plugged ear would potentially be quite painful. So, in a moment I’ll probably never forget, Elizabeth and I pulled off on the side of Elm near the OU Physical Sciences Center and she put in eardrops for me. With that, we were off for the Comfort Inn and Suites in Artesia, New Mexico.
Driving down I-44 toward Wichita Falls, we saw a field of towering cumulus that would be a harbinger of the weekend. With the North American Monsoon in full effect, thunderstorms were developing as far north as southwest Oklahoma. Just north of the Texas border, near the town of Grandfield, we punched right through a severe-warned downburst. I thought it was fun, but I was also in the passenger seat at the time.
We switched drivers in Wichita Falls and set off across the vast prairie of West Texas. Seymour, Benjamin, Guthrie… the expanse of the Plains never ceases to stun me. It’s easy, when you drive on US-82 through endless fields of scrub brush, to see why the area used to be referred to as the Great American Desert. Just west of Guthrie, as we drove past another thunderstorm, the terrain began to roll as we approached the Caprock. And then, suddenly, just east of Dickens, the ground rose all of a sudden. The actual jump onto the Llano was as sudden as it was breathtaking.
We had planned to get dinner in Lubbock, and I wanted it to be somewhere where we could see Texas Tech’s football stadium. Elizabeth found a place right by campus called Spanky’s, which specialized in burgers. The food was tasty and the atmosphere inside the restaurant was neat – plus, we were right across the street from the stadium!
As the day faded away, we continued southwest from Lubbock toward the New Mexico border (I also learned that you need a K-Mart membership to get gas at their gas stations). Those storms we had been driving by all day continued to pop up toward dusk as we approached Lovington, NM, making for a beautiful light show. Less beautiful for Elizabeth was the long stretch of construction on US-82 between Lovington and Artesia. The memory has become embellished over time, but she describes it as a ceaseless nightmare of traffic cones. It goes without saying that after a long drive, we were happy to make it to the Comfort Inn. It was time to get some rest. Tomorrow we would be hiking to the tallest point in the state of Texas.