West Texas can kick your butt. Last year Big Bend National Park turned up the heat on our visit and the temperatures hit triple digit highs. Same month a year later and the Permian Basin is still in the grip of winter. Cold winds whip through Van Horn, a crossroads of west Texas. Another interstate orphan, Van Horn used to be a gathering place for travelers heading to Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe National Park, or Big Bend National Park. Just 75 miles from trendy Marfa sits the once majestic El Capitan Hotel, a hundred yards off of I-10. Now on its third revival ownership, it”s the $150 a night option in a dilapidated town of budget motels and gas stations. Van Horn is a tank of gas and an overnight if you must, but no longer a destination.
The Van Horn RV park is holding on to existence by its finger tips. The Cafe is under (permanent?) renovation. The general store is generally empty of contents and the pool is an empty hole in the ground. Older large RV rigs roll in to plug in to a 50 amp outlet for the evening before departing in the morning. In a landscape of barren lonely scrub, it’s a place to stop when the 600 miles from San Antonio to El Paso feels too long to cover in one day. It features a dedicated tent camping area that probably last hosted a tent in the 90s. Not surprisingly, we did not need a reservation.
We took advantage of the last two hours of sunlight to dry the wet camping gear in the cold stiff breeze. Hunkered down in the lee of the tent, we enjoyed a hearty ravioli soup that had been serving double duty as an ice block defrosting in the Yeti. The previously prepared frozen meals coming out of the Dometic freezer and passing through the Yeti cooler on their way to the table was working beautifully. A spiked hot tea and piece of dark chocolate did wonders to fend off the cold for a few minutes anyway.
The dull roar of trucks on I-10 is occasionally joined by the whistle of a long freight train providing background white noise for the campground. A sea of neon signs held high in the air on long poles adjacent to I-10 occlude the night sky. The cold times are not the night hours when you are zipped up in the mummy bags with skull cap on. The cold hits you in the dark cold morning standing by the propane stove waiting for the water to boil and the sun to rise. We thought of Roxie with her electric fireplace and plush bed but surprisingly didn’t miss her like we thought we might. Writing it all down, it sounds like a terrible day. For reasons that are hard to express, it was quite the opposite.