Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Texas came at them, and there was no way to go around it without going out of their way.
They took their time crossing Texas, making five night stops, all of them at small grassy airports. Theyíd given some thought to doing some hiking down on the wilds of Padre Island, but when they got there and flew over it, it didnít look quite as appealing, not even for a night stop at the one airport that was open to them on the island. The weather was so snotty that they fled to the clearer skies of the west.
They wanted to stop at San Antonio to see the Alamo, but Mark realized San Antonio had awfully busy skies for the mere twelve channels he had in Rocinanteís radio. This was especially true since none of the channels could do him much good, considering all the jet training traffic from Randolph and Kelly fields. So, they wound up giving San Antonio a wide berth.
The weather cleared as they got into the higher, dryer country to the west of San Antonio, and for the first time they were flying over country that seemed like desert to their northern boreal forest-trained eyes.
Flying over this country was a new experience for them. Up until this point, their navigation had been pretty much "thumb-on-the-chart;" if they knew where they were going, Mark might draw a line on the map, just to give them some reference about where they were supposed to be. Very often, he didnít bother, since they would normally be following rivers, railroads, or highways. Rarely were they in a place that they couldnít figure out where they were from three or four checkpoints that could be found on one of the collection of aircraft sectional maps Mark had gathered over the years. Some of those were far out of date, but he did have a complete set of up-to-date WAC charts, although the World Aeronautical Charts were of a smaller scale, and werenít quite as good as the sectionals for navigating by looking out the window.
As they got out into the desert country, navigating by strict thumb-on-the-chart became a lot more difficult. When they came to an area where they couldnít follow a road or something, Mark would lay out a line on the map and carefully work out the compass course they would have to follow, making corrections for wind drift, compass variation, and deviations caused by Rocinanteís own magnetic field. While they were successful in finding where they were going by this age-old method, called "dead reckoning," they soon came to agree it was much easier and worth the trouble of going out of their way to follow a road.
In desert country, Mark figured if something were to happen, theyíd be better off if they were near a road, anyway. Still, he wished on occasion he had gone ahead and spent the money on a better radio than the one that had come with Rocinante, one that had more channels and perhaps a receiver for an Omni navigation system.
By now, Jackie was doing her share of flying the Cessna while in the air, and she was becoming progressively more comfortable with it. They were sharing the navigation, as well; Jackie had quickly picked up the rudiments necessary for the simple system Mark used for thumb-on-the-chart pilotage, and he took the time to explain how dead reckoning was done, as well. For a while, when she was navigating from the sectional, he followed along with the appropriate WAC chart, until both of them gained confidence in their navigation.
Itís perhaps best to say there were times they never knew exactly where they were, but there never came a time when they didnít get to where they wanted, even if they werenít exactly sure where they were at all times before arriving at their destination.
They stopped at a little grass strip near Rankin late one afternoon. They had thoughts of going on, but they could see thunderstorms in the distance, and figured that fighting with them late in the day, and then fighting to set up a campsite in the middle of a storm, left something to be desired.
The airstrip was kind of a dismal place, smelling of crude oil from nearby oilfields; other than that, it was barren and empty, covered with scrubby, dusty brown shortgrass. It was hot, and the air was heavy, and even as they looked around for permanent tie downs it appeared the line of thunderstorms was getting closer. In the end, they tied the Cessna down tight to their portable tie downs, and set up the tent under the wing, where it might get a little shade from the still-hot sun. "Miserable place," Mark commented.
"If this is what the Texans talk so big about, they can have it," Jackie agreed.
"The heck of it is, weíve got about four days to kill, and I donít want to kill it here," Mark said. "Thereís no point in getting to the Texas Star Party before about the eighteenth, but we can get there from here in one easy day. Less than that; weíve got fuel enough in Rocinante already to get there."
"I sure donít want to kill it here," Jackie agreed. "You got any ideas?"
"The only thing I can think of is to try a backpacking trip down in Big Bend National Park," Mark said.
"Whatís there?" Jackie asked. "I mean, Iíve heard of the place, but I donít think Iíve ever heard anything about whatís there."
"Me either," Mark said. "Desert and mountains, I guess. Iíve never done any desert backpacking, but I suppose we could do a couple of out and back overnights to get an idea of what itís like."
"We sure havenít been doing the hiking or backpacking I thought weíd get to do," Jackie said, shaking her head. "But then, I guess itís been a little early for the kind of places weíd like to go backpacking."
Mark pulled out one of the sectionals, and tried to figure out where they could land and have a reasonable access to Big Bend. "The only thing I can see," he said, after a while, "Is to fly into Fort Stockton in the morning and ask there if anybody knows the best approach."
"Maybe we could call the park headquarters from there and ask," Jackie suggested.
"Thatís kind of the square way to go about it," Mark said. "Other than that, itís not really a bad idea."
"Why donít we just pull up stakes and head into Fort Stockton this afternoon?" Jackie asked. "Itíd be better than this dump."
"I kind of expect Fort Stockton is going to be about as bad as right here, only a bigger airport," Mark replied. "Besides, the way the thunderstorms are building in the west, Iíd imagine weíd have fun getting there. They ought to settle down by evening, and, if we get going early in the morning, weíd still have plenty of time to fly down to Big Bend."
"Well, I guess youíre right," she said. "You want to get out the books and read a bit?"
They had been keeping with their reading program right along. In the three weeks they had been reading the New Testament to each other, they had worked their way through Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and were now well into the Gospel of the Apostle John. "Kind of looking forward to getting into Acts," Mark said. "Thatís kind of fun, I seem to recall."
With their Bible reading for the afternoon completed, they turned back to Leaves of Grass. They had almost gotten through it; only a few pages remained. "Weíre going to have to find another book," Jackie said.
"Got one," Mark told her. "Ever read Walden?"
"We read a bit of it while I was in high school," Jackie said. "How about you?"
"Iíve read it and reread it and reread it again," Mark told her. "I think it would be fun to read with you, and discuss it as we go along."
"You brought a copy with you?" she asked.
"Wouldnít be without one," he nodded. "The copy Iíve got with me is kind of beat up from being annotated so much, but Iíve learned old Henry was a sharp old cookie who bears a lot of thinking about."
They barely managed to get done with Leaves of Grass before the thunderstorms were threatening for real. "I was kind of thinking about supper," Mark told her, "But I suppose weíd better batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to blow through."
The storm came half an hour later, bringing lots of wind to blow the tent around and rock the Cessna at its tie downs, but little rain, only a few drops. They could see the core of the storm go to the north of them, with lightning flashing and thunder rolling, and they could see real rain falling a few miles away. From a distance, they could see the streaks of rain going to the ground; other clouds around had rain falling from them, called "virga," rain that evaporated before it hit the ground.
As the line of thunderstorms moved on past, it was clear and still behind them. They sat under Rocinanteís wing cooking their dinner, watching the thunderstorms off to the east, still roaring and banging away.
Before long, they had finished their dinner and the dishes. "Kind of a boring evening," Jackie said. "I suppose itís too late to go to Fort Stockton, now."
"Yeah," Mark said. "We could read some more. Or, we could shoot some touch and goes. Weíd still have plenty of gas to get to Fort Stockton in the morning."
Jackie brightened. "Iíd love to," she told him. "Iím tired of sitting around on my dead butt."
"Letís start from the beginning," Mark told her. "Right down to the preflight walk-around of the airplane."
Jackie had seen him do the preflight many times, and he had taken her through it step by step a couple of times. Now, it was his turn to look over her shoulder as she walked around the airplane, checking for holes in the fabric, loose hinges and bolts, and the like. She checked the oil, and made sure everything was in place in the engine compartment. Only then did they get into Rocinanteís cockpit, Jackie sitting on the right, as usual. Mark had to help Jackie reach a couple of things that were inconvenient from the right side, but in a few minutes she had the plane running.
Taxiing a taildragger is a little frustrating. Jackie had already learned that since she couldnít see close in front of the nose of the airplane she had to be careful about where they were going, and sometimes it took a bit of zigzagging. Down at the end of the runway, she ran the plane up, checked the mags and the carb heat, and then asked Mark, "Are we ready?"
"If youíre ready, weíre ready," he said.
"OK," Jackie said. "Here we go." A little uncertainly, she reached out with her left hand and shoved the throttle forward. Rocinante began to gather speed. There was a little swerve as the tail came up, but Jackie was quick to catch it and not over-control her correction. In but a few seconds more, a little backpressure on the Cessnaís wheel lifted them off of the ground. Jackie climbed out straight ahead, until she could see the altimeter had reached four hundred feet above field elevation, then started a gentle climbing turn to the left. They reached eight hundred feet above the ground roughly opposite the center of the field; Jackie throttled back, and pulled on the carb heat.
Mark thought the carb heat was hardly needed in this neck of the woods, as dry as it was, but it was good to get into the habit. Jackie was clearly going to be doing more flying; she was well on her way to being a good pilot. She had the touch, and Mark wished again that he was legally a flight instructor, because there was a limit to how much he could teach her without instructor training.
Opposite the end of the runway, she pulled the power back to an idle, and let the Cessna glide straight ahead, losing a hundred feet or so, before she turned left, onto base leg. Mark commented, "Looks good so far," but kept his hand off of the wheel.
Her turn onto final approach was a little wide, but she corrected properly, lining herself up with the grass strip. Mark glanced at the airspeed: not bad, considering that Jackie couldnít see the indicator well. She was rapidly getting the feel of the airplane, how it wanted to act at various the wheels hit the grass in a reasonable three-pointer. "How was that?" she asked as Rocinante rolled on the ground.
"Pretty good," Mark said. "Letís do it again."
Instantly, Jackie crowded the throttle forward, and reached up to push the carburetor heat on. In only a couple of seconds, she had the tail back up again Ė they hadnít lost that much speed Ė and soon they were climbing out again.
They did a half a dozen circuits of the runway, landing and taking off each time. "Youíre getting better," Mark said, making a mental note of the fact that he hadnít touched Rocinanteís controls at any time in the session. "But, thatís enough practice for today, or we might be a little tight on gas in the morning."
"Darn," she said as she let the Cessna roll out to taxi speed. "It felt like I was getting the hang of it, there."
"You are getting the hang of it," he reassured her as she turned the Cessna around and began to taxi back up to the tie downs. "Weíll do this again. One of these days weíre going to have to find you an instructor, so maybe you can see how good youíre really getting."
"Oh, hell," she said. "I donít see how I can taxi up to the tie downs, and I donít want to hit the tent."
"Easy enough done," Mark taught. "Come up on it so you can see where youíre going out your side window, and then turn onto the tie downs at the last second." She tried it, and it worked. The tent bounced around in the prop blast, but she idled the engine and it quieted down. Mark watched with a smile as she pulled the mixture back, to let the engine die.
"Not bad," he said, unbuckling his seat belt. "I think that calls for a kiss for your instructor."
She kissed him Ė just a quick peck. "Iím glad youíre showing me how to do this," she said. "Itís not something I ever thought Iíd be able to do."
"I donít know if you noticed," he told her. "I never touched the controls, the whole time. I guess Iím going to have to let you do more of the regular flying."
They tied the plane down, dug the stove out again, made themselves cups of coffee to celebrate, and then sat and drank another cup as they watched the sun set. "I will say one thing about this place," Mark said. "Iíll bet itís dark around here at night."
"You want to get the telescope out?" Jackie suggested.
"Itís only a few days after the full moon," Mark said, "So weíd probably only have an hour or so before the moon comes up. But, yeah, what the heck, letís do it. We still want to get up early, though."
The moon was rising before they got the telescope put away and got into their sleeping bags, they kissed each other goodnight before rolling over. It had cooled off a bit, and the warmth of the sleeping bags felt good; it made for a good nightís sleep.
There was dew on the grass the next morning when they got up. "What do you say if we say nuts to the coffee, and just get on our way?" Mark suggested. "Thereíll probably be some in the airport office at Fort Stockton, that is if itís like any other airport in the world."
"Fine with me," Jackie said. "We had more fun here last night than I thought we would, but Iíd just as soon be on our way."
Mark let Jackie do the walk-around and fly to Fort Stockton, not much more than a half an hour away. "We could have made it on into here last night," she commented.
"True," Mark said. "But the bigger the airport, the stickier they are about letting us camp out beside the runway. Besides, thereís enough lights around here that it wouldnít have been as much fun to use the telescope."
As expected, they found coffee in the airport office; they also were able to get a bit of advice. "The best place to go is a little airstrip called Terlingua Ranch," one of the people at the airport told them. "Odds are you can get a ride into the park from there. If you canít, itís a hell of a long walk, and thereís not a lot of cars that go by to hitchhike, since itís not on the main road. Thereís a private field thatís closer, but they get sticky about people dropping in without warning."
"Sounds reasonable," Mark said. "If we canít get a ride, we just wonít go into the park."
"Thatís probably the best way to play it," the man said. "You want to have all the water you can carry out there. In fact, any time you fly around this part of the country, you want to have a pretty good supply of water with you. It probably wouldnít be a bad idea if you were to fly around any area you might hike in and check it out before you land. You want to stay up above 1500 feet above ground, though. Thatís a national park, and they do get a little upset at low flying."
They were amazed at how bleak and empty and rugged the place seemed, even though the countryside on the way down there was not a lot less so. Terlingua Ranch proved to be a dude ranch of sorts, and they were able to slip one of the ranch hands a few dollars to drive them down into the park and up into the hills to the park headquarters. Since the ranch handís girlfriend wanted to go along for the ride in his pickup truck, Mark and Jackie rode in the back with their packs, getting dusty, letting the sun beat down on them, and having the wind blow their hair. He looked at Jackie as they were carried along, and thought about how pretty her hair was, blowing in the wind.
At the park headquarters they explained to a ranger what they had in mind: a couple of easy out-and-backs in different directions, just to get the feel of backpacking in desert country.
"Ever hiked in the desert before?" the ranger asked.
"No," Mark said. "Always in northern forests."
Even though it was a fairly busy day Ė a Saturday Ė the ranger took time to explain some of the things they had to think about. As the man in Fort Stockton said, water was precious, and they wanted to husband it carefully. Even in May, it was hot enough at midday that they ought to think about finding some shade, even if it was a tent fly, and sitting out the heat of the day. Otherwise, take it easy, and donít overexert themselves.
The ranger also told them a bit about the park: "This is probably the most isolated area in the National Park System. The Rio Grande, cutting deep canyons through desert mountains, forms the Big Bend of Texas," he said. "Itís wild and rugged back there, and there are five different ecological zones, from the Rio Grande flood plain to the tops of the Chisos Mountains. Mostly, itís part of the Chihuahuan Desert, but there are some pine forests in the Chisos Mountains. This area was a stronghold of the Mescalero Apache, and never really got civilized. It was used for grazing, and they overgrazed it heavily. There was also mining around here, before the Big Bend became a national park in 1944."
"What did they mine?" Jackie asked.
"Cinnabar," the ranger said. "They smelted mercury out of it, but it was mostly mined out half a century ago."
* * *
They settled for a short hike through the steep countryside the first day, to an old mine; they explored it a bit, then set up camp. It was a dry camp; there was no water for miles. As the evening fell, they watched the sun go down, and read a little more from John and from Walden.
It got dark quickly, and Mark was amazed at how clear the skies were Ė even better than back at the airstrip at Rankin the night before. Other than the few lights at the park headquarters and the lodge, around the corner of the ridge, there were no lights for miles. "I donít think Iíve ever seen the stars like that," he marveled.
"Donít you wish weíd brought the telescope?" she replied, in similar awe.
"It would have been a lot to carry," Mark admitted. "But it should be at least as good up at Fort Davis next week, and weíll have progressively less moon each night."
They were up early the next morning and hiked back to the park headquarters, getting there by midmorning. "Thereís a loop hike you might want to take, if you want to stretch it out to a couple of nights on the trail," the ranger told them. "The countryside is pretty, but youíll have to keep an even closer eye on your water."
Mark and Jackie studied it carefully on the map and decided to go ahead with it.
It was a long hike, and a dry one, but they were careful and took it slow. Much more than they had the day before, they were amazed at the amount of life that they found inhabiting this oppressive, forbidding countryside. This was true desert, and deep desert at that, but still there were patches of green that would have been easy to overlook from the seat of an overflying airplane. In fact, the desert was fairly alive with life of various sorts, and here and there were green spots among the greasewood, cactus, and scrubgrass, giving the hint of a little more water than elsewhere.
What had seemed drab to them only a couple of days before had become beautiful and fascinating. There was not any one thing that stood out in their experiences along this relatively short, two-night loop hike, during which they were entirely alone, but it was a peaceful, relaxing, rewarding time. They werenít exactly old desert rats by the time they hiked back into the park headquarters on Tuesday morning, but, along the way, they had gained a lot of respect for the desert and had learned there was more to see than at first glance. It gave them a whole new perspective.
Before they left to go back to the plane, they hunted up the park ranger who had befriended them. "Iím glad we came here," Mark told him. "You gave us a whole new insight on an area that I thought was mostly drab and ugly, and we have to thank you for it."
"I appreciate hearing that," the ranger said. "Thatís my job, after all, but itís nice to hear it."
They were able to get a ride as far as the park boundary easily enough, but when they came to the side road from Panther Junction that would take them back to Terlingua Ranch the traffic died out. Fortunately, they had filled their water bottles at the park headquarters, and they rather wearily started hiking the several miles of road to the airstrip where Rocinante waited for them.
Walking down the dusty road was not nearly as fascinating as hiking the trail through the park. This was ranching country, but thinly populated, even by cattle, which had to scrabble for water along with everything else. It was a long and dusty trudge, and the miles dragged by, one after the next. They stopped for a long break and hit on their water, then began to walk again, hot and sweaty.
They did finally get a ride, but it was only for about the last mile to the airstrip. The driver was going on by, but agreed to take them up the side trail to the ranch, where they were overjoyed to see Rocinante again. They offered to pay the driver for rescuing them, but he waved them off, saying, "We try to go out of our way to be nice to strangers around these parts."
It was a fairly short flight up to the town of Marfa, less than an hour, and they were almost cooled off again when they landed. The heat on the runway was intense, and they were glad to find a place to tie down.
They knew they were going to be away from Rocinante at the Texas Star Party for several days, so they loaded their packs a lot heavier than they had before, taking most of the gear from the luggage compartment, including, of course, the telescope.
It was a long way from the Marfa airport to Prude Ranch, north of Fort Davis, where the Texas Star Party was held. Fortunately, one of the men at the airport had a friend who was willing to drive them up to Prude Ranch in an old í56 Ford Victoria that looked like a twin of the old clunker Mark had driven around Spearfish Lake. The right hand door was sprung the same way, and Jackie found she remembered the trick of opening it.
Though still pretty much desert to their northern forest eyes, the land around Fort Davis was a little greener than it had been down in the Big Bend country. As they drove on up the valley of the Davis Mountains toward McDonald Observatory and the Prude Ranch, they began to see even more trees and more greenery.
Their driver, who hadnít said a word on the entire trip up to the Ranch, let them off at the headquarters building for the star party. The Texas Star Party was a fairly new thing at this time, but it had already gained national prominence as the place to go for serious dark-sky observing; there was little ground lighting within miles, and the west Texas skies were clear and bright. That was why the Universities of Chicago and Texas had combined forty years before to build McDonald Observatory only a few miles away, and put an 82-inch telescope Ė for years, the second largest in the world Ė on the peak of Mt. Locke, which was in view from the campsite at Prude Ranch. It was argued by many that Mt. Locke was the best observing site in the continental United States, at least for deep-sky observing with a large telescope, and Markís feeling of reverence wasnít fully understood by Jackie as the walked up to the registration desk.
"Oh, youíre Mark Gravengood and Jackie Archer," the silver-haired woman at the registration desk said. "We were wondering when you were going to show up."
"I had a package sent here for me," Mark said. "Did it get here?"
"You got two, and Jackie got two, as well," the woman said.
"Boy, am I glad to see those," Mark told her. "The big one is observing gear. Weíve been traveling, and Iíve only carried the stuff I absolutely had to have with me. The rest of it is mail, I guess. We havenít had any mail from home for a month."
"More than that," Jackie said. "Six weeks, anyway."
They found a campsite under the edge of some trees, one that would also make a fair observing site to the south. The telescope and the supporting gear could be carried if they wanted to look off in other directions. They downed their packs, and, even before they set up the tent, they opened the boxes to see what they contained.
Markís large box he knew about; he had packed it the week before they left. It included such things as his favorite old Skalnate Pleso star charts, extra eyepieces, a higher and more solid tripod than the one he had been been traveling with, and an equatorial mount and drive for the telescope. With some of the fittings he had put in the box, he would be able to do some astrophotography.
"Around this place, my six-inch f5 telescope is going to be really small potatoes," he told Jackie. "Thereís going to be plenty of big stuff here, and weíll probably spend a lot of time wandering around checking out some of the big telescopes, rather than piddling with this little thing. But, this is probably going to be the best sky Iíve ever had this under."
Jackie was barely listening; one of her boxes, the small one, proved to be mail Ė several magazines she hadnít seen yet, a few letters, and a nice, long one from her dad and Sarah. She resolved sheíd read them slowly and carefully, spreading them out. There had been few phone calls home, and even a longer time since they had gotten mail, and it could be a long time again before they would be in one place long enough to receive it.
The other box had her puzzled, though. There was only one way to figure it out: she opened it. "Cookies!"
"Say what?" Mark said, opening his other box, to discover mail of his own.
"Cookies!" Jackie repeated. "Sarah must have gone out of her way to make them. Thereís sugar cookies, and chocolate chip, and oatmeal, and I donít know what all. Have a cookie!"
"Tell you what," he said. "Iíll trot up to the headquarters building and get us a couple of cold Cokes, thatíll go even better with those cookies than warm water from our packs."
He was back a couple of minutes later carrying cold Cokes, already dripping with condensation. Jackie was munching on a cookie and reading a letter. Mark sat down beside her, popped open a Coke, and handed it to her. She took it absent-mindedly and sipped at it, intent on the letter. He opened his own Coke, took a sugar cookie, and began to paw through his box of mail. There were some letters there, and a couple of new copies of "Sky and Telescope" that had come out after they left home. He was leafing through the letters, trying to find the ones that needed to be opened first, when she said, "Well, I guess we can go home again."
"What do you mean?"
"It means that Iím not going to be ashamed to walk in the door at home again," she told him. "Listen to this, itís from Dad: ĎWeíve been waiting for the mailman every day since youíve been gone, in hopes that weíd get another letter from you. It certainly seems like youíre having a dream of a trip, the kind of thing I did all those years ago, and I envy the both of you the youth and the freedom that it takes to just head out on a trip like that.
"ĎWhen you first left, I was a little surprised, and didnít quite know how to feel. I wished you had let us know that you were planning on going, but then I realized you hadnít planned on it, it came as a whim. Maybe I was a little disappointed in you, but then I realized, in a way, you were doing what your heart told you to do, and I guess what my heart was telling you to do, too. My parents were never too happy with me when I went hoboing around after the war, but Iíve never been sorry I made the trip, and I feel pretty sure you will never be sorry about what youíve done. So, I canít be angry with you for leaving, although I probably would have tried to stop you had I known about it ahead of time. But that would have been my head talking, and not my heart. I suppose I would have said itís not right, not safe, for you to go off with Mark, so I guess Iím just as glad you took the bull by the horns and went and did what you wanted to do.
"ĎBoth Sarah and I think highly of both you and Mark, and we know you wonít let us down, that youíll be careful and stay out of trouble and have a good time. You are both adults, and I believe we can trust in your good judgment. Weíre both looking forward to the time you can come home and tell us stories so that we can enjoy them. We know youíre going to see a lot of new places and make a lot of new friends, but weíre waiting until you can come back and be with us again, too.í"
"Man," Mark said, shaking his head. "I can hardly believe that."
"Me either," Jackie agreed. "I mean, even after the way weíve talked on our phone calls, I kind of figured heíd be madder than hell, and maybe he was until he had a chance to think it over. But, Mark, you just canít ask for a letter better than that."
Mark took another sip of his Coke and tried a chocolate chip cookie. "I donít know. I guess I kind of expected to get some static from my folks when weíve called home, but thereís never been any word of it, just, ĎWe hope you and Jackie are having a good time.í Do you suppose they know something we donít?"
"I suppose they suspect a little more than the truth," she said. "I mean, itís not like weíve eloped, or anything."
"For a while there, I kind of had the impression they thought that it would have been better if we had eloped," he nodded. "Thatís sort of respectable, in a way, but weíve been away from Spearfish Lake long enough that it doesnít bother me as much, anymore."
"Youíre right," she said. "Spearfish Lake seems so long ago and so far away, itís like weíre in another world."
* * *
Texas Star Party
Prude Ranch, Ft. Davis, Texas
May 18, 1971
Dear Dad and Sarah:
We just got to the Texas Star Party a little while ago, and got your letter and packages. The cookies are wonderful! Mark and I have agreed to try to stretch them out as far as we can over the next week, rather than be like little pigs and eat them up as fast as weíd like to. They taste of home to both of us.
It was so good to hear from you, especially, Dad, and to let us know your thoughts about Mark and me being on this trip together. So far, we have had a lot of good times, seen a lot of places I would never have known about if I had stayed in Spearfish Lake, and done things I would never have dreamed of doing if I had stayed home. Iím glad I came on this trip, and knowing that you donít hold it against me helps me enjoy it even more.
I really am looking forward to coming home again, and sitting down in the living room, and telling you all thatís happened and showing you the pictures we have taken. However, it wonít be any time soon, probably. I donít expect weíll be home before fall, and Markís original plan was to be gone for a year.
It really makes me sorry we have not been able to be in one place long enough, or known where weíre going to be far enough in advance to get mail from you, but the wait was worth it. Getting this mail was all the sweeter for waiting for so long.
We are going to be here for a week, so I suppose if this letter gets right to you, we could get more mail here. Iím writing this in the middle of the afternoon, and we just got here, but I think Iíll try to call home tonight to tell you that you could send more mail if you send it right away.
Since my last letter, weíve come quite a long ways, clear across Texas, but Iím going to be honest and say the first half of the trip across Texas was not one of the better parts of the trip so far. The weather was lousy, and a couple of places we wanted to go didnít work out. Once we got into west Texas, the weather was better, and we just today finished three days of backpacking in Big Bend National Park. I never thought I would enjoy hiking in a desert Ė so dry and barren Ė but it proved to be a lot more interesting than we thought. The worst part of the hike was getting back to the plane from the park. We had to walk six or seven miles on a dirt road, and it was not fun. Iím still dirty and grubby, but as soon as I finish this letter Iím going to go over to the rest rooms and have a nice, long shower. It will be so good to be clean again!
Iím writing this in the first rush of getting mail from you, and I just wanted to let you know we got it and appreciate everything. Iíll write to you a little later in the week, again, and let you know more about Big Bend, and about whatís going on here. It looks like itís going to be interesting, even though weíve just barely gotten here.