March 01, 2011

Not-so-big river

Up the hill

The woman in the general store looked at me like I was crazy when I explained to her what I wanted on my sandwich.

“No meat? No cheese?” she asked. It seems that the Lone Star State is not known for vegan food. But the sandwich she made for me, slices of ripe avocado with cucumber and lettuce on a fresh roll, tasted delicious.

We told her about the hike we’d taken that morning in the national park, and she assured us that we needed to drive west. “It’s the second most scenic drive in the country,” she said.

“What’s the first?” my husband asked. I could tell he was trying to test her.

“Route 1 in California,” she said without hesitation.

My husband turned to me. “She's right.”

“I guess we better take the drive then,” I said. The woman smiled in approval.

We took the drive in the late afternoon, when the sun was glinting off the shallow river that forms the border between the countries. The narrow road went up steep hills, taking us high up above the river, and then down into the valley along the river.

This river has been on every map of North America I’ve ever seen — including the huge one that hung on the wall of my first grade classroom — and I always pictured something way bigger. I mean, the name of it even means “big river” so you can see how I might imagine a big river. But in several places, I could have walked across the river easily without even getting my shoulders wet.

Apparently, the river has indeed gotten smaller since I was in first grade, since so much water is diverted for irrigation and other human use. Besides, we were driving through the driest landscape I’d ever been in — local folks said that they hadn’t had rain since September — and in that context, even this shallow, slow-moving river seemed important. Any water at all in that desert landscape seemed miraculous.

Along the river

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Texas might not have many vegetarian sandwich places, but it's got great Mexican food, and lots of that is vegetarian.

JS

Peter said...

That's the Rio Grande? That looks shallow enough to walk across. Huh.

jo(e) said...

Peter: Definitely, you could walk across it in places. We watched some men come across in horses, and the water was only three feet or so at the deepest.

JS: We spent most of our time in the national park, the state park, or in not very populated areas, so we didn't have many choices for restaurants. I'm sure we could have found some great places to eat if we'd been in an urban area.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

It's beautiful. It looks like where I live, but also different... I've been wanting to see/smell that place since I read Nabhan's Gathering the Desert -- which I think would really interest a vegan like you: http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/books/bid327.htm

Danny Bradfield said...

At one point in my life, I lived half a block off of Highway 1 in Central California, just south of the really pretty stretch. And beautiful it is, when the fog isn't too thick and the road isn't closed by landslides. But the clear air in your photos is breathtaking, and I bet sunsets are amazing.

rented life said...

I love that first photo. Now I want to go on vacation!

jo(e) said...

Jennifer: Oh, I have to read that. I've read other stuff by Nabhan, but I need to order that book.

Danny: It's such a dry climate compared to California. And the Rio Grande is nothing like having the whole ocean there. But still, both routes are beautiful.

Nels said...

It's changed drastically since I grew up there. Some parts are pretty deep and wide, but it has gotten smaller over the years. I thought it was just me growing up and everything seeming smaller than it did when I was a kid, but the unending drought and human intervention have changed that.

Zhoen said...

I grew up next to the mile wide Detroit River, a short shot between lakes, more properly inland seas. So when I saw the "large" western "rivers" that back east would be barely creeks, I was unimpressed. It's all a matter of context.

jo(e) said...

Zhoen: Exactly. I grew up with the St. Lawrence River. So I'm always surprised when I go out west and see what they call rivers ....