Among the multitudes of pitfalls and challenges found in this lonesome sort of land is the weather, especially when venturing to the out-of-way spots demanding many hours to get to and from.

This is truest when covering these distances on foot while exposed to the everchanging moods of the elements. The old saying about the weather changing every five minutes can be a reality, and no more so than in the month of October.

Now I’ve prowled this patch of Texas going on sixty years, and seen most every kind of weather you can imagine. I’ve seen it dry as a leeched out bone, so wet that an otherwise barren flat was like slogging through a swamp and so cold you just knew the only thing between the Chisos and the Panhandle was a wire gap, and someone had left it open.

I’ve been rained on so hard as to look like a half-drowned rat, and still considered each drop a special blessing. Been hailed on too, hail so bad that after the show I came across snakes caught out in the open that had been beat to death. There’s been heavy snows, endless sheets of sleet, lighthouse worthy fogs and heat so fierce that one would believe the front door to hell was just over the next rise.

All in the month of October, and often enough polar opposites on the same day.

Yet on occasion the most ferocious and all consuming are the storms that come roaring off the Sierra del Carmen, and with them the wind and dust that blinds and chokes everything in its path.

We were returning from Muskhog Spring across the Tornillo Basin, and as usual I had one eye where I was stepping and the other on the weather. It had been like an oven inside the small canyon containing the spring, but within another hour we were facing another challenge of a completely different sort.

For what you see in the photograph was only the beginning of what was to come. I told my guest to make ready, and certain she had a kerchief handy to tie over her mouth and nose. I also gave her an azimuth to steer upon to get back to the Jeep, just in case.

Within minutes the surrounding area exploded into a full scale dust storm, dust so thick it occasionally obscured everything beyond about fifty feet out. The landmarks went away, as did the clouds and any hint of the late afternoon sun. Every once and again we were hit by splatters of rain, which instantly turned into splatters of mud.

By the time we made it back to the road our clothing and equipment was covered in sand, dirt, those same splatters of mud and a very windblown, wild eyed sort of appearance. Later we would joke about the amount of sand discovered inside our packs, and how much we dug out of our ears.

It was that sort of a trip and that kind of a challenge to complete it.

And through it all something deep welled up from within, a sense of belonging to a place where prior generations of family and kin had faced the same trials and tempests.

For I was home, and mighty glad to be there.

God bless to all,


Ben H. English
Alpine, Texas
USMC: 1976-1983
THP: 1986-2008
HS Teacher: 2008-2010
Facebook: Ben H. English
‘Graying but still game’