Dust, Snakes and the Wild West

If you thought Old Mother Hubbard had it tough when she found her cupboard to be bare, you must know that old duck had clearly never driven through Arizona or New Mexico before she decided to sulk and write a nursery rhyme about her dog. 

I used to think places like the Karoo and Carlisle Bridge were hot, dusty, baron plains filled with dust and snakes. Hells teeth was I wrong.

We set off from the masses of people and picturesque beaches of California to Tucson Arizona where we were to meet up with Ryan Matyas, a team mate of Purdon’s from the San Diego Breakers.

Arriving in Tucson felt like I was in Graaff-Reinet…only the streets were wider and there were more people. Other than that there is not much to speak of, other than it having a massive reputation as a student party town courtesy of the University of Arizona. Tucson’s party reputation is perhaps made most famous by New England Patriots Tight End, Rob Gronkowski. Known as Gronk, he is a superstar of the the NFL and is a legend at the U of A for his partying days. If you not quite sure who Gronk is, just take a look at the cover of the new Madden game that is coming out.

Needless to say, we did not get to sample and of the famed U of A pool parties, probably not a bad thing for me as at 27 I think I am considered to be ancient by these young folk.

Off we set the next morning for an odd, yet special place – Tombstone Arizona. It was off the beaten track, but well worth a visit. You see Tombstone is an old town in the Wild West made famous by the shootout at the OK Corral between The Earp brothers, Doc Holliday and the outlaw group called the Cowboys.

So why would I make Purds’ venture off course to a random little town just off the Mexican border in heat that would allow you to fry an egg on your bonnet?

Tombstone has a special place in the Austin household thanks to the 1993 movie Tombstone which featured Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. Its a Western that focuses on the fight at the OK Corral and Dad must have watched that thing 28 times on the old VHS. I hated it for the first 12 times as all I wanted to watch was Rafiki hoisting Simba over a cliff or see a big purple dinosaur play with kids. Much like all Dad’s country music, it grew on me like a weed and became a cult movie in the Winter Palace of Cookhouse. So much so that Dad even named his boat Doc Holliday after the legendary character portrayed by Kilmer in the film.

Visiting Tombstone thus had a special significance for me and it was an excursion I thoroughly enjoyed. On a separate note, it looks like the good folks of Tombstone have kept things in the family so to speak and any decent dentists keen to make a killing ought to head out that way cause the Colgate smiles are few and far between.

On we pushed for the White Sands Monument in New Mexico which was a four hour drive away which turned into five essentially thanks to a time zone change which caught us with our pants down somewhat.

The drive there was essentially one straight long road with distant mountains that never seemed to get closer. Tumbleweed, dust and snakes was all that was on offer. Not a single cow, goat or sheep on offer anywhere on the drive.

We finally got to White Sands and what a place it was. It is a massive dune belt in the middle of a US Military Missile Testing sight made up of – you guessed it – white sand. We got there just as the sun was setting and were treated to some awesome sights courtesy of a beautiful skyline that saw fading light battle it out with some dark storm clouds. We did get cuffed for speeding in the park by a ranger which was our first (and hopefully only) run in with the law. Sadly this cop was nothing like the Super Troopers and proceeded to nearly send us into cardiac arrest when he whipped on his sirens. Lesson learned – don’t speed – the extra visuals on the GoPro aren’t worth it.

I mentioned the Time Zone change, well we planned on camping in the park and based on our calculations we were to arrive in the park just after 18h00. Only boggy was that the time zone change saw us arrive after 19h00 which meant the camping check in had closed. As Gronk’s Patriots coach Bill Belichick famously said ‘We’re on to Cincinnati’. So we headed for plan B and booked into a motel in the nearby town of Alamogordo. Feel like we ticked off a USA road trip essential by spending a night in the hotel, motel, Holiday Inn.

From New Mexico we made tracks for Amarillo in Texas where we were to stay with my Godfather Paul Mills and his wife Karin. Paul is one of Dad’s oldest friends and like yours truly is a product of both St Andrew’s College and Rhodes University.

As we crossed the border from New Mexico into Texas it was as though we were in a different country. Feedlots packed with cattle made the Durban beach front on New Years day look like a sparsely populated desert. One of the first towns we hit was Hereford which upon entering boasts a sign which reads ‘Welcome to Hereford, the Beef Capital of the World’.  Safe to say I now know where MacDonalds, Burger King, In and Out, et al get there produce from.

Just up the drag from Hereford we make the turn off on a dirt road on the outskirts of Amarillo in a place called Canyon. Things are looking pretty country and almost Cookhouse like as our trusty Toyota 4-runner gets put to the test in the rain. Finally we arrive at Milly’s pad out on a farm like spot and are greeted by the mustache wielding Godfather.

The red carpet it rolled out, we take a tour of Canyon and check out some of the local spots including a feedlot of 180 000 head of cattle. This is farm country and is a lot more like home…only in true American style it is bigger and better.

We spend an awesome evening with the Mills’ and are fed a world class meal of Steak, Boerewors and Mash Potato…no veg which is right up Purds’ alley. Add to this a few bottle of red wine, some beers, biltong and sherry…things are starting to feel real homely. Safe to say that the only spiritual guidance my Godfather has given me is through a bottle of spirits. Its right like that.

We end the evening with a call to my old man who takes the call at 06h00 South African time. The call doesn’t catch him off guard and he’s been waiting for it. The roosters are crowing and the sheep are bleating in the background, showing signs that all is well in Cookhouse. I tell him of the pilgrimage to Tombstone and he replies “You obviously forgot about the other 72 times, cause I have watched that movie at least 100 times”. Just a classic yarn to end of an evening of reminiscing and banter.

All the Boerie and Biltong we eat is made by Paul himself in his man cave he has built out back. Guess it helps him to keep his wits about him among the heaps of Stetson wearing tobacco chewers out here.

Wednesday will see us head to Dallas and en route we will stop off at Southfork Ranch to say ‘Howzit’ to our boy JR Ewing. Our padkos is sorted thanks to Paul’s Biltong and Droewors, whilst he has kindly also donated us a set of tickets to the Cowboys vs Texans NFL game on Thursday evening at uncle Jerry Jones’ place.

As mentioned before, ya’ll gotsa get on Snapchat if you are to keep abreast with things, heck even my Dad and Norton Rose Fulbright’s most promising young lawyer Jonathan Hock have downloaded it especially for our tour. Add me on the username warwick.austin as we try help make America great again.

Part 0 – California here we come: https://killscorner.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/california-here-we-come/
Part 1 – Cookhouse, Cathcart, California: https://killscorner.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/cookhouse-cathcart-california/

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