This is a post of a different nature. The Big Bend region of Texas is usually known for its mild weather, due to its southern latitude and relatively high elevation. We see thunderstorms and the occasional snow, but are usually spared a lot of the more severe variety of weather, such as tornadoes and ice storms.
This past weekend was the exception. Winter storm Boreas paid us a visit on its way east, and the result was somewhat inconvenient. The temps were in the 80’s on Thursday, then they started dropping. By Friday the temps were below freezing, and then the rain and sleet started. An inch of precipitation later, our back windows and small trees were sagging under the weight of the frozen rain:
By Saturday afternoon, the weight of the ice had brought down the power feed coming across the mountains from Alpine, and noone in Marathon had power. Fortunately, we have a small 3500W generator, because our house is 100% electric. That means no heat, no lights, no cooking, no hot water…no nothing. We ran a line in through the back door and powered up two space heaters in the den, plus the refrigerator. Power outages in this part of the country are not at all unusual, and they are normally caused by the wind, and power is normally restored within an hour or so. And so we “hunkered down” with a good book. Then, the cell tower went out. No phones, no internet, no power. And no end in sight.
The next morning, Sunday, still no power or cell service. I was running low on gasoline, and was certain that the only gas station in town had no power to pump gas, so it was time to siphon some out of our vehicles to keep the generator running. Thanks to anti-siphon “improvements” to our modern autos, my siphon hose would not penetrate into the gasoline in our tanks, so our supply was limited to the gasoline in our motorcycles. A few mouthfuls of gas later, we had a resupply of gasoline for the generator. I decided to see if perhaps the gas station had a generator and was pumping gas, and discovered this:
Overnight (Saturday) the gas station caught on fire, and without cell service, the volunteer firemen could not be contacted. Without electricity, the community siren could not be activated to call them in, so the station just burned down. So, the only solution was to make the 30-mile drive to Alpine in hopes of finding electricity and gasoline. It was a gamble, because with no cell service, we had no way to call Alpine and find out about the roads, or availability of gas.
The drive to Alpine was treacherous, even for our Jeep. I think we were one of the first to venture out on the frozen highway, and as we approached the pass over the mountains, conditions worsened, but we crept on:
In Alpine, the roads were solid ice, and the parking lots were like skating rinks, but we succeeded in buying two 5 gallon gas cans and filling them up for the return. On the road home we passed many downed power lines, the ones feeding power to Marathon. There were two lonely trucks out in the field trying to re-hang these downed lines, but it was obvious it would be quite awhile before we had power again. As it was, power was finally restored on Monday night, and cell service was restored shortly thereafter.
Usually you have to lose something that you take for granted, to realize how much you are dependent on it. In this case, electricity and cell are the lifelines to basic warmth and outside contact with the world. Taken away, we are without the alternatives that were so much a part of the frontier west: log fires, community and family interaction. For one weekend, we experienced some of that by being denied media entertainment…and it was not so bad. I think we’re going to plan one “media-free” evening each week in honor of the closeness it brings. Why not try it yourselves.