The lights dart across the Texas desert, pulsing, merging, and then disappearing.
Some people believe they are UFOs; others, the ghosts of Spanish conquistadors.
A cowboy first reported seeing them in 1883. He thought they were campfires of the Apache. Other theories as to the origin of the mysterious lights include swamp gas, St. Elmo’s fire, and the glint of minerals in the moonlight.
Unless you’re in Hill Country, where it might be bratwurst.
In the mid-1800s, tens of thousands of German immigrants settled in central and southwest Texas, which, at the time, was its own country. Some of the settlers were sponsored by a group of German nobles who aimed to colonize the Republic of Texas and develop trade.
Their scheme was disrupted by a lack of funds, the war with Mexico, and the statehood of Texas. The German homesteaders stayed anyway.
Three historic trails lead to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
One arrives from Mexico City—El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road of the Interior Land). For centuries, Native North Americans used the sixteen-hundred-mile trade route.
In 1598 Spanish settlers first followed El Camino Real north. It was traveled continuously until 1882.
Another trail enters Santa Fe from the west. Approximately seven hundred miles long, the Old Spanish Trail connected Santa Fe with settlements in California. Blazed as early as the 1500s, the Old Spanish Trail was used by Native Americans, explorers, trappers, and traders until 1848.
A third route, the namesake Santa Fe Trail, connected Santa Fe with the eastern United States, specifically Franklin, Missouri. The nine-hundred-mile trail was established in 1821 to take advantage of new trade opportunities with Mexico, which had just broken away from Spain. It saw use until around 1880.
Three American cultures intersected at the crossroads of Santa Fe—Native, Hispanic, and Anglo. It seemed an appropriate trail’s end for my tour as well.
Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.
Over four hundred parks, preserves, forests, seashores, rivers, monuments, memorials, and historic sites make up the National Park System.
During my recent tour of the Southwest, I was fortunate to visit fifteen of them. Seven of the biggest are in Alaska, including the largest park, Wrangell-St. Elias. At 12,500 square miles, it’s bigger than each of the nine smallest states.
Death Valley is the largest in the lower forty-eight states. The smallest park is Hot Springs in Arkansas at around nine square miles.