SUMMERTIME MEANS FAMILY reunions, right? My husbands five siblings (and as many mewling teens as we can muster) will be heading out to Arizona this year to cook barbecue and bond. I cant wait. Honestly. His family, from El Paso, Texas, has been doing this since time immemorial, probably just as yours has -- with the same results. (You supply the next sentence. Im humming while you think of your last family reunion.) As an only child, I have a blast, because nobody is trying to dredge up the stupidest thing I did at age 10. Plus, Ive gotten to loll on the beaches of Texass South Padre Island, tube down the Comal River in Central Texas, and ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroads steam-driven train through the Rockies. The barbecue hasnt been bad either.
The idea is to just get going for a change of scenery, to escape our machine-driven lives (stop texting, girls!), and to steal time with family and friends. I belong to the Swamprats, a group of journalists and sources who worked together in the South during the 1970s and who now live in places as exotic as Serbia and Maryland. My first Swamprat trip, a two-week extravaganza, took me from Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong when China was on the cusp of emerging as a superpower. One year, we reconstructed Ernest Hemingways European travels, running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and strolling the Champs-Elysées in Paris, France. As we got older, we settled for reunions in Key West, Florida, doing nothing more strenuous than hunting for the best blue-crab cakes and catching sunsets on the dock.
I was missing that camaraderie when a friend suggested we take an RV and head to West Texas for four days. Six adults, an RV, a friends house, and wide, open expanse. The itinerary? All Texas. Abilene for a steak stop and then the long haul to Fort Davis, our base for trips to Marathon, the gateway to Big Bend National Park, and to Marfa, home of mysterious lights and an even more mysterious art scene.
Abilene is worth a stop for the Perini Ranch Steakhouse, south of town in Buffalo Gap. Though a longhorn steer almost gored one of us on the way in when we went there, we opted for a table outdoors anyway. The prime-rib sandwich had sold out before noon, alas, so we settled for a snack of dry-rub ribs, slabs of mesquite-grilled beef, and Angus burgers topped with mushrooms, green chiles, and cheese. When we arrived in Fort Davis, it was sunset, and golden light was bouncing off the mountains.