Sunday, March 26, 2006

On The Run In Lampasas, Texas

Yesterday Tomcat and I took a road trip down to Lampasas for research on my novel, Gino's Law.

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The main character is on the run, having been framed for murder, and he hightails it from the Metroplex in a southerly direction, avoiding the Interstate. Specifically, I wanted to see what the soils* were like between Dallas and Stephenville, and Stephenville to Lampasas, plus take in the scenery and ambience of the place.  Boy, did we luck out, because ambience was all around us the whole live-long day!

This picture shows the chalky unpaved roads around there leading into the semi-arid landscape. The whole area is one big limestone deposit. The vegetation is mixed grasses, cacti, mesquite trees, liveoak trees, and ... salt cedars.  The cedars are everywhere, and their scent is heavy on the breeze.

Last night I Googled the cedars and found that salt cedars are on a par with fire ants and cockroaches in that part of the State. They come from Asia, and were originally introduced as an ornamental plant in the early 19th century. I imagine that some Regency or Victorian-era lady thought these would look so nice next to the cacti in her yard, so she persuaded her husband to order them.

Big mistake. These trees have a very long tap root, which deprives the indigenous plants of water, choking them out. They cause the water table to get lower and lower, and even affect the water levels of the rivers, which in turn harms other species' habitats, like fish and turtles and so on.  Now, here's the scary part: the State of Texas has imported thousands of Asian salt-cedar beetles to devour these trees.  One shudders to think ...

* In my part of the State, we have clay, which wrecks havoc with foundations, and also large areas of that fantastic super-rich black soil that will grow anything you put in it.  Traveling south to Stephenville, there are long stretches of iron-rich red soil, like on Mars (which may explain a lot, somehow...) Then, you get into limestone and gravel country where you can see these chalky roads. When you drive along these roads, the car throws up this fine white powder, which dusts the grasses and trees alongside. You can drive for miles on these things and suddenly come to a "Stop" sign where it intersects with another one. I mean, there's nothing out there but cactus, salt cedar, mesquite, oak, and buzzards, and here's a stop sign?!  Then we saw signs for school bus crossings. Oh. Okay. We're just city folk; we had no idea there were people out here!

Anyway, the trip was fun and we took lots of notes. All for sake of research, don't you know.