Published on September 29, 2020

Girls’ road trip gone wild: Part 1
We were in the middle of nowhere, dodging skunks and looking for transmission fluids

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

During this pandemic, I miss eating out, shopping and traveling – especially with friends and family. I wonder if anything will be worth remembering about the quarantines and the isolation? But as the pandemic drags on, I reminisce about some of my adventures and realize how very glad I am that I chose to go on them - even on the one that took us to the beautiful outdoors in the middle of nowhere, where we embarked on our search for transmission fluid.

On a recent weekend, when the satellite wasn’t entertaining, something jogged my mind back to the time that my best friend, Kristin, called and announced her plans for “Girl’s road trip!”

Now, this is not your “girly” antiquing trip to Canton, or to the casinos in Louisiana. Nope, it was to the wilds of Big Bend National Park. Travel back with me to 1988 when Kristin, her aunt and I had vacation time, and Roy (who had recently gone to work for the Harris County Sheriff’s Dept.), had none. I was hesitant to go without him, but next thing I knew, camping gear, food, clothes, drinks, Aunt Zoeanne, Kristin and I were loaded in Kristin’s Ford Aerostar minivan driving off into the sunset.

It was an all-day drive, and we took turns at the wheel. We started out about 6 a.m., and the first stop was planned to be a fantastic Mexican food café right on I-10, just the other side of San Antonio, for breakfast. We passed lots of places in San Antonio, where we COULD have eaten, but the girls were set on that place.

Twenty miles past San Antone and no café, they determined we missed it and turned around. We retraced our steps – still nothing. Finally, we decided to eat at the next place that we saw - a little hole in the wall place attached to a hotel. Runny Huevos Rancheros was not what any of us had our mouths set for, but it was food (sort of), and we were hungry.

Back on the road again with much laughter and girl talk. We had a late lunch and made good time. Finally, we were in Big Bend and driving to the campground in the Chisos Mountains basin.

We were just beginning the descent into the basin when there was a loud bang, and the engine stopped. We literally coasted to a stop at the closest camp site, got out and saw we were leaking transmission fluid - badly.

What to do? We had no cell phones back then. We sat down at the picnic table to discuss what we should do, and something ran over our feet. That was a bit disconcerting. Then we saw them - skunks everywhere - in the brush.

Just about then, the Park Ranger came around to find out why we had not gone back to give him our campsite number, and we explained our situation. He looked under the minivan and agreed that it was the transmission. He thought it looked like it was leaking around the gasket.

We asked if there was somewhere near there that could fix the problem, and he told us the gas station just outside the entry of the park - maybe. He helped us roll the minivan two campsites down (away from the skunks) – it was closer to the bathroom, anyway.
A tow truck would be difficult to find and expensive. Kristin figured we could drive to the gas station IF we had some transmission fluid.

The Ranger said the lodge store would probably have some, but it was 5 o’clock, and it closed at 6 p.m.

We hotfooted - and panted - our way back up the mountainside in time to buy all the transmission fluid they had – not much. We hoped it would get us out of the basin to the gas station in the morning.

We got up early, put the transmission fluid in the van and drove and prayed our way to the gas station before we ran out of transmission fluid - again. We had to wait for them to open. Yep, he had transmission fluid, but nope, he did not work on transmissions. Only one place he knew of that did - Archie’s in Terlingua, just outside the western edge of the park.

Not only was he the only game in town, he was the only game within 500 miles. So, we bought all the transmission fluid that the gas station had, poured in all the minivan could take and drove and prayed our way to Archie’s in the middle of nowhere. Oh, yeah, this was looking better and better – not.

Next week: We discover Archie’s.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)