Camp FCI La Tuna
I don't know what jogged it loose, but an odd memory came to my mind the other evening and proved that after more than 57 years, I still have stories that my wife has never heard.
In my early years, my family camped all over the Western United States. We started out with a home-made tent - an enormous sleep-six thing that ultimately did in my mother's sewing machine in the making thereof. She wanted, and got, a new one anyway. Pieced together from heavy canvas and coated with some kind of vile-smelling solution that almost waterproofed it, the thing took up much of the trunk and weighed as much as I did at the time.
I don't remember what our ultimate destination was on that trip. I just remember that we were headed west - my parents, my grandmother Anderson and me. And the tent. And if you head west from North Central Texas, it takes a long time to get out of the State of Texas.
I don't know if it was because of a late start, or if it was intended, but nightfall found us just beyond El Paso, looking for a place to unroll and erect our ginormous tent for the night. There was not, back then - nor is there now, a nice State Park or National Forest adjacent to El Paso, so Pops found an isolated area a short distance off the highway, and we dry camped our first night out.
I now call your attention to the satellite photo at the beginning of this post. The highway on the right side of the image is Highway 180 (and now, IH-10). It's pointed north and south in the photo, but it eventually heads west. And X marks the approximate position of the campsite. We're a few hundred yards off the highway (but close enough to hear traffic through the night) backed up against a fence.
You can see the fence, sectioning off the upper-left quarter of the photo. And you can see a cluster of buildings in that quadrant. Those buildings, dear reader, compose part of Federal Correction Institute La Tuna. A federal penitentiary. Over the years, the La Tuna population has varied between really bad guys in a maximum-security environment and not-that-bad guys (like Billie Sol Estes, for example) in a minimum security environment.
To be sure, I don't know what the degree of security was at the time we visited the area, but I do know that the morning sun revealed a honkin' tall fence beside our campground - and a couple of prison guards sitting on the other, or operative, side of the fence.
They were polite, and assured us that they had checked on us often throughout the night as they patrolled the outer perimeter of the compound, but they pointedly suggested that we might want to break camp and head out on the highway as soon as possible.
And that is the long-forgotten story of Camp FCI La Tuna.