LaGRULLA, Texas _ It was 9 a.m. Oct. 28 when the Martinez family left Boardman, Ore., to return to South Texas for the winter.
At 6 a.m. that Monday, the Martinezes and two other families started loading their cars and trucks with as many personal belongings as they could. They checked and rechecked their vehicles to make sure they were in working condition, and said goodbye to friends they had made while living in Boardman.
The first stop was 17 miles down the road in Hermiston, where they spent four hours taking care of last-minute business. Checks had to be cashed, unemployment benefit forms had to be filed and groceries had to be bought.�MDNM�
Finally, at 1 p.m., a caravan of two trucks and two cars headed for the long trek south. The vehicles were filled to capacity with boxes, green garbage bags, grocery bags and clothes that were folded and placed wherever there was room.
All 13 people _ eight adults and five children _ were excited. Their enthusiasm grew as they came upon the snow-covered evergreens that lined Interstate 84 near La Grande.
Raul and Maria Elena Martinez were in the lead truck with their 7-year-old son, Billy, who sat in his mother's lap. Christobal Saenz, the Martinezes' son-in-law who had arrived in Boardman days before to help with the driving, was at the wheel.
Following close behind was another car in which Jimmy, 10, was the passenger. Behind that car, was a friend of the Martinez family, Alejandro Martinez, 32; his wife, Angelica, 24; and their 5- and 15-month-old daughters.
In the rear was Raul Martinez Jr., 34; his wife, Iris, 24; and their 4-year-old daughter, Abby.
Christobal and Raul Jr. _ because they were the most experienced on the road _ would often lead the caravan or bring up the rear during this four-day, 2,141-mile trip.
The caravan stopped at the first rest area in Idaho, near Caldwell. The women headed to the telephone to call their families in Texas. The men checked the vehicles. The kids ran to the bathroom.
After a few minutes everyone was back in the vehicles and the traveling continued. As night fell, the weather got colder.
At about 1 a.m. Tuesday, the caravan reached Salt Lake City, where the first signs of winter could be seen. Snow lined the highways and snow flurries were falling. The caravan stayed together, each driver following as close as possible to avoid getting lost.
After driving 645 miles in 12 hours, we pulled into a Motel 6 at Provo and settled in. At 5:30 a.m., wake-up calls were issued.
``It seems like we just went to sleep,'' Iris said. ``What time did we get here?'' she asked.
``1:30 a.m.'' Maria Elena said.
``No. 2:30 a.m. We're now on Mountain time, not Pacific time. We lost an hour of sleep,'' Alejandro said.
Moaning and groaning could be heard. Yet everyone got into their vehicles without saying a word.
The difficult driving began.
A snowstorm hit as the caravan approached a canyon near Utah Lake. The drivers became separated but knew to continue until they got out of the canyon.
It was two hours of tension _ and slow, careful driving along the winding roads that overlooked steep cliffs. The skies were gray and snow kept falling rapidly. Snowplows kept passing to clear the roads. No one spoke.
Ahead, an overturned truck and trailer could be seen. Hearts started beating faster as an ambulance arrived. The travelers in the caravan prayed.
After two hours of what seemed like endless driving, the last car in the caravan cleared the canyon. All four vehicles stopped at a gas station.
Everyone's knees trembled getting out of the cars and trucks. The men checked the vehicles and tires. The women quietly walked into the gas station to buy coffee. The kids talked about how scary it was.
``I remember when Jimmy was only 41-days-old and we came through that canyon. I was holding him so tight,'' Maria Elena recalled. ``And to top it off, one of the windows of the truck was broken, so all this snow kept coming in. We were all frozen of cold and fright.''
``Once when I was little my family came through there at night and the road was closed,'' Iris said. ``We had to spend the night in the canyon. I remember my father had to keep turning on the engine and putting on the heater so we wouldn't freeze.''
After the initial fright, the kids began playing in the snow. Someone turned on a portable radio, and the announcer said the passage through the canyon had just been closed.
Everyone looked at each other nervously, and without a word climbed back into the cars and trucks and drove off. Ahead lay another dangerous road near Arches National Park.
Luckily, that road was nothing compared to the canyon. The travelers only encountered light snow. But engine problems kept forcing Raul Martinez Sr. to pull over to the shoulder.
Finally, they reached Moab, Utah, and pulled into a McDonald's. Raul Jr. checked his father's truck, realized it was the carburetor and set out to buy a part.
``The truck kept rattling and shaking so bad. I didn't think we were going to make it,'' Maria Elena said.
The rest of the day was filled with more snow, rain, clouds and cold weather. After 13 hours and 590 miles, the group reached Albuquerque and settled in at a Motel 6 for another night of sleep.
By 7 a.m. Wednesday, it was back on the road again. Albuquerque was sunny, but 45 mph gusts of wind and 35-degree weather made it unbearable to be outdoors.
Alejandro Martinez and his family decided to leave ahead of the rest.
``We really want to get home today. We don't have any more money in case everyone wants to spend one more night somewhere,'' Alejandro said.
``That was a bad move on their part. They should have waited for all of us to leave together,'' Raul Jr. later said.
``If they don't have any money, any one of us would be happy to lend them some,'' Iris said.
``I'm worried about those babies. What if something happens on the road and they don't have any money?'' Maria Elena asked.
The three remaining families were greeted with sleet and freezing temperatures an hour outside of Albuquerque. From there to Roswell, N.M., the vehicles had to pull over about every 30 minutes so the ice could be scrapped off the windshields.
About 30 minutes after lunch, the caravan entered Texas. Everyone gave a sigh of relief.
But it was still going to take another day of traveling before they reached their home in LaGrulla, so th e families decided to spend the night in Del Rio. The families had traveled 602 miles in 15 hours on this third day.
Thursday, Oct. 31, everyone awoke at 6 a.m. Outside in the parking lot, the kids were running around excited, talking about getting home and what they were going to wear for Halloween.
T he day was cloudy and rainy, but temperatures were in the 50s. The caravan speeded up to 70-75 mph. There was another 304 miles to go.
In Laredo, everyone stopped to refuel and call their families.
` ` We'll be home in about two hours,'' Maria Elena told one of her daughters. As she hung up the phone she said, ``They're waiting for us with a big homecoming dinner.''