I drove over 900 miles while in Texas, west from Louisiana thru Houston to San Antonio, then north thru the Hill Country to Johnson City, east to Austin, again north to Dallas, northwest towards Amarillo and then north to the Oklahoma Panhandle before going southwest back thru West Texas into New Mexico. If you can follow that, you really know your Texas geography. The three days that I spent driving were challenging; first it was the traffic in Houston, next it was the non-stop construction from Austin to Dallas, then the uber-fast drivers on two lane state highways(70mph speed limit) in West Texas that tailgated for miles and finally there was the sheer number of miles.
The topography varied from swamp in East Texas filled with oil wells and refineries, to ugly scrub land around Houston with oil wells and refineries, to flat plains with oil fields and some farm land near San Antonio. North of San Antonio was ranch country; rocky, hilly land full of cedar scrub trees. There were few public roads off State Highway 281, on which I traveled to Johnson City. Although I was told that the blue bonnets were not as numerous this year because of the lack of rain last fall, I saw them as well as other wildflowers by the roadsides each day I was in Texas. I did notice that many of the riverbeds were dry or very low throughout Texas. Northwest of Dallas as I drove State Route 287, there was beautiful grassland and high prairie.
I listened to Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne about the Comanches and their last chief, Quanah Parker. This gory but interesting book was a great companion, especially meaningful when I drove thru the town of Quanah north of Wichita Falls. I thought about the herds of buffalo that numbered in the millions before the Civil War, the Spanish Missions, and the years of bloody clashes between Texas settlers and Indian tribes. I looked out my car window to see cattle, oil wells, and open land. Occasionally I glimpsed wind turbines or a field of crops, but mostly it was a vast horizon with little vegetation, lots of rocky ground and a plethora of oil related apparatus. When I stopped in the Panhandle or West Texas, I was knocked over by the stench from the feedlots. At one point, I saw a feedlot that seemed to go on for almost a mile with more cattle than cranes I had seen in Nebraska. It brought to mind the book, Fast Food Nation, and I remembered why I so enjoy the farmer’s market in our Michigan summer town.
The Texas small towns I drove thru were thriving in comparison to towns in Iowa, Nebraska and many of other states I’ve driven through. I don’t know if its the cattle, the oil, the gypsum or another industry but there were few empty store fronts. There’s still old Route 66 signs and spots to stop as well as Braum’s, an ice cream chain that is prevalent. On my final morning in west Texas, there was dense fog, an intense smell of petroleum in the air, and the temperature had dropped from 87 the day before in Dallas to 37 degrees. Time to move on.