March 11, 2018

Driving Across West Texas

by Rosemary

Vultures gather next to a dead deer by the highway.

Having driven thousands of miles on high-speed highways and country roads throughout the U.S., we have become somewhat inured to the sight of roadkill. But as we drove west through Texas, we were stunned by the carnage. A long stretch of Highway 10 was littered with the corpses of deer, along with jackrabbits and the occasional domestic sheep. It seemed we couldn't go a mile without passing something big and dead. I have no idea why the problem was so much worse there than in other places. Were there simply more animals per mile, making it statistically more likely they would wander into the road? Were local drivers more careless than elsewhere? Was there something about the road conditions that made it harder than usual to avoid a car-animal collision? Could it be that road crews in other areas were picking up the bodies, while here they were ignored? We never found the answers.

We stopped briefly in Fredericksburg, a town that celebrates its German heritage with traditional cuisine and cuckoo clocks.

A festive attitude.

Main Street.

The Pioneer Memorial Library.

About 260 miles west of Fredericksburg is Fort Stockton. The town has a very nice visitor center, where we bought a guide to the historic driving tour. We may have been the only tourists in town that afternoon; we didn't see anyone else taking the tour.

Despite efforts to prop it up and protect parts of it with metal roofing, the "oldest house" is not doing well.

The last stop on the tour, the old cemetery, is also in poor condition. There are some historic headstones here, but many markers are unreadable, and it appears that many of the old grave sites have no markers at all.

The most interesting landmark in Fort Stockton is not part of the tour, but it is hard to miss. When "Paisano Pete" was installed in 1979, he was the world's largest road runner statue. Although that title now belongs to a sculpture in New Mexico, Pete is still impressive, 11 feet high and 22 feet long.

At the west end of town are these larger-than-life silhouettes of a Comanche hunting party. The companion piece, at the east end, depicts the Ninth U.S. Cavalry ("Buffalo Soldiers").

In Marfa, we stayed at the Hotel Paisano. Its claim to fame is that the cast and crew of the 1956 movie "Giant" stayed here during filming. In the 1970s, the hotel was converted into timeshare condominiums. By 2001 it had fallen into a state of desperate disrepair and was auctioned off after a tax foreclosure. The new owners renovated it, but managed to retain the look and feel of a hotel that hasn't changed much since the 1950s, in keeping with its pervasive "Giant" theme.

Several miles beyond Marfa, we caught sight of this UFO (unidentified floating object). As we got closer, we thought it was some kind of weather balloon. However, signage identified it as a tethered aerostat radar system, a surveillance system currently funded by the Department of Homeland Security. Later, we saw it parked near the ground.

About 36 miles north of Marfa, on Mt. Locke, is the McDonald Observatory. We enjoyed getting an up-close tour of the facility, including the Harlan J. Smith telescope, which, amazingly, we were allowed to reposition using a remote control.

Not far from the observatory is Fort Davis, a national historic site, and one of the best surviving examples of a frontier military post of the 1800s. It was positioned to protect traffic on the San Antonio-El Paso Road.

The roofs and porches have been repaired, but otherwise these barracks are original.

They are authentically furnished and decorated.

We also saw the rattlesnake museum, but only from the outside.

It isn't unusual to see abandoned and derelict buildings out on the range or near small towns. Even so, it seemed that Valentine had more than its fair share of them.

This little shop was up to date with its Valentine's Day window display, so we assumed it was open for business, despite appearances.

Valentine's population is less than 250, and it clearly has seen better times. So we were sincerely impressed by its attractive public library, which opened in 2009.

The range looks dry, but flash floods can be a real threat. These markers at low points in the road help drivers avoid danger.

Most of the large birds we saw in Texas were turkey vultures; it was always a nice change of pace to spot a hawk.

We continued north, heading for Santa Fe.

Note: We were here in February.

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  1. Great photos!!!

  2. Hey You're in TX this week and NOT at SXSW! Congrats!


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