After a quiet stay in San Antonio, registering and inspecting the truck for 2005, and continuing to catch up on our backlog of genealogical projects, we headed north for Lubbock, using an atlas of Texas back roads. Texas is fortunate in that oil revenues enable the state to maintain a Scrub cactus fine road system. Beyond the interstates, national and state highways that most states finance, Texas has an enormous network of tertiary roads connecting farms, ranches and smaller towns throughout the state. Well built and maintained, these farm roads are usually quiet, and what drivers you see are the kind that give you a friendly Texas wave when passing.
The first day we sliced north and a bit west through the Texas Hill Country, made famous by Lyndon Johnson. For many years the Hill Country was the home to latter-day backwoodsmen, living on small ranches and figuring out the network of creeks and small rivers. It's good deer country, and every tiny town had the banner up: WELCOME HUNTERS. Perhaps because of the season, we managed to spot several bucks close to the highway, trying to figure out a good way to bound out of range. Deer stations are everywhere, so the hunters can have their venison dressed and packaged.
The price of land in the Hill Country is going up, however, especially in those areas within commuting distance of San Antonio or Austin, Typical county courthouse where developers have bought up old ranches and are putting in gated communities of estate homes. The backwoodsmen themselves will soon be museum pieces, relics of an older era of self-sufficiency.
This year the heavy rains have not only filled the Texas reservoirs but also created a lot of seasonal lakes and ponds, and even crossing the roads here and there in low spots. We passed through Bergheim, Kendalia, Cherokee, and Richland Springs. Besides the deer we spotted goats, llamas, donkeys, and ostriches as well as lots of 8-foot fences for game ranches that raise elk and exotic horned animals for hunters.
While the Hill Country isn't properly forested, it definitely gets enough rain to support beautiful big live oaks which provide summer shade for grazing cattle, as well as thickets of mesquite which provide cover for a variety of animals, everywhere dotted with the bright green of prickly General MacArthur pear cactus, and patches of spiky yucca. When the road passed over a ridge we could see for miles. There's scarcely ever a cleared field, and what few there are just grow hay; the hills aren't high, but they're frequent enough and rocky enough to be unsuitable as farmland.
Near every lake or reservoir is a settlement of homes, some seasonal, some year-round, where fish and waterfowl are plenty and you can indulge the great American dream of Waterfront Property.
We spent the night in Early, just north of Brownwood, and noted that as we moved north in latitude and up in altitude the temperature moved down. We wore jackets and hats and noted the first bit of frost on the windshield this season.
In the morning we took a drive up and down the streets of Brownwood, home of Howard Payne University and the Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom. This is the second time we've been there when the building is closed, but we'll get a chance to walk through one of these days. We did enjoy the large statue of the general set off by its reflection in the glass front of the Academy. St. John's church, Stamford
We went through some county seats we haven't seen before. This is usually a treat, because Texas has an excellent collection of good-looking courthouse architecture. The presence of the county seat guarantees the downtown will stay alive; the lawyers have to eat lunch! Besides the courthouses we enjoyed some pleasing architectural surprises, including big old homes and a well-preserved 1950s-era gas station, apparently destined one day to become a museum. In Stamford, Texas, a town of perhaps three thousand people, the most impressive building, by far, was St. John's Methodist Church. We were so struck by it that we poked about till we found the unlocked door and took a look at the sanctuary and stained-glass windows. Church staff provided us with a history of the congregation, which was formed in 1900. It's a copy of an architect-designed church in Dallas. The idea was that the church would serve both the town and Stamford College, but the college disappeared after World War I. The interior wasn't finished until 1922, when the church was formally dedicated, and the building was given a facelift for the centennial celebration in 2000.
North of Brownwood the Hill Country disappeared for good. As we moved north and west we found more and more farms and ranches. The river Cotton field near Lubbock bottoms are still too crowded with mesquite thickets and too subject to flooding to make suitable farmland, but the plateaus were flat and grew forage crops for the livestock. We passed through Cross Cut, Cottonwood, Putnam, Moran, Lueders, Avoca, Sagertown, Jayton, and Spur on our way to Lubbock. As we neared Lubbock we were struck by the scale of cotton farming -- the largest we can recall seeing in our travels. Dotted with dozens of stacks of recently harvested cotton waiting to be ginned, the fields stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. The roads were white with cotton waste which had fallen off the trucks. The gins were feverishly working to keep pace with the harvest. Of course the cotton fields were dotted with oil wells, and farm houses occupied small plots, but -- as they said in the south -- Cotton is King here. As we are wont to do, we speculated whether the processed cotton fabric would be shipped overseas to be made up into clothing, and then shipped back for sale in our malls.-- perhaps in the little J.C. Penney store adjoining one of the cotton fields.