The Real West Texas

This isn’t Lubbock or the Panhandle Plains, nor the monotonous oil-spewing region of Midland-Odessa.

This is the land that time and an ever-changing climate built in dramatic and violent fashion, and in much of this vast space, time also forgot in the same manner.  Those forces formed the region known as the Trans-Pecos, the only area in the Lone Star State that contains true mountains.  These are high-desert mountains, “sky islands” in the Basin and Range Province, and as such, are as much a part of the West as any other mountain range.  In the high elevations of the Chisos, Davis, and Guadalupe ranges, montane forests of yellow and white pine, Douglas-fir, oak, and aspen abound – relicts that survived when the fringe effects of the last ice age departed some 10,000 years ago.

With the exception of the Guadalupes, these mountains aren’t what you will find in Colorado or Montana or Idaho.  However, these high-desert sentinels are not lacking in their own stunningly scenic beauty, thereby making one feel small but grounded; not spoiled like some in the more prominent “calendar mountains” of the higher Rocky Mountain states.  The Del Norte, Glass, Chinati, Delaware, Franklin, Sierra Diablo, and Christmas Mountains, among others, are all spectacular ranges, each deserving of their names, praise, attention from travelers and locals, and admiration of their stories that were, and still are, aeons in the making.

The Glass Mountains, while not as popular as the Davis, Chisos, or Guadalupe, still have many notable distinctions.  This mountain range is geologically part of the Ouachita Mountains, whose visible and visited portion lie some 600 miles to the northeast, near Talihina, Oklahoma. The rest of the Ouachita Mountains in Texas are buried thousands of feet beneath younger sediments.  The Glass is also “the easternmost major range in Texas”, and an “exposed part of the largest limestone reef system in the world”, as Joe Nick Patoski wrote in Texas Mountains. Because of that, this mountain range is the geological standard in which other limestone reef sites around the world are correlated (matched) for geologic dating purposes. These mountains were once the source of the largest springs in this part of Texas, Comanche Springs, which fed Comanche Creek. Unregulated diesel pumping of these springs for irrigation beginning in 1951 caused the springs and creek to dry up and cease all flow by March of 1961; this destroyed the habitat and life source for the Comanche Springs Pupfish (Cyprinodon elegans), which was listed as federally endangered in 1967.

This is true open country, a place where one can get lost and forget about the time. Such misplacement re-calibrates one’s internal compass, and if one listens, the land will tell a story more powerful than Hollywood or any New York Times bestseller author can craft.  It is in this Chihuahuan Desert country that the land that gave birth to legends like Judge Roy Bean, known as “The Law West of the Pecos” in the town of Langtry.  This sprawling terrestrial giant with a desert southwest climate has taken a merciless beating and seen innumerable death tolls for millennia; its story requires an open mind and a new way to listen, to pay attention to detail and an ability to savor the fleeting moments. Despite the big scenery that overwhelms most people, renders many silent, and intimidates those from big cities, it is the little things out here that matter most, for they are the foundations of this rugged and sometimes daunting land.

This is Far West Texas, a land that has so far escaped the damaging developments of the ubiquitous oil and gas industry.  It’s also the land “where the Rockies meet the Appalachians”, Patoski wrote, and is quickly becoming the last of the open country.

In the film Open Range, the character Boss Spearman takes a look at the wide open land before him and says to his friend, Beautiful country. A man can get lost out here, forget there’s people and things that ain’t so simple as this.” This is the land that makes a human being humble, and the modern hominid soon realizes he isn’t quite as evolved as he prides himself to be; that his society he has helped to shape by virtue of his work towards the common goal of “progress” is unable to match the scenery before him.

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