“You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas!” Davy Crockett famously once angrily said after losing his Tennessee bid for the U.S. Congress. I'll be joining Davy next month when I take a road trip to West Texas, another research pilgrimage to Texas west of the Pecos as I prepare to write the second book in the Owen Wolfe Mysteries series.
West Texas has always been one of my favorite parts of the Lone Star state. I love wonder and there is wonder galore to be discovered in West Texas. There is just something about West Texas that slaps you across the face, leaving you slack-jawed and dumbfounded. If you love wide open spaces, breathtaking desert landscape views, and big skies, there is no doubt you would enjoy the road trip I have planned.
West Texas Defined
West Texas is a loosely defined part of Texas, generally encompassing the arid and semiarid lands west of a line drawn between the cities of Wichita Falls, Abilene, and Del Rio. There is no real consensus on the boundary between East Texas and West Texas. While most Texans understand the terms, no boundaries are officially recognized and any two individuals are likely to describe the boundaries of these regions differently. Texas writer A.C. Greene once proposed that West Texas is the region west of the Brazos River. I find that definition works as well as any.
West Texas Sub-Regions
To make things even more confusing, West Texas is also subdivided according to distinct physio-graphic features. The portion of West Texas that lies west of the Pecos River is often referred to as the "Trans-Pecos," a term first introduced in 1887 by Texas geologist Robert T. Hill. The Trans-Pecos lies within the Chihuahuan Desert, the most arid portion of the state.
Another part of West Texas is the Llano Estacado, the "staked plains," a vast region of high, level plains extending into Eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. To the east of the Llano Estacado lies the “redbed country” of the Rolling Plains and to the south of the Llano Estacado lies the Edwards Plateau. The Rolling Plains and the Edwards Plateau sub-regions act as transitional zones between eastern and western Texas.
My trip will take me to the Trans-Pecos region, mostly to Presidio County with side trips to neighboring Jeff David and Brewster Counties. Presidio County is the main inspiration behind the fictional Perdido County in the Owen Wolfe series. I'll be visiting the towns of Fort Davis, Marfa, Alpine, and Presidio.
The namesake of Fort Davis, is the Fort Davis frontier post, which played a key role in the history of the Southwest as part of the defense system of western Texas from 1854 until 1891. Cavalry troopers stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the historic San Antonio-El Paso Road hoping to reach the gold fields of California. Today, the Fort Davis National Historic Site operated by the National Parks Service is considered one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest.
Marfa is a tiny Texas town tucked away in Presidio County in the Chihuahuan Desert of far west Texas. Because Marfa is almost literally in the middle of nowhere, a three-hour drive from the nearest airport, the town remains slightly mysterious since it's not as readily accessible as other popular Texas travel destinations. The mystery only serves to add to its wonder.
Marfa is a curious mixture of displaced writers and artists from place like New York City and L.A., and down-to-earth Texans looking to resurrect the back-to-the-basics lifestyle mentality.
Marfa offers unobstructed views that go on for miles and a west Texas sunset that's the stuff of Instagram dreams. The horizon that stretches on for miles is what draws creative folks from all over the United States and the world to Marfa.
A thriving art scene has come to define the town since 1986 when artist Donald Judd opened The Chinati Foundation. The foundation sits on 340 acres of land on the site of the former Fort D.A. Russell. It features two of Judd's most famous works and also showcases pieces from eleven other artists like Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, and Roni Horn.
People say that Marfa is a completely unique place, ever changing but still remaining the same in important ways small towns tend to do. The town (pop. 2,000) is a mix of old and new, classic and modern. There are laid back cafes and modern art exhibits, hundred-year-old ranches and trendy food trucks.
The Trans-Pecos, far west Texas, whatever you wish to call the sprawling, wide-open landscape, some in the region consider Alpine its undisputed capital. Alpine is the county seat of Brewster County, which is bigger than Connecticut and three times the size of Delaware. It’s the largest town (pop. 6,054) in the region, the Big Bend’s Amtrak train stop, and the home of Sul Ross State University. Located in the high desert mountains, Alpine is considered one of the very best places in Texas to pass the summer. There are warm days, afternoon summer monsoon showers, and nights cool enough for sweaters.
Presidio often gets overlooked by West Texas tourists. To the north is Marfa, the bougie oasis frequented by the likes of Beyoncé and throngs of tourists. To the southeast is Big Bend National Park, an 800,000-acre geological marvel that offers stunning views of the desert. Presidio, wedged between them, is usually just a stop along the way.
Situated on the US-Mexico border across from its Mexican sister city Ojinaga, border town Presidio (pop. 4,099), is a place in a state of perpetual flux. Established in 1683 (as La Junta), it embodies what many seem to misunderstand about the border area—that both sides are inextricably linked. That neither is uniquely American, Texan, or Mexican but rather a composite of all three.
In Presidio you see that in the way the residents speak, and in the trickle of people who cross the international Port of Entry on foot each day. Presidio is not only steps from Mexico, it's a step toward understanding the border region in all its amazing complexity.
It will be good to be back in West Texas again after a hiatus of several years. It will provide me some fresh memories to draw on while writing the Owen Wolfe series. And, beyond seeing some amazing panoramic views of the rugged high desert landscape, and the enjoyment of some great Tex-Mex food and cold beer, I'm sure to meet some wonderful West Texans who I'm sure will find their way onto the pages of an Owen Wolfe novel.
Watch the Official Perdido County Trailer on YouTube!