“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
-Ursula K. Le Guin
Over a century ago, The Bankhead Highway brought together communities, political figures, and economic forces to make Manifest Destiny possible for every person in America. It created the first all-weather, all-season route from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Days ago, the Machine and I set out to find what was left of the Bankhead Highway in Texas.
A forgotten road.
A lost road.
A dead road?
Past Pecos, The Bankhead is now the service road for Interstate 20. We glide along the side of the big road and less than highway speeds. We are in no hurry.
Toyah, Texas, a haunting ghost town. Remembered for acts of violence, an expressively spooky abandoned schoolhouse, and the temporary home of Amelia Earhart.
Toyah is also where the original Bankhead Highway bridge that crossed the Pecos River currently resides.
Today the bridge is located on private land but can be seen from the road.
Soon the Davis Mountains will appear. First soft, with a purple hue, against the southern horizon. Gradually the flat land begins to roll. Foothills introduce me to a change in elevation and the Mountains grow taller with each passing mile.
Decay exist all along the road, such as The Joker Coffee Shop.
The Joker harkens back to the day of classic midcentury America.
A time when colorful comradery would cumulate between patrons and waitresses. Inappropriate comments would linger in the air, mixing with the blue smoke of Marlboros and Winstons.
Vinyl booth cushions – thick with dirt and grime. Broken springs. Thick duct tape repairing the rips and tears.
A place of curious locals. Investigating out of state license plates with due suspicions.
Depraved ethos and morals from America’s greatest generation – I love it!
Below, an abandoned stretch of the road – slowing being reclaimed by Mother Nature in this harsh and arid climate.
Van Horn, Texas, at the crossroads of multiple National Parks.
A town who owes its life to the Texas and Pacific Railroad, my traveling buddy.
Van Horn is full of friendly folks, vintage lodging, and Chuy’s Restaurant home of the John Madden “Haul” of Fame.
The Historic El Capitan Hotel is located in Van Horn. The El Capitan’s sister property, The Hotel Paisano in Marfa, hosted the stars of the Hollywood production of Giant. The guests included Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean.
Lindsey’s Cafe was also in a movie.
The location was used in the 2005 film, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” starring Tommy Lee Jones. The iconic Sands sign has since been removed, but some memorabilia still exists inside.
Van Horn is a bit of an artsy town. Random sculptures and quirky art can be found all along Broadway, the Bankhead’s original route.
The Taylor Motel is one of several early 20th century courts. Serving the traveler with budget-friendly clean rooms with an attached garage.
West of Van Horn segments of the road appear – headed west on private property.
I take a moment to park and walk the road.
The dry morning air fills my lungs, easy to breathe. A cool north breeze creates a comfortable balance with the warm summer sun.
Desert grasses and yucca surround me, a world away from the pine trees, wild ferns, and assorted deciduous trees of East Texas.
Long stretches of pavement abandoned for decades, curving around the landscape, rising and falling with the topography of the earth.
Soon my path will drop into the Rio Grande Valley. Fertile lands where orchards thrive and produce an abundance of fruits.
I stop at the modern rest area. I view vast vistas of Texas, a view that has not changed in hundreds of years.
I pause to appreciate the determination of my forefathers.
In a time before service stations, cell phones, or bottled water, they would venture out into hostile and dangerous environments. Exploring, pathfinding, and creating, what would become one of the greatest system of roads the world has ever seen.
The Mountain Time Zone adds an hour to my life, I stop to spend it in Sierra Blanca, Texas.
The town is a collection of decay.
Random relicts, soon to be rubble, front the old Bankhead town’s Mainstreet.
The town is not Pop Star friendly.
Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Nelly, and Fiona Apple have all been arrested in the town of fewer than 600 residents.
Their crime, drug possession.
The “Sister Gift Shop and Rocks” is open and I decide to pay the store a visit. Inside I find a collection of random rocks and jewelry, trinkets and novelties, dusty odds, and broken ends.
I meet the shop’s owner, Rosenda.
We talk like long lost friends.
Two individuals in a lonely place, removed from time and existing within something greater. Something not of our making. Something we respond to. A world that we must respect. An entity we must exist in humbly, for it is too large and powerful to respond, or bow to us.
We chat about where we are going and where we have been. In only minutes I learn about her life, children, challenges, and successes. We ponder the changes that are inevitable and what lies ahead.
I wander out into the afternoon heat and she continues her business within her shop.
Sierra Blanca is a romantic West Texas ghost town.
Allamoore, Texas, in the 1988-89 school year had a total of three students – the smallest enrollment in Texas.
Below is a photo of the remnants of the Allamoore public school.
As close as I can get to the old road without being on private property is the service road. This allows me to adjust my pace and scan the roadside for the old road. I make frequent stops to enjoy the big sky and gorgeous views of the mountains that surround the huge valleys.
The services are few and far between. Many stops have limited services such as non-working gas pumps, empty shelves, and refrigerators void of beverages.
I turn south at Fort Hancock and head toward the border.
I will be on Texas Highway 20 all the way into El Paso. Within an arms reach of Mexican dirt and traveling through the most beautiful orchards in Texas, I meander in and out of Mexican culture and Texas agriculture, a balance that has existed for years.
Today green and white border patrol vehicles are perched along the road. Keeping an eye out of ner-do-wells.
El Paso. An international Texas city. An independent. Wild. Claimed by only those who live within its boundaries.
So here I am at Rosa Cantina. Over 900 hundred miles I have traveled. Changes in culture and climate, scenery and society, economics, and the environment.
An eclectic mix of people and places that all exist in Texas.
That cool morning days ago outside of Texarkana, Texas has brought me to this warm afternoon in El Paso.
Emotion hits me that my journey is over and I recall the first quote I borrowed from Henri Frederic Amiel – “The best path through life is the highway”. I asked if the best path through Texas the Bankhead?
Today, I declare that if you are not in a hurry to end your journey. If life is too short to rush through. If you think you could find a friend in an unfamiliar place.Iif there are things hidden in the trees that you would like to see. If the world is a large place that still has things to discover. Then yes, The Bankhead is the best path.
Thank you to all who experienced this journey with me. I hope that this will encourage you to set out on your own adventure to experience something new.