Prohibition – that is what I am talking about. Gin tasted sweeter, drunk was more drunken, and hang-overs didn’t hurt.
Outlaws were admired, cops were Keystone, and gambling was found behind hidden doors – fun!
Roads were being built and tourism became an economy.
Tourist camps, hotels and motels supplied the needed respite for souls journeying toward the God given right of Manifest Destiny.
Ah – the 1920’s – the decade that Texarkana, Texas, aspired to raise a grand hotel along the Texas and Arkansas state line.
The Hotel Grim would be spectacular and a spectacle.
The architectural firm of Mann and Stern, while borrowing heavily from the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, designed an impressive structure, grand in a subtle way. A variety of building material inside and out created, somehow, a seamless, and elegant structure loaded with 90-degree angles – final cost 700,000 – yes, in 1925 dollars.
Guest could dine on the roof top – a dining room and garden, eight stories high, towering above the debauchery below.
The Grim, or so the legend goes, was a haven for illegal gambling. There are also rumors of an elaborate tunnel system below the town – allowing for a convenient transport of women and whisky – and the tunnels terminus, always the Grim.
Her sins aside, the Grim lasted until 1990, better that what can be said for other hotels of the day – hopefully Texarkana found around 11,000 dollars a year worth of use from the hotel.
For thirty years the hotel was vandalized by mother nature and vagrants, teenagers and time. Ceilings collapsed and floors caved, as the once grand hotel became an eyesore.
Today – revitalization of downtown Texarkana is bringing the Grim back – well kind-of. Texarkana is not planning a luxury hotel but affordable apartment.
Never-the-less, Grim will be operating again and that is more that I can say about other hotels of the day.
Ted Stiger, by accident, created an iconic roadside oasis in the desert. The Buckhorn Baths in Mesa, Arizona, a mecca that denounced segregation, lured Hollywood stars, played host to the political elite, and arguably developed the Cactus League. Ted’s relationship with baseball ushered in the spring training of Americans favorite pastime to the East Valley – and all he did was dig a well.
Arizona was a no-mans-land for centuries, an arid desert, a harsh environment that few called home until the Granite Reef Dam’s construction. Completed in 1908, this early 20th-century engineering marvel on the Salt River diverted water via irrigation canals to Phoenix, allowing growth and development. Soon after, in 1911, the Roosevelt Dam was constructed, providing the valley with affordable electricity.
While Phoenix thrived with its new wealth of utilities, America was on the move. The pursuit of mapping all-season and all-weather roads was in full swing. Routes such as the Bankhead Highway, Dixie Overland Highway, Old Spanish Trail, and U.S. Highway 80 trudged west, each claiming the title coast-to-coast.
Soon travelers filled the roadways. Cars needed gas, passengers needed groceries, resulting in mom and pop shops popping up all along the newly formed transcontinental routes. In 1936, Ted and Alice Sliger purchased a parcel of property just east of Phoenix in Mesa, Arizona, a purchase that would set in motion a series of events that would culminate into the development of the Buckhorn Baths. Initially, the couple’s space was occupied by a store, a gas station; in addition to these, Ted found space to display his extensive taxidermy collection.
By 1938 business was good, but there was a problem. Ted had to have water delivered, and with an increase in traffic and patrons, this was becoming impractical. Ted set out to dig a well to find some water beneath his feet. Ted did find water, but not water worth drinking; Ted opened a 120 degrees mineral-rich water well. Water that, at the time, was believed to have healing powers. Understanding the unique opportunity flowing under their feet, the two built a 27 stone tub bathhouse that could serve 75 guests per day, added cottages, and ultimately employed a staff of 25.
The Cactus League Bill Veeck, who owned a ranch in Arizona, purchased the Cleveland Indians in 1946. Veeck also intended to introduce African American players to his roster. This would be problematic during spring training in Florida, where Jim Crow Laws still subjected African Americans to sever discrimination; he chose to move spring training to Arizona. The big issue with this move was that there would be no other teams to play during spring training; Cleveland needed another Arizona team during the spring. Horace Stoneham, the hands-on owner of the New York Giants, also wintered in Arizona. And as legend has it moved the Giants spring training to Arizona the day he discovered the Buckhorn Baths and the healing waters. The Giants would call the Buckhorn Baths home each spring for the next 25 years. Legends such as Ty Cobb and Willie Mays would soak in the mineral baths, wander the grounds, and enjoy the mild desert winters.
During a time of racial inequality, The Buckhorn welcomed all players of all colors, allowing the team to stay together on site, something that was not allowed in Florida.
Today, fifteen professional baseball teams call the Phoenix area home during the Cactus League’s season.
Ted passed away in 1984; although it had been decades since the Buckhorn was the Giants’ home base, the baths were still opened and operated along with the motel and the museum, by his wife, Alice.
With Alice at the helm, she drew the last bath in 1999. The motel and museum shuttered around 2005. On November 10, 2010, Alice passed away at 103 years of age.
Today the Buckhorn Baths stand abandoned but well preserved. The mineral-rich still flows through the pipes. A roadside gem. A collection of Americana history.
Your source for Bankhead Highway news and information – Texas’ section.
What is inside this month…
TabacrossTexas just completed the entire Texas’ Bankhead Highway Route. In eight days, we covered over 900 miles slow and easy, taking in as much as we could, while we stayed as true to the original century-old alignment as we could.
This month’s newsletter is dedicated to some of the unique stops and individuals we discovered while we Crossed the State in Eight.
Bankhead Highway People.
Rosenda – Sierra Blanca, Texas.
An opened door in a dead town.
Sierra Blanca is, less of a town, more of a collection of decay.
Random relicts, soon to be rubble, front the old Bankhead town’s Mainstreet.
The Sister Gift Shop and Rocks sit between long abandoned and forgotten theatres and gas stations.
Wistful Warm West Wind carries tumbleweeds through forgotten streets. Dry air has mummified the stone and steel, prolonging the deterioration process. Terracotta colored streets flow into warm stucco-covered buildings whose facade is cracked, exposing the masonry beneath.
Inside the opened narrow entry, I meet Rosenda.
We talk like long lost friends.
Two individuals in a lonely place. Removed, temporarily, from time.
Two individuals exchanging personal information. Sharing as if we were the last two souls on earth.
We could be the last to souls in Sierra Blanca, Texas.
The shop is full of random rocks and jewelry, trinkets and novelties, dusty odds and broken ends.
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 stand in the middle of the road. Overwhelmed with the insignificance of things thought as important, realizing those things that are precious. Things miles away but still as close as a thought.
Bob Stogsdill – Strawn, Texas.
Bob Stogsdill repainted Strawn’s Bankhead Hotel sign. His time and patience brought the old hotel back to its former glory. Well, at least the hotel’s sign. One can find Bob in the Strawn community museum.
Bob is a great guy that will enjoy discussing the history of Strawn and the Bankhead with any ear that will listen.
Eastland Texas – Keeping the Bankhead Highway alive.
Eastland, Texas, has taken the initiative to support the Bankhead Highway by placing BH banners around the courthouse square.
I, for one, hope the signage and discourse about the Bankhead Highway push more heritage tourists, and adventurers, out of their homes and onto the old road.
Within the walls of that Eastland County courthouse, one will find Old Rip. A resurrection story of a Phrynosoma.
Epicurian Exelence in Brashear, Texas
No menu – just tell Betty what you like.
Located only a couple of miles beyond Sulphur Springs city limits is Brashear, Texas. Brashear was founded in 1868 and its population has declined ever since.
Recently, a California transplant has opened shop in the old Brashear Country Store. Betty is the chief chef and pot scrubber of the most relaxed restaurant in all of Texas.
Betty is not shy in her presentation of self or food. She creates larger than life plates that impress.
What does Rockwall, Texas, offer a Bankhead Highway tourist?
Some great old submerged bridges and an incredible 1922 railroad bridge and a great microbrewery on Mainstreet.
Mineral Wells, Texas.
The Laumdronat – Washing Machine Museum.
How fun is this. Wash clothes and learn about the history of washing clothes.
It is not just antique washers on display, cases line the walls with trinkets and wonders of the washateria, including this hanger dispenser.
Next month we will highlight more places we discovered on our Across the State in Eight trip.
Thanks for following along.
Want to learn more about the Bankhead Highway in Texas?
If you are interested in learning more about the Bankhead Highway in Texas, be sure to get a copy of Dan SMith’s book
Next month we will continue to focus on the people and places that make a Bankhead journey special.
We also are working on a trip itinerary for the Bankhead Highway. Our intention is to create a guide that will help the traveler discover some incredible people, places, and things along the Bankhead route.Please follow tabacrosstexas.com to stay up on Bankhead Highway News. Links below.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”
Solo motorcycle touring in vast unpopulated areas can seem daunting. The what-ifs, and what then, circulate in my mind.
The Machine’s sounds have become so familiar to my ear.
I find a rhythm in the ticks and bings. While chugging in the jugs and pops in the pipes, fill out the rest of the melody.
A mile at a time we take it, me and the Machine. Neither expecting any more from each other than what we are.
To hell with the what-ifs, westward.
Bankhead signs aplenty.
This one next to a cemetery on the route into Colorado city.
The Colorado Hotel, aka The Baker. While not as grandiose as the other Baker properties she still has an attraction, at least to me.
Read more about the Colorado City, Baker, Hotel here.
Outside of Colorado City, Texas, the KVMC radio, larger than life mic is partnered up with a Bankhead Highway sign. Follow the link below to learn more about this history of this station and its owner.
Big Spring, Texas, is a nightlife town. Great restaurants and bars sit below the Hotel Settles.
I still claim that Lumbre has the best fish tacos on the planet.
A stop at the oldest Harley Davidson dealership in Texas, that just happens to be right on the Bankhead Highway.
Keep an eye out for Quanah Parker Arrows along the route.
This area of Texas was known as Comancheria. The Comanche occupied this land for 100s of years.
Anglo settlers began to tame the wild west by relocating the Native Americans to reservation lands. This was a time of change for the Kiowa and Comanche.
Quanah Parker became a great leader of the Comanches during this time of transition. Quanah assimilated while maintaining his Comanche culture. He bipartisanly negotiated with Anglos and Native Americans to develop mutually beneficial understandings.
Several of these arrows, celebrating Quanah Parker, can be found in Bankhead Highway towns.
Right off the Bankhead Highway route is the childhood home of President George W. Bush, in Midland. I guess it would have also been President Bush’s, President Bush’s dad’s, home as well.
I find a great one-stop-shop on the route in Odessa, Texas.
Midland and Odessa are full of great sights. Vintage motels line the route as well as museums and shops.
I continue on down the Bankhead.
Just west of Odessa, the Machine and I fall off the Caprock. A dramatic difference in landscape and flora.
Now it seems like a desert.
There is my sign. Right next to my tried and true railroad track.
The Monahans Sand Dunes collect just north of my path. The sand dunes are home to the world’s largest, smallest, oak tree forest.
The forest is over 40,000 acres and the trees are not more than three feet tall.
“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”
The Bankhead Highway route out of Mineral Wells is the gateway to the Palo Pinto Mountains – well hills. A beautiful country where springs fed creeks that flow into the Brazos River, supplying life to the balanced collection of arid and semiarid flora throughout the region.
This was Native American land. Kiowa and Comanche roamed this section of Texas for centuries. Many nations tried to tame Comancharia and many failed.
Today the area is calm. Ranchers have staked and claimed the land, posting up the consequences for being on the wrong side of the fence.
Palo Pinto is named after a tree, a tree with spots. It is also the county seat of Palo Pinto County. Aside from the courthouse and other government offices are a few remnants of the old Bankhead Highway such as this Sinclair Station.
A number of Bankhead bridges still can be found in Palo Pinto, many with original glass marbles embedded in the cement. These were used as reflectors in the early 1920s.
On to Strawn, Texas. Home of the “world’s best” chicken-fried steak.
The Bankhead Hotel was built in the early 1920s on the Bankhead Highway in Strawn, Texas.
A 1924 photo can be found at the Strawn community museum of the bricks being hand-laid in front of the hotel.
Bob Stogsdill recently repainted the Bankhead Hotel sign. I found Bob in the museum and we spoke about the history of Strawn.
Many of these Bankhead Highway towns’ histories are kept in the minds of residents. When one of these little museums are open, they are worth a stop. The simple experience of sharing experiences is worth the time spent.
The Machine. Sitting pretty on 96-year-old road.
Now about that, “World’s Best Chicken-fried Steak”.
Mary’s has made that claim and by the number of cars and motorcycles in the parking lot – she might be right.
Ranger, Texas, is coming up next.
I have made a decision to travel about ten miles of interstate and check out a roadside rest area that is also a bit of a Bankhead Highway Museum.
Before I get there I see progress, or more precisely the evolution, of the Bankhead Highway. If you look to the right you see a little road “snaking” to the right side of the hill, which is the original Bankhead Highway.
As we created larger machines to make greater cuts, the four-lane grey road just next to the old route was built. For years this hill of I-20 caused headaches for tractor-trailers as they struggled up the incline.
Today, man and machine have all but flattened the hill. On the left is the new road: quicker, faster, safer.
At the top, I find the roadside rest area I am looking for. A section of original pavement along with the appropriate markers makes an ideal spot to let fido do his business. Watch your step – rattlesnakes and dog dung may be in the area.
Inside the rest area is a great group of exhibits discussing the Bankhead Highway.
On to Ranger, Texas, to ride some vintage brick pavement.
These bricks were laid for a reason. Ranger was an oil boomtown. Fortunes were made overnight and with the wealth came the population.
Ranger was busy with oil field workers running up and down the dirt streets around the clock. Soon Ranger, Texas, was stuck in the mud.
No fear. Thurber, Texas, now a ghost town, and a stones throw from Ranger, had 800 workers producing 80,000 bricks per day. The decision was easy to build those streets with brick.
Today the Machine is riding on some of those brick.
I make my way into Eastland and find that the town is supporting the old highway with some Bankhead Banners around the courthouse square.
Within the walls of that courthouse, one will find Eastland’s claim to fame, Old Rip. The zombie horned toad that visited the White House. Today his body “Lies in State” within the walls of the local government building.
In a more modest and traditional postmortem plot, one will find Josiah Gordon “Doc” Scurlock. A cowboy and gunfighter, he is remembered as a founding member of the Regulators.
Scurlock rode with Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County Wars in New Mexico.
Scurlock died in 1929 at the age of 80 and is buried in the Eastland City Cemetery.
A vintage stop sign on the courthouse square.
Tons of brick roads, I am not tired of them yet.
In downtown Cisco, I pull into the Mobley Hotel. This hotel was Conrad Hilton’s first hotel. Today it serves as the Chamber of Commerce, although there are period correct rooms to view, it does not provide accommodations for today’s travelers.
Santa Clause robbed a bank on Christmas in Cisco. Google it. Very interesting story.
The bank and the historical marker.
West of Cisco, I take FM 2945, not sure if it is the right road. Quickly, I find that it is.
Again, the Bankhead Bridges don’t change.
This viaduct reassured me that I was on the right route. This rise in the road is to allow the train to pass without interference in travel.
Originally it would have the Texas and Pacific Rail Road running beneath the Bankhead route. We will get into more of that in the days to come.
The next town is Baird, Texas.
Crispy Cold Fruits and Vegetables. A vintage grocers’ prized possession, today scrap.
Couldn’t find that discount beer either. Deceptive.
I take Finley Road out of Baird. A mixture of pavement, dirt, and rock. The Machine stays under 20 miles per hour and in second gear.
I begin to wonder if I have made a mistake taking this section of Bankhead’s alignment.
This road pays off big.
We have stumbled upon a worn and weathered, beat and broken, severed and shattered, cracked and crumbling, beautiful bridge.
Rebar rise from the torn towers of the railing like exposed nerves. Hunks of the structure lay below in the shallow creek.
Still firm it stands, serving the purpose it was built to do, take travelers west down the Bankhead Highway.
The all-weather, all-season, all condition road.
I will end Across the State in Eight (part 5) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with a pour, again, from Cisco’s own Red Gap Brewing “1878 Lager”.
Stay tuned for part 6 of the Bankhead adventure. Please like and share the Facebook posts.
About halfway there.
Please join us on our ride. Feel free to follow on Instagram and Facebook – links on this page. Thanks.
“The best path through life is the highway.” – Henri Frederic Amiel
Is the best path through Texas the Bankhead Highway?
Today the journey begins and maybe, when complete, I can answer that question.
A chilly morning in Texarkana, Texas, and I attempt to get some shots of the Machine in downtown.
Texarkana is still asleep and I decide not to wake her.
Texarkana is a town on the brink of rebirth. A resurgence can be felt all around. The discovery of something old and interesting by the heritage tourist and urban explorers.
Effort all around the community excite the aging stone and iron, stirring the soul of the town that produced “The Father of Ragtime”, Scott Joplin.
Revitalization, no longer lip service, as crews, scaffolds, and engineers rework, redesigned, and reward a downtown that had fallen on hard times.
I drop by the Harley Davidson dealer and they are busy jockeying bikes. I discuss my trip’s plans with an interested employee. Before the conversation turns to bike purchasing I decide to get on my way.
Today will be a short day in the mileage sense. The point is not to get from A to B, it is to find a lost highway, The Bankhead Highway.
I have no plans to continue any further than Sulphur Springs, Texas, during today’s ride. This entire journey will be a slow ride, visiting towns, looking, listening, an attempt to find the pulse of the Bankhead Highway.
I know it exists, I know this road is alive.
Quickly outside of Texarkana I pick up “Old Redwater Road”
Old Redwater Road is original Bankhead Highway alignment. The road’s purpose today is to service a handful of homes and shade the motorcycle traveler with a canopy of trees.
As I travel toward Maud, Texas, I begin to see the old original Bankhead hidden in the trees only feet from the current pavement of Hwy 67.
Century old bridges and asphalt partially hidden in plain sight. I scout for a way to access the old road. Soon I find the spot.
The condition of the abandoned roadway is a testament to the longevity of the skilled craftsmen’s construction.
Maud’s main street still carries the name Broadway. An homage to the Bankhead Highway’s nickname, The Broadway of America.
From Maud, I turn south on Texas 8 toward Douglassville.
Deep in the trees of East Texas I pause to appreciate the colors of spring. A mixture of pine and oak crowd but do not overtake the needed space, nutrients, or sunlight from one another, while clusters of wildflower collectively create colorful roadside tussie-mussie.
I roll into Naples, Texas, nestle the Machine up next to a curb and look for a place to grab a cup of coffee. Unsure that I will find success in this small Bankhead town, I am pleased when I stumble upon Chartier’s Wine and Coffee Bar.
Chartier’s proprietors, Dennis and Connie Chartier, have built a comfortable cafe that was an unexpected surprise to find in Athens. While I enjoyed the coffee, I was able to learn more about the Bankhead Highway, a subject in which the Chartiers are well versed.
From Athens I find more original Bankhead Highway. One can tell the Bankhead by the bridges. The same style of bridge was used all the way across Texas. In the upcoming days the Machine and I will cross many original Bankhead bridges.
The old Bankhead route is incredibly, and surprisingly, smooth. A very relaxing ride.
Mount Pleasant and Mount Vernon, come quickly. I make my way to the historical museum in Mount Vernon, Texas.
Mount Vernon was home to Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Don Meredith. The museum has an excellent exhibit with many personal items from the Dallas Cowboy’s legend.
The museum also has a permanent exhibit of bird eggs. A unique collection that contains eggs from extinct birds.
While picking up some “road” food I found the local convenience store celebrating both Meredith and the Bankhead Highway.
I will end Across the State in Eight (part 2) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with a pour for Sulphur Springs own Backstory Brewery’s “Blonde Blood Orange”.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Bankhead adventure that will take us into Sulphur Springs, Texas, a dynamic East Texas community. We will visit a micro brewery and unique attractions before continuing on into Greenville and the big cities of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Warm and cold air mixed last night. The sky wrote messages of love as the electrons and protons showed their attraction to each other. Air rose and fell, uplift, downdraft, strong, weak, hot and cold. Energy.
Today the air is cool and a strong north wind will keep my machine dancing all over the road as we begin our adventure down the Bankhead Highway.
Before this journey can begin we, the machine and I, must get to the starting point. In Texas the Bankhead starting point is Texarkana, Texas.
Today will be spent quickly, and safely, navigating space between tractors and trailers, UPS and FedEx, vans, parents, pets and wildlife.
Texarkana, emotional mile marker one for the machine and I. In the upcoming days we will cover almost 900 miles, four regions of climate and geographic change, revitalization, decomposition, long tall tales, colorful characters, myth and legend.
Our guide is Dan Smith book Texas Highway No. 1 – The Bankhead Highway in Texas. I will attempt to follow the maps as close as possible, staying true to the actual “original” route.
Tomorrow is a big day. The start of an epic journey across the State of Texas. A toast to the unknown with a pour of Texarkana’s own Pecan Point brewery’s “State Line Blonde”.
Heading west through the heat of a Texas sun with a destination north of El Paso in the Chihuahua Desert. Leaving behind what most school teachers hold dear, the summer, I pass through small towns and upper elevation villages until the two lane crests and I begin my descent into the Tularosa Basin. The purpose of this summer sacrifice – White Sands National Monument. The NPS has allowed me the privilege of working as a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher for the next 8 weeks. The time is intended to be a mutual benefit to both parties. Gravities’ pull accelerates me down the final miles to the entrance of the monument. The monument’s adobe visitor’s center sits baking in the sun while the basins surrounding mountains are veiled in a haze. I set up my camper and eagerly await the next day’s realizations.
National parks and monuments, too many visitors, are the scaffolding of an all-American road trip. These natural backdrops for Kodak moments provide grand itineraries to trip planners and fill the lines of life’s list destinations. For many years, I held the same tourist approach to the purpose of the National Park Service’s unique lands and monuments. I was unaware that these areas of beauty and awe held far more valuable lessons in environmental appreciation and emotional connection to nature until I was immersed in the NPS.
My awareness of NPS themes, or purpose, came through my participation in the Teacher-Ranger- Teacher program of the NPS. This program allows classroom teachers to work in a national park or national monument for 8 weeks during the summer. During this time I determined the NPS, just as a teacher, is attempting to make connections with people. I began to see WHSA as a classroom, a wonderland of geology, biology, and ecology. White Sands National Monument is an environment where adaptations occur before the eye and Earth’s cycles perform as if on stage. As a TRT I was able to entangle myself in these plays for the majority of the summer. This genuine experience showed me a purpose to the NPS I was unaware of, an incredible educational resource.
My experience has helped me not only as a teacher but a visitor to our national parks. My family and I will no longer be the “30 minute” tourist. We will stop and stay longer and instead of just taking the iconic photo or seeing the must see attraction, we will listen to a ranger talk or go on a guided hike. We will attempt to interpret the park on a personal level. This new purpose to our travels will allow a better connection to “our” national parks and monuments.
As my summer TRT experience comes to an end and I head east toward home. My vehicle struggles up the Sacramento Mountains one last time, I turn and look down upon the Tularosa Basin – I now know that when a visitor looks upon Whites Sands National Monument in the right light, at that particular time of day, when the mind is full of wonder and curiosity, that he will see the gypsum infused water flowing into Lake Lucero and evaporating just as quickly while the temperature, water, and wind relentlessly weathers and breaks down the selenite crystals into smaller and smaller pieces creating the sea of soft white waves.