Crossing West Texas (and the Moo-Cow Blues)

“You just can’t live in Texas unless you’ve got a lot of soul.” – Waylon Jennings

I believe the hype: Texas is bigger and better than anyplace else. As we drive I-10 and listen to ‘Willie’s Place’ on Sirius Radio, I enjoy the long stretches of flat land and occasional hills, the seemingly abandoned towns, and the (today) raging ‘dry’ creek beds. I’m reminded of Texas pride, about people who recall,

“There is no denying that Lubbock is a wonderful town. That’s where Buddy Holly went to see Elvis!”*

I’ve got Texas in my blood. My grandparents were originally from Fort Worth, and Grandma Helen, shocked at my reluctance to attend LSU, reconsidered her support provided I choose a school ‘in San Antone,’ which I did.

It’s a state of big dreams and even bigger ideas, where my relatives, although dirt poor, named their children after American Presidents: Thomas Jefferson McClanahan, John Adams McClanahan, George Washington McClanahan and more. They lie alongside each other in the tiny town of Stephenville, their important names chiseled on their tombstones to impress future generations.

(pictured: Grave of Robert Clay Allison, 1840-1887, Pecos, Texas: “He never killed a man that did not need killing.”)

George and I drive across Texas at least once, usually twice, each year, taking one of two routes, with occasional detours if time permits. This week we took the southern route, a bit regretful to my mind (although I didn’t tell George), knowing we would miss the buried cadillacs, the Big Texan, and the smell of cattle in Amarillo, along with the junk shops and grain silos west of Wichita Falls in Vernon, Quanah, and Childress, their steel structures standing like some Bernd and Hilla Becher sight-seeing tour, stark and outlined against the moody Texas sky.

Those photos are for another day, however, because today we traveled George’s favorite route, from Houston to San Antonio to that pivotal (to his mind) Texas town located deep in the heart of nowhere: Fort Stockton.

In the seventeen summers that I’ve traveled across the country with George Rodrigue, I’ve probably spent more time than most American adventurers (truckers aside) with Fort Stockton as the long-distance driver’s nirvana. (pictured, photographing the swimming pool at the Fort Stockton Motel)

He speaks about it as though it’s a desired, dreamy destination, all because it’s where two highways meet, where our route inevitably turns north (so that we by-pass El Paso and, more important, Van Horn – a frequent stop on our northern route), where the cafes and motels never change, and most of all, because he likes to hear himself say it:

“Tomorrow we’ll get to Fort Stockton;” or “Let’s stop for gas in Fort Stockton;” or, “Remember that diner across from the old motel in Fort Stockton?”

People in Texas are extremely proud of their state, as though they can’t imagine why anyone would live outside of ‘the accommodating high 90’s,’ combined with the wafting smell of cattle. A homegrown Texan makes a person feel silly for preferring Honolulu over Kerrville, and they make fun of their own cities with an endearment reserved for locals:

“It’s so dry in Lubbock that the trees were chasing the dogs around.”*

George and I tell Texas stories in our truck. I reminisce about chasing tumbleweeds with my college roommate Debbie and her dad on the outskirts of El Paso:

“It was the first time I’d ever seen one! We left the car in the middle of the street and went running after this mass of twigs into the desert.”

George talks of his long drives on Route 66 back from Art Center in Los Angeles. He relives the dramatic visual change from Texas’s big sky to Louisiana’s tiny horizon, an observation that shaped his landscape approach and resulted in the ‘Rodrigue Oaks.’

We stop at Dairy Queen for coconut and pineapple blizzards, which we slurp down to the music of our favorite Texan, Waylon Jennings, sending us on another tangent, as we recall the day he died. Distraught, we hid our selves and our sadness from our house full of company. And in the laundry room amidst piles of separated clothes, we danced silently and slowly, before returning to our guests as though everything was fine:

“Amanda, light of my life.

Fate should have made you a gentleman’s wife.”

As we approached Santa Fe early this evening, after twenty hours on the road, the glowing light of our favorite time of day sent long, thin shadows from the short, fat pinon pines, checkering the red and green hills against the bluest sky in America.

I would write even more about our drive, but I’m distracted. We’ll be in Santa Fe for three nights, visiting friends and making memories, before moving on for a lengthy stay near Four Corners. Tonight, although exhausted, we tune in once again to Willie’s Place for a riveting special report, one they’ve touted for the past two days:

‘Runaway Truck Ramps: Are They Doing Their Job Correctly?’

Happy Trails-

Wendy (Walking across Texas?)

*Bill Mack, ‘Willie’s Place,’ Sirius Radio

Pictured throughout this post: Various screen proofs of Moo-Cow Blues, an original silkscreen by George Rodrigue, 1993

All photographs taken 6/29/10 by George Rodrigue (or by Wendy, directed by George)

For George’s history and paintings inspired by Santa Fe, see the post Rosalea Murphy, the Pink Adobe, and Paintings of Evergreen Lake

For more on our hopelessly politically incorrect truck, see the post, If Not Painting, Then Cars.

Coming this Saturday: “America the Beautiful: Crossing New Mexico and Arizona”

13 thoughts on “Crossing West Texas (and the Moo-Cow Blues)

  1. Wendy, for a moment I feel like I am in Texas. You have a way with words and stirring the sweet memory of my drives across TEXAS! Instead of Wisconsin I will be in Texas, at least for now. Laife

  2. I hope you've stopped by your alma mater in the past few years. They've changed the landscape quite a bit. Happy trails and good weather!

  3. You tell your stories like we are there with you. Thank you! How about sharing some memories of traveling through Arizona…especially the high country. I live in Flagstaff now, but New Orleans was my home for more than 30 years…til Katrina. You are fortunate indeed to travel the country and share your impressions.

  4. I love this story. Always had a pull on my conscience to see and experience the West. Finally had my chance because my husband is a truckdriver..we took our time so I could experience standing in that vast West Texas desert and gaze up into the stars. So I could gather a rock or two to bring back, so I could take pictures. I fell in love and now understand why so many other's do too. only if you have time to look. There is so much more to capture. Hoping to go next week to Yuma. Want to see the buried Cadillacs. Love your husband's work and now will save your blog for future reading.

  5. You tell your stories like we were there with you. Thank you! How about sharing some memories of traveling through Arizona…especially the high country. I live in Flagstaff these last 5 years. New Orleans was my home for more than 30 years until Katrina. You are so fortunate to be able to travel the country, sharing your impressions.

  6. Wendy,
    I love to hear your stories..I grew up in Illinois and moved to El Paso because of my husband's job in 1990…I did not want to leave my family behind, but I too grew to love the smell in the air, the sky, the people and the food. If you are ever near Anthony, New Mexico visit the State Line resturant..great food.
    Have a great trip and yes I love New Mexico even more…

  7. Well thank you so much everyone for these wonderful comments! I'm glad to hear that our love of West Texas is not an oddity — seems more like a trend, in fact! We hit the road again tomorrow on our way to Utah, so more to come —

    I truly appreciate your taking the time to read these ramblings and to comment on top of it-

  8. Love "listening" to you write.
    I wish I could have met you somewhere in San Antonio to give you a hug.
    Keep writing.

  9. Wendy-

    Enjoyed your tales of West Texas. My husband is from Fort Stockton; therefore, I enjoyed the photo of George with Paisano Pete. And I am from Big Lake…42 miles north of Ozona. We are West Texas transplants living in Lafayette. My brother is a Blue Dog collector. He fell in love with them at your gallery in Santa Fe with he was doing his residency in El Paso. We just returned from his home in Dallas where I had the chance to admire his Blue Dog gallery. My eight year-old wants to do his room in Blue Dog…we will see about that. Anyways, I am new to reading your blog…and I am certainly enjoying it… Happy Trails to You!!! Wendi

  10. Thank you, Wendi! George and I got a real kick out of your comments. All of these years passing through Fort Stockton, and your husband might be our closest 'hometown' connection —- and you live in Lafayette at that. Thank you for writing in. And please thank your brother and son for their Blue Dog enthusiasm. Always nice to hear about fans-

  11. Well, we might have to talk to George about how to make that eight year-old's room come to be… We were getting tires at Sam's the other day. I noticed that the clerk had a new Blue Dog pin on her lanyard. I commented on the pin. She told me how George came in to get tires and he gave that to her along with some other things. He seems to have a gracious demeanor. We gleem into the gallery window everytime we eat at Hub City. And the eight year-old's (Jett's) favorite place to eat is Blue Dog Cafe. Wendi

  12. Wendy, so enjoyed reading this blog which mirrored a couple of driving trips that I've taken from Florida to Arizona. My first exposure to your husband's artwork was sheer chance. Had arrived in Lafayette and hated the hotel I'd reserved via the Internet so drove around trying to find something better. Drove past the Blue Dog restaurant, did a huge double take, checked into the comfy Hilton and then went back to the restaurant for dinner. It was such a treat! On another drive I also stayed overnight in Fort Stockton and felt quite thrilled with myself for being, as I thought of it, so far away from all that was familiar and in this little town out in the middle of nowhere. Took photos of the trains similar to the one your husband took….. Enjoyed reading your description of why you and Mr. Rodrigue took those trips every year. It is not only wonderful to get out into those wide open spaces but the images that we come away with are simply worth their weight in gold.

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