Exploring The Vastness of West Texas With a Nissan Titan XD
Nursing a cup of hot “dark-roast”, dialing the SXM radio to Willie’s Roadhouse, and setting the cruise control to warp speed (we were in Texas), we headed east into the cloud laced blue West Texas sky. Suffice it to say, “Every morning should be as good as this!” The genesis of our poking around this landscape was based on having just seen the latest Jeff Bridges flick (Hell and High Water – good movie). Awed by the way West Texas appears on screen (this is where the movie’s scenario takes place) we had to check-it-out! “Could this country really be,” we asked ourselves, “as raw and foreboding as it’s portrayed in this modern day Western shoot-um up?” Long story short, IT’S NOT!
In fact the movie was not filmed in Texas (which does a lot of “splaining”) and what we found here just below the Texas Panhandle was majesty; beauty; a land possessed by history (both modern as well as right out of The Old West); and friendly down-to-earth folk. More specifically Lubbock, TX and the area around it have much to offer and bottom line is it needs be on the “bucket list” of anyone who’s lured by the unique slices of culture only the American West offers.
Our ride (a 2016 Nissan Titan XD Platinum Reserve) made it a pleasure to navigate both the “wide open spaces” and the big city streets of Lubbock. In an area of America that appears to be dominated by Ford, GM, and Ram trucks, the Titan was like the “new kid on the block”. It turned lots of heads (many crowned with ten-gallon fedoras), and triggered questions by curious ranchers whose life blood is the pickup truck. The engine sequestered beneath the massive hood on our Titan was a 5.6L gas V-8, and the transmission a 7-speed automatic with on-the-fly 4WD. The crew cab comfortably hosts three Texas size adults in its spacious rear seat and two more up front. The curb weight of the Platinum is 6770 lbs., its GVWR 8650 lbs. and the GCWR 17770 lbs. Total distance traveled driving the back roads of West Texas was five-hundred miles, with hwy / city driving averaging 15.9 mpg and steady-state highway operation yielding a respectable 18.8 mpg. The MSRP of this Magnetic Black beauty was $55,000 and some change.
Lubbock makes an excellent base camp for exploring. The city has much to offer while the wide open spaces that surround it are dotted with huge cattle ranches, ghost towns (easily reached), miles and miles of cotton fields, bunches-and-groups of outdoor recreation sites, pristine bad-lands, and small ranch and farm communities. Texas Tech University (with its 35,000 matriculating students) is a lynch pin for Lubbock which means West Texas is as sophisticated as any place in the world. What is pleasantly surprising is that this learned community and its cultivated sophistication have not come at the expense of the “cowboy” and the “West Texas” heritage of which they are so proud. A cutting edge venue for higher learning (an undergraduate university, law school, and medical school), Texas Tech also has attractions that are free and open to the public.
One such place is the Texas Tech Public Art Collection (huge) and right next door is the National Ranching Heritage Center where the history and story of ranching in America is told and celebrated. Old ranch buildings dating back to the 1700’s when first the Spanish and then Mexican Vaqueros (early 1800’s) were at “home-on-the range”, have been moved to the Center and restored to their original condition. They honor a cowboy-way-of-life that continues to fascinate and influence America as well as the entire world.
A college town, Lubbock’s eclectic music scene is matched by bistros, watering holes, and art galleries (everything from Western to Modern). The old Cactus Theater built back in 1938 is fully restored and today it’s a focal point where live regional, national and international music groups perform. Everything from Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys music, to the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac are featured. The beauty of the old Art Deco marquis that fronts this concert hall looks the same as it did back-in-the day when it fronted a movie house that provided one of the few respites available to those struggling through the difficult, difficult days of the Great Depression.
When a performance at the Cactus Theater ends the party continues in the Depot Entertainment District. For the music history buff Lubbock is the home of Buddy Holly and stopping by the Buddy Holly Museum is a trip back to our Rock and Roll roots. Other recording artists who called Lubbock home include Mac Davis (remember his album “Texas in my Rear View Mirror), and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Bob Will came from a little town not far from here called Turkey, TX. It would be interesting to snoot around and find out why an area like Lubbock was (and still is) a “music incubator”, like other places such as Muscle Shoals, AL and Macon, GA. Go figure!
The rich Ag heritage of Texas is proudly showcased in Lubbock at the Agriculture Museum and the American Wind Power Center. Both need to be on everyone’s hit-list of stops. Most folks don’t realize that without windmill technology the West couldn’t have been settled, for the deep aquifers like the Oglala Aquifer that runs from Nebraska down through Texas had to tapped to water livestock and irrigate crops. Today wind power continues to be used to pump water from hundreds of feet below ground level to a thirsty land that waits above. However today there are also huge wind farms (renewable energy) that can generate mega amounts of megawatts that are sent via the electric grid to cities far, far away.
Love of Country runs “deep in the heart of Texas” with the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock honoring a unique group that was part of the Greatest Generation (WWII Vets). Here several thousand glider pilots were trained during the War. These were the guys who piloted the gliders that landed behind enemy lines with troops and equipment just hours before the start of D-Day. They flew resupply mission in Burma to support building the Burma Road, and they participated in the invasion of Sicily. You will find this plus much more about the history of military aviation at Silent Wings Museum.
Dotting West Texas are huge ranches, ghost towns, and small towns, each with its own unique story. One such ghost town is Clairemont, TX where the 1890’s jail that once housed bad-guys today is a testament to those notorious times. It stands defiant against the elements 130 years after being built. Emma, Bartonsite and others ghost towns are a short drive from Lubbock. In the small Texas town of Spur are old WPA buildings (built out of rocks and boulders circa the early 1930’s). Spur is also euphemistically referred to as the “tiny house” capital of the world for in Spur a city lot can be purchased for as little as $500 and a residential home erected (any size) as long as it sits on a permanent foundation and is connected to city services. One such house (someone’s permanent residence) we checked out was a single level that measures (about) 12’ X 12’. That’s right! The living area of this permanent residence is no more than 150 square feet.
This country is known for its “legacy” ranches, Ranches like 6666, Guitar Ranch, and Pitchfork Ranch, all of them about an hour’s drive from Lubbock. Pitchfork Ranch is one of those large ranches where the progeny of the original ranch owners (1883) today still have their hands on the “reins” of operation. A museum at Pitchfork Ranch headquarters tells the story of nearly a century and a half of ranching history (you need to see this). Here in the early 1880’s a couple of businessmen/cowboys, both passionate about the cowboy lifestyle and the potential opportunities big-ranching in West Texas offered, purchased 52k acres near Dickens, TX as a start to their shared vision. Today, nearly 180,000 acres is owned and managed by the Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company. Raising cattle in a style that harkens back to the “early days”, this cow-calf operation runs 5000 mother cows with each mother cow yielding a calf every year. The Pitchfork also has a worldwide reputation for the 5-star quarter-horses they breed and train, and a hunting business that is second-to-none.