There is approximately 50,000 miles of Interstate Highway in the United States.....filled with cars traveling at an average of 75 miles an hour. Several years ago I began driving the BACKROADS throughout Texas and the surrounding states - discover many fascinating places and people. While traveling "off the beaten path" I have tried to capture the spirit of these forgotten roads in photographs.
After sharing some of these journeys with folks I have met I've been encouraged to document my travels.........I invite you to FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS!
"To often......I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen"
ROAD: a thoroughfare, route, or way by land between two places that has been paved or otherwise improved to allow travel by foot or some form of conveyance , including a motor vehicle, cart, bicycle, or horse.
The first roads (pathways) originated from man following animal trails. Many believe that humans and animals both chose to use the same natural line. The oldest paved road was constructed in Egypt around 2200 BC. Most roads had been built out of wood and brick. During the 8th century AD in Baghdad tar was first used to pave roadways.
The early roads in Texas were developed from Indian trails and the trails of the early Spanish explorers. The first know Texas roads were built because of a necessity for travel from Mexico to San Antonio, Goliad, and East Texas missions. The oldest highway was the Old San Antonio Road. Two of the other earlier roads were the La Bahia Road, and in East Texas Trammel’s Trace. Early Texas law called for the establishment of roads between county seats. These roads were forty foot cleared paths. Stumps that were less than eight inches in diameter were cut off at the ground, stumps any larger were rounded off so that wagon wheels could roll over them. Secondary roads were thirty feet wide and third-class roads were twenty feet wide. All able body men between the age of eighteen to forty-five were required to volunteer several days a year to work on the roads.
With the increase popularity of the automobile in the early Twentieth century the need for improved roads was obvious. Texas citizens began organizing “good road” associations throughout the state to promote better roads. By 1903 there were calls to establish a bureau of highways in Texas. The State Highway Department was established in 1917 by the Thirty-fifth Legislature. The Departments responsibility was granting financial aid to counties for highway construction and maintenance. At the time there were 194,720 automobiles registered. In 1921 the Federal Aid Road Act was amended to offer matching federal funds to states.
Today Texas has over 80,000 miles of of roads made up of over 29,000 miles of U.S and state highways, 3,400 miles of interstate, over 7,000 miles of frontage road, over 350 miles of park roads, and over 42,000 miles of farm-to-market and ranch-to-ranch roads (which we prefer to call the (LONESTAR BACKROADS).
Present day there are many miles of Texas Backroads that have long been forgotten by most. These roads are used by landowners, families out enjoying a casual country drive, and guys like me with camera equipment stowed in their trunks looking for a reason to stop and capture a special moment or visit a special small Texas town. Not to forget to view a spectacular sunrise or sunset.
On the Backroads of Texas:
Discover Texas and visit a backroad. See y’all there!
“I did stories about unexpected encounters, back roads, small towns and ordinary folk, sometimes doing something a little extraordinary” Charles Kuralt
Fort Wolters is located four miles out side of Mineral Wells, Texas. The fort was an official Army camp for 21 years, from 1925 to 1946. During World War II it was the largest infantry replacement training center. It also served as a German POW camp. Audie Murphy underwent basic training at the base. Murphy was one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II receiving the Medal of Honor at the age of 19. At the end of World War II, Camp Wolters was deactivated and was abandoned until it was reopened in 1951 by the US Airforce. At it’s peak, the camp held close to 25,000 infantrymen.
In 1953, a U.S. Nike Guided Missile Site was set up at the site to protect the Dallas- Fort Worth area in case of an enemy attack.
In 1956, Camp Wolters reverted back to the US Army and became the headquarters to the United States Primary Helicopter School. In 1963 it was designated a permanent military base and renamed Fort Wolters. At it’s peak the base had three heliports and twenty-five stage fields, These stage fields were named after facilities in Vietnam and were located in the same relation to each other as actual locations in Vietnam. During the Vietnam all helecopter aviators received basic and primary flight training at Camp Wolters – not just Army pilots but also Marine and Airforce. Over 1200 helicopters were located here. By January 1, 1973, 40,000 pilots had been trained at Camp Wolters exceeding over 5.6 million flying hours.
Fort Wolters was officially closed for military service on February 1, 1973.
This site is now used as an industrial park, includes a branch of Weatherford College, and a training center for the Texas Army National Guard.
There is still plenty of evidence remaining of For Wolters‘ past. There is still an opportunity to visit this historical site that was once a major training base for our military. While visiting Mineral Wells and Fort Wolters include time to visit the The National Vietnam War Museum which is located one mile from the Camp. Time to salute the brave soldiers and pilots that passed through Camp Wolters……..
“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return” Leonardo da Vinci
In 1950, Dallas millionaire O.L. Nelson built a venue know as Bob Will’s Ranch House for Texas country music legend Bob Will’s and His Texas Playboys. Bob Wills was the host of the venue. In 1958 Dewey Groom took over and renamed it the Longhorn Ballroom. Dewey had played the Longhorn with his band, Dewey Groom and the Texas Longhorns.
The Longhorn Ballroom became one of the best known country western destination in the United States. Country legends that performed included Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, and Ray Price.
One night a week, the Longhorn would feature different music styles such as, jazz, blues, and R&B. Artist such as B.B. King, Nat King Cole, Otis Redding, James Brown, and Al Green took that stage. On January 10, 1978 the Longhorn made national news when the punk rock band, The Sex Pistols, took the stage. The band got upset and began to taunt the crowd – leading to a woman from the audience head-butting band leader Sid Vicious. The band broke up a week later and Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose shortly afterwards.
Dewey Groom sold the Longhorn Ballroom in 1986 to Ira Zack. Owners began to book arts from many different musical genres. In 1989 Aerosmith shot the video for their song, “What It Takes” at the Longhorn. In 1990, a riot broke out when 2 Live Crew refused to take the stage until they were paid. Over 50 of Dallas’ finest showed up in full riot gear.
In 2017, the Longhorn Ballroom was purchased by Dallas entrepreneur Jay LaFrance, his son Jayson and his daughter Amber. Their vision was to restore this venue and preserve this important Texas landmark. Today the Longhorn Ballroom is coming back to life, hosting events ands concerts.
Once a year families and communities across the US take time to honor the men and women who died while serving our country. Many will gather at local memorials to give their thanks to these brave men and women.
Known as Decoration Day, the tradition was to decorate graves in remembrance of those people that died serving the country. This day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of soldiers during the Civil War. In 1873, New York was the first state to official observe the day as Memorial Day. Several states followed and declared it an legal holiday. By the end of World War I it became a day to honor all those who had died in all of America’s wars and became a national holiday.
At the first national commemoration, Jame Garfield, a former Union General, sitting Ohio Congressman, and the future 20th President of the United States, mad a speech at Arlington National Cemetery said:
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
Over the years, to some, this day has become just another “3-day weekend”. A time to get together, hit the lake, tip a few, and grill. Nothing wrong with that – if we take a some time to remember and honor the brave folks that have lost their lives while serving our country – while serving you. Even though most of their names are unknown to us these men and women are heroes that should be held in high honor:
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men (and women) who died. Rather we should thank God such men (and women) lived” George S. Patton
This morning I visited the National Cemetery in Grand Prairie, Texas. There were a large number of people paying tribute to fiends, love ones, and others that have been laid to rest at this beautiful site. There were smiles, tears, fellowship, and prayers.
There are two Medal of Honor recipients at the Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery; Colonel James Lamar and Sargent Candelario Garcia both Viet Nam veterans.
Take a moment to remember all the unselfish American who made the ultimate sacrifice serving our great country. Through out our history these exceptional individuals and others who have service our country, both during war time and periods peace, have walked amongst us.
“Without Memory, there is no future. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.” Elie Wiesel
Cemeteries are a link to our past – they are full of history and stories of real people. There are approximately 50,000+ cemeteries in Texas. These range from a single unmarked grave marker to very large cemeteries with hundreds of marker. Many are forgotten and difficult to find but each are reminders of early settlements and a a window to a lot of Texas history.
The HTC (Historic Texas Cemetery) Designation was established in 1998 with the purpose to preserve these historical sites. To be eligible for a HTC designation a cemetery must be at least 50 years old and deemed worthy because of historical value – which is every cemetery.
In early times when cemeteries did not exist people were buried in plots near their family homes. To keep the dead from rising stones, rocks, and wood were used to mark the bury plot. Eventually church cemeteries began to appear with simple markers with the deceased’s name, age, and year of birth. In the 19th century public cemeteries appeared along with more elaborate headstone and monuments that memorized the dead.
Scattered throughout the backroads of Texas are familiar green signs that designate to turn left or right to visit a cemetery. When I see these these sign I turn without even giving it a second thought……why…..because I know that this path, that I am about to wander down, is going to possible lead to a ghost town, many photo opportunities, and most of all a hidden TEXAS TREASURE: Cemetery Art.
Over the years I have visited hundreds of tucked away cemeteries. Each is unique and reveals it’s own story. Wondering many times who were these people that once lived near the ground that I was standing on…..what was the story of the man whose marker read “a man that wondered into town and was shot”. What happened to the infant whose marker said simply “baby”. Why a Dad, Mom, and several children passed on the same day. Even one time being shocked to see a stone that said David Norris, kind of creepy.
Another reason to visit these sites to spend time capturing the beautiful art that these historic cemeteries provide. The many angels with such expressive faces that creative so many emotions. The inscriptions sharing feelings from so many years ago.
Often I will share my “habit” of wandering through historic cemeteries with my camera only to be met with “eyes rolling” and faces that say “what the heck is wrong with you”. I assure you that I will be turning down the dirt road pointed out by one of those green sign, with abundant anticipation, and of course with my camera in hand!