Focus on the Backroads » Photo Journeys

Focus on the Backroads bio picture

    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"
    Louis L'Amour


As you travel the backroads of Texas you will soon realize that the historical soundtrack of these roads is the Fiddle.  Over hundreds of years a distinct style of has evolved now known as  Texas-style fiddling.

The fiddle was brought to America by early colonists.  The earliest recorded fiddle player in the US was John Utie who settled in Virgina in 1620.  Utie was a professional fiddler from England.    As these colonists traveled and settled in other locations they would pack only their necessary possessions –  which if they played the fiddle it was the first thing packed.  In the early 19th century  as many immigrant fiddle players  moved to Texas the roots to what would become know as Texas-style began.  This style of fiddle playing was a blend of Czech and German polka, African-American blues, Mexican music, and other style from  European countries including France, Scotland, and Ireland.  All of the different styles and cultures were present in Texas because of states vast size and the large number of people moving to the territory.

As communities grew, in the mid 1800s a very distinct form of fiddle music began to evolve.  Whenever there were social gathering and events the entertainment would be string bands usually fronted by the fiddle.  The early string bands usually consisted of a fiddle or two, guitar, banjo, and sometimes an accordion.  The musicians would set up anywhere there was room and play while others would listen.

The first recording of Texas style of fiddling was in 1922, a solo performance of “Sally Gooden” by Eck Robertson and “Arkansaw Traveler” played by Robertson and  Henry Gilliland. These two tunes are still played at current day fiddling contest.   Most at the time called it “hillbilly music”.   In the 1930’s the fiddle bands began to transition to western swing bands, vocals were now common and the music’s purpose was more for dancing and entertainment.  Many of these musicians were featured on daily radio programs all across Texas.

Fiddling contest that date back to the 19th century have helped to sustain interest  in Texas style fiddling.  Beginning in the 1950’s records and accounts of the contest were documented.  The greatest influence is that fiddling is generational.  Fiddle players pass this style of music down to their children and grandchildren, lets hope this circle does not get broken!    The fiddle contest is about the only avenue for these musicians to share their skills.  There is no interest by radio or TV networks – unless PBS happens to do a feature.

There are Texas fiddlers that make many sacrifices to preserve this distinctly Texas style of music.  These talented men and women do this out of passion and love.  Many will earn money teaching fiddling or by working as pick up musicians  for western swing or country bands (usually in the background).

If you are unfamiliar with this music I would suggest attending a Fiddling Contest  These events are held throughout Texas.  Believe me, as a “rock and roll” fan – you will be amazed by these extremely talented musicians that are passionate and play because they love the music.  There are not a lot of fiddler groupies and drugs after these performances – just great musicians, cold bear, soda, and possibly some BBQ.

For more information visit The Texas Old Time Fiddlers Association at  Texas Folk Life at


“It’s not a Violin, Dammit!”…………every fiddler that ever lived!




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The 1960’s were the golden age of the TV Western.  Many of the shows were centered around large cattle ranches.  Like other boys, the cowboys on TV were my heroes.  I would often dream of living on the Barkley Ranch, from the Big Valley or the Ponderosa Ranch from Bonanza – alway wanted to be the youngest  Cartwright son.

Ranching has played a major part of the history of Texas.  As early the 1500s wild cattle from ranchos in central Mexico began wandering into territory which is now Texas.  Cattle ranching began in Southern Texas in 1749, when Jose de Escandon, the governor of Nuevo Leon, brought 3,000 settlers and 146 soldiers to settle near the Rio Grande river (at that time known as the Rio Bravo).  These were the first Spanish settlements in the area.  Many Ranchos were established alone the river.  These earlier settlers faced many hardships including the constant attack by hostile indians who also inhabited the area.  The settlers had come from ranching communities in Mexico and were well versed in on raising cattle in similar arid areas.  They also brought many traditions from their Spanish heritage that influenced Texas Ranch life.  These settlements were the birthplace of the American cattle industry.  The ranches grew into settlements, some becoming towns and cities.

The first land grants were long strips of land that began at the river and stretched inland on both sides of the Rio Grande – these were called porciones.   This assured water supply for each of the  landowners.  Ranchers that moved further north into more arid brushy land received very large parcels of land to support there cattle herds.  Ranchers organized their landholdings called haciendas, large estates.  They engaged in many money-making businesses including lumber, raising sheep, farming, and mining.  These hacienda became enclosed communities – large houses were built for the hacendado (ranch owner) and his family.  Most were surrounded by stone wall for protection from the frequent attacks from Comanche and Apache tribes.  The vaqueros (cowboys) and hacienda laborers and their families lived in one room huts called jacales

By the mid-1800’s , cattle ranching had become big business in Texas!  Wealthy cattle barons  like  Charles Goodnight and Richard King were known coast to coast.  The “hired hands”, unlike the tall, rugged, and swaggering cowboys that we saw on the big screen, were young men – white, African American, Hispanic, and sometimes female.  They usually did not own the horse that they rode, but most did own a good saddle which they spent countless hours, both day and night, sitting on.  If they were lucky to get steady work on a ranch they could make what would be equivalent today to about $300.00 a year.  The ranch cowboy spent their day checking and mending fences, branding cattle, and moving cattle to grazing areas and water.  At night they patrolled the ranch for cattle rustlers and wolves.

Many of these early ranches are still exist today including The King Ranch (established in 1853); The Waggoner Ranch (established in 1871); The O’Connor Ranch (established in 1834); The Jones Family Ranches (established in 1897); and many others.

Ranchers today know more about conservation then ranchers in the past.  Drought in the 1950’s forced severe lessons in range management and an awareness of proper stocking rates, rotation grazing, reseeding, and new methods of brush control.  Ranches are not only today still raising livestock many are set aside for recreational and conservation.

If you travel the backroads of Texas you are aware of the many ranches scattered throughout the state.  As you past miles of fence lines and the ranch entrance – most identifying the ranch that lies beyond the gate.

Texans take pride in our history – The Cattle Ranch has played a large role in that history.  As in the past, todays Texas Ranchers are hard at work caring and protecting the resources on their land.  I have had the opportunity to tour a number of these ranches – it is amazing what is beyond the gates.

As a child I dreamed of eating grub at the chuck wagon  after a long day of riding the range with Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe Cartwright.  Actually the best part of the dream was living at the main house at the Ponderosa Ranch and eating some Hop Sing’s cooking.  Although the Ponderosa was in Nevada,  that dream for some is alive in Texas – Texas Ranches are a great investment.

Below are some additional resources: – Cynthia Inman owner of Ranch Connection has been putting sellers and buyer together for over 30 years.  Large or small, she is an expert in all aspects of Ranch transactions. – Texas Land Trust Council – Texas Department of Agricuture – The Nature Conservancy

“Texas is the finest portion of the globe that has ever blessed by vision”.     Sam Houston




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The Guadalupe Mountains National Park, located in west Texas, is a center of geological wonderment.  This area preserves some of the exposed remains of the Capitan Reef, one of the worlds finest examples of ancient barrier reefs.  Seawater and decade marine organisms deposited lime along the shelf of the Delaware Basin of the Permian Sea, forming a reef hundreds of feet thick.  Erosion wore away the soft rock, which exposed the limestone of the Capitan Reef – this process continues today.  The run off deposited salt on the flats which today are west of the park.

There is evidence left behind, pictographs and cooking pits that date back 12,000 years.  Some of these sites are accessible to hikers.  This area was the scene of a lot of blood shead between the Mescalero Apaches and Comanches.  The Comanches had driven the Mescaleros to the area where they learned to survive on native plants and animals.  The tribe roamed the area depending on the season and were eventially driven out of the Guadalupes by U.S. soldiers after a number of brutal battles.  This area today still is an important cultural and spiritual sanctuary for decedents of the Mescalero.  Members of the tribe return to the area to harvest agave which is used for ceremonial purposes.

Felix McKitrick was one of the first settlers in the Guadalupe Mountains, he worked cattle here during the 1870’s.  McKittrick Canyon is named after him.  Frijole Ranch was the first ranch house built in  1876 by the Rader brothers.  The ranch house was the only major building in the region and served as a community center and regional post office from 1916 to 1942 – the ranch house has been restored and is a museum today.  In 1908, Henry Belcher constructed a house for he, his wife and daughter.  They lived there on the ranch for over 10 years at times supporting over 3,000 heads of longhorns.  The wildlife in the area at that time included – bear, wolf, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and elk.  Even some jaguar and grizzly would occasionally find refuge in the canyons.  In the spring thousands of ducks, geese, cranes, and hawks would migrate along with many species of song birds.  In a short period of the time the area was overgrazed  and the animal population dwindled because of hunting, trapping , disease and the change of regional vegetation from grasses to shrubs.

In 1917, James Williams, from Louisiana, acquired the house and ranch property.  He ran several hundred heads of longhorn for several years then switched to sheep and goats.  The ranch was purchased by Judge J. C. Hunter in 1942 to be added to extensive holding he already had in the  Guadalupe Mountains.  After his death Hunter’s son sold the ranch to National Park Service in 1966.  On October 15, 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed the act establishing the park.  The park opened in 1972.

The Guadalupe National Park contains Guadalupe Peak, which is the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet in elevation.  It also contains El Capitan which was a landmark by people traveling across the country to California.   Later this same route was used by the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach – you can visit the ruins of the old stagecoach stain near the Pine Springs Center.  The park covers 86,367 acres.  There are numerous trails (over 80 miles) for both hiking and horseback riding.  There are sites available for overnight camping.

The Guadalupe Mountain National Park is one of the least know parks in the National Park system – which only proves that there are a lot of folks out there missing a very special place!  I asked a young girl who was hiking with her family what she enjoyed doing – she put her straight out, like wings, tuned in a circle and said “THIS IS IT!”  She nailed it – if you are looking for an adventure in a beautiful place with tons of history – THIS IS IT!  

“The mountains are calling and I must go”     John Muir

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Hidden on the backroads of Texas are thousands of historic cemeteries that contain important  bits of history of the people who settled the Lone Star State.  A wonderful example of this is the Port Isabel Cemetery in Port Isabel, Texas.  Every summer tens of thousands people travel on Hwy 100 through Port Isabel on there way to South Padre Island – by passing this remarkable cemetery that is one block off the highway (not exactly a backroad).

The one acre of land is located on property that the government of Mexico granted to Don Rafael Garcia in 1829.  Garcia established a ranch named, El Fronton de Santa Isabel (Saint Elizabeth’s Bluff).  The ranch was operated by ranch hands and Garcia continued to live in Matamoros, Mexico. In the early 1840 the site where the cemetery is located was used as an early burial ground for folks that worked on the ranch (no markers remain)

In December of 1849, the site was consecrated for use a Catholic cemetery by French Missionaries.  It served as a bury site for  people of all faiths.  Later the land was owned by the Campeoni Family who had immigrated to the area from Italy in the early 19th century.  In 1926 the family donated the cemetery site to the Catholic Church.

The first documented interment was Major Samuel Ringgold, who was mortally wounded int the Battle of Palo Alto on May 8, 1846, which was the first major battle of the Mexican-American War.

The Port Isabel Cemetery contain a recorded history of this settlement.  Next time you travel to South Padre Island for a little sun in the fun, turn on you left turn signal and take a few minutes to visit The Port Isabel Cemetery.


“At the going down of the sun.  And in the morning.  We will remember them”…..British soldiers marker  Torbruk Cemetery Libya


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When traveling the backroads of Texas you need a full tank (or two) of gas and some good old Texas Music!  Thank goodness for satellite radio.  Not only is Texas the birthplace of many great musicians,  the state has been in the center of the developments of many types of music including; Tejano, Western Swing, jazz, country, rock, gospel, hip-hop (not to sure about how proud we are of that), and of last but surely not least The Blues.

You can journey back to the early indian tribes that left evidence of percussion and wind instruments, possible influencing Jethro Tull, one of my favorite bands from the 70’s – but I doubt it.  Early Spanish conquistadors claimed the region that included what is now Texas, not only did they influence  music in the region also the African slaves that they brought with them did also.  By the 1820’s Mexico had declared their independence from Spain and American settlers began coming to the area – these immigrants brought Czech, German, Polish, French and other culture’s  influences to the region’s music.  The accordion had the greatest influence on early Texas music as it still does today.  This instrument was adopted by many of the musicians in this melting pot of musical change – most notably by the Mexican population.

Until the mid 1800’s slavery was legal in Texas.  Many of the early plantations were located in East Texas.  Slave work songs were the beginning of Texas blues.  As this form of music was developing on these plantations in other parts of the region folks would meet in local community centers and dance halls to enjoy music and dances from their homeland.  As these different cultures began to melt together a truly Texas sound resulted  –  Texas Swing and country music.  Bands would travel through the regions and these dance hall became the social center for all the local folks.  Over time many new instruments were added  – where would country music be without the Steel Guitar!

Hollywood definitely had a great influence on the awareness of Texas music with the birth of the “singing cowboy” traveling down those happy trails.  Later the music started to adopt a more modern sound as country, blues, jazz, and other forms of music began influencing each other – this lead the birth of Honky Tonk, R&B, and OUTLAW COUNTRY!

ROCK AND ROLL – Texas artist were in the right there in the middle of it.  One of the first  rock and roll records, ROCK AWHILE, was recored in Houston in 1949 by Goree Carter who was born and raised there.

Texas has and continues to influence music – from primitive tribal beginning, early settlements social gathering, to current major venue events.  The people who have contributed are to many to mention; a few are:

    • Scott Joplin
  • BLUES:
    • Big Mama Thorton
    • Blind Willie Johnson
    • T-Bone Walker
    • Freddie King
    • Johnny and Edgar Winters
    • Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan
  • ROCK:
    • Buddy Holley
    • Roy Orbison
    • Janis Joplin
    • ZZ Top
    • Pantera
    • Freddie Fender
    • Texas Tornados
    • Selena
    • Los Lonely Boys
  • COUNTRY:  (where do you start)
    • Bob Wills
    • Ernest Tubb
    • Gene Autry
    • Tex Ritter
    • Kenny Rogers
    • Mac Davis
    • THE OUTLAWS – Willy Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver
    • Guy Clark
    • Clint Black
    • Rober Earl Keen
    • Lyle Lovett
    • George Strait
    • Pat Green
    • Ray Wylie Hubbard
  • AND SO MANY MORE… matter what is your favorite music….all that maters is to make it the soundtrack of your JOURNEY ON THE BACKROADS!

“Goin’ places that I’ve never been.  Seein’ things that I many never see again.  And I can’t wait to get on the road again”…….Willie Nelson


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