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


In far southwest Texas a vast area known as Big Bend.  This area is named for the vast curve of the Rio Grande River.  Throughout the years people have passed trough this area, including Indian tribes, Spanish conquistadores, U.S. Soldiers, miners, ranchers, farmers, and many legendary outlaws and bandits.  In the 1500’s several Indian tribes inhabited Big Bend – including the Chisos and the Juman, both were nomadic groups that traveled and traded throughout the region and in Mexico.  During this time the explorers from Spain came in search of gold and silver.  They were followed by Franciscan missionaries who establish centers in which the natives could be evangelized.

Many changes came in the 1800’s.  The Apaches began to invade the area and displaced the Chisos Indians.  The Comanche passed through the area frequently on their way to raids into the Mexican interior.  At the end of the Mexican-Amercan War (1848), the U.S. Army began to survey the previously uncharted land of the Big Bend region.  Outpost were established and Forts were built to protect settlers from Indian attacks.  A large portion of the soldiers during this time were African-American and became know as buffalo soldiers, a name given to them by the Native Americans.  Lieutenant Henry Flipper, who was the first African American graduate from West Point serve in Shafter, Texas during part of the time.  In the 1880’s ranchers began to settle in the area raising sheep, goats, and cattle.  Toward the end of the 1800’s and into the early 1900’s valuable mineral deposits  were discovered that brought settlers to work in the mines.  Many small settlements were established, including Terlingua, Boquilas, Abojo, San Vicente, La Coyota, and others.

In 33 the Texas Legislature passed legislation establishing Texas Canyons State Park.  Later that same year the park was renamed Big Bend State Park.  In 1935, The U.S. Congress passed legislation to enable the acquisition of the land for a national park.  The state of Texas deed the land that it had acquired to the federal government, on July 1, 1944,  Big Bend National Park was open to visitors.  Big Bend is one of the most remote national parks in the U.S.  There are more that 1200 species of plants, over 600 species of vertebrates, and close to 3,600 insects species (some to sting).  There have been over 450 species of birds recored in the area, making it a popular birdwatching destination.

In 2012, the park was named as an international dark-sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association, which means that it is one of ten locations in the world certified for dark-sky stargazing.  The area has the darkest measured skies in the lower 48 states.  Most nights you can see thousands of stars, bright plants and the clear outline of the Milky Way band.  This is something that everyone should experience!

Throughout the area there are many outdoor activities, including camping, hiking, canoeing/rafting and even golf at the Lajitas resort.  There are many interesting towns to visit, Terlingua, Marathon, Marfa, Fort Parker, Alpine, and others.   Many people cross over to Boquillas, Mexico.   A must is a drive west from Terlingua to Persidio on FM170, the River Road.  The road follows the Rio Grande and is often mention on may of the top sceenic drive in the U.S.

A park ranger there shared an interesting fact about Big Bend.  He said that it was the least visited national park but had the highest percent of of return visits than any of the other national parks.  Not sure it this is true but I do know I have been back…….and will go back again!

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream……Vincent Van Gogh






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Terlingua is located southwest Texas near Big Bend National Park.  It is the most visited ghost town in Texas.  The name Terlingua comes from two Spanish word, tres and lenguas meaning “three tongues”.  This was either because of the three languages that were spoken in the area at that time – English, Spanish, and Native American.  Some believe it refers to the three forks of Terligua Creek.  No mater how Ternligua received it name THIS IS A VERY COOL PLACE TO VISIT.

This area was first inhabited by Native Americans.  The first settlement was a Mexican village on Terlingua Creek.  In the mid-1880s, cinnabar, from which liquid mercury is extracted was discovered.  Although the Indians had known about the cinnabar for a long time – they used the brute red color for body pigment – this discovery slowly changed the area as mining began to produce mercury.  By the turn of the century,  it became know widespread that the region was rich with mercury which was being extracted by four major producers – Marfa dan Mariposa Mining Company, California Hill, Lindheim and Dewees, and the Excelsior Company.  A town had sprung up around the Marfa and Mariposa Mine which became know as Terlingua.  A post office was opened in 1899.

In May of 1903, Howard Perry, a Chicago industrialist, incorporated the Chisos Mining Company and began producing immediately.  Chisos Mining Company became the largest producer of mercury not only in the area but in the whole United States.  Production continued for four decades.

By 1905 the population of Terlingua at the Marfa and Mariposa Mine was about 1,000 people.  Another camp formed around the Chisos Mine, which was also named Terlingua.  In 1910 the Marfa and Mariposa mine closed and the post office was moved to the Chisos location.  The Chisos Mining Company owed and operated the entire town.  It had a general store, doctor’s office,  post office, the Chisos Hotel, a commissary, telephone service (sometimes), water department, and a school.  The town was split in two sections – one for the Mexicans and the other for the Anglos.  Later a gas station and theater were built.  In 1906 Howard Perry built a mansion that overlooked the camp.  It has been estimated that by 1934 the company had sold over $12 million in mercury – but like all good things must come to an end – production began to decline by 1936 and on October 1, 1942, the company filed for bankruptcy.  It was purchased by the Texas Railway Equipment Company and operated as the Esperado Mine until the end of World War II in 1945.  The population decline to a level that it was designated as a ghost town.

Tourism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, because of its proximity to Big Bend National Park brought new life to Terlingua.   Growth was slow – in 1990 it had a population of 25.  Today the population exceeds 250.  Terlingua is a very popular tourist destination, provided many outdoor activities such as rafting, hiking, camping, mountain biking, and of course it is a favorite destination for motorcyclist.  Terlingua is famous worldwide for its annual chili cook-off – in 1967 was crowned the “Chili Capital of the World.  Over 10,000 “chili heads” attend the cook off each year.

While in Terlingua make sure you visit the old Starlight Theater, for a great meal, drinks, and live entertainment.  Next door at the the gift shop, which was the company store, you can pick up a T-shirt or a Terlingua decal for the RV.

We save the best for last:  After a great meal, great entertainment, and a brand new T-shirt – the most spectacular activity to engage in is stargazing -UNBELIEVABLE!


Viva Terlingua……Jerry Jeff Walker


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Everyone has experience the marvel of an amazingly beautiful sunset.  For a brief moment the morning sky explodes into a kaleidoscope of color.

Merriam-Webster  defines a sunrise as the apparent rising of the sun above the horizon.   Well after six hours of Astronomy, at the University of Texas at Arlington,  I can assure you the sun is not rising.  It is the rotation of the earth that make it appear to (that is the extent of my science knowledge).  Science aside my definition of a sunrise is a really good reason to get up early in the morning an hit the backroads.

It is amazing that many mornings the new day is welcomed in with such beauty.  At that moment you can gaze at the horizon and reflect on what the day will bring.  Sunsets are for sharing with others – hopefully with a message that all is good.  We then go through the days ups and downs anticipating what is to come………what goes  up must go down……. the encore…….sunset!

I found a simple poem by Margo S.  I hope Margo is ok with me using this because it describes a sunrise perfectly:

Colours.  So many colors.
Red, white, orange, yellow, blue.
Match perfectly together.
Seems so simple to our eyes.

“Simplicity is the ultimate satisfaction”
Is what da Vinci once said.
Isn’t that the truth?
Look around you, and you will see.


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By 1886 a large number of Catholic families were living in and around Warrenton, Texas.    The priest from near by Fayetteville organized a congregation and visited saying mass in private homes.  In 1888,  Frederick and Helen Spies sold one acre of land to the Catholic bishop on which a church and cemetery were to be built.  Within a year a large building was built and named Saint Martin.  The church flourished.  By 1915 most of the Catholics in the area had moved away.  There was the need to build a school in Fayetteville and the Catholic Bishop granted permission to demolish St. Martin Church so that the lumber could be used to build the school.

When the school was completed there was enough lumber left over to build a small chapel at the original site of St.Martin’s Church.  The building is 14 foot 3 inches by 18 foot 1 inch and is now know as THE SMALLEST CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE WORLD.  It contains many of the fixtures, including the alter and tabernacle and statures, from the original church.  There are 12 wooden pews.  Mass is held once a year on All Souls Day.

Some of the early settlers and church members are buried in the nearby cemetery.

St. Martin Church is located off Highway 237 in Warrenton.  It is open to visitors and is worth the stopping for!


This little church is like the Little Train that Could…….I think I can.  I think I can.  I think I can.  I know I can.



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Just east of downtown Austin, the Texas State Cemetery is located on 22 acres of land.  The cemetery is divided into to two section, one that contains 900 graves of deceased prominent Texans and another that has over 2,200 graves of Confederate soldiers and widows.

In 1851 General Edward Burleson, who fought in the Battle of San Jacinto and also during the Cherokee and Mexican War and later served as the Vice-President of the Republic of Texas, was the fist person buried in the cemetery.  He was the only person buried there until 1856 when Abner Lipscomb, Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, was buried in 1854.  Between 1856 and 1866 there were numerous burials including Civil War Generals, soldiers that found for Texas independence, and many of widely know Texas leader at the time.  In the late 1900’s the State of Texas took over the Confederate Men’s and Women’s Home.  As many of these men and women passed away there was space made available at the cemetery to bury them with their former Generals.  One acre was set aside for graves of Union veterans.  Later all but one, Antonio Briones, were removed to Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.  Briones is buried alone in the far northwest corner of the cemetery.

In the early 1900’s there were efforts to enhance the Texas State Cemetery.  In August of 1906 a Albert Sidney Johnston monument was completed.  Johnston, graduated from West Point in 1826 and served as a general in three different armies:  The Republic of Texas Army,  the United States Army,  and the Confederate State Army.  He was the highest-ranking officer, Union or Confederate, to serve in the Civil War.  He was killed early in the Civil War at the Battle of Shiloh at the age of 59.  Shorty afterwards the remains of Stephen F. Austin were brought to the cemetery and a monument was erected in his honor.  Between 1929 ad 1936 over seventy men and women were reinterred.

Burial guidelines were established in 1953.  To obtain a plot individuals must meet one of the following requirements:  member or ex-member of the Texas Legislature, Confederate Veteran, elected state official, state official appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature,  individual designated by governor’s proclamation or a resolution of the Legislature, or the spouse of anyone meeting and of these criteria.

In the northeast section of the cemetery is Monument Hill.  The special area honors those who have made sacrifices to preserve the freedoms that we enjoy as Texans and Americans.  There are monuments commemorating Medal of Honor and Purple Heart recipients,  World War II, and the Vietnam War.  The Gold Star Mothers Monument honor women whose sons and daughters have perished in all wars.  The Nine Men of Praha Monument honors men from Fayette County who died in combat in 1944 and 1945.  There is a monument that honors  African-American legislators that served Texas during Reconstruction.  One of the most memorable monuments is the 9-11 Memorial which includes two actual beams from the World Trade Center towers that were destroyed in 2001.  In 2013 US Navy Seal Chris Kyle was laid to rest on Monument Hill.  The inscription on his grave reads  It is our duty to serve those who serve us.

The next time you visit Austin please take some time to visit this beautiful cemetery.  It is an opportunity to reflect  and honor the many men and women that have contributed to our great Texas Heritage.

Texas is neither southern or western….TEXAS IS TEXAS       Senator William Blakley

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