Focus on the Backroads » Photo Journeys

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    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 1906, Mesa Verde National Park, was established by Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt.  Mesa Verde covers 52,485 acres and preserves some of the best-preserved Puebloan sites in the United States.  

There are more than 4,000 know archeological sites that date back to 550AD, these include cliff dwellings, mesa top sites of pit houses, pueblos, masonry towers and farming structures of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the region for more than 700 years.  After living on the mesa top for about 600 years, the Pueblo people began building under the cliffs of Mesa Verde.  They constructed building from one-room storage units to villages of over 150 rooms.  Rooms averaged 6’ x 8’ were constructed using sandstone.  They continued to cultivate crops on the mesa top.  

The best known of these cliff dwelling is the Cliff Palace, which is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.  The Cliff Palace housed up to 250 people in its 217 rooms and 23 kivas.  The second largest dwelling was Long House that housed up to 150 people in its 150 rooms.  There are approximately 600 separate cliff dwellings in the park, most of these only had one to five rooms each.  It is estimated that the population of Mesa peaked at about 5,000 people.

By 1300, following the Great Drought which lasted for 23 years, most of the people had left Mesa Verde moving south into what is now New Mexico and Arizona.  These people were the ancestors of the present-day Pueblo Indians.

In the 1889 Richard Wetherill, local ranchers, and his four younger brothers stumbled across the ancient ruins when they were searching for stray cattle. Since then, archeologist have sought an understanding of the life and culture of the people who lived there.  They have determined that these people were proficient at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillfully adaptable to making a living in a very difficult land.

In 1978, Mesa Verde National Park, was designated a World Heritage Site – recognizing it as one of the premier archeological sites in the world.

“We must learn, and we are gradually learning, how to write history with the help of archaeology.” Michael Rostovtzeff

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The D&SNG runs 45.2 miles between Durango and Silverton Colorado.  This railroad has been federally designated as a National Historic Landmark and also designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

This route opened in 1882 to transport silver and gold ore that was mined in the San Juan Mountains.  It was an extension of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad that ran from Antonito, Colorado to Durango.

In 1870, William Jackson Palmer, a Union General during the Civil War, came to Denver.  After the Civil War Palmer managed to construction of the Kansas Pacific Railway into Denver.  Shortly after arriving to Denver, he began planning to build railroad south from Denver to El Paso, Texas.  In 1871, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway (D&RGW) began to lay rails.  The decision was made to us 3ft (914mm) narrow gauge lines because of the mountainous terrain and the less expensive cost of construction. (narrow-gauge is the distance between the inside edge of the rails).  In July of 1881, the D&RGW reach Durango and began building the final 45-miles along the Animas River to Silverton.  The first 18 miles to Rockwood were complete by November of 1881.  The remainder of the route ran through the narrow Animas Canyon and its extremely steep granite walls.  The crews, made up mostly of Chinese and Irish immigrants, blasted the cliffs off which left a narrow level surface to lay track on.  They reached Silverton on July 10.1882.

During the Depression and the end of free coinage of silver the Silverton line struggled.  By the middle of the 1900’s revenues dwindled due to the declining of mining, competition from trucking, and passenger ridership.  Also, there were annual snowslides and several major floods the were a challenge for the railroad.

After World War II, nationwide tourism grew and the Durango-Silverton line benefited.  Exposure for the line was boosted by Hollywood as many studios filmed along the route.  On June 24, 1947 the railroad created a summer-time only train service.  The railroad decked out a locomotive and four coaches, with a colorful paint scheme and launch “The Painted Train”.

Launching. A public promotion a new era of tourism began that continues today.

The Durango – Silverton Train is world famous and one of the most popular heritage railroads in North America.   The train journeys along the rushing waters of the Animas River through the peaks of the San Juan Mountains to the historic mining town of Silverton.

At the Durango station you can visit the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum – it is 12,000 square feet of amazing STUFF!!  You will want to plan enough time to take a stroll.

Many of us baby boomers have memories of traveling on trains during on childhoods.  My family would travel by train from Vancouver, Washington to Helena, Montana many times.  Night would fall and the “clackity – clack” of the rail road track would sing you to sleep.

“Nowhere can I think so happily as in a train.”         A. A. Milne

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CADDO LAKE is located on the border of Texas and Louisiana, Harrison and Marion Counties in Texas and Caddo County in Louisiana.   It is name after the Caddo tribe who lived in the area until they were relocated, in 1835 by the US, to Binger, Oklahoma.  Today the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma headquarters is located there.

Hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans in the 18th century a massive extending 150 miles clogged the lower portion of the Red River in what is now Northeast Texas and Northwest Louisiana.  This became known as the Great Raft.  During this time banks of the river raised, creating new tributaries and numerous lakes in lower lying areas.    Many of these lakes have vanished.  Caddo along with Cross Lake, Wallace Lake, Bistineau Lake, and Black Bayou were preserved when dams were built in the early 1900s.  These lakes are now known as the Great Raft Lakes.

Caddo is the largest naturally formed lake in Texas, the largest natural fresh water lake in the South, and the largest bald cypress forest in the world.  It is a unique ecosystem thriving with wildlife, birds, and swamp creatures like alligators and water snakes.   It’s one of the only places on Earth where you can find the paddlefish, the oldest surviving animal species on the continent.  it looks nothing like what you would picture when you think of Texas.


In the early 1930s, T.J. Taylor, the father of Lady Bird Johnson, and other local businessmen and groups, donated land to the state of Texas with the intent to build a state park on its grounds. Caddo Lake State Park, is the first Texas state park to be supervised by National Park Service. With guidance from NPS, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) completed the project within four years after it was commissioned in 1933.  Today Caddo Lake State Park boasts several miles of hiking trails, cabins, and an abundance of wildlife. 

The best thing about Caddo Lake is as you are driving off you will begin to plan your next visit to this Texas Treasure!

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Galveston was named after Bernardo de Gavez y Madrid, an 18th Century Spanish military/political leader.  Galveston’s first settlements were built in 1816 by French pirate Louis-Michel Aury, on Galveston Island, to help Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain.  When Aury returned, in 1817, from unsuccessful raids against Spain, he found that the pirate Jean Lafitte occupied Galveston and had organized it into a pirate kingdom called Campeche, and had anointed himself the island’s head of government.   In 1821 the United States Navy forced  Lafitte and his men off the island.   After Mexico won independence, 1825 the Port of Galveston was established.  During Texas Revolution in 1836 it served as the main port for the Texas Navy.  In 1839, the city of Galveston adopted a charter and was incorporated by the Congress of the Republic of Texas and later would serve a temporary national capital of the Republic of Texas.

During the 19th century, Galveston became a major U.S. commercial center and one of the largest ports in the United States.  It was known as the “Queen City of the Gulf” and was the largest city in Texas.  In 1900, Galveston was devastated by the “Galveston Hurricane of 1900”.  With an estimated death toll somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 people it is still ranked today as the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.  During the Prohibition era (1919 to 1933) it became a center for illegal gambling, and was nicknamed the Free State of Galveston.

During World War II, the Galveston Municipal Airport was re-designated a US Army Air Corps base and named Galveston Army Air Field.  In 1943 the air field was officially activated with the 46th Bombardment Group, serving as an anti-submarine role in the gulf of Mexico.  After the war with the reduction of the military’s investment on the island and the states government campaigns to disrupt gambling and prostitution in the city, the economy and tourism crashed.  Many of the business relocated off the island to other cities such as Houston.

In the 1950’s efforts began to preserve many of historic building,  the Strand Historic District and other areas and a more family-oriented tourism began to emerge.  In the 1960 there was an expansion of higher education in Galveston which became the home of the University of Texas Medical Branch, the Texas Maritime Academy, and Galveston College.

Galveston has six historical districts with over 60 structures that are listed – representing architectural significance in the national Register of Historic Places.  The American Institute of Architects list the Bishop’s Palace as one of the 100 most significant building in the United States.  The Library of Congress has classified it as one the fourteen most representative Victorian structures in the U.S.

When visiting Galveston, you can not only “dip your toes in the ocean, you can visit one of the most historical cities in the United States.  Then before you leave town you can visit the Strand District and buy a real cool T-shirt that says………”I visited Galveston and bought you this cool t-shirt THEN DECIDED TO KEEP IT!

Galveston, oh Galveston
I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun
And dream of Galveston.  
From Galveston by Glen Campbell

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Inspiration is defined: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. Inspiration comes from many different places, something you read, a comment from a friend, from experiences through out your life, a song, a beautiful landscape, and for many of us from God.

The Backroads of Texas (and every state) are filled with inspiring things. Sometimes when I head out to wander the backroads I have something specifically I am looking for, an example are wildflowers. Most of the time I have no specific thing I am searching for……I am simply looking for inspiration! Early in my journey with my camera my friend and mentor Alan Rokach gave me some great advise; he told me that you need to first become one with the environment that you are photographing before you can see the image you want to capture. Alan’s advise was very inspiring. I am going to share some of my favorite images and try to explain what the inspiration was.


This image was shot in 2010 while attending a Wildflower Workshop with Alan in Brenhan, Texas. I was new to photography. Alan had me sit down in some grass. He told me to put my camera down and just look for 10 minutes. Before long I started to realize the interesting twist and turns the grasses made. When 10 minutes passed, this fly landed on the blade of grass I had been studying – he was there for a split second. That evening when I downloaded the days images this picture was there – I WAS HOOKED and the journey began.


This image was taken Salt Basin Dunes near the Guadalupe Mountains. There was an amazing contrast between the sky and the sand – it is actually like being on a different planet.


Was driving outside of Brenham, Texas when I spotted this angel in an old cemetery – I almost wrecked my car! What I noticed was not only her beautiful face but also the dirt and moss.


This image was taken out side on Route 66 outside of Arcadia, Oklahoma. This was inside of an old decaying stone gas station – the graffiti caught my eye.


Photograph was taken at Twin Sisters Dance Hall, a historical dance hall in Blanco, Texas. The band was actually getting ready for a dance that evening and this couple got out on the dance floor.


From the first photo-journey on January 1, 2021. This lone oak tree and the contrast with the fresh snow.


This image was taken in Yellowstone. Nature is a fantastic source of inspiration – nothing is more beautiful than a wild animal or something as simple of a single flower.


Old structures from the past are interesting to photograph. This barn is located outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is said to be the most photographed barn in America.


The backroads of Texas are the ultimate source of inspiration. There are endless opportunities for photographers that enjoy wondering!

Photography is a very personal thing. Many people specialize in certain type of photography such as portrait, wildlife, landscapes, or others. I like what I call “Hobo Art” – wandering the backroads (and sometimes cities) in search of interesting subject matter. One moment it might be an old rusted truck on the side of road, another moment a Longhorn in a pasture and another an angel watching over a grave in an old cemetery.

It is important to remember that an image is only going to present itself once – a minute later it is a completely different photograph. As Rod Steward said, “Every Picture Tells a Story – don’t it.”

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see” Edgar Degas

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