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


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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FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS: Mission Espiritu Santo, Goliad Texas

In 1722, a Roman Catholic mission was established, by Spain, with the mission to convert the Karankawa Indians to Christianity. Mission Nuestra Señora del Espiritu Santo de Zunlga. The Spanish had begun colonizing the area that is now considered South Texas in the late 1600’s after the Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico. Missions were built not only to save souls but to keep the French, who occupied most of Louisiana from establishing a foot hold in the area.

The mission was first located on Matagorda Bay, near where Houston is today. The Mission Espiritu Santo de Zuniga along with a fort called Presidio La Bahia were were built to convert the Karankawa Indians to Christianity and to secure the Texas coastline. The mission and fort did not last long at this location because they were unable to grow crops and failed to convert the Karankawa people.

In 1926 the mission was moved in an area close to where Victoria, Texas is now located. The local tribes included the Tamique and Arnama. Dams and acequias were built to provide and carry water from the near by Guadelupe River. The mission and fort prospered and remained at this site for 26 years.

In 1749 Mission Espiritu Santo and Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de Bahia, were moved for the third time to the banks of the San Antonio River near what is now Goliad, Texas. At this location the Spanish were able to protect the major trade route to the north and east. Construction was not completed until 1758.

Run by Franciscan priest, the women spun wool for clothing, made clay posts for cooking and storing food. They also harvested fruit, vegetables, and grain. The men farmed, worked cattle, and help with the construction of the mission and the fort. They were assisted by native people from local indian tribes, including the Aranama, Piguique, Maos de Perro, Tarnique, Tawakoni, and Tonkawa – who chose a life at the mission because they would be protected from raids. The mission provided thousands of head of cattle during the American Revolution to support the colonist fighting for independence from England. At it’s peak the mission had over 15,000 head of cattle.

In 1821, Mexico won it’s independence and the Spanish government no longer needed the services of the mission. Two Franciscans refused to leave and remained there as parish priest. The mission closed in 1830 after continuous raids by Apache and Comanches and with a lack of money and turmoil between Texans and the Mexican Government. The land was claimed by local Mexican and American colonist. The mission became part of Goliand and the mission’s stones were removed and used for other construction.

In 1931, the mission ruins became a part of a new park, Goliad State Park. In 1933, funds were provided by Works Progress Administration to begin reconstruction of the chapel and the granary – this was completed in 1941. Additional construction projects in the 1960s and 1980s returned the site to how it was during 1749. During the 1970’s the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department restored the chapel and built exhibits in the granary.

Also at the park is the birthplace of General Ignacio Zaragonza. General Zaragoza commanded a rag-tag Mexican Army the fought and defeated French army on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla. This date is celebrated both in Mexico and the United States as Cinco de Mayo.

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You can not explore the backroads of The Lone State without seeing windmills. Prior to windmills being introduced to Texas people were forced to settle only in area where there was a constant supply of water. As you know there is vast area Texas where early settlers were unable to work the land.

The first recorded vertical windmills were in the 12th century. These evolved from horizontal windmills which had been developed in the Middle East and Central Asia in the 7th century. In the 13th century the masonry tower mills these were developed to provide more power – these were common in Great Britain, Denmark, and Germany. Later the Smock Mill was developed, replacing the masonry with a wooden framework. These were later introduced to the New World.

The first windmills built in Texas were built by European immigrants and used for grinding meal. The biggest need for this technology was to extract water from under the surface, these early windmills were unable to do this.

In 1854, Daniel Halladay built the first American made windmill in Ellington, Connecticut. Halladay added a vane, Texas ranchers called it a “tail”. The “tail” made it possible to guide the wheel into the wind. The wheel was made up of a circle of wooden slats set at angles. Centrifugal force would slow it in high winds – the windmill could operate unmanned. By 1873 the windmill had become a major source of water for the railroad, small towns, and farms where the only water supply was beneath the ground. There were many “home-made” windmills using old wagon wheels with wooden slats nailed to them. The windmills that were later used on ranches were factory-made and much more dependable.

Barbwire was introduced in the 1870’s. Suddenly waterholes, creeks, and rivers were fenced in and unavailable to some landowners. With no access to water, fighting and fence cutting began usually late at night by bands of cowboys. Many times they would light pastures on fire. Rancher began to dig wells and experimented with windmills. Many times they were unsuccessful not knowing the proper size of a windmill was need to extract water from the wells.

One of the earliest successful experiments was made in Schleicher County by Christopher Doty, a sheepman. Doty had move his sheep into the county and found a number of shallow wells available. In1882, a drought dried up his wells. He purchased a drilling rig from Fort Smith, Arkansas and bored a fifty-two foot well and erected a Star windmill. This well was capable of supplying water for his 4,000 head of sheep. This method of drilling spread quickly through out North, Central and West Texas.

Eastern land speculators began buying and fencing land – running cattle until it would be available to settlers. Land owners were forced to build windmills for livestock and their personal use. In 1887, the Capital Syndicate, the largest of these speculators began using windmills on it’s XIT Ranch. By 1900 the XIT had 335 windmills in use – including what was believed to be the Worlds tallest windmill at 132 feet tall, it blew over in 1926. By the 1900 windmills were used all over Texas, inhabitable land had become habitable! Texas would soon become the largest user of windmills in the United States – only two Texas companies produced windmills on a large scale,, the Axtell Company in Fort Worth and the San Antonio Machine and Supply Company. There were 99,050 windmills produced in the United States in 1928. Over 35,000 of these were sold in Texas.

In the 1970, during the Middle East oil embargo the US government increased the funding for research using windmills as a source of energy.

The windmill is a constant reminder of the hardships and loneliness of the early Texans that settle the vast remotes areas of The Lone Star State. These early settlers are the inspiration for all Texas and our “Don’t Mess With Texas” attitude.

You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down” C.S Lewis

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Focus on the Backroads: DEEP ELLUM

Established in 1873, Deep Ellum is located east of downtown Dallas. Then it was also know as Central Track because of it’s proximity to the Houston and Texas Central Railroad.

Deep Ellum was one of Dallas first commercial areas for African-Americans and European immigrants. The Continental Gin Company opened in 1888 and became the largest manufacturer of cotton processing equipment in the United States. Ford Motor Company built one of its earliest plants, in 1914, building Model Ts in Deep Ellum. Adams Hats moved into the building in 1954.

In the 1920’s the area became a center of the music scene in Dallas. Many of the early jazz and blue artist of the day performed there including, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Texas Bill Day, Alex Moore, Bessie Smith, Willie Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and many more.

After World War 2 many of the businesses in the area closed and folks began moving to the suburbs. The music all but died. In the 1980, the area began to be revived and the music returned with the help of local bands like The Old 97s, Toadies, the New Bohemians, The Dixie Chicks, Tripping Daisy and others. Soon national touring bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam began performing in Deep Ellum.

Many of the business in Deep Ellum began to commission local artist to paint murals on their buildings. These many wall murals have turned the area into a walking outdoor art gallery. Almost every wall has become an artist’s canvas.

In 2012 the 42 Murals Project was started – local and international artist were able to show their talent by painting 42 murals on some of the historic building in Deep Ellum.

Deep Ellum is once again one of the cultural centers of Dallas. The area continues to be a music and art center. There are numerous restaurants Deep Ellum. Great area to visit to see not only the wonderful murals but to also to visit an important historical area of Dallas.

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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.

Guadalupe Mountains

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.

Early Ford

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

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