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


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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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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