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


Twenty years ago, an explosion ripped through the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City, at 9:02 in the morning.  As a result of the actions of two cowards (not to be named in respect to the victims) 168 people, including 19 children, were killed and hundreds of others were injured.  The attack stunned the entire nation – how could this happen in the heartland of America – at that time the worst terorrist attack on our soil.

Almost immediately a task force was formed to start planning a permanent memorial where this tragedy occurred.  In October of 1997, President Clinton sign a law creating the Oklahoma City National Memorial  as a unit of the National Park Service.  The total cost of the memorial was 29.1 million of which 17 million coming from private donations.  On April 19, 2000, the fifth anniversary of the attack, the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial was dedicated.  On February 19, 2001 the Memorial Museum was dedicated.  Approximately 350,000 people visit each year.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial is one of the most inspiring site you will ever visit.  The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial sits on 3.3 acres and is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year.  This site consist of the following segments:

  • The Gates of Time:  two twin bronze gates.  These frame the moment of the blast – 9:02am.  9:01 is on the east gate and represents the last moment of peace,  on the opposite gate is 9:03 which represents the moment of recovery.  On each of the gates the following is inscribed:  We come here to remember Those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.  May all who leave here know the impact of violence.  May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.
  • Reflecting Pool:  This thin layer of water flows over polished black granite.  The pool runs east to west down the center of the Memorial.
  • Field of Empty Chairs:  There are 168 empty chairs that were hand-crafted from glass, bronze, and stone.  Each represents the victims of the blast with their names etched on the glass base of each.  The chairs sit on the site where the Murrah building once stood.  The chairs are arranged in nine rows which represent the nine floors of the building.  Each person’s chair is on the row on which the person was located when the bomb went off.  The chairs are groups also according to the blast pattern,  most nearest the area of the building that was most heavily damaged.  There are five chairs that are located on the most western section that represent the five people that did not die in the Murrah Building.  Three of these people were in building near by, one outside of the building, and  one was a rescuer.  19 of the chairs are smaller than the others, these representing the children that were victims.  There of the women who died that day were expecting – these unborn children are listed on their mothers’ chairs beneath their mothers’ names.
  • Survivors’ Wall:  the only remaining original section of the Murrah Building are known as the Survivors’ Wall.   It has several granite panels that were salvaged from the Murrah Building.  The names of the 600 survivors are inscribed on these.
  • The Survivor Tree:  This tree is an American Elm and is located on the north side of the Memorial.  It was the only shade tree in the parking lot across from the Murrah Building.  People would arrive early to  secure a parking spot under this tree.  This tree can be seen in photos that were taken in the 1920s so the tree is about 100 years old.  The Survivor Tree has glass and debris embedded in it’s trunk.  Many of it’s branches were blown off by the blast.  Although most believed the tree would not survive – it now THRIVES!  It has been mandated that the tree will be protected as a living memorial.  When the decking and wall were build around the tree a large portion of the roots were placed inside a large pipe so that it could reach the soil beyond the wall.  There is an inscription on the deck wall that reads, The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.  Every year hundreds of seeds from the Survivor Tree are planted and the resulting saplings are distributed each year on the anniversary of the bombing.  There are now Thousands of Survivor Trees growing on public and private land through the United States.
  • The Memorial Fence:  This 10 foot fence was build around the area of the reflection pool and chairs during the construction.  I section of it was moved to the west side of the Memorial.  Visitors still leave stuffed animals, poem, and other items.
  • Children’s Area:  There are more than 5,000 hand painted tiles from all over North America that were made by children and sent to Oklahoma City after the bombing.  Most are stored in the archives there is a sampling on the wall in the Children’s Area.
  • Rescuers’ Orchard:  A grove of Oklahoma redbuds, Amur Maple, Chinese Pistache, and Bosque Elm trees have been planted on the lawn surrounding the Survivor Tree.  These represent the rescuers who responded and gave aid to the survivors; this is why these surround the Survivor Tree.
  • Journal Record Building:  This building houses the Oklahoma City national Memorial Museum.

Many of us remember the scenes from April 19, 2095.  We will never forget this tragedy as we watched this building destroyed along with the lives of so many,  all of our lives changed that day.  We should continue to pray for the victims and their families and salute the many responders who worked so hard to save the lives of the people in the building that day.  I will never forget seeing a photo of Chris Fields, an Oklahoma City firefighter carrying 1 year old  Baylee Almon away from the Alfred Murrah Building.  Baylee later died in the hospital.  She is truly an Angel and Chris is truly a HERO!

The actions of these two cowards is unforgivable and tragic.  The loss of of the victims lives is heartbreaking.  The actions of the first responders and the American people is inspiring.  If you have not visited this memorial please do – not to take a selfie but to spend time honoring the victims and heroes of that day.  You will be glad you did!

Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which we live   –   Robert Kennedy

note:  photo of firefighter Chris Fields and Baylee Almon taken by Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Porter




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Focus on the Backroads: Texas Wildflowers

Wildflower (noun)…a flower that grows in natural places without being planted by humans

In a few short weeks the highways and backroads of Texas are going to explode with spectacular color – it’s WILDFLOWER SEASON!  There are more than 5,000 species of flowering plants that are native to the state of Texas.  March through May is the prime blooming months throughout Texas.

Some of the most popular wildflowers are:

  • Bluebonnets, the Texas State Flower:  Bluebonnets start blooming in the middle of March and usually peak by mid-April.
  • Texas Paintbrush: these start blooming at the same time as the Bluebonnets usually in the same areas
  • Indian Blanket:  these start blooming mid-April through May
  • Greenthread:  these bright yellow flowers start blooming in mid-April through June.  There are billions of flowers throughout the fields creating beautiful seas of yellow flowers
  • Winecup:   these magenta flowers bloom from mid-April through June.

Throughout the state of Texas there are designated driving trails with well marked routes.  Most are updated weekly on wildflower watch sites.  If you are ready for a true adventure pack a lunch, water, and of course a camera and hit the backroads!  Remember to FOCUS ON THE WILDFLOWERS.

WARNING: in many of these area there are rattlesnakes please keep that in mind when taking pictures of children.

Also please be careful not to destroy these flowers!

Where flowers bloom so does hope……Lady Bird Johnson 

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From its beginning as an outpost to protect settlers from the indian tribes, through the cattle and oil boom, to current times as a corporate center, the city of Fort Worth has been through many changes but has managed to preserve much of its deep rooted heritage.

In January1849, General William Worth proposed building ten forts to designate where the west Texas frontier began – stretching tom Eagle Pass to  the West Fork and Clear Fork of the Trinity River.  General Worth died of cholera on May 7, 1849.  General William Harney assumed General Worths position.  Under General Harney’s orders, on June 6, 1849, a post was established  on the banks of the Trinity River and named  Camp Worth in honor of General Worth.  The U.S. War Department  officially granted the name “Fort Worth” to the post on November 14, 1849.

Although there were still threats from local tribes, people immediately began settling in the area.  New forts were eventually established further west.  The U.S. evacuated Fort Worth in September of 1853.  The local settlers to possession of the fort site.  The first school was opened in 1854 with 12 students.  Julian Field opened a flour mill and general store in 1856.  Fort Worth also became the western terminal for the Butterfield Overland Mail and the Souther Pacific Stage Line – on their journey west to California.  Fort Worth became know as Where the West Begins.

In 1860 it became the county seat of Tarrant County.  The population at the time was 5,170.  At the time there were 850 slaves in Fort Worth.  The citizens of Tarrant County voted for disunion with the North.  The Civil War and Reconstruction was almost the end of Fort Worth.  The city’s population dropped as low 175 people.  Fort Worth slowly recovered until years later the booming cattle industry accelerated Fort Worth’s growth.  The city became a major resting place for cowboys driving their cattle along the Chisolm Trail to Kansas.  Many of the major cattle buyers in the north established headquarters in Fort Worth which became know as Cowtown.  In 1873 Fort Worth was incorporated  with a major-city council government.  In 1876, the Texas and Pacific Railway arrived in Fort Worth,  the Fort Worth Stockyards became one of the premier centers for the U.S. cattle industry.

In the early 1900, Fort Worth’s economy was boasted further because of oil exploration in surrounding towns.  The city was centrally located, by 1920 there were 12 oil refineries in Fort Worth.  During both World War I and World War II the city population grew because of airfields and training bases locate there.

Today Fort Worth’s population exceeds 700,000 and it is the 17th largest city in the United States.  It is a center for aerospace, energy, banking, entertainment and other major industries.  Fort Worth also is home to several world class art museums including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Kimbell Art Museum, the Sid Richardson Museum and others.

From it’s humble beginnings as an outpost to its current status as a major metropolitan area – Fort Worth continues to be proud to be know as THE TOWN OF THE COW.

A few of the many things to do while visiting Fort Worth and the surround area: (way to many to mention them all)

  • Stockyard Station – Fort Worth Stockyard
  • Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
  • Amon Carter Museum of American Art
  • Sid Richards Museum
  • Texas Motor Speedway
  • Bass Hall
  • Casa Mañana
  • Billy Bob’s Texas
  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing
  • Fort Worth Aviation Museum
  • Fort Worth Zoo
  • Fort Worth Botanic Gardens
  • Fort Worth Water Gardens
  • Texas Christian University
  • Six Flags of Texas (Arlington)
  • AT&T Stadium – Home of the Cowboys (Arlington)
  • Globe Life Park in Arlington – Home of the Texas Rangers

Fort Worth, No words could tell its worth – Fort Worth, Texas, Best town on earth.                                                  Fort Worth, Texas, That’s my town!                       Ray Price:  Fort Worth Texas


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Fischer, Texas was established in the 1850’s as a supply center on a section of road, known as the Devil’s Backbone, between Blanco and San Marcos.  Hermann Fischer in 1853, built a log trading post, know as, Fischer’s Store,  to serve the local communities and folks traveling through the area.  The Potters Creek School, the first in Fischer was built in 1875 and a year later the Fischer’s Store post office was established.  Later the building also contained the local bank and saloon.

Fischer Dance Hall was built in 1895 and continues to be operated by descendants of the original family who built it.  Like many of the community halls that were built in Texas during this period Fischer Dance Hall was the social and civic center of the town.  The interior of the hall is amazing with beautiful old hand-hewn beams and rafters.

Fischer Dance Hall has been featured in many movies, including  Willie Nelson’s movie Honeysuckle Rose.

Next door to the hall is the bowling alley where on Fridays folks still enjoy an old traditional german game of “9-pins.  This building was originally a small school house.

When visiting the Texas Hill Country, Fischer, Texas is a must.  This community has changed little in the past 160 years.  The Fischer’s Store has reopened, Wednesday through Sunday afternoons – no telling what Texas treasures you will find there during your visit.

Just up the road from the store be sure and visit the Fischer Dance Hall.  Take a moment and listen – you are sure to hear the music and fun from days gone by.

Music and silence combine strongly because music is done with silence, and silence is full of music.       Marcel Marceau

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Mid-January means only one thing in North Texas, the annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo has rolled around again.  This event is kick started each year with the traditional Fort Worth Stock Show’s  All Western Parade, which is held the first Saturday of the of the show in downtown Fort Worth.  An All Western Parade mean that motorized vehicles are not allow to participate – the result are plenty of wagons, horses, and longhorns!  Every year more than 100,000 people of all ages line the streets of Cowtown to see the spectacular event.

Fort Worth proudly wears the title of Cowtown – After the Civil War there were millions of longhorn cattle roaming the Texas plains.  Most of the country’s economy was devastated these Longhorns were a value resource for Texas.  For over two decades, Longhorns were rounded up and driven north to Kansas to be railed across the country.  During this period over six million longhorns made the three month journey north – each head commanded about $40.00 in the Northeast.  Fort Worth benefited greatly as it was the last place for drovers to purchase supplies  prior to their 500 mile journey north.  These cowboys use the, now historic, Chisholm Trail (which will be a subject for a future entry) to drive the cattle overland to Kansas.

The first Stock Show took place in March of 1896.  The second on October 12-13 of the same year.   It was opened by the first Stock Show Parade.  In 1901 it was renamed:  Texas Fat Stock Show.  The first rodeo event occurred in 1904 when Bill Pickett  “The Dusty Demon”  demonstrated his bulldogging (steer wrestling) act.  Pickett invented bulldogging when an angry cow tried to gore his horse – according to Bill, he jumped on the cow and twisted its neck until it fell to the ground.  This gave birth to one of the most popular events in today rodeo arenas.  Bill Pickett is know as Americas first black cowboy and was the first black cowboy elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.  Note:  While in Fort Worth be sure and visit the statue of “The Dusty Demon” in the Fort Worth Stockyards.

The rodeo was added to the then Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in 1918 at the Northside Coliseum becoming the first indoor rodeo event – it was an instant success.  The feature events were Ladies’ Bucking Bronco,  Junior Steer Riding, Men’s Steer Riding, and Men’s Bucking Bronco.  In 1944 the Stock Show was moved to it’s current location, the Will Rogers Memorial Center.  That year Gene Autry became the first entertainer to appear at the rodeo.  In 1958, the rodeo was the first one in the nation to receive complete live coverage on national TV. It was hosted by Roy Rogers and Dale Evens on NBC-TV.

Over the years, many barns, buildings and exhibit halls have been built on the site.  Each year 4-H members show their award winning live stock.  The Rodeo remains one of the best in the nation.  In 2012 the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo broke an all time attendance record.  During it 23 day run more than 1,186,000 folks visited the show.  My granddaughter and I were 2 of those people (we have a pink cowgirl hat to prove it).

A visit to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is a must – it is a great time for people of all ages.  During a visit you will see prize winning livestock raised by some of the nicest young boy and girls you will ever meet.  There are many interesting exhibits, competitions, of course THE RODEO; the ever popular midway, and last but not least – FOOD – corn dogs, turkey legs, funnel cakes, BBQ, nachos, and any thing you could ever think of frying is there!

THE FORT WORTH STOCK SHOW AND RODEO is an event to be share with the whole family.

It’s the broncs and the blood – It’s the steers and the mud – And they call the thing rodeo….RODEO by Larry Bastian 




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