Just when you get used to land, lots of land, and starry skies above, Texas shows you something else.
Explore the Texas Panhandle (as I did on a fall road trip to research my next book), and you’ll see the state’s strength: its small, plain towns built on the hard work of farming, cattle ranching, and mining the vast resources of oil, gas and wind.
But when you detour past the fast food joints, convenience stores and motels on the bypass roads, you’ll unearth a more ornate side of small town Texas history. Even the humblest of buildings is adorned with a decorative sign, like the Gem Theatre in Turkey, Texas, the home of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
Drive the Panhandle’s Historic Route 66 through Shamrock, Texas and you’ll be tempted to stop for gas—though the Tower Building and its connected deco cafe, the U Drop Inn, aren’t serving road food with a fill-up anymore. Instead, you’ll be treated to a time-travel experience, back to 1936, when the building’s geometric massing, curvilinear detailing and neon highlights lured travelers who were crossing the country in a day before interstates had been thought of.
Just down the road, you’ll find another tower, made of stone and unadorned, that makes you wonder if it was built as competition for the fanciful Conoco tower.
Courthouses in Texas, often the most elaborate—and always the tallest—architecture in the historic heart of any small Texas town, get their due, like the Donley County Courthouse. Built in 1891 in the Romanesque Revival style, it’s the oldest operating courthouse in the Texas Panhandle.
And like many small towns, Dalhart, Texas takes enormous pride in its perfectly-restored La Rita Theatre, built before the Depression era and embellished with architectural touches that larger movie palaces would envy.
You can cover a lot of Texas in six days—like the 1440 miles I drove to soak up life in the Panhandle. With 465 photographs and even more inspiration to show for it, my creative well got a much-needed refill. In fact, it’s brimming over. So as the friendly Texas folk say, y’all come back to visit real soon. I’m serving up more Texas lore, images and tall tales, with two books in the works. ♣
What did you discover when you got on the road less traveled?
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- I’m frequently shooting things from the past. You’ll find more in my Time Travels, HERE.