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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Netroots Nation Day 1: New Mexico Through Texas Panhandle

Tower in clouds

I know there's a lot of politics going on, but right now I'm more interested in seeing the wide-open skies, billowing thunderheads, horizon-stretching landscapes and weird juxtapositions of new and old along the roads we're traveling to Austin. We sped out of Albuquerque going East on I-40 later than we planned, which is a tradition of sorts. The best laid plans and all that. It was good to finally get beyond the still surprisingly sprawl of Edgewood and Moriarty and into the reddish rocks and table mesas of Santa Rosa and Tucumcari. Ah.

Donley County Courthouse in Clarendon TX

Then into the Texas Panhandle, through the oddly suburban, mall-filled outskirts of Amarillo into the older, much funkier section of town with all the grain elevators, farm equipment centers and clumps of trailers where workers live. Onward past the awful stench of a large feedlot and down 287 headed South and a little East, dipping into what used to be heavy-duty cotton country, but now has mostly peaches, cattle, melons and soybeans as far as I could tell.

Another side of the Courthouse in Clarendon

Every now and then you hit a small town. Many of them seem half-deserted but still half alive, abandoned houses mixed in with nicely kept homes. Lots of chock-full "antique" shops, many housed in what used to be gas stations. Quirky and sometimes elegant architecture in the older town centers, with massive churches and courthouses from the late 1800s, and red brick streets extending for blocks from the main squares.

Directly across street from County Courthouse

We stopped and explored a bit in a place called Clarendon. You really should click on the name and check out its illustrious history. I've included a handful of photos here from Clarendon, all taken within a half-block or so. The contrasts, the contrasts.

Half a block from Courthouse: One-of-a-kind gas station of yore

Beyond the small Clarendon College on the Western edge into a hodgepodge of a town. Peaceful, if a bit melancholy. It has a very homey feeling, despite its rough edges. Swallows squeaking and swooping. Pudgy green trees I couldn't identify. A spectacular courthouse that had been recently and beautifully restored by the State of Texas. A plaque said it's the oldest functioning courthouse in the Panhandle, first opened for business in 1891. This town, originally a Methodist outpost known as a "sobriety settlement," was evidently very, very prosperous at various times from cattle and cotton.

Justice of the Peace across from Courthouse

Nearby, in Palo Duro Canyon, was the massive JA Ranch, co-owned by John George Adair of Ireland and Charles Goodnight, who spent his later years in Clarendon. Goodnight is perhaps the most famous rancher in Texas history. His life was full of firsts and adventurous escapades, including establishing what became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail with his partner Oliver Loving. I could go on. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove and its sequels, Larry McMurtry based the relationship between Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call on the relationship between Goodnight and Loving.

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Up and down the empty (except for us) red brick street
in front of Courthouse

We were aiming to get to Wichita Falls today, but made it only to someplace called Quanah, TX, named after Quanah Parker, a remarkable and controversial Comanche who founded the Native American Church, which features the sacret taking of peyote, among many other accomplishments. Today, lots of truckers stop here, but the buffalo spirits are still present somehow.

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Ghost of gas station past, when a gallon cost ... what?

Tomorrow we head to Wichita Falls, Stephenville and into Austin from the West. Another contrast. More juxtapositions. From the historic old towns of rural Texas to the Netroots connectedness of the Austin bloggers' conference. Quite a leap.

What's left of the gas pump. Will we be seeing lots of these, early 21st century-style?

Photos by M.E. Broderick. Click on images for larger versions.

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July 16, 2008 at 02:27 AM in Netroots Nation | Permalink


Interesting route you chose. Coming back you might go towards Killeen up through Lubbock and clovis. That way you'll get to see some of the beautiful Texas hill country.

Nonetheless, I really love the route you took--it's the one I've driven too many times to count on my way home, which is just on the other side of Dallas. And its very photogenic. You're made me nostalgic!

Posted by: marjorie | Jul 16, 2008 7:19:20 AM

we also drove thru a town called childress....any history there?

Posted by: mary ellen | Jul 16, 2008 8:21:56 AM

hey Barb--I've done that drive a bunch of times, heading to Austin and also northern Louisiana. Love it. Think I'm going to have to watch Hud tonight!

Posted by: Laura | Jul 16, 2008 8:32:46 AM

Fun to read, especially as I'm right behind you, going to my ancestral homeland of Foat Wuth for the first time in about a decade. I've tried to avoid Texas for as long as possible, but, now that you post the story/pictures, I remember that it ain't all bad.

And I'm probably too late, but you could visit Archer City south of Wichita Falls, home of Larry McMurtry. It ain't much, but us big "The Last Picture Show" and McMurtry fans always think about stopping by.

Have fun in Austin and on the way gettin' there. It's a whole 'nother country, or so I hear.

Posted by:

um...well, Mary Ellen, the big question for me is whether or not I'd admit to a connection. :-)

The namesake of that town and county, George Childress, authored the Texas Declaration of Independence. You know the one--it established an Anglo republic, and led to a war that took a huge chunk of land from Mexico.

When we used to take cross country road trips, as a kid I was always really tickled to stay in a town called Childress.

I also loved going to the Alamo.

As an adult though, I have to take all that Anglo mythology with a huge heaping teaspoon of salt.

Posted by: marjorie | Jul 16, 2008 7:56:47 PM

I hope you aren't burning any of that oil we get from deep sea drilling in other countries with great environmental records. Just kidding. Have a safe trip.

Posted by: jim Scarantino | Jul 16, 2008 8:03:50 PM

thank you Jim we forgot to mention we have mules pulling the car.....organic mules. We treat them nice.

Posted by: mary ellen | Jul 16, 2008 9:59:48 PM

To our texas native friends: I am enjoying texas...it gets a bad rap.
I was thinking while driving....when the going gets to rough in other parts of the country everyone could move to texas. I will have to do some calculations regarding how many people per sq mile it would be. I think we would all fit. Each cluster could have an oil derrick, good roads. Looks like good soil, armidillo meat, lots of cows.

Posted by: mary ellen | Jul 16, 2008 10:08:00 PM

We missed Archer City but we felt Larry McMurtry in the landscapes and the towns.

Posted by: barb | Jul 16, 2008 10:09:48 PM

Clarendon - my father's home town where I spent too many really boring days with my grandparents. One of those buildings you viewed along a brick street housed the barber shop where my grandfather cut hair, and my dad shined shoes as a child in the 1930s. My grandmother worked in a photo studio, developing film and printing black&white photos. I learned the smell of acetic acid early in life.

Posted by: Rodney | Jul 17, 2008 9:42:41 AM

It's a small world, Rodney! I do remember seeing the barber shop you're talking about. I really liked Clarendon by the way. It had a nice feel to it. Maybe your relatives and many others left good vibes there somehow.

Laura: good to hear from you! How is your work doing? When are you going to write another guest post for us?

These ares of TX are so new to us, yet a goodly number of our readers are more than familiar with them. We really want to explore more parts of TX now ...

Posted by: | Jul 17, 2008 1:23:11 PM

hey Barb!

Look for my friend TXSharon at Netroots. She runs this site:


You two would get along famously--and give her a big hug from me.

Guest blog, sure. I'll put on my thinking hat.

Continue having a great time in Texas!

Posted by: Laura | Jul 19, 2008 11:13:26 PM

Catching up on my reading...you all traveled the same route we always did, from Abq to Louisiana. Stopped in Quanah too, and got a ticket somewhere around there.

In Archer City there are 4 huge used bookstores owned by Larry McMurtrey. I've been to them--picked up some socialist literature for my daughter there.

I've also driven that drive to Austin plenty of times, as we once lived there too.


Posted by: KathyF | Jul 22, 2008 2:39:42 PM

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