Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On the Road: Study Butte, Texas, to San Angelo, Texas

It's 311 miles from Study Butte to San Angelo. That's a long haul pulling a trailer, but it's a good drive, full of history and West Texas scenery.

Study Butte to San Angelo, 311 miles from the mountains to the prairies
We left early in the morning with snow still on the ground in some spots in Study Butte. The roads had cleared off the previous day, so we felt safe traveling. From Study Butte, the road climbs up and through the Christmas Mountains before leveling off near Terlingua Ranch, a sort of desert resort with lots, cabins, RV sites, and other amenities about 15 miles north of Study Butte.

As we neared Alpine, the terrain became hilly again. More snow remained on the ground at this higher elevation, especially on the north slopes of hills. We came down off the ridge and stopped at McDonald's for coffee and snacks.

Back on the road, we headed east out of Alpine on US 67/90, past the campus of Sul Ross State University. About 10 miles outside of town, US 67 splits and heads northeast towards Ft. Stockton. US 67 from Alpine to Ft. Stockton is a good highway, with numerous passing lanes and a good shoulder the entire way. There are very few houses on the stretch. The land is almost entirely devoted to ranching. It's an easy, relaxing drive.

Near Ft. Stockton, we intersected with I-10 and drove in to the largest city in the Big Bend region. The only Walmart in the entire Big Bend is found here. We decided to detour off the interstate and drive along the old highway through town. We stopped for gas on the western edge of town, then drove along the old highway seeing all the old motels and eateries. Ft. Stockton is an oasis for travelers, as the closest town east is 110 miles (Ozona) and the closest town of size west is Van Horn, about 120 miles distant. So, Ft. Stockton provides lots of places for travelers to stop.

I'd like to return to Ft. Stockton when I have a few days. There are numerous places there I want to see, including the 19th century military post, the historic Comanche Springs, the Annie Riggs Museum, and the Ste. Genevieve Winery several miles to the east of town. But that trip will have to wait until another day.

About 10 miles east of town, US 67 splits off I-10 to the northeast. This is mesa country, and the farther we drove, the more wind turbines we saw along the tops of mesas. Wind power is big business out here. As we crossed the Pecos River near McCamey, I began thinking about the historic Horeshead Crossing of the river and the notable Castle Gap that directed travelers from the east to the river crossing. In my mind, I began planning a day trip there from San Angelo, another trip that will have to wait until another day. There's so much to see out here. The land really comes to life when you know something of the history.

From McCamey all the way to Big Lake, there is a great deal of oil-field related activity. There is an oil boom out here. Traffic on the roads is dominated by oil-field activity, and new apartments, RV parks, and other lodging options are popping up everywhere.

About halfway between Rankin and Big Lake, we come across the site of an earlier oil boom, one dating back to the 1920s. On May 28, 1923, the Texon Oil Company discovered the Santa Rita University 1-B, an oil well which brought great wealth to the University of Texas. The well is located just south of the highway, but the effects of this oil boom are obvious along US 67. It is a barren landscape where very little grows.

As we near Mertzon, mature oak trees appear along both sides of the highway.This is unusual for this part of Texas except along creeks and rivers. Although Spring Creek runs to the south of the road, these trees are not near that water source.

We finally pass the Twin Mountains and are back in San Angelo. We will relax here for a week or so, then head back out.


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