Defined by fields of Longhorns, rolling wooded
acreage and the occasional oil well, West Central Texas is a transitional
area. The wooded areas of Central
Texas are gradually giving way to more and more open ground, and sometimes
coming over a hill or corner, hints of the grand vistas to come appear.
I was pleasantly surprised and glad that my preconceived notions
that all of Texas was flat, boring and treeless were once again proved
wrong. Let me show you…
You don’t have to go far
out of Abilene to experience vintage Bankhead Highway and original 80!
Motoring west out of Abilene
on U.S. 84, watch for old North St. to suddenly veer right to pass under
an old 1925 RR overpass. Be
sure to take it. Though bumpy,
this is an exquisite stretch of original concrete demonstrating the sharp
curves and narrow concrete (see pic) that doomed early stretches of
roadway like this to be quickly bypassed.
Follow this stretch
under the 84 overpass to rejoin newer 80 for a trip back in time along the
RR and pole line through the towns of Tye, Merkel (with its majestic bank
pillars and ghost signs) and Trent with its abandoned corner cafe.
Leaving Trent westbound as the road curves north towards the
interstate, be sure to follow the old concrete angling off to the west
(County 593) for a another looping ride on vintage concrete (see pic).
Forced back onto the
interstate westbound after our interesting little curvy jaunt, more
vintage road lies just ahead! Be
sure to take exit 256 and the I-20 north frontage just a short ¼ of a
mile or so west. Note the road
veering off onto (unfortunately) private
property to your right. If you
get out of the car and look back east, you can see that this stretch of
road is indeed in perfect alignment with the I-20 eastbound lanes and the
short stretch of concrete we just came off of.
Another treat awaits if you are willing to take a short hike west
down the train tracks. The
road you just glimpsed veering off to the NW veers around back south and
this pic is of the old 1930’s era concrete at the original grade
crossing (see pic). This scene
of old 80 has probably been invisible to most for at least 60 years.
The very name (I’m sure by design) conjures up images of
refreshment and relaxation. This
fact was not lost on the
entrepreneurs in the area as is evident by the many 80-era relics to be
scene in the area such as this unknown motel
on the east end of town. Also
be sure to enjoy the fine downtown area-note the Texas Theatre sign
and many murals. Heading west
out of town, be sure to check out vintage Bankhead
Highway running along side of you to the south and note the many rusting
vehicle ghosts at the still standing Midway Theatre.
It’s easy to picture these beasts firing right up and hanging a
left back down the old highway into town…
Roscoe and Lorraine are fine
examples of the quintessential rural highway towns.
Nowadays, these small towns barely hang on
by serving the needs of the
local rancher and farmer instead of the passing
motorist. The pic at right is
the old Bankhead approach into Roscoe while the second pic is of a sleepy
Lorraine on a stormy morning.
Though on a map the next
‘big’ town would appear to be Colorado City, it really isn’t so.
I don’t want to be inconsiderate, but though
obviously once a bustling good sized town anchored by a major hotel (The
Baker-now being demolished), today, Colorado City is essentially
dead-depressingly so. Outside
of the old stone-built White Way Courts and a vintage bridge on the east
end of town, my thoughts might be to just bypass the town and
focus on more interesting sights further west such as the fine strip of
vintage road through Westbrook (see pic).
Just west of Westbrook, keep
motoring along the south frontage and experience the old road as it has
been since the
Bankhead Highway days. The
accompanying RR (complete with this dyslexic date stamp west of exit 199)
and pole lines provide relaxing companionship along the road way.
Though backtracking is required, I would follow the south
frontage until it dead ends to check out the FAP marker at the county line
and to check out the old original roadbed marching along the RR as the
newer road veers slightly away then around the hill to the west.
Be sure to check out my East Texas driving directions for many more
interesting features in this area.
Original 80 followed the
aforementioned RR, eventually crossed to the south side of the RR and made
its way on into
Coahoma where it was known as Pacific Street.
Look for it right alongside the RR tracks on the east end of town.
Leaving Coahoma, I would suggest that the intrepid roadie follow
the original (and more scenic route) road due south out of Coahoma, then
west on Midway Rd. to enjoy fine rural scenes such as this on our way to
Aptly named, Big Spring was
a major stop along the old thoroughfare as evidenced by the many courts
and old stations. Of special
interest is the Municipal Courthouse-unmistakable with its gleaming golden
towers and statues out front (see pic).
Leaving Big Springs out the western side of town, check out the
cute prairie dog town along the southern
frontage road-a sure winner with the kids (and kid-hearted).
Continuing west be sure to veer left onto Bates Road (original
80-look for the old military helmet) for a quick trip through the
oil/ranch country typical of the area.
A close up of this pump eerily reminds this author of something
from a Stephen Spielberg movie-perhaps a mechanical T-Rex?
Stanton was one of my
favorite little towns in this area. Along
with a friendly atmosphere, several remaining relics reminded
me of the highway’s heyday. This
coupled with the large storage silos and cotton implements only reinforced
the image of Stanton
as one of those once fine towns that struggles on today trying to
re-identify itself with the relocation of its lifeline from the center of
Reluctantly, back to the
Midland, you can see the skyline for miles.
I’ve got to be frank…after enjoying the country, I didn’t
spend too much time in Midland (home of President Bush and the Confederate
Air Force) or Odessa. I felt
‘closed in’. And it’s no
wonder. Take a look down Wall
St. today-it's unrecognizable as the old Bankhead Highway through the
area. Now comprised of
skyscrapers and business parks, nothing vintage remains on the east end of
remind one of yesteryear. Downtown,
the Art-Deco styling of the Petroleum Building and the historic Yucca
Theatre are worth noting. Towards
the SE side of town, where the old Bankhead Route rejoined the newer
30’s routing, there are a few reminders of the roads golden area.
I love the deco facade of the Blue Star Inn and the little fellas
waving hi on top of this unknown motel brought a smile.
Odessa unfortunately, has
not fared as well as its neighbor. The
main drag through town, old 80 is a repetitive litany of dying 60’s-70’s
era motels and abandoned stations. The
earlier routing on 8th St. is now comprised mostly of auto dealerships
and strip malls, though this endearing little doughnut shop has somehow
managed to hang on. At the
west end of town, a few motels such as this one hang on by catering to the
weekly or monthly visitor instead of the weary family.
With that, we leave the
transitional land of West Central Texas behind and truly approach the wide
open skies and sweeping vistas of West