How to be a Daytripper

A visit to Howard County

Published Feb 27th 2002 in Geology & Activities

"If the world was just, Midland would have been where Big Spring is," a student remarked on a field trip. "Hills with oaks and junipers, and 2 springs with lakes, it makes you realize how much a person misses, living in Midland."

Moss Creek Lake, Big Spring County park, country roads with curves and hills, the salty Beale's Creek, red Triassic sandstone with bizarre fossils, and more riches of the natural world beckons a daytripper. A daytrip is a mini-vacation, a brief glimpse of something different to magically brighten up the every day workday world.

If a person had Shine Phillips' book about Big Spring that he wrote back in the 1940s -- a breezy chatty set of essays in the style of an oral storyteller -- the visualization process would be even easier. The book should be reissued, as part of a greater effort to familiarize modern-day residents with the soul of the southern Llano Estacado. A. C. Greene's "A Personal Country," about being raised in the Abilene area is another book that should be in a daytripper's vehicle. It portrays the rural life held in common across West Texas at the beginning of the previous century. Another book for daytrippers on the east side of the Llano Estacado and wandering on into the Croton Breaks and the Brazos and Colorado drainages is Zoe Kirkpatrick's"Wildflowers of the Southern Great Plains." Don't forget the book "Why Stop?"that has many of the historical markers of Texas, The "Roadside Geology of Texas," "The County Roads of Texas," and "The Courthouses of Texas!"

Half of daytripping is culture gathering. When visiting a town, a person should stop at the local museum, an antique store or thrift and junk store, as well as the cafe with the most police cars and pickups around it. The downtown and commercial district needs to be cruised, and see if you can find a park with bunches of people out having a good time. Find out about the local art form -- is it unique mailboxes, or silhouetted figures cut out of sheet iron, or maybe fancy gates like down in the Hill Country, or scarecrows made to look like people of the community?

The other half of daytripping is seeing the country. Just 40 miles away is a place "considerably different" than Midland. Snoop around, and if you see a pretty wildflower, stop and see if you can find it in Ms. Kirpatrick's book. Take the time to stop at an old abandoned building and pretend that you built the place. Daytripping is about feelings. Sit and stop and stare at a vista, or enjoy a sunset, or a rainbow. Stop and marvel at the thousands of lubber grasshoppers walking across the highway as they often do in the fall on the roads of Howard County. Take a little time, and see the little fish are in Beale's Creek -- they are Gulf Killifish that belong down in the estuaries of the Texas Gulf Coast. "Life is in the details, and love only comes with the knowing the little things" noted a roadside church bulletin board, someplace along the way.

The Llano Estacado is a place of boom and bust. In the 1880s to 1900 was the era of the big ranching empires. Thousands of tiny towns were formed when the sodbusters farmed the Llano for the next 17 years, when the big drought of 1917-1921 hit. In the late 1920s along came the first oil boom. The oil industry enjoyed the boom periods of post World War II, the 1960s and the late 1970s, while enduring the intervening periods of consolidation and downsizing. Daytripping reveals this cycle in bold relief -- for example, downtown Big Spring has a number of empty buildings with beautiful 1930s architecture, definitely worthy of preservation. Many towns all over the Great Plains as well as on the Llano Estacado have declined in population. Bebopping about in our homeland brings the question -- what will remain twenty years from now?