In traveling around the far reaches of the Lone Star Conference – particularly during basketball season – I get to see a lot of the Great Lone Star State and her neighbors. The Texas A&M-Commerce Lions are the guardians of the league’s Eastern Border (until UT-Tyler joins next year) while their play-by-play broadcaster can be considered a distant picket.
Thursday-Saturday playing schedules means the Lions played the first night in Kingsville and the second afternoon in San Angelo. Friday’s a travel day replete with a great drive on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country – you can even visit Utopia on the trail – and if you shoot for a stay in lonely Ozona, a quick dip of the toes into the remote Devils River.
This last trip, I even went through Los Angeles between the two points. No bright lights in this City of Angels – the only business in this crossroads burg of LaSalle County is a welding service and Ruby’s Lounge, both occupying the same sheet metal building.
With multiple trips traversing the Texas Panhandle each year, I’ve learned that there are too many pleasant East-West drives north of I-20 and south of US 287 to justify arriving anywhere tense from staying out of the way of 18 wheelers. The pullouts are even more plentiful and usually with a historic marker to give lesson with the break.
Megargel – a shrinking town along 114 southwest of Wichita Falls – may lose its dot on a map one day but it will always be the home of Texas’ first-ever high school band, formed in 1927. Back in 1933, the “Megargel Bluebird Band” was 75 strong and in 1938, the now Megargel Mustang Band took first place in the state competition. It was a big deal in those days for the band to have played live on radio stations in Wichita Falls and Ft. Worth, the latter of which had the signal strength to spread their music nearly from coast to coast.
If you track the watersheds of the Caprock Country, coming home is a far more interesting drive when you can ease through the breaks to lower elevations. The lay of these secondary roads – and some of the Farm-To-Market “shortcuts” – follow trails as old as man’s migration, always seeking water in a drier clime.
The reward for some of these all-day drives is a variety of fine eats. In Kingsville, no trip is complete without a meal at “El Tap,” where fresh Gulf shrimp are the star attraction of a shrimp cocktail served in a goblet nearly as big as your head.
Amarillo has Coyote Bluff – a hole-in-the-wall of the first order – plus 575 Pizzeria. In Portales, you go to one of the tire shops to get the best breakfast tacos. Zentners’ Daughters in San Angelo will fill you up too.
This week’s journey hits some of the real high points – dinner at The Pharmacy in Big Springs’ lovingly restored Settles Hotel and then lunch on the next travel day at L&J Café in El Paso. There are a handful of interesting spots in Silver City, NM – home of the Western New Mexico University Mustangs – the best eats being six miles over the Continental Divide in the old mining town of Pinos Altos. The Buckhorn Saloon and Pinos Altos Opera House have been side-by-side there since the 1860s.
There’s too many others to list in such short space, but rest assured, I’m not nearly as beat up at the end of 8-12 hours driving as some might think. What better way to restore the soul than a break at the Regency Bridge? Texas has touchstones all over. Even if you have to chase footballs and basketballs to see them sometimes.
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