Moseying: Living La Vida Llanero
Nature tourism and pride in landscape
April 17, 2002
When I first started this column, I planned to write stories that expressed a love of our regional landscape, retelling stories of place, with the intent to interest the Midland Reporter Telegram's subscribers to explore the surrounding area. To research the stories, I started taking short daytrips, talking to public officials (county commissioners and such), stopping at small town historical museums, local diners, and even sheriff's offices. After just a couple such journeys, I got whomped over the head with a straight news story.
West Texas is changing. From the Devil's River to the Diablo Mountains, the region's citizens have been awakened to the natural aesthetic value of the landscape. In some communities, millions of dollars have cascaded into the economy from the hands of the ultra-rich, drawn to the region by its remoteness, beauty, and mystique. Marfa and Marathon have become art colonies with upscale shops. The ruins of Candeleria have been walled off by a new owner. On its website, Lajitas is advertised as having been created For successful people looking for a remote haven from a workaday world.... Several multi-million dollar buildings and a million-dollar 20-mile paved entry road graces the Devil's River ranch country.
This activity has not gone unnoticed by small town civic leaders. In Alpine, Iraan, Ft. Stockton and other towns, "nature-tourism" seminars have been organized and presented to local landowners. The 9-year drought and dwindling oil production are powerful forces pinching the regional economy, and folks are cinching up their belts, gritting their teeth, and getting serious.
"We love the small town life," Shannon Biggerstaff of the Ozona Chamber of Commerce declares. "To create a long-term and sustainable tourism economy would go far in preserving the vitality of the area." Citizens from Christoval to Junction to Del Rio and back to Ozona have formed a group to promote tourism in the region. The Texas Department of Agriculture, the agricultural extension service, local chambers of commerce, and regional councils of government have joined ranchers and business owners in this endeavor.
Such regionalism is necessary to promote our homelands. The towns of the Trans-Pecos Mountains bill their area "The Highlands." Abilene serves as the hub for the Texas Midwest Community Network which promotes a twenty-county region stretching from Brownwood to Knox City and Colorado City to Ranger.
The Midland-Odessa Petroplex and its regional airport are also an obvious hub. Our communities have a greater civic responsibility, as well, to promote this area as a gateway to the surrounding regions and to inform visitors about the small towns and their efforts. Midland/Odessa already serves as a supply center and medical center for the region. Midland and Odessa Colleges funnel area students into UTPB, Texas Tech and beyond.
For years, the Sibley Nature Center has worked to familiarize hometown folks about the local flora and fauna, as well as the region's history and pre-history. Our motives were based on pride in our homeland.
As a native Midlander, I grew up hearing too many people disparage the area as worthless. "This is Mudville," I heard from the children of oil company employees shipped here to work for a few years. "There is nothing to do here," all the kids say, even today. Such a negative perception of one's home is injurious to the soul. That perception has been allowed to fester for too long.
Within the citizens of West Texas who are seeking to develop "nature-tourism" is an intense flame of pride in our homeland's landscape. The pride is based in the physical world of hills, draws, wildlife, clear skies and beautiful sunsets. It is thrilling to me. I hear a chorus of diverse voices singing in wordless celebration, an ethereal sound that sends shivers down the spine.
Landscape can define character. In West Texas, during the days when permanent settlements were being established, it did not matter what a cowboy looked like, where he came from, or what language he spoke. He was accepted if he could do the work. The country is big, and people are far apart, so neighborliness was a necessity of life. A man's word could mean life or death for someone relying on its value. Landscape does not seem to matter in the technological urban world. Here, at the edge of the aridlands, it does.