90 and US 67;
by N. Ray Maxie
Alpine, Texas; and The Marfa
Route 66 this is not. Nor is
it Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway. Though a very close second and third, these
two are Texas’ own million dollar highways. Both traverse the state entirely.
East-West from Louisiana to New Mexico and North-South from Arkansas to Old Mexico.|
in a previous life, I had a pretty close working relationship with US 90 and US
67 but not now. “Ramblin’ Ray” doesn’t ramble quite as much as he once did.
Throughout my many years of traveling in this
great state of Texas, no roads I’ve traveled have
more meaning and evoke such nostalgia than US 90 and US 67. I have spent many
hours, days and nights, of my working life on both.
So you can see why,
on vacation a few months back, I was pleasantly surprised to see these two US
Highways merge for 34 miles in far West
Texas, mostly between Alpine
and Marfa. There, together,
they go through Alpine,
skirt around the picturesque Paisano Peak and Twin Peaks, both 6050
feet high. Then on to Marfa where
67 leaves 90 and turns south into Presidio,
ending at the Mexican border.
But to my most pleasant amusement, 90/67
also passes another very interesting landmark. One you won’t want to miss......
Marfa Lights... Stop and enjoy a pleasing respite at the provided
installation just a few miles east of Marfa.
This modern observation area has plenty of parking and restrooms; plus picnic,
exercise and “hanging out” space. It’s a very pleasant desert viewing area with
a short walking trail nearby. You will find it on the south side of the road and
a couple miles east of the winery road. It’s not well-lighted since brighter lights
will interfere with viewing the Heavenly and phenomenal dancing
lights that habitually perform across the distant southern horizon. They have
installed only “walking lights” about the perimeter for safety.
witnessing the lights
and reading the history of it; you can’t help but go tell others about it.
If you are driving along too fast in the dense darkness of Highway 90/67, you
may miss it. But don’t be too disappointed if you stop and those famous lights
are bashful and not performing on your visit. They, like General Douglas MacArthur,
The night desert breeze is usually a bit chilly. So be sure
you have a jacket. Sit, relax and wait around a while. You’ll be glad you did.
My wife and I have, on occasion, taken a picnic “dinner basket” to enjoy while
we wait for the lights.
Mega Long Trains
Here’s’s another interesting
observation. While you are there viewing the Marfa
Lights, long Union Pacific freight trains will sometimes quickly rumble through.
Or you may even see a sleek, silver, fast moving Amtrak passenger train zip by.
The railroad tracks are just across the highway and parallel to US 90/67 on the
north side. As you watch the train lights come closer from a great distance away,
it’ll be blowing loudly at each road crossing. With the ground shaking beneath
your feet, those bright lights and roaring engines soon pass and disappear into
the night. Trains run frequently on a regular schedule along the Sunset Limited
route from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Connections can be made to
most major US cities – if you have time enough to spare. All the trains are caboose-less
since there’s no longer a need for them. That’s why so many of them have been
donated to railroad towns to be put on display.
To me, the deep darkness
and ever-so silent vastness of the great, hot (and often mysterious) Chihuahua
Desert is an opportunity that begs a visit. I love the local “flavor” of the
region and usually let serendipity plan the day. All the better to savor the moment
and “take time to smell the flowers.” Life is in the present; the here and now.
There are so many interesting things to discover. To use another old peace of
advice: “If you snooze, you lose.”
Oh! My Previous Life...
US 90 East
During the first half of the 1960's, my job assignment
in law enforcement included rural traffic supervision and plenty of “major” accident
investigations on US 90 East, between Houston
and Beaumont. The area
of East Harris County, from Houston,
is referred to as “the Beaumont Highway.”
During the 1940's, ‘50's
and ‘60's, that stretch of road became known as one of the bloodiest in Texas..
With honky-tonks, dance halls and beer joints, plus heavy late night traffic,
serious automobile accidents were an every-day occurance with many fatalities.
The stench of death was encountered too often. Alarmingly too frequent. Arrests
for drunken driving, speeding, wrong turns and other forms of reckless driving
were routine. So were the frequent late night bar fights and occasional killings.
Patrolling that dangerous stretch of highway with death sometimes as close as
the next car lane was not a pleasant job. Really.
So, when the opportunity arose, I transferred up to North Texas
up on US 67 for the last half of the 1960's and through the ‘70's. I worked
east of Dallas along 67 toward Texarkana
and surrounding areas. Several of my other stories detail a number of experiences
while working in North Texas. The work wasn’t a lot different from US 90, except
there weren’t as many bloody wrecks. Auto theft suspects and high speed chases
along Interstate 30 were common. “Drug busts” were becoming more prevalent. I-30
ended just east of Sulphur
Springs back then, and at very high speeds it presented a maneuvering obstacle
for offenders trying to elude a ticket or arrest.
Weekends had the occasional
drunk driver and the volume of 18-wheeler traffic was much greater along I-30.
Students bound for East Texas State University at Commerce,
Texas, added to the problem. Drownings on Lake Tawakoni, south of Greenville,
between Emory and Quinlan,
weren’t as common as they were down on the San Jacinto River in east Harris County
between Crosby and Sheldon, nevertheless, these are always tragedies, despite
their being mostly avoidable events.
Now you can see how these two great
US highways, separately, have played a major roll in my career experiences in
east Texas, dating back to the early 1960's.
So today, while on vacation, you can imagine my surprise at seeing them coming
together in far West Texas. The landscape
out there is not what it is in my native east Texas,
yet it’s interesting and lovely in its own way.
Hopefully, I’ll see you
on down the road.
© N. Ray Maxie
1, 2008 Column
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