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US 90 and US 67;
Merging Highways
Alpine, Texas; and The Marfa Lights

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
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.

While 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...... To wit:

The 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.

After 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, will return.

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.

US 67
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
"Ramblin' Ray"
October 1, 2008 Column
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