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Roadside attractions evoke life’s highways

I recently drove from Denton to Lubbock, taking the scenic route, Highway 380 through Decatur, Jacksboro, Graham, Rule, Haskell and to Post, then up 84 to Slayton and on into Lubbock.

MapQuest recommends driving through Fort Worth to hit Interstate 20 and to Highway 84 just west of Sweetwater and up to Post and on to Lubbock. MapQuest is a useful tool, but I’ve never thought it made much sense to start a trip north by taking off south. Besides, Interstate 20 is boring.

Highway 380, on the other hand, provides numerous diversions. One can always count on spying a half-dozen or more dead feral hogs by the roadside and occasionally a live one shows up slipping through the mesquite. Deer are abundant and travelers need to watch carefully lest one become a hood ornament.

I can always count on seeing at least a score of roadrunners, chasing bugs or lizards along the grassy area between the pavement and the barbed wire fence that seems to stretch all the way from Denton to Post. I hate to think about digging all those postholes.

This past trip I saw quite a few quail, the bobwhite variety I was familiar with back in the Southeast, and the other kind, with the jaunty topknot and a bluish tinge to its feathers. I’ve wondered if those blue quail possess the same capacity as their more mottled cousins to scare the bejeebers out of you when they burst from cover under your feet, about 10 yards closer than you expected them to be.

Perhaps it was a good summer for quail survival. I saw one covey of bobwhites slipping along a fence line near an old farm shed that seemed to have two dozen members. Imagine the racket that flock would make flushing from underfoot.

No coyotes this trip, at least no live ones, but an occasional carcass decomposed along the road, accompanied by a squawking throng of buzzards, cleaning up.

As if the wildlife weren’t enough, the towns make the trip worth the drive. Post, for instance, is a quaint little village, cobbledy streets lined with festive book, antique and craft shops. The old movie house is in use, offering live theater. And the hotel Garza, a bed and breakfast, features down home hospitality and comfort.

The Alamo restaurant in Post has some of the best salsa I’ve ever tasted, just spicy enough to make you appreciate the iced tea.

The corner café in Rule is another good place for a lunch stop. Good cheeseburgers or more substantial fare if your appetite warrants it.

This drive always stirs memories of growing up in the country. I spent a lot of youthful days following a small beagle chasing cottontail rabbits. And I recall walking up behind a brace of English Setters, rigid on point, anticipating the whir of wings as a covey of quail explodes from a patch of honeysuckle.

We didn’t have anything as exotic as roadrunners in South Carolina but an occasional woodcock added a bit of variety to bird hunts and was good table fare as well. As I’ve mentioned before, we ate what we shot.

I’ve contemplated several times the possibility of buying a small farm, stocking it with a few white-faced cattle (my favorite flavor), and enjoying the country life again. Then I recall that I know absolutely nothing about animal husbandry. The first time I had to castrate a calf I’d faint.

Fixing a fence is a lot harder work than I really want to appreciate at this point in my life. And if a piece of equipment ever failed, and if I tried to fix it myself, I’d have parts left over and would still need the services of a good mechanic.

I’d be broke. So I guess I’ll continue to take vicarious pleasure in driving the back roads of the Southwest and practicing agriculture only in the deep recesses of my mind.

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