Western Trail

Memorial Day weekend of 2020 marked 9 years since I bought my bike, and I went on a four day ride, reaching 26 county courthouses. In 2011, it was the beginning of the hottest summer on record in the Austin area, before or since. There would be 90 days of triple digit heat that summer, and by Memorial Day we had already seen 3 of them. This weekend 9 years later, the weather was different every day.

This was my first ride during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the weekend that every state began to loosen restrictions to one degree or another. The public were left to use their own judgement as to what extent they would follow CDC guidelines. I wore a mask any time I went indoors and rubber gloves at the gas station. For lunch I ate trail mix and energy bars out of my backpack. I packed my own water. I took disinfectant wipes for my hotel room. For dinner I ordered in.

The Great Western Cattle Trail was used between 1874 and 1893. It began around the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau, and went more or less straight north through 6 of the counties on my ride this weekend, before continuing as far as Nebraska and Dakota Territory.

On day one, first stop was Brownwood (Brown County), continuing on to Coleman (Coleman County), Baird (Callahan County), Albany (Shackelford County), Throckmorton (Throckmorton County), and ending up in Abilene (Taylor County). The last few hours of the ride were sunny, hot, and muggy.

Brownwood, seat of Brown County
Coleman, seat of Coleman County

In Coleman, I ate some trail mix in the shade of a Pecan tree on the courthouse square.

Baird, seat of Callahan County
Albany, seat of Shackelford County

The photo above at the Shackelford County courthouse was taken partway up the sidewalk from the street. I took the liberty of riding up the sidewalk (no pedestrians were in sight) because the shot from the street had a power line blocking the view of this beautiful courthouse.

Throckmorton, seat of Throckmorton County

Between Albany and Throckmorton I passed this old bridge over the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, parallel to the main road.

Abilene, seat of Taylor County

On day 2, a strong wind at times aided me, resisted me, and tried to blow me over. The day started in Anson (Jones County), then on to Haskell (Haskell County), Seymour (Baylor County), Vernon (Wilbarger County), Quanah (Hardeman County), Crowell (Foard County), Paducah (Cottle County), Matador (Motley County), Floydada (Floyd County), and Lubbock (Lubbock County).

Anson, seat of Jones County

The statue in front of the courthouse above is of Anson Jones. This is one of four counties in which the county and its seat are named after the same person’s two names.

Haskell, seat of Haskell County
Seymour, seat of Baylor County
Vernon, seat of Wilbarger County
Quanah, seat of Hardeman County
Crowell, seat of Foard County

I ate my lunch in this remote picnic area between Crowell and Paducah. There were a couple birds keeping me company by basically flying in place against the wind.

Paducah, seat of Cottle County
Matador, seat of Motley County
Floydada, seat of Floyd County
Lubbock, seat of Lubbock County

The weather was perfect on day 3. When I turned on the ignition, I noticed that the time was 7:49 am, and the trip meter was at 749 miles after two days. I set out east from Lubbock and hit Crosbyton (Crosby County), Dickens (Dickens County), Guthrie (King County), Benjamin (Knox County), Aspermont (Stonewall County), Jayton (Kent County), Roby (Fisher County), and Sweetwater (Nolan County).

Crosbyton, seat of Crosby County
Dickens, seat of Dickens County
Guthrie, seat of King County
Benjamin, seat of Knox County
Aspermont, seat of Stonewall County
Jayton, seat of Kent County
Roby, seat of Fisher County

Fisher County was county courthouse number 200 on my way to 254.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed but have not documented are some of the vintage murals on downtown buildings. Here are 3 that I captured on this trip:

Knox City
Sweetwater, seat of Nolan County

Day 4 started out sunny and cool, but overcast skies crept in and it got downright chilly. I actually needed a jacket in the afternoon, which I did not have with me. At least I narrowly escaped the rain.

Robert Lee, seat of Coke County
Ballinger, seat of Runnels County

It was a trip of 1393 miles over 4 days, with 26 new county courthouses added to the album. The final photo is something I hadn’t yet seen up close. From far away it looked like a large lake reflecting in the sun. But it was an odd looking lake, because it appeared to be at a higher elevation than I was riding. As I got closer, I realized it was a large solar farm. The shot here only represents about one-third of the entire view that I could see from my vantage point. Wind turbines seem ubiquitous and are easy to see from miles away, but you have to drive right by the solar farms to really see them. Texas has been an energy state for a hundred years. It will continue to be an energy state long after the oil and gas become too expensive, thanks to the wind and the sun.

Solar farm southwest of Abilene

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