Favorites

I’m often asked what my favorite Texas County Courthouses are. That’s a difficult question, but I’ll try to answer it here. As I rode through the state, I kept a running list of courthouses that I really liked, and it ran to about 60. I’ve included nearly 30 of them in this post. The list below is not in any particular order, except for the first five.

A couple things to keep in mind: I’m not a great photographer. Some of the photos I have here do not do justice to what was visible to the naked eye, so my preferences owe a lot to what I saw with my own eyes, not just what I shot with a camera. This includes how the courthouse first appears in view. In some cases, you can see the courthouse from a mile or more away, and this is part of the experience of encountering the courthouse in its context.

Finally, remember this Latin phrase: De gustibus non est disputandum (“you can’t argue over taste”).

  1. Number One goes to Hopkins County. When I came upon this courthouse, I was just spellbound by the rich detail. I’m including two more here that are very similar in style: Ellis County and Wise County. But for me, Hopkins tops them all.
Sulphur Springs, seat of Hopkins County
Decatur, seat of Wise County
Waxahachie, seat of Ellis County

2. Number Two is Parker County. The contrast of the clean white stone and the bold red trim and roof can be seen from more than a mile away as you drive in on US-180. The courthouse sits in the middle of a traffic roundabout, so I had to get this shot across the street in a parking lot. The clouds against the blue sky just add to the magnificence of this view.

Weatherford, seat of Parker County

3. Number Three is Denton County. This is another one that you can see from several blocks away with its many domes and cupolas. I’m not super happy with the shot I got here, but it was a busy weekend day with lots of people enjoying the square.

Denton, seat of Denton County

4. Number Four goes to Harrison County. Some people mention this as their favorite, and I can’t argue with that. The reason it’s not number 1 for me is that it is not the actual functioning Harrison County courthouse. It serves as a museum. The current courthouse is across the street and falls far short of this classic.

Marshall, seat of Harrison County

5. Number Five belongs to Presidio County. Unfortunately for me, there was a street festival going on when I arrived. I had to sneak around a traffic barrier even to get this shot, and there’s a trash can and a traffic cone in the view. But it’s a beauty.

Marfa, seat of Presidio County

The courthouses that follow are not presented in any significant order, but they are all worthy runners up.

I arrived at the Victoria County courthouse as the light was fading. The best view would have been to the left where the setting sun was hitting it directly, but I couldn’t pass up shooting the front of the courthouse for this record.

Victoria, seat of Victoria County

The Goliad County courthouse might make a challenge for top 5 if the stone was cleaned.

Goliad, seat of Goliad County
Clarendon, seat of Donley County

My photo of the Cuero County courthouse suffered from a couple things. First is the power lines in the view at the top. But second is that the sun was facing me, so the lighting was not ideal. The rich colors of this beautiful courthouse came out better on the backside of the courthouse, but other aspects of the backside made it not the best side to shoot.

Cuero, seat of DeWitt County
Meridian, seat of Bosque County
Beeville, seat of Bee County
Wharton, seat of Wharton County

San Saba County gets a spot here not only because it is a beautiful courthouse just a short ride from my home, but it has just recently received a facelift that makes it look like new.

San Saba, seat of San Saba County
Granbury, seat of Hood County
Floresville, seat of Wilson County
Fort Worth, seat of Tarrant County
Fort Davis, seat of Jeff Davis County
Shackelford, seat of Albany County
Ozona, seat of Crockett County
Hillsboro, seat of Hill County
Dallas, seat of Dallas County
San Antonio, seat of Bexar County
Gatesville, seat of Coryell County
Waco, seat of McLennan County
Mason, seat of Mason County
Belton, seat of Bell County
Lampasas, seat of Lampasas County

Reflections

I wrote in one of my posts that solitude was one of the things I looked forward to on my rides. And though that’s true, I ultimately wanted to share my experience with you: friends, family, and other fellow travelers. So thank you for following along on this quest. 

Here are some numbers that summarize my journey over the past 4 years:

  • 254 Texas County Courthouses visited
  • 15,200 miles ridden
  • 0 accidents or break downs
  • 330 gallons of gasoline (approx.)
  • 52 days of riding
  • 11 single day rides
  • 11 multi-day rides

Here’s one more stat: A few months ago I realized that there was one article of clothing that I had worn on every ride. It was these boots. So in addition to my trusty Yamaha, I want to honor these reliable and comfortable boots. 

I’m often asked “what are your favorite courthouses?” My next post will provide an answer to this question, but here’s a hint: My favorite courthouses are the old ones. I’m amazed at the attention to detail and the public investment that must have been involved. But I’m also aware that some of these older courthouses–as was the case with the Texas State Capitol in Austin–may have been built with convict labor (essentially, slave labor). That certainly helped offset the cost.

In a sense, I have regarded this journey as kind of a baptism into my adopted home state. To call it a full immersion might be a stretch, because I feel I’ve still only scratched the surface of this big, beautiful state. As with anything, a true and lasting love only grows with keeping your eyes wide open. Texas is a vast and diverse state with a long and complicated history. Inevitably, this involves contradictions.

“Texas” comes from a Native American word meaning “friend,” yet in 1859 Texas told all the Native American tribes that they were no longer welcome in the state. To pick on my own home county: In 1861, Williamson County was one of a few counties in Texas that voted against secession from the Union, and our courthouse has a statue of Themis (“Lady Justice”) on top of its dome. Yet the Williamson County courthouse still has a Confederate monument standing in front of it, erected in 1916, just as the KKK was gaining power in the south.

But the contradictions reside within me, as well. As I rode across Texas, one of the most unpleasant smells I encountered was large dairy farms and feedlots. Yet I personally enjoy beef and dairy products, so I contribute to that smell. But there’s a bigger one that hits closer to home.

The most unsightly aspect of the Texas landscape, in my opinion, is the vast infrastructure of the fossil fuel industry found in every part of the state: pumpjacks, flares, storage tanks, and refineries. It’s an eyesore, but that’s not the worst of it. The unlit flares, the toxic spills, the petro-chemical fires, and other environmental destruction, to say nothing of the danger to our climate that comes with it all. Yet I could not have enjoyed this experience of Texas without the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine in my motorcycle. I’ve estimated that my ride of more than 15,000 miles produced about 6,600 pounds (3 metric tons) of CO2.

But there are so many things I love about Texas. The wide open spaces and the vibrant cities. The pine forests, the mountains, the canyons, the productive agricultural land, the prairies, the rivers. But more than anything, Texas is nothing without its people. In my experience, the typical Texan is friendly and hospitable, takes responsibility for their own actions, yet is eager to help the vulnerable and less fortunate. Seeing Texas the way I have over the past few years makes me want to live up to those ideals, to live with fewer contradictions in my own life, and to help Texas live up to its ideals as well.

Thanks again for following along, friend. I’ll see you somewhere down the road.

Amarillo by Morning

The final ride on my quest for 254 was also the longest ride I’ve taken: 1,893 miles over five days. It came during the first week of August, 2020, and for the most part, the weather was pleasant for this time of year in Texas. The remaining group of 29 county courthouses were all north of Lubbock.

The first day, August 3, simply got me from my home in Round Rock to Lubbock, about 375 miles away. Day two took me up the western side of the panhandle to the northwestern corner, then back down to Amarillo. The first stop was Littlefield, seat of Lamb County, the hometown of Waylon Jennings.

Littlefield, seat of Lamb County
Littlefield
Muleshoe, seat of Bailey County
Farwell, seat of Parmer County

My route through the western side of the panhandle took me past several large dairy farms and feed lots. Needless to say, you can’t escape the odors of these places on a motorcycle. All you can do is hope that you’re upwind of them. Almost as bad as the smell of the hundreds of animals kept in close quarters is the smell of the mounds of silage used to feed them. But as a rancher once told me, for some people it “smells like money.”

Dimmitt, seat of Castro County
Hereford, seat of Deaf Smith County
Vega, seat of Oldham County
Channing, seat of Hartley County
Dalhart, seat of Dallam County
Stratford, seat of Sherman County
Dumas, seat of Moore County
Amarillo, seat of Potter County

Day 3 started and stayed cool. I kept my extra jacket on until past noon. It was great weather for riding and some beautiful country to see, starting and ending in Amarillo, but making a big loop through the northeastern quadrant of the panhandle.

Panhandle, seat of Carson County
Between Panhandle and Stinnett
Stinnett, seat of Hutchinson County
Spearman, seat of Hansford County
In Spearman
Perryton, seat of Ochiltree County
Lipscomb, seat of Lipscomb County

The panhandle has a reputation for being flat as a skillet for as far as the eye can see. And there are parts where that is true. But the Canadian River cuts across the panhandle, and I crossed it four times over two days. There is a huge swath of land, many miles both north and south of the River, where the flatness breaks up into buttes and bluffs in the descent to the Canadian and the ascent therefrom. (For exampole, on US-385 between Vega and Channing, on US-87 between Dumas and Amarillo)

But even apart from the area around the Canadian River, the eastern panhandle has lots of hilly terrain. I enjoyed the drive between Perryton and Lipscomb, including an unnumbered and unpainted asphalt strip by the name of “Uncle Sam Road,” then on to Glazier on TX-305.

The Canadian River, north of Canadian
Canadian, seat of Hemphill County
Miami, seat of Roberts County

I went slightly out of my way between Miami and Wheeler to make a quick stop at the intersection that appears in the final scene of the film “Castaway” with Tom Hanks (intersection of Farm-Market roads 1268 and 48). I shot a little video that may appear in my next blog post. By this point, I still hadn’t encountered any dairy farms or feed lots as I had the previous day. The first one was just west of Wheeler, and it was populated by bison.

Wheeler, seat of Wheeler County
Pampa, seat of Gray County

Day 4 took me south to Canyon, seat of Randall County. I skirted but did not get a good look at Palo Duro Canyon, though I have camped there before. Just out of sight of this amazing natural wonder, the road to Claude was as straight and flat as any I’ve ever seen.

Canyon, seat of Randall County
Claude, seat of Armstrong County
Clarendon, seat of Donley County
Memphis, seat of Hall County

Farm-Market roads 1547 and 1056 made the drive between Memphis and Wellington a pleasant break from US-287.

Wellington, seat of Collingsworth County
Childress, seat of Childress County
Silverton, seat of Briscoe County
Tulia, seat of Swisher County
Plainview, seat of Hale County

And there is it, Texas County Courthouse #254. It wasn’t chosen as the final one for any special reason other than the efficiency of my route. I felt a sense of relief at this point, but I still had an hour of hot road to ride to my resting spot for the night in Lubbock, and dinner with my daughter there.

Day 5 of this amazing week was the long, hot ride back to Round Rock. It was the hottest day of the week, and my body was ready to be done. I have a couple more posts to share to sum up this journey, so check back soon or sign up for email updates.

Permian Basin

At the end of June 2020, I went on a four day ride out to what is variously referred to as west Texas, the southern plains, the southern panhandle, and the Permian Basin region of Texas. I visited 22 Texas county courthouses on this trip, bringing my total to 225. I only lack 29 counties on this quest.

On the second day, I became obsessed with getting a photo of a trio of things that are ubiquitous in Texas, but not easy to get into one shot. Here’s one with a windmill, a solar panel, and a bovine.

Somewhere between Mertzon and Sterling City

It was my second ride during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I took a face mask for whenever I went indoors around others, as well as some gloves, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer, as needed.

On day 1, June 26th, I headed west and my first new county was Sterling, northwest of San Angelo. Next stop was Garden City (Glasscock County). Then it was on to Midland (Midland County), then Odessa (Ector County).

Sterling City, seat of Sterling County
Garden City, seat of Glasscock County
Midland, seat of Midland County

The Midland-Odessa twin city area is considered the heart of the Permian Basin, a geological feature and source of rich oil and gas deposits. Midland is so named because it was the midway point between Fort Worth and El Paso on the Texas and Pacific Railroad. Odessa is home to the University of Texas Permian Basin.

Odessa, seat of Ector County

On day 2, I headed south to Crane (Crane County), east to Rankin (Upton County), Big Lake (Reagan County), Mertzon (Irion County), north to Colorado City (Mitchell County), back west to Big Spring (Howard County), Stanton (Martin County), then back to Odessa for the night.

Crane, seat of Crane County
Rankin, seat of Upton County
Big Lake, seat of Reagan County
Mertzon, seat of Irion County
Colorado City, seat of Mitchell County
Big Spring, seat of Howard County
Stanton, seat of Martin County

Day 3 took me north on a zig-zag path to Lubbock. First stop was Andrews (Andrews County), then Seminole (Gaines County), and Lamesa (Dawson County).

Andrews, seat of Andrews County
Seminole, seat of Gaines County
Lamesa, seat of Dawson County

Outside of Lamesa I was able to capture another Texas Trio, an oil jack, a modern wind turbine, and a horse. Actually, there’s a fourth icon on the horizon, a large irrigation sprinkler.

Between Lamesa and Gail
Gail, seat of Borden County

Next stop was Gail (Borden County). I was getting low on fuel, and planning to fill up there. I arrived in Gail and did not see a single filling station. There is an RV park there, and figured I could go knock on some doors and find someone with a spare gallon I could buy. But then I saw someone park outside what appeared to be a small convenience store, so I asked him if he knew of the nearest filling station. He turned and pointed right next door. I had to do a double take, since I didn’t see anything that looked like a gas station. As I moved closer, I found my salvation. Self service, credit card reader, no shade from the sun, but gasoline!

Fueling up in Gail

Texas is an energy state, and nowhere is this more evident than…virtually anywhere in western Texas. Not only is the oil and gas industry ubiquitous with its pumps, storage tanks, refineries, and other infrastructure, but clean renewable energy is becoming another symbol of Texas power. There are multiple stretches where you can drive for miles at a time and in every direction see hundreds of wind turbines as far as the eye can see. Huge solar projects are up and running and in development. There are two of them between Lamesa and Gail that dominate the landscape there.

Up close and personal with a wind turbine south of Tahoka
Solar farm between Lamesa and Gail

After Gail, it was on to Tahoka (Lynn County), Brownfield (Terry County), Plains (Yoakum County), Morton (Cochran County), and Levelland (Hockley County), before ending up in Lubbock for the night, where I had a nice dinner with my daughter.

Tahoka, seat of Lynn County
Brownfield, seat of Terry County
Plains, seat of Yoakum County
Morton, seat of Cochran County
Levelland, seat of Hockley Countyt

The final day included stops in Post (Garza County) and Snyder (Scurry County).

Post, seat of Garza County
Snyder, seat of Scurry County

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:

Floydada
Crosbyton
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

Piney Woods

There are four national forests in Texas. All are in the east, south of I-20 and east of I-45. Two of the largest lakes in Texas are also in this area. There are some really beautiful stretches of road in this part of the state.

My first stop on February 27th was in Madisonville (Madison County). As I was snapping this photo, a man passed by and yelled out of the passenger side window: “You takin’ a picture of the ugliest courthouse in Texas?” He cackled and drove on. I didn’t know if he was an honest local or an agitator from a neighboring county. Either way, I could not have argued with him.

Madison, seat of Madisonville County

It was a cold day, but I was just happy not to be in the office, in meetings, or on phone calls. The lonely road led me to Huntsville (Walker County), Conroe (Montgomery County), Coldspring (San Jacinto County), Livingston (Polk County), Woodville (Tyler County), Kountze (Hardin County), and Beaumont (Jefferson County).

Huntsville, seat of Walker County
Conroe, seat of Montgomery County
Coldspring, seat of San Jacinto County

That’s a big white cross on the front of the San Jacinto County Courthouse in Coldspring. There’s one on the other side too. At first I thought I had the wrong address and was circling a grand looking church. On the one hand, I’m not sure how it’s legal. On the other, I’m surprised it’s the only example I can recall seeing in 177 Texas County courthouses, so far.

Livingston, seat of Polk County
Woodville, seat of Tyler County
Kountze, seat of Hardin County
Beaumont, seat of Jefferson County

On February 28th, I set out for Orange (Orange County), Newton (Newton County), Jasper (Jasper County), Hemphill (Sabine County), and stopped for lunch in San Augustine (San Augustine County), where I got a bite at Heart of Texas Grill. I knew I had made the right choice because there was a local police officer and his wife dining there, and as I was finishing up a couple Sheriff’s deputies came in.

Orange, seat of Orange County
Newton, seat of Newton County
Jasper, seat of Jasper County
Hemphill, seat of Sabine County
San Augustine, seat of San Augustine County

After lunch, I rode to Center (Shelby County), Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches County), Henderson (Rusk County), Carthage (Panola County), and ended up in Longview (Gregg County).

Center, seat of Shelby County
Nacogdoches, seat of Nacogdoches County
Henderson, sat of Rusk County
Carthage, seat of Panola County
Longview, seat of Gregg County

On Leap Day, my first stop was Marshall (Harrison County). The photo below is not the current courthouse, nor is it the original. But it is one of the most impressive county courthouses in all of Texas. It was opened in 1900 and retired from service in 1964.

Marshall, seat of Harrison County

Next stop was Jefferson (Marion County). I was disappointed in the Marion County Courthouse, but when I was researching it later I found that this one is just temporary. The actual courthouse is undergoing renovations. I would have got a photo of it, but didn’t realize it when I was there.

Jefferson, seat of Marion County

I continued on to Linden (Cass County), Daingerfield (Morris County), Pittsburgh (Camp County), and Gilmer (Upshur County), where I stopped for lunch at La Carreta Mexican Restaurant. Again, I encountered a sheriff’s deputy entering the restaurant as I was leaving. Apparently I am selecting some prime lunch spots.

I also have to say that State Highway 11 from Linden through Hughes Springs, Daingerfield, and on to Pittsburgh, is a very nice scenic ride.

Linden, seat of Cass County
Daingerfield, seat of Morris County
Pittsburgh, seat of Camp County
Gilmer, seat of Upshur County

After lunch in Gilmer, I rode on to Quitman (Wood County), which you can see from a half-mile away at the end of Goode Street.

Quitman, seat of Wood County

Next, I had to make a big detour. Back in July 2019, when I rode through northeast Texas on my way to Memphis, I completely missed a county. It’s a small one, and was off the beaten path. So I rode north to Cooper (Delta County). I then headed southwest to Kaufman (Kaufman County). That one was a known outlier. On my return trip from Memphis, I covered as many counties as I could, but Kaufman was just so situated that it was extremely difficult for me to reach it on that trip. But I got it now. After that, it was on to Tyler (Smith County), where I spent the night.

Cooper, seat of Delta County
Kaufman, seat of Kaufman County
Tyler, seat of Smith County

On the first of March, I hit some unexpected rain. Not for long and not too heavy. First stop was Palestine (Anderson County), followed by Rusk (Cherokee County), Lufkin (Angelina County), Groveton (Trinity County), Crockett (Houston County), and Centerville (Leon County).

Palestine, seat of Anderson County
Rusk, seat of Cherokee County
Lufkin, seat of Angelina County
Groveton, seat of Trinity County
Crockett, seat of Houston County
Centerville, seat of Leon County

Leon County was the last of the 10 counties that comprise Texas Senate District 5, which was the incentive for my initial tour of local Texas counties, three years earlier. Now, I was just eager to get home to my family, a home cooked meal, and my own bed. After four days, 1455 miles, and 34 new Texas County Courthouses, I was ready for a rest.

At some point on the home stretch of these long trips the thought crosses my mind, “Well, that’s enough of that for a while.” But I know, from experience, it won’t be long before I start planning my next ride. 177 down, 77 to go.

Nueces Strip

The Republic of Texas claimed its southern border was the Rio Grande. Mexico said the border was the Nueces River, whose mouth is 150 miles to the north. The land between these two rivers is known as the Nueces Strip. After Texas became a state in 1845, it was the Mexican-American War that settled it. More specifically, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 is when Mexico ceded this territory to the US.

My first ride of 2020 would be through 23 counties in South Texas, the majority of which are in the Nueces Strip. On January 2nd, my first stop was Pearsall (Frio County), where I stopped for lunch at Garcia’s Bar and Grill. I continued on to Cotulla (LaSalle County), Crystal City (Zavala County), Corrizo Springs (Dimmit County), and ended up in Eagle Pass (Maverick County).

Pearsall, seat of Frio County
Cotulla, seat of LaSalle County
Crystal City, seat of Zavala County
Corrizo Spring, seat of Dimmit County
The Rio Grande at Eagle Pass
Eagle Pass, seat of Maverick County

On January 3rd, I rode south to Laredo (Webb County), Zapata (Zapata County), Rio Grande City (Starr County), and Edinburg (Hidalgo County).

Laredo, seat of Webb County

I got a bite to eat at Taco Palenque in Laredo. The next stop, Zapata, was the halfway mark of my quest. It was the 127th county courthouse I’d photographed.

Zapata, seat of Zapata County
Rio Grande City, seat of Starr County

It was a windy day, blowing hard from the north. On the stretch between Rio Grande City and McAllen, it was blowing across the road. At one point, I could see a wall of light brown dust across the road ahead of me, and nothing else. I had no idea how long I would be in the middle of the dust storm, but I had my full face helmet on and decided to keep going. Visibility was maybe 20 yards, and the dust still found its way into my helmet. Fortunately, it didn’t last long, a mile or two.

Hidalgo County appears to be building a new county courthouse, and this is the best view of the old one that I could manage. I had another 40 miles to go before I made it to where I was staying for the night, in Harlingen. The cold beer I bought from the Hotel pantry was the best I’d tasted in a long time. After showering and wiping the dust from all my gear, I went and got supper at Smoke, a barbecue joint a couple blocks away.

Edinburg, seat of Hidalgo County

On January 4th, I went further south to the southernmost county seat in Texas, Brownsville (Cameron County). Then it was north to Raymondville (Willacy County), Sarita (Kenedy County), Falfurrias (Brooks County), Hebbronville (Jim Hogg County), San Diego (Duval County), Alice (Jim Wells County), Kingsville (Kleberg County), and Corpus Christi (Nueces County).

Brownsville, seat of Cameron County
Raymondville, seat of Willacy County
Sarita, seat of Kenedy County
Falfurrias, seat of Brooks County
Hebbronville, seat of Jim Hogg County

Below is Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Hebbronville. I ate lunch at the Burger Barn, down the street. I had been to Hebbronville once before. For spring break, in 1991. I went with a group of other college students to do some work at another church in town. That was the farthest south in Texas I had ever been, until this trip 29 years later.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
San Diego, seat of Duval County
Alice, seat of Jim Wells County
Kingsville, seat of Kleberg County
Corpus Christi, seat of Nueces County

On January 5th, I headed north to Sinton (San Patricio County), Beeville (Bee County), George West (Live Oak County), Tilden (McMullen County), and Jourdanton (Atascosa County).

Sinton, seat of San Patricio County
Beeville, seat of Bee County
George West, seat of Live Oak County
Tilden, seat of McMullen County

I ate lunch at McBee’s BBQ in Jourdanton, a stone’s throw from the courthouse below. I chatted there with a biker couple on a day ride from San Antonio. I was ready to get home. By the time it was all over, it had been 1283 miles over four days.

Jourdanton, seat of Atascosa County

Gulf Coast

Sometimes it takes a while for Texas to shake off the summer heat. Having traversed the state from Texarkana to El Paso as if in a furnace, I was looking forward to a cool weather ride. In November, I rode south and east towards the Gulf Coast with lots of layers, a heavy jacket, and warm gloves.

On November 1, I rode through Floresville (Wilson County), Karnes City (Karnes County), Goliad (Goliad County), Refugio (Refugio County), Rockport (Aransas County), Port Lavaca (Calhoun County), and Victoria (Victoria County).

Floresville, seat of Wilson County
Karnes City, seat of Karnes County
Goliad, seat of Goliad County
Refugio, seat of Refugio County

I was disappointed in the Aransas County Courthouse, until I learned that this is their temporary location. Hurricane Harvey destroyed the courthouse and the Rockport city hall in 2017. New facilities are being built.

Rockport, seat of Aransas County
Port Lavaca, seat of Calhoun County
Victoria, seat of Victoria County

I ate supper at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant in Victoria. I met a couple staying at the same place I was, who were also riding. They asked if I was going to Galveston for the rally. I didn’t realize there was a biker rally going on, but yes I would be headed to Galveston the next day.

On November 2, I rode through Edna (Jackson County), Bay City (Matagorda County), Angleton (Brazoria County), Galveston (Galveston County), Anahuac (Chambers County), Liberty (Liberty County), and ended up in Houston (Harris County).

Edna, seat of Jackson County
Bay City, seat of Matagorda County
Angleton, seat of Brazoria County

As I approached Galveston, the biker traffic picked up, and by the time I crossed the bridge it was bumper to bumper. I’ve never ridden with a group, I’m always alone. But in a large group of motorcycles, you realize that “bumper to bumper” isn’t really the right phrase. First of all, there are no bumpers. And because of the smaller footprint and agility of motorcycles, traffic is much more fluid and what seems like a big mass of traffic moves pretty quickly. Maybe someday I’ll ride with a group just to have the experience, but I think I like the independence of riding solo.

Galveston, seat of Galveston County
Anahuac, seat of Chambers County
Liberty, seat of Liberty County

Before reaching Houston, I skirted Trinity Bay and visited Anahuac, then jogged north to Liberty. It was clear I had reached the edge of a different region of Texas, with its tall pines shading the road. I’d get a chance before long to ride through east Texas. But after Liberty, I turned back west to stay in Houston for the night.

Harris County is the most populous county in Texas. With more than 4.6 million residents, if it was a state it would be the 25th or 26th largest state by population. On this Saturday late afternoon, however, I had no trouble finding a spot to park and take this photo.

Houston, seat of Harris County

On November 3, I headed home by way of Richmond (Fort Bend County) and Wharton (Wharton County). Believe it or not, it was more difficult to get this photo of the Fort Bend County courthouse than the one in Houston. There is no place to park in front, and there were no good views from a different angle. I’m on the street here, and on a Sunday morning found about 30 seconds with no vehicles coming to get a not-so-great shot with the glare of the sun to the left.

Richmond, seat of Fort Bend County
Wharton, seat of Wharton County

To Wichita Falls

Late September 2019 provided an opportunity for a three day ride through the rolling plains of north central Texas. On the 27th, I rode to Goldthwaite (Mills County), Comanche (Comanche County), Eastland (Eastland County), Breckenridge (Stephens County), Graham (Young County), Archer City (Archer County), and Wichita Falls (Wichita County). I stopped for lunch at Matt Daddy’s on the courtyard square in Comanche.

Goldthwaite, seat of Mills County
Comanche, seat of Comanche County
Eastland, seat of Eastland County
Breckenridge, seat of Stephens County
Graham, seat of Young County
Archer City, seat of Archer County
Wichita Falls, seat of Wichita County

On September 28, I continued east along the Oklahoma border counties before zigzagging south. I visited Henrietta (Clay County), Montague (Montague County), Gainesville (Cooke County), Denton (Denton County), Decatur (Wise County), Jacksboro (Jack County), Palo Pinto (Palo Pinto County), Weatherford (Parker County), and ended up in Fort Worth (Tarrant County).

Henrietta, seat of Clay County
Montague, seat of Montague County
Gainesville, seat of Cooke County
Denton, seat of Denton County
Decatur, seat of Wise County

I caught a bite at Rooster’s Roadhouse, in Decatur.

Jacksboro, seat of Jack County
Palo Pinto, seat of Palo Pinto County

I had to be creative to catch this shot of the beautiful courthouse in Weatherford. It sits on an island with traffic circling all around and no place to park. But the parking lot across the street worked well. Situated as it is in the middle of US 180 that divides like a stream to go around an island, the bright red and white colors of this courthouse are visible from nearly a mile away as you head east on 180.

Weatherford, seat of Parker County

The Tarrant County courthouse in Fort Worth resembles the Texas Capitol building, though without the grand dome of the capitol.

Fort Worth, seat of Tarrant County

On September 29, I saw Cleburne (Johnson County), Granbury (Hood County), Glen Rose (Somervell County), and Stephenville (Erath County). I got lunch at Greer’s Ranch Cafe in Stephenville before heading back home.

Cleburne, seat of Johnson County
Granbury, seat of Hood County
Glen Rose, seat of Somervell County
Stephenville, seat of Erath County

Trans-Pecos

The thought of riding to El Paso was both the most daunting and the most anticipated of any of my trips so far. I love the mountains and the west and I’d never been to El Paso. But I knew it would take two days to get there and two days back, in the heat of late August and early September. 1500 miles for 18 courthouses.

Along US 90 east of Marfa

On August 30, I took off for the day’s final destination of Fort Stockton (Pecos County). But the first stop was Menard (Menard County), one that I had missed when I went to San Angelo earlier in the summer, followed by Ozona (Crockett County).

Menard, seat of Menard County
Ozona, seat of Crockett County
Fort Stockton, seat of Pecos County

On August 31, I turned north, deeper into the heart of the Permian Basin, before heading west. I visited Monahans (Ward County), Kermit (Winkler County), Mentone (Loving County), Pecos (Reeves County), Van Horn (Culberson County), Sierra Blanca (Hudspeth County), and finally made it to El Paso (El Paso County).

Monahans, seat of Ward County
Kermit, seat of Winkler County

The least populous county in Texas is Loving County, with a population of about 134. I’d be willing to bet that the truckers on the roads in this county outnumber the residents. Lots of them appear to be hauling sand and brine for fracking operations around the Permian Basin. Drilling sites with big flares like the one above are a common sight. There’s so much gas being produced that sometimes burning it is cheaper than putting it in the pipeline.

Mentone, seat of Loving County
Pecos, seat of Reeves County

In Pecos, I got lunch at this Tamale place. It was a market/deli style shop, with a counter to order and pick up, with no apparent seating area. As I chatted with the young man at the register about my ride, I asked him if there were any tables anywhere to sit. He said no, but then offered to let me eat my lunch back at a desk in his office. I thought that was very nice of him and thanked him, but told him I’d just find a shade tree somewhere nearby. He directed me to a nearby park. Wonderful tamales!

A good tamale joint in Pecos
The northern edge of the Davis Mountains, seen from where I-10 and I-20 converge
Van Horn, seat of Culberson County
Sierra Blanca, seat of Hudspeth County
El Paso, seat of El Paso County
Scenic view of El Paso and Juarez

The next morning, September 1, it was back in the saddle, eastbound by a different route. I would visit Marfa (Presidio County), Fort Davis (Jeff Davis County), Alpine (Brewster County), and Sanderson (Terrell County). Brewster is the largest county by area in the state. It is larger than Connecticut, larger than Puerto Rico.

Getting the shot in Marfa was tricky. This Sunday there was a street festival. There were roadblocks and a concert stage that prevented getting right in front of the courthouse–one of the most beautiful in Texas. I rode around for a bit and decided to go around one of the road blocks. I squeezed into the only space that was available with a somewhat unobstructed view (note the orange cone). Then I got a bite to eat at Hombre’s and headed north.

Marfa, seat of Presidio County
Fort Davis, seat of Jeff Davis
Fort Davis
Alpine, seat of Brewster County
Sanderson, seat of Terrell County

On September 2, I left before sunrise because I couldn’t sleep any more, or at least didn’t want to in the uncomfortable motel bed in Sanderson. I chatted with a park ranger at the gas station, who warned me of deer. I didn’t encounter any deer on the road, but dozens of jackrabbits nearly lost their lives, dodging back and forth on the road ahead of me.

A roadcut east of Alpine

I rarely listen to music on my rides. It’s uncomfortable and a hassle, so most of the time the only sound I hear is the engine turning the tires on the road, and the wind. Or the sound of my own voice singing a song over and over. Or the quiet voice in my head. I’ll pass the miles lost in my memories, planning for the future, or trying to solve a problem. Often times, the problem I’m trying to solve is political. The times in which we find ourselves. How we got here. Where we’re going. The solitude of the road can sometimes make that conversation in my head a grim one. It won’t get better before it gets worse. A Tom Petty lyric will come to mind: “The good old days may not return. The rocks might melt and the sea may burn.”

The Pecos River from the east side of the US 90 bridge

Not all the hours are spent in thought. At my best, I shut down the voice in my head and observe what is presented to me. The sun in front of me a little to the left, warming my body and burning my face. The air heating up by the hour. The smell of sage, juniper, or the sudden jolt of a rotting deer carcass. A roadrunner, a herd of goats, mountains approaching on the horizon, and the ever advancing asphalt.

Then I am settled by a palpable sense of gratitude, and the thought appears: your life is happening now. It is not past. It is not to come. It is unfolding moment by moment. That moment is all you have and all that matters.

Eagle Nest Creek – looking south from US 90
Del Rio, seat of Val Verde County
Brackettville, seat of Kinney County
Uvalde, seat of Uvalde County
Hondo, seat of Medina County

“I started out for God knows where. I guess I’ll know when I get there.”