Sunday, June 21, 2009

More photos from my Texas Roadside Park research

For more photos from my research on roadside parks please go to

I should be adding more roadside park albums on a regular basis

Thursday, June 18, 2009

For the foreseeable future, my interest will far outweigh my time to pursuit all Texas roadside park locations and histories. However, I am concerned about the efforts of TxDOT to improve the experience and the roadside amenities for the highway traveler. There are beautiful new roadside rest areas already constructed along selected Texas highways, and it appears more are in the plans.

This one is along 287 near Quanah, Texas.

These are truly wonderful stops for the travelling public. They have huge, secure well-lit parking areas for cars, RVs and semis. They have padded playgrounds and equipment for the kids. They have beautiful, clean amenities and spotless restrooms. The have inter-active displays for area history and weather. Most have WiFi. They are environmentally-designed with waste water recycling and low-water-demand landscaping. They are state of the art, and I use them regularly myself.

That looks a really safe place with lots of rules.

But for me I prefer, and thus wish to save, the simple aesthetic of a lonesome roadside park with a concrete table and a metal arbor, sitting out in the middle of nowhere.

I want to make sure that every effort is made to keep these roadside "sculptures", these pieces of everyday art alive, and well and a part of the landscape of the highways of Texas. They are both beautiful and functional in their simplicity and in their locales.


I should mention here an excellent website and the ongoing research presented there by Ms. Joanna Dowling.

Ms. Dowling is an historical architect and a fellow devotee of the roadside park. If you are interested in not only some Texas sites, but parks in other states, historical and architectural information plus loads of links, please check out this website. For more information email:

Not long ago, Ms Dowling mentioned wanting to do a Texas specific feature on her website sometime soon. I am certainly looking forward to that opportunity to assist.

Only in the past few years have I started taking pictures of roadside parks. Above is the first one I ever took. This is out in far west Texas, near Kermit.

I’m not sure why I started collecting the pictures. I have driven by some of these literally hundreds of times as I traveled Texas over the years. I always looked, but I never thought about taking pictures – or maybe I never took the time to stop and explore. Now I am getting a little older. I am not in such a hurry. Well, that’s not true either. Even now I sometimes pull over, jump out and crank off a few snaps, jump back in and head on down the road - but I least I stopped and didn’t shoot it out the window as I passed by.

As I collected images, I began to notice the subtle differences between the various structures I photographed. I began doing some research and reading what I could find about the history of the roadside park in Texas and elsewhere.

No Texan would be surprised to know that Texas claims to have invented and built the first roadside park. My research to date indicates otherwise. It appears some folks in Michigan beat us to it.

And of course, Texans being Texans, there is a smoldering battle as to where the first roadside park in Texas was built. I suppose that will be a point of contention forever.
There is historical information available and I will continue to compile that and research what I can find.
For our purposes here (very briefly) let’s just say that Texas began building roadside parks during the mid to late 1930’s with depression era labor and style – meaning a lot of hand work with native stone. Some 35 of those early parks still exist,(mostly in east Texas) and it looks like TxDOT is going to make an effort to maintain those historical locations. Again, I will write more about that soon.

I particularly like the roadside parks set in the vast openness of my native High Plains of Texas or the Llanno Estacado. Out there a little patch of shade poised over a picnic table is possibly the only respite from the sun a weary traveler would see for miles and miles.

Roadside parks and the structures there have caught my attention for as long as I can remember, even before I was old enough to drive. Below is a picture of one of the parks south of my hometown of Canyon, Texas.

When I was a kid, I would ride my bike out here and gather up pop bottles that travelers left behind here then cash them in for the deposit. Remember deposit on soda bottles? I can remember getting 2 cents apiece. I saved the money and bought a new baseball glove. That was a long time ago.

Now I drive everywhere and when I am in this part of Texas I always stop at this roadside park (pictured below). It is one of my favorite places in all the world. It's on highway 207 and the park is on the south ridge of Palo Duro Canyon. It is a nice place to enjoy a sandwich.

I like the structures

(Until I get an actual website built this will have to suffice. It’s not really a blog, in as much as I doubt I will make any daily additions or updates. Once I figure out how to build an actual website, or find someone who will do it, the presentation will change. This will have to do for now.)

I have a definite affection for Texas roadside parks. I particularly like the structures one finds at these wayside rest areas. I like the picnic tables and the arbors or shelters; I like the grills, I even like the trash barrels mounted at a slant with a metal lid. I like the way these structures silhouette against the horizon or the starkness of the surroundings in which they are placed.

For me, they are like sculptures. Pieces of very practical art placed in often harsh or hostile environments for the benefit of the traveler plying the highways Texas.