Hub City Heaven
Travel time from:
Austin – 6 hours
Dallas – 5 hours
El Paso – 5.5 hours
San Antonio – 6.5 hours
Houston – 8.5 hours
Brownsville – 10 hours
Lubbock comes alive with history, culture and music.
By Russell A, Graves
The never-ending rows whiz by hypnotically as drivers speed past acres of ready-to-harvest cotton. The bright white puffs provide contrast with the dark, loamy soil from which the crop emerges. All summer, the plant travails under the hot and arid South Plains sun until the magical mix of season, heat and rainfall coincide, and the green bolls swell to reveal the pure white fiber within. This landscape is iconic Lubbock.
Lubbock is known locally as the Hub City, a small burgh that anchors the economy of a large swath of the Texas South Plains, the northern Permian Basin, the Texas Rolling Plains to the east and the arid grasslands and ranchlands of the western Panhandle and eastern New Mexico. It is a city that’s been built on education, agriculture, music and a healthy dose of artistic inspiration for those who find their creative muse in the expansive horizon and immense sky — both of which never seem to end.
Nathan Dahlstrom finds his inspiration here. A creative writing teacher at a Lubbock magnet school and founder of a home for abused boys, Dahlstrom’s also the author of a series of award-winning fictional books, The Adventures of Wilder Good (under the pseudonym S.J. Dahlstrom). Wilder Good hunts, fishes, fights mountain lions and rattlesnakes and lives a life of outdoor and ranching adventure in Colorado and Texas. Many of the details in his books are from Dahlstrom’s own experiences, including everyday occurrences here on the South Plains like growing cotton.
Cotton is king on the Texas plains.
“Our glowing white cotton fields are pretty interesting to people from out of town,” Dahlstrom says. “They have no idea that’s what cotton really looks like. So, naturally, people stop and take a look. It’s kind of a tourist attraction all on its own.”
The agriculture industry is ever-present in Lubbock and is ingrained deeply in the local culture. Lubbock is a place where the farmer, the cowboy, the Texas frontier and Texas’ future all come together. It’s a town that admires its past through a series of first-class museums, but it’s also a town with a culture firmly planted in the 21st century as Texas Tech University educates a new generation of thinkers and influencers.
No intersection epitomizes that mixture of present and past better than the corner of Marsha Sharp Freeway and Indiana Avenue. On the northwest corner is a state-of-the-art teaching hospital, and the southern sides feature Texas Tech’s campus, while the intersection’s northeast corner contains a collection of buildings that represents Lubbock’s earlier days.
“In my opinion, the best museum that we have in Lubbock is the Ranching Heritage Center,” says Dahlstrom, who grew up on area ranches and has spent his life tied in some way to the industry that blends big country, gregarious cattle and the men and women who wrangle it all together. The center is located just west of downtown Lubbock on the campus of Texas Tech University and features nearly 50 authentic buildings that date from the late 18th century until the mid-20th century. Most of the buildings were donated from area ranches. The museum is a mix of indoor interpretive exhibits and an outdoor exhibit where visitors can walk around the buildings to get a sense of what life on the range was once (and in many ways still is) like. One thing I learned from the Ranching Heritage Center is that the South Plains can be a tough land with baking sun, harsh winters and the ever-present wind.
The Windmill Museum showcases wind power.
While some people in West Texas may curse that breeze, the American Windmill Museum honors it and celebrates the contraptions used to harness the power of the abundant energy source.
On the Texas plains, the wind is a frequent companion. Warm and cool air masses continually battle for the atmospheric upper hand. It’s not unusual to have 20 mph sustained northerly winds from a cold front one day and then 25 mph southwest winds the next as high pressure moves in to supplant the cold air from the day before.
However, it is consistently dry, so, with no reliable surface water and intermittent rains, pioneers harnessed the wind and leveraged its abundant power to turn the windmill blades. Those blades, in turn, pumped water from one of the largest aquifers in the world — the Ogallala. With the ability to tap into a supply of underground water, the windmill helped transform the semi-arid plains into a verdant, crop-producing breadbasket that helps feed the world. Moreover, because of the region’s vast wind resources, it’s quickly become the center of wind energy production.
Inside the Bayer Museum of Agriculture next door, the history of South Plains agriculture is laid out in an interactive fashion and pays homage to the farmers who cultivate the land. The museum has an extensive collection of restored tractors and farm tools and an interactive cotton stripper exhibit; the display about the Ogallala Aquifer was especially interesting. Today, agribusiness is a huge industry, and the area grows a large portion of the nation’s cotton, corn and milo.
It’s a short history, though, as Lubbock is a relatively new city.
Lubbock serves as a hub of the South Plains.
“The city of Lubbock is just over 100 years old, so we don’t have a long span of history in a sense of permanent settlement here,” says Dahlstrom. “When you can roll back the past to before 1890, you have the great Comanche history of this area, and the history of the people who predated the Plains Indians by thousands of years.”
Dahlstrom is referring to the people of the Clovis period some 11,000 years ago. The Clovis and Folsom people who frequented the area were a prehistoric, paleo-Indian culture that emerged on the plains just after the last ice age. Here, at the Lubbock Lake National Historic Landmark, active archaeological digs continue to uncover evidence of ancient people and now-extinct animals that frequented the area.
At the 335-acre site, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of people frequenting the now-dry lake for thousands of years. Stone points, kill-site dioramas, and fossilized remains of now-extinct bison and mastodons are on display at the landmark’s interpretive center. During the summer, the public is invited to witness Texas Tech scientists engaged in their archaeological research.
Dahlstrom says, however, that spring is his favorite time at the lake.
The life of Lubbock musician Buddy Holly is documented at the Buddy Holly Center.
“In the spring, the trails at the landmark are carpeted in wildflowers,” he says. “It’s a remarkable scene that adds color to an otherwise grassy landscape.”
While Lubbock has a rich historical and archaeological heritage, perhaps these days it’s best known for an active music scene. In Lubbock’s Depot District, a statue of Buddy Holly presides over the West Texas Walk of Fame. Perhaps one of the nation’s first pop music icons and, tragically, one of its first tragic deaths, Holly was born and raised in Lubbock and cut his musical teeth here before landing national acclaim with his hit songs in the burgeoning days of rock ’n’ roll in the late 1950s.
Tragically, Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper lost their lives in an Iowa cornfield in 1959 when their plane crashed. While the event’s been largely immortalized as “The Day the Music Died,” the musical roots of the South Plains only grew deeper and strengthened. Waylon Jennings, Natalie Maines, the Maines Brothers, Mac Davis and others found their start and inspiration in the flatlands of the Llano Estacado. The Flatlanders’ Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely met up in Lubbock and still play together 45 years later.
The West Texas Walk of Fame honors those individuals and groups with a strong connection to Lubbock and the West Texas area who have devoted a significant part of their lives to the development and production of the performing and visual arts and whose body of work has been influential nationally in one or more of these areas. Music lovers visiting Lubbock can see the Buddy Holly museum or hear live music nightly at one of the many venues downtown in the Depot District.
Steaks on the grill at Cagle Steaks
For dinner, Dahlstrom takes me to his favorite local restaurant, located outside the Loop on Lubbock’s western flank, Cagle Steaks & BBQ. The restaurant’s slogan is “The Way West Texas Should Be,” an appropriate motto for a place that drips cowboy culture.
“This place is probably the most legit non-chain restaurant in Lubbock,” Dahlstrom raves. “They’ve been making good food for a long time. Their barbecue is underrated since most know them for their steaks.”
Dahlstrom and I talk about hunting and nature and literature for the better part of the evening. When we walk outside, the huge South Plains sky is a dark indigo, painted with millions of stars.
It’s the same sky that brought prehistoric man to these parts, and it’s the same sky that inspires artists, authors, educators and agriculturalists. It’s quintessential Lubbock.
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