God is worried about the Texans, I reckon.

By the looks of it, He spends all of His advertising dollars here—mostly on massive billboards in the Panhandle, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

When He talks to Texans, God speaks in black and white and in all caps. Some of His messaging is bold and blunt: “I AM ALIVE” he reminds—signed God. Other times, He calls out in slang: “It’s all about Jesus.”

He owns most of the real estate, too. In a two-horse town, I count five churches on one block—a subdivision of steeples. It looks as if God favors brown brick, a color that matches the beautiful brown earth that I am rolling across at 70 mph.

The bare red-brown prairies of the Texas Panhandle (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

The bare red-brown prairies of the Texas Panhandle (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

 

The landscape is biblical—a geometric plane of red-brown soil that never ends. It is the desolate land from Ezekiel and the wind blows like an Old Testament plague, wanting to push me off the straight and narrow.

I’ve gone a hundred miles without a single bend in the road, but I grip the steering wheel with both hands, fighting the forces of nature. Urgent yellow signs offer helpful warnings—“Watch for High Winds”—but I am watching the tumbleweeds instead as they bounce and twirl in the air, rolling and tumbling across the highway, missing my bumper by seconds, or, as luck would have it, hitting my car with a crunch.

In the time it takes to leave Lubbock, I devise a whole sermon on tumbleweeds—a  metaphor for aimless living—or aimless travel. I am uprooted, rolling and blown for a hundred miles without a tree or fence to stop me.

I suspect there are not trees because they have all been chopped down to make enough paper to print the road map of Texas that I am using. It’s the size of an Olympic swimming pool cover, and I must constantly fold and refold this gigantic sheet of place names and numbered red veins.

The poetry of Texas lies in the names of towns I pass by: Happy, Nazareth, Peacock, Tarzan, Whiteface, Progress, and Earth. Yes—Earth, Texas is an actual place, because Texas is bigger than Earth, and so is Happy, because Texas is a state of being.

Other towns’ names conjure up images of prairie ladies past: Carey, Gail, Ira, Patricia, Idalou and Lenorah.

Andrews, Texas named after Texas revolutionary Richard Andrews (Photo by AE/NGT)

Andrews, Texas named after Texas revolutionary Richard Andrews (Photo by AE/NGT)

There’s even a town named after me: Andrews.

A water tower with my name on it is the tallest thing I’ve seen for days. I mentally add apostrophes to all the signs, turning possessive of this place, Andrew’s County—discounting the Andrews who died a hero of the Texas Revolution.

Other town names are dreadfully honest. Brownfield, Texas (“A Great Place to Grow!”) is, in fact, a big brown field against the clear prairie sky and red clouds of swirling dust. The endless grey road is straight, long, and clean. A sign informs me that this stretch of highway has been adopted by the Tahoka Honors Society, and those high school kids are doing a bang-up job keeping the road clean, although with these winds, I suspect any kind of litter gets blown away into Oklahoma.

Then God turns off the radio. The silence of nowhere surprises me, jolted into quiet from the crackling AM radio playing the blues. One second I’m listening to “I’m a Wild, Wild Woman (and you’re a lucky man!)” by Shemekia Copeland, the next the radio is dead and I’m hearing only the rubber on the road and the wind rattling my car windows.

I’m going eighty, at least, but I slow down and stop the car, then step out into the wild air. The sin of automobile travel is that you can tick off two hundred miles without ever breathing in the Texas air. There are no flowers yet, though they will arrive soon enough. For now, the air is the smell of damp earth with momentary blasts of methane expelled from the cattle that roam these plains. Then there’s the faint scent of oil from deep below the earth, pumped up to this reality by the rhythmic metal drills on the horizon. I have not stopped to smell the roses—I’ve stopped to smell the oil and the cows. This is Texas.

My birth certificate calls this my native land, but I find the featureless void of West Texas utterly overwhelming and incomprehensible—America’s answer to Siberia, the Sahara, and the outback—an endless bare land immeasurable beyond the draped segments of thin black wire threaded from one weathered telephone pole to the next.

Mile after mile, my eyes grow blurry from the great beige distance. I am no longer amused by the ridiculous size of Texas and the blank brown pages that lie between the sparse punctuation of these half-there towns. Maybe Texas is some kind of geographical error, the XXXL T-shirt that hangs unsold at the end of a clothes rack. Maybe the joke’s on me and the Earth is spinning against my wheels, keeping me in Texas forever.

I drive and drive and drive. For three days and three nights I drive until I clock a thousand miles—all of it in Texas. The end only comes in El Paso, where Texas finally relents, cornered by Mexico, old and new, giving up its dream of the Pacific and offering me the chance to turn around and begin again.

Waiting at a corner in El Paso, a man with a snowy white beard knocks on my car window. I open it just a crack and he hands me a tiny orange Bible, urging me to accept God into my life. He is not God, though he looks like Him, and I assume he works for Him. After all, I am Texan, and we are His target market.

The light turns green and I push onwards, block after block until I reach I-10. The end of the road is the beginning, the genesis of my exodus, and I begin again, driving eastward across this massive land from whence I came.

Sunset on Route 385 South near Odessa, Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Sunset on Route 385 South near Odessa, Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Comments

  1. Natina Harris
    Durham NC
    March 7, 2013, 3:22 pm

    That’s a wonderful blog! I’ve never been to Texas & missed an opportunity to go this week to the national sleep conference. I thought the things folks who have been to or through Texas said to me about this massive state wasn’t really true. But after reading this, I stand corrected. I just can’t imagine riding for a thousand miles & not seeing anything with the exception of tumbleweeds! That would give me the creeps! Incredible Texas!

  2. Donna Jones
    San DIego
    March 7, 2013, 8:02 pm

    Great job describing the loooong trip across West Texas; but you can also smell the roses in my part of Texas — Tyler, the Rose Capital of the World. Hope you make it to Tyler and other parts of East Texas to describe the piney woods & lakes, and of course the trip between Austin & San Antonio is beautiful and truly God’s country. I’m staying tuned to hear more about your adventures!

  3. georgia
    new york city
    March 8, 2013, 7:07 am

    Wow this is great. From someone who lives in a big city and doesn’t need to drive what a great story! Can’t imagine such open flat plains like that. Really interesting and enjoying your Texas tour. Can’t wait to hear more.

  4. [...] days and days of driving across some of the flattest terrain in America, I was keen to see the parts of Texas that are not flat, [...]

  5. Erin Holte
    March 9, 2013, 8:52 pm

    I love your writing! Great post!

  6. Michael Lapin
    Bromo national park
    March 10, 2013, 5:20 am

    Really inspiring words, Andrew. Cracking post!

  7. [...] Driving In God’s Country – digitalnomad.nationalgeographic.com A sermon on a mountain or road same difference: It is true then, everything in Texas is big! The belief in God. The belief in spreading His message. The belief that Texans will not miss a chance to push their beliefs on strangers even on a vast disconnected land like Andrew Evans (our narrator), from Digital Nomad, drives. Andrew draws the reader into an entertaining POV of his skew about his native land, and describes the arresting Texas earth in a poetic note. [...]

  8. [...] I drove for so many days to get here—Big Bend is especially remote, and though my life hasn’t lacked in travel, this was (for me) the national park that got away. Few Americans (and fewer Texans) ever get out to Big Bend. I suspect it’s that final hundred-mile drive across the sand-shaded nothingness that prevents so many from committing to come all this way—a Texas-style buffer zone to keep the faint-hearted away. [...]

  9. Teddy
    March 11, 2013, 3:19 pm

    I think I’m in love. With you, with your writing! I felt like I was on this road trip with you, taking in every one of those sights. You’ve captured Texas in a way most native Texans never do. Eloquent and perfect!

  10. Leonard Bryans
    Dallas, TX
    March 15, 2013, 5:52 pm

    This guy is more POET than REPORTER

    • Andrew Evans
      March 17, 2013, 12:27 pm

      Thanks Leonard, very kind of you to say.

  11. [...] since I touched down in this great state, I’ve been scoping the wide Texas horizon and every boot store and western-wear depot to replace that which taken away from me so long ago. [...]

  12. ausbasel.com
    Switzerland
    April 21, 2013, 2:09 pm

    You described the outback of Texas beautifully. I have never been to this part of Texas, but your post painted a landscape that I would like to visit some day. My son and I read your article together, and we giggled at the underlining humor sprinkled throughout.