The Lone Star State is a fascinating place when viewed from behind the windshield. Ask anyone: What's the wildest thing they've ever seen from the highway? And their answers will range from the bizarre to the terrifying to the sublime. We know because we asked Texas drivers on social media about their favorite eye-catchers, and nearly 100 responded. Here are 10 sites, from the wild to the weird, that caught their attention and curiosity.
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The PAVE PAWS Radar (pictured at top)
Driving north on U.S. 277 between San Angelo and Eldorado, you’ll glimpse out the passenger window a strange, seemingly out-of-place 10-story structure rising up from the scrubby desert, way off in the distance. What you’re looking at is a throwback to the Cold War era — the mothballed PAVE Phased Array Warning System at the Eldorado Air Force System, currently on cold standby. The Air Force Space Command radar system, operated by the 21st Space Wing for missile warning and space surveillance, is mainly for detecting and tracking enemy sea-launched and intercontinental ballistic missiles. It can also detect and track earth orbiting satellites. One of four sites designated at the perimeter of the United States in 1984, the Eldorado facility became fully operational in 1987. As the Cold War wound down, two of the — including the one in Eldorado — were closed in 1995. The radar face was moved to Clear Air Force Station in Alaska.
The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo
This famous art installation on I-40, heading out west past Amarillo, is included because it just has to be. Out in the dust, half-buried in a cow pasture at the same angle as Egypt’s Gaza Pyramid, a bunch of junked-out, graffiti-covered Cadillacs depict the evolution of this remarkable vehicle throughout the '50s and early '60s. Created in 1974 by two architects and a New Orleans artist and funded by a millionaire patron of the arts, Cadillac Ranch remains an evolving beauty — as passersby are welcome to this day to jump out of their own rides with a can of spray paint and make their colorful marks on a metallic hunk of American zeitgeist.
The Haunted Lighthouse of Bolivar
Follow Texas Highway 87 down the Bolivar Peninsula and prepare to be spooked, if you’re easily made so, by the phantom-like form of the Bolivar Point Lighthouse, entirely black from more than 150 years of erosion (hence the ghostly nickname). Commissioned in 1847 by the federal government, right after the U.S. annexed Texas, governmental red tape — yes, even in the 19th century — delayed construction until 1851 to light the way for ships coming into the vibrant and vital Galveston Bay port. Its 18 lamps were installed on Christmas Day of 1852, and the U.S. paid the first lighthouse keeper a spectacular $600 a year to be its guardian. And an important job it did, most notably keeping 120 people sheltered during the Great Hurricane of 1900, which killed 6,000 people in Galveston. Eventually, the 65-foot iron tower was outshined by a brighter light on Galveston Island, and after the Depression depleted its upkeep budget, the lighthouse flipped the switch for the last time in 1933.
The Jackrabbits of West Texas
A drive out to the Big Bend at any time of year is a good idea, but if you want to see something truly wild? Go during the springtime breeding season, because it’s Jackrabbit Country on I-10 west of Fort Stockton. The sight of literally thousands of these fast-moving hares dotting the landscape and zigzagging in droves before your headlights as you slam on your brakes to try not to hit 30 of them is an experience matched in oddity only by the nearby Marfa Lights (and some would say it’s even weirder). The problem with including the jackrabbits on our list is that the explanation is disappointingly simple, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department: West Texas is the jackrabbit’s favorite type of habitat — scrub brush, open plains, foothills — and springtime is when they mate and multiply, so they’re on the move, looking for action. The fact that they can reach up to 40 mph still makes them no match for I-10 (which doesn’t seem to faze them, unfortunately), so if you can’t stomach the idea of contributing to their population control, you might want to think about waiting until autumn.
The Round Rock Bats on I-35
Their thunder is all but stolen by their more famous hipster Austin relatives, but the Mexican free-tail bat colony of Round Rock has something that the Austin bats don’t — serious highway miles. About 15 miles north of downtown Austin, where dwells the largest urban bat colony in the world on Congress Avenue, the city of Round Rock hosts a smaller one under I-35 at the McNeil overpass. These little creatures can go 60 miles an hour and if you’re heading down the interstate at dusk during a summer rush hour, they’ll fly right along beside you at window-level before blasting up into the sky to take millions of pounds of insects out of the air, thankyouverymuch. "If people just open their eyes and pay attention without losing control, they can see all kinds of things along Texas highways," says Steve Lightfoot, spokesperson of Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The Sierra Madera Astrobleme
It’s hard to see a hole in the ground from anywhere but the edge — words to live by if ever there were any — but you can see the Sierra Madera meteor impact crater rising up from the desert like a distant mountain as you’re driving on U.S. 385 between Ft. Stockton and Marathon. The crater is six miles in diameter, with a cluster of hills at its center that’s 1.5 miles across and boasts a peak of 793 feet — which is what you’re seeing from the highway. The Sierra Madera astrobleme is thought to have been caused by a meteorite smashing into the ground and being blown to smithereens on impact. Experts say it happened most likely during the cretaceous period, between 145 and 66 million years ago, when dinosaurs were still around.
The Deep Shit Cattle Company
Because who, really, hasn’t taken a little trip to Deep Shit once or twice, metaphorically or otherwise? Peanut farmer and rancher Mack Stark posted the sign his sons gave him over his nameless family ranch, established in the 1950s about two miles north of Gustine on State Highway 36, some 150 miles southwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, a dozen or so years ago — his widow, the charming Lavon Stark, can’t remember exactly when. Mack and the boys had a late night at the auction and the last load of cows was brought in. “You know how the boys get in the auction barn,” Lavon Stark says. “The later it gets, they get pretty tipsy.” So Mack Stark asked them, “Where’d these come from?” And one of them answered, “Oh, you know, that’s the Deep Shit Cattle Company.” The sign went up, and 145-acre ranch turned into a tourist attraction. "People still take pictures of it every day," Lavon says. “Doesn‘t bother me a bit. Everybody says I should be selling T-shirts and pencils, but I don’t want to set up on the highway and do that! I’m pretty lazy now.” Mack Stark died in 2012, and the farm is now being run by a dairy company with several hundred head of cattle. But Lavon is still there, cracking jokes and chatting with anyone who shows an interest in the Deep Shit Cattle Company. Someone, she said, once observed that, “the little buckaroos might not know what s-h-i-t meant, and Mack said, ‘Well, that’s number one on your list to teach them because if they come in the ranch, they’ll get it.’”
The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Hailed as the most visited tourist attraction in all of Groom, Texas (pop. 574), the 190-foot white cross is visible from I-40 in the Texas Panhandle for a good 20 minutes as you’re driving, so huge is this audacious tribute to the Sweet Baby Jesus. The cross was built in 1995, a time when apparently there were billboards advertising pornography just blanketing the landscape along the old Route 66. To balance out all that wickedness, a structural engineer from Pampa named Steve Thomas constructed the cross made of 1,250 tons of square tubed steel on donated land as a nod to the more pious motorists traveling on the Western edge of the Bible Belt. Now, some 1,000 people visit the cross every day and an estimated 6 million visitors have made the pilgrimage to the 10-acre site. The land around it also hosts statues that pay tribute to the stations of the cross, as well as the 10 Commandments and an anti-abortion memorial. Initially, Thomas wanted the cross to be 300 feet tall — but, according to a report last year on Amarillo.com, any structure over 200 feet would summon the oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration — and “the last thing Thomas wanted was government intervention.” Much better to leave things in the hands of the Almighty.
The Roadside Grave of Gentleman Jim Reeves
A country music superstar in the 1950s and '60s and a contemporary of Elvis Presley’s, Gentleman Jim Reeves died piloting a private plane in 1964 at the age of 40. (He had, apparently, been trained by the same guy as the pilot flying Patsy Cline’s plane when it crashed). This Texas native recorded several albums in the Afrikaans language in tribute to his fanbase in South Africa, where he was more popular than The King himself. He is also credited, in spite of his Texas roots, with creating the “Nashville sound.” “He rose to fame by abandoning Country's traditional hollerin' hillbilly style and pioneering smooth, velvet-voiced vocals that wowed the ladies,” according to RoadsideAmerica.com. Reeves is now buried on the side of the U.S. Highway 79 near his birthplace in Panola County, a few miles south of I-20 near the Louisiana border. You can see his life-sized statue at the site, but you can also stop, get out and walk along the guitar-shaped pathway to pay tribute to his beloved collie, Cheyenne, who died later and was buried next to him.
The Montague Windmills
A collection of 17 windmills along U.S. Highway 59 west of Gainesville is one of the more startling North Texas visions you’ll see from your car window, as they don’t look like the typical white, alien-like windmills you see by the hundreds in West Texas. These are the Don Quixote kind, and while they are often photographed, they are rarely explained. It would be fun if they were mysterious, but they’re really not. They’re an advertisement, pure and simple, for Custom Water Co., which makes and repairs, among other things, windmills, right there in Montague, Texas.