MARFA – The human foot consists of 20 muscles and 28 bones. An indefinable mix of reason, emotion, pride, vanity and God only knows what else make up the human psyche. When western boot maker Colt Miller sets to work his unusual task is to fit for both the foot and the person attached to it.
Hunched over a cluttered table in his workshop on South Highland Avenue in Marfa, he patiently tools a pair of custom cowboy boots for his girlfriend of the past five years. The complex inlay depicts her namesake, Mt. Logan, in tri-colored calfskin. In the end he’ll spend upwards of 60 hours working on this pair.
It starts simple enough. He traces the outline of each foot and takes down certain measurements: instep, toe box, width, length and the like. But Miller’s handiwork brings dirt kickers to another level – replete with a whole spectrum of colors and different types of leather, intricate inlays and embroidered designs laden with highly specific, personal symbols.
“I’ve noticed that it’s a lot of the cowboys who want the most flamboyant boots,” Miller says.
But of the 50 or so pairs he has crafted in the past seven years, only about half went to cow folk. The rest outfit concrete dwellers, those concerned less with rattlesnakes and mesquite thorns than with fashion.
Since cowboy boots appeared in the late 1800s, (a close cousin of military boots designed specifically for riding on horseback all day long), they have been subject to the whims of every generation, from polyester paisley to Ralph Lauren.
Despite, or perhaps because of this enduring demand for western wear, one-man operations like Miller’s Cobra Rock Boots are a rarity these days.
Colt Miller at work in his workshop. (staff photo by ALBERTO TOMAS HALPERN)
At the Justin boot factory in El Paso a computer-programmed embroidery machine replaced 100 workers who used to do the ornate stitchings. The factory churns out 1,000 pairs of boots a day.
Miller averages one pair of boots a week, on a good week.
While still an enduring symbol of Americanism with a capital A, modern cowboy boots are predominately manufactured overseas: another commodity in an ever-globalizing economy. In all, the value of US production of men’s western style boots fell 40 percent between 1997 and 2002, according to the US Census Bureau.
Roughly 35 to 40 percent of the Tony Lama line is outsourced, while between 75 and 80 percent of the Justin Boots brand are crafted in China and Mexico.
Cobra Rock Boots are made from start to finish by 30-year-old Miller, who grew up in Borden County, Texas, about 70 miles south of Lubbock, the son of a cowboy and a schoolteacher. The nearest town to his family’s ranch boasts a population of 180 and a Main Street full of shuttered business, save the post office.
After studying geography and financial planning at Texas Tech, Miller returned home in search of a job he could hold down while still playing guitar in a touring country band called the Thrift Store Cowboys.
Then he met a boot maker in Post, who taught him the time-honored trade in exchange for guitar lessons. After a yearlong apprenticeship, Miller made his first pair of handmade boots for his granddad.
“It was finally something where I could be creative. I was always too self-conscious to do anything in school,” Miller says.
He moved to Marfa in August and now spends much of his time either working on boot orders or touring with Thrift Store Cowboys, whose fourth studio album came out in October.
A pair of Cobra Rock boots runs $600 for an all custom design and fit; $525 for a standard fit, designed to suit; and $300 for custom lace-up western ankle boots.
The design aspect of Miller’s work is time consuming and totally personalized, but he says it’s a good fit that makes or breaks the deal, often after 40+ hours of labor:
“You do a lot of sweating just measuring someone and shaping the last. You won’t really know until they try them on”.
Cobra Rock Boot Company is located at 207 South Highland Avenue, just north of Marfa National Bank. Samples of Miller’s work can be seen online at cobrarock.com.
from the Friday, April 29 edition of the New York Times and Texas Tribune:
photo by Alberto Tomas (Beto) Halpern/Associated Press
Wildfires overran parts of Fort Davis, Tex., in early April, destroying more than 60 homes in West Texas and killing livestock and horses.
By JOE NICK PATOSKI
Published: April 28, 2011
These are strange days in Texas. A severe drought gripping the entire state, unseasonably high temperatures, unusually low humidity and exceptionally gusty winds have created a perfect storm for wildfires, which have erupted statewide like never before. Horrible images of homes burned to the ground, property destroyed, and livestock, wildlife and human fatalities are impossible to escape.
The Texas Tribune
Expanded coverage of Texas is produced by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization. To join the conversation about this article, go to texastribune.org.
Unfortunately, the greatest chronicler of such dire conditions — the person everyone in Texas turned to for perspective — is no longer with us to make sense of it all. It’s fair to ask, rhetorically: What would Elmer Kelton say?
Mr. Kelton was the farm and ranch editor for The San Angelo Standard-Times from 1948 to 1963. He was also the longtime associate editor of Livestock Weekly and the author of several dozen western novels. His finest work, “The Time It Never Rained,” published in 1973, focused on the historic seven-year drought of the 1950s as told through Charlie Flagg, the hard-headed, independent-minded protagonist.
If anyone knew about drought, wildfires and making a living from running livestock on the range west of the 98th meridian, it was Mr. Kelton. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2009. But his son, Steve Kelton, is alive and well and living in San Angelo.
Steve Kelton, who now edits Livestock Weekly, remembers clearly that his father considered the period of time spent covering the 1950s drought for the San Angelo newspaper the most traumatic in his life. “I’d long since run out of new ways to say ‘dry,’ ” the father had told the son.
What would the elder Mr. Kelton write about today’s news? That there is an upside — a silver lining. “Dad was always a firm believer that nothing was black and white, nothing was all good or all bad,” Steve Kelton said.
“Fire can be good for brush control, if it’s a good, hot fire; these should be pretty effective in that regard,” he said in droll understatement, referring to the so-called Wildcat fires that have raged over 159,000 acres north of San Angelo in the west-central part of the state, threatening to engulf the towns of Robert Lee, Tennyson and Bronte.
Indeed, for all its obvious negatives, fire was part of the life cycle of the arid western range long before humans settled the region and tried to tame the land, instinctively suppressing wildfires whenever possible. Today, when conditions are right, many landowners intentionally burn their property because, as Steve Kelton noted, “it will improve things.”
He cited the destruction of nuisance species like prickly pear, mesquite and ashe juniper — a k a cedar — and brushy undercover that compete with native grasses. “There are a lot of caveats to that,” Mr. Kelton added. “You have to have rain, but if it comes all at once, you lose all the topsoil.”
But if the rain falls gradually, the first land that will green up and spring back to life is that which burned. “A really hot fire brings out woody vegetation that deer, birds, and even goats and sheep like to eat,” Mr. Kelton said. “Their seed needs fire to germinate.”
He made the same observation about the Texas rangeland that critics have made about forest management in the American West: the human tendency to suppress fire at first sight has created a buildup of dry tinder that makes any wildfire that manages to break out “bigger than they ought to be,” Mr. Kelton said. “But we also have the technology and the people on the ground to fight them, so we’ve got a trade-off.
“During the 1990s and the early 2000s, we went 13 years with a really severe drought out here,” he said. “Then it rained.” The country was left so depleted, he said, that there were no cattle or sheep left to eat the grasses that sprang up; so in 2006, the worst year for wildfires in Texas on record until this year, “when it burned, it burned extra hot.”
Despite the horrific loss of property, livestock and wildlife this year, the longer view finds something to look forward to in the wake of the destruction.
“This is survivor country,” Mr. Kelton said. “It puts on its best clothes when it rains after a long drought.”
Joe Nick Patoski is the author of “Generations on the Land: A Conservation Legacy” (Texas A&M Press).
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK SEEKS PUBLIC COMMENT ON PROPOSAL TO CONSTRUCT VISITOR CONTACT STATION,
ESTABLISH PORT OF ENTRY AT BOQUILLAS CROSSING
The National Park Service (NPS) proposes to construct a visitor contact station in Big Bend National Park near the Rio Grande and across from Boquillas, Mexico. The facility would provide visitors with information and would house the equipment necessary to permit the area to function as a Class B port of entry between the U.S. and Mexico. The public, organizations, and other agencies are invited to review and comment upon an Environmental Assessment (EA) describing and analyzing the proposal.
The purpose of re-establishing the Rio Grande crossing near Boquillas and constructing a visitor contact station is to provide visitor information and to support safe and secure international crossings of the Rio Grande. This new contact station and re-established border crossing are intended to facilitate opportunities for visitors, scientists and researchers, and park and protected area managers to enter Mexico, as well as permit residents on the Mexican side of the border to enter the United States to purchase goods and services and to visit friends and family living in nearby West Texas towns. Construction of the visitor contact station is proposed to begin in July 2011. The port of entry opening is proposed for April 2012.
This Environmental Assessment (EA) evaluates two alternatives and the potential environmental impacts of each: 1) Alternative A, the No Action Alternative; 2) Alternative B, Construction and Operation of a Visitor Contact Station. Alternative A describes the current condition of the project area and the environmental impacts that may occur if there were no changes in the way the park currently manages the area. Alternative B describes construction and operation of a new visitor contact station and establishment of a Class B (remote, automated) port of entry. Alternative B is the preferred alternative.
The EA has been prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations (40 CFR 1500 et seq), and NPS Director’s Order 12: Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis, and Decision-making (DO-12).
The 30-day review and comment period starts May 4, and continues through June 2, 2011. To see the Environmental Assessment, visit the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/bibe during the comment period. Written comments may be submitted on the PEPC website or may be sent to: Superintendent, Attention Boquillas Contact Station, P.O. Box 129, Big Bend National Park, Texas, 79834.
Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made public at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
from the April 18, 2011 edition of the Dallas Morning News
Bid to honor Western swing music hits sour note in Texas Legislature Does Western swing icon Bob Wills’ work represent Texas music better than Van Cliburn’s? Or Roy Orbison’s? Or Brave Combo’s? Or Johnny Winter’s? Or…?
By KAREN BROOKS Austin Bureau email@example.com
AUSTIN — An effort to make Western swing the official music of Texas could see miles and miles of opposition, as one Hill Country music lover finds herself in the opening stanzas of a debate over what defines “Texas music.” “When we’re talking about a symbol, we’re talking about culture and heritage and history, and something that has been long lasting,” said Paula Jungmann, a Boerne housewife who is pushing for the legislative declaration. “When I look at Western swing, that is what I see.” But while she counts no time in politics, Jungmann is discovering that elected officials and creative artist types are pages torn from the same songbook in two big ways: You never know what they’re going to do, and you’ll never get them all to agree on anything. Some musicians — and the “Beer-drinkers and Hell-raisers” who love them (thank you, ZZ Top) — are wondering whether lawmakers should be trying to define and symbolize Texas music in terms of one genre. Particularly if it leaves out Hank Williams’ pain songs, Newbury’s train songs and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” “The official sound of Texas should be Texas music in all its glorious facets,” said Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski. “No official proclamation is necessary when everybody knows we make music better than anybody else.”
I SPENT SATURDAY NIGHT IN MID-APRII. Helping chaperone a dance in the cafetorium of Danforth Junior High, the school in Wimberley where my older son Jake attends eighth grade. My assignment was to guard the door at stage left, making sure no one left the building before the dance was over. I mistakenly let three boys leave after telling them they couldn’t return, only to find them back inside half an hour later, reeking of tobacco smoke. Other than that mild transgression, I had a splendid evening watching young teenagers, all brimming with adolescent energy and confusion, having fun, chatting in cliques and clusters, boys with boys and girls with girls, meeting together on the dance floor to embrace gawkily whenever a slow song was played.
Nine days later, I stood at the same spot in the Danforth cafetorium at a town meeting. We’d all gathered to ponder why, just three days after a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, four 14-year-olds were in the Hays County Juvenile Detention Center in San Marcos on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and other assorted acts of violence and mayhem, including blowing up their school. Instead of watching kids on the verge of what for many of them would he one of the most exciting times of their lives, I saw them sitting stone-faced next to their parents, hanging on to the words of the superintendent of the Wimberley Independent School District, the sheriff of Hays County, and an assistant district attorney. Standing between the speakers at the podium and the somber audience was a phalanx of men holding video cameras backlit by bright floodlights, and television reporters whose perfect hair, perfect teeth, and stylish outfits made them stand out from the more casually dressed local residents.
According to authorities, the evidence against the four boys included bomb-making instructions downloaded from the Internet, gunpowder, and crude bombs. And apparently the boys had given police the names of specific teachers and students they had told each other they’d like to get. Many people in the audience who stepped to the microphone praised the superintendent, the school administration, and the sheriff for acting swiftly on the heels of what had happened at Columbine High School. Some called for remedies such as metal detectors, school uniforms, and prayer to ensure the students’ safety. Numerous others wondered aloud how the boys, if they really did what they were accused of doing, managed to develop such anger and hate.
I had arrived back home that afternoon from a trip to Chicago on family business. While traveling, I’d seen footage of Jake’s school on television framed by words and voice-overs linking Danforth Junior High to the violence in Colorado. On television even the wooden sign at the edge of town identifying Wimberley as “A Little Bit of Heaven” appeared sinister. The whole world, it seemed, was watching my community.
I just had time to pick up Jake and take him to the town meeting. I asked him a few questions about school and the students’ reactions. He didn’t seem to want to talk about it, so I asked him how his television appearances had gone. Jake was the newly elected president of next year’s freshman class, and while I’d been out of town, several reporters had contacted him. Since I’ve earned a living most of my adult life as a reporter, I didn’t want Jake to be afraid of the media. At the same time, I fully understood why many parents were telling their children not to speak to anyone from the press.
“They edited me down to ten seconds,” Jake said.
“Welcome to the world of soundbites,” I replied cynically.
After the meeting, we came home and watched Jake and my wife, Kris, on NBC’s Dateline. Kris talked about the fear of Wimberley being another Littleton and voiced concern for the boys who’d been detained. Jake admitted he had once downloaded instructions on how to make a smoke bomb from the Internet a year ago. The interviewer asked him why he did it. “I was curious,” Jake said, acknowledging our concern when we had learned about it.
I was relieved that Jake had said “smoke bomb” instead of “bomb.” I thought that by appearing on the program maybe Jake and Kris brought a little reason into what I feared was a state of hysteria being whipped up by the media. But as we continued to talk, Kris and I started wondering if we’d done the right thing. By being forthright, had we set ourselves up?
Should we have just told the reporters no and spared our son the glare of scrutiny? Jake played Doom and Quake, and we had gunpowder in the house, in the form of Black Cat firecrackers left over from New Year’s Eve. Would the authorities be paying us a visit next, confiscating computers and fireworks? Kris worried that she’d betrayed Jake’s trust by telling the Dateline producers about our own downloading incident. I was so rattled I couldn’t tell Jake about the item I’d read in the newspaper about the father in Port Aransas who had turned in his son for downloading bomb-making instructions from the Internet–one of numerous similar incidents across the state and the nation that week. Instead I had to advise Jake that if investigators approached him at school, as they had other students, he wasn’t to say a word until we were present, along with an attorney. The four boys who’d been detained had only the count) precinct constable present to explain their rights during their initial interrogation; they weren’t allowed to see their parents for more than 24 hours.
It wasn’t just us. Everyone in town was uncomfortable until the end of the week, when the cameras and reporters finally left. That’s when my community really got busy. Parents, students, and teachers held formal and informal meetings to discuss how to keep kids engaged, identify problems, and seek solutions. Two buildings at the Emily Ann Theatre, an outdoor theater built for high school theater productions with volunteer help last year, have been secured to organize after-school and summer activities. The programs, to he run by volunteers, are the only such alternative to a school system still facing budget cuts after eliminating programs such as art and music from the elementary school. The end-of-the-day advisory period eliminated at Danforth this year is scheduled to be reinstated next fall. Gary Weeks, a craftsman who makes rocking chairs and serves as the president of Wimberley Teens, Inc., the nonprofit parent and student organization that sponsored the dance I had chaperoned, called a meeting to try to anticipate what ninth graders in high school are going to need next year. Nathalie Harris, a parent of another eighth grader and the owner of a Christian bookstore, has organized a campaign to write letters to the boys in detention, noting that they were her daughter’s friends and that instead of seeing them, her daughter sees only empty desks in her classes now. Mike Crowley, a neighbor who manages singer-songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore, is organizing concerts in August and October to benefit the Emily Ann and further involve the community. Churches are stepping up their youth programs, and Jake has signed up to go on a mission trip to Nuevo Laredo with the Wimberley Presbyterian Church this summer. Wimberley’s like that.
At this writing, the boys are still in the Hays County Juvenile Detention Center. Something in the back of my mind tells me that in the full light of day the incident will fade away, that the evidence was factually correct but that the consequences implied by that evidence were blown out of proportion, an understandable overreaction on the side of caution in response to the events at Columbine High. Besides the shame of spending time in the juvenile detention center and being shown on television in prison orange, the four boys will in all likelihood have to attend another high school, which at this time in their tender lives is severe punishment indeed.
The sheriff and school authorities were right to act swiftly. If it could happen in suburban Colorado, it could happen anywhere, even in Wimberley. But I think the parents and friends of the boys detained were right as well. Those boys are our problem too. What prompted them to do what they did, if their intentions were in fact malicious, as has been claimed? Another eighth grader told me that one of the boys detained, who came to Wimberley from Hawaii, disliked a teacher for referring to him as “Kamikaze,” reminding me of the comment of one parent at the town meeting: “If we have zero tolerance for students, shouldn’t we have zero tolerance for teachers and administrators too?” The incident has prompted both Kris and me to reassess our roles as parents, with the full understanding that no matter how good a job we might do, it will never be good enough. We’ve tried to keep the dialogue going at our house, and there have been some bumps along the way, as there always will he. We’re trying harder to listen with open minds. I still worry that in our rush to feel safe and secure we don’t violate the trust that has been built up with our children over the years. If the rules and restrictions we impose on teens become too onerous, will they still feel comfortable enough to confide in us? Will they be able to make mistakes, part of the process of growing up?
On the next to last page of the same edition of the Wimberley View that ran the headline “Wimberley Shocked By Arrests of Four Junior High Boys” was a picture of the eighth-grade boys’ track team. The photograph included three of the four boys detained. They looked like good kids to me, just like my kid, just like your kid. We may be relieved it wasn’t our child who was detained and accused, but those four boys who are being held belong to us too, at least in a village like Wimberley. We didn’t need the whole world watching our little town to understand that.
extra Team Player How George W. Bush ran the Texas Rangers and became, finally, a successful businessman. [Texas Monthly, June 1999]
The Mid-Nineties: George W. Bush greeting fans and signing balls at the ballpark in Arlington.
Texas Monthly BY JOE NICK PATOSKI June 1999
How he ran the Texas Rangers and became, finally, a successful businessman.
HE MAY BE IN THE MIDDLE OF A LEGISLATIVE session and at the start of a run for president, but priorities being what they are, George W Bush spent the first Monday in April at the Ballpark in Arlington, where his career as an organization man took shape. It was a glorious spring afternoon, with clear blue skies providing a brilliant contrast to the emerald green of the outfield grass. Over the course of nine innings at the Texas Rangers’ home opener against the Detroit Tigers, Bush sat in a box seat behind the first-base dugout next to his wife, Laura, team owner Tom Hicks, and then team president Tom Schieffer; signed autographs in the stands; strolled into the clubhouse to chat up players and personnel; and fielded questions in the press box. He even popped into the booth where Rangers games are broadcast in Spanish and called the play when Juan Gonzalez broke up a no-hitter: “Un hit de Juan! El primer hit de Texas del juego!”
The Ballpark is the legacy of Bush’s five-year stint as managing general partner of the Rangers, a time in which he built U both the franchise’s bottom line and his own, along the way honing many of the skills he draws upon in politics. Fundraiser Bush shook out $46 million from various investors during the depths of Texas’ last economic bust in the run-up to busing the team. Consensus-builder Bush got the Ballpark referendum passed in Arlington when similar measures were being nixed by voters elsewhere. Manager Bush ran a business efficiently in the glare of the public eye. People-person Bush nourished the egos of the famous and the anonymous, from Juan Gonzalez to the groundskeepers, always addressing them k name.
After all that, running the free world might seem like T-ball.
PRIVILEGE, PEDIGREE, AND PERSONAL relationships were the reasons Bush hooked up with the Rangers in the first place. His name surfaced as a possible major league owner in the weeks after his father was elected president. “George had spent most of 1988 campaigning and then on the transition team, but he decided he didn’t want to he in Washington-he wanted to go back to Texas,” says one of his fraternity brothers, Roland W. Betts, a movie financier who’d been looking for a pro sports team to buy. “In December he called me and said the Rangers were in play. The Macks [a venerable baseball family] wanted to buy the team from Eddie Chiles, but there was growing concern that they wanted to move the team to Florida.”
Chiles, the Fort Worth oilman who achieved notoriety with his ‘I’m Mad” radio spots, had known George W. as a kid. A friend of the Bush family, he flew George’s sister Robin to hospitals in his private plane when she was diagnosed with leukemia. He’d bought the Rangers in 1980, but at age 78 he was ready to call it quits-a fact Bush was made aware of by William DeWitt, Jr., his oil-business partner in Midland in the eighties. DeWitt, whose father had owned the St. Louis Browns and the Cincinnati Reds, wanted a piece of a team himself.
Bush got cash commitments from several sources. Betts signed on, but only after receiving assurances that his friend wasn’t going to run for office anytime soon. Also ponying up were Connecticut real estate whiz Craig Stapleton, Bush’s cousin through marriage; former Marriott Corporation executive Fred Malek, who had been a member of Richard Nixon’s inner circle; and three Cincinnati investors: produce wholesaler Bob Castellini, oilman Mercer Reynolds, and broadcasting executive Dudley Taft. Chiles was so impressed that he signed a letter of agreement with the Bush group.
But baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth wasn’t satisfied. Although he wanted Chiles to find a buyer who would keep the Rangers in Texas, a top ten media market, he thought Bush’s investors didn’t have enough local ties. At Ueberroth’s urging, Bush went to see Fort Worth financier
Richard Rainwater, the money man behind the Bass family. Subsequently Rainwater met with Bush, Betts, and Stapleton at the Highland Park home of Edward “Rusty” Rose, a financier known as the Mortician for his ability to squeeze profits from failing companies acquired through leveraged buyouts. “We talked about the possibility of owning the team together,” Betts recalls.
At the end of the day Rainwater said if he was going to do it, he wanted Rose as general partner because he liked and trusted him. I said the same thing about George. Rose and George met, and after a few lunches they agreed to run the team together.” The publicity-shy Rose made one stipulation: Bush would be the managing general partner, meaning he’d deal with the media and the public, while Rose would serve as chairman of the board.
Rose threw in $3.2 million and raised another $9 million from other investors, including Rainwater and cable television mogul Jeff Marcus. Bush rounded up $14 million, contributing $606,000 of his own-the smallest amount of any major investor. All told, seventy investors representing 39 limited partnerships bought a piece of the team. Betts and fellow film financier Tom Bernstein paid the most money ($7 million) and received the largest share (18 percent).
Once those initial arrangements were hammered out, Bush approached several other investors. Among them were Schieffer, a former state representative from Fort Worth, and Comer Cottrell, the CEO of a Dallas hair products firm. Edward Gaylord, the Oklahoma City media magnate, reduced the one-third piece of the team he’d bought from Chiles in 1986 to 10 percent. Other small shareholders from the Chiles era, including Arlington realtor Mike Reilly, held on to a total of 4 percent.
The Bush-Rose group was formally incorporated as BR Rangers. No decision would be made without the approval of the two general partners. “Neither of us has the responsibility to make any decision without consulting with the other,” Bush would later explain. “On a certain task, he may lead on it or I may take the lead. The buck stops on our desks.” For his efforts, Bush was paid an annual salary of $200,000; Rose’s company would reportedly receive a retainer of $120,000. In addition, once all the investors were repaid with accrued interest, both Bush and Rose were to be compensated for putting the deal together with a bonus, or promote fee, of 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
The $86 million deal was officially approved by baseball’s executive committee in April 1989. But the real work had only just begun.
T0 PUT IT KINDLY, THE RANGERS WERE a beaten-down franchise. Since relocating to the Dallas-Fort Worth area from Washington, D.C., in 1972, they had consistently performed poorly on the field and at the ticket office. They were finally drawing fans (they passed the 1.5 million mark in attendance in 1986, 1987, and 1988) and cultivating talent (pitcher Nolan Ryan, a bona fide star; Ruben Sierra, an outfielder with Hall of Fame potential) but they were playing in a jerry-built stadium that was originally intended for minor league competition. “The first time I went down there, I was just shocked,” says Betts, and he wasn’t alone in his assessment. “At our first meeting, that was the mantra: To turn this thing around and add value to our investment, we were going to build a new stadium.”
Most of the 1989 season was devoted to learning the business of baseball. Quickly adapting to his role as the public face of the owners’ consortium, Bush was as much of a fixture at the old Arlington Stadium as John “Zonk” Lanzillo, Jr., the drum-beating superfan. He was always in his seat next to the dugout, boots up on the railing, munching peanuts, watching the game, signing more autographs than most of the players. His parents got involved too. In 1989 their springer spaniel Millie gave birth to Spot Fletcher, who was named in honor of Rangers shortstop Scott Fletcher. Two years later the president broke tradition and threw out the first pitch of the season in Arlington instead of Baltimore, the closest city to Washington with a major league club.
Behind the scenes, George W. set to mending fences, improving the team’s image, and winning over critics like Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, who covered the sale of the Rangers and had few kind words for the Bush group. “I had an early built-in grudge against George in particular,” says Reeves. “I thought he was a failed politician and obviously a guy who was playing off his dad’s name because he wasn’t putting much money in.” Bush went out of his way to win over Reeves, even inviting him to play a round of golf, and the reporter gradually came around. “I found him to be a very personable, direct, very informed general partner. The more we were around him, the better the team’s relationship with the press would be. You could believe what he told you.”
He was good at other things as well: He was instrumental in neutralizing the agendas of various personnel, marketing Ryan aggressively, and broadening the team’s appeal by instituting Spanish-language broadcasts. Baseball details, however, were left to the baseball people. “They went out of their way to let us know they weren’t going to be hands-on owners,” said Tom Grieve, then the Rangers’ general manager. “They made it clear from the start they did not buy the team because they wanted to brag to their friends that they owned a baseball team. They told me, ‘We’re business people and expect to be profitable, and we expect our baseball people to be accountable.’ But never did they come in and say, ‘When are you gonna get rid of this guy?'”
By the end of the first year the initial plan that had been in the back of everyone’s mind was formalized. If the Rangers were going to make the transition from a have-not franchise to one of the haves and maximize their value, they would have to play in a new stadium-ideally, a state-of-the-art facility that looked old and traditional but had all the requisite sky boxes and other modern bells and whistles. The partners looked around for someone who could manage a large public project, considering both Tom Luce and Bush himself at one point before designating Schieffer the stadium czar in July 1990. He was charged with selecting a site, developing a strategy, and getting the project under way despite a seemingly impossible obstacle: The partners didn’t want to have to pay for the new park themselves.
Schieffer looked around the Metroplex for a few months before concluding that Arlington was the best site and that a half-cent local sales tax was the best way to pay for it. He then got busy winning over voters to raise the $135 million in bonds it would take to build a new home for the home team. Tarrant County judge Tom Vandergriff, who was instrumental in luring the
Rangers from Washington, and Arlington mayor Richard Greene were enlisted to spearhead the three-month effort. Both Schieffer and Bush were actively involved. At one point both men spoke from the pulpit of the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Arlington, with Bush declaring, “A vote for the tax would be a vote for contracts for African American businesses.”
With minimal opposition–Arlington’s economy is based on tourism and entertainment, and a large percentage of its sales taxes are paid by out-of-towners–the bond issue passed in January 1991 by a two-to-one margin. Nearly 34,000 voters went to the ballot box-more than in any election in Arlington’s history. Under their agreement with the city, the Rangers would chip in $30 million from revenues of ticket sales, surcharges, and luxury-box leases, and pay for any additional costs, which added up to an another $26 million. The team would assume full ownership of the stadium when the bonds were paid off. “This eventually will give us the ability to compete on a payroll level that will put us with a whole new echelon of ballclubs,” Bush said after the referendum passed. “We’ll be able to pay the market price to keep our talent and, at the same time, keep ticket prices down.” Following the vote, Schieffer shifted his focus to the Texas Legislature, which passed a bill that would ratify the arrangement, then he took the lead in getting the park built, soliciting designs from architects-nineteen submitted bids-before hiring David Schwartz of Washington, D.C., a Bass family favorite.
Back home, two flaps surfaced around the construction of the stadium. The first involved the condemnation of thirteen acres of land owned by the Curtis Mathes family, for which the city offered $1.375 million and the Matheses wanted $2.1 million. A state district court eventually declared the condemnation illegal and ordered that the Mathes group be paid the full amount they asked for, plus damages, which ultimately came to more than $11 a square foot, far higher than the $2.67 per square foot maximum that the city paid for any other single parcel during the land acquisition. The Rangers eventually worked out a payment plan to pay off the difference. The second snag was the awarding of minority contracts. The Rangers were criticized by the Arlington chapters of the NAACP and LULAC, the Arlington Hispanic Advisory Council, and even one of their own partners, Comer Cotrell, for not throwing enough business to black and Hispanic firms.
In the end, of course, the problems got resolved and the Ballpark got built. Much of the credit went-correctly-to Schieffer, who demonstrated he could orchestrate and delegate and was rewarded by being named the team’s president. But Bush’s behind-the-scenes involvement-in managing Schieffer, troubleshooting, and going public when necessary-was crucial, people familiar with the situation say. “The bond election, the ballpark, the financing technique, that was all George’s deal,” says Mike Reilly. “He quarterbacked the whole thing, but he never took the credit.”
BUSH TOOK A LEAVE OF ABSENCE FROM the team before the 1994 season to run for governor, missing much of the Ballpark’s inaugural season. The venues, classic lines and distinctively Texan look-from the native granite and red brick to the Longhorns iii the facade-were an instant hit, drawing almost 3 million fans. A museum, sports bar and restaurant, luxury boxes, and a four-story office building outside the outfield fence bumped up the final cost to $191 million, but those additional revenue streams led Financial World magazine to rate it as the most profitable facility in baseball.
During the election, Ann Richards tried to make the public-private arrangement for financing the stadium an issue in the governor’s race, a means of showing Bush as a beneficiary of corporate welfare, but it didn’t take. After he won, Bush put his assets-including his share of the Rangers-in a blind trust and resigned as managing general partner. (His timing couldn’t have been better: A players’ strike cut short the 1994 season, caused the World Series to be canceled, and alienated many fans.)
Bush’s official parting with the team came four years later, in June 1998, when buyout king Tom Hicks snapped it up for $250 million. By the time of sale, Bush’s 1.8 percent share of the ownership had ballooned to 11.3 percent, and he pocketed almost $15 million: $2.7 million as a return on his investment and a $12.2 million “general partner interest”–his 10 percent “promote fee” for putting the ownership group together back in 1989. Not surprisingly, he was widely criticized by the usual suspects–the Texas Observer among them-for earning so much while seemingly doing so little, but his fellow owners sprang to his defense. “To me and to everyone in the partnership,” Schieffer says, “it was not unusual to get a percentage on the hack end like that for putting the deal together.”
In any case, what Bush really got out of the deal was something more important than money: After years as Junior, he finally became his own man. “Before the Rangers, I told him he needed to do something to step out of his father’s shadow,” says Roland Betts. “Baseball was it. He became our local celebrity. He knew every usher. He signed autographs. He talked to fans. His presence meant everything. His eyes were on politics the whole time, but even when he was speaking at Republican functions, he was always talking about the Rangers.”
extraMy Wimberley Why Wimberley is not Columbine. [Texas Monthly, Behind the Lines, Texas Feature, June 1999]
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI Photos by Laura Wilson and Jason Schmidt July 2001
Each page is shown with the original layout (text is below each image for ease in reading).
Seven years after Donald Judd’s death, the residents of a cow town in far west Texas-caught in the middle of an estate war between the renowned artist’s former lover and his children-are plastering this question on every store window and car bumper they can find.
“It is my hope that my works of art will be preserved where they are installed.” – Donald Judd
Images: “It’s his version of cathedrals.” Judd’s permanent installations at the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas. And: Donald Judd, 1994.
"It’s not a healthy thing, to inherit someone’s life,” Laments Rainer Judd, the 30-year-old daughter of artist Donald Judd, after settling into a folding chair in the conference room of her father’s Print Building, formerly the old Crews Hotel in Marfa, Texas. A long rifle in a hand-tooled leather rifle holder with the initials DJ is propped in the corner, within arm’s reach.
A small town in the high Chihuahua Desert, Marfa is smack-dab in the middle of the proverbial nowhere, 200 miles from the nearest airport with scheduled service. It’s so isolated and lightly settled (population 2,121) that the vistas go on forever-mountains 80 miles distant are clearly visible on most days-and the nighttime skies are among the darkest in North America.
It’s an unlikely setting for a bitter, soap opera-like dispute over a renowned artist’s multimillion-dollar empire, a dispute that began as a tug-of-war between Judd’s two grown children and Marianne Stockebrand, the striking German woman with whom Judd, who died in 1994, spent the last seven years of his life, and that has escalated into an epic battle engaging the whole community. Should Marfa be frozen in time as a monument to what Judd accomplished there, or should it evolve into a creative mecca with galleries and shops? Indeed, what should art be: a thing in itself-pure and inviolable, static and unchanging, as Judd posited in his writings – or a cultural catalyst, as the town’s most recent newcomers would have it?
Image: A bedroom at the Marfa compound.
It’s not necessarily a healthy thing for a town to try to sort out Donald Judd’s legacy, either. But that’s what Maria has been doing, especially since last October, when art pilgrims began finding their way to this remote place in growing numbers to behold the Dan Flavin “Marfa Project,” an untitled permanent installation of 360 fluorescent tubes in the barracks of an army camp that Judd turned into the Chinati Foundation (named for the mountain range between the site and the Rio Grande, with Mexico beyond).
After the pilgrims see the Flavin, and after they see Judd’s 100 aluminum cubes housed in two airplane hangar-size artillery sheds, Judd’s giant concrete cubes scattered across half a mile of grassland, the Claes Oldenburg horseshoe that perfectly frames Cathedral Mountain, Ilya Kabakov’s too-close-for-comfort recreation of a Russian schoolhouse abandoned upon the fall of the Soviet Union, and the works of Roni Horn, Carl Andre, and John Wesley, they eventually find their way into town, where no matter where they go they’re confronted with a cryptic question, posited on the rear bumpers of SUVs and crew cabs, across the fronts of T-shirts, and in the windows of stores: WWDJD? (What Would Donald Judd Do?, a takeoff of the teen Christian slogan What Would Jesus Do?).
The question goes a long way toward explaining the unusual connection between a cow town and a prominent artist who hated galleries and museums so much that he created his own art universe in far west Texas. It also speaks of the shadow Judd continues to cast, seven years after his death at the age of 65, and the endless rounds of second-guessing over what he had in mind when he stipulated in his will that a trust be created to protect his private holdings and collections, and then in a deathbed codicil named Marianne Stockebrand (whom he tapped before his death to succeed him as director of the Chinati Foundation) as an additional executor of his estate-along with his daughter Rainer, his now 33-year-old son Flavin, and his longtime attorney John J. Jerome and declared that Stockebrand “shall be in charge of the operation of any museum facility conducted by the trust.”
Images clockwise from top left: Flavin and Rainer Judd, April 2001; the Ayala de Chinati ranch; Dan Flavin’s "Marfa Project"; Marianne Stockebrand, April 2001.
These latter instructions, which led to Stockebrand’s appointment as director of the trust, called the Judd Foundation, in addition to her duties at the Chinati, are what ignited the debate over his legacy.
Jerome declined his executorship, and Stockebrand gave hers up in 1996 in exchange for certain Judd artworks and payment of legal fees she incurred. But Rainer and Flavin Judd are now feuding with Stockebrand over what portions of Judd’s estate qualify as museums and thus fall under Stockebrand’s jurisdiction, even as the estate is in the process of transferring Judd’s assets to the Judd Foundation.
Unlike Rainer, Marianne Stockebrand has no problem inheriting someone’s life, since it’s Donald Judd’s. She feels it’s her professional responsibility. Indeed, she seems to have been practically predestined for the job. Stockebrand came from an upper-class family in Cologne and earned a Ph.D. in art history from Ludwig-Maximillians University in Munich. She had a successful career as a curator at the Krefelder Kunstmuseen and as director of the Westf’Šlischer Kunstverein in MŸnster and the Kšlnischer Kunstverein in Cologne, where she met Judd, who was a high-profile celebrity in Germany.
In the years before he died Stockebrand was his Boswell-helping him write catalogs and prepare exhibitions-as well as his lover. Since his passing there’s been no other man in the 55-year-old Stockebrand’s life. The Chinati is her convent.
Rainer and Elavin Judd are the supplicants in this passion play, ostracized by much of Marfa for adhering strictly to the tenets laid down by their father, at least as they understood them. After leaving each child $300,000, Donald Judd requested that they oversee disposition of his estate, worth somewhere between $30 million and $60 million but saddled with more than $5.5 million in debt when lymphoma finally took him down. The still unresolved settlement has run up legal and accounting bills exceeding $2 million and has been so time-consuming that both of Judd’s offspring had to put their budding film careers on hold. Aspiring actress /screenwriter Rainer lives in Los Angeles, while aspiring director Flavin still lives in Marfa, having used his inheritance to buy the Porter House, one of Judd’s residences.
What Would Donald Judd Do? continued
Rainer and Flavin contend that Judd’s extensive holdings should be preserved as they are-a testament to the vision of one of the art giants of the 20th century-and they have Judd’s own words to back them up: “Too often, I believe, the meaning of a work of art is lost as a result of a thoughtless or unsuitable placement of the work for display,” his will reads. “The installation of my own work, for example, as well as that of others, is contemporary with its creation, and the space surrounding the work is crucial to it. Frequently as much thought has gone into the placement of a piece as into the piece itself. It is my hope that such of my works of art which I own at the time of my death will be preserved where they are installed.”
Rainer echoes her father’s sentiments: “The art and architecture are related just as much as frescoes in cathedrals are. It’s his version of cathedrals. It’s about creating something more sacred than museums.” The Chinati Foundation has advanced Judd’s concept of the permanent installation to a point where other institutions are using it as a blueprint. But the foundation differs with the Judd kids when it comes to determining what to keep and what to sell. Stockebrand is willing to consider disposing of some of Judd’s property-in particular the Print Building in Marfa and, in the heart of New York’s Soho neighborhood, 10 1 Spring Street (the five-story building Judd purchased in 1968 where the seeds of this new art movement first bore fruit)to advance his better-known public works. The kids say this is tantamount to blasphemy.
Newcomers to Marfa-painters, printmakers, potters, gallery people also have a stake in the dispute, since it speaks so directly to what Marfa will become. They’re championing the community as a rising colony of creativity, not to mention a pleasant weekend getaway-if you have a private jet. Many even say it’s the next Santa Fe-not too far-fetched a comparison, since Marfa has the same dry climate, the same sharp light, and the same blend of desert and mountains. But a large percentage of Marfa residents think Santa Fe is horrible and that the kinds of people it attracts would reduce Marfa to a pop imitation of its former self Which moves the old guard, which remembers it as a ranching town landlocked by cattle kingdoms the size of small states, to wonder what the hell is going on.
"I’m the optimist in the family,” maintains Rainer Judd, who offers her early recollections of Marfa-which were formed by a contentious custody fight-as evidence that she has a different perspective from most of the art crowd. Donald Judd and Rainer’s mother, Julie Finch, a dancer, were still married when he rented a summer house here in 197 1. They divorced in 1976, shortly after Judd took up permanent residence. Then, in May 1977, he practically kidnapped his children, picking them up at school in New York City as if they were going on a weekend outing and flying them to Marfa. Rainer was six; Flavin was nine. The legal battle ultimately wound up at the Presidio County Court House. Judd was awarded custody. “I knew he’d won,” Rainer says, “by the way he was driving his pickup so fast up the road.
“We had a house on a hill with a windmill, and we all had horses,” she remembers fondly. “It was very western. I dressed like a cowboy until a sweet little lady showed me cowgirl clothes.” Rainer and Flavin attended Marfa schools through the end of junior high, but their lives were hardly typical of small-town kids. Judd pulled them out of school a month early so they could spend summers traveling in Europe. “We were one-fourth European, really” Rainer says. Weekends during the rest of the year were reserved for the Ayala de Chinati ranch, the property Judd valued most of all his holdings. “I’d always want to take a friend, because there was no electricity, no hot water,” says Rainer. “We read by candlelight.” And Judd treated her and her friends like adults. “We’d sit by the fire and talk. It developed in me a wondering type of thinking, free to ask questions. Some parents take their kids hunting or to Disneyland. Driving to the land, making fires, and talking was his gift.
“That seems so long ago,” Rainer says,sighing, as she returns to reality What this 5 all about now is numbers. It’s not the kids wanting to have a good time.”
DEAR MOM. VAN HORN TEXAS. 1260 POPULATION. NICE TOWN. BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY. MOUNTAINS. LOVE DON.
Donald Judd first laid eyes on these bare mountains in 1946, an Army soldier on the way to Korea via Fort McClellan, Alabama, and Los Angeles. The scenery inspired him to send a telegram to his mother back home in Missouri.
Twenty-five years later-after helping to usher in the cool school of minimalism in the early 1960s, scoring a retrospective at the Whitney when he was still under 40, and creating an art presence in Soho before it became Soho-Judd ran out of patience with what he described as “the harsh and glib situation within art in New York” and decided to move west.
He honed in on Marfa, an Anglo-Mexican community that had lost about half its population over the previous 30 years, where property was cheap and abundant. Judd began buying land (three ranches totaling more than 40,000 acres) and restoring vacant houses and buildings, including a bank, a supermarket, and a locker plant, which he turned into, among other things, a writing house, a library, an architect’s office, and a studio. He employed as many as 60 people more workers than any other single company in Marfa-to create what would amount to Juddville. He even bought the Kingston Hot Springs near the Rio Grande, which had been used by locals for more than 200 years, and closed it to the public.
In the mid-’70s the Dia Foundation, underwritten by Houston oil heiress Philippa de Menil Friedrich and her husband Heiner Friedrich, a former art dealer from Germany, began funding artists working outside conventional gallery settings (Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field near Pie Town, New Mexico, is one of their better-known projects) and purchased the 340-acre Fort D.A. Russell, which is south of town, to permanently exhibit works by Judd and his friends. But in the mid-’80s Dia cut off funding due to slumping oil prices. Judd threatened to sue for breach of contract, eventually settling out of court. He got the fort and the artwork, and reorganized them as the Chinati Foundation, which officially opened in 1986.
Marianne Stockebrand too was struck by the landscapes and all the space when she first laid eyes on Marfa, in 1989; she was in the company of Donald Judd. “Coming from Europe, I was surprised by how far you could drive without seeing another car. The distances were startling.” She was putting together a show of Judd’s furniture and architecture projects for the Kšlnischer Kunstverein and was editing previously published essays for a book on his architecture when their relationship became more than professional. Judd was as drawn to the brown-eyed woman with the prominent, finely sculpted cheekbones as she was to him.
“He had a place in Cologne and opened a studio there,” recalls Stockebrand. “And he asked me to come here and work at Chinati. When he was diagnosed, that didn’t happen. “The two did, however, talk of marriage as Judd lay dying in a New York hospital.
When Stockebrand became its director, the Chinati Foundation had less than $500 in the bank. Since then, she has built a $2 million endowment, with a long-term target of $14 million to finish what Judd intended: preparing his concrete buildings to exhibit a large amount of his artwork currently in storage, creating a permanent installation for John Wesley’s paintings, and documenting the site’s military history.
But Stockebrand didn’t just have to learn how to run a struggling foundation; she had to learn Marfa. “When she first came here, English was clearly her second language,” one acquaintance recalls. “She was frosty in a Germanic way-very, very rigid. You’d never see her out in the community But the years have softened her. She shows up at parties. She attends events. She’s much more integrated. Don Judd was a daunting figure. She can be that too. I wouldn’t want to cross her.”
Stockebrand lives in the heart of Juddville, between the old bank and old Safeway buildings Judd bought, and across the street from the Marfa Wool and Mohair building, where John Chamberlain’s car wreck metal sculptures are exhibited. “She’s the only person I’ve encountered who can live that minimalist lifestyle,” a friend says, describing the small, Spartan residence, a block from the main drag, that Stockebrand shares with her two cats. No art or sentimental photographs adorn the walls, and furnishings are sparse, dominated by a Donald Judd desk.
She’s a regular at the bookstore, she lunches at the coffee shop, and sometimes she shows up at art functions, but otherwise Stockebrand sticks to Chinati affairs, in Marfa and around the world. She clearly enjoys living in a place where she can be left alone. And yet she’s also palpably happy about the way the Chinati has revitalized the community: “I wouldn’t want to see this as an artists’ colony in a kitschy sort of way-one souvenir shop next to another-but I think it’s very nice to be able to buy olive oil here and have it on a salad with lettuce that wasn’t wilted last week, as it used to be.”
But while she has acclimated herself to Marfa, and the financial situation at the Chinati has improved, Stockebrand remains embroiled in the wrapping up of the estate, which has pitted her against the Judd kids. She believes the Chinati Foundation and the Judd Foundation should be managed as a single entity. “From the artistic point of view, they should be done together,” she contends. “It’s all Judd’s work. It’s this tiny town in Texas. Cohesion in planning and fund-raising makes sense.” Such a merger, of course, would also bolster the Chinati’s financial footing by eliminating competition for funding and allowing the combined foundation to sell off portions of the Judd estate when and if the public works project is threatened.
“Everything doesn’t have to merge together like some great corporation,” counters Rainer Judd. “Marianne doesn’t want this [print] building here to exist. She believes it’s not a permanent installation, and therefore isn’t valid. It’s a permanent exhibit. What’s wrong with that? That’s what he wanted. They’ve tried to get us to sell Spring Street before it’s transferred to the Judd Foundation. But we can’t bend [on that]. We’re Judd’s kids. We’re the spine.”
Richard Schlagman, owner of the art book publishing company Phaidon Press and president of the Judd Foundation, backs the kids up. “We absolutely don’t want to sell Spring Street,” Schlagman says. “Not at all. Ever. In my view it wasn’t an actual desire to sell it on Marianne’s part but a lack of seeing that it could be saved. I’m sure we can have both Maria and Spring Street.”
Flavin Judd lays his cards on the table over breakfast burritos and green chile huevos rancheros at Carmen’s Cafe (TIE YOUR HORSE AND COME ON IN, reads the sign out front), while his wife Michele nurses and fusses with their one-year-old son, Pascal. Flavin makes it clear that neither he nor his sister asked for the job of executor, and they sure as hell didn’t know they’d have all the debt to clear up. “It’s a lousy situation: all these vultures hovering, all these people pretending to care about the art and about Don.”
Flavin has put the Porter House up for sale again. He’s tired of Maria and Marfa art and Maria art politics, of the pressure to either settle the estate or resign as executor. “They’ve used figures of authority to scare us,” he says. “They want us out. But we’re not going anywhere. They don’t understand. We didn’t grow up with authority figures. We were always told that figures of authority don’t know a fucking thing about art. Turns out it was true.”
While the foundations duke it out and the Texas attorney general’s office attempts to stop the continued bleeding of the estate and make sure Judd’s assets are properly dispersed in accordance with the state’s charitable trust laws, the town-art synergy has shifted to Lynn and Tim Crowley, the post-Judd “Judds” in Maria. Lynn ran Lynn Goode Gallery in Houston, one of that city’s finer contemporary spaces; Tim is an attorney and sits on the Chinati board. Five years ago, after Lynn was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, they bought a place in Marfa as a retreat. Now it’s almost a full-time residence. Their Marfa Book Co. has become the social center for the art crowd and much of the rest of the community. And they’ve gone on a buying spree-snatching up property in town and surrounding ranchland-that has inspired comparisons to Judd. With one major difference: Judd closed his houses and buildings to the public; the Crowleys want to open the spaces up, fill them with artists and art, and make them accessible.
Already Marfa is hopping in a way it hasn’t since the movie production of Edna Ferber’s Giant came to town, in 1955. El Paisano Hotel, the Spanish Baroque inn where Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Dennis Hopper, and the rest of the cast hung out, is coming back to life as a luxury lodge. Tourists can buy art to take home at Hecho en Marfa, a shop of locally made arts and handicrafts run by the nonprofit Marfa Studio of Arts. And one of the Crowleys’ former bookstore employees has opened up a health food store.
But Tim Crowley says it’s too early to call Marfa the next Santa Fe. ‘Most of our friends from Houston are bewildered,” he says, laughing. “They say, ‘We heard about art, but all we saw were these huge blocks of concrete.’ There’s not much going on. The logistics are daunting. Marfa lacks health care, goods, and services. We don’t have a drug store. We just got an ATM-I don’t think anyone’s used it yet. It’s a tough-love, challenging type place. You have to want to be here. We just got a restaurant to stay open on Sunday. Before then, all you had was microwave chicken nuggets at the convenience store.”
So what would Donald Judd have made of the new Marfa?
Rainer and Flavin Judd think he wouldn’t have embraced it. “He didn’t come here for Marfa,” Flavin says. “He came for the mountains south of here, where the ranches were. If not for my sister and me going to school, he wouldn’t have had much to do with Marfa. He was fed up with the town in 1993. He wanted to move his library down to the ranch.”
By then Judd had achieved a degree of notoriety from some very public run-ins over noise from the local feed mill and ice plant. And odds are he wouldn’t have liked the WWDJD? bumper sticker any more than his daughter does.
“That sticker was created by people who probably never met him,” Rainer notes shortly before leaving town again. “People who think he must have been a megalomaniac to create all this.”
Not a megalomaniac, perhaps, but a serious collector with very specific ideas about the way things should be. Both Stockebrand and the Judd kids are guided by what they think Donald Judd wanted, but getting an honest assessment from anyone else about who is or isn’t on the right track is almost impossible, since so much is riding on what will be done with Judd’s properties and extensive collections. The Crowleys, for example, have offered to buy the Print Building in Marfa; Tim Crowley says that the old Crews Hotel could be a nice hotel once again and that soon-to-be Marfa resident Liz Lambert, who owns the Hotel San Jose in Austin, a vintage motor court made over into a hip boutique lodging, could be the hotelier to do it. And John Vinson, an assistant attorney general involved in the case, has a residence in Marfa, too.
Ayala De Chinati, where Judd is buried, is on a south-facing promontory between the Chinati and Sierra Vieja mountain ranges, overlooking the valley of the Rio Grande a majestic landscape of canyons, peaks, and cliffs wholly devoid of humanity. To see it requires numerous formal requests, several telephone calls to landowners to secure permission to drive across their property without being shot at, signatures on forms on which one promises not to stray from the path, an all-terrain vehicle, and a pair of bolt cutters, since some “asshole landowner,” as an estate employee puts it, has been putting new locks on gates, cutting off access to the place.
It’s 60 miles of bad road from the rim of the Chinatis into Pinto Canyon and down onto the vast slope draining into the Rio Grande-three hours minimum. But when a thunderstorm parks over the Chinatis as darkness falls, dropping buckets of rain (the first rain in almost a year), and the road disappears altogether into a swift-moving stream, it’s flat impossible. So I back up and turn around. Near Marfa there are car lights. (I haven’t seen a car or person since I left town seven hours ago.) It’s the US. Border Patrol. Motion sensors planted in the pavement must have tipped them off. They tail me all the way back into town.
WWDJD? I think he’d say it was worth every bit of the effort.
For most of their lives, senior editor Joe Nick Patoski and freelance photographer Laurence Parent have explored and chronicled the mountains of the Trans-Pecos. In this excerpt from their forthcoming book, Texas Mountains, they show and tell where their love of the outdoors is at its peak.
I GOT HOOKED ON THE TEXAS MOUNTAINS at the age of six, when I climbed to the top of a small hill adjacent to the Chisos Basin lodge in Big Bend National Park, rode on horseback to the Window, and peered over what seemed then to be the edge of the world. I became fixated on the idea that there was actually a place called the Christmas Mountains; it was visible through the Window’s massive slickrock aperture, beyond the park’s northwestern border.
The relationship continued through my youth, when I discovered that there wasn’t a more enchanting city view in Texas than the twinkling lights of El Paso and Juárez at night, seen from Scenic Drive on Mount Franklin. I climbed the pilgrims’ path to the top of Mount Christo del Rey and straddled the line between Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua. As an adult, I’ve touched the roof of Texas atop Guadalupe Peak, perched on the edge of the South Rim of the Chisos in Big Bend on a brilliantly clear day when objects two hundred miles distant were visiblethe biggest view in the whole worldand watched a comet from the top of Mount Locke at McDonald Observatory, illuminated by more stars than the eye can comprehend in the darkest skies in America.
These mountains are located in the Trans-Pecos part of Texas, which stretches for some 250 miles east to west and extends about 200 miles north to southabout the size of South Carolina. It is the most sparsely populated part of the state. Save for the city of El Paso, where more than half a million people live, no more than 30,000 residents live here. “Wide-open spaces” is not just some catchphrase in this part of the state. They really do exist. Within the boundaries of the Trans-Pecos sprawl the thirty-odd named ranges of Texas. The Trans-Pecos is a region so expansive that several of its counties are bigger than entire states. This is the Texas of dreams.
The easternmost ranges, the Housetops and Spencers, flank U.S. 90 twenty miles east of Marathon like two sentinels. The Glass Mountains, the first range of significant height and breadth, swell up more than a mile above sea level between Marathon, Fort Stockton, and Alpine. From there all the way to the state and the international boundaries to the northwest, west, and southwest, mountains dominate the landscape. Some consider the Texas mountains to be the southern extension of the Rocky Mountains, tumbling out of Colorado and New Mexico. But only the Davis Mountains, the wettest and one of the highest ranges in the state, and the Guadalupes, the highest range of all, with the four tallest peaks in Texas, really resemble their Colorado neighbors.
These are not easy mountains to love. They lack the altitude and drama of either the Sierra Nevadas or the Rockies. The tallest mountain in Texas, the 8,751-foot Guadalupe Peak, would hardly rate a glance on the other side of the New Mexico line. They are located in one of the least accessible places in the continental United States, far from most population centers. As a result, few people even know they are here. Even though Interstate 10 cuts through several ranges, most travelers keep their eyes glued to the road and have no idea what they’re passing through. The two most impressive ranges in the state, the Guadalupes and the Chisos, are protected as national parks, but most of the other ranges in the Trans-Pecos and the Big Bend remain unknown and unseen because they’re off-limits. Unlike other western states, where federal lands sometimes comprise more than half of a given state’s land area, Texas is mostly private property, mountains included.
This is a harsh country. Annual rainfall averages barely ten inches a year, and a severe drought persisted for almost a decade at the close of the twentieth century. Each of the four seasons has its own hellish peculiarity. The blistering winds of early spring are brutal. An ovenlike heat can set in as early as March. The soothing midsummer monsoons of July, August, and September, which can green up the countryside overnight, can bring killer floods with them too.
When the monsoons don’t comewhich happens more and more frequently these daysthe furnace effect down on the desert floor of the Big Bend becomes so severe that every living thing, it seems, either burns, dies, or withers away. But even when that kind of heat is on, up on the Marfa Highlands or in the Davises and the Guadalupes, in August it’s chilly enough at night to sleep with a blanket. The coolest summer nights in Texas are in the Texas mountains. Starting in mid-November, blue northers blast in the bitterest cold, dropping temperatures as much as fifty degrees in as little as an hour and occasionally leaving a dusting of snow on the mountaintops, stirring visions of the Rockies or the Alps if only for a day or two. Yet the same season can also bring temperatures above 100 degrees to the lower desert.
For the people who love these mountains, such realities are really blessings that have kept away the crowds. After all, who wants to share the stands of quaking aspen found in the Davis range, the maples of the Guadalupes and the Sierra Vieja, and the small slivers of greened-up high country that flourish on the mountaintops and in crevices and crannies, far from public view? If you’re blowing through at 70 miles per hour on the interstate or peering out the window of a jet plane at 30,000 feet, you won’t get it. Those of us who do get it like that just fine. We know, as I have learned, that there is much more than meets the eye. These mountains just require a little more patience and a whole lot more effort.
Many of the Texas rangesthe Guadalupes, the Delawares, the Huecos, and the Franklinsare largely devoid of vegetative cover because of a dearth of moisture. Because they are so naked, they expose thousands and millions of years in their layers and folds and are a playground for geologists. Within the Texas mountains are geological features and formations found nowhere else on the planet: a stone freak show of weird globs, jagged spires, gravity-defying balancing acts, marbled swirls, scoops of melted ice cream, and dribbled sand castles that wildly vary from extraterrestrial to lunar in appearance. In spite of their apparent desolation, the mountains harbor a huge variety of plant and animal species. The area is part of the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest and highest desert in North America. Here life flourishes in surprising places: on a remote cloud-catching ridgeline or under a rare canopy of shade in hidden canyons fed by springs and waterfalls.
Even though they are not the highest mountains around, these ranges offer some of the most striking panoramas anywhere. Range after range fades to the vanishing point, each separated from the next by vast desert floors that go on forever. From the top of Mount Livermore in the Davis Mountains, the highest peak in the second-highest range in Texas, mountain landmarks are clearly visible in every direction: the rectangular hump of Chinati Peak to the south; the long ridgeline of the Sierra Viejas bulging out of the flats to the south and toward the west, fading into the Van Horns, the Apaches, the Eagles, the Beaches, the Baylors, and the Sierra Diablos. Beyond them all is the lone sentinel of Sierra Blanca, marking the route to El Paso and the Pacific.
The last time I was in the Chisos Basin, I noticed that little hill by the lodge again. Forty-three years had passed since I first scaled it. For much of that time, the little hill didn’t seem that big. It was but another example of how things shrink and diminish when you grow up. Lately though, it has started looking more like a mountain to me again, just like it did when I was a kid. Just like it does to kids scurrying up its rocks today, I’ll bet.