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.
texasmonthly.com: When was the first time you saw a mountain? Do you remember where you were and what you thought?
Laurence Parent: I was born in the mountains of New Mexico, so I guess that I saw them when I was pretty young. They must have made an impression, although I sure don’t remember my first thoughts.
Joe Nick Patoski: The mountains I remember seeing were in the Big Bend. We’d driven in my daddy’s new 59 Studebaker Silver Hawk from Fort Worth to San Antonio one day, then from San Antonio to Ciudad Acuña and on to Marathon the next, arriving at night. The following morning we got up and drove to Big Bend National Park and up to the Chisos Basin. I thought it was pretty cool.
texasmonthly.com: Laurence, your father was a National Park Service ranger and your mother wrote travel pieces. Do you think you may have a different perspective on the outdoors because of their influence?
LP: My parents had a huge influence on me. Growing up in beautiful National Park Service sites with parents who loved the outdoors greatly shaped what I do for a living (outdoor photography) and what I love to do for fun (hike, run, camp, and climb).
texasmonthly.com: Why did you decide to publish a book on the Texas mountains?
LP: No one had ever done such a book. Some Texans don’t even realize Texas has mountains. Many others don’t realize that there are beautiful mountains in Texas besides the Guadalupe, Davis, and Chisos mountains. I wanted to surprise people. The Texas mountains have waterfalls, movie sets, pine forests, aspens, and many other surprises.
texasmonthly.com: How long did it take to come up with the material for your book and put it all together?
JNP: A little more than a couple years. I’d really been working on it for more than forty years, but just didn’t realize.
LP: Some of the photos go back to the mid-nineties (they were shot for other projects). Most, however, were shot specifically for this book beginning around mid-1999. The West Texas drought didn’t help. The schedule accelerated last fall, though, when rains finally came to West Texas. The grass greened, the air cleared, and the waterfalls flowed. I made two trips in October and November to wrap up the book that lasted 26 and 17 days each. After that, I was ready to be done.
texasmonthly.com: Joe Nick, what was involved in getting your information? Did you go on many climbs?
JNP: Lots of time was spent in libraries, online, and on the phone. But the best part of doing it was getting to go on-site. A lot of the ranges are on private land, so our research involved introducing ourselves to folks, asking permission for access, and in many cases, assuring sources that we wouldn’t identify precisely where we were lest trespassers and poachers try to go where they’re not welcome.
I should mention that the photography required getting to vantage points on peaks and pinnacles that were not necessarily the highest points in a particular range. Nonetheless, we climbed a bunch. There’s one photo Laurence took of me standing on a smaller pinnacle in the Chinatis that ran in Texas Highways (Laurence needed a model and I was the only other human around). The picture is pretty great, capturing me standing on this high point overlooking the rugged, desolate valley of the Rio Grande, with no other human being or any man-made structure in sight. What you don’t see is how I propped myself up on the rock, trying to maintain my balance, and how I was seized by a severe case of acrophobia while trying to stand still and remain calm. The wind was gusting, and I kept trying not to look down, because one false move and I was a goner. Standing across the way, on an equally perilous promontory, was Laurence, snapping away, changing cameras, loading film, trying to get the shot. It’s one thing to ramble around high points and scurry up to the top; it’s another thing to do that while carrying sixty pounds of equipment on your back. Laurence, I think, has a little mountain goat blood in him.
texasmonthly.com: Laurence, what type of format do you use? Why?
LP: I mostly use a large-format camera, 4×5, for my landscape work. Only a tiny handful of the photos in this book were done with a 35mm camera. A 4×5 reproduces larger, with greater sharpness, less grain, and potentially greater depth of field. I do use a 35mm for shooting outdoor sports, but there wasn’t any of that in this book.
texasmonthly.com: Do you find the mountains in Texas that different from the mountains in Colorado? Why or why not?
LP: The mountains in Texas are significantly lower and drier that those in Colorado. However, many of the Texas mountains have considerable relief (above the surrounding plains) and are still very impressive.
JNP: Much different. As a University of Texas at Austin professor from Germany told me recently: “We in Germany know about the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevadas, the Appalachians. We have mountains like that. But there’s nothing in Germany like the Texas mountains. That’s why we love to come here.” It’s the delicate combination of mountains and desert. Nowhere but Texas.
texasmonthly.com: What is necessary to get such spectacular shots? Can you describe a shoot for me?
LP: First and foremost, you have to be a pack mule. My camera pack usually weighs between 35 and 40 pounds just for day hikes. A lot of strenuous hiking was required for this book to reach the photo locations that I wanted. Quite a few hikes were cross-country in areas with no trails. Several shots were taken on overnight trips, and my pack weighed 60 pounds or so. Besides dragging my gear to ideal locations, I have to anticipate the light and weather to try to get the best possible images. Many times the weather does not cooperate, requiring me to repeat a trip, often several times.
texasmonthly.com: When is the best time of day to take nature shots? Why?
LP: Most commonly, the light right before, during, and after sunset works best because contrast decreases, long shadows give depth, and the light turns gold and pink. However, weather is at least as big a factor. Dramatic skies, especially from breaking storms, add immeasurably to photos.
texasmonthly.com: What is your favorite photo in the book? Why?
JNP: I don’t really have a favorite. I loveem all. But when I first thumbed through the book, the shots of ZH Canyon really stirred me. Sunrise on a perfect June morning, seeing and hearing and witnessing all the life in this “isolated” spotthe canyon was a veritable aviary, choked with raptors and Neotropical songbirds. It was one of the more blessed moments in my life. The photos brought it all back.
LP: Tough question. I’m not sure that I have a particular favorite. I do like the cover, in part, I guess, because it was taken during a miserable windy sunrise in a spring dust storm, which is why the light is so rednot because of a filter. Another favorite is probably the aspens shot because it was such a bear to hike to them, plus it reminds me of the New Mexico mountains, where I did a lot of my growing up.
texasmonthly.com: What was your most difficult shoot? Why?
LP: Several are contenders. The aspens shot was difficult because it required carrying my heavy gear cross-country up and down very steep, loose, and treacherous slopes. I twisted my knee when a slope shifted under me; it still hasn’t completely recovered. The shot of El Capitan taken from the summit of Guadalupe Peak required carrying my pack four and a half miles up a trail while gaining three thousand feet of elevation in a howling, frigid dust storm in January. After taking my sunset shots and getting almost hypothermic, I hiked all the way down in the dark.
texasmonthly.com: What is your favorite mountain range in Texas? Why?
JNP: My favorite ranges are the Franklin, Hueco, Guadalupe, Sierra Diablo, Sierra Vieja, Davis, Chinati, Chisos, Bofecillo, and Glass ranges. Each has qualities separate from the others. Laurence has convinced me that there is much more to the Quitmans than initially meets the eye. The Eagles, which parallel Interstate 10 to the south for twenty miles or so, west of Van Horn, are the most underappreciated. The view from Eagle peak was one of the most breathtaking of them all.
LP: I’m not sure that I have a single favorite. They’re all really different. Some favorites are the Sierra Vieja, Davis, Guadalupe, Chisos, Beach, Quitman, and Sierra Diablo mountains.
texasmonthly.com: If you could climb any mountain in Texas, which would it be? Why?
JNP: North Franklin Mountain. Because I haven’t done it yet.
It’s not just for the birds. An egret hunts on the surface of the lake.
Texas Monthly BY JOE NICK PATOSKI October 2002
To the city of Marshall, Caddo Lake is a profit center, a reservoir from which millions of gallons can be pumped each day and put up for sale. To the people of Uncertain, Karnack, and other communities nearby, it’s an ecological jewel, a symbol of our natural heritage – and depleting it for a few quick bucks is an unforgivable affront to nature.
On a blazing hot morning in June, I got lost paddling a kayak in the swampy backwaters of Caddo Lake. This is not a difficult thing to do. The greenish-brown water is so dense that you can’t see the bottom. The surface is covered with an iridescent lime-green coating of duckweed and water lilies. The shoreline is barely discernible, and any view beyond is blotted out by an impenetrable thicket of sweet gum, ash, pine, oak, and tupelo. The heavy, dank stillness that’s a defining feature of these parts only adds to the disorienting sense that you’ve entered another world. Earlier in the day, when the British-born president of the local chamber of commerce told me with a straight face that she wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see a dinosaur rise up out of the murk, I found myself nodding in agreement.
Eventually, five men in a spacious pontoon boat pulled up alongside me and offered me a lift. When I saw the ice chest full of beer, sodas, and water, I hopped aboard; typical Caddo Lake hospitality, I thought. But then I found out that they had set out to find me-that they knew who I was and why I had come to this remote area of northeast Texas. I was curious about news reports of an impending threat to the wellbeing of the lake, which is the only naturally formed lake in the state and the biggest in the South. The City of Marshall, with the state’s blessing, planned to capture water from Big Cypress Bayou, the primary source of Caddo, and sell it to a willing buyer. Those plans had been thwarted by the “lake people,” an unlikely coalition of bubbas in overalls, urban dropouts, and other novice ecowarriors, but only temporarily. The threat was still real, and that’s what the men in the boat wanted to show me.
At the helm was Ken Shaw, a retired manager at International Paper who lives on the lake and sits on the board of the Cypress Valley Navigation District, which maintains the markers that show the way through the network of sloughs and keeps them open. Riding shotgun was Jack Canson, a public relations consultant who spent several decades in Austin and Los Angeles before coming home to Marshall. His boyhood buddy taking photographs from the boat’s bow, Ron Munden, had recently moved back to Marshall after living in Northern California, where he designed software for the Navy. Next to Munden was Barry Benniek, a Houston native who runs the Pine Needle Lodge on the lake’s isolated northwestern shore. Manning the binoculars was Tom Walker, who grew up near the western shore and now works as a librarian at Texas State Technical College’s Marshall campus. As we puttered along in a shallow part of the lake, Walker pointed out places with colorful names Whangdoodle Pass, Death Hole, Old Folks Playground-and Shaw engaged his depth finder, calling out readings: “Four feet. Four feet. Five feet. Six feet. Four feet.” At Kitchens Creek, we cruised past two john-boats occupied by elderly black fishermen picking up bream. “By summer’s end,” Shaw said, “most of these routes will be impassable.”
A pier at Shady Glade Marina in Uncertain.
They’ll all be impassable, the men told me, if Marshall prevails. In addition to the 5 to 7 million gallons that it already draws out of the bayou daily for residential use, the city of 23,000 can, according to the permit approved by the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC), pipe out several million more gallons each day and sell them, even in drought conditions. Only when Caddo drops seven and a half feet below the spillway at Mooringsport, Louisiana, would an “emergency situation” be declared, at which point any water taken would have to be replaced. “By that time,” Bennick explained, “there’ll be no lake left.”
“Or alligators,” Walker chimed in. “Or snapping turtles. Or fish.”
If this has a familiar ring, it should. Across Texas, the war over water is all anyone wants to talk about these days. In El Paso and the Panhandle, water marketers like developer Woody Hunt and corporate raider Boone Pickens are plotting ways to move the suddenly precious commodity from rural areas to thirsty cities. In San Antonio golf course developments and booming bedroom communities are competing with recreational interests and small towns to the north for water from Canyon Lake and the Guadalupe River. Along the border, farmers are squabbling with their counterparts in the Mexican state of Chihuahua for their fair share of water from the Rio Grande Basin. And on and on. Court dockets are backlogged with water-related suits (you might say they’re waterlogged). Candidates for high office speechify about the problem but offer no real solutions. Lobbyists stuff their pockets in anticipation of a legislative session in which water will be on the agenda yet again, one of the most serious long-term issues facing Texas and Texans.
At first glance, the Caddo conflagration looks a lot like the others. In the eyes of the state, it’s not so much an ecological jewel or a symbol of our natural heritage as a reservoir, a storage facility that can be drained at will. That mind-set explains why, although the lake belongs to all Texans, it’s perfectly legal for a city like Marshall to profit from it. But in fact, there are two things that distinguish this fight. One is the involvement of folks with pockets deep enough to make the playing field level. Chief among them is Don Henley, the drummer for the rock and roll band the Eagles, who was raised nearby, in Linden. In the past decade Henley has donated more than $1.6 million to the Caddo Lake Institute, a nascent research and educational facility, partly to pay legal fees associated with court fights on behalf of Caddo. You may remember that a few years back, Henley’s passion was saving Walden Pond, the Massachusetts stomping ground of Henry David Thoreau, from the clutches of developers. Well, his latest cause celebrity is Caddo, where he caught his first fish as a boy.
The other thing is that the locals have decided, to borrow a phrase, that they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore-a point that was brought home to me after a couple of hours on the lake, when the pontoon boat docked by the grocery in the tiny town of Uncertain. Behind the counter was Betty Holder, Uncertain’s mayor, who greeted each of us with a very certain hug. The diminutive Miss Betty, an area resident for thirty years, reiterated Shaw’s calculation of how much Caddo can stand to lose. “They’ll leave us with nothing but a mud hole,” she said. “People can’t imagine Marshall being so simpleminded. The only good thing coming out of there is Highway 43.”
Betty Holder, the mayor of Uncertain.
Her feistiness turned to elegance when she spoke of the lake. “We have something here. We didn’t buy it. We didn’t make it. The good Lord gave it to us. We’re just trying to take care of it, and we won’t give up. We’re going to win. When people around here band together, we pull in the same direction.”
ONCE YOU’VE SET EYES ON CADDO LAKE, IT’S DIFFICULT NOT TO GET emotional about it one way or another. No other body of water in Texas remotely resembles it. If you stand on its banks, which are lined with stately bald cypresses draped with Spanish moss, and gaze on the still water, you’ll either scream, turn around, and never come back again or you’ll get hooked for life.
By day, distant culls of Acadian flycatchers, northern parula, Prothonotary warblers, and cardinals echo through the forest along with the buzz and hum and splish and splash of the natural world, and you might spy a yellow-crowned night heron plucking its breakfast out of the water or a great blue heron lumbering in flight above the canopy like a pterodactyl. By night, bullfrogs work themselves into a whooping frenzy, almost drowning out the whir of crickets and locusts and the occasional hoot of barred owls. In the summer Neotropical songbirds are drawn to the lake; in the winter it’s wood ducks and bald eagles. Year-round, alligators, snakes, and lizards thrive here. “Remember the year when people were wondering where all of the frogs had gone?” Bennick once asked me. “We knew where they were.”
The ethereal, primordial lake of today wasn’t always thus. When the Caddoan people, a relatively sophisticated civilization that embraced farming and a highly organized, complex society. set down roots in the area 10,000 years ago, it was just a rivet No one knows for sure when the lake was formed. Indian lore speaks of a big shake from the Great Spirit, implicating the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. It could just as well have been the Great Red River Raft, an eighty- to one-hundred-fifty-mile logjam of red cedar, cottonwood, and cypress so thick that you could literally walk across it. By 1856, the raft had backed up to the Big Cypress Bayou tributary, effectively creating Caddo Lake and making the upstream town of Jefferson Texas’ main riverport. The lake became permanent when a dam was built at its eastern end in Mooringsport, south of Shreveport, in 1914.
Ever since there was a Caddo Lake, hunting and fishing have been popular, but its recreational potential wasn’t fully realized until the state’s oldest continually operated hunting and fishing club, the Dallas Caddo Club, was established in 1906 on its southern shores. A flyin fishing resort even operated briefly in Uncertain, which was incorporated in 1961 to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages. But Caddo’s popularity had already peaked; over time, jet-skiers, cigarette boats, and the high-dollar bass-fishing crowd were lured to the wider-open waters of new lakes like Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend, and Lake 0′ the Pines. Promoters continued to hatch big ideas for Caddo, the last a half-cocked attempt ten years ago to build a barge canal. Otherwise, the lake is about as off the beaten path as you can get. In 1993 the Nature Conservancy purchased seven thousand acres on the northern banks of the lake and turned them over to Texas Parks and Wildlife, which designated them a wildlife management area.
Ed Smith, the mayor of Marshall.
Most visitors today frequent the state park or the fifty or so bed-and-breakfasts around Uncertain and the neighboring town of Karnack, the birthplace of Lady Bird Johnson. They may drop a line or dip a paddle, but mostly they come to sit and contemplate in one of the most picturesque spots in Texas.
“I INHERITED THIS PROBLEM,” ED SMITH SAYS WITH A LONG SIGH. The affable mayor of Marshall, who runs a petroleum exploration company when he’s not doing the public’s business, is a fourth generation local for whom fishing in Caddo is a treasured boyhood memory. But the problem he’s referring to isn’t the city’s plans. It’s the behavior of the lake people. “I tried to work with them,” he says. “I hope the ability to reason has not gone out the window.”
As far as Smith and the city were concerned, the deal was going to be a no-brainer, an economic-development project that required little more than moving water in exchange for a big, fat check. The potential buyer came on line a year and a half ago: New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation, which needed water to cool its power plant under construction near Marshall and was willing to pay $600,000 for it annually. But immediately the lake coalition attacked the deal. First it demanded a guarantee from Marshall that any water taken from Caddo during dry spells would be replaced with water from Lake 0′ the Pines. Marshall officials agreed in principle but disagreed about who would determine when water replacement should start. Then the coalition attempted to contest Marshall’s permit or, at the very least, bring the matter before a public hearing. The TNRCC shut them down on both counts-a decision that drew fire in a rare public fashion from Parks and Wildlife, who warned that drawing down lake levels would result in a severe loss of habitat in the adjacent wildlife management area. The back and forth continued until May, when Entergy executives decided they’d had enough, pulled out of the agreement with Marshall, and resolved to buy the city of Longview’s treated wastewater instead. (Even though Entergy is out of the picture, the Caddo coalition is now contesting the permit in a Travis County court.)
The turn of events greatly pleased Henley, who has been back in East Texas over the past few months tending a sick relative. “There are too many people interested in using up the lake’s resources without fully understanding, or caring about, the health of the ecosystem,” he wrote me in an e-mail. “They just take and take without putting anything back. Fortunately, true stewardship traditions exist within the lake communities. We decided to make significant investments in those communities to help them move beyond the meaningless lip service of those who say they love Caddo Lake but do nothing about the risks to it. We wanted to give the people who truly care the means to take action-to make reasonable demands on the state and federal agencies that should be intervening to reverse the lake’s decline.”
That wish is seconded by Dallas oilman Albert Huddleston, whose political leanings, it should be noted, are at the opposite end of the spectrum from Henley’s. A longtime contributor to Governor Rick Perry’s campaigns, Huddleston has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into defending Caddo Lake. “I believe in both economic prosperity and environmental awareness,” Huddleston told me by telephone from Peru, just hours after he’d climbed down from Machu Picchu, “but sucking water out of Caddo Lake and destroying that fragile ecosystem is no different than sticking a pipe in the Alamo and selling it brick by brick.”
Albert Huddleston has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into defending Caddo Lake.
Henley’s and Huddleston’s money has bought, among other things, the expertise of Dwight Shellman, who is the founding director of the Caddo Lake Institute. Henley met the slight, 68-year-old attorney in the late eighties in Shellman’s hometown of Aspen, Colorado, where he had a reputation for bringing together apolitical factions of the community to beat back excessive urban expansion. The rock star thought Caddo could use a guy like Shellman and paid his way to Texas, where his first act, in 1993, was to negotiate the lake’s designation as a Ramsar site, the thirteenth wetlands in the U.S. said to be internationally important according to criteria adopted at a global ecological convention in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971.
At Shellman’s behest, the institute initially focused on education, developing wetlands science programs for the Marshall public schools as well as East Texas Baptist University and Wiley College, also in Marshall. He made headway with the colleges, using the resources of their science and biology departments for research. But the public school program was scuttled in 1998 after an instructor on a field trip realized that Marshall’s sewer main was on the verge of collapse. Instead of being rewarded for reporting her discovery to the city, she was reprimanded, and eventually she resigned and moved elsewhere to teach. “I realized then that the environmental education of teachers and students in a place like Caddo Lake was a poor investment because these were people who were ready to leave town,” Shellman says. It was then that he shifted the institute’s focus to promoting activism within the lake communities. “The people closest to the landscape are the ones who have the greatest awareness,” he says. He set out to find common ground among the institute, the Caddo Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, the Greater Caddo Lake Association, and the town of Uncertain and held meetings, under the fancy, official-sounding name of the Caddo Lake Ramsar Wetlands Clearinghouse, at which the locals were taught how to play the game. Judging by the outcome of the Entergy deal, it worked, and the lake people are grateful. “Dwight is a real sweetheart,” coos Robin
Holder, a burly, bearded lake guide who is married to Uncertain’s mayor.
The mayor of Marshall, not surprisingly, has a less charitable view of Shellman’s efforts. As much as Ed Smith says serenely that the city may simply find another buyer for the water, his displeasure with the other side shows. “It’s not about the power plant anymore,” Smith says. “Sometimes I think they’d like to see the bayou as a national park or a wildlife refuge. You have to question if their aim is to get Marshall out of it altogether.”
On muggy Tuesday night in August, about seventy people are congregated inside the community center in Karnack, just down the road from Uncertain, for a clearinghouse meeting. It’s TMDL Night, as in total maximum daily loads, the maximum tolerance levels of air and water pollution as allowed by the state. For three hours, the talk focuses on nutrient loads, dissolved oxygen solids, and airborne mercury contamination. Shellman, who moderates the discussion, explains that if the TNRCC would formally establish a TMDL limit for the lake, it might prevent even more pollution and maybe even speed up the lake’s recovery. But for that to happen, the TNRCC has to designate Caddo as a high priority, rather than its current medium ranking, and the Legislature would have to fund a TMDL program. The process is simple, he says. “You determine what’s contributing to the problem, find the total load, and then find the rate that it’s deposited. The goal is to restrict input from the source.” Translation: You figure out who’s polluting the lake and get them to stop.
Presentations made in the Karnack ball by Roy Darville, the chairman of the biology department at East Texas Baptist, and Henry Bradbury, a freelance environmental manager in Dallas, both members of the clearinghouse’s scientific advisory board, underscore the lake’s failing health. Five years of water-quality data indicate a severe loss of oxygen, in an area that already has a high level of acid rain-thanks to coal-fired power plants in East Texas-and the presence of mercury contamination throughout the Cypress River Basin’s food chain at levels high enough to warn pregnant women and infants against eating fish caught in the lake.
The responsibility for combating those problems, Shellman tells the group, rests with them. They appear to be happy to step up. Armed with scientific data, fluent in regulatory legalese, they discuss existing power plants in East Texas that are already polluting, how to build alliances with people on the Louisiana side of Caddo (one third of the lake’s 25,000 acres are over the border), how to make a formal presentation to the city of Marshall, and how to beef up Caddo tourism-for instance, qualifying it for a “Keep Texas Wild” specialty license plate, which at the moment features only bluebonnets and the horny toad.
The message is clear: It’s their show, not Shellman’s, Henley’s, or anyone else’s. “I’ve learned that these citizens don’t normally participate in the political process,” Shellman says. “They’re like most Texans who own property. They want to live within their boundaries and be left alone. But if you rile them up, watch out.”
FROM TOP: A custom pair made by Rocketbuster Boots in El Paso; a bootmaker works on a top at Arditti Footwear; a vamp is fitted around a last at Arditti. Photography by Wyatt McSpadden.
25 Top Custom Bootmakers
Texas Monthly BY JOE NICK PATOSKI June 2002
James Leddy Boots 1602 N. Treadaway Boulevard 915-677-7811 The nephew of boot king M. L. Leddy is now royalty himself, and he runs a real family business: He does the cutting, his wife and daughter do the stitching, his son-in-law does bottoms, and his former daughter-in-law creates the prettiest inlays anywhere. Specializes in: Flowery tops, old-fashioned crimped vamps, zipper tops, sharp pointed toes. Prices start at: $625. Turnaround time: Three to four months. Has made boots for: Country singers Buck Owens, George Jones, and Johnny Bush; U.S. representative Charles Stenholm.
Bell Custom Boots 2118 N. Treadaway Boulevard 915-677-0632 The gregarious Alan Bell understudied with Tex Robin in Coleman (see below) before going solo. Twenty-five years later, his is one of the state’s busiest husband-and-wife operations (Pauline Bell does the top stitching). Specializes in: Versatility (his leather ranges from tough and rugged to soft and supple) and signature stitching outside and inside the vamp. Prices start at: $625. Turnaround time: One year. Has made boots for: Race car driver Kyle Petty; cowboys from the 6666, the Pitchfork, and other mega-ranches.
Western Leather Craft Boot 1950 Civic Circle 806-355-0174 Four generations of the Ross family have been making fine working and dress boots since 1914. Specializes in: Work boots, art boots, wing tips, and flower inlays. Prices start at: $575. Turnaround time: Three months. Has made boots for: Singing cowboy Gene Autry.
Texas Traditions 2222 College Avenue 512-443-4447 Lee Miller apprenticed under the late, great Charlie Dunn and took over the business when Dunn retired. Specializes in: Flashy designs, such as wild flames decorating the tops and trademark Charlie Dunn pinched rose overlays. Prices start at: $1,000. Turnaround time: Three years for new customers (they’re not taking any right now), thirteen months for old ones. Has made boots for: Country singer Lyle Lovett, rock singer Sting, actor Slim Pickens, golfer Arnold Palmer.
Tex Robin Custom Handmade Boots 115 W. Eighth 915-625-5556 Robin’s father, also called Tex, opened his doors in 1944 and passed his talent and commitment to high quality on to his son, who has now run the one-man shop for thirty years. Specializes in: Artistic tops with eclectic stitching (e.g., prickly pear cactus spines), brilliant coloring, and trademark butterflies and eagles. Prices start at: $695. Turnaround time: One year. Has made boots for: Governor Rick Perry, gambler Benny Binion.
Kimmel Company 2080 County Road 304 915-356-3197 Since learning the trade from the late Dan Trujillio, another Comanche legend, Eddie Kimmel has built up one of the most productive small shops in Texas. Specializes in: Old-style boots that are a little stouter and have a heavier inner sole, which means they last longer. Prices start at: $550. Turnaround time: Three months. Has made boots for: Actresses Sandra Bullock and Priscilla Presley; movie producer Lynda Obst.
RocketBuster Boots 115 S. Anthony 915-541-1300 Their boot designs are part flash and part kitsch, so it’s no surprise that the showroom in which Nevena Christi and Marty Snortum greet their customersby appointment onlyresembles Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Specializes in: The wildest tops in the business, from Hot Rod Devil and Custom Car Angel logos to fiery chiles and the Virgin of the Guadalupe. Prices start at: $750 (take $40 off any order if you trade a childhood cowboy photo). Turnaround time: Twelve weeks. Has made boots for: Actors Billy Bob Thornton, Mel Gibson, and Bruce Willis; actress Sharon Stone; director Steven Spielberg; talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.
Tres Outlaws 421 S. Cotton 915-544-2727 Co-owners Scott Emmerich and Jerry black (the third outlaw "we hung," says Emmerich) supply boots to high-end retailers, including Emmerich’s Falconhead in the tony Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Specializes in: Elaborate designs, exotic leathers, handstitching as wide as 25 rows, braided kangaroo-skin piping, and silver inlays built into the boot. Prices start at: $595. Turnaround Time: Four to eight weeks. Has made boots for: Actresses Brooke Shields, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Renee Zellweger; rock singer Sheryl Crow; uberagent Mike Ovitz.
The Stallion Boot and Belt Company 100 N. Cotton 915-532-6268 Longtime boot collector Pedro Mu–oz, Jr., made a killing off of the Urban Cowboy craze. Twenty years later, he still designs boots for sale via trunk shows and couture retailers such as Dolce & Gabbana and Christian Dior. Specializes in: Replicas of classic boots emphasizing starbursts and flame stitching, as well as buck stitching and lacing. Claims to be the only bootmaker using fossilized walrus and woolly mammoth ivory. Prices start at: $500. Turnaround time: Six to twelve weeks. Has made boots for: Rock singers Madonna, Robert Plant, and Bob Dylan; actress Ashley Judd; actor Tom Cruise.
Arditti Alligator Accoutrements and Handcrafted Footware 910 Texas Avenue 915-532-7833 A twelve-year veteran of the leather biz at age 31, Thomas Yves Arditti produces high-end designs for boots made of alligator and other exotic leathers. Specializes in: High-quality leather inside and outside the boot and signature sterling-silver logo built into the heel. PRICES START T: $550. Turnaround time: One to two months. Has made boots for: Actor Jack Nicholson, former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Carman Allen 8616 Quebec Drive 817-367-7976 Formerly a bull rider, Allen designed chaps before shifting his focus to boots. Specializes in: Detailed tooling and a trademark lightning bolt. Prices start at: $650. Turnaround time: Eight to ten months. Has made boots for: The cutting-horse crowd.
Wheeler Boot Company 4115 Willowbend 713-665-0224 Dave Wheeler has been working at his father’s shop since he was twelve; forty years later he continues the family tradition by working alongside his wife and his mother. Specializes in: Colorful, elaborately designed boots-as-art Prices start at: $825. Turnaround time: Eleven months. Has made boots for: Vice President Dick Cheney, actor Robert Duvall, defense attorney Dick DeGuerin.
Maida’s Blackjack Boot Company 3948 Westheimer Boulevard 713-961-4538 First-generation Italian bootmaker Sal Maida, Sr., served Houstonians for years; since 1977 that task has fallen to his son, Sal Junior, and bootmaker Richard Salazar. Specializes in: Upscale boots suitable for cowboy balls. Prices start at: $695. Turnaround time: Ten to twelve weeks. Has made boots for: Rockers ZZ Top, actor Ben Johnson.
R.J.’S Boot Company 3321 Ella Boulevard 713-682-5520 A bootmaker to the power elite, Rocky Carroll is a worthy successor to his dad, who started the business in 1938. He is backed by independent contractors, including 76-year-old Antonio Sanchez, maybe the state’s finest craftsman, who works semi-exclusively for him out of a garage in Mercedes. Specializes in: Conservative, upscale boots with artistic tops, such as corporate logos, and lots of gold and silver. Prices start at: $295. Turnaround time: Two weeks. Has made boots for: Both President Bushes, Governor Rick Perry, country singer Dolly Parton.
Jazz Boot Shop 803 E. Avenue G 512-556-3857 Pablo Jass worked for twelve years alongside the late Ray Jones, also of Lampasas. He still turns out tougher-than-hell real cowboy boots made for working on the range. Specializes in: Jones’s box toe, white piping, and stiff tops, and electric topstitching done by his wife, Juanita. Prices start at: $600. Turnaround time: Six months to one year. Has made boots for: Author and boot aficionado Tyler Beard.
Cavazos Boot Factory 302 Second 956-565-0753 Vicente Cavazos, an unsung elder of the bootmaking biz, does the whole boot himself, from fit to finish, excelling in artistic stitching, inlays, and overlays. Specializes in: Imaginative top designs, including roses and a Corpus Christi cityscape, and stylish ostrich wing tips. Prices start at: $225. Turnaround time: Four to five weeks. Has made boots for: Former president Bill Clinton, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, actor Tommy Lee Jones.
Camargo’s Handmade Boots 710 U.S. 83 956-565-6457 Henry Camargo considers himself an artist and lets his imagination fly, producing an assortment of unconventional designs on exotic skins with free-form stitching. Specializes in: Tops with 55 Chevy convertibles, ’66 Corvettes, Harleys, Ford pickups, speedboats, Dallas Cowboys helmets, and Lone Star beer logos. Prices start at: $225. Turnaround time: Three to five weeks. Has made boots for: Country singer Willie Nelson, actor Patrick Duffy.
Stephanie Ferguson Custom Boots 2112 Poe Prairie 817-341-9700 The Ohio native-the only female bootmaker in Texas going it alone-understudied at Jack Reed’s place in Burnet, where she developed a flair for flamboyant colors and overlays. Specializes in: Tops with three-dimensional hummingbirds, coconuts, flamingos, parrots, and morning glories. Prices start at: $850. Turnaround time: Six to eight months. Has made boots for: Country singer David Allan Coe.
El Vaquero Boots 722 E. Norman 956-689-3469 Ignaclo "Nacho” Martinez, another unsung elder, was part of the team that built boots for President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the dedication ceremony for Falcon Dam, in 1954. After spending most of his career at Raymondville’s now-defunct Rios Boots, he currently works out of his garage with his son, Joe. Specializes in: Flaming-red rose inlays, intricate braided-lace piping, and lizard scallops. Prices start at: $300. Turnaround time: Six to eight weeks. Has made boots for: Armstrongs, Klebergs, Yturrias, and other ranching elites.
Armando’s Boot Company 169 N. Seventh 956-689-3521 Abraham Rios once had Raymondville’s biggest shop, serving area ranches like the King Ranch. Today his nephew Armando Duarte Rios puts his 45 years of experience into each and every boot. Specializes in: Fancy inlays and nimble stitching up to ten rows wide. Prices start at: $420. Turnaround time: Eight to ten weeks. Has made boots for: Former governor Mark White; former Speaker of the House Gib Lewis; actors Sean Penn and Peter Coyote; country singer Willie Nelson.
Torres Brothers Boot Company 246 S. Seventh 956-689-1342 In 1997 Raul and Frank Torres reopened the longtime business run by their father, Leopoldo Torres, who still consults for his sons on a regular basis. Specializes in: Butterfly stitching and white-alligator boots. Prices start at: $200. Turnaround time: Six to seven weeks. Has made boots for: King Ranch cowboys, Texas Rangers, border patrolmen.
J. L. Mercer and Son Custom Boots 224 S. Chadbourne 915-658-7634 J. L. Mercer began working in his daddy’s shop at age eleven. Seventy years later, he sells boots out of a rickety storefront and at rodeos, cutting-horse competitions, and the State Fair. Specializes in: Basic work boots, roper boots, and crepe soles, Prices start at: $450. Turnaround time: Three months. Has made boots for: Lyndon B. Johnson; former governor Mark White; actors Barry Corbin and Tom Wopat; country singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
Rusty Franklin Handmade Boots 15 E. Avenue D 915-655-7784 Franklin split off from his venerated grandfather, M. L. Leddy, sixteen years ago and recruited master bootmaker Eugene Lopez from the late Charlie Garrison’s operation in Llano. Specializes in: Stiff tops, school logos, and Texas icons such as the Capitol, the Alamo, mockingbirds, oil derricks, yellow roses, and bluebonnets. Prices start at: $495. Turnaround time: Five to six months. Has made boots for: Actor Tommy Lee Jones, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
M. L. Leddy Boots 2200 W. Beauregard 915-942-7655 One of the oldest and largest custombootmaking operations in the state. Specializes in: Old-fashioned high-heel range riders, nuevo-retro cockroach stompers, tool tops, and lace-ups. Prices start at: $495. Turnaround time: Three to four months. Has made boots for: Country singer Trisha Yearwood, basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, actor Paul Newman.
Little’s Boots 110 Division Avenue 210-923-2221 What Lucchese Boots once was to San Antonio, Little’s Boots-established in 1915-is today. Little’s sets the standard for fancy custom boots, which are on display at the state’s best showroom. Specializes in: Expensive, unembellished exotic leathers and intricately detailed art boots, including three-dimensional pinched roses and unique wildflower and leaf patterns. Prices start at: $750. Turnaround time: Three and a half months. Has made boots for: Country singer Reba McEntire, actor Tommy Lee Jones, author Alex Haley.
This boot is one of the most popular styles made by Lee Miller of Texas Traditions in Austin.
Texas Monthly BY JOE NICK PATOSKI June 2002
The top, also known as the shaft, is the artist’s canvas: Here is where the most detail work is done (although, ironically, if you’re a man, the top stays hidden under your pants legs unless you’re riding or at a cowboy ball). Standard tops are twelve inches high, though custom boots that replicate vintage models of fifty years ago or olderespecially old-timey cowgirl boots called peeweessometimes have tops that are shorter. Luccheses have always had thirteen-inch tops. Yahoos and Buffalo Bill wannabes go for even higher tops, despite their propensity to cause the feet to sweat more in the summer.
When it comes to skins and leathers, the skyand your walletis the limit; the rarer the species, the costlier the material. Calfskin is the basic starter, followed in no particular order by goat, lizard, anteater, shark, kangaroo, quill ostrich, stingray, buffalo, bullfrog, snake (not very durable), bullhide (very durable), elephant (the most durable), and alligator (the most expensive).
The stitching of custom boots is done by hand. Think decorative, not practical: Once upon a time, stitching held the layers of leather together, but today glue mostly does the trick. The more rows of stitching, the finer (and more expensive) the boot. Two rows are standard. Ten rows are awesome.
The vamp is the lower part of the boot, and ideally it’s cut from a single piece of leather. It comes together in a series of steps. First the medallionor bug and wrinkle, so named because it looks like, well, a bug and a wrinkleis stitched onto it. Then it’s sewn to the top, wetted, and stretched over the last. Next, it’s pulled back so the toe box can be inserted. Finally, it’s sculpted and dried.
Pulls, or ear pulls, are the loops sewn into the side of your boots at the top to help you get them on. Over-the-top pulls are standard. Mule ears, which are five to seven inches long, and flush pulls, which sit inside the boot, are fancier. Some boot buyers prefer holes in the top to slip their fingers into.
Inlays are sewn into the top or, less frequently, the vamp. This is the delicate part of the artistic process, sometimes involving microscopic strands and pieces of leather. The more detailed the inlay, the harder the joband the longer it takes. (Overlays, or foxings, are pieces of leather attached to the outside of the top or the vamp; they’re the bootmaking equivalent of hair extensions. They perform the same decorative function as inlays, but they’re susceptible to scuffing or being torn off.)
Piping covers the vertical seam where the tops are stitched together. Typically it’s a single strand, but sometimes it involves more-elaborate braiding.
Your choice of toe reveals what kind of person you are. Rock stars and fashionmongers gravitate to pointy toes, also known as pin box toes, roach stompers, and fence climbers. Yes, they’re trendy, but they’re actually the kind grandpa used to wear when he rode horses (the pointy toe makes it easier to stick the boot into the stirrup). The box toealso called the five-eighth toe, since the boxed front is five-eighths of an inch acrossis the most popular version of the pointy toe. (The boot pictured has a three-fourths-inch toe.) Round toes, reflecting more conservative tastes, are preferred by modern ranch folks and professionals who want something to wear with a business suit. The number one round is a modified pointy toe. The number three, also known as a J toe, is the most common of the round-toe styles and is preferred by the button-down crowd. The number four is so round that it can pass for a shoe.
The bottom consists of the insole, the outsole, and the shank cover. The insole is nailed to the bottom of the last before the vamp is stretched. After the vamp is dry, it is stitched to the insole by hand, creating the welt. The nails are pulled from the insole, and the last is removed. Then the outsole is stitched to the welt.
The heel determines height and function. Higher heels make it easier to stay in a stirrup while on horseback, but they’re hard if not hell to walk in (getting around on a two-and-a-half-inch “undershot high narrow rounding heel” is like wobbling on Manolo Blahnik spikes). Most boot wearers prefer a lower, flatter heel, like a one-and-five-eighth-inch “walking wide heel” or a one-and-three-fourth-inch “short contest heel.”
As apparel goes, handmade cowboy boots are one of the last remaining links to our pastand they look sweet on your feet. Here’s where you can find a pair that fits your personal taste, plus everything you ever wanted to know about vamps, stitching, and more.
LIKE SO MUCH ELSE IN Texas these days, apparelthe kind that proudly proclaims our Western heritageain’t what it used to be. Jeans were co-opted 25 years ago, when Gloria Vanderbilt designer-labeled them, and all hope of taking them back is lost now that Wranglers and Levi’s, those icons of the cowboy way, are made out of the country by workers who wouldn’t know a Santa Gertrudis from a milk cow. Cowboy hats? Gimme caps supplanted Stetsons and Hi-Rollers long before Bum Phillips coached the Oilers. Spurs and chaps? Appropriated by the alternative-lifestyle crowd (not that there’s anything wrong with it). Shirts with pearl snaps? Hell, folks are more likely to wear running shorts with the Texas flag on the backside.
Cowboy boots, on the other hand, are inviolable. They’ve been with us forever and still look damn sweet on a pair of feet today. And they don’t have to be Texas feet; anyone who dons a pair (well, the right pair) can pass for a native. Boots directly connect us to our storied pastthey were the footwear favored by the Spanish conquistadores who brought the horse to North America, although there’s still some dispute as to whether the first cowboy boots arrived in Texas from Kansas via the cattle drovers or from northern Mexico by way of the vaqueros. Their shining moment came in the early eighties, when the Urban Cowboy craze transformed them into a pop culture artifact embraced around the world. But by the early nineties, sales were back down and the industry began to consolidate. More recently, venerable Texas bootmakers like Tony Lama and Lucchese have followed jeans makers in shipping some of their manufacturing operations across the border and overseas. Several lines of Justins, once the pride of my hometown of Fort Worth, are today made in Mexico.
This, I would argue, is not necessarily a bad thing. With the decline of the big boys, the small bootmakersthe ones who custom-make them by handare on the rise. Presidents, movie stars, rock stars, and even the occasional Mexican wrestler, along with regular folks all across the state, regard made-to-measure boots as one of the last remaining status symbols connected to the Western myth. Mind you, they’re expensive, ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand for a single pair, and assuming you can find someone willing to take you on as a customer, it can be weeks or months before they’re ready to wear. But price and patience have their rewards, because custom boots are more comfortable than a pair of slippers and last for a minimum of ten years. The way I figure it, they’re a far better value than the new pair of $200 Air Jordans you have to buy every yearplus they look cooler and are versatile enough to be worn in the saddle or propped up on your desk.
The place to buy custom boots is Texas, which is home to more than one hundred of the best bootmakers on earththough you’d never know it; most custom bootmakers don’t advertise, as word of mouth brings in all the business they can handle. Aesthetically speaking, their shops are like barbecue joints: The funkier the place, the better the product. Some have a fancy showroom out front, but the actual work is done in environments charitably described as messy, dank, and musty, and the air is redolent with the sweet, mellow aroma of tanned hides. Piles of leather scraps are scattered in every nook and cranny, as are such tools of the trade as awls, hammers, and ancient sewing machines (the model 3115 Singer is particularly revered).
Yes, bootmaking is an art formliterally. Over the past twelve years, custom boots have been the subject of three coffee-table books100 Years of Western Wear,The Cowboy Boot Book, and Art of the Bootby Tyler Beard, a writer and collector of Western memorabilia living in Lampasas, and Jim Arndt, a photographer from that upper Midwestern hub of bootmania, Minneapolis (Arndt also publishes boot calendars). At the moment there are two major boot-themed exhibits in Texas: “These Boots Are Made for Gawking,” at the Grace Museum in Abilene, which features the works of Texas’ best modern bootmakers, and “Heels and Toes and Everything Goes: Cowboy Boots As Art,” at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, including boots worn by Lyndon B. Johnson, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry.
With an eye to all this, I spent a few weeks traveling around the state this spring, visiting some of the state’s best bootmakers. I was sorry to be reminded that so many of the veterans are no longer with us: Charlie Dunn, of Austin, Ray Jones, of Lampasas, Charlie Garrison, of Llano, Dan Trujillio, of Comanche, Willie Lusk (the only African American to distinguish himself in the trade), of Lubbock, and Genaro Hector Uribe, of San Antonio, the last in a family line that stretched back 150 years to bootmakers who shod soldiers in Emperor Maximilian’s army. Yet I discovered some old masters still at it, such as 76-year-old Antonio Sanchez, of Mercedes, 73-year-old Ignacio Martinez, of Raymondville, and 65-year-old James Leddy, of Abilene.
From these and other Michelangelos of leather, I learned that getting the new generation to follow in their bootsteps is no easy task. “I’ve got two sons and a daughter who didn’t go into the boot business but live in nice houses with all the finer things in life,” says seventy-year-old Dave Little, whose family’s boots, hecho en San Antonio since 1915, favorably compare with ones the Luccheses once made in the Alamo City. Thankfully, another of Little’s daughters is getting ready to take over the business. An additional problem is finding good craftsmenthe only dependable talents are Mexican nationals, the occasional Mexican American kid from the border region, and the handful of graduates (never enough) from the bootmaking school at the technical branch of Oklahoma State University, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.
Custom bootmakers, I was told, are divided into two camps. Solo operators insist that you can’t turn out really great handmade boots if even two people are involved in the process. Ideally, the person who does the measuring should be the person who makes the last, cuts the patterns, and cuts the leather. “Those four steps are so critical that you’re asking for trouble if more than one person does it,” says Houston bootmaker Dave Wheeler. Shops with two or more bootmakers hoot at Wheeler’s premise, pointing out that specialists who focus on stitching, stretching vamps, or putting together boot bottoms make for a better overall boot. Besides, going it alone is akin to taking a vow of poverty, says Little, who makes the sale, does the measuring, and collaborates on the design but leaves the actual assembly to six workers in the shop out back. “The fellow who makes boots one at a time, from fit to finish, can’t make any money,” he says.
There are regional differences in Texas as well. Small bootmakers who make real cowboy boots for real cowboysdurable footwear that’s nothing fancyare easily found wherever big ranches are nearby, with two significant clusters around Abilene and San Angelo. Custom bootmakers in El Paso, the undisputed Cowboy Boot Capital of the World, tend to be larger operations and focus on sales not to individuals as much as to retailers in Texas and elsewhere, who measure their customers and then send for the boots to be made. Not surprisingly, boots tend to cost more the farther you travel from the border. The least expensive boots are made in El Paso and in the Rio Grande Valley towns of Mercedes and Raymondville, where many makers were trained in the Mercedes factory of revered bootmaker Zeferino Rios, whose family was in the business for nearly 150 years.
Whatever you pay for them, wherever you get them, get them. This is an industry worth supporting. “It’s not going to die,” insists Lee Miller, of Austin, one of the nation’s finest young bootmakers. (Miller is doing his part: He was taught by Charlie Dunn and eventually took over Dunn’s business, and he is now teaching a Japanese man named Atsuki Sumi, who aims to open up the second custom-made-boot shop in his home country.) “The boot boom may have ended in 1983,” says Scott Emmerich, who co-owns Tres Outlaws bootmakers in El Paso, “but the serious boot buyer has never gone away. It always has been and always will be, because Texas is Texas and Texas is boots.”
Last year the feds went toe-to-toe with environmentalists over allowing natural-gas drilling on Padre Island, but neither side has scored a knockout. Here’s what to expect in the next few rounds.
So who threw the first punch in this fight? The Bush administration. A year ago, citing the growing demand for natural gas and the need for the U. S. to become less dependent on foreign energy supplies, the Department of the Interior approved a permit allowing BNP Petroleum, of Corpus Christi, to drill an exploratory natural-gas well inside the Padre Island National Seashore (PINS). In November, after BNP struck a reserve fifteen miles from park headquarters, the Interior Department agreed to let it drill two additional wells.
Since when is drilling legal on Padre Island? Since forever. In fact, oil and gas exploration is legal throughout the national park system (nearly seven hundred oil and gas wells exist in thirteen other parks). In the case of PINS, when the federal government began acquiring its 160,000 acres in 1962, it limited the purchase to surface lands, leaving oil and gas rights in the hands of the state and private owners. Any company can apply for a drilling permit, but approval must also be granted by the National Park Service, which is overseen by the Interior Department. Nineteen wells have been drilled on Padre since 1979, but only two in the nineties, and both were dry holes.
Okay. But if drilling has always been legal, how can environmentalists fight this? By playing every green group’s favorite trump card: suing under the Endangered Species Act. Few roads exist inside PINS, and to access its drilling sites, BNP must send eighteen wheelers down the beach, which, from April through July, is prime nesting habitat for endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles. Roughly five thousand female turtles exist, and critics of drilling argue that the giant oil company trucks will crush both turtles and their nests. Using this argument, the Sierra Club filed suit against the Interior Department in April.
How is BNP addressing the Sierra Club’s concerns? BNP spokespeople argue that their trucks are no more harmful to the turtles than the thousands of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts who roam the beach already each summer. Besides, they say the existing regulations governing their beach access, which include requiring drilling trucks to maintain a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit and to travel in caravans led by trained turtle spotters, will adequately protect wildlife.
So how does all of this affect Texans? First, the bad news: Increased drilling will unquestionably have a negative impact on tourism. Nearly 800,000 visitors flock to PINS each year, and no matter how environmentally and visually friendly BNP’s operation is (it will use quieter, diesel- and electric-powered rigs painted the color of their surroundings), nothing spoils a beach picnic quite like a rumbling caravan of industrial truck traffic. On the other hand, there’s a significant financial carrot being dangled by the pro-drilling camp. Because BNP’s proposed new wells will be on state-owned reserves, state law stipulates that between 20 and 25 percent of the revenue the wells generate must go to Texas’ Permanent School Fund. And considering the state’s $9 billion budget shortfall, the estimated 80 billion cubic feet of gas sitting untouched beneath the island could represent an irresistible revenue source.
What happens next? Don’t expect the feds to purchase Padre Island’s oil and natural-gas rights like they did last summer for Big Cypress National Preserve, in Florida. The move to protect the preserve was largely viewed as a political maneuver (read: a chance for President Bush to boost brother Jeb’s 2002 reelection efforts), and the administration has been otherwise adamant about the need to tap our existing energy supplies. A compromise that involves limiting drilling trucks during turtle nesting season or cutting a road down the island away from the beach might appease some critics, but remember, there’s an endangered species involved, and the Sierra Club doesn’t typically go down without a fight. Expect this issue to drag on in the courts, where a judge will issue a final TKO.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram BY JOE NICK PATOSKI May 19, 2003
The first shot marking a new phase in the great American environmental war was fired last week — in Fort Worth, of all places. But hardly anyone heard it.
A two-day writers workshop titled “Beyond Command and Control” — sponsored by Environmental Defense and the Sand County Foundation of Madison, Wis., and hosted by Ramona Bass — was largely ignored by the Texas media, other than the five outdoors writers who attended the conference and me.
It’s understandable. On the surface of it, there isn’t much newsworthy about 40 people getting together to hash over land use, endangered species, law and human interaction with nature, topped off by a tour of the Texas Wild! exhibit at the Fort Worth Zoo led by Bass.
But the mere fact that landowners and greens were engaging in dialogue to develop consensus about land, water, wildlife and the environment rather than yelling at one another other was not just news — it was downright earthshaking.
Ten years ago, the Endangered Species Act, which originally was intended to identify, protect and save rare birds, fish, animals and insects, was having precisely the opposite effect.
Landowners who had endangered species on their property were being punished with onerous rules, regulations and restrictions rather than being recognized for harboring unique plants and animals.
Many Texas landowners felt so threatened by the heavy-handed enforcement of the act that they summarily denied federal and state biologists access to their property out of fear that endangered species would be found and some bureaucrat would step in to tell them how they could or couldn’t manage their own land. Some went so far as to kill rare birds and destroy their habitat.
Similarly, whenever a green organization such as Environmental Defense saw a problem, the first reaction was to “Sue the bastards,” as Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense’s president, explained at the workshop.
Those attitudes defined the old rules of engagement. Today, it’s a far different story.
Environmental Defense, having recognized the pitfalls of wielding a heavy hammer to instigate change, has taken the lead in developing “Safe Harbor” agreements that reward landowners for having endangered species rather than penalizing them.
Several landowners, including Dr. Rickey Fain from Glen Rose and Bob Long of Bastrop, testified how such agreements and cooperative efforts among landowners, environmentalists and regulators have worked to protect endangered species including the black-capped vireo and the Houston toad.
That mirrors the philosophy articulated by Aldo Leopold, the Wisconsin conservationist who inspired the creation of the Sand County Foundation by championing personal responsibility and individual stewardship as the most effective means of preserving and protecting the environment.
A news conference was held during the workshop to announce Environmental Defense’s $1 million investment in a partnership with the Sand County Foundation to create the Leopold Stewardship Fund.
The money is already being spread among 14 landowner groups dealing with endangered species across the country.
Landowner incentives ring especially loud and clear in Texas, which is home to more animal species than any other state in the nation, and which happens to be 97 percent privately owned.
The sometimes not-so-subtle message tucked into the $40 million Texas Wild! recreation of the state’s regions and its wildlife is that private property owners are conservationists, too, and despite the doom-and-gloom message that humans are destroying the environment, there’s plenty of reason to have hope.
The message reflects the beliefs of Bass and her husband, a former commissioner of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
The Basses own tens of thousands of acres. My family owns less than 10.
Ramona Bass and her husband are avid hunters. I prefer observing wildlife to shooting at it.
But when it comes to describing the flight of a caracara, knowing why side oats grama is good and guinea grass is bad, and appreciating the subtle beauty of the South Texas brush country, we are equals in our passion.
We both recognize that it is in the best interest of Texas and Texans to care about land, water and wildlife — especially in the current climate of budget cuts and an administration that has been less than enthusiastic when it comes to environmental matters.
In the long run, Congress and the Legislature are not the places to seek answers. If you own it, it’s yours to take care of, no matter how big or how small the parcel of land.
The responsibility of stewardship goes hand in glove with property rights. Cooperation trumps confrontation — especially when the natural world we all live in is at stake.
To pull it all off also will take a leader much like Lady Bird Johnson, who helped beautify America with wildflowers.
Texas Monthly BY JUDITH ZAFFIRINI AS TOLD TO JOE NICK PATOSKI February 2003
Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar. What did I learn from cheerleading? How to lead and how to foller.
I FIRST REALIZED HOW BEING a cheerleader could help you in politics when I became a candidate for the state Senate in 1986. I remember going to a high school out of town, not in Laredo, during the campaign. They invited me to go to a pep rally right before the football game. I had already checked out the football schedule. Every time I went to a high school, I knew the mascot, I knew the colors, I knew their scores, I knew the record for their football team. I knew the details, just like I know about the rainfall when I visit another county, because farmers and other people in agriculture will ask questions such as “How much has it rained in Laredo?” I always have the answer.
During the pep rally, someone turned and asked if I wanted to say a few words. I walked the entire length of the gym to get to the microphone, and Dennis Longoria, a family friend and volunteer who was traveling with me, wanted to die. He said, “Oh, no!” All he could think of was that the cheerleaders had just had the pep contest between the classes to see who could yell the loudest, then had formed a human pyramid with layers of people standing on each other’s shoulders, and now I was going to talk about economic development and tort reform and all those issues I’d been talking about, and they were going to boo me. Dennis said that was the longest walk he ever saw me take. And I walked up to the microphone and said, “Are we going to beat the Bulldogs?”
I really helped rev up the audience. They were stunned. They didn’t expect that from me. To this day, when I visit high schools, if I’m invited to a pep rally, I know what to do: ask questions, involve the audience. And don’t get up and talk about yourself and get serious. Be able to go with the flow. Create an appropriate atmosphere. Focus not so much on myself and what I want to say and do but on them and what they need to hear. That’s what cheerleading teaches you.
George W. Bush, Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchisonthey were all cheerleaders, and they are all very effective with an audience. As cheerleaders, they learned how to work with a crowd. It’s important to bond with an audience and to help the audience come together as a unit. At this point in their careers, they don’t need to rev up a crowd too often. Cheerleading is particularly an asset for first-time candidates. It gives you the ability to understand audience psychology and know how to respond to an audience yet help unite them. I wish Tony Sanchez had been a cheerleader in high school. He would have known how to rev up the troops from the beginning. Instead, he had to master that art along the way.
Part of leadership is knowing when to lead and knowing when to follow, and cheerleading teaches you that. The best leaders have that skill. I saw it in George Bush. After Bush’s election in 1994, Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock asked me to talk to the governor about welfare reform. I said to Bush, “I’m the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. I have passed welfare legislation and have a bill for this session, but Bullock asked me to meet with you and to ask you what your bill does and who will carry it for you.”
Bush looked at me and said, “Senator, your bill is my bill.”
I smiled. “Governor, we’re going to get along just fine.”
The image of cheerleaders as shallow couldn’t be further from the truth. So many leadership skills are involved: not only bringing the audience together but also sharing enthusiasm with them and motivating them to be enthusiastic too. I really believe cheerleading develops leadership and develops understanding of other people. It builds character in so many ways. One of the opportunities cheerleading offers is learning to handle victory and defeat with grace and dignity. That’s important in politics too. I vividly remember using that lesson the night of the runoff in my first race for the Senate. I was at my headquarters telling everyone, before the election results came in, that whether we won or we lost, we would act the same way. That if we won, we would not gloat, and if we lost, we would not cry, and we would handle itusing those words”with the same grace and dignity.” And then someone said that my opponent was on the phone to concede, and everybody went, “Yaaaay!” and started just being very ugly. I tried to calm everyone down and said, “I’m not going to pick up the receiver until everybody is totally quiet. Let’s thank him, and let’s be very dignified about it.”
In 1959 I went to Ursuline Academy, an all-girls school, and tried out to be a freshman cheerleader for St. Joseph’s Academy, the all-boys school. The cheerleaders were selected after tryouts and elections. Whoever went to the tryouts got to vote. Since we were freshmen, it wasn’t exactly a popularity contest, because no one was known. The sophomores, juniors, and seniors certainly didn’t know the incoming freshmen. The election was held during the summer before the academic year, so we hadn’t met anybody. I can tell you the exact cheer:
Chickalacka chickalacka, chow chow chow Boomalacka boomalacka, bow wow wow Chickalacka boomalacka, who are we? St. Joe’s Antlers, yessiree!
My sister Celita was already a sophomore cheerleader at Ursuline. After my election, one girl who was a sophomore yelled, “Ya llegaron Las Papitas“”The Little Potatoes have arrived.” Our maiden name was Pappas. It’s a Greek name. In Laredo many people think it’s PapasSpanish for “potatoes.” So we were called Las Papitas in high school, “the Little Potatoes.” My sister was and is very popular. Certainly that helped me. I wanted to be very much like her. She was a role model. I learned to read at the age of three because she knew how to read. She was five. That’s my first memory of childhood: learning to read.
We had friends who were cheerleaders at other high schools. They were our role models too. A dear friend of mine who died recently, Nora Montemayor, was a cheerleader at Martin High School, the only public high school in town. (Now we have seven.) She was a friend of my oldest sister. Nora and her twin, Dora, were just darling, very energetic and popular. Certainly they impacted us.
We didn’t have women role models. I never thought of going to college until I was a senior in high school. I don’t recall anyone urging me to go to college. My mother encouraged all four of her daughters to be prepared to fight our own battles. She encouraged us to be well mannered, to be bilingual, to speak English with an American accent and Spanish with a Mexican accent, and not to be pochoyou know, Tex-Mexand she encouraged all of us to learn how to type. So I type very, very well, very quickly. She wanted us to be prepared. If we married and our husbands got sick or died, we would be prepared to work. She wanted us to be prepared to be secretaries, as she was a secretary. She wanted us to be prepared to cope.
When I was in high school, from 1959 to 1963, cheerleading was the closest thing to sports for a girl. At Ursuline Academy, we didn’t even have intramural activities, only P.E. classes. Many years later, I was the director of communications and Title IX coordinator at Laredo Junior College, and I wondered how many cheerleaders from my era would have been athletes if we had had the opportunities girls have today.
Today, cheerleading is a sport that requires athletic prowess. They’re gymnasts. When I was a cheerleader, it was different. We practicedwe had so many practices. We had to learn cheers, timing, and how to synchronize our moves. We learned self-sufficiency, discipline, teamwork, and leadership. We didn’t have advisers. We didn’t go to cheerleader school. We did it ourselves.
Judith Zaffirini, 57, has served in the Texas Senate since 1987. She lives in Laredo.