BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
I SPENT SATURDAY NIGHT IN MID-APRII. Helping chaperone a dance in the cafetorium of Danforth Junior High, the school in Wimberley where my older son Jake attends eighth grade. My assignment was to guard the door at stage left, making sure no one left the building before the dance was over. I mistakenly let three boys leave after telling them they couldn’t return, only to find them back inside half an hour later, reeking of tobacco smoke. Other than that mild transgression, I had a splendid evening watching young teenagers, all brimming with adolescent energy and confusion, having fun, chatting in cliques and clusters, boys with boys and girls with girls, meeting together on the dance floor to embrace gawkily whenever a slow song was played.
Nine days later, I stood at the same spot in the Danforth cafetorium at a town meeting. We’d all gathered to ponder why, just three days after a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, four 14-year-olds were in the Hays County Juvenile Detention Center in San Marcos on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and other assorted acts of violence and mayhem, including blowing up their school. Instead of watching kids on the verge of what for many of them would he one of the most exciting times of their lives, I saw them sitting stone-faced next to their parents, hanging on to the words of the superintendent of the Wimberley Independent School District, the sheriff of Hays County, and an assistant district attorney. Standing between the speakers at the podium and the somber audience was a phalanx of men holding video cameras backlit by bright floodlights, and television reporters whose perfect hair, perfect teeth, and stylish outfits made them stand out from the more casually dressed local residents.
According to authorities, the evidence against the four boys included bomb-making instructions downloaded from the Internet, gunpowder, and crude bombs. And apparently the boys had given police the names of specific teachers and students they had told each other they’d like to get. Many people in the audience who stepped to the microphone praised the superintendent, the school administration, and the sheriff for acting swiftly on the heels of what had happened at Columbine High School. Some called for remedies such as metal detectors, school uniforms, and prayer to ensure the students’ safety. Numerous others wondered aloud how the boys, if they really did what they were accused of doing, managed to develop such anger and hate.
I had arrived back home that afternoon from a trip to Chicago on family business. While traveling, I’d seen footage of Jake’s school on television framed by words and voice-overs linking Danforth Junior High to the violence in Colorado. On television even the wooden sign at the edge of town identifying Wimberley as “A Little Bit of Heaven” appeared sinister. The whole world, it seemed, was watching my community.
I just had time to pick up Jake and take him to the town meeting. I asked him a few questions about school and the students’ reactions. He didn’t seem to want to talk about it, so I asked him how his television appearances had gone. Jake was the newly elected president of next year’s freshman class, and while I’d been out of town, several reporters had contacted him. Since I’ve earned a living most of my adult life as a reporter, I didn’t want Jake to be afraid of the media. At the same time, I fully understood why many parents were telling their children not to speak to anyone from the press.
“They edited me down to ten seconds,” Jake said.
“Welcome to the world of soundbites,” I replied cynically.
After the meeting, we came home and watched Jake and my wife, Kris, on NBC’s Dateline. Kris talked about the fear of Wimberley being another Littleton and voiced concern for the boys who’d been detained. Jake admitted he had once downloaded instructions on how to make a smoke bomb from the Internet a year ago. The interviewer asked him why he did it. “I was curious,” Jake said, acknowledging our concern when we had learned about it.
I was relieved that Jake had said “smoke bomb” instead of “bomb.” I thought that by appearing on the program maybe Jake and Kris brought a little reason into what I feared was a state of hysteria being whipped up by the media. But as we continued to talk, Kris and I started wondering if we’d done the right thing. By being forthright, had we set ourselves up?
Should we have just told the reporters no and spared our son the glare of scrutiny? Jake played Doom and Quake, and we had gunpowder in the house, in the form of Black Cat firecrackers left over from New Year’s Eve. Would the authorities be paying us a visit next, confiscating computers and fireworks? Kris worried that she’d betrayed Jake’s trust by telling the Dateline producers about our own downloading incident. I was so rattled I couldn’t tell Jake about the item I’d read in the newspaper about the father in Port Aransas who had turned in his son for downloading bomb-making instructions from the Internet–one of numerous similar incidents across the state and the nation that week. Instead I had to advise Jake that if investigators approached him at school, as they had other students, he wasn’t to say a word until we were present, along with an attorney. The four boys who’d been detained had only the count) precinct constable present to explain their rights during their initial interrogation; they weren’t allowed to see their parents for more than 24 hours.
It wasn’t just us. Everyone in town was uncomfortable until the end of the week, when the cameras and reporters finally left. That’s when my community really got busy. Parents, students, and teachers held formal and informal meetings to discuss how to keep kids engaged, identify problems, and seek solutions. Two buildings at the Emily Ann Theatre, an outdoor theater built for high school theater productions with volunteer help last year, have been secured to organize after-school and summer activities. The programs, to he run by volunteers, are the only such alternative to a school system still facing budget cuts after eliminating programs such as art and music from the elementary school. The end-of-the-day advisory period eliminated at Danforth this year is scheduled to be reinstated next fall. Gary Weeks, a craftsman who makes rocking chairs and serves as the president of Wimberley Teens, Inc., the nonprofit parent and student organization that sponsored the dance I had chaperoned, called a meeting to try to anticipate what ninth graders in high school are going to need next year. Nathalie Harris, a parent of another eighth grader and the owner of a Christian bookstore, has organized a campaign to write letters to the boys in detention, noting that they were her daughter’s friends and that instead of seeing them, her daughter sees only empty desks in her classes now. Mike Crowley, a neighbor who manages singer-songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore, is organizing concerts in August and October to benefit the Emily Ann and further involve the community. Churches are stepping up their youth programs, and Jake has signed up to go on a mission trip to Nuevo Laredo with the Wimberley Presbyterian Church this summer. Wimberley’s like that.
At this writing, the boys are still in the Hays County Juvenile Detention Center. Something in the back of my mind tells me that in the full light of day the incident will fade away, that the evidence was factually correct but that the consequences implied by that evidence were blown out of proportion, an understandable overreaction on the side of caution in response to the events at Columbine High. Besides the shame of spending time in the juvenile detention center and being shown on television in prison orange, the four boys will in all likelihood have to attend another high school, which at this time in their tender lives is severe punishment indeed.
The sheriff and school authorities were right to act swiftly. If it could happen in suburban Colorado, it could happen anywhere, even in Wimberley. But I think the parents and friends of the boys detained were right as well. Those boys are our problem too. What prompted them to do what they did, if their intentions were in fact malicious, as has been claimed? Another eighth grader told me that one of the boys detained, who came to Wimberley from Hawaii, disliked a teacher for referring to him as “Kamikaze,” reminding me of the comment of one parent at the town meeting: “If we have zero tolerance for students, shouldn’t we have zero tolerance for teachers and administrators too?” The incident has prompted both Kris and me to reassess our roles as parents, with the full understanding that no matter how good a job we might do, it will never be good enough. We’ve tried to keep the dialogue going at our house, and there have been some bumps along the way, as there always will he. We’re trying harder to listen with open minds. I still worry that in our rush to feel safe and secure we don’t violate the trust that has been built up with our children over the years. If the rules and restrictions we impose on teens become too onerous, will they still feel comfortable enough to confide in us? Will they be able to make mistakes, part of the process of growing up?
On the next to last page of the same edition of the Wimberley View that ran the headline “Wimberley Shocked By Arrests of Four Junior High Boys” was a picture of the eighth-grade boys’ track team. The photograph included three of the four boys detained. They looked like good kids to me, just like my kid, just like your kid. We may be relieved it wasn’t our child who was detained and accused, but those four boys who are being held belong to us too, at least in a village like Wimberley. We didn’t need the whole world watching our little town to understand that.
extra Team Player How George W. Bush ran the Texas Rangers and became, finally, a successful businessman. [Texas Monthly, June 1999]
The Mid-Nineties: George W. Bush greeting fans and signing balls at the ballpark in Arlington.
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
How he ran the Texas Rangers and became, finally, a successful businessman.
HE MAY BE IN THE MIDDLE OF A LEGISLATIVE session and at the start of a run for president, but priorities being what they are, George W Bush spent the first Monday in April at the Ballpark in Arlington, where his career as an organization man took shape. It was a glorious spring afternoon, with clear blue skies providing a brilliant contrast to the emerald green of the outfield grass. Over the course of nine innings at the Texas Rangers’ home opener against the Detroit Tigers, Bush sat in a box seat behind the first-base dugout next to his wife, Laura, team owner Tom Hicks, and then team president Tom Schieffer; signed autographs in the stands; strolled into the clubhouse to chat up players and personnel; and fielded questions in the press box. He even popped into the booth where Rangers games are broadcast in Spanish and called the play when Juan Gonzalez broke up a no-hitter: “Un hit de Juan! El primer hit de Texas del juego!”
The Ballpark is the legacy of Bush’s five-year stint as managing general partner of the Rangers, a time in which he built U both the franchise’s bottom line and his own, along the way honing many of the skills he draws upon in politics. Fundraiser Bush shook out $46 million from various investors during the depths of Texas’ last economic bust in the run-up to busing the team. Consensus-builder Bush got the Ballpark referendum passed in Arlington when similar measures were being nixed by voters elsewhere. Manager Bush ran a business efficiently in the glare of the public eye. People-person Bush nourished the egos of the famous and the anonymous, from Juan Gonzalez to the groundskeepers, always addressing them k name.
After all that, running the free world might seem like T-ball.
PRIVILEGE, PEDIGREE, AND PERSONAL relationships were the reasons Bush hooked up with the Rangers in the first place. His name surfaced as a possible major league owner in the weeks after his father was elected president. “George had spent most of 1988 campaigning and then on the transition team, but he decided he didn’t want to he in Washington-he wanted to go back to Texas,” says one of his fraternity brothers, Roland W. Betts, a movie financier who’d been looking for a pro sports team to buy. “In December he called me and said the Rangers were in play. The Macks [a venerable baseball family] wanted to buy the team from Eddie Chiles, but there was growing concern that they wanted to move the team to Florida.”
Chiles, the Fort Worth oilman who achieved notoriety with his ‘I’m Mad” radio spots, had known George W. as a kid. A friend of the Bush family, he flew George’s sister Robin to hospitals in his private plane when she was diagnosed with leukemia. He’d bought the Rangers in 1980, but at age 78 he was ready to call it quits-a fact Bush was made aware of by William DeWitt, Jr., his oil-business partner in Midland in the eighties. DeWitt, whose father had owned the St. Louis Browns and the Cincinnati Reds, wanted a piece of a team himself.
Bush got cash commitments from several sources. Betts signed on, but only after receiving assurances that his friend wasn’t going to run for office anytime soon. Also ponying up were Connecticut real estate whiz Craig Stapleton, Bush’s cousin through marriage; former Marriott Corporation executive Fred Malek, who had been a member of Richard Nixon’s inner circle; and three Cincinnati investors: produce wholesaler Bob Castellini, oilman Mercer Reynolds, and broadcasting executive Dudley Taft. Chiles was so impressed that he signed a letter of agreement with the Bush group.
But baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth wasn’t satisfied. Although he wanted Chiles to find a buyer who would keep the Rangers in Texas, a top ten media market, he thought Bush’s investors didn’t have enough local ties. At Ueberroth’s urging, Bush went to see Fort Worth financier
Richard Rainwater, the money man behind the Bass family. Subsequently Rainwater met with Bush, Betts, and Stapleton at the Highland Park home of Edward “Rusty” Rose, a financier known as the Mortician for his ability to squeeze profits from failing companies acquired through leveraged buyouts. “We talked about the possibility of owning the team together,” Betts recalls.
At the end of the day Rainwater said if he was going to do it, he wanted Rose as general partner because he liked and trusted him. I said the same thing about George. Rose and George met, and after a few lunches they agreed to run the team together.” The publicity-shy Rose made one stipulation: Bush would be the managing general partner, meaning he’d deal with the media and the public, while Rose would serve as chairman of the board.
Rose threw in $3.2 million and raised another $9 million from other investors, including Rainwater and cable television mogul Jeff Marcus. Bush rounded up $14 million, contributing $606,000 of his own-the smallest amount of any major investor. All told, seventy investors representing 39 limited partnerships bought a piece of the team. Betts and fellow film financier Tom Bernstein paid the most money ($7 million) and received the largest share (18 percent).
Once those initial arrangements were hammered out, Bush approached several other investors. Among them were Schieffer, a former state representative from Fort Worth, and Comer Cottrell, the CEO of a Dallas hair products firm. Edward Gaylord, the Oklahoma City media magnate, reduced the one-third piece of the team he’d bought from Chiles in 1986 to 10 percent. Other small shareholders from the Chiles era, including Arlington realtor Mike Reilly, held on to a total of 4 percent.
The Bush-Rose group was formally incorporated as BR Rangers. No decision would be made without the approval of the two general partners. “Neither of us has the responsibility to make any decision without consulting with the other,” Bush would later explain. “On a certain task, he may lead on it or I may take the lead. The buck stops on our desks.” For his efforts, Bush was paid an annual salary of $200,000; Rose’s company would reportedly receive a retainer of $120,000. In addition, once all the investors were repaid with accrued interest, both Bush and Rose were to be compensated for putting the deal together with a bonus, or promote fee, of 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
The $86 million deal was officially approved by baseball’s executive committee in April 1989. But the real work had only just begun.
T0 PUT IT KINDLY, THE RANGERS WERE a beaten-down franchise. Since relocating to the Dallas-Fort Worth area from Washington, D.C., in 1972, they had consistently performed poorly on the field and at the ticket office. They were finally drawing fans (they passed the 1.5 million mark in attendance in 1986, 1987, and 1988) and cultivating talent (pitcher Nolan Ryan, a bona fide star; Ruben Sierra, an outfielder with Hall of Fame potential) but they were playing in a jerry-built stadium that was originally intended for minor league competition. “The first time I went down there, I was just shocked,” says Betts, and he wasn’t alone in his assessment. “At our first meeting, that was the mantra: To turn this thing around and add value to our investment, we were going to build a new stadium.”
Most of the 1989 season was devoted to learning the business of baseball. Quickly adapting to his role as the public face of the owners’ consortium, Bush was as much of a fixture at the old Arlington Stadium as John “Zonk” Lanzillo, Jr., the drum-beating superfan. He was always in his seat next to the dugout, boots up on the railing, munching peanuts, watching the game, signing more autographs than most of the players. His parents got involved too. In 1989 their springer spaniel Millie gave birth to Spot Fletcher, who was named in honor of Rangers shortstop Scott Fletcher. Two years later the president broke tradition and threw out the first pitch of the season in Arlington instead of Baltimore, the closest city to Washington with a major league club.
Behind the scenes, George W. set to mending fences, improving the team’s image, and winning over critics like Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, who covered the sale of the Rangers and had few kind words for the Bush group. “I had an early built-in grudge against George in particular,” says Reeves. “I thought he was a failed politician and obviously a guy who was playing off his dad’s name because he wasn’t putting much money in.” Bush went out of his way to win over Reeves, even inviting him to play a round of golf, and the reporter gradually came around. “I found him to be a very personable, direct, very informed general partner. The more we were around him, the better the team’s relationship with the press would be. You could believe what he told you.”
He was good at other things as well: He was instrumental in neutralizing the agendas of various personnel, marketing Ryan aggressively, and broadening the team’s appeal by instituting Spanish-language broadcasts. Baseball details, however, were left to the baseball people. “They went out of their way to let us know they weren’t going to be hands-on owners,” said Tom Grieve, then the Rangers’ general manager. “They made it clear from the start they did not buy the team because they wanted to brag to their friends that they owned a baseball team. They told me, ‘We’re business people and expect to be profitable, and we expect our baseball people to be accountable.’ But never did they come in and say, ‘When are you gonna get rid of this guy?'”
By the end of the first year the initial plan that had been in the back of everyone’s mind was formalized. If the Rangers were going to make the transition from a have-not franchise to one of the haves and maximize their value, they would have to play in a new stadium-ideally, a state-of-the-art facility that looked old and traditional but had all the requisite sky boxes and other modern bells and whistles. The partners looked around for someone who could manage a large public project, considering both Tom Luce and Bush himself at one point before designating Schieffer the stadium czar in July 1990. He was charged with selecting a site, developing a strategy, and getting the project under way despite a seemingly impossible obstacle: The partners didn’t want to have to pay for the new park themselves.
Schieffer looked around the Metroplex for a few months before concluding that Arlington was the best site and that a half-cent local sales tax was the best way to pay for it. He then got busy winning over voters to raise the $135 million in bonds it would take to build a new home for the home team. Tarrant County judge Tom Vandergriff, who was instrumental in luring the
Rangers from Washington, and Arlington mayor Richard Greene were enlisted to spearhead the three-month effort. Both Schieffer and Bush were actively involved. At one point both men spoke from the pulpit of the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Arlington, with Bush declaring, “A vote for the tax would be a vote for contracts for African American businesses.”
With minimal opposition–Arlington’s economy is based on tourism and entertainment, and a large percentage of its sales taxes are paid by out-of-towners–the bond issue passed in January 1991 by a two-to-one margin. Nearly 34,000 voters went to the ballot box-more than in any election in Arlington’s history. Under their agreement with the city, the Rangers would chip in $30 million from revenues of ticket sales, surcharges, and luxury-box leases, and pay for any additional costs, which added up to an another $26 million. The team would assume full ownership of the stadium when the bonds were paid off. “This eventually will give us the ability to compete on a payroll level that will put us with a whole new echelon of ballclubs,” Bush said after the referendum passed. “We’ll be able to pay the market price to keep our talent and, at the same time, keep ticket prices down.” Following the vote, Schieffer shifted his focus to the Texas Legislature, which passed a bill that would ratify the arrangement, then he took the lead in getting the park built, soliciting designs from architects-nineteen submitted bids-before hiring David Schwartz of Washington, D.C., a Bass family favorite.
Back home, two flaps surfaced around the construction of the stadium. The first involved the condemnation of thirteen acres of land owned by the Curtis Mathes family, for which the city offered $1.375 million and the Matheses wanted $2.1 million. A state district court eventually declared the condemnation illegal and ordered that the Mathes group be paid the full amount they asked for, plus damages, which ultimately came to more than $11 a square foot, far higher than the $2.67 per square foot maximum that the city paid for any other single parcel during the land acquisition. The Rangers eventually worked out a payment plan to pay off the difference. The second snag was the awarding of minority contracts. The Rangers were criticized by the Arlington chapters of the NAACP and LULAC, the Arlington Hispanic Advisory Council, and even one of their own partners, Comer Cotrell, for not throwing enough business to black and Hispanic firms.
In the end, of course, the problems got resolved and the Ballpark got built. Much of the credit went-correctly-to Schieffer, who demonstrated he could orchestrate and delegate and was rewarded by being named the team’s president. But Bush’s behind-the-scenes involvement-in managing Schieffer, troubleshooting, and going public when necessary-was crucial, people familiar with the situation say. “The bond election, the ballpark, the financing technique, that was all George’s deal,” says Mike Reilly. “He quarterbacked the whole thing, but he never took the credit.”
BUSH TOOK A LEAVE OF ABSENCE FROM the team before the 1994 season to run for governor, missing much of the Ballpark’s inaugural season. The venues, classic lines and distinctively Texan look-from the native granite and red brick to the Longhorns iii the facade-were an instant hit, drawing almost 3 million fans. A museum, sports bar and restaurant, luxury boxes, and a four-story office building outside the outfield fence bumped up the final cost to $191 million, but those additional revenue streams led Financial World magazine to rate it as the most profitable facility in baseball.
During the election, Ann Richards tried to make the public-private arrangement for financing the stadium an issue in the governor’s race, a means of showing Bush as a beneficiary of corporate welfare, but it didn’t take. After he won, Bush put his assets-including his share of the Rangers-in a blind trust and resigned as managing general partner. (His timing couldn’t have been better: A players’ strike cut short the 1994 season, caused the World Series to be canceled, and alienated many fans.)
Bush’s official parting with the team came four years later, in June 1998, when buyout king Tom Hicks snapped it up for $250 million. By the time of sale, Bush’s 1.8 percent share of the ownership had ballooned to 11.3 percent, and he pocketed almost $15 million: $2.7 million as a return on his investment and a $12.2 million “general partner interest”–his 10 percent “promote fee” for putting the ownership group together back in 1989. Not surprisingly, he was widely criticized by the usual suspects–the Texas Observer among them-for earning so much while seemingly doing so little, but his fellow owners sprang to his defense. “To me and to everyone in the partnership,” Schieffer says, “it was not unusual to get a percentage on the hack end like that for putting the deal together.”
In any case, what Bush really got out of the deal was something more important than money: After years as Junior, he finally became his own man. “Before the Rangers, I told him he needed to do something to step out of his father’s shadow,” says Roland Betts. “Baseball was it. He became our local celebrity. He knew every usher. He signed autographs. He talked to fans. His presence meant everything. His eyes were on politics the whole time, but even when he was speaking at Republican functions, he was always talking about the Rangers.”
extra My Wimberley Why Wimberley is not Columbine. [Texas Monthly, Behind the Lines, Texas Feature, June 1999]
Y’all in the Family
Natalie Maines and Lloyd Maines. (Photo by Danny Turner)
Ya’ll in the Family
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
What Natalie Maines Learned From Her Father. What Lloyd Maines Learns From His Daughter. A Tale Of Kinship And Country Music.
“Stand straight. Keep your chin down. Relax. Quit worrying you’ll look like you’re a goober.”
For most of Natalie Maines’s life, her father, Lloyd, the potential goober, was her major influence. He was the one with the music career the revered producer of records by everyone from Jerry Jeff Walker to Wayne Hancock, and a wicked-good steel guitar player to boot and she obviously learned from him well, though his teachings were so low-key and subtle that she realizes today she learned most everything by osmosis. And it was he who facilitated the deal that landed her in the Dixie Chicks, her ticket to the big time. But in this East Austin photographer’s studio, before lights and cameras that are completely foreign to a behind-the-scenes player like Lloyd, she’s the one who calls the shots. She has even loaned him the makeup artist she had flown in from Nashville (standard operating procedure when you’re a chart-topping country star) and taken the time to give him a few tips on applying foundation. Natalie’s on a much-deserved break from the road right now, she has told me, turning down all requests for interviews and media ops. But since her dad is involved, she has made an exception. She’d do anything for him.
And he for her. Reflecting his laid-back approach to life, 48-year-old Lloyd patiently waits for his daughter to strike a pose before he straightens up and places his hands on her shoulders. His idea of mischief is to make devil’s horns with his fingers behind her head. For her part, 25-year-old Natalie whose public image is that of a bubbly spitfire hardly able to contain her energy and always looking as if she’s about to burst into song handles the session like a seasoned pro, cool, calm, and quiet, until she turns on the perky charisma and flashes a radiant smile in anticipation of the whirs and clicks.
Posing is business as usual for her. She’s used to having all eyes on her in this case, makeup artists, publicists, photographers, and photographer’s assistants, who do what they do so she can do what she’s supposed to do. But with her mother, Tina, looking on, the superstar seems abnormally normal. For a few moments, she’s the sweet gal from Lubbock all over again, joshing with her daddy. He’s hugging her. She’s hugging a guitar. They’re the unsung first family of Texas music, playing themselves.LLOYD HAS NEVER BEEN ANYTHING BUT normal. An exceptionally decent fellow, particularly for someone in his line of work, he’s as earthy today as he was 25 years ago, when he made his name as a member of the Joe Ely Band, a crack ensemble way too raucous for Nashville tastes but with too much High Plains red dirt in their boots to pass as rockers. His steel guitar was their secret weapon. He played it like it was a nitro-fueled dragster, which certainly went against the grain of how steels were supposed to sound in those days: all weepy and morose, as a counterpoint to the melody. It was while he was working with Ely that Lloyd developed a side interest in producing. His first project, Terry Allen’s Lubbock (On Everything), was a rather auspicious debut. Recorded at Don Caldwell’s studio in 1977, the album still holds up as the most succinct commentary on the West Texas condition ever captured on audiotape. The session cemented Lloyd’s reputation as something of an efficiency expert too. The band he put together featuring his brother Kenny on bass and a drummer named Curtis McBride jumped in behind Allen and his leather briefcase full of songs to complete 22 tracks in two days. Lubbock (On Everything) also put on view Lloyd’s particular knack for bringing out the best in people. “Terry had recorded before for Capitol, and when he did, the producer gave him grief for stomping his foot as he sang,” he says. “Instead of trying to hide that, we kept it in. His foot became the kick drum.”
The work that followed was mostly of a more mundane variety, meaning whoever and whatever walked in the doors of Caldwell’s studio. There were aspiring country stars, of course, and rock and rollers, along with Christian contemporary and gospel groups, heavy metal bands, conjuntos and other Tex-Mexers, and local commercial clients that needed audio for radio and TV spots. He also took the lead in producing the eight albums recorded by the Maines Brothers Band, the country and country-pop combine that dominated the South Plains live music circuit after Ely moved to Austin in 1981.
Ely had wanted him to come along, but Lloyd decided to stay in Lubbock so that he and Tina could raise their two daughters, Kim and Natalie, where they themselves had come of age. He got off the road altogether following an extended international tour on which the Ely band opened for the English punk band the Clash. “My kids were old enough for me to realize that they needed a dad at home,” he says. “And I liked the idea of producing, of recording something that’s going to be around a long time for people to criticize and analyze, as opposed to playing live, which was for the moment. It didn’t matter what I produced. I just enjoyed the process, and it allowed me to pay the bills.”
Neither he nor Tina had made a big deal of what he did for a living. He had made flying all over the world with Ely and rubbing elbows with Linda Ronstadt seem like another day at the office. But it sure rubbed off. “I remember Terry and Joe and the Tornado Jams and Stubb’s,” Natalie says. “But I didn’t grasp how great they were. The person I really remember is Jo Harvey [Allen, Terry’s wife, an accomplished playwright and actress]. I adored her. I always wanted to hang out with her. I was sort of a little brat. And her term of endearment for me was ‘little shit,’ as in, ‘You know, you’re a real little shit.’ I loved it.”
No one remembers exactly when Natalie’s destiny became obvious. She hadn’t taken a single singing lesson, but she had quite a voice and an attitude to back it up. It might have been when the precocious three-year-old continued banging on the piano, willfully ignoring her dad’s demands that she stop even though she knew she was making him mad. Or a year later, when she tap-danced to Cecil Caldwell’s music and sang “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” backed by the Maines Brothers Band at the West Texas Opry.
“Dad was putting me onstage whenever I wanted,” she says. “I’d go to rehearsal and work up a song for the show with the band. He was just so proud.” Tina thinks it might have been the time Natalie’s second-grade teacher called her at home after Natalie refused to answer a particular math question “because I’m going to be a star.” Standing in line one day at the Baskin-Robbins, Tina became certain that her daughter was headed for some kind of career: “All of a sudden I heard ‘Greased Lightnin” being belted out behind me and I cringed. She knew every lyric and every line of dialogue from both Grease and West Side Story and could recite them in several different dialects. She had Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ down cold.”
Lloyd was pragmatic about accommodating his little girl, but he wasn’t pushy. If he needed someone to sing backing vocals for a commercial, he knew Natalie would be only too happy to help. “One time he needed a vampire’s laugh for a spook house, and he let me do it,” she recalls. “The guy designing the spook house said I was excellent.” And whenever Natalie asked, Lloyd passed on the sort of deep knowledge that isn’t taught in school, like the value of doing your own songs and keeping your publishing rights, or how if someone called you “baby” in L.A., it was the same as someone in Nashville calling you “hoss.”
After graduating from Lubbock High School a year early, Natalie spent a semester at Canyon’s West Texas A&M University before transferring to South Plains College in Levelland, which was closer to home. There, her musical inclinations became her studies, and she began performing on her own more. With Lloyd backing her up on acoustic guitar and manning the console, she made a demo tape and earned a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Again, one semester far from home was enough. She moved back to Lubbock in 1995 and had enrolled at Texas Tech University when she got the call that changed her life.
Daddy had already given his blessing in advance. His production credits on albums by Jimmie Dale Gilmore (his self-titled second recording for the HighTone label), Butch Hancock (The Wind’s Dominion and Diamond Hill), and Jerry Jeff Walker (Navajo Rug) had raised his profile enough that he had great word-of-mouth within the community of Texas country players. It was this reputation that led to, among other things, a stint playing on two albums by a fringe-wearing girl group talented enough to play their own banjos, guitars, and fiddles. They called themselves the Dixie Chicks.
After Robin Lynn Macy and then Laura Lynch had left the Chicks, founding sisters Emily Erwin and Martie Seidel sought Lloyd’s advice for a replacement. He gave them a copy of the demo tape Natalie had made for Berklee. Could his daughter have the right stuff for them? He was apprehensive: She was only twenty his baby girl. He knew the road was treacherous. But he also knew she was a go-getter who absorbed things fast.
Natalie accepted an invitation to try out with one caveat. “I won’t wear those cowgirl clothes,” she told Emily and Martie. A week later, she was performing onstage as the third Chick. The band’s sound and look changed dramatically. So did its financial outlook.
Especially after Lloyd brought a certain tune to the Chicks. He’d gotten a call from a woman in Amarillo named Susan Gibson, who asked if he’d be interested in producing a record by the band she played in, the Groobees. He sat down to listen to their audition tape and was floored by the first song, about a child leaving home. He played it nine times. “The dad even says, ‘Check your oil,'” Lloyd marvels. “I don’t know how many times I’ve said that.” After producing the Groobees, he persuaded the Chicks to cover the song, “Wide Open Spaces.” He says that when he sits in with the Chicks on the road, “you think you’re at a Beatles concert. These girls and these guys have tears in their eyes. It’s like an anthem.”
Having her father play with her band has made Natalie aware of how much they are in sync with each other. “We actually hear things the same way what to hear, how a song is structured,” she says. “Some of it’s telepathic. He’ll just stop the tape and I’ll know what he’s going to say.” Sometimes she even knows what he’s supposed to say. “When we played ‘Cowboy Take Me Away’ on The Tonight Show, we all told him during rehearsal that he was doing one little lick different from what was on the record, and he’s the one playing on the recording. We had to teach him the lick again.”
The best trick that Lloyd picked up in the studio and passed on to Natalie has been how to use and not use reverb, the echo effect that was cultivated by Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico, and became Buddy Holly’s signature. “Norman had the most calming effect in the studio,” Lloyd says. “One thing he taught me was that when you’re overdubbing, it’s best not to let yourself hear reverb, because you’ll sound better than you really are. He said, ‘I like to hear a voice as dry as possible.'”
Natalie shares that opinion: “No reverb in the studio, on tape, in the headphones. Why use it if you don’t need it?”
What else did Dad teach her? Stick to your guns, a lesson all the Chicks have taken to heart. “Emily played banjo when she first went to Nashville,” Lloyd remembers, “and she was told she shouldn’t play banjo. She said, ‘Yes, I can, because that’s what I do.’ Guess what’s the hot studio instrument of the moment in Nashville?” Lloyd smiles wickedly. “Those three girls are nice and they’re sweet,” he continues, “but the people around them know they have to get the job done, because if someone on the team hasn’t been doing so, they’ll tell them, ‘You’re outta here’ in a heartbeat.”
Despite his daughter’s rapid rise to platinum-selling status, Lloyd has been resolute about staying in the trenches, focusing on producing up-and-comers like the Robison brothers, Pat Green, and his latest protegee, Terri Hendrix, who’s taking the do-it-yourself route, starting her own label and racking up sales of 10,000 units on her second album, Wilory Farm, and 6,000 on her follow-up, Terri Hendrix Live. He’s also taking the opportunity to work with old-timers he admires, most recently Johnny Bush and Hank Thompson. And he still sits in with Joe, Jerry Jeff, and Robert Earl Keen, but only as his time and interest allow. Robert Earl regularly sends him his touring schedule just in case.
The biggest change in his life hasn’t been nurturing a Dixie Chick; it was finally leaving Lubbock. He spent so much time recording bands in Austin 219 days in one year by his calculation that he and Tina relocated there in 1998, reasoning that the kids were out of the house and the work was where the work was. They miss their friends and family, Tina says, but they don’t miss other things. “I heard that it rained mud the other day,” she says. “That I don’t miss.”
Lloyd’s style of working remains the same. “I like to keep it moving,” he says. “I don’t like to waste time. Once you’ve got the machine rolling, it’s best to keep it there until you hit a wall, then you take a break. The reason I crank out so many records is that most of them are low-budget; we can’t spend a lot of days making it. An act might come in with $10,000 to do the whole master. That’s what major labels spend on catering!”
Natalie thinks he undersells himself. “I just did a session in Los Angeles with the Pretenders and Stevie Nicks,” she reports, “and they didn’t know who he is! And they should! He’s almost too fair. Not only does he tell you when it’s sharp or flat, he arranges songs. He ought to get a songwriting credit on every track he produces. He has never gotten credit for being as creative as he is.” Spoken like a doting, fiercely protective daughter.
“I’ve been a little scared of this business in some ways, just because it’s so volatile,” Lloyd explains. “Being self-employed, you wake up hoping the phone will ring. She dove right into it, head-on. I’ve observed her fearless approach. Maybe some of that has rubbed off on me.”
Just as his take on Texas music that it’s okay to be imperfect as long as you put your soul into it has rubbed off on the young pro at the top of her game. “Follow your heart, do what you want to do, and don’t do anything you don’t want to do; that’s what he taught me,” Natalie says. “There’s always give and take, but stick to your guns. We’re a band. Our passion is not to be stars, but to play music and reach our audience. “I didn’t realize until recently how naturally it all came to me,” she says, packing her bags when the shoot is over. She’ll spend the night at her parents’ house before hitting the road. “We both recognize we’ve got a good thing going on,” she says emphatically, leaving no room for more questions. “We know it.”
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble EPIC/LEGACY [Box Set]
SRV breaks out of the gate with Little Stevie Vaughan before he was Stevie Ray. A member of Paul Ray and the Cobras, the kid’s doing “Thunderbird”the upbeat, swinging standard by the Nightcaps, Texas’ first great white-boy blues banda song that every Dallas kid with an electric guitar and an attitude knew by heart. The voice is already full-formed, deep and bluesy. The instrumental prowess, in terms of tone, technique, and attack, is already over the heads of his bandmates. And so begins a long evolution, detailed by the low-down and dirty reading of “I’m Crying,” from Vaughan’s first recording session with Double Trouble, followed by a full-throttle shuffle, “You’re Gonna Miss Me Baby” and 51 other tracks. Most of the songs on this three-CD set are unissued alternate studio takes or live performances. Rarer gems like “Rude Mood/Pipeline” performed with brother Jimmie for MTV and three songs from Vaughan’s last gig, at Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley, are worth the price of admission alone. Taken as a whole, it is even bettera remarkable body of work. So if earlier recordings Vaughan made as half of Blackbird with Christian-Charles de Plique or as part of the Nightcrawlers with Doyle Bramhall and Marc Benno in the early seventies are missing (or even “Let’s Dance,” the song and guitar break that made David Bowie’s career), it’s a minor complaint. What’s important is that the box set captures Stevie Ray Vaughan in full blazing glory, locked into that sweet spot where he could soak up roots, tradition, and soul the way he did so well and then take all that to the next level. Ten years after he died, it’s clearer than ever: SRV was in a different zone. Texas guitar will never sound the same.
[More About Stevie Ray Vaughan] [order from Amazon.com]
Murder in Mexico
JOURNEY’S END Rivard found Philip True’s body. Photograph by the San Antonio Express-News.
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
When a San Antonio Express-News reporter was killed in Mexico, the paper’s editor took the matter into his own hands-literally.
IT WAS A PLEASANT, MILD DECEMBER DAY IN SAN ANTONIO almost three years ago when Bob Rivard’s life changed. At the time, he was taking a golf lesson with the general manager and the publisher of the San Antonio Express-News, the newspaper he edits. Rivard had heard two days before that his paper’s Mexico City bureau chief, Philip True, was missing in the mountains of west central Mexico. He had dispatched one of his reporters to find him. But he couldn’t get True out of his mind. Now he made a more difficult decision: Against the advice of his associates, he would go to Mexico and find Philip True himself.
True had been on vacation, taking a solo one-hundred-mile hike through remote territory populated by 20,000 Huichol Indians. True knew the Huichols were perhaps the least assimilated and most undisturbed of all the indigenous peoples in Mexico. He wanted badly to write about them. But he had been rebuffed by his editors, so he decided to learn more on his own time.
He had been gone for thirteen days-longer than the trip was to have lasted-and had failed to check in with his wife from the fourth village on his route, one that she knew had a pay phone. He had never failed to check in before. His wife, Martha, in Mexico City and pregnant with the couple’s first child, telephoned the Express-News, reaching Susana Hayward, a reporter who had recently covered Mexico City for the Associated Press. Rivard then sent Hayward to Guadalajara to join Martha’s brother-in-law Manuel Obaya and True’s best friend, Fred Chase, in their search for True. In a rented plane and using the detailed map True had given to his wife, they combed an isolated area straddling the border between the states of Nayarit and Jalisco. They landed in several villages, including Almotita, where the Indians were openly hostile. Yes, they’d seen True, one villager said. His legs had been bleeding because dogs had attacked him. Something about the story didn’t seem right.
By then, Rivard was in Mexico City, determined to help Hayward and the others track down True. As it happened, he was uniquely qualified to do so. He was a veteran correspondent with both a taste for exotic adventure and the ability to speak Spanish fluently. His coverage of the guerrilla wars in El Salvador and Guatemala and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua for the Dallas Times Herald and Newsweek in the eighties was considered first-rate. Eventually he became Newsweek’s chief of correspondents. His south-of-the-border credentials were so good that in 1999, after two years as the editor of the Express-News, he was offered the job of editor of the Miami Herald, the most important English-language newspaper in Latin America. He declined, persuaded to stay in San Antonio by promises made by the Hearst Corporation (which owns the Express-News) to increase his salary and let him hire more reporters to write longer, more literary pieces.
Rivard began leveraging every personal and professional contact he and the paper had in Mexico, working his way up the chain of command to Fernando Lerdo de Tejeda, President Ernesto Zedillo’s minister of social communications. The Cabinet officer asked Rivard what he wanted.
“I want you to treat this like Senator Kennedy’s son is missing,” Rivard said. “We want that same kind of resource allocation.”
Perhaps True had been hurt, making it difficult to walk, Rivard theorized. Or, even though True was an experienced hiker, he could have gotten lost in the unfamiliar terrain. Lerdo de Tejeda then spoke with the minister of defense, and by the end of the next day, Rivard was flying into Guadalajara to meet the army general in command of the region. A massive public information campaign was launched. Hundreds of leaflets offering a 10,000-peso reward were distributed to the villages. The Huichols’ radio network, broadcasting in both Huichol and Spanish, made announcements every hour. “I don’t think there was a Huichol on earth who didn’t know we were looking for a foreigner named Philip True,” Rivard says.
Then came a break: A Huichol hunter named Margarito Diaz walked two days to tell the search party that he had found a body between two villages. The general’s helicopter, containing Rivard, Chase, and Diaz, took fifteen minutes to fly near the spot, which was in a steep ravine. The body was no longer there, but there was clotted blood in the dirt. Rivard then followed a trail of feathers from True’s sleeping bag to the bottom of the canyon. “A dog ran up to a sandbank and started to dig and sniff,” says Rivard. “You could smell death. Fred and I got down on our hands and knees and started to dig in the sand.” They found Philip True’s body stuffed in his sleeping bag, his bandanna knotted tightly around his neck. The gruesome discovery provided some closure for True’s family and friends, but having found True, they now sought justice.
Shortly after True’s body was found, two Huichol Indians, Juan Chivarra de la Grin and his brother-in-law Miguel Hern‡ndez de la Cruz, were charged with his murder. The last entry in True’s diary spoke of an unpleasant encounter with an Indian named Juan who had threatened to take him to jail and had asked True to follow him to his village, where True evidently spent the night. True’s binoculars, camera, and backpack with his personal papers were found in Chivarra’s home. The suspects quickly confessed to the killing, providing the police with details that only True’s attackers could have known. Their reasons were vague: at various times they said True had taken photographs of sacred sites, insulted Chivarra by calling him a veterinarian, and barged into Chivarra’s abode and beat him up while drunk, then raped his wife.
After the two were apprehended, Rivard-who is convinced of their guilt-tried to speed the murder trial through Mexico’s balky judicial system. In February of this year, he met personally with President Vicente Fox and with officials from Fox’s new administration, just as he had met with the State Department, three judges who have presided over the case, and four prosecutors. He enlisted journalistic organizations in the United States and Mexico to speak out on True’s behalf.
But he was up against more than just bureaucratic intransigence. Two months earlier an American expatriate from Atlanta named Miguel Gatins had taken an interest in the case. Gatins, who lives in Guadalajara, felt that Chivarra and Hern‡ndez were unable to defend themselves because of their status as poor, indigenous people. He financed a legal team that rolled out a parade of expert witnesses who said that the Indians had been tortured into confessing. They also presented findings of a third autopsy, which concluded that Philip True had not been strangled (though by then the corpse was so disfigured from previous autopsies that there was no neck on the cadaver to examine) but instead had accidentally fallen to his death while staggering around drunk. On the strength of this new evidence, the accused were released by a county judge in Jalisco in early August.
When Rivard heard the news, he returned to Mexico, meeting with Martha True and securing the support of Jeff Davidow, the United States ambassador to Mexico. Davidow said, “The evidence strongly indicates foul play”-pointed words coming from a diplomat. Rivard met with Fox’s top legal adviser, who, Rivard says, shared his disbelief. (“To this day, the court has not notified Philip’s widow or this newspaper about the acquittal,” Rivard says.)
He held a press conference to remind the Mexican press, including those papers siding with the Indians against the gringos, that True’s plight was also theirs. “The Mexican press was having a field day,” he says. “Drunk American hiker dies. We win. America loses.’ We tried to point out this was not a soccer game, with a winner and a loser. Philip’s not getting special treatment. There are many journalists in Mexico who’ve died. It’s in their interest to seek the truth.”
Gatins, meanwhile, has hailed the Indians’ release as a “great victory for justice.” The Huichols, he said, had been treated like “the classic scapegoats: Indians with no connections, no money, up against the power of the press and American institutions.” Bob Rivard sees it differently. “This man, like some other people here, [has] an attitude that ‘They’re Indians; they can’t possibly be guilty of homicide.’ That’s a quite romantic view. We’ve always been emotionally prepared that the Huichols would not pay for their actions. But we weren’t prepared for the judge’s finding that True’s death was accidental.”
The case is still alive. Prosecutors have filed a final appeal of the acquittal before a panel of three state judges. The Express-News has continued its coverage. In one story, the paper profiled Gatins, who spent $30,000 to finance the legal team that freed the Indians. In another, it wrote about the suspects, Chivarra and Hern‡ndez, both of whom now deny killing True. Back in San Antonio, Rivard, whose newspaper is seeing to it that Martha True and her son are financially taken care of, is trying to concentrate on his main job. “We’d like to get the Philip True case behind us and focus on the newspaper,” he admits. But he’d like a better legacy than the official Mexican version-a drunk gringo stumbling around, beating up Indians, raping their wives, falling off a mountain. You get the sense Bob Rivard sees himself in Philip True, before he crossed over into management. “It meant a lot to me because he was a writer willing to go to the mountains to get his story, use his vacation time to do the work so he could sell it to us,” he says. “How many reporters have hammered away at their editors and weren’t able to get them to see their genius? You ask again and again, and if you still believe in it, you just go do it. Which is what he was doing. What I’m doing is what any editor should do. The staff should expect their editor to be passionate. If not the editor, then who?”
[San Antonio Express-News] [Texas Monthly]
by Joe Nick Patoski
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.
Photographer Laurence Parent and senior editor Joe Nick Patoski talk about climbing, the best shot, and their new book, Texas Mountains. Interview with Laurence Parent and Joe Nick Patoski
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.
Joe Nick Patoski
at Coal Mine Ranch.
Photo by Laurence Parent
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.
Joe Nick Patoski and Chris Gill
at Sierra Diablo.
Photo by Laurence Parent
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.
Joe Nick Patoski
at Coal Mine Ranch.
Photo by Laurence Parent
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.
Guad is Great
High Season: A cold Guadalupe means rapid transit. Photograph by Woody Welch
Guad is Great
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
When the weather turns cold, the drunken hordes leave the lower Guadalupe, and the river is an answer to a paddler’s prayer.
Ah, the Challenge of running white-water rapids, of dipping a fly in swift streams rife with rainbow and brown trout, the exhilaration of being in a wild place when there’s a chill in the air: These are a few of my favorite things. Every summer, I pine for the Rockies or somewhere else in the great American West. But over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered that I don’t have to wait until June or travel a thousand miles to be on a great Western river. In stead, I just wait till Labor Day has passed and head for the Lower Guadalupe. You heard me right. The same stretch of river that is notorious for drawing hundreds of thousands of tubers and floaters, especially on summer holiday weekends, becomes a wilderness experience from September to March. Gone is the horde that has given the stretch of river between Canyon Lake and New Braunfels the unsavory reputation as a floating party of drunks and litterbugs. By the autumnal equinox, everything has changed. The beer cans have been cleaned up. The few people still hanging around the river are a friendlier bunch. Wildlife comes out of hiding. And the 23 miles or so of river below Canyon Dam, ending in Gruene a couple of miles from Interstate 35, become some of the most accessible wilderness in Texas.
The recreational stretch begins just below the dam at the Horseshoe Falls fishing area. Five miles downstream is the put-in point at FM 306 for all-day paddle trips. The next nine and a half miles are prime fishing territory known as the Trophy Zone, which is stocked by a nonprofit group called Trout Unlimited and Texas Parks and Wildlife. The Trophy Zone ends at a bridge known as Second Crossing, and the river runs pretty flat for the next three miles down to First Crossing. Here begins my favorite part of the river.
My thing is kayaking, and there’s no more reliable white water in the state than the five-mile run from First Crossing down to Gruene. Five major rapids will test any paddler’s skills-whether with a canoe, a raft, or a kayak. Huaco Falls and Slumber Falls have nasty hydraulics guaranteed to tump inexperienced boaters. Slant is ideal for practicing wave surfing. Clutter requires the most technical skill; miss your slot and have a close encounter with Mr. Tree. Gruene Rapids, with a standing wave waiting to launch your boat and grab some air, offers enough tossing and turning to end a trip on an upbeat note.
The ride can be mild to wild. It all depends on how much water is being released from Canyon Dam, measured by the cubic-feet-per-second (CFS) reading at the Sattler measuring station, which is maintained by the United States Geological Survey; this number can be found on the USGS Web site, tx.water.usgs.gov. In winter the CFS tends to stay higher, meaning faster, whiter water. If the CFS is at 300, decent paddling is assured. A reading of anywhere between 500 and 800 CFS promises close to ideal conditions, with enough force and waves to make a paddle challenging. When the CFS cranks above 1,000, bigger rafts become the norm as the Guad turns into wicked big water, helmet required. The hole at Huaco swallows boats. Numerous standing waves appear in unexpected places. The take-out at Gruene becomes a very tricky proposition. The reward is a river run as wild as just about any in the beloved Rockies.
Of course, there is the chill factor to contend with, but it’s not really all that bad. Coming off the bottom of Canyon Lake, the water checks out at a bracing 54 to 60 degrees, which makes wearing a wet suit a good idea. But considering that the average high air temperature in January and February on the Guadalupe ranges from the low to mid sixties, the weather is similar to that of Idaho or Alberta around Memorial Day.
To do the run from First Crossing to Gruene, I usually park at Rockin ‘R’ River Rides, a river concession at Gruene that remains open year-round, and pay for a shuttle ride up to First Crossing ($10 per person, including your boat). Or I arrange shuttles with my paddling pals, paying $5 to park at Rockin ‘R’s Camp Huaco Springs upstream. For a full day’s paddle, camp or park and put in at Whitewater Sports, at the FM 306 bridge, the area known as Fifth Crossing-the larger the crossing number, the farther upstream you are. The trip is scenic but lacks the action of the stretch below First Crossing and requires portaging around a couple of small dams.
For fishing, head upstream to the Trophy Zone, a stretch of river that marks the best trout fishing in Texas. The Lower Guadalupe is the only river in the state that supports a year-round trout population-a man-made happenstance that is the result of the release of cold bottom water. After years of stocking, the Guadalupe now has the potential to mature into a world-class fishery. The state-record rainbow trout (8.24 pounds) and brown trout (7.12 pounds) came from the Lower Guad. The miracle miles are around River Road Camp, Cedar Bluff Campground, and Camp Beans, at Third Crossing. At some of these sites you have to pay to get access to the water for fishing. Most fishing is done on a catch-and-release basis, though some visitors take home their daily limit: one fish at least eighteen inches long and caught on an artificial lure. Outside the Trophy Zone, fishermen may keep five trout per day with no restrictions on size or bait.
Parks and Wildlife will stock trout in the river on December 13 and 28, January 10 and 24, and April 4 and will arrange for free access for fishing at Camp Beans, Camp Huaco Springs, and the area directly below the dam through April 2002. Trout Unlimited stocks from November to February. The organization also leases land in the Trophy Zone; to gain access to the riverbank, you must acquire a $40 Trout Unlimited membership and pay an $85 access-orientation fee. TU is the big dog on the river, politically speaking, with the legal clout and the financial muscle to get the attention of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, which wants to draw more water from Canyon Lake to sell to San Antonio, a proposal that also incurred heated opposition from paddlers, recreation-oriented businesses, and Canyon Lake residents.
The Lower Guad in winter is not the exclusive off-season domain of paddlers and anglers. The winding River Road, no longer choked with traffic, actually becomes pleasant as a biking route. Campgrounds can be parklike in their solitude. The wildlife viewing is splendid. It’s a bad day on the river when I don’t see a great blue heron emerging from the brush along the riverbank to lumber through the sky. Kingfishers are almost as ubiquitous as the turtles that return to sunbathe on the rocks. Winter residents include large contingents of hawks and eagles that ride the updrafts and soar along the cliffs with the turkey buzzards. Ospreys were prevalent a couple of months ago. The Lower Guad is on a major migratory route, and I’ve had the good luck to witness massive flyovers of hummingbirds and monarch butterflies this autumn. Even if the trees have dropped their leaves, the steep canyons and sheer limestone cliffs are some of the most scenic vistas found in the Hill Country this side of Enchanted Rock. A pretty fair tradeoff, I’d say, for the occasional shiver.
Camping: At Fifth Crossing, Whitewater Sports (830-964-3800); at Third Crossing, Cedar Bluff Campground (830-964-3639), River Road Camp (830-625-5004), and Camp Beans (830-964-2484); at First Crossing, Camp Huaco Springs (call Rockin ‘R’ River Rides, 830-629-9999 or 1-800-55-FLOAT).
Outfitters and guides: Whitewater Sports and Rockin ‘R’ River Rides (see Camping, above) for parking, shuttles, guide services, and rentals of canoes, kayaks, and inflatable rafts; Gruene Outfitters (1629 Hunter Road, New Braunfels, 830-625-4440 or 888-477-3474) for fly-fishing gear and guide recommendations.
Fishing: Valid Texas fishing license ($19) required along with a Texas Parks and Wildlife trout stamp ($7); Trout Unlimited national and local membership required ($40), plus $85 access fee and completion of the lease orientation class; Captain Scott Graham, a past president of the Guadalupe chapter of Trout Unlimited, offers guided trips through Guadalupe and Beyond Fly Fishing Adventures (877-898-7688).
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
How San Antonio’s Clear Channel Communications is ruining radio in your townand in the rest of the country.
IF YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF A SAN ANTONIO COMPANY called Clear Channel Communications, it’s because you aren’t listening. From its unlikely nerve center in south-central Texas, this once modest, family-run owner of a handful of radio and television stations has exploded into a media giant, dominating radio like no single entity ever has before. Unleashed by government deregulation in 1996, founder Lowry Mays shelled out billions for properties like Jacor Communications and Tom Hicks’s AMFM, formerly the biggest radio conglomerate in the country. Today one of every ten commercial radio stations in the United States belongs to Clear Channelincluding six stations in Dallas-Fort Worth, eight stations in Houston, seven stations in San Antonio, six stations in Austin, six in El Pasoa total of more than 1,200 domestic channels in some 250 markets. Its closest rival, Cumulus Broadcasting, has 240 stations. (Texas Monthly’s parent company, Emmis Communications, owns 23 radio and 15 TV stations and is another of Clear Channel’s competitors.)
Clear Channel’s manic, multimedia shopping spree didn’t end there. Last year it also bought SFX Entertainment, which owns the majority of the outdoor amphitheaters in America, including the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater near San Antonio, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion near Houston, and a minority interest in the Smirnoff Music Centre (Starplex) in Dallas, as well as dozens of theaters and other performing venues. This instantly made the company’s subsidiary Clear Channel Entertainment the dominant concert promoter in the United States. And wait, there’s more: Clear Channel now has the second-largest number of billboards of any company in the United States, nineteen television stations, and nine hundred radio and TV Web sites. The company, which was founded in 1972, has doubled in size every eighteen months over the past five years.
All of this may sound like harmless, run-of-the-mill media giantism in the early twenty-first century. Unfortunately it’s not, especially the way the Mays familyLowry and his sons, Mark and Randall, the company’s iron triangleplays the game. In fact, they give new meaning to the phrase “control of the airwaves.” Their size and aggressiveness have given them unprecedented say not only over what you hear on the radio all over the country but in how music is sold, promoted, and performed. As the big guys on the blockwho dictate programming at 1,200 stationsthey are more responsible than anyone else for the cookie-cutter state of radio, where more and more stations sound the same, no matter where you go.
That may be good for business, but it almost certainly isn’t good for listeners. I love radio and its ability to be local, immediate, and mobile in a way that other media cannot. There is nothing more “local” in origin and impact than a hometown radio disc jockey or talk show host. But Clear Channel is changing that, bringing to the airwaves the hard, bottom-line logic of the fast-food franchise, and I don’t think it translates. Radio doesn’t need its own version of Wal-Mart. A listener in Tampa doesn’t necessarily want to hear the same oldies that are popular with listeners in Seattle, nor are classic rock, news talk, modern rock, or hot country all the same coast to coast.
Clear Channel doesn’t see it that way. In place of local hosts, the company is syndicating personalities such as Bob and Tom on their classic-rock properties or Kidd Kraddick on contemporary-hits stations they own in Texas and in other states. Some of these choices have been dictated by the company’s acquisitions. To achieve “synergy” from its purchase of Premiere Radio Networks, Clear Channel needs to employ the syndicated radio personalities that came along with it. A perfect example is Clear Channel’s hometown flagship station, WOAI-AM, which has altered its news-talk format by replacing locally hosted talk programs with the syndicated Dr. Laura, Rush Limbaugh, Phil Hendrie, and Art Bell, all of whom were part of Premiere Networks. That may have improved the station’s efficiency and affirmed Clear Channel’s synergy, but it has compromised WOAI’s ability to function as a true voice of its community.
Another practice that sacrifices local content to national business considerations is Clear Channel’s cross-promotion of radio and its entertainment properties. Traditionally concert promoters have worked with radio stations to promote events through giveaways and plugs that go beyond traditional advertising, a practice that benefits not only the stations and the concert halls but also the music acts. Clear Channel has made this arrangement proprietary: Its radio stations give priority to Clear Channel Entertainment-promoted concerts over non-Clear Channel ventures.
This has prompted a number of complaints by competitors in both radio and the concert business. Though many of the detractors have declined to voice publicly their dissatisfaction lest they offend Clear Channel, one Denver concert promoter, Nobody In Particular Presents, has gone to court accusing the San Antonio company of monopolistic and predatory practices by preventing the promoter from hiring touring musicians. They say that some of those musicians fear losing airplay on Clear Channel radio stations if they don’t work with Clear Channel Entertainment concert promoters. The company denies these allegations. One independent concert promoter says he’s found it almost impossible to work out promotion arrangements with Clear Channel radio stations because of Clear Channel’s policy. Sometimes the company takes this practice to absurd lengths: It once hyped a Michael Bolton show on a modern-rock station even though it likely hurt the station’s credibility with its audience.
Competitors who try to subvert Clear Channel’s control end up paying a price. A Washington, D.C., radio station that bought $3,000 worth of tickets for a Wango Tango concert in Los Angeles to give away to listeners was hit with a lawsuit by the concert’s promoterClear Channel Entertainment, of courseclaiming that only Clear Channel stations could give away tickets to concerts it promotes, no matter where they are.
The way Clear Channel makes its will known to its far-flung holdings became apparent in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attack. In the week following the disaster, corporate headquarters circulated a list of songs it felt would not be suitable for airplay. Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” or AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” were predictable choices. But other songs on the list, such as John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” and anything by Rage Against the Machine makes one wonder what their programmers have been drinking. According to Mark Mays, Clear Channel’s president and chief operating officer, Clear Channel did not dictate such playlists to its stations. “As always, programming decisions are made locally by each station manager and program director,” he says.
Meanwhile, ticket prices for concertsan industry in which Clear Channel Entertainment now controls about half of the business in the U.S.are at an all-time high. I realize the company has to justify the inflated price it paid for SFX, but when consumers have to subsidize it with $7 service charges added on to each ticket purchased or $4 for a twelve-ounce bottle of wateras was the case this summer at the new Verizon Wireless Amphitheatersomething is wrong with the picture. No wonder overall concert revenues were down 12 percent earlier this year at concerts by the top fifty touring acts, according to Pollstar magazine.
Mays says the criticism about Clear Channel is coming largely from disgruntled rivals who can no longer compete. “No one likes change,” he says in an interview at Clear Channel’s cool, casual corporate headquarters in the Quarry Market area in San Antonio. “How would you like to be the Z102 guy who gets fired because he’s being replaced by Bob and Tom? It is our responsibility to provide compelling programming to our listeners, and that requires changewhich is always difficult.” Mays insists that Clear Channel is practicing good business and not playing out of bounds. The number of stations Clear Channel owns isn’t the issue, Mays contends, so much as the diversity of what is heard over the airwaves. He is emphatic in his belief that Clear Channel promotes more, not less, variety in radio programming. And Clear Channel is delivering the goods so effectively, he says, that those eating its dust are not happy about it.
“There is no question in my mind that the consolidation has increased the diversity of programming,” Mays says. “If we were a stand-alone operation, we would not be able to operate in the diverse number of formats that we do today.” Clear Channel’s success, he explains, is based on running each of its divisions as a separate entrepreneurial business unit under a centralized financial management umbrella. “We have created a platform that is very unique and very different for the business we’re inoperating like a little company with big resources.” He says his stations have plenty of autonomy. The lawsuits, Mays says, are just part of doing business. “Because of our ability to compete and be successful, someone is going to be upset about it.”
As much as I was impressed by my visit to Clear Channel’s officeswhose atmosphere suggests a small, successful family operation where the boss’s door is open to every employeeI still don’t buy Mays’s argument that the company’s approach is ultimately not bad for listeners. The bigness beyond the building is too hard to shake. The gargantuan scale of Mays’s “convergence, consolidation, and synergy” is on the verge of tipping that delicate balance between art and commerce that has characterized radio for the past half century. That is not a good thing. Since radio first came into existence, listeners have always had a clear option if they didn’t like what they heard: Change the channel. But what choice is there now, really, when everywhere I go it’s Bob and Tom?
It’s not just for the birds. An egret hunts on the surface of the lake.
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
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.”