Texas: Wandering the Wide Open Spaces

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers, Richard Rothermel

As I spur the big Heritage Softail® west out of Abilene, the light mid-morning traffic allows me to take an earnest survey of the immensity unfolding in every direction. Only smatterings of manmade structures and distant clumps of trees mar a limitless horizon that wouldn't budge the bubble in a carpenter's level much off dead center no matter where you placed it. Without a doubt, Jerry Jeff Walker is right on the money when he sings, "You ask me what I like about Texas. I tell you, it's the wide-open spaces!"

A comfortable night and a delicious breakfast, both compliments of Abilene's Vintage House Bed and Breakfast, have me fired up and ready to ride. Azure skies and a warm breeze, the latter completely at odds with the calendar's pronouncement that it's well into the month of November, certainly don't dampen my spirits either. Not far out of town, I'm happy to depart Interstate 20 for the solitude of FM (Farm to Market) 126, where miles of cultivated fields disappear into the skyline.

In the small town of Merkel I opt to go ahead and top off the Harley's fuel tank. Looking around, I crack a grin as memories of long-ago car travel bubble up: I've stumbled across a coelacanth of commerce rarely seen since the early 80s, a real service station. Though no attendants dressed in sharp, white uniforms snap to attention and ask to "fill 'er up?" while squeegeeing my windshield, it is refreshing to see that some owners still prefer the pairing of gas pumps and repair bays over gas pumps and cappuccino machines. As I pull away, the V-twin's low rumble gets a nod of approval from the mechanic wrestling a tractor tire off a giant yellow rim. Undoubtedly, the ability to repair both cars and farm equipment are good skill sets to have around here.

Pushing southward, I'm surrounded by untold masses of fluff balls. Spindly, waist-high stalks brimming with mature cotton line the roadside as far as the eye can see. I rock the bike back and forth as the road zigzags across this snow-white topography in giant, forty-five-degree bends that make me feel as if I'm navigating a bizarre, horizontal staircase. I never thought riding across uniform, wide-open fields could be so entertaining.

Soon the distant mesas begin to close in and a historical marker informs me that I've entered Mulberry Canyon, so named for the numerous mulberry trees growing along the creeks. As the road's lazy bends wind up and out of the canyon, I begin to notice large numbers of sleek, white, wind turbines pureeing the invisible gusts flying across the rim of the chasm. My whole body feels like a hand thrust from a speeding car as I pop out of the canyon, suddenly losing the wind protection of its steep walls. The lowland's mesquite trees and jagged rocks are replaced with a boundless, high plain punctuated by occasional ravines and haphazard herds of "nodding donkeys" whose thirst for West Texas crude oil is only sated when the wells run dry.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2007 back issue.