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Exploring the Edges of Texas

By Walt Davis and Isabel Davis

Publication Year: 2010

In 1955, Frank X. Tolbert, a well-known columnist for the Dallas Morning News, circumnavigated Texas with his nine-year-old-son in a Willis Jeep. The column he phoned in to the newspaper about his adventures, "Tolbert's Texas," was a staple of Walt Davis's childhood. Fifty years later, Walt and his wife, Isabel, have re-explored portions of Tolbert’s trek along the boundaries of Texas. The border of Texas is longer than the Amazon River, running through ten distinct ecological zones as it outlines one of the most familiar shapes in geography. According to the Davises, "Driving its every twist and turn would be like driving from Miami to Los Angeles by way of New York." Each of this book’s sixteen chapters opens with an original drawing by Walt, representing a segment of the Texas border where the authors selected a special place—a national park, a stretch of river, a mountain range, or an archeological site. Using a firsthand account of that place written by a previous visitor (artist, explorer, naturalist, or archeologist), they then identified a contemporary voice (whether biologist, rancher, river-runner, or paleontologist) to serve as a modern-day guide for their journey of rediscovery. This dual perspective allows the authors to attach personal stories to the places they visited, to connect the past with the present, and to compare Texas then with Texas now. Whether retracing botanist Charles Wright's 600-mile walk to El Paso in 1849 or paddling Houston's Buffalo Bayou, where John James Audubon saw ivory-billed woodpeckers in 1837, the Davises seek to remind readers that passionate and determined people wrote the state's natural history. Anyone interested in Texas or its rich natural heritage will find deep enjoyment in Exploring the Edges of Texas.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

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pp. ix-xiii

One of the unexpected pleasures of writing this book has been the opportunity to meet and work with so many knowledgeable, generous, and supportive people. Early on, Shannon Davies, natural environment editor for Texas A&M University Press, took us under her editorial wing and helped us mold the manuscript. Later, Thom Lemmons shepherded that ...

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pp. xv-xvii

The border of Texas creates one of the most widely recognized shapes in all of geography. That border is longer than the Amazon River. Driving its every twist and turn would be like driving from Miami to Los Angeles by way of New York. Flying from the Swiss Alps to the mountains of Afghanistan would cover no greater distance than a journey along the ...

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1. Prairie Pathfinder

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pp. 1-14

Lieutenant Abert’s mapping expedition was nearing the Texas-New Mexico border on September 3, 1845, when something went wrong. It happened while his men were setting up camp on a patch of prairie beside the Canadian River. Wagons were parked, tents pitched, horses and mules...

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2. Island in the Desert

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pp. 15-28

We leave the Canadian River behind and head south, bound for an “island in the sky” four hundred miles away. Our route takes us through the heart of the old XIT Ranch. Scores of playa lakes dot the landscape. Gray legions of sandhill cranes march in fields of stubble near Muleshoe reservoir. Approaching Andrews, we encounter vast stretches of sand dunes. Some are held in...

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3. Walking to El Paso

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pp. 29-44

U.S. Highway 62–180 loses altitude rapidly as it leaves the foothills of the Guadalupes, turns west, and knifes through three miles of snow-white salt flats decorated with yucca, purple-tinged prickly pear, and blackfoot daisies. After crossing fifty miles of desert, the road climbs through the Hueco Mountains, emerges in a field of sand dunes, and carries us across another stretch of flat Chihuahuan Desert to El...

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4. Letters from the Ghost Mountains

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pp. 45-58

The Rio Grande almost dies of thirst in the desert below El Paso. Water gathered in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and the Sangre de Cristos of New Mexico is siphoned off downstream to irrigate farms and supply water to cities and towns. Sometimes the Great River dries up completely...

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5. Wild and Scenic River

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pp. 59-74

Safely back on pavement after our foray into the Chisos Mountains, Isabel and I face a fifty-mile drive to the put-in point for our float trip through the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande. We turn north, leave Panther Junction behind, and cross the desert flats between the Rosillos Mountains to the west and the Sierra del Carmens on the eastern horizon. Shortly...

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6. Border Botanist

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pp. 75-90

After leaving its Lower Canyons, the relentless Rio Grande glides past Langtry and the eagle nest already old in 1899 when Robert T. Hill saw it high on a cliff on the Mexican side.

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7. The Great Feather Fight

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pp. 91-104

Trees were once so scarce on the coastal plain between Brownsville and Corpus Christi that any significant grove was given a name. Late in April of 1900, three travelers stopped for the night at San Ignacia, a cluster of venerable live oaks in the middle of a sandy plain otherwise devoid of plant and animal life. When one of the men shot a...

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8. Bird Lady of the Texas Coast

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pp. 105-120

Accompanied by thunder, lightning, and pouring rain, Isabel and I ride the cresting wave of a March cold front rolling south toward the Texas Coast. Eighteen-wheelers and big-rig RVs hurtle past on the narrow blacktop. Their tires kick up sheets of water that slash across our windshield, stopping wipers mid-stroke and knocking the side mirror...

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9. Ivory-bills on Buffalo Bayou

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pp. 121-136

From Rockport and Copano Bay we drive inland to Victoria, pick up U.S. 59, and turn northeast toward Houston. Our route takes us through the heart of the Gulf Prairies and Marshes ecological region and across the lower reaches of the Colorado and Brazos rivers. Nearing the outskirts of the city, we are drawn into a torrent of traffic coursing through a landscape...

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10. Searching for Longleaf Pine

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pp. 137-152

State Highway 87 hugs the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico from Galveston to the Louisiana border. Along the way it passes through some of the best birding spots in Texas–High Island, McFaddin Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, and Sea Rim State Park. At Sabine Pass the road turns inland and skirts the western shore of Sabine Lake through Port...

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11. Exploring Bear River

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pp. 153-166

On December 17, 1718, two bound men awaited their fate aboard a boat anchored in the Mississippi River not far from New Orleans. On the opposite side of the vessel, other men held ropes that led under the hull to the prisoners. Pushed overboard, the accused men were pulled under the boat, across the keel, and up the far side. B

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12. Red River Trading Post

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pp. 167-178


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13. A Singular Object from Texas

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pp. 179-190

Upstream from Meredith Edwards’s farm, the Red River twists and turns through a series of horseshoe bends north of Clarksville, Paris, and Bonham before reaching Denison Dam and massive Lake Texoma. To travel farther upriver is to leave the forests of East Texas behind and enter a region of prairies and crosstimbers. Nomadic...

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14. Death in the Redbeds

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pp. 191-206

On a hot August day, months after our trip to New Haven and our winter visit to Spanish Fort, Isabel and I return to the Red River Valley to continue our journey along the edge of Texas. U.S. Highway 82 takes us through Nocona, Ringgold, and Henrietta, where we pick up U.S. 287 to Wichita Falls. According...

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15. Panhandle Petrified Zoo

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pp. 207-220

Isabel and I drive west out of Wichita Falls on U.S. 287 headed for Childress, on the other side of what many of our friends claim is the most boring part of Texas. Andy Adams didn’t think so in 1882 when he helped push a herd of longhorns across the Red River at Doan’s Crossing, north of present-day...

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16. From Buried City to Chill Hill

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pp. 221-235

Isabel and I turn our attention from prehistoric animals buried in volcanic ash and the tragedy of a promising career cut short, to a place called the “Buried City” in the northeastern corner of the Texas Panhandle. We drive north on U.S. Highway 83 through rolling hills and along tree-lined tributaries of the Canadian River en route to Ochiltree County. Members of the Texas...

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pp. 237-239

Some served as modern-day guides. They escorted us onto the plains, across deserts and mountains, down wild rivers, up the coast, into the dark recesses of an urban wilderness, and through the shadows of the Pineywoods. Those who came before us left poignant firsthand accounts of an earlier Texas teeming with plant and animal life. Through their...


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pp. 241-253


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pp. 255-260


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pp. 261-280

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443067
E-ISBN-10: 1603443061
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603441537
Print-ISBN-10: 1603441530

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 16 b&w drawings. Map. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Texas -- Description and travel -- Anecdotes.
  • Davis, Walt, 1942- -- Travel -- Texas -- Anecdotes.
  • Davis, Isabel, 1942- -- Travel -- Texas -- Anecdotes.
  • Automobile travel -- Texas -- Anecdotes.
  • Texas -- Boundaries -- Anecdotes.
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