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West Texas

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West Texas is the stuff of Wild West fantasy: parched deserts, ghost towns, looming mesas and, above all, a sense of utter isolation. Although the area south from the Panhandle down to Del Rio on the Rio Grande is, for convenience, also known as West Texas, the fantasy really begins west of the Pecos River; you can drive for hours without seeing another soul to El Paso, Texas’ westernmost city. Many travellers venture into the desolation to explore sublime Big Bend National Park, nearly 300 miles southeast of El Paso in the bend of the Rio Grande, but the region also boasts several small towns that provide delightfully offbeat stopovers.

Minimal rainfall (as little as eight inches a year!) and harsh land were not the only hindrances to settlement. The Apache and Comanche, though accustomed in the 1820s to trading with Mexican comancheros, were infuriated when hapless white pioneers began to trickle in during the 1830s. With their horsemanship and ability to find scarce water supplies, the Native Americans posed a real threat; upon statehood, a string of cavalry forts was set up by the federal government to protect Mexican and Anglo settlers from attack. As trading posts and cattle ranges sprung up after the Civil War, the paramilitary Texas Rangers were sent out on violent vigilante missions. Eventually, as in the Panhandle, a brutal programme of buffalo slaughter, supported by the US Army, starved the natives out. Not long afterward, oil was discovered in West Texas and boom towns appeared, with all the attendant gunslinging and brawling. Those lawless days are long gone, but the area remains susceptible to natural resource-based boom-and-bust cycles and has been capitalizing on its Wild West image ever since.

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