Texas Primer: Caprock

From beyond this wall of rock, the High Plains populace looks down on the rest of Texas.

Caprock is a cliff of red and tan rock, fifty to one hundred feet high—a geological formation that runs in a 175-mile line through West Texas. The Caprock, like its younger and weaker world-famous imitator, the Great Wall of China, separates a higher level of civilization from a lower one.

Millions of years ago the Rockies eroded eastward, creating the Great Plains. Near the southern end of the plains, a dry, rock-hard ocean bed rose fifty feet above ground level: the Caprock, a formation that divides even the opinions of geologists. Some of them say it is “a superficial fan formation composed of waste material washed from the Rocky Mountains” (a not very complimentary assessment). Others say it is “a high plateau of survival between two zones of topographical degradation.” One of the degraded zones is at the Caprock’s western edge, out of the scope of our concern, in New Mexico. The other is anywhere south of 32 degrees north latitude and east of 101 degrees west longitude, including, most likely, the place where you live.

Drive out Highway 180 east from Lamesa, go north at the little town of Gail, then northeast from Post to Spur, then north up Highway 70 to Matador, Turkey, and Clarendon. Along most of the route, in front and to the left of you, you’ll see the Caprock’s rise, forming a one-sided canyon. At Post, if you detour a few miles northwest on Highway 84, you can see the Caprock’s sternest, most imposing face. Stop on the Caprock’s crest. Look back over your shoulder: you’ll see the world at the Caprock’s feet. It’s a land of tiny tractors and dryland farming, an area where there’s been no vigor in business affairs since the days, nearly a century ago, when it was a supply house for Caprock pioneers.

Above the Caprock, in the High Plains, nature and life are different. Flatness and the sky appear to the eye—and overwhelm it. Only upon the ocean is the sky more encompassing. Cottonwoods and willows grow above the Caprock, but their stands are so sparse that owls live underground in holes, like


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