TEXAS BEGINS IN THE TREES AND ENDS IN THE DESERT. Our origins and our sorrows are Southern, but our myths are Western—cattle, conflict, wide-open spaces. For most of our history, the South was the greater influence, but no longer. Texas belongs to the West now. Our dress and our music are Western. California expatriates swell the population of our cities. Silicon Valley and Hollywood have become part of our economy. Even oil has gone west: A century that began with Spindletop nears its end with the world price of petroleum pegged to a barrel of West Texas intermediate crude.

As Texas has evolved into a Western state, our idea of West Texas has evolved too. Once Fort Worth could make a justifiable claim to being where the West begins, but Cowtown has become Bassville, another dot on the Interstate 35 corridor. Others have placed the beginning of the West at the Hill Country, or the Permian Basin, or the Caprock. But the real West Texas lies beyond all of these. It starts at the Pecos River Valley, a vast and almost uninhabited basin. Between the river and El Paso are the highest peaks east of the Rockies, scant rain, hardpan soil, and rangeland so unpromising that a square mile cannot provide sustenance for more than a few cows.

This is remote country; between Midland and El Paso, a road distance of 284 miles, there is not a single commercial airport. It has taken Texans a long time to discover that there is more to the region than Big Bend National Park. Just-opened parkland, great backcountry drives, modern art, and star parties at the McDonald Observatory (where a big bash will be held early in October for the dedication of the new Hobby-Eberly telescope) are part of the real West Texas today. So come along while we visit some new places and old legends and find out that it’s still sound advice to go west.