Not long ago, Texas Monthly had a dedicated travel writer. She got to have all the fun. Periodically, she would decamp to a score of new and renovated luxury hotels and resorts and write about the top ten, while the rest of the staff fact-checked stories and covered hearings of the Feral Hog Subcommittee in the state Senate. Okay, I made that last part up, but you get the idea. For this month’s cover story on the best new and improved escapes, we decided to spread the love among more of our hardworking journalists.

Executive editor Kathy Blackwell assigned ten staffers to check out lodgings that have opened or been refurbished in the past two years. Some of our colleagues checked in alone; some with partners. Some brought along their fussy infants—and their even fussier preteens. All traveled incognito. We hope the resulting stories give readers a sense of which escapes might best fit their circumstances as well as their tastes.

Some of the lodgings that we visited didn’t make the final cut. At one celebrated urban hotel, Kathy reserved a lake view but instead she and her son were placed in “the most depressing room I’ve ever stayed in,” facing a garage and an office tower. Assistant editor Emily McCullar enjoyed staying in a well-furnished shipping container but couldn’t recommend the place because the bathroom was only partially walled in, which resulted in some, ahem, oversharing with her roommates.

Our photographers had fun with this package too. Be sure to check out for the drone video we took from above Basecamp, the faux lunar colony in Terlingua that’s pictured on our cover. 

Texas Monthly is based in Austin and, truth be told, we cover the capital area more than we should. One way we’re fixing that is by traveling more. We especially love to send our staffers to cover stories in the regions of Texas they hail from. The value of this approach can be seen on page 76, where associate editor Christian Wallace chronicles his return to the oil fields near Andrews, where he grew up.

Christian caught the writing bug in elementary school, from a local librarian. She introduced him to the Chronicles of Narnia and Hank the Cowdog series. Later, his sixth grade English teacher encouraged him to enter a statewide essay-writing contest, which he won, along with his first plane ride, to the awards ceremony in San Antonio. “I saw,” he recalls, “that my words could take me places.”

What surprised him as he reported on the effects of the oil boom on his old stomping grounds? “The revival of former ghost towns,” he says. When Christian was growing up nearby, Toyah was long abandoned, and “Orla was just a general store.” Now both are home to “man camps” housing hundreds of itinerant workers.

While reporting this story, Christian sustained a broken windshield when a piece of equipment flew off one of the ubiquitous eighteen-wheelers that service the drilling sites. For his next assignment, he insists that we send him to check out some fancy resort.

Please write me at the email address here and let me know what you think of Christian’s piece, our cover story, and the rest of this issue.