8 Aug 2010, 2:09pm
Aviation History Roads Travel


Road trip to Midland and Odessa, Texas

Polikarpov I-16 at the CAF museum, Midland, Texas

Polikarpov I-16 at the CAF museum, Midland, Texas

Rolling forward on my 2010 resolution to get out of San Antonio more, I took a three day trip to Midland and Odessa, two cities, indeed a region of Texas, I had not visited before in the nineteen years I have called the Lone State home.  I set out on the last Thursday in July, which proved to be a very good time to go.

For whatever reason, HWY 87, the route I decided to take on the outward bound leg, was essentially empty north of Fredericksburg.  Even when I drove into San Angelo just after 5:00 PM, traffic on the road was very light.  It just seemed odd to traverse handsome county seats like Mason and only see one or two other moving vehicles.

Following a stroll around Fort Concho which closed just before I got there, I continued on towards Big Spring before getting onto I-20 heading west to Midland.  Traveling by myself, with just an ipod for company, the landscape became flatter and the wind grew stronger.  A veritable forest of massive electricity generating wind turbines dotted the landscape, harvesting the enormous amount of free energy that just about knocked me over when got out of the car for a moment.

The hotel I chose was inexpensive in every way, but you get what you pay for, so I have no complaints.  I spent the whole of Friday, which happened to be my birthday, driving around the sights of Midland and Odessa.  My first port of call was the Commemorative Air Force museum.  To my surprise and delight I pretty had much the whole place to myself during my 2 ½ hour visit.  As most CAF aircraft are dispersed around the country in different locations, like the Douglas C-47 Skytrain I hoped to fly in yesterday, which is based in Burnet, Texas, or the North American B-25 Mitchell located here in San Antonio, there were not all that many aircraft to actually see in Midland.  But I was thrilled to the core to find one of them was a Russian Polikarpov I 16.  As a youth, I used to make model airplanes – none too well, I must admit – and I loved the diminutive little plane, which, to my eyes, looks remarkably like the Brewster Buffalo.  Both were cutting edge designs when introduced in the early 1930s but were significantly obsolete by the time World War Two started.  With little else available, young men bravely continued to fight the good fight in these machines, sometimes achieving remarkable success despite the odds stacked against them.

I never dreamed I’d ever actually see one up close and personal.  It was absolutely the peak moment of my 800 mile journey and would have made the entire trip worthwhile in and of itself.  I also visited the oil industry museum, which was not laid out so well for those who know nothing about the industry, in my opinion.  I’d have done better with a guide, I think.  It’ an impressive place for sure but a little overwhelming and incomprehensible.  Rich in detail but somehow lacking in drama, of what odds and difficulties the individuals involved had to face.

Also a little disappointing was the crater site west of Odessa, mainly because the original vast hole dug by a meteorite the size of a Suburban yet weighing a thousand tons is all but filled 50,000 years later.  I enjoyed rolling around Odessa, and got to visit a remarkably well restored railroad depot, originally located in a tiny town called Texon, now located about seven miles from the city, in someone’s backyard.  Acquired in an almost disintegrated state, the owner has poured money, time and effort into bringing it back to its former glory.

Midland is the more impressive of the two cities which are maybe fifteen miles apart by interstate.  The smell of hydrocarbons, or money, is quite pervasive wherever you go.  I’m certainly glad I finally took the time to go there but, a bit like Big Bend, I’m not itching to go back any time soon.  Bleak landscapes don’t work for me.  I couldn’t stand to live in a place where if I traveled fifty miles I’d still essentially be in the same place.

I came back via lesser roads, again wonderfully empty of other vehicles, aiming first for Ozona and then the Caverns of Sonora Located off of IH-10 some two hundred miles west of San Antonio, this natural wonder is most definitely worth a visit.  The tour lasts just under two hours.  It was a nice finish to a trip that seemed, to quote Joni Mitchell, to be all about the land and the sky.


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