Across the State in Eight (part 6 – Abilene to Loraine) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure.

“Don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens – The Main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

-John Steinbeck

West Texas is big!

Wind turbines are everywhere. Their uniformity is eerie. I wish they would paint them like pinwheels, giant pinwheels planted by Goliath in the Big Sky Country.

Or it could be that I suffer from Megalophobia.

A collection of Energies on the Bankhead. 

Since Texarkana, the railroad tracks have been a constant companion. I can’t tell if I am chasing the engines or if they are chasing me. A game of cat and mouse across Texas.

Those rails witnessed the birth of the Bankhead nearly 100 years ago. At that time, the Texas and Pacific Railroad operated the tracks.

Abilene, Texas, owes its existence to the Texas and Pacific Railroad.

In 1881 cattlemen began using the location to stockpile cattle awaiting shipment to market via the T and P. They name the town Abilene after Abilene, Kansas, the terminus of the Chisholm Trail.

My traveling companion is the reason Abilene exists.

Following my partner’s tracks downtown, I discover the historic Hotel Grace.

The Grace is located right across the street from the train station. 

The Grace was built in 1909 and served the needs of travelers riding on the Texas and Pacific Line. The Grace was renamed The Drake in 1946.

As passenger-train travel waned, the hotel began to decline, and in 1973, it shuttered for good.

Today the building has been brought back to life and houses a downtown museum.

Grace Museum visitor parking. 

Abilene’s downtown has been restored with preservation in mind. Theaters and museums are all conditioned to today’s standards while utilizing the character of design and construction to make them attractive.

I head west down the Bankhead and pull into Burro Alley for lunch.

Right on the original Bankhead alignment. 

Sitting right on what was the Bankhead, Burro Alley’s courtyard is a hidden gem only a few feet off the road.

Heading into Burro Alley

The restaurant, shops, and courtyard path is very Santa Fe -ish.

This picture does not do it justice. 

Surrounded by a collection of stores and a restaurant, this oasis in Abilene is a must-stop.

Scrabbled Eggs and Pork Chili – Burro Alley 

The food is excellent.

I find a little history on Burro Alley, but an old postcard shows that La Posada, as opposed to El Fenix,  was the original restaurant.

Only a few yards east is the Ponca Motel.

Still the same after all these years. 

The Ponca Motel was built in the 1930s.

Comparing the Ponca today to early 20th-century linen postcards, little has changed. Still operational and welcoming guests along the Bankhead Highway.

Several other Bankhead-era properties can be found in Abilene, including the Abilene Courts.

The town deserves more time than I can give. I push on.

Texas and Pacific Railroad still represent Abilene. 

Merkel, Texas. My favorite town is on Bankhead Highway.

The birdhouse. 

The Merkel Restaurant’s fabulous roof.

Abandoned with everything left inside, the restaurant has become a roost for pigeons. Hundreds of these feathered squatters are gathered in the cafe. Gives a real Alfred Hitchcock feel to the place.

Downtown Merkel – Follow the red brick road. 

While in Merkel, be sure to check out the Merkel Museum and learn about the Hollywood movie shot in Merkel titled “Independence Day.”

Yes, Independence Day was filmed in Merkel, Texas.

On to Sweetwater.

Will it ever open?

Again, the West Texas Music Hall of Fame is closed. I peer through the window and see a collection of music memorabilia. Maybe someday, I will get to go inside; until then, I will have to just look at the website.

Across the street is the Sweetwater Municipal Auditorium.

Elvis played the stage twice.

The Sweetwater Municipal Auditorium has hosted performances from Fred Astaire, Roy Acuff, Eddie Arnold, and the King, Elvis. Elvis visited Sweetwater in June and December of 1955 to put on a show.

Just hanging out – waiting for the right time. 

A pendulum hangs motionless, without purpose, over the old Bankhead route in Sweetwater.

An excellent museum. 

During World War II, most male pilots were actively engaged in combat overseas. This resulted in a shortage of pilots.

A need arose to shuttle planes to bases across America. With a lack of male pilots, the solution was to train females to fly; thus, The Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S.P) was formed.

The women of W.A.S.P were stationed in Sweetwater, Texas.

West out of Sweetwater. 

The Bankhead route will become the south service road of I-20 for a while. I enjoy this lonely stretch while I can.

A Recycled Rex is watching over his cement pillars.

Roadside Rex

Outside of Loraine, I find a prize. More glass marbles.


Hidden behind a more modern and practical reflection implement, these glass marbles have been embedded here since 1929.

I will end Across the State in Eight (part 6) – A Bankhead Highway motorcycle adventure with a pour from Midland’s Tall City Brewing Co.


Stay tuned for part 7 of the Bankhead adventure.

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