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[detail] John Davis, West and Trans-Pecos Texas…, Austin, Ranger Canyon Press, 1988, Map #89070, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

My Favorite Map: West and Trans-Pecos Texas with parts of New Mexico and Mexico and a New Map of Big Bend Ranch State Park and Surrounding Area

By Buck Cole, GLO K-12 Education Outreach Coordinator

This post was underwritten by a generous contribution from the Texas Historical Foundation.

With more than 45,000 maps in the GLO Archives to choose from, it’s next to impossible to pick a favorite, but there are a handful of maps of which I’m especially fond. One of those is the John Davis map, West and Trans-Pecos Texas with parts of New Mexico and Mexico and a New Map of Big Bend Ranch State Park and Surrounding Area, Ranger Canyon Press, 1988 (map #89070). The title is big and bold, but so is the land it represents.

John Davis, West and Trans-Pecos Texas…, Austin, Ranger Canyon Press, 1988, Map #89070, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.
Inset detailing Big Bend Ranch State Park and part of Big Bend National Park.

This map is a recent addition to my list and honestly, I don’t think I would have found it had I not been searching for resources in preparation for a trip to Alpine last year. It might not make the favorites list for map purists because of its style, but I think that’s part of its charm and frankly, there’s no other map like it in the collection. The map’s layout is unique as it depicts the Trans-Pecos region in an oval shape with pastel colors and airbrushed features, a style a co-worker told me reminded her of popular western art of the 1980s. I suspect that might be true given the year it was created (1988). Most important to me, however, is what the map showcases — an often overlooked and underappreciated region of Texas and the southwest.

Big Bend National Park, Casa Grande and Window View. Credit: NPS Photo/Reine Wonite.
[Santa Elena Canyon], photograph, March 25, 1968;(texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth613577/m1/1/?q=big%20bend%20national%20park: accessed April 14, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting El Paso Public Library.

A cursory look at the map shows there’s a lot more to the region than cacti, rattlesnakes, and vast empty distances between destinations. There are towns, parks, and not just mountains, but numerous separate and distinct mountain ranges! Other features including plains, valleys, plateaus, mesas, basins, escarpments, rivers, and creeks highlight the diverse features found in Trans-Pecos Texas, New Mexico, and across the border in Mexico. Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park receive special attention with a detailed inset in the lower-left corner.

[left] Features near Fort Stockton, TX, include the Davis Mountains, the Glass Mountains, the Stockton Plateau, and the Pecos River. [center] Features near Alamogordo, NM, include the White Sands National Monument, the Sacramento Mountains, the Lincoln National Forest, and the Tularosa Basin. [right] Only a small portion of Mexico is depicted, but in this area, features include several parks, rivers, mountain ranges, and towns.

The map conveys a sense of pride of place and invites the reader to spend some time discovering things about the region they may not know otherwise. For instance, I didn’t know Terlingua (home of the original Chili Cookoff) was located between the two Big Bend parks, nor was I aware that there is a state park in Monahans (shame on me). I’ve been to this area numerous times but obviously, there’s a lot more to learn.

[left] Terlingua, home to the original Chili Cookoff, is located between the two Big Bend parks. [right] Monahans Sandhills State Park, located in Ward and Winkler Counties southwest of Odessa.

Speaking of learning, as a former teacher who now coordinates with Texas history teachers across the state, I would highly recommend using this map in classrooms. The style is interesting and novel and helps students focus their attention. The map offers a variety of facts and information the students can research independently to gain a greater appreciation for the region’s geography as well as its historical, political, and economic contribution to Texas and the southwestern United States. Or, like me, you can just enjoy a truly one-of-a-kind map that promotes an important and unique part of our state, and that’s something we can all brag about.

Belden, Dreanna L. [Monahans Sandhills State Park], photograph, August 6, 2005;(texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth5342/m1/1/?q=monahans%20park: accessed April 14, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .

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