Traveling West on The Old Spanish Trail Highway

Texas:  From Sonora to El Paso


Once the traveler leaves the Junction/Sonora area there is nothing but "miles and miles of Texas." Today, on the tops of most of the higher hills along IH-10, utility companies have placed thousands of huge windmills that produce electricity.  10% of San Antonio, Texas's, electricity is "windtricity" from this source.  The Old Spanish Trail Association owned a few of its own cars and traveled the road in them:

Talking about west Texas, Harral Ayres, in the January 13, 1924, issue of the San Antonio Express reported that "In West Texas things are bad in two counties.  However the fact that the State Highway Department took over maintenance of State Highways on January 1, together with the completion of present construction programs is expected to make tourist travel through Texas this year more agreeable than has previously been the case."  In Texas, Harral Ayres and the OST Association had to contend with a state legislature and state laws that opposed tourism until the mid-1950s [see The Handbook of Texas]. 

Photographs reproduced in The Old Spanish Trail Magazine show the difficulty of highway construction in the sparsely populated areas of West Texas.  These scenes show work underway on OST from Junction to El Paso.  The OST Association did not fund the road here, but did work through its members to convince counties to pass the bond elections that paid for the work.


The route, as depicted in the 1930 Humble Oil and Refining Company's Airways, Highways, Waterways of Texas booklet, to El Paso follows.

From Sonora to Fort Stockton:

The route now is basically all IH-10 but the old highway can still be seen to the south.  The traveler who wants to travel all that is left of the OST needs to get opff the interstate in each of the towns depicted on the map (Sonora, Ozona, Sheffield (where the traveler can still see the O.S.T. Motor Court, shabby but still in operation), Balmorhea, and Fort Stockton.  Heading west, exit at the U.S. 290 West sign not too many miles outside Junction.  That stretch of highway is called a "scenic loop" by the Texas Department of Transportation and will take the traveler close to Fort Lancaster, one of a series of old forts used by the U.S. Army in the Indian Wars that travelers on the OST can still see in Texas.  The drive also takes you through a classic OST bridge, this one, over the Pecos River:

And then to a surviving "OST Courts" sign:  very typical of the old roadhouses along many of the early highways.  Think of the separate, small cabins in It Happened One Night for a good example.


While the sign does not fit the building it currently sits outside of in Sheffield, Texas, it was probably moved from the open motor court in the next picture (about a block away) to the newer location.  The older building, now a Christian home for the elderly, looks much more like a motor court of the 1920s might look.


This is also the area where the giant "windtricity" windmills are most visible from the highway.

From Fort Stockton to El Paso:

Please do note that this map was published in 1930, after the markers had been placed in Saint Augustine, San Antonio and San Diego.  At that time, the road from Fort Stockton to Van Horn remained largely "improved" but not paved.

Even though the people who planned the highway did not build it with their own manual labor and di not raise the actual money spent on the highway, the road bed through the Hill Country near Junction and through the Mountains in western New Mexico, including this stretch of arid land near El Paso, raised problems for them.  The remote location, even with the railroad close by, made for huge problmes in finding the necesary men to do the backbreaking work.  This photo shows the OST running just south of IH-10.  The montains on the other side of the road are in Mexico.


The Old Spanish Trail traveler will need to exit IH-10 on Texas 17 to go through Balmorhea and Toyahville before rejoining the interstate highway. 

On the map, between Toyaville and Kent, U.S. 80 (formerly the great Bankhead Highway) merges with U.S. 290 (the Old Spanish Trail).  Both highways continued together all the way to San Diego, but the U.S. 80 designation won over as the official number of the highway from this point on.  In New Mexico, the state highway magazine refers to the highway (prior to the numbering system) as "The Bankhead Highway," but Arizona Highways calls it "The Old Spanish Trail."  As recently as 1932, in a booklet put out for its members, the Touring Bureau of the Automobile Club of Southern California referred to the whole transcontinental highway as the "Old Spanish Trail: St. Augustine, Florida, to San Diego, California." Much of the whole matter depended on who was most involved with which highway association.  The 1927 Rand McNally Auto Road Atlas of the United States, like the Aurtomobile Club of Southern California, calls the whole stretch of highway from Saint Augustine to San Diego "The Old Spanish Trail" and not "The Bankhead Highway":

Controversy over the naming continued for some time.  The government's argument was that as the traveler drove farther west it made no sense to go from U.S. 50 - 60 - 70 - 90, that going to 80 was more reasonable.  Or lobbying was involved.  Either way, the situation reversed itself with President Eisenhower's Interstate highway System when IH-20 (following the route of the old Bankhead Highway/U.S. 80) reached a dead end at IH-10 and IH-10 continued to the west coast.  U.S. 80 eventually becomes IH-8 but, as with U.S. highways only interstates ending in the zeros are considered true transcontinental highways. 

After Passing through Van Horn, the traveler stays on IH-10 until the little town of McNary.  There, OST continues to the south of the Interstate as Texas Highway 20 and moves through El Paso and on to Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Through El Paso, the old highway is Alameda Avenue and then Texas Avenue before turning  in a slightly northward direction as North Mesa Street.  It becomes Doniphan Drive and then becomes an OST favorite as Main Street .  Texas 20 continues into New Mexico where it becomes New Mexico State Highway 478 all the way into Las Cruces.