Long before Texas Tech University, Jones AT&T Stadium and the Metro Tower defined the Lubbock skyline, pioneers from the East Coast and Europe who dreamed of land ownership and cattle ranching drove an existence from this flat, semiarid stretch of the South Plains, leading to the rise of the largest city in the Panhandle.
Lubbock embraces its heritage with museums and parks that take visitors back in time. “Lubbock is a destination for people who want to see the real West,” says Jim Pfluger, executive director of the National Ranching Heritage Center.
Volunteer ranch host Ron Cox kicks back on the porch of a preserved, 1900s-era house at the ranching center at Texas Tech. His broad-rimmed hat and jacket, trappings of his period-specific costume, rest near his elbow.
“Did you lose your saddle?” he asks a visitor strolling up on foot. Playing the character of a West Texas rancher, Cox insinuates that anyone walking must have lost a horse.
Cox drops his act only when a couple tries to step over the threshold for a better look inside. “Actually, I’m not supposed to let you in there,” he says. He then stands in the doorway and explains what life was like for the original resident living near modern-day Midland, where the house once stood.
The Box and Strip House, made by nailing vertical boards to a box-like frame without horizontal support, is one of the 48 historic—and mostly original—ranch structures relocated to the ranching center for preservation. “These are the reminders of the physical presence of the pioneers,” Pfluger says, “the actual three-dimensional items of the people who settled the American West.”
Walking the outdoor park trail—from a replica of Los Corralitos, a 1780s fortified home; to the Pitchfork Ranch Cookhouse, a mess hall used at the Pitchfork Ranch from the 1890s to 2003—visitors inhale the scent of cedar and spy an occasional jackrabbit. The relics reveal the nature of early settlers’ home and work life, right down to details like branding irons in the 6666 Barn. A train station display features a steam locomotive, King Ranch shipping pens and a red caboose.
During Candlelight at the Ranch, this year scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. December 9-10, the park comes alive as more volunteers such as Cox don costumes and perform re-enactments for more than 6,000 viewers. “People can look into the buildings and see what the inhabitants were doing to prepare for or celebrate the holiday,” Pfluger says.
But life on the dusty Plains would not have been possible without the ability to pump water. In northeast Lubbock, the American Wind Power Center’s more than 150 windmills narrate the history of wind power, which was vital to settling the dry lands. “You couldn’t come out here to this part of Texas and live without a windmill,” says Coy Harris, the museum’s executive director.
Inside the main building, a breeze enters the open doors and propels the arms of windmills on display. Blades whir, gears creak and a sucker rod alternately draws up and spurts water into a metal tank with the clinking of check balls, spheres in the sucker rod that regulate water flow.
Outside, an English post mill commemorates the first windmill built in America in 1621. Its oak cabin, equipped with 2,400-pound stones to grind grains, swivels on a post to obtain the best angle in the wind.
The post mill’s wood sails juxtapose the nearby Vestas Model V47 windmill, a modern wind turbine standing 250 feet high from its base to the tip of an upright blade. The machine has a capacity to generate 660 kilowatts of electricity, a fraction of which powers the museum; the rest goes into the grid.
The wind power center museum’s 6,000-square-foot mural, “Legacy of the Wind,” illustrates the evolution of windmills on a Texas landscape dotted with cattle, mockingbirds and black-tailed prairie dogs. (To get close enough to almost touch a live prairie dog, visit Lubbock’s Prairie Dog Town.) On one end of the mural, the post mill stands alone on the horizon. In the center, a town—Lubbock, perhaps—sprouts up in the midst of water-pumping windmills. Afar, groups of white wind turbines stripe a pink sunset.
To top off a day of touring, stop at The Triple J Chophouse & Brew Co. on Buddy Holly Avenue for dinner, and toast the American Wind Power Center with a beer on tap, such as the seasonal, honey-colored Windmill Wheat. Then bunk for the night in a Santa Fe Railroad caboose—much like the caboose at the ranching center—that owners David and Dawn Fleming converted into a suite at Woodrow House Bed and Breakfast.