Balmorhea a Short Story by W. Anderson Lee

a flower blooms in West Texas

Photograph by Michael Ciarleglio


“I consider it the most beautiful road in the United States,” he thought to himself, nodding at the mountains to his right, the farm stretch left.

Not that anyone was available to witness the act. After Henry had quit his job, after many months now, just over a year actually–time and where does it go, don’t they say?–he’d seen enough to make such calls. Life was better now, it was more “free”. Whatever that meant, specifically, he wasn’t sure. Unattainable, this idea of freedom, in its rawest form, but that was the pursuit, his goal. He’d purchased this old Indian motorcycle for a month’s hard labor up in Colorado, mostly carrying around wheelbarrow after bucketfull after pickup load of railroad ties, shale, pasture rock, you name it up and out of some place to wherever the owners of the ranch he worked on deemed fit.

But the hard work was more than a season behind him now, in the belly of West Texas, here on this road. Texas State Highway 17. Yesterday he’d veered off of the main road—a bit left into lost at some point—and suddenly happened over a massive lake of proportions so grandiose he dared not ever try and describe them with meer words to any human, any time, ever. But it was enough to make him stay the night, only happening on the state park after having left the lake and the several hours they’d spent getting to know one another.

If seeing a National Park-class lake suddenly rise up out of the Western Texan Desert wasn’t enough to impress him though–and having traversed the breadth of the United Stated Rockies, that might not be a far fetched observation–today proved even more peculiar: this road topped nature’s little last night stand.

West Texas is not precisely a “green” place. And of course, Henry thought that completely within the context of the actual froggish, tree-laden color. He was not concerned with environment, as he was the environment for all he was concerned. But there is literally quite little in the way of green plantlife. Cacti are small, unpronounced shrubs in this desert, their flowers yellow and red bright at certain times of the year, but even the bulk of their cactus trunk is more of a drab brown. Small forests fit for gnomes occasionally crop up around creeks—when they bother to run—but in general it’s a rather muted palette desert.

Here though, this magestic Texas State Highway 17, was lush. What fields and sloping grounds leading to the mountainous cliffsides lining the road seemed a felt lining, a mossy covering from endless site to site.

brilliant blue green waters you can see feet through to the bottom of a lake in Balmorhea State Park
Photograph by Angi English
a tiny cactus in bloom
Photograph by Mark Egger

Except for the black. Jutting black craggy rock expanses claiming their right to the sky came defiant stabbing out of the hillside. Every stream crossed, every bend turned, the halo of a soap opera flash back began to surround the entire setting.

His motorcycle proved valiant, he was perfect with his cornering, spotted every car parked alongside the road and crack in the pavement. But he wasn’t driving that old Indian, he was floating this backroad, this secret American legend.

black rocks jut from the side of a green mountainscape, a two lane road winds along their base
Photograph by Chris Vreeland