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Welcome to West Texas, where jackrabbits run, prairie dogs dig, pump jacks toil and the blades of wind turbines spin like giant pinwheels, seeming to touch low-hanging clouds.
It's rugged country that surrounds oil- and wind-rich Odessa, Midland and Big Spring, and sightseeing opportunities abound. But if it's indoor activities you're seeking, you won't be disappointed. From Shakespeare to fine art to a presidential museum and homes, there's something to suit every cultural taste in all three cities.
The route is simple enough: Follow Interstate 20 about 20 miles northeast from Odessa to Mid- land and then another 40 miles to Big Spring.
Jack Ben Rabbit wasn't on my tourist schedule, but I just had to see this 8-foot-tall fiberglass statue at Eighth and Lee streets that Odessa—whose city mascot is the jackrabbit—bills as the world's largest jackrabbit. Then I traveled west to the Texon Santa Fe Railroad Depot Museum that features the original depot from the 1920s oil-boom town of Texon, southeast of Odessa. Tours of the museum—where you can ride a handcar on the railroad tracks in front of the depot--are by appointment only.
Next, I gawked at Odessa's meteor crater, 10 miles west of downtown off I-20 (take exit 108 south). A walking trail runs through the 550-foot-wide crater that was formed approximately 50,000 years ago.
To get your Shakespeare fix, visit the Globe of the Great Southwest, a re-creation of London's Globe Theatre on the Odessa College campus. The theater has scheduled its 2009 Southwest Shakespeare Festival for September 3-20.
No trip to Odessa would be complete without visiting the Presidential Museum and Leadership Library and the first Texas home of former President George H.W. Bush, both located on the University of Texas of the Permian Basin campus. The museum and library include sections on all 43 former presidents.
Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-780-4678, www.odessacvb.com
My tour here took flight with a visit to the CAF Airpower Museum that sits next to Midland International Airport. Located at Commemorative Air Force headquarters, the museum tells the story of World War II military aviation through vintage aircraft and more than 850,000 archives and artifacts, including 34 pieces of airplane nose art.
Next I journeyed back 230 million years at the Petroleum Museum, which lays claim to the world's largest collection of antique oil-drilling equipment and modern machinery. My favorite exhibit walked me through dioramas of the ancient Permian Basin sea and its oil-rich reefs.
I also lingered over paintings and sculptures at the Museum of the Southwest, whose collections emphasize works from New Mexico and Texas artists. In 2009, the museum plans to focus 90 percent of its exhibit schedule on its permanent fine arts collection, including John Audubon's hand-colored lithographs of North American animals scheduled to be shown in June and July.
Before leaving town, visit the George W. Bush childhood home at 1412 W. Ohio.
Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-624-6435, www.visitmidlandtexas.com
The No. 1 tourist attraction here? You got it: the big spring in Comanche Trail Park. Although no longer an active spring, the rock-rimmed formation that once drew Comanche and Shawnee remains beautiful with water pumped in from Comanche Trail Lake.
Another tourist favorite is the view from atop Scenic Mountain in Big Spring State Park in the western city limits. Up here, almost 3,000 feet high, you can see all of Big Spring, including the 15-story Settles Hotel—a 1930 structure being restored—that stands like a domino on the horizon. And if you want a close-up view of those impressively tall wind turbines cropping up all over the area, drive south of town on U.S. 87 where some stand near the road.
Big Spring boasts its own collection of military aircraft at the Hangar 25 Air Museum beside the Big Spring McMahon-Wrinkle Airport and Industrial Park (watch for the prairie dog town when you're driving in). The museum is housed in a restored World War II hangar that was built in 1942 for the Big Spring Army Air Force Bombardier School.
Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-866-430-7100, www.visitbigspring.com
Camille Wheeler is staff writer for Texas Co-op Power.