Turning off of Chispa Road’s crisp smooth pavement deep in the heart of West Texas, I veer onto what seems to be an unassuming stretch of dirt road. “Take a left at the fork in the road about ten miles in,” Fred had told me. “Unlock and pass through the gate then drive right into the ranch.” Driving right into an unexpected driving adventure is just what lie ahead of me.
The thirty thousand acre Coal Mine Ranch is a privately owned investment and playground for a group of businessmen who have called the ranch their sanctuary for more than twenty years. On the rear side of the Sierra Vieja Mountain Range, a world away from the flat grassy desert plains of Highway 90 and thirty miles of rough dirt road winding through steep arroyos from the end of the pavement on Chispa Road, is the Coal Mine Ranch.
Less than midway, with the pavement far behind me, the only sound I hear is the gravel and rock being churned by my 4×4’s wheels and hitting the underside of the vehicle. Clank, pop, clackity clack, in an erratic yet rhythmic cadence.
Lightning fast jackrabbits race by every so often; otherwise, there is no sign of life save for the desert brush, blooming yuccas along the way and a petrified rattlesnake or two. I reach for my mobile phone only to see there is no signal. Immediately, thoughts of the 4×4 breaking down, a flat tire, or more dramatically, a sudden ailment race through my head. Who would find me?
No one would find me and I had convinced myself of this. “Keep on going,” I told myself after the first 60° dive into an arroyo and a serious rev of the engine in a low grinding gear to carry me up and out at the other side. And forward I traveled through several more arroyos with bright clear blue skies above and a piping hot West Texas sun glaring down upon me until I reached a tunnel, twenty feet high and fifty yards deep, blasted from solid rock more than a hundred years ago.
At last, after a wild hour and a half adventure drive to what felt like the middle of nowhere, I turn the corner to find the Coal Mine Ranch. What lie behind me is what some would call extreme terrain with civilization somewhere behind that . Directly ahead of me was a modern ranch house, a feeling of peace and solitude as well as a fantastic time for introspection.
The ranch lies on the rear side of the Sierra Vieja mountains, a world away from the flat grassy desert plains of High- way 90. From the end of the pavement on Chispa Road, thirty miles of rough dirt road winding through steep arroyos lead to the Coal Mine Ranch. This road features its own tunnel, twenty feet high and fifty yards deep, blasted from solid rock by Chinese migrants. How did they ever find their way deep into the rugged and unforgiving West Texas landscape
Eighty-five-million-year-old fossils of clams, turtle shells, coral, and snails can be found below the sandstone bluffs where once a river delta said to be six hundred miles wide—bigger than the Amazon— fanned out as it approached the sea. Deeply nestled in West Texas, the ranch is about solitude, introspection, and the crackling of the campfire at night.
The rugged West Texas landscape is most definitely the master of the scenario but the adventure is what one gains internally from the experience.