Best small towns in texas
Iraan, Texas

best small towns texas

Iraan, Texas is pronounced “EYE-ruh-ann.” Living in a state with places named Paris, Rhome (pronounced Rome), and London, I figured this was pronounced like the country with a similar name. I was wrong. But in my quest to find the best small Texas towns to visit and live in, I just had to try it out.

First, Iraan, is pronounced in this unusual way because it’s named after the couple who founded the oil-rich area: Ira and Ann Yates.

“Ira + Ann” = Ira-Ann, Texas.

The oil field was owned by a succession of companies, including the penultimate owner, Marathon Oil. It’s now owned by Houston-based and 13-billion-dollars-a-year-earning Kinder Morgan Inc.

Iraan was one of several small Texas towns I wanted to visit during our trip to Ruidoso and back.

map of our trip
To Ruidoso and back

To Ruidoso (the quick way)…

Because we were moving our oldest son there, we took the quickest route, according to Google, which fortunately skirted most large highways.

london texas - best small texas towns
London, Texas, shares a flag with Paris and Rhome. Texas is so big that even the entirety of Iraan fits within the Lone Star State’s borders. PHOTO: Texas Escapes.

Perhaps my favorite small town was London. It is unincorporated and has a population of 180. While I wasn’t able to stop and get photos — we were very mission-oriented on the way out — the good news is that it’s only a little over an hour from home, so I can go another day. The majority of the way to London is on Ranch Road 385; taking the Interstate to Junction leaves you only 18 minutes on a more scenic road.

garden of eden, Eden Texas
“Garden of Eden” in Eden, Texas // PHOTO: Kelsey Yoder Ostroski

After London, we hit US-83, which points us toward our middle son’s college (Texas Tech in Lubbock). After Menard comes Eden. And, yes, there is a “Garden of Eden.” Even traveling between London and Eden — barely enough time to finish a fried bean burrito from Stripes — I am reminded of William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways, which documents his travels around the country trying to avoid interstate highways and trying to encounter residents of the small towns he passes through.

Roswell, New Mexico — and I’m skipping over somewhat noteworthy small towns like Sterling City, Big Spring, Lamesa (one word), Brownfield and Plains — is not much to write about in my opinion.

The UFO Museum was closed except for the gift shop (any surprise?). Masks were required, my temperature was taken upon entering and I was asked what state I was coming from. My New Yorker-ness made way for my Texas driver’s license.

…and back (not so much)

I’ll touch on a few Ruidoso-related things in a minute.

Because I’d skipped a lot of cool places on the way to Ruidoso, and also because it was Father’s Day on the way home, I had a bit of leeway in the return trip.

I chose the “long way,” which again according to Google Maps appeared only 45 minutes longer but became the really long way, which became the “Honey-I’m-so-sorry-I-should-have-read-the-map-better” way.Vintage Trailer Supply

Being intrigued by Iraan, and also Eldorado (which Heat Moon discussed in his book) as well as Pecos and Rocksprings, I planned a trip that included all these pindrops. The stops along the way would be a wash with what my wife had offered earlier (“Let’s go the quick way out and you can stop along the way home”).

Halfway home going the southern route, I realize I had grievously miscalculated. My segments added up to a lot longer trip, and I also didn’t account for losing an hour when crossing from Mountain Time to Central Time. (The same way I didn’t realize we gained an hour going there.)

Yet, still some cool small Texas towns

My first taste of West Texas in all its glory was Artesia. Artesia is actually in New Mexico, but it blends in with West Texas and forms a vast oil-focused land.

gas flare
A “gas flare” at an oil or gas extraction point. Used to burn off harmful fumes.

Desolate.

Gas flares at extraction sites.

Long bunker-like housing for oil field workers, rented out by the week.

Even spotted my first coyote: dashing across US-285 just feet ahead of our Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.

ARTESIA

This town boasts the Navajo Oil Refinery. I asked the cashier at the gas station we stopped at and she seemed amused that they didn’t get their gas from Navajo. (It was a Phillips 66 station, so I didn’t expect they’d get their product from across the street.)

Navajo, like other refineries, gets its crude from the Permian Basin, which straddles southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. If that geological detail sounds familiar, it might be because you saw either the movie or series “Friday Night Lights,” based on the Permian Panthers in Odessa, Texas.

Oaks Hotels and Resorts

CARLSBAD, LOVING, MALAGA

I grouped these together because although Carlsbad offers the caverns, the towns came in relative succession toward our speeding re-entry to Texas.

I was told when I first moved here that if asked where I’d moved from, to say, “New York. But I got here as fast as I could.” I would practice this now as a resident.

ORLA, TEXAS

Orla, Texas
Orla, Texas. A (quite nice) Pilot Gas Station sits across the highway from this shack. To get the photo, I tiptoed through the bramble with a stick, batting at logs and expecting to hear a rattle.

Shortly after passing a body of water I called “Lizard Lake” — because Google maps made Red Bluff Reservoir look like that…I actually thought it looked more like a salamander, but Karen liked my initial name of “Lizard Lake” more — we reached Orla.

Fascinating.

All that was there, to my eye, was this shack. Everything else — the Pilot Gas and Travel Center across the road and the oil-related industry around us — was uninteresting to me. But this shack was. I subsequently looked up its address online — it actually still has one — and the apparent owner seems to be the same who owns the well-appointed Pilot Travel Center.

Next on the “too-long-honey” return route was Pecos.

PRONOUNCED “PAY-cuss”

There are numerous Texas towns and places I’ve mispronounced, the same way I did when moving to Atlanta — “duh-CAB,” not “duh-KALB” (DeKalb), or “may-RETT-uh” (Marietta, said by Georgians) — or to Massachusetts — “WOOS-ter” and the very England-influenced “NEED-um” (Needham) and “DEAD-um” (Dedham).

I had to get used to Boerne (“BERN-ee,” German influence), and Llano (it’s not pronounced like the Spanish word you’d think it would be), and I will never have the authority to call our nearby city “San Antone.”

Pecos was on my list to visit for other reasons, with the boys: namely that less than an hour south of there is the state’s largest spring-fed pool, Balmorhea State Park.

Pecos, Texas
Fonville Jewelry and Gifts, now closed. It is one of those buildings in the region that many people post photos of as an example of what the nearby Walmart has done. Little do they admit that many stores near Walmart continue to thrive.

And while the violent crime rate of Pecos is cause for concern, the city has a plan to move forward, and development was booming.

ALMOST MARFA

Increasingly people associate “West Texas” with Marfa, an oasis for artists and those who want to be like artists. But unlike an oasis, this one is sought rather than stumbled upon. And it is surely in the list of “Best Small Texas Towns.”

I’ll confess that I want to see Marfa not just to say I’ve been there but because it is so out of place in some ways, and simply by its location it almost certainly will not become over-commercialized.

Of course, I reserve the right to be proven tragically wrong, though I hope not.

Marfa and the Mystique of Far West Texas 2nd Edition, by John Slaughter

Karen and I drove past many fields whose gold colors were quite stunning, like those on the cover of this book I found about West Texas. We talked about what it would take for her as a painter to conjure up those colors onto her canvasses. I became more aware of and humbled by the original Creator’s work.

Marfa is still on the local bucket list.

RUIDOSO (AMONG THE BEST SMALL TEXAS TOWNS NOT IN TEXAS)

I promised you a bit of Ruidoso.

I can’t do it justice since I liked it so much. So I’ll mention just a couple details and write more after the next visit.

Aside from a breakfast that was absolutely stupendous, I was able to settle a theory I had.

My theory was that totem poles were invented by a creative Indigenous Woman or Man as a way to solve the problem of an ugly and intractable tree trunk. (Yes, it turned into something spiritual, but first — so went my theory — it was a creative solution to a landscaping problem.) Maybe a tree was diseased or got struck by lightning, but for whatever reason, it was considered unsightly, and someone came up with a low-cost solution.

slow play rv park
Totem from stubborn tree trunk?

On the grounds of the Slow Play RV Park there are three tree trunks that have not been removed. On the contrary, they’ve been turned into fun brown bear statues/totems.

As a white man, I reserve the right to be corrected by an expert, but I will add that if my theory is right about the genesis of totems — I purposefully did not Google it yet — I will consider it all the more impressive.

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Husband, father, traveler, writer, surfer.

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