Sand Hills & Oil Fields

This land may not look like much: just a huge flat field with some dried up bushes. But it happens to be some of the most valuable land in the world. Under this West Texas desert is the world’s most critical vein of crude oil: the Permian Basin. And to get to where we were going, we had to cross it.

For more than 6 hours, my boyfriend and I coasted in my little red Civic among flat dry fields and giant industrial facilities. The scene out the windows was like a dystopian sci-fi movie. We drove along some of the most dangerous roads in the country, sometimes referred to as “Death Highway.” In the oil fields, time is money, and that mentality applies to the drivers as well. To maximize their earnings, oil company drivers have been known to take methamphetamines to stay awake.

We had plenty of time to learn about the region during the long drive. I listened to Boomtown, a podcast about the Permian. At the end of the first episode, the host interviews a father who has left his family to work in the Permian. When asked about the environmental impact of his work, the man replies, “It’s a hard balance because I’m here working to provide for my family, but you know, what kind of world is it going to be in 30 years for my kids?”

It’s a sobering reminder that my little road trip comes at a precious cost.

Gazing out the window, I ponder at the luck of our country’s oil being located in such an ugly place. We’d rather rip up this flat field than a scenic mountain range, right? Yet I know it didn’t always look like this. Go back a couple hundred years and these fields would have been teeming with buffalo and antelope. The Comanche didn’t think of it as an ugly field. To them it was home.

The first destination of our road trip was Monahans Sandhills State Park, home of the only sand dunes in Texas. Long ago, the sand “migrated” from New Mexico. Now it is a unique ecosystem and home to a number of species found nowhere else in Texas.

The park opened in 1957 and the original retro style has been maintained which was really cool. We rented sand disks and enjoyed sledding down the 70-foot dunes. I was pleasantly surprised to find hot showers, and equally as happy to meet a fellow Coloradoan to chat with while brushing my hair.

We fit in some sunset yoga before the temperature quickly dropped. Monahans was full of RVs but we were the only tent campers willing to brave the 27° evening. Inside my sleeping bag I was warm and cozy. Luckily the RV folk were quiet and respectful. The only noise was the gentle breeze in the grass and the faint hum of the highway in the distance.

At some point in the night I was jerked awake by machinery so loud it shook the ground. It sounded like a great roaring fire was overtaking the whole world. A strong smell of gas made me gag. I don’t know what was going on but I vaguely recall a scene from Gasland in which oil rigs spew fire at night. Luckily the noise didn’t last more than 5 minutes, but my nerves were shot and it was hard to fall back asleep.

The next morning the air reeked of oil and we had black boogers in our noses. I guess I’ve learned a lesson about camping in oil country.

4 thoughts on “Sand Hills & Oil Fields

  1. I grew up seeing gas flares. When we would drive home at night from my grandparents, the whole country side was dotted with wells and they burned off the excess gas at night. If you were close enough, you could smell it. When we would visit family in the plains, we would count the flares we could see as we drove through mile after mile of wells. For a couple of years, there was a “barker” (called that because of the sound they made as they pumped) across the road from where we lived. That was the closest one to any of our houses, but we could always hear them at night at our grandparents.


      1. No, but we did not have enough knowledge back then as to the many risks involved, both for humans and the environment (although of course, the oil and gas industry knew). It was just normal in the northwest Texas area where we lived. Much of the land and vegetation around where we lived was ruined, along with the water table, due to oil and the salt water before they were required to begin trucking it out.

        As a kid, it was fun to listen to the pumps bark, and they were just ubiquitous, so it was normal to see them, even in the middle of towns. I was only at the sandhills twice, and back then, you just rolled down or slid down on your bum. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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