Pump jacks, or grasshoppers, are a common site in Texas. I live in Austin, where they are not as abundant but as you head west their presence increases. This photograph was made near Post, Texas in Garza County, just southeast of Lubbock on U.S. Highway 84. In this part of Texas and further south towards the Edwards plateau lies the Permian Basin, where most of our West Texas Intermediate crude comes from. If the oil doesn’t have enough pressure to make it up by itself it needs a pump to do the job.

If you’ve ever spent any time in Lubbock you know how to appreciate flat and windy. Lubbock sits at an elevation of 3,256 feet but you wouldn’t realize it just by looking around. Roughly 2,000 feet lower than Denver, this part of Texas, or more accurately, the Great Plains, is simply flat as a pancake.

Pump JackAs you drive northwest from Abilene to Lubbock, you don’t realize it, but you’re going uphill, slowly, about 10 feet per mile. Abilene sits at an elevation of 1,719 feet and Lubbock is at 3,256 feet. The only place you notice a marked change in geography is at Post, Texas a town located on the edge of the eastern escarpment of the Llano Estacado.

The Llano Estacado, or “staked plain”, translated from Spanish, is a large geological formation of over 32,000 square miles, which makes it larger than New England. Most of it lies in Texas with 4 counties in New Mexico. The Llano Estacado is the largest “mesa” or tableland in North America and continues north up to Tucumcari, New Mexico at 4,000 feet and Clovis, New Mexico at 4,200 feet.Spanish explorers found it so flat and nondescript that they used stakes as navigation tools. I consider myself fortunate to have the convenience of a vehicle AND a map. I can only imagine crossing this area on horseback with few visible landmarks, and worse, no water. In spite of all this, I do enjoy the area’s history and light. The setting sun lasts for hours and with a tripod you can photograph long past sunset.

Just as ironic as the elevation and the flatness, these pump jacks are giving way to a new source of energy, windmills. Because it is so windy, energy suppliers have been placing windmill farms in these western areas of the state.

If the Llano Estacado interests you, read John Miller Morris‘ “El Llano Estacado, Exploration and Imagination on the High Plains of Texas and New Mexico, 1536-1860.” A friend, John has written this award-winning book about “Lo Llano” and is an Associate Professor of Social Geography and Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

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