Pages as Presents
2001's crop of coffeetable books
The Texas Mountain Men
There's a breed of folks spread across the West, and some isolated pockets in the East, who can be identified by their affinity for solitary places found at high altitudes. For lack of a better term, they're mountain people. In Texas, they can be found in the far western part of the state, where ranges such as the Guadalupes, Davis Mountains, Chisos, and Franklins rise hundreds and thousands of feet above the desert floor. In their beautiful new picture book, Texas Mountains (UT Press, $39.95), photographer Laurence Parent and Texas Monthly Senior Editor Joe Nick Patoski capture a side of Texas that strangers to the state and many dedicated flatlanders would have a tough time recognizing.
The highlight of the book is Parent's full-color photographs, capturing the many moods of the Texas highlands -- rich tableaus of various ranges, valleys, and stony outcroppings documented in an array of seasons and under a variety of conditions. Patoski describes them as "a stone freak show of weird globs, jagged spires, gravity-defying balancing acts, marbled swirls, scoops of melted ice cream, and dribbled sandcastles that vary wildly from extraterrestrial to lunar in appearance."
As an added bonus, Texas Mountains provides many vistas inaccessible to the general public. Some of these photos have been taken on private ranches, some of which provide guest services, but which are also owned and operated by men and women divided over the question of whether outsiders should be welcomed. These are mountain people, after all, and among the reasons they've chosen to live amongst the buttes, arroyos, and peaks of West Texas is the region's spare population, growing though it may be. For fans of the public places documented in Parent's photos, including Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains national parks, spellbinding images provide a rough and ready reminder of the sacred beauty that can be found at high altitude.
These almost-too-gorgeous photos transcend the prettiness of postcards; the 10-by-11-inch, coffeetable format allows Parent to effectively hint at the scale of the landscape. By contrast, Patoski applies most of his able-bodied prose to the job of documenting the ranchers, restaurateurs, teachers, and scientists who people West Texas -- a welcome choice given that not a single human figure is depicted in the book. Still, Parent and Patoski make the scenery come alive. So, while one might argue that Patoski missed a chance to air more diverse ideas about environmental protection, the book inspires an appreciation of its subjects, geological and otherwise.