Lubbock is a long way from anywhere, and even in this West Texas town with a population of just over a quarter-million, because of its remoteness it still somehow feels uncrowded, maybe a little lonesome. Its closest neighbors of any size are a two- to three-hour drive away, give or take. Amarillo is to the north, Midland and Odessa to the south, Abilene's to the southeast, and Roswell, over the state line in New Mexico, lies to the west. So, then, at the same time, it's smack in the middle of nowhere and everywhere.
There's not much between those cities except the dusty prairies and grasslands of the Great Plains, where the buffalo used to roam and where still the deer and the antelope play alongside prairie dogs, jackrabbits, and even rattlesnakes.
But solitude is the soul of the Great Plains of West Texas, a way of life, and no one in Lubbock, sort of the epicenter of the Great Plains subset of the South Plains, seems to mind that the town stands alone. Long, flat roads lead to longer stretches of open, flat plains that eroded from the Rocky Mountains eternities ago. Lubbock, with its elevation reaching to some 3,400 feet, sits high atop caprock tableland that tapers slowly to the southeast toward Fort Worth and Dallas.
This is Texas east of the Pecos, a land of caprock, cowpokes and unending fields of cotton, a crop that loves the merciless sun of its semiarid climate. It's that combination of sun, wind and probably not quite enough rain that makes the region ideal for not only cotton, but also growing grapes, as in Texas wine grapes, as in Texas wine, as in mighty fine Texas wine.
With a mere three full days in Lubbock to spend time with extended family and see the sites, my husband and I visited several wineries and ate at some killer restaurants, diners and coffee shops. And while Lubbock may well be off the beaten path, it doesn't scrimp on things to do.
WONDERFUL WEST TEXAS WINES AND WINERIES
Often the region is compared to both Sonoma and Napa Valley, primarily because of the climate, and grapes are grown here en masse. In fact, most of Texas wine grapes -- estimates are up to 90% of them -- are grown within a 100-mile radius of Lubbock. That's a bunch of grapes, so to speak, and the Lone Star State, as it turns out, is the fourth largest wine-producing state in the U.S.
Several wineries dot the swathe of fertile terrain of the Lubbock region, and the ones we visited had tasting rooms and vineyards just as classy as any found in California. Among those where we sampled the vino were Burklee Hill Vineyards-Trilogy Cellars in nearby Levelland, the highly awarded McPherson Cellars that is housed in Lubbock's historic Coca-Cola Bottling Plant, Llano Estacado Winery that is one of the pioneers of the West Texas wine industry -- it's the second oldest winery in Texas -- and has won hundreds of awards since it first opened in 1976, the picturesque Caprock Winery that resembles an American Southwest-style mission, and finally the French-style Pheasant Ridge Winery that features the oldest pinot noir vines in Texas.
WHERE TO CHOW DOWN FOR BREAKFAST
Get your day started at the Cast Iron Grill, a favorite home-style restaurant. Just inside the door are subtly lighted display cases filled with pie slices, lots of them, ranging from the signature Texas Delight, a layered concoction with cream cheese, chocolate pudding and pecans, to flavors of cheesecake, strawberry, pumpkin and beyond. Go ahead. Have a slice to complement a big ol' country breakfast of chicken fried steak or biscuits and gravy.