By Jennifer M. Latzke

West Texas has its own stark beauty and history to offer travelers. And, while the travel gem of the southwest is Big Bend National Park, parents can stretch their travel budgets along the way with stops in Midland and Odessa, Texas.

Bubbling crude, Black oil, Texas tea

In West Texas, oil derricks are more than iconic images--they're the life blood of the economy. The Permian Basin is the source for about 20 percent of America's oil and gas reserves.

At the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, in Midland, families can learn about the vast oil and gas field, and the history and future of the oil and gas industry. Hands-on exhibits detail the geologic history of the area, the history of drilling, and the many uses of petroleum. Outside, on the museum grounds, sit examples of drilling equipment that add to the story of petroleum in the Midland/Odessa area.

The museum boasts the Chaparral Gallery, which tells the story of Jim Hall and his race car engineering. Race cars are on display, including the 1980 Indy 500 Champion car for Chaparral, the Yellow Submarine. Another hall shows geology displays of gemstones and fossils, which adds to the petroleum story. Exhibits are changed regularly. The museum also offers family events throughout the summer, including summer movie camps and family nights. For more information, visit

A political heritage

Midland is the childhood home of former President George W. Bush. In celebration of their famous political connection, a group of Midland citizens rallied together to purchase and restore the George W. Bush Childhood Home, and visitors can stop by Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., for guided tours. The home, located at 1412 W. Ohio Avenue, has been restored to its 1950s glory. Displays tell the story of the Bush family, and of its political dynasty.

Cultural learning

Midland and Odessa are home to many cultural learning opportunities. These two towns, just 20 minutes apart, have a combined population of nearly one-quarter of a million people, and therefore have many cultural activities of larger cities. From art exhibits at the Museum of the Southwest to music from the Midland-Odessa Symphony and Chorale, there are plenty of activities to keep a family busy during the summer.

The Museum of the Southwest, in Midland, showcases the art and culture of the southwestern United States. Youth can enjoy educational, interactive fun at the Fredda Turner Durham Children's Museum, catch a glimpse of the nighttime sky at the Blakemore Planetarium, or research West Texas history at the Nita Stewart Haley Library and J. Evetts Haley History Center. From June to August, the Museum of the Southwest hosts Sunday evening concerts on its grounds at 1705 W. Missouri. Families are invited to bring a picnic and sit a spell to listen to local jazz, pop, country and folk music groups. For more information, visit

Big Bend's wonders

In 1935, Congress authorized Big Bend National Park, to preserve and protect an area of the Chihuahuan Desert along the Rio Grande along the U.S-Mexico border in southwest Texas. Big Bend administers nearly one-quarter of the total 1,000-mile international boundary between the two countries. Its name comes from the "big bend" of the Rio Grande, where the river's southeasterly flow changes abruptly to the northeast.

The park protects the largest area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States of America. It boasts Cretaceous and Tertiary fossils, archeological artifacts more than 9,000 years old, and historic buildings and landscapes that tell the story of man's life in the desert. Wildlife, such as roadrunners and bears and big cats call the park home.

With more than 800,000 acres, Big Bend offers visitors many outdoor activities, from hiking one of a multitude of trails to backcountry camping. Families can choose to float down a river on a canoe or kayak, attend ranger-led activities and evening programs, or just drive along more than 150 miles of dirt roads. It's no wonder that Big Bend is consistently one of the most popular vacation destinations in Texas year after year--visited by an average of 300,000 people each year.

The park is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Because of Big Bend's remote location, visitors are advised to plan their trip in advance. The National Park Service website for Big Bend National Park,, offers information about lodging and communications options, as well as tips about visiting its vast desert landscape and traveling to and within the park itself.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at