A black and white photo of a man in a cowboy hat next to large horses

A vaquero at Rancho Tule in Mexico in the early 1970s. Photo by Bill Wittliff, courtesy The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

Our favorite essays and stories from 2021 taught us untold histories, brought us around Texas without leaving our homes, and invoked a slew of emotions, from tears to laughter. Here are seven pieces we loved reading and why they spoke to us.


Vaqueros: The Original Cowboy of Texas

By Katie Gutierrez

Along with getting picked up by Longreads and the Los Angeles Times Latinx Files Newsletter, this story really resonated with our audience. We received some beautiful letters from readers sharing tributes to the vaqueros in their family lines. Katie Gutierrez’s meticulous research and insightful writing made a compelling argument for vaqueros to get their rightful due as the originators of the cowboy lifestyle and ethos. I especially loved the vivid scene she painted at the end of the story where retired vaqueros gathered at Santa Fe Ranch in South Texas to share memories of their singular vocation.” Emily Roberts Stone, Editor in Chief


How Lucha Libre’s Mexican Style of Wrestling Unites Two Countries

By Roberto José Andrade Franco

Few writers are chronicling the U.S.-Mexico borderlands better than Roberto José Andrade Franco. In this gritty look at Mexican wrestling known as lucha libre, Franco introduces us to two legends of the sport: Flama Roja, one of the great villains of the El Paso-Juárez scene, and Cassandro, an exótico who is the subject of a forthcoming biopic starring Gael García Bernal. The mix of historical and original photos by Christ Chavez creates the visual impact of a punch to the reader’s gut.” —Michael Hoinski, Deputy Editor 


How an ’88 Cadillac Led a Former Dallasite to the Love of His Life

By Paul Kix

Former Dallas Observer writer Paul Kix wrote this essay about the ’88 Cadillac that helped usher him into adulthood and eventually led him to his future wife. You can feel his passion for Dallas and that car in every sentence. It reminded me of how I came to love my own first car and how it was my constant companion in some of life’s biggest moments—including my move to Austin. You might want tissues for this one.” Natalie Moore, Product and Engagement Manager 

The Unconventional and Idyllic Life of Lipscomb’s 44 Residents 

By George Getschow

George Getschow made numerous trips to Lipscomb to get to know the people and spirit of the tiny Panhandle town. I love the way he brought us along as he peeled back the layers and ingratiated himself with the local community. Through the process, we get a genuine sense of what makes Lipscomb special and appealing. Kenny Braun’s photos of this hidden part of Texas are awesome too.” Matt Joyce, Senior Managing Editor


Local Groups Work to Reconnect the Black Community to the Joy of the Outdoors

By Kayla Stewart

“There’s often a subliminal message in the media that being outdoors and enjoying recreational activities outside are for certain kinds of people. I love that the organizations and subjects featured in this story actively challenge that idea and work to ensure the outdoors is accessible, safe, and welcoming to all. Kayla Stewart takes us on a hike with Outdoor Afro, a national organization with outposts in Texas cities. While she’s describing the lovely scenery of the Hill Country, she also expresses the camaraderie she feels with her fellow hikers, giving even indoorsy people like me a renewed interest in what the natural world has to offer.” —Kimya Kavehkar, Managing Editor


One Man’s Heroic Quest to Sample Every Blue Bell Ice Cream Flavor

By Tyler Stoddard Smith

“This is what’s so much fun about the Texas Highways website. We get to explore the sights, smells, and tastes that make Texas, and we get to hear from readers about what they think. Our writer got to indulge his childhood dream of touring the Brenham creamery and provided us with a detailed review of every flavor. Our audience was quick to tell us which of Tyler’s picks they agreed with—and didn’t. Many readers also reminisced about ‘lost’ flavors—perhaps in the future, we’ll take a trip down freezer-aisle memory lane to remember past Blue Bell creations.” Tyson Bird, Digital Strategies Manager


The Healing Power of Wildflowers

By ire’ne lara silva

“For our beloved annual Wildflower Issue, poet ire’ne lara silva weaves together descriptions of wildflowers, information on green burials, and a tale of a road trip through wildflower country on her way to a friend’s funeral. While its premise seems a bit dark, the piece is a reminder that just as wildflowers are beautiful yet fleeting, so are we. The accompanying photographs give the flowers personality and the sense that they have their own stories to tell.” —Julia Jones, Associate Editor


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