A Photographer Documents
Texas Ranch Gates
From A to Z

As he drove thousands of miles across Texas for his job, Kevin B. Stillman stayed alert by looking for ranch gates representing every letter of the alphabet.

Written by: Matt Joyce      Photos by: Kevin B. Stillman

Over 31 years as a photographer for the Texas Department of Transportation, Kevin B. Stillman drove thousands of miles across the state. Somewhere along the way—near Lake Texoma in 1995, to be exact—he struck upon an idea to help the miles pass: a ranch-gate alphabet game.

“The Paradise Ranch was the first ranch gate I shot, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if I could put together ranch gates for the entire alphabet,’” says Stillman, who retired in 2019 and lives in Round Rock. “I started to do it on medium-format film because that was my medium of choice at the time, and I really liked the square shape.”

The alphabet game turned out to be a long-term challenge. Stillman says he drove an average of 16,000 miles per year as part of his job of photographing construction sites, conferences, ceremonies, and stories for Texas Highways­—whatever the department needed. And though he was on the lookout for nearly 25 years, he didn’t wrap up the entire alphabet until 2019.

“I was having fun because I was taking every back road in Texas, looking for ranch gates, but I couldn’t find a V to save my life,” Stillman recalls. “I must’ve spent six months looking for a V. I found a U and a Z, but who’d a thought a V would be the one I couldn’t find? Then one day I found two on the road [Ranch Road 337] from Camp Wood down to Center Point.”

Stillman says his favorite of the gates adorns the Imhoff Ranch near Plantersville. He passes it frequently on drives to visit his wife’s family in Conroe. “We’d always say, I want to call my ranch the ‘I’m Off Ranch.’ When I get my ranch, I don’t want to work no more.”

Stillman, who now runs a beekeeping business—Sweet Ass Honey—with his wife, Dodie Stillman, says the ranch gate alphabet game offers a fun way to explore the back roads of Texas, particularly during the pandemic.

“Get out there and find ranch gates and trade them with your friends and collect them and make a game out of it,” Stillman says. “Extra points for wagon wheels, extra points for skulls, extra points for stars.”

Angelita Ranch near Odem in San Patricio County
Beaver Creek Ranch off US 79 near Milano
The Cotropia Ranch off of US 79 near Hearne
The Duren Ranch in the Piney Woods of East Texas
A property sign reading "Edwards" near Shiner
A Fair Oaks sign near Bryan
The Guitar Ranch on State Highway 836 near Spur, about 50 miles east of Lubbock.
A property gate on State Highway 71 between La Grange and Columbus
The Imhoff Ranch near Plantersville in Grimes County
The Double J Ranch in Dimmit County
Kanes Hilltop Acres near Tyler. "Not all gates are ranches," says photographer Kevin Stillman.
The Lucky L ranch near Brownwood
Mexican Hill Ranch near Richards in Grimes County
The Nutt Ranch near Fort Stockton. "If you've ever driven to El Paso on I-10, you can't miss this one," says photographer Kevin Stillman.
The Old Lady Ranch on US 290 near Elgin
Paradise Ranch near Lake Texoma
The Quito Ranch near Gilmer in Northeast Texas
The Rio Brazos Ranch near College Station
The Skrivanek Ranch near Caldwell
Ranch gates inspired this gate-like entrance at the Texas Travel Information Center in Amarillo
A "U" ranch gate in East Texas
Verde Peak Ranch near Center Point. "One of the hardest letters to find was V," says photographer Kevin Stillman.
The Wahrmund Ranch near Fredericksburg
The X Bar Ranch Nature Retreat in Eldorado offers lodging and activities
The Yndo Ranch near Floresville
The Circle Z Ranch on State Highway 16 near Bandera


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The July 2020 cover of Texas Highways Magazine, Secret Rivers


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