National Geographic : 2012 Sep
at was in the mid-1930s, when Bill Tullos was just a boy. He still lives on the ranch outside San Angelo, Texas, and that memory is still vivid. "Day turned to night," he recalls. It was even worse in the 1950s. e rains didn't come. Graz- ing lands withered. Water holes dried up. "We said, Well, it will rain tomorrow," Tullos says. "We waited seven years before it nally broke." Last year he saw the signs once more. "Normally May and June are our rainy months, and we just weren't getting any rain," he says. So he started selling his animals at the local auction house. First the cattle, then the sheep and goats. " e 1950s nearly broke me. is time I was determined it wasn't going to happen to me." By the end of 2011 Tullos was down to 300 goats on his 8,000- acre spread. e man who had seen it all---taking over the family business at 16 a er his father died---was calling it quits. "It was nearly heartbreaking, it sure was," he says. All across West Texas, men and women accustomed to tough- ing it out were nearing their breaking point. ose who managed to hang on were spending a fortune on feed and hay for livestock or on water to irrigate dusty elds. e air was so hot and dry, much of the water sprayed on the soil evaporated before it could soak in. " ey just couldn't keep up," Buzz Cooper says of the cotton farmers near Lubbock who normally bring their crops to his gin. In May two-thirds of the nearby elds were bare ground. By September Texas had su ered the driest 12 months in its history. Farmers across the state lost more than eight billion dollars. In West Texas, where people are used to hardship, the drought caused some to question whether their way of life was even possible anymore. Although the winter at last brought some nourishing rain, they still faced a long road back to good times. ---Peter Miller HE'S SEEN IT ALL BEFORE. BACK IN THE DUST BOWL DAYS HE WATCHED IN AWE AS DARK CLOUDS OF TOPSOIL SWALLOWED UP THE FAMILY RANCH. PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBB KENDRICK Download our iPad edition to watch a video about the dust-choked fields of West Texas--- and the farmers who won't give up.