ADVERTISEMENT
11-17-20 | Feature

History in Every Design at Big Spring

Historic Spring Site in Big Spring, Texas
by Kelly Cook, RLA, ASLA, KDC Associates

This is an area of the project site exclusively dedicated to the Native Americans that inhabited the Spring and surroundings. The 725' long x 8' wide turtle pathway covers over A 3/4 of an acre and measures roughly 186' x 186'. The turtle itself is made of native compacted natural cement, which will inhibit plant growth within the path. This portion of the site was covered in extremely thick and invasive juniper and cedar. It was cleared and a native short-grass, that existed on the site prior to the eradication of the bison, was reintroduced. The soil was heavily drill-seeded with a mixture of 16 native grasses and 9 different wildflowers. Additionally, Native American teepee frames are located throughout the area, replicating the scene described by Captain Randolph Marcy when he first laid eyes on the site in 1849.
Within the amphitheater overlooking the Historic Spring Site found on the southern end of the city of Big Spring, TX, eight monoliths illuminate the history of the site. Each monolith contains two sections with Corten Steel panels that are placed in the first layer to be offset from the second layer of limestone. The Corten Steel portion measures 4' x 8' x A 1/2 " thick and weighs 650 lbs. The limestone measures 5' x 12' x 3' thick and weighs approximately 23,000 lbs. This monolith is titled "The Spanish" as it reflects Spain's exploration starting circa 1536 and represents the Spanish period of influence at the Spring site. It features a Conquistador's "Morion" or battle helmet; the flag of Spain, true to the period; the horses and cattle that the Spanish introduced to the New World; an "espada ancha" or Spanish wide sword; and a "Halberd" weapon along the left side.
The site is 9.85 acres and is covered in aggressive Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei), which has choked out most of the native grass species. One of the more unusual plants found here is the Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa). While native in much of Texas, the Mexican Buckeye is not originally from this region. The Native Americans used this plant for jewelry and other things and were known to bring seed pods of this plant to areas of frequent habitation so they could utilize them when visiting.
The amphitheater, as well as the entire area, is laid out in a radial pattern emanating from the Spring. The plaza shown is a little over 23,000 square feet of native limestone and seats approximately 175 people for performances and events. The center of the radius is the elevated performance stage, which also includes the internally illuminated 25' tall corten steel totem/sun dial (left image). The totem includes the names of many of the historically important individuals who have visited the location over the centuries. Most are Native Americans, but many Spanish and some Americans are represented there as well. The radial pattern is the key to the entire site layout. It represents all life radiating outward from the critical water source of the Spring. The monoliths are located in a chronological distance from the Spring, representing their impact on the site and surrounding prairie.
The amphitheater, as well as the entire area, is laid out in a radial pattern emanating from the Spring. The plaza shown is a little over 23,000 square feet of native limestone and seats approximately 175 people for performances and events. The center of the radius is the elevated performance stage, which also includes the internally illuminated 25' tall corten steel totem/sun dial (left image). The totem includes the names of many of the historically important individuals who have visited the location over the centuries. Most are Native Americans, but many Spanish and some Americans are represented there as well. The radial pattern is the key to the entire site layout. It represents all life radiating outward from the critical water source of the Spring. The monoliths are located in a chronological distance from the Spring, representing their impact on the site and surrounding prairie.
The monoliths are connected by flagstone pathways composed of native limestone that fills the ampitheather. The plants around the monoliths are Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima). While considered an invasive species in much of the United States, Mexican Feather Grass is native to the site and one of the dominant grasses in the region. Immediately surrounding each panel is a thick planting of Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri). This cactus was used on the site for two reasons. First, it protects the limestone monument from approach, thus helping to control vandalism. Second, the cactus produces an edible fruit that the indigenous peoples called "tuna". The fruit and the pads themselves were a very important food staple that is still used today.
The prefabricated bridge spans a deep arroyo on the site and connects a new entertainment pavilion with the Spring stage. The bridge measures 10' wide and is 65' long and made of wood and Corten Steel with limestone end accents. Simple LED wallpacks with photocells serve as the lighting.
This panel represents the impact of the railroad to the area. When the Texas and Pacific Railroad sought to expand to California, the Spring site dictated the route for the rail. This rail line was then paralleled by the stage, then the historical Bankhead Highway which ran from Washington D.C. to San Diego, California, and finally Interstate 20. Hence, the location of the Spring dictated the location of interstate commerce and travel across the southern United States. The panel shown was carefully designed by the KDC team, based off of a photograph of the original steam locomotive that used the site to fill its water tanks. Hidden low-voltage LED lights were custom made to mount under the Corten Steel descriptive sign in front of the monolith.
The large tree is an ancient Texas Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. glandulosa). Several of the mesquite near the Spring are estimated to be over 150 years old. KDC created 18 custom 12' tall light columns throughout the site that are internally illuminated. The pattern, that is water-jetted into the steel columns, is that of the railroad. The team wanted the design to be very subtle, but reflect the same dominant materials used on the project. The cut pattern creates a wonderful nighttime display. The project also includes 52 identically illuminated bollards that are 36" tall and have the same railroad display.

In 2014, the landscape architecture firm KDC Associates from Midland, TX was contacted regarding the development of a master plan for an abandoned natural spring in Big Spring, Texas. Knowing this could be a historical site, the firm asked the city for a separate professional services contract that would cover site research. Kelly Cook, RLA, ASLA, principal of the firm stated, "As this site borders old trade routes and is the only reliable water source in a 90-mile radius, we felt historical research was prudent in order to help us generate a site-specific design. I refer to it as extreme-level site analysis. We were thrilled to delve into a project we felt potentially held such historical significance."

In Depth Historical Research
Following months of research, Cook found that the site not only had regional significance but was also prominent in the shaping of the American west. Studying long-forgotten historical documents, KDC found numerous authors and academics who believe the spring may have been visited by Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca in 1535 after his party's shipwreck on what is now Galveston Island, some 525 miles away. One of the few survivors of a shipwreck, de Vaca trecked his way across what was to become Texas. Stumbling naked and starving upon a "great spring" near the source of what many believe is now the Colorado River in Texas, de Vaca was nurtured to health by a local Indian tribe. When departing weeks later, he held a blessing ceremony for them and they, in turn, provided a large meal for him. While Cook found accounts of de Vaca's route varies and no one is certain of his exact location, it is possible that the spring site that KDC was studying was the site of the first "thanksgiving" ceremony in the "New World," predating the Plymouth event by about 85 years.

The spring was considered sacred and one of the most important sites for the native Comanche and Kiowa tribes who inhabited the area because this was the location they met every year to prepare for raids deep into Mexico. KDC also discovered that the spring site was the reason for the integration of a 575-mile long stretch of Interstate 20. In 1849, Captain Randolph Marcy was the first American to scientifically chart the location of the spring. This was at the beginning of the gold rush in California. Soon, thousands of emigrants began moving westward along the route that Marcy had charted. As the next available water source was 114 miles away, the spring became a critical stopping point for thousands of the wagon trains. The Butterfield Stage soon took the same trail. Needing the reliable water of the spring, the railroad then followed the stage route. Cities popped up along the length of the railroad, and the development of the car caused the Bankhead Highway to follow the rail. Now Interstates 10 and 20 follow Captain Marcy's original route.

"Our historical research was critical in the successful development of this site," Cook explained, "because of that we were able to generate a design that we felt reflected the centricity and importance of the spring in the region for thousands of years. The site somewhat designed itself. We have had landscape architecture classes from Texas Tech University visiting the site and we tried to emphasize the enormous importance of what a good site analysis can do in the design phase."

Distinct Time Frames Reflected in Design

img
 
With a hardscape pallet that emphasized the timelessness of the spring, KDC focused on two primary construction materials to use. Native limestone quarried near the site was used for paving, retaining walls, and markers. Corten Steel was used as storyboard panels, lights, and handrails. The team defined eight distinct and important timeframes of the spring: The Prehistoric, The Ancients, The Spanish, The Comanches, Captain Marcy's Expedition, The Railroad, The Ranchers, and the Modern Era. Each era is marked by a single 23,000-pound limestone monolith. Offset from the face of each monolith is a A 1/2 " thick Corten Steel storyboard featuring representation of events related to that era. KDC drew each of these as vector drawings to provide a template to water-jet exact representations through the thick steel. Illuminated descriptive signage is placed in front of each obelisk.

Centricity of the Layout
The center of the plaza features an elevated ADA accessible performance stage which includes a 25' tall internally illuminated Corten Steel column inscribed with dozens of names of historically significant figures known to have visited the spring. This column represents many of the Comanche and Kiowa Tribes as well as Spanish explorers like de Vaca and Coronado, American explorers, military men, and ranchers. The column also serves as a sundial for the community.

KDC Associates team member Jonathon Pruessner, RLA, ASLA designed unique internally illuminated Corten Steel bollards and light poles. The tracks of a railroad are cut into the columns and provide the illumination of the site.

A new community pavilion is connected to the plaza by a series of prefabricated bridges that span the site's arroyos. Elevated stone overlooks were strategically placed viewing the spring and the adjacent Comanche Lake. A hidden pump system circulates water from the lake 400' uphill into an arroyo, where it flows through newly developed wetlands and into the spring.

Native shortgrass prairie was established on site to reflect Captain Marcy's 1849 description of the area. Native American tribes provided teepee lodge frames, which stand in the prairie. Nearby cliffs revealed pictographs of turtles, a Native American sign for water and good fortune. KDC Associates copied one of these pictographs and enlarged it to form a walkway covering an entire acre inside of the prairie. This turtle pictograph is visible from space as well as many airline routes which pass overhead.

The project was dedicated in the fall of 2017. A representative of the Comanche Nation performed an ancient blessing ritual for the "rediscovered" site that was once so important to his people.

Team List:
Client: City of Big Spring, Texas
Prime Consultant: KDC Associates, Midland, Texas
Environmental Consultant: Burr Williams
Pavilion Architect: Paddle Creek Designs
General Contractor: Tommy Hawkins Construction
Steel Fabrication: Odessa Stair and Stainless
Waterjet Fabrication: Midland Waterjet
Landscape Contractor: Alldredge Gardens
Stone Supplier and Fabricator: TexaStone Quarries
Photographer: Bruce Schooler Photography
Renderings and Site Plan: KDC Associates and Robin Frye

As seen in LASN magazine, November 2020.

img

Sign up for
LAWeekly newsletter. Get exclusive content today.