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in Mentone, Texas
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Map of Mentone, Texas





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By Cathy NewmanPhotographs by Jodi Cobb



Water is scarce and people scarcer, but in Mentone the human spirit flows as steadily as the oil.



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Let me tell you about a town I like that sits smack in the middle of furnace-hot desert with oceans of oil below ground and not much to speak of above.

Mentone (population 15, more or less) is the county seat of Loving County, Texas. It’s also the only town in Loving County, the least populated county in the 48 contiguous United States. You can drive through Mentone in 12 seconds flat and not even stretch the speed limit. You pass the post office and the Boot Track Cafe on the left, the courthouse and a gas station on the right. You’ve left the town behind; sand and prickly scrub lie ahead. The terrain is griddle flat; on a clear day, which is almost always, you can see the Davis Mountains 75 miles (121 kilometers) to the southwest.

Even so, Mentone is not unlike any town. It may look different on the outside, but on the inside passions run the same. The sparse landscape and population render the clockworks of Loving County transparent.

Let us count Loving County’s blessings: one elevator, two stop signs, and 674 oil wells. Other blessings: no stoplights and no lawyers.

There’s not much water to speak of in Mentone. Until 1988 drinking water was trucked in from Pecos, 23 miles (37 kilometers) away. Now the county has its own well, but even so, water is limited in quantity and quality. Mentone water is so mineral laden, pipes clog and lawns curl up and die.

Loving County has about 70 residents; most meant to stop briefly but got alkaline in their blood and stayed. “When I came to Mentone, I asked my husband how long we would have to live in this godforsaken place,“Mary Belle Jones told me. “Just a few years,” her husband, who worked for Sinclair Oil, assured her. That was 47 years ago.

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In More to Explore the National Geographic Magazine team shares some of their best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.


Mentone was established in 1893 at a site 14 miles (23 kilometers) up the Pecos River. It was named by a surveyor pining for his own hometown of Menton, France.


The Handbook of Texas Online
http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/MM/hnm33.html
The site gives a brief history of any place in the Lone Star State, present and past.

U.S. Gazetteer
http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/gazetteer?city=Loving+County&state=TX&zip=
You can’t miss finding your location with the population count, zip code, even latitude and longitude provided by this U.S. Census Bureau site.


“Loving County.” The Handbook of Texas Online. Available online at http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/LL/hcl13.html

“Mentone, TX.” The Handbook of Texas Online. Available online at http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/MM/hnm33.html

Colloff, Pamela. “Not-So-Loving County,” Texas Monthly, October 1997.

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