300 miles E of El Paso; 135 miles S of Lubbock

Welcome to oil country, where the ups and downs of the petroleum industry have long defined these twin cities, 21 miles apart on I-20. Midland-Odessa sits in the geographic center of the Permian Basin, the home of the country's richest oil fields -- about 20% of the United States' reserves. Today, only Alaska produces more oil than the Permian Basin.

The area saw the first of several oil booms in the 1920s. However, less than a decade later, the Great Depression brought on the first of several busts. Production increased during World War II, but foreign competition brought on another bust by the 1970s. The pendulum again swayed in the boom direction until 1982, when the bottom suddenly fell out of the oil market: Wells were capped, new houses went unsold, and banks failed. In the time since, the industry has diversified and recovered, but Midland-Odessa remains the heart and soul of the Permian Basin's oil industry. As it goes, so does Midland-Odessa.

The one-time home of two presidents -- George H. W. Bush and his son George W. -- the cities are home to a handful of noteworthy attractions and offer an educational glimpse at the rewards and the ravages of a volatile, oil-heavy economy. But Midland-Odessa is by no means a tourist destination -- it's really an overnight stopover on the dusty and dry West Texas plains.