Saturday, April 17, 2021

TEXAS PANHANDLE: PALO DURO CANYON PART II, THE STATE PARK

March 21, 2021

I took a picture of this quote when we visited the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum because I am a Georgia O'Keeffe fan. 
When I got home and ran across it in my photos, I Googled "Georgia O'Keeffe Palo Duro Canyon" and found out that the artist I had always associated with New Mexico and New York actually taught art in the public schools in  Amarillo, Texas, from 1912 to 1914. In 1916 she became the chair of the art department of West Texas State Normal College (now West Texas A&M University) in Canyon, Texas, where the Panhandle Museum (and this quote) is located. It was during the next year and a half in Texas that her art evolved towards abstraction, particularly her landscapes.

She painted 51 watercolors during this time, many of them abstract expressionist landscapes of Palo Duro Canyon, a place she often visited for inspiration. She called the canyon "a slit in nothingness," but another time she wrote that "the plains' . . . feeling of bigness just carries me away." And of a hike in the canyon she said, "I was very small and very puny and helpless, and all around was so big and impossible."
Canyon with Crows (1917) from here

L: Alfred Stieglitz's photo of Georgia O'Keeffe in front of her charcoal drawing of Palo Duro Canyon
R: No 15 Special (1916-1917), painting of the canyon

Here are two versions of O'Keeffe's Light Coming on the Plains (1917), painted during her time in Canyon.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

TEXAS PANHANDLE: BUFFALO LAKE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, THE PANHANDLE PLAINS HISTORICAL MUSEUM, PANHANDLE QUIRKS

 March 20, 2021

Our first stop of the day was a trip to Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 7,664 acres of protected prairies, marshes, and woodlands. 

Roadside sign on our way to the refuge

Once inside the park, we drove on a dirt road (Bob's favorite kind of road) that made a giant loop. The unimpressive scenery mostly looked like this:


We saw all of these signs, but didn't have the opportunity to avoid treading on any of these critters:

After this not-too-exciting foray into what didn't seem to be much of a refuge (at least in my opinion--Bob may feel otherwise), we headed to the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum. Built in 1933, it is part of the West Texas A&M University campus in the town of Canyon.

Friday, April 9, 2021

TEXAS PANHANDLE: CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK AND FINE DINING IN AMARILLO

March 19, 2021 

Not far from Palo Duro Canyon is another state park, Caprock Canyons, which was established in 1982. It is 15,314 acres, just 1,088 acres smaller than the 16,402 acres of Palo Duro State Park.

One of this canyon's claims to fame is that it is the home of part of the state's official bison herd. At one time, the Texas plains were covered with bison, but by 1888 there were fewer than 1,000 bison in the entire state. Some individuals and groups undertook extensive conservation efforts, and eventually the Texas State Bison Herd (yes, that is their formal name) grew to a half-million head.  

In 1996, 32 bison were moved to Caprock Canyons State Park, and the herd now numbers 150. Not a bad growth rate for 25 years. I wish my stock portfolio did as well. By comparison, however, there is a herd of 3,000 bison in Yellowstone Park.

Right off the bat, we were introduced to our first bison.

Visitors' Center


Oops, I had already broken the rules.

As soon as we left the visitors' center parking lot, we ran into the grazing part of the herd, figuratively speaking. Apparently they didn't read the rule about staying far away from US.

Monday, April 5, 2021

TEXAS PANHANDLE: PALO DURO CANYON PART I AND QUITAQUE

  March 19-20, 2021

One of the carrots that Bob used to entice me to travel to the panhandle of Texas was talk of Palo Duro Canyon. At 120 miles long, an average of 6 miles wide, and 820 feet deep at its deepest point, it is the second largest canyon in the United States behind only the Grand Canyon. It surprised me that I had never heard of it.

After visiting the Slug Bug Ranch, we made our way across the ever-so-flat Texas prairie, where the wind that once swept all the topsoil into the air to create lethal clouds of dust in the 1930s now powers huge windmills.


This is the best aerial view of the canyon that I could find (and it was on Pinterest without any attribution). You can see how the land just drops off into the canyon, and how the canyon looks like tendrils or tentacles creeping across the land. 

In the canyon itself, it doesn't feel ominous at all. In fact, it is pretty glorious.

The state park part of the canyon is relatively small--maybe a 10-mile stretch or so--and on this first foray we were near the state park but not within its borders. (We were planning a visit there the next day.) I'm not sure why the entire canyon isn't part of the state park--just too big?  Anyway, our first stop was at a picnic area on a hill. From the top of the road we had almost a 270° view.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

TEXAS PANHANDLE, AMARILLO: SLUG BUGS AND CADILLACS

March 18-19, 2021

Let me get this out of the way. When Bob first brought up this trip, I was not excited.  I mean, how much do you want to visited the Texas Panhandle? He had to dangle the promise of at least one art museum in front of me and a few quirky destinations (two of which are covered in this post). He also promised we would spend some time in Central Texas and end the trip in Austin. It helped that I was desperate to leave home. We were supposed to be traveling to the Galapagos Islands during my March 2021 Spring Break, and even Texas sounded better than staying home and moping.

We flew out of Ontario, had an hour-long layover in Dallas, and then had a short flight to Amarillo.  On our arrival, Bob started singing the 1973 song "Amarillo by Morning" and unfortunately didn't stop singing it for several days. 

We were welcomed to the small Amarillo Airport by this statue of Rick Husband, an Amarillo native who was killed aboard the space shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated during reentry into the Earth's atmosphere in 2003.

Friday, March 26, 2021

THREE SUMMITS: #3, BLACK MESA IN OKLAHOMA, CAPULIN VOLCANO, AND SUGARITE CANYON

 October 18, 2020

We had one more highpoint to summit on this trip: Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma. One of the interesting thing about this highpoint is that Black Mesa actually extends into Colorado and New Mexico, and the highpoint in both of those other states is higher than the highpoint in Oklahoma (but is not the highpoint in those states).

We left our hotel at about 7:00 AM and drove an hour to the trailhead. When we began our hike just after 8:00, it was only 36° F.  I wrote in my notes that I was wearing 2 pairs of pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a Columbia zip jacket, a down jacket, and Bob's gloves. (Thanks, dear.)

The round trip hike was 8.4 miles, and when we got back to the car at 11:30, it was 39°.  It was cold, but we kept up a quick pace and it wasn't too bad--until we got to the mesa itself.

Just before the gate is this granite bench honoring Jean Trousdale, "Highpointers Foundation Director, Founder of the Club Mercantile, Clinical Psychologist, Mother, Grandmother, Friend." The photo of her with her dog is captioned, "Enjoy the view and have a good hike!"  She looks like someone I would have liked to know.

Monday, March 22, 2021

KANSAS: CIMARRON NATIONAL GRASSLAND, THE SANTA FE TRAIL, AND POINT OF ROCKS

 October 17, 2020

After our exhausting climb to the summit of Mount Sunflower 🤣, we needed some nourishment, so we stopped in Syracuse (Kansas, not New York) for lunch and had a very mediocre tostada in a restaurant called "Porky's Parlor." The name alone should have warned us away. Not one other person besides us was wearing a face mask. Yep, Trump county.

However, at least we got to visit the "Home of the USA's First All-female City Council." That was a treat!


Mural in the restaurant parking lot

Our first afternoon stop was Cimarron National Grassland, 108,176 acres of grassy plains bisected by the Cimarron River. National Grasslands are essentially identical to National Forests, but think prairie instead of trees. This grassland, which used to the the territory of the Comanche Indian tribe, is now the largest area of public land in Kansas.

The Native Americans got chased out, but there are still a few local residents left.

Supposedly this is a popular fishing area, but when we were there is was so quiet. There was no one else there, but also no birds, no bunnies, no creepy-crawly things (except the aforementioned grasshoppers).




The Little House on the Prairie books take place in Kansas, and I could picture Laura running across this expanse, her gingham skirt and braids flying out behind her.


Our next stop was Middle Spring, a stop on the Santa Fe Trail, which pretty much bisects Kansas.

These trees are relatively new additions to the site. They certainly weren't here when the pioneers were passing through.

The bridge across the stream is also an addition since Santa Fe Trail days.

The travelers endured miles and miles of prairie with very little water until they reached Middle Spring.


Supposedly, these ruts were made by the wooden wheels of the Conestoga wagons that were a common mode of transportation.

In contrast, this was our rental car--a Jeep Cherokee.  I just had to squeeze a picture of it in for the great-great-grandkids. It might seem as foreign to them as the Conestoga wagons do to us.

We walked for a little way down the "trail" to get a feel for it.


Our last stop was at a tall butte called Point of Rocks. At 3,540 feet, it is the third highest point in the state and was an important landmark for travelers heading west.


An information board at the site has this great quote from Albert Pike. Note that he spells "Cimarron" "Semaron." 

Caravans on the 800-mile-long Santa Fe Trail took six to ten weeks to make the journey between Independence, Missouri, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. When the railroad reached Santa Fe in 1880, the Santa Fe Trail gradually slipped into obscurity.

I feel almost guilty for having accessed this spot via an air-conditioned four-wheel drive vehicle.


As we left Point of Rocks and started the drive to our hotel in Clayton, New Mexico, we drove past several of these interesting animals. It looks a little prehistoric, doesn't it? Something to do with fossils, perhaps?

A beautiful sunset was the perfect ending for a fun day.

"A Prairie Sunset" by Walt Whitman

Shot gold, maroon and violet, dazzling silver, emerald, fawn,
The earth's whole amplitude and nature's multiform power consigned for once to colors;
The light, the genial air possessed by them--colors till now unknown,
No limit, confine--not the Western sky alone--the high meridian--North, South, all,
Pure luminous color fighting the silent shadows to the last.