Spent time with family in Houston before traveling west. Strolling through the house one evening, caught Ellie and Sammie hard at work inside while I prepped the car out in the garage. This was after 9pm, so dad was upstairs asleep.
Heading west, stopped overnight in Austin, TX, to visit with Aunt Marian, Uncle Norman and assorted cousins. Special thanks to cousin Barry and his company, Republic Print & Mail, for the business cards and car magnets.
One of the joys of traveling the back roads, with no real schedule or deadlines, is the ability to stop when desired – at historic sites, rest stops, diners, scenic overlooks, anywhere. This rest stop/historic site caught my eye.
Don’t recall why that hill is famous, usually take a pic of the plaque to have a record of such info, but forgot. Given how flat west Texas is, it may be people came here just to see what a hill looks like.
Goldwaite, TX, the jail was built in 1888 and and courthouse in 1913. The courthouse replaced one that burned down. Stopped in a diner on the square to share lunch with the locals. On the menu today: meat and three, sweet tea, cornbread and cobbler. Goldwaite, like many other towns in the area, started life as a railroad stop in the 1880s and is in fact named after the railroad employee who auctioned off lots. It’s a little over 100 miles NW of Austin, and unofficially marks the end of Hill Country. It will be flat, dry and windy for the rest of the day’s drive.
A Fixer Upper
Passed at least 1,000 windmills that afternoon. Texas generates more energy from wind power than any other state – partly due to its large size and remote, windy areas, but also due to political policy and financial incentives. 9% of the state’s power comes from wind. I think the national average is around 3%.
After tilting at windmills, it was on to Cousin Jeff’s (and Suzan’s) home near Lubbock, TX. Enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies in their amazing homeplace – It’s built to last. Douglas Fir rafters support the two-story great room, and a vineyard surrounds the home.
The entrance to Palo Duro Canyon, is 90 minutes north of Lubbock and thirty minutes south of Amarillo. It’s wide, deep, and has a history. For centuries it was a sanctuary for indian tribes. The area is flat, so you don’t even see there’s a canyon until on top of it, and down inside is water and escape from the wind. In later years a colorful Indian Scout, named Goodnight, established a million acre ranch here. The rock walls make a natural corral, and the stream is substantial and eventually becomes the Red River. In the 1930s, a WPA project resulted in the construction of several buildings and camps, at which time Palo Duro State Park was born. It’s a rugged place, but the old buildings are still in operation and newer ones have been added.
Above is the entrance, with the ranger station to the right and an old water tank on the left. At some point the water tank was converted into bathrooms. Below we see the water level markings on the old concrete tank, and where doorways were cut. It held 10,000 gallons.
The drive in hugs the canyon rim of the canyon for several miles before descending. There are three old stone huts built just below the rim’s surface (to escape the wind). These are for rent and I stayed in one several years ago, in January. The low that night was 14 degrees, and the wind howled, but it was snug inside the hut’s thick stone walls. Unfortunately, the fireplace was off limits during that stay due to drought warnings.
The rear walls of the rim huts face north and are set into the hillside for insulation. The south walls face the canyon to capture solar heat. The cabins typically have two bedrooms, plus a bathroom, kitchenette, AC and linens. Additional WPA cabins down in the canyon, called cowpoke cabins, are similar to these but are more spartan and offer only bunks, mattresses, AC and refrigerators – you supply your own linens and use the bathrooms in a nearby campground. Around here, though, in summer at least, AC is probably the single most precious commodity.
No doubt July can be a scorcher. In September, the days were hot and nights were warm. In January, night-time temps were in the teens with afternoons in the 50s.
Down a short drive from the rim road is the old lodge, now a visitor’s center.
It offers informative displays, short videos and several large windows. And coffee! Once I learned they made coffee, I’d stop by on my way to Canyon, TX, each day. It’s just down the road, and I’d go to visit the library each afternoon. On the way I’d grab a cup of joe, toss 50 cents into their donation jar and chat with the people working the desk. Little routines like that mean a lot when on the road
That big window was about 6′-8′ foot across, the dark shading is a sun filter.
A map of the roadway and various hiking/cycling trails is found here – some trails are available for horseback riding too, and one is for horseback exclusively.
The rangers like to mention that this is the most visited Texas State park. The camping experience ranges from primitive tent camping at one end of the spectrum to 50-amp campgrounds on the other, or if you really want to spoil yourself: the cabins. A lot of work has been done in recent years upgrading the roads and adding buildings.
There is a camp store, with amenities and fuel, and recently the reception hall shown below was built. It has wifi that I hoped to use, but it could barely even handle email. This is not uncommon in out of the way areas, and it’s probably not the wifi connection as much as it is the internet bandwidth – they’re probably connected via a copper phone line.
It’s a 30 min drive from the canyon entrance to the farthest campground, which is where I stayed. And it’s a 30-min drive heading in the opposite direction to the town of Canyon, where I used the public library and bought supplies.
This new pavilion/reception hall stayed locked except for private parties, but sitting outside in the shade would still have made a great office if not for the lack of wifi and surplus of flies. Flies were an issue all down in the canyon, perhaps due to horses. They were bad in the morning and evening, but no much in between. I quickly learned to have my riding or hiking gear set up the night before, to avoid a lot of rummaging around the next morning while getting strafed by the little pests.
My campsite – with water faucet, fire ring and covered picnic table. It was too hot for car camping here. There were a dozen other sites nearby, but also far enough away for a sense of privacy. I secured the tarp over my tent during the day, for shade, but usually removed it at night for circulation and because sometimes the wind really picked up at night.
A stir of emotions hit my first night. It felt lonely. For six weeks since getting off the river, I’d slept in households teeming with people I know and love. Noisy households, with air conditioning, refrigerators, ovens, showers, a swimming pool. Now I’m in the woods, tent camping, getting buzzed by flies, it’s getting dark and to top it all off I go and bust a pole putting up my tent.
As is typical when things go south, I immediately think the worst. What am I doing out here? This is doomed. A trip like this sounds good, but the reality is that it can be lonely and it’s never cushy. What was I thinking! I’m more at home at a country club than a campground.
But it was getting dark, the bugs would be out in earnest soon, and there’s no whining allowed after dark. So I duct taped the tent pole best I could, set up camp, and made the most of it – and haven’t looked back.
This lifestyle is a bit like a cold swimming pool in that the longer you stare at it the colder it gets, and the tougher it is to take the plunge. You must dive in and then keep swimming. Good things are not guaranteed, but such is life.
It was spooky down in the canyon at night, there were a lot of noises – some due to wind (I think) and some to critters, including little white gnats that came around thick as thieves if a light was on. I’d lie in my tent at night, reading, and they’d come join me. I could barely see their tiny, whitish bodies hovering outside the mesh, but heard them bump up against the rain fly as they flew about in a frenzy. It sounded like light rain. I’d turn the light off and the noise went away, turn it back on and the noise returned. Was pleased to have a good tent, but also enjoyed their company. The rain noise made me sleepy.
Below are pics of one of the four cowpoke cabins down inside. I think they rent for $60 per night, versus $120 for the nicer ones on the rim. The lower ones sleep 4-6 people in bunk beds. This is cabin #4, and it struck me as the nicest location – more private, and with better views of sunrise and sunset.
Well marked bike trails, ranging from easy to intermediate.
Learned that the dirt is red due to metals in it that oxidize.
Heartily recommend this book of how settlers and Comanche battled during the years 1830-1880. This was indian country; the frontier back then was along a line running roughly from Dallas to San Antonio. Over the decades, the line moved westward, but occasionally slipped back – like during the civil war when soldiers were called away.
The Comanche were fierce warriors and expert horseman – they could shoot from under their mount’s neck and loose 20 arrows per minute. It wasn’t until the Texas Rangers obtained Colt repeating pistols in the 1840s that they finally began to hold their own. The Comanche would ride down to raid with four or five horses in tow, wreak havoc, then ride back north – changing to a new horse every 20 miles or so. They were hard to catch.
Quanah Parker was one of the fiercest. His white mother was kidnapped from her frontier home when still a girl, raised as a Commanche and married Quanah’s father . They had three children, but one day she was rescued and returned white society. Quanah never saw her again, but later learned of her surname and took it as his own. He was a great leader of his tribe. When his people ultimately ended their nomadic ways, he got built for himself a large wood frame house with a big star painted on the roof – for this is what he saw US Generals living in near the forts, and he deserved the same. He was a shrewd negotiator. When US authorities came to him and told him that he needed to have only one wife, not eight, his reply was, effectively: “You pick which seven need to leave, and then you tell them to go.”
He got to keep his eight wives.
From a hike up to the rim. Always amazing how even the thorniest cactus has blooms.
Courthouse in Canyon, Tx. The library was around the corner. Nice library, great staff.
Dined with my pal Evel one night in Canyon. I had chicken fried steak, he had raw hamburger with broken glass. Good times.
EarthRoamer in Palo Duro. Built on a Ford 550 truck chassis, it’s rugged on the outside and sleek on the inside. Not bad for a quarter million dollars, but not as nice as the RAV.
Heading southwest to Clovis, NM, through llano grasslands to Fort Sumner and Billy the Kidd museum. This is cattle country.