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2004Travelogue # 19 Canyon, TX & Palo Duro Canyon
Amarillo Ranch RV Park.
Places of Interest:
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, The Pioneer Amphitheatre, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum
7/8 Palo Duro Canyon and State Park, about 40 miles southeast of Amarillo, was our destination today after a stop in Canyon City at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. Since we eat first and tour second, we looked for a luncheon place in Canyon City. We turned off US 87 onto 4th Street and immediately spotted a small blue and white diner, with lettering on the front window reading, Cope's Coney Island, Hot off the Grill. Judging by the amount of pickups in the tiny parking lot, Cope's passed the "ant test".
Upon entering the narrow diner, we saw 12 to 15 stools at the counter, with the cook standing in front working at the griddle; six booths lined the wall behind the stools. Finding an empty booth at the end of the row, we noticed this little place had both front and back doors and a constant flow of people in both directions.
Our booth, near the back door, was across from the cash register, which was run by a short, gray-haired gentleman in a white apron, appearing to be the proprietor. In between customers, I asked him, if he was Cope. He said, "No, that's the last name of my partner Wayne, my name is Troub." He said they decided in '87 to open a little diner, looked around Canyon and saw that it had plenty of hamburger and pizza places but no Coney Island hotdogs. Troub said, "We make our own chili for the dogs and burgers and if you ain't busy at lunchtime, you're in trouble." Well, he certainly did his business with the locals. I noticed the dusty jeans, well-worn boots and spurs of a cowboy paying his bill at the register, who then headed for the backdoor and his pickup.
After lunch, we drove east a couple of blocks on 4th Street to West Texas A & M University, which for years was known as West Texas State Teachers College, to visit the acclaimed Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, (www.panhandleplains.org). This is the largest history museum in Texas and a must for anyone who enjoys history.
The building, with its entrance on 4th Street, was built during the 1930's Art-Deco Era. Upon entering, we stood in a majestic, two-story room, where murals depicted significant events in the history of the Plains. The Museum is three stories tall plus a basement. The top floor, a Research Center, holds the history records documenting the Texas Panhandle and the Southwest region. The building is divided into theme sections, making it easy to choose those areas of interest. Of course, I like it all and could spend hours there. We paid our entrance fee and started exploring.
The People of the Plains is the newest exhibit, chronicling 14,000 years of human occupation on the High Plains. It contrasts the different ways various cultures solved their need for water, food, shelter, clothing, trade and transportation.
It was fascinating to experience the Texas Oil boom of the 20's and 30's in the Petroleum Section and to see how scrubby ranchland was transformed into oil-soaked patches, bristling with drilling rigs, such as in the area of Borger, Texas.
Here, in this section, was a wonderful piece of history, an actual wooden 1927 vintage Cable Tool Drilling Rig used in the Plains until 1935. In the early days of drilling rigs, this was a piece of master carpentry, with its 87-foot-high derrick to hoist the pipe and drilling equipment and the 7,000 lb. wooden "band wheel" as the rig's power transfer device. The "wheel" looked very much like a wooden ox- cart wheel and was powered by a long leather belt connected to a steam engine. All rigs had a "walking beam", a huge wooden beam that rocked up and down to provide the drilling action for the well.
Sitting in front of the rig was an old, black flatbed, 1925 Model T Ford truck, with pieces of drilling equipment in its bed. This same type of pickup was used by Jett Rink, played by actor James Dean, in the movie Giant, when he was soaked to the skin in black crude, after hitting a gusher on his small piece of property.
Another interesting exhibit was Windmills In the West, which you don't see in many museums. The American Windmill, born in New England in 1854, was the first successful self-governing windmill to turn to face the wind and control its speed. The windmill changed the High Plains from an arid region with no water source other than the regional rivers and springs. Drilling a water-well and placing a windmill on it, provided adequate water supply. The original, Star Windmill, was on exhibit; this was the common type used in the Texas landscape during the 1800's.
In this diorama, was a Windmiller's Camp. It was the miller's job to erect and maintain windmills. He was gone weeks at a time, living in the field, beside the windmills he was attending. This exhibit had the base of a windmill with the wooden bladed wheel next to it; various parts of the mill lay in the dirt around the wellhead. There was also an old "windmiller's wagon", an original from the XIT Ranch in the western Panhandle, on display. The wagon was multi-functional, serving as a chuck wagon, small blacksmith shop and wood-working shop, as well as, caring all the tools needed to repair the windmill.
In another section, on ranching, we discovered that The Palo Duro Canyon was the beginning of the Charles Goodnight and John Adair ranch; known as the JA Ranch and one of the largest in the region, covering parts of Armstrong and Donley counties. Goodnight lived from 1836 to 1929 and was one of the early settlers, coming to Texas in 1845. During the 50's and 60's he served in the Texas Rangers and in a Frontier Regiment chasing Indians that raided the northwest region of Texas. After the Civil War, Goodnight drove cattle from Texas north and partnered with John Adair, a wealthy Englishman. Goodnight had the knowledge of the Palo Duro and Adair had the money so, it was a partnership that worked for the times. The JA Ranch had its beginnings in 1876.
John Adair married Cornelia Ritchie. There is a beautiful oil painting of her on exhibit, painted in 1894. She succeeded her husband, after his early death, as partner to Charles Goodnight on the JA Ranch.
When I first looked at the painting and read the name, Cornelia Ritchie Adair, it struck a memory electron, but it passed quickly. Walking on, I came to a bronze bust of M.H.W."Montie"Ritchie and the electron reactivated. Montie is the grandson of John and Cornelia Adair and the owner/ manager of the JA Ranch. The electron was now in full recall; I remembered that in the early 90's I had lunch with Montie and his tax attorney in Dallas and helped him with several investments. The attorney informed me before lunch that he owned a big ranch in the Panhandle but it never really registered until today. This was the gentleman and the big ranch, to which my attorney friend referred.
While reading the Goodnight information, I noticed a set of longhorns on the wall and a swatch of gray cowhide. It was "Old Blue". This gray colored steer was retired to the JA Ranch in 1877 where he lived until 1890. His horns hung in the JA Ranch office for many years but now they're in the Panhandle-Plains Museum. Not bad for "Old Blue", I know he's proud.
The Southwestern Art Gallery section was featuring a Taos and Santa Fe collection. While viewing the Gallery, we came across lithographs and paintings by Gerald Cassidy (1879-1934). We have an original lithograph my father received, from a relative of Cassidy's, many years ago. Cassidy, born in Cincinnati, moved to Albuquerque in 1890, seeking relief from tuberculosis. He moved to Santa Fe in 1912, becoming its third resident artist. He painted murals for the Panama-California International Exposition in 1915 and was commissioned to paint for the Santa Fe Railway. Many of his works hang in the La Fonda Hotel on the plaza in Santa Fe. Cassidy was probably the best known of the original three founders of the Santa Fe Art Colony.
Of course, we couldn't get out of the Museum without finding something related
to food. There is an exhibit called, Diners and Drive-Ins. In the early days,
drive-ins were places to get a cold drink and something to eat. The Pig Stand,
opening in Dallas on Greenville Ave. in 1921, is thought to be the first drive-in.
It offered curbside service with "car-hops". They were called "car-hops"
because they hopped onto running boards to take orders and then delivered food
trays, which attached to the car window. The first "car-hops" were
B.J. Kirby's father started this Pig Stand on Greenville Ave in Dallas, but B.J. eventually took over the family business and changed the format to a steakhouse. We knew B.J. and enjoyed dining at Kirby's Steakhouse. When B.J. retired, he sold his restaurant. It was remodeled and is now one of Dallas's finest upscale steakhouses. However, it still serves BJ's signature house salad dressing, his Thousand Island/Garlic Dressing.
What a pleasant afternoon we had in this wonderful museum! But, now it was time to move on, to the "Grand Canyon of Texas". Palo Duro Canyon is 120 miles long, 800 feet deep and the second largest canyon in the United States. Driving toward the Park, about 15 miles east of Canyon on SH 217, we saw nothing but flat prairie with not a hint of a canyon anywhere. Then suddenly, back to the north, we began to see the fork of the Red River, known as Prairie Dog Town Fork, take shape and it got larger and larger as we approached the State Park entrance. The scenic drive began upon entering the Park and continued to the bottom of the Canyon.
Along the way, we stopped at an observation site which included a Visitors Center. Standing at the overlook, watching the sun go down, the colors were breathtaking on the 250 million-year-old bright red clay stone, white gypsum and the yellow, gray and lavender mudstone. It only took the Prairie Dog Town Fork a little less than a million years to cut this canyon out of the High Plains. From this site on the rim, we could see that the common trees throughout the Canyon were Juniper trees. It's from these trees that the Canyon received its name; from the Spanish word "Palo Duro", meaning hardwood.
Palo Duro Canyon is rich in Texas history with early Native American tribes such as the Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne occupying the Canyon. After Col. Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry in 1874 rounded up the last of the Native Americans and moved them to Oklahoma, Charles Goodnight and John Adair entered the Canyon and acquired the land to start the JA Ranch that supported over 100,000 head of cattle.
After soaking up the majestic view, we proceeded down a steep 10% grade to the floor of the Canyon, parking near the entrance of The Pioneer Amphitheatre. We had reservations for the 8:30 performance of the Texas Legacies, leaving plenty of time to enjoy some outdoor Texas BBQ.
When parking our car, a young couple parked in front, and popped out of their car at the same time; we visited while walking toward the BBQ. They were Ben Solomon and Lauren Barab from Richardson, TX. Lauren grew up in the Lake Highlands area and went to the same high school as our children. They asked to join us for dinner and we had a wonderful conversation. They were on their way to Grand Lake, Colorado and had pitched their tent in the Park for overnight. At one point during dinner, when Lauren was away from the table, Ben had an opportunity to reveal his surprise engagement plans. He had the "ring" with him and at some point in the trip, he would "pop" the question. We felt privileged and excited to be in on the surprise. They were a cute couple and we enjoyed meeting and being with them. (About a month later, we received an email from Lauren saying that she said, "Yes".)
Texas Legacies is a one of a kind musical production in its 39th season, with 80 singers and dancers. It steps back into the Old West days in the Texas Panhandle, its people and their gritty determination to hang on to the Texas frontier. The stage is a natural setting against the backdrop of the Palo Duro Canyon in the beautiful 1,700-seat Pioneer Amphitheatre. In the opening scene of this epic production, a team of horses pulls a western band in a covered wagon onto the stage. There's a Texas-size thunderstorm during the show with a lightning bolt that strikes a huge tree, back in the canyon. Galloping horses with rippling flags on top the bluff add to the exciting and dynamic production, and fireworks give an explosive ending. It's well worth the $12 ticket.
Bob & Peggy Woodall