Tag Archives: Texas

Find the Texas of Your Imagination in Amarillo

If you’re a fan of western literature and movies, put Amarillo, Texas, and the surrounding Panhandle of northwest Texas on your travel “to do” list.  The longhorn cattle you may see trotting down Polk Street, the rickety old windmills pumping water for cattle and the dry, rugged terrain makes you think Clint Eastwood will ride up on his horse any time and squint into the sunset.

But this is no movie, nor it this a place of where folks don western wear but have never seen a ranch. Instead, it’s easy to find a true taste of the American west here among real life cowboys and cowgirls whose roots and ranches go back to the mid-1800s and the first cattle drives.   

Palo Duro Canyon

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Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the U.S.

Head first to Palo Duro Canyon, this country’s second largest canyon, gouged into the flat, dry terrain not far from Amarillo.  In Palo Duro Canyon State Park you’ll find great hiking and plenty of animals including bobcats, roadrunners and Texas horned lizards.  Hikers may also come across the park’s resident longhorn cattle T-Bone, Brisket and Omelette (members of the state’s longhorn herd).  Or, they might find a dugout shelter that early ranchers used despite the fact that this was the winter home of the Comanche.  In 1874, the ultimate struggle between white settlers and the native Comanche played out in the brutal Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.  The army destroyed the Comanches’ supplies, slaughtered their horses and eventually sent them to reservations in Oklahoma, 51M2Q6nfcjL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_a story told in S.C. Gwynne’s bestseller, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.

Then in 1876, Charles Goodnight (the inspiration for the Woodrow Call character in Larry McMurtry’s classic novel, Lonesome Dove) opened the famous JA Ranch in the canyon.  At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle on 1.5 million acres and remains a working ranch today.  The park, originally part of that ranch, opened in 1934. 

 

History Behind the Texas Tales

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A statue of Molly Goodnight and buffalo at the Goodnight Historical Center

You’ll find more about Charles Goodnight and his wife Molly, one of history’s unsung 51648G4EeqL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_western women, at the Charles Goodnight Historical Center on their ranch in what is now Goodnight, Texas. The buffalo still roam this ranch, saved from extinction by Molly Goodnight’s efforts. In addition to Lonesome Dove, history buffs will want to pick up a copy of J. Evetts Haley’s Goodnight biography Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman.

To gain a better understanding of the sweep of Panhandle history, point your wagon toward the fabulous Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in the town of Canyon.  It’s Texas’s oldest and largest history museum and lies on the campus of West Texas A&M University.  Its vast collection includes dinosaur skeletons, pioneer life exhibits, memorabilia of the great Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, oil derricks, antique cars and western art including works by O’Keefe, who lived in the area for a time.  Like guns?  They have an immense collection.

Saddle Up

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Phyllis Nickum of Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West

Still, Panhandle life must be experienced from the saddle.  There’s no better way to do that than to ride with Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West at Los Cedros Ranch.  Owner Phyllis Nickum and her crew welcome visitors from around the world to this working ranch on the edge of the canyon.

From atop her in her golden palomino, Jake, she explains the story of the vanquished.  “This is the sacred home of the most powerful Indian tribe and greatest horsemen in American history, the Comanche.  History books are written by the victors so I do my part to infuse the majesty of the tribe in the story.”  She also calls attention to the strength and endurance of the women of western history—women like Molly Goodnight and Stagecoach Mary who are often overlooked in story of the west. 

Back in Amarillo, you can see Nickum cheering on her ranch hands when they participate in a series of lively ranch rodeos that culminates with the World Championships in November.  You’ll see bronc riding, wild cow milking, stray gathering, team penning and the mutton busting competition in which tiny kids cling on for a sheep ride. “Toughens ’em up,” says Nickum.  

Amarillans take pride in another era of Panhandle history, the glory days of Route 66. 

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Serving up a 72 oz. steak at the Big Texan

Amarillo, the largest Texas city on the route, commemorates its place on the “Mother Road” and maintains the Route 66 Historic District on Sixth Avenue.  It features a mile of art galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars in historic buildings.The giant-bull-topped Big Texan Steak Ranch relocated from its original Route 66 home to its current sprawling spot on I-40 but retains every bit of its outsized personality.  Keep an eye out for carnivores attempting to consume the 72 oz. steak.  Eat it in one hour and your meal is free.  Wash it down with a Whoop Your Donkey Double IPA and a side of mountain oysters.  

There’s much that’s new in Amarillo, too, including breweries, a jazz club, cool coffee shops, and some trendy restaurants and hotels.  A minor league baseball park with a Double-A Texas League team will open in time for the 2019 season.  Finally, the new Dove’s Rest Resort offers cushy cabins on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon that make a great place to stay, relax and keep an eye out for Clint Eastwood.

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A Short Visit at O. Henry’s Tiny House in Austin, Texas

Before William Sydney Porter, aka O. Henry wrote his famous short story “The Gift of the Magi,” he lived for a few years in Austin, Texas. The tiny house he rented survives as a museum. It’s tucked in right next to the giant Hilton Austin in the center of town and this property looks like it would have great potential to become a parking lot or fast food joint, and in fact it barely missed the wrecking ball back in the 1930s.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post on authors’ homes, the places where famous authors SONY DSClived are often a disappointment compared to the places they describe in their books.  And,  a huge modern building right next door doesn’t help you envision the author’s life as it was in the 1800s.  Nonetheless, if you’re in Austin, you should pay a call at Porter’s house, if only to get a taste of how people lived at the time. The price is right, too.  It’s free, but please make a donation when you leave.

While he resided here (1893 to 1895), Porter made his living drawing maps for the General Land Office and publishing a paper called the Rolling Stone (quite different from the current publication of that name).  Before you go, be sure to read a couple of his most famous stories–“The Gift of the Magi” or “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

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William Sydney Porter, aka O. Henry

Ah, the symbolism. If Porter could see his tiny home now, wedged in next to the giant hotel, I’m sure he would find inspiration for another story.

 

 

Beyond Austin into the Texas Hill Country

A Texas Longhorn Grazing in the Hill Country

Though the South by Southwest music, film and interactive fest has dominated Austin lately, the city has has a ton to offer year-round including great food, shopping, and music coming out of every doorway on 6th Street. In addition, if you have an extra day on your visit to Austin, you’ll find plenty to see, do and eat in the Hill Country west of Austin. It offers a chance to see the Texas countryside, with stunning wildflowers in spring, and even a few longhorn cattle.

Head first to Fredericksburg, a charming town that German settlers founded back in the mid-1800s. A trip down Main Street there is like a walk back into the old west, lined with historic limestone buildings, but with cute shops that cater to tourists on the inside. If it’s hot, you’ll find plenty of beer gardens and craft beer to slake your thirst.

The Texas White House of LBJ

Turn back in the direction of Austin, and pay a visit at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Ranch, home of our 36thPresident, and known as the Texas White House during his presidency.   Be sure to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream or Billy Lee Brammer’s, The Gay Place which is about Texas politics and Lyndon Johnson to get the most out of your visit here. The ranch is now operated by the National Park Service. You can tour both an historic Texas farm and the Texas White House, circa 1968. It’s a great way to get off the road and see what a Texas ranch looks like, get a look at the lovely Pedernales River, and see the ranch house as it was, right down to the clothes in the closets.

End your day with a stop in Driftwood at the legendary rib joint and meat-lovers heaven, the Salt Lick. (Cash only and B.Y.O.B. or purchase a beer and wine a the wine bar next door.)