It's flat in West Texas...except when it's not.

After leaving a great stay in Little Rock, we set off west on I-40, stopping overnight near Elk City, Oklahoma. The campground was located on Route 66, right next to I-40. There were a couple of Route 66 museums in the area, but they didn’t look enticing enough to tempt us to hang around another day to experience them. So we continued to push west the next morning. Vance has already coined the expression, “get your kicks ~ on Route 66”!

Once we crossed over into Texas, we stopped at a rest area outside of Amarillo (Yellow, in Spanish). This was one of the more interesting rest stops we’ve been to. Sitting on the edge of a small canyon, and buried mostly underground, it was a wonderful stop. Inside was a small but comprehensive museum. The focus was on the settlement of the region; the impact that the invention of the pump windmill and barbed wire had on the area and a great review of the role wind power is starting to play in the Texas Panhandle.

The Panhandle experiences winds that average 16 mph+, which is ideal for generating electricity. Large wind farms are springing up like mushrooms in the Panhandle region. We had passed a large wind farm in Wetherford, Oklahoma, and skirted another one just past this rest area. Outside, power for the rest area was generated largely by a 50kw wind turbine.

Since then we’ve seen another Texas rest stop with a wind turbine, so this must be an initiative the state is pushing. There certainly is plenty of wind.

Just outside of Amarillo, we pulled into the KOA campground. I always get a kick out of how campgrounds position themselves in their advertising. For example, this particular KOA described itself as ‘only a couple of miles off I-40, but far enough away so you won’t hear any freeway traffic.

It sounded great (pun intended).

What they failed to mention was the campground was bordered by the Amarillo airport (plus a military airbase) on one side, and a frequently traveled railroad line on the other. Actually, it wasn’t all that bad, and it was interesting to watch the fighter jets take off and maneuver. The campground was quite nice, in case it sounds like I’m slighting it. We met another home schooling family there that was taking a several week trip around the southwest.

We got setup early enough that we had plenty of time to explore. In the campground literature was a blurb about Palo Duro Canyon State Park, touted as the 2nd largest canyon in the United States. This seemed rather improbable as the area was flat as a board, and we hadn’t seen as much as a small stream since mid-Oklahoma. Intrigued, we decided to investigate.

The canyon was about a 45 min drive from the campground, and literally falls away from the board flat land surrounding it. It’s not a deep canyon by western standards, averaging a depth of 600-800 feet. However, it is a very long canyon – 120 miles long, and in places as wide as 20 miles.

The canyon was carved out by the a river that you could step across several times in the time it takes to say it’s name, the “Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River”. Although flood gauge posts gave a good idea that big floods are commonplace, it’s a tiny stream, not much bigger than the small branches at our farm! It seems beyond belief that such a small body of water could carve such a massive canyon.

Our first stop at the canyon was at an overlook at the State Park Visitor Center (which unfortunately had closed by the time we got there). After taking in the rim side view, we started walking back to the car. All of a sudden Vance pulls up short, reaches out to stop us, and very quietly and calmly points in front of him.

Laying on the sidewalk was a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake…

I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of Vance than at that moment.

After backing up to a safe distance and warning others in the area of the snake’s presence, we snapped off a few pictures. The snake turned into quite the tourist attraction for the next few minutes as a crowd gathered to watch him. The snake didn’t seem to mind, and after sunning himself, finally slithered off into the grasses.

Our snake encounter has apparently set off some deeply repressed phobias within Denise. After having faced her fears and coming to terms with all the black, water and corn snakes at the farm, she has regressed. Apparently, huge, terrifying poisonous cottonmouth water moccasins lurked around every corner in her East Texas childhood home, and now their friends (the rattlers) have all taken a road trip to torment her in West Texas. Her snake count is now up to 3, and every hill, spring or canyon out here is named Rattlesnake this or Rattlesnake that. The appearance of the dreaded black shredded ‘tire snake’ along the highway will cause her to start and shudder. Vance finds all of this quite humorous, and never passes up an opportunity to torment his Mom. He loves to tell her, “Mom, you need to face your fear”!

After a pretty drive down into the canyon, we crossed paths with a coyote on the road. He ran off before we could get a good picture from the truck.

All in all, an eventful afternoon!

Just before we packed up to pull out the next day, there was a gawd-awful racket coming from the sky. I looked up, and saw a V-22 Osprey coming into the airport. The Osprey is a combination plane/helicopter, and it was in helicopter mode coming in for landing. The aircraft has been controversial, as well as plagued by safety issues (it’s had several crashes). I tried to find Vance, but wasn’t able to in time, but Denise got a look. It was an unusual and unexpected sight!

Onward to New Mexico…Land of Enchantment…
and rattlesnakes!

I make no apologies for having a fear of snakes.

I haven’t met many women who are overly fond of them. My friend, Wanda Spinks, has a catch all phrase for snakes – they’re cottonmouth, copper headed, water rattlers!

It’s true ~ I have a greater appreciation for snakes after having lived in Georgia and North Carolina for longer than I lived in Texas! In my opinion, Texas has real snakes and they like to come out and say, “howdy, partner”. When I was a little girl I was swinging in our backyard and a snake slithered up and coiled in the sandy dirt area ~ the exact spot where your feet hang closest to the ground when you’re swinging. What are your choices: scream, jump and run like hell.

If you wanted to go outside and play in Texas, chances were good that you would encounter a snake. If you went fishing, chances were excellent that you would share that experience with snakes. If you were picking blackberries, “watch out for snakes”.

Thus, it held true in Palo Duro Canyon. If you set out to do a little sightseeing in Texas, chances are good you’ll see a snake. We did. I just wasn’t anticipating a rattlesnake!

Vance is right. I do need to face my fear of snakes. I know all the rules: give a snake a wide berth, watch where you put your hands and where you step in rocky areas, leave snakes alone and they’ll leave you alone. My motto is ~ Don’t Mess With Texas (especially their snakes)!

Okay, folks...I’m taking a deep breath. I’m working on my self-talk. I’m in the Southwest. This is the desert and this is rattlesnake territory. Do not be afraid. Rattlesnakes are under appreciated and the Park Service sponsors a ranger program to explain why. I’ll take their word for it and pass on the slide show.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that this region is also home to tarantulas and scorpions?

Vance: The Palo Duro Canyon is very long. First we stopped at an observation area. We were coming back from the lookout when I saw a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. We gave it plenty of room to go by, but some people wouldn’t leave him alone. Those people, man, they should have left him alone!

We saw many campgrounds down in the canyon. There were also people playing near the flood gages. At the end of the drive through the canyon, we read a sign about an Indian battle that wasn’t much a battle. Finally, on our way out, we saw a coyote but never got a picture of him.


Prev - Taking the Waters | Home | Index | The Hike From Hail - Next

We support the following organizations...