Volunteering at Palo Duro Canyon


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In front of the Visitor’s Center with Eduardo and Gaston, exchange students who lived with me several years ago.

 

Occasionally, I volunteer in the gift shop at Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States.  If  individuals drove through Amarillo on I-40 through the endless flat prairie land and never ventured far, they would not even be able to dream up this canyon only twenty miles away.  To get there, you have to drive through more flat land, covered in wheat pasture, corn, milo, and the few remaining pastures of native grass.  You can see for miles; you can even see the taller buildings in Amarillo which are not all that tall.  Then, unexpectedly the land opens up, cliffs appear.  The first time you see it, you feel astonishment.  Nothing you see on the way there prepares you.  Years ago Battelle Memorial Institute sent me on a business trip to Amarillo.  People told me I should go see the big canyon.  I laughed to myself, thinking they must be just talking about a large arroyo.  When I finally did drive down, my mouth gaped in shock.  How could this be?

Palo Duro Canyon is still being created by water erosion.  The Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River (no I did not make this name up) runs through it.  Barely a running stream now with the drought, when a big summer thunderstorm blasts it fury, this river can rise ten feet almost immediately.  When it does this, campers remain stranded inside the park until the river calms down because to get into the park, depending how far in you go,  you have to literally cross the river repeatedly.  Because of this, they have decided to build bridges across the five water crossings.  Some of us who love driving through the water find this innovation unacceptable.

Today, I volunteered from 1-5.  People came in from Indiana, Minnesota, Ecuador, south Florida–on a trip to Californian and back, Ohio, Germany–a young woman working as a nanny here.  Usually, I meet even more people from other countries, especially European countries.  When I ask the Germans in particular how they know about this place, they tell me Palo Duro Canyon and its history is featured on the Internet there.  Here come all these people from far away and I have students who live a mere 25 miles away and have never seen it.  The family from Indiana came because their daughter wants to attend West Texas A & M University in Canyon, Texas–named after the canyon of course.  She told me she wants to bring her horse and WT is one of the few universities in the country where you can major in agriculture and participate in an extensive horse program.  She exuded excitement and enthusiasm.

In the midst of chatting with all these visitors, I noticed the unusual behavior of one woman in particular.  She had medium grey hair pulled back in a ponytail with hair a lighter shade of grey framing her face. All her clothes were dark grey.  She walked to the book area–we sell a lot of books, and started flipping slowly through several of them.  She picked them up as if they were delicate flowers or fragile glass.  She held them as if she thought they might break if she held them tight.  When she put one up to look at another, it appeared as if she barely touched them.   She never smiled, just looked and looked and looked.  She did not buy a book.

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