Day Trip to Caprock Canyons


Caprock Canyons State Park, at the southern end of Palo Duro Canyon, requires about 1 1/2 hours to drive from my house.  Yesterday, we met the Panhandle Native Plant Society there to investigate flowers and grasses.

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When we first arrived, it seemed blue might break through the cloud cover, but it did not.

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The park ranger took us to several different sites to identify different flower and grass species.  The above is an area which in the early 90s was a cotton field and has been restored with native vegetation.

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We drove to another area which remained “wild”–never cultivated.

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Then we drove to a picnic area overlooking the lake.  Close to there we found the poppy below.

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After lunch, we parted with the rest of the group and drove to the end of the road.  Martina had hoped to see bison–the state bison herd roams there.  At this point we had seen none. As I drove along, a bison bull was strolling down the road.  Martina took this photo from the side window.  He was only a couple of meters from the car.

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We stopped and took a few more photos where the road ends. I have hiked from this point in the past, but not yesterday.

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After leaving the park, we headed to Silverton, Texas, to visit a coffee shop there which was recently featured in a Texas magazine as the place to go.

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I loved the murals and sculptures.  The owner is a sculptor and also a raptor trainer. The shop features coffee, desserts, unique clothing, and art.

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On the way back we stopped at the Palo Duro Canyon overlook/picnic area on highway 207.

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If you are in the Amarillo or Canyon, Texas, area, I highly recommend this day trip.

 

 

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Spring Break Adventure–4


 

Today was the second day at Big Bend.  We spent most of the day in the Chisos Basin where the park lodge is located.  The four of us started the hike all the way to the “window” and two of us finished it, which enabled me to not only experience a hike full of wonder but also to get over 20000 on my Fitbit for the day.  I also have a sunburn now.  For this post I will just add photos with little comment.  Later I will add more details about this astonishing place.

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Although I took some of these photos, I did not take anything on the hike so thanks to a friend you are seeing some of these.  This is bear and mountain lion country so there are signs telling you what to do if you see one, hardly likely with so many people around.  However, all the campsites have metal containers in which to lock food from bears.

Spring Break Adventure–2


Today we went to MacDonald Observatory and signed up for a tour.  It was more than we imagined.

The views 360 degrees since you are at the top are, well, spectacular.

In the distance a cloud bank hung over the mountains.

I stood back to take a photo of the different buildings that house the actual telescopes.

We entered the building on the right which houses the 107 inch telescope and walked up 77 stair steps to see it.

 

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It is too large to get a photo of the entire telescope.  Depending on what the astronomers want to study, different parts are added and subtracted.  The room is temperature controlled between 40 and 50 degrees. The photo below shows another area with a different type of telescope currently under construction.

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After leaving here, we took a scenic drive in a circle through the mountains.

We were especially impressed with the unusual rock formations and the giant cotton wood trees of which we saw dozens along a stream bed.

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.

Day Trip to Lake Marvin and Canadian, Texas–Part Two


After eating lunch at the elementary school, two of us decided to go to the museum for which Canadian is famous, The Citadel.  Originally a Baptist Church, it lay in total disrepair until Dr. Abraham and his wife bought it, totally restored and converted it into their residence.  They gave it to the town as a museum and moved into another Victorian house which they totally restored.  The location of The Citadel currently contains the house, a gift shop, and another building which houses an art gallery.  First, you go to the gift shop to purchase tickets.  On this particular Fall Festival weekend, the Abrahams also open their actual residence to the public and take you on a personal tour themselves if you so desire.  Given my limited time, I purchased a ticket only for The Citadel.

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This door is one of the first things you will see if you walk to the entry gates from the south of the house.  Everything remains elegant, ornate and in a style one does not often see in this part of the United States.  Canadian is an exception; fancy, old houses are everywhere.

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The entry gate, looking across the lawn, provides a view of the property from front to back. Below is the face above the gate.

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These columns stand one block back from the entry gate.  The property equals one square block.  This quotation is inside the entry gate to the left.

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After buying my ticket at the gift shop, I headed to the museum and found the current show astonishing, impressive, and frequently hauntingly sad.  The entire gallery houses the photography of one person, James Mollison.  This young man decided to go to various countries taking photos of children and their bedrooms.  The complete collection was available for purchase in a book with details about the author’s interviews with all the children he photographed.  I bought one for my grandson.

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Although some of the photos showed children with beautiful bedrooms, living in relative ease and occasional opulence, most of the children lived in squalor or had no place to live at all except the street.  The boy below lives in Nepal. His entire family live in this room.

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The boy above lives in Cambodia.  They live in a shack above a river. When it rains a lot or flooding occurs, they have no place to go and everything floods.  The river provides water, food, washing, everything.

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This boy in Brazil lives and sleeps on the street.  If he is lucky, he finds a sofa outside on which to sleep.  To eat, he has to steal.

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Living in Italy remains anything but easy if you are Roma.  Although he has a family, they have no place to live so sleep on this mattress outside, the entire family.  Harassment necessitates frequent moving.  They live in a constant state of fear and desperation.

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From a tribe in the Amazon, this youngster actually lives with family and they do have a place to live.  However, modernization and the drive to harvest the various natural resources there threaten their traditional life and homeland.

After leaving the art gallery I headed across the lawn to the house, taking photos along the way.  This fountain is in a small side yard, just inside the gate.

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Once in the house, you can take photos but unfortunately with no flash.  Without a fancy camera, I gave up the idea of photography while in the house and just enjoyed the beauty of the art, the furniture, the exquisite rugs, one of which especially caught my eye.  I love rugs and own a few from Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, and a couple of Zapotec runners.  I am especially fond of rugs from the Middle East and know a little about them,  sometimes roaming  around rug shops for the joy of rug viewing somewhat like going to a museum to look at the art.  However, never have I seen a rug anything like the one that lay before me.  Entranced, I stared in awe.  First, the rug was huge; it filled the entire master suite.  In the center a shepherd and sheep stood with lions, deer, and various other animals around the border.  I found one of the ladies helping with tours; she knew nothing about the rug and sent me to the lady in the gift shop.  She didn’t either and told me to go down the street five blocks to where Dr. Abraham currently lives and ask him.  I informed her that I did not have a ticket to tour there and tour time was running out.  She told me to go anyway.

Mrs. Abraham provided a warm greeting. I explained I was ticketless and had only come to find out about the rug.  She told me an identical rug had been in the house where her husband grew up. However, the rug at The Citadel was not that rug.  Dr. Abraham’s brother  inherited the original rug when their father died.  She indicated they had bought the rug at an auction.  For more specifics, she instructed me to find Dr. Abraham in the kitchen.  When I found him, he was explaining to others about the tiles. I waited. He seemed delighted with my interest in the rug and told me about it.  His family was originally from Lebanon.  An identical rug was, indeed, in the house where he grew up.  In fact, he and his siblings used the rug for games they invented, hopping around from animal to animal. By the time his father died, the rug had become quite worn from all this use and his brother did inherit it.  Dr. Abraham loved the rug and was delighted when someone told him that they thought a similar, if not identical, rug was to be auctioned off in New Orleans. He went to the auction and purchased the rug which is in much better condition than the one from his childhood. He told me he knew little about rugs, but was quite sure he had been told it was from Damascus.  Since the trip to Canadian, I researched rugs a bit,but cannot find the origin of this rug.  I intend to keep trying.

All this exploration with the rug caused me to leave Canadian considerably later than planned. The drive from Canadian to Miami, Texas, provides somewhat dramatic scenery typical of much of the west with an occasional richness of trees and green quite unexpected and delightful.  The following photographs were taken during this drive.

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The Canadian River with the bluffs on the other side.

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It appeared as if someone had built a cairn at the summit of this odd little hill.  In the middle of nowhere, who could I ask.

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Day Trip to Marvin Lake and Canadian, Texas–Part One


Two weeks ago, I joined the local Native Plant Society group for a trip to Lake Marvin east of Canadian, Texas, near the Oklahoma border.  Lake Marvin is located in the Black  Kettle National Grassland  which includes land in both Texas and Oklahoma. This national grassland’s name comes from the Southern Cheyenne Chief by the same name.  An aging chief, he had attempted to make peace with whites and had been guaranteed protection by the head officer at a nearby US Army Fort.  He, along with old men, children, and women was massacred by Lt. Colonel Armstrong Custer and his troops in Custer’s first great “success” as an Indian fighter.  It was an easy battle; the Indians had been assured their safety at this encampment.  They were totally unprepared.  Black Kettle attempted to meet the soldiers and flew a white peace flag as well as a US flag over his teepee. He and his wife were mowed down in a barrage of bullets.  The massacre is called the Battle of the Washita because the Indian encampment was on the Washita River which flows through the grassland.

Those of us who live in the Panhandle of Texas become accustomed to the lack of trees and semi arid climate.  It is always a huge surprise to find those rare spots with numerous trees, water, and thick vegetation. Lake Marvin and much of the area near Canadian provide a total contrast to what we usually see.  JR  Bell, an expert on native grasses and plants, lead the hike around Lake Marvin, a manmade lake constructed for conservation purposes in the 1930’s on Boggy Creek.   Regretfully, I failed to carry a pen and pad to write down the name of all the grasses, some of which exist in the area where I live and others I had never seen before.  Perhaps some of you who read this will be able to identify the various grasses which include blue grama, side oats grama–the state grass of Texas, little blue stem, and two other species of blue stem, switch grass, buffalo grass, and wheat grass.  Unfortunately, Johnson grass, a non-native,  invasive species, also grows near the edges of the lake.

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The hike began near what was once the water’s edge before silt and drought made the lake half its original size.  Johnson grass, the outsider, is not too difficult to identify because of the bright maroony red on the leaves.  This enables an non-expert like me to differentiate among Johnson grass and a few other similar looking species.  While I tried to listen and watch grass identification, rather quickly I realized that without pen and paper remembering all of them would be impossible so I focused on photographing the natural beauty surrounding me.

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No one told me the origin or purpose of the abandoned buildings up the hill from the lake.  The change in flora one sees by facing the hill rather than toward the lake is amazing.  One could almost draw an imaginary line with certain grasses and shrubs on one side and totally different ones on the other.  The magic key, as always, is water.  Where I live, two hours away, no sage brush grows.  Here on the hillside, it grows everywhere with various grasses, some rather small and semi hidden, interspersed.

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I learned several keys to identifying grasses:  seed heads, texture of leaves and stems–some rough and others smooth, size of leaves and stems, some variations in color.  Height helps but does not necessarily determine differences because the same grass species can vary depending on amount of water and type of soil.  The amount and size of the trees continually astonished me, like this tunnel through the trees, something I never expected to see in the Panhandle.

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Where I grew up in northwestern Missouri, huge black walnut trees grow everywhere.  I recall exploring the walnut grove on the farm repeatedly as a child.  I certainly never expected to see them on this little trip.  Suddenly, astonished me stood there surrounded.

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While these trees never reach the size of the ones where I grew up and the nuts remain considerably smaller, here they stood, their distinctive leaves giving them away.  Before I went away to college, every autumn, we picked up the nuts, cleaned them–while the outside is a lovely lime green, the area between the seed and outside, is a sticky, dark brown mess which makes excellent natural dark brown dye, and cracked them to retrieve the meat inside.  Black walnut nuts are much harder than English walnuts and cracking them requires a hammer and something really hard on which to place the nut. After I left home, every year Mom spent hours working on these nuts and brought me at least a pound at Christmas, a true labor of love.  They are especially tasty with in recipes with chocolate or bananas.

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The hike provided continual surprises, a boggy pool, persimmon trees, a plant whose leaves resembled miniature spectacles, a grass so fine and thick in a glade between the trees that it looked like a tiny patch of fog on the ground, and poison ivy.

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Persimmons.

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This particular tree was loaded with persimmons.

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Cattails in the background.

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When I first walked up to this spot, the fine grass toward the back of the photo looked exactly like a tiny patch of fog nestled in a miniature glade among the trees.

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We took off from the main trail especially to come to this cottonwood tree, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the Panhandle. Over a hundred years ago this tree stood as the sentinel for the overland trail that went through this area.  The military, ranchers, and Native Americans all used the trail across this area of the plains.  The tree’s height enabled it to be seen for miles and helped travelers keep on their way with accuracy.  Once we reached the end of the main trail, some of the group took off in their vehicles while a few went on around the lake.  It saddened me to see so much of it dried up and old tires sticking out of the dried mud.  However, along the way, we saw numerous trees I could not identify.  The bark of this tree is particularly distinctive.

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This field trip coincided with the fall festival held annually in the small town of Canadian which gets its name from the Canadian River which flows beside the town.  The town is unique in the number of large, elaborate Victorian houses there.  Several of us ended the trip at the local elementary school with a big craft fair and a barbecue lunch.