TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL
The Texas Plains Trail spans a vast area of the High Plains region of Texas. The table land is called the Llano Estacado, an ancient Spanish term generally interpreted to mean “staked plains.” Much of the Trail slices through what residents call the “Golden Spread,: a reference to this immensely rich agricultural, mineral, and industrial region. Geographically this is the southern-most extension of the Great Plains of the United States.
Once the entire plains were grasslands. Not a fence was to be seen, not a single tree or shrub grew on the tablelands - only grass, as trackless as the sea. A branch of the great Comanche War Trail swept across the expanse, and herds of buffalo wandered at will. Man wiped out the buffalo and overstocked the range with cattle. Grazed too closely by cattle confined within fences, the immensely valuable tall native grasses were destroyed, leaving only the less desirable short species.
Not far below the surface, plentiful irrigation water is one source of nature’s bounty in this region. Other subterranean treasures are reservoirs of oil and natural gas. Trail drivers often will see evidence of both resources as they follow the route laid out here.
Travelers on the High Plains can be sure of one thing; the land will be nearly table flat except in areas where it has been disturbed by erosive influences. And therein lies some of the greatest geographical drama of the plains, since the erosion has carved spectacular canyon landscapes.
Because of space limitations descriptions are devoted mainly to interpretation of the driving routes. before setting out, Trail drivers should acquire a free coy of the Texas State Travel Guide, which provides complementary details about many of the cities and towns along the route. An Official Highway Travel map will also be useful. Additional details can be found within the Texas_Mall by merely searching the cities under alphabetical order. However, the maps and other information may be obtained by contacting the Texas Travel Information Center.
For even more information about local accommodations campgrounds, and tourist activities, visit the chambers of commerce listed in this piece.
The starting point is the city of Lubbock, the major metropolitan area on the Trail. The route description is presented in a clockwise direction. However, the Trail is designed so that it may be started at any point and driven in either direction by carefully consulting the accompanying map and descriptive copy. See the map legend for information about special Trail signs and arrows.
Population is 186,206 and the altitude is 3,241
Viewing the broad, clean metropolitan area of Lubbock, it is difficult to believe that the city was founded as the result of a squabble between two land companies and that its early years saw little growth and many troubles with prairie fires, sandstorms, and droughts.
Lubbock today is one of Texas’ major cities, a modern metropolis that has managed to retain neatness and order along with accelerating growth. A remarkable overall cleanliness is one of the firs things visitors notice. Then the beauty of the broad, landscaped boulevards and modern businesses contributes its own pleasant effect.
Lubbock is the hometown of rock and roll star Buddy Holly, and a statue at the entrance to the civic center, at 8th Street and Avenue Q, honors him. At the same location, “Walk of Fame” bronze plaques honor people from the West Texas area who have made significant contribution s in the entertainment industry.
Lubbock Lake Archeological Site, at Loop 289 and North Indiana Avenue, is a national historic landmark. Interpretive center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tues. through Sat. 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tours of archeological area only when work is in progress. Admission is charged.
Wine-tasting tours are available at all three Lubbock wineries. The Llano Estacado Winery, about 3 miles east of US 87 on FM 1585, has tours every half hour from 10 - 4 Monday - Saturday and from 12 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Teysha Cellars is south of Lubbock on Woodrow Road just east of US 87. Tours are from 10 to 5 p.m. Tues. through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday;; closed Monday. Named for the majestic wild birds spotted in the area, Pheasant ridge Winery is a few miles north of Lubbock. From I-27, exit on FM 1729 and go 2 miles east and 1 mile south. Tours are 10 to 4 p.m. the second Saturday of each month or by appointment.
o get your Trail experience started off right, don’t miss the Museum of Texas Tech University and the adjacent National Ranching Heritage Center, both of which offer a superb interpretation of what’s in store - Panhandle history on an epic scale, the dramatic geography and geology of the region, and the state’s foremost collection of pioneer ranch structures.
For full details on area attractions, visit the Lubbock Convention and Visitors Bureau, at 1120 Fourteenth Street, and consult the Lubbock area located here in Texas-On-LIne.
The Trail route leaving Lubbock offers views of many fine homes and landscaped gardens, passin g Lubbock Christian College and Reese Air Force Base. (1) Adjacent tot he highway is a recreational lake and a golf course for the personnel of the fighter-training base.
The large, two bladed windmills that you will see along the air base entrance road, similar to others in the area, generate electric power primarily for pumping irrigation water. Those traveling the Trail in this area will observe irrigation at nearly every hand. Several methods are used to water the fertile fields - ditches, long rows of pipe, and wheeled sprinkler systems. One advanced sprinkler type is mounted on comparatively small rubber tired wheels; it slowly rotates in huge circles, with special configurations that permit watering the corners of the field. Note that some methods employ sprays directed straight down, some throw rotating arcs like huge lawn sprinklers, and others aim lateral jets slightly above the horizontal.
The plains’ intensive agriculture is utterly dependent on such irrigation, for rainfall is only 27 to 18 inches per year. Without irrigation, row crop agriculture couldn’t be sustained, and the plains would revert to natural grasslands.
Population is 13,986 and the altitude is 3,523
The produce of the plains is graphically evident in his small city’s skyline. Travelers will see bewildering complexes of towers, silos, pipes, cranes, and steel supporting structures. Here products both from the surface and from beneath the plains are processed. Hockley County produced its billionth barrel of oil in 1982.
The chamber of commerce, Avenue H and Eleventh Street, is adjacent to a small lake with picnic tables on grassy banks.
Between Levelland and Morton the Trail slices through the huge Levelland Oil Field and the Slaughter Oil Field 92) for some 18 miles. As far as the eye can see are pump jacks drawing “black gold” from the gigantic reservoir far below.
The huge field continues through the town of Whiteface and for four miles northwest until the pump jacks disappear to leave the land wholly to agriculture’s.
A sign at Whiteface pointing to Girlstown, USA identifies a facility for troubled girls. The huge feedlot off the highway to the north handles 40,000 cattle annually, a figure that is easy to believe when you see the enormous concentration of animals there.
Population is 2,597 and the Altitude is 3,758
You have reached the western edge of the Texas Plains Trail in Morton, and it’s appropriate to note the altitude here compared with that of the eastern edge. Morton is typical, with an altitude of 3,758 feet. Crosbyton, about 90 miles to the West, near the edge of the plain, measures 3,108 feet - more than 600 feet lower. So while the plain is flat, the entire structure is also tilted, like an immense table with town legs slightly longer than the others. The tilt continues gradually to the western termination of the Great plains at the Rocky Mountains.
Morton is the seat of Cochran County, and within 50 miles some three million beef cattle are raised annually. A swimming pool, playground, picnic facilities, and rest rooms are located in a park about a mile east on FM 1780.
nformation on area sights, such as the C. C. Slaughter Ranch house, (3) is available at the Chamber of Commerce at 106 S.W. First Street.
A few miles north of the community of Enochs is an unusual feature of the plains. The highway crosses a depression stretching from southwest to northeast about six miles. The depression is a “sink” of indefinite origin, in which are three natural rainwater lakes. To these lakes each winter come huge numbers of migratory waterfowl, and here also is the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge. (4)
Signs and a historical marker on the highway indicate the entrance. Visitors are welcome during daylight hours, and there is a designated area for camping. The greatest number of waterfowl are usually seen from late August to March. The nation’s largest concentration of sandhill cranes winters here.
On the entrance road, with a parking area available nearby, visitors will also see a small colony of prairie dogs.
Population is 4,571 and the Altitude is 3,889
n Muleshoe, named for a famous early cattle brand, a number of historical markers have been erected at significant sites. Perhaps the most unusual, and always a subject for a snapshot, is the town’s famous monument to the mule. The life-size statue is dedicated not to any one animal but to mules in general and tot the important part they played in opening of the West.
When the idea for the monument was announced, donations were received from throughout the nation. In fact, a mule driver from Samarkand in the Soviet union sent a gift of 21 cents. The mule memorial is immediately east of the downtown intersection of US 70/84 and Texas 214.
In addition to row crops, vast native and improved pasturelands flank the Trail highways east of Muleshoe. Travelers are driving through a small portion of what was the world’s largest ranch, the three million acre XIT has been divided and sold to “smaller’ operators, each of whom controls “only” 100,000 acres or so.
En route to Earth, named in honor of the area’s rich soils, the Trail passes a historical marker (5) that identifies the site of the first irrigation well in this land where irrigation is now commonplace. That hand-dug well served rancher Ewing Halsell for his crops, cattle, and household.
New elements (6) of High Plains agriculture appear between Earth and Hereford. In addition to already familiar crops, travelers will see sugar beets, castor beans, and other vegetables. Sugar beets are produced in Deaf Smith County around Hereford.
Although Panhandle historical events reach into the dim past, actual settlement in some locales is comparatively recent. A historical marker at the FM 145 intersection (7) tells of J.W. Carter, the first permanent settler, who came in 1884 and established the 7-UP Ranch.
A large cattle feedlot (8) is adjacent to the highway just north of the Texas 86 intersection. Feedlot operations are a major enterprise on the High Plains. When range livestock near market age and weight, the animals are transferred to a commercial feedlot for a 90 day to 120 day concentrated feeding program. According to orders from major meat packers, the lots feed various groups of animals specific formulas; animals are “finished off” to meet the precise grade and weight requirements of the packer. The rather pungent odor near feedlots is an inevitable result of the large numbers of animals.
Deaf Smith County
Population is 14,745 and the Altitude is 3,806
Named for early herds of Hereford cattle established in the area, the small, clean city is the seat of Deaf Smith County. Because of the natural fluorides and iodine in the municipal water supply, Hereford is often called the “Town without a Toothache,” and the city hospitably invites visitors to “stop for a drink of water.”
Watch for a small park next to the local depot on US 60. It offers a pleasant pause, a view of a pioneer windmill, and hand-pump well where visitors can get that drink of water.
Massive grain elevators attest to only one aspect of rich agricultural interests. The county produces more than 450 million pounds of grain sorghum and ore than 3 million bushels of what each year. Vegetable crops include potatoes, carrots, lettuce, and onions that are shipped coast to coast. Cattle feedlots handle more than a million head per year, and livestock sales annually are about $200 million. Holly Sugar Corporation’s huge plant, established in 2963, refines sugar from beets grown in a four county area.
Travelers will find pleasant accommodations and restaurants in Hereford, plus parks offering swimming, golf, picnicking, tennis, and playgrounds. Visit the county Chamber of Commerce, 701 North Main Street for details.
Between Hereford and Vega the Trail driver is immersed once more in an agricultural area of immense proportions.
Hybrid seed stock is of great importance to farmers on the plains and name brands are widely advertised. Occasionally, beside an especially good field, the name of the hybrid seed that produced the crop will be displayed.
The value of good hybrids is readily apparent in maize fields. Grain heads are large, compact, almost identical in size, and supported on sturdy stalks that grow to nearly the same height. Such uniform features make it much easier to harvest the grain mechanically.
Sites of historical interest are marked in Vega, the seat of Oldham County. Ranching provides 80 percent of the county’s $37 million annual income.
Between Vega and Channing, travelers will note substantial oil activity and unexpectedly, see ahead a long line of “higher’ ground - an illusion. there’s only he surface of the plain and lower ground. That skyline is actually the plain, but between he traveler and that far rim is the huge eroded wedge of the Canadian River Valley. (9) From edge to edge it’s almost 25 miles wide.
Gazing at the wide, flat riverbed it’s difficult to imagine that this stream carved such a gigantic furrow. From its color, it cold be called the ”red” river, because that is the color of banks, sand, and water at low ebb . There is, however, an unusual feature entirely invisible to the eye; a full flowing stream lies almost f50 feet below the surface sands.
North of the river is a comfortable roadside park in a grove of cottonwood trees. Historical markers provide details about Old Gascosa and the LS Ranch.
Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, (10) established for troubled, confused, or problem boys in 1939, now consists of about 10,700 acres. But the first home for the boys was the courthouse of Old Tascosa - now the Julian Bivins Museum. The late Cal Farley, a prominent Texas businessman and world welterweight wrestling champion in the 1920s, saw his long-held dream begin to come true with the gift of the land by the late Julian Bivins. That dream has seen more than 4,000 boys guided into lives as responsible young men. About 400 currently operate the ranch, attend school, and participate in vocational training. For more information, sign the visitors register at the ranch snack bar and consult the Texas_Mall alphabetical listing of cities. It should be noted that FM 1061 from here to Armarillo, while not part of the Trail, is exceptionally scenic.
The Hartley County seat of Channing, on a plain north of the rugged Canadian River Valley, originated as headquarters of the XIT Ranch. Medallions adorn the original headquarters building (11) on Main Street and the “oldest Panhandle church north of the Canadian, built in 1898” - a block north and west of the courthouse.
Between Channing and Dumas the terrain alternates between the terrain alternates between rolling native pasturelands almost unchanged from the giant ranch era and lush row crops.
The land through which the Trail travels to Dumas was once the huge LX Ranch. It extended some 45 miles between the present cities of Dumas and Amarillo - 20 miles wide, with 1,000 square ;miles of rangeland.
The first gas well in the giant Panhandle-Hugoton field was drilled a few miles south of the Trail, near the Canadian River in 1918. The 2,600 foot discovery well produced about five million cubic feet of gas daily.
Population is 12,871 and the Altitude is 3,668
Visitors are welcome in Dumas - a large sign at the city’s south edge proclaims it, and a visit to the Chamber of Commerce, at Sixth and Porter Streets, confirms it. Nine city parks with a variety of facilities are offered, including Texoma Park (US 87 West), with free overnight camping and free electric hookups.
The Trail highway between Dumas and Stinnett runs generally east and west, but the Canadian River begins to draw closer, changing the surface of the plains from flat cropland to rolling pasture. Watch for a historical marker (12) by the highway at the route of the famous old Tascosa Dodge City Trail.
In Stinnet, across from the Hutchinson County Courthouse, is the Isaac McCormick Pioneer Cottage, which has a historical medallion. (13)
South of Stinnett the Trail highway plunges into the rolling Canadian River brakes toward huge Lake Meredith. (14) As the traveler crosses the dam, the beautiful blue lake stretches far beyond sight to the southwest. To the northeast is the scenic canyon of the Canadian River, red-bluffed and rock-studded. Marinas and recreation areas are operated by the National Park Service. Additional details about lake activities are available from NPS headquarters on Texas 136 at the sign “Lake Meredith Recreation Headquarters.“
In addition to lake activities the Park Service also administers Alibates National Monument, (15) on the south shore of the lake a few miles off the Trail. The monument marks the site of flint quarries that were worked for 12,000 years! The multicolored flint, found nowhere else in the world, was traded as far north as Minnesota and west to the Pacific. Access is by ranger tours only. Refer to the Texas_Mall, cities in alphabetical order, under Fritch for details and for information about the excellent Lake Meredith aquarium and Wildlife Museum here.
The glistening geodesic dome along the Trail in southwest Borger is that city’s community hall.
Population is 15,675 and the Altitude is 3,116
The importance of petroleum is evidenced by towers, tanks, and smokestacks in Borger, where a variety of petrochemicals is produced. Curving Main Street lends a friendly air, as does free overnight camping (with hookups) at Huber Park, along Texas 207 south. Among the city’s 15 other parks, 2 offer 18 hole golf courses.
1990 was the 73rd birthday of Phillips Petroleum here and the 107th anniversary of the Huber Company, a large producer of carbon black and many other products. For information about area sights and
recreational events, such as the World’s Largest Fish Fry each June, visit the chamber of commerce at 613 North Main Street, across from the Hutchinson County Historical Museum.
South of Borger, historical markers tell of the 1921 discovery oil well, the first in the Panhandle. It was drilled on the Dixon Creek Ranch, better known as the 6666 Ranch.(16)
About five miles farther south, another marker cites the Dixon Creek Ranch, founded in 2882 by an English cattle company. In 1903 the ranch became pat of the vat, widely spread holdings of rancher S. Burk Burnett, whose famous 6666 brand is still prominent in Texas. Legend says a poker hand of four sixes won Burnett’s first lands, but cattlemen say the brand was chosen because it is difficult to alter. (The main 6666 Ranch headquarters is near Guthrie.)
Population is 2,353 and the Altitude is 3,451
One of the oldest towns on the High Plains, Panhandle was established in 2887 at what was then the terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad.
An excellent museum is located by the Trail highway at the north edge of Panhandle. In the “square house,” a small white building with a cupola, the Square House Museum vividly interprets the lusty frontier era of the Texas High Plains. Exhibits include photographs, records, tools, and wildlife, plus authentic farm and ranch buildings, an antique railroad caboose, and a half-dugout dwelling, typical of pioneer homesteads.
For information about historic sites and for other area attractions, consult the state travel guide and stop and the chamber of commerce, adjacent to the museum.
About five miles southwest of Panhandle, set behind a protective fence at the south edge of the highway, is the stump of a small bois d’arc tree. (17) Of all the thousands of trees you’ve seen planted as windbreaks on the Plains Trail, plus other thousands in cities and towns, this was the first. When Thomas Cree staked out a section of land here in 1888, not a single tree or shrub existed on thousands of square miles of plains.
From the lowlands beyond the Caprock he hauled a young sapling of bois d’arc, planted it, nurtured it, and watched it grow, ever so slowly.
Cree is long gone, but his tree remained until it was accidentally killed by an agricultural chemical in 12969. Natural seedlings from the original tree are growing today. A state historical marker and a medallion from the National men’s Garden Clubs of America mark the site.
Visible to the north of the Trail is the Pantex Atomic Energy Commission plant, just beyond the Texas Tech University research farm.
Randall and Potter Counties
Population is 157,615 and the altitude is 3,676
This city is the commercial, cultural, and recreational center for the Texas High Plain. Named for Amarillo Creek near the first settlement in 187, modern Amarillo is activity with excellent accommodations, symphonies, and parks. Proud of its frontier heritage, the city is openly friendly, welcoming visitors with abundant events and “get acquainted” opportunities.
One such is Amarillo’s Cowboy Morning/Evening experience - an Old West breakfast for dinner on the open range from a chuck wagon - scrambled eggs, ranch sausage, brown gravy, sourdough biscuits, and campfire coffee for breakfast or steak with all the trimmings for dinner - plus a wagonride and demonstrations of roping and branding by genuine cowboys. Cowboy Mornings/Evenings are scheduled at 8:30 .m. for breakfast and 6:30 p.m. for dinner from April 15 to October 15. Make your reservations by calling 1-800-944-5562. The Amarillo Convention and Visitor Council at 10000 Polk Street and the state travel guide can suggest a variety of other entertaining activities.
A Texas Travel Information Center, operated by the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation, is at the city’s east limits, on I-40/U.S. 287. Trained travel counselors offer a wide selection of free maps, literature including the state travel guide), and expert help in charting routes anywhere in Texas; open daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and the day before, and New Year’s Day.
Some flat to gently rolling cultivated fields lie between Amarillo and Canyon, but none are on the scale that is typical along ;many areas of the Plains Trail. These are plains in the classic sense...by nature utterly flat. There are no natural contours of hills and valleys except for occasional, often spectacular influences of erosion. Near Canyon some rolling native pasturelands become apparent, signaling erosive factors that will soon provide one of the Trail’s most outstanding visitor features.
Population is 11,365 and the Altitude is 3,566
This seat of Randall County originated as the headquarters for the huge T Anchor Ranch in 2877 -78 when Leigh Dyer, brother-in-law of the famous pioneer cattleman and trailblazer Charles Goodnight, brought 400 cattle here to begin ranching operations. He soon sold his claim to a large ranching syndicate that built a gigantic spread. In 2885 the syndicate sole 225 sections of land (144,000 acres) to an English cattle company and still retained plenty of land for its own ranching purposes.
Dyer’s original log cabin, hewn of tough, long lasting juniper wood from Palo Duro Canyon, is still intact. Moved with a group of related ranch structures to the grounds of the panhandle Plains Historical Museum, it has been restored and furnished in authentic pioneer detail.
The museum, on the campus of West Texas State University, which flanks the Trail highway downtown, is one of the state’s finest. Cattle brands adorn the main entrance facade. From at to artifacts, its collections are outstanding... a prime stop on the Texas Plains Trail!!!
Visit the Chamber of commerce, 308 Seventeenth Street, for information about other attractions in the area.
West of Canyon, flat, cultivated fields are often interrupted by rolling native pasturelands. The rolling areas indicate a nearby watercourse that has, over eons of time, sliced through the tableland. Ever so gradually the flowing water bites deeper, the “banks” crumble, and erosion from the stream fans far out.
At the intersection of Texas 217 and FM 1541, 15 miles east of Canyon, is an opportunity for a side trip that must be recommended above all others on the Plains Trail: Palo Duro Canyon State Park. (18) Even before that, historical markers (19) adjacent to the intersection tell of Coronado’s travels and of los ciboleros, Mexican buffalo hunters of the eighteenth century.
For that side trip to Palo Duro Canyon, drive east on Texas 217 for eight miles. Watch the landscape carefully; the effects of erosion from the flat plains are very graphic. Then, with breathtaking suddenness, the tableland splits vertically and plunges in a riot of color to the floor of Palo Duro Canyon almost a thousand feet below.
Here amid Nature at her spectacular best is one of Texas’ largest state parks. Facilities include an interpretive center, vast camping and picnic areas among juniper and cottonwoods on the canyon floor, rest rooms and showers, souvenir shop, grocery, horseback riding, hiking trails, and a miniature sight-seeing train. Admission is charged.
Also in the park is the Pioneer Amphitheater, the setting for the national acclaimed musical drama TEXAS!, whose huge cast performs the show from mid-June through late August (nightly except Sunday). The entertainment on an outdoor stage, backed by towering cliffs, is on a rousing, epic scale. Reservations are advisable at all times. An outdoor barbecue dinner, served chuck-wagon style, is available before the show. Park and theater admissions are separate, except after 6 p.m. , when theater patrons are admitted to the park free.
Back on the trail, travelers will shortly cross Palo Duro Creek (20) and the small, scenic canyon it has carved, which is an upper arm of Palo Duro Canyon.
Along FM 1151 the Trail driver will discover another typical feature of the plains. On the tabletop surface, where streams are rare and the land hasn’t developed normal watersheds, rainwater simply has no particular direction to flow Over millions of years it formed frequent shallow, usually circular depressions called playas. Seldom more than a few feet deep, they become small lakes when it rains. During dry seasons the water disappears. More than 17,000 playas on the High Plains collect nearly 95 percent of the rainwater runoff. One of the larger playas (21) on the Trail lies just north of this segment of the highway. Its size varies according to local weather conditions.
Continue through fine croplands, (22) where the immensity of the plains can be pictured. The lush crops here, as throughout most of the plains area, depend on irrigation from deep wells. The structure of the plains, with few streams to carry off rainfall and many playas to hold it, created an enormous underground water supply, but in recent years, the water table has dropped alarmingly.
Population is 1,199 and the Altitude is 3,397
Claude, Armstrong County seat and main retail center, was established in 1887 as a stop on the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad. The town, now a shopping point for area agricultural products, played a significant role in the Panhandle’s history. Markers tell of early sheriffs, the first masonry jail, and pioneer newspapers whose lineage leads to the present Claude News.
For miles the agricultural expanse of Armstrong County spreads from horizon to horizon. Row crops alternate with vast expanses of improved pastureland. That is, the land has been planted with varieties of grass that are more productive than the native species are.
About 15 miles south of Claude, the Trail driver, having become accustomed to the unbroken expanse of the landscape in all directions, will see an unusual sight ahead. it looks like a long, flat-topped area of higher ground. The “higher” ground is actually the flat plain, but the immediate terrain has begun to descent imperceptibly. This is a preliminary to a highway crossing of Palo Duro Canyon. (23) 12 miles below the state park area.
The highway, which has been ruler-straight, soon swings right, then left, and plunges quickly into scenic grandeur. From the rim entering this spectacular part of Palo Duro Canyon it is nine miles to the opposite edge.
Descend at a moderate speed, both for safety and to absorb the beauty that unfolds in a riot of color. Shrubby juniper and mesquite trees appear among dramatically sculptured cliffs and buttes. Gray and white rocks accent brilliant colors of red and orange.
The white, marble-like rock often seen in horizontal layers is gypsum. Where it is found in large masses it is mined for production of wallboard. A beautiful dense, fine-grained variety called alabaster is used for sculpture.
After miles of descent the traveler comes upon the watercourse that carved this immense slash in the plains, the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. (24) Though it can rage in a torrent following heavy rains, it is usually an insignificant stream, barely a trickle visible on a broad sand flat.
Along the Trail in the canyon is a marker (25) telling of the S. P. Hamblen family . The remains of their dugout are visible just beyond the fence. A son, Will Hamblen, longed for good roads and built one into Palo Duro Canyon (north of the marker) that cut 120 miles off settlers’ trips into the county seat, Claude.
Almost at the south rim of the rim of the canyon, watch for a roadside picnic area on the east. This is a perfect opportunity to pause and soak up one of the most tremendous landscapes on the Trail. From this park, impressions of the canyon are of its spectacular immensity; of colors---greens, reds, pinks, browns, and oranges; and of its stillness.
Out of the canyon proper, but still on the rolling pasturelands nearby, sharp-eyed travelers may spot a rare remaining colony of prairie dogs. (26) Their mounds may be seen in the pasture on both sides of the highway, and some of them may be built on the highway right-of-way itself.
A tall television relay tower marks the second spectacle on this stretch of the trail.. Row crops again disappear as the road slips over the lip of another beautiful canyon. This smaller gorge is Tule Canon, (27) carved by Tule Creek. More varieties of rock strata are visible here, as well as some magnificent sheer-faced, knife-edged buttes.
Nearby is the site of the last great Indian battle in Texas, where a stroke of strategy shattered the strength of the great plains warriors. Leading the Fourth U.S. Cavalry in 874. Colonel Ranald Mackenzie discovered a large camp of Comanches. Descending the canyon walls, Mackenzie’s troopers captured the camp and some 1,400 horses. Electing not to attack the Indians who fled to other parts of the canyon, Mackenzie ordered the village burned and most of the horses destroyed. Afoot and without supplies or shelter, the once fierce warriors had no choice but to plod back to their reservations in Oklahoma.
To the right of the Trail route lies Lake Mackenzie, a relatively new lake impounding Tule Creek. Facilities at the lake include campsites with electrical hookups but no water or rest rooms. A scenic overlook just inside the entrance arches offers a memorable view, and a boat ramp is south of the dam. Fishing folk must pay a small fee.
Population is 779 and the Altitude is 3,261
Established as he county seat in 1892 when Briscoe County was organized, Silverton is a commercial center for a large surrounding farming and ranching area.
A landmark is the old Briscoe County jail, a two story structure on the northeast corner of the courthouse square. It was built of hand-hewn stone hauled from Tule Canyon by wagon in 1894. A small museum featuring early ranch, farm, and home items is in the basement of the county courthouse. An inquiry at the courthouse is usually all that’s needed for a leisurely visit.
Southeast of Silverton via Texas 86 (not shown on Trail map) is scenic Caprock Canyons State Park. (28) The entrance to the park is from the community of
Quitaque. See Texas-On-Line cities by alphabetical order for additional information.
Between Silverton and Turkey the Texas Plains Trail undergoes some dramatic changes. Those flat areas of farming and ranching country appear so vast that it seems they will continue forever. They don’t. About nine miles east of Silverton a small canyon suddenly appears. Within moments the entire landscape is fragmented. This is the jagged edge of the High Plains (29) or, as the local residents say, the edge of the Caprock. Consider early-day travelers who had to cross these landscapes before technology and heavy machinery created modern highways - wagons and buggies creaking in circuitous miles to find passages that could be negotiated by animal power. A historical marker will be found in a spectacularly situated roadside picnic area on the north side of the highway. The marker honors pioneer rancher W. E. Schott, who laid out the first road through the canyons and up the Caprock to Silverton.
Negotiating the colorful edge, the Trail winds and spirals, offering a feat of exceptional views. Below the level of the plain only the jagged edge is visible, and it looks like mountain country.
The view west from another picnic area along Texas 70 offers a vista with the Caprock in the far distance. The Trail drops down to cross the Little Red River and soon enters Turkey, named for locks of wild turkeys found here in the 1890s. The Bob Wills Museum honors the man known as the King of Western Swing, who was reared here; a monument at the west end of Main Street and a reunion on the last Saturday in April pay tribute to the man and his music.
Travelers will see cultivated row crops (30) in this area, but although rainfall is somewhat more plentiful than on the High Plains, farming is perhaps more difficult. Fields must be smaller because of the rolling terrain, and water for irrigation is not uniformly accessible.
Population is 790 and the Altitude is 2,347
Matador is the seat of Motley County, and with its ranch heritage, it is one of the most authentic “Western” towns in Texas. The town’s very existence, in fact, can be credited to the cowboys of the Matador Ranch.
When the county was organized in 1891, there was not a single settlement in it - only headquarters and line camps of ranches like the 400,000 acre Matador, owned by a corporation that was headquartered in Scotland.
A townsite was designated, and the required 20 businesses were set up and operated for one day by the cowboys of the Matador Ranch, so that a patent could be granted by the General Land Office of Texas. Near the courthouse is an old jail built in 1891.
Visits to the Matador Cattle Company ranch headquarters (built in 1916) can be arranged through the Community Associates organization in Matador.
The Caprock is often visible to the west on the Trail route between Matador and Roaring Springs. The highway passes the pleasant Virginia Walton roadside picnic area, across from the old Matador Ranch headquarters.
Roaring Springs was named for springs at the edge of the escarpment cut by the South Pease River. (31) The springs, a favorite Indian campground, have been the site of Motley and Dickens counties’ reunions for 50 years.
Although the railroad that brought a measure of importance to Roaring Springs is gone, the preserved depot at the end of the village’s main street is a reminder, and a historical marker provides details.
West of Roaring Springs the highway traverses rolling, brushy native pastureland. (32) The average motorist might never notice, but in easy stages this road is gradually ascending. Within a few miles the brushy terrain disappears, and Trail drivers are again on the High Plains via an ascent of the Caprock the easy way, with no dramatic cliffs to mark the edge.
magine the incredible quantity of produce from this immense acreage. (33) Not even the numerous grain elevators can store it all. Railroad cars are gathered from throughout the nation to haul away the gigantic production during each harvest season.
On the US 82 portion of the Trail the highway plunges into a broad canyon cut by the White River, Blanco Canyon, Watch for a picnic area on the east riverbank. (34) This park is one of the finest in the Texas highway system, and a pause is recommended. There are hosts of ;picnic tables, excellent views of rolling canyon features and mesas, [;plus intriguing hiking paths along the riverbank. It is a perfect way for kids to work off energy.
Population is 2,026 and the Altitude is 3,108
Crosby County was the site of the first settlement on the Texas High Plains. A Bavarian born rancher, Henry Clay Smith, who immigrated to the United States as a youth and enjoyed a varied career as Great Lakes sailor, miner, cowboy, customs rider, and Confederate soldier, homesteaded in Blanco Canyon in 1876. A replica of his original rock house on US 82 downtown contains the Crosby County Pioneer Memorial Museum; closed Mondays.
The High Plains were originally the domain of ranchers. The first farmers to locate on the plains were a small colony of Quakers who arrived here in the fall of 1879.
South of Crosbyton are huge fields of cotton, maize, and forage crops, plus some unexpected fields of vegetables.
Within a few miles the Trail highway again slips over the edge, descending a long, rolling grade into a brushy native grasslands. Soon comes an opportunity for another side trip off the Trail, which will be especially attractive to water-sports enthusiasts.
The large White River Reservoir (35) lies eight miles to the east. Visitors will find spacious camping areas, lakeside cabins and boat launching facilities, picnic and fishing supplies, and boat rentals.
Between White River Reservoir and Post, the Trail highway runs generally parallel with the edge of the Caprock some 15 miles away, yet is seldom visible. A few miles north of Post, the massive feature (36) again appears, blue on the horizon ahead.
Approaching Post, the Trail crosses some upper branches of the Brazos River that bear an astonishing assortment of manes - the Salt Fork and the North Fork, of the Brazos River. Before it was tamed by dams and reservoirs, the Brazos had a treacherous reputation for periodic rampages across the breadth of Texas.
Population is 3,768 and the Altitude is 2,590
Situated at the very foot of the Caprock, Post is named for C.W. Post, the noted cereal manufacturer, who founded the town in 1907 to demonstrate his economic ideas. With land speculation prohibited and scientific farming encouraged, the town quickly prospered. The width of Main Street west of the courthouse reflects one of his ideas about how city thoroughfares should be laid out.
For details about Post visitor sites, consult the Texas_Mall listing of cities by alphabetical site. Also stop at the chamber of commerce at the Santa Fe depot. The local historical society has designated a sight-seeing route along the town’s broad streets.
“Oil is big in Garza County,” according to a sign over a producing well just west of the courthouse. A graphic representation at the well explains how pump jacks operate and diagrams the strata from which the oil flows. Pump jacks will be seen at wellheads throughout the city, often four or five clustered together, producing oil from different subterranean levels.
From Post a scenic drive on FM 669 ascends the Caprock, and immediately that remarkable pattern of immense row-crop agriculture resumes. But here it will be short-lived, because this is narrow peninsula of the plains. In store is a very striking sight-seeing treat.
Within a few miles the highway reaches the edge of the Caprock (37) and starts down. To either side is the flat surface e of the plains and the abrupt break-off as the plains end. Canyons etch steep gashes into the tableland, leaving long fingers thrusting into lower lands. Just as contrast helps illustrate a subject, it is here where the plains end that their magnitude can best be understood. On the entire Trail there exists no finer panorama of the structure of this remarkable geographic feature.
Here end the Great Plains of the United States. In immensity beyond comprehension, they sweep north more than 1,600 miles, spanning our nation and thrusting deep into Canada. It is the heartland of America that produces our abundance of grain, meat, and fiber. East to the Atlantic, or south more than 7,000 miles to the tip of South America, there is no other comparable feature.
Enjoy the colorful canyons and the grand scale of Nature’s geometry as you descend. On the near west side of he highway note the almost perfect pyramid topped by a stone cap.
The erosion that shaped this area is on a time scale beyond real comprehension, a illustrated by a historical marker (38) b y the highway about 16 miles south of Post. The marker indicates the discovery site of an unusual type of flint point. Archeologists found several habitat sites and fire pits of a people who lived here long before recorded history. Yet we know that the land was the same; even a few inches of erosion would have destroyed evidence of habitation.
This vast ranching country is also the habitat of a few remaining herds of pronghorns, locally called antelope. Fortunate Trail drivers may spot small groups of the beautiful, swift, tan and white animals in this region.
Approaching the town of Gail, travelers will see a prominent landmark that has been there since the earliest days. The slightly mashed cone is Muchakooago Peak, (39) named by the Indians. Rising 2,862 feet, it served as both a point of reference for Indians and the zero mark for the first scientific surveys of this area. Although it looks like a mountain, it isn’t one in the usual sense of the word. Protected by a weather resistant slab of rock at the top, it is simply a fragment of the plains. The rest has eroded away.
Population is 189 and the Altitude is 2,530
The tiny community of Gail is the only town in Borden County, which is devoted almost exclusively to ranching. Established in 1891, he community has remained an isolated ranch supply point, without bank, theater, railroad, hotel, preacher, doctor, or lawyer.
Both the county and the town were named for Gail Borden, Jr., inventor of condensed milk and an early Texas resident.
Adjacent to the courthouse is the excellent Borden County Historical Museum, containing memorabilia from area pioneers. For admission, see the county clerk in the courthouse. Historical markers are at the museum and the 1896 jail.
Although the Plains Trail has journeyed to the end of the Great Plains, we will soon return. The Trail segment on FM 1054 climbs a sloping valley between projecting arms of the plains. Note the native cedar, mesquite, and oak trees in the canyons. They’re the last native trees for along while.
Transition is again swift. From brushy, short grass native pasture, changed little since the earliest cowboys rode here, the land becomes an immense farm (40) upon reaching the surface of the plains. Here the hand of man is unmistakable; he land is trimmed and manicured down to the last inch.
Plowing ;may be seen almost any time of the year, but most is done in the early spring. Perspective is deceiving; the farmer and this tractor may look like miniature toys, lost in the land’s expanse. There’s often an atmospheric peculiarity that marks him from miles away. When plains winds are still, dust from the turning earth may move straight up - a tan column several hundred feet high forming exclamation points that mark a land fit to exclaim about.
The plains are also a land of dust devils. these are miniature, clear weather whirlwinds that do no damage, but are fascinating to watch as they swril in a tight spiral, creating columns of dust and leaves.
In Wilson, at the intersection of FM 211 and FM 400, is the old Mercantile Building, restored and filled with memorabilia. The city park a few blocks west of the intersection provides a spot for a pleasant pause.
Slaton, a city of 6,078, was established by the Santa Fe Railroad and is a division point on that line. The chamber of commerce, at 200 West Garza (on the square), can provide local details. An excellent museum, open Tuesday through Friday afternoons, is at 155 North Eighth Street, just north of Santa Fe Engine 1809.
This next segment of the Plains Trail crosses a small canyon (41) carved by the North Fork of the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River. Exposed fossil beds in the canyon are of particular interest to geologists, and many Indian habitat sites have been located along it.
Just a short distance east, the canyon has been dammed to form Buffalo Springs Lake. (42) In a scenic setting, the lake offers overnight camping, fishing, boating, and picnicking, as well as hiking and horseback trails.
Along the Trail highway east of Lubbock are examples of perhaps the most complete and profitable utilization of land that can be imagined. (43) Rich fields produce bountiful crops of cotton, maize, and corn, while pump jacks lift oil from deep beneath the same land.
The remaining section of the Texas Plains Trail leads straight into Lubbock, where it began. Those who have completed the entire Trail can speak with authority about much of the Llano Estacado region of Texas. But one word of caution: Texas’ dimensions dwarf even this large area, and there are other parts to discover before the whole can be measured. Against this immense tableland compare rugged mountains thrusting more than a mile high; vast, green-canopied forests, moss-hung bayous, and hundreds of miles of golden sand beside the seas. That, too, is Texas, and there are other Trails to guide you efficiently through every part. All we will wish you here at Texas-On-Line is Happy Trails to You and Yours!