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Early morning in Amarillo is a beautiful sight to see - the air is crisp, the sky is bright blue and there's a sense of cowboy adventure in the air. We rounded up our cowpokes early and headed towards the Elkins Ranch for a Chuck Wagon Breakfast.
On our way through town we took in some local sites of interest. Many of the roads had been paved with bricks by prisoners in 1910 and still remain today, adding a picturesque look. There is a world class performing arts center under construction, opening in October 2005, which will showcase the symphony, ballet and performing artists, and add a cultural gem to this growing community.
As we drove, I noticed diamond shaped signs sprouting up at random over lawns and the sidewalk's edge. Each one had a different quote or witticism, some well known and some rather cryptic, but all leaving the reader with a thought to ponder. It seems that Amarillo is the proud beneficiary of the philanthropy of Stanley Marsh 3. He prefers the number 3 to the Roman numeral III and is the town's eccentric millionaire and patron of the arts. Every town should have one. He decided to make Amarillo his personal canvas and commissioned about 700 of these signs to espouse his thoughts on life. They certainly give visitors something to look for and talk about. Marsh 3 also was the designer of the Cadillac Ranch where Cadillacs rest in peace in the fine Amarillo ground, becoming a work of art in itself.
On our journey through town, we passed sites of local color like Drive Through Liquor stores and Toot 'n Totems - the northern equivalent of a Seven/ Eleven Convenience store - but I just loved the name. Along the roadside, the land began to be more wide open as we traveled on. There are no tall trees, due to the harsh canyon environment, so flat land was as far as the eye could see.
We spotted a Cowboy Church, where youths gather on Sundays to hold rodeos, often going from church to church. Now that's Texas - while we just pray, they turn riding horses into a prayer.
As we continued to drive along a somewhat empty highway, our guide gave us a little historical background. In 1874, ranching was introduced to the area and in 1877 came the invention of barbed wire and the fencing of Texas. Before that time, cattle really roamed the land freely, until roundup time.
We finally came to The Elkins Ranch, which has been in the family for five generations. Bought in 1923 by Charlie Elkins, Mary, his granddaughter now has turned to tourism and runs cowboy breakfasts and dinners, horseback riding and jeep tours.
We all piled into cow patterned jeeps and headed down an extremely steep and narrow pathway, further down into Palo Duro Canyon. One wrong turn and we would be over the canyon's edge. My life was now in a cowgirl's hand. As we traversed the bumpy rode downward, Elena, our driver, gave us a narration. It made me slightly nervous that she casually drove this road and talked at the same time, so I made sure to ask no questions for fear of distracting her. Especially since she mentioned the inhabitants of the canyon were deer, wood mice, bobcats, mountain lions, cougars and, of course, rattlesnakes. Actually, the rattlesnakes scared me the most, since I thought I would have a better chance of at least seeing the others coming at me.
As we bumped along, I held on tightly with one hand and took notes with the other. Elena pointed out short mesquite bushes and their mesquite beans, very similar in looks to a green bean, which jelly is made from. There are also short juniper trees and plenty of cacti. She kept mentioning all of the natural leaves and fruit that one could eat if one were stranded down here, but that kind of talk only made me more nervous.
But Elena did not look worried, so onward we drove, as she told us that the canyon was formed by water and wind erosion and continues to grow half an inch a year. More history: In 1541, Coronado, in search of the Seven Cities of Gold, came to this canyon and saw the different layers of various colored rock rippling out in a swirling effect and dubbed them the Spanish Skirts. I guess after traveling and exploring for so long with his men, his mind was naturally on skirts.
Palo Doro itself means "hard wood," which is actually what the rock formations resemble. The view of this canyon, without sounding trite, literally takes your breath away. Being from a city, I tend to forget that there are still places in this country that remain as untouched and natural as this. The vastness and sheer beauty of the scene actually looked like some kind of western backdrop for a movie - a little surreal. I expected to hear a director yell "Cut!" and see the background roll up into the sky.
But we haven't even gotten to the food yet. Breakfast was served Chuck Wagon style. You took a tray and moseyed on over to the open grills that held large griddles filled with eggs and ham, sausages, homemade biscuits and gravy, the best potatoes I've ever eaten, fruit, cinnamon cake and hot coffee. The smells alone were fantastic.
As we ate, Mr. Ed Montana played his guitar and took requests. I didn't even have to ask for "Amarillo By Morning." The song fit the day perfectly. The sun was out, there was a gentle breeze making the morning comfortable, the smell of the sausages frying and a cute cowboy singing to me. Life doesn't get better than this. It was worth risking a few rattlesnakes. When I thought the experience couldn't be more perfect, a cowboy even asked me to dance the Tennessee Waltz