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Crossing into Texas
[Small Town America] US 60 Part 10
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2009-12-22 00:20 (KST)   
Crossing into Texas on US 60 we headed southwest towards the panhandle's largest city, Amarillo, where 60 meets up again with Route 66 which we'd left a few miles west of Afton, Oklahoma.

I've never met many people who've thought much of the panhandle, but when I got off the train at Amarillo on that spring evening in 1955 and saw the full moon shining over the flat land that stretched forever, I felt I'd reached the promised land.

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No hills or trees to block the view, lights that didn't twinkle no matter how far away they were, and more stars than I'd ever seen back on the east coast where I grew up. I was only there for three months learning how to be a single engine jet mechanic in the U.S. Air Force, but I knew I wanted to live forever in that kind of space.

Most of that spaciousness was still there when I hitched across the country 20 years later and spent the night waiting for a ride on the west side of Amarillo. There was much less 20 more years later on when I traveled Route 66 from its western end in Santa Monica to the Big Texan which is still there today offering a free 72oz steak dinner to those who can eat it in an hour.

But I'm getting ahead of myself . . . There wasn't a lot to see after we crossed into Texas except for a sign advertising "Custom Built Crosses, All Sizes," from thecrossguys.com, which was, we thought,worth a look.

Then we came on a small sign in Panhandle saying something about the Square House so we stopped and had a look.

Carson County Square House Museum, Panhandle, Texas
©2009 D. McLane

We went inside and talked with Joella Randal, the volunteer on duty and learned that the Square House was built of lumber hauled from Dodge City, Kan., in the 1880's and was moved to its present to become the Carson County Square House Museum in 1967. Lots of things inside, for such a small building, that told the story of the Texas panhandle from the time of the mammoth hunters 12,000 years ago to the space program today.

I wanted to get a picture of Joella but it was pretty dark inside and the rain had stopped so we went out on the front porch.

Joella Randall, volunteer, Square House Museum
©2009 D. McLane

Just about then, Viola Moore, the director of the museum, showed up and invited us over to her office where we talked not just about the museum but about changing demographics and prejudice.

Viola Moore, Director, Square House Museum
©2009 D. McLane

It started with Viola saying there's a gap in the history being taught in local schools where the years between 1860 and 1870; the time of the civil war, are left out. If it's mentioned at all, it's framed as an issue of states' rights, not slavery, which was on its way out because machines had become a cheaper way to pick cotton than manual labor.

Further, while people along the Lincoln Highway thought of Lincoln as the one who saved the country, here they felt that Lincoln was responsible for splitting the country. Thus the answer to Sueko's often asked question, "What do you think of Obama's idea that fundamentally we are one" was essentially: "Are you kidding!"

Shifting to Obama, Viola said, "Obama doesn't have the power of Lincoln" and wanted to know, "Who are the people behind Obama?"

When the topic changed to immigration, Viola said, "Historically we welcomed people, now we split them." And added that, right now, in this area, children speak something like 16 different languages. How can we possibly be one?

Back when Viola was growing up, there were signs warning blacks not to be in town after sunset. And although she did her best to keep her prejudice under wraps, one time she had to shake hands with a black as she went around (as in "Right and Left Grand Family") at a square dance. After she'd touched his hand, she was shocked to find herself looking down to see if the black had come off. So much for good intentions.

Viola said the turning point came later when she was working in an office with many blacks; even the boss was black. Soon after she was hired there were cutbacks and while she sat there worrying if she was going to keep her job, the boss came along and said, kind of quiet like, "Viola, you're a pearl on a field of black velvet; don't you worry." She said she kept her job and, "That's when I learned to respect people, not their color."

Viola ended the conversation by saying "As a Christian, I feel the need to take care of everybody. Right now we've lost the sense of personal responsibility, but I have a deep faith that Obama has opened our eyes. We are a people of pride and principle."

FROM PANHANDLE WE WENT ALL THE WAY TO AMARILLO where US 60 joins Route 66 and then leaves as 66 goes west and 60 turns southwest. On the corner is McDonald's. We went inside for coffee and Internet, and while we were sitting there, some guy kept looking at me and finally came over and said, "What are you doing?"

I said I was using the Internet to find the nearest Wal-Mart.

"Oh? How do you do that?"

I turned the screen so he could see it and showed him how I used Google Maps to 1) find Amarillo, 2) find where we were, 3) find the nearest Wal-Mart, and finally 4) find the route to get there. He was amazed that not only could that be done, but while you were sitting in McDonald's drinking coffee.

I said, "Welcome to the 21st century."

When I told him what we were doing -- traveling US -- he said, "But this is Route 66." Yes, but 66 and 60 are together in Amarillo. "I have some property on 66 just east of here, across the street from an old-time Route 66 motel. Do you think you can find it?"

Then came the fun part. I could kind-of find his property with Google Maps but when I checked the location with Google Earth, it didn't show the trailer and small shed he said were there. So we sat there in McDonald's running back and forth on Route 66 with Google Earth, dropping down out of the satellite to street views, until he shouted, "There! That's my property." We spun around to look at the other side of the street and there it was, the Triangle Motel.

Triangle Motel in Google Earth
©2009 D. McLane

We were getting pretty noisy and other people came over and asked what we were doing and it became a real party. He told them his name was Eschol Eugene Jackson and lived McLean, Texas, about 75 miles to the east, and to watch this: we showed them how we could locate his house with Google Maps, get a satellite view in Google Earth, and then drop down for a street view. They went away laughing and shaking their heads.

THAT NIGHT WE CAMPED AT WAL-MART, a little south of Amarillo. Usually we park near other RVers but there weren't any so we parked next to some pickups on the far side of the lot. The next morning, as I was out firing up the generator, a car pulled up, the passenger got out, the car went on, and the passenger went to get into the pickup next to us.

Curious, I went over and called out, "Hey, I'm curious, how come you left your truck here all night and are just now leaving?" He looked a bit surprised but said that he was car pooling with a bunch of guys who worked at the Valero Refinery in Valero, 65 miles to the north. Wal-Mart didn't seem to mind even though they never bought anything there.

As he started his truck he leaned out and said, "Oh, I forgot to introduce myself, I'm Adam." I said, "I should have been the one to introduce myself, my name's Dave." And with that, he was off.

After breakfast, we went back north to Amarillo and then west to the Triangle Motel. While it looks totally abandoned from the highway, there's an open gate on the back side so I went around to see if anybody was there.

Triangle Motel, US 60/US 66, Amarillo, Texas
©2009 D. McLane

The place was pretty dilapidated but one of the units looked occupied. I knocked and Alan McNeil opened the door and invited me in to meet his friend, Patrick. They said they (or maybe it was just Alan) owned the place and were trying to get grant money to restore it to working order but were having trouble as they weren't a non-profit.

Originally the property held both the motel and a separate house for the owner but it had been split and the house was now on a separate piece. Both had been built in 1944 with the motel units being separate structures, but the carport areas between units had been covered over due to the owner's wife's concern over hail, which is a big problem in the area.

ON OUR WAY SOUTH WE STOPPED OFF AT PALO DURO CANYON, a state park. Now if you live in Arizona as we do, you probably wouldn셳 think Palo Duro was much of a canyon as it셲 only 800 feet (243m) deep at an altitude of 3,500 feet (1,066m). Our house is at 3, 340 feet (1,018m) and looks out at Yarnell Hill, 4,500 feet (1372m), not to mention the Grand Canyon, 4 hours north whose south rim is at 7,000 feet (2,133m) and is a mile (1.6 km) deep.

But everything is relative and after traveling hundreds of miles of flatland, Palo Duro looked grand in the late afternoon sun and it lives up to its nickname, "The Grand Canyon of Texas." The drive to the bottom was steep, the red walls were set off by the yellow-leafed soap berry trees. The best view was next to the visitor center.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
©2009 D. McLane

Inside, the gifts, the jewelry and the souvenirs looked very similar to what you see at the Grand Canyon only the staff had much more time to talk with you. While we were standing there, Karie Eagleston, Assistant Director of the Interpretive Center, came up and asked if we needed more help.

Sueko talks with Karie Eagleston
©2009 D. McLane

Sueko asked her about the mural on the wall depicting the sedimentary layers in the canyon which were labeled in terms of millions of years: What was the reaction of young-earth, people who believe the earth is less than 10,000 years and dinosaurs lived at the same time as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?

Karie didn셳 really answer the question, but talked about how she grew up near the canyon and how much she enjoyed watching the play of light throughout the day.

As you leave the park, you come on a corral holding two Texas longhorn steers which play an important part in Texas history and are the Texas State Large Mammal.

Texas Longhorn steer
©2009 D. McLane

The Texas longhorn come from goats and can live on weeds, cactus, brush and without water, conditions where no other breed can survive. However as conditions changed, their numbers decreased until the breed was facing extinction in 1927 but was saved by enthusiasts from the United States Forest Service.

There are three ways to measure the horns: 1) Tip to Tip -- the length from each tip of the horn in a straight line. 2) Total Horn -- the total length following the horn and always greater than the Tip to Tip, 3) Base -- the circumference of the horn at the largest point.

I have no idea on how long the horns are on this longhorn but at the time of this writing there was a set of mounted natural horns measuring 90 inches (2.6 m) from tip to tip for sale on www.droverhouse.com for $769. According to Angel Fire the record length is 112 inches (2.8m) but ordinary longhorns are less. Prices for cows, bulls, and steers run from $1,000 to $60,000.

What look like longhorns are mounted on over the cab of the truck that shows up at the noodle shop in the 1985 Japanese comedy film, Tanpopo, by director Juzo Itami so they've achieved international fame.

CONTINUING SOUTHWEST ON US 60 WE CAME TO HEREFORD, again. We'd been there back in the '90s on our way to visit the Buddy Holly museum in Clovis, New Mexico, so we were familiar with the massive feeds lots that "smelled like money."

Back then were on a tight schedule as we still lived in Japan so we didn't visit the Deaf Smith County Historical Museum, but now we had time.

The museum셲 theme, "How our Pioneers Lived, Worked and Played," sums up the kind of things displayed not only in glass cases, but real-life dioramas containing real-world items. The volunteer on duty that day was Pearl Salines who spent more than an hour with us showing and explaining both the town and the museum.

As one might suspect, the town's name comes from name the cattle that were brought to the United States in 1898 from Herefordshire, England. The first sale of Registered Herefords was held in 1920 by the Hereford Breeders Association of Hereford, Texas. Hereford became the "Capital of the Cattle Universe" when Superior Mischief was sold for $22,000.

Hereford has some 126 feedlots holding 5,000 or more cattle and over 3 million move through the area each year. "Move through" means the cattle are fed a ration of grain, byproducts and hay for 110 - 150 days to increase their weight and then go to the packing houses which slaughter, process, and pack livestock into meat and meat products. There are some 126 feed lots in Hereford and Pearl said we would see the packing houses along US 60 on the way to Clovis.

The Country Store was the most photogenic display, and I asked Pearl if she would step inside the barrier so I could get a photo of both her and the fully stocked store.

Pearl Salines, Deaf Smith County Historical Museum, Hereford, Texas
©2009 D. McLane

There were outdoor displays as well, the most interesting being a replica dug-out. Since were no forests in Texas there was no local lumber for building houses so pioneers "dug in" and lived in one-room dwellings. We'd seen some where the roof was flush with the ground, and some that were built into a hill, but this was a half-dugout with windows in the part that above ground and was a completely furnished replica.

Half-dugout, Deaf Smith County Historical Museum
©2009 D. McLane

I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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