What could be better than a June night with a group of friends under the Texas stars, laughing more than the law allows, and eating until we couldn’t hold another bite? Not much any better than that. I don’t get to do near enough laughing so when Phyliss Miranda and Jodi Thomas twisted my arm and made me sign my name in blood, I knew I’d fill the empty well with so much laughter it’d spill out and soak into the rocky ground. Sharing the experience with such wonderful friends made it even more special when Phyliss, Jodi, Molly McKnight, Ginger Porter and I gave Hilary Sares of Kensington Publishing a taste of real pioneering life. I hope she won’t hold it against us!
Big thanks go to Hilary for toting a neat surprise—the title of our second anthology, Give Me A Cowboy—all the way from New York. She’s the best. You wouldn’t take her for a New Yorker in the ten gallon hat Jodi brought for her to wear. She looked more like a Texan than we did. A regular cowgirl.
But, back to my story. In Palo Duro Canyon just south of Amarillo, Texas there’s a certain sound of happiness in the music of the wind, the twill of the songbirds as they flitter among the branches of the mesquite and cottonwood, and the rustle of the sage as the evening draws to a close. We perched on some rocks like a gaggle of satisfied fat geese and watched a magnificent sunset. You had to be there. The fading light bounced off the walls of the canyon, giving us a show I won’t soon forget. Don’t know about the rest, but I felt as if I’d died and gone to paradise. It reminded me of the song that asks to go to Texas when you die. I hate to brag, but our corner of the universe is something. I never tire of looking at the wide expanse of sky and the land that goes on forever.
Looking at all that beauty, it never even dawned on me that I had quite an experience in store. Ha, I’m a little slow sometimes, but let’s not go there.
That night I learned the meaning of three words that I’d casually slung around like ground corn to a flock of chickens. I’d always thought of rustic as something that’s kinda modern except with an old appearance. And a bathroom as a piece of smooth porcelain—or shoot, even a wooden outhouse with a round hole. But spending the night at Cow Camp educated me in “roughing it.” I found out quick why Jodi went back to her soft bed and shiny white porcelain. Yep, I certainly did. She’s a pretty smart cookie. 😉
Now, the word Cow Camp should’ve given me a clue as to what I’d signed up for. But, like I said I’m a little slow. They promised me that the bathroom was just across the road. No problem. The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) built these cabins during the Great Depression in the 1930’s. They constructed them from natural rock from the area with no frills. And, other than limited electricity, they’re exactly as they were when they finished constructing them. These rock shelters had no bathroom, no sink, and no running water. Thank the good Lord we had electricity at least and a bed of sorts that used rope for the springs. That was my saving grace.
It was after I discovered that we had to walk quite a distance to the “road” that led to the bathroom that panic set in. In daylight it wasn’t so bad, but in the dead of night by flashlight it was another story altogether. Rather than risk an encounter with rattlesnakes, wild critters, and god-knows-what else, we each chose a bush and put our name on it. No wonder they told me to bring bedding, water, and toilet paper. That should’ve been a clue as well. I’m gonna have to smarten up a bit.
Later we sipped on cold drinks, told ghost stories, and laughed our silly heads off and I knew that having fun came in lots of shapes and sizes and wasn’t measured by what accommodations I had or didn’t have. Friends can renew the strength of someone who’s had too much heartbreak. They can remind you that life stinks but it’s full of amazing joy too. And friends can polish your soul until it shines like a brand new penny. Some things you can’t put a price on.
The next morning over breakfast, we fed a flock of wild turkeys some sausage balls and peach cobbler. They didn’t complain. I swear, I thought they were going to climb in the car and go home with us. The crazy turkeys! They probably would’ve if we hadn’t slammed the door fast enough.
Our fun did extend with a raid on the gift shops and meeting Gerald Cathern, an author who knows just about everything there is to know about Palo
Goodnight was an interesting and very enterprising man. He was reportedly the first rancher in the Panhandle to use barbed wire, he invented the chuckwagon that came to be used by every outfit driving cattle to market, and helped organize and serve as the first president of the Panhandle Stock Association. Plus, he made his famous treaty with the great Comanche, Quanah Parker. He promised Quanah two beeves every other day in exchange for leaving his herds alone. One of the highlights for me on this trip was seeing Goodnight’s old dugout in the canyon that’s still in excellent condition today. It was dug into the side of a hill with cottonwood and cedar logs enclosing the front. With a man and his horse inside on a rainy night, it would’ve certainly brought new meaning to the word cozy.
History of both the American Indian and the cowboy pressed around me so close at times that I felt I could reach out and touch it. A really neat feeling. And I came away with new appreciation for friendships old and new, regardless of the lack of white porcelain. I just wish we’d have gotten to see the musical, Texas, in the outdoor amphitheater but we didn’t have time. Shoot! Guess we’ll save that for another day.
Have you visited a place that gave you the sense that you’d stepped back in time?
Or maybe that you might’ve lived there?