Sagebrush, Songbirds, and Socializin’

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? linda-hilary-jodi.JPG 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. linda-hilary.JPG

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. sunset.JPG

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.  😉

cow-camp-cabin.JPGNow, 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. 

wild-turkey.JPGThe 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 Duro Canyon. Gerald was doing a booksigning in the gift shop. He’s so full of fascinating stories. He writes a lot about Charles Goodnight, the famous cowboy who with Oliver Loving established the Goodnight-Loving Trail. (If you recall, Robert Duvall played Oliver Loving in the movie, Lonesome Dove.) In 1876 Charles Goodnight began ranching in Palo Duro and at one time was sole owner of the canyon that only had one way in and one way out. The rugged trail was a steep incline and I can only imagine how he managed to get his cattle down it.  Probably took a whole lot of cussing and quite a bit of expert roping ability.

 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 goodnights-dugout.JPGQuanah 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?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

18 thoughts on “Sagebrush, Songbirds, and Socializin’”

  1. Linda,
    I really enjoyed reading about Charles Goodnight and loved the pics, especially the dug-out and wild turkey! I’m a fan of indoor plumbing, so I take my cowgirl hat off to you!
    Hilary Sares bought my first 3 Kensington books and I’ve never met her personally. We’ve talked on the phone, but now I feel I do know her better. She’s as brave as you are! 🙂
    I’ve written about Palo Duro Canyon in a few books. My special place though is Virginia City, Nevada. A real ghost town, open to the public with saloons and underground mines still intact, museums galore and a rail that takes you over the terrain. Great research!

  2. Great story and photographs! I’m a fan of porcelain myself.

    I found that same sense of being taken back in time when we visited Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, MA. It was hot, hot, hot. I sat in the centre of the village and wondered how they felt knowing they’d never see civilization again. And I saw what would have been their entire world, a few mud huts and forest. Brave, brave people.

  3. A delightful story, Linda!

    For me, it was DeSmet, So. Dakota, and visiting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homeplace. We have four daughters who grew up loving the Little House on the Prairie series and television show. Seeing where Laura grew up and the inspiration for her stories was truly memorable. Our family will never forget that trip back in time.

  4. What a great post and story! Thanks for sharing!

    I don’t get to travel much (except for when I read books) so I guess for me the closest I have come to that feeling was St. Augustine, FL on a trip we took earlier this year…at night though because during the day there is a lot of traffic and hordes of people (at least when we went there was). We did a ghost tour at night and walking through the quiet town and seeing the old fort and other older buildings was very interesting.

    I would love to be able to visit some of the places you all mention.

  5. Thanks for the great comments, girls. It seems you’ve had similar feelings about different places too. I think to be so emotionally connected to a place is the neatest thing. It’s when our minds can reach back into the past and we can imagine ourselves in these people’s shoes that we can totally relate. I have the feeling often. I guess my mind tends to wander like a lost doggie looking for a bone. 🙂 Another place that really draws me is the Black Hills of South Dakota and especially around Deadwood. Now there’s a fascinating old town! Ghosts lurked around every corner. Thanks again for the comments!

  6. Great post. It almost made me want to stay in one of those rock structures. Almost. It certainly made me want to visit the area.

  7. Linda, You made me want to go to this place. I’m going to go research more about the Goodnight/Loving Trail too. I makes me realize how long it’s been since I did something really different and out of my comfort zone…well, not counting booksignings. Those are WAY out of my comfort zones. 🙂 but not in the same way.

  8. Thanks for posting your pictures and info. about your trip! It sounds like you had such a great time! I

  9. Linda, you did a sagebrush rattling job of that story. Loving had a ranch down south of Archer City just over in Young County. I would have loved to have seen you gals buncled up in Goodnight’s cave. Lordy me. Jackye

  10. Hi Linda, this was wonderful stuff. Most of my fictional cowboy-creations ride the Goodnight LOL…I think Palo Duro is also the site, tragically, of the US Cavalry killing off some 1500 Kiowa ponies…that makes it sacred territory. My favorite place is also Virginia City… To all of you, I love your website!

  11. I’m very humbled that my post elicited such a response. Thanks to each and every one who commented and those who listed favorite historical places that touched you. And Tanya, I believe you’re probably right about the US Cavalry killing huge numbers of Kiowa ponies in the canyon. I know they ran the Native Americans out however they could. Such senseless slaughter. Makes me really sad. No wonder it’s a sacred place.
    Jackye, thanks for sharing that bit of info about Loving having a ranch in our backyard. I didn’t know that. I’m always learning something new.
    I hope everyone will continue to visit Petticoats and Pistols and post your comments on the blogs. You never know what you’re going to find.

  12. Linda, thanks for sharing and making our experience come to life. There is nothing like walking the walk when it comes to research. I love you all’s web-site, it’s so much fun, as well as informative.

  13. You painted a great description of Palo Duro Canyon for those who have never been there.

    Isn’t it amazing how Phyllis can make “roughing it” fun? Enjoyed meeting you at Frontiers in Writing–you are an inspiration!


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