All those years when I hung my hat in Dallas / Fort Worth, I told myself the best way to drive across West Texas was at night.
I mean, what’s there to see in that godforsaken country? It’s flatter than a pancake and smells like Hereford feed lots. So, I’d leave the newspaper after knocking off around midnight or 1 a.m. and point the Red Beast northwest, hitting Amarillo around dawn.
It’s funny how leaving Texas makes you smarter. Now a New Mexico resident, I’m driving south, down U.S. 287 from Amarillo to Fort Worth, and, by grab, I’m doing it in the daylight, to see what all I’ve missed. There has to be more to this country than stock tanks and Dairy Queens.
And there is. Amarillo used to be a place to gas up and grab a cup of coffee, but it’s full of pleasant surprises. It’s home of the Working Ranch Cowboys Association, the Amarillo Livestock Auction and the American Quarter Horse Heritage Center & Museum. Now that’s a real cowtown.
But I’m just getting started.
Antique shops in Claude … and I used to think this was just a boarded-up, dying West Texas town. Nope, this is Charles Goodnight country, and don’t blink or you’ll miss Goodnight, Texas. The cattle king helped settle the Panhandle and helped save the American bison. He also saw what I missed during my night road trips.
There is a beauty to this country. Flatter than a pancake? Not hardly. It’s gently rolling, mesmerizing like the ocean. And if you want true beauty, turn off the highway and get a taste of the Caprock country or the Copper Breaks. Smells like a feed lot? Today, it smells like spring, and, around lunch time, hamburgers, barbecue and enchiladas. There’s more to this country than Dairy Queens, too.
Want something for tourists? Check out the Bar H Dude Ranch (not just for dudes, it’s a working cattle ranch) and S.W. Lowe House in Clarendon, which Panhandle cowboys called “Saints Roost.” After all, a Methodist minister established Clarendon in 1878 as a “sobriety settlement.”
We’re spitting distance from Bob Wills country, too, who called Turkey home. I drive on past Memphis and its bustling (well, it’s not quite Graceland) downtown. There’s the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River, not to mention Estelline and Childress.
U.S. 287 is more than Charles Goodnight. It’s Quanah Parker, the last Comanche chief whose namesake town is popular with antique shoppers and hungry travelers (can’t beat the Medicine Mound Depot Restaurant). Comanches revered the Medicine Mounds southwest of town.
There’s still some daylight left, enough for me to see Chillicothe, Vernon, Wichita Falls (the falls are fake, but the Railroad Museum is real) and Henrietta.
Past Bowie, on the Chisholm Trail and…. What’s this? A Starbucks has come to Decatur! Talk about progress.
Daylight is ending as the Fort Worth skyline comes into view, and I leave U.S. 287 to enjoy the refreshments of old Cowtown. At the White Elephant Saloon, I’ll lift a frosty mug to toast Charles Goodnight, Quanah Parker and all the friendly residents of all the friendly towns along U.S. 287 between Amarillo and Fort Worth.
Road warrior Johnny D. Boggs recommends Medicine Mound Depot Restaurant in Quanah and the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo.