Road Tripping Out West

Lyle Johnson
One of the magnificent sights in Palo Duro Canyon. I call it the “Rock Man.”

Well folks, for the next two weeks I’ll be on the road to visit my daughter Gabrielle and her family in Colorado. The next two columns might be a little different as I’ll be doing some travel writing coupled with stuff in the outdoors.

Deborah and I started out with a short visit to our son Wesley’s house in Houston for a short stopover and to visit his wife Jamie with our grandsons Parker and Justus. Early Saturday morning we headed north for Amarillo to visit the “Big Texan” restaurant that is television famous for its 72-ounce steak challenge. If you eat it along with the sides in 60 minutes, it’s free. They don’t lose too much money as most folks don’t even come close to finishing.

I thought this would be a sort of uneventful, nine-hour road trip. It sort of reminded me of the Bob Wills classic “Miles & Miles of Texas.” Surprisingly, things started out pretty fast as far as wildlife was concerned. About 20 miles from Wesley’s house we spotted a dozen or so wild hogs feeding on the side of the road. Nice start!

Halfway through the road trip we spotted a couple deer along the side of Hwy 287. An hour or so down the road a small herd of bison (domesticated I’m sure) were grazing on the side of the road, along with a few llama’s.

We arrived at the Big Texan around 1:30 pm and headed straight to the restaurant to check it out. The place is very big. The menu is loaded with big steaks, and it was pretty full with patrons (hence the name). There was a roving minstrel with a Martin box guitar singing whatever tune the table asked for.

Was it worth all the hype? You bet. We ate a 16 oz ribeye steak, a few ribs, a bowl of chili, cornbread, Texas toast, a couple of yeast rolls, and a loaded baked potato. All for under $38 bucks. It surpassed its television reputation by a lot.

We really didn’t have a plan for after dinner so like any regular tourist we asked our server about the music scene. Nothing really popped up on the radar so we went to check in. We asked about things to do around Amarillo that we could do for a few hours.

After a few suggestions, a light went off in his head and he told us about a local canyon. Now we just travelled miles and miles of flat land so a canyon was way off our radar. He gave us directions to Palo Duro Canyon, and off we went.

Twenty or so miles later and a $5.00 entry fee found us driving through a real canyon that doesn’t really compare to the Grand Canyon which is on our list to visit but it was really awesome. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. unless you get a camping permit.

The park also allows day camping and has sites for picnics. There are hiking trails, mountain biking trails, as well as biking on the roads in the park. There is an amphitheater where musicals are performed beginning in June. There is also a cave that is easy to hike to for fun and photos.

The round trip is about a 9-mile drive through the park on an asphalt road with plenty of places to stop and view the scenery as well as taking some great photos. My favorite formation looks like a person sitting in the lotus position on the end of an outcropping.

When we entered the park the temperature was 101 degrees. The air is dry so it’s not quite as bad as our high humidity, but it was still hot. We weren’t very sure about wildlife, but after riding, stopping, and snapping lots of photographs we hadn’t seen any wildlife.

As we were about to make a turn that heads toward the exit a car stopped in front of us and began pointing to the side of the road near a creek. We took a look over their way and spotted a hen turkey making her way to the watering hole. We snapped a few photos.

As we rounded a bend, there in a picnic area was three gobblers just strutting around. They had no fear of humans, so they just strolled slowly to allow the three of us to get all the photos we wanted.

One of the gentlemen spotted a young diamondback rattlesnake crawling under a bushy tree. That got our attention so we switched to taking pictures of the snake as it crawled through the trees. Three other folks got in on the rattlesnake adventure before the snake got a little agitated and coiled up to strike in a defensive position. That was the time to stop fooling with it.

Not much longer a road runner made its appearance so the list of our wildlife spotting just increased again. Before we headed out, four more turkeys made an appearance for us to view.

As we got to the gate to exit, three Texas longhorn steers had come out to feed on a pile of hay. Man, those are really big animals that made us watch them for a long time. As we got ready to leave, Deborah spotted a jack rabbit that was feeding near the bulls. So that was one more animal to add to the list of wildlife we saw on our first day.

A dozen wild hogs, two deer, a herd of bison and llamas, nine turkeys, a road runner, a jack rabbit, and a diamondback rattlesnake was the list for the first day. On day two we drove to Santé Fe, N.M. and spotted three antelope to add to the list.

Next we’ll be heading to Tombstone, Ariz. so who knows what will turn up on the platter. Remember to stay safe, keep the slack out, set the hook hard and may God truly bless you.