Outdoor Corner: The Wild West

Lyle Johnson

Last Friday morning we left St. Amant at 3 a.m. heading out to visit my daughter, Gabrielle, and her family in Colorado Springs. This trip is a two-day event for us as it is over an 18-hour drive. We usually make a couple of stops on the way as well.

Only a sample of the views inside Palo Duro Canyon during a ride around.

On this day, the destination is Amarillo, Texas, which is a 13-hour drive. So, all we’re doing is getting there. The path is through Shreveport, then Dallas, which is pretty uneventful, except for the traffic.

After finally hitting the open plains of Texas, I’m reminded of the lyrics of one of my favorite songs. Recorded by Bob Wills and later by Asleep at the Wheel, the end of the first verse and first line of the chorus goes like this, “When I crossed that old Red River, this is what I saw. I saw miles and miles of Texas…”

Very appropriate words about a young man from the bayous of Louisiana heading to Texas to try his fortune as a cowboy. Seems he was astonished at the vastness of our neighboring state. I know what he meant by what he saw.

Texas is actually taller (801 miles), north to south than it is wide, east to west (773 miles). We traveled seven hours through Texas on the first day and 4 hours on day two. So, we saw miles and miles of the “The Friendly State.”

We’ve made this trip before, but it was in the early summer. This is real farmland and real cattle ranches of thousands of acres. Horses, cattle, bison and heck, even a llama or two. This has always impressed us. Some of the crops that are planted were recognizable, but not all of them.

This trip is in late fall/early winter, which is the time one of the crops was being harvested. Cotton! Miles and miles of snow-white fields of cotton. I never realized that Texas had such a big crop of cotton. It’s actually the largest producer of cotton in the United States.

After leaving Texas, we head across the northeast corner of New Mexico for a hundred miles or so. Colorado is next, and the final state in this part of our trip. One of the things that has always stood out to Deborah and me was the geography of the land.

We remember the western movies that included wagon trains of settlers who were heading out to make a home in a place never before seen. It was a rough life, but we never imagined just what it could have truly been like until we saw it for ourselves.

The terrain was unmerciful and very dangerous. We realized the need for scouts not only to determine the safest direction to follow but to find a good water supply. Water was probably the most important factor in where the wagon train would head.

A momma mule deer and her yearling let us get pretty close.

Once you get above Wichita Falls, the wind comes into play. I’m not sure if it ever stops blowing. There are wind warning signs like we have bridge ices before road signs. When you see one of them, get ready, because you’ll be blown around. It blows so much from the same direction, the trees lean. A straight tree is an exception and not the rule.

I really don’t know how they did it! They had to go around canyons and probably had to change directions and backtrack their route many times. Traveling through there give me a new respect for those who made those journeys.

Speaking of canyons, the second largest canyon in the country lies in the heart of the Texas Panhandle. Palo Duro Canyon State Park lies about 15 miles just outside Amarillo. We sort of discovered it by chance as a hotel clerk told us about it.

For $8 you can experience the canyon's rugged beauty and enjoy its colorful history. The drivable road through it runs about nine miles, and it’s open year-round. You can explore the canyon by foot, mountain bike, horse or car.

Stop by the Visitor Center on the canyon rim to learn more about the park. The park store at the Visitor Center sells books, pottery, jewelry and more. Look for souvenirs, snacks and meals at The Trading Post on the canyon floor

There are more than 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. You can camp, study nature or bird watch. Choose from campsites with water and electricity, tent sites, equestrian sites, or backpack camping areas. Stay in one of three cabins on the canyon’s rim or four Cow Camp cabins on the canyon floor. Rent one of the pavilions for a wedding, reunion or meeting.

A little closer to home, 13-year-old Daniel Duplessis Jr. killed his first deer in Winnfield with a 120-yard shot using his .308 on Dec. 4.

The horseback riding there is amazing. Ride on trails through 1,500 acres set aside for horseback riding. You can also share two other trails with hikers and mountain bikers. Take a guided tour. Old West Stables on the canyon floor leads tours for the whole family to Timber Creek Canyon. They also offer souvenirs and a snack bar. Reservations required; call (806) 488-2180.

You can bring your own horses (original Coggins blood test papers required). Park your trailer at the equestrian campground and remember to bring a water bucket for your horse.

Another great feature available is the TEXAS Outdoor Musical that runs Tuesdays through Sundays in the summer at the Pioneer Amphitheater in the park. Watch the stories, struggles and triumphs of early settlers. The family-friendly show has singing, dancing, fireworks and lots of Texas humor. Come early for a barbecue dinner on our covered patio. For tickets, visit www.texas-show.com.

There is something new to Palo Duro Canyon: Glamping (luxury camping)! Each glamping site is fully furnished with air conditioning, luxury rustic furnishings, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, games, bicycles, gas grills and gas fire pits, covered porches with rockers, porch swings, and much more. 

We’ve enjoyed several trips through the canyon. The scenery alone is worth it. Wildlife can also be seen with a ride-through. Mule deer, turkeys, road runners, rattle snakes and even a tarantula spider is on our list that we’ve seen. Until next time remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!

Outdoor Calendar

  • East Ascension Sportsman’s League Meeting: 7 p.m., third Monday of the month in the meeting room upstairs at Cabela’s. Supper will be served. No dues will be accepted until 2022. warrenh3@eatel.net 
  • Hunter Education Program: Hunter education classes have resumed. Classroom; online with a field shooting day and online for students 16 years or older. Website: https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/hunter-and-trapper-education
  • Squirrel and Rabbit Season: Through Feb. 28. Daily bag limit eight; possession 24.
  • Deer/Archery: Through Jan. 31, State Deer Areas 1, 2 and 4; through Feb. 15, State Deer Areas 5, 6 and 9; through Jan. 15, State Deer areas 3, 7, 8 and 10.
  • Duck Hunting: East Zone: Dec. 18 - Jan. 30, Feb. 5 (youth and veterans only). West Zone: Dec. 18 - Jan. 2, Jan. 10-30
  • Trapping Workshop: Dec. 11—Day long, Waddill Wildlife Refuge, 4142 N. Flannery Rd., Baton Rouge. No fee, Open to public. Regulations, safety, skinning and other hands-on instruction. Dress appropriately. Preregistration required. Call Tanya Sturman (318) 487-5885, Ext. 3420. Email: tsturman@wlf.la.gov

Need an event publicized? Contact Lyle at reelman@eatel.net