Day 8: Welcome to Texas Route 66…

A simple sign marked the Texas border. A cowboy in a little convertible drove past, giving us a slightly surreal welcome to another world. We followed him into the town of Shamrock.

Even without the cowboy’s help, following the old road is easier in Texas, because it rarely strays far from the interstate. 150 of the original 178 miles that made up Texas Route 66 still exist (only the sections between Jericho and Alanreed and Adrian to Glenrio are gone).

We had a good bit of driving to do to get to Amarillo, but we stopped at the Devil’s Rope museum in McClean anyway. This oddly named attraction is centered around a comprehensive collection of everything to do with barbed wire (which is sometimes called the Devil’s Rope — hence the museum’s name). While barbed wire might seem a strange thing to devote a museum to, we soon learned that it played a pivotal roll in the history of the American west, pitting farmers against cattlemen.

Ranchers were accustomed to letting their livestock roam the plain, driving the cattle to market along open trails, but farmers needed to protect their crops from the free-roaming herds. It was near impossible to build wooden fences, because the Great Plains had very few trees. Instead farmers tried planting prickly shrubs to mark the boundaries of their land. However, the shrubs were not very effective in keeping livestock out. In 1868, American inventor Michael Kelly patented barbed wire — fencing made of steel wires twisted together into sharp, thornlike points. This allowed farmers to fence off their land, dividing the vast open spaces into individual holdings. The Native Americans, pained to see their free and open land partitioned under private ownership, called the wire “devil’s rope.”

The museum gathered all sorts of barbed wire, and bizarre tools used to build these fences, as well as a collection of whimsical sculptures made from the wire, which I personally found most interesting of all. We spent a while walking around reading displays about the history of the west, and looking at the symbols from branding irons of important ranches in the area.

Then we headed into the more playful Route 66 exhibit. (And of course, the gift shop!) We could definitely have stayed longer, but we were a bit anxious to get to Amarillo, and on to our next campsite.

Heading west, ever west, on the old road, and the landscape was changing again, becoming that real “western” brush, with uneven earth and hidden gullies — the land of cowboy movies. Skies were blue, sun shining with little white cottonball clouds. The weather was ideal apart from the heat, but at least the air had become drier and less oppressive. We could breathe easily now.

We reached Amarillo, and turned off Route 66, heading for Palo Duro Canyon, where we were going to camp for the next two days. We got a glimpse of the spectacular canyon peeking out over land even before we reached it.

The canyon was first discovered by a cowboy who was searching for a place to protect his livestock during an unexpected storm. “Goodnight” was his name, Charles Goodnight, and the whole Texas panhandle was marked by his prescence. The “Goodnight Loving Trail” became one of the principle routes for the great cattle drives to the east (read more about Goodnight and the Texas Cattle Drives). Goodnight and his trail buddy Oliver Loving were the inspiration for the main characters in Larry McMurty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove.

We were awed by the beauty of the 60-mile-long and 800-foot-deep canyon carved out of the Texas High Plains. The grandeur of nature’s creation, had us entranced, as we drove down into it in search of our campsite. The tent-site location was beautiful, if a bit crowded. Someone’s radio was blasting Christian hymns as we pitched our tent, and got the fire started. The noise of civilization interrupted the magic of the canyon, and for a moment we regretted having chosen the ease of the campground, rather than hiking in to the backcountry for the night. But then we saw a wild turkey and as the sun slipped away, we relaxed, knowing that tomorrow we had a day “off” and could “sleep-in.” Twilight turned to night, and indeed, the Texas stars did seem to shine brighter…


More from Texas Route 66:
NOTES FROM THE ROAD: Welcome to Texas Route 66 | Palo Duro Up Close
REFLECTIONS & OTHER THINGS: Texas Cowboys and Cattle Drives | Texas, an Unlikely Surprise
PRACTICAL MATTERS: Review: Texas (the musical)
THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Destination: Palo Duro Canyon

Back to Oklahoma, Day 8 | Complete Trip Log | Start at the Beginning

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