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Beef & Beauty
Thomas R. Fletcher
"I am a doctor of veterinary medicine and a taxidermist, either way, you’ll get your dog back," said guitarist and entertainer "Doc" Jim Anderson, when asked if he were actually a doctor. I think he was joking. We were south of Amarillo on the Elkins Ranch, overlooking Palo Duro Canyon, enjoying a "cowboy supper" that included some very tasty barbequed beef.
Amarillo is the town that dared take on Oprah, after Oprah made some disparaging (in the opinion of folks in Amarillo) remarks about beef. So it was off to court, they went. This is a place where you just don’t bad-mouth beef–for a few reasons. For one, some of the rough-cut cowboys and cowgirls whose business is beef may take it personally. For another, you would be limiting your choices. Beef, offered in a variety of ways, was the prominent feature on every menu I examined. In my three-day stay I believe I ate more red-meat than in the previous three months–and it was all good.
If you are a really big beef fan, you don’t want to miss the Big Texan Steak Ranch and Opry, which offers the biggest steak I’ve seen–and it’s free. That is, it’s free if you finish this 72-ounce monster and the trimmings in an hour. If you can’t finish it, then count on coughing up around $50 for your bout of gluttony. Aside from the entertainment of watching someone take the 72-ounce challenge, live entertainment is featured on Tuesday evenings. It’s not only beef, other offerings at the Big Texan include chicken, buffalo, and rattlesnake for a well-rounded menu. Once a fixture along the famed Route 66 (Amarillo is the only major Texas city along Route 66), the Big Texan is now located along I-40 East. Billboards along the interstate advertising the free 72-ounce steak are found for hundreds of miles in either direction from Amarillo.
The flint strikes the steel casting an arc of sparks, some of which land on a piece of soft, cotton wadding. The wadding begins to smolder as "Long Bow" blows on it. This is the way Hody Porterfield (his legal name) starts a fire, over which, he will cook breakfast as he presents his Native American History and Legends Program in the open courtyard of the Big Texan. Hody is dressed in his well-worn, multi-stained buckskins. "They don’t retain odor," Hody says in reference to his buckskins.
The sunlight reflects off an object dangling from Long Bow’s ear. Upon closer inspection, it is found to be a rattlesnake rattler earring–a gift from a Native American chief to help Long Bow overcome his fear of snakes. Hody naturally looks the part of the mountain man with Native American ways for that is his way of life. He spent years living with and learning the ways of Native Americans. It was the Cheyenne that gave him the name "Long Bow." He is also an adopted member of the Cree Nation. Hody presented several Native American tools and weapons, while demonstrating his proficiency with those items. He presents an informative and entertaining program while guests enjoy a fantastic breakfast. Reservations are required for the Campfire Breakfast Program.
Cowboy Roundup USA is an annual June event in Amarillo, celebrating cowboy and western culture. The festivities include an abundance of dances, parties, and cowboy poets. Also included is a trade show, the crowning of Miss Ranch Rodeo, Cowboy Church, and several rodeos. The rodeo events feature the best cowboys and cowgirls from area ranches competing in skills required on a ranch. Events such as: team roping, branding, cattle sorting, and wild horse riding I understand. I am not quite sure where the "wild cow milking" event fits in.
The World Championship Chuck Wagon Roundup, as part of the annual Cowboy Roundup USA, is one of my favorite events. The event draws contestants from a wide regional area, from not only Texas but stretching into Oklahoma. More than 40 teams converge on Amarillo’s tri-state fairgrounds. Tasty aromas tease as smoke from the campfires occasionally stings the eyes. Each chuck wagon team is made up of six members who prepare meals as they would out on the range. The culmination of the event is the Chuck Wagon Lunch; where guests pay their fee, pick up some utensils, and make their rounds through the wagons sampling the meals prepared by the contestants.
Amarillo rests on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle. Merely 25 miles south, Palo Duro Canyon cuts a magnificent, deep gash through the Panhandle plains. The canyon was carved by the erosive actions of wind and water; the water primarily being that of the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, an apparently insignificant stream, until one considers its lovely handiwork. Running at depths of up to 800 feet, for 120 miles, Palo Duro is claimed to be our nation’s second-largest canyon, with 80% of the canyon remaining in private ownership. The canyon is a rare piece of stunning natural beauty. It takes its name from the many Juniper trees which flourish in the canyon, which the Spanish called palo duro, "hard wood." Here the canyon rim, formed by the surrounding plains, is 3,500 feet high. The canyon was long the home of Native Americans, where evidence of habitation goes back to 10,000 BC. The Spanish Conquistador Coronado may have seen the canyon on his explorations, however, the canyon wasn’t officially discovered until Captain R. B. Marcy happened upon it in 1852. In 1874 the last Native American canyon-dwellers, the Camanche and Kiowa tribes lost a decisive battle to US Army General MacKenzie and were driven from the canyon.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park covers 16,402 acres in two Panhandle counties. The park has many features and plenty of available activities. There are hiking trails, biking trails, horseback trails cris-crossed through the austere beauty of the red rock and silted streams. However, there is one attraction the park has that draws more people than any other, the play "TEXAS." The outdoor musical drama is performed nightly in the summer, mid-June through mid-August. One-hundred-forty performers take the audience back to the 1880's as they tell the narrative history of the area. The play makes the most of its majestic canyon surroundings. Lighting effects on the towering 600' canyon wall, give the appearance of lightning flashing.
In a land of ranches, it stands to reason, there may be a museum dedicated to horses. Amarillo is home of the American Quarter Horse Heritage Center & Museum. The museum showcases the history of America’s oldest equine breed. The "quarter horse" originated from the colonists’ crossing of Spanish horses brought into Florida with the English horses imported into Virginia, in the early 1600's. This cross produced a compact, well-muscled horse suited to short bursts of incredible speed, taking their name from the popular quarter mile races in which they participated.
The museum features videos, hands-on exhibits, and a changing exhibit gallery (filled with stunning oil paintings of western cowboy scenes when I visited).
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